Saturday, November 30, 2013


Is History The Agreed Upon Lie? 

Forgotten Women of History – Black Activist Ida B. Wells

Joan Porte

History is finicky. While some make the leap onto his merry-go-round, thousands, sadly more “hers” than “hims,” fall while grasping at his slippery reins. This week we will astrologically explore the lives of some forgotten women of history.

It is rare to have the exact birth-time of these women. However, we do not need the time to determine the South Node, which shows the personality of our previous lives for which we carry an innate memory. As an astrologer who tracks the progress of the soul from lifetime-to-lifetime, the South Node is an amazing tool of discovery to the current personality.*

Ida B. Wells should be a name every child learns, much as they do Harriet Tubman (hopefully.)  She was born July 16, 1862 in Hope Springs, Mississippi as the Civil War raged. Her first job was as a schoolteacher but her life changed in 1884. A railroad conductor ordered her to give up her seat to a white man and go to the “Jim Crow” car in the back of the train. This type of action although prohibited by the 1875 Civil Rights Act was prevalent in the post-war South.  Almost 70 years before Rosa Parks, Ida Wells refused to give up her seat. Later she sued the C and O Railroad and while she won the case, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned her victory. This action spurred her desire to write about injustice and she soon took a job with a local newspaper, “The Evening Star.”

After witnessing a lynching of three black men blamed for shooting white storeowners, she stirred her readers to leave Mississippi because it was no longer safe for them. More than 6000 African American’s heeded her call and left the state. Thousands of others boycotted stores until the practiced stopped.  She then penned a pamphlet entitled, “Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phase,” and took her crusade to end lynching North - calling attention to the rampant use of this torturous and illegal act.

It is no wonder the Ms. Wells took to the pen as her weapon against hate. Her South Node, (the horseshoe facing up) was in Gemini. (Because we do not know the time, we cast the chart for 12 noon; however, the Node was in Gemini that day regardless of her birth time.)

With her South Node in Gemini, her North Node, indicating the lessons the soul desired to learn in her current lifetime, was in the opposite sign, Sagittarius. We should use our South Node in service to the embodiment of the North to realize our full potential and she did that beautifully.

Gemini, ruled by the fast planet Mercury, is the communicator. It is the sign obsessed with quickly gathering and distributing information. Sagittarius, ruled by the enormous planet Jupiter, is the seeker of spiritual and philosophical truth. Ms. Wells used the communication skills she honed in her previous lives as a Gemini in service to her North Node, Sagittarius.  She used her Gemini pen to demand the Sagittarian values of truth, freedom, and inclusion.

By the way, if I had the chance to cook for Ms. Wells, I would chose my “on-the-go” Chicken Lollipops because Gemini is just too busy to take time to eat long, leisurely meals. The recipe is in my cookbook, “Signs of the Tines: The Ultimate Astrological Cookbook.”

*For more information on the North and South Nodes see my blog, 
Joan Porte is the author of “Signs of the Tines: The Ultimate Astrological Cookbook.” It is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and
For karmic soul chart readings contact Joan
or visit her blog at
Download her podcast Astrological Cooking at


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Amy Johnson by Suzy Henderson

Amy Johnson and her love of aviation saw her become the heroine of the sky. Born on the 1st July 1903 in Yorkshire, England, she was introduced to flying as a hobby. On the 6th July 1929, she gained her pilot's licence. During that same year, she became the first woman to gain her ground engineer's 'C' licence.  

With the help of her father and Lord Wakefield, she purchased her first aircraft, a second hand de havilland Gypsy Moth, nicknamed Jason. In May 1930, she achieved worldwide fame by becoming the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, for which she received the Harmon Trophy and a CBE. Flying solo or with her husband Jim Mollison,  Amy went on to set numerous long distance records during the 1930's.  

In 1940, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying planes for the war effort, delivering them to various bases around the UK. War planes were ferried between factories, maintenance units and front line squadrons. During the course of the war, 1245 men and women from various countries ferried 309,000 aircraft of 147 different types. They did so without any instrument flying instruction, without radios and were often at the mercy of the weather. It was also not unusual for them to be asked to fly planes they had never flown before. 

On the 5th January 1941, whilst flying an Airspeed Oxford, Amy went off course on account of bad weather, and it was assumed at the time that due to running out of fuel, she bailed out, landing in the Thames Estuary. What was a routine flight, taking around ninety minutes, had actually taken her nearly four hours. 

Amy had set off from Scotland, bound for RAF Kidlington, Oxford. She had taken off during bad weather, in conditions that might have deterred a more cautious pilot. Her Commanding Officer, Pauline Gower, defended Johnson's decision to fly that day, stating that the aviator would never do anything reckless. However, given Johnson's previous record of long distance flights and unnecessary risk taking, perhaps that particular day was simply one risk too far. I think it's fair to state that even the greatest among us can make a mistake. Amy Johnson was the nation's aviatrix, the Queen of the skies, and as such she had been placed upon a very high pedestal indeed.

In January 1941, one newspaper headline read, “Amy Johnson Bales Out, Missing.”

When she ditched into the Thames estuary, she was about 100 miles off course. The weather – thick, freezing fog - made for extremely poor visibility and extreme conditions on the ground.

HMS Haslemere was docked nearby at the time and crew saw a parachute descending through low cloud. Shouts for help were heard from a woman who stated that she was Amy Johnson, and she was clearly seen by one sailor. Attempts to rescue her failed, and then a motorboat was launched, from which Lieutenant Commander Fletcher dived into the water in an attempt to reach her.  

It was reported in the Western Daily Press on January 8th, 1941 that Fletcher reached a man in the water and was seen to be supporting him. However, the strong currents and high tide as

 well as the extreme weather conditions meant that Fletcher lost his hold and he was himself rescued by his crew. By this time, there was no sign of Amy Johnson. She was last seen floating towards the stern of the Haslemere, and it was deduced that she was dragged below the icy waters, presumably killed by the ships propellers.  

The Admiralty statement at the time even reported that two survivors from the aircraft were sighted in the water – a man and a woman. We will never know the truth until the Government release the official records.

However, there have been many rumours over whom this mystery male passenger might have been. Some have suggested he was Amy's lover, and they were fleeing the country. Why would they flee at such a time? Other reports have suggested that the passenger might have been a spy. One possible answer is that there was no passenger and it has already been stressed that Amy was flying solo. However, the pigskin overnight bag which she took with her could well have been mistaken for the head and shoulders of a person in the water. 

Lieutenant Commander Fletcher was unconscious by the time he was dragged from the water. He was taken to hospital, but he died, never regaining consciousness. In May 1941, he was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal.

The first of two theories that exist are that Amy ran out of fuel. This seems likely as she only had enough fuel for around 3.75 hours and this was approximately the time she was in the air as the Ministry reported. So, she had no option but to bail out, and she might well have believed herself to be over land at the time.  

The second theory, which was raised much later, is that she was the victim of friendly fire. Back in 1999, Tom Mitchell claimed he was ordered to fire on a plane that failed to give the required signal that it was a British plane. Tom was one of four gunners on duty at the Thames Estuary that day. When he read of Amy Johnson's probable death the following day, he realised that the plane he had believed to be an enemy plane, might have been Amy Johnson's. Officers at the time told the men to remain quiet about the incident. 

Indeed, David Luff, an aviation historian has claimed in the past that she was fired upon by a naval convoy, and the incident hushed up by the Government to avoid damaging public morale.

However, the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, South London remain certain that Amy Johnson became lost in the clouds and ran out of fuel. More than likely, upon seeing barrage balloons, she would have thought she was over land when she prepared to bail. It was unfortunate that barrage balloons were being flown at the time by a convoy in the Thames. Had it been dry land, it would undoubtedly have been a very different situation.

The fact is that until the official records are released, nothing is certain. One thing that is certain, however, is that Amy Johnson was an icon and an aviation pioneer, bringing delight to the nation, and she remains Britain's most famous female aviator. She died doing her duty for King and country, and we will always remember her as we remember all those who died.
About The Author
I'm Suzy Henderson, a writer who lives in Cumbria, England. I've been writing for several years and I'm presently in the midst of completing my début novel. History is my passion, particularly military history and I've chosen to focus upon the Second World War for the basis of my novel. There are so many untold stories from this period, always heroic and always evoking feelings of amazement and awe. 

My inspiration firstly came from my family history and their connections to both World Wars. There after it arrived in the shaping of words written by many authors, in particular, Pat Barker, Hilary Mantel, Ernest Hemingway and Sebastian Faulks.

When I'm not writing I can be found spending time with my family and dogs, walking in the Lake District.
My links:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Discrepancies in History by Suzy Henderson

During the course of my research I’ve studied many films, autobiographies and biographies. One of the first discrepancies I came across, hails from the Hollywood portrayal of the ‘Memphis Belle.’

The movie portrays the American crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress, known as the Memphis Belle, who become the first crew to complete their tour of 25 missions, thus being allowed to return home. In reality it was the crew of the B-17 ‘Hells Angels,’ who completed their tour first. They flew their 25th mission on the 13th May 1943, whilst the crew of the Memphis Belle flew their last mission on the 19th May 1943. The difference was that the crew of the Belle were first to complete 25 missions AND return home to the USA. They then took part in the Government’s drive to sell war bonds. The Belle is also credited with being the first Eighth Air Force bomber to complete 25 combat missions over occupied Europe without having a single crew member killed or badly injured. Meanwhile 'Hells Angels' continued on, completing a second tour before returning home to the USA.


It seems so often that in portraying history in films, and sometimes in novels, inaccuracies occur. Sometimes one can tweak facts to make them seem more glorious, as in the Memphis Belle movie. Unfortunately, unless you know that particular aspect of history, then you might very well develop an inaccurate knowledge base, which is in a sense a great loss. A loss because perhaps we might give praise to the wrong people for the wrong things. In order to pay our respects to these great men who went to war, we need to know the truth. It’s so easy to glorify the truth, and to exaggerate, manipulating fact with a touch of gold, conjuring up that old movie magic. This was in a sense exactly what the American Government did in 1943, in promoting Captain Robert Morgan’s crew of the Memphis Belle. Propaganda was key and such a façade was good publicity and an excellent morale boost for the people. The Belle became a legend, a mighty war ship capable of looking after her crew of men up in the clouds, through flak and flames. The infamous machine of
propaganda helped to propel the sale of war bonds, thus assisting with the financing of the war. 

Even today, the Liberty Foundation offer ground tours of the Memphis Belle, and depicts on their website how she was the first B-17 to complete a tour of duty. And so the false legend lives on.
Moving away from aviation, the Hollywood movie, U-571, portrays the American navy as being the first to retrieve an Enigma code machine from a sinking German U-boat. In reality it was the British crew of HMS Bulldog who did so, in the North Atlantic in May 1941. 

In general, probably the biggest discrepancy in movie portrayals is the glorification of war. The portrayal of the hero/protagonist and the romantic sub-plot are generally two of the key ingredients. Reality is different and war is anything but glorious but then I'm sure most of us realise that. As for the hero of the hour, as any of those who served will say, they did what they had to do. Nothing more and nothing less. They took on the might of the German Army and Luftwaffe and they coped with it and there's nothing romantic or glitzy about that. Of course they all remain heroes, and deserve the honour and prayers bestowed upon them. We will always remember them.

About The Author

I'm Suzy Henderson, a writer who lives in Cumbria, England. I've been writing for several years and I'm presently in the midst of completing my début novel. History is my passion, particularly military history and I've chosen to focus upon the Second World War for the basis of my novel. There are so many untold stories from this period, always heroic and always evoking feelings of amazement and awe. 

My inspiration firstly came from my family history and their connections to both World Wars. There after it arrived in the shaping of words written by many authors, in particular, Pat Barker, Hilary Mantel, Ernest Hemingway and Sebastian Faulks.

When I'm not writing I can be found spending time with my family and dogs, walking in the Lake District.


My links:


About My Novel

My love of aviation and my interest in the Second World War led me to the premise for this novel. What began as a historical work of fiction, with the added romance element soon evolved into an in-depth address of the psychological and social effects of war upon Airmen. More directly, I began to examine the care that was given to those who survived the flaming inferno of a plane. Sometimes, the injuries resulted as a consequence of frostbite which could be most severe when flying at twenty thousand feet. Gunners, especially those incarcerated in their turrets were most at risk. Whilst heated flying suits might have provided some protection, they relied upon the electrics of the aircraft. If those were not working then the men were at great risk. 

During my research I encountered the work of the leading plastic surgeons of the day. Faces were rebuilt, noses were reconstructed, along with eyelids and lips. And it was such pioneering techniques that have helped to transform the lives of people over the decades that followed, leading up to the present day. It really was amazing work, with injuries seen during the early days of the war that had never been witnessed before. Those injuries were often the result of burns sustained in the aircraft, such as when the petrol tank of a Hurricane exploded or from flak exploding inside a Bomber.  

One doctor in particular, Sir Archibald McIndoe, honorary president of the Guinea Pig Club, features in the novel. He was truly extraordinary and reading about him compelled me to portray his achievements. McIndoe was a pioneer in his filed and a man of extraordinary vision, skill and strength. Rather than treating the men physically, he found himself concerned with their psychological and social well being, keeping in touch with the servicemen he treated for many years following the war, a direct result of the annual reunions of the Guinea Pig Club – a club which still holds reunions today, although its members are rapidly diminishing, given the number of years that have passed since its inception. Membership of the club which was formed in 1941, was strictly limited to those who had sustained burns and received treatment by McIndoe.  

One such member, Richard Hillary, a pilot who sustained horrific burns, would return to flying later, only to be killed when his Bristol Blenheim crashed during a night training flight, also killing his sergeant radio operator - observer, Wilfred Fison. This happened on the 8th January 1943, at Crunklaw Farm, Berwickshire, Scotland. A short time before the crash, McIndoe had written to Hillary’s Commanding Officer requesting that he be removed from operational flying as he had some concerns. Sadly, due to one thing and another, the letter was not acted upon in time to save Hillary.

McIndoe was in charge of the burns unit at East Grinstead Cottage Hospital in Sussex. He used his charm and ingenuity to secure the treatment he wanted for his patients. All to often there were protocols to follow and McIndoe realised that too long a wait could be harmful to the outcome for his 'boys.' He went to extraordinary lengths with his duty of care and encouraged the people of East Grinstead to welcome these boys into their own homes, to extend their hospitality and make them feel welcome as opposed to alienated. He encouraged them not to stare, and that's exactly what this fabulous town did. It thus became known for being 'the town that did not stare.'

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stonehenge: Not Just a Meeting Place for the Druids By DAWN CLOCASURE

Think about Stonehenge and what comes to mind? For most folks, it’s the Druids. And while this association is noted in my novel Shadow of Samhain, and the famous landmark is on the cover of this book, I have learned in my research for this book that Stonehenge was not exclusive to the Druids. In fact, the famous megalithic site has been said to exist long before there were Druids.


Where did Stonehenge come from? Some say it was created by Merlin, the famous wizard of legends who himself was actually a Druid. Another theory is that Stonehenge was built by the Devil or that the aliens were responsible for it. Yet another theory is that Stonehenge was built by ancient giants.


The mystery of who was responsible for the creation of Stonehenge lingers even today, but one thing about Stonehenge is no mystery. Many people have paid close attention to how the stones of Stonehenge seem to align with constellations, as well as the sun and planets on certain days. For this reason, many have concluded that this site is used for pagan rituals and sacrifices. Indeed, many believe that people have indeed been sacrificed at Stonehenge, and it is not unknown that various occult groups have worshipped there in the past.


One group most associated with Stonehenge are the Druids, and many people believe that Stonehenge is a “Druid site.” The popular belief is that the Druids built Stonehenge for their special days and rituals (or, at least, Merlin did), and therefore it’s exclusively a “Druid site.” The Druids of today do indeed observe the solstices at Stonehenge (in fact, they are more closely associated with Stonehenge today than they have been in the past), and many of the order are working on efforts to preserve the ancient monument.


However, Stonehenge has also been a place used for other purposes, and by other groups.


Stonehenge has been used as an ancient burial site. Bones dating from hundreds of years ago have been unearthed there. This theory goes on to say that it’s possible Stonehenge was seen as a place for healing and, when the healing never came, those in need of it died and were buried there. (It is not known if anyone has indeed been miraculously healed when visiting Stonehenge.)


Stonehenge being the kind of monument that it is, it was naturally used as a place of worship. In fact, there is evidence a “sun cult” existed many years ago, a cult that worshipped at Stonehenge.


Another way Stonehenge has been used is as an “astronomical calculator” of sorts. The ancients relied on the placement of the stones to mark lunar and solar alignments, as well as sunrise and sunsets. This, however, remains an idea that’s only a theory; some debate exists that the ancients were not “smart enough” to understand the heavens or to be able to determine such times of days.


And, finally, New Age enthusiasts, pagans and “earth worshippers” visit Stonehenge (or try to get as close to it as they can) in order to reconnect with earth energy. Ley lines, invisible lines in which a site is aligned with a certain point that increases its mystical energy, have been discovered beneath Stonehenge, adding to the mystery surrounding its origin.


Regardless of how Stonehenge has been used, and by whom, it remains today one of the most magnificent and longstanding ancient structures on this earth. In this author’s opinion, I think Stonehenge is an attractive, mystical site that should be appreciated and preserved.







DawnColclasure is a writer who lives in Oregon. Her articles, essays, poems and short stories have appeared in several newspapers, anthologies, magazines and E-zines. She is the author of fourteen books, among them BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL: How We Survive as Writing Parents; 365 TIPS FOR WRITERS: Inspiration, Writing Prompts and Beat The Block Tips to Turbo Charge Your Creativity; Love is Like a Rainbow: Poems of Love and Devotion and the children’s book The Yellow Rose. She is co-author of the book Totally Scared: The Complete Book on Haunted Houses. Her novel, Shadow of Samhain, was just published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. Visit her website at:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Promises Made, Promises Not Kept. How the Government “Brushed Off’ 400,000 Atomic Test Participants By Ron Standerfer

In Honor of Veteran's Day IS HISTORY THE AGREED UPON LIE is re-posting some of  Ret. Air Force Colonel  Ron Standerfer's post from last August and featuring his three Volumes of The Eagle's Last Flight
It was chilly that morning at Yucca Flat, Nevada. As I stood on the platform with the others, I stomped my feet to keep warm and gazed anxiously at the seven hundred foot tower before me. Suspended below was a nuclear device capable of a detonation more than two times the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The tower was eight miles away, but it looked much closer. The device was set to go off in ten minutes. When the final countdown began, I placed my hands over my eyes and stood facing it as instructed. What happened next, was a flash of light so bright and blinding that the bones of my hands were visible as if by X-ray. I uncovered my eyes and saw a dark, dirty mushroom cloud ascending skyward, followed by a shock wave rolling across the desert, passing through me with a resounding thump. When it was over, they collected the dosimeter I was wearing, brushed me off with brooms to remove any radioactive fallout that might have clung to my fatigues, and sent me back to my squadron.

To this day, I have no idea why I was sent to witness that atomic test. But back then, it didn’t matter. I was a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force and that’s what I was ordered to do. Besides, I was certain the government knew what it was doing, and would never put me in harm’s way. I was wrong, of course; but that’s the way it was in 1957.

Twenty years after the test, I received a letter from the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta. “Our records show that in 1957 you observed a highly classified nuclear test code named, Smokey,” it began. “It seems in that particular test, an exceptionally large amount of radiation had been released into the air, and in later years, a significant number of deaths from leukemia had occurred among the participants.” After medical tests proved that I did not have leukemia, I put the letter away and went on with my life. I was one of the lucky ones. Others were not so lucky.

Between 1946 and 1962, over 400,000 military personnel were put in harm’s way, operating in some cases near ground zero, minutes after detonation—without any special protective clothing. The government told them the radiation would be relatively harmless. And while guinea pigs used in the tests were carefully washed and observed for weeks, if not months, after the tests; humans were brushed off with brooms and returned to duty with no follow-up studies. There should be no problem, the government said. Twenty years later, the first and only study of test participants revealed that they were contracting leukemia at two to three times the normal rate. I have not updated the above statistics for over five years.  Why? Because confronting our government’s careless and blatant betrayal of its veterans, even in statistical terms, has just become  too much for me to bear.  All I can tell you is that in 2007 when I last visited the National Association of Atomic Veterans website ( the situation was as follows: approximately 280,000 “atomic veterans” had applied for medical benefits based on exposure to nuclear radiation. Of that number, just 50 claims were approved. Time was running out for them. Fewer than 20,000 of their ranks were left. Many had cancer. Most were older than 75.

The story of these “atomic veterans” and how they were denied medical benefits is old news, and it has always been increasingly difficult to attract public attention to their plight. “We covered that story years ago,” is the typical response from the media. But we should keep trying, because I believe any period in history is directly connected to the present. It’s all a matter of identifying the relevant issues and connecting the dots. In the case of the atomic vets, the government grossly understated the danger of radiation during atomic tests; misled the participants into believing that they were adequately protected from the effects of that radiation; and worst of all, broke the sacred vow traditionally made to veterans, namely that they will receive medical care for service connected disabilities for the rest of their lives.

These days, Iraq and Afghanistan still occupy center stage; although one has all but departed, and the other is preparing to leave. Meanwhile, even the strongest supporters of those conflicts now admit that we underestimated the resolve of the insurgents who routinely took American and Iraqi lives through car bombs and other terrorist activities, and that both wars took/is taking far longer than anticipated. Meanwhile, during the Iraq conflict shortages of critical safety equipment like bullet proof vests and vehicle armor was a common problem. Underestimating the threat and inadequate protection? Connect the dots!

And what about the returning veterans whose bodies and minds were shattered by the trauma of combat? Will we keep our promise to provide them timely and adequate health care for as long as it is needed? I’d like to think so, but the past is not encouraging; and the future does not look promising.  After all, it was not that many years ago that revelations about poor living conditions and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed Army Medical Center forced the resignations of three high-level Army officials and led to a review of the vast network of clinics and hospitals run by the Veterans Affairs Department; and the Pentagon was investigating allegations of inadequate medical treatment and unsanitary conditions at a veteran’s nursing home in our nation’s capital.

As a retired military officer and loyal American, I fully support our armed forces. They voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way every day and do a remarkable job. Why? Because they love their country and believe they are doing the right thing. All they ask in return is that we are always up front with them and always keep our promises. It’s not very much to ask considering what they do for us.
Image of Ron StanderferRon Standerfer was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois, a town across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, Missouri. While attending the University of Illinois he took his first airplane ride in a World War II- Vintage B-25 bomber assigned to the local ROTC detachment. It was a defining moment in his life. Weeks later, he left college to enlist in the Air Force’s aviation cadet program. He graduated from flight training at the age of twenty and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.            Another defining moment occurred early in his career. In August 1957, he participated in an atomic test at Yucca Flat, Nevada.           Standing on an observation platform eight miles from ground zero, he watched the detonation of an atomic bomb; code named Smoky. The test yielded an unexpected 44 kilotons-more than twice the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He never forgot Smoky, and the memory of that experience weighed heavily on his mind when he wrote The Eagle’s Last Flight, a semi-autobiographical novel about his life as an Air Force pilot during the Cold War.Ron’s twenty seven-year Air Force career spanned the Cold War years between 1954 and 1981. During that time, he flew a variety of high performance fighters including the F-100, F-102, F-105, F-4 and A-7. He flew over 200 combat missions during the Vietnam conflict and was awarded two Silver Stars, thirteen Air Medals and the Purple Heart. The latter he received after he was shot down over Tchepone, Laos in 1969.He retired from the Air Force just as the Cold War ended as a full Colonel after tours in the Pentagon and Tactical Air Command Headquarters in Virginia.Ron is a prolific writer and journalist. He is a member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association and American Writers and Artists Inc. He appeared on WOR TV in New York City during the first days of the Persian Gulf War, providing real time analysis of the air war as it progressed. His book reviews and syndicated news articles are published regularly in the online and print news media, as well as in military journals. He currently publishes a magazine blog.


Uploaded on Oct 24, 2010
Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea's two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Most Powerful Women in the Middle Ages: Queens, Saints, and Viking Slayers, From Empress Theodora to Elizabeth of Tudor by Michael & Melissa Rank

Discrepancies in history.

A major discrepancy in history – and one which my book discusses – is the role of women in the Middle Ages.
The image that springs to mind is a damsel in distress who sits in a high tower wearing a traffic-cone for a hat and who waits for a knight to rescue her from her captors. Once freed by this knight, she is shoved into a forced marriage, breeds sons for her husband, and keeps her mouth shut in public. If not, she is burned at the stake as a witch for expressing independent thought, because that is what people did to women in the Dark Ages.
Such ideas about the Middle Ages are dominant, and they would be very convincing if not for the fact that they are almost completely fictional. It is true that women typically had fewer legal and social rights as men in medieval times. But the idea that the period from 500 to 1500 AD was a time of stagnation is based more on the ideology of historians in recent times than any truth about the past.
 “The Dark Ages” was invented during the Enlightenment Period as a way for scholars to look upon the past as a period of less-developed civilization. Protestant scholars in particular depicted this period in this way due to the corruption of the Catholic Church. The more romantic depictions of medieval women, knights, chivalry, and jousting tournaments come from the period of Romanticism, which originated in modern Western Europe. Medieval costumes and symbols became all the rage in the 19th century. German emperors dressed up in such clothing at public balls. In Victorian England, the ruling class held reenactments of tournaments. And the idea of a passive lady-in-waiting that existed throughout the Middle Ages solidified in the public consciousness. This mythical woman had all the virtues of a Victorian lady who espoused sexual restraint, was kept in idle luxury, and held a strict social code of conduct.
As a result, the concept of a medieval woman has largely been filtered through Victorian ideals. This was a time in which British females lacked suffrage rights or the ability to own property. It is from this time that the image of a woman wearing a traffic-cone hat emerged.
There is a second misconception of medieval women that has come from modern-day academic historians. In a well-meaning attempt to give medieval women a stronger voice, they have essentially turned the most notable figures of this era into 21st-century feminists. Joan of Arc is credited with challenging the gender norms of her era by wearing men's armor into combat and cutting her hair short. Catherine of Siena is imagined to have challenged the patriarchal world of the Catholic Church by sending letters of rebuke to the pope. Anna Komnene, the world's first female narrative historian, is thought to have crafted her history for the sole purposes of giving a stronger voice to women.
 But we do not see such sentiments in any accounts of these women's lives. No woman under consideration in this book challenged the idea of a patriarchal world. Catherine of Siena may have rebuked popes, but she never called on them to install female priests or bishops. Joan of Arc may have dressed as a man in combat, but she preferred to wear a dress while in prison and forbade other women from joining her in battle. She believed that her circumstances were unique since she had been called by God.
 So we see that attempts to foist our own idea of who medieval women actually were fail to capture them in all their complex glory.

Michael & Melissa Rank

About The Authors

Melissa Rank writes extensively on intercultural communication and health on her blog An avid traveler, she has taught English as a Second Language in many countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, Hungary and Rwanda.
She is currently enjoying taking care of her young daughter and navigating the terrain of motherhood, and unlike many of the women in this book, has no plans of taking over the country or the world any time soon.

Michael Rank is a doctoral candidate in Middle East history. He has studied Turkish, Arabic,
Persian, Armenian, and French but can still pull out a backwater Midwestern accent if need be. He also worked as a journalist in Istanbul for nearly a decade and reported on religion and human rights.
He does his best to help out Melissa raise their daughter, whom he secretly hopes can one day be in a book like this. But he would like her to seize power without having to go through all those marriages to surly men, of course. Michael is also the author of the #1 Amazon best-seller “From Muhammed to Burj Khalifa: A Crash Course in 2,000 Years of Middle East History,” and “History's Worst Dictators: A Short Guide to the Most Brutal Leaders, From Emperor Nero to Ivan the Terrible.”

About The Book

Genre: History | Women's Studies
Publisher: Five Minute Books
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Buy: Amazon

The idea of a powerful woman in the Middle Ages seems like an oxymoron. Females in this time are imagined to be damsels in distress, trapped in a high tower, and waiting for knights to rescue them, all while wearing traffic-cones for a hat. After rescue, their lives improved little. Their career choices were to be a docile queen, housewife, or be burned at the stake for witchcraft.
But what if this image of medieval women is a complete fiction?
It turns out that it is. Powerful female rulers fill the Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon queen Aethelflaed personally led armies into direct combat with Vikings in the 900s and saved England from foreign invasion. Byzantine Empress Theodora kept the empire from falling apart during the Nika Revolts and stopped her husband Justinian from fleeing Constantinople. Catherine of Siena almost single-handedly restored the papacy to Rome in the 1300s and navigated the brutal and male-dominated world of Italian politics. Joan of Arc completely reversed the fortunes of France in the Hundred Years War and commanded assaults on English fortresses despite being an illiterate 17-year-old peasant.
This book will look at the lives of the ten most powerful women in the Middle Ages. Whether it is the famed scholar Anna Komnene, who wrote the first narrative history, or Ottoman Queen Mother Kösem Sultan, who ruled the Islamic empire through three of her sons – all these women held extraordinary levels of power at a time when women were thought to not have any.
It will explore how they managed to ascend the throne, what made their accomplishments so notable, and the impact they had on their respective societies after their deaths. It will also describe the historical background of these women, their cultures, and what about it helped or hindered their rise.
Their stories still echo down to today. They are a testimony to the resiliency of individuals to accomplish extraordinary things, even if society puts on them enormous constraints.


part 1 excerpt

Lady Aethelflaed of the Mercians (872-918): Midwife of England, Viking Slayer
The story of Lady Aethelflaed is literally one of epic proportions. She led England's two southern kingdoms against the Danish Vikings, crushing their armies due to her bravery and tactical brilliance, and creating a united England. When J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo Saxon studies at Oxford University, he likely used her life as an inspiration for Eowyn, Lady of Rohan, in “The Lord of the Rings.”

If so, Tolkien could not have paid a higher compliment to a historical figure. It was Eowyn who slew the Lord of the Nazgul, among the fiercest enemies in his series. Other similarities between the two women are numerous. Both faced down terrifying enemies at a time of doom. Both led battle charges on horseback into pitched battles. And both left behind a better society than the one they ruled.

Born in 870, Aethelflaed was the eldest child of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Queen Ealhswith. Her father was a widely respected commander who won a battle in Edington against the Vikings in 862, freeing western Mercia from their control. As she grew up, Alfred kept his daughter at his side and gave her military instruction that was usually only reserved for men. He taught Aethelflaed the use of weapons, military strategy, and the forming of legal and economic policies. She watched him assemble a navy, collect taxes, promote trade, and protect the church.

Her father put Aethelflaed into an arranged marriage to consolidate his domains, but matrimony did not temper her martial spirit. During a journey from Wessex to Mercia, Aethelflaed and her wedding party were attacked by Vikings. The assault was likely done to prevent an alliance between Wessex and Mercia. Whatever the reason, the Vikings suffered the fierce wrath of interfering with a bride while preparing for her wedding. Her military upbringing did not leave her unprepared during the surprise attack.

She fought alongside her bodyguards, protecting the maids and dowry. When the battle turned against them, Aethelflaed and her men retreated into a castle, which by then most of her attendants had been killed and her dowry looted. Despite being outnumbered, they eventually struck down every last one of their assailants. Only she, her maidservant, and a bodyguard survived. This episode perhaps ranks her as the most lethal Bridezilla in history.