History Ancient Practices

The history of witches can teach us a lot about ourselves

I was a child angel for several consecutive Halloweens. Dressed all in white, with a halo attached to my head and gauzy wings sprouting from my shoulder blades, I smiled beatifically at the camera. It was what I wanted, in my heart of hearts, too: to be pure, angelic, and perfect.

I never would have been a witch for Halloween. Witches wore black, had tall pointy hats, warts on their noses, cauldrons in which they mixed up hateful potions. Witches are the antithesis of angels. At least until I grew a little older and started investigating my own feminism and realized: witches are just women with a bit of power. That’s why they’re scary. That’s why they’re “bad.”

Growing up, I was also under the impression that witches were merely fictional. That magic wasn’t real, and it only existed in TV shows, movies, and books. These days I know better. There are witches out there — I even know some — and rather than being wart-ridden, cackling wretches who exist to eat the hearts of pretty young maidens, they are genuinely some of the kindest, most caring people I’ve met. They just happen to have a deeper connection to nature and the spiritual realm than many of us. Though witches do not have to be women, many are (at least the ones in my circles) and I think that makes the fear glow brighter.

Witches are just women with a bit of power. That’s why they’re scary.

In America, we’re almost all familiar with the Salem witch trials. But it turns out people were being burned at the stake for witchcraft across the Atlantic even decades before those famous burnings. In Europe, over the course of approximately 400 years, as many as 60,000 people were killed for being accused of witchcraft. According to one theory, it was economically driven by the religious leaders of the day.

As someone who grew up in an evangelical household, I never questioned that negative view of witches, which was that anyone who did not follow God was, obviously, following the devil. It took years of unlearning for me to reach a place where I didn’t see the world through such black and white lenses. I’m now rather fascinated by witchcraft and witches. According to an article on, “Many modern-day witches still perform witchcraft, but there’s seldom anything sinister about it.”

In my experience, witchcraft is often a pathway for people to tap into their deepest selves and to connect to the universe around them. There is also a legit religion, Wicca, whose believers practice witchcraft. 

“Many modern-day witches still perform witchcraft, but there’s seldom anything sinister about it.”

In pop culture, witches are sometimes seen as evil. I can’t stop thinking about the witches in Stardust, a movie I must admit I adore, who were power-hungry and willing to kill and destroy anyone in order to preserve their youth. Evil is in the name of the Wicked Witch of the West, too. 

Of course, pop culture witches aren’t all bad. Take Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although she goes through a dark phase, she’s ultimately seen as fighting her evil urges in order to be good.

One of my favorite witches in pop culture is Wanda the Scarlet Witch of Marvel fame. To be fair, I’ve never read the comic source material, but the movie and TV show character, played by Elizabeth Olsen, holds a very special place in my heart. She does terrible things in her grief and pain, and frankly, I can relate. I watched (and sobbed through) Wandavision earlier this year because though I’ve never confronted the specific griefs Wanda faced, I have my own share of trauma I’m trying to deal with on my own, without hurting others.

Do you see the lesson we can learn from the way witches in pop culture navigate their powers? How their tales, whether fictional or real, can be relatable for all of us suffering grief, trauma, or depression?

I think, ultimately, that if you were an angel or a witch for Halloween, it’s fine, as long as you have respect. Respect for the choices of others that might be different from yours, and respect for the people populating our lives who look a little different, act a little different and connect a little differently.

Read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness!

For more Tempest History, check out our Ancient Practices series!

Culture Life Stories Life

I consider myself to be irreligious but I’m not an atheist

I’ve always found myself feeling awkward or out of place when it comes to discussions of faith and religion. Growing up, I remember despising going for classes at the madrasah, a school for Muslim children to learn about Islam, because I disagreed with what they thought, or picked at their logic. I rebelled because I didn’t understand the rules that were enforced. I didn’t like being controlled for no reason.

As I grew older, my mother slackened her grip. I was no longer asked to attend the madrasah. I wasn’t forced to pray, either. In fact, life became pretty smooth. I understood that my mother drew her strength from faith and she understood that I didn’t have that driving force. We came to a mutual agreement. I’m glad my mother was open-minded enough to accept that. I know it’s challenging for parents to realize their children don’t believe in something as fundamental as God, especially when religion means so much to them.

 I studied philosophy in college and got the opportunity to go study the ideas of faith. It was interesting because I could discuss faith in a more academic context. I could talk about what faith means to people, and understand the power of belief. It helped me open my mind to how faith could help people. Faith provided a lot of answers to unanswerable questions.

Thing is, I never really had a strong sense of belief.

The answers to the universe, for me, didn’t lie in God. Answers were waiting to be found by us. I regard the existence of God in an abstract, philosophical way. I see God as a being that may or may not exist, but one that doesn’t directly influence my life, or the lives of others. I find it hard to imagine that in a universe so large, I can be sentenced to eternal torment on a set of arbitrary morals and values. 

I realized that my feelings could be categorized under the umbrella term of “irreligion”, which broadly refers to the absence, indifference, or rejection of religion. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way – academic studies have taken a look at this growing population. A paper even suggests devising new methods to address this population of irreligious people. People who don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. 

I had family members that did not like Islam. I knew people that were against it due to its rigid structure, or because they believed it had flawed belief systems. I had friends that loathed the concept of religion itself. Any time we discussed it, I felt out of place in those spaces, too. I couldn’t understand the hatred for something that dominated a large part of humanity. I understand its flaws, yes, but I couldn’t sympathize with the hatred behind it. Religion does play a big part in culture, too. It did influence who I am today and I do accept that Islam is a part of my upbringing. My experiences, my worldview, exists because of it. 

I recently had a conversation with my grandmother about religion.

She asked me how the universe was made. I explained the Big Bang theory. She asked me how life was possible. I talked about chance and evolution. She asked me how the world is so perfect for us. I said it was because we evolved in it. It wasn’t made for us. We adapted to it. That’s why we’re here. Finally, she asked me what gave me strength. Here, I faltered. I never really thought about it. What did drive me, what convinced me to keep going? For my grandmother, it was her faith in God.

For me, I guess I have to say it’s faith in myself. It’s faith in humankind to keep discovering new answers. It’s the fact that we have so much left to see and discover. What drives me is sheer curiosity. I have to see how things turn out. I have to see what happens next. 

Do I believe in God? A powerful figure that is both benevolent and cruel, that judges us on arbitrary ‘sins’? No, I do not.

Do I believe in God? A being that may have had a part to play in the creation of the universe? I can’t answer that because I don’t know.

We can run circles around God’s existence for centuries. Honestly, I’m happy discovering the truth later. I don’t mind waiting for answers. 

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LGBTQIA+ Race Inequality

Are you being an ally or a white savior?

In light of recent conversations around Black Lives Matter Protests, being an ally to marginalized communities is the new “woke” thing to do. All of a sudden, white people understand the plight of people of color, men understand women’s oppression, and straight people understand LGBTQ+ experiences.

Everyone speaks up for everyone else’s oppression, to the extent that people are speaking over others, instead of speaking up for others. Often, this leads to uncomfortable situations, especially for closeted LGBTQ+ people who are only out to a few people. The aggressive desire of saviors to publicly call people out for being homophobic, racist, and xenophobic without any context of the situation has led to unnecessary misunderstandings. 

For example, closeted folks often make references about the LGBTQ+ experience around people who they are out to. Often, self-proclaimed “allies” to the LGBTQ+ community would overhear this and publicly confront them about their comments and accuse them of being “homophobic” for talking about the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, falsely assuming that they are straight. This has led to public outings of closeted members of the LGBTQ+ community, which is both unfair and insensitive to them. For example, Author Becky Albertalli was forced to come out publicly after being criticized for writing Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda because people assumed that she was straight. 

The publicness of confrontations represents the performative nature of the savior’s actions. They crave social recognition for defending marginalized communities. They post a black square on their Instagram in solidarity with Black Lives Matter but don’t do anything to raise awareness for police brutality after Black Lives Matter stopped trending. These people are also missionaries who travel to developing countries to convert people under the guise of community building. This is an instance of saviors taking the moral high ground; they think that they are better than the people that they are “saving” because of their religion. In reality, the communities that are being “saved” have their own culture and religious values, and do not need to be indoctrinated with the values of another religion.

On the other hand, allies listen to the experiences of other communities. They do not speak over and speak for these communities but use their platform to amplify the voices and experiences of others. They don’t refer to marginalized communities as “voiceless” but create a stage for their voices to be heard. Allies do not expect social recognition for their allyship, nor do they limit their allyship to social media trends. Allyship is long-term because it is based on empathetic relationships between people. Allies do not pretend to relate to the struggles of a marginalized community; they acknowledge that listening to something is not the same as living through it. 

Allies also ask questions to improve their own understanding of underrepresented communities. They also do their own research to learn the history of these communities. However, they understand that not every member of a minority community feels oppressed and that minorities do not want to participate in the Oppression Olympics – a competition to determine who is the most oppressed on grounds of sex, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.

With the advent of the Biden Presidency, more conversations about intersectionality are in the works. Allies are an important part of liberation movements; enslaved people were liberated with some assistance from white abolition movements. Women were able to acquire the right to vote partially through the platform of their male allies. Historically, allies have worked to raise awareness for different causes within their own demographics. In order to raise awareness today, it is important to be cognizant of the fine line between being an ally and being a savior

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Culture Life Stories Life

Don’t feel sorry for me because I don’t drink, I don’t need your sympathy

As a British Muslim woman that doesn’t drink, growing up in a country that has a dominant drinking culture has made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome around work and friendship circles. From university through to my career, I’ve had to navigate comments that have made me feel belittled about my choices and values.

“Why not?” – Is that any of your business?

“You haven’t lived until you’ve had a drink!” – I’m living just fine thank you.

“I wish I could do that, I’ve got a lot of respect for you.’”- A comment that sounds like they’re admiring my choice, but is actually patronizing and insincere.

And I’ve saved the best one till last…

“Go on, just try one!” – Yes, there are still people that think forcing someone to drink is like committing a good deed. They expect I’ll magically become a “fun” person to hang out with once I become tipsy or drunk.

To stop people from expecting me to explain myself, feeling ‘sorry’ for me or forcing me to drink, I would come up with different ways to evade any awkward interactions. I’d avoid going to socials where I knew it would involve going to a pub or bar (or leave early if I’m ‘encouraged’ to go), I’d only spend time with people that I trust won’t ask these irritating questions or I’d suggest other places to go to.

I started to feel drinking peer pressure when I attended university. During first-year whilst living in university halls, my flatmates would regularly arrange pre-drinks at our flat before going out partying and drinking even more. I had no issue with my flatmates drinking – it’s their life and it’s each to their own – but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the drinking culture I wasn’t partaking in. The majority of people entering university were able to build close friendships with others based on their shared enjoyment of alcohol. I felt judged by my peers and definitely had FOMO, but I wasn’t going to succumb to peer pressure.

I quickly came to realize who my real friends were at university – they respected and didn’t want to change me. They like me for who I am and they didn’t make a big deal about me not drinking.

Though I felt the peer pressure dissipate at university, it reappeared when I entered the working world. It was only when I started my career that I realized how intrinsic the drinking culture is in the UK. There are after-work drinks, socials that involve drinking, birthday drinks, successful project drinks, leaving drinks. There always seems to be an excuse to drink.

I had one manager that felt it was perfectly fine to say multiple comments to me about my choices. “Aww, I feel so sorry for you!” was one condescending remark she felt was acceptable to say every so often to me. Am I living life the wrong way? Am I dull, boring, not worth other people’s time when it comes to socializing? Well according to my then-manager, I am.

I would fume. I could feel my heart rate racing when she made those comments. All I could do was take a deep breath and smile through gritted teeth. How could I stand up against my manager if she could make work more difficult for me? I learned not to respond and let her continue talking about her drunken antics instead. It felt more manageable than snapping back.

As I’m older and (I’d like to think) wiser, I’ve come to realize that the people making these comments are likely to feel judged and uncomfortable around me because of their personal drinking choices. For some people, they may have given in to peer pressure so they don’t feel left out of friendship circles. For others, they know drinking is bad for their health and it’s costly, but having a drink helps them to wind down, relax and socialize with ease. I am not the kind of person to judge. I’m not against drinking culture, I will happily go to a pub or bar with a group of friends whilst they drink alcohol and I have a fancy mocktail.

When people ask non-drinkers to explain themselves instead of respecting their choices, that’s when it gets infuriating. When I do get asked these questions now, I’ll tell them it’s my choice, just like it’s their choice to drink. I don’t judge you, so you shouldn’t judge me either.

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History Education

It is high time Shakespeare is written off as a relic of the past

“She hangs upon the cheek of night Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear” one of my high school students, playing Romeo read out. 

“Miss, isn’t that racist? Referring to the color of someone’s skin and making a metaphor out of it?” Interrupted another student. 

“Well, any piece of literature is a product of its time. And racist sentiments were very common during the colonial era.” I snapped back, partly embarrassed at my shallow save. 

“But if it’s so outdated, why are we still studying it over 300 years later?” He responded.

And there it was. The ultimate question, to which I really had no answer. My Generation Z students somehow had more political correctness than the board which set the curriculum. In light of all our Anglomania as a post-colonial society, Shakespeare continues to dominate most secondary school curriculums. And somehow, as educators, we must salvage some of this “great” playwright’s legacy, by defending his racism and sexism, which can be extremely offensive to modern-day sensibilities. 

Flipping through the pages of The Merchant of Venice, the depiction of Shylock as a stone-hearted usurer is disconcerting. Shakespeare picks up on the stereotype of Jews as being greedy and practically villainizes the entire Jewish community of the time by pitting it against Bassanio and Portia’s love story. 

Race and morality appear inextricably linked in Shakespeare’s works. Portia, when discussing her prospective suitors, claims that “If he have the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.” As Portia is presented with the proposal of a Moroccan, she immediately turns it down on the basis of his skin tone. The idea of one’s skin color as an indication of their moral aptitude was what British colonialists thrived upon. This is precisely what allowed them to spread “enlightenment” and Christianity in the “dark continent” of Africa. 

This absurd idea is taken further in Othello. The character of Othello, himself, described as ‘the dark moor’, with ‘thick lips’ is said to resemble ‘the devil’, simply because of his complexion. 

Attribution: [Image Description: Laurence Fishburne in the title role of Othello, with Kenneth Branagh (right) as Iago, 1995.] via Castle Rock Entertainment
As you read through work after work, it becomes apparent that this is no coincidence. This is Shakespeare’s world view: devoid of diversity and nuance. It is one that exalts white Christian men and creates savages and murderous brutes out of people of color. 

If Shakespeare’s internalized racial prejudice is bothering you, wait till we talk about the blatant sexism in his works. Hamlet famously claimed: “Frailty thy name is a woman.” I remember while studying Hamlet in my sophomore year of college, many were very outraged by this statement. How can you read and respect a writer who basically undermines the intelligence of your entire gender? But then I also remember when a question was raised about his not so subtle sexism, our professor wrote it off as being Hamlet’s words and not Shakespeare’s. We must not conflate the two, we were told. 

But if it was just Hamlet who thinks of women as the epitome of weakness, why is it that this theme of fragile and hysterical women appears in many more of his works? In Macbeth, for instance, an otherwise ambitious man is led astray by his wife’s greed. Shakespeare continually emphasizes the superior moral ground of his own heroes. They are moral compasses for the women in their lives. It is as if he was trying to say: women, by their very nature, are fallible and when they transgress, they must be punished. Such is the case for Taming of the Shrew which basically glorifies domestic violence.  

Living in a society where people are still recovering from a post-colonial complex, Shakespeare is not just a playwright or an artist. He is deified into a god-like figure. He is an institution, a larger than life phenomenon. He is considered as the epitome of civilization, intellectual prowess, and spiritual superiority. At least, this is how he was institutionalized by the former colonizers in order to dominate their subjects. 

Today, Shakespeare is celebrated for his supposed universality. But how can we call him universal when, in fact, most of his writing, much like other Western Canonical texts, is about royalty and the aristocracy? He only ever wrote about higher mortals. And when these grand, inaccessible tales are told to us, we take it all unflinchingly, without a grain of salt. We don’t question it because it is not relatable.

Our own sense of inferiority prevents us from ever probing how problematic it really is. 

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Dear Madame Lestrange Love

Am I desperate for using dating apps?

Dear Madame Lestrange is The Tempest’s love, sex, and relationships advice column. Have a question? Send it to Madame Lestrange here.  It’s anonymous!

Dear Madame Lestrange,

I’m 26 and I’ve never dated anyone. In my teens, my parents told me that I was to not interact with any guy because that was religiously forbidden. In my early 20s, I had many crushes but was always too shy to admit it and the infatuation faded quickly. I’m 26 now I have a career and my parents want me to get ready for marriage.

I don’t know about marriage but I am ready to meet my soulmate. I joined a dating site and all the men I talked to wanted a casual hookup (I was on bumble). My social media tells me that I don’t have to look for someone because I’ll meet someone when least expected. So now I feel desperate when I’m actively looking. Please advise. 


—Lonely Lady 

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Dear Lonely Lady, 

There is nothing wrong with dating apps and if you feel comfortable using them, then go for it! It’s true that a lot of people use dating apps like Bumble and Tinder for casual hookups but that isn’t everyone! Quite a few people have met their long term partners on dating apps, it’s just a case of sticking it out to find that person that you will be with.

It’s important to recognise that the first person you meet and are compatible with may not be your soulmate. Any relationship requires work and there should always be a sense of realism and logic to your relationship. Romanticising a relationship can have disastrous consequences so it’s important to put your own values and morals above your feelings for another person.

I agree with what your social media says in principle. The idea that your entire life should not be about finding love and you should put yourself first. Moreover, there are lots of different reasons why people are on dating apps, and everyone works on their own timeline. You shouldn’t feel bad for actively looking for a relationship, especially when you’ve achieved a career and you feel emotionally ready to be in a relationship. 

You’re welcome, 

Madame Lestrange

More Dear Madame Lestrange

I’m planning on having sex with my boyfriend soon. It’ll be my first time but not his and while I’m very excited, I’m also very nervous. I want to make this a pleasurable experience for us both and I have no idea what I’m doing. I gave him my first handjob too and while he did cum, I feel like I could’ve done better. Do you have any tips?

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How fate allowed me to live without fear

Spring break in 2019 started with a disaster and a (sort of) run-in with the law. My sister had dropped me off at the airport with my bags packed for Greece. I was going on a community service trip with a group of people I had never met before. I felt nervous. I was the person that couldn’t eat alone in restaurants, let alone travel to a new country where I knew no one. It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. Was I wrong for choosing this over an offer to go to Morocco with a close friend? Or was it fate?

No matter what, in the end, it’ll turn out okay.

Everything was going according to plan until a man called my name and asked me to follow him, leading me away from the flight gates. I panicked. “Won’t I miss my flight?” Looking me over in my sweatpants and faded Lollapalooza shirt, he told me that due to complications with my visa I wasn’t able to board the plane. Speechless, I was escorted out of the airport.

The car ride home was gloomy. I felt disappointed in myself for not double-checking my documents. I wasn’t sure it was wise to buy another round trip ticket. This felt like a sign. “No spring break this year for me,” I thought, resigned. Plus, I had just lost a lot of money I was probably not getting back. 

I called my friend, trying to seek assurance that I wasn’t the dumbest person on the planet. She was in Morocco, already on day two of the trip I gave up. “There’s still a spot for you here,” she said. I laughed lightly, not in the mood for jokes. “I’m serious. There is a flight tomorrow. Just come.”

Sometime that night, I got some of that money back. That had to mean something. The most difficult part of making my next decision was explaining it to my bewildered mother. I caught a flight to Casablanca. That trip became one of the best travel experiences of my life thus far.

I often turn to this story when I start to doubt the trajectory of my life, when it starts to go wayward and I feel myself spiraling into regret. It’s the assurance I need that no matter what, in the end, it’ll turn out okay. Just like how seeing a familiar face at a subway platform when I swore I was hopelessly lost made me pause for a moment and think that maybe I’d find my way home after all. Or how going on a gallery visit with a class led me to meet someone that made the rest of the year fall in an unexpected way.

So, yes, I do (loosely) believe that some things are bound to happen, and mostly for the best. I grew up between parents on opposite sides of the spectrum when it came to faith. The one thing they both agree on is fate. The phrase “what happens, happens” is as common as a greeting at our house. If something bad happens, it is normal to feel bad about it, but it was meant to happen to make way for something. This sentiment has been something I internalized and accepted.

When one door closes, sometimes it means that there was no room for you there anyway.

I heard that a remarkable thing that makes us evolved humans is that we can hold two contradicting ideas to be true at the same time. I know, on one hand, that believing in a preordained fate is a coping mechanism for us to remain sane in a world of chaos. Accept that what is meant for me will be can be a slippery slope, as I can lose a sense of control over my life. Some might even think of the belief in fate as a grandiose coping mechanism, which may be true to some extent.

The important thing is balance and being self-aware. I can’t always miss a flight and jump on another right afterward. But I won’t give up believing in fate– because, at the end of the day it brings me solace to know that I may not be responsible for absolutely everything in my life that goes awry. And it keeps me humble about the things that go right.

When one door closes, sometimes it means that there was no room for you there anyway. The group I was supposedly traveling with didn’t even ask why I had dipped out of the plan. Plus, looking back at it, I wasn’t going with the intention of helping others but rather to do something bold. And to see Greece. My heart wasn’t in it and fate knew it.

There will always be a door that opens up in its place, even in the most unexpected ways. Keeping the thought that “what happens, happens” has made me braver with my decisions. The only thing I can regret is dwelling on regrets themselves because it has long kept me from stepping out of my shell and looking around for new possibilities. Accepting fate has emboldened me, to put myself out there with my writing and be vulnerable no matter what, and to apply to programs that I felt were ‘too good’ or out of my reach. Now I’m here, sharing this with you and off to study literature in the master’s program of my dreams. 

I encourage you to take the leap once in a while and trust it. Looking at your life in this way makes you recognize the silver linings even in your most embarrassing slip-ups or a more devastating turn of events. 

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Meet the 23 most badass goddesses ever

If your high school education was anything like mine, you learned a whole lot about Zeus and Poseidon somewhere between reading The Lightning Thief and Oedipus Rex. You probably caught on to a couple of the awesome goddesses in these myths (Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, we all had our favorite), but might not have known that there were more where they came from.
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It turns out that there’s a whole pantheon of incredibly cool and world-changing female figures in world mythology. We’ve found twenty-three that struck us as the most amazing examples of women in religion and legend. Without further ado, here are our favorite goddesses.

1. Tiamat

If you’re a fan of creation myths, Tiamat has got to be one of your favorite goddesses.

In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, Tiamat gives birth to the world’s gods and creates the earth–then she gets into a major battle with the other gods. Plus, her nickname is “chaos monster,” so that’s pretty legit.

2. Hel

We get our name for the underworld from this crazy cool Norse goddess. When the ancient Norse told each other to “Go to Hel” it literally meant “To go to the underworld” or “To go to see the goddess Hel.”

Did we mention that she leads an army of the dead during Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse)?

3. Bast/Bastet/Basthet

All cat-ladies probably should have lived in Ancient Egypt. Then, they could have prayed to the cat goddess Bast for sensual pleasure, fertility, and health.

Goddess by day, Bast transformed into a cat at night to fend of serpents that sought to attack her father Ra.


4. Mazu/Tin Hau

Born Lin Moniang in 960, the goddess Mazu was said to have guided ships to harbor during her childhood. She continues to be worshipped across China and South Taiwan as a goddess of seafarers (pirates and storms beware!).

5. Atalanta

Raised by bears and hunters after her father abandoned her on a mountaintop, Atalanta became a feared virgin huntress. She eventually married Hippomenes after he beat her in a footrace (only because he distracted her with golden apples) and they had one son (but were turned into lions after disappointing Zeus).

Weird, right?

6. Mami Wata

African goddess of water Mami Wata represents and controls the spirits of the water. She’s often depicted as a mermaid and seen with snakes, and she’s as important to African diaspora communities.

If she isn’t badass, I don’t know who is.

7. Ixchel

We could tell you that there are goddesses more badass than Ixchel, but then we’d be lying. After all, her nickname is “the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery.” Wow.

She’s the goddess of both war and childbirth, so that’s more than a little cool in our book.

8. Princess Liễu Hạnh

If someone tells you that you’re definitely not allowed to worship a god or goddess, you know there must be something cool about them. Turns out, worship of Princess Liễu Hạnh was totally prohibited during the first years of the North Vietnamese Communist regime (but women have started worshipping her again since the 1980s).

Goddess of female emancipation and female power, Princess Liễu Hạnh was the daughter of the Jade Emperor, one of the four immortals, and a central figure in Taoism and other East Asian religions.

9. Ixcacao

Goddess of chocolate. Need we say more?

Ixcacao (or, Cacao Woman) was a Mayan and Meso-American goddess of fertility and agriculture (and, of course, chocolate).

10. Gaea/Gaia

Gaea is not just the earth goddess in Greek mythology, but the actual Earth as well. In Greek myth, she gives birth to the sky and sea, as well as all of the Titans and Giants.

11. Parvati

Wife of Shiva and mother of Ganesha, Pavarti is the Hindu goddess of love and devotion. Her love for her son Ganesha forced her husband, Shiva god of war, to find her son a new head when his was lost – leading to Ganesha’s appearance as a human god with an elephant head.

12. Pele

We have three words for you: Goddess. Of. Volcanoes. Pele’s creative and destructive powers allowed her to form the volcanoes that would eventually create the Hawaiian islands.

13. Tara

In Buddhism, the goddess Tara is not only a deity but also a Bodhisattva ( person who has reached enlightenment).

She’s often depicted as either the White Tara (goddess of health and peace) or the Green Tara (goddess of fertility and protection).

14. Yemaya

In Ancient Nigeria, Yemaya was the goddess of the river among the Yoruba people. But, when Africans were taken as slaves to the Americas, she became the goddess of the ocean and followed in their stories.

When you hold a seashell to your ear and listen to the roaring noises it produces, that is said to be the voice of Yemaya speaking to you.

15. White Buffalo Calf Woman

Among certain Native American tribes, White Buffalo Calf Woman taught her people to live in harmony with the natural world. Not only did she teach children to love and care for wild animals, but she also taught the people of the earth that they all came from the same beginnings.

16. Freya

Get excited again, cat-ladies, the Norse goddess Freya rode a chariot driven by cats according to ancient myth. Freya, goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, war, and death, also governed the afterlife in Fólkvangr (not Hel nor Valhalla, but a kind of in-between).

17. Isis

Goddess of nature and magic, Isis was the Ancient Egyptian goddess of children and the dead. With her brother Osiris, Isis gave birth to the falcon god Horus.

The annual floods of the Nile river are even tied to her: Ancient Egyptians believed that her tears flowed heavily in memory of the time when the god Set dismembered her brother.

18. Ostara/Oestre

Saxon goddess of dawn and spring-time, Ostara is often depicted with a hare, or rabbit, alongside her.

According to myth, when spring arrived late one year, Ostara felt guilty at the sight of a shivering bird and took that bird as her companion (giving him legs to avoid hunters and naming him Lepus).

19.  Gordafarid/Gurdāfarīd

In the Persian epic poem The Book of KingsGordafarid is a heroine who defeats Sohrab, the commander of the Turanian army, to protect her homeland.

In modern Iranian culture, Gordafarid continues to represent female bravery and wisdom.

20. Durga

Durga takes many forms as the mother goddess of Shakti mythology but is most well-known as the goddess of victory of good over evil. In some traditions, she’s even thought to be the basis for the goddess Pavarti: Durga is the warrior goddess version of the earth mother goddess Adishakti, and Pavarti is the earthly-version of Adishakti.

21. Ishtar

Ancient Sumerian goddess of love, war, sex, power, and fertility, Ishtar also appears in Aramean mythology as the goddess Astarte.

If you’ve seen photographs of the Ishtar Gate, then you know how influential Ishtar was across Ancient Near Eastern religions.

22. Banu Goshasp

Another favorite of Persian poetry, Banu Goshasp appeared in many Iranian epics like the Banu Goshasp Nama. In fact, the Banu Goshasp Nama is thought to be one of the oldest Persian epics about a warrior woman, and tells the story of Banu Goshasp’s journeys through Turan and India.

23. Itzpapalotl/Ītzpāpālōtl

It’s hard to find a goddess worthy of closing-out all these other incredibly female goddesses, but Itzpapalotl fits the occasion. After all, she was the Aztec skeletal warrior goddess who ruled Tamoanchan, home of human creation and infant mortality victims. Her nickname was even “Obsidian Butterfly”–pretty cool if you ask us.
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Even though we’ve all grown up in a patriarchal society where Jupiter and Shiva, Hercules and Ba’al come to mind before any female goddesses, there are plenty of rocking ladies in the land of mythology. Here’s to these literal goddesses!

Culture Life

Here’s why Kali is the most badass goddess of all time

The goddess depicting sexuality, fierceness, anger and wonder, Kali is the epitome of all goddesses. Reckoned to be an avatar of Parvati, the Hindu Goddess, and wife to Lord Shiva, Her wild and ornate power resonates femininity and violence. She is equally ferocious and nurturing. Her feminine energy is divine and carnal.

Like nature, owning Her power of creation like a glorious crown, she is not answerable to anyone.

She is completely nude, save for a garland of flowers, ornate jewelry and a garland of the heads of decapitated men. A beautiful intermingling of contrasting dynamics in a woman who’s feared as a goddess and yet strangely loved and adored, Kali is the true representation of a badass as a Supreme Being.

The name Kali is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kalika’ which means ‘she who is dark’ or ‘she who is death’. An erotic persona, with lascivious energy revolving around Her, She is one who devours all things. In Tantric cults, where She is worshipped predominantly, eroticism is primarily a way of confronting one’s deepest and darkest fears.

Kali is the quintessential embodiment of Shakti (feminine power); she is bloodthirsty, fearless, monstrous and scary. She is the embodiment of empowerment. Despite Her nakedness, She wins respect in a country that hates any kind of expression of sexuality.

With four arms, she is equally terrifying and magnificent. She is regularly revered and worshipped in West Bengal and other parts of our subcontinent. I have always looked up to Her as a warrior Goddess, a woman who gives me the inspiration to fight louder and more fiercely. She has the audacity to have her tongue out. She is someone who mocks corrupted men and at the same time inspires women to be as ‘oshleel’ (inappropriate), as they want to be. Kali gives me hope, encourages me to forget the laws of morality prescribed for women (by men) and live life independently.

Kali is the true representation of a badass as a Supreme Being.

I have grown up in a household where my grandmother was an ardent devotee of Maa Kali, and I listened to all kinds of stories regarding her transformation. Some stories depicted Her to be a woman, who after killing Daruka was on the hunt and literally killed innocent humans and had to be stopped. However, I choose to believe the story of how She was summoned to kill Raktabija (blood-seed) who was a demon and kept on multiplying as each drop of his blood touched the ground. So, Kali unfurled Her tongue and, spread it entirely on the battlefield, and killed the demon by swallowing his blood.

Throughout my life, I have worshipped Goddess Durga, burst firecrackers during Diwali (which we Bengalis celebrate by praying to Goddess Kali), and been awed at the hypocrisy of people who dared to show reverence towards such Goddesses and still be misogynists. These men and women ask you to not touch the idols when you are bleeding during your periods, even though Kali is the embodiment of Naari Shakti (female power).

She gives meaning to whatever She identifies Herself to be.

The feral and ephemeral nature of the dark-skinned Goddess is meant to be a direct hit at racist and misogynistic sentiments. Her nudity and ferociousness bleed confidence and wisdom, She is the Goddess of death and nurtures humanity by being a Mother. She is shown to break down the shells of Her coy and demure self, Parvati, and become a force to be reckoned with. The male patriarchal retelling of this mythology/folklore might make Her into some inappropriate Goddess, but Her complexity proves how Gods and Goddesses are prone to almost mortal imperfections.

Since my childhood, I have pretended to be Her. After all, who doesn’t dream of becoming a woman even remotely as badass as Her? The goddess Kali slays demons and wears their decapitated heads as ornaments. She breathes life into being a feminist Goddess; She is unapologetic and unladylike. She is truly the embodiment of unadulterated freedom, power, and chaos. Like nature, owning Her power of creation like a glorious crown, she is not answerable to anyone.

Goddess Kali’s femininity is not meant to be questioned. She gives meaning to whatever She identifies Herself to be. She is raw and cannot be tamed. We all need to learn from Her, and shatter the shackles of patriarchy, and wear the badges of femininity as an honor. After all, Kali resides within each and every one of us, you just need to let Her free.

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Editor's Picks History Forgotten History Lost in History

The world’s first author was a cool priestess with an even cooler backstory

Imagine a world where the pronoun ‘I’ isn’t used in writing.

The entire genre of narrative writing probably wouldn’t exist. Op-eds, personal essays, even music and poetry. Most of these writing styles are a product of our inner feelings and personal reflection, and are usually the styles of writing that we emotionally connect with the most.

It seems natural for this form of writing to always have existed, being so related to human opinion, but like almost everything else, it was invented by an author.

4300 years ago, in the Ancient Sumerian civilization, lived the princess of Ancient Sumr, Enheduanna.

She is history’s first known author, and she is the reason we use ‘I’ when we write.

Enheduanna was a triple threat of her time.

Her father, the king of Sumr, ruled when the old Sumerian culture and the new Akadian culture opposed each other and would often rebel against him.

Enheduanna was a triple threat of her time.

He appointed Enheduanna as high priestess, in an effort to bridge the cultural divide and bring peace to the nation.

Becoming high priestess meant that Enheduanna was able to receive an education in which she learned to read and write the languages of both opposing cultures, as well as learn how to make mathematics calculations.

[Image description: A relief of Inanna (also known as Ishtar)]
[Image description: A relief of Inanna (also known as Ishtar)]

It was with her acquired education that Enheduanna was able to unite both rebelling cultures via the 42 religious hymns she wrote, combining the mythologies of both cultures.

In those times, the form of writing used was cuneiform.

Its main purpose was for merchants and traders to communicate about their businesses over long distances – writing did not have a personal purpose, let alone a sentimental one.

So, when she began to write religious hymns and poetry, Enheduanna took the deities her hymns were dedicated to and humanized them.

In doing so she made the gods who once seemed so intangible feel emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, betrayal, love.

Her writing made the hymns emotionally relatable to read and connect with.

By playing on their emotions, she was able to appease the people of both Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, honoring their deities, bringing them together as one.

It was when she wrote her three hymns, Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, dedicated to deity Inanna, goddess of war and desire, that Enheduanna established a style of writing that was personal and attributable to the writer.

Thousands of years later, it’s impossible for us to imagine a world without saying ‘I’.

Inanna was known to be a powerful deity, so mighty that she transcended gender boundaries and was considered to be the very force who animated the universe.

In these poems, Enheduanna placed Inanna on a pedestal, marking her as the most important deity.

Her odes to Inanna marked the first time an author used the pronoun ‘I’ in a written text, and the first time an author describes their personal, private emotions in writing. It was the beginning of how narrative writing led to self-reflection and emotions could be recorded.

This is said to be her greatest contribution to literature.

An excerpt from one of Enheduanna's hymns to Inanna. It reads: Queen of all the ME, Radiant Light, Life-giving Woman, beloved of An (and) Urash, Hierodule of An, much bejeweled, Who loves the life-giving tiara, fit for High Priestesshood, Who grasps in (her) hand, the seven ME, My Queen, you who are the Guardian of All the Great ME, You have lifted the ME, have tied the ME to Your hands, Have gathered the ME, pressed the ME to Your breast. You have filled the land with venom, like a dragon. Vegetation ceases, when You thunder like Ishkur, You who bring down the Flood from the mountain, Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth, Who rain flaming fire over the land, Who have been given the me by An, Queen Who Rides the Beasts, Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words, Who can fathom Your great rites!
[Image description: An excerpt from one of Enheduanna’s hymns to Inanna.] Via Classical Art History

Above is an excerpt of one of Enheduanna’s dedicated hymns to Inanna. The full poem can be found here.

After the death of her father, Enheduanna was exiled in a coup, and it was when her nephew reclaimed the throne that she was reinstated as high priestess. She served as high priestess for 40 years, and after her death she was honored as a minor deity, with her poetry written, performed, and copied for over 500 years.

What Enheduanna succeeded in doing was taking the essence of emotions and translating them in a way that was able to unify two conflicting people.

She used emotion and ethos, and manipulated them in a way that began a form of writing that could connect with people’s emotions, rather than practical needs.

Know it was this Sumerian high priestess who invented it.

The creation of the written pronoun ‘I’ was the beginning of multiple perspectives being recorded.

It was the beginning of written storytelling.

So the next time you write in your private journal or read diary entries, the next time you study a soliloquy in Macbeth or read the emotional personal essays of critically acclaimed authors where the first person style is prominent, know it was this Sumerian high priestess who invented it.

Enheduanna changed history and humanity. Thousands of years later, it’s impossible for us to imagine a world without saying ‘I’.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

Mahershala Ali’s new character on ‘Ramy’ is “the perfect Muslim”

The Golden Globe-winning dramedy Ramy has returned to Hulu with a second season, starring creator Ramy Youssef as the fictional Ramy Hassan, an endearing Muslim millennial from New Jersey. Season 2 continues to follow its title character on his spiritual journey, which is more of a crisis than anything else.

Ramy has just returned from his quest to find purpose in Egypt, his motherland, and is wallowing in the ruins of his love life. After a frank intervention from his concerned friends and almost being shot while on the toilet, Ramy seeks out spiritual guidance for his problems. This leads him to meet Sheikh Ali, played by the Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali radiates grace in his role as the endlessly patient and wise Sufi Sheikh. Kind but uncompromising, Sheikh Ali brings Ramy the structure he so desperately needs in his life as well as divine purpose. Ali listens to Ramy’s woes without judgment, demanding openness and honesty if he is serious about changing his ways. Ramy leaves his stuffy, conservative mosque for the Sheikh’s Sufi Center, a place where men and women pray side by side. Eager to conquer his demons, Ramy begins following Sheikh Ali’s instructions to the letter, starting by switching his diet to halal-only

“Our ummah often doesn’t understand what is haram and what isn’t. Nothing in and of itself is haram,” explains Ali. “It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it. Alcohol, for example, isn’t haram. Drinking it is. The rules are very important in our faith. Not for the reasons you might think. I was confused about this once too.”

Ali goes on to use an orange and its tough skin as a metaphor for the rules in Islam. The tough skin is necessary for preserving the sweet inside of the fruit. “The outer Sharia protects the inner spirituality. And the inner spirituality gives the outer Sharia its purpose and meaning.”

If Ali is the composed spiritual leader of a beautiful faith, Ramy is the extremely messy believer struggling to hold himself accountable for his destructive actions. He wrestles with being more than just a good Muslim, he struggles to be a good person. The pair test each other, the Sheikh challenging Ramy to destroy his ego as Ramy pushes the limits of Ali’s patience. 

Also in the mix are a string of temptations, ranging from Ramy’s porn addiction to alienating his friends with his renewed sense of morality as well as the Sheikh’s beautiful daughter Zainab. As Ramy undergoes his spiritual makeover, his family members are confronted with their own challenges. His immigrant mother struggles to understand the issue when she misgenders one of her Lyft passengers and is anxious to earn U.S. citizenship so she can vote in the upcoming election. Ramy’s father is cracking under the pressure of hiding his lay-off from everyone and becomes increasingly depressed as he realizes the American Dream doesn’t exist. Deena, Ramy’s sister, is forced to combat misogyny and Islamophobia in a way Muslim men never experience.

As a first-generation New Jersey Muslim myself, I was excited to see how creator Ramy Youssef would portray us. Our representation in Hollywood is severely lacking, usually limited to villainous terrorists or oppressive parental figures. With Ramy, Youssef wanted to honestly depict how first-generation Muslim Americans engage with their faith, instead of distancing themselves from everything that makes them different. Personally, I was expecting a diverse group of characters pursuing their respective versions of the ever-elusive American Dream and building each other up over waffles at Tops Diner in Newark, but Ramy is absolutely nothing like that. Although characters are diverse and they do hang out at a diner, it is usually to check in with Ramy’s truly awful decision-making. 

The series isn’t meant to be a catch-all work of representation for every Muslim but instead stems from the experiences of a highly flawed individual. That is not to say Ramy isn’t relatable, the range of characters and their respective worries speaks to more than just Muslim audiences. Islam is an important part of Ramy’s identity yes, but it does not make him who he is. By centering themes of forgiveness, redemption as well as discrimination and the dangers of ego, Ramy masterfully opens the door to audiences from all walks of life. 


Here’s why tattoos are more than just skin deep

There has always been a lingering, extremely negative stigma around tattoos. Whether that be the impression that they’re a reckless craft or profession, that they’re a reflection of unprofessionalism on the wearer, or that the kind of person who gets tattoos is a bad influence and misguided. My whole life, the narrative that tattoos are associated with illegal activities and reckless behaviour has been practically embedded into my social imagining. For a while, I believed it too. I thought that having a tattoo very much meant being unsuccessful in the career that I chose and that I would be going against the picture that had been painted for me. And in doing so, I would be letting everyone around me down, everyone who played some kind of part in raising me. Funnily enough, these are the same people who told me countless times that it is important to march to the beat of my own drum and to be the captain of my own ship. Go figure.

Especially being a girl, I’ve been told that tattoos are ugly, inappropriate, and distasteful. That the second I taint my body with ink, the body that is also supposed to be my own canvas, my worth diminishes dramatically. People start to look at me differently. I am no longer the girl that they thought I was. In a matter of seconds, their entire perception of me changes and everything they know about me is altered. 

This is the reality for so many young people and it is incredibly disheartening because most tattoos, if not all, can hold a deeper meaning. Plus, it shouldn’t even matter if the tattoo is meaningful or not, as long as the person adorned by it is happy and comfortable. Tattoos can be an exceptional medium for self-expression. Every little detail in a tattoo is an example of individuality that is impossible to replicate because everyone’s skin and everyone’s intent is entirely different. 

Most tattoos are real-life embellishments drenched in symbolism and motifs, and if you really think about it, tattoos are beautiful beyond being art. They are meant to be read like a book and tell you something about the wearer. You can learn a multitude of unspoken stories about a person just by looking at their tattoos, and these are usually the things that are most dear to their heart and truly make them who they are. These are the things that they’re so determined to never let go of that they literally make it a part of their skin and their blood. They tell you stories of growth, romance, culture, grief, passion, religion, wit, and determination. People wear art that speaks to them and makes them feel something. Tattoos are a love story in and of themselves. 

I cherish my tattoo. It’s a very small pink dove near my left rib cage. I was 18 years old at the time that I got it done. Most people thought that I was acting in defiance, that I was being rebellious, and that I would regret it eventually. 

Well, they were all wrong. 

I wasn’t being defiant and I will never regret it. I got my tattoo because it is something that I knew I needed to do for myself if I was ever going to move past what had happened, if I was ever going to move forward. That year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy. With all of those odds against her, she survived. She is the strongest woman that I’ve ever known and will ever know. 

But still, the pressure and the helplessness that I felt and continue to feel can sometimes seem never-ending. I can never shake that fear, no matter how relieved I am to be out of the thick of it. So, I decided to commemorate the moment with something meaningful that is mine, and mine entirely. 

My favorite quote from the novel Jane Eyre says this: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me, I am a free human being with an independent will.” That quote seemed to describe what I was feeling, and really what I needed to be told, effortlessly. So, my bird is pink for breast cancer. I got it as a daily reminder of strength, resilience, and soaring above the ashes, just as my mother did. I too can soar.