Across the globe, there are sacred spots that are brimming with secrets that our human ancestors took to the grave with them – from the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt to Rapa Nui in Chile, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We unearth some of our favorite mythical worlds that are steeped in mystery and intrigue.
Mythical Worlds: Journey to Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
We’ll never know the truth about the isolated island of Rapa Nui, but there are mystical and monumental structures, tales of cannibalism and bloodshed, and powerful spirits.
Completely remote, the first flight to the island in 1951 from Chile took nearly 20 hours. Today you can get there in under six hours from Santiago de Chile.
The island was first coined Easter Island due to the Dutch explorer who first encountered this mythical world on an Easter Sunday in 1722. Yet Rapa Nui, or Land’s End, is believed to have been populated by the Polynesians between 700 to 1100 CE.
The Polynesian Ariki (King) Hotu Matu’a, first settled in Rapa Nui after finding it fertile enough to produce their staple of yams from the now unknown land of Hiva.
The myths of Rapa Nui
Some say the Moais were already there when the king arrived, although we will never know if this is true.
Built on the road to the sacred volcano on ceremonial ground, these structures may have existed to pay respect to the dead, who protected and provided for the living from their spirit world. Other theories suggest that these structures honor living chiefs, or shield against evil.
The largest statue weighs 75 tonnes and stands tall at 10 meters. Today, the area is applauded as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The original island chiefs are thought to have had supernatural, psychic powers, known as the mana.
Theorists say that it was this sorcery that helped transport the Moais, as the statues walked themselves to their final resting place. However, recent hypotheses suggests that these heavy sacred structures were moved with the help of wooden plinths and rollers.
The birdman cult of Rapa Nui
Around the 17th century, the Moai era was succeeded by a doctrine, just as unique, known as the Tangata manu, or birdman cult.
This included annual competition with several rituals, including one in which the people would compete to take the first egg of the sooty tern bird (manu tara), which was considered good luck.
Their creation god was Make-Make, who was depicted as a man with a bird’s head.
The demise of Rapa Nui
Due to overpopulation, Peruvian slave raids, deforestation caused by the Polynesian rat, and new diseases spread by European missionaries, the population dwindled from a thriving 15,000- strong community down to just 111 people in 1877!
Today, the island is shrouded in mystery – another one of stunning mythical worlds awaiting your exploration.
Mythical Worlds: Invoke the magic of Angkor Wat
The temples became world-renowned upon rediscovery by a French Botanist missionary in the mid 19th century.
Many gods, many religions of Angkor Wat
The kings of the ancient Khmer Empire once ruled these lands. It is believed that the temples were built over a span of 30 years, starting in 880 AD.
Built to resemble Mount Meru – the sacred home of the gods and the center of the world, the fascinating temples play homage to both Hinduism and Buddhism.
The god Vishnu is particularly venerated in this sacred space.
King Suryavarman II is credited with building the most number of temples in the complex. The king is also said to have killed his Uncle to seize power, and was considered a demigod by his people.
Celestial architecture of Angkor Wat
Some historians believe the Angkor Wat temple complex was constructed to represent the universe. It is considered an example of celestial architecture, similar to what experts say of the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The complex may have had an astronomical purpose, and the primary temple aligns with the ancient constellation for the spring equinox. There are also markers that would have tracked the summer and winter days.
The Khmer people were believers of sorcery, magic, witchcraft and prophecy.
The Khmer even cast powerful spells against magical forces of their potential enemies within the gateway of the complex.
Mythological animals of Angkor Wat
Alongside the many apsaras (female spirits), mythological stories and tales of conquests, you will find something interesting inscribed into the numerous temple structures.
“Weird and wonderful creatures.”
Whether these are inventions of the imagination, or perhaps former local animals, is a question that remains unanswered.
Yet, along Preah Khan you can find the garuda – a man with the head, wings and talons of an eagle; a seven-headed naga serpent leading to the main temple; and also Hanuman – the monkey god, at Banteay Samre temple.
Most curious of them all is located at the overgrown Ta Prohm, a stunning ancient structure that has been ravaged and fused with fig trees.
If you look hard enough at the glyphs, you will discover a creature that can only be described as what we would call a stegosaurus!
Did you know? The Angkor Wat complex has featured in several blockbuster movies over the years!
The demise of Angkor Wat
This thriving city of one million people ceased to exist after 200 years of habitation. It is believed that severe drought, war, overpopulation, and the demise of the Khmer Empire due to an increased conversion into the Buddhist faith, led to this. Today, Angkor Wat remains one of the most popular and exquisite of mythical worlds around the world!