Why Mermaids Could Exist (and more about various ocean anomalies)

Believing that mermaids exist may seem childish, but believing in a lot of things seems childish until you’re shown the science to back it up.

So that’s why I’m here today. To give you the science. Or rather, some factual information to support these theories. Now I’m not implying that you should believe in mermaids, because I make it a habit to not tell people what they should or shouldn’t believe in. However, what I’d like to do is provide some reasons as to why it’s not unrealistic to think their existence is valid. And true to my nature, I have included links to reliable sources below. Also, fair warning: I focus a lot on the Deep Sea zone, because it plays an important role in my theorizing. It’s also just a very fascinating marine biome.

But to return to the topic at hand:

Perhaps the greatest reason that mermaids could exist is that 95% of the ocean has been unseen by human eyes [1]. That’s right—even though the ocean covers more than 70% of planet Earth, we’ve only explored ~5% of it. And of course, mermaids don’t have to be ocean-dwelling creatures. They could exist in lakes, ponds, swamps, and more, which leaves more places for them to be discovered.

This is also good reason for why any water-based cryptid could exist. The Kraken, the Leviathan, and the Megaladon could all be living at the bottom of the sea in dark trenches and giant caverns, as completely oblivious to our presence as we are to theirs.

But really, that’s being theoretical. What isn’t theoretical is the undeniable appearance of the mermaid myth across different cultures and history. As seen in my previous post found here, mermaids first appeared as deities in Assyrian mythology between 700 b.c. to 1000 b.c. But it is said that mystical female entities were shown in cave paintings even earlier than that, in the late Paleolithic period about 30,000 years ago, which is when modern humans  gained dominion over the land and began to sail the seas. [2]

For a common mythological figure to appear in cultures and historical remnants across the world can mean a number of things, as any historian and anthropologist will tell you. It indicates an intermingling of stories and cultural values over time, interactions due to international trade and travel. However, it also is indicative of the fact that mermaids could exist around the world, hence why people around the world would create artwork as well as spoken and written legends about them.

Now theoretically, if mermaids did exist, it would be likely that they exist in the Deep Sea zone (600 feet/183 meters below the surface). So consider the fact that deep sea gigantism—a phenoma that caused the gigantic makeup of sea creatures dwelling on the sea floor, like with Japanese spider crabs, colossal squids, and different types of isopods—could mean if there were mermaids dwelling on the ocean floor, they could be the size of a whale.

beharkei: “Mermaid by Sergey Kolesov ”

(this beautiful piece of artwork is titled “Mermaid” by Sergey Kolesov)

Deep sea gigantism is influenced by pressure, or to be more specific, a combination of Bergmann’s Rule and Kleiber’s Law.

Bergmann’s rule is “an ecogeographical rule that states that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, and species of smaller size are found in warmer regions” [3]

Kleiber’s Law is “the observation that, for the vast majority of animals, an animal’s metabolic rate scales to the ¾ power of the animal’s mass” [4]

The results?

The Japanese Spidercrab, as aforementioned:

Image result for japanese spider crabs

The Colossal Squid:

Related image

(they can grow up to twice the length of a school bus)

And large isopods:

Image result for large isopods

The Deep Sea really is a wild place. It is extremely cold (about 4º C) and dark because of the lack of light, and most creatures are generally transparent or a brownish-black because of it. It’s home to Gulper eels, Snaggletooth fish, Sloane viperfish, and Angler fish.

And to continue the discussion of interesting ocean oddities, let’s not forget about brine pools, which are essentially pockets of seawater that are very salty and therefore denser than the surrounding water. [5] Because they exist on the seafloor and have distinct surfaces and shorelines, they often look like small lakes within the ocean (think of Goo Lagoon from Spongebob).

There’s also Sea Sparkles, which sound as fantastical as mermaids. Sea Sparkles, also known as Noctiluca scintillans, are small, non-parasitic, species of dinoflagellate that appear bioluminescent when disturbed. They can be found all over the world, often along the coast, in estuaries and shallow areas that receive lots of light, which facilitates the growth of the phytoplankton on which the Sea Sparkle feeds. [6]

They look like this:

Image result for sea sparkles

Magical, aren’t they?

So yes, sea sparkles aside, mermaids could exist in the real world. Unfortunately, they probably wouldn’t look like we expect them to look—as in, feminine and beautiful. If those pictures of isopods and eels aren’t indicative enough, merpeople are likely to be very large and more fish than human. They would probably appear quite frightening.

How frightening? Next month I will be covering mermaids in art, and I will be including all manner of spooky sea maiden pictures.

And remember, most of my reasoning is theoretical. I am not a marine biologist or anthropologist, so here is a very interesting article from a more reliable source about why mermaids couldn’t exist. It is (not surprisingly) more scientific than mine.

What do you think? Could mermaids exist?

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The History of Mermaids

Though it has been a few weeks since I last updated, I’ve returned to continue my “Mermaid-a-Month” series as promised. In January, I gave an introduction to mermaids by discussing their etymology and various translations of the word in other languages. In this edition, I will (begin to) cover the rich and complex history of the mermaid myth.

I say “begin to” because 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.

Which I will not be doing today. But I will be covering mermaids in other cultures in later months, so don’t be too disappointed.

Anyway, I 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
(Wow. What a beauty.)
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

(I guess if you squint, it looks like a really chubby mermaid with no hair and stubby arms)

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. Next month, I will be providing some evidence for why mermaids could be real and giving some cases for proof of their existence.

© 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.

Well actually I googled it first, but the results were so less than satisfactory, so then 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.

Mythology is a very broad topic, and I hope to continue pursuing it with these little research and writing endeavors. In fact, with all this in mind, I plan on writing the next installment of my “mermaid-a-month” series, focusing on the history of the mermaid myth.

But after this discussion, are they really myths after all?

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

“Words to your Past Self?”: a Social Experiment

If you could speak to your past self, what would you say? It’s a very weighted question. It’s also something I think many of us wish we could do regularly—to impart precious wisdom on our naive selves. Personally speaking, I’d tell younger me to focus on the more important things in life. Like cryptozoology.

However, unless time travel is invented in the foreseeable future (which is sadly improbable), my past is my past and I can’t change it. I can try my best to change my future though. So, as a miniature social experiment and as a quest to obtain wisdom for my own journey of self-understanding, I asked a multitude of people of all ages and walks of life for some words they would give to their past self. These are the results:

“Have more fun. Talk more. Be less sad.” ~Female, age 17, introverted

“It’s not worth it.” ~Female, 18, high school senior

“Beware June 5th, 2014” ~Boy, 17, computer expert

“Stop brushing your hair!” ~Female, 18, curly-haired

“Don’t go to school, pursue your real dreams”  ~Male, 18, traveler

“Don’t be so gullible” ~Female, 17, the life of the party

“Live for yourself”  ~Female, 24, teacher-in-training

“Relax. You will change and the world around you will change, and things will get better” ~Male, 65, Humanities teacher

“Buy stock in Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo” ~Male, 33, with a Ph.D in Chemistry

“Don’t slack off on final exams” ~Boy, 14, high school freshman

“Snape kills Dumbledore”  ~Female, 27, environmental science teacher

“Donald Trump becomes president and Biden cried”  ~Female, 17, artist

“You should do sports when you’re 6 years old”  ~Female, 18, future doctor

“Go to that football game”  ~Female, 17, socialite

“You do you, man”  ~Male, 18, hippie

“Don’t waste your life, and don’t take double-block chemistry”  ~Male, 18, procrastinator

“You don’t need to rely on anyone else for your happiness” ~Female, 22, college student

 

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Mothman, the Myth, the Legend

Who is Mothman?

Well, according to a clever text post circulating around the internet, he’s “half moth…half man…….100% boyfriend material.” Amusing, but not too informative. And obviously, this legendary figure has had his appearances in comic books, video games, and the occasional poorly-made TV special, but right now we’ll just be focusing on the one, the true, and the original figure: the red-eyed cryptid from Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

So, according to Wikipedia (the age-old source for things of any real importance), the Mothman is a creature “reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 12, 1966, to December 15, 1967. The first newspaper report was published in the Point Pleasant Register dated November 16, 1966, titled ‘Couples See Man-Sized Bird … Creature … Something’.”

Interesting. But we could go deeper.

Now recently I indulged myself by watching the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies, based upon John A. Keel’s book bearing the same name, which of course was inspired by the events mentioned above. The movie features Richard Gere as the tortured protagonist and Laura Linney as the blonde cop sidekick. Though it is described as a “spine-tingling, supernatural thriller that will rattle your nerves and shake your beliefs”, I just found it highly entertaining. However, it did cover some important details concerning Mothman’s story.

This movie also seemed like a metaphor in which industry is the greatest evil and Mothman’s a communist fighting the capitalist agenda, but notwithstanding.

For one, it emphasized how Mothman is associated with precognition, or being able to foresee catastrophic events (in this case, the collapse of Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge) before they occur. Consequently, it is a common belief that a Mothman sighting means disaster and tragedy are nigh. This doesn’t exactly mean that he himself brings calamity. In fact, one might argue that he has good intentions, trying to warn humanity of danger. So to paint him as a blood-thirsty monster out to hunt and kill humans like some television depictions do is kind of silly.

This doesn’t mean he isn’t a chilling figure. Moths overall are known to be a bit spooky. In the movie, one of the characters, Alexander Leek, actually stated that “in ancient cultures, the moth represents a form of the psyche, or the soul immortally trapped in the hellish death realms.” This could explain why a moth-like humanoid would be particularly feared and revered.

Also, the movie pointed out that those who see Mothman up close are described as having inflamed, swollen red eyes afterwards. Mothman himself is described as having glowing red eyes. Coincidence? I think not.

One thing the movie touched on but I feel didn’t sufficiently explain is Indrid Cold, who is somehow associated with Mothman. But my description of him will have to be saved for another post.

And as a final fun fact, there is an annual festival held in Point Pleasant devoted to the Mothman legend. I hope one day to go.

So that, my friends, is the Mothman. I hope I have informed you well, and I know this will not be my last time discussing him and the questions he brings. The real question though is when will he appear and take me far, far away from all this? Only time will tell.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Mermaids: An Introduction

Mermaids have captured humanity’s imagination since the beginning of our species. These mystical, quasi-fish humanoids known for their enchanting songs, ability to drown naive sailors, and exquisite (or in some cases, terrifying) beauty have sparked thousands of literary works, cinematic ventures, artistic creations, and world-wide debates on the proof of their existence.

Yet while many might recognize these iconic figures in fantasy, few actually realize the history and origins of these beauties, or the scientific speculation that might provide evidence for their being. The history of the mermaid myth spans far and wide, with various nations having assorted stories of different origin. Even in the modern day, each part of the world has a different view of these sea creatures.

First, let it be known that mermaids are an integral part of my character. In other words, I love them a lot. And it is this love, along with my wish to educate the general public (not that the general public reads my blog, but one can dream) about them. Which is why I have begun the “Mermaid-A-Month” series.

Each month, I hope to analyze a different aspect of mermaid mythology—their history, sightings, appearances in literature or art, and so much more.

To start this series, I begin with their etymology. The word “mermaid” comes from old English, with “mer” meaning “sea” and “maid” meaning “girl” or “young woman”. Essentially, “mermaid” just means a woman of the sea, not specifically being half-fish or whatnot. When they actually began to be mistaken for being beautiful women with fish tails will be saved for a later post…

Obviously, the word “mermaid” is not universal. It has many different translations (though you’d be surprised how many languages use the original form as their translation of it). I have given a short list below, taken from this site (obviously since I do not know all these languages, please correct me if you disagree with any of the translations)

Czech: mořská panna
Danish: havfrue
Dutch: zeemeermin
Finnish: merenneito
French: sirène
German: Meerjungfrau
Greek: γοργόνα
Hungarian: sellő
Icelandic: Mermaid
Italian: sirena
Norwegian: havfrue
Polish: syrena
Portuguese: sereia
Romanian: sirenă
Russian: Русалка
Spanish: sirena
Swedish: sjöjungfru
Welsh: môr-forwyn
Yiddish: יאַמ-מיידל
Bengali: মৎসকন্যা
Chinese (both Simplified and Traditional): 美人鱼
Japanese: 人魚
Korean: 인어
Thai: นางเงือก
Vietnamese: mỹ nhân ngư
Filipino: sirena
Indonesian: mermaid
Arabic: حورية البحر
Hebrew: בת ים
Persian: پري دريايي
Afrikaans: meermin
Igbo: mamiwota
Somali: gabareeymaanyo
Swahili: mermaid
Zulu: mermaid

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Holden the Golden or Holden the Foul?: The Issue of The Catcher in the Rye and Censorship

Language. Alcohol. Sex. Angst. Elements bound to cause controversy, yet they and so much more can be found in the pages of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a 1951 literary classic. Narrated by the infamous pessimist Holden Caulfield, whose personality resembles that of a cynical stormcloud with a drinking problem, this work relates the coming-of-age story of a boy wandering the streets of New York having flunked out of prep school. With its excessive profanities, sexual references, underage drinking, and melancholy narrator, The Catcher in the Rye poses the question of whether or not it should be censored in schools, an issue teachers and scholars alike debate thoroughly.

Personally speaking, the novel should undoubtedly take part of higher-level school curriculum (taught with careful analysis, of course) because it is a realistic story with which teenagers can relate. However, personal opinion aside, its blatant obscene content often causes controversy, making it one of the most banned literary works in America.

Such content includes swearing (237 “goddams,” 58 “bastards,” and 32 “chrissakes” to be exact¹), sex, deceit, alcohol abuse, secular ideologies, and even homosexuality. It is therefore perceived as an unholy machination by the education system to destroy the ethics of a nation’s students.

However…

Holden Caulfield is an antihero, a character who believes himself to be a martyr of the world and who lacks typical heroic qualities such as optimism or virtue. And though he may have many warped views and bad habits, his actions are very understandable. His speech is excessively pessimistic and vulgar and his actions immoral because he’s a teenager. He agrees to meet with a prostitute partially because he’s lonely, and this loneliness might also explain his alcohol consumption prevalent in the novel.

The Catcher in the Rye as a whole treats juveniles with a special kind of respect and recognition, speaking to teens’ morality. It addresses isolation and a struggle to make sense of the world. Ergo, it should be taught in schools, but with guidance. Teachers should prompt their class on what they, the students, interpret Holden’s various statements or actions to mean and then offer their own professional insight on the deeper meaning.

Classic literature should not be censored for young adults in general, because the act of banning books is a slippery slope which can lead to the removal of classic, beloved works just for some peace of mind. To shield teenagers from negativity and criticism of society is to teach them that pessimistic views are not allowed. And by doing so, it isolates the youth consumed by their troubles, causing the very thing that the censors are trying to prevent.

Furthermore, it makes modern-day readers better understand the past. On the surface, it merely tells the story of its protagonist, but it also subtly describes the change in philosophy and thought in society post-World-War II, providing criticism of middle-class America. After all, a better understanding of past societal views and values helps current society adjust accordingly.

But above all, it is relatable. It does not romanticize the teenage years as much as it makes them more understandable.  Adolescence is undoubtedly stressful, and reading a book where the narrator reacts to this stress with a less-than-positive attitude mirrors the pessimism many teenagers themselves feel. And like many argue, Holden’s actions and feelings should not be praised but instead pitied.

Censorship is a well-debated issue and often evokes controversy, but it is something to consider when dealing with literature that has so much to offer. Even with his crude words and inappropriate behavior, Holden has profound thoughts that resonate within the minds of equally troubled teenagers. In any case, The Catcher in the Rye is more than just a trite tale of adolescent angst, and Holden’s dream of being the catcher in the rye just might be fulfilled when teens read this book and learn from his mistakes.


¹  Steinle, Pamela. “‘If a Body Catch a Body’: The Catcher in the Rye Censorship Debate as Expression of Nuclear Culture.” Popular Culture and Political Change in Modern America. Ed. Ronald Edsforth and Larry Bennett. State University of New York Press, 1991. 127-136. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 138. Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic