The Shifting Temple

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

The Prior Research: There Is Nought But Chaos

The valley of Olim sits along the bubbling river Syper. The river runs down from a mountain, littered with cracked stones, and across a number of misty hills, before arriving through the path of it’s ancestor—the glacier Euroni, who’s ponderous mass filled the valley—and reaching out into the sea of the dead. The river in truth carries through many more places, but those are not of important to this story. The valley of Olim is nurtured by the river, and like many such valleys and rivers, a number of people have come to live on its shores.

As a young man, I traveled to Olim when it’s walls were still covered in ever thickening layers of ivory. I had come to study architecture—the carvings and burrows of the people where fascinating to me, their carefully made stone work wrapping around the great trees and rising from the marshy banks. In part, I wanted to understand how they had built such stable lives on unsure footing. More accurately, I wished to understand the great temple that sat at the center of the city, astride the river.

The temple was a bulbous shape, a great dome atop with a blossoming flower of many colored jades and metals. The temple without is remarkable, yes. Its walls resemble tree trunks, with roots and branches for soaring rafters and buttresses. Along the roof is a great garden, surrounding the dome in a halo of life. Pumps run river water around it, four waterfalls careening back off the temple top into the sea.

Formless Temple 1.png

To the architectural mind, the most frustrating matter was the interior. The great temple is a single wheel shaped structure, with an interior column running up the middle. This column contains a stair well—and if one enters the stair well, it leads upwards, without branching or changing. Yes, I’m sure your amazed that the most simple functions of a stair way still operate. Nonetheless, the reverse is not true—go down the stairwell and you will find yourself in another room from where you started.

This fact was reported to me before I came to Olim. I considered it at first to be a clever trick of the column. Surely, it rotated or shifted the stairs around while the visitors were not looking. This would explain how the priests and attendants knew how to move about the tower—there was some clockwork gears and contraptions moving the stairs. It might shift the walls slightly, so that their length hid the illusion.

I decided, on my first day—well, second. My first day I spent recovering in the house of my host, as something disagreeable had come into the water I had. Regardless, my first real day I went to the temple. I saw the great murals, the offerings left behind. Straightening my cuffs, I tried my best to avoid attention. The smoke that rose out of the altars helped.

It was an unpleasant experience. The air was thick with mist and incense, and even in the relatively cool and isolated stair case, it felt like a sauna. I wondered if this was a part of the illusion of the temple. To get visitors in such a confused state that its operations would go entirely unnoticed. I went up the stairs as best I could—the walls were decorated here with total abstractions. Pyramids seemed to gradually come into view, and fractal squares and circles continued to blossom all the way up the corkscrew—until I arrived at the top. I stood and stared over the winding river and forests. The wind was a relief as I stared sat in the sacred gardens. I breathed deep, to clear my mind.

And then set back down again—counting my steps, and carefully watching the walls for shifts both subtle and vulgar. And I walked down, feeling each step, until at last I stopped—before an eyeless statue of Joni, the Watcher of Paradises Gate. I frowned, and turned about. There were little statues lining the hall. There were priests intoning prayers drawn from a bowl. It was certainly a shrine. I turned to the door—the stairs lead down again, but none went back up to the roof. I continued down, and found another shrine—to Delia the Traveler—and then another, and after the fourth I reached the bottom again.

Wall 1 Temple.png

After withdrawing to consider all the events, I concluded that the first room had occluded my vision. I would need a more definite way of navigating next time. So I examined my cartographic and measuring supplies, and removed a set of nodes—small pyramids, with compass orienting tips. I had about three dozen to leave carefully on the stairs. Then I’d use a compass to navigate back. That should help against any tricks of the temple priests.

The priests did grin when I returned and asked if I needed anything—my face must have given away my determination, if not my frustration. I waved them off for now, and set up to the gardens. Every ten steps, I let one of the pyramids fall—pushed against the wall, to prevent them from being noticed and taken. I consulted my compass as I walked up, to see what might have changed behind me—and the compass shifted somewhat as I went. But it went in a spiral, like the stairs. So that was expected. At last I emerged onto the beauty of the garden from the heated tunnel below.

I breathed, stretched, and immediately went back down into the depths. Like clockwork, I found the first pyramid. My compass lead me to the second—and then the twelfth. I frowned and examined the small pyramid again. Perhaps, I reckoned, I had missed the early ones. Heading back up, my eyes caught a waver in the air as the stones shimmered. I found the fourth, the fifth, the third…and so on. I paced up and down the stairs, finding my pyramids now at the entrances of shrines I did not know or alcoves and libraries unfamiliar. It took the better part of an hour, by my count, to locate all thirty and arrive back at the bottom.

Perhaps…perhaps what happened next was rash. Honestly, it was a dire mood that came over me. It wasn’t the sort of rash frustration that one fumes about and is free of—it was a driving force that possessed my best faculties. I turned and left, wordless as I examined my own notes. There was something amiss, I reasoned, with a stairway like that. The core of this building—no, it was built in correctly. It was built wrong and if I could understand how it was built so wrong, I could improve on it.

I couldn’t hope to do it during the light of day. The priests knew many strange prayers, but an architects tools were likely to draw attention. And surely, surely, they would refuse to allow their ruse to be undone. More importantly, my work was likely to involve a more destructive habit then they were used to. I had to tear through that column, see their clockwork mechanisms. I had to see how they did this. What arcane secrets powered this nonsense miracle. And that might be objected to.

So it was that in the dark of the night, in a heavy jacket and with a sledgehammer I slunk in. I looked the part of a lone iconoclast. But my goal was not the statues, the paintings, the other trappings and decorations. The jewels of the temple I did not take aim at. No, with chisel and hammer, I went for its holy heart.

When a priest asked my purpose—the poor neophyte, new to his orders, but perhaps guessing my goal—I told him I was here to carve a new shrine into the alcove. Hence my tools. Yes, it was an unusual request, but the god in question could only be honored in the night. The sunlight would ruin my tools, I explained. It would make them no longer capable of working with the sacred. And so I went up the stairs without further objection.

Once I was sure I was out of earshot, I struck hard and fast at the central stone. I struck that cured fractal eye—exactly in it’s pulsing blue pupil. It cracked. I heard a commoiton down the stairs—the neophyte had reported the strange sculptor no doubt. None the less, I needed to know what was at work here. What diabolical sorcery had they employed.

The cracks formed quickly—the stone was thinner than I expected. Another whack and another. On the tenth, the stone chipped. I had made, with careful precision, a triangle in the wall. And now, as I hear steps rushing up to stop me, I pull it out. Crowbar in hand, I gazed in.

Into a shimmer skin, a membrane that is all the colors of the rainbow. It appears like a tree’s bark one second, a cows hide the next. I see the glimmering eyes of a spider, then a drifting flock of birds. I see the steps whirling in other parts of it—space itself digested and shaped by a vast pulsing thing. I saw worlds and shapes floating in it’s jetsam. For a moment, I saw all the million shapes of life.

Wall 2 Temple.png

I saw and I could not understand.

And in the next moment, it stopped. Petrified, bubbling stone was all that was left. Gas sighed out, and screams broke out. There walls cracked as stairs collapsed from unseen room. I saw shrines buried in it’s skin trapped forever. As the priests laid hands on me, I understood that the temple had died that day. And that something was lost.

A dozen or so parishioners died that night. Or we assume they are dead—the rooms they were in are no longer accessible. A hundred or more shrines are stuck, unable to be found anymore. Others are being excavated as best they can from the interior. I have been banished from the valley—and from three other towns, once my reputation found its way out of my wine stained lips. The ivy does not grow in Olim. The woods have begun to recede. Every year, they say, the river grows more gray.

 


This story was fun to write, if a bit short. I drew more from the Taoist texts then the great beast stories–I found the story of Hundun espeically interesting to approach. All in all, while I could have stretched this story some, I think I’ve captured the main thrust here. Did you have a different approach to the prompt?

Next week, come and gaze into dreaming stones and inspiring muses! …not as bad as last time I promise, these muses are kinder.

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.

Samson And Delilah

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

The Prior Research: A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

The marriage was the biggest spectacle Delilah had ever seen. Her wandering fiance Samson  had brought in far away wine, musicians from eastern lands where dreams made up the desert sands, fire breathers and jugglers from the circus, food and fowl from northern mist clad counties. Her mother was so proud to see her in a wedding white. Her husband had been strangely silent in his suit, smiling without ever showing any teeth. Delilah drank another glass.

BluebeardWedding.png

 

It was probably nerves about the wedding night. She had them too—her mother had tried to explain to her what could happen on wedding nights. Of course she’d already known—she had married friends who, when a bit tipsy or tired or angry, confided about the bedroom. And their husbands were far less fine then hers.

The night carried on for a time, and at last the guests began to leave. Delilah hugged her mother close—her mother wept on her shoulder. She was so proud. Delilah never heard her weep that her daughter was gone from her forever. Never heard the silent curses as the house, small as it was, grew all the quieter.

Delilah and her husband walked home, across the old white stone roads the Romans laid. They came up a hill to his house—a house she’d seen often as a child, though always in an abandoned state. She had assumed for years that no-one lived there. But three months ago, it was as wondrous as the prince’s palace—its walls clean and shining green, with roofs of bright purple and gold. Servants were mulling about, its gardens full of blossoming flowers. When she asked a friend who lived nearby, she was told that the great house had a new heir. It’s base was set like a wide disc, with a tower rising from the center.

BluebeardHouse.png

And that Samson now took her by the arm and up to the gate. He smiled dat her, his proper smile now. Teeth glittering white in the moonlight, reaching from his lips to his green eyes. They walked threw the evening mist and dew to the great oak door. Its leonine knokcer gently thudded as a footman opened the door—into the candlelit hall, with its great fountain at the center. Suits of restored ancestral armor, with there ceremonial armor and jeweled swords, stood guard at the stair case. And above, on the ceiling, was painted a whole host of angels.

 

“Well, that was certainly an affair.” He said as we walked up the steps.

“Was it? I thought it rather lovely.” Delilah said smiling and carefully minding my steps.

“Even with the stories?”

“Well, Anne couldn’t let me get married without making sure everyone knew what I was like at three years.” Delilah said, giggling a little. “I’m sure yours would have done the same.”

BluebeardBackUp.png

“Well then I count myself lucky they had business away.” He said, laughing. Delilah felt a pang of guilt—she knew little of Samson’s family, but they rarely saw him and seemed to care little of him. She hoped that such distance wasn’t normal among such wealthy personages—Lord in Heaven, she wouldn’t be so distant with her own children.

Up the stairs they went—Samson’s servants opening the doors ahead. Pale ivory doors parted like moonlight deeper and deeper in. At last, behind a well wrought door of silver, was the bed chamber. Four lion heads held up the top of the bed, grinning faces of gold looking down. Delilah had often heard of wedding nights.

*

The next day, the two parted. Samson entrusted Delilah with a set of keys—golden, each with a glittering gem at the top. Every door in the house had a key, Samson said, marked with the inlaid gem. It was all hers to see and take in.

“I don’t want you getting bored or complacent—so entertain yourself with each room, and you will find delights that never end.” Samson said, as he put on his coat and hat. “But please, do not go into the room marked with two gems—cat’s eye and the other one..”

He held out the key, who’s stones looked like eyes of glass and was carved with a lion and a wolf. He shook it almost in front of Delilah’s face.

“Not this one. It goes to my own chambers, the only place of privacy in my entire house—when I am there, do not bother me but be patient on my return. Do not worry too much when or how I come there either—it is a place of mine. The rest, however, are ours.” And with that, and a kiss on the cheek, he left.

DelilahReading.png

Delilah considered the keys. She set about through the rooms—each with it’s gemstone. In the red coral room, there were wondrous arms and armors—the heads of great beasts from the hunts, armor shimmering with decorations, hilts with eagle wings of bronze. The heads of great beasts were stuffed along it’s walls, from bears to deer to great wild cattle. He was a brave warrior and hunter, her husband. Or, Delilah thought, perhaps his family was. There were fine silks as well, and chests overflowing with treasures. Plunder and spoils it seemed.

The room with the diamond was more her suiting however. Here were portraits lining the wall—eyes all fixed on the center. There a column of women stood, carved of marble. Delilah gripped her shoulders as she paced the incompete pillar—for there were still portions unworked around the edge. The statues were painted ever so slightly. A small blush, the tiny glimmer of jeweled eyes, a faint bruise on the skin, a thin scratch. The artistry was in the dress though. Delilah found it unnerving to see the clothes…she could not tell without touching whether they were exquisite stone carvings or the women’s own dress. There were desks, with many mirrors arrayed around them. If she pulled the curtains close behind her, the eyes of the portraits and statues didn’t glimmer back at her as she examined the jewelry. Another place to explore, she decided when she had more time.

The next room had a great pearl on it’s top—and within she found many treasures indeed! She found works of poetry and a number of paintings—these of luschious landscapes and forests, instead of persons, full of animals in the hunt or watching with curiosity at the painter. Several were still finished, including one of her—or she assumed of her. The seat was there, and she settled into the pose she imagined Samson would remember her in. She wondered if she would be carved into the pillar as well—and now frowned. Where those past wives of his, or the women of his family. They had seemed all rather young.

She considered but moved along to the emerald door. Here she found shelves upon shelves of scrolls and books—how well read Samson seemed! She barely knew her letters, her family never had the money for education. But she could learn to love these treasures as well. There were some held open to illustrations of holy men or of teachings she remembered from priests in town or tales her parents told. Btu not many so clear.

Beside it was the room with a yellow gem. The lock took some working this time—and inside Delilah understood why. Like the emerald room, this was a room full of shelves—but on each was a crown, carefully wrought of gold. A small image was above it, recounting no doubt the lineage of Samson’s family. And at the center was a display—a great golden mace, with gems along it. Behind it was a flowing robe and cape of heavy wool, gold woven with the cloth. There were gems along as buttons—shining diamonds and amethysts. Purple and gold, a royal coat in deed. But hidden away—Delilah was under no illusion that her husband might be heir one day to some royal family. Not anymore anyway.

Still, perhaps one day there would be an inheritance to the crown. They were strange crowns, admittedly—most had ivory spikes rising from their heads, and all of them were rather old fashioned. They looked like the crowns on fallen statues in the woods, not kingly images the tax collectors carried or that were stamped on the occasional gold coin she had seen.

Some older place then, or some far away land. Still. A noble king and scholar, a warrior and perhaps a poet.

And then there was the door with it’s two gems—a red stone and a yellow one that glimmered like a cat’s eye. The red stone was in the right hand of a man, the yellow in the left—his own eyes stared back out with glimmering opals. It was an enticing door, with his pearlescent smile and glimmering eyes. But Delilah ignored it, and pushed on to the room with the sapphire—embedded in a skull, yes, but still it had been granted to her.

And in that room she found copious bones, gilded and held in metal boxes. Each had pictures atop it, and Delilah recognized the lives of a hundred saints in this gallery. Saints from as far as mist covered marshes of Wales to the distant east where their own saints left rainbows in their wake. Holy tools from a hundred places the world over. Some were petrified eyes, some where finger bones, some were nails. And at the center, enshrined with images of four beasts at each corner, was a carefully suspended spearhead. It was stained blood red on one side, the other was washed clean and stainless. A curious relic. Not one she was familiar with. She would ask about it in time.

*

And so Delilah continued along the spiraling house of Samson. He did return, tired but lively, a few days hence. She heard the sound of footsteps in the halls, and managed to catch him closing his study door. She pestered him with questions—about his auspicious lance, which he explained as a relic of a very distant ancestor, that had been blessed by holy blood. He agreed to teach her some letters.

“And until then I can of course read you the stories and romances, and some of the poems.” Samson said nodding. “Or have a servant do so when I am away.”

“Ah, only some? Why only some of the poems?” Delilah asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Because a man has the right to bury his shames, and many of those poems record my shames.” He said. She laughed at that.

“Oh my, did my husband leave his heart on the page? How awful.”

“To write one’s passions is not shameful—but perhaps to articulate them as a youth would leaves something to be desired.” He said, joining her in laughter.

Well, she reckoned she could find a servant who would tell her of those youthful poems.

After a time, Delilah tired of the house. With Samson’s permit, she sent a carriage back to town—to learn what had become of her friends in her absence, and how affairs were ordered. Only Anne was willing to visit her, although Delilah never learned why. She delighted in showing the rooms to Anne, and enjoying tea.

The subject of the married life and the house came up again and again during their conversations over tea. Delilah even gave Anne a wonderful broach from one of the rooms, to mend the many struggles between them. Anne’s curiosity was mostly sated, until she asked about the two-jeweled door. To Delilah’s surprise, Anne’s face fell at the explanation of the door. She shook her head, and placed the cup down on the table.

Anne and Delilah.png

“Oh, poor Delilah. Poor girl, what will your mother say when she learns what you’ve married?” Anne said, shaking her head.

“A scholar and a prince? What’s to be ashamed of that?” Delilah said, folding her arms.

“Do you believe it? No, truly, you and your mother have been tricked by a sorcerer. Go into the two faced door—there I wager he keeps his arts and secret magic to raise the building and enthrall you. You must go in at once, when he is far away. You’ll find proof no doubt, that all this is but a game for him.”

Delilah considered it, even as they moved on to other topics of gossip—the affairs and arguments of old flames, rumors of scandal, and more. When she eventually returned home, she found a note from her husband—he had left for business for several days, as his erstwhile family needed him. She was free to herself again.

She paced from each of the rooms, taking in all their delights. But still the twin gems haunted her. Day and night she stared at the door. Its grin taunted her with secrets—surely it was only a matter of time before she would learn its contents from her husband. Surely it was only a matter of waiting—surely, that room held nothing more viscous then rumors.

She crept quietly—she was unsure the servants would be forgiving. The door opened easily, the lock clicked silently as she stepped into a darkened room, candle in her shaking hand.

The room was bare stone. A window marked with claws let the sunlight into the forbidden room. And with its help, Delilah saw a dreadful site—her husband’s empty skin was on the wall. Below, bloodstained table. Beside an iron cauldron lined with grease. A drop of blood fell on Delilah’s face. She did not look up at the hundred empty eyes. She did not look up. She closed the door, silent as a cat.

But the lock would not click shut. To Delilah’s horror, the lock would not shut. She strained with the key—if her husband came home, and found it open, Lord only knows what he would do. She tried and tried and tried to click the lock shut. The smiling door mocked her efforts until at last she forced the key free.

At once, Delilah called for a servant to fetch her a carriage—she wanted to see her mother, she said. She managed anyway. Her face was as pale as a corpse, her eyes full of terror. The servant, perhaps wise to what had happened, shook his head—there was but one carriage befitting a lady. And her husband had taken that to his relations.

Before she could ask for more, Delilah heard a clatter from the halls. She turned to the noise—poor girl, she turned to see her husband. His eyes glittered like gems. And now she saw how his skin seemed ill fit. It hung loose around his neck. He had put it on in a rush. His wrist seemed wrinkled, as it bent a saber.

BluebeardfinalImage.png

“Ah, Delilah dearest—did you enjoy your day?” He asked, smiling like the moon. Delilah opened her mouth to speak. The words caught in her throat as Samson reached into his coat—and produced a single shard of worn gold.

“Delilah, dearest, I made one request. I found this, stuck in my study door—the tooth of my keys.” He said, shaking his head. “I made but one request.”

Before Delilah could speak, there was a flash of steel. Her body fell to the ground, as Samson held her head by her hair.

“And she was so lovely—I’ll have to hang this one well.” He said. With a wave of her sword, the blood was stopped and the floor was cleaned. “Her mother…is she passed already?”

The footmen, taking Delilah’s body in his arms, nodded.

“Well, that is for the best I suppose. Had she any friends? I would rather not leave so soon.” Samson asked, tilting his head.

“The lady was visited by one Anne from town, sir. She seemed wiser.” The footman replied.

“That settles it—Send for her soon. I would hope to have a wife last longer.” Samson said, shaking his head. “A few months is hard to savor. Light the iron as well—My hunt went well, and now I want to eat away my sorrow.”

And so Anne and Samson lived happily ever after.

***

This week’s story is a bit long, but was fun to write. I don’t have much insightful commentary–I’m pretty sure sticking close to the origin was a good decision here, and didn’t find much to improve on the original format. I hope it was enjoyable! Next week, more lively foundations!

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.

The Court

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

The Prior Research:The Court of Miracles

Dear Mariam

It is a happy lie to presume that the current state of affairs will continue, uninterrupted, forever. In Berlin, I was introduced to the notion among some brahmins of India, that the world was always cycling and shifting. Some suggested that every moment was distinct and novel, others that the world was a great wheel among a multitude of other wheels. I find such notions endearing. They suggest, ultimately, that this state of being we enjoy will in time come again and again.

I was in Paris last week—a city with wonders and bohemians alike. A city that has seen its changes and reversions, its miracles and blasphemies. Are there a people as resentful of good governance as the French? We will see—the future holds many secrets. It was a long night when I decided to retire home, coffee and wine having mixed in my head a bit strongly. I was aware, despite myself, I was critically aware of all my senses as I walked towards my home for the visit.

Wheel of Fortune.png

 

I was keenly aware of the stones that felt through my shoes, of the lights on the streets, I could read them all very well. Despite this, my mind was drunk as a sailor. All the senses in the world are nought if the mind is gone—and so I found myself now moving through back roads, convinced that I had found some short cut or another to home. Yes, your dear brother still has not learned to hold his liquor. And Paris, lacking as it is in pea soup, is still a city designed by madmen for rats more than for the intellectual and rational mind of an inebriated university student. Some Cretan must have felt quite clever building up it’s walls and streets haphazardly and in rounds.

I reached that edge of the city, the halo of darkness that marks the seemly from the misbegotten. The penumbra of the city of lights I suppose, where even in my disreputable state I was aware danger was about. The bark of a stray dog alerted me, and I turned to see two men slumped on the side of the wall—talking and pointing off in my direction. The alley over had a mangey hound, low to the ground and bigger than me by a good amount. One of the men shouted something at the dog, who barked again at me. My heart in my neck, I turned and headed away, along the outer roads.

The light was scarcer here—the buildings in disrepair. Notre Dome still towered in the distance, but her bells resounded on empty streets. My own foot falls were most of my company, and the faint outline of my long shadow among street lights. The night was oppressive, and the haze of wine was wearing thin. I grew more aware of my danger, so far from where I was—in fact, I barely knew the names of these avenues. And yet, as my mind returned to its fullness, my senses receded away. My eye began to fail me, and I saw strange shapes shifting—I heard noises from nowhere, and caught whiffs of the party long past.

So there I was, fumbling in a darkened street—certain it was empty, but hearing movement just out of my sight. The occasional meow of a cat or warning bark of a street dog kept my on edge as I started back—I would head towards places I knew, but find the streets and alleys turned me around again. In these valleys of darkness I felt condemned to wander until dawn—at last I saw a light, strange and ferocious in the distance.

My sister, you must think your poor brother a fool for approaching a strange light in the middle of the night, far from home and in places of danger. And you may be correct— but in my defense there is I think some human instinct to seeking out things to see, and that instinct over came my good sense. I do not regret it. If it was foolishness, then I have become one of God’s own fools now.

The source of the dancing lights was apparently shortly after I started after it—a fire. Open, on an autumn night. That alone was not surprising, I reckoned. No, what was shocking about the flames were their size. It was a bonfire, surrounded by all sides so that the buildings hid it from authorities. It wasn’t until later, when I recounted to my friend the shape of the place, that I learned I had been at the most infamous court in France—where bandits and beggars commingled. And I saw them, I did. Around the fire, speaking and dancing, planning and training in the method of their profession.

Cours De MiraclesThe Voice.png

The moment my eyes fell upon the crowd, I made towards the edges. Do not fret, sister, I was not immediately spotted as a man of means who might be extorted. The benefit of the lifestyle of a student is that I am used to appearing impoverished. So I made my way, carefully and slowly, around the crowd.

For the land of miracles, little wonders failed to happen. I heard children laugh, yes, but also weep. Babes cried out, and comforted by mothers. Bellies rumbled hungry . Men shouted, cursed, talked of God and damnation. Some spoke of great cons on the local priests—how they might get more meals yet from this or that source. But slowly, I heard one by one the topic turn to ‘the nightly business’.

It was as I was on the edge, that they appeared—the nocturnal crew. A group of three or four, with one shorter man at the head. At the center of the fire, a dull drum beat began that silenced the crowd. I turned and listened, as a figure began to speak, in a voice as low as thunder and rumbling like flame. He spoke at a length, and I cannot repeat it here. Not only for concern of my sister’s sensibillities, but because the whole of the speaker’s tongue was lost on me—at times, French, yes, but at times in Spainish and German or even languages in the East. The finery of his words were thus lost on me—as was the outbursts and shouts from his fellows. But the thrust, that I understood.

There is an old Jewish story I heard once, about four men who saw the face of God. One went mad, one died, one became a heretic, and one became holy. I found it an amusing understanding of the truth, but little more. Now I cannot say which I am. I sit writing this letter, having heard a man—and still, I am uncertain if he were a man, woman, or angel—recount the suffering of the world. I have seen his hand point towards me, however incidentally, and recited the crimes of the world.

He talked of starving children, of thieves and murders in palaces of bone, of the blood watered sugar canes, of the shots that rang out in town squares. He talked of lives that never could be, of villages and peoples trampled undnereath, of the four horsemen unleashed—how following conquest had come the ills of war, famine, and plague. And how now, now at the turning of the years, it would finally end.

Judgement Day.png

I fled at once, away and no longer caring that I drew attention to myself. I found my way, stumbling, wheezing—yes, your dear brother has yet to learn proper exercise—to an officer of the law. To a street that, I realized, was well lit. To a place, a place where I could find my way home.

 

That was a week ago. Yet the fire, the fire still burns on my skin. It holds some space in my head, it murmurs in my ear. That Judgement Day may come at the hands of man and not God is a terrible thing. That it might seize me, at any moment—surely this has driven men mad.

A man cannot bear that great weight—I expect the cracks to form soon. It is coming soon, it is winding down the wheel of fate soon. When judgment comes, will it be our last? Paris, my sister, Paris is kindling. Perhaps it won’t come soon—I pray I do not see it soon. For the righteous are against us, and I see no recourse or escape. The sea will not take me, and even in Berlin I know those words will haunt the streets.

I wonder now, when I have the patience and mind, if this tribulation has happened before? Has the wheel of fate turned past, or is the end of all ends coming for us? On that day, will my name be called? Will the dull thud of the razor resume, the old heart of Paris restored? Will they cheer when my head rolls free? Or worse, will I be swallowed up—nameless in the flood?


 

I’m not fond of this story. I think it came out unfinished, and that it was both too politically overt, and too vague in it’s horror. It feels like perhaps the pay off to a larger build up or  a story where the ‘threat’ is so clearly the hero, that it’s hard to be scared with the main character. Aw well.

Next week! Secrets beneath the castle walls! What is waiting in the forbidden room?

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

The Court of Miracles

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

The Resulting Story: The Court

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

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

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

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

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

Romany Flag

Romani Flag, Wikipedia.

I will not be discussing such portrayals today.

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

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

St. Petere Vatican.png

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

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

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

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

Canopic Jars2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Harvest Moon Shines Down

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

The Prior Research:We Can Dance If We Want To

Ever since Lena was a babe, she’d loved the moon. It hung in the sky, shifting slowly through the months—a pale or yellow orb smiling down. Less harsh than the sun, it was kind to Lena. It didn’t blind her and its rays of light didn’t weigh down on the backs of her parents. Not that anyone worked under the moon, of course—Lena had to sneak out to stare up at it during the night, because everyone else slept. And moonlight was a comforting pale light, even more calming than a warm fire.

She went among the hills, to get a good look at it. She passed over stone shapes—the broken remains of a long buried cathedral, craggy gargoyles sticking their heads out. She sometimes found other bits of the old town—even the old well, overgrown now. Her parents told Lena to avoid the well water—something had died in the well, a long time ago. The death lingered in the water. They had abandoned everything, to escape that water.

The other children said that a well man had moved in, a specter that had started collecting the souls of dead things down there. Father Mitchell, the old priest, couldn’t get rid of it—so they moved the entire neighborhood and the church as well, stone by stone. Except the gargoyles, buried somehow. Others said that one day, all the stars in heaven had smashed it down. They were so sick, they needed a new place to stay. Others said that a great bird had blown it away with its wings, and secretly made its nest over in the mountains near Windgift.

Even as a child, Lena doubted that story. She became well acquainted with the shape of the old town—it was the best place to see the moon from. Most was rubble…but gargoyle heads poked from hillsides, and pillars rose from the broken sections of road. Her parents knew she wandered at night, especially on full moons. They did not mind. Such wanderings were good for her soul, and gave her appreciation of the world—and nothing dangerous lived in the hills. No wolves or specters or bandits could bare it anymore.

Harevet Moon 1.png

There was one exception, however. During the first full moon of autumn, Lena was kept inside the house. The first time this happened when she was eleven, she merely assumed her parents were tired of her escapes—and so stayed inside for a few nights more, hoping they would forget. The red light that flowed into her room did not trouble her much then—it never really did. But over time, Lena realized that her parents were rather deliberate. Her doors and windows were locked firmly, and nailed shut. Her father waited in her usually routes. Her father waited at the edge of house, eyes like a hawk. The tree’s branches were trimmed, and in time iron bars locked her in. Eventually, Lena silently agreed to not go out on that first autumn moon.

The day before, her parents would place boards around it. This infuriated and frustrated Lena, all the way until she was a young woman. She occasionally spoke to her friends about it, but none had seen the first full moon of autumn either. But to them, it was no mystery. Their parents had been forthright—the first full moon of autumn was a deep crimson, and when it rose, the gargoyles of the church woke up and danced in the old town. As did the specters and fae of the woods, and the well man, and the other creatures of the night. And those dancers stole away anyone who saw them.

From age twelve to sixteen, Lena slept soundly although still annoyed that her parents hid the moon from her—she never noticed the shifting shaking of the floor, that her door once closed was now ajar. The red light of the Harvest Moon never woke her—it was oddly pleasant. When she woke with the rising of the hateful sun, a book was moved, or a glass of water on the edge—nothing particular over those three nights. But when she was sixteen, the earth shook more violently—and her glass did shatter.

Lena found herself upright and reeling. Her room seemed to be convulsing. Outside were shouts and songs and flickering lights—but they died quickly. Poor Lena had only glimpsed the infinity of the Harvest Moon Night. But she wouldn’t forget what woke her—and on her seventeenth year, she schemed to slip free and see what all the ruckus was about.

Lena began by stealing supplies from the yard that day, her steps as silent as a cat. Spent bullets near the edge of town, and stones that glimmered in the sun. Gathering these in her bed, she next made off with a kitchen knife—the better to begin carving away at the bars on her window. Her parents had put faith in those iron bars, and allowed the nearby tree to grow again. It’s branches would supply her steps. Lastly, she mapped her path. She would go around and back, working her way through the old roads and forgotten paths. And then she waited.

The Moon Hills Harvest Moon.png

When her mother was asleep, and her father standing guard, Lena carved out the iron bars. She lay them one by one on her floor, before the earth started to roar. Then, a gargoyle on the windowsill, she tossed the stones and bullets with a sling made of curtains—they crackled against the boundary stones, stray hunter shots. She paused. And sure as sunrise, her father ran after them.

Lena lay her tools aside, and held her cloak tight as she leapt and scrambled onto the tree branch. Knife at her side, she felt the branch begin to give and crack—she was not as light as when she was a lass. Still, she had the time she needed, to scramble down the trunk. As she felt bare felt touch grass, she raced past the house, up and around the roads to the old town.

By then, the earth began to groan. Its belly shook lightly after first, a hungry moan. But as Lena moved between trees and hills, it grew to a dull roar. And then she saw the dance.

Around the old well, a many colored flame grew—sea green and sky blue and sunset purple. Around it they danced, two dozen gargoyles in a troupe. Their wings flapped and clapped together as they bounded and whirled. An unearthly rhythm formed from their circle, over and around the fire true. And the ground seemed, in that unearthly illumination, to rise and fall with the troupe in their crumbling ruins. Lena was intoxicated by the sight of the fire, swirling with softer cooler colors, and the crimson moon that lay over head.

The Harvest Moon Fire.png

And then the ground buckled, and seemed to break—for something great shifted beneath it and left tremors in its wake. It was vast and graceful—it called to mind the snake that a traveling flute player once tamed. A hundred Typhonic heads reared themselves around the beast—its skin was cobble stone streets, made shining like gem. And as it uncoiled from the hills, this mammoth of a thing, it sang a thousand songs—songs in hundreds of languages, all in harmony but still a grand cacophany. Those songs, from all sides and all places wove themselves through Lena’s ears.

Then they snap shut around it, a gorgon’s trap around her mind that pulled her limbs forward. She understood the approach of other great shapes from the sky and ground—the shadowy being that pulled itself from the well, surrounded by birds and cats and other things; the stars that came to earth, with wolfish heads and howled as they danced; the glittering wings of the great birds, who’s feathers shone as infernos; and of course the moon.

The Red Faced Moon.png

The lovely moon, her white veil cast aside—a figure with blood red skin, tooth and claw, and a throne of pale bone that descended down to dance that night with Lena. Lena who had always loved the moon.

The children say Lena died that day—drowned in the well. But her parents and the elders know she instead went somewhere else. Up to that lowliest of heavens, where the strangest of angels do dwell—she has joined them now, who were moon lovers.


 

This story was delightful to write–It’s a bit more atmospheric I think, and much smaller in scale. I forgot some sections of the original prompt–the gargoyles, for instance, are not noted as transposed, and the cathedral here is a crumbled away ruin. But I still like the general arc, and I don’t feel like I have much more to add to it–I could add dialouge and expand it much more, but it feels rather self contained.

Next week, we take a trip to a miraculous court, and I try to work in some folklore that most people don’t hear! See you then!

 

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