What’s In a Name?

This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.

The Resulting Story: The Brand of Nasht

We begin this week with an interesting pair of names that are of note in the world of the Mythos: Nasht and Kaman-Thah are the priestly guardians of the Dreamlands of Earth, preventing the unworthy from journeying there in slumber. This role lacks the sinister overtone that Lovecraft has here described; all accounts point to Nasht and Kaman-Thah being beneficent forces of caution. Digging around the paragraphs or so dedicated to them in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, we find a few suggestions of where to go. They wear crowns of Egypt and have at the center of their temple is a pillar of fire that seems to reference Zorastrian fire shrines. Mr. Lovecraft’s interest in magicians of the middle east—hardly a unique topic for his time—is well noted.

However, the use of names might provide more of a resource. Names are things with no small amount of power. The real name of an individual can grant power over said person. Isis gained power over Ra by means of learning his true name. Ra in turn formed the gods from naming of his limbs, according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. These names can be invoked for the safety of the travel into the world of the dead. The name of a god invokes their power—it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that Catholic and Orthodox rites are preformed, for instance. The inability to name or create image of the Abhramic God is precisely because of this power wrapped up in names.

TheFuries

The Kindly Ones

This power of names and the divine extends further into mystic and magical arts. Writing the name on pieces of lead and burying it in the ground was a common way to lay a curse on someone in Greece and Rome. The recitation of names is key in conjuring forth demons in the Goetic arts. In the Odyssey, the name of Odysseus has to be learned for the curse of Polyphemeus to lay hold on him. Without the name, the curse couldn’t find its mark and be grounded in the world. Names are often changed for the sake of politeness: The Friendly Folk and Kindly Ones (the fae and furies, respectively), are named not so much for accuracy as for appeasement.

The names of children are of special importance. Many cultures take pains to wait to name the child, especially in regions with high infant mortality. The role of Christening in some countries doubles as protecting the child and marking the child as a social being. The child becomes more real when named. Naming a child after an ancestor honors the deceased and builds protection. The Netsilik and other Inuit people invoke lengthy names, therefore, so that a newly born child has a number of protectors. New names are added to the child’s birth name as life goes on, helping further protect them.

Abraxas

Abraxas

Amulets in particular often have names inscribed on them, in order to ensure the protection of the depicted figures. Amulets may have gods themselves, saints, and so forth. The most memorable of such entities, for me, is Abraxas. Abraxas is a rather strange entity, a god or demon or aeon or perhaps the God, who we know chiefly through amulets that display his form: a man with a rooster’s head and snakes for legs.

The Olympian Spirits—not to be confused with the Olympian Gods of Greece—also provide power by engraving their names on objects, granting long lives, familiars, and other mystical powers. With proper preparation, these strange entities are formidable tools of magic indeed. Sadly, whatever tradition they belong to appears lost to history.

The Sigils of the Olympic Spirits

Symbols of the Olympian Spirits, for use on amulets.

Other times, the actor takes on the name and role—and thus power—of an entity by assuming their name and a mask. This role, often taken up by priests, could give insight into our ensuing plot where one becomes the named entity for a duration of time.

The name then has mystical and magical import built into it. But the problem is greater here, in that theses names we are given are sinister, left handed and wicked. What does it mean for a name to be sinister? Is it a wicked sounding name? In all likelihood, that is what Lovecraft meant, but that is a boring answer so I’ll ignore it.

Hephestus

Hephaestus, the occasional employer of the Dactyls.

As a brief aside, while digging for information on name invocation, I came across an oddity. Now, its fairly well known that sinister has its roots in the Latin for left handed(sinister). The act of theurgy, sorcery, and demonic invocation traces itself back, etymologically, to the left hand Dactyls. This connection, while tenuous, seems like it could be built on. After all, Egypt and Babylon have sorcerer connotations to some (we discussed the implications of that here, in case your wondering). Names then could wrack strange effects on the world.

Another answer is that these names are emblematic of wicked or dangerous powers. These are sinister names, in that they are names not meant to be said or they will draw unwanted attention when invoked. A curse or a demon swear. The names, when given or spoken or taken, work some disturbing change on that which they touch. We can consider the various names that mustn’t be said in this category. Hastur’s supposedly dangerous name, for instance, is in this category.

Another possiblity is that the assumption of this name brings about something sinister. By becoming, in a very real way, Nasht or Kaman-Thah, the person becomes wicked or inclined to wickedness. They become something like a demon by taking on the mantle of long lost powers.

That leaves what has happened. We could do a story that tells how these ancient names became sinster—what force or history made them so corrosive? Alternatively, the names are inscribding on a tablet, a piece of paper, an amulet of some sort that afflicts the people who behold it or touch it. The names themselves are inciting and powerful implements, if mostly passive agents in the world. What effects they cause, what curses they bear are matters to be worked out.

I think I will take a different route. Instead of dealing with the horror at first and straight ahead, it would be better to come at the invocation and evocation of these dread names as things of the past. The utterances or history of these names, written and embodied in the world.

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The Bride and The Bridge

This Weeks Prompt: 62. Live man buried in bridge masonry according to superstition—or black cat.

The Research:All Walled Up

I remember that fateful day, down by the bubbling stream. We left the crumbling remains of stone all the more bitter than before, as bits of men and mortar were washed away again. The command had come down, from the voice of the river herself. The bridge would not rise, until someone had died.

First she asked for a pair of twins, named Strong and Sturdy. I went out, with the King’s ring and funerary pay. I searched in the valleys and fields, in the woods and riverbeds. I went between hill and vale, through moors and mountains, but not a sign of them. The children were gone. Maybe they already lay as corner stones to some other bridge. Or maybe the river was cruel, and delighted in struggle.

We despaired, until we found a stranger on our roads. Then we delighted, and slipped some belladonna in his drink. So we set about building again, tossing the traveler we found on the road into the hole. He was unawares as the soil filled up around him, and the stones were laid above him, a tomb of strong masonry if nameless. The good Lord would recognize him on judgment day anyway.

The stone bent, the wood snapped as the river roared to life. We saw her then, the ala rising from the waves like a storm swirling out of the clouds. She towered over the three of us, myself the chief mason, the King and the Duke. She made her demands more clear this time.

The Bridge1.png

“You give us not twins, but one, not a friend, but a stranger, buried in his sleep, that none my know? And you thought by this we would be sated?” She boomed on the winds and spray. “A hundred bones will grid my stones, unless a new offering is brought. Bring us not an old man, not an orphan, not a stranger, not a widow, not an ill man, or grandmother. Bring us a mother, a wife still young that we will hold them close, in the stones of your bridge.”

With that, she crashed as a wave onto the rubble, and washed away men and mortar.And so we three, wind biting at our cloaks, made our way to the hills, clouds hanging round our thoughts. Between us, we each had a young boy, and a wife. I knew in my heart, as the wind as chilled as my blood, that there would be much mourning soon.

“How should we decide,” The Duke asked, examining his nails with his thumb, “who will suffer this terrible fate?”

“If all is to be fair, we should cast lots.” I mused, unable to meet their eyes. My sweet summer flower, buried beneath the stones, weighed heavily on me. It seemed that giving fate the knife and telling her to cut the line would at least make it bearable.

“That is too vulgar for something like this…” The king said, staring back at the river. “Let us give it all unto God, and the masons, so we cannot cheat the river. I will go among them. Whosoever’s wife brings their meal tomorrow morn, they will wall up below.”

We each shook on the arrangements, and made our way, thoughts of doom lingering long over our heads. The fog rolled up the hills, as we all took our beds, for what might be the last time. I smiled at dinner with my Dmitri and Katrina. They had condolences over the failure of the bridge, although by then…well, it was hardly surprising. The stew and bread were warm, and hearty, and dread wore me down to sleep swiftly.

Ah, that dreadful day, when the sun came over head. My flower sweet Katrina woke, and went with the others to fetch water. We came quietly to the masons camp and waited, looking on the horizon. The fog was still there, the dew still wet when we saw her, my lovely wife in white, her head scarf held tight with a basket of bread and a pail of water.

“Sweet Katrina, why do you come alone?” I asked, my heart heavy. She smiled with rosy cheeks as she came down the hill. The masons took their bread, as did the king and the duke. With their iron shovels, they began to dig.

“Ah, her Majesty fell ill. And the Lady Duchess took to bed with a fainting spell.” my sweet Katrina said. “So the work was left only to me. The load was heavy, but I knew the hunger would be heavier for my husband.”

I smiled as best I could. Oh, a fool I was to trust other men with promises of fair play, when their loves and lives were on the line. One of the workman put his hand on my shoulder, a wieght holding my ghost from escaping. In the years since, I’ve not forgotten his words.

“The bridge is ready for the lady.” He said grimly. My smile fell, my face felt hot.

“What’s this? You prepared the bridge again for me?” My sweet Katrina said with a laugh.

“Yes…The river wants a burial.” The workman said. I couldn’t even speak, I just hung my head.

Coward I was, to not set upon them then and there, and fight the call of the tide. I saw the Ala in the winds watching then, waiting. The bridge was still a fragile thing. It would bend and break.

“Oh, and it’s to be me?” My Katrina said with another laugh. The workman nodded, and the two of us lead her to the opening in the foundation. We wrapped around her eyes a blindfold of white, and a red cloth for the angel of death around her neck.

We lowered her gently down to the stone floor. It was a deep, slanted hole in the earth, smoothed walls on every side. As deep as a grave, as wide as three men side to side.

“Well, its not the most comfortable, but the stones have been harder.” My Katrina jested. She smiled up at us for moment…until the workmen shoveled in dirt. She shouted and cursed at the bruises.

“That’s enough of that! What kind of game is it to throw dirt at a wife?” She said, as the dirt began to cover her feet. She ran her heads on the pit’s walls, but they were smooth. I looked away.

“What civilized wit you have, to make a show of a woman like this. But please, I’m sure the point is past, you can stop now. I’m going to need some help getting out of this.” My Katrina said, the dirt up to her waist, as she pushed up despite the flowing dirt.

“What have I done for this? Please, what have I done?” She cried out, as her struggling arms were covered to the elbow. “What have I done to die like this?”

The dirt rose to her neck, the workman silent as they set stones around her.

“God take you! Should your brothers trod on my bridge, you cowards and monsters, I hope they are smashed into the river rocks and drown! The plague take you by the throat, you and all your kin!” She shouted, full of venom.

TheFoundation.png

“Even if it is your own brother?” The mason asked, the last dirt in his shovel.

“Where is he now?” She hissed back. And then was silent ever more.

The bridge still spans the river, unbroken yet. The ala stays silent beneath, shaking occasionally but no more than from wind and rain. The clouds seem to linger over head, longer than before, obscuring the eye of God from what we have done.

I come to visit her often. I lay flowers by my Katrina’s stone, with my son beside me. I wonder too, where her brother roams. It does not matter. He is too late, and my gifts are too little. She is restless in the earth now. In my dreams and waking hours, I hear her cry out. But as then, I do nothing.


 

This story was fun to right, and figuring the perspective was the most difficult part. It could be expanded–originally the tale ended on a note of vengeance on the deceptive Duke and King, but that was taking too long. At this brief, I think it works well.

Next week, we go to a new prompt! Names of Power and Praise!

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All Walled Up

This Weeks Research: 62. Live man buried in bridge masonry according to superstition—or black cat.
The Resulting Story: The Bride and The Bridge

There are few fates more terrible then being buried alive. The paranoia about being buried alive has gripped entire cultures. Victorians laid bells and viewing glasses, so that the living might distinguish themselves from the dead. Modern day variants include being buried with a cellphone, in case that dreadful fate occur to them. But this prompt is about a far older practice: Immurement .

Burying a live victim into the foundations of a building is an old and common practice. Bridges in particular often have some buried in the stone in order to appease those spirits into whose domain they cross. River gods, you see, frequently asked for brides or attendants. An immurement was a more permanent payment, that the strength of the spirit maintain the bridge and appease the spirit.

The Balkans have stories of a morbid, Gothic character of a spirit demanding first two twins (who’s names are Strong and Sturdy). When this fails, the spirit demands a wife of the community: Not a stranger, not a widow, not an orphan. No, it must be the wife of the chief mason or the nobility. The wife is taken, often laughing until she is placed in the hole. Then, realizing her fate, she begins begging for freedom, then turns to cursing her kin, until at last she asks that her right side (Her arms, hand, and face) be left free, that she may gaze upon her newborn child. And this is done, and she nurses her child for another week (or longer, as sometimes the bridge still produces breast milk to this day).

The variations in this story sometimes make it more tragic. In the first place, sometimes the woman is decided by a promise among the three lords: whoever brings the workman their food first will be sacrificed. However, the first and second nobles break their code of silence and warn their wives. The youngest and noblest stays to his word. Come morning, the older women avoid bringing the food down. And the youngest, realizing what has happened, tries delaying the younger woman’s descent. She curses them all as she is walled up by the masons.

iphigenia.png

This deception is similar to the Greek story of Iphigenia. Here, Agamemnon is told that for the winds to rise and the thousand ships Helen launched to sail, his daughter must be sacrificed. Unlike our other stories, this sacrifice is commanded because Artemis has been offended by the king—he killed a deer in her sacred grove, and thus must compensate blood for blood. He conspires with his brother to tell his wife to send his daughter—Iphigenia—to the camp, where she will wed Achilles, supposedly. When she arrives, she is brought to be sacrificed—sometimes she is saved by Artemis.

This older myth is still, however, about crossing a body of water by sacrificing a young woman. While Iphegenia is not yet a mother—a requirement of the other stories for the sacrifice—she is generally the same form as prior sacrifices to raise a bridge. Later on, we will examine the broader sacrifices of maidens to monsters of rivers and seas—Andromeda comes to mind—but for now Iphegenia’s particular tragedy is enough. There is no monsterous serpent that will kill her. She is slain by her own family.

The practice is also reminiscent of those done in Japan during bridge building, termed hitobashira. These pillars, marked by human sacrifices below, serve as a prayer that the building never suffer do to natural causes, such as floods or storms. The examples I have also include incidents where such deaths were averted by clever sacrifices, who outsmarted or gambled their lives back. Again, they are marked as an appeasement to river deities, a class of entity we’ve touched on before. The rivers power of devastation might be lost sometimes, but the flood waters can devastate populations.,

Other methods of immurement include burying a man or woman or dog in the corner stone. A passerby might be interned by accident if their shadow passes over the spot for the stone, and many of those buried haunt the place after. A church grim is a specific canine breed of this ghost. In Yorkshire lore, it is not the person buried beneath the church that becomes the grim, but rather the first buried in a graveyard that guards it against the devil and defilers.

According to a prominent if false urban legend, the Great Wall of China had men buried in it. This would have been foolish, as the decomposing corpses would have defeated the purpose of a wall. A more accurate burial of human sacrifices would be those in the tomb of the first Emperor, who were buried that their knowledge not escape the Emperor’s life. Such procedures to avoid tomb robbers have been practiced in many regions, with mixed success.

A case of near immurement occurred in a recorded story from Morocco. The worker fell ill, and the sultan decreed he would be buried in the wall as punishment for slowing the construction. When a passing saint, al-Yusi, is asked to intervene he opposes the sultan, until he is banishd. Al-Yusi settled in a nearby graveyard. The sultan rode out to drive him out, only for his horse to begin to sink into the graves until he repented, nearly buried alive himself.

Immurement beneath houses is equally common, for similar reasons. By placing the ancestors beneath the floorboards, you could ensure their help to the family for years later. An intentional, benevolent haunting of the house if you will. This practice is well observed as a secondary burial, found in various regions as well. Prehistoric burials have been found with the body placed in a pot beneath the floor boards, just in case.

CaskOfMonteEgro.png

Leaving folklore behind for a moment, there is also the horror tradition at work here. We must consider a pair of Edgar Allen Poe stories for burial while alive: The Black Cat—which provides the strange second clause of this prompt, of course—and the Cask of Amontillado, where a man is buried alive in a wine cellar. In fact, the latter story seems oddly similar to the stories from the Balkans, with the laughter before a silent end. Arguably, his classic, the Tell Tale Heart, is a similar end, with a burial under the floor boards—albeit a dead one that pretends to be alive.

The story we stitch together then has some strong thematic routes and pathos. It will evoke betrayal, desperation, and of course fear. Not only is being buried alive claustrophobic, it is quite literally confronting the ultimate fate of things early. I think keeping the divine call for a sacrifice. I’m torn between the point of view of the sacrifice or the sacrificer. The sacrifice has the most sympathetic view, but shrinks our horror to a few hours walk, and is ambushed by the burial. The sacrificer, meanwhile, is well aware of the deception. The happiness, the innocence of the lamb lead to slaughter is all the more poignant when you are the butcher.

The other end of planning is doing knife twisting properly. A constant melody of ironic statements, of poignant phrases that mount misery on misery would get as boring as a never ending description of how truly horrifying this or that monster is. The writing here needs balance and relief from the pain, in order to function properly. If the hand is over played, then the horror and tragedy will become schlocky and overwrought. A thing I do try and avoid at times.

 

Biblography

Amster, Ellen. Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956. University of Texas Press, 2014.
Butler, Thomas. Monumenta Serbocroatica: a Bilingual Anthology of Serbian and Croatian Texts from the 12th to the 19th Century. Michigan Slavic Publ., 1996.
Holton, Milne, and Vasa D. Mihailovich. Songs of the Serbian People From the Collections of Vuk Karadzic. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014.

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The Demon Throne

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Prior Research:Pilgrimages

There is an old road that runs beyond the world, to a most holy land. Beneath the two outstretched arms of giants, frozen for hubris long ago and now bleeding basalt in perpetuity, beyond the watch posts of the Crimson Kings who bear swords that sing, past the walls of stars that stand sentry against the crawling things. The road is worn, and broken in parts. Pavement and stones come and go, stone incarnations of an irregular heart beat. Drops of the old pulse still pass, following it past the end of the world to a most holy land.

Men and women who travel that road rarely come to it’s close. Most grow tired of their searching, abandon it for a highway, forming clots of wooden huts that grew sometimes into small towns. Others perished of over belief, forgetting their still mortal needs. Their skulls, if they were holy in death, grew into strange shapes. Some gained eyes after death, some horns, some became pallid growths in the earth, morticians moss on Mother Earth.

Azathoth City Body 1.png

And some found themselves in a situation like the sage Gilmora, in a cage of well made iron, bereft of his votive offerings of brass and his occult jade tools currently picking the flesh out of Negoi’s teeth. Negoi sat between the other two bandits, a mountain of muscle, with a necklace of relic fingers and tokens strung like beads. Occasionally he stirred the bronze pot, carved with divine faces, with the staff of some less fortunate traveller.

“So, what’s the haul with this one?” He asked the fellow to his right, who had cracked open the wooden case Gilmora had born with him.

“Not much, not much food anyway. Some skull thats gone and turned green.” Dozji said, holding the skull of St. Jian in one hand, turning it over and pulling out a cork seal. “ Dust in side. Smells like rotten eggs.”

“That’d be sulfur. I read once, stuff burns like fire, stings awful. Don’t know why you’d put it in a skull.” The third bandit, Olmoi with his beady red eyes said, looking up from the scrolls he had hanging from the branches. The letters on some were small square blocks unknown to Gilmora, while a codex of great worth was torn at the trees base, pages used to feed the fire of boiling flesh and fat.

“Maybe you throw it and the skull breaks on’em!” Dozji said, resealing the skull. “What do you say, little pig? Or is this how you lot season your food.”

“If a man is what he consumes, the ashes of a saint and sulfur can only do you good, friend.” Glimora said, folding his legs.

Skull Manuscript.png

Olmoi stopped Dozji’s hand before he poured the ash into the stew, shaking his head and quietly explaining that he would in fact perish, and kill all of them while he was at it. The three of them split the soup without any more of the saintly seasoning. Drinking out of the meditation bowls thank rang slightly when they hit the gold with their false teeth, making strange ringing for seconds before stoping at their lips. The conversation then went on to Glimora.

“Monks don’t fetch as much as they used, but I’m not sure if he’s worth eating…” Dozji muttered.

“Might be holy enough, we could hack him up. Polish his bones, sell him off as relics…” Negoi said, looking up from his bowl, turning it over so the scraps of less edible meat fell into the fire, crackling for a moment as the fat caught flame.

“If their relics, shouldn’t we just keep’em?” Olmoi said, frowning. “I mean, can’t monks tell what ain’t relics?”

“Yeah, but not fast. We can ditch them for another road or something.”

Gilmora sat serenly through the conversation, his mind’s eye wandering over the hills to see if that etheral city might be spotted. As the conversation continued, his invisilbe pupil continued on, settling in the barren wastes for a time. When he was done, he unfolded his legs and stood, walking to the edge of his cage.

“Ah, well, have an idea of where we should start?” Negoi said, messaging the finger bones and turning up from the conversation. Gilmora said nothing, walking to the front of the cage. His bones bent wax like round the iron rods, muscle and sinew folding out to make more room, before stitching himself back together on the other end with thin filaments of silk woven by unseen spiders.

“I knew he was holy.” Negoi murmured, before reaching for the sacrifical knife at his side and lunging at the escapd man, and running him through. Gilmora politely pushed the man back onto the fire, where the fat burned and scalled through the clothes of long dead pilgimrs, and the oil from the relics along Negoi’s neck burned bright.

Olmoi and Dozji merely stared as the pilgrim Gilmora went on his way, marching measuredly out of the camp and into the woods, back to the shimmering holy road. Olmoi glanced at his terror stricken fellow, before going after the escapee.

Olmoi had never followed the Pilgrim Road past the blasted heaths and hills, where none had returned. Negoi had once, and told the younger bandit that to glimpse that land was the worst decision of his life, and set him against any such pilgrims searching for that holy of cities, where demons walked the streets unhindered.

Azathoth City Body 2.png

Gilmora floated down the road then, barely touching the ground now. Olmoi heard distantly the song of a great beast, a deep siren sound of a whale as they drew near the iron hill. And there, for but a moment, in the indigo light of that place beyond the world, he saw the throne of Azathoth. The pulsating, squamous seprentine mass, grooves the size of buildings rising from the bulk as a mass of eyes and teeth stared down in all directions. At the center was a great maw, echoing outward with that song through fibrous teeth. Great was the yawning mass, an abyss of flesh with fingers reaching out on the wind.

And then Gilmora was gone, leaving not but his skull behind, smoke and dust swirling into the embrace of the demon king’s throne. The carnivorous cavern lasted but a moment more, a dread and terrible light shining within, beckoning like a beacon at sea. And then, it too was gone. Olmoi stared for a moment in terror, before collecting the skull of Glimora. Out of it’s foramen magnum dripped a sweet smelling liquid, like honey. But it’s touch burned Olimoi’s fingers. He flipped it in his hands and carefully carried it back to mortal lands. But that is a story for another time.


This was a rushed story, to be honest. My first few drafts were boring, tiresome, and had nothing happening. This is the result rewrite that tried using the pilgrimage as a spring board, and expanding into actually including characters. Next time, however, we will return to an old well of classic horror: Burial alive.

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