Loki’s Bizarre Life Lessons on Chivalry, Responsibility and Loyalty

In Norse mythology, Loki’s relationship with the gods varies by source – sometimes he would help them, sometimes he would not. I suppose a part of the staying power of Loki is that his morality is hard to pin down, so he always keeps things rather interesting. However, we can do well by looking at Loki’s examples on chivalry, responsibility and loyalty. What we do with those examples, of course, is another story.

Chivalry: How to Cheer Up a Depressed Goddess

LOKI_SKADI.jpgSkadi, the goddess of winter and hunting was not born a goddess and only gained that status by marriage. Originally, she was an ice giantess of Jotunheim, the mountainous world of the giants. Her father, Thiassi, was slain in battle with the gods, and an enraged Skadi gathered her weapons and traveled to Asgard, the world of the gods, to battle them. The gods—who killed giants and impaled people for fun—were actually intimidated by Skadi and opted to acquiesce to whatever demands for restitution she made rather than face her in combat.

Skadi demanded three things: that her father’s eyes be made into stars, that she be able to pick a husband from among the gods, and that they make her laugh, something she hadn’t been able to manage since her father’s death. Odin enacted her first demand by hurling Thiassi’s eyes into the night sky. To fulfill her second demand, Skadi chose Njord, god of the sea, as her husband (she later dumped him and married Odin). To fulfill her third demand, Loki tied his testicles to a goat’s beard, resulting in much struggling, bleating, and pain from both Loki and the horse – and what I’d imagine to be a rather disturbing giggle from Skadi.

Loyalty: How to Infiltrate a Den of Giants

LOKI_THOR.jpgOne day, a giant by the name of Thrym stole Thor’s hammer and refused to give it back. He would only return the hammer under one condition: that he be allowed to marry Freyja. As no one was going to let that happen, Thor decided to impersonate Freyja and marry the giant in her place. Loki, of course, loved this idea and dressed himself as a handmaid so he could come along and watch.

Somehow, the giants bought the disguise, but throughout the wedding feast it became pretty obvious through the muscles, the belching and the bass voice that Thor was a man and the giants started to get a little suspicious. Totally not helping, Loki continually made excuses, all with unsubtle hints, underlying-but-still-obvious jokes and backhanded compliments about Thor’s actual gender. When Thor could finally get his hands on his hammer, he was so ticked off with the whole situation that he not only left the giant at the altar, he killed his would-be husband and all the guests in attendance – while Loki looked on delightedly.

Responsibility: How to Fix a Problem You Created Yourself

LOKI_LOKILoki made a bet with a giant who had been employed to build a protective wall for the gods. He offered the giant the hand of the goddess Freyja if he could complete the wall on time. However, the giant used a stallion who hauled the bricks much faster than the gods expected.

Faced with losing the bet and being killed by his fellow gods, Loki transformed himself into a mare and wooed the giant’s stallion. The ensuing `act of love’ led to Loki giving birth to an eight-legged spider-horse (for whatever reason) Because his stallion  was occupied by Loki, the giant lost the bet and was subsequently killed by Thor.

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Mythical Creatures as a Reflection of Cultural Fears

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Myths and folklore are very interesting parts of every culture. We can see their reflection on so many things: books, paintings, sculptures, music – basically all kinds of art! In some countries they dominate more than in others, but still their presence, even in daily life, cannot be ignored.

One of the strongest human emotions is fear. Our fears are numerous, and they change through the life. However, the fear of nature in many cases doesn’t go away – it transforms, but never completely goes away. This is why nature related myths are so popular even though they are centuries and thousands years old.

From the childhood years we all remember the fear of being lost in the woods, and fear of wild animals. Children talk to the trees and believe that those respond. The good thing of this all is that from the early ages we learn to respect nature and take good care of it, so that those little creatures around the world get some help!

Infographic by AvasFlowers.net

 

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The Killer Vampire Pumpkins of the Romani

800px-PumpkinsIn folk legends from the Balkans, in Southeastern Europe, there is such a thing as vampiric pumpkins (yes pumpkin) which would become possessed, grow to an excessive size and because of their lack of teeth wouldn’t bite you, but squash you to death instead. Honestly, you can’t make this up.

The story is associated with the Romani people of the region and were described by ethologist Tatomir Vukanovic. The Romani culture is steeped in supernatural lore and superstitions that both give and take from the many surrounding cultures that they cohabitate with. The Balkans, especially, has a large array of supernatural beliefs and superstitions, many of which include the dead and the undead.

Vampire stories vary greatly in different cultures, and so does the belief. If you try to put them all together, quite honestly, just about anything can be a sign or a cause for someone or something becoming a vampire. People who were particularly unfortunate looking could be vampires. People who were missing fingers, had extra fingers or had tails were considered vampires. Anne Boelyn, for example, was rumoured to be a “demon” because she was said to have an extra pinky – although this could be a smear campaign from Henry VIII’s camp who were trying to get rid of her. The neglect of performing the proper ritual after someone’s death could cause someone to become a vampire. People who died violently, committed suicide or died of a horrific accident could also become a vampire. Those who were excommunicated from the church could be a vampire.  Children conceived on certain days or out of wedlock could become a vampire. Children born with teeth were believed to be vampires. And these are just some of the stories.

The only   known reference in scholarship is Vukanović’s account from 1933 to 1948 which seems to be repeated in other sources, but I would  be remiss if I don’t quote some of it: “According to them there are only two plants which are regarded as likely to turn into vampires: pumpkins of every kind and water-melons. And the change takes place when they are ‘fighting one another.’ …. In Podrima and Prizrenski Podgor they consider this transformation occurs if these ground fruit have been kept for more than ten days… It is also believed that sometimes a trace of blood can be seen on the pumpkin, and the Gs. then say it has become a vampire.”

The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society has many articles that are collections of Romani tales, presumably oral history. From experience, I wouldn’t be quick to discount oral history as false, although references of their stories change wildly from one region to the next because no one set them down in paper, real or not they give us a window to people’s beliefs, and things that children would have grown up hearing. A lot of myth and legends of Southeast Asia, for example, were from oral history which accounts for the confusing variations of tales (if we’re lucky) or the virtually non-existent written sources. So  in this context, I suppose vampire pumpkins and watermelons are not necessarily any more implausible than other superstitious beliefs. That is, of course, my “official” answer if anyone should ever ask whether I think this was true. My unofficial answer is “who cares? this is cool!”

Martini

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(Excerpt) Life’s Unpleasant Truths Represented by Mahabharata

This is an excerpt from the newly-released ebook “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses”, currently available on Kindle. To get your copy, press here.

Mahabhrata intro cover

Let’s be honest: we all want to do the right thing. In fact, all of us are doing our best. However, “our best” is a broad expression which is heavily influenced by our understandings, our backgrounds, our desires, our needs, our education and many other factors. In the end, “our best” may not be suitable for the world as a whole, but enough for perhaps our own country, or our own community. The cold, hard truth of it is that, although it is by no means impossible, it is very rare for a dream to “change the whole world for the better” to come true.

Mahabharata understands this, and makes no pretense of the situation being otherwise. So, instead of taking the stance of “this situation is unvirtuous and therefore should not have happened,” the attitude of the characters lean more to “This situation is unvirtuous, but it happens nonetheless. So, what are we going to do about it?”

          There are, of course, many other unpleasant truths in life symbolized in the epic. Here are some of them:

Fighting for righteousness is all very well, but if the opponent fights dirty be prepared to match them. Many of the tactics used by the Pandavas were sneaky at best. But, they tried to avoid the war, and when they could not avoid it they fought honorably. But, when their opponent started gaining the upper ground by cheating, they resorted to dishonorable methods as well. They had to – otherwise they would lose and the Kauravas would not hesitate to kill every last one of them.  There is no point in occupying the high moral ground if you lose in the process, particularly if “losing” means losing your life, your country and people you are responsible for. There is a story of Prithivraj Chahaun who defeated and captured invader Mahmud of Ghor in the 1191 first Battle of Tarain. However, he released his prisoner as that was considered morally correct. In 1192, Mahmud returned and promptly defeated, captured, and executed Prithivraj, an event which led to Muslim rule over the entire Ganges river valley. One cannot fully blame Prithivraj for letting Mahmud go. It was indeed the noble thing to do, but it cost him his life and his kingdom. Of course, it is not always the case of “kill or be killed”, but it is worth serious pondering. There are always moral conflicts and there will always be people who would mistake courtesy and kindness as signs of weakness.

War is sometimes justified. Mahatma Gandhi argued that it would be better to uphold the principle of non-violence over resorting to violence for any cause. And he was right. It is better, much nobler, and it is certainly something we should always strive to do. However, if the world was or is that noble, we would never hear news on wars or mass killings which we still hear about even to this day. On the other hand, the Mahabarata accepts the idea of a just war – where war is an option that should only be resorted to after all other solutions fail. However, once resorted to, it ought to be fought quickly to its conclusion for the sake of everyone.

There will always be dishonest people in the world, and you need to know how to handle them for your own sake as well as the people you are responsible for. Yudhisthira failed to identify and acknowledge the dishonesty of Duryodhana and lost everything he had. Turning the other cheek to something that is harmful is not righteousness – it will only lead to a bigger wrong.

Rules and customs ought to be interpreted flexibly. Mahabharata argues that that rules and customs should serve as social tools or means to enhance the quality of life and relationships. They are ‘tools’ to achieve a better life, not the ‘end result’. When rules and customs no longer serve their purpose, then we will have to think about reinterpreting them, or even discard them completely. Duty can be amended when it pursues a course of action that is inflexible or harmful. In Mahabharata, the Pandavas felt honor bound to play a game of dice to the end to appease their host, even though it resulted in the gambling away of their kingdom and their queen, as the customs frowned upon guests who refuse their host’s wishes. If following a strict sense of morality leads to actions that are immoral, then it is better to evaluate one’s notion of duty and honor.

Martini

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Now on Kindle: “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses”

Following the successful launch of the online course by the same name, “Introduction to Mahabharata: Lessons on Life and Businesses” is now available in eBook form.

We seldom look at mythology as something that has practical lessons to make our life easier. Yet, it is closer to real life than we imagine. The Five Pandava Brothers of the ancient Hindu Epic Mahabharata represents many facets of ancient and modern lives from imperfections to ideal business leaders.

Martini Fisher introduces a different way to look at the Ancient Epic Indian Literature that is Mahabharata and presents its practical lessons for the modern audience.

Roosdy, the Artist: on Being so Good that What You Do Looks “Easy”

Mononoke Hime fin

Seeing that a big part of my shtick is making history and mythology approachable for everybody, I’m always drawn to anything that jumps out as being “relatable”, whether it is history, arts, mathematics, you name it. If it’s “lifelike”, I’ll love it.

I know this from firsthand experience that being passionate about something is great. Fantastic even.  But, relating that passion to the public is a whole other story, which not many people can do. I can be passionate about the history of Cartage, but I’m not necessarily able to relay that to people without them dozing off at some point. It’s not that easy. Some might argue that artists (singers, actors, painters etc) would have an easier time than we do in relating to the masses, because, well… everybody loves music/movies/paintings, right? But I really don’t think so. If it is, then we’ll have heaps more of the truly “great” artists in the world than we have now.

Other may argue on the side of the “it” factor, or the “x” factor. You either have it or you don’t. I think that you can be talented. Definitely. You can have potential – and, really, that’s what “talent” is: potential. Even talent can die if you don’t hone it.  A dancer friend smirked when someone asked him how he’d manage to learn a difficult choreography in half an hour and said “decades of practice.” He knows that to master something takes time. To master something and make it look so natural that people think it’s easy takes a whole life time and It’s that very “ease” that people are attracted to. It’s that “ease” that I always find approachable.

Anyway, this particular artist fits that description of mastering his art and make it natural. He is considered an “emerging” digital artist who’s just finding his stride, and his work is all over the net these days. Going by ROOSDY, what he likes to do is to take anything from video games characters to historical personalities and make them look more “lifelike”. He did a lifelike painting of a young emperor Augustus one time which is not an easy feat when all you have to go by is one physical description from Suetonius and a bunch of marble statues. But he was game to try. Honestly, I was surprised he was that familiar with Augustus. It turns out that he’s very well-read and has a wide variety of interests, so I guess that’s why his works speaks to me a bit more than others. You do get the feeling that he “understands”, at least enough to make good art. That takes a lot of awareness, experience and skill. Although Roosdy is said to be “emerging”, the truth is, the man has been holding a pencil since he was two years old (decades of practice, folks!)

That painting you see above this rambling is “Mononoke Hime” (click on the name and it’ll take you through to google images of the original character)

You’ll be able to check out samples of his works on:

Deviantart: www.roosdy.deviantart.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/roosdy07

Twitter: www.twitter.com/roosdy07

Facebook: www.facebook.com/roosdy07

Tumblr: http://roosdy07.tumblr.com/

Personality-wise, Roosdy happens to be a pretty good teacher who insists on making arts “with” you, instead of “for” you. His patreon page would be the go-to place to get not only weekly sketches and paintings, but also videos and truckloads of tips. Check him out and do consider supporting him!

 Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/roosdy07

Mononoke-Hime-Cover-Promo

Martini

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Me and History: We’ll Never Get it Right, and That’s Okay

11252808_381188458751790_810195553_nIf you’re like me and have spent a chunk of your childhood in a system where history was taught as nothing but a pile of names, dates and wars, I sympathize. It wasn’t fun. For a long time, the notion of reading history was enough to make me roll my eyes in disgust. The thing is, since childhood, nothing annoys me more than being told what to believe. And a lot “history lessons” were like that in those days. I remember living in a developing country in the 80’s listening to history teachers who would say “the brave (insert the “good” guys here) hero beat the cowardly (insert “bad” guys here) soldiers”. That didn’t sit well with me – even at 6 years old I thought, “I’LL decide who’s brave, thank you.” It ruined history for me for some time after that, because I felt forced to accept things as a given just because the adults said so when I prefer to make my own decision on what to believe myself. It’s like if I wasn’t invested in thinking that a certain country have the bravest soldiers, I was somehow a bad girl who’d fail her history exam and grow up to make potions and kill puppies.

But, I can promise that it gets better. When I’ve managed to get out of that system and picked up a history book on without the burden of teachers and exams, there was no turning back. I loved it. I still do, in fact. So much that I made it my life’s work. Because here is something that no one tells us at school: when it comes to learning about history, we’ll never get it right. The only people who would get it right would have been the ones who’d lived through it, and most of them are dead now. And even then, the way they would respond and eventually re-tell the event would vary depending on their backgrounds, their experiences, their mindsets, their loyalty and many other factors.

But, then, here is another thing that we’ll never get told at school: that’s the fun part. Sometimes I’d get to look at three or four completely different accounts on how an ancient war happens and try to find what I would think is the closest to the truth out of those accounts, taking into consideration things such as which side the writers were on, what would they gain out of telling their version of the event the way they did and so on. It’s like looking at a giant jigsaw puzzle that I can put together in a variety of different ways, and even then I can be sure that it would not be exactly what happened at the time. Even after all that, I won’t get it completely right. But isn’t that great? I think it is. It’s like being given a chance over and over again to re-evaluate and adjust my thinking according to a new piece of knowledge and discover another truth, and another, and another. Isn’t that what life is?

In learning history, we’ll never get it right, but that’s okay. As I always tell my readers, my students, or really anyone who would listen, history in its presentation should be a discussion, not a lesson. There has never been an absolute truth in ancient history, just as there is no absolute truth in modern life, because each individual has their own truths according to their own lives and experiences. But, what’s great about treating history as a discussion is that maybe, just maybe, by combining our experiences we can get closer to the version of events from which we can learn something.

I’m pretty sure I failed my history exam at that time, but I did grow up to study history, write books about history and find ways to get people to love history as much as I do. No puppies were harmed in my growing up process, and I did study potions in relations to my study in the history of medieval Europe although I never got to make one myself.

Martini Fisher is a writer of books such as “Wayang: Stories of the Shadow Puppets” and the “Time Maps” series, looking at history in a non-boring way. All her books are available through Amazon, and she tweets @martinifisher

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