Summer is a Sunshower

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Summer is a sunshower
The light catching on the rain
The pool speckled with ripples
Eyelids beginning to droop
As heavy as water

Summer is green tea
A half-glass of lemon and mint
Moist like the morning air
Fluid as time and thought

Summer is a tropical depression
With large galls and rumbling clouds
When the parents are too tired to fight
And the kids too tired to listen

Summer is a bird call
Long and low and lazy
Stuck between pleasant and tiresome
Echoing the subconscious
Listless
Unhinged

Summer is aloe
To rub on burnt skin, freckled welts,
And scars that will never heal
Only fade

Summer is discovery
A never-ending journey
Down dimly-lit streets at midnight
With mosquitoes as companions
And reality a bit altered

Summer is peppered chicken
Sizzling and savory
Eaten warm for dinner
And cold for breakfast
Mixed with fresh greens
And scrambled eggs
And repetition

Summer is freedom
Sickly-sweet and desired
Terrifying and unwanted
An enigma
A paradox
A contradiction

Summer is a sundae
Thick and gooey and whole
Whipped cream and chocolate sauce
Warm from the stove
Melting cold cream
Tasting like salted caramel

Sweet as an evening free from worry

Summer is a Sunday
Forever and always
The conclusion of one age
The prelude to another
Church mornings and busy evenings
Peanut butter and honey
Pop songs on the radio
Card games never finished
A breath of relief
Which becomes a perpetual sigh

Summer is over
And yet it never ends.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

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Should Genetic Engineering on Humans Progress?

In 2009, the Canadian-French sci-fi/horror film Splice was released in theaters, telling the story of two scientists playing God and the animal-human hybrid that comes of it. With a disturbing plot and gruesome ending, it gives a chilling warning for the dangers gene splicing present. Now while this movie and terms like “gene splicing” may call to mind an idea of a futuristic, alternative universe, genetic engineering actually plays an important role in the reality we live in. With biomedical advancements being made every day (or so it seems), humanity is approaching the next step in our evolution, which can be both exciting and terrifying.

There are regulations for this progress implemented all over the world. Researchers at Hokkaido University in Japan discovered in 2014 that 29 countries had an outright legal ban on gene editing, while other countries’ regulations were more ambiguous. Some countries, like China, India, and Japan, had bans but did not necessarily have legal enforcement behind them, while others, like the USA, had a moratorium on this research.

However, in this article written by the Associated Press, it was recently revealed that, for the first time in American history, US scientists edited the genes of human embryos. Officials at Oregon Health & Science University confirmed that the experiments took place there and were purely “an exercise in science” in which the embryos were never supposed to be implanted into a womb or allowed to develop.

And in this article from the Washington Post, also released in the past week, it was said that this experimentation might lead to the ability to “altering human heredity,” which in turn could lead to preventing inherited diseases.

Although this progress is certainly exciting, it raises safety concerns and ethical predicaments. It could mean improvements to our health and well-being, or it could cause the rise of “designer babies” and mad science. All in all, it poses the question—should genetic engineering be allowed to progress indefinitely?

There are many professionals who undoubtedly believe so—Jennifer Doudna, a molecular biologist and leading pioneer in this field, is one of them. With a Ph.D in biochemistry, she is a professor of chemistry, molecular, and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and in this TED Talk, she gives a detailed and informative explanation of CRISPR-Cas9, the technology she co-invented that edits genomes.

CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” and CRISPR-Cas9 could essentially help us cure genetic diseases. For instance, scientists in Philadelphia used CRISPR to extract the DNA of an integrated HIV virus from the affected human cells. And the research team led by the Oregon Health & Science University used CRISPR to repair the genetic mutations in the embryos.

Doudna obviously supports this progress, yet she still brings up how she and her colleagues “called for a global pause in any clinical application of the CRISPR technology in human embryos” to fully consider the ethical implications. After all, they do not want to create an abomination like the creature from Splice (and for good reason).

However, CRISPR is not the only gene editor in this field. In a web article by Stephen Chen of the South China Morning Post (which has since been removed because of controversy), NgAgo, used by Dr. Han Chunyu and his team and Hebei University of Science and Technology, is said to rival CRISPR. It was initially considered a “scientific breakthrough” in gene-editing but was recently revealed that the findings were unable to be replicated, meaning Dr. Chunyu was forced to withdraw his paper from the scientific journal.

That being said, because of mistakes like the one mentioned above and the ethical dilemmas gene editing present, others firmly believe that it, particularly any involving human genes, should be moderated and even halted altogether. Dr. Paul Knoepfler, an American biomedical scientist and author, focuses on this idea in his presentation concerning the ethics of “designer babies,” or genetically modified human embryos with pre-determined, desirable traits.

(Note: this talk was delivered a month after Jennifer Doudna’s lecture, and thus could be considered an extension or even rebuttal of her ideas, but notwithstanding.)

Knoepfler uses detailed hypothetical situations to describe what children could be like in 2030 with genetic modification technology on the rise. His stance is that while he loves the progress being made, he believes “it opens the door to people going too far.” He explains some of the pros of genetically engineered children, like how they would be less susceptible to diseases which means lower healthcare costs for a society. He also brings in the opposing argument—the support of progress—often, like when he mentions the example of in vitro fertilization. This example demonstrates how human genetic modification has helped humanity in the past, which supports the view that this science should not be stifled.

Moreover, Michael Bess also addresses the dilemmas of designer babies and genetically engineered humans in his novel Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future, coming to the conclusion that moderation and restraint are more ideal. Bess is the Chancellor’s Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and has received major fellowships from foundations like the National Human Genome Research Institute, which shows his dedication to the topic. He discusses the advancement of genetic engineering for humans and the implications they hold for the future, eventually describing benefits for new bio-enhanced capabilities which include longer lifespans, more human interactivity, improved emotional and mental control, and overall more complex forms of intelligence and insight. Such benefits could create a greater socioeconomic divide because of the technological expenses and unregulated population growth—as well as discord between modified and unmodified humans due to conflicts of human authenticity and genetic fads.

This not only provides a clear idea of what of this technology could mean for the future of human society, but also the implications it has for the rich and poor of all nations. Socioeconomic standing is always an important consideration when theorizing the effects scientific progress could have on society. It is one reason why Bess concludes that “restraint is the smarter path,” because rapid advancement could bring the destabilization of civilization as we know it.

Delivering a warning even more definite than Bess’s, five scholarly professionals discuss why no one should alter the human germ line (egg and sperm cells) in a scientific article published in the Nature News international weekly journal. They are thorough and professional in their argument, blatantly stating their opinions like “heritable human genetic modifications pose serious risks” and that it could have negative impact on work “involving the use of genome-editing techniques in somatic (non-reproductive) cells.” They give a clear warning when they state “the precise effects of genetic modification to an embryo may be impossible to know until after birth” and examples of how the gene-editing can presently be used, like how it can “offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, sickle-cell anemia and several forms of cancer.” Urging international discussion on the issue from the scientific community, they conclude that doing so could effectively discourage the alteration of the human germ line while also raising awareness about the dilemma.

Personally speaking, I have always been fascinated by genetic engineering. Though it once seemed like such an abstract concept—editing the DNA of living creatures, especially a human’s—I now see it is a realistic process that should be carefully considered. I realize that genetic engineering should not be allowed to progress indefinitely, at least not without some form of regulation, because it could mean the progression of eugenics and scientific extremism. As exciting as the idea of futuristic, engineered humans is to a science lover such as myself, I now better understand the detrimental effects it could have on society. Granted, genome engineering has been developing since the 1970s (according to Dr. Doudna), so this rapid development is not as rapid as we all think. Still, the conflict between unmodified and modified humans in the future could lead to even greater social divide, whether it be because of socioeconomic standing or appearance. However, I am filled with hope that CRISPR can help us cure genetic diseases and generally improve human well-being. All in all, I feel more educated on this topic and better prepared to react to its progress.

Citations:

Further Reading:

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Statistical Probability of Miracles

Summer is a time for discovery, and today I discovered that the statistical probability of a miracle is higher than you think.

In the 20th century, there was a Cambridge University mathematician named John Littlewood (1885-1977) who had the grand idea of calculating how likely it was to witness a miracle—a statistical anomaly occurring at random in any given time. He suggested that, if a “miracle” is defined as an unlikely event with a probability of 1 in 1,000,000, and if you are cognizant of the world around you 8 hours a day 7 days a week, and things occur around you at a rate of 1 per second, then you would observe about 30,000 things every day, which means roughly a million things a month. So on average, you should witness one miracle every month (or, to be more accurate, every 33.3 days).

He argues that events viewed as miraculous are actually commonplace if considered in the context of how much occurs in a person’s life. And of course, these calculations are based on the assumption that we’re awake and observing things around us for only 8 hours a day. On average, I feel like many of us are observant, at least partially, for more than 10 hours a day, which increases our probability of witnessing a miracle.

However, this law leaves a lot of room for interpretation and can be rather ambiguous. Mathematically, it depends on how one defines the likeliness of a miracle—one in one thousand? One million? A billion? And by changing these arbitrary factors, one changes the frequency.

But that’s beside the point.

Basically, if a miracle is just any type of improbable occurrence, then they actually happen more frequently than expected. Which is uplifting in a way, because it means that, statistically-speaking, you could witness a miraculous event every month.

I like math, and I like numbers (they can be oddly soothing). But I especially like it when math and numbers make the miraculous seem more predictable. Some might think that it takes the magic out of the magical, but I believe it makes the ordinary more extraordinary.

What do you all think? Is there truth to Littlewood’s Law? And how does it make you feel about miracles?

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Secret Life of Bees: A Review and Other Thoughts

The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, is a realistic-fiction novel set in the 1960s American South, where temperatures were high and racial tensions were higher. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 may have granted equal rights for all, but the long-standing divide between blacks and whites remained stubbornly in place, which is thoroughly apparent throughout this tale. Narrated by its protagonist Lily Owens who recalls the time when she was fourteen years old, it is a first-person bildungsroman (coming-of-age story), with undertones of feminism, religion, and death’s tragic influence. Above all, it expresses the beauty and wonder of bees, which in some ways act as the glue (or in this case, the honey) that holds the story together.

Each chapter begins with a different quote about bees from various informative works, and these foreshadow the series of events set to take place in the upcoming section. A quote about the short lifespan of a bee (like “a bee’s life is but short”) implies the upcoming death of a character. A quote about a bee swarm abandoning its nest and searching for a new home (“Scout bees look for a suitable place to start the new colony”) surely relates to how the protagonist prepares to run away from home and set forth on a quest. It is one of the many clever devices the author uses to enhance her story. Kidd also utilizes good imagery, like “the sky had whited over with clouds, and shine spilled across the surfaces”, and figurative language, like the simile “water beaded across her shoulders, shining like drops of milk,” to add more detail and depth to her descriptions. It very much sets the tone and mood of a narration from an adolescent girl observing the southern, summertime world around her.

As a protagonist, Lily Owens leads a less-than-desirable life. She lives on a peach farm in Sylvan, South Carolina (which, as far as rustic southern towns go, is no better than the lot of them). Her family consists of her irritable father, T. Ray, and her African-American nanny Rosaleen. She has no other next of kin, because her mother died in 1954 when she was 4 years old, and this acts as the source of the novel’s main conflict. Lily is not a typical heroine, for she is neither beautiful, courageous, or overly kind; she considers herself physically unattractive and unpopular at school, with her safety-pinned clothes and unassertive personality. However, like any young teen, she still has her hopes and dreams. After discovering her love for English literature and being told by a teacher that she “could be a professor or a writer with actual books to [her] credit” if she tried, she decides she wants to become a writer and/or professor in the future. All of these details make her relatable, evoking empathy from the readers to help connect to her journey.

This journey begins on her 14th birthday, which takes place on Independence Day: July 4th. Her quest, which is a common motif in many coming-of-age stories—The Catcher in the Rye and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example—commences when she joins Rosaleen on her trip to town to register to vote. Even though the Civil Rights Act may have legally granted Rosaleen this liberty, the southern whites of Sylvan prove to be, as ever, resistant to change, and this leads to her being beaten and jailed. Eventually, when Lily rebelliously helps her escape, they become fugitives: a skinny white adolescent and a robust black adult on the run from the law, which is truly reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn. The parallels between these two novels end, however, when Lily finally finds the home of the Boatwright sisters, a pink house “painted like Pepto-Bismol” where the mystery surrounding her mother is unraveled, where she discovers the power of the Black Madonna, and where she learns all there is to know about bees and bee-keeping.

“The Black Madonna of Breznichar in Bohemia” is especially important. She is a dark-skinned Virgin Mary who appears on the label of August Boatwright’s honey products (the very label Lily had among her mother’s belongings, which is what helped her find the home). Also referred to as “Our Lady in Chains,” the Black Madonna is their role model, their eternal mother, and the object of their worship, because, as August says, “everybody needs a God who looks like them.” The majority of Lily’s spiritual encounters in this story are because of a connection to the Black Madonna, so she is undoubtedly a key figure deserving of special recognition.

Overall, religion and spirituality play a key role in this novel, in both obvious and subtle ways. The South is full of Baptist and Methodist influences, but Lily commonly brings up discussions of Catholicism, which is what the Boatwright sisters more readily practice. With close analysis, one might see how the many eating scenes the characters participate in could be considered acts of communion. In almost every chapter, there is a meal described in detail, and when the characters partake in the food together, they bond much like Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. This idea that sharing a meal is an act of communion is a common one in literary analysis practices, and it certainly rings true in this novel.

Furthermore, there is the motif of bodies of water, whether it be a pond, river, or creek, and this connects to the concept of baptism. Near the beginning of the story, Lily states that, when she is on her quest to find out the truth about her mother, she submerged herself in a creek and “slide down till the water sealed over [her] head” and then “held [her] breath and listened to the scratch of river against [her] ears, sinking as far as [she] could into that shimmering, dark world.” It is the ending scene of that chapter, and in the next chapter the readers see her begin to change and grow. It sounds like the process of baptism—submerging oneself underwater to symbolize a cleansing, to show that they are a new creation. Later on, when Lily is reflecting on the suicide of one of the characters in the river, she says “you could die in a river, but maybe you could get reborn in it, too,” which is further proof that the motif of baptism is prevalent. Religion and spirituality are common thematic concerns in this book because they reinforce the purpose of the story, which is to show how a savior can be found in unique ways among unique people.

But what about the bees? Is this not what the novel is about?

First, let me clearly state that I love bees. I love honey a lot too. This is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed this book so much, because it focused so intently on these things and made me more informed about them and the honey-collecting process.

Bees are very important to the world we live in, and not just because of the honey they produce. While honey is truly “the ambrosia of the gods and the shampoo of the goddesses,” bees are crucial because they are responsible for the pollination of over two-thirds of the world’s agricultural crops. Unfortunately, bee populations are declining at an alarming rate due to habitat loss, diseases, and pesticides, and honey bees have officially been declared endangered. No pollinators mean no vital crops such as almonds, berries, and apples, which is disastrous on many levels. Consequently, I greatly appreciated how this book focused intently on bees and taught the reader how to love them. August even told Lily to “send the bees love” because “every little thing wants to be loved.”

I must also point out that I relate to bees, which is something I did not realize until after I read this. It is said that “[bees] are hardworking to the point of killing themselves,” and upon reading that line, my love for bees grew because I now find them relatable. They literally work themselves to death, going unnoticed and unappreciated, but continue to work because it is their nature, and that is how I (and I’m sure many of us) feel all the time.

Nevertheless, bees do serve an important role to this story. When August explains how “Aristaeus was the first keeper of bees . . . and after that people believed that bees had power over death,” we see that bees connect to death, which is actually a quite prevalent matter in the novel. The death of Lily’s mother looms over her constantly, just as the death of April Boatwright looms over her living sisters, especially her twin May. It is peculiar to think the fat, bumbly bee could be symbolic for the nearness of death, but this seems to be true when one examines the facts. Symbolic or not, they still add to the story’s tone and plot, thus making it interesting and sweet (pun intended).

All in all, this novel truly is a summertime story, and I am very glad I had the opportunity to read it in the summer. Every time I discovered a particular quote I liked, I would underline it in pencil, and I found myself doing this every few pages. Some were simple yet impactful, like “You can be bad at something, Lily, but if you love doing it, that will be enough” which is a philosophy I try to remind myself of daily. Another is “Enough was enough. You cannot fix the whole world,” which is still applicable in the modern day. Other quotes were more insightful yet just as meaningful, like “women made the best beekeepers, ‘cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting.”

But my favorite quote from this entire book was this: “I couldn’t understand how it had turned out this way, how colored women had become the lowest ones on the totem pole. You only had to look at them to see how special they were, like hidden royalty among us.” I want to share it with the entire world. The older I get, the more I see how, even in our progressed society, black women remain at the bottom of the social ladder because of persisting racist and misogynistic influences. And while black women are human, no doubt, and each individual has their flaws, they are not the lowly creatures that I feel media and society depicts them as. I hope it is something others can see as well, so that in time, the long-standing racism and misogyny will finally be overcome, and equality will finally be achieved. It is perhaps the greatest lesson this book has to offer, which is why I wish everyone should read this book, and maybe they will appreciate it as much as I do.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Twister

Twister


Her hair was a corkscrew mane, brown streaked with copper. She had it managed with two thick strands circling her skull like a frizzy halo. A few curls bounced free in silent rebellion as she leapt over the side of her 1965 Ford Mustang convertible, army boots digging into the red desert sand. She was older now—19 and forever wild—her years measured by the quantity of bumper stickers on the silver bumper. True to her namesake, she was an unstoppable force: her words a whirlwind, her actions a juggernaut of long strides. Her bold exterior barely concealed a sizzling temper, and she burst into the room boot-first and dropped down at the nearest table with an ungraceful thump. Sweat had moistened her ruby red tank top. Dust clung to her brown shorts. She was sun-kissed and reckless, loud and untamed. The color of her lips matched the cherry charms dangling from her twice-pierced ears. The bartender brought her a glass of water (she surely needed it), and her face split into a grin as thanks. When he asked her what she needed, she shook her head, indicating that she needed no thing and no one, because she was an entirely independent girl.

It was 1988. She was an outlaw and a saint, a rebel and a scamp. She was free.

––

A little creative writing to go along with this edit I made, in honor of the first day of July. The summer months always inspire me. It might even be the start of a miniseries.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Mermaid Short Film Recommendations

Here are ten of my favorite mermaid short films, music videos, and related cinematographic content. Actual movie recommendations may come later, but right now I’m just focusing on short videos:

  1. Kiss of a Siren by NuMe, which earned Best Film at the 2014 International Fashion Film Awards.
  2. Psycho Princess: The Little Mermaid by the Vancouver Film School. It is one of their multiple renditions of popular fairy tales with dark twists.
  3. Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Nicola Alexandra, a fan-made movie trailer for the Little Mermaid.
  4. The Disappearance of a Girl by Phildel. This music video does not actually contain any mermaids but is more mermaid-themed, as many of Phildel’s music videos are.
  5. The Angry Mermaid by Friends of the Earth International, which seeks to raise awareness and promote action regarding climate change and ocean conservation.
  6. Compendium II: The Sirens also by the Vancouver Film School. It is part of a series that is a re-imagining of the classic tale of Odysseus.
  7. Kristen McMenamy: The Little Mermaid by Tim Walker, from his series “Far, Far From Land” for W Magazine, in which supermodel Kristen McMenamy gracefully floats in a human-size fish tank. Walker’s article and photography can be found here
  8. The Little Mermaid, the classic animated short film from 1975 which closely follows the original story by Hans Christian Anderson
  9. The Mermaid Short by Wizz, an CGI Animated short film
  10.  No Ordinary Love by Sade, an iconic music video from 2009 that tells the story of a mermaid in love

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

A Review of Illuminae and a Word on Acknowledgments

With the arrival of summer comes more freedom and possibility, like exploration and discovery through the medium of literature. Book-reading has always been a great past time of mine, especially in the summer months when I’m not so busy. There’s just something so satisfying about returning from the library with a bag full of books, knowing you can read them at your leisure and not be forced to study them for an assignment.

My most recent conquest was the first installment of a sci-fi/action series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, The Illuminae Files. Book 1, Illuminae, is very uniquely formatted, with 599 pages of chat logs, emails, classified documents, data reports, video footage summaries, the stream of consciousness of a psychopathic AI, and more. In fact, because it is so unique, it can be very confusing at times, which is why for the first 200 pages I was generally very lost and just trying to enjoy the ride until things became clear.

(Thankfully, they did. I just had to be patient.)

This is not my first experience with one of these authors. In the past, I’ve read the first of Kristoff’s Lotus War trilogy, Stormdancer. A fantasy novel set in feudal steampunk Japan, it has historical elements combined with thrilling fantasy lore, like griffins and flying ships. Unfortunately, I was too busy at the time to continue the series, despite its good quality, but perhaps this summer I’ll start them again and finish.

Amie Kaufman has also co-authored a series before, the Starbound Trilogy. I cannot attest to its quality, having never read it, but I assume it’s good because it is a New York Times bestseller.

Anyway, to say that Illuminae was emotionally stirring is an understatement. This book was a wild ride from start to finish, even if I didn’t always understand what was happening. But the beauty of it is that I didn’t need to fully understand the sequence of events taking place to feel the love, excitement, terror,  panic, and hope of the characters. It’s a good quality to have in a novel, Young Adult and otherwise, because it’ll keep people engaged until the very end.

I won’t summarize the plot too much, because the less known about it, the better. But basically, it’s set in the year 2575 and features a pink-haired, headstrong heroine named Kady Grant, her smarmy ex-boyfriend Ezra Mason, and two megacorporations at war over the planet Kerenza, which—guess what?—happens to be the planet the two protagonists live on. I guess you could say it’s a story truly out of this world.

…anyway.

Wonderfully written, I highly recommend giving it a read. Yes, because of its length, it could take a good deal of time to finish, but I can assure you that once you really get into it, the end will come faster than you think.

And this brings me to my next point, which is the beauty of acknowledgements and the realizations they bring. Because at the end of this book, the two authors took the time to thank their editors, advisers, agents, artists, family, friends, and other contributors. The list of people involved, whether it be to proofread rough drafts, provide emotional support, or offer insight into the realm of astrophysics, is so lengthy that it spans multiple pages. Though some acknowledgements were fairly standard (“Our families . . . thank you for your constant support”), others were surely unique, praising specific doctors for giving medical knowledge and engineers for giving computer knowledge and even a certain Christopher Guethe for giving a tour around the NASA Jet Propulsion labs.

It reminds us, the readers and amateur writers of the world, to not only be humble and grateful for all the help given to us, but also that writing a book is not a one-man act. Of course, we don’t usually think this to be true. The reputation of a writer is that of a loner, one who sequesters his or herself from the world for months on end to pour their heart and soul into their latest work. Throughout history, the most famous writers are often characterized as social pariahs and tragic, lonely individuals, and this is certainly true.

For the most part. But not always.

You don’t have to be an expert in the field of thermonuclear astrophysics to write good science-fiction (even though it’d certainly help). What you need to have is a good team of friends, family, and experts who can help and support you until the very end. It’ll help produce a higher quality of work and will also help you finish (sometimes the hardest aspect of part of the writing process).

And remember: just like how reading is a form of exploration, writing is a form of escape. Even if fictitious stories have realistic aspects in them, they can still be used by the writer to escape reality, and this is a wonderful thing. So while the whole mentality of “writing what you know” is true to an extent, it doesn’t have to be true.

Those are my thoughts for now. I’ll be updating more frequently now because, as I mentioned before, it’s summer and I’m not so busy. I hope I’ll be able to continue to read and review great books like Illuminae in the future.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Best of Mermaid Art

We’re halfway through the month of MerMay, and I’ve seen a great variety of styles, like Dylan Bonner‘s Disney-style digital painting:

#mermay day 2! I wanted to make this one totally different from day 1 in terms of feel and color pallet. #mermay2017 #digitalpainting
Salie Chelon‘s pastel glittering graphic:
And Nati‘s mixed-media aquamarine drawing:
These are just a few of the many beautiful pieces I’ve come across. I recommend checking out artists Daniel Kordek, Philia Lina, Lady Shalirin, Jessica Madorran, and Erika Schnellert for more. Searching the #MerMay tag on Instagram and Tumblr never fails either.

While all this new art is refreshing, I’d like to recall some old favorites of mine, which include both classic mermaid paintings and general digital designs worthy of recognition. Obviously, I can’t include all my favorites, but I’ll certainly include some of the best.

Cabinet of Curiosities Mermaid by Alexandra V. Bach

fantasyartwatch: “Cabinet of Curiosities Mermaid by Alexandra V Bach ”

the Siren Song series by Victor Nizovtsev

belaquadros: “Victor Nizovtsev ”

The Five Sisters by Annie Stegg

megarah-moon: “  “The Five Sisters” by Annie Stegg From Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” ”

Fate by bayardwu

somethingmoresubtle: “ Fate by bayardwu ”

The Little Mermaid by Itsuko Azuma

c0225849_1572262.jpg

Ariel the mermaid by Andra Hancock

fish-tails-siren-scales: “ by Andra Hancock ”

Out of Water by Saiful Haque

cinemagorgeous: “ Out of Water by artist Saiful Haque. ”

La Petite Sirene and the Mermaid Project by Renee Nault

Image result for la petite sirene renee nault

Mermaid Drop by sakimichan

Image result for mermaid sakimichan

Atargatis by Annie Stegg

Image result for atargatis annie stegg

Jeune naiade by Paul Émile Chabas

Image result for Paul Émile Chabas (1869-1937) - Jeune naiade

Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

"Ulysses and the Sirens" by Herbert James Draper (1909)

Water nymph by Christian Schloe

Image result for christian schloe art

Mermaid by Charles Murray Padday

Image result for charles murray padday

And finally, Little Mermaid by Mily Knight

Little mermaid by milyKnight

That’s all for now. I’d like to remind everyone that all the artwork above is not my own and I claim no ownership of it. All rights reserved for the respective artists.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The History of Mermaids

I can only begin to cover the rich and complex history of the mermaid myth. Obviously, as with any aspect of myth and history, it is very multifaceted. Different cultures all have different stories regarding the origin of these mythological figures, and it would take hundreds of thousands of words to cover them all.

So today, I just hope to answer some basic questions about mermaids’ history and also give you a taste for more. I am not a historian or professional in any way, so my knowledge is gathered from various sources with the links provided below.

Where and when did the idea of the mermaid begin?

Well, we can never be completely sure, but according to Seathos, mermaids first appeared as deities in mythology between 700 b.c. to 1000 b.c.  The story of Atargatis, a myth which appeared in Assyria in 1000 b.c., is about a goddess that becomes a mermaid. She was in love with a human shepherd, but she accidentally killed him and then, overcome with despair, she flung herself into the ocean.  She wanted to become a fish, but since she was so beautiful, only her bottom half became fish-like.

Atargatis was worshiped in ancient Assyria first, but was said to be exalted in Rome and Greece. She is known as Derketo in Greek mythology and considered the inspiration for the Greek goddess Aphrodite (who, if you remember, was said to be born of the sea foam).  She is regarded as “Great Mother and Goddess of Fertility of the earth and water”.  The spread of civilization in the ancient East is also attributed to Atargatis, as she is believed to have taught the people social and religious practices. Her involvement with the conservation of fish and water fertility would explain why the ancient goddess was depicted as a mermaid.

Here’s a photo for reference:
Image result for atargatis
Now technically speaking, the first mer-person wasn’t female. The Mesopotamian god Oannes predates the Syrian mermaid Atargatis by several thousand years. C.J.S. Thompson, a former English curator, said in his book The Mystery and Lore of Monsters, “Traditions concerning creatures half-human and half-fish in form have existed for thousands of years, and the Babylonian deity Era or Oannes, the Fish-god, is represented on seals and in sculpture, as being in this shape over 2,000 years B.C. He is usually depicted as having a bearded head with a crown and a body like a man, but from the waist downwards, he has the shape of a fish covered with scales and a tail.” And apparently, since his human form was beneath his fish form, he could live among men, as well as in the sea, and thus teach mankind about writing, science, and art. Here is a picture of him:
Image result for oannes
Is it true that some ancient civilizations believed humans were descendants of mermaids?

Indeed it is. In some of the Pacific Island legends, it is said that human beings are descended from both mermaids and mermen. Somewhere back in time, their tails somehow disappeared and replaced by legs, and people were magically able to walk on land. Also, the creator god Vatea from Polynesian mythology was usually illustrated as being half-human, half-porpoise, and Japanese folklore features a mermaid called Ningyo.

Were manatees mistaken for mermaids?
Unfortunately, yes. Back in 1493, Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, was said to see 3 “mermaids” (manatees) and then describe them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”Which would make sense, given that manatees are considered to be sea cows, not beautiful woman of the sea. But Columbus thought America was the Indies, so one shouldn’t always trust his discretion.Anyway, it’s believed that most mermaid sightings by sailors were actually sightings of manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). They look like this:Image result for steller sea cows

Note: Let it be known that in European history, mermaids generally meant trouble, especially to fishermen and sailors. Seeing them could mean a terrible storm or ill-fortune was coming, or that you were about to be drowned. This would also explain why mermaids are sometimes believed to be sea witches.

What about sirens?

Sirens deserve a whole month to themselves, so I won’t be going into too much detail now, but if you didn’t know, the original sirens weren’t half-fish at all. They were half-bird and not very appealing, I’m afraid to say. They used their melodious voices to seduce anyone who heard them. They were first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

So there you have it. A brief overview of the history of mermaids. I hope you now feel better informed.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Why do we believe in myths?

It’s a valid question, really. Why are we so fascinated by stories of Zeus, Thor, or Anubis? Why do these stories get retold over and over, in different forms and across different mediums, in different societies across the world?

These questions are ones I want to answer, but I didn’t feel qualified enough to do so without any research first. So like any curious soul seeking knowledge, I read a book.

Found at the local library, it was called The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others by Alexander Eliot. Now this is not the author’s only work regarding mythology—his other books bear titles like The Timeless Myths and The Global Myths, which gives you an idea of this author’s expertise. It went into such great depth and detail that I highly suggest reading it for yourself, since the collection of quotes and explanations below are just the tip of the iceberg on this topic.

One of Eliot’s first points is that myths are very complex. He states: “No wonder myth eludes definition. It’s not something which we can isolate for a close look. The primal myths are built into our brains, our genes, and our blood. However distant they may seem, they still surround, embrace, imbue, and color human consciousness.” [1]

Poetic, no? Essentially, mythology cannot be so simply categorized. Myths are, in many ways, like history—a deeply ingrained part of humanity.

But what exactly does “myth” mean? According to Mircea Eliade (a Romanian historian and professor who helped write the book), the exact definition of the word doesn’t adhere to our expectations of it. For those living in the nineteenth century, “‘myth’ was anything that was opposed to ‘reality.’ . . . the word mythos in Greek meant ‘fable,’ ‘tale,’ ‘talk,’ or simply ‘speech,’ but it came be used in contrast with logos and historia, thus coming to denote ‘that which cannot really exist.’” [2]

So really, in the past a myth meant any type of story told, but then over time it became a contradiction to fact. Interesting indeed.

So how do myths come about? Now that question has a very long, complicated answer, but to use the words of Andrew Lang (a Scottish poet and anthropologist who also co-wrote this book): “myths reflect actions, ideas, and institutions which actually existed at some time in the past.” [3]

And I believe this reason plays a huge part in why mythology is so fascinating to us. It reflects the different cultures across the globe, and by learning about different myths, we also have the opportunity to learn about the ideals and mentalities of diverse societies.

But to go even more in depth, Eliot brings up Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. He asserts:

“Another attempt at psychological understanding of myth is that of C. G. Jung, whose theory of myth is interdependent on his theory of the collective unconscious. Indeed, it was mainly the striking similarities between myths, dreams, and symbols of widely separated peoples and civilizations which led Jung to postulate the existence of a collective unconscious. He noticed that the images and structure of this collective unconscious manifest themselves in regularly repeating forms, which he called ‘archetypes.’ Like Freud, Jung considered myth, dream, and fantasy to be the indifferent products of the unconscious . . . these mythical images are structures of the collective unconscious and are an impersonal possession.” [4]

In other words, mythology is an extension of the “collective unconscious,” or the part of the mind that stems from ancestral memory and experience and is a shared quality by all humankind, which is different from an individual’s unconscious. How truly fascinating.

In the modern day, we tend to categorize those past stories of demigods and demons as just another slice of fantasy, yet we can see that they are much more ambiguous than expected. They are a shared experience, a crucial part of humanity, and should not be so easily defined or scorned.

Bibliography

[1] Eliot, Alexander. The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others. New York: First
Meridian Printing, 1976. Print.

[2] The Universal Myths, 14

[3] Ibid, 17

[4] Ibid, 20

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic