Category: Ratified Research

Mermaid, Siren, Harpy, or Banshee? (part 2 of 2)

To read more about the historical differences in physicality and abilities between mermaids and sirens please see part 1 of this ratified research series –> Mermaid, Siren, Harpy, or Banshee? (part 1 of 2)

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Harpies are physically similar to sirens although there is some debate on whether the human sections were beautiful or hideous and foul-smelling like the harpies in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts or as Celaeno in Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn – described as “…a creature with the body of a great bronze bird and a hag’s face…deadly talons…but down her scaly shoulders, mingling with the bright knives of her plumage, there fell hair the color of moonlight, thick and youthful around the hating human face.” Beagle’s story makes a connection between Celaeno and the Greek tale in which Zeus sent harpies to punish King Phineus for revealing a secret gift by stealing and befouling any food set before Phineus before he could eat it.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Tamora Pierce’s stormwings, first introduced in The Immortals quartet, were inspired by the harpies that harried King Phineus as they befouled bodies on the battlefield which they also consumed, and their plumage cuts as Celaeno’s did the unicorn in Beagle’s story.

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Harpies were originally wind spirits and extensions of the whims of the gods via the weather in Greece. Perhaps in future literature an author will attribute harpies with the ability to affect the weather and generate great gusts of wind with their wings. Another task of the harpy was to snatch up evildoers and deliver them to furies, the deities of vengeance.

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In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing Benedict calls Beatrice a “harpy” in the way of an annoying woman (at one point a harpy was also slang for ‘street prostitute’). The original meaning of harpy is “snatcher” from Latin origin and seen from the tale of King Phineus. On a side note there is a very real, gigantic eagle known as a harpy eagle that ranges across Mexico and Argentina. It is the heaviest and most powerful bird of prey and the females, almost twice the size of males, are outranked in size only by the Andean condor. It’s legs are the width of a small child’s and its deadly talons are 5 in (13 cm) – that’s larger than the average grizzly bear claws!

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The last figure is of Irish and partly Scottish origin and is known as a shrieking herald of death: the banshee. A banshee is human in form and can change her appearance. While she is most often depicted as a disheveled old hag she can also appear as a beautiful young woman. The wailing originates as a traditional part of mourning in which sometimes professional keeners would be paid to mourn a death. Women who were murdered or died during childbirth could become a banshee. A banshee’s wailing would be heard by someone who’s family member has died no matter where the family member is located. If the person who died was greatly revered or holy then more than one banshee would appear and wail. You can see some of this folklore used in the TV series Lost Girl where the writers also elaborate on the origin and abilities of the banshee. Scottish origins told of banshees whose cries were so piercing they could shatter glass and they could also be seen washing bloodied clothes and armor of those persons who were to die soon.

banshee

Irish folklore tells that the first banshee was Irish battle goddess the Morrígan, who is also associated with the Valkyries in Norse mythology who decided who may or may not die during battle. She may be the first banshee because in W.M. Hennessy’s The Ancient Irish Goddess of War she predicts the death of a prominent warrior. The Morrígan would appear as a crow and fly over the battlefield. When her presence was noted by the warriors she could inspire fear or courage depending on whose side they were on. Banshees and valkyries can influence the outcome of a battle simply by appearing and becoming a symbol of imminent death.
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That is it! Thank you for hanging out for two consecutive posts after a long spell of no posts. If there are any other comparisons you are curious about let me know, I’m always looking for more topics for future ratified research blogs. If you want to learn more some of the images above actually like to other articles. You may also want to check out the sources I have linked below as they also have sub-links that will let you expand further on the information I provided.

 

Sources:

Other Ratified Research posts:

  1. What Colors do Horses See?
  2. The Purple Heart
  3. another link coming soon
  4. another link coming soon

 

Mermaid, Siren, Harpy, or Banshee? (part 1 of 2)

The powers and attributes of these mythological figures are commonly mixed but I’m particularly curious as to the original distinctions which, as you will see, vary depending on culture. As always each image is linked back to the source simply click to follow. Also, let’s be clear: I like seeing different mixes but we are dealing with the traditional figures in these two posts.

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Let’s start with the most common mix up, ey? Mermaids have appeared in Walt Disney Pictures’ 2011 film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, stories about Peter Pan, and C.S. Lewis’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia. The earliest mermaid comes from Assyrian mythology in 1000 BC by the Goddess Atargatis – the first mermaid (known as Derketo in Greek mythology). Goddess Atargatis was the goddess of fertility and responsible for the conservation of fish – fish were sacred to her and it was forbidden to consume them especially in Ascalon. Atargatis fell in love with a human shephard who she then accidentally killed during lovemaking. Guilt overcame her and she threw herself into the ocean to become a fish but her beauty was so great that the transformation was not completed. Why? Because the waters refused to conceal her divine beauty.

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Another origin story belongs with Thessalonike of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s sister. Her story is tied to that her hair was bathed in water from the fountain of immortality in the Aegean. After Alexander’s death she was so stricken with grief that she threw herself into the sea to drown but was instead transformed into a mermaid who thereafter lived in the Aegean. Any sailors who discovered her were asked only one question: “Is Alexander still the king?” Should they answer no, she transformed into a gorgon and summon a deadly storm. Should the sailors answer yes, she would grant them calm seas for the remainder of their journey. There is also the African water spirit, Mami Wata/Mamba Muntu, who was a source of healing and good luck for her followers but dealt sickness, delusion, and drowning for those who disobeyed. She sometimes appeared as a mermaid but never as a human and was often associated with a snake. There was also the chance that she could return a person to land with increased wealth, beauty, and psychic power. Mermaids from the One Thousand and One Nights were anatomically similar to humans but could breathe underwater. They could and would reproduce with humans and their children would have the ability to live underwater as well as on land.

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In most cultures where mermaids were present it was always considered bad luck to do anything unkind to them. They could grant wishes or present humans with cures They could not thrive out of water except for the ‘Merrow’ from Scotland and Ireland who would sometimes marry and live with humans. Some mermaids wore a red cap which if it was stolen and hidden from them they would shed their tails and live on land much like with selkies when their whole skins were hidden. However, in British folklore seeing one was a sign of bad luck and they were attributed of causing storms that brought ships to wreckage. Though mermaids lived for a long time none of them had souls, particularly in Slavic mythology where mermaids came from the spirit of a drowned woman who then lured men to their death, dragging them down to their underwater kingdom.

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Any recorded biological possibility of becoming a mermaid surfaces in the medical condition of sirenomelia (Mermaid Syndrome) where an infant is born with their legs fused together. Historically they never live more than a few days due to bladder and kidney malfunctions but there are modern cases when the mutation has been corrected for prolongued land life. It seems the rule of thumb is the more beautiful the mermaid the less likely they were to outright kill you and the more sympathetic and helpful they were likely to be – although mermen were typically wilder, uglier with green seaweed for hair, and had little interest in humans.

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Sirens are the most commonly crossed with mermaids. The physical distinction is that mermaids and mermen were part fish while sirens were part bird although they also lived by the sea on an island or cliffs. Though mermaids had beautiful singing voices their power lay in the ability to cause storms which wrecked sailors and their ships while sirens mesmerized men into a trance with their voices, compelling them to reach the siren whereby she brought sailors to death from her perch upon rocky islands, cliffs, and the shore. Sirens are present in the 2003 Dreamworks movie Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, before that they are notably present in Homer’s Odyssey and date as far back as the Greek story of Persephone and Hades. In the original Greek story the Sirens began as the human companions of Persephone. After Persephone was abducted by Hades they were turned into half-bird, half-woman by Persephone’s mother Demeter. In some versions Demeter did this to help the women locate her daughter but in others it was punishment for failing to either prevent Persephone’s capture or locate Persephone. A siren’s song is irresistibly sweet yet sad, an eternal call for Persephone’s return.

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In India they are usually depicted with harps, lutes, or lyres which were used in combination with their voices to lull men to sleep before then tearing the men to shreds with their talons. Sirens were said to be so gifted musical talents that they could calm the wind. The bane of the siren comes in the elaboration by post-Homeric writers: if someone heard a siren’s song and escaped alive that siren would die as after Odysseus passed their island unharmed the sirens singing to him flung themselves down to perish among the rocks and waves. When Jason and his Argonauts came across sirens in their search for the Golden Fleece, Orpheus drowned out the siren call with his lyre. When Christianity took over sirens became a mere symbol of worldly temptations such as that of prostitutes.

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There is abundant research to be had on all of these figures and their variations and I have only covered bare basics for each of the umbrella nominations as far as origin, appearance, and attributes. Want to delve into more information but not sure where to start? Check out my references below!

 

Part 2–> Mermaid, Siren, Banshee, or Harpy? (part 2 of 2)

Sources:

 

Other Ratified Research posts:

  1. The Luckdragon
  2. Beneficial Stress
  3. another link coming soon
  4. another link coming soon

The White’s of Their Eyes

It’s a battle cry that has trickled down from history and into group role playing games, common in phrase and easy to make sense of. Where did it come from? When did you first hear it?

It may be that this was among the tactical ideas shared by military commanders across the world so perhaps we cannot attribute it to one person, one culture, one time. The phrase is most popularly associated in American culture with the battle of Bunker Hill in May 1775. For 18th century armies this battle command increased the possibility of a hit when your troops only had access to the inaccurate smooth-bore muskets and risked a shortage of ammunition.

You can track similar statements back through leaders such as General James Wolfe leading his troops on the Plains of Abraham in September 1759; it was used by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Andrew Agnew in the Battle of Detingen in June 1743; by Frederick the Great in 1755; again from Prince Charles of Prussia in 1745; all the way back to General-King Gustavus Adolphus who instructed his musketeers “never to give fire, til they could see their own image in the pupil of their enemy’s eye.”

While these variations have common military recollections, what comes to mind for me is a display of fear from animals. For a time I was around a lot of show horses and got to visit a small barn to see some roadster ponies. Now, I am by no means an equine expert but I am knowledgable to the account of interpreting body language very well. These horses were fearful, something I noted not only by that they jumped and scrambled away from the stall entrances as fast as they could with taunt necks and turned, trembling bodies, but also by the amount of white sclera I could see.

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At normal, or resting, position the white sclera is not usually visible all the way around the iris on horses.

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It can be seen most often in appaloosas but its not a trait limited to the breed.

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Fargonon/Syd’s cute Orion

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Dogs have a similar display. You know the look, the one that makes us all feel pathetic and off-set inside.

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Yep. That one. What about you? Are you most familiar with the phrase from a military aspect or from your pets at home?

Equine Tip for the Week: Horses are very aware of their personal space and when you venture into that space I highly recommend you both let the horse know you are there and that you be very respectful of a prey animal whose build is designed to be a weapon. Make sure you can see the horse’s eye when approaching. This guarantees that the horse has you in its field of vision and is much better than if you approach from a blind spot. Why? If the horse cannot immediately identify if you are a friend or foe it will strike out. More of this can be explained in an earlier post:What colors do Horses See.

Go learn something new about a topic that interests you. Share it with me in the comments below!

Sources:

  1. The Battle of Bunker Hill – Wikipedia
  2. White’s of Their Eyes – Teaching History
  3. Appaloosa

Other Ratified Research Posts:

  1. Glaucus atlanticus: The Blue Dragon
  2. People, Horses, and Halitosis
  3. Beneficial Stress
  4. (another link coming soon)

Ponders on Colorful Breeding

orange and white koi
orange and white koi

I had a dream in which I took a glittering white and orange koi fish from a pond. It allowed the parting from its translucent home without complaint yet watched me, unblinking. After waking I was immediately curious on how the different colors are carried across generations of koi – and what extent human aesthetic breeding played a part. Reverence for this fish began in China and Japan so let’s start at the beginning.

Legend has it that in 533 B.C. Confucius’s son was gifted a common black carp (magoy) on the day of his birth by King Shoko of Ro. Upon this honor Confucius named his son after the only fish that managed to swim up the falls of the Yellow River and become a dragon. I have not been able to find too more in depth about this yet but enjoy the link above to the legend of the koi fish.

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Koi were brought to Japan when the Chinese invaded, where it was bred in the gardens of the main house for food, especially during winter when the rice could not be grown. It was not until after WWII, when air travel brought a surplus of foreigners who admired the auspicious fish and coveted it as a symbol of wealth, that selectively breeding the koi fish became prominent. They were bread not only for their traditional symbolism of positive energy but also for beauty. There are dozens of colorations for koi fish and interpretations vary across many who appreciate the species. These are the most popular and most common: red coloration is for the mother, for fire, strength and power; black coloration is for masculinity, the patriarchal role; blue and white coloration is for the son and tranquility; and gold koi symbolized prosperity and wellbeing (especially in business). It makes more sense now why in movies I saw these in ponds of the eastern Asian upper class. Of course you have the implication of financial superiority but I so love this delve into the layers behind the selection. It could have been deer or a beetle but someone somewhere decided the koi was gorgeous and convinced others who carried it over generations – all the way to us, here, now.

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Bear in mind that subjective selection is not necessarily evolutionary healthy. Some animals appear to breed for beauty (butterflies, horses, peacocks, wild cats, etc.) but what we admire as beautiful is always subjective. Indications of ‘beauty,’ such as a thick mane on a horse or the vibrant colors on butterflies and peacocks, are indications of healthy genes and a those that can fend for themselves (and therefore others as a mate or to produce strong offspring).

How we look doesn’t always belay what is under our surface, however.

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The most prominent example I can give you is albino animals. They are popularly considered exotic – an association socially used to connote beauty but nominally inaccurate, by the way. Albinism comes with high (and sometimes fatal) ocular problems and drastically increases the susceptibility to sunburns and skin cancers. Why? Well, what’s the prominent feature of albinism? White pigment – or lack of pigment. Albinism results from inbreeding where the offspring has the highest chance of receiving both alleles that do not produce melanin in the corresponding chromosome dedicated to coding the body to generate color in the skin and eyes.

Koi Breeding Tree
Koi Breeding Tree

Now, in modern science we have of course realized this and even zoos will trade residents in an attempt to increase the diversification of a species genes. This is especially crucial for those that cannot be widely released back into the wild to live out their own natural selection. Artificial selection can only go so far, though, and the records the zoos keep do not yet have the length of time and research put into, say, the Arabian Stud Book the Sultans of old kept close at hand. It makes me wonder what mutations may now be absent – and what is yet to come.

Fun Fact: The koi manifestations of the ocean and moon spirit in Avatar: The Last Airbender have colorings based on a Tancho koi coloring which originated from the Kohaku, meaning “red and white” (see linked breeding tree above).

Yin Yang by Moni158
Yin Yang by Moni158

All this pondering and research for a dream about a koi fish, what am I thinking, right? I feed my curiosity and encourage you to humor yours, after all it must exist in sentient organisms for a reason. Now come on, move those fingers and look up the things I know you have more questions about!

 

Sources; for more information:

 

Other “Ratified Research” posts:

  1. The Luck Dragon
  2. Purple Heart
  3. Headless Horseman
  4. Glaucus atlanticus: The Blue Dragon

 

Glaucus atlanticus: The Blue Dragon

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Glaucus atlanticus is known as the blue dragon and the blue sea slug. Pause a moment and say that name to yourself again, Glaucus atlanticus, oh the sounds of those syllables together gives me shivers! What beautiful coloring on this rare sea creature too!

So what is this blue dragon exactly? It’s a shell-less gastropod mollusk. How does it get around? It’s pelagic, meaning it floats upside down (because of the location of the gas filled sac in its stomach) at the surface tension of the water and is carried along by wind and ocean currents. It can also use its cerata (those finger like apendages) to swim around. You can find them in temperate and tropical waters such as off the coasts of Australia, South Africa, India, Peru, and Mozambique. The blue dragon is varying shades of blue on its ventral side (first image pictured) which acts as camouflage to predators from above yet is a silvery grey dorsally to hid it from predators below. It’s a 1.2in cutie that started garnering a lot of attention in April 2012 as a result of the image that appeared on Imigur (also pictured below).

be careful!
be careful –  don’t handle them like this!

Now, despite it’s cute appearance and small size the blue dragon is actually an aggressive predator that you should avoid skin contact with, unlike in the picture above. You see, a primary prey of Glaucus atlanticus is the Portuguese man o’ war (which is a collective colony of individual organisms, not a stinging jellyfish). This tiny sea slug absorbs the man o’ war venom and stores it in the tips of the dark cerata around its body. Keep in mind that the man o’ war is much larger than our cute sea monster (poison tentacles can range anywhere from 3.5in to 160ft depending on polyp type) and the absorbed poison is much more lethal at a higher concentration. If you simply must get a closer look or help a stranded blue dragon please follow the example of the following video.

Once the poison is stored, Glaucus atlanticus uses it as both an additional protection against predation and to prey on by-the-wind sailor (aka Velella velella), the blue button (aka Porpita porpita), and the violet snail (Janthina janthina). True to form this little sea slug has a radula full of serrated teeth which can be protruded to help devour it’s prey probably by rasping the particles of flesh from the surface.

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blue dragon and a blue button

Well? What do you think of our cute yet deadly sea monster? Personally, I hope one day I’ll get to see you in person cutie patootie!

blue dragon and a by-the-wind sailor
blue dragon and a by-the-wind sailor

Sources; for more information:

More “Ratified Research” articles:

  1. Ponders on Colorful Breeding 
  2. Purple Heart
  3. Beneficial Stress
  4. Headless Horseman

A Tree Blushing Valentine’s

I hope you are showering yourselves with love and appreciation today!

To me this particular day is a reminder that not just once a year you should treat yourself (and if applicable your special someone) to something nice. Look, even these trees are feeling a blush coming on!

Tree blush spied on a walk!
Taken on a walk with a friend.

No, that’s not literally a flora blush (though I like to think of it that way) that’s actually red lichen. Let’s have a talk about relationships.

Let’s start of with “what is lichen?” Lichen is a combination of algae and fungus – and can sometimes also contain the third organism cyanobacteria. The lichen grows best on trees in a cool, partially sunny, and moist environment. They face difficulty growing in polluted environments and are less likely to be seen in city-side foliage.

Different types of lichen were also used to produce dye either by boiling them in water or fermenting them in ammonia (urine tradtionally). These dyes were used differently across the world historically: yellow in North America, purple in Europe, and brown with red on Scottish tartans. If you’re anything like me you’ll be tilting your head and saying, “OH” because the preferences of certain historical styles and per royalty will suddenly make much more sense.

Fungus grows on the tree and collects moisture. This feeds the algae which photosynthesizes energy from the sun which in turn feeds the fungus making theirs a mutually symbiotic relationship. This pair of thallus’ attach to the tree bark via rhizines (hair-like filaments) and do not harm the tree, making their and the tree’s relationship one of commensalism.

Mutual
Mutual Relationship

Personally I am used to seeing green lichen, so what makes the lichen pictured above red? Based on the research I have done the red and white lichen pictured above is a crutose lichen, which means it rows radiating from the center with the newest growth on the edges. As to which lichen specifically this is, I am not entirely sure, though I can tell you that lichen is typically named after its fungus section.

Some people think the lichen is unsightly and can purge it if they wish with several different methods, including a soap solution, copper-sulfate, and lime sulfur (which could also damage the tree if applied to the roots).

Soap Cleanse
Soap Cleanse

If you want to learn more, please feel free to explore any of the linked text above.

So, we’ve covered relationships, especially mutually beneficial ones, and red. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone and remember, much love~

Valentine's Chibis
Valentine’s Chibis

Other “Ratified Research” articles:

  1. The Luckdragon
  2. Purple Heart
  3. Headless Horseman
  4. Glaucus atlanticus: The Blue Dragon

Beneficial Stress

I believe Kelly McGonigal has hit on a major point as far as the key to our happiness in life in a lecture she gave regarding the stress in our lives: in certain amounts and cases stress can be positive. Think, for example, of chocolate or alcohol. Both are bad for you in copious amounts yet a piece of chocolate, glass of wine, or a bottle of beer a few times a week is beneficial for you. These, among many other items, prompt the cleaning of your system. It is also kind of like using SeaFoam in your tank after you do an oil change. Oil cleaners like this help improve the performance of your engine by lubricating and cleaning the inner passageways, fuel injectors, valves, etc.

“It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat.”

“Tower” by Kiri Ramdeo

When you think about it the effects that stress has on you are similar to exercise – it exercises a most essential muscle in your body: the heart. When we comment that someone is very inspired or driven we say they have a lot of heart – that they are strong. Strength is built from trials taken and lessons learned over time. No heart ever became strong from its system sitting around doing nothing.

“Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others…your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”

There are more people than you realize willing to provide you with help. It is through continual display of appreciation, consideration, advice, and action that contribute to building trust and respect in a great friendship. Among you on this planet are billions of potential friends – no, I am not talking about the add-you-on-facebook-and-like-your-posts friends. I am talking about friends who encourage your strength and who you take turns with to lift each other up. That said, know that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to say, “I cannot do this alone. Please help me.” While pushing through a struggle on your own is incredibly admirable it may at times be necessary to ask for help in order to take care of you. In this you are not weak.

“…your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”

Resilience. Built up over time from becoming stronger, bouncing back, learning to outlast your past self. A great example of this is a particular Thoroughbred jockey, Russell Avery Baze. I stumbled across an article written about him, “Born to Ride,” during the period when I was recovering from my car accident. Breaking it down to the basic fact that Russell is a horseman, he is an amazingly durable rider. I say this because he has broken his cervical spine, pelvis, tailbone and collarbone, and suffers compression fractures in his back and neck. Russell receives periodic injections of cortisone to treat the resulting discomfort that remains with him for over 35 years. Rather than complain over every bit he accepts the aches and treatments as part of a “fulfilling career” as it is worth “every throb and spasm.”

“…we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems.” — Patricia Pendry Ph.D.

“Just Horsing Around”

Doing something that makes you happy lowers the overall production of the stress hormone. This does not have to be treated only in adults – it can start with children or in adolescence. Neither does human interaction have to the be the only coping mechanism for those of the shyer variety – you can turn to animals. Take for example this article: “Horsing Around in Childhood Really Can Change Your Life” by Fran Jurga. The article follows a study that compares the cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in two groups of randomly selected students. In one group of students researchers evaluated their cortisol levels before and after working with horses by sampling saliva. The other group did not work with horses and were not given a particular activity to relieve stress. In the group that did work with horses their cortisol levels were significantly lower.  Interactions with other humans and animals have been proven to increase compassion, understanding, social-esteem, and self confidence. I very strongly believe in this. How? I’ve seen it.

Kids and Horses
Kids and Horses

“If everybody was as happy with their job as I am with mine, it’d be a great world.”

I know I have said this before but it permeates my life and every step I take – every hardship I suffer and every amazement I enjoy pursuing art, writing, and horses: No one said it would be easy, we only said it would be worth it. Yes, we glare and curse at this, shake our fists at how easy it looks. Most people giving this advice have either made the climb or are still making the it. They know the world will knock you on your butt. In the end we have essentially two options: just lie there, or get back up.

“Chasing meaning is better for your life than trying to avoid discomfort… [so] go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.” — Kelly McGonigal

Other “Ratified Research” articles:

  1. Headless Horseman
  2. The Luckdragon
  3. A Tree Blushing Valentine’s
  4. Purple Heart