Yin and Yang: A Short History of Universal Balance

Chinese mythology and cosmology rest on the concept that the universe is shaped and maintained by two fundamental forces called yin and yang. They are opposites yet complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system where the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

“Heaven loves men dearly not without reason”: Heaven and the Otherworld through Ancient Beliefs

The concept of the afterlife in the ancient world is more varied and somewhat more complicated. Unlike travelling to hell, which seems to be a much quicker process, a soul’s journey to heaven consists of various tests and layers before it could reach its final resting place.

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.

Dance of the Swords

Sword dancing has found its place in many different cultures. In Asia, the sword dance is often used for plot descriptions and characterization in Chinese opera. In Pakistan and Nepal, military dances are still commonly performed for weddings and other occasions. In India, the Paika Akhada (“warrior school”) previously used to train Odisha warriors, is performed in the streets during festivals. Sword dances are also performed all over Europe, particularly in areas corresponding to the boundaries of what used to be the Holy Roman Empire.

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.

Ancient History of the Forbidden Fruit

Apples have a prominent place in world mythology, often associated with paradise, magic,  knowledge and sensual experience. Legendary magician Merlin were said to carry a silver bough from an apple tree which allowed him to cross into the other worlds and to return to the land of the living. It’s no accident, then, that the apple tree is closely associated with knowledge, truth and enlightenment. The association between apples and knowledge continues In the Christian tradition as Eve offers Adam an apple – a forbidden fruit which grew on the tree of knowledge. Images after images were painted of this scene and the “forbidden fruit” became immortalized in arts as an apple.

The Divine Beloved

Not much was known of the young Antinous before he attracted the attention of the ruler of the Roman world at its height. He was born in Bithynia, the northwest corner of the country that we now call Turkey, in the year 111 CE. He was very likely not from a wealthy family. However, because of his mysterious bond with Roman Emperor Hadrian, by the end of his short life Antinous was a house-hold name all over the Roman Empire.

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.