Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM103: Fate's Notebook

Somewhere in Maritza Gulin’s basement, there’s a typewritten notebook that belonged to her father, Reynaldo. The notebook contains essential advice and warnings to Reynaldo, his wife Flora, and their five children.

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Content Note:

- Suicide
- Mental Illness
- Animal Sacrifice
- Language

In his younger life, Reynaldo’s atheism was strong and biting. But chronic migraines would often flatten him for days at a time. A stranger approached Reynaldo one day on the subway to tell him that he’d always suffer until he got right with God.

Reynaldo subsequently became an adherent to two related Afro-Cuban* religions: Palo Mayombe and Santeria. Palo focusses on veneration of spirits of the dead and of the earth. Santeria focusses on a pantheon of demigods called “Orishas”, who are usually represented by equivalent Catholic saints.

The notebook in Maritza’s basement is notable for its specificity. When she recently rediscovered it, she found warnings for her father against eating beans, sleeping with all the lights off, a requirement for white pajamas, a prohibition on horseback riding. Reynaldo followed these rules. He believed in fate, and was pretty accurate at predicting the time of his ultimate death from old age.

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Michelle Santana is a childhood friend of Maritza’s. She’s a psychic medium who’s not been formally initiated into Santeria, but she often consults the Orishas and the dead while working with her clients.  She’s done a number of readings with Maritza. Michelle, too, believes in fate, saying that, cruel as it seems, some people are just destined live bad lives, die young, and nothing can be done to change that.

Maritza’s youngest sister, Vanessa, was born when Maritza was already an adult, so Maritza helped take care of her youngest sister. Vanessa experienced severe depression, especially after the birth of her first child. She committed suicide.

After her Vanessa’s death, Maritza and her mother Flora lost their faith. They asked: if the future’s written, why weren’t they warned? Why weren’t they told either in the notebook or during their regular psychic readings. Flora says she’s mad at God. Maritza says she no longer believes in destiny.

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Despite this, Maritza still treads lightly around some of her father’s belongings. Some of this is due to respect for her father’s desires, and some of it is based on an abundance of caution. She recently deconsecrated a black metal cauldron that her father used in ceremonies. Michelle told her to bury it in her backyard or throw it in a river. Marita did the former. Inside, she found a toy revolver, a pair of ram’s horns, railroad spikes, and other small items.

Santeria’s practice of live animal sacrifice wound up in the US Supreme Court in the early 90’s as Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, in which a city in Florida passed an ordinance banning the practice of killing animals “in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption”. The court ruled unanimously that this ordinance was unconstitutional, citing its attempt to restrict religious practice.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton.

Music: Circling Lights | | | The Black Spot | | | Serocell

*Today, Santeria and Palo are practiced across much of the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Other areas of Caribbean diaspora like Florida, New York and New Jersey also have significant populations of believers. However, solid numbers of followers are hard to estimate due to the religion’s decentralization, which also contributes to the varying beliefs across adherents of different origins. If you practice or used to practice Santeria/Palo/Ifa, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Tweet at us @HBMpodcast.

If you are feeling suicidal, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help in the USA (phone: 1-800-273-8255). Outside the USA, consult Suicide.org’s list of hotlines. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, Postpartum Support International has links to local organizations that can help you.

HBM093: The Brain Scoop

In school, Divya Anantharaman used to get teased for having long skinny fingers like ET.  But now she sees them as valuable asset for the intricate work she does.  Divya runs Friends Forever Taxidermy in Brooklyn, New York.  

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Content Note: 

Fleshy Sounds

In this episode Divya carries a recorder with her while as she slowly disassembles a deceased pet parrot: snipping joints, scooping brains, removing eyes, separating the skin from the body. Birds’ skin is very thin—Divya likens the peeling to removing a delicate silk stocking.

Jeff Emtman edited this episode with help from Bethany Denton.  We found out about Divya through Erika Harada, another skilled artist in the Brooklyn taxidermy scene.  

Divya Anantharaman with a deceased Himalayan pheasant.

If you have an episode idea for us, please reach out via email, twitter, facebook, or instagram.

Music: Serocell (new album out!) and Phantom Fauna

HBM090: Two Small Creatures with Human Eyes

Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus of Human Origins, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus of Human Origins, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

Natural history museums are art galleries.  Scientifically focussed art galleries, but art galleries nonetheless.  

Ian Tattersall, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is a paleontologist who sometimes oversees the construction of models for the museum.  Of personal interest to Here Be Monsters producer Jeff Emtman are reconstructions of very lifelike early humans, one with an arm draped over the other.  Ian calls these the “Laetoli Figures”—named for the place in modern-day Tanzania where some remarkable footprints of two hominids were found preserved in volcanic ash.  

As far as early humans go, Australopithecus Afarensis are well understood.  There are 300+ individuals in the fossil record, including the famous ~40% complete fossil of “Lucy”.

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Given the evidence, there’s a lot scientists can be pretty certain in declaring: they lived in the trees, but they could walk upright.  They had small brains and big jaws, but their canine teeth looked a lot like a modern human’s.  

There are other questions that are answerable through inference, through studies of modern animals and other fossils.  These techniques can yield a strong degree of certainty.

But if the artist were to stop constructing at the edge of certainty, the models would never be completed. There are certain things that are essentially unknowable about these early hominids, like: “What did their skin look like?” “What color was their hair?” “Did they have the dark sclera of an ape, or the whites-of-the-eye of a modern human?”

These uncertainties are ultimately up to the artist to answer.  “When you’re making a museum exhibit,” Ian (not an artist) points out, “you’re trying to create an illusion.  And to work at all, the illusion has to be complete.  And so you have to have all the details in there.”

But these details are a form of artistry used as evidence by biblical creationists to lambast hominid reconstructions.  They see it as part of an effort to deceive the public, to lead them to believe that these ancient hominids were more human-like than they actually were.  Of particular interest to them is that question of the light sclera vs. dark sclera.  One author writes:

Notice that a fossilized eyeball was not found.  So how would anyone know that the sclera was white, which would cause it to look more human. [sic] The reconstruction is pure speculation about how Lucy’s eye looked.

A replica of the specimen of Australopithecus Afarensis colloquially named “Lucy”.

A replica of the specimen of Australopithecus Afarensis colloquially named “Lucy”.

Natural history museums are faced with a decision: create full-flesh reconstructions that by necessity contain elements of artistic license, or, present the public with mere bones.  Most seem to opt for the former, and understandably so.  The museum serves the public, and, like HBM producer Jeff Emtman, they want to see something relatable and remarkable, a piece of scientifically-oriented art.  

And this question the artist must face, the question of the dark sclera (more ape-like eyes) and the light sclera (more human-like eyes) reveals something interesting about the artist and the process used to create the art.  The choices an artist makes can speak to their worldview, their biases, and their knowledge per their location in the world and the current moment in time.  

Ian recognizes this, saying,

You could not do a reliable reconstruction of an ancient human being or a dinosaur, or an extinct mammal without the science; and you certainly couldn’t do it without the art.  And this is where the two really intersect in a meaningful way.

And the AMNH itself houses exhibits related to the ways in which modern assumptions about the past have affected the way the past is present, such as:  Griffins in the Gobi Desert (protoceratops), Cyclops of the Mediterranean (dwarf elephants), and the infamous unicorn horns of Western Europe (narwhal).

Ian says that, in the quarter century since the construction of the Laetoli Figures, dominant scientific perception has changed to suggest that Australopithecus afarensis might have actually had dark sclera. As he puts it, “science is a work in progress.”

Jeff Emtman produced this episode.  
Voicemails from HBM listeners including Daniel Greene, Rachel Schapiro and Tony Baker.   

Music: The Black Spot | | | The Other Stars


We want your questions for an upcoming mailbag episode. Maybe you’ve got a question about how we make the show.  Maybe you have a question for someone we’ve talked to on an episode.  Maybe you want some relationship advice.  Maybe you can’t fix your damn microwave and you just need someone to tell you what to do.  

Give us a call: (765) 374 - 5263 or send us a voice memo: HBMpodcast@gmail.com.

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HBM078: Sagittarius Has $45 [EXPLICIT]

Sagittarius has been good for the last year.  That’s what he told us.  He told us that the cage that Luna designed for him is working.  She controls his money, his businesses, can read his email, can see his bank accounts, and can track the location of his phone.

He says that the next time he messes up, Luna will leave him, and take the kids with her. Avoiding this scenario makes the cage worth it.  

Please Note: This episode contains frank discussions of sexual addiction and desire.  All names in this episode are pseudonyms.

Sagittarius is a sex addict.  His therapist told him that naming his addiction would be a good way to compartmentalize it. So he chose “Sagittarius”, a name he stole from the bow-wielding centaur of astrology known (in part) for emotional recklessness and who is represented by the planet Jupiter.

Sagittarius first emailed us back in 2016, after we published an episode called HBM060: The Predators of McNeil Island.  In that episode, we talked to Chris, a man once deemed by the state of Washington to be a Sexually Violent Predator. Chris told the courts that he’d changed, no longer felt desire to be devious. Sagittarius identified with Chris, saw himself as a version of Chris that had never been committed or sent to court.  But Sagittarius wrote to say that, personally, he’d never say “never” again.   He’d been wrong too many times.  

Despite receiving some treatment, and despite the cage, Sagittarius does not feel cured of his addiction. He is actively hoarding cash, $45 of bills he keeps in his backpack.  A secret kept from Luna. Another $100 and Sagittarius could break free from his cage, and pay someone to have sex with him.

In this episode, Sagittarius takes Bethany and Jeff on a walking tour of his New York City “hotspots” he used to frequent, and then takes Jeff on a late night bike ride to Battery Park, where his father once took him to see the Statue of Liberty.

Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman produced this episode.

Become a member of KCRW.  Tell them we sent you.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Phantom Fauna.

After releasing this episode, we got a number of requests from folk who wanted the music we made.   Here it is: 

HBM059: When Cthulhu Calls

HP Lovecraft.  1934

HP Lovecraft's drawing of his own monster, Cthulhu.  1934

...Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young...He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise...

 

The most notable monster created by Howard Phillips Lovecraft was completely omnipotent, yet completely uncaring.  A massive, tentacled being that sleeps in the depths of the ocean--Cthulhu.  A creature that will one day rise again from its watery home to reclaim the Earth for itself.

In this episode of Here Be Monsters, we team up with Eric Molinsky of the Imaginary Worlds Podcast from Panoply Studios. 

Eric speaks with Sheldon Solomon, a psychologist who co-founded the study of Terror Management Theory.  Solomon explains the absurd lengths that humans go to avoid realizing their own mortality.  And thus, Eric embarks on a fictional journey to find out why a creature so loathsome is constantly being turned into Cthulhu plushy toys and Cthulhu onesies for babies

Eric visits a store call Love Craft in Redhook, New York, where he meets Roberta Suydam (played by Ann Scobie). Roberta tells him to look in the water off Rockaway point, Cthulhu is real.  Seeking confirmation, he visits the Lovecraft Archives, deep in a basement lab in Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island.  There, professor George Angell (played by Dan Truman) introduces him to the re-animated brain of "Howard" (played by Bill Lobely).  Howard Lovecraft turns out to be just as racist in death as he was in life.  Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Eric rents a boat to see what's out there in the waters off Rockaway Point, but as he draws closer to the dome rising from the water, he finds himself at wits' end.

Balancing the literary genius of Lovecraft's dark mythos with his unabashed xenophobia is no easy task.  Readers must either choose to ignore the troubling aspects of his personal character, or disgrace him for his beliefs.  Or possibly, they may superposition themselves in both camps at once, trying understand Lovecraft as if he's a just another creature in a universe of his own making.

Music: Serocell

Hey, by the way, we're having a Season 4 wrap party in Seattle in May.  Let us know if you can make it.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point.  Click through for map.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point.  Click through for map.

We produced this episode in collaboration with Imaginary Worlds from Panoply Studios. 

We produced this episode in collaboration with Imaginary Worlds from Panoply Studios. 

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point.  Click through for map.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point.  Click through for map.