She’s a Viper

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Resulting Story:

The quote above is from an essay on Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Pater—not as I first thought, a saying by da Vinci as pater Renaissance. The essay is partly biographic, detailing da Vinci’s years as an artist and academic—his knowledge of nature that for his time took the form of divination, alchemy, and herbal ism. What caught Lovecraft’s attention in this quote, and what the essay points to, is that da Vinci’s mastery of nature and painting was from his in depth knowledge not only of its beauty but its grotesques—Pater points to a painting of the head of Medusa as exemplifying this. While this painting is not actually a da Vinci, it will give us a place to start in a moment.

We can first begin with some of the descriptions given by Pater of Nature’s grotesques. The rent rock is unfortunately a bit to opaque for me to refer to. The distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, however, are familiar to any student of folklore. Frequently called the Will-o-wisp, these strange lights are attested to in a number of places as leading travelers down roads unfamiliar or even to their deaths. Strange fireballs at night are also often taken as signs of witchcraft or devilry, as we discussed in our works on those topics. That such alluring sights are taken as grotesque is strange for me, but I suspect Pater is thinking of the bodies and broken corpses they leave more than the lights themselves.

This link with witches, however, brings us back to Medusa and the Gorgons. While not the exact portion of the essay quoted, the portrayal of the Gorgon as both the beauty and horror of nature isn’t without precedent as we will see. The serpentine women of the world are a varied group, and we can see traces of them in many places. And in many of them, they are beautiful and terrible.

Medusa Leonardo

Pater attributes this piece depicting Medusa to Leonardo–current research believes it to be a Flemish painting.

Beginning with the Gorgon sisters—Medusa, Stheno, Euryale—we have a group of three terrible monsters, with gazes that turn men to stone. Each is described as having serpents for hair, bronze claws, and cause terror among men. Early variations give them instead wings, boars tusks, and long tongues, with serpents for belts. The nature of these gorgons is varied. Hesiod says they are of the sea, with Medusa as their Queen. Homer attributes Athena and Agamenon as having the head of ‘the Gorgon’ on their shields, flanked by terror. Eurpidies says they were brought forth by Gaia to aid against the Olympians, and Athena killed this Gorgon and placed her on her shield. Another version says the gorgon, Gorgo Aix, was killed by Zeus in the titanomachy, skinned, and put on a shield (here her skin has snake like features). Both the Odyssey and the Aenied note the Gorgon’s are present beneath the world.

And then there is the story of Perseus and Medusa—a story I’ve taken time coming to, because the various forms the Gorgon and her sisters have taken often gets overshadowed by this tale. The story is most famously recounted by Ovid. Medusa, the lone mortal Gorgon and their Queen in some sources, was once a beautiful woman with many suitors. In time, she attracted the attention of Poseidon, who raped her in Athena’s temple. Athena, enraged by the transgression, turned Medusa’s most famed trait—her golden hair—into serpents as punishment. Medusa’s power here it should be noted is from her fearsome appearance—it is not from her mere gaze.

Medusa Ancient.png

Perseus enters the story, and we have discussed him before I believe, when a king sends him to kill Medusa in order to marry his mother without worry. Perseus receives various gifts before finding Medusa, and uses a mirrored shield to reach her and slay her—cutting off her head. Yes, a rather anti-climatic ending, but most quests that involve killing large reptiles end with either dead heroes or crafty ones. Medusa’s blood, like a number of monster’s blood, spills into the sea and creates Perseus and his less well known brother.

Medusa’s fate, as a victim of powers at be—ultimately of many powers at be, as not only is her transformation because of a patriarchial standard, but her death is ultimately because of another man trying to pursue an uninterested woman—has resulted in more sympathetic treatment of her as a character in later years. I do not feel qualified to discuss the full scope of feminist readings of the Medusa story, but they are many and worth consideration at the least. At least one scholar has suggested this is not a new reading—that Medusa was granted her powers and apperance to defend against the gods. While I haven’t included all of the analysis by Wilk here, some poritons are worth considering in the broader scope of folklore—for instance, in Ovid and other versions of Persesus, he is given an inordinate number of gifts, which might reflect a combining stories where only one gift was given.

One more note on the Gorgon that I found peculiar was it’s use as a repellent for the evil eye—yes, the one we discussed early that seemed to be exactly what Medusa possessed. The use of the Gorgon’s head on an image was said to keep it at bay, the opposite of what I expected. There is then even in the ancient context a duality to the character of the Gorgon.

Lamia.png

Especially as we go further down the line of serpentine women. The term Lamia is one I hesitate to suggest searching—it is a name that has become associated with any woman with the bottom half of a serpent. Lamia originally was a lover of Zeus who was, as per the norm in Greek myth, cursed by Hera. The nature of the curse is varied—sometimes Hera kills her children, sometimes Hera afflcits her with infantcidal maddness, as she did to Hercules. In at least one case, Lamia is cursed with sleeplessness by Hera, so she can never cease her grieving. Zeus, taking a rather strange route, blesses her with removable eyeballs so she can sleep somewhat. After this introduction, Lamia becomes a child devouring boogeyman. Over time, Lamia gained serpent like attributes and even a snake like lower body. She has also gained a reputation for vampiric traits, and in the first century AD a seducing side. With her, there is also the boogeyman Mormo—a creature defined only as terrifying, sadly.

Moving to more northern regions of Europe, we find the medieval Melusina. The stories here vary somewhat. Melusina is a watery spirit—she is associated with fountains and springs. In the most elaborate stories, she is the daughter of a fairy and a king. The fairy forbid the king to look upon her on certain days—and when the king failed in this task, she left with her three daughters. Melusina, the eldest daughter, asked the cause of the divorce, and with her sisters planned revenge against their father for his disloyalty. In at least one version,they employ their fairy magic to trap him under a mountain! Regardless, their mother does not approve of the schemes, and curses Melusina to die if she cannot find a man loyal to her in the way her father wasn’t. Every Saturday she will become a serpent—if her husband sees her as such, she will perish.

Melusina.png

Melusina, with some time, finds such a husband that will be loyal to her. Often, this is Count Raymond, who sires with her many children. However, because of her wickedness these children are often deformed. In time, the Count does as all husbands of fairies do, and spies on his wife. She cries out upon being seen and perishes—her faerie nature remaining around a nearby fountain.

In an important variant, Melusina marries Count Siegfried and has seven children with him. Here she maintains the Saturday prohibition—however, Melusina has been seen since in Luxembourg and is regarded as the mother of the city in some ways. She appears every seven years as a woman in white, asking to be redeemed. One traveler tried to redeem her, standing at midnight behind the church altar for eight of nine prescribed days. Had he completed the task, a nearby Roman ruin would have been restored! But alas, he failed to arrive on the ninth day.

Melusina still loves Luxembourg however—she weeps when it is in danger, circling overhead. If she is not redeemed, the city will collapse and be her grave stone.

Echidna.png

To finish our European serpent woman—but not finish all serpent women!–we can consider the form of Echidna. Here we find the most direct connection at the implications of nature featuring both grotesques and beauties, for Echidna is a beauty that is attractive to men far and near. She is at times described as immortal and deathless. Hesiod describes her as appearing partially beautiful nymph, partially terrible dragon. She was wife to Typhon the terrible, a monster that we discussed long ago—and should one day dredge up again—and bore a number of children by him. Aristophanes gives her as many heads as Typhon had—one hundred snake heads. Her children are many, almost as many as Tiamat: Orthus, the two headed dog; Cerberus the three headed hell hound; the Hydra, the many head snake; the Nemean Lion, invincible to moral weapons; the Caucasian Eagle, who tears out Prometheus’s liver; the Sphinx of Thebes, who only Theseus could outsmart; Ladon, the dragon who guarded the Herespedies; the harpies; a nameless venom spitting son who aided Cronus against Zeus; Scylla, who consumes the waves; the Gorgon, who we’ve discussed above; the Crommyion Sow, also slain by Theseus. In Scythia, according to Herodotus, there was a story of a similar half-snake woman that was the mother of the Scythians, with Heracles as the father.

The notion of snake like heads reminds me of an Aztec goddess—Coatlicue, the earth mother and serpent woman. Associated with both birth and death—the earth as fertile, and the earth as grave—Coatlicue is the mother of the sun god Huitzilopochtli and sometimes Quetzalcouatl, as well as the Moon goddess Coyolxāuhqui and the star gods Centzonhuītznāhua, who tried to slay the sun. She also has assoications with the god of women who died in childbirth, the Serpent Woman Cihuacóatl. While sometimes a young woman, the serpent woman often was depicted as a skull faced woman with a shield and weapon—among the Aztecs, childbirth was another form of war. With her attendants, woman who died in childbirth, she sometimes haunted cross roads looking for other children to make off with.

Aztec Earth.png

On the opposite end of these creatures, we have Nuwa—who almost resembles a cosmic Melusina. Nuwa appears or is depicted as a woman with a dragon’s coils as her lower body. During a time of chaos, in the aftermath of the destruction of the central pillar by giant headbutt, Nuwa set about re-ordering the world. She set about placing five elements and sapphires in the sky. She set four pillars made from a tortoise to hold it in place. In some accounts, she further made humanity out of yellow clay and ropes—her husband was the first of humanity, and invented arts of hunting, fishing, and farming. Nuwa enjoys popularity still, and sometimes acts as the arranger of marriages.

These various women show a common dichotomy—excluding perhaps Nuwa, they are both mothers and dangers. While there is a temptation to write this off as succubi—the fear of women’s sexuality, woman being a wicked tempter—it falls short in some stories. The Melusina is ultimately a victim, more so than her close cousin Medusa almost (depending on the version). Echinda to the Scythians is simply a mother of a people, as strong as she is. It reminds me, coming back to our very beginning, of the various dichotomies used to present and describe nature.

What sort of story can we make of these? I am tempted to avoid a literal serpent woman. However, the notion of appreciation for beauty coming only with understanding of natures horrors has some precedent in Lovecraft’s fiction (most tellingly, the work of Pickman). I think something about that, something with an artist and a muse perhaps, can be made. We will have to come around to it next week! I will see you then.

Bibliography:

Wilk, Stephen R. Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Peacock and Serpent

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

The Resulting Story:This is the Story of a Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maluk Tawus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Lalish.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Serpent Door.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Sources:

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

The Eye

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

The Resulting story: The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

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

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

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

Vathek.png

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

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

Evil Eye Protection.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corcotta.png

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

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

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

Bear Butte.png

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

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

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

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

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

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Biblography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Dream Of Mages

This Week’s Prompt:82. Power of wizard to influence dreams of others.

The Resulting Story: The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

Dreams and magic are large and recurring themes in a number of these prompts. And so today we’ll take some time to not only discuss the folklore of dreams and magicians—of which there is plenty—but some of their fascination, particularly in the time of Lovecraft, and some occult theories (however medieval). Needless to say, the man who commands dreams is to be feared in deed.

Recent works of fiction have put strains to separate the wizard from his various compatriots—the witch, the sorcerer, the warlock, the shaman, the priest, the magi. At its root, the word wizard does derive from the word “wise” and refers to the learned man or the sage. However, as we have documented, this does not mean a man who is benevolent nor does it mean one who does not make pacts with dark powers, nor one who does deal in holy powers. While witchcraft in an anthropological sense is associated with unintended malicious power, wizadry and sorcery tend to be more prepared. In a folklore sense, however, we would do well to remember that the line between the cunning folk and the wisemen is not always clear. So, what can wizards do?

In Scotland, we have many records of the powers that a witch or wizard might exert over the world. Powers over wind and weather, storms called up and sent back down are reported among court documents. In both Scotland and Nova Scotia, this power extends to strange orbs of fire in the night—often that burden the body and the mind. The same text reports tales of darkness conjured by sages of India in Marco Polo’s narratives. Scottish sorcerers also exerted the ability to render things sterile or fertile.

Scottish and other English wizards were also ascribed the power of commanding animals and humans alike, as we have discussed when talking of the devil’s deals. These powers could result in death or worse, trapping people until the starved. Particularly skilled practitioners as late as the 1800s (and to this day in some places) have the power to bewitch serpents and endure their bite without harm.

Frog River.png

Nova Scotia folklore reports a way of gaining power over a person with a ritual. One must find a frog, tie his legs to avoid him hopping, and put him atop an ants nest. In time, the ants will devour him, and the frog will begin hollering and yelling. You must not hear him holler—that will kill you. After nothing but ones are left, take the hopping bone—his hind leg. Place it on your target’s body for a few seconds, and they will be yours. This same rite yields different variations, sometimes using serpents for the purpose or using two bones. The first bone ensnares the second bone sends the person away.

Fiji and other places have reports of magic that follow a broad theme of requiring a portion of the victim to be of any use. This rule can be illustrated in a dispute between two men, Fillipi and Nayau. The two men, after arguing over who was the superior magician, exchanged food. The sorcerers set about certain secret workings on these objects, and then place them in the roof of their victim. These workings include fasting, eternal heat for four days, and aversion to the sea. Fillipi ends up dead—however, Nayau fails to find his body and release the evil Fillipi had built up. The Nayau man thus also falls dead, his spear stabbed into the incorrect grave on the last night. Proper treatment of the dead having unexpected consequences might be the topic of this weeks patreon or another time—needless to say cosmic events have sometimes emerged from reckless ignorance of cosmic forces.

Tibetan magic intending to harm someone is equally attested to. Placing hair or nail clippings under the altar of a wrathful deity, for instance, draws the destructive power towards the target. Cursing and invocation of these powers is alos a means of harm. More elaborate, however, is the ngan gdad. This ritual requires nail or hair clippings, placed in a circle. The cirlce is marked by four curses—each reaffirming that something must come to an end (the life, the descent, the heart, the body, the power)–which is smeared with menstral blood along with the clippings. The entire ritual is placed on a prepared paper with an image of the person, and wrapped in a package. The package in turn is placed in a yak’s right horn, with additional harmful items—the blood of a man, a woman, and a dog; brass and iron filings from a smith; earth from a cross road; and an object used in a suicide; a portion of a woman who died in birth; some acontine; and water from an underground spring. This concoction is topped off with two live spiders, who are sealed inside with the hair of a corpse. This is sealed with poisonous wood.

Horn Tibet.png

The entire process is poisonous, so the sorcerer must avoid his own contact. After this, a ritual involving the bones of the poor, the butchered of war, and earth of a haunted mountain is preformed. The wrathful gods are invoked, and the magician will attempt to hide the horn in the victims house during dawn or sunset. Within three months, the first signs of misfortune appear. Eventually, the entire family of the house dies.

While this is the most elaborate Tibetan ritual, it is not the only means recorded for tibetan sorcerers to work harmful magic. A number of lesser rites are codified that invovle drawing a mandala of a specific color and working with a statue or image of a person. Others involve the writing out of names and descent to invoke illness and malady, and elaborate rituals like the above to call upon four armed killers. For sake of space, we will abridge those specific rituals.

 Interpretations of dreams in Tibet, as elsewhere, is seen is a way of understanding the future. Among most persons, dreams of being clad in armor, riding a miraculous steed, or being in formal dress are all good signs of progress and prosperity. However, dreams of storms, swamps, and filth are ill omens. Different spirits can also influence dreams—a theme we will follow through out our work, as the wizard often works through spirits and other such things. “One can also determine which class of spirits caused the hallucinations one experienced in a dream: if one saw a snowy mountain or a soaring white bird, then the lha caused this dream. When seeing an old temple, images of clay, a fox, or a small child, the dream was caused by the ‘gong po demons. To see snakes, frogs, girls with a·pale-blue skin, and mountain-meadows are mirages caused by the klu. The btsan make one see rocks, trees, riders, and warriors, the the’u rang let appear ash-coloured children in one’s dreams; if one sees the figures of Buddhist priests, of asses, monkeys, rats, horses, and dogs, these dreams were the work of the rgyal po demons, and if one trembles with terror and fear in the sleep, this is due to the influence of the bdud.”

Cornelius Agrippa.png

Dream interpretation is also marked by Cornelius Agrippa, a famed occult writer in the middle ages. Agrippa attests to beliefs that dreams are celestial influences—drawing the common distinction between fantasy and true dream. While dreams are according to Agrippa effacious, he regrards them as unreliable. Or, rather, omens that cannot be universally understood with one meaning. Nonetheless he argues for a focus on the potential and influence of dreams on this world, and if understood accurately is the most effective means of seeing the future.

Dreams as divine messengers are of course common. We have Daniel, a wise man who’s position is derived from his ability to understand dreams (and who, perhaps like a sorcerer, has no fear of animals). We have the Odyssey’s dream messages from Athena. We also have, notably, the use of dreams by Juno in the Aeneid. Here, dreams are the tools of wrath and are used to misled the Etruscans into a doomed war against Aeneas.

The use of dreams to see faraway places is promient in later works. We can consider, for instance, the story of visiting the Antartic that is found in . Here the narrator bears witness to a great battle among old gods—Zeus and Odin set about a war path, as their lands are being pushed ever farther back. A tale by the same author in  In The Pale of a similar man, who went to the Antarctic and found the lost tribes of Israel and the descendants of Moses living there as if in a new Eden.

The wizards power over dreams, however, takes the most direct appearance with the Night hag and other commanded spirits. We discussed the Night Hag at length here, but there is of course more to say then that. We can consider the creatures a Sumerian exorcist encountered, which included the invisible demon Alu. The alu dwell in ruins, and wait to rush upon people at night, enveloping them in their garments or sneaking into bed rooms to steal men’s sleep. They appear as half-man half-demon creatures, sometimes faceless, earless, or even limbless. The baku of Japan is another strange dream spirit—it frequently is called upon to eat dreams, and has a generally benevolent image. That said, a hungry baku may devour good dreams as well—destroying hopes in the process. The Baku has gained a more benevolent reputation as of late, however, as it eats nightmares of children. Also, it looks more snuggly then a demon lurking on your bed.

Baku.png

Western powers over dreams are also ascribed. The Book of the Magus suggests a method by which a wizard may compel or bring forth true dreams. It relies on the construction of a ring dedicated to celestial powers, prepared at a key moment in time. The subject of the dream is to be tied to the power and moment—as is normal for the creation of such talismans in Western occultism. The practioner must also fast and obstain from many worldly pleasures in order to avoid ruining his project.

The Magus reports an incident where dreams give the impression of soaring and flying, in a way comparable to our earlier examples from weird fiction:

“At LINTZ I worked with a young woman, who one evening invited me to go with her, assuring me that without any risk she would conduct me to a place where I greatly desired to find myself. I allowed myself to be persuaded by her promises. She then gave unto me an unguent, with which I rubbed the principal pulses of my feet and hands; the which she did also; and at first it appeared to me that I was flying in the air in the place which I wished, and which I had in no way mentioned to her.

Pass over in silence and out of respect, that which I saw, which was admirable, and appearing to myself to have remained there a long while, I felt as if I were just awakening from a profound sleep, and I had great pain in my head and deep melancholy. I turned round and saw that she was seated at my side. She began to recount to me what she had seen, but that which I had seen was entirely different. I was, however, much astonished, because it appeared to me as if I had been really and corporeally in the place, and there in reality to have seen that which had happened. However, I asked her one day to go alone to that same place, and to bring me back news of a friend whom I knew for certain was distant 200 leagues. She promised to do so in the space of an hour. She rubbed herself with the same unguent, and I was very expectant to see her fly away; but she fell to the ground and remained there about three hours as if she were dead, so that I began to think that she really was dead. At last she began to stir like a person who is waking, then she rose to an upright position, and with much pleasure began to give me the account of her expedition, saying that she had been in the place where my friend was, and all that he was doing; the which was entirely contrary to his profession. Whence I concluded that what she had just told me was a simple dream, and that this unguent was a causer of a phantastic sleep; whereon she confessed to me that this unguent had been given to her by the Devil.”

In Mongolia the framing device of the Saga of the Wise Walking Khan involves the son of a khan enraging a group of magicians. These seven magician brothers are first approached by the two brothers, to learn the art of magic. They teach the elder brother false lessons, while the younger brother at night listens at night to learn the true lessons. Afterwards, the younger brother comes up with a scheme. He tells his elder brother that there will be a new horse in the stables asks his brother to take it to be sold—but not to walk past the seven magic brothers. The elder brother does not believe there is anything to fear from the magicians—after all, they didn’t teach any magic so they had no power. The Seven Brothers recognize the magical horse and worried their monopoly will be broken, descend with intent to kill the horse, after buying it.

The horse, it happens, is the younger brother in disguise. His intent was to turn into a horse, be sold, turn back, and flee.

After a shapeshifting chase, the younger brother finds his way to a great sage. He asks the sage to turn him into a bead and hold him in his mouth—and to turn seven beads into worms, as the magicians approach the door as mere men. The magicians see the worms, and thinking one is the younger brother, they turn into birds to devour them. The great sage drops the bead, and the younger brother emerges. He takes a great stick and kills them all. His saga then follows his tasks to repay the great sage.

The Greeks marked this division of dreams between fantasies and reality with the twin gates in the realm of Hades. There, dreams of falsehood flow from the gate of ivory, and dreams of truth from the gate of horn. Dreams are also there tied into the lands of the dead. The power of the dead to talk in dreams is attested to, almost as thoroughly as the power of the cunning wizard to speak with and command the spirits of the dead. But that will have to wait for another time.

Freud.png

Around the time of this prompt, it was not only the occult world that had interest in the world of dreams. Rather, the scientific community—or the begins of one—showed interest. We can consider the work of Sigimund Freud, who suggested dreams showed supressed and buried desires and ills. Carl Jung, one of his disciples, expanded this notion of the power of dreams to communicate from the great unknown of the unconcious mind. Jung extrapolated the source of these dreams into a vast universal unconcious, where the whole of mankind might be said to be dreaming.

The notion of dreams that are more substantive then reality, and the potential for sages to influence them, calls to mind an old Taoist story. Once Chuang Tzu said that he was dreaming he was a butterfly—and only knew his happiness as a butterfly. The sage wondered, was he a butterfly still dreaming he was a man or a man dreaming he was a butterfly? The sage leaves the question unanswered.

In dreams a man can live a thousand lives, wear a thousand different faces. The power of dreams then is two fold—to make a life like illusion, and to send messages of great importance. It isn’t hard to see how a wizard with command over dreams might manipulate a community—even barely remembered, dreams of the same thing over and over are effective. If we grant our sorcerer can observer the sleeping persons, then we have new elements to introduce. A sorcerer might use these gazes to test his victims, as a sort of fantastic simulation. As we have seen here, the danger of a wizard is great especially if personally invoked. We had a wizard hero last story, so I think this time we will have one in a villainous role.

I am also feeling a bit more fantastic. That is, away from set in stone locations ot an unknown place. Given the Sumerian story, I think the lair of this wizard is the crumbling ruins of some old temple or palace—and perhaps there is where whatever ritual or tools he uses are found. What sorts of magic might he work? What plans does this wizard have? There is horror to be found in a man who from afar exerts power over the elements, the invisible killer. The dread master with his assistant spirits.

 

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Bibliography

Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene. Oracles and Demons of Tibet. Kathmandu, Nepal, Book Faith India, 1993.

Dalyell, John Graham. The Darker Superstitions of Scotland.Glasgow, R.Grifin.co, 1875.

Busk, Rachael Harriet. Saga of the Far East; or Kalmouk and Mongolian traditional tales. London, Griffith and Farran, 1973.

Fauset, Arthur. Folklore of Nova Scotia. New York, American Folk-lore society, G.E. Strechet and Co. 1931.

St. Johnson, Reginald. The Lau Islands(Fiji) and their fairy tales. London. The Times book co. ltd 1918.

Iliowizi, Henry. In The Pale: stories and legends of Russian Jews. Philidelphia. Coates. 1900.

Iliowizi, Henry. The Weird Orient: Nine Mystic Tales. Philidelphia. Coates. 1900.

Thompson, R. Campbell. The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia. London. Luzac and co. 1903-1904.

Marble Heads and Marblehead

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

The Resulting Story: What Mr. Diamond Met on the Shore

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.

Galtea.png

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.

venus1.png

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.

Artemis of Ephessus.png

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.

Hypnos.png

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.

MarbleHead.png

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.


If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.


 

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.

Kraken.png

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.

St. Brendan.png

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

World Turtle.png

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.

michael_maier_atalanta_fugiens_emblem_36

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.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

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.

GillesDeRais.png

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.

StGildas.png

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

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.