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Hidden Histories

Histories researched and written by Mary Kay McBrayer.

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Most of the folklore we see in Attachment are amulets of protection. Chana has positioned a face-down bowl under a bookshelf in Leah’s apartment to protect against demons. These “magic bowls” are a type of amulet from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) created to protect against “difficulty in childbirth and rearing, illness, poverty… as well as supernatural and human foes” before the Islamic conquest of the region, and they’re sometimes labeled with where they should be stationed in the house, like each of its four corners or in a particular room. Typically, the script on them is written in a square, Aramaic script, starting in the center of the bowl and spiraling out clockwise on the concave surface of the bowl. Descriptions of the bowls in their contemporary texts use the verbs “to overturn” and “to press” which indicates both what is done to the bowls (placed upside down) and to the demons (overpowered).

They also often depict images of bound demons, which is the reason Chana says that she keeps in them in her apartment: “(That bowl) was hand painted by Babylonian Jews,” she tells Maja when it cracks. (For reference, there are only 2,000 of these said bowls in the world. When Maja looks stunned, she admits her joke, saying cruelly, “It’s a replica. I made it. So, it’s not valuable, just irreplaceable.” That scathing jab makes Chana the mother-in-law of my personal hell.

f you’ve heard of Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra, but not Hatshepsut, you’re not alone. Hatshepsut was an exceptional ruler of Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty, from c. 1473 to 1458 BCE. Although all three women named above were powerful, only Hatshepsut was such a great ruler that her successor was jealous of her even after her death. So much so that he defaced her temples and monuments and inscribed his own insignia on top of them. 


What do people with anxiety do when presented with a stressor? We confront it because, in theory at least, the more we know about a subject, the less scary it becomes.

Americans like me often forget that there are cities older than most countries. Though their names and the territories to which they belong might have changed, people settled in the same areas—and stayed there for millennia—for specific reasons. Sometimes, they were on significant trade routes. Sometimes they were religious sites. And sometimes, they were the only fertile areas for miles around. Regardless, these are some of the oldest cities that are still inhabited today, featuring when and by whom they were founded, what they were like in ancient times, and what it’s like to visit them today.

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In 19th-century Egypt, Ahmed Abdel-Rassoul stumbled upon ancient antiquities on his family’s land, which he thought his family could sell and live off the profits for generations. The Abdel-Rassouls could not have expected to be accused of stealing history only to have French and British colonizers seize the artifacts and give them away to other Western nations, but that is exactly what happened.

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Between sixteen to twenty feet below the surface of a natural spring named “Weeki Wachee” in central Florida—off the side of US 19—mermaids swim. These mermaids have been there, swimming, flipping, dancing, putting on lipstick, and drinking Grapette, since 1947—when a Navy man named Newton Perry had a stroke of genius. And they are still there today.

Sometimes I beg my friend who’s still associated with a university system’s library to “just do me a quick search, Sara, please!” in the middle of the night so I can evade some particularly steep paywalls. My point is, I’m not a quitter. I have some strategies, and I don’t generally expect information to come easily.

It’s not until hunting down this particular Norse myth from Cold Earth that I’ve ever found almost nothing. And that creeps me out.

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While at the hospital, Tarrare ate a meal intended for 15 German laborers, including two meat pies and four gallons of milk. When spurred by the military board that he should soon report once more for service, one doctor, M. Courville, had the idea to weaponize Tarrare’s skill. Courville had Tarrare to swallow a wooden box with a document inside. Two days later, when Tarrare returned from the latrine with both the box and the document in good condition, they decided to employ Tarrare as a spy. 

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Though this photograph in particular is immortalized in the popular consciousness, the Abdel-Rassoul family was famous—or rather infamous—generations before the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, though. Sheikh was a descendent of some of the most infamous tomb robbers Egypt has ever known.

Shortly after Solomon’s coronation, he dreamed that he talked directly to God, and God said, “Ask what I shall give thee.”

In the Bible, Solomon asks for wisdom; he desires to be a great and fair ruler. Because he didn’t ask for treasure, prestige, victory over his conquests, or any of the more typical things kings asked for, God made him the wisest man in the world—in addition to making him rich and powerful.

But in other texts, Solomon received more than just wisdom. Islamic traditions agree that Sulaiman (the Arabic name of Solomon) was uncommonly wise, but he also understood the language of birds, animals, and insects. Plus, when he asked God for wisdom, God gave him another gift, too: the ring called the Seal of Solomon—purported to grant dominion over evil djinn.

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In 1794 the people of Guadeloupe briefly tasted freedom. A woman named Solitude decided she’d rather die than go back into chains — but her heroism was nearly lost to history.

"The 19th-Century Nurse Who Was Secretly a Serial Killer" at Narratively

“Jolly Jane” Toppan overcame a miserable Dickensian childhood to become a medical professional patients adored. She was also slowly murdering them one by one.

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