THE SUN

This Week’s Prompt: 94. Change comes over the sun—shews objects in strange form, perhaps restoring landscape of the past.

The Resulting Story:

Oh, this is a timely story. I’ve just returned from visiting family in the Valley of the Sun. Growing up in Arizona, I think, made the notion of the Sun as a deity rather easy to grasp—a vast, often hateful daystar that sapped life and will from everything it saw. If I wanted, I could ramble for hours on the unconscious cosmology I had from growing up in Mesa Arizona, but that is for another time. Today, I want to talk about the Sun. The strange stories of the Sun as well as the more familiar ones.

One of the more familiar stories of the sun is that it rests where it sets, and a hero sets out to find or visit it. A few Dine stories deal with the children of the Sun. The first is a son born of an unmarried woman, for the Sun had grown jealous of a chief he had never seen. This son was brought up among his own people, and at fifteen was told by a white fly that his father was the son. Shortly after he was taken to his father on a rainbow, and was taught every game that existed. The Sun conspired to win every turquoise from the chief and people that he could using his own child. And the son in turns becomes such an amazing gambler, he not only wins the turquoise but also wins the people themselves, the spirits of rain and corn, and the chief! The greatest prize he wins, however, is a turquoise the size of man with feathers sticking out of it. When the Sun descends to collect the turquoise, his son refuses—instead offers to gamble for it.

The Sun then went out and had another boy—this one grew to adult hood in fifteen years. He was then brought up and shaped by his sister to into a duplicate of the first child, the Great Gambler. He is sent out to offer gifts to various beings—the bat a buffalo hide, the snake a pair of red stones, a shell to the brown rat, some ground stones to a little breeze. These all help him, either by sabotaging the Gambler or confounding his spies, until at last the people are freed. The Sun claims the turquoise, and takes the Gambler skyward.

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Another Dine story tells of the Sun seeking a bride—particularly the daughter of First Man and First Woman, White Bead Girl. He arrives first while she is alone, on a white horse, as a man dressed all in white. He then visits her for four days at night, unseen, and she in turn gives birth to twins. These twins prove hard to keep at home, going out and finding spies of the monsters that roam the world. They also learn, by a strange fly, that their father is the Sun.

They then journey East—and come to a land of nothing but sand. There they are warned by an old man to use some of his vomit when the Sun offers tobacco—because the Sun is dangerous and kills with many weapons. They then reach the Sun’s turquoise, and meet his mother. She hides them when the Sun returns, with his jealous wife, on a turquoise horse. The sun tests them—first with a pipe, which they smoke four times. Then with a sweat lodge, again heated four times. He offers them gifts after accepting them as his sons, and they reject each in turn. At last he offers to give them anything, and they ask for his lighting bolt arrows. They then succeed in answering his questions of the mountains, and descend down to fight the monsters that plauge the world. They do their own work from there, not relevant to ours.

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The Sun grants another child to a mother in Greece. She asks to have the child for twelve years, and after that the sun can have them back—so the Sun gives her a pretty girl named Maroula. When the Sun returns twelve years later, he tells the little girl when her mother will give what she promised. Her mother tells Maroula to claim she forgot—and after that fails, she doesn’t let Maroula out of her house. Eventually she grows bold, and sends Maroula out for water. The Sun finds her and takes her away to his palace,and the great garden outside it.

Maroula, however, misses her mother and cries. And her tears during the day cause the garden to wilt. The Sun asks every night why she cries, and she claims two animals were fighting and she was scratched while separating them. At last, when she reveals the source of her grief, the Sun promises to send her home. He first calls lions to attend her—but they will eat her flesh and drink her blood if they grow hungry. As do the foxes. But the deer will eat only grass.

And so they go to take her home adorned with gold coins—and when they grow hungry, they place her in a willow tree. A nearby witch, a drakena, has sent her own daughters nearby to draw water. One sees Maroula’s face and thinks it’s her own. This repeats with each daughter—until the drakena herself comes and tells Maroula to descend and let her eat the young girl. Maroula distracts her by telling her to bake bread—and then escapes on the back of dear, sending mice to distract the witch as she flees.

The Sun as a dangerous force to humanity can be seen further in a Cherokee story. Enraged that people can’t look at her, she sends waves of heat to kill humanity from her daughter’s house in the sky. Humanity consults the little people for advice on what to do—how to escape this misery, they concluded they must kill the sun. So two serpents were sent to wait at the daughter of the sun’s house, fangs ready to bite the Sun’s ankle. The snakes, however, are blinded by the sun and flee—and the deaths continue, with everyone knowing at least one person who perished to the threat. So the Little People changed one man into the great Uketna (who we discussed here) and another into the Rattlesnake. The rattle snake got a head of the great horned Uketna and bit the daughter of the sun in his eagerness. He then returned, as did the enraged Uketna who was convinced he had lost his glory.

When the Sun saw that her daughter was dead, she went into mourning. The heat death stopped, but the sun never rose again—and this eternal darkness was untenable. So the Little People sent men with special bread and a box to the land of ghosts in the west to find the lost daughter. In the land of ghosts, they would find her dancing in a circle. The men where to strike her with sticks, causing her to fall down. Then they were to put her in a box and bring her back—never opening the box even a little. The men did so, and when returning west the daughter returned to life. From her box, she called out first for food, then for water, then air. This third one worried the men, who thought she might be dying. She escapes as a redbird—and this failure means none can be brought back from the living. Her mother the Sun nearly flooded the world with tears of grief—but was stopped by the new song of the drummer.

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The Sun’s retreat is similar in many ways to Amaterasu’s retreat. Long ago, Amaterasu’s father, Izangi, sent her brother the storm god Susanoo away for his arrogance. He returned, and offered his sister a game of god shaping—each took an item from the other and created deities from it. Amaterasu created five goddesses from Susanoo’s sword, while he made three gods from her necklace. A dispute arose over who had won, Amtaresu claiming the gods her creation as they came from her necklace. This escalated until Susanoo rampaged across the world in his rage, and hurled a flayed pony into the weaving room of Amaterasu, killing one of her handmaidens. Enraged and grieving, Amaterasu retreated into a cave.

The result was darkness and terror over the land—a situation that the gods sought to resolve. First they brought out roosters to signal the dawn and lure her out. Then they brought mirrors and jewels from a nearby tree, hoping to catch some of her light. At last, the goddess of dawn danced atop a great drum naked, to the laughter and delight of the gods. This noise brought Amaterasu’s attention, and lured her from the cave. The gods quickly sealed off the cave, and she has remained in the heavens ever since.

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Of course the Sun’s daily retreat through the sky is most famously remembered in the story of Ra’s voyage through the kingdom of night. This journey, which is in fact the funeral of Ra, crosses many regions, some strange, some dangerous, many serpentine–here for instance, Ra faces Apep. The sun is of course reborn at the end, rising in the dawn as the scarab headed god Khpera. Below is a video summary.

 

Only once was this voyage interrupted or changed—when the goddess Isis took some of Ra’s saliva and created a serpent from it. She placed it in the sun’s path, where it lept out and bit Ra’s ankle. As the poison bore some of Ra’s nature, it actually afflicted him. All the gods of medicine came to help Ra, but none could cure him—until Isis came, and asked for his hidden name to undo the power of the snake. Isis then puts this power to use to cure pain and potentially raise the dead!

On the other end of the Sun’s Daughter tale, the Sun as a dangerous and horrifying enemy is apparent in both Greece and Mesopatmaia. The god Apollo, while now associated with the sun and music, began his history in the Illiad as a god of plauge and healing. A comparable god was Nergal, who was the lord of the noontime sun and the summer, dry season sun. Nergal in time became a god of war and the dead, his role as a bringer of misery aiding his conquest of the underworld. The healing aspects of the Sun persisted in Shamash, who we briefly touched on in the discussion of exorcists.

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And while we’ve talked of the death or endangerment of the Sun, there is one instance to mention from China. Here, there were once ten suns who each took turns rising—until all ten decided to rise at the same time. The people asked for relief, and so the great archer Yi was sent down. He tried to shoot arrows near the suns, to scare them away. They defied him still, and he grew angry. Drawing back his great bow he fired at one of the great orbs of fire—and the spirit of the sun fell to earth as a three legged raven. He did so eight more times—and the fireballs they carried fell to earth to form a great island, where the endless sea and rivers evaporate upon contact.

Another instance of control of the Sun comes to us from the Maori. Maui, tired of rushing to finish his chores before the sunset, persuades his brothers that it must be taught a lesson. After much warning that it will burn him, blind him, or give him sunstroke, Maui moves ahead with the plan. The party goes and finds the hole from which the Sun rises. They lay a trap over the hole, a great noose of rope. When the sun rises through it, unawares, they pull the Sun down. When he struggled, Maui struck the sun with his magic jaw bone. Maui commanded the Sun, so captured, to move more slowly across the heavens.

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The light of the Sun is and always has been then a mixed blessing—it is sometimes flighty, always needed, but often jealous and painful. Here we have the use of sunlight as a sort of revelation—a connection that links all the way back to our first story of Demophon. Here we have the Sun restoring and rebuilding a landscape, perhaps revealing its hidden face. What if, and I consider this regarding our story of Amaterasu, the sun we know is the one still in the cave. Alternatively, what if the sun suffers the fate of the Aztec Suns, and is replaced by a new god on the throne? The light of the sun itself changes, and the world becomes in a way inhospitable or more hostile then it was before. Our story seems to move more cosmic by its nature, but grounding it in the experiences of one person might help with that—I’m reminded of the Twitter story/account “the Sun vanished”, which likewise has as a start a strange and horrific cosmic change. What stories about the Sun do you know?

Bibliography:

Megas, Geogrios O. Folktales of Greece.  University of Chicago Press, 1970.

O’Bryan Aileen. The Dine: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians, Smithsonian Institution, 1955

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Yonster Over Yonder

This Week’s Prompt:93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.

The Prior Research: Off the Map

I have never been to Yonster, but I know every road by now. Last night I woke up, and could tell you that the library of Yonster is situated on Main Street and Elephant—Elephant has it’s unusual name from a zoo at the end of street and a foolish twentieth century attempt at advertising through civic infrastructure. There have been movements to change the street name but none have managed to get past the current Mayoral family, the Straubs, who find it quaint. And like many things in Yonster, quaint seems to hold it together.

The dreams about Yonster have been going on for a few weeks now. Just bursts of facts and trivia. I know that Ms. Madeline Alba, who is recently widowed, makes her pie with an dash of vanilla with the raspberries to enhance taste. She learned that the local Starbucks did something similar with their hot chocolate, and thought it was a great idea. She has green eyes.

I keep notes on it, figuring it’ll make a great book someday. Yonster seems like a nice place to visit, but a quick search on Google Maps and nothing. I mean I got a few Youngsters and the like, but yeah. No city, no small town with a population of 2000.

I’m not even sure where it would be—the people there speak English I think, but I can’t read in dreams. I’m not even sure what the dreams are. Sometimes, I’ve got this nice little house that’s a far cry from my cramped apartment. It’s been in my family for generations. I work in town, although on what I’m never sure. It requires a suit, but things are old fashioned in Yonster, so that could be anything.

Small Town Maine yonster

Yonster’s architecture is, outside of the city square, fairly old fashioned. I’d call it Parisian, but I’ve never been to Paris. The buildings are all family homes, and a number of them have tile roofs. The streets aren’t built for cars, although a few people have one. I myself prefer to walk, and enjoy the roadways.

The dreams have gotten more common as I’ve been handling my dad’s work. He’s selling his house—which I won’t lie, stings a bit. But with Mom gone…I can’t blame him for wanting to get out. We brought in some people to clean it, and I’ve started going through the stuff to sell. He can’t stand doing it himself. My therapist thinks the dreams are an escape. I can’t really disagree—seems like it, easy to slip somewhere were things never change when your dig through your parents old stuff.

It was while digging through that cardboard maze that I found it though. A old note book, in my dad’s nightstand. Time stood still as I read the first page.

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“There’s this place called Yonster…”

I was thinking, when I read, that maybe he’d read me stories about it when I was little. But he’d kept dates—small, at the top of the page where I could miss them at first. First one was when he was nineteen. The whole book was filled with details. Bits and pieces, talking about people and places. I didn’t know Alba’ s mother-in-law didn’t trust their marriage. And given what my father said about George, I didn’t blame her. Marriage and father hood really shaped him up. And the bar down third, where the boys played—that had been a church once, but they’d moved into a new building.

There’s only so much coincidental detail that one man can believe is circumstances. I could believe remembering stories of Yonster—I could even believe maybe imaginging some changes. But the swerves were so…mundane. So normal, so bland. No one shipped off to join the army, no one ran for office and was mirred by scandal, no one had any affairs at all. I had no relations either. There were no long lost grandparents who left me an elaborate mansion. If this was the fancies of childhood—where were the fancies?

My father lives on his own, mostly, but he still manages to keep odd hours. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, after I’d poured over every detail of the books. Coffee made me jittery and sickly as it faded. It burned at my stomach and made my hands shake. It made my neck feel soft and my head heavy, slumping a bit. But it kept me awake, and I didn’t really want to sleep right now. Something seemed sinister about my inherited dreams.

“Yonster…that’s…hm. Was that were Mary ran off to with Ronald? The one who was an architect.” My father said, stopping with two mugs in hand.

“No, no that was Yonkers.”

“Right, Yonkers, Yonkers. No, don’t think I wrote much about Yonkers.” He said, holding one out.

“No, right. I mean, do you remember visting Yonster? Nice place, had a few hills. You might have known the—there was a statue in town. A big one, of three guys on a horse?” I said, scratching my head. It was a monument to some local heroes during the Civil War—I’m not sure what Civil War, but they had horses and sabers, and they were local heroes. Everyone was related or married into their families. I think that limits the time of the Civil War, maybe two centuries ago? Three? Maybe longer—horses and sabers are as old as steel at least.

“Well, three? Like, three on three horses?” He sipped and frowned. “There’s a lot of those down in London. That what your thinking of?”

“No, no, it was one statue—one place thing. With three men on one horse.” I said, breathing deep. “Does any of that sound familiar?”

“…Are you alright, Justin? You seem worked up about this.”

“I’m fine, I just. I just found some writing about it in your place, and was wondering about it. It seemed, you know, familiar.” I said.

My father didn’t know anything else. And the sixth cup of coffee looped back around on me. I felt my bones weaken, and only with force of will got home. I fell onto the couch, and slept. And dreamed.

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The sun over Yonster is clearer than anywhere else I’ve seen. The cicadas buzz with the spring’s arrival, and the river runs clear. It’s thinned lately, but winter snow was arriving. It was swelling, and green was growing again. A good time of year, as the rains came in, for drinking tea outside and slipping in doors. The rains are always calming in Yonster.

I figured I had…something, between my memories and my father’s forgotten ones, to place Yonster on a map. Somewhat. The terrain, the style of the saber, the way the buildings looked. The problem wasn’t ‘were’ such a place could be—it was that those places had maps. Yonster looked like it had rolled out of an English Romantic pastoral, but with electric lights.

And England was mapped.

England was mapped. Ireland was mapped. Maine was mapped. And it wasn’t like Yonster was small. I had known a friend in college, who claimed all over the south were unmapped and unmarked farms and villages waiting to take up guns against the federal government. I still think that’s a load of crap, but even those imaginary secret armies were small. But Yonster was…probably a few hundred people.

I narrowed it down over a few day. It was probably an abbreviation—chester became just ‘ster’ over the years, putting it somewhere in the Isles. I even worked out the etymology, although no one in Yonster was impressed—that fortress, or fortress over yonder.

I must have looked bizarre on the train from London. I told people I was hiking out in Scotland for a few days, map in hand and note books in my pack. The landscape looked right for Yonster, and Alba was a Celtic name—shared with a Latin one.

The Scottish countryside feels like a place you could hide things, as you move farther and farther into the highlands. It was a good place to start—even if it wasn’t as known for horses, I don’t think, as Yonster was.

I spent six months walking towards Yonster. I knew that I was getting close, even as I circled back and came around. Even as I started running low on cash, as the leaves changed. I told anyone who asked that I was going back to visit some friends out in Yonster—no one asked much after that, although I had plenty to tell them. I don’t know how I got back every day, every night rain or shine I was there. It was always Spring in Yonster, and the people always patient and kind. It kept me warm on days full of cold, and full when I slept hungry. For six months, I chased the phantom through hills and dales, in valleys and near cliffs.

Small Town Maine yonster

And then I found it—the old road to Yonster. It was smaller than I remembered, but what did that even mean really. The road was dirt, overgrown mostly. The buildings were small and few. There was maybe a dozen old houses, empty houses—no not quiet empty. But no one lived there. It was nothing like I imagined, but it was Yonster. I could feel it in my bones.



This story took some work to come up with an ending for—I wasn’t satisfied with leaving it as utter delusion, or having it really be some paridisal home. So I opted for something in between. On a revisit, I think expanding some of the search would be warranted—or perhaps changing Yonster from a sort of small town idealism to a more fantastic setting like the folklore had.

Next week, we leave the invisible and soar into the heavens! Behold, the Sun!

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Off the Map

This Week’s Prompt: 93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.

The Resulting Story: Yonster Over Yonder

This week, we are covering a concept or topic that came up before briefly when we discussed lost Irem: lost and hard to find lands. However, this time, I’m going to focus specifically on the nature of the place as unfindable, and discuss places long sought or supposed that have entirely vanished or been moved into the world of metaphor.

Stories of cities of luxury and wonder, just over the horizon, have existed since the conception of stories. But there was certainly an explosion of such cities during the colonization of the Americas. One of the most elaborate stories–especially tracing the changes in narrative over the years and the telling–is El Dorado.

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The first reports of El Dorado were in fact accounts of a ritual for the new chief of the Musica, not a city itself. This ritual involved an offering to the gods and a dive into a nearby lagoon. Afterwards, the new king was adorned with golden dust–hence the name, El Dorado. The Gilded Man.

After the Spanish conquered the Muscia, and found their gold supplies mostly imported, the legend moved somewhat. It became not merely a single man, but an entire city made of gold. These cities were supposedly isolated from the world. The city of gold was believed perhaps to recognize Christians (a tell tale sign of a European origin), and numerous map makers added it’s location to their maps (leading to a few failed attempts to reach the confirmed city).

Map ElDorado

El Dorado on the above map–note that Manoa is another name for El Dorado.

Part of El Dorado’s origins come from reports by Hernando Cortez, that claim there lies in the West of the Aztec Empire a province more populous than Spain and richer than the recently plundered cities. These rumors played into the notion of seven legendary cities of gold in the Americas. These cities were located in the southwest, among the Zuni, and of course contained no gold. Six of these cities were ransacked by the Spanish, desperate for gold. The seventh  city, sadly but not unsuprisingly, did not exist and has never been found.

Cortez’s writings also contributed to the stories of La Ciudad Blanc. This region in Hondaras was vaster than Mexico, and had as many inhabitants and far far more riches. This region was multi-cultural, with a number of native language groups living there. The conquistadors never found evidence of such a place, although lost cities have been found in the rainforest since then.

In South America, two of these cities are recorded. One is the City of the Caesars–this city was of course rich in gold, silver, and diamonds. Unlike others, we have more detailed descriptions of what it looks like–it’s between two mountains, one of gold and one of diamonds. Some accounts have the city moving to avoid capture. Inhabitants of the city range from ghosts, lost Spanish survivors, exiled Mapuche, giants, and the remains of the Inca Empire! Some believe that stories of the Empire of Peru inspired the legend itself!

The other city is the Lost City of Z–a city that contained a temple with hieroglyphics, statues, and arches. Pursuit of this city was put off do to World War II. Still, the city was the most recent to be pursued to my knowledge.

The French reported a similar city in the North. More accurately, they claimed to record an Iroquois legend of the land of Saguenay. This was a land to the north, with great silver and gold mines and inhabited by blonds, who loved furs and had them in abundance. This of course was never found, and was perhaps a lure to get more settlers into Canada.

Atlantis

Back across the Atlantic, Europe was no stranger to imaginary lands. The most famous of course gave the ocean it’s name–the island of Atlantis. Described first in Plato’s dialogues, the city was founded by Posiedon’s children and, generations later, began an expansionist conquest. The island itself was paradisal, and about the size of Anatolia, if not larger. The hubris of

Further north is most distant Thule, a land where the sky meets the sea. Early descriptions say the land has no air or water, but rather something like a jelly consistency. It is six days north of Britain’s northernmost edge and where the Sun goes to rest. Some sources point to Iceland or the Faroes, others Britian itself (some quotes about Pictish blood support this understanding) and others say it is ice-locked beneath the polestar.

The land of Prester John is in the other direction. Prester John’s kingdom was rumored to be in Asia, at first specifically in India. Supposedly, the kingdom was founded when the disciple Thomas visited India, and was a land of plenty and wisdom. Prester John was sometimes a descendant of the Three Wise Men who visited the birth of Christ. Later reports even claimed that his grandson, King David of India, was conquering Persia during the Fifth Crusade–an inaccurate report of the very much Tengri Ghengis Khan. Over time, Prester John’s kingdom was moved closer to Ethiopia (the term “India” referred to a wide number of places, including Ethiopia). It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that notions of the Preseter John were dispelled.

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Cockaigne was another lost utopia, although much more clearly allegorical. It’s roads and houses were made of pastries, everything was free, roasted pigs wandered the streets with knives in them already. The only location it was ever ascribed, jokingly, to London (as the land of Cockneys). Brittia, a place between Britain and Thule in many descriptions, was a similar paradise ruled by a Frankish king.No taxes were paid, and no labor required except manning the boat that brought the dead over.

Moving farther along we can find in Egypt Zerzura. Zerzura is a white city built around an oasis, guarded by giants at all times. Its front gate is carved to resemble a bird At the center of the city is a sleeping king and queen. A traveler who touches the beak will achieve entrance into the city, and find the great treasures within–a story that reminds me of narratives of the City of Brass.

City Locations

One of the suggested locations of Biringan City.

Moving off to the Philippines, there is Biringan City. This city, according to some accounts, pulls people in a trance–against their will to an elegant city. Some reports indicate that fisherman and drivers will end up in this city by mistake–fishermen especially when their catches go poorly. The spirits that dwell there sometimes abduct the soul of those they love, leaving behind only a lifeless corpse. These creatures, engkantos, are also responsible for skin diseases and can change their appearance at will.

Circling up again, we can find another lost and unmarked land in the Pacific. Here, we find two versions of a strange mountain. In China, it’s called Mount Pengali. It is the home of the Eight Immortals, and knows no misery or sorrow. Here there are fruits that grant everlasting youth, and summer never ends. There are even wines that will raise the dead that the First Emperor sought out. To contrast that is an account of Mount Horai from Japan–an island who’s atmosphere is made of thousands and thousands of dead souls, which if inhaled grant wisdom of the dead. The inhabitants here are childish–odd, given the presence of the dead–and no nothing of wickedness. The island’s winters are cold and harsh.

Moving to the mainland and across to Tibet, we come to our last group of unseen and unmarked lands.  Mount Kunlun is on such place–a place inhabited again by divinities and animals. The Queen Mother of the West has made her place her, with fruits of immortality, trees of jade, and more. Immortals regularly visited, while a river circling it that pulled all things down into it kept out the unworthy.

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Not far away, we move from Taoist influenced missing lands to Buddhist ones. Shambhala is also located in Tibet. The land is in some case ruled by the future buddha, and the capital city is shaped like a three dimensional mandala. Other texts, particularly Hindu ones, point to it as the birthplace of the last avatar of Vishnu. When the world has reached its end, and the wheel must begin again, it will begin again in Shambhala.  This paradisal place will be the seed that grows into a new world.

All of these paradises seem primed for a story about journeys and obsessions. A metaphorical attempt to attain the past–to reach back to something felt of the past. Something dimly remembered and distant–we should consider that, for many of these European stories, physical distance was the same as temporal distance. These far away places were often equated to earlier times in the past–they were places that could hold a secret Eden. What place do you remember, distantly? That you can’t place where exactly or even when?

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