My Favorite Star Legends

I would first like to thank those who have bought my books and kept in touch with me through social media. I am very happy with the reactions I have been getting for “Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” and I very much enjoy meeting and interacting with you through other channels as well. I would also like to keep you updated on what I’ve been up to since it has been a little while since my last post. I am at the moment collecting sky legends from different cultures which include as many legends about the sun, the moon, the stars, etc that I can possibly find to later compile them into a book. I am quite excited about this project as I get to know many myths that I have never heard of before as well as revisit some more familiar legends and be in awe of them all over again. I will be sure to share with you some of them in this blog.

Songs of the Ice Maidens

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.

The Old Man of the Sea and the Birth of the Star Sisters

sea-3092892_1920.jpgRolla-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.

The Hummingbird who Saved the World

A native American mythology says that a long time ago, the great spirits noticed that none of the animals were getting along.  They then decided to teach the animals a lesson and took the sun away, covering the sky with a great dark blanket. Many animals volunteered to pull away the blanket, including the coyote and the bear, but none could do it.

hummingbird-2876454_1920.jpgAt last, the smallest of the birds, the hummingbird, volunteered. As she was so tiny, the animals all laughed at her, but still they let her try. She flew as far as she could all the way up to the blanket, and was able to puncture it with her beak. But she was too weak to do much more. Still, determined, she flew up again and again, each time poking a new hole. Eventually, the other animals, amazed at her effort, began to help, boosting her up whenever she lacked energy. When the great spirits saw this, they removed the blanket as a reward. But at night, every night, they put the blanket back so that beings on earth can see the stars, and always be reminded that everyone is useful in their own way. This is why we have the night, the day, and the stars.



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.

Deus Lunus: the Men of the Moon

Due to the influence of the Greek Artemis-Selênê and the Latin Diana-Luna, we generally associate the moon with femininity. Indeed, I have written many articles on different aspects of the moon and, in one article, I have tried to cover both the masculine and feminine aspect of the moon, including its association with rabbits. I have to admit, though, that associating the moon with masculinity is rather challenging. Personally, I’m used to thinking of the moon as feminine and, research-wise, records of moon gods are just a little trickier to put together. However, the idea of concentrating on the masculine side of the moon is intriguing and worth attempting.

The Sun Goddes, Sol, and the Moon God, Mani

Among the Germanic nations the moon is masculine and the sun feminine. It is the daughter of Sôl, the Norse Sun-goddess, who in the regenerated world shall ride on her mother’s track when the gods are dead; and it is the god Mâni, who at Ragnarok, ‘the-Twilight-of-the-gods,’ shall be devoured by the Wolf of darkness, Managarmr, ‘Moon-swallower,’ a reduplication of the terrible wolf Fenrir.

In Egypt, Chons is the personification of the moon, and in this character he is called Chonsaah or Chons the moon. His name seems to mean “the chaser,” or “pursuer”. He is said to be personified as the Unicorn who chases the Lion-sun – I really have to research this further because this sounds awesome. Another Kamic-lunar personage is Thoth, the weighing and measuring god as well as the lord of knowledge and writing. The crescent is found followed by the figure of Thoth in several hieroglyphic legends, with the phonetic name Aah.


Arabian mythology consider the moon masculine, and not feminine – a belief that survives to this day. In Sanskrit the most current names for the moon, such as Kandra, Soma, Indu, Vidhu, are masculine. The names of the moon are frequently used in the sense of month, and these and other names for month retain the same gender.

Yue Lao (“old man under the moon”), is a god of marriage and love in Chinese mythology. He appears at night, and “unites with a silken cord all predestined couples, after which nothing can prevent their union.” He is immortal and is said to live either in the moon or in the underworld.

During the Tang Dynasty, there was a young man named Wei Gu. Once he was passing the city of Songcheng, where he saw an old man leaning on his pack reading a book in the moonlight. Being amazed at it, Wei Gu walked up and asked what he was doing. The old man answered, “I am reading a book of marriage listing for who is going to marry whom. In my pack are red cords for tying the feet of husband and wife.” When Wei Gu and the old man came together to a marketplace, they saw a blind old woman carrying a three-year-old little girl in her arms. The old man said to Wei Gu,” This little girl will be your wife in the future.” Wei Gu thought this was too strange to believe and he ordered his servant to stab the girl with his knife.

Yue Lao

Years later, a high official offered his daughter in marriage to Wei Gu who happily accepted and pleased that he finally found a wife. On the wedding night, he noticed a scar between her eye brows and enquired about it. His new wife told him about an incident where she was stabbed by a man in the City of Song. Wei Gu realized his wife was that little girl whom he tried to kill – perhaps understandably, he never told his wife that he tried to have her murdered.

The cult of the Moon-god Mên in Asia Minor was widely established in Asia Minor. The Augustan History has the Roman emperor Carcalla (r. 198–217) venerate Lunus at Carrhae. This masculine variant of the feminine Latin noun luna (“Moon”), has been taken as a Latinized name for Mēn. The same source records the local opinion that anyone who believes the deity of the moon to be feminine shall always be subject to women, whereas a man who believes that the moon is masculine will dominate his wife.

Bust of Men

Carcalla is also said to have visited the temple of Sin, the Babylonian and Assyrian Moon-god. The expression, ‘From the origin of the god Sin,’ was used by the Assyrians to mark remote antiquity; because as chaos preceded order, so night preceded day, and the enthronement of the moon as the Night-king marks the commencement of the annals of cosmic order.

The Akkadian Moon-god, who corresponds with the Semitic Sin, is Aku, ‘the Seated-father,’ as chief supporter of kosmic order, styled ‘the-Maker-of-brightness,’ En-zuna, ‘the-Lord-of-growth,’ and Idu, the-Measuring-lord,’ the Aïdês of Hesychios. Amongst the Finns Kuu is the male god of the moon,  and exactly corresponds with Aku. It is singular to find also Kua as a moon-name in Central Africa.

Among the Mbocobis of South America, the moon is a man and the sun his wife. Amongst the Mexicans, Metztli, the Moon, was a hero. According to an Australian legend, Mityan, the Moon, was a native cat [male], who fell in love with some one else’s wife, and was driven away to wander ever since. The Khasias of the Himalaya say that the moon [male] falls monthly in love with his mother-in-law, who throws ashes in his face, which explains the spots we see on the moon.


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!



Murder by Mistletoe: The Ancient Art of Blindsiding through Norse and Persian Myths

One of those deities whose life might, in a sense, be said to be between heaven and earth was the Norse god Balder, the good and beautiful god, the son of the great god Odin, and himself the wisest, mildest and best beloved of all the immortals.

The story of his death is this: Balder dreamed something which seemed to forebode his death. He told the other gods about this and, because he was so beloved, the gods held a council and resolved to secure him from any danger. So the goddess Frigg took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, trees, sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds and creepy things that they would not hurt Balder.

When this was done Balder was deemed invulnerable; so the gods amused themselves in their downtime by setting him in their midst – some would shoot at him and others threw stones at him, because why not? But whatever they did, nothing could hurt him, so at they had a big laugh and a jolly time was had by all. But Loki, the mischief-maker, didn’t think this was fair, and he went in the guise of an old woman to Frigg, who told him that the weapons of the gods could not wound Balder, since she had made them all swear not to hurt him.

When Loki asked, “Have all things sworn to spare Balder?” Frigg answered, “East of Valhalla grows a plant called mistletoe; it seemed to me too young to swear.” So Loki went there, pulled the mistletoe and took it to the assembly of the gods. There he found the blind god Hother standing at the outside of the circle. Loki asked him, “Why do you not shoot at Balder?” Hother answered, “Because I do not see where he stands; besides I have no weapon.” Then Loki said, “Join in the fun. I will show you  where he stands and you can shoot him with this twig.” Hother took the mistletoe and threw it at Balder, as Loki directed. The mistletoe struck Balder and he fell down dead.

balder-and-nannaFor a while the gods stood speechless, then they wept bitterly. They took Balder’s body and brought it to the sea-shore. There stood Balder’s ship, Ringhorn. Balder’s body was taken and placed on the funeral pile upon his ship. When his wife Nanna saw it, her heart burst in sorrow and she died. So she was laid on the funeral pyre with her husband. Balder’s horse, too, with all its trappings, was burned, so the couple could journey on it to the underworld.

In the older Edda, the tragic tale of Balder is hinted at rather than told at length. Among the visions which the Norse Sibyl sees and describes in the weird prophecy known as the Voluspa is one of the fatal mistletoe. “I behold,” she said, “Fate looming for Balder, Woden’s son, the bloody victim. There stands the Mistletoe slender and delicate, blooming high above the ground. Out of this shoot, so slender to look on, there shall grow a harmful fateful shaft. Hod shall shoot it, but Frigga in Fen-hall shall weep over the woe of Wal-hall.”

But looking far into the future the Sibyl sees a brighter vision of a new heaven and a new earth, where the fields unsown shall yield their increase and all sorrows shall be healed; then Balder will come back to dwell in Odin’s mansions of bliss, in a hall brighter than the sun, shingled with gold, where the righteous shall live in joy for ever more.

balder-vs-hotherWriting about the end of the twelfth century, the old Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus tells the story of Balder where Balder and Hother were rival suitors for the hand of Nanna, daughter of Gewar, King of Norway.  Balder was a demigod and common steel could not wound his sacred body. The two rivals battle each other. Although Odin, Thor and the rest of the gods fought on Balder’s side, Balder was defeated and flew away. So Hother married the princess. But Balder didn’t give up and again met Hother in a field. But he fared even worse than before because Hother gave him a deadly wound with a magic sword which he had received from Miming, the Satyr of the woods; and after three days in pain, Balder died of his pain and was buried with royal honours in a barrow.

Whether he was a real or mythical, Balder was worshipped in Norway. On one of the bays of Sogne Fiord, which penetrates far into the depths of the Norwegian mountains, Balder had a great sanctuary. It was called Balder’s Grove.

statue_of_rostamWe like to think that the figure of Balder was nothing more than a myth, but it is also possible that the myth was founded on the tradition of a hero, popular and beloved in his lifetime, who long survived in the memory of the people, gathering more and more of the marvelous stories about him as he passed from generation to generation of story-tellers. So it is worth while to observe that a somewhat similar story is told of another national hero, who may well have been a real man. In his poem, The Epic of Kings, founded on Persian traditions, the poet Firdusi tells us that in the combat between Rostam and Esfandiyar, Rostam’s arrows did no harm to his adversary, “because Zerdusht had charmed his body against all dangers, so that it was like unto brass.” But Simurgh, the bird of God, showed Rostam the way to vanquish his foe.

Rostam rode after her, and they halted not till they came to the sea-shore. There she led him into a garden, where a tamarisk stood tall and strong, branches piercing to the sky. Then the bird of God asked Rostam to break a tree a branch that was long and slender, and made it into an arrow. She said, “Only through his eyes can Isfendiyar be wounded. If, therefore, thou wouldst slay him, direct this arrow to his forehead, and it shall not miss its aim.” Rostam did as he was asked to do; and when next he fought with Isfendiyar, he shot the arrow at him. The arrow pierced Isfendiyar’s eye and killed him.



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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