Monday, April 25, 2011
This one took awhile to finish.
Long ago there was a priest who broke his vows and took advantage of a young woman. When he finally decided to end the relationship and abandon her, she was so infuriated that she transformed into a gigantic serpent and pursued him to his temple. The head abbots hid the priest under their giant bell, but the serpent caught his scent and coiled so tightly around the bell that it glowed red hot. When they lifted the bell all that remained of the priest was ash...
There are several variants on this story. Some have the priest as innocent, some have the girl as being misled about the priest by her father, and a great number of them end with the Buddhist equivalent of "women, am I right?" Buddhism doesn't have this reputation in the west where it is often considered to be more of a philosophical tradition than a religion, but the truth is a lot of Buddhist scripture has really questionable attitudes towards women. The variants of this story that appear in Japanese scripture use the serpent woman as a metaphor for how relationships with ANY women lead to tragedy because ALL of them are over-emotional monsters just waiting under the surface and will kill your spiritual career.
Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of feminist interpretations of this story as well. Pre-Buddhist Japan had a tradition of very powerful female shamans, and so the patriarchy had a very real reason to fear the "power" and "monstrous" energy inside the gender they had usurped. In this reading, the serpent woman isn't a villain, but a heroine to root for whose time will come again. She takes on the form of a serpent, representing both the female energies labeled "demonic" as well as the male phallic shape, to burn away hypocrisy in the new order.
I made the snake white because when I was thinking about this legend I mixed it up with a separate (but perhaps related? I'm no expert) snake lady from Chinese legend named Bai Suzhen. She was a white serpent demon who wanted to become a goddess by doing good deeds, but was hounded by a sorcerer who believed all demons to be pure evil that must be destroyed.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Another day, another endangered amphibian. The Chinese giant salamander is the largest living amphibian in the world, growing up to a whopping 1.8 meters long. They are critically endangered due to over-harvesting for food. They are considered a delicacy in China and also a source for traditional "medicine". Sadly, these awesome creatures are not the only animal facing extinction due to Chinese over-consumption.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Poison dart frogs are gorgeous, vibrantly colored frogs from Central and South America. They get their name from the fact that many indigenous tribes used their toxins for blow darts. They are also critically endangered, having been decimated by the Chytrid fungus. They are also at risk from collectors, mostly from Germany and Japan, who are attracted to the rare frogs' beautiful colors and patterns.
Unlike some other amphibians, poison dart frogs don't lay a lot of eggs. As a result, they are very devoted parents, carrying their tadpoles piggyback from water source to water source. This lack of fecundity and the dependence on their parents is another reason why collectors are such a threat to the species. Millions of dollars worth of frogs are smuggled out of South America every day.
Collectors aren't the only reason these frogs are so valuable. Their skin contains more than just toxins. They contain chemicals that can be used to treat everything from cancer to Alzheimers to HIV. They are a shmorgishborg of useful and amazing chemicals, and as a result they are in high demand from pharmaceutical companies. Unfortunately, these chemicals and toxins are not innately created by the frogs, they come from the frogs' diet and environment. This makes captive bred frogs useless for research, hence the constant demand for new frogs off the black market. Now I would think that such dependence on biodiversity would encourage pharmaceutical companies to invest money in sanctuaries for these creatures and sustainable rainforests. That way they would have a continual supply of specimens without having to worry about running out or perpetuating an exploitative and illegal black market. But then that's why I don't run a pharmaceutical company.
So lets see, these frogs are adorable, beautiful and varied in color and pattern, caring parents, poster children for the interconnectedness of life, and could possibly save countless lives. Fuck the giant panda, these guys need to be the new face of conservation!
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Today's critter is the desman, a semi-aquatic cousin of the mole. Only two species of desman exist today, the Pyrenean desman and the Russian desman. Both species are vulnerable due to pollution and illegal fishing nets. The desman uses its webbed hind legs and powerful tail to swim through the water as easily as its cousins burrow through the ground. However, the most interesting feature of the desman is its nose. This prehensile trunk features the same Eimer's organ at the tip that the star-nosed mole has. This allows it to reach into nooks and crannies under the water and feel for tasty insects, crustaceans and amphibians. Despite being functionally blind, this organ is so powerful that it can construct as mental picture of its surroundings based on touch alone. Think of him as the combination of Namor and Daredevil, only in tiny mole form.
The desman has a surprisingly complex system of society and communication that is only just now starting to be studied.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
On August 21, 1955 the most dramatic alleged alien encounter in history took place in rural Kentucky. Two families were besieged by a troupe of strange gremlins-like aliens that arrived in a mysterious craft. While only three feet tall, the strange silver creatures had huge dangerous claws and survived shotgun blasts. At times they appeared to float and walked with their claws held up and with a strange gait as though they were wading through water. The creatures never made it inside, but scrambled around the outside of the house. The goblins even scuffled with and grabbed at the farmers who ventured outside. Eventually the families escaped and went to the sheriff. When the police returned to the house they found extensive damage to the property, heard strange noises and saw mysterious lights (as well as notably finding no evidence of alcohol or drugs). The nearby households also heard the struggle and were distressed at the strange noises and lights. Even years later, the families, the police and their neighbors' stories corroborated under individual questioning. The families made no money off of their story and in fact fled the area after their story made them too popular with ufologists.
The strange goblins would appear a few more times, but none of these sitings would be as dramatic and intense as the night in Hopkinsville. Numerous explanations have been given for what the creatures might actually have been. They range from the boringly logical great horned owl to the as-unlikely-and-goofy-as-it-being-aliens escaped circus monkey that was also painted silver for some reason. To be honest though, the story of an army of great owls laying siege to a rural farm? That's just as cool.
Friday, April 1, 2011
I reversed the order. Today you get the doodle and after that you'll get the folklore update.
Today's drawing is actually the second drawing I did on my iPad way back in December. So like yesterday's update, this one isn't as nice as my more recent work. I did it for my friend Sarah, who was going through a hard time. It's a picture of her punching her anxiety monster in the face.