Peacock and Serpent

This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.

The Resulting Story:

Well. This is going to be quite an article. So, this prompt through something of a wrench in my normal mode of writing and making this blog—which is, to latch onto a part of the prompt and pick it apart in folklore, then build a story off the folklore as possible. The problem, however, with this one was that the obvious option—the ruined organ—wasn’t easily found. While there is some possible work around by focusing on the abandoned church or cathedral, that felt a bit well trodden. So I turned instead to finding out if there was a story this was from. This is a good fallback, if things are too repetitive, and generally I can extract something from Lovecraft’s original work, even if it’s distasteful. And then…there’s this one.

So this prompt was used for a Lovecraft story—specifically Red Hook, name sake I assume of Red Hook Studios. The story is, to be entirely honest, a shocking cavalcade of terrible writing that aligns with the worst aspects of humanity at the moment. I have never denied that Lovecraft had troubling works—the man was by all accounts a racist of the highest caliber. What makes this particular story difficult is that the elements of the story are almost identical to the confluence of conspiracies that exist to this day—a secret satanic cult, primarily attended by middle eastern immigrants, that kidnaps children (to Lovecraft’s ‘credit’, the children kidnappings get the police attention only after stealing Swedish children, but that is the smallest of credits), and ends with a mass deportation before a vision of hell is—and I am not going to try and indulge in rehabilitating such a story as I might say for…Innsmouth, where the basic building blocks can be recovered somewhat.

That last prompt that operated this way I responded to with a brief overview of the community that Mr. Lovecraft seemed to be slandering—and in the instance of Red Hook there is even less speculation needed. I will get to the exact issues I ran into researching the matter. I did endevaor to do more indepth and modern research on the Yazidi(Yezidi? Sources used both names), but that has resulted in it’s own difficulties.

Bear with me, I promise, we’ll get to the stories of Peacock Angel and the various saints in a moment. I wanted to first show at least some self awareness on where this is going. As you may know, I primarily rely on public domain texts. There are a few reasons for that—partly, it’s cost. I don’t have the personal funds to acquire the latest research, and the amount of folklore research in the public domain is astoundingly vast. While not comprehensive, my access to public domain works has covered a wide number of topics, and allowed me to avoid losing funds. It also means you, my readers, can hopefully track down the texts for yourself to read if you want to. The other reason, however, is that such folklore tends to be of such an age that I feel drawing on it as a source of inspiration is…uncomplicated. That is not the case with the Yezidi.

Why? Well, let’s discuss the Yezidi. The Yezidi are a small Kurdish religious minority who are known for a distinct belief system compared to the rest of the Near East—one that has repeatedly attracted attention and derision from nearby communities. We only need look at the most comprehensive book availble in Lovecraft’s time to see why—Devil Worshipers and their Rituals. This book was published in 1912, but the accusation of devil worship among the Yezidi is much older than that.

With that context in mind, I had initially planned to dismiss the original book as a footnote and focus on more modern research—and mostly, I have. Modern research on the topic has hit a number of further walls however. As is unsurprising for a community of believers who have suffered repeated persecution for centuries, the Yezidi are not exactly open about their religious beliefs. The book that was recorded in 1912 was not a Yezidi original, but a synopsis of beliefs from neighbors—and again may be rife with errors. On the other hand, the Yezidi themselves have cultivated a habit about misleading officials and investigators about their beliefs.

But what are those beliefs, now that I’ve spent more than half the usual length of an article with all this preamble? Well, lets begin…with the beginning.

Maluk Tawus

In the beginning, God (Xwade) created a pearl of His pure essence and placed it on the back of a dove named Anfar. The essence stayed there for forty thousand years. After that, God created on the first day Maluk Tawus, the Peacock Angel and lord of all. On each successive day, he creates another angel: Dardail, Sheikh Hasan; Israfil, Sheikh Shams; Mikail, Sheikh Abu Bakr; Jabrail or Gabriel, who is Sidjaddin; Shamnail, who is Nasraddin; and Turail. We’ll discuss more of these as time goes on—especially, of course, Maluk Tawus, lord of all.

God then finishes creation from the great pearl—one story records that He does so by shouting at the pearl, shattering it into four pieces. He then dwelled in a vessel for thirty thousand years on the oceans, before shouting again to make sea solid as he dwelt on Mount Lalis. Eventually he informs the angels that he will create Adam and Eve—and from Adam alone will the Yezidi people come, who are the people of Maluk Tawus.

An interlude, attested to in a few versions, occurs as God dwells on the Black Mountain and shouts thirty thousand angels into existence. They worship him for thirty thousand years and are sent to heaven with Maluk Tawus.

Adam is then made from the four elements brought by Jabrail, and Jabrail is told to take him to paradise and allow him any food but wheat. And so it is for over a hundred years.

Maluk Tawus then asks how Adam is meant to multiply in this state—And God gives him, Maluk, power over the issue. Maluk then asks Adam if has tried wheat, and offers him some. Adam’s belly swells with the wheat and he is cast out—and in a moment of comedy to me, he is eventually given a rear end so that his belly unswells.

Briefly, a variation of this story says that the soul was out of Adam for seven hundred years—entering only when promised paradise. While Adam was in paradise, he was like an angel with a great light of his forehead, until expelled. His expulsion here was more trickery, although still with divine approval—here Maluk Tawus tosses the wheat into Adam’s mouth while he yawns.

After a hundred years of being alone from the garden, Jabrial is sent out to provide him a companion—Eve. Adam and Eve produce the first child, but a dispute emerges as to who is the primary parent. To determine who’s seed was responsible for human kind, they took a pair of jars and put their seed in separate containers. After nine months, they opened the jars. Eve’s jar emerged with maggots, worms, serpents, and scorpions—where as Adam’s has a child with a face like the moon, Shahid bin Jarr. Shahid marries either a houri from Paradise, or his own sister born from the Jarr. And from here comes the Yezidi. In an aside, one version says men’s nipples were made to suckle Shahid bin Jarr.

Seth, Noah, and Enoch are descendants of Shahid bin Jarr, where as the other peoples of the world come from Adam and Eve’s progeny.

Moving forward, there was another flood for the Yezidi, who further trace themselves from Ham. At the time of this second flood, they were ruled by Melek Miran. As before, a great vessel was made to sustain themselves—however, unlike the more traditional ark, this ark ran into Mount Shinraj. A hole was made in the ark, and a great serpent offered to fill it in exchange for the right to eat human flesh. Melek Miran—or, in another version, Noah—agrees with consternation. Afterwards, the serpents numbers multiply, such that he threatens to eat all mankind. But a man of honor cannot break his vow, so Melek Miran asks for help. Jabrial instructs Melek Miran to toss the serpent into the fire—there it becomes fleas which feed on human kind to this day.

Temple Lalish.png

There are further stories in the Black Book, but I will bring into focus a few more that I found confirmed in modern texts, before moving on to the stories of saintly figures and members of the folk pantheon. One is the division of Maluk Tawus into the other angels, to make a group of seven chiefs. These seven meet every year to determine the fate of the next year on the holy day. Further, the angels are said to incarnate among the Yezidi and have granted to Solomon seven standards or sanjaq that display Maluk Tawus atop them. Each is ascribed to an archangel—and supposedly designed very differently, but topped with Maluk Tawus none the less. These eventually were given to the Yezidi by their most recent founder when Solomon passed away.

These images sometimes display traits comparable to the icons we have discussed elsewhere—in one village, a sanjaq appeared after following an angels dream instructions. When war threatened, a number of these images were taken far away, and have since emerged elsewhere. The stories around the sanjaq introduce the interesting notion that blue is a color Maluk Tawus finds offensive—a trait I recall but cannot confirm at the moment being true in Kabbalistic texts on dreams.

We can discuss some of these characters in more detail, however. Sheykh Shams, the angel made early on, is traced to a historical figure—son of ‘Adi II, third leader of the Adawiyya—and has since become a celestial patron of the sun. Sheykh Shams is sometimes associated with traits of the broadhead—light eyes, Isa, and even the essence of religion. Shams has also been called the bearer of the seal, the torch bearer for the community, the holder of spiritual knowledge, and having command over Hell itself. He has twelve children—nine sons, three daughters, each a representative for the month.

Yezidi belief also attributes reverence for Sheykh to Jews and Christians, but not Muslims. The source of this assertion is unclear, as is the association with the Tartars.

Sheykh Shams’s brother, Malak Faxradin, is the moon associated being of the same sort. He is far more enigmatic, and his association is less clear. A few liturgies refer to his roll as a lord of the disk, and he is known for his capacity to cure lunacy, and to have created the role of reciter in his day. The moon has powers over floods and earthquakes as well—and in some cases is in fact the Sun’s sister that he pursues until the eclipse (the Yezidi also suggest that a great serpent is eathing the sun during an eclipse). The change of the moon is said to be from Brother-Moon’s one way love withering him away until he is reborn.

Earthquakes also are caused by the shifting of the red bull that is holding up creation. The source of this movement is sometimes idleness, other times a fly that buzzes around the bulls head constantly—the blinking the bull does when the fly gets close is the cause of the quakes.

Other heavenly bodies have their own traits. Stars are tied to the lives of men—a man’s star winks out when dies, and appears when he is born. The rainbow is said to be Solomon’s belt, and by standing under it a wish can be granted. Walking beneath and across it can change a person’s gender.

Thunder and storms however bring us to another new entity: Mamarasan, the darting Mohammed, is the common lord of wind and thunder. There are two others, Aba-brisuk and Malak Ba-ras, who’s disputes create hurricanes—their individual breath is the wind, so when it swirls and clatters, it isn’t supring that a storm emerges. Mama-rasan rides a lion frequently, and holds a snake as a whip—however, in one origin story, he proves his holiness not by mounting a lion but by riding a stone. This is a common motif in saints tales of the region, ranging from riding stones to riding broken portions of wall to meet lesser saints.

Another ariel power is Sex Muse-Sor, or the Red Sheikh Moses. Families that trace their origins to this spirit are said to have the power to cure diseases in lungs and joints, including rheumatism. This extends to his home, a shrine around which the ground is holy. His color, red, is emphasized to mark him as holy and at times he has held the title of lord of the pen and tablet—although that has passed on to others.

There is one more cosmological force we have not discussed—mainly because my research on him separated him from the rest of the godhead. We can consider Dweres Erd, lord of the Earth. Dweres is primary invoked in a funerary prayer and in later toasts, where he is viewed as the lord of the dead. In addition to protecting the dead, Dweres Erd protects the any abandoned objects that are expected to be found again nearby. For the dead, Dweres Erd guards both body and soul from predation while the angels of heaven come to judge the departed.

Black Serpent Door.png

Moving out of the land of the supreme gods, I would like to discuss some of the more local characters found with the Yezidi—particularly stories of saints and their manifestations. We can consider, for instance, Sheikh Mend, who had associations with serpents. His descendants cannot be bitten by them, and they can cure, and the Sheikh himself turned into a great black snake to drive away invading enemies. A similar snake tale tells of how two Christians , Henna and Mar Henna, turned into snakes to kill Sheikh Adi—only for Sheikh Adi to turn into one of his older incarnations, their old teacher, and be recognized as holy.

We have fragments of other mythological characters. We have references to the book of the serpents laughter, a tome of knowledge and wisdom that snakes are in possession of. Bits of the myth of Pira Fat remain, a daughter of the moon and patroness of women in labor. Pira Fat was notable for preserving the seed of the Yazidi people for seven hundred or seven thousand years. We have the king of the djinn, Jinn Tayar or the flying djinn. His descendants can heal ailments of the soul, and has many beings.

This all brings me to my second process memo like portion. How do I make this into a story? This question is what severely damaged the Court story—while I found many Romani folktales, relating them to the prompt directly proved almost impossible. In retrospect, there were certainly ways to relate specific aspects, but there was a sharp disconnect between the story I wrote and the research I did. Not a surprising disconnect—the research was a response to the prompt, but a wholly negative one.

This research presents the same problem that is frequent in folktales, but especially religious or mythic ones. The essence can be a bit bare on the bones, and takes time to be turned into something that feels inspired by the research as opposed to merely retelling it. And sometimes I just retell it—the Bacchae story and the Bluebeard story are both retelling. So what to do with this living religion? What concepts can I use?

I think immediately, with a cosmogony like many of these stories, there is a temptation to include them as factoids or to retell them in more detail. Alternatively, to make the discovery of such a story part of the plot—finding the pots that Adam and Eve used, or the mountain where maybe God’s laughter and shouting can be found carved into the world. These are…acceptable, but I feel like as plot elements they are too high minded.

So what notions did I find fascinating in this research? The creation of fleas by burnt serpent was interesting, but I want to hold that in reserve—I’ve come across a number of similar stories in the world, for both fleas and mosquitoes, that I’d like to compare it to. The other recurring aspect I found interesting was the pearl—or rather, the notion of cultivated and stored essence, to create a greater than normal birth.

The idea of a carefully cultivated essence—in the form of a pearl, often enough, but also a seed—hatching or breaking to reveal a greater cosmic power has potential in a story, modern or otherwise. It gives us an event—when the pearl cracks—and the image is not so tied to a mythic past that it is impossible (although a literal version of the Adam and Eve story would be). We can build a story around this—around the people who are carefully nourishing this cosmic egg, around what emerges from it. We can even include the strange music from a broken organ, as an omen or related to the process.

Bibliography

Astarian, Garnik and Arakelova, Victoria, “The Yezidi Pantheon” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2004), pp. 231-279

Astarian, Garnik and Arakelova, Victoria, “Malak-Tāwūs: The Peacock Angel of the Yezidis” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (2003), pp. 1-36

Arakelova, Victoria, “Three Figures from the Yezidi Folk Pantheon” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (2002), pp. 57-73

Joseph, Isaya. Devil Worship. Richard G. Badger, Boston 1919

Nicolaus, Peter “The Serpent Symbolism in the Yezidi Religious Tradition and the Snake in Yerevan” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 15, No. 1/2, Jubilee Volume (2011), pp. 49-72

Spat, Eszter “Shahid bin Jarr, Forefather of the Yezidis and the Gnostic Seed of Seth” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (2002), pp. 27-56

Voskanian, Vardan, “Dewrēš E’rd: The Yezidi Lord of the Earth” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 3/4 (1999/2000), pp. 159-166

Digital Sources:

http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/yazidis-i-general-1

The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Prior Research:The Eye

Part 1:The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

The palace of King Morgan was adorned with thin metal chains—each link held a small carving, word, or gem. They fanned outward, along wires across the city of Lanmoth. Mothers told their sons that the net caught the nightmares of the world, and forced the strange things of the world to pay proper homage when they entered. As Lawerence and the stranger came through the great doors, they reached the growing spindles and thick knotted chords of metal. It caused the stranger no small discomfort, Lawerence noticed, to see that central triumph of the court.

The pillar rose like a tree in the center of the room, a column of woven metals and gems that shown like thunder’s net. Fires were set all around it, so auspicious shadows were cast upon the veils of the court. Each magistrate and lord sat hidden in their own parlor, sequestered from the world. The royal chamber, which occupied the man entrance, was covered by a great purple and white curtain. Three sets of eyes in bright red were painted on it—one for the king, one for the queen, and one for the princess.

King Morgan's Veil.png

Lawerence bowed to these painted eyes, and introduced the stranger as a son of the River Liliu, a worker of wonders. There was silence at first, but a steady music played from King Morgan’s chamber.

“What feat will you will work for us first?” The King’s voice said, muffled somewhat. The stranger smiled at the familiar tone.

“First, if it please the king, I will do a humble and simple spell. It is tiring, however, so it will be all I can for today—I have worked many wonders in the market, and my powers are taxed. However, bring me a bird—I will send the bird unto the realm of the dead and call her back again!”

There was a shuffling from the court, gasps behind heavy cloth where only the outlines could be seen. At last the King let out a call for a spectacular song bird—one as large as a man. It was brought forth, and slipped from it’s handlers hand! There was a shout of surprise, as it threatened to run amok with it’s talons and fierce beak! And then the many colored eyes of the stranger fell upon it.

“Sh, sh there’s no need for that…” the stranger coaxed, extending his free hand and gesturing for the bird to draw close. Slowly the bird stepped forward, one claw at a time.

“There we go, there we go, that’s better. Now, the act.” The stranger said, turning to the king’s chamber, a hand under the bird’s beak. “My wise king, surely you will fear that my act is merely some mesmerism—that I have done this through a commanding eye, and thus faked my wonders. I ask only that my friend, this fine subject of yours, confirm my wonder at each step. For with such a veil, could my eyes harm him?”

There was a general assent.

The stranger then turned to the bird, and held out his hand—and the bird grew stiff. The stranger spoke few words, in a language unknown to most there—and the one who might have understood could not, for the veil muffled those drolling words. The bird stretched its neck up, its feathers flattening until, at last, it fell on it’s side. The stranger, unbreaking from his stance, gestured for Lawerence to examine the bird. Lawerence, bewildered, rushed to the bird’s side, and proclaimed not a sound or motion was coming from the body—it was as cold as ice!

The stranger raised his staff up. A sudden whistling sound filled the are and the bird sprung upright again, it’s beak nearly sheering Lawrence’s veil.

“If this is you exhausted, friend, you may stay as long as you produce such wonders. Go, Lawerence, and take him to chambers to rest.”

When Lawerence left, Bartholomew was summoned to the King’s side—and entered the veils to the royal family. King Morgan alone was there, his wife and daughter not having come to court today. The King drummed his fingers on his secret throne.

“Bartholomew, this man we must keep under careful guard. He knows magics unseen—be ready at my word to strike him down, for he seems familiar to me.”

“As you wish, my king.” Bartholomew said, nodding.

“And take this, to guard you from his gaze. It is stronger then most—I fear it would rend your veil asunder.” the King said, handing him a charm—carved of coral, with each hole filled with a small pearl. “Our guest has come with higher purpose—and I will not allow it to be fufilled.”

The stranger was taken to the highest quarters, nestled not far from the veiled halls of the king and queen. His room had many fine things, most from lands far from Lanmoth, but that had been offered as gifts or tributes to it’s royal family. The stranger of course had little need for the finery, even as he admired them. As the King suspected, he had a higher cause.

He called to him, in that room when none were about, his many half-brothers. They were gray things, more mist then men, that were unused to these homes. They preferred the ruins of their old lives, but answered their half-brothers soft conch call. The stranger set them about to touch the great pillar, the shifting and shimmering heart of the city wide talisman.

The brothers slipped beneath the door as mists, slinking on barely seen hands and feet in the moonlight, until at last they reached the pillar with it’s many layered chains. As they reached, the chain’s light took hardened form and pricked their fingers. The gold stung like scorpions and bit like snakes. The many small gems shone like Argus’s hungry eyes, and the brothers retreated.

They had thought as much. The trip from their father’s house had been long, but entry into the city had been hard going on them. Their half-brother, with his flesh and blood and breath, found it easy. But they were afforded no-such protections. Working wonders for him on birds and buildings they could do. But not tear down the pillar.

The stranger thanked them in the customary way, with an offering and some incense. He then set about planning his mischief.

That night, the stranger lay to sleep in his special way—stepping outside of himself, as he began to dwell as one with the world. For beneath the world, below the laws of men and gods, there are great sleeping things. Their minds are the bedrock of the world we see.

So the stranger dreamed as they dreamed, as he dreamed on Mount Moni. He walked in the waking world as little more than a breeze. The great talisman in the court shone through the walls at him, glowering as the enraged sun. He made no effort to hide from it, even as it corroded on his skin. The mists of Mount Moni were not here to aid him.

Still, he stalked down the halls, flickering with each step—in but three steps he covered the entire palace, to find the room of the King and Queen. He reached to go through the door, but felt the singe of the many golden chains and tailsmans, as they gently rang at his attempt. Within, he saw the king stir. So the stranger took to the ceilings, working his way in the upper air of the building, eyes wandering and marking where he could.

As the wind, the stranger felt another presence. Another person breathing in the halls. With a single motion, he arrived at where she was—the princess of Lanmoth, looking out the window at the pale-veiled moon.

The stranger moved as a wind around the moonlight, and listened quietly. He stared down at the girl, her face a mirror of the moon. The stranger found her eyes like his—in them where a dozen dancing colors, even if they lacked his training in the arts. His gaze was lost navigating hers at times, as he tried now to complete his higher cause—but his eyes barely took root, when she stared back at him.

Magi and King 2 Midnight Chat.png

They frightened him.

The stranger knew how to guide and protect his own gaze, even as he stood nought but the sigh of sleep in front of her. The stranger was schooled in many ways of magic from his adoptive father. But the stranger was now locked in eyes that were as gifted as his.

The stranger explained his intent, even as he struggled at being held still. She gave hers. The two were locked in wits—an observer the next day would note the room smelled of burnt flesh from the confrontation, and one passerby saw ripples of colors between the two. They talked as the old dreaming things talked.

The next day, the whole royal family was behind the veils of the court. The song birds in their cages watched and waited. The brilliant eyed stranger, the only face that could be seen, prepared another preformance. This time, there was no need for his staff—he had shown it’s greatest power already, and instead chose a more terrible feat. The king had asked more pressingly for something less unnatural then another raising or convulsion.

And the stranger was ready to oblige. He had, after all, a test to preform.

So, setting his staff of bone to the side, the stranger breathed in deeply—his own breath, mixed with the toxic breath of dreams that his family had. And he stared ahead, his eyes glittering. He reached out a hand, to one of the lesser veils. A pale one, not the best kept, lacking the red eyes of the kings. He turned his thousand facet gem eyes to the veil—driving deeper and deeper in. The court waited on baited breath.

The veil parted.

The lord and lady crawled like new born kittens. With a flick of the stranger’s wrist, they rose. Smoke rose from their eyes like temple candles as he compeled the lord and lady to dance. Their feet moved to an unheard rhythm, as they embraced and parted, spun and sprang. At last they finished with a bow. The stranger closes his eyes three times and the pair awoke from their bewitchment.

As the embarassed pair smiled and returned to their veil, pulling it a bit tighter. Alas, the stranger mused. For standing outside the veils, he saw the singe marks still on their covers. Only the king’s was guarded against his vision—and even that only for now.

That night he again dreamed as old ones dream, and set about his goal. He came to the great pillar, as unbareable as it’s heat was. And there he closed his eyes—and opened the ones he had left nearby. He opened the eyes of the great song birds. He opened the eyes of the lesser nobles. He opened the eyes of Lawerence.

But Bartholomew’s eyes would not open. The great giant of Lanmoth awoke, the charm he was given cracking at the weight of such a presence. Sword in hand, still in his night gown, he ran and beat on the door to wake the king. As his fist thudded on the door, the squawking of other birds became clear—dozens of them, who had gazed into the eyes of the first fellow, were descending through the halls. Running like ostriches, they joined the nobillity with their torn veils in a mass towards the court hall. This commotion woke Morgan, who joined Bartholomew with his blade.

“My king, something magical is afoot.” Bartholomew said. The two took to follow the crowd, and found them at the great pillar, hands and claws tearing at the chains, hacking with beaks and clubs. Bartholomew rushed to push them aside—but the King stared down more clearly. For he had learned to see the dreams of elder things, even if he could not walk them.

And seeing the shape there, that child of the sea-goat, directing the vast host, the King understood.

In the Chambers.png

With a bellow, now, he runs to the strangers room. He gives no head to the sleep walking fools and birds, instead smashing aside the door. He draws his sword, edged with saphire—and sees that host of brothers guarding his guests. The ala stand, faceless and ready, battering off him as struggles through. Almost—his sword is almost in reach! One more blow, good king! One more blow, king! And then–

There is a crack, and chains collapse. A great sigh, far away, as the golden cloud of Mount Moni descends, and sweeps up all Lanmoth.

The breath of dreams takes the place of the breath of air—and both the stranger and the princess leave for the temple atop Mount Moni.

 


 

This story was…tricky. Honestly, I cut out over a thousand words and am still not entirely happy with how fast it moves or how many characters it has. I think there are too many names for such a short story–while making it a third part would have been intolerable. I think the idea, broadly speaking, isn’t that bad. I tried making my own illustrations, which, ah. Was not a wise idea on this time table.

With that in mind, next week we continue on our road of the occult and mysterious, albeit with a more sympathetic view. See you then!

 

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The Eye

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Resulting story: The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This weeks quote is from the novel, the House of Seven Gables. The novel follows a number of themes—contrasting old, aristocratic and isolated living with more fashionable and mercantile living. The dangers of superstition, particularly of witch hunts. The futility of the past, the nature of architecture as a haunting, family feuds both within and without, fears of mesmerism, corruption of government authorities. It is a Gothic book in all but name. So, what are we to start with today, with such a wide text?

I am loath to continue with the nightmares and witches. While, yes, certainly there are creatures that I haven’t touched upon regarding dreams and nightmares—Lilith and the lilitu, for instance, or the use of dreams to take on animal forms and combat evil—I suspect those particular topics will be reached anyway. No, I’d rather focus on a different portion of the book and of Gothic literature obsession. The gaze.

In House of Seven Gables, we are introduced to two families. The Pyncheon’s and the Maule’s, a rich and poor family. The Maule’s land is robbed, by means of a witchcraft accusation. This accusation, which carries down the generations, lays at the feet of the Maule’s many supernatural capacities, not the least of which is the evil eye, which we will get to shortly. However, Hawthorne connects the power of the eye to the then modern practice of mesmerism, a science dealing in animal magnetism and hypnosis. The gaze to Hawthorne has the potential to harm—it isn’t merely a passive action, but rather a potentially malicous one.

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This notion of the importance of sight can be found in a number of other foundation Gothic texts. We can consider Vathek, a story that focuses on a wicked Caliph. Among the Caliph’s powers is his gazed which—when enraged—can kill a man with hatred. The Caliph’s story, including as it does demons, magical swords, and a quest to hell, is worth a read for a fan of the Gothic. We can also consider importance of vision in Frankenstien—here the eyes of the monster are what gives away it’s character to the more mortal participants and are the source of horror. Dracula like wise has a commanding stare, as do most vampires in Gothic tales—the Count of Monte Cristo is noted for his eyes, and Dorian Grey’s painting suffers when veiwed at all. The power to see and be seen are dangerous in these stories, to the last. Even the other Great American Horror Author, Edgar Allen Poe, included a fear of vision—the tell tale heart after all stars a most terrible, vulture like eye.

Where does all this fear of vision come from? Well, it is not without precedent. One of the most fearsome folklore ailments is the evil eye. Under various names, the evil eye stretches from Scotland across Europe and into parts of South Africa and Middle East. The evil eye’s effects are almost universal: a person with the evil eye can afflict another with a curse—either misfortune or ill health—with nothing more than a stare and evil intent. Particularly fearsome examples refer to mummifying their targets Often the effect is most feared among children, and so numerous precautions are taken to avoid it.

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In Macedonia, clothes were worn inside out to avoid the evil eye. In Palestine, blue glass was used to ward it off. Various charms are described by Etruscan witches to keep it at bay. In Greece, at various times, blue beads and blue string have been used to ward it off from animals and other human beings a like. In Persia, rugs were sometimes woven with complex designs to avoid the evil eye, and for this purpose one author speculated Celtic notes were made to confuse the witches eye.

Who is liable to use the evil eye varies from location to location. In Ethiopia, it was often ironworking artisans who made use of it—particularly against clients who failed to pay or who were more successful then they were. Among the Suk people, one possessor of the evil eye was a rather rich rancher—however, do to his capabilities, he was avoided at all costs.

The evil eye’s spread in the states, and in New England in particular, is documented with the case of one John Godfrey. John Godfrey, as a renowned witch, was accused during one of his law suits of speaking freely of witchcraft in order to shock victims. He would say that the witches merely reported to the devil who had displeased them, and then stare at whatever they wanted dead—cattle, man, child, what have you.

That a New Englander would bring such beliefs is not surprising. In every part of England, the evil eye can be found. We have talked before, at length, of the power witches in Shropeshire had. There we have witches who nearly waste away a yougn woman by “overlooking” them, cases of a horse being used to dectet the witch in the case of Kitty Williams, and our man who fixes his enemies in place with a glance. In Lanchshire, there were stories of the evil eye again used on cattle—but frequently tied to other interactions. Outsiders couldn’t use the evil eye if they were avoided, and excessive admiration was thought to also bring on the evil eye through envy.

But the evil eye is not the deadliest or oldest concern with gaze. We can find a more fearsome sort in Ireland, for example. There the evil eye was known as Balor’s eye for sometime—and perhaps was it’s lesser cousin. Balor was a great lord of giants who inhabited Ireland, and had an eye so vast that it took seven men to lift it’s lid (or it possessed seven lids, and each took a great effort to raise). It was said when Balor gazed upon a field it withered, men died, and stone suffered. It is said sometimes that when Balor was slain—and he was of course in time slain—that his eye burned a lake into the ground where it rests to this day.

The other famed European example is the Basilisk or Cockatrice, a pair of related creatures that appear to be either a snake or a rooster. The gaze of these creatures was said to be murderous and paralytic, naturally leading them inhabit vast deserts in Northern Africa.

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They shared this prowess with a less well known, but equally frightening creature: the Crocotta. This creature was accounted for living in Ethiopia or India, and was believed to have a number of qualities. When it’s shadow touches a dog, the dog is struck dumb. When it gazed on a person or animal three times, it froze them in place. It was also capable of imitating the voices of victims, and was invulenerable to steal weapons. Later additions in Medieval bestiaries added gem-eyes that, if held under someones tongue, could provide visions of the future.

Moving to the Americas, we find a number of comparable creatures. Here we enter a difficult space—I did contact a modern member of the Cherokee to confirm these stories, but my abillity to find linkable sources was hamstrung. The one I’ll focus on is the Uktena, a horned serpent—the description I found said it was as wide as a trunk, with deer antlers, and a fire jewel in it’s eye. This jewel has a number of traits: it is magical, oracular, and if a hunter looks at this jewel, they are blinded and run into the serpents mouth. Other traits include that the Uktena can only be slain by firing an arrow at it’s seventh stripe—beneath which sits its heart and life. And impressive for our discussions, looking at the Uktena will kill not the hunter, but his entire family. Combined with the creatures poisonous breath, and the Uktena is a terrifying creature to find in the woods. Nonetheless, there are stories of a man managing to slay one, and making off with the jewel.

From the Cherokee to the Lakota, we have a very distinct water creature with deadly vision. The Unk Cekula is one of a pair with Unk Tehi. The two creatures came from the north, and proved hazardous—if they reproduced, they would endanger the entire world (an origin that resembles some stories of Leviathan). So one was slain. The creatures properties are notable: She has eyes of fire, skin of stone, and claws of iron—this last trait a post-colonial addition I think—and to look upon her was death. First a victim would go blind, then mad, and finally die. Like Uktena, her weakness relates to the number seven (the seventh spot instead of stripe) and she has a magical crystal within her. A pair of brothers slew her, one blind, with the help of a medicine arrow.

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Bear Butte, which was created after a fight between Unk Cekula and a great bear.

The Hero Twins of the Dine leave a number of dead monsters behind them, but one that is worth our attention is Binaye Ahani, who slays people with their eyes. These monsters dwell in a cavern shaped like a house, with a great family. When the Monster Slayer arrives, they attempt to kill him with their gaze—the text refering to it as “lighting” shooting from their eyes. The Monster Slayer’s armor, however, protects him. Perhaps it uses the same techniques as mirror armor. Their eyes eventually stretch out with effort, and burn on their own fire. All but two are killed, and the spared youngest become birds of fortune and beauty.

We could go on—the dangers of sight on statues and icons were discussed before, and the dangers of seeing a god’s true form in some mythologies are known. But I’d like to step out of folklore and ask what it is exactly that people fear. Why is staring or being seen dangerous? Why is it assumed envy should have power here?

I think a sincere part of this is that a gaze, a glance, is a connection. To make eye contact with someone or something is to connect with them, to reach out in an unspoken way and show understanding—and that this understanding isn’t always wanted, mutual, or equal. To see something is to interact with it, and by interacting with it, be changed by it. That change can be dangerous, lethal even! Especially with wicked intent.

Our follow up story will incorporate some of this of course—we can easily weave the work of dreams and gaze together, slumber with the trance of mesmerism. The creation of illusions by the wizard and the power of a gaze by his heir seem appropriate to bring together.

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Biblography:

Abbot Richard. Macedonian Folklore Cambridge, England; Cambridge University Press. 1903

Beech, Mervyn Worchester Howard. The Suk; Their Language and Folklore. Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1911.

Bowen, Barbra M. The Folklore of Palestine. Grand Rapids , Michigan; Wm B. Eerdmans publishing co. 1940

Coote Lake, Evelyn F. “Some  Notes  on the Evil Eye Round the Medterrianian Basin”. Folklore Vol 44, No 1, March 1933, pp 93-98

Demos, John. “John Godfrey and His Neighbors: Witchcraft and the Social Web in Colonial Massachusets”. The William and Mary Quarterly. Vol 33, No 2 April  1976, pp 242-265.

Finneran, Nial “Ethiopian Evil Eye Belief and The Magical Symbolism of Iron Working”. Folklore, Vol 114 , No 3. Dec. 2003 pp 427-433

G.H.K. “Stray Donegal Folklore”. The Folk-lore Journal,Vol 5 No 1, 1887, pp 66-68

Jackson, Georgina F. Shropshire Folklore. Edited by Charlotte Sophia. Burne, 1883.

Leland, Charles Godfrey.  Etruscan Magic and Occult Remedies. New Hyde Park, New York. University Books. 1963

Vulkanovic, T.P. “Obscene Objects in Balkan Religion and Magic”. Folklore, Vol 92, 1981. pp 43-53