August 2017

English Folklore: The Forgotten Death of Mischief Night

In the United Kingdom, nestling midway between the early autumn “Back to School” sales promotions and the consumer spending bonanza that is Christmas, we now have the retail opportunity of Halloween. Fancy dress costumes, pumpkins, plastic skeletons, scary witches’ masks and plenty of sweets to dish out to Trick-or-Treaters.

Each year, Halloween’s approach is also greeted with complaints in the popular press about the “Americanization” of English customs and how Halloween has displaced our traditional mid-autumn Fifth of November / Bonfire Night / Guy Fawkes Night celebrations....Read more

Creation Stories of Africa: The Children of Kings

Africa is a vast continent full of contrasts, and as one would expect, has many and varied stories of creation. Most countries in Africa are made up of different tribes of people, rather than one specific race, so it makes more sense to look at regional stories as opposed to mythologies based on individual nations.

 

The Children of Oduduwa, West Africa

The Yoruba people from West Africa call themselves the Children of Oduduwa. Oduduwa is held to be the first of all the kings, who came from the east and ruled over ancient Ife, where, with Obatala, he began the creation of the world. Obatala created the first humans out of clay, while Oduduwa became the first divine king of the Yoruba. He sent his sons and daughters out with crowns to rule over all of the other Yoruba kingdoms and all the Yoruba royal families claim descent through them back to Oduduwa...Read more

The Strange Origin of the Kappa: Japanese Water Imp

Many supernatural creatures are depicted in Japanese art and literature.  Some seem realistic and might actually exist, since there have been witness sightings, while others are clearly composite creatures.  Still others might have been created by storytellers to explain seemingly inexplicable phenomena.  Such creatures include yuki-onna (snow women), who lure young men out of their beds at night and into the mountains where they freeze to death, and kitsune (foxes) which are thought to be shape shifters, often assuming the form of beautiful young women.  Even today in northern Japan, some...Read more

The Violent Life and Times of Roger Bigod – A Medieval Player of the Game of Thrones?

For almost 250 years, from the time of the Norman Conquest of England in AD 1066, one of the most important families in the Eastern Counties were the Bigods. In later years they would become the Earls of Norfolk and so powerful they could defy the Kings of England, running their territory like the bosses of old-style Mafia crime family.

Despite the fact these were members of a family who lived and died nearly a thousand years ago, in many respects they were a thoroughly modern bunch of ruthless back-stabbers, liars, and rogues who always had an eye on the main prize and didn’t care...Read more

Dogs of War: Ancient History of Animals in Warfare

Man and beast have partnered for various reasons over tens of thousands of years—almost always for food or protection. The dirty history of animals in warfare is sometimes inspiring, sometimes disturbing, but without the aid of creatures in war, humanity would be in a different place than we are today.

The image of a mounted warrior succinctly captures the history of animals in war, but many animals, such as dogs, camels, elephants, pigs, oxen, dolphins, pigeons and more, have all served in various capacities and have played roles (for good or ill) in war and combat related...Read more

Fire and Sword: Ferocious and Deadly Thermal Weapons set the Ancient World Ablaze

One only had to witness cities devoured by flames, see fleets of ships sinking, their sails ablaze, or behold screaming victims doused in boiling pitch to know the deadly efficacy of ancient thermal weapons.

Warfare was brutal, but effective, in the ancient world, between conventional arms of sword, bow and shield, to the invisible but deadly poisons and biological weapons. But perhaps none were as instantly terrifying and widely destructive as thermal weaponry.

Early thermal weapons were used inventively in warfare during the classical and medieval periods (eighth century...Read more

Suttee: Deadly Ancient Lessons on How to be a ‘Good Wife’ and a ‘Redeemed Widow’

A poor, 60-year-old barber in rural India, who had been ill for some time, died in his simple mud hut in 2002. The next morning, his widow announced her intention to commit suttee (or sati) —the ancient practice in which a widow burns herself to death on her husband's funeral pyre.

The villagers gathered to watch as the widow calmly walked to her husband's funeral pyre and sat down on it. The crowd lit incense sticks and made offerings of coconuts and betel leaves as she cradled her husband's head in her lap. She sat on the pyre for two hours before her eldest son set light to it....Read more

Sacred Space, Structure and Spiritual Portals of the Ancient Mayas: The Sak Nuk Nah ̶ White Skin House in Palenque

The cosmology of the ancient Mayas envisioned a fluid universe, in which patterns in the cosmos above were replicated in the earth below. Destinies of individuals, cities and entire peoples were determined by stellar configurations—cycles of abundance and scarcity, creation and destruction were linked to celestial cycles. The world and its surroundings were multi-layered with three major dimensions: the Underworld of watery depths and Death Lords, the Middleworld of humans and creatures of earth, and the Upperworld of deities and ancestors. These three dimensions inter-penetrated each...Read more

The Sacred Three in Asian Beliefs: Triple Gods, Tridevi, and the Three Treasures

Number three has been considered sacred for over many centuries throughout the world. Its depictions of the triads, triplicates and trinities have also existed in many cultures with various interpretations.

The possible oldest interpretation of the number three is that it represents completion, and many cultures today still interpret it as such—that is, something which has gone through its beginning, middle, and its end. The number three could then be interpreted as the number of reproduction or the continuation of things. From the union of oneness (1) and duality (2) comes the...Read more

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