News of the Past

September 2014
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The ‘Catholic Witchdoctors’ of Bolivia

By Jake Wallis Simons

On the vast plains of the Altiplano plateau in South America live people who believe in magic.

Many of the Aymara — an ancient, indigenous race found in Bolivia, Peru and Chile — suppose that on Tuesdays and Fridays, ordinary people become vulnerable to harmful spirits and the evil eye.

That’s . . . → Read More: The ‘Catholic Witchdoctors’ of Bolivia

The Surprising Story of Mongolian Shamanism

MIT anthropologist finds that after Soviet domination, a rebirth of shamanism helped Mongolia rewrite its own history

By Peter Dizikes

In 1990, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating, Mongolia, long a satellite of the U.S.S.R., regained its independence. Socialism was out and free markets returned. Religion — in the form of Buddhism, shamanism, and other . . . → Read More: The Surprising Story of Mongolian Shamanism

Indian Court Bans Animal Sacrifice

Agence France-Presse in Shimla

A court in remote northern India has banned a long tradition of sacrificing animals for religious reasons, deeming the practice cruel and barbaric.

The high court in Himachal Pradesh has asked police and other officials to enforce its ban on the slaughter, mainly of goats in Hindu temples throughout the . . . → Read More: Indian Court Bans Animal Sacrifice

The Earth Mother of All Neolithic Discoveries

By John Lichfield

French archaeologists have discovered an extremely rare example of a neolithic “earth mother” figurine on the banks of the river Somme.

The 6,000-year-old statuette is 8in high, with imposing buttocks and hips but stubby arms and a cone-like head. Similar figures have been found before in Europe but rarely so far north . . . → Read More: The Earth Mother of All Neolithic Discoveries

What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?

A groundbreaking survey of the site has turned up tantalizing new clues to what really went on there

By Ed Caesar

We walked the Avenue, the ancient route along which the stones were first dragged from the River Avon. For centuries, this was the formal path to the great henge, but now the only . . . → Read More: What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?

Orkney Islands’ Neolithic and Viking Heritage

By Carolyn Emerick

The islands of Orkney are a beautiful archipelago located between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, to the Northeast of Scotland. Like the rest of the British Isles, Orkney is an amalgam of influences. The ancients left standing stones and neolithic settlements as prehistoric monuments to their culture.

The next known . . . → Read More: Orkney Islands’ Neolithic and Viking Heritage

World’s Oldest Ritual Discovered

Worshipped the python 70,000 years ago

By Yngve Vogt

[Snip] A startling archaeological discovery this summer changes our understanding of human history. While, up until now, scholars have largely held that man’s first rituals were carried out over 40, 000 years ago in Europe, it now appears that they were wrong about both the time . . . → Read More: World’s Oldest Ritual Discovered

Demonic Magic in the Icelandic Wizard Legends

By Mark Hanford

The word ‘wizard’ in this paper refers to the Icelandic galdramenn as a separate class of magicians distinct from the pagan sorcerers of early medieval literature. The wizard legends represent a large body of Icelandic folk-tales and the magic practised in the legends reflects a wide range of beliefs, however, allowing for . . . → Read More: Demonic Magic in the Icelandic Wizard Legends

Why Icelanders Are Wary of Elves Living beneath the Rocks

By Emma Jane Kirby

[Snip] From his desk at the Icelandic highways department in Reykjavik, Petur Matthiasson smiles at me warmly from behind his glasses, but firmly.

“Let’s get this straight before we start – I do not believe in elves,” he says.

I raise my eyebrows slightly and incline my head towards his . . . → Read More: Why Icelanders Are Wary of Elves Living beneath the Rocks

The Finfolk of Orkney Folklore

By Carolyn Emerick

The Orkney Islands possess a folkloric tradition that is both unique and fascinating.

As a small archipelago situated at the cusp of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, much of the folklore naturally involves tales of fisherman, sea voyages, and legendary creatures emerging from the waters.

Due to the settlement of . . . → Read More: The Finfolk of Orkney Folklore