Thursday, December 27, 2012

Creature of the Month - The Berkeley Toad by Dr. Bob Curran

In many folklore traditions, the toad is something of an ambivalent creature. On the one hand, it is considered to be repellent and often becomes a symbol of foulness and evil – perhaps its very appearance hints at it being malignant and poisonous. And yet on the other hand <and in many Eastern cultures> it is associated with wisdom and “knowing”. Toads are thought to have lived for many centuries and in that time have acquired much knowledge. It was therefore considered to be the wisest of creatures and parts of its body could be used for special purposes. For example, a dried toad’s tongue might be used to incite either love or lust in a woman whilst a bone from its leg might be used to “calm fevers” of various sorts.  To this end several local Toad Fairs, were held in parts of Dorset in England at which parts of toads or tiny statues of toads were sold as a protection against or cure for various ailments. |Live toads were also sold and it was said that such a creature, worn in a muslin bag about the neck was an infallible cure for scrofula or King’s Evil. Sometimes the head of a toad would be put into a bag and placed against the patient’s bare chest which they would then have to carry under their clothing for a specified time. No illness or fever could then cause them harm. Furthermore, when cut open, toads supposedly contained a small object known as a Toadstone. When ground down and mixed into a drink, this substance was an infallible antidote for all known poisons <including the bite of another toad>. Materials purporting to be Toadstones were readily on sale in places such as Stalbridge in Dorset. Somewhere in remote England or in some distant part of Continental Europe, it was believed, there was a toad with a massive jewel in its skull. If an individual could acquire that jewel, he or she would also hold all the knowledge of the world including the words that God had used to fashion reality. Ancient European alchemists were supposed to hunt for that jewel during medieval times as it would also confer immortality on whoever found it.

It was also believed that carrying the bones of a toad would give the individual power over other animals. In Cambridgeshire in England a secret society of Toadmen was formed and it was said that its members had power over any horse and could make it do whatever they wished. The mystery of how they acquired this power remains a secret but it was thought to involve the bones of a toad sewn into their clothing. 

However, the toad was also associated with evil and many witch cases, both in England and in Europe, cited witches and wizards keeping the creature as a ‘familiar’.  This meant that in Black Magic circles, the toad was actually the embodiment of the Devil. The bones of the creature it was believed, could be used in spells to summon up thunderstorms – this was a particular feature of Scottish witchcraft. It was thought too that, under diabolic influence, certain toads could grow until they became monsters. This was probably a result of seeing the creature in a bloated condition at the end of the summer and allowing rural imaginations to work. The toad then, was a complex creature, combining elements of both good and absolute evil. 

Perhaps one of the most famous of these “monsters” comes once again from England. It is the famous Berkeley Toad and its legend was widely known in the Middle Ages. Berkeley is a rural market town in Gloucestershire, standing on the banks of the River Severn. It is a very old settlement and it has a curious history particularly relating to witchcraft. In the time after the Norman Conquest of England, there was a famous “witch” living there who was widely known and feared across the countryside. She may have been no more than an augur or soothsayer <prophetess> but her reputation was such that is said that when she died, the Devil himself came from hell for her and dragged her away with him. A good place then to have a story concerning a monstrous Toad connected to it. 

There seems to be little doubt that the Toad actually existed. In the chancel of St. Mary’s Church in Berkeley, there is the curious carving of a large toad adorning the tomb of the important Berkeley family, the local landowners of the area. Beneath it are the carvings of the heads of two small children. According to a local legend, a monstrous toad-like creature emerged from a local “mire” <swamp> in the Middle Ages and rampaged through the country. It devoured two small children belonging to the Berkeley family who were caught up in its path.  The toad was eventually killed but the deaths of the two infants are commemorated on the tomb.

The Church, however, is not the only place where a carving of the Toad may be found. In the Morning Room of nearby Berkeley Castle <which was the seat of the family> there is a similar carving, said to be of a creature which once lived in the Castle dungeons. A collection of notes and stories, collected by a former land steward, James Herbert Cooke, writing in the early 1600s also alludes to that tale. His notes were transcribed by one of his successors, John Smyth of Nibley in the 19thcentury. Citing Smyth’s words in the original English, he states:

Out of a dungeon in the likeness of a deep, broad well, going steeply down in the middle of the Dungeon Chamber in the said Keep, was <so tradition tells> drawn forth a Toad, in the time of King Henry the Seventh, of incredible Bignes. Which in the deep, dry dust in the bottom thereof had doubtless lived there divers hundreds of years, whose portraiture in just dimension as it was then to me affirmed by divers aged persons. I saw, about 48 years agone, drawn in colors upon the Door of the Great Hall and upon the utter side of the stone porch leading into that Hall, since by the pargettors or pointers of that wallwashed out or outworn with time which in breadth was more than a foot, nere 16 inches and in length more. Of which monstrous and outgrown beast, the inhabitants of the town and in the neighbor villages round about, fable many strange and incredible wonders; making the greatness of this toad more than would fill a peck. Yea, I have heard some who looked to have belief , say from the report of their Fathers and Grandfathers that would have filled a bushel or strike, and to have been many years fed with flesh and garbage from the butchers; but this is all the truth I know or dare believe”

Whether or not Smyth’s words are true and there was some sort of monstrous toad-thing kept in the dark dungeons of Berkeley Castle during the reign of Henry VII, over the years the central story has become greatly embellished and there are many variations of it. Some accounts state that the Toad was simply “a wonder” and that some nobles traveled many miles to see it. Other variants say that at some point, the creature broke free and “went on the rampage” through the area, creating mayhem and destruction – even devouring several individuals in its path. It was finally killed by men-at-arms from the Castle itself and its monstrous body burned. Another variant of this tale states that it was driven into a nearby swamp and simply disappeared. And, of course, yet another version says that it was raised by Black Magic and simply returned to the Devil from whom it came. The potent legend, in all its variations, has continued right down until the present day and it is now possible to buy representations of the creature, both in glass and metal as ornaments and as jewelry boxes and as bedside containers or decorative pieces.

And if it is not true, then where has such a legend come from?  The story, as with the idea of the Toad, is certainly an old one and may even predate the time of King Henry VII. It may go back into pagan times in England and signal some form of race memory <as perhaps many such legends do> of a prehistoric time when the toad – or something like it – was worshiped as a god. There have been hints and whispers of such worship down the centuries, some of which have found their way into the works of such horror and fantasy writers as H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.

There is an old legend – no more than an unsubstantiated folktale – that during Roman times, an unnamed General serving with the Legions in Eastern Europe came across a strangely carved door at the end of a ravine, somewhere in the lands of the Dacians far beyond the River Danube. He had been leading an expedition against the Gitae <Dacians> and had driven them back to a mountain tract <possibly the foothills of the Carpathians> where they entered a shallow valley and found the door in the wall of a cliff. It seemed, according to the legend, to be made out of some unknown metallic material which could not be penetrated and was carved with the face of a monstrous toad-like entity which stared out at them with blank eyes. The superstitious soldiers drew back but the General went up and struck the door with the hilt of his sword. It rang hollow inside. Local tradition later told him that this was supposedly the entrance to some underground pagan temple where a being, the face of which was represented on the door itself, was worshiped with human sacrifice. The location of the valley where the door was found has never been disclosed so perhaps it is still there, waiting.

A similar type of story comes from Ireland and also has to do with prehistoric gods. In northern County Cavan, in the district of Tullyhaw, it is said was once a great open area with a ring of stones at its center. This was known as Mag Sleacht <the Plain of Adoration> where the ancient god Crom Cruach <or Cruicah> - the Bowed God of the Mounds – was worshipped. The circle was very ancient and according to some traditions was so old that it had partly sunk into the earth by the time St. Patrick came to view it in the 5th century. In the centre of the circle <twelve stones placed at varying significant points> was a large stone or “idol”<perhaps a stone sheathes in gold> pertaining to the Cruach. Sometimes a representation of the ancient god was supposed to appear there – sometimes as a bloody head but also sometimes as a kind of toad-like entity, sitting on top of <or slightly above> the stone. When Patrick saw the ancient thing, he was appalled at its pagan aspect and banged his crozier on the ground, causing the twelve stones to sink into the ground, but not the “idol” It remained above ground and was later smuggled, minus its golden covering, across Lough McNean and into south-west County Fermanagh where it still stands today in the corner of a field. Whether or not the ancient god still appears on its crest is another matter but could this legend have inspired Robert E. Howard’s famous Cthulhu Mythos story “The Black Stone”?  And perhaps the legend of the Berkeley Toad disguises some far older truth and more ancient gods.

So what are we to make of the tale of the Toad?  Was there indeed some form of ancient monster dwelling under Berkeley Castle in the early 1500s?  Or does the fable mask some older belief dating back to the early days of Mankind? Perhaps the Berkeley Toad is a much more complex monster than we might initially think.                    

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Assembling an Anomaly with Micah Hanks

We are excited to announce the formal publication of our new release The UFO Singularity from Micah Hanks.  

The false but widespread assumption that a UFO is, of necessity, an alien spaceship is usually the reason the term generates such an exaggerated and confusing range of emotional responses. A recognition of the extraterrestrial hypothesis as being a valid, although unproved, possible explanation worthy of further scientific scrutiny is something entirely different from approaching the subject of UFOs as if this discovery had already been made.
—Leslie Kean, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record

Since my early youth, I admit to being wholly absorbed with all the compelling possibilities that surrounded the UFO mystery. Even the grainiest and least aesthetically impressive black and white photographs that had emerged into the wide and ever-expanding dossier of UFO reports up to that time boasted a certain degree of promise in my young mind. To me, each of those otherwise-unimpressive images, depicting amorphous globs of light and barely discernible shapes coasting through the airspace above our planet, might have held the potential for incredible realities and bold new kinds of life that might have come from, of all places, somewhere outside this little celestial island we call Earth.

It is rather strange to me now, thinking back to those years of eager and hopeful early exploits in the field of ufology, that notions regarding the origins of those strange saucers—at least so far as being from someplace other than outer space—had seldom crossed my mind. Today, things are quite different, and I can state with certainty that the man I would eventually become, equipped with a more complete understanding of the scientific meth­odology that any serious researcher must apply in his or her respective field, has illuminated a number of new potentials in the realm of what UFOs might be. If any­thing, my thought processes regarding the possibilities this complicated mystery may yet afford us have only continued to broaden, especially the further I get from that old notion that UFOs, quite simply, are interstellar spacecraft from another world.

To be fair, the reasoned scientist should not (nor would he in practice) eliminate any possibility on the mere grounds that available evidence seemed to be lack­ing in one particular area or another. For all we know of the UFOs themselves—or the presumption that they are occupied by some kind of physical beings like you or me, for that matter—the ongoing enigma of the flying sau­cers very well may be representative of alien life from some distant star system. Therefore, far be it from me, let alone the staunchest skeptics among us, to hope to derail anyone else’s belief in alien visitation here on Earth. The bottom line is that we simply don’t know what, exactly, we may be dealing with when it comes to UFOs. At present, we only have a few reasonably good ideas.

Based on this fundamental notion that UFOs could either be nothing we have yet imagined, or that they are represented by a variety of different unexplained aerial phenomena, I have long advocated the use of a reasoned, philosophical process of inquiry we might call “specula­tive ufology” for use in their study. Although many in the scientific field lapse into a state of rhetorical cringes and curls at the mere utterance of that word—speculation— there must be some way to proceed with the unraveling of complex mysteries through the use of filling in cer­tain blank areas, so as to ponder a more likely outcome or resolution to any given set of circumstances. Think for a moment of how a skilled mathematician or physicist is given license, by virtue of his trade, to balance equations that are intricate in their difficulty by brainstorming a host of different variables. That is, he will go about the problem-solving process by replacing certain unknown elements with quantities that may, in the end, bring res­olution to a group of numbers arranged in such a way that they represent the complex mysteries surrounding things like time, space, gravity, and the cosmos. At the outset of his inquiry, this brilliant man of science will likely not be equipped with every piece needed to solve the puzzle before him; and thus, he improvises. This sort of educated guesswork is integral to the eventual unraveling of any great and complex mystery our universe may have to offer.

Much the same as math and numbers can be likened to being a universal language of the greater cosmos, the role of the speculative physicist is one who seeks to find “common ground” between disparate elements that exist throughout our reality. Why is it, for instance, that light energy in the form of photons being propelled through space will tend to behave differently in some parts of the universe as opposed to others? Though there may appear to be no physical mass present to influence their behav­ior, the light traveling along in such circumstances can be observed behaving as though there were, in fact, some­thing else there. Hence, such strange and questionable behavior has lead us to the presumption that things like black holes and antimatter must exist, and that the latter of these will likely share the same attractant forces that any “normal” matter would exert in terms of its influence on other objects. This, at least, has become a consensus among many in the scientific community, so far as being the most likely explanation for weird behavior that can be seen out there in deep space, and at times, perhaps even in our own backyard. The great challenge, however (or burden, depending on one’s viewpoint), always lies in the task of confirming such theories, a task that inevitably becomes daunting.

We are cursed with a very limited ability to physi­cally lay our hands on such mysteries as antimatter—and the same goes for things we would perceive as being nor­mal and everyday, such as light energy. We are unable to hold such things in our hands, turning them before our eyes and grasping them like any solid object, in order to observe their most miniscule and clandestine details. But because of this, can we say with certainty that light energy simply does not exist? Can we say that antimatter, despite its elusive nature, is not what we had originally presumed must be exerting its peculiar influences on other aspects of our universe? The modern scientist would scoff at the very proposition, right? And yet, that seems to be precisely how complex issues involving the UFO mys­tery end up being treated.

So why is there such a double standard here? How can bizarre concepts like alternate dimensions and time travel be completely acceptable, but only as long as there is a speculative physicist with a long string of letters after his name who divulges such potentials—and often stand­ing before a camera’s ever-watchful eye, presenting these bold “theories” to an audience of millions in some colorful science-themed television program? As soon as the humble ufologist steps up to the plate and begins to point out the scientific potentials that may surround things like UFO propulsion, or how intelligent life might travel through space, he gets laughed off the stage and called a lunatic. Go back home, freak. And try fitting that tin foil hat a bit tighter next time; you’re going to need it to protect your brain from being fried by those aliens you spend all day thinking about.

Yet unlike antimatter, there have been a number of photographs, videos, and reliable eyewitness testimonies that have emerged throughout the years that illustrate quite clearly how an entire host of intelligently controlled objects have been observed, albeit at sparring intervals, soaring through our skies. And to wit, as addressed ear­lier, these objects have succeeded in garnering atten­tion from intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere around the world time and time again. Despite the physical, observable nature of this phenomenon, the bottom line continues to be that, despite any amount of evidence promoting their existence, in large part the sci­entific community still seems to feel that there is little or no scientific merit to continuing UFO studies. After all, what could we possibly learn from the speculative study of things that appear so advanced that we can barely fathom what greater meaning or relevance they may keep for us as a species?

At this time, I suggest we put forth a new, different kind of bold idea: I say to hell with this “holier than thou” attitude toward the act of speculation, which we see so rife amid the greater scientific mainstream. Had Einstein or Oppenheimer never engaged in reasoned speculation, allowing their imaginations to drift away at times on the mere hope of possibility, then the proponents of things such as antimatter and alternate dimensions might instead find themselves employed among the ranks of one of your neighborhood fast food chains. Let’s give credit to some of our very finest speculators where credit is due.

Rather than to place limitations on thought and shy away from reasoned speculation, if we are to take on a greater, more complete understanding of what we call the UFO mystery, we must press on, pushing ahead by asking questions. Occasionally, we must fit variables into the gaps and spaces we uncover, fitting carefully molded ideas into the nooks and crannies of logic much like the steady hand of the mathematician, as he draws lines and symbols upon the powdery surface of his chalkboard. Above all, we must use this logic and reason we obtain to discern what we can from what sparring evidence we have been afforded at this time.

Remembering the words of Spock, Captain Kirk’s unexcitable science advisor aboard the Starship Enter­prise in J.J. Abrams’s 2009 re-visioning of the Star Trek mythos: “Once you have eliminated the impossible, what­ever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The same quote can, in fact, be traced to a much earlier source: none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Regardless of the origin of the phrase, I’m certain neither character—Spock nor Holmes—would disapprove of the logic I’m advocating here. 

Micah Hanks is a writer and researcher whose work addresses a variety of unexplained phenomena. With regard to UFOs, Hanks has studied the more esoteric realms of the strange and unusual, but also researches cultural phenomena, human history, and, of course, the prospects of our technological future as a species through science and transhumanism. He is author of Magic, Mysticism and the Molecule, and writes for a variety of magazines and other publications such as FATE Magazine, Fortean Times, UFO Magazine, The Journal of Anomalous Sciences, and New Dawn. Hanks has also appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including Travel Channel’s Weird Travels program, National Geographic’s Paranatural, the History Channel’s Guts and Bolts, CNN Radio, and The Jeff Rense Program. He also produces a weekly podcast that follows his research at his popular Website, Hanks makes his home near Asheville, North Carolina.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Positive News of the Week

Making New Roots

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Paying It Forward

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A Child's Gift - 500 toys

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Magic Foam

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Weird News of the Week

Crystallized Time

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Dogs driving Cars

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Eau de Pizza

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Bondi Beach's Red Sea

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Positive News of the Week

The Beauty in Physics

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An Amazing Gift

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Using Your Power to Keep Technology Flowing

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Sending Cheer in a Letter

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Creature of the Month - The Enigmatic Sphinx by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

From Egypt we, long since, with all our peers,
Accustomed were to reign a thousand years.
If for our place your reverence be won,
We rule for you the days of Moon and Sun.
        We sit before the Pyramids
        For the judgment of the Races,
        Inundation, War, and Peace,—
        With eternal changeless faces.
—Goethe, Faust, “The Beasts of Walpurgis-Night,”
speech of the Sphinx1

[Graphic by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart]

The Sphinx is an imposing composite monster of classical tradition, depicted with a lion’s body and paws, and the head of some other animal or a human. Sometimes it has the hindquarters of a bull, and in many versions, eagle’s wings sprout from its shoulders. It originated with the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom (2686–2134 bce), from whence it was imported into Assyrian and Greek mythology, appearing famously in the tragedy of Oedipus Rex. The Asian Sphinxes appear to have originated independently.
        The name Sphinx comes from the Greek verb sphingo, meaning “to strangle.” Another possible derivation has been claimed from the Egyptian shesep ankh, meaning “living statues.” Because its form encompasses both human and animal elements, the Sphinx symbolizes the union of body, mind, and soul; or physical, mental, and spiritual attributes. The human head represents intellect and knowledge, the lion’s claws connote daring and action, the bull’s loins symbolize stamina and perseverance, and the eagle’s wings connote silence. Thus composed of three animals and a human, the Sphinx is a symbol of the four Pythagorean Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
        In ancient Assyria and Phoenicia, winged lions with human heads appeared as symbols of rulership and guardians of temples and palaces. They were called Lamassu, and they were commonly paired with similar creatures called Shedu, which had human heads on the bodies of winged bulls.

Fig. 1. Babylonian Sphinx (Lamassu), from an antique stone carving at the Palace of Nimrud, Nineveh. (Lehner, p.161)

        With the sole exception of the cruel, riddling Greek Sphinx of Thebes (the only one capable of speech), all other Sphinxes were friendly and benevolent guardians of sacred Mysteries; and their image universally symbolized enigma, mystic wisdom, and secret-keeping silence. In Egypt, the Sphinx was the guardian of arcane magick and occult wisdom, and was endowed with the four powers of the magi: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent.2

Sphinx composed of a man’s head and chest, an eagle’s wings, a bull’s hindquarters, and a lion’s forequarters, became symbols of the Biblical Tetramorph and the four creatures of Revelation. [Ezek. 1:5–14; Rev. 4:6–8] These in turn represent the Cherubim; the four Evangelists and their Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); the four kings of the created world: the Lion (king of the jungle), the Eagle (king of the air), the Bull (king of the farm), and Man (king of creation); and, according to St. Jerome, Christ’s Incarnation (the man), His Passion (the bull), His Resurrection (the Lion), and His Ascension (the eagle).3

        The Tetramorph appears twice in the Tarot cards, on The Wheel of Fortune and The World. In the former, the Sphinx sits atop the Wheel to represent equilibrium within a perpetually fluidic universe. 4

Fig. 2. Wheel of Fortune Tarot card by Pamela Coleman Smith

        The later Roman Sphinx was a simple solar symbol. To astrologers, it is a calendar beast, with the female head representing Virgo, and the lion’s body, Leo. The version with a human head, bull’s body, lion’s legs and claws, and eagle’s wings symbolizes, respectively, the fixed signs of the Zodiac: Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio. And the Druids included a many-breasted female Sphinx among their fertility and maternal symbols.
        With their rich symbolism, Sphinxes were popular creatures in ancient art. They were often inscribed upon gravestones of teenage boys, and they commonly appeared with lions and Sirens in beast processions on Greek vases.

The Egyptian Sphinx

        Three types of Sphinxes appear as guardians in Egyptian statuary, all with the wingless bodies of crouching lions. Herodotus distinguished them as the Criosphinx, the Hieracosphinx, and the Androsphinx. The Egyptian Sphinx was only rarely portrayed as having the head of a woman. In such cases, the Gynosphinx symbolized the Goddess Isis or Hathor, and/or the reigning queen. In Egypt, it was believed that the creature’s intellectual faculties, represented by the human head, ennobled and balanced its bestial attributes, represented by the lion’s body.

Fig. 3. Criospinx

The Criosphinx—Guardian and container of the soul of the creator-god, Amun (whose title was “Father of the Gods”), the Criosphinx is a great lion with the head of a ram. With magnificent spiraling horns, it was usually shown lying down with head erect and alert, as a guardian’s should be. In the city of Thebes, there were originally about 900 Criosphinx statues, and the great Temple of Karnak at Luxor was approached by an avenue flanked by them.

Fig. 4. Avenue of ram's-head sphinxes at Karnak in Luxor

The Hieracosphinx—A representation of the Egyptian sun-god, Horus, it has the body of a lion and the head of a falcon.

Fig. 5. Hieracosphinx (Lehner, p. 163)

The Androsphinx—This Sphinx had the head of a man—specifically, that of the reigning Pharaoh who ordered its construction. It was intended to symbolize the divine power and wisdom with which he ruled and protected his people. Representing abundance, power, secrets, truth, unity, wisdom, and the Mysteries, the Androsphinx guarded pyramids, tombs, and sacred highways. Sometimes a pair of Androsphinxes was portrayed in conjunction with the Tree of Life as symbols of fertility and conception.

As a solar symbol, the Androsphinx was associated with the sun god Ra; Horus on the Horizon; and Harmakhis, the Lord of the Two Horizons, representing the rising and setting sun, rebirth, and resurrection. Androsphinx usually bore the face of the Pharaoh who ordered their construction, and symbolize the divine power and wisdom he used to rule and protect his people. As Lord of the Two Horizons, the Androsphinx’s dual nature came in Christian mythology to reflect the dual nature of Christ, who was both human and divine. Like many other solar symbols, an image of the Androsphinx was placed in or near early Christian graves as a representation of the divine Light of the World.5

Fig. 6. Androsphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza

        The largest and most famous ancient statue, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Sesheps, the Great Sphinx of Giza, is 240 feet long and 66 feet high, with a small Roman temple and stele between its outstretched paws. Situated on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile near the Great Pyramids, it faces due east.
        The face of the Great Sphinx is generally thought to be a portrait of the Pharaoh Khafra, or possibly of his brother, the Pharaoh Djedefra. This would date its carving to the Fourth Dynasty (2723–2563 bce).
        Some think that the Great Sphinx is more than 12,000 years old, and that it was originally a complete crouching lion intended to represent the constellation Leo—long before its head was resculpted into that of a Pharaoh. The vertical patterns of erosion on its flanks seem to indicate centuries of rain, rather than the horizontal markings that would result from windblown sands of the desert which now surrounds it. Legends claim that a tunnel runs from beneath the Sphinx into the Great Pyramid, and that other secret passageways and chambers remain hidden under the Giza sands. Recently a few narrow tunnels have indeed been discovered around the statue, and ground-based sonar has indicated the existence of a chamber beneath it.

Fig. 7. The Great Sphinx of Giza. Photo credit: Ramzi Hachicho

        The granite stele set between the paws of the Great Sphinx gives the following account: One day young Prince Thutmose was out hunting when he lay down for a nap in the shadow of the Sphinx’s head—which was all that protruded from the entombing desert sands. The Sphinx appeared to him in his dream and prophesied that he would sit on the throne of Egypt if he promised to clear away the sands of time from around the great figure. As Thumose was the younger son, this seemed unlikely. But soon thereafter his elder brother was killed in a hunting accident, and Thutmose unexpectedly became Pharaoh—the fourth with that name, reigning from 1425–1417 bce.
        The new ruler immediately ordered the excavation of the statue, placing the Dream Stele between its paws to commemorate the incident and to honor the sun-god, Harmakhis, who had spoken to him through the Sphinx. On the stele, Thutmose IV inscribed three names of the sun: Kheperi, Re, and Atum. However, it is not known what name the original sculptors gave to the figure itself. The Greeks called it the Sphinx, and its Arabic name, Abu al-Hôl, means “father of terror.”6
        Perhaps due to the legendary dream of Thutmose, pilgrims once sought the oracular advice of the Sphinx by placing an ear to its lips. Due to its enigmatic history, the great monument has become an icon for all who seek wisdom.

The Greek Sphinx

        The Greek version, of which there was only one, had the head and breasts of a woman, with eagle’s wings. Sometimes it was depicted with the body of a bull or dog, the legs of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. It had a human voice and spoke in riddles. In contrast to the aristocratic Egyptian Sphinx, she was regarded as a demon of death, destruction, and ill fortune. In Greek mythology, the bestial elements were believed to have warped her mind and spirit, and she was portrayed as a grim and miserable monster, a symbol of the “wicked mother,” and an evil perversion of the intellect, of womanhood, and of power.7

Fig. 8. Theban, or Greek Sphinx

        According to Hesiod’s Theogony (c. 700 bce), “the deadly Sphinx which destroyed the Cameans” was a daughter of Echidna and her son Orthus, the hound of Geryones. Her brother was the Nemean Lion, which Hera, the good wife of Zeus, brought up and made to haunt the hills of Nemea, a plague to men.” Like many other fabulous beasts, the Sphinx was believed to inhabit the mountains of Ethiopia.
        The Sphinx was sent from her Ethiopian homeland into Boiotia by Hera, who was angry with the Thebans for not having punished King Laios, who had carried off Khrysippos from Pisa. The grim creature now sat upon a crag on Mount Phikion, overlooking the road to Thebes, where she challenged all travelers with a riddle she had learned from the Mousai. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, the riddle is stated as follows: “What goes on four legs, on two and then three; but the more legs it goes on the weaker it be?” If they replied correctly, they would be allowed to pass; but if they failed—as all did—she would strangle and devour them. Oedipus, who had fled to Thebes in a futile effort to escape from a prophesy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, was accosted by the Sphinx, who demanded an answer. “Man,” replied Oedipus. “He crawls on all fours as an infant, then walks on two feet as a child and adult, and finally, leans on a cane in old age.” Thereupon the mortified monster leapt from the precipice to her death on the rocks below (evidently the wings were just for show!).8

Fig. 9. Sphinx on Greek plate


The Asian Sphinx

        Sphinx-like, human-headed lions are common figures in the mythology and art of India, China, and Southeast Asia. Some of these date from as early as the 3rd century bce, indicating independent origin from the Western Sphinx, which originated in Egypt.
        The Purushamriga (“human-beast”) of India is believed to take away the sins of devotees when they enter a temple, and to ward off evil in general. It is therefore usually strategically positioned on the temple gateway or near the entrance to the inner sanctum. Also called Naravirala (“man-cat”), images of them decorate lamps used in the lamp ceremony, as well as in various other iconography.

Fig. 10. Purushamriga or Indian sphinx depicted on the Shri Varadaraja Perumal temple in Tribhuvana, India

        The Sphinx of Sri Lanka is called Narasimha (“man-lion”). It is a Buddhist guardian of the North, and is often depicted on banners. In common with all other Sphinxes, it has a human head on a leonine body. However, it bears the same name as, and is thus easily confused with, Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of the god Mahavishnu, who has the head of a lion on a human body.
        In Myanmar, or Burma, the Sphinx is called Manusiha. According to legend, it was created by Buddhist monks to protect a newborn royal infant from fierce ogresses who wished to devour the child. Images of Manusiha as a guardian may be seen today on the corners of Buddhist temples.
        The Sphinx of Thailand, which is also a protector, is known as Nora Nair or Thep Norasingh. It has the lower body of a lion or deer, and the upper body of a human. It is always shown walking upright, often in male/female pairs. They are listed among the fantastic creatures that dwell upon the sacred mountain, Himapan.9
        The Sphinx appears in China as well, as in this example from the San Li T’u (ca.1661–1723). It is one of three ceremonial targets to be used by officials of different ranks in military examinations. These tests required that arrows be fired upward from a distance, with the goal of targeting the barrel behind the figure.10

Fig. 11. Chinese Sphinx, from the San Li T’u (Gould, p.360)


Sphinxes in Art


        Mannerism is a period of European architecture and decorative arts which lasted from the end of the Italian Renaissance around 1520 until the dawn of the Baroque period around 1600. The typical Mannerist Sphinx is sometimes called the French Sphinx. Her elaborately-coiffed head is held proudly erect, and she has the bust of a pretty young woman. She wears pearls and eardrops, and her lioness body is rendered realistically. Such images attained popularity in the enthusiasm for the 15th-century excavations of the  treasures of Nero’s Golden House in Rome, and they were incorporated into the new fashion of classical decorative motifs and Arabesque designs that spread throughout Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Mannerist Sphinx first appeared in the School of Fontainebleau in the 1520s to the 30s, and she lasted into the Late Baroque style of the French Régence (1715–1723) 11

Fig. 12. Woman-headed Sphinx from old French engraving (Lehner, p.162)]

        But Sphinxes passed out of fashion in the flamboyant Rococo period and were not seen again until the 19th century, when the Romantic and later Symbolist schools revived them once again. As with the Mannerist Sphinx, these schools drew more of their inspiration from the Greek than the Egyptian model—particularly in their depictions of the feminine. However, they were generally presented as wingless. One of the most  prolific artists of the Romantic style was the Australian Norman Lindsey (1879–1969), whose etchings, paintings, and statuary often featured erotic Sphinxes—along with Sirens, Fauns, and other Classical femiformes.

Fig. 13. Sphinx by Francis Xavier Fabre

Sphinxes as Apes

        Pliny the Elder mentions Sphinxes, saying they are common, “with a brown duskish hair, having dugs in their breast.” Clearly, he considered the Sphinx to be a kind of ape—specifically, a baboon. Indeed, the Guinea Baboon (Papio papio) is still called a Sphinx. Baboons in particular seem to combine human and leonine features. They are quadrupeds, as lions are, but they have humanlike bodies, arms, legs, and hands. Their heads and faces are very doglike, with fierce, sharp teeth, but the males of several species have great manes like those of lions. These include the Olive Baboon (Papio cynocephalus anubis), the Gelada (Theropithecus gelada), and the Hamadryas (Papio hamadryas).
        The Olive Baboon, also called the Anubis Baboon for its doglike head, is the most widely distributed of all baboons. Dwellers of savannahs, steppes, and forests, they are found throughout northern Africa, from Mali south to Ethiopia and Tanzania. Isolated populations even inhabit some mountainous regions of the Sahara Desert. They were domesticated in ancient Egypt and trained to pick fruit for harvest.

Fig. 14. Ape Sphinx by Ashton

        The Gelada is found only in the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea, with large populations in the Semien Mountains. Its Latin name, Theropithecus, means “beast-ape.”
        Hamadryads are the northernmost of all the baboons, their range extending from the Red Sea in Egypt south to Ethiopia and Somalia. The Hamadryad was sacred to the ancient Egyptians as the attendant of the scribe god Thoth, and therefore is also called the Sacred Baboon. Colonies live in semi-deserts, savannas, and rocky areas, requiring cliffs for sleeping and access to drinking water.12

Cynocephali (Greek, “dog-headed”)—Said to be very common in Ethiopia, they are described as having a black, hairy, humanoid body and the head of a dog. Because of these attributes, they are associated with the Egyptian god Anubis. These ferocious creatures have been identified as Olive Baboons, as indicated in their Latin name, cynocephalus. However, the 3-foot-tall Indris Lemur (Indri indri) of Madagascar also looks very much like a short, dog-headed human, especially as it often stands or sits upright.

CelphiesEthiopian creatures with a bovine body, “whose hind feet from the ankle up to the top of the calf were like a man’s leg, and likewise his forefeet resembled a man’s hand.” (Solinus, Collection of Remarkable Facts; 200 ce) These are also certainly baboons.

Wulver—A semi-human creature of Shetland Island folklore, with the body of a man covered in short brown hair and the head of a wolf. It lives in a cave halfway up a hill and fishes in deep water. Harmless if unmolested, it will sometimes leave fish on the windowsills of poor folk. It sounds very much like a baboon, but what would one be doing in the Shetlands?

Monster Movies: The Sphinx

Only one movie to date has featured the Sphinx: The Neverending Story (1984), from the book by Michael Ende. A pair of gigantic blue Sphinx statues guard access to the Southern Oracle, and they incinerate any unworthy pilgrims who pass between them.

Fig. 15. Guardians of the Southern Oracle from The Neverending Story

1.      Nigg, Joseph, The Book of Fabulous Beasts: A Treasury of Writings from Ancient Times to the Present, Oxford University Press, 1999
2.      Lehner, Ernst & Johanna, Big Book of Dragons, Monsters, and Other Mythical Creatures, Dover Pictorial Archives, 2004
3.      “Sphinx,” Monstropedia
4.      Waite, Arthur Edward, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, University Books, Inc., 1959
5.      “Sphinx,” Monstropedia, Op cit.
6.      “Sphinx,” Wikipedia
7.      “Sphinx,” Monstropedia, Op cit.
8.      Hargreaves, Joyce, Hargreaves New Illustrated Bestiary, Gothic Images Publications, Glastonbury, UK, 1990
9.      “Sphinx,” Wikipedia, Op cit.
10.   Gould, Charles, Mythical Monsters, Allen & Co.,1886; Kessinger Reprints, Whitefish, MT
11.   “Sphinx,” Wikipedia, Op cit.
12.   Ibid.

For more creatures check out Oberon's A Wizard's Bestiary

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Weird News of the Week

The Smell that White Makes

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Charcoal Art

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Einstein's Brain captured on Camera

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End-of-the-World Refuge in France CLOSED

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Our wish for you...

This Thanksgiving remember to show gratitude for all of the wonderful things in your life!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Positive News of the Week

Self-Charging Biological Batteries

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Hurricane Sandy Animal Rescues

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Scientists Halt Superbug Outbreak

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Vet hailed for Symphony

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