Praying Mantis

 

..the stuff of science fiction

Help! A giant egg laying creepy crawly with a swivelling alien head and human-like upper body that cannibalises its mate. This is the stuff of science fiction. Maybe it’s the inspiration for horror movies (think Alien for example). Perhaps this earthling really is the the source of our greatest fears and nightmares having been around for at least 135 million years.

Two enormous eyes atop a triangular swivelling head enable the Praying Mantis to see stereoscopically and detect movement as far as 60 feet away.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis#/media/File:Large_brown_mantid_close_up_nohair.jpg

It catches its prey with two oversized raptorial front legs. The name ‘praying’ refers to the folded forelimbs as it waits motionless, ready to snatch insects and even small vertebrates such as lizards and frogs. Death occurs with a paralysing neck bite while the female Mantis decapitates the male and cannibalises it during mating so as to provide nutrients for the eggs. Some Mantis species do not ambush their prey when stationary but instead scamper along the ground to hunt.

 

in the grass

 

Camouflage gives it ultimate advantage. Perched on a branch it merges undetected with its twig like anatomy and vegetative colouring. What’s ‘preying’ in the grass you ask? (see pic). The Mantis gently sways from side to side as it propels itself forward mimicking twigs and branches as they sway in the breeze. Males are capable of flying (see wing anatomy, main pic) and have developed aerobatic manoeuvres avoiding predators such as bats and have auditory senses to hear echo-locating calls.

So remember, if you have sleepless nights and are spooked by alien looking creatures that creep around and fly in the dark, be reassured they couldn’t possibly be the Praying Mantis..

 

scale

Egyptian Book of the Dead

You have awaken me

Whispers by the sycamore tree

Transparent veil, remotest beckoning

You have spoken

From the path beyond

Reaching out toward infinite stars

 

Flung from eternity

Of the departed

You have awaken me

Whispers by the sycamore tree

The path is clearer now

You have awaken me..

What a journey I have made, the things I have seen. I am but one of you. In my hand I grasp the sailing mast, while my left hand trails in the water. The trees are heavy with figs and olives. A coconut drops to the ground. I have separated myself from myself to sail again on the green Nile waters. I sail to the temple where the gods have gathered to gaze at their faces in deep pools. In my boat the souls of the years sail with me. The hair stands on my head in the wind. I hear the splashing of oars like the cracking of a thin blue shell. Horus keeps one hand on the rudder. What a journey I have made, the things I have seen. We glide to the middle of the lake. Give me a cup of milk and cake or bread. Give me a jug of water and human flesh. Give me air to breathe and a strong sailing wind when I rise from the underworld. A sycamore rises white from the river, filling itself with water and air. Fill me with water and air. I am the blue egg of the Great Cackler and I sniff the air. I grow and live. I breathe and live. On the banks of the Nile, the sky fills with birds and the sails of boats swell like lungs.

While the above extracts differ in their expression they perhaps share similar inspiration. The first is an anonymous Western poem inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead while the other is an actual translation from Normandi Ellis’ translation, Giving Breath to Osiris, Phanes Press, 1991.

Egyptian civilisation had an extremely complex set of beliefs and rituals relating to the afterlife but it was the social elite that could afford the scribes to write the elaborate texts, spells & instructions to prepare their deceased. These were written on papyrus scrolls and placed in the burial chamber of the tomb.

The first modern edition (facsimile) of Egyptian funerary text was published in 1805 in Europe after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt but it wasn’t until 1842 that Karl Richard Lepsius published a translation of a series of funerary texts of the Ptolemaic era that they were formally deciphered. The German anthropologist called them The Book of the Dead and identified a spell numbering system to decipher at least 165 different spells. The number has since increased to 192 spells relating to mystical knowledge and the protection of the deceased from unforeseen and hostile forces. They include elaborate illustrations and instructions.

 

judging the dead

 

The illustration taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead shows the weighing of the heart of the deceased in the underworld so as to judge their worth. The heart was seen as the most important organ. (C. 1550 – 50 BC).

Frida Kahlo

 

The Two Fridas (1939)
The Two Fridas (1939)

Two identical women are seated in ritual costume against a stormy sky with superimposed, interconnected hearts while holding hands. Their faces impassive serene and yet resigned.

Painted when Frida Kahlo was divorced from Diego Rivera she is depicted as two conflicting yet connected portraits of her persona. She grasps her hands and where, on the right she clasps a locket of Rivera and shows her exposed heart intact, on the left her heart is dissected and she holds macabre surgical scissors. The left image is the Kahlo that is rejected.

Diego on my Mind (1940)
Diego on my Mind (1940)

A looming portrait with a tattooed face seems to push beyond its  frame with tendril like petals in a halo. A delicate vale flows downward in a sweep of satin upon an organic background suggesting eternal nature.

Kahlo is painted in traditional Mexican Tehuana costume and she has just married Rivera. Streaming, living tendrils branch outward in all directions representing sprouting organic life and renewed love. An indelible tattoo of Rivera on her forehead symbolises his permanency.

The Little Deer (1946)
The Little Deer (1946)

A bounding deer in a woodland clearing seems strangely foreboding and ever so vulnerable. It has a human head and the pierced abdomen with bloodied arrows makes reference to Saint Sebastian. The soft earth green of the wooded Eden and distant sky are abruptly truncated with nightmarish trees. 

The Aztec symbol for the human right foot is the deer and Kahlo’s has been injured by a terrible bus accident and also polio. During the period of this painting she became interested in mysticism and Eastern religion. The arrows represent her ongoing suffering from her problematic relationship and physical injuries.

So which interpretations is correct – the dark text or the light text? Kahlo’s unique symbolism and personal life story reveal the light text interpretation to be closest to the truth.

In 1925, Frida Kahlo had a near fatal traffic accident when her school bus collided with a street car. An iron hand rail impaled her through the pelvis fracturing ribs, collarbone and displacing three vertebrae. She was to sustain illness and pain related to this accident for the rest of her life. Months in hospital and recuperation led to her taking up painting while bedridden.

She quickly developed artistically and realised her aptitude for art enabled her to directly explore and express her life experiences. Much of the symbology in her paintings reference her physical and emotional pain brought on by the traffic accident.

She joined the Mexican Communist Party in the late 1920’s in her slow recovery ending her confinement and she began to mingle with political activists and artists.

The next critical phase in her life occurred on meeting Diego Rivera when she approached him to assess her work. This fateful meeting would lead to their marriage and life-long artistic bond. But he was a womaniser and the pain and anguish is again evident in the paintings.

In the late 1920’s a fascination in Mexican folk art including pre columbian art with its flattened perspective and unique colouring began to influence her art and she was to adopt the wearing of traditional costume and jewellery.

Like other historically famous figures in art she was to be posthumously recognised decades later & not in her lifetime. She is now firmly established in the pantheon of international art.