Semar is probably one of the oldest characters in Indonesian mythology who was said to not have been derived from Hindu mythology. He was made famous by performances of Wayang (Shadow Puppets) in the islands of Java and Bali as a rather unattractive, short man with breasts, a great sized behind, and uncontrollable urge for farting. However, underneath his peculiar appearance, Semar plays a major part in the Indonesian creation myth as the elder brother of the supreme god Batara Guru (the Hindu god Shiva).
Virgil, in his Aeneid, describes Deiphobe, better known as the Sibyl of Cumae, as coming from “a hundred perforations in the rock, a hundred mouths from which the many utterances rush”. But she was not the only Sibyl. There were others. Many of these women rubbed shoulders with the greatest warriors and leaders of their ages, shaping the future instead of merely foretelling it.
The Olympics took place every four years for more than a millennium. However, as important as this was to the Greeks, participation in the Olympics was open primarily to men and boys. Women were of course discouraged to participate. But this did not stop the ladies from having their own athletic competitions, even competing against the men and winning.
Most European giants are represented as being evil and cruel. The term “giant” and the reputation for cruelty derives from the Gigantes of Greek mythology, who were savage creatures with men’s bodies and serpentine legs.
According to Hesiod, they were children of Gaia and Uranus, born from the blood of Uranus after he had been castrated by his son Cronus. In a war between the Gigantes and the gods of Olympus, called the Gigantomachy, the gods prevailed and the giants were slain or restrained.
In English djinns are called genies, a name that came indirectly from the same ancient Semitic root “GNN” (meaning concealment or invisibility) as the Arabic word “djinn”. From this root the Romans got “genius”, referring to a guardian spirit of a person or place. In PreIslamic Arabia the djinns were often worshipped much as the Romans worshipped their “household” gods – they were considered to be the protective and helpful gods of a person, family, household or location – the “genius” of a person or place.
Dragons or large serpent-like creatures are so common in mythology and folklore that we should suspect that there are some grains of truth behind them that we have lost sight of – something more than just imagination and fairy stories. Modern dragon lore is mainly fantasy – few of the people who write about them have ever encountered even one little dragon. Apart from occasional tales of sea serpents no reliable reports of dragon sightings have reached Euroamerica in the past eight hundred years, but early in the seventeenth century some European naturalists were still writing about them as if they were common knowledge.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” He was right. The things that go on in people’s minds are very real and can influence worldly events. In fact, it often seems that they are the only things that can influence the world. After the Great Enlightenment, humanity’s perception of “reality” permanently shifted, never to be the same again. We started to place high values in progress, rationality, science, logic and belief. Our whole modern world is built on them – but there were immense costs involved too.
Historians often write them off as mad women. The name Maenad evenliterally translates as the “raving ones”. But these women are much more than that. They are sacred worshippers and holy priestesses to the god of wine, madness and frenzy – Dionysus.
In an ideal world, celebrating one gender should not come at the expense on another. But we are not living in an ideal world. The roles of the women in Mahabharate are defined by their relationships to the men, women are placed merely on the periphery of the epic – typecast as devoted mothers, virtuous wives and innocent maidens. Amba is a different character from the women in the epic. She had to pay the price for her courage to speak her mind against the most powerful man of the age.
The general appearances of ancient Chinese deities lead us to think of them as sober imperial bureaucrats. Mostly, they look like middle aged men dressed in official-looking robes, spending their time reading formal petitions and responding by giving stern orders to their underlings – rather like the more artistic version of our modern politicians. Although several of the most popular deities are female, gender immediately raises problems for the bureaucratic image of some important deities as governing elites tend to favor a religious practice that reflected themselves (male, old, humourless etc). Women, as well as men who are viewed to be rebels or misfits, tends to be excluded from the sites and definitions of power. But a group of joyful misfits changed all that.
Ancient cultures around the world saw the sea as a dangerous place, filled with beings who preyed upon people – especially men. The legatus of Gaul once wrote to Emperor Augustus claiming that he found a considerable number of nereids dead upon the sea-shore. Although most retelling of the Odyssey depict the sirens as little more than dangerous women leading men to their deaths, there have also been some studies that provide more depth.
Marriage is a beautiful thing. However, even the most optimistic among us will agree that marriages are challenging and takes a lot of work to maintain. It is so challenging that it takes two people to maintain a working marriage – the two people are, of course, the husband and wife who want to make it work. Some marriages maybe downright difficult, miserable and even unsalvageable at times. Even Hera, the ancient Greek goddess who were actually in charge of family and marriage, had to constantly battle the many infidelities of Zeus, her philandering husband.