Saturday, 12 April 2008

The origins of mythology...possibly

This image is one you will probably recognise if you've followed the news recently. She is Lali and was born in a village on the edge of Delhi with an exceedingly rare condition called Craniofacial Duplication meaning that she has been born with two sets of eyes, noses, mouths and so on. In her native town she has been feted as a miracle. Her father admitted to being scared but it didn't take long for the paternal instincts to take over which is quite commendable of him. One could imagine that in less enlightened times she would either be locked into an institution. The reactions of the general public are, according to the BBC article on the subject, less enlightened:

"Faced with something they are unable to comprehend, the villagers believe she is the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess. There's even talk of a temple being built in her honour.

Lali doesn't remind me of any Hindu goddess but then I don't know many of them. She does, however, remind me of the Roman God Janus. Wikipedia reliably informs me that Janus was (or is I suppose if you believe in him, and if you don't I guess that makes you an atheist like me) the God for gates, doorways, beginnings and endings. What he is or was is less interesting than the origins of the mythology. Would it be an outlandish theory to argue that the legend of Janus was inspired by an early example of Craniofacial Duplication? Without our understanding of biology or physiology one can't begin to imagine what the reaction of early people would be to a child born with two faces. Would they sacrifice it to their God or celebrate it as, well, a miracle and build temples in its honour? Of course this isn't something I could begin to prove but when you start thinking along these lines then other myths begin to appear to potentially have wholly natural origins.

This is Lakshmi Tatma and she was a pair of ischiopagus conjoined twins born in yet another village in India back in 2005. Her twins head atrophied in the womb due to underdevelopment and so it looked like she was one girl with four arms and four legs. She recently underwent 27 hour surgery to remove the extraneous limbs and will probably be back in hospital many more times in her life. According to yet another BBC article the reaction of the people of her village was to announce her birth as being the reincarnation of yet another Hindu God:

"The child has been hailed by some in her village in Bihar as the reincarnation of the multi-limbed Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi."

Lakshmi isn't the only Hindu God whose appearance that might have its origins in this particular form of conjoined twins. This is of course Vishnu, the God of preservation. I'm sure I've got you thinking now because it is possible. Let me give you another idea, this time from something that has its origins in the world of voodoo. Rabies is a viral zoonotic neuralinvasive disease which causes inflammation of the brain in mammals. It is nearly always lethal (in fact there are only six known cases where people have survived). Let me quote from wikipedia on the symptoms it involves:

"The period between infection and the first flu-like symptoms is normally two to twelve weeks, but can be as long as two years. Soon after, the symptoms expand to slight or partial paralysis, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, hallucinations, progressing to delirium.[citation needed] The production of large quantities of saliva and tears coupled with an inability to speak or swallow are typical during the later stages of the disease; this can result in "hydrophobia", where the victim has difficulty swallowing because the throat and jaw become slowly paralyzed, shows panic when presented with liquids to drink, and cannot quench his or her thirst. The disease itself was also once commonly known as hydrophobia, from this characteristic symptom. The patient "foams at the mouth" because they cannot swallow their own saliva for days and it gathers in the mouth until it overflows."

Just as interesting as the symptoms are the methods of transmission:

"The virus is usually present in the nerves and saliva of a symptomatic rabid animal. The route of infection is usually, but not necessarily, by a bite. In many cases the infected animal is exceptionally aggressive, may attack without provocation, and exhibits otherwise uncharacteristic behaviour."

Zombies, zombies, zombies...that's what I could have just been describing. Mythology has its origins wherever there are unexplained phenomena and from our desire to have an answer so that we think we know the truth about the world around us we latch on to those who purport to have the answers. Have you noticed that miracles don't happen so much these days...go figure.


NineDeeNine said...

zombies are totally real, homes. watch out, or your brain is gonna get ate. word.

Paolo said...

A friend of mine owns this book called "The Zombie Survival Guide' which takes you through how to survive an uprising of the undead. I read one night and it's hilarious, but yeah I'd know how to kick Zombie ass. However Zombies aren't the only things after your brains:

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.