March 22, 2015

Legend of Spring: Descent of Inanna

There are many myths about the descent of a goddess. This is when the Goddesses ruled the Heavens, the Earth and the Underworld. This is the story of Inanna, the ancient myth that predates the male gods, such as Zeus.
The oldest known myth is Sumerian and was written on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C. It is usually known as “The Descent of Inanna” the Sumerian Queen of Heaven and Earth. In their original inception they were pre-patriarchal myths.  But by the time they were written down, the myths showed the incursions of the patriarchy, Inanna’s gradual dispossession, and eventual loss of status. 
Dummzi: God of the Harvest
Inanna marries a young, handsome shepherd called Dumuzi who becomes a god-king. They have a blissful union but after the honeymoon, Inanna decides to visit her sister in the Underworld whose husband has just died (long story). However, she isn’t on good terms with her, so, as a precaution, she instructs Ninshubur, her trusted female servant, to get help if she does not return within three days.
At the first gate to the Underworld, Inanna is stopped and asked to declare herself. The gatekeeper informs Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great Below, that Inanna, “Queen of Heaven, of the place where the sun rises,” asks for admission to the “land of no return” to witness the funeral of Gugalanna, husband of Ereshkigal. Neti is still uncertain and tells Inanna to wait, while he delivers her message to his queen.          
Neti: Chief Gatekeeper 
When Neti tells his queen, Ereshkigal, of the glorious Inanna at the palace gates, robed in the seven attributes of her feminine allure, Ereshkigal is enraged.  After dwelling on the news, she tells Neti to bolt the seven gates of the underworld, and then, one by one, open each gate a crack, let Inanna enter, and as she does, remove her royal garments, one by one.  Ereshkigal also tells Neti to “Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.”          
Neti does as he is told, bolting the seven gates of the underworld and then allowing Inanna to enter through each gate.  As she does, he removes one of her garments, beginning with her crown, then her earrings of small lapis beads, the double strand of beads about her neck, her breastplate called, “Come, man, come”, her golden hip girdle, the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand, and finally her royal breechcloth.  Each time, when Inanna asks, “What is this?” Neti answers:  “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect.  They may not be questioned.”          
Then, naked and bowed low, Inanna enters the throne room.  Ereshkigal rises from her throne, as Inanna starts toward her.  The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surround Inanna and pass judgment against her.  Ereshkigal fastens on Inanna the eyes of death, speaks against her the word of wrath, utters against her the cry of guilt, and strikes her.  Inanna is turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and hung from a hook on the wall.
After three days and nights, when Inanna has not returned, Ninshubur begins to lament and beat the drum for Inanna.  She goes to Inanna’s paternal grandfather, Enlil (God of the Heaven and Earth), and then to Inanna's father, Nanna (Moon God), pleading with each of them not to let their daughter be put to death in the underworld.  But both are angry at Inanna for her actions and refuse to help.
Enki: God of the Waters and Wisdom
Then Ninshubur goes to Enki (God of Wisdom and Water), Inanna's mother’s father, begging for help.  Enki, however, is troubled and grieved for Inanna.  To save her, Enki creates two creatures, the kurgarra and the galatur, to whom he gives the food and water of life, and instructs them to enter the underworld like flies.  He tells them that Ereshkigal will be moaning with the cries of a woman about to give birth, complaining of her inside and her outside, and that they are to echo her cries.  This would please her, and she would offer them some gifts.  They were to ask her only for the corpse hanging on the wall.  Then when they had sprinkled the food and water of life on Innana, she would rise. 
The kurgarra and the galatur heed Enki’s words and enter the underworld like flies.  Ereshkigal is moaning as if about to give birth.  She complains of her inside and outside, her back, heart and liver; and each time the kurgarra and the galatur echo her pain.  When Ereshkigal stops to look at them, she asks who they were and why they are moaning with her.  She offers her blessings: first the water gift, the river in its fullness, and then the grain-gift, the fields in harvest; but each time the kurgarra and the galatur decline the gift.  When Ereshkigal asks them what they do want, they ask for the corpse hanging on the hook.  Ereshkigal gives them the corpse, whereupon they sprinkle the food and water of life on Inanna, and she rises.          
Inanna is about to ascend from the underworld when the Annuna seize her and tell her she must provide someone in her place.  They send with Inanna, the galla, the demons of the underworld, who cling to her side until she chooses the person who will take her place.          
Dumuzi: Whore of Underworld
As Inanna exits the palace gates, with the galla, Ninshubur, dressed in soiled sackcloth, throws herself at Inanna’s feet.  The galla are willing to take Ninshubur, but Inanna refuses, well aware of Ninshubur’s support and her part in rescuing her.  Inanna also refuses to send her sons, who had also mourned her death.  But when Inanna arrives in Uruk and finds her husband, Dumuzi sitting on his throne, dressed in his finest, and seemingly oblivious to her absence, Inanna tells the galla to take Dumuzi away.  Dumuzi's annual death and rebirth are sometimes associated with the seasons.

March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day

March 9, 2015

Bad Woman: Queen Jezabel

For more than two thousand years, Jezebel has been saddled with a reputation as the bad girl of the Bible, the wickedest of women. This ancient queen has been denounced as a murderer, prostitute and enemy of God, and her name has been adopted for lingerie lines and World War II missiles alike. But what if this version of her story, handed down to us through the ages, is merely the one her enemies wanted us to believe? It happens more often than you think. What if Jezebel, far from being a conniving harlot, was, in fact, framed?
Jezebel was a powerful Phoenician princess around 900 BCE.  She is the daughter to Ethbaal, King of Tyre in Phoenicia, and wife to Ahab, King of northern Israel. It is said by many archaeologists and scholars that Jezebel was power behind the throne, not her husband and king. She still honored her religion and did not covert to Judaism. She convinced her husband to worship her Phoenician God Baal, God of fertility, rain and the seasons. They had temples erected in his honor which was seen as sinful by the other Israelite's. They viewed Ahab not only sinning against his own God, but also against his people. His crimes: First by marrying a Phoenician princess who was viewed as a Pagan, then by worshiping the Phoenician God.
Jezebel did not want to lose her cultural identity and her Gods and Goddesses from her home. She was a bold and fierce woman and some will say that her actions were brutal, but in that time, Pagans had been dealing with the constant threat of Judaism and then later Christianity, for some thousand years or so. Many followers of ancient religions were not as eager or willing to give that up so easily, like Jezebel. She started having prophets of the Israeli God killed off.  Although it is said many died, many also survived. Jezebel would stop at nothing to see this new religion gone. She was spoken badly about by worshipers of God and in biblical texts she is described as a wicked woman who dressed herself in makeup and sinful clothing; she was even portrayed as a prostitute, a harlot.
This is not entirely uncommon in the Old Testament as the Jews frequently killed their prophets; but Jezebel had to go one worse. Not content to murder the prophets to stop them spreading their “wickedness” she sacrificed babies to her god of stone to appease him. Elijah – her chief protagonist at least has a chance for vengeance and eventually slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal.
Throughout the centuries, Jezebel has been attacked as a whore, and her name has been used to describe a woman of promiscuous behavior. But there is nothing in Jezebel’s story to suggest that she was ever unfaithful to Ahab. In fact, she seems to have been fiercely loyal to him and her sons, even in adversity. Jezebel was powerful, a woman and a foreigner. These qualities made her a target for the prophets of Yahweh. In the long run, she backed the wrong gods. She ruled with arbitrary power, which went against the Israelite ideal of kingship. But she was a woman of tremendous ability and intelligence, strong-willed, courageous and loyal.

March 1, 2015

Women's History Month: Egyptian Women

March is Women's history month and I am going to feature article about women but limit the show the female form to minimal.

 If you were a woman in the ancient world, the best to live is in Egypt.  Women in Ancient Egypt enjoyed many of the same rights that women in our current society enjoy today. A woman could own and sell private property, resolve legal settlements, write a contract, initiate a divorce, file lawsuits, have a profession and inherit property (of course these rights also depended on the woman’s social class). I wouldn't say that Ancient Egyptian women had complete parity to men before the law. Yet they did have many rights that were out of reach for women in neighboring Greece. Women in ancient Etruria and then Rome came close second.
This article will examine what it was like to be a woman in Ancient Egyptian society and the different rights and responsibilities that they had. Most women performed domestic tasks in the home. However, there were female midwives, priestesses, weavers, dancers, musicians and even professional mourners. (Hiring complete strangers to act sad at your relative’s funeral was pretty normal in Ancient Egypt). Also, even though most of the positions of authority were occupied by men, there were a few female pharaohs (about 15), such as Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. It also wasn't uncommon for a woman to serve as a regent (temporary ruler) when her husband died, until her son was old enough to take over. It was preferred for a woman with the right bloodline to be in power temporarily, than a man with the wrong bloodline.

The Egyptians had a very natural view towards sexuality and the human body that was untainted by guilt. Walking around naked for example was not the taboo that it is today. Though I’m guessing part of this attitude was due to how unbelievable hot Egypt can be and the Egypt is an oasis in the desert. The average temperature of an Egyptian summer is 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius). Children tended to walk around naked until puberty (about 12 years of age). Women of a lower social status walked around topless and wealthier women wore loose clothing that was sometimes transparent. Female entertainers frequently performed naked.

A popular image of a prostitute today is a woman sticking out a stilettos heel and a fishnet clad leg to interest her potential customers. Ancient Egyptian prostitutes did something similar, they advertised themselves in a blue faience beaded fish-net dress, painted their lips red and tattooed themselves on the breast and thighs. However, the modern idea of prostitute and the Ancient Egyptian similar end right there. In the modern world, we typically have a negative association with prostitutes, even if they are high class “escorts” that make thousands an hour sleeping with the wealthiest CEOs.
The reason why the modern idea of prostitution can’t compare with Ancient Egyptian sex workers, is because their profession wasn't tainted by guilt. Many sex workers were associated with Gods and Goddesses of fertility (Like the Goddess Hathor) and were regarded with respect. Also, it is not certain that all prostitutes slept with people for money. Some were temple prostitutes who had a connection to the divine. Others were entertainers who would dance, play music and perform sexual acts all in one (Miley Cyrus lol).

There are some theories that men slept with prostitutes before marriage, in order to learn how to please their wives, and that young girls engaged in prostitute related acts, in order to learn about sexuality in marriage. However, these are just theories and we don’t have any real proof for these ideas.

A woman generally could get married at any age, and typically married after she started her period around the age of 14 or 15. Men got married when they were around 17 or 20. This may seem very young to the modern person, however we must remember that lifespans were shorter in Ancient Egypt. Documents written in the Ptolemaic Period reveal that the average life expectancy was 58 for women and 54 for men. This doesn't seem too bad, but we must remember that in the modern developed world, the average person lives to be about 80 or 90, which naturally drags the average age of marriage up to mid 20’s or early 30’s.
Consent from the parents was also needed to get married. This was especially important in the upper classes, since marriage determined the division of property and social status. However, as religious and ceremonial as Egyptian society was, what is surprising to note is that there was no ceremony for marriage: no special dress, no exchange of rings and no exchange of vows as the Greeks and Romans. It was a fairly simple affair where the wife moved into the house of her husband. He would either be living alone or with his parents.
While this doesn't sound very romantic, there is much literature and poetry that suggests that the ideal marriage was filled with affection, love and tenderness.
However, one thing that made the Egyptians much smarter than those of us today, is that they usually drafted up a contract before the marriage about how property would be distributed, and what would happen in the event of divorce. That’s right, they had a prenup power up! This was more relevant to people in the upper classes, who had more property and land to fight over.
May need a lawyer for court
Divorce: Divorce was not hard to get. Both a man or a woman could initiate a divorce and write up the divorce contract. Men divorced their wives if they were incapable of baring children – or baring a son. He may also divorce his wife if she stopped pleasing him. A woman could divorce her husband for mental and physical cruelty. In some cases, if a woman initiated divorce, she forfeited her right to communal property. Also women got spousal support in the case of a divorce, which was about 1/3 of her ex-husband’s earnings.
However, there were other options if the parents were childless: adoption and polygamy were two. Sometimes men had concubines, and these women did not have the same rights as their wives. However, polygamy was uncommon for most people. It was mainly practiced by the pharaoh so that he could display his virility, sire several children and political aligns.
Incest: One taboo topic that comes up when talking about Ancient Egypt is that of incest. Incest is another one of those things that was allowed for the Pharaoh, in order to keep the royal bloodline in place, but not commonly practiced among most people. This is reserve for the gods not ordinary people.
Adultery: The sexual openness of Ancient Egyptian society and women’s freedoms is awesome and modern. However, adultery was a completely different subject. While sex before marriage wasn't a big deal, an extra-marital affair was completely off the table. There was no DNA testing or Maury to show the paternal matching. The bond of trust and fidelity in marriage and family were highly valued by the Ancient Egyptian people, so valued in fact the worst punishment for a woman was death by stoning. This was described in the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers. For a man, on the other hand, the worst thing that could happen to him is that he would be forced into a divorce.

February 28, 2015

The Power of Sex and Money: Storyville

Storyville was a well-known, semi-legal vice district in New Orleans from 1897 to 1917. Prostitution, gambling, and live jazz fueled the streets, bringing visitors from all over the world to experience what was growing into one of the city’s largest tourist attractions and money maker. Some scholars of jazz believe that swing started in Storyville, and we know for sure that the original jazz greats made names for themselves in the brothels along Basin Street.

Storyville got its name from Sidney Story, who wrote the legislation that “legalized” the district, based off of the vice restrictions used in other port cities infamous for their pleasurable activities. The new legislation bound all prostitution to the area between North Robertson, Iberville, Basin and St. Louis streets just outside the French Quarter. Some locals believed that “lewd women” were getting out of control, and tarnishing the image of the fancy little shops along Royal Street, so the legislation was met with approval from many business owners, some of which went on to open businesses in the district.
Tom Anderson, nicknamed the “mayor” of Storyville, published what was known as Blue Books, which were sought after by visitors for their scandalous information. A Blue Book could be purchased for 25 cents. Blue Books were created for tourists and those unfamiliar with this area of New Orleans and contained, in alphabetical order, the names of all the prostitutes of Storyville. It also included, in a separate section, the addresses of these prostitutes and separated them based on race. Blue Books could be purchased throughout the District in various barbershops, saloons, and railroad stations. Primarily they were sold on the corner of Basin Street and Canal Street.White man can find black prostitute. and black men can find white prostitutes. Remember this was when Plessy v. Ferguson became the law. Storyville is  rare spot in the United States that allow white and black coexist together for a time while rest of the country is divide on race.

Lula White, probably the most well-known madam in Storyville, operated a luxurious brothel called Mahogany Hall, which employed prostitutes that were considered Octoroon, meaning one eighth African American. Quadroons, which meant one quarter African American, were also popular with male clients and were considered an exotic temptation unique to New Orleans. Mahogany Hall, like many of the other brothels in the district, was full of lavish mirrors and expensive, fine wines and liquors. Other brothels on the outskirts catered to those with less money, beer joints where fights broke out and pleasures of the working man could be had.
Money was flowing in Storyville. Madams and Brothel owners became very wealthy and hire musicians to play to brothels and clubs. Many famous jazz musicians made a name for themselves in Storyville, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Here they were given more freedom to play how they wished compared to hotels in the French Quarter, many of which would not even allow jazz music in their establishments. After the district closed, many jazz musicians left for Chicago or New York where their reputations flourished.

E.J. Bellocq, an unknown photographer at the time, eternalized the women of Storyville in his photographs. Bellocq was friends with many of the women who worked in Storyville, and snapped photos of them posing in their rooms. The photos are now priceless, sought after pieces and are some of the only photographs from the era. The faces of some of the women have been crossed out, the reason for which is a mystery debated to this day. Bellocq died in 1949 and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery Number 3.

Storyville closed in October of 1917 after the beginning of World War One, after it was ordered that no prostitution be within five miles of an American military base. You see this was a time before the invention of penicillin and other antibiotics. Sexually transmitted diseases were becoming a major problem across the United States, and after a few soldiers were actually killed in the district shortly after their arrival, it was forced to shut down. Prostitution quickly became illegal again that same year, but sex work still existed in the area regardless of increased police presence. Most of the buildings were demolished during the Great Depression for public housing, now only three known buildings remain: Lulu White’s Saloon, Joe Victor’s Saloon, and Tark “Terry” Musa’s store, formerly known as the Early Saloon. The district may be long gone, but the effects it had on tourism in New Orleans were long lasting.

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