Thursday, 20 November 2014

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

This past June, I set out to begin the story of the seahorse within my series, as they have always captivated me. Last week we explored the storyline of Griffin and Sabine, two characters that are a part of the narrative of the Knysna settlement in Beautiful Creatures. I have had a strong fascination for these beings from a young age. Hence, when I graduated from high school, my mother had a friend make me a pendant that I still wear to this day.

It was not until many years later, when I was accepted into a student exchange program to Australia, that I would re-ignite my love of seahorses. I was elated to be traveling to a place I had never dreamed I would ever get to see. The seadragon was what brought me to realising this other childhood dream, seeing Australia. As part of my research for the program, I had planned to undertake a project involving the study of seadragon behavior and habitat conservation. I had the great fortune of working with a wonderful mentor with whom I continued to work with after my BSc Honours degree. 

By Sage Ross (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
At the time, I was living in Victoria, B.C. with my partner and we would often take walks along the beach at the end of our road. I had only recently moved to the West coast and already I was preparing to leave for Australia. There were several walks along the shore when I would contemplate ideas for my research. However, my most memorable walks are those with my partner exploring the shoreline and picking up the sea kelp that resembled the leafy sea dragon’s lengthy leaf-like protrusions. I would playfully hold the kelp in each hand and mimicked the seadragon's movements saying “guess who I am!”  as we laughed… That was over ten years ago, but I can still remember it like it were yesterday. The seadragon was originally going to be my research focus. However, due to time and residency constraints I had to shift to a more realistic research project. And so, I embarked on writing about on the public perception of the Australian grey nurse shark, an equally fascinating being with a rich cultural history. That said, the exchange program introduced me to seadragons and hatched my passion for these wonderful creatures.

By G. H. Ford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Seadragons are close relatives of the seahorse and these beautiful creatures have a tail like no other … The female and male will share in a lovely courtship dance which results in the male’s tail being embedded with rows of eggs that will hatch a new generation of seadragons… 

While the weedy seadragon has lovely lines and striking colouring the leafy seadragon is a master of disguise with its elaborate camouflage. However, both have such splendid visual qualities that are certain to enchant you!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Iridescent Dragon

Nick Hobgood
Among the Knysna settlement inhabitants were two wandering souls, Griffin and Sabine. Griffin had been a long-time resident whereas Sabine had only recently returned to Knysna. It was like having been in a dream that she found herself back in the watery refuge of her birthplace. This was mainly because she did not have any recent memories of her time in the settlement. Sabine felt as though she had fallen into a deep sleep only to reawaken surrounded by the softness of the undulating sea grass that calmed her unsettled soul. She had not know thus at first but Griffin was to become an exceptional companion. His soft copper markings dotting the side of his pouch and head made him stand out from the rest in the herd. But there were many elements to why Sabine was so drawn to Griffin. One being that he had traveled between the settlements and was a treasure chest of adventures... A truly wonderful storyteller! Sabine and Griffin had briefly met as fry. Although he did not have much of a memory of her, Sabine certainly had kept a place in her heart for Griffin over time. She had not been conscious of this rooted emotional memory until it was sparked at the end of the dry season when he finally engaged after she had silently watched him for the past few months. The reawakening of this embedded unconscious history with Griffin gave her hope that the loss of her recent memories would return to her one day. She hoped that in time the memory gap between fry and present day would rematerialize in much the same way her love for Griffin had come rushing back. It was an unusual chain of events that reunited Griffin and Sabine with such fervour. As such, this was a bit daunting for Sabine, yet she was not one to shy away from the promise of such a deep connection with another. And now, as they entered into the hot season of South Africa’s November, the bond between them grew exponentially stronger each day...

Friday, 31 October 2014

Paint it Black Part Two

Nothing says Halloween like the most famous witch’s familiar, the black cat… The most common superstition in Western beliefs is of the ill fate that will ensue if a black cat passes your path. This belief originates from the Middle-Ages and is linked with witchcraft. At the time a cat, and most commonly a black cat, was seen as a witch’s familiar. There are several other associations between black cats and ill-fate such as the Scottish tale of the cat sìth. This particular tale also recounts the connection with a witch’s ability to transform into a cat. The belief with the cat sìth tale was that cats would steal the souls of the dead before they were claimed by the gods. This ability to shape shift is also mirrored in the 1500s with the English folktale describing a father and son who injure a black cat only to discover an old woman suspected of being a witch limping from the injury the following day. Black cat stories are also popular in American literature from Poe’s The Black Cat to the folktales of The Black Cat’s Message, and Wait until Emmet Comes (Schlosser, 2004). The black cat lore and symbolic representation has crept into popular culture from femme fatale characters to product mascots. 

But cats are not the only ones enable to escape the shadow of urban myths and legends.Spiders have many myths or urban legends caught in their web and conjure images of creepy crawley eight legged beasts weaving their sticky traps to catch their next feast. However, although spiders do have their place as the witch’s familiar the most popular of them all is that black widow spiders whose infamy comes from the belief that they eat their mates. This particular myth is one that has more to do with misunderstanding than a reality. The fate of the males that mate with the female black widow is also dependent on the species of black widow. Southern black widow spiders are above all the most likely to kill and consume their mates. Southern black widow females are also strongly protective of their nests and will be aggressive in defending their eggs. The belief that the female black widow spider always kills and consumes her mate has crossed the species boundary to become the moniker for human women that have killed their lovers and popular culture femme fatales (Marvel Comics).

No Halloween would be complete without a witch’s brew… And what would all this talk of the witch’s familiars be without the iconic species in their incantations. Frogs and toads are the top ingredient in many of these potions, such as the concoction being brewed by the Three Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
“Round about the caldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Toad, that under the cold stone,
Days and nights hast thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!”

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I

While the toad and the frog are the only beings on this particular list that are not quite black, the Catholic church associated the frog with witchcraft. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the connection to witchcraft is made through the toad. And in more contemporary tales of witchcraft, toads and frogs are represented in the Harry Potter series as tasty treats of confectionary (chocolate frogs and peppermint toads).

Of all the animals mentioned in the past few weeks through Paint it Black Part One and last week’s Do you See What I See? there are several positive alternatives views and beliefs of the species associated with witches and witchcraft.

The first positive aphorisms are the idea that a spider on a wedding dress is a good luck omen or the French proverb "Araignée du matin—signe de chagrin; Araignée du midi—signe de plaisir; Araignée du soir—bon espoir" which link spiders and forthcoming human emotions with the time of day (Rolland, 1881, p.241). There are nursery rhymes that connect our reaction to a spider with our own well-being… "If you wish to live and thrive, let a spider run alive" (Wise, 1993, p.141). The positive bend extends to black cats as well…Not all black cat associations are negative. In Japanese, Scottish and English Midlands cultural references the black cat is seen as a good omen from the attraction of suitors for single women to a symbol of prosperity. Now when we look at toads and frogs, the positive twist on the toad or frog come in the form of the fairy tale. So on this Halloween night if you are a Princess seeking her Prince you may not need look any further that to find your own Iron Henry

Rolland, E. (1881). Les reptiles, les poissons, les mollusques, les crustacés et les insectes. Maisonneuve & Cie. France:Paris.

Schlosser, S. E. (2004). Spooky Southwest:Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and other Local Lore. Globe Pequot Press, Augusta:AL.

Wise, D.H. (1993). Spiders in Ecological Webs. Cambridge University Press. New York:NY.
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