Books Made of Human Flesh

Books bound with human flesh seems to be a macabre old wives' tale, or something of the sort. However, there is a long historical tradition of binding books in human skin that weaves its way into history well into the 19th century. Even more terrifying, the 19th century is when they were the most popular. 

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Seriously, and if you ever want to go visit some of these humans-made-books, you can head over to places like the Mutter Museum and see them in person. In fact, there is even a term for books bound in human skin: "Anthropodermic Bibliopegy" and a book project that has, as of 2016, identified 47 alleged anthroprodermic books in the world's libraries and museums. According to wikipedia, roughly 30 of those are being tested or have been tested and 18 have been confirmed as having human skin bindings. 

In an interview with Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, a medical historian, Vice asked the most simple question: "Why would anyone ever bind a book in human skin?"

Dr. Fitzharris notes that there are likely three reasons, according to her research an experience:

  1. For Punishment
  2. To Create Collector's Items
  3. Memorialization

Another historian, Heather Cole, of Harvard's Houghton Library notes that, "The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted, or an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book." Which helps to explain why they were so often used as part of a punishment.

The second reason seems, at least, a little obvious. Books bound in human skin were at least a relatively rare item. And, taking an example from the Victorian age when people collected shrunken heads from newly discovered tribes, or stolen Egyptian artifacts claimed to be cursed proved that there was a significant market for the strange and macabre. Dr. Fitzharris continues: "Sometimes they collected books bound in tattooed skin because they made particularly beautiful covers. And in fact there's a lot of preserved tattoos in anatomical collections, and sometimes they're used for these bound books. "

Finally, we arrive at the third reason: memorialization.  The Highwayman: Narrative of the Life of James Allen alias George Walton, is probably the most notable example of a book bound in human flesh because it was bound with skin from Allen himself. 

Although, I would suggest adding another number to the three reasons that Dr. Fitzharris gives - and that is one of opportunity. Take, for example, the sad story of Mary Lynch's thigh. She was a young  woman in her late 20s whose skin was used to bound three different books. There is a record of her entering the Old Blockley almshouse in Philadelphia in 1868. She likely went to this almshouse for help, or to die away from her family members from tuberculosis. Roughly six months from when she entered the almshouse, she died. Dr.John Stockton Hough carried out the autopsy in which he took the liberty of slicing some of her skin. After this, he took his illicit, stolen goods to tan in the almshouse chamber pot. 20+ years later, he used it for the spines of three books written on women's health. It is unclear his intentions or why he did this.

We have examples dating from the sixteenth-century, and although some "human flesh" books turn out to be sheep or other animals, several have been tested and verified as human. And these books are still being analyzed, tested, and reviewed by people in many different disciplines. 

For example, an article in JAMA Dermatology featured an examination of a book bound in human skin called, "Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: Lessons From a Different Sort of Dermatologic Text" by  dermatologist Vinod Nambudiri who says these strange books, "serve as reminders of the versatility of the body’s largest organ—both during life and beyond."

This image comes from Flickr user Diego da Silva and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

The Strange Tale of the Buried Porpoise

Excavating the ruins of a medieval monastic retreat, several archaeologists found something quite...unique. They were on a small island called Chapelle Dom Hue, off the coast of the Channel island of Guernsey, they were digging around the medieval monastic retreat. Unsurprisingly, they came across a graveyard and began exploring the graves. One of the tombs held the remains of a creature decidedly not human.

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The dig was being carried out by archaeologist Philip de Jersey, of Oxford University, and his team. You can actually see a video of the strange burial plot and porpoise bones here. Chapelle Dom Hue is a very small island, only 49 feet long. Researchers who have inspected the island believe that there was once a stone building that may have been used as a religious retreat or a shrine by Christian monks around the 14th century.

The grave itself was first believed to be a grave for a human, as it was deliberately made. It was cut into the hard bedrock of the island which would have taken considerable effort. However, when the excavation began and the bones were discovered they were found to be the skull and bones of a seal mammal - which has been called both a porpoise and a dolphin (we're not quite sure yet, it was originally a porpoise but is leaning towards a small species of dolphin now). 

There appear to be various hints that the creature was not simply disposed of in a simple underground hole and it clearly wasn't an accidental place for it to end up. As mentioned above, the grave was purposefully dug into bedrock. Furthermore, the bones were aligned east-to-west as Christian tradition dictates.  All of this lends credibility to the fact that this grave was purposefully intended as a solemn resting place. de Jersey also makes a compelling point, "That is what puzzles me. If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it?" They were just a few feet from the ocean, so why not throw it back in?

There are a few different theories about why exactly the creature was buried in a human tradition. One idea is that they were saving the meat and salt and packed it into the grave and simply either forgot or decided against using the meat. According to an article by LiveScience, there is some suggestion "that the animal may have been butchered before it was placed in the pit."

Another idea is the place dolphins hold in Christianity, particularly Christian art. Dolphins were once held in high regard in pagan and Greek myth, known as a positive omen for those at sea. Like many pre-Christian beliefs, dolphins also found their way into Christian symbolism. According to Aleteia, "For those who made a living by the sea dolphins became a symbol of Jesus Christ, a friend and deliverer to the “safer shores” of heaven." So, perhaps they were honoring it after it washed up on their shores, was used for meat, or interacted postively with someone on a ship.

But, the mystery remains. The dig is now over and the bones were brought back to radiocarbon date, test the soil, and verify what kind of animal it really is.

de Jersey' leaves the mystery on a positive, open note "We will get expert advice when we've got the bones cleaned up, and I hope someone will be able to say exactly what it is."

 

The above image is not of the islet, but of the nearby Guernsey landscape, taken by Magnus Manske. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.    

The Most Common Paranormal Beliefs in the United States

A study by Chapman University, published earlier this year (October 2017) explores, via survey, American Fears. Specifically, they also dug into the paranormal beliefs in America. The study itself was taken by 1,207 random Americans across the United States about their fears.

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The results were:

  • 55% - Ancient advanced civilization, such as Atlantis, once existed 
  • 52% - Places can be haunted by spirits
  • 35% - Aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past
  • 25% - Some people can move objects with their minds
  • 19% - Fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future
  • 16% - Bigfoot is a real creature

These stats can also be seen in lovely graphic form by hitting the first "Link" button above! Additionally, it should be mentioned that these results were gathered from those percent reporting "agree or strongly agree".

I was surprised about two things:

1. That haunting/ghosts weren't #1

and

2. Bigfoot was so low

First, I was shocked that ancient advanced civilization rose above ghosts/hauntings. Part of me wonders if it is in the advent of TV shows like ancient aliens and other docs of a similar tone. Or, perhaps in a more optimistic vein, it is because of new scientific findings. But, if you would have asked me, I would have said ghosts/hauntings would have been #1.

Secondly, Bigfoot being so low - behind telekinesis AND fortune tellers - surprised me. Bigfoot, in my findings, has some of the most fervent and dedicated fans. Heck - it has multiple TV shows and docs, not to mention the Patterson-Gimlin film.

But, those aren't the only stats we get! In fact, they examined how many paranormal beliefs a person held. Surprisingly, only a fourth of Americans do not hold any of the seven beliefs mentioned above...meaning three fourths of Americans DO believe in at least one paranormal phenomena.

  • 25% - No paranormal beliefs
  • 20.8% - 1 paranormal belief
  • 13.8% - 2 paranormal beliefs
  • 12.3% - 3 paranormal beliefs
  • 9.6% - 4 paranormal beliefs
  • 8.4% - 5 paranormal beliefs
  • 4.7% - 6 paranormal beliefs
  • 5% - All 7 paranormal beliefs 

One thing I find interesting about this study is that despite debunking efforts, people still seem to "believe" or, at the very least, want to believe in the paranormal. Although the numbers above look a bit scant because they are split 8 ways, 53.8% of the population surveyed has 2 or more paranormal beliefs. Which, to me, is a knock-your-socks-off stat. In other words, that's a hell of a whole lot of people who don't just believe in a singular thing but that there could potentially be a variety of paranormal entities and occurrences in our world.

What did you find surprising about this survey?

 

The above image is not related to this story and is by _TCPhotography_. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). 

Darwin and Aliens

Wondering what aliens may look like has been a question humankind has been imagining for decades. There only seems one thing people can agree on when it comes to conceptualizing aliens: we have no idea what they really look like. But, scientists are working on trying to get closer to a correct conceptualize of lifeforms that may one day visit us.

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One movie immediately springs to mind when I think about aliens: ET.  In the Steven Spielberg movie we have "an alien botanist and explorer who became unwell after being abandoned during an expedition to a forest in North America." In an interesting scholarly investigation into ET, Gregory Scott and Edward Presswood present their findings and analysis of ET. They describe him as, "ET is a bilaterian tetrapod, sharing many of the physical characteristics of primates. Given that ET’s species evolved on a remote planet, the similarities are a striking example of convergent evolution." According to ScienceDaily, convergent evolution "is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches." Although his age is unclear, as his gender (although he seems to be presumed male) we do know he weighs roughly 35 pounds and is about 4ft 6". 

But ET isn't the only movie alien that remains front-of-mind for many people - there is Alien, Mars Attacks, Earth Girls are Easy, District 9, Independence Day, War of the Worlds, and Men in Black. In each of these movies aliens are depicted in completely different ways - from little green men to humanoid beings to completely inhuman. 

However, researchers believe they may have a better idea now what aliens look like. Why? Well, we can thanks Charles Darwin for that. Samuel Levin, co-author of a new paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, believes that beings on other planets might look shockingly similar to life on Earth. Why? Because, like on Earth, living beings on other planets would also be subject to some kind of Natural Selection, even if isn't carbon based or has different DNA or, like ET, light-up fingers. 

Levin emphasizes, "Living things are adapted...They appear to be 'trying to do things' like eat, survive, grow, reproduce." And, the only way to adapt is through Natural Selection. 

But what does this have to do with what aliens look like?

Although we would be no closer to confirming aliens are or are not little green men or face eaters or even have similar features like eyes or noses, we can take on a theoretical prediction. For example, if the theory of Natural Selection holds true than "Aliens that have undergone natural selection would be "nested." This means that they would have had to transform in complexity over time and that they would retain the history, of sorts, of their transitions. For further proof, the scientists suggest that the only thing we know that can just arise without natural selection are molecules.  Furthermore, it means that anything "more complicated than a virus" has certain objectives. Even something as small as a bacteria cell still moves and eats. 

Levin continues, "Aliens might not be made of cells as we think of them, but they will be made up of parts that were once free living, and those parts will be too – all the way down to aliens’ hereditary material (whatever it is). Our parts have mechanisms in place that keep all the parts working together to make an organism."

Although aliens might look insanely different, their actual structure on a fundamental level will likely be more similar than their outward appearance suggests. Their bodies, like ours, would have to be constructed by "formerly free-living parts within formerly free-living parts...and they will have undergone a similar evolutionary history' of independent organisms cooperation to form new and even higher level organisms. 

Levin notes that his work does not answer the overarching question of "are we alone?" But, he does say: "but it [their research] does tell us something about our neighbors if we're not alone."

 

The above image is unrelated to the story and was provided by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). 

The Witching Hour

A few days ago there was an interesting question posted on the Facebook Group about the power of 3 (3 knocks, 3 am is the witching hour, etc) and how it came to be. Although I didn't participate...it immediately piqued my interest and I began my research into why 3am is so widely regarded as the Witching Hour.

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The first thing I'd like to dive into is WHEN exactly the Witching Hour is, because some sources don't even say it is 3am at all. For example, Merriam-Webster has two definitions:

1: the time late at night when the powers of a witch, magician, etc., are believed to be strongest
2 : 12 o'clock at night :midnight We arrived home shortly before the witching hour.

So, it could potentially be any time late at night when the powers of magic are supposed to be strongest...and/or midnight.

Okay, but what do other sources say? 

The Collins English Dictionary seems to say something similar:

the hour at which witches are supposed to appear, usually midnight

What about handy-dandy Wikipedia?

In folklore, the witching hour or devil's hour is a time of night associated with supernatural events. Creatures such as witches, demons, ghosts, and gremlins are thought to appear and to be at their most powerful. Black magic is thought to be most effective at this time. In European tradition, the hour between 3 and 4 a.m. was considered a period of peak supernatural activity, due to the absence of prayers in the canonical hours during this period. Women caught outside without sufficient reason during this time were sometimes executed on suspicion of witchcraft

Okay, I think we're finally getting there! It appears that the Witching Hour can vary slightly but MUST be in the middle of the night, sometime between 12-3am. I like to think of this as the "happy hour" approach. Sure, happy hour implies it is only one hour...but on most bar menus you'll see that happy hour really lasts from 4-6, or from 5-8. 

Now that we've slightly defined when the Witching Hour is, let's dive into the folklore surrounding it. 

One of the biggest reasons the Witching Hour is so vitally in the middle of the night (even though it is technically the beginning of the day) is because the liminality that the time offers. This is why, I think, many people focus on midnight just as much as 3am because midnight is the time between two days and many believe that the veil between the worlds is at a weak point, allowing for a heightened level of communication between our world and another. Because the veil is thinner at this time, too  it is the perfect time to swap ghost stories, try to communicate with spirits, and even whip out a ouija board or perform spells (please note that 'spells' here does not mean contemporary witches or Wiccan spells).

Additionally, even back in the centuries ago, the hours between 12-3am are usually when most people are dead asleep. The cover of darkness and the sleeping world allows for witches and other creatures to convene publicly, but without being seen or otherwise persecuted for meeting.

Another thing about the Witching Hour you'll notice is a lot of people wake up around 3am. Although this is said to be in relation to something wicked, Storypick argues that "Generally, you’d be in your REM sleep cycle during the time bracket. Your heart rate, cardiac pressure, breathing rate and arterial pressure becomes irregular at this time which is why you may feel anxious when you suddenly wake up at those odd hours." While this may be true, it is still incredibly interesting that we are irregular and on alert at those hours naturally. Is it a coincidence, or is it an evolutionary tactic developed to better protect ourselves?

 

The above image is cuisine des sorcières Jacques de Gheyn, from the Staatlich museum, Berlin and is liscensed under public domain. 

UVA is Taking on Parapsychological Research

The paranormal is something that thousands, if not millions, of people hear about on a regular basis. From ghost stories to folklore, from cryptids to UFOs...it seems that countless of hours have been dedicated to creating TV shows, radio programs, movies, think tanks, and more that revolve around trying to get a deeper understanding of the paranormal. The University of Virginia is taking that a step further. How? Well, through their Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS), founded in 1967.

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DOPS was founded by Dr. Ian Stevenson. Dr. Stevenson, appropriately born on Halloween in 1907, studied medicine at St. Andrews University in Scotland from 1937 to 1939, but due to WWII graduated from McGill University and an M.D. following his undergraduate studies. He practiced medicine throughout the 1940s and early 50s. In 1951 he began studying psychoanalysis and took up teaching at UVA in the late 50s, where he developed his work on reincarnation. 

Then, he decided to create what was originally known as the Division of Personality Studies. The goal of this division was “the scientific empirical investigation of phenomena that suggest that currently accepted scientific assumptions and theories about the nature of mind or consciousness, and its relation to matter, may be incomplete.”

From their website their mission is clear: "Simply put, our goal is to expand the current paradigm, because we believe that recognition of consciousness as something greater than a physically produced phenomenon is both more optimistic and more accurate than the prevailing materialist worldview."

Today, DOPS investigates, as scientifically as possible, a large array of phenomena. According to the Atlantic, these include: ESP, poltergeists, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, “claimed memories of past lives.”

Dr. Jim Tucker is one of the scientists currently at work at DOPS. He remarks, “The main effort is to document as carefully as possible what the child says and determine how well that matches with a deceased person,” he told me. “And in the strongest cases, those similarities can be quite compelling.”

Although, the actual work that DOPS does on a daily basis resembles many other scientific, academic research groups. For example, they input all the findings and patient profiles into an electronic database. Once inputted, analysts can pick out the patterns that might just explain why some individuals are susceptible to, lets say, possessing memories from past lives (which is a major aspect of DOPS, since reincarnation was one of Dr. Stevenson's passions).

Through processing, analyzing, and understanding the paranormal through a scientific lens, DOPS hopes that the study of the paranormal will become more accepted by the mainstream media, thus allowing them to take on new challenges and studies.

If you're interested, you can even read work that DOPS has published multiple books (which you can find here), or you can dig a little deeper into their research here
 

The above image is unrelated to the story and is by CCAC North Library, liscensed via Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

 

Why Do We Find Dolls Creepy?

Dolls, which are usually innocuous can sometimes take on an additional creepy-factor. The fear of dolls it isn't that unheard of. In fact, there is even a name for the fear of dolls: pediophobia. Although, you don't have to have pediophobia to be uneasy around dolls sometimes. 

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There isn't a definitive reason for why we find dolls creepy. However, there are some interesting theories. For example, dolls can inhabit Uncanny Valley territory. Although dolls have been played with for thousands of years the theory of the Uncanny Valley wasn't brought up until the 1970s.  Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, brought up that as robots began to looks more like humans, people would find them more acceptable and appealing...but only to a point. If they were close to a human...but not quite "human" people develop a sense of "unease and discomfort." It is this particular "distinctive dip in the relationship between human-likeness and emotional response that is called the uncanny valley."

So, what does this have to do with dolls? Well, they look human even though we know they are NOT human. The human brain is designed to read faces in order to gauge important information, like emotions and potential threats. So, when we see a face that looks human and isn't, we aren't able to read it and it rattles our instincts. 

But, dolls weren't always creepy. It is only as we entered the 20th century that they became more and more human and lifelike. So, maybe that is why we find them unsettling now.

It is not just the Uncanny Valley at work, here. In fact, popular culture definitely plays a part. Movies like Chucky (and the series it spawned) and Annabelle work to reinforce dolls' creepiness. In fact, the director of Annabelle commented on his use of a doll in the movie. John Leonetti said, "If you think about them, most dolls are emulating a human figure. But they’re missing one big thing, which is emotion. So they’re shells. It’s a natural psychological and justifiable vehicle for demons to take it over. If you look at a doll in its eyes, it just stares. That’s creepy. They’re hollow inside. That space needs to be filled.”

By culture capitalizing on the empty-vessel aspect of dolls and making them the antagonist in horror movies, society's slight fear of dolls is justified and increased.

In Freud's essay "The Uncanny" , which is also a reading of "Der Sandmann" by E.T.A Hoffman, he discusses the doll-like automaton. Freud makes the interesting argument that the anxiety and fear caused may be due to the questioning of "whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or, conversely, whether a lifeless object might be in fact animate." He also describes the feeling of the "uncanny" as strangely familiar. "Strangely familiar" seems to wholly describe dolls - they look like us...but not. They are lifeless but not dead and can make "eye contact", despite not having real eyes.

What do you think? Do you have another theory as to why we fear dolls?

 

The above image is by Tiffany Terry and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). 

Phantom Hitchhikers

Most people who live in America, or read about American folklore, can likely point out a few major "players" in the scene. One of the most prominent of these tales is that of the Phantom Hitchhiker. Scholar Jan Harold Brunvand writes in his book,  The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings, that these are "the most often collected and the most discussed contemporary legend of all."

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If you're not familiar, the phantom hitchhiker, also known as "vanishing" hitchhikers. Can be a variety of different people. At their base all phantom hitchhikers are strange figures usually picked up on lonely roadsides that, before they are dropped of, they vanish without a trace from the interior of the car. In fact, this is quite an old folktale and there are even stories of them disappearing from carriages and horses! Additionally, they are often picked up by (or being driven near) to graveyards, bridges, intersections, tight turns, dangerous hills, and any part of the road where tragedy has stricken before.

But why are these stories so pervasive in American culture? Well, there are a few reasons. One of them being the prevalence of many people mobile and vehicle-related accidents. Almost every town, even small towns, have a dangerous intersection or a too-sharp-turn...so, in turn, every town could have one of these ghostly hitchhikers, forever traveling on the same stretch of road that killed them.

But that isn't the only theory. 

Scientific American's article on this mentions that there are two lessons one could take from these tales:

1. A reminder of the importance of community...that good people will pick up distraught-looking hitchhikers in need of a ride.

2. They also served as a warning for driving too fast because you too could end up haunting your own stretch of highway.

According to the writer, Krystal D'Costa, says "These stories aren't necessarily "spine tingling," but they reflect larger social concerns and are designed to encourage behavior change."

Resurrection Mary is one of the most popular of all of these stories. Although, we don't quite know who Mary was there are several primary theories. One of them is that she was a young woman who spent a wonderful night in Chicago dancing the night away at the O Henry Ballroom on Archer Ave. At one point in the night, she leaves the ballroom and begins making her way along the roadway. Presumably, a vehicle struck her, left the scene, and she died as a result of the accident. How do those that experience Mary know it is the same girl? Well, her unmistakable white dress and dancing shoes are her trademarks. Oh, and her destination is always the same...Resurrection Cemetery.

There have been over 30 "verifiable" sightings of Mary. The first encounter occurred allegedly occurred in 1939. Jerry Palus claimed he danced all night with the ghost girl at a dance hall on 47th Street, and when he went to drop her off at the address she gave...she vanished and he was at Resurrection Cemetery. According to Prarie Ghosts, he was desperate to find out more information about what he had experienced, "Determined to find out what was going on, Palus visited the address the girl had given him on the following day. The woman who answered the door told him that he couldn’t have possibly been with her daughter the night before because she had been dead for several years. However, Palus was able to correctly identify the girl from a family portrait in the other room."

 

photo: This image is from Martin and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

 

Have YOU Dreamed Lately?

Think about it for a second: when was the last time you dreamed? I mean, really dreamed. Can you remember? Okay, good. When was the last time you dreamed for consecutive nights in a row? Do you think you're dream deprived? The New York Academy of Sciences recently published an article entitled Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss, and they think we might be "at least as dream deprived as we are sleep deprived." 

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Let's start off with something easy before we dig into the dream stuff. Any typical sleep follows a "a cyclical pattern of non-REM and REM sleep: At the beginning of the night, deeper non-REM sleep is prioritized; only later in the night and into the morning does REM sleep increase in duration." During these deep REM sleep spikes are when people have the most dynamic and visceral dreams...the ones you remember. 

Do you have sleep cycles down? Good! Now...let's move onto dreams.

Technically, we aren't entirely sure what dreams are. According to Penelope A. Lewis, the author of the Secret World of Sleep, a dream is "something you are aware of at some level. It may be fragmentary, disconnected, and illogical, but if you aren’t aware of it during sleep then it isn’t a dream." She goes on to clarify that not remembering a dream upon waking doesn't mean you weren't aware of it at the time it was occurring...just that it wasn't really cemented into your memory. She also runs through a brief list of theories of what dreams might be (but, again, we don't really know). For example, Sigmund Freud suggested that dreams express our forbidden desires. Or, even that dreams are a kind of virtual reality simulation in which we are able to rehearse threatening, scary, or nerve-wracking situations. This is based in the fact that a large percentage of dreams have to do with a threatening situation. 

So, we don't really know what dreams are...but they seem important in some way or another. 

The author of the article, Rubin Naiman, argues that not only is a deep REM sleep important, but so are the dreams that go along with it. In fact, they are potentially vital to our health. Naiman argues we need to "assess the role of dreaming itself" as a health consequence of poor sleep. 

But, is the loss of dreams a potential public health crisis? 

Maybe.

REM sleep loss is associated with increased risks of all sorts, like obesity, memory problems, and inflammatory responses. People with sleep apnea and have a complete loss of REM sleep are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. In fact, as The Science of Us article points out, "When researchers ran experiments depriving subjects of only REM sleep, they found that most of the negative side effects mirrored those of total sleep deprivation." Since dreams usually go hand-in-hand with deep REM sleep, could preserving our dream-states improve our health?

Luckily, Naiman isn't all doom and gloom. In fact, he offers several strategies for improving the Dream/REM cycle.

1) Try to avoid substance use (like alcohol and drugs) in the hour or two before you go to bed.

2) Decrease exposure to nighttime light (cell, computer, TV)

3) Reduce your reliance on your alarm clock! I know it sounds difficult, but Naiman says “Imagine being abruptly ushered out of a movie theater whenever a film was nearing its conclusion.” Instead of naturally finishing out your sleep cycle, you wake up to a shrill noise. Now, clearly we all have places to be...but I'd be interested in what Naiman thinks about a light-based alarm clock or a "slow" alarm clock that wakes you up in a soothing manner and more slowly than a typical alarm clock.

4) Do your best to get those required 7-9 hours a night.

5) Remember that sleep AND dreams enrich our waking life as much as going for a walk or enjoying an amazing salad can. 

6) Get in tune with your dreams - pay attention them, share them with a friend, and be more aware of them. Creating a positive attitudes towards our "dreaming selves" can help create a better atmosphere in which to dream. 

 

 

The above image is from Flickr User Michael Carian and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Witch of Pungo

Witch lore in the United States is often eclipsed by the infamous Salem Witch Trials. However, there are plenty of interesting stories scattered throughout the United States. One of the most surprising trials took place in Virginia. In 1706, at 10am the townspeople that found her guilty tied Grace Sherwood's thumbs to her big toes, cross-bound, and dropped her into the western branch of the Lynnhaven River near what is now known as Witchduck Point.

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It all began in 1698. This is when the first accusation was laid against young Grace Sherwood. She was accused of bewitching a neighbor's crop to fail. Allegations continued to roll in for almost a decade. According to Harper's Magazine "She was a shy, secretive maid, and her neighbors told envious stories of her." 

Soon, gossip began to fly. And one tale in particular became the inciting event behind the growing fear of the supposed witch. "[Grace] has crossed the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in an egg-shell, had been pleased with the odor of the rosemary growing on its shores and on her return from this voyage in an open boat had brought some plants for which set out around her cottage." It was because of this lovely little tale that explained why Princess Anne, the town in which Grace lived, was covered with Rosemary. While the townspeople agreed that the rosemary was nice, it was decided that her voyage was "uncanny." They decided that it was "plain that Grace Sherwood was a witch, and ought to be punished." 

Despite being a married woman well-liked by the community, she was still accused of witchcraft. The accusations, besides ruining crops, began to mount. For example, John Gisburne claimed she had bewitched his hogs and cotton. She and her husband, James, tried to sue these attackers for slander but lost each time. 

One of the accusations, from the actual court documents, reads: "Luke Hill and wife. Against them in December, 1705, Grace Sherwood had brought action for assault and battery, claiming 50 of damages and receiving twenty shillings. What this affray may have had to do with the charge of witch-craft does not appear." It seems people began piling on accusations to the point where they were barely related to witchcraft at all.

At 10am on July 10th, 1706 Grace Sherwood went to trial at the second Princess Anne County Courthouse. It was deemed that she was guilty and that she would be tested by the traditional trial by water.

Trial by water, also known as ducking, consists of being tied cross-bound and dropped into water above her head. If she sunk, she would drown but be innocent and would even be buried on consecrated ground. However, if she floated it was proof that she was a witch.

Grace, surprisingly, floated and survived the ducking. After this, she was retrieved from the water and put in the local jail.  However, her survival posed a particular quandary. "There was the law, and there was the evidence. The latter proved that Grace sherwood was a witch, and the former directed that witches should be burned. but then to burn women was a thing unknown in Virginia."  

She wasn't released until 1714, at which point she paid the back taxes owed on her property and returned to her farm. She had a fruitful life as a healer, midwife, and friend to all children and animals. She died in the autumn of 1740 at the age of 80, leaving behind three sons.

Today, her memory is honored. 300 years after the incident. Timothy M. Kaine, the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia pardoned her. In fact, Grace Sherwood is known today as the only deceased person in Virginia to be exonerated. Additionally, in 2007 a stature of Grace Sherwood was unveiled on the lawn at Bayside Hospital. She is within "two tenths of a mile of the old second Princess Anne Courthouse of 1706, the court that tried Grace." 

 

 

The above image is of Asheville Bridge Creek, known as Muddy Creek when Grace Sherwood lived on its banks. Asheville Bridge Creek on a foggy winter morning.  27 December 2015, Foggy winter morning, by Lago Mar.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

The Lighthouse of Tévennec

One of the most haunted places in France is out at sea. The lighthouse of Tévennec was first lit in 1857 and is located snugly between the French mainland and the Île de Sein. It sits on a stretch of water known as the "Raz de Sein" in Brittany. Although it lighthouses are supposed to serve as a beacon of light, it has an irrefutably dark reputation. In fact, it was so difficult to get to and so utterly terrifying to its inhabitants, it was automated in 1910. How terrifying was it? Multiple guards went mad, died suspiciously, lost children, and experienced haunting. 

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There is a chance that death and destruction ruled Tévennec long before lighthouses were even invented. According to Breton folklore, Tévennec was the seat of Ankou...the personification of death. Ankou is also known as the grave yard watcher, so this treacherous stretch of sea seems like a good place to set up shop.

In it's 50+ year history it had twenty-three guards the first of which was Henri Guezennec. Unfortunately, the saying "the first is the worst" sticks solidly to Guezennec's time spent at Tévennec. He went utterly and completely mad due to the ghostly, disembodied voices he heard. Guezennec would be the first of many to be driven mad at Tévennec. The second guard suffered a similar affliction and the government changed Tévennec from a one-man to a two-man operation. 

Hauntings aren't surprising in this isolated and dangerous lighthouse. In fact, it is likely that hundreds of people would have met their end near or on the lighthouse, which was located on the "Raz de Sein" a stretch of water notorious for huge waves. In fact, there was a house that was built and re-built three times but the waves were so large they would often go over the roof, ruining the house.

The strange happenings wore on to such a degree that in 1893 crucifixes were embedded into the rocks surrounding the island. It was thought that this could lessen the strange and unexplained going-ons at Tévennec. This was followed by a new kind of search for the guardsmen: married couples. There was a hope that recruiting married couples to keep the lighthouse together would help stave off loneliness and the ill effects of the island. However, it seemed that no guard could last much more than a year. 

In 2015 Marc Pointud set out to spend 2 months alone in the lighthouse (albeit with media and communication tools) which has remained empty since 1910. Pointud might be just the man for the job, though. In 2002, he founded the National Society for Heritage, Lighthouses and Beacons, to preserve the country's lighthouses, especially the forgotten ones. In 2011, the state granted his organization permission to occupy and renovate Tévennec. He spent the weeks there without incident, although he did say he didn't believe in ghosts and did not feel as disconnected and isolated from the world as the guards that came before him. His long-term goal being to eventually turn it into an artist residence. I wonder what dynamic scenes could be inspired by Tévennec's location. 

.The above image is by Calcineur, Self-photographed and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Witches' Well

Edinburgh, Scotland is a place steeped in wonderful, rich history. Unfortunately, like most cities that have been prominent for hundreds of years this means Edinburgh is also steeped in blood. Seriously, they even preserved a blood stain (David Rizzio, a personal secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, was stabbed 56 times in front of her…and Holyroodhouse, where it happened, displays it). Anyway, back to this story. Today, I want to talk about the Witches’ Well. The Witches’ Well is a cast iron, small fountain and plaque that honors the Scottish women burned at the stake between the 15th and 18th centuries.

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So many “witches” were burned that there is a plaque apologizing for the horrific events. It isn’t a huge plaque, most people’s eyes usually go right to the castle, but it is an important one. Actually, it didn't begin as a plaque...it used to be a drinking fountain!

But why is it there? In the 16th century more women were murdered at this exact spot than anywhere else in Scotland. Like many witch trials, these people were denied a proper trial or any escape from a fate that had been decided for them long before they had a chance to defend themselves.

Why were so many witches murdered here, at this specific spot during the 16th century? Well, we can partly thank King James VI for that. James really liked being right in a fashionable way. Some sources credit his desire to become an expert in any topical issue of the time – including witchcraft. In fact, before 1590 he barely mentions witchcraft. But, in 1590 specifically…something happened. 300 witches were accused of gathering together to plan the murder of James. James was known to have the specific fear of a violent orhorrible death so, when news of witches acting against him made its way to the castle James, for lack of a more precise term, freaked out. He even wrote an entire book about the subject, called “Daemononlogie”. The purpose of this short book was to express his views on the subject and engage with the witchcraft going on in Europe in an intellectual manner.

Thanks to James, the promise of political gain, and a touch of hysteria between 1603 and 1625, there were about twenty witch trials a year in Scotland,  and 450 in total. At least half of these trials ended in a guilty verdict and the defendants were executed.

The small plaque, usually filled with flowers, features an image of witches’ heads entangled by a snake. It also includes a lot of interesting symbolism, such asthe Goddess Hygeia, Foxglove plant, an image of the head of Aesculapius (the God of Medicine), It was erected in 1894, after witchcraft trials finally waned.  There are also the Roman numerals equivalent to 1479 and 1722, which represent the height of witch hysteria in Scotland.  There is also an accompanying trough, which displays flora roots, the left pnae has an evil eye accompanied by frowning eyes and nose, and the right side depicts a pair of hands holding a bowl with the  ‘hands of’ written above the bowl and ‘healing’ written below.

The plaque was added to in 1912 to include the following inscription:

This Fountain Designed By John Duncan RSA

Is Near The Site On Which Many Witches Were

Burned At The Stake. The Wicked Head And Serene

Head Signify That Some Used Their Exceptional

Knowledge For Evil Purposes While Others Were

Misunderstood And Wished Their Kind Nothing

But Good. The Serpent Has The Dual Significance

Of Evil And Of Wisdom. The Foxglove Spray Further

Emphasises The Dual Purpose Of Many Common Objects.

For hundreds of years Scotland fell to its own pandemic of witch-hunting that was, at one point, supported by their king. Neighbor turned against neighbor. People began to mistrust because of their fear of witches and their fear of being accused. Husbands lost wives, parents lost children, children lost mothers, friends lost friends. Although small, this monument to the horrific history commemorates decades and decades of terror.

 

Suspected witches kneeling before King James VI; Daemonologie (1597). It is liscensed under public domain. 

The Hook Island Sea Monster

One of the most interesting types of cryptids to dive into, at least for me, are ocean or water-dwelling cryptids. Mostly because some of these cryptids turn out to be actual animals that exist today, such as the giant squid or the goblin shark. One of the most infamous, photo-captured sea cryptids is the Hook Island Sea Mosnter from 1965.

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First, let's start with a physical description. It is a gigantic sea monster that resembles a terrifyingly ginormous tadpole. It was spotted in Stonehaven Bay, Hook Island, Queensland. Robert Le Serrec, who had a run-in with the monster, said he saw it with his family and his ship-hand in December, 1964.

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Robert Le Serrec, as you might have guessed, was a frenchman. His family had recently purchased a motorboat and had decided to stay on the island for several months. The family was crossing Stonehaven bay on December the 12th on their motorboat. While on the boat, Robert’s wife noticed a strange object on the bottom of the lagoon. How strange? Well, it was massive, 30ft long, and shaped like a tadpole.

The family started snapping pictures, and Le Serrec's first mate, de Jong, eventually summoned up enough courage to jump in the water with the intent of filming the creature. Initially, they believed the 75-80ft monster to be dead. But, they were wrong.

When Le Serrec got closer and began filming, the serpent opened its mouth and started moving towards them. Frightened out of their minds, they returned to the safety of their boat. When they got settled back aboard the boat, the creature had fled.

Le Serrec and those aboard also reported seeing a wound on the right side of the creature. They later surmised that the creature may have been wounded by a ships propeller in open or deeper water, and had decided to take refuge in the shallow lagoon to recover. Le Serrec also noted that the sea creature as having eyes on the top of its head (which many debunkers note is uncommon for most sea creatures). The eyes were pale with slit shaped pupils. Its was mainly black in color, with traverse stripes. Its skin appeared smooth, in fact - it's whole body was smooth with no fins or spines. No mention of teeth were made. See below for an image, gotten from a Scientific American article (cited above):

Hook-Island-tadpole-monster-composite-600-px-tiny-Nov-2013.jpg

 

Unsurprisingly, many tried to instantly debunk this theory. Claiming it was somehow photoshopped (despite being from 1960s) or otherwise manipulated. Some even claim that it is likely that the picture is just a clever angle on a large school of fish. However, this is vaguely impossible because of how straight the lines are in the pictures.

Those who "want to believe" but find a rational explanation also guessed that the creature could be a huge swamp eel, from the Synbranchidae family. But...these types of eels rarely grow larger than 150cm. Others guessed that it might be a monster-shaped sheet of plastic, weighed down to create the shape.

The exhaustive and well-researched Scientific American article on this, by Darren Naish, concludes that it was undoubtedly a hoax. "in 1959, Le Serrec had tried to get a group together on an expedition that would prove “financially fruitful”, and that he had “another thing in reserve which will bring in a lot of money… it’s to do with the sea-serpent” (Heuvelmans 1968, p. 534). Incidentally, the film supposedly taken of the creature revealed nothing."

 

-All Hook Island sea monster pictures were taken from the Scientific American article, as cited above.

 

Panorama of Hook Island - Niki Gango - Own work

Radio Signals 3 Billion Light-Years Away

In a galaxy far, far away...3 billion light-years away, to be exact, radio signals are being heard. Okay, maybe "heard" is a bit an exaggeration, but they have been detected by astronomers in West Virginia. 

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The scientists who discovered these radio bursts are part of a huge project dedicated to finding signs of intelligent life in space. Recently, they were able to record 15 repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) on August 26th, 2017. To record these, they had the help of the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. 

The discovery itself was first  announced as an Astronomer's Telegram and will be described in further detail in a forthcoming scientific article, according to a statement from Breakthrough Listen.

FRBs were first discovered about 15 years ago, and since then there have been roughly 2 dozen unique recordings of them. Usually, they are singular events. But, that changed in 2016. Scientists in the journal Nature announced that they had discovered a repeating radio signal, dubbed FRB 121102. Through consistent monitoring and tracking, they traced this repeating signal back to a dwarf galaxy roughly 3 billion light-years away. Although, the source itself hasn't been found...nothing known in that area of the universe could be producing these signals. At least, not that we know of. Unfortunately, FRBs typically only last a few milliseconds. They appear to come from deep space but because of their minuscule duration, its almost impossible to pinpoint their origin. 

And now, there are more bursts coming from FRB 121102. The Breakthrough Listen team has detected over a dozen more bursts as of late August 2017. Vishal Gajjar, a postdoctoral researcher on the team found these new bursts while monitoring. Over 5 hours, the team was able to collect 400 terabytes of data over the 4 to 8 GHz frequency band, or C-band (which is mostly used for satellite communications transmissions).

Gajjar has said, “As well as confirming that the source is in a newly active state, the high resolution of the data obtained by the Listen instrument will allow measurement of the properties of these mysterious bursts at a higher precision than ever possible before,”

But, just because we don't know where they're coming from doesn't mean scientists aren't theorizing. In fact, a few explanations of FRBs have been brought up. For example, maybe they were caused by a cataclysmic event like a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. One problem with this theory is that an event like that would seemingly one create one burst, so the repeating of FRB 121102 wouldn't make sense and couldn't be accounted for.

Another idea is that they might be coming from a young and VERY magnetized neutron star...but none of those have been detected in that particular region of space.

But, for now, we are still searching. 

The above image is not directly related to the story and is simply a view of the universe as provided by Hubble. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). 

 

New Discovery: The Largest Sea Dragon!

Will the sea ever stop surprsing us? I hope not. In the last week of August 2017, the largest sea dragon to date was discovered. Except, it was already in a museum.

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Sven Sachs was visiting a museum to study an ancient sea reptile when one of the museum's display fossils caught his eye.

The specimen that caught his eye was hardly new. In fact, it was unearthed in the 1990s around Somerset, England. Unfortunately, it wasn't of much interest and remained unstudied. Sachs believed it was an Ichthyosaurs. Ichthyosaurses were large marine reptiles. They evolved from a group of unknown land reptiles that returned to the sea. These creatures fossils were often mistakenly believed to be dinosaur, however it was believed to be more like a sea dragon. Basically, they swam like eels, had long bodies, and were BIG.

Back to Dr. Sachs who said about "rediscovering" the fossil,  "I found it very extraordinary," said Sachs. "[It was] way bigger than any specimen I had examined." After consultation and examination, it was determined that the specimen was of the species Ichthyosaurus somersetensis, the largest of its kind estimating it to be about 10 feet long. In addition to its impressive size, this particular specimen also was carrying a small, seven-centimeter embryo when it died.

One of the reasons it's impressiveness wasn't acknowledged until decades later is because the museum had mistakenly given it the tail of a different Ichthyosaurus species to make it look more complete. 

According to National Geographic, "Sachs believes other unexplored museum collections have the potential to reveal undiscovered species." It is amazing that this new "terrain" of paletology has been opened. Who knows what could be lurking in the dozens upon dozens of unexplored collections that could be hiding secret gems like this one! 

The above image is NOT of the specific Ichthyosaurus, but from a visitor to the Natural History Museum in London. Liscensed by CC BY-SA 3.0.  "Fossil of Ichthyosaurus, an extinct reptile-- Took the photo at Natural History Museum, London" taken by Ghedoghedo.

Rats are Probably Worse than you Thought

Living in a city means I am usually confronted with pests of various kinds - cockroaches, over-confident squirrels, and the worst of the worst - rats. Although D.C. is no New York City or Medieval England when it comes to rats they are still abundant. So, I decided to read up on some "urban legends" about these city-dwellers and see if they were really as bad as we make them out to be.

Well, as it turns out...they're much worse. 

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For example, they CAN actually go through the sewer, up your toilet pipes, and into your home. Seriously, watch the video here for an interesting play-by-play on how it works. Basically, if a rat can fit its head through its opening, its ribs can give way because they are hinged to the spine - and that's how rats can get through the pipe. But, what about the water? Rats are actually pretty good swimmers. They use their tales as a rudder, their back feet to swim, and their arms to "steer". Rats can even tread water for three days straight, and hold their breath for up to three minutes. This is how they survive so effortlessly in sewers and are able to swim right up the pipes and into your toilet.

Oh, and rats are NOT easy to get rid of. This is mostly because they have an extremely low tolerance for being hungry and often go into berserker mode and do anything and everything they can to get their next meal as soon as possible. But, once they find a steady food supply - whether it be an apartment building, garden, or sewer - they really hunker down.

Furthermore, a rat may only venture a few dozen feet in its entire LIFETIME if it is near a food source that keeps on giving. They usually connect a pathway directly from their nest to their food supply and simply make the food run several times a day, every day. These are not a creature imbued with wanderlust. In fact, next time you're in a city see if you see a trail of what looks like grease...it is rat grease. Oftentimes, the trails are so well travelled that the continued use will leave behind grease from a rat's fur.

Oh, and just knocking down one rat population isn't enough to rid a city, or even a neighborhood, of them. It is theorized that killing one rat population just gives the survivors the resources to eat more and breed faster. 

Not to mention, rats can still spread disease better than almost any animal in the game. In fact, after Katrina rat-transmitted diseases were a major public health issue, especially the spreading of bacterial diseases like leptospirosis, which can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and death in extreme cases.

So, not only can rats horrifyingly crawl through the sewers into your toilets, they are also hard to get rid of and still carry lots of diseases!

 

The above image is from Wikipedia user Edal Anton Lefterov and is liscensed under CC.

The Origins of the Tooth Fairy

If you grew up in America, there's a pretty good chance you had at least one run-in with a tooth fairy. But, where the hell did this strange myth come from in the first place? Does it have ancient roots, is it linked with Greek mythology, is it a wonderful myth as old as humankind?

Not exactly. In fact, it's a very recent mythical being with very American origins.

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Let's first address what we know, more or less, about the tooth fairy today. First, a child has to lose a "baby tooth". The baby tooth is then placed under the pillow at night while the child sleeps. The child may also include a note with the tooth, thanking the tooth fairy and asking for some sort of present or wish. Finally, when the child wakes up the next morning there is a small token underneath the pillow, usually money and the tooth and the note are gone!

Now that that has been established, let's get into where this strange tradition started. 

The tradition of dealing with baby teeth is much older than the tooth fairy herself. According to Michael Higston, a reporter from Salon covering the strange history of the tooth fairy, "Every recorded human culture has some kind of tradition surrounding the disposal of a child’s lost baby teeth."

These disposal methods, of course, was of interest to many cultural anthropologists and researchers and one such researcher, BR. Townend, even distilled it down to 9 basic forms.

  1. The tooth was thrown into the sun
  2. Thrown into the fire
  3. Thrown between the legs
  4. Thrown onto or over the roof of the house, often with an invocation to some animal or individual
  5. Placed in a mouse hole near the stove or hearth or offered to some other animal
  6. Buried
  7. Hidden where animals could not get it
  8. Placed in a tree or on a wall
  9. Swallowed by the mother, child or animal.

This same question - "Where" and "Why" boggled a professor at Northwestern University Dental School, named Rosemary Wells. She began what would become a career-defining search for the origins of the tooth fairy, going as far as opening a museum of the tooth fairy run out of her home and appearing on major entertainment programs like the Oprah Winfrey show.

So, what year did the tooth fairy officially sashay onto the scene? According to the research of Wells and others, around 1927 is her first print appearance. She is a character in a short, 8 page playlet for children by Esther Watkins Arnold. However, there is some belief that she was mentioned orally as early as the turn of the 19th century. Although, of course, there is not much written record of it.

Her origins are believed to be a cross between two myths. First, the legend of a mouse that sneaks into a child’s bedroom and performs the cash-for-teeth swap - a legend that spans everywhere from Russia to Mexico. The second is the typical “good fairy,” a mainly European figure that crept its way over the Atlantic. This lore mixed the rise of Disney in the mid-1960s and became a cultural explosion of the tooth fairy.

It is believed the tooth fairy has remained in the popular zeitgeist for so long because of the purpose she serves. Losing one's teeth, especially at such a young age, can be quite scary. There is the tension of anxiety of waiting for a wiggly tooth to come out, sometimes a necessary tug, and often blood. The tooth fairy myth offers comfort during this strange and uncomfortable time, promising that the pain and scariness of the event will end in a treat from a magical being. 

So, what makes it so American?

In her article "Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith,” Cindy Dell Clark, another academic researcher, argued that "the use of monetary rewards — and leaving money for each tooth, not just the first one, is another distinctly American invention — helps children transition into the world of adulthood, where cash is a symbol of increased agency and responsibility." Not to mention, the rise in popularity follows at a time of American prosperity. During the great depression, just giving away nickels and dimes would not make sense. However, during a time of more economic prosperity, the tooth fairy myth could flourish.

So there you have it - the strange, slightly convulted myth of the tooth fairy!

The above image is from Flickr user Ginny and is liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Victorian Game of Gobolinks

Many of you are probably at least somewhat aware of the power of inkblots and the human mind. Or, at least, the implied power of them as set up by Hermann Rorschach, who created the inkblot test in 1921. However, there was a victorian precursor to this practice of interpreting inkblots: Gobolinks.

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As defined by a book on the subject, titled "Gobolinks, or Shadow Pictures," Gobolinks are a "veritable goblin of the ink-bottle." Although this book wasn't published until 1896, the idea of Gobolinks had been popular since the 1700s, when it was originally known as klecksography (a fancy word for inkblot art). These once sloppy drip-marks began to become art work in and of themselves and made famous by artists like Justinus Kerner (who was also a physician). 

These goblins of the ink bottles became unique creatures - not purposefully made by the artist but willed into the world through the ink itself, but still abled to be interpreted. The Gobolinks book also made this art form into a game. 

Here's how it works:

1) Players have to 'create' ink blots

2) The paper with the blot would then be folded in half, to create a symmetrical image.

3) Players then have to write a rhyme based on the image

4) The chosen judge then assesses which blobs are the best, the winning blob is then declared a "booby".

As this game was popular at parties, the writers of the book suggested that people should wear outfits that are as symmetrical as possible, to mimics the in blots they'd make.

Gobolink Examples:

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Gobolinks also have a bit of a strange, creepy side. Perhaps it is how symetrical the blots are that make people just a hair uncomfortable...but a follow-up book by different authors in 1907, Blottentots, was written and seemed to, as Atlas Obscura notes "embrace the inherently shadowy, otherworldly look of inkblot creations."

Blottentot Example:

So how did ink blots go from accidental artwork to a party game to physiological test? In 1921, not long after the popularity of gobolinks and inkblot games had ebbed away, Herman Rorschach published "Psychodiagnostics." Rorschach believed that what people perceived in strange, ambiguous inkblots could have the potential to reveal differences in their basic personality structure.

Instead of the ink blot game that asks players to come up with an imaginative poem or rhyme based on the blot, Rorschach asked "What might this be." Based on their answers, he believed he could learn, psychologically, more about people.

For example, if a patient repeatedly sees fighting/violence in the inkblots they likely have a very different mind from someone who sees dancing/athletic activity in the same inkblots. Based on this, he set out to devise a precise system for scoring his test, like whether the test subject was interpreting color, form, or movement. The product of this final test was the previously mentioned Psychodiagnostics, in which he studied 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects.

Inkblot Test:

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And that is how have inkblots have remained in culture for over 300 years. From art to games to psychological tests. Although, I have to say, Gobolinks might be my favorite incarnation of the inkblot.

 

All the images are public domain, provided by the Archive:

Gobolinks

Blottentots

Inkblot Test

Squids Speak Alphabets...but Without using their Mouths

Squids are some of the most amazing creatures on our planet, and I feel like scientists are always finding out new and interesting facts about these strange, alien-like animals. Recently, the Journal of Neuroscience published a piece that gave us even more insight into squids. What exactly did Taiwanese neuroscientists Tsung-Han Liu and Chuan-Chin Chiao discover and publish? Well, squids might be able to "speak". 

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Squids are able to change colors at a moment's notice - whether it be their whole bodies, parts of their body, or even creating patterns of shifting colors. As part of their experiment Chiao and Liu wanted to see how, and potentially why, squids changed colors. 

To do this, they placed electrodes in different part of the squid's optic lobe in their brains. According to the scientists, when they stimulated different spots on the lobe, the squid changed colors in the same body part. This then made Chiao think that the optic lobe may control the muscles that manipulate the squid's pigment cells.

Wired did a wonderful report on this strange case, in which they noted Chiao's surprise at how the experiment went. "When Chiao started out, he thought the optic lobe would be organized like the human cortex, with the pigment on different body parts correlating with different locations in the brain: a squidunculus. Not so."

Unlike a human's, it seemed that the squid's body parts weren't singularly represented. In fact, their body parts could be represented, and affected, in more than one spot in the optic lobe. This has some seriously interesting consequences for how we not only understand squids biology, but how we might be better able to understand their communication and what the changes to their skin colors might mean.

According to Chicao, "It’s like the squid has an alphabet of patterns—14 by Chiao’s count—which repeat in a mosaic within the optic lobe. It’s like if your keyboard had hundreds of keys, but still only 26 letters."

But, studying squids brains is difficult because they are so drastically different from our own. What does these 14 color changes communicate to other squids? Why have the set of 14? What can we learn by studying their behavior? How closely related are their communication patterns to humans or other animals?

Right now, Chiao and his team are trying to record and better capture the different combinations of pigment patterns and what they might mean to another squid. Are they having complex conversations? Are they trying to figure out how best to mate? Are they gearing up to fight? Hopefully, in a few more years we'll better understand this strange creature and the power, and potential depth, behind its communication patterns. 

 

This above image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.    Attribution: © Hans Hillewaert. Common squid from the Belgian continental shelf. Picture taken in the lab on board of the RV Belgica, of a live specimen to preserve colour and structure of chromophores.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Astonishing Legends has touched on the terrifying expereince of sleep paralysis in a number of our episodes. Today, I wanted to dig in a little more deeply into the phenomena of sleep paralysis in order to gain a better understanding of what causes it, what happens, and how to deal with it.

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Sleep paralysis seems quite astonishing in nature. In fact, many people report seeing shadow people, hags, demons, ghostly visitations, unexplainable creatures, and even alien abductions. Although these beings are linked to the paranormal, they also frequently appear during sleep paralysis episodes.

First and foremost, it is a sleeping disorder. Sleep paralysis consists, generally, of the feeling of being conscious but being completely unable to move, which can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Often times the vision of some kind of presence will be 'seen' by the victim, although what is seen changes on a case-by-case basis. Some who suffer from sleep paralysis also note physical pressure and even a sense of choking that accompanies a sleep paralysis episode. 

Oh, and sleep paralysis isn't new. In fact, it was recognized in the scientific world by a psychologist, Weir Mitchell, in 1876. In his own words he describes sleep paralysis as:  “The subject awakes to consciousness of his environment but is incapable of moving a muscle; lying to all appearance still asleep. He is really engaged in a struggle for movement fraught with acute mental distress; could he but manage to stir, the spell would vanish instantly.”

So, when does it happen? Well, sleep paralysis happens when a person wakes up BEFORE REM is finished. Thus, giving the sense of not being able to move. Basically, your body's ability to move hasn't been "turned on" yet.

Another thing most people don't know is that there are different kinds of sleep paralysis. There is hypnagogic sleep paralysis, which is what it is called when sleep paralysis occurs as you are falling asleep. Hypnopompic sleep paralysis happens as you are waking up.

Now that we know a little more about what sleep paralysis is, let's dive into what can cause sleep paralysis. It does not appear that sleep paralysis has one "point of origin", as far as stressors go. In fact, several seemingly common things can bring on an episode of sleep paralysis. For example:

  • Medications
  • Other sleep disorders (like seep apnea or narcolepsy)
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Jet Lag
  • Caffeine 
  • Alcohol
  • Falling asleep too fast (literally - its skipping your REM/bypassing parts of your REM cycle that can trigger an episode) 

The above list is not conclusive by any means. Not to mention, you can expereince reoccurring sleep paralysis or one-off episodes...potentially caused by different stressors.

So, how did the paranormal enter the realm of sleep? Well, in the narrative and mythology of sleep paralysis, it was believed that demons or otherwise evil beings caused sleep paralysis by literally holding people down to their beds, rendering them unable to move or even sitting on their chests - which could further explain why people feel short of breath or pressure.

Additionally, hallucinations are very common during sleep paralysis, causing people to see strange and surreal creatures because during sleep paralysis the brain is still in 'dream mode', and has the ability to conjure up these images. 

So, how can you guard against sleep paralysis? Sadly, there is no set treatment for combatting sleep paralysis. Often, the best way to fight against sleep paralysis is by treating underlying causes, like those from the list above.

If you have only had one or two attacks, taking care of your sleep hygiene could be a potential fix to the issue. However, if you have continuous, reoccurring attacks you might want to visit a sleep specialist (yes, that is totally a thing)!

If you do have an attack...there isn't much you can do to stop it in the moment. Just remind yourself that this is only temporary and soon you feel much better.

The image above is from Flickr user Matt Anderson and is liscensed under creative commons 2.0.