Think Free

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Michael Wood


MICHAEL WOOD (Photo credit: RubyGoes)

Michael Wood (1948- ) is a British filmmaker and historian whose innovative, on-site productions are enjoyed by thinking persons around the world. Not quite as sensational as more recent productions by other UK notables, what makes Wood’s docs different is his sophisticated levity.

Other UK doc stars like Simon Schama have been criticized for oversimplifying. But Schama makes no apologies for this. To anyone who thinks it’s easy to make a documentary, he says “try it.” And I suppose that kind of challenge could be given to cynical critics everywhere. However, one doesn’t have to be an expert at creating in order to be an expert at comparing and critiquing something.

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Barbara G. Walker

Diana the huntress

Diana the huntress (Photo credit: katmary)

Barbara G. Walker (1930- ) is an American expert on knitting and a feminist writer on mythology, religion and spirituality.

Her Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, although of questionable accuracy at times, offers a compensatory perspective to not only chauvinist religious teachings but also to thinkers who ignore or gloss over Christianity’s ugly past.

From the standpoint of psycho-history, past atrocities tend to reemerge in novel, equally frightening forms if their underlying psychological dynamics remain unexamined and therefore unconscious.

By way of contrast, some researchers emphasize visible – instead of unconscious – motivational factors in their study of mankind. But to this, Thomas A Kohut says:

Because it is not possible to comprehend people without dealing with the psychological, historians, including those critical of psychohistory, have always written about it, even if they have rarely acknowledged the fact.¹

In the 1970’s Walker worked on a telephone hotline for battered women and pregnant teenagers. This sparked her interest in feminism and possibly contributed to her unique perspective on myth, religion and spirituality.

To this Rose White adds:

[Walker made] enormous contributions to female intellectual empowerment through her many collections of knitted stitch patterns. Of course her work benefited all knitters, not just women, but at the time she was writing, nearly all knitters were women.

The point of view which guided her to collect and produce her anthologies of stitch patterns was this: Crafters should not be beholden to crappy commercial garment designs, but should have the means to create their own original works. She has been an inspiration to multiple generations of knitters, and these books are still in print 40 years later. » See in context

And Mary Treherne comments about sex-role stereotypes and religion in general:

A change in the psycho-sexual paradigm of human nature, and the whole ‘chemistry’ of human relationship is taking place with a wholly new interpretation of the moral teachings of Christ, one that threatens to bring down the whole of ‘christian’ history and tradition and a lot more besides. To be truly free is to be free for an ignorance within human nature itself.

Anyone able to free themselves of their prejudices, who is interested in real progress that history has thus far denied us, should check out: » See in context

¹ Thomas A. Kohut, “Psychohistory as History,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 2 (Apr., 1986: 336-354), p. 352.

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Kurtuluş Caddesi, Antakya (Antioch), Hatay pro...

Kurtuluş Caddesi, Antakya (Antioch), Hatay province, Turkey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the ancient world there were 16 cities and towns called Antioch by Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Empire. All were named in honor of his father, Antiochus.

The largest was Antioch in Syria, which he founded in 301 BCE. A commercial and intellectual hub, its inhabitants were noted for their caustic wit and bent for coining nicknames. The place was an ancient marvel, with nature reserves and temples dedicated to pagan deities like Daphne, Apollo and Demeter, along with a royal palace, fine carriages and other breathtaking (or, perhaps, intimidating) landmarks indicating economic wealth and power.

The first Gentile Christian Church was formed at Antioch in Syria. St. Paul made his missionary base at Antioch. Over time the significant Jewish population there didn’t appreciate Paul’s teachings about Christ (possibly also the growing number of converts to Christianity) and as a result harassed him.¹ At one point the Jewish population managed to evict Paul from the city, but that didn’t deter him from converting Hellenized Jews and Gentiles to Christianity.

English: Roman mosaic, Daphne (Antioch), Syria...

Roman mosaic, Daphne (Antioch), Syria, – Animals Hunting, Honolulu Academy of Arts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At this point, the city was quite cosmopolitan, composed of Romans, Greeks, Syrians and Jews. Christians appeared in droves, most likely being called “Christians” for the very first time at Antioch.

At Antioch a school of thought formed where scripture was interpreted literally. Sort of like the uncritical fundamentalists of today.

The early city was destroyed by an earthquake in 526. Antakya is now the capital of the Hatay province in Southern Turkey.

¹ Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, 1987, p. 60-61.

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Amenhotep III

English: The eastern figure of the Colossi of ...

The eastern figure of the Colossi of Memnon, two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, across the Nile from Luxor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amenhotep III (c. 1411–1375 BCE) was an Egyptian Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty.

Amenhotep III ruled peacefully at home, advancing culture and art, while securing Egyptian power in Babylonia and Assyria. During his reign he rebuilt the ancient capital of Thebes, with stunning architecture like the Colossi of Memnon, the temple at Luxor and the Karnak pylon.

He has over 250 surviving statues, a number greater than any other Egyptian ruler.

From his mummified remains archaeologists can see that he had worn teeth and many dental cavities. And he invoked the goddess Ishtar (who figures in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh) to heal several illnesses, including his dental pain.

His son was Amenhotep IV, who renamed himself Akhenaten, fashioning after himself a solar-based monotheism.

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Amenhotep, Son of Hapu, Luxor Museum

Amenhotep, Son of Hapu, Luxor Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amenhotep (14th-century BCE) was an Egyptian scribe and minister of Amenhotep III (1417-1379 BCE). Amenhotep was respected as a philosopher or, perhaps, deep thinker and worshipped in Thebes as a healer. He was also celebrated for the magnificent temples erected under his commission.

In Egyptian art he’s usually depicted as a scribe with a papyrus scroll on his lap. Amenhotep was revered to the extent of becoming deified.

Amenhotep was greatly revered by posterity, as indicated by the reinscription of the donation decree for his mortuary establishment in the 21st dynasty (1075–c. 950 BCE) and his divine association with Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, during the Ptolemaic period.¹

¹ See “Amenhotep, son of Hapu.Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <>.

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English: A view of Alexandria harbour in Egypt...

A view of Alexandria harbour in Egypt during February 2007. The new Alexandria library can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alexandria was a major port in Lower Egypt by the Mediterranean, founded by Alexander the Great (331 BCE). Alexander wanted to combine the best of ancient Egypt with his vision for a new Hellenistic empire. His new city became the second largest in the Roman Empire, with a primary language of Greek.

The city was of mixed population (Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Jewish) and an exporter of foods, tapestries, metal products and books. It imported wine, silk and horses. Many Jews came to the city as slaves or settled there as free men. When pressured to set up pagan deities in their monotheistic temples, the Jews held fast to their beliefs and protested to the Emperor Caligula.¹

Lighthouse on the small island of Pharos, just opposite Alexandria at the Nile Delta.

Alexandria was home to several famous scholars, philosophers and scientists (like Ptolemy, Euclid and Archimedes), and had a university modeled after that of Athens. In its heyday the Alexandrian library contained some 400,000 to 900,000 books and scrolls. And the lighthouse on Pharos was one of the seven wonders of the world.

For Christianity, the city is especially important because it’s where the apostle Mark is said to have founded the first Christian Church, which then spread outward.

¹ Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, 1987, p. 38-39.

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Julius Caesar

Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum

Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gaius Julius Caesar (c. 100 – 44 BCE)

In the Punic tongue the word caesar means “elephant.” Caesaries also means “thick head of hair.” The surname Caesar was given to the Julian family of patricians¹ at Rome, because one family member once owned an elephant or had a healthy scalp.

After Julius had become the Dictator of Rome, his surname became an honorary title for the next 11 emperors during the age of the Roman Emperors, each emperor being hailed as a new “Caesar.” So we often hear about the “12 Caesars,” which includes Julius.

Julius was an innovative and tough political and military genius who single-handedly broke down the old Roman republic.

When sailing to finish his education at Rhodes, he was held captive by pirates. Paying more than demanded for his release he quickly returned with a ship of his own and crucified the pirates he had recently paid.

The Roman writer Pliny says that he conquered 800 cities, 300 nations and three-million people, which at that time in history was a considerable percentage of the Earth’s population.

Caesar traveled to current day England, where he wrote on the practices of the Druids. A learned scholar and historian, he used his influence to reshape the calendar into one with 365 days and leap years, making the year 365.25 days long. This Julian calendar was largely replaced by the Gregorian calendar, but it’s still used in some countries today.

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account writt...

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account written by Julius Caesar about his nine years of war in Gaul. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politically he would be closer to a Democrat (or Liberal) than a Republican (or Conservative). He favored the populares (nobles who worked through and acted for the benefit of the people) over the optimates (nobles who opposed the populares, claiming to represent everyone and not just the poor).

His end came about on the Ides of March (15 March, 44 BCE), the result of a conspiracy hatched by his closest advisers, all of whom stabbed him to death. The killers were lead by Brutus and Cassius. Apparently Caesar resisted the attackers after the first stab wound, but upon seeing his friend Brutus among the group, accepted his grisly fate.

The night before his death Caesar’s wife had vivid and terrible dreams, which perhaps Caesar should have taken into consideration. He was also warned of the plot by Artemidorus in a letter sent to the senate house, which he failed to read.

Italiano: La Morte di Cesare di Vincenzo Camuc...

Italiano: La Morte di Cesare di Vincenzo Camuccini è un quadro che si trova a Roma nella Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time of his death Caesar had stopped listening to the nobles altogether, a move which they clearly didn’t like. He had virtually ended the old Republic and his overweening confidence, which had taken him so far, ultimately led to his downfall.

His life has been depicted in several films and William Shakespeare wrote the tragic play, Julius Caesar, which looks at the conspiracy leading to his death, especially from the perspective of Brutus. Shakespeare’s Brutus, in fact, gets about four times as many lines as Caesar.

¹ The patricians were a privileged class of Romans who, among other things, dominated politics and the priesthood.