MYSTERIOUS AND MIGHTY MAGICAL WEAPONS OF THE ANCIENTS
Humankind has always pursued better ways to more effectively kill each other. It is the nature of the beast for us to want the means to gain the upper hand against our enemies, to better and annihilate them if need be. We have been in a perpetual arms race since time unremembered, practically since the first flickers of consciousness danced within our ancestor’s brains, going from hand, to stick, to stone, to sword, and beyond, ever trying to outdo those who would threaten or oppose us. In a great many tales throughout history there have been those who succeeded in gaining the ultimate weapon, in the form of artifacts of incredible magical might, which decimated the enemy with their supernatural power but which today remain buried and lost in time. Here are tales of fantastical mystical objects of war, weapons with godlike powers, and magical military might.
Some of the most famous and indeed most mysterious mystical weapons of the ancient world are biblical in nature, and perhaps none is as well-known as the fabled Lost Ark of the Covenant, best known to most as the Nazi face melting MacGuffin from the popular film Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it is an actual artifact with a long tradition of mystery. The Ark itself was supposedly an ornate, gold gilded chest that held the stone tablets onto which had been written the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God. The Ark was said to be built around 3,000 years ago based on plans that were revealed in a vision from God Himself that Moses had while Israel was camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The Book of Exodus says that after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, Moses was called to the top of Mt. Sinai by God and was given two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, after which he later received his vision outlining the design of the Ark in order to transport the tablets.
The Ark is said to be made up of intricately gold plated acacia wood, and to be adorned with a crown of pure molded gold and two large, golden angels. The Bible describes its dimensions as approximately 131×79×79 cm or 52×31×31 inches. The Ark was carried with the use of two poles that were put through four rings arranged at its four feet. Far from being merely a vessel in which to transport the tablets, the Ark was believed to be the actual throne of God, and that wherever it went, He went as well. The Ark was only carried by powerful priests, and was always totally concealed from view by blue cloth and lamb skins, and not even the priests themselves were allowed to look upon it. The Israelites carried the Ark with them during their 40 year trek across the desert, during which time it was usually carried around 2,000 cubits in front of their army, and it proved to be a powerful weapon in their plight.
There are numerous accounts of the Ark unleashing its alleged mighty, godlike powers. In 1,400 BC, when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River into The Promised Land, the Ark is said to have caused the waters to stop flowing and dry out, allowing them all to pass unhindered. On another occasion, the Israelites besieged the city of Jericho, with God commanding that the Ark be carried around the perimeter of the city once a day for seven days while blowing on trumpets crafted of ram horns. On the seventh day, the Israelites gave out a thunderous shout, and the once formidable and impenetrable walls of the city of Jericho spectacularly collapsed to the ground in a cloud of dust and pieces, allowing the Israelites to enter.
The Ark would go on to be used against the Philistines in battle, with the hopes that this powerful weapon would help the Israelites ultimately win. However, God had not ordered the Israelites to go to war with the Philistine army, and was displeased that the Ark would be used without His consent. Subsequently, the Israelites lost the war and the Ark was captured by the Philistines, who hoped that they would now be able to harness its vast holy powers for their own ends. Unfortunately for them, rather than a great ally, the Ark proved to be more of a curse upon them, causing misfortune wherever it went, such as disease and even a plague of mice. After seven months of the Ark bringing them nothing but misery, the Philistines returned it to the Israelites, and it was taken to the village of Beth-shemesh. Here it would once again display its vast power when a large group of curious villagers decided to look upon it and were immediately struck down dead by its almighty wrath.
The Ark would ultimately end up in Jerusalem, where it was housed in a temple built by King Solomon. In 587 BC, the Babylonians descended upon the city, destroying everything in their path, including Solomon’s Temple, where the Ark had been kept. It is not known what happened to the Ark of the Covenant after this, and it has through the years become one of the most mysterious and most highly sought after ancient relics in the world, with countless quests to try and locate it. Next to the Holy Grail itself, there is perhaps no other Biblical relic that has inspired so many to try and obsessively hunt it down. Was the Ark destroyed? Was it hidden away before the sacking of Jerusalem? Was it stolen? Did it ever really even exist at all? These are questions for which no one has any definitive answers, but there are many who have tried to figure them out.
Since the Ark’s disappearance there have been numerous theories as to its whereabouts, with its location estimated to be in wildly varying places, from Africa to even Japan, and occasional claims to have even found it. One recurring theory is that the Ark was whisked away by the Knights Templar, but where they hid it remains unclear, with the Chartres Cathedral crypt, the Languedoc region of France, or the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland being popular choices. Other theories revolve around the idea that during the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, the Ark was spirited away and hidden somewhere in a vast warren of passages beneath the First Temple. Since this site is home to the Dome of the Rock shrine, which is sacred in Islam, it is impossible to conduct any sort of excavation here to see if the story has any truth to it.
One very prominent theory is that the Ark was moved to a secure place far from Jerusalem, in Ethiopia. In Aksum, Ethiopia there is a place called the Church of St. Mary of Zion, where the Ark is said to be interred. A lone monk has been given the duty of guarding this sacred relic, never leaving the church and constantly, dutifully keeping watch over it. It is said that the monk devotes his entire life to the Ark’s safekeeping, after which another will be given the duty upon his death. It is difficult to determine just how genuine this claim is, as no one but the solitary monk is allowed to enter the church, and only this one guardian is allowed to lay eyes upon the Ark. The church could be housing anything or nothing at all. No one knows, and the location of the Ark of the covenant and indeed whether it ever even really existed at all remain unknown.
Another fairly remarkable supposed Biblical weapon of potent magical might is the Spear of Destiny, or also called the Spear of Longinus, which is said to have been forged by the ancient Hebrew prophet Phineas, as well as being the very one used by the Roman centurion Longinus to stab Christ during the Crucifixion and which is rumored to grant its wielder the power to rule the world. Indeed, the legend explicitly states, “whosoever possesses this Holy Lance and understands the powers it serves, holds in his hand the destiny of the world for good or evil.” This legend is perhaps why a long list of leaders, kings, emperors, and conquerors throughout recorded history have sought it out and even claimed to have held it, such as Attila the Hun, Herod the Great, Constantine, Maurice the Manichean, Alaric, Theodoric, Charles Martel, Charlemagne the Great, Frederick Barbarossa, Heinrich I the Fowler, Otto I the Great, and Pope John XII, among many others, all of whom reported great successes with the spear.
The problem is, the spear has been lost to history and it is not even certain if these leaders had ever held the actual Spear of Destiny or if it even really existed or not. Indeed, there are scores of conflicting tales of what happened to the spear, where it went, and even what it looked like, all made more confusing by the fact that there were said to be numerous fakes and recreations that had been crafted over the centuries. During Constantine the Great’s alleged tenure with the relic his spiritual advisor, Eusebius of Caesarea, described it:
It was a long spear, overlaid with gold. On the top was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones, and within this the symbol of the Savior’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters – those letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the spear was also suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that it should be carried at the head of all his armies.
None other than Adolf Hitler himself was long fascinated by the Spear, a fascination which started long before he was even the notorious Nazi leader, back when he was just a humble art student. As he toured the Hofsburg Treasure House in Vienna in 1912, his eyes fell upon one of the lances rumored to be the actual Spear of Destiny, which had been housed there for safekeeping after a long history of changing hands and being lost and found again numerous times. There was no certainty at all that the gilded lance that was in Vienna, which was referred to as the Holy Lance of Longinus, was the actual legendary Spear of Destiny, and in fact there were other such relics around the world that made the same claim at the time, but Hitler himself certainly seems to have been convinced that it was, saying of first time he saw it:
I knew with immediacy that this was an important moment in my life…I stood there quietly gazing upon it for several minutes, quite oblivious to the scene around me. It seemed to carry some hidden inner meaning which evaded me, a meaning which I felt I inwardly knew, yet could not bring to consciousness…I felt as though I myself had held it in my hands before in some earlier century of history – that I myself had once claimed it as my talisman of power and held the destiny of the world in my hands. What sort of madness was this that was invading my mind and creating such turmoil in my breast?
Believing this artifact to be the real Spear of Destiny, one of the first things he did when the Nazis took Vienna in 1938 was to steal it for himself and have it sent it off to Nuremburg, and there have even been theories that Hitler’s real reason for starting World War II was to get a hold of it. Whether this is true or not, Hitler got his spear, although it does not seem to have granted him great power when he needed it the most, and his planned invasion of England failed, followed by his devastating defeat at the Battle of Normandy on June 6, 1944. After this it is not clear just what happened to Hitler’s supposed Spear of Destiny. It was supposedly returned to Vienna, but there are theories that this was actually a clever fake and that the real one is still out there.
One theory is that it was hidden away in one of the many underground bunkers, caves, caverns and catacombs that the Nazis used to store the numerous treasures they had looted from their enemies. Another is that it was kept by the Allied forces, and the famous general George S. Patton was allegedly obsessed with it, even believing himself to be a reincarnation of someone who had wielded it in the past, and he made great efforts to convince the United States to retain it and give back a fake to Austria. In this scenario the real spear is still in the possession of the United States, and is even the reason why the country has managed to remain such a top world power for so long. Still another idea was that the SS leader Himmler took it and that it now resides in the care of a secret society he formed called “The Knights of the Holy Lance.”
An even wilder theory was put forward in Dr. Howard A. Buechner’s 1988-89 books Hitler’s Ashes – Seeds Of A New Reich and Adolf Hitler and the Secrets of the Holy Lance, in which he claims that the Nazi leader had the spear sent to a secret base out in Antarctica after the war, after which it was recovered again in 1979 by an expedition led by a mysterious individual known as Col. Maximilian Hartmann, which has in turn raised conspiracy theories that the real Spear of Destiny is in the possession of this shadowy cabal bent on world domination. In the end, although we know Hitler did steal this lance, no one has any idea of whether it was the real Spear of Destiny, and in fact we have no idea at all of whether it was ever a real object to begin with, or if it is just where the genuine artifact is located. The Spear of Destiny has become a magnet for various conspiracy theories, and the insane stories of Nazi involvement have gone on to become the stuff of movies, comic books, and legend. The real whereabouts of the Spear of Destiny and whether it really holds its legendary vast powers are a mystery.
Staying on the Biblical theme we come to the legendary Staff of Moses, also called the “Rod of God” or “The Staff of God,” first mentioned in the Book of Exodus, and which was according to the lore imbued with powers beyond imagination by God Himself when he encountered Moses at the burning bush atop Mount Horeb. God supposedly began by turning Moses’ staff into a serpent and then back into a staff, upon which it was shown to have an array of powers that would become apparent throughout his journeys. Among the feats Moses was said to perform with the staff were producing water from stone and of course parting the Red Sea, among others.
One of the greatest shows of power Moses demonstrated with the staff was during the Battle at Rephidim, in which the Israelites clashed with the Amalekites. At some point in this fierce melee, Moses is said to have simply held the staff up in the air and proclaiming that they would prevail, which made it so. According to the story, whenever he lowered his staff the enemy would begin winning again, and so he held the Staff of God up high until the enemy was vanquished. In Biblical lore, the brother of Moses, Aaron, is also said to have been in possession of a magical rod, perhaps even the very same one, which he used to turn the Nile blood red and help usher in the Plagues of Egypt.
Of course with such a powerful artifact there has long been speculation as to whether it ever really existed, and where it might be now. The main theory is that it was passed down for generations by the Judean Kings, after which it disappeared when the First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC. In this version of events, the staff was either destroyed itself, or was carried away by the exiled Jews as they fled. The Staff of Moses has also been variously claimed to have been put on display at the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, Turkey, along with other Holy relics, or that it was claimed by Muslims and sequestered away along with the Tablet of Moses. In the end no one really knows what happened to this potent weapon of ancient might or whether it was ever real at all.
Of course there are such powerful and legendary weapons outside of the confines of the Bible and from other places in the world, and one of these is a mysterious weapon from ancient India called the Vajra, which appears in ritual object in the lore of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Said to be a weapon of the gods, in particular the Vedic sky-god, Indra, the Vajra is typically described as being fashioned of a material that is as hard as diamond and widely touted as being completely indestructible, as well as being possessed of vast powers such as hurling thunderbolts. It features most notably in the story of Indra’s battle against the evil demons Asuras, Namuchi and Vritra, after being forged by the divine carpenter Tvashta on orders of the supreme god Vishnu. The Vajra is often described as being thrown at enemies to cause mass devastation, and one description says it was an “indestructible thunderbolt blazed like a meteoric fireball across the heavens, in a maelstrom of thunder, fire and lightning.”
The weapon itself is typically said to look like a metal shaft-like handle tipped with an array of sharp prongs like daggers at the end reminiscent of a lotus flower, although it is also said to have been once transformed into a scepter by the Buddha Shakyamuni. It was supposedly forged from iron and gold mixed with bronze or stone in a certain magical combination, and besides its powerful energy bolts and indestructibility, the Vajra was also said to have the ability to cut through any substance, control the weather, and also had the power to banish darkness and bring fertility. Interestingly, legends of very similar weapons can be found in various far-flung cultures, including Chinese, Sumerians, Norse, Slavic, and Irish myths. There have long been claims that the legendary Vajra is housed at some temple or another, but this is unsubstantiated. In the end we don’t know. Is there any truth to the Vajra, and did it even exist? Was it possibly even some form of ancient technological device? Who knows?
The island nation of Japan too has its stories of god-like magical weapons, and perhaps the most popular is the tale of what is known as the Muramasa’s swords. Among the greatest and most legendary of Japan’s famed swordsmiths was the one called Muramasa Sengo, who lived and pursued his craft during the Muromachi period (14th-15th century AD). Both Muramasa and his school of sword making were renowned for the extraordinary quality and sharpness of their blades, which made the weapons highly prized and sought after by warriors and generals. Indeed, Muramasa became well regarded as being one of the finest swordsmiths who had ever lived, but he also became notorious for his rather brash, volatile nature, and a dark curse that was increasingly believed to imbue his famed swords.
Many of such rumors began with the abrasive, venomous personality of Muramasa himself. In addition to being obviously a brilliant swordsmith, he was also purported to be rather insane and prone to flying into sudden fits of violent rage, during which he would lash out at anyone unlucky enough to be nearby. This unbalanced mind, which teetered on the brink of total madness, combined with his relentless perfectionism and unbridled passion for crafting lethal swords to congeal into an unstable mix of genius, bloodlust, intense focus, and insanity, and these qualities were said to be mystically passed on to the katana he forged. Adding to this was Muramasa’s alleged habit of feverishly praying to whoever would listen that his swords become “great destroyers,” and his swords gained a rather ominous reputation despite their popularity and high demand.
Numerous dark and sinister qualities were increasingly attributed to the supposed curse of Muramasa’s swords. Perhaps the most persistent was that the swords had a tendency to possess their wielders in a sense, sending them into a berserk battle rage and in some versions granting them superior swordsmanship, and bestowing them with temporary superhuman strength and resistance to pain and damage. The cursed Muramasa swords were also said to have a thirst for blood, and that if they weren’t sated by that spilled by the enemy then they would turn on their owners, forcing them to commit suicide to appease them. Indeed, it was often said that as soon as a Muramasa blade was drawn it ruthlessly demanded blood before it could be replaced back into its scabbard, meaning almost certain doom for the wielder if there was no one else around to vent the sword’s bloodlust upon. Even when not drawn the swords were said to sometimes hungrily call out to be released, or to try and compel their owners to go out hunting for some poor soul to murder.
Although undeniably potent weapons formidable in battle, this dark curse allegedly made the swords and their wielders dangerous for everyone around them. Many tales sprung up of Muramasa swords turning on their owners, lashing out to strike down and drink in the blood of anyone within reach, including not only enemies, but allies and even family members, which the wielder could do nothing to stop while held in thrall to the sword’s evil frenzy. Tales describing samurai armed with Muramasa swords lashing out at dear friends, allies, and family as they watched helplessly as their own bodies cut them down were numerous. At their most bloodthirsty and rage-fueled the swords were said to hardly discriminate between friend and foe, and used their owners merely as instruments with which to help them kill. It was not uncommon to hear of the owners of Muramasa swords slowly going insane as they were warped and twisted to their weapons’ demonic will, sometimes killing themselves to escape the dark, madness inspiring prison.
This sinister reputation eventually ended up being further fueled when the Tokugawa Shogunate, which was the last feudal government in Japan, was established in 1603 by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who firmly believed that Muramasa blades were cursed, and blamed them for the deaths of many of his friends, allies, and relatives. Indeed, apparently the shogun’s father, Matsudaira Hirotada, and his grandfather, Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, were both cut down when their retainers were overcome by a murderous trance while wielding such swords. Tokugawa even claimed that he had been badly cut by a Muramasa katana that was being carried by one of his samurai guards as he inspected his ranks. In later days his own wife and adopted son were allegedly executed using a Muramasa blade. All of this stoked rumors that Muramasa swords had it in for the Tokugawa family, and that they had a special affinity for killing members of his clan.
This notion became so prevalent that Ieyasu Tokugawa eventually banned Muramasa katana in his domain. Many of them were subsequently melted down or otherwise destroyed, but since they were so revered for their sheer quality others were hidden or had any distinguishing features altered or removed, even in the face of severe punishment for owning one, typically the forcing of the guilty party to commit ritual suicide, or seppuku. Despite this, Muramasa katana continued their trajectory to legendary status. Considering these katana were thought to be able to seek out and kill the shogun and his family, there was also a renewed demand for the swords among Tokugawa’s enemies, which resulted in some enterprising lesser swordsmiths forging clever fake replicas for profit. In fact, because of the number of such forgeries crafted during this era it is to this day difficult to reliably tell if a purported Muramasa katana is authentic or not. Were there ever magical cursed katanas in feudal Japan. It remains a mystery.
With such stories as we have looked at here, it is nearly impossible to disentangle pure myth and legend from any reality, and these powerful artifacts remain firmly lodged into the world of speculation and the unknown. Were these truly instruments of the great mystical powers they attributed with or are they merely mythical constructs? Did they exist but were exaggerated by spectacular tales? There are many who believe that if they do indeed exist then such artifacts are still out there somewhere, hidden away where we may never find them. With all of the fantastical stories orbiting them, these ancient weapons of magical might will probably retain their secrets until when they are found, if ever.