A2Z Challenge: R is for Rakshasa

Rakshasa is from Hindu mythology and was later incorporated into Buddhism. Rakshasas are also called maneaters, females are called rakshasi.

Rakshasas were created from the breath of Brahma when he was asleep at the end of the Satya Yuga. As soon as they were created, they were so filled with bloodlust that they started eating Brahma himself. Brahma shouted “Rakshama!”, Sanskrit for “protect me!”. The god Vishnu came to his aid and banished all Rakshasas to Earth. Thanks, Vish, like we needed them.

Rakshasas are ugly, fierce-looking, and big. Most have two fangs protruding from the top of their mouths with claw-like fingernails. They are mean, growling, and cannibals that smell human flesh.

The most ferocious have flaming red eyes and hair, and they drink blood from human skulls. They can fly, disappear, and have other magical powers.

Rakshasas may be either good or evil. As warriors they fought alongside armies of both good and evil. This sounds very human to me. Do we not see each other like this?

In D&D, rakshasa are evil outsiders now native to the Material Plane. They are powerful magic users that, although they disdain physical fighting as ignoble, can be dangerous in close combat against player characters.

Look both ways changing realms.
Be mindful of the many gaps.

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A to Z Challenge — G is for Grendel

Taken from the epic and ancient poem Beowulf, Grendel, the first and most terrifying monster in English literature, is said to be a direct descendant of Cain, the first biblical murderer. This poetic story of unknown authorship barely survived the atrocious monastic destruction perpetrated by Henry VIII in England. One copy of the poem survived, and it had to be patched up in a few places. But we do have it.

 

Beowulf may be the oldest example of English (nothing we might recognize) language literature. Dating back to about 700 to 1000 AD, it deals with life and culture around the sixth century. The story is set during a time and in a place when battle, conquest, and death were honored descriptions of what life was like.

The protagonist is Beowulf, a young, strong, and powerful warrior who eventually becomes a king. Unlike the average leader of the time, Beowulf seemed to care about his people and introduced leadership with compassion as opposed to fear and dread. Beowulf must defeat three antagonists: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon.

A mead hall

The story tells us that Grendel had been attacking and killing Danes every night for 12 years. Beowulf comes to the aid of the Dane king whose mead hall had been under nightly attack by the monster.

If Beowulf was to fight Grendel to the death on Grendel’s terms, it would be unarmed and (presumably) naked. Since Grendel used no weapons, Beowulf chose the same. Grendel had done a lot of damage and killed many of the king’s mead hall drinkers in his years of harassment. In the poem, Grendel is presented as an evil that must be stopped and Beowulf is the man to do it.

Flash forward a thousand years or so, and in an interesting twist, another side of the story is told in the 1971 book by John Gardner, titled, Grendel. In this frequently banned book, Grendel tells his side of the story. This is a retelling of Beowulf that follows the monster Grendel as he learns about humans and fights the war at the center of the Anglo Saxon classic epic.

I have always felt that there are at least two sides to every story, but one must wonder what the Danes were thinking when they returned to the mead hall every night for 12 years, there to drink and sleep, only to be attacked by the monster. With so many being killed during so many attacks, the Danes must have been close to decimated before Beowulf made his mark.

Open the window and look both ways, the monster approaches.
Mind the gaps as you escape his anger and his vengeance.

A to Z Challenge — F is for Frankenstein’s Monster

One book published many times.

Two hundred years ago in London, on 1 January 1818, 20-year-old Mary Shelley anonymously published the first edition of her novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Mary was 18 when she wrote the book, the genesis of which goes to the topic of galvanism and other occult ideas that were themes of conversation among Mary and her companions, particularly her lover and future husband, Percy Shelley. Mary, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori competed to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for days, Mary Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified. Her dream evolved into the novel’s long-famous story.

The problem with this story is that history, Hollywood, and human imagination have been unfair, if not unkind, and inaccurate regarding Victor Frankenstein’s creation. Even Victor was too quick to judge by outside appearance, unpleasant as it undoubtedly was. In Shelley’s book, the outcome of Frankenstein’s experiment is never given a name, although the creature did suggest that he was Victor’s Adam.

At first, the creation is kind and gentle and only wants to be accepted. The creature was eight feet tall and ugly and he knew it. Yet, he sought life and normalcy, but he could not achieve that due to the fearful nature of mankind, and specifically Victor Frankenstein’s fear of what might happen.

I find it interesting that even in the mind of an 18-year-old girl 200 years ago, the innate goodness of a man’s creation can be judged as evil before ever doing anything but kindnesses to others.

One hundred thirty-six years later, the first human body part/organ transplant is completed. Numerous human lives have been extended through science and organ donations and transplants. I would not say we take that for granted, but we’re getting close and for some tissue, there are insufficient donors. One organ not transplanted is the human brain. I have read that it is the one donation where the donor would be the greater beneficiary in the process.

I wonder how Mary, her husband, and their circle of friends would react to the knowledge of today’s reality, scientific knowledge, and literary fantasy if they could suddenly be here and learn about it.

Lord Byron wrote his poem Darkness about the same time as Mary Shelley wrote this book. Given the nature of the book, the poem, and earth during 1816, I do wonder if his poem came to be for similar reasons as her Frankenstein story.

‘tis a dark world after all.
Skeptically, look both ways,
yet apply judgement of others and their creations carefully.
Mind the gaps in your own humanity.

prisoner

I have not sinned
against a god nor man
nor woman
harmed no beast
—cared for Mother

why do I suffer
these sins of others
the revenge of Man
sins against me
—why am I prisoner here

admit they say and
confess – to what
I did no wrong
I harmed no one
—and yet I’m here

yet I am punished
forced – I sit alone, told to
feel some shame and
remorse and
—guilt for my breath

my dignity
my humanity
they took all from me and
I suffer – I do – I am alone in
—my pain without sympathy

why am I punished
made less than
human – no son of god
son of man
—fuck it all – fuck them all

try harder they say
love this god they pray
why must I see their way
It’s their way I’ll suffer
—the goodness of Death

prisoner by bill reynolds. 5/31/17

Look around. Mind what you see.

Poem: Dogs of War

This poem refers to crew members (called crew dogs) of B-52 bombers and to their war-time mission of dropping munitions to destroy things and kill people, thus the dogs of war. This is a dark and threatening piece, set in six stanzas of six lines each, with even and odd lines rhyming. Misery and woe are metaphors for the many types of weapons dropped. The shrill is the eerie sound bombs make as they fall. The dog, or beast, refers to the model D, or variant of B-52, which is painted black on the bottom of the airplane. Please question in comment.

We are coming for you.

Dogs of War
by Bill Reynolds

Let us slip from nature’s gravity hold
We war dogs of old, both willing and bold.
Into skies we shall go with misery and woe.
To maim and to kill, who we don’t even know.
Our airman’s life is to die if we will.
Into Death’s realm, we’ll send you the shrill.

We’re lashed to the beast, the marvelous dog,
Behind us we leave the stink and a fog.
The thunderous sound of flying around
We send you a hell, you on the ground.
Wonders of war are set at our feet
Our old friend death, soon you will meet.

A B-52H dropping high-drag bombs and flairs.

Destruction we’ll rain on your cities and towns,
You won’t know we’re there, we don’t make a sound.
Concussion will break you and all that is near,
Along with destruction, we’ll send you the fear.
The black-bottom dogs will come as you sleep
To rip and to tear, into hearts of your sheep.

The countdown will start, as our hearts will race,
But Death we’ll deliver at one horrible pace.
The flashes we’ll see and the fires will rise,
The dogs of war unleased, to your demise.
The horror will come as sure as the sun,
This nightmare relents when war is won.

The Beast

Safe home again with guilt, we shall not feel,
Because of the blow, we were vowed to deal.
To the bar we’ll retire and review the day’s mess,
In laughter and stories, we consider success.
The beast is now resting and finding a tune,
Ready again, the dogs shall return again soon.

The horrors of war are hidden away,
The death and the misery kept well at bay.
From dogs to humans we slowly turn,
To our homes and lives we always return.
Havoc returns with the dogs of war,
Until we can say, no war! No more.

Look both ways, mind the gaps, and fill the world with love and peace.
Lest we…

“…Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
~ Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar,
Act 3, scene 1, 270–275

 

Who Ya Gunna Kill?

Intrigued? It's murder!

Intrigued? It’s murder!

Seriously? Would you? I spent a career in the military. Flying B-52s would have removed me from the carnage by five miles, but I never dropped bombs on people. Fly all day, spend a few minutes dropping whatever (normal or ‘conventional’ bombs, various kinds of nuclear bombs or missiles, or mines into water like harbors or ports), then home and to the club for a night of brews and pizza before going out again in a day or so. I just missed out on that fun (not) routine in Viet Nam.

I was trained to shoot three guns: two rifles and one pistol. But I never shot anyone either. I spent a career as a trained killer, but I’ve never killed. I don’t even hunt. And, at least for now, I don’t own a firearm. However, I have no doubt that I would kill. War is different. Self-defense is different. I am not a pacifist.

Per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the most dangerous regions in the world for murder and other violent crimes are Africa, Caribbean (toss in Brazil), and Central America. Canada comes in at 89th with about 516 murders, and the US at 92nd with 12,253 (both based on rate by population). Australia seems to have virtual love fest going on and is way down the list. But I want to look at this from a personal, more individualized perspective.

murder-3A few days ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek note on Facebook about how I did not whack some guy because my wife would kill me, had I dispatched the fool to his happy hunting ground. The fact remains, people kill people. I cannot imagine doing that except in self-defense or war. Neither of those would be considered murder, even in the biblical sense. Why do humans kill each other? Mental illness aside, why do we do it?

Here’s a little clip from J. D. Robb’s book, Glory in Death, p 138.

“Biblically speaking,” Nadine put in, “murder is the oldest crime.”

“You could say it has a long tradition. We may be able to filter out certain undesirable tendencies through genetics, chemical treatments, beta scans, we deter with penal colonies and the absence of freedom. But human nature remains human nature.”

Those basic motives for violence that science is unable to filter: love, hate, greed, envy, anger.”

“They separate us from the droids, don’t they?”

“And make us susceptible to joy, sorrow, and passion. That’s a debate for the scientists and the intellectuals. But which of those motives killed Cicely Towers and Yvonne Metcalf?”

Later they add thrill as basic human motive for violence.

Can this be for real? Do people kill because it’s fun? Sorry, that can’t be considered normal. But those other emotions can account for a lot of murders. Love, hate, greed, envy, and anger are common human emotions. And yet, people kill strangers for cutting them off in traffic. We call it road rage, but it’s anger. Statistically, murders of women are often done by male mates, partners, or lovers. What’s up with that?

The countries in the high murder-rate areas that I mentioned have significant drug trafficking problems, and many (but not all) have high rates of poverty. Figuring out motives and getting them into the right categories would be a challenge internationally. So, tell us. Who ya gunna kill?murder-4

It can be a dangerous world out there.
Carefully mind any gaps. Look both ways before crossing borders, fences, or red lines. And, watch for droids.

What Don’t We Know?

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Since the early 1970s, I’ve held to the opinion that basic human nature is good. I’m not sure why I think so. My conclusion is partly evidence-based for the good, but since so much in human history is to the contrary, many people disagree with me. We seem quite set on damaging ourselves and the world around us in ways that are evil.

I’m also unclear about why it should matter. No one knows the answer to our basic nature. It’s too complicated. But when I consider my personal basic nature, the one I was born with; is it good or evil? Or should I ask, was it? When did it start to change – before or after birth? What do you think your nature is? How do we see the basic nature of others? Good or bad? Are there bad seeds among us?

what-we-dont-know-3It is what it is. However, I wonder if our opinion on this matters more than the real answer. It’s like believing in a god – it either exists or it doesn’t. Our believing or doubting anything changes nothing about reality (placeboes or magic notwithstanding). Our opinion on this affects how we see the world, other people – and most importantly, how we see ourselves. Me, is the one thing in the universe that I have some control over—maybe.

To the point, I just finished reading Straw Dogs by John Gray. It’s unrelated to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name, or to the 2011 remake; both of which are, ironically, based on a novel with a different name (The Siege of Trencher’s Farm).

Note to self: book titles and author’s names matter.

what-we-dont-know-4The premise of Straw Dogs is that humans are animals like any other animal. Both Christianity and Humanism see humans as capable of controlling things much more than Gray and others seem to think we do. This is a philosophical book that challenges many basic assumptions about what it means to be human. While I don’t agree with some of what Gray presents, I admit that he makes astonishing points that lead me to question which of us is correct. Regarding several of his positions, I think he’s nuts. But I find many of his other arguments compelling. Reading John Gray made me think, wonder, and contemplate – not the meaning of life, but its nature.

Are we animals? For an excellent article on this, click here.

Is our nature much different than it has been for centuries? Have we changed significantly in the thousands of years since our first existence as homo sapiens? Are we any different from other animals in terms of what happens to us?

Humans have been in existence much as we are now for about 200,000 years. For about the last 6,000 years, we have been the social creatures we know ourselves to be. How do we fit into our environment? Do we belong here? How long will we survive as a species? Are we masters of our own destiny any more than any other animal? Are we doomed to destruction by our own actions?

I’ve seldom thought about it, but Professor Gray makes this point right off. His position seems to be that the last time we had it right, we were hunter-gatherers. I tend to agree. Gray begins with this basic assumption regarding evolution and religious culture.

“If Darwin’s discovery had been made in a Taoist or Shinto, Hindu or animist, culture it would very likely have become just one more strand in its intertwining mythologies. In these faiths humans and other animals are kin. By contrast, arising among Christians who set humans beyond all other living things, it triggered a bitter controversy that rages on to this day.” ~ John Gray, Straw Dogs

Accordingly, Gray says that Humanist’s believe that through progress, humans can be free of the limits that burden other animals. That by using our knowledge, we can control our environment and flourish as we never have before. Gray also has an interesting take on history; he seems to say it has little or no meaning.

what-we-dont-know-5

I like this book because it deals with some aspects of the dark side of human nature. Interestingly, most of us know about the Holocaust, the WWII effort by Nazis to commit genocide and eradicate Jews. How many other genocides (or politicides) in human history can you name? Gray proposes, with evidence, that genocide is “as human as art or prayer.” Apparently, we are not very nice to each other, to other living creatures, or to nature in general. Along with others of similar philosophies, John Gray is talking about humans in a general sense.

The question for me is: how does all this square with my position that our basic nature is good? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter because he undermines so many of my humanist leanings, thus shattering my position that humans are special. I’ll retreat to my favorite elusion from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

There is much we don’t know. But this Zen Proverb meme says it for me.

what-we-dont-know-2

Whatever our nature is, we share that truth with each other.
Let’s live our lives in awe of nature by embracing both sun and rain,
all flora and fauna,
and our fairies — Fenix and Furie.

Life is good and so are we, but mind the gaps and look both ways.