Sacred Guardians

This Weeks Prompt:76. Ancient cathedral—hideous gargoyle—man seeks to rob—found dead—gargoyle’s jaw bloody.

The Resulting Story: The Frog Church

The story of the gargoyle is an interesting one. Grotesque sculptures—specifically one spewing water, but I feel that is an unnecessary division here—gargoyles are fearsome creatures that adorn many old buildings and churches. The gargoyle is sometimes thought of as a protector of the church—a feirce creature that fends off or frightens away evil spirits. Certainly, the gargoyle in this story is playing the role of guardian. But the actual origin of the gargoyle is far stranger.

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It all begins with a priest and a dragon. The dragon, however, was more dreadful then your typical terrifying creature. In the tradition of medieval dragons, it was a beast with bat wings, a long neck, and breath of fire (rather standard fare for dragons, as opposed to other french creatures like the Tarrasque). St. Romanus, a chancellor to the king, went out to face the dragon. In some versions, the ones I prefer, he was added by a condemned man, and leashed the beast. Bringing it back to the city it had terrorized, the saint burned the creature. However, the head and neck would not burned—they had become fire proof with the aid of its own breath. So the head and neck were mounted in the church, to ward off wicked spirits. The head spontaneously spouted water—or blocked the rain in a way that looked like a fountain (a nice inversion of its earlier fire breath). St. Romanus also reserved the right for his church to pardon one criminal—non traitorous criminal that is—per year.

The gargoyle then is not at first a willing defender of the church, but the image is rather effective as a guardian. The gargoyle is of course not the only statue associated with the church and not the only statue that guards holy places.

We can consider, for instance, the church grim. We’ve discussed this creature before—a black dog that wards the church, sometimes buried in it’s foundations. The robbery we are dealing with seems likely to be foiled by a church grim, as the creature is much more frequently a physical protector then a mere spiritual one. Other accounts of the church grim—sometimes called the Padfoot–describe a white or white dog, the size of a donkey that stalks at night. Other times, it takes the form of a lamb in the graveyard. It is also reported that the sound or stalking by a church grim marks one for death, and when unseen the grim may make the sound of chains being dragged. Speaking to or striking the church grim gives the grim power over you—resulting in comedic instances like a man being dragged by a particularly mischievous grim all the way back to his window.

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We can also consider the Nio. Unlike gargoyles or grim, who are a type of creature or sculpture, the Nio are at least in theory the same two individuals everywhere. The Nio are fearsome defenders of the Buddha—frequently, the two wield thunderbolts and have rather frightening appearances. The exact origin of the two is unclear—some posit them as defenders of the Buddha in life who took up this role after death, some place them as Raksasa, some as thunder spirits. Almost always, one of the pair has an open mouth, the other a closed mouth. The meaning of this pattern is disputed at times—the open mouth to frighten off evil spirits, the closed to keep good spirits in; the open mouth as the first letter of the alphabet, the closed as the last; the open as in someway feminine, the closed as in someway masculine; and so forth.

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This imagery, however, is repeated in the lion statues outside shrines in Japan. Komainu or shisa (Japan vs Okinawa) are in fact lions, not dogs, although their origins and naming are a tad convuluted. While I couldn’t find many stories on the komainu, the shisa is a popular general guardian spirit. I found the following stories on the site linked above:

A Chinese envoy brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa. Meanwhile, at Naha bay, the village of Madanbashi was being terrorized by a sea dragon that ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the king was visiting the village, when suddenly the dragon attacked. All the people ran and hid. The local priestess had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent a boy to tell him. The king faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded throughout the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon’s tail. He couldn’t move, and eventually died.

At Tomimori Village in the far southern part of Okinawa, there were often many fires. The people of the area sought out a Feng Shui master, to ask him why there were so many fires. He believed they were because of the power of the nearby Mt. Yaese, and suggested that the townspeople build a stone shisa to face the mountain. They did so, and thus have protected their village from fire ever since.”

The mystic lion statue guardian exists in Tibetan tales as well. We have a classic story of wealth there—a man regularly feeds a stone lion he finds in the woods. This man, Phurba, is notably poor, but still takes the time daily to feed the statue. The lion comes to life one day, and tells Phurba to come early the next day—and to put his hand in the statues mouth. There he will find gold, until the sun rises and the lion’s mouth closes. Phurba succeeds, and his rich neighbor Tenzin goes to do the same. Unlike Phurba, Tenzin does not take his hand out—and for his greed his hand is stuck into the lion.

Tibetan guardian spirits are also a fascinating delve in myth. They in a way resemble our gargoyle most closely—the spirit is a demonic creature, converted to Buddhism and then made a defender of what it converts. There is a long article I will link here, as I’m still reading the works relating to Tibet. However, this connection with the Gargoyle I think hints at some of the horror we can work with here.

Turning to the folklore of Hungary, we have another story of a mystic and righteous statue! A holy man dwelt long in the forest of Hrisco. So righteous and wise was the hermit, he was preferred as a negotiator—the legal authorities were rarely bothered. Eventually, he was called to deal with a peculair case of royalty. The Queen was a widow, and vowed to never remarry. When she met a man she fell in love with Francis, who was also a widower, she adopted him as a son. In time, Francis grew impatient and greedy—and locked the Lady of Larbor in her own castle, telling her servants she had gone mad.

Hungarian Hermit of Hiesco

The hermit, having been called by the king’s exiled and destitute lady, berated Francis—and suffered the wrath of the crown. Francis had the hermit locked in the highest tower and left to starve. And eventually the hermit did pass away—but the torment did not cease. For the next day, a statue of the monk appeared on a high rock near the tower. The statue pointed down accusingly at Francis—and despite the efforts of nobles and servants, the statue could not be destroyed. This accusing presence drove Francis mad—he demolished the castle, but the statue and castle returned. He fled, and died miserable and sleepless, the cruel presence of the monk haunting him to the last.

Our story I think then has a few interesting elements. The most overt parts is a story of the gargoyle in question, as a fearsome creature. A terrible origin story for the apparent statue. Here we can also observe the Lovecraft story, “The Terrible Old Man”. The story details a number of thieves trying to break into an easy mark’s house…and suffering a terrible fate. A useful technique here is the giving a clues to the history of the place, in small snippets and words. I have a nasty habit of just…saying what the story of a place or creature is. Our strange grotesque could have more hints around it. What sort of supernatural, or even alien, thing it had once been. Perhaps this is not the first thief to have met a grizzly end.

Particularly interesting to me is this recurring story, in both the Nio, the Gargoyle, and the Tibetan guardian deities, that an enemy of the holy place is converted into it’s most ardent defender. The potential parallel for our unfortunate burglar might work out well—perhaps a newly carved gargoyle bears an uncanny resemblance to him.

This story is also a good time to revisit the church as a location—particularly the Gothic cathedral. The most famous use of course is Hunchback of Notre Dame which…I have not read. I did see the Disney adaptation, which makes use of the gargoyles as…elements. Comedic relief I guess. Still, a cathedral is a fascinating location to me, as almost every cathedral is adorned with images. Stories in stained glass, statues of saints, names carved into the ground to mark tombs. A cathedral to me is certainty a presence as much as a place. It is easy to feel, among so many eyes and symbols, like you are being watched and judged.

Biblography

Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders. Pub. for the Folk-Lore Society by W. Satchell, Peyton, 1879.

Pogány, Nándor. The Hungarian Fairy Book. [1st ed.] New York: F. A. Stokes Co., 1913.

 

 

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Dealing With The Devil

This Week’s Prompt: 71. Man has sold his soul to devil—returns to family from trip—life afterward—fear—culminating horror—novel length.

The Resulting Story:Forthcoming!

This month is something of a return to popular topics it seems. Last week, we had the creation of the world out of a person—not that dissimilar to the stories of Leviathan from a few years ago. This week, we return to the archnemesis of mankind and one of the most famed tropes in fiction: a deal with the devil. Through folklore onto plays in Shakespeares day, even into modern television, the Devil is a busy tradesmen and contract writer it seems.

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The first story of a deal with the devil—directly said as such—comes from the early church and Saint Theophilus. Saint Theophilus of Adana was a saint from the early 6th century, who according to the chronicler was a humble man that turned down an appointment to a bishopric. The bishop elected instead refused to give him a post as archdeacon. Now regretting his humility, Theophilus contacted a sorcerer or necromancer, and contacted the devil himself to gain his position. Theophilus renounced the Virgin Mary and Christ, and signed a contract in blood to become a bishop again. The devil fulfilled his end of the arrangement.

Not long later, however, the Saint Theophilus grew afraid for his immortal soul. He fasted for fourty days and prayed for forgiveness from the Virgin Mary. After chastising him, the Virgin Mary went to intercede with God. After another thirty days fasting, she returned and granted him absolution. The devil, displeased, three days later lay the contract on Theophilus’s chest. Theophius takes the contract to a real, non-diabolic bishop, who burns it. The saint then dies of joy.

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This story is among the first we have, but there are many more. Another holy man made a bargain with the devil to complete a bible before dawn in the early 13th century. This holy man had broken his monastic vows, and was in danger of being walled up a live ( a punishment we are familiar with). He prayed to no avail, until at last he called upon the Lord of Darkness. The Archenemy of All Mankind finished the work in an hour, and in memory, the book—now known as the Codex Gigas—contains a large picture of the Devil himself inside.

The greatest holy man to supposedly make deals with the devil was Pope Slyvester II. Pope Slyvester introduced Arabic numerals to the Western Church, and was rumored to have stolen a Arabian sorcerer’s spell book. The sorcerer pursued him, able to see all in heaven and earth by means of the stars, until the man who would be Pope slept atop a bridge in order to evade capture. Later on he used the spell book to summon forth a demonness in order to secure the Papacy, and created a brazen head of bronze that could answer any question posed to it (as long as it was a yes or no question). The demoness or the head warned the Pope that if he gave Mass in Jerusalem, the Devil would slay him—resulting in the pope canceling his planned pilgrimage.

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However, Pope Slyvester II did give a Mass at “The Holy Cross of Jerusalem”. And what happened there is somewhat disputed. One instance says the Pope felt suddenly ill, and requested that after death his body be cut to pieces and scattered. Another says the devil did assault the Pope and ripped out his eyes. The Pope, pentient, chopped off his hands and tongue. After death, legends formed—based on a misreading of his tomb text—that his bones will shake whenever a Pope is close to death.

Another man of learning who regular dealt with the devil—although who never lost his soul in the process—was Saemundur Sigfusson. Saemundur’s deals range from transport back to Iceland on a seal, to learning the Dark Arts from the master himself. In each case, however, Saemundur outwitted the devil, often by causing the devil’s end of the deal to become impossible. For instance, the Devil promised to take him to Iceland on the back of a seal in exchange for his soul. Saemundur, wisely, killed the seal moments before it met the shore and walked off.

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John Fian was a more recent man accused of making deals with the devil. A Scottish schoolmaster, John was accused and confessed under torture to being a witch who had signed a contract with Satan himself. This deal granted him, if accusations are believed, the power to bewitch town folk—including a botched attempt that resulted in seducing a cow—and raising storms to destroy ships. The schoolmaster did, to his credit, claim to renounce Satan to his face. Sadly, he then attempted to flee authorities and was predictably burned alive after a rather nasty torture involving nails.

John Fian features in the book of the same time, the Demonlogiae, by King James. The book contains a section devoted to contracts with the Devil, who takes various forms to render various services. When curing disease, he appears as an animal. When answering great questions, he possesses the body of a dead man to fortell the future (an example of Necromancy, no doubt). Other times, a devil may take the form of a ring or enchanted item, and elementals—those angels that occupy the air, fire, earth, and water of the world—are also fallen devils. The services of the devil are often ones of revelation—often of secrets King James reckons are not to be revealed, as God has sealed them up, or of secrets that do not require diabolic aid. Further, the Devil’s work is accorded to be no more than illusions—his armies are but strange shapes in the wind, for true miracles only God can work.

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That of course, does not mean deals were made only for lofty goals of intellect. The tradition of a devil’s bridge is far more practical then the Faustian search for knowledge. These bridges are built with a pact of the devil and are often believed to be constructions of antiquity. Some versions it is the mason that gives their soul—in others, it is the first person to cross the bridge to give their soul. While there are many versions of the story, one version contains another saint—St. Julian the Hospitaller. The Saint, however, cons the devil by sending a pig or dog across instead of a human being.

Another case of practical skill is a man in Shropeshire wrestled or dealt with the devil for power over motion in many ways. He supposedly was able to compel a man to return to him after leaving a bar and hold him there in place, cast illness with his evil eye, and other nuisances.

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And of course, there is the most famous case of dealings with the forces diabloical—Faust. Johann Georg Faust is a historical figure attested to in a number of documents, but his legend makes any accurate statements difficult. Often driven out of town on accusations of fraud, Faust or Faustus—who may have been one or two individuals—claimed to be an alchemist, a doctor of philosophy, a doctor of medicine, an astrologer, and magician. His exact activities as he traveled are recorded somewhat:he preformed a astrology for a bishop in 1520, and banished from Nurnberg and Ingoldstadt in 1528 and 1530—on accounts of necromancy and sodomy. In 1536, he received recognition as a more genuine authority, and is last recorded in 1535 in Munster.

The legends around Faust existed in his life time. A man declaring himself Faustus Junior boasted of being able to preform the miracles of the bible. Other accounts credit Faust as boasting of granting the German Emperor victories in battle with magical means. Faust was rumored to have a dog that became a man servant, of flying, of deceiving men into rubbing their faces with arsenic to remove beard stubble, and more. In 1540 or 1541, Faust supposedly died of an alchemical accident. His body was greatly marred, reportedly as the devil had come for him at last to collect. Faust’s spellbooks have been published for two hundred years, the last one in 1691.

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Faust’s deal with the Devil is recorded in The Historical Faust, a German chapbook. The deal occurred in the Spesser Wald. It is recorded as such:

Now the Devil feigned he would not willingly appear at the spot designated, and he caused such a tumult in the forest that everything seemed about to be destroyed. He blew up such a wind that the trees were bent to the very ground. Then it seemed as were the wood with devils filled, who rode along past Doctor Faustus’ circle; now only their coaches were to be seen; then from the four corners of the forest something like lightning bolts converged on Doctor Faustus’ circle, and a loud explosion ensued. When all this was past, it became light in the midst of the forest, and many sweet instruments, music and song could be heard. There were various dances, too, and tourneys with spears and swords. Faustus, who thought he might have tarried long enough now, considered fleeing from his circle, but finally he regained his godless and reckless resolve and persisted in his former intention, come whatever God might send. He continued to conjure the Devil as before, and the Devil did mystify him with the following hoax. He appeared like a griffon or a dragon hovering and flattering above the circle, and when Doctor Faustus then applied his spell the beast shrieked piteously. Soon thereafter a fiery star fell right down from three or four fathoms above his head and was transformed into a glowing ball. This greatly alarmed Faustus, too. But his purpose liked him so well, and he so admired having the Devil subservient to him that he took courage and did conjure the star once, twice, and a third time, whereupon a gush of fire from the sphere shot up as high as a man, settled again, and six little lights became visible upon it. Now one little light would leap upward, now a second downward until the form of a burning man finally emerged. He walked round about the circle for a full seven or eight minutes. The entire spectacle, however, had lasted until twelve o’clock in the night. Now a devil, or a spirit, appeared in the figure of a gray friar, greeted Doctor Faustus, and asked what his desire and intent might be. Hereupon Doctor Faustus commanded that he should appear at his house and lodging at a certain hour the next morning, the which the devil for a while refused to do. Doctor Faustus conjured him by his master, however, compelling him to fulfill his desire, so that the spirit at last consented and agreed.

Faust’s bargain specified that the spirit sent would serve him for period of time. At the end of this period, he would surrender himself to the spirit. He forsook the Christian faith and signed such in blood. In exchange he gained any desire he wished—although not marriage, as that was a sacrament. The spirit appeared hence as a Fransican monk.

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Faust then inquired many things of his spirit guide, flying into the heavens, descending into hell, learning falsehoods about astrology and others. He stayed in the Pope’s palace invisible, slept with the wives of the Sultan while wearing the sultan’s form, and more. He cursed a knight to have antlers, trapping him in a window; he gathered food for a pregnant countess and created all manner of animals; he conjured Helen of Troy to show his talents of necromancy; he encountered sorcerer’s who could chop off their heads and put them back on again.

In the end, Faust’s students begged him to ask for forgiveness. And he tried to. But Faust was convinced his contract damned him, and so could not genuinely ask for forgiveness. And so he met a gruesome end, which I will not repeat here. Faust leaves a will and testament, granting his butler Wagner all of his belongings. (I will note here: the original Faust chapbook, linked here, is shockingly anti-Semetic in many ways.)

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Later versions of Faust include more details—the play of Goethe add a love intreast that might redeem him, and the role of doubt as near conversion is expanded. Goethe also added a happy ending—Faust at the end of Part II is redeemed by the angels as Mehpistophles lusts after them.

More modern takes on the Deal with the Devil focus on an interesting and specific talent and form of expression—music. Folktales about violinists making deals with the devil include: Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), who was rumored to deal with the devil and who was not permitted a church burial upon death; Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), who wrote a sonata based on his encounter with the devil; Philippe Musard (1792-1859), who’s wild conducting style convinced some that he had also made pacts with the devil; Tommy Johnson (1895-1956), a blues musician who’s brother claimed he sold his soul for guitar playing skills; and Robert Johnson (1911-1936), who made a similar deal. And of course, there is the folk song about the Devil going down to Georgia.

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The deal with the devil persist in popular culture, although the cause over time seems to have changed. The major deals with the devil I recall—such as Futurama’s The Devil’s Hands are idle Play Things or it’s later movie The Beast with a Billion Backs— present deals with the devil as matters of passion and love. The Disney movie Princess and the Frog has a non-literal deal with the devil for status and freedom in a more traditional mode, however. The film Anastasia features a reference to a pact with Rasputin in exchange for sorcerous power—in a way reminscent of the Disney film. Generally, however, deals with the devil are lately things of lost hope and desperation—I have more examples, but they are spoilers for shows worth of material. This contrasts the model that folklore presents, where deals are made not to save lives, but to advance one’s station and power over the world or to increase one’s knowledge. And to be honest, that is more tragic to me.

At the end of the day, a deal to save a life is a heroic sacrifice. It’s tragic, and poignant, and sad, but ultimately it’s a failure to think things through or let go or consider alternatives. The deal with the devil plays on character flaws, but often for a goal that is more easily accepted. The problem is mostly these stories are about saving people—not about the heart of the original deal with the devil, which is the loss of an immortal promise for mortal gain. Some deals change this by making the deal with the devil not about the soul itself directly, but about actions that lead to torment and the path of wickedness anyway.

Our story resembles a song I heard once: The Devil’s Train by Lab Rats. Unlike the more famous song, the Devil Went Down To Georgia, this story features a more diabolical assault. The character features an unspecified deal with the devil and…well, you can watch it here:

The Deal with Devil here is for the soul of the man. The question is, what did the man trade for? What did he receive for his immortal soul? For the story to work, we need I think for the stories unsettling terror and growing fear to work the change should be…less spectacular then Dr. Faust. More practical, more pragmatic. As to what a man is like without his soul…well, I think that is the source of dread and uncertainty isn’t there? That there’s something intangiblelly…unsettling about a person. The deal, of course, should be a secret I think. A trip abroad can change someone, and that gives us some cover for the changes in one of our characters.

The relationships at play here are also uncertain. I have been assuming the man is the patriarch of the family, but on reflection the horror might work better with a young man…it is easy to grow so distant from a person that you no longer recognize them. A trip abroad exacerbates that effect. I myself am going abroad soon, so such changes are on my mind…hm. There’s a good deal to think about for this story.

I will note that I intend to ignore the ‘novel length’ suggestion—The story may be long, but certainty not that long.

Works Referred To:

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

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Networks of the Dead

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Resulting Story: The Death of Mr. Donovan

We delve deeper now, from the cemetery and undertaker to the ossuaries and catacombs of the dead. A catacomb is an underground tomb, constructed for resting the dead. Generally these forms in cities, often in cases where graveyards simply will not due anymore. The famous catacombs of Paris were made after the cities cemeteries were flooded by rain, pushing bodies and skeletons to the surface and onto city streets. The catacombs of Rome likewise began due to overcrowding and land shortage, the grim reality that there were to many dead and not enough tombs. And then there are American catacombs that imitate these sites, strange tourist attractions. But we will return to the strangeness of the subterranean landscape of America in a moment.

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For now, let us focus on the old world. Beginning in Rome, catacombs were constructed by members of the Jewish community as well early Christians, both who preferred burial to the more common method of cremation. The tombs thus give artistic insights into traditions of the era, and have an air of mystery about them. A number of saints are buried there—who are by definition holy individuals and beings—and at least one fringe archaeologist has suggested the grail might be buried there. As the catacombs are under Vatican control, the possibilities have not been fully explored.

The catacombs of Paris have a more infamous reputation. Built out of an old mine, the catacombs here are full of bones from the 1800s. Only partly open to the public, the catacombs have attracted rumor of conspiracy as long as they have been around. The mines they were built out of are rumored to have been the location of black masses in 1348. Bandits and revolutionaries hid in the sprawling labyrinth, as did in more recent years Nazi bunkers and French Resistance members. Even more recently, daredevils and thrill seekers have built an underground art society around the catacombs and mines. Secret pools, murals, and even a cinema have all been found by authorities beneath the city of lights.

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With walls lined with skulls and bones, the catacombs of Paris certainty have an atmosphere of horror and the macabre, yet somehow still alive and changing and reshaping. It is here that the Phantom of the Opera lived, that Jean Val Jean made his escape, where monarchists and fascists were killed, where black mass and plagues were born.

So, are there any such catacombs in the American cities, locales and lacuna of horror waiting beneath our feet?

The short answer is…not exactly, but something similar. There are catacombs in the United States(Which is likely what Lovecraft means by America, as opposed to Americas). One is a replica of the Roman catacombs in DC. Another is the catacombs near New York, in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and other churches. Another underground locale, that I have little knowledge of, is found in Waterbury, Connecticut documents the life of Jesus Christ. So there are some overt underground burials. But more interesting are those sorts of places that resemble the catacombs in life. Abandoned routes and work ways under a large living city, still mysterious and without exploration being complete.

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In New York City, there are large abandoned subways that are not immediately accessible. While trains sometimes run down here, and there are inhabitants, they resemble the catacombs in many ways, with continuous habitation and dangers around every corner, from trains to small spaces. The danger of police and others down in the depths are a continuous problem for those urban explorers who go down there. Images can be found here.

Another set of abandoned works exists in LA, the remains of the trolley system that was shut down in the 1950s, which later on was host to disaster shelters during the Cold War. Since then, development has divided up its remains.

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The biggest of these abandoned networks of tunnels is beneath Cincinnati. These tunnels run two miles in length and are mostly intact, if sealed. The construction began in 1920, abandoned in 1925, and at last closed in 1950s after being considered for a bomb shelter. The tunnels have some rumors around them still—hauntings, mainly. A connection to catacombs thats more direct than most, as the catacomb is often just that. A realm of the dead that exists in a material form. Its a small demesne of Hades.

A more mythic connection is the sorcererous lair of Afrasiab. While not obvious comparison, it is Afrasiab is a destructive force who holds an advanced and luxurious underground bunker with layers of steel several men thick. It is host to an artificial sky, and four rivers—one of wine, one of milk, one of sour milk, and one of water. Like many of the other catacombs, the abandoned remains of such ruins could be come

Lovecraft, for his part, presents something like those above. The Vaults of Zin—a connection between the Dreamlands and the waking world—are likewise underground remains of a great civilization that connects to the ultimate fate of the dead, and inhabited by the monstrous and cannibalistic ghasts. These tunnels, that make the world between the here and the bizarre less clear, are a place of possibility and disruption. They mark a boundary that we can traverse to a strange and secretive realm, where societies of the living transgress among the dead. More importantly, the catacombs are a from an earlier and abandoned age. Yes, at some point someone was digging the ones in Rome, those in Paris are the remains of old mines, those in the United States re abandoned subways, and even in Rome these catacombs are out of use by now. Catacombs are re-purposed remains of a long lost civilization or time.

I bring this up because, if I were to speculate on the catacombs here, the surprise of their discovery is important. The catacombs are discovered recently, and therefore are previously unknown. This means, unlike the ones we’ve discussed so far, the catacombs are not connected to the current inhabitants. This lays into the United States twice over: Not only is the United States a young country—relatively seeking, of course,–and thus any catacombs would be something of a surprise but it is…how was it once put….built entirely on an Indian burial ground. While catacombs may not be widespread, there are discoveries in the last few decades that indicate intense burial sites at the least.

Building on this, as some archaeologist discovering the remains of a long lost nation and catacomb is…well, a start. Where it goes I’m not sure. There are themes to explore but I’m not sure what to do with a meeting of a forgotten past and the modern present. A lost history might be found, in the images of the catacomb, that belies some history that the modern world denies. But …I must think on what sort of discovery that would be.

What about you? What horrors or wonder discoveries in an abandoned underworld might you find?

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St. Silvanus, Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt:56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.

The Relevant Research:Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

Find Part 1 here.

The branches and roots made an effort to scratch and trip me as I went, following Charles’s map as best could be managed. The air was empty, the wind having wasted away any crickets. The warm blooded creatures of the wood stayed silent as I went through, either hiding to pounce or hiding from tooth and claw. There was only the crunch of my feet in the hillside wood, with a fog slowly setting in.

Eventually, I made out through the fog crags that were circled in Charles’ map. For a moment, I saw a huddled mass waiting at the top of the crag, leading up to the rectangular stone building at the top. I saw women and children and men in rags as pales as the moon with gasping mouths and pleading eyes staring up ward to the structure.

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But as I drew close, my flash light illuminating them, the masses faded away into piles of stones, stacked one on top of the other and draped in leaves or rags. The leaves shook to give the impression of murmuring as I approached, the wind whipping this way and that. I wondered how, with so many trees to get in the way, the wind managed to stay so strong.

It wasn’t grand. It was a few slabs of stone, arranged and stacked into an almost crude shelter. Peering inside, however, I had to stifle a scream.

A body lay at the center of the hexagonal room, flesh having darkened with cold. A rotted tongue was still slumped out the side of his mouth, and much of his face had become bone, maggot holes punctured along it. I slowly walked closer, transfixed at the mutilated remains of Charles. If his body was clawed or cut, I couldn’t tell. Clearly, some thing had fed on him, and not that long ago.

As I recovered…Well, as I regained my ability to suffer and search, instead of suffer in stillness, I looked around the room cautious for the culprit. My light quickly found the statue, at who’s feet Charles lay. It was a robbed man, with curved ram horn, a thorny carved club in one hand, while the other pulled back a veil of hair. Beneath those locks, there was nothing. A blank stone, unmoved and unmarked, faced me. I want to say it stared at me, but there were no eyes, no even vauge lines that I could make into eyes. It didn’t grimace, it had no mouth. It was just the void, reaching out into my mind. It was disconcerting, so I looked down back at the body with some sense of shame.

Carefully examining the body, I found Charles’s hand clutched around something. Leaning close, it was a rolled piece of…something. It was a bright green scroll with a sweet smell strong enough that it overpowered the odor of death around the hand. I lightly kicked it with my shoe, and it fell out of his hand. A think coating of light green sludge coated it, the left overs of decay.

Holding my breath, I slowly took the sheet. It looked like paper, but it felt smoother than paper. I kept it rolled and turned to leave, planning on reading more when I slipped back into Morgant’s room. My light turned towards the entrance, out towards the woods, and the howling wind. The fog was still heavy on the ground and the grass crunched as I walked. And all the while, I felt the statue reaching down with it’s formless face, seeing without eyes. A hundred small eyes feeling down my back.

The crackling of the grass stopped in the forest, where all seemed softer. My mind slowly began to realize what I’d seen, what I’d done. Charles’s dead body, left at the altar, called out and I saw signs of it’s decay everywhere. The brown leaves reminded me of rotting flesh and breaking skin. He was dead. He was dead, and no one knew. Or worse, the thought that had been buried deep returned. Everyone knew. Everyone knew he was dead when I got here, and had tried to hide it from me. Morcant knew, but didn’t know I’d find the body.

The scroll, I realized, the scroll was the only proof I’d been there. But they’d find out I took it. If they all knew Charles was dead, and had left him there so long, they’d know the scrolls, the strange green thing in my hand, should be there. I’d have to leave immediately.

It was as this ran through my head that I heard them. A distant set of pipes, playing softly. Standing still, I heard an accompanying set of steps, slowly echoing mine almost perfectly. When my light turned about I saw only dimly something in the woods, a pair of eyes staring at me through the darkness. The owner of the eyes was at least six feet tall and drawing closer, not breaking eye contact. That was the last I could bear.

DarkForestBEast.png

My legs out paced my mind, and my memory of fleeing out of the woods and to Morcant’s house. My hands dropped the light at the base of the tree, gripping and scurrying up into the branches in order to get to safety. As the window closed behind me, I began to breath again. Laughter bubbled up in my throat, out of nowhere. Laughter and sobbing while leaning on the wooden bear that guarded the bed. I pulled myself up, and turned back to the window. The moon was still gibbous and full, and as I sighed, I looked down upon the ancient wood and at the edge I saw it, for a moment. Glimmering eyes staring towards the house from the depths of wood, before vanishing into darkness.

With that in mind, and my heart still racing, I collapsed back onto the bed. Sleep wasn’t comfortable, and I don’t know if ever entirely came. There were moments that felt like waking, staring out the window to see a thing walking up right like a man, with ram’s horns and a leonid face. It’d pace the floor around the tree, it’s clawed hand outstretched and feeling the little marks I made when I climbed. Other times it’d stare up with very human eyes, beckoning me down with an outstretched hand and playing a set of pipes. Other times, I’d feel awake, but surrounded by darkness, and music would come from the floors.

I was relieved when, finally, the cold grey winter sun woke me. My legs ached from running, and my back was killing me. I stretched and, nervously stared out the window. Nothing but the old tree, and some scratches that were either from me last night or a startled wild cat. A black bird was on the branch, not yet left for winter.

After I got changed, the smell of syrup began to waft into the room from down stairs. Morcant was smiling, making pancakes that were maybe an inch thick. Coated with syrup and topped with a small mound of butter, I nearly bolted down the stairs with exhausted hunger. Morcant chuckled as I nearly toppled over the chair.

Sleeping exhaust you that much or did you skip supper?” Morcant said, as I pulled myself up.

Uh, yeah.” I said, yawning. “Kept me up a bit even.”

As Morcant served an inch thick pancake to me, I forgot most of the night before. It faded into a vauge notion of something terrible having happened. Something awful, like a nightmare. And the ‘like’ slowly faded as we talked about the weather and chatted about Charles and the differences between this cosy hill town and the city. Both had a tendency, I observed, to become a washed out, gray place.

Well, perhaps, but here at least spring brings green things.” Morcant said with a laugh. He picked up the plates, and asked if I was staying any longer. At the sound of green, something reminded me. That I needed to leave.

No, no, I’ll be heading home. Don’t want to impose.” I said, wiping my face with a napkin. “And without any leads, I think I’d better head back. See if I can find someone more proffessional.”

I packed my things without interruption after that. I tucked the slimy green paper in my trunk, careful to leave it bound. Something might be stuck inside, and some impulse, a memory wraned me against reading it. There was something powerful bound up in that small leaflet. Next to it I put the new manuscripts, figuring post-mortem publishing would be best. I couldn’t remember, quite yet, the circumstances I found him in. But I knew Charles wasn’t going to be editing his thesis any time soon.

Well, tell me if you need any help to the station.” Morcant said, as I lugged my case down the stairs. I politely said I could get myself home.

The road to the station was covered in sleet and snow, muted as I walked and pulled my trunk along. The only sound I could make out was the was the fluttering of wings. As I trudged that long walk back, train station in sight, I saw one more unusual sight. An owl. A large, white horned owl. Staring at me sleepily as I walked. As I sat, waiting for the train, it seemed to never move. It’s two eyes held fast to me, even as the train was heard coming closer to that old wood.

When I returnd to the city, the birds were strange there as well. The moment I set on the sidewalk home, a pair of pigeons cooed and followed me. They walked at my fight and, unafraid of my imposing stature, pecked at my shoes. A number of their fellows watched on from a wire, dozens of little eyes training on me and my trunk, as we came at last to my apartment. A number sat on the branches of the tree rising not far from my house, like feather fruit on an apple tree. A brave black bird sat atop the lamp post, staring pensively at my door and squawking when I went inside.

I spent the afternoon reading my mail, and preparing dinner to replace the lunch I missed on the train. Trains always make me sick when eating on them, so I’d grown accustomed to making large meals at the top of the three story apartment. And my aches from carrying the trunk with me all day were pressuring me towards sustenance even more. Either that, or collapsing on my bed.

After the hearty meal, I retired to bed, expecting nothing more to happen that night.

I awoke in the later hours of evening, to the sound of a thumping on the roof. Starting up, I rushed to the kitchen with a light. I intended to get a knife to fend off the intruder, whoever he was. Further, the kitchen had the most immediate window, looking out onto the street. I would see him if he made for a get away.

When I entered the kitchen, my light hit the window and immediately I was transfixed. A large face, leonid in form and with shimmering eyes, stared back at me.

KitchenAtNightBeast.png

The creature was evidently hanging from the roof tiles, staring in with those treacherous eyes. My heart seized as it, almost gently, scratched at the window. The sound cut through the air, claws carving into the glass. I wanted to scream, but my voice had already taken flight. The thing’s gaze held me fast as it brought forth a gnarled and thorned branch, a crude club. With a single blow, the glass was shattered on the floor.

The beast was too big to fit in the window, but like a rat squeezing it’s skeleton through the smallest of spaces, it managed. At this, my sense regained and I turned to run, opening the door to the stairs and slamming them behind me. I ran down the entire stair case, still in nothing but my night clothes, never looking back to see if that beast was still descending behind me. Never looking, in case those glowing eyes caught me again.

After reaching the outer most door, I stumbled into the cold winter night, and turned towards the building, the rush a bit to much for my lungs. Desperate to catch my breath, I saw that lumbering thing emerge from the window. It paused, crouched like a gargoyle on the roof tops. And then, it vanished like fog in the daylight.

When I returned to my room, I found everything in dissaray. Most notably, the beast had smashed open my trunk, splintering the top. The contents of the trunk were tossed everywhere, and bits of Charles’s manuscript were smashed onto the floor. All, however damaged, was accounted for. Except, the small green scroll.


This story is one I’m proud of in concept, and a degree execution. The original draft would have taken us into 6000 words, and that simply would have been too far over the goal. I intended to cut this down further, but ran out of time to edit, and only presenting on half of either story seemed unwise. So, another two parter.

Come back next week, for research into unseen ships at sea that reach into the sky.

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Saint Silvanus, Part 1

This Week’s Prompt: 56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.

The Prior Research: Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

It is a well known but rarely discussed fact that a good number of local traditions practiced by in nomine Christian men and women are in fact of older and more pagan origin.”

The first draft of my good friend Charles’s paper began with that somewhat uncertain line. He had begun conducting research, detailed to a good degree in the paper proper, on an unusual example of such a “survival”. A small, local icon of a Saint Silvanus, nestled where it had been “found” years prior. The research was not terribly interesting to me. But I was not a native as Charles was, and thus perhaps lacked his fascination with this small miraculous icon and it’s pre-Christian or at the least pre-Niceaen potency.

All this was secondary, however. I was on a train bound for the nearest road to that old hill village for entirely personal reasons. Charles had sent me his drafts of his paper, and I’d done my best to edit the work into something respectable. I’d sent my revisions to him, expecting to hear back in a month.

The response never came.

At first I reasoned that Charles may be stewing, my red ink having perhaps drawn some genuine blood. Then worry that Charles might not have received my edits began to sink in. After my letter of reassurance received no reply, I began to suspect that either the postman was guilty of some strange academic sabotage, or that Charles had encountered a great deal of difficulty. I decided then to visit him personally, or at the least to begin the process of tracking him down.

The post office had confirmed my edits had been delivered to the last residence of Charles. Charles’s land lady there had explained that last she heard, he was headed back into the field, perhaps re-invigorated with questions, or searching for the semi-mythic shrine he had detailed in his notes. Where exactly the field was took even more work. But at last, I was on this train to the crumbling remains of an old town.

The town was, per Charles’s notes, about two hours walk from the train station. I, personally, would not have described it as “mushrooms rising from the corpse of a dying industrial town”, but I suppose Charles wasn’t wrong per se. It was his home to decry as he wished.Trunk in hand, I looked for the house that Charles had said he’d resided in during his research.

I found Charles’s informants house. It took a bit of seraching, but the two story house was recognizable with it’s white bark trees growing around it. After a few knocks, I had given up and was about to try the neighbors when a man shouted at me from the road.

Wait, wait! At least let me here what your selling!” He had a beard down to his waist, and looked like someone had draped skin and muscle over a carefully arranged set of barrels. Smiling, he walked to the house and held out an expectant hand. We shook lightly.

Well, I’m not selling any—”

No? Well, your not from around here. And I don’t think the Jacobs are selling yet. Census already?” He said, suddenly less amused.

No, no, not with the Census. Um, I’m actually looking for someone.” I said, rummaging in my jacket pocket and producing a picture of Charles. “He said he was staying here about six months ago. Haven’t heard from him sense, and I’ve been sending mail his way for a while now. Have you seen him?”

The man leaned down to look at the picture for a moment. An owl that landed on the branch of a nearby tree, rustling the leaves loudly. Normally nothing of note, but the sounds of the town were muted by the snow.

Horned Owl1.png

Hm, yeah, Charlie. Thought he went back already. Or away I guess. That’s Charlie, always going where winds are taking him.” the man said, frowning and scratching his beard. “Well, its getting dark out. Why don’t you come inside for a bit, it’ll be cold out soon.”

The wind was getting stronger, and the sky seemed read to disgorge more snow. I decieded to take the risk, and see if Charles had left anything behind from his stay. Letters, notes, hints at habitation.

The inside was toasty, a fireplace in the front room. Off to the side was a kitchen and table, with some stairs leading up to where I presumed the bedroom was. At least two, judging by the windows outside. My host, who it slowly dawned on me was still nameless, lay down his tool set and sat down on the couch by the fire place to warm up.

So, you know Charlie? Where from?” He asked, glancing over.

Met him at university. Never talked about home much, and uh, for ethical reason’s his paper doesn’t say who he was staying with.”

Ethics, huh? Nice of him I guess. Names Morcant Mael. Parent’s wanted a Celt name.” He said, waving off my look of confusion. “Get a lot of them around here. Hell, Charlie’s birth name was Cartacos, then he started going be Carl, then Carly, then Charlie. Guess he got around to changing his name properly.”

You knew him for a long time then?” I asked, sitting down near the fire.

It’s a small town. Everyone at least knows everyone. Sometimes more. So, you read the stuff Charles was writing?” He said, clapping his hands together and rising, “And would you like anything? Coffee, tea, beer?”

Ah, a warm tea would be wonderful. Winters are cold up here.”

Well, the winds come right over the coast. So how is his writing?”

Lucky it has an editor. The man rambles in some parts, and leaves out whole sections in others it seems.”

Like folks names?” Morcant called from the kitchen.

Again, thats becoming a bit standard. More like, he just alludes to the story he was studying as ‘famous and well documented’, but never prints it.” I said back. Morcant emerged with a pot of tea and placed it on the coffee table between us.

Oh? Strange. I guess he forgot about it. He was looking into the statue of St. Silvanus, way out in the woods right?”

Yeah, that’s the one.” I said, sipping the tea. After a moment’s pause, I continued the thought. “Can you tell me what it’s story is ? For context?”

I suppose so. It’s no big secret really. Back when the town first got going, it was one of the few to stay with the old church, back with Rome. And the times were not good to be part of the old faith. People didn’t trust Cathloics more than almost anyone. Couldn’t have Mass, couldn’t settle, couldn’t vote, everyone thinking you were a spy for the pope. Most of them fled to Pennsylvania, I hear. But anyway, rumor happened that a bunch of rowdy Puritans, out of Indians to shoot and witches to burn, were going come and sack the town. Everyone figured now was the time to pack up and leave.

But this one woman goes out in the forest, trying to get to gripes with it all, and suddenly heres a crashing sound. Looking towards it, she sees something falling from the empty sky onto the ground. A statue!One of those old Italian ones, with horns coming off the old man’s head.” Marcont mimed two horms curling out of his head. “She thought it was Moses, but when she prayed at the shrine, the statue told her he was Silvanus. The statue asked why she was weeping in the woods, and she told him everything. The statue told her, go and have the town promise me one priest and one feast day, and God will deliver you from the English dogs.

PreachingSketch.png

An image from another folktale of St. Silvanus. Charles recorded more than a few.

So she goes, and the town’s desperate enough to have faith again. So they pray to the saint, and send off some lad to be a priest and clean up the statue. And then, just as they can see the mob coming, there’s this roaring sound. Some beast emerges from the woods, looking like a bear with the head of a mountain lion, horns of a ram, and the arms of an ape. The whole mob runs off as this huge thing chases them back. Some stories say it killed a few of them even, and ate them then and there. Story says it was a holy thing, an angel made to terrify and protect the town. Statue’s still there, though I’ve not seen it in a while, and folks around here claim to see the creature every now and then. Local bigfoot, you know.”

And Charles was looking into it?” I said, thinking back to the manuscript. “Yeah, that makes sense. No reason not to mention the whole story though.”

Well, Charles wanted to find it I guess. Its out in the woods, somewhere.”

And he stayed here?”

Sure did. Charles knew the place pretty well, and the rent was free. His room’s still free if you need somewhere to spend the night.”

The rattling wind outside filled the air with tinge of cold over the firelight. I had planned on making the stop and then immediately heading back to the train. But the darkness had washed over the town faster than I expected. The dirt paths and paved roads from here to the trains station would only be lit by moonlight or the stars, and clouds could cloak those at any time.

Yeah, if that’s alright, just for the night.” I said. Morcant nodded understandingly, and showed me Charles’s room upstairs. It’d been Morcant’s son’s room before that but the boy was off with his mother for the next few weeks anyway.

Honestly, it didn’t look that childish. The waxing moon illuminated the barren room, the dust flowing up into a little bit of mist or frost amongst the trees. With the flick of the switch, the illusion was gone. The bed was big enough for a grown man, maybe two next to each other. The woodwork was hand made, with carvings on each post of bears. Probably the boy’s favorite animal. I could imagine them, like Silvanus, coming at night to protect him from the sorts of things that lurk down in the nightmares of children.

Inspecting the drawers as Morcant closed the door, I found what honestly was to be expected at a place of Charles’s habitation. Well kept coffee grounds and a few packs of cigarets stored between clothes. A hidden habit everyone knew about. But what was more intreasting was on the bottom drawer, beneath a large coat. My manuscript notes had made it, it seemed, covered in red ink as they were. More pressing were the pages written in Charles’s tight and squished hand writing.

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I carefully removed them and laid them on the desk, away from the window to read. An owl had landed there, and something unnerved me about the birds of this place. They were watching me. I just didn’t know for who yet.

The notes Charles had left behind, apparently undiscovered, included a detailed recounting of the story of Saint Silvanus, with a notable change. Charles refereed to the thing that came from the woods not as an angel, but as a “beast of god”. Given his theorizing in the margins, that this Silvanus icon was really an image of the god Pan that had only recently been rechristened in his Roman name, that wasn’t too surprising. What was more suprising was his reference to a “Green Bible”.

As I read through the notes in earnest, the citations of this text made it clear that Charles thought he had found the primary source, some great ur-text in the woods that if read would reveal everything. His sources on the book itself included mainly a few town elders who talked about a Bible belonging Diana—his name for the woman who first found the statue—that she had hidden away holy power in and left for the priest attending the church. The Bible supposedly held all sorts of secrets meant only for the priest.

I admit my first response to this nonsense was to shake my head at Charles’s overabundant conspiratorial mindset. While a secret Bible with unearthly powers wasn’t uncommon in the wide scheme of the world, presuming that because some older townspeople mentioned it exists was woefully naive. However, it was fairly apparent that Charles had gone out searching for this Green Bible. And hadn’t returned.

The room seemed to shrink with that realization, the gaurdians of the bed now grimacing at me as I flipped through the pages to find the map of the area. He had marked a spot with some scribblings I couldn’t make out. No doubt that was where he intended to go. As I considered whether to rest or pursue him into the cold immediately, a thought began to dawn on me.

Morcant must have known Charles was heading into the woods. Or had, at the least. Given all that had been left behind, he was no doubt still somewhere in that woods. Looking out the window, I figured I could make it across to the tree outside. Even with the wind. Morcant certainly didn’t know about Charles’s notes, and couldn’t have suspected that I’d find anything giving away what might have happened.

So I flicked off the light, and climbed on the window ledge. I wrapped myself in a jacket with a scarf hiding most of my face as I opened the window and exposed myself to the cutting winds again. As quietly as I could manage, I slipped out of the house, onto the tree branch. The branches were difficult, but there was something familiar about setting my feet down on the soft grass. I turned and slipped into the moonlit and snow crusted forest.

Continue to Part 2 here.

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A Loss of Idenitity

This Weeks Prompt:54. Transposition of identity
The Resulting Story:Dr. Klien’s Little Book

The loss or shifting of identity is a recurring fear, such that I do not terribly begrudge Mr. Lovecraft for giving us a three word prompt. A discussion of identity loss, however, must focus on two changes to identity that could be called transpositions. One is to lose identity to another, to have it stolen. Dopplegangers, changelings, pod people, and other such notions where someone pretends for a time to be the unfortunate victim. The other mode is to have more bodily seizure of identity. To suddenly be someone else, to be possessed or altered and granted a new identity.

The first variation has, as mentioned, something of a folkloric and popular culture history. The idea of creatures that take on the appearance of a living being, as a sort of apparition, appears in Irish folklore as a Fetch, an ominous shade that warns of death. Etiäinen are a Finnish manifestation of a guardian spirit that appears to be a person doing the actions they will do in the future. But these are not quite what we are looking for as a transposition of identity.

Zeus-Uther

Zeus and Uther, both kinda creepy.

A more accurate idea of this sort of double might be in an old story(That was apparently written by Mark Twain, huh), the Prince and the Pauper. Here we have two individuals who look identical, and thus are able to (with some planning) take the place of each other. While that particular tale is lacking the sort of malice that switched identities often carry. We might consider the work of Merlin, who enchanted Uther Pendragon to assume the likeness of his enemy to lay with his Igraine, and thus conceive Arthur. Or the similar story of Zeus taking on the form of Alcemene’s husband in order to conceive of Heracles. More extended instances of taking on the form of others in order to spell misfortune are noted. A changeling, for instance, is a deception of a family with the intent of making off with a child. 

To touch briefly on a scientific note, there is a mental disorder where one is obsessed with the notion that a friend or loved one has been replaced with a look alike. This Capgras delusion may be a good reminder that many of the accusations of individuals being replaced by some other, alien thing are not…not taken well, and may in fact be used by confused individuals to justify harming others.

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Man, the human version of hairballs is awful

Moving to the idea of transposition not away from the individual but onto the individual, the very first notion that springs to mind is demonic possession. I specify demonic to indicate an uninvited and unsought possession. There are a number of examples of this in popular culture, specific the Exorcist film that convinced many that Ouija boards are the devil.

Catholic possessions often culminate in destructive and suicidal behaviors. Early symptoms include speaking in tongues, exhibiting secret knowledge, blasphemous rage, and incredible strength. Possession need not be of individuals, but may be of animals or places.

An interesting potential character here is a number of demons in the Ars Goetia, who impose afflictions of the mind onto others. Twelve of the 72 reconcile friends, 11 make others fall in love, and at least one renders other men the subjects of the summoner. While this is less a transposition as the other stories, the altering of consciousness radically is as terrifying even if direct possession is not at the root.

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However, exorcists date back at least to ancient Sumer, where we have assorted inscriptions for invoking the might of the sun god Shamash in order to combat possession. Possession in the sense of Sumer is not terribly developed. Ghost possession is a second possibility, more common perhaps. A ghost may end up possessing a living person of it’s own power, or be conjured for that purpose and inflicted on someone.

Some Hindu theories of possession do not treat it as a seizure of the body, but rather the cause of illness. There are a number of charms and wards against these included in one of the Vedas, linked to here.

Demonic or ghostly forces –and we would do well to remember that hell and the underworld are often very deeply related—can thus rewrite or transpose a new identity onto an individual, compelling them to be someone they normally are not.

But this is…perhaps not what Howard Phillip Lovecraft intended. He was always, at least in nomine, a man of science. The best analysis of this notion are tales like The Thing on the Doorstep. Here, the alluring power of the Waites family is described as hypnotic. Lovecraft was writing when hypnotism was gaining steam, although he personally might not have indulged much on the matter. Still, it was a new science that, while now discredited, promised access to the deepest portions of the human pysche.

It has yet to deliver, but the idea of brainwashing to create a new identity is common enough. For instance, we may observe a modern depiction of mass technological (in name) possession in Doctor Who. The Master, a master hypnotist, use medical machinery to convert all of earth’s populace into himself in a rather disturbing sequence in the episode End of Time.

The Manchurian Candidate and Jason Borne are other famous examples of new personalities onto people. The often horrifying to discuss brainwashing techniques, while how possibly nonexistent, have a place in the mind of genre writers at least as tools of recruitment and shifting of beliefs and even entire modes of thought for nefarious purposes. And this line of thinking lead me to a novel idea.

We have examples of these powers or tactics used to shape followers. But what of leaders? What if a cult tried to create it’s own chosen one, it’s own ideal leader, using these methods? Philosophers including Plato have discussed the idea of molding leaders through subversive means. The idea of a cult working to make someone, unwittingly and unknowingly, into their ideal leader may be an intreasting one to explore.

Real life examples of large scale magic might be found in the Bablaon Working or tulpa creation (although neither of these are actually, exactly, what we are looking for). There are number of tricks to be considered before carrying on. We should discuss of course whether to view this change from within the mind of the narrator or without. Within is more intimate, more horrifying maybe. But without gives us a fuller understanding of what has occurred. If looking from the outside, we can see the changes wrought and how different things have become with much, much more certainty.

If we were to start from within, it would most likely manifest in breaks in narration. Start with the character in one location, and then inexcpilcably time and space have passed without the audience or the narrator aware. Of course, having laid out this gimick in such detail, I am now inclined not to use it. Especially since, while mysterious, it relies a bit to much on the twist. Still, I have an idea in mind that will at the least be entertaining. Come next week to see what poor soul is lost!

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