Alias Adam (Chapter 2)

Chapter 2 – Entanglement

Underlying the events which drove the conception and early development of the embryos in question was a reality that would have been described as bizarre and counterintuitive had anyone been aware of it. To satisfy current trends in western culture, an effort at explanation can be tried within the realm of physics. Quantum mechanics is a theory which attempts to describe the behavior of exceedingly small particles of matter and energy. Things so minute are not subject to the same laws as macroscopic objects. They are postulated to exhibit superposition, the ability to occupy several states or realities at once. This theory has been used to explain the wave-particle duality of light and other forms of electromagnetic energy. Photons of light can be thought of as waves with characteristic wavelengths corresponding to the colors of the spectrum or as packets or particles of energy. A photon may exist as either or as both at once.

Decoherence is the loss of superposition. This allegedly occurs when small particles such as photons are observed and measured by experimental manipulation. The particles are “pushed” by deliberate disturbance into one state to the exclusion of another. Once this happens, they have been positioned by the observational method or instrument being used. In the example of light, a photon is perceived by the observer as having the properties of either a particle or a wave.

When disturbances occur in just the right ways, two particles may become entangled. It is as though some mysterious force connects them even if they are separated by great distances. In this seemingly bizarre relationship, a change imposed on either particle will be mirrored by a change imposed on the other. If the reader can make one more counterintuitive stretch, there is another complication. The fact that entanglement will occur later means in essence that it has occurred now, and this causes decoherence. Entanglement in the future is retroactive into the present. Entanglement in the present is retroactive into the past.

Superposition, entanglement, and decoherence apply to particles of miniscule size, but here a philosophical question emerges. Might they also apply to things of no size at all, things which are not physical? It is difficult for many intellectuals to accept the existence of anything other than matter, energy, and the forces which govern their operation. But what if such things – beneath matter, energy, and force – actually do exist and are responsible for what our senses and instruments can detect? Might something on the order of quantum mechanics apply to these as well, and might every member of our species harbor such components?

The creation of two human embryos, of two human souls, had been marked by disturbances: those caused by a combination of technology and error for one and those caused by substance abuse for the other. Social and physical disturbances would follow. Entanglement had been established, and decoherence was in progress. One could argue that these two individuals might have been anything or that they were already being assigned to the definite fates they would choose for themselves. In sovereign choices yet to be made, the trajectories of their lives were destined to cross. Two quantum souls were now attached by an incomprehensible bond, and the paths ahead of them would be marked by violence and trauma.

 

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Alias Adam (Chapter 1)

Chapter 1 – Conceptions

There were two. Each came into being under different circumstances during the same year, one in a dish and the other in the normal way, one among many and the other by itself. One of the embryos was created both deliberately and accidentally, the other in a moment of passion and without responsibility. One had two biological parents, the other four. At a stage unknown to anyone and despite the confident assertions of scientists and legal experts, each was endowed with a soul, and these two souls were linked by an existential thread that extended across the width of Missouri.

To better understand this cryptic beginning, one must start with the activities of a certain fertility clinic in Kansas City. This establishment offered hope to childless couples unable to procreate without medical assistance. It operated, in general, like many other fertility clinics elsewhere. Multiple eggs would be harvested from a hopeful mother following completion of the necessary hormonal treatments. A hopeful father donated sperm in the privacy of a room stocked with reading materials suitable to the occasion. In a process known as in vitro fertilization, these sperm and eggs would be mixed together in a laboratory dish and allowed to do what sperm and eggs normally do. Several fertilized eggs, thus obtained, were incubated and allowed to grow for five days or so until each reached an embryonic stage called the blastocyst. In a mother of young enough age, only one embryo was implanted into the uterine wall, and the best embryo was selected for this purpose. Hopefully, a normal and successful pregnancy would then ensue. Together, all of these methods were referred to as assisted reproductive technology.

All drugs and devices used in conjunction with this technology were subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, enforced the 1992 Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act by receiving and evaluating reports from fertility clinics throughout the United States. The Clinical Laboratory and Improvement Act of 1988 also applied to clinics engaged in assisted reproductive technology practices. In addition to these regulations, the clinic of this story also claimed to follow the recommendations of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, so a raft of agencies and laws were involved in the oversight of its activities.

After the selected embryos had been implanted, the remainder were typically frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen at minus eighty degrees Celsius. The spares were kept for future implantations should initial efforts fail. In keeping with widespread practice, couples paying for the services of this clinic signed legally binding documents which contained specific instructions as to what should be done with their excess embryos once they had no use for them. Some were designated for research or for donation to couples who could not produce eggs or sperm of their own. Other embryos were to be thawed and discarded. This, of course, generated ethical questions owing to the uncertain status of these products of artificial conception. Were they merely small masses of biological tissue, or were they human beings? Were they something in between? The signed documents absolved the clinic of legal responsibility.

In spite of this precaution, some couples could not be contacted for one reason or another, and the personnel operating the clinic were reluctant to proceed without notifying these couples. The problem was not unique. In fact, it was common. As many as four-hundred-thousand human embryos existed in a type of frozen limbo in the United States.

Two couples, one white, one black, and both of sufficient means to afford the process underwent it at the same time and at the aforementioned clinic. Each mother was given a series of injections. These began with daily doses of drugs to suppress her menstrual cycle. Once this was accomplished, follicle stimulating hormone was injected over a period of ten to twelve days to stimulate her ovaries to produce more eggs. Progress was monitored by vaginal ultrasound scans and blood tests. Thirty-four to thirty-eight hours before her scheduled egg collection, each woman was given another hormone injection to facilitate the maturation of her eggs. The series of hormonal treatments just described produced predictable yet difficult mood swings in the recipients.

Each mother was sedated for the collection procedure. Guided visually by an ultrasound display, a physician inserted a needle through the vagina and into first one ovary and then the other to withdraw eggs. After separately undergoing this process, the two mothers were then given progesterone to prepare the endometrial linings of their wombs for the eventual implantations of their embryos. Each father made his contribution in the aforementioned manner on the same day as the eggs were collected. Next, in vitro fertilizations were performed for each couple.

During just under a week of incubation, the fertilized eggs of both couples divided several times and formed embryos. At intervals, these embryos were inspected under a microscope until they reached the blastocyst stage. Since each mother was over the age of thirty-seven, it was agreed that two blastocysts, those deemed the healthiest, would be chosen from her batch of embryos for implantation into her womb. That should have been all that the procedures entailed, but it was not.

The floors of fertility clinic laboratories were very busy places, and many different personnel were responsible for their activities. In an extreme minority of cases, mistakes had been made in various locations around the country. In one instance covered by the media, a labeling mistake had resulted in the embryo of one couple being implanted into the wrong mother. Having caught this mistake, the clinic responsible had notified both sets of parents. Out of a sense of religious conviction, the unintended surrogate had carried the baby to term and surrendered it to its biological parents shortly after birth. A legal settlement between both couples and the clinic responsible had been reached out of court. In another published case, a white mother had given birth to black twins due to a similar error in embryo identification.

To prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, various safeguards were put into place. Egg samples, sperm samples, and embryo culture dishes were carefully labeled and inspected. Some clinics utilized a so-called “double key” system in which one individual performed an assigned procedural step while another observed and verified. Both then signed a form which doubled as a laboratory record and legal document. Some clinics went so far as to verify embryo identities videographically with patient names and identification numbers visually “stamped” onto the video. As with all rules designed to protect patients and their rights, the success of these measures depended on how effectively they were followed, and this was impacted by the physical organization of the clinic floors and by how well assigned work schedules reduced the likelihood of fatigue and error.

In the clinic relevant to this story, there was a high volume of business and a correspondingly high level of activity by multiple personnel. Nurses either administered injections to female patients or, depending on their willingness and capabilities, instructed them in how to inject themselves at home. They also counseled these clients in order to educate them and to alleviate any misgivings they might have. Technicians ushered male clients into the sperm donation rooms, waited outside, and received and labeled the samples. They also labeled embryo culture dishes and served ancillary functions in other procedures. Physicians performed the egg collections. Embryologists performed the in vitro fertilizations, monitored embryo development, and selected the healthiest embryos for implantation. They worked closely with the technicians who assisted them. Physicians implanted the chosen embryos.

The clinic in question had multiple work stations. Eggs withdrawn along with follicular fluid were mixed with sperm in an embryo culture dish under a laminar flow hood and then placed in an incubator at body temperature. The air in the incubator was controlled for optimal percentages of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and relative humidity. This formula, arrived at empirically, was believed most favorable for the development of the embryos.

Periodically, the covered dishes were briefly removed from the incubator and placed on the heated stage of an inverted stereomicroscope in the laminar flow hood. The temperature of the microscope stage was the same as that of the incubator to allow the embryos to remain as undisturbed as possible. Their progress was observed in this way until the desired stage of development had been reached. Throughout this process, the embryos in each dish were evaluated. Due to the additional cost of time, equipment, and personnel needed for videographic verification, that method was not utilized in this particular clinic.

As has already been mentioned, each of the two prospective mothers was over thirty-seven years of age, so the decision had been made to implant two blastocysts in each to improve the odds of successful pregnancy. Everything that had taken place in the two culture dishes so far had been according to approved protocol. The events that transpired next constituted a type of perfect storm allowing for the mishap that followed. The recipe for disaster included profit motive, hubris, and fear of malpractice suits on the part of those managing the clinic, and this was mixed with just the right sprinkling of unexpected illness, fatigue, stress, and carelessness among their subordinates. The last ingredient was the malfunction of a small but crucial instrument.

The wives of both of the couples this account has been following were scheduled for implantation on the same day and at the same time. This was to involve placing the culture dish for each couple in a separate isolette, an enclosed glove box equipped with a stereomicroscope. One of the embryologists on duty was to use a catheter device – which was essentially a flexible tube held within a rigid casing and attached to a plunger – while working on a particular sample. While observing with the stereomicroscope, he or she would select the best two embryos and gently suction them into the catheter by pulling back on the plunger. Another embryologist would do the same with the other sample. The catheters, properly labeled, would be handed to the respective attending physicians for the different implantation procedures. Each doctor would deliver the two embryos into the uterus of his patient by inserting the catheter up the vagina and through the cervix before depressing the plunger. If all went as planned, normal pregnancies would follow, and responsibility for prenatal care would then shift to each woman’s preferred obstetrician.

The two women were scheduled for the implantation of their embryos on a Saturday in the middle of flu season. Two physicians were standing by for this purpose, but not two embryologists on this fateful date. One embryologist had called in sick at the last minute, and a replacement could not be located in time. A couple of technicians were also indisposed, but a substitute was found for only one. Potential loss of profits and the risk of complaints or lawsuits by women rendered more volatile by hormonal treatments prompted those running the clinic that day to proceed with the already ambitious schedule for that morning and double the workload of the remaining embryologist. The technicians were also rushed and overworked. To maximize efficiency and minimize expense, the double key system was not routinely practiced, even under otherwise ideal conditions.

In an impatient and ill-considered attempt to save time and satisfy the demands of the physicians, the embryologist violated policy and placed both embryo culture dishes in the same isolette. Distracted with their own tasks, none of his co-workers noticed him do this. He microscopically examined the first dish, identified a blastocyst of sufficient quality, and withdrew it into the catheter. He found another candidate and attempted to withdraw it also, but the plunger remained stuck at the current setting. It was an unforeseen manufacturer’s defect. With one embryo in the jammed catheter, the embryologist hurriedly called for a conference with the attending physician. At the physician’s request, he depressed the plunger slightly without dislodging the blastocyst and determined that it could still be used for delivery into the uterus of the first patient.

Personalities cannot be overlooked in such a situation. This particular physician had an abrasive manner and curtly instructed the embryologist to use a fresh catheter for the second embryo to be implanted into his client. On complying with the order, the poor man found to his surprise that he had missed a blastocyst preferable to the second one he had attempted to isolate. This one was removed, and the catheter was delivered by a hastily summoned technician to the physician’s theater of operation.

The embryologist moved to the second dish only to notice that he had trouble distinguishing it from the first. Both labels were similar in that both sets of clients had the same last name. Their first names were different but had the same initials. To further confuse matters, the case numbers differed only by the last digit: “2” in one case and “3” in the other. The “2” scrawled by whatever technician had done the labeling was just sloppy enough to be confused with a “3”. The only easily discernible difference between the two labels was in their colors. In his hurried and distressed condition, the embryologist could not remember checking the color coding on the labels or in his own records. Neither could he be certain as to which dish he had just used. He had, in fact, selected one blastocyst from each dish for implantation into the same mother. During the course of these silent deliberations, the implantation procedure was completed.

Who could fathom the thoughts that then swirled, collided, and did combat in the mind of this normally conscientious professional? For all he knew, and despite his worry, it was possible that no irregularity had occurred. Between himself, the technicians, and the physicians, all with coordinated and overlapping responsibilities, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to trace the source of an error which would not be detected for another nine months, if at all. He could play the odds and hide out in the chain of responsibility. Having decided this, he carefully checked his records and withdrew the next two embryos for the next implantation from the correct dish. The assigned catheter functioned properly and as expected on this try, but the embryos were of slightly poorer quality.

As circumstances would have it, the mixed sample was the only one that resulted in pregnancy. The racial identity of the woman into whom the embryos were introduced is not important to this narrative. Both embryos implanted in the endometrial lining of her uterus, and both remained viable. Very soon afterwards, however, another improbable event took place. In retrospect, it could be considered either fortunate or unfortunate, depending on one’s point of view, but no amount of procedural care could have prevented it.

In the scientific literature, there were reports of human beings who possessed cells of two different genetic types: for example, some with male (“XY”) and some with female (“XX”) chromosomal compositions. It was speculated that they had arisen from rare fusions of two embryos, one male and one female, in the womb. Rare occasions when a mother released two eggs during ovulation, both of which became fertilized by separate sperm, were prerequisites for such oddities. This was also a potential problem in the case of dual implantations by assisted reproductive technology. According to the explanation, embryos that would have become fraternal twins had fused in the womb instead of developing separately.

Children derived from mixtures of male and female cells showed certain abnormalities. Depending on the proportion of each cell type, the condition took on different manifestations. Relatively equal percentages of male and female cells produced true hermaphrodites while different ratios resulted in individuals looking outwardly male while inwardly possessing reproductive systems with one testis and one ovary each. Of course, there were instances in which two embryos of the same sex had also fused, in which case chimerism was identified on the basis of other identifiable genetic differences such as HLA haplotypes. The hypothesized fusions were believed to have occurred prior to the formation of the primitive neural streak in each embryo. It was known that the formation of maternal twins by the splitting of an embryo into two individuals of identical genetic composition could not take place after this event at the thirteenth or fourteenth day after fertilization. The assumption was therefore that neither could embryo fusion occur after this time period had elapsed.

Before this critical juncture, the two embryos – one genetically programmed to become black, the other to become white – fused in the womb of the unintentional semi-surrogate, half-mother, or whatever moniker might be deemed appropriate. A standard term to describe her status has yet to be coined and agreed upon due to the uniqueness of her situation. Both embryos were composed of cells containing the male “XY” complement of chromosomes. The result would be a racial chimera, a male identifiable by appearance at birth and by genetic testing shortly thereafter. In such complicated manner, the first individual mentioned at the outset of this chapter was formed.

The second arose from a normal conception in Saint Louis. It would arise from within two statistical categories, both indicative of endemic and chronic societal problems. The parents to be were unwed, and they were drug addicts still young enough in age and new enough to chemical dependency that the bloom of youth and physical attraction had not yet faded. In search of gratification, neither had planned for or against the option of parenthood, and they would not remain together. Sadly, neither even knew the other’s name, and both had availed themselves of multiple partners in the recent past. The young woman of this pair would later find herself at a loss as to the identity of the father.

Amid a confusion of nerve impulses, muscle contractions, hormones, and hydraulics, several sperm were deposited in the upper vagina of the recipient. Beating their tails back and forth in rapid undulations, they swam. A substantial minority made it through the cervix and into the uterus. Some of them lost viability along the way, and there was a high rate of attrition as they moved up the moist uterine wall. The odds against any of these sperm cells reaching the correct oviduct (also known as the Fallopian tube in humans) were roughly fourteen million to one. Once in the left oviduct, the surviving sperm were guided by a chemical signal being emitted from an egg in temporary residence there.

The left ovary of the mother had released this egg as part of a cycle in which alternating ovaries ovulated in alternating months. The egg had moved into the Fallopian tube and was further pulled along by a current generated by the action of microscopic, whip-like cilia lining this passage. It was then encountered by the sperm remnant that had successfully completed their journey of the last few days. Several of these were bound by their heads to the outside of their target, but only one was allowed to penetrate into the interior. In this manner were the chromosomes of the mother combined with those of the father, and they had the “XX” arrangement of a female. This fertilized egg continued its migration down the Fallopian tube and toward the uterus.

Two days post-fertilization, the egg had become a four-celled embryo. In roughly one more day, the number of these cells had increased to eight. Within that same day, a clear, colorless, raspberry-shaped ball of from twelve to fifteen cells had formed. Over the next couple of days, the embryonic cells not only divided but also crawled by ameboid movement to arrange themselves in a hollow sphere with an inner cell mass, a fluid-filled cavity, and a surrounding cell layer. Not long thereafter, this blastocyst implanted into the endometrial lining of the mother’s uterine wall.

Coincidentally, all three of the embryos – two formed with aseptic care in a fertility clinic, one in a less than sanitary tenement – became implanted in the same second of the same minute of the same hour on the same day over two-hundred miles apart. The two fused to form one. The other developed normally. Some two weeks after conception, the embryos in both mothers had undergone the formation of their primitive neural streaks. From these streaks would develop the nervous systems, the organic seats of the souls, of two human beings.

The soul, that abandoned child of contemporary society, ever returns to haunt it. Invisible in essence, it is repudiated as nonexistent. It is redefined and reduced to anatomical dimensions. In a hollow universe of social construction, philosophies concerning the profound abstraction of its operation are all too often simplified into waves of electrochemical impulse. Yet, in spite of the physiological limitations thus imposed upon it, the soul persists.

 

Alias Adam (Prologue)

Prologue

We live among monsters. Some are invisible, agitating that lower part of ourselves to distort the ways in which we think. Others move in human guise but remain unaware of their strings and the hidden fingers which pull them. Then there are those that inhabit the recesses of fearful imagination – ever growing, ever proliferating.

Of this most of us remain smugly unaware, for there are few who are willing to believe the unthinkable about ourselves and our universe. It is only natural to cling to the familiar, to require of it the illusion that we are safe and that there is nothing wrong with us. Higher powers, be they benevolent or wicked, represent to the self-centered mind an unacceptable loss of sovereignty. To be reminded of our limitations is dated and out of fashion.

And so monstrous acts are perpetrated. They are committed in the pursuit of knowledge. They are justified for the sake of survival and the common good. They are set forth as the enforcement of justice or regarded as the rightful expressions of autonomy and freedom. But they are monstrous nonetheless.

Nature both entices and defies human mastery. It eludes understanding and definition. Our intolerance of mystery leads us into deeper confusion. Our insistence on simplicity is confounded by the complex. We are trapped in paradox. Our struggle with nature is a struggle against ourselves, and we are hopelessly over-matched.

Monsters do exist. They are endemic to every society, every culture throughout history. They are enshrined in folklore and religion, debunked in scientific literature. They attain mythical status. Their behavior is considered capricious and therefore contradictory to the established and immutable laws of the natural order. That they might behave consistently or that we periodically revise those very laws troubles not our logic, and a significant characteristic of monsters therefore eludes our grasp. Hidden from us by our own presumptions, they sporadically converge in time and space to bring themselves into physical existence.

New Old Book

I know I just put a story up on Amazon, but this one isn’t available yet. Alias Adam is a novel manuscript that I actually wrote some time ago, but I was nervous about putting it “out there” due to my discomfort with some of the subject matter. I’ve decided to post it, one chapter at a time, for free. I do intend to put it on Amazon, but I wanted to let my followers have a crack at it first. Your comments will be appreciated.

I can’t tell you how many nights I went to bed thinking I couldn’t continue working on it and how many mornings I woke up with an understanding of how to proceed in good conscience. I think that once you read it, you’ll see that it’s fairly tame compared to a lot of what’s already in print.

So what is it? I tried to use a combination of science fiction, mythology, and social commentary to take a socially responsible look at the problems of sexual assault and child abuse in America. I did more research for this book than for any I’ve written so far. Topics included assisted reproductive technology (in vitro fertilization), embryo fusion, quantum physics, PTSD, counseling methods, and crime statistics in communities mentioned in the story. I visited survivor’s websites, read personal testimonies, and watched interviews with high profile survivors as well as documentaries. I also looked up information provided by universities to students, and I read various articles (even from research journals) about the counseling of survivors of sexual assault.

I hope I got this right. I have attempted  to use safe language in an effort at avoiding unnecessary triggers. Some of the things that I describe in the story are unavoidably unpleasant, but no more so than watching the news. Nothing I have written is prurient or salacious (good words, eh?).

I normally post only once a week, but for the next 12 weeks, I will post a chapter a day from Wednesday through Friday. At least that’s the plan. Some of the chapters are very short. Some are rather long. I hope you can stay with the story for its duration and that you derive something positive out of doing so. Tomorrow, I will post the Prologue. I think it fitting that I end this post with the dedication I intend to include when I publish Alias Adam.

“To the survivors, against whose example this effort pales…”

Graphic Mythology: Justice

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Although it was written by Jim Krueger and penciled by Doug Broithwaite, I purchased and read Justice (DC Comics), well, because it was painted by Alex Ross. Having said this, I can say that the artwork, as usual, is impressive. Since it is a Justice League story, it features a pantheon of superheroes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and many more.

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But there is an additional selling point to the story: the existence of an anti-Justice League of supervillains such as Lex Luthor, Joker, Brainiac, Cheetah, and Poison Ivy. There are more characters from the extensive history of DC Comics than I care to mention here lest it become tedious.

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The splash panels of fight scenes are profuse and typically busy, as would be expected given this cast. The story is intriguing but choppy in places. There were a number of developments that were not explained to my satisfaction (visually or in writing), which made for some awkward transitions. I had more trouble following the plot than would a veteran DC Comics fan, but overall, I was able to get the gist of it. I therefore think it is worth reading but perhaps not as much as Kingdom Come or The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which I personally regard as more outstanding efforts. The tone of Justice is also noticeably darker.

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Some of the more interesting sequences for me involved Captain Marvel. He’s a character I’m interested in learning more about. I like the extensive use of mythology in his backstory. The same can be said for Aquaman, with whom I am less familiar.

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Two themes emerged which especially interested me. Owing to my Christian upbringing, I am well acquainted with the argument of why God doesn’t intervene more openly if he truly does exist. The first theme appears early in the story and it deals with the question of whether or not the intervention of powerful beings threatens to stunt the development of their intended beneficiaries.

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The next theme is minor but related to the first, and it involves the restraint that must be exercised by powerful beings when weaker beings turn against them. I can crush ants, but I can’t control them. The God in whom I believe could both control and crush us, but he exercises restraint in spite of our many transgressions. Rather than blaming God for not intervening when human beings commit atrocities, I see more good in requiring human beings to be accountable for their own behavior. Pardon the mini sermon. I couldn’t resist, and I recognize that this is my opinion and not necessarily that of the creators of this graphic novel. At any rate, I would have liked to see these two themes explored more fully in this medium (regardless of whether or not I would have agreed with the conclusions), but I was at least glad to see them included in the story.

If you’re looking for another graphic novel with plenty of pages of artwork by Alex Ross, this might be a gratifying read for you. All illustration credits go to DC Comics and the aforementioned artists.

 

 

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: The Fear of a Farmer

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: Robert Lambert Jones III).

Here is my recap of the creatures I used in my story poem, The Fear of a Farmer: Valkyrie, Norns, Water Horse, Selkie, sea serpent, and Cherubim. As I did for The Staff in the Tree, I have chosen to show certain illustrations with some accompanying verses. I’m a bit more pleased with the visual quality in this particular book. And now…

“So know, as you tremble with eyes open wide,                                                                          I’ve come to commission the hero inside.”

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From out of the darkness, a trio of Norns                                                                                Gave such admonition as righteousness scorns.

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Norns from The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: Robert Lambert Jones III).

Its profile was equine but horribly so,                                                                             Distorted, and much like a fish did it go.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

He turned to discover a striking surprise,                                                                                      A womanly creature with ebony eyes.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

“I said I would love and return to the deep.                                                                                   A promise I make is a promise I keep.”

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

Respectfully, Einar stood up in the stern.                                                                                      The guardian lowered its head in return.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

“What’s this,” chuckled Asger, “that falls on my ear?                                                                  You give him the wrong appellation, I fear.”

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

Their power was awesome, as often was proved                                                                        By flashes of lightning whenever they moved.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

“Be careful,” said Anni. “Arise, but don’t speak.”                                                                         She stood and positioned her hand on its beak.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

The Fear of a Farmer has just been made available on Amazon. You may find out more about it by clicking HERE.

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Cherub

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I must start by admitting that the above picture is inaccurate, but I will get to that later. The following painting by Raphael shows what cherubim (plural for cherub in the Old Testament) are not: fat babies with wings.

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Cherubs by Raphael

I am only familiar with these creatures from the Judeo Christian tradition. They are described as guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis) and as appearing to the prophet Ezekiel in a vision he had during the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel). The latter account also refers to them as “living creatures” stationed around the throne of God. They are described as having four faces: that of a lion, that of an ox, that of an eagle, and that of a man. They also have four wings full of eyes, the hands of a man and the feet of a cow. It has been suggested that their appearance is symbolic (e.g. ox as servant, lion as ruler, etc.) and should not be taken literally.

This description may seem grotesque to some, intriguing or even cool to others. It also defies artistic representation, but this hasn’t stopped people from trying. A golden sculpture of two cherubim facing each other on the Mercy Seat ( or lid) of the Ark of the Covenant is described in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). In the photograph of a re-creation below, each is shown as a kneeling human figure with two wings, and both are shown facing each other with their wingtips touching. The truth, however, is that we don’t really know exactly what these figures looked like.

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By the way, the above image might remind you of what the Ark looked like in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. The movie version shows pretty good agreement with scholarly opinion, but all scriptural accuracy in the movie ends there.

Large statues of two cherubim  were stationed behind the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the inner and most sacred chamber in the temple built by Solomon. They were allegedly human figures, each with two wings, and two of their wings touched in the center between them while the other two extended to the walls. Again, we cannot be entirely sure of what they looked like.

Depicting the description from chapters 1 and 10 of the book of Ezekiel is more problematic. Here is an attempt from around 1200 (A. D. or C. E., depending on your preference of notation).

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From the Cathedral of Cefalu, Sicily (c. 1200).

Oops! On closer examination this looks more like a seraph with six wings instead of four, but I’ll keep it, anyway, because I like the colors.

Here is another from a different church, as nearly as I could make out the rather obscure reference I found. Well… the heads of an eagle, an ox, a lion, and a man are shown as described in the book of Ezekiel, but it appears to have six wings. Is this a cherub-seraph hybrid?

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From St. Stefans Romanian Orthodox Church.

The following illustration is one for which I could not obtain a credit, but it shows what I said about the difficulty and aesthetics (or lack thereof) of portrayal earlier in this post.

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In my drawing at the top of this post, I chose to take a simpler approach. Honestly, I just wanted to draw this concept (I like eagles, as did my mother when she was still alive), and I found a way to include it in my story in a way that added some additional meaning to the plot. I envisioned a huge, four-winged, four legged eagle and left it at that. I will conclude with the following drawing of a cherub being placated by Anni, the Valkyrie.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

 

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Sea Serpent

In an earlier post from this category of Mythological Beasts and Spirits, I mentioned that the Lindorm was sometimes described as a sea serpent, sometimes not. Sea serpents appear in multiple myths and legends. The Midgard Serpent in Norse mythology might be regarded as a sea serpent since Thor went fishing for it in one account within The Prose Edda. This concept for a monster is evidently very resonant in the human mind, and I wanted to develop it for my fabricated myth, The Fear of a Farmer.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

The following image is apparently taken from a book, and its caption indicates that this sketch by W. D. Munro was of an alleged sea serpent that washed ashore in Hungary Bay, Bermuda, in 1860. From the appearance of the creature, it is obviously an oarfish.

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The following illustration is by Tamplier Painter and takes an approach common to modern fantasy art: the employment of frills and fins. The profile of the head resembles that of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

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Older illustrations often did little more than depict sea serpents as over-sized snakes with minimal embellishment.

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Sea_serpent_Cape_Ann

For the picture at the top of this post, I chose to use a similar approach by eliminating fins and other appendages. That made coming up with an interesting head shape important. You’ll be the judge as to whether or not I succeeded. I combined the features of a T. rex (mainly the line of the upper jaw), an alligator (eyes,  snout, and hinge of lower jaw), certain snakes ( body and enlarged ear opening), and some lizards (dewlap or throat pouch). To these, I added a bulging pate and rather prominent ridges above the eyes, ears, and nostrils. I’m a biologist as well as a monster aficionado from way back, so this was a fun project for my inner ten-year-old. Below is the initial profile of the head on which I have based all of my other drawings of the sea serpent in my story.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I’ll end this with a painting by Edward Burne-Jones depicting a story from Greek mythology. It shows Perseus rescuing Andromeda from Cetus, the sea serpent to which she was being sacrificed… by her parents!

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The Doom Fulfilled by Edward Burne-Jones

Next week, I will cover one more creature whose description defies illustration. Nonetheless, that has not dissuaded some artists (or me) from trying.

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Selkie

Selkies are found in Celtic mythology, including Irish and Scottish folklore. They are also featured in Icelandic folklore. I will add here that there are threads of relatedness between Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic, and Norse legends. Selkies are creatures which exist as seals in the ocean or as human beings on land. They evidently become human by shedding their seal skins. In a number of accounts, Selkie women are trapped into  marriages when men steal and lock away these seal skins. The stories are often romantic tragedies which end in a Selkie recovering her skin, forsaking her human family, and returning to the sea. Of course, opinions on whether such events are tragedies vary since the Selkie was essentially held captive in a forced marriage. Any male inclination to “force now, persuade later” is best avoided.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

For my epic story poem, The Fear of a Farmer, I chose to portray the Selkie as a changeling who simply alters her form when she moves between land and sea. Here, I must confess my lack of internet skills, despite which I was still surprised and frustrated by my inability to find classic paintings of this popular legend. Most of what I found was more modern and tended to fall into the following categories: naked women on rocks, naked women on rocks with seals, naked women with seals in water, naked women with seal eyes, and naked women stripping off seal skins. These generally don’t interest me, and I find many of them rather creepy or even grotesque. In the above picture, I chose to represent a Selkie as a naked woman wrapped in her own hair for the sake of modesty (mine). The background scenery is reminiscent of what I saw when I was on the southern coast of Oregon. Very large rock formations were both on the beach and offshore. Below is a facial close-up to develop her visual character.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I did find some other images which seemed to have that something extra which tickled my imagination. Unfortunately, I was unable to find credits for all of them. Those I could find are captioned. These next two show a powerless yearning to return to the sea. They are also distinctive in that the women are dressed.

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Likewise for this one. It is dramatic and poignant since the Selkie has recovered her skin and is obviously preparing to escape back to the sea. The effect is intensified by the furtive, resentful, or regretful look she is casting over her shoulder.

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From A Selkie Story (Copyright: 2009 Kate Leiper).

Here is a photo of a statue. Can you identify the category?

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Statue called Selkie or Seal Wife, village of Mikladulur, Kalsoy.

Incidentally, The Fear of a Farmer has finally been formatted and should be available for purchase on Amazon by the publication date of this post or soon thereafter.  Here is where I have to show my requisite illustration of a seal. This is similar to the view I was afforded in Bandon, Oregon, where I saw a harbor seal swimming roughly 10 yards off shore and paralleling my progress as I walked along the beach.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I still have a couple more creatures to go…

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Water Horse

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From The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

Let us turn now to Celtic mythology (more specifically, Scottish legend) for another mythological creature: the Water Horse. Sometimes considered synonymous with a Kelpie,  sometmes considered distinct from it, this entity appears to be part creature and part aquatic spirit.

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The Kelpie (1895) by Thomas Millie Dow.

It is a changeling (shape shifter) that appears in various versions as a woman, a man, a horse, or combinations of these. Whichever version you run across, it is usually a very deceptive and dangerous thing to encounter. In at least one Scottish legend, it lures people into mounting it for a ride, whereupon they become fastened to its back and unable to get off. It then plunges into the water and drowns them. In other accounts, it kills by devouring or crushing its victims. Regardless of the method used, it sometimes does this when it is in human form. This last possibility renders the following painting by Herbert James Draper particularly chilling.

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The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

The artistic portrayals I have seen are in three main categories. It can be human (usually female) as seen above. Secondly, it may simply be shown as a horse or a horse in the water. The following picture apparently combines the first two approaches.

The Water Horses of Loch Ness (2011) by R. Watson.

Finally, it is sometimes depicted as a hybrid between a horse and a fish or eel of some kind. This is more typical of modern fantasy art. The rather gruesome example below is oddly accentuated by the presence of the heron.

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By Saltygottschalk.com.

I like the bold, clean lines of this next one. The style is more graphic.

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From camstockphoto.com.

I also like the following blend of Celtic and Greek mythology.

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Horses of Neptune by Walter Crane.

In the picture with which I began this post, I chose the hybrid approach. If you look closely, you can see that I adapted it from Ming Dynasty sculptures of horses. I substituted simple fins for the hair of the mane, chin, and tail. I also extended and pointed the ears. I will end with a profile of the head which I drew to enhance the visual character of this creature for my story.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

But wait! There will be another mythical creature next week…

 

ROBERT LAMBERT JONES III