Birds of Pray

This Week’s Prompt: 120. Talking bird of great longevity—tells secret long afterward.

The Resulting Story: Bird of Old Feather

Birds have come up a few times in our work, most notably here. But we certainly didn’t explore this in it’s entirety—there are still many more stories of the nature of birds, especially long lived and speaking ones.

A common motif found in stories of birds in the Balkans is the nightingale, who’s song completes a mosque. The first example is the story of the Nightingale Empress. The Nightingale Empress is sought after by a king to finish his majestic mosque, sending forth his three sons to find it. Two of the sons are common heroic types, but one is bookish and well read. They come to a path with three routes, two of which people have returned from and one which none have returned from. The heroic brothers take the routes men have returned from—and they in time gave up and took on trades, before heading back.

A common nightingale. I don’t know what an imperial nightingale looks like.

The bookish brother, however, was scholarly and wise in the ways of the world. He went down the path none came back from, and meet a number of monsters. He met a wild woman and gave her a comb so that she wouldn’t have matted hair, getting guidance further. He met a Lynx and his wife, and by teaching the wife how to make bread without burning her paws he escaped her husbands hunger. He was directed to a lion and lioness, both blind, to learn of where to go. The lynx told him to pretend to be their child, accept their caresses and comb the lion’s hair. And so he did, and went further down until three mysterious birds assaulted him. Fending them off, he came to a home where a old woman warned him her three man-eating daughters were returning. So he hid, and found the birds  had become daughters. They agree to take him further, so long as he serves them each for a month.

And so at last he is taken to the place where the Empress Nightingale is: the palace of the vila queen. The palace was guarded by five hundred men, a wolf, a lynx, and a lion.  Most of these protections, however, are bypassed by the aid of the eagle sisters. At last he returns to his brothers…who on the road back attempt to kill him by abandoning him in a well. The eldest then comes home, and claims to have found the bird.

But it won’t sing.

In time, the vila queen arrives however. She wants to know where the bird was found and, when the eldest claims it was in a cypress tree, she is infuriated. She insults him so badly that his subjects turn on him and beat him with sticks. The middle son reveals the truth of the matter, and the youngest bookish brother is rescued from death. And so the Nightingale Empress sings, and the bookish brother marries the vila queen and is named heir.

Then there is a tale from Serbia, about a humble bird catcher who produces a similar nightingale. While he was out catching birds, he caught an old crow—the crow promised to aid him in exchange for its life. The bird catcher, having no use for an old crow, agreed. He tricked other birds into being caught by the bird catcher, drawing crowds over time and bringing attention. The next day, the emperor asked that the bird catcher bring him three nightingales to complete his mosque, on pain of his life. The crow guided the bird catcher—and sure enough they were lured into cages.

Crow

Then the emperor asked for the mistresses of these birds, and the crow again advised him on how to lure her out. Captured, the empress of nightingales becomes the emperor’s bride. She is bitter about her capture, however.  She attempts to have the bird catcher killed—first she sends him to find the broken piece of her ring, which the crow finds using copious oil. Next, she skips right to the chase. She will not formally marry the emperor until the bird catcher has died.

So the emperor tells the bird catcher jump in a fire. The crow gives him advice—first to beat his wife and drive her away. Then to coat himself in the foam of a horse before entering the flame—and doing so, he survives and appears all the younger. Seeing this, the people call him to be released—and the emperor declares the bird catcher will be his vizier. Asking how he can be young, the emperor learns the trick…but it doesn’t work. Instead, he burns alive and the Bird catcher becomes the young emperor and marries the empress of nightingale.

There are more amazing birds found among the Ainu, who tell of great birds and diabolic owls. One such being is a great eagle that soars through the sky, and lives even higher beyond that. Occasionally, this eagle drops large golden feathers—if stored properly, these feathers have magical powers for three years.

A Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

It was mentioned in passing that some birds—the cuckoo, the woodpecker, the nighthawk, the goatsucker and the owl—use their cries to betwitch people wherever they go. The owl has some mixed associations besides. Some owls guide hunters to their prey, while others are mischevious makers. Yet even the mischevious little owls know a wicked man from a good one, just from a glance.

The owl in the Avesta is a divine creation. Called the Asho-zusht, this bird recites the Avesta and prevents the nails of dead men from being used as weapons by fiends. Other wonders persist in Perisan lore—eagles, for instance, earned a life span of a century for shading the prophet Mohammed.  In Zorastrain times, the solar crow provided healing presence to Zoraster, when he suffered a curse. The feathers and bones of the raven grant victory—and that is yet accounting for the famed Simurgh. Half-bird, half-beast, it granted Rostam three feathers. Should these be burned, the great bird would arrive and display its power.

What power is this? The great birds wings from clouds and cause rain—and when he takes flight, he scatters seeds and twigs all over the world, restoring crops. That is the might of this great bird!

Thai statues of the Garuda battling Naga

The scale here implies something else to me, however. It reminds me of some descriptions of the Garuda, especially in Buddhism, where the bird has similar scope and understanding.  Its wings are cosmic in scale, golden, and beat with hurricane force. The Garuda, sometimes a singular being and sometimes an entire species of bird beings, are always at odds with the Naga.

And there is of course the crowning example of birds that live forever: the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a Greek description of a common motif—a bird that is reborn in fire and ash. According to Herodotus, the story comes from Egypt, and yet the bird comes from Arabia—rising in the East it seems, to die in the West. It comes every five hundred years, covered in myrrh. The color of this bird varies, but it is generally the size of an eagle—although sometimes it resembles a peacock.

The Bennu Bird

But is there an Egyptian bird that resemble the phoenix? There is! The Bennu bird, a self created deity that existed before the rest of the world. At least one text has this great bird flying over the waters before the world, landing on a stone, and demanding the world be made! The Bennu, like the Phoenix, is associated with the sun. Bennu is the inner soul of Ra, and rises into the air with the sun every day. While it does not die like the phoenix, it is a solar bird of immense age that travels across the world.

North there is another bird that perhaps resembles more the Simurgh. The Konrul appears as a peacock so big it can carry off a cart,  with chimeric features. Sometimes it is a bird-dog hybrid, other times it has a dog head sometimes a dog head with human face, sometimes lion claws. Like the Garuda, it has an enmity to snakes. It lives near large sources of water, and like the Simurgh gifted a hero three of its feathers—in this case for saving it’s children.

A common thing with ancient birds, then, is the sun, song, and dominance over the skies. The bird as a beautiful creature that is treasured for its song and wisdom—especially crows—is fairly common. Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the longest living bird, and the longest lived parrot (since of course, parrots are famed for their mimicry of human speech).  The three current contenders are all almost a hundred years old—but the oldest bird is one named Cocky Bennett, a cockatoo that exceeded a century in its life time. While not mythic in proportion, a century old bird feels appropriate for a story where secrets are revealed by a strange bird.

This story’s prompt actually reminds me, strangely enough, of our story of the feline who wrote in her owner’s voice from beyond the grave. The idea here I think is very much similar—and Cocky Bennett’s story of being passed on in inheritance feels like the actual start to a story. A bird from a dead and strange relative, that whispers and repeats strange things at night. And sometimes, of course, just speaks with the voice of a dead man.

Bibliography

Batchelor, John.  The Ainu and their folklore. The Religious Tract Society. 1901

Goodell, Grace. “Bird Lore in Southwestern Iran.” Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 1979, pp. 131–153. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1177687. Accessed 28 Oct. 2020.

Marshall, Bonnie C. Tales from the Heart of the Balkans. Libraries Unlimited Inc, Englewood Colorado, 2001.

Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003). The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 212. ISBN 0-500-05120-8.

Wratislaw, Albert Henry. Sixty Folk-Tales From Exclusively Slavonic Sources. London. E. Stock,1889.

We actually rewrote the last story on birds on our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/late-january-24921428

THE SUN

This Week’s Prompt: 94. Change comes over the sun—shews objects in strange form, perhaps restoring landscape of the past.

The Resulting Story:The Green Sun

Oh, this is a timely story. I’ve just returned from visiting family in the Valley of the Sun. Growing up in Arizona, I think, made the notion of the Sun as a deity rather easy to grasp—a vast, often hateful daystar that sapped life and will from everything it saw. If I wanted, I could ramble for hours on the unconscious cosmology I had from growing up in Mesa Arizona, but that is for another time. Today, I want to talk about the Sun. The strange stories of the Sun as well as the more familiar ones.

One of the more familiar stories of the sun is that it rests where it sets, and a hero sets out to find or visit it. A few Dine stories deal with the children of the Sun. The first is a son born of an unmarried woman, for the Sun had grown jealous of a chief he had never seen. This son was brought up among his own people, and at fifteen was told by a white fly that his father was the son. Shortly after he was taken to his father on a rainbow, and was taught every game that existed. The Sun conspired to win every turquoise from the chief and people that he could using his own child. And the son in turns becomes such an amazing gambler, he not only wins the turquoise but also wins the people themselves, the spirits of rain and corn, and the chief! The greatest prize he wins, however, is a turquoise the size of man with feathers sticking out of it. When the Sun descends to collect the turquoise, his son refuses—instead offers to gamble for it.

The Sun then went out and had another boy—this one grew to adult hood in fifteen years. He was then brought up and shaped by his sister to into a duplicate of the first child, the Great Gambler. He is sent out to offer gifts to various beings—the bat a buffalo hide, the snake a pair of red stones, a shell to the brown rat, some ground stones to a little breeze. These all help him, either by sabotaging the Gambler or confounding his spies, until at last the people are freed. The Sun claims the turquoise, and takes the Gambler skyward.

SunImage.png

Another Dine story tells of the Sun seeking a bride—particularly the daughter of First Man and First Woman, White Bead Girl. He arrives first while she is alone, on a white horse, as a man dressed all in white. He then visits her for four days at night, unseen, and she in turn gives birth to twins. These twins prove hard to keep at home, going out and finding spies of the monsters that roam the world. They also learn, by a strange fly, that their father is the Sun.

They then journey East—and come to a land of nothing but sand. There they are warned by an old man to use some of his vomit when the Sun offers tobacco—because the Sun is dangerous and kills with many weapons. They then reach the Sun’s turquoise, and meet his mother. She hides them when the Sun returns, with his jealous wife, on a turquoise horse. The sun tests them—first with a pipe, which they smoke four times. Then with a sweat lodge, again heated four times. He offers them gifts after accepting them as his sons, and they reject each in turn. At last he offers to give them anything, and they ask for his lighting bolt arrows. They then succeed in answering his questions of the mountains, and descend down to fight the monsters that plauge the world. They do their own work from there, not relevant to ours.

AZ Sunset.png

The Sun grants another child to a mother in Greece. She asks to have the child for twelve years, and after that the sun can have them back—so the Sun gives her a pretty girl named Maroula. When the Sun returns twelve years later, he tells the little girl when her mother will give what she promised. Her mother tells Maroula to claim she forgot—and after that fails, she doesn’t let Maroula out of her house. Eventually she grows bold, and sends Maroula out for water. The Sun finds her and takes her away to his palace,and the great garden outside it.

Maroula, however, misses her mother and cries. And her tears during the day cause the garden to wilt. The Sun asks every night why she cries, and she claims two animals were fighting and she was scratched while separating them. At last, when she reveals the source of her grief, the Sun promises to send her home. He first calls lions to attend her—but they will eat her flesh and drink her blood if they grow hungry. As do the foxes. But the deer will eat only grass.

And so they go to take her home adorned with gold coins—and when they grow hungry, they place her in a willow tree. A nearby witch, a drakena, has sent her own daughters nearby to draw water. One sees Maroula’s face and thinks it’s her own. This repeats with each daughter—until the drakena herself comes and tells Maroula to descend and let her eat the young girl. Maroula distracts her by telling her to bake bread—and then escapes on the back of dear, sending mice to distract the witch as she flees.

The Sun as a dangerous force to humanity can be seen further in a Cherokee story. Enraged that people can’t look at her, she sends waves of heat to kill humanity from her daughter’s house in the sky. Humanity consults the little people for advice on what to do—how to escape this misery, they concluded they must kill the sun. So two serpents were sent to wait at the daughter of the sun’s house, fangs ready to bite the Sun’s ankle. The snakes, however, are blinded by the sun and flee—and the deaths continue, with everyone knowing at least one person who perished to the threat. So the Little People changed one man into the great Uketna (who we discussed here) and another into the Rattlesnake. The rattle snake got a head of the great horned Uketna and bit the daughter of the sun in his eagerness. He then returned, as did the enraged Uketna who was convinced he had lost his glory.

When the Sun saw that her daughter was dead, she went into mourning. The heat death stopped, but the sun never rose again—and this eternal darkness was untenable. So the Little People sent men with special bread and a box to the land of ghosts in the west to find the lost daughter. In the land of ghosts, they would find her dancing in a circle. The men where to strike her with sticks, causing her to fall down. Then they were to put her in a box and bring her back—never opening the box even a little. The men did so, and when returning west the daughter returned to life. From her box, she called out first for food, then for water, then air. This third one worried the men, who thought she might be dying. She escapes as a redbird—and this failure means none can be brought back from the living. Her mother the Sun nearly flooded the world with tears of grief—but was stopped by the new song of the drummer.

Amaterasu From the Cave.png

The Sun’s retreat is similar in many ways to Amaterasu’s retreat. Long ago, Amaterasu’s father, Izangi, sent her brother the storm god Susanoo away for his arrogance. He returned, and offered his sister a game of god shaping—each took an item from the other and created deities from it. Amaterasu created five goddesses from Susanoo’s sword, while he made three gods from her necklace. A dispute arose over who had won, Amtaresu claiming the gods her creation as they came from her necklace. This escalated until Susanoo rampaged across the world in his rage, and hurled a flayed pony into the weaving room of Amaterasu, killing one of her handmaidens. Enraged and grieving, Amaterasu retreated into a cave.

The result was darkness and terror over the land—a situation that the gods sought to resolve. First they brought out roosters to signal the dawn and lure her out. Then they brought mirrors and jewels from a nearby tree, hoping to catch some of her light. At last, the goddess of dawn danced atop a great drum naked, to the laughter and delight of the gods. This noise brought Amaterasu’s attention, and lured her from the cave. The gods quickly sealed off the cave, and she has remained in the heavens ever since.

Khepra.png

Of course the Sun’s daily retreat through the sky is most famously remembered in the story of Ra’s voyage through the kingdom of night. This journey, which is in fact the funeral of Ra, crosses many regions, some strange, some dangerous, many serpentine–here for instance, Ra faces Apep. The sun is of course reborn at the end, rising in the dawn as the scarab headed god Khpera. Below is a video summary.

 

Only once was this voyage interrupted or changed—when the goddess Isis took some of Ra’s saliva and created a serpent from it. She placed it in the sun’s path, where it lept out and bit Ra’s ankle. As the poison bore some of Ra’s nature, it actually afflicted him. All the gods of medicine came to help Ra, but none could cure him—until Isis came, and asked for his hidden name to undo the power of the snake. Isis then puts this power to use to cure pain and potentially raise the dead!

On the other end of the Sun’s Daughter tale, the Sun as a dangerous and horrifying enemy is apparent in both Greece and Mesopatmaia. The god Apollo, while now associated with the sun and music, began his history in the Illiad as a god of plauge and healing. A comparable god was Nergal, who was the lord of the noontime sun and the summer, dry season sun. Nergal in time became a god of war and the dead, his role as a bringer of misery aiding his conquest of the underworld. The healing aspects of the Sun persisted in Shamash, who we briefly touched on in the discussion of exorcists.

Houyi the Archer.png

And while we’ve talked of the death or endangerment of the Sun, there is one instance to mention from China. Here, there were once ten suns who each took turns rising—until all ten decided to rise at the same time. The people asked for relief, and so the great archer Yi was sent down. He tried to shoot arrows near the suns, to scare them away. They defied him still, and he grew angry. Drawing back his great bow he fired at one of the great orbs of fire—and the spirit of the sun fell to earth as a three legged raven. He did so eight more times—and the fireballs they carried fell to earth to form a great island, where the endless sea and rivers evaporate upon contact.

Another instance of control of the Sun comes to us from the Maori. Maui, tired of rushing to finish his chores before the sunset, persuades his brothers that it must be taught a lesson. After much warning that it will burn him, blind him, or give him sunstroke, Maui moves ahead with the plan. The party goes and finds the hole from which the Sun rises. They lay a trap over the hole, a great noose of rope. When the sun rises through it, unawares, they pull the Sun down. When he struggled, Maui struck the sun with his magic jaw bone. Maui commanded the Sun, so captured, to move more slowly across the heavens.

Maui and the Sun.png

The light of the Sun is and always has been then a mixed blessing—it is sometimes flighty, always needed, but often jealous and painful. Here we have the use of sunlight as a sort of revelation—a connection that links all the way back to our first story of Demophon. Here we have the Sun restoring and rebuilding a landscape, perhaps revealing its hidden face. What if, and I consider this regarding our story of Amaterasu, the sun we know is the one still in the cave. Alternatively, what if the sun suffers the fate of the Aztec Suns, and is replaced by a new god on the throne? The light of the sun itself changes, and the world becomes in a way inhospitable or more hostile then it was before. Our story seems to move more cosmic by its nature, but grounding it in the experiences of one person might help with that—I’m reminded of the Twitter story/account “the Sun vanished”, which likewise has as a start a strange and horrific cosmic change. What stories about the Sun do you know?

Bibliography:

Megas, Geogrios O. Folktales of Greece.  University of Chicago Press, 1970.

O’Bryan Aileen. The Dine: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians, Smithsonian Institution, 1955

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Restored And Resurrected

This Weeks Prompt: 87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Resulting Story:Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

We are back among the dead! Oh it has been sometime. But here, we are discussing not just the dead, but the act of restoration of life. This is a miracle that Lovecraft here seperates from necromancy, remembering the work of the esteemed chemist Borel. The notion, however, of restoring a body with portions missing is discussed in a number of books and tales. To guide me through this genre of folklore and magic, I will be going through the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, who devotes an entire chapter not only on the tales of these feats, but also the magical theory behind them and related acts.

Cornelius Agrippa

To start with Agrippa’s theory then, Agrippa cites Arabic notions of men who have escaped their bodies and formed higher souls. These men, endowed with divine powers, can compel their bodies to mend themselves. He compares this control over their bodies and their lower souls to two famous pieces of animal folklore: The lion, who rouses dead cubs from death with its breath, and the otter, who’s weeping wife restores them from death as well. Agrippa acknowledges that such powers seem fantastic, but seeks like a proper scholar to back this claim with historical examples that follow suit.

His first example from folklore is a set of Zeus’s children—Tindareous(sic), Hercules, and Palici. Hercules famously has an unclear result after death—he appears to have become deified, but is also found in the underworld as a ghost. This aligns to Agrippa’s theory of two souls, a lower and higher part. The Palici were Zeus’s children by the Muse Thalia, and were a pair of twins. I have yet to find the myth Agrippa is referencing, but it might be a reference instead to Castor and Pollux—half twins by Zeus and Tyndareus’s wife. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to grant Castor immortality, and the two became Gemini. The Palici are referenced, in one source, as being swallowed by the earth after birth with their mother, and then bursting forth as their namesake geysers—a metaphorical death and rebirth then. Tyndareus, in some collections, belongs to a larger group of resurrections in Greece. For in Greece, there was a doctor so skilled at medicine, he had the power to raise the dead. Ascelpius’s staff still marks hospitals to this day, and he himself has a number of famed attributes. Ascelepilus raised so many dead in fact, that he was killed for stealing subjects from Hades, and his staff serves as a mark of the medical profession to this day. I will only briefly note that Ascelpeus learned the secret herb of immortality and resurrection in one version from a passing serpent—one of the two that Agrippa considers early in his writings (the other being the Phoenix).

Ascelpius.png

Past him, Agrippa next moves to a series of biographers about Apollonius, who became divine after death as well. He mentions again Glaucus—the individual raised by Ascelpeleus—and an Egpytian prophet who placed a herb in a dead man to raise them again. Agrippa theorizes that this proves souls can sometimes stay in bodies after death, and brings to the focus examples of animals that have appeared to come back to life after seeming dead, especially mice. Agrippa concludes briefly that a number of resurrections are actually merely cases of men appearing to be dead, but being restored before they truly pass.

Before going forward, I would like to call to our attention another resurrection we discussed once—the restoring of a Romani hero. I gave an abridged version before, but the story in full can be related here. The son of the deceased emperor is sent to slay dragons, and kills all the dragons in a household—except the youngest. The youngest he defeated, but sealed inside a jar. His sweetheart, a maiden, warned him he had done a wicked thing to leave it alive. And indeed he had. One day, his mother was visiting him and his sweetheart. She happened to hear murmuring from the jar—and opened it. The dragon asked only for some water for a favor—and the favor was the dragon’s love, an offer to be the dragons wife. The Empress accepted, and the two conspired to kill her son. Here follows a series of similar episodes—the Empress fakes illness, sends the hero to some dangerous place to find a cure, and the maiden sends him with advice and a many winged horse. The challenge includes a cannibal sow, a beating apple tree, and murderous clouds. After he succeeds, the dragon and the Empress conspire again, and this time ambush him at cards. The mother binds his hands behind his back, so tight his wrists bleed—and, as an aside, this game is described as “the sort she played with her husband” which is more insight into royal love lives then I care for—and the dragon emerges and kills him. Sending him off on his horse, the two rejoice.

The maiden finds the hero in this condition and weeps, before killing a pig. She takes the flesh of the pig and patches up the wounds left by the dragon. Running water over him, she restores him entirely. She then places an apple in his mouth—and he comes back to life! This in many ways resembles Agrippa’s archetype, of restorative food. The story proper ends with the lad tying the dragon and his mother to the stake and burning them alive.

Inanna.png

Comparable in that regard is the descent of Inanna to the Underworld. She too is slain, after being disarmed—more precisely, she loses all of her garments of power to the seven guardians of the underworld. Left dying in the underworld, her servant goes forth to the halls of heaven and to the many gods she asked for, and begs they help her. When none do, the servant goes to Eridu and asks Enki weeping—Enki, who knows the food and water of life. Enki then fashions two creatures, both without sex, who carry the food and water of life. As she leaves, a number of demons follow her, offering to ‘precede her’ into the cities and worlds of mortals. They demand that someone take her place among the dead—and after passing over her mourning servants, they set upon her husband with Inanna’s permission. The husband’s fate is continued in later poems.

To leave briefly the nature of food and life—hard as it is, as folklore is rich with times you should and shouldn’t eat, from death, to fae, to even immorality—we can also consider the reconstruction of Osiris. Osiris, after being named Re’s heir, was butchered by his brother Set. The exact nature of this death is unclear, although some versions explain that Osiris was lured into a sarcophagus and then cut to pieces. The motive is likewise variable—from adultery to vengeance for an earlier slight.

His parts were then tossed into the river, and scattered about the Nile. Eventually, Isis restored him, stitching his parts back together—these parts sometimes numbering exactly 42. The two copulate, and Horus is conceived. In later versions by Plutarch, Osiris isn’t entirely restored—Horus is conceived  before the restoration.

Osiris Mummy.png

Agrippa proposes next that longer resurrections may be the case of exceptionally long sleeps. He gives many examples of slumbering individuals, including those who have slept for almost two hundred years—the Seven Sleepers. These seven youths in Ephesus entered a cave to escape persecution by the Emperor Decius, refusing to bow to pagan idols and instead taking up worship in a cave. There they fell asleep. The Emperor found them, and ordered the cave sealed. The youths were thought dead, until two hundred years later, a king more friendly to Christianity had the cavern opened—and out emerged the seven youths, convinced that they had slept only a day. One even went to town to buy food using their old coins, gaining the attention of merchants and eventually the bishop. This story was repeated not only in Christian Hagiography, but also in Qur’an. The Qur’an adds the detail our other account didn’t, of a loyal dog keeping watch over the sleepers.

A more extreme version of this is Muchukunda. Having spent a heavenly year defending the gods while they searched for a commander, he was given a rest as long as he pleased as reward—should he be disturbed, his gaze would turn the disturber to ash! As it happened, this trait was useful for disposing of a later Yavanna invader—Krishna lured him into the cave where Muchukunda slept. After destroying the disturber, Muchukunda paid homage to Vishnu and was granted any celestial pleasure he wanted.

Muchkundu.png

These wonders are considered another way that man might appear to be raised from the dead—and Agrippa notes that there are cases were even deprivation of food and water can be ignored. If this were the case, a body could slumber indefinitely, and then be made to rise from the dead by all accounts.

Interestingly to me, Agrippa doesn’t deal with Christian notions of the Resurrection or the ascension of Saints—it might be that these methods were deemed outside a magicians power, or that they were unique miracles of God compared to the holy sages he starts with. Likewise, Enoch’s being taken up by the Lord isn’t included in this section, although the exact meaning of his departure might have something to do with that. Likewise, Elijah’s ascension to Heaven without death is somewhere between ‘dying’ and ‘becoming more’. The main difference here, that I think connects to Agrippa’s first notion of higher powers compelling lower ones, is that such saints often have supernatural bodies in the waking world, such as relics or icons.

For a horror story, the uses here are many fold. The idea of an ancient evil awakening to the world, restored to power, is not novel. However, I appreciate the motive implied by the quote—that the resurrection was not a part of an evil scheme to restore some forgotten king by a cult, but rather an incident of curiosity. In a horror notion, this curiosity is dangerous. Restoring to the body and mind someone or something long beyond the world is startling—especially if, perhaps, the actual humanity of the dead is more in question. This formed the basis of the story of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, which contained the most important Lovecraft quote on magic: Do not call up what one cannot cast down.

Come and see who was brought back with the bread of life next week!

Bibliography:

Agrippa von Netteshiem, Henry Cornelius.  Three Books of Occult Philosphy or Magic. Hahn and Whitehead. Chicago 1898.

Kramer,Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology, a Study in Spiritual and Literary Achievement. The American Philosophical Society.  Philadelphia 1944.

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The Immortal[Imperial] Rites

This week’s prompt:45. Race of immortal Pharaohs dwelling beneath pyramids in vast subterranean halls down black staircases.

The Research:Maat and Apep

To His Sacred And Imperial Majesty, Great King of Cairo, Commander of the Faithful,

Your faithful servant has much witnessed many miracles in his travels. The men of the hills and their idols, fearful things along rebellious Aegean shores, and beyond. So he reports thus a mission both fruitful and tiring for his form, to that most ancient of lands Egypt.

His report must begin thus: While returning from the tasks your Majesty had assigned him in foreign lands, for the betterment of all people, your servant heard a strange rumor in Cairo’s dockyards. The rumor was something of a story that the Jewish people tell, of thirty-six righteous souls that preserve the whole of the world from the judgment of God. It was a story your servant had heard in years before and years since, and of itself was little to report.

But of greater interest was the storyteller’s insistence that he had seen these very men, in a distant farm along the Nile. There, the man said to your Majesty’s servant, they all had gathered in order to combat an enraged djinn that the Prophet Sulieman had bound in the earth at the height of his kingdom. Your servant was of two minds regarding this tale.

The first was that indeed there was a group of wise men, doing some holy meditations as the Christians say the desert fathers do or some of the Sufi’s preform. In which case, their wisdom would be for the beneficence of your majesties reign, as their wisdom could aid in all things under the sun and bring about great victories for your Majesty.

The second was that, given the past your Majesty’s servant has had seeking out strange and remote places, these men were charlatans and sorcerers. In this case, they ought be sought either to lend their talents for your Majesty’s victory or, if they are unwilling and in service of futile rebellion, put to the sword to end whatever darkness they preform. Either way, I made my way down the Nile to investigate this further. The flood was particularly swift that year, so the journey down was swift.

The location of the gathering was, according to the riverman, well known to be in southern Nubia. There, beneath a pyramid, the conclave could be found. He warned your servant, however, that some disturbances were rumored to have come from the desert. Your servant gave these warnings perhaps too little heed.

Egyptian Village.png

The first village along the shore your servant arrived at was fractious, and found your servant’s arrival an affront against them. Your servant explained he was not from the local pasha, but rather from a farther off land, in search of supposed wise men. They were still disrespectful to your servant, who learned hence that the village was many rebellious ones in that year. Given this, what occurred later was of little surprise.

The villages eldest, however, recalled the tale that had reached the ears of your Majesty’s servant, and directed him further inland. There, the eldest said, your Majesty’s servant might find the men who knew of the ancient clergy that dwell beneath the earth and their battle with Iblis. Your servant thanked them and continued along the path.

Suffice to say your Majesty’s servant was greatly misled in this. As he traveled through the desert, he was waylaid by horsemen armed with spears and crude sickles turned into swords. Your Majesty’s servant, lacking in the arts of war and being a scholar by trade, was quickly captured and brought back to their distant camp. Here he overheard them speaking of ransoms or murder for your servant’s great transgress of having a righteous lord. Here he learned that he had been betrayed.

Exchange

By what was over heard, your servant fears rule of law has begun to slip in the region. Bandits are growing bolder, more numerous, and the remains of older orders are starting to rear their ugly head. The disuptes seemed trivial, even out here. Support for rulers who your Majesty’s elders rightfully displaced had found fertile soil with recent droughts. As food failed to grow, resentment was brewing. Your Majesty’s servant held his tongue, and did not speak out, for he cowardly feared for his life. Still, he has sent word to your Majesty’s right and honorable swordsmen.

The exact conditions of your servant’s escape are perhaps evidence of the beneficence of G-d. Or perhaps the arrogance of defiant subjects. After all were asleep, your servant was granted a miracle.

For while he was bound and gagged at the camp site, your servant found that one of the bandit’s had left abandoned a sword in the sand. Carefully, your servant crawled on his belly like a serpent to the sword, unsheathing it with some difficulty using his neck and chin as makeshift hands. With some caution he then freed himself, cutting the bonds on the blade. Able to wield it properly, your servant cut his feet free and removed all impediments to his escape.

Still, your servant was in the desert and lost. He knew not where the men of legend and righteousness were, nor even where the grasps of civilization lay. His only clue, that night, was the path of a dog he found wandering in the desert sand. Your servant reasoned that, if the dog was alive, it must be going somewhere it knew, somewhere with water and possible food. Your servant’s choice was aided by the sound of waking men in the camp, who had made clear they deisgned to kill him.

Your servant wandered thus, after phantom footprints until dawn. The cold of the desert night and the silver of the moon preyed on his mind more than once, deluding him to thinking he was in the realm of the pagan dead, where shades wander. But the rise of the golden sun, and the gust of heat it brought over the world, dispelled that notion rather soundly.

It was at dawn that, in the east, your servant saw the tips of the pyramids promised. They were not as wide or grand as those near Giza, but rather like spear heads rising from the earth. There was a small village near it, which your servant now approached cautiously. Here he found men who spoke freely, having little apparent fear of strangers coming from the desert. They were confused by your servant’s claims of your Majesty’s authority, and even laughed at the telling of your authority. Your servant would have pressed the issue, but considered it unwise.

The young men your servant found around the pyramids took him inside, and gave him good food and rest. When your servant asked after the thirty-six holy men, they told your servant that he should rest and eat, for approaching their kings while in such a state may kill him. Your servant unwillingly obliged, satisfied that at last safety had been reached.

When your Majesty’s servant awoke, it was well into the night. The moon had risen to near it’s full, altough it was a new moon and thus marked by the absence of light rather than it’s prior silver splendor. The stars alone cast some light on the soft sand and dirt, and even this required a torch to be guided through to be of any use. Your servant was then lead by one of the native guides towards the pyramids, where a set of black steps were now revealed.

Here, they told your servant, was where the wise men did their work nightly. For by day they slept, to better have energies for their holiest of works.

Your servant was lead then down these stairs to a room that was made of perfecltly locked stoned. Painted along the walls were the sigils of the Egyptians from the days of the prophet Moses, images of sun worship and cats. A great pair of beasts were resting there, something between desert dogs and donkeys. They raised their heads, which had something of a crocodiles teeth to them, and seemed distrustful of my approach, until the guide tossed some meat at them.

“You are our honored guest, they are over zealous guards. If your master is who you say he is, then he is deserving to hear of our great work.” The man said, wiping his hand on his robe as we turned a corner beneath the pyramid.

And there I saw a terrible sight. Thirty six men, in the headress of pharaohs, each with golden masks and well kept beards, stood in a wide circle. At the center of the circle they held something fast with each of their thirty six hooks. Each struck it back with their flail, chanting in a tongue foreign to my ears.

Confrence of Pharoahs.png

But it was the thing, the thing they struck that struck me with horror. For it appeared to be a child, beaten and bloodied so greatly that I could not tell beneath it’s rags whether they were boy or girl. It cried out pitifully at each wound. As I stared horror struck, I realized each cry was for help in a different tounge. Greek, Aramic, Arabic, Persian,French, the tounges of the distant east, tounges I had never heard. It cried out again and again. At last I turned to my guide in rage.

“What deception is this? This is what you are proud of, this is what you call holy work?” I said, nearly snuffing out our late when I reached for him.

“Of course it is holy work! Or are people beyond blind to decievers now?” the guide said.

“Explain.”

“The child is no child. It takes many forms, every night, that it might by mercy escape into the world. For it is the king of dreams the men here battle, a proteus of chaos and terror.” the guide said, frowning. “For millenia they have stood and stamped it out. When it slips it’s binds, even a little, it spreads famine, it devours empires, it overturns rightly apointed princes and unleashes plauges. The thirty six lords here must, therefore, bind and strike the beast or inflict its suffering on the world.”

Your servant insisted there must be another way to deal with the malcontent. He was told there was not one. Your servant again pleaded that the child was crying. Your servant was informed that one often cries out when struck with lashes. Your servant continued until his guide held up his hand and infromed your servant that there was nothing to be done. Such was the nature of the world, that thirty six righetous lords must inflict such punishment on the king of dreams until the end of days.

Your servant was then escorted out, but found the sun to have risen when he set foot on the edge of the stairs, and the silence of the night replaced by the clamor of Cairo. By some old magic, your servant believes he was in the end transported, back whence he came.

Your servant would suggest, humbly, some force move to the south to liberate the children sentenced to blood beatings. But he is uncertain if such a child is existent. And that aside, your servant recognizes the animosity of those regions have more pressing and immediate concerns. He sends only his humble advisement.

Your Right Hand and Clear Eye,

XXXX


If this story was of interest to you, consider reading earlier exploits of our lost scholar here, and here.

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Maat and Apep

This Week’s Prompt: 45. Race of immortal Pharaohs dwelling beneath pyramids in vast subterranean halls down black staircases.

The Resulting Story:The Immortal[Imperial] Rites

We have an exquisitely preserved corpse today, my friends. For Egypt kept her kings intact, either with desert sands or by mankinds hands. And her pharaohs and pyramids are known the world over. We’ve discussed some of Egypt’s associations before, in more exotic contexts. Here we’ll examine some more or less concrete narratives.

The Pharaohs had a divinity ascribed to them, often but not always inherited from a divine ancestor(typically Ra and Horus, although lineages vary). The supernatural duties of the pharaoh and the kings before them predominantly focused on maintaining order (Maat) in the world. Examples of this include the Nile’s regular floods, which if poor were proofs of the failing power of the pharaoh. The pharaoh alternatively was key in Maat among humankind as well. The pharaoh by maintaining good and just behaviors among humanity promoted the maintenance of the eternal order of the cosmos.

This was a sort of microcosmic achievement, the actions of the kingdom extending out into the universe. This was also the purpose of state sponsored rituals and temples, to keep an order over all the cosmos. The rising sun and the flowing river needed to be maintained, after all, or all life would perish from the earth.

Apep.png

Notably, then, there are agents of Chaos to be opposed. The most prominent of these is Apep, a great serpent. Apep dwells in the underworld, and daily assails Ra to devour him. He is defeated by Bast and Set, depending on the time period, or even Ra himself. Apep bears a resemblance to Leviathan, who we talked about here, in his role as serpent devouring the sun. Compared to other world destroying serpents, such as Jormungandr or Vritra, Apep is rather small, a measly 16 meters (or, roughly,48 feet). Sometimes however, he is said to be the vast horizon, or just beyond it. His roar will shake the underworld, calling to mind mythological the Kur dragon. Apep posses a number of powers, including the favorite of the serpent: a magical gaze. His wars with Set are the thunderstorms. His battles below with Ra’s entourage are earthquakes. In the end, often, Ra claims him in the form of a cat. His actions betray a greater, almost immortal chaos that is waiting to be unleashed. Apep is thus the eternal enemy of the pharaoh and Maat, more than any other. Appropriately, as an immortal entity of chaos, some suppose Apep to be the first god-king, overthrown by Ra. Others say he was born of Ra’s umblical chord after Ra’s birth.

Interestingly, his name derives by some accounts from the word ‘to slither’. Apep is thus a crawling creature of chaos….and the relevance of this expands somewhat when we talk about the odd detail this corpse has. A set of black stairs. Where is this familiar image from? Mr. Lovecraft would later ascribe such stairs to the entrance of the Dreamlands. The priests at the bottom of the stairs have distinctly Egyptian sounding names: Nasht and Kaman-Tha. Furthermore, the ruler of the Dreamlands is that dread lord Nyarlahotep, who’s name is meant to evoke Egypt.

RaKillsApep.png

Nyarlahotep has emerged in our examinations before, but let us take a moment to note a few parallels. Nyarlahotep frequently has the form of the Black Pharaoh, a form used to create cults and according to some rule Egypt for an unspecified time. Nyarlahotep’s most eminent title is the ‘Crawling Chaos’, something akin to the description of Apep as a slithering force chaos. Bast, the Egyptian god who in many cases defeats Apep, persists as an Elder God in the Dreamlands, opposing the more chaotic elements of the Cthulhu Mythos.

We thus have the interesting opportunity of engaging with the Mythos in a more concerete way. It has been sometime before we dealt in the mythos themselves, instead of their shadows. More intreastingly, Nyarlahotep’s character is the sort that can be directly included and confronted in the story proper. Not only because such confrontations are frequent in the mythos (Quest for Unknown Kadath, The Witches House, the Nyarlahotep poem), but also because Apep was so confronted. Priests of the Egyptian faith published guides to the overthrowing of Apep, dismembering his body.

We thus have established perhaps a society of immortal pharaohs (and truly old pharaohs as well. Apep is first referenced it seems in 4000 BC, placing our Pharaohs as older than any hero of the Illiad or Oddessy, and older then the civilizations that made them), dedicated to the maintaining or binding of an agent of Chaos from the world. I would say the waking world, rather than the world of Dreams, as that way will allow some menace to the agents of darkness. Our pharaohs are perched then at the peripice, on the boundary line between reality and the land of dreams.

Now, to spin the eternal battle into a single narration requires an outsider. I’d posit an outside observer, rather than a change in the battle. Partially because a change in the battle requires an overlapping amount of work (explaining the significance of the battle, the battle itself, and presumbably an outside observer finding it) while adding more than can be expected in our word count (the after effects of the battle, finding the site of the battle, and an ending that hinges on undoing the chaos or merely witnessing a victory). An outsider then may descend into the land of Egypt, perhaps persuing some local legend of the steps of immortality, perhaps even pursing the great hall of immortals that is beyond the Silver Key.

The story would then be a report of a terrible mystery or seires of mysteries (what is the purpose of this place, what do these pharaohs protect from, whence comes their power, etc). Our reporters endeavors to find it would make it resemble one of our earliest (and my favorite) stories, who’s character I think we should revive as well.

To continue this, the primary difficulty of the story will perhaps be getting to the place. We could include signs of the chaos nearly breaking through. A peasants revolt, a plague, a famine (the three very often are found together), any of these could provide difficulties to cross into the path of interpid investigator. We know such works existed in the past (such as Ibn Battuta, who wrote a number of journals from his travels abroad), and the difficulties those explorers faced in their works could certainly serve as reference for our current character.

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Everyone Wants To Be A Cat

This Week’s Prompt: 28. The Cats of Ulthar. The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus and bearer of tales from forgotten cities of Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

The Resulting Story:The Great Mau and The Wolf

Well, my fellows, we knew something like this day would come. Is there any corner of the internet, vast bulk that it is, that is free of cats? I think not. They have become as constant as air is to the real world our corporeal forms inhabit. And Mr. Lovecraft was certainly a cat lover, a friend to all felines in writing and in life. We will proceed then with some trepidation.

To begin with, this story is not quite “properly” unfinished. The Cats of Ulthar is a completed work, and casts some doubts on the veracity of the list as “incomplete”. It is spared in that, according to the list, the prompt dates a year before the text itself was published. However, I’d be remiss not to link to it here.

Moving on some, we have a few proper nouns. Ophir and Meroe are connected only by ancient Hebrew lore, with Ophir as a rich port of gold belonging to Solomon. Meroe was the site of a victory by Moses under the Pharaoh, where the walls were guarded by serpents and other such sorcerers. Such places are certainly the sort of old lost nations that would have entranced Mr. Lovecraft, and I shall refrain from dragging out tired old discussions on the nature of lost nations. Particularly since both have been located in Africa.

And while the jungles of Africa are not the first I think of when I think of clawed jungle lords (those would be India and their might tigers and Rakshasa), Africa is recurrent in the European imagination of the early 1900’s as a jungle. The call to Egypt and the Sphinx cement that are cats, who are wise and ancient, to be African in extraction and possess deep and hidden knowledge of an almost sorcerous sort.

egyptianmau

To properly categorize such a creature, I turn a bit to cat’s themselves. It is not surprising that this most ancient cat is African, particularly Egpytian. The first domestic cat breed, the mau, is Egyptian and often it is remarked that Egyptians revered cats as sacred. Cats in many cultures can see the unseen, spirits and ghosts. For their supernatural perception and their tendency to exterminate mice and other pestilence bearers, cats have a reputation as unfortunate or exceptionally lucky creatures.

When it comes to specifics, however, the reputation does vary. Islam pays homage to the cat, as a favorite pet of Muhammed on some occasions, and the preferred pet by far. The Yule Cat, of Scandanavian sources, is not a pleasant creature that any holy man would love and in fact feeds on those who, during the new years, did not receive new clothes. Joining it from the North is the Cat Sith, a faerie that resembles a large black cat with a white spot on it’s chest. The Cat Sith sometimes played a benign role, as a king of cats or their nobles, but also sometimes stole the souls of the dead by waiting over their graves after death.

cat sith.png

Across the pond in the new world lurks the Wampus cat, a creature that supposedly has roots in Native American lore. A woman supposedly wore a cat skin to spy on a warrior meeting, and was discovered. The local shaman cursed the woman to the form of a cat, and she has lurked in Tennessee ever since.

In the realm of general fiction, there are two cats worth mentioning before going on to general possible plot and structure. That is, the cat that frightened me as a young boy, and the cat that may have frightened you unawares.

shere-khan

The first is a familiar figure, from that wonderful mouse ironically: Shere Khan. Lest we forget, the prompt reminds us that cats are kin with jungle lords, and if there was ever a king of the jungle more dreadful and terrible then Shere Khan, I have not yet heard of him. Haughty and violent, self assured and strong, the great beast was terrible in its ways. Tigers are a regal sort already, but in the Khan there is something of his namesake perhaps.

The second is one you’ve heard of, but by different names. He was, when first scribed on the page, the Prince of Cats Tevildo. Later he gained other names and titles, Thu and Gorthaur. Finally, you have perhaps heard and seen him as the Dark Lord, the Nameless Enemy, the Deceiver, The Lord of the Rings, Sauron who was Marion. That archenemy, that lieutenant of Melkor, that dread beast was once a feline. A lord of lions, a tyrant of tigers, a consul of cougars, a…the alliteration alienates a bit doesn’t it?

That said, I think for this story we will leave the more malicious tribes and lines of felines off to the side. This story, I suspect, is not a horror story but a fairy story. A great mau, oldest of cats, a cat of Ulthar, has called some conclave near the base of the sphinx. But what danger gathers the leaders of the entire feline race, from every place and location?

What enemy do cat’s dread the most?

That is simple.

Dog.

teacup-shi-tzu

No, not this kind.

Cats and dogs squabble seemingly endlessly, and I am certain there is some fascinating work to be done, comparing stories of their battles. For our purposes, however, we are not simply dealing with a dog. Not a pug or a shi tzu or any other lap dog. No, our creature I think ought be a bit fiercer to menace the eldest of cats. A hound, a hound like Fenris and his brothers, who will eat the gods and the sun and moon.

wolf

This kind

Such dreadful hounds exist and persist in fantastic works. There is Dunsany’s hound of the Gods, Time. There is Mr. Lovecraft’s own time related beasts, the Hounds of Tindalos. The werewolf and its kin permeate to much to list. Needless to say, I think a canine antagonist to our feline protagonist would work well.

Further, I think I’ll set this one in a more modern location and time than some of the others have occupied. This is a bit tricky, but more than possible with such a fae story. After all, what dreadful things has the hound been up to as of late?

The problem of course, is that this story is unlikely to be a horror story. The result is likely to be more of a fantasy story than anything to horrific, except perhaps in the natural horror primal in great dogs and feline magic.

I will also endeavor to include the #horrorprompt of this week: Sanguine Eyes. Perhaps a bit literally.

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Ia Ia: What A Terrible Phrase

This weeks prompt: 25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.

Related Research: Part 1,Part 3

Related Stories:Part 1,Part 2,The Finale

We’ve discussed some of the mythic resonance of mighty Cthulhu last time. This time we will delve into some of the more …forgotten portions of The Call of Cthulhu. Some of the, frankly, uglier portions as well. For The Call of Cthulhu in many ways resembles that potent primeval ocean, containing within it an embryonic form of all sorts of ideas for the mythos. And sadly, one of those ideas has not aged well.

It is in this prompt as well. You might, fellow brothers and sisters of our esteemed society, have noticed something odd about the nations cited. Egypt and Babylon, not Greece or Rome (nations of great antiquity in other works), nor China or India (who’s age equals Egypt and Babylon’s). What is peculair about these states? Simply put, they are nations of sorcerers.

book-of-the-dead

The magic of Egypt was well documented for an Anglephile such as Lovecraft. Not only was their familiar references in the Exodus story, but the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which contains number of rituals for passing through the afterlife unscathed gained Egypt a reputation of sorcery for many years. The form of Nyrlanhotep as the “Black Pharaoh” show signs of this notion. Not that, perhaps, it was undeserving. Egyptians certainly practiced magic to a remarkable degree compared to others.

pyramids

Further Egypt had a reputation in older mysctisicm. In Kabbalah, Egypt is often metaphorically tied to the lower realms of existence, inhabited by strange demons and dark magics. It ought not be surprising, then, that Lovecraft ascribes that land a special place with regards to dreams and age, as dreams and magic are often joined.

But garden-girdled Babylonia? What has that have to do with sorcery? The same text damns them both. Firstly, it should be understood that Babylonia might refer to Babylon itself – which has a dark reputation in Bibical works and those works influenced by them, producing the centuries old Emir who fights Charlemagne in The Song of Roland, supposedly building the Tower of Babel, the Biblical Beasts of Revelation – or a general region of the Middle East, a stand in for the notions of Zoroaster, the Magi, and similar learned men.

babylon

Claiming the Middle East is mystical is not novel. Not even for Lovecraft (note, it is a mad Arab who unearths the Necronomicon, and it is Irem the City of Pillars he dies in, and Azazoth we will see is the Demon Sultan). This sort of Oriental-ism was in vogue at the time.

And even the notion of a nation of sorcerers is far from rare. Gulliver, in his travels, finds a nation of necromancers. The Persian epic the Shahnameh includes such a nation under the White Div and Afraisib. Many in Scandinavia attributed (according to James Frazer) the power to command the winds exclusively to the Fins. Giants the world over have hidden powers. The Greeks believed (to a point) that the priest of Zoraster could preform magic. The Rakshasa and Danavas of India were mortals with magical powers. Even elves and fae, it could be said, resemble a magical tribe of men more than a strict divinity.

the-white-div

But I mentioned ugliness before, didn’t I? And I’d rather not delve into this, but no discussion can hide from this forever. So, I will conjure a spirit rarely raised when observing the Call of Cthulhu. In the second portion of the story, we hear talk of an ancient conspiracy of sorcerers and madmen who eagerly await the return of Cthulhu. This becomes common in many such stories. The more troubling part is the language:


negro fetichism”; Esquimau diabolists and mongrel Louisianans”; and that these are all organized around “undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China.”

Yes, it’s time to talk about the racism portion of Lovecraft, as well as the uncomfortable conspiracy his story engages in. It must be noted that in a short space of time, Lovecraft associates the Cthulhu cult not only with Africa, Native Americans, East Asians, and Arabs, but further that he distances it from European witch cults. The intent, apparently, being to show how alien and strange this new(old) cult is.

Which is functional, and other authors have corrected the imbalance, but it certainly comes off as Mr. Lovecrafts own paranoia that every non-Caucasian ‘race’ is scheming against civilization. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but in this day and age sadly that is the take away. I will allow the fine Mr. P.H. Lovecraft to talk a bit about this detail of Mr. H.P. Lovecrafts life:

Many movements have sprung up regarding conspiracys and the power they have. And while some are amusing (the Illuminati conspiracy, which was started in the middle ages, existed to promote democracy, womens rights, and literacy; the fears of Satanism are also unfounded), others have disturbing tinges. The fears of a New World Order and the Elders of Zion conspiracy reek of anti-semitism. The Freemasonry conspiracy, while slightly more grounded, seems to have started from a fear of deism as opposed to more tradtional religions. Many truther attempts likewise are more concerning for implications than nothing else (including, for example, the Kennewick man).

That is not to say such things have no place in horror. Mysterious lodges and secret societies are excellent venues for horror. And the notion of magical conspirators is hardly modern. The old Gnostic tradition with its mighty Demiurge and Archons who manipulate the world certainly subscribed to something akin to a conspiracy theory. More recently, the Rose of the World presents a similar conspiracy (a Satanic one at that) to maintaining communist power. It is sometimes, however, necessary to be aware of where things come from. 

With that delightful thought I will have to leave you, brothers and sisters. Next week, part two of Mr. Derelth’s tale. I do wonder what comes next from his old bones.

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The Shedu

Prompt This Week: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.

Research: Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

Dear His Imperial Majesty and Protector of the Faith,

As you requested, I have continued to take a record of the disturbances that plague your kingdom. I have ridden far, from the jewel of Istanbul to the southern lands where Arab tribesmen dwell. And it was there I encountered my unfortunate delay.

I was investigating reports of a lost manuscript, one from Bablyon that had been smuggled south and lost in a sand storm, when I heard from a travelling merchant of another oddity: a statue in a mountain, near the Basket of Gold.  Raiders from the early days of the Caliphate had settled around it, and was haunted by djinn of ill repute and fickle nature.  The merchant, who introduced himself as Rostam Al-Dahak, offered to guide me to those who inhabited the area now, who he assured me where more civilized folk.

Thus, with steel by my side, I made my way out into the Azir Mountains, south of the City of the Prophet a good ways before we arrived at the strange tribes men. The merchant made good on his introductions, speaking some unfamiliar tongue. He explained that besides the Holy Koran, the people here knew not a wit of Arabic. They spoke some language of their own, precious to them since Babel. Despite that, he spoke some as well.

The tribesmen, simple folk with iron weapons bought with wool and sheep, where a bit alarmed at my presence. Rostam explained that they were very wary of outsiders, particular men from Medina. They thought the secrets of iron and textiles the work of ghuls and desert spirits that conspired against the Prophet. The belief seemed strange at the time, but we shall get to that shortly.

For the time being, Rostam brought me to the headman, a man that the Lord of Creation granted a long life and a healthy mind. His beard was short and white, a cloud puffing out of his chin. He wore a woolen robe and hood even indoors, and spoke with Rostam briefly in their own language.  The elder meddled with some beads before nodding along a bit. What follows is the best transcription I can manage, translated by my dear Rostam, and summarized for purposes of time.

There is, according to the esteemed elder of the tribe, a mountain that was hollowed out by an ancient sorcerer, who tamed the winds and forced them to raise metals and jewels, that he might have a paradise hidden form the eyes of the Lord. Vain in his deeds and hopes, he made metal halls and shining stars, binding strange servants of brass and light. Fiery ifrits were forced to serve him, and in the dark halls he prayed wastefully to idols carved in stone and offered sacrifices atop fiery altars made by the giants of Ad and Gog.

The foul sorcerer could not, of course, avoid the gaze of God. Even in that time before the Prophet, peace be upon him, walked the earth, holy men abound. A number of them gathered around the entrance to the sorcerous chamber.  They pounded their staves on the ground, and uttered many prayers to end the abominable practices that occurred there.  And there faith was that of the esteemed desert hermits, such that the Ineffable One moved the mountains.

The earth shook and scarred as the, as Rostam put it, wind of death descended into the hold from its resting place in the peak. Howling like raging wolf, it descended upon the halls, many armed in its terror and strangled all it found with a hundred limbs of smoke. And it tore and rent all of its contents, its singing swords, its women of metal, and its dark writings.  But the power born in Ad’s statue frightened the wind, and it cowed about it, before being recalled unto heaven. So the place still stood, surrounded by the work of the Carrion Wind.

The elder started then speaking in hushed and more rapid tones, and Rostam did his best to convey the knowledge.  They said that the mountain had laid abandoned thus since, but raiders and nightly demons still made offerings to the strange statue, that its foul powers aid them.  They walk atop desert storms and storms with drums of thunder when it is pleased. When it is not sated, the shepherds see hosts of locusts and worse growing on the distance.

The elder admitted to Rostam that he could show us the way to the strange fortress. It was not a hidden place, he said, to those who knew the mountains. He sent with us a shepherd who had slipped into sleep that day. He laid us faithfully, if reluctantly, to the mountain. A pillar of stone that was stained black in places. Wounds seemed to have been struck along it sides, such that a number of springs bubbled strange rivers out. A great cavern stood along the side, between the four rivers of bile. Surely, great shadow of the Lord, it was something forsaken by Nature and Man if not by the Lord of the World.

Rostam and I proceeded alone. Not even the stern shame of sloth would motivate our guide to enter that dimly lit cavern. Lanterns in hand we entered the belly of the beast.  Its sides shone as if wrought from iron and steel, and were cool to the touch. The ground was a single piece of metal, a passage way more completely crafted than any other. The reflection of the fire danced upon the sides. The air was thick as we descended deeper and deeper. At last we lighted upon the room of the Carrion Wind.

There was in fact a statue there, a colossus unlike anything these tribesmen had ever seen. I, however, and no doubt yourself, Commander of the Faithful, recognized it swiftly. A tall and might form, that resembled a lions, with something like a man’s head, and a pair of thrown back wings. Two bull horns poked from its top. Certainly, it was nothing more than a mere pagan idol. It was well made, certainly, with the only flaw being the cracked and smashed face.

There was blood splattered, of course, along the bottom of it. And a number of shimmering swords were cast about it, shimmering like the walls in the lantern light. Rostam shivered as a chilly breeze came up from the depths of the mountain. No doubt greater secrets or oddities lay there, a treasure trove lost to time.

I was examining the statue when the light first flickered strangely across it. The smooth skin grew small dusty hairs.  As I raised the lantern closer to examine the workmanship, I saw it move more certainly. With a low moan it breathed in. The cavern shook as it breathed out. I started back as the lumbering thing stirred, its shoulders stretching. Its beard unfolded, slowly, into a multitude of limbs. Its wings rose and fell, the entire cavern swept by its movement.

It had no face still though. Its head was jagged and broken, it’s face and skull apparently smashed in.  It slouched forward and lumbered off its platform with cool assurance, swords breaking under its paws. The tendrils flickered out, stroking the air absent mindedly. I sat silent and still as it paced about. Rostam…Rostam did not. He cannot be blamed. The beast’s visage was the fear work of nightmares, its face bleeding sap and its body bestial. I must commend Rostam, for only shouting in panic and attempting to run.

The creature, if it had any sense, surely had excellent hearing, and immediately pounced upon, a boulder of muscle crushing him. The beast made a noise, a gurgling noise, and raised its head a triumphant lion over a lamb.  Its tendrils gripped Rostam’s clothing, and tore flesh and cotton apart with ease. I rose slowly, considering what could be done against such a creature, faster than the wind and stronger than steel.  I decided swiftly that if this was to be driven from your Imperial Majesties lands, a division of men twenty strong, armed with rifles, might suffice. If the Most Generous be willing.

It shouldn’t then be noted among my sins that I fled. I did as quietly as I could, careful not to step upon a single blade or piece of rubble. I moved as slowly as I could, the steel floor catching only the slightest of my movement. The beast was pre occupied with tearing into Rostam’s flesh, though as I began to pass it, I noticed it was not actually devouring him.

The creature was instead jabbing the pounds of meat onto itself, probing its own face for a mouth. It turned about sluggishly, making a strange moaning. After several ponderous steps, it lowered its head and pushed about several of the swords, its  root like limbs struggling to grip them.  Gradually it pulled its head up, stuttering as it did. A beard of blades surrounded it as it turned toward the exit, it long breath growing strained.

I have, I admit, put little effort in placing the location of that fortress. Nor can I explain what occurred to the beast, although I speculate that perhaps the elder misunderstood the story. I suspect, possibly, that the great creature has –unfortunate for itself – a great intolerance to blood. Whence it came I cannot say, nor whether those blades were its or others. The mountain is a strange one, but it is a danger that can be avoided, should we simply wall it up with stones and boulders. A simple solution, I think.

 

Your beloved Servant.

 

I believe this story may have been a misstep. I could not quite get a grip on a deeper horror, or rather, found it much harder to express than an initial draft focusing on a British empire. I was a bit too eager to return to a good corpse I think. Something I will keep in mind as I go on.

What about you, my brothers and sisters? Was it frightening?

If you enjoyed it, consider looking at the previous visit to the Ottoman empire.

Also, a note: This story did draw some inspiration from our good friends at horror prompts. Check them out for some good off-kilter poetry.

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Look Upon My Wonders, And Despair!

Prompt: 21. A very ancient colossus in a very ancient desert. Face gone—no man hath seen it.

Resulting Story: The Shedu

This prompt brings to mind a number of the things. Firstly, and most obviously, the poem Ozymandias :

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” (Shelley)

OR

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place (Smith)

Luxor Temple.png

The poem of course relates to the great Pharaoh Rameses II, and supposedly the Pharaoh of Moses time. Egypt held British imagination, and by extension Mr. Lovecrafts, for a multitude of reasons. Firstly was its staggering age. Egyptian civilization ranges from 5000 B.C.E. to 0 C.E., longer than any civilization elsewhere in the world. The preservation of that nation, the elaborate burials and the sand covered monuments, also elated the modern world which played with the notion of eternity. It was a bit of otherness that was nearby and attached to antiquity.

Faceless Sphinx.png

And Egypt is famed for a number of monuments, perhaps most famously the Pyramids and the Sphinx. The Sphinx surely is more in line with our prompt (since the pyramids bare no face), and is common in Mr. Lovecraft’s conception of Nyrlanhotep. The Crawling Chaos’s most famous name is ascribed to ancient Egypt, as a lost Pharaoh lost Pharaoh of a bygone age. His faceless form (here conceived by cyanyurikago) may well have been created in response to this prompt.

Sphinx

But the sphinx offers some interesting potential. The prompt elicits some prehuman creator, and if we are to construct a monument that has been created by something inhuman, an inhuman body might help. There is the precedent of similar forms across the ancient world (as the ancient aliens people have noticed, albeit incorrectly), particulary with Greek sphinxs, the Lamassu of Mesoptamia, and a number of creatures in Southeast Asia.

We then have a few notions tied up in the story. Firstly, we have the idea that some knowledge has been forever lost to humanity (the face, at the least), and that some intelligence has robed mankind of its place as the first to build (an existential dread, as others have come and gone before), something of the nature of time (the desert evokes worn down nations, and with certain organizations attacking the remains of desert dwelling civilizations lately, a topical fear), and something of the nature of life. After all, if the makers cast it in their image, they certainly only barely resemble human beings.

To its lost nature, we certainly have a precedent in Lovecraft and elsewhere, with a number of lost cities to pick from. To leave Egypt, we have the city of pillars,Irem. Located in the Arabian desert, Irem was supposedly the home of occultists and things worthy of God’s wrath. Mr. Lovecraft expanded it as the home of disturbing and alien creatures, particularly reptilian things. We might also look to the ancient Zoroastrian and Persian texts that talk of Hankana, a fortress for Afraisiab.

IndianaJones

Someone like this, but more professional.

From all this, however, we can gather a notion of who serves the best protagonist. Whoever suffers the most from the horror, feels its stings the most accutely, should be the victim. Best, then, some archaeologist or antiquarians, who worries about what has been lost. Given the Middle Eastern nature of most of these, our good friend the British Empire might provide a good servant. There is some trouble, constantly poking at the Empire for protagonists, however. Some other arrogant power would have to do. A cold war expedition, perhaps from the United States in the region?

The problem there is that the Union has never felt eternal. Always it seems to be at risk, and its reign as superpower has been punctuated by existential dangers (from within and without). Perhaps the other direction then? Something more ancient? We could return to the era of the Ottoman Empire,who held sway over both Egypt and for a time Arabia. Certainly we could lead into our story with a discovery by our lost investigator. An Ottoman occult investigator certainly is something I haven’t heard of. Or an occult institution.

What is added, however, to the horror of each empires? The British discover of course, that their place is not special. That civilization did not spring from the Isles or Rome, but somewhere they would right off as backward and worthless. The Union finds that as well as increased dread that something that cannot be known exists in the world. The United State’s age of supremacy was built upon an understanding of the world that was near complete (or felt so). What wasn’t known could be discovered, nothing was beyond the pale of human understanding.

The Ottoman Empire of course suffers a bit like the British (though depending on the placement of the desert, not nearly as much) and its own eternity is a bit more imperiled. Depending on the time of it’s discovery, the dual element of declining empire and the lack of men as mighty as the prophets may play into the decay as well. The British and the United States lack a belief or idea of decline, for the most part. The old man of Europe died a much more awful death than England did, a decay more than a sudden dispersal. Still, I’m torn.

What do you say, dear brothers and sisters? From which land shall we sew our lost story? For some added difficulty, I may try and complete the latest horror prompt from these fine folks, and draw from the word “seed pod”.

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