Archive for the 'Psychology & The Mind' Category

The Origin of Witches

The long, elaborate history of our besties, the witches…

 

Where do witches come from?

 

by Alastair Sooke (BBC Culture)

 

 

“Images of alluring young witches and hideous hags have been around for centuries – but what do they mean?

 

Ask any Western child to draw a witch, and the chances are that he or she will come up with something familiar: most likely a hook-nosed hag wearing a pointy hat, riding a broomstick or stirring a cauldron. But where did this image come from? The answer is more arresting and complex than you might think, as I discovered last week when I visited Witches and Wicked Bodies, a new exhibition at the British Museum in London that explores the iconography of witchcraft.

 

Witches have a long and elaborate history. Their forerunners appear in the Bible, in the story of King Saul consulting the so-called Witch of Endor. They also crop up in the classical era in the form of winged harpies and screech-owl-like “strixes” – frightening flying creatures that fed on the flesh of babies.

 

Circe, the enchantress from Greek mythology, was a sort of witch, able to transform her enemies into swine. So was her niece Medea. The ancient world, then, was responsible for establishing a number of tropes that later centuries would come to associate with witches…”

 

For the rest, click here.

 

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The bearded lady: The most famous human curiosity of the 19th century.

How we treat our fellow humans reveals much about our own humanity…

 

Julia Pastrana: A “Monster to the Whole World”

(The Public Domain Review)

 

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“Julia Pastrana, a woman from Mexico born with hypertrichosis, became one of the most famous human curiosities of the 19th century, exhibited the world over as a “bearded lady” while both alive and dead. Bess Lovejoy explores her story and how it was only in 2013, 153 years after her passing, that she was finally laid to rest.

 

When Julia Pastrana was born, in the mountains of Western Mexico in 1834, her mother worried that her looks were the result of supernatural interference. The local native tribes often blamed the naualli, a breed of shape-shifting werewolves, for stillbirths and deformities, and after seeing her daughter for the first time, Julia’s mother is said to have whispered their name. She fled her tribe — or was cast out — not long after.

 

Two years later, Mexican herders searching for a missing cow found Julia and her mother hiding in a mountain cave. They took them to the nearest city, where Julia was placed in an orphanage. Sweet, intelligent, and almost totally covered in black hair, she became a local celebrity. After hearing of her unusual looks and charming disposition, the state governor adopted Julia to serve as a live-in amusement and maid. She stayed with the governor until she was twenty, when she decided to return to her own tribe. But she never completed the trip home: an American showman known as M. Rates met her somewhere on her journey back to the mountains, and persuaded her to take up a life onstage.

 

Julia would go on to become one of the most famous human curiosities of the nineteenth century, variously known as “the Ape Woman,” “the Bear Woman,” or “the Baboon Lady.” She made her debut in December 1854, at the Gothic Hall on Broadway in New York City. She wore a red dress, sang Spanish folk tunes, and danced the Highland Fling. Huge, appreciative crowds flocked to see her, although it wasn’t really the singing and dancing they were after…”

 

See the rest here.

 

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Smoke and Mirrors of an Ancient Empire

An unsolved ancient mystery, a concealed entrance to the underworld, and an entranced “sibyl” with the power to influence an empire — these are the elements of an unforgettable  history lesson…

 

The Unsolved Mystery of the Tunnels at Baiae

 

Did ancient priests fool visitors to a sulfurous subterranean stream that they had crossed the River Styx and entered Hades?

 

By Mike Dash (smithsonian.com)

 

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“There is nothing remotely Elysian about the Phlegræan Fields, which lie on the north shore of the Bay of Naples; nothing sylvan, nothing green. The Fields are part of the caldera of a volcano that is the twin of Mount Vesuvius, a few miles to the east, the destroyer of Pompeii. The volcano is still active–it last erupted in 1538, and once possessed a crater that measured eight miles across–but most of it is underwater now. The portion that is still accessible on land consists of a barren, rubble-strewn plateau. Fire bursts from the rocks in places, and clouds of sulfurous gas snake out of vents leading up from deep underground.

 

The Fields, in short, are hellish, and it is no surprise that in Greek and Roman myth they were associated with all manner of strange tales. Most interesting, perhaps, is the legend of the Cumæan sibyl, who took her name from the nearby town of Cumæ, a Greek colony dating to about 500 B.C.– a time when the Etruscans still held sway much of central Italy and Rome was nothing but a city-state ruled over by a line of tyrannical kings.

 

The sibyl, so the story goes, was a woman named Amalthaea who lurked in a cave on the Phlegræan Fields. She had once been young and beautiful–beautiful enough to attract the attentions of the sun god, Apollo, who offered her one wish in exchange for her virginity. Pointing to a heap of dust, Amalthaea asked for a year of life for each particle in the pile, but (as is usually the way in such old tales) failed to allow for the vindictiveness of the gods. Ovid, in Metamorphoses, has her lament that “like a fool, I did not ask that all those years should come with ageless youth, as well.” Instead, she aged but could not die. Virgil depicts her scribbling the future on oak leaves that lay scattered about the entrance to her cave, and states that the cave itself concealed an entrance to the underworld…”

 

Read more here.

 

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