Phuket, Thailand. Midnight: Bangla Road is packed with tourists. They’re mostly Westerners and Russians, but many Asians and a smattering of Indians. There seems a disproportionate number of unattached males. The music is very loud, and throbbing. Outside the bars, on elevated stages, Thai girls are dancing provocatively. They’re tall, fantastically beautiful, and seductive. They look, and move, like supermodels, but with better bodies. Then you realise: there are other Thai women here too, but they’re short, cute and pretty, not at all statuesque or magnificent. Alongside the kathoey, Thailand’s famous trans women, they are all but invisible, like candles next to a searchlight. It’s easy to see who has the attention of the gathered men.
On stage, one girl rolls her dress down to her hips so that her naked breasts and torso – she sports an intricate tattoo on her back – are shown off, as she wriggles to the thrumming music. Her body is as flawless as a Greek goddess’ and her dance mesmerising as a Siren’s: you just can’t help but watch and smile at her exquisite insouciance.
Today marks the first day in one of our greatest annual cultural events: the winter solstice. From now until the 25th, the sun will appear to hesitate before it once again begins to climb into the sky. That of course, is the reason so many solar deities have their birthday on the 25th—Mithras, Dionysus and Jesus Christ being but three.
But what you may not know is that while these three ‘dying and rising’ gods, every one of them an agricultural deity, are clearly men, the very first was not; she was a woman.
The earliest version I have found is in the Sumerian tale of the goddess Sul or Sud. This is not a Sumerian name and it’s unclear where she came from, but that doesn’t matter. As befits a goddess, Sul was staggeringly beautiful and at the peak of her fertility; she knew it was time for her to choose a partner.
My neighbour was given this with a load of other bits and bobs. She thought it was a toy, but closer examination made me disagree. For a start, it was quite clearly a gun of some order, but it didn’t have any kind of handle. There wasn’t a conventional trigger either.
It might have been a toy cannon, but it didn’t have a carriage. Yet opening it up revealed that it was chambered to take a real twelve-bore shotgun cartridge. Plus it’s made of very heavy cast iron. It’s just not like a child’s toy at all.
It’s a striking thought that civilisation evolved here on Earth only 7,000 years ago. Since then, humans have achieved many really incredible things. But even in terms of our own—mostly unwritten—history, 7,000 years is almost insignificant; it’s less than 4 % of the time Homo sapiens, the storytelling ape, has existed.