Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Relics 'n' Cultures : The Claddagh Ring

Hi Snoopers! This new article is the first of a brand new section of the blog called Relics 'n' Cultures. As you can imagine, it will talk about particular objects and symbols from all over the world, with particular meanings and interpretations. Today I'm gonna start with an object very well known in the Irish country, in fact I'm talking about the Claddagh Ring.

The hands are there for friendship,
the heart is there for love.
For loyalty throughout the year,
the crown is raised above.

The Claddagh ring (Irish pronunciation : fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring which represents love, loyalty, and friendship. The design and customs associated with it originated in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh (Gaelic word meaning the rocky sand typical of that area), located just outside the old city walls of Galway, now part of Galway City.The ring, as currently known, was first produced in the 17th century.
The first examples of this ring (gold, silver and bronze) are real masterpieces, some of them are now at the "National Museum of Ireland" in Dublin, and the "Victoria and Albert Museum" in London.

According to the tradition, The Claddagh's distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown). A "Fenian" Claddagh ring, without a crown, is a slightly different take on the design. Claddagh rings, with (more commonly than not) or without the crown, are relatively popular among the Irish and those of Irish heritage, such as Irish Americans, as culture symbols and/or as symbols of engagement, marriage, or love.

Claddagh rings are often used as friendship rings but are most commonly used as engagement/wedding rings. Mothers also give these rings to daughters when they come of age. When the hands that hold the heart are angled towards the girl, that means she is taken, when the heart faces out, the girl is single. This has become common largely due to the sentimental motto: "This is my heart which I give to you crowned with my love." Also associated with the ring is this wish: "Let love and friendship reign." In Ireland, the United States, and other places, the Claddagh is handed down mother-to-eldest daughter or grandmother-to-granddaughter. According to Irish author Colin Murphy, the way in which a Claddagh ring was worn with the intention of conveying the wearer's relationship status:

  • On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is single and may be looking for love.
  • On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is in a relationship.
  • On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is engaged.
  • On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is married.

There are other localised variations in the traditions involving the hand and the finger upon which the Claddagh is worn. Folklore about the ring is relatively recent, not ancient, with "very little native Irish writing about the ring". Hence, the difficulty today in finding any source that describes or explains the traditional ways of wearing the ring.

And where does each symbol that forms the Claddagh Ring come from? To find it out, we must go far back in time, at the time of the Celtic gods: Dagda, the father of the gods (photo), was a powerful being with the ability to make the sun shine; According to legend the right hand ring belongs to him. Anu (then known as the goddess Danu), was the ancestor and universal mother of the Celts, and it is her who seems to be the left hand of the Claddagh Ring. The crown is Beathauile (the name means "whole life"), which does not seem to be a person or a god, but it appears to be the principle of life and life itself. Finally, the heart represents the hearts of every member of humanity.
Another interpretation of the meaning of the ring is closely related to clover, one of the oldest symbols of Ireland. This interpretation has it that the crown is the Father, the Son, the left hand and the right hand the Holy Spirit, all focused on the heart in the center, symbolizing humanity.
Through all symbolism, however, the most used interpretation of the ring is connected with love, loyalty and friendship (or, in Gaelic, "Gra, Dilseacht agus Cairdeas" - pronounced "graw, dealshocked Ogis cordiss").

There are many legends surrounding this ring. One of these, not very reliable but still popular and known, speaks of a king in love with a peasant girl, but the feeling was unrequited. The poor king could not handle the pain and killed himself, asking that on his grave were represented both hands around a heart crowned as a symbol of his undying love for the woman.

Two of the most popular explanations have to do both, even if a century separates these, with members of the Joyce family (or Ioyce), native of Galway. Some models of Claddagh rings still exist with the initials "R. I. "or" R. J. ", attributed to Richard Joyce / Ioyce. The oldest legend dates back to the sixteenth century, saying that the first Claddagh Ring was a wonderful and well-deserved gift for Margaret Joyce. Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant whose business often took him to Galway, met Margaret in one of his visits to the Irish and fell in love. The two got married shortly but, unfortunately, their happiness was short-lived. Immediately after the wedding, Domingo died and Margaret inherited his enormous wealth. In 1596, she married Oliver Og French, Governor of Galway. The man didn't marry her for her great wealth, and this is demonstrated by the fact that he left the use and administration of its assets totally in her hands. But she didn't squandered  money, donating much of it to the city to build many bridges. One day an eagle dropped a gold ring on Margaret's womb , the first Claddagh Ring. This event was considered a true gift from God, to reward his generosity. Well, the ring would fell from Heaven, in the true sense of the word. 

The second legend is much more realistic.  This tells us how, during the second half of the seventeenth century, a native of Galway, Richard Joyce, was captured by pirates while he was travelling to the West Indies. They sold him as a slave to a wealthy goldsmith Arab, who taught him the craft and made ​​him an excellent engraver. In 1689, King William III of England obtained the release of the British captured, including Joyce. In all the years spent together, the goldsmith was fond of Joyce and begged him to stay with him, promising him his daughter's hand and half of his estate. Richard, however, was eager to return to his native country. So he brought with him the  knowledge acquired in jewellery. A very important thing, an idea that came to mind during those years: the creation of the Claddagh Ring. According to some, he created the first of these rings as a symbol of gratitude for the king. For others, however, it forged it for a Galway girl who, waiting for the return of his one true love, had never ceased to love him and be faithful to him: using the ring, Joyce conquered her heart, succeeding in marrying her.

Ireland is personally one of my most favorite countries, with magical atmosphere, fantastic legends and incomparable classic music. And even this small object has very interesting back stories. Maybe some of you now want this ring, unless you already have it. And believe me... this can be a very romantic present ;)  

Did you know that... Humans Have a Lot More than 5 Senses? + Some Random Facts

 The main definition of a sense is any system that consists of a group of sensory cell types that respond to a specific physical phenomenon and that corresponds to a particular group of areas within the brain, where the signals are received and interpreted. Most of us think we only have five senses, and actually that’s what people told us. But, believe it or not, it turns out  there are at least nine senses and most researchers think there are more like twenty-one or so. Here below a list of the most common senses, according to scientific researches:

·         Sight:  This technically is two senses,  given the two distinct types of receptors, one for color (cones) and one for brightness (rods), as you can see in the picture.
·         Taste:  This is sometimes argued to be five senses by itself due to the differing types of taste receptors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami), but generally is just referred to as one sense.  For those who don’t know, umami receptors detect an amino acid called glutamate, which is a taste generally found in meat and some artificial flavoring.  The taste sense, unlike sight, is a sense based off of a chemical reaction
·         Touch:  This has been found to be distinct from pressure, temperature and even itch sensors. Among these, the most complex is thermoception.
·         Thermoception:  Ability to sense heat and cold.  This also is thought of as more than one sense.  This is not just because of the two hot/cold receptors, but also because there is a completely different type of thermoceptor, in terms of the mechanism for detection, in the brain.  These thermoceptors in the brain are used for monitoring internal body temperature.
·         Sound:  Detecting vibrations along some medium, such as air or water that is in contact with your ear drums.
·         Smell:  Yet another of the sensors that work off of a chemical reaction.  This sense combines with taste to produce flavors.
·         Tension Sensors:  These are found in such places as your muscles and allow the brain the ability to monitor muscle tension.
·         Proprioception:  This sense gives you the ability to tell where your body parts are, relative to other body parts.  This sense is one of the things police officers test when they pull over someone who they think is driving drunk.  The “close your eyes and touch your nose” test is testing this sense.  This sense is used all the time in little ways, such as when you scratch an itch on your foot.
·         Nociception:  simply known as pain.  This was once thought to simply be the result of overloading other senses, such as “touch”, but this has been found not to be the case and instead, it is its own unique sensory system.  There are three distinct types of pain receptors: cutaneous (skin), somatic (bones and joints), and visceral (body organs).
·         Stretch Receptors:  These are found in such places as the lungs, bladder, stomach, and the gastrointestinal tract.  A type of stretch receptor, that senses dilation of blood vessels, is also often involved in headaches.
·         Chemoreceptors:  These trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood born hormones and drugs.  It also is involved in the vomiting reflex.
·         Thirst:  This system more or less allows your body to monitor its hydration level and so your body knows when it should tell you to drink.
·         Hunger:  This system allows your body to detect when you need to eat something.
·         Equilibrioception:  The sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes.  This sense also allows for perceiving gravity.  The sensory system for this is found in your inner ears and is called the vestibular labyrinthine system.  Anyone who’s ever had this sense go out on them on occasion knows how important this is.  When it’s not working or malfunctioning, you literally can’t tell up from down and moving from one location to another without aid is nearly impossible.
·         Magnetoception:  This is the ability to detect magnetic fields, which is principally useful in providing a sense of direction when detecting the Earth’s magnetic field.  Unlike most birds, humans do not have a strong magnetoception, however, experiments have demonstrated that we do tend to have some sense of magnetic fields.  The mechanism for this is not completely understood; it is theorized that this has something to do with deposits of ferric iron in our noses.  This would make sense if that is correct as humans who are given magnetic implants have been shown to have a much stronger magnetoception than humans without.
·      Time:  This one is debated as no singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time.  However, experimental data has conclusively shown humans have a startling accurate sense of time, particularly when younger. The mechanism we use for this seems to be a distributed system involving the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia.  Long term time keeping seems to be monitored by the suprachiasmatic nuclei (responsible for the circadian rhythm).  Short term time keeping is handled by other cell systems.

These are only few of the senses we probably have, but now you know we haven’t got five as you thought , but many more. And now, in order to be more than simple snoopers, I give to you a bonus list of other curious facts, just to make it more interesting:

1.     One such method for testing whether humans have magnetoception is by placing a strong magnetic field near a person and then disorienting them.  Results have shown that people in this scenario perform significantly worse at being able to re-orient themselves in terms of the cardinal points than people who are not near a strong magnetic field.  More conclusive evidence has been demonstrated by examining subject’s brains when magnetic fields are produced near a person.  It has been shown that these magnetic fields will evoke a response in the brain’s activity.
2.    The traditional “five senses” model (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) is credited to Aristotle.
3.     There exists a type of bacteria, called magnetotactic bacteria (in the photo), that build magnets inside themselves in order to orient themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field.  They also migrate and form chains of themselves along magnetic field lines.
4.     Cattle tend to align themselves north-south, which leads some researchers to believe they have a strong magnetoception sense.
5.       Some people experience something called synesthesia where they may perceive some sound and think of it as a color.  So a dog barking may be “red” to them or the like.  This condition does not generally occur naturally, though it can; it usually manifests itself when people are under the influence of hallucinogens.  
6.    Sharks, stingrays , and chimaera all possess an electroreceptive organ called an ampullae of Lorenzini.  This organ gives them the ability to detect even small variations in electric potential.  They can use this to detect magnetic fields, among other things.

7.      Numerous experiments have demonstrated that people do have the ability to detect accurately the passage of time.  One experiment showed that, without consciously counting or anything of the like, a group of 19 to 24 year olds were able, on average, to tell when 3 minutes was up within a 3 second margin of error.  Interestingly, the age group of 60-80 tended to average perceiving 3 minutes pass at around 3 minutes and 40 seconds consistently within the test group.  This would seem to indicate whatever mechanism we use to sense time slows as we age and thus as we get older time seems to pass faster to us.
8.      Many avian life forms have got a region of their bodies that contain a biological magnetite, generally in their beaks.  It is believed this gives them a strong magnetoception and thus allows them to sense direction accurately.  More recently, it has been shown that certain birds have the ability to see magnetic fields.  How this works is the Earth’s magnetic field effects how long a certain molecule, cryptochrome, in their photoreceptor cells stays in the active state.  This then affects the light sensitivity of the bird’s retinal neurons.  The net effect is the birds can perceive magnetic fields with their eyes. The biological skill to perceive magnetic fields combines with their eyes to form a very accurate mapping and directional system in the birds.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Random Facts About.... Sugar

Here we are again, talking about curious things about stuff we all use every day. We've discussed about Coffee, Chocolate and Fruits (click on links if you've missed these articles)… but now let’s find out some new facts about the compound in common with these three delicious products. I’m surely talking about Sugar… in case you haven’t noticed the title yet J

1. Sugar is the only taste humans are born craving. In fact it is strongly addictive, releasing an opiate-like substance that activates the brain’s reward system.
2. Sugar was one of the first pharmaceutical ingredients used, as still is today, to mask the bitter taste of medicines.
3. Sugar hides in many everyday "non-sugar" foods.  While many people strive to avoid the "normal" sugary culprits (candy, cookies, cake, etc.), they often are duped when they discover some of their favorite foods also contain lots of sugar. Examples include tomato sauce, French fries, hot-dogs, hamburgers, peanut butter, salad dressings, tonic water, marinates, crackers and even bread.
4. Fruits are high in sugar. However, the best way to consume fruits without affecting your insulin level is to drop the peeler. consuming them in whole form, with skin on. According to this researches, this way of eating fruits can be quite good also against cancer.
5. Sugar has many other uses outside of the kitchen: it's used to harden cement, slowing the setting of ready-mixed concrete and plays also a role in leather tanning, paper dying and printers’ ink production. And, last but not least, it prolongs the life of fresh cut flowers.

6. Some of you may not know, but the trick to curing hiccups is to get the nerves that regulate breathing synchronized by taking a teaspoon of granulated sugar. This is a well-known and useful method all around the world. Using lemon to create a mixture with sugar can multiply the chances for hiccup to go away. This because lemons contains a huge amount of sugar, more than strawberries.
7. Can you imagine eating 16 sugar cubes at one sitting? You probably have even if you don’t remember that. That’s a little less than what is contained in a 20-ounce bottle of cola.

8. Sugars are molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The simplest include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Table sugar is crystallized sucrose, a fusion of one fructose and one glucose molecule.
9. The artificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame were found accidentally when lab workers doing research that had nothing to do with sweetening put a bit of the test compounds in their mouths and liked what they tasted.
10. Sugar can be used to explore skies. Burn sucrose with a dose of corn syrup and saltpeter and you get “sugar propellant”, a popular amateur rocket fuel.
11. More than half the 8.4 million metric tons of sugar produced annually in the United States comes from beets.
12. Glycolaldehyde, an eight-atom sugar, has even been found in an interstellar gas cloud near the center of the Milky Way. Glycolaldehyde can react with a three-carbon sugar to form ribose, the basis for both RNA and DNA, so the glycol­aldehyde found in deep space may be a chemical precursor to life on Earth. That cloud also contains ethylene glycol, a sweet relative of glycol­aldehyde and the main ingredient in antifreeze. So complex sugars can be synthesized between the stars.

13. Honey can be used as a sugar substitute. Another one is derived from a plant called Stevia, known by many people in South America for the sweetness of its leaves, even for medicinal properties. It is still used today for centuries by the indigenous peoples of South America for its healing powers. It's used as a sweetener, as it is much sweeter than  common sucrose. The active ingredients are stevioside and rebaudioside A, which are found in all parts of the plant but are mostly found  in the leaves, which when dehydrated have a sweetening power from 150 to 250 times the common sugar. Unlike sugar, the active ingredients do not have any nutritional value (zero calories), and are relatively stable over time and at high temperatures, so perfectly preserve their characteristics in baked goods or hot drinks, unlike other synthetic sweeteners such as aspartame, which undergoes degradation. The use of Stevia was banned in Europe and US because it was believed that some of the sweeteners components (stevioside and steviol) of the plants were considered genotoxic. Nowadays the maximum daily dose of steviol is 2 mg/Kg. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Good Luck Files - Ladybugs

A ladybug landing on us brings always a magical moment. And when leaves us we feel a little bit luckier inside. This little insect is known pretty much all over the world for its luck-bringers skill. Many societies link the sight of a Ladybug with future luck in love (because were often associated with Love Goddesses , good weather, a financial windfall, or the granting of wishes. So, having a Ladybug land on you is supposed to be particularly lucky, and some people believe that when a Ladybug lands on an object, that object will be replaced by a new and improved version. But have you ever asked yourselves how this common belief begins? Let’s find out together…

Legends vary about how the Ladybug came to be named, but the most enduring is this: in Europe, during the Middle Ages, swarms of insects were destroying the crops.  The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help.  Soon thereafter the Ladybugs came, devouring the plant-destroying pests and saving the crops!  The farmers called these beautiful insects "The Beetles of Our Lady", and - over time - they eventually became popularly known as "Lady Beetles".  The red wings were said to represent the Virgin's cloak and the black spots were symbolic of both her joys and her sorrows. This connection with the divine is one of the huge amount of reasons why are considered good luck. And also nature has made this little bugs to be very luck species. 

Their scientific names (Coleoptera, meaning "sheath-winged", and Coccinellidae, meaning "little red sphere") can be quite a mouthful. But by whatever name you call them, Ladybugs are well-loved all over the globe.  Nearly 400 species of Ladybug live in North America, and there are nearly 5,000 species worldwide. None are much larger than a pencil-eraser and they come in a wide variety of colors, including red, orange, pink, yellow and black.  They can have as many as 20 spots.....or no spots at all.  They're also one of the few insects who hibernate during the winter months (called "over-wintering"), emerging in the spring to lay their eggs. Ladybugs are a bit clumsy, though efficient enough, fliers. Their transparent sheath-wings (hidden from view under the outer wing cases, until they take to the air) flutter at a rate of 85 beats per second.  Their bright colors serve as a warning sign to birds and other potential predators that they don't taste good.  If attacked by a predator, Ladybugs ooze a yellow, foul-smelling liquid (actually their blood) from their leg joints, which is usually all it takes to convince their attacker not to continue snacking on them! 

One of the most common reasons why ladybug is equal to luck had to deal with a poem, first sung back in the Medieval times in England:

"Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home
Your house is on fire, and your children will burn
Except little Nan, who sits in a pan,
weaving gold laces as fast as she can"

Despite me, maybe you're familiar with this children's rhyme! This song was made because the farmers used to set torches to the old Hop vines after the harvest, to clear the fields for the next planting. The poem was a warning to the aphid-eating Ladybugs, still crawling on the vines in search of aphids, to let them fly away. Also the Ladybugs' children (larvae) could get away from the flames, but unfortunately the immobile pupae (Nan) remained fastened to the plants (laces) and couldn't escape.  Kinda creepy song to be sung by children, don't you think?

But not only in Europe the Ladybug has divine connotations: in Asia, in fact, is believed that understands human language, and has been blessed by God Himself.

According to the Indian symbology, the Ladybug  is synonymous with security, especially if you are facing changes. Usually, meeting one of those when we are about to take important decisions, it's a good omen, especially when this happens out of their growing season. In addition, this small insect would have the strong power to eliminate negative thoughts, replacing into positive ones. This belief is also common in France, where it is said that ladybugs upon us are able to take away any kind of illness or inner discomfort you have.
The Ladybug who brings the most amount of luck is red with seven dots drawn on the back, and the more luck if will be laid on us the time needed to count up to 22. Regardless of color, according to the rural Italian translation, if the dots are from 7 up, the harvest season will be fruitful and successful. otherwise, you should expect a  year of famine.  And I'm terribly sorry if you have ever squished one of these little girls, because killing one, even accidentally, is said to bring a lot of sadness and misfortune.

Here below I decided to write down some other legends surrounding Ladybugs, some more known than others...

  •  If a Ladybug is held in the hand while making a wish, the direction that it flies away to shows where your luck will come from
  • In Belgium, people believed that if a Ladybug crawled across a young girl's hand, she would be married within a year. 
  • People in Switzerland told their young children that they were brought to them, as babies, by Ladybugs.
  • In Brussels, the black spots on the back of a Ladybug indicate to the person holding it how many children he/she will have.
  •  According to a Norse legend, the Ladybug came to earth riding on a bolt of lightning. 
  • The Victorians in Britain believed that if a Ladybug alighted on your hand, you would be receiving new gloves.....if it landed on your head a new hat would be in your future, and so on.
  •  Folklore suggests if you catch a Ladybug in your home, count the number of spots and that's how many dollars you'll soon find.
  • In Norway, if a man and a woman spot a Ladybug at the same time, there will be a romance between them.
  • In the 1800's, some doctors used Ladybugs to treat measles!  They also believed that if you mashed ladybugs and put them into a cavity, the insects would stop a toothache!
  • During the Pioneer days, if a family found a Ladybug in their log cabin during the winter, it was considered a "Good Omen",

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