8th century ad

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Viking Torc with Axehead Pendants, 8th-11th Century AD

A silver flat sectioned torc, narrowing to the ends and engraved with lines forming triangular patterns; five suspension rings to the body with large silver suspension loops with threaded wire over body and with axe pendant to each with engraved sun burst pattern

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Viking Twisted Silver Torc, 8th-11th Century AD

Vikings hoarded precious metals, especially silver, to a great degree; for example, in Viking Scotland alone, there are thirty-one Viking age hoards containing silver - and those are just the ones we know about - while Viking Ireland has nearly double that! Silver necklaces of all sizes were often included in hoards, and functioned as a wearable form of currency.

Front and back of the Pictish cross-slab in the churchyard at Aberlemno in Angus, Scotland. The stone was carved in the 8th century AD and commemorates a battle, possibly the great victory at ‘Nechtanesmere’ in 685 where the Picts defeated an invading English army. Illustration from John Stuart’s The Sculptured Stones of Scotland (1856).

With Time...

Let’s talk about Mephisto! I like talking about him, he’s my favorite thing about AnE. But for this post I will refer to him by his real name because I’m going to talk about Samael in his function as the King of Time.

As I have theorized in my earlier post, the reason we don’t know Samael’s exact age is because he is older than our current timekeeping system and any human timekeeping device for that matter. Thus, calculating his “birthday” is just too difficult.

But if you think about it, if he is this old, how did this thing come to be?:

The first mechanical clock was constructed in China in 725 AD. In Europe mechanical clocks were invented sometime around 1300 AD. And cuckoo clocks in particular exist only since about 1620.

Since Samael was known as Loki at some point, we know he’s been living in Assiah since at least the 8th century (700 AD). So, obviously, he didn’t know this technique back then, which is a very interesting thing to consider.

Remember when he said:

He isn’t just talking about his anime figure collection. He “invented“ that particular technique when he first came across a cuckoo clock hundreds of years after he first came to Assiah. In other words:
Samael has evolved his own powers over time by adopting human inventions of timekeeping.

If my theory of him being over 12 000 years old is actually true, his powers, and the entire demonic domain he reigns, have evolved from rough calendars to sundials and shadow clocks to water clocks and candle clocks to the mechanical clocks we’ve seen in his techniques today.
Had he erected a time barrier 2000 years ago it certainly wouldn’t have looked like this:

This is important as it gives us some more insight into his motivations. He’s not hanging around only because he finds Assiah entertaining.

In fact, did you ever wonder what the demons that possess certain man-made objects did when said objects weren’t invented yet? Like Peg Lanterns or Phantom Trains?

The way Samael talks about humans in chapter 44 implies two things: Demons cannot create and demons cannot reproduce. At least not by themselves.

In other words, the demons must have existed before. So either they simply couldn’t reach Assiah because they didn’t have anything suitable to possess or they used to be something different and only evolved into what they are today, both because of the things that humans invented.

I believe this is why Samael doesn’t wish to see humanity destroyed. He understands that demons and he himself can only evolve when humans thrive.

At the same time, people will not invent anything if there aren’t any problems to solve with those inventions. Which is why he’s… trying not to be too helpful, I suppose.

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Yersinia pestis

Yersinia pestis is the causative agent of the systemic invasive infectious disease often referred to as the plague. The Y. pestis is an extremely virulent pathogen that is likely to cause severe illness and death upon infection unless antibiotics are administered. In the past, Y. pestis has caused devastating epidemics during three periods of modern history; the Justinian Plague spread from the Middle East to the Mediterranean during the 6th-8th centuries AD and killed approximately 25% of the population below the Alps region. Perhaps the most famous incidence of any disease was the devastating Black Plague of 8th-14th century Europe that eradicated 25 million people (nearly 25% of the population) and marked the end of the Dark Ages. The third endemic began in 1855 in China and was responsible for millions of deaths.

Plague is a very serious illness, but is treatable with commonly available antibiotics. The earlier a patient seeks medical care and receives treatment that is appropriate for plague, the better their chances are of a full recovery.

Yersinia pestis is a Gram-negative bacillus member of the Enterobacteriaceae family, and is an obligate intracellular pathogen that must be contained within the blood to survive. It is also a fermentative, motile organism that produces a thick anti-phagocytic slime layer in its path. 

Key characteristics: Gram(-), catalase(+), oxidase(-), indole(-), urease(-)

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100 things that you did not know about Africa - Nos.26 - 50

26. West Africa had walled towns and cities in the pre-colonial period. Winwood Reade, an English historian visited West Africa in the nineteenth century and commented that: “There are … thousands of large walled cities resembling those of Europe in the Middle Ages, or of ancient Greece.”

27. Lord Lugard, an English official, estimated in 1904 that there were 170 walled towns still in existence in the whole of just the Kano province of northern Nigeria.

28. Cheques are not quite as new an invention as we were led to believe. In the tenth century, an Arab geographer, Ibn Haukal, visited a fringe region of Ancient Ghana. Writing in 951 AD, he told of a cheque for 42,000 golden dinars written to a merchant in the city of Audoghast by his partner in Sidjilmessa.

29. Ibn Haukal, writing in 951 AD, informs us that the King of Ghana was “the richest king on the face of the earth” whose pre-eminence was due to the quantity of gold nuggets that had been amassed by the himself and by his predecessors.

30. The Nigerian city of Ile-Ife was paved in 1000 AD on the orders of a female ruler with decorations that originated in Ancient America. Naturally, no-one wants to explain how this took place approximately 500 years before the time of Christopher Columbus!

31. West Africa had bling culture in 1067 AD. One source mentions that when the Emperor of Ghana gives audience to his people: “he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth of gold: behind him stand ten pages holding shields and gold-mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair … The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed … they wear collars of gold and silver.”

32. Glass windows existed at that time. The residence of the Ghanaian Emperor in 1116 AD was: “A well-built castle, thoroughly fortified, decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having glass windows.”

33. The Grand Mosque in the Malian city of Djenné, described as “the largest adobe [clay] building in the world”, was first raised in 1204 AD. It was built on a square plan where each side is 56 metres in length. It has three large towers on one side, each with projecting wooden buttresses.

34. One of the great achievements of the Yoruba was their urban culture. “By the year A.D. 1300,” says a modern scholar, “the Yoruba people built numerous walled cities surrounded by farms”. The cities were Owu, Oyo, Ijebu, Ijesa, Ketu, Popo, Egba, Sabe, Dassa, Egbado, Igbomina, the sixteen Ekiti principalities, Owo and Ondo.

35. Yoruba metal art of the mediaeval period was of world class. One scholar wrote that Yoruba art “would stand comparison with anything which Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece and Rome, or Renaissance Europe had to offer.”

36. In the Malian city of Gao stands the Mausoleum of Askia the Great, a weird sixteenth century edifice that resembles a step pyramid.

37. Thousands of mediaeval tumuli have been found across West Africa. Nearly 7,000 were discovered in north-west Senegal alone spread over nearly 1,500 sites. They were probably built between 1000 and 1300 AD.

38. Excavations at the Malian city of Gao carried out by Cambridge University revealed glass windows. One of the finds was entitled: “Fragments of alabaster window surrounds and a piece of pink window glass, Gao 10th – 14th century.”

39. In 1999 the BBC produced a television series entitled Millennium. The programme devoted to the fourteenth century opens with the following disclosure: “In the fourteenth century, the century of the scythe, natural disasters threatened civilisations with extinction. The Black Death kills more people in Europe, Asia and North Africa than any catastrophe has before. Civilisations which avoid the plague thrive. In West Africa the Empire of Mali becomes the richest in the world.”

40. Malian sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312. This mariner king is not named by Al-Umari, but modern writers identify him as Mansa Abubakari II.

41. On a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 AD, a Malian ruler, Mansa Musa, brought so much money with him that his visit resulted in the collapse of gold prices in Egypt and Arabia. It took twelve years for the economies of the region to normalise.

42. West African gold mining took place on a vast scale. One modern writer said that: “It is estimated that the total amount of gold mined in West Africa up to 1500 was 3,500 tons, worth more than $­­­­30 billion in today’s market.”

43. The old Malian capital of Niani had a 14th century building called the Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in silver; those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold.

44. Mali in the 14th century was highly urbanised. Sergio Domian, an Italian art and architecture scholar, wrote the following about this period: “Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilisation. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated”.

45. The Malian city of Timbuktu had a 14th century population of 115,000 - 5 times larger than mediaeval London. Mansa Musa, built the Djinguerebere Mosque in the fourteenth century. There was the University Mosque in which 25,000 students studied and the Oratory of Sidi Yayia. There were over 150 Koran schools in which 20,000 children were instructed. London, by contrast, had a total 14th century population of 20,000 people.

46. National Geographic recently described Timbuktu as the Paris of the mediaeval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to Professor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.

47. Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 hand written mediaeval books. There may be another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private collections in Niger. Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about 700,000 surviving books.

48. A collection of one thousand six hundred books was considered a small library for a West African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying that he had the smallest library of any of his friends - he had only 1600 volumes.

49. Concerning these old manuscripts, Michael Palin, in his TV series Sahara, said the imam of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years … Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe. In the fifteenth century in Timbuktu the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the planets, knew about the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for 150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.”

50. The Songhai Empire of 16th century West Africa had a government position called Minister for Etiquette and Protocol.

Part 1. 1-25

Part 2. 26-50

Part 3. 50-75

By Robin Walker 

Robin Walkers book When we ruled is one of the best books Africans and African Diaspora can use firstly as a introduction to African history and secondly a good source to become proficient with precolonial African history.

Recommended reading

This small bronze figure, possibly depicting a lion, was found in a Viking Age grave at Islandbridge in Dublin. Insular in style, it was most likely made in either Scotland or Ireland during the 8th century AD. It may have originally adorned a religious reliquary (although this is debated).

More info: Harrison, S & O'Floinn, R (2014) Viking Graves and Grave Goods in Ireland, pages 204-205

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The Harrowing of Hell

Given that last Easter I imparted some of my infinite religious studies knowledge, this year I thought I’d do the same. The Harrowing of Hell is an artistic and ideological concept that stretches back to the very roots of Christianity. In essence, it describes how, in the three days after he was crucified and died, Christ descended to the Underworld to offer salvation to the souls already there, and lead them back to Heaven before he returned to life. It is, in mythic narrative terms, the Christian underworld story, similar to Persephone and Mitra.

To be perfectly frank, I am more interested in the artistic and literary evolution of the Harrowing of Hell. Christianity sprouted from Judaism, naturally, so in its earliest days it would still be working off of the ancient Judaic concept of the land of the dead. This was Sheol; a kind of gray limbo similar to the Greek Hades and Norse Niflheim/Hel i.e. it was not Hell, but it was not pleasant. The shades of the dead, good or bad, gathered there, all together, to spend eternity and bemoan how much being dead sucked, in academic terms. (Bear that in mind the next time one chooses to browse through The Book of Ecclesiastes, especially with the knowledge that the non-poetic parts were edited in to try and give the whole poem a more ‘feel-good’ vibe.) Heaven, the Seat of Abraham, was reserved for especially sacred individuals of near mythical status, individuals such as Moses, Abraham, and Enoch.

Over time, apocalyptic movements within Judaism such as the prophets Daniel and Isaiah, spoke of a resurrection day, when the dead would resurrect and be judged so that they may enter paradise. It is interesting to note that Sheol, especially in the post-exile period of the Hebrew culture, started to develop a secondary part, a deeper land of the dead that mirrors the Greek Tartarus or Norse Niflhel in that it was an ‘outer void’ or ‘lake of fire’ for the truly awful to suffer in.

So it is that when Christ died and descended to the underworld in the narrative of the Harrowing of Hell, he was descending not to a blazing inferno, but a land of the dead. Christ’s purpose was always to offer salvation to those who had died before his arrival, including the patriarchs of the Old Testament. Some souls still chose to reject Christ, and others were thoroughly damned and therefore could not leave even if they had wanted to. However, the New Testament is recorded in Greek, and did not describe the underworld as Sheol but as Hades. Furthermore, this translation extended into the Old Testament as well. So Christ’s descent into Sheol became the descent into Hades. (Now the connections to Persephone and Dionysus become a little clearer.)  When Christianity moved to Europe, the text was translated again, shifting Hades into Hell. It’s a rather fascinating indicator of how perceptions of Christ and the underworld shifted over time.

Needless to say, Christ’s odyssey through the land of the dead and then into Hell has been an artistic inspiration for centuries. The first artistic depictions may have been mystery plays in the early Christian cults, reminiscent of similar acts in the Roman and Persian cults of Mitra and the Greek cult of Eleusis. One of the oldest, if not the oldest surviving Christian drama, dating back to the 8th century AD, was meant to be a performance of the Harrowing of Hell. Dante Alighieri described the Harrowing through the poet Virgil, who, being pagan (albeit the author’s favorite and one of the noble pagans) did not understand to the significance of some dude strolling into Hell and putting a bunch of souls on the shuttle-bus to paradise city, so to speak. There have been countless paintings and engravings of the Harrowing, some depicting it as a peaceful, hopeful event, even bringing to mind an underworld not unlike Sheol. Other more chaotic pictures show a thriving and horrific hellscape full of surreal monsters and suffering souls.

One of the most interesting recurrent themes in these latter pictures is the Hellmouth. Those of you familiar with medieval art know that the Hellmouth is a gigantic, gaping demonic maw representative of Hell itself. Its mouth is the very gates of Perdition itself, filled with fire, fangs, and wailing souls. The Devil is usually near by, either in the mouth or luring humans into it. Some sources cite the Hellmouth as a great beast, the monstrous Leviathan of Job and Isaiah. The Hellmouth can even be interpreted as the conflation of Satan and Leviathan into a single entity. The Hellmouth is notably present in depictions of the Harrowing of Hell, or at least in Anglo-Saxon depictions. Christ is show with the Hellmouth either opening its jaws open for souls to get out, or even using a cross to pry it open. This allows Christ to appear in a warrior aspect not usually seen in scriptural art; Christ the prophet and shepherd is now Christ the conqueror and slayer of monsters. It is a very literal visual interpretation of Christ conquering death and the world, usually while standing on top of Satan no less.

So that’s my brief description of the Harrowing of Hell. I’ve got put that religious studies degree to good work somewhere, so it might as well be here. (Graduation, here I come…)

Anglo-Saxon inscribed gold strip from the Staffordshire Hoard, 7th-8th century 

This gold strip carries the Latin inscription: “Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.” It has two sources, the Book of Numbers or Psalm 67, taken from the Vulgate, the Bible used by the Saxons.

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever found. It was discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, in Staffordshire on July 5, 2009. The items total over 3,500 in all and date from the time of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

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This distinctive Pictish carving is found in Aberlemno churchyard in Scotland. The front of the stone is ornamented with a profusely decorated cross, while the reverse shows a battle scene. It most likely dates from the 8th or 9th centuries AD. It has been suggested that the battle scene may depict the Battle of Dun Nechtain, where the Picts, led by King Bridei Mac Bili, defeated a Northumbrian army on the 20th May 685 AD (conversely, it could also illustrate a later encounter between the Picts and Vikings).

Image Sources

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