Lose your Head!

This Week’s Prompt:90. Anencephalous or brainless monster who survives and attains prodigious size.

The Resulting Story:The Body of Veled

Anencephalous is a creature that lacks a head—the connection that has with brainless should be obvious. The notion here seems to be that a creature is not born brainless, but rather executed or in some other way rendered brainless/inert/headless. Decapitation, however gory it may be, is a common theme in myth and legend however—just as surviving is.

The first creature this reminded me of is Xingtian, a man who made war on the Yellow Emperor Huangdi. As is the case with most men who make war on Heaven, he failed and was executed for his rebellion—his head was buried underneath a mountain for good measure. Nonetheless, his body lived on. He formed eyes where his nipples were, a face where his belly button was, and took up his shield and ax to dance in defiance of the emperor still.

XingTian.png

In Hinduism, we have a Rakshasa named Vishvavasu, who began life as a celestial musician—a role he shares with Xingtian, who in one account composed music for the workers in the field. He preformed rituals to earn a boon from Vishnu, and asked for immortality. He then made war on Indra, convinced that he couldn’t possibly loose. Indra struck him with a thunder bolt, sending his head into his body. He was cursed to remain such, until Rama cut off his arms. Some versions say before warring with Indra, he delighted in seducing maidens and attacking monks, drunk on power. He is described as “as big as a mountain, dark as a black cloud, with pointed hairs all over his body and looked fierce with a voice as loud as thunder. He had an eye on his stomach, round and yellow, emitting a glare like a fire-name. Looking wicked he thrust his big tongue out of his huge mouth licking the sides”. After he is freed from his curse, he provides counsel to Rama on the proper direction to take his war with Ravana.

A dread asura had a similar fate. Named Svarbhanu, at the churning of the cosmic ocean he managed to acquire some of the Amirta of the gods. Before he was noticed, he drank it in the darkness and became immortal. While an Avatar of Vishnu was informed by the sun and moon, and with a chakram blow cut Svarbhanu in two—his head and his body. Rahu and Ketu, as they are now known, lived on nonetheless. Rahu in particular became the diety of solar eclipses and meteors, an inauspicious force in astrology.

Rahu.png

Connected to Rahu is Kirtimukha. Once, Rehu was sent to demand that Shiva give up his bride, Parvati, to his immortal master Jalandhara. Jalandhara’s own life is a fascinating story, but the relevant part is his end. Shiva in a rage set forth a bolt from his third eye, that manifested as a terrifying and hungry lion. Rehu begged for mercy, and Shiva acquiesced—the lion was told instead to devour itself. It did so, until only it’s face remained, to be the head of glory outside temple walls.

Continuing our story of vast growth and wars against the gods is Ullikummi. Deaf and blind, Ullikummi was placed by the god Kumarbi to overthrow the storm god Teshub. Ullikummi grew without being noticed, rising off the back of the world supporting giant. This genderless pillar of volcanic material does their job well—Teshub’s thunder cannot harm them as they continue to grow. He abdicates his throne, and descends to Ea, who dwells in the dark waters of the underworld. There, a great and primal cutting instrument or knife is acquired, and used to chop off Ullikummi’s feet, sending him toppling down. Thus the senseless growth of the volcano is curbed before reaching all the way unto Heaven.

Ullikummi’s war with a thunder god and his apparent invincibility, as well as the importance of a cutting weapon in his defeat and volcano symbolism, has lead to parallels with Tyhpon, a regular feature on our discussions. Typhon does on some occasions lose one of his heads—but this is usually a self inflicted injury, as the head becomes a terrible dragon with which to guard Zeus’s wounded body.

Aztec Decapitation.png

Among the Aztecs, we have a more famous beheading. After the moon and stars were born, the Earth Goddess Coatlicue became pregnant again by a ball of feathers. The moon goddess, Coyolxahqui, became convinced that this sudden and miraculous birth was a dishonor on the family name, and with her four hundred brothers she came to slay the her mother. One of the stars, however, went out and warned the unborn child of the coming battle. The newly born god, Huitzilopochtli, emerged fully armed and armored. He slew his brothers and sister, scattering them in every direction. More than one later narrative specifies that the head of the moon goddess was thrown upward, into the sky where it stays to this day—chasing her brother sun to devour him.

In Northern Europe, we have other headless creatures. We can consider, for example The Green Knight who’s head game has been mentioned before (here and here). The Celts had a reputation as head hunters in the Mediterranean but the exact meaning of their decapitations is still disputed.

Cephalore.png

There is also the recurring image of the saint who carries their own head (a Cephalophore). Some simply walked off with their lost heads. The most famous, St. Denis, picked up his own decapitated head and wandered off—he preached for a time about the nature of penance, before finally moving on. Many more saints followed suit—most went to a local church or holy site, preaching as they went. A few mounted a horse or camel and spoke with lost relatives one last time, before finally leaving. This form of decapitation survival calls to mind the final fate of Orpheus—Orpheus, who was decapitated by the Maneads, and sent down the river. He sang the whole way down, until passing into death. Like the Saints, parts of Orpheus were stored in temples.

HeadlessGodess.png

The beheaded seem to have a knack for disturbing the existing order then—in some cases for good cause, in other cases for their own wicked ends. For instance, we can consider Chhinnamasta, another Hindu goddess, beheaded herself to feed two of her starving handmaidens while they were bathing in the river. In another instance, her beheading was after a battle with demons, ripping her head off to sate her rage and drinking her own blood.

A slightly stranger bodiless head is that of Hun, father of the Maya Hero Twins. When a princess of the dead spoke with him, Hun impregnated her with spit. When later on, the Hero Twins descend to deal with the lords of the dead, they have a more comparable experience. Here, one of the tests is to stay in the Bat House—and they succeed almost the entire night in their shelter, until Hunpahu peaks out. His head is removed by a passing bat god, but all is well—it is replaced with a gourd. The two go out and have their ball game match the next day, retrieving Hunpahu’s head before it can be used as the ball.

And there is the most famous of the Talking Heads, Mimir. Mimir is a Norse god of wisdom of the Aesir family. During the Aesir-Vanir war, he is beheaded but stays alive and gives Odin secret counsel. Some versions specify that Mimir and another god were sent as hostages to the Vanir. However, when it was discovered that the strong and handsome Hoenir needed Mimir to be of any use, the Vanir beheaded Mimir in rage. Odin then embalmed the head of Mimir, worked magic on it so that it could speak, and kept it for counsel. Mimir is recorded elsewhere as drinking deep from his name sake well of wisdom, at the root of the world tree.

There is also, as we discussed at length in a patreon article, the Brazen Head. These contraptions are replicas of heads without bodies, powered by occult machinery and able to answer any question asked of them. A number of scholars have possessed one—but few have finished them or made use of them.

HeadlessHorseman.png

We can also consider that lacking a head is of course a sign of death—in Journey to the West a dragon holding his own head serves as a frightening image to the Emperor, when the Emperor failed to ensure the dragon’s safety. In Ireland, the Dullhan carries its own head as a lantern and the spine of a human being as a whip. On it’s black horse, it rides until it finds someone doomed to die. Calling their name out, their soul is pulled from their body. The Dullhan thus acts as something of a horrific pyschopomp…although one that according to some accounts can be kept away with a flash of gold. In Germany, some versions warn away hunters from their accidents, while others hunt capital offenders with fire tongued hounds.

A more noble headless horseman comes from India—Jhinjhār. These warriors often lose their head when fighting off cattle rustlers—but fight on anyway. A lotus springs from their neck, and eyes grow on their chest like our other earlier immortal warriors. Sadly, after freeing the cows and returning home, he is still in the grips of fury. The woman of the town therefore must scatter indigo dust over him, sending him at last to death’s waiting grasp.

The miraculous power to stave off death then, is connected with is an almost senseless nature. Our champions are warriors, but often ones who pursue the impossible or are trapped in a state of violence. They are something like a human being, without the guiding mind, often lost in rage—yes, they lost their head, get the pun out of the system.

Our story then is about a creature of singular appetite who never ceases to grow, then. In some respects, this resembles our discussions of a mindless and senseless creator. Something large and unreasonable, that seemingly cannot stop. It is note worthy, I think, that those who don’t replace their head perish in a reasonable manner—the Saints, for instance, live without their head but not indefinitely. The many warriors and the hero twins either replace the head with another object, or convert their chest into a head. I think that what we have here is…interesting.

 

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

Swamp Men and French Werewolves

 

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

The Following Story: Settling Down, Setting Free

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

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

LoupGarou1.png

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

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

LoupGarou2.png

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

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

Honey Island Swamp.png

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Rhode Island and More!

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Resulting Story:Down Below

This prompt brings us to another of Mr. Lovecraft’s loves: Rhode Island. In particular Providence, the city where Mr. Lovecraft is interred. Rhode Island was a place of particular fondness to Mr. Lovecraft, a native of the region as he was.

KingPhillipsWar.png
That said, let us proceed. Seekonk is a town in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It’s history, from what I can understand as a non-expert in the region, is marked mainly by conflict between settlers and the Wampanoag, a group of Massachusetts natives. Notably there is the instance of King Phillips War, a conflict that ended the way most conflicts between European powers and indigenous populations goes. King Phillip (real name Metacomet) had the privilege of having his head removed and stuck on a pike outside an English settlement. Grizzly.

Hanton City.png
Seekonk is also near another interesting location: Hanton City. Hanton is an abandoned town, founded during the revolutionary era by…someone. It is still uncertain who, with theories ranging from runaway slaves to loyalists in the war. Now, with the term “exodus”, I am inclined to think of slaves. I bring Hanton up not only as an oddity, but as a place as abandoned as Providence appears to be

CongDome.png.
Pinning down the Congregational Dome has been tricky, as two different churches have congregational domes. However, where I to pick one, I think I would stick with the 1700s possibility. That would mean the Central Congregational Church, pictured below.
That all being said, what is happening in our story? Well, the language of the prompt clearly points to something divine in nature. The term exodus is loaded in Western works, conjuring immediately the book of Torah. There is, also, the fact that Providence is the site of our story. Yes, it is the capital of Rhode Island, but the name brings divine insight to mind. The Congregational dome is a holy object, and it’s fall is…ominous in the most literal sense of the term.
That brings us to the two omens: the ebbing tide and the bolt from the sky. What these means, I cannot say precisely except that they are common symbols. If I was to give them anything in particular, I would have the ebbing tide reveal some sea stones best abandoned, or some wrecks best lost. The sort of thing that haunts a lot of the North East in Mr. Lovecraft’s work.

I was able to only find one good source on Rhode Island folklore, and that from the 1950s. Still, it has a few elements that may be useful. Rhode Island has an apparent history of witches with cases ranging from a child named Sarah during the revolutionary war to an unnamed woman in 1892. Witch stories abound, particular in North Kingstown. Silver buttons were said to disrupt such spells. But a witch is not divine enough to call an exodus, nor do they lead to the sea.

220tonshi

A contemporary of the Palatine

The Sea Tales are just as extraordinary, however. The Palantine, a German vessel, has been seen off the coast for over a hundred years shining out from the night. Ghosts from the old harbor call out at night for help, but ghosts are wont to do that. At least one captain, cursing the world as he drowned, became an ogre down below, and assailed ships from beyond the grave.
Of all these folk tales, vampiric and ogrish elements seem the best. Perhaps a number of ghosts, trapped as wrecks, begin to emerge as the ocean ebbs back. Perhaps dark creatures come forth. But why? And what is our story in all this?
It seems clear that the travel and exodus is itself the story. We would do well then, to begin in Providence. Some warning will come, as always precedes divine wrath. In all likelihood a mad prophet will come, not be believed, and then become leader as the omens grow. I suspect there will be no survivors of this incident. Given the wreckage at Hanton, I would think they escaped a slave ship. Perhaps, actually, the ship has run aground with the ebbing tide.

Surviving the walk to the ‘island’ proper then becomes key to the story. Beasts and ocean creatures must be contended with along the new beach, and then there are the panicky colonists on the island that must be avoided or reasoned with. I think this certainly has promise, with the danger of a new land and the growing threat of holy retribution. The Congregational Dome, I think, ought to fall last. As a climax, with some horror revealed beneath it or flying out of it. What is lurking in there, I don’t know?

I found all of my Rhode Island folklore here, from this lovely blog. If you know more horror stories of Rhode Island and providence, please share them! Maybe you’ll find a strange corpse in the deep!

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