Samson And Delilah

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle–discovered by dweller.

The Prior Research: A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

The marriage was the biggest spectacle Delilah had ever seen. Her wandering fiance Samson  had brought in far away wine, musicians from eastern lands where dreams made up the desert sands, fire breathers and jugglers from the circus, food and fowl from northern mist clad counties. Her mother was so proud to see her in a wedding white. Her husband had been strangely silent in his suit, smiling without ever showing any teeth. Delilah drank another glass.

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It was probably nerves about the wedding night. She had them too—her mother had tried to explain to her what could happen on wedding nights. Of course she’d already known—she had married friends who, when a bit tipsy or tired or angry, confided about the bedroom. And their husbands were far less fine then hers.

The night carried on for a time, and at last the guests began to leave. Delilah hugged her mother close—her mother wept on her shoulder. She was so proud. Delilah never heard her weep that her daughter was gone from her forever. Never heard the silent curses as the house, small as it was, grew all the quieter.

Delilah and her husband walked home, across the old white stone roads the Romans laid. They came up a hill to his house—a house she’d seen often as a child, though always in an abandoned state. She had assumed for years that no-one lived there. But three months ago, it was as wondrous as the prince’s palace—its walls clean and shining green, with roofs of bright purple and gold. Servants were mulling about, its gardens full of blossoming flowers. When she asked a friend who lived nearby, she was told that the great house had a new heir. It’s base was set like a wide disc, with a tower rising from the center.

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And that Samson now took her by the arm and up to the gate. He smiled dat her, his proper smile now. Teeth glittering white in the moonlight, reaching from his lips to his green eyes. They walked threw the evening mist and dew to the great oak door. Its leonine knokcer gently thudded as a footman opened the door—into the candlelit hall, with its great fountain at the center. Suits of restored ancestral armor, with there ceremonial armor and jeweled swords, stood guard at the stair case. And above, on the ceiling, was painted a whole host of angels.

 

“Well, that was certainly an affair.” He said as we walked up the steps.

“Was it? I thought it rather lovely.” Delilah said smiling and carefully minding my steps.

“Even with the stories?”

“Well, Anne couldn’t let me get married without making sure everyone knew what I was like at three years.” Delilah said, giggling a little. “I’m sure yours would have done the same.”

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“Well then I count myself lucky they had business away.” He said, laughing. Delilah felt a pang of guilt—she knew little of Samson’s family, but they rarely saw him and seemed to care little of him. She hoped that such distance wasn’t normal among such wealthy personages—Lord in Heaven, she wouldn’t be so distant with her own children.

Up the stairs they went—Samson’s servants opening the doors ahead. Pale ivory doors parted like moonlight deeper and deeper in. At last, behind a well wrought door of silver, was the bed chamber. Four lion heads held up the top of the bed, grinning faces of gold looking down. Delilah had often heard of wedding nights.

*

The next day, the two parted. Samson entrusted Delilah with a set of keys—golden, each with a glittering gem at the top. Every door in the house had a key, Samson said, marked with the inlaid gem. It was all hers to see and take in.

“I don’t want you getting bored or complacent—so entertain yourself with each room, and you will find delights that never end.” Samson said, as he put on his coat and hat. “But please, do not go into the room marked with two gems—cat’s eye and the other one..”

He held out the key, who’s stones looked like eyes of glass and was carved with a lion and a wolf. He shook it almost in front of Delilah’s face.

“Not this one. It goes to my own chambers, the only place of privacy in my entire house—when I am there, do not bother me but be patient on my return. Do not worry too much when or how I come there either—it is a place of mine. The rest, however, are ours.” And with that, and a kiss on the cheek, he left.

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Delilah considered the keys. She set about through the rooms—each with it’s gemstone. In the red coral room, there were wondrous arms and armors—the heads of great beasts from the hunts, armor shimmering with decorations, hilts with eagle wings of bronze. The heads of great beasts were stuffed along it’s walls, from bears to deer to great wild cattle. He was a brave warrior and hunter, her husband. Or, Delilah thought, perhaps his family was. There were fine silks as well, and chests overflowing with treasures. Plunder and spoils it seemed.

The room with the diamond was more her suiting however. Here were portraits lining the wall—eyes all fixed on the center. There a column of women stood, carved of marble. Delilah gripped her shoulders as she paced the incompete pillar—for there were still portions unworked around the edge. The statues were painted ever so slightly. A small blush, the tiny glimmer of jeweled eyes, a faint bruise on the skin, a thin scratch. The artistry was in the dress though. Delilah found it unnerving to see the clothes…she could not tell without touching whether they were exquisite stone carvings or the women’s own dress. There were desks, with many mirrors arrayed around them. If she pulled the curtains close behind her, the eyes of the portraits and statues didn’t glimmer back at her as she examined the jewelry. Another place to explore, she decided when she had more time.

The next room had a great pearl on it’s top—and within she found many treasures indeed! She found works of poetry and a number of paintings—these of luschious landscapes and forests, instead of persons, full of animals in the hunt or watching with curiosity at the painter. Several were still finished, including one of her—or she assumed of her. The seat was there, and she settled into the pose she imagined Samson would remember her in. She wondered if she would be carved into the pillar as well—and now frowned. Where those past wives of his, or the women of his family. They had seemed all rather young.

She considered but moved along to the emerald door. Here she found shelves upon shelves of scrolls and books—how well read Samson seemed! She barely knew her letters, her family never had the money for education. But she could learn to love these treasures as well. There were some held open to illustrations of holy men or of teachings she remembered from priests in town or tales her parents told. Btu not many so clear.

Beside it was the room with a yellow gem. The lock took some working this time—and inside Delilah understood why. Like the emerald room, this was a room full of shelves—but on each was a crown, carefully wrought of gold. A small image was above it, recounting no doubt the lineage of Samson’s family. And at the center was a display—a great golden mace, with gems along it. Behind it was a flowing robe and cape of heavy wool, gold woven with the cloth. There were gems along as buttons—shining diamonds and amethysts. Purple and gold, a royal coat in deed. But hidden away—Delilah was under no illusion that her husband might be heir one day to some royal family. Not anymore anyway.

Still, perhaps one day there would be an inheritance to the crown. They were strange crowns, admittedly—most had ivory spikes rising from their heads, and all of them were rather old fashioned. They looked like the crowns on fallen statues in the woods, not kingly images the tax collectors carried or that were stamped on the occasional gold coin she had seen.

Some older place then, or some far away land. Still. A noble king and scholar, a warrior and perhaps a poet.

And then there was the door with it’s two gems—a red stone and a yellow one that glimmered like a cat’s eye. The red stone was in the right hand of a man, the yellow in the left—his own eyes stared back out with glimmering opals. It was an enticing door, with his pearlescent smile and glimmering eyes. But Delilah ignored it, and pushed on to the room with the sapphire—embedded in a skull, yes, but still it had been granted to her.

And in that room she found copious bones, gilded and held in metal boxes. Each had pictures atop it, and Delilah recognized the lives of a hundred saints in this gallery. Saints from as far as mist covered marshes of Wales to the distant east where their own saints left rainbows in their wake. Holy tools from a hundred places the world over. Some were petrified eyes, some where finger bones, some were nails. And at the center, enshrined with images of four beasts at each corner, was a carefully suspended spearhead. It was stained blood red on one side, the other was washed clean and stainless. A curious relic. Not one she was familiar with. She would ask about it in time.

*

And so Delilah continued along the spiraling house of Samson. He did return, tired but lively, a few days hence. She heard the sound of footsteps in the halls, and managed to catch him closing his study door. She pestered him with questions—about his auspicious lance, which he explained as a relic of a very distant ancestor, that had been blessed by holy blood. He agreed to teach her some letters.

“And until then I can of course read you the stories and romances, and some of the poems.” Samson said nodding. “Or have a servant do so when I am away.”

“Ah, only some? Why only some of the poems?” Delilah asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Because a man has the right to bury his shames, and many of those poems record my shames.” He said. She laughed at that.

“Oh my, did my husband leave his heart on the page? How awful.”

“To write one’s passions is not shameful—but perhaps to articulate them as a youth would leaves something to be desired.” He said, joining her in laughter.

Well, she reckoned she could find a servant who would tell her of those youthful poems.

After a time, Delilah tired of the house. With Samson’s permit, she sent a carriage back to town—to learn what had become of her friends in her absence, and how affairs were ordered. Only Anne was willing to visit her, although Delilah never learned why. She delighted in showing the rooms to Anne, and enjoying tea.

The subject of the married life and the house came up again and again during their conversations over tea. Delilah even gave Anne a wonderful broach from one of the rooms, to mend the many struggles between them. Anne’s curiosity was mostly sated, until she asked about the two-jeweled door. To Delilah’s surprise, Anne’s face fell at the explanation of the door. She shook her head, and placed the cup down on the table.

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“Oh, poor Delilah. Poor girl, what will your mother say when she learns what you’ve married?” Anne said, shaking her head.

“A scholar and a prince? What’s to be ashamed of that?” Delilah said, folding her arms.

“Do you believe it? No, truly, you and your mother have been tricked by a sorcerer. Go into the two faced door—there I wager he keeps his arts and secret magic to raise the building and enthrall you. You must go in at once, when he is far away. You’ll find proof no doubt, that all this is but a game for him.”

Delilah considered it, even as they moved on to other topics of gossip—the affairs and arguments of old flames, rumors of scandal, and more. When she eventually returned home, she found a note from her husband—he had left for business for several days, as his erstwhile family needed him. She was free to herself again.

She paced from each of the rooms, taking in all their delights. But still the twin gems haunted her. Day and night she stared at the door. Its grin taunted her with secrets—surely it was only a matter of time before she would learn its contents from her husband. Surely it was only a matter of waiting—surely, that room held nothing more viscous then rumors.

She crept quietly—she was unsure the servants would be forgiving. The door opened easily, the lock clicked silently as she stepped into a darkened room, candle in her shaking hand.

The room was bare stone. A window marked with claws let the sunlight into the forbidden room. And with its help, Delilah saw a dreadful site—her husband’s empty skin was on the wall. Below, bloodstained table. Beside an iron cauldron lined with grease. A drop of blood fell on Delilah’s face. She did not look up at the hundred empty eyes. She did not look up. She closed the door, silent as a cat.

But the lock would not click shut. To Delilah’s horror, the lock would not shut. She strained with the key—if her husband came home, and found it open, Lord only knows what he would do. She tried and tried and tried to click the lock shut. The smiling door mocked her efforts until at last she forced the key free.

At once, Delilah called for a servant to fetch her a carriage—she wanted to see her mother, she said. She managed anyway. Her face was as pale as a corpse, her eyes full of terror. The servant, perhaps wise to what had happened, shook his head—there was but one carriage befitting a lady. And her husband had taken that to his relations.

Before she could ask for more, Delilah heard a clatter from the halls. She turned to the noise—poor girl, she turned to see her husband. His eyes glittered like gems. And now she saw how his skin seemed ill fit. It hung loose around his neck. He had put it on in a rush. His wrist seemed wrinkled, as it bent a saber.

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“Ah, Delilah dearest—did you enjoy your day?” He asked, smiling like the moon. Delilah opened her mouth to speak. The words caught in her throat as Samson reached into his coat—and produced a single shard of worn gold.

“Delilah, dearest, I made one request. I found this, stuck in my study door—the tooth of my keys.” He said, shaking his head. “I made but one request.”

Before Delilah could speak, there was a flash of steel. Her body fell to the ground, as Samson held her head by her hair.

“And she was so lovely—I’ll have to hang this one well.” He said. With a wave of her sword, the blood was stopped and the floor was cleaned. “Her mother…is she passed already?”

The footmen, taking Delilah’s body in his arms, nodded.

“Well, that is for the best I suppose. Had she any friends? I would rather not leave so soon.” Samson asked, tilting his head.

“The lady was visited by one Anne from town, sir. She seemed wiser.” The footman replied.

“That settles it—Send for her soon. I would hope to have a wife last longer.” Samson said, shaking his head. “A few months is hard to savor. Light the iron as well—My hunt went well, and now I want to eat away my sorrow.”

And so Anne and Samson lived happily ever after.

***

This week’s story is a bit long, but was fun to write. I don’t have much insightful commentary–I’m pretty sure sticking close to the origin was a good decision here, and didn’t find much to improve on the original format. I hope it was enjoyable! Next week, more lively foundations!

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A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle—discovered by dweller.

The Resulting Story:Samson and Delilah

This week’s topic brings us to a common Gothic horror theme—the buried and forgotten secret. Especially in an ancient castle, who’s revelation undoes their very identity. Whether ghosts and bodies buried in the deep, or more recent atrocities, the dangers of things forgotten and buried is great. We discussed—in one of our most popular articles—the burial of persons beneath foundations. This sort of secret will take us to many other places. Mostly France though.

There are a few stories that relate to crypts bearing terrible secrets. One worth considering is the story of Lancelot and Dolorous Guard. Here a secret is discovered on a literal crypt—the tomb that Lancelot must be interred in after he dies. The majority of the revelation was joyous, however, as it revealed the knight’s heritage and true name. And that this castle was his. All well and good.

Lovecraft has his own story about the discovery of ancestry—the Rats in the Walls, where in our narrator learns of his heritage. His version, of course, is much more horrific. Without spoiling that story, I’ll leave a link hereThe origins of the Gothic Genre include underground churches and revelations of idenity in the Castle Ortanto—again, the revelation there is less of a horrible secret than the justification of the protagonist.

More pressing stories include those of monsters locked within castles. Here we go to France again, but later in time—the Age of Charlemagne. Here, we find Rinaldo who quests to forget his heart break over a lady love. He finds a land, where he sees a castle in a great pit. An old woman tells him a beast in the castle is kept from terrorizing the countryside, by regular sacrifices of flesh. Rinaldo agrees to venture forth and slay the beast—and attempts to do so. However, he fails at first. It is only when his love returns, and assists—over his loud protests—that the reptilian creature dies (it may be a dragon, but the description in Bulfinch does not specify. All the better I suppose.)

In Scotland, there is a similar story around Glamis Castle. There a secret chamber was used, according to tales dating back to 1840, a deformed and possibly vampiric child. Some accounts call the child a “human toad”, others as simply a strange shadow. The creature’s nature may never be known—at least one guest, the Earl of Crawford, suspected that the family invented the stories as they went along.

There is a creature that resembles this in Lovecraft as well—Byatis, a creature of Campbell’s creation that lives in the Severn Valley sealed in a stone vault beneath a great tower. The toad is a terrible creature, and knows many truths of the world that are worth keeping secret of course. The Edgar Allen Poe story, the Fall of the House of Usher, relates to a dragon as the obstacle of owning a shield and castle as well.

A more common revelation however, is not a monster locked away but a monster about. The folktales of Bluebeard in particular. The story of Bluebeard is a common one through out the world. A young woman marries a powerful and rich noble. He must leave for business shortly after their wedding, and forbids she enter one room. When she ignores him, she finds the many bodies of his prior wives. Bluebeard then either kills her, or she escapes and her family avenges herself on him.

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I mean he looks just lovely. Okay the eyes look maybe a bit crazy.

Variants of this story can be found the world over. In India, there is a version that features a tiger instead of a man or giant. The tiger fools the local brahmin, and marries his daughter. He abuses her at the home, threatening to reveal his true shape and devour her if she does not prepare meals based on what he hunts. And of course, being a tiger he hunts men and women in his woods. After a time, and a child is born—also a tiger—she sends a letter to her mother via crow, telling of this injustice. Her three brothers set out, and after some mishaps, rescue their sister and murder her child—and later her husband, when he tries to steal her back.

Among the people of Northern Canada, there is a similar story of a cannibal husband. Here the husband does more than demand food—he insists on feeding his wives salmon and nothing else to make them too fat to move. His latest wife, Mianna, outsmarts him however by eating ice and eventually making a dummy of ice to distract him. In time, she and her brothers kill Ímarasugssuaq, ending his rain of terror.

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Here old Bluebeard looks a bit creepy but less crazy.

In England, the story of Mr. Fox has a similar ogre of a man—who’s wife to be catches him kidnapping her replacement at the end and lopping off her hand! She sees this the day before their wedding breakfast, and is horrified at each step of the way. At breakfast, she reveals the grizzly reminder of the other bride, and her brothers slaughter Mr. Fox.

And there are so many forms of this story to go through! I’ve linked a collection of these folk tales here, for further investigation. The origins of the French version are debated—there is for instance, a common assumption that they relate to the serial killer Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais famously served with Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War. Afterwards, he went a bit…strange. A rampant child murderer and accused occultist, Gilles lost much of his fortune perusing contact with a demon called Barron and alchemy. He eventually, after kidnapping a cleric, attracted the attention of the local Bishop. After his crimes came to light, he was executed.

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Gilles De Rais needs more urban fantasy about his terrible alchemical experiments.

The other possible inspiration is Conomor the Accursed. Conomor is a Welsh or Breton king, known for his wanton cruelty. His own story begins after murdering three prior wives—and moving to his fourth, Trephine. Trephine refuses at first, due to Conomor’s reputation. However, the king threatens to invade her fathers lands and ransack them if she does not marry him. As Conomor is away on business, she uncovers the secret room containing relics of the dead wives. After praying for their souls, she learns that Conomor will kill her if he finds her pregnant—a story has warned him that his own son will kill him.

When he returns and makes the attempt, Trephine is saved by the three wives. They rescue her, and she gives birth to her child in secret—hiding him before Conomor finds and kills her.While St. Glidas does retore her to life—and her child becomes St. Tremorous—Conomor sometimes kills his son anyway. Other versions have St. Glidas and an array of thirty bishops march on the Accursed and anathemize him. Conomor then falls ill and his soul is swept up in a river of blood. In some variations he is so wicked, neither heaven nor purgatory nor hell will have him, and so he still wanders the earth.

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There are more stories that resemble it. The story of Three Crowns, for instance, has a forbidden room and a set of keys given to the daughter of a king by an Ogress. However, in this case, the revelation is not wicked, and in fact is what gets the daughter returned to her family. The story of Agib in Arabian Nights also features a forbidden door in his travels—this time by comely women, not an ogrish brute. The door hides something strange as well. But unlike Bluebeard, it is a wonder that punishes a lack of self control—not a pile of bodies from the owner.

The message of Bluebeard stories is often debated. The most overt is a condemnation of female curiosity, in the vein of Pandora’s Box. That woman who are asking to many question get killed. However, these stories are sometimes taken in a different light. Rather than warnings against curiosity, they are warnings of the danger of husbands. In this way, they might be similar to Beauty and the Beast stories but with a much darker ending. Certainly, the horror of the story—that a fortunate marriage, which a family is in someway dependent on, turns out to be to a monstrous—is not one that has faded with time.

And then there are the similar stories of monstrous and secretive husbands that are reversed. We can talk for instance about the woman who married a crab or a dragon or a toad or even a Dog—these stories feature a similar prohibition, usually related to seeing the host. In Greece for instance we have the story of Eros and Pysche.

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Pysche is told that she will marry a horrible monster if left on a certain cliff. The winds carry here to a wondrous palace, where an invisible set of servants and invisible husband await She is told never to look at him—but comes to enjoy his visits, his singing, and his presence. In time she becomes pregnant. Her sisters eventually worry about not hearing from their own, and go to meet her. Having heard from Pysche the arrangement, they persuade her to look upon her husband at night with a wax candle—however, upon finding her husband to be the beautiful god Eros, Pysche lets wax drop on his skin waking him. Eros flys off in a rage. Aphrodite, his mother, then gives Pysche a set of tasks to complete before she can regain her husband.

Another instance of this sort of story the story of the Tibetan Woman who married a dog. A single mother with three daughters receives tsampa from a dog—the dog asks they not eat it. The four of them eat it after three years, however, and the dog returns the next day. He asks for one of the daughters as a wife in compensation—which the mother relents to. The first two daughters who marry him hate him and are sent back. The third and youngest however is polite. After having two puppies by the dog, she passes a palace and wishes she lived there. The dog goes to the palace to beg and is “killed”–after his skin is stripped, he reveals himself as the king of the palace and the two puppies become children. A happy ending to the tail.

From Italy there is the story of the Dark King—which fuses Eros and Bluebeard. A young girl wanders into a cave, and finds it full of luxuries. Invisible hands serve her food, bath her, and dress her—it is so relaxing and wonderful that she forgets the entrance of the cave has vanished. After three months she meets the Moor king of the place, who gives her keys to all the rooms save one. After another three months, she has seen all the wonders of the place, and asks to go see her relations. She is allowed, on the condition that she return.

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Yeah, there’s a weird trend in illustrations to make Bluebeard vaguely Middle Eastern? Like that’s clearly his hair, but it’s also totally meant to be a turban right?

Appeasing her relatives and friends with gold, she enjoys herself and comes back. Three months later, she leaves again—this time, however, she boasts of the wealth in the palace. Her friends are eager to see. They suggest, when she explains that her husband won’t allow it, to kill her husband instead. They suggest sneaking in at night—and doing so, she finds him unsightly. When she goes to kill him, however, hot wax falls off her candle. He wakes and is saddened. As he dies, he offers her three hairs. When burned, he will save her from whatever danger she is in.

She, after an incident of cross dressing, mistaken identity, seduction by a queen, and imprisonment by a king, does burn the hairs. These bring about an army to save her from execution and even restore the Dark King to save her. The two are then married—and the Dark King becomes a beautiful prince, who’s kingdom was enchanted until he was wed with consent.

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Seriously, there’s some gruesome images on the Wiki commons–I didn’t feel like sharing them here.

…I’m personally going to assume he stayed dark skinned, because that makes the ‘twist’ ending more palatable.

From Turkey, there is the story of a Padishah, who marries his daughter off to a horse—as she is the only one that the horse allows to feed her. Unlike other stories, the husband immediately reveals himself as an amazing hero—when the daughter’s sisters mock her for her lack of a husband in a tournament, he appears and triumphs. He only asks that she not reveal who he is. Like the Dark King, he gives her three wisps of hair to burn when she needs him—and on the third day, she reveals his secret.

Her husband is taken away—his hag mother plans to kill her daughter-in-law as well. The daughter finds their dwelling at the end of the earth, on a great mountain. The mother is tricked into accepting her without murder—but still tries, with impossible and confusing household tasks to kill her. With her husbands help, the daughter triumphs each time.

Eventually the two flee, and are pursued by his mother and aunt, both witches (although with her snake whip, the aunt resembles a Fury). With some guile and magic, they escape and return home to live happily ever after.

These we might consider similar—they suggest that what at first appears monstrous is not as frightening as it seems. Indeed, the difference between a Beast and Bluebeard is the presence of genuine danger—Bluebeard is here to kill you. The beast isn’t.

We also can talk of the reverse, although it is less a horror story. That of men who take immortal wives, and defy their rules. Selkies and swan maidens are chief among these, but fairy brides are almost as troublesome.

The tabletop game, Bluebeard’s Bride highlights how effecting such a story can still be. And I think in this case, the tale needs little modification—this is the rare form of horrific knowledge that is genuine in its monstrous form. A hidden child or lost ancestry is less easily disturbing. But discovering one shares a home with a serial killer? That still has power. That has visceral fear.

So, we’ve talked a lot about one of the most horrific forms of folklore—finding a monster in your old home. What will we make of it? Well, come back next week to see!

Bibliography

Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877

Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.

Kunos, Ignacz (Tr. Bain Nishbet). Turkish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales. A.H. Bullen, London 1901

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The Court

This Week’s Prompt: :78. Wandering thro’ labyrinth of narrow slum streets—come on distant light—unheard-of rites of swarming beggars—like Court of Miracles in Notre Dame de Paris.

The Prior Research:The Court of Miracles

Dear Mariam

It is a happy lie to presume that the current state of affairs will continue, uninterrupted, forever. In Berlin, I was introduced to the notion among some brahmins of India, that the world was always cycling and shifting. Some suggested that every moment was distinct and novel, others that the world was a great wheel among a multitude of other wheels. I find such notions endearing. They suggest, ultimately, that this state of being we enjoy will in time come again and again.

I was in Paris last week—a city with wonders and bohemians alike. A city that has seen its changes and reversions, its miracles and blasphemies. Are there a people as resentful of good governance as the French? We will see—the future holds many secrets. It was a long night when I decided to retire home, coffee and wine having mixed in my head a bit strongly. I was aware, despite myself, I was critically aware of all my senses as I walked towards my home for the visit.

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I was keenly aware of the stones that felt through my shoes, of the lights on the streets, I could read them all very well. Despite this, my mind was drunk as a sailor. All the senses in the world are nought if the mind is gone—and so I found myself now moving through back roads, convinced that I had found some short cut or another to home. Yes, your dear brother still has not learned to hold his liquor. And Paris, lacking as it is in pea soup, is still a city designed by madmen for rats more than for the intellectual and rational mind of an inebriated university student. Some Cretan must have felt quite clever building up it’s walls and streets haphazardly and in rounds.

I reached that edge of the city, the halo of darkness that marks the seemly from the misbegotten. The penumbra of the city of lights I suppose, where even in my disreputable state I was aware danger was about. The bark of a stray dog alerted me, and I turned to see two men slumped on the side of the wall—talking and pointing off in my direction. The alley over had a mangey hound, low to the ground and bigger than me by a good amount. One of the men shouted something at the dog, who barked again at me. My heart in my neck, I turned and headed away, along the outer roads.

The light was scarcer here—the buildings in disrepair. Notre Dome still towered in the distance, but her bells resounded on empty streets. My own foot falls were most of my company, and the faint outline of my long shadow among street lights. The night was oppressive, and the haze of wine was wearing thin. I grew more aware of my danger, so far from where I was—in fact, I barely knew the names of these avenues. And yet, as my mind returned to its fullness, my senses receded away. My eye began to fail me, and I saw strange shapes shifting—I heard noises from nowhere, and caught whiffs of the party long past.

So there I was, fumbling in a darkened street—certain it was empty, but hearing movement just out of my sight. The occasional meow of a cat or warning bark of a street dog kept my on edge as I started back—I would head towards places I knew, but find the streets and alleys turned me around again. In these valleys of darkness I felt condemned to wander until dawn—at last I saw a light, strange and ferocious in the distance.

My sister, you must think your poor brother a fool for approaching a strange light in the middle of the night, far from home and in places of danger. And you may be correct— but in my defense there is I think some human instinct to seeking out things to see, and that instinct over came my good sense. I do not regret it. If it was foolishness, then I have become one of God’s own fools now.

The source of the dancing lights was apparently shortly after I started after it—a fire. Open, on an autumn night. That alone was not surprising, I reckoned. No, what was shocking about the flames were their size. It was a bonfire, surrounded by all sides so that the buildings hid it from authorities. It wasn’t until later, when I recounted to my friend the shape of the place, that I learned I had been at the most infamous court in France—where bandits and beggars commingled. And I saw them, I did. Around the fire, speaking and dancing, planning and training in the method of their profession.

Cours De MiraclesThe Voice.png

The moment my eyes fell upon the crowd, I made towards the edges. Do not fret, sister, I was not immediately spotted as a man of means who might be extorted. The benefit of the lifestyle of a student is that I am used to appearing impoverished. So I made my way, carefully and slowly, around the crowd.

For the land of miracles, little wonders failed to happen. I heard children laugh, yes, but also weep. Babes cried out, and comforted by mothers. Bellies rumbled hungry . Men shouted, cursed, talked of God and damnation. Some spoke of great cons on the local priests—how they might get more meals yet from this or that source. But slowly, I heard one by one the topic turn to ‘the nightly business’.

It was as I was on the edge, that they appeared—the nocturnal crew. A group of three or four, with one shorter man at the head. At the center of the fire, a dull drum beat began that silenced the crowd. I turned and listened, as a figure began to speak, in a voice as low as thunder and rumbling like flame. He spoke at a length, and I cannot repeat it here. Not only for concern of my sister’s sensibillities, but because the whole of the speaker’s tongue was lost on me—at times, French, yes, but at times in Spainish and German or even languages in the East. The finery of his words were thus lost on me—as was the outbursts and shouts from his fellows. But the thrust, that I understood.

There is an old Jewish story I heard once, about four men who saw the face of God. One went mad, one died, one became a heretic, and one became holy. I found it an amusing understanding of the truth, but little more. Now I cannot say which I am. I sit writing this letter, having heard a man—and still, I am uncertain if he were a man, woman, or angel—recount the suffering of the world. I have seen his hand point towards me, however incidentally, and recited the crimes of the world.

He talked of starving children, of thieves and murders in palaces of bone, of the blood watered sugar canes, of the shots that rang out in town squares. He talked of lives that never could be, of villages and peoples trampled undnereath, of the four horsemen unleashed—how following conquest had come the ills of war, famine, and plague. And how now, now at the turning of the years, it would finally end.

Judgement Day.png

I fled at once, away and no longer caring that I drew attention to myself. I found my way, stumbling, wheezing—yes, your dear brother has yet to learn proper exercise—to an officer of the law. To a street that, I realized, was well lit. To a place, a place where I could find my way home.

 

That was a week ago. Yet the fire, the fire still burns on my skin. It holds some space in my head, it murmurs in my ear. That Judgement Day may come at the hands of man and not God is a terrible thing. That it might seize me, at any moment—surely this has driven men mad.

A man cannot bear that great weight—I expect the cracks to form soon. It is coming soon, it is winding down the wheel of fate soon. When judgment comes, will it be our last? Paris, my sister, Paris is kindling. Perhaps it won’t come soon—I pray I do not see it soon. For the righteous are against us, and I see no recourse or escape. The sea will not take me, and even in Berlin I know those words will haunt the streets.

I wonder now, when I have the patience and mind, if this tribulation has happened before? Has the wheel of fate turned past, or is the end of all ends coming for us? On that day, will my name be called? Will the dull thud of the razor resume, the old heart of Paris restored? Will they cheer when my head rolls free? Or worse, will I be swallowed up—nameless in the flood?


 

I’m not fond of this story. I think it came out unfinished, and that it was both too politically overt, and too vague in it’s horror. It feels like perhaps the pay off to a larger build up or  a story where the ‘threat’ is so clearly the hero, that it’s hard to be scared with the main character. Aw well.

Next week! Secrets beneath the castle walls! What is waiting in the forbidden room?

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The Court of Miracles

This Week’s Prompt:78. Wandering thro’ labyrinth of narrow slum streets—come on distant light—unheard-of rites of swarming beggars—like Court of Miracles in Notre Dame de Paris.

The Resulting Story: The Court

Despite the evocative name, the Court of Miracles is rather mundane in origins. The Court of Miracles was perhaps the banditry of the city of Paris. Inhabited by all manner of individuals, from all faiths and creeds, the Court of Miracles is presented as a society of tricksters and scoundrels at the heart of Paris. That Mr. Lovecraft has a low opinion of such people isn’t surprising—Mr. Lovecraft’s classist tones and dislike of urban mixing means that such place is ascribed as “swarming” for a reason. We will talk of how to remedy this shortly—and one place to start I think is folklore.

The Court of Miracles is, by all accounts, a location in Paris. The Court was inhabited by beggars and immigrants—the name comes from the tendency for individuals to fake injury or illness, and suddenly at night be ‘cured’. Other origins suggest that the Court transformed beggars into bandits, rendering the segement of the city dangerous for law enforcement. Either way, the part of Paris was a dangerous region and impoverished area in local thought. Disney made it into a song:

Not the folklore surrounding such places. Distrust of impoverished immigrants can bring out the worst in folklore and persons, and xenophobia is not a trait I want to encourage. I do not wish to dwell on the particularly viscious rumors and libels that surrounded the Court of Miracles and other places—producing a story today about how the poor and downtrodden engage in conspiracy to fake their injuries would be frankly irresponsible. No, I want to examine some of the folklore of such persons. And if we are going to discuss it, particularly in relation to Notre Dame and its adaptations, we must talk about the Romany (Lindsay Ellis goes into the various adaptations of Notre Dame here).

I am not terribly qualified on the topic of the Romany—So I strongly encourage readers to do their own research as well. But I will present what I know as best I can.

The Romany, as a group, appear to have immigrated from northern India into the Middle East and Europe. Europeans initially—and for a considerable time—mistook the Romany for Egyptians, leading to the origins of the pejorative “Gypsy”. The Romany, for a variety of reasons, lived both nomadic and settled life styles. As outsiders in European communities, who practiced different customs and held to different belief systems, the Romany were viewed frequently in a negative light. Accusations of witchcraft, curses, thievery, and so forth were rampant and if one delves even a bit into folklore it isn’t hard to find such portrayals exaggerated further.

Romany Flag

Romani Flag, Wikipedia.

I will not be discussing such portrayals today.

Instead I will be discussing folktales from the Romany. Now a second disclaimer. For the vast, vast majority of my research I rely on public domains or digital resources. In this case, I’ve found a singular text on Romany folklore (linked here) which is rather woefully out of date—it dates to the 1890s. For the interested, I have also linked to Folklore Thursday’s writing on the Romany here—if you have other resources to recommend, I encourage you to leave the titles and links in the comments section below.

One of the first stories to discuss is God’s Godson. This tale recounts a heroic child who sets forth on adventure unbaptized. In the woods, as he sleeps, God and St. Peter come across him and baptize him, giving him the name Handak. God decides to arrange a marriage between Handak and his god-daughter, a heroine of equal skill. Handak receives instructions from a three hundred year old dragon on where to find the god-daughter, and after a fight the two are wed.

St. Petere Vatican.png

Another heroic lad makes his start by killing eleven dragons with saber. After his marriage to a maiden, his mother comes to live with them and finds the living dragon. Infatuated with the youngest dragon, she schemes with her new love to kill her son—sending him on impossible quests and eventually gambling with him, to bind and slay him with her husband. The lad’s miraculous maiden of a wife, who often lent him a twenty-four winged horse, restores him by stitching him back together and filling in the holes with pork meat. She then pours water on him, and he is revived.

Another humorous tale tells of two thieves who enter a brotherhood, and by their cunning trick a king out of all his funds—eventually stealing a priest from a church and becoming princes themselves! The two of course know each others trade, and the king is forced to seek out one of the thieves to catch the other (it fails, as the thieves co-operate despite their separation). Another encounter between a Romany man and a priest ends with the Romany man calling back his cattle from an extortionist priest—and in doing so, gaining the cattle the priest stole from his parishioners.

Another incident with a priest sees a poor Romany impersonate a preacher in the middle of the night—tricking the local priest into thinking he is an angel or God himself. The Romany encourages the priest to bring all his belongings for the end is at hand—and after the priest does so, he offers to carry the priest to heaven in a sack. Needless to say, the priest does arrive in the afterlife in a sack.

Another heroic Rom travels in the woods looking for heroic deeds, and finds his brother lacking kidneys—they have been stolen by a wizard, who the lad goes forth and defeats. The lost organs are restored after being found in jars. After this, the wizard is slain, and there is a brief exchange of hurling objects between the brothers and three maidens, who end up marrying them.

Canopic Jars2

These were the first things I thought of when reading about kidneys stored in jars.

One factor that becomes apparent reading these folktales—that I will not pretend is unique necessarily to the Romany—is the outsmarting of normally serious authority figures. The priest is the most obvious example of course. There is always a supposition that the church is corrupt—especially priests and monks. Later stories add dragons to the list—one is tricked in a manner that reminds me of giants, where the dull but strong dragon looses gambles to the Rom and must forswear eating sheep forever—and kings with the two thieves. A distrust for authority even runs with the story of the dragon and the mother, who are both individuals of power that scheme against the children.

The notion then, of strange rites in the heart of Paris might be one to explore. One thing I will note that Paris is famous for—and indeed, is on the news recently—is the tensions between class. Yes, class in a Marxist sense is universal, but the French Revolution and it’s guilotines have taken on a life of their own in my mind. And I think this might have been why Lovecraft situated his own class fears in Paris. What then can we do with a revolution? The horror that Howard would invoke here isn’t acceptable—we are given a subhuman vision of the poor of Paris (“Swarming” as they are), and parallels with ‘savages’ (“unheard of rites”). The comparison of the poor with the savage is not unique to Lovecraft but it is…untenable.

I think for a horror story then, we might be better to approach this as the onset of violence. The realization by our nameless narrator that, as it is said in Le Mis, “something’s going to happen now, something’s going to give”. Which…well, is still tricky. There is horror potential in upheval, unrest, and strangeness, but moving that fear away from classism can be difficult. The folklore also highlights how the cunning, if impoverished, get the better of those who seem to have authority.

Could these two be combined? Well, the notion of class conflict and the distrust of nobility don’t align perfectly well for a horror story of discovery. There are notions in a number of folktales of getting power from tricking others into giving it up—the King and the Two Thieves ends with a thief as king for instance. In this case, it might be best to move away from trickster lore—while a trickster hero is plausible, I don’t trust my writing to portray such a thing in a horror story without falling into some clear pitfalls.

I think then emphasizing the class conflict would be better. I think there is a primal fear of judgement day—of the realization that the end is upon the world, and that one is powerless to stop it. That does mean this story is a bit more atmospheric, maybe even in the form of a letter—it is really a single scene expanded and extrapolated. Which should be sufficient for our purposes.

 

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The Harvest Moon Shines Down

This Week’s Prompt: 77. Unspeakable dance of the gargoyles—in morning several gargoyles on old cathedral found transposed.

The Prior Research:We Can Dance If We Want To

Ever since Lena was a babe, she’d loved the moon. It hung in the sky, shifting slowly through the months—a pale or yellow orb smiling down. Less harsh than the sun, it was kind to Lena. It didn’t blind her and its rays of light didn’t weigh down on the backs of her parents. Not that anyone worked under the moon, of course—Lena had to sneak out to stare up at it during the night, because everyone else slept. And moonlight was a comforting pale light, even more calming than a warm fire.

She went among the hills, to get a good look at it. She passed over stone shapes—the broken remains of a long buried cathedral, craggy gargoyles sticking their heads out. She sometimes found other bits of the old town—even the old well, overgrown now. Her parents told Lena to avoid the well water—something had died in the well, a long time ago. The death lingered in the water. They had abandoned everything, to escape that water.

The other children said that a well man had moved in, a specter that had started collecting the souls of dead things down there. Father Mitchell, the old priest, couldn’t get rid of it—so they moved the entire neighborhood and the church as well, stone by stone. Except the gargoyles, buried somehow. Others said that one day, all the stars in heaven had smashed it down. They were so sick, they needed a new place to stay. Others said that a great bird had blown it away with its wings, and secretly made its nest over in the mountains near Windgift.

Even as a child, Lena doubted that story. She became well acquainted with the shape of the old town—it was the best place to see the moon from. Most was rubble…but gargoyle heads poked from hillsides, and pillars rose from the broken sections of road. Her parents knew she wandered at night, especially on full moons. They did not mind. Such wanderings were good for her soul, and gave her appreciation of the world—and nothing dangerous lived in the hills. No wolves or specters or bandits could bare it anymore.

Harevet Moon 1.png

There was one exception, however. During the first full moon of autumn, Lena was kept inside the house. The first time this happened when she was eleven, she merely assumed her parents were tired of her escapes—and so stayed inside for a few nights more, hoping they would forget. The red light that flowed into her room did not trouble her much then—it never really did. But over time, Lena realized that her parents were rather deliberate. Her doors and windows were locked firmly, and nailed shut. Her father waited in her usually routes. Her father waited at the edge of house, eyes like a hawk. The tree’s branches were trimmed, and in time iron bars locked her in. Eventually, Lena silently agreed to not go out on that first autumn moon.

The day before, her parents would place boards around it. This infuriated and frustrated Lena, all the way until she was a young woman. She occasionally spoke to her friends about it, but none had seen the first full moon of autumn either. But to them, it was no mystery. Their parents had been forthright—the first full moon of autumn was a deep crimson, and when it rose, the gargoyles of the church woke up and danced in the old town. As did the specters and fae of the woods, and the well man, and the other creatures of the night. And those dancers stole away anyone who saw them.

From age twelve to sixteen, Lena slept soundly although still annoyed that her parents hid the moon from her—she never noticed the shifting shaking of the floor, that her door once closed was now ajar. The red light of the Harvest Moon never woke her—it was oddly pleasant. When she woke with the rising of the hateful sun, a book was moved, or a glass of water on the edge—nothing particular over those three nights. But when she was sixteen, the earth shook more violently—and her glass did shatter.

Lena found herself upright and reeling. Her room seemed to be convulsing. Outside were shouts and songs and flickering lights—but they died quickly. Poor Lena had only glimpsed the infinity of the Harvest Moon Night. But she wouldn’t forget what woke her—and on her seventeenth year, she schemed to slip free and see what all the ruckus was about.

Lena began by stealing supplies from the yard that day, her steps as silent as a cat. Spent bullets near the edge of town, and stones that glimmered in the sun. Gathering these in her bed, she next made off with a kitchen knife—the better to begin carving away at the bars on her window. Her parents had put faith in those iron bars, and allowed the nearby tree to grow again. It’s branches would supply her steps. Lastly, she mapped her path. She would go around and back, working her way through the old roads and forgotten paths. And then she waited.

The Moon Hills Harvest Moon.png

When her mother was asleep, and her father standing guard, Lena carved out the iron bars. She lay them one by one on her floor, before the earth started to roar. Then, a gargoyle on the windowsill, she tossed the stones and bullets with a sling made of curtains—they crackled against the boundary stones, stray hunter shots. She paused. And sure as sunrise, her father ran after them.

Lena lay her tools aside, and held her cloak tight as she leapt and scrambled onto the tree branch. Knife at her side, she felt the branch begin to give and crack—she was not as light as when she was a lass. Still, she had the time she needed, to scramble down the trunk. As she felt bare felt touch grass, she raced past the house, up and around the roads to the old town.

By then, the earth began to groan. Its belly shook lightly after first, a hungry moan. But as Lena moved between trees and hills, it grew to a dull roar. And then she saw the dance.

Around the old well, a many colored flame grew—sea green and sky blue and sunset purple. Around it they danced, two dozen gargoyles in a troupe. Their wings flapped and clapped together as they bounded and whirled. An unearthly rhythm formed from their circle, over and around the fire true. And the ground seemed, in that unearthly illumination, to rise and fall with the troupe in their crumbling ruins. Lena was intoxicated by the sight of the fire, swirling with softer cooler colors, and the crimson moon that lay over head.

The Harvest Moon Fire.png

And then the ground buckled, and seemed to break—for something great shifted beneath it and left tremors in its wake. It was vast and graceful—it called to mind the snake that a traveling flute player once tamed. A hundred Typhonic heads reared themselves around the beast—its skin was cobble stone streets, made shining like gem. And as it uncoiled from the hills, this mammoth of a thing, it sang a thousand songs—songs in hundreds of languages, all in harmony but still a grand cacophany. Those songs, from all sides and all places wove themselves through Lena’s ears.

Then they snap shut around it, a gorgon’s trap around her mind that pulled her limbs forward. She understood the approach of other great shapes from the sky and ground—the shadowy being that pulled itself from the well, surrounded by birds and cats and other things; the stars that came to earth, with wolfish heads and howled as they danced; the glittering wings of the great birds, who’s feathers shone as infernos; and of course the moon.

The Red Faced Moon.png

The lovely moon, her white veil cast aside—a figure with blood red skin, tooth and claw, and a throne of pale bone that descended down to dance that night with Lena. Lena who had always loved the moon.

The children say Lena died that day—drowned in the well. But her parents and the elders know she instead went somewhere else. Up to that lowliest of heavens, where the strangest of angels do dwell—she has joined them now, who were moon lovers.


 

This story was delightful to write–It’s a bit more atmospheric I think, and much smaller in scale. I forgot some sections of the original prompt–the gargoyles, for instance, are not noted as transposed, and the cathedral here is a crumbled away ruin. But I still like the general arc, and I don’t feel like I have much more to add to it–I could add dialouge and expand it much more, but it feels rather self contained.

Next week, we take a trip to a miraculous court, and I try to work in some folklore that most people don’t hear! See you then!

 

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We Can Dance If We Want To

This Week’s Prompt: 77. Unspeakable dance of the gargoyles—in morning several gargoyles on old cathedral found transposed.

The Resulting Story: The Harvest Moon Shines Down

The power of dance is one of the most primal things in the history of the world. I don’t mean that in a dismissive sense—dance is sophisticated, and its uses in religion and folklore will be discussed down below in a moment. What I mean is that dance is probably, along with song, one of the forms of entertainment that can be found everywhere—it requires no instruments, only a body with which to express itself. The dance of the gargoyles will thus lead us into something of a deep dive into dance, from a number of places. I will note that for gargoyles in particular, such dances are probably meant as a part of the Witches Sabbath. But we’ve already discussed that.

Dervish.png

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Witch’s Sabbath, there is the whirling Dervish. A mystic Muslim tradition, Dervishes seek to approach God from experience and personal virtue—their dances are often long and strenuous, seeking to reach a state of religious ecstasy and connection in their straining. These dances bring the dervish into a trance, allowing for the experience of god directly. As with many mystic groups, dervishes also swear a vow of poverty and have a reputation in many parts of the world as miracle workers.

Following the dervishes east, we come to India. I feel obliged to note that with a week to do research, Hinduism’s many many practices and tales are not able to be entirely or thoroughly examined. This is at best a summary.

The largest, and most famous form of dance regarding miracles and statues here is the Tandava—the dance done by Lord Shiva on the dwarf demon of ignorance. Doing so maintains the balance of knowledge and ignorance, while at the same time symbolically re-enacting all the cosmos: creation and destruction in one hundred and eight fluid motions.

Shiva Nataraja.png

This dance is not the only dance of course—there is the famed dance of Kali. While Kali has a poor reputation in the West from a certain movie, her role as defender of the world and destroyer of demons is more prevalent. However, in at least one tale, she grows too eager in her efforts. Dancing on the bodies of slain demons, and rampaging without fear, she begins to destroy the world until her husband—Shiva, Lord of the Dance—throws himself beneath her feet, calming her.

Kali and Shiva, along with other deities, are key to the practices commonly called Tantra—a collection of practices that sadly I do not have time to delve into beyond a mere note of its existence as a group of rituals in Hindu and Buddhist traditions that seems interesting.

Moving from India, we go north now to Tibet. Tibetan dances include the Cham Dance—a ritual that seeks to promote prosperity and destroy evil spirits. According to legend, the ritual was invented to allow the construction of a monastery in the 8th century, which was delayed do to the presence of wicked spirits. The dance can last as long as fifteen days, and is as much theater as visual performance. It culminates, ultimately, in the destruction of dough effigy—symbolically the three enemies of Buddhism: Ignorance, Jealousy, and Hatred.

Tibet also plays host to the Snow Lion Dance—a tradition that has spread over China, Japan, and Tibet. The Lion Dance in Tibet takes the form of two boys dressed as snow lion, accompained by musicians who play as they dance from house to house at New Years. The Snow lion is a symbol in Tibet of regional and divine power, snow lionesses raising some of the greatest folk heroes and snow lions serving as the mounts of mountain gods.

The Lion Dance in China has a different origin—according to legend, during the reign of the yellow emperor, a lion stopped a great monster from harassing a city. The monster was not slain, and promised to return the next year. With no lion to defend them, the people of the city made a false lion to trick the beast. And so the Lion Dance was born.

Moving south to Bali, we have another dancing creature that at a glance resembles a lion. The story here is more complex, however, as the dance recreates the battle between Baronga and Rangda. The story goes that Rangda, the mother of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the tenth century, was condemned by Erlangga’s father because she practiced black magic. After she became a widow, she summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the leaks and the demons, to come after Erlangga. A fight occurred, but she and her black magic troops were too strong that Erlangga had to ask for the help of Barong. Barong came with Erlangga’s soldiers, and fight ensued. Rangda casted a spell that made Erlangga soldiers all wanted to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris into their own stomachs and chests. Barong casted a spell that turned their body resistant to the sharp keris. At the end, Barong won, and Rangda ran away.

Barong Dance.png

Re-enactments of this dance, which can go on for sometime, are sometimes dangerous. Overly engaged dancers must be carefully restrained from harming themselves with their weapons, and the ceremonial masks are themselves sacred forces. An element of this story that is partially interesting to me is the fact that Rangda may in fact be a re-incarnation of an earlier sorcerer queen, Calon Arang, who destroyed settlements and released plagues on the world.

Moving further a sea, and north to Japan, we have their own lion dances, and sacred re-enactments. These recall the story of Amaterasu’s retreat from the world—a result of her brother’s lack of hospitality. Nothing could get her to return, and in her absence, the world began to fail. Not only from the natural consequences of her absence—such as the failure of crops—but also by the growing presence of demons and other creatures. One of the stories of how she was lured out of her cavern was by the Dawn goddess of dancers, Amenouzume. Her performance, dressed in moss and then in nothing at all, inspired cries and laughter among the gods until Amaterasu came out to investigate.

Kagura dances began in the imperial household, as sacred entertainment. Over time, however, the dances spread out to the general populace and gained a number of variations. All of them are presented are forms of worship, and are pleasing to the gods when preformed. The imperial versions have been preformed since the year 1000 A.D. and many of the folk variations include re-enactments of tales and ritual workings. Some resemble possession dances, others lion dances of China, and so forth.

Moving from the Phillipenes, across the Pacific, we reach Hawaii. Here stories of dance, particularly the hula, are tied to a handful of gods—the goddess Pele, the goddess Laka, and the goddesss Hi’iaka. In some variations, Laka was the inspiration for the dance, in the swaying of the leaves and trees. In other cases, Pele dances the first hula to signify her victory over the goddess of the oceans. And in the cases of Hi’iaka, the dance is done to appease an angry Pele.

Pele Home.png

Wahikpau o Pele

Coming back to the United States, the power of dance was recognized by First Nations for sometime. The one I remember best, however, was a relatively recent development—the Ghost Dance movement of 1889-1891. The Ghost Dance was a religious movement, beginning in Nevada, and spreading outward on two seperate occasions. According to it’s practitioners, the Ghost Dance would, when done properly, reunite the world of the living and the dead. The returning spirits would then help drive the colonists out of the Americas, and usher in an age of prosperity and peace. The movement had variations, notably among the Lakota, and other spiritual practices—such as ghost shirts, which would repel bullets. The Ghost Dance movement met its end in an unfortunately predictable way—while some practitioners remain, the US Military considered the movement ‘troublesome’, and at the Wounded Knee Massacre, effectively ended the movement by force.

GhostDance

An interesting aside—the Dene are the only tribe that refused to take part in the Ghost Dance when offered. Speculation varies as to why, but I had always heard it was because “the dead returning” came across significantly more sinister then elsewhere.

Crossing the United States and going north some, we come to Europe. Here there are two traditions to discuss—and then onto the horror story. The first is the Egg Dance. The dance is an old Easter Celebration, potentially pagan before that. There a few variations, but in general the dance involves dancing around or with eggs and attempting to break as few as possible while doing so. In some traditions, as is reported in 1498, if a couple danced among the eggs and no eggs were broken they were instantly betrothed—regardless of parental opinion.

Egg Dance.png

The other dance in Europe I would like to discuss is far more horrific. The Dancing Plague of 1518 is an incident of mass hysteria in the Holy Roman Empire that compelled four hundred individuals to begin dancing for days on end rest until they collapsed—resutling in deaths from exposure, heart attacks, or exhaustion. The plague lasted one month, and is not the only one of it’s kind. Dancing outbreaks in Europe are documented over a one thousand year period—from the seventh to the seventeenth century. Incidents range from around twenty dancers to the four hundred above. Most documents indicate women as the primary participants, although some dancing plagues were predominantly children or even a lone man. Explanations ranged from natural causes of excess hot blood, the curse of St. Vito, the curse of St. John, and demonic possession. Cures were thus various: hired musicians to play, prayers and pilgrimages, exorcisms, isolation and containment. Eventually the plagues simply ceased.

Which brings us to the horror aspect of our story. One part of dance that can be horrific is its compelling, instinctive in a compelling way—as silly as it sounds, dancing can invoke a loss of control, especially in a communal context. And losing control is a frightening experience at times. If the dance is the sole source of horror, this would be the place to start. But our prompt points away from this, at first at least. No, our prompt presumes we are witnessing the dance of another—Gargoyles, which here may as well stand in for strange, monstrous creatures. Perhaps Lovecraft meant to invoke the fear of a community of Gargoyles at all. The story The Festival seems the most likely to have come from this prompt—it is an archaic Yule-Tide celebration that involves strange winged creatures, crowds, and a procession. As we’ve seen, dances often recount communal history and celebration, and The Festival in a way centers around such notions.

To make a revelation horrific, it must reveal something horrifying. This is perhaps self-explanatory, but one of the faults of Lovecraft’s writing is the difficulty of such revelations. It can’t merely be “things man was never meant to know”—such secrets feel more of a cheat in these days then an actual horrific reveal. Digging into Lovecraftian and Gothic secrets, there are plenty to choose from. There are revelations about family, about self, about the real nature of the universe—although that one descends quickly into “it was so profoundly shocking I can’t describe it” which is cheating.

Another potential reference is a story from the Dreamlands—here a priest goes up a mountain, to where the gods dance. And there, he encounters more than he bargained for as the gods are joined by more terrifying and powerful gods, who do not take kindly to being watched. This I think—the discovery of the size and breadth of a community of monsters, or the violation of a secret pact and the consequences there of, are perhaps more interesting to examine then simple revelation.

Of course, this is already running longer than normal—and I’ve only barely touched on the nature of dance in folklore and traditions! What are some you know? What meaning or purpose do they have? How have they touched you?

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The Frog Church

This Weeks Prompt:76. Ancient cathedral—hideous gargoyle—man seeks to rob—found dead—gargoyle’s jaw bloody.

The Prior Research: Sacred Guardians

The Windgift church is a large, if vacuous one. The city has withered away around it—moving mostly up river or down roads. Folks still call it the cathedral, but the diocese is based out of Morgstadt now a days. Pilgrims still come and go—the old icons and relics are still held aloft for display. I think that’s what got Leon Pyrmont’s attention first—the relics gold and glittering cases. Maybe it was the bones instead, calling to him like dead men are so often called to grace.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Cathedral has one other, notable addition—the Gargoyle. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Its become sort of famous. Some horror movie big shot came and took photos of it for his monsters, and then people in the know referenced the movie with their own homages. Yes, yes, the gargoyle is really old. It’s not like those pictures you might see of a gargoyle shaped like an Alien or astronaut or Darth Vader. Those were all put there recently. They look old, but that’s because there supposed to look old. No, the Gargoyle of Windgift is an original.

Frog Church 1.png

It looms over the front of the cathedral, a three headed hunched over human, with a tadpole tail. The three frog heads all look down on the masses coming in and out—its a bit creepy honestly. Worse when you realize there’s a fourth mouse, closed and grinning with teeth, on it’s belly. No, yeah, that’s actually there. They didn’t add that for the movie.

Leon didn’t come to see the Gargoyle, though. I first saw him examining it on the church steps. It is certainly eye catching, and even tourists off to better known traps will stop and stare at the stone warden, leering down at the crowd. He—uh, Leon, not the Gargoyle—was dressed like a tourist. Slightly off green coat, baseball cap, jeans. Roamed around with the tour group as well. Really, he wasn’t that note worthy except he wasn’t taking pictures. That and he seemed…aware of what he was doing. Walking with purpose you know? I decided to have a chat, seemed nice enough.

Leon said he was a tourist, kind of, going to all these churches that had unique architecture. We talked about the history of the cathedral a bit. I rattled off some of the healings I’d seen. You know, kids with cancer, broken backs, wasting disease. Showed him my own patched up scar. His eyes sort of wandered as I talked, but you know, I thought he was just taking it all in. And I guess he was.

His eyes fell upon the old story of the Gargoyle, and asked about…well, it is gruesome display on the glass. St. Remus and the beast. I love that story, honestly. Some academic tried to tell me it was just a bastardized version of St. Slyvanus and the Beast, but that thing was a wildman. We, on the other hand, have a genuine beast. A real devil. In the story, the beast lived in the local bog. The pagans used to keep it satisfied by offering thieves and murderers to it. And you know what? When they drained the bog, yeah, there were over a hundred corpses at the bottom. So, someone was tossing bodies down there for some reason, and—

PeatBog.png

I’m getting ahead of myself again. Anyway, the beast lurks in this bog. It’s troublesome, but mostly it just…eats folks. Sometimes runs around wearing their faces, luring people off trails. But its, you know, just the weird cannibal monster in the woods. Then Saint Remus comes along.

Now, okay, he’s not a saint yet. This is one of like, twenty stories about St. Remus doing cool stuff. But the monster story is the best. Now, Remus learns that this town of pagans is sending its criminals to be thrown into a bog. And being a good Christian, he can’t exactly tolerate that sort of behavior. So he goes with his staff and bangs on the kings door—yeah, probably not called a king yet, but who cares—and demands he stop in the name of God.

FrogChurch3.png

The King tells Remus to sort it out himself if God’s so great. So Remus decides to go up with the next criminal. Now they head up to the bog, but the beast knows Remus or something. So he hides in the bog, and makes terrible noises to scare him off. Remus thinks it just some gas I guess. Either way he leaves, and everyone has a good laugh at it. They all decide, hey, we’ll send you guys up next month.

Except, the monsters mad now. It hates Remus, wants him gone. So it flies out and starts throwing skulls at the town. Raging around, killing people Remus talks to, burning houses he sleeps in, poisoning food around him. Just hates him. And, well, people hate Remus too. Messed up a good deal they had going. So, they send him up early.

But…the monsters still afraid of him. Yeah, following him around and messing with him—I think it was invisible or something? I don’t know. But either way, ti lurks at the bottom of the bog. This time, the guys who took him out there won’t take Remus back, though. I mean, they don’t want their stuff burned down either. Or food poisoned or, you know, angry monster. So…everyone just stays there, all day. Remus is sitting on an old stump. Probably poking the bog with his stick.

Turns out, next day is Sunday. So Remus gets up, turns to the dozen or so people gathered there, and asks if he can read Mass. And the executioners and the dead dude look at each other—here’s this nutter asking to say Mass at his death bed. They shrug, say sure. Or whatever fifth century is for sure. I missed Latin. So, St. Remus gets up and starts preaching to no one. The sermon is on Saul’s trip to Damascus, and Remus gets so patient about it that the thing in the bog hears.

Imagine that—well, I mean you can see it in glass at the church. A five headed, winged, snake armed thing floating out a bog. It’s covered in gray mud, and it’s dripping with blood probably. You’ve seen this thing eat people. And it’s floating there, behind this preacher. Not saying a word. Just…there.

And when it finally talks, it asks this random priest…it asks this priest if it’s true.

So Remus turns around, and hand it to the guy, he has a talk with this monster about God and Christ and Heaven and baptism and all that. And he leads it back to the temple—they have a big baptism, the beast becomes a Catholic defender of the new church, and they agree to pardon a dozen thieves every summer or something, I don’t know. That parts not in the stain glass, so. You know. Who cares.

So I start telling this to Leon, and he’s not really paying attention. I mean, he’s paying attention to other stuff. I follow his eyes, and realize he’s kinda scoping the place out. He’s looking at the entrances and exits, hes scoping the place out.

Later, it broke that this was Leon’s part time gig. It’s not a common job, or wasn’t, but its profitable. You’ve got small, dying churches that have more than a few holy items. A shroud, a bone, an icon, a bit of jewelry. It’s old, it’s powerful, and more than thirty people remember it. But the old churches? They aren’t that secure, they aren’t seen that often. It’s a waste of a miracle to let it just stay there, gathering dust between displays.

That’s where people like Leon get involved. New churches, or churches that are new to their providence, they need relics. And if no one or nobodies are using the old ones, well. Who’s going to notice, right? And hey, if they notice, you just hide it for a while. Then it’s ‘miraculously’ found out in the wilderness by the priest and whoops their relic now. Its…well, its business I suppose. Wonder if we ever hired anyone like that…anyway, that was Leon’s work. Normally, the genuine relic is replaced by a forgery. I wasn’t clear who switched’em—seemed like Leon did it sometimes, sometimes the church did it to hide the robbery, whatever.

At the time, I think he’s just worried. Maybe he’s here to hide out, or whatever. I shrug, and go home.

What happened next isn’t really clear. The church doesn’t have security cameras—the police do, outside, so we know that at one o’clock at night Leon went into the cathedral. He got through the door with some lock picks—they were found still in the door the next day. From there, it gets harder to figure out exactly what happened. He got inside, but the interior was really messed up when he was found. And a stone floor doesn’t leave many tracks.

Frog Church2.png

It seems likely he left shortly after entering the vault. Or, rather, attempted to leave. Leon’s body was not located—however, his right hand was found gripping the remains of a reliquary, behind the altar. There were a number of bloodstains on the inside, although most were cleaned up before I arrived. A drop fell from the gargoyle—I thought it was rain. Looking up to see the storm, I was horrified to see a red stain from the four amphibian heads.


 

This story started as an anonymous history, before I found a good voice. I think it could have been done better–its unclear why the story is being told or to who or when–but the concept is rather solid. The premise itself is limiting–there’s not much to do right now with a simple heist. There could have been more, but I…honestly couldn’t think of an expansion.

Next week, we resume a discussion of gargoyles and demons–but there dances and parties this time!

 

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