The Seven Ancient Mothers

The Matrikas have existed from as early as the Indus Valley civilization (3300–1700 BCE). The Rigveda (c. 1700–1100 BCE) merely refers to them a group of seven mothers who control the preparation of soma (the drink of the gods).

Vinayaki

In one of the shrines of the Thanumalayan temple in Kanyakumari district, India, is the stone sculpture of a four-armed deity sitting cross-legged in Sukhasana (“easy pose” – similar to sitting in a simple cross-legged position) holding a battle-axe, a large shell, a vase and a staff around which the deity entwines a long trunk. At first glance, one would think that this is the famous elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha except that this deity is clearly female.

Shaman Queens

The word ‘shaman’ conjures up images of medicine men smoking peace pipes, dancing in a trance to drumming around a fire or African sangomas, adorned with leopard skin, throwing dollose bones and shells to divine and drinking beer from calabash. This is far removed from the concept of sophisticated, regal shaman queens of the East in China, Japan and Korea who used their talent and connection with the ‘Otherworld’ to the benefit of their kingdoms and populace. Later this feminine healing power was suppressed and persecuted by religious men, who regarded it as a threat to their faith.

Here’s to More Life, Love and Adventures to Come: The Ancient History of Birthday Celebrations

One of the most famous Roman antiquity inscriptions comes from Vindolanda, a fort along Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain. This is Claudia Severa’s so-called “birthday letter,” which she wrote to her friend Sulpicia Lepidina around 100 CE. Severa dictated to a scribe on a small wooden tablet the invitation to her friend for a birthday celebration on September 11th, as well as well wishes in her own handwriting.  

Ancient Legends of the Wise Owl

About 48 million years ago, an owl swooped down to catch its prey in broad daylight – we know this because in 2018 Dickinson Museum Researchers found the exquisitely preserved remains of the owl. Its skull shares a telltale characteristic with modern-day hawks which also hunt by day. As they have evidently existed since the ancient times, the owl has been regarded with fascination, awe and fear throughout history. They feature prominently in the myths and legends of a variety of cultures.

Melusine

Sixteenth century Theologian Martin Luther has referred to Melusine unfavorably  several times as a succubus and nineteenth century composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture titled “The Fair Melusina”. These days, images of Melusine are still seen in the Vendée region of Poitou, western France, where one can drink Melusine-brand beer and eat Melusine-style baguettes. In Vouvant, paintings of her and her sons decorate the “Tour Melusine,” the ruins of a Lusignan castle guarding the banks of the River Mère, where visitors of the tower can lunch at the Cafe Melusine nearby. The image of Melusine is so famous and enduring that, perhaps without knowing her by name, we still recognize her image today as the logo for Starbucks Coffee.

Heavenly Daughters of Pleasure

These women are the apsaras, beautiful dancing women in the court of Indra, king of the gods, in the celestial palace in Hindu mythology. They are the heavenly charmers who fascinated heroes and allured sages from their devotions as well as the “rewards” in heaven given to heroes who fall in battle. The apsaras have the power to change their forms and give good luck to whom they favor.

Dragons of Ancient Asia

Kinryuzan Sensoji Temple, located in Asakusa, Tokyo is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the temple is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world with over 30 million annual visitors. Kinryuzan means the ‘Golden Dragon Mountain’. Legend has it that the Sensoji Temple was founded in 628 AD after two fishermen fished a gold statuette of Kannon from the Sumida River. Although the understandably confused fishermen tried to put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Therefore, the Sensoji temple was built nearby for the goddess represented by the statue found by the fishermen.

The Five Eternal Virgins of Ancient India

Five is one of the mystical numbers according to Hindu belief.  There are five ingredients prescribed for worship: wine, fish, flesh, lard and chant, corresponding to the five senses in the human body: taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing. It is also believed that nature manifests itself in five forms: earth, water, fire, wind and sky. Each kanya is born of one of these elements, and these five elements of nature formed the essence of their characters.

It Ain’t Over till the Fat Lady Sings

Richard Wagner’s 19th century opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of Nibelungen), affectionately known as the “Ring” Cycle, may be considered by many as the height of operatic absurdity, with larger than life staging, costumes and voices. The image is so ingrained in the modern consciousness that opera lovers and non-lovers alike associate the opera, specifically the character of Brunhilde, with a heavy-set female opera singer wearing her hair in pig-tails, costumed with horned helmet and armor. As the opera went on to make its mark on popular culture, from featuring in an episode of Bugs Bunny to inspiring a Quentin Tarantino film, Brunhilde became a more visually recognizable figure.