Myth's and Legends

Myths, legends, urban legends, fiction, fact

Egyptian Gods

May 13th, 2015
egyptian gods

Photo by isawnyu

The combination of the major Egyptian Gods and Goddesses is known as the Pantheon. Here we take a look at the major Gods and Goddesses in turn:

Ra

God/Goddess of:             Sun

Appearance:                      Head of Falcon and Sun Disk

Summary:                           Ra was thought to die every single day. At night, Ra would sail on his boat, the ‘Barque of Millions of Years’ to the Underworld leaving the moon to light the sky in his absence. On his voyage, Ra would travel through 12 doors, symbolizing each hour throughout the night with the following dawn indicating his rebirth.

 

Bastet

God/Goddess of:             Cats

Appearance:                      Cat or head of cat

Summary:                           Daughter of Ra, Bastet protected her father every night on his journey to the Underworld, fighting off the snake Apep. The Ancient Egyptians had great respect for cats since they hunted mice and rats, stopping them from eating the grain and rice.

 

Isis

God/Goddess of:             Magic

Appearance:                      Throne on head, holding a baby, with a Sun Disk

Summary:                           Isis tricked Ra into giving her his secret name and assumed his power in doing so. She was the mother of Horus, who is thought to be the baby she holds and who she aided in defeating his enemy, Seth, by tricking him. Isis was married to Osiris.

 

Osiris

God/Goddess of:             Dead

Appearance:                      Holding a Crook and a Flail, wearing white mummy wrappings

Summary:                           Osiris was the husband of Isis and father of Horus and boasts green skin to symbolize vegetation. His flail would be used for farming and he taught the Egyptians all about how to farm and the benefits of it. Osiris’s brother, Seth created a wooden box which only Seth could fit in. Once inside, Seth sealed the lid and threw it in to the Nile, killing Osiris.

 

Seth

God/Goddess of:             Desert, Storm and Violence

Appearance:                      Animal head with curved and pointed snout

Summary:                           The exact animal head is unknown although it closely resembles that of an Aardvark. Seth carries a scepter which is in the same shape as Seth himself with other Gods carrying the same scepter. Seth tricked his brother, Osiris and killed him by throwing him into the Nile. Fearful that Osiris’s wife Iris would resurrect her husband, Seth cut up Osiris’s body into many pieces and scattered them up and down the Nile.

 

Horus

God/Goddess of:             Sky

Appearance:                      Man with head of a Hawk

Summary:                           Horus was more commonly known as the protector of the ruler of Egypt and also the son of Osiris and Iris. His Uncle, Seth, killed his dad, Osiris, forcing Horus to struggle against Seth for the throne of Egypt. During battle, Horus lost an eye, which was later to become a symbol of protection across Egypt.

 

Anubis

God/Goddess of:             Embalming and the Dead

Appearance:                      Man with head of a Jackal

Summary:                           The thought is that Anubis watched over the dead since Jackals were commonly found in cemeteries. After Seth killed Osiris, Anubis aided in the mummification, which was thought to preserve Egyptians. Other priests who were involved in mummification wore a mask of Anubis. Egyptian belief was that upon death, you travelled to the Hall of the Dead where Anubis would weigh your heart against the feather of Ma ’at, who was the Goddess of Justice.

 

Ma ’at

God/Goddess of:             Justice

Appearance:                      Ostrich feather in hair

Summary:                           Married to Thoth and along with her husband, Thoth, Ma ‘at aided in the process known as the Weighing of the Heart which was carried out upon death. If your heart was lighter than the feather of Ma ‘at, you were to live forever. If it were heavier, then Ammit the Destroyer, a demon, would eat your heart.

 

Thoth

God/Goddess of:             Wisdom

Appearance:                      Man with head of an Ibis

Summary:                           An Ibis is a bird which has a bill shaped like a pen which it dips in the mud to hunt for small fish, as if it was dipping in ink and hence the reference to wisdom. The ancient Egyptians believed that it was Thoth who gave them hieroglyphics and that there was a ‘Book of Thoth’ containing two spells. If the first spell was read out loud, the reader would be able to summon the fish in the sea and to be able to understand every beast and bird. If you read the second spell, then you would have the power to bring the dead back to life.

 

Amun

God/Goddess of:             Creation

Appearance:                      Man wearing crown with Ostrich feathers

Summary:                           Amun was arguably the most important and powerful Egyptian God, being the creator of all things. It is thought that Amun combined with Ra to become Amun-Ra

 

Nut

God/Goddess of:             Sky

Appearance:                      Blue with gold stars

Summary:                           Nut was Geb’s lover, however married to Ra, and was mother of Osiris and Seth. Nut’s body despicts the sky, arching over Geb lying down on the floor. During the day, Nut and Geb were separated only to come together again at nighttime, causing the darkness.

 

Geb

God/Goddess of:             Earth

Appearance:                      Man in the color of plants and Nile mud

Summary:                           Geb lies below his lover Nut’s body, symbolizing the earth below the sky. Married to Nut and father to their children, Osiris, Isis, Nepthys and Seth, Geb made Horus the ruler of the living when Seth and Horus struggle for power of the throne. The belief of the Ancient Egyptians was that Geb’s laughter was the cause of earthquakes.

 

Hathor

God/Goddess of:             Love

Appearance:                      Woman with Cow horns and Sun Disk on head

Summary:                           Hathor looked after all women and was also the Goddess of music and dancing. The sun symbolizes life, however the belief was that the desert sun could kill you. This links to Hathor’s darker side as the Goddess called Sekhmet, the Eye of Ra, who was the destructive Sun Goddess.

 

Sekhmet

God/Goddess of:             Sun

Appearance:                      Woman with Lion’s head

Summary:                           Ra would send down Sekhmet, Hathor’s darker side, to earth to punish mankind. She would kill men and drink their blood instead of punishing them which worried Ra. He died some beer red to look like blood, which Sekhmet drank when she was bloodthirsty and fell asleep drunk. When she awoke, Ra convinced her to stop killing mankind but only to punish them as he originally intended.

King Arthur

January 25th, 2014
16th century painting of King Arthur on the Round Table, believed to bear the face of Henry VIII who commissioned the re-painting. photo taken by David Spender

16th century painting of King Arthur on the Round Table, believed to bear the face of Henry VIII who commissioned the re-painting.
photo taken by David Spender

History is a good place for the start of legends. Figures that have a basis in fact take on a romantic quality; their deeds end up greater than they were, their battles epic, their merits, and their flaws all exaggerated to proportions greater then “normal” humans. These legends create heroes from these historical figures and create stories that often last much longer than the actual deeds that these legendary figures supposedly performed. It then becomes much more difficult to separate the legend from any real historical fact, and it becomes a scholarly debate over the reality of those kinds of stories. Every region in the world has these legendary figures, and many of them were not formed thousands of years ago, but fit into time even when there was well-established documentation and history. One of the most famous of these historical/legendary figures comes from England, in the form of King Arthur.

King Arthur’s history and story supposedly begins in the 5th and 6th centuries. What little folklore and tales outside the popular fiction and legends that exist seem to indicate he was a leader of the island, and defended it against an invasion of the Saxons. Outside of those initial stories, very little historically is known about that time and the person that inspired later tales involving wizards, knights, supernatural creatures, and a sword destined to be the sign of the king of Britain. The Arthurian Legend has replaced the historical account, and now you cannot discuss the history of King Arthur without involving the legend, two authors pieced most of which together during the 12th Century.

The first and primary creator behind the King Arthur legend was an author named Geoffrey of Monmouth. In 1138 he produced a Latin work called the Historia Regum Britanniae; translated roughly as Historical Kings of Britain. It is this work that first detailed King Arthur’s life and included such other legendary figures as Merlin, Uther Pendragon, Guinevere, Sir Bedivere, Sir Gawain, and Sir Kay. There is some debate over how much of Geoffrey’s work is utter fiction, and how much of it is based off historical Welsh stories and legends.

According to Geoffrey’s work King Arthur ruled over all of Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul after he defeated the Saxons. These Welsh and Breton stories briefly mention Arthur as a figure, though the ones that do detail him describe him as a protector of the isle from threats, both within and without. These same stories claim he fought more often against supernatural threats then merely human ones. These stories seem to create many of the mythos surrounding the supernatural aspects of the Arthurian legend. Modern historians consider Geoffrey’s work pure fiction as even during known battles of the period, where there is some record for the participation of the historical figure, there is no indication he led the battles, or existed in any kind of royal position. This did not prevent the immense popularity of Geoffrey’s work though, and there are over 200 translations and reprinting of his original Historia Regum Britanniae.

Though Geoffrey’s work became the basis for most Arthurian legend, many more stories came out of the region at the time using Geoffrey’s work at the core. The attitude between the types of stories is quite divergent though, as in many of the French stories, King Arthur becomes an ineffective ruler and cuckold to his obviously French wife. He becomes almost a pale imitation of the King Arthur in Geoffrey’s work, who portrayed him as a boisterous leader who joined his knights in both war and in feasting. The writer Chrétien de Troyes, from France himself added the Lancelot character and the search for the Holy Grail at the center of the knight’s quests. His writing spawned a whole series of stories using Arthur’s Kingdom as a backdrop, but where King Arthur was merely a secondary character in the drama and romance for the other characters.

The historical existence of King Arthur, in many ways is not a valid question when you look at the Arthurian Legend. There is a person who lived during that era, he participated in battles with the Saxons, and contributed enough that he eventually deserved mention in Welsh and Breton folklore and stories. The more interesting, and more valid exploration, is the effect that Arthurian Legend has over modern culture and society. This romance tale, this story of heroism, leadership, and vanity that eventually destroys a kingdom has become a template, a modern era storyteller’s model and a cultural influence that cannot really be measured.

The Norse Pantheon

January 2nd, 2014
Norse_Gods

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The monotheistic belief system is a relatively new creation, historically speaking. In the past, mult-god pantheons more commonly formed in different cultures throughout the world. These pantheons often contain the world creation myths and often use gods to represent the various processes of nature, the world around them, and often even different aspects of human personality traits and failures. Each of these different mythos has their own flavor, usually based on regional difference, and these differences are what make them attractive to modern day mythmakers and the popular media. The Norse pantheon, in particular has received a large amount of attention due to their inclusion in the Thor movie series, and their highlighting in Marvel comics as well. This northern born pantheon shows many of the aspects of the Germanic culture and climate, reflecting the much colder, harsher and more violent history of the region.

Much of the history of the Norse Pantheon comes from old Scandinavian epics, poems and stories conveyed with a strong oral tradition. The people from that region used poetry in their historic stories, called skaldic poetry, the people who told them called, of course, skalds. In the 13th and 14th century a collector named Snorri Sturluson did his best and collected as many of the stories and poems into two collections, called the Prose Edda, and the Poetic Edda. Despite the exposure to Christianity during this time, these poems and stories claimed that the deities in Norse Mythology were actual mystical beings that lived alongside humans over the course of history. Collections of Sagas and archaeological artifacts collected over the year covered in runes, the language and the ‘magic’ of the region contained many of the stories about the pantheon.

The core of Norse Mythology revolves around the belief in nine realms, or worlds, all connected through the branches of the massive world tree, Yggdrasil. The use of the world tree allows beings from the realms to cross over, and so humans, gods, giants, elves, dwarves and other creatures known as jotnar end up interacting, becoming enemies, lovers, friends and family. Most commonly interacting are the realms of the gods, the humans, and the giants; Asgard, Midgard and Jotunheimr, though the other realms host various other residents, including the dead. In Norse mythology though, eventually there will be a war, Ragnarok, during which the gods and their enemies will come together for one more great conflict. During this conflict the nine worlds and Yggdrasil will burn and be reborn into new worlds, with a man and a woman left to spread once again.

The Norse pantheon, like most multi-deity beliefs, contains a rather complicated family tree, which complicates this case complicated by the lack of full storytelling for the origin for many of the Norse gods. The primary pantheon starts with Ymir, the primordial being that generates the world, and then continues down to the primary pantheon, led by Odin and his consort Frigg. As the god of knowledge, and king in Asguard, it is his family and relations that often feature in Norse stories. Modern movies certainly have brought to the fore the relation between Thor and Loki in their often troubled relationship as both brothers, but enemies as Loki wants to vent his jealousy and become Odin’s true son. With Freyr, Baldur, Heimdallr, Fenrir, and many others filling the various natural roles in the Norse Pantheon, there are stories of conflicts and wars across all of the Norse’s nine realms throughout history that modern storytellers can draw on for future tales.

Legend of Saint Nicholas

December 1st, 2013

We love to explore legends, because legends are stories of our history mixed with fantastic events and historical anecdotes, combined into one thread that we can tell repeatedly as entertainment on lonely nights. When you look into these legends, it’s easy to unravel some of the threads creating them, and find some of the historic truth in the origins of the story. Even some of the most famous legends are mashups of various histories and figures from the past. Our favorites, such as Santa Claus, the gift-giving figure come from a grain of truth, and combine with some real historical figures, such as the Greek figure, Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas is a real historic figure, born during the 4th century; Nicholas is a Greek Bishop that served in Myra in the country of Lycia, which is now modern day Turkey. Due to the many miracles associated with his life, he is also sometimes called Nicholas the Wonderworker in historical stories and texts. When both of his parents died in an epidemic, Nicholas’s uncle also named Nicholas whom was a Bishop, raised him and continued his religious education, though historical anecdotes seem to indicate that Nicholas was always a deeply religious individual. In particular, he always observed both Wednesday and Friday fasts as part of his beliefs. Nicholas lived a very full life for the age, as his recorded death occurred at the natural age of 73, advanced for that time, especially given the number of miracles and good deeds attributed to the Saint.

In addition to the miracles that led to his veneration as a Saint, there are several regular good deeds simply part of Saint Nicholas’s life. One of the simpler good deeds was his supposed habit of putting coins in the shoes of those in need, especially when they were left out for him when he could give the gift without being seen. In fact, this wish to give gifts anonymously also led to one of the more famous stories about his act of giving. A poor father with three daughters had no method to pay dowry for his family, which would lead to his daughters forced into a life of prostitution when he died and could no provide for them. Supposedly, Saint Nicholas provided three bags of gold to the father, so he could afford dowry. In one variation of the story, the gifts happened over three nights, and on third night in order to avoid getting caught Nicholas dropped the bag into the chimney, where they fell into one girl’s drying stocking, perhaps lending a bit to the habit of stockings in front of the fireplace during Christmas.

Saint Nicholas is patron saint of many things, sailors, fishing, sailing, but he is most famous as a saint known for his gift-giving nature and his need to be anonymous when giving to those in most need. Despite this wish for anonymity, it became the part of his life he is now most famous for. Generosity, history, story, the three components that turn someone like Saint Nicholas from a generous figure, to the legendary one he is today.

History of Robin Hood

November 10th, 2013
robin hood statue

Photo of by [Duncan] – Statue by James Woodford

The majority of us have this depiction of Robin Hood as an archer wearing green, roaming around Sherwood Forest, stealing from the rich to give to the poor in a time when England was ruled under the firm hand of King John. But, how do we know if these tales are true? How has this image been passed through time and how has it been changed and warped? Are the Hollywood movies a true reflection of what actually happened? Was Robin Hood actually in existence and if so, was that his true name?

It is very likely that the presence of the forest, namely Sherwood Forest, was likely to be the main focus of Robin’s activities, for it was where the Noble’s had the most of their cultivated land and where royalty hunted and rode their horses. As such, forest laws were firm and harsh and therefore unpopular with society, making it the perfect breeding ground for outlaws.

This is of course, not proven and we can only really go back as far as 1377 to find the very first written evidence of Robin Hood in ‘Piers Plowman’, a famous poem that contains a passing reference to Robin. There are a few other literacy references dated around the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries that make reference to Robin Hood, Robyn Hode and Robin Hoode, none of which suggest that ‘Robin’ was in existence around the rule of King John.

So, who exactly was ‘Robin Hood’? There is evidence from 1262 of a certain William Robehod’s chattels being seized by the prior of Sandleford due to being a fugitive. If you cross-reference this with evidence existing back to Berkshire in 1261 which mentions a criminal gang being outlawed, one member being William son of Robert Le Fevere , whose chattels were seized py the prior of Sandleford, you can see common ground. It is thought that William Robehod and William Le Fevere were the same person and a clerk had changed his name during transcription to Robin Hood, knowing of the famous outlaw and his crimes. However, again, this is judgement based on the line of history passing through time without other differences occuring along the way. There are many cases of outlaws deliberately taking on the names of ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Little John’ during the 13th and 14th centuries and it is thought that Friar Tuck was actually a man by the name of Robert Stafford who lived in Sussex in the early 15th century, some 300 years after the first mention of ‘Robin Hood’.

Piecing historical evidence together, it is possible to form a story that does make even more sense. A Scottish historian maintains that Robin Hood existed in 1193 right at the time of King John’s attempted coup against Richard the Lionheart. There is evidence in the roll of the Exchequer in 1225 stating that the chattels were seized of a fugitive, namely Robert Hod who had the nickname of ‘Hobbehod’. This is the first and only evidence of someone bearing the name similar to Robin Hood and being an outlaw. Later, in 1702, an epitaph recorded that a grave belonging to a Robin Hood lay at Kirklees (where Robin is thought to have been killed as the legend tells us), dated 1247.

This fits in as a natural date line through history and as the legend is that we currently know it, however the not-knowing of the true legend that is Robin Hood adds to the mystery behind him and almost makes it more of a compelling legend than if the evidence was clear.

Dragons

October 23rd, 2013

dragon

Dragon…even the word conjures a very specific variety of images, doesn’t it? Every culture has some kind mythology about these creatures, from the European image of the great, hulking winged flying creature, to the lithe, magical creatures with whiskers and beards of Asia, all the way to the great flying serpent dragons of South America.

Somehow, the concept of huge lizard-like creatures insinuated into every global culture in one form or another, linked back as far as recorded history. Even today we have a giant lizard species labelled ‘dragon’, the Komodo Dragon, and from these Komodo roots we may have the root of Dragon mythology? What other huge lizard walked the earth, left behind giant bones claws and teeth of stone, and captures scientists’ curiosity? What if, we were not the first to find the remains of the dinosaurs, and if these remains are available all over the world, is this where the Dragon myth originates?

Scientists first started recording the remains into distinct dinosaur groups in the early 1800s. The word dinosaur did not exist yet, but scientists knew that they had evidence of a separate species, one apparently disconnected from any other known species. Very quickly, additional remains surfaced, once archaeologists and palaeontologists determined they found species of lizards and mammals that resembled nothing like any species of animal in current biological trees.

These findings were not the first finding of remains that may have been dinosaur bones though. In 1676, Reverend Plot in England found a huge femur, presumably from a large species of dinosaur, though at the time, they called it the leg-bone of a giant. In China, stories from over 2000 years in the past written by Chiang Qu, a historian in the fourth century, and responsible for the oldest history of the region reference individuals finding ‘dragon bones’ in Wucheng, Sichuan China.

The Far East is not the only region with heavy dragon myths, potentially related to dinosaurs. One only has to look to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon for more recent references to the mythical dragons. Saint George appeared and fought the dragon, killed it, and converted the local population for Christianity. In some legends and tales, Saint George even took the skull of the dragon as a trophy. For witnesses to see a huge, dragon-shaped skull, in an area known for dinosaur fossils, is not a long stretch to see a blur of science and legend, where a knight possibly killed a large alligator or crocodile, and found the skull as evidence of his deeds.

Similar myths appear all over, quite often in areas where scientists discover large caches of dinosaur bones. Often these bones do not even require significant excavation to get to them, many early cases of dinosaur fossil discovery occur because the bones end up exposed by weather conditions, right at the highest layers of earth. Many of these fossils formed winged shapes, huge animal shapes, and dwarfed anyone that may have found them. Is it any wonder that many myths formed around these massive lizards and fit into the minds of those that found them as ‘dragons’?

Legend of the Holy Grail

October 6th, 2013
holy grail

img design by AlicePopkorn

There are many stories surrounding the Holy Grail as to its origins, what it is and where it might have been laid to rest. Many movies have depicted differing views: Monty Python obviously putting an intensely funny spin on it, Indiana Jones an action adventure slant and more recently Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code apparently depicting a more philosophical and interesting approach.

Let’s move away from the movies and get some facts in. One of the most common ideas is that the Holy Grail originated during the Arthurian times as a unique dish, bowl or a cup-like object. Depending on which religious path you followed, you would likely end up at a different source back in history – the Christians amongst us would profess that the Holy Grail was a cup used at The Last Supper, whereas non-religious folk would move down the road of it originating from Arthur’s times. The truth is, there are no hard and fast facts, since we are heavily reliant on historian’s views and the teachings and learnings of tales some, potentially, 800 years ago or more. In time, these stories bend and shift as and when a common ground is found that makes sense. This new, slightly molded story is passed further on through time.

Studies have shown, though, that there are potentially two main sources of the legend: “Perceval le Gallois” written by Chretien de Troyes sometime near the 12th century and “Joseph d’Arimathie” by Robert de Boron in the late 12th century. De Boron’s tale is of Joseph of Arimathea using a chalice at the Last Supper to collect Christ’s blood from when he was on the cross. He is subsequently exiled and forms a group known as Grail Keepers, which includes Perceval, known to be one of King Arthur’s Knights. Formerly, Chretien’s account was and still is the most influential of all tales and it is reassuring that after all of these centuries, there is still a common link in the Holy Grail myth, that being Perceval.

Greek Gods

September 16th, 2013
greek gods

img by trindade.joao

Most of popular, or common mythology these days is not..well, ours. Most of it comes from other cultures, other places, and often times, even different eras. It seems like our best stories and our best myths come from our past, and grow from there. In modern storytelling, it seems common to call on gods from pantheons long dead, perhaps because the characters and stories involved with ancient deities are more flush, and more detailed then many of the pantheons of today. One of the most well known, and often, well-used pantheons is the ancient Greek pantheon. You can’t turn around these days without hitting a movie, or book, or game that doesn’t feature these, admittedly flawed, gods from the Mediterranean. Of course, when you have a rogues gallery of the main deities from this pantheon, you often don’t have to look farther for your inspiration, all you have to do is take a look at the antics of these supernatural creatures and the stories seem to write themselves.

The head of the Greek pantheon, Zeus, is in himself the inspiration for all forms of stories. As the god of the sky, storms, lightning, and the youngest of the gods begat by the original Titans, Zeus often has more of a temper then any human, and a libido that is nearly as large. Zeus famously slew his father Cronos, and set the other original gods free from his stomach, after Cronos attempted to prevent his prophesized death at the hands of one of his children. Zeus presided over the Greek pantheon, but had a famous interest in the mortal realm, specifically mortal women. In some of his more famous exploits, he used his powers to change shape and appeared as a rain of gold, a goose, and several other beasts and animals in order to seduce the target of his affections. From Zeus came many of the demi-gods in Greek mythology through his exploits.

Being married to the adulterous head of the pantheon could make any woman succumb to her jealousy, and Hera, Zeus’s wife, and presumed queen of the pantheon often did so as a way to punish Zeus’s lovers. Her signified and was the patron deity of wives and marriage, and also represented fidelity, due to her inability to stray from Zeus, despite his flaws. This did not mean she was a particularly nice patron deity though, as indicated when she tried to kill Zeus’ illegitimate son Heracles by sending a pair of serpents to kill the young demi-god in his sleep. He managed to kill the two serpents though, thwarting her vengeance. She also proved to be a judgmental mother, because when she gave birth to Hephaestus she decided he was too ugly to live, and threw him from mount Olympus. He survived, and managed to repay her cruelty in kind later.

Despite his rather…violent ejection from the mountain of the gods, Hephaestus managed to survive, though he ended up crippled and deformed. He secluded himself in his forge, and became the gods’ blacksmith and crafter, where his clubfoot and hideous visage would upset no-one. Throughout the history of the Greek pantheon, Hephaestus created several items built to be both useful, but cursed for their owners. He managed his revenge on Hera as well, when he presented her with a magnificent throne, presumably to show his worth. When Hera took the seat, she became trapped and unable to move until Hephaestus returned to Olympus. It took the combined efforts of Bacchus, god of wine, getting him drunk, and the promise of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty as his wife before he relented and allowed Hera free. Despite Aphrodite’s common infidelity, Hephaestus remained remarkably loyal, though some of the mythos claims the two never consummated their marriage.

Aphrodite is one of the gods in the pantheon that did not originally come as Cronos’s child. Some myths consider Aphrodite the oldest goddess in the pantheon; the myths describe her springing from sea-foam after the Titan Cronos castrated his father, Uranus. In some stories, the blood from his castrated member gives birth to the goddess, in others it is the semen dripping from the dismembered manhood. Aphrodite was legendarily beautiful, and legendarily as licentious as Zeus. She took as many lovers as she could, especially from the beautiful boys she could find, though most often with Ares, god of war. She also, according to legend, the initiator of the Trojan War, when she made Helen of Troy fall in love with the mortal Paris after he rewarded her in a contest. When Paris abducted Helen, it initiated one of the most legendary wars in history.

Ares, one of Aphrodite’s consistent lovers, and god of war, came from Zeus’s union with another divine being, so that Ares was one of the younger gods of the pantheon. As god of aggressive war, attacking, and destroying his enemies, Ares was one of the more…despised gods of the Greek Pantheon. He also seemed the butt of many stories and jokes, becuse despite his scheming, he is routinely defeated in legends by other gods, goddesses, demi-gods, and even a few mere mortals. Some of his most famous conflicts come during the Trojan war, when Aphrodite seduced him into supporting the Trojans. Athena, seeing this, supported Ares’ enemy and guided a spear-thrust that nearly killed the god, forcing him to retreat from the battle in disgrace.

There are many other gods in the Greek pantheon, from Zeus’s brother, great Poseidon, ruler of the oceans, to Hades, god of the underworld, and keeper of all damned and rewarded souls. This great pantheon provides the anchor and the core of many of our stories, because unlike many modern religions, the gods were not infallible. They were the embodiment of all the traits, good and ill of the Greeks themselves, just with the power to manipulate the world around them in a way impossible by common man. There is no wonder that all of these figures became the focus of our stories and myths, they give each of us an idea of how we might exist, given the power and abilities of something so much more then ourselves.

UFO at Roswell New Mexico

August 24th, 2013

There are hundreds of reported incidents of unknown lights in the sky, unidentified formations of flying craft, shapes, and unknown signals passing through US airspace. There are recorded incidents stretching back hundreds of years, before we started flying commonly as a species, and even before we could photograph, or get other records of these unknown objects. Even with these hundreds of incidents, until 1947 there were few occasions where anyone could physically get close to any of these objects, until the crash in 1947 outside Roswell, New Mexico, a relatively small town outside a military base. The town had no idea the significance of the incident outside.

In 1947, around July 8th, William Brazel found a field of debris approximately 30 miles north of town. He collected various pieces, but had no idea what might have left the wreckage. Brazel reported the find to the local Sherriff, Wilcox, after hearing reports of some kind of ‘flying disc’. Wilcox in turn then reported the finding to the local Air Force base, inquiring whether they had a weather balloon, or military balloon undergoing testing in the area. Little did he know that this simple report would set off a firestorm of activity as the Air Force and the FBI descended on the town, and on the site of the wreckage. On July 8th the Air Force issued the following press release:

“The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.”

At the surface, this apparently ended the investigation into the crash. The military collected the crash debris, took them away, and there were no further reports or speculation into the incident, until 1978, when investigation began again.

Stanton T. Friedman, nuclear physicist interviewed Jesse Marcel, the only person that accompanied the wreckage during the entire time it transitioned into military custody. Marcel claimed that the wreckage seemed like it was from ‘nothing of this world’ and also claimed that he witnessed bodies accompanying the wreckage that were apparently not human in origin. This interview caused a massive stir in the scientific and conspiracy circles, and many news agencies and other groups petitioned the Air Force for additional information regarding the crash, most notably through the freedom of information act.

On the surface, the military complied with the investigation requests, and launched their own study into the Roswell crash, after congressional prodding. At this time additional witnesses stepped forward, claiming they were intimidated, approached, and threatened if they testified into the Roswell, or even other UFO incidents across the country. Most eye-witness testimonies ended up discounted, or the witnesses discredited while this investigation continued. Eventually, the Air Force did write up their conclusions and released a report in 1995. The public explanation is that the residents of Roswell came across the wreckage of an experimental balloon experiment at the time, codenamed Project Mogul. Two years later the military claimed the ‘alien bodies’ were dummies used in high altitude impact experiments that could be used in projects like Project Mogul.

Despite the official miliatry explanation, they never did fully discount the accounts that the recovered materials seemed ‘unearthly’ in origin. Later, as additional investigation discovered accounts and reports such as ‘Project Bluebook’, the Air Force’s own investigations into UFOs and potential Extraterrestrial Contact surfaced, there still has been no completely satisfactory account of the crash at Roswell. The military’s own accounts seem to be contradictory, and with none of the witnesses recanting their statements, even after decades, it seems like the Roswell crash will never be fully accepted as a military experiment, especially when there are so many reasons the Military could and would cover up any information that they deem too sensitive for the rest of us.

Ogopogo, the Lake Monster

August 12th, 2013

You see a humped shape traveling through the water, a long wake following behind. You think you see a serpentine head coming up from the water, or maybe fins and a long tail. Maybe you even see it disappear back into deep, murky, dark waters. You probably thought about Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, right? That’s certainly the most famous lake monster out there, but it’s not the only one, in fact, there is a lake monster with credible sightings decades before Nessie. You have to travel into British Columbia, Canada, to find it though, because then you’d go looking for Ogopogo, the Lake Monster.

Ogopogo resides in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, and though Nessie has sightings that span decades, First Nation Native Americans reported spotting the huge water serpent dating back into the 19th century. Sightings describe Ogopogo as a long, snake-like creature, potentially as long as forty to fifty feet long. Some crypto zoologists have tentatively classified Ogopogo as possibly a type of whale, related to prehistoric types that grew to that size and had several humps that could rise above the water while the creature takes a breath. Like many mystery creatures like Nessie, Ogopogo’s shape is another point of debate. Specialists have not managed to debunk the many pictures, videos and credible witness accounts that are on record about Ogopogo, unlike Nessie.

There are many sightings of Ogopogo on record, the first, and one of the most famous occurred in 1926. On September 16th, at Okagogan’s Mission Beach, some 30 cars worth of spectators all report seeing a long, sinuous creature emerge from the water, and then return underneath the water. The stories reported by the witnesses all concur on the general points of the sighting, making it one of the larger, and first major sightings of the famed lake monster. After that initial sighting, reports continued every few years, usually with multiple witnesses and dependable accounts. Another spotting occurred on July 2nd, 1947, again with multiple witnesses all out boating on the lake. In this case, the boaters reported something at least 30 feet long with several humps or loops that appeared above the water before they disappeared. In one instance, a boat reported in 1959 that they witnessed the animal following them about 250 feet behind their boat for several minutes before it disappeared again. Sightings occur again and again, even as recently as 2011, when a spectator caught unconfirmed video of Ogopogo on their camera phone. Witnesses and experts will not confirm the validity of that video, but it does not discount the possibility.

The waters of our planet contain over 90% of the biodiversity in our environment. We still have not explored more than a small fraction of that area, which means that there are still creatures out there that can and will hide from us, even right under our culture’s collective nose. The native people have stories about Ogopogo going back as long, if not longer, and then a century and we still have yet to disprove the mystery of any creature living in this lake. If Ogopogo does live in Okanagon lake, or that is just a name for potentially an unidentified species we have yet to discover, it show how little we can really know about the world we live alongside.

Crop Circles

July 28th, 2013
swiss crop circle

Photo by Kecko

Geometric shapes always seem to catch the eye. Perhaps it is due to their relatively unusual occurrence in nature, but whenever we see something that looks like it doesn’t belong, especially when it is a simple geometric shape, it catches the eye. Perhaps this is why simple things, easily explained, like a bee’s honeycomb are so fascinating, and even more so when such things are much less easily explained, such as the large geometric figures seen in crop circles across the world.

The majorities of crop circle sightings come from the 1950s and 1960s, and have only grown since then, as pranksters and other enthusiasts discovered the means behind making these huge field formations, but they are not the first recorded cases. In 1686 a British Scientist named Robert Plot first wrote about these ‘fairy rings’ in fields in his book The Natural History of Stafford-Shire. In his book he described their creation as air flows that produced distinctive circles of pushed down and torn up grain, a position mirrored by John Rand Capron when he wrote a letter to the editor in 1880 to the magazine Nature. Before the 1960s though, these were the only two substantive reports of crop circles.

1966, in Tully, Queensland, Australia is the most famous unexplained case of crop circle creation. Some reports claimed that several UFOs spotted in the area and settled into the fields. Later investigation by local authorities determined that someone created the circles artificially, but they could not determine how. In the 1970s through the 1990s though, sightings of crop circles skyrocketed, though their origins were distinctly less mysterious in nature. In 1991 Doug Bower and Dave Chorley stepped forward and claimed ownership of ‘thousands’ of crop circles created during the last two decades. They then went on and demonstrated how with simple tools, they could create complex geometric shapes that were declared ‘authentic’ by an expert that studied crop circles.

Bower and Chorley continued to claim that they created a large portion of the over ten-thousand crop circles that appeared through Europe during the two decades they stayed in hiding, and in the years following. Their demonstration, and their admission did not account for every single circle created thereafter, in fact, more and more individuals come forward every year showing off examples of their field-altering work, while others remain completely unexplained.

Werewolves-Lycanthropes

July 18th, 2013
werewolf

Photo by BoogaFrito

The modern werewolf has become something of a romantic figure of late, no doubt mostly due to the popularity created during the Twilight series of books and novels. The idea of a great beast caught and restrained in the figure of man, and that man then being forced to restrain their more animalistic nature is a common theme in literature, but the Lycanthrope has always been a concrete mythological example of the conflict. As noble, or even sexy as the werewolf has become in modern times, it was not always nearly as an attractive an affliction. Lycanthropy originally started as a curse on the inflicted, it was seen as an unwholesome mark, and a disease of the flesh in its earliest, most well known incarnations. There are other examples of animal shifters in other cultures, but the ‘movie’ werewolf mythology has it’s origins in European history and culture.

Though there are some references in Greek and Roman mythology to humans changed to wolves, usually as punishment for various crimes (including one story of a man whom tried to feed human flesh to Zeus, and was cursed for his crime,) most of the modern mythology of werewolves comes out of Europe, starting in the 14th century. Before the 14th century occasional stories of wolf-men came out of the Germanic woods and culture, but the influx of Christian belief suppressed these mostly pagan cultures and stories. These myths associated with German werewolves, and Slavic Werewolves as allies of vampires started appearing during the witchcraft scares in the 14th century, and continued into the 16th century as a common accusation during trials of cannibalism and other brutal crimes.

Lycanthropy and shape shifting animals are not exclusively limited to European myths. Many cultures that do not have the wolf specifically have other predator animals that take human form. In India there are Were-Tigers called Rakshasa, and in Africa, Were-Hyenas. Japan and China also have strong mythologies behind the animal kingdom. Both cultures have the myth of a creature called a Kitsune, or a shape shifting fox that alternately plays pranks on, or preys on human victims unfortunate enough to cross their paths.

Very few cultures view animal shape shifters in a positive light, with perhaps the exception of several Native American tribes, where shamanic practitioners would often become close enough to their animal spirits to wear their forms from time to time, and spirits from the animal world take human form to guide their people. It is then curious how these usually predatory, supposedly horrific creatures that history always portrayed as inhuman have become yet another desirable symbol of power in modern pop culture.

The Nazca Lines

July 10th, 2013

nazca lines spider

Massive constructions are not something unique to modern culture. We may build huge buildings, and massive bridges, and freeways that span miles, but other cultures created structures larger, more impressive, and more durable then anything in modern culture. The pyramids, the Sphinx, the Aqueducts of Greece among others have persevered for millennia, built with technology from cultures older still. Most of these structures have specific purpose, though the purposes behind some of these huge constructions are still mysteries. Cultural and artistic constructions on massive still bewilder us, such as with the massive Nazca lines in the desert of Peru.

nazca hummingbird

These famous constructions rest on a plateau approximately 80 kilometers across, and the lines decorate a large percentage of this dry, arid surface. Most of the lines are simple geometric constructions and lines that stretch dozens, if not hundreds of meters. Others are more artistic and stylized, and represent various animals. Arial photographs have captured Hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, whales, and lizards of various sizes and designs, there are more then seventy animals drawn in the area, alongside various plant shapes. Many of these animals are not particularly close to the Nazca plateau, which adds another element of mystery to their construction.

Nazca Monkey

How the lines were constructed is somewhat less of a mystery. The lines are a series of land scrapings, from 10 to 20 cm deep, so that they removed the red rock surface, so they could reveal the white ground beneath. Carbons dating of posts occasionally found at the end of various forms indicate they were drawn over a span of hundreds of years, as early as 800 BC and as recently as 800 AD. John Nickell from the University of Kentucky performed an experiment where he recreated similar designs to the Nazca drawings using simple surveying equipment, posts, and tools available to the cultures around that time period. The results closely matched the existing lines, and even National Geographic credited his work with how accurate simple survey tools allowed him to draw such precise figures, even without aerial support.

Why the Nazca created the lines, well, that is another issue. Archaeologists, ethnologists, and anthropologists have all debated the purpose behind the massive earthworks. One of the most common theories is that the Nazca lines are ways for map celestial bodies and events, as a symbolic system of astronomy that allowed them to keep track of the Solstices and the Equinox, or represented various constellations in the sky. Other studies give a more spiritual component to the lines, as they might represent the various totemic and ritualistic icons of worship for the people in the area. In this case, the figures are exhortations to the gods of the sky to provide the people with an easier time surviving by providing water so they can farm more easily.

sky visitors/gods

In reality, no one remains from the culture that created the Nazca lines, so we will never really know their purpose. They could be symbols, or tools, or directions, or guideposts, all of these are possible, but we will never solve the mystery. The construction of these massive earthworks does show a sophistication of culture, and a purpose that too often we discredit in modern culture, and often forget that elder cultures have much more to contribute to the modern age, if anything, it is a sense of wonder we sorely need.

Serpent Mound

June 23rd, 2013

serpent mound

It seems a scientific arrogance that most scientists consider most significant technological development and progress in the areas of astrology, space and time as a product of modern society and education. Most discount the experiences, stories and experiences of those that are descendants of ancient cultures. They ignore cultures that preserve their ancestor’s experiences through less concrete histories. Yet, there are constructions hundreds, and thousands of years old that have significance, show a high level of awareness of space, time and the world around them, and that modern science still cannot fully explain their purpose. Some of the most common formations are effigy mounds created around the world, such as the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.

The Great Serpent Mound is a man-made construction built along the contours of the land near Ohio Bush Creek, and extends approximately one-thousand, three-hundred, fifty feet from end to end. The effigy is carefully constructed; the mound varies from just under a foot high, to over three feet high in parts, and very distinctly represents a long serpent, with seven switchback coils, and a triple coiled tail. The serpent’s “head” opens around a one-hundred twenty foot long oval feature, whether this is representational, or perhaps the placement of a platform of some kind is one of the mysteries of the Serpent Mound.

The origins of the Serpent are still an archaeological debate. Several cultures existed in the area over the centuries, and with some radiocarbon dating of charcoal discovered in the mound in the 1990s indicated that work on the mound occurred around 1070 AD. One culture, the Adena culture resided in the area from about 1000 BC to about the time of the transition to the modern calendar, they built many of the burial mounds in the area. Originally many archaeologists hypothesized that they also constructed the Mound. The new evidence of the mound’s age has most placing the construction by the Fort Ancient culture, though Adena culture heavily influenced Fort Ancient culture.

The Great Serpent Mound is the largest effigy mound in the world, though it does not apparently serve as a burial mound, like most of the mounds in the area. There has been significant speculation, therefore, on the actual purpose of the Mound. In 1987 Clark and Marjorie Hardman published a finding that stated that the serpent’s head, and the platform there is aligned to the summer solstice, while other archaologists have argued that the pattern of the coils, and the spiral at the tail does a good job keeping track of the solstice and equinox events throughout the year. If so, it shows that even a thousand years ago, native people had the astronomical skills to create something built to map out the seasons and the stars easily, and symbolically.

There are no real answers to the purpose of the Great Serpent Mound, and though the mound is the largest, it is not the only mound, there are also mounds in other locations in Scotland and Ontario that follow the same serpentine theme, also with equally old origins. What these mounds do show, is that even modern culture does not have the market cornered on exploration and analysis of the world around them. Older cultures had their own ways of defining the world, in ways that we cannot even hope to fully understand today.

Bermuda Triangle – Dragon Triangle

June 13th, 2013

bermuda-triangle

The sea is a dangerous place for ships, of that there is no debate. Dozens, if not hundreds of ships go missing every year, though most are lost to verifiable causes. Rogue waves capsize boats, boats hit uncharted sandbars or reefs, and still others are lost to mechanical fault or accident. There are, however, ships that vanish every year with no explanation whatsoever. These boats are lost without a trace, no signal, no alarm, nothing. There are regions in the seas notorious for losing these ships, places that ships try not to venture if they can help it. Two of the most famous are the Dragon Triangle off Japan, and the Bermuda Triangle off Florida in the Atlantic.

The Dragon’s Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Sea in the area, may not be the most famous of the pair, but for those that live in the region, they know it as an area in the sea that most ships avoid. The problem is, it is difficult to tell specifically where the triangle begins and ends. Most reports place one point about 100km south of Tokyo, while reports place the various other points of the danger area approximately 110 KM from Japan’s east coast, or perhaps 480km from the east coast, and some even place the outer edge of the Devil’s Sea as far out as Iwo Jima, 1,210 km from the east coast of Japan.

The Dragon’s Triangle seems to have the same history of disappearing ships as its more famous cousin across the world. In a two year span during peace-time between 1952 and 1954, the Japanese reported five ships lost with crew of over 700 gone, with no trace or SOS given by any ships lost. The Japanese government called those 5 ships fishing vessels, though other reports claim that the lost ships were actually military vessels lost, with full military crews. A research vessel sent to the area with a crew of over 100 also vanished without a trace, prompting the Japanese government to declare the area a danger zone, though at the time hundreds of fishing boats also vanished in the area, but most went unreported to anyone keeping track of any such statistics.

Across the world is another region famous for ship disappearances, the Bermuda Triangle. No federal agency officially recognizes the region, nor does the US navy give any official record or recognition to the region of the sea that many consider the most famous for ship disappearances. Unfortunately, because there is no specific region defined by scientific studies, various authors have debated the true area of the triangle. The smallest estimates place the Triangle in an area covering Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the island of Bermuda, placing the triangle at an area of about five-hundred thousand square miles. Some more fantastic estimates enlarge the area significantly, and some guesses mark the area as large as one and a half million square miles.

The term ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ first appeared in 1950 in an article by Edward Van Winkle Jones, where he claimed several mysterious disappearances in the area. Two years later, Fate magazine posted an article by George X Sand, called “Sea Mystery at Our Back Door”, where the author spoke about several lost planes and ships in the area. Included was the description of the famous Flight 19, a group of five US navy Bombers lost in the area. The loss of the entire flight went on to become rather famous, as a 1962 issue of American Legion magazine again covered the loss of flight 19, though they also included a dubious quote that the military recorded the flight leader saying, “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.” Later, military officials claimed that no such recording ever was made, but they were unable to provide any explanation for the loss of Flight 19.

There are various explanations for why these two regions of the seas might cause more loss of ships and planes then other parts of the world. Several reports of lost ships claim that one common element is the “spinning compass” effect, where a mechanical compass will spin freely in its housing and prevent proper navigation. There have been no verifiable experiments in the region that show that this could happen, but any sufficiently strong electro-magnetic variation could cause the effect, and given the propensity for intense storms in both regions, a ship could potentially get enough of an electrical charge that it could disrupt a compass. That would lead to bad reckoning, and a ship in either area could easily end up aground.

Another potential cause of ship loss could occur due to a strong concentration of Methane Hydrates associated with natural gas vents around the continental shelves. Lab experiments in Australia, and sensationalized in Mythbusters have shown that a sufficient ejection of Methane in a bubble-like structure could lower the density of the water under a ship. That would force a ship to sink extremely rapidly, break up, and then natural currents in the area would disperse the wreckage until no one would be able to find it. With the growth of deep-sea and costal oil drilling and refining in both areas, those natural gas pockets might end up more agitated, and you could see more ships vanish to these low-density seas.

These two regions of the Sea show a few similarities, they are highly trafficked, there is quite a bit of human development and exploitation happening of the region’s resources, and they have more “mysterious” ship disappearances then other areas of the sea. The oceans are a big place, more than two thirds of our planet is made up of water, so perhaps we should take notice when it seems as though two specific regions have become so noteworthy in our minds that most people can’t help but think about the danger when they consider crossing them.

Fountain of Youth

May 1st, 2013
waterfall

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cblue98/

Many beauty product advertisements proclaim that they have the ‘fountain of youth’ for the people that buy their products. They like us to think that they have some magical formula that will make us look, and feel like our ideal selves until the day we die, assuming they can’t keep us around forever. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon though, legends surrounding different ways of gaining eternal youth and life pepper legends and myths throughout history. Often this eternal youth is gained either through an external force, a god, or the philosopher ’s stone, or even through some quest or trial performed by the hero of the tale. The advertisers have it right though, because when people think about eternal youth, they most often think about the legendary Fountain of Youth.

The general idea of the Fountain of Youth is simple, some place has a spring, pool, or natural source of water that through some unusual property will grant anyone who drinks from its waters long, perhaps even eternal life. Throughout history, this fountain pops up in several places across the globe, and there might even be several sources of these mystical waters at any given time, just waiting for discovery. Some of the earliest accounts come from the Greek historian Herodotus. He claimed that the Macrobians, a race living in Africa at the time, had such a fountain at their disposal, since it seemed to Herodotus that the entire race maintained their health much longer than any others did. The Macrobians claimed that they often lived as old as 120 years, and sometimes longer. Herodotus was never able to find their source of vigor though, and the Macrobians never claimed they had any such fountain.

A popular story during the gothic era, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville placed the fountain at the base of a mountain in India. The heavy popularity of this story influenced European culture at the time so heavily that art of the time period features the image of the Fountain of Youth quite prominently. Paintings, Carvings, mirror cases of ivory, all ended up with the common depictions of the fountain, with elderly individuals entering the scene from the left, in the middle a pool filled with naked, youthful people, and more young people leaving the scene to the right, all while wearing courtly, formal garb. The art targeted the wealthy and the nobility, giving them the hope and image that they could retain their wealth or position indefinitely.

The most famous Fountain of Youth legend comes from South America, specifically around the Caribbean. The Spanish heard about the fountain when they encountered the native people in what is now Cuba. They described a mystical land called Bimini, host of the magical fountain, as well as another race of long-lived, magically young inhabitants. Though the natives could not give them the exact location of either the island, or the fountain, the stories apparently led to the search for the fountain by its most famous pursuer, Ponce de Leon.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyra__m/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyra__m/

The story of the Fountain of Youth, and the conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon become irrevocably attached due to his biography written during the 16th century. He was sent to the region in order to find the island Beniny, though modern historians generally equate the search in this area to the Bahamas instead. His expedition travelled all over the region, and in his own accounts, he did not actually state he was looking for the Fountain of Youth. It seems that de Leon was the subject of political maneuvering, because Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo’s Historia General y Natural de las Indias of 1535 is the actual first mention of de Leon’s search for the fountain. Many researchers think the mention was politically motivated, as de Oviedo sought favor in the court. Unfortunately, by then the damage was already done, as several other scholars of the time included references to de Leon’s search for the fountain in their works as well. Another Spaniard, Herrera romanticized the tail, and in his own story states, “A frail old man could become so completely restored that he could resume all manly exercises… take a new wife and beget more children.” He then goes on to say that that the Spaniards sought all up and down the coast for the fountain. So now, Juan Ponce de Leon is the unfortunate Spanish conquistador set with the folly of finding the Fountain of Youth in America, whether or not that was actually his belief, or his assigned task, is purely speculation.

The Fountain of Youth is now a popular trope in moden culture, as it has made appearances in comics, movies, stories, and even on TV. Orson Welles produced a TV show in the 1950s that included the Fountain even in the title of the program. The fountain shows up several times in Disney features, including in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where when two people drink from de Leon’s goblets, one will immediately gain additional life equaling the remaining days of the other, whom dies immediately. Books tend to take a more sardonic view of the fountain. Terry Pratchett’s story Eric, a character drinks from the fountain, but dies due to the unsanitary water, while Natalie Babbitt explores the consequences of having such an extended lifespan in her story Tuck Everlasting.

The Fountain of Youth is a legend that never truly ends. People are going to continue searching for it in the hopes that we can defeat the ravages of aging and death. It may take on a more modern twist, with technology replacing the natural fountain, and with science replacing the magic, but we always think we are just around the corner from the next breakthrough that will let us live forever. Whether it is a pill, a food, a new machine, it doesn’t matter, because to us, it will always be our Fountain.

Mermaids and Mermen

April 14th, 2013
Mermaid and pirate ship

unknown artist

There are many legends and myths about the origins of man, and our relationship with the oceans. With so much of our planet covered by water, it seems only natural that associations between man and sea would be a part of the histories and stories told by cultures all over the world. The link between humans and the sea takes particularly distinct form in the image of a species of creatures called Mermaids, aquatic half-human, half-fish people that appear through stories throughout history as both friend and temptress of sailors and the unwary that travel on the water throughout the world.

The earliest recorded story of mermaids comes from the Assyrian region, around roughly 1000BC. From this region comes the story of a goddess Atargatis whom loved a mortal, and through her actions, either deliberately, or accidentally caused the death of her lover. So over come with regret at her actions she threw herself into a sea and tried to turn herself into a fish. Due to the perfection of her beauty the transformation did not hold though, and she was forced to live with half the body of a fish, and half the body in her true form. Some artist pictures render her with only the head, and arm of a goddess though, with the rest bound in her fish’s form.

Even though the earliest myths seem to come from the Mediterranean, mermaid and aquatic human legends are common throughout the region, from the British isles, all the way around the continent through the Middle East and into Asia. In the story collection One Thousand and One Nights mer-people are generally physically identical to humans, but can breathe underwater, and live in a culture that eschews clothing, and other worldly goods in a social society that mirrors the surface dweller’s obsessions with appearance and wealth. Often in European legends, mermaids are harbingers of misfortune, and will attempt to tease sailors and tempt them to ruin, either through tempting their ships off-course, to singing and tempting sailors from the boats into the water, where they are drowned. In most Asian cultures, Mermaids tend to be more benign, often marrying humans, or providing them care, medicine or teaching them about the world so that the humans can have a better life. In most cases in Asian legends, when a mermaid dies, their body returns to the sea, no matter the wishes of their human associates and companions.

Mermaid sightings show up throughout history in the various recorded log-books and journals of sailors around the Mediterranean seas, and somewhat less frequently in other areas around the world. Some of the more credible sightings include Christopher Columbus reporting spotting 3 female forms in the water in 1493 while sailing around Hispaniola. In his log book he recorded the sighting as they, “rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented” before they disappeared. The pirate Black Beard was also notoriously suspicious of certain regions of the sea, he reported that they were cursed, and that mermaids existed there and that they would tempt the men to give up their gold, their rum, and eventually even their lives. Most sailors considered spotting anything resembling a mermaid as bad luck.

World War Two saw another notable sighting, this time by Japanese Soldiers around the Kei islands. In these sightings they reported creatures about a meter and a half long, with human-like features, but with spikes on their body and a fish-like mouth. Local residents of the island often reported that they caught these creatures in their fishing nets, and would tell the local soldiers the next time they had one in their nets. Sergeant Taro Horiba eventually received one of these bodies retrieved from the nets. According to his own journals he attempted to return to Japan to have biologists look at the creature caught in the nets, but he was rebuffed, and his find was never believed as more than a hoax.

There have been a few other notable sightings, or reports of mermaids in the modern era. In 2009 dozens reported a mermaid sighting near Kiryat Yam in Israel. In 2012, in Zimbabwe, workers refused to work on a couple of reservoirs in the region. The local water resources minister reported that mermaids scared the workers away from their sites, so they could not complete their projects on time.

Most scientists these days credit mermaid sightings to cases of mistaken identities. Several species of sea-going mammal living in the waters in each of the reasons might have a very human silhouette when viewed through water distortion, or even over long distance. One of the favorite culprits to these false-sightings is the manatee, a rather large mammal that tends to swim through, and root around seaweed and other ocean material, providing the ‘hair’ that always seems so long in artwork and stories about mermaids. In 2012 the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet produced a special called Mermaid A Body Found? This special examined many of these previous legends and sightings and tried to bring all this evidence into a loose theory that there could, indeed be a mysterious type of aquatic human still hiding somewhere in the ocean waters.

Mermaids do feature rather prominently in popular culture, largely promoted by the increase in complex costuming or ‘cosplay’. Most people remember Disney’s The Little Mermaid, an altered version of a story by Hans Christian Andersen written in the mid 1800s. Since mono-fins, a single fin type used for swimming, are much more commonly available these days, they are easily incorporated in some very complex costuming and swimming outfits, allowing people to portray the undersea legends more accurately. Given the ability of some people with monofins, it is possible that the Israel sighting was actually an experienced monofin user showing off for a rather willing audience. Similarly, these aquatic legends have spawned art of all natures, from statues, paintings, cartoon art, and even pictures of people wearing their full mermaid costumes, many of which are quite convincing. This proliferation of art, story, and culture ensures that we are likely going to see Mermaids in our legends and myths for a long time to come.

Update:

New evidence 2013

YouTube Preview Image

Note that that Animal Planet calls this a fake documentary, however the sounds we hear are real and based on a true occurance in 1997 called ‘Bloop’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloop) that has yet to be explained. Also, Greenland HAS in fact suspended drilling operations in this area.

Stonehenge

April 3rd, 2013

Stonehenge-Closeup

Certain places in this world just seem to be…special places. They are places where archaeologists and scholars find earthworks, carvings, and construction for well into human’s history, and often before that. These places seem to attract cultures of all kinds, and eventually the site becomes something more meaningful then the sum of its parts. These sites often have mystery surrounding them to their origins, even as they became known for other things. One of those sites, and among the most famous, and most mysterious is the world famous Stonehenge.

N061044

Surprisingly, the monolithic construction of stones is apparently not the first significant structure at this location. Archaeologists have found burial remains, and possible locations of post holes and support structures that date to as far back as eight-thousand BC. Even as humans cultivated the land around Stonehenge, the site itself showed significance, as ditches and remains indicate there may have been a wood circle in place around 3000 BC, before the main stones ever went up. Evidence points that the bluestones, or first stones also were quarried and placed in the area around this time.

stonehenge

The eventual construction of Stonehenge shows a level of dedication and technology that apparently exceeds that of the time. Debates have raged over how they may have constructed the famous circle, from slaves, to dragging, to mystical intervention. The BBC in participation with the Discovery channel even did a special on potential construction methods for Stonehenge. Equally mysterious is the purpose of this great monument. No one can seem to agree on its purpose, and speculation ventures from highly scientific, to highly spiritual assertions. What is obvious though, is that the location does have special meaning, as over time more historians and scholars have discovered additional earthworks that add to the history of the site, proving it as one of the more mystically charged locations in modern culture.

John Henry

April 3rd, 2013

john henry

Died with his hammer in his hand

When most people living today think of “legendary” figures, they most often think of characters from hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. You ask about legends, and you may get a smattering of Greek and Roman history, maybe some Native American history, or even a few mythological figures such as King Arthur. There are modern myths and modern legends though; we did not stop creating them when the modern industrial age began. One only has to point to folk tales and stories to find the legends, such as with the fable of the steel driver John Henry.

Modern legends’ such as John Henry’s do have their basis in truth. Scholars continue to debate the identity of John Henry, but most do point to a black prisoner released to work on the railroad in the 1870s as the origins for this particular legend. At the time, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway company had rail-workers along-side steam engines at the Lewis Tunnel in Virginia. This looks like the most probable location for the contest between man and machine that created John Henry’s legend.

According to the Story, John Henry fought against the loss of the railway worker’s jobs, as the newer, faster and steam engines that were more powerful came in. Modern movies and novels build on the same man vs. machine theme that potentially originated with the legend of John Henry. In the story the big, evil company looks to replace an expendable workforce by bringing in machines, and only through the heroism and sacrifice of the common man are the other worker’s jobs spared. This is definitely a tragedy though, because even as John Henry wins, his heart bursts and he dies. John Henry’s sacrifice, and this story’s potential basis in fact forms a basis for modern legend, one that continues into modern media.

Loch Ness – Nessy

April 3rd, 2013
loch ness

By http://www.flickr.com/photos/conner395/

There are so many unexplored places before we even consider leaving our own planet. When you think, we have explored only a tiny percentage of the world’s seas, the arctic plains and shelf, and even some deep jungles and rainforests remain unseen by human eyes. There are many more mysteries to find in unpopulated region, but there might also be some more mysteries right in front of our eyes. In the 1930’s the world heard about a possible sighting of something unknown, something pre-historic, right in the center of a populated area. I of course refer to the famous Loch Ness monsters, sometimes called ‘Nessy’ by local authorities.

On May 2 1933, the Inverness Courier featured an article by Alex Campbell, the water bailiff for the Loch and a part-time journalist, describing “something prehistoric” in the water. Following, on August 4 the Courier featured another written assertion from a London man, George Spicer, claiming another spotting of the creature, where he also claimed to see it carrying something in its mouth. Though sightings of ‘something’ in the Loch occurred all the way in the past from the seventh century, these articles, and the photos (widely discounted now) that followed sparked huge public interest in the creature.

The decades following this publicity for what could possibly be some poor, pre-historic animal, have left continued questions about whether “Nessie” actually exists. There has been photographic, video, and sonar evidence put forth by those that claim they have spotted the animal, while most professionals that follow claim they have never been able to verify those claims. The Loch Ness monster continues to be one of the greatest crypto zoological mysteries of the modern age, and all of it contained in one relatively small body of water that is still unknown, surrounded by the known and explored.

Sacsayhuamán

March 23rd, 2013

Sacsayhuamán

So many people get focused on the modern age as the only source of engineering wonders. Yes, we have accomplished amazing things scientifically with current technology, but that does not invalidate the impressive engineering wonders accomplished hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. Archeologists still do not know exactly how the pyramids were built so precisely, Stonehenge confounds scholars with its complexity, and in South America the Incans produced walls and stonework that modern engineers still do not understand, such as the construction of the walls in their high-altitude complex such as Sacsayhuamán.

Located outside Cusco, Peru, Sacsayhuamán is located over 3500 meters above sea level, and functioned as one of the main fortresses guarding the Incan capital. Unlike many wonders though, outside observers could actually see the construction of the amazingly tight-fitting stone blocks that make up Sacsayhuamán’s stone walls. The Spaniard Cieza de León visited the site in the 1540s and observed them quarrying, dragging the massive stones with ropes, and finally fitting them into the walls. Despite this, he could not figure out how they managed to fit the stones together so tightly, as they did not use any kind of mortar to fix the stones in place. Despite this, you can go to the walls at Sacsayhuamán and you will be unable to fit a knife-blade between the stones, still.

Sacsayhuamán is an example that engineering is not only a modern skill. The mechanical talent definitely shone through in different cultures throughout the centuries in ways that even modern engineers do not fully understand. Even half a millennium ago they were able to make a structure that stands and is still used today by the people living there. It stands as a testament to the talent and the minds of people that were able to realize miracles in technology, before the “technological revolution” of modern times.

Vampires – Vampyres

March 3rd, 2013

vampire skeleton

The modern vampire is a seductive, tempting predator that is also a tragic figure. Modern tales make the vampire as some cursed creature that only survives through the distasteful and hated act of drawing blood from others. They are usually young, attractive, and can draw members of the opposite (and often the same) sex to them with an ease that many wish they could somehow accomplish in their real lives. Even some of the traditional weaknesses of the undead get wiped away in modern storytelling. Sunlight is inconvenient, silver, water, and holy symbols do little, and above all, there is almost no element of fear any longer. This is a drastic change from vampire myth of old, where the undead were merciless hunters of the living.

Vampire myths exists the world over, but you might hardly recognize them from their modern descendants. Japan and China had hopping vampires, cursed to follow their caretaker unless the charm is torn off their face, in which case they go on a rampage. In the Philippines there are mythos of vampires that eat babies from pregnant mothers by flying through the night, while looking normal during the day. In India you have ghouls that inhabit corpses and hang from trees and buildings to hunt. All of these myths have the element of horror in common. There is nothing attractive in their myths, it is not something to seek, it is something to fear. It is only in the history of Vlad Tepish, and the novel by Bram Stoker that we start seeing the modern vampire.

In Stoker’s work Dracula the vampiric figure is a predator that takes human form. He is seductive, and charming, but that is only because it makes it easier for him to hunt his chosen prey. It is still a figure of dread and loathing as an inhuman figure. Somehow, despite this, modern takes on the Vampire have made these creatures more desirable then being human, we want them to be more than human, rather than less.

Cultural Myths and Legends

February 16th, 2013

ancient greece

We are surrounded by myths and legends. As modern and ‘scientific’ as our culture gets, there are still the stories that we learn as we grow up. We learn these stories from family, friends, and we are taught these stories in school. They are told to us as works of fiction, as though they never existed, and as methods to convey lessons about our lives. Despite the evidence that surrounds us every day, myths, legends, and folklore are a part of every culture; a part that has a place in modern society. Those myths and legends have a truthful core, and those truths have become a part of our culture even while the legends surrounding them slowly become more and more fictionalized.

Despite the increased need for proof and hard evidence in modern life, legends continue and persist. In fact, a whole new type of legend appears, that of the ‘Urban Legend’. These are stories that pop up in modern times, and try to convey lessons that are more appropriate for a modern audience. Whole web-sites have come up detailing and trying to explain the origins of these urban legends. The fact remains that most of these legends contain a few core components of truth, and from there the stories grow and become more fantastic in order to convey a lesson. These are legends such as the story of the US Marine forces that guarded an entire nursery during the chaos of 9/11, or the dangers of ordinary household products to unwary consumers. These are just a couple brief mentions of a new generation of myths and legends coming out of modern society, yet modern culture owe much, if not all, of its legend-creation capabilities to those that started well in the past.

Some of the earliest legends talk about missing nations and lost cultures. There is intrinsically something intriguing about a culture so much more advanced from their neighbors, but lost due to their own arrogance, or some indefinite flaw that brought their entire nation to its knees. Camelot, Atlantis are lost nations that apparently destroyed themselves, yet histories and legends still persist. For centuries the city of Troy was a legend that only a few historians believed…at least until historians uncovered remains of the city in the late 1860s. All of a sudden, a legend had the grains of truth, and all the stories found and preserved from the eras of Greek culture made sense. People had to reevaluate what was truth, what was fiction, and how intertwined the two had become.

Where do legends come from then? If some legends are true, such as the legend of the City of Troy, what others are true? Where did they come from? What about other legends, mystical creatures, fanciful stories of heroism, tales of daring-do, and stories where gods come to Earth because they are smitten with those of human birth? How do you draw a line between legends that have a core of truth, and those that are just there for their lesson, and their justification for the way things are? Is it worth discarding all lessons offered by legends because the stories might be untrue, or is it better to search out the meaning behind them, and the truth they offer?

The Middle East, the Greek Isles, they are not the sole creation place for our modern myths and legends. They come from all over, every region has their own stories rooted well in the past. Many of those are creation myths. Almost every culture has a myth regarding the creation of the world and all the people that inhabit it. Whether you believe in the bible, or in the creation of the world out of the oceans from the Japanese Isles, or the creation myths of the Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, the Chinese, or even the smallest, most isolated tribes in the African and South American rain forests ; there are as many stories for the creation of the world as there are cultures out there telling them. Creation myths also build on the lessons that are at the core of the culture talking about them. They teach people core rules and guidelines so that children grow up as productive members of society.

This is the core of all myths and legends. Truth or not, complete fiction, or based around a core of fact, myths and legends are there to provide a lesson. They may take different approaches, and encourage, or scare, or threaten, but the result is the same, there is a lesson at the core, one or two points that will help a person be better. Now that global communication is easy and prevalent, we all get exposed to more legends and myths more quickly. You might read about the boy who drank pop-rocks and coke one day, and then the next you’ll hear the story of the Devil that took away the boy who played during church on Sunday. Legends have blended, and the lessons have blended, which makes finding the truth that much harder for the curious.

That is the rub then, isn’t it? If every legend can contain a bit of a truth mixed with exaggeration and fiction, all for conveying a lesson, what becomes the part that matters? The truth, the fiction, or the lesson? All parts of a legend have their place, and since people find different aspects helpful in their lives, it is better when there is a grain of truth in every aspect. That is another aspect to myths and legends, what can we find out about the culture that created them when we dig down and seek out the truth? That can be as rewarding as the legend itself, because when we question the stories we are taught when kids we learn a great deal about our lives as adults. The same stories that teach us what happens when we play with fire as kids can give us a glimpse at how our cultures place an emphasis on obedience and lessons learned when we teach our kids the same stories.

Myth's and Legends

Myths, legends, urban legends, fiction, fact