Q is for Qin Dynasty

Published April 26, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

So, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, is one of my favorite people in the world. Definitely top five. Here’s why:

Qin Shi Huang unified China after the Warring States Period in 221 BC. Before that, he was king of  the state of Qin, in western China. Among his achievements, were standardizing the currency, weights, measures, and the Chinese Script.  He was also said to have rejected the past, and ordered mass book burnings (not cool). Despite being a heavily bureaucratic government, they did improve transportation and the military.

Shi Huang built the Great Wall of China, which was later reconstructed and expanded during the Ming dynasty. Not much of the original portion remains. He is also famous for his city sized mausoleum and the terracotta army.

Qin Shi Huang’s greatest fear was death and as a result, he was obsessed with the thought of immortality. He even sent out a fleet of ships in search of a 1000 year old magician named Angi Sheng, who he had met in his travels, and had the elixer of life. The fleets never returned and legend says these people went on the colonize Japan. Some scholars believe that when he had ordered the book burnings and, it was to focus them on their quest for the elixer of life, and the scholars that were killed  (roughly 460) were those that had failed him. It was rumored that Shi Huang’s death was due to mercury poisoning, because it was thought ingesting mercury would cause immortality. He was also deathly afraid of evil spirits, and had underground tunnels built so he could travel unseen by these spirits.

Xu Fu's search for the Elixir of Life.

The emperor died during a tour of Eastern China, but it was kept secret out of fear of an uprising. His Prime Minister, Li Si, who was accompanying him at the time, ordered carts of rotten fish to be carried before and after the Imperial wagon to disguise the stench of decaying corpse. They even changed his clothes every day, and pulled down the shades so no one could see his face.

Despite all he accomplished and his later influence, the Qin dynasty only lasted 14 years, falling 3 years after Shi Huang’s death in 210 BC.

 

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                Sci-fi

P is for Persians

Published April 26, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great was a Persian king who lived in the 6th century BC. He founded the Achaemenid Empire, one of the largest empires in the world. He was known for respecting the religions and cultures of the lands he conquered, and his policies.  Under his reign (and throughout the entirety of the Persian empire), people were allowed religious freedom, and slavery was banned. Alexander the Great even looked up to him.

Ruins of Persepolis, the Persian capital.

The Persian Empire was split up into states called a satrapy; each one governed by a satrap (basically a governor).

Herodotus states that Persian youths, from their fifth year to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things – to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the Truth. Lying was the worst sin you could commit and it was punishable by death. He also says that Persians loved wine, and were often drunk during important councils. They would wait until they were sober the next day before deciding on anything.

Darius the Great created the first imperial navy in the world, yet it was soldiered by foreigners–mostly Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Cypriots. The navy greatly bolstered their peace-keeping efforts, and opened up trade routes.

Darius invaded Greece in retaliation against the Ionian revolts, and fell during the battle of Marathon. His son, Xerxes continued where his father left off with a second invasion, fighting in the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. Xerxes was not the oldest son of Darius, but he was chosen as his successor because he was the oldest son with Atossa, Cyrus’ daughter.

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                         Sci-fi

O is for Olmec

Published April 25, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Very little is known about the Olmecs, yet despite the sparse information, the Olmecs greatly influenced all later Mesoamerican cultures. The Olmec civilization flourished in south-central Mexico from 1500 BCE until around 400 BCE, and were the first major Mexican culture. They are most famous for their large head sculptures.

They had many animalistic deities, including a feathered serpent, a dragon with flaming eyebrows, a bird monster with both mammalian and reptilian features, and a shark.

Statue of a were-jaguar

Were-jaguars were an important part of their religion and culture. They believed they resulted from the copulation between and jaguar and a woman. Some scholars think the were-jaguar may have been an important deity in the Olmec religion. And may possibly have been the rain god.

Olmec rulers were important religious figures, and their legitimacy to rule was proven by their connection to the gods.

 

 

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                       Sci-fi

N is for Norse

Published April 25, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

This post is about the mythology, for the historical and cultural information, check out the post about the Danes.

Befitting their culture, the Norse have one of the most gruesome creation myths that I have personally come across. They believed that in the beginning, there were two worlds, Muspelheim and Niflheim, the first of fire and the second of ice. The air of the two worlds collided eventually collided and Ymir and the cow Audhumia were created.  The gods sprang forth from the sweat of Ymir and the saliva of the cow. When the gods were strong and plentiful enough, they killed Ymir, and his blood flooded the world (another blood flood myth), killing most of the gods. They then created seven more worlds using his flesh, blood, and bones.

The nine worlds of the Norse existed on an immense tree, called Yggdrasill. A gigantic, vicious dragon is said to chew on its roots. The nine worlds, while never mentioned in one source together, are Asgard, Vanaheimer, Alfheimer, Midgard (our world), Jotunheimer, Niovellir, Muspell, Neflher, and Hel. Asgard can be reached by a rainbow bridge called Bifrost. Hel was where the dead who did not die in valor went. It was ruled over by the giantess, Hel. The heroes, and those who did die with valor went to either Valhalla or Folkvangr, both in Asgard. Valhalla was a great hall belonging to the god Odin, and Folkvrangr belonged to Freyja. Once there, the heroes prepare to help Odin when Ragnarok comes.

The Ride of the Valkyries by John Charles Dollman.

A Valkyrie is mythical woman who decided who decided who fell in battle. They would guide the fallen to the halls of Valhalla. They were also sometimes associated with ravens.

The god Loki was a trickster shapeshifter, and is the father of various Norse mythological creatures, includinf Hel, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, and Sleipnir (and horse similar to the Korean Chollima).  When he killed the god Baldr, the gods bound Loki with the entrails of his son. He is also said to play a major part in Ragnarok.

Thor battling the World Serpent by Henry Fuseli.

Jormungandr is a giant serpent that encircles Midgard (the earth). He is also known as the World Serpent. Jormungandr fought Thor twice, and is prophesied to fight him a third time during Ragnarok.

Ragnarok is a series of events that will culminate with the death of many important Norse deities, and the submersion of the world. Eventually, the world will arise renewed and will be repopulated by the surviving gods and humans.

Book recommendations for reading challeges:

Fantasy                                                                                             Sci-fi

 

M is for Mongols

Published April 24, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Genghis Khan

Under Genghis Khan, the Mongol empire was ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse. Genghis allowed religious freedom, and even gave tax exemptions for religious figures, teachers and doctors. To the Mongols, religion was a personal concept. They did not believe the law should interfere.

Genghis however, was responsible for the deaths of over 40 million people. He and his descendants conquered much of Asia (including the Middle East) and western Europe; More than any other empire in history. He was reputed to be a merciless ruler, often killing the sons of the captured cities. Despite this, he was extremely shrewd and intelligent, often surrounding himself with teachers and religious figures of many cultures. He also untied all of the Mongolian confederations.

Genghis created a secret code of law called the Yassa. Not much is known about it, other than it was the principal law of the Mongolian people. The documents were kept secret and were only read by the royal family. No copies remain (or have at least been found) today. The most common form of punishment was death, even for small things.

Quite a gruesome legend surrounds Genghis’ death. It is said that a Tangut princess that he had captured in war hid a pair of pliers in her vagina and basically castrated him. He died of the pain, and probably blood-loss. Yes, you read that right.

His grandson, Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty, and became the first non-Chinese emperor of China.

Mandukhai

The Mongols even had an empress of great power, who reunited the Mongol confederations. After the death of her husband, Mandull Khan, Mandukhani Khatan became adopted and regent over the seven year old Batmunkh. The boy was a direct descendant of Genghis and part of the Golden Horde. When he was old enough to rule, she married him. Manukhani was a fierce warrior and tactician, even leading a battle against the Oirats while pregnant with twins. She won that battle, btw.

The Mongols practiced Shamanism. A shaman is a person who is the intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds. They were the healers and wise (wo)men of their communities. In many cultures, Shamans were two natured (transgendered), especially in Native American cultures. Two natured spirits were said to be more powerful, and were therefore greatly sought after.

 

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                                          Sci-fi

L is for Lakota

Published April 21, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

The Lakota are one of the seven Sioux tribes in the Dakotas.

The Lakota believe they are descended from the eagle, who is the wisest bird. They also have their own flood creation myth, where the water monster, Unktehi fought the humans and won, causing a great flood. Only one girl survived. An eagle, named Wanblee Galesha, saved her and brought her back to his home on a high spire. Back then, humans and animals shared a closer connection, so the bird was able to take her as his wife. She bore him twins, a girl and a boy, and when the waters receded, they came down to earth, married, had children, and created the Lakota nation.

Chief Sitting Bull in 1882

They also believe that Pipestone was created from the congealed blood of all the people who had died in the flood. Therefore, their pipes (made from Pipestone) is sacred because it is the flesh and blood of their ancestors.

Sitting bull was a famous Lakota chief who played a prominent role in the Great Sioux War. He fought in the battle of Little Big Horn, where he defeated Lt. Col. Custer. 

Book recommendations for Reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                         Sci-fi

K is for Korea

Published April 20, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Korea is considered to be one of the oldest countries in the world. Ancient Korea was split into Three kingdoms, The Silla, Goguryeo, and Bakje. In the 7th century AD, the Silla conqured the other two kingdoms, uniting Korea into one kingdom.

Moon goddess of Goguryeo

Korean mythology (much like Japanese mythology) believed that everything in nature had a spirit residing in it. People would offer tributes and sacrifices to assaude the spirits from causing harm.

The moon (Haesik) and the sun (Daesun) are brother in sister. In folklore, their mother was a poor rice cake seller who got tricked into giving all her rice cakes away by a tiger. When she had run out, the tiger became angry with her and ate her. Disguising himself as her, he went to her house, and tried to trick Haesik and Daesun to open the door so he could eat them too. Daesun prayed to the heavens for a strong rope to save them, or a rotted one if they were dammed. A strong  robe was sent down and the siblings climbed it to the heavens where Haesik became the sun, and Daesun the moon. Later, they switched places because Daesun was afraid of the dark.

The Chollima is a winged mythical horse, much like the pegasus. It is often depicted as having eight legs. In legend, the Chollima was too fast for any mortal man to catch, therefore ride.

Koreans also have their own version of a Kitsune, a Gumiho. However, in these legends, the Gumiho would transform into a beautiful girl who would seduce men so that she could eat thier livers. They are also capable of casting powerful curses and illusions. Another differentiation from the other legends is that a fox would become a Gumiho after living for a thousand years. A fox that is over a hundred years old is called a Bulyeowoo.

A Dokkaebi is a Korean goblin that is sometimes evil, but aso mischevious. They are the transformed spirits of inanimate objects, and are gruesome to look upon. Some tales say that they have a cap that will make the wearer invisible. They will usually torment bad people and reward good people.

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                      Sci-fi