How to Identify a Changeling


This week I finished reading The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood. It’s one of my favorite books; I loved its rich, creepy setting. I also appreciated that the ending allowed us to wonder if there might have been magic involved after all.

Because Changelings are the subject of this fantastic book, I decided to do a little digging into the topic myself. They have long fascinated me; I even tried to write about a Changeling. The character did not provide much aside from comic relief in the long run, but I remain fond of that story, the first one I took seriously.

If you’ve never heard about Changelings, you’re missing out on a great deal of fun! In many books they cause chaos and tragedy. One thing is for sure: They always bring magic with them.

Here are some characteristics that were once attributed to Changelings.

Is It My Kid?

A Changeling is a fairy child that was put in place of a human infant. Most legends say that it was done because fairies were unable to nourish their own children into strong adults. To compensate, they would give their offspring to unsuspecting humans. In turn, the human babies would be used by Changelings as servants.

Some attributes might give away the identity of a Changeling. The child left in place by the fairies may have red eyes and voracious appetites, losing their tempers if neglected for a moment. Disruptive children were sometimes called Changelings and kept in isolation.

Spirit of the Night, John Atkinson Grimshaw

An Aversion To Iron

Superstitious people believed iron could ward off fairies. You might find a pair of scissors hanging at a window to keep out dark spirits. Parents did this hoping that the iron would keep their children safe.

If a family member showed Changeling traits—a strange appetite or delight for destruction—the suspicious parent would crick them into grabbing some iron scissors. Iron would burn a Changeling, revealing their identity at once.

Scissors could also be placed over the door to a house. If the suspected Changeling felt apprehension going through the door, they would have to be removed.

How, though?

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Paton

Leave Eggshells About

Many stories claim these odious creatures have a strange reaction to eggshells. One could dispose of a suspected Changeling by leaving eggshells by the hearth. The Changelings found these eggshells hilarious. They would reveal themselves; your intruder will show himself by means of madness and laughter.

GotIreland.com tells this story about eggshells:

The old man told him that most likely the boy had been taken by the “Daoine Sith,” and they had left a “Sibhreach” in his place. Distraught, the father wondered if he’d ever see his son again. The old man instructed him to take several broken eggshells and fill them with water, then place them carefully around the hearth in the boy’s room. He did so, and within no time, the boy was jumping from his bed in a fit of laughter shouting, “I’ve been alive 800 years and have never seen the likes of this!” Hearing that, the father pushed the Changeling into the fire, and it shot up the chimney. The real boy was spit out from the Faerie mound nearby at that very moment, and the father and son were soon after reunited (taken from: J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1901).


Folklore shows how our ancestors explained strange phenomena and the bizarre ways in which they solved problems. Changelings make for good stories; The Hidden People was a fantastic novel and did the legend great justice!

While we now have more dignified explanations for strange behavior (and we don’t leave eggshells on the floor), it’s fulfilling to know the beliefs of those who came before us.

What is your favorite creature from mythology? I would love to know!

The Man Who Kidnapped MONA LISA


When Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre Museum in 1911, she became a worldwide obsession. In reality, it is just another instance of art theft. This remains a common crime, though it has never again shaken the world like it did with Leonardo’s masterpiece.

Every year, more than 50,000 art pieces are stolen around the world. The annual black market value for art theft stands between 6 and 8 billion.

After months of frantic search, the world lost hope that she would be found. Bigger tragedies took place: the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic went down on her maiden voyage, giving reporters something new to focus on.

Fifteen months after her disappearance, France formally abandoned hope of La Gioconda returning. The case was closed, and life in Paris resumed its fast pace.

Letter From ‘Leonardo’

It was Winter in the year 1913. Florence art dealer Alfredo Geri was anticipating a busy Christmas season. He had placed an ad in many Italian newspapers, offering to pay generously for fine artwork.

Responses poured in; Geri looked over them every morning, sorting out replies that sounded promising. One of them stood out from the others.

It was postmarked Poste Restante, Place de la République, Paris. It was signed “Leonardo.” Geri first suspected it to be a prank, but followed his gut and read on:

The stolen work of Leonardo da Vinci is in my possession. It seems to belong to Italy since its painter was Italian. My dream is to give back this masterpiece to the land from which he came and to the country that inspired it.

Geri took the letter to Giovanni Poggi, director of the local Uffizi Gallery. Poggi was skeptical of the letter, thinking it would be at best a well-done copy; nonetheless, he told Geri there was no loss in writing back. They told the thief that they would have to see the painting before they made an offer.

“Leonardo” wrote back quickly. He invited Geri to visit him. Poggi agreed that, when the day was set, he would go with the art dealer to examine the piece and determine whether it was a fake.

On December 10, Geri’s shop had a great deal of customers. One of them stood out from the others; he lurked in the shadows, waiting until everyone else had gone before approaching the art dealer. He introduced himself as the Leonardo from the letters and said that he had brought Mona Lisa home to Florence.

Geri and Poggi followed ‘Leonardo’ to the hotel where he was staying. It was the Albergio Tripoli-Italia, located blocks away from the house where Lisa del Giocondo had posed for the real Leonardo da Vinci in the portrait.

As they walked, Geri mentioned the payment. ‘Leonardo’ admitted that he expected the Italian government to compensate him “for the great service rendered.” He said he hadn’t taken the painting to make money. He had intended to return it to the land from which it had been stolen.

An amount was proposed. Geri would agree to pay only if Poggi could confirm the painting’s legitimacy.

They went upstairs into the room where ‘Leonardo’ had been staying. He opened his medium-sized suitcase, emptied it of its meager contents, and opened a false bottom. Inside waited Mona Lisa, wrapped in silk and marvelously preserved. Poggi studied the painting and confirmed that this was Louvre property.

Geri and Poggi contained their excitement in front of the thief. They fled the hotel with the painting and called the police. ‘Leonardo’ was napping when Florence officers came to take him.

He did not struggle, convinced that the government would recognize him as a hero.

Vincenzo Peruggia, Mona Lisa’s thief

Knight In Shining Armor

‘Leonardo’ cooperated with the police. He identified himself as thirty-two year old Vincenzo Peruggia. He lived in Paris, where he worked painting houses. He had worked at the Louvre as a glazier for two years.

Peruggia described himself as a patriot. He had stolen the Mona Lisa to avenge all the art pieces that had been taken from Italy by Napoleon during his painting plunder. Peruggia did not seem to know that, while Napoleon did steal many pieces of art, Mona Lisa was not one of them. She had been in France delighting kings and aristocrats long before Napoleon was born.

It was arranged that Mona Lisa would be given to the French ambassador. France allowed her to stay in Italy for two weeks. During this visit, thousands of Italians came on pilgrimage to see Leonardo’s most famous painting. Peruggia’s prediction that he would be a hero wasn’t far off: many Italians believed that he had done a great service to their country.

Conquering Hero?

Vincenzo Peruggia was on the list of Louvre workers that French police had investigated when Mona Lisa vanished. How come he was not a suspect from the beginning?

Peruggia had been summoned at the beginning for questioning but never appeared. A detective went to his apartment, searched it, and asked questions. Peruggia said he had been at work the morning when Mona Lisa vanished; if they had checked his alibi, they would learn that he arrived several hours late.

What about fingerprinting? There had been a flaw in Alphonse Bertillon’s profiling. He only classified his criminal records with right thumbprints, and the print on Mona Lisa’s frame had been a left thumbprint. Peruggia was therefore never linked to it.

Peruggia was not brought to trial until June 4, 1914. France did not press for harsh treatment; Italy was not keen to punish the man who had brought Mona Lisa for a brief visit home. He managed to rouse the sympathy of his compatriots, which must have had an influence on his absurdly short prison sentence.

He was given a sentence of one year and fifteen days. On July 19, it was reduced to seven months and nine days. When this brief punishment ended, he went on to start a paint shop.


I have tried to cover the disappearance of Mona Lisa and do justice to the story over the month of August. It’s impossible to give all of the details in a series of little blog posts. If you want to know more about this insane event in history, I encourage you to read Vanished Smile by R.A. Scotti.

Everything about Mona Lisa has a story behind it. I will continue to read about her because few paintings have had such long, unique histories. I am wrapping up my August Mona Lisa Month with this post, but I am not done getting to know the Queen of the Louvre.

I hope my articles have been helpful to you; they were great fun to write!

5 Amazing Facts About Louisa May Alcott


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is one of those books that every child knows. The antics of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy stay with us long after we reach adulthood. It reminds us that a good life has its hardships, even in fiction. The resilience of the March sisters gives us hope that we can survive our trials.

This book has been made into movies and continues to inspire readers. Its characters live on as readers pass it down to their children. What do we know about the author, though?

Alcott was a unique woman for her time. A defender of women’s rights and fiercely independent, her life can inspire us as much as her book has done. Here are five amazing facts about Louisa May Alcott.

1- She Turned Down A Marriage

Many female writers of the time chose writing over marriage (even if it marred their social stance). Like Jane Austen years before, Louisa May Alcott turned down a marriage proposal.

Mr. Condit was a prosperous manufacturer of silk hats. He proposed to Louisa in 1860. Her family was in a hard place financially, making it difficult to refuse, but she did not love him.

What was more, she feared that her career as a writer would vanish if she took a husband. In the end, she chose her writing over a loveless union.

2- She Was A Civil War Nurse

In 1861, the Civil War hit. Alcott was not the sort of woman to be idle in dire times. First, she volunteered to sew uniforms for the soldiers. Itching to become more involved, she became a nurse, going straight into the chaos.

Alcott saw horrible things while tending to wounded soldiers. In a Washington D.C. tent-hospital, she comforted wounded men as they died. These events left profound scars from which she found solace in writing.

Alcott recorded her experiences in journals and letters to family. She published Hospital Sketches in 1863. It is a fictionalized account based on her letters. The book became massively popular and was reprinted with more material.

3- She Didn’t Want To Write Little Women

Alcott wrote her most famous book, Little Women, after much resistance.

Her father was asked by an editor at a publishing house if she would write a novel for little girls. Louisa was not keen on the idea of writing for children. She refused and a year passed.

When her father was trying to publish his own book on philosophy, the editor once more requested a book for little girls. He would publish the philosophy book if Louisa agreed.

Giving in, she used her childhood with her sisters as a topic for the book. The first part of Little Women was published in 1868. It became a huge success—perhaps to her chagrin–and she went on to write the sequels, Jo’s Boys and Little Men.

4- She Adopted Her Niece

Alcott never had children, but was able to experience motherhood at the age of forty-seven. In 1879, her sister May died after giving birth to a daughter. On her deathbed, May told her husband that she wanted the child to go to Louisa.

He honored his wife’s last wish and trusted the baby to Alcott. She was named Louisa after her aunt and nicknamed LuLu. Alcott raised the girl during the final years of her own life.

Alcott died of a stroke when LuLu was 8 years old, and LuLu was sent back to Switzerland with her father. Though they were together for a short time, Lulu carried fond memories of her aunt Louisa.

5- She Was A Suffragette

Alcott advocated for women’s rights when the movement was in its infancy. She wrote for a women’s periodical in the 1870s and went door-to-door, encouraging women in Massachusetts to vote.

In 1869, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote on any issue involving education and children. Alcott registered and became the first woman in Concord to vote.

She and nineteen other women voted that year, initiating a great change. Alcott was passionate about making sure that women’s voices were heard. The Nineteenth Amendment was cast in 1890—decades after Alcott’s death.


Louisa May Alcott was a devoted writer. Though she is best known for Little Women, her collection of complete works is staggering. More attention should be given to this impressive and fearless woman.

Behind every great story is a greater story; in the case of Little Women, it is the writer’s life. She valued her independence, worked to support her family, and fought for the woman’s vote.

We miss out on a great deal when we don’t look at an author’s background. Timeless stories don’t come out of the blue; there is always a fascinating chain of events forming the foundation of a classic.

5 Witches in Mythology


When I started research on magic in mythology, I did not realize the phrase would be so broad. Magic can explain many events in myths all over the world. We need to be more specific when learning about magic.

Are we thinking about women in the forest who collect healing herbs? Are we perhaps referring to revelations we found in tea leaves?

I changed my phrasing to witches in mythology. This is still a vague term, but most mythologies separate gods from witches. Greek mythology was the haziest for this article; however, I found these examples too intriguing to leave out.

Each culture has a different definition of witch. Some witches are dark and frightening figures; others are revered by their people. Collecting five stories for this post has been a welcome challenge.

Hecate, Goddess of Witchcraft

Hecate is one of the most controversial figures of Greek mythology. Because worship of her predates the writings we use for reference–for example, Homer–her origin is disputed. Nonetheless, she remains in their tales as a goddess of witchcraft.

She was also the goddess of boundaries—which in the physical world could mean entrances, borders, and crossroads. Spiritually, she stood at the boundary between life and death. Having this power, Hecate could cross into the Underworld and walk it freely.

When Persephone was taken by Hades, Hecate aided Demeter in the search for her daughter. Since Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds, she could not escape the Underworld forever.

Unable to release her from the spell of the pomegranate seeds, Hecate became Persephone’s guide to the Underworld whenever she returned to Hades.

Hecate is often depicted as being one person with three bodies.

Circe

Another figure of Greek mythology, Circe was a minor goddess. Some stories call her the daughter of Hecate and Aeetes, a king in Greek mythology. She is well known for her knowledge of potions and herbs.

She is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus visits her island, Aeaea, on the way back from the Trojan war. Circe turns most of Odysseus’ crew into swine. Her ability to change people into animals surfaces again in the fate of Picus. He was an Italian king whom she turned into a woodpecker for resisting her advances.

She becomes enemies with the nymph Scylla, whom I wrote about here. When the sea-god Glaucus preferred Scylla to her, she poisoned the water where Scylla lived, turning the beautiful nymph into a sea monster.

Circe and ‘The unhappy Greeks turned into Swine.’

The Morrigan

The Morrigan is not a witch in the traditional sense. Her ability to shapeshift into a crow is an attribute of witchcraft, and I thought she would fit in this list. She is one of the most famous figures of Irish mythology, linked with war, life and death.

She is one of three war goddesses featured in Irish mythology; the other two are Macha and Neman. The Morrigan is described as being able to predict the names of those who will die in battle. She would use this knowledge to influence wars.

The Morrigan would do this by flying over a battle in the form of a crow. Seeing this crow would strike such fear into soldiers that they would die of fright or fight for their lives.

Crow II monoprint © Peter Gander

Völva the Viking Witch

In Norse folklore, the Völva is what we would call a Seeress. The magic they practiced was known as Seidr, a word which literally means “to bind.” Men could also practice Seidr, but it was less common.

The Völva would have been the spiritual leader and healer in a Nordic society. She wore colorful dresses and carried a beautiful staff to help her carry out Seidr.

One of the Völva’s most important roles was communication with the deceased. She would perform rituals in which she would sing songs to attract spirits. The Völva would sit in a very high chair while singing. She might also be lifted into the air, allowing her to see into another realm.

Japanese Animal Familiars

In Japan, some people were believed to keep spirit animals as familiars. If you had an animal familiar, you were considered a witch. This was usually a family affair, and such families were called tsukimono-zukai.

Animal familiars could bring a family wealth and power, but there was a downside. Having an animal familiar made neighbors superstitious. It was difficult to keep friends, and if you were a woman, marriage was nearly impossible.

If a family wanted to be rid of the tsukimono, this could be attempted through exorcism by a Shinto priest. These rituals did not always work. To learn more about the fascinating myth of tsukimono, read this excellent article.


I am eager to do more research on witchcraft and ‘spooky’ myths as Halloween nears. It’s my favorite time of the year–not only does the weather turn crisp and lovely, but the air is full of mystery!

If myths interest you, check out my post about butterfly myths–and another about star myths!

Pablo Picasso on Trial


When I started my series of posts on the Mona Lisa, I wanted to tell the story of her disappearance in a manner that did it justice. I was captivated by Vanished Smile, a book that makes the painting come to life (more so than she reportedly does!)

In this post I will sum up for you an interesting chapter of the investigation which I learned of from R. A. Scotti. I have left out plenty of details; to enjoy the full scope of the madness, you’ll have to read the book.

History is stranger than fiction. In 1911 France’s most famous lady was stolen–practically from under the noses of guards. The world was left reeling from the brashness of this theft.

It was a time of change in the art world. Pablo Picasso had begun championing a new form of art, modern and daring, a far cry from the styles of the old masters. His style brought together a group of enthusiasts determined to challenge tradition and redefine beauty.

Many members of Picasso’s gang were known for being loud and sometimes rude. They were labeled romantic renegades by those who admired them, ne’er-do-wells by disapprovers. It wasn’t until La Gioconda’s disappearance that something happened to pull them into legal problems.

Pablo Picasso, Young Woman Drawing

During this interlude in the search for da Vinci’s painting, the police no longer saw these people as artists making a statement. Instead the police called them “foreign thieves and swindlers who have come to France to plunder its treasure.”

With dozens of theories but no clues about the painting’s whereabouts, Picasso’s gang gave police something to focus on. It all started with some badly timed letters, an apparent joke gone wrong.

The Statue

Following Mona Lisa‘s disappearance, an explosion of fake copies and ‘sightings’ sprang up worldwide. Louvre experts examined the false paintings turned in by people hoping for a reward. They did not fall for the scams, but were no closer to an answer.

On August 29, the day the Museum opened again, a strange correspondent wrote to the editors of the Paris-Journal. This newspaper had promised a reward as well as anonymity to thief if they should return La Gioconda.

His first letter did not speak of La Gioconda, but it didn’t arrive alone. With it was a small statue the writer claimed was from the Louvre. He wrote about a series of thefts, his story raising as many questions as it answered.

Most of all, it rubbed salt into the wound of the Museum’s lax security.

It was in March, 1907, that I entered the Louvre for the first time—a young man with time to kill and no money to spend … I suddenly realized how easy it would be to … take away almost any object of moderate size.

The mysterious author explained how he had chosen the head of a woman, concealed it under his vest, and walked out. He sold the statue to an unnamed painter-friend for fifty francs ($200.)

The very next day I took a man’s head with enormous ears. … And three days later, a plaster fragment covered in hieroglyphs. A friend gave me twenty francs for this last. … Now one of my colleagues has spoiled all of my plans for a collection by making this hullabaloo in the painting department!

The next day, August 30, the paper reported a second letter from the mysterious writer.

You will allow me a few words of protest against certain terms of abuse leveled at me in your issue of yesterday … A professional thief, lacking all moral sense, would remain unaffected by them; but I am not without sensitivity…

The letter was signed Baron Ignace d’Ormesan.

An examination by Louvre curators confirmed that the statue was property of the museum. It meant that the thief’s story was true: at least one statue had been stolen. The next day, ‘Baron d’Ormesan’ wrote another letter in the same mocking tone:

I do not want to leave France without once again sending you my thanks for the chivalrous manner in which you handled the little matter…

Then he finished:

I can only urge the person at present holding Vinci’s masterpiece to place himself entirely in your hands. He has a colleague’s word for it that your good faith is above all suspicion.

The morning paper had scarcely gone out before Prefect Lépine identified the so-called Baron d’Ormesan. It was a familiar name to Parisian literati belonging to a fictional character from L’Hérésiarque et cie, a collection of stories written by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

Apollinaire was a part of Picasso’s crowd. Police were soon knocking at the poet’s door.

Pablo Picasso, Child with a Dove

Questions

Three days after Mona Lisa’s disappearance, Apollinaire had written in the paper L’Intrasigeant:

The pictures, even the smallest, are not padlocked on the walls, as they are in most museums abroad. Furthermore, it is a fact that the guards have never been drilled in how to rescue pictures in case of fire. The situation is one of carelessness, negligence, indifference.

Loosely known as la bande de Picasso, the group was famous for more than their loud opinions. They were outlaws of traditional art, set on breaking the rules to free art from art history.

Mona Lisa was the archetype of the dead masterpieces they rejected. If Picasso’s group had indeed taken her, no one would have been surprised. Prefect Lépine was convinced that la bande de Picasso was involved.

Apollinaire’s letters as the Baron placed him in the middle of the investigation–and in deep trouble.

Guillaume Apollinaire was transported in handcuffs to the Palais de Justice, where for hours he refused to provide any information. Only at the point of arrest did he confess that he was not the statue thief, but knew who was. He named Honoré Joseph Géry Pieret, a Belgian who had been living in his apartment as a secretary.

He admitted to knowing about Géry’s theft. He confessed to having bought Géry a train ticket to Marseilles on August 21, urging him to leave the country. Apollinaire thought that he would be released after giving the information.

Instead he was locked in a cell at Le Santé prison for being an accomplice.

La bande de Picasso was a guilty party to Prefect Lépine. He was confident that they were the gang of thieves he was after—and that they would be able to tell him Mona Lisa’s whereabouts.

It wasn’t long before he’d arrested the face of the movement, Picasso himself.

Betrayal

Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso, so often seen together as leaders of a band of rebels, faced one another in the courtroom. Their nerves caused them to trip on words, contradicting themselves and one another.

When asked about his friendship with Apollinaire, Picasso said, “I have never seen him before.”

Picasso confessed to having bought the stolen statues. He was released on his own recognizance and warned not to leave Paris. Apollinaire was returned to the Santé prison, but there was not enough evidence to link him to the theft of Mona Lisa. He was released on September 13.

The theft of Mona Lisa had found a likely culprit in la bande de Picasso, but it was a dead end. Géry’s theft of the statues was possible because of the poor security which enabled the theft of la Gioconda.

Unfortunately for detectives, this only proved that theft was easy at the Louvre, not that Picasso’s band had indeed taken the painting. The questions remained: who was the thief, and where was the painting? No closer to an answer, police began to lose spirit.

Pablo Picasso, Mediterranean Landscape

For years Picasso never spoke of the Mona Lisa ordeal. He continued being his larger-than-life self, leading the modern art movement with his bold colors and shapes.

It was 1959 when at last he mentioned Apollinaire during an interview:

When the judge asked me, ‘Do you know this gentleman?’ I was suddenly terribly frightened and without knowing what I was saying, I answered, ‘I have never seen this man.’ I saw Guillaume’s expression change. The blood ebbed from his face. I am still ashamed.

I wish I had read Vanished Smile before I went to the Louvre to see Mona Lisa. R. A. Scotti tells the story of her disappearance with more grace than I’ve been able to manage. If you like history, art, and true stories that sound insane, I encourage you to grab a copy and dig in.

Next week I’ll wrap up my Mona Lisa segment with her return to the Louvre–and the peculiar circumstances surrounding that. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this story as much as I did!

5 Myths About the Stars


Stars have aided us from the beginning. Before we settled on a common calendar, they told our ancestors when to plant crops. Navigators at sea used the stars to guide them on treacherous journeys. In uncertain times, humans sought messages from these celestial lights.

Though we have developed modern methods of navigation, the stars have not lost their significance. We yearn to see them, write songs about them, and study them from afar. They remind us of that which does not vanish; they remain above us, sources of wonder and romance.

It would be a shame if we did not learn what the stars meant to our ancestors. Here are five interesting myths about stars. These myths come from different parts of the world.

When you finish, go on to read mythology about butterflies.

The ‘Digging-Stars’

According to South African mythology, tribes anticipated the appearance of IsiLimela–the Pleiades–to warn them it was time to begin hoeing the ground. The Pleiades were called the ‘digging stars’ because of this specific role.

These were more than ‘digging-stars.’ Xhosa boys marked the beginning of their manhood from the Pleiades’ first June appearance. Their new lives depended on the appearance of IsiLimela.

Read more South African star myths here!

The Pleiades

Inca Constellations

The Inca culture in Peru also relied on the stars for agricultural purposes. Their belief was that everything in nature is sacred, so they worshiped various Gods such as Inti (the sun) and Chuqui Illa (the God of Thunder.)

Machu Picchu, the famous archaeological site, has long been a mystery. Who was it built for and why in that spectacular location? Recent studies suggest that, aside from being a ceremonial site, Machu Picchu was an astronomical observatory.

PeruforLess has a good article about Inca culture and their belief system.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Lost Viking Tales

Most of the known Norse mythology is found in the Eddas, though there’s little mention of stars specifically. If you’re interested in the Norse stories of creation, the Eddas provide a fascinating read. Find the Edda of Snorri Sturluson on Amazon.

I quote this excellent essay on Norse constellations by Jonas Persson:

In Völuspa the origin of the stars and planets are mentioned, as well as their end at Ragnarök. The world was created from the body of the giant Ymer. His skull forms the firmament and is held in place by four dwarves, where sparks from Muspellheim form the stars. Their place in the sky was determined by the gods and some were given paths they will roam.

Having depended on the night sky to guide their ships, it’s inevitable that the Norse people knew astronomy. They had their own constellations, though the names of most of these constellations have been lost.

Star Religion

As a writer I’m pleased to learn that, in Egyptian mythology, the stars were represented by the goddess of writing, Seshat. The Milky Way Galaxy represented the mother goddess Nut giving birth to the sun god, Ra.

We needn’t look farther than the Pyramids to understand the significance of stars to the ancient Egyptians. It is said that the Pyramids of Giza were built in alignment to Orion’s belt.

If this is true, it’s no surprise. According to their religious writings, they believed the gods to be descended from those three stars (read more).

Goddess of Falling Stars


Greek mythology is famous for the gods and goddesses who fought amongst themselves and caused trouble on earth. Among the lesser-known is Asteria, the goddess of dreams and of falling stars.

Asteria’s father was the Titan Coeus. He was the god of the northern axis of Heaven, around which revolve the constellations. From him Asteria gained abilities such as spelling messages in heaven with the stars.

Zeus could not resist Asteria’s beauty (nor can we expect him to, given his record). Once when he had caught her, she transformed into a quail to slip away. Refusing to be defeated, Zeus became a bird and gave chase.

Seeing that Zeus would never leave her be, Asteria dived into the sea and metamorphized into the Italian island now known as Ortigia. Learn more about Asteria.


Stars have captivated us from the beginning. Regardless of where in the world our ancestors lived, the stars did not escape their attention. Further research would reveal more stories about the cosmos from other ethnic groups.

I conclude this list with a beautiful quote:

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Leonardo da Vinci: Unveiling the Genius


Every now and then we encounter humans with incredible abilities. I don’t mean superpowers–no one can fly without special equipment, nor can they turn invisible. These abilities are acquired through study. Mastering an art form, throwing oneself into a field of science, or sailing around the world–these can be done by any human.

They can be done–but not without study and courage.

We have little hope of reaching the expertise of Leonardo da Vinci. He dabbled in everything–art, science, architecture, and more. All of these were his superpowers. They were trades and disciplines that he had a firm grip on because curiosity drove him to tireless study. Though he is best known for having painted the Mona Lisa, you could spend a lifetime learning about his achievements.

How did Leonardo da Vinci stand out as the genius of his time? Since I’m covering La Gioconda, I have decided to limit this blog post to his life as a painter. Maybe later I can explore his other talents.

Self-Portrait, Leonardo da Vinci

Priceless Education

Leonardo da Vinci did not go to school.

It sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Since he was born to unwed parents, he wasn’t allowed to study in the parish school. This might have been his great advantage: he had the opportunity to teach himself. This allowed him to open doors that his ‘luckier’ peers never thought of.

Da Vinci learned reading, writing and arithmetic at home–three skills that were to be the foundation for his achievements later on. At the age of twenty, he left to become an apprentice at the studio of painter Andrea Verrocchio. He was taught painting, sculpture, and mechanical skills.

16th-century art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote a fascinating account from da Vinci’s time as an apprentice. Historians today believe that he embellished the tale, but there is something charming in pondering legend.

Vasari writes that da Vinci collaborated with Verrocchio to paint The Baptism of Christ (1474-1478). According to Vasari, Verrocchio saw the great talent of his own apprentice and was struck with despair. He allegedly threw down his own brush and never painted again.

Baptism of Christ, Leonardo da Vinci and Verrocchio

Enduring Art

Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath, possessing great talent in many fields that we consider difficult or obsolete today. Since this trilogy focuses on the Mona Lisa, I thought it appropriate to summarize da Vinci’s life and success as a painter.

Only 18 original paintings attributed to him survive. They fall into categories–those universally accepted to be his work, those traditionally accepted, and widely accepted. These categories hinge on existing evidence of his being the painter.

The Annunciation (1472-1476) is widely accepted to have been his first completed painting. The Baptism of Christ, his collaboration with the ill-tempered Verrocchio, is widely accepted as the third.

La Gioconda, or Mona Lisa, is universally accepted as his twenty-second work. He was in his sixties when he took on this commission. What you might not have known, though, is that Mona Lisa is an unfinished painting.

Historical accounts from visitors and acquaintances tell us that da Vinci had a stroke. This caused a paralysis in his right hand which frustrated him while he was painting La Gioconda. How did he manage to paint what can be seen of her now? He was ambidextrous, which must have come in useful, but the paralysis still troubled him enough for the work to be unfinished.

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

Where To Find His Work

Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings have taken on lives of their own long after the death of the master. Lovers of La Gioconda claim that her eyes appear to be following them. Stories exist of men who fell in love and brought her flowers.

If you want to see his most famous works of art, you’ll have to travel the world. Mona Lisa reigns in a chamber of her own at the Museum of the Louvre in Paris. The famous Last Supper is located in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

His pen-and-ink drawing, Vitruvian Man, is an image that most people have seen. It was taken from one of the many notebooks that he filled during his mature years. It isn’t on display because it is so brittle that photographs would do it severe damage. Vitruvian Man is kept safe in the archive of the Venetian Gallerie dell’Accademia.

Do you want to go on a pilgrimage and see his surviving works? Here is a list of where to locate them.

Da Vinci’s Notebooks

Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are available for the fanatic to read and bask in his wisdom. Gutenberg offers them for free, but they can also be purchased in book form for more comfortable reading.

There has been a renewed interest in the journals themselves and how he wrote in them. This compelling article makes me wish I knew how to keep smarter diaries, because the article says:

It is estimated that da Vinci produced between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches spanning across 50 different notebooks about work related to whatever topics that interested him – painting, engineering, philosophy, warfare, engineering, physiology, landscape, proportion, perspective, geography, geology, light and shade, inventions and various other topics.

In my lifetime I have filled about 28 notebooks properly–meaning that I finished them cover-to-cover rather than skipping around. However, I did not cover all the topics listed above.

If you want to know more about da Vinci, I can tell you as a diarist that journals are a great place to search. With this useful footnote I will close my attempt to capture Leonardo’s brilliance in a blog post. I hope I did some justice to his life as a painter.


My first post about La Gioconda was an introduction to the mysterious lady and the controversy over who posed as her model. In my next article, I will review and comment on the book Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti.

Canvas could not keep La Gioconda from going on an adventure, and I’d like to tell the story. After all, how often do paintings go on vacation?

Mythology of the Butterfly


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The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.
—Ecouchard le Brun

Every spring we look into the flowerbeds, hoping to see their fluttering wings. They’re the daydream of the child, and the memory of the gardener. They inspire awe and wonder, and we create environments hoping to attract them.

Butterflies have enchanted poets and artists since the beginning of time. They are documented in field guides. We watch from April to September, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Swallowtail or a Monarch.

Many people do not know the rich collection of mythology concerning butterflies. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that they carry messages to heaven; you might count the spots on their wings to predict how many children you’ll have.

There are many more tales where those came from. Butterfly mythology is fascinating. Knowing what our ancestors said enhances the thrill that we feel, watching them vanish into the sky.

Here are three pieces of folklore involving these lovely insects:

  • Native American lore is rich. One of their stories is that the serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, was born of a chrysalis. Native Americans are not the only ones to make symbolism of the cocoon; to many, it represents the struggle as we move from one phase to another. We break our cocoons to face fresh challenges with wings and wisdom. The butterfly cocoon is often more beautiful than the creature itself.
  • In many parts of the world, pagan tradition has a special place for this elegant insect. In Ireland, it’s considered bad luck to kill a white butterfly—they’re believed to symbolize the human soul after death. Most of us don’t think much of the white butterfly, our eyes seeking out color instead. In Ireland, this cannot be; we must pay attention, lest we pass a spirit and not pay it due homage.
  • In other places, we should look for the red butterfly. According to Icy Sedgwick, red butterflies often mean important news is on its way. However, the Scots believed red butterflies were witches, an example of how two cultures can see a thing differently. It doesn’t end there: if a sailor saw a yellow butterfly, he might perish on his next journey.

Special mention: if you want a fascinating read, visit Dealan-De’s account of The Wooing of Etain.

When spring comes back around this year, keep an eye out the window for a red butterfly; it might be a witch. And if you are a sailor, be kind to the yellow butterfly, lest you get into a boating accident! Remember that, out in the garden, anything is possible.