BOOK TALK: Dragons

Dragons or large serpent-like creatures are so common in mythology and folklore that we should suspect that there are some grains of truth behind them that we have lost sight of – something more than just imagination and fairy stories. Modern dragon lore is mainly fantasy – few of the people who write about them have ever encountered even one little dragon. Apart from occasional tales of sea serpents no reliable reports of dragon sightings have reached Euroamerica in the past eight hundred years, but early in the seventeenth century some European naturalists were still writing about them as if they were common knowledge.

New Release – HORATIO’S WORLD

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” He was right. The things that go on in people’s minds are very real and can influence worldly events. In fact, it often seems that they are the only things that can influence the world.  After the Great Enlightenment, humanity’s perception of “reality” permanently shifted, never to be the same again. We started to place high values in progress, rationality, science, logic and belief. Our whole modern world is built on them – but there were immense costs involved too.

Divinity in Diversity

The general appearances of ancient Chinese deities lead us to think of them as sober imperial bureaucrats. Mostly, they look like middle aged men dressed in official-looking robes, spending their time reading formal petitions and responding by giving stern orders to their underlings – rather like the more artistic version of our modern politicians. Although several of the most popular deities are female, gender immediately raises problems for the bureaucratic image of some important deities as governing elites tend to favor a religious practice that reflected themselves (male, old, humourless etc). Women, as well as men who are viewed to be rebels or misfits, tends to be excluded from the sites and definitions of power. But a group of joyful misfits changed all that.

From the Sirens’ Lips

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

An Unhappy Divine Marriage

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

Ancient Blondes

While we reject the idea that brunettes are mousy or that gentlemen prefer blondes, we do have to concede that going platinum made Marilyn Monroe’s career as she lightened her brown hair early in her modeling days and never looked back. In fact, Hollywood saw the emergence of many blonde actresses from 1930’s to the 1950’s. Epitheths such as “screen siren” or “cinematic goddess” were attached to the most popular blonde actresses of the day, including Monroe herself. Her face always seemed lit from within. Her secret: facial hair. Seriously. It was actually a thin layer of downy peach fuzz on her cheeks that caught the studio lights just so and gave her the effect of a “glow”. By the magic of cinematic lighting, pale skin and blonde hair were made to look like the closest approximation of what the viewers’ imagine goddesses would look like.

Keepers of the Eternal Flame

As fire is considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth, a sacred fire is often a place for the offering of sacrifices and prayers. Therefore, those entrusted with tending this flame often held a sacred, important and very demanding role in the culture.

Demons from the Wilderness, Lovers from the Sky

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

The Rabbits on the Moon

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

The Fisher King

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

Vilifying the Ancient Goddess

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

Ancient Mothers of Drummers and the Art of Dance

The art of dance was incorporated in many religious rituals and festivals of ancient civilizations. From the third millennium BC, ancient Egyptians started to use dance as an integral part of their religious ceremonies, using dancers to perform important events such as divine tales and celestial patterns of shifting sun and stars. In ancient Greece, dance was very freely used for public purposes until it eventually brought about the birth of the popular Greek theatre in the 6th century BC. The first person in history to be called drummer was a woman – a Mesopotamian priestess, in fact.