There Is Nought But Chaos

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

The Resulting Story: The Shifting Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

arabic world map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the last day Hundun died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Alive!

This Weeks Prompt:64. Identity—reconstruction of personality—man makes duplicate of himself.

The Resulting Story: A Certain Preponderances of Witnesses

The creation of an another form of life is a pursuit that humanity has pursued for a long time. While the intentional creation of a doppleganger is not well known—such things tend to form by chance or anomaly when they occur, and grim visions at that—the idea of continuing on or creating something without a partner is not novel. The horror that can come from these often alchemical projects is vast as well, especially as some are horrific or humorous folklore tales.

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The most common example of the formed individual is the alchemical homonculus. The creation of life in this manner was the goal of alchemists as much as the philosopher stone was; in fact, in the Middle East it superseded transmutation as the primary great work. The Western version, found in Parceleus, seeks to create a new living man by use of an artificial womb—specifically a horses womb. After forty weeks, the child is born and can be fed blood to bring it to the fullness of life, albeit diminutive life. The significance of such an event has been noted by other researchers as an attempt at the recreation of life as done in Genesis.

The creation of life from clay has the additional version in the mode of the golem. The golem is a creature of Jewish folklore, formed of clay and enlivened by commands through its mouth. As mighty beings of clay, the golem was a staunch defender of the community if a silent one. The golem in the most famous narrative, Prauge, turns out in its own time to be a danger when it turns against the community—reasons vary from rejection to simple murderous impulse to violation of the Sabbath. Either way, the golem is ended by the hand that created it by removing its scrolls or altering the script on its head that gave it life.

GolemofPrauge

A recreation of the Golem of Prauge.

The horror genre has of course a parallel with the golem, shared as part of the origin of science fiction: Frankenstien’s monster. The monster, like the golem, is a recreation of the forming of life that starts out benevolent—to the farm family at least, if not to the creator himself who has fled. Eventually he turns on his creator, and the rest is as they say history.

There are more modern uses that, like Frankenstein, employ electricity. The New Motive Power was an attempt to create a messianic figure out of electricity and metal. Its creator, John Spear, communed with an electrical host of spirits. Intended as one of many inventions—including airships and mass telepathy communication networks—the mecha-messiah was ritually conceived and born to no avail. In many ways, this ritual creation of life resembles that Babalon Working by a pair of occultists a century later. Neither attempt succeeded, to the despair of horror authors.

This physical recreation had influence for a significant amount of time among scientific thought. In the pre-genetics age, it was believed that the sperm carried a miniature version of the eventual human that would be born of it, and if placed in the right conditions it would form the person without need for another partner. Preformatism had some proponents that placed the miniature in the egg instead of sperm. Irregardless, the theory proposed in essence that humanity had been entirely contained in its original parents, a scientific notion that has a resemblance to mystical notions of Adam as the first man.

Then there are more esoteric notions of life creation or duplication. The Finnish for instance had a tradition of guardian spirits that resembled their shamans, going ahead of them and doing as they do. The Buddha was capable of generating replicas of himself in meditation, illuminating the universe. Boddhistavas, as they approach their state, gain the power of multiple bodies to send forth and convert or exhort more individuals. The Monkey King, Sun Wukong, multiplied himself in battle and trickery on many occasions. The ability to create many bodies can be found among the rddhi in the Oxford dictionary, allowing for many of the dopplegangers so far referenced.

SunWukonFightsALion

Sadly, I could not find an image with Sun Wukong’s self-duplication. However, this fine print was found at http://www.yoshitoshi.net/alpha.html.

With all this in mind, there is another question to be answered: Why? Why is our nameless man trying to create another version of himself? Many reasons for making artificial life are given in folklore. Expressions of enlightenment, need for protection, divine emulation, want for a bride, want for a child. All of these have a history at some point in the history of popular media. However, I think the version here suggests that the source is self-centered. What we have here is not just a creation of life but a recreation of the self. The use of such bodies to cheat death is a surprisingly common trope in media for the mad scientist: The illustrious Doctor Doom has used it after a fashion, as did M. Bison, Rick Sanchez, and a host of others.

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The use of clones as back up has a number of interesting implications from a metaphysical perspective—after all, it confirms a belief on the one hand of a consciousness that can be transferred between material bodies without much difficulty, while at the same time an avoidance or refusal to be restrained to that purely incorporeal state. Or, put another way, such a transfer only seems possible if there is something like a soul—whether as the softward that the brain ‘runs’ or pyscho power or something similiar—but an aversion to taking on that immateriality fully. There is an implicit lingering fear in the creation of a second body—that the soul or minds fate will not be a happy one.

An attempt at immortality then seems the ideal one here. Creating a version of yourself that will presist after your gone, perhaps as vengance against your killers or to torment them? Or just to escape fires eternal? Either way, I think we are again more in the land of mystery. Which means…well, half of the idea has been spoiled by writing this article. We’ve given away the means and most of the motive—although their might be more to it then simply avoiding death.

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THE MOON

This Week’s Prompt: 30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

The Resulting Story: The Mansion of the Moon


The Moon. The Moon, majestic mighty Luna. That, my fellows, is what strikes me most from this prompt. The Moon is one of the greatest and largest forces in the heavens. As such, it’s form and meanings are vast and numerous. We will begin with a few folkloric examples (of multitudes), as well as a few mythic divinities, and of course some more popular recent examples.

The Moon has almost always belonged to the wild places. The moon is a shifting changing thing, and this change has been known for quite some time, particularly in contrast to the more constant rising sun. The pair are often persented as opposites in one regard or the other: in southern Mexico, the Moon is Mary to the Sun-Chirst. Diana and Apollo likewise stand as opposites, in gender and attitude (Diana being a huntress of the wild, Apollo the patron of arts and civilization).

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The Moon has it’s animals as well. The rabbit of the moon is a vast cornucopia of forms, from China to the Aztec empire. The reason behind the rabbit changes, admittedly, but often involves some form of self sacrifice (failed or otherwise). The owl, with it’s circular white face and nightly habits, makes an important contrast with the eagle of the sun. In the Near East, the Bull comes forward as a lunar creature as well, tied to the necessary sacrifice to the gods.

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This changing nature of the Moon also gives the moon a reputation for shifting nature and illusion, and by extension madness. Among gods, we can see a number of sorcerer gods associated with the Moon. Thoth of Egypt, Kalfu, and Huitica as examples. The Tarot Card of the Moon reflects this uncertainty and changing state. On either side are twin towers, a wolf and a domestic dog, and across from the moon is an amphibious crab crossing from sea to land. The moon violates and warps divisions, it transcends and works between them.

Several of theses, such as Thoth and Chang’e, are further associated with the transformative powers of alchemy. While the Sun plays a more obvious role in Alchemy symbolism, the moon plays an equal role. The synergy between silver and gold in the philospher stone, the combinging of the fundamental masculine and feminine is key for ‘true’ divinity.

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The association with madness, however, runs deeper. In English we maintain the notions of insanity tied to the moon with words like lunacy or moonstruck. The full moon is a time between things, an imitation of the sun in a strange way. The wolves howl at the moon then, and in Europe some trade shapes with men. The moon, as delightful as it can be in it’s blurring of borders, can also dangerous. Some borders exist for a reason. Confusion and chaos inspire dread when taken to far. After all, when dreams and reality become blurred, nightmares come to life again.

This is the heart of the solar-lunar conflict, it seems. The Moon blurs what the sun would define. Here, in the prompt, this is a clear under current. The moon shows a vision of a glorious past that is no longer, the sun forcibly reasserting reality. And that conflict, between reality as objective moving phenomon vs reality as a shifting moment, swinging back and forth, perceived and understood differently through many minds, is a rich one. I would recommend looking into Moon Hunters, a game that deals with these themes and others in interesting ways.

After all, the famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu warns us about the boundaries of objective knowledge: “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. We cannot deny that there is discomfort in uncertainty, that contradiction (especially as large as a castle) of what seems apparent has a hint of madness and horror about it.

The nature of this dichotomy informs the story we must weave, however. As tempting as it is to invoke the moonbeast or the temple of the moon in the Dreamlands, these are unnecessary and may weigh down the plot. Besides, we had plenty of monsters in our last few works. No, this one will flirt with unreality and uncertainty. This we will have almost certainly no non-human characters (except the moon and castle themselves).

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This might be a bit distracting, after all. Credit to King of Rats: http://kingovrats.deviantart.com/

Proceeding from that, the first thing that I can think of with the prompt is obsession. An obsession with finding a lost paradise is a common trope, and one that I think can work well here. The nature of moonlight and madness would add to this. I wonder now, is the castle inhabited? Or is this mystical castle by itself enough to lure someone in?

Who, further, would be enticed by the castle? Someone, no doubt, who wishes to escape. A romantic, probably. The sort that are prone to being moonstruck and caught up in memories of the past. Of course, that sort of obvious choice is a good reason to avoid it. Making a man who is normally scientific, normally a futurist, normally despising the preciousness of nostalgia fall into such a trap would be all the more enticing. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator, after all.

I think a romantic uninterested would make a good counterpoint. The unenchanted seeker and the disillusioned fool is a pairing I’m unfamiliar with. The interactions before and after seeing the ruins would be the dynamo of the story.

I’ll start there then. What story have you found among the ruins and the dead?

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