Have you ever wanted to be invisible? To be able to see the world without being seen?
For centuries, humans have wanted, have dreamed of being invisible. The power it gives, the freedom it provides is unthinkable. In a lot of different civilisations, invisibility is associated with the Gods and therefore, weaved into stories.
In hinduism, invisibility is often described as a gift available with great men which helps them in wars. One such warrior, Ghatotkacha, who was the son of Bhima (a pandava) and hidimbi (a rakshsi). Ghatotkacha had the ability to fly, increase or decrease his size and become invisible, which allowed him to help the pandavas in the great Mahabharata war against the kauravas.
Hinduism also had weapons, such as sabdavedastra, which prevented someone from becoming invisible.
Greeks on the other hand, popularized the concept of requiring an external object to become invisible. According to the Greek legends, the Uranian cyclops (one eyed creatures) gave Zeus, the king of Gods his lightening bolt, Poseidon, God of seas his trident and Hades, God of death, an invisibility cap. Also known as the Helm of Hades, it is constantly with Hades. In the Greek myths, it was also used by Hermes, the messenger god, to defeat Hippolytus. Athena, Goddess of wisdom, used it during the Trojan war to help her follower Diomedes to defeat Ares, God of war. She gave it to Perseus too, who was the son of Zeus. Once there was a beautiful woman called Medusa, who was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. Athena, in her anger, turned Medusa into a monster with head full of snakes. Whoever gazed in Medusa’s eyes instantly turned into stone. It was to defeat her that Athena gave the cap of Hades to Perseus.
Manannán mac Lir, a sea god in Irish mythology has a similar object called féth fíada which turned him invisible to human eyesight. Alberich in norse mythology is the keeper of many valuable items, including tarnkappe, which is a cloak of invisibility.
However, it wasn’t just the myths that talked about invisibility. In the Thief of Baghdad, Ahmed ( the protaganist) is given a cloak of invisibility.
A cloak of similar kind is also mentioned in two of the Grimm’s fairy tales.
The First one is The twelve dancing princesses. In this, a king has 12 princesses who sleep every night but in the morning, their dancing shoes will be worn out. The king asked them for reason but got no answer. He, then, declared that the person who solves the mystery will be given his daughter and his kingdom. An old soldier, who had received an invisibility cloak from an old woman in the forest, spies on the princesses. He observes them going through a path with first silver trees, then golden trees and finally diamond trees to meet 12 princes. He follows them to a castle, where the princesses dances with the prince. He later tells this to the king, who in return, get him wed to his eldest daughter.
The second story is of The king of the golden mountain. A long time ago, a man was returning home, when a black mannikin came and told him that he will make him rich if in 12 years the man will bring him the first thing that rubs his leg today upon returning home. The man agrees, but on returning home, his son rubs his leg. Twelve years later, the man takes his son with heavy heart and gives him to the mannikin. The mannikin puts the boy in a boat and shoves it. The boy is carried to another shore where he meets a snake. This snake is a princess, who will turn back to her original form if the boy allows himself to be beaten for 3 nights. Then boy agrees, and later marries the princess. He then asks to see his parents. The princess gives him a ring to take him to his parents, but warns him not to call her there. But on meeting his parents, the boy calls her. At night, the princess wears the ring and returns to the golden mountain. The boy wanders the forests and finally finds 3 giants fighting over a sword, which will cut anyone’s head, a pair of slippers, which will take them anywhere and a cloak of invisibility. The boy tricks the giants, takes the invisibility cloak, steal the sword and the slippers and returns to his kingdom.
In popular culture, the concept of invisibility is famously discussed by J.R.Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings where Frodo has a cloak which, when worn, makes him look like a boulder; and by J.K.Rowling, in Harry Potter, where Harry potter has the invisibility cloak he inherited from his father, which is one of the deathly hallows.
These were but a few examples of how the stories of invisibility has developed over time and over various civilizations. No matter how different we are, how different our cultures, our stories always have a binding factor to keep us connected.
The beautiful part of these stories is that it keeps the idea alive. The idea of the impossible. They also form the basis of tomorrow’s science. In the next part of this post, we will see the science behind this, and finally the fiction that was born out of this science.
Until then, take care!