Monthly Marvel: Ammit

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I’d like to introduce you to Ammit, an ancient Egyptian figure for entropic forces.


Ammit

This week’s fantastic being is Ammit.

ammit

Source: Wikipedia, cropped by me.

Her name means devourer or soul-eater in ancient Egyptian; her titles are Devourer of the Dead, Eater of Hearts, and Great of Death. (The English translation of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings calls her Eater of the Dead.) She was a female demon with the head of a crocodile, the mane, front legs, and forebody of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.
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Monthly Marvel: Soft Rime

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. Today I’d like to share soft rime, a much gentler winter phenomenon than I expect to soon experience.


Soft Rime

This week’s meteorological phenomenon is soft rime.

7FTwFa

Source: Kabacchi at flic.kr/p/7FTwFa. This user has a lot of photographs of soft rime.

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Monthly Marvel: Salmon of Knowledge

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I want to share the Salmon of Knowledge.


Salmon of Knowledge

This week’s fantastic being is the salmon of knowledge. An Irish fish, known in Irish as bradádan feasa, the salmon of knowledge has a few stories associated with it.

SONY DSC

Source: William Murphy at flic.kr/p/9EzTuX. This statue, called “The Big Fish,” sits in Belfast and depicts the Salmon of Knowledge.

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Monthly Marvel: Tree of Life

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I want to share the Tree of Life: as a nod to Darwin’s birthday I focus mostly on Darwin’s use of the metaphor, but I also look at other places in which it shows up.


TREE OF LIFE

This week’s idea is the tree of life. The image of a tree of life—axis mundi, if you prefer—is a common one in mythology around the world, but I’m referring specifically to Charles Darwin’s metaphor for all living things on Earth in an evolutionary relationship going back to the origins of life itself. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s only  illustration was tree-like branched diagram, and the book includes a passage which compares “the great Tree of Life” with a growing tree, saying that the former “fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.” Other biologists have used this image, updating it with genetic data. For instance, the Tree of Life Web Project is a collaborative project providing information about biodiversity and phylogeny.

Source: Leonora Enking at flic.kr/p/9GQuCD

Source: Leonora Enking at flic.kr/p/9GQuCD

Other trees of life include arbor vitae, the branching pattern between the grey matter and white matter of the brain; the Tree of Life in Genesis’s Garden of Eden, of which Adam and Eve are said to have eaten before they chose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead; a central symbol in the Kabbalah of Jewish mysticism, which consists of ten interconnected nodes; Yggdrasil, a massive yew or ash tree which supported the worlds; a cipher for the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher’s Stone in European alchemy; the Bo or Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment; an acacia tree in Egyptian mythology from which Isis and Osiris emerged, which encloses both life and death and, more literally speaking, contains a psychedelic drug associated with spiritual experiences; and many others.

But let’s return to Darwin’s metaphor. It was more politically charged than it might first appear. He was writing On the Origin of Species during the abolition movement, and at the time there were two competing theories about human origins: monogenists, who argued that there was a single origin for all humans, and the polygenists, who argued that there were multiple origins for all humans, one for each race (source). For the most part, monogenists cited the Bible, while polygenists cited scientific theories, mostly based on cranial measurements, which suggested Europeans and Africans were separate biological species. Supporters of slavery mostly used these polygenist scientific theories, while abolitionists relied on Biblical monogenist theories. However, the intellectual climate of the era was leaning more heavily to science than to religion, and it looked as though the slave owners were going to win the argument. They had science on their side, after all. That is, they had science on their side until Darwin, the product of strongly abolitionist families, published On the Origin of Species. Darwin argued that all humans were the same species, tied together in one branch of the Tree of Life; the polygenist theory lost scientific support, giving the monogenist theory the scientific grounding it needed to win the argument in that era.

Posted by Christian H.

Monthly Marvel: Cheshire Cat

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. The Cheshire cat, known mostly for its grin, is this month’s wonder.


CHESHIRE CAT

This week’s fantastic being is the Cheshire cat.

Image source: the Namesake webcomic (www.namesakecomic.com/), by Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melançon, who hold copyright. Used with permission.

Image source: the Namesake webcomic (www.namesakecomic.com/), by Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melançon, who hold copyright. Used with permission.

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Monthly Marvel: Cainite

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. A very particular version of Cainite (descendents of Cain) is this month’s wonder: these are bicephalic people living in a subterranean world. Be warned that this entry is long.


CAINITE

This week’s fantastic being is the Cainite. A bit of Jewish myth, the Cainites were the children of Cain, murderer of his brother Abel. There are lots of legends about Cain’s descendants, but I want to focus on just one: according to some obscure sources the Cainites were a race of two-headed people. I apologize for this entry’s excessive length: there is no convenient summary like a Wikipedia article, so I will need to collect the assorted versions of the story myself. Skip down to the last paragraph (after the second photograph) for the briefer sort of entry I usually provide.

Source: Ron Almog at flic.kr/p/fLU7Bw

Source: Ron Almog at flic.kr/p/fLU7Bw

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Monthly Marvel: Simulacrum

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This month I’m sharing the simulacrum, a difficult concept perhaps best simplified as a reproduction which does not have an original, or a fake thing that produces its own reality, though neither simplification is not quite complete.


SIMULACRUM

This week’s idea is the simulacrum.

Fireworks behind Cinderella's palace at Disney World

Source: Darrell Taylor at flic.kr/p/svXUh

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Monthly Marvel: Borgesian Conundrum

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I am revisiting the Borgesian conundrum, which concerns either the way the writing makes the author or the way authors make their precursors.


BORGESIAN CONUNDRUM

This week’s idea is the Borgesian conundrum. Jorge Luís Borges (whom I’ve mentioned before now) was an Argentine short story writer, essayist, poet, translator, librarian, and reluctant lecturer who lived from 1899 to 1986. He contributed significantly to the short story as a form, and to fantasy and magic realism as genres. It is also thanks to his work that translations of South American writing became popular in the English literary market. His work is filled with mathematical references (including anything to do with infinity), metaphysical puzzles, and assorted paradoxes.

I think this image is Public Domain, but I might be wrong in this. Let me know if you know that I am and I will remove it.

I think this image is Public Domain, but I might be wrong in this. Let me know if you know that I am and I will remove it.

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Monthly Marvel: Pizza Effect

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I’m sharing the pizza effect, which concerns the creation of “authentic” cultural artifacts abroad.


PIZZA EFFECT

This week’s idea is the pizza effect.

Image source: Jeffreyw at flic.kr/p/f57dsm. Jeffryw has a large number of high-quality creative commons photographs of pizza, in case that’s a resource you’ll need some day.

Image source: Jeffreyw at flic.kr/p/f57dsm. Jeffryw has a large number of high-quality creative commons photographs of pizza, in case that’s a resource you’ll need some day.

The pizza effect refers to a phenomenon in which an element of one culture is transformed or embraced in another culture and is then imported back into the culture of origin in this new way. You could also think of this as the way in which a culture or community’s self-understanding is influenced by outside sources. A term from religious studies and sociology, the pizza effect gets its name from the idea (possibly false) that pizza was mostly developed by immigrants from Italy in the United States and exported from there to Italy at a later date, where it was interpreted (and became) a specialty in Italian cuisine. Hindu monk and anthropology professor Agehananda Bharati coined the term in the 1970s to address issues of Indian culture: for instance, the popularity of yoga and several gurus which developed in the West led to their adoption in India, and the Bhagavad Gita which, while always important to Hinduism, became even more exalted when Western anthropologists and orientalists interpreted the Gita as Hinduism’s Bible.
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Monthly Marvel: Water Starwort

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I am reviewing the water starwort, a plant which I chose in the first place mostly to excerpt Erasmus Darwin’s unintentionally hilarious The Loves of the Plants.


WATER STARWORT

This week’s plant is the water starwort.

Image source: Tony Rodd at flic.kr/p/8rVsGC

Image source: Tony Rodd at flic.kr/p/8rVsGC

The genus is called Callitriche, and is in the plantain family. It has a number of interesting species; the Antarctic water starwort, with tiny yellow flowers, lives on subantarctic islands, and theautumn water starwort, besides having a pretty name, can be pollinated by wind or water, depending on whether its flower is above the water or below it.

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