A Witch’s Best Friend

This Week’s Prompt: 88. Lonely philosopher fond of cat. Hypnotises it—as it were—by repeatedly talking to it and looking at it. After his death the cat evinces signs of possessing his personality. N.B. He has trained cat, and leaves it to a friend, with instructions as to fitting a pen to its right fore paw by means of a harness. Later writes with deceased’s own handwriting.

The Following Story:

Well this story just makes me sad. We’ll go over the full implications of this as a narrative at the end, but I’m almost touched by the notion of a friend finding their dead colleague still persisting in their pet. I half wonder if this is meant as a horror story at all. We’ll discuss that a bit later, after going over the ideas of horror.

The use of hypnosis is an interesting note, one we will go over in more detail when we can—the power of the gaze and hypnosis was often invoked during Lovecraft’s time to explain magical powers in the world. The philosopher here is therefore somewhat in the vein of a wizard or witch, albiet more scientific. The use of it on a cat is more fitting then—not only to continue the legacy of the familiar but because hypnosis was for a time known as “animal magnetism”. It’s also worth noting we did discuss cat’s before (here).

The animal familiar of a witch is a common feature of magic stories, often possessed in someway by the genius of their witches. One of the most famous non-cat examples, in my research, was that of a serpent. In particular, there was a large rattle snake that supposedly attended the Queen of Voodoo during her life—the creature slinked off into the swamp after her death, and had not been seen since. At least one informant claimed his magic came from the skin of said serpent, but whether this was honest belief or blustering and boasting for a credulous writer is difficult to say.

Louisiana RattleSnake.png

The same book—and the issues of researching Vodou/Voodoo/Hoodoo will be discussed at a later time, believe me—refers to one wizard making use of a crocodile to work his magic, marked by a read handkerchief. Both creatures have stories of being sources of magic themselves—tools by which their owner cast spells as well.

In Scotland, we can add the toad to this set of wicked beings that aid in witchcraft. The toad is said to have been perhaps of more value dead then alive, however. The head of the toad supposedly contained a stone, and as we discussed in our witchcraft article, there are multiple rituals in Scotland and Nova Scotia that rely on feeding a toad alive to an anthill. One exception is from the end of the sixteenth century in Flanders. Here, a man tried to escape his threatening landlady by boat, but found the boat could not move. When he asked some soldiers for help, they too could not move the boat. At last, they suggested checking under the vessel—and there was a massive toad with fiery eyes. The soldiers stabbed the creature and threw it out. When the man asked after his landlady letter, she was found near death from unknown wounds.

The cat in Scotland has some significance—most prominently when it has a large white star on its chest. One source named these elfin cats, and claimed they were witches in disguise—not, as might be guessed, simple faerie cats. Others take the form of great tigers in Orissa, red deer in Cumberland, and in many parts of Europe a hare. Beyond this, Scotland has superstitions regarding cats as prognostics—washing their heads to indicate fair weather for instance—or as potential witches. In the same way that the earlier toad could be possessed by the mind of a witch, so too was there a story of a cat possessed by a witch. A rancher had lost a number of cattle, and determined he was bewitched. Seeing a cat nearby, who had been following his cattle, he hurled a red hot iron at the cat. By chance, a neighbor broke her leg that night.

Cat Sith 2.png

In North Germany, to tie in a way back to the witches sabbath, a miller became convinced that witchcraft was being done on his mill—every year, on Christmas Eve, the mill burned down. At last he convinced a solider to stand watch. As he makes a bowl of porridge, in comes a long troop of cats—and they discuss where to sit, as they plan to burn the mill down again. The young man hurls the porridge at one of the cats, and cuts off her paw with a saber. The rest vanish—and the next morning, the millers wife is found to be missing one of her hands.

A strange Flemish story of a man who went to tell his mother that she was now a grandmother follows. The grandmother already knew by some means, and on his way home he was swarmed by cats. Not just swarmed, the determined felines stole all his silver and pushed him into a brook! A local priest learned of this and warned him to not give anything to anyone who begged at his door. He held out for a time, until a piteous old woman with child begged for bread. When he gave the bread, both his wife and child died in…rather gruesome ways.

Japanese Bobtail

I couldn’t find Ainu art of a cat, so I present the Japanese Bobtail, one of two cat breeds native to Japan.

Ainu lore places the origin of cats, sometimes, with a strange demon. The demon conspired to kill a mole god, by tossing him in the fire. He ingratiated himself as a guest, and then tossed the god into the hearth. However, as he left, the god appeared at the entrance. Before the demon could speak, the mole god seized him and tossed him in the furnance. The mole god stopped him from becoming smoke or breath—but the demon’s life could not leave his ashes. So instead out emerged the first cat and fox to escape, and live on to do ill in the world. (For those interested in the power of dead shamans and demons emerging from burnt corpses, it is a reccruing theme in our research on mosquitoes and ticks you can find here on patreon). In a strange reversal of this story, there is a notion among the Ainu that ghosts of dead cats may possess their murderers. They slowly drive them to imitate the cats, wasting away their bodies until they die. Mewling.

That is, frankly, horrifying.

Of course, there are ways to avoid such things. One is to eat a part of the cat killed—this will keep the spirit at bay. Another is to find, kill, and eat an unrelated cat—this helps with cats that are simply lurking around and sending strange visions and manipulations to their victim.

The Black Cat has some saving graces—for instance, they were considered to be insurance by sailors wives. This made them very valuable indeed—and often stolen or wandering into homes on their own. Connected to this, throwing a cat overboard was considered a way to provoke a storm by sailors. The works on witchcraft by King James also note a ritual using a corpse and a cat to provoke storms by witches in Scotland.

But that seems rather far a field from our intentions—we are after all dealing more with possession, transformation, and transference then we are with black magic. So, what sort of story do we have in this prompt? The first thing that is apparent to me is the description of our philosopher—they are lonely. A lonely scholar kept company by their cat. They aren’t friendless—they have a friend who takes care of their cat afterwards. A cat that, I’m sure, would already be a living reminder of a departed friend. A new pet with new habits, new routines, used to the old owner in many ways.

And then, it starts making motions towards the pen. Or paper. Pawing at it. And the friend examines some of the contents of the box, and finds a curious crude contraption—a pen fitted for a feline leg. And then…its as if his friend is writing again, on the paper, starting to explain things.

I’m not sure what sort of story this is—while perhaps Lovecraft meant it as a horror story, of animal intelligence or of possession or the like. But honestly, given his love of cats and the general tone of this prompt, it feels more like a tale of wonder. A bit of magical realism, instead of terror.

Bibliography

Campbell, John Gregorson, Superstitions of the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland, J. MacLehose and sons, 1900.

Henderson, Williams; Notes on Folklore of the Northern Counties, The Folklore Society, 1879 

Hurston, Zora; “Hoodoo in America”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol 44, No. 174, (Oct-December 1931), pp 317-417. 

King James VI and I, Demonology, Gutenberg Press. June 26th, 2008.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyoÌ Bunkan, 1901.

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Peacock and Serpent

This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.

The Resulting Story:This is the Story of a Pearl

Well. This is going to be quite an article. So, this prompt through something of a wrench in my normal mode of writing and making this blog—which is, to latch onto a part of the prompt and pick it apart in folklore, then build a story off the folklore as possible. The problem, however, with this one was that the obvious option—the ruined organ—wasn’t easily found. While there is some possible work around by focusing on the abandoned church or cathedral, that felt a bit well trodden. So I turned instead to finding out if there was a story this was from. This is a good fallback, if things are too repetitive, and generally I can extract something from Lovecraft’s original work, even if it’s distasteful. And then…there’s this one.

So this prompt was used for a Lovecraft story—specifically Red Hook, name sake I assume of Red Hook Studios. The story is, to be entirely honest, a shocking cavalcade of terrible writing that aligns with the worst aspects of humanity at the moment. I have never denied that Lovecraft had troubling works—the man was by all accounts a racist of the highest caliber. What makes this particular story difficult is that the elements of the story are almost identical to the confluence of conspiracies that exist to this day—a secret satanic cult, primarily attended by middle eastern immigrants, that kidnaps children (to Lovecraft’s ‘credit’, the children kidnappings get the police attention only after stealing Swedish children, but that is the smallest of credits), and ends with a mass deportation before a vision of hell is—and I am not going to try and indulge in rehabilitating such a story as I might say for…Innsmouth, where the basic building blocks can be recovered somewhat.

That last prompt that operated this way I responded to with a brief overview of the community that Mr. Lovecraft seemed to be slandering—and in the instance of Red Hook there is even less speculation needed. I will get to the exact issues I ran into researching the matter. I did endevaor to do more indepth and modern research on the Yazidi(Yezidi? Sources used both names), but that has resulted in it’s own difficulties.

Bear with me, I promise, we’ll get to the stories of Peacock Angel and the various saints in a moment. I wanted to first show at least some self awareness on where this is going. As you may know, I primarily rely on public domain texts. There are a few reasons for that—partly, it’s cost. I don’t have the personal funds to acquire the latest research, and the amount of folklore research in the public domain is astoundingly vast. While not comprehensive, my access to public domain works has covered a wide number of topics, and allowed me to avoid losing funds. It also means you, my readers, can hopefully track down the texts for yourself to read if you want to. The other reason, however, is that such folklore tends to be of such an age that I feel drawing on it as a source of inspiration is…uncomplicated. That is not the case with the Yezidi.

Why? Well, let’s discuss the Yezidi. The Yezidi are a small Kurdish religious minority who are known for a distinct belief system compared to the rest of the Near East—one that has repeatedly attracted attention and derision from nearby communities. We only need look at the most comprehensive book availble in Lovecraft’s time to see why—Devil Worshipers and their Rituals. This book was published in 1912, but the accusation of devil worship among the Yezidi is much older than that.

With that context in mind, I had initially planned to dismiss the original book as a footnote and focus on more modern research—and mostly, I have. Modern research on the topic has hit a number of further walls however. As is unsurprising for a community of believers who have suffered repeated persecution for centuries, the Yezidi are not exactly open about their religious beliefs. The book that was recorded in 1912 was not a Yezidi original, but a synopsis of beliefs from neighbors—and again may be rife with errors. On the other hand, the Yezidi themselves have cultivated a habit about misleading officials and investigators about their beliefs.

But what are those beliefs, now that I’ve spent more than half the usual length of an article with all this preamble? Well, lets begin…with the beginning.

Maluk Tawus

In the beginning, God (Xwade) created a pearl of His pure essence and placed it on the back of a dove named Anfar. The essence stayed there for forty thousand years. After that, God created on the first day Maluk Tawus, the Peacock Angel and lord of all. On each successive day, he creates another angel: Dardail, Sheikh Hasan; Israfil, Sheikh Shams; Mikail, Sheikh Abu Bakr; Jabrail or Gabriel, who is Sidjaddin; Shamnail, who is Nasraddin; and Turail. We’ll discuss more of these as time goes on—especially, of course, Maluk Tawus, lord of all.

God then finishes creation from the great pearl—one story records that He does so by shouting at the pearl, shattering it into four pieces. He then dwelled in a vessel for thirty thousand years on the oceans, before shouting again to make sea solid as he dwelt on Mount Lalis. Eventually he informs the angels that he will create Adam and Eve—and from Adam alone will the Yezidi people come, who are the people of Maluk Tawus.

An interlude, attested to in a few versions, occurs as God dwells on the Black Mountain and shouts thirty thousand angels into existence. They worship him for thirty thousand years and are sent to heaven with Maluk Tawus.

Adam is then made from the four elements brought by Jabrail, and Jabrail is told to take him to paradise and allow him any food but wheat. And so it is for over a hundred years.

Maluk Tawus then asks how Adam is meant to multiply in this state—And God gives him, Maluk, power over the issue. Maluk then asks Adam if has tried wheat, and offers him some. Adam’s belly swells with the wheat and he is cast out—and in a moment of comedy to me, he is eventually given a rear end so that his belly unswells.

Briefly, a variation of this story says that the soul was out of Adam for seven hundred years—entering only when promised paradise. While Adam was in paradise, he was like an angel with a great light of his forehead, until expelled. His expulsion here was more trickery, although still with divine approval—here Maluk Tawus tosses the wheat into Adam’s mouth while he yawns.

After a hundred years of being alone from the garden, Jabrial is sent out to provide him a companion—Eve. Adam and Eve produce the first child, but a dispute emerges as to who is the primary parent. To determine who’s seed was responsible for human kind, they took a pair of jars and put their seed in separate containers. After nine months, they opened the jars. Eve’s jar emerged with maggots, worms, serpents, and scorpions—where as Adam’s has a child with a face like the moon, Shahid bin Jarr. Shahid marries either a houri from Paradise, or his own sister born from the Jarr. And from here comes the Yezidi. In an aside, one version says men’s nipples were made to suckle Shahid bin Jarr.

Seth, Noah, and Enoch are descendants of Shahid bin Jarr, where as the other peoples of the world come from Adam and Eve’s progeny.

Moving forward, there was another flood for the Yezidi, who further trace themselves from Ham. At the time of this second flood, they were ruled by Melek Miran. As before, a great vessel was made to sustain themselves—however, unlike the more traditional ark, this ark ran into Mount Shinraj. A hole was made in the ark, and a great serpent offered to fill it in exchange for the right to eat human flesh. Melek Miran—or, in another version, Noah—agrees with consternation. Afterwards, the serpents numbers multiply, such that he threatens to eat all mankind. But a man of honor cannot break his vow, so Melek Miran asks for help. Jabrial instructs Melek Miran to toss the serpent into the fire—there it becomes fleas which feed on human kind to this day.

Temple Lalish.png

There are further stories in the Black Book, but I will bring into focus a few more that I found confirmed in modern texts, before moving on to the stories of saintly figures and members of the folk pantheon. One is the division of Maluk Tawus into the other angels, to make a group of seven chiefs. These seven meet every year to determine the fate of the next year on the holy day. Further, the angels are said to incarnate among the Yezidi and have granted to Solomon seven standards or sanjaq that display Maluk Tawus atop them. Each is ascribed to an archangel—and supposedly designed very differently, but topped with Maluk Tawus none the less. These eventually were given to the Yezidi by their most recent founder when Solomon passed away.

These images sometimes display traits comparable to the icons we have discussed elsewhere—in one village, a sanjaq appeared after following an angels dream instructions. When war threatened, a number of these images were taken far away, and have since emerged elsewhere. The stories around the sanjaq introduce the interesting notion that blue is a color Maluk Tawus finds offensive—a trait I recall but cannot confirm at the moment being true in Kabbalistic texts on dreams.

We can discuss some of these characters in more detail, however. Sheykh Shams, the angel made early on, is traced to a historical figure—son of ‘Adi II, third leader of the Adawiyya—and has since become a celestial patron of the sun. Sheykh Shams is sometimes associated with traits of the broadhead—light eyes, Isa, and even the essence of religion. Shams has also been called the bearer of the seal, the torch bearer for the community, the holder of spiritual knowledge, and having command over Hell itself. He has twelve children—nine sons, three daughters, each a representative for the month.

Yezidi belief also attributes reverence for Sheykh to Jews and Christians, but not Muslims. The source of this assertion is unclear, as is the association with the Tartars.

Sheykh Shams’s brother, Malak Faxradin, is the moon associated being of the same sort. He is far more enigmatic, and his association is less clear. A few liturgies refer to his roll as a lord of the disk, and he is known for his capacity to cure lunacy, and to have created the role of reciter in his day. The moon has powers over floods and earthquakes as well—and in some cases is in fact the Sun’s sister that he pursues until the eclipse (the Yezidi also suggest that a great serpent is eathing the sun during an eclipse). The change of the moon is said to be from Brother-Moon’s one way love withering him away until he is reborn.

Earthquakes also are caused by the shifting of the red bull that is holding up creation. The source of this movement is sometimes idleness, other times a fly that buzzes around the bulls head constantly—the blinking the bull does when the fly gets close is the cause of the quakes.

Other heavenly bodies have their own traits. Stars are tied to the lives of men—a man’s star winks out when dies, and appears when he is born. The rainbow is said to be Solomon’s belt, and by standing under it a wish can be granted. Walking beneath and across it can change a person’s gender.

Thunder and storms however bring us to another new entity: Mamarasan, the darting Mohammed, is the common lord of wind and thunder. There are two others, Aba-brisuk and Malak Ba-ras, who’s disputes create hurricanes—their individual breath is the wind, so when it swirls and clatters, it isn’t supring that a storm emerges. Mama-rasan rides a lion frequently, and holds a snake as a whip—however, in one origin story, he proves his holiness not by mounting a lion but by riding a stone. This is a common motif in saints tales of the region, ranging from riding stones to riding broken portions of wall to meet lesser saints.

Another ariel power is Sex Muse-Sor, or the Red Sheikh Moses. Families that trace their origins to this spirit are said to have the power to cure diseases in lungs and joints, including rheumatism. This extends to his home, a shrine around which the ground is holy. His color, red, is emphasized to mark him as holy and at times he has held the title of lord of the pen and tablet—although that has passed on to others.

There is one more cosmological force we have not discussed—mainly because my research on him separated him from the rest of the godhead. We can consider Dweres Erd, lord of the Earth. Dweres is primary invoked in a funerary prayer and in later toasts, where he is viewed as the lord of the dead. In addition to protecting the dead, Dweres Erd protects the any abandoned objects that are expected to be found again nearby. For the dead, Dweres Erd guards both body and soul from predation while the angels of heaven come to judge the departed.

Black Serpent Door.png

Moving out of the land of the supreme gods, I would like to discuss some of the more local characters found with the Yezidi—particularly stories of saints and their manifestations. We can consider, for instance, Sheikh Mend, who had associations with serpents. His descendants cannot be bitten by them, and they can cure, and the Sheikh himself turned into a great black snake to drive away invading enemies. A similar snake tale tells of how two Christians , Henna and Mar Henna, turned into snakes to kill Sheikh Adi—only for Sheikh Adi to turn into one of his older incarnations, their old teacher, and be recognized as holy.

We have fragments of other mythological characters. We have references to the book of the serpents laughter, a tome of knowledge and wisdom that snakes are in possession of. Bits of the myth of Pira Fat remain, a daughter of the moon and patroness of women in labor. Pira Fat was notable for preserving the seed of the Yazidi people for seven hundred or seven thousand years. We have the king of the djinn, Jinn Tayar or the flying djinn. His descendants can heal ailments of the soul, and has many beings.

This all brings me to my second process memo like portion. How do I make this into a story? This question is what severely damaged the Court story—while I found many Romani folktales, relating them to the prompt directly proved almost impossible. In retrospect, there were certainly ways to relate specific aspects, but there was a sharp disconnect between the story I wrote and the research I did. Not a surprising disconnect—the research was a response to the prompt, but a wholly negative one.

This research presents the same problem that is frequent in folktales, but especially religious or mythic ones. The essence can be a bit bare on the bones, and takes time to be turned into something that feels inspired by the research as opposed to merely retelling it. And sometimes I just retell it—the Bacchae story and the Bluebeard story are both retelling. So what to do with this living religion? What concepts can I use?

I think immediately, with a cosmogony like many of these stories, there is a temptation to include them as factoids or to retell them in more detail. Alternatively, to make the discovery of such a story part of the plot—finding the pots that Adam and Eve used, or the mountain where maybe God’s laughter and shouting can be found carved into the world. These are…acceptable, but I feel like as plot elements they are too high minded.

So what notions did I find fascinating in this research? The creation of fleas by burnt serpent was interesting, but I want to hold that in reserve—I’ve come across a number of similar stories in the world, for both fleas and mosquitoes, that I’d like to compare it to. The other recurring aspect I found interesting was the pearl—or rather, the notion of cultivated and stored essence, to create a greater than normal birth.

The idea of a carefully cultivated essence—in the form of a pearl, often enough, but also a seed—hatching or breaking to reveal a greater cosmic power has potential in a story, modern or otherwise. It gives us an event—when the pearl cracks—and the image is not so tied to a mythic past that it is impossible (although a literal version of the Adam and Eve story would be). We can build a story around this—around the people who are carefully nourishing this cosmic egg, around what emerges from it. We can even include the strange music from a broken organ, as an omen or related to the process.

Bibliography

Astarian, Garnik and Arakelova, Victoria, “The Yezidi Pantheon” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2004), pp. 231-279

Astarian, Garnik and Arakelova, Victoria, “Malak-Tāwūs: The Peacock Angel of the Yezidis” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (2003), pp. 1-36

Arakelova, Victoria, “Three Figures from the Yezidi Folk Pantheon” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (2002), pp. 57-73

Joseph, Isaya. Devil Worship. Richard G. Badger, Boston 1919

Nicolaus, Peter “The Serpent Symbolism in the Yezidi Religious Tradition and the Snake in Yerevan” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 15, No. 1/2, Jubilee Volume (2011), pp. 49-72

Spat, Eszter “Shahid bin Jarr, Forefather of the Yezidis and the Gnostic Seed of Seth” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 6, No. 1/2 (2002), pp. 27-56

Voskanian, Vardan, “Dewrēš E’rd: The Yezidi Lord of the Earth” Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 3/4 (1999/2000), pp. 159-166

Digital Sources:

http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/yazidis-i-general-1

 

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The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

This Week’s Prompt:82. Power of wizard to influence dreams of others.

The Prior Research:I Dream Of Mages

Part 2:The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

It is said that nothing lives on Mount Moni. To even a casual observer, this claims is false. Birds land on the mountain, and some grasses grow along it’s base. But the idea of anything more than the most determined creature surviving the raw stone cliffs is unheard of in the lands around Mount Moni. Knowledge of what rests on it’s summit exists only far from the land—and from such a land came Morgan. The cliffs were hard climbing for the young man, a scholar by trade. But months of travel to the mountain had prepared him for the climb up the path. A path that was often covered by mist—sleek and smooth like a river. And the top of the mountain itself was halo’d in a great cloud.

Yet up he had to go.

Mountain Moni From Afar

As he climbed, Morgan felt strange things. He saw shapes in the fog, floating off the path. Glowing shapes, that looked like faceless men with outstretched hands to embrace him. Those who knew the mountain can still point to the patches of strange white dust, where men have lept to their deaths pursuing the misty guardians. Some even saw the strange creatures, a band of thirty, gnawing at the bones to render them to dust.

Morgan, however, was a man of knowledge. He passed ahead with effort, reciting prayers to the shining chariot and to the brilliant spear and the cleaning waters of the river. The mist did not part, but the ghostly images let him bee, soaring ahead and around as they left. They whispered and hissed as they did, but there was little they could do now.

The Temple at Mount Moni.png

Atop the great mountain, through the clouds, Morgan beheld the great crumbling edifice. Pillars rose to support a long collapsed ceiling. Torches still flickered, and the broken paintings of glory were still visible, their faded eyes and hands marking the stones. At the center was a great statue—its top worn down by time and space, it’s lowere body coiled like a serpent. And beneath it, sat the sorcerer.

His hands were bedecked with jewels as the moved up and down the long ivory pipe. A mask rested over his head, his two eyes focused on the colored smoke of his fire. His tune was soft—audible only from here, as he swayed—as if to dance with an unseen cobra.

Morgan approached, and fell on his Knees across from the magician.

I have traveled far and braved many things to speak with you.” Morgan said. The sage continued on his flute, but his eyes raised slowly to meet Morgan’s own.

I have heard the sage enjoys a block of tea, from the lands of Shilab—or so they say in Kahal. So I have brought with me tea to his liking.” Morgan said, removing a block of packed leaves and placing it beside the fire. The magician played a few notes—and a thing with the torso of a man came, lifting the tea and taking it into the darkness. Green steam rose around it, and the music paused as the sage inhaled the smell of sweet green tea.

Wizard on Mount Moni.png

The sorcerer put down his flute and stared expectantly at Morgan.

I have traveled far and braved many things, to ask but one request. It is said that the sage of Mount Moni may weave dreams and passions with better skill then heaven itself—that even the greatest of interpreters may believe his words. The lord of my land has no children—I wish to endear him to me, that I might inherit his lands with his passing. I am a wise man, schooled in many classics and laws, with a good mind and soul. Only the vagaries of fate hold me away. I ask the great sage, if he should right this injustice?” Morgan said plaintively.

The sorcerer made a noise like a droning goat, until his tea was brought to him. Taking a long drink of the green tea, the magician spoke.

To mend dreams and omens and set them in motion is within my power. But I must have an offering to preform this task from your king.” He said slowly, eyes glittering on the lonely mountain top.

Morgan paused for a moment, before reaching into his coat and producing a small, iron ring.

The sages at Kahal warned of such a request. Here is a ring of iron the king wore on his wedding day—the only ring of baser metals. Will it suffice?” he asked. The wizard took it in hand, and examined it under the stars.

Yes, yes this shall suffice. I shall weave his dreams as you request—but you must grant me one request. When you are king, bring to me a child born on the ninth day of the sea goat to a dead mother—fail in this, and I shall see you undone.”

And Morgan promised to bring such a child, at the appointed time. And the magician sent him away, so he could work his wonders. With the flute of ivory, he inhaled the smoke, tossing the ring amongst the flames. He called out names of slumbering gods and spirits, who’s dreams were mighty but malleable. He wove with his flute and mask, and became that dread brother of Death.

What dreams the King had that night! What visions he saw! Chariots of gold that brought Morgan forth, the crown carried in triumph over all the world. Eagles with Morgan’s eyes, scattering the mice of nations. The old wizard of Mount Moni was cunning and quick in the language of dreams. He adorned Morgan’s image with all the signs one could ask for—and with a borrowed voice, he spoke of the great powers that Morgan would bring to bear and lay low.

And so the stargazers and dreamers were gathered, to hear of the King’s dream. And he told them of all he’d seen. The vast conclave consulted and spoke and debated and preformed. At last, they all came to agreement. The gods had spoken. Morgan was fetched, and made heir.

It was three years before Morgan ascended to be king. After his coronation, he sent word for a child born under the sea goat on the ninth day be fetched, and took quiet leave abroad. With his knowledge of the world, he road faster than any could have dreamed—and arrived at the base of Mount Moni, among the pale dunes of doomed carriers.

He brought the child, wrapped in somber cloth—the sages of Kahal had warned that bright colors aroused the fury of the wizard—upward and upward through the parting mist. At the summit he found the wizard, playing his flute. He lay the child at his feet.

We are done then, good wizard. My debt is paid.” he said. The wizard did not speak, but played to his unseen cobra. Morgan considered that the end of their discussion, and left as he came. The child stirred in it’s sleep, strange dreams coming to it from the flute of the wizard at Mount Moni.

The Wizard of Mount Moni saw Morgan again, a decade past—or so he assumed from the dreams he had seen, and the child’s growth. Morgan came by way that a fellow magician might—a chariot, hewn of unearthly metals, roiling through the clouds. Such an entrance was normal enough to raise the magician’s ire—but he saw on Morgan’s hand the symbol of clemency, and the wound that was on his chest, between layered talismans of no small worth.

So the boy had been a fine king.

Oh Magician of Mount Moni, I have traveled far to speak with you again. I have heard from the sages of Kahal that the magician enjoys for such dreadful events tea from the golden flowers of sunset.” Morgan said, breath wavering. He held out a block of tea, orange and yellow like the sunset. The Wizard stopped his flute and whistled. The boy rose from slumber and took the tea, heading off to warm it in the Wizard’s cup.

Oh Magician of Mount Moni, I ask a favor of you again. My lands prosper, my people delight. But neighbors have marshaled against me. A sorceress leads them, and she and her students have masked their movements. She knows some great skill, and has woven arrows that escape my defenses. My crown will be subsumed. I need again aid. Can you raise some vision to my defense and victory?”

The wizard was silent until he drank the golden tea, that smelled as sweat as honey. His voice was softer then before, flowing out like a warm steam.

Matters of war are small things, if heavy in their cost. I can secure your home from invasion with effort—surely they have some sorcerer, but there are none who hold the breath of dreams in them save me. But in exchange, of course, I wish for a heavy if small thing. Bring me work men to raise my temple a new—to restore it’s splendor as I direct.”

Morgan agreed without hesitation or consideration.

After he left, the wizard called his many children, the Alu of the fog. Some leg less, some armless, some headless, all gray and viscous. His living son, who was brought by Morgan years past, had prepared a great draught from the cloud around the Mountain. Each took and drank the breath of dreams—and each flew then out at the Wizards flute. They sang the whole way, of their seven elder uncles who lay cities low and feast on the blood of men. They sang of their mothers, who drank the souls of men. And then they came upon the host.

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How terrible things to be afflicted by, who press themsleves close to the chest. Who’s hands hold eyes shut—pressed down and closed with dread. Who breath in all the air in their victims lungs—and without mouth, replace it with dreaming air. The draught is painful—cold, vaporous, sticky like honey but sharp as ice. Mortal life cannot be sustained on such things.

They all died in their sleep.

So Morgan crowned himself with Jove and Alexanders great laurels. And the workmen came on his spell born ship, to raise from raw stone the old temple of Mount Moni. Lustrous it was, still wreathed in clouds. The magician’s palace was painted garish colors, and the statues that loomed over it’s arcs were clownish grotesques. But finished all the same it was, and the magician slipped in the night to steal back the dreams the workers had of those oddly familiar statues.

Decades thudded past. The wheel of time brought Morgan once more to his zenith. But in his silver mirrors, his lines began to grow. His hair had lost it’s sheen—though his interweaving oils preserved it. Death’s great and terrible hound, Time, was gnawing at him. And while in other ages, solutions and safeguards to such perils were known, they were abandoned by the time Morgan rose. So he set about that second method of immortality—marriage.

He consulted many signs and stars for this affair. He brought many apprentices to help him in his laboratory—scanning for symbols, working tablets and tables. In time, he had found a woman far off, whom he knew would be a perfect wife. Her name was Lenore—she bore raven hair and eyes like emeralds, from the distant West where the Serpent Queen ruled still. Her father was a king like Morgan, although whether he knew the arts of a wise man Morgan did not know. He sent envoys, both spirits of the wind and men in flesh and blood. They reported she was good company, learned and prudent. Morgan was delighted. Only one problem remained.

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The star Algol, that treacherous red eye that swallows nations whole, loomed over the best wedding night. Such an ill omen would ward off any astrologer or match maker. Moragn drummed his fingers, thinking of ways to forge or hide the omen. A storm could obscure the heavens, but the movement of the stars was known to learned men. He might call up some spirits and compel falsehood from the voices of astrologers, but that would not last—such things were not sublte to a king, who was often surrounded by exorcists.

No, there was one way he could circumvent the problem, though he was loath to do so. He gathered his belongings, and mounted his chariot—telling no one where he was going, he set forth in the heavens to Mount Moni.

The clouds, full of the grey spirits, parted as he approached. A decade had passed since he had last arrived. The statues and temples were full of buzzing sounds—hidden cicadas no doubt, lurking behind the many strange shapes.

The Wizard was no longer sitting before the fire. He was pacing with a young man, describe the various murals on the walls. This was, Morgan knew, how a teacher instructed in the arts of magic. Of course, they spoke in a language lost on him. His arrival, from the great front entrance, ceased the lesson for the time, as the magician turned to him.

Ah, my old friend returns again. What miracle needs working this time, that you disturb Mount Moni with your steps?” the magician said, his flute in hand.

Morgan explained at length the latest difficulty. How he had considered other options, before speaking to the wise sorcerer, how he had plumbed his resources. The wizard listened carefully, and occasionally spoke a whispered word or two the the boy born under the sea goat. At last, he replied.

A work that you are asking, so perfect to fool every oracular device against an ill omen as great as Algol, is within my power.” The wizard said—holding his hand up to stall Morgan’s delight. “However, I shall have my price. Your first child will be a daughter—surely you know this already. My own son, he lacks a bride and will have little time to find one with his studies. Your daughter marries my boy, and all will be well.”

And Morgan paused for a moment. He had, as the magician knew, considered his own fortune. He agreed, slowly, to the wizard’s terms.

So it came to pass that Morgan married learned Lenore—the dreams with gods in their splendor, who promised and explained the true mean of the Red Star. For Algol, they said, was spying on his foe men, who would be born of this union. The great cannibal of war would be undone by their daughter, the readers of stars and lineages were told. The casters of bones were given new phrases from old ghosts—ghosts they knew by title if not by name. So the wedding was arranged.

Now, Morgan lived happily. And he was happier still when his first daughter was born—in her he saw so much promise. He considered then, with regret, that she would leave for a far away place when she came of age. He kept this private from her and from her mother—for he knew her mother would despise him for decieveing the oracles, and his daughter would not understand he feared. Instead, he worked slowly.

Like a spider, Morgan wove webs of talismans through out the city. Few noticed the small markers of jade and shells, hanging from windows and walls. The markings, the carefully carved guardian dieties and beasts of the field, the running cords—most was hidden or lost. And when one had a sorcerer king, one grew used to such strange things.

So it came that, when the day Morgan had agreed upon arrived, there was a great trap waiting for the dream wizard. The sorcerer of Mount Moni, finding his son’s promised bride had not arrived, gazed down on Lanmoth. Morgan had worked his magic well, as it seemed impossible that his children would approach without some protection. So the wizard devised a more cunning plan, and called his son to his side.



Next time we’ll see the end of this tale. It got ahead of me more than I expected, and at 2700~ words, is far too long as it is. I could have edited it down, entirely removing the dialouge and just leaving the exchanges between Morgan and the wizard, but I felt those sections gave a sense of the world the characters live in and of Morgan’s own intentions and character. Next week we will have the research—and the prompt for next time, dealing with dreams, nightmares, and broken promises, will be part of the 2nd half of this story! What do you think the wizard has planned to entire the warded land of Lanmoth?

Find out here! The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

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I Dream Of Mages

This Week’s Prompt:82. Power of wizard to influence dreams of others.

The Resulting Story: The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

Dreams and magic are large and recurring themes in a number of these prompts. And so today we’ll take some time to not only discuss the folklore of dreams and magicians—of which there is plenty—but some of their fascination, particularly in the time of Lovecraft, and some occult theories (however medieval). Needless to say, the man who commands dreams is to be feared in deed.

Recent works of fiction have put strains to separate the wizard from his various compatriots—the witch, the sorcerer, the warlock, the shaman, the priest, the magi. At its root, the word wizard does derive from the word “wise” and refers to the learned man or the sage. However, as we have documented, this does not mean a man who is benevolent nor does it mean one who does not make pacts with dark powers, nor one who does deal in holy powers. While witchcraft in an anthropological sense is associated with unintended malicious power, wizadry and sorcery tend to be more prepared. In a folklore sense, however, we would do well to remember that the line between the cunning folk and the wisemen is not always clear. So, what can wizards do?

In Scotland, we have many records of the powers that a witch or wizard might exert over the world. Powers over wind and weather, storms called up and sent back down are reported among court documents. In both Scotland and Nova Scotia, this power extends to strange orbs of fire in the night—often that burden the body and the mind. The same text reports tales of darkness conjured by sages of India in Marco Polo’s narratives. Scottish sorcerers also exerted the ability to render things sterile or fertile.

Scottish and other English wizards were also ascribed the power of commanding animals and humans alike, as we have discussed when talking of the devil’s deals. These powers could result in death or worse, trapping people until the starved. Particularly skilled practitioners as late as the 1800s (and to this day in some places) have the power to bewitch serpents and endure their bite without harm.

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Nova Scotia folklore reports a way of gaining power over a person with a ritual. One must find a frog, tie his legs to avoid him hopping, and put him atop an ants nest. In time, the ants will devour him, and the frog will begin hollering and yelling. You must not hear him holler—that will kill you. After nothing but ones are left, take the hopping bone—his hind leg. Place it on your target’s body for a few seconds, and they will be yours. This same rite yields different variations, sometimes using serpents for the purpose or using two bones. The first bone ensnares the second bone sends the person away.

Fiji and other places have reports of magic that follow a broad theme of requiring a portion of the victim to be of any use. This rule can be illustrated in a dispute between two men, Fillipi and Nayau. The two men, after arguing over who was the superior magician, exchanged food. The sorcerers set about certain secret workings on these objects, and then place them in the roof of their victim. These workings include fasting, eternal heat for four days, and aversion to the sea. Fillipi ends up dead—however, Nayau fails to find his body and release the evil Fillipi had built up. The Nayau man thus also falls dead, his spear stabbed into the incorrect grave on the last night. Proper treatment of the dead having unexpected consequences might be the topic of this weeks patreon or another time—needless to say cosmic events have sometimes emerged from reckless ignorance of cosmic forces.

Tibetan magic intending to harm someone is equally attested to. Placing hair or nail clippings under the altar of a wrathful deity, for instance, draws the destructive power towards the target. Cursing and invocation of these powers is alos a means of harm. More elaborate, however, is the ngan gdad. This ritual requires nail or hair clippings, placed in a circle. The cirlce is marked by four curses—each reaffirming that something must come to an end (the life, the descent, the heart, the body, the power)–which is smeared with menstral blood along with the clippings. The entire ritual is placed on a prepared paper with an image of the person, and wrapped in a package. The package in turn is placed in a yak’s right horn, with additional harmful items—the blood of a man, a woman, and a dog; brass and iron filings from a smith; earth from a cross road; and an object used in a suicide; a portion of a woman who died in birth; some acontine; and water from an underground spring. This concoction is topped off with two live spiders, who are sealed inside with the hair of a corpse. This is sealed with poisonous wood.

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The entire process is poisonous, so the sorcerer must avoid his own contact. After this, a ritual involving the bones of the poor, the butchered of war, and earth of a haunted mountain is preformed. The wrathful gods are invoked, and the magician will attempt to hide the horn in the victims house during dawn or sunset. Within three months, the first signs of misfortune appear. Eventually, the entire family of the house dies.

While this is the most elaborate Tibetan ritual, it is not the only means recorded for tibetan sorcerers to work harmful magic. A number of lesser rites are codified that invovle drawing a mandala of a specific color and working with a statue or image of a person. Others involve the writing out of names and descent to invoke illness and malady, and elaborate rituals like the above to call upon four armed killers. For sake of space, we will abridge those specific rituals.

 Interpretations of dreams in Tibet, as elsewhere, is seen is a way of understanding the future. Among most persons, dreams of being clad in armor, riding a miraculous steed, or being in formal dress are all good signs of progress and prosperity. However, dreams of storms, swamps, and filth are ill omens. Different spirits can also influence dreams—a theme we will follow through out our work, as the wizard often works through spirits and other such things. “One can also determine which class of spirits caused the hallucinations one experienced in a dream: if one saw a snowy mountain or a soaring white bird, then the lha caused this dream. When seeing an old temple, images of clay, a fox, or a small child, the dream was caused by the ‘gong po demons. To see snakes, frogs, girls with a·pale-blue skin, and mountain-meadows are mirages caused by the klu. The btsan make one see rocks, trees, riders, and warriors, the the’u rang let appear ash-coloured children in one’s dreams; if one sees the figures of Buddhist priests, of asses, monkeys, rats, horses, and dogs, these dreams were the work of the rgyal po demons, and if one trembles with terror and fear in the sleep, this is due to the influence of the bdud.”

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Dream interpretation is also marked by Cornelius Agrippa, a famed occult writer in the middle ages. Agrippa attests to beliefs that dreams are celestial influences—drawing the common distinction between fantasy and true dream. While dreams are according to Agrippa effacious, he regrards them as unreliable. Or, rather, omens that cannot be universally understood with one meaning. Nonetheless he argues for a focus on the potential and influence of dreams on this world, and if understood accurately is the most effective means of seeing the future.

Dreams as divine messengers are of course common. We have Daniel, a wise man who’s position is derived from his ability to understand dreams (and who, perhaps like a sorcerer, has no fear of animals). We have the Odyssey’s dream messages from Athena. We also have, notably, the use of dreams by Juno in the Aeneid. Here, dreams are the tools of wrath and are used to misled the Etruscans into a doomed war against Aeneas.

The use of dreams to see faraway places is promient in later works. We can consider, for instance, the story of visiting the Antartic that is found in . Here the narrator bears witness to a great battle among old gods—Zeus and Odin set about a war path, as their lands are being pushed ever farther back. A tale by the same author in  In The Pale of a similar man, who went to the Antarctic and found the lost tribes of Israel and the descendants of Moses living there as if in a new Eden.

The wizards power over dreams, however, takes the most direct appearance with the Night hag and other commanded spirits. We discussed the Night Hag at length here, but there is of course more to say then that. We can consider the creatures a Sumerian exorcist encountered, which included the invisible demon Alu. The alu dwell in ruins, and wait to rush upon people at night, enveloping them in their garments or sneaking into bed rooms to steal men’s sleep. They appear as half-man half-demon creatures, sometimes faceless, earless, or even limbless. The baku of Japan is another strange dream spirit—it frequently is called upon to eat dreams, and has a generally benevolent image. That said, a hungry baku may devour good dreams as well—destroying hopes in the process. The Baku has gained a more benevolent reputation as of late, however, as it eats nightmares of children. Also, it looks more snuggly then a demon lurking on your bed.

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Western powers over dreams are also ascribed. The Book of the Magus suggests a method by which a wizard may compel or bring forth true dreams. It relies on the construction of a ring dedicated to celestial powers, prepared at a key moment in time. The subject of the dream is to be tied to the power and moment—as is normal for the creation of such talismans in Western occultism. The practioner must also fast and obstain from many worldly pleasures in order to avoid ruining his project.

The Magus reports an incident where dreams give the impression of soaring and flying, in a way comparable to our earlier examples from weird fiction:

“At LINTZ I worked with a young woman, who one evening invited me to go with her, assuring me that without any risk she would conduct me to a place where I greatly desired to find myself. I allowed myself to be persuaded by her promises. She then gave unto me an unguent, with which I rubbed the principal pulses of my feet and hands; the which she did also; and at first it appeared to me that I was flying in the air in the place which I wished, and which I had in no way mentioned to her.

Pass over in silence and out of respect, that which I saw, which was admirable, and appearing to myself to have remained there a long while, I felt as if I were just awakening from a profound sleep, and I had great pain in my head and deep melancholy. I turned round and saw that she was seated at my side. She began to recount to me what she had seen, but that which I had seen was entirely different. I was, however, much astonished, because it appeared to me as if I had been really and corporeally in the place, and there in reality to have seen that which had happened. However, I asked her one day to go alone to that same place, and to bring me back news of a friend whom I knew for certain was distant 200 leagues. She promised to do so in the space of an hour. She rubbed herself with the same unguent, and I was very expectant to see her fly away; but she fell to the ground and remained there about three hours as if she were dead, so that I began to think that she really was dead. At last she began to stir like a person who is waking, then she rose to an upright position, and with much pleasure began to give me the account of her expedition, saying that she had been in the place where my friend was, and all that he was doing; the which was entirely contrary to his profession. Whence I concluded that what she had just told me was a simple dream, and that this unguent was a causer of a phantastic sleep; whereon she confessed to me that this unguent had been given to her by the Devil.”

In Mongolia the framing device of the Saga of the Wise Walking Khan involves the son of a khan enraging a group of magicians. These seven magician brothers are first approached by the two brothers, to learn the art of magic. They teach the elder brother false lessons, while the younger brother at night listens at night to learn the true lessons. Afterwards, the younger brother comes up with a scheme. He tells his elder brother that there will be a new horse in the stables asks his brother to take it to be sold—but not to walk past the seven magic brothers. The elder brother does not believe there is anything to fear from the magicians—after all, they didn’t teach any magic so they had no power. The Seven Brothers recognize the magical horse and worried their monopoly will be broken, descend with intent to kill the horse, after buying it.

The horse, it happens, is the younger brother in disguise. His intent was to turn into a horse, be sold, turn back, and flee.

After a shapeshifting chase, the younger brother finds his way to a great sage. He asks the sage to turn him into a bead and hold him in his mouth—and to turn seven beads into worms, as the magicians approach the door as mere men. The magicians see the worms, and thinking one is the younger brother, they turn into birds to devour them. The great sage drops the bead, and the younger brother emerges. He takes a great stick and kills them all. His saga then follows his tasks to repay the great sage.

The Greeks marked this division of dreams between fantasies and reality with the twin gates in the realm of Hades. There, dreams of falsehood flow from the gate of ivory, and dreams of truth from the gate of horn. Dreams are also there tied into the lands of the dead. The power of the dead to talk in dreams is attested to, almost as thoroughly as the power of the cunning wizard to speak with and command the spirits of the dead. But that will have to wait for another time.

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Around the time of this prompt, it was not only the occult world that had interest in the world of dreams. Rather, the scientific community—or the begins of one—showed interest. We can consider the work of Sigimund Freud, who suggested dreams showed supressed and buried desires and ills. Carl Jung, one of his disciples, expanded this notion of the power of dreams to communicate from the great unknown of the unconcious mind. Jung extrapolated the source of these dreams into a vast universal unconcious, where the whole of mankind might be said to be dreaming.

The notion of dreams that are more substantive then reality, and the potential for sages to influence them, calls to mind an old Taoist story. Once Chuang Tzu said that he was dreaming he was a butterfly—and only knew his happiness as a butterfly. The sage wondered, was he a butterfly still dreaming he was a man or a man dreaming he was a butterfly? The sage leaves the question unanswered.

In dreams a man can live a thousand lives, wear a thousand different faces. The power of dreams then is two fold—to make a life like illusion, and to send messages of great importance. It isn’t hard to see how a wizard with command over dreams might manipulate a community—even barely remembered, dreams of the same thing over and over are effective. If we grant our sorcerer can observer the sleeping persons, then we have new elements to introduce. A sorcerer might use these gazes to test his victims, as a sort of fantastic simulation. As we have seen here, the danger of a wizard is great especially if personally invoked. We had a wizard hero last story, so I think this time we will have one in a villainous role.

I am also feeling a bit more fantastic. That is, away from set in stone locations ot an unknown place. Given the Sumerian story, I think the lair of this wizard is the crumbling ruins of some old temple or palace—and perhaps there is where whatever ritual or tools he uses are found. What sorts of magic might he work? What plans does this wizard have? There is horror to be found in a man who from afar exerts power over the elements, the invisible killer. The dread master with his assistant spirits.

 

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Bibliography

Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene. Oracles and Demons of Tibet. Kathmandu, Nepal, Book Faith India, 1993.

Dalyell, John Graham. The Darker Superstitions of Scotland.Glasgow, R.Grifin.co, 1875.

Busk, Rachael Harriet. Saga of the Far East; or Kalmouk and Mongolian traditional tales. London, Griffith and Farran, 1973.

Fauset, Arthur. Folklore of Nova Scotia. New York, American Folk-lore society, G.E. Strechet and Co. 1931.

St. Johnson, Reginald. The Lau Islands(Fiji) and their fairy tales. London. The Times book co. ltd 1918.

Iliowizi, Henry. In The Pale: stories and legends of Russian Jews. Philidelphia. Coates. 1900.

Iliowizi, Henry. The Weird Orient: Nine Mystic Tales. Philidelphia. Coates. 1900.

Thompson, R. Campbell. The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia. London. Luzac and co. 1903-1904.

Marble Heads and Marblehead

This Week’s Prompt: 81. Marblehead—dream—burying hill—evening—unreality.

The Resulting Story: What Mr. Diamond Met on the Shore

Here we begin another study of contrasts—the art of statuary, stable and enduring, mixed with the emergence of dreams, malleable and fleeting. The two have come together more than once—when we discuss the folklore of statues, and my own thoughts on their horror potential, we’ll find that the muse of mountains loves coming in dreams. Before delving too far into that, however, we should at least mention that there is a Lovecraft story dealing with similar notions: Polaris, Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep all deal with dreams, and didn’t quite work naturally into the rest of our discussion.

That said, the art of capturing human likeness in stone is as old as—well, as possible. The specification of marble for the statue does call to mind classical works. Ancient Greek and Roman statues which in Lovecraft’s day were believed to be pure and milky marble. We of course now know better—it is highly likely that the statues were painted, often in bright colors. But those ancient cultures do give us a few starting points before moving onward.

First is Galatea. Galatea was a statue carved by the sculptor king Pygmalion. Pygmalion had no interest with mortal women—and in fact thus opts to stay single and focus his talents on sculpture. However, his sculpted woman arouses in Pygmalion desire and adoration. Such is his lust that he embraces the inert statue, kissing and caressing it. He even dresses her, and lays her on a pillow to rest.

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When Aphrodite’s festival comes around, Pygmalion prays that the his wife be made flesh and blood—that she in her beauty can return his affections. Aphrodite grants the prayer, and that night their embrace results in the child Paphos—who in time founds a city that is named the same.

Then there are the Statues of Daedalus. Daedalus rendered some statutes capable of moving if not tied down. These statues are only obliquely referenced—Socrates’s discussion with Meno on knowledge introduces them.

And lastly a story calling upon Greek images, if not Greek itself: the Disinterment of Venus. This story tells of some hapless monks who unearth…a statue of Venus from nearby. The statue seems to move when not viewed and ‘magically’ fills the nearby monks with impure thoughts. The result of this story is rather grisly, and I’ll allow you to discover it on your own.

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Of course, the ancient Greeks are far from the only ones to suggest worked materials can channel higher powers. Moving a bit farther down the timeline of Europe, we find the Catholic and Orthodox icons. These images and icons often have fantastic properties—reports of the icon moving, bleeding, or giving breast milk are common. In at least one case, beholding the icon without permit resulted in a man’s death, and the mere presence of an icon could exorcise demons from those who came into the church.

Better still, these icons often were connected to dream messages and inspirations—sometimes in dreams the location of icons would be revealed, while in others instructions on their construction would be given. The icons dreams could also give visions and prompt, in many stories, conversions from these encounters.

Icons

On the left, Luke painting the image of the Theotokos. On the Right, the Theotokos of Vladimir.

An icon is in many ways the embodied form of the saint—it allows the saint’s grace to be refracted and reflected out onto the world. The creation of duplicates of a miraculous icon—either by print or photography—often carried with it the power of the icon as well. And these icons often played rather significant roles outside politics—reports suggest had that the Czar brought icons of known potency to the front in the first world war, it would have gone differently.

The icons were not without rivals, however—we can consider the work of theurgy, where in magicians claimed to bind demons and spirits into statues in order to compel them to move and speak. This practice sometimes included ghosts as well, who were thus imprisoned with iron chains and prevented from harassing the community. Both practices were, of course, condemned by the Church.

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The idea of binding the supernatural within a statue may seem strange, but it’s practice is documented by the Maya in the Yucatan peninsula after the arrival of Catholicism. Here saints are, like in Europe, sometimes found in the wilderness. However, unlike in Spain where said icons are left alone, the statues in the Yucatan are forcefully returned and restrained to their new homes. For instance, there is a story of when the first Chimaltecos found Santiago in the mountains, in a place where even today no one lives because it has no water. After building the church that still stands at the center of town, these ancestral Chimaltecos fetched Santiago to his new home. The next morn- ing he was gone. Searchers eventually found him back where they had first encountered him and once more returned him to the church. Again he fled to his old place but this time, when they tried to carry him back to town, Santiago made himself so heavy that no one could lift him. Exasperated, the ancestors beat him with whips to get him into the church, leaving gouges on his back that can still be seen today. Beyond that accounts often end with villagers punishing the saint to make it “behave” properly. In Zinacantan, town elders pour hot water over San Lorenzo to silence him because they dislike “talking saints” in Amatenango, they throw their evil image of San Pedro out of the church and then behead him for his witchcraft.

Caanite Teraphim

These teraphim are Canaanite, not Jewish, but give a good impression.

Pre-Christian references to statues as divinities are not limited of course to Greece. We have the teraphim of the Old Testament. These statues are small, and often translated as household gods. They appear to contain some power and blessing. They might be comparable to the Lares of the Trojans in the Aenied or to the brazen head constructs of later occultists (which we discuss in our Patreon research here). These served as protectors of household power, and continuations of a house—for there to be a new Troy (as Aeneas founds), they must have the Trojan gods. They further speak in Aeneas’s dreams, in Book 3 of the Aenied, telling Aeneas to seek out the lands that have been prepared for him and not to dally in the Greek shores much longer.

All this talk of saints, and I nearly forgot to mention a peculiar story I found while doing research for this topic: the Porcelain god. The story resembles Galatea in some ways—it is about a superb artist striving to make a living thing out of inert material. However, unlike Galatea—who is granted life by the act of a goddess—the porcelain here is given life by mortal hands. Specifically, after years laboring away at making the life like porcelain, the poor man asks the god of the forge how he might succeed. The forge chastises him for thinking that with mere bellows he might make a soul, and the man realizes he can impart life to his creation—by sacrificing himself. Leaping into the fires, he infuses the porcelain with the potency of life, and is enshrined by the Emperor as a god of porcelain.

The danger of statues is also well recorded. The instance of the Disinterment of Venus is but one example. A tale from India tells us of a Brahmin and his elaborate collection of idols—and his disgruntlement with determining the best of the idols. He asks a local smith for advice, and the smith suggests seeing which idol with stands the blows of a club best. After testing the idols this way, the Brahmin finds only one idol able to stand the blow. He worships the idol faithful, doing nothing else but meditating on the idol, offering it food, and tending to it. That the idol appears to eat—the food left in front of it vanishes, after all—is seen by the Brahmin as proof of his divinity.

One day, the Brahmin opens his eyes however—and sees that in fact a rat had been stealing the food. This causes him to despair and perhaps go a bit mad, as he concludes that the rat is the true master of the universe for being able to trick him. His reverence for the Rat continues, until a cat eats the rat. He then reveres the cat, until his wife grows worried about their livelihood and—in spite of her fear of her husband—removes the cat. The Brahmin concludes from this his wife to be the most powerful force in the world, and seats her as his object of worship. Being an object of worship, however, is not compatible with being a living person. His wifes adjustments infuriate the focusing Brahmin, who strikes her and renders her unconscious. As before, he concludes him self to be the thing worth revering and achieves release.

I find that particular story…strange. But these dangers of images aren’t uncommon. Fear that images would achieve worship instead of true divinity is a regular fear in Europe, where iconclastic waves often destroy images and statuary in a fervor. We can consider a comparable story of Abraham, who as a youth in folklore lived with his father an idol maker. One day, Abraham smashed all the idols, and placed the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned home, he escaped blame by pointing to the largest statue.

To tie more directly to dreams, we can consider the writings of Pausanias who claims to have seen a pair of statues—one to Hypnos one to Oenieros—luring a lion to sleep:

From here is a way to a sanctuary of Asclepius. On passing into the enclosure you see on the left a building with two rooms. In the outer room lies a figure of Sleep, of which nothing remains now except the head. The inner room is given over to the Carnean Apollo; into it none may enter except the priests. In the portico lies a huge bone of a sea-monster, and after it an image of the Dream-god and Sleep, surnamed Epidotes Bountiful, lulling to sleep a lion. Within the sanctuary on either side of the entrance is an image, on the one hand Pan seated, on the other Artemis standing.”

Dream interpretation is a common trait among holy men as well. We can consider the obvious dream interpreter, Daniel of the Old Testament. His interpretations served as excellent prophecy for those who spoke with him. We can also remember Joseph, who understood dreams as holding the future and thus advised the Pharoah for a time. In Heferodshire, there is a story of St. Dubricius, who settled his monastery after an angel of the Lord instructed him to do so—with a herd of swine taken as well. The place was hence known as Hogplace or Mochros.

Hypnos.png

These two are the old Greek gods of slumber, and in some cases survive later as saints. Hypnos further endures in Lovecrafts work—in particular, one of the stories I believe came from this prompt. The story bares Hypnos’s own name. The story also follows a marble sculptor, who with his lone friend, begin to explore places beyond human conception and experience. They go further and further, until the narrator reaches a barrier that he cannot cross. But his friend can and…well, what happens next is best read on your own.

Lovecraft’s notion of sculpture and dreams are of course common. We can consider also, in the vein of marble, the Tree. This story follows two sculptors making an image of fate in competition. The result of this competition for the prize of a Syracuse tyrant is eventually a marble crypt and great tree that is extremely human like in appearance. I’ll allow you to enjoy that particular tale. And we cannot forget that a statue and a dream are at the center of the Call of Cthulhu—the statue of Cthulhu being the center of his cult. The power of images is to in a way be life like, and inspiring. It gives a being prescence in the world, spatial reality that a mere painting might not.

MarbleHead.png

So the above article is still important for my writing—it is where I went with research and I stand by it. However, as I was editing, I learned that Marblehead is actually a town in Massachusetts—not as I thougt, a head of marble. The coastal town served, as many New England towns have over the years, as inspiration for Mr. Lovecrafts own writing. In particular, the town of Kingsport was retroactively based on Marblehead in years past. Kingsport is of course the site of many dream stories for Lovecraft. Randolph Carter has encounters there, as does the terrible old man, and in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, Nyrlanhotep himself expresses admiration for the town. So what tales from Marblehead?

Among the most famous you will find is that of the Screeching Woman. A heavy Spanish galleon was overtaken by pirates. Each member of the crew was butchered—except an English noblewoman, who was brutally murdered on the coast. The fishermen being away, and the women and children of the town being terrified, no one answered her screams for help. Her body was buried on the spot, and on the anniversary of her death, her screams still come out of the spot.

The prompt more directly seems to refer to a man named Old Dimond. Old Dimond was a man of prestigious power in the black arts. These included divination and power over fortune—he was known to go to the burying hill and beat about the graves, making demands for the fates of his own vessels. He was also known as a good friend to have—a widow asked for the location of a lost bit of wood, and he charmed the thief into returning it. In another instance, he was able to locate stolen treasure for an elderly couple. Old Dimond it seems was not only a wizard but a defender of the ill fated.

Old Dimond I think gives a direct line to the story. We are dealing with manipulations of dreams, and of fates there for. The reference to a burying hill point to that sort of necromancy connection. We then have the story of a wizard, of dreams, and of a certain unreality or magical uncertainty. From Old Dimond’s tales, it might be fitting to do a thief story—akin to the Terrible Old Man. Alternatively, we could present a somewhat more nefarious dream of a statue still—as I discuss in the patreon research, the ability to gain insight into the future and the cosmos is often connected with mystical statues and machines. Certainly, necromancers have had uses for strange and enchanting statues before. And I do confess, I would like to employ my earlier work into this even as they…misaligned with Lovecraft’s intent.

What stories will you weave about the coastal town of Marblehead? What statues inspire you in the real world? What strange dreams have you had?

Bibliography

Freedberg, David. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Hearn, Lafcadio. Some Chinese Ghosts. Project Gutenberg, 2015.

Leather, Ella Mary, et al. The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire: Collected from Oral and Printed Sources. Logaston Press, 1912.

Mukharij, Ram Sayta. Indian Folklore. Sanyal and Company, 1904.

Roads, Samuel. History and Traditions of Marblehead. Osgood and Company, 1880.

Watanabe, John M. “From Saints to Shibboleths: Image, Structure, and Identity in Maya Religious Syncretism.” American Ethnologist, vol. 17, no. 1, 1990, pp. 131–150. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/645256.

“JewishEncyclopedia.com.” JewishEncyclopedia.com, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14331-teraphim.


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The Court of Miracles

This Week’s Prompt:78. Wandering thro’ labyrinth of narrow slum streets—come on distant light—unheard-of rites of swarming beggars—like Court of Miracles in Notre Dame de Paris.

The Resulting Story: The Court

Despite the evocative name, the Court of Miracles is rather mundane in origins. The Court of Miracles was perhaps the banditry of the city of Paris. Inhabited by all manner of individuals, from all faiths and creeds, the Court of Miracles is presented as a society of tricksters and scoundrels at the heart of Paris. That Mr. Lovecraft has a low opinion of such people isn’t surprising—Mr. Lovecraft’s classist tones and dislike of urban mixing means that such place is ascribed as “swarming” for a reason. We will talk of how to remedy this shortly—and one place to start I think is folklore.

The Court of Miracles is, by all accounts, a location in Paris. The Court was inhabited by beggars and immigrants—the name comes from the tendency for individuals to fake injury or illness, and suddenly at night be ‘cured’. Other origins suggest that the Court transformed beggars into bandits, rendering the segement of the city dangerous for law enforcement. Either way, the part of Paris was a dangerous region and impoverished area in local thought. Disney made it into a song:

Not the folklore surrounding such places. Distrust of impoverished immigrants can bring out the worst in folklore and persons, and xenophobia is not a trait I want to encourage. I do not wish to dwell on the particularly viscious rumors and libels that surrounded the Court of Miracles and other places—producing a story today about how the poor and downtrodden engage in conspiracy to fake their injuries would be frankly irresponsible. No, I want to examine some of the folklore of such persons. And if we are going to discuss it, particularly in relation to Notre Dame and its adaptations, we must talk about the Romany (Lindsay Ellis goes into the various adaptations of Notre Dame here).

I am not terribly qualified on the topic of the Romany—So I strongly encourage readers to do their own research as well. But I will present what I know as best I can.

The Romany, as a group, appear to have immigrated from northern India into the Middle East and Europe. Europeans initially—and for a considerable time—mistook the Romany for Egyptians, leading to the origins of the pejorative “Gypsy”. The Romany, for a variety of reasons, lived both nomadic and settled life styles. As outsiders in European communities, who practiced different customs and held to different belief systems, the Romany were viewed frequently in a negative light. Accusations of witchcraft, curses, thievery, and so forth were rampant and if one delves even a bit into folklore it isn’t hard to find such portrayals exaggerated further.

Romany Flag

Romani Flag, Wikipedia.

I will not be discussing such portrayals today.

Instead I will be discussing folktales from the Romany. Now a second disclaimer. For the vast, vast majority of my research I rely on public domains or digital resources. In this case, I’ve found a singular text on Romany folklore (linked here) which is rather woefully out of date—it dates to the 1890s. For the interested, I have also linked to Folklore Thursday’s writing on the Romany here—if you have other resources to recommend, I encourage you to leave the titles and links in the comments section below.

One of the first stories to discuss is God’s Godson. This tale recounts a heroic child who sets forth on adventure unbaptized. In the woods, as he sleeps, God and St. Peter come across him and baptize him, giving him the name Handak. God decides to arrange a marriage between Handak and his god-daughter, a heroine of equal skill. Handak receives instructions from a three hundred year old dragon on where to find the god-daughter, and after a fight the two are wed.

St. Petere Vatican.png

Another heroic lad makes his start by killing eleven dragons with saber. After his marriage to a maiden, his mother comes to live with them and finds the living dragon. Infatuated with the youngest dragon, she schemes with her new love to kill her son—sending him on impossible quests and eventually gambling with him, to bind and slay him with her husband. The lad’s miraculous maiden of a wife, who often lent him a twenty-four winged horse, restores him by stitching him back together and filling in the holes with pork meat. She then pours water on him, and he is revived.

Another humorous tale tells of two thieves who enter a brotherhood, and by their cunning trick a king out of all his funds—eventually stealing a priest from a church and becoming princes themselves! The two of course know each others trade, and the king is forced to seek out one of the thieves to catch the other (it fails, as the thieves co-operate despite their separation). Another encounter between a Romany man and a priest ends with the Romany man calling back his cattle from an extortionist priest—and in doing so, gaining the cattle the priest stole from his parishioners.

Another incident with a priest sees a poor Romany impersonate a preacher in the middle of the night—tricking the local priest into thinking he is an angel or God himself. The Romany encourages the priest to bring all his belongings for the end is at hand—and after the priest does so, he offers to carry the priest to heaven in a sack. Needless to say, the priest does arrive in the afterlife in a sack.

Another heroic Rom travels in the woods looking for heroic deeds, and finds his brother lacking kidneys—they have been stolen by a wizard, who the lad goes forth and defeats. The lost organs are restored after being found in jars. After this, the wizard is slain, and there is a brief exchange of hurling objects between the brothers and three maidens, who end up marrying them.

Canopic Jars2

These were the first things I thought of when reading about kidneys stored in jars.

One factor that becomes apparent reading these folktales—that I will not pretend is unique necessarily to the Romany—is the outsmarting of normally serious authority figures. The priest is the most obvious example of course. There is always a supposition that the church is corrupt—especially priests and monks. Later stories add dragons to the list—one is tricked in a manner that reminds me of giants, where the dull but strong dragon looses gambles to the Rom and must forswear eating sheep forever—and kings with the two thieves. A distrust for authority even runs with the story of the dragon and the mother, who are both individuals of power that scheme against the children.

The notion then, of strange rites in the heart of Paris might be one to explore. One thing I will note that Paris is famous for—and indeed, is on the news recently—is the tensions between class. Yes, class in a Marxist sense is universal, but the French Revolution and it’s guilotines have taken on a life of their own in my mind. And I think this might have been why Lovecraft situated his own class fears in Paris. What then can we do with a revolution? The horror that Howard would invoke here isn’t acceptable—we are given a subhuman vision of the poor of Paris (“Swarming” as they are), and parallels with ‘savages’ (“unheard of rites”). The comparison of the poor with the savage is not unique to Lovecraft but it is…untenable.

I think for a horror story then, we might be better to approach this as the onset of violence. The realization by our nameless narrator that, as it is said in Le Mis, “something’s going to happen now, something’s going to give”. Which…well, is still tricky. There is horror potential in upheval, unrest, and strangeness, but moving that fear away from classism can be difficult. The folklore also highlights how the cunning, if impoverished, get the better of those who seem to have authority.

Could these two be combined? Well, the notion of class conflict and the distrust of nobility don’t align perfectly well for a horror story of discovery. There are notions in a number of folktales of getting power from tricking others into giving it up—the King and the Two Thieves ends with a thief as king for instance. In this case, it might be best to move away from trickster lore—while a trickster hero is plausible, I don’t trust my writing to portray such a thing in a horror story without falling into some clear pitfalls.

I think then emphasizing the class conflict would be better. I think there is a primal fear of judgement day—of the realization that the end is upon the world, and that one is powerless to stop it. That does mean this story is a bit more atmospheric, maybe even in the form of a letter—it is really a single scene expanded and extrapolated. Which should be sufficient for our purposes.

 

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Revenge Most Cruel

This Week’s Prompt: 74. Italian revenge—killing self in cell with enemy—under castle.

The Resulting Story: The Wound

TW: Suicide

Revenge is a common motive in folktales and modern media, and covering the entire breadth of it here would be quite impossible. Even the specificity of “Italian” revenge would make cover the wide range of hauntings, heroes, and deceptions undertaken for revenge over a slight difficult to summarize in one article. However, I have found a few cases of revenge in Italian folklore that are of interest, and luckily that involve castles. I have yet to find a version of this specific prompt, so kudos to Mr. Lovecraft in that regard—if you know of a story such as this, where suicide is used to get revenge on an enemy by framing him for the murder, please let me know!

CaskOfMonteEgro

That does seem to be the plan at work here. Our protagonist, in a fashion reminiscent of Poe’s own Italian revenge tale, has opted to go to extremes to make his enemy suffer. He thus lures his enemy beneath the castle, and commits suicide alone with the enemy. Done properly, this frames the enemy for murder, condemning and ruining his life. In fact, more elaborate plans might frame the enemy for even more crimes, damning his entire line.

The stories that might have most inspired this tale are of course Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, Castle Orlanto, and perhaps the Count of Mote Christo. Reaching a bit more, the story that this reminded me most of was Count Ugolino—an Italian noble who features prominently in Dante’s Inferno. Ugolino was a Count of Pisa, who in life was accused of treason for the cities disorders, and served for several years as the most powerful man in Pisa during the war with Genoa. Ugolino rejected peace terms, which would have brought back many persons in political opposition. Later in life, Pisa was hit with fiancial troubles and bread riots—during one of which Ugolino killed the nephew of the Archbishop. The Archbishop rallied the populace, and tried to burn the town hall Ugolino was having his meeting in. After Ugolino’s illegitimate child committed suicide, Ugolino and his sons were sealed in the tower. The Archbishop had the keys thrown into a river.

Count Ugolino Inferno.png

The rest of the story picks up form Dante, that the three were starving. And in a moment of tragedy and horror, the sons asked their father to eat them after their deaths, to preserve himself.

Father our pain’, they said,

‘Will lessen if you eat us you are the one

Who clothed us with this wretched flesh: we plead

For you to be the one who strips it away’.

This resulted in the count dying of grief shortly after, descending to Hell and the ice as a betrayer of kin. The story recalls to me, both in it’s art and arc, some of the more monstrous stories of ogres and titans. At least Ugolino in hell is allowed to gnaw on the treacherous bishops skull in the frozen wasteland.

Stories of revenge from Rome are more elaborate. Amadea’s story begins with her happy marriage to a rich husband—the only issue being the opposition of her brother and father. Amadea, as a proper woman, brutally killed her brother, chopped his limbs off, and threw them at her father. While the display certainly prevented her father from stopping her, it made her husband uneasy. The newlyweds leaved peacefully for a time, happily even. They had two young children even. But as the children grew, their father remembered the crime, and ran off. 

When Amadea learned of this, she also learned that her husband had taken on a suitor. While her husband refused to let her meet her rival—after all, Amadea had brutally murdered once, she might again—he did allow her to send a set of pearls to the woman. Amadea had woven a poison into these, however, with her witchcraft. While these were on the way to her rival, she asked her husband to see their children for one hour. This her husband granted. That was a mistake. Amadea hugged her children and then, telling them that her love of them was too great, stabbed them before her husband’s eyes. In the next instant, she stabbed herself, and her husband died of grief on the spot.

Castle Poppi.pngAnother story, from Castle Poppi, tells of Matlida. Matlida was married, but not fond of her husband—it was a political marriage, and little love was between them. So she would send for handsome young men from the villages nearby, for comfort or for repairs. When evening came, she would take one of these young men to her chambers—and in the morning, to hid her adultery, she would drop them into a pit of glass and razor blades. When her crimes were discovered, a mob sealed Matilda in one of the castle walls, were she starved. She haunts the place to this day.

The Shakespearean story of Othello draws from Italian works on revenge as well—although like the Poe story, the motives of Iago are not overtly stated. The vengeance here is more long term, and certainly more through then the others, collapsing Othello’s reputation and entire life around him. Its scale is comparable to Amadea’s vengance in that regard. Based in scorn love and so thorough as to destroy the victim and criminal.

Titus Andronicus.png

Comparable further is the bloody and brutal Titus Andronicus. That story begins with the sacrifice of the sons of a German queen Tamora, in vengeance for the death of his sons in the war. Tamora eventually becomes empress, and she and her sons execute a cruel vengeance of rape and murder upon most of Titus’s family. Titus in turn invites the Emperor and Tamora to dinner…and arranges their death, having served them the remains of Tamora’s surviving son. Poison and blood ensue, resulting in the most deadly play Shakespeare wrote.


These tales of vengeance all maintain a motive of passion, often a betrayal of affections and close bonds—Poe’s friendship, Amadea and Othello’s love, and Ugolino’s betrayal of familial bonds. This reminds me of the story from the Balkans about the internment of a bride (here), that the betrayal of deep trust is the most painful and arguably resonant. Matlida’s murders are a strange, reverse Bluebeard—the internment is the main connection I see to the notion of the prompt.Our plot needs then at least two characters in any detail.

Another element I notice, in both Othello and Poe, is that the revenge is rather one sided. In the case of a rival lured to their doom, this seems more valid then Amadea’s. The victim being unaware of the approaching doom makes this more believable to me—unless we go with the notion that our mastermind has offered peace talks on false pretenses. That might be enough to bring them, but I don’t know if it would work to bring them alone.

No, alone and with no other witnesses seems to require something more.So, we will need to set up the feud—one sided as it might be—early in the story, and two characters that are at odds. It might work better to have asides—flash backs, or just the private thoughts of the murderer—building to that scene of suicide. I’ll have to re-read some of those earlier stories to see how they employ brevity. All in all I think we have a good short Gothic horror story from this. 

Bibliography

Busk, R. H. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folk-Lore from Rome. Estes and Lauriat, 1877.

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