Thursday, November 29, 2012

Creature of the Month - The Enigmatic Sphinx by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

From Egypt we, long since, with all our peers,
Accustomed were to reign a thousand years.
If for our place your reverence be won,
We rule for you the days of Moon and Sun.
        We sit before the Pyramids
        For the judgment of the Races,
        Inundation, War, and Peace,—
        With eternal changeless faces.
—Goethe, Faust, “The Beasts of Walpurgis-Night,”
speech of the Sphinx1

[Graphic by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart]

The Sphinx is an imposing composite monster of classical tradition, depicted with a lion’s body and paws, and the head of some other animal or a human. Sometimes it has the hindquarters of a bull, and in many versions, eagle’s wings sprout from its shoulders. It originated with the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom (2686–2134 bce), from whence it was imported into Assyrian and Greek mythology, appearing famously in the tragedy of Oedipus Rex. The Asian Sphinxes appear to have originated independently.
        The name Sphinx comes from the Greek verb sphingo, meaning “to strangle.” Another possible derivation has been claimed from the Egyptian shesep ankh, meaning “living statues.” Because its form encompasses both human and animal elements, the Sphinx symbolizes the union of body, mind, and soul; or physical, mental, and spiritual attributes. The human head represents intellect and knowledge, the lion’s claws connote daring and action, the bull’s loins symbolize stamina and perseverance, and the eagle’s wings connote silence. Thus composed of three animals and a human, the Sphinx is a symbol of the four Pythagorean Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
        In ancient Assyria and Phoenicia, winged lions with human heads appeared as symbols of rulership and guardians of temples and palaces. They were called Lamassu, and they were commonly paired with similar creatures called Shedu, which had human heads on the bodies of winged bulls.

Fig. 1. Babylonian Sphinx (Lamassu), from an antique stone carving at the Palace of Nimrud, Nineveh. (Lehner, p.161)

        With the sole exception of the cruel, riddling Greek Sphinx of Thebes (the only one capable of speech), all other Sphinxes were friendly and benevolent guardians of sacred Mysteries; and their image universally symbolized enigma, mystic wisdom, and secret-keeping silence. In Egypt, the Sphinx was the guardian of arcane magick and occult wisdom, and was endowed with the four powers of the magi: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent.2

Sphinx composed of a man’s head and chest, an eagle’s wings, a bull’s hindquarters, and a lion’s forequarters, became symbols of the Biblical Tetramorph and the four creatures of Revelation. [Ezek. 1:5–14; Rev. 4:6–8] These in turn represent the Cherubim; the four Evangelists and their Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); the four kings of the created world: the Lion (king of the jungle), the Eagle (king of the air), the Bull (king of the farm), and Man (king of creation); and, according to St. Jerome, Christ’s Incarnation (the man), His Passion (the bull), His Resurrection (the Lion), and His Ascension (the eagle).3

        The Tetramorph appears twice in the Tarot cards, on The Wheel of Fortune and The World. In the former, the Sphinx sits atop the Wheel to represent equilibrium within a perpetually fluidic universe. 4

Fig. 2. Wheel of Fortune Tarot card by Pamela Coleman Smith

        The later Roman Sphinx was a simple solar symbol. To astrologers, it is a calendar beast, with the female head representing Virgo, and the lion’s body, Leo. The version with a human head, bull’s body, lion’s legs and claws, and eagle’s wings symbolizes, respectively, the fixed signs of the Zodiac: Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio. And the Druids included a many-breasted female Sphinx among their fertility and maternal symbols.
        With their rich symbolism, Sphinxes were popular creatures in ancient art. They were often inscribed upon gravestones of teenage boys, and they commonly appeared with lions and Sirens in beast processions on Greek vases.

The Egyptian Sphinx

        Three types of Sphinxes appear as guardians in Egyptian statuary, all with the wingless bodies of crouching lions. Herodotus distinguished them as the Criosphinx, the Hieracosphinx, and the Androsphinx. The Egyptian Sphinx was only rarely portrayed as having the head of a woman. In such cases, the Gynosphinx symbolized the Goddess Isis or Hathor, and/or the reigning queen. In Egypt, it was believed that the creature’s intellectual faculties, represented by the human head, ennobled and balanced its bestial attributes, represented by the lion’s body.

Fig. 3. Criospinx

The Criosphinx—Guardian and container of the soul of the creator-god, Amun (whose title was “Father of the Gods”), the Criosphinx is a great lion with the head of a ram. With magnificent spiraling horns, it was usually shown lying down with head erect and alert, as a guardian’s should be. In the city of Thebes, there were originally about 900 Criosphinx statues, and the great Temple of Karnak at Luxor was approached by an avenue flanked by them.

Fig. 4. Avenue of ram's-head sphinxes at Karnak in Luxor

The Hieracosphinx—A representation of the Egyptian sun-god, Horus, it has the body of a lion and the head of a falcon.

Fig. 5. Hieracosphinx (Lehner, p. 163)

The Androsphinx—This Sphinx had the head of a man—specifically, that of the reigning Pharaoh who ordered its construction. It was intended to symbolize the divine power and wisdom with which he ruled and protected his people. Representing abundance, power, secrets, truth, unity, wisdom, and the Mysteries, the Androsphinx guarded pyramids, tombs, and sacred highways. Sometimes a pair of Androsphinxes was portrayed in conjunction with the Tree of Life as symbols of fertility and conception.

As a solar symbol, the Androsphinx was associated with the sun god Ra; Horus on the Horizon; and Harmakhis, the Lord of the Two Horizons, representing the rising and setting sun, rebirth, and resurrection. Androsphinx usually bore the face of the Pharaoh who ordered their construction, and symbolize the divine power and wisdom he used to rule and protect his people. As Lord of the Two Horizons, the Androsphinx’s dual nature came in Christian mythology to reflect the dual nature of Christ, who was both human and divine. Like many other solar symbols, an image of the Androsphinx was placed in or near early Christian graves as a representation of the divine Light of the World.5

Fig. 6. Androsphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza

        The largest and most famous ancient statue, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Sesheps, the Great Sphinx of Giza, is 240 feet long and 66 feet high, with a small Roman temple and stele between its outstretched paws. Situated on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile near the Great Pyramids, it faces due east.
        The face of the Great Sphinx is generally thought to be a portrait of the Pharaoh Khafra, or possibly of his brother, the Pharaoh Djedefra. This would date its carving to the Fourth Dynasty (2723–2563 bce).
        Some think that the Great Sphinx is more than 12,000 years old, and that it was originally a complete crouching lion intended to represent the constellation Leo—long before its head was resculpted into that of a Pharaoh. The vertical patterns of erosion on its flanks seem to indicate centuries of rain, rather than the horizontal markings that would result from windblown sands of the desert which now surrounds it. Legends claim that a tunnel runs from beneath the Sphinx into the Great Pyramid, and that other secret passageways and chambers remain hidden under the Giza sands. Recently a few narrow tunnels have indeed been discovered around the statue, and ground-based sonar has indicated the existence of a chamber beneath it.

Fig. 7. The Great Sphinx of Giza. Photo credit: Ramzi Hachicho

        The granite stele set between the paws of the Great Sphinx gives the following account: One day young Prince Thutmose was out hunting when he lay down for a nap in the shadow of the Sphinx’s head—which was all that protruded from the entombing desert sands. The Sphinx appeared to him in his dream and prophesied that he would sit on the throne of Egypt if he promised to clear away the sands of time from around the great figure. As Thumose was the younger son, this seemed unlikely. But soon thereafter his elder brother was killed in a hunting accident, and Thutmose unexpectedly became Pharaoh—the fourth with that name, reigning from 1425–1417 bce.
        The new ruler immediately ordered the excavation of the statue, placing the Dream Stele between its paws to commemorate the incident and to honor the sun-god, Harmakhis, who had spoken to him through the Sphinx. On the stele, Thutmose IV inscribed three names of the sun: Kheperi, Re, and Atum. However, it is not known what name the original sculptors gave to the figure itself. The Greeks called it the Sphinx, and its Arabic name, Abu al-Hôl, means “father of terror.”6
        Perhaps due to the legendary dream of Thutmose, pilgrims once sought the oracular advice of the Sphinx by placing an ear to its lips. Due to its enigmatic history, the great monument has become an icon for all who seek wisdom.

The Greek Sphinx

        The Greek version, of which there was only one, had the head and breasts of a woman, with eagle’s wings. Sometimes it was depicted with the body of a bull or dog, the legs of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. It had a human voice and spoke in riddles. In contrast to the aristocratic Egyptian Sphinx, she was regarded as a demon of death, destruction, and ill fortune. In Greek mythology, the bestial elements were believed to have warped her mind and spirit, and she was portrayed as a grim and miserable monster, a symbol of the “wicked mother,” and an evil perversion of the intellect, of womanhood, and of power.7

Fig. 8. Theban, or Greek Sphinx

        According to Hesiod’s Theogony (c. 700 bce), “the deadly Sphinx which destroyed the Cameans” was a daughter of Echidna and her son Orthus, the hound of Geryones. Her brother was the Nemean Lion, which Hera, the good wife of Zeus, brought up and made to haunt the hills of Nemea, a plague to men.” Like many other fabulous beasts, the Sphinx was believed to inhabit the mountains of Ethiopia.
        The Sphinx was sent from her Ethiopian homeland into Boiotia by Hera, who was angry with the Thebans for not having punished King Laios, who had carried off Khrysippos from Pisa. The grim creature now sat upon a crag on Mount Phikion, overlooking the road to Thebes, where she challenged all travelers with a riddle she had learned from the Mousai. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, the riddle is stated as follows: “What goes on four legs, on two and then three; but the more legs it goes on the weaker it be?” If they replied correctly, they would be allowed to pass; but if they failed—as all did—she would strangle and devour them. Oedipus, who had fled to Thebes in a futile effort to escape from a prophesy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, was accosted by the Sphinx, who demanded an answer. “Man,” replied Oedipus. “He crawls on all fours as an infant, then walks on two feet as a child and adult, and finally, leans on a cane in old age.” Thereupon the mortified monster leapt from the precipice to her death on the rocks below (evidently the wings were just for show!).8

Fig. 9. Sphinx on Greek plate


The Asian Sphinx

        Sphinx-like, human-headed lions are common figures in the mythology and art of India, China, and Southeast Asia. Some of these date from as early as the 3rd century bce, indicating independent origin from the Western Sphinx, which originated in Egypt.
        The Purushamriga (“human-beast”) of India is believed to take away the sins of devotees when they enter a temple, and to ward off evil in general. It is therefore usually strategically positioned on the temple gateway or near the entrance to the inner sanctum. Also called Naravirala (“man-cat”), images of them decorate lamps used in the lamp ceremony, as well as in various other iconography.

Fig. 10. Purushamriga or Indian sphinx depicted on the Shri Varadaraja Perumal temple in Tribhuvana, India

        The Sphinx of Sri Lanka is called Narasimha (“man-lion”). It is a Buddhist guardian of the North, and is often depicted on banners. In common with all other Sphinxes, it has a human head on a leonine body. However, it bears the same name as, and is thus easily confused with, Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of the god Mahavishnu, who has the head of a lion on a human body.
        In Myanmar, or Burma, the Sphinx is called Manusiha. According to legend, it was created by Buddhist monks to protect a newborn royal infant from fierce ogresses who wished to devour the child. Images of Manusiha as a guardian may be seen today on the corners of Buddhist temples.
        The Sphinx of Thailand, which is also a protector, is known as Nora Nair or Thep Norasingh. It has the lower body of a lion or deer, and the upper body of a human. It is always shown walking upright, often in male/female pairs. They are listed among the fantastic creatures that dwell upon the sacred mountain, Himapan.9
        The Sphinx appears in China as well, as in this example from the San Li T’u (ca.1661–1723). It is one of three ceremonial targets to be used by officials of different ranks in military examinations. These tests required that arrows be fired upward from a distance, with the goal of targeting the barrel behind the figure.10

Fig. 11. Chinese Sphinx, from the San Li T’u (Gould, p.360)


Sphinxes in Art


        Mannerism is a period of European architecture and decorative arts which lasted from the end of the Italian Renaissance around 1520 until the dawn of the Baroque period around 1600. The typical Mannerist Sphinx is sometimes called the French Sphinx. Her elaborately-coiffed head is held proudly erect, and she has the bust of a pretty young woman. She wears pearls and eardrops, and her lioness body is rendered realistically. Such images attained popularity in the enthusiasm for the 15th-century excavations of the  treasures of Nero’s Golden House in Rome, and they were incorporated into the new fashion of classical decorative motifs and Arabesque designs that spread throughout Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Mannerist Sphinx first appeared in the School of Fontainebleau in the 1520s to the 30s, and she lasted into the Late Baroque style of the French Régence (1715–1723) 11

Fig. 12. Woman-headed Sphinx from old French engraving (Lehner, p.162)]

        But Sphinxes passed out of fashion in the flamboyant Rococo period and were not seen again until the 19th century, when the Romantic and later Symbolist schools revived them once again. As with the Mannerist Sphinx, these schools drew more of their inspiration from the Greek than the Egyptian model—particularly in their depictions of the feminine. However, they were generally presented as wingless. One of the most  prolific artists of the Romantic style was the Australian Norman Lindsey (1879–1969), whose etchings, paintings, and statuary often featured erotic Sphinxes—along with Sirens, Fauns, and other Classical femiformes.

Fig. 13. Sphinx by Francis Xavier Fabre

Sphinxes as Apes

        Pliny the Elder mentions Sphinxes, saying they are common, “with a brown duskish hair, having dugs in their breast.” Clearly, he considered the Sphinx to be a kind of ape—specifically, a baboon. Indeed, the Guinea Baboon (Papio papio) is still called a Sphinx. Baboons in particular seem to combine human and leonine features. They are quadrupeds, as lions are, but they have humanlike bodies, arms, legs, and hands. Their heads and faces are very doglike, with fierce, sharp teeth, but the males of several species have great manes like those of lions. These include the Olive Baboon (Papio cynocephalus anubis), the Gelada (Theropithecus gelada), and the Hamadryas (Papio hamadryas).
        The Olive Baboon, also called the Anubis Baboon for its doglike head, is the most widely distributed of all baboons. Dwellers of savannahs, steppes, and forests, they are found throughout northern Africa, from Mali south to Ethiopia and Tanzania. Isolated populations even inhabit some mountainous regions of the Sahara Desert. They were domesticated in ancient Egypt and trained to pick fruit for harvest.

Fig. 14. Ape Sphinx by Ashton

        The Gelada is found only in the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea, with large populations in the Semien Mountains. Its Latin name, Theropithecus, means “beast-ape.”
        Hamadryads are the northernmost of all the baboons, their range extending from the Red Sea in Egypt south to Ethiopia and Somalia. The Hamadryad was sacred to the ancient Egyptians as the attendant of the scribe god Thoth, and therefore is also called the Sacred Baboon. Colonies live in semi-deserts, savannas, and rocky areas, requiring cliffs for sleeping and access to drinking water.12

Cynocephali (Greek, “dog-headed”)—Said to be very common in Ethiopia, they are described as having a black, hairy, humanoid body and the head of a dog. Because of these attributes, they are associated with the Egyptian god Anubis. These ferocious creatures have been identified as Olive Baboons, as indicated in their Latin name, cynocephalus. However, the 3-foot-tall Indris Lemur (Indri indri) of Madagascar also looks very much like a short, dog-headed human, especially as it often stands or sits upright.

CelphiesEthiopian creatures with a bovine body, “whose hind feet from the ankle up to the top of the calf were like a man’s leg, and likewise his forefeet resembled a man’s hand.” (Solinus, Collection of Remarkable Facts; 200 ce) These are also certainly baboons.

Wulver—A semi-human creature of Shetland Island folklore, with the body of a man covered in short brown hair and the head of a wolf. It lives in a cave halfway up a hill and fishes in deep water. Harmless if unmolested, it will sometimes leave fish on the windowsills of poor folk. It sounds very much like a baboon, but what would one be doing in the Shetlands?

Monster Movies: The Sphinx

Only one movie to date has featured the Sphinx: The Neverending Story (1984), from the book by Michael Ende. A pair of gigantic blue Sphinx statues guard access to the Southern Oracle, and they incinerate any unworthy pilgrims who pass between them.

Fig. 15. Guardians of the Southern Oracle from The Neverending Story

1.      Nigg, Joseph, The Book of Fabulous Beasts: A Treasury of Writings from Ancient Times to the Present, Oxford University Press, 1999
2.      Lehner, Ernst & Johanna, Big Book of Dragons, Monsters, and Other Mythical Creatures, Dover Pictorial Archives, 2004
3.      “Sphinx,” Monstropedia
4.      Waite, Arthur Edward, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, University Books, Inc., 1959
5.      “Sphinx,” Monstropedia, Op cit.
6.      “Sphinx,” Wikipedia
7.      “Sphinx,” Monstropedia, Op cit.
8.      Hargreaves, Joyce, Hargreaves New Illustrated Bestiary, Gothic Images Publications, Glastonbury, UK, 1990
9.      “Sphinx,” Wikipedia, Op cit.
10.   Gould, Charles, Mythical Monsters, Allen & Co.,1886; Kessinger Reprints, Whitefish, MT
11.   “Sphinx,” Wikipedia, Op cit.
12.   Ibid.

For more creatures check out Oberon's A Wizard's Bestiary

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Weird News of the Week

The Smell that White Makes

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Charcoal Art

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Einstein's Brain captured on Camera

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End-of-the-World Refuge in France CLOSED

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Our wish for you...

This Thanksgiving remember to show gratitude for all of the wonderful things in your life!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Positive News of the Week

Self-Charging Biological Batteries

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Hurricane Sandy Animal Rescues

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Scientists Halt Superbug Outbreak

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Vet hailed for Symphony

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spring 13 New Releases

The Spring 13 Catalog is finally here and we're excited to announce 9 new titles for early 2013.  Find out more by visiting the individual book links below.


Ancient Treasures
by Brian Haughton
July 13 Release
Why are so many people fascinated by treasure? Is it purely a desire for wealth, or is it also the romantic appeal of tales of lost ancient artifacts? In Ancient Treasures, you will read fascinating stories of lost hoards, looted archaeological artifacts, and sunken treasures.

New Thought

The Call of the Soul
by Aila Accad, RN, MSN
August 13 Release
Presents a new perspective on the quest to find your authentic self.  When that quest is successful, you know who you truly are and what your life's purpose is.  This book provides a new way to approach the journey, with a map and effective tools to ease the struggle and assure success.

Pleiadian Principles for Living
by Christine Day
June 13 Release
The second major title channeled by Christine Day is a spiritual but practical roadmap that will show you how to navigate through these challenging, changing times, to understand the roles presaged by our conscious choice.

New Science

On the Edge of Reality
by Colin Andrews and Synthia Andrews
June 13 Release
Examine the multitude of current changes - from the bases of society to the foundations of science - that indicate the unfolding of a new paradigm.  Investigate non-ordinary reality and unexplained phenomena as interactions of consciousness.


The Monster Files
by Nick Redfern
July 13 Release
For decades there have been persistent rumors, tales, and legends that government agencies all around the world have been secretly collecting and studying data on bizarre beats, amazing animals, and strange creatures.  Now, for the first time, fearsome facts are finally revealed.


The Five Seasons
by Joseph Cardillo, PhD
June 13 Release
Based on the five universal seasons from traditional Chinese medicine as well as on Western psychology.  The Five Seasons will show you how to use the rising and falling energies of nature's seasons to train your mind and body to feel relaxed, energized, and content all year long.


The Alien Abduction Files
by Kathleen Marden and Denise Stoner
May 13 Release
Why would two women separated by thousands of miles share a common thread involving alien abduction? Both women experienced missing time when driving with a companion, and were later taken from their homes.  Both have been unwilling participants in ongoing experimental procedures that appear to follow family genetic lines.  Both witnesses have given detailed descriptions of the crafts' interiors and technology, medical procedures, messages from the visitors, and the types of ETs they have encountered.  Even more startling, both have independently described finding themselves on identical huge craft, within the same timeframe....

Inside the Real Area 51
by Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt
May 13 Release
In spite of its rich history of military service to our nation, Wright-Patterson also stands as the secret tomb of one of the greatest occurrences in recorded history.  But be prepared...the real Area 51 - Wright-Patterson's vault - is about to be opened.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weird News of the Week

Sorry for the delay in new posts over the last week or so however we've been catching up and putting things back to rights after Hurricane Sandy had her way with us up in the Northeast.  I'm glad to say that all of our employees are alive and well and are finally getting warmed up again after several days without power.  Thankfully that was the worst of our struggles.

Elephant Learns Korean

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Taj Mahal Replicated by a Jeweler

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Smart Roads in the Netherlands

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New Study on how Human Bodies can Predict Events

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