The UK’s newest parties

David Icke was a prominent Green Party member in the 90s, then he revealed he was son of God
The early days of a new party rarely go smoothly, for instance an early prominent Green Party member declared himself to be the son of God.

Minor political parties have always fascinated me. Partly because I can really understand why someone would want to strike out on their own and try to push their agenda on a national level. And partly because I really don’t understand the motivation. Why invest time and effort standing for an election when your chances of making an impact are so small?

In the UK, there have been a few successful new parties. The Greens and UKIP come to mind. But for every party that wins a good number of representatives, there’s hundreds that never do. According to the Electoral Commission, 28 new parties have been registered this year alone. Most of them haven’t even got websites!

I thought it would be interesting to look at some of those parties. Admittedly, many are local interest groups and some are racist. But here’s a selection of the groups that have decided to change the world this year:

Equal and Just Society Party

In the time I’ve been writing this, the EJSP have put out a webpage, but most of their policies are still only available in a manifesto they boast is “87,000 words long”. Only a few examples of policies are available online. It seems that a big focus is putting Cameron and Tony Blair on trial.

Internet Democrats/YOURvoice/Democratic Reform Party

The Internet Democrats don’t have a webpage yet, but they do have a crowd-funding page. They’ll launch a website if they make £5000 by April 4th. So far, they’re nowhere near. But, if you’re interested they have a blog! Their goal seems to be a sort of direct democracy: party members will have access to a website where they can instantly vote on candidates, set priorities, work out policy, etc.

The Democratic Reform Party has similar goals, but envisions people taking part in debates in a parliamentary way to develop policies. It has to be said,  they already have a rather nice site.

YOURvoice is trying to achieve the same sort of thing, though rather than voting on party policies, they plan to allow people to vote on every decision their elected representatives make.

I find it interesting that all these parties have similar visions, and they don’t seem to be politically opposed to each other. They all see a problem that politics isn’t democratic enough, and see a solution in technology. It’s like they’re approaching politics as an engineering problem to solve, which is interesting to me because engineering problems get solved. One day, one of these parties could make a breakthrough. The problem is, in politics people often disagree on what the problem is, exactly.

Free Energy Party UK

Nikola Tesla: a science hero!
Nikola Tesla: a science hero!

Do you want to vote for a party that mentions Tesla and Buckminster Fuller on their homepage? Of course you do! This party wants to replace current agriculture with permaculture, the pharmaceutical industry with alternative medicine, and the oil industry with free energy.

Interestingly, the free energy they’re talking about isn’t renewable energy, they seem to be mostly interested in emergent technologies that mainstream science has ignored, such as  “Rodin Drives“. As a rule, these technologies are ones that give out more power than is put in. To an outsider, this seems suspiciously like suggesting we invest in perpetual motion machines.

I find their claims on energy difficult to believe, personally. But I enjoy the consistency in them looking for “alternative” solutions to every problem they touch on. At present, free energy that will confuse most people. But as fuel prices continue to go up, I wonder if people take more of an interest in this kind of thing.

So

One problem with parties is that as people only vote for them if they believe they’re electable, parties always have to talk up their chances of doing well. So it’s hard to tell how far these parties really think they’ll get.

For many new parties, local politics is a proving ground. But it’s a tough game. It can be genuinely vicious, and it’s one where the ability to talk intelligently about pot-holes counts for a lot more than high minded principles. Can these parties translate their ideals into that day-to-day level?

I must admit, I’d love to see them have a chance.

The Lost Planets of Sol

Astronomers, in their search for new planets, are constantly positing the existence of worlds that haven’t turned up. Here’s some of the most famous worlds that astronomers have been looking for evidence of.

1. Planet X

Man from planet xPlanet X, despite the numeral, is a hypothetical ninth planet. Oddly, it was first postulated in 1834, before the discovery of an eighth planet. An astronomer called Hansen believed that there would need to two extra planets to explain irregularities in the movements of Uranus. Scientists predicted the position of Neptune without it, but irregularities in the orbit of Neptune caused new problems and the search for Planet X really began.

Percival Lowell, most famous for his claims about Martian canals, became particularly emotionally caught up in the search. In fact, the stress of searching may have killed him. Lowell would have been pleased that after his death his observatory discovered Pluto. It wasn’t big enough to change Neptune’s orbit, but it was a major breakthrough.

The search for Planet X lasted for over a century, but in 1993 it was suggested that based on data about Neptune from the Voyager 2 flyby, there would be no need for a Planet X. With that, one of the longest hunts for a planet came to a disappointing end.

2. Phaeton

Phaeton in Greek myth was a guy who unwise tried to drive the chariot of the Sun, but crashed it into the Earth and had to be struck down by Jupiter. Appropriate choice, I think.
Phaeton in Greek myth was a guy who unwise tried to drive the chariot of the Sun, but crashed it into the Earth and had to be struck down by Jupiter. Appropriate choice, I think.

In the 18th century, astronomers noticed that the planets were regularly spaced, provided you place a fifth planet between Mars and Jupiter. This was called the Titius-Bode Law. Excitingly, when they discovered Uranus, it fit the pattern, this led some astronomers to get interested in the missing fifth planet.

In 1801 the first asteroid, Ceres, was discovered, and it looked like the fifth planet had been found just where it was expected to be. However, it was too small, and there were many other asteroids like it in the same area. The idea was put forward that the asteroids were created by the destruction of Phaeton, the fifth planet.

Today, a lot of astronomers would argue the reverse. Not that the asteroids were a planet that became rubble, but that it’s rubble that didn’t become a planet. However, some astronomers are still looking for evidence of a fifth planet.

One theory about a fifth planet ignores its role in forming the asteroid belt entirely and instead tries to explain a period of intense asteroid impacts on Earth.  3.9 billion years ago, they argue, Planet V was half the size of Mars located between Mars and the asteroid belt. It developed an unstable orbit which sent it through the belt and back towards the inner planets, carrying asteroids in its wake. Eventually, its orbit took it into the Sun.

3. Vulcan

Not this kind of Vulcan

The planet Vulcan was first hypothesized by Le Verrier in 1860, he noted irregularities in the orbit of Mercury and believed that a small planet closer to the sun than Mercury may be the cause. In the 1860s and 1870s black dots near the sun were assumed to be Vulcan on a few occasions.

In the 20th century applying astronomers applied the theory of relativity to the orbit of Mercury and found that it worked without there having to be another planet. This left a problem: what were the objects people had seen while looking for Vulcan? Some astronomers believe there may be a small group of asteroids between Mercury and the Sun. Once again, the search for a non-existent planet could turn up some nice new asteroids as a consolation prize.

4. Theia

Theia_giant_imapct_hypothesisThe Moon is very much like the Earth in terms of its composition, leading some people to believe that the Moon must have been created when a chunk of the Earth was thrown into space by a giant impact. Theia is a hypothetical planet that developed in a stable area between the Earth and the Sun, but it grew too large and fell towards Earth four billion years ago.

Estimates on the size of Theia range from Earth sized to the size of Mars, and some reject the idea entirely, saying that Earth and the Moon aren’t similar enough to justify it.

5. Nemesis/Tyche

A cloud of comets, called the Oort Cloud, surround our solar system
A cloud of comets, called the Oort Cloud, surround our solar system

Nemesis was a red Dwarf Star on a highly eccentric orbit which passes through the Oort Cloud every 28 million years, sending comets into the inner solar system. Each time this happens, it causes a mass-extinction event. The idea that we’re in a binary solar system with a second, secret star of death is a really nice romantic notion. Unfortunately, the telescope we have scouring the skies for Nemesis has turned up nothing. And it is now widely accepted that there’s no red dwarf to be found.

Tyche was a kind of budget-Nemesis. It would only need to be a few times bigger than Jupiter, and was an attempt to explain the orbits of comets, and, later, of Sedna. It was first suggested in 1999, but there was a spate of stories about how “scientists could soon discover a new planet” in 2011. But it didn’t seem to be based on anything more than the fact that we had the technology to look for it. So far, there’s no evidence that such a planet is out there.

6. Fifth Gas Giant

Some current theories of planetary formation indicate that gas giants like Neptune and Uranus are too far out to have evolved in their current orbits. If this is true, they must have been created closer to the sun, and migrated outwards. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to move a herd of gas giants out of a young solar system full of debris without destroying any smaller rocky worlds in the region.

Some astronomers believe that the best way to get the outer planets from where they think they were created to their current orbits would be to have a fifth gas giant that had a “violent encounter” with Jupiter, that pushed the gas giants out and ejected the fifth world from the system.

In 2013, we started to find rogue planets, which have probably been ejected from their own solar systems into deep space. So it’s a possibility. Maybe in the next few decades we can start to locate planets that have been kicked out of our own system.

So what…

We tend to think of planets as an unchanging, monolithic kind of thing. But it seems that conditions everywhere has been formed by planets swapping places in the past, and they may move again in the future.

Is this a random process, ruled by chance alone? I don’t know. The fact that planets are regularly spaced could indicate a pattern behind it, but the Titius-Bode Rule failed to predict the location of Neptune, so maybe it was just a coincidence. However, some astronomers are starting to see similar patterns in other systems. So, maybe there’s some kind of reason and pattern to these movements. I don’t know, ask a scientist. Or if you want a definitive answer, your best bet is to just ask God. If you can find him.

Cannibals, monkeys, or civilised beings? What do Neanderthal burials tell us about the start of humanity?

I’ve been thinking lately about human origins, at what point did humans start to be humans and what were we before?

neanderthalOne common answer to this is that there was a kind of technological and cultural revolution at the start of the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 years ago, when the ancestors of modern humans replaced Neanderthals, and symbolic culture started to appear along with new technologies. In a few accounts I’ve read in the past, Neanderthals were uninventive, but started developing a culture by copying what they saw Homo Sapiens doing.

Evidence seems to be stacking up against the idea that symbolic culture suddenly developed, though. For one thing, the earliest confirmed human burials date from 90,000 years ago. For another, Neanderthals may have been more adaptive than we thought, were using sophisticated hunting tools some 300,000 years ago and may have also made the first cave paintings. Could they have been burying their dead even before modern humans came along?

Evidence of Middle Paleolithic burials are hard to come by because if Neanderthals did bury people at the time they certainly didn’t bury all their dead. They may have buried people with grave goods, but if they did they were simple, like stones and floral tributes. This makes it difficult to say if they were placed intentionally, or just happened to be near the corpses.

One major method of trying to prove that there were burials is to show that middle Paleolithic potential burials share similarities with others from the same time and place. This could indicate that groups of burials were carried out by people according to shared cultural values.

If these studies are to be believed, in the Middle Paleolithic burials were usually for males, with a high number of infants and people with diseases. Neanderthals in the Near East were more likely to be buried with the adults at the front of the cave and children at the back, while in west they were more likely to be buried with tools.

If we’re interested in what Neanderthal culture was like, this tells us very little about their beliefs. Were burials a mark of respect, or a way of dealing with enemies? Were they purely practical, or were they preparing for an afterlife?

I think the thing that tells us most about Neanderthals as people is that they practiced cannibalism, or at least stripping meat from corpses. What it tells us, I’m not sure about. Certainly, cannibalism is practiced by humans for religious reasons. But as a way of disposing of corpses it is also practiced by primates and earlier European Homonids.

It would be nice to have some kind of obvious fact to give you about these early burials. But when dealing with something so long ago, the best we can really do is speculate wildly based on the limited facts we have.

This storm season – spare a thought for Britain’s sunken neighbours

The storms of 2013 destroyed the ancient Porthcothan rock arch in Cornwall
The storms of 2014 destroyed the ancient Porthcothan rock arch in Cornwall

Britain’s been battered by storms this week, and it put me in mind of the cataclysmic storms of millennia gone by that were extreme enough to sink a neighbouring country.

We tend to think of the land bridge between England and Europe as just that: a bridge between two places. But it was, in fact, a country in its own right. A flat, fertile land full of lakes, where the Thames, Meuse, Scheldt, and Rhine rivers joined together and flowed out to the sea.

Doggerland does seem to have gradually shrunk as the sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age. Lakes merged with rivers and eventually fell into the sea, pushing people onto higher and higher ground. But what I find interesting is that the land didn’t just gradually sink as the sea rose over it. It seems that it disappeared suddenly and rapidly.

Doggerland, before the floods
Doggerland, before the floods

There are a few theories for how the North Sea suddenly flooded, but the main culprit is the Storegga Slide. In around 6,200 BC a part of the continental shelf around Norway was dislodged by an earthquake and caused a Mega-Tsunami. Waves would have been 80 metres high initially, and would have hit Doggerland at around 10 metres tall. A flood like this can be catastrophic for flat countries.

At around the same time, the remnant Laurentide Ice Sheet collapsed causing the largest North American freshwater pulse in 100,000 years. In a sudden and disastrous surge, the world’s sea level would have risen by 1.4 metres. A small part of Doggerland survived as an island until around 5000 BC. But Britain was suddenly an island, and it would have been the end of Doggerland.

The IPCC currently believes that in the 21st century, sea levels will rise by possibly as much as 82 centimeters. It’s important to note that in the past, climate change has involved sudden, rapid changes as well as gradual ones.

A strange aside is that this change wasn’t necessarily bad for the world. Freshwater pulses seem to be very good for nature as it can release nutrients. It can even be good for civilisation. The sea level rise displaced advanced farmers from the area now under the Black Sea and this seems to have spread the technology rapidly into Europe.

Climate change doesn’t mean the end of the world, or even the end of civilisation. It can be a very good thing for both.

But its easier to see the positives from a distance of a couple of millennia.

How many Satanists are there in the UK?

BaphometThere’s a very simple answer to this question. But it’s wrong. Despite this, I should start with it. According to the last census there are 2,095 Satanists in the UK.

The survey results break down like this:

  • England and Wales – 1,893
  • Scotland 171 link
  • N Ireland 31 link

Why this is wrong

  • The question may be misleading. The census question is ‘What is your religion?’ and many Satanists don’t see it as a religion. It has been noted that this census question leads to unusual results compared to other surveys.
  • 13,813 people in England and Wales selected religions with under 100 members. This list has not been published as far as I know. This may include Luciferians, LaVeyans,  and other sub-groups of Satanism.
  • Many Satanists may feel that it is safer not to self-identify as a Satanist. This may be because of a fear of other people in their households finding out, or a fear of government persecution.
  • The Church of Satan doesn’t share membership numbers. They feel that if they’re seen as too big they’ll be viewed as a threat, and if they’re too small they’ll be ignored. Some Satanists may follow this principle, it’s probably a good idea, the census results for Satanists are used in sensationalist articles.
  • The last census was is 2011, so the numbers are out of date anyway.

Other considerations

With good press like this, isn't it amazing people didn't admit to Satanism
With good press like this, isn’t it amazing people didn’t admit to Satanism

A big question has to be raised about what defines a Satanist, and there’s no clear-cut answer to this one because Satanism is a broad church. There’s a big distinction to be made between theistic Satanists (who believe that in some form or other Satan is a real being) and atheist Satanists, who see him as an ideal to aspire to.

This means that there’s a lot of Satanists who might not be recognized as such, and people who don’t call themselves Satanists who others may think are. This is true of every religion, but it’s especially true of Satanism. The current head of the Church of Satan doesn’t see Theistic Satanists as Satanists at all. Meanwhile, some theists consider everyone not in their particular religious group to be really worshiping Satan.

Even if you avoid being too exclusive or too hysterical in defining Satanism, there are Left Hand Path groups that are similar to Satanism in some ways, but might not use the term. The Temple of Set split from the Church of Satan, and use their symbols. But they call their God Set rather than Satan.

In trying to work out how many Satanists there are, we should consider that studies into Satanism in teenagers. Most big Satanic organisations don’t initiate children, but delinquent and mentally unwell young people sometimes adopt Satanist beliefs and practices. Some may want to argue that this is not valid.

So

If you want to guess how many Satanists there are you should consider a few things: what makes a religion a religion? How far can you diverge from the common beliefs of a religious community before you’re no longer a member? Can being young/irrational mean that a religious belief doesn’t count?

We can’t really guess how many Satanists there are in the UK, but I think that thinking about it tells us a lot about religion in general.

Britain’s three dumbest languages of government

When people think of the British languages, the most common ones to talk about are the big ones: English, Welsh, maybe Scots, Cornish, and Gaelic. But there are other languages in this country, that get used to a greater or lesser degree.

Devonian

Little information is available about the early language of Somerset and Devon. Except that appears to have been part of a Celtic language that was spoken in Cornwall and Brittany. A Joseph Biddulph has published a small pamphlet which theorises on the language, and claims it as the language of Devon. Beyond this, there’s been no serious attempt to revive the language, which almost definitely went extinct in the early medieval period.

It’s a little odd,but this language was used in a legislature as recently as 2002, when a west-country UKIP MEP called Graham Booth gave his maiden speech to the EU parliament in Old Devonian. He wanted his speech to make fun of the European unity, it’s perhaps a shame he choose to do this by drawing attention to the fact that at one stage his constituents had been closely related to people across the channel.

Law French

Norman tapestry of soldiers
“A ceste Bille les Seigneurs sont assentus!”

Norman is still spoken in Normandy, and in the Channel Islands. But it’s also regularly used in parliament. It became an official language in 1066, for reasons the should be obvious. While usage of it didn’t take off in Britain as a whole its use by lawyers and rulers meant that it developed a set of phrases that were useful for law. It was used in courts until 1362 and lectures and debates for trainee lawyers were held in it until the 16th century. It was still in use in a degenerate form as late as 1688.

The last proper record of Law French comes from marginal notes written by Chief Justice George Trelby, they read:

“Richardson, ch. Just, de C. Banc al Assises at Salisbury in Summer 1631. fuit assault per prisoner la condemne pur felony que puis son condemnation ject un Brickbat a le dit Justice que narrowly mist, & pur ceo immediately fuit Indictment drawn per Noy envers le prisoner, & son dexter manus ampute & fix al Gibbet sur que luy mesme immediate- ment hange in presence de Court.”

Even though Law French was described as archaic and unhelpful 700 years ago, it’s still used in Parliament to describe the passage of a Bill into law.

Basic English

Basic English was an attempt to simplify English for people who didn’t speak it as a first language. It had only 850 words and a grammar which was meant to be easier to learn than the English one.

The first person to mention the language in the British parliament was Sydney Silverman, a backbench Labour MP who began his career as a conscientious objector in WWI and ended it in CND. He was mocked by Churchill for his comments at the time, but obviously won him over in the long run because debates over Basic English continued in parliament throughout World War II. Proving perhaps that even during war-time, parliament has time to waste.

IngSoc PosterA white paper on encouraging the language for use in administration was written in 1944 and in 1947 the government paid £23,000 to obtain the copyright on the language. The Basic English Foundation was formed in 1947 and seems to have run until 1971. The closest thing we have to a legacy is George Orwell’s satire of it, NewSpeak.

I don’t know if anyone ever suggested translating Norman French notes into Basic English, but they should have done. It would have been excellent opportunity to replace an old stupid tradition with a shiny new stupid tradition.

Draining seas, melting the Arctic, rock musicals! Four remarkable geo-engineering projects

1. A Soviet Scheme to melt the north pole

df9e8d1c71597ef2e6e26098c2a60175Many modern proposals for geo-engineering projects aim to prevent the ice caps from melting, but it was not ever thus. In fact, a Russian scientist called Borisov spent his career arguing that melting the Arctic would benefit everyone. His plan was to build a dam across the Bering Straight so that the Arctic would be warmed more by the warmer currents coming in on the jet stream.

His vision wasn’t just an engineering project. Borisov believed that it would be a valuable co-venture between Russia and America. In a 1959 interview he said “When this warming up occurs, and the ice of the cold war melts, broad vistas for teamwork in warming up the eternal ice of the Arctic Ocean will open too.”

This was perhaps prophetic, with the cold war behind us, America and Russia are working together to melt the Arctic. If only unintentionally.

2. A 10,000 kilometer wide illegal plankton bloom

On the other side of the global warming debate, in 2012 a US entrepreneur called Russ George tried to reduce global warming by encouraging the growth of a 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom off Canada’s west coast. The local indigenous people supported the project because it would increase their fishing stocks. The UN wasn’t so keen. Their concern is that this kind of project could have a long term negative impact on the health of the environment and people in the area.

Only time will tell how projects like this will end up. I suppose we should consider this as an experiment, even if it was potentially an illegal. While we’re waiting to see what the long-term consequences will be, Russ George has produced what could be the world’s first rock musical about plankton ocean fertilisation, called 40 million salmon can’t be wrong.

3. Reclaiming Doggerland

xlg_north_sea_drainageIn September of 1930, there was a ridiculous plan to reclaim the land-bridge between Britain and Europe. This would have created 100,000 square miles of new land, it would also have been thoroughly impossible. It would have involved 450 miles of dams to the north, and they suggested 150 miles of dams in the south, looping around London and Antwerp to keep them open for shipping. River water would have had to be re-routed through a vast canal. This is fortunate for Germany, perhaps as otherwise it’s shipping would have been blocked from the English Channel.

4. Damming the Mediterranean

Weirdly, this project is more reasonable by far than the last one. The plan was the brain child of a german scientist called Herman Sörgel. He was worried that European civilisation would be outperformed by Asia and America, and thought he could avoid this through engineering.

The plan was to build a dam across the straights of Gibralter, harness vast amounts of hydro-electricity, and create 576,000 km squared of new land. The excess water would have been drained into Chad and Congo, and vast hydro-electric dams would have allowed the newly aquatic inhabitants of those countries to produce vast amounts of energy.

Sörgel was an odd man, by modern standards he was a terrible racist, seeing this new land as purely for the benefits of Europe. But he was also a pacifist, and his works were banned by Nazis. On the other hand, in 1938 he did make an attempt to appeal to the Fascist desire for Lebensraum.

The Atlantropa organisation set up to advocate this plan continued to operate until 1960, when it finally disbanded, leaving the Earth’s major landmasses safe from human tempering.

For now, anyway.

What has God got against cities?

An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the early Bible stories seem to have a really anti-city, pro-nature morality to them. This seems odd given that the text would have been compiled by literate scribes and priests.

For example, Cain was the first farmer, but most famously he was the first murderer. God’s punishment was that nothing Cain planted would grow, so he would have to live as a nomad. Some early translations miss out the bit about Cain having to wander the Earth.  This is understandable, because as well as being a lifelong wanderer and nomad, Cain is credited with building the first city for his son to live in.

A few generations later, a descendent of Cain called Lamech was a murderer and the world’s first recorded polygamist. His children included Jubal, the first musician; Jabal, the nomad; Tubal-Cain the first blacksmith; and Naamah, who is variously described as a mother of monsters, and as wife of Noah. After God flooded the Earth, humans got together to form a new city called Babel under King Nimrod and God destroyed it again. So, the villains of Genesis are the city dwellers, blacksmiths, and Emperors.

Also, it’s worth noting these early sections contain an interesting feature: there’s two branches of Adam’s family tree, and the names of the two families are very similar. For instance, there’s two Lamechs, two Enochs, and the other names are quite similar. Little is written about either branch, so we’re left wandering why they’re there.

The documentary theory offers a possible answer: it states that the first books of the Bible were compiled from various sources, written at different times by different people. One of the sources, the Jahwist source, seems to be responsible for all these anti-city sentiments. The current theory is that this source wasn’t a single text, but represents the folk traditions of the northern areas.

This source contains the myths of Babel, Cain, and Lamech, but not the children of Seth. It skips the first prophet (Enoch), sainted figures like Methusaleh, and Noah’s father Lamech. This would seem to indicate that in this version of the story, Noah’s father was Lamech the blacksmith/tyrant/polygamist.

So, we’re left with a story where human sins constantly take them away from the land, and where redemption seems to involve people like Noah returning to the land. It also gives us the notion that human history a process of decline.

It seems to me that this tradition that saw history as a tragic decline into cities met another tradition that saw history as a set of mythic heroes. As so often happens, two cultures interpreted the same myths radically differently. The Genesis we have seems to be the result of a possibly politically motivated compromise.

This is enticing because it makes Bible history cyclical. The Bible was codified, and then various other texts were added to it, then it was codified again in the Roman Empire. Since then, schisms and different interpretations have continued endlessly.

If we accept this, then people who embellish or add to the Bible are carrying out an important function that may have helped strengthen and spread this religious tradition. They’re finding new meanings in old myths.

For instance, the Mormons have written comparatively large amounts about Cain’s City of Enoch, but as occasional city dwellers they gave it an counter-weight to it called Zion, which was founded by Enoch the prophet. Better yet, they had it raised into the heavens before the flood, and some argued the the tower of Babel was built by people trying to reach it.

This is a great way to embellish the story. I hope the next time some civilisation tries to codify the Bible, they include these kinds of Mormon sources.

Lilith: dark goddess, bad room-mate, queen of Sheba

lady-lilith
Lilith

Who was the first woman? Unless you want to get all realistic and silly about it, the normal answer is probably Eve. But there is an alternative.

There are two creation accounts in the Bible. In the first, man and woman were created at the same time. In the second, Adam’s wife was created from his rib-cage. How can this be? The answer is obvious. They’re two different myths Adam must have had two wives.

Adam’s first wife was called Lilith, and was created by God after Adam got tired of mating with horses.  Adam wanted Lilith to be subservient during sex but she refused to do this and left him. Pretty soon, she hooked up with demons and started to have her own children.

God sent three angels; Senoy, Sansenoy, and Samlegot, after her. They threatened to kill her children but she told them that if they did she’d kill all the children of Adam. This was a real threat, as she had been ordained by God to watch over children and therefore had authority in this area.

They worked out a compromise where the angels would only kill 100 of Lilith’s children each day, in exchange Lilith would leave alone any human children protected by the names of the angels. The thousands of her children who nonetheless survived became demons called the Lilim, and protective amulets against Lilith and her kin were used up to the 18th century.

After Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother Abel, Adam and Eve separated for 130 years. In this time, Lilith and Adam got together again. Their relationship seems to have come to an end after the birth of Naamah, a great-great-great-great grandchild of Cain. She followed Lilith’s example and made out with angels to create new powerful demons, we can only assume that Lilith found Naamah more fun to be around than Adam.

Millennia later, Lilith and Naamah were evidently still close to some degree. It seems they may even have been living together, because one of them stole the other’s baby. This is a major breach of ettiquette in most shared living arrangements and according to legend they disguised themselves as prostitutes and sought the judgement of Solomon to find who a child’s real mother was.

sheba819
The Queen of Sheba, whoever that may have been

It seems odd that Lilith couldn’t afford her own place because she apparently ruled a kingdom called Zmargad, some people think this would make her the Queen of Sheba who killed the children of Job, the Bible’s most unfortunate man.

The Queen of Sheba later visited Jerusalem to meet Solomon, and according to an Ethiopian text called the Kebra Negast their child was the ancestor of all the monarchs of Ethiopia. The Yoruba Ijebu clan of Nigeria also draw their royal line back to the Queen of Sheba. This is just one example in history where a mythic figure is a demon to some people, and a hero to others.

How does a figure get reinterpreted so differently in different cultures? It’s hard to say, but it’s starting to happen now with Lilith. As early as 1899 Lilith was being rehabilitated as a mother goddess by Neopagans, especially by those of a Jewish persuasion. She’s also becoming a symbol for some feminist Jews. So things may be starting to look up for her.

Five bizarre animal breeding programmes from totalitarian states

If there’s an idea behind totalitarianism it’s that it is possible and desirable for human life to be centrally controlled. Unsurprising this has also affected how dictatorships think about nature.

What totalitarian states choose to breed shows us a lot about how they interacted with nature. These bizarre projects served as propaganda, an expression of crazy romantic notions, an outlet for yet more misanthropy, and even served as a demonstration of dissent.

1. Heck Cattle

800px-XN_Heck_Cattle_0033Lutz and Heinz Heck were German zoologists in the 20s and 30s. They wanted to recreate wild versions of domestic animals by breeding for qualities similar to those found in extinct undomesticated breeds.

The most famous are Heck Cattle. The first bull of this breed was born in 1932, before the Nazis took power, but the whole project was quickly surrounded with Nazi ideas.

In 1940 Konrad Lorenz, another Nazi zoologist developed the theory that civilisation and domestication had made humans and animals made less beautiful, more sexually active and more prone to mutation, such as different skin colours. Heck Cattle were an attempt to purify the bovine race. Göring, the head of the project, envisioned a new breed of prehistoric Aurochs that the Germans could hunt in vast wildlife reserves in Poland.

The attempt to recreate some idealised, racially pure past was of course a complete disaster. But the poor cows weren’t racist themselves. Despite suffering in the final stages of the war they still exist today. The problem is, they’re basically big, bovines with a reputation for aggression. This reputation may or may not be fair, but the creators believed it was, and few farmers really want a herd of angry Nazi cows.

2. The Manpanzee

Ilya Ivanov was a Russian scientist who dedicated a large part of his career to the question of whether humans can breed with Chimpanzees. His failure may lead us to the conclusion that they can’t, but he was hampered by three problems: a lack of financial and political support, a lack of human volunteers, and a lack of chimpanzees.

In 1927 he got funding from the Soviet government, arguing that breeding humans with an animal would be a blow against religion. He used the money to artificially inseminate female chimpanzees in French New Guinea. When this failed he tried to reverse the experiment in Russia. In both cases he only had one male donor, and the male chimpanzee died before the experiment began.

3. Heck Horse

SteppentarpanAnother Heck project. This was an attempt to breed back a Tarpan, a species of wild horse believed to have gone extinct in 1909. They’re meant to be calm, intelligent, and curious. They don’t mind being ridden, but don’t like being told where to go. So, it’s a small horse, but that’s okay because you can’t steer it anyway. Good job, Nazi Science. Seriously.

4. Himmler’s Angora Rabbits

Another giant angora rabbit, not related to the Nazi breed
Another giant angora rabbit, not related to the Nazi breed, which did not survive

Of all the projects on this list, this is the one I find most intensely disturbing. I feel I should apologise for including it, really. Himmler’s “Project Munchkin” was a project to breed large white fluffy rabbits. The rabbits could be shaved, and were very well looked after, providing a cheap, humane way to get fur. Himmler produced a loving photo album of the project and saw his humaneness to animals as a sign of German greatness.

Sickeningly, these rabbits were kept in concentration camps and looked after by inmates. People were actually executed for not showing enough care and attention to rabbits. Himmler’s care for animals unfortunately didn’t extend to his own species.

5. The Domesticated Silver Fox

pupsA Soviet scientist called Dmitri Belyaev began a project to breed foxes in 1959. He was interested in breeding away the fear reaction, and breeding for sociability. These foxes now whimper for attention, wag their tails and enjoy making friends with humans.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the project has had funding issues, but foxes have been sold as pets. The project is still giving us insights into how humans would have first domesticated dogs and cats.

This is possibly the only successful and moral experiment in this list. So it’s worth noting that the scientist involved was a bit of a rebel. He was interested in genetics in Stalin’s Russia, where it was considered a false, capitalist science. By the time the Silver Fox project had began, Russia was becoming slightly less insane, but still in the early years this project was carried out against the official state ideology.

There are, apparently, foxes that were bred to be aggressive instead. But we won’t dwell on that.