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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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There Is Nought But Chaos

This Week’s Prompt: 80. Shapeless living thing forming nucleus of ancient building.

The Resulting Story: The Shifting Temple

This week we are given a topic that we have, in the past, covered with some detail. The notion of a living core of an ancient structure bares a resemblance to notions of shapeless forces we discussed regarding Azathoth—we will be re-discussing some of those here, with greater detail and focus, as well as some other forms of living structures.

There are two parts to this prompt, each worth review in equal part—the shapeless and the center. That is, there are creatures and stories of things who’s shape cannot be known, and of things that support buildings and worlds. Both will be discussed—particularly when they overlap at the end.

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First we will discuss the most fantastic—the shapes at sea that support entire camps, and resemble islands from afar. This is actually the origin of the Kraken, a creature recorded in biology texts from the eighteenth century. There is another such creature in Norse tales, the hafgufa. Recorded as a giant whale, the hafgufa resembles an island from afar—in some tales, its nose is so massive that it suffices for an island!–and it is noted both for its taste in ships and men, and its peculiar means of attracting prey. The hafgufa is a species of two in some texts—and both are infertile, otherwise the ocean would be over run by false islands. In some texts, the hafgufa is also called the Kraken—albeit a whale not a squid. You can find more of it here.

Medieval Bestiaries produce another whale like creature—or sometimes turtle—who is so big, it’s back ridge has trees growing on it and valleys form around it. The aspidochelone is sometimes more sinister however—its appearance of false life and safety are an allegory in one text for the Devil and demons, who seduce the desperate.

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In Ireland, the stories of Saint Brendan the Navigator tell of a strange beast that appeared as an island and breached his boat. The Saint here is safe—the whale sinks after a fire is lit on it’s skin, much to the shock of the crew but little harm.

In Chile, there are stories of a similar creature—although it is more commonly in lakes, the Cuero is a danger to sailors who draw near it’s lure. Sometimes the shape is like a cow hide, sometimes an octopus, sometimes a stingray. Here is a more in depth article on not only the legend, but histories of it’s recordings

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Then there are those supports that are much wider and vaster then a mere ship. The World Turtle, for instance, carries…well, the world on its back. Sometimes this is a literal and direct holding. Kurma, for instance, supports the world directly in Hindu stories. Other stories, such as when Nuwa repaired the sky, have the turtle shell as a form of architecture somewhat removed. Turtle Island refers to this imagery as well—the notion that the Americas are on the back of a great mythological turtle. Other stories—the most obvious being Discworld—suggest the world is on the back of four great elephants, and then on the back of a turtle.

Bahamut is another supporter of the world, albeit a fish with a great bull on its back. Found in Arabic sources, Bahamut is more terrifying then others. The bull on its back has a hundred legs and horns, and Bahamut itself is so vast all the worlds oceans would fit into its nostrils like a mustard seed. It is also the farthest removed of all the great beasts—on its back, the bull; on the bulls back, a ruby; on the rubys back, an angel; on the angel’s shoulder, the world.

arabic world map

The map of the world here is rotated on it’s side–Bahamut is the fish

Of course, there are also non-sentient living supports. The World Tree can be found in cultures around the world. The famous Norse Tree Yggdrasil holds the nine worlds in it’s branches—and is echoed in the Volsung saga, were the house of the Volsung’s has a great tree holding up its roof–the tree is called Barnstokkr. There Odin—well, a stranger who resembles him greatly—places a legendary sword, that begins their undoing. Further south, we can find the world tree in Zorastrian stories. The Gaokerna is one of many great trees—its fruit is immortality, and will be key to the recreation of the universe. Beside it grows the Tree of Many Seeds, where all plants have their origin.

Not far away from the Zorastrian myth, we have the world tree of Kabbalah—a tree that, I have heard at least, is often depicted upside down. The Tree of Life here holds many worlds, as the light of divinity is refined downward from the undivided Ein Soif into this world. Kabbalah as a tradition is rich in symbolism and complexity, and should have more of an article at some point. The interesting point to me, however, is the suggestion of a reverse tree–a Tree of Death, that runs counter to the virtues of the Tree of Life and is made of the shattered remains of an earlier world. 

pakal tomb

The top portion of the World Tree found on Pakal the Great’s tomb.

Maya world trees are commonly depicted in artwork—the tree runs from the underworld into the heavens. Like the tortoise shell of Nuwa, the tree was constructed after a flood—the destruction of Seven Macaw and the end of the wood people—and like stories of Ymir and others, it is fed by the blood of gods. Some link it’s form to the visible Milky Way in the sky

All of this brings us slowly round to the most literal form of the shapeless center—Chaos, Khaos. Beginning with the most literal, the Greek conception of Chaos is the source eventually of all things. The form or force that precedes all the rest of existence, Chaos is gloomy and far away—and not terribly relevant to most stories. Chaos is the origin directly of Night and Darkness, and sometimes the foundation of reality itself.

Chaos is not the only strange and shapeless originator in Greece are concerned. There was the strange shape in Demophon’s casket, which was the first topic we discussed discussed (and which was rewritten on our Patreon here). Chaos in other cases contains all elements. When Milton depicted King Chaos in Paradise Lost, he maintained this for the realm of Limbo, where elements fly about.

Biblical starts of Genesis refer to an abyss of water from which the world was made—using the terminology that neighbors used for Tiamat, a vast sea monster that was also eventually the root of all things and truly varied in shape. What this abyss was is a topic of much debate, especially in esoteric circles.

Chaos can be joined by Hundun. Hundun is a Chinese character, a faceless wanderer that is the originating chaos of the world. I recall best a story of Hundun from the Taoist, Chuang Tzu: The Emperor of the North Sea and the Emperor of the South Sea once met with Hundun. Grateful for his generosity as a host, they offered to repay him by giving him the seven holes all men have (eyes, nose, ears, mouth). Each day the bore another hole in Hundun’s face.

On the last day Hundun died.

Hundun has other comparable descriptions, often like a lump of clay and making a sound like thunder. It is malleable, sudden, and terrible perhaps. Or just hard to see, touch, or discern except by its overwhelming presence.

Taoist notions of a shapeless root of the world are common in Chuang Tzu’s writing. We can consider the story of the Shaman and Hu Tzu. Hu Tzu, a sage, changes his complexion and diagnosis at every meeting, culminating in this one:

The next day the two came to see Hu Tzu again, but before the shaman had even come to a halt before Hu Tzu, his wits left him and he fled.

“Run after him!” said Hu Tzu, but though Lieh Tzu ran after him, he could not catch up. Returning, he reported to Hu Tzu, “He’s vanished! He’s disappeared! I couldn’t catch up with him.”

Hu Tzu said, “Just now I appeared to him as Not Yet Emerged from My Source. I came at him empty, wriggling and turning, not knowing anything about `who’ or `what,’ now dipping and bending, now flowing in waves – that’s why he ran away.”

That the ultimate origin of reality is shapeless and indeed perhaps unable to be shaped is not unique to these presentations: Ein Sof, the infinite roots of the Tree of Life, is beyond definition as a being. The Prima Materia is less sentient, but the raw potential of creation that can—in theory—be shaped into just about anything that’s desired. These forces of chaos are also vitality—they are shapeless and thus support all shaped things. They are the raw stuff at the very core of life in the world.

michael_maier_atalanta_fugiens_emblem_36

I couldn’t figure out how to cut this properly, so enjoy the image of the Prima Materia or alchemical mercury–the cubes are the mercury.

This I think could be the source of our horror story—instead of merely discovering a shapeless core at the center of the world, we could present a story where that shapelessness is vital to the world and its movements. And if that shapelessness collapses—if like Hundun, it dies on contact with the five senses—then there is a tragedy at play too. By discovering the truth of the world, something about the world’s vitality is lost. I could go on about how defining something restrains it, and so on and so on, but I’ll leave that for the musings of the story.

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Pilgrimages

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Resulting Story: The Demon Throne

A traveler’s corpse has been found on the road, heading to some distant holy sight ruled by a demon king. We’ll be digging up a number of corpses for this one. Because, as shocking as it might be, diabolic creatures as sources of heavenly insight are not as uncommon as you might believe!

Azathoth we’ve talked about at length here, so we won’t repeat much of mythos lore here. We do have stories of individuals going to Azathoth’s black throne, to sign in a dread book for knowledge and witch craft. But for the most part, the court of Azathoth is referred to only obliquely and in reference to the dance and music of various gods. That done, there is a precedent of demon kings having a good deal of heavenly knowledge. We discussed one such being last time we did research: Asmodeus.

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Asmodeus is a demon of some note, who has an odd reputation in the midrash and talmud around holy texts. He has done dreadful things, such as slaying seven successive husbands of a woman in the Book of Tobit, but has also aided in things such as building the temple itself. He gave knowledge of the future to Solomon and provided, by a trickster curse, an education on reality with the ring.

The capacity to grant knowledge is associated with a number of demons in the Ars Goteia. The play Faust also includes the conjuring of a demon for the knowledge such a fallen angel possesses. The logic is rather clear here: An angel has a view of all the cosmos, but is in alignment with God. Distracting an angel from it’s divine task is, of course, sinful. But a demon has nothing better to do and may possesses some of the knowledge of their deeds before the fall. The binding of demons into objects, either for wonderous working or in order to compel knowledge from them, was a tradition of sorts in the early church. The dangers of this hubris are rather obvious, and the practice was mostly suppressed.

It should be noted that such knowledge bearing principle is no doubt tied to the association of demons with the dead, who we discussed consulting here. As many demon lords have no knowledge, and in fact are deceivers as much as any. Not far from Asmodeus, we find Ahriman, who is the literal lie to Ahura Mazda’s truth in Zorastrianism.

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Wise demons, to stretch the term somewhat, is found more prominently in the Asura of India. Mahabali was an asura king, celebrated by his subjects, who regularly preformed penance in order to return to the world of the living. Shukra serves as the guru of the asura, as knowledgeable as the guru to the more heroic devas. Sunda and Upasunda were asura brothers who’s asectisim grew dangerous and frightening to the gods, to the point were the god Brahman was compelled to grant them a boon. The Tripasura, who we discussed here, gained their dominion over the world and their near invulnerable cities by mediation and religious practice.

A demon as the goal of a pilgrimage is rather unusual, however. The typical pilgrimage goal is to some holy site. In Europe, the locations of miraculous items, either the bodies or images of saints. Copies of these images are often sent back as markers of their successful pilgrimage. These tokens typically contained some miraculous power of their own, refracted from the original.

The power of these sacred places is best known to me regarding icons. Images of saints and holy figures, the miraculous icon often has healing power attributed to it. The image’s attributites can be more extreme however. When a bishop unveiled an icon despite tradition, the image of the virgin Mary underneath drove him to suicide. Other instances are recorded of the image’s mere gaze driving out demons from the bodies of the possessed. The end of the road of a pilgrimage is a sacred work, but the sacred is dangerous and powerful.

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The most famous pilgrimage, of course, is the pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims, carried out once in a life time. The Hajj has its specified time, the eighth to twelfth month of the Muslim calendar, and attracts millions every year to Saudi Arabia. The Hajj, as one of the five pillars of Islam, is necessary barring financial or health concerns. The site itself contains what, according to the Koran, is the first place of worship constructed by Ishamael and Abraham. The sites holiness cannot be overstated in this case.

Other faiths maintain their own pilgrimage sites: Zorastrians to fire temples that have survived, Hindus to the sites of major moments of divine action, Buddhists to sites of the life of Buddha. I know less regarding these, however, and didn’t have the time to delve into any of them deeply as I would have liked.

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In addition to these, there are stories of pilgrimages. One that sticks out to me, with talk of demons and such, is the Journey to the West. Here, while demons are not the goal of the pilgrimage, they are assisting in the travel—admittedly for their own benefit, but still. The pilgrimage in that case is of a Buddhist monk retrieving a set of scriptures from India to be brought to China, for the betterment of all. Here we have demonic aid for the completion of the pilgrimage, and demonic challengers to the progress of our pilgrim.  There is more to go into on the Journey to the West, but as it is a classic work I encourage my fellow scholars of the deceased to pursue it on their own. 

There is also the collection of stories known as the Cantebury tales. While a bawdy and comedic affair, and ranging in quality and incomplete, the story does center around the people who travel on this pilgrimage, their reasons and their means, and how they entertain themselves along the way. This format was taken up later, in a science fiction context, in the novel Hyperion to good effect as well.

A danger to said pilgrims, found in the Christian tradition, has some odd horror aspects as well. As holy figures, the remains of pilgrims were sought for as relics. While some villages and towns were content to merely find those who died of exhaustion or exposure, at least one went beyond. One Saint Gerald of Cologne–who’s documentation I can only find below–was killed by bandits near Cremona, and then had his relics stored their for future reverence. This sounds to me similar in principle to the demons of Journey to the West who seek to set upon the monk for his immortality-granting-flesh.

There was a recent murder in Spain of a pilgrim from the United States. While the motives are unknown, the murderer did intentionally mislead and disorient the woman in question, before murdering her and mutilating her body. The pilgrims road is thus perhaps still dangerous in the modern era.

The pilgrimage then can serve both as a source of danger and a way to unite a diverse number of characters. The motive in this case, to behold the court of the ultimate creator (As Azazoth is to a point), and the ultimate source of knowledge can include any number of beings as well as professions. And a winnowing of visitors—akin to the one at the frozen mountain with a garden atop—would also be a start.

The story should certainly establish the reasons or motives for the traveling—even if only in a line or two, or perhaps by implication—and what the expected difficulties are, how they’ve prepared, and then get into how thing begin to go wrong. It could end with the death or dissertion of all pilgrims before reaching the fabled throne, or we might glimpse that ultimate mystery ourselves. The history of searching for the holy is fraught with challenges. The Grail Quest removes nearly a third of all the knights of the Round Table and leads eventually—in some versions—to the downfall of the entire court. The dangers along the roadside are numerous.

I have a few ideas of horrific or horror tinged pilgrimages to strange and dark locations. The throne of Azazthoth, and the holds of demon princes and kings in general, are well guarded, far way, and deserted places. Our pilgrims will be risking mind, body, and soul for a glimpse at that ultimate font of reality.

There is a story of what happens when one glimpses the ultimate paradise. Four rabbis entered. One went mad, one became a heretic, and one died. Only the fourth entered and left in peace. To look upon the holy is to risk everything. The horror. The horror.

Biblography:

Garnett, Jane, and Gervase Rosser. Spectacular Miracles: Transforming Images in Italy, from the Renaissance to the Present. Reaktion, 2013.

Geary, Patrick. 1986. “Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics” in Arjun Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.169-91.

Vauchez, AndreÌ. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2005.


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River of Fire

This Week’s Prompt:50. Phleg′-e-thon: a river of liquid fire in Hades.

The Resulting Story:Ill Fated Boat Ride
This week’s prompt appropriately enough brings us back to one of the richest goldmines that Mr. Lovecraft employs: Classical imagery and mythology. In this case, the Phlegethon, one of the rivers that runs along Hades, providing a boundary marker. The river itself is often described as alit with fire, flowing ( or “coiling”) into the depths of Tarturus, the closest thing to an infernal domain the Greeks had.

Phlegethon

Fittingly, then, Phlegethon has been maintained past the Classics into the imagery of Hell provided by Christian authors. Dante describes it as a river of blood and violence, boiling over as murderers and war criminals were forced to stay in it by patrolling centaurs. Milton places it and the other four rivers as parts of hell explored by the fallen angels, before the idea of tempting mortals is introduced. The Faeire Queene by Spencer has it scorch sinners, and even Mr. Lovecraft included it in the work “the Other Gods”.

However, as strange as a river of fire might sound, it is not alone in peculiar underworld rivers. Rivers, being natural dividers and boundary markers, often arise around the land of the dead, many with strange contents. Hubur, the Sumerian river of the dead, held dead souls in it’s depths against their will. Sillias, a river reported by a Greek traveler in India, allows nothing to float, but rather drags everything into it’s depths. The Vaitarna River is, to the sinless, a river of nectar. To the sinner, it appears filled with blood, bones, and pus. When the sinner approaches, flames appear everywhere. Those who try and cross, and are in fact sinners, will burn forever in the whirlpools in it’s depths.

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And of course there is Xibalba. Xibalba has a number of rivers. A river of blood, yes, but also a river of pus and a river of scorpions. These rivers mark the roads and borders of the Maya realm of the dead, to keep the living out and the dead within. The rivers must be crossed successfully,

These rivers often have fearsome guardians. Hubur has monsters with many arms demonic birds, the Phelegthon has it’s centaurs in Dante, and Vaitarna has hundreds of crocodiles and birds to devour the flesh of sinners before the cross.

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Of course, rivers of fire are not merely fantastical. There are multiple records of polluted rivers bursting into flames or exploding, sometimes for shockingly long periods at a time. The resonance of damned souls burning and industrial waste igniting is perhaps not an accident. It is a potent image, fire snaking it’s way down what ought to be it’s relief, a boiling mass of suffering from what is normally life giving.

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Rivers role with the dead we’ve discussed here, when talking of suicides at bridges, and here with Davey Jones. The river’s leading inexorably down to a place of punishment is not one we’ve directly addressed. However, as an image and mode for a story, flowing down a river unwittingly to doom seems as good a premise as any to describe the arc of a story. The realm of the dead is near the edge of the river, the damned are just below it’s surface struggling to be free.

I would focus on the rivers, then, and the journey down them rather than the dead itself. It can keep the story somewhat more grounded then we’ve been lately, more in the realm of the mortal than the completely supernatural. I’d suggest a borderline between the surreal but natural occurrence of flaming rivers and the wholly supernatural rivers of fire and hell would be a good place to work. A place of uncertainty, where the danger is real, but the extent is not completely clear. And the river is a good place to set such a story. Rivers are border places, where parties of either side might meet. It is a perpetual threshold between two places, endowed with motion onward.

The other recurring image is the attempt (and failure) to cross the river by sinful souls or inquisitive dead. Xibalba is the exception, of course, having been crossed and overthrown by the Maya Hero Twins, and even then it had more confounding traps past the river. Vaitarna allows people to cross with proper preparations, offerings, or after a lengthy time of suffering. Other rivers are generally safe to the sinless, a sort of natural filter.

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And of course, with many of these, the role of supernatural ferryman is a strong image. A ferryman who is more aware of the nature of the river and what’s around it. Charon serves this roll for the Styx, Guru’s for the Vaitarna, Virgil for Dante. These more than human guides might have a place in our story as well.

Come next week to see what corpse we pull from the boiling blood, and what it’s appearance resembles!

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Calamity And Woe

This Week’s Prompt: 48. Cities wiped out by supernatural wrath.

Resulting Story: The Fall of Anuel
This weeks topic is very similar to a number of earlier topics. We have of course, the tale of Irem from not that long ago. We have the hubris end-of-times discussion earlier. We have the stories of Atlantis. But lets see if there is more to discuss here, before going into what shape our plot might form.

We do have the lost cities of Lovecraft, including Ib and Sarnath. The people of Sarnath slaughtered the creatures of Ib, and the god of Ib in return destroyed Sarnath in it’s entirety. The Doom that Came To Sarnath records that after their victory over Ib, the people of Sarnath reigned for one thousand years. On the anniversary of the destruction of Ib, Bokurg, god of Ib, visits doom upon them.

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In Hindu myth, there are the Tripura, who were destroyed after their dominion over the world by Lord Shiva. The Asura who raise the city were once devout followers, and practiced many devotions to earn the blessing of Brahma and raise a great and impregnable fortress. The fortress could only be overcome if a single arrow overthrew it, a feat that only Lord Shiva could accomplish. Being devoted to him in their entirety, the Asura thought themselves safe. They went forth, and conquered the worlds. In time, however, they forgot their piety and were overturned.

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Atlantis’s allegorical myth bears repeating here as well. Founded by sons of Poseidon, the Atlanteans conquered the world. They were turned back by Athens. Unlike other, popular versions of the story, Atlantis’s original cause of destruction is not explicitly said, although they lost the favor of the gods certainly. Given our prior with Tripura, Sodom, and Babel, I would suggest they to grew proud.

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The hubris of man and his empires is certainly the running theme of divinely destroyed lands. This makes a degree of sense. Empires are mighty, all encompassing powers that often boast divine backing if not divine nature. Such boasts of power are almost asking to be undone and disproven by gods that do not endorse the nation in question. The arc of empire, often made analogous to the arc of comets, is one of tremendous rising force and stupendous, alarming collapse.

Which brings us to our plot to be examined: the fall of a city by the wrath of some supernatural force. The wrath of the gods is a varied lot. While there are traditional shows of force, such as shaking the earth or sending forth plagues, there are some that are more unique or disturbing. The flood caused by the gods of the Maya had the cooking implements of the people turn on them. A rain of frogs appears in the Old Testament assault on Egypt. The Curse of Cain is that of wandering with no hospitality. The gods of Olympus regularly transformed those who raised their ire, from Arachne to Niobe. There is , in general, a large degree of imagination in imagery when the gods deign to unleash their terror on the world.

or, Qualtiy over Quantity.

But what our plot might have that separates it from the other resurrected corpses is that our story of fallen hubris doesn’t take place in the narrative past but the narrative future. This would bring it in closer connection with the Prophecy of Tammuz. A story of an impending, doomed collapse. The final, waning days of an empire before the gods level their wrath upon it.

In fact, I suggest we split our story up into three temporal parts, five hundred or so words each. The decay will be apparent in the in-between times, as omens are made apparent and ignroed, as prophets call out warning but are ignored, as sins are damned and the victims cry out, apparently ignored. The wrath of the Gods is often kind enough to send some warning ahead of it. We will then have on display all the ugliness and vice of a city that will be destroyed.

Our first scene then, would establish the empire as it is. What is it’s glory? Grandeur? Not yet decadent, to the view of the audience, but rather a vast and glorious thing that only occasionally hints at the suffering cities of hubris are built on. The second scene would refocus on these, bringing the decadence to the for. We might here introduce more overt omens of doom, that the audience is aware of but the characters are dismissive of. Prophets, perhaps, or strange figures in the sky. Black stars or ghosts of lions. Omens are a fun bunch.

The third act would not be the doom itself. No, it would be when the characters themselves are aware of their doom. Whatever act caused their doom, whatever the hubris was, is now made apparent. The gods wrath has begun, if it is a plague or similar slow acting misery. But the finale, the final act of judgment has been proclaimed but not carried out. So we end our story, with our characters alone and frightened, acutely aware they are going to die soon, that they have no recourse to escape, and no one else to blame but their own deeds. The end of a tragedy.

I would focus our story on those most likely to be the most decadent members of society. A story of hubris loses some of it’s veneer if we view it from the downtrodden and suffering. And while such people have their own horror, that of an fate they did not ask for and do not deserve, such story seems more difficult to preform in a short span of fifteen hundred words. I might toy with the notion of contrasting characters, however. A prince and pauper perspective might add some depth and contrast to the apocalypse. And it might help add some shades to the typical moral against hubris.

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If we do get such a perspective on the city in question, the cause of wrath I feel should be more than just hubris. Building the Tower of Babel is fine for a work of myth, but we work in smaller symbolism. We will need butchers, slavers, exploiters of everything under the sun, monsters of men that are themselves proof against the city’s right to exist.

This will take some meditating. Such horrific crimes aren’t often revealed in myths of hubris and devastation. Just that they were there, and the group in question was deserving in it’s annulment. I will think on what sorts of crimes could warrant such devastation. One of my favorite sources is Chariot, a tabletop game I’ve never played but I commend for it’s writing and world building.

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Sing Me A Song

This week’s prompt: 39. Sounds—possibly musical—heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being.

The Resulting Story: The Earth Shakes
Mr. Lovecraft here proposes something like a much older notion: The music of the spheres. The world presented by this notion is not too alien: It is a world guided by rhythms and motions of music. You hear this talk, for instance, when angelic groups are referred to as choirs. The cyclical nature of the world, as observed, makes analogs to music not terribly hard. The Music of the Spheres refers to the music that all of creation makes, including other worlds and realms such as Heaven and Hell.

This concept has a great deal of pull in fantasy works. The grandfather of Fantasy, Tolkien, incorporated music into the creation mythos of Middle Earth. The Valar sing forth the world, and evil comes from the discord produced by a single singer. The communal element of music and a choir is fundamental to the image: there is a notion of participation in a greater whole.

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Of course, other works of mythology have used the singer in other ways. Orpheus, the most famous musician of note, was a gifted singer. So gifted that he moved the lord of the dead to cry and show mercy. Such was Orpheus, that he sang even as his head drifted down the river. Orpheus during his life played so well, he drowned the sirens. Orpheus’s rites, carried forward into his mysteries, were universal in tone, dealing again with themes of revival and cosmic connections.

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This is the main folklore I will use as the beginning. The other story is that of Krishna, a famed god of India, or demigod, who as a child would engage in the song and dance. Krishna lures the milkmaids of the local village out, and they engage him in a dance that lasts (via Krishna’s manipulation) over a billion years. Krishna’s dance lacks Orpheus’s tragedy and Orpheus’s personal tragedy, but it connects on the level of passion and intimacy among the gods. This power to shape and reshape is key to music.

Fantasy of course is familiar with the notion of magical music in the form of magic harps and bards.

Orpheus’s story begins with not only his marriage, but the death of his wife in his wedding. Notably, she dies fleeing a satyr, a wild man who is filled with lust and passion. In flight she gets bitten by a viper.

Orpheus’s mourning cries move all the nymphs and then world wept with him. The gods directed him to Hades. There he descended and sang to charm the lord of that place and his wife. Such was Orpheus’s singing that the punishment of Tarturus for a moment paused. And all listened mourning. And so Hades sent Eudryice out, on the condition that Orpheus never look at her until they reached the sunlight lands.

But Orpheus looked. And so was doomed.

And such was his second grief that he wandered and gave up all the gods, save his father Apollo. But once while worshiping, he is assailed by Maenads, worshipers of Dionyosous. They slay him for his impeity to the god of revelry, and he sings as he washes away. Women, who he had sworn off, assailed his head with stones and sticks as it drifted. But these would not hurt. So the women descended on him and tore at his flesh, ending his journey.

There is something then of the Apollo versus Dionysous, revelry versus civilization, light versus darkness, cthonic versus celestial to the myth. And that, along with the theme of passion, is of key interest to our story.

The power of music to lure and bend is common to both this story, the story of Krishna, and of course the Pied piper. It’s effect on man and beast alike. It is a power that reaches into minds and souls, that bends even the unbendable.

I would write thus about a musician motivated by passion. I would write about a woman motivated by a lost passion even—but not motivated to recover or resurrect her lost Lenore. That is something done too often, particularly with female villains. No, I have a better aim.

The notion of escaping death is perhaps better. Remember when I mentioned the often refferred to Choir Invisible? The immortal chorus of angels? The place of gods? I think this is where our woman is headed. Not to revive her husband, but rather to raise herself from that terrible fate that befall men and women alike.

A humanities response to the more scientific minded hubris, then.

Further, in the vein of pulp that makes up my blood now, I think she won’t be the main character. Or rather, not the character who’s view we share. Rather, we should examine from a secondary character rooting out what has happened. After all, when toying and perfecting the divine song, strange things are no doubt going to result.

There will be a trail of clues through the years, until at last the confrontation comes. That is when, I think, the Orphean magic must work. The dead then will rise, frightful as they are, to the call of the divine song. Calamity and apocalypse surrounds the final show down.

To keep above pulp, however, we want a harmony of two themes. Our villianness is formed of Gothic works, passion and hubris, loss and despair, pride and madness. Then what of our protagonist?

I think if the one wants power by joining something greater and bending it to her whims, then a protagonist may be one who has suffered in reverse. This is not one to be admired, of course, nor followed. But a person who is purely function who seeks to escape and become an individual perfectly parallels a person who seeks power at the cost of individuality and sanity. We will have to work out the details later.

I would be remiss not to mention where this prompt seems to have gone, in Lovecraft’s own work. The Music of Eric Zann has clear inspirations here.

So check that out, after our story comes out, and tell us about your own! What did you hear, from those distant outer spheres singing into this world?

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The Gate to Nothing

This Week’s Prompt:36. Disintegration of all matter to electrons and finally empty space assured, just as devolution of energy to radiant heat is known. Case of acceleration—man passes into space.

The Resulting Story:It Fades,It All Fades

The prompt this week is one of a cataclysm made by human kind’s ascension to an unacceptable height, specifically beyond the bounds of the earth into the stars. There are echoes of similar stories in both Classical and Biblical stories of hubris that we will discuss before examining the possible story routes this might take, from stories of survival to stories of despair. And perhaps how each could take the form of horror.

Hubris is a tradition among the Greeks for years. It is perhaps best and most famously expressed in the story of Icarus, where in Daedulus is imprisoned by King Minos in a labyrinth of his own construction. Daedalus constructs two sets of wings using wax and feathers in order that he and his son might fly across the sea and escape. He warns Icarus not to draw too close to the sea, or the waves will engulf him, or too close to the sun, where the wax will melt. Filled with joy at his wings, however, Icarus flys toward the sun and then plummets to his death as his wings melt away.

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Bellérophon, one of the first heroes of Greek Myth, likewise meets his death in ascending. With the horse Pegasus, he attempted to ascend Olympus after slaying the Chimera. He attempts this twice over Pegasus’s protests. The third time, Pegasus bucks him per Zeus’s instructions, and Bellérophon…well, plummets to his death.

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These two stories of hubris, however, are personal tales. The prompt is regarding one of more cosmic significance. And for that, there is the time honored tradition of the deluge story. The deluge is a tradition across the world, and often has something to do with humanities…problems. Among the Greeks, the Deluge was over the decline of Bronze Age man. Among those of the Near East it was due to the noise caused by humans, disturbing the sleep of the gods. The Bible implies, by placement, that the flood was caused by perhaps the Nephilim or the raising of the Tower of Babel. The Maya story varies, but reasons include transgression or neglect of proper duties.

I could not locate the cause of the Hindu flood, which was also survived by a man with a boat. This begins the second theme of these myths: after the deluge, the survivors (if there are any. The Maya story has every member of that race of mankind destroyed) repopulate the earth and often play some role in defining the laws that are to come. This next race of human kind is almost always shorter lived and less grand then their ancestors as well. But they are more pious or perhaps more strongly instructed to avoid offending gods in that way.

The flood then is the means by which the divine punishes mankind for stepping past his bonds. But…well, the heat death of existence is a good deal more permanent then that. Heat death is the reduction of all movement, all existence to nothing. The prompts to something more like the end of Ragnarok or the floods of fire in Revelation, which have a sense of total annihilation. These though are eventually followed by rebirth. The death of the Sun in Egyptian and Aztec myth is more akin perhaps, but still not quite imminent enough.

No we must abandon folklore here, I fear. It is too cheerful and lacks the sort of dread and doom that this story seems to imply. The fear being invoked here is one of emptiness, of annihilation in every capacity. It’s an almost tragic doom decreed by fate. And for that, inspiration might come from the realm of Poetry.

Particularly, the poems around the end of World War 1 come to mine. T.S. Elliot’s Hollow Men at the end becomes that disturbed and doomed atmosphere. The Second Coming by Yeats is much similar, although one filled with dread of a coming future more than a wasteland. There is in both, however, a sense of collapse of the world and everything around it. From these we might create an account of the final days of the universe.

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The horror of annihilation must be balanced against the implicate tragedy. After all, while a slow death of existence is somewhat horrifying in the existential way, it is …well, rather dull. By definition, little happens as the universe winds down. It is a whimpering slow death, not the grand death of dramas. How to make that engaging then?

Well, partially this can be achieved by drawing an omniscient description of decay, but a purely descriptive story is rather boring as well. No, it occurs rather more interesting to describe how the last man becomes the last. The wandering of two souls, one on the verge of death, the other weighing whether to follow him into the void that expands forever outward and inward. Or perhaps the person struggles in vain to reverse the collapse? That might be the best yet.

Yes, an island floating in the void, as the ground around it breaks apart, as the plants begin to wither provides an excellent marker of time as things end. Who these people are is another matter entirely. I am not sure myself. I would be in favor of scholars and scientists, stereo typically those most capable of such feats as to hold back the flood gates of oblivion.

That is all I have for this prompt this time. But maybe, in this broken jaw bone of lost kingdoms, you have seen etched something grander. Something more beautiful. Or more dreadful. Similar topics have been discussed here and here.

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