Ginnungagap

Ginnungagap (“seeming emptiness”), in the cosmology of Norse mythology, is the primordial void separating Niflheim and Muspell, the land of eternal ice and snow and the land of eternal heat and flame.In the beginning, before the world of men and gods existed, the spring Hvergelmir, deep in the frozen wastes of Niflheim, gave rise to eleven rivers known as the Elivagar. Over a long period of time, water of the Elivagar ran across Niflheim and poured into the northern part of Ginnungagap. The water froze, forming vast sheets of ice in the void. Hot air from Muspell melted some of the ice, creating a zone of meltwater amid the ice and snow. Here life began, and the first living thing was a frost giant.

The Younger Futhark

The runic alphabet that was used during the Viking Age is called Younger Futhark. These runes can be found on hundreds of runestones throughout Scandinavia. This alphabet does not consist of many runes, and that is because the Norse language evolved a lot during the Iron Age, which meant that the runic alphabet was reduced from 24 to 16 runes.

Each rune has its own name and sound. Some of the runes are used to spell the same letter, for instance, the Týr rune is used for the letters “t” and “d”, and kaun is used for “g” and “k”. 

The names on this list of the Younger Futhark runes have been taken from the website of The National Museum in Copenhagen. The names of the runes may vary slightly depending on the language and on which runologist has conducted the research.

Heka & Akhu: Ancient Egyptian Magic

Heka (magic) was already at the heart of Egyptian beliefs by 4000 BCE. Creator deities such as Nu (the watery abyss) were said to have used heka to bring the world into existence from primordial chaos. In doing so, they subdued the forces of chaos, but the forces constantly sought to return and could only be stopped by heka. For the ancient Egyptians, it was not just the gods that handled magic. Lesser supernatural beings, pharaohs, and the dead were thought to possess an element of heka, which they could channel through the use of spells to deflect the attention of malevolent spirits.

The ancient Egyptians also believed in another form of magic power called akhu, which was malign and closely associated with beings of the underworld. To protect against akhu magical practitioners such as priests, scribes in the “Houses of Life”—which held the manuscript collections of Egyptian temples—sunu (doctors), and sau (amulet-makers) employed heka spells, rituals, and magical objects. Indeed, faith in heka was so widespread that ancient Egyptians used it in all aspects of life from matters of state to the delivery of oracles and more mundane village affairs, such as love matches, protection during childbirth, and curing minor illnesses. As well as being an abstract force, there was a god called Heka who personified magic. Heka helped ensure the harmony of the cosmos and acted as a conduit through whom worshippers could seek divine favors. He had a female counterpart, Weret-hekau (Great of Magic), who was depicted in the form of a cobra. It is thought that the snake-headed staffs often used by ancient Egyptian magicians may have represented her.

Sources: A History of Magic, Witchcraft and the Occult

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

“Beautiful are the Beauties of Aten, the Beautiful one has come”

Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this is still an ongoing debate.

Ecofeminism

French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term “ecofeminism” in 1974 for a new branch of feminism that focused on ecology, the study of the interactions between organisms and their environment. It holds that the domination and degradation of nature and the exploitation and oppression of women have significant connections.

Several environmental disasters in the US—most notably the 1979 near meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania—brought 600 women together in 1980 for “Women and Life on Earth,” the first ecofeminist conference. Held in Massachusetts during the spring equinox, the conference explored the links between feminism, militarization, healing, and ecology. Ecofeminism was defined as a “women-identified movement” that sees Earth’s devastation and the threat of nuclear annihilation as feminist concerns because they are underpinned by the same “masculinist mentality” that oppresses women. Ecofeminism holds that women have a special role to play in protecting the environment and campaigning against damage to the planet.

As ecofeminism developed, it began to splinter into different approaches, one of which is sometimes described as cultural ecofeminism. This strand is rooted in spirituality, goddess worship, and nature-based religions. Its adherents, including American writer and activist Starhawk (Miriam Simos), argue that women have an intrinsic kinship with the natural environment, and, as instinctive carers, should be at the forefront of its protection. Other feminists criticize this approach for reinforcing gender stereotypes, claiming women’s moral superiority, and taking little account of class, race, or the economic exploitation of resources.

Sources: The Feminism Book (DK)

La Voisin

In a darkened room stands a 40-year-old woman named Catherine Monvoisin. Her figure is lit only by torches held by the faceless men standing in front of her, men who are sentencing her to death by fire. It is the 17th century, where such a death sentence is an unusual ending to someone’s life. But Catherine is an unusual woman.

Catherine was the wife of a silk merchant and jeweler and lived a life of comfort in Parisian Society. She was a philanthropist, entrepreneur, fortune teller, mother, and art lover. But she was also a professional poisoner, alleged provider of sorceries, and an alleged witch who plunged the French aristocracy into turmoil, and even tried to kill a king.

She was more famously known as “La Voisin” and was a central figure in “L’affaire des Poisons” or the “Affair of the Poisons”. Catherine controlled a wide network of fortune-tellers from her position in Paris society. She provided poison, abortion, aphrodisiacs, arranged black masses, and even claimed to offer magical services.

She was so famous that she even drew clients from the aristocracy, who could afford to pay her high prices which funded her lavish lifestyle. Her organization, in performing commissioned black magic and murder by poison, took thousands of lives.

The claimed alchemist Adam Lesage, one of the lovers of Catherine, told of her murdering her own husband, an accusation she denied. It is believed that throughout her life, she might have been responsible for the deaths of around 2,500 infants due to her poisoning. However, throughout this time she remained a high-profile socialite, and her sheer charm made no one suspect her.

Sources: Bipin Dimri

Bezoars

Bezoars are a mass of undigested fiber formed in the stomach of animals, and were once believed to be an antidote to poison. They have been found in the guts of cows and even elephants, but mostly they come from the “bezoar goat.” Bezoars were first introduced into medieval Europe by Arab physicians. Although doubts were sometimes cast over their properties, the demand continued well into the 18th century.

Wealthy collectors spent considerable sums to acquire the best “stones,” which were kept in elaborate cases. According to A Compleat History of Druggs, first published in French in 1694, the medicinal strength of the bezoar depended on the animal that produced it. “Bezoar Stones taken from Cows,” for instance, “have nothing near the good Qualities” of the true bezoar goat. On the other hand, a mere two grains of “the Bezoar that is found in Apes” will have a far greater effect than that of a mere goat.

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