Swamp Men and French Werewolves

 

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Following Story: Settling Down, Setting Free

This week we are going to zoom in on a specific geographic local, one that looking ahead haunts Mr. Lovecraft. To Louisiana! Land of good food, interesting folklore, Voodoo, and crocodiles! However, this week, in particularly, we will look into some of the monstrous creatures that haunt the swamps—the Loup Garou and some strange monstrous creatures more recent!

The Loup Garou is a creature or at least name of French Extraction. In France, it resembles many werewolf legends—the creature is associated with witchcraft, and often blamed for natural disasters. Occasionally, the creature was the result of someone skipping Lent for seven years straight—a trait that survives in the Cajun version of the legend, as the Loup Garou hunts children who don’t observe Lent. The French werewolf, especially the Canadian version, was relatively easy to cure—a few drops of blood spilled would deliver them.

LoupGarou1.png

The Loup Garou migrated to Louisiana, were some changes occurred—its association with witches grew, as the curse of the Loup Garou could be inflicted on someone by a witch. The curse was transmittable, but only within one hundred and one days of acquiring the curse. The Loup Garou had a number of strange weaknesses—it could not count higher then 12, and so was confused by coins numbering roughly thirteen.

The creature is reported in one case to attended a witches sabbath, riding on the back of large bats into the night to go to a masquerade ball. This isn’t terrible new news to us, but is worth noting as both a rather terrifying visual and something distinct from the modern image of the werewolf as an entirely savage and unthinking creature. Infact, in several French versions, the werewolf is actually a cursed nobleman—a curse inflicted, of course by stepmothers and wicked wives. Save your surprise. This is again different from the folklore notion, where the Loup Garou is the result of a failure to confirm with rituals, such as Lent or Easter.

LoupGarou2.png

The Loup Garou has a comparable modern cryptid or creature—the Honey Swamp Island Monster. This creature, standing around seven feet tall, has been occasionally sighted by fishermen in the area since the nineteen sixties. While the reality of the creature is, let us say, questionable, it is interesting the level of detail it has gathered. Plaster copies of footprints have been made—and these are strange webbed feet instead of the more common humanoid feet of the Sasquatch.

According to one source, Louisiana has a number of strange apes. The Missouri Monster Momo has been sighted there, little more than a large and frightened ape. More ancient is Nalusa Falaya from indigenous tales, which approaches humans on it’s stomach. It’s stooped gait maybe awkward, but it is incredibly fast. It comes upon hunters when their shadows grow long, and whispers in the voice of a man. Looking upon it sometimes causes men to fall unconscious. While they are unconscious, the creature places a thorn in his victim’s foot. This thorn allows the creature to do evil through the hunter, infecting others as well. The children of this creature can become willowisps, removing their innards to float around the swamp.

Honey Island Swamp.png

The Kashehotapalo is another swamp man of native origin, who like the Nalusa, dwells far from human settlements. With a small, evil looking face and the legs of a deer he is quiet the sight. When approached, he cries out with the voice of a screaming woman—never harming the hunters but distracting and frightening them.

While reading on these, I came across the Okwa Nahollo—a group of people with skin the color of a trout who live underneath the water. When people swim in their pool, the Okwa Nahollo will attempt to seize them and draw them into their home. After three days, the people captured become Okwa Nahollo—before this, a friend singing near the pool may lure the victim to the surface. After three days, however, they have become fish like and can’t come to the surface without dying. The horror potential of these creatures is…immense to say the least. Honestly, I wish I had found them earlier for stories of lakes.

There is one last creature here. The term demon invokes a creature named na losa chitto(Nalusa Chito in other sources). Reported in a story from the 1990s, the creature resembles a cow with great red eyes and horrible odor, black as day. As approached, the creature grows in size and darkness—however, if one becomes afraid of the creature, it inflicts seizures on them. Other stories say the creature is fast enough to seize a wagon, and resembles a large furry man—it chased one man down and stole his wagon with some effort. The creature’s unclear nature, and its preying on fear
Then there are the slightly further afield creatures. The soucouyant is a creature like the night hag that resembles an old woman by day—by night, however, she sheds her skin and becomes a fire ball. Her skin, according to one source, is hidden beneath a stone and her breasts serve as wings for the fire ball, as she lights up the sky. In this form, she can enter any home through any crevice. They then suck blood out of their victims—however, unlike most vampiric creatures, this isn’t for sustenance. Instead, they trade this blood for favors from demonic powers of the Silk Cotton Tree. One source identified a demon named Bazil, who was trapped in said tree by a clever carpenter building seven rooms on top of each other. What Bazil does with this blood is unclear, but tales of black magic indicate any number of things can be done with blood.

White Silk Cotton Tree.png
Like many demons and foul creatures, the soucouyant has a compulsion to count—and so can be caught by spreading rice around her house. This she shares with vampires, fae, and demons. Otherworldly creatures seem to have an obsession with mathmatics. This again ties to the Loup Garou(the soucouyant is sometimes called a Loogaroo, adding to some confusion), who is confused by high numbers as well.
So we have a whole host of monsters—and for what? Well, the notion presented by many of these creatures is the tenuous line between man(and it does seem to always be men with werewolves) and beast. That has always been a part of the werewolf, even the noble werewolf: an embodiment of the notion that of man as monster and man as civilized person. This isn’t a new horror observation, nor are the ties to sexuality and other less savory aspects. The Swamp Monster is likewise a creature that is human but not quite—a strange creature that resembles in many ways the Wild Men we discussed a while back. There is then an angle of the horror that plays on the Southern Gothic tone of the description. Abandoned houses, moss covered and decaying. There is an air of the ruined castles of Gothic horror. As a genre, Southern Gothic has a rich tradition that I am admittedly not very familiar with. The most I’ve tasted is, frankly, a song by Yelawolf. Which, I’ll note, touches on another nature that the Loup Garou and the other monsters have: the fear of becoming this sort of monster.

There is something terrible about the notion of becoming a monster, an infection agent that slowly turns someone into something more horrible. When we deal with the death demon notion, the Loup Garou seems less applicable—not entirely wrong, but not as clear as the others. The Nalusa Falaya and the na losa chitto are more like demons, in that sense. Strange, unearthly creatures that live in the wilds and have powerful knowledge to deploy. The Nalusa Falaya can convert victims into unwitting agents of destruction, and its children are somewhat disturbing willowisps. The na losa chitto seems to be an excellent monster for simple monster stories. And of course the soucyouant, as a witch, has an entire host of potential.
The best of course would be intertwining the drama and stalking horror of the night, the haunted landscape and strange shapes, with the more visceral terror. Supernatural scares to exaggerate or reinforce other failings is the best use of horror. The swamp gives a visual and a feel of horror that is downright Lovecraftian—it is, unlike the gothic castle covered in cobwebs, very much still full of life and vitality. It is wet and the air is thick with humidity. It is a buzz and alive…and what might live in there yet?
We’ll find out next time, I’m sure.
Bibliography:
Eberhart, Geroge M. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-CLIO (December 2002)
“History of the Rougarou: Louisiana’s Werewolf | Pelican State of Mind”. pelicanstateofmind.com. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
Mould, Tom. Choctaw Tales. University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Nickell, Joe “Tracking the Swamp Monsters”, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 25 No. 4, July/August 2001.
Ransom, Amy J. “The Changing Shape of a Shape Shifter: The French Canadian Loup-Garou”, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts Vol. 26, No. 2 (93) (2015), pp. 251-275

 

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A Witch’s Best Friend

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Following Story:After the Funeral

Well this story just makes me sad. We’ll go over the full implications of this as a narrative at the end, but I’m almost touched by the notion of a friend finding their dead colleague still persisting in their pet. I half wonder if this is meant as a horror story at all. We’ll discuss that a bit later, after going over the ideas of horror.

The use of hypnosis is an interesting note, one we will go over in more detail when we can—the power of the gaze and hypnosis was often invoked during Lovecraft’s time to explain magical powers in the world. The philosopher here is therefore somewhat in the vein of a wizard or witch, albiet more scientific. The use of it on a cat is more fitting then—not only to continue the legacy of the familiar but because hypnosis was for a time known as “animal magnetism”. It’s also worth noting we did discuss cat’s before (here).

The animal familiar of a witch is a common feature of magic stories, often possessed in someway by the genius of their witches. One of the most famous non-cat examples, in my research, was that of a serpent. In particular, there was a large rattle snake that supposedly attended the Queen of Voodoo during her life—the creature slinked off into the swamp after her death, and had not been seen since. At least one informant claimed his magic came from the skin of said serpent, but whether this was honest belief or blustering and boasting for a credulous writer is difficult to say.

Louisiana RattleSnake.png

The same book—and the issues of researching Vodou/Voodoo/Hoodoo will be discussed at a later time, believe me—refers to one wizard making use of a crocodile to work his magic, marked by a read handkerchief. Both creatures have stories of being sources of magic themselves—tools by which their owner cast spells as well.

In Scotland, we can add the toad to this set of wicked beings that aid in witchcraft. The toad is said to have been perhaps of more value dead then alive, however. The head of the toad supposedly contained a stone, and as we discussed in our witchcraft article, there are multiple rituals in Scotland and Nova Scotia that rely on feeding a toad alive to an anthill. One exception is from the end of the sixteenth century in Flanders. Here, a man tried to escape his threatening landlady by boat, but found the boat could not move. When he asked some soldiers for help, they too could not move the boat. At last, they suggested checking under the vessel—and there was a massive toad with fiery eyes. The soldiers stabbed the creature and threw it out. When the man asked after his landlady letter, she was found near death from unknown wounds.

The cat in Scotland has some significance—most prominently when it has a large white star on its chest. One source named these elfin cats, and claimed they were witches in disguise—not, as might be guessed, simple faerie cats. Others take the form of great tigers in Orissa, red deer in Cumberland, and in many parts of Europe a hare. Beyond this, Scotland has superstitions regarding cats as prognostics—washing their heads to indicate fair weather for instance—or as potential witches. In the same way that the earlier toad could be possessed by the mind of a witch, so too was there a story of a cat possessed by a witch. A rancher had lost a number of cattle, and determined he was bewitched. Seeing a cat nearby, who had been following his cattle, he hurled a red hot iron at the cat. By chance, a neighbor broke her leg that night.

Cat Sith 2.png

In North Germany, to tie in a way back to the witches sabbath, a miller became convinced that witchcraft was being done on his mill—every year, on Christmas Eve, the mill burned down. At last he convinced a solider to stand watch. As he makes a bowl of porridge, in comes a long troop of cats—and they discuss where to sit, as they plan to burn the mill down again. The young man hurls the porridge at one of the cats, and cuts off her paw with a saber. The rest vanish—and the next morning, the millers wife is found to be missing one of her hands.

A strange Flemish story of a man who went to tell his mother that she was now a grandmother follows. The grandmother already knew by some means, and on his way home he was swarmed by cats. Not just swarmed, the determined felines stole all his silver and pushed him into a brook! A local priest learned of this and warned him to not give anything to anyone who begged at his door. He held out for a time, until a piteous old woman with child begged for bread. When he gave the bread, both his wife and child died in…rather gruesome ways.

Japanese Bobtail

I couldn’t find Ainu art of a cat, so I present the Japanese Bobtail, one of two cat breeds native to Japan.

Ainu lore places the origin of cats, sometimes, with a strange demon. The demon conspired to kill a mole god, by tossing him in the fire. He ingratiated himself as a guest, and then tossed the god into the hearth. However, as he left, the god appeared at the entrance. Before the demon could speak, the mole god seized him and tossed him in the furnance. The mole god stopped him from becoming smoke or breath—but the demon’s life could not leave his ashes. So instead out emerged the first cat and fox to escape, and live on to do ill in the world. (For those interested in the power of dead shamans and demons emerging from burnt corpses, it is a reccruing theme in our research on mosquitoes and ticks you can find here on patreon). In a strange reversal of this story, there is a notion among the Ainu that ghosts of dead cats may possess their murderers. They slowly drive them to imitate the cats, wasting away their bodies until they die. Mewling.

That is, frankly, horrifying.

Of course, there are ways to avoid such things. One is to eat a part of the cat killed—this will keep the spirit at bay. Another is to find, kill, and eat an unrelated cat—this helps with cats that are simply lurking around and sending strange visions and manipulations to their victim.

The Black Cat has some saving graces—for instance, they were considered to be insurance by sailors wives. This made them very valuable indeed—and often stolen or wandering into homes on their own. Connected to this, throwing a cat overboard was considered a way to provoke a storm by sailors. The works on witchcraft by King James also note a ritual using a corpse and a cat to provoke storms by witches in Scotland.

But that seems rather far a field from our intentions—we are after all dealing more with possession, transformation, and transference then we are with black magic. So, what sort of story do we have in this prompt? The first thing that is apparent to me is the description of our philosopher—they are lonely. A lonely scholar kept company by their cat. They aren’t friendless—they have a friend who takes care of their cat afterwards. A cat that, I’m sure, would already be a living reminder of a departed friend. A new pet with new habits, new routines, used to the old owner in many ways.

And then, it starts making motions towards the pen. Or paper. Pawing at it. And the friend examines some of the contents of the box, and finds a curious crude contraption—a pen fitted for a feline leg. And then…its as if his friend is writing again, on the paper, starting to explain things.

I’m not sure what sort of story this is—while perhaps Lovecraft meant it as a horror story, of animal intelligence or of possession or the like. But honestly, given his love of cats and the general tone of this prompt, it feels more like a tale of wonder. A bit of magical realism, instead of terror.

Bibliography

Campbell, John Gregorson, Superstitions of the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland, J. MacLehose and sons, 1900.

Henderson, Williams; Notes on Folklore of the Northern Counties, The Folklore Society, 1879 

Hurston, Zora; “Hoodoo in America”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 44, No. 174, (Oct-December 1931), pp 317-417. 

King James VI and I, Demonology, Gutenberg Press. June 26th, 2008.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyoÌ Bunkan, 1901.

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Restored And Resurrected

This Weeks Prompt: 87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Resulting Story:Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

We are back among the dead! Oh it has been sometime. But here, we are discussing not just the dead, but the act of restoration of life. This is a miracle that Lovecraft here seperates from necromancy, remembering the work of the esteemed chemist Borel. The notion, however, of restoring a body with portions missing is discussed in a number of books and tales. To guide me through this genre of folklore and magic, I will be going through the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, who devotes an entire chapter not only on the tales of these feats, but also the magical theory behind them and related acts.

Cornelius Agrippa

To start with Agrippa’s theory then, Agrippa cites Arabic notions of men who have escaped their bodies and formed higher souls. These men, endowed with divine powers, can compel their bodies to mend themselves. He compares this control over their bodies and their lower souls to two famous pieces of animal folklore: The lion, who rouses dead cubs from death with its breath, and the otter, who’s weeping wife restores them from death as well. Agrippa acknowledges that such powers seem fantastic, but seeks like a proper scholar to back this claim with historical examples that follow suit.

His first example from folklore is a set of Zeus’s children—Tindareous(sic), Hercules, and Palici. Hercules famously has an unclear result after death—he appears to have become deified, but is also found in the underworld as a ghost. This aligns to Agrippa’s theory of two souls, a lower and higher part. The Palici were Zeus’s children by the Muse Thalia, and were a pair of twins. I have yet to find the myth Agrippa is referencing, but it might be a reference instead to Castor and Pollux—half twins by Zeus and Tyndareus’s wife. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to grant Castor immortality, and the two became Gemini. The Palici are referenced, in one source, as being swallowed by the earth after birth with their mother, and then bursting forth as their namesake geysers—a metaphorical death and rebirth then. Tyndareus, in some collections, belongs to a larger group of resurrections in Greece. For in Greece, there was a doctor so skilled at medicine, he had the power to raise the dead. Ascelpius’s staff still marks hospitals to this day, and he himself has a number of famed attributes. Ascelepilus raised so many dead in fact, that he was killed for stealing subjects from Hades, and his staff serves as a mark of the medical profession to this day. I will only briefly note that Ascelpeus learned the secret herb of immortality and resurrection in one version from a passing serpent—one of the two that Agrippa considers early in his writings (the other being the Phoenix).

Ascelpius.png

Past him, Agrippa next moves to a series of biographers about Apollonius, who became divine after death as well. He mentions again Glaucus—the individual raised by Ascelpeleus—and an Egpytian prophet who placed a herb in a dead man to raise them again. Agrippa theorizes that this proves souls can sometimes stay in bodies after death, and brings to the focus examples of animals that have appeared to come back to life after seeming dead, especially mice. Agrippa concludes briefly that a number of resurrections are actually merely cases of men appearing to be dead, but being restored before they truly pass.

Before going forward, I would like to call to our attention another resurrection we discussed once—the restoring of a Romani hero. I gave an abridged version before, but the story in full can be related here. The son of the deceased emperor is sent to slay dragons, and kills all the dragons in a household—except the youngest. The youngest he defeated, but sealed inside a jar. His sweetheart, a maiden, warned him he had done a wicked thing to leave it alive. And indeed he had. One day, his mother was visiting him and his sweetheart. She happened to hear murmuring from the jar—and opened it. The dragon asked only for some water for a favor—and the favor was the dragon’s love, an offer to be the dragons wife. The Empress accepted, and the two conspired to kill her son. Here follows a series of similar episodes—the Empress fakes illness, sends the hero to some dangerous place to find a cure, and the maiden sends him with advice and a many winged horse. The challenge includes a cannibal sow, a beating apple tree, and murderous clouds. After he succeeds, the dragon and the Empress conspire again, and this time ambush him at cards. The mother binds his hands behind his back, so tight his wrists bleed—and, as an aside, this game is described as “the sort she played with her husband” which is more insight into royal love lives then I care for—and the dragon emerges and kills him. Sending him off on his horse, the two rejoice.

The maiden finds the hero in this condition and weeps, before killing a pig. She takes the flesh of the pig and patches up the wounds left by the dragon. Running water over him, she restores him entirely. She then places an apple in his mouth—and he comes back to life! This in many ways resembles Agrippa’s archetype, of restorative food. The story proper ends with the lad tying the dragon and his mother to the stake and burning them alive.

Inanna.png

Comparable in that regard is the descent of Inanna to the Underworld. She too is slain, after being disarmed—more precisely, she loses all of her garments of power to the seven guardians of the underworld. Left dying in the underworld, her servant goes forth to the halls of heaven and to the many gods she asked for, and begs they help her. When none do, the servant goes to Eridu and asks Enki weeping—Enki, who knows the food and water of life. Enki then fashions two creatures, both without sex, who carry the food and water of life. As she leaves, a number of demons follow her, offering to ‘precede her’ into the cities and worlds of mortals. They demand that someone take her place among the dead—and after passing over her mourning servants, they set upon her husband with Inanna’s permission. The husband’s fate is continued in later poems.

To leave briefly the nature of food and life—hard as it is, as folklore is rich with times you should and shouldn’t eat, from death, to fae, to even immorality—we can also consider the reconstruction of Osiris. Osiris, after being named Re’s heir, was butchered by his brother Set. The exact nature of this death is unclear, although some versions explain that Osiris was lured into a sarcophagus and then cut to pieces. The motive is likewise variable—from adultery to vengeance for an earlier slight.

His parts were then tossed into the river, and scattered about the Nile. Eventually, Isis restored him, stitching his parts back together—these parts sometimes numbering exactly 42. The two copulate, and Horus is conceived. In later versions by Plutarch, Osiris isn’t entirely restored—Horus is conceived  before the restoration.

Osiris Mummy.png

Agrippa proposes next that longer resurrections may be the case of exceptionally long sleeps. He gives many examples of slumbering individuals, including those who have slept for almost two hundred years—the Seven Sleepers. These seven youths in Ephesus entered a cave to escape persecution by the Emperor Decius, refusing to bow to pagan idols and instead taking up worship in a cave. There they fell asleep. The Emperor found them, and ordered the cave sealed. The youths were thought dead, until two hundred years later, a king more friendly to Christianity had the cavern opened—and out emerged the seven youths, convinced that they had slept only a day. One even went to town to buy food using their old coins, gaining the attention of merchants and eventually the bishop. This story was repeated not only in Christian Hagiography, but also in Qur’an. The Qur’an adds the detail our other account didn’t, of a loyal dog keeping watch over the sleepers.

A more extreme version of this is Muchukunda. Having spent a heavenly year defending the gods while they searched for a commander, he was given a rest as long as he pleased as reward—should he be disturbed, his gaze would turn the disturber to ash! As it happened, this trait was useful for disposing of a later Yavanna invader—Krishna lured him into the cave where Muchukunda slept. After destroying the disturber, Muchukunda paid homage to Vishnu and was granted any celestial pleasure he wanted.

Muchkundu.png

These wonders are considered another way that man might appear to be raised from the dead—and Agrippa notes that there are cases were even deprivation of food and water can be ignored. If this were the case, a body could slumber indefinitely, and then be made to rise from the dead by all accounts.

Interestingly to me, Agrippa doesn’t deal with Christian notions of the Resurrection or the ascension of Saints—it might be that these methods were deemed outside a magicians power, or that they were unique miracles of God compared to the holy sages he starts with. Likewise, Enoch’s being taken up by the Lord isn’t included in this section, although the exact meaning of his departure might have something to do with that. Likewise, Elijah’s ascension to Heaven without death is somewhere between ‘dying’ and ‘becoming more’. The main difference here, that I think connects to Agrippa’s first notion of higher powers compelling lower ones, is that such saints often have supernatural bodies in the waking world, such as relics or icons.

For a horror story, the uses here are many fold. The idea of an ancient evil awakening to the world, restored to power, is not novel. However, I appreciate the motive implied by the quote—that the resurrection was not a part of an evil scheme to restore some forgotten king by a cult, but rather an incident of curiosity. In a horror notion, this curiosity is dangerous. Restoring to the body and mind someone or something long beyond the world is startling—especially if, perhaps, the actual humanity of the dead is more in question. This formed the basis of the story of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, which contained the most important Lovecraft quote on magic: Do not call up what one cannot cast down.

Come and see who was brought back with the bread of life next week!

Bibliography:

Agrippa von Netteshiem, Henry Cornelius.  Three Books of Occult Philosphy or Magic. Hahn and Whitehead. Chicago 1898.

Kramer,Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology, a Study in Spiritual and Literary Achievement. The American Philosophical Society.  Philadelphia 1944.

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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:Sun and Snake on the Isle

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.

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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

 

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The Eye

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

The Resulting story: The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Biblography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.