The Eye

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Resulting story: The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This weeks quote is from the novel, the House of Seven Gables. The novel follows a number of themes—contrasting old, aristocratic and isolated living with more fashionable and mercantile living. The dangers of superstition, particularly of witch hunts. The futility of the past, the nature of architecture as a haunting, family feuds both within and without, fears of mesmerism, corruption of government authorities. It is a Gothic book in all but name. So, what are we to start with today, with such a wide text?

I am loath to continue with the nightmares and witches. While, yes, certainly there are creatures that I haven’t touched upon regarding dreams and nightmares—Lilith and the lilitu, for instance, or the use of dreams to take on animal forms and combat evil—I suspect those particular topics will be reached anyway. No, I’d rather focus on a different portion of the book and of Gothic literature obsession. The gaze.

In House of Seven Gables, we are introduced to two families. The Pyncheon’s and the Maule’s, a rich and poor family. The Maule’s land is robbed, by means of a witchcraft accusation. This accusation, which carries down the generations, lays at the feet of the Maule’s many supernatural capacities, not the least of which is the evil eye, which we will get to shortly. However, Hawthorne connects the power of the eye to the then modern practice of mesmerism, a science dealing in animal magnetism and hypnosis. The gaze to Hawthorne has the potential to harm—it isn’t merely a passive action, but rather a potentially malicous one.

Vathek.png

This notion of the importance of sight can be found in a number of other foundation Gothic texts. We can consider Vathek, a story that focuses on a wicked Caliph. Among the Caliph’s powers is his gazed which—when enraged—can kill a man with hatred. The Caliph’s story, including as it does demons, magical swords, and a quest to hell, is worth a read for a fan of the Gothic. We can also consider importance of vision in Frankenstien—here the eyes of the monster are what gives away it’s character to the more mortal participants and are the source of horror. Dracula like wise has a commanding stare, as do most vampires in Gothic tales—the Count of Monte Cristo is noted for his eyes, and Dorian Grey’s painting suffers when veiwed at all. The power to see and be seen are dangerous in these stories, to the last. Even the other Great American Horror Author, Edgar Allen Poe, included a fear of vision—the tell tale heart after all stars a most terrible, vulture like eye.

Where does all this fear of vision come from? Well, it is not without precedent. One of the most fearsome folklore ailments is the evil eye. Under various names, the evil eye stretches from Scotland across Europe and into parts of South Africa and Middle East. The evil eye’s effects are almost universal: a person with the evil eye can afflict another with a curse—either misfortune or ill health—with nothing more than a stare and evil intent. Particularly fearsome examples refer to mummifying their targets Often the effect is most feared among children, and so numerous precautions are taken to avoid it.

Evil Eye Protection.png

In Macedonia, clothes were worn inside out to avoid the evil eye. In Palestine, blue glass was used to ward it off. Various charms are described by Etruscan witches to keep it at bay. In Greece, at various times, blue beads and blue string have been used to ward it off from animals and other human beings a like. In Persia, rugs were sometimes woven with complex designs to avoid the evil eye, and for this purpose one author speculated Celtic notes were made to confuse the witches eye.

Who is liable to use the evil eye varies from location to location. In Ethiopia, it was often ironworking artisans who made use of it—particularly against clients who failed to pay or who were more successful then they were. Among the Suk people, one possessor of the evil eye was a rather rich rancher—however, do to his capabilities, he was avoided at all costs.

The evil eye’s spread in the states, and in New England in particular, is documented with the case of one John Godfrey. John Godfrey, as a renowned witch, was accused during one of his law suits of speaking freely of witchcraft in order to shock victims. He would say that the witches merely reported to the devil who had displeased them, and then stare at whatever they wanted dead—cattle, man, child, what have you.

That a New Englander would bring such beliefs is not surprising. In every part of England, the evil eye can be found. We have talked before, at length, of the power witches in Shropeshire had. There we have witches who nearly waste away a yougn woman by “overlooking” them, cases of a horse being used to dectet the witch in the case of Kitty Williams, and our man who fixes his enemies in place with a glance. In Lanchshire, there were stories of the evil eye again used on cattle—but frequently tied to other interactions. Outsiders couldn’t use the evil eye if they were avoided, and excessive admiration was thought to also bring on the evil eye through envy.

But the evil eye is not the deadliest or oldest concern with gaze. We can find a more fearsome sort in Ireland, for example. There the evil eye was known as Balor’s eye for sometime—and perhaps was it’s lesser cousin. Balor was a great lord of giants who inhabited Ireland, and had an eye so vast that it took seven men to lift it’s lid (or it possessed seven lids, and each took a great effort to raise). It was said when Balor gazed upon a field it withered, men died, and stone suffered. It is said sometimes that when Balor was slain—and he was of course in time slain—that his eye burned a lake into the ground where it rests to this day.

The other famed European example is the Basilisk or Cockatrice, a pair of related creatures that appear to be either a snake or a rooster. The gaze of these creatures was said to be murderous and paralytic, naturally leading them inhabit vast deserts in Northern Africa.

Corcotta.png

They shared this prowess with a less well known, but equally frightening creature: the Crocotta. This creature was accounted for living in Ethiopia or India, and was believed to have a number of qualities. When it’s shadow touches a dog, the dog is struck dumb. When it gazed on a person or animal three times, it froze them in place. It was also capable of imitating the voices of victims, and was invulenerable to steal weapons. Later additions in Medieval bestiaries added gem-eyes that, if held under someones tongue, could provide visions of the future.

Moving to the Americas, we find a number of comparable creatures. Here we enter a difficult space—I did contact a modern member of the Cherokee to confirm these stories, but my abillity to find linkable sources was hamstrung. The one I’ll focus on is the Uktena, a horned serpent—the description I found said it was as wide as a trunk, with deer antlers, and a fire jewel in it’s eye. This jewel has a number of traits: it is magical, oracular, and if a hunter looks at this jewel, they are blinded and run into the serpents mouth. Other traits include that the Uktena can only be slain by firing an arrow at it’s seventh stripe—beneath which sits its heart and life. And impressive for our discussions, looking at the Uktena will kill not the hunter, but his entire family. Combined with the creatures poisonous breath, and the Uktena is a terrifying creature to find in the woods. Nonetheless, there are stories of a man managing to slay one, and making off with the jewel.

From the Cherokee to the Lakota, we have a very distinct water creature with deadly vision. The Unk Cekula is one of a pair with Unk Tehi. The two creatures came from the north, and proved hazardous—if they reproduced, they would endanger the entire world (an origin that resembles some stories of Leviathan). So one was slain. The creatures properties are notable: She has eyes of fire, skin of stone, and claws of iron—this last trait a post-colonial addition I think—and to look upon her was death. First a victim would go blind, then mad, and finally die. Like Uktena, her weakness relates to the number seven (the seventh spot instead of stripe) and she has a magical crystal within her. A pair of brothers slew her, one blind, with the help of a medicine arrow.

Bear Butte.png

Bear Butte, which was created after a fight between Unk Cekula and a great bear.

The Hero Twins of the Dine leave a number of dead monsters behind them, but one that is worth our attention is Binaye Ahani, who slays people with their eyes. These monsters dwell in a cavern shaped like a house, with a great family. When the Monster Slayer arrives, they attempt to kill him with their gaze—the text refering to it as “lighting” shooting from their eyes. The Monster Slayer’s armor, however, protects him. Perhaps it uses the same techniques as mirror armor. Their eyes eventually stretch out with effort, and burn on their own fire. All but two are killed, and the spared youngest become birds of fortune and beauty.

We could go on—the dangers of sight on statues and icons were discussed before, and the dangers of seeing a god’s true form in some mythologies are known. But I’d like to step out of folklore and ask what it is exactly that people fear. Why is staring or being seen dangerous? Why is it assumed envy should have power here?

I think a sincere part of this is that a gaze, a glance, is a connection. To make eye contact with someone or something is to connect with them, to reach out in an unspoken way and show understanding—and that this understanding isn’t always wanted, mutual, or equal. To see something is to interact with it, and by interacting with it, be changed by it. That change can be dangerous, lethal even! Especially with wicked intent.

Our follow up story will incorporate some of this of course—we can easily weave the work of dreams and gaze together, slumber with the trance of mesmerism. The creation of illusions by the wizard and the power of a gaze by his heir seem appropriate to bring together.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Biblography:

Abbot Richard. Macedonian Folklore Cambridge, England; Cambridge University Press. 1903

Beech, Mervyn Worchester Howard. The Suk; Their Language and Folklore. Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1911.

Bowen, Barbra M. The Folklore of Palestine. Grand Rapids , Michigan; Wm B. Eerdmans publishing co. 1940

Coote Lake, Evelyn F. “Some  Notes  on the Evil Eye Round the Medterrianian Basin”. Folklore Vol 44, No 1, March 1933, pp 93-98

Demos, John. “John Godfrey and His Neighbors: Witchcraft and the Social Web in Colonial Massachusets”. The William and Mary Quarterly. Vol 33, No 2 April  1976, pp 242-265.

Finneran, Nial “Ethiopian Evil Eye Belief and The Magical Symbolism of Iron Working”. Folklore, Vol 114 , No 3. Dec. 2003 pp 427-433

G.H.K. “Stray Donegal Folklore”. The Folk-lore Journal,Vol 5 No 1, 1887, pp 66-68

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

Leland, Charles Godfrey.  Etruscan Magic and Occult Remedies. New Hyde Park, New York. University Books. 1963

Vulkanovic, T.P. “Obscene Objects in Balkan Religion and Magic”. Folklore, Vol 92, 1981. pp 43-53

The Wound

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

The Prior Research:Revenge Most Cruel

CW: Suicide

“I had forgotten you still had this, Ottobuno.” Venerio exclaimed as we arrived at the lone castle to my families name. It was a stone edifice, bare of most adornments within and without—sacrifices to be made to keep the walls themselves.

“Is the village still there, where we once played?” Venerio asked, peering from the hill off towards the seashore.

“More or less, although the fishermen have mostly left.” I said, smiling. Oh those golden halcyon days, when we were young. Running side by side, having slipped away from lessons to steal fish for ourselves. Summer days that seemed they would never end. They tasted bitter now in my head.

Italy CAstle.png

“Well, that is a shame. I hope someone still collects their fish.”Venerio said, gesturing for my servant to open the door. “Never was their tastier ones.”

“We may not dine on them, but certainly from the balcony we could see the sea.” I said, walking down the hallway steps, checking my belongings.

“Ah, the balcony…a day such as this, with an evening breeze would be delightful.” Venerio replied. We moved through the halls, and up the stairs—past parapets that had not seen shot nor arrow in almost a century now. So remote was this place, that time and war had forgotten parts.

“Hold one moment.” Venerio said, pausing before a tapestry. I turned on my heel. He was dragging this affair out almost intolerably. The painting he had stopped to look at was an old one—on it was St. Michael, driving his spear into the twisting serpent of hell. The spear’s cross-guard was a crucifix, and at the other end Christ reached down to carry forth a mass that had been trapped beneath the serpents head. Vernon’s eyes traced the spear’s shaft into the winged archangel’s hands, his own almost touching it.

“Is this one of Ricardo’s pieces?” Venerio asked slowly. “It has some of his…wonderful imagery to it.”

The Archangel Michael.png

“Yes, one of the older ones we commissioned from him.” I said, nodding and taking a step to the side to appreciate the site. “He’s quite capable of capturing the wondrous in his work, isn’t he?”

“That he is, that he is. Did you see the new piece we commissioned? It was just finished, third in the set. It’s of Paradise, but with mother and father as Adam and Eve.” Venerio said, nodding.

“…Then that leaves to you Cain or Abel?” I asked, eyes narrow some. Venerio laughed. How I hated that light, high laugh. Small needles in my skin.

“Ah, no, I do not feature yet. Perhaps I will be a frolicking child or take on one of the Judges faces. Do you think I would make good Gideon?” Venerio asked, puffing out his chest, hands on his hips.

“Perhaps, if not a Samson.” I said with a chuckle. “You have the face for it at least. A jawbone would look strange in your hands though.”

“Maybe two, if the trades east are good—spices for pigments after all.” Venerio said, lightly wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Why, maybe we can get one of you—a Solomon or Absalom, with such hair.”

I laughed, my eyes fixed as he burst. He looked so innocent when he laughed—as if he didn’t know I would have had a picture of a saint already if not for him. If those spices came on our ships, we would be dining at a villa, not a dusty castle. If we had been but five years, not a decade, earlier, Ricardo would be painting my parents again. The laugh is an opaque mask, but certainty of purpose lets me see clearly.

Medieval Wine.png

He attended me on the balcony, where we drank wine in celebration of the coming spring. He had entertained me only a month prior for Christmas—a misbegotten act of charity. That night, that horribly night when he offered me—me! Who’s ancestors were Senators of Rome!–charity. He told me that hard times were upon me. He confided in me that night that, he knew a fine heiress who might value my name and pity me. Pity enough, perhaps, for an arrangement or marriage while I still had my youth. He told me, me that he could not bare to see me decay away in my old family homes.

I felt the knife in my pocket to cool my nerves. It’s blade, its hilt, its carved crest of his wretched thieving family. It was set. It was all set for this night.

“Ah, the gods,they have forsaken us! There is no more wine!” Venerio said, turning the bottle upside down. A drop of red wine fell to the table, staining the white table cloth.

“Not yet, not yet. I have an old cask down below, filled to the top.” I said, raising my glass. “And who better to share it with, on this night. No finer wine exists in my line.”

“The best wine? Why, we are already drunk! You’ll waste it.” Venerio laughed again, cutting my ears.

“Ah, no, a man only truly appreciates wine when drunk.” I said, standing with exaggerated pauses. My mind was, in truth, clear as day. A great lens it made, bringing the world into greater focus. I wondered, did my blood have warmth still? Or if he touched my hand as we caroused down the stairs, did it feel as cold as the Northern Sea?

The cellar was down several rows of stairs. It was only with the guidance of my deft hand that Vernon did not meet his fate at the hands of the stone stairs or walls. Drunkard and fool. But death would not come so swift. As he stumbled into the room, nearly collapsing over the wine, I shut the door—and locked it with an iron key.

“This…this the wine?” Venerio asked, striking the barrel with an open palm.

“Yes, the best in the family.” I said, drawing the knife and walking over. I paused. There was still one last step. He was trapped here—the servants had seen him and me enter, alone. Venerio’s habits were no secret—the power of alcohol over him was second only to God Himself. All was set for the final, fatal step.

I drew back the knife before Venerio eyes and drove it into my side.

KnifeMedieval.png

“Christs wounds what are you doing Buno?” Venerio said, staggering back in shock, as I pushed the blade across. It was warm, my blood was warm as I staggered forward, dropping the knife on the cask.

“Not…rotting away…” I said, with a laugh. His face at that laugh—did he still pity me? No, no I wouldn’t have him pity me.

“Don’t you see, you fool? Your all alone—with me and the knife.” I said as my head began to ache for the lost blood. “They all saw you, drunk as ever, come down here with me! Run and hide, it doesn’t matter—when they find me, they’ll know who it was that did the deed!”

Venerio backed away slowly, the knife clattering to the floor.

“Buno, I-I don’t, what is wrong–”

“And then.” I said, smiling. “Then they’ll hang you from the rafters—you and one day your thieving parents and your whole wretched house. The knife was your knife, they’ll know what kind of cut-purses and villains you are.”

My voice began to dwindle, curses half formed on my lips as blood pooled on the floor. I saw him run, but I am not afraid. Here in this forest, I wait—I know he’ll be down here, down in the frozen wastes.


So…this story.

I’m going to write a bit more on the writing of this story then normal. The story’s initial pitch is tragic over the top Edgar Allen Poe horror. It’s a story of vengeance that is literally self destructive. But it’s also about suicide.

I’ve had several friends who were suicidal—and several who actually took their own lives. That fact was true when doing my research, but the impact of it only became clear when I sat down to try and write the story. And…well, it made writing the story more taxing then normal. While the story was delayed some so I could finish the Patreon rewrite of Demophon—which was delayed because of moving in Morocco and other work—it was also delayed because writing a suicide scene was…well, almost too much. Almost.

I usually say if a story I’m writing scares me, it’s a good sign. The Muse story still unnerves me, for instance. But this…this was a bit much.

With that said, next week we return to more lighthearted affairs. Black Mass beneath a church’s ruin. It’s gonna get witchy.

 

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

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.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Dealing With The Devil

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

The Resulting Story: A Prodigal Son Returns

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

Theophilus Deal With The Devil.png

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

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

Codex Gigas.png

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

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

Pope Slyvester.png

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

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

John Fian.png

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

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

Devils Bridge.png

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

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

Faust3.png

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

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

Faust1.png

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

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

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

FaustMonk.png

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

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

Faust2.png

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

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

Robot Devil.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Referred To:

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

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Frightful Night Terrors

This Weeks Prompt:41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.
The Resulting Story: There Is Another In The Woods

The tie between fear and death is fundamental to the notions of horror as we have them. There is nothing more fundamental to our nature then a fear of death. That fear pressage death, be death’s relative, is not so strange. In the myth of the Greeks, fear and terror are children of Ares, butcher of war. Fear is at the essence of what we do here, fear is at the heart of horror.

But there are very few things that are, well, just fear. Dying of fright is certainly a phenomenon, well documented at that in several anthropological works. But, well, those aren’t situations that lend themselves well to horror. Fear can cause a heart attack, which is existentially terrifying, but lacks a certain amount of drama.

The Tingler

There was a horror movie classic about a creature that fed on fear, delightfully called the Tingler. The eponymous creature causes a tingle in it’s host spine and feeds on it’s fear. Only by screaming can the creature be prevented from curling up and crushing the spine. The concept of something that feeds on fear is continued in Harry Potter to a degree, a creature that resembles a dementor but devours fear instead of misery. Even Power Rangers has had villains that collect fear.

But these are…well, silly. The Tingler might have been frightful for it’s day, but as a scary story it falls very flat to me. No, folklore will have to do. Now, there are few folklore types that deal in fear…but there are many. There is one that is everywhere, one we’ve left off to the side: the Boogeyman.

The Boogeyman is a strange sort of creature. It isn’t really a definite creature usually, rather a fearsome name and behaviors. Often it eats disobedient children, or kidnaps them, or otherwise disposes of them. Its menace is often opaque and childish in logic, a dream like threat that has menace on it’s edges.

Wewe.png

Wewe Gombel

But sometimes, in the course of the world, he is extremely defined. In Hati, he is Master Midnight, his legs are two stories tall. He steals away those who would come out after night, whisking them away. Wewe Gombel in Java kidnaps children…from neglectful households. In Sicily, those who play near wells must beware a water spirit dragging them below.

The Inuit people have a shape-shifting giantess with a hole in her back. Luxemburg’s Kroperman lurks near storm drains like a certain clown, and pulls children in with a hook in their nose. The Zulu Tikoloshe is capable of sending fear and death upon people, with gouged out eyes and a gremlin like appearance. The United State’s Bloody Bones, who sits atop the bones of lying and swearing children, is another gruesome member of the pantheon of frights.

All these are creatures created for fright, and their horrific crimes are often in that fairy tale category. They devour those who won’t sleep, or eat their meals, or are up after hours, or so on. This is at first nothing more than a small scare for children, but the violation of taboos can provide a great deal of horror (as we discussed before regarding sacred spaces) and an adult haunted by a terrifying child form has found some strength these days. Modern horror, such as the Babadook, brings a boogeyman like presence to life in a way that is…terrifying.

Babadook.png

I think that the perspective perhaps ought not be the child. I remember the movie the Labyrinth, with its…well, David Bowie and I think it gets the crux better. The heroine accidentally invoke or invites the goblins in to take the child away and greatly regrets her decision, engaging in the quest to pursue him and returned the lost babe (with the power). The Babadook likewise is the mother’s story, and better for it.

DavidBowie

Seriously he stole a child, why is he so fabulous.

The loss of a child has an innate fear, and as such I think the loss of a child by kidnapping can expand on it more than by a cannibal. There is something more unnerving to the thought that your child is out there, your child is being held by a stranger, growing old without you as opposed to dead. That’s not to say a child’s loss isn’t tragic and horrific, but it is a) a sort of horror and tragedy that outpaces my skill and b) a tension that is hard to communicate in a short period. The kidnapping provides a better, cleaner end and recurring drama that has a material touch. There is something more concrete when a child might still be rescued, the taunting possibility of a happy ending with parent or child reunited.

I’ll observe, strangely, that the three examples I can think of are mothers pursuing their children(specifically sons or son analogs). This…seems odd. There are stories of father-daughter concerns in horror, although specifics escape me. Something to consider when writing this story.

Well, we will proceed next week with a tale of a lost child, a fear of near to death, and loss. What have you unearthed near this particular literary corpse?

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.