No Such Thing as “Nice”: Serpents and the Great Goddess

The Toltecs and Aztecs had originally worshipped a person/couple called Ometecuhtli (the male part) and Omechihuatl (the female part). Sometimes these are shown combined into one being with male and female aspects. Omechihuatl was referred to variously as the wife, twin sister, or female aspect of Ometecuhtli, and was his complete equal in power because she was distinguishable from him only by gender. This couple acted as one Creator God and symbolized the duality of nature and the inseparable unity of the Great Life Force. After Ometecuhtli and Omechihuatl, who can be considered as the first generation in the genealogy of the Aztec gods, next came the great Mother Goddess.

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Coatlicue, Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.

The Great Goddess was not nice. Really, after centuries of evidence of women going off to wars and are perfectly capable of doing some pretty awful things, we should just accept that female niceness is something that exists mainly in the imaginations of men and politicians because, before the needs of the new religious ideas and the social order that goes with it, the goddess was never just nice and sweet. She was female – nice, terrifying, gentle, powerful, compassionate, horrifying, and much more. One can still see some of this in the images and representations of the goddess Kali in India. In ancient Mexico she was called Coatlicue, or “Serpent Skirt”, and she had many of the same characteristics and symbols as Kali. They were both fierce protectors and compassionate mothers, wore severed hands and skulls draped around them, and had protruding tongues. Some representations of Kali show her with fang-like teeth, Coatlicue is sometimes shown with a human skull as a head.

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Durga. CC BY-SA 4.0

In later forms, their powers were dismembered. In India the compassionate protector function went to Durga, who battled only against demons, and in Mexico it went first to Tonantsi (who accepted only the sacrifice of birds and small animals, not of humans). The darker, underworld, aspects of the old goddess went to a number of lesser goddettes such as Tlazolteotl and Cihuacoatl. Cihuacoatl was an Aztec earth and mother-goddess, and patroness of childbirth. She was sometimes portrayed holding a child in her arms, but her roar was a signal of war – perhaps because there is nothing more ferocious than a mother protecting her children.

 

 

“Coatl” is the Nahuatl word for serpent, and the use of serpent symbolism is ubiquitous in Mexican and Central American iconography prior to the Invasion. As far back as the time of the Olmecs, the mouth of the serpent was a symbol of womanhood. It was a sacred place, a safe place, the womb from which all things were born, and also a symbol of the place to which all would return. As remarked by Gloria Anzaldua, a native Mexican, (Entering into the Serpent, Anzaldua, 1979), “The destiny of humankind is to be devoured by the Serpent.”

“Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link.

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Dismembering the Great Mother through the Mythology of Demeter and Persephone

The upcoming Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture is a book that is very near to my heart for a number of reasons. In it, I have the freedom to not only explore mythology from many different cultures, but figure out how the myths known to us today actually come about. Another reason is that I have always been fascinated by goddesses in particular. I believe that they all come from the same source – many of them retaining some of the characteristics as time goes on.

The question then, of course, is why do we feel the need to have our goddesses retain only some of the aspects of the great mother? I suppose it is in our nature to complicate the simple and simplify the complicated. We do that with religions too although we can never seem to get it right. Beliefs in general are both simple and complicated. A belief is not good or bad – it is just “is”. Our need to simplify it boxing it as one or the other often complicates – bringing about things such as discrimination and destruction, while our attempt to complicate it by imposing all sorts of rules and restrictions often leads to fanaticism.

I have talked about how the all-encompassing nature of the Mother Goddess can be empowering and terrifying for men and women alike – also both simple and complicated. Perhaps it is too much for us to contemplate. Too much so that we find ways to simplify it for ourselves by “dismembering”, as it were, the Great Mother.

 

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Demeter

An example of the process of dismemberment of a goddess is the story of Demeter and Persephone. “De-meter” is from Da-mater, “The Mother”. She probably entered Greece from Crete, and before that she was strongly linked with Isis in Egypt, but she wasn’t called Demeter then, since that is an Indoeuropean name. The Indoeuropean era is when we start to see how The Mother became dismembered. Demeter’s function became more restricted and she was called the Grain Mother, representing the mature crops, and her daughter Kore, was the Grain Maiden, representing the new growths. The later Greeks changed Kore’s name to Persephone, possibly deriving the name from Phesephatta, who was an ancient pre-Indoeuropean Earth goddess native to the Greek Peninsula.

Since the growth of crops follows the seasons, Demeter came to be associated with summer and autumn while her daughter represented winter and spring. Originally the goddess, in whatever form she appeared, did not have a daughter, but she herself had maiden and mature aspects, and her appearance could change with the seasons. Evidently, that was a bit too complicated, so she was split in two – one became the daughter of the other. Thus Demeter and Kore were two aspects of the Triple Goddess (the virgin and the mother).

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Demeter mourning Persephone (Evelyn de Morgan, 1906)

When Hades abducted Kore, Demeter’s search for her daughter took her to the palace of Celeus, the King of Eleusis in Attica. She assumed the form of an old woman (the crone), and asked him for shelter. He took her in, to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira. To reward his kindness, she planned to make Demophon immortal; she secretly anointed the boy with ambrosia and laid him in the flames of the hearth, to gradually burn away his mortal self. But Metanira walked in, saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright. Demeter abandoned the attempt. Instead, she taught Triptolemus the secrets of agriculture, and he in turn taught them to any who wished to learn them. Thus, humanity learned how to plant, grow and harvest grain (This whole section is all about birth, death and rebirth.)

The old stories of Demeter are identical with stories of Isis in Egypt – only the names have been changed – she was the sister-wife of the lord of the underworld, with power equal to or even greater than her brother, and she passed freely between the worlds.

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Bust of Isis-Sothis-Demeter. White marble, Roman artwork, second part of Hadrian’s reign, ca. 131–138 CE. From the gymnasium in the Villa Adriana, near Tivoli, 1736.

“Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link.

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The Lost Legend of the Human Races: The People who Haven’t Found Their Way Back to Each Other

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At the beginning of this cycle of time, the Great Spirit divided the people of the world into five groups, giving each of them a different color. To each he gave specific teachings, and to each he gave a specific task. He then sent four of the groups out in four different directions in the world. Cautioning them that one group can never exist alone, the Great Spirit instructed that, when they came back together again, the five groups were to share their teachings and what they had learned in carrying out their tasks.

RACES-Women.jpgThe task of the black people was to learn about the Earth – how things grow, foods that are good to eat, plants that heal. They would be able to teach others about survival and endurance.

The task of the yellow people was to learn about water – the most humble, yet most powerful of the elements and strongly linked to our human emotions. Through their own difficulties, they would be able to teach others how to adapt to life’s unpredictable circumstances.

RACES-boygirlThe task of the red people was to learn about wind – breath and animal life, air, the sky and everything within and above it. From this, they would learn about change, stability and motivation, then share their knowledge with others.

The task of the white people was to learn about fire – action and movement, consuming and changing all it touches, typified by strong mind and will. From this, they would learn, and later teach others, about moderation as well as humility to give and accept help.

The task of the brown people was to learn about their own nature as human beings – brown being the union of the four other colors. From this, they would understand and share the nature and power of love.

So the people went out and studied all the matters as they had been instructed, but they were very slow learners and it took a very long time. By the time they began to meet again, they had forgotten the instruction to teach and share what they had learned. They had forgotten that they each had only a part of the human experience and that they still had to learn the other parts from each other.

This story is based on some Native American teachings and a few inputs from Asian traditions.

 Martini

TimeMaps001This is a retelling of an excerpt from Time Maps: History, Prehistory and Biological Evolution, by Dr. R.K Fisher and Martini Fisher. The book is available in Amazon and in bookstores. To get your copy, click here.

(Excerpt) Life’s Unpleasant Truths Represented by Mahabharata

This is an excerpt from the newly-released ebook “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses”, currently available on Kindle. To get your copy, press here.

Mahabhrata intro cover

Let’s be honest: we all want to do the right thing. In fact, all of us are doing our best. However, “our best” is a broad expression which is heavily influenced by our understandings, our backgrounds, our desires, our needs, our education and many other factors. In the end, “our best” may not be suitable for the world as a whole, but enough for perhaps our own country, or our own community. The cold, hard truth of it is that, although it is by no means impossible, it is very rare for a dream to “change the whole world for the better” to come true.

Mahabharata understands this, and makes no pretense of the situation being otherwise. So, instead of taking the stance of “this situation is unvirtuous and therefore should not have happened,” the attitude of the characters lean more to “This situation is unvirtuous, but it happens nonetheless. So, what are we going to do about it?”

          There are, of course, many other unpleasant truths in life symbolized in the epic. Here are some of them:

Fighting for righteousness is all very well, but if the opponent fights dirty be prepared to match them. Many of the tactics used by the Pandavas were sneaky at best. But, they tried to avoid the war, and when they could not avoid it they fought honorably. But, when their opponent started gaining the upper ground by cheating, they resorted to dishonorable methods as well. They had to – otherwise they would lose and the Kauravas would not hesitate to kill every last one of them.  There is no point in occupying the high moral ground if you lose in the process, particularly if “losing” means losing your life, your country and people you are responsible for. There is a story of Prithivraj Chahaun who defeated and captured invader Mahmud of Ghor in the 1191 first Battle of Tarain. However, he released his prisoner as that was considered morally correct. In 1192, Mahmud returned and promptly defeated, captured, and executed Prithivraj, an event which led to Muslim rule over the entire Ganges river valley. One cannot fully blame Prithivraj for letting Mahmud go. It was indeed the noble thing to do, but it cost him his life and his kingdom. Of course, it is not always the case of “kill or be killed”, but it is worth serious pondering. There are always moral conflicts and there will always be people who would mistake courtesy and kindness as signs of weakness.

War is sometimes justified. Mahatma Gandhi argued that it would be better to uphold the principle of non-violence over resorting to violence for any cause. And he was right. It is better, much nobler, and it is certainly something we should always strive to do. However, if the world was or is that noble, we would never hear news on wars or mass killings which we still hear about even to this day. On the other hand, the Mahabarata accepts the idea of a just war – where war is an option that should only be resorted to after all other solutions fail. However, once resorted to, it ought to be fought quickly to its conclusion for the sake of everyone.

There will always be dishonest people in the world, and you need to know how to handle them for your own sake as well as the people you are responsible for. Yudhisthira failed to identify and acknowledge the dishonesty of Duryodhana and lost everything he had. Turning the other cheek to something that is harmful is not righteousness – it will only lead to a bigger wrong.

Rules and customs ought to be interpreted flexibly. Mahabharata argues that that rules and customs should serve as social tools or means to enhance the quality of life and relationships. They are ‘tools’ to achieve a better life, not the ‘end result’. When rules and customs no longer serve their purpose, then we will have to think about reinterpreting them, or even discard them completely. Duty can be amended when it pursues a course of action that is inflexible or harmful. In Mahabharata, the Pandavas felt honor bound to play a game of dice to the end to appease their host, even though it resulted in the gambling away of their kingdom and their queen, as the customs frowned upon guests who refuse their host’s wishes. If following a strict sense of morality leads to actions that are immoral, then it is better to evaluate one’s notion of duty and honor.

Martini

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Now on Kindle: “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses”

Following the successful launch of the online course by the same name, “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses” is now available in eBook form.

We seldom look at mythology as something that has practical lessons to make our life easier. Yet, it is closer to real life than we imagine. The Five Pandava Brothers of the ancient Hindu Epic Mahabharata represents many facets of ancient and modern lives from imperfections to ideal business leaders.

Martini Fisher introduces a different way to look at the Ancient Epic Indian Literature that is Mahabharata and presents its practical lessons for the modern audience.

(Excerpt) The Foolish Rich Man

The Foolish Rich Man

An Excerpt from “The Giant Who Loved the Moon: A Collection of Balinese Folk Tales”

By Martini Fisher

giant2I Cikampeng was a rich, yet foolish man.
He had a lot of money, but not because he was clever.
It was because he was very careful in his spending.

To save water, I Cikampeng never took a bath in the bathroom,
He always bathed in the river.
To save money, he never bought any soap.
He only had one very worn out clothes that he wore all the time.
He was very smelly.
If he wanted to eat, he divided his rice into three very small parts,
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
He was also very thin.

One day, someone asked I Cikampeng why he was not married.
“I am looking for a wife,” He said,
“Of course, I am looking for a girl who doesn’t like to waste money.”
“I know a girl like that,” his friend said, and gave I Cikampeng her address.

I Cikampeng went to visit Ni Mayang Sari, the girl intended for him.
He fell in love with her and asked her to marry him.
Ni Mayang Sari said yes and they marry.
She was as smelly as him, and as thin as him,
Because she also didn’t like to spend any money.
They lived very happily together.

But, because they both ate so little, Ni Mayang Sari became ill.
One day, she died in her sleep.
When I Cikampeng woke to go to the field,
He thought his wife was still sleeping.
When he returned in the afternoon, she was still in the bed.
I Cikampeng was not worried at all.
He was happy!
It means they can save the food for tomorrow.

For days, his wife never woke.
For days, I Cikampeng thought they saved on food.
After a while, Ni Mayang Sari’s dead body produced a very bad smell,
Even smellier than her husband who never used soap.

The neighbors started to notice that Ni Mayang Sari was missing.
They asked I Cikampeng where his wife was.
He said that his wife was sleeping.
The neighbors were suspicious and insisted on seeing his wife.
When they saw her, they were very surprised.

“I Cikampeng, your wife is dead! Can’t you smell it?”
“Really?” asked I Cikampeng.
“Yes, you stupid man!” They cried,
“When someone smelled very bad, it means that their body is rotting!”

After I Cikampeng finally realized that his wife had died,
He cried and cried.
“Now, now I Cikampeng,” said one of his neighbors,
“the thing to do now is to bury your wife before her body rots even further.”
So, they all buried Ni Mayang Sari.
When they have finished, they all went home.
I Cikampeng still very sad because he was now all alone.

Later that evening, I Cikampeng farted.
The smell was very bad.
This upsets him greatly as he thought he was dead.

Trying to calm himself, he sat down to think carefully about his situation.
He did not want to tell his neighbors about his death,
Because he has had to spend money on his wife’s funeral.
If his neighbors have to bury him, he’ll have to spend more money!
He then resolved to bury himself.

Silly I Cikampeng dug the ground and covered his body with the soil.
Finally, his body were covered by soil, except for his head.
He couldn’t cover his own head.
So he had no choice but to wait for his neighbor to wake up in the morning to help him bury his head.

This is an excerpt of “The Giant Who Loved the Moon: A Collection of Balinese Folk Tales”, by Martini Fisher. “The Giant Who Loved The Moon” is available on Amazon Kindle. Get your copy by pressing this link.

Martini

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Centrism: How Events in History Seem “More” or “Less” Significant Than They Are

An excerpt from “Time Maps: History, Prehistory and Biological Evolution”

By: Dr. R.K Fisher and Martini Fisher

Antarctica is often omitted from maps of the world, making the southern hemisphere look smaller than the northern hemisphere. Hence, anything in the north appears relatively larger than it actually is. The fact that north is always placed at the top of a map also doesn’t help since top, high and up are obviously better than bottom, low and down. Such simple factors influence our perception. In order to be able to make sense of the world we first need to be able to see things as they are.

Historians have glorified insignificant military adventurers in Europe, Irak and Egypt as empire builders mainly because events in or close to their own countries and their own times appear to be larger and more significant than events that are further away geographically or temporally. This ubiquitous geographical perspective can be seen at work every day in newspapers and on television and it is one of the sources of the Eurocentric bias in history. Since Europeans produced continuous historical records and analyses, and their influence spread all over the world during the colonial centuries, they wrote as if Europe was the central and most important part of the world – which to them, of course, it was. This bias became institutionalized in the teaching of history in high schools. The Chinese had the same bias, which is why they considered their country as “The Middle Kingdom”.

The chronological perspective is also distorting – things that have happened recently have more emotional impact, and hence seem to be more important, than things that happened a long time ago. The fact that a few thousand people were killed when a building collapsed on top of them in New York City on September 11, 2001, was devastating, and doubtless a great loss for their loved ones. Now, imagine the two million killed and enslaved when Caesar conquered Gaul and laid the foundations of what would become France – or that two million people were killed, one of the two most advanced civilizations in the world was shattered (the other one was China) and the direction of world history was permanently changed when the Crusaders invaded Palestine nine hundred years ago. Another most important historical event that ever occurred on September 11 was the ending of Catalonian independence by combined French and Spanish forces in 1714. We may not experience it as closely as September 11, 2001, but it was still a world-changing event.

East and West are relative terms that have meaning only in relation to a specific place. Their use in political geography originated with the division of the Roman Empire into the Eastern and Western Empires. The English popularized their use during the time when they thought they could be masters of the world and gradually they came to mean east or west of Western Europe. North and south were not considered at all. Instead of terms such as the “Western world”, or “Western philosophy” (as distinct from Indian, Islamic, Buddhist, Chinese or other philosophies) we will generally use the adjective “Euroamerican”.

Near East, Middle East and Far East are similarly misleading. The Middle East is not the middle of anything and to most people it is actually in the west, not the east. It would be helpful if we could replace such misleading terms by something more accurate but it is not easy. To refer to the Middle East as Southwest Asia is not good enough, since it ignores the parts of the Middle East that are in North Africa and Eastern Europe. To call it the Islamic Region is wrong since the great majority of Moslems live outside that area and the country with the largest Moslem population is in Southeast Asia. To call it the Arab Region would be considered insulting by the Iranians, Israelis, Turks, Kurds and many others, some of whom have histories going back thousands of years. There is no name for the region that is generally acceptable, but one that is more accurate than most is the simple geographical designation: the Nile-Oxus Region.

A similar problem of inappropriate names exists in the Americas. To use the term “Americans” to denote the citizens of the USA – terminology begun by Cotton Mather (1663-1728) – ignores the fact that there are far more Americans in the many other countries of North and South America than they who live in the USA. Since the 1939-45 European war, to distinguish the country by calling it Amerika and the citizens Amerikans would imply an irrelevant political judgement, even though historically it may be more accurate.

The academic language of racism and ethnocentrism is most noticeable in anthropology, but from there it affects academic history and public opinion too. “Natives” are objects of anthropology, not subjects of history; they have folklore, not culture; they have handicrafts, not art; they speak dialects (or, in some older texts, “jargons” or “pidgins”), not languages; their beliefs are superstitions, not religions; their communities are tribal groups, not societies; they have rites of passage, not celebrations; they are indolent, rather than not motivated by money; they live by traditional social roles, rather than have close family ties; and they have highly differentiated gender roles, rather than appreciating and respecting the differences.

One of the points of uniqueness of human beings is that we are probably the only species whose signals, as a matter of routine, can not be trusted even by our own kind. After any event, apart from information concerning the event itself, there are additional influences due to the corruption of information by the people transmitting it – for example the distortion that occurs in rumors, and intentional corruption by lies and propaganda. Distortion via the mass media, particularly newspapers and television, is caused mainly by the policies of the owners and the judgements of the editors. The old slogan “All the news that’s fit to print” has now become “All the news that sells newspapers or attracts viewers, and does not upset the advertisers.” The consequence is that instead of being media for news, both the parts that are agreeable to the readers and those that are disagreeable, the media tend to tell them only the parts that they want to hear. Unpleasant news, which is, almost by definition, news that reflects poorly on the self-image of the readers, is included only when it is completely unavoidable, and the issue will be relegated to the back pages of the newspapers or to late-night television viewing slots as quickly as possible. Early in the twenty-first century, we are witnessing a massive increase in this kind of distortion through the power of the internet and global television transmission.

A fine example of this is in the way historians and people in general view empire builders. Genghis Khan, for example, is a national hero in Mongolia and is considered, quite rightly, as the father of his country. Ramses II was a hero to the Egyptians but a monster to the Hebrews. The emperor Trajan was considered a great man by the Romans, and is still praised by modern historians, but he exterminated the Dacians, continued the genocidal tactics of Titus against the Jews, and tried to do the same thing to the Parthians. The Parthians were considered barbarians because they wouldn’t let him.

Alexander is called “Alexander the Great” by Europeans but in the Zoroastrian Arda Wiraz Namag is called “the accursed Alexander” – the priests of Artemus at Ephesus thought the same of him but had too much diplomatic discretion (the better part of valour) to say it out loud. So, use of the terms “empire builder” and “barbarian” is largely a matter of geography. If you happen to be behind the lines of the invading army then the invaders are empire builders, but if you happen to be in front of the invaders then they are barbarians. Of course the invaders are unchanged by the perspective – empire builders or barbarians, they are still just organized gangs of trained killers.

If we introduce new terms to correct all the present anomalies then we will have so many neologisms that nobody will know what we are talking about. The current terminology is Eurocentric, parochial, insulting, inaccurate or wrong but it is more or less understandable. We just need to be aware of its limitations and the biases it can introduce in our thinking. A first step towards that is to try to understand how the terminology arose, and why it has become so misleading.

The view of the world as one vital entity leads to the need for a history of Gaea – the whole world, or at least the whole of humanity, considered as one. That is going to be an immense task for future generations since so far we have only biased and misleading versions of about five percent of our political and social history and even less of our cultural and ethnic history. It is also true that most of the material available on which we can base written histories has been produced by Europeans, which is why in any attempt at world history an absurdly large percentage of the coverage deals with that little patch of territory. A first step towards improving the situation would be to open up some of the other areas, including some of the artistic, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual aspects that constitute a major part of our lives but never appear in official documents. Since most of the raw material has been produced by biased observers, such as invaders or religious opponents, a lot of this must initially be conjectural. The ultimate objective would be to write the history of the human race as if it were actually true that all people are created equal.

Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome fill so much space in ancient history not because they were particularly important, but because historians don’t have adequate information about any other places. While we can recognize intellectually that Europe is not the center of the world, and neither is Jerusalem, Mecca, Washington DC, or any other place, it is still true that I am the center of the world I live in, each reader is the center of the world he or she lives in, and every other person is the center of their own world. With so many egos involved, centrism in one form or another may be inevitable but we can at least try to be aware of its influence.

“Time Maps: History, Prehistory and Biological Evolution” by Dr. R.K Fisher and Martini Fisher is available on Amazon.