The One Ring Explained. (Lord of the Rings Mythology Part 2)

A little while back, CGP Grey explained the mythology of The Lord of the Rings. Now he follows it up with a breakdown of the One Ring itself.

Why IS It Called January?

Hey, folks. We’re about halfway through January already. But have you ever thought about why the first month of the year is called “January”? Well, it’s all thanks to Janus. No, not the James Bond villain from Goldeneye. No, not one of Saturn’s moons. Like a lot of modern naming conventions, it goes back to the Romans. According to Cicero and other ancient writers, Janus was their god of beginnings and transitions. It sounds kind of lame at first glance, but there some awesome implications when you think about it. Every gate, door, ending, marriage, harvest, boundary, and shifts between war and peace were his domain. This guy was responsible for the flow of time itself. He even had two faces (no, not like that one guy) just so he could look into both the past and the future at the same time.

And you thought Doc Brown was awesome.

“January” is a reference to Janus by way of the Latin word Ianuarius. It – along with Februarius – were supposedly added to the calendar by Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome. That dude was responsible for creating a lot of religious and cultural traditions in the empire, some of which still lingers in modern times. Ever hear the term “vestal virgin”? Yeah, that was his idea. So was the construction of Ianus geminus, the Temple of Janus. It had doors on both ends (of course!) which were only shut during peacetime. That last part was really rare, because, you know, it was Ancient Rome. If you were a king and got to close the temple to symbolize peace for the empire, you earned some serious bragging rights. It’s like having “Won the Nobel Prize” on your resume.

Oh, one last thing: Today’s entry was posted on January 14th. According to some Roman calendars, today is marked as dies vitiosus. It basically means that something is bad or faulty about that specific day. One calendar, the Fasti Verulani, gives us the reason: it was Mark Antony’s birthday. You know, the guy who loved Cleopatra so much that he betrayed the empire and tried to go to war against Augustus? Even if you’re not well-versed in history, I’m pretty sure you can figure out how well that went down. Let’s just say the consequences (both short and long-term) were…messy. You know you’ve messed up when your enemies can legally declare your birthday to be inherently evil.

Have A Lovely Leaf Week!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about festivities. As in, the festivities for your very own, universally-accepted holiday. I’m not much of the personal celebratory type – I haven’t done anything for my birthday in years – so a holiday in my honor would probably be pretty boring. At first, I thought about having it on the autumnal equinox, because…well, autumn is my favorite time of year. But then I realized: it’d be much cooler if it had something to do with my own spiritual tree, like Yggdrasil. A single leaf falls once a year, imbued with  enough magic to power and feed the entire planet for a week. As it hits the ground and its powers dissipates, an unmistakable flash light envelopes the sky, signaling for the festivities to begin. A cheer roars across the planet as mere mortals are swept up in the spectacle.

…Or something. It looks amazing in my imagination.

The main symbol of this week-long festival would be the leaf of a California redwood, as befitting of my homeland. Each individual would be able to craft one – and only one – using whatever materials they can find. Paper mache, platinum, wool, dental floss, whatever you can use creatively. If the family is large, they might have a whole row of them lined up. You could take along as you travel, taking pictures of it in front of exotic or famous locales. If you’re stuck at home, your creations would be posted either on the front door – weather and/or lack of crime permitting – or hanging from your bookshelf. It ties into the other fundamental part of the holiday: reading. Not only do you get the week off to read your favorite book, but you’re actively encouraged to trade books with someone else. You get to read something new, thus growing your tree of knowledge!

If you prefer cooking for the holidays, there would plenty of specialty dishes to make. It’s just got to be either really sweet, or really spicy. Homemade spumoni is the one of the greatest desserts ever, and I’d want festival-goers to trade recipes and invent something tasty and creative. If you can’t find the ingredients, then any form of the classic Cookies & Cream would suffice. Roasted, spicy octopus (seriously, it’s delicious) would be one of the main courses, along with substantial helpings of chicken and salads practically dripping with scotch bonnets and jalepños. Because you’re not a hardcore leaf maker/book exchanger unless you’re burning your tongue at the same time. If you can’t handle the heat, then at least partake in some amazing sourdough bread from the Acme Bread Company.

Oh, and one last thing. At the beginning of the week, each person as of legal age is magically granted a round-trip teleportation to any place of his or her choosing. Anywhere on Earth is up for grabs, no matter how impractical. Imagine spending a week in Lake Tahoe, Machu Picchu, or Tokyo! You’d get to see new places and trade books! However, this impromptu vacation can’t be used as an escape device; as soon as the festival ends, you’re whisked back to where you started. The magic burns out on its own, so you can’t save them up over the years. You’ve got to make the experience count. Also, the accommodations would need to be planned on your own ahead of time. Dress warm!

The Night Falls In Aruba

Hey, did someone order a Caribbean sunset? Because I’m pretty sure this Weekly Writing Challenge calls for one.

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These are just a sampling of the many, many photos I took during my trip to Oranjestad, Aruba this past April. It didn’t feel exotic; it had all of the American creature comforts, yet I struggled to find new things to do as the week wore on. However, I knew that I had to be back at Eagle Beach every night to see the amazing sunsets.

Oh, and I happened to be listening to this song on that fine evening:

Anyone else suddenly feel like going to the beach?

Daily Prompt: Five Items, Or: I’d Just Eat Gilligan

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about necessities. Specifically, five things you’d want to have on a deserted island. A classic question, and it’s hopefully something that I never have to face. Let’s see…

A survival knife. It’s hard to articulate the sheer importance of having a sharp object. They were essential in the human race’s development. You need one to hunt for food. I don’t think you’d want to use your teeth to gut a fish. Not only that, but to build shelters and other technologies as well. How else are you going to make your fishing spears and poles? How are you going to make a rain catcher? Take a look around your room; pretty much everything you own is the result of someone using a blade and fire at some point. Which brings me to the next one…

A way to make fire, preferably a flint and steel set.  Remember the myth of Prometheus? The dude stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. That theft was so heinous, Prometheus was doomed to be eternally chained to a rock and have an eagle eat his regenerating liver every day. The Olympians were hardcore like that. They’re not the only ones who kept fire to themselves, either. It underscores the necessity of fire; you need it to keep you warm, cook your food, and drive predators away. It’s also a way to signal your rescuers. Since matches are useless after getting wet, I’d definitely have some flint and steel around. I could potentially use my glasses for lens-based ignitions, but that’s assuming it’s sunny where I’m trapped.

A method of communication, preferably a radio. No, not your computer or phone. Most modern electronics won’t last a day when exposed to the elements, especially if you’re stuck on a deserted island. Pretty sure your data plan doesn’t include the middle of the ocean. You think dropping crumbs in your keyboard is bad? Imagine accidentally dropping your laptop into the sand or water. A radio – preferably a solar-powered ham radio – is way more effective. It’s your best bet for communication, and don’t have to worry about battery life. Considering that you could go mad from the isolation, having at least some way to communicate with the outside world is vital. Unless you want to start talking to volleyballs.

A tarp. When it rains here at home, I lay out a tarp to prevent part of the back deck from leaking. I’d do the same thing on a deserted island; if you’re in the middle of the ocean, chances are that it’s going to rain. A lot. An umbrella isn’t going to be much help. You need something that can not only fully cover your body, but also serve as a makeshift tent as well. It beats sleeping under a leaky layer of branches and leafs. It can also be used as a rain catcher, or a way to transport/protect food and supplies. If you’ve caught a day’s worth of fish, it’d be way easier to carrying everything back in a huge tarp-bag. Smellier, too.

Duct tape. Yeah, you read that right. I’d want a very large roll of duct tape. Do you have any idea how useful it is? There are lists of ways to use it, both in and out of dangerous situations. Even the guys on Apollo 13 used it! Need to stabilize and expand your shelter? Duct it. Need a freshwater container? Duct it. Need a hat to help prevent sunstroke? Duct it. Need to build a seaworthy escape raft out of the branches you’ve collected? DUCT IT.

Oh, and I were to have one joke response, it’d have to be a Star Trek item replicator. It’s self-explanatory.

Daily Prompt: Tattoo….You?, Or: Blank Skin, Too Many Choices!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about tattoos. Much to the surprise of anyone who assumes I’m a goth/punk/rock star based on my appearance, I don’t have any ink. It’s not because I’m squeamish around needles. And it’s certainly not because I find them unappealing; an excellent, tasteful tattoo can be really attractive. For me, it always seemed like a huge step in an unusual (though not bad) direction. Some corporate workplaces don’t encourage it, at least if the art is visible. There’s this bizarre, persisting belief that professionalism and tattoos don’t mix, as if they affect an individual’s competency. Considering how companies are supposedly pushing for more individuality, diversity, and creativity, the assumptions about tattoos are paradoxical, if not outright hypocritical. One of the most competent, business-savvy people I ever worked under had ink on her legs, but had to wear tights every workday because visible tattoos were forbidden. Social perspectives are starting to shift in favor of competency over personal appearance, but its extent is anyone’s guess.

My family’s attitude, however, isn’t going to going to change anytime soon. You should’ve seen the ruckus that got stirred up when I decided to grow my hair out. My mother was incredulous. Some of my relatives nicknamed me the CDL: Colombian Drug Lord. I’ve never done drugs, and nor been to South America. I still get half-joking threats of someone sneaking in and cutting my hair in my sleep….But I’ll save those shenanigans for another post. Tattoos are a personal thing; it’s ultimately up to the person, not the family, to choose responsibly. My hang-up is with my general appearance. I’m in much better shape than I was in college – I still hike and wander the city regularly – but I’ve got nothing worth showing off. I’m definitely not Calvin Klein model; I’ve got maybe a one-and-a-half pack on my best days. If I’m that average, would a tattoo really look that good on me?

I don’t know.

What I do know are the kinds of tattoos I’d get if I had the nerve. My favorite animal is the octopus. It’s one of the most intelligent and crafty members of the animal kingdom. Most people associate wisdom with owls due to their connection with Athena. However, octopi excel at stealth, dextrous tool-use, spatial memory, and navigation. They look weird, but undeniably awesome. It’d be cool to get a huge, detailed one spanning across one shoulder, with tentacles going down my arms, back, or chest. But since I’m huge literature geek, I’d probably go with a specific cephalopod: Cthulhu. Forget Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean; I want to have H.P. Lovecraft’s god of insanity on me.

But if I’m going with a literary-themed one, it’d probably be a famous passage drawn on my back. Maybe Hamlet’s soliloquy. An excerpt from Tennyson’s Ulysses, perhaps. The openings to Moby-Dick or A Tale of Two Cities. There’s a cavalcade of literary quotes I could use. Or maybe I could just have a huge stack of of my favorite books along my spine. Or maybe I should stick to paintings, like Van Gogh’s The Starry Night or Raphael’s The School of Athens. A Scorpio-themed one would be fitting, but kind of bland. Or I could get a video-game themed one, like Akuma’s Sky/Heaven symbol, the Triforce or Amaterasu. Samus Aran, Chun-Li, or Big Boss would all be serious contenders as well.

But if I wanted to go really esoteric, it’d have to be an astronomy one. Maybe the Pillars of Creation or the entirety of the Eagle Nebula. That probably wouldn’t translate well to ink and skin, though…

Yeah, I should stop. I’m going spend like an hour looking up cool/geeky tattoos that I’ll probably never get. But I can still imagine.

Daily Prompt: A Bird, a Plane, You!, Or: This Is Heavy, Doc!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about power. Specifically, choosing one of three superpowers provided:

  • The ability to speak and understand any language
  • The ability to travel through time
  • The ability to make any two people agree with each other

Now, I’ve established that I’m pretty geeky, so of course questions like this are nothing new. The concept of superpowers is ancient; a cursory glance of any major battle in Homer’s epics will reveal quite a bit. When I was a kid, it always came down to Achilles’ Nigh Invulnerability versus Odysseus’ cunning. Cunning isn’t technically a superpower, but being able to outsmart gods is undeniably awesome. But since wisdom and strategy are part of Athena’s domain, she’s probably my first favorite superhero…

Going on a tangent. Sorry.

Anyway, so this debate focuses on the three aforementioned powers. I can dismiss the third one outright, because making two people agree doesn’t exactly solve the inherent issues of a disagreement. The implication of this power is that you use some kind of psychic ability to mess with people’s brains, essentially forcing them to do something. It really boils down to individual morality versus necessity; if you need to mentally force people to agree, then what does that portend for the future of civilization? Look what happened to Rohan in Lord of the Rings. I don’t know about you, but I like having free will and memories. Hey, remember when Zatanna mind-wiped the villainous Dr. Light? Remember when she mind-wiped Batman in an attempt to cover it up? Yeah, that didn’t have any negative consequences whatsoever…oh wait.

I’m sorely tempted to go with the first one, simply because I really enjoy learning languages. I spend a lot of time using free online resources like DuoLingo and Open Culture. If The King of All Cosmos can speak Esperanto, then so can I! What’s cool about speaking any language is that it’s not limited to verbal communication. Taken a step further, universal translation also applies to technology. You ever take a course in C++? BASIC? Congratulations, you know a programming language. How about body language? Music? Symbols? R’lyehian? You might want to save that last one for a special occasion. There’s a lot of opportunities to be had, and being able to communicate is a more civil method of diplomacy than, you know, mind-wiping naysayers.

However, I have to go with time travel. If you have all the time in the world, you can develop universal translation on your own! Yeah, it’s a lot of studying, but at least you won’t have to sacrifice the ability to bend the fabric of reality. You have enough time to do, learn, and create anything you want. The sky isn’t even the limit; develop technology over the centuries and discover interstellar flight! It’s all there for the taking. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, though. There are a lot of problems associated with time travel, usually due to individual choices and hubris. Remember what happened in Back to the Future? Marty McFly nearly erased himself from existence, and accidentally re-wrote a bunch of other stuff! Or how about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, who used her powers to avoid problems and drastically altered the fates of everyone around her? Doctor Who is all about why time travel is so ridiculously awesome and dangerous at the same time. Then there are all the questions brought up with multiverse theory, which is even messier. Time travel is the best of these three powers, but it requires unparalleled responsibility and foresight. I don’t think I – or anyone else, for that matter – could use it perfectly.

But I’d sure like to try.