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Ma'at Ma'at or Maat refers to the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice.  Ma'at was the goddess who personified these concepts, and regulated the stars, seasons, and the actions of mortals and the deities who had brought order from chaos at the moment of creation.  Ma'at was depicted as a woman with a feather (her symbol) on her head.  She was the goddess of truth, justice and harmony, and was associated with the balance of things on Earth.  She was the daughter of the Sun god Ra.

After her role in creation and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in Egyptian mythology dealt with the weighing of souls (also called the weighing of the heart) that took place in the Underworld.  Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of afterlife successfully.

Pharaohs are frequently shown in wall reliefs making an offering of Ma'at to the gods, thus showing that they are preserving harmony and justice on Earth.  The vizier in charge of the law courts was known as the 'priest of Ma'at'.

Macedonian Sun See Vergina Sun.

Magatama Magatama are curved, comma-shaped beads that appeared in prehistoric Japan from the Final Jomon period through the Kofun period, approximately 1000 BCE to the 6th century CE.  The beads, also described as 'jewels', were made of primitive stone and earthen materials in the early period, but by the end of the Kofun period were made almost exclusively of jade.  Magatama originally served as decorative jewellery, but by the end of the Kofun period functioned as ceremonial and religious objects.

Archaeological evidence suggests that magatama were produced in specific areas of Japan and were widely dispersed throughout the Japanese archipelago via trade routes.

According to Shinto legend, a necklace of magatama (Yasakani no Magatama) was among the items hung outside the cave of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and is counted among the three 'treasures' of the Japanese imperial regalia:

Magen David See Star of David.

Magnesium Alchemists used 'Magnesia alba' (literally 'white magnesia') which was magnesium carbonate (MgCO3), also known as 'mild magnesian Earth'.

Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg and atomic number 12.  It is a shiny grey solid which bears a close physical resemblance to the other five elements in the second column (group 2, or alkaline earth metals) of the periodic table -- all group 2 elements have the same electron configuration in the outer electron shell and a similar crystal structure.

Magnesium is the ninth most abundant element in the universe, and although it may seem hard to believe, it is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body.

Magpie The magpie has various symbolic meanings.  Its chattering makes it representative of creative expression, communication, and high-spiritedness.  However, the magpie also symbolises a shaky personality with unpredictable behaviour and a deceptive nature.  From a distance, magpies appear black and white, but take a closer look and you'll see a subtle blue, green and purple sheen to their appearance.

The Chinese associate the magpie with marital bliss, happiness and sustained good fortune.  Meanwhile, the Romans and Native Americans view this bird as having high intellect, perception and reasoning powers.

Magpies are birds of the Corvidae (crow) family.  The black and white Eurasian magpie is widely considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world, and one of only a few non-mammal species able to recognise itself in a mirror test.  Magpies of the genus Pica are generally found in temperate regions of Europe, Asia and western North America, with populations also present in Tibet and high elevation areas of India

In tarot, a bird often means grandiose ideas and matters of the spirit -- it also means freedom.

Majestic 12 Majestic 12 is the alleged code name of a secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials, supposedly formed in 1947 by an executive order of U.S. President Harry S Truman.  The alleged purpose of the committee was to investigate UFO activity in the aftermath of the Roswell incident -- the supposed crash of the alien spaceship near Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947.

The Majestic 12 is an important part of the UFO conspiracy theory of an ongoing government cover up of UFO information.  All the alleged original members of MJ-12 were notable for their military, government, and/or scientific achievements, and all were deceased when the documents first surfaced.

Makara In the Hindu culture, the Makara is a legendary sea creature, depicted as half land and half sea animal.  Ganga the river goddess and Varuna the sea god use the Makara as a vahana, or vehicle.  Ancient Indian Vedic describes the Makara as the water monster upon which Varuna rode.

The Makara has been depicted in many ways having had the head of an elephant, crocodile, deer, stag and more, and the tail of a fish, snake, or seal.  Sometimes it is depicted with a floral or peacock tail.  The river goddess rides a form of Makara that has the head of a crocodile and the body of a fish, and bestows water, the seed of life to everyone.  The crocodile represents intellect when facing problems.  Intellect trumps fear and people move to their highest form.  A crocodile will leave its eggs after laying them which symbolises destiny.  You are left to swim your whole life while facing your fears.  Varuda, the sea god, who also rides a crocodile Makara, is a punisher of sinful unremorseful people.

The gods and goddesses Chandi, Vishnu, Shiva, and Surya have all been depicted wearing earrings in the shape of Makara.

In Sri Lanka, the Makara is a symbol of a dragon, which is considered a symbol of self-sufficiency and prosperity.  The Makara symbol can be found on the entrances to temples in Sri Lanka, the Hindu and Buddhist temples, and other religious structures.

Makara is also the symbol for Capricorn in astrology.  Capricorns are always moving forward and climbing upward to achieve their goals.  Capricorn is depicted as a sea-goat with the body of a goat and the tail of a fish; they are a symbol of earth and water combined.

Malleus Maleficarum Translated as The Witches Hammer, this is one of the most important late mediaeval theological texts against witchcraft.  It was written by two Dominican friars, Jakob Sprenger (1436 - 1495 CE) and Heinrich Kramer (1430 - 1505 CE), and filled with detailed descriptions and definitions, as a result of which it quickly became the most authoritative study of witchcraft and the methods of detecting it.  As such, it became the handbook for witchfinders, and served as a guide to the 'Holy Inquisition' for more than a century.

Maltese Cross This symbol takes its name from the island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, with which it has been associated since the 16th century CE and of where a version of the symbol appears on the national flag.  The cross itself, however, carried significant meaning for hundreds of years before it travelled to this small island.

During the Crusades (c 11th - 13th centuries) it was the symbol of a prominent military and religious order known as The Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, or The Knights Hospitaller.  This brotherhood was one of the most famous organisations of the European Middle Ages.  Essentially a group of 'military monks', they fulfilled duties both as physicians on the battlefield and established hospices and other centres to care for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

The eight points of the Maltese Cross have been assigned various symbolic associations over the years typically religious in nature and relating to proper conduct in life.

Manaia The Manaia is a mythological creature in Maori culture, and is a common motif in Maori carving and jewellery.  It is usually portrayed as having the head of a bird, the tail of a fish and the body of a man, although it is sometimes depicted as a bird, a serpent, or a human figure in profile.  The design of the symbol varies from tribe to tribe.

In Maori tradition the Manaia is a creature that acts as a messenger between the human world and the world of spirits.  Greenstone, a form of jade indigenous to New Zealand, is a popular carving material for the Manaia although other mediums are also used.

Mandala A mandala (Circle) is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism, representing the universe, although in common use, 'mandala' has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.  Nowadays, the basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a Circle with a centre point, each gate being in the general shape of the letter T.  Mandalas tend to exhibit radial balance.

The term appears in the Rigveda (an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns) as the name of the sections of the work, and Vedic rituals still use mandalas such as the nava graha mandala to this day.  In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as a help to meditation and inducing a trance.

Mandorla A mandorla is an Aureole, or frame, usually in the shape of a Vesica Piscis, which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art.  It is distinguished from a Halo in that it encircles the entire body, and not just the head.  See also Halo.

Mandrake Mandragora (a plant genus belonging to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), members of which are known as mandrakes) was sought by Alchemists, and used as an ingredient in numerous magical ‘potions’.  This is not surprising since the mandrake has a lengthy history as a magical plant.  It has been known for thousands of years for its anaesthetic properties, and is mentioned in the Book of Genesis as an aphrodisiac used by Rachel to conceive a son (Genesis 30:14-16)1.

All species of Mandrake contain highly biologically active alkaloids, tropane alkaloids in particular.  The alkaloids make the plant, specifically the root and leaves, poisonous via anticholinergic, hallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects.  Its anticholinergic properties can lead to asphyxiation, and accidental poisoning is not uncommon.  Ingesting mandrake root is likely to have other adverse effects such as vomiting and diarrhoea.

Many myths and legends surround the mandrake, which was said to resemble a naked human body.  Among the many superstitions surrounding the plant was the belief that it was propagated by the blood of the condemned, and would grow prolifically underneath the gallows.

It was accepted, even from ancient times, that the plant gave out such a deafening scream when uprooted that a man could be rendered insensible or even killed by the sound, so for this reason dogs were often employed to perform the task

1 14: And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah.  Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes.
15: And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also?  And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes.
16: And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes.  And he lay with her that night.

Maneki Neko (Maneke Neko, Lucky Cat) This is the ubiquitous beckoning cat, Maneki Neko.  She is used as a good luck charm, and is found in many homes and businesses throughout Japan, where she is expected to bring prosperity.  Maneki comes in several colours, some of which have additional meanings - black Nekos protect against evil; red protects from spirits or illness.  Modern versions come in a variety of colours - gold for money, pink for love, and so on.

There are various stories about the origin of Maneke Neko, the most popular of which involves a cat who belongs to a poor but generous Monk.  In the story, the cat variously welcomes a wealthy man in from the rain, or saves his life; the grateful rich man bequeaths his fortune to the temple.  Eventually, the cat dies, and the grateful monk creates the Maneki Neko as a memorial statue.

Manipura (Solar Plexus) Chakra Manipura is the third primary Chakra according to Hindu tradition.  Located above the navel or slightly below the solar plexus, Manipura translates from Sanskrit as the 'City of Jewels'.  It is often associated with the colours yellow, blue in classical tantra, and red in the Nath tradition.

Manipura is associated with Fire and the power of transformation.  It is said to govern digestion and metabolism as the home of Agni (Fire) and the vital wind Samana Vayu.  The energies of Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu (inward and outward flowing energy) meet at the point in a balanced system.

In chakra-based medicine, practitioners work the solar plexus area to promote healthier digestion, pancreas, kidney and adrenal function.  Weak Agni in the coeliac plexus leads to incompletely digested food, thoughts and emotions, and is a source of ama (toxicity).  See also Chakra.

Manji / Wan (Buddhist Swastika) The Swastika used in Buddhist art and scripture is known as a Manji (Japanese; whirlwind), and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites.  In China, it is often referred to as Wan.

It is derived from the Hindu religious swastika, but it is not identical in meaning.  The Manji comprises several elements: a vertical axis representing the joining of heaven and earth, a horizontal axis representing the connection of yin and yang, and the four arms, representing movement - the whirling force created by the interaction of these elements.

When facing left, it is the Omote (front facing) Manji, representing love and mercy.  Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the Ura (rear facing) Manji.  In Zen Buddhism, the Manji represents an ideal harmony between love and intellect.

Mano Cornuto See Horned Hand.

Mano Fico / Fig Sign The fig sign is a mildly obscene gesture used at least since the Roman age in Western Europe, and nowadays in Turkish and Slavic cultures and some other cultures that uses two fingers and a thumb.  This hand gesture may have originated in ancient Indian culture to depict the lingam and yoni.

This fig sign is most commonly used to deny a request.  In ancient Rome, the fig sign, or 'manu fica', was made by the pater familias to ward off the evil spirits of the dead as a part of the Lemuria.  In Brazil, use of this gesture is said to ward off the evil eye, jealousy, etc.  Ornaments with this symbol are often worn as a good luck charm.

Among early Christians, it was known as the 'manus obscena', or 'obscene hand'.

Marassa See Veves.

Marinette Bois Sech See Veves.

Mark of the Beast The Mark of the Beast is the creation of the famous Ritual Magician Aleister Crowley (1875 - 1947) and appears to have functioned in many ways as his personal seal.  It was named as a play on words relating to one of his magical names, 'To Mega Therion', (The Great Beast).

The central theme, a clear resemblance of the male genitalia is typical of Crowley, and completely intentional on his part.  The uppermost Circle is the Alchemical sigil (a seal, sign or other drawing) of the Sun, while the half circle immediately below it represents the crescent of the Moon.  See also Seal of Babalon.

Liber V vel Reguli is a ritual written by Aleister Crowley self-described as, "Being the Ritual of the Mark of the Beast: an incantation proper to invoke the Energies of the Aeon of Horus, adapted for the daily use of the Magician of whatever grade."  It is an AA publication in Class D.

Mars Mars, the son of Jupiter and Juno, is the Roman god of war, spring, growth in nature, agriculture, terror, anger, revenge, courage and fertility, as well as the protector of cattle.  His consort was Bellona, the Roman goddess of war.  His Greek counterpart was Ares.  In astrology, Mars is the ruler of Aries.

Mars was regarded as the father of the Roman people because he was the father of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome.

Mars was the most prominent of the military gods which were worshipped by the Roman legions.  The martial Romans considered him second in importance only to Jupiter.  Festivals connected to warfare were held in March and October.  The Campus Martius, or 'Field of Mars', was next to the river Tiber in ancient Rome where soldiers were trained and horses raced.  The month of March was called such after Mars, because that was when Roman soldiers started training and fighting again after winter.

Martinist Order / Martinism Martinism is a form of Christian mysticism and esoteric Christianity concerned with the fall of the first man, Adam, his state of material privation from his divine source and the process of his return, called 'reintegration' or illumination.

As a mystical tradition, it was first transmitted through a Masonic high-degree system established around 1740 CE in France by Martinez de Pasqually (1727 - 1774), and later propagated in different forms by his two students Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1743 - 1803) and Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730 - 1824).

The term Martinism applies to both this particular doctrine and the teachings of the reorganised Martinist Order founded in 1886 by Augustin Chaboseau (1868 - 1946) and Gérard Encausse (aka Papus (1865 - 1916)), although it was not used at the tradition's inception in the 18th century.  This confusing disambiguation has been a problem since the late 18th century, where the term Martinism was already used interchangeably between the teachings of Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin and Martinez de Pasqually, with the works of the first being attributed to the latter.

Maypole The maypole is a spring emblem of fertility and solar power linked to ancient agricultural rites.  It is a tall wooden pole erected as a part of various European folk festivals, around which a maypole dance often takes place.  The festivals may occur on May Day (May 1st) or Pentecost (Whitsuntide), although in some countries it is instead erected at Midsummer.  Sometimes the maypole is a permanent feature that is only utilised during the festival, although in others it is erected specifically for the purpose before being taken down again.

The symbolism of the maypole has been debated by folklorists for centuries, although a definitive answer has yet to be found.  Some scholars classify maypoles as symbols of the world axis (axis mundi).  The fact that they were found primarily in areas of Germanic Europe, where, prior to Christianisation, Germanic paganism was followed in various forms, has led to speculation that the maypoles were in some way a continuation of a Germanic pagan tradition.  One theory holds that they were a remnant of the Germanic reverence for sacred trees, as there is evidence for various such trees and wooden pillars that were venerated by the pagans across much of Germanic Europe, including the Irminsul.

It is also known that, in Norse paganism, cosmological views held that the universe was a world tree, known as Yggdrasil.  There is therefore speculation that the maypole was in some way a continuance of this tradition.  Some observers have proposed phallic symbolism, an idea which was expressed by Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679), who believed that the poles dated back to the Roman worship of the god Priapus.  This notion has been supported by various figures since, including the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939).

However, the anthropologist Mircea Eliade (1907 - 1986) theorises that the maypoles were simply a part of the general rejoicing at the impending return of summer, and the growth of new vegetation.  In this way, they bore similarities with the May Day garlands which were also a common festival practice in Britain and Ireland.

Medicine Wheel In some Native American cultures, the medicine wheel is a metaphor for a variety of spiritual concepts.  A medicine wheel may also be a stone monument illustrating this metaphor.

Historically, the monuments were constructed by laying stones in a particular pattern on the ground oriented to the four directions.  Most medicine wheels follow the basic pattern of having a centre of stone, and surrounding that is an outer ring of stones with 'spokes' (lines of rocks) radiating from the centre to the cardinal directions (east, south, west, and north).  These stone structures may or may not be called 'medicine wheels' by the people whose ancestors built them, but may be called by more specific terms in that nation's language.

Physical medicine wheels made of stone and associated with religious ceremonies were constructed by several different indigenous peoples in North America, especially those of the Plains Indians.  As a metaphor, they may be used in healing work or to illustrate other cultural concepts.

The medicine wheel has been adopted as a symbol by a number of pan-Indian groups, or other native groups whose ancestors did not traditionally use it as a symbol or structure.  It has also been appropriated by non-indigenous people, usually those associated with the hippie, New Age or Neopagan communities.

Medusa See Gorgon.

Menat See Hathor.

Menorah The Menorah is one of the oldest symbols of Judaism.  The seven-branched candelabra probably originated as a version of the Babylonian world tree.  The number seven is a repeating sacred motif in Judaism's parent religion; the seven arms likely represented the seven days of creation and the seven visible planets.  Curiously, the name given to the central light is 'Shamash', the name of the Babylonian Sun god, who is related to a similar ancient symbol.  See also Shamash.

Mercury Mercury is one of the seven metals of Alchemy (gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron and tin).  The symbol for mercury (right) is also used to represent the planet of the same name in astrology.  The metal is often also represented by a serpent or snake.

Mercury, called quicksilver by the alchemists, was used to make red mercuric oxide by heating the element in a solution of nitric acid.  The reaction of quicksilver in nitric acid is striking as a thick red vapour hovers over the surface and bright red crystals fall to the bottom.  As the only common metal liquid at ordinary temperatures, mercury was of great interest to alchemists who were convinced that it transcended both the solid and liquid states, both Earth and heaven, life and death.

In Roman mythology, Mercury was the god of trade, profit, merchants and travellers.  His main festival, the Mercuralia, was celebrated on May 15 and on this day the merchants sprinkled their heads and merchandise with water from his well near the Porta Capena, a gate in the Servian Wall near the Caelian Hill in Rome.

The symbols of Mercury are the Caduceus (a staff with two intertwined snakes) and a purse (a symbol of his connection with commerce).  He showed the way for dead souls to Pluto's realm, the Underworld.  His Greek counterpart was Hermes.

In astrology, Mercury is the ruler of Cancer and Gemini.

Merkaba / Merkabah The word Merkaba or Merkabah (Hebrew for Chariot) is actually composed of three separate words: Mer, which means light, Ka, which means spirit and Ba, which means Body.  Put together, these three words connote the union of spirit with the body, surrounded by light.  The symbol, which takes the shape of a star, is believed to be a divine vehicle made entirely of light and designed to transport or connect the spirit and body to higher realms.  Ancient Jewish texts reveal that the word is also the Hebrew for a chariot, and the Bible reveals that the word Merkaba itself is found in the Old Testament a total of 44 times.

Kabbalah is an esoteric system of an interpretation of the Biblical Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from the patriarch Abraham.  Despite its claimed antiquity, the earliest instance of this system appears to be in the 11th century CE in France, from where it spread, most notably, to Spain.  There were undoubtedly precedents, however, as Kabbalistic elements can be found in the literature of much earlier Merkabah mysticism (after circa AD 100) inspired by the vision of the throne chariot ('Merkabah') in the Book of Ezekiel (see left).

Mesopotamian Tree of Life See Babylonian Tree of Life.

Messianic Seal / Messianic Christianity The 'Messianic Seal', has been adopted as an emblem of the Messianic Christian movement.  It consists of a fish emblem, or Vesica Piscis, surmounted by a Magen David, and topped with a Menorah.  The original was patterned after emblems found on a number of artefacts believed to have been used by first century Jewish followers of Christ.

‘Messianic’ religious groups are Christian groups who adopt certain Jewish practices in an attempt to practice an earlier, purer, form of Christianity, and often focus (usually unsuccessfully) on converting Jews to Christianity, a practice considered highly offensive by many followers of Judaism.

Methodist Cross and Flame The Cross and Flame is the official symbol of The United Methodist Church -- it was adopted in 1968.  The cross symbolises Christ; the flame, the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, and the dual flames (together with the cross) symbolise the trinity.

The dual flames actually represent the 1968 merger of the two denominations which make up the United Methodist Church -- The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Mezuzah A mezuzah comprises a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah.  These verses consist of the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael.  In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes to fulfil the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to ‘write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house’ (Deuteronomy 6:9).  Some interpret the Jewish law as meaning a mezuzah should be placed in every doorway in the home except bathrooms, laundry rooms and closets, if they are too small to qualify as rooms.

The klaf parchment is prepared by a qualified scribe who has undergone training in studying the relevant religious laws and in the more practical parts i.e. carving the quill and practicing writing.  The verses are written in black indelible ink with a special quill pen made either from a feather, or in what is now rare cases, a reed.  The parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case.

According to halakha, the mezuzah should be placed on the right side of the door or doorpost, in the upper third of the doorpost (i.e., approximately shoulder height), within approximately 3 inches (8 cm) of the doorway opening.  Care should be taken not to tear or damage the parchment or the wording on it, as this will invalidate the mezuzah, which is considered Torah.

Military Knights of Windsor The Military Knights of Windsor claim to be the oldest military establishment in the Army List.  Formed by King Edward III shortly after the Battle of Crecy (26 Aug 1346), the foundation consisted of Knights who, having taken their private armies to France to fight for the King, had been taken prisoner by the French who demanded heavy ransoms in return for their release.  This often meant selling up their complete estates in order to raise sufficient money.

Known as the Alms Knights, they formed part of the College of St George which was created to support the establishment of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter.  26 'Poor Knights', mirroring the 26 Garter Knights, were given accommodation in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle in exchange for daily prayer in St George's Chapel for, and on behalf of, the Monarch and the Garter Knights.  All the Alms Knights were unaccompanied in their somewhat monastic existence in the Castle, though undoubtedly some must have been married.

Due to the decline in the number of Alms Knights once there was no longer a requirement for accommodation by ransomed landowners, King Henry VIII reduced the establishment to 13, and in accordance with his will, Queen Elizabeth I improved the accommodation of the Knights so that they were housed individually with one of their number appointed as Governor, and installed in the old belfry, now known as the Mary Tudor Tower.  New regulations for the establishment and governance of the Alms Knights were drawn up under the Statutes of 1559.  In 1833, King William IV, changed the designation of the Alms Knights to that of 'The Military Knights of Windsor' and at the same time granted them permission to wear uniform of Army Officers on the Unattached List.  This dress is still worn today and comprises a scarlet tailcoat (in the summer), sword, sash and cocked hat with plume.

The Knights' homes in the Lower Ward of the Castle are theirs for as long as they can carry out their duties, and in most cases, this takes them to the end of their days.

Minerva Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, learning, the arts, sciences, medicine, dyeing, trade, and war, whose Greek counterpart was Athena, whose city was Athens.  Her symbol was the owl.  She had what can only be described as a strange birth.  One day, Jupiter, her father, had a terrible headache -- nothing would cure it.  Eventually Vulcan split open Jupiter's head and out jumped Minerva in full armour with a shield and spear -- it is said Jupiter felt much better afterwards, despite having his head split open.

Apart from being the goddess of wisdom, Minerva was the goddess of arts and crafts, and was particularly good at weaving.  Once, a woman called Arachne wove a beautiful picture.  Minerva tried to find something wrong with it, so when she couldn't, out of jealousy or spite she ripped it up and turned Arachne into a spider -- strange, spiders still weave beautiful webs to this day.

Minerva helped the hero Perseus to kill the Gorgon Medusa, a monster with snakes for hair, who turned anyone who looked at her to stone.  Minerva wisely told Perseus to look at Medusa's reflection in a polished shield; this way he could cut off her head without looking directly at her.  Perseus accomplished the task and presented the head to Minerva who fitted it on her shield so it would turn her enemies to stone should they look at it.

N.B. The image above right is of a Silver tetradrachm coin held at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon depicting the owl of Athena/Minerva.  The inscription 'AOE' is an abbreviation of AOHNAION, which may be translated as 'of the Athenians'.  In daily use the Athenian drachmas were called glaukes (owls).

Minotaur In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man or, as described by Roman poet Ovid, a being 'part man and part bull'.  He was born from the union of King Minos' wife Pasiphae with the Cretan Bull2.

The Minotaur dwelt at the centre of the Labyrinth, an elaborate maze-like construction designed by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus, which expanded underneath the court of King Minos in Crete.  The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.

2 The Cretan Bull was a bull that appeared in the myth of the Labours of Heracles, as well as the myth of the Minotaur in Greek mythology.  It was the creature with which Pasiphae fell in love and became impregnated by, eventually giving birth to the Minotaur.

Mistletoe Mistletoe species grow on a wide range of host trees, some of which experience side effects which include reduced growth, stunting, and loss of distal branches that bear individuals.  A heavy infestation may also kill the host plant.  Viscum album (European mistletoe) is a successful parasite on more than 200 tree and shrub species.

Mistletoe is relevant to several cultures.  It played an important role in Druidic mythology in the ‘Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe’, a Celtic religious ceremony, in which white-clad druids climbed a sacred oak, cut down the mistletoe growing on it, sacrificed two white bulls and used the mistletoe to make an elixir to cure infertility and the effects of poison.  People have reportedly been poisoned and died from consuming mistletoe.

In Norse Mythology, Loki tricked the blind god Hodur into murdering Balder with an arrow made of Mistletoe, this being the only plant to which Balder was vulnerable -- some versions of the story have mistletoe becoming a symbol of peace and friendship to compensate for its part in the murder.

Mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century CE it had also become incorporated into Christmas celebrations around the world.  The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is referred to as popular among servants in late 18th century England: the serving class of Victorian England is credited with perpetuating the tradition which dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe, and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss.  One variation on the tradition stated that with each kiss a berry was to be plucked from the mistletoe, and the kissing must stop after all the berries had been removed.

Mithras Cult Mithraism, also known as the Mithraic mysteries, was a mystery religion centred on the god Mithras that was practiced in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th century CE.  The religion was inspired by Iranian worship of the god Mithra, though the Greek Mithras was linked to a new and distinctive imagery, and the level of continuity between Persian and Greco-Roman practice is debated.  The mysteries were popular among the Roman military.

Worshippers of Mithras had a complex system of seven grades of initiation and communal ritual meals.  Initiates called themselves syndexioi, those "united by the handshake".  They met in underground temples, now called mithraea (singular mithraeum), which survive in large numbers.  The cult appears to have had its centre in Rome, and was popular throughout the western half of the empire, as far south as Roman Africa and Numidia, as far north as Roman Britain, and to a lesser extent in Roman Syria in the east.

Mithraism is viewed as a rival of early Christianity.  In the 4th century, Mithraists faced persecution from Roman Christians and the religion was subsequently suppressed and eliminated in the empire by the end of the century.

Numerous archaeological finds, including meeting places, monuments and artefacts, have contributed to modern knowledge about Mithraism throughout the Roman Empire.  The iconic scenes of Mithras show him being born from a rock, slaughtering a bull, and sharing a banquet with the god Sol (the Sun).  About 420 sites have yielded materials related to the cult.  Among the items found are about 1000 inscriptions, 700 examples of the bull-killing scene (tauroctony), and about 400 other monuments.  It has been estimated that there would have been at least 680 mithraea in Rome.  No written narratives or theology from the religion survive; limited information can be derived from the inscriptions and brief or passing references in Greek and Latin literature.  Interpretation of the physical evidence remains problematic and contested.

Mjölnir In Norse mythology, Mjölnir is the hammer of Thor, a major Norse god associated with thunder.  Mjölnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome and powerful weapons in existence, capable of flattening mountains.

In his account of Norse mythology, Snorri Sturluson (1178 - 1241 CE) relates how the hammer was made by the dwarven brothers Eitri and Brokkr, and how its characteristically short handle was due to a mishap during its manufacture.  Similar hammers were a common symbol of the god of Thunder in other Northern European mythologies.

A later form of Mjölnir is called the Wolf's Cross, or Dragon's Cross, and was associated with early Norse Christianity.

Mobius Strip See Infinity.

Monas Hieroglyphica See Hieroglyphic Monad.

Moon The Moon is an astronomical body orbiting planet Earth, being Earth's only permanent natural satellite.  It is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the solar system, and the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits (its primary).  Behind Jupiter's satellite 'Io', the Moon is the second-densest satellite among those whose densities are known.  The symbol representing the Moon is a crescent.  In astrology, the Moon is the ruler of Cancer.

In mythology the moon is often female, a goddess who may be paired with a Sun god.  The Incas of South America told of a brother and sister, the moon maiden and the sun man, who were the ancestors of the royal Incas.  In the Mayan writing system, a symbol showing the moon goddess seated inside the moon was used before the names of noble women.  The Greeks associated the moon with the goddess Artemis, sister of Apollo.  They also called it Hecate, Cynthia, and Selene.  The Roman name for the moon was Luna.  Native American names for the moon include the 'Old Woman Who Never Dies' and the 'Eternal One'.

Sometimes, however, the moon is male.  The Inuit of Greenland picture the moon as a hunter sitting in front of his igloo, Norse mythology speaks of a moon son and a sun daughter, while Mrs Sun and Mr Moon are part of German folklore.  Other legends explain the appearance of the moon, whose mottled surface has suggested various shapes and identities.  The "man in the moon" is one common interpretation thought to have originated from the Biblical book of Numbers, which describes a man carrying a load of sticks.  People have also interpreted the shapes as frogs and toads, while rabbits in the moon occur in many mythologies.  In China and Japan, the lunar rabbit is said to mix a potion that gives immortality.

People of many cultures have created myths and legends about the moon.  A Native American myth says that the sun and moon are a chieftain and his wife and that the stars are their children.  The sun loves to catch and eat his children, so they flee from the sky whenever he appears.  The moon plays happily with the stars while the sun is sleeping, but each month, she turns her face to one side and darkens it (as the moon wanes) to mourn the children that the sun succeeded in catching.

The Efik Ibibio people of Nigeria in West Africa also say that the sun and the moon are husband and wife who long ago lived on earth.  One day their best friend, flood, came to visit them, bringing fish, reptiles, and other relatives.  Flood rose so high in their house that they had to perch on the roof.  Finally, he covered the house entirely, so the sun and moon had to leap into the sky.  In a myth of the Luyia people of Kenya in East Africa, the sun and moon were brothers.  The moon was older, bigger, and brighter, and the jealous sun picked a fight with him.  The two wrestled and the moon fell into mud, which dimmed his brightness.  God finally made them stop fighting and kept them apart by ordering the sun to shine by day and the mud-spattered moon to shine by night to illuminate the world of witches and thieves.

According to the Greek myth of Endymion and Selene, the moon (Selene) fell in love with a handsome young king named Endymion and bore him 50 daughters.  One version of the story says that Selene placed Endymion in eternal sleep to prevent him from dying and to keep him forever beautiful.

Hecate was a complex, ancient goddess known to the Greeks but originally worshipped by people of Asia Minor.  She held several different roles, including earth goddess, queen of the Underworld, and goddess of magic and witchcraft.  According to the Greek writer Hesiod, Hecate was the daughter of the Titan Perses and the nymph Asteria.  Hesiod claimed that Hecate was a favourite of Zeus, who made her goddess of the Earth, sea, and sky.  As a Triple Goddess, she was also identified with the three aspects of the moon and was represented by women of three different ages.  In the sky, she took the form of the old woman Selene, the Moon.  On Earth, she was linked to Artemis (Diana), goddess of the hunt.  In the underworld, she was connected with the maiden Persephone, wife of Hades.

Because of her association with the moon, Hecate was seen as a goddess of the night, magic, and spells.  Magic was often practiced where roads met, and the Greeks established shrines to her at crossroads, especially where three roads came together.  In her role as goddess of magic, Hecate is shown as a three-headed figure who keeps watch over the crossroads where her rites were performed.  To her worshippers, she could bring good fortune and success, but she could also be a powerfully negative force.  Later Christian tradition emphasised this side of her nature, portraying Hecate as an evil figure who was queen of the witches.  See also Blessing.

Moonies See Unification Church of the United States.

Mormons See Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Mother Goddess A Mother Goddess is a goddess who represents, or is a personification of nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction or who embodies the bounty of the Earth.  When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.

There is a difference of opinion between the academic and the popular conception of the term.  The popular view is mainly driven by the Goddess Movement and reads that primitive societies initially were matriarchal, worshipping a sovereign, nurturing, motherly earth goddess.  This was based upon the 19th century CE ideas of unilineal evolution of Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815 - 1887).

According to the academic view, however, both Bachofen and the modern Goddess theories are a projection of contemporary world views on ancient myths, rather than attempting to understand the mentality of that time.  Often this is accompanied by a desire for a lost civilisation from a bygone era that would have been just, peaceful and wise.  However, it is highly unlikely that such a civilisation ever existed.

Mudra The image to the right is a representation of a Mudra, or sign of power, used in the Buddhist and Hindu religions.  Each hand position represents a different spiritual truth; they are used during meditation and in sacred dance, often in conjunction with asanas, or body-postures.

There are 108 standard mudras used in Tantric ritual.  Some of the better-known ones include the Abhaya or 'no fear' gesture, the Dhyana or 'meditation' mudra, and the Vitarka mudra, which resembles the Christogram3.  Such gestures are not exclusive to eastern religions; hand gestures with spiritual meaning are found in many religions.

3 A monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a religious symbol within the Christian Church.  One of the oldest Christograms is the Chi-Rho.

Muladhara (Root) Chakra Muladhara or the root Chakra is the first of the seven primary chakras according to Hindu tantrism.  It is symbolised by a lotus with four petals and the colour red.

Muladhara is located near the coccygeal plexus beneath the sacrumit, while its kshetram, or superficial activation point, is located between the perineum and the coccyx or the pelvic bone.  Because of its location and connection with the act of excretion, it is associated with the anus.

Muladhara is said to be the base from which the three main psychic channels or nadis emerge: the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.  It is also believed that Muladhara is a subtle abode of the Hindu God Ganapati.  In the highest revered prayer for Ganapati, the Ganapati Atharvashirsha, it is mentioned that 'one who worships Lord Ganapati would easily grasp the concept and realise Brahman'.  See also Chakra.

Muslim See Islam.

Mut Mut, which meant 'mother' in the ancient Egyptian language, was an ancient Egyptian Mother Goddess with multiple aspects that changed over the thousands of years of the culture, with alternative spellings of Maut and Mout.  She was the Egyptian sky goddess, world mother and the consort of Amun-Ra.  She was venerated as the mother of the gods and Queen of the goddesses.  Her symbol was the Uraeus rearing cobra.

She was considered a primal deity, associated with the waters from which everything was born through parthenogenesis.  She was depicted as a vulture or as a woman with a vulture headdress.  The rulers of Egypt each supported her worship in their own manner to emphasise their own authority and right to rule through an association with Mut.

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