New Release – Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings


Where did sounds, words and languages come from? What happens when a language disappears? What happens when a way of writing becomes extinct?

In this third volume of the Time Maps series, Dr. R.K. Fisher and Martini Fisher answer all of these questions and more as they trace languages and scripts back to their earliest forms before re-discovering their evolution, combinations and extinctions. They analyse a wide range of languages to show where migrations and invasions have taken place and discover where particular features of culture and technology came from.

Chapters include:
•Evolution of Languages, which includes the origins of languages, threats of extinction, classification of languages and major language families, among others.
•Evolution of Writing Systems, which includes sounds and symbols, classification of writing systems, the origins and writings and the lost knowledge.

Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings is being released on October 7, 2016

Currently available for pre-order. Click here to order your copy.


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Ancient Religions, Cults and Personal Branding

CULTJerash_(7169206905).jpgI love ancient religions. They are strange, sexy and chaotic – gods competed with gods, priests with priests, and prophets with prophets. Because there were so many of them, each gods, priests and prophets had to have something special to attract their followers and earn their worships. The battle of worshipers, in turn, was fierce. Each gods and goddesses had many cults of followers – each believing that their way of worship was better than the others, and they were the only ones going to heaven. Rome imported promising religions from all over the world. Persian deities were worshiped as far as Britain. In Egypt, there was a ritual which transformed pharaohs into gods. The ancient world was practically a melting pot of different religions and beliefs.

From all this, the rather fascinating topic of cults began. What are they? Why do they exist even to this day? In extreme cases, why would so many intelligent individuals give up their life, move to another state or even countries away from their families and join some random group? How does it feel to be so passionate about a person or an ideal that they would do all these things?

The idea of cults may come more naturally to us than we think. Human beings are social animals that have been banding together for hundreds of thousands of years. There are many Archeological evidences which show that when a group got too large, a smaller group would break off and establish a new social hierarchy with a new set of rules. Given enough time, the original bond between the two groups would be diminished, maybe even leading to some hostility. Therefore, a “cult” may be seen as this smaller group which has broken off from a larger group. We can’t stop it even if we tried, because choosing sides or courses is natural and one of the first steps towards socialization that a child learns. It is a function so ingrained in us that we instinctively know that every decision we make, and every opinions we have, brings us to one path and alienate another.

A lot of the differences between cults and religions are only a matter of time and size. The longer a cult exists and the more followers it attracts the more legitimate it becomes despite its beginnings. So why do people follow? Many reasons, but mostly for a very simple reason of not wanting to feel alone. Everyone feels lonely or empty at some point, and no one wants to feel alone. As social animals, isolation is a form of punishment for a person. A lonely individual quickly lose sight of their sense of purpose, meaning and belonging. We then look for the feeling that comes with being part of something bigger. Some may argue that human should “know better” and think before running off to join a cult but, let’s be honest, emotion precedes reason. When one feels that they cannot think of a solution of a decision, they will fall on the last resort: they go with their gut feelings.

What do groups offer their members? friendship, identity and security. They also offer a world-view: a way of discerning right from wrong and good from bad – powerful incentives for people whatever their background may be. Their ideologies may also offer moral explanations into how the world works and clear answers to difficult and big questions: how to be happy, life after death, the difference between right and wrong, and so on.

An interesting book called The Culting of Brands by Douglas Atkin actually compares the psychology of cults and corporate brands. In fact, Atkins argues that brands are the new cults as the hottest corporate brands these days have similar patterns to religious cults, which is cheeky, but may not be not as far-fetched as we think. So, I looked at a few familiar ancient cults and see how they possibly attracted their members and, using a few modern articles on personal branding, images and modern cults, made some comparisons. Here is how one would start a cult, the ancient way.

  1. How are you different from everyone else?

CULTTemple_of_Apollo_Delphi.jpgImagine this: beneath the great Temple of Apollo – on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, a priestess sat above a chasm in the earth. Vapor rose up and the priestess, called the Pythia, breathed deeply and fell into a trance. Then she spoke the words of the god. The Pythia’s prophecies were often ambiguous and probably confused people more often than it actually helped. According to Herodotus, Croesus – the rich king of Lydia, asked the Pythia whether he should make war on Persia. Pythia replied that if he did, he would destroy a mighty empire. Croesus went away confident that he would win this war – but the mighty empire he destroyed turned out to be his own. But that apparently didn’t faze the followers of Pythia, because for over twelve centuries, people still traveled far and wide to Delphi in search of counsel.

Apollo had many cults and worshipers, but the temple of Delphi was probably the biggest because of Pythia who spoke the words of Apollo himself. No other cults of Apollo dared to boast that. Directly hearing the words of Apollo himself would have been a draw. This would have made the followers feel as close as anyone could to Apollo. Suddenly, by joining the cult, Apollo became approachable, unlike the intimidating golden prince god from the skies other people took him to be. This sense of closeness, as well as the arresting and immediately recognizable image of  Pythia inhaling the vapor, they found a place in the hearts of their worshipers.

2. We’re outsiders. We’re in this together.

CULTJordaens_Triumph_of_Bacchus.jpgThe Temple of Apollo at Delphi had “nothing in excess” carved into it. This was an idea which underpinned much of ancient Greek thought. The ancient Greeks were very image conscious. They believed themselves to be the noblest civilization, a nation of gods and heroes. So, the ideal Greek would have carried himself with dignity, filled to the brims with heroic thoughts that would never allow him to take his kits off willy-nilly and shake his money-maker.

In the middle of all these seriousness, Dionysos was all about excess. Gigantic marble phalluses were dotted around the Temple of Dionysos on the Greek island of Delos. The unmistakable sexuality of the Temple of Dionysos would have made the more “conservative” ancients squirm. Dionysos was a very different kind of god. He was at home with wine, celebration, and every kind of excess people who have spent their lives in moderation only dream of. Image-wise, he was an outsider amongst the more dignified other gods (who, by the way, also drank outrageously, and dragged one another into bed at every opportunity – they were just more quiet about it).

Dionysos is always associated with party and celebration. Party needs people. So his cult would have people celebrating, drinking and laughing together, generally letting lose and having fun. Atkins actually says “Culting is a contact sport.” Which was what Dionysos’ cult would have provided: constant, distraction-free interaction between members early on. Imagine Dionysos’ followers as Apple users these days. Honestly, they’re not much different: Apple is made up of creative rebels in hoodies (or other cooler fashion items) instead of stuffy business people in suits. Fellow Apple users stand together in line for hours, saving each other’s spots in line, sharing a box of donuts while waxing poetic about the latest features. It’s like a party – a rather boring party by Dionysos’ standards, but still a party.

3.      Happy, outgoing and loud people are your friends.

Across ancient Greece, Dionysos was worshiped through phallika – processions which made their way through the countryside, bearing gigantic phalluses with them, the worshipers shouting obscenities as they went. In the festival of Dionysos held in Alexandria in 275 BC, a 180-foot-long gold-plated phallus made its way in a procession through the streets of the city, flanked by elephants, a rhinoceros, and a giraffe, and decorated with ribbons and a gold star. Loud people with big animals decorated with lots of color and glitter. Think Sydney Mardi Gras with elephants.

Studies conducted by modern sociologists found cult populations are dominated by well-educated, pleasant and socially engaging individuals. So the people who would happily sing the cult’s praises are the people who love to talk, people who have lots of friends and people who love to talk to their friends about the cult. These people are popular and admired. You want popular people talking about and representing your brand (hence the irritating spams on the comment sections on celebrities’ Instagram trying to sell you stuff). Dionysos had happy, screaming people representing his. In turn, his cult provided a space for his worshipers to be themselves as they liked to be, away from society’s pressure to be noble all the time.

4.      Lingo and Icons

CULTIranNaqshIRadjab.jpgThe Mysteries of Mithras were celebrated in windowless temples, underground, far from the sight of the world. In ancient Rome, they were whispered about in the same way that the Freemasons are today: secret handshakes, strict initiation rites, and seven levels which worshipers could rise to. Each grade, from Raven (Corax) up to Father (Pater) had its own costume – and ceremonial mask. This cult was adopted by the Roman army.

Many cults encourage behaviors, use lexicon and have symbols that separate their members from society. For example, cults in the 1960s enforced veganism and daily chanting. Apple uses the apple symbol to present their brand to the outside world. Apple users can easily spot their fellow Apple-users when they see the bright partially eaten apple on the back of someone’s new laptop. Livestrong created its own little cult with those yellow bracelets. It’s a way their people recognize each other, and it’s how they became recognized by non-members of the cults.

  1. Tension is the management of deviance.


The cult of Cybele was one of the oldest cults imported into Rome c. 205-204 BCE. She was credited with the Romans’ victory in the second Punic War as the protectress of the besieged.

Like Dionysus, Cybele had ecstatic followers. Their activities ranged from dancing to self-mutilations. Most Romans naturally disliked their excessive behavior. However, they still respect her through her patriotic role in the Punic war. Roman religion had always relied on patriotism, and one of Cybele’s appeal was the tension she brought. Many traditional cults demonize the other. They shame external ideas, shun outsiders and categorize anything that’s not ‘us’ as the evil, or at least not-good-enough, ‘them.’ This has tremendous psychological effect of bonding community members and separating from outside forces. In this case: Romans versus their enemies.

Cybele also promised a life after death, especially for those who had little hope of finding satisfaction in this life, such as women, slaves, lower-ranking soldiers etc. These were the people who would most likely not feel very supported by the society they lived in and felt like somewhat of an outsider. It would have been easy for them to think in terms of “us vs them”.

These days, many brands are able to fight for something and against something. PETA fights against animal cruelty, JetBlue fights for humane and affordable air travel, Taylor Swift fights against boyfriends.


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Me and History (Part 2) – Phil Turner: History is All Around Me

I am very happy to be able to get writers and bloggers, David Leonhardt and Phil Turner‘s, contribution for “Me and History” – They both talk about the light and dark sides of history, both of  referencing things that we see and experience every day which I have never fully appreciated before.

After last week’s discussion on how even weather has its own history, Phil Turner tells me about his own experience with history as a Briton living in Ireland, as well as the historical figures he admires.

Q. If I say the word “History”, what would come immediately to your mind?

A. Phil Turner (The 5 Currencies Guy)

I live in Ireland, where History is all around me in the form of broken down cottages whose owners were forced to emigrate and leave their homes behind. These cottages are now owner-less; nobody can improve them or knock them down.

It is the 100th anniversary of the failed 1916 Easter Rising this year, and you would think it had succeeded with all the hullabaloo about it.

The Irish tricolour brings back the history of the foundation of the Irish Republic – No blue or red of the British flag, orange and green to represent Protestants and Catholics united under one flag.

The political parties here in Ireland date back to the civil war of the 1920s when one party wanted to compromise with the British and the other wanted to hold out for a total victory. Sinn Fein is a recent addition to the political scene and has its power roots in Northern Ireland. The political agenda in Ireland has changed in the last 20 years and few people now want unification with Northern Ireland.

The drive for unification comes from some of the Northern Ireland political parties, but I suspect they are out of touch with their voters because I doubt if any sane voter in Northern Ireland would give up free health care and education for the mess that the Republic’s health and education systems are today.

Q. What is your favorite era to learn/read/find out more about in history? Can you tell my why that is?

A. Phil Turner (The 5 Currencies Guy)

My favourite era of history is the early 20th Century. There was a lot happening worldwide and in Britain and Ireland at that time.

As a Briton living in England, I was not taught anything of the British atrocities in Ireland. This part of history has been removed from the school curriculum until students specialise after age 16. Perhaps it is guilt that has made politicians of all parties adopt this policy of maintaining ignorance in the British population of the monstrosities that were carried out on their behalf. The ignorance even extends to the name of the Irish Republic, with many Britons calling it Southern Ireland, which existed in the late 1920s, but not since.

This period also includes the horrors of World War 1, where entire generations of men and boys from various towns were wiped out by the stupidity and bloody-mindedness of generals and politicians.  Thankfully even Hollywood has been unable to glorify the slaughter of 1914- 1918.

Irish men were encouraged to sign up for the British army and most never returned. A cynic would say they were encouraged in order to remove men of fighting-age from the Irish population, so the rest of the people would be more easily kept under the British thumb.

Q. Who is your favorite person from history? Can you tell me why?

A. Phil Turner (The 5 Currencies Guy)

Martin Luther King Junior is my favourite person from history.

He was one of the bravest people who ever lived and he began the changes in inter-racial attitudes that are still so poor in America.

I find his speeches to be some of the most powerful in terms of the message he was putting across as well as the motions he stirred. His body language while speaking is still a marvelous example of how one man can get his message across to a crowd of thousands. Check out his hand gestures and the crowd-dominating thumbs up gesture is there and plain to see.

It is amazing that his speeches are still quoted today, so many years later and that even foreigners like myself would recognise him in the street.

MLK ranks with Gandhi in my mind as someone who preached peaceful resistance to unreasonable laws. I have little respect for most politicians and leaders, but Martin Luther King Junior was an amazing man, a man out of his time and one whose message has outlived him.

That Martin Luthor King Junior was assassinated by a white man with a rifle reminds us that America’s gun laws have always been crazy.


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Me and History (Part 1) – David Leonhardt: Only Storytellers Should Teach History

Some time ago,  I conducted a group interview on how to make history interesting to learn . The interview was  very well received, and I personally learned a great deal. I therefore decided to expand my questions and give these creative, thoughtful experts a room to do what they do best: think, consider and write.

The first expert is David Leonhardt, an author and blogger, sharing with me his thoughts of history, especially how it impacts his work.

Q. If I say the word “history”, what would come immediately to your mind?

A. David Leonhardt (President, THGM Writers)

When I hear the word “history” I think of storytelling.  In fact, that’s what the word means.  Go back a couple centuries, and nobody was using the modern truncated “story” form of the word.

I am a storyteller.  When I blog, I am almost always recounting some story, rather than just listing the steps to follow to get some task done.  So I am a big fan of history.

I recently ghostwrote a non-fiction novel.  It’s not history in the sense that most people would think of it, but it was a series of events that happened, and that is history.  I blogged about the research tools I used to bring the story to life. One of those tools is Weather Underground’s weather hindcast tool. It is aptly named “Historical Weather”.

Weather has its own history, and it has played an immensely powerful role in human history.  It has been the decisive factor in many battles.  It has been the cause of the rise and fall of agriculture-based empires.  It has served as a portent to many decision-makers.

In the book I wrote, I used weather history to set the mood.

When the weather was dim and overcast, it set a sombre tone to the story.

When clouds kept the stars out of site, it helped confirm the hopelessness the protagonist felt.

When things were looking bleak, the sunny day was…not mentioned.  No, a good storyteller doesn’t tell the whole story.  I used historical weather only when it confirmed the emotions and the mood of the human history.  I left it out when it would have spoiled the mood. Weather as a metaphor for mood.

In that same novel, I included well-known historical events as points of reference for the readers. For example, including Hurricane Katrina and the attack on the Twin Towers gave readers a sense that this story is real, that it fits into history as they know it.  There are plenty of dates in the novel, but people remember the stories better than the dates.

What people seem to dislike most about history is remembering dates. Dates are only numerical markers of a timeline of events.  They are important for comparing multiple events, what happened first, what happened last.  But all those numbers spoil a good story.

Imagine Lord of the Rings full of dates.

Imagine The Firm full of dates.

Imagine 1984 full of dates.  OK, bad example.

History teachers are too often guilty of bogging down the story with dates.  Only storytellers should teach history.  The dates should be used only as a teaching aid, not as something to memorize.

NEXT WEEK: Me and History (Part 2) – Phil Turner: I Live in Ireland, where History is All Around Me


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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


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!

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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!”


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