Dance of the Swords

Sword dancing has found its place in many different cultures. In Asia, the sword dance is often used for plot descriptions and characterization in Chinese opera. In Pakistan and Nepal, military dances are still commonly performed for weddings and other occasions. In India, the Paika Akhada (“warrior school”) previously used to train Odisha warriors, is performed in the streets during festivals. Sword dances are also performed all over Europe, particularly in areas corresponding to the boundaries of what used to be the Holy Roman Empire.

Here’s to More Life, Love and Adventures to Come: The Ancient History of Birthday Celebrations

One of the most famous Roman antiquity inscriptions comes from Vindolanda, a fort along Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain. This is Claudia Severa’s so-called “birthday letter,” which she wrote to her friend Sulpicia Lepidina around 100 CE. Severa dictated to a scribe on a small wooden tablet the invitation to her friend for a birthday celebration on September 11th, as well as well wishes in her own handwriting.  

Ancient Stories of Werewolves

The werewolf is a staple of supernatural fiction these days, and one could be forgiven for thinking that this snarling creature was created during the Medieval and Early Modern periods as a result of superstitions around witchcraft and black magic. But the werewolf is much older than that.

The Divine Beloved

Not much was known of the young Antinous before he attracted the attention of the ruler of the Roman world at its height. He was born in Bithynia, the northwest corner of the country that we now call Turkey, in the year 111 CE. He was very likely not from a wealthy family. However, because of his mysterious bond with Roman Emperor Hadrian, by the end of his short life Antinous was a house-hold name all over the Roman Empire.

Melusine

Sixteenth century Theologian Martin Luther has referred to Melusine unfavorably  several times as a succubus and nineteenth century composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture titled “The Fair Melusina”. These days, images of Melusine are still seen in the Vendée region of Poitou, western France, where one can drink Melusine-brand beer and eat Melusine-style baguettes. In Vouvant, paintings of her and her sons decorate the “Tour Melusine,” the ruins of a Lusignan castle guarding the banks of the River Mère, where visitors of the tower can lunch at the Cafe Melusine nearby. The image of Melusine is so famous and enduring that, perhaps without knowing her by name, we still recognize her image today as the logo for Starbucks Coffee.

Our Lady Monks, Mothers of the Desert

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (423–457) tells us that when little girls played games in forth-century Syria, they played monks and demons. One of the girls, dressed in rags, would reduce her little friends into giggles by exorcising them. This glimpse into a Syrian childhood scene points to the prestige of the monk figure and may serve as a preview to what must appear in this modern age as a somewhat strange theme in the setting of Christian hagiography—the woman monks of the deserts. Women who disguised themselves as monks and lived as hermits, or as members of the male monastic communities is a recurring theme in the first and oldest layers of Byzantine history.

Dragons of Ancient Asia

Kinryuzan Sensoji Temple, located in Asakusa, Tokyo is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the temple is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world with over 30 million annual visitors. Kinryuzan means the ‘Golden Dragon Mountain’. Legend has it that the Sensoji Temple was founded in 628 AD after two fishermen fished a gold statuette of Kannon from the Sumida River. Although the understandably confused fishermen tried to put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Therefore, the Sensoji temple was built nearby for the goddess represented by the statue found by the fishermen.

Secret Stories of the Ancient Poets

A woman’s face, dubbed Hilda, was reconstructed from an ancient skull housed in The University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum. Hilda lived between 55 BC and 400 AD and was of Celtic origin. She was probably more than 60 years old when she died, nearly double the life expectancy of the time, as a female’s life expectancy in her era was roughly 31 years. Having a long life during the Iron Age indicates a privileged background. Hilda’s was one of the six ‘Druids of the Hebrides’ skulls presented to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1833. Therefore, Hilda was most likely a female druid.

The Laughing Buddha and an Ancient Man’s Journey to Simplicity and Contentment

In India, Nepal and throughout Southeast Asia, Buddha is commonly depicted as tall, slender and serene. However, we are also familiar with the image of the “Laughing Buddha” – a short, well-fed, jolly man whose belly one can rub for good luck. This figure is popular in China and those areas to which Chinese cultural influence spread. Artwork of him from past to present shows him laughing gleefully – a stark contrast with the legendary Buddha.