Tag Archives: Egyptians

Bog People and Mummies

I’ve been fascinated with mummies since I was about nine. These husks of a former life, reamed, cleaned and packed were then embalmed, smeared with unguents, wrapped in yards of cotton and placed in several sarcophagi. They were sent well prepared into the next life with canopic jars for all the important organs, gold and jewels and food. What a amazing world. And some of those mummies, richer in death than you or I could be in life, continued to grow nails or hair.

Is it any wonder that these bodies, preserved for millennia, fostered a whole host of reanimated mummy movies? Disturb the grave, steal from the dead and they will come back to exact their curse upon your person. And they, like zombies, will be powerful, single-minded and unstoppable. There was a more romantic mummy in Anne Rice’s The Mummy but on whole they are unnatural forces of death or evil that try to destroy the powers of life.

It is that sense of disturbing the dead that spawned so many mummy movies, which is also the heart and soul of many belief systems. Most spiritual paths indicate that there is a transmigration of the soul at the time of death, that in fact we leave the corporeal vessel that can serve us no longer and that our ethereal, quintessential selves move on to another state of being. Whether that is heaven, reincarnation, or a great unknown depends on the belief.

So it is interesting that in all these belief systems, which of course have funerary customs for the dead, that there is sometimes more concern placed on the decaying corporeal remains than on the soul’s departing. Many people agree that the soul is what matters, that that person no longer inhabits the fleshy shell, so then why do we place so much emotion into something that no longer resembles the person we knew?

We see this over and over again, where someone was cremated but the family received the wrong ashes. That a nation’s people died maybe a century ago and for whatever reason the remains are in another country (or museum) and great efforts are made to get those people back. But it’s not a person any longer; what defines “person” is gone. It’s as if we all live a two-faced belief, one where we agree the soul is what matters and the other in which we cannot let the material aspects go, no matter whether they’re rotted, embalmed, ashes or missing.

Does the respect and superstition for the remnants of the dead extend only as long as there is someone who cares? Most likely, yes. It may be family or friends, or in some cases a nation asking for a great hero, artist or politician’s body to be returned. It might be an ancestral thing or something to do with spirituality. But how far back should such a re-appropriation of remains go? Should the primitive man found in an iceflow before there were nations be claimed by one? Should he be buried with dignity? Should he be used in research? Which religion presides over his burial (or cremation) when none existed when he was alive?

Sometimes such requests for very ancient remains have little to do with sentiment and emotion. Sometimes they are levers for politics whether to further a nation’s claim or to purport ongoing indiginities. (No one has said a thing about the two dried out husks that reside in the curio shop on the wharves of Seattle.) It’s hard to say what is right when you think of the millions (maybe billions) of dead over millions of years (yes, humans have been roaming the earth for a very long time). Not everyone is claimed or cared about and really, we’re talking about a husk of old flesh here. Don’t get me wrong. I live this conundrum too, believing that which made the person human and real dissipates at death.Yet I have a reliquary necklace with some ashes of a dead friend in it, even though I know that his soul does not reside there.

Which brings me from mummies to bog people. Bogs have a unique chemical balance that preserves organic materials far better than anything else. People who have died in bogs turn leathery, whereas most bodies will decay to just the bones. Even their fingerprints are noticeable, as well as the foods in their stomachs and intestines still being discernible. Clothing decays fast under most conditions but the bogs preserve fabrics indicating that these early peoples wore leather and woven wool. All of these things can tell us how people lived, what level their culture was at, what techniques they had and how they died.

Denmark has some of the most interesting historical bogs where clothing and bodies have been found. As well, the Netherlands, England and other places in northern Europe have bogs that hold snippets of history. A few years ago (2004) the Glenbow Museum in Calgary exhibited “The Mysterious Bog People.” I had a chance to see it where the lighting was low, but bright enough on the bodies. There were displays of jewellery and tools and reconstructed fabric from the original finds. Also, there were reconstructions of the heads of some of the bodies. The exhibit talked about where they’d been found, when they had lived, how old they were and what had probably happened to each person.

As with most bog finds, many people died violent deaths, stabbed or strangled or possibly drowned. It may be that they were robbed or that they were sacrificed in various rituals. In most cases their lives were cut short in a brutal and sudden way. After I saw the exhibit and mentioned it to someone she asked if it was right because it didn’t show respect for the dead. I found this odd as I knew her belief was the same as many people’s, that the soul leaves the body and the body nourishes the earth in an endless cycle. So I said, in fact they had gained more respect than they had in death, lying in a bog. They died a brutal death and were forgotten. Here they were remembered and we learned something of who they might have been. And that the exhibit as a whole wasn’t a spectacle so much as educational and even reverent in treating the people of long ago.

It is an interesting conundrum we have in many aspects of our lives. We know that it is love and relationships that matter most. Yet we continually grab and procure more goods. Many of us believe the soul leaves the body and that part is the person, yet we hang on to the rotting remains. I’m not sure why we do this, if perhaps we need something tangible to trigger our memories and sentiments, but it is an intriguing aspect of human customs. And it is through funerary customs that anthropologists can chart when civilization began.

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Incest, Betrayal and Genetic Sexual Attraction

CBC Radio today had a program talking about Genetic Sexual Attraction and how there was a certain need with some people who shared genetic material to be more than just brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son, and take it into sexual fulfillment. This raised my hackles, because I was victim of incest.

I have never hidden the fact that my father abused me and when my parents divorced when I was 12, that I never saw my father again. He died two years ago and it was nothing but a relief. Stating this will probably cause some grave repercussions with my family members. But my father was never made to pay for what he did. Why, is a complicated matter, which I can’t get into. To say I hated my father would be an accurate description of my emotions.

Two years ago two people betrayed me, in separate situations. I was absolutely devastated and depressed by this erosion of trust. I came to realize that part of the reason the betrayals knocked out my foundations was because the first betrayal of trust happened when I was four, with my father. I did not necessarily understand cultural moires and taboos at that time but I knew it was wrong and that I felt uncomfortable with what he did or tried to do. I’m sure that set up certain patterns in my conditioning.

One aspect of that conditioning is that I am absolutely, adamantly against incest and am disgusted by the thought of it. I read a fiction novel a year or so ago (The Blood of Angels by Stephen Gregory, winner of the Somerset Maughm award) about a man who in the course of the book becomes attracted to and consummates his relation with his sister. His life becomes more of a shipwreck to disastrous, horrific endings. It was a riveting book, well written, compelling and making no judgment but letting the tale tell itself. I was intrigued and felt both repulsion and compassion for the characters. That’s the sign of a good writer who can delicately pull in the reader’s emotions.

So I try to look at some things through other’s eyes. But there are strong taboos against such ideas as incest or sexual relations with family members. Yet, some cultures supported incest, such as the ancient Egyptians who kept their royal bloodline within the family, brother marrying sister and even the gods practiced incest. But then many gods did, such as the Greek and Roman ones, keeping divine within the group and then spreading it amongst select mortals.

The physiological problems of incest is of course inbreeding. But more, this program talked about a genetic attraction, which was stated as a normal thing. I did not hear all of the program but I question “normal.” What is normal is that most humans have a range of thoughts that can encompass taboo subjects, such as murder, suicide, indulgences, crimes, incest. What is not as normal is that most people do not act upon taboo thoughts.

There is a GSA site, http://www.geneticsexualattraction.com/ which is supposed to be a support group for people in this situation. It stringently says this is for biologically related people who are mutually attracted where there was no “power over” (my quotes, not theirs) the other. Barbara Gonyo, who started the site, states that it is support on a subject that to most is:

1. misunderstood
2. shocking
3. to some unbelievable
4. taboo to society.

And…However, GSA is:

  • NOT an incest site as we have always understood the subject of incest
  • NOT a place to fantasize
  • NOT for incest victims of childhood abuse or their abusers
  • Not a porn site

That is a good thing to know and I believe there are some very conflicted people who must hide the relationships they have embarked upon. One member of the site stated that she wished people would leave them alone because they’re not hurting anyone. And in essence, this is a fundamental belief of mine, that a person can do what they wish as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

But part of me thinks, having read a few messages on the site, that people are looking for justification for their acts, that they “are not alone” and therefore it’s okay. Maybe it is. But then I read about a mother and son who were caught kissing by her husband, or by two siblings who get together and requite their relationship from time to time even though one or the other is married to someone else and I can’t help but wonder about the aspects of right and wrong and how those boundaries have been breached. Not one of these people mentions the aspect of just plain ole cheating in what they’re doing. It seems that because they already have a special taboo relationship of  “genetic sexual attraction” that this negates all other things, relationships and constrictions of trust.

What does it matter if a sister cheats with her brother on her husband when her brother is just family? It is a love so strong, an attraction so deep that it matters most of all. Yet, people have felt these attractions throughout the ages and most not for their family members. And, throughout history, marriages have ended when a new attraction began. That, is in fact, human nature.

I’m not a psychologist so all that I’m stating here is just my opinion and obviously I’m biased. But I just feel that there is a matter of self-control and restraint that is overridden by these people. Yes, that happens to people who are not genetically related as well. But letting it come between an existing relationship is indulgent. I don’t condone cheating either. I would hazard that in some cases, where two family members have been reunited after a long separation (as in adoption), that there just might be a strong psychological need for that belonging and love of the biological parent or sibling that had been missing throughout life. It doesn’t have to be acted upon sexually but seems it sometimes is.

Is it right? Not by most cultures’ standards. Is it hurting anyone? Only if someone is in an existing relationship and cheating. Or if they have a child because it increases the risk of genetic abnormalities for that child. Do I like it? Absolutely not. I fear that if this was too openly accepted as one of the norms, that we would see people saying, why oh yes, we have always loved each other. But in fact there would be the brainwashing of say, a sibling by a parent over years, and in fact a power over that would keep the one member in line, believing this was normal and of mutual acceptance. Case in point, there are the religious groups who believe a man can have numerous wives and marry them as young as 14, when those young girls can be influenced and brainwashed that this is what they want and that they always have wanted, knowing no other life.

I caution against believing that this genetic sexual attraction is normal and should be acted on. Often there are still repercussions for relations and of course the pressure of society can be great. But maybe I’m missing some crucial aspect. I’m waiting to be convinced.

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Hair-Raising History

Once we were much hairier. Well, our evolutionary ancestors were anyway. And depending on what ethnic stew you come from you may find yourself of a hairier variety. But hairstyles have been coming and going for thousands of years. I’m sure Grog the caveman (he’s popular, this Grog) and Progla the cavewoman didn’t much care what their hair did and they hadn’t invented scissors yet. The best they could do was chip a piece of stone and saw away at the rat’s nest.

Hairstyles progressed in different ways in various geographies. The Egyptians were big on shaving their heads in the heat and making elaborate wigs, for the nobles at least. Hieroglyphics show that they’d put a cone of perfumed fat on their noggins and let it slowly melt over their bodies. I can only think that that would have made me itchy in the heat.

Babylonian men were curling and coiling their naturally wavy locks and beards into elaborate patterns, as were other cultures. Along the way, some places developed moral codes that affected how people could wear their hair. Men were to have beards but not before marriage, heads were to be covered or not. Unmarried women could wear their hair loose (and were usually young girls) but once married they were braided or coiffed and often under veils and headdresses. Turbans, veils, hats, caps and other headwear were used to hide hair. Many of these moral codes had to do with the religious bodies of the day and perceived wantonness/evil/bucking authority depending on the flavor.

Within those countries there was often an accepted style to hair that you could be sure the upper classes wore. We have fewer images less of the poor and lower classes but they would, by fact of having less money, have worn their hair plainer but affecting the stylish modes as much as they could. There weren’t as many varieties of hairstyles and new ones would have come from neighboring countries. Egyptian slaves had shaved heads and no wigs. During the baroque and rococo periods women’s hair attained new heights with hats and shapes, such as a full galleon cresting the waves of curled and pinned tresses. The merchant and working classes would have had simpler styles, less lofty and easier for a person to arrange on themselves, rather than needing a team of hairdressers.

When I was researching medieval and renaissance Sottish and Irish dress I came across a style worn by young warriors. The head shaved close over the back and sides but hair left long to hang forward only over the brow. While this may have been partly expedient for wearing under fighting helms and coifs and part vanity, it also shows the punk hairstyles of the 80s were not so new.

Variations on the theme continue with some new twists being added. The punk movement brought along a literal rainbow of colors. I wouldn’t doubt if some dyes had been tried in centuries past, maybe something mixed with mud and applied. Not everything is recorded. We cut our hair short, we leave it long, we perm it into curls, we madly straighten it, we shave our heads, a few of us still do comb-overs (Donald Trump…ick). We make it uneven, we cut patterns into it, we braid, twist and otherwise add adornments like scarves, hats, pins, clips, etc. Some people have had implants put under their skin so that the skull takes on a bumpy pattern or to snap prosthetic hair pieces or horns even, onto their heads.

I’ve worn my hair short and mostly long, straight and curly and turquoise, blue, purple, magenta and red, in streaks, mind you, plus the regular blondes and brunettes. When doing shows, hairdressers treat hair as a medium on which to create their transitory art. Humanity tends to treat the body, from hair to nails, as a canvas. We play with it, we decorate it, sometimes we permanently change it. Hair is a renewable medium, for most of us. It allows us to experiment and try something new and either cut it off or grow it out if it doesn’t work. There have even been a few memorable movies/plays about it: Shampoo, Hairspray and give me down to there, Hair.

What will be the next follicle fad? What will be repeated? Who knows but I’m waiting for the day that they can actually create true metallic colors: copper, silver, gold, gunmetal. Maybe by the time I’m gray I’ll be able to go for robot silver instead.

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Sex and Politics

As long as there have been people, there has been sex, obviously. But as long as there have been more than two people having to get along in a group, there have been politics. And I’m betting that as long as there have been politics, sex has often been involved.

Sex has been exchanged for power for millennia. Look at the Egyptians. They married brothers and sisters to keep the bloodline pure and royal. All in the family. And throughout the middle ages brides of nobles and royalty were locked into marriage contracts with other rulers so that borders could be expanded, loyalty could be guaranteed and tithes could be exchanged. For the little people, the peasants, they got to arrange their own marriages in most cases.

I’m sure there were illicit affairs happening in the 19th century. After all, the Italian Renaissance of several centuries before was known for the nobles being married to one woman and having several mistresses along the way. Even the Borgia popes had mistresses. Sexually transmitted diseases, gonorrhea, syphilis, etc. were widely known and spread. In fact, I believe it was syphilis that was called the Neapolitan disease because it was rumored that Italian sailors went to foreign ports, brought back the disease and spread it through the known world in seven years.

Along came the 20th century, North America. JFK was purported to have had an affair with Marilyn Monroe and also with other women. He wasn’t the first, nor the last. Then came the famous Cinton-Lewinsky affair. Or maybe it was just a blowjob. I don’t know if she inhaled or not. Millions of dollars was wasted of the taxpayers’ money to find out if Clinton had sex with Monica. (And what kind of freak keeps a semen crusty dress anyways? That is particularly disgusting.) Polls showed that really, the public didn’t care.

Truth is, human nature/culture often includes affairs outside of marriages, whether known about or not. People joked that the Europeans wondered what was wrong with US presidents if they didn’t have a mistress. (I’m not sure if women were allowed equal on-the-side benefits or not, but I doubt it.) That Europe rolled their eyes at all the “scandal” of presidential love affairs. The Italians would know; they’ve been doing it for centuries.

When it comes down to it, what does it matter who a person sleeps with, as far as politics are concerned? Affairs should be between the politician, their spouse and any other directly related parties. It should not include the public or the media. The nation should keep its nose out of the politicians’ bedrooms. The only exception would be if state secrets were being divulged to any lovers. Maxine Bernier, Canada’s “past” foreign affairs minister had a girlfriend where he left his important papers laying about. Whether she stole them or he was just careless, in either case he was dealing with important state papers.

But over the years, at various levels, political officials have lost their jobs because they were with prostitutes or had affairs. And really, I don’t care what they do on the side as long as they do their jobs well. Not one person could stand up to scrutiny that dug into all corners of their lives. And then it comes down to, who judges and on what grounds? Sex and power. Sometimes sex is used to gain information. And sometimes it’s used to be with the powerful and famous. But I’m all for seeing how all our politicians do in politics and n leaving their bedroom antics alone.

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