Atlas Holding Up the Celestial Globe (1646) – Guercino

Atlas was the son of Iapetus and Clymene. He was the leader of the Titans in their battle against the Olympian Gods. The Titans were defeated and all but Atlas were confined to Tartarus, a section of the Underworld. Atlas’s punishment was to carry the sky upon his shoulders throughout eternity. During one of his 12 famous labors, the great hero Heracles took the burden from the shoulders of Atlas so that the Titan could fetch for him the golden apples of the Hesperides. When Atlas returned, Heracles tricked him into taking back the weight of the heavens.

The Birth of Minerva [Athena] (1688) – René-Antoine Houasse

Athena, often given the epithet Pallas, is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, strategic war, mathematics, strength, war strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Minerva is the Roman goddess identified with Athena.

There are many different stories about the birth and parentage of Athena. In the most familiar story, she sprang fully armed from the head of Zeus when Hephaestus split it open with an ax. Zeus had previously swallowed his consort, Metis, on learning that she would soon bear a child who would rule the gods.

The 18 Levels of Hell in Chinese Mythology

Buddhism and Taoism—the main religions of China—both have different interpretations of hell and how it is structured, but what they can both agree on is this: Sinners who accumulate bad karma during their lives have to atone for their sins after their death. Their souls are therefore taken into hell, a fiery place consisting of several layers, courts, or circles, each doling out a different punishment for specific sins.

A big difference between the Chinese hell and the concept of hell most known in Christianity is that in Chinese hell, souls are not necessarily condemned to eternal damnation. While broadly believed in Western culture that sinners have to suffer in hell until the second coming of Christ, the Chinese version of hell is more of a purgatory, where souls are able to eventually leave and be reincarnated back into the world once they have done their time.

  • Hell of Tongue-ripping, where those who gossip and spread trouble with their words will repeatedly have their tongues ripped out.
  • Hell of Scissors, where those who destroy someone else’s marriage will have their fingers repeatedly cut off.
  • Hell of Trees of Knives, where those who sow discord amongst family members will be repeatedly hung from trees made of sharp knives.
  • Hell of Mirrors of Retribution, where those who have managed to escape punishment for their crimes while alive will be repeatedly shown their true horrific selves.
  • Hell of Steamers, where hypocrites and troublemakers will repeatedly be steamed “alive.”
  • Hell of Copper Pillars, where arsonists will be repeatedly chained to red-hot pillars of copper.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Knives, where those who have killed for pleasure or without good reason will repeatedly be made to climb a mountain made of sharp blades sticking out of it.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Ice, where adulterers, deceivers of elders, and schemers will be repeatedly left out on a barren mountain of ice to freeze.
  • Hell of the Cauldrons of Oil, where rapists, thieves, abusers, and false accusers will be repeatedly fried in vats of boiling oil.
  • Hell of the Cattle Pit, where those who have abused animals will repeatedly be hurt by animals in turn.
  • Hell of the Crushing Boulder, where those who have abandoned or killed children will repeatedly be made to hold up heavy boulders, eventually being crushed by its weight.
  • Hell of Mortars and Pestles, where those who voluntarily waste food will repeatedly be force-fed hell fire by demons.
  • Hell of the Blood Pool, where those who disrespect others will be thrown in and submerged into a pool of blood.
  • Hell of the Wrongful Dead, where those who have commited suicide—considered deliberately going against the karmic course of the universe—will be force to repeatedly wander the realm without a way out, while being pelted constantly by the Winds of Sorrow and the Rains of Pain.
  • Hell of Dismemberment, where tomb raiders will have their bodies repeatedly be torn into pieces.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Fire, where thieves, robbers, and the corrupt will be repeatedly thrown into the fiery pits of an active volcano.
  • Hell of Mills, where those who have misused their power to oppress the weak will repeatedly be crushed in a stone mill.
  • Hell of Saws, where those who have engaged in unethical or unfair business practises, or exploited loopholes in the legal system, will be repeatedly sawn in half by demons with saws.

Prometheus as Counterculture Archetype

Everyone knows Prometheus stole fire from the gods on behalf of mankind. That’s all some people, especially youths, today need know to inspire them to adapt Prometheus as their icon, and to adapt the Greek deity’s name for their online monikers.

The actual Greek myth is a bit more complex. In a reductionist nutshell: Prometheus is a Greek god of Olympus, ruled by Zeus. He initiates animal sacrifices. One day during a sacrifice he sasses Zeus. He cuts up a bull and divides it into two parts: one containing the flesh and intestines wrapped up in the skin; and the other consisting of only bones and fat. Prometheus asks Zeus to choose his share; the rest is to be given to man. Zeus picks the bones and fat, making him bitter against Prometheus and against humankind. Zeus punishes the mortals by withholding from them the gift of fire. Prometheus steals it back. Then Prometheus—who is known to have the gift of foresight—further sasses the great god Zeus by predicting that one of Zeus’ children would one day dethrone him, but refusing to say which one. The enraged Zeus punishes Prometheus by binding him in steel chains to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains. There, every day for eternity, an eagle is sent to tear and eat Prometheus’ liver. Every night, the god Prometheus’ immortal liver renews itself so that he can be tortured again in the next day’s light.

Sources: Counterculture Through the Ages by Ken Goffman & Dan Joy

Asgard

The word Asgard comes from the Old Norse word Ásgarðr, meaning Enclosure of the Aesir. Asgard is one of the nine worlds in Norse Mythology, along with Niflheim, Muspelheim, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim. Asgard is the home of the Aesir, deities of one of two tribes of Norse gods. The other tribe, the Vanir, used to share Asgard but the two tribes fought a long, epic war over their differences and the Vanir were forced to leave Asgard. The two tribes did reach an eventual truce as they joined forces against their common enemy, the Giants.

Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda, wrote that Asgard was created by the gods after they created Jotunheim (Giantland), Midgard (Middle Earth or home of humanity), the seas, sky, clouds and the Earth. The home of the gods is said to be a giant fortress with walls reaching up into the clouds to protect them from their enemies, particularly the frost-giants.

Asgard is situated in the sky upon the plains of Idavoll, where the gods met to discuss important matters. It was connected to Midgard by a rainbow bridge called Bifrost. The mythical place was invisible and inaccessible to mortal men.

The ruler of the gods, Odin, had his throne in Asgard, in a hall called Valaskjalf. His throne was called Hlidskjalf and it is believed that when Odin sat on Hlidskjalf, he could see the whole of heaven and Earth and everything that happened anywhere! A hall made of pure gold was also situated in the home of the gods. It was called Gladsheim and housed the thrones of Odin and the 12 highest gods. The goddesses’ hall was called the Vingolf or hall of friendship. The gods and goddesses would meet every day and discuss the fate of world at the Well of Urd (destiny), from which the Yggdrasil (the tree connecting the nine worlds) grew.

Asgard also housed Valhalla (the hall of the fallen). Odin granted access to the worthy dead, the majority of whom were esteemed warriors. Here, he feasted and celebrated with the battle heroes. Valhalla was easily recognizable by its rafters formed of spears, and use of shields as roof tiles. According to certain sources, the doors of Valhalla were so wide that 800 warriors could walk through at the same time! A vast river, the Thund, and a barred gate, Valgrind, protected the entrances of Valhalla.

Ankh

One of the most recognizable ancient Egyptian symbols, the ankh, is one of the few vestiges to survive the decay of the old religions and still be in use today.

What Is the Ankh?

The ankh is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph or symbol known as the cross of life or key of life and dates back to the Early Dynastic period (3150 BC – 2613 BC). The symbol resembles a cross with a loop on the top. The ankh is seen in the hands of almost every deity, carried by the loop or with arms crossed and one in each hand. The symbol was found as far afield as Persia and Mesopotamia in dig sites and was said to connote both mortal existence as well as eternal life.

Origin

Various theories exist about the origin of the symbol, but popular opinion suggests the origin is unknown. In 1869, mythologist Thomas Inman believed the ankh was a sexual symbol, and Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge similarly thought it may symbolize the belt buckle of Isis or Tyet. The ceremonial girdle or Knot of Isis, was alleged to represent female genitalia and fertility. Egyptologist Alan Gardiner posited it represented a sandal strap, as the word sandal and ankh came from the same root word. His theory was further affirmed by the fact that the sandal was a part of daily life in Egypt and the ankh also represented life. In a more recent publication, The Quick and the Dead, the authors claim the ankh ties to ancient cattle culture.

Usage

The symbol was portrayed on amulets, with the Djed (meaning stability) or Was (meaning strength) – symbols which were said to provide the protection of the gods to the wearer. Ptah is also seen making offerings with these three symbols in images representing him. The ankh was associated with the purifying power of water. This was evident on numerous temples where the king was depicted with two gods pouring a stream of ankhs over his head to cleanse him.

Gods and kings are frequently depicted holding the ankh to show their immortality and command over life and death. For those that had passed into the afterlife, the symbol was carried when their souls were weighed or aboard the boat of the Sun God, indicating their desire for immortality like the gods. According to the Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, it also represents the spring of eternal life and divine virtues. When it was held by the loop, usually in funeral rites, it may have been perceived as the key to opening the gateway to the Fields of Aalu, the Egyptian version of the Elysium Fields. Chevalier and Gheerbrant further postulated that when the ankh was placed between the eyes, it symbolized the duty of the person to keep the mystery he was initiated into a secret.

Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom Period

In the Early Dynastic period, the symbol became popular through the rise of the cult of Isis and Osiris. Isis is seen holding the ankh more frequently than other deities. Since the cult of Isis promised immortality through personal resurrection, the symbol became imbued with greater meaning and potency.

During the Old Kingdom Period, the ankh was well known as a symbol of eternal life. The dead were called ankhu and the symbol appeared frequently on sarcophagi and caskets.

Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom Period

The word ’nkh became associated with mirrors, from the Middle Kingdom Period onward. The Egyptians believed mirrors were magical and used them in divination. An ankh-shaped gilded mirror was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Egyptians believed the afterlife was a perfect reflection of life on earth – a mirror image. During a particular festival, called the Festival of Lanterns, the Egyptians would light oil lamps to create a night sky of stars on earth to mirror the stars in the sky and the afterlife. When they did this, it was said to help them commune with the dead who had passed on the Fields of Aalu or Field of Reeds.

During the New Kingdom, the ankh was used in ceremonies and became associated with the cult of Amun. During the Amarna period, images of Aten the sun-disk often contained ankhs at the end of the sun’s rays.

Knot of Isis

The Tyet, or Knot of Isis, is very similar to the ankh. The arms of the cross are bent downward, differentiating the Knot of Isis from its counterpart, but it similarly means life or welfare. Sources claim the Tyet combines the concept of life and immortality with the knots which fasten mortal life to earth. To savor immortal life, the knot purportedly needs to be unraveled.

Modern Use

The symbol is used by modern Pagans as a symbol of faith, in healing and to promote psychic communication. It is viewed as a symbol of life by various new age religions. Thelemites, followers of the religion created by Aleister Crowley, also make use of the ankh as a union of opposites, a symbol of advancing one’s destiny or of divinity.

On Anubis

“Anubis was the guardian of all kinds of magical secrets. In the Papyrus Jumilhac, he appears as the leader of the armed followers of Horus. His ferocity is a match for the violence of Seth. In magical texts of a similar date, Anubis is named as ‘Lord of the Bau’. Whole battalions of messenger demons are under his command. In the magical papyri dating to Roman times, Anubis acts as the main enforcer of curses. The gracious deities of the cult temples are scarcely recognizable in the pitiless gods and goddesses encountered in everyday magic. (…) A story in Papyrus Jumilhac (c. 300 BC) explains the custom by relating how Seth once turned himself into a panther after attacking the body of Osiris. Anubis captured and branded the panther, creating the leopard’s spots. The jackal god decreed that leopard skins should be worn by priests in memory of his victory over Seth.”

~ Geraldine Pinch, Egyptologist

Aesir Gods

They are one of two clans of Norse gods, the other being the Vanir. The Aesir and Vanir were in conflict for quite some time, leading to the Aesir-Vanir war. Later on, however, they seemed to get along just fine and the Vanir were eventually considered to be a sub-group of the Aesir.

Therefore, depending on the time in which a specific myth is set, the word Aesir may refer to all Norse gods or only to the ones that began as Aesir.

In Norse mythology, there are nine world that various beings may inhabit. These worlds are held in the branches of the World Tree, also known as Yggdrasil. We humans live in Midgard, whereas the Aesir live in Asgard. The Vanir have their own world: Vanaheim.

Although they lived in a different world to humans, they actively ruled over the lives of men. Norse people would call on the different gods who represented specific aspects of life when they needed aid or blessing. There are many stories surrounding the Aesir, such as that of Odin the Allfather coming to Midgard. They would teach people lessons or otherwise influence what happened in Midgard.

The Aesir also acted in other worlds in Yggdrasil, such as Jotunheim, where the ice giants live. One of their most important duties is to keep the ice giants at bay, protecting the worlds from them.

Interestingly, although the Aesir are the principal gods of Norse mythology, they are not the creators of the cosmos. They are, however, the creators of mankind and the worlds within the cosmos.

In the beginning, there were two worlds: Muspelheim and Niflheim. Muspelheim was the realm of fire, while Niflheim was the realm of ice. Between them lay an empty void known as the Ginnungagap. The fire and ice met and filled the gap, and from this event, the first giant, Ymir, was formed. Ymir’s sweat produced further giants, who were the first beings in the cosmos. As the frost melted, the cow Audhumbla emerged to feed Ymir. The cow lived on the saltlicks in the ice. Her licking revealed Buri, the first Aesir, who had apparently been stuck in the ice.

Buri went on to marry a giant, Bestla, so his children Odin (who is the most famous), Vili and Ve were all half-giants. These three brothers decided to end Ymir’s life and, in a rather grisly development, used the various parts of his body to make the world. For example, his blood became the oceans, and the dome of his skull became the sky.

These gods then got around to creating us, the humans of Midgard. The first humans were a male and female pair with the names Ask and Embla. When they had finished jump-starting humanity, the gods decided to give humans their own world, a fenced-off region they named Midgard.

But why did they feel the need to slay Ymir? The most likely reason is that Ymir was a being of chaos, and the Aesir’s purpose is to bring order to the cosmos. That’s also the root of their main struggle with the ice giants, who want to destroy the world during Ragnarok, restoring the primordial chaos of the Ginnungagap.