No Such Thing as “True Love”: The Tragedy of Venus and Adonis

Adonis is a young man renowned for his beauty. But he is not interested in love and only wants to go hunting. When Venus sees Adonis, she falls in love with him and comes down to earth where she encounters him setting out on a hunt. She asks him to get off his horse, and speak to her,but Adonis does not want to talk to any woman, not even a goddess. So she forces him to listen. She lies down beside him, gazes at him, and talks of love. He manages to get away and goes to get his horse.

At that moment, Adonis’ horse becomes enamored of another horse and soon the two animals gallop off together, which keeps Adonis from going hunting. Venus approaches him, and continues to speak to him of love. He listens for a bit, then turns away scornfully. This pains her and she faints. Afraid that he might have killed her, Adonis kneels to stroke and kiss her. Venus recovers and requests one last kiss. He reluctantly gives in.

Unsatisfied, Venus wants to see him again. But, Adonis tells her that he is going to hunt the wild boar. Venus desperately warns him that if he does so, he will be killed by a boar. She then flings herself on him, tackling him to the ground. Adonis pries himself loose and, after lecturing her (the goddess of love) on the topic of lust versus love, he leaves, leaving the heartbroken Venus behind.

The next morning Venus roams the woods searching for Adonis. Hearing dogs and hunters in the distance, she thinks back on her vision that her beloved will be killed by a boar. Afraid, she hurries to catch up with the hunt. Soon, she finds Adonis, killed by a wild boar.

Devastated, Venus decrees that love will henceforth be mixed with suspicion, fear, and sadness. 

Artwork by ROOSDY.
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The Firsts of the World: Greatest Ancient Love Stories

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Plato’s Symposium, depiction by Anselm Feuerbach

In Plato’s Symposium (c. 385–370 BCE), Socrates mentions that, in his youth, he was taught “the philosophy of love” by a woman named Diotima, a priestess from Mantinea. She taught Socrates the concept of love as a means of ascent to contemplation of the divine, arguing that the goal of love is immortality, either through the creation of children or beautiful things. This is an ancient concept. So ancient, in fact, that there are many love stories that were so great that they gave birth to changes in the world and new knowledges that we take for granted today.

The First Winter: Adonis and Aphrodite (Phoenician)

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“Adonis and Aphrodite” by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich

Adonis was born a most beautiful child. Aphrodite placed him into a coffin which she entrusted to Persephone, goddess of the Underworld. When Aphrodite returned to retrieve the coffin she discovered that Persephone had opened it and claimed the handsome child for herself. The dispute became so nasty that Zeus had to intervene. He then decided that Adonis should spend half the year on earth and half in the Underworld.

In another version of this myth Adonis was a hunter. Because Aphrodite loved Adonis, she tried to persuade him to give up the dangerous sport. Adonis refused and was killed by a wild boar. This myth actually came before the Ancient Greek version. In the sixth century the Phoenician name for this character was discovered. He was the agricultural divinity named Eshmun, which explained the 6 month alternation between the earth and the underworld.

Eshmun was known at least from the Iron Age period at Sidon and was worshipped also in Tyre, Beirut, Cyprus, Sardinia and Carthage where the site of Eshmun’s temple is now occupied by the acropolium of Carthage. Damascius stated that, “The Asclepius in Beirut is neither a Greek nor an Egyptian, but some native Phoenician divinity. For to Sadyk were born children who are interpreted as Dioscuri and Cabeiri; and in addition to these was born an eighth son, Esmunus, who is interpreted as Asclepius.”

Photius summarizes Damascius as saying further that Asclepius of Beirut was a youth who was fond of hunting. He was seen by the goddess Astronoë who so harassed him with amorous pursuit that in desperation he castrated himself and died. Astronoë then restored the youth to life from the warmth of her body and changed him into a god. A village near Beirut named Qabr Shmoun, “Eshmoun’s grave,” still exists.

The First Cesarean Section: Zal and Rudabeh (Persian)

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Zal and Rudaba in a Palace, page from a copy of the Shahnama of Firdausi

Zal, son of a Feridun chief named Sam, was born with snow white hair. This curious condition aroused fear that he might be a son of a devil, and Sam was forced to abandon the boy on a mountaintop. A simurgh, a bird with magic powers, snatched up the crying baby and raised him with its own nestlings.

Upon dreaming that his son still lived, Sam prayed to be reunited. The simurgh instructed Zal that he must return to his father, but gave him a feather that would ensure Zal’s safety if he were ever in danger. Sam welcomed his son and eventually put him in charge of Zabulistan where he performed his duties well. Zal decided to visit other places including Kabul. The chief of Kabul was a descendant of Zohak, an enemy of Zal’s father Sam and the king of Persia. Zal knew that the smart thing to do would be to avoid contact with the chief, but he wanted to meet the chief’s daughter Rudabeh who was described as “fair as the moon with ringlets of dark hair that reached her feet and whose presence made men think of heaven.” Rudabeh in turn had heard of Zal, and invited Zal to her palace retreat. The two realized their great love for each other, but feared their families’ enmity.

When Zal confessed his love for Rudabeh to his father, Sam consulted astrologers, and found out that the offspring of the two lovers would become a great conqueror. He sent Zal with a letter for Rudabeh’s father asking his permission for the marriage. The king received the same sign from the astrologers and consented. Rudabeh and Zal married, and the two kings made peace.

When Rudabeh was ready to give birth, she became gravely ill. Zal placed the simurgh feather on the fire. The simurgh appeared and instructed that Rudabeh be drugged with wine. Her side was opened, her child drawn out, and the incision rubbed with an herb and another feather from the simurgh’s wing – the world’s first cesarean procedure. The child named Rustam revealed himself immediately to be a hero and the fulfillment of the simurgh’s prophecy.

The First Embalment: Osiris and Isis (Egyptian)

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A crocodile with Osiris mummy on his back with Isis (left) and a solar disk (above), Isis Temple, Philae Island, Egypt

Osiris, son of Earth and Sky, was the husband-brother of Isis, goddess of the earth and moon. Set, the god of darkness, trapped Osiris in a coffin and threw him into the Nile. Grief-stricken Isis found the coffin and retrieved her husband’s body, but inspite of her attempts to hide it in Egypt, Set found it again and cut it into fourteen pieces which he scattered throughout the land. Isis searched again. When she found the parts, she rejoined the fragments, and restored the god to eternal life with the first use of the rites of embalment.

The First Dynasty: Sakuntala and Dashyanta (Indian)

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“Shakuntala looking back to glimpse Dushyanta” by Ravi Sharma

Sakuntala was abandoned in the forest where she survived on food brought by birds. She was discovered by the sage Kanva who raised her as his own daughter at a hermitage. One day King Dushyanta was hunting in the forest, and having caught sight of Sakuntala, fell in love. He persuaded her to marry him and gave her a ring of commitment when he departed. Unfortunately, Sakuntala, upon returning to the hermitage, mistakenly offended the irritable sage Durvasas. He cast a curse that she would be forgotten by her husband forever unless King Dushyanta spied the ring he had left with her.

Eventually it was time for Sakuntala to find her husband and she left the hermitage. When she stopped to bathe in a sacred pool, Sakuntala dropped the ring. In accordance with the curse, Dushyanta did not recognize her when she arrived at the palace and denied their marriage, although he did feel sorry for the grief-stricken girl about to give birth to a child. Sakuntala sadly withdrew from the palace only to be whisked away to a sacred grove by an apparition. There she bore a son named Bharata.

When a fisherman later found a ring inside a fish, he was taken before Dushyanta as a suspect of theft. Upon seeing the ring Dushyanta realized his vow to Sakuntala and anxiously sought her. The god Indra appeared in his chariot and carried Dushyanta to the sacred grove. There Dushyanta and Sakuntala were reunited and rejoiced in the heroic destiny of their son Bahrata who later gave his name to the dynasty of which he was the founder. It was in Bharata’s dynasty that later the Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata were born

The First Milky Way: The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl (Chinese)

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“The Moon of the Milky Way (Ginga no tsuki)”, by Yoshitoshi

The Vega and the Altair Stars were in love. However, it was forbidden for the stars to fall in love. The Celestial Queen Mother and the Heavenly Emperor heard of their love and became furious.  Despite the other stars’ protestations on behalf of the two lovers, the Celestial Queen Mother banished the Altair Star down to earth. The Vega Star was punished to weave the clouds in the sky for all eternity. Because of this, she became known as Zhinu (“the Weaver Girl”). Clouds in the skies were weaved by the Zhinu with celestial silk.

On earth, the Altair Star was reborn into a farming family. After his parents passed away, he stayed with his brother and sister-in-law, who treated him badly. Eventually, he was chased out of their home with only an old ox and a broken cart. He and his ox were inseparable, plowing and working hard to make ends meet. Because of this friendship, the people in the village came to know him as Niulang (“the Cowherd”).

One day, the Heavenly Maidens, servants of the Celestial Queen Mother, requested her permission to descend to Bi Lian Lake in the mortal world. They took pity on the heartbroken Weaver Girl and requested for her to be allowed to join them on the trip. The Celestial Queen Mother granted their request.

Unbeknownst to Niulang, his old ox was the reincarnation of the Golden Ox Star Jinniu, one of the stars who dared speak against the Celestial Queen Mother in his defense. One day, the ox suddenly spoke to him, “Go to Bi Lian Lake today. You will find the coats of heavenly maidens by the rocks, while they are bathing in the lake. Take the red coat and the maiden will become your wife.”

Niulang obeyed. He hid near the lake and, true to the Ox’s words, heavenly maidens gracefully danced down from the sky. The maidens placed their dresses by the rock and stepped into the Lake. Seeing his chance, Niulang took the red cloaks. The maidens were frantic to find there was man near them. Putting on their cloaks in haste, they flew back to heaven. Only one heavenly maid was left in the lake, Zhinu.

Niulang stepped forward and asked Zhinu to be his wife. At this moment, Zhinu recognized him as the Altair Star whom she still loved and happily became his wife. She lived with him on earth and bore him a son and a daughter. However, their joy did not last, as when the Celestial Queen Mother soon deployed heaven guards and soldiers to bring Zhinu back to the sky.

Back on earth, the old ox was dying. He asked Niulang to keep his ox hide well, so that one day Niulang will be able to make a cape of the hide and fly into the sky. Sadly, Niuland and Zhinu peeled the hide and gave the ox a burial. Suddenly, the heavenly soldiers came and took Zhinu away. She could do nothing except to be taken back to the clouds and skies with the soldiers. As she was flying, she heard a voice, “Wife, wait for me!” It was Niulang. Looking back, she saw him flying behind them, wearing the magical ox hide, holding a basket with their two children in it. Soon, she could see the faces of her children and hear their cries for her. When they were almost reunited, the Celestial Queen Mother appeared and with a wave of her hairpin, created the Milky Way between them, separating them forever.

The couple and their children gazed tearfully across the Milky Way at each other. All the stars and gods in heaven cried with them, pained that a loving family had to be separated. Soon, even the Heavenly Emperor felt sorry for them. He allowed the family to stay in the sky and remain as stars, permitting them to see each other once every year on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that day, magpies formed a living bridge to reunite the Cowherd, the Weaver Girl and their two children in the skies.

The Beginning of the World, the Pain and Separation of the Divine Family

In Maori mythology, Ranginui and Papatūānuku are the sky father and the earth mother. They lie locked together in a tight embrace. Their many children, the gods, are therefore forced to live in the cramped darkness between them. These children always dreamed of living in the light. When they grew up, Tumatauenga, the god of war and fiercest of the children, proposes that the best solution to their predicament is to kill their parents.

Image by holgerheinze0 from Pixabay

But his brother Tane, god to forests and birds, disagrees, suggesting that it is better to push them apart. If they pushed Ranginui and Papatūānuku apart, Ranginui would be propelled upwards to form the sky while Papatūānuku will remain below to nurture them. Their brothers preferred this plan and immediately put this plan into action. Rongo, the god of cultivated food, Tangaroa, the god of the sea, and Haumia-tiketike, the god of wild food,  pushed his parents apart with their hands. However, in spite of their joint efforts Ranginui and Papatūānuku remain close together in their loving embrace. After many attempts Tāne lies on his back and pushes Ranginui away from Papatūānuku with his strong legs. Stretching every sinew of his body, Tāne pushes and pushes until, with cries of shock and grief, Ranginui and Papatūānuku were pried apart.

And so, for the first time in their lives, the children of Ranginui and Papatūanuku see light. However, not everyone was happy about this separation. Tawhirimatea, the god of storms and winds, is angered that his parents have been torn apart and cannot bear to see his father’s tears as he was ripped apart and thrown up to the sky. Tawhirimatea flies off to join Ranginui. To fight his brothers, Tāwhirimātea gathers an army of his children—winds and clouds of different kinds, including fierce squalls, whirlwinds, gloomy thick clouds, fiery clouds, hurricane clouds and thunderstorm clouds, and rain, mists and fog. As these winds show their might the dust flies and the great forest trees of Tāne are smashed under the attack and fall to the ground, food for decay and for insects. 

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Then Tāwhirimātea attacks the oceans and huge waves rise, whirlpools form, and Tangaroa, the god of the sea, flees in panic. Punga, a son of Tangaroa, has two children, Ikatere – the father of fish, and Tu-te-wehiwehi – the father pf reptiles. Terrified by Tāwhirimātea’s onslaught, Ikatere seek shelter in the sea and Tu-te-wehiwehi found refuge in the forests. Tangaroa has been angry with Tāne eversince for giving refuge to Tu-te-wehiwehi and for helping the descendants of Tūmatauenga with tools to catch his grandchildren, the fish. So whenever Tāne supplies the descendants of Tūmatauenga with canoes, fishhooks and nets to catch the descendants of Tangaroa, Tangaroa retaliates by swamping the canoes and sweeping away houses, land and trees that are washed out to sea in floods, hoping that the reptiles, children of Tu-te-wehiwehi would finally come home.

Tāwhirimātea then attacks his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike, the gods of cultivated and uncultivated foods. However, Papatūānuku hides them so well that Tāwhirimātea cannot find them. Unsatisfied, Tāwhirimātea turns on his brother Tūmatauenga. However, Tūmatauenga stands fast and Tāwhirimatea cannot prevail against him. At last, the war of the gods subsided and peace prevailed.

Tūmatauenga never forgotten about Tane’s action in separating their parents and his brothers’ preference towards Tane’s methods. He made snares to catch the birds so that the children of Tāne who could no longer fly free. He then made nets from forest plants and casts them in the sea so that the children of Tangaroa would lie in heaps on the shore. He made hoes to dig the ground, capturing his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike where they have hidden from Tāwhirimātea. Recognising them by their long hair that remains above the surface of the earth, he drags them up and heaps them into baskets to be eaten. Thus Tūmatauenga eats all of his brothers and their children to repay them for what he perceived as their cowardice.

All these actions left out one more child of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. This child was never born and still lives inside Papatūanuku. Whenever this child is kicking the earth shakes and causes an earthquake. His name is Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes.

Perhaps contrary to Tūmatauenga’s belief, Tāne took no pleasure in separating his parents. Later, he searched for heavenly bodies as lights to beautifully adorn his father. He threw up the stars, the moon and the sun towards his father, hoping to make him a little happier. Ranginui and Papatūanuku continue to grieve for each other to this day. Ranginui’s tears sometimes fall towards Papatūanuku to show how much he loves her. Sometimes Papatūanuku heaves and strains and almost breaks herself apart to reach her beloved partner again but it is to no avail. When mist rises from the forests, these are Papatūānuku’s sighs as the warmth of her body yearns for Ranginui and continues to nurture mankind.

Image by Maraea from Pixabay

Can We Really Trust the Rat? 6 reasons the rat came in first in the race of the legendary Chinese Zodiacs

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The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka

There are many versions and stories popular in different regions of China about the legend of the Chinese Zodiac. Why were there twelve animals in the zodiac calendar and where did the order come from? How did the rat get first place and the dragon come in fifth? Consensus seemed to say the rat cheated which, according to at least three of the versions, he totally did! But, then again, the following versions are only six out of probably thousands, so I may be a tad unfair to the little beast.

  1. The 12 animals came to bid Buddha farewell.

Buddha summoned all of the animals of the earth to come before him before his departure from this earth, but only 12 animals actually came to say goodbye. To reward them,  named a year after each of them. The years were given to them in the order they had arrived.

  • The rat forgot to wake the cat up and ditched the ox

The Jade Emperor (The Emperor in Heaven in Chinese folklore) ordered that animals would be designated as calendar signs and the twelve that arrived first would be selected. The cat and the rat were good friends, so when they heard this news, the cat asked the rat to wake him up very early the next day so they could get in early together. The rat said yes. So the two happy little animals slept excitedly that night.

But then, in the morning, the rat was too excited to remember his promise and went straight to the gathering place. On the way, he saw the tiger, ox, horse, and other bigger animals that ran much faster. To catch up with him the rat thought of an idea. “That ox fellow is pretty quick for a big guy!” So he decided to trick the ox. The rat told the ox to let him jump onto his back so that he could sing to him and make their journey to the gathering place more pleasant. The ox agreed. Soon without knowing, the ox was walking to the signing post, forgetting the rat on his back. When they reached there, the rat jumped off and claimed first place. The ox and the rest followed.

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he Garden of the Chinese zodiac in Kowloon Walled City Park
  • The rat forgot to sign in on behalf of the cat and got into the elephant’s trunk.

In this story, it was the Yellow Emperor who wanted to select twelve guards The rat told the cat that he’d get there early to sign up for the both of them. But then rat completely forgot., or maybe he intentionally didn’t do it for the cat. Either way, the attending animals were  requested to have a swimming race and the  elephant also participated. The rat didn’t fancy getting drowned, so he decided to hitch a ride on the big elephant. Since the elephant was too big and round, the mouse could only got into its trunk. The elephant ran away in fright, and centuries later elephants are still afraid of rats.

  • The rat didn’t cheat, but he had the correct amount of toes.

Many famous scholars in history had their own interpretations about this. Hong Xun from the Song dynasty based his theory on the Yin and Yang Theory. Among the twelve animals – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig – rat, tiger, dragon, monkey and dog have five toes. Five is an odd number which is thought to be in yang side (or positive). Horse has one toe, also an odd number. Others animals have toes of even numbers which are thought to be yin, negative. Snake has no toe but its tongue has two tips in even number. Ying and yang animal signs were interlaced. The rat’s forepaws have four toes and hindpaws have five toes, with both odd and even numbers. For such a special creature among the twelve animals, he won the first place.

  • The rat was the hero who started the world.

In the Chinese mythology about the origin of world, the universe was dark and shaped like an egg before the earth and heaven were separated. It was the rat that bit a crack and let the air in. He was the hero who started the world.

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Jade Dragon Temple, Malaysia
  • The animals arrived according to their natures.

The cat and the rat were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. Although they were poor swimmers, they were both quite intelligent. To get to the meeting called by the Jade Emperor, they had to cross a river to reach the meeting place. The Jade Emperor had also decreed that the years on the calendar would be named for each animal in the order they arrived to the meeting. They decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the ox, who agreed to carry them both across. Midway across the river, the rat pushed the cat into the water. Then as ox neared the other side of the river, the rat jumped ahead and reached the shore first. So he claimed first place.

The ox followed closely behind him and earned second place. Then came the tiger, panting, explaining to the Jade Emperor how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents pushing it downstream all the time. But he made it to the shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle.

Suddenly, the rabbit arrived. He jumped from one stone to another nimbly. Halfway through, he almost lost the race, but he grabbed hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. He became the 4th animal in the Zodiac cycle. In 5th place was the dragon. He  had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore was held back. Then, on his way to the finish, he saw a little helpless rabbit clinging onto a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore.

Then the horse appeared. Hidden on the horse’s hoof was the snake, whose sudden appearance gave the horse a fright, making it fall back and the snake slithered into the 6th spot, while the horse placed 7th.

Not long after that, the goat, the monkey and the rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the goat and the monkey cleared the weeds and pulled until the raft got to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the emperor named the goat as the 8th creature, the monkey as the 9th, and the rooster the 10th.

The dog was the 11th animal. He was supposed to be the best swimmer,  but he couldn’t resist the temptation to play a little longer in the river. Just as the Jade Emperor was about to call it a day, a little pig arrived. The pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, he continued the race and was named the 12th animal of the zodiac cycle. The cat drowned and never made it in the zodiac. Centuries later, cats always chase rats, to get back at them for tricking them out of their chance of being a zodiac.

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Fung Ying Sen Koon temple Chinese Zodiac statue heads

The Sisters of Fire and Water

When the Hawaiian sea goddess Namakaokahai met the mighty sorcerer, Aukelenuiaiku, she was impressed by his warrior spirit. Soon, she married him, showed him all her forms and taught him her magical powers.

Unfortunately, after their marriage, Aukelenuiaiku was seduced by another woman. To add insult to injury, that woman was none other than Namakaokahai’s own younger sister, Pele. It is one of the odd mysteries of life that when a man was unfaithful to his wife, the wife would first blame the other woman. Such was the case with Namakaokahai and Pele. Overcomed with rage, Namakaokahai sent high tides and floods to destroy Pele’s home. Pele fled but could not escape her sister’s wrath.


Pele’s help came in the form of her oldest brother Kamohoali’i, the god of the sharks. He gave her a great canoe to escape. Accompanied by her brother and her favorite sister Hi’iaka, she traveled far from home, over the wide expanse of the seas, sailing on this great canoe eventually to find Hawaii. 

Pursued by Namakaokahai, Pele landed first on Kauai. However, every time she thrust her o’o (digging stick) to dig a put for her home, Namakaokahai would flood the pits. Pele moved down the chain of islands until eventually landing on Mauna Loa – the tallest mountain on earth. As even the sea goddess herself could not send the ocean’s waves high enough on Mauna Loa to drown Pele, Pele established her home on its slopes. She pronounced the cliff on nearby Kilauea Mountain as sacred to her eldest brother Kamohoali’i, who saved her life. Kamohoali’i became the keeper of the gourd that held the water of life which gave him the power to revive the dead. Out of respect for Kamohoali’i, to this day Pele never allows clouds of volcanic steam to touch his cliff. Her other brothers who accompanied her on her journey also still appear on the Big Island mountain. Kanehekili appears as thunder, Kapohoikahiola as explosions, Keua’akepo in showers of fire, and Keoahikamakaua in spears of lava that escape from fissures during eruptions.

Pele may not have been on the best of terms with her older sister, but perhaps sometimes it is better to argue with your family instead of being a complete stranger to them. From her new home, Pele engaged in battles with Namakaokahai. To this day, Pele’s eruptions from Hawaii Island’s volcanoes flow thick and hot till they reach the sea — symbolizing the match in strength between the sisters of fire and water.

Image by Adrian Malec from Pixabay

We Used to Look After Each Other: The Ancient Relationship between Nature and Mankind

The Australian bushfire season in 2019–2020 includes a series of bushfires burning across Australia, mainly in the southeast. It has burned an estimated 10.7 million hectares, destroyed over 5,900 buildings and killed 28 people as of January 8, 2020, significantly more intense compared to previous seasons. After record-breaking temperatures and prolonged drought exacerbated bushfires, the New South Wales finally government declared a state of emergency in December 2019. Nearly half a billion reptiles, mammals and birds were estimated to have been affected by the ongoing fires in New South Wales. Other estimates, including animals such as bats, amphibians and invertebrates, put the number of deaths at more than one billion.

To help battle the fires and relieve tired local personnel to New South Wales, reinforcements from all over Australia were called in. Firefighters from New Zealand, Canada and the USA also helped fight the fires.

This tragedy again reminds us that our bond with the world of nature is broken. This is a dangerous thing as nature not only gives us benefits, but for our survival we are obviously dependent on it. And it provides services to the global economy worth an estimated $125 trillion per year by providing clean air, water, food and other resources. We are still depleting and degrading the natural capital of the planet at rhythm. We are losing biodiversity, meaning we are losing nature and wildlife. We have lost two thirds of the world’s wildlife population in our lifetime, and carbon emissions have risen by 90%.

It is strange to watch this unfolding as we as human beings seem to lose our connection to the natural world. We actively harm nature instead of working in harmony with it. And, when nature screams in agony we ignore it and pretend nothing happens. However, it was not always like this.

Nature and a Man’s Heart: The Tale of Two Brothers

Numerous worldwide myths represent a deep-rooted belief in an intimate relationship between a human being and nature. The theme of how a person’s life is so connected to a tree that the person would suffer if the tree washed away or injured, or even the idea of a tree as an external soul of the body of a person is found in the ancient Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers around 1185 BC.

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Sheet from the Tale of Two Brothers, Papyrus D’Orbiney. From Egypt.End of the 19th Dynasty
circa 1185 BC

Two brothers center the story: Anpu and Bata. The brothers are working together to farm land and to raise cattle. One day, the wife of Anpu is trying to seduce Bata. When Bata strongly rejects her advances, the wife tells her husband that when she refused, his brother tried to seduce her and beat her. Hearing this, Anpu then tried to kill Bata, who flees and prays to Ra-Harakhti to save him. The god creates a lake infested with crocodile between the two brothers, through which Bata will eventually talk to his brother and share his side of the events. Bata severs his genitalia to prove his honesty and throws them into the water where they are eaten by a catfish.

Bata says he’s going to the Cedar Valley, where he’s going to put his heart on top of a cedar tree’s blossom, so if the tree is cut down Anpu can find it and let Bata live again. Bata informs Anpu that he should know to search out his brother if he ever gets a jar of beer that froths. Anpu returns home. Meanwhile, Bata is setting up a life in the Cedar Valley, building for himself a new home. Bata comes upon the Ennead, or the nine deities of Egypt, who have compassion on him. Khnum, the god often depicted as having fashioned humans on a potter’s wheel in Egyptian mythology, creates a wife for Bata. Because of her divine creation, the pharaoh is looking for the wife of Bata. When the pharaoh manages to bring her to stay with him, she asks him to cut down the tree in which Bata’s heart has been put. He does that, and Bata is dead.

Anpu then gets a sparkling bottle of beer and leaves for the Cedar Valley. For more than three years he has been searching for the heart of his brother, finding it at the beginning of the fourth year. He follows the instructions given by Bata and places the heart in a cold water bowl. Bata is resurrected.

Mother Nature Sacrificed: Standing on the Body of Nature

The Indonesian goddess Dewi Sri (literally means “Great Goddess”) is the Mother Goddess as well as the goddess of rice and fertility of the Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese pre-Hinduand pre-Islam era. Once, Batara Guru, the supreme god, commanded all gods and goddesses to contribute their power to build a new palace. One of the gods, Antaboga, a Naga god, was very anxious when he heard the command of Batara Guru. He had no arms or legs, and he wasn’t sure how he might be able to do the job. Anta was shaped like a snake and was unable to work. He was seeking advice from Batara Narada, Batara Guru’s younger brother. But sadly, Anta’s bad luck also confused Narada. Anta was very upset and he started crying.

Three of his teardrops fell down on the ground. Miraculously, these teardrops became three beautiful shiny eggs that looked like jewels after touching the ground. Batara Narada advised him to offer the Batara Guru these “jewels” in the hope that the gift would appease him. Anta went to the palace of Batara Guru with the three eggs in his mouth. He was approached on the way there by an eagle who asked him a question. Anta can’t answer the question because he holds the eggs in his mouth. The bird  became furious, so it started attacking Anta. One egg fell to the earth and was shattered as a result. Anta hid in the bushes quickly, but the bird was waiting for him. The second attack left Anta to offer the Batara Guru with only one egg. The two split eggs fell to the ground and became Kalabuat and Budug Basu twin boar.

Anta finally arrived at the palace and offered to the Batara Guru his teardrop in the form of a shiny egg. The offer was kindly accepted and he was asked by the Batara Guru to nest the egg until it hatched. The egg hatched miraculously into a beautiful baby girl. He gave the Batara Guru and his wife to the baby girl.

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an Indonesian stone figure of the rice goddess Dewi Sri with Vitarka Mudra

Her name was Nyai Pohaci Sanghyang Asri, and she grew up as a beautiful princess. Every god who saw her began to feel attracted to her, even her own foster father. Seeing the desire of Batara Guru for his foster daughter, all the gods were so worried. Fearing that this scandal might destroy the heavenly harmony, finally they conspired to separate Nyi Pohaci and Batara Guru.

All the gods arranged for her death to keep the peace in the heavens and secure Nyi Pohaci’s chastity. She was poisoned to death and her body was buried in a remote and unknown location somewhere on earth. Nevertheless, because of the purity and divinity of Sri Pohaci, her grave gave a miraculous sign; for some useful plants grew up at the time of her death, which would support human species forever. From her head there grew coconut; from her nose, lips, and ears there grew various spices and vegetables; from her hair there grew grass and various flowering plants; from her breasts there grew various plants of fruit; from her arms and hands there grew teak; from her thighs there grew various types of bamboo, Different tuber plants grew from her legs, and finally rice grew from her belly button. All the useful plants, essential to human needs and well-being, are considered to come from the residue of the body of Dewi Sri. From that time, she was venerated and revered by the people of Java Island as the benevolent “Rice Goddess” and fertility. She is regarded as the highest goddess and the most important deity for agricultural society in the ancient Sunda Kingdom.

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Figure representing the rice goddess Dewi Sri

Protecting Nature is an Ancient Way of Life

The ancients had a clear understanding on nature’s protection and they found ways to return the favour. Throughout Norse mythology, the three Norns spend most of their time spinning the threads of life at the base of Yggdrasil, an enormous ash tree that is the core of the universe, deciding the fate of all living beings. The Norse Norns are Yggrasil’s caretakers, the tree that houses Norse mythology’s nine realms, only one of which is the human world, Midgard. They take water from the Well of Fates and dump it on Yggdrasil’s branches to prevent it from disappearing. In addition to their loom and tapestry, the Norns carve also runs into Yggdrasil’s trunk. They start every morning by placing a rooster at the top of Yggdrasil. The rooster’s warning acts as a wake-up call to all Asgard’s gods and goddesses.

Date palms have been revered in Mesopotamia as it was an important food source. The ancient Babylonian code of Hammurabi even referred to very specific punishments for individuals who did not pollinate their date palms, even designating special guardians to manually pollinate these trees. Special priests who slept on the ground tended the oak of Dodona in Epirus in northwestern Greece, the oldest Hellenic oracle.

All of the clans in ancient Ireland had their own sacred tree in their territories. Under the sacred tree, chieftains could have been inaugurated, binding them with both the forces heavens and underworld. The trees were thus seen as the representative of the king’s and his tribe’s success. The trees were their province’s guardians, sheltering their people. Therefore, capturing and destroying an enemy’s sacred tree is very likely to have been viewed as a very serious act. The Irish Annals record that Máel Sechnaill, the High King of Ireland, torn down and destroyed the sacred tree of Magh Adhair in Tulla, Co Clare, under which the chieftains of O’Brien were inaugurated, in 981 CE. In 1111 CE, they had to pay a huge ransom of 3000 cattle after the Ulidian army cut down the holy tree of the O’Neils.

So, somewhere along the way, we have lost that love of nature that we have inherited from our ancestors. Now what can we do to get it back?

Reflecting on Floods: Finding Hope and New Beginnings in an Ancient Disaster

On the early hours of 1 January 2020, flash floods took place throughout the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and the metropolitan area. Water levels reached 30-200 cm in many parts of the city, even standing at four meters in some areas. More than 397,000 people were evacuated to higher grounds. Due to landslides, hypothermia, drowning and electrocution, officials reported the death toll at 60 on 4 January 2020.

A significant contributing factor is that a significant part of Jakarta is low-lying, some 24,000 ha (240 km2) of Jakarta’s main part are below sea level. If heavy rain combines with high tides, flooding can become serious. The high tides push water into low-lying areas when this occurs, coinciding with the rain runoff in upland areas flowing down into the Jakarta region.

One of the most famous and recurrent calamities in the ancient world was flooding. People therefore saw the wrath of gods in them and begged for safety.

Hope and Fear: The Annual Flood of Ancient Egypt

The hieroglyph for the Egyptian word renpet (“year”) is a woman wearing a palm shoot over her head, symbolizing time. She was often called the Future Mistress. Fertility, youth and spring were also personified by her. The New Year, Wepet Renpet (“the year’s opening”), was based on the Nile River’s annual flood, an earthly cycle that coincided with a celestial cycle as well. The New Year was also characterized by communal feasts and a combination of hope and fear. As they didn’t know how the flood would affect them, every year was probably the last year for the ancient Egyptians.

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the river nile when it floods

The annual flood left behind rich silt deposits, fertilizing crops to feed the country as a whole. Just the right amount of flooding guaranteed a fruitful harvest – too little means starvation, too much means destruction.

The annual flood festival celebrated Osiris’ death and rebirth and, by extension, the land and people’s rejuvenation and rebirth. The myth behind this celebration was that by drowning him in the water, the god Set and his accomplices assassinated Osiris and dismembered him–scattering his limbs up and down the valley. The death of Osiris culminated in the annual floods giving life to the valley. Osiris was then thought to have arisen from the dead, but he required his devoted followers ‘ persistent supplication to validate his return. The priests mourned his passing, prayed for his return and celebrated with music, singing and festivities at the moment of his resurrection.

Traditionally, as Osiris had drowned, young boys selected for their exceptional beauty were thrown into the Nile to drown as a sacrifice for the benefit of the living. Those who drowned in the Nile were then regarded as gods, especially if the water responded with a flood the following year.

As well as singing and dancing to mark his rebirth, solemn ceremonies relating to Osiris ‘ death were observed. At the beginning, the call-and-answer poem known as Isis and Nephthys ‘ Lamentations was recited to call Osiris to his feast.

The lamentation is when Osiris ‘ soul is called by the two goddess-sisters to join the living. The two sisters ‘ simultaneous entreaties repeated one another in their attempts to revive Osiris symbolically. The best-preserved edition of this work comes from the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323–30 BCE) Berlin Papyrus, although the work itself is much older.

Another ancient view in Egypt is that the New Year’s Day itself was also considered the god Ra-Horakhety’s birthday. The idea was that the sun was resurrected on New Year’s day and became more and more fragile over the last few months of the year. This is another reason why it was considered dangerous at the end of the year. 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.

The Beginning and the End of Times in Hinduism

There were very common floods in ancient India. Plava (floods) and pralaya (deluges) in Hinduism signify the beginning and end of times as well as the changes that occur as a result of the Time cycle, which is another term for the Death god. Since the human settlements developed primarily along the Indian subcontinent’s main rivers, people were acquainted with the problems caused by floods that they attributed to gods’ anger and their own karma. Flood heralds change in the world’s lives and individuals and growth. Therefore, drastic changes in the world’s order and regularity and revolutions are compared to extreme (viplavam) floods.

Nearly every mahayuga (epoch) begins or ends, according to the Puranas, with a great deluge during which gods try to help people and preserve the eternal knowledge for posterity. These can either be induced by God or Nature to cleanse the earth and inaugurate a new era, or to tackle the problem of evil and save people from its power. The city of Dwaraka was sunk in the ocean at the end of Dwapara Yuga, which was then ruled by Lord Krishna as his capital. It also marked the end of his life and the start of a new age.

As a consequence, floods in Hinduism reflect the death and destructive power of God, Nature, a demon, or even an evil asura or rakshasa who wishes to create chaos. We also represent God’s role in persevering in order to maintain their order and regularity among worlds and beings. A flood may also signify the overabundance of anything that can cause the essence and order of things to be imbalanced and require divine intervention. Because of past karma or divine providence, a person may be filled with problems or good things in life.

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puja, a Hindu prayer ritual, performed in the city of Ujjain during the Monsoon on the banks of of the overflooding Shipra river.

Flood Myths

A flood myth or deluge myth is a narrative in which, in an act of divine retribution, a great flood, usually sent by a deity or deities, destroys civilization. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primaeval waters contained in certain myths of creation, as the flood waters are portrayed in preparation for rebirth as a measure for the redemption of mankind. Many flood myths also include a hero of religion, who “represents the human desire for life.”

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The Flood” (Deucalion holding aloft his wife) by Paul Mewart (1855 – 1902)

The flood story is present among many cultures as seen in the tales of the Mesopotamian floods, Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology, the tale of the Genesis flood, Pralaya in Hinduism, the GunYu in Chinese mythology, Belgemir in Northern mythology, the arrival of the first settlers of Ireland with Cessar in Irish mythology, the legend of the people of K’iche and Maya in Mesoamerica, the Lake Cour in Mesoamerica.

Of course, the best-known story of the Great Flood is from the Biblical Book of Genesis 6-9 in which God is incensed with the wickedness of mankind and kills them with a flood, except for the righteous Noah and his son. The biblical work is based on the earlier oral version of the Mesopotamian flood story repeated in the above-mentioned works and which may have also inspired an Egyptian text known as The Book of the Heavenly Cow, part of which dates back to the First Intermediate Period of Egypt (2181-2040 BCE).

The Heavenly Cow’s Book tells how they rebelled against him after the sun god Ra had created humans, and he decided to destroy them. He sent the goddess Hathor to destroy mankind as an extension of himself (known as The Eye of Ra), but he repented of the action after she killed many. He then had massive amounts of red-colored beer to look like blood and ordered it to be placed in the path of Hathor. She drank the bottle, fell asleep, and later woke up as she is generally portrayed as the loving goddess and friend of humanity.

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Sintflutbrunnen (Deluge fountain) (1907)  by Paul Aichele

Atrahasis is not the earliest version of the Mesopotamian flood story and the earlier oral version almost definitely inspired the versions of other cultures, including the Egyptian and Hebrew stories. In the Egyptian version, the revolt of humanity and the grace of Ra leads to a closer relationship with the gods, and the same is implied in the biblical story by the covenant of God with Noah after the waters of the floods have sunk. In the Atrahasis, the gods allow human life to proceed with the stipulation that they will not live forever or multiply as bountifully as before.

The story would have been used to explain human mortality, the misfortunes associated with childbirth, even one’s child’s death. Because overpopulation and the ensuing noise had once brought down the awful deluge that almost killed mankind, it might be easier to bear the loss of one’s child with the understanding that such a loss helped preserve the natural order of things and preserved harmony with the gods. The myth would have served the same basic purpose that such stories always have: the assurance that there is some greater purpose or meaning in individual human suffering and is not just random, senseless pain.

The Atrahasis, like Noah’s Ark’s narrative, is eventually a tale of hope and faith in a deeper sense to the human experience tragedies.

Nature and Emotions

It often happens that nature and weather elements equate feelings and emotions. Here are some examples: I am frozen in my seat. I was flooded with passion etc. Water in our dreams also symbolizes the unconscious, according to Carl Jung. Severe storms, winds and rain often accompany flooding. Also compared to difficult emotions such as frustration, rage, sorrow, disappointment, pain and fear.

Water flooding seems to mimic symptoms of emotional overload. Just like water, when we reject them emotions would find a point where they surface, start flowing out of us and can’t be stopped. They take over our minds and  keep us trapped there until the pouring is over. They then continue to recede naturally, leaving everything soaked or destroyed, allowing reconstruction to finally take place. There then follows a wave of sorrow from our souls. But then, there are also always a flood of people emerging for us in unity, compassion and hope.

Can we then do anything to stop the roaring storm, the rain, or the massive water damage? Probably not. But we can use flooding to reflect, become more conscious and more thankful for the moments when our lives’ waters are calm.