Thursday, April 3, 2014

Alterpedia: Naga

As a service to the community (and a little bit of shameless plugging for my books) I feel it necessary to educate the populace about those persecuted souls that happen to be something other than human. For knowledge is power and I like to pretend I'm powerful. Once a week (roughly… yeah I know I’m late), we will address those topics that deal with Alters, and this week we’re covering:

Naga

Source: Ninsianna
The enemies of Garuda, the Naga is an entity of many forms and functions in Hindu mythology. Though they are often depicted as violent aggressors, the tormentors of all living creatures, they also have been known to serve the gods and bring balance to the Earth. Because of this, Naga, and the snakes they are based on, have a love-hate relationship in many parts of South East Asia, with some villages even worshipping cobras and the deities they represent.

But are they just snakes or is there something more to them? What are the Naga really?

Appearance

Mythology

The Naga’s natural form is that of a snake, specifically a cobra, and it spends much of its time in this form. Though the depictions of what that may entail change from one place to another, the typical traits of a serpent are always present. Sometimes, these forms are also known to have multiple heads (up to thousands) or hoods large enough to support the earth on them.

However, the Naga are also known to be capable of changing their shape and may appear human as they please. In these cases, the Naga often interact with people as people indistinguishable from human before presenting their true snake-like nature. One good example of this was Shesha, the Naga supporting the earth upon his head. Originally, he encountered Brahma (one of the great deities of Hinduism) under the guise of a human. Being asked to stabilize the unstable earth, Shesha took his snake form and went beneath the earth before balancing the earth on his many heads.

Alters

Naga are, like many Alters, more human appearing than depicted in the stories. From a distance, a Naga may appear to be perfectly normal. Their skin-tones match a wide variety of people from southern Asia, the middle-east and northern Africa.

It is only upon closer inspection that one starts to recognize that the texture of their skin may be very snake-like and that their eyes can be unusual. The typical Naga also has pronounced canines, almost fang-like, which are semi-retractable and only noticeable when the Naga is agitated.

These traits, combined with a renowned talent for flexibility, make the Naga people very snake-like to anyone who would be pressed to describe them in detail. Though, often, their talents and natural beauty trump their intimidating cobra-like traits and many have come to be known as alluring and exotic by those who have come in contact with them.

Talents

Mythology

Naga, like many Hindu deities, have a natural talent to shapeshift. They tend to travel in human forms for a great deal of time but can turn into their natural snake form whenever they please. This ability to shapeshift also allows them to grow new heads, much like a Hydra. However, the number of heads typically depends on the task they have been given to accomplish.

Also, their venom is supposed to be quite powerful, what with their natural connection to Cobras. This has been one of the primary reasons for worship of Garuda, whom is immune to their venom and is said to be able to grant protection against lesser venoms as a result.

They are also considered to be nature spirits in control of rains and rivers. With the protection of the Naga, villages are given rain, fertile soil and protection against drought. However, a wrathful Naga can bring about the same droughts they prevent or, alternatively, severe floods.

Alters

Though it is not an unheard of talent within the Alter community, Nagas are not actually shapeshifters. The origins of this myth come due to a skeleton which more closely mimics that of creatures such as cats. Due to a less pronounced clavicle and a much more flexible spine, the Naga people are incredibly flexible and can often become professional contortionists or dancers.

Their venom is also something of an exaggeration. Though Naga saliva is actually somewhat toxic to other people, it is not of the same quality as a Cobra’s venom and for many people will only cause a severe allergic reaction or a similarly severe infection. This is not to be taken lightly, however, as the impacts of such infections can be as bad or worse than the venom of some snakes.

As for their attachment to rain, modern Alter researchers theorize that the Naga dancers were, at one time, much like the rain dancers of the North American continent. Though the effectiveness of these dances is up for question, the memory of this ceremonial act could have carried on to form the basis of the belief that they were nature spirits with power over the elements.

Behavior

Mythology

Naga have traditionally been known as the persecutors of all things. They are not inherently evil and can sometimes be very helpful to worshippers and higher gods. But they are also known to be aggressive, violent and capable of holding grudges. Their infamous feud with Garuda, for instance, was said to be caused by the Naga mistreating Garuda and his family.

However, when they are not acting as the aggressive persecutors of people, they have a tendency to be of great help to divine beings. One of the more famous Naga of Buddhism is Mucilinda who protected Buddha from the elements after his enlightenment, shielding him from a torrential downpour with his cobra-like hood. Mucilinda did not receive any reward for this and instead seemed to have been overjoyed to help someone of such enlightenment.

As such, Naga, like the snakes they are associated with, are essentially neutral parties who are viewed not so much as good or evil but rather forces of nature who are best left alone. A Naga at peace is a gentle and protective force, but one filled with wrath will end you like nobody’s business.

Alters

Like with many Hindu and Buddhist deities, the depiction of Naga in mythology is fairly balanced and even human-like. They are not aligned to any specific stereotypical form of good or evil and thus they are as people would be. As a result, Alters share a lot of the personality traits of their mythological counterparts. However, a few things have been missed by the mythology due to the more human characteristics of the Naga people.

First, Nagas are prolific dancers. Due to their skeletal structure and stamina, they’re incredibly graceful, flexible and capable of achieving poses that many others could not. As a result, you’ll often find them being professional dancers in forms that require a lot of fluid, nearly inhuman motions.

Second, Nagas are actually somewhat playful with people. Though they are typical people with a wide variety of personality, they all enjoy using their talents to make others uncomfortable or simply amazed. After all, if you could do this:


Wouldn’t you show it off?

(I write books. If you enjoy these articles and the world they’re based on, give them a read!)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

WTF Wednesday: Publishers Price-Fixing?

Years ago, when the eBook market was just beginning to form, there was a problem that everyone faced: what the hell do you charge for digital content? To this day, we still don’t have an absolutely settled price-point and it’s hard for all of us to come to a decision just what our work is worth (especially for independents).

But then along came this strange stigma that made some sense in a way but in truth was a fabrication. According to conventional wisdom; if it’s priced low, it’s a shitty book that wasn’t ready for prime-time. This perception is guided primarily based on the fact that the higher-end authors came onto the market with books that were near or completely full-priced compared to their print companions. In essence, the stigma of the vanity press started to bleed into the image of independently published eBooks.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Obviously, those big names were offering their books at full price and managing to do really well despite competing against each other. The traditional publishers were right: quality material didn’t have to drop below a certain price to get a market shar-

Oh, they price-fixed the market and made back room deals so they wouldn’t have to compete with each other?

Well then…

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

WTF Wednesday: Twilight was GOOD for feminism?

So, let’s get it out of the way, you’ve read the title and you know what this is about. And, more than likely, you disagree with it. Most people do. But let me clarify something right away: I am not saying Bella Swan is good for feminism, I’m saying the series is good for feminism. No role that could accurately be portrayed by Kristen Stewart has the depth necessary to be good for anyone.

Btw, it's still not funny she's in an adaptation of 1984.
I know making that distinction isn’t quite enough since Twilight has been held up by some to be one of the most misogynistic things to have ever been written by a woman. The series itself is the story about one of the weakest women of all time being stalked by a man old enough to be her great, great grandfather. Over the course of the series Bella even goes so far as to try to kill herself in order to see him in her near-death hallucinations. The idea any of this could be good for feminism is enough to make just about anyone scoff - including myself from last week.

But recently Divergent came to theaters and the reviews came in. Many of those reviews were lukewarm, but one brief discussion about the film pointed out something to me that I had not thought about. Despite the fact the movie has had some rough reviews, everyone can see that it is a clear success as its opening weekend was damn impressive. And because movies like that continue to succeed, we're going to continue to see more YA adaptations. And that's where the revelation kicks in.

The fact is: YA adaptations are responsible for the casting of more female protagonists than any other trend in cinematic history. So, despite everything…

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

WTF Wednesdays - The Misfires Of #BanBossy

(Content Warning: This article contains a great deal of profanity as I'm talking about some very taboo words. This may offend some people since, upon further review, it's more profanity than I usually use. But, seeing as I'm channeling the spirit of George Carlin and I'm making a fucking valid point here, I intend to keep it all, god damn it. And if you have a problem with it, I'm truly fucking sorry for my shit.)

Millennia ago, as we were dragging ourselves from the mud and learning to communicate what we wanted to each other, rules of how our language works had to form. We, as a people, had to cooperate to define our world and come to an agreement what those definitions were. We also had to agree on the weight of words and that agreement became so engrained into us that we even feel it on a visceral level. People have long tried to figure out just why we feel that way when certain words arise, but few take time to point out how stupid that process is.

George Carlin pointed out with one of his most famous bits the absurdity of this, and that absurdity actually cost him work. Famously, or infamously, Carlin was actually fired from a gig performing in Las Vegas for saying the word “shit”. As Carlin later put it, “I got fired in Las Vegas for saying “shit” in a town where the official game is craps.”

Sometimes the language gets changed and that change is spurned by a movement within our culture. This is usually in response to some great injustice or a history of hatred. Normally these movements take years, decades, sometimes even centuries before they’re finished. It’s a long, arduous process not to be taken lightly or trivially because it is one of the most profound changes in our society. For words do have power, but that power is granted in a unique cultural symbiosis where-in we give them power as we try to take it away.

A recent movement has started to try to change the rules for something that even sympathetic voices agree is a somewhat trivial matter (including me). So I feel like I need to take a page from Carlin’s book now and try to point out the absurdity of…

Thursday, March 13, 2014

WTF Whenever: Censorship For God?

For as long as there have been movies, there have been religious fundamentalists trying to bring an end to them. Since the things started there’ve been people proclaiming them as the work of devil and some would argue it’s appropriate Charlie Chaplain shared facial hair with Hitler. Their general argument over the years has been that having something you can actually see is going to somehow corrupt the minds of the people seeing it. This is an understandable position for someone with a third grade education: anyone who can make still images move is clearly a witch.

Some even claim to be "warlocks"
After a century or so of dealing with angry villagers at their gates, studios have gotten pretty good at tuning these people out and just selling the four cardinal sins: sex, drugs, violence and popcorn. The turning point was probably about the time when literacy rates spiked enough that everyone could actually read the book rather than just leaving it to one guy per town. Because anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows it’s 90% sex, drugs and violence in the first place.

Including massive amounts of incest!
But in recent weeks they’ve gone to new lengths. Just this last week Frozen was accused of being gay propaganda created by the devil to convert children into new homosexuals. Aside from the fact that it takes some stretching to even see how one character might be gay, I have it on good authority that my girlfriend and her roommate went to see that movie together and haven’t once made out since. Aside from proving they might be wrong it could also stand as ground on false advertising if these guys keep it up.

"I was promised hot lesbian action involving ice cubes."
But the real prize winners have to be for the people who protested Paramount and Fox recently over Noah and Cosmos. You see, Paramount had the gall to do a version of Noah’s ark that was filmable while Fox went and tried to teach kids science. But the part that really gets me is that, in both cases, the nutjobs won. I expect crazy to come out of the fundamentalists, but for the studios and their affiliates I’ve gotta ask…

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writing Fantasies: Alternative Mythologies Part 2 - South Asia

The fairly euro-centric fantasy genre has had a pretty good run, but a lot of people have pointed out, especially in recent years, that it has started to become stale. Maybe it was the bombardment of at least 12 hours of Tolkien film (so far). Maybe it was the cheap knockoffs of those movies which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

I dare you to try to remember the name to this movie.
Or maybe it’s because we haven’t refreshed the lore in a couple centuries.

As I started with in the last entry, I’m going to continue touring other regions of the world that aren’t part of the lands involved in the Crusades and give a small taste of what makes those places interesting source material too. With our last entry I pointed out a few interesting but often overlooked ideas from the far east with lore from China and Japan. But today, I move a little south of there and look into the regions more influenced by Hinduism. It’s time to take a look at…

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Line On: The Police

A couple years ago, after a bumpy period of time where I was raising a toddler and didn’t have time to do much of anything else, I started writing a novel. A series of ideas planted in my head during a trip to Canada were germinating and sprouting into something. A character formed out of the amalgamation of ideas: Nathaniel Leone, a member of the Alter Control Task Force, a paramilitary police officer from an international organization meant to serve and protect Humans and Alters alike.

In short hand I usually describe the ACTF as being the Men in Black dealing with vampires. But the truth is actually that I really felt that a new breed of humanity with superhuman abilities would need some major legal overhauls. A system needed to be put in place to make sure that the strong didn’t overpower the weak and that the many didn’t try to slaughter the few. In essence, if you were to prevent a war between two different forms of mankind, you’d need someone to police it.

To me, a good police officer is one of the few archetypes in the real world to fit the word “hero”. When they’re doing their jobs, they’re out there to save lives, prevent harm from falling on the innocent and ensure that we all can go about living peacefully. They’re there to be a thin blue line between order and chaos and they live incredibly stressful lives to do it.

This officer cuffed himself to someone trying to commit suicide so she couldn't jump.
So then why is it that I feel something's gone wrong lately?