Witches Sabbath

This Week’s Prompt: 75. Black Mass beneath an antiquated church.

The Resulting Story: The Black Mass GathersThe Fire Breaks

The Black Mass is an intriguing part of folklore. It is hear that we come again to the explict religious fears of Mr. Lovecraft perhaps—while his fiction is angostic, the Black Mass is a fear in the folklore of Europe, particularly among Catholics. The concept of a Black Mass is rather simple: The Black Mass is a pervision of the Holy Mass by the agents of the devil, an anti-thesis to right and good churchly behavior. Thus, it is at midnight, it involves sexual acts and violence—sometimes cannibalism and human sacrifice, often poison and orgies. It is a night of witchcraft and Satan himself may walk at that dread hour.

The earliest accusations of something like a Black Mass—although not using that phrase—is leveled against the Gnostic sect the Borborites. The accusation includes tropes that are common throughout later accusations—the consumption of bodily fluids, sexuality, child abuse, and cannibalism. Like later accusations, Black Mass here is equal parts folklore and political attack. The Borborite accusations resulted in 80 people being expelled from the city of Alexandria, and the suppression of Gnostic texts since then has made determining the veracity of these claims difficult to say the least.

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The most famous Black Mass is the Affair of Poisons. The incident is detailed here in a translation of several recorded interrogations. Included is the mixing of the blood of a white dove with holy water and sulfur, the brewing of love potions of a duke, the invocation of three demonic princes, an abortion and the use of the dead infants in consecrations. To continue on in more detail would be a bit more grotesque then I am willing to do for this blog.

The result of this Black Mass was the arrest and execution of over 36 people. The dead included the mistress of King Louis X, Madame de Montespan, and a number of soothsayers, diviners, and alchemists. The chief witness was interrogated while intoxicated, however, and evidence of the supposed thousands of dead children is non-existent.

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However, it was far from the only Black Mass accusation to be leveled. Earlier works gave similar debauched and carnal descriptions of Black Mass, where the devil appeared as a great talking black goat. Witch hunters, comedians, heretics all in the twelfth and thirteenth century provide texts for Black Mass.

Another famous accusation was levied against the Knights Templar. While not accused of a specific Black Mass, the Knights Templar were accused of spitting on the Cross, denying Christ, worshiping idols, and of encouraging homosexual practices. Compounding accusations of fraud, secrecy, and corruption, these accusations eventually lead to the disbanding of the Knights Templar and the seizure of their lands by other states and the Knights Hospitaller. In addition, the accusation papers are the first time the now famous demon Baphomet is described. However, the demon has not taken its form as a black goat yet. Instead, it is described as : a dead cat, a severed head (sometimes with three faces), sometimes as a piece of wood with Baphomet upon it. The nature of this accusation is…difficult to find credible—the articles on Wikipedia document the strangeness of the name, the accusations specifics, and the theories around it. The idea of Baphomet as a demon was revived later for attacks against Freemasonry, and finally Baphomet’s shape became more concrete with Eliphas Levi’s satanic temple.

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In the folklore of Germany, Walpurgisnacht takes a similar role—or more properly, Hexenacht, the Witches Night or Witches Sabbath in the Brocken mountains. Here, on a night of a saint, the witches gather by flying goats. They trample crosses, are baptized in the name of the Devil, receive gifts from him, and have grand orgies—rather banal by standards of Black Masses. Spell preparations were also made—the unguent that allowed witches to fly was brewed, great spells were cast with the aid of other witches. And of course, copious amounts of human flesh were devoured. The location varies—while the Brocken is common, the mystical island of Blockula in Sweden also plays host, as do other mountains.

A slight variation on these masses, which resemble grand inversions of the order of mass, is the Mass of Saint-Secaire. Recounted most famously in the Golden Bough, the mass is a means of assassination. A corrupt priest and his lover go to a deserted church at eleven at night. He recites mass backwards, ending at midnight. He then devours a mass of three cornered black bred and drinks a cup of water, from a well in which an unbaptized child has died. Then, making a cross with his left foot, the priest proclaims the name of the victim. The victim then simply dies, rapidly wasting away.

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More innocuous inversions of Mass include the Feast of Fools phenomenon. A celebration among the subdeacons and lower clergy, the Feast of Fools traces its roots back to similair Roman celeberations. The Subdeacons took reign as the overseers of the cathedral for the day, and partying on a grand scale commenced.

In the folklore of the Balkans there is a recurring trope of devils gathering in the woods at night. Unlike the others described, these dark gatherings are regular reports of their mischief to their superiors, and get beatings when they fail. In folktales of unfortunate or poor heroes, these meetings provide ample opportunities to eavesdrop on the problems and solutions the hero can provide for riches.

A German folktale of a conclave of corpses has an implied diabolical aspect. The doubting monk discovers them buried in a forgotten vault at night—their hearts are ringed with fire, and all of them sit at attention. When inquired to their fate, the corpses reveal that they are being punished by their victims nightly, until judgement day. The conclave warns the monk of this truth—that hell is real, and coming for him. At the end of the gathering, the monk repents and devotes himself to the church.

In Shropershire, the Stiperstones are reported as the gathering place of ghosts and witches to elect their king—and the mysterious place Hegmoor’s End is an island where witches gather. Not much regarding these gatherings is recorded, so we must presume they are sabbaths like any other.

In Rhode Island, Goose Nest-Spring is where the witches hold carnival, and have Sabbath at Hell Hollow or Kettle Hollow, depending on the teller of the tales. African American folktales in Rhode Island report that those who see witches brew—made frequently by groups of witches in graveyards—will crave nothing else, and thus starve even if they escape.

A Celetic folktale gives a more somber occasion—from the Isle of Man, one Mrs. Peacock claims that the devil occupies churches on All Hallows Eve. There, he takes the form of a somber priest and blasphemies against God for the night, while invoking the names of those who are to die and be damned in the coming year. If one listens, one can hear their fate—and perhaps even escape with their life. (Celtic 328).

With this foundation of diabolical tales, I think we can start working on the outlines of a story. I think this is a prompt that is more a scene then a full story—the climax or midpoint, rather then a whole outline as is the case elsewhere. With the idea of getting to a witches sabbath, I think we can play with the notions that this Sabbath occurs yearly, in the same place. Something like a grotesque yearly convention. And with a convention, we can imagine that a community has grown around it, in the same way that pilgrimgae sites foster the growth of communities around a trail.

Given the associations with secret knowledge and plans at play here, I think a story about discovering the Witches Sabbath that is at the heart of the economy of a small village or town either as a small child or as new arrival in town. The mystery of strange people arriving and treated as welcome guests, the sights of early fires and sacrifices in the nearby hills, and the inevitably doomed venturing into those hills one night, to see the secret ceremonies. I think that as a story might work well.

The exact character of the Sabbath is another question however. As mentioned above, Black Sabbath’s are often gruesome and needlessly dark affairs. Scores of dead children might be shocking to write about, but in the space of only fifteen hundred words—three thousand if I’m being generous—the image is more tacky then effective I feel. On the other hand, making the Black Sabbath a merely ordinary event is dull. Walking the line between serious horror and schlock—a line I willingly and eagerly cross at times—is a difficult affair.

Bibliography

Bourgaize, Eidola Jean. Supernatural Folklore of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island, 1956.

Nicoloff, Assen. Bulgarian Folktales. Assen Nicoloff, 1990.

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

Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore. Wildwood House, 1983.

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-Lore and Legends, Germany. J.B. Lippincott, 1892.

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By the Lake

This Week’s Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Research:Out Of the Lake

Robert, Seamus, and Logan observed the smoldering remains of castle Lochancath. From the tall tower, the only stone structure left. The men below were rifling through the crumbled buildings for anything that could be carried home. The proper treasury was already under guard, trusted men at arms of the three lords holding fast with spears to defend newly one gold.

“I wonder if it will all be as leaves.” Robert wondered at the ash whipping into the air. “That’s what they say about faerie gold, isn’t it? Ash and leaves when you leave with it.”

“I doubt the coffers of the lord were leaves. If they were, someone would have beaten us to killing all this lot years ago.” Logan said. “Ys title or no, you don’t pay men with leaves and not get a pummeling from’em. Antsy men aren’t trustworthy ones either.”

“Men of magic have their way of doing things. I’d not put it past them, to value leaves as gold. Given Their style, who can say? That knight, with the blade made of mirrors was rather dreadfully skilled, despite his size. You’d think a giant would be less swift.” Seamus said. “And who knows? I suspect their magic fades with them, but well, would you look at that.”

Seamus gestured over the opposite end of the tower, looking over the castle’s namesake lake. There, in the still waters, the castle and town were reflected as they had been summers ago. Not a single sign of seige or famine, every building intact and gleaming gloriously from the waves. Only a small ripple disrupted the image, something bobbing along the shore.

“Is that–” Robert said squinting. “By God, it is. Would you look at that, a little Moses.”

“Go, get the babe from the river reeds.” Seamus said, turning to one of the standing soliders, “Bring it here.”

“Bring it here? No, no kill it before we suffer whatever magics it has.” Logan said, turning ot Seamus. The solider waited in confusion.

“Kill it? Can you not see the value in a sorcerous squire?” Seamus replied.

“Yes, but can’t you see the danger? One boy was spared by Herod, one by pharaoh, one by every tyrant. And they will grow and avenge themselves on their parents.”

“Only because their parents were fools, and headed prophecy. If we are fated to die at the hands of one of Lochancath’s heirs, tell me, will killing this babe forestall our destiny?” Seamus said, shrugging. “There is much to gain, and little to lose. Stories are not history, and the scholar is quick to see the doom as foertold. How many did Herod massacre with no savior? How about Caesar?”

As soon as Seamus was done, his footman returned with the babe, wrapped in red cloth. It was pale green, and quiet despite staring out with ever curious eyes.

“Do not bring that thing up in your own house at least,” Logan said, shaking his head. “Send it somewhere where it will never learn what we’ve done nor have ambitions to thrones our sons have been promised.”

“Very well, he’ll live with a squire of mine. I know just the one.”

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It would be almost two decades before the child was seen by Seamus or Logan. It was on Saint Jude’s day, and Logan had almost forgotten the boy in the years since. He was thus at also for words when the old squire, now a knight in his own right, presented the boy to the court as Anloch, here to become squire of one of Lord Seamus.

“My son Anloch has done well in my household, serving with distinction and grace. I humbly submit him to be a squire of your majesty,” the old knight said, gesturing at the youth beside him. He was still pale, almost luminescent. Long curling red hair hung from his head, and his hands and feet seemed made for a larger man. Logan, frowned, his mind worrying about some forgotten dream. Frankly, as the youth was presented, bowing humbly to the king, Logan suspected the weight of the feast landed heavily on him.

“Ah, we’ve heard a little of this lad,” Seamus said with a smile, “Except that he is fond of the hunt and does not lack skill at it.”

“Many a mangy hind have I hunted, four fierce boars I’ve speared as well.” Anloch replied, standing unblinking before Seamus. His voice reminded Seamus of a flute, high and airy. “And many more than these have I found with hand and knife.”

Seamus smiled and laughed.

“Boars, you say? For someone so slight, that is quite the feat. Well, you are welcome in my court then. Come, sit at my side.” Seamus said, gesturing beside him, and sighing low some. He seemed tired to Logan’s eyes. Perhaps he had been up late, examining plans and books. Or perhaps memories of the wars abroad, of battles near and far, had kept him up with their clamor. Logan shrugged it off.

The youth tilted his head as he sat beside the sons of his new lord. They engaged in some lengthy conversation, but neither Seamus nor Logan could hear it. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands, spinning invisible circles round and round in front of the boys eyes, as if Anloch was trying to weave a net out of the air.

“He’s come along well, hasn’t he?” Seamus said after to Logan. “And hunting so much at his age. He’ll be a grand fighter, even if he never does practice. Imagine him honed in iron.”

“He winces at the sight of a mirror,” Logan said, frowning. “Even his reflection in a plate of iron gives him pause. It worries me, that he’s grown so.”

“Are you talking of Anloch papa?” Seamus son, Scath, said. The boy was barely into his eleventh year, but already walked about with a knife at his side.

“Yes, was he fine entertainment?” Seamus said, kneeling down to his son’s level.

“Yeah! He’s done so much work out in the woods! I think Rachel has gotten smitten for him!” Scath said.

“Scandalous. Well, we’ll see how she feels when she’s of more marriagable age.”

“You’d consult your daughter?” Logan asked with a raised eyebrow.

“If I didn’t, tragedy would most certainly follow. You are slow on your hearing of old stories, friend. A bitter bride is poison in the house.” Seamus said, waving a corrective finger.

“Papa, where’s Anloch from?” Scath asked. Seamus turned cold for a moment, before smiling at his son.

“Well, Sir Bedeve is from the western part of the county, so that should–”

“But he doesn’t look like Sir Bedeve! He’s got no beard, and red hair, and his eyes aren’t as blood shot and he walks like a bird,” Scath asked, crossing his arms.

“Well, you have the curiosity of a crow and belly of a pig.” Seamus said, poking his nose and belly. “Anloch’s from Sir Bedeve’s house, and that’s all that matters.”

“But he talks funny–”

“That is all that matters, little one. For you and anyone else.” Seamus said, ending the discussion as much with his tone as with his words. Logan saw Rachel looking from behind a column, darting back at the end. He ought to have considered things to come.

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Years again passed, and Anloch remained something of a fixture at court. Logan watched his youth and found his own age weighing stronger and stronger. He seemed, when he looked in the mirror, to be a caricature of the elderly, each day growing feebler and feebler. The more time he had to ponder the change, the slower his mind’s gears seemed to turn.

Logan assumed the same was true of Seamus.He hadn’t seen Seamus in two years, with his boy Scath returning missives, not infrequently with that Anloch boy attending to him. Like a flame, he drew people round him wherever he went. Ladies and squires and even knights at courts, Logan had seen. Tripping over themselves to talk to the strange lad, who never seemed to blink properly. It bothered Logan to know end. Anlochs blinks, they rolled between his eyes instead of closing and opening at the same time.

He needed not to assume with Robert. The two rode and visited frequently. Each time Robert seemed to speak in more hushed tones and in more irregular patterns. Pauses would give way to hurried or slurred words, and he’ stare lazily into space for hours. Something had become of him, Logan knew it.

Logan thought over this as he rode under moonlight, a dog helping him on the trail. He knew the boy was related to this nonsense. His daughter had vanished into the night, along with half the guards and footmen. And as tired as he was with the world, he had reserves yet to go and find her.

Logan’s hounds followed her scent down the old roads at night, back to the ruins of Lochancath. He saw two more horses, Robert and Seamus’s riding to the same outcropping, and the same placid lake. There along the shore, in the rubble and remains, Logan saw a sight unimaginable. A host of men and women dressed in the finest clothes, men at amrs with shields painted white with a single red stripe, children in baptismal apparel. His daughter among them, and Seamus’s son as well, and at the head of the host stood Anloch.

How tall he was! He towered a head and shoulder above every knight and walked still as softly as a cat. He directed the host with a single finger down into the lake, and each walked into the reflection of the castle, still perfectly maintained in the rippling water. Anloch turned wordlessly to see the three lords who he had beggared of household and lives. On his brow was a third, crimson eye. He did not smile knowingly, he did not smirk with malice. There was a calm of completion that he spread, as he with a few steps, descended into the depths.


 

So, there are a few things I wouldn’t do if I were to rewrite this. Logan and Robert could be fused, and the center of action is clearly in the two middle acts, during Anloch’s ‘seduction’ of the various courtiers. As it is, this is a piece that suffers a lot, as I feared it would, from my attempts to say at 1500 words. I have some ideas for expanding it into a bigger story later, but those will have to be done outside the Society.

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