Hijacked by Mamluks

One of the greatest dangers a writer faces while doing research is getting sidetracked by an irresistible piece of trivia and wandering for hours through cyberspace and reference books. By the time he or she resurfaces, bleary eyed and sated with useless information, hours have passed—hours that could have been spent on something productive.

This happened to me, for about the bajillionth time, as I was preparing a presentation about the history of tarot. I kept running across the statement that the first playing cards didn’t appear in Europe until the early 1300’s— and they were probably Mamluk.

Mamluk playing cards had 4 suites--coins, polo sticks, swords, and cups--and 3 court cards--Kings, Viceroys, and Deputy Viceroys.

Mamluk playing cards had 4 suites–coins, polo sticks, swords, and cups–and 3 court cards–Kings, Viceroys, and Deputy Viceroys.

“What’s a Mamluk?” I thought. And that’s when the Mamluks grabbed me and dragged me through nearly eight centuries of fascinating history that had absolutely nothing to do with the tarot.

It all began way back in 800 CE when the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad began supplementing their military with slaves purchased from a place called Circassia in the northern Caucasus Mountains.


Circassia doesn’t exist anymore, but Circassian people still live there. And it’s still sort of the Lake Woebegone of Eastern Europe, where all the men are strong,

Modern Circassians

Modern Circassians

all the women are good looking,

Modern Circassian

Modern Circassian

and all the children are above average.

The medieval Circassian slaves were such excellent fighters and strategists that they were given more and more power and responsibility. Any historian would have told the caliphs this was a bad idea, but who listens to historians?
They eventually grew more powerful than the caliphs who owned them and formed a military regime that dominated the Middle East for over eight centuries. They called themselves Mamluks (Arabic for slaves).

Mamluk--artist unknown

Mamluk–artist unknown

Baybars (maybe), artist unknown--at least by me.

Baybars (maybe), artist unknown–at least by me.

In 1260, Baybars, a Mameluke general owned by the Sultan of Egypt, defeated the Mongols and halted their sweep through the Middle East and into Egypt. This is a hugely significant accomplishment, since the descendents of Genghis Khan had been pillaging their way west for the past 500 years without a single defeat. Baybars then killed the sultan and took over Egypt. During his reign of seventeen years Baybars crushed the dreaded Assassins in their last strongholds in Syria, drove the crusaders from Antioch, and extended the rule of Egypt across the Red Sea to control the valuable pilgrim cities of Mecca and Medina.
A totally amazing curriculum vitae.
The Mamluks remained a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East until the early 1800’s when The Ottoman Empire realized that they were way too powerful and massacred them all in Egypt (1811) and then Baghdad (1813).*


But not all the Mamluks stayed in the Middle East. Many become mercenaries throughout the Levant and Europe. Every King and even some of the more wealthy nobles had their crack Mamluk troops. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard had a Mamluk division and Napoleon himself had a Mamluk body guard.

Roustam Raza, Napoleon's Mamluk body guard, oil on canvas by Émil Jean Horace Vernet, 1789-1863

Roustam Raza, Napoleon’s Mamluk body guard, oil on canvas by Émil Jean Horace Vernet, 1789-1863

Another image of Roustam Raza

Another image of Roustam Raza

Remember all those medieval historical novels and romances where the hero must fight the villain’s dreaded Mamluk bodyguard?

And soldiers have lots of time to sit around and play gambling games. I have no doubt that the European knights of the 1300’s were eager to learn the favorite game of these amazing fighters. And so playing cards became all the rage in Europe–thanks, in part, to the Mamluks.

Circassian woman, veiled, by Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Circassian woman, veiled, by Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Circassian women were so beautiful that they were sold as concubines and became the rulers of  seraglios throughout the Middle East. From this position they would have had quite a bit of influence on Middle Eastern politics.

Voltaire had this to say about them:
“The Circassians are poor, and their daughters are beautiful, and indeed it is in them they chiefly trade. They furnish with those beauties the seraglio of the Turkish Sultan, of the Persian Sophy, and of all of those who are wealthy enough to purchase and maintain such precious merchandise. These maidens are very honorably and virtuously instructed how to fondle and caress men; are taught dances of a very polite and effeminate kind; and how to heighten by the most voluptuous artifices the pleasures of their disdainful masters for whom they are designed.”
–1734, Letters to the English, Letter XI, On Inoculation
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840–physician, naturalist, and racist) theorized that the Circassians were the closest to God’s original model of humanity, and thus “the purest and most beautiful whites were the Circassians”. Since the Circassians were from the Caucasus Mountains, the word Caucasian came to be the name of the white race.
Now, aren’t you glad you know what a Mamluk is?



*“History of the Mamelukes” A nice, short, readable article on a complex subject.


Filed under Tarot, Writing

A bountiful and joyous Lughnasadh to all!

Give us this day our daily bread.

Give us this day our daily bread.


As I was looking through the cornucopia full of Lughnasadh articles offered on the web I found these two gems.

  • “Celebrating Lammas,” by Waverly Fitzgerald is a fascinating excursion into British History and the death of King William the Red that seques gracefully into an explanation of what the festival means and ways to celebrate it.
  • “Why I’m Boycotting Lughnasadh,” by John Halstead is a lovely rant about how pagans need to get in touch with what is really happening in their part of the world and celebrate the holiday appropriately. Our friends in the southern hemisphere should be celebrating Imbolg, not Lugnasadh, for example, and those in tropical climates should rethink the whole wheel of the year.

After reading Halstead’s article I realized that I too had a rant. It’s about a small, simple problem; one that, after all is said and done, really makes no difference at all except to me and my obsessive/compulsive need to get things straight. As I was reading through the articles today I noticed that the dates given for Lugnasadh ranged from July 31st to August 2nd. One author, who should have known better, even tried to convince me that pagans in the northern hemisphere celebrate it on August 1 and those in the southern hemisphere celebrate it on August 2.

So why the confusion?

We are dealing with two different matters here, one relating to the sun and the other to the moon.


Sun Flakes by Freaky-art-girl

Lughnasadh is a cross-quarter day on the Wheel of the Year (a modern construct laid on us by Gerald Gardner). What this means is that Lughnasadh and the other cross quarter days (Imbolc, Samhain, and Beltane) occur at the midpoints between Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Fall Equinox (the quarters of the solar year). By my reckoning, that would put Lughnasadh (the midpoint between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox) at August 7th this year, since Summer Solstice happened on June 21st and Fall Equinox will happen on September 23rd. So from the get go, we know that the cross-quarter days  aren’t exactly at the midpoints. My guess is that they got stuck at the first of the month that falls between each solstice and equinox for convenience. There is never any question about what day Samhain and Beltane fall on, probably because Halloween and May Day are holidays celebrated by many Americans, Europeans, and Australians—not just pagans—and so have been set in stone on our solar calendars But why do we celebrate Samhain on October 31st and Beltane on May 1st? And why the confusion over Lughnasadh? (and Imbolc too–it is February 1st or 2nd depending on who you celebrate with) This question brings us to…

Image by Cool-wallpapers.us

Image by Cool-wallpapers.us

The Lunar calendar.

Pagan, Hebrew, and Islamic holy days  are timed to a lunar calendar with the solar cycle tacked onto it. Christianity is based on a solar calendar with the lunar cycle tacked onto it. Religions based on a lunar calendar count their days from sunset to sunrise to sunset with the day beginning immediately after sunset. The Christian calendar (which is the calendar everyone uses) counts its days from midnight to noon to midnight with the day beginning immediately after midnight. So, technically, the cross-quarter days begin at sunset of one of our calendar days and end at sunset on the next calendar day. This is where the eves come in. Halloween (October 31) is short for All Hallow’s evening. We celebrate Samhain after sunset on October 31st for obvious, spooky reasons, but the Festival continues until sunset of November 1. Beltane Day is May 1st, which is when we dance the Maypole at sunrise (or a bit later for those who have been up all Beltane Eve (April 31st) dancing before the Bel-fire and making love in the hedgerows.) Lughnasadh, like all the other cross quarter days, would begin on sunset, July 31st or August 1st and end on sunset, August 1st or August 2nd. This explains the discrepancies, but still doesn’t tell us whether Lughnasadh Eve should fall on July 31st or August 1st, or for that matter, whether Imbolc Eve should fall on March 31st or February 1st.

But it’s important to know why we don’t know.

Actually, I don’t believe it really matters whether you celebrate the first harvest and the passionate bounty of summer on July 31st, August 1st, August 2nd—or even August third, fourth, or fifth—just as long as you celebrate.

found on cafepress.com

Shower curtain found on cafepress.com


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Filed under Wheel of the Year

The God as Superhero: Part IV, Hades

Continued from previous posts…

You’ve got to be kidding.
The dread Lord of the Underworld?

Hades and Cerberus, Wiki card, Some entymologists believe that Cerberus is a cognate of the Sanskrit word for spotted. So Hades has a dog named Spot.

Hades and Cerberus, Wiki card, Some entymologists believe that Cerberus is a cognate of the Sanskrit word for spotted. So Hades has a dog named Spot.

The god the Greeks feared so much that they wouldn’t even speak his name?*
The god who granted Medea her death and , at her request, destroyed her lover, Jason?**
The master of the remorseless Furies, who releases them to torment the living?**
The infernal Jove, the snatcher of things, who causes the earth to shake and open up and devour his unfortunate prey? **
The god who called a deadly plague down upon the city of Thebes?**
The god who snatched his sister’s only child and took her down to the underworld to be his queen?

Hades and Persephone

Hades and Persephone

That’s not a Superhero, that’s an Archvillian!

So, imagine my surprise and terror when Hades began talking to me as I stood outside his Ploutonion in Elefsina, Greece. (see previous post: Power Points of Eleusius: The Ploutonion ) I was there a few years ago with my husband and two good friends. One of the spots we made sure to visit was the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Elefsina. A Ploutonion is an opening to the underworld, and of course there was one at the site that celebrated the story about Hades abduction of Persephone and the mystery of the death and rebirth of the land and its people.

The Ploutonion at Elefsina

The Ploutonion at Elefsina

When I made Hades an offering of a 50 cent Euro by pushing it into a crevice near the cave entrance it was like putting a quarter in a jukebox. I stood dumbstruck and quaking in my Birkenstocks as his voice filled my head, telling me that everything was going to be OK, that I wouldn’t die homeless, sick, and alone in some dark alley, etc, etc, etc. All the same stuff I’d always told myself as I lay sleepless and frightened and staring into the uncaring night. But the voice of the god was like a shot of the best antidepressant imaginable. My whole being relaxed as years of pent-up fear and anxiety melted away and I wept tears of joy.
I still have the occasional fear—I’m a realist, after all—but not the debilitating terror and anxiety I used to have. Because the Lord of the Dead reached out from his dark realms and healed my soul, my life is more joyous, productive, and lots more fun.

Since that day at Elefsina I have begun to rethink Hades.

Hades does sound pretty awful, but the other Greek gods were no paragons of virtue either. Zeus raped lots of women, both mortal and immortal, and he certainly didn’t make any of them his queen—he already had one, and he was cheating on her. Artemis was quick to kill anyone  who offended her (especially if he was a man)r, and Athena turned a woman into a spider just because she was foolish enough to believe that she was a better weaver than the goddess. The list goes on.

Roman copy of a 5th century BCE bust of Hades. This is how I picture him.

Roman copy of a 5th century BCE bust of Hades. This is how I picture him.

And because Hades is the ruler of the underworld, where every Greek—good, bad, wealthy, or poor—went after he or she died, our Christian dominated society has come to identify him with their archfiend, Satan–not! Walt Disney and the rest of the movie industry has been especially hard on him.***

Actually, Hades is the subterranean equivalent of Zeus. He is all knowing and all powerful and incredibly wealthy, because he possesses all the precious stones and metals of the earth. Donald Trump, eat your heart out. He controls and supports the earth’s fertility. I love this quote from Hesiod:

“Pray to Zeus Khthonios (Hades) and to pure Demeter to make Demeter’s holy grain sound and heavy, when first you begin ploughing, when you hold in your hand the end of the plough-tail and bring down your stick on the backs of the oxen as they draw on the pole-bar by the yoke-straps.”
Hesiod, “Works and Days”

Hades is also the master of Dreams.

This is a side of the Lord of the Dead that most folks aren’t familiar with. And who would even suspect that he is a gentle healer as well?

But why did he do it? Why would a being with all the riches and power in the world suddenly decide, for no good reason at all, to sooth the soul of some overweight, sweaty, American tourist?

I puzzled about this for a long time and just recently found my answer. I was vacuuming our bedroom and found my dream notebook under the bed. I picked it up—any diversion from vacuuming is a good diversion—and began reading the last several entries. I noticed they were written just before my 60th birthday. Then I remembered that, to help me prepare for that ominous occasion, my friends put together a ritual for me to do the week before. As I recall, it involved telling myself the thing I most wanted/needed just before going to sleep, writing down my dreams the next morning, meditating on my dreams and my desire, and asking the gods for it. The thing I had asked for was to be rid of my debilitating fear.

My birthday came and went and a week later we left for Greece.

Coincidence? I think not.

So why did he do it?
He did it because I ASKED for it. Remember, Hades is the master of dreams. And I did make an offering to him, and I had participated in a ritual to him and Persephone every November for the last several years.

The Multiverse doesn’t give you anything unless you ASK for it. And then you still may not get it. But you certainly won’t get it unless you ASK for it.

A friend of mine has a favorite saying: If you don’t ask, they can’t say yes. We should all have this message as the screen savers on our computers. It would save us much grief.

Which brings me to one of my favorite Ry Cooder performances:

Ry Cooder performing "Jesus on the Mainline"

Ry Cooder performing “Jesus on the Mainline”

Click this link to hear it.

Like the man says, you’ve got to tell him(or her) what you want. But it must be something you really need. If you listen to the lyrics they give a few examples: If you want His kingdom, if you’re sick and wanna get well, or if you’re feeling down and out.

You don’t really need a Mercedes Benz. Janis Joplin knew this—listen for the giggle at the end of the song.



Click this link to hear her sing “Mercedes Benz”.

But if there is something you really need, ask for it.
The gods are amazingly generous.

*Instead, they gave him other, less scary ones like, Polynomos (He who has many names), Polydegmon (Host of Many), Plouton (Lord of Wealth), Zeus Khthonios (of the Earth)**, The Welcoming One, and, of course, He Who Must Not Be Named.

**Hades Respect Thread, by Shooting Nova September 10, 2014.
This is a nice synopsis of Hades’s powers and attributes with references to the where they were found in Greek and Roman literature and mythology.

***This is a totally fun video about Hades’s bad rap in the movies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c51pwfaBrM


Filed under Gifts from the Multiverse, Greece

Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?—Revisited


Sarah Boxer originally asked this question in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic and I wondered right along with her in a previous post. She points out that not only do children’s filmmakers kill off the mothers with brutal regularity, but they are now replacing them with perfect fathers.


She saw this as a last, desperate chauvinistic power grab. An attempt to establish a kinder, gentler patriarchy.

Marlin, Nemo's eventually perfect father

Marlin, Nemo’s eventually perfect father

And I suggested that it was the film industry’s attempt to model good fathering to a nation of underachieving dads.

Disney Studios’, the most matricidal of all filmmakers, latest release follows Ms Boxer’s scenario with chilling exactitude. Into the Woods is a fairy tale composed of fairy tales; and since fairy tales are littered with dead mothers we should expect this.


But Into the Woods exceeded even my most fevered imaginings.

The plotline is composed of four fairy tales smushed together.
• Rapunzel: In which a wicked witch steals a couple’s first-born child because the husband stole some salad greens from her garden. The witch imprisons the child in a tower where she is eventually saved by a handsome prince. Number of dead mothers? 0
• Little Red Ridinghood: A little girl stops to talk to a wolf on her way to her grandmother’s house. The wolf runs ahead and eats the grandmother and then Little Red Ridinghood. A woodsman comes and kills the wolf and frees the girl and her granny from the belly of the beast. Number of dead mothers? 0
• Cinderella: A young woman whose mother is dead is abused by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Her fairy godmother helps her attend a ball where she meets the prince who falls in love with her and they get married. Number of dead mothers? 1
• Jack and the Beanstalk: A young lad sells the family cow for a handful of magic beans that grow into a giant beanstalk which he climbs and brings back a fortune. He chops down the beanstalk and kills the giant whose fortune he stole. Number of dead mothers? 0

However, Into the Woods changes those fairy tales.
• Rapunzel: The man and his wife have another child, a son this time. But the witch laid a curse on the boy rendering him unable to father children. Into the Woods opens

The Childless Couple

The Childless Couple

with the now grown child and his wife running a bakery and wishing for a child. The witch appears and gives the couple a quest for four items and gives them a child when they procure them for her. The wife then dies trying to help find Jack. Number of dead mothers? 1


• Little Red Ridinghood: Both her mother and grandmother are killed by the giantess who comes down another beanstalk to find Jack, who killed her husband. Number of dead mothers? 2


• Cinderella: No change here. Number of dead mothers? 1
• Jack and the Beanstalk: Jack’s mother dies trying to save Jack from the giantess. Number of dead mothers? 1

Final dead mother count:
The Brothers Grimm: 1
Disney Studios: 5

But wait. There’s more.

The Baker, who couldn’t even hold his own baby without making it cry, heeds the advice of his father’s ghost (the father who deserted him and his mother when he was a boy), and becomes a model dad.

But wait. There’s more.

The Baker takes in the now orphaned Jack and Little Red Ridinghood, and Cinderella becomes his wife–thus forming a model American mixed family.

I’m not quite willing to agree with Ms Boxer, although Into the Woods seems to prove her point in spades. I still believe that the film industry is simply telling us the story of our times and suggesting a way out—functional fathers.

But Into the Woods seems a bit heavy handed. Too many dead mothers—and not only mothers.


Wicked Witch or desperate, helicopter parent?


For good measure Disney kills off the wicked witch and the giantess, the two villains of the story, who of course are women. The giantess could be a metaphor for a powerful, angry woman; and the witch, who put her “adopted” daughter in a tower, is the quintessential over-achieving helicopter mom. The only grown up female characters that survive are the indecisive Cinderella, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, and Rapunzel who rides into the sunset with her Prince Charming. Not a single man was killed or even harmed in this movie.

The way out for our culture is not just functional fathers. We desperately need functional mothers too. But with their role in society also morphing and changing, women are just as confused, stressed, and overworked as men. Unfortunately, the film industry has very few role models for them and even less advice. All it seems to be able to do is kill them off.*

Time for a new plot line, Disney.


*I totally enjoyed this film, but the witch and feminist parts of me needed to write this.

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Filed under Movie Review, Young Adult Fantasy

A Powerful Convergence

When we think of a convergence, we usually envision two or three shining planets coming together in the velvet black night sky and astrologers urgently discussing what such a striking event might mean. But that’s not the kind of convergence I’ll be musing about here. This post is about the convergence of choices/events; how one thing leads to another which leads to another which leads to a point in time where they all converge and, with lots of help from the gods, something amazing happens. These convergences occur all the time. They are the small and large miracles of our lives and most of them go unnoticed. But there was one recent convergence that the whole world noticed.

On January 17th Kaleb Whitby had a miraculous escape from certain death. In the dark, cold predawn his pickup was completely squashed between two big rigs during a freeway pile up on I-84 near Baker City, Oregon. He crawled out of the wreckage with only a few cuts and a black eye.
These were the seemingly insignificant choices that lead to this 27-year-old Mormon farmer/husband/father’s improbably good fortune:

• His brother, Brigham, hadn’t come with him this trip. If he had he would have died and there still would have been a tragedy.
• He was driving at a cautious 30mph because the road was icy.
• He was a competent driver and tapped the breaks, lessening the first impact.
• The air-bag decided not to inflate.
• His truck wasn’t a normal pickup, he’d bought one with an extended cab which protected him from the second semi.
But even so, how could he have possibly survived?


At right, Kaleb Whitby in his squashed truck, just before he crawled out. Image by .listwns.com

As far as I’m concerned, this is another case of a god (in this case the Mormon’s god) rushing into the nearest phone booth, putting on his superman outfit,



swooping down, and saving a life. See previous posts.

There has also been powerful convergence in my life. It’s not even close in magnitude to what happened to Kaleb Whitby, but it’s still pretty significant to me. It happened, of course, because of my choices and hard work, but I’m beginning to suspect there was also divine intervention somewhere along the line. Not by a god this time, but a goddess.
Brigid, to be exact.

Here are the choices, events, and synchronicities that led to this convergence:
• I began writing Forging the Blade, my Young Adult Fantasy novel way back in 2006.

Brigid as goddess of writers and inspiration

Brigid as goddess of writers and inspiration Image by tattereddreams on Deviant ART


Brigid as goddess of the Forge

• I have totally rewritten it at least seven times.
• Just a few days ago my editor, Jessica Morrell, a woman who takes the word discrimination to a whole new level, finally said that my book was good. She liked it. Actually, she said this in her first two sentences. The rest of her four-page, single-spaced, Ariel ten-point commentary was devoted to things I needed to change. But I’ve learned to clutch her rare and dazzling compliments to my heart and realize that her criticism is the reason I pay her to read my work—not her praise.
• I have decided that I will rewrite the book one more time and start sending out query letters to agents yet again. The rewrite should only take a month or so as opposed to the year that the last one took.
• This will be the last rewrite until a publisher asks for changes.
• The book is about a six-teen-year-old girl who becomes a warrior mage and sells her soul to that world’s equivalent of the goddess Brigid. In return, the goddess forges her a magic sword.
• Brigid is the goddess of smith craft, fire, inspiration, writing, and healing.
• I am a writer and healer.
• Jessica, my editor, just gave me a very deep discount on a conference she organized. Besides her, there were four other amazing speakers. It was exactly what I needed. I came out of it inspired and ready to write. Thank you, Jessica.
• Jessica’s birthday is February 1st, Imbolc Eve.
• Today is Imbolc, Brigid’s Festival

And so, you see, it has all come together into a satisfying synchronicity. It would have been easy to miss, but I have learned to look carefully for these lovely dovetailings of events in my life. Some would say that I’m making to much of simple coincidences. I, however, prefer to see the above events as evidence that the gods are intimately involved in our lives and take every opportunity to show us how much they care.

Thank you thank you thank you, Brigid!

And a Blessed and Inspiring Imbolc to You All!


Filed under Getting Published, Gifts from the Multiverse, Goddess, Synchronicity

The God as Superhero, Part III

Continued from previous post…

Ganesha is my copilot.

Ganesh as co-pilot
As you can see, I don’t drive anywhere without him.
And yet, I know very little about Hinduism and its pantheon. Decades ago, when I first came across Ganesha, he was, indeed, a very foreign critter to me. A close friend of mine got his PhD in Medieval Indian history, speaks fluent Hindi, and definitely knows his Vedas from his Upanishads. He convinced me that Ganesha would be a good god to pay attention to since he’s the remover of obstacles, the god of wisdom and knowledge, and facilitator of all new ventures–whether it’s a short trip to the store, the start of a new creative project, or a business agreement. OK fine, I thought. But I wasn’t what you’d call a devotee. Demeter and the rest of the Mt. Olympus gang were all the deities I figured I needed. But there was something totally sweet and engaging about the fat, elephant headed god. He appealed to my sense of whimsy. And so, when someone gave me a Ganesha decal, I stuck it on the rear passenger side window of my blue station wagon. I am a careful driver, but the roads are crazy and I need all the help I can get.

Little did I know what a powerhouse that cute little deity actually was.

Ganesha is the son of Pravati, the mother goddess of love, fertility and devotion and Shiva, god of destruction and regeneration. His brother is Kartikeya, leader of the celestial armies. Outside of Quan Yin, Ganesha is probably the most popular pagan deity in the world. His devotees range from hundreds of thousands of traditional Hindus*, Jaines, and Bhudists to a vast number of garden variety American spiritual seekers. His image is everywhere.


And there are tons of stories about him. As with any deity of any pantheon, even the ones about the same event vary drastically from place to place; and India is a huge country and people everywhere love to make a good story even better. My favorite story is about how he got his elephant head. I have several friends who are yogis and they all tell a different one. This is the version I tell:

Once upon a time Shiva went on one of his a long retreats, leaving Parvati home alone. One day, before she took a bath, she rubbed her body with turmeric (some say sandalwood) paste. As she reGaneshlaxed and waited for it to dry, she scraped some of it from her body and formed it into the image of a small boy. The Goddess breathed life into him and told him to guard her bath from intruders. Unfortunately, Shiva arrived while Parvati was still bathing and demanded that the boy step aside so he could greet his wife. The boy, unwilling to go against his creator’s orders, bravely stood his ground against the mighty god of destruction. Shiva, of course, lost his temper and lopped off the boy’s head. When Parvati emerged from the bath she was furious. “That was our son!” she said. “Fix him.” A contrite Shiva ordered his gana (close followers) to go out and bring him the head of the first being they found that was asleep and facing north. They returned with an elephant head and Shiva, god of regeneration, attached it to the boy and named the elephant headed being Ganapati (leader of Shiva’s followers) or Ganesha. And everyone was happy.


Ganesha’s elephant head reminds us of his wisdom and strength. My favorite images of him show him dancing and he always has sweets—Ganesha loves sweets, especially chocolate. He has only one tusk and there are a variety of stories explaining why. If you look closely at my dashboard Ganesha you will see that he doesn’t have any tusks. This is because he got knocked onto the floor and his one remaining tusk broke off.



His vahana (mount or vehicle) is a rat or mouse. Some say this is because he originated as a rural deity and kept the rats from the grain. Others say it shows the humility of this great god. I have a different theory. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles and the basic obstacle that we all have is fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt was right on when he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Everyone knows that elephants are deathly afraid of mice, But Ganesha has obviously conquered his fear and actually turned it into an asset. A perfect lesson for the remover of obstacles to convey.

His other prominent  feature is his belly. It is big because Ganesha is Lord of Everything. He contains all that is, was, or ever will be.

OmThere is a Upanishad verse which states, “All this world is of the form ‘OM’. The past, present and future are all ‘OM’. And whatever transcends the three divisions of time, is also ‘OM’. And so Ganesha is the embodiment of this most powerful and sacred of sounds. Even the glyph for ‘OM’ resembles his profile, especially if you turn it upside down.


But there are many powerful gods. Why is Ganesha so widely beloved?

Because Ganesha delivers—big time. As I am constantly discovering.

Years ago I was driving down Fremont Street in Portland, Oregon with my Ganesha decal in the back window. A woman began backing her car out of a driveway in front of me. She looked right at me, and continued backing out. I was going 30 mph and she was only a few car lengths away. “Oh shit,” was all I had time to think before the world went pitch black and became very, very busy. When I came to I was still continuing down Fremont, but the woman in the car was now behind me, petrified, her mouth wide with terror. I distinctly heard a huge sigh of relief from the back window.

From that day on I became a devotee. Genesha gets all the chocolate he wants as well as lots of love, admiration, and gratitude.

And then there was the time I was driving up to Seattle for a work weekend. I had a client scheduled for 2:30. It was about 11am and I was just north of Olympia when I stopped for gas. I stuck the fuel nozzle into the tank opening and hurried back in the front seat. I had had electrical repairs done and nothing on the dashboard worked; so I got out the manual and figured out how to reset everything while the tank was filling. When I was done, I put the nozzle back, closed the tank, and headed toward Seattle. About a half hour later the engine died. I was in the left hand lane and so had to pull off the freeway to the left. The gas gauge read empty. I had been so preoccupied that I’d forgotten to actually start the pump. I looked at Ganesha in total panic. (By this time he was on the dashboard, as pictured above).Ganesha_001

His wise, patient eyes returned my manic stare. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I can’t help stupid.”

“Yeah, yeah, that was really stupid,” I said, “But can you help me out now?”

“No problem,” he replied.

I hit the flashers, jumped out of the car and started pacing frantically. I had gone back and forth maybe five times when a car pulled up behind me and a man got out, cell phone in hand. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“I’m out of gas.”

“Ah. I have about two gallons in the trunk. That should get you to the nearest station.”

Who carries gas in their trunk? Isn’t that supposed to be dangerous? And what are the chances that that person would be close behind me and would actually pull over on the left-hand side of an insanely busy freeway to help some idiot woman? I paid him for the gas and gave him a huge hug. He and Ganesha are my heroes.

A few years after this incident I had a brainstorm. I usually buy a really good chocolate bar and leave it on the dash next to Ganesha for a few days. By then, he’s done with it and it becomes, what the Hindus and Sikhs call prasad—food for the worshipers. Unfortunately, in the summer the chocolate melts really fast and Ganesha’s treats didn’t last long. Elephants like peanuts, I thought. Why not give him m&ms chocolate covered peanuts? They would keep better, and if he didn’t like them, I had no doubt that he would tell me. I poured some into a small bowl and set them on the dash. A few days later, when I figured he was done with them, I snitched one. Before I even got it to my mouth I heard: “Those are mine!”

I put it back with profuse apologies.

Last September my husband’s leg suddenly got very red and swollen and his temperature shot sky high. The immediate care facility doc told me to drive him directly to the emergency room. On the way there I caught the distinctive scent of peanuts and chocolate. I looked over and saw my husband munching on an m&m with blissful smile on his face. The first one I’d seen that day.

“Those are Ganesha’s,” I said, remembering the rebuke I had received.

“We’re having a party,” Craig replied. I heard Ganesha’s rumbling chuckle.

It didn’t surprise me at all that the God would share his treats with someone who was very sick and very worried. It made us both laugh.

Thank you thank you thank you, Lord Ganesha.

And now you know why Ganesha is my co-pilot and why I won’t drive anywhere without him.

To be continued…

*”All Hindus worship Ganesha regardless of their sectarian belief,” says D N Singh in A Study of Hinduism. “He is both the beginning of the religion and the meeting ground for all Hindus.”


Filed under Gifts from the Multiverse

The God as Superhero, Part II

Continued from previous post…

The first time the God swooped in and saved my butt happened years ago during my Junior year at Michigan State University…

Michigan State campus is huge. My dorm isn't even on this map. It's on Shaw Lane about a quarter mile past Bogue Street. Most students buy a bus pass or ride a bike if they want to get to class on time. image by: www.fashionmode.me

Michigan State campus is huge. My dorm isn’t even on this map. It’s on Shaw Lane about a quarter mile past Bogue Street. Most students buy a bus pass or ride a bike if they want to get to class on time.
image by: www.fashionmode.me

I had just gotten out of a Vertebrate Zoology lecture and was walking down Shaw Lane to my next class, totally oblivious, with visions of reptile anatomy swirling through my head. As I stepped off the curb to cross Bogue Street a hand grabbed the collar of my down jacket, lifted me up, and deposited me back on the curb right as a huge campus bus zoomed by, just inches from my nose.

“You didn’t want to do that,” said a man’s voice.

He was standing beside me. The only thing I remember about him was that he was a generic 1970’s university student dressed in a down jacket almost identical to mine.

“You’re right, I didn’t,” I remember saying. I was in total shock as I stared dumbly after the rapidly retreating bus. When I turned back to thank my savior, he was gone. The sidewalk was packed with students were hurrying by me, completely oblivious to the fact that I’d almost been flattened to a bloody pulp, but he was nowhere to be seen.

At the time, I figured he was just a shy, modest person who didn’t stick around for thanks; but looking back on the incident I honestly don’t think this was the case. I have had other encounters with the divine since then, and they all had the same surreal feeling—as if time had stopped and the world around me had been rearranged. I could swear that that bus was halfway past me by the time my feet hit the curb. There would have been no time for even superman to get me out of its way. And I wasn’t yanked back—I would have felt my jacket pressing on my neck and armpits. It felt like I was levitated. And why, after nearly squashing me, didn’t a professional driver stop or even slow down? And why hadn’t anyone on that busy sidewalk noticed my near death? And why can’t I remember anything about the young man who saved my life except that his down jacket looked just like mine?

As far as I’m concerned, it was The God. My number wasn’t up yet and he was making sure I stuck around to do whatever it is/was I needed to accomplish in this life. And for that, I am eternally grateful to Him.

Think back on your life and I wouldn’t be surprised if you remember an event similar to what happened to me. I believe that the Gods walk among us disguised as everyday people, and at some point or points, whether we’ve noticed or not, we have all been touched by The God.

image by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

image by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome


Filed under Gifts from the Multiverse