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About mice and myths (an old post)

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Post by Seva Lamberdar Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:16 am

There was a blog recently on the Internet about irrational beliefs and superstitions (Ref. 1). It had many responses from readers about people showing reverence to snakes, cats and mice etc. or believing that changing one’s religion (either expecting money or heaven etc. or under the threat to life or property etc.) helps the converter and the converted in going to heaven.

Let’s look at some of the so called superstitions and irrational beliefs and practices which might be inter-dependent (related to one another) originally and had some real and practical basis. For example, when humans first started living in communities long ago and took to agriculture, they faced many nuisances, difficulties and dangers and their survival was at stake. They had little in terms of help or resources at their disposal to counter effectively against the enemies. Thus they often sought relief through prayer etc. while hoping for the best (Ref. 2). Moreover, whatever seemed to benefit them or alleviate their misery and difficulties, they would consider that thing or phenomenon as friendly and heaven-sent (often worthy of reverence and affection). They would invariably protect, and even revere, things (including plants, trees and animals) benefitting them.

Humans seem to have faced much adversity and danger from mice and rats right from the start. These pests not only created havoc for people at home and in agricultural fields (by destroying their food and crops etc.) but also carried insects and diseases (including plague) which led to disease and death among people. Even until recently, humans had no effective way to deal with the menace of extremely agile and fertile mice and rats. There were no effective chemicals, pesticides and gadgets available to people to help them control and eliminate rodents. As a result, people mostly relied on the natural enemies of mice and rats to curtail their population and thus reduce and eliminate diseases and losses from rodents.

Among the natural enemies of rodents snake ranks as number one. It was smart on the part of people long ago to realize that mice and rats were on the food menu for snakes. Snakes hunt and eat rodents in homes and open fields, above ground and below ground (in holes and burrows etc.). This results in the protection of domestic goods, foods and crops from mice and rats and also saves humans from rodent borne disease and death. The mere presence of a large snake, such as a cobra, can drive out the mice and rats from buildings and fields. Snake thus seemed to make the best defense for humans against rodents. It was natural therefore for people to exploit the prey-predator relationship between rodent and snake for their own benefit and even consider the snake as their friend. Incidentally, even though people sometimes get bitten by snakes and die from their venom, there is no natural animosity between humans and snakes. Moreover, people (or crops) are not on the food menu for snakes, and most of the attacks on humans from snakes are either by accident or when snake finds itself under a threat from man.

This probably led to a type of friendship (even reverence) by humans towards snakes long ago, basically for their own sake (benefit and survival) against the menace of rodents (destruction of foods and crops and spread of diseases by mice and rats). In one of the Puranic stories, people were advised to spare snakes and not harm or kill them needlessly. In another Puranic story on Samudra Manthan (churning of ocean), snake Vasuki was symbolically shown to be of great help as it was used to hold in position and rotate the dasher or churner (Mount Mandranchal). In addition, since snake led to the protection and safety of people against rodent borne diseases etc., it probably came to be seen as an important component in human health, safety and medicine. Perhaps that could have also led to the snake being symbolized closely, as the snake symbol, in medicine and medical practices. Moreover, probably the Puranic idea of Seshnaga (the mythological king snake having multiple heads / hoods and on whose coilage Vishnu, the protector, supposedly rests) also might have something to do with the beneficial and protective aspects of snakes towards humans and crops (thus indirectly making the task of Vishnu easy).

The second line of defense for humans against mice and rats long ago was cat. Cats were not as effective a tool against rodents as were the snakes because cats hunted and killed rats and mice only above ground and when in sight. Moreover, cats were good and effective in controlling the rodent population mostly in homes and buildings and not usually in open fields where they themselves faced danger from other animals (dogs, wolves and foxes etc.). Unlike poisonous snakes, cats posed little danger to humans who immediately took to keeping and raising cats as pets. In many places cats came to be revered and protected. In India, some people considered it a sin to harm or kill a cat. It seems all this friendliness and reverence by people towards cats was mostly due to their self interest – to have cats protect them from the menace of rodents. Anyway, history tells us that when cats were killed in large numbers in some places and if there were not enough snakes to fill the void left by cats against rodents, there was a sudden increase in the number of rats and mice leading to greater food shortages and serious diseases to people.

As indicated above, the prey-predator relationship between rodents and snakes / cats was greatly exploited by people to protect themselves against rats and mice. In addition, early humans appeared to have tried a number of other things to seek relief against rodents and diseases. For example, there is no love lost between elephants and mice / rats. An elephant can easily crush a mouse with its huge foot whenever the latter gets very near or becomes a big nuisance. Perhaps this enormous power of elephant over mouse became the source of symbolism related to Hindu deity Ganesha (Lord of the masses, in the beginning) who is shown with the head of an elephant and uses mouse as his seat. The original idea probably was that the deity (in the image of an elephant) was in full control and sitting over and holding the mouse in place (rather than using it as a vehicle to move around), thus leading to the protection of people against rodents and rodent borne diseases. Ganesha’s image as deity with elephant head probably worked as a greater assurance to people praying for protection against rodents and other calamities. Incidentally, snake is also associated closely with Shiva artwork (paintings etc.), but there the concept of snake might have originally come from the streaks of fire and sparks shooting (as “snakes”) out of yajna fire during Agni worship. Note the close association between Shiva and Agni (Ref. 2).

In addition, since mice and rats posed many difficulties and dangers and were extremely agile and fertile, some people (especially in the beginning) might have thought that rodents had special powers. Thus, perhaps to avoid danger and harm to themselves, they probably started to revere (even feed) the mice and rats, in the hope that they would be spared from financial losses and diseases caused by rodents. In addition, some people could have made the oral use of droppings of specially reared / fed mice, hoping that it would give immunity against mouse borne diseases.

It is clear from the above that humans long ago did many things to survive the hostile environment and creatures. Although most of those things and practices now seem irrational, unnecessary and as plain superstitions, at one time they were perhaps the only defense protecting people from a certain wipeout.

References:

(1) Asirthomas, “Is Man enslaved by IRRATIONAL BELIEFS”, July 16, 2011, http://asirthomas.sulekha.com/blog/post/2011/07/is-man-enslaved-by-irrational-beliefs.htm

(2) Subhash C. Sharma, “Farming and philosophy in India during ancient times,” June 29, 2011, http://lamberdar.sulekha.com/blog/post/2011/06/farming-and-philosophy-in-india-during-ancient-times.htm

by:Dr. Subhash C. Sharma

(dated: July 28, 2011 ... http://lamberdar.hubpages.com/hub/mice_and_myths)
Seva Lamberdar
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Post by Seva Lamberdar Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:49 pm

Here is something interesting, from the URL listed below, about the importance of cats as pets during medieval times.

"Cats were originally brought to Europe by the Romans, who had discovered the felines in Egypt. Keeping pet cats as mousers had become popular in Europe by the time of the first plague.

"To fully answer that question, you need to understand the belief system of medieval Europe. Based on historical accounts and medieval art, people during this period were prone to many superstitions. The Catholic Church was the most powerful entity in Europe at the time, and the masses were consumed with the presence of evil and eradicating it in any form it might be believed to take. Because of their secretive nature and their ability to survive extraordinary circumstances, the general population came to fear cats as consorts of Satan. The innocent cats began to be killed by the thousands.

"The cats ultimately got their revenge, of course. Since there were few felines left, the rat populations increased unchecked, and the plague grew even more widespread."

http://habee.hubpages.com/hub/Cats-and-the-Black-Plague
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Post by Propagandhi711 Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:49 pm

Admin, please do the needful, this post contains name of a poster and violates the privacy policy

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Post by Seva Lamberdar Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:53 pm

Early genetics and evolution

The human civilization seemed to have developed rather slowly and painstakingly. The most important thing for people in the beginning was to ensure their survivability, individually and in the newly formed groups. Thus when people encountered disease (not necessarily plague) and losses (destruction of crop etc.) from rodents, they deliberately seemed to have settled on finding relief from natural predators (snakes and cats) and even protecting them. Perhaps they thought, quite smartly though, that dealing with rodents through natural predators (snakes etc.) was much more effective and easier, at least at that time, than them chasing and killing the rodents directly.

I was asked by someone many years ago on Sulekha whether people during Vedic times (i.e. according to the Vedas) knew about evolution. Although, my answer at that time was in the affirmative, I did not elaborate it. I guess it is time now to shed more light.

A number of hymns in the Rig Veda indicate that people long ago knew about things and ideas which might be considered now as rudimentary forms of genetics and evolution. For example, they seemed to have realized that personal traits from a male / father (e.g. size and strength etc.) were transmitted to the offspring (son / child) through father’s seed or semen. They also thought that quality of offspring might be improved by using the Soma juice which, according to them, “fortified” the seed (semen), thus resulting in a stronger and healthier offspring. Needless to say, Soma juice (which had a great medicinal value, in addition to being used as the Vedic libation) was given to both humans (men) and domestic animals (bulls etc.) for begetting the healthier and stronger offspring.

Lamberdar
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Post by Jeremiah Mburuburu Mon Feb 04, 2013 3:21 pm

wish you had made that title "of mice and myths." steinbeck himself had taken a phrase from a poem by robert burns for the title of his novel.

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Post by Seva Lamberdar Mon Feb 04, 2013 3:31 pm

Jeremiah Mburuburu wrote:wish you had made that title "of mice and myths." steinbeck himself had taken a phrase from a poem by robert burns for the title of his novel.

Good point JM, but it was a no go after I realized that my essay on myths arising due to mice will be better under the title "about mice and myths" than as "of mice and myths" which had already been used anyway by someone else.
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Post by Seva Lamberdar Wed Sep 30, 2015 9:07 am

Propagandhi711 wrote:Admin, please do the needful, this post contains name of a poster and violates the privacy policy
LOL. 

Btw don't overlook the significance of mice / rodents on the origin of various mythological stories and traditions.
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Post by goodcitizn Wed Sep 30, 2015 12:29 pm

Seva, it is ironic that the same mice that were once condemned as carriers of diseases, including the plague, are now used for conducting drug tests to improve human healthcare.

As an aside, I thought that it was the mole (called moonjuru in Tamil), not the mouse, that was associated with Ganesha.

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Post by Seva Lamberdar Wed Sep 30, 2015 4:04 pm

goodcitizn wrote:Seva, it is ironic that the same mice that were once condemned as carriers of diseases, including the plague, are now used for conducting drug tests to improve human healthcare.

As an aside, I thought that it was the mole (called moonjuru in Tamil), not the mouse, that was associated with Ganesha.
GC, good point about mice helping mankind these days in drug research.

As for the mole, and not the regular mouse, associated with Ganesha (as Ganesha's carrier), that belief in some places could have gotten hold at a later date. As I indicated / wrote in the above blog about elephant's inherent animosity to the mouse, Ganesha (having its image based originally on the elephant, according to the mythical stories) initially was thought probably to only control the mouse and keep it in check by sitting on it (as pictures and other art forms, statues etc., show Ganesha sitting on the mouse) and thus saving the mankind from mice borne diseases and other losses (to crops etc.). But, over time, the image of mouse under Ganesha in the pictures and other arts probably kept on growing / enlarging, eventually turning the mouse into a (large) mole. Moreover, Ganesha, instead of holding and checking the (previously small) mouse in one place by sitting on it, was even thought later to be riding it (in its large form as a mole) to go places.
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Post by goodcitizn Thu Oct 01, 2015 2:45 am

Seva Lamberdar wrote:
goodcitizn wrote:Seva, it is ironic that the same mice that were once condemned as carriers of diseases, including the plague, are now used for conducting drug tests to improve human healthcare.

As an aside, I thought that it was the mole (called moonjuru in Tamil), not the mouse, that was associated with Ganesha.
GC, good point about mice helping mankind these days in drug research.

As for the mole, and not the regular mouse, associated with Ganesha (as Ganesha's carrier), that belief in some places could have gotten hold at a later date. As I indicated / wrote in the above blog about elephant's inherent animosity to the mouse, Ganesha (having its image based originally on the elephant, according to the mythical stories) initially was thought probably to only control the mouse and keep it in check by sitting on it (as pictures and other art forms, statues etc., show Ganesha sitting on the mouse) and thus saving the mankind from mice borne diseases and other losses (to crops etc.). But, over time, the image of mouse under Ganesha in the pictures and other arts probably kept on growing / enlarging, eventually turning the mouse into a (large) mole. Moreover, Ganesha, instead of holding and checking the (previously small) mouse in one place by sitting on it, was even thought later to be riding it (in its large form as a mole) to go places.

With due apologies to Darwin, my theory is that the shrew (I was incorrect in saying mole earlier) evolved into the tapir developing a prehensile snout in the process and later morphed into the elephant. Thus Ganesha is merely riding on his forefather, all said and done.

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Post by Seva Lamberdar Thu Oct 01, 2015 8:31 am

goodcitizn wrote:
Seva Lamberdar wrote:
goodcitizn wrote:Seva, it is ironic that the same mice that were once condemned as carriers of diseases, including the plague, are now used for conducting drug tests to improve human healthcare.

As an aside, I thought that it was the mole (called moonjuru in Tamil), not the mouse, that was associated with Ganesha.
GC, good point about mice helping mankind these days in drug research.

As for the mole, and not the regular mouse, associated with Ganesha (as Ganesha's carrier), that belief in some places could have gotten hold at a later date. As I indicated / wrote in the above blog about elephant's inherent animosity to the mouse, Ganesha (having its image based originally on the elephant, according to the mythical stories) initially was thought probably to only control the mouse and keep it in check by sitting on it (as pictures and other art forms, statues etc., show Ganesha sitting on the mouse) and thus saving the mankind from mice borne diseases and other losses (to crops etc.). But, over time, the image of mouse under Ganesha in the pictures and other arts probably kept on growing / enlarging, eventually turning the mouse into a (large) mole. Moreover, Ganesha, instead of holding and checking the (previously small) mouse in one place by sitting on it, was even thought later to be riding it (in its large form as a mole) to go places.

With due apologies to Darwin, my theory is that the shrew (I was incorrect in saying mole earlier) evolved into the tapir developing a prehensile snout in the process and later morphed into the elephant. Thus Ganesha is merely riding on his forefather, all said and done.
interesting take on the "elephant-ness" in the Ganesha image, GC.

However, I think there could be another reason, perhaps due to the mixing up of the original tradition and the art form. 
Ganesha (meaning Lord of the masses, Gana + Isha) was probably one of the first words / phrases used by people for God (Lord); and as such (being the first one) is worshiped / prayed to first (before other deities) during Hindu worships / rituals) even today. 
Perhaps, after the use of the Ganesha as a name for Lord was already there, someone (an artist probably) tried to create an image for Ganesha first time, and he could have created the image of Ganesha (meaning Lord of the masses) according to a similar looking and sounding word 'Ganika' (used for elephant). Naturally, the mythical explanations (Puranic legends) on elephant-headedness of Ganesha, e.g. Shiva cutting off child's head and transplanting it with elephant's head and giving the boon to the kid (Ganesha) to be worshiped first, probably arose later (after the elephant image of Ganesha, created by an artist on the basis of ganika / elephant  image,  was already there.)
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Post by Seva Lamberdar Fri Oct 02, 2015 8:46 am

Another interesting point in the above ... "In addition, since snake led to the protection and safety of people against rodent borne diseases etc., it probably came to be seen as an important component in human health, safety and medicine. Perhaps that could have also led to the snake being symbolized closely, as the snake symbol, in medicine and medical practices."
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