Terrors in the Night

This Week’s Prompt: 106. A thing that sat on a sleeper’s chest. Gone in morning, but something left behind.

The Resulting Story: FORTHCOMING

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Mr. Lovecraft has here given us a terror that is very common in the world, rife with folklore explanations, and that plagued the man himself in his life. Sleep paralysis is the experience of waking up, but being unable to move, speak, or in anyway act. Victims often hallucinate, and commonly report the sensation that someone or something is in the room with them—something the brain processes as dangerous.

Such an anomalous sensation is the source of many terrors of the night—the most famous perhaps being the nightmare or night hag. In documents across Europe, the night hag finds sleeping people, binds them, and then rides them—like a mare—to her various delights, before returning them exhausted.

At various points in history, the nightmare has been its own spirit, either a being named Mara or a dwarf or the like. However, in English, the spirit quickly became associated with the more common source of supernatural evil: the witch.

Nightmare witch

Witchcraft reports from England suggest that such enchantment requires the insertion of objects—often sharp and deadly ones, such as scissors—into the victim for the magic to work. Some of these witches sent spirits, supposedly, to disturb the sleep of their victims. Often a these spirits took the form of cats (the recurring internet meme of cats making it impossible to move when they lay on you has some ancient parallels it seems). Other times, the shadow figures are witches themselves, who attempt to strangle their victim as well as prevent them from sleeping.

In South Carolina stories, the night hags are even more nightmarish. They often drink blood of their victims, and sometimes ride their victims without skin. With salt on the floor or certain rituals in a bottle, the Night Hag can be captured in a bottle while trying to reassume her skin. An informant claimed that the hag left a detestable slime when struck by salt—perhaps indicating there is something not entirely human beneath their skin. These hags might go door to door begging for food or hitchhiking, cursing those who show hospitality in a perverse inversion of regular witchcraft.

Witches in Nigeria were also believed to also engage in terrible acts during the night. They might make off with the breath of children, or feast on the souls or psyche. Meetings between witches, in both Africa and Europe, were often described as out of body experiences—as where some of the transformations a witch would engage in. These psychic feasts and meetings are the cause of illness, sickness, and death among communities—often by weakening the victim’s body such that more mundane illness can enter.

NightmarePainting

Of course, human intervention isn’t the only potential source. In China, Thailand, Poland,  and Uganda (among others) it is the dead that harass the living this way. The kokma of St. Lucia is a ghost, but rather specifically a ghost of a dead child that leaps on and throttles its victims. In Zanzibar, there is a terrible bat like demon that assaults people in their sleep. In Cornwall, the creature is instead a large hairy thing that binds a man down and called the hilla. In Ireland, it is instead a great bird with many talons and wings called tromlui. Beyond cats (who are easily the most common), sheep and roosters also appear as oppressive spirits in the world.

That isn’t to say there is no protection from these powers! Salt in some communities will work, but one particular charm from Anglo Saxon Texts protects against a spidery dwarf creature that enters illness upon the victim:

“Against a dwarf one shall take seven little offerings, such as one has worshipped with, and write these names on each of the offerings: Maximianus, Malchus, Iohannes, Martimianus, Dionisius, Constantinus, Serafion. Then afterwards one shall sing the charm that I say hereafter, first in the left ear, then in the right ear, and then above the top of the man’s head. And then a maiden must go and hang it around his neck, and do so for three days; he will soon be well. Here he came in walking, in spider form. He had his harness in his hand, he said that you were his steed, he put his traces on your neck. Then they began to travel from the ground; so soon they came from the ground, then their limbs began to cool. Then came in walking the beast’s sister; she put an end to this then and swore oaths that this would never harm the sick one, nor that one who might find this charm or knows how to recite it. Amen.So be it”

NightmarePainting 2

Here, we see the Seven Sleepers invoked as they often were to protect against sleeping illnesses and the like (We discussed the seven sleepers here). Other cures exist through out the world, from the aforementioned traps to cleansing to finding the witch responsible.

We come then to our story of horror. One of the most fascinating things, implied here, is that an object is left behind by the creature, spirit, or witch. This parting token to me marks not a gift, but rather a cursed object returned or some calling card—I am reminded of the discarded ring from our Netherlands stories that were in fact the doom of the woman who found them. Terror in the night for Lovecraft is not uncommon—the Witch’s House deals with dangerous dreams from living in a cursed place, and the threat of nightmares is common in horror (we could also consider the Hugenot house and other haunted places that torment victims in their dreams). But here, the presence has a dreadful physicality. It is not just terrible dreams—which might precede or follow from the spirits presence—but it is the arrival of something terrible and barely visible in the night.

We had a  similar story with the night monsters earlier—the aswang was our creature then, that slowly revealed itself and well. The story is here. But still, we need I think a distinction between this story’s terror, the vampires we’ve discussed, and the earlier version of this story that we examined with the Horla (here). Making things a bit more difficult, the night hag and it’s many other names does not do much. It sits on a person, it strangles them—an experience that I can say personally is terrifying, but difficult to communicate a whole story about.

Strange isn't it?

For some surely unknowable reason, all the artistic representations of sleep paralysis and nightmares sitting on people feature attractive women in distress.

Perhaps we can build on the notion or terror of SUNDS—sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome, a phenomenon referenced in some of my works as being related to nightmares and their kind. Mysterious and horrific deaths work better than a single stalking thing in the darkness. I have the notion now of a rash of mysterious deaths and killings, as creatures of darkness and night begin to swallow up a town or city—things that perhaps resemble our earlier aswang, that wait until nightfall to make their presence known, while walking in the day in more innocuous forms.

We can play with forms of horror here, I think. There is an existential fear, of falling asleep and not knowing if you will wake up—of falling asleep, and being started awake by some unseen terror—of waking up to terrible news while you were powerless. There is something we can wrap into and work with this story, as well as a monster story that has a resonance with the sleep deprived and brightly lit modern era.

 

Bibliography

Adler, Shelly R. “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome among Hmong Immigrants: Examining the Role of the “Nightmare””, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 411 (Winter, 1991), pp. 54-71. American Folklore Society

Davies, Owens. “The Nightmare Experience, Sleep Paralysis, and Witchcraft Accusations” Folklore, Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 181-203. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Gay, David E. “Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charm 3 against a Dwarf: A Charm against Witch-Riding?” Folklore, Vol. 99, No. 2 (1988), pp. 174-177. . Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

Ross, Joe. “Hags out of Their Skins”. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 93, No. 368 (Apr. – Jun., 1980), pp. 183-186. American Folklore Society.

Parrinder, E. G. “African Ideas of Witchcraft”. Folklore, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 1956), pp. 142-150. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.

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Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

This Week’s Research:56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.
The Resulting Story: Saint Silvanus, Part 1 ,St. Silvanus, Pt 2

At long last the short prompts have given way to something more substantive! We even have a particular place to begin our examination from, and I suspect a potential narrative of Lovecraft’s to examine in the wider mythos. Always delightful to dig into particulars and details, isn’t it?

To begin with, the “Haverhill Incident”. There are a handful of notable facts about Haverhill, Massachusets. It was the home of a key judge who recused himself from the witchcraft trials of Salem, as well as the potential witch John Godfrey. Mr. Godfrey has a more interesting history, but we will save both of them for a bit on witch craft later.

During it’s early days, it was home to a still controversial figure, Hannah Duston who killed a number of natives that she claims kidnapped her. Haverhill was also home to the abolitionist movement in the 18th and 19th century, early in the nations history. It suffered a severe winter fire, that was too large to be contained and striking when the wells had dried. For those interested in politics, Haverhill also boasts the first socialist mayor.

This is a long way of saying, I have no clue what the “Haverhill” Incident is. 1919 puts it before the outbreak of the Haverhill diesease, which involved bacteria commonly found in rats. It could have, knowing Lovecraft’s fascinations, referred to any number of the above. Or it could have referred to some of the stranger things. In order to avoid delving into too many topics, we will table witchcraft for now. Looking at the prompts, we will return to witches broadly on 99 and 110.

The Wild Man of Haverhill is an individual reported by authorities in the early 1900s and the 1800s. In 1826, a local man was struck mad with fever and fled into the woods. Authorities later had reports of a man causing a disturbance in the area. Believing this to be the unfortunate man, a Mr. Fink, the authorities were shocked to find an unrelated individual described as a wild man. Another report of a wild man comes in 1909, although much briefer and only from a small newspaper clipping. The Wild man was again approached by authorities, but nothing came of it that is recorded. And wild men are…interesting.

WoodWose1.png

The wild man dates back, arguably, all the way to the Epic of Gilgamesh, with Enkidu. Medieval European takes on this archetype include both those cursed to the wilderness by God and those who retreat into the wilderness for ascetic reasons. Thus both Nebachanezzer and a saint are wildmen like. One might even argue that John the Baptist, who lived off honey and curds in the wilds, was one of these wildmen. A more modern wild man of the saintly mold would be the folk hero Johnny Appleseed, who was both missionary and spreader of the apple crop throughout the United States.

More benign wildmen, at least as understood by modern audiences, include satyrs and fauns. To put it lightly, satyrs are much more the wild man cursed then the wild man who is a saint. Despite what perhaps has been presented, the average satyr was a rather unpleasant and often extremely sexual creature that was not well liked. Fauns on the other hand were more like shepherds as we imagine now, less crazed but more decent.

Two Satyrs By Peter Paul Rubens.png

It is sadly accurate for a Satyr to look at you like that.

Other famed examples of men from the wilds, often extremely strong ones, include the likes of Grendel who at least partly resembles a fierce man stalking in the mire. In Ireland, there are records of a cryptozoological creature that resembles a large hairy man outside of social bonds, the Grey Man. The creature’s height varies, sometimes up to ten feet tall.

The creature does resemble another breed of wildmen, more in Grendels lineage then satyrs: the great apes. Sasquatch for instance falls into this category. The sasquatch or bigfoot has some precedent in the stories of First Nations, including the skookum, a group of cannibalistic wild men. The idea of great apes lurking in the wilderness can be found elsewhere however. In Nepal, the equally famous yeti exists. The Yeti, a large furred creature in the mountains, has unclear origins. At least one author suggests it is a creature that was once revered as a lord of the hunt. Others have posited that it, along with sasquatch, is really a form of bear that has been misidentified.

Sasquatch.png

Quite a photophobic family.

The Almas, a group reportedly not that far from the Yeti, bears a more human resemblance. Interestingly, it is only 6 feet tall, well within human heights. Further, it is rather sophisticated. While it lives in “squalor”, it seems to possess habitations more advanced then most supposed wild men. Also, its mute. A strange trait to give a great ape. Details like this help separate the variations.

Orang Pendak is another wild race, this time from Indonesia. The Orang Pendak, depending on describer, is a large ape that has lived in the jungle for large amounts of time. The Orang Pendak often has reversed feet, and is a herbivore that raids farms frequently. Resembling more an ape than a wildman, the Orang Pendak almost resembles a large orangutan, with long arms and short legs.

In Pakistan, there is the Barmanou, a creature that resembles a great ape and sits between the Yeti and the Almas. Unlike the other creatures described, however, the Barmanou has a desire to mate with human women or at least abduct them, a trait that has…strange implications that Lovecraft would approve of. But we will get to Lovecraft’s assorted takes on this in time. There is more to unearth.

Mapinguari.png

Looks Lovecraftian, don’t he? (Image from:http://www.freaklore.com/legends-of-the-mapinguari)

In Brazil there is what might be the strangest of these creatures. The mapinguari is silent, has the hide of a crocodile, emits a terrible noise when startled and smells horrible. Its feet are backwards and it has a lizards long claws, and maybe strangest of all, it has a mouth on it’s belly. The creature cannot cross water, and while carnivorous does not eat humans.

It is interesting to note, as a brief aside, that there was once a group of hominids that matched these massive heights, and at least one species of great ape that grew truly large. Densiovians were, by some estimates, eight feet tall and in the Himalayas region. Not much is known, but at least some mention of scientific grounding might be nice. We also know of prehistoric apes that grew to insane sizes.

Lovecraft himself features these sorts of creatures in many distinct forms. The first is the white apes, a species of ape in the Congo that can interbreed with humans. The questionable facts arising from this are…well, need less to say we will not pursue Mr. Lovecraft’s taste in this direction. Its…less than appealing. The mythos does have three more distinct and stranger connections.

The Gof’nn Hupadgh Shub-niggurath, creatures of Mr. Campbell’s creation, are describe as worshipers of the Black Goat of a Thousand Young who she swallows and then spits out, rendering them immortal and bestial like the satyrs and nymphs. They thus resemble wild men the most closely, without being…disturbed. The capacity for horror with these creatures needs only a return to form, of wildness, barbarity, chaos, and lack of control in an environment. The horrifying wild man is the wild and part of a man, and in such interactions are dangerous. If we take away the racist fear of miscegenation, we can still produce a horror of giving into baser instincts or the animal within –werewolves do this to, by the way.

In some cases, the yeti in particular resembles the Wendigo. The wendigo, in real life, is a creature of folklore that is cannibalisitic. The details of the Wendigo varies from story to story. Often, they are floating, but sometimes they are possessing spirits like we discussed here. The wendigo in mythos is known as Ithaqua. Ithqua is a creation of Dereleth, a creature of the far north that often steals his victims away into far off worlds for his amusement, siring children with mortals, and generally being a terror where he can be. But Lovecraft himself has the strangest addition.

Migo

Yeah, I can totally see the Yeti connection…

The Migo are not what one thinks of when one thinks of abominable snow men or wild men. They are crustacean like creatures, that also resemble insects and fungus. They fly through the space on wings, they have claws like crabs, the have a colony on Yuggoth, the 9th planet of the solar system(Pluto was discovered after Lovecraft wrote the first story. He wrote that maybe Yuggoth was found after all). The Migo have some startling qualities, however, that might be interesting. They are devotees of Shub-Niggurath at times, and thus have some commonality with the wildness earlier described. One of their better known traits is the capacity of mimicking voices to lure others towards them. And Lovecraftian authors have advanced the Migo as a number of folkloric creatures origin point. These include not only the yeti above, but also the Greek goblin kallikantzaros, a creature who’s resemblance to a corpse crab insect I do not see. Another wonderful blog, Lovecraftian Science, has spent a good deal of time with these creatures, their biology, and their customs.

Yellow Sign.png

But there is another Lovecraft mythos connection, returning to the prompt. The book that must not be read is a trope in Lovecraft that becomes manifest in a number of ways. Most comparable to this one is the King in Yellow, a dramatic play tied to the horror of ambiguous nature that is Hastur. The King in Yellow is a play and the character of the play and the name for an anthology which the play is found in, by Robert Chambers. The themes of the stories are various, but the mythos has taken the King in Yellow as a dreadful, decadent, nihilist, and decaying force in the world. And, as frequently known, to read the play is to invite misfortune at large. Hastur’s name was made ineffable via the Dungeons and Dragons book Deities and Demigods, who asserted that to repeat it three times was to conjure the mysterious old one and doom us all. This attribute has appeared since in various stories. There are also dangerous texts such as the Necronomicon, who’s knowledge cost it’s author his life(but more on that when it arises), and various records of the Cthulhu cult, which invite death from it’s members.

All in all, a lot to work with. And we are out of space to discuss the many story possibillities! But do not worry. The wild woods will beckon soon. Oh! And before carrying on, to my amusement, there is a local to Haverhill story about Mr. Lovecraft’s “youthful escapades”, and how he bribed a young woman he was dating to visit him with promises of the dread Necronomicon. The layers of impossible that are at play there are hilarious.

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Ia Ia, Cthulhu F’taghn. What A Wonderful Phrase.

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

Later Research:Part 2,Part 3

The Resulting Stories: Black Sun Part 1,Part 2,Part 3

This prompt gifts us with a rather clear cut outline. I will dwell very rarely on the specific here, however, and entire into something a bit more deep of a dive. For the stars have aligned, my good brothers and sisters. Firstly, we approach the fiftieth post (our twenty fifth story). Secondly, fortuitously, this stands as perhaps the prompt for the most famous story of Mr. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu.

For such an occasion, we cannot simply go without celebration. So, we will be extending both the story and the research into three parts. Here, we shall discuss the great priest of the Old Ones himself, his mythic ties, his modern depictions, and ia ia. Our story will like wise be in three parts, such that in six weeks time our revelry will be done. And then our normalcy will return.

If by some luck you are unfamiliar with the story of the arch-squamous one, I recommend reading it now. It is a delight and a classic of horror, if a bit weighty as most of Lovecraft is. The nature of the tale is (like ours) split into three sections, and runs about a novella long.

UndeadAuthorSocietyCthulhuSketch

Cthulhu stands as an interesting character in horror. He is an odd personality, a monster that stands as an icon now…but is rarely present in his own tale. So vast and huge is the difference between himself and his appearance in the popular mind that establishing where his stands from a myth or arch typical perspective is necessary.

While there are hold outs that attest to his nature as an alien power (The Mountains of Madness confirm this), and originally seems to lack any mystical proprieties, he none the less taps into a mythic mold. Namely, a force of Khaos, defeated and sealed ages back.

By this I mean, Cthulhu is (by all accounts) a thinking entity. He is not human, and thinks in a way alien to us, but he is not himself a gibbering god like Azazoth or a massive and mighty Shoggoth. He is alien and disturbing, but he is not insane. And in myth we have plenty of similar creatures.

We have of course mighty Tiamat, mother of monsters, and her lawgiver Kingu. Both, like Cthulhu, bear a resemblance to aquatic lifeforms, and both bear an association with dragons. And both further are defeated by a younger age of similar entities (the Elder Things and the likes of Marduk). Kingu as a subordinate servant with still great power resembles Cthulhu in particular, with Cthulhu being pontiff and grandson of Yog-Sothoth.

UndeadAuthorSocietyLeviathan

Such creatures also bear Lovecraftian description (many heads) things with all description (containing mineral, animal, and vegetable qualities) or even as Hundun, a Chinese entity who walks like a man with no nose, mouth, or eyes. The primeval entity Leviathan in some midrashic lore likewise predates the current creation, and capable of waging war on the almighty YHWH alone.

In the lore of the Aztecs a great crocodile prevented the current creation, with a mouth on every joint, named Cipactli who devoured the foot of one of the great gods. In Greek myth, the Titans lack a clear oceanic link, but Typhon (a mighty dragon like creature that stands like a man) rose from the deep to make war on Olympus. So tall that the stars were knocked aside by his head, the great last son of earth made war on Zeus, driving all other Olympians to flee before him. If it weren’t for a nearby shepherd saving Zeus’s sinews, he would be driven out. Again like Cthulhu he is a descendant of a mightier set parents (Gaia and Erebus for the record).

UndeadAuthorSocietyCipactli

All this is to say, fear of the sea and great creatures in it extends past song. The sea is often acknowledge as a primeval lord. Poseidon, the great Greek God of the Sea, unleashes storms and rages against the authority of Zeus in the Illiad. In the Oddessey he fathers monstrous races like the Cyclops and worse. The sea goddess of the Netsilik like wise sends terrors and misery when left unappeased, and is mother of all creatures from the sea as well.

The dragon kings of the sea are mighty enough to earn respect from the Jade Emperor in the Journey to the West. Uncheliga emerges from Lakota myth likewise, She was described at first as having no real shape or form; she had eyes of fire, and a fanged mouth that was shrouded in a smoky or cloudy mass. As time went on further, her form was exposed as being massive, with a long scaly body whose natural armor was almost impenetrable. Her eyes burned with wrathful hunger, her claws were like iron, and her voice raged like thunder rolling in the clouds.

UndeadAuthorSocietyTyphon

Typhon

From the sea comes the enemies of the gods, then. And Cthulhu fits this initially in a symbolic sense, at first anyway. He towers as a draconic-squid-man from the sea, who’s rising would end the age of human dominance (which is also the age of the gods). This notion is reinforced with later inventions by August Derleth, who sets the forces led by Cthulhu against as the Elder Gods (yes, yes the naming is a tad confusing). While Derleth’s connections remove some of the horror and utter alien-ness of Cthulhu and sometimes impose a morality, there is an underlining reason.

UndeadAuthorSocietyDerleth

Cthulhu’s nature, and what sets him apart from all others (and what ties him to this prompt), is his more than active mind. Cthulhu, when he begins to rise, effects and infects other minds with messages. As we’ve said countless times, visions and inspiration from dreams has divine connotations. This makes Cthulhu’s rise more like a volcanic erruption (which is often called the breath of Typhon) than anything else. It should be said that this is an unusual incident. Only at the right time is something so terrible glimpsed.

Cthulhu bears one more trait akin to those older beings: His kin are terrors. Cthulhu bears four known children by his own kind: Cthylla, Ghatanothoa, Ythogtha, and Zoth-Ommog. Each is worshiped in its own right. And then there are his subjects, the alien star spawn who shift shape and size at will like demons or djinn.

Cthulhu’s presence as a divine terror glimpsed in a moment of inspiration ties him to those dread Muses we once discussed, as well as some diabolical tales of musicians making deals with for inspiration. But all that is for another time. For now we will leave the great god below. For now.

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