Friday, February 27, 2015

Babylonian Creation Myth retold for Modern Times: The Mobsters (1991) (part 2 of 2)

Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey)
Caught between the two bosses fighting for supremacy, Luciano decides that the old way of doing things has to end. Spurred into action when Rothstein is murdered, Luciano plots to kill both bosses, and then set up his new system of governing the criminal underworld. As part of his plan, he convinces Faranzano to let Masseria think that he won their war. After assuring Masseria of his “ultimate victory,” Luciano runs afoul of Faranzano, who scars and almost kills him. Still mindful of his ultimate goal, Luciano murders Masseria and returns to Faranzano.

 Watching Faranzano divide the underworld of New York City into the Five Families, Luciano sees how he can organize the other mobsters effectively into a collective group. After Faranzano declares himself “Boss of Bosses” (Capo di tutti capi), Luciano decides that the wars over who is to be the next boss has to end. Faranzano knows this and sends Mad Dog Coll (Irish) to murder him, only to have Luciano kill him instead.

 After confronting Faranzano, Luciano drops him to the pavement below, killing him. The scene of Luciano holding Faranzano’s body outside a window of a tall building is reminiscent of Marduk using the two halves of Tiamat’s body to form the heavens and the earth. In this scene, Luciano acts as Marduk in recreating his world.

 The final scene has Luciano meeting with the crime bosses from all over the United States. He explains that the underworld will be run nationally by a commission of bosses. The head of the new Commission would be selected by the bosses. Of course, they choose Luciano, who, like Marduk, establishes a new order with himself as the boss.

 Though two seemingly dissimilar stories, “Mobsters” and the Babylonian Creation Epic echo each other. Although Luciano and the formation of the National Commission are history, the movie reimagines their story in mythic terms. The result is the retelling of the "Enuma Ellish" for modern audiences.

 Works Used.
“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Capeci, Jerry, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia, 2nd edition.” Alpha: New York. 2004. Print.
 Cawthorne, Nigel, “Mafia: The History of the Mob.” Arcturus: London. 2012. Print.
 Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
 Cipollini, Christian, “Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend.” Strategic Media: Rock Hill, SC. 2014. Print.
 “Mobsters.” Kabankoff, Michael, Dr. Perf. Christian Slater, Patrick Dempsey, Richard Grieco, Costas Mandylor. Universal Studios. 1991 Movie. DVD..
 Siren, Christopher, “The Assyro-Babylonian Mythology FAQ.” 2003. Web. http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/assyrbabyl-faq.html .
“Sumerian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web. http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/sumer-faq.html.
 Smitha, Frank, “Civilization in Mesopotamia.” Macrohistory and World Time Line. 2014. Web. http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch01.htm .

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Babylonian Creation Myth retold for Modern Times: The Mobsters (1991) (part 1 of 2)

Rothstein (F. Murray Abraham) and Luciano (Christian Slater)
In the Babylonian Creation Myth (Enuma Ellish), the world is first created by the two original Gods – Apsu of the Sweet Water and Tiamat of the Salt Water. These Gods mingled their waters and gave birth to the next generation of Gods. Chaffing under the rule of Apsu and Tiamat, these “New” Gods decide kill Them. After the murder of Apsu, her mate, Tiamat wages war against Them. In desperation, the leaders of the “New” Gods, Anu, Enlil, and Enki seek out Marduk, the principal God of the Babylonians for his help. He, only, agrees to fight Tiamat, if They will make Him their ruler. Then after defeating Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body, and assumes leadership over all the Gods.

 The Babylonians recited this myth every New Year, reminding themselves of their place in the universe. The subtext of the creation myth is that other peoples (including the Sumerians) ruled Mesopotamia before the coming of the Babylonians. After constant warfare by the others, the Babylonians came to establish law and order in the region. Mesopotamia was then recreated into a Babylonian construct.

 The movie, “Mobsters” (Michael Kabankoff, 1991), tells a similar story. Obviously, it is about the rise of Charles (Lucky) Luciano from a poor Sicilian immigrant to the boss of the new National Commission of the American mob. Although the film purports to depict an historical person and his deeds, the director and writer instead chose to only highlight certain elements of his life, and omit others. Moreover, they also added fictional elements to highlight their plot points. The result was a mythic retelling of Luciano as Marduk.

 At first glance, the pairing of the activities of American mobsters in the 1920s to the Creation Epic of the Babylonians seems absurd. However, there are subtle similarities such as two original bosses ruling the criminal underworld of New York City. Furthermore, the subtext of both are the same – the overthrow of the old order, a period of disarray, and finally the establishment of the new order. The original world that Luciano inhabits is ruled by two Sicilian bosses – Joe Masseria and Salavatore Faranzano. Like Tiamat and Apsu, these two bosses spawn other bosses, who chafe under their rule. Fearing usurpation, Masseria and Faranzano kill off the others first. The war between the two finally ends when Luciano kills them both, and recreates the Mob as his own construct.

 In both stories, ethnicity is stressed since new groups of peoples are moving in to replace the original groups. This is implied in the Babylonian epic with the Gods of the Sumerians becoming ruled by the Gods of the Babylonians. In Luciano’s world, Arnold Rothstein, who is Jewish, is the middle generation of bosses. Like Anu, Rothstein takes the next generation under his wing. He grooms the mixed ethnic group of Luciano, Frank Costello (Sicilian), Meyer Lansky (Russian Jew), and Bugsy Siegel (Ukrainian Jew) to be the future bosses.

Monday, February 16, 2015

SLOTH BEAR: Expand Your Perceptions

Known as the “Unbearlike” Bear, Sloth Bear defies most people’s ideas about Bears. Because of her slow gait and ability to live in trees, Sloth Bear was classified with Sloths. Adding to her slothlike characteristics, She also specializes in eating Termites and Ants. Because She lives in the tropics, Sloth Bear does not hibernate like other Bears.

However, Sloth Bear is from the oldest lineage of True Bears. She diverged from the main lineage of Bears about 6 million years ago. Scientists think that glaciers blocked her passage out of India. In her migration north, Sloth Bear was stopped at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Sloth Bear adapted to life in the Tropics by eating fruits and Insects.  By dragging her long front claws, She digs into Termite mounds. When Termites rush outside, Sloth Bear vacuums Them up, with her large mobile lips. In addition, her vacuuming is made easier by the lack of upper incisors in her jaw.

Sloth Bear lives a rich life. Spending time with Her Friends, She howls, roars, squeals, yelps, rattles, and gurgles with Them. Even when She suns Herself in a tree, Sloth Bear buzzes and hums. When She is out and about with Her Family, Sloth Bear Cub rides on Mother’s back. Father Sloth Bear travels with Them as well.

Sloth Bear changes people’s perceptions of Bears. In fact, She asks them to expand their notions of life. Regardless of what people think, Sloth Bear is all Bear, even when She is buzzing in her tree.
sloth bear

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

POLAR BEAR: Power of the Primeval

The largest carnivore on land, huge Polar Bear is well suited for life on the icy tundra. Strong and active, She has better eyesight than most Bears. The soles of her feet are covered with fur to give Her stability on the slippery ice. Polar Bear’s thick white coat traps warm insulating air, and also acts as a solar collector to keep Her warm. In addition, Polar Bear can stand high on her hind legs to scan the Arctic landscape.

Called “Ursus maritimus”, Polar Bear swims the seas like a seal. A fast swimmer, She uses her forepaws as flippers. Swimming from ice floe to ice floe, Polar Bear roams the frozen seas of the Arctic Nations, hunting from Russia to Greenland.

Feeding mainly on Seals, Polar Bear uses guile to hunt Them. She will pretend to be an ice chunk that just happens to drift by Bearded Seal. Not suspecting anything, Bearded Seal will surface next to the “ice chunk”.   Springing into action, Polar Bear lunges and kills Him in a single, powerful bite.

Polar Bear lives in a two-dimension world for sight in the Arctic and one-dimensional one during the long dark winters. For these reasons, She relies greatly on her sense of smell. Because the air is always moving, Polar Bear can smell the molecules of anything distances away.

Among the Inuit and Inupat, Polar Bear is a teacher. Since She showed them how to survive, they call Her “Person inside a bear hide”. With great reverence, they hunt Her, and also respectfully use her corpse.

Face to face with Polar Bear, a person feels her raw, wild power. Living in civilized places, most people rarely experience such power in its fullness. An encounter with Polar Bear is to come face to face with the primeval sense of life. Respect that power, and learn how to survive in your own Arctic wilderness.

polar bear hunting
Polar Bear’s Teachings Also Include:
“We are alone standing here. The only movement is the wind, our constant companion. And it comes, the sudden ghost-like appearance of the white bear moving silently, steadily across the gravel and ice-covered landscape.”   Copyright: “Bears of the World”, Terry Domico.

Monday, February 02, 2015

AMERICAN BLACK BEAR: Expect the Unexpected

The least aggressive of all Bears, Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is also the most prosperous. Having wide-ranging tastes in food, He can thrive in any type of forest. In fact, Black Bear spends much of his year browsing on twigs, buds, and berries. He rounds out his meals with Grubs and Worms. In the fall, however, Black Bear switches to nuts and roots. By feeding on plants and small animals, He is freed from having to hunt Big Game all the time to survive.

Unlike other Bears of the world, Black Bear has expanded his range in modern times. Before the last Ice Age, He migrated from Asia and discovered that the New World was already populated with fierce predators. Black Bear learned to survive by climbing trees and eating fruits. Throughout the years, his intelligence has served Him well. Today, Black Bear can get food from people’s cars. He simply climbs on the roof, and jumps up and down until the roof collapses. The doors pop open, and dinner is served.

Wherever Black Bear lives, He is the keystone species of the region. Because He forages here and there, Black Bear disperses plant seeds throughout the forest. By hunting browsing animals, Black Bear prevents the forest from being overrun. Not only that, He, also, eats large numbers of Colonial Insects.

What Black Bear teaches people is to expect the unexpected. Hungry, He mugs people’s cars for food. A carnivore, Black Bear spends most of his time eating fruits and nuts. Just when people have Him figured out, He does the unexpected by hunting a deer instead of eating berries.
A black bear

Conservation Note: The hunting of American Black Bear is regulated in the United States.

Picture of "Black Bear" by Mary Ann Sterling

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bear Family: Speaking Truth to Power

The most recently evolved of the Carnivores, Bears appeared on earth about 20 million years ago. They now contain the largest meat eaters on land. Despite their heavy bones and massive skulls, Bears are fast sprinters, able to keep pace with Horse. In addition, many Bears are good tree climbers, foraging for fruit and nuts. Lifting large boulders, They eat Insects, that live under the rocks. Swimming for long distances in the cold Arctic Seas, Polar Bears hunt Seals. In their pursuit of food, Bears are quite resourceful.

Throughout history, people’s lives have intertwined with Bears’ lives. These Predators stand up, eat the same foods, and protect their children, much like people do. Because of these similarities, people feel a kinship with Bears. Humans and Bears have been wary, respectful, and tolerant of each other. However, contact with the other usually ended in disaster for both people and Bears.

Bears are one of the oldest recorded totemic beings. For many peoples, Bears offer their nurturing, protection, and wisdom. Ancient legends tell of people sharing caves with Bears. (People were contemporaries of Cave bears (Ursus speleus) in Eurasia.) Early people often sought permission from the elders and from the Bears, before hunting a Bear. In addition, special ceremonies were often held to ensure the Bear’s Spirit were at peace, after the killing.

Various peoples have traditions of Bears as intimate members of their cultures. Among Native Americans, Bear, “the animal that walks like a man”, would care for lost children and raise them. Among the Basque and Siberian peoples, if a person was killed by Bear then they came back as a Bear. Arcadians of the Mediterranean Basin claim that they are descended from Bears, as well.

Bears urge people to speak truth to power. In the face of power, truth is their best ally and weapon. Knowledge of Bears has helped people to avoid being killed. In addition, this powerful Animal appears in people’s dreams offering individual truths. Bears go into the dark regions where people fear to go, and speak truth to power for them.

 Bear Family’s Teachings Include:
“This innate visceral fear of bears lives somewhere inside all of us. Stone Age man still hunkers in the cave of our emotions and his survival is still threatened by predators. This Stone Age fear will always exist but we can control it with understanding. To make it easier to coexist with bears, because without them our lives will be greatly diminished.” Copyright: “Bears of the World”, Lance Craighead.

“Bear has two sides to his personality. On one hand he is curious, cheerful, good-natured, and deliberate. On the other hand, he is quick to anger, because he is sure of his own power, and will defend his family to the death. Bear’s only enemies are man and forest fires.” Copyright, “Alaska Bear Tales”, Larry Kanuit.
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Note: Because of DNA evidence, Giant Pandas are grouped with Bears, while Red Pandas are classified with Raccoons.

Conservation Note: Bears are endangered, and are protected by laws worldwide.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Time and Babylon (1 of 2)

In Mesopotamia, a region long settled by other peoples, the Babylonians had to establish their dominance. By adopting various myths from the Sumerians, and then amending them, they created a sense of the long view of time. Into this invention of time stretching into the infinite past, the Babylonians inserted themselves, thereby breaking the timeline into two parts: before and after their arrival. They grafted the legacy of the Sumerians to themselves. Moreover, possessing a concrete sense of time, the Babylonians then subdivided it in a number of ways, each division of time serving a religious or imperial need. They bifurcated time into two distinct parts – one: circular and repeating, the other: an arrow into the future. These two splits of time complemented each other in the Babylonian mind.

 Every New Year which began at the Spring Equinox, the Creation Myth (Enuma Elish) was read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Enlil, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Anu, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

This creation story cements Babylon’s place in Mesopotamian history. After ages of rule by other peoples and their Gods, Mesopotamia is then recreated by the Babylonians. Generations of Gods follow each other ending with Marduk. Thus, Babylon becomes the terminus point for the timeless past, and the future that is now Babylon. The ritual of reading the Creation Myth every New Year was the intersection of circle with arrow time, and also the combination of both.

 In its various forms, the Gilgamesh Epic highlights the nexus of time and immortality. Within this epic is the story of a Great Deluge. Like the Creation Story, the time in the Great Flood is broken into two halves, the world before Babylon and after. According to this myth, the list of Kings before the Flood numbered ten. After the Flood, the Kings reigned from the City of Kish (in Sumer), with reigns consisting of 300 years to 1,200 years. In this story, comes a sense of a long past, a rupture, and then the start of a new age. Because Kish had great symbolic significance, the myth allows Babylon to become the heir to the ancient civilization of Sumer. The story gives to the people of Babylonia, the sense of a great destiny. Babylon is the New World remade from the older world. Once more, time in Babylonian perception was broken, and then welded together again.

 The Gilgamesh Epic, itself, focuses on the questions of death and immortality. After his friend, Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh comes to dislike death. Resolving to end death for all, he searches for the key of immortality. During his adventures, various Gods tell him to enjoy life and accept death gracefully. Through a series of mishaps, Gilgamesh is denied immortality for himself and his people. However, he realizes that his city will exist long after his death. His immortality would come from his legacy, which is his city. Babylonians saw this in terms of themselves as the legacy of Sumer. Again it was presented as endless time that was disrupted.

Time and Babylon (2 of 2)

 In Babylon, the year was divided into two halves – summer and winter, in explicit circle time. In the myth of Ishtar’s Descent Into the Underworld, winter comes about when Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz to take her place in the Land of the Dead. In desperation, Tammuz then seeks help from his sister, Gestinana. After much negotiation with the Gods of the Underworld, both siblings decide to take each other’s place for six months at a time.

Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz was the God of Crops and Flocks. The Babylonians saw Him as the life blood of the land and the sheep. When He went into the Underworld, winter came. At that time his sister, Gestinana reemerged, and presided over the autumn harvest and wine making. She became the Goddess of Wine and Grapes.

 At the Spring Equinox, the Babylonians started their New Year. To commemorate this, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating was to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites was to ensure that the King was accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blessed the crops. This was circle time, repeated every year at the same day.

 In contrast, the Fall Harvest was the beginning of the Royal Year. At this time, the King offered First Fruits for the blessings of the Gods for him and his city. Afterwards, he would begin a project such as building a temple. Counting regnal years in Babylon started with the harvest, and was often named for the King’s latest project. The passage of time was demarked by the reigns of kings and their deeds. Again the Babylonian sense of time was divided into two parts, one for the Gods and the other for the kings. Regnal time was inserted as an arrow to the future into the circle time of the harvests.

In their daily lives, the Babylonians were very conscious of the passage of time. They measured days, months, and years (with a nineteen month calendar to tract solar and lunar eclipses). They used artificial time to track governmental and commercial activity for regnal years and fiscal years. Against this backdrop of dividing time into smaller units came the sense of timelessness that rose from living in Mesopotamia. Being conscious of being a part of a succession of kingdoms in the region, the Babylonians both merged their myths with the Sumerians, and divided them into two parts, before Babylon, and after.  Time for the Babylonians was to split into two parts, one an arrow pointing towards the future, whilst the other a circle that returned back to Babylon.

Works Used.
“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html.
 Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky.” Thames and Hudson: New York. 2009. Print.
 Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
 King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html
 Siren, Christopher, “The Assyro-Babylonian Mythology FAQ.” 2003. Web. http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/assyrbabyl-faq.html.
“Sumerian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web. http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/sumer-faq.html
 Smitha, Frank, “Civilization in Mesopotamia.” Macrohistory and World Time Line. 2014. Web. http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch01.htm .