Divinity Beneath the Madness

Historians often write them off as mad women. The name Maenad evenliterally translates as the “raving ones”. But these women are much more than that. They are sacred worshippers and holy priestesses to the god of wine, madness and frenzy – Dionysus.

The Ancient Price of Speaking Truth to Power

In an ideal world, celebrating one gender should not come at the expense on another. But we are not living in an ideal world. The roles of the women in Mahabharate are defined by their relationships to the men, women are placed merely on the periphery of the epic – typecast as devoted mothers, virtuous wives and innocent maidens. Amba is a different character from the women in the epic. She had to pay the price for her courage to speak her mind against the most powerful man of the age.

From the Sirens’ Lips

Ancient cultures around the world saw the sea as a dangerous place, filled with beings who preyed upon people – especially men. The legatus of Gaul once wrote to Emperor Augustus claiming that he found a considerable number of nereids dead upon the sea-shore. Although most retelling of the Odyssey depict the sirens as little more than dangerous women leading men to their deaths, there have also been some studies that provide more depth.

An Unhappy Divine Marriage

Marriage is a beautiful thing. However, even the most optimistic among us will agree that marriages are challenging and takes a lot of work to maintain. It is so challenging that it takes two people to maintain a working marriage – the two people are, of course, the husband and wife who want to make it work. Some marriages maybe downright difficult, miserable and even unsalvageable at times. Even Hera, the ancient Greek goddess who were actually in charge of family and marriage, had to constantly battle the many infidelities of Zeus, her philandering husband.

Tale of Two Concubines

Empress Euphemia’s rose from a freed slave to the most powerful woman in Rome in her time through her marriage to Justin I (450-527 CE). Historia Arcana (“Secret History”) by Procopius of Caesarea (c. 500 – c. 554) introduced the Empress Euphemia as Lupicina – a slave and a barbarian concubine of her owner.

Demons from the Wilderness, Lovers from the Sky

Half-human half-beast creatures are found in myths and legends of nearly every, if not all, culture in the world. Although many of them made their first appearance in stories from ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt, these creatures are most likely a much older concept that was passed down over generations. Ancient Greek’s Pan, who symbolizes and rules over the untamed wild, is depicted with the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat while otherwise being mostly human in his appearance. One of the most popular representations of Anubis, the Egyptian god of death, depicts him as a figure with the body of a man and the head of a jackal with pointed ears holding a gold scale while a heart of the soul is being weighed against Ma’at’s truth feather. In Buddhist mythology, there is the Kalaviṅka, a divine bird with a human head who preached the Dharma through its songs and, in South east Asian mythology, two of the most beloved mythological characters are the benevolent half-human, half-bird creatures known as the Kinnara and Kinnari, celestial musicians who come from the Himalayas and watch over the well-being of humans in times of trouble or danger.

The Rabbits on the Moon

Before the first moon landing in 1969, the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e was mentioned in the Apollo 11 Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription between the Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas and the Apollo 11 crew. The center said, “Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.” To this, astronaut Buzz Aldrin replied, “Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”

The Fisher King

He is the last of the distinguished family line of guardians of the Holy Grail. But he was wounded. He was not only unable to fulfill his duties, he was also unable to father a next generation to carry on after his death. His impotence affected the fertility of his land, reducing it to a barren wasteland. All he could do was fish in the river near his castle and wait for the elusive “chosen one” who could heal him.

Vilifying the Ancient Goddess

These female demons have much in common. They are all physically hideous, anti-mothers in one way or another, and they are all childless or give birth in abnormal ways. They are dangerous and threaten humans with both diseases and death. But they were not always demons.

Sacrifice the Virgin, Save the People

According to Pliny the Elder, human sacrifice in Ancient Rome was abolished by a senatorial decree in 97 BCE, although by this time the practice had already become so rare that the decree was mostly a symbolic act. The Vedic Purushamedha (“human sacrifice”) is already a purely symbolic act in its earliest records. This was then followed by a period of embarrassment about violence in rituals of this sort as this period corresponds to the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, both of which place emphasis on ahimsa (“non-violence”). Apparently for a time, a very very long time ago, virgin sacrifice could be done for a number of widely accepted reasons – from winning a war, appeasing an angry deity, to architecture.

The Earth, the Goddess and the Color Green

Green is a colour that is universally known as representing nature and the environment. It is also the color of growth, renewal and rebirth. However, green also forebode death. In Egyptian wall paintings, Osiris, the ruler of the underworld, was typically portrayed with a green face. In Ancient Greece, green is associated with Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. For the Romans, green was the color of Venus who, despite being the Roman counterpart of the Greek Aphrodite, also served as the goddess of the gardens, vegetables and vineyards.

Understanding the Ancient Power of Women’s Tears

To this day women’s tears made people uncomfortable and often willing to do just about anything to stop the tears flowing. Another rather interesting reaction is when a woman’s tears invoke anger to those who hears it, or even outright denial. No one wants to hear about a woman’s unhappiness, especially if they feel that they can do very little to help.