This Week’s Prompt: 40. Warning that certain ground is sacred or accursed; that a house or city must not be built upon it—or must be abandoned or destroyed if built, under penalty of catastrophe.
The idea of sacred and cursed spaces is one that has a large deal of weight in folklore and myth. Culturally, the notion is found often in religious centers and temples. A large number of temple complexes, both in the Middle East and in Mesoamerica. Ziggurats and pyramids are raised over sacred spaces, forming layers of holiness one on top of the other. While the exact qualities of a sacred space vary from place to place, they generally follow common themes. Mesoamerican civilizations preferred caves, Mesoptamian ziggurats reflected mountain tops, and so on.
Sacred spaces are often places that connect to divinity, and as such—despite the prompt—are often occupied to one degree or another. There are a few places that are too sacred, often believed to disturb or anger the inhabitants of the area if built upon. This notion still has folklore roots, particular in areas that are considered haunted.
The cause of hauntings is…well, very common across regions. Typically, places that are haunted, drawing from these lists, are the sites of terrible crimes. Particular favorites that we talked about here and here, are murder and suicide. Tragedies often resonate and inhabit the buildings and even the space.
This is well known in the horror trope of the Indian Burial Ground, which has problems all its own. A haunting typically results in more murders, disappearances, and strange sounds. Again, here. The notion of accursed land that is built over and therefore incites vengeance is too played out for my tastes. No, I prefer to return to the notion of vengeance do to taboo violation.
Taboo is a familiar term, but in this case I mean it specifically in the anthropological sense: a rule that, if violated, invites supernatural retribution. These rules sometimes are enforced by the divine principles of the world, but other times they stand outside the divine and pursue at their own will. The Furies, for instance, do not necessarily obey Zeus and often seek to enforce the rules of hospitality and familicide on their own. Taboos extend beyond that, of course. Some include taboos against incest (a universal one), the ownership of certain items by certain people, and so forth. Constructing a living space in a taboo’ed area results in considerable more than haunting. A taboo invokes divine wrath, something more akin to the calamity fortold in the prompt.
There is also a rather obvious structure that could be followed here. We are given a rule: Do not build here. Someone violates the rule. And then there is calamity. But I think that such a structure wouldn’t fit in the 1500-3000 word limit I am attempting to maintain. Rather, I think the calamity is the focus, for a number of reasons.
Firstly is the nature of buildings. They are long lasting things, generational things. Houses are haunted for years to come, old castles see generations pass by. Places become more than instants, and the vengance of gods is often long coming.
Instead, I think I will take a page from the Gothic. The Gothic is obsessed with place as a reflection of pysche, of geograhpy and buildings with symbolic value. This is both a continuation of the sacred spaces and accursed places in the prompt, and the notions of the Fisher King. In the Fisher King notion, the damage to the ruler of a land is reflected in the damage to the land. Consider how Scar, in the Lion King, rules over a wasteland that is cured upon being dethroned.
In this notion, I would suggest the terrible building, that has blasphemed against the world, has been built for a good deal of time. Abandoned and re-inhabited a few times, perhaps, as the curse strikes down inhabitants that dare claim the land. When the calamity comes, it ought to be towards the end of the lives of those who violated the curse. The victims, then, are not only those that knowing violated the pact or taboo, but their descendants who now face a reckoning. This reckoning will take the forms of gradual events, isolating and driving at the victims until they discover its ultimate cause. All too late, of course, to avoid their fated doom.
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