Whoosh! Issue 75 - January - February 2003

By Edward Mazzeri
Content © 2003 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2003 held by Whoosh!
4793 words

Introduction (01-08)
Background to the Garter (09-15)
The Amazon Symbol (16-19)
The Moon-Dream (20-23)
More Than Shields (24-29)
The Amazon Standard (30-33)
The Obol (34-39)
Other Devices (40-45)
The Garter (46)
Lady of the Garter (47-56)



[01] There is a undercurrent layer of chivalric meaning in Xena: Warrior Princess. This article examines a small portion of that layer as revealed by some Amazon symbols.

[02] Context is everything. Set the scene of a play and the stage becomes a wood outside Athens, a castle in Illyria, a balcony in a town in Italy, or an island in the sea ruled by a wise magician who has a daughter. The scenery adds to the theatrical experience by activating memories and expectations, and that in turn eases the narrative process by allowing the audience to bring something to the experience and frees the playwright to dwell on other matters in the time available.

[03] If the play is popular, a scene could stand-in for the entire story. Juliet on her balcony is a visual shorthand for the entire Romeo and Juliet story. If the play is really popular, the visual shorthand becomes a coin in the narrative currency of other plays and its mere presence in those other plays conjures up an pre-made atmosphere evoking the entire original story as a kind of mental backdrop. The merest hint of a suggestion is enough to evoke these connections.

[04] For example, two people and a step-ladder would be enough to evoke the world of Romeo and Juliet and invite comparisons with it. If the audience does not know anything about Romeo and Juliet, then the visual shorthand has lost its narrative worth and is only window-dressing, unanchored to a wider world.

[05] Using visual shorthand is a great way for playwrights to get through mountains of exposition quickly with minimal effort. Conversely, frequently-used shorthand becomes a motif that tokenizes the narrative and helps the audience grasp complexities at a glance. Kings have crowns, wizards have wands, and Juliets have balconies.

[06] If a playwright has a crownless king, then the king has to regain his crown, otherwise he is just another guy in the street. The audience expects it because kings and crowns to go together. The narrative demands it.

[07] Think "dragon". Be surprised if fire-breathing and wings do not come to mind. Think "knight". Someone who strives to live up to an ideal, making their own destiny. That  is one image that is conjured up. Another is someone traveling through the countryside, having adventures and perhaps going on a quest and meeting strange men in faraway places.

[08] If you are a playwright, you can suggest knights and knighthood by having the suggestion of a knight. Not a knight in person, but the things a knight would have and do. Such as displaying standards, crests and insignia, and having ideals, a code of behavior, weapon skills, training jousts, serious challenges, and so on. Oh, and living wild in an encampment in forest or field. Perhaps with sports bras. The suggestion of knights' horses is made by naming the people around with horse names, like Ephiny and Eponin. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Background to the Garter

[09] The heralds in the College of Arms know about visual shorthand. It is their life's work. The charges on a shield, the colors of a crest, the posture of heraldic animals: all these link to the stories and histories of the bearers of those arms. The heralds see a lion rampant and immediately a thousand years of history springs to mind.

[10] They study the original genealogy, that of kings and queens, of the people whose private decisions had public consequences and who personal lives were constrained by public circumstance. They study the lives of people who were both reined-in and reigning.

[11] Almost 700 hundred years ago, so the heralds say, there was a king who liked the stories of King Arthur so much that he instituted what was, and still is, the highest order of chivalry ever seen: the Order of the Garter. Originally men and women were both eligible, and numbers were limited to no more than could fit comfortably round a Round Table. Over the centuries, the membership rules drifted a little: the number cap was lifted slightly, and women have recently been officially reinstated as members after an absence of hundreds of years. Also, emperors can now become members.

[12] The seat of the order was chosen to be St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle at a time when England was still a province in a much larger realm, rather than the standalone independent state it is today. Members of the order are allowed to wear the order's insignia, a blue garter.

[13] Garter? As in "what a bride or a dancing woman wears on her leg"? Other than a hint to a possible origin of the phrase "blue-ribbon", could anything so noble as a chivalrous order have as its emblem something so trivial as a garter?

[14] The origins of the order are obscure. Some stories are more favored than others. A long enduring one has a duke's daughter dancing the night away at the royal court, and her garter drops off and falls on the floor. The king picks it up and, noticing the lewd laughter of some bystanders, utters the words that became the motto of the Order: "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (not many people spoke English in those days). The motto can be translated as "Harmed shall they be who think ill of it". That type of thinking will not attract innocence. In fact, it will probably attract the opposite. And so the idea for the Order was born. It would be an example, of what can be aspired to.

[15] It was hugely popular from day one. It still is. Yet its emblems and foundation stories are so trivial to modern minds that some people consider it absurd even to think that anyone would do anything like that for those reasons. It is as if a king instituted the Order of the Chocolate Wrapper because his friend's daughter liked chocolates. Or someone building the most beautiful empty building in the world because he liked his wife when she was alive. No one would be so mushy on such foundational decisions, the theory goes. Yet tourists take photos of the Taj Mahal and admire the reasons for its existence. A connection has been lost that once existed in the past.

The Amazon Symbol

[16] A connection is what the Amazons have.

[17] The tasseled ring, symbol of the Moon and the stars that follow her, is used as an Amazon territory marker in Xena: Warrior Princess. Heraldically, it is "a plenilune tessellated". The Xena prop makers must have studied Jungian psychology closely to come up with such a symbol. Or else they allowed the creative processes of the collective unconsciousness to seep through into the waking world. It is an apt symbol for Amazons.

[18] The Amazon symbol is a visual statement of the Amazons' context, of where they are in the world. The connection with the land, with Mother Earth, and with the air, Father Sky, is made in a way that rings true. Brother Sun and Sister Moon can see that declaration of commitment each day and month as they travel by.

[19] There is also an Egyptian influence in Amazon land. Besides the blue faience bead in Queen Melosa's headband, Egyptian nome-style standards (or the suggestion of them) are set up around the Amazon villages. They are reminders that the Amazons belong to the clan of the Daughters of the Moon, of Artemis the Huntress.

The Moon-Dream

[20] I will refer to the Amazon emblem as a "Moon-dream", using "dream" in the sense of "the Dreaming" (as used in Australia), meaning the timeless creative spiritual place where all things, people and customs have their origin, which existed in the far past and simultaneously exists now in the present.

[21] From a distance, the Moon-dreams look like proto-dreamcatchers. In fact, the actual physical setting of the first entire Amazon village seen, in the episode HOOVES & HARLOTS (10/110), is a unique blend of Navajo-style, Polynesian, and other influences, similar to the way that the music is a blend of interwoven strands from different traditions yet distinctive in its own right. This unique blending set a standard (pardon the pun) that was followed and built on in subsequent episodes.


I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...
Amazon land


[22] In contrast to the simultaneously open and yet all-enclosing Amazon symbol, the centaurs' shield is of a more traditional sort: deer facing direct, its antlers acquired only through age, and hence an emblem of wisdom. It symbolizes perfectly their stand-offish prickly nature, as well as their speed, grace and agility (when they get a chance).


...or Oz, either...
Centaur land


[23] In between the centaurs and the Amazons, we have the in-between coat-of-arms. They form a fence, legally and almost physically, combining the angles of the centaurs with the curves of the Amazons.


This unused Bitter Suite set sure came in handy!
Borderland moon-hooves


More Than Shields

[24] There are other things besides shields in the chivalry of the ancient world.

[25] Belts (technically called a "girdle" in English, and "zone" in Greek), wristguards, armbands, collars (and the daintier necklaces), headbands, and occasionally helmets: these are the accouterments of the protector class in Xena's time. These are the people who distinguished themselves by striving to live according to a code. Their skills and ideals made them valuable. Whatever they had, in turn, became valuable also.

[26] One of Hercules' tasks was to capture the girdle of the Amazon Queen, "to boldly go where no man had gone before". Even though this sounds to modern ears like an early version of a panty-raid, the actual task was in reality a great labor and the resultant "prize" a reluctant one. There have been several modern movies made about this as well as lots of ancient vase paintings.

[27] In the past, that land we can never visit, fame and reputation were quantifiable and accountable entities (though not commodities). They were acquired by being bestowed and they were lost by being sought after. They were given, like a dream gives, not acquired, like a hunger acquires things.

[28] Gabrielle inherited the Amazon Terreis' status, loyalty, rights, and gear through an act of totally selfless devotion to someone who was at the time a stranger. That the act was ultimately futile and did not prevent Terreis' death is irrelevant. It is the willingness to perform the act that was admired and rewarded. This is very samurai.

[29] Gabrielle's code of the bard, even in its very early stages, was stronger than steel. Fires could not melt it, nor could oceans quench it. Arrows could not pierce it. It would never leave her, although the choice is always open to her to abandon it if she so desires. Hopefully, she will not.


Gabrielle's Poteideian is showing
Reluctant Queen,
with Terreis' sword and wristguard.
Note the protective hawk icon on both.

The Amazon Standard

[30] In the Amazon village encampment, from a distance, the standards bearing the Amazon symbol look like chakram-on-a-stick, or an early-style maypole waiting to be be-ribboned in the dance celebrations of the spring festival still called May Day. 

[31] Maia was one of the gods known to the Greeks:

1. in Greek mythology, the eldest and loveliest of the Pleiades, mother of Hermes by Zeus.
2. in Roman mythology, an earth goddess, sometimes identified with the Greek Maia; the month of May was named in her honor.[Note 01]

Maia ("goddess") as a name is related to the words "mistress", "mayor", "major", "majesty", carrying meanings of "greater" and "grandeur", like the ancient maharaja "great king" or the modern megaphone "big talking-thing". [Note 02]

[32] The Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, are a beautiful group of stars that form an "open cluster" and shine like jewels in the velvet night. They can now, because of this connection, be thought of as starry Amazons. The context of HOOVES & HARLOTS allows that.


Prepare for arm-wrestling at 30 paces!
Defending Ephiny,
at the Amazon village 
in the May mist


Amazon Quidditch?


[33] In later episodes, Ephiny wears a moon-dream armband. She is carrying her ideals and commitments with her wherever she goes.


Ephiny protects Xenan from overexposure, ironically exposing herself in the process
Protecting Ephiny, 
looking after the kids


Haute coutoure, Amazon style
Moon-dream armband,

The Obol

[34] Ephiny also has a headband whose center piece is an old-style coin, an obol. It is the size of an old-style apple.

[35] There may be a linguistic-historical connection between "apple" (originally they were tart and tangy, sharp-tasting) and "obol" (sharp-object, a nail; metal rods were used as currency after cattle became too unwieldily for everyday transactions). The pommel on a sword is so-called because of its resemblance in size and shape to an apple. "Pommel" is French for "apple". Apples are otherworldly in the memory of Europe, perhaps because they were imported from Ebla, just like parchment came from Pergamum, books from Biblos and copper from Cyprus.

[36] Combining apples and women with the garden setting of an Amazon encampment or the mythical setting of an otherworldly location raises interesting connections. 

[37] There is the "apple-in-a-garden" connotation which brings the Garden of Eden to mind. This would make Ephiny a type of Eve. There is the Greek myth of the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides. The Hesperides were the daughters of Hesperus ("evening"). The apples confer immortality and reside beyond the setting sun, in the land of the dead, on the Isle of the Blest. This is half a step away from making Ephiny a type of Galadriel.


Funny, I don't *feel* dead. And my makeup is...perfect!
Visiting Ephiny, 
citizen of the Amazon land of the dead


[38] Golden apples are also mentioned in northern European myths. They make a thematic appearance in season six of Xena, interwoven with Norse and Baltic legendary textures.

[39] As to the iconography of the obol, it represents how the Amazons are geographically scattered among the four winds of the world, and yet they are remain united in spirit with a common bond at their core. Wherever you find a certain type of ideal, there you will find an Amazon. In each of the four quadrants there are Amazon encampments.


How 'bout them apples?
Obol, detail

Other Devices

[40] Other heraldic styles and icons are used to provide a contrast to the Amazon world. Khindin's helmet is a good example of this contrast.


Centuries later, Bobby Fischer wore this hat to victory over Boris Spassky.
Chessmaster Khindin


[41] Symbolically, it conjures up echoes of the traditionally intricate and many-towered evil wizard's castle. Much effort over a large span of time has gone into such a construction. The implication is that a similar effort has gone into the accumulation of skills and power, very likely not for selfless purposes. When we find out later in the episode that Khindin is Alti reincarnated, the helmet is consistent with her choices and personality.

[42] The helmet itself has an industrial and mechanical touch it, contrasting to the organic furs and feathers of the Amazons. Its style is an unspoken clue as to the character of its bearer even before we know who she is.


If you look closely, you can see the cleverly hidden emergency pawns.
Khindin's helmet, detail


[43] At the other end of the spectrum of sophistication of what the heralds call "devices", is the simple, almost plain, adornment worn by M'Lila, Xena's battle-skills tutor, and later her friend and, at the end, devoted protector. 

[44] M'Lila's pendant is made of curves. Combined with its simplicity, this suggests a closeness to the Earth, to life. Khindin's helmet embodies a dominating personality, one who would use things and discard them rather than live with them.


I'm Celtic, I kick b*tt, and I have a cool swirly necklace
M'Lila's Celtic four-leaf spiral


[45] Interestingly, Xena does not wear a necklace. The unspoken symbolic implication is that she has no rank and group commitment, or that she is beyond rank or beyond the need for rank. At first, Gabrielle does not have a necklace either. Later, she acquires one that looks like a silver fruit or a pearl drop, possibly made from electrum. This is her own personal one, quite separate from her official Amazon regalia. It is easy to imagine that it might have been a solstice gift.

The Garter

[46] Beyond the swords and jewels and things, there are people.

In a moment of visual poetry in HOOVES & HARLOTS, the Amazons do obeisance to their Queen, or rather the Queenhood. They do so by forming what might be a horse-shoe shape (for horse-lovers), or an almost-round Round Table shape (for the heralds). This is yet another example of polysemic interpretation in Xena. The swords further strengthen the image of a group of knights declaring fealty to their lord and a commitment to their ideals. 


Okay, girls, really streeeeeetch those quads! Aaaaahhh!
The first Order of the Garter

Lady of the Garter

[47] Beyond the people, there is the context within which they live. The damsel in distress, the one who is rescued by a knight, her champion, is a staple item in stories of chivalry.

[48] Gabrielle fulfills this function easily. She is kidnapped in CALLISTO (22/122), BLIND FAITH (42/218), and FINS, FEMMES & GEMS (064/318), THE ABYSS (118/606) and, in a sense, MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515). In fact, Xena's first encounter with Gabrielle is when Gabrielle is already in a state of kidnap: SINS OF THE PAST (001/101). 

[49] Gabrielle exhibits other characteristics often associated with stories of chivalry. Like medieval women, Gabrielle is a also participant in the creative arts. She is a writer, especially in FINS, FEMMES & GEMS, THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210), A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517), as well as the series generally. 

[50] She is a public performer: ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS (13/113).  She is a dancer A TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406), and a healer LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407). She is a playwright THE PLAY'S THE THING (085/417).

[51] She is devoted, like Lady Godiva was devoted to her people: THE QUEST (37/213), and FRIEND IN NEED (133-134/621-622) are good examples of this devotion to Xena. She is devoted to her Amazons, and they to her, e.g., TO HELICON AND BACK (127/615).

[52] She is of royal lineage, by her right of caste, and this leads her to be Amazon Queen HOOVES & HARLOTS, and the resulting weight of responsibility associated with that position, as shown in PATH OF VENGEANCE (126/614) and TO HELICON AND BACK (127/615).

[53] On the knightly side of the chivalry coin, she is battle companion, experiencing the companionship, triumphs and sadnesses of a warrior: THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), THE PRICE (44/220), ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), WHEN IN ROME... (062/316), A GOOD DAY (73/405), and LEGACY (117/605).

[54] A knight's goal in life was more than wandering around the countryside looking for a fight. There was a spiritual element involved. Gabrielle exhibits this element also: PARADISE FOUND (81/413), THE DELIVERER (50/304), DREAMWORKER (03/103), and CRUSADER (76/408).

[55] And lastly, in medieval times, there was a concept of fealty, of being bound in a relationship where one would serve and the other would protect. 

Gabrielle is bound. She is bound, beyond the concept of duty arising from friendship, bound beyond the boundaries of the mundane world. She and Xena have changed each other's universes and intertwined them into a mutual fealty extending beyond time and space: for example, THE PRODIGAL (18/118), FORGET ME NOT (63/317), WHEN FATES COLLIDE (130/618), DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422), SOUL POSSESSION (132/620), FALLEN ANGEL (91/501), BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415), and THE IDES OF MARCH (89/421).

[56] She is a worthy member of the Order of the Garter.



All this talk of jewelry makes Gabrielle wistful and more than a little envious
Amazon Queen,
with Argo in the background
(The Quest as reviewed in


Though I am old, with wandering
Thru hilly lands, and hollow lands;
I'll find out where she has gone
To seek her lips, to take her hands-
And walk thru long green dappled grass;
To pluck 'til Time, and times are done:
The Silver Apples of the Moon;
The Golden Apples of the Sun...[Note 03]


Note 01:
From Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English language. Unabridged. Second Edition. Based upon the broad foundations laid down by Noah Webster. Extensively revised by the publisher's editorial staff under the general supervision of Jean L McKechnie (The World Publishing Company, 1956). This dictionary is a treasure-trove of folklore (for example, it has an entry on May dew) and of local North American and regional names of flora and fauna. The definitions are polished gems. The poet HSMegahed recommends this dictionary because "poetry is in the words". Who is Jean L McKechnie? Where did the poetry come from?
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Note 02:
See Eric Partridge, Origins: A short etymological dictionary of modern English (1966), (Greenwich House, New York, 1983). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin 1981) postulates an Indo-European form of the name *mag-ya, with the meaning  "she who is great".
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Note 03:
William Butler Yeats, The Golden Apples Of The Sun.
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Edward Mazzeri, "Chakram Levels" Whoosh! #41 (February 2000)

Edward Mazzeri, "Mirror of Virtue, The" Whoosh! #43 (April 2000)

Edward Mazzeri, "Word Count and Meaning in Xena: Warrior Princess" Whoosh! #47 (August 2000)

Mazzeri, Edward. "How Has Xena: Warrior Princess Changed the World?" Whoosh! #50 (November 2000)

Mazzeri, Edward. "Word Count and Meaning in Xena: Warrior Princess: Season Two" Whoosh! #51 (December 2000)

Mazzeri, Edward. "Serendipity and Meta-Subtext: Contemplation From Under the Lake" Whoosh! #63 (December 2001)

Mazzeri, Edward. "On Watching The Director's Cut Of The Series Finale" Whoosh! #70 (July 2002)

Mazzeri, Edward. "On Sappho" Whoosh! #72 (September 2002)


Edward Mazzeri Edward Mazzeri

I work in an air-conditioned office. Outside, a dry land wilts under a waterless sky. I've watched Xena on TV. Outside TV, Amazons and garters flourish in my thoughts. What you make of that, will reveal who you are.

Favorite Amazon-related line: "Great!" - exasperated Xena finding out Gabrielle is an Amazon princess (HOOVES & HARLOTS).
Favorite northern Amazon: Otere. Or Yakut. No, Otere. Or maybe Yakut. OK, both.
Favorite Amazon evidence container: Ephiny's pouch.
Favorite Amazon detective inference: "Centaurs don't eat hay."
Favorite Amazon dance: the blue-mud midnight moon dance of the northern Amazons.
Favorite Amazon cute line: Ephiny in MATERNAL INSTINCTS saying "Iíll round up the kids". Some of them really were.

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