Monthly Archives: October 2010

Bestiarum Vocabulum//Beast Compendium//Monstrous Manual

Bestiaries are volumes of animal and moythological beast illustrations and texts that support the illustrations as well as give informaiton on the said beast. It is, like illuminated manuscripts, believed to be made by more than one artist over long periods of time, even in different geographies later to be compiled as a volume. The oldest bestiary is dated back ro 2nd century (Alexandria), Physiologus.

Physiologus features the Allegoric story of dead lion cubs ressurecting with the old lion’s breath and of the phonix that burnes down, only to be ressurected agian on the third day of it’s death (both reference Christ, vice versa – further information is here in this awesome book by Joseph Campbell)

These volumes carry vital survival information as well as myths. How to defend against a wolf, what to do against a lion, how to hide from something, hide to hunt another thing etc. Here’s a par from a bestiary about wolves:

“If a wolf sees a man before the man sees the wolf, the man will lose his voice. If the man sees the wolf first, the wolf can no longer be fierce. If a man loses his voice because the wolf saw him first, he should take off all his clothes and bang two rocks together, which will keep the wolf from attacking.”

This possibly infroms the reader tha tthe wolf would attack the throat of it’s victim first so if the wolf was not seen before the attack, screaming for help during the brawl would not be possible. Also if the wolf is seen first, it can be scared off by loud noises, like banging of rocks.

Aberdeen Bestiary is still preserved to this day and is the most popular among the ones that still exists. It is dated back to 1200 (England) and is available online here

apes from the Aberdeen Bestiary

wolves from the Aberdeen Bestiary

four magpies and a hunter trying to shoot thems

Most animals are not depicted alone, without a spatial clues. birds sit on trees, apes carry their young, wolves attack the sheep while the shepard naps. There is an obvious narrative here, projecting characteristics and stories to te animals/beasts portrayed.

Hereis one scene with written narrative from the researches:

“The horseman has stolen a cub and has been pursued by the tiger. The thief can stop the tiger by a trick: he throws down a glass sphere and the tiger, seeing its own reflection, stops to nurse the sphere like a cub. She ends by losing both her revenge and her child.”(source)


Alphabets and Synesthesia

Studies show that the development of lanuages and pronunciation is heavily dependant on the geographical area they are being used. People living in rougher climates tend to develop accents or languages that are harsher where people living in milder conditions develop softer languages. This can be observed clearer in different areas of the same geography like different accents of a language.

We can see how the Bouba/Kiki effect works in sound-to-shape and shape-to-sound synesthesia clearly (with 90% consistency).

Kiki and Booba

“Ramachandran and Hubbard[3] suggest that the kiki/bouba effect has implications for the evolution of language, because it suggests that the naming of objects is not completely arbitrary. The rounded shape may most commonly be named “bouba” because the mouth makes a more rounded shape to produce that sound while a more taut, angular mouth shape is needed to make the sound “kiki”. The sounds of a K are harder and more forceful than those of a B, as well. The presence of these “synesthesia-like mappings” suggest that this effect might be the neurological basis for sound symbolism, in which sounds are non-arbitrarily mapped to objects and events in the world.” (source)

So, we can assume that creating the glyphs and characters for alphabets people did map sounds-to-shapes. This would result in pointy “K”s and soft, fluffy “O”s.

Phoenician K

In middle eastern and far eastern alphabets(Hebrew, Arabic) we see fluid usually single brushstrokes where in Cyrillic alphabet(s) we see seperate letters which are formed from lines mostly. Thus, we can assume that there is a direct relation to an alphabet with it’s origin’s geographical and climatic features.

Cyrillic Zhe


Cave paintings and Sympathetic Magic

While we can often see depictions of large animals with fine detail in rock paintings, we seldom see a representation of realistically proportioned humans. Study suggests that the religion at that time, whatever it was, forbid people from painting realistic humans. I guess this would be one of the earliest examples of religious censorship on art. It is believed that the people employed shamans before hunts to either act out the upcoming events while in a trance or paint them on the cave walls. During this “drama” the shaman is believed to be in another plane, the spirit world.

The reason for the shamans to paint said paintings are still being discussed – one group believes it was a narrative on what really happened around them while another group believe the paintings are meant to be prayers. I side with the group who believes they were wishful portrayals they wanted and/or needed to be realized. This would explain the large animals in most of the paintings rather than small animals that would not feed the entire family/tribe. This sort of belief is similar to sympathetic magic:

“Sympathetic magic is based on the metaphysical belief that like affects like. Sympathetic magic is the basis for most forms of divination. The lines, shapes and patterns in entrails, stars, thrown dirt, folded paper, the palm of the hand (the longer the lifeline, the longer the life), etc., are believed to be magically connected to the empirical world–past, present and future. It is also the basis for such practices as sticking needles into figurines representing enemies, as is done in voodoo.” (

Similar practices still exist in Turkey  in the form of tradition instead of religion. During certain days, such as “Hidirellez” people draw and/or write their wishes on a piece of paper and either bury or tie them to trees in their yards (possibly, depending on the geographical area the practice might have adapted ie:if there are no trees, bury it.).

Such similarities can also be seen in Voodoo Dolls in popular culture which can be tracked backed to “poppet”s in folk magic. Actions taken on a voodoo doll is believed to affect the victim – whoever the doll represents.  I would also consider drinking “the blood of christ” to be cleansed of sins as sympathetic magic as well.

sympathetic magic

more on sympathetic magic

participation mystique