Friday, March 7, 2008

Ode to a Bluestocking

'Back in the day' - which is to say, back in the late 17th to early part of the 18th century CE and beyond (even today, in some circles, unfortunately), being a "bluestocking" was an epitaph put on a woman who was book-smart and learned. It was akin to the dreaded Curse of Death! Totally Unfashionable. A woman who demonstrated her intelligence to - anyone - was ananthema! It rendered her unmarriageable! GASP! Not just a pretty face 'The bluestocking is the most odious character in society,' wrote Hazlitt. Yet circles of intellectual women used friendship, patronage and a talent for PR to overcome ridicule and subvert the restrictions placed on them. Amanda Vickery looks at how their achievements were celebrated in art Saturday March 8, 2008 The Guardian Who'd be a bluestocking? How many women would relish a title so redolent of the schoolmistress and the librarian? It takes a confident smarty-pants to wrap herself in such a swotty, sexless mantle. But blue stockings were once a badge of honour. A new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery wants to rescue bluestocking culture from the condescension of posterity, restoring the glamour and cultural prestige that a group of well-favoured "brilliant women" once enjoyed. Brilliant Women is the brainchild of two modern bluestockings, the literary scholar Elizabeth Eger and the curator Lucy Peltz. Eger is unashamed of the title, rejecting its bookish and dowdy connotations, and instead seeing the bluestocking brand as having "a countercultural edge" invoking "a tradition of feminist pioneers". Peltz, meanwhile, feels that her freedom "as an intellectual woman working in the cultural sector" is itself in part a legacy of the bluestocking achievement. The bluestocking circle who assembled in the London homes of literary hostesses such as Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Boscawen and Elizabeth Vesey in the 1750s form the nucleus of the exhibition. However, the famous blue stockings belonged, in fact, to a man, the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet, and the conversation parties were not confined to women. Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson and the actor David Garrick all put in appearances. At first, all the party-goers were nicknamed blues, but from the 1770s, the "bluestocking" tag was applied to the women members in particular. By the time of Montagu's death in 1800, any female intellectual might be labelled a bluestocking, whether or not she could claim a link to the original circle. By the 1800s, bluestocking had found its way into five European languages: French, German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish. The word had developed a life of its own. The exhibition celebrates the early bluestockings at least as much for their creation of an intellectual community - almost an informal university - as for their individual literary and artistic achievements. In fact, the supreme architect of bluestocking society, Montagu, "Queen of the Blues", is more remarkable for her staggering wealth, palatial houses, orchestration of parties and active patronage of struggling authors than for her literary criticism. To grasp the significance of bluestocking culture, however, we have to consider what Montagu and her set were reacting against. Nice Georgian girls were not clever, scholarly or witty, just equipped with enough light information to entertain a husband on a dull evening - displaying only "a general tincture of knowledge as to make them agreeable to a man of sense", as the poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld sneered. Anything more impressive exposed women to ridicule, even ostracism, and was a grotesque handicap on the marriage market. Dr John Gregory warned his daughters to keep any learning "a profound secret, especially from men". Georgian women laboured under crippling disadvantages. The universities, the medical schools, the military, the church and the bar were all closed to them. All the institutions of the state were monopolised by men. Women could not be MPs or JPs, judges or jurors. On marriage, a woman gave up her separate legal rights, and her individuality was obliterated in common law. All property passed to her husband, and she could make no will. A man could divorce a wife for adultery and sue his wife's lover for trespass on his property, but adultery alone was not sufficient grounds for a wife, who had to bring supporting evidence of life-threatening cruelty or bestiality as well. Male superiority and female inferiority was written into the DNA of institutional and cultural life. The bluestockings realised that they had not been dealt the best hand. Intelligent women complained of a ludicrous conversational apartheid. "As if the two sexes had been in a state of war, the gentlemen ranged themselves on one side of the room, where they talked their own talk, and left us poor ladies to our shuttles," Elizabeth Carter sniffed. The men were holding forth about old English poets, a subject that "did not seem so much beyond a female capacity, but that we might have been indulged with a share of it". Carter was a dazzling linguist, mistress of Portuguese and Arabic among several other tongues, and creator of the standard translation of the Greek philosopher Epictetus, so she would hardly have been out her depth with a little poetry. From the heart of high society, the bluestocking hostesses set about outflanking ancient strictures, making female learning look elegant and managing to paint the attacks on their intelligence as gothic and absurd. Montagu's colossal wealth was key to her social success - she was probably the richest woman in England, a clever industrialist and heir to her husband's mighty coal fortune - as was her gregariousness. Nicknamed Fidget in her youth for her restless energy, Montagu considered herself "a Critick, a Coal owner, a Land Steward, a sociable creature". She turned her glittering coal wealth into cultural capital. Staging lavish entertainments in London in the season was par for the aristocratic course, but Montagu departed from convention in fostering serious conversation. The chairs were arranged in a semi-circle like a modern seminar or reading group, merging the scholarly and the sociable, men as well as women. And voilà, here was Britain's answer to the Parisian salon. The guests gathered to discuss their reading, sustained only by tea and glasses of almond cordial, with Montagu directing a communal conversation from the centre. Even the carpet at Hill Street, designed by Robert Adam, had circular motifs calculated to reinforce the arrangement of the guests. Vesey's salons were more informal and convivial. "Her fears were so great of the horror of a circle, from the ceremony and awe which it produced," said the novelist Fanny Burney, "that she pushed all the small sofas, as well as the chairs, pell-mell about the apartments, so as not to leave even a zigzag of communication free from impediment." Then again, Boscawen's assemblies were believed especially harmonious, a reflection of the sweetness of her sensibility. The leading minds of the day were lured into a feminine realm and civilising environment. The salons were also a launch pad for public success, particularly in publishing. They offered a "bluestocking college", where the bluestocking philosophers could display their vivacious learning, but also make contacts and find patrons. A canny businesswoman, Montagu negotiated with booksellers and publishers on behalf of the writers she favoured, and even set up annuities to fellow authors Carter, Hester Chapone and her sister Sarah Fielding. The exhibition argues that the bluestockings used their friendships and patronage to resist or subvert the limits placed on women by convention. They opened up a space for women to succeed in the cultural marketplace. "Who would not be a bluestocking at this rate?" wrote Burney in her diary in 1780. Rest of article.

Reykjavik Open 2008

Standings after Round 5/89 players (women’s results only): 9 IM Gaponenko Inna UKR 2422 3,5 16 IM Arakhamia-Grant Ketevan SCO 2457 3,5 21 IM Paehtz Elisabeth GER 2420 3,0 22 IM Tania Sachdev IND 2417 3,0 27 GM Stefanova Antoaneta BUL 2464 3,0 49 IM Zozulia Anna BEL 2344 2,5 52 IM Jackova Jana CZE 2375 2,5 55 WFM Limontaite Simona LTU 2152 2,0 61 WIM Nemcova Katerina CZE 2342 2,0 62 WIM Hagesaether Ellen NOR 2234 2,0 64 IM Vasilevich Tatjana UKR 2370 2,0 69 Frank-Nielsen Marie DEN 1969 2,0 79 Kristinardottir Elsa Maria ISL 1721 1,5 82 Almer Julia SWE 1914 1,0 84 WFM Steil-Antoni Fiona LUX 2122 1,0 87 WGM Sanchez Castillo Sarai VEN 2312 1,0

Friday Night Miscellany

Ohmygodess - it is SO cold outside I can't stand it. It should be in the 30's and even low 40's this time of year - and it's zero with the windchill. And more snow is on the way! Nearly froze my hands off again tonight walking home the mile from the supermarket carrying two bags of groceries. What wouldn't I give right now to be sleeping comfortably with my windows open, a balmy breeze caressing my face while I sleep and the birds chirping me awake at 5:30 a.m. Sigh. This month is Women's History Month, which is nice but doesn't mean I'm going to be featuring women at the blog, because I already do that! However, to pay honor to the sentiment and in honor of the ladies -- Tonight I bought a box of Girl Scout cookies from the young ladies (future women) selling them in the cold outer hallway at the Pick and Save - since the drive is already over these must be left-overs, but it's for a good cause and the racoons love the peanut butter sandwiches :) Talk about inflation - one box now costs $3.50! Not so long ago they were $1.00 a box! I saw over at Susan Polgar's blog that she was a honoree by the City of New York this month, receiving a Women in History award along with several other women of note. Congratulations to the Grandmaster. There are several very nice photographs from the event posted at her blog, check it out. A rare early photograph of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan has surfaced nearly 120 years after it was taken at Cape Cod where the Keller family was vacationing. An interesting story and, I have to say, Helen was a lovely young girl and Ms. Sullivan was attractive too. How on earth did they get all of those curls??? About 6 weeks ago the movie "The Miracle Worker" with a young Patty Duke as Helen and Ann Bancroft as Annie Sullivan played on the local PBS Saturday Night Movie - an excellent film and it's no wonder it and it's actors won so many academy awards! Here's to the ladies who worked tirelessly to advance the rights of those who cannot hear, speak or see. In honor of the Goddess: The Temple of Athena, constructed between 540-530 B.C., situated within the border of the ancient Aegean city of Assos in Çanakkale's Ayvacık district (Turkey), will be the subject of a three-year restoration project starting in July. Politics as usual: One woman is used to bash another woman in the press - and then is martyred for the cause of a man. What's new? Stupid, stupid, stupid. The Last Empress of China: More politics - but much more entertaining that the kind we play here in the U.S. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Kumari (Living Goddess) is Retiring

From USA Today 'Living goddess' of Nepal retires March 4, 2008 KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An 11-year-old girl revered as a living goddess in Nepal has retired early less than a year after she sparked controversy by breaking tradition and traveling overseas, officials said Monday. Sajani Shakya was considered among the top three of Nepal's several "kumaris," or living goddesses. Jaiprasad Regmi, chief of the government trust that manages the affairs of the living goddesses, said Sajani is to be replaced because she had "come of age" and said the decision had nothing to do with last year's row. "We have begun the process of searching for a new kumari," he said. Sajani was temporarily stripped of her revered status last July when she traveled to the United States to promote a documentary about Nepal's centuries-old tradition of living goddesses. Officials removed her title while she was overseas because of tradition that living goddesses do not leave the homeland. Popular support for Sajani apparently forced officials to reverse the decision and reinstate her. On return to Nepal, Sajani was met by hundreds of her supporters and followers who took her to the temple where she is worshipped and held a brief ceremony to welcome her back. Selected as toddlers, living goddesses usually keep their positions until they reach puberty, meaning that Sajani, at age 11, is retiring slightly early. Sajani's family wanted her to take part in another ritual performed for all girls of the Newar ethnic community, to which she belongs, Regmi said. She could not take part in the ceremony while still continuing as the living goddess. Living goddesses are worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. The girls are selected between the ages of 2 and 4 after going through several tests. They are required to have perfect skin, hair, eyes and teeth, should not have scars and should not be afraid of the dark. Devotees touch the girls' feet with their foreheads, the highest sign of respect among Hindus in Nepal. During religious festivals the girls are wheeled around on a chariot pulled by devotees. Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Oriental Institute (Chicago) to Host Conference

From the University of Chicago Chronicle March 6, 2008 Vol. 27 No. 11 Scholars will explore conflicts between tribal, national allegiances By William Harms News Office Since ancient times, the role of tribes in the Middle East has been a source of misunderstanding. “We need to better appreciate the role of tribes and the loyalty people feel toward them,” said Jeffrey Szuchman, a post-doctoral fellow at the Oriental Institute. People in the Middle East frequently have mixed allegiances between their tribal and national identities, and the conflict can undermine their concept of legitimacy of the modern states, he said. The conflict between state authority and tribal allegiance has long been a source of strain. Scholars have frequently misunderstood the role tribes played and had to rely on limited information. In order to move that scholarship in a new direction, Szuchman has organized a conference, “Nomads, Tribes, and the State in the Ancient Near East: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives,” to be held Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8. The conference is free and open to the campus community. More information is available at The conference will bring together an international group of archaeologists, socio-cultural anthropologists and historians from the Oriental Institute and other universities to apply the diverse techniques of their various fields and various regions of the Near East to the study of tribes and nomadic groups. “By focusing on the social and political context of nomadism in the ancient Near East, this conference does an extremely valuable thing: It pushes us to reexamine some of the most basic theoretical categories that we use in trying to understand the organization of ancient state societies,” said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. “Once you add nomads into the equation as either rivals of the state, or as an organizing element of the state itself, then this can completely transform our understanding of how these societies developed and changed over time.” Experts on the topic from the Oriental Institute are Robert Ritner, Professor in Near Eastern Languages & Civilization and the College, and research associates Abbas Alizadeh and Donald Whitcomb. Research on the topic has been limited by biases about nomads and tribal people, which was reflected in written texts authored by urban elites. Additionally, archaeologists have had difficulty constructing a record of peoples who moved frequently. “All these problems pose obstacles to reconstructing the complex dynamics of tribe-state interactions in antiquity. This conference brings together a diverse group of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists to explore new ways of approaching the study of nomadic populations and encounters between tribes and states,” Szuchman said. The conference papers will be published in a volume in the Oriental Institute Seminar Series. Publication of the proceedings of the conference is made possible through the Arthur and Lee Herbst Research Fund.

Pottery from Acre Shows Distant Trade Connections

Public release date: 4-Mar-2008
Photo credit: Howard Smithline, Israel Antiquities

Evidence of commerce between ancient Israel and China

Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries - during the time of the Crusades –ceramic vessels reached Acre from: Mediterranean regions, the Levant, Europe, North Africa, and even China – reveals new research, which examined trade of ceramic vessels, conducted at the University of Haifa.

This research, conducted by Dr. Edna Stern under the direction of Prof. Michal Artzy and Dr. Adrian Boasz, examined pottery found during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority of Crusader period Acre and pottery found in shipwrecks around the Mediterranean coast. According to Dr. Stern, during these centuries, Acre – in addition to being the gateway for Christian pilgrims into the Land of Israel, was one of the busiest commercial ports in the Latin East that had commercial links to Europe, the Islamic world and the Byzantine Empire.

The study found that the majority of the ceramic wares that were imported to Acre included glazed tableware, predominantly bowls and plates. Other vessel forms that arrived in smaller numbers include containers, jars, bowls and cooking wares. 44.5% of imports arrived from the Mediterranean regions of Cyprus, Greece and Asia Minor. There were also strong commercial links with the neighbors in Syria and Lebanon where 29.3% of the imports arrived from. Western Mediterranean regions– such as France, Catalonia and Tunisia, were the source of some 3.3% of ceramic vessels and even Chinese pottery arrived in Acre - 0.2% of the imported pottery arrived from China.

According to Dr. Stern, in contrast to the notion that ceramic wares were imported to Acre and surrounding ports as luxury items, the findings of her study revealed exactly the opposite. “Pottery that arrived in Acre, and other sites around the Mediterranean Sea, did not arrive because of their high value, rather it seems that they were imported by commercial shipping companies for the long and medium term as secondary items as ‘space fillers' for the more expensive items that were shipped,” she concluded.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Witch's Hat

I thought this interesting, from Barbara Walker's "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myth and Secrets," page 44, paperback edition: Apex Pointed conical cap worn by the Roman high priest, Flamen Dialis. When outdoors, he must always have the apex on his head.(1) It was a phallic symbol representing his continual union with the Queen of Heaven. It has been shown that "In the symbolism of dreams and of myths the hat is usually the phallus."(2) The Flamen's wife, the Flaminica, represented the Goddess. She was the more important dignitary of the two. If his marriage was terminated by her death, the Flamen immediately lost his sacred office and reverted to a private citizen. Such customs show that the powers of priests "in Rome as elsewhere, derived in the first instance from an older priesthood of magical women."(3) The same conical cap belonged to the Lord of the Underworld in Celtiberian pagan imagery. He was Helman: a man belonging to the Goddess Hel.(4) Sometimes he was said to be the god Frey, consort of Hel's heavely or lunar aspect, Freya.(5) The same conical cap evolved into the traditional headdress of sorcerers and witches; the Fool's Cap (or Dunce Cap) worn by the Carnival King; the bishop's miter; the pope's tiara; and before them all, the conical crown of Egyptian pharaohs, emblem of the king's union with the Sky-goddess. To the present day, the conical witch-hat is worn by tantric priests and sourcers in Tibet.(6) Notes: (1) Rose, 209. (2) Silberer, 87. (3) Briffault 3, 20-21. (4) Knight, D.W.P., 73. (5) H.R.E. Davidson, P.S., 134. (6) Waddell, 483. **************************************************************************** This information reminded me of something I'd read in "The Mummies of Urumchi" by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. From Subeshi (in the Turfan Basin, to the southeast of Turfan) a woman's mummy was recovered dating to the mid 1st millennium BCE. Among other accoutrements, "she wore a copious woolen skirt stripped horizontally in shades of red, yellow, and brown, with a dark felt hat rising high above her to two conical peaks like a twin-steepled church." (Pages 198-199) Another female body excavated also wore "a terrifically tall, conical hat just like those we depict on witches riding broomsticks at Halloween or on medieval wizards intent at their magical spells. "And that resemblance, strange to say, may be no accident. Our witches and wizards got their tall, pointy hats from just where we also got the words magician and magic, namely, Persia. The Persian or Iranian word magus (cognate with English might, mighty) denoted a priest or sage, of the Zoroastrian religion in particular. ... Magi distinguished themselves with high hats; ... In the conical hats of Subeshi we have yet more evidence sugesting Iranians in the area. But at this date, late in the first millennium BCE, their presence is nt surprising, since soon afterward we begin to get inscriptions along the south side of the Tarim Basis, some written in a provably Iranian dialect. "In addition to first drawing international attention to the unexpectedly western mummies in Urumchi, Victor Mair also surprised Orientalist circles by demonstrating that the Old Chinese word *m(y)ag(2) must come from the same source as magic: Persian magus. Ancient Chinese *m(y)ag denoted powerful individuals at the Chinese courts who, according to Mair's researches, 'were primarily responsible for divination, astrology prayer, and healing with medicines' - pretty much the same list of specialities that the magi had. Futhermore, the Chinese references to and representations of such round-eyed Western 'magicians' considerably antedate the Subeshi conical hats of the first millennium BCE. Some go back even to the Shang Dynasty (1500-1100 BCE)". (Pages 200-202) Interestingly, according to Wiki Classical Dictionary, the Apex (conical white hat) was "made out of the hide of a sacrificed animal, and having an olive branch and woolen thread at the top."

Reykjavik 2008 Open

Standings after Round 3, 88 players (women only): Official website 3 IM Gaponenko Inna UKR 2422 3,0 4 IM Paehtz Elisabeth GER 2420 2,5 5 IM Tania Sachdev IND 2417 2,5 22 GM Stefanova Antoaneta BUL 2464 2,0 32 IM Arakhamia-Grant Ketevan SCO 2457 2,0 37 WIM Nemcova Katerina CZE 2342 2,0 39 IM Vasilevich Tatjana UKR 2370 2,0 49 IM Zozulia Anna BEL 2344 1,5 55 WFM Limontaite Simona LTU 2152 1,5 63 WIM Hagesaether Ellen NOR 2234 1,0 70 Almer Julia SWE 1914 1,0 74 WFM Steil-Antoni Fiona LUX 2122 1,0 77 WGM Sanchez Castillo Sarai VEN 2312 0,5 79 WIM Andersson Christin SWE 2194 0,5 84 IM Jackova Jana CZE 2375 0,5 85 Frank-Nielsen Marie DEN 1969 0,5

Egyptian Souvenirs! Made in China

From American Public Media/Marketplace March 5, 2008 Scott Jagow: Today, we begin at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. It's the oldest, most famous marketplace in Cairo. On this narrow cobblestone street, you'll see and hear the Middle East tourism economy at work. A line of tour buses stretches out from the market. The visitors speak English, Japanese, French, German. They come in droves to get souvenirs, spices, even gold. But you better know what you're buying. Your ancient Egyptian artifacts might just be made in . . . well, take a listen: Merchant: Very cheap price here. We got something like water pipe for 80 pound, 50 pound. We got a like, permit for 20 pound . . . Jagow: Trust me: You won't get away with "Just browsing, thanks" at the Khan al-Khalili. From the moment you set foot in these shops, you will be accosted. Another Merchant: Uh, how can I take your money? Jagow: Well, at least that's honest. I met one seller named Hanuy, who revealed the not-so-honest secret to his business: Hanuy: Our item, right now it's 80 percent from China. Jagow: Eighty percent of your . . . Hanuy: Eighty percent from China. American people buy the China things, because you can have the same one for less than half price. It's very hard to buy item right now and you don't find "Made in China." Jagow: I have to say I found this depressing. I moved on to another merchant named Abdullah, and picked up one of the little statues he was selling. Jagow: Now, was this made in Egypt? Abdullah: Ya, this made in Egypt, yes. Jagow: Where in Egypt? Abdullah: You know, we have many small factories, and this is early, I make . . . they make littlest statues like this one. Jagow: So why does it say "Made in China" on the bottom? Abdullah: No, they are . . . this is some stickers because no make it something for our government too much money. Understand? Jagow: No I don't. It says "Made in China." This was made in China, and you're telling me it was made in Egypt. Abdullah: No no no, this made in . . . Jagow: I got you. Is that true? I got you. Abdullah: Hahah. Ya, ya. This made in China, yes. In China. Jagow: You guys are unbelievable! Jagow: Oi. The last thing I wanted to take home from Egypt was a replica of the pyramids made near the Great Wall. So I found a guy who swore everything he was selling was made in Egypt. I asked Ahmed how he could compete with the cheap imports. He insisted his stuff was better. Ahmed: Is not quality this plastic, not a stone. Check this quality . . . stronger quality. Jagow: I decided Ahmed was my guy. So, it was time to negotiate. If you accept the first price they offer, you're missing half the fun. Ahmed: You're friend, OK? You work in Egypt. I want to make a good deal for that one. Jagow: How much? Ahmed: A hundred twenty pound for all . . . Jagow: How about 60? Ahmed: OK, 70. Don't worry, no problem -- 70 Egyptian. Jagow: All right. Deal! Jagow: Seventy pounds -- about $12. I could get used to doing business this way. I don't know if I really wanted a stone paperweight with hieroglyphics on it, but at least it's not plastic.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Cult of Attis

From Archaeology Magazine online

Images: An Augustan-era fresco, left, in Rome depicts a chair with details similar to one recently found in Herculaneum, below. (Courtesy Soprintendenza archeologica di Pompei)

Cult Chair
Volume 61 Number 2, March/April 2008
by Jarrett A. Lobell

Archaeologists have unearthed a wealth of information on the ancient villas of the Bay of Naples, but they know almost nothing about the furniture that filled the sumptuously decorated homes. Most pieces were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Now excavators working in Herculaneum, near the famous Villa of the Papyri, have uncovered parts of a remarkable chair.

Made of wood and ivory, the chair is the first of its type ever found. Although fragmentary, its decorations depict scenes of the cult of Attis, a Near Eastern deity who was driven mad by the goddess Cybele and castrated himself, only to be reborn as a pine tree. On the chair are scenes of a pine tree with offerings at its base, Dionysos leaning on a pine, and a satyr with a pine, as well as cupids playing cymbals. The images allude to the celebration of the death and rebirth of Attis, who was introduced to the Romans under the reign of the emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41-54).

© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of
What are the odds these chairs are related to the much earlier chairs/goddess thrones that I posted about:

And then, there is the connection to the goddess Cybele, with the Attis/Cyble redux of the earlier Osiris/Isis and Damuzi/Inanna legends. There is also the connection of the goddess to the tree (sacred tree, sacred poles, sacred groves, for instance) in the forms of Hathor, Asherah and Inanna - iconography that dates back (working from memory, don't have my notes or prior posts in front of me!) about 5,500 years. What is the symbol of the pine tree, except the "delta" of the goddess depicted upside down? Take a look at the goat/ibex leaping to eat the leaves of the "trees" on the earlier post tonight. Aren't those nothing but "upside down" pine trees?

Attis being "reborn" in the form of a pine tree is, I think, a metaphor for the eternal union of the male and female goddesses who, through their union, create something greater than either.

Goddess Murkum

CHTHO's Cultural Blunder and Documentary Production on World’s Oldest Animation (Check out the graphic at the link - it shows the "animation" spoken of in the article and it's really cool) March 4, 2008 LONDON, (CAIS) -- The Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) announced on Monday that it has recently completed the production of a documentary about the ancient Iranian earthenware bowl bearing the world’s oldest example of animation. Directed by Mohsen Ramezani, the 11-minute film gives viewers an introduction to the bowl, which was discovered in a grave at the 5200-year-old Burnt City by an Italian archaeological team in late 1970s. The artefact bears five images depicting a wild goat jumping up to eat the leaves of a tree, which the members of the team at that time had not recognised the relationship between the pictures. Several years later, Iranian archaeologist Dr Mansur Sadjadi, who became later appointed as the new director of the archaeological team working at the Burnt City discovered that the pictures formed a related series. Nonetheless, according to English daily Mehr, during a ceremony held on Sunday to promote the production, CHTHO's cultural authorities claimed the image is a depiction of ‘Assyrian Tree of Life’: “the earthenware bowl, which is wrongly known as ‘The Burnt City’s goat’, depicts the myth of ‘The Assyrian Tree of Life’ and a goat.” Depiction of ‘The Assyrian Tree of Life’ on this bowl which was made at least 1000 years before the Assyrian civilisation even appear in historical records is one of the most preposterous claims by the new-breed of experts in post-revolutionary Iran. The image is a simple depiction of a tree and wild-goat (Capra aegagrus) also known as 'Persian desert Ibex', and since it is an indigenous animal to the region, it would naturally appear in the iconography of the Burnt City. The wild goat motif can be seen on Iranian pottery dating back to the 4th millennium BCE, as well as jewellery pieces especially among Cassite tribes of ancient Luristan. However, the oldest wild goat representation in Iran was discovered in Negaran Valley in Sardast region, 37 kilometers from Nahok village near Saravan back in 1999. The engraved painting of wild goat is part of an important collection of lithoglyphs dating back to 8000 BCE. However, wild goat representation with a tree is associated with Murkum, a mother goddess who was worshipped by all the Indo-Iranian women of the Haramosh valley in modern Pakistan, [emphasis added] which culturally had closer ties with Indus and subsequently the Burnt City civilisations, than Mesopotamia, which could had influenced the ancient potter who made this unique piece. *********************************************************************************** I found this information online about the Goddess Murkum, at, citing: Porada, Edith [With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson]. The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic Cultures. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. Art of the World. 1962. Chapter 4 The Art of the Akkad and Post-Akkad Periods in Western Iran; Contemporary Art Works of North-Eastern Iran . . . Of the rich metal finds from Hissar III we reproduce [p. 43] here only a drawing of a moufflon head, one of five, made of gold foil and intended to be sewn on to some sort of textile. These precious objects were part of a hoard buried at the end of Hissar III, probably shortly before the site was attacked and destroyed by fire. [12] The powerful sweep of the horns, the eyes staring out of the head, suggest a more than decorative significance for this object. One would like to know whether there was any connection between the frequent representations of moufflon and ibex on the one hand and of female figurines on the other. Tentatively we may suggest here that attention to be focused on some rites and concepts which Karl Jettmar was able to observe in villages of Dardistan, situated in north-western India, where 'the three most eminent mountain chains of Asia meet--the Hindukush, Himalaya and Karakoram. Most of this area is inhabited by Indo-Aryan or Iranian peoples'. [13] In the remote valleys of this region ancient religious traditions maintained themselves without interference by the Muhammadan zealots who had destroyed such traditions in neighbouring Kafiristan. Only the wood carvings of Kafiristan still manifest today a similarly tenacious retention of ancient traditions [see p. 18]. The most interesting tradition of Dardistan concerns the cult of a goddess Murkum who was worshipped by all the women of the Haramosh valley. 'She helped in delivery and protected mother and child; yet she was also the chief owner of all ibexes and wild goats denoted by the collective term of mayaro. Therefore she was venerated by hunters, too, who brought her horns'. [14] Jettmar describes a sanctuary of Murkum, which was still in use, as lying almost three thousand metres above sea-level just in front of the Haramosh; this was 'no accident as the mountain was considered the proper home of the Murkum. On the steep slope there is an altar built of boulders dominated by a cliff as big as a house with a juniper tree growing beside it. Next to it is a spring. Below the altar crude benches of stone were erected for the annual meeting of the women. Nut-trees grow between them. Even they are considered holy and no branches were ever broken off.' In the rites performed at the annual meeting of the women at the sanctuary, the goddess was to send the sacrifice, a she-ibex. A male priest is said to have participated in the ceremony by performing a dance and by killing the ibex and dividing it up. The ministry of this priest 'is now abolished but women anxious about the welfare of their families still come to the altar table and put leaves of juniper between the boulders.' Similar concepts concerning a deity, 'owner-goddess of the animals', also prevailed in some districts of the Caucasus. There, as in the Haramosh valley, a hunter can capture his prey only with her consent. Sometimes the goddess appears in the shape of a "pure" animal. The precise idea that a slaughtered animal may be revived from its bones occurs in both areas. Even the detail that a missing bone can be replaced by a rod is identical. Here, as there, the belief is connected with wild goats and this must be a very old affinity, because Thor, the Germanic god, plays the same trick on his bucks. 'Today there is a vast empty distance between the two centres, the Caucasus and the Hindukush/Karakoram, but once perhaps similar beliefs existed on the Iranian plateau and were destroyed in the course of the violent history of this area.' The possibility here suggested of using the complex of ideas discovered in Dardistan and known from the Caucasus for the interpretation of early works of art from Iran is very tempting but must unfortunately remain a hypothesis without documentary proof. [p. 44] Notes: 12. For the hoard on the Treasure Hill where these ornaments were found, see E. R. Schmidt, Excavations at Tepe Hissar Damghan [The University Museum, Philadelphia, 1937], pp. 171-173 and 189. 13. See K. Jettmar, 'Ethnological Research in Dardistan 1958; Preliminary Report,' Proceedings of the American Philosohical Society 105 [February 1961], p. 79. 14. See Jettmar, op. cit. in note IV/13, pp. 88-91 for this and the following quotations. In note 58 he pointed out that at some places the urial, the wild sheep, is also included in the 'mayaro'. ************************************************************************************ "Owner goddess of animals" - isn't that a title for Artemis? Of course, the most ancient goddess was known by many different names and encompassed many different attributes, and as the eons passed and populations grew and moved about the world, she changed as she was carried from place to place; she took on new names, and new attributes.

Monday, March 3, 2008

White Albino Squirrel Captured on Film


From the
Hemlington & Colby Newham [I just love those British place names]
White albino squirrel captured by Hemlington photographer
Posted by Fiona - Administrator on March 3, 2008 2:07 PM

NO you’re not going nuts - it really is a white squirrel.

The cute looking albino animal was spotted by Gazette reader Darren Clark.

White albino squirrels are a rare sight, but Darren was lucky enough to see this one looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at Pinchinthorpe Woods near Guisborough.

Amateur photographer Darren, 36, of Hemlington, said: “It was just sat in a field. We thought it was a weasel or something else at first. Then when we followed it, it was straight up a tree.

“We spent about two hours trying to get a picture of it. I was quite surprised. It’s the first one I have ever seen. I’ve never heard of them before.”

Darren, who works as a geologist, added: “I do a lot of wildlife photography anyway.

“It was nice to see something different. It is the rarest thing I have seen. Everyone will be out there looking for it now!”

Darren researched his sighting and discovered that albino squirrels are “extremely rare”.

“They have got poor eyesight. I suppose this makes them easy prey for predators such as foxes and birds of prey.”

Although they are rare, it is not the first time they have been sighted locally.

An albino squirrel was photographed at Newton Wood, situated below Roseberry Topping, in April 2007.

As well as grey, red and albino, black squirrels can also be found in this country.

There is a significant colony of black squirrels in Letchworth Garden City, Herts, where a pub was even named after them.

Other all-white animals found in the UK have included an albino wallaby, spotted near Milton Keynes.
An albino WALLABY? In England? Did it swim there from Australia, perchance, mate?

"Amber Room" Dig Halted

Well, we knew this was coming, didn't we... From Russia Today Entertainment Amber Room replica February 29, 2008, 19:01 'Amber Room' dig haltedGerman treasure hunters have stopped digging for Russia's lost Amber room and Nazi gold after a disagreement. One of the men, the local mayor, claims scientists should become involved in the excavation to make it more credible. The other says his own measurements are precise enough, but haven't been followed properly. The Amber room, which some called the 8th wonder of the world, was part of a royal palace in St. Petersburg, looted by the Nazis during WW2. A notebook found by one of the treasure hunters, which had belonged to the man's father, a former Luftwaffe radio operator, suggested the room might be buried near the village of Deutschneudorf. My father was a wireless operator and navigator and he had co-ordinates from flight-logbooks which led him exactly to this spot. So we started digging here, right where we suppose the treasure to be,” Christian Hanisch, a treasure hunter said. The local mayor launched the dig, but progress has been slow, due to fears of booby traps. Nonetheless the digging cite thought to contain tonnes of Nazi gold immediately attracted attention and raised hopes of finding the legendary treasure. Treasure hunters and journalists were flocking to an archeological site in Deutschneudorf. However, some are not so optimistic. Boris Igdalov, head of amber workshop, says, "This is no news for us, it happened many times before". "But I want to stress that if something is found there - not necessarily the Amber room - that'll be great," he adds. Now, the director of Russia's Hermitage museum, Mikhail Pyotrovsky said the hunt may be in vain, as amber doesn't keep well underground. “I think 'Amber Room' is a great PR-success of museum people and much bigger then the room itself, even if it does exist. The amber can't stand long-time being under ground, so I think it will never be found. Nowadays a new one is done and it's not a painting of Rubens,” he said. Rest of article.

The Black Pharaohs

From National Geographic: An ignored chapter of history tells of a time when kings from deep in Africa conquered ancient Egypt. BALONEY! The Nubian pharaohs ruled for approximately 75 years - about half the length of time the Hyksos pharaohs ruled Egypt not quite 1000 years before (circa 1650-1550 BCE) - and the Hyksos' pharaohs aren't very well known, either. But it's not nationalism or racism at work. Pharaohs after about the first 1,000 years of dynasties had a nasty habit of re-using ancient and not-so-ancient monuments of prior Pharaohs for their own aggrandisement, chiselling out names and even images of prior Pharaohs and putting their own in place. Neither the Hyksos nor the Nubians have been ignored by scholars and historians, but in the nearly 3,600 years of Egyptian dynasties (circa 3500 BCE to the death of Cleopatra), let's face it darlings, they held reign combined for less than 200 years! So - get over it! By Robert Draper National Geographic Contributing Writer In the year 730 B.C., a man by the name of Piye decided the only way to save Egypt from itself was to invade it. Things would get bloody before the salvation came. “Harness the best steeds of your stable,” he ordered his commanders. The magnificent civilization that had built the great pyramids had lost its way, torn apart by petty warlords. For two decades Piye had ruled over his own kingdom in Nubia, a swath of Africa located mostly in present-day Sudan. But he considered himself the true ruler of Egypt as well, the rightful heir to the spiritual traditions practiced by pharaohs such as Ramses II and Thutmose III. Since Piye had probably never actually visited Lower Egypt, some did not take his boast seriously. Now Piye would witness the subjugation of decadent Egypt firsthand—“I shall let Lower Egypt taste the taste of my fingers,” he would later write. North on the Nile River his soldiers sailed. At Thebes, the capital of Upper Egypt, they disembarked. Believing there was a proper way to wage holy wars, Piye instructed his soldiers to purify themselves before combat by bathing in the Nile, dressing themselves in fine linen, and sprinkling their bodies with water from the temple at Karnak, a site holy to the ram-headed sun god Amun, whom Piye identified as his own personal deity. Piye himself feasted and offered sacrifices to Amun. Thus sanctified, the commander and his men commenced to do battle with every army in their path. By the end of a yearlong campaign, every leader in Egypt had capitulated—including the powerful delta warlord Tefnakht, who sent a messenger to tell Piye, “Be gracious! I cannot see your face in the days of shame; I cannot stand before your flame, I dread your grandeur.” In exchange for their lives, the vanquished urged Piye to worship at their temples, pocket their finest jewels, and claim their best horses. He obliged them. And then, with his vassals trembling before him, the newly anointed Lord of the Two Lands did something extraordinary: He loaded up his army and his war booty, and sailed southward to his home in Nubia, never to return to Egypt again. When Piye died at the end of his 35-year reign in 715 B.C., his subjects honored his wishes by burying him in an Egyptian-style pyramid, with four of his beloved horses nearby. He was the first pharaoh to receive such entombment in more than 500 years. A pity, then, that the great Nubian who accomplished these feats is literally faceless to us. Images of Piye on the elaborate granite slabs, or stelae, memorializing his conquest of Egypt have long since been chiseled away. On a relief in the temple at the Nubian capital of Napata, only Piye’s legs remain. We are left with a single physical detail of the man—namely, that his skin was dark. Rest of article.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Further Information on Peruvian Discovery

Here is the initial post from November, 2007.

Follow-up information is from Archaeology Magazine.
New World's Earliest Mural
Volume 61 Number 2, March/April 2008
by Angela M. H. Schuster

Ancient paintings, ritual fires, and rare birds are found in northern Peru.

The oldest-known polychrome mural in the Americas was recently discovered during rescue excavations at Cerro Ventarrón, a site on Peru's arid north coast. Unearthed last fall by archaeologist Walter Alva of the Royal Tombs of Sípan Museum, the 4,000-year-old painting depicts a deer snared in a net. The mural adorns a wall of what has been identified as a fire temple, a well-known feature of later Andean ceremonial architecture in which people burned offerings to the gods. Adjacent to the mural is a 10-foot-high, semicircular chimney that held the temple's ritual fire--its walls still blackened with soot. The exterior walls of the temple, which was built atop a multi-terraced platform mound, are painted with a red-and-white zigzag pattern.

"The architecture of the fire temple is very, very primitive," says Alva, noting that the adobe used to construct it was devoid of stone and appears to be made up of little more than dried blocks of river sediment. However, the temple is significant because it bears a number of hallmarks that seem to be the most ancient expressions of fundamental ideas in Andean religion. "The stylized rendering of a deer snared in a net," he explains, "runs deep in Andean iconography, being symbolic of the primordial hunt and man's first offerings to the gods." The captured deer image was still being used 2,000 years later by the Moche.

Alva also recovered a cache of offerings, including a conch shell trumpet and the remains of a monkey and an Amazonian parrot, the latter entombed with a simple turquoise collar. "This combination of offerings--possibly deposited during a ceremonial burial of the building--is extremely significant, particularly at this early date," says Alva, pointing out that they represent the three realms of the world: sea, earth, and sky. This too, he says, is a religious concept that is more fully developed in the art of later Andean cultures, such as the Moche and the Inca.

Cerro Ventarrón is the latest in a string of recent finds, including the vast 4,600-year-old ceremonial complex of Caral-Supe ("A Monumental Feud," July/August 2005), that continue to push back the date for large-scale ritual architecture in the Andean region. While Caral-Supe is notable for its monumental buildings, including a fire temple, and an extraordinary collection of flutes and whistles made from the wing bones of condors and pelicans, it has yet to yield any paintings like the mural at Cerro Ventarrón.

© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of

Nefertiti's Eyes

From Archaeology Magazine Volume 61 Number 2, March/April 2008 by Earl L. Ertman Did the queen's distinctive feature become a symbol of Egyptian royalty? All eyes were on the Valley of the Kings the morning of February 5, 2006, when our expedition first looked into the chamber now known as KV63, the first tomb found in Egypt's Valley of the Kings since that of Tutankhamun (KV62) in 1922. Press speculation was rampant over what the tomb might hold. Would our expedition find the mummies of royal women from the late 18th Dynasty, such as Queen Nefertiti, thought by some to be Tut's mother? Or the six princesses she bore to the pharaoh Akhenaten, including Tut's queen, Ankhesenamun? The mummies of these women have either not been found or identified. Perhaps they were removed from Akhenaten's capital at Amarna when a later king, presumably Tut, returned to the traditional capital of Thebes on the Nile opposite the Valley of the Kings. Did Tut rebury them in the Valley? After taking out several stones blocking the doorway from the tomb shaft into the chamber, we peered through the narrow opening. Inside, we could see many large ceramic jars and several wooden coffins, some with yellow-painted faces. The press speculation was incorrect on all counts. We found no mummies in any of the tomb's seven coffins and no inscriptions to tell us for whom these coffins were initially intended. But while studying the coffins, I discovered--in the eyes of faces painted on three of them--an intriguing link to Nefertiti, the queen whose name means, simply, "the beautiful one has come." While none of the coffins held Nefertiti's remains, the eyes may tell us something unexpected about her celebrated beauty. Was it in part the result of a genetic syndrome? If not a royal tomb, what was KV63? Finds include the seven coffins, a small gilt coffinette, two large alabaster vessels, floral garlands, pillows, natron (the natural salt used in mummification), and many ceramics. It seems to have been a cache of material used by embalmers, but including coffins, unused or salvaged from disturbed burials, suitable for upper-class, but not elite or royal, funerals. Although KV63 didn't yield the mummies of Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun, and the rest, the tomb is linked to Tutankhamun's time. Seal impressions found there match some discovered in Tut's tomb, which is just 50 feet away. KV63's date should fall within or close to Tut's reign (1343-1333 B.C.), but association with his burial is uncertain at this point. Perhaps we will gain further evidence for the date of KV63 from the contents of the remaining 16, of 28 total, storage jars that we plan to open this season. Otto Schaden, our expedition director, asked me, as staff art historian and object analyst, if any information could be gleaned from the coffins to narrow this date range. I began with the four coffins that had yellow-painted faces. The KV63 coffins were almost totally destroyed by termites, but the faces were made separately. Faces on coffins were often covered with thin plaster or gesso as a base for gilding or painting (as in the KV63 coffins). The termites seem to prefer untreated wood, so while the remainder of the coffins were mostly consumed, the gessoed and painted faces survived. In the art of the ancient Near East, including Egypt, females were generally depicted with lighter skin than males. Were the coffins with light yellow faces made for women? Two such coffins in museum collections, however, were inscribed for males. Furthermore, a painting in a tomb in Thebes shows coffins of Nebamun and Ipuky, sculptors who worked during the reigns of kings Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. Each of their black coffins has a yellow-painted face. So rather than indicating the coffins were for females, the yellow faces probably copied those of the very wealthy, who could afford gold faces on their coffins. With no inscriptions and the ambiguous nature of the yellow face color, I began looking at other characteristics that might prove helpful, such as the shape and details of the faces. In doing that, the eyes on three of the painted KV63 coffins brought me back to Nefertiti. Nefertiti is best known from the painted bust of her found at Amarna and now in Berlin. Her parentage is not entirely certain, but most Egyptologists believe she was the daughter of the powerful courtier Ay, who eventually succeeded Tutankhamun. The face of one, which we designated coffin A, had eyes rimmed with blue glass in a traditional shape, unlike the other three coffins with yellow faces, designated B, F, and G. What links the eyes of these three coffins, beside the fact that all are painted, is that the inner canthus--the corner of the eye near the nose--descends abruptly and abuts the upper lid, giving them an East Asian appearance. Nefertiti's famous bust illustrates this eye shape better than words. Both her proper right eye and the empty socket of the left show this form. What is the meaning of this eye shape? Art of the Amarna period, when Akhenaten and Nefertiti reigned, is noted for its naturalistic depiction of plants and animals and, in some cases, candid scenes of daily life. So one might suggest that the shape of Nefertiti's eyes may be an attempt to render her features as they actually appeared. One of the earliest appearances of Nefertiti's unusual eye shape is on a stela showing the royal family. Found at Amarna and now in Berlin, it is dated by an inscription to before years 8 through 12 of Akhenaten's reign, or around 1350 B.C. On the stela, however, Akhenaten's eye shape is "normal" and resembles those seen on sculptures of him in Thebes, but Nefertiti's is not. So this stela may show a real, physical condition. It could be that Nefertiti had an epicanthic fold, a piece of skin from the upper eyelid covering the inner edge of the eye. This feature is found not just in people of East Asian descent, but also in individuals with a number of different syndromes--groups of symptoms characteristic of an abnormality--some of which are genetically based. Some syndromes are debilitating, others less so, and still others are passed only from mothers to daughters. We are currently investigating the possibility that Nefertiti's eyes reflect such an underlying physical condition, but without her remains no diagnosis can be made (and the evidence may have been destroyed or altered during mummification). If a genetically based physical trait was the basis for this eye shape, did Nefertiti pass it on to her children and was it recorded in the appearance of their eyes in artwork? Images of Nefertiti show the trait more frequently and markedly than those of any other individual portrayed at Amarna. German excavators at Amarna in 1912 found many representations of Nefertiti and her daughters in the studio of an artist named Tuthmosis, including the painted bust of Nefertiti. Many of these representations are in various stages of completion, but their distinctive eyes are easily noticed. This is especially clear in a relief, now in the Brooklyn Museum, that may show Meritaten, the queen's eldest daughter. [Note: but if they're not sure it IS Meritaten, what good is this supposition?] It is possible that Nefertiti was Tutankhamun's mother. If so, it wouldn't be surprising if he were shown with an eye shape similar to hers. This is the case with some depictions, such as a wooden head of the young pharaoh that was found in his tomb. It shows his head, sprouting from a lotus bloom, with eyes that match those of Nefertiti. Other explanations for its appearance with Tut include the possibility that his mother was not Nefertiti but perhaps a woman of the extended royal family who also carried the trait. And it could even be that Tut did not have the eye shape himself, if his mother was a woman other than Nefertiti who did not have it or if the trait was passed only from mothers to daughters. In either case, Tut could be shown with it simply as an artistic continuance of the characteristic. If the sculptor Tuthmosis were responsible for recording and then re-creating this eye shape, perhaps he extended its use from those who actually had it to--as an artistic convention--a "royal marker" to distinguish images of the king and a few select nobles. For example, this eye shape is also seen on a representation of King Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father, seated in a relaxed pose with his wife Queen Tiy on a stela found at Amarna, and now in the British Museum. Amenhotep III was Nefertiti's father-in-law, but this stela was probably carved after his death, so the eye shape does not predate its appearance on Nefertiti. It is also used in the 19th Dynasty, such as in depictions of the pharaoh Seti I at Abydos and of Nefertari, queen of Rameses II, who died around 1254 B.C. And this brings us back to KV63, with its upper-class coffins. Like the yellow faces meant to represent gilding, did the eye shape seek to portray a "royal marker" derived from Nefertiti's own eyes? And this brings us back to KV63, with its upper-class coffins. Like the yellow faces meant to represent gilding, did the eye shape seek to portray a "royal marker" derived from Nefertiti's own eyes? Earl L. Ertman is a professor emeritus at the University of Akron. An authority on art of the Amarna period, he is a member of the KV63 expedition. For news of the 2008 season at the tomb, see The excavation is part of the Amenmesse Project, a mission of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. © 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of ******************************************************************************* What does "East Asian" mean and what is an "East Asian" appearance? Chinese? Japanese? Jewish? What? Guess I'm missing the point of this article!

A Lawyer and His Game

From the Jamaica Gleaner
published: Sunday March 2, 2008
Avia Collinder, Outlook Writer

When four months ago his daughter was born, attorney-at-law Ian Wilkinson (photo, right) greeted her with a chess piece in hand.

That he was rebuked by the doctor in attendance on daughter Tassja and his wife Shawn did not dim his enthusiasm. Chess, he says, will be a big part of Tassja's future.

If Ian Wilkinson had his way chess, the game played by one billion people worldwide, would be a big part of the daily life of every Jamaican child. So convinced is he that the game has the capacity to transform the minds and lives of all who play it that he has set up his own company - Magnificent Chess - to take it into schools and colleges.

In the last six months some 2,000 children have been taught the game which Wilkinson, plunging undisclosed amounts of his own resources into the effort, hopes will soon attract the attention and partnership of the Ministry of Education and other private sector partners.

Ian Wilkinson is a child of the Kingston ghetto who believes fervently in his high school motto, 'The brave may fall but never yield'. Recalling the days when he strolled Text Lane in downtown Kingston barefooted and in torn clothes, he believes that within every Jamaican child lies the potential to excel. Chess, he believes, will deliver the thinking power and discipline which will bring this potential to the fore.

On January 5, 1965, Ian Godfrey Wilkinson was born in Kingston. Growing up on Text Lane with mother Inez Ricketts and six siblings, he recalls, "We were very poor," living on one meal a day at times when the crash programme work pursued by his mother ended.

Still, she was a woman who 'threw partner' and taught her children values, which were to transform their lives as they grew older. Ian's eldest brother, and also a mentor is Professor Carlos Escoffery, department head of pathology at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Other siblings have also done well.

"On Text Lane," Wilkinson recalls, "we knew the gangs but they were men - wearing their gunmouth pants, knitted ganzie and Clarke's boots.

"In one gang there might have been 30 men, but there was only one gun and perhaps three bullets. Now the gangs are full of teenagers. A 14-year-old has two guns for himself and enough bullets to stone dog."

Ian Wilkinson is convinced that introducing chess can change flourishing the inner-city gang culture.

Wilkinson was educated at Calabar All-Age School, Kingston College and the University of the West Indies, leaving the Norman Manley Law School in 1989 as the top student. At Kingston College, he was particularly influenced by principal Ivan Wally Johnson, who usually assured his students that "we should never give up - not as long as we have breath in our bodies."

But, when coach George Thompson told him that he would not be selected for the Manning Cup team, Wilkinson cried. To fill the vacuum left by football, he turned to Schools Challenge Quiz, which best friend Seymour Douglas convinced him to join. "I became hooked," Ian recalls.

Ian has been involved with KC's Schools Challenge Quiz teams for approximately 20 years, coaching five winning teams (1985, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2007) and several teams to the final (1986, 1993, 1999, 2002 and 2006).

Schools Challenge Quiz was to change his life, hooking him on the quest for knowledge that led to law school and finally to chess.

The lawyer, who currently runs his own firm in Kingston and, for the last 17 years, has taught law (Succession/Probate Practice) at the Norman Manley Law School, first learnt to play chess in about May/June, 1999, and played his first tournament in October, 2000.

Non-playing Jamaican
Wilkinson was the non-playing Jamaican captain at the 2002 Bled Olympiad and was elected president of the Jamaica Chess Federation in June, 2003. He was re-elected unopposed in 2003 and also 2007.

In December, 2003, he was awarded the Jamaica Chess Federation's inaugural Chess Journalist of the Year award for 2002 for his reporting on the Bled Olympiad, and in 2007 he was awarded the inaugural award for best chess analyst.

So enamoured of the game did the lawyer become that within a year he had bought 100 books on chess and its champions. He also engaged in sustained research which led to the writing of two chess books, the groundbreaking Magnificence In Bled: The 35th Chess Olympiad and Excitement Galore: Chess In All Its Glory. The latter is also a historic book, the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, that teaches people how to play chess in a simple, yet entertaining, fashion.

Today, Ian Wilkinson is the chairman of Magnificent Chess Foundation (MCF), an entity conceived by him to pioneer the teaching of chess across the length and breadth of Jamaica, particularly in schools.

Through MCF, he hopes to make Jamaica a veritable "a nation of thinkers". Chess, the lawyer states, can revolutionise the way Jamaicans think and reduce crime and violence significantly, while improving the educational and socio-economic life of the country.

"Every time I go downtown to attend court I drive through the old areas. I talk to the youths and ask, 'Why are you killing each other?' Now, downtown, there is one don for every street. I have to see what I can do to make it right," he explains.

"Kids who play chess are not violent. Chess itself is a battle, but it is a war conducted with your brain, a fight to outwit your opponent." Research has documented endless benefits.

Within chess, he says, lies a game which will impact the individual psychologically, socially and provide excellent networking opportunities.

The lawyer was elected in 2006 in Italy by the world chess governing body to serve as a judge on the World Chess Court (the Ethics Commission) and sat on the newly elected court's first sitting in Greece in July, 2007.

The court presided over a number of matters, including the controversial 2006 world chess championship dispute between two world chess champions - the Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik and the Bulgarian Grandmaster Veselin Topalov.

On December 9 and 10, 2006, Wilkinson's Magnificent Chess Foundation hosted its very first chess event - The Frederick Cameron Chess Open. This tournament had the highest number of attendees in 15 years for a tournament held in Jamaica.

"It is our intention to continue to break, and set even more, attendance and participation records here," Wilkinson states. Meanwhile, the push to get it into all local schools will continue.

Ian Wilkinson's personal philosophy is "Always think, as the brain is the best 'tool' that anyone has, and never give up."

The lawyer is working on a law of Succession/Probate Practice book, a fictional novel and two other chess books. Also kept busy as vice-president of the Bar Council, he relaxes by playing chess - of course - reading, writing, playing the violin, drawing, studying foreign languages, writing chess analyses, playing football and cricket, watching sports and travelling.

Wilkinson, the chess fanatic and father to sons, Andrew, 24, and Chevian, 15, and a four-month-old daughter, Tassja, and married to Shawn, also an attorney-at-law, has converted his family and many friends to the pursuit of the game.

"Anything which gives people so much fun needs to be spread.

"It is fun, it develops reasoning ability, discipline, restraint and caution. You are thinking two or three moves down the line."

In Cuba, he notes, chess is one of the foundations of the education system. He hopes to also accomplish the same thing here.

Read more about Wilkinson on

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hala Sultan Tekke: Shrine of the Mother's Breast

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, darlings! HIStory speaks to us - if only we will listen.

While doing the prior posts on the Hind of Hinds and the Ka'bah of Mecca (a/k/a the Goddess Kybele/Cybele and the Vesica Piscis) I came across a reference to the Hala Sultan Tekke. Upon doing further research, as I had no idea what the Hala Sultan Tekke was, I discovered that this third most sacred spot of the Islamic religion (located on Cyprus) is a shrine to Umm Haram, who is accounted, historically, as Mohammed's wet nurse.

The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is so very true in this case. The dome of this shrine is obviously a breast.

Okay, slap my face for being sacriligeous. BUT - early descriptions ascribe the shrine as "the Old Woman's tomb" - and who is the Old Woman but Shaybah - Sheba, the Hind of Hinds, one of the titles of Artemis (see prior posts on Hind of Hinds). A further clue to the pre-Islamic origin of this shrine is that it was considered a sacred spot to Christians as well -- probably a relic from pre-Christian days. We all know that in the presently accepted chronology of HIStory, the Christians pre-dated the Muslims. My conclusion is that this is an ancient sacred place dedicated to a goddess - since it is on Cyprus, probably Artemis or Diana.

The site was/is? also sacred to the Sufis - a "heretic" sect of Islam who worshipped the goddess principle in all creation: The term tekke (convent) applies to a building designed specifically for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood, or tariqa, and may have referred to an earlier feature of the location. Coincidence? I think not...

"Tariqa" means "path, way, or method" according to this entry at Wikipedia. The early Christians called their system of beliefs "The Way," - but "The Way" is much more ancient than the earliest Christians.

The Way to The Truth is a recurring theme in religion. According to Charles Muses in his essay "The Ageless Way of Goddess; Divine Pregnancy and Higher Birth in Ancient Egypt and China," the "theurgy" (literally, a divine working - theo + urg) - showed the way to a divine rebirth while still carnate, a method of creating an eternal body (he called it a "higher body") that would be available to one upon death. He called it "The Way Home." He stated:

The preparation and technique for that path, which transforms one as one treads it, exist in fragmentary form in the old human recors. But those insturctions, that operational method, are always available in great clarity to those who again reach that place of accessibility in awareness. Then one can start the heroic quest described in these lines from an obscure poet, Kyril Demys, three decades ago (who also wrote "Song of the Far Journey"):

The doors are many
but the key is one ...
that space has room
for a winged and wondrous child
and whirled a little world to being....
That child alone
shall fly the abyss
and reach the Second Sun.

Muses says that in ancient Egypt, this knowledge was incorporated into a system of belief called "The Lion Path," and in ancient China, it was called "The Way of the Tiger."

The Black Stone at Mecca

(Photo: the Sacred Yoni, one corner of the Ka'bah at Mecca - the part of the sacred black stone pilgrims kiss).

From prior post about "The Hind of Hinds - Continued:"

From Barbara Walker’s "The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:"

At Mecca the Goddess was Shaybah or Sheba, the Old Woman, worshipped as a black aniconic stone like the Godess of the Scythian Amazons. The sacred Black Stone now enshrined in the Kaaba at Mecca was her feminine symbol, marked by the sign of the yoni, and covered like the ancient Mother by a veil. No one seems to know exactly what it is supposed to represent today.

The Black Stone rests in the Haram, "Sanctuary", cognate of "harem," which used to mean a Temple of Women: in Babylon, a shrine of the Goddess Har, mother of harlots. Hereditary guardians of the Haram were the Koreshites, "children of Kore," Mohammed’s own tribe. The holy office was originally held by women, before it was taken over by male priests calling themselves Beni Shayban, "Sons of the Old Woman."

What is the black stone of Mecca? Here's the answer from The Edge:
The Black Stone - the Omphalos of the Goddess
Bob Trubshaw

Long-suffering readers of Mercian Mysteries will know of my obsession with 'omphali' - the sacred centres which each civilisation seems to create or adopt. Many of these involve stones - the Lia F il (Stone of Destiny) at Tara or the various 'king stones' (such as Kingston upon Thames) where medieval English kings were crowned. Our monarchs still sit on, or at least above, the Stone of Scone for their coronation. But some of these sacred stones have special interest - they are (or are said to be) black. Such Black Stones also tend to have the legend that they have fallen from the stars. Clearly, meteorites the size of these large boulders would explode into tiny fragments on impact, and also leave a substantial crater. The literal truth is not important; rather the symbolism of such stones being a link between this world and the heavens is an integral aspect of the Cosmic Axis which is invoked by all sacred centres.

Perhaps the best-known Black Stone, and now by far the most revered, is the Ka'bah at Mecca. Ka'bah means 'cube' and this describes the shape of the black stone structure on a marble base which stands in the centre court of the Great Mosque, Masjidul Haram, at the centre of Mecca. It stands about 50 feet high by about 35 feet wide. Set into the eastern corner is the sacred stone, covered by an elaborately embroidered black drape. As any non-moslem in the temple would be slain on sight, and photography is generally prohibited, this stone is shrouded is mystery. However, Rufus Camphausen has succeeded in tracking down three accounts of the pilgrimage to Mecca, two of which do contain photographs [1-3]. What these reveal is a polished black stone of which less than two feet is visible, set in a large, solid silver mount. The whole resembles - quite deliberately, for reasons which will emerge - the vulva of the goddess. That moslems now refer to it as the Hand of Allah does not diminish the urge for all those who complete the pilgrimage to Mecca to touch or kiss this sacred object. [Smile...]

The Black Stone has long since been broken and the silver band holds together the fragments. Tradition holds that it was a meteorite and the stone was white in colour when it first landed and then blackened. The faithful attribute this change in colour to the belief that the stone absorbs the sins of the pilgrims, but it is consistent with known meteorites which are white at first but oxidise over a period of time.

'A principal sacred object in Arabian religion was the stone. . . . Such stones were thought to be the residence of a god hence the term applied to them by Byzantine Christian writers of the fifth and sixth centuries: 'baetyl', from bet'el, 'the house of god'.' [4]

'In north Arabian temples the image of the deity sometimes stood in the open air or could be sheltered in a qubbah, a vaulted niche. . . . Not to be confused with the qubbah is the word ka'bah, for a cube-shaped walled structure which . . . served as a shelter for the sacred stones.' [5]

Camphausen, in his article [6], reveals that the misogynic moslem religion has its origins in goddess worship. Allah is a revamped version of the ancient goddess Al'Lat, and it was her shrine which has continued - little changed - as the Ka'bah. The known history of Mohammed reveals that he was born around 570 CE into a tribe of the Quraysh, who not only worshipped the goddess Q're but were the sworn guardians of her shrine. By 622 Mohammed was preaching the ways of his god, Allah, and was driven out by his own tribe as a result.

The triple goddess
Pre-islamic worship of the goddess seems to be primarily associated with Al'Lat, which simply means 'goddess'. She is a triple goddess, similar to the Greek lunar deity Kore/Demeter/Hecate. Each aspect of this trinity corresponds to a phase of the moon. In the same way Al'Lat has three names known to the initiate: Q're, the crescent moon or the maiden; Al'Uzza, literally 'the strong one' who is the full moon and the mother aspect; then Al'Menat, the waning but wise goddess of fate, prophecy and divination. Islamic tradition continue to recognise these three but labels them 'daughters of Allah'.

According to Edward Rice [7] Al'Uzza was especially worshipped at the Ka'bah where she was served by seven priestesses. Her worshippers circled the holy stone seven times - once for each of the ancient seven planets - and did so in total nudity. Near the Ka'bah is the ever-flowing well, Zamzam, which cools the throats of the countless millions of pilgrims.

In an oasis of always-flowing water, the Black Stone in its mount became an unmatched image of the goddess as giver of life. Only in the Indian continent do such physical symbols for the male and female generative powers - the lingam and yoni - continue to be worshipped with their original fervour.

It is easy to imagine that in pre-moslem times the goddess's temple at Mecca was pre-eminent - whether to celebrate life, ask protection, pray for offspring. Legend tells how Abraham, unable to produce children by his wife Sarah, came here to make love to his slave Hagar. Later, when Hagar came back to give birth, she could find no water and Abraham created the holy well of Zamzam to save the life of his first son.

When Mohammed wanted to surplant Al'Lut with Allah, this was the one Temple he must conquer. Although Mohammed did conquer the Ka'bah, little else changed. The faithful still circle the Holy of Holies seven times (although, I hasten to add, now fully clothed). The priests of the sacred shrine are still known as Beni Shaybah or 'Sons of the Old Woman' - Shaybah being, of course, the famous Queen Sheeba of Solomon's times.

Sheeba appears under the guise of Lilith in the Near East and as Hagar ('the Egyptian') in the Hebrew mythology of the Old Testament. So, rewriting the legend given above, Abraham begot his son, Ishmael - the ancestor of all Arab peoples - by the goddess on the Black Stone of the Ka'bah.

While we are tracing names, Q're (or Qure), the maiden aspect of Al'Lut, seems certain to be the origin of the Greek Kore. Camphausen suggests that the holy Koran (qur'an in Arabic) is the 'Word of Qure'. Even moslems admit that the work existed before the time of Mohammed. Legend said it was copied from a divine prototype that appeared in heaven at the beginning of time, or the Mother of the Book [8]. Al'Uzza, the mother aspect of Al'Lut, may give us the pre-dynastic Egyptian snake goddess Ua Zit [Uadjet] who develops into Isis.

Returning to the geomantic significance of the Ka'bah, Professor Hawkins has argued that it is exceedingly accurately aligned on two heavenly phenomena. These are the cycles of the moon and the rising of Canopus, the brightest star after Sirius. In a thirteenth-century Arabic manuscript by Mohammed ibn Abi Bakr Al Farisi it is stated that the alignment is set up for the setting crescent moon - an ancient symbol of the virgin-goddess which still appears in the national flags of many islamic nations. In some flags - Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia and Turkey - the crescent is accompanied by a star, perhaps representing Canopus.

The Egyptian city known as Canopus seems also have been a goddess temple, as the Greek historian Strabo (63BCE-21CE) considered the place to be notorious for wild sexual activities. Such references typically refer to temples where sacred 'prostitution' or ritual promiscuity were part of the worship; invariably sacred objects depicting the genitals of either god and/or goddess were venerated. Such sacred promiscuity continued to be part of the Pilgrimage to Mecca, at least for some moslems. The Shi'ites from Persia were allowed to form temporary 'marriages' for the period of the pilgrimage. Any children born as a result were regarded as divine or as saints - a custom with worldwide parallels (English surnames such as Goodman, Jackson or Robinson perhaps derive from similar sacred unions with god in the form of Green Men characters such as Jack o'the Green or Robin Greenwood; I would also suggest that the original sense of 'godparent' and 'godchild' has similar origins.)

Aniconic black stone once venerated at the Temple of Aphrodite, near
Paphos, Cyprus. From photograph by Bob Trubshaw. [photo not included in this post]

More Black Stones
Deities of other cultures known to have been associated with stones include Aphrodite at Paphos, Cybele at Pessinus and later Rome, Astarte at Byblos and the famous Artemis/Diana of Ephesus. The latter's most ancient sculpture was, it is said, carved from a black meteorite.

The earliest form of Cybele's name may have been Kubaba or Kumbaba which suggests Humbaba, who was the guardian of the forest in the Epic of Gilgamesh (the world's oldest recorded myth from Assyria of c.2500BCE and, as scholars reveal more of the text, increasingly the source of most of the major mythological themes of later civilisations [9]) [10]. The origin of Kubaba may have been kube or kuba meaning (guess what) - 'cube'. The earliest reference we have to a goddess worshipped as a cube-shaped stone is from neolithic Anatolia [11]. Alternatively, 'Kubaba' may mean a hollow vessel or cave - which would still be a supreme image of the goddess. The ideograms for Kubaba in the Hittite alphabet are a lozenge or cube, a double-headed axe, a dove, a vase and a door or gate - all images of the goddess in neolithic Europe.

The stone associated with Cybele's worship was, originally, probably at Pessinus but perhaps at Pergamum or on Mount Ida. What is certain is that in 204 BCE it was taken to Rome, where Cybele became 'Mother' to the Romans. The ecstatic rites of her worship were alien to the Roman temperament, but nevertheless animated the streets of their city during the annual procession of the goddess's statue. Alongside Isis, Cybele retained prominence in the heart of the Empire until the fifth century CE; the stone was then lost. Her cult prospered throughout the Empire and it is said that every town or village remained true to the worship of Cybele [12].

The home of Aphrodite was at Paphos on Cyprus. Various Classical writers describe the rituals which went on her in her honour - these seem to include the practice which is now known by the disdainful term of 'sacred prostitution'. In any event, the tapering black stone which was the object of verneration at this Temple still survives, even if it now placed inside the site musuem [13].

Also on Cyprus is another highly venerated islamic site - the third most important after Mecca and Medina - the Hala Sultan Tekke. This, too, has a black rock, said to have fallen as a meteorite as part of the tritholon over the shrine. The shrine is to a woman - the aunt and foster mother of Prophet Mohammed [14]. Could this, like Mecca, have been originally a goddess shrine? Unfortunately no other clues are forthcoming.

Another site stated to have a Black Stone was at Petra, but I have been unable to discover where this was or who was worshipped there - could any readers who know please write in!

To add a little local flavour, numerous standing stones in the British Isles are reputed to have fallen from the stars. The now-lost Star Stone marked the meeting of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire; an also-vanished stone at Grimston, Leicestershire, was also said to have such an origin. However, whether or not such stones were ever associated with goddess worship we will never know.

It would take far too long to discuss to what extent the cult of the goddess's Black Stone may have been perpetrated as Solomon's bride in the Song of Songs, who is 'black but beautiful' or to come to terms with the black images of Demeter, Artemis and Isis who have their direct continuation in the Black Virgins of Europe - patrons of the troubadours, the gnostics and the alchemists, as well as the present Pope. Those who wish to follow such ideas would do well to read The myth of the goddess [15] which, in a sober but inspirational manner, re-evaluates how the feminine deity has remained with us throughout history.

Further information on these topics appears in a follow-up article by Alby Stone Goddess of the Black Stone.

[1] Richard Burton, A personal narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah, London 1856.
[2] Hussein Yoshio Hirashima, The road to holy Mecca, Kodansha (Japan), 1972.
[3] Anon., Pilgrimage to Mecca, Sud-Editions (Tunis) 1978 and East-West Publications (London) 1980.
[4] Encyclopedia Brittanica.
[5] ibid.
[6] Rufus C. Camphausen, 'The Ka'bah at Mecca', Bres (Holland) No.139, 1989. My thanks to Rufus for bringing this article to my attention; this article of mine is in large part a synopsis of his longer work. See also 'From behind a veil', Flora Green, in The cauldron No.61 (reprinted from The Merrymount messenger Winter 1991).
[7] E. Rice, Easter definitions, Doubleday, 1978 (cited in Camphausen).
[8] Barbara G. Walker, The crone, Harper & Row, 1985 (cited in Camphausen).
[9] See Robert Temple's recent translation He who saw everything, Rider, 1991.
[10] Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The myth of the goddess, Penguin, 1991.
[11] Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, trans. A.M.H. Lemmers, Thames and Hudson, 1977 (cited in Baring and Cashford, op. cit.).
[12] ibid.
[13] 'Aphrodite's island', Penny Drayton, Wood & water, Vol.2, No.41, Jan 1993.
[14] ibid.
[15] Baring and Cashford, op. cit.

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.14 February 1993.
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Created April 1996; updated August 2001

It's not coincidence that the form of the sacred black stone is generally described as the shape of the sacred yoni (see photo above), formed by two crescent moons crossed over each other, also the form of the fish of the Goddess, the vesica pisces - a well known architectural form incorporated into many of the great cathedrals constructed during the medieval period dedicated to the Virgin Mary - the Queen of Heaven.

For some interesting graphics, see The Goddess, her eternal symbols
Basic information on the Vesica Pisces from Wikipedia
Some more interesting graphics and information at the Library of Alexandria
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