Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Puerto Rico: A Skeptical Look at Gargoyles

Source: Primera Hora (newspaper)
Date: 12.07.10

[Contributing editor Jose Martinez Echevarria is keeping us updated on the latest developments in the “sugar mill gargoyle” affair. This is a rather skeptical look at the situation by three eminent authorities. – SC]

Puerto Rico: Creative Imagination or Delirium?
By Barbara J Figueroa / Primera Hora – newsroom

The story behind the belief that a gargoyle flies over the southern section of the island with a view to attacking and exanguinate various animal species remains hitherto a mystery – one that has set some on the warpath and left others bemused, as they are convinced that it is a fictitious character.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Canóvanas – José “Chemo” Soto, dusted off his hunting uniform to enact his plan to capture the strange flying animal, which many have reported in communities such as Guanica, Lajas and San German. PRIMERA HORA analyzed the subject from the viewpoints of a historian, a psychologist and a sociologist: they all agreed that the phenomenon does not exist.

Historian Ricardo Alegria, for example, says that stories of gargoyle “attacks” – whose characteristics bear a certain resemblance to those of the mythic Chupacabras, as they both share nocturnal activity and the exsanguination of their victims, are another story within our folklore. “The subject of the gargoyle seems like a fantasy and foolishness to me. Its another among stories of apparitions that have formed part of our folklore.” Alegria is also an anthropologist and archaeologist.

Don Ricardo – the first director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, said that the country has always shared a belief in ghosts, and that many of these traditions are the legacy of Spain and Africa. “Religions have supported them to a certain point, especially the Catholic Church, when it makes statements regarding the belief in the devil.”

As an archaeologist, Alegría was struck by at the phenomenon being referred to as a gargoyle, classifying it as foolish. “I’m surprised by this detail, because the term gargoyle refers to an architectural element of medieval structures in Europe, specifically seen in cathedrals. They are monstrous stone figures placed on rooftops to collect and channel rainwater through a variety of orifices,” says the educator about what at first was a decorative figure. As far as it is known, there is a gargoyle in a chapel in Miramar, in Santurce.

Details offered in Wikipedia state that myths concerning gargoyles go back to the middle ages and are related to the increase in bestiaries and the torments of hell. Others say that at night, the architectural gargoyles turn into beings of flesh and bone, becoming stone once again at dawn.

Perhaps this is the route taken by Chemo and his hunting companion, Reynaldo Rios, who dared find the Puerto Rican gargoyle among the ruins and tunnels of the old sugar mill at Guánica, where they claim its victims’ skeletons are to be found. “I find it very odd that they should seek something whose existence is unknown, and which rather appears to be a myth or urban legend,” opined psychologist Lissette Acevedo.

This insistent detail is what concerns the expert in human behavior. “It appears to be more of an a delirium on the part of a group of people who want to prove something existence of something about which there is rational doubt. That is when reality becomes distorted,” said Acevedo.

To the psychologist, imagination and the ability to be creative is common to all of us. But the line is crossed when an individual “tries to convince others, by shouting or actions, that something exists, or that it is something lacking meaning to others. The line is crossed when the person’s ability to function is affected, and other areas of their lives are overlooked due to their obsession.” Acevedo urged Chemo and those who participated in the process of hunting the gargoyle to evaluate whether “they sacrificed their health or safety in the effort to attain a goal.”

If so, says the doctor, “something is not right” in the way the behave.

To sociologist Jose Luis Mendez, the belief in phenomena such as the gargoyle “has much to do with the immaturity of many people or groups. All these things excite the imagination when we’re children, but in the modern world, they are left behind and not dragged along.” Mendez is also the Chair of Sociology and Anthropology of the Universtiy of Puerto Rico (UPR).

To the professor, all mobilization after the creature is “out of proportion with Puerto Rican necessity and social realism. “I think it is a superficial way to face the reality that surrounds us in a society with problems that merit greater attention.”

Finally, many will wonder if the gargoyle is a new urban legend, or if a new monster is truly flying over our island and attacking it.