The Nature of Angels

Tuned in: Train, Calling All Angels

Archangel Raphael

Archangel Raphael

A few years back, I read Danielle Trussoni’s novel, Angelology.  It’s a fascinating tale of a young nun who finds herself connected to the world of angels.  The mood was cold and dark, quite gothic, but at the same time intense and alluring.  From a mystic viewpoint, Angelology is the study of angels.  Whether one believes or not, it’s a topic or idea that spans more than a few religions.  What led me to Trussoni’s book and a fuller examination of these heavenly entities was my own very personal experience.

I will admit (even though I harbor the slight fear that the some will think—she’s gone over the edge prompted by too much writing and the quest to harness social media) I experienced a true event that left me speechless.  Well, not totally speechless, I immediately called my good friend to relate this incredible incident.

One morning, just after dawn as I drove to work, the car was quiet, no talk radio or music, my mind wandered to an unusual thought.  Generally at this time of the day, my brain is in a stasis.  Very little is going on except reacting to driving conditions or if anything, thoughts about what I must do when I first arrive at the workplace.  This morning was different; I was somewhat meditative.  A question popped into my head; what is the nature of angels?  Immediately afterward, I came to a red light and stopped.  My headlights shone on the license plate of the car in front of me.  On the plate was only the word—Divine.  Of course, I blinked and looked twice.  And it still read—Divine.  I sort of laughed, you know that nervous laughter when people experience fear or something they can’t quite process.  Was this just a coincidence?  Had my question timed itself perfectly with a driver whose plate had no numbers or series of random letters, just the bold, black word?  And at six thirty in the morning when few drivers occupied this road?

I immediately called my friend from the car who I knew was awake.  We discussed what were the odds that my thought would be answered via a physical symbol that fit.  After all, the car wasn’t a luxury brand.  The plate didn’t say ‘Popeye’ or ‘My Baby,’ it said ‘Divine.’ In my estimation and hers, we concluded the chances were slim.  I decided I could accept this as a ‘peek’ into the spiritual nature of our existence.  You know all the signs that float around that say Believe, I guess, I do.  Since then, I’ve decided to try and recognize signs that flow from spiritual streams of consciousness and not just ones delegated to the levels of emotional, physical, and intellectual awareness.

Angelology is found in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Angels are defined as a supernatural being or spirit.  There are several words found in the Old Testament that describe angels.  Both Hebrew and Arabic use the word Malak (messenger).  References to Seraphim (flame), Kherub (Cherub in English), and Ben Elohim (sons of God) are also found in Genesis and used by the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel.

Angels first appear in the Old Testament in Genesis where the Cherubim are used to guard the Tree of Life after the fall of Adam and Eve.  In addition, the ‘sons of God’ make their first appearance in Genesis.  It tells us that when men began to number the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God viewed them as beautiful and married them.  “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the ‘sons of God’ went to the daughters of men and had children by them.’  Some believe that the sons of God had relations with women and may have produced Nephilim that translates as giants.  They were considered to be ‘the heroes of old, men of renown.’

It is believed there is an angel hierarchy, but there are variances between the Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic order of angels or choir.  The Hebrew order ‘has been established for millennia’ but the Christian theological debates over angel hierarchy began with the ‘earliest theologians of the newly formed religion.’

The highest to lowest ranking in the Christian hierarchy:

First Hierarchy (The highest is Seraphim)

Archangel Gabriel

Archangel Gabriel

Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones

Middle Hierarchy

Dominations, Virtues, Powers

Third Hierarchy

Principalities, Archangels, Angels

The highest to lowest ranking in the Hebrew hierarchy: (The highest is Hayyoth)

Hayyoth, Ophanim, Erelim, Hashmallim, Seraphim, Malakim, Elohim, Bene Elohim, Cherubim, Ishim

The highest to lowest ranking in the Islamic hierarchy: (The highest is the Spirit)

The Spirit is ‘made from God’s light.’  He is in command of the Kerubim (cherubim). All angels are made from him, and the archangels and angels ‘preside over the universe for him.’  There are four archangels: Israfil, jibril (Gabriel), Azrael and Michael.  Other angels named are Munkar and Nakir who visit the graves of the dead.  The Kiramu’l

Michael the Archangel

Michael the Archangel

Katiban are guardian angels that accompany every person and record their lives.  Each person has two.

The names of some angels from the Jewish and Christian sources that are better known and listed as The Seven Holy Angels:

Michael (‘who is like unto God’)          Raphael (‘God has healed’)

Gabriel (‘God is my strength’)              Uriel (‘the light of God’)

Chamuel (‘He who seeks God’)            Zophiel (‘the beauty of God’)

Zadkiel (‘the righteousness of God’)

A tidbit I found in my search is that there is an angel associated with each month of the year.  The August angel is Hamaliel, the angel of logic.  Think logically about any decisions you may have to make this month.

Angels—fact or fiction?  It’s up to you to decide.  Some religious traditions believe we live in a world of illusion known as ‘Maya.’  Perhaps, the supernatural world is more real than ours.  What do you think?

 

Mercante, Anthony, Good and Evil In Myth & Legend; The Bible, NIV; Angels & Ghosts.com; Angel, Wikipedia.org

 

 

 

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Freya—Goddess of Love

Tuned in: Marc Cohn, Walk through the world with me.

May is the month of rebirth, love and fertility and a perfect time to introduce my readers to a goddess. In the last few months, I’ve showcased the Continental Germanic gods who share counterparts with some of the Scandinavian Norse gods and who are mentioned in my debut novel, On the Edge of Sunrise (2015). Loki, the trickster, and Thor, god of thunder, have found a perfect counterpart in the determined and beautiful goddess, Freya.

FREYA

Unknown-2Fraujŏ(Germanic) Freya (Norse) is the goddess of physical love and fertility. Freya’s responsibility was to ensure that the reproductive urge never died. Freya was also considered the most beautiful of the goddesses. Freya, having been born in Vanaheim, was also known as Vanadis or Vanas. After the war between the Aesir and the Vanir gods, Freya, a Vanir, went to live among the Aesir as a peace offering. When she arrived in Asgard, the gods were so charmed by her that they ‘bestowed upon her the realm of Folkvang and the great hall, Sessrymnir.’

Freya goddess of love also had martial tastes and a connection to the dead. The ancient Northern races believed as ‘Valfreya’ she often led the Valkyries down to the battlegrounds where she selected half of the slain heroes. She rode in a chariot pulled by gray cats, her favorite animals and symbols of sensuality. Often Freya is depicted as wearing a corselet and helmet and carrying a shield and a spear. She would transport the slain heroes to Folkvang, where they were entertained. Freya would invite all pure maidens and faithful wives and reunite them with their lovers and husbands.

imagesFreya had a sense of beauty and taste, and because of this, she was the proud owner of the necklace called, Brisingamen and a cloak of falcon feathers. She discovered the first treasure while visiting the underworld realm of dwarves. Freya spied a number of these little men creating the most beautiful necklace she’d ever seen. ‘Her vanity was as elevated as her libido, and she immediately coveted the object.’ She begged the dwarves to give her this treasure, which represented the stars, or the ‘fruitfulness’ of the earth. The dwarves demanded that she offer herself to them in payment. Reluctantly, Freya conceded and paid the price. Afterward, Freya hurried to place it around her neck. Its beauty enhanced her charms beyond her expectations and she wore it day and night.

Freya’s second treasure was her falcon cloak, which had the power to make the wearer fly. On occasion, she loaned it to the god, Loki, and wore it when she went in search of her missing husband, Odur.

“Freya one day Falcon wings took, and through space hied away; Northward and southward she sought her Dearly-loved Odur.”

                                                            Frithiof Saga, Tegnér (Stephens’s tr.) (Guerber)

Freya was considered not only the goddess of love but of fertility as well. In this way, it was only natural that she be attracted to the god who personified the sun, Odur. They had two daughters who all of Midgard considered extremely beautiful.

As the summer sun is known to do, Odur began to wander the world looking for adventure. Freya’s tears over her lost husband fell to earth and turned to gold. Freya, determined to find Odur, gathered up her falcon cloak and scoured the earth. Eventually, she found Odur in the southern lands ‘leaning against a myrtle tree.” Freya quickly fashioned a myrtle wreath and placing it on her head stepped before him ‘looking as lovely as the day they were wed.’ Because of Freya’s action it became a custom for Norse brides to wear wreaths of myrtle. Upon seeing Freya, Odur responded with warmth and happiness. In all his travels, he had never seen a woman so enchanting. Together they returned to Asgard, but in a leisurely fashion. As they travelled along the way, ‘the forces of nature celebrated Freya’s return to happiness by creating the magnificent flowers and vegetation of summer in the couple’s wake.’

Unknown-4The Norse loved Freya so much they dedicated a day of the week to her—Freya’s Day or ‘Friday.’ Held in such high regard, Freya’s temples were numerous, and were ‘long maintained by her votaries, the last, in Magdeburg, Germany, being destroyed by order of Charlemagne.’

Who is a lovely woman in your life? My lovely is Rachel my daughter, sweet and feisty, kind and pretty.

 

Guerber, H.A., Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and Sagas / Roberts, Morgan J., Norse Gods and Heroes

 

 

 

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Thor—God of Thunder

Tuned in: Garth Brooks, The Thunder Rolls 

thor gamesLast month, I wrote about Loki a god mentioned in my novel, On the Edge of Sunrise, set in 5th century AD (CE). Generally, it’s considered reasonable that the Germanic barbarian tribes, such as the Salian Franks—characters in my story, followed Continental Germanic gods who share counterparts with some of the Scandinavian Norse gods.  At times, all are included in the term ‘Germanic Gods.’  In some cases within my book, I’ve used the more familiar Norse terms to make it relatable to the reader.  Last month, I featured Loki.  This month it’s the God of Thunder—Thor.

Thor (Germanic-Donar) is considered the strongest of the Norse gods.  He’s thought to be the son of Odin (Germanic-Wodan/Wotan) and either Jord or Frigga. As a baby, he demonstrated his amazing strength by playfully tossing around ten massive bales of bear pelts, causing the gods in attendance for his birth to ‘gape in astonishment.’

As a young boy, Thor showed fits of rage and was sent to live with the keepers of lightening until he was a man and could exercise better control over his temper.  Once he was allowed back into Asgard, he sat in one of the twelve seats of Gladsheim (the meeting hall of the gods).  Thor was described as a powerful man ‘in his prime, tall and well formed, with muscular limbs and bristling red hair and beard, from which, in moments of anger, the sparks flew in showers.’

Thor was considered a patron god of peasants and slaves, and ‘associated with healthy crops and weather.’  The gods feared that Thor’s thunderous footsteps would destroy the incredible bridge, Bifrost, while crossing into Asgard, and was forced to enter in a circuitous way by crossing several rivers and streams. Thor possessed three magical weapons. The first, his hammer, Mjolnir, could destroy mountains with one blow.  Mjolnir when hurled would return back to Thor.  The second, a girdle, Megingjord, doubled the god’s power when worn. The third was an iron gauntlet, Iarn-greiper, to catch the hammer without harm when it returned to him.

Thor never went on horseback, but walked or rode in a chariot.  The rumble and roar ofthor_1 the thunder was believed to be the roll of his chariot pulled by two goats from ‘whose teeth and hoofs the sparks constantly flew.’ Because Thor drove from place to place, he was referred to as Thor the charioteer.  In Southern Germany, the people called him the ‘kettle vendor.’ They thought that a chariot alone could not make so much noise and believed it held copper kettles.

Thor had two wives throughout his existence. Iarnsaxa, a giantess, gave him two sons: Magni (strength) and Modi (valor).  Later, he married Sif.  She had magnificent, golden hair ‘as long and as full as the bountiful grain of the field.’  She also became the object of Loki’s trickery.  Sif and Thor had a son, Lorride and a daughter, Thrud.

One story about Thor that appeared in my sources is the tale of Thor’s daughter, a beautiful giantess named, Thrud, and a dwarf named, Alvis. The dwarves had to avoid the sunlight or they’d be turned to stone.  Conveniently, Alvis courted Thrud in the dead of night, while Thor slept unaware of their relationship.  The dwarf knew that Thor wouldn’t be pleased.  Thrud soon favored Alvis, who presented himself one evening in Asgard. Alvis asked the gods for Thrud’s hand in marriage.  Those assembled gave their consent.  Thor, not in attendance at the time of the engagement, suddenly appeared.  He cast a contemptuous glance at the ‘puny’ Alvis, and declared that before winning his bride, the dwarf must prove his knowledge was greater than his stature.  Testing Alvis, Thor questioned him in the languages of the gods and the world late into the night, prolonging the examination until sunrise.  Alvis completed the test successfully, but the unfortunate dwarf had forgotten to keep track of time.  As he reached for Thrud’s hand, a first ray of light touched his skin and he turned to stone.  Alvis had also underestimated the wrathful Thor.

The stories of the gods often imitate the stories of men.  Trickery and the might of the influential or powerful over those of lesser status or means is a predominant theme in life on earth and not just in the heavens.

 

Guerber, H.A., Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and Sagas

Roberts, Morgan J., Norse Gods and Heroes

The Principal Germanic Gods. http://library.flawlesslogic.com/grimm

 

 

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Loki the Trickster

The Franks were pagans whose spiritual beliefs were based in Continental Germanic mythology until AD 496 when Clovis I, the first Merovingian king to unite all the Franks, became a Christian at the urging of his wife, Clotilde, a Burgundian princess.

In my novel, On the Edge of Sunrise set in AD 450, my hero, Garic, is a warrior and the First Counsel to his tribe of Salian Franks.  He follows the gods of his people.  Some are said to live in the air, woods and waters.  Over the next few blogs, I will showcase a few of the Continental Germanic gods who share counterparts with some of the Scandinavian Norse gods (Donar-Thor / Wodan-Odin / Logathore (possibly)-Loki), and who are mentioned in my book.  In some cases within my story, I’ve used the more familiar Norse terms to make it relatable to the reader.

Loki   images-1  

Loki is a cool god, but one not to be trusted.  He is the god of chaos, lies and trickery.  He can swing from a ‘malicious mastermind’ to a good-natured troublemaker.  His chaotic nature and impulsive behaviors push him into the realm of deception.  Some mythologists believe he is the brother of Odin, while others claim his parents were giants. Whether Odin and Loki are brothers by blood or a sworn oath, they are opposites in nature.  Odin is wise, good, noble and prudent.  Loki is evil, thoughtless, cowardly and careless.  They represent ‘extreme ends of the moral spectrum.’

Loki is usually depicted as handsome with a devilish demeanor, and as author Morgan Roberts states, ‘no conscience lies behind his eyes, no pity in his heart.’  Loki is also known as a shape shifter.  He appears at different times as a salmon, a horse and even as a fly.

Loki’s relationships with the other gods vary.  At times, he is helpful as demonstrated in the myth of the building of Asgard’s (home of the Aesir gods) wall.  In other stories, he is a troublemaker with a cruel edge.  In one episode, Loki plays a spiteful trick on Thor’s wife, Sif.  One night, Loki sneaks into Sif’s bedroom, while she sleeps and cuts off her beautiful golden hair.  He lets her ‘tresses fall where they would’ and steals out proud of himself for having played such a clever joke.  The next day when Thor discovers what has happened to Sif, he corners Loki, and ‘he throttled him.’  Loki, fearing for his life, agrees to travel to the realm of dwarves and convince the most talented of this race to create a cap of golden hair for Sif and give it magical power, so that it might grow like real hair when placed on her head.  Loki arrives in Svartalfheim and finds the best craftsmen to make Sif a golden wig.  He also asks that the dwarves make gifts for the gods Odin and Frey, a clever political consideration on Loki’s part.  Loki promises the dwarves that if they help him, they will not only have the gratitude of Odin, Frey and Thor, but their talents will shine far and wide.  The dwarves agree and make Sif a golden wig finer than her original hair.  For Frey, they build a ship called Skidbladnir, which folds small enough to fit into a pocket.  For Odin, they make the mighty spear, Gungnir, which becomes revered as a weapon ‘that an oath sworn upon its blade could never be broken, by god or man.’

Loki’s last bit of trickery and considered the worst leads to his banishment.  He persuades Hodur, the god of winter to throw a spear made of mistletoe at his brother and the beloved god of light, Balder, which kills him.  This horrible act incurs the wrath of the gods and Loki is banished from Asgard.  However, in another brash act, Loki returns one night while the gods are feasting and strides through the hall, screaming obscenities and finding fault with each of them.  In particular, he insults Sif.  Thor responds by swinging his hammer, Mjolnir, ‘faster than the eye could follow’ around Loki’s head.  The trickster flees but his fate is sealed.  Hiding in a hut on a hill, Loki transforms himself into a salmon to avoid capture.  Thor learns what Loki has done and fashions an incredible net.  With the help of Odin and the god of inspiration, Kvasir, he tracks Loki to his lair and nets the mischievous god.

Loki’s punishment is strong.  The gods track down Loki’s son, Vali, who they change into a ferocious wolf that kills his brother, Narvi.  Vali rips out Narvi’s entrails and runs away.  The gods use Narvi’s entrails to tie Loki to three massive rocks.  A serpent is positioned over Loki’s face, so that it’s venom ‘would drip down, unrelenting, into his eyes.’  Loki’s Unknownwife, Sigyn, tries to help her husband by catching the venom in a bowl, but when it’s full, she must empty it, leaving Loki’s face momentarily exposed to the ‘fiery’ venom.  The fate of Loki, god of lies, is to have his face burned until Ragnarok, the death and rebirth of the world.

Everyone loves a trickster, until the joke is on him.  Would a world without chaos be better? Perhaps.  I imagine that our long past ancestors from every culture could only wonder as we do, but their best avenue for explanation was through their stories, myths and legends, through their heroes and villains.  On a cold winter’s night, I can imagine them around the fire.  Their children are bundled in blankets or furs, hearing the story of Loki who comes to trick all who will listen.

On the Edge of Sunrise: Book 1 — The Long-hair Sagas

Knox Robinson Publishing – 2015

Roberts, Morgan J., Myths of the World: Norse Gods and Heroes

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Let Nature Rule: Beauty is You

Tuned in: Lady Gaga, Born This Way

November and December are holiday months in America and other countries when an emphasis is often placed on food.  Many delectable and savory dishes are prepared to celebrate a day of thanksgiving and a variety of religious events.  However, it’s also a time when men, and especially women, worry about their weight and what and what not to eat.  This made me think about how a woman’s body image has changed over time, and the concept of an ideal look.

Rubens

Rubens

According to some researchers and experts, the ‘Rubens’ image dominated the ideal up until the 1890’s when women began to be used in advertising.  It appears that only after the 1900’s did the ideal of thinness began to creep into the culture.  Before then a full-figured ‘voluptuous’ looking woman represented ‘good health and wealth.’

With the turn of the 20th century, women began to become interested in athletics and weight control as a healthy science.  An ideal look at this time was a 5’4” 140 pound woman.  In the 1920’s the flapper style became the fad.  The style pulled away from the sophisticated and feminine and focused on a youthful, boyish look.  Flappers bobbed their hair, had small waists and wore dresses that flattened their breasts.  By the 1930’s women were moving back toward fuller breasts and a slim waist.

Twiggy

Twiggy

After World War II, women’s magazines began to promote a ‘New Look’ introduced by Christian Dior.  In order to maintain this look, women focused on weight control more than ever.  Diets supplemented by the aid of corsets and pushup bras were the rage.  This look held the stage through the 1940’s and 1950’s until the 1960’s when a model named Twiggy burst onto the fashion scene.  Twiggy set a standard that most models found difficult to maintain.  She stood 5’6’ tall and weighed 89 pounds.  From the 1970’s on, the trend has moved to a bit bigger look for women, but the emphasis on a small waist, slim hips and bigger breasts has taken root.  Today younger girls are drawn into the fashion world through advertising and marketing. They are influenced by this ‘ideal body image.’  More women of a variety of ages, races, and economic backgrounds deal with moderate to severe eating disorders because of their desire to maintain this standard.  At one time or another, some will experience a negative body image.  What is the cause for the dissatisfaction many women feel?

In my opinion, it’s the pressure to maintain this ideal image and to be considered a woman of value, beauty, and one who has a certain control and discipline.  Historically speaking, I prefer the look of the past.  What happened to the idea of naturally round, full and lush?  These attributes once conveyed their own provocative and sensual appeal.  Not so much today.  Why do some women routinely deny themselves calorically or lead secret lives of binging and purging?  Why are younger women, even in their teens, and in their natural bloom paying money to enlarge their breasts?  In other countries, including America, if you wear larger than a size 1, 2, or 4 you can’t even shop in certain stores.  Let’s end this madness.  Let everyone enjoy the holiday foods in moderation and guilt free.  We are so much more than a pant or dress size.  Humans are miracles of creation, fancies of nature.  Let’s really believe in the beauty of our diversities.  Any Thoughts?

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Halloween Symbols and Jack-O-Lantern

Tuned in:  Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

images-2Halloween traditions have their early origins rooted in pagan customs from Celtic-speaking countries and Celtic Christianity.  It is believed that the Celtic festival of Samhain, pronounced Sahwin, and Old Irish for ‘summer’s end’ marked the close of harvest and the beginning of the winter months, a time representing death.  It was held on or between October 31 and November 1.  For the Celts the night of Samhain allowed the spirits of the dead to return to earth to destroy crops and make mischief.

The word Halloween connects to Christian holy days.  Halloween (Hallowe’en) means ‘hallowed’ or ‘holy’ evening.  Derived from a Scottish term All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day on November 1) ‘the word ‘eve’ is even in Scots and is contracted to e’en or as we better know it, een.  In time the All, s from Hallows, and v from even was dropped and evolved into Halloween.

All Martyrs Day originated in AD 609 with Pope Boniface and was first celebrated on May 13.  By the eighth century it had become All Saints Day and switched by the Catholic Church to November 1 (the same date as Samhain), ‘in order to lessen the number of pilgrims flocking to Rome for this holy day in the summer.’

Different Halloween Symbols have developed over time.  One well-known symbol is the Jack-O-Lantern.  Traditionally, reaching back to the 1700’s, turnips were ‘hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins.’ Guisers, people who moved from house to house in costume or disguise, in order to hide themselves from spirits, ghosts and fairies, carried them.  Part of the ritual was to play pranks or sing songs for food on All Hallows Eve to ward off evil spirits.  The Jack-O-Lantern became an American tradition brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants and the pumpkin replaced the turnip. The Jack-O-Lantern is also connected to a few Irish Christian folk tales.

One story tells of Jack, a shrewd farmer ‘after a night of drinking meets the Devil who he tricks into climbing a tree.  The quick thinking Jack then carves a cross into the trunk of the tree, trapping the devil.  Jack strikes a bargain that the Devil can never claim his soul.  When Jack dies, he is refused entry into Heaven because of his sinful ways.  Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack enter hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him.  A cold night, Jack places the coal into a hollowed turnip to stop it from going out, and ever since, Jack and his lantern have roamed the earth, looking for a place to rest.’

A second version of the story tells that ‘Jack was being chased by villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die.  However, the clever thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to torment the church-going villagers chasing him.  Jack told the Devil to turn himself into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods.  Later, when the Devil/coin disappeared, the villagers would fight over who had stolen it.  The Devil agreed and turned himself into the coin and jumped into Jack’s wallet only to find himself next to a cross.  Jack shut the wallet tight and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers and he was trapped.’  This version ends like the first with Jack bargaining the Devil’s freedom for his soul, and upon his death, Jack is barred from Heaven and Hell.  When Jack complains that he has no light to see his way, the Devil mockingly tosses him an ember from the fires of Hell that will never burn out.  Jack carves out a turnip, places the ember inside and begins to roam the earth for a resting place.’  This is how he became Jack-O-Lantern.

Do you have a favorite Halloween trick or treat?  Mine—Taffy Apples!!

www.history.com/topics/halloween ; www.halloweenhistory.org

Online Etymology Dictionary: Halloween ; The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) Oxford University Press 1989

Donnelly, Mark P. and Diehl, Daniel. Medieval Celebrations. Stackpole Books, 2011

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Underwear: The Hidden History

Tuned in: Madonna, Vogue

In a recent conversation with friends, the topic of ancient underwear drew some attention.  Most of us thought that the ancients up until the Victorian era (1837-1901) wore some kind of underwear, whether it was a loincloth, or ‘bloomers’ or ‘drawers,’ a camisole or corset.  However, we did wonder if the European and later American populations in general wore what we consider underpants or something close to what we wear today.  My curiosity piqued over this odd topic, I decided to investigate.

The first known underwear dates back to around 5000 BC.  Whereas prehistoric man wore a breechcloth—strips of leather to protect his loins—later ‘after people learned to weave cloth, loincloths became the earliest form of underpants.’  A loincloth was wrapped around the waist, through the legs and tucked into the waistband.  The loincloth was worn in many cultures of the ancient world from the Egyptians and Romans to the Incas, India and Chinese.  Even in a modern world, Mahatma Gandhi was photographed wearing a white loincloth known as the ‘dhotis’  ancient-underwear

In the book, Underwear: A History by Elizabeth Ewing, the first evidence of underwear dates back to a statue in the Louvre of a Babylonian girl.  She is wearing a brief that resembles a loincloth.

egyptian-underwearIn Egypt, women of status wore narrow tunics that extended from breast to ankle with shoulder straps, while men wore linen loincloths that resembled short skirts as underwear.

Men in Rome and Greece are believed to have worn loincloths beneath their garments.  It is not clear if Greek women wore a brief, but there is evidence that Roman women did.

In the Iliad and Odyssey and other classical works, women’s undergarments are mentioned.  Greek women are described as wearing ‘a band of linen known as the zoné around the waist and lower abdomen to shape and control them’ (a modern day girdle).  Also mentioned are two types of breast bands, one that covers the breasts and waist—apodesmos, and the other flattens the bust—mastodeton.

Roman men and women wore a subligar, an undergarment that came in two forms.  One was a short pant or brief, the other was a loincloth.  Women also wore a breast band called a mamillare. ancient roman underwear

During the Middle Ages in Europe, ‘women wore coarse shifts over their loincloths for warmth’ (Swain 2008).  The common man wore long shirts made from wool or rough linen, and loose fitting ‘braies.’  These linen, or wool drawers used for colder climates, varied in lengths but resemble modern day shorts.  They were closed with a drawstring or cinched with a belt and the fabric tucked.  Braies offered extra coverage.  If a laborer, as depicted in the picture, became too hot he could ‘strip down’ to his braies and not offend anyone. macbiblebraies

In the 16th century the ‘codpiece’ a pouch that opened with buttons or snaps connected to the braies that allowed men to urinate without having to remove their breeches.  By this time the braies became shorter to accommodate a form-fitting hose called ‘chausses’ and later with stylistic change this legging and codpiece functioned as outerwear.  Henry VIII made them more fashionable when he began to pad his codpiece. [I can only imagine … but I think I’ll stop.]  This fashion began to decline around 1590.middle-ages-underwear

Unlike Swain’s view, cited above, some scholars are not sure if medieval women wore underpants. The long dresses medieval women wore often made it inconvenient to ‘remove underwear when answering nature’s call; on the other hand, some form of snug underpants could make life a little easier once a month,’ but there is no conclusive evidence ‘one way or the other.’  However, it’s possible that, at times, medieval women wore loincloths or short braies.  The recent discovery in 2008 of a 600-year-old set of bras and an undergarment that looks like panties that experts claim are for a man, indicate that there may be aspects of Medieval clothing still unknown.

ap_innsbruck_bra_dm_120719_wblogLengberg_male-underpants

Women also wore a close-fitting garment called a chemise, shift, or smock under petticoats and later a corset.  These were worn by the nobility to ‘protect expensive clothes from dirty bodies and to provide a layer of warmth.’  The corset (referred to as ‘pair of bodies’) was a stiff bodice made of buckram, whalebones, reeds and cane, and worn under a decorative bodice. Cane_and_linen_corset_1620

The French Revolution revolted against underwear.  Women abandoned their corsets, camisoles, and petticoats.  These undergarments were viewed as ‘symbols’ of aristocracy.  The return to a corset without stiffness and the Grecian breast band was a declaration of the democratic ideal that the French revolutionaries envisioned.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought new innovations.  In the second half of the 18th century factories began to mass-produce underwear.  ‘People began buying their undergarments in stores rather than making them at home.’  In the 18th century women began to use unboned or lightly boned stays now called corsets.  In the 1820’s, as the tight waist became popular, the corset became boned and laced.  By the 1860’s a ‘wasp’ waist was a symbol of beauty.  Often the corset was fitted with whalebone or steel and tightly laced to achieve this end.  By the 1880’s the reform against this style of dress took root because of the damage done to bones and eternal organs due to tightlevin_a5_waspwaist lacing.

In 1856 the crinoline arrived replacing layers of starched petticoats (Swain 2008).  ‘The crinoline was a petticoat stiffened with a cage of whalebone or steel hoops.’  These lighter skirts enabled wider skirts with some reaching six feet in width.  According to Swain, women learned to maneuver stairs without seeing them, sitting without their hoops flying up, and being vigilant of the fire from an open hearth if their skirts passed too close.  ‘And there was the problem of wind … underpants or drawers were needed now more than ever before.’

In the later 19th century, ‘bloomers’ appeared as part of bathing suits and bicycle outfits.  The ‘union suit’ or in modern times, ‘long johns’ was a standard garment for men women and children.

So there you have it.  The story of underwear from ancient times through the 19th century is broad and colorful.  With the recent discovery of 600-year-old bras and undergarments in an Austrian castle, it seems that we may have only a partial picture at best of what people wore under their clothes to stay warm, clean to some extent and to protect themselves.  Think of what we do today.  Some women wear camisoles as an outer garment.  We recently went through the —let a woman’s thong show above your jeans phase—and the ever so popular, ‘sagging,’ allowing men’s jeans to sag to their hips and display their boxer shorts.  What will our future ancestors think of this?  Perhaps, the same way I view the codpiece—?!?!?  Any comments, reactions, or thoughts are especially welcome.  Tell me what you think.

Ewing, Elizabeth. 1976 Underwear: A History—Swain, Ruth Freeman. 2008 Underwear: What We Wear Under There—Randomhistory.com/lingerie

 

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