My Doppelgänger

Doppelgängers who discovered each other coincidentally on a flight.

I met a man for the first time this past week and in our brief conversation, he asked me if I had spent any time in New Mexico. “I’ve never been there, ” I told him. “You look exactly like someone I went to college with at the University of New Mexico back in the 1970s.”

He has the right time period but the wrong person. But it made me think about the doppelgänger, which is a person who is the identical twin, but not a biological twin, or who very closely resembles a living person.

The word itself goes back to German folklore where it was believed that all living creatures have a spirit double who is invisible but identical to the living individual. They are not ghosts which in legend only appear only after someone’s death. Doppelgänger come from the German  doppel-, meaning “double,” and –gänger, meaning “goer.” “Specters” is one synonym for them.

The term was created by German writers who used them in fiction and sometimes described them as the spiritual opposite or negative of their human counterparts and generally as a harbinger of bad luck.

I hope that my New Mexico doppelgänger is the evil twin and not me.

In modern times, the doppelgänger often just means any person who physically strongly resembles another living person, such as a doppelgänger for President Joe Biden. You would not consider someone who looks very much like President John F. Kennedy to be a doppelgänger.

Nowadays, the term “twin stranger” is sometimes used instead of doppelgänger. I only had a brief conversation with the man who thought I was a doppelgänger and I didn’t dig deeper to get a name or any information about my twin stranger. Actually, I’m not sure how I would feel about meeting him.

There are some websites where you can upload a photo of yourself and by using facial recognition software attempts to match you with your twin stranger. Of course, that person would also have to be a user who has uploaded their photo, so it would be a rather limited database.

I have read stories of a number of celebrity “lookalikes” and a few cases of real-life accidental meetings of twin strangers, but I haven’t met mine and I don’t know anyone who has met theirs.

Have you been told you have a doppelgänger or have you actually met your doppelgänger? I’d love to hear some real stories.

The Pomegranate

pomegranates

The pomegranate is a very odd fruit. Its juice has become popular and is often attributed with almost magical powers.

The name “pomegranate” derives from Latin pomum (‘apple’) and granatus (‘seeded’). The pomegranate’s botanical name, Punica Granatum, means “seeded fruit growing from a shrub or small tree.”

Jewish scholars believe that the pomegranate was the original “forbidden fruit” of the Garden of Eden. It has been a symbol in many religions and cultures since Biblical times. Moses promised his followers that they would find the fruit in the Promised Land.

I has been a cultivated fruit since ancient times, but it was native to the region that is today’s Iran to northern India. In the 18th century, Spanish sailors introduced it to the southern United States and it is now cultivated widely in California and Arizona for juice production.

I remember my mother bring one home from the store when I was a child. It was strange. The skin is leathery. Inside are hundreds of edible seeds encased in a gelatinous sack of sweet, juicy pulp. The seeds and surrounding pulp (called arils) is colored from white to deep crimson. Unlike many fruits, we eat the seeds, though the juice is what is most prized these days.

As symbolic objects pomegranates sometimes have cultural or religious significance, as a symbol of life and fertility because of the many seeds. It is also a symbol of power (imperial orb) and blood and even death.

They meant fertility, beauty and eternal life in Greek and Persian mythology. The Ancient Greeks also saw it as a symbol of fertility and associated it with Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite, and Athena.

In the Bible, it is only mentioned in the Old Testament. Pomegranates play a role as a symbol of righteousness in Judaism. It was believed that they contain 613 seeds, which correspond to the 613 commandments of the Torah. At Rosh Hashanah, some Jews eat this fruit one seed at a time, for each is a wish that may be fulfilled.

In Buddhism, pomegranates, peaches and lemons are considered three blessed kinds of fruit.

The Koran also mentions a pomegranate as a symbol of  the good things created by God, and is sometimes referred to as the “apple of paradise.”

In the Middle Ages, the resemblance between a pomegranate and an imperial orb made it a symbol of power, probably a relic of Ancient Germanic representations.

Albrecht Dürer’s- Portrait of Maximilian I with a pomegranate

Pomegranates have been seen as an aphrodisiac and are an ingredient of many love potions.

In modern Turkey today, families might throw a pomegranate on the floor and “crack” it on the New Year’s Eve to have a plentiful new year.

pomegranate seeds

The ancient Persians recognized the beneficial effect of pomegranates. Theophrast and Pliny recounted the different varieties and their medicinal properties. Modern day science has shown that pomegranates contain antioxidants, large quantities of flavonoids that have important functions for cell regulation. Pomegranates also contain potassium, vitamin A, C, E, calcium and iron.

The pomegranate plant is evergreen and so is associated with immortality and the soul. of the soul. In time, the many seeds in a single fruit have come to stand for prosperity.

Sacred Apples

apple tree pixabay
Image by suju from Pixabay

Apple trees – their wood and fruit – have had meanings in the folklore and mythology of many cultures for centuries.

In Norse tradition, the apple is the tree of immortality. The Goddess Idunn was the keeper of the apples, which she fed the Norse Gods and Goddesses to keep them forever young. Apple wands were also used in Norse love rituals as apples represented long life, wisdom, and love.

JK Rowling seems to have borrowed from Norse folklore in her Harry Potter series. The applewood wand holder is described as being “well-loved and long-lived.” Since apple tree branches are knobbly and twisted, a  wand made from an apple branch is not likely to be perfectly straight, but rather would have twists.

The apple (or similar fruit) plays a big role in the Bible story of Adam and Eve and represents knowledge. Fairy tales, such as Snow White, use apples symbolically. Sir Isaac Newton was said to have had gravity revealed to him by an apple that fell on him.

The symbolism of the apple varies but in many cultures, it has symbolized knowledge, prosperity, love, jealously, and temptation.

apple pentagram

In mythology, Kore/Persephone’s sacred fruit is the apple. When an apple is cut through its equator, both halves will reveal a near-perfect pentagram shape at the core, with each point on the star containing a seed.

Pagans and Roma cut apples to show the pentagram and sometimes refer to the core as the Star of Knowledge. The pentagram is one of the most widely used religious symbols in the world and has been used by Wiccans, Pagans, Israelites, and Christians.

A pentagram is a five-pointed star with one point aligned upwards (when surrounded by a circle, it’s known as a ‘pentacle’) and its name derives from the Greek words penta (five) and gamma (letter).

Pentagrams were used symbolically and had magical associations in ancient Greece and Babylonia. Today they are used as a symbol of faith by many Wiccans, much in the way that the cross is used by Christians. Christians once commonly used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Jesus. The pentagram has been used in Judaism since at least 300BCE when it first was used as the stamp of Jerusalem and to represent justice, mercy, and wisdom.

The pentagram is featured on the national flags of Morocco and Ethiopia.

The pentagram was originally a symbol of the goddess, Kore, who was worshipped thousands of years ago from the British isles to Egypt by different names (Cara, Ceres, Carnak, Core, Car, Karnak, Persephone).

Five is an often significant or magical number. In Ireland, there are five great roads, five provinces, five paths of the law and the fairy folk count in fives and wear fivefold cloaks.

Wiccans use the pentagram for healing circles and wear the symbol. They interpret the five points as the five elements- earth, air, water, fire, and spirit. Some see the five as the four directions plus the direction of the spirit.

Apples are also used for divination, especially in matters of love. Some use a count of the apple pips (seeds) which vary from five to less than ten. To divine who a girl might mary, pips are each given a potential man’s name and then burned watching to see the first to explode in the fire. You could also throw an apple peeling over the left shoulder to see what initial of an individual it forms when it lands. Putting an apple under your pillow supposedly allows you to dream of your sweetheart.

Shamans and magicians have used apples when undergoing transformations or Otherworld journeys. When I studied the Arthurian legends I learned that one of these Otherworlds is Avalon. It is the Apple Vale, a mythical paradise where hills were clothed with trees bearing flowers and fruit together. Merlin told Arthur about it and an orchard that was brought there by the Enchanter.

celtic apple

The Ogham system connects the apple to the unfearing spiritual warrior. The warrior journeys to the Otherworld which can cause madness and returns. In Celtic society, madness was believed to be a gift and a rare ability and it could link them to the Otherworld knowledge and insights.

Earlier, I wrote about Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire in which he used John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) to illustrate how the apple’s sweetness and its use in making an alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west. That brought the apple tree West.  (Pollan also points out that our manipulation of apples has made the modern varieties require more pesticide than any other food crop.) I also wrote about a local apple-based alcoholic brew – Laird’s 100 proof apple brandy and Applejack which is 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits. That’s not necessarily spiritual, but it is spirits.

apple blossom pixabay

Also
The Noble Apple
The Botany of Desire
Applejack and Jersey Lightning

I Went Down to the Crossroads

crossroads

The song “Crossroads” as recorded by Cream popped up on my Spotify playlist today. It reminded me 1) of high school and 2) of a college literature class where we got into a discussion of crossroads in mythology.

In myth and magic, crossroads often represent a place between the worlds. It is a place where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. As a symbol, it sometimes is a place where two realms touch and therefore is neither here nor there, or “betwixt and between.”

The song was written around 1936 by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson. The lyrics tell of a man kneeling at a crossroads to ask God’s mercy. Johnson had said it was inspired by not being able to hitch a ride into town at a crossroads. The blues mythology has said that the crossroads is where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical talents. The lyrics do not support that interpretation but the myth continued.

Crossroads go back to Greek mythology where they were associated with Hermes and Hecate and shrines and ceremonies often were set at a crossroad. Hermes was connected to travelers, but Hecate’s connection to crossroads was ritualistic. “Suppers of Hecate” were offerings left for her at crossroads at each New Moon.

I have read that in the UK crossroad rituals date back to Anglo-Saxon times and continued until being the early 1800ss. Criminals and suicides were often buried at the crossroads. (Suicide was a crime.) This may have been simply because crossroads usually were outside the boundaries of the town and those people were to be kept apart. Criminals were sometimes punished and executed by gibbet or dule tree at a crossroad.

In Western folk mythology, a crossroads can be used to summon a demon or devil in order to make a deal. The 1587 Historia von D. Johann Fausten describes the character Faust inscribing magic circles at a crossroads and offering a copper coin in order to summon the devil.

Crossroads also appear in hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality, and Brazilian mythology.

The myth has been perpetuated in fiction, movies and TV. The U.S. television show. Supernatural, used crossroads demons in a number of episodes. In the Coen Brothers comedy, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the character Tommy Johnson says that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for guitar skills, an obvious allusion to the legend of Robert Johnson.

The Center of the World

Mt Fuji Full moon
Mt. Fuji under a Full Moon

In certain beliefs and philosophies, there is a center to the world. It is called by some axis mundi and it is the connection between Heaven and Earth. In astronomy, axis mundi is the Latin term for the axis of the Earth between the celestial poles.

It goes by other names: the cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar, center of the world, and world tree.

We don’t know the origin of this idea. There are psychological and sociological interpretations. One interpretation is that it is a natural and universal psychological perception. That is the idea that the particular spot that one occupies (You Are Here) stands at “the center of the world.”

The name of China means “Middle Kingdom” and expresses an ancient belief that the country stood at the center of the world. However, within any sacred place is a specific spot that is the actual center of the center, the axis mundi.

Another interpretation is that the center is a natural object, such as a mountain or even a tree. A mountain or other elevated place where earth and sky come closest is often seen as the true center. The peak of a mountain is often regarded as sacred. Mount in China is such a spot. For the ancient Hebrews, it is Mount Zion.  Mount Kailash is holy to Hinduism and several religions in Tibet. Denali in Alaska is sometimes portrayed as sacred. In Australia, it would be Uluru. Mount Fuji in Japan has many legends and powers attached to it. It was considered sacred by the Ainu people, the indigenous inhabitants of ancient Japan,

Another secular interpretation is that it can be a manmade object, such as a pole, a steeple, a mound, obelisk, lighthouse, a monolith. The secular mixes with the religious in ancient Mesopotamia, where the Sumerians and Babylonians erected artificial mountains on their flat plains. The pyramids of the Middle East and Central America carry his meaning. The Sioux beliefs take the Black Hills as the axis mundi.

Some religious interpretations say that proximity closer to heaven is key. This explains the heights of manmade sacred places, like a pagoda, temple mount, minaret, cathedral, or pyramid.

Yggdrasil, the World Ash in Norse myths
Yggdrasil, the World Ash in Norse myths

There is a shamanic concept that a healer traversing the axis mundi can bring back knowledge from the other world. You can find this in the stories from Odin and the World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil, an immense mythical tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. It is also present in the stories of the Garden of Eden and Jacob’s Ladder. It probably figures into fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.

In The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, the hero’s descent and ascent through a series of spiral structures through the Earth’s core takes him from the depths of hell to celestial paradise.

Caduceus
Caduceus

Travelers to the axis mundi are often depicted carrying a staff that represents the axis itself. The Rod of Asclepius (an emblem of the medical profession that comes from Greek mythology) and the caduceus (an emblem of correspondence and commercial professions) features a staff with a serpent(s) who acts as a guardian of, or guide to, knowledge.

There are also those who believe that the center of the world, or even the universe, is within each of us.

The Goddess Chang’e Returns for the Full Moon

Chang'e
Chang’e, with an attendant, greets a scholar against the backdrop of the moon. Inside the lunar palace, a white rabbit prepares the elixir of immortality. (THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART / PUBLIC DOMAIN)

This month’s Full Moon arrives today, January 28, This second full moon of the winter season is most commonly called the Wolf Moon or Hunger Moon. It is also called the Snow Moon, though that name is attached to different months by different groups.

I read some space news last month that made me think of using a mythological figure this month. Chang’e (or Chang-o for simpler pronunciation) is the Chinese goddess of the Moon. She is the subject of several legends in Chinese mythology, She is not associated with any particular Full Moon but her story of Chang’e plays a central role in the annual Mid-Autumn Festival.

In modern times, Chang’e appropriately has been the namesake of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program.

Chang-e-5 Orbiter Ascender seperation
Chang’e-5 Orbiter Ascender separation – Wikimedia

China launched its first lunar probe in 2007. It was a robotic spacecraft named Chang’e 1. A third Chang’e spacecraft landed on the Moon on December  14, 2013 and delivered the robotic rover Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) to the lunar surface. In January 2019, Chang’e 4 touched down on the far side of the Moon and deployed the Yutu-2 rover. The Chang’e-5 ascent vehicle which carried samples into lunar orbit was then commanded to crash into the moon after completing its role in the mission. China currently has three operational landers on the moon but it is unclear if they can carry out science related to the impact.

Chang’e and her story is the main theme of the 2020 American-Chinese animated feature film Over the Moon produced by Netflix which I saw when it was first shown at the Montclair Film Festival in October 2020.