Sol et Luna: Creation Myths of the Sun and the Moon

sunA rather lovely solar creation myth from Japan contains a reference to a floating cloud in the midst of infinite space, before matter had taken any other form. This also nicely describes the original nebula from which scientists say the solar system was evolved. The legend says that when there was no heaven, earth, sun, or moon, there was only the Invisible Lord of the Middle Heaven existing in an infinite space. With him there were two other gods. Between them, they created a floating cloud in the midst of which was a liquid formless and lifeless mass from which the earth was evolved.

After this, seven generations of gods were born in heaven – the last and most perfect were Izanagi and Izanami who went on to become the parents of the world and all that is in it. After the creation of the world of living things, Izanagi bathed his left eye and sprang Amaterasu, the great Sun-Goddess. Izanagi rejoiced and put a necklace of jewels he around her neck. He said to her, “Rule thou over the Plain of High Heaven.” Thus Amaterasu became the source of all life and light worshipped by mankind. Then Izanagi he bathed his right eye, and there appeared Tsukuyomi,the Moon-God. Izanagi said: “Rule thou over the Dominion of Night.”

In Norse mythology, Odin arranged the periods of daylight and darkness, and the seasons. He placed the sun and moon in the heavens, and regulated their respective courses. Day and Night were considered mortal enemies as light came from above, and darkness from beneath. However, there is another version which says that the sun and moon were formed from the sparks from the fire land of Muspelheim. The father of the two luminaries was Mundilfare, and he named his beautiful boy and girl, Maane (Moon) and Sol (Sun). The gods took his children from him and placed them in the heavens, where they permitted Sol to drive the horses of the sun, and gave over the regulation of the moon’s phases to Maane.

Among the Eskimos of Behring Strait, the creation of the earth and all it contains is attributed to the Raven Father. The Raven Father came from the sky after a great deluge. He made the dry ground and created human and animal life. But mankind threatened the animal life, and this so annoyed the Raven Father that he punished man by taking the sun out of the sky, and hiding it in a bag at his home. The people were frightened at the loss of the sun, and offered rich gifts to the Raven Father to appease him. So he relented somewhat, and would hold the sun up in one hand for a day or two at a time, so that the people could have sufficient light for hunting, and then he would put it back in his bag again. This arrangement, though better than nothing, was not satisfactory to people. The Raven’s brother took pity on them, and thought of a scheme to better human conditions. He faked his death, and after he had been buried and the mourners had gone away, he came forth from the grave, and turned himself into a leaf which floated on the surface of a stream. Later, the Raven’s wife came to the stream for a drink and, dipping up the water, she swallowed with it the leaf. The Raven’s wife soon after gave birth to a boy who cried continually for the sun, and his father, to silence him, often gave him the sun to play with. One day, when no one was about, the boy flew away with the sun and placed it in its proper place in the sky. He also regulated its daily course, making day and night, so that the people always have the constant light of the sun to guide them by day.

The ancient Peruvians believed that the god Viracocha rose out of Lake Titicaca, and made the sun, moon, and stars, and regulated their courses. The Muyscas, who inhabited the high plains of Bogota, was said to have lived in a state of savagery. Then came from the east an old bearded man, Bochica (the Sun), who taught them agriculture and the worship of the gods. However, his wife Huythaca was not pleased with his attentions to mankind and caused a great deluge which drowned most of the inhabitants of the earth. This, of course, angered Bochica, and he drove his wife away from the earth by turning her into the Moon. He then dried up the earth, and once more made it habitable for mankind to live in.

sun1According to Mexican tradition, Nexhequiriac was the creator of the world. He sent down the Sun-God and the Moon-God to illuminate the earth, so that mankind could see to perform their daily tasks. The Sun-God went on his way without delay, but the Moon-God, who was hungry, saw a rabbit and started chasing it. This, of course, took time. After he caught and ate it, he looked up and found his brother,  the Sun, had outdistanced him. He was, in fact, so far ahead, so that thereafter the Moon-God was unable to overtake him. This is also the reason, says the legend, why the sun always appears to be ahead of the moon, and why the sun always looks fresh and red, and the moon sick and pale. Those who gaze intently at the moon can still see the rabbit dangling from her mouth.

According to the Tonga tribe, of the South Pacific Islands, before there was any light upon the earth, Vatea and Tonga-iti argued about which one of them was the parent of a child. Each was confident the child was his and to end the dispute they decided to share it. The infant was then cut in two. Vatea took the upper half as his share, and squeezing it into a ball tossed it up into the sky where it became the sun. Tonga-iti allowed his share, the lower part of the infant, to remain on the ground for a day or two, but seeing the brightness of Vatea’s half, he squeezed his share too, and threw it up into the dark sky when the sun was absent in the underworld, and it became the moon. Thus the sun and the moon were created, and the paleness of the moon is due to the fact that all the blood was drained out of it when it lay on the ground.


Titillatio: A Brief Mythology, Ancient History and Philosophy of Tickling


Aristotle defined man as a rational and political animal. But there are also passages in his work that indicate another less remarked upon definition. In Parts of Animals, he writes, “When people are tickled, they quickly burst into laughter, and this is because the motion quickly penetrates to this part, and even though it is only gently warmed, still it produces an independent movement in the intelligence which is recognizable.” He continues to argue that touch is the most primary sense and human beings are uniquely privileged in possessing the sharpest sense of touch because of the delicate nature of their skin. He says that, although other animals have more advanced smell or hearing, a man’s sense of touch is the most fine-tuned. This leads to some of us to think that tickling is a side effect of the hyper-sensitivity of human touch. Thanks to our sophisticated and discriminating access to the world around us, we are particularly vulnerable to tickling.

However, this “privilege” did not last long as many scientific researches have refuted Aristotle’s claim about how tickling could only effect human beings. It has been found that monkeys are ticklish too, and a recorded laughter-like ultrasonic chirping in tickled rats also exists. But, the most famous ticklish animal is the trout as it would fall into a trance-like state when its underbelly is lightly rubbed. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Maria says, while planning to trick Malvolio, “Lie thou there; for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling.”

Neuroscientist Robert Provine posed a rather elaborate speculation which links tickling with both humorous laughter and the prehistoric birth of comedy. He writes, “I forge recklessly into the paleohumorology fray, proposing my candidate for the most ancient joke—the feigned tickle (Real tickling is disqualified because of its reflexive nature). The ‘I’m going to get you’ game of the threatened tickle is practiced by human beings worldwide and is the only joke that can be told equally well to a baby human and a chimpanzee. Both babies and chimps ‘get’ this joke and laugh exuberantly.” His argument is that proper ticklish laughter is not actually funny because it is too much of an automatic or neurological reaction. To make tickling funny, it needs to be distanced from reflex. It is the suspended gesture that gets a laugh – the real gesture might get one slapped. Therefore, a child will wriggle and squirmed when tickled, but they will actually laugh only if they perceive the tickling as a mock attack, a caress in a mildly aggressive and irritating disguise.

The ambivalence of tickling, a delight that can quickly become excruciating, would seem particularly well suited to describe the concept of pleasure-in-pain that so fascinated thinkers from Plato, Nietzsche, Freud etc. They agree that tickling serves as an alternate way of thinking about pleasure,  as titillation and excitation. Nietzsche put it, “What is the best life? To be tickled to death.” – I hope someone would do a research on whether this man was ever tickled in his life. However, he is not wrong about this. Foot tickling for sexual arousal was used in the Muscovite palaces and courts for centuries. Many of the Czarinas (Catherine the Great, Anna Ivanovna, Elizabeth and others) were participants of this activity. The practice was so popular that eunuchs and women were employed as full time foot ticklers. They developed this skill so well that their occupations brought prestige and good pay. Anna Leopoldovna had at least six ticklers at her feet. While the ticklers performed their task, they also told bawdy stories and sang obscene ballads. This was done to work the ladies up to an erotic pitch so that they could meet their husbands or lovers in a sex impassioned mood.

But can one actually die from tickling? Yes. When children enthusiastically tickle one another, it serves the double purpose of inspiring peer bonding and honing reflexes and self-defense skills. In 1984, psychiatrist Donald Black noted that many ticklish parts of the body, such as the neck and the ribs, are also the most vulnerable in combat. He inferred that children learn to protect those parts during tickle fights, a relatively safe activity. However, the tickling itself can be torture enough. Tickle torture can be an extended act of tickling where the recipient of the tickling would view it as a long time or tickling of an intense nature. This can be due to the length of time they are tickled, the intensity of the tickling or the areas that are being tickled. This can simply be a 30-second tickle applied to the victim’s bare feet, which can seem like a much longer time if the feet are very ticklish.

Mythology is littered with spirits who uses tickling as a torture device. In Inuit mythology, Mahaha is a maniacal demon that terrorized parts of the arctic. This creature is described as a thin sinewy being, ice blue in colour and cold to the touch. His eyes are white and they peer through the long stringy hair that hangs in his face. This demon is always smiling and giggling – taking pleasure in tickling its victims to death with sharp vicious nails attached to its long bony fingers. All of its victim have a similar expression on their dead faces – a twisted frozen smile.

Leshy – Imagine being tickled by him!

A Leshy is a spirit of the Slavic forests. They serve as the protectors of the various forests and its animals, having a close bond with gray wolves and often being accompanied by bears. They naturally are the form of a large human-looking being, but can shape-shift into any plant or animal. They have long hair and beards made of living grass and vines. In the center of a forest, they are a tree-like giant, who camouflage nicely with their long limbs, grassy eyebrows, and no detectable shadows.  A leshy has the ability to imitate voices of people familiar to wanderers.They will cry out and get their victims to wander deeper into forests or caves. Being tickled to death by a Leshy has been known to happen. This is most likely because they don’t know when “fun” is enough and wind up accidentally killing their victims.

Of course, if something exists in mythology, it would also exist, up to a point, in history. Chinese tickle torture is an ancient form of torture practiced by the Chinese, in particular the courts of the Han Dynasty. Chinese tickle torture was a punishment for nobility since it left no marks and a victim could recover relatively easily and quickly. In ancient Japan, those in positions of authority could administer punishments to those convicted of crimes that were beyond the criminal code. This was called shikei, which translates as ‘private punishment.’ One such torture was kusuguri-zeme: “merciless tickling.” Dutch physiologist Joost Meerloo recounts an especially cruel tickle torture employed by the ancient Romans. On the scaffold, the soles of a victim’s feet were covered with a salt solution so that a goat, attracted by the salt, would lick it off with his rough tongue and continually tickle the skin. By so doing, the salty skin was gradually rasped away. Then, the wounded skin would again be covered with the biting salt solution—ad infinitum, till the victim died from the torture.

In Laurent Joubert’s Renaissance treatise on laughter, he reports hearing “of a young man whom two girls were tickling importunately to the point that he no longer uttered a word. They thought he had fainted until, thunderstruck, they realized he was dead, asphyxiated.” A news item in Illustrated Police News, 11 December 1869, recounts the story of a young wife whose husband, his name was Michael Puckridge, claimed that he had a cure for her varicose veins. After he persuaded her to allow herself to be tied to a plank, she found that her husband had instead devised a plan to tickle her into insanity. The plan worked as she was institutionalized as a result of her husband’s diabolical featherwork.

Join Me for a Live-Stream on the Ancient Arts of Promoting Your Business

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What do you, a concubine and an emperor have in common? You are all passionate about something that not many people understand. This makes introducing what you do and getting people interested in what you offer more challenging. Entrepreneurship and promoting your passion is a timeless practice. Mythographer Martini Fisher will take you through the basics of finding your niche, establishing your authority and building your audience the way they have been done for thousands of years.

You will:
1. learn from the ancient courtesans about the dangers of being “ordinary” and the necessity of finding your niche.
2. learn from the first Roman Emperor Augustus about using simple visual imagery to establish your brand.
3. learn from worshipers of ancient deities about building your platform, targeting your audience and make them as passionate about your product as you do.

Moving back and forth between the modern day to the ancient times in 30 minutes, you will learn from our elders about how to establish ourselves using our passion and our existing audience.

The live stream can be accessed through Yoohcan on Friday 7 April 2017 at 15.00 CEST.



Unravelling Ancient Myths and Legends FREE Ebook

anniversary_ebook_coversideI am very happy to be able to contribute a chapter for Ancient Origins‘ 4 Year Anniversary Ebook, “Unravelling Ancient Myths & Legends” on the lives and symbolism of the kitchen gods in Asian mythology.

“To mark the occasion of our 4 Year Anniversary, Ancient Origins has released our biggest ebook yet – titled “Unravelling Ancient Myths & Legends”. The ebook is a compilation of fascinating articles written exclusively for Ancient Origins which explores the unique history of myths and the familiar legends you THOUGHT you knew. Contributors include guest authors: Carl Johan Calleman, Petros Koutoupis, Armando Mei, Martini Fisher, Brien Foerster, Leonide Martin, Ken Jeremiah, Vincent Ongkowidjojo, Gary A. David, Dustin Naef, Adrienne Mayor, Chris ‘Mogg’ Morgan, Charles Christian and Hugh Newman.”

To get your free copy, please follow this link:

Ancient Origins’ 4 Year Anniversary Ebook: Unravelling Ancient Myths and Legends

Happy anniversary, Ancient Origins. Here’s to many more!



Ancient Valentine: She-Wolf, Politics and Whipping

lupercales-museo-del-pradoRomantics beware: I’m going to ruin your Valentine’s Day. Nah, I’m just kidding. We know Valentine’s Day as a time to celebrate love, romance and cupcakes, but the origins of this day is definitely ancient, likely involved nude people and quite political, because, well, it was ancient Rome.

This holiday that evolved to what we know as Valentine’s Day today was a very ancient pre-Roman pastoral festival to avert evil spirits and purify the city. According to Plutarch, from February 13 to 15, romantic Roman fellows stripped naked, grabbed some goat-skin whips and whipped consenting young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility.

statue-of-faune-pompeiThis festival was Lupercalia, said to be connected to the ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia and the worship of Lycaean Pan, the Greek equivalent to the Roman god Faunus. The Greek word λύκος (lukos) means “wolf”, so does the Latin word lupus. In Roman mythology, Lupercus was a hunter of wolves associated with the Roman god Faunus, the god of agriculture and fertility. Lupercalia was a festival held in his honor to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of his temple.

However, Lupercus was only a part of the celebration. The Lupercalia festival was best known as a celebration in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, which explains the name of the festival, Lupercalia (“Wolf Festival”). According to tradition, the legendary twin brothers Romulus and Remus established the Lupercalia with 2 gentes, one for each brother. Each gens then contributed members to the priestly college that performed the ceremonies, with Jupiter’s priest in charge from at least the time of Emperor Augustus. The priestly college was called the Sodales Luperci and the priests were known as Luperci (“brothers of the wolf”).

The Luperci were divided into two collegia, called Quinctiliani (or Quinctiales) and Fabiani, from the gens Quinctilii, representing Romulus and gens Fabii, representing Remus. The Fabii were almost annihilated in 479 CE at Cremera and the most famous member of the Quinctilii has the distinction of being the Roman leader at the disastrous battle at Teutoberg Forest. In 44 BC, a third college, the Julii, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar, the first magister of which was Mark Antony. Antony offered Caesar a crown during the festival – an act that was widely interpreted as a sign that Caesar aspired to make himself king and was gauging the reaction of the crowd.

Etymologically, Luperci, Lupercalia, and Lupercal all relate to the Latin for ‘wolf’ lupus, as do various Latin words connected with brothels. The Latin for she-wolf was also slang for prostitute.

The festival began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog. Then two young patrician Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk.

lupa-romulus-remusThe sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the animals, which were called februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

Striking women is thought to have been a fertility measure, but there was also a decided sexual component.  Symbolically, if the act was to ensure fertility, it could be that the striking of the women was also to represent penetration. Of course, the husbands would not have wanted the Luperci actually copulating with their wives, but symbolic penetration, broken skin, made by a piece of a fertility symbol (goat), could be effective. The women may have bared their backs to the thongs from the festival’s inception. After 276 BC., young married women (matronae) were encouraged to bare their bodies. In his time, Augustus ruled out beardless young men from serving as Luperci because of their irresistibility, even though they were probably no longer naked.

lupercali-beccafumiThe cavorting Sodales Luperci performed an annual purification of the city in the month for purification – February. Since early in Roman history March was the start of the New Year, the period of February was a time to get rid of the old and prepare for the new.

By the second century CE, some of the elements of sexuality had been removed from the Lupercalia. Fully dressed matrons stretched out their hands, instead of baring their backs, to be whipped. Later, the representations show women humiliated by flagellation at the hands of men fully dressed and no longer running about. Self-flagellation was part of the rites of Cybele on the ‘day of blood’ dies sanguinis (March 16).

It’s this blend of fun, fertility, and erotic elements, as well as the date, that ties Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day, but Lupercalia is not the direct, legitimate ancestor of the Valentine’s Day holiday. However, the ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on February 14 of different years in the 3rd century CE. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But that didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love. Coincidentally, around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women.” This was likely confused with St. Valentine’s Day at some point, in part because they sound similar.


New Release – Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings


Where did sounds, words and languages come from? What happens when a language disappears? What happens when a way of writing becomes extinct?

In this third volume of the Time Maps series, Dr. R.K. Fisher and Martini Fisher answer all of these questions and more as they trace languages and scripts back to their earliest forms before re-discovering their evolution, combinations and extinctions. They analyse a wide range of languages to show where migrations and invasions have taken place and discover where particular features of culture and technology came from.

Chapters include:
•Evolution of Languages, which includes the origins of languages, threats of extinction, classification of languages and major language families, among others.
•Evolution of Writing Systems, which includes sounds and symbols, classification of writing systems, the origins and writings and the lost knowledge.

Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings is being released on October 7, 2016

Currently available for pre-order. Click here to order your copy.





Ancient Religions, Cults and Personal Branding

CULTJerash_(7169206905).jpgI love ancient religions. They are strange, sexy and chaotic – gods competed with gods, priests with priests, and prophets with prophets. Because there were so many of them, each gods, priests and prophets had to have something special to attract their followers and earn their worships. The battle of worshipers, in turn, was fierce. Each gods and goddesses had many cults of followers – each believing that their way of worship was better than the others, and they were the only ones going to heaven. Rome imported promising religions from all over the world. Persian deities were worshiped as far as Britain. In Egypt, there was a ritual which transformed pharaohs into gods. The ancient world was practically a melting pot of different religions and beliefs.

From all this, the rather fascinating topic of cults began. What are they? Why do they exist even to this day? In extreme cases, why would so many intelligent individuals give up their life, move to another state or even countries away from their families and join some random group? How does it feel to be so passionate about a person or an ideal that they would do all these things?

The idea of cults may come more naturally to us than we think. Human beings are social animals that have been banding together for hundreds of thousands of years. There are many Archeological evidences which show that when a group got too large, a smaller group would break off and establish a new social hierarchy with a new set of rules. Given enough time, the original bond between the two groups would be diminished, maybe even leading to some hostility. Therefore, a “cult” may be seen as this smaller group which has broken off from a larger group. We can’t stop it even if we tried, because choosing sides or courses is natural and one of the first steps towards socialization that a child learns. It is a function so ingrained in us that we instinctively know that every decision we make, and every opinions we have, brings us to one path and alienate another.

A lot of the differences between cults and religions are only a matter of time and size. The longer a cult exists and the more followers it attracts the more legitimate it becomes despite its beginnings. So why do people follow? Many reasons, but mostly for a very simple reason of not wanting to feel alone. Everyone feels lonely or empty at some point, and no one wants to feel alone. As social animals, isolation is a form of punishment for a person. A lonely individual quickly lose sight of their sense of purpose, meaning and belonging. We then look for the feeling that comes with being part of something bigger. Some may argue that human should “know better” and think before running off to join a cult but, let’s be honest, emotion precedes reason. When one feels that they cannot think of a solution of a decision, they will fall on the last resort: they go with their gut feelings.

What do groups offer their members? friendship, identity and security. They also offer a world-view: a way of discerning right from wrong and good from bad – powerful incentives for people whatever their background may be. Their ideologies may also offer moral explanations into how the world works and clear answers to difficult and big questions: how to be happy, life after death, the difference between right and wrong, and so on.

An interesting book called The Culting of Brands by Douglas Atkin actually compares the psychology of cults and corporate brands. In fact, Atkins argues that brands are the new cults as the hottest corporate brands these days have similar patterns to religious cults, which is cheeky, but may not be not as far-fetched as we think. So, I looked at a few familiar ancient cults and see how they possibly attracted their members and, using a few modern articles on personal branding, images and modern cults, made some comparisons. Here is how one would start a cult, the ancient way.

  1. How are you different from everyone else?

CULTTemple_of_Apollo_Delphi.jpgImagine this: beneath the great Temple of Apollo – on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, a priestess sat above a chasm in the earth. Vapor rose up and the priestess, called the Pythia, breathed deeply and fell into a trance. Then she spoke the words of the god. The Pythia’s prophecies were often ambiguous and probably confused people more often than it actually helped. According to Herodotus, Croesus – the rich king of Lydia, asked the Pythia whether he should make war on Persia. Pythia replied that if he did, he would destroy a mighty empire. Croesus went away confident that he would win this war – but the mighty empire he destroyed turned out to be his own. But that apparently didn’t faze the followers of Pythia, because for over twelve centuries, people still traveled far and wide to Delphi in search of counsel.

Apollo had many cults and worshipers, but the temple of Delphi was probably the biggest because of Pythia who spoke the words of Apollo himself. No other cults of Apollo dared to boast that. Directly hearing the words of Apollo himself would have been a draw. This would have made the followers feel as close as anyone could to Apollo. Suddenly, by joining the cult, Apollo became approachable, unlike the intimidating golden prince god from the skies other people took him to be. This sense of closeness, as well as the arresting and immediately recognizable image of  Pythia inhaling the vapor, they found a place in the hearts of their worshipers.

2. We’re outsiders. We’re in this together.

CULTJordaens_Triumph_of_Bacchus.jpgThe Temple of Apollo at Delphi had “nothing in excess” carved into it. This was an idea which underpinned much of ancient Greek thought. The ancient Greeks were very image conscious. They believed themselves to be the noblest civilization, a nation of gods and heroes. So, the ideal Greek would have carried himself with dignity, filled to the brims with heroic thoughts that would never allow him to take his kits off willy-nilly and shake his money-maker.

In the middle of all these seriousness, Dionysos was all about excess. Gigantic marble phalluses were dotted around the Temple of Dionysos on the Greek island of Delos. The unmistakable sexuality of the Temple of Dionysos would have made the more “conservative” ancients squirm. Dionysos was a very different kind of god. He was at home with wine, celebration, and every kind of excess people who have spent their lives in moderation only dream of. Image-wise, he was an outsider amongst the more dignified other gods (who, by the way, also drank outrageously, and dragged one another into bed at every opportunity – they were just more quiet about it).

Dionysos is always associated with party and celebration. Party needs people. So his cult would have people celebrating, drinking and laughing together, generally letting lose and having fun. Atkins actually says “Culting is a contact sport.” Which was what Dionysos’ cult would have provided: constant, distraction-free interaction between members early on. Imagine Dionysos’ followers as Apple users these days. Honestly, they’re not much different: Apple is made up of creative rebels in hoodies (or other cooler fashion items) instead of stuffy business people in suits. Fellow Apple users stand together in line for hours, saving each other’s spots in line, sharing a box of donuts while waxing poetic about the latest features. It’s like a party – a rather boring party by Dionysos’ standards, but still a party.

3.      Happy, outgoing and loud people are your friends.

Across ancient Greece, Dionysos was worshiped through phallika – processions which made their way through the countryside, bearing gigantic phalluses with them, the worshipers shouting obscenities as they went. In the festival of Dionysos held in Alexandria in 275 BC, a 180-foot-long gold-plated phallus made its way in a procession through the streets of the city, flanked by elephants, a rhinoceros, and a giraffe, and decorated with ribbons and a gold star. Loud people with big animals decorated with lots of color and glitter. Think Sydney Mardi Gras with elephants.

Studies conducted by modern sociologists found cult populations are dominated by well-educated, pleasant and socially engaging individuals. So the people who would happily sing the cult’s praises are the people who love to talk, people who have lots of friends and people who love to talk to their friends about the cult. These people are popular and admired. You want popular people talking about and representing your brand (hence the irritating spams on the comment sections on celebrities’ Instagram trying to sell you stuff). Dionysos had happy, screaming people representing his. In turn, his cult provided a space for his worshipers to be themselves as they liked to be, away from society’s pressure to be noble all the time.

4.      Lingo and Icons

CULTIranNaqshIRadjab.jpgThe Mysteries of Mithras were celebrated in windowless temples, underground, far from the sight of the world. In ancient Rome, they were whispered about in the same way that the Freemasons are today: secret handshakes, strict initiation rites, and seven levels which worshipers could rise to. Each grade, from Raven (Corax) up to Father (Pater) had its own costume – and ceremonial mask. This cult was adopted by the Roman army.

Many cults encourage behaviors, use lexicon and have symbols that separate their members from society. For example, cults in the 1960s enforced veganism and daily chanting. Apple uses the apple symbol to present their brand to the outside world. Apple users can easily spot their fellow Apple-users when they see the bright partially eaten apple on the back of someone’s new laptop. Livestrong created its own little cult with those yellow bracelets. It’s a way their people recognize each other, and it’s how they became recognized by non-members of the cults.

  1. Tension is the management of deviance.


The cult of Cybele was one of the oldest cults imported into Rome c. 205-204 BCE. She was credited with the Romans’ victory in the second Punic War as the protectress of the besieged.

Like Dionysus, Cybele had ecstatic followers. Their activities ranged from dancing to self-mutilations. Most Romans naturally disliked their excessive behavior. However, they still respect her through her patriotic role in the Punic war. Roman religion had always relied on patriotism, and one of Cybele’s appeal was the tension she brought. Many traditional cults demonize the other. They shame external ideas, shun outsiders and categorize anything that’s not ‘us’ as the evil, or at least not-good-enough, ‘them.’ This has tremendous psychological effect of bonding community members and separating from outside forces. In this case: Romans versus their enemies.

Cybele also promised a life after death, especially for those who had little hope of finding satisfaction in this life, such as women, slaves, lower-ranking soldiers etc. These were the people who would most likely not feel very supported by the society they lived in and felt like somewhat of an outsider. It would have been easy for them to think in terms of “us vs them”.

These days, many brands are able to fight for something and against something. PETA fights against animal cruelty, JetBlue fights for humane and affordable air travel, Taylor Swift fights against boyfriends.



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