It is now 80 years and two days since Benjamin, the last extant thylacene, a.k.a. Tasmanian Tiger, passed on, and with him another species went into the long night of extinction caused by homo sapiens. In case you were not aware of it, we are currently right in the middle of another great extinction event and we are the cause of it. Yes, this is the Holocene Extinction Event, it is still ongoing and we as a species are the cause and it is entirely our responsibility.
The thylacene is only one of the species we either hunted into extinction or wiped out by destroying the habitat.
Here is a rather depressing report:
Yet, there is hope. For one thing, there are several projects in the works, one focused on the thylacene, aiming to ressurect extinct species by cloning from tissue samples and other methods. It is still a bit early to say where this all leads but at least something is being done and scientific progress might yet lead to a re-enriched biosphere of earth.
I for one would love to see the thylacene making a comeback. Let us hope, the projects will end in success.
Kenny Baker, who will forever be known and remembered as the actor who brought R2-D2 to life, has passed on today aged 81, just 11 days shy of his 82nd birthday. According to various sources, he had been ill for a while already.
2016 has claimed another Great One. Rest in the Force, Sir!
Granted, this is a rather sensationalist headline and I freely admit, it has only a very remote connection to the article here, but there is a certain truth to it. I would not be surprized if a fair number of Sumerian gods originally were real people who got deified in the course of ancestor worship or because several real people got mashed into one through oral history mix-ups and other factors.
Gilgamesh, the main character of the Epic of Gilgamesh, is now no longer regarded as a mythological figure, instead, enough actual historical records have been found, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was a real king.
Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia (the article is well sourced, so you can do your own reasearch from there):
Gilgamesh is generally seen by scholars as an historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the existence of other figures associated with him in the epic. If Gilgamesh existed, he probably was a king who reigned sometime between 2800 and 2500 BC.
Before I continue, here is the epic of Gilgamesh, the first recorded poem (that we are aware of) in the history of our species as a audiobook:
Now, if you listen to the audiobook and/or read the Epic yourself, you will surely note one thing: The Sumerian gods appear rather human and are not at all omnipotent, they are for lack of a better term very human gods. They are even less powerful and also less capricous than the Olympian or Asgardian gods.
One of the reasons for that is that they are basically first tier gods, very early in the development of codified religion in human culture. They come from a time when human cultures were still very separated and religions were not yet in much competition with one another and there was no need for active proselytization because gods of different cultures and/or ethicities were not in competion, yet.
But I digress.
While listening to the audiobook I recognized some striking similarities and highly interesting differences in context, between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the first few chapters in Genesis:
Here for example the creation and civilization of Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s best friend:
Enkidu was made from clay (just like Adam) and saliva by Aruru, the goddess of creation (Adam got the breath of life from YHW), to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild man, raised by animals and ignorant of human society (Adam and Eve were pure before the fall) until he is bedded by Shamhat. Samhat was a sacred prostitute and the act of deliberate, sacred intercourse turned the wild man into a civilized man.
Shamhat then becomes Enkidu’s urbane „mother“, teaching him the basics of civilized life, eating, drinking wine, and dressing himself.
In the Bible, the act of eating the forbidden fruit (Eve tempting Adam afer being tempted by the serpent) gives them understanding, of a certain sort which YHW actually does not want, and YHW clearly is not omniscient yet in the early parts of Genesis, because Adam is able to hide from YHW because he is ashamed that he is naked (i.e. He rather wants to be clothed, because being naked is not civilized).
Genesis 3:9 – 3:11:
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, „Where are you?“ He said, „I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.“1And He said, „Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?“
Lord God has to call out for man because he does not know where Adam and Eve are and he does not know who tempted them both. This version of YHW is very clearly not yet the all-powerful deity of the new testament and shows the same human traits and weaknesses as the gods of Ancient Sumeria.
So, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, coming from the wilderness and having no understanding is the less desirable state and the tempting woman, the sacred prostitute, is a positive figure, while in the Bible, the tempting woman is the evildoer and his creation having understanding is actually somthing the god in question does not want.
Before I continue, here is some background on Ancient Sumeria, the place were Gilgamesh was king of the city uf Uruk. Sumeria was less of a kingdom as we see it today and more of a collection of city-states, linked by trade and a common culture. The area of Sumer was comparatively densely populated for the Bronze Age with important city-states being the aforementioned Uruk, Eridu, Uruk, Larsa, Isin, Adab, Kullah, Lagash, Nippur, Kish and Ur. Ur becomes really important for the rest of the argument.
Ur and Eridu are the two souternmost cities and Uruk is north-northwest of Eridu.
Now, if you know your Bible (and I guess it is also mentioned in the Q’ran) the first Patriarch, Abraham, was born in Ur, at a time when Ur was still Sumeria. We can savely assume if Abraham was a historical figure (which is actually doubtful), he was aware of the Epic of Gilgamesh and/or originally a follower of the religion of the area (i.e Enqui, Marduk, Inanna were the gods he grew up with). If Abraham is an amalgamation of several people of the area, they lived with those gods in their culture, the point remains the same.
The founder of the Abrahamic religions, starting with Judaism, had the cultural background of Sumer, yet, the mythos of this culture, sexuality being an integral and positive part of civilization, understanding and becoming civilized being a positive thing, was radically turned on its head with the woman becoming the temptress, women being worth less than men according to the Bible, and civilization and having understanding being portrayed as being the result of being tempted to eat from the forbidden fruit.
Why would a clearly life-embracing, life-celebrating and pro-sex culture and civilization then provide the basis of a very repressive family of religions?
The Epic of Gilgamesh was originally composed during the hight of the Bronze Age, its Golden Age, if you will. The foundation of Judaism, whicjh is also the basis of Christianity and Islam, came later, after the Bronze Age Collapse.
The city-states of the Ancient Near east collapsed, some of the cities were abanonned, populations declined, knowledge was lost, the collapse led to a transition period which was a comperative dark age. Since agricultural techniques were lost, the ability to sustain large populations was lost as well, a method to controle population growth had to be implemented. A very effective way to do this is to declare sexuality as sinful, make being naked sinful and, since it was most likely men who came up with that, blame it on the women. Also, since the city-states collapsed, blame civilization and idealize the uncivilized population in their „natural“ state and here it is, the foundation of the first Abrahamic religion. Rooted in a Bronze Age civilization, but all that was positive about that civilization portrayed as negative and sinful, due to the aftershocks of the Bronze Age collapse.
I think we should go back to the life-embracing roots of Ancient Sumeria, regard civilization as something good and stop feeling ashamed for being ourselves. It is great to have understanding, it is great to be human, this is what is at the core of the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is also at the heart of many pagan and neo-pagan religions.
In Asatru for example (i.e. neo-Viking religion, so to speak and an official religion in Iceland), we are literal descendants of the Gods, Heimdalr in the form of Rig, is the father of all humanity.
We are not sinful, we are great! We can do great things, the old gods are with us, lets get to work!
Some time back I had the pleasure of interviewing Stef Conner regarding her work on reconstructing Sumerian and Babylonian music. Now, she has taken on another project, more modern, so to speak.
The projects concerns the Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare himself, and Stef is taking him into the 21st century. This is what the project is about in detail:
So, what we have here are several ridiculously talented people, pooling their skills to produce music that is classic and contemporary and brand new at the same time. What is not to like here?
But, as Stef has mentioned, this project needs our help, so please sidle over to IndiGoGo and support, every little helps.
You can also find out more about the parties involved here:
Any reason to post about Zeppelins is a good reason and this time the reason is excellent.
Indy Neidell, who host the superb and highly recommendable Great War Youtube Channel (check it out and subscribe) has compiled a host of information on Zeppelins and their use during the First World War and put them into a special episode:
Zeppelins – Majestic and Deadly Airships of WW1
And now, please go and check The Great War Channel out, it is a bit of a time-sink with all those well-researched and interesting videos on there, but hey, what can you do…
2015 really is a catastrophic year for living legends.
Lemmy Kilminster, legendery frontman of Heavy Metal pioneers and pillars of the scene Motörhead has passed away at the age of 70.
According to The Guardian, he had been diagnosed with cancer on the 26th of December and was at home when the Valkyries took him. Lemmy was one of the most recogniseable rock and metal artists of all time. His career spanned five decades, his contribution to music and his influence by sheer weight of personality are things few artists can match these days.
Lemmy, you will be sorely missed but you can play Metal with Christopher Lee in Valhalla now!
Let’s remember this legend by playing his music LOUD!
When I heard that a biography of Gary Gygax, the father of Dungeons & Dragons had been published, I of course rushed to get it. Just for the off chance that you are unaware who Gary Gygax is, as I said, he is the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, the first tabletop (pen & paper) role playing game.
Thus, he created a genre that would spawn everything from Advanced Dungeons & Dargons, to Star Wars the Role Playing Game, to Magic the Gathering and every computer and online role playing game you have ever played. He set it all in motion, it started in a small house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Gary Gygax is the godfather of one of the greatest popculture phenomena of the 20th century.
Now for the content of the biography: Empire of Imagination tells the story of Gary’s life and it tells it in a very fitting way: Like an adventure. Every chapter has an intro from a scene of a role playing adventure that reflects the situation Gary is in at the moment. It is just beautiful and sets the mood. The biographical data is deep and broad, I learned plenty about Gary’s life that I had never heard of before, like him being a Jehova’s Witness. I also found the genesis of the first Dungeons & Dragons set fascinating, but I am not going to spoil it for you if you have no idea about the history of role playing games. Let’s just say, even before role playing games, you could be a game nerd and there were plenty around and Gary was one of them.
I guess Michael Witwer took some liberty imagining some of the scenes in the book since some of the information in the book is probably very hard to come by, especially with 40 years of time passing between Gary coming to prominence and the event. It does not matter, though, after all, Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons is about a guy with a highly active imagination, so there can be imagination in the book as well.
The biography is also really engaging, well done, Michael Witwer, you really feel with Gary. It is like you are looking over his shoulder the whole time. You are not a distant observer or historian, you are part of his life. You dive into this biography as if Empire of Imagination was a novel and Gary the protagonist. Every time something good happened to Gary, I cheered inside. I felt warm inside my chest when he got married or when one of his children was born and every time his tumultuous handed him lemons, I felt sad. When Lorraine Williams reared her ugly head and booted Gary out of TSR, I was seething, but like every epic adventure, there is some light at the end, a recovery and it ends with Gary passing on a living legend.
Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons is a book no geek or role player of any sort should miss out on. Get it! It is an excellent read and you owe it to the creator of the genre to read the story of his life. It is also a very motivating tale, because Gary always managed to work himself out of bad situations by his own strength.
So many layers to this book, such an epic life, Gary lived, so many lives he touched…
Oh the high-octane concentrated awesome! Today marks the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein presenting his Theory of General Relativity to the Prussian Academy of Science, and the Theory has stood the test of time so far. Now, since most of us have only a vague idea what this theory is all about, the Tenth Doctor (Doctor Who? you ask, I guess…) chimes in to explain. Well, David Tennant does, which is just as well.
Watch, listen, learn and enjoy! Science is so much fun…
Today ist the 101st birthday of Golden Age of Hollywood Actress Hedy Lamarr, and I would like to take the opportunity and point your attention to today’s animated Google Doodle:
As you can see, Hedy Lamarr far more than one of the favorite actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She was also an accompolished scientist who contributed significantly to the discovery of principles and to inventions that form the basis of WiFi, sattelite communication and other such areas without which the internet in its current form could not exist.
So please people: If you think of Hedy Lamarr, think of her as the scientist first and as the actress second. Glamour fades, glory in science is forever!