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It really is impossible to tell what direction a soul will take in this world of crossroads and unexpected pathways. Back in 2018, Ferrebeekeeper featured a short flippant essay about Gritty, the hirsute maniacal entity who (which?) is the mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers, a gang of icebound stick fighters. How were any of us to know what Gritty would become?

I have very mixed memories concerning my time in the Philadelphia suburbs (my family lived there from when I was 13 to 15). Moving from a very rural part of America to a toffee-nosed suburb during the 1980s felt like being trapped in a John Hughes movie. Perhaps I have always subconsciously held the awkwardness of that time against Philadelphia and the bedraggled ball of psych(opathic)adelic fur which they have chosen as their mascot. But it turns out I was wrong about Gritty…

Back in 2018, when I wrote my essay, Gritty was the object of much good-natured derision and mockery. It can be hard to write comic pieces, but Gritty’s deranged countenance & straggly fluorescent orange fur (and his weird backstory) seemed sure to get a cheap laugh. Frankly I assumed the mascot would quickly be retired. But Gritty was not who I thought and he (it?) has made good!

First of all Gritty quickly beat all the charges against him (In January he was accused of punching a little boy at a photo shoot, however the authorities were unimpressed by the accusations and Gritty walked away scot-free). Then Gritty became a beloved figure representing the casual insouciance and low grade threat of violence which pervade Philadelphia. Finally he became ubiquitous as a left-wing political symbol and a dull-fledged symbol of what Philadelphia really is.

When soon-to-be ex President Trump disrespected Philadelphia by making them the subject of the only honest declaration he has been known to utter (“Bad things happen in Philadelphia”), Gritty leapt into action. Countless Philadelphia themed memes depicted the strange orange miscreant taking revenge or bringing down the president. Then the memes became true when Philadelphia’s slowly tallied mail-in votes put Joe Biden over the top in the national electoral college tally.

Now Gritty has risen high in the world of mascots. Papers around the world are analyzing him with perplexed respect. The French daily newspaper Le Monde even proclaimed him to be “la coqueluche du mouvement antifasciste” the face of the antifascist movement! Apparently Gritty now represents the world’s disgust with the malevolent demagogues who have been proliferating around the globe!

This will be a hard act to follow. Hopefully citizens will soon regain their political sense and vote out the treacherous far right-wing legislators who have enabled Trump and suchlike despicable demogogues to flourish. However until then we will need Gritty. Go forward in glory, Gritty, you are now America’s foremost crazy-haired orange nightmare!

For our special annual Halloween theme, Ferrebeekeeper usually features a subject which is scary or disquieting. However, since this year has featured an unprecedented amount of scary and disquieting content on its own, we are instead featuring a heartwarming subject which many people tragically misidentify as scary. I am talking about bats, one of my very favorite mammalian orders (and that is really saying something, considering that mammals are a class which includes all-time great orders like Proboscidea and Cetacea).

In subsequent posts we will talk about what bats are (they are near relatives of primates but their close taxonomical relationship to humans is obscured by their alien appearance and by the fact that cladists keep changing their understanding of the precise way we share ancestors). We will also talk about why people are scared of bats and about why bats are wonderful and useful. Additionally, due to this year’s tragic events we will highlight how bats need to be be treated with respect and carefully safeguarded (unless you would like a future with even MORE coronaviruses).

For right now though, let’s start out with a gallery of bat mascots (batscots?). Unfortunately, the fact that bats are a taboo animal to Christians means that, in the west, Batman and Bacardi are practically the only entities that chose the bat as a logo (well, them and the Louisville Bats, a minor league baseball team with a penchant for wordplay).

Buddy the Bat!

However there are a whole flock of lesser known (or completely unknown) bat mascots just waiting in the wings 9as it were). Check them out below

Good heavens! now that I look at all the wings and cartoon fangs, I wonder if I should have written about chiropteran biology before venturing out into popular culture. But whatever. There are some pretty endearing bats in all of that (particularly considering our culture’s unhappy relationship with bats as symbols). We will take the bat mascot as a starting point and explore the wonderful world of these amazing and precious animals in subsequent posts. Even if we can’t flit around the neighborhood we will make this a good Halloween… and hopefully we can save some bats too.

Scuta (Roman Infantry Shield, ca. mid 3rd century AD) painted rawhide and wood

Here is a particularly fascinating historical object: an original Roman semi-cylindrical legionary shield (scutum) from Dura-Europos (a very strange Roman border city which requires its own post). Although pieces of other ancient Roman shields have been found, this is by far the finest and most complete example. Yet even this stunning shield has some deficiencies–it was found in thirteen flattened pieces which had to be reassembled, and it is missing its iron boss (a hardened round dome in the center used for ramming and for deflecting swords, spears, cavalry lances, and javelins). 

Even if the most important piece is gone, this shield demonstrates the construction of such protective devices. These large curved shields were made of steam curved layers of wood annealed together on top of each other in cross-grained patterns to be light yet resistant to the sharpest and hardest stabbing weapons. The edges were lined with metal to strengthen the against hacking attacks or shattering. Plus, in lieu of a boss (of which we have other examples) this shield still has the original legionary artwork in extremely fine condition. Shields were painted with different emblems so that men could swiftly recognize their units in the chaos of battle, however these designs always reflected the Roman iconography of victory. This example features an eagle with a laurel wreath, winged Victories, and a lion. Gorgons, bulls, boars, winged horses, and above all Zeus’ lightning bolts seem to have also been popular.

Probably a military historian would write at length about Roman armor, swords, ironwork, fortresses, roads, organization, ballistae, and goodness knows what else. Yet, to my eyes, this is the definitive piece of Roman military hardware. In order to be useful, a shield of this sort requires endless drilling with lots of other soldiers with the same sort of shield. Imagine going into a battle in the Roman-age world. There would be direct visceral carnage everywhere. Your opponents have war chariots, huge axes, enormous pikes and goodness knows what else and you would have…a curved piece of plywood and a very long iron knife? And yet with training, nerve, and discipline, each shield became an impervious scale of a giant armored monster made of men.

Even back in the world that used to be, we all knew that 2020 would be a bitter pill to swallow because of the horrible election (not that elections are usually horrible–this one is unusual because of the super polarized citizenry and because one of the participants is such a shameful cheater). At least we had the Summer Olympics to look forward to though! Alas, the year has swept away the great international contest of sport, and we will have to wait until 2021 to learn if we will have any Olympics at all this cycle.

This leaves sports-crazed Americans with football, a proxy war game which allows us to illustrate our fierce devotion to Mars, God of War, by means of low-grade human sacrifices. I only started watching football late in life (as a way to bond with a sports-crazy business partner) and, having no team affiliation, I jokingly swore to root for the team with a flower for an emblem. It actually turned out that there was and is such a team–the New Orleans Saints, and, for a variety of improbable reasons I root for them.

This year though, an even more fascinatingly improbable team brand has emerged. After long decades of willfully ignoring the issue, the Washington Redskins finally gave up on their shamefully racist name. The “Redskins” are now no more (which is good…even typing that name out makes me imagine a tribal elder stoically shedding a single tear at the callous brutality of franchise nomenclature). Instead of immediately rebranding, the football team which represents the nation’s capital has embraced emptiness and they are now called “The Washington Football Team”.

I for one salute the monastic new direction the team is going in. It is dangerous for sports franchises to trifle too much with their brand (since it might be revealed that teams are just big collections of burly mercenaries supported by various lawyers and agents), yet the Washington Football Team has come by its generic new name through a comprehensible set of circumstances. I feel like they should travel further towards ego-death by giving the players long hard-to-read numbers, choosing a less flashy team color like gray, beige or umber, and, best of all, choosing an appropriate mascot like a blob of tofu, a block of bleachers, or a concrete block.

Perhaps the fate of the Washington Football Team will hinge on what happens to them during what is sure to be a strange (or possibly curtailed) season. Let us hope they either have a super boring season and remain the only team without a symbolic name, or they go on some incomprehensible vision quest and become something really weird and interesting (or would that offend native Americans…again)? In the mean time maybe you should propose some possible mascots below (in the spirit of Wenlock and Mandeville). I would propose “Washington Flounders” but we are trying to re-enthuse people about the government (come to think of it, our eagle might need a makeover after 2020 too). Let me know what you think in the comments below!

These are troubled times for the nation as we sort out what portions of archaic, outworn, or unethical philosophy have brought us to this ghastly low point.  Our national leaders have conducted some focus groups, examined some metrics, and taken a great deal of money from interested private parties.  This has allowed America’s leaders to comprehensively conclude that they are certainly in no way to blame for mass death, unemployment, and nationwide unrest.  We still need a scapegoat though, and one prominent group has been singled out for particular moral censure.  This time next year a great many of these familiar figures may be missing–gently lead out to pasture, forcibly retired, or worse.

I am speaking about mascots of course! Not only has Gritty been accused of punching children in the back (so far he has, surprisingly, been cleared of all charges) but Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and, almost certainly, the Washington Redskins are on their way out too. Yet this is the great thing about mascots. They are designed to reflect our values by selling us corn syrup, wood pulp, and brain damage.  When it is obviously time for them to go we can just take them out and put them by the curb (unlike say Mitch McConnell, Devin Nunes, or Ted Cruz who have decided to take the country straight down into hell along with them).

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Is this who we are…or who we were?

We all know about what happened to Aunt Jemima, but an equally famous frontman mascot is also being surreptitiously mothballed (although, looking at him, it seems quite possible that he will fight his way back from the basement). I am talking about “Big Boy” an iconic brand of the bygone automobile age.  Big Boy began in Glendale California in the 1930s and quickly became the name, logo, and emblem of a chain of diner-type restaurants across the country.  During the ’50s and ’60s when American life was conducted entirely from cars (as far as I can tell based on anecdotes) the oversized statues of the shiny anime-eyed be-pompadoured lad in checked suspenders were everywhere.  I have my own fond memories of hamburgers and sundaes with grandparents during the 1970s and 80s.  Indeed I even took the winsome Lorraine Hahn to a Big Boy in Falls Church when I was a junior in high school (an all-time apogee for the brand…and for my young dating life).

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However tastes change and Big Boy has really been losing steam in the last few decades.  Even though he isn’t exactly a problematic mascot as such, his cisgender (?) Warner Brother cartoon masculinity and his eagerness to serve don’t seem to quite fit our times.  Therefor, Big Boy is being given emeritus mascot status and the job of shilling new food offerings at Big Boy franchise locations will be handed over to…

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Dolly! Dolly has been an obscure supporting character from “Big Boy” comic books of the 1950s, but now 70 years later she is getting her chance to helm the franchise.  It has been a confusing year and Dolly looks comforting and nice, maybe she will breath some fresh vitality into a restaurant chain that I really do have a surprising number of fond memories about.  I hadn’t thought about Big Boy restaurants for years until writing this post, and then suddenly long vanished vacations and special meetings with family members have come flooding back and now I am blinking away tears thinking about how all of those fudge cake sundaes really meant that Grandma loved me.

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Anyway best wishes to Dolly.  She has some big shoes to fill (snicker) but I feel she is up to it.  Big Boy himself will still remain enshrined in the name. Additionally, I suspect that a number of franchise locations will look at the cost of tearing down a 14 foot concrete statue during a pandemic and discover new appreciation for old boys.  In the meantime I wish everyone in the restaurant and hospitality industry the very best. That is always such hard work…and frankly it seems impossible right now.  I promise I will come buy a hamburger from you all as soon as I can (you are invited too Lorraine, if you are somewhere out there).  This post was supposed to be funny and snarky, but it has made me reflect on the real sentimental power of silly shared kitsch.  I wonder if people 70 years from now will be misting up over memories of diner food with loved ones under the familiar shadow of Dolly…

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Ok! We (finally) had our 2000th post yesterday, and the great Ferrebeekeeper jubilee continues apace. I promised give-aways, special posts, contests, and…pageantry.  Now I have plenty of weird art and cool toys to give away (provided I can think up a contest), but what do we do for Gothic pageantry (it’s Gothic because, well, what other sort would we feature?)?

Alas, my plans to hire great troops of pipers, marchers, ornate festival birds, and dancers have come undone because of coronavirus concerns (although hopefully you are all enjoying the very special fireworks displays which I orchestrated throughout the nation).  Thus, due to, uh, the constraints of this era, our pageant will have to come together in our imagination rather than in the real world.  We can list out the elements here though and fantasize them coming together as a sort of parade!

When I thought about what sort of Gothic pageant we would want, my first question was whether those splendid glistening white peacocks are available in Gothic black.  It turns out that they very much are (although such peafowl are quite rare)

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Next I wanted pipers, and when I looked up “gothic pipers” I was taken straight to Ferrebeekeeper’s own long forgotten post concerning pig bagpipers (which were a popular medieval ornament for reasons which are now subject to debate).  Obviously these musical pigs are perfect, so after the sable peacocks lets have some of them.

Following the peacocks, pigs, and pipers, it would be good to have some soldiers (who esteem pageantry on a supreme level that only the most flamboyant showfolks can ever hope to match).  I have taken a page from the pope’s book here: my favorite soldiers (for decorative novelty use only, of course) are late medieval/early Renaissance billmen with ridiculous heraldic garb.  The pope’s own Swiss Guard are instructive here, although of course pipers in our procession would be wearing magenta, vermilion, and  icterine.

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I think a legion of such characters would be extremely impressive (especially coming immediately after the black peacocks and the musical pigs).

Next we would need fashion mavens dressed in resplendent gowns covered with lace appliques and dark ribbons.  I couldn’t find the right picture on line (and I started to get scared/alarmed by how many dress pictures there are), but this sort of thing should do.

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Finally, we would need a parade float to serve as centerpiece.  My favorite underrated artist, the matchless Piero di Cosimo, was famous in his time for designing parade spectacles and, although the actual originals are, of course, long gone,  I imagine that his floats would be much like the monster in his masterpiece, Perseus Rescuing Andromeda.  I would have a similar float to Perseus and the monster, except it would be Cronus mounted upon an enormous flounder.

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Sadly, this is how my brain works and I could go on and on like this forever…creating ridiculous fantastical processions which the world will never see, but I think we had better wrap up by putting the entire extravaganza in a great pleasure garden with a Gothic folly tower in the middle.

st-_annes_church_exterior_3_vilnius_lithuania_-_diliffThe The real world example which best suits my taste is St. Anne’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania (pictured above) which I think is the prettiest building ever, however the master illuminators of Belgium also loved such structures and they drew them without any real world constraints which bedevil architects.

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Imagine all of those strange magical animals and people and frogfish passing in front of this, and I think you have imagined the Ferrebeekeeper parade we would have staged…if only we could fully assemble outside right now (and if I were an impossibly rich archduke of fairyland).

The fun of this exercise is really imagining what sort of procession you would craft if you were a grand parade master and could do anything.  Tell me your ideas below! Maybe we can incorporate some of your plans into my next parade…as soon as I finish teaching these pigs to play the pipes and sewing all of these orange and purple striped tights for mercenaries.

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There are many mythological creatures which give color to American regional folklore.  Champy the lake monster is said to haunt Lake Champlain.   Mothman (or a colony of mothpeople) are always reputedly flying over the accursed town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia (a very nice river town with a history of horrible occurrences which would make Stephen King add some episodes to Derry’s history). Bigfoot skulks around the American West and, despite not being real, he is so omnipresent that apparently he (or possibly an 8 foot tall man in a ratty fur coat) threw a hunk of opal ore at my uncle back in 1979!  This doesn’t even get into the legends of the Native Americans, who made up truly chilling monsters like the cold hungry wendigo [shudder].

And then we have Florida…

Although a folklorist who looked social media in contemporary America might initially conclude that the Sunshine state’s supernatural monster is the horrifyingly maladroit & depraved “Florida Man”, alas it seems that that particular troglodyte is all too real.  Apparently the made-up cryptozooiod man-beast native to Florida is a hairy simian creature known as the “skunk-ape” (a.k.a. the “swamp cabbage man”, the “stink ape”, or the “myakka ape”). The skunk ape descends from a magnificent monster of Seminole legend called the “Esti Capcaki(which apparently means something like giant cannibal man).  The Esti Capcaki was huge, hirsute and ate human beings, but was also known for an overpowering stench.  The skunk ape is a diminutive version of the same, who is alleged to hide out in dense swamps and nasty exurbs.

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Anyway, to point this post towards contemporary relevance, the skunk ape has acquired a new role in the age of coronavirus! The Florida theme park “Gatorland” has introduced a skunk ape mascot in order to promote proper social distancing during the pandemic.  The hairy monster man lurks in underbrush or waste places until he spots park goers who are failing to remain 6 feet apart, whereupon he leaps into the limelight and berates them with feral grunts and unhappy simian body language.  Skunk ape’s female spokesperson also appears and reminds visitors to keep their distance in plain and somewhat lawyerly English.

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At this juncture, it is unclear what Skunk Ape thinks of masks (I suppose I could reach out to his spokesperson and inquire, but frankly I am not going to do any actual journalism unless it involves actual remuneration).  Likewise it is a bit unclear whether skunk ape’s public sanitation drive will work in any way whatsoever. What is clear is that our monsters and our mummers are always lurking around in the psychological shrubs waiting to leap out in moments of turmoil or duress.  This is definitely such a time and I hope you are taking precautions to keep yourself safe from the all-too-real troubles which are currently stalking our land.  Be safe out there! Don’t make me call in the skunk ape!

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Today is, uhhhh…World Health Day, which commemorates the founding of the World Health Organization.  This “day of observance” was designed “to draw the attention of the world to the health of global human populations and the diseases that may impact these populations.”  Since this is also Holy Week, I decided to bundle World Health Day together with the Biblical theme post I had already selected. Perhaps we can work together at the end of the post (and in the comments below) in order to reconcile the two themes!

OK, back to our Bibles!  Today’s chapter is Numbers 21 which describes another episode during the long Jewish exodus from bondage in Egypt to conquest of Israel.  Although not necessarily well-versed at understanding natural phenomena, the writers of the Pentateuch were extremely keen students of human nature!   Whenever things turn difficult (spoiler: things are always difficult) or if Moses is not constantly micromanaging them, the Israelites hare off and start worshiping golden calves or sleeping with Moabite hussies or whining so very aggressively that it annoys God himself (as happens in this instance).  Here is how it is described in Numbers 21:

4 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.

5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.

6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

8 And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Wow! God instructs Moses to build what would, in any other circumstance, be an extremely idolatrous metal serpent to heal the bites of poisonous fire serpents?  What is going on in this passage?

For one thing, paleoethnographers who have studied the deepest history of Semitic tribes surmise that El, the sky shepherd god who, in time would become develop into Yweh and thence into God as we know him was perhaps not the original center of Jewish worship!  It seems like the wandering tribe might have adopted El from Canaanite/Syrian sources they encountered in the Sinai. The oldest religious objects archaeologists have associated with bronze age Canaanite sites like Megiddo,  Gezer,  Hazor, and Shechem seem to be snake cult objects!  It is intriguing to surmise that the chosen people were originally snake worshipers, and this shameful pre-literary heritage is preserved in the Bible in the form of Moses’ brass effigy (as well as one or two other critical moments of that text).

But the baffling interplay of religious syncretism in Asia-Minor, Mesopotamia, and the Levant five thousand years ago (which gave rise to monotheism) is a topic for a greater and more ponderous work of scholarship!  I just wanted to explain to you the origin of this brass serpent icon in the Bible.  The Jewish call such a thing a Nehushtan ((נחשתן and it kept making controversial appearances in ancient Israel.  Later on King Hezekiah would institute a reform banning the popular religious totem and rabbis still argue about it to this day.

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The Brazen Serpent (James Tissot The Brazen Serpent, ca.1896–1902) watercolor on paper

Here is a Nehushtan painted by a 19th/20th century Christian artist and it is pretty shocking! Not only does the Brazen Serpent resemble Christian iconography,  it is more or less identical to the Rod of Asclepius and the Caduceus of Hermes (if you haven’t read about Asclepius, please do so, his story is profoundly thought-provoking).

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Wow! This is a lot to take in.  Before the Aztecs show up with Quetzalcoatl and this post melts completely, it is worth asking if there is a bigger point to all of this?  The answer is YES: today is World Health Day! I am honoring the world’s brave and compassionate (and hard-working) health care workers by talking about their ridiculously ancient symbol, a snake on a stick.  The fact that it comes not just from the GrecoRoman canon but from JudeoChristian mythology as well only highlights its importance (Frankly I didn’t expect to find intimations that Jews worshiped this thing before they worshiped their one God! Yet perhaps some of New York’s most eminent physicians would secretly smile). Modern people are apt to think of religion as an ancient political/ethical rubric which holds society together and regard medicine as a science.  Yet plagues and crises remind us what Moses knew.  There is more overlap in caring for the sick and providing stories which explain existence than we might initially suppose!  Thank you doctors and nurses for working so hard (and for holding up the world during this pandemic!  We appreciate what you are doing more than we can say (even if we can only express these feelings in the form of strange biblical blog posts).  You truly are the children of Apollo and we all love you no matter what happens (although would it kill you to drive the profane and wicked MBAs out of your profession and reclaim its sacred compassion for everyone?)

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Ok…there is one last rat post for our musophobic friends to suffer through, and, after that, they can peacefully enjoy the rest of the year (ummm….of the rat).  Yesterday, during the Superbowl there was a delirious moment of joy, when I thought my post today would be truly timely and appropriate, since I saw that the Kansas City Chiefs mascot was a giant rat! (presumably since whatever appalling Chief Wahoo-style mascot they used to have got ushered into sudden retirement before the franchise hit the national stage).  Alas, it turns out that KC Wolf (pictured above) is actually a wolf.  I don’t know how I got the wrong idea about his identity.  It does bring us to the issue of rat mascots though.

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Scabby the Rat (different sizes for different strikes!)

I assumed that despite the fear and alarm engendered by rats there would be some prominent sports franchises and events that adopted the rat as a mascot (since rats are universally known, if not necessarily universally loved.  Alas, how wrong I was–the biggest rat mascot I could find (both in terms of popularity and literally in terms of size) was “Scabby the Rat” an inflatable labor union prop who comes out whenever a picket line goes up.   The other rats, in a big anonymous amalgamated lump are below.

I don’t think any of them are particularly famous.  One or two might even properly be mouse mascots (in which case we could have put Mickey in here and finally gotten famous through the time-honored American rite of being sued by Disney).  They are fun to look at though and they invite reflections on the downright strangeness of mascots.

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There is however one culturally significant rat, whom I want to call out in this mascot post.  Technically he is not a mascot, but instead a vahana–one of the animal mounts/vehicles ridden by the Hindu gods.  Each of the ranking devas has their own particular animal they ride: Indra has an elephant; Brahma has a swan; fierce Durga rides a tiger; while Parvati rides a lion.  However, in a complete reversal of the western myth, Ganesha, the beautiful and beloved elephant-headed god of wisdom, art, and science rides upon the greater Indian bandicoot rat ((Bandicota indica).  It is open to interpretation why Ganesha chose such an unusual and incongruous beast as his loyal accessory.  Some scholars have suggested that the rat symbolizes Ganesha’s ability to overcome all obstacles, while others have opined that the rat represents Ganesha’s ability to master challenges of the physical world (like rat-induced famine).  Some gurus say that Ganesha’s vahana is more symbolic and represents the great deity’s ability to master thoughts which proliferate in crazy ways like rats in the dark.  Based on our last post, though I wonder if it might evoke Ganesha’s renowned compassion and open-mindedness.  Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy compassion and open-mindedness  throughout this rat year.  I feel like we might all need it! Om and Happy New Year, one last time.

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Screenshot_2019-11-28 Wayne Mack Ferrebee ( greatflounder) • Instagram photos and videos(1)

Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving from Sumi and me!

Screenshot_2019-11-28 Wayne Mack Ferrebee ( greatflounder) • Instagram photos and videos

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