Marble Heads and Marblehead

This Week’s Prompt: 81. Marblehead—dream—burying hill—evening—unreality.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

Here we begin another study of contrasts—the art of statuary, stable and enduring, mixed with the emergence of dreams, malleable and fleeting. The two have come together more than once—when we discuss the folklore of statues, and my own thoughts on their horror potential, we’ll find that the muse of mountains loves coming in dreams. Before delving too far into that, however, we should at least mention that there is a Lovecraft story dealing with similar notions: Polaris, Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep all deal with dreams, and didn’t quite work naturally into the rest of our discussion.

That said, the art of capturing human likeness in stone is as old as—well, as possible. The specification of marble for the statue does call to mind classical works. Ancient Greek and Roman statues which in Lovecraft’s day were believed to be pure and milky marble. We of course now know better—it is highly likely that the statues were painted, often in bright colors. But those ancient cultures do give us a few starting points before moving onward.

First is Galatea. Galatea was a statue carved by the sculptor king Pygmalion. Pygmalion had no interest with mortal women—and in fact thus opts to stay single and focus his talents on sculpture. However, his sculpted woman arouses in Pygmalion desire and adoration. Such is his lust that he embraces the inert statue, kissing and caressing it. He even dresses her, and lays her on a pillow to rest.

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When Aphrodite’s festival comes around, Pygmalion prays that the his wife be made flesh and blood—that she in her beauty can return his affections. Aphrodite grants the prayer, and that night their embrace results in the child Paphos—who in time founds a city that is named the same.

Then there are the Statues of Daedalus. Daedalus rendered some statutes capable of moving if not tied down. These statues are only obliquely referenced—Socrates’s discussion with Meno on knowledge introduces them.

And lastly a story calling upon Greek images, if not Greek itself: the Disinterment of Venus. This story tells of some hapless monks who unearth…a statue of Venus from nearby. The statue seems to move when not viewed and ‘magically’ fills the nearby monks with impure thoughts. The result of this story is rather grisly, and I’ll allow you to discover it on your own.

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Of course, the ancient Greeks are far from the only ones to suggest worked materials can channel higher powers. Moving a bit farther down the timeline of Europe, we find the Catholic and Orthodox icons. These images and icons often have fantastic properties—reports of the icon moving, bleeding, or giving breast milk are common. In at least one case, beholding the icon without permit resulted in a man’s death, and the mere presence of an icon could exorcise demons from those who came into the church.

Better still, these icons often were connected to dream messages and inspirations—sometimes in dreams the location of icons would be revealed, while in others instructions on their construction would be given. The icons dreams could also give visions and prompt, in many stories, conversions from these encounters.

Icons

On the left, Luke painting the image of the Theotokos. On the Right, the Theotokos of Vladimir.

An icon is in many ways the embodied form of the saint—it allows the saint’s grace to be refracted and reflected out onto the world. The creation of duplicates of a miraculous icon—either by print or photography—often carried with it the power of the icon as well. And these icons often played rather significant roles outside politics—reports suggest had that the Czar brought icons of known potency to the front in the first world war, it would have gone differently.

The icons were not without rivals, however—we can consider the work of theurgy, where in magicians claimed to bind demons and spirits into statues in order to compel them to move and speak. This practice sometimes included ghosts as well, who were thus imprisoned with iron chains and prevented from harassing the community. Both practices were, of course, condemned by the Church.

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We can also come back to Greece and even to

The idea of binding the supernatural with a statue may seem strange, but it’s practice is documented by the Maya in the Yucatan peninsula after the arrival of Catholicism. Here saints are, like in Europe, sometimes found in the wilderness. However, unlike in Spain where said icons are left alone, the statues in the Yucatan are forcefully returned and restrained to their new homes. For instance, there is a story of when the first Chimaltecos found Santiago in the mountains, in a place where even today no one lives because it has no water. After building the church that still stands at the center of town, these ancestral Chimaltecos fetched Santiago to his new home. The next morn- ing he was gone. Searchers eventually found him back where they had first encountered him and once more returned him to the church. Again he fled to his old place but this time, when they tried to carry him back to town, Santiago made himself so heavy that no one could lift him. Exasperated, the ancestors beat him with whips to get him into the church, leaving gouges on his back that can still be seen today. Beyond that accounts often end with villagers punishing the saint to make it “behave” properly. In Zinacantan, town elders pour hot water over San Lorenzo to silence him because they dislike “talking saints” in Amatenango, they throw their evil image of San Pedro out of the church and then behead him for his witchcraft.

Caanite Teraphim

These teraphim are Canaanite, not Jewish, but give a good impression.

Pre-Christian references to statues as divinities are not limited of course to Greece. We have the teraphim of the Old Testament. These statues are small, and often translated as household gods. They appear to contain some power and blessing. They might be comparable to the Lares of the Trojans in the Aenied or to the brazen head constructs of later occultists (which we discuss in our Patreon research here). These served as protectors of household power, and continuations of a house—for there to be a new Troy (as Aeneas founds), they must have the Trojan gods. They further speak in Aeneas’s dreams, in Book 3 of the Aenied, telling Aeneas to seek out the lands that have been prepared for him and not to dally in the Greek shores much longer.

All this talk of saints, and I nearly forgot to mention a peculiar story I found while doing research for this topic: the Porcelain god. The story resembles Galatea in some ways—it is about a superb artist striving to make a living thing out of inert material. However, unlike Galatea—who is granted life by the act of a goddess—the porcelain here is given life by mortal hands. Specifically, after years laboring away at making the life like porcelain, the poor man asks the god of the forge how he might succeed. The forge chastises him for thinking that with mere bellows he might make a soul, and the man realizes he can impart life to his creation—by sacrificing himself. Leaping into the fires, he infuses the porcelain with the potency of life, and is enshrined by the Emperor as a god of porcelain.

The danger of statues is also well recorded. The instance of the Disinterment of Venus is but one example. A tale from India tells us of a Brahmin and his elaborate collection of idols—and his disgruntlement with determining the best of the idols. He asks a local smith for advice, and the smith suggests seeing which idol with stands the blows of a club best. After testing the idols this way, the Brahmin finds only one idol able to stand the blow. He worships the idol faithful, doing nothing else but meditating on the idol, offering it food, and tending to it. That the idol appears to eat—the food left in front of it vanishes, after all—is seen by the Brahmin as proof of his divinity.

One day, the Brahmin opens his eyes however—and sees that in fact a rat had been stealing the food. This causes him to despair and perhaps go a bit mad, as he concludes that the rat is the true master of the universe for being able to trick him. His reverence for the Rat continues, until a cat eats the rat. He then reveres the cat, until his wife grows worried about their livelihood and—in spite of her fear of her husband—removes the cat. The Brahmin concludes from this his wife to be the most powerful force in the world, and seats her as his object of worship. Being an object of worship, however, is not compatible with being a living person. His wifes adjustments infuriate the focusing Brahmin, who strikes her and renders her unconscious. As before, he concludes him self to be the thing worth revering and achieves release.

I find that particular story…strange. But these dangers of images aren’t uncommon. Fear that images would achieve worship instead of true divinity is a regular fear in Europe, where iconclastic waves often destroy images and statuary in a fervor. We can consider a comparable story of Abraham, who as a youth in folklore lived with his father an idol maker. One day, Abraham smashed all the idols, and placed the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned home, he escaped blame by pointing to the largest statue.

To tie more directly to dreams, we can consider the writings of Pausanias who claims to have seen a pair of statues—one to Hypnos one to Oenieros—luring a lion to sleep:

From here is a way to a sanctuary of Asclepius. On passing into the enclosure you see on the left a building with two rooms. In the outer room lies a figure of Sleep, of which nothing remains now except the head. The inner room is given over to the Carnean Apollo; into it none may enter except the priests. In the portico lies a huge bone of a sea-monster, and after it an image of the Dream-god and Sleep, surnamed Epidotes Bountiful, lulling to sleep a lion. Within the sanctuary on either side of the entrance is an image, on the one hand Pan seated, on the other Artemis standing.”

Dream interpretation is a common trait among holy men as well. We can consider the obvious dream interpreter, Daniel of the Old Testament. His interpretations served as excellent prophecy for those who spoke with him. We can also remember Joseph, who understood dreams as holding the future and thus advised the Pharoah for a time. In Heferodshire, there is a story of St. Dubricius, who settled his monastery after an angel of the Lord instructed him to do so—with a herd of swine taken as well. The place was hence known as Hogplace or Mochros.

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These two are the old Greek gods of slumber, and in some cases survive later as saints. Hypnos further endures in Lovecrafts work—in particular, one of the stories I believe came from this prompt. The story bares Hypnos’s own name. The story also follows a marble sculptor, who with his lone friend, begin to explore places beyond human conception and experience. They go further and further, until the narrator reaches a barrier that he cannot cross. But his friend can and…well, what happens next is best read on your own.

Lovecraft’s notion of sculpture and dreams are of course common. We can consider also, in the vein of marble, the Tree. This story follows two sculptors making an image of fate in competition. The result of this competition for the prize of a Syracuse tyrant is eventually a marble crypt and great tree that is extremely human like in appearance. I’ll allow you to enjoy that particular tale. And we cannot forget that a statue and a dream are at the center of the Call of Cthulhu—the statue of Cthulhu being the center of his cult. The power of images is to in a way be life like, and inspiring. It gives a being prescence in the world, spatial reality that a mere painting might not.

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So the above article is still important for my writing—it is where I went with research and I stand by it. However, as I was editing, I learned that Marblehead is actually a town in Massachusetts—not as I thougt, a head of marble. The coastal town served, as many New England towns have over the years, as inspiration for Mr. Lovecrafts own writing. In particular, the town of Kingsport was retroactively based on Marblehead in years past. Kingsport is of course the site of many dream stories for Lovecraft. Randolph Carter has encounters there, as does the terrible old man, and in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, Nyrlanhotep himself expresses admiration for the town. So what tales from Marblehead?

Among the most famous you will find is that of the Screeching Woman. A heavy Spanish galleon was overtaken by pirates. Each member of the crew was butchered—except an English noblewoman, who was brutally murdered on the coast. The fishermen being away, and the women and children of the town being terrified, no one answered her screams for help. Her body was buried on the spot, and on the anniversary of her death, her screams still come out of the spot.

The prompt more directly seems to refer to a man named Old Dimond. Old Dimond was a man of prestigious power in the black arts. These included divination and power over fortune—he was known to go to the burying hill and beat about the graves, making demands for the fates of his own vessels. He was also known as a good friend to have—a widow asked for the location of a lost bit of wood, and he charmed the thief into returning it. In another instance, he was able to locate stolen treasure for an elderly couple. Old Dimond it seems was not only a wizard but a defender of the ill fated.

Old Dimond I think gives a direct line to the story. We are dealing with manipulations of dreams, and of fates there for. The reference to a burying hill point to that sort of necromancy connection. We then have the story of a wizard, of dreams, and of a certain unreality or magical uncertainty. From Old Dimond’s tales, it might be fitting to do a thief story—akin to the Terrible Old Man. Alternatively, we could present a somewhat more nefarious dream of a statue still—as I discuss in the patreon research, the ability to gain insight into the future and the cosmos is often connected with mystical statues and machines. Certainly, necromancers have had uses for strange and enchanting statues before. And I do confess, I would like to employ my earlier work into this even as they…misaligned with Lovecraft’s intent.

What stories will you weave about the coastal town of Marblehead? What statues inspire you in the real world? What strange dreams have you had?

Bibliography

Freedberg, David. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Hearn, Lafcadio. Some Chinese Ghosts. Project Gutenberg, 2015.

Leather, Ella Mary, et al. The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire: Collected from Oral and Printed Sources. Logaston Press, 1912.

Mukharij, Ram Sayta. Indian Folklore. Sanyal and Company, 1904.

Roads, Samuel. History and Traditions of Marblehead. Osgood and Company, 1880.

Watanabe, John M. “From Saints to Shibboleths: Image, Structure, and Identity in Maya Religious Syncretism.” American Ethnologist, vol. 17, no. 1, 1990, pp. 131–150. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/645256.

“JewishEncyclopedia.com.” JewishEncyclopedia.com, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14331-teraphim.


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There Is Nought But Chaos

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Resulting Story: The Shifting Temple

This week we are given a topic that we have, in the past, covered with some detail. The notion of a living core of an ancient structure bares a resemblance to notions of shapeless forces we discussed regarding Azathoth—we will be re-discussing some of those here, with greater detail and focus, as well as some other forms of living structures.

There are two parts to this prompt, each worth review in equal part—the shapeless and the center. That is, there are creatures and stories of things who’s shape cannot be known, and of things that support buildings and worlds. Both will be discussed—particularly when they overlap at the end.

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First we will discuss the most fantastic—the shapes at sea that support entire camps, and resemble islands from afar. This is actually the origin of the Kraken, a creature recorded in biology texts from the eighteenth century. There is another such creature in Norse tales, the hafgufa. Recorded as a giant whale, the hafgufa resembles an island from afar—in some tales, its nose is so massive that it suffices for an island!–and it is noted both for its taste in ships and men, and its peculiar means of attracting prey. The hafgufa is a species of two in some texts—and both are infertile, otherwise the ocean would be over run by false islands. In some texts, the hafgufa is also called the Kraken—albeit a whale not a squid. You can find more of it here.

Medieval Bestiaries produce another whale like creature—or sometimes turtle—who is so big, it’s back ridge has trees growing on it and valleys form around it. The aspidochelone is sometimes more sinister however—its appearance of false life and safety are an allegory in one text for the Devil and demons, who seduce the desperate.

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In Ireland, the stories of Saint Brendan the Navigator tell of a strange beast that appeared as an island and breached his boat. The Saint here is safe—the whale sinks after a fire is lit on it’s skin, much to the shock of the crew but little harm.

In Chile, there are stories of a similar creature—although it is more commonly in lakes, the Cuero is a danger to sailors who draw near it’s lure. Sometimes the shape is like a cow hide, sometimes an octopus, sometimes a stingray. Here is a more in depth article on not only the legend, but histories of it’s recordings

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Then there are those supports that are much wider and vaster then a mere ship. The World Turtle, for instance, carries…well, the world on its back. Sometimes this is a literal and direct holding. Kurma, for instance, supports the world directly in Hindu stories. Other stories, such as when Nuwa repaired the sky, have the turtle shell as a form of architecture somewhat removed. Turtle Island refers to this imagery as well—the notion that the Americas are on the back of a great mythological turtle. Other stories—the most obvious being Discworld—suggest the world is on the back of four great elephants, and then on the back of a turtle.

Bahamut is another supporter of the world, albeit a fish with a great bull on its back. Found in Arabic sources, Bahamut is more terrifying then others. The bull on its back has a hundred legs and horns, and Bahamut itself is so vast all the worlds oceans would fit into its nostrils like a mustard seed. It is also the farthest removed of all the great beasts—on its back, the bull; on the bulls back, a ruby; on the rubys back, an angel; on the angel’s shoulder, the world.

arabic world map

The map of the world here is rotated on it’s side–Bahamut is the fish

Of course, there are also non-sentient living supports. The World Tree can be found in cultures around the world. The famous Norse Tree Yggdrasil holds the nine worlds in it’s branches—and is echoed in the Volsung saga, were the house of the Volsung’s has a great tree holding up its roof–the tree is called Barnstokkr. There Odin—well, a stranger who resembles him greatly—places a legendary sword, that begins their undoing. Further south, we can find the world tree in Zorastrian stories. The Gaokerna is one of many great trees—its fruit is immortality, and will be key to the recreation of the universe. Beside it grows the Tree of Many Seeds, where all plants have their origin.

Not far away from the Zorastrian myth, we have the world tree of Kabbalah—a tree that, I have heard at least, is often depicted upside down. The Tree of Life here holds many worlds, as the light of divinity is refined downward from the undivided Ein Soif into this world. Kabbalah as a tradition is rich in symbolism and complexity, and should have more of an article at some point. The interesting point to me, however, is the suggestion of a reverse tree–a Tree of Death, that runs counter to the virtues of the Tree of Life and is made of the shattered remains of an earlier world. 

pakal tomb

The top portion of the World Tree found on Pakal the Great’s tomb.

Maya world trees are commonly depicted in artwork—the tree runs from the underworld into the heavens. Like the tortoise shell of Nuwa, the tree was constructed after a flood—the destruction of Seven Macaw and the end of the wood people—and like stories of Ymir and others, it is fed by the blood of gods. Some link it’s form to the visible Milky Way in the sky

All of this brings us slowly round to the most literal form of the shapeless center—Chaos, Khaos. Beginning with the most literal, the Greek conception of Chaos is the source eventually of all things. The form or force that precedes all the rest of existence, Chaos is gloomy and far away—and not terribly relevant to most stories. Chaos is the origin directly of Night and Darkness, and sometimes the foundation of reality itself.

Chaos is not the only strange and shapeless originator in Greece are concerned. There was the strange shape in Demophon’s casket, which was the first topic we discussed discussed (and which was rewritten on our Patreon here). Chaos in other cases contains all elements. When Milton depicted King Chaos in Paradise Lost, he maintained this for the realm of Limbo, where elements fly about.

Biblical starts of Genesis refer to an abyss of water from which the world was made—using the terminology that neighbors used for Tiamat, a vast sea monster that was also eventually the root of all things and truly varied in shape. What this abyss was is a topic of much debate, especially in esoteric circles.

Chaos can be joined by Hundun. Hundun is a Chinese character, a faceless wanderer that is the originating chaos of the world. I recall best a story of Hundun from the Taoist, Chuang Tzu: The Emperor of the North Sea and the Emperor of the South Sea once met with Hundun. Grateful for his generosity as a host, they offered to repay him by giving him the seven holes all men have (eyes, nose, ears, mouth). Each day the bore another hole in Hundun’s face.

On the last day Hundun died.

Hundun has other comparable descriptions, often like a lump of clay and making a sound like thunder. It is malleable, sudden, and terrible perhaps. Or just hard to see, touch, or discern except by its overwhelming presence.

Taoist notions of a shapeless root of the world are common in Chuang Tzu’s writing. We can consider the story of the Shaman and Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu, a sage, changes his complexion and diagnosis at every meeting, culminating in this one:

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled.

“Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning, he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.”

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about `who’ or `what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”

That the ultimate origin of reality is shapeless and indeed perhaps unable to be shaped is not unique to these presentations: Ein Sof, the infinite roots of the Tree of Life, is beyond definition as a being. The Prima Materia is less sentient, but the raw potential of creation that can—in theory—be shaped into just about anything that’s desired. These forces of chaos are also vitality—they are shapeless and thus support all shaped things. They are the raw stuff at the very core of life in the world.

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I couldn’t figure out how to cut this properly, so enjoy the image of the Prima Materia or alchemical mercury–the cubes are the mercury.

This I think could be the source of our horror story—instead of merely discovering a shapeless core at the center of the world, we could present a story where that shapelessness is vital to the world and its movements. And if that shapelessness collapses—if like Hundun, it dies on contact with the five senses—then there is a tragedy at play too. By discovering the truth of the world, something about the world’s vitality is lost. I could go on about how defining something restrains it, and so on and so on, but I’ll leave that for the musings of the story.

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A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

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

The Resulting Story:Samson and Delilah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bluebeard1

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

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

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

bluebeard2

Here old Bluebeard looks a bit creepy but less crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pysche and Eros.png

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

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

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

bluebeard3

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

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

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

woodcutbluebeard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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The Court of Miracles

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

The Resulting Story: The Court

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

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

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

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

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

Romany Flag

Romani Flag, Wikipedia.

I will not be discussing such portrayals today.

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

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

St. Petere Vatican.png

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

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

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

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

Canopic Jars2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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We Can Dance If We Want To

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

The Resulting Story: The Harvest Moon Shines Down

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

Dervish.png

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

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

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

Shiva Nataraja.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barong Dance.png

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

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

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

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

Pele Home.png

Wahikpau o Pele

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

GhostDance

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

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

Egg Dance.png

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

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

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

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

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

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Sacred Guardians

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

The Resulting Story: The Frog Church

The story of the gargoyle is an interesting one. Grotesque sculptures—specifically one spewing water, but I feel that is an unnecessary division here—gargoyles are fearsome creatures that adorn many old buildings and churches. The gargoyle is sometimes thought of as a protector of the church—a feirce creature that fends off or frightens away evil spirits. Certainly, the gargoyle in this story is playing the role of guardian. But the actual origin of the gargoyle is far stranger.

GargoyleRouen.png

 

 

It all begins with a priest and a dragon. The dragon, however, was more dreadful then your typical terrifying creature. In the tradition of medieval dragons, it was a beast with bat wings, a long neck, and breath of fire (rather standard fare for dragons, as opposed to other french creatures like the Tarrasque). St. Romanus, a chancellor to the king, went out to face the dragon. In some versions, the ones I prefer, he was added by a condemned man, and leashed the beast. Bringing it back to the city it had terrorized, the saint burned the creature. However, the head and neck would not burned—they had become fire proof with the aid of its own breath. So the head and neck were mounted in the church, to ward off wicked spirits. The head spontaneously spouted water—or blocked the rain in a way that looked like a fountain (a nice inversion of its earlier fire breath). St. Romanus also reserved the right for his church to pardon one criminal—non traitorous criminal that is—per year.

The gargoyle then is not at first a willing defender of the church, but the image is rather effective as a guardian. The gargoyle is of course not the only statue associated with the church and not the only statue that guards holy places.

We can consider, for instance, the church grim. We’ve discussed this creature before—a black dog that wards the church, sometimes buried in it’s foundations. The robbery we are dealing with seems likely to be foiled by a church grim, as the creature is much more frequently a physical protector then a mere spiritual one. Other accounts of the church grim—sometimes called the Padfoot–describe a white or white dog, the size of a donkey that stalks at night. Other times, it takes the form of a lamb in the graveyard. It is also reported that the sound or stalking by a church grim marks one for death, and when unseen the grim may make the sound of chains being dragged. Speaking to or striking the church grim gives the grim power over you—resulting in comedic instances like a man being dragged by a particularly mischievous grim all the way back to his window.

NIO Statues.png

 

 

We can also consider the Nio. Unlike gargoyles or grim, who are a type of creature or sculpture, the Nio are at least in theory the same two individuals everywhere. The Nio are fearsome defenders of the Buddha—frequently, the two wield thunderbolts and have rather frightening appearances. The exact origin of the two is unclear—some posit them as defenders of the Buddha in life who took up this role after death, some place them as Raksasa, some as thunder spirits. Almost always, one of the pair has an open mouth, the other a closed mouth. The meaning of this pattern is disputed at times—the open mouth to frighten off evil spirits, the closed to keep good spirits in; the open mouth as the first letter of the alphabet, the closed as the last; the open as in someway feminine, the closed as in someway masculine; and so forth.

Lion.png

This imagery, however, is repeated in the lion statues outside shrines in Japan. Komainu or shisa (Japan vs Okinawa) are in fact lions, not dogs, although their origins and naming are a tad convuluted. While I couldn’t find many stories on the komainu, the shisa is a popular general guardian spirit. I found the following stories on the site linked above:

A Chinese envoy brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa. Meanwhile, at Naha bay, the village of Madanbashi was being terrorized by a sea dragon that ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the king was visiting the village, when suddenly the dragon attacked. All the people ran and hid. The local priestess had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent a boy to tell him. The king faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded throughout the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon’s tail. He couldn’t move, and eventually died.

At Tomimori Village in the far southern part of Okinawa, there were often many fires. The people of the area sought out a Feng Shui master, to ask him why there were so many fires. He believed they were because of the power of the nearby Mt. Yaese, and suggested that the townspeople build a stone shisa to face the mountain. They did so, and thus have protected their village from fire ever since.”

The mystic lion statue guardian exists in Tibetan tales as well. We have a classic story of wealth there—a man regularly feeds a stone lion he finds in the woods. This man, Phurba, is notably poor, but still takes the time daily to feed the statue. The lion comes to life one day, and tells Phurba to come early the next day—and to put his hand in the statues mouth. There he will find gold, until the sun rises and the lion’s mouth closes. Phurba succeeds, and his rich neighbor Tenzin goes to do the same. Unlike Phurba, Tenzin does not take his hand out—and for his greed his hand is stuck into the lion.

Tibetan guardian spirits are also a fascinating delve in myth. They in a way resemble our gargoyle most closely—the spirit is a demonic creature, converted to Buddhism and then made a defender of what it converts. There is a long article I will link here, as I’m still reading the works relating to Tibet. However, this connection with the Gargoyle I think hints at some of the horror we can work with here.

Turning to the folklore of Hungary, we have another story of a mystic and righteous statue! A holy man dwelt long in the forest of Hrisco. So righteous and wise was the hermit, he was preferred as a negotiator—the legal authorities were rarely bothered. Eventually, he was called to deal with a peculair case of royalty. The Queen was a widow, and vowed to never remarry. When she met a man she fell in love with Francis, who was also a widower, she adopted him as a son. In time, Francis grew impatient and greedy—and locked the Lady of Larbor in her own castle, telling her servants she had gone mad.

Hungarian Hermit of Hiesco

The hermit, having been called by the king’s exiled and destitute lady, berated Francis—and suffered the wrath of the crown. Francis had the hermit locked in the highest tower and left to starve. And eventually the hermit did pass away—but the torment did not cease. For the next day, a statue of the monk appeared on a high rock near the tower. The statue pointed down accusingly at Francis—and despite the efforts of nobles and servants, the statue could not be destroyed. This accusing presence drove Francis mad—he demolished the castle, but the statue and castle returned. He fled, and died miserable and sleepless, the cruel presence of the monk haunting him to the last.

Our story I think then has a few interesting elements. The most overt parts is a story of the gargoyle in question, as a fearsome creature. A terrible origin story for the apparent statue. Here we can also observe the Lovecraft story, “The Terrible Old Man”. The story details a number of thieves trying to break into an easy mark’s house…and suffering a terrible fate. A useful technique here is the giving a clues to the history of the place, in small snippets and words. I have a nasty habit of just…saying what the story of a place or creature is. Our strange grotesque could have more hints around it. What sort of supernatural, or even alien, thing it had once been. Perhaps this is not the first thief to have met a grizzly end.

Particularly interesting to me is this recurring story, in both the Nio, the Gargoyle, and the Tibetan guardian deities, that an enemy of the holy place is converted into it’s most ardent defender. The potential parallel for our unfortunate burglar might work out well—perhaps a newly carved gargoyle bears an uncanny resemblance to him.

This story is also a good time to revisit the church as a location—particularly the Gothic cathedral. The most famous use of course is Hunchback of Notre Dame which…I have not read. I did see the Disney adaptation, which makes use of the gargoyles as…elements. Comedic relief I guess. Still, a cathedral is a fascinating location to me, as almost every cathedral is adorned with images. Stories in stained glass, statues of saints, names carved into the ground to mark tombs. A cathedral to me is certainty a presence as much as a place. It is easy to feel, among so many eyes and symbols, like you are being watched and judged.

Biblography

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

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders. Pub. for the Folk-Lore Society by W. Satchell, Peyton, 1879.

Pogány, Nándor. The Hungarian Fairy Book. [1st ed.] New York: F. A. Stokes Co., 1913.

 

 

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Witches Sabbath

This Week’s Prompt: 75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.

The Resulting Story: The Black Mass GathersThe Fire Breaks

The Black Mass is an intriguing part of folklore. It is hear that we come again to the explict religious fears of Mr. Lovecraft perhaps—while his fiction is angostic, the Black Mass is a fear in the folklore of Europe, particularly among Catholics. The concept of a Black Mass is rather simple: The Black Mass is a pervision of the Holy Mass by the agents of the devil, an anti-thesis to right and good churchly behavior. Thus, it is at midnight, it involves sexual acts and violence—sometimes cannibalism and human sacrifice, often poison and orgies. It is a night of witchcraft and Satan himself may walk at that dread hour.

The earliest accusations of something like a Black Mass—although not using that phrase—is leveled against the Gnostic sect the Borborites. The accusation includes tropes that are common throughout later accusations—the consumption of bodily fluids, sexuality, child abuse, and cannibalism. Like later accusations, Black Mass here is equal parts folklore and political attack. The Borborite accusations resulted in 80 people being expelled from the city of Alexandria, and the suppression of Gnostic texts since then has made determining the veracity of these claims difficult to say the least.

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The most famous Black Mass is the Affair of Poisons. The incident is detailed here in a translation of several recorded interrogations. Included is the mixing of the blood of a white dove with holy water and sulfur, the brewing of love potions of a duke, the invocation of three demonic princes, an abortion and the use of the dead infants in consecrations. To continue on in more detail would be a bit more grotesque then I am willing to do for this blog.

The result of this Black Mass was the arrest and execution of over 36 people. The dead included the mistress of King Louis X, Madame de Montespan, and a number of soothsayers, diviners, and alchemists. The chief witness was interrogated while intoxicated, however, and evidence of the supposed thousands of dead children is non-existent.

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However, it was far from the only Black Mass accusation to be leveled. Earlier works gave similar debauched and carnal descriptions of Black Mass, where the devil appeared as a great talking black goat. Witch hunters, comedians, heretics all in the twelfth and thirteenth century provide texts for Black Mass.

Another famous accusation was levied against the Knights Templar. While not accused of a specific Black Mass, the Knights Templar were accused of spitting on the Cross, denying Christ, worshiping idols, and of encouraging homosexual practices. Compounding accusations of fraud, secrecy, and corruption, these accusations eventually lead to the disbanding of the Knights Templar and the seizure of their lands by other states and the Knights Hospitaller. In addition, the accusation papers are the first time the now famous demon Baphomet is described. However, the demon has not taken its form as a black goat yet. Instead, it is described as : a dead cat, a severed head (sometimes with three faces), sometimes as a piece of wood with Baphomet upon it. The nature of this accusation is…difficult to find credible—the articles on Wikipedia document the strangeness of the name, the accusations specifics, and the theories around it. The idea of Baphomet as a demon was revived later for attacks against Freemasonry, and finally Baphomet’s shape became more concrete with Eliphas Levi’s satanic temple.

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In the folklore of Germany, Walpurgisnacht takes a similar role—or more properly, Hexenacht, the Witches Night or Witches Sabbath in the Brocken mountains. Here, on a night of a saint, the witches gather by flying goats. They trample crosses, are baptized in the name of the Devil, receive gifts from him, and have grand orgies—rather banal by standards of Black Masses. Spell preparations were also made—the unguent that allowed witches to fly was brewed, great spells were cast with the aid of other witches. And of course, copious amounts of human flesh were devoured. The location varies—while the Brocken is common, the mystical island of Blockula in Sweden also plays host, as do other mountains.

A slight variation on these masses, which resemble grand inversions of the order of mass, is the Mass of Saint-Secaire. Recounted most famously in the Golden Bough, the mass is a means of assassination. A corrupt priest and his lover go to a deserted church at eleven at night. He recites mass backwards, ending at midnight. He then devours a mass of three cornered black bred and drinks a cup of water, from a well in which an unbaptized child has died. Then, making a cross with his left foot, the priest proclaims the name of the victim. The victim then simply dies, rapidly wasting away.

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More innocuous inversions of Mass include the Feast of Fools phenomenon. A celebration among the subdeacons and lower clergy, the Feast of Fools traces its roots back to similair Roman celeberations. The Subdeacons took reign as the overseers of the cathedral for the day, and partying on a grand scale commenced.

In the folklore of the Balkans there is a recurring trope of devils gathering in the woods at night. Unlike the others described, these dark gatherings are regular reports of their mischief to their superiors, and get beatings when they fail. In folktales of unfortunate or poor heroes, these meetings provide ample opportunities to eavesdrop on the problems and solutions the hero can provide for riches.

A German folktale of a conclave of corpses has an implied diabolical aspect. The doubting monk discovers them buried in a forgotten vault at night—their hearts are ringed with fire, and all of them sit at attention. When inquired to their fate, the corpses reveal that they are being punished by their victims nightly, until judgement day. The conclave warns the monk of this truth—that hell is real, and coming for him. At the end of the gathering, the monk repents and devotes himself to the church.

In Shropershire, the Stiperstones are reported as the gathering place of ghosts and witches to elect their king—and the mysterious place Hegmoor’s End is an island where witches gather. Not much regarding these gatherings is recorded, so we must presume they are sabbaths like any other.

In Rhode Island, Goose Nest-Spring is where the witches hold carnival, and have Sabbath at Hell Hollow or Kettle Hollow, depending on the teller of the tales. African American folktales in Rhode Island report that those who see witches brew—made frequently by groups of witches in graveyards—will crave nothing else, and thus starve even if they escape.

A Celetic folktale gives a more somber occasion—from the Isle of Man, one Mrs. Peacock claims that the devil occupies churches on All Hallows Eve. There, he takes the form of a somber priest and blasphemies against God for the night, while invoking the names of those who are to die and be damned in the coming year. If one listens, one can hear their fate—and perhaps even escape with their life. (Celtic 328).

With this foundation of diabolical tales, I think we can start working on the outlines of a story. I think this is a prompt that is more a scene then a full story—the climax or midpoint, rather then a whole outline as is the case elsewhere. With the idea of getting to a witches sabbath, I think we can play with the notions that this Sabbath occurs yearly, in the same place. Something like a grotesque yearly convention. And with a convention, we can imagine that a community has grown around it, in the same way that pilgrimgae sites foster the growth of communities around a trail.

Given the associations with secret knowledge and plans at play here, I think a story about discovering the Witches Sabbath that is at the heart of the economy of a small village or town either as a small child or as new arrival in town. The mystery of strange people arriving and treated as welcome guests, the sights of early fires and sacrifices in the nearby hills, and the inevitably doomed venturing into those hills one night, to see the secret ceremonies. I think that as a story might work well.

The exact character of the Sabbath is another question however. As mentioned above, Black Sabbath’s are often gruesome and needlessly dark affairs. Scores of dead children might be shocking to write about, but in the space of only fifteen hundred words—three thousand if I’m being generous—the image is more tacky then effective I feel. On the other hand, making the Black Sabbath a merely ordinary event is dull. Walking the line between serious horror and schlock—a line I willingly and eagerly cross at times—is a difficult affair.

Bibliography

Bourgaize, Eidola Jean. Supernatural Folklore of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island, 1956.

Nicoloff, Assen. Bulgarian Folktales. Assen Nicoloff, 1990.

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

Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore. Wildwood House, 1983.

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.

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