Monday, October 30, 2017

The Many Different Categories of Divination, Witchcraft or Magic

(The Witch of Endor (cropped), by D. Martynov (1826-1889), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The idea of magic, or at least the belief that the future can be predicted through ritualistic, magical or religious means, has seemingly been in the minds of humans since the dawn of recorded history. When hunting witches was a craze in European society, two Papal Inquisitors named Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger described the abilities of the strongest witches in Part II, Question 1, Chapter 2 of their witch-hunter’s manual, The Malleus Maleficarum, which was published around 1487 CE. They wrote that the most talented witches had the ability to control weather. These top-tier supernatural magicians could supposedly summon strong storms of wind, lightning and hail, which they could aim directly at their enemies. They could also curse or hex both man and beast in various ways (such as infertility or death), and they also were said to have psychological powers that could instill madness in victims. They could also allegedly influence the speech of others, specifically by magically forcing any of their captured accomplices to keep silent when tortured by inquisitors.

Offensive magic and witchcraft, which seems to be the type of magic that authors and filmmakers like to portray most of all in their works, drew an unfair lot when compared to the carefully-crafted complex and grandiose names used to label the other categories of supernatural abilities—especially the field of divination, or the prediction of the future using supernatural or pseudoscientific means. Although the magical field of prediction gets a lot less coverage in the books and theater box-offices of the modern world, these prophetic practices were deemed very serious and important in the ancient, medieval and early colonial world. The great Roman orator and statesman, Cicero, wrote one of the most extensive ancient books on the subject, On Divination (De Divinatione). Furthermore, as a consequence of the human addiction to labeling and categorizing absolutely every little thing known to mankind, there is no shortage of overly-specific names for virtually each and every form of these supernatural crafts. Many of these fields fall under the broad category of sortilege, or predicting the future using tools of chance, such as cards. Yet, the broader terms for divination were broken down even further, spawning a whole host of new words, many of which end in “mancy.” For example, divination through the use of cards is called cartomancy. Most of these types of divination are discussed in Part I, Question 17 of The Malleus Maleficarum. Here are just a few of the endless subdivisions of divination that were popular in cultures based out of Europe or the Middle East:

Read about 20 more categories of divination, HERE.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

New Article: Love Killed The Norse God, Frey

(Gerd by W. G. Collingwood (c. 1908) and Frey from Journey Through Bookland (c. 1920) in front of sunburst through a cloudy sky via, all [Public Domain] via Creative Commons or

On a fateful day, Frey ascended to the top of Hlidskjalf, a watchtower near the center of Asgard. From his vantage point on the tower, the god of sun and rain looked to the north and saw an enormous, beautiful home that belonged to a family of mountain giants. The residence was magnificent, even by the standards set in Asgard. Either inside the house or absent from the property were the giants Gymir and Aurboda, yet their daughter, Gerd, was presently in front of the home, about to approach the door.

As soon as Frey laid his eyes on the young giantess, he was drawn to her grace and beauty. Yet, it was when Gerd lifted her arm to unlock her door the Frey became completely and utterly smitten. With awestruck eyes, Frey watched as his own rays of sunlight reflected against the delicate skin of Gerd’s raised arm, magnifying the radiance of the air, land and sea that lay around her home. She literally and figuratively brightened Frey’s world.

Continue reading about Frey's dooming sacrifice for love, HERE.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Biography: Artemisia I—An Impressive 5th-Century BCE Queen From Within The Persian Empire

(Sketch of Artemisia I by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the past, just like today, the majority of political and military leaders were men. In most (but not all) regions of the world, the prevalence of female leaders decreases as you go back further and further into history. As a sad result, it is common for historians to become extremely enthusiastic when they find even a single woman in a position of influence within a kingdom or empire in the ancient or medieval world. Sometimes, these female rulers earned their place in history by merely achieving and maintaining power, an impressive feat in a world dominated by men. Yet, a few women during this male-dominated period of early history truly proved themselves to be more cunning, courageous and politically competent than their male counterparts. One of these great female figures from ancient history was Artemisia I, a vassal, military leader and trusted advisor of the Persian King of Kings, Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE).

Continue reading about this impressive queen, HERE.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

New Article: John Skylitzes’ Scandalous Libel Against The 9th-Century Patriarch Of Constantinople, John VII “The Grammarian”

(Left: John the Grammarian, Center: Emperor Theophilos, Right: Pope Silvester II serving as a model for Skylitzes' portrayal of John the Grammarian, all Public Domain via Creative Commons)

Those who win victory can, and sometimes do, distort the memory of the factions that they triumphed over. This reality can be found in the Synopsis of Byzantine History by John Skylitzes, a historian who thrived during the reign of Emperor Alexios Komnenos (r. 1081-1118). In his synopsis of the history covering the reigns of emperors throughout the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, Skylitzes gave little-to-no sympathy to the proponents of Iconoclasm—a Christian movement that condemned the use of ‘icons,’ such as images and sculptures, claiming that the veneration of these items constituted idolatry. Empress Irene almost eradicated the movement in 787, but Iconoclasm recovered and was only defeated decades later, on the instigation of Empress Theodora in 843. John Skylitzes, despite writing centuries after the fall of Iconoclasm, apparently still held a grudge against the last Iconoclast Patriarch (religious leader) of Constantinople—John VII “the Grammarian.” In his history, Skylitzes accused John the Grammarian of almost every horror imaginable.

Continue reading about the bizarre alternative history that John Skylitzes wrote for Patriarch John VII, HERE.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

New Article: King Cleomenes I of Sparta—His Eventful Reign And His Odd Demise

(Greek Warrior kneeling with decladded sword - possibly Achilles, ca. 560 BC. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The co-kings of Sparta, Cleomenes I (of the Agiad royal house) and Demaratus (of the Eurypontid royal house), ruled in the opening years of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although Cleomenes and Demaratus were both kings of Sparta, they did not see eye to eye on how to lead their great city in the very tense time of Greek history in which they lived. While Cleomenes would usually get his way, Demaratus was able to thwart his co-monarch’s ambitions in several circumstances.

Cleomenes (r. 520-490 BCE) worked ruthlessly during his reign to make Sparta the most dominant and influential power in the Peloponnesus and to strengthen the Peloponnesian League against its rivals. While he did this, he kept his eye on events elsewhere in Greece, and often participated in the conflicts and powershifts occurring in other Greek cities and leagues.

Continue reading about Cleomenes I and his wartorn life, HERE.