15 Kraken Facts and Myths to Unleash In Conversation

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istock

There once was a time when uttering the name Kraken sent chills down a mariner’s spine. The legendary beast was known for dragging whole ships down into the watery depths of Davy Jones’s Locker. Today we see the monster largely as fiction, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have ties to reality. 

1. It comes from Norwegian folklore. 

According to 13th century Norse legend, hero Örvar-Oddr and his son came into contact with two threatening creatures from the deep. One of these encounters is later described in detail by Konungs skuggsjá, a Norwegian educational text written in the same century. Kraken comes from the Norwegian word krake, which is probably related to the German krake, which means octopus. 

2. The Kraken was originally more crab-like. 

While many modern depictions show the Kraken as a giant squid, earlier accounts of the beast described it as having spindly appendages like a crab’s. 

3. It’s far, far larger than your boat. 

Accounts disagree on exactly how big the Kraken really is, but one thing is certain: It’s huge. Descriptions go from vague (the length of 10 ships) to more specific (a mile and a half long). Some stories say that unlucky sailors would mistake the beast for an island and try to land on it. These foolish sea-goers would then be dragged down into the ocean. 

4. You know it’s coming when you see fish rise to the surface.

If sailors saw gurgling bubbles, surfacing fish, or a plethora of jellyfish, they knew something was up down below. While fleeing sea-life always preceded the Kraken’s approach, their appearance unfortunately didn’t give sailors enough time to get out of the way. The monster’s great size and many tentacles make it a difficult predator to evade. 

5. Kraken feces works as fish bait. 

Bishop Erik Pontoppidan wrote extensively about the Kraken in his 1750s book The Natural History of Norway. In it, he proposed that this great beast ate a great deal of fish, and therefore his waste must also be fairly fishy. This muddy concoction was allegedly so delicious smelling to other fish that they would come and congregate around it. The Kraken could then pounce on its meal and produce more bait, continuing the cycle.

6. Some of the best minds in history have tried to disprove the myth.

In 1848, the frigate Daedalus encountered a sea monster that the sailors estimated to be at least 60 feet long, which caused a sensation. Sir Richard Owen, the man who invented the word 'dinosaur,' argued that they saw a seal, which led to a longstanding argument between Owen and the captain of the Daedalus, who pointed out that they knew full well what a seal looked like. There were similar observations in 1845 that Owen similarly dismissed—until 1873, when a fisherman caught a giant squid.

7. Carl Von Linné listed the Kraken as a real creature in Systema Naturae. 

Zoologist Carl Von Linné (also known as Linnaeus) was a respected scientist who is considered the father of biological systematics. In Systema Naturae (1735), he describes the Kraken as an actual organism. 

8. It might have a natural explanation.

There is no solid evidence of mile-long monsters swimming in our oceans, but we do have giant squids. These deep-sea dwellers can weigh anywhere from 300 to 600 pounds. But, as these immense creatures are not likely to surface, it’s more likely that ancient sailors confused something else in the water for Krakens: Bubbles, dangerous currents, and the appearance of new land are all signs of underwater volcanic activity, something common in Iceland. 

9. There may have actually been a Kraken. 

Ichthyosaur bones have been discovered in patterns similar to the way that octopuses place the bones of their meals. Even more interestingly, one discovered ribcage shows signs of constriction, as if a large tentacle was wrapped around it. Ichthyosaurs were pretty hefty creatures (some were as long 30 feet), so it would take a very large cephalopod to catch and eat it. 

10. One prominent French zoologist insisted the Kraken was real. 

Zoologist Pierre Denys de Montfort was studying giant cephalopods in the 1700s after hearing accounts from captains of giant tentacles being discovered. He cited old pieces of artwork and ship disappearances as evidence of these beasts.  After 10 ships went missing in 1782, de Montfort made the bold assumption that the Kraken was to blame. The boats were truthfully lost in a hurricane and his reputation was ruined.

11. The Kraken lays low. 

Legend says that the sea monster enjoys solitude and resides deep on the ocean floor. It uses its tentacles to stay tethered to the bottom and hunts for food. The beast will only surface in warm weather—or when disrupted. 

12. The Kraken has no magic powers. 

Despite being a mythical creature, the Kraken doesn’t boast any supernatural abilities. The fearsome nature of the Kraken is its sheer size; sailors do not have to worry about it flying out of the water or putting a curse on them. Some modern-day cartoons suggest that if you defeat the Kraken, it will grant you a wish, but that deviates from Norwegian folklore.

13. Sailors had to worry about not only the Kraken itself, but also what it left in its wake. 

Because of its sheer size, the Kraken is believed to conjure a whirlpool when diving back into the ocean. The watery suction drags ships to the depths of the sea. 

14. Some legends suggest there’s more than one Kraken. 

Many tales talk of the Kraken, but sometimes there are stories that mention multiple giant cephalopods. This would make the waters particularly hazardous for those sailing over deep waters. 

15.  The Kraken has a big pop culture presence. 

For a mythical creature, the giant squid gets a lot of attention. From the 13th century to modern times, you can find the monster in poems, novels, television shows, video games, and movies. A number of products and companies also borrow the moniker. 

6 Facts About International Women's Day

iStock.com/robeo
iStock.com/robeo

For more than 100 years, March 8th has marked what has come to be known as International Women's Day in countries around the world. While its purpose differs from place to place—in some countries it’s a day of protest, in others it’s a way to celebrate the accomplishments of women and promote gender equality—the holiday is more than just a simple hashtag. Ahead of this year’s celebration, let’s take a moment to explore the day’s origins and traditions.

1. International Women's Day originated more than 100 years ago.

On February 28, 1909, the now-dissolved Socialist Party of America organized the first National Woman’s Day, which took place on the last Sunday in February. In 1910, Clara Zetkin—the leader of Germany’s 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party—proposed the idea of a global International Women’s Day, so that people around the world could celebrate at the same time. On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held; more than 1 million people in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark took part.

2. The celebration got women the vote in Russia.

In 1917, women in Russia honored the day by beginning a strike for “bread and peace” as a way to protest World War I and advocate for gender parity. Czar Nicholas II, the country’s leader at the time, was not impressed and instructed General Khabalov of the Petrograd Military District to put an end to the protests—and to shoot any woman who refused to stand down. But the women wouldn't be intimidated and continued their protests, which led the Czar to abdicate just days later. The provisional government then granted women in Russia the right to vote.

3. The United Nations officially adopted International Women's Day in 1975.

In 1975, the United Nations—which had dubbed the year International Women’s Year—celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th for the first time. Since then, the UN has become the primary sponsor of the annual event and has encouraged even more countries around the world to embrace the holiday and its goal of celebrating “acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”

4. International Women's Day is an official holiday in dozens of countries.

International Women’s Day is a day of celebration around the world, and an official holiday in dozens of countries. Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Uganda, Mongolia, Georgia, Laos, Cambodia, Armenia, Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, and Ukraine are just some of the places where March 8th is recognized as an official holiday.

5. It’s a combined celebration with Mother’s Day in several places.

In the same way that Mother’s Day doubles as a sort of women’s appreciation day, the two holidays are combined in some countries, including Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Uzbekistan. On this day, children present their mothers and grandmothers with small gifts and tokens of love and appreciation.

6. Each year's festivities have an official theme.

In 1996, the UN created a theme for that year’s International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future. In 1997, it was “Women at the Peace Table,” then “Women and Human Rights” in 1998. They’ve continued this themed tradition in the years since; for 2019, it's “Better the balance, better the world” or #BalanceforBetter.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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