Spread of Islam and Introduction to the Javanese Philosophy

The history of the arrival and spread of Islam in Indonesia is a little unclear despite it being one of the most significant developments in Indonesian history as there are many competing theories and only fragmentary historical evidence. One theory states it arrived directly from Arabia before the 9th century, while another credits Sufi merchants and preachers for bringing Islam to Indonesian islands in the 12th or 13th century either from Gujarat, India or directly from the Middle East. 

Masjid Ageng Surakarta, photo taken between 1910 – 1930

Nevertheless, a clear turning point occurred when the Hindu empire Majapahit in Java fell to the Islamised Demak Sultanate. In 1527, the Muslim ruler renamed newly conquered Sunda Kelapa as Jayakarta (meaning “precious victory”) which was eventually contracted to Jakarta, the current capital city of Indonesia. 

 Islam is thought to have been present in Southeast Asia from early in the Islamic era. From the time of the third caliph of Islam, Uthman (644-656), Muslim emissaries and merchants were arriving in China who would have passed through Indonesia sea routes from the Islamic world. It would have been through this contact that Arabic emissaries between 904 and the mid-12th century are thought to have become involved in the Sumatran trading state of Srivijaya.


Believers on their way to the mosque, between 1925 and 1948

The most reliable evidence of the early spread of Islam in Indonesia comes from inscriptions on tombstones and a limited number of travellers’ accounts. The earliest legibly inscribed tombstone is dated AH 475 (1082 CE), although as it belongs to a non-Indonesian Muslim, there is doubt as to whether it was transported to Java at a later time.

An early Muslim gravestone dated AH 822 (1419 CE) has been found at Gresik an East Javanese port and marks the burial of Malik Ibrahim. As it appears that he was non-Javanese foreigner, the gravestone does not provide evidence of coastal Javanese conversion. Malik Ibrahim was, however, according to Javanese tradition one of the first nine apostles of Islam in Java (the Wali Songo) although no documentary evidence exists for this tradition.

It was largely due to the Walisongo that in the period of 40–50 years, Islam was widespread in Java, whereas before it was very difficult to develop.

Javanese Mosque between 1890 and 1920

Equality

Until the early Demak era, society was divided into two major groups: Gusti, people who live in the palace and Kawula, people who live outside the palace. Gusti means “master”, Kawula means “servants”. Kawula only have the right to lease, not the right of ownership, because the right of ownership only belonged to the people with the social status of Gusti. In the era of Majapahit, all property is owned by the palace (state, or nation, or the kingdom).

Walisongo, especially Sheikh Siti Jenar and Sunan Kalijaga, created a new perspective in the cultural and society structure. They introduce the new community structure which is so-called “Masyarakat”, derived from the Arabic term of Musharaka, which means a community of equal and mutual cooperation. We know this because the term “masyarakat” and “rakyat” are missing in the Javanese Kawi vocabulary, indicating that the term was brought in later by Walisongo.

Following this was a change of mindset. Gusti referred to themselves as: intahulun, kulun or ingsun, while Kawula referred to themselves as kula or kawula. Walisongo changes all those designation which indicates the meaning of servants, and replaced it with the term of ingsun, aku, kulun, or awak, and other designations that do not represent the identity of slaves or persons with lower social status. In present days, the term of kula, ambo, abdi, hamba, sahaya or saya, are still being used for the purpose of showing respect toward others, such as while speaking toward someone older, parents, strangers and so on.

Masjid in Kampung Arab (Arab Village) in Semarang, c. 1930

Humility

The Javanese in the era of Majapahit were notoriously arrogant. Their principle of life is Adigang Adigung Adiguna (“superior in power, authority, and knowledge”). According to the testimony of scholar Antonio Pigafetta, there’s no one is as arrogant exceed the Javanese. If they were walking, and there’s also people from another nation who walk at a higher place, they will be ordered to get down. and if they refuse, they will be killed. That was the character of the Javanese at the time. So in old Javanese Kawi, there’s no word for kalah (“lose”). If someone at odds with others, then there is only “win” or “dead”. As Ma Huan noted, in Chao-wa (Java) if a man touches their head with his hand, or if there is a misunderstanding about money at a sale, or a battle of words when they are crazy with drunkenness, they at once pull out their knives and stab [each other]. He who is stronger prevails.

Another evidence of the arrogance of the Javanese is represented during the time when envoys from China (Meng Xi) came in order to deliver a message from their king (Kubilai Khan) to the king of Singasari (Kertanegara). The message ordered Kertanegara to submit toward their kingdom. And in return, Meng Xi (the Chinese envoy) had his ears cut off, humiliated, and sent back to China by Kertanegara.

Walisongo then developed term ngalah (which comes from “NgAllah”). It comes from the Javanese prefix “Ng” which means toward (a purpose, and or destination), for example: ng-alas (toward the forest), ng-awang (toward the clouds), and Ng-Allah means toward Allah (tawakkul – from the Arabic language, it is the word for the Islamic concept of reliance on God or “trusting in God’s plan”), the word “ngalah” itself was then used by the Javanese as an expression in avoiding conflict.

Mosque, Indonesia between 1900 and 1940

Rituals

The Walisongo saw that Hinduism and Buddhism actually were only embraced by the Gusti society inside the palaces. The common religion that generally embraced by the general population outside the palace is Kapitayan, a religion whose devotee toward Sang Hyang Taya. Taya means suwung (“empty”). the god of Kapitayan is abstract and indescribably. Sang Hyang Taya is defined simply as tan keno kinaya ngapa, it cannot be seen, thought, nor imagined. And the might of Sang Hyang Taya can be seen in various places, such as in stone, monument, trees and in many other places in this world. Therefore, the ancient Javanese make their offerings over those places as their devotion toward Sang Hyang Taya. A similar concept of Brahman is found in Hinduism.

These Kapitayan’s religious values was then adopted by the Walisongo in spreading Islam toward the regions as the concept of tawhid in Kapitayan is very similar to the concept of tawhid in Islam. the term of Tan keno kinaya ngapa in Kapitayan (“can’t be seen, can’t be thought, can’t be imagined, He is beyond everything”), have a similar meaning as laisa kamitslihi syai’un in Islam (“There is nothing like unto Him” – Qur’an Surah Ash-Syura chapter 42 verse 11).

Walisongo also use the term Sembahyang (sembah (worship)+ Hyang (god), thus worshipping Sang Hyang Taya in Kapitayan) in introducing the term of Shalat in Islam. There’s also a ritual in form of not eating from morning up until night in Kapitayan, which is called as Upawasa (Puasa, “fasting”). Incidentally, the ritual of fasting in Hinduism is also called “Upawasa” or “Upavasa”. Instead of using the term of fasting in Islam, Walisongo used the term of Puasa or Upawasa from the Kapitayan in describing the ritual. The term of Poso Dino Pitu in Kapitayan whose means fasting on the day of the second and the fifth day in which is equal to seven days of fasting, is very similar with the form of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays in Islam. The Tradition of Tumpengan of Kapitayan was also being kept by the Walisongo under the Islamic perspective as known as Sedekah (from Sadaqah which, in the modern context, has come to signify “voluntary charity”. According to the Quran, the word means voluntary offering, whose amount is at the will of the “benefactor”.)

Nasi Tumpeng.jpg
Tumpeng. The big plate generally set in the middle of a celebration.

At the time of Majapahit, there is a ceremony which is called as Sraddha, a ceremony that being held 12 years after a person’s death. There is a time in the Majapahit history, a poet namely Mpu Tanakung, composed the Kidung of Banawa Sekar Sekar (The Ballad of Flowers Boat), to describe how the ceremony was carried out with full opulence and grandeur. This tradition was then called by society around the lakes and beach with the term Sadran or Nyadran (derived from the word Sraddha). Walisongo who derived from Champa also brought religious traditions, such as ceremonies for 3 days, 7 days, 40 days, 10 days, and 1000 days after someone’s death. This is not a native Javanese tradition, nor the Hindu tradition. In the books of Tradition of Champa, such tradition has already exists since a very long time ago.

Another example of the teaching of Walisongo is Slametan which is developed by Sunan Bonang. In the Tantric religion embraced by kings of Nusantara archipelago, there’s a sect in that Tantric religion which is called the Bhairawa Tantra sect that worships the Goddess of Earth, Durga and Kali. They have a rituals where they were creating a circle called Ksetra.

Kasuyatan Mosque, between 1915 and 1926

At Indonesian National Museum in Jakarta, there is a statue of a character named Adityawarman height of three meters and stands on a pile of skulls. He is the priest of the Bhairawa Tantra, the one who performed the teaching of malima. He was inaugurated and then became the Bhairawa priest carrying the title of Wisesa Dharani, the ruler of the earth. The statue described that he sat on a pile of hundreds of corpses, drinking blood, and laughing uproariously.

Witnessing such situation, Sunan Bonang created a similar event. He entered the center of Bhairawa Tantra in Kediri. During his travels in Kediri, he stayed in the west of the river, in the village of Singkal Nganjuk. There he held a similar ceremony, made the similar circle, but much more subdued. Food were put in the center of the circle and then they pray together. This is called Slametan, a ceremonial meal prepared to maintain a balanced relationship between the natural and supernatural forces.. Therefore, Sunan Bonang was also known as Sunan Wadat Cakrawati, as the leader or imam of Chakra Iswara (Cakreswara).

Mosque in Surabaya between 1900 – 1940

NEW RELEASE – Time Maps: Gods, Kings and Prophets

The whole story of Egypt has taken about 7000 years. This roughly translates to about three hundred generations, or a hundred average human lifetimes. The Ancient Egyptian culture meets its natural end around the time of Alexander the Macedonian. However, it is such a magnificent flowering of the human spirit that we turn to it for reference to this day to lead us into understanding many other cultures around the world.

The rise and fall of empires, dynasties and cultures are patterns that we find in the recollection of events, but the patterns in ancient Egypt are repeated throughout human history, and in the mythology of many nations – the king murdered by his brother, the old king with a young wife, the assassination of a saintly king, the attempt by courtiers to take control of the kingdom, the king brought down by his ambition or pride, and many others, all very Shakespearean. On a larger scale there are social upheavals, cultural revivals, wars that lasted for generations, superb technical achievements, works of art that stimulated the ancient Greeks and hence influenced the world, as well as religious inspirations that helped shape the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

Written with a Mathematician’s precision and a Historian’s curiosity, Time Maps covers over millennia worth of developments & impacts of civilizations, migrations, leaders and continents. Illuminating concepts of societies, dynasties, heroes, kings and eras through incisive and thorough research, looking at ideas, theories & world views with a sense of wonder and delight.

I am reading a small section of our new book, Time Maps: Gods, Kings and Prophets. It is now available through Amazon.

Time Maps: Gods, Kings and Prophets is now available on Amazon.

Message from Martini: “I have a YouTube Channel – I would Love for You to Join Me”

Hi everyone,

I have recently started my own YouTube channel. The reason behind this decision is that I want to share my views, insights and knowledge on this blog as well as in video format. There are many topics that I am very excited to discuss on video as well as in written form in this blog.

The goal of my YouTube channel is to be a place where we can discover more of ancient culture without the boring bits. If you have been following my blog or buying my books, you would know that I am very passionate about world mythology and how we can take lessons from them in the modern world. This channel will be focused world myths and legends which are simple and relatable. You can also access some of my favorite videos on my video page on this website.

I will be very happy if you would like to follow me along on this journey. If you are interested, do come to my channel, watch my videos and comment on it on YouTube or below this blog post if you like. I rely on feedback to improve the quality of the content, and I also would like to choose topics for future videos according to your feedback when possible.

Last, and most importantly, thank you for all your support and friendship through the years. I hope you know that appreciate you very much, and I look forward to taking you on this new adventure.

With love,

Martini

The Maidens and the Stars: Star Legends of Aboriginal Australia

In the Dreamtime, the cluster of stars which we know as the Pleiades were seven beautiful ice maidens. Their parents were a great mountain and an ice-cold stream that flowed from the hills. The seven sisters wandered across the land, their long hair flying behind them like storm clouds. Their beauty was so entrancing that every man who saw them fell in love with them instantly. But the maidens’ affections were cold.

One day a man named Wurrunnah captured two of the maidens and forced them to live with him while their five sisters travelled to their home in the sky. When Wurrunnah discovered that the sisters he had captured were ice maidens, thus could never return his affection, he was disappointed. So he took them to a camp fire to melt the cold crystals from their limbs, hoping to somehow turn them mortal. But as the ice melted, the water quenched the fire, and he succeeded only in dimming their brightness.

Disappointed as he was, Wurrunnah kept the two ice maidens captive and had them help him with chores around the house. The two sisters longed for their home in the clear blue sky. One day, Wurrunnah told them to gather pine-bark in the forest. After a short journey, they came to a great pine tree, and commenced to strip the bark from it. As they did so, the pine tree extended itself to the sky. The maidens climbed home to their sisters. However, they never regained their original brightness, and that is  why there are five bright stars and two dim ones in the group of the Pleiades.

Of all the men who loved the seven sisters, the Berai Berai (two brothers) were the most faithful. When the maidens set out on their long journey to the sky, the Berai Berai were grieved. They laid aside their weapons and mourned for the maidens until the dark shadow of death fell upon them. When they died, the fairies pitied them, and placed them in the sky, where they could hear the sisters singing. On a starry night, people can always see them listening to the song of the seven sisters. We know them as Orion’s Sword and Belt.

Rolla-Mano was the old man of the sea in Australian Aboriginal mythology. He ruled a great kingdom in the depths of the sea filled with shadows and strange forms. One day, Rolla-Mano went to fish in a lonely mangrove swamp close to the sea shore. He noticed two beautiful women approaching him and was determined to capture them. He hid in the branches of the mangrove tree, and, when the women were close to him he threw his net over them. One woman escaped by diving into the water. He was so enraged at her escape that he jumped in after her with a burning fire stick in his hand. As soon as the fire stick touched the water, the sparks hissed and scattered to the sky, where they remain as golden stars to this day.

Rolla-Mano never did caught the woman who dove into the dark waters of the swamp. He returned to the shore in a foul mood after a fruitless search and threw the other woman to the sky to forever separate her from her sister. That woman became the evening star. From her resting place, she gazes with dread through the mists of eternity at the restless sea – the dark, mysterious kingdom of Rolla-Mano, and with longing to the dark waters where her sister disappeared. On a clear summer night, when the sky is studded with golden stars, the people remember that they are the sparks from the fire stick of Rolla-Mano, and the beautiful evening star is the woman he captured in the trees of the mangrove swamp.

A Prophecy came to Life: The Story of Kelea, the Surf-Rider of Maui

“Kelea, the Surf-Rider” by ROOSDY

Kelea was the beautiful sister of Kawao, king of Maui who, at the age of twenty-five, succeeded to the sovereignty of that island. Brought up in the royal court at Lahaina, Kelea was uncommonly beautiful. But she never cared about marriage. She loved the water and became the most graceful and daring surf-swimmer in the kingdom. Frequently, when the waters of Auau Channel surged wildly under the south wind, Kelea would plunge into the sea with her surf-board, and ride the waves that those who watched and applauded her were half-inclined to believe that she was the friend of some water-god, and could not be drowned.

When her brother spoke to her of marriage, Kelea gaily answered that the surf-board was her husband. The brother frowned at the answer, as he had hoped, by uniting his sister to a principal chief of Hana, to more thoroughly incorporate that portion of the island to his kingdom.

“Do not frown, Kawao,” said Kelea, coaxingly; I may marry some day, just to please you; but remember what the voice said in the wave at the last feast of Lono.”

That voice from the wave that Kelea heard was prophetic. It says that while Kelea continued to ride the waves at Lahaina, a husband, of the family of Kalona-iki of Oahu, was looking for her.

At that time at Lihue, on the island of Oahu, lived a chief named Lo-Lale. He was handsome, but he never married. Some years before, a beautiful chiefess whom he loved and was about to marry died by drowning. After that, he hated the sea, and was content to remain at Lihue, beyond the sound of its surges.

As his family wanted him to marry so that the family authority might be strengthened, Lo-Lale finally yielded and started to look for a wife from among the royal families of the other islands. Accordingly, a large koa canoe was fitted out at Waialua, and with trusty messengers despatched to the nearby islands in search of a wife for Lo-Lale. Among the chiefs selected for the delicate mission was Lo-Lale’s cousin, Kalamakua, a noble of high rank, whose lands were on the coast of the Ewa district.

Amid a chorus of alohas! the canoe dashed through the breakers and out into the open sea, holding a course in the direction of Molokai. Reaching that island early the next day, the party landed at Kalaupapa. They were informed that a large number of chiefs had accompanied the moi to that attractive resort, and that Kelea, sister of the king, and the most beautiful woman on the island as well as the most daring and accomplished surf-swimmer, was also there.

The party re-embarked and arrived the next morning off Hamakuapoko, just as Kelea and her attendants had gone down to the beach to surf. Swimming out beyond the breakers, and oblivious of everything but her own enjoyment, Kelea suddenly found herself within a few yards of the canoe of the Oahuan chiefs. Presuming that it was her own people, she swam still closer, when she discovered, to her amazement, that all the faces in the canoe were strangers to her. Kalamakua rose to his feet, and invited her to a seat in the canoe, offering to ride the surf with it to the beach.

The language of the chief was so gentle that the invitation was accepted, and the canoe mounted one of the great waves successively following two of lighter bulk and force, and was safely beached. The achievement was greeted with applause on the shore, and when the proposal was made to repeat the performance Kelea willingly retained her seat. Again the canoe successfully rode the breakers ashore, and then, through her attendants, Kalamakua discovered that the beautiful swimmer was none other than Kelea, the sister of the moi of Maui.

But when the wind ceased and the skies cleared, late in the afternoon, the canoe was far out at sea and beyond the sight of land. It was turned and headed back; but as there was no wind to assist the paddles, and the waters were still rough and restless, slow progress toward land was made; and when the sun went down Kalamakua was undecided which way to proceed.

Kalamakua, taking advantage of a squall which blew the craft out to sea, abducted Kelea to take her to Oahu. During the voyage, Kelea learned that she was to be the wife of Lo-lale, the high chief of Oahu. Needless to say Kalea was surprised and rather angry.

Later Kelea remembered the prophecy she heard and soon became the wife of Lo-lale. However, the marriage was doomed to fail. Lo-lale disliked the sea and preferred to live inland at Lihue. Kelea, confined in Lihue far from the sea, longed to return to the surf and was only happy on her occasional visits to the seashore at Ewa where she surfed in the company of Kalamakua. Finally, she vowed to return to the shores of her native island and left Lo-lale forever. However, on her way to Maui she stopped at Ewa and there accepted a proposal of marriage from Kalamakua, the chief who had abducted her. In the end, the prophecy was still correct: Kelea’s husband, of the family of Kalona-iki of Oahu, was looking for her.

The Comfort of Mystery: In Defense of Mythology

We often hear something being dismissed as “just a myth” to imply that it is not true. In fact, “myth” and “truth” are often seen as opposites. If it is not analysed, written down in reports and be seen or heard, then it is a myth (“pics or it didn’t happen!” as young people like to say). For many, mythology is the study of old, meaningless and untrue stories. Some people, repelled by the myths’ more incredible elements and contradictions, see them as fabrications to be discarded because we like to think that we are too “sophisticated” to believe in something so ridiculous. But mythology’s enduring worth is never in its possible historical or scientific accuracy. When recitals of data and observable facts miss the point completely, some things can be dealt with adequately only in poetry or mythology. Love, hate, empathy, aversion, hunger, greed, altruism and all the other positive and negative aspects of being human are also facts. To ignore them by putting everything into numbers is to treat people as insensate objects and their lives as mechanical conditioned responses. This is a statistical perspective and it is as much a distortion of reality as any other limited point of view.

 Every culture’s pantheon of mythical characters was the family into which every person of that culture was born, as these creatures were as familiar as their parents, grandparents or siblings. Therefore, a myth is also not a simple proposition that can be judged as true or false. Rather, a myth attempts to make sense of our perceptions and feelings within our experience of the world in a narrative format long before art, language or the written word.

Of course, there are certainly many aspects of myths are not literally true. However, we understand the stories about the Greek gods because they share some of our emotions and ambitions – two things we cannot measure even if we tried. The stories of Icarus, for example, resonates with us because we have all experienced within ourselves tendencies to fly too high or to force things only to crash and burn. Although no myth can completely represent all of human experience as human experience is so multidimensional and varied, a myth still captures some important aspects of the domain of human experience which it is meant to represent. It is like a map which captures only important features of the terrain but not every detail of the terrain it represents. Just like looking at maps, we learn through imagination, as we feel and visualize the colorful adventures of the deities or heroes. Although mythology is not a literal description of a culture’s history, we can still use myths to explore the culture itself and address some of our fundamental and difficult questions that human beings ask – who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, how did it all begin?

Truthfully, human beings are never meant to be totally rational. We therefore crave a bit of mystery to counter our apparent understanding and mastery of the world.  To lend this comfort of mystery, humanity have had deities for many aspects of life. The Egyptians had more than 2000 deities while the Hindus have 333 million. The Irish honored both the goddess of rivers (Boann) and the goddess of the Lagan River (Logia). There are deities for cities (such as Athena for Athens), mountains (Gauri-Sankar for Mount Everest), lakes, tribes, plant species, temples, constellations, and many more. Deities governed not only major phenomena such as agriculture, love or the sun, but also such common matters as leisure, the kitchen stove, politics, prostitution, singing, doors, virginity, gambling, drunkenness and the toilet. Deities have governed virtually every possible activity, object and emotion, lending a bit of their magic into what would have been rather mundane and tedious interactions.

Myths also bring out our sense of protectiveness. Mistakes in relating mythological stories may meet with sneers or even anger. Much like a family member being misunderstood or criticized, we stand by our myth because we know that it is our root, the culture from where we came.

Like the lack of sense of family or community, a lack of myths can cause a sense of meaninglessness, estrangement and cold brittleness of a life devoid of reverence and awe. As myths are necessary, and we neglected to preserve most of the ancient ones, our modern society develops its own myths. Now our “modern” myths seem to rest on certain concepts (such as “progress” or “freedom”) and in larger-than-life celebrities. The media enlarges certain people to mythical proportions and we project the “hero” archetype onto other people. We revered Mother Teresa for her compassion and Albert Einstein for his intellect. Marilyn Monroe was a “screen goddess” with the alluring qualities of Aphrodite while Muhammad Ali called on the aggression of Ares when he stepped into the boxing ring. Through all these reverence, we somewhat conveniently leave out the fact that Albert Einstein failed every exams he had ever attempted in his school days, Marilyn Monroe was ultimately a lonely figure and Muhammad Ali was a peaceful man off the ring – in short, they were all human: complicated, vulnerable and fragile. But to understand and relate to them, we amplify aspects of them that are easiest for us to understand.

There is a myth in every group and our mythology changes as our culture changes. We each have our own mythology which we create. We have things and people which are important and valued to us personally. We are heroes in our “mythical journeys” by which we romanticize our various passages through life. The truly satisfying and exciting myths are those which arise from our own passions and our own visions. It just so happens that those myths have existed since the ancient times one way or the other.

Celebrating Ancient Valentine: She-Wolf, Politics and Whippings

Valentine’s Day is celebrated annually on February 14. It is recognized as a celebration of romance in many regions around the world.

Camasei-lupercales-prado.jpg

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 13th to 15th romantic Roman fellows stripped naked, grabbed some goat-skin whips and whipped consenting young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility.

This 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. Luperci, Lupercalia, and Lupercal all relate to the Latin word lupus (“wolf”), as do various Latin words connected with brothels. The Latin for she-wolf was also slang for prostitute.

Conrad Dressler (1856-1940) - Lupercalia (1907) back right, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, May 2012 (7613067678).png
Conrad Dressler (1856-1940) – Lupercalia (1907)

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 two 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 BCE, 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.

Ludi Lupercali.jpg

The 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.

Although striking women is thought to have been a fertility measure,  there was also a decidedly 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 BCE, 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.

The 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.

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.

Valentine'S Day, Chocolates, Candy

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