Whales have been following the currents of the ocean for thousands of years like clockwork knowing and teaching the paths to generations to come. In some cultures, like the northern arctic Inuit in Canada, Russia, and Iceland, whales became a staple source of food and even shelter. However, for the people of the Mediterranean whales were mythical beasts of the ocean rumored to have great power and great mystery. Some larger than the biggest ships and capable of sending entire crews to their deaths, whales played a very different role in Mediterranean culture. In the early history of the city of Athens the word ketos is used to describe large sea creatures and ‘monsters’, whales fell into this category of terminology. Eventually ketos became cetacean, which is the contemporary scientific term for both whale and dolphin. For many Mediterranean’s whales were seen as leviathans, which is a biblical creature in the old testament that is associated with evil, and the wrath and omnipotence of God. The leviathan was so feared because of its existence in the earthly realm compared to heavenly or hellish creatures. The ocean is its domain and it attacks at random. One whale caused so much havoc off of the shore of Troy that it was given a name, Porphiyos. Porphiyos for nearly fifty years would destroy ships, and scare away herds of fish. Eventually Porphiyos ran aground and the locals saw their chance to exact their revenge. The people of the town dragged Porphiyos to shore and bludgeoned him to death and cut him to pieces. Contemporary scholars believe that the whale was a Sperm whale roughly 45ft long and 15ft wide. Whales were rare in the Mediterranean, but not so rare that they were unknown to many people. Archaeologists have found several different artifacts that prove whalebones were used for things such as cutting boards, leatherworking and scrimshaw. Most exposure that the people had to whales was accidental. Most commonly people would find them beached or washed up onto shore, but sometimes fisherman would unknowingly spear a smaller whale, though whales were never actively hunted. Whales were often represented in art as huge beasts destroying ships, or represented as the mythical creature Andromeda that terrorized a town demanding virgin sacrifices. In the arctic regions of Russia, Alaska, Iceland, and Canada, whales were extremely common and served a multitude of purposes. Whales were a source of food, heating, building materials, and other tools. When a wale was killed its entire body was used for the village. Its meat was of course served as food, its blubber used as oil for lamps, and even its bones were used as rafters for partially subterranean homes. Very different from the people of the Mediterranean, the Inuit had a healthy respect for the strength and abilities of these animals, but they were anything but leviathans of the sea. Mythology often times shows similarities between cultures that are separated by mountains and seas, but this is a great instance of how things are very different. Creatures like Whales can hold such drastically different meanings to so many cultures. This is just an example of how one culture can find something to be an evil creature that is the incarnation of God’s wrath and omnipotence to one culture, and to another a swimming warehouse of valuable goods that can support a village. Myths not only influence our history, but also our fears, hopes, and understanding.
Above is a photo of the living space designated for the priestesses of the Goddess Vesta of hearth fire, known as the Vestal Virgins. These priestesses were chosen at the young age of 6-10 yrs old to be initiated, and if selected were to give their services to the upkeep of the temple and the eternal flame for minimum of 30 years.
To be selected for service one must be the daughter of a freeborn parent that has no history of the family being in servitude. They must also have a history of honorable work, and have no physical or mental deficiencies. It was the head priest, known as the Pontifex Maximus, that made he ceremonies of induction and would condemn them to death if vows of chastity were ever broken. The breaking of the vows of chastity were severely punished with death by being buried alive.
The Vestals also played a role in high-profile marriage ceremonies and government sponsored rituals. While outside of the temple and Vestal living areas the priestesses had the ability to pardon any criminal being sent to be executed. It was a great honor, with great responsibility and grave circumstances if any rules were ever broken. However, for many it was seen as a great honor to have ones daughter be selected to be a Vestal Virgin.
Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into the human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces
That myths reflect so many aspects of the human condition- our history, our innermost thoughts, our best and worst behavior, an acceptable code of conduct- makes trying to fit them into one neat theoretical framework impossible. It is like trying to make many different people wear a single suit of clothes. There are just too many sizes and shapes for that to work.
BEYOND:Mythologies is coming to Ferris State Universities campus for the 2013-2014 academic year. Be sure to mark October 20th on your calendar for the main event!
The origins of the Nazca lines in Peru have been the topic of debate between scholars for decades. Some scholars believe that the lines were made by piling stones around 500 B.C and continued to develop into lines etched carefully in the ground until 500 A.D…. These unique lines can only be fully viewed by plane or a tall man-made viewing platform which leads one to ask, could they be the product of alien intervention on earth, astronomical maps, or paths taken for religious meditation rituals? No one knows for certain….
These geoglyphs span approximately 450 square kilometers, with some reaching an individual length of nearly three miles! Etched into the plains and hills of the Nazca region you can find figures of humans, monkeys, hummingbirds, whales, and geographic shapes. The Nazca lines move from the desert region of south-western Peru towards the Andes Mountains following the unpredictable water supply provided by rainfall from the Andes. It is because of the dependence on water in this difficult environment that has led current scholars to believe that the geoglyphs hold religious meanings. What do you think?
We have not met our forgotten ancestors, but we begin to sense their presence in the dark. We recognize their shadows here and there. They were once as real as we are. We would not be here if not for them. Our natures and theirs are indissolubly linked despite the aeons that may separate us. The key to who we are is waiting in those shadows.
-Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
Hello everyone, soon the blog will be getting a revamp in look and content as we begin to create 2013s BEYOND event. This years event will be based on the worlds Mythologies. More information coming soon!