Examples of Genetic Memory or Something Else?
What is Genetic Memory?
Genetic Memory has a lot of definitions but today I'll be focusing on one view and definition of genetic memory, the one that states, "Genetic memory is a process in which a memory is passed down through the generations without the individual having to experience first-hand the topic of the memory." It is a psychological and sometimes spiritual theory that can be best illustrated through our primitive fears. Across the globe a good portion of people are afraid of snakes, even if a great many of them have never seen a snake. According to the Genetic Memory Theory this is because when our species was evolving our ancestors lived in tropical climates where snakes were often venomous and it proved to be wise to stay away from them. Apparently it was such a big part of our survival that it became hardwired into our genes, even long after people moved away from the danger. Genetic Memory is at best a controversial theory. There's really no hard proof of it, just a collection of social observations that could be attributed to it, but also may have other explanations. Most scientists believe fear of snakes is more inherited by watching the behavior of others around you in your formative years then in your genetic code. If a parent or authority figure reacts wildly whenever they see a snake then you're likely to grow up with the same fears, regardless of whether or not the snake poses any real threat anymore. None-the-less, to play Devil's advocate, I have written down many cultural observations that seem to span the globe and let the reader decide for themselves if there's anything to this theory.
All across the globe there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of old folktales and mythologies that describe a "man of the forest" or a hairy ape-like man. Logically speaking the only peoples who should have any stories relating to apes are those who live in close proximity to wild apes. No ape species live in Asia, Europe, or the Americas and yet many cultures on these four continents have stories that predate zoos and the like by thousands of years. In North America non-native peoples tell of Big Foot and the Skunk Ape, while Native American tribes speak of Sasquatch, Skookum, or a large variety of other words for the same animal. Their names for the beast range by the tribe but often are identical in description. In the Himalayan mountains there are stories of the Yeti, a large white ape who thrives in the harsh winters there. In Australia the Yowie is king and in Indonesia Orang Pendek or "little foot" is said to be a small upright walking ape in a part of the island where chimps are not known to reside. Germany also has it's own version of forest dwelling ape that has been long theorized to be a surviving pocket of Neanderthals. This brings us to our next question. It's known through fossil records that modern humans and Neanderthals (as well as several other apes and hominids) did once cohabit. Recently a five year old child's skeleton was found that seemed to signify that Neanderthals and man even interbred at various points in history. If this is the close relationship we shared with these now extinct creatures, could our modern folklore be a recollection of a Neanderthal? This is the speculation of Genetic Memory Theory.
Flood Myths are common throughout the world and turn up in most major religions along with a lot of minor ones and tribal fables. These stories of course have the flood in common but most also involve animals, either being rescued, or taking on the role of the rescuers. Most often these stories have moral undertones as well. In Western society we're most familiar with Noah's flood story but this story was not the first, nor the only flood myth. Flood myths can be seen on every continent with startling popularity. At least 500 separate flood myths have been recorded by anthropologists studying tribes across the world. It's seen in religion, folklore, and mythology all the same. For years people have speculated upon Noah's flood and Atlantis, wondering if they could have really happened. If such a flood did happen that wiped out a good portion of the human race, then are these stories based on our ancestors memories, passed on generation after generation through oral and written traditions? Scientists say there is currently no evidence that such a flood took place or such a people in the case of Atlantis. However there are speculations that a great culture could have existed at the end of the ice age and been swallowed up by the sea when the glaciers started to melt. If a civilization like this ever existed we probably wouldn't know about it, the ocean having long since taken it's toll on the ruins. Most historians believe flood myths are merely stories that were written down after a number of floods took place in different regions to different people, becoming a common experience. Who's to say where the stories end and the facts begin.
Incubi, Succubae, and other Demons
Most ancient traditions tell of demons, ghosts, vampires, zombies, or other spooks that are either a person coming back from the dead or something which has always lived in a paranormal state. What do these things have in common? Most of these 'monsters' are people who have died, but even if they're not, they do often share in their purpose. Most of these ghouls can be seen preying on, killing, or sucking the life out of people. Belief in these creatures was very strong until the modern age when science could explain why corpses sometimes appeared to grow longer fingernails and drink blood that dripped out of their deceased mouths (all signs of natural decay.) However many still persist, as real today as they ever were. Many of these tales have some sexual element in them whether they are a vampire feasting upon the living, or an incubus tormenting the night visions of women. Not all of these encounters are negative. Some cultures maintain they are visits from dead lovers. In any event these human-like creatures that prey on people are still evolving. The monster of choice today seems to be aliens, abducting humans and probing them with scientific instruments, a great insight on the fear many people have of technology and how it can be used for evil purposes. Are alien abductions a screaming genetic memory or something else? Indeed these ghosts and goblins have so many differences in temperament, description, and status that it's hard to say if they really correlate or if they're just the mad inspiration of centuries worth of horror writers. What can be known is that by studying these seemingly inhuman characters we can often garner great insight into what it is to be human. Genetic memory or not they make for fantastic story devices.
Lake and Sea Monsters
Lake and sea monsters can be seen in stories and religions dating back to the time when man first stepped foot in the water. Until very recently, only a little more then a hundred years, it was thought giant squid were a flight of fancy, a superstitious tale told by drunken sailors. When their enormous carcasses started washing up to shore the scientific community took immediate notice. There are still all sorts of stories that have never been substantiated, from the tale of a sea monster in Beowulf's epic to Leviathan in the Bible. Great sea serpents slither through time in our most precious of sea fairing stories and haunt the lakes of our world. The Loch Ness Monster is probably the most globally known but Canada has Ogopogo, America has Champ in Lake Champlain, South America harbors a suspected plesiosaur in Lake Najuel Huapi, Patagonia, Africa has Mokele Mbembe in the Congo, and Sweden has "Storsgie" who lives in lake Storsjon. Could all or some of these be real creatures? Could they all be a genetic memory of an animal we once actually encountered thousands of years ago? Indeed the oldest accounts of these monsters go back for thousands of years in the tribal traditions of South Americans and Africans. It's an interesting prospect.
Large Wild Cats
In Medieval Europe Christians routinely told tales of large, often black, wild cats that preyed upon them and stole away their children. These beasts were sometimes attributed to shape-shifting witches but were probably more commonly seen as demons in physical form. The strange part of this story is that large wild cats don't exist naturally in Europe and this was a time when zoos had not yet been invented and the only people likely to see such wild beasts were the rich elite who either traveled or received exotic beasts as gifts from foreign lands. Could some of these creatures escaped? Maybe. Could enough of them escape to cause such widespread stories? Probably not, especially considering the only large cat known to regularly be seen with a black coat is the black panther of South America, somewhere beyond the reach of even the royals of the time. Although the religious aspect of these stories lost favor the big black cats are still spoken of in the present. Farmers in Ireland, the Southern and Western United States, and other far away places blame a large black cat for killing their livestock. Biologists say that even if a large black cat, or several, got out at any point in history a location such as an island like the UK could not support a large predator without routinely losing massive lots of livestock. Even so it's not that far of a stretch to think these animals might be escaped "pets" if not for the fact the stories predate man's interest in keeping them as such. Could these stories be part of a genetic memory of something like a Saber Tooth Tiger who did once live alongside humans and who may have been black? No pelts survive of these beasts so there's no way to really tell.
In North America there is a tradition among many tribes that tells of an enormous bird with a 18-25 foot wingspan that travels the skies ahead of storms. At face value this might seem just a story but there may be some truth to it. Storms kick up winds, even before they reach an area, and these winds are what large known birds ride. The larger the bird the more strain flying becomes until the largest of the modern species are known more for riding these gusts then actually flapping their wings to fly. Sometimes these birds were said to steal children and other times it's seen a more positive animal. There is at least one eagle still in existence today that preys upon monkeys, and in studying the monkey bones from their nests we have come to realize these same eagles may have once preyed on our ancestors' children in Africa. To add to this story we know from the fossil record that Argentavis magnificens, a bird with a 21 foot wingspan (that's the same size as a small plane) did indeed inhabit South America and possibly North America, though they are thought to have gone extinct six million years ago. Could these creatures have once lived alongside man, and are these the stories that are told today, or is there something else going on here?
At first glance most people will see werewolves as little more then a monster used in kitschy pop-culture horror movies. However werewolves are not a modern phenomena by any means. In Medieval Europe werewolves were accused of all sorts of things and believed to genuinely exist. Not only did sane people think werewolves were real so did a handful of mental patients who thought they were becoming werewolves. This phenomenon was so popular it eventually ended up with a title: lycanthropy. What is our fascination with wolves (or dogs) and men? Some speculate werewolves were hairy feral people living in the woods after being thrown out by their prospective societies. In fact children or people with deformities, mental retardation, or various visual diseases were thrown away in this manner because they were thought to be cursed. Indeed mental illness can account for people believing they were becoming wolves, as well as some of the herbal medications of the day which could have hallucinogenic effects. Man-eaters, "werewolf" people, could have been suffering from starvation, anemia (which can result in a thirst for blood) or severe mental ailments. Still, why wolves? Why were these people crossed with wolf mythology? There were other predators at the time, and many other paranormal beasts, so why wolves? It wasn't just Europeans, in Egypt the ancient Egyptians worshipped Annubis the jackal headed God and in the modern United States the Dog Man of Michigan is still popular. It's interesting that people around the globe would pick cannids to mix mankind with, wild cannids in particular. I'm not sure how this could be blamed on genetic memory but it is a common global mythology and as such should be respected and studied for it's significance.
Wrapping it Up
So is there any legitimacy in the Genetic Memory Theory? Personally I think it's a really flimsy idea, somewhat logical when discussing global phobias but lacking in logic when it comes to modern day sightings of global phenomena. I have more faith in people then to think modern day sightings of various cryptids could be accounted for just by some random memory of an ancestor that just popped into their minds so visually as to cause some sort of mass hallucination. Do I think all these stories come from some grain of truth or that all cryptids are what they are said to be? No, I think alternative explanations can be given to many of them, but I never deny the experience of the person ever happened. Truth is merely how one decides to view the world and differs with the situation and the individual. Curiosity on the other hand should never be squelched. It is a seeking of answers that brings us the knowledge that enrich our lives and we should never forget this. If I could give advice to any young aspiring scientist or researcher it's never lose your curiosity or sense of awe, no matter what those around you are saying. Strive to explore all explinations and theories and choose which is best suited to your veiw of the world.
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