Potens Risus: Creation, Destruction and The Power of Women’s Laughter

woman-2534582_1920.jpgThere is an old saying among the women in my family: “strong women laugh”. In my childhood, I would always see my father and my grandfather come home exhausted to be greeted by their wives with  big smiles and some jokes. For years I saw for myself how the men’s faces involuntarily light up, their shoulders relaxed as they slowly turned from the severe, dull people from whom I am always careful to keep my distance to the brilliant men that I recognized again. I’ve also seen the opposite happened when my mother, for example, was not feeling well that day – the mood of family shifted and the whole household lost its sparkle. So, on a personal level, I always associate a smile or a laughter with leadership, especially by women. It is a great power to be able to light up our surroundings by a smile.

Laughter just might be the most contagious of all emotional experiences. It is also a full-on collaboration between mind and body as well as one of the most mysterious features we have as human beings, mainly because the little act of laughter has a complicated mechanism behind it and can encompass so many things. The great men in the past tried to explain it and failed miserably. Herodotus said that laughter can be distinguished into three types: Those who are innocent of wrongdoing but ignorant of their own vulnerability, those who are mad and those who are overconfident – such an up-beat, positive fellow wasn’t he? But he did have a point as he was convinced that laughter tells the reader something about the future and/or the character of the person laughing. This would have been fine except for the fact that in about 80% of the times when Herodotus speaks about laughter it is followed by a retribution because “men whose laughter deserves report are marked, because laughter connotes scornful disdain, feeling of superiority, and this feeling and the actions which stem from it attract the wrath of the gods”.

Later, a general theory that explains laughter is called “the relief theory”. Sigmund Freud summarized it in his theory that laughter releases tension and psychic energy which explains why laughter can be used as a coping mechanism when one is upset, angry or sad. The perpetual ray of sunshine Friedrich Nietzche suggested laughter to be a reaction to the sense of existential loneliness and mortality that only humans feel. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of Freud and Nietzche. I think it was Jeeves (of P.G Wodehouse’s “Jeeves and Wooster” series which is very funny) who said that Nietzche was “fundamentally unsound”.

I rather prefer Psychologist Robert Provine’s theory, “Laughter is a mechanism everyone has. It is a part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way.” Babies have the ability to laugh before they ever speak. Children who are born blind and deaf still retain the ability to laugh. In other words, when you have nothing else, you will still always have the ability to laugh.

We can continue, of course, to other functions of laughter. It is a highly sophisticated social signaling system which helps people bond and negotiate. It is used as a signal for being part of a group— signaling acceptance and positive interactions with others. Laughter is also contagious, and the laughter of one person can itself provoke laughter from others as a positive feedback. It can also be triggered by embarrassment and other social discomforts which would take a whole lot of other research altogether, so let’s concentrate on happy laughter for now.


The Creation of the World Started from Laughter

One Australian aboriginal creation myth believed that, in the beginning, we were all sleeping and dreaming, and the world was silent and empty. The first thing to awake was a rainbow serpent, and she emerged from the ground, intent on shaking things up (she was quite sassy, you see). She started waking creatures up, one by one, starting with the frogs. Still, she realized that this new world needed water, all of which was contained in the bellies of the frogs. Therefore, the serpent quickly came up with a solution.

The rainbow serpent tickled the frogs until they all began to laugh. Because they laughed so hard,  they began to cough up water. The water flowed, creating plants and awakening many other animals. Any animal who kept the laws the rainbow serpent laid out would become a human, whereas anyone who broke the laws became stones, which we see all over Australia today.

The Sound of Laughter Lights up the World

peru-336152_1920.jpgAnother Aboriginal myth says that a long time ago, only the moon and stars lighted the Earth. No one had ever felt the warmth or seen the light of the sun. The spirits who lived in the sky looked down on all the birds and beasts, concerned that the creatures were not happy. One day they decided that the world needed more light. So they collected wood and began to stack higher and higher and higher. When the wood was stacked so high they could no longer see the top, the spirits light a fire.

“The creatures of the Earth will delight in our light,” the spirits said, “but we must announce its arrival.” The spirits sent a star out into the sky — the first morning star — and instructed it to announce the arrival of the light that would soon warm the world. The star shimmered and sparkled, but few noticed it there in the dimly lighted sky, and when the birds and beasts first saw the light of the great fire, they were so shocked that many of them died of fright.

The spirits then decided they must need a noise to announce the dawn. Something loud. Something unusual, something startling. They began to consider the creatures one by one. Should the crane be granted the power to wake the world? What sounds could other creatures make that might wake everyone? Perhaps the bandicoot could loudly squeak, or the lorikeet could screech. Maybe the kangaroo could make a sound, or even the platypus. It was very confusing. All the creatures of this Earth were special, but how would they decide who would be granted this honor?

Then one day, just after the morning star began to shine, the spirits heard a most amazing sound. Kookaburra peered down at the ground and spied a mouse. He launched himself from his perch in the treetops and pounced upon that mouse, and when he had conquered his prey, he began to laugh. It was a sound like no other. When the spirits heard that sound, they knew that Kookaburra must become the world’s morning trumpeter. That very night the spirits visited Kookaburra in his home inside the gum tree. “Kookaburra,” they said, “every day, just as the morning star begins to fade, you will laugh as loudly as you can. It is your laughter that will wake all the sleepers before our fire lights the sky.”

Kookaburra realized that he could become a hero. He be important and respected. So the very next day, just as the morning star began to fade, Kookaburra looked up at the sky and began to laugh. When the spirits heard that sound, they lighted their fire, and slowly the Earth below began to glow from the light above. The warmth seeped down slowly, building as the fire blazed higher and higher. The flames leapt higher and burned for many hours. And then the fire began to die until, at long last, only embers remained, and the day grew dim at first, and then darkness came again.

The spirits gathered the last of the embers in the clouds, and used these to start their fire the next day, just after they heard Kookaburra’s laugh. Many years later, Kookaburra laughed loudly every morning, and every morning the spirits lighted the fire to warm the Earth below. When the Creator brought people into the world, the spirits instructed them to never tease Kookaburra. The elders instructed their children, “If Kookaburra hears you making fun of him, he will never laugh again. Then we will no longer have light or warmth.” So all the people learned, just as the beasts and birds had learned, that Kookaburra must be respected, for it is he who saved the light for all.

When a Goddess  Saved the World through Dirty Jokes

Those who practice yoga would understand the deep connection that is shared between mind and body. We try to tap into this connection, clearing our thoughts and strengthening our mind – gently returning ourselves to the present. Laughter is like yoga – it forces us to remain present. Consider the intense sensation of a deep belly laugh. When we feel it, we can think of nothing else.

Ancient cultures often told stories of women dedicated to the the sensual. They are often vilified as witches or sorceresses. But a better word for them would have been “wild”. These women represented the fun, the sensual and the deep belly laughs. They were the women who really enjoyed life. In Greek mythology, Baubo, the goddess of mirth, was one of these women. Figurines of Baubo  are found in a number of settings, usually with Greek connections. They were mass-produced in a number of styles, but the basic figure somehow always exposes the vulva in some way. She was portrayed as A plump woman with her legs held apart, gesturing to her exposed vulva, a naked splay-legged figure holding a harp on the back of a boar, a naked headless torso with the face in the body and the vulva in the chin of the face, or a naked squatting figure with her hands on her genitalia. Isn’t it awesome that our modern day penis jokes may have started from a woman?

Anyway, Baubo made an appearance in the story of Persephone and Demeter. In ancient versions of the story, Hades abducted Kore (later Persephone), dragging her into the underworld, thus sending Demeter into a violent and tearful frenzy as she searches for her child. Demeter was unsuccessful, and in her despair she neglected her work of nurturing the crops and morphs into a crazed woman (incidentally, another flashback of my childhood happens to be my grandmother cheering me up by saying “laugh, darling, or we’ll go crazy”). While Demeter was in this state, the trees and flowers die. No one was able to console her until Baubo arrived.

Baubo entertained the nearly-lifeless Demeter, humorously shaking her hips and wiggling her breasts until she saw a little smile on Demeter’s face. Encouraged by this, Baubo began telling a series of bawdy  jokes until Demeter chuckled, giggled, and finally gave in to throaty belly laughs. The laughter revived Demeter and enabled her to continue her search for her daughter.


The Power of Women’s Laughter

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we are trapped in depression. In these cases, a deep belly laugh helps, and many of these laughs come when we surround ourselves with a group of female friends. The energy of women together is different than that of men. Of course, we also need masculine energy just as much as we need female energy, but there is just something sacred and powerful about women gathering together and laugh. This may be why we often hear men talking about “gathering of women” in rather peculiar tones – sometimes mocking, suspicious, but often bewildered and wishful. This misunderstanding led to images of scary witches and covens, and the infamous witches’ cackles. It’s a secret many of them do not understand.

These gatherings of women still exist to this day. Evidently, it scared some men enough for them to naturally try to control it (to this day, every girl or woman would have heard variations of  “you’d look so much prettier when you smile” from well-meaning older men) to put a stop to them altogether. Kaffeeklatsch (Kaffee ‘coffee’ + Klatsch ‘gossip.’) was an informal event in the early 20th century when German women began gathering in small groups at one another’s houses because they weren’t welcome in public coffeehouses. We have more modern versions of this with many names such as “mate date”, “girl talk”, “ladies night” and so on. They were remnants of ancient women’s ritual of being together, talking from the guts, sharing our hearts, laughing ourselves silly until we feel alive again to go and share this energy with the rest of the world.



How Women’s Laughter Could be Dangerous

Now we know why, in the works of the classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa (c. 4th – 5th century CE) we hear descriptions of women being invited to the king’s garden to sing, dance, play and laugh. Women’s laughter was an expression of their sense of security and happiness, therefore it women’s laughter may have been considered as a sign that the empire is doing well. Legend has it that the laughter of women would make the trees burst into flowers.  The sound of women’s laughter was captured on temple walls, and borders of Buddhist stupas, creating a ring of positive energy and keeping out the negative.

However, women’s laughter could also take on a sinister turn. In the Indian epic Mahabharata, Draupadi laughed when she saw Duryodhana slip and fall into a pool. Duryodhana felt so humiliated that he vowed to retaliate and humiliate Draupadi in public one day, thus triggering the great Kurukhsetra war. This is an often repeated story in mythology. The idea of a woman laughing at a man is seen as the most humiliating act – enough even to justify her abuse. Women can laugh, but not at men.

In the Nath-sampradaya (c. 9th – 12th century CE), a princess called Mainakini of Sinhala-Dvipa once looked up at the sky and saw a male celestial being on a flying chariot. The wind caused his clothes to slip from his waist enabling her to see his genitals from below – Mainakini burst out laughing. Humiliated, the deity cursed her to spend the rest of her life in Triya Rajya, the land of women where she would have no access to men, and therefore no male genitals that would make her laugh. In both stories, women who laugh at men are cursed.

If we really believe that women are indeed “the weaker sex”, I suppose Freud was right, then, that laughter can be used as, among many other things, a coping mechanism. Laughter would have been women’s way of gaining power, because laughter strips the object of laughter of power and gives power to the one who laughs. When a woman laughed at men, therefore, it was like the woman took away the man’s power (no wonder some men found this terrifying). Durga knows this when, in the Devi Purana, she enters the battlefield and laughs at the sight of Mahisha and his asura army.

When comics make fun of something, their jokes are, in effect, criticisms highlighting a social issue or a family reality. They invite their audience to laugh at the sometimes depressing and ridiculous lives that they live (corrupt politicians, nagging spouses, etc) The ones who laughs would then feel more powerful and better able to cope with life. When they are laughing at someone, the one who is laughed at is usually told to take a joke because, although making other people laugh is a good thing, every joke has an underlying psychological violence. A joke can hurt and humiliate. It is, in fact, widely acknowledged that a mark of a strong man is to have a sense of humor and to be able to laugh at himself. Some would not be able to take it – they would retaliate and demand a ban on jokes. Anger is amplified especially when the joke was told by a woman. Hence, the common put-downs: women comics are too shrill, too bitter, too vulgar, etc. In short, women are not funny.

In Buddhism, laughter was also an expression of enlightenment. Buddha’s laughter is a state of release from inner tensions into inner harmony. The Buddha’s laughter is said to be  the laughter of compassion, an amusement at the interplay of knowledge and ignorance that makes up the joys and sorrows of life.


Things My Grandmother (and Ancient History) Taught Me about the New Year

For my first blog post in 2018, I would first like to say Happy New Year. I hope your New Year’s period was pleasant in a way that suits you best – whether it was by meditating, taking part in a small gathering with your family and friends or big celebrations. I hope excitements and new plans are happily bouncing around in your minds, and may this year brings more joy to you and your loved ones.

I have been thinking back on some New Years advice from my grandmother. Spend a little time to pray around midnight to be grateful for the year that has passed and ask for blessings for the coming year. If possible, despite the long night of partying, get up early in the first day of the New Year to watch the sunrise. Another advice is to not travel long distance so near the major holidays. If one does need to travel, try to travel one or two weeks (5-13 days) before 25 December at the latest and ideally wait for one or two weeks after the holidays to return. There are ancient precedents for these advice that are rather beautiful.

Nowruz is not only an ancient holiday that is still celebrated globally, it has the distinction of being one of the longest continually celebrated holiday in the world. There are records of it being celebrated in 550 BCE by Cyrus the Great, but versions of the same celebration were also known to be observed 2,000 years earlier in the Kingdom of Aratta. Nowruz is traditionally observed on the day of the vernal equinox, when the coming of spring also heralds the new year. The first five days of the ancient Nowruz celebration were very public, then followed by a more reverent observance. On the 13th day of the festival, people would throw wheat grass into rivers and canals to throw away bad luck and misfortune.

In Babylonia, the festival of Akitu honored Marduk and marked the beginning of the growing season. For the general population, the beginning of the festival meant a week of holidays and celebrations. But, it is the king that I’m especially interested in. The king would begin the festival by going to the temple of Nabu, where the priests presented him with a royal scepter reminding him of his responsibility. He then traveled to the city of Borsippa, where he spent the night participating in religious ceremonies in this city’s temple such as the re-enactment of their creation myths to remind him of his past and the past of his people. When the king returned to Babylonia, he would go to a temple and stripped off his weapons and royal regalia to approach his god with humility befit someone given their rule by a supreme deity.

The hieroglyph for the word renpet (“year”)  is a woman wearing a palm shoot, symbolizing time, over her head. She was often referred to as the Mistress of Eternity. She also personified fertility, youth and spring. The New Year, Wepet Renpet (“the opening of the year”), was based on the annual flooding of the Nile River, an earthly cycle which also coincided with a heavenly cycle. Therefore, the New Year was marked with community feasting and a mix of hope and fear. To the ancient Egyptians, every year was potentially their last, because they didn’t know how the flood would impact them. The annual flood left behind rich deposits of silt, which fertilized crops to feed the entire country. Just the right amount of flooding assured a fruitful harvest – too little means famine, too much means destruction.

The celebration celebrated the death and rebirth of Osiris and, by extension, the rejuvenation and rebirth of the land and the people. Solemn rituals related to the death of Osiris were observed as well as singing and dancing to celebrate his rebirth. The call-and-response poem known as The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys was recited at the beginning to call Osiris to his feast.  The lamentation is when the two goddess-sisters call the soul of Osiris to rejoin the living. The dual entreaties of the two sisters echoed each other in their attempts to symbolically revive Osiris. The best-preserved version of this work comes from the Berlin Papyrus 3008 dating to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE) although the work is much older.

Another ancient Egyptian interpretation is that the New Year’s Day itself was also regarded as the birthday of the god Ra-Horakhety. The belief was that, on New Year’s day the sun was reborn and grew increasingly frail over the year’s final few months. This is another reason why the end of the year was considered dangerous. At the end of the year, the sun god was weak and vulnerable to attack from his enemies. If he were to be defeated, the new year might never arrive.

Therefore, it was a time of great relief when the sun rose on New Year’s day, because the end of the world had been averted. People would then make offerings to Ra-Horakhety at sunrise, pour black ink into the Nile for the goddess Nut and the god Nun as a sign of gratitude, then cleansed themselves by bathing in the Nile. Afterwards, they wore their best clothes and went off to riotous banquets to celebrate their opportunity to see another year.


Another belief is to do with the fact that the Egyptian civil calendar consisted of 360 days, with five “extra” days added to the end. These five extra days were regarded as a dangerous, transitional time, when the goddess Sekhmet controlled 12 demonic murderers who travelled the earth shooting arrows from their mouths and cause plague wherever they went. To protect themselves, the Egyptians performed rituals and wore charms around their necks to pacify Sekhmet, ensuring her protection instead of her wrath. This is similar to the Aztec calendar where the passing of the old year and the coming of the new were two very different sets of days. The last five days of the year were called nemontemi, and they were considered very dangerous days where dark spirits wander the land. People mostly stayed indoors, kept to themselves, and kept quiet to avoid attracting the attention of these spirits.


I would like to thank you for the support and encouragements for “Time Maps: Matriarchy and The Goddess Culture”. The book is now available through Amazon Kindle and will be available in its physical form soon. I am at the moment going through the round of interviews to promote it. One of the interviews is already available through Sakura Publishing and there will be more interviews and articles to come. Apart from this site, you will also find some of my articles in Ancient Origins and Ancient History Encyclopedia where you will find many more interesting articles on Mythology and Ancient History by other authors, and my talks in Udemy and Yoohcan. I look forward to producing more books, courses and articles this year and will be sure to keep you updated.



Honoring the Mother Creator, the Passionate Princess and the Lady of the Sea

The descendents of the Great Mother, or Queen of Heaven, still have a place in the local mythologies and cultures from Indonesia and the Philippines to Hawaii.

The Tinguian people of the Philippines honor Agemem (“Lady Creator”) as co-creator (with her husband) of the sun, moon, earth and stars. In Borneo some Dayaks honor Jata who, together with the sun, created the world and sky. She is a serpent or dragon figure, and an inhabitant of the primeval chaos, like Tiamat. Rabia is an Earth goddess who, like Inanna, Eurydice, and many others, enters the underworld and is then reborn – her story is from the island of Ceram, in Eastern Indonesia, near New Guinea.

In spite of variations of language and culture, the words Hine and Hina are common across the Polynesian part of the Pacific for the names and titles of goddesses, and always denote something great, sacred and feminine. The various Hine/Hina goddesses may simply be aspects of one Great Goddess. This uniformity suggests that there may have been one great goddess with a similar name who was worshipped by the Polynesians in ancient times. In particular the New Zealand Maoris have Hine Te Iwa Iwa, who is the Maori Goddess of women, childbirth and creativity.

Hinaura was the sister or cousin of Maui who met and married the famous rangatira, Tinirau, who could speak to whales and befriend them. Hinaura and Tinirau had a son, Tu-huruhuru. They were very happy living in his kainga, village. Then one day Tinirau hit her. Hinaura took her son to her whānau kainga.

After many months of his pleading with her, Hinaura returned to his village. They were happy until one day Tinirau found another woman. Hinaura objected, so Tinirau imprisoned her behind a wall of magic whale rib bones. She was angered and called her brother/cousin Maui-mua. He changed himself in to a rupe, pigeon, and she rode on the bird’s back out of the prison.

Hinaura gathered her courage and decided to move on with her life. To mark the event, she changed her name to Hine te iwa iwa. She left Tu-huruhuru with Tinirau in order to pacify him, knowing that his whānau would continue to care for him. She became an expert in women’s affairs and responsibilities supporting ruahine and puhi, including the domestic arts. She protects and defends women in their work especially in childbirth.

Hine Moa (“Passionate Princess”) is honored for the virtues of loyalty and courage. Noble born Hine Moa was charmed by the sound of music played by Tutanekai. When Tutanekai visited the mainland with his people, he met Hine Moa and they fell in love. The young man had perforce to return to his village, but the lovers arranged that every night he would play and that Hine Moa would follow the sound of his music to join him.

Tutanekai kept up a nightly serenade but Hine Moa’s people, suspecting something was afoot, had hidden all the canoes. The maiden, however, was not to be deterred and, selecting six large, dry, empty gourds as floats, she decided to swim to the island. Guided by the strains of her loved one’s music, Hine Moa safely reached the other shore and landed near a hot spring, Waikimihia, in which she warmed and refreshed herself – the pool is on Mokoia Island to this day. Just at that moment Tutanekai sent his servant for water. This man disturbed the girl who, pretending to be a man, spoke in a gruff voice and, when she learnt his errand, begged for a drink from the calabash which she smashed as soon as she had had her fill. The servant then went back and reported to Tutanekai what had happened. He was ordered back again and again, each time with the same result, until all the calabashes were broken. The now irate young man himself went down to the pool and to his joy discovered Hine Moa. Like all good stories, the legend has a conventional ending – they lived happily ever after.

There is also Hine Moana is “The Lady of the Sea”, which is natural enough considering the Polynesian tradition of seafaring.

Giant Kauri tree Tāne Mahuta, or “Lord of the Forest”.
According to Maori mythology Tane is the son of Ranginui and Papatuanuku. 

The Maori Earth Mother is Papatuanuku, and her husband Rangi Nui is the Sky Father. These two were created by Io, the fundamental divine principle, and together, as the productive and generative principles, they created everything that is between the Earth and the Sky.

Haumea is an Earth Mother goddess and called the “Mother of Hawaii”. She is particularly concerned with childbirth and women’s affairs. Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, and Hi’iaka Laka, the Goddess of the hula, love and fertility, are her daughters. Again the trinitarian nature of the goddess is evident and the relation between the three aspects parallels that of the aspects of Ratu Kidul.

People in Hawaii also respects the Queen of the Sea, also sometimes called the Queen of the South Sea. This respect is encouraged by the tradition that she can appear as a very beautiful young woman, wearing a scarlet red dress and walking by the side of the road, but that men who stop to pick her up sometimes vanish and are never heard from again. Many people claim to have seen her, but since none of them disappeared we still hear only half of the story.

“Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is due in January 2018. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link.




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.

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.

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.


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.



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).

demeter mourning.jpg
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.

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.



She Survived … and Still Very Much the Queen: Java’s Ratu Kidul and the Tradition of Ocean Goddesses

I am at the moment still pressing on with my side of the research into the goddess culture for the upcoming Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture, and I am at the stage now where we break down and analyse the elements of the Mother Goddess, for example her close association with snakes, fertility, the moon and the sea. Seeing just those four elements alone has already led us to many goddesses all over the world that we can say are “descended” from the Great Goddess herself.

Ratu Kidul

One of those goddesses is the ancient Javanese Sea Goddess Nyai Loro Kidul, or Ratu Kidul. In 2003 an internet search found more than 2600 sites or pages, in more than six languages, referencing Ratu Kidul. This is more than some popular celebrities have, and the number continues to increase, with more sites being added every month. However, one would usually find very little historical information beyond the oral tradition which has been passed down through generations and gets less informative over time.

Ratu Kidul’s qualities and personality fits nicely into the Mother Goddess paradigm – she is both beautiful and terrifying, she represents the three phases of the moon, as well as her close association to the sea (wild and untamable) and the snake (immortal and fertile). Another important aspect of the Ratu Kidul mythology is that it so closely parallels the mythology of the Great Mother Goddesses of ancient times. Via the Indian goddesses Durga and Sri Devi, to the Buddhist goddess Tara, and the Indonesian fertility spirit Dewi Sri, plus other associations with China, Cambodia and Vietnam, Ratu Kidul acquired all of the characteristics of the Mother Goddess, albeit in reduced form.

Parang Tritis – Yogyakarta

The island of Java has a population of about 120 million people, and over 90% of them are Muslims. Although Arab and Iranian traders reached Java in the seventh century, Islam only became dominant at the end of the fifteenth century, shortly before Vasco da Gama reached India. Before that the religious culture was a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. There were trade links between India and Indonesia around 1400BCE but Hinduism only became dominant in the main islands of Indonesia (Java, Bali, Sumatra and Borneo/Kalimantan) in 78CE, with the introduction of the Saka calendar from India. The earliest forms of Ratu Kidul come from that preHindu period, and over the last two thousand years they have been overlayed and augmented with Hindu and Islamic elements.

The kingdom of Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas (‘ratu’ = queen, and ‘kidul’ = south), is called Karaton Bale Sokodhomas, and the center of the kingdom is in the Java Trench, which runs parallel to the south coast of Java and is the deepest part of the Indian Ocean (seven kilometers deep). Her palace is there, below the ocean, directly south from Merapi Mountain and the city of Yogyakarta in Central Java, but her influence covers all of Bali, Java and the southern part of Sumatra. In particular the volcano, Krakatoa, lies within her domain.


The beach at Parang Tritis, south of Yogyakarta, is said to face directly towards the queen’s palace, and many people have reported seeing the queen there, usually emerging from the sea. It is forbidden to wear the color green on the beach, since that is the queen’s favorite color – and there are many stories of people who have worn that color being washed away by unexpectedly large waves. Green, by the way, was also the color of the goddess Tara.

The queen rules a kingdom, and a kingdom needs government officials. Nyi Blorong, who is the queen’s daughter, is the minister of foreign affairs and commander of the armed forces. The queen’s armed forces are all spiritual entities such as djins, ghouls, elves, and others, and most of them are female (matriarchy). Nyi Blorong is strongly linked with snakes, and can be considered as a snake goddess. Most of the stories about her show only her terrifying aspect. Indonesian film makers have produced several horror movies with Nyi Blorong as the main character.

In a tradition that goes back at least five hundred years, the Javanese kings are spiritually “married” to Ratu Kidul, and through this marriage link the queen becomes also the protector of the Mataram kingdom and dynasty. (The kingdom is part of the Republic of Indonesia, but it still retains some special privileges.) The kingdom now has two main rulers and two minor rulers, two each in Yogyakarta and Solo. Both of the major rulers are considered to be married to Ratu Kidul.

This tradition of spiritual marriage is not unique. A precisely parallel tradition existed in which the Doges of Venice married a sea goddess to ensure the protection of the city-state. In Java it began with the early kings in Solo, but with the king Paku Buwana X, it changed into something stranger. The story is that Paku Buwana had been with the queen on the top floor of Panggung Sangga Buwana and started to slip on the steep stairs as they were descending. The queen reached out and saved him, crying out in shock, “Oh, … My child!”. Since it was the word of the queen, it had the force of law, so in Solo the ruler is considered as the son and husband of the queen. This is an interesting reversion to one of the most ancient traditions of the Mother Goddess – that of the holy family as represented by Isis, her husband Osiris and her son Horus, who will become Osiris.

Gate of Ankor Thom

Javanese Animism, Islam and Hinduism are not the only sources of elements of the Ratu Kidul mythology. In China, one can still find temples or shrines dedicated to Kuan-Yin, who was once a deity of fishermen, who would call on her to  protect them at sea and give them good catches. One of her ancient titles was “Queen of the Southern Ocean”. The meetings of the rulers of Solo and Yogyakarta with the Queen were also paralleled by the meetings of the Khmer kings in the Angkor Thom complex, in Cambodia, with a being described as a snake goddess, who could appear as a beautiful woman.

Hinduism and Buddhism declined after Islam achieved political dominance and the goddesses were forgotten, but Ratu Kidul remained – a descendant of the Great Mother Goddess, still alive and well in a strictly monotheistic Islamic culture. She survived and  still very much the queen.

I am developing a little collection of goddess images on Instagram that I update regularly to help me think. Please do come and say hello sometime.

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



Why We are Afraid of Women: The Anima, the Animus and the Great Goddess

“The Life & Age of Woman – Stages of Woman’s Life from the Cradle to the Grave”, a ca. 1849 U.S. print illustrating 11 chronological stages of virtuous womanhood.

The word “feminine” and “feminism”, with its many variations, has become somewhat of a dirty word these days. Young women deny vehemently any suggestion that they are in any way a “feminist”. Some would cautiously say “yes I am a feminist” before quickly adding a qualifier “but I like men” as if not saying that would make them in any way less of a woman. The recently announced actress for the TV Show Dr. Who, the first female to take on the iconic 50+ years character, drew such vitriol online that she had to urge the audience to “not be afraid” of her gender – These are only some mild examples compared to many other situations where an apology, explanation or, at least, an earnest assurance that no harm is being done is required for being a woman.

As with everything else, there are ancient precedents for this distaste for femininity. One source of resistance in Europe stems from the gynophobia of the early Church Fathers of Christianity. The church institutionalized the message that the present position of women in society is better than it has ever been before, and that this is due to Christianity and the church. The institutions of the state concurred in this assessment since it suited them well enough. These views have become entrenched in religion and law, since both the church and state base their powers on the cultural assumption that women are inferior, weaker and dependent, compared with the superior men. However, the reality is that none of these claims has ever been true in the family, the community, religion, or society at large. Aristophanes was aware of this and it is part of the comedy in his play “Lysistrata”, in which the women abstain from sexual relations with their husbands until the men promise to stop making wars and trouble all over the place. It worked for a while but, of course, not completely as planned because most normal healthy women are not saints either.

AMAZONS_EURASIA.jpgAlthough the 19th century Swiss scientist Johann Jakob Bachofen showed that a matrifocal age once existed in Europe, many people still resist this notion. One reason is the, by now culturally embedded, memory of males being the socially dominant and the center of attention. Evidence that this is purely a cultural choice has been interpreted as an attempt to lower the prestige of men in their own eyes, and perhaps reduce their hold on the centers of power. Therefore, it has been strongly resisted.

The nature of the Great Goddess gives us a clue to one of the deepest reasons for the resistance to evidence of matriarchies and other matrifocal cultures. There is no complete list of all the names the goddess has had and still has, but in Europe, the Nile-Oxus Region and North Africa,  she has more than 260 names. She has been called the Triple Goddess, the White Goddess, the Goddess of Creation, the Great Mother, and Goddess of the Sea (the sea represents feelings – deep and untameable). We find that in some cultures with strong traditions of the Sea Goddess a strongly-held belief that marrying the goddess (or at least mating her to a king or a hero) is considered to be the way to “tame” her spirit.

The Great Goddess combines all aspects of the Triple Goddess in one personality – she is nurturing, enchanting and dangerous at the same time. She is both beautiful and terrifying. To have a close encounter with her can be deeply disturbing, even fatal, for a man if he is not guarded and careful. However, women report different reactions, such as reaching a new degree of maturity in their womanhood. They feel empowered, stronger and more certain in who they are and how they can contribute to their society.

goddess -Joy-_sculpture_by_Christine_Baxter_2013The myths and attributes of the White Goddess or Triple Goddess are remarkably similar all over the world, from Ireland to Japan and from Africa to Hawaii. In fact the goddess has all the characteristics of the Jungian Anima. The anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind as well as the abstract symbolic sets that formulate the archetype of the Self. Both are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious – that is, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of a man, this archetype finds expression as a feminine inner personality (anima) and in the unconscious of a woman it is expressed as a masculine inner personality (animus). The anima also influences a man’s interactions with women and his attitudes toward them and vice versa for women and the animus. Jung viewed the anima as being one of the sources of creative ability.

The association of the goddess with the Anima explains many things about her – why she is a source of creativity and destruction, of exaltation and terror; and why most men find it difficult to think about her without becoming emotional, and find it almost impossible to talk sensibly about her at all. This also explains why the prospect of reaching mature womanhood (i.e. being older) is a terrifying prospect for many women. The suppression of the goddess religions, which was often quite irrationally brutal, is also more understandable if one considers it as a reaction by the Animus after a long period of domination by the Anima.

Almost all of the myths of the Great Mother goddess have now been replaced by myths of gods, or, as in the story of Talia, they have been altered so much that the original meaning has been lost. The oldest surviving form of the Snow White story is inseparable from the Sleeping Beauty story. It involves a girl named Talia who is exiled to the forest, gets a poisoned thorn in her finger and goes into a death-like coma. The handsome prince comes along and makes her pregnant. Talia gives birth to two children, a boy and a girl. Of course, this is not the Disney version of the story, but there is another component of the story, now forgotten, that lifts it out of the realm of fairy tales completely – the children’s names were Sun and Moon. Talia was a goddess of creation, and the handsome prince was a god. It is a story of how the universe came into being and Talia is the Great Mother goddess. So, the Great Goddess is not dead as in the stories we read to our children there are still remnants of a tradition that goes back tens of thousands of years.

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