Thursday, December 20, 2012

Apocalypse 2012 - Beginning to end.

December 21, 2012. The impending doomsday of the Mayan prophecies is upon us. On the eve of this supposed “end of days”, I felt it appropriate to write on the theories and other worldly aspects of such ideas and concepts revolving around “The End”.

Starting as early as ancient times many cultures have developed or had an idea of an “end of time” scenario. The ancient Greeks believed in a theory known as; Eschatology, which translates to “end time” and is frequently referred to today as a study of time and the ages of man. These theories of life, death, and judgment via Greek Gods where transplanted into the Christian bible and is often used to refer to the “study” of life in general.

Other ancient civilizations like that of Egypt also refer to the end of time in the stories of the gods; Osiris, Isis, and Horus. They struggled to regain a strong hold for man over the destructive god Set. Another is the creation story of Ra, the sun god, who was the entity said to have created a world, inhabitable by men once he destroyed the evils of the universe.
Ancient Sumerians in Babylon (today the Middle East) foretold of the coming of a 12th planet called Nibiru that would collide with the earth causing the destruction of the human race. The planet today is not more than a frequent myth according to NASA but there is a planet that revolves around the sun every 3,600 years that many believe to be the mythical Nibiru planet.

French born chemist; Michael de Nostredame also known as Nostradamus in today’s academic and literary terms, was a well known “prophet” who predicted many world events during his life from the early to mid 1500’s. Contrary to popular belief, he was not ostracized by the church (unlike his astrological counterpart; Galileo) and in fact, worked closely with the bishops in the catholic community in Italy until the later years of his life.

Nostradamus used several unconventional methods that would induce a trance like state in order for him to foretell coming prophecies. Standing erect, against a brass pole, enabled him to produce a bio electric charge to help stimulate his brain into a more focused state. He also used a steaming bowl of water, filled with fragrant oils and herbs which allegedly helped promote the senses to further enhance his physic abilities. Some scholars speculate that Nostradamus may have even used mild hallucinogens, such as Nutmeg, to promote the visions he felt related to futuristic events, some of which where apocalyptic in nature.

Regardless of method or culture, societies have always been obsessed with an end of time event, typically under apocalyptic circumstances. Scientific facts show us the evidence of natural phenomenon such as earth quakes, floods, tsumani and volcanic eruptions that happened in the earliest development of the human societies. This could make some cultures believe heavily in the idea that a natural disaster could consume the entire planet, or even that of the human race.

Historical facts also point to the possibilities of an impending destruction of life as we know it and the human element involved in that idea is possibly the majority of the image portrayal in modern ideas of ancient prophecies. The majority of concepts today are heavily relied upon by Christian and Jewish based religious following from the text of the Hebrew and Christian Bible. Zoroastrianism, in Judaic teachings, refers to the resurrection of the dead during the end of days and a purification of the earth which involves the bringing of newness to our planet and the species that inhabit it. Also, the Christian bible offers its own explanation in the book of Revelations. The end of days, in Revelations, tells of a more apocalyptic scenario regarding the four horseman of the Apocalypse; Pestilence, famine, war and death and are followed by the second coming of Christ.

A modern  interpretation of the four horseman of the Apocalypse, according to the Christian bible. 

Most of what we believe today is fueled by social media and the twisted ideas and portrayals of these once structured understandings. Evolved with human beings, is the concept of whether or not it is reasonable to think that an entire group or civilization could be lost to such an event? And the answer is YES! Civilizations from the beginning of time have been struggling to keep their social and economic structures afloat. Leaving legacies; genetically, socially, and historically has been our way of not repeating events and mistakes that may harm us as a species. Though the brother hood of man seems to contradict that statement, the historical element in humanity has shown us that a broader range of survival has and always will be the ultimate goal in humans.

History repeats itself, or so they say; essentially leading us to know that with the knowledge and education of those before us we are armed, to a degree, against some apocalyptic events that may threaten us. Tomorrow’s “Doom’s Day” is the beginning of a new era. If nothing more than a metaphor for starting over, a new beginning is sometimes better than the insanity of chasing old ideas and understandings that leave us wondering what, where, when, why and how. If we can take anything from the idea that it may be our last day on earth, it would be wise to spend it with the ones you love. But what if you could not predict or foresee an apocalyptic event?

Prophets and psychics will always be an intriguing part of human history. Believers in the bible and Faith’s from all around the world have the universal understanding that something “greater” than human’s is out there. But in the face of an apocalypse would it really matter to the human species, what they believed? The idea that it all must end, no matter what your beliefs, ideas, or imaginations might bring forth, is irrefutable. If it lives, it must, at some point, die. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The History and Horror of Zombies

The History and Horror of Zombies

Since the beginning of time, the human race has had a genuine fear of the dead. The idea of zombies, monsters, ghosts and other idealistic theories stem from our need to carry on some kind of relationship with our beloved deceased. The common idea is the soul is extinguished at death, and a inner life force is wisped away to another dimension. Is the stuff of ghost stories and legends, or is there some other reason why we go through the ritualistic processes of death?

Humans have long understood that death is the eternal rest of the soul and the end of a human being’s natural form of flesh and blood. The idea that the human consciousness can somehow stay attached to its former body may seem vague but not impossible. With that notion, there is a question of some aspect of immortality, whether through the spiritual concept of heaven and hell or, the living consciousness dwelling in another realm. However, there are stories that are littered throughout culture and history that suggest the flesh and blood of a once dead being, can reanimate.  This idea of a living consciousness, clinging to a dead body has long been a part of the emotional turmoil that helps fuel the fear regarding death and the unknown realms of a spiritual body.  

Many cultures, throughout time have rendered numerous tales and documented history of zombie like creatures. To differentiate the stories of evil spirits vs. humanoid-like zombie’s we will address them both here. The examples of evil spirits, and how they seem attached to human bodies can be found in the world’s oldest written manuscripts from ancient Samaria. The Sumerian story, “Epic of Gilgamesh” mentions flesh eating undead as does the ancient Chinese cultures that refer to angry flesh eating spirits that come to life known as the, "Jiang Chi". Similar spiritual possession is also documented in the ancient Greek myths of Cronus, who was the father of Zeus and ate his first five children.

Native American cultures believed that an evil spirit would need to posses a person in order to make them into a zombie. The "Wendigo", is a well known Native American spirit in the Northern United States and Canada. The Wendigo spirit was said to have the ability to posses a person and give them an insatiable hunger for human flesh. A documented case of this form of cannibalism took place in Alberta Canada in 1878 when an Indian Trapper known as “Swift Runner” was executed for butchering his family and eating them, later becoming an official diagnosis for a mental disease known a “Wendigo psychosis”. Another case took place during the days of the American frontier. Eighty Seven people, in what was known as the Donner party, moved from Missouri to California. They where essentially trapped in the bitter winter without resources (much like Swift Runner) and resulted to cannibalism of their dead. 

A depiction of the Wendigo Spirit

A few ancient text of actual humanoid type zombies are well documented in Nordic myths and speak of the furious and unrelenting nature of the Draugr which roughly translates to “after-walker”. The Draugr was said to be the walking corpse of someone who had died. Great warriors and men who held great political attributes in Norse societies gained a potential favor in becoming such monsters do to their responsibilities and obligations. However, the idea of the Draugr was frightful to say the least. A few identifying traits of the Draugr were its undeniable decaying stench, supreme strength and relentless appetite for the flesh of the living. The idea that one had become a Draugr, meant that the monster would need to be coaxed back into a grave or water from which it came. Land and sea Draugr’s where of course characterized by the location in which they where buried or perished.

The word zombie comes from the Haitian language and its literal translation means “animated corpse”. It's believed in VooDoo cultures, that a spell or concoction would give one the ability to control or deliberately consume another human being. West African cultures that practice VooDoo still practice this ancient magic today that is said to create zombies. These are known mostly in America, due to the documentation of slave narratives and the stories told in these African American cultures still alive in many parts of the world. The Voodoo and Haitian stories known today are all derived from the same idea that the dead do and will reanimate.

Whether by choice, charm, or some strange psychosis the idea of humans eating other humans can be a scary and, for lack of a better term, "consuming reality". In the new age of biological warfare and scientific understanding of pathogens, the reality of a biological outbreak regarding a zombie-like virus pandemic is not just a theory, it is already happening. Starting in the middle ages, plagues and outbreaks of illness and disease have long been a staple in human history. Documentations of such outbreaks have been recorded. The Black Plague wiped out more than half of the population of Europe and due to the lack of knowledge and education, most people associated the plague with that of a biblical punishment. In many parts of England, Scotland and Ireland during the middle ages, people buried their dead with stones in their mouths, stakes in their hearts and locked tightly in crypts to ensure that a re-animated corpse did not have a means to escape and reach the living. Many victims of plague and other diseases were in fact, buried alive. Sometimes those unconscious victims would wake in the grave and dig their way out. Exhausted and sick, you could imagine what it was like to have seen the walking corpse of a dead relative. This was so common in the middle ages that a name was given to those zombie-like beings. The “Revenant” was the flesh eating corpse or the spirit of one, that came back from death to torment the living. Though more closely associated with middle age Vampire legends, William of Newburgh documented many cases in the 1190’s in England.

Regarding pandemic, the more recent Spanish Flu or H1N1 strain, SARS, and Bovine Spongiform Encephlopathy (Mad Cow) disease are what we recognize today as global strains of virus and disease that seem to continually come about on the nightly news. These pathogens are a regular threat to human kind and an enemy we have no real way to fight. In the event of a pandemic or global outbreak, with the modernization of technology and study of biological diseases, it’s recognized that with any given number of infectious agents available to infect the human and animal species, the catalyst for such an event is already in favor of an outbreak on an apocalyptic scale. Take for instance the Kuru outbreak in Papua New Guinea in 1950’s. The Fore tribe was a virtually untouched tribe of indigenous people living in the eastern, mountains of Papua New Guinea. They had practiced cannibalism and sorcery for hundreds of years. When Australian administrators where exploring the outlining provinces of Indonesia, they discovered the Fore tribe and they were suffering from minor to extreme cases of  “Kuru” or “Shiver” disease, which was later discovered to be directly linked to cannibalism.

Cannibal tribes in the outer lining regions of Indonesia.
(it's estimated 70 million cannibalistic tribes are undocumented world wide) 

This prion (bacterial) based illness was found to make holes in the spongy material in the brain. Once it reached the brain through the blood stream, the disease causes a number of neurological issues from poor motors skills, jerking, tremors, facial twitches and depression to sudden outburst of laughter which led the Fore tribe to call it “laughing sickness”. Similar prions can be found in pathogens that cause Mad Cow disease, which essentially is the same type of illness, only in animals. Mad Cow disease was discovered in American cattle in 1989, but was proved no risk to humans until 1996 when one hundred and sixty six people died from the illness. The common source in spreading the disease comes from eating infected meats or bi-products used from the meats made from infected brain tissue. This is the same with the Fore tribe since eating the brains of their dead was common for hundreds of years.

With the understanding that our government regulates FDA approved food products, you could only hope that your Sunday roast isn't infected with the pathogen agents that cause such illnesses. However, with the lack of resources in many under developed countries and the lax in official documentation of such disease, even in the most developed countries, an outbreak of a zombie-like virus could be possible and spread rapidly on a global scale resulting in a pandemic. 

Given the nature of the human body, it doesn’t seem logical that a corpse-like zombie would be feasible. Without the proper muscular, skeletal, nervous and circulatory systems to drive it, the human body is not capable of sustaining itself for very long. However, if the body is in working order and the brain, under the right conditions of a virus cause a zombie-like state in a person or even animal, we could be looking at the possibility of some sort of reality to the conspiracy regarding the undead and zombies.

Technology and history has shown us that nothing improvable is compulsory. Still it would be in the best interest of everyone to have a general understanding of epidemics and pandemics and preparedness of a zombie/viral apocalypse. It may be closer than you think……