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. 

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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.

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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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In The Garden I Saw A Shade

This Week’s Prompt:51. Enchanted garden where moon casts shadow of object or ghost invisible to the human eye.

The Resulting Story: There is a Garden atop a Mountain

Now we begin a venture into two separate realms, both of shadow and of gardens, and what is in between. The central place in this story is something of an uncanny places, where the unseen is temporarily perceptible under the moon (who’s various shapes we recorded here). A moonlit walk in a garden is an almost romantic view of something unseen.

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Look at this dork. Hey Carl.

The role of a garden is important however. Garden’s have long had a place in Western thought, as places of cultivated nature that appear wild. Carl Linnaeus, an advocate for the idea of a fixity of species, viewed the world as a well cultivated garden, with the Lord as it’s gardener. This connects to the presentation in Western mythos of the Garden of Eden, where the lord tends to all things. It is a symbol of cultivation, growth, and to a degree riches. YHVH is not the only god with gardens however. The Greeks had the Hesperedies and some sources point to Indra possessing a celestial garden. Peach trees were cultivated by the celestial bureaucracy of China, and fruits of immortality were also grown by the Norse gods.

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This is cropped from the Garden of Earthly Delights. It gets weirder. See the cover pic? Yeah…

The connection with gods and gardens is more than something exclusive. Temples and monasteries often maintained gardens, either for contemplation or meditative purposes. These are separate from the wild places of the world, sacred groves and mountains that are maintained as wild as opposed to cultivated, and separate from those agricultural lands devoted to a temple that would often be redistributed among the public.

The most famous of these gardens are the Zen gardens of Zen Buddhism and Mary gardens of christian practice. I would point, briefly, to a wonderful story concerning monastic grounds and the discovery of a statue there in. It’s either a horror or humor story,depending on your own take. For me it was both.

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The connection between gods and gardens is more than just a potential connection of cultivation of the earth and tameness. It is also one of riches and authority. Gardens in ancient Egypt were known for providing nobility shade. Assyrian gardens were vaster complexes, given over to hunting areas of leisure. Gardens often in later times provided vegetables for manor houses. The garden was, in many ways, a symbol of riches and cultivation.

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The most famous of this category, without a doubt, is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…which there is no archaeological evidence for in Babylon, although Nineveh may be their true home. All the better, if we are to work in mythology then. The gardens, one of the Seven Ancient wonders of the World, were built according to multiple informants to replicate the green hills of a queen’s homeland that she dearly missed. They are often raised or tiered, hence “hanging”, and have marvelous aqueduct systems to supply water to the trees.

Gradens thus already have something of the uncanny in them. They are close to gods, and by extension kings, and could be arranged as something liminal between the wilderness and the civilized lands. Particularly in periods where a garden served as much as a hunting reserve as it is a place for the gathering of fruits. The shadow is just as much, if not more, of a liminal thing.

Shadows have been tied to the realm of the dead for a considerable amount of time. The word “shade” shares an origin with shadow, obviously, and many descriptions of the afterlife in the near east place it in shadow. The shadow or shade is where the dark and light intermingle in a way. There are also reports, in the last few decades, of mysterious shadow people who may be reiterations of this older mythology.

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The loss of a shadow is bemoaned in many stories, although I cannot find any particularly old folklore. We have works by Dunsany that involve selling one’s shadow, a darker tale by Hans Christen Anderson where one’s shadow leaves and becomes a rather wicked man, a story of being shunned by society for lack of a shadow. In older mythology, the shadow sometimes reveals a creatures true intentions, as a reflection might. For instance, the Kitsune’s shadow is that of a fox demon regardless of her form. The devil has some associations with the shadows as his role of prince of darkness, helped by the Jungian concept of the shadow (We will get to that shortly).

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I feel like linking to “She’s a Maneater” here would be tasteless

Not all creatures of shadow are wicked, however, as the Sun god Surya in Hindu myth has married the goddess of shadow, and biblical passages often refer to the Lord as providing shade from the harshness of the sun. Dark isn’t evil I suppose.

Which brings us to the psychological shadow. The shadow, as conceived by the pyschoanalysist Carl Gustav Jung, is the result of repressed emotions and thoughts from the self. It has something in common with the Id of Freudian analysis, but is less inherently antagonistic and sexual. The shadow is better thought of as the opposite in the mind, rather than the barely contained chaotic.

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Ha. Look at this other dork. Also named Carl. Hi Carl.

The shadow as the source of a true self, as hidden hold of the soul, actually works fairly well with the notion of the Garden to a point. The graden is a place of divinity and sacredness, and while the shadow may be something profane, it is also a signifer of something human and sacred.  The shadow, like the garden, is something of revelation of character. It is the place where perhaps truth about the self comes out.

Alternatively, it might be better to have the garden by a place of confrontation with some spiritual force. This could call on a Lovecraft theme of seeking forbidden knowledge (And oh, wouldn’t that have a western parralel in Christianity!), and the shadow is often an uncomfortable thing to confront.

Said gardens, especially those that have been trespassed before, have guardians. The Hesperedies have the great dragon, and the Garden of Eden has the four headed cherubim, an angel of truly terrible appearance and power with a flaming sword that strikes in every direction. The Lovecraftian equivalent is an embodiment of time, of Yog-Sothoth, who guards the sleeping ancient ones. In the story of Death’s Master, Tales of a Flat Earth points to another sacred garden guarded by many fierce beasts.  So too will our garden be guarded by dreadful things.

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Pop Quiz: Are these four-headed winged warriors from Lovecraft or Ezekiel?

But then we have a new problem. What is in the garden that is so valuable. We could do well with fruits, I think. Fruits of immortality are common, but something interesting might come of using the apples of an odder sort: the golden apples of Perun. These are not tools of eternal life but items of ultimate destruction. Of course, perhaps there is a connection between the two concepts. Lighting and diamonds are often connected as symbols of enlightenment, power and durability. But that is secondary to the goal.

So our story will be of an expedition. I think at least two maybe three individuals, climbing the mountains in some far off land, to find the garden. The second portion will be the confrontation with the guardian, perhaps at the cost of life for one or two members. And then in the garden, they will find the shadows of those unseen. Perhaps hidden masters who have already partaken of the fruit, perhaps new guardians and gods enraged at being disturbed by mortal hands.

Or, perhaps, hunters in their garden surprised at new prey. We shall see.

 
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Pillars Lost In Shifting Sands

This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.


The Resulting Story: The City in Silver Sands

After a dirth of short, brief prompts, Mr. Lovecraft has graced us with a longer and more elaborate notion! Excellent. And one with a good deal of information as well! Let us begin then with the nature of the tribes and the city they supposedly hail from, according ot the texts at hand.

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A cliff dwelling attributed to the Thamud

Thamud, Jadis, Tasm, and Ad are all members of the a group of tribes referred to as ‘Perishing Arabs’. All four are extinct populations according to the Koran: Jadis and Tasm by genocide, Ad and Thamud were destroyed for their lack of faith. Iram of the Pillars is a city of Ad, and was destroyed in some versions by a storm, in others by volcanic activity. Iram was sent a prophet, to bring monotheism to the region, but did not listen. Likewise, Thamud was sent a prophet and by accounts from the Koran shared some relation to Ad. Thamud was destroyed by earthquake after rejecting the prophet. Thamud seems to have constructed homes from within mountains, or inside of them, an architectural feature I suggest we continue in our own story.

Now, of course, civilizations that have fallen from hubris are not new. We’ve covered some before, but we might call to mind Atlantis and Babel, also punished for their arrogance. Sodom and Gomorrah likewise for their crime of inhospitably were laid low by YHWH. However, what is notable about Irem is not only it’s location (a desert, as opposed to at sea), but also it’s nature as still existent. Sodom and Gomorrah are traditionally not available for human eyes to behold, and Atlantis is buried in the sea. No, Irem is still in the desert, where some occasionally find it.

Iram of the Pillars

Artist Interpertation found on Wikipedia

The invisibility of Irem to all but holy eyes also bears resemblance to hidden kingdoms of djinn, which occupy a different spatial relation then those of mortal men. We might also consider hidden kingdoms and cities such as beyuls of Tibetian mysticism or the fairie lands of Celtic myth.

Celtic myth, particularly Irish, adds an interesting element: the phantom Island. Brasil (not the nation) is and island that emerges and disappears at certain times throughout the year. In Slavic myth, there is Buyan, the island that holds the immortal Korschie’s heart. Both islands are near impossible to reach, but not as otherworldly as lost Atlantis is. Our story, from these traditions, should probably be about the cross over into such an otherworldly place, which is more than mortal but less than magical entirely.

BrasilIsland

The mythical island of Brasil

An odd, if depressing, version also found in Russia is the Kingdom of Opona. Opona is an earthly paradise for serfs, that lies on the edge of the world. There are no nobles, no gentry at all here. Only peasents and their ruler, the wise and just White Tsar. It is an odd place, that many peasants wandered forever searching for. I don’t know exactly what to make of it, except as a note of interest.

I would even suggest borrowing some of the most common themes of those strange places that are just out of sight, namely the warping of time upon entrance. We might find in our mysterious city a plethora of lost souls, still wandering from eras long past or only just recently present. This could perhaps create a colorful visual, if not cast to draw from. The associations with these hidden locals and the dead should also, in all likliehood, be preserved in our text.

Before continuing, I will pause here to note that Mr. Lovecraft does appear to have used this prompt for his own work, The Nameless City. The work in that case focuses on an archaelogical expedition, and in some ways is similar to At the Mountains of Madness which also featured archaelogical uncovering of an alien city, filled with hieroglyphs and markings.

For our own story, I would begin with the city alive instead of dead. A city that is only briefly and occasionally aligned with our own, allowing travel only at very specific intervals of time and space. Partially because this will be an easy seperation from Lovecraft’s own work, but partly because it also allows us to play with the notions of apparent destruction. It would also allow us to include other characters who are perhaps a tad more otherworldly then our lead.

As to their own identity, I would shy away from an actual man of science or a professional in matters of reality. We won’t be using our belabored Ottoman bureaucrat or a census man. No, I think a better character might be one who is interested in such ruins, who has sought them out at the time they appear, and made the journey at no small expense out of an obsession. I think it will be an obsession on matters occult more than scientific, determined to plunge the depths of reality for some lost secret or another, or believing that the hidden city of Irem actually contains. I imagine then our narrator is an eccentric of some sort at the least. I have an idea for his means of communication, but that would perhaps be giving too much away.

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Maat and Apep

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

The Resulting Story:The Immortal[Imperial] Rites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Out Of the Lake

This Weeks Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.

The Resulting Story:By the Lake

So, we have here a prompt that reminds me very much of a couple of past prompts. Rather than review the notes from those, I’ll just briefly list them here:(Mirror Mirror On The Wall, The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.,THE MOON ).

I can’t, at the moment, recollect any folklore that relates to this sort of prompt not already covered in the above. I will note that this prompt reminds me more clearly of some sort of architectural version of The Picture of Dorian Grey, a book I find…tedious and don’t recommend. The basic notion, of a image of something preserving it’s beauty is the primary component at work here, albeit in reverse.

The reflection on a lake unchanging is an image that has appeared recently, in Dark Souls 2’s opening sequence. What exactly is meant by the still intact reflection is not known to me, and beyond a visual cue, we don’t exactly have the reflection itself seeking vengeance upon the destroyers of the unknown structure.

In general structure, it isn’t hard to think of the general outline. We can begin with the destruction of the castle by the named characters. The owners themselves are of little import, although the motive for destruction is. Given that the reflection is fixed through the centuries, presumably from before the castle’s destruction, it would not be unreasonable to say it’s builders and perhaps it’s lords are a tad fae.

Such nature might be the cause of the castles fall, or it might merely be an after thought of the real cause. Magical and mystical power is something that can be terrifying, and terror often prompts eventual reprisals. I doubt the unchanging reflection is, in it of itself, terrifying to the assailants. It is no doubt proof of what they feared.

Thinking on that, how would a reflection go about seeking it’s revenge? It does so in a ‘weird’ way, but to be honest, and with all due respect to Mr. Lovecraft, I fail to see how a castle’s image could achieve vengeance EXCEPT weirdly.

There are a few venues I would like to close off for the moment, however. The first is the image ‘haunting’ its prey, and damaging their reflection, their by damaging themselves. This feels a bit too slasher-mystery to me. In my time working with these corpses, I have learned that mysteries are hard to maintain in a reasonable word count. They simply need more time.

In this case I’ll also note that, despite having multiple characters to achieve vengeance on, the vengeance is better in a single act that afflicts all of the destroyers rather than hunting each indvidually. Mainly this is for space as well, although it also encourages a bit more creativity with the act. It has to be something that disturbs and drags down the lives of all involved.

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There is the option of obsession, Narcissus style. The castles beauty might lure the destroyers into the lake, deeper and deeper, until they drown themselves trying to reach false halls and parapets. Or lure them towards the sorts of creatures that live down in that lake, long basking in the magic of the castle and it’s lords. Either is as deadly.

An alternative is the reverse. The castle’s reflection seeks vengeance by creating something and sending it out into the world. Something that, by strange means, destroys the lives of the destroyers. A living thing or inanimate object could both be desctructive in their own ways.

The trick with a living emergence would be to make it something besides a monster. Vengance via simple murder does not seem strange enough, or that horrifying in my opinion. Thinking on it for a bit, a living thing that bound them in some sort of prison, perhaps in the reflection itself, might be better. But that runs a risk of being too strange to properly be terrifying. Most people do not fear being trapped under a lake, and while claustrophobia or the like could work, that would center on the aftermath of the vengance, not the act itself.

Perhaps the castle’s agent could act as a lure. Not for the initial destroyers, but instead luring those dear to them, slowly pulling them towards an untimely end or ultimate sorrow. There is a more clear fear there of someone growing distant, of being unable to help a loved one or friend, and of the past coming back to destroy present relationships in unexpected ways.

Castle Lake Cover

The form of the creature of the reflection should, to a degree, be malleable therefore. I think some shining thing would serve it best. Unearthly in it’s color and appearance, it should be bewitching and yet frightening. The form of a child strikes me at the moment, partially for it’s apparent innocence, partially for it’s potential in the store (mistaken as the last heir of the castle, and spared out of mercy), partialy for it’s means of afflicting many (as a child grows, it can slowly worm its ways into hearts), partially for potential warning in ausipocus physical markers (third eyes, speaking too soon), and so on.

A child as a means of vengeance, slowly unmaking the fearful destroyers, seems like a fine tale. But I worry it will run too long. At best, the story should be broken into three parts. Each part is roughly five hundred words, and each would mark a stage. First would be the introduction of the cursed child, shortly after the ruining of the castle. Next would be the initial vengeance, as the strange child bewitched playmates and makes his way into the hearts of the destroyers court. The third act would be his final revenge, mutilating or driving out those who destroyed his kingdom or perhaps leading his devoted followers into the lake, where the foemen cannot follow.

I’ll have to think of how to do all these succinctly, but I think there is promise in this story. The outline is vauge for now, but that is what the remainder of the week is meant to refine!

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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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