folklore

Abu Simbel: Ramesses II’s Ego Run Wild

This stunning but crowded day trip from Aswan has been moved from its original location.

Add Aswan to your itinerary and spend a morning at Abu Simbel

Add Aswan to your itinerary and spend a morning at Abu Simbel

Pharaoh Ramesses II embarked upon one of the most ambitious construction programs in Ancient Egypt. But it was his temple in Abu Simbel, far from the judgemental eyes in Memphis and Thebes, in the southernmost part of the Egyptian Empire that he gave his megalomania free reign.

There’s a discrepancy in the dating of the site, but it took place over two decades, either 1264-1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE.

The Abu Simbel temples were chopped into 16,000 or so blocks — and reassembled like a giant-sized puzzle in an artificial mountain 200 feet higher.

Carved into the side of a sandstone cliff, Ramesses II’s temple to his own awesomeness immediately impresses the visitor with its four massive seated colossi of the king that rise 69 feet high. One, sadly, has lost its torso, which now lies shattered at its feet.

Four seated colossi of Ramesses II are larger than life, at 69 feet tall

Four seated colossi of Ramesses II are larger than life, at 69 feet tall

A carving of Ra-Horakhty, the conflation of two sun gods (noticeably smaller than the statues of Ramesses II), stands in the center of the façade. A line of baboons decorates the top of the exterior, which faces east, with the rays of the rising sun bathing the frieze in light. Baboons were associated with the sun, as their cries were thought to greet the dawning of a new day.

Inside, the first hall contains eight giant-sized replicas of the pharaoh in the Osiride style, meaning they have their arms crossed over their chests to portray Ramesses as Osiris, lord of the underworld.

We don’t call him Ramesses the Great for nothin’.

The first hall features eight giant statues of the pharaoh as Osiris, the god of the underworld

The first hall features eight giant statues of the pharaoh as Osiris, the god of the underworld

Ramesses II was quite the egotist — his image is all over the temple

Ramesses II was quite the egotist — his image is all over the temple

It’s crazy to think that the temple is around 3,200 years old!

It’s crazy to think that the temple is around 3,200 years old!

In theory, though, the Great Temple was dedicated to Ra-Horakhty, Amun (creator god of Thebes) and Ptah (creator god of Memphis, associated with the underworld). Oh, and the deified Ramesses II rounded out the grouping, of course.

It’s a family affair at Abu Simbel — those smaller statues at the bottom are Ramesses’ wife, mother and children

It’s a family affair at Abu Simbel — those smaller statues at the bottom are Ramesses’ wife, mother and children

Building the temples in the southernmost part of the country, facing Nubia, also acted as a deterrent to any invaders coming from that direction. They would see these massive statues of their enemy and would hopefully be frightened away.

The temple was a genius stroke of propaganda. The famous Battle of Kadesh, in which the Egyptians fought the Hittites, actually ended as a stalemate. But that didn’t stop Ramesses from declaring a victory and commissioning numerous carvings portraying himself as the protector god and showcasing his “triumph” over one of Ancient Egypt’s archenemies.

Other reliefs on the interior walls are decorated with scenes showing the king defeating the Syrians, Libyans and Nubians, presenting prisoners to the gods.

The reliefs inside showcase Ramesses’ military “victories,” including the famous Battle of Kadesh, which actually ended in a draw

The reliefs inside showcase Ramesses’ military “victories,” including the famous Battle of Kadesh, which actually ended in a draw

Abu Simbel was built on the border of Nubia as a deterrent to invasion, and shows a line of Nubian slaves

Abu Simbel was built on the border of Nubia as a deterrent to invasion, and shows a line of Nubian slaves

At the very back of the temple, carved deep into the mountain, lies the innermost sanctuary, the holy of holies. It housed four statues. There are the three great state gods of the late New Kingdom: Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, Amun-Ra and, no surprise here, the deified Ramesses.

Sunlight bathes these three of these gods on two days only: February 21 and October 21 (some sources say it’s the 22nd), one of which is thought to be Ramesses II’s birthday, the other possibly his coronation day. The figure of Ptah, associated with the underworld, remains in partial shadow.

The temple next door is fit for a queen — in fact, it’s dedicated to Ramesses’ wife, Nefertari

The temple next door is fit for a queen — in fact, it’s dedicated to Ramesses’ wife, Nefertari

Nefertari’s Temple to Hathor

Nearby is another temple, dedicated to the goddess Hathor, though it really seems to be for Nefertari, Ramesses II’s chief wife (pharaohs were polygamous, with a harem full of spare wives). Even here Ramesses insisted upon sharing the spotlight: Out front are two 33-foot-tall statues of the queen, along with two more of the king. Diminutive figures of their children round out the family portrait.

What was groundbreaking at the time, though, was that Ramesses II portrayed his favorite wife as equal to him — her statues on this temple are the same size as his.

And inside, while it’s still impressive, the pillared hall didn’t get as much attention as the one next door. The Hathor columns, a popular style at the time, where the pillars are topped with the head of one of the most revered deities in the Egyptian pantheon, look downright amateurish in comparison. Hathor, considered the first goddess, was depicted with bovine features. The heads atop the columns all have cow ears.

Don’t have a cow! These Hathor columns aren’t as ornate as those in Ramesses’ temple

Don’t have a cow! These Hathor columns aren’t as ornate as those in Ramesses’ temple

On the rear wall, Hathor is depicted as a cow emerging from a mountain, with the king standing beneath her chin. Nefertari is shown participating in the divine rituals — on equal footing as Ramesses.

Nefertari is shown as a divine being, being crowned by the goddesses Hathor and Isis

Nefertari is shown as a divine being, being crowned by the goddesses Hathor and Isis

Fun fact: Abu Simbel isn’t what the complex was called in ancient times. In fact, it’s supposedly named after the local boy who led one of the archeologists to the site. Abu Simbel is a bit more catchy than the original name, Hut Ramesses Meryamun, the Temple of Ramesses, Beloved of Amun, if you ask me.

The entire temple complex was cut into pieces and relocated on higher ground to avoid it being flooded by the Aswan High Dam

The entire temple complex was cut into pieces and relocated on higher ground to avoid it being flooded by the Aswan High Dam

A Monumental Relocation Project

The Abu Simbel you’re visiting today isn’t at the same spot it was in ancient times. The original site has been submerged beneath the waters of the newly formed Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam. What happened to the temple complex?

Egyptians (and UNESCO) couldn’t bear to have such a stunning monument lost beneath the water. So, from 1963 to 1968, teams underwent an impressive undertaking. They chopped up the entire temples into 16,000 or so blocks — and reassembled them like a giant-sized puzzle in an artificial mountain 200 feet higher.

Instead of repairing the sculptures — as mentioned, one of the colossi has lost its head — the project team chose to keep the temples exactly as they were before the relocation.

If you arrive close to opening time, you’ll be stuck with busloads of other tourists. But around noon, the complex was much less crowded

If you arrive close to opening time, you’ll be stuck with busloads of other tourists. But around noon, the complex was much less crowded

Visiting Abu Simbel

If you’re staying in Aswan, chances are your guide will want to get an early move on. Abu Simbel is, after all, a three-hour drive away. But it you leave at the crack of dawn, around 6 a.m. like us, you’ll arrive at the same time all the massive tour buses pull in as well. That meant we arrived at the impressive edifice along with swarms of other visitors. There’s nothing that takes you out of the experience more than having to share an enclosed space with throngs of tourists taking selfies for Instagram and moving en masse all around you.

We suffered through a claustrophobic exploration of Abu Simbel, then went over to see the Nefertari temple. When we returned to Abu Simbel, it had largely emptied out since it was around noon. Only then did we experience the awe of this sacred space.

If you want to take a picture without swarms of tourists, snap one as you come back from Nefertari’s temple, where a low wall obscures the crowds

If you want to take a picture without swarms of tourists, snap one as you come back from Nefertari’s temple, where a low wall obscures the crowds

In an effort to prevent congestion, guides can’t go in the temples, so Mamduh, from Egypt Sunset Tours, gave us the rundown and then set us free, meeting us back at the café near the entrance.

Admission costs 200 Egyptian pounds, and be sure to spring for the 300 L.E. photo pass. This was one of the sites where we saw guards forcing violators to delete the pics right off their phones.

Like most sites you’ll visit in Egypt, you have to walk through the bazaar on your way out. As we hurried through, a dagger with a curving horn handle caught my eye. Duke likes to joke that everywhere I go I look for daggers and dollies (it’s funny cuz it’s true). I negotiated a price of 350 L.E., or about $20. I could have probably gotten him to go lower, but I was OK with that price.

As we exited on the other side of the temple hill, a policeman smiled and began chatting with us. Of course we had no idea what he was saying, but it seemed like he wanted to pose for a picture with us (for a tip, naturally). He presented his machine gun like he was offering for us to hold it, but I hope I was wrong about that. –Wally

 


Horus vs. Seth: Homosexuality, Hippos and Familial Violence

The Egyptian myth described in The Contendings of Horus and Seth is as graphic as it is bizarre.

The young falcon-headed god Horus battles his canine-headed evil uncle Seth to become pharaoh of Egypt

The young falcon-headed god Horus battles his canine-headed evil uncle Seth to become pharaoh of Egypt

Osiris ruled as pharaoh of Egypt with his sister-wife Isis, bringing peace and prosperity to the land. But his elder brother, Seth (or Set), became insanely jealous, and led Osiris to a watery death after tricking him into a perfectly fitted coffin.

The story of how he chopped his brother into pieces, which Isis hunted down to reassemble, is a tale for another blog post. This one deals with the power struggle that ensued between the two contenders for the throne: the murderous Seth and Osiris’ son, the falcon-headed Horus. The story is told in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 1, The Contendings of Horus and Seth, which dates back to the early Middle Kingdom (2040-1674 BCE). The myth most likely has origins even earlier than that.

Be warned: Parts of this twisted tale get quite graphic.

Seth argues that Horus cannot be king because his breath stinks — an allusion to Horus breastfeeding from his mother, Isis, and a dig at his youth

Seth argues that Horus cannot be king because his breath stinks — an allusion to Horus breastfeeding from his mother, Isis, and a dig at his youth

The Battle to Become Pharaoh of Egypt

As the son of Osiris, Horus presented his claim to the throne to a tribunal of three of the most powerful deities in the Egyptian pantheon: the sun god Re; Thoth, the god of wisdom; and Shu, the god of air.

Thoth and Shu declared Horus the rightful ruler of Egypt, but Re argued that Seth was more powerful and therefore deserved the throne.

“The throne is mine by virtue of my strength,” canine-headed Seth said. “‘Let Horus prove that he is better than I, and he can have the throne!”

“Challenge me to what you will. I will prove you the weaker!” Horus declared.

Much like the shapeshifting Egyptian gods Horus and Seth, these hippos battle for dominance

Much like the shapeshifting Egyptian gods Horus and Seth, these hippos battle for dominance

Hippos Holding Their Breath

Seth decided that the first feat of strength would be to have them both turn into a hippopotamus and sit on the bottom of the Nile. The first to come up for air within three months would lose.

Isis, desperately wanting her son to be pharaoh, magically created a copper harpoon, which she threw into the water. Her aim was off, though, and she hit Horus instead of Seth. Realizing this, she released the harpoon and cast it back into the water, and this time bit into the body of Seth. But the injured god appealed to Isis as her brother and she caved and helped him. Horus, enraged, emerged from the water. He wasn’t worried about losing the first challenge — he was focused on taking revenge on his mother for what he felt was a betrayal. Horus cut off Isis’ head, carried it up a mountain and tossed it away. Talk about mommy issues!

Thoth picks up Isis’ head and reunites it with her body.

Seth really liked salad — only that wasn’t ranch dressing on it!

Seth really liked salad — only that wasn’t ranch dressing on it!

Homosexual Incest and Semen-Covered Lettuce

Tired from decapitating his mother, Horus went to sleep on the mountaintop. Seth snuck up and gouged out his nephew’s eyes, burying them in the ground. Overnight, they grew into lotuses. Taking pity on the blinded boy, the cow-headed goddess Hathor came to Horus’ aid, pouring gazelle milk on his wounds and restoring his sight.

The judges wanted the two gods to make amends. They reconciled, but Seth decided to seduce his nephew.

Seth wasn’t discriminate in his liaisons. In the world of Ancient Egypt, there wasn’t any real conception of homosexuality. What mattered was who was the top (the one who was doing the penetrating), as that proved dominance over the other person.

Now afterward, [at] evening time, bed was prepared for them, and they both lay down. But during the night, Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’ thighs. Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen. Horus went to tell his mother Isis: “Help me, Isis, my mother, come and see what Seth has done to me.” And he opened his hand[s] and let her see Seth’s semen.

She let out a loud shriek, seized the copper [knife], cut off his hand[s] that were equivalent. Then she fetched some fragrant ointment and applied it to Horus’ phallus. She caused it to become stiff and inserted it into a pot, and he caused his semen to flow down into it.

So to sum this up: Seth intended to humiliate his nephew by fucking him up the ass — but Horus secretly caught Seth’s semen in his hands. When young Horus showed his mother, Isis, what had happened, she cut off her son’s hands, aroused him and jerked him off into a jar. Not quite a Disney movie.

Isis then tossed Seth’s semen into the marshes of the Nile and devised a plan to deceive him:

Isis at morning time went carrying the semen of Horus to the garden of Seth and said to Seth’s gardener: “What sort of vegetable is it that Seth eats here in your company?” So the gardener told her: “He doesn’t eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce.” And Isis added the semen of Horus onto it. Seth returned according to his daily habit and ate the lettuce, which he regularly ate. Thereupon he became pregnant with the semen of Horus.

Seth approached the tribunal and declared with confidence, “Let me be awarded the office of Ruler … for as to Horus, the one who is standing [trial], I have performed the labor of a male against him.”

This drawing on a shard of pottery shows that even Ancient Egyptians had a gay old time

This drawing on a shard of pottery shows that even Ancient Egyptians had a gay old time

Semen Calling

Horus spoke up: “All that Seth has said is false. Let Seth’s semen be summoned that we may see from where it answers, and my own be summoned that we may see from where it answers.”

Thoth put his hand on Horus’ shoulder and said, “Come out, you semen of Seth.” It answered him instead from the marsh along the Nile.

The god then put his hand on Seth’s shoulder and said, “Come out, you semen of Horus.” Because it had been ingested with the lettuce leaves, it answered from inside Seth’s stomach.

Deeming itself too important to flow out of Seth’s ear, the divine seed emerged from his head in the form of a golden solar disk. Thoth snatched it away and placed it as a crown upon his own head.

At some point, Horus and Seth seem to have made up, for here they are both adoring Ramses

At some point, Horus and Seth seem to have made up, for here they are both adoring Ramses

The Stone Ship Race

Despite this damning evidence, Seth somehow convinces the trio of judges to stage one more contest: a race of stone ships down the Nile. That didn’t seem like the wisest choice, since Seth’s boat sunk instantly. But Horus’ floated along the water — for he had tricked everyone by making his boat out of pine and covering it in gypsum, a sort of plaster, so that it looked like it was made of stone.

In a rage, Seth once again transformed into a hippopotamus and bashed his head into Horus’ ship. It came apart in splinters, exposing the young god’s deceit.

This back and forth had now gone on for 80 years. Seeking a final verdict, the judges decided to appeal to Osiris, who now ruled the underworld. Not surprisingly, Osiris argued that his son, Horus, deserved to be pharaoh, and Seth, in chains as a prisoner, finally concedes. –Wally

The Legend of Rangda, Bali’s Queen of the Demons

The origin of the queen who became a child-eating witch goddess fated to battle Barong, the King of the Spirits, for eternity.

The wild woman known as Randga, the Widow, is the personification of evil for the Balinese

The wild woman known as Randga, the Widow, is the personification of evil for the Balinese

When my husband, the king, died, his people began to call me Rangda, which means “widow.” As if my entire life should be reduced to the loss of a single thing, namely a feckless spouse.

It’s ironic that my name would be tied to him for eternity, for he cast me aside to marry another woman. Was I even still officially his wife?

Ours had been a strategic alliance to unite two kingdoms. I was born Mahendradatta, princess of Java, and when I came of age, my father arranged for my marriage to King Udayana and shipped me off to the neighboring isle of Bali.

I never let silly romantic fantasies enter my mind. As a royal, I had a job to do, a responsibility to my people.

As a queen, though, I didn’t have much power. My marriage would politically tie Java to Bali, and that was all that was required of me, aside from making sure I provided heirs.

All over Bali, you’ll see statues of me holding innocent babes, the instant before I devour them.

Try not to judge me too harshly. If I am to act as a profane foil to all that is sacred, I must corrupt that which is most holy.

(That their tender, plump bodies taste even more delicious than suckling pig is just an added bonus.)

But I craved power; I yearned to be strong. Hindus have hundreds of deities, but the one I focused my prayers on was the goddess Durga, whom I had always emulated. Such a strong woman, a fierce warrior, her many arms clutching weapons, riding upon a snarling tiger. Yes, this was who I wanted to be.

I had few options. With little power of my own, I decided to harness the strength of others. I turned to witchcraft, learning how to control demons, those dim-witted ground-dwellers, to do what I demanded of them. If someone displeased me, I would inflict a horrific illness upon them.

At last, power coursed through my veins, an intense, almost orgasmic feeling.

But secrets never last long in a palace. Someone, hoping to gain favor with the king, told my husband what I was up to at night in my open-air chamber that faced the graveyard at the edge of the sea. Udayana called the court together and stood upon the sacred platform and shouted, “Mahendradatta, you have brought shame upon this kingdom. You have let evil into Bali. You are no longer my queen! I exile you!”

And before I knew what was happening, his guards had grabbed me and dragged me out of the palace, abandoning me in the dark jungle amidst the screeching of monkeys. I had only the clothes on my back. No food or supplies. A woman left exposed in the wild — Udayana assumed I would soon die, and everyone could forget all about me and the shameful fact that I had corrupted this island with the introduction of witchcraft.

The nocturnal sounds of the jungle filled my ears. I could hear animals moving stealthily through the foliage, stalking their prey. But I was no weak woman. I called upon Durga and the demons to protect me.

After a week or so, some villagers had learned of my exile and went into the jungle to seek me out. They heeded the alluring call of the dark arts; they wanted me to teach them how to enslave demons. Bitter souls who wanted to curse others, who wanted to spread sickness among their enemies.

These were my first students, my first leyaks, or witches. No longer the Queen of Bali, I became Queen of the Leyaks, and eventually, Queen of Demons.

Randga statues can be found out front of temples of death, like the one in Ubud

Randga statues can be found out front of temples of death, like the one in Ubud

A Son’s Betrayal, A Daughter’s Shame

One of the demons I used to spy on the court returned one evening, slithering along the ground to inform me that my husband planned to remarry.

Fury filled my breast. Who was Udayana to replace me, the mother of his children, the woman who brought his son, Erlangga, the king-to-be, into the world?

I screamed in rage, a horrific cry that wilted the plants around me and sent the animals scurrying away in fright.Trembling with anger, I sent a message to Erlangga to meet me at the edge of the jungle.

I saw the prince sneaking down the path for our illicit rendezvous, his eyes darting in every direction, worried he might be seen.

“My son, my son,” I called, a whisper that carried on the wind to his ears.

“Mother,” he said, looking at the ground. He would not meet my eyes.

“I have called you here to request a favor. Convince your father that he must not remarry. I will not be replaced.”

“I cannot,” he said after a time. “I cannot.” Erlangga turned from me and fled back to the palace.

If he had looked upon me — by this time I was a rather frightening sight, unbathed, my clothes in tatters, my hair matted — things might have turned out differently.

But it seemed Erlangga feared his father more than he feared me. That would be the biggest mistake of his life.

On top of my firstborn’s betrayal, I learned that my daughter, Princess Ratna Menggali, a young maiden known for her loveliness (this is not just a mother’s pride speaking), couldn’t find a single suitor. No one of high caste wanted to marry a daughter of mine. My association with witchcraft had tainted my poor daughter.

I found Ratna running through the jungle in tears, not seeming to notice or care about the branches that scratched her beautiful face.

I gathered her to me and held her against my chest.

“Come, daughter,” I told her. “You have a place here. Your life is not over, but just beginning.”

Ratna became my pupil, one of my most powerful leyaks.

“We shall make them pay,” I told her, seething at the wrong we had both suffered.

Randga is Queen of the Witches and brings doom to many

Randga is Queen of the Witches and brings doom to many

A young girl from the village wandered too far into the jungle one misty morning, and Ratna snatched her and brought her to me. While the child trembled and sobbed in fear, I dragged my claw-like nails across her throat.

“Take this innocent blood as an offering, Durga, O Invincible One!” we chanted.

The goddess heeded our call. The sea rose in a rush of water, a black tide that flooded the entire village. The crops became unharvestable, homes destroyed.

The success of the sacrifice sparked an idea. On Bali, babies are holy, for they have only recently left the spirit realm. In fact, for months, the Balinese do not let their newborns even so much as touch the ground. For that, you see, is where my minions must stay. Demons are relegated to the dirty, profane earth, where only the filthiest of body parts, the feet, should touch.

Whenever we learned of a child’s death, I would send Ratna and the other leyaks on a mission to dig up and steal the tiny corpse for our black rituals.

Even today, all over Bali, you’ll see statues of me holding innocent babes, the instant before I devour them. Try not to judge me too harshly. If I am to act as a profane foil to all that is sacred, I must corrupt that which is most holy. (That their tender, plump bodies taste even more delicious than suckling pig is just an added bonus.)

My patron deity Durga, pleased with my drive and my devotion, granted me immortality and full dominion over the demons. I felt as if I were on fire, as my mortal essence burned away. I had become a goddess.

Erlangga Enlists the Aid of Barong

One day, years later, I learned that Udayana had died and Erlangga was now king. I refused to forgive him for not defending my honor. He had abandoned his own mother and he would pay the price.

Erlangga knew of the danger of my wrath. Reports of desecrated graves had spread, of a wild woman of the jungle and her pet demons, which wreaked havoc on the people of Bali.

While my son mustered an army to fight me, I sent a foul plague creeping throughout the kingdom. Within days, half of the population lay dead.

Erlangga fretted. What chance would mortal men have against a goddess and her army of witches and demons?

As Queen of Bali, Randga was exiled for practicing witchcraft. She later became the goddess of evil and ruler of demons

As Queen of Bali, Randga was exiled for practicing witchcraft. She later became the goddess of evil and ruler of demons

My son called upon Empu Pradah, a legendary holy man, and asked him how to defeat me. He was told to seek the aid of another god, Barong, the King of the Spirits, a mighty shape-shifting beast. He sometimes takes the form of a boar, sometimes an elephant, sometimes a tiger — though the lion guise is his favorite.

Barong ambles along clumsily. But don’t let that fool you — when it comes time to fight, he becomes as fierce as any of my demons. People don’t like to think of him as a monster, but that’s what he is.

Erlangga’s army approached, carrying wavy silver knives called keris, the tips coated with poison.

Let’s give them a taste of their own medicine, I thought.

All of the soldiers were suddenly consumed with an overwhelming desire to turn the keris upon themselves, to commit suicide by stabbing the toxic blades into their own hearts.

But just as the daggers were about to pierce their skin and become inflamed with the poison the soldiers meant for me and my demons to suffer, Barong reared up and cast a counterspell. Instantly, the skin of Erlangga’s soldiers became impenetrable. The keris were deflected. The army was saved.

My frustrated shriek caused the men to cover their ears, to tremble in fear. But I had gone.

Barong, on the left, is the representation of good on Bali and, as such, is the yin to Rangda’s yang

Barong, on the left, is the representation of good on Bali and, as such, is the yin to Rangda’s yang

The Balance of Good and Evil

For, you see, a realization had dawned on me, like a bright light piercing the darkness. This was my role for eternity: Barong and I were to engage in a never-ending battle. Neither good nor evil could win.

Of course, Barong’s battle is seen as necessary. The Balinese love him. He is their benevolent hero. His violence is forgiven, while mine is reviled. So be it. The minute we are done battling, Barong is back to his docile self, lumbering along like a puppy dog. He knows how to play to his audience.

By the time I had gained immortality, I had become an old woman. I let my hair grow long and wild; it became a mass of tangled white strands, some matted into dreadlocks. For the most part, I stopped bothering to wear clothes — what was the point? I was a fearsome deity. My breasts drooped farther and farther, until they swung across my stomach when I snarled. My teeth continued to grow as well, forming fangs that curved outward like a boar’s. I let my fingernails lengthen until they were razor-sharp claws. And I stretched out my tongue to demonstrate my insatiable hunger. A sense horror overwhelms all who see me.

People call the spirits over which I reign “evil.” But do you feel evil when you are consumed by grief or pain? Is it evil to feel fear or hopelessness? To be sick? Unloved?

I quickly realized that without my army of so-called evil demons, people would not realize the joy brought about by my counterpart, Barong, and his legion of spirits.

The world must remain in balance, and I must do my part. Do not wish for a paradise. Utopias are dull places, for how can you know what happiness is if that’s all there is? How would you know peace without there being stress to escape from? Paradise, as humans naïvely imagine it, is the epitome of boredom, not pleasure.

Does this sound strange to you? It is no more strange than the fact that Christians pray to a demigod dying in agony. There, too, you have the balance of good and evil.

Perhaps I am wrong about the Balinese. Perhaps they do realize I have an essential part to play.

I, too, crave worship. The usual fruit and flowers will do. But sacrifice a rooster if you want me to ensure your fertility. And once you conceive, maybe, just maybe, I’ll keep away from that tasty little morsel. –Wally

Barong, King of the Spirits on Bali

What is Barong? Or should we say, who is Barong? The Balinese personification of good fights an eternal battle with the demon queen Rangda.

The mythical creature Barong represents all that is good in the world

The mythical creature Barong represents all that is good in the world


I fell in love with Barong the first time I saw him. And really, who could resist his charm? He’s most often depicted as a bright red, playful creature who gallops along good-naturedly like a playful Labrador retriever. Somehow his bug eyes and fangs don’t detract from his cuteness.

While Barong’s name supposedly comes from a word meaning “bear,” it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what type of creature he is. He looks a lot like a Chinese fu dog, which to me has always seemed a muddling of a lion and a Pekingese.

Barong bids visitors farewell in this mural at the Denpasar airport

Barong bids visitors farewell in this mural at the Denpasar airport

If an epidemic rages through a village, the local priest will dip the beard of the Barong mask into a bowl of water, which will imbue it with white magic that will heal the populace.
A popular figure on the island, Barong pops up everywhere, such as this street art in Ubud

A popular figure on the island, Barong pops up everywhere, such as this street art in Ubud

The Barong Ket, or Lion Barong, is the most popular, though the creature sometimes takes other forms:

  • Barong Celeng: Boar

  • Barong Macan: Tiger

  • Barong Naga: Dragon or Serpent

  • Barong Gajah: Elephant

Wally and Duke make some new friends, including Barong and Rangda, which they watched battle in a dance

Wally and Duke make some new friends, including Barong and Rangda, which they watched battle in a dance

It helps that Barong is essentially all that is good in the world. He protects the Balinese in their villages. Barong is represented by a mask, its dark beard usually made of human hair. The mask is often kept in the village’s pura dalem, the temple of death, or in a small shrine near the bale banjar, the meeting hall.

An entire pavilion at the temple of Samuan Tiga is filled with Barong masks

An entire pavilion at the temple of Samuan Tiga is filled with Barong masks

Barongs come in various shapes, including that of a celang, or boar, as seen in the middle

Barongs come in various shapes, including that of a celang, or boar, as seen in the middle

The Hindus of Bali offer flowers and fruit to thank Barong for protecting them. The mask on the left is the form of a macan, or tiger

The Hindus of Bali offer flowers and fruit to thank Barong for protecting them. The mask on the left is the form of a macan, or tiger

If, for instance, an epidemic rages through a village, the local priest will dip the beard of the Barong mask into a bowl of water, which will imbue it with white magic that will heal the populace. Oil dripping from the mask’s eyes has even been said to cure scabies.


puradalemrangda.jpg

His worship predates Hinduism and is a relic of animism, the belief that animals have supernatural protective powers.

During the Galungan festivities, boys don the Barong mask and parade through town, looking for sweets

During the Galungan festivities, boys don the Barong mask and parade through town, looking for sweets

Galungan Guise

When I first visited Bali, we arrived in September during the Galungan Festival. It struck us the Balinese version of Halloween. All through the town of Ubud, we’d hear the clanging of metal percussion instruments, and would gawk as a strange creature approached. This was Barong, its wooden jaw opening and closing with a loud thok. One boy worked the mask, with its golden, mirrored crown, while others hid under a sheet to form the bumpy body that moved jerkily along the street. The kids, in their Barong costume, would stop at various business and receive sweets or coins. We later learned that Galungan was the most holy of holidays for the Hindus of Bali.

During the galungan holidays, the island was suddenly filled with magnificent masked beasts. With glaring eyes and snapping jaws, with elaborate golden crowns, great hairy bodies bedecked with little mirrors, and tails that rose high in the air to end in a tassel of tiny bells, they pranced and champed up and down the roads from village to village to the sound of cymbals and gongs, as though they had newly emerged, like awakened dragons, from caves and crevices in which for months they had been lying dormant.

This was the barong, a beautiful composite animal, lion, said some, bear, said others, Ruler of the Demons, said still others. …

These creatures were high-spirited and full of whims, dancing a strange ballet, coquettish and playful one moment, rolling on the ground like a puppy, and suddenly and unaccountably ferocious the next, snapping and stamping in fine fury as the two dancers within the body synchronized their steps and movements with beautiful coordination.

–Colin McPhee, A House in Bali


Barong engages in a never-ending fight with the Demon Queen, Rangda, in the middle

Barong engages in a never-ending fight with the Demon Queen, Rangda, in the middle

Barong vs. Rangda, the Battle Between Good and Evil

As the king of the good spirits, Barong fights a never-ending battle with the demon queen Rangda.

His nemesis is more human-like, a hideous half-nude witch with sagging breasts, disheveled hair and a long tongue lolling out of her fanged mouth. Barong and Rangda, like yin and yang, cannot exist with the other; there is no good without evil. Unlike in our Western lore, where people often tend to live happily ever after, in Balinese legend, neither Barong nor Rangda ever truly win. Their battle is the subject of a favorite dance on Bali. The forces of good and evil, of order and chaos, must remain in balance. –Wally


More Myths From Bali and Java

The Legend of Bandung Bondowoso and the Slender Virgin of Prambanan

Princess Loro Jonggrang didn’t want to marry the magician who killed her father. So she came up with a clever plan to deceive his demon helpers.

An Indonesia stamp commemorates the legend of Roro (aka Loro) Jonggrang and the magician Bandung Bondowoso, who summoned demons to perform a seemingly impossible task

An Indonesia stamp commemorates the legend of Roro (aka Loro) Jonggrang and the magician Bandung Bondowoso, who summoned demons to perform a seemingly impossible task

The massive towers and reliefs of the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan in Java, Indonesia flourished in the late 9th century. A marvel of ancient engineering, the dark volcanic stone structures took decades to complete — though local lore holds that the complex was built in single night by nocturnal spirits.

The temples of Prambanan on Java in Indonesia are the setting of a legend involving demons and a princess trapped in stone

The temples of Prambanan on Java in Indonesia are the setting of a legend involving demons and a princess trapped in stone

According to a stone tablet found while excavating the ruins of Prambanan, the temple was built to honor Lord Shiva, one of the most important gods in the Hindu pantheon. The compound’s original name was Shivgarh, the House of Shiva, when it was constructed around 850 CE by Rakai Pikatan, a king of the Sanjaya dynasty. It later took the name Prambanan, after the village where it’s located.

The princess’ deceit angered the magician, and he cursed her.

She was turned into a statue of the goddess Durga and remains enshrined in the central spire of Prambanan.

Although the temples were abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle, they were never completely forgotten. The origin myth popular among the Javanese tells of the story of the Slender Virgin, Roro or Loro Jonggrang, which is set in Prambanan. Like most stories told in the oral tradition, many variations exist, but its conclusion is generally the same.

Bandung Bondowoso and Loro Jonggrang

Long ago, in feudal Java, there were two neighboring kingdoms, Pengging and Prambanan. The kingdom of Pengging was prosperous and wisely ruled by Prabu Damar Maya. The other, Prambanan, fell under the reign of a wrathful and wicked half-demon king named Prabu Ratu Boko. Although he lived in a massive stone palace, he grew envious and devised a plan to take the kingdom of Pengging by force.  

Loro Jonggrang was so beautiful, the man who killed her father wanted to marry her

Loro Jonggrang was so beautiful, the man who killed her father wanted to marry her

The troops of Damar Maya put up a good fight, but were no match for the supernatural armies of Ratu Boko. Fearing he would lose his kingdom, Damar Maya consulted his chief brahmin priest, whose nephew, Bandung Bondowoso, was skilled in dark magic and was able to summon demons. Bondowoso created a supernatural arrow and climbed to the highest vantage point in Pengging to assess the enemy. When he saw Ratu Boko, he drew his bow back and shot the arrow straight through the demon king’s heart, killing him instantly.

Ratu Boko’s army retreated to Prambanan and delivered the news of the king’s death to his daughter, Princess Loro Jonggrang, whose name translates as “Slender Virgin.” Her beauty was known throughout the land, and like her father, she was willful and arrogant. The princess asked who had slain Ratu Boko and was told that it was a man named Bandung Bondowoso.

Loro Jonggrang arranged an elaborate ceremony to cremate the remains of her father on the palace grounds and extended an invitation to Bondowoso. Not only was she slender and beautiful, but she was also a graceful dancer. At the ceremony, accompanied by her court dancers, Loro Jonggrang glided out into the audience hall to perform a dance in homage to her father. Grief made her even more striking, and Bondowoso fell under her spell, determined to marry her.

Demons are said to have built 1,000 temples in a single night

Demons are said to have built 1,000 temples in a single night

Some days after, he sent a small delegation to request her hand in marriage. The princess reluctantly agreed, but set a seemingly impossible challenge: She would only marry Bondowoso if he were able to build 1,000 temples in a single night. The magician accepted her unusual request, and as the sun set, summoned an army of nocturnal spirits and demons. They worked tirelessly and quickly.

As punishment for her deceit, the princess became the statue of Durga in the Shiva Temple at Prambanan

As punishment for her deceit, the princess became the statue of Durga in the Shiva Temple at Prambanan

Not wanting to marry the man who had killed her father, Loro Jonggrang conceived of a plan to trick the supernatural beings. She enlisted the help of her servants and ordered the women of the village to fill their stone mortars with dried rice stalks and pound the grains from their stems, a task performed daily at dawn. The princess then sent her servants out to the east to burn the dried paddies. The combination of noise and firelight prompted the confused roosters to crow. Alarmed, the spirits fled back to the underworld, thinking the sun was rising and leaving the final temple incomplete.

The badass Durga, riding her tiger mount, defeats an evil buffalo demon

The badass Durga, riding her tiger mount, defeats an evil buffalo demon

Loro Jonggrang’s deceit angered Bondowoso, and he cursed her, uttering the words, “There’s only one temple left — let you be the one to complete it!” The princess was turned into a statue of the goddess Durga the Inaccessible, now known as the Slender Virgin. The statue remains enshrined in the north chamber of the central spire of Prambanan, presumably the 1,000th temple. –Duke

The Demon Lilith and the Ghost of Doc Benton

The monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 15 & 16 include Adam’s first wife and a Dartmouth urban legend.

To ensure his immortality, Doc Benton steals body parts from other people, and over the years has come to resemble Frankenstein’s monster

To ensure his immortality, Doc Benton steals body parts from other people, and over the years has come to resemble Frankenstein’s monster

S3E15: “Time Is on My Side”

Monster: Doc Benton

Where it’s from: Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, owned and operated by Dartmouth College

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in New Hampshire, where unsuspecting Dartmouth students stay — not knowing they could be the next victims of Doc Benton!

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in New Hampshire, where unsuspecting Dartmouth students stay — not knowing they could be the next victims of Doc Benton!

Description: On the show, Doc Benton is cobbled together from various people’s body parts, like Frankenstein’s monster.

What it does: Doc Benton is the star of a ghost story used to scare freshmen. He was an insane recluse who kidnapped a girl named Mary. Benton threw her off a cliff, and when locals examined her corpse, they noticed a scratch behind her ear and a red dot on her head. Doc Benton became obsessed with the idea of living forever, and figured out a way to do so by stealing the vital organs of healthy young specimens (like Dartmouth freshmen, for instance). He has beaten death for centuries now, and can continue to commit his sick surgeries for eternity.

Doc Benton has been stitched up numerous times over the centuries. Don’t go near him if you want to keep that kidney!

Doc Benton has been stitched up numerous times over the centuries. Don’t go near him if you want to keep that kidney!

On Supernatural, a dead man’s fingerprints are all over a guy’s stomach, but only his liver was removed — surgically.

“Zombies do like the other other white meat,” Dean quips.

Another victim is missing his kidney. He’s sewn up with silk, which was used for sutures in the 18th century. And maggots are placed on the wound to eat infected tissue and leave the good — a startling practice still used today, if you can believe it.

The snarkiest of the Winchester Brothers, of course, has some great nicknames for Doc Benton: Slicey McHacky and Dr. Quinn, Zombie M.D.

Doc likes to set up shop in the middle of the woods near a river — a good place to dump intestines, fecal matter and whatnot.

Reading the mad doctor’s medical notes, the Winchester Brothers realize that he has discovered the secret to eternal life.

“Drink blood out of a baby’s skull?” Dean asks.

No black magic, Sam says. Just science.

Sammy gets kidnapped by Benton, who’s about to scoop out his eye with a Victorian-era melon baller. Eww!

How to defeat it: Doc Benton tells Dean and Sam that Daddy Winchester cut out his heart. “That was very inconvenient,” he adds.

You can’t run him over. And you can’t shoot him. “What part of immortality don’t you understand?” the phantom asks.

So they dip a knife in chloroform to knock out the not-so-good doctor and bury him alive.


This terra cotta carving from Mesopotamia is called  The Queen of the Night  and possibly depicts the demon Lilith

This terra cotta carving from Mesopotamia is called The Queen of the Night and possibly depicts the demon Lilith

S3E16: “No Rest for the Wicked”

Monster: Lilith

Description: On the show, Lilith takes the incarnation of a little girl. It’s a solid choice and scores high marks on the creepiness scale. Especially when her dress is covered in blood cuz her pet Freckles was mean to her — along with the babysitter lying dead nearby.

Where it’s from: The Near East, especially in what is now Iraq

What it does: Lilith has been described as the most notorious demon in Jewish tradition. She was the first woman and was Adam’s wife before Eve. Lilith is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and newborns, and her breasts are filled with poison instead of milk.

Lilith was Adam’s first wife in Jewish lore. When she refused to be subservient to him, she was demonized, and Eve was created to take her place

Lilith was Adam’s first wife in Jewish lore. When she refused to be subservient to him, she was demonized, and Eve was created to take her place

Her name means “Night,” and she embodies all that goes along with that: terror, sensuality and unbridled freedom.

The Babylonian Talmud says, “It is forbidden for a man to sleep alone in a house, lest Lilith get hold of him.” That’s because Lilith fertilizes herself with unsuspecting men’s sperm to give birth to other demons. Some of us might be demon baby daddies and not even know it!

How to defeat it: This demon is best avoided. She’s one badass bitch: “Lilith would have peeled the meat from your pretty, pretty faces,” the Winchesters are told. That would’ve been a shame; they do have such pretty, pretty faces.

Sam and Dean get the demon-killing knife from Ruby, but she warns them that to Lilith it would be a mere “pig sticker.”

Dean can see demons’ true forms as his time on Earth nears its end. But how are they going to convince others that the child is a powerful demon? It’s not like they can sneak in, grab a 10-year-old girl and give her a Colombian necktie (a slash across the throat and the resulting bloodbath).

Dean has a deadline: At midnight his time is up — and sure, enough, once the clock strikes 12, he gets torn apart by hellhounds. Bad doggies! –Wally


READ MORE SUPERNATURAL EPISODE RECAPS

Goa Gajah: An Easy Ubud Day Trip

The so-called Elephant Cave has an iconic and demonic gaping cave mouth.

When staying in Ubud, make a quick stop to see the monster mouth at Goa Gajah 

When staying in Ubud, make a quick stop to see the monster mouth at Goa Gajah 

Balinese words can be so fun to pronounce. You’ve got the water palaces of Klungkung and Tirta Gangga. And just outside of Ubud is a small temple complex called Goa Gajah that dates from the 9th to 11th centuries.

Turns out Goa Gajah has been mistranslated to Elephant Cave, but you won’t find even the remotest hint of a pachyderm anywhere on the small temple complex — aside from a stone statue of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh inside the cave. And, perhaps, the tusk-like fangs that adorn the demonic mouth that forms the cave entrance.

Those bulging eyes and elongated mouth are a familiar sight in Indonesian temple architecture.
Flights of stairs lead down to the Goa Gajah complex

Flights of stairs lead down to the Goa Gajah complex

The first thing you’ll come across are these ruins

The first thing you’ll come across are these ruins

Goa Gajah’s a good stopover to pair with other sites. Excavated in 1954, there are a few buildings in the complex, but it’s really all about the giant mouth cave. Wait for the tourists to clear out, snap the money shot — and you’ll be good to go.

Those bulging eyes and elongated mouth stretching into an entrance are a familiar sight in Indonesian temple architecture. As scary as they look, they’re depictions of Bhoma, a nature god who symbolically cleanses visitors as they enter the most sacred part of holy sites.

What mysteries await Duke and Wally inside the Elephant Cave?

What mysteries await Duke and Wally inside the Elephant Cave?

Inside the cave, a narrow T-shaped passageway forks to the left and right, the walls blackened from incense smoke. You can make out small niches in the darkness, some with worn-away statues, including a trio of phallic linga wearing black, white and red skirts. The adorable palm-woven square offering baskets I love so much are placed at the base of the statues.

Inside the cave are three phallic linga in honor of the Hindu deity Shiva the Destroyer

Inside the cave are three phallic linga in honor of the Hindu deity Shiva the Destroyer

The only elephant you’ll see at the Elephant Cave is this statue of Ganesha

The only elephant you’ll see at the Elephant Cave is this statue of Ganesha

Statues fill a niche. Compared to other holy sites on Bali, Goa Gajah is quite small

Statues fill a niche. Compared to other holy sites on Bali, Goa Gajah is quite small

At the back of the complex are colorfully decorated shrines

At the back of the complex are colorfully decorated shrines

It’s thought that Buddhist monks would meditate in the quiet confines of the cave.

The other notable site at Goa Gajah is the bathing pool, where water pours from the urns held by statues of busty Hindu divine spirits. The holy site was chosen because it’s the spot where two rivers converge.

Female Hindu spirits form the fountains

Female Hindu spirits form the fountains

Wally bathes in the holy water

Wally bathes in the holy water

Get to Goa Gajah as early as possible to avoid the inevitable tourist buses that show up later in the day. It’s a fun place to visit, and you can be in and out in about half an hour. –Wally

goagajahwally.JPG

Goa Gajah
Ubud, Bedulu
Blahbatuh
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali, Indonesia

Altered Reality: Witchcraft, Lucid Dreaming and Mystery Spots

Supernatural Season 3, Episodes 9-11 cover the Malleus Maleficarum, African dream root, tricksters and hex bags.

Don’t sabbaths look fun?!  Hexen , or  Witches , by Hans Baldrung, 1508

Don’t sabbaths look fun?! Hexen, or Witches, by Hans Baldrung, 1508

S3E9: “Malleus Maleficarum”

Monster: Witch

Where it’s from: All over the world, including the Middle East, Europe and America

Description: While they sometimes are depicted as being hideous, with long, warty noses and greenish skin, witches are just ordinary people. In fact, many, if not most, of those accused of witchcraft during the medieval Inquisition in Europe were simply natural healers, who fell victim to the patriarchy’s refusal to allow women in influential roles.

Be careful what you wish for:  The Witch of Endor  by Martynov

Be careful what you wish for: The Witch of Endor by Martynov

One of the first mentions of a witch is the Witch of Endor, in 1 Samuel in the Bible, believed to have been written between 931 and 721 BCE, according to History. King Saul convinces the witch to call up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to help him defeat the Philistine army. She’s reluctant to help, as practicing witchcraft at the time was punishable by death. But Saul assures her she’s safe, so she performs her dark arts, and Samuel’s ghost appears.

Things don’t work out too well for Saul, though. Samuel is all doom and gloom, and sure enough, the next day Saul’s sons perish in the battle. Saul, in despair, commits suicide.

The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks:  Saul and the Witch of Endor  by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks: Saul and the Witch of Endor by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

Even though the Witch of Endor isn’t depicted as a villain — in fact, you could argue that she performs God’s work — there’s another Old Testament verse, Exodus 22:18, which decrees, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  

The name of this episode of Supernatural refers to a medieval treatise, the Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for The Hammer of Witches) by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (and possibly Jacob Sprenger). Published in Germany in 1487, it instructed magistrates how to identify, interrogate and convict witches. The writers endorsed executing witches.

This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

The book was a hit — it was the second-bestselling book, behind the Bible, for almost 200 years.

What it does: “I hate witches,” Dean whines. “They’re always spewing their bodily fluids everywhere.”

On Supernatural, a coven is masquerading as a book club. They cast some Arabic-sounding spells, cut their hand, drip blood onto a victim’s toothbrush — and her teeth fall out and she dies.

Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies

Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies



Hex bags are used to curse people. On the show, they’re relics of Old World black magic, containing bird bones, rabbit teeth and something the victim owned. Here are a couple of other versions:

How to Make a Hex Bag

Gather four symbolic items to include in the hex bag.

1. Intent: One ingredient that represents the purpose of the hex bag.

After the bag is created, you can “feed” more of these items to it to strengthen its power.

2. Spirit: Something that belongs to the possessor of the hex bag — and has never belonged to someone else.

3. Life: A plant, herb, seed or natural oil associated with the intended purpose of the bag. You can also use once-living items, like bone, hair, fur, antlers, claws or snake skin.

4. Sacrifice: One item that shows what you’re willing to offer to have the bag do its work.

Source: Sorcery and Shamanism

 

Black Magic Hex Bag

You’ll need:

  • Small black fabric bag

  • Pieces of dragon blood resin

  • Dried rue, basil, wormwood and nettle

  • A pentacle made of metal or wood

Focus on your target as you put the items into the bag.

Ideally, bury the hex bag outside their home, but if this isn’t possible, put it in their locker, desk or somewhere close to them.

Source: Spells of Magic

How to defeat it: Burning the hex bag negates its power.

This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

S3E10: “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Monster: Dreamwalker

Where it’s from: South Africa

Description: Xhosa shamans of the river valleys on the eastern cape of South Africa are said to possess the power to enter other people’s dreams.

Some shamans can take over your dreams

Some shamans can take over your dreams

What it does: The Winchester Brothers’ buddy Bobby is trapped in a dream. Someone’s entering people’s dreams (dreamwalking) and killing them. As the saying goes, if you die in your dream, you die in your sleep. It’s all very A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

How does one dreamwalk? It can be surprisingly easy.

A white flower called undlela zimhlophe, which translates to “white paths,” grows in South Africa. Its blooms only open at night, emitting a mesmerizing aroma. The plant, more commonly known as African dream root (Silene capensis), induces psychedelic, prophetic dreams.

African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

For the Xhosa, dreams are seen as gifts from the ancestors, characterized as drifting white winds or ghosts, in which they impart healing guidance or other knowledge to their descendants, according to World of Lucid Dreaming.

“This dream root is some serious mojo,” Sam says. “You take enough of it, with practice, you can become a regular Freddy Krueger.”

So how do they find this homicidal Sandman? Dean wants to know.

To control someone’s dream, you need to drink part of their body. The boys put in some of Bobby’s hair. Eww.

Bobby’s being tormented by a woman in a white nightgown with holes in her chest — who turns out to be his wife. He had to kill her — she was possessed, rabid. This horrific experience is what got him into hunting.

The villain turns out to be Jeremy, one of the subjects of a medical experiment — he’s basically a god in the dream world.

How to defeat it: Enter the dream and confront the dreamwalker. Remember, he’s dreaming, too. Use his subconscious fears against him.

Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

S3E11: “Mystery Spot”

Monster: Trickster

Where it’s from: Various parts of the world, though the Greek god Hermes and the Norse deity Loki are two of the best known

Description: There’ve been some strange goings-on at the Broward County Mystery Spot.

What it does: These mystery spots are popular roadside attractions in the U.S. They’re said to defy the laws of physics, where gravity doesn’t work, and perspective is skewed.

Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular  Titanic  pose

Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular Titanic pose

Dean’s not having any of it: “Sam, joints like this are only tourist traps, right? I mean, you know, balls rolling uphill, furniture nailed to the ceiling — they’re only dangerous to your wallet.”

But Sam thinks locations that bend space and time are a distinct possibility: “There are spots in the world where holes open up and swallow people.” He mentions the Bermuda Triangle, part of the Atlantic Ocean between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico, where dozens of ships and airplanes have disappeared, as well as the Oregon Vortex, one of the most famous mystery spots.

Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

What it does: Sam’s living his own personal Groundhog Day. Could you imagine a more frightening way to repeatedly start each day than your alarm going off to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”?

Poor Dean keeps dying: He gets shot by the owner of the Mystery Spot; he’s run down at a crosswalk; then he’s smashed by a falling piano. And that’s just the start. This cycle goes on for over 100 days.

It turns out to be the work of a trickster. A man who recently disappeared didn’t believe in wormholes — so the naughty god thought it’d be fitting to throw him in one.

Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow:  Mercury and Argos  by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow: Mercury and Argos by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Bobby says they’ll have to perform a summoning ritual. They’ll just need a gallon of human blood. Sam coldly agrees to kill someone for it — but then stakes Bobby. He knows his hunter buddy would never suggest such a bloodthirsty plan. And sure enough, the trickster god reveals himself.

How to defeat it: Beg. The trickster, in his sick and twisted way, is actually trying to get Sam to accept life without Dean. But Sam doesn’t want to imagine that (awww!), so the trickster lets Sam leave his virtual hell. –Wally

The Buddhist Bas-Reliefs of Borobudur

A walk-through of the Borobudur temple carvings that depict the lives of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales and Avadana.

The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The incomparable 9th century Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia contains the largest collection of decorative panels recounting the life of the Buddha. The structure rests upon an oversized base, and the body of the monument is composed of six raised platforms, including five terraced galleries. They’re square in form and diminish in scale with height. The uppermost trio of circular terraces are plain in comparison, but are augmented by 72 magnificent stone lattice-work stupas rising to the stupa on the summit. Because Borobudur has no inner chambers, it is considered a pilgrimage site.

The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

Pilgrims would have entered via the eastern stairs to ritually circumambulate (a fancy word for walking around) the sacred manmade mountain of chiseled gray andesite in quiet contemplation. It's here that the stories told in the narrative relief panels begin, with the birth of the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. According to legend, the infant stood and took seven steps. With each step, a lotus flower appeared, to prevent his tiny feet from touching the ground.

The corridors are filled with detailed murals depicting celestial beings, guardian demons, conch shells, jewel trees, durian fruit and a menagerie of animals, including elephants, deer and tree-dwelling monkeys, to name a few.

Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Open to the sky, the bas-reliefs adorning the 13-foot-wide passages create a broad platform and are read from left to right, moving in a clockwise direction around the monument, twisting in right angles from one terrace to another. The galleries represent the planes of existence that must be experienced before reaching the uppermost level of spiritual perfection.

Story Time: Jataka and Avadana

The first- and second-level stone reliefs depict tales from Buddhist lore, including the Jataka and Avadana. Wally and I had first seen these stories depicted in the frescoes of the Ajanta Caves in India.

The Jataka tales are about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Siddhartha. Thematically, they illustrate lessons in morality, karma and merit that distinguished the bodhisattva from all other creatures. As a bodhisattva, the Buddha was born and reborn numerous times, alternating from human to animal form, before he finally attained enlightenment.

Avadana are similar to Jataka, but the main figure is not the Buddha himself — the saintly deeds are attributed to other legendary people.

We didn’t experience the reliefs in chronological order, as our guide, Pras, led us down from the upper terraces, after we watched the sunrise.


borobudurtemple.JPG

We paused on the stairway to admire one of the ornate archways depicting the fearsome face and open mouth of Kala.

According to folklore, Kala was created by the god Shiva to eradicate demons, though he’s sometimes identified himself as a demon named Rahu, who is said to have swallowed the universe, only to release it after being decapitated by the gods.

Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Why Many Buddhists Are Vegetarian

Pras pointed out a notable tale depicted in one of the panels known as The Hare’s Sacrifice. The bodhisattva was born as a hare. His closest friends were an otter, a jackal and a monkey. He continuously urged his friends to strive for right conduct and to be generous in their daily life. Wanting to put the hare to the test, the god Sakra appeared in the forest in the shape of a brahman who had lost his way and was starving. The otter brought seven fish, the jackal a lizard, and the monkey ripe fruits. The hare, however, couldn’t offer anything. The brahman lit a fire for an offering — and immediately the hare jumped in, offering himself as a meal. The king of the gods admired the saintly deed, and while resuming his own shape, he praised the hare for his self-sacrifice.

Pras explained that this was why many Buddhists are vegetarian, as they would not like to think that they are eating someone who may have been reborn as an animal. –Duke

Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple
Jl. Badrawati
Kw. Candi Borobudur
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah
Indonesia

Vampires, Pagan Gods and a Ghost Ship

Belsnickel, the magical uses of meadowsweet and the Hand of Glory play a part in the monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 6-8.

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

S3E6: “Red Sky at Morning”

Monster: Ghost ship

Where it’s from: All around the world, particularly England and the United States

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Description: This particular spectral ship is a three-masted clipper. There have been reports of ghost ships for centuries, including:

The S.S. Violet, a paddle steamer, ran aground crossing the English Channel in a snowstorm. She was sighted by a lookout at Goodwin Sands at the start of World War II. A lifeboat went out to investigate — but no ship was found.

The  Griffon ’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon, one of the first major vessels to sail the Great Lakes, which is said to haunt Lake Michigan. Her maiden voyage in 1679 was also her last. She went down during a storm…but has been seen on the northern part of the lake ever since.



The title of the ep comes from a nautical saying:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.

That is to say, that a red sunrise could mean a storm is coming.

What it does: The ghost ship of the Espírito Santo, a three-masted clipper (and an apparent invention of the show), appears every 37 years. Don’t look! If you happen to be one of the poor saps who sees the ship, you’ll end up drowning, like the woman in the shower and the man in the bathtub. The ghost ship will find a way to drown you — even if you’re just sitting in your car.

The Winchester Bros. start detecting a pattern: The ghost ship is targeting those who have spilled their family’s blood.

How to defeat it: There’s a gruesome but super helpful charm known as a Hand of Glory.

(Insert Dean joke here: “A Hand of Glory? I think I got one of those at the end of my Thai massage last week.”)

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory has magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: It can open any lock and sometimes makes the holder invisible.

The Hand of Glory

A Hand of Glory is actually the hand (usually the right) of a hanged man who’s still swinging from the gallows — preferably during a lunar eclipse, but any ol’ night will work as well. You pickle it for 15 days, then dry it in the sun. It’s said to have magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: The Hand of Glory can open any lock and allows intruders to enter buildings undetected, sometimes making the holder invisible. The fingers burn as candles that never go out or hold a candle made from the fat of the hanged man in their grip. Once lit, it puts people to sleep or renders them motionless. In some tellings, the thief can only light a finger for each person asleep in the house; those that don’t light reveal that someone inside is awake. The lit fingers ensure that those sleeping won’t be able to be awakened.

Honestly, where can I get one of these for myself?

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

To break the curse of the spectral ship, the fellas summon the ghost of the brother who killed the captain of the Espírito Santo. The two ghosts destroy each other in a watery sploosh.

On  Supernatural , vampirism is a blood-borne virus

On Supernatural, vampirism is a blood-borne virus

S3E7: “Fresh Blood”

Monster: Vampire

Where it’s from: Romania

Description: A girl named Lucy gets dosed with vampire blood at a club and turns into a vamp. In the Supernatural universe, vampirism is a virus; if you ingest a vampire’s blood, you become one.

Bright light hurts their eyes — though they do have infrared vision. And they can hear heartbeats from a block away.

What it does: The vampire has a type. He’s turning pretty blondes. He feels misunderstood, that he’s a victim. He even cries when his “daughters” get killed, fearful of facing eternity alone.



A fellow hunter, Gordon, thinks our boy Sam is the Antichrist. So it’s particularly satisfying that a legendary vampire hunter like him gets turned into one of the monsters he so despises. Serves him right, the jerk.

The Winchesters were going to kill Gordon back when he was a human, so it makes it easier on their consciences to off him now that he’s a vampire.

How to defeat it: A shot of dead man’s blood knocks a vampire out.

To kill them, try decapitation or a silver bullet. (Though the novelist Anne Rice, an expert on vampires, told Marketplace, “Vampires are not particularly affected by silver bullets. Traditionally what kills vampires is a wooden stake through the heart.”

 

S3E8: “A Very Supernatural Christmas”

Monster: Pagan gods

Where it’s from: Britain

Description: At first Sam thinks they’re dealing with an evil Santa: “There’s some version of the anti-Claus in every culture. You’ve got Belsnickel, Krampus, Black Peter. Whatever you want to call it, there’s all sorts of lore.”

He continues, “Santa's brother went rogue, and now he shows up around Christmas time. But instead of bringing presents, he punishes the wicked.”

I doubt there’s a demonic counterpart to Santa in every culture, but Sammy’s right that there are quite a few.



A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

Belsnickel, a Sinister Santa From Germany

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

This Christmas crazy wears a mask and often a wig, dresses in dark furs, lurks outside your house, and knocks on your door or window to announce his presence. He’s been known to give nuts, candy and small gifts to good children — but those who’ve been naughty get whipped and dragged into the woods. Belsnickel makes them pay for their bad behavior by dancing, doing tricks, singing or reciting poems for him.

It’s Sam that makes the connection to paganism.

Sam: Pretty much every Christmas tradition is pagan.

Dean: Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

Sam: No, Jesus’ birthday was probably in the fall. It was actually the Winter Solstice festival that was co-opted by the church and renamed Christmas. But I mean, the Yule log, the tree, even Santa’s red suit — that’s all remnants of pagan worship.

Dean: How do you know that? What are you gonna tell me next? Easter Bunny’s Jewish?

The Winchester boys come across wreaths made of meadowsweet. Sam explains it as a powerful pagan herb that’s basically chum for their gods. “Gods were drawn to it and they’d stop by and snack on whatever was the nearest human,” he explains.

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Meadowsweet, though, once used to sweeten mead, is actually used in spells for love or creating a positive environment.

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Sam concludes they’re looking for Hold Nickar, the pagan god of the Winter Solstice, who grants clement weather. Ancient pagans (and Wiccans today) worship the Goddess, who takes the form of the Great Mother. She gives birth to the Sun King on Yule, symbolizing a beam of light in the dark of winter, promising renewed life and the return of the sun’s warmth and sustaining energy.

What it does: The Hardy Boys are the pagan gods’ newest tributes. The couple are sticklers for details and are gathering the ingredients they need for their ritual. That includes collecting blood from the Winchesters and prying off one of Sam’s fingernails. After this horrific exercise, we can only hope they’re done. But no: “Sweet Peter on a popsicle, I forgot the tooth!” the god exclaims, heading toward Dean’s mouth.

How to defeat it: Guess these gods aren’t so immortal: Wood stakes kill them…for now, that is. –Wally

Belsnickel wears a mask and wig, dresses in dark furs, and drags naughty kids into the woods, where he whips them.