Waterfalls

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This Weeks Prompt: 115. Ancient castle within sound of weird waterfall—sound ceases for a time under strange conditions.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

Waterfalls are the source of a number of strange spirits and stories, often based on what is just behind them.  Given the description of an ancient castle, we will begin our examination of the spirits here with a few European creatures. The first ones I found in my searches were located in Northern Europe, especially Iceland. A mighty troll in Arrow-Oddr’s Saga from Iceland, named Ogmunder, has a mother who is all the fiercer (a hold over or comparable example to Grendel’s mother). She is described as fanged and with long claws and a mighty tail, each holding a sword. Her shout was enough to kill five men, and before her slaughter ended, she slew sixty men.  This grotesque transformation is defeated by the hero, using a magic Irish shirt and dwarven arrows, but for our purposes its important to note the power of sound and that Ogmunder’s mother dwelt under a water fall.

The Fossegrim are a type of spirit, more alluring then the trolls, that live beneath waterfalls in the North of Europe. These spirits perhaps fit the description Howard wanted even more—they play a fiddle beneath the waterfall, with wind and water as the source of their sound. They can play so well that furniture and trees will dance to the tune. If one makes an offering to the spirit of sufficient quality, they will teach this talent for music to the supplicant, such that the student can play so well the trees will dance. If the offering, a he-goat or some mutton stolen from a neighbor, is not sufficient they will only the pupil how to tune the instrument. That might be better in any case—the instruction of a Fossegrim involves pressing the fingers to the strings so tightly that they begin to bleed.

A more dangerous creature in Norway, however, is the Nok. The Nok is a greedy water spirit, demanding human sacrifice every year. It can transform into any number of valuables, and those who touch it in this form fall under its power. At least one lived under a water fall, and caused the death of many persons until at last a priest arrived. Journeying into the river with four stout men, the priest managed to seize the Nok and drive him into a nearby stone mound—and the creature has bothered none ever since.

Moving away from one island, we’ll cross to a place where it is wealth that hides behind the waterfall. In Bohol, during the war between the Americans and Filipinos (narrator’s statement, not my own), a tree was found growing in front of a water fall—an indescribable language covered the tree, and behind the waterfall dwelled a wealthy spirit.  This spirit gave a poor girl money and jewelry, under the condition she told no one where she got it. Her mother however eventually forced her to reveal the origins of the wealth—and soon it was entirely gone.  When the Americans went to find the treasure themselves, it was impossible—the weather turned against them, even if it was sunny out. This follows a tradition of lost treasures in the Philipines.

In Sagada, we have another story of waterfalls—one that is a bit more comical. Here a man and a woman, who are waterfalls, dwelled for sometime. They irrigated Sagada, pleasing the people and rice fields of the area—but not the inhabitants of Tetep-an. They were a jealous people, and so would go to the water falls and drop pots and cigarettes and other things into the waters.  The waterfalls tired of this, and the wife asked to move—the husband waterfall agreed, and they moved to a secluded place called Todey. However, this didn’t please the wife. Here she could not be seen! What was even the point! So again they moved back. And again, the Tetep-an dumped trash in them, until the lady waterfall was again asking to move. Now, the husband was tired of moving and did not want to break their new lease—yet the wife persuaded him with several blows with a heavy club. The pair then moved to Tadian, where they remain admired for miles around to this day. From afar, you can still see Mr. Waterfall’s hunchback from the last bout with his wife.

In Japan, there is a story that I haven’t been able to find an English text for. This story is centered around the Joren falls of Izu. A wood cutter was sleeping near the falls when he awoke to find spiderwebs around his legs. Confused, he placed them on a nearby tree—and the tree was torn into the waterfall. The spider spirit there, a jorōgumo, had meant to ensare him. The man told the village of this, and most people sensibly avoided the place. One day, a foreign wood cutter came and chopped axe near the falls—only to lose hold of the axe and drop it into the watery basin. AS he left, despondent, a beautiful woman with dark black hair appeared and returned it to him. She warned him, however, to never tell anyone of what he’d seen. The man kept the secret for a time, but eventually it wore on him. He got drunk at a banquet, and revealed it to the whole crowd.

The man went to sleep…and never awoke. In another, more nightmarish version, he was pulled outside by an unseen string—and was found floating near the falls. This is the bad ending. Another tale from the same area has the man fall in love with and visit the beautiful black haired woman—but each visit he grows weaker and weaker. A nearby priest realized he was taken in by the spider woman, and proved so by reciting some sutras to keep her strings away. Nonetheless, the man went to ask the local tengu, as lord of the spirits of the mountain, for the woman’s hand in marriage. The tengu denied him, but the man went back to his spidery lover and was never seen again.

Our final story set comes from Niagra Falls and it is a set I’m…suspicious of. The first one tells a story about a cave behind Niagra falls. The Seneca were suffering greatly—first crop failure, then an epidemic.  One day a young Seneca girl was bathing in the waterfall, when a large rattlesnake attacked her and she stumbled into the rapids, down into the cataracts. The water swirled her into the Cave of the Winds. Here she found the Good Spirit of Thunder of lightining who created mists and clouds. The spirit told her the Evil Spirit of famine and starvation also lived here, and commanded a great water snake. This snake was poisoning the water that the Seneca were drinking. The spirit told the girl that they must move away from the falls to survive. The Good Spirit would follow, and strike down the Evil Spirit and the Water Snake if they followed. And when the tribe arrived at their new home, they found the dead water snake behind them and the evil spirit hanging from a pole.

Then there is the story of the Maiden of the Mist. I have two sources for this, both primarily online. The first is frankly a conversion story—it claims the Iroquis regularly sent people over the falls in canoes as offferings to a water spirit. A French explorer and missionary protests the sacrifice of the Chief’s maiden daughter, but is ignored. The maiden is sent down over the falls—and to the shock of all, the Chief in grief followed her in a canoe. The two then became spirits so pure that the roar of the falls was like music to them. The maiden became the Maiden of the Mist while the Chief became the ruler of the cataract.

There is then the story of the Maiden of the Mist presented on the Niagra falls website. This one says a suicidal widow drove her canoe over the edge, praying to Heno the Thunder Spirit, who dwells in the falls, that her courage would not fail and that she would pass quickly. As she went over, however, Heno caught her in his arms and took her to live with him and his sons. She eventually married one of them, and lived beneath the falls, having a young son. She wanted, however, to see her people again.

Heno then tells her, one day, that a great serpent had descended down to poison her people’s water and devour them until they are wiped out. The Maiden requests one hour with her people to warn them, which Heno grants. The serpent, seeing the people were gone, tried to pursue them upstream. Heno, hearing it hiss, killed the serpent. The body of the serpent, vast as it was, redirected the falls and caused the water to rain directly into the god’s home. So he and his family ascended up to the sky—there Heno thunders like he once roared in the falls.

These stories…well, they feel off to me. The idea of a thunder god beneath the falls and a watery serpent makes sense, but on the other hand a maiden sacrifice to a poisonous water snake is close enough to Continental folk stories that I’m suspicious of it.

Regardless, for our story, what do we have? Well, we have the idea of sacrifices to the water. The noise of a water fall, either a roar or musical tone, stopping seems to indicate displeasure. And certainly, a silent waterfall would be unnerving. The nature of music in Lovecraft—as something that the outer gods communicate with—might lend an otherworldly-ness to the affair. But we don’t need to go that far. The waterfall contains a few elements at its base here: a treasure (either a spirit or a literal treasure) that is a secret from most, a sacrifice that is made to the waters, and the danger of its loss if someone learns the truth. Placed near a castle, perhaps we should expand to a family secret or rite, at the base of the water or in the cave hidden behind it. Perhaps also keep the strange and otherworldly spirit that lives there, just out of site.

Biblography

 Benjamin ThorpeNorthern Mythology: comprising the principal popular traditions and superstitions of Scandinavia, north Germany, and the Netherlands, 3 vols. London: Lumley, 1851–52, OCLC 656592812, Volume 2 Scandinavian Popular Traditions and Superstitions,

Kelly, Piers. “Excavating a Hidden Bell Story from the Philippines: A Revised Narrative of Cultural-Linguistic Loss and Recuperation.” Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 53, no. 2, 2016, pp. 86–113. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jfolkrese.53.2.04. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Puhvel, Martin. “The Mighty She-Trolls of Icelandic Saga and Folktale.” Folklore, vol. 98, no. 2, 1987, pp. 175–179. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1259977. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Scott, William Henry. “Sagada Legends.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 74, no. 291, 1961, pp. 57–62. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/538199. Accessed 20 July 2020.

“Jorōgumo.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jor%C5%8Dgumo.

“The Original Legend of the Maid of the Mist.” Niagara Falls Reporter, Niagara Falls Reporter, 13 Dec. 2014, http://www.niagarafallsreporter.com/Stories/2014/DEC16/MaidLegend.html.

Welker, Glenn. “Niagara Falls.” Indigenous People’s Literature, 8 Feb. 1996, http://www.indigenouspeople.net/niagara.htm.

Welker, Glenn. “The Sacrifice at Niagara Falls.” Indigenous People’s Literature, 8 Feb. 1996, http://www.indigenouspeople.net/sacrific.htm.

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A Lightless Room At Night

This Week’s Prompt: 103. Sealed room—or at least no lamp allowed there. Shadow on wall.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

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This prompt is an interesting one—and one that has a number of routes we’ve covered before. The most apparent to me is the hidden rooms of Eros and Bluebeard—often here, the bedroom of the husband or some other secret room is forbidden. In the case of Eros and Pysche is even specific about the oil lamp that wakes and frightens off Eros. We’ve also discussed Balkan Vampires—ones that in fact do fear light or are kept in secret places and pits. However, there is no shortage of strange and monstrous creatures in the night. And one I would like to go over tonight is a vampire from another part of the world: The Philippines.

The creature in question is the aswang—a vampire like creature that has a long tongue with a sharp tip, which it uses to suck blood or viscera from a victim. There are other sorts of creatures called or compared to the aswang in the Philippines, which we will discuss further on. The vampire, however, has some key and common traits. Vampiric aswang are often foreign husbands or wives, who feed on their partner or use their partner as a home base from which to work their havoc. The vampires that are dead returned to the living live in distant forests by day, and come to feed at night.

Viscera Sucker

The viscera sucker, sometimes called naguneg in Iklo and kasudlan in West Visayan, like wise has a long mosquito like proboscis or long tongue—but this isn’t sharp. At night it’s arms become wings and it abandons its legs to go hunting. It leaves these in a closet, on a bed, or hidden in a banana grove—if they are disturbed or salt is tossed on them, the creature will die. The viscera sucker targets pregnant women and the sick, drinking phlegm or feeding on internal organs using it’s straw like mouth. They may live in a jungle, hanging from the trees or in small huts, but a number live as wives in villages. Unlike the vampire, their fears are clearly documented—spices, light (as our prompt requests), big crabs, sting ray tails, salt, fire, guns, and knives.  I find these last three fears to be well founded in general, frankly. Salt of course is a weakness of the creatures—and marine life reminds them of that dangerous mineral. Lastly, a bamboo stake in the back of such a creature will kill it instantly. One becomes a vsicera sucker by either eating food spat up by another viscera sucker, or by eating a creature that emerges from a dead viscera sucker’s mouth that resembles a black chick.

A comparable creature, with the same fears, is the weredog. This creature resembles a man during the day, but at night becomes a large dog or cat. It sets upon people in their homes and—perhaps a bit tellingly—on youngsters who are too loud. The weredog and the witch however especially fear the sting ray whip—wounds it suffers from the whip appear again when it becomes a man. Villagers suspect wandering salesmen and laborers on government projects are suspected of being weredogs often.

The next creature of the aswang variety is a witch. The witch is a vindictive man or woman—usually woman—who slips cursed items and talismans into people’s orifices to get their revenge. Witches are described as having eyes like a cat or snakes, which reflect images upside down. They therefore avoid eye contact. They are also shy and live on the edges of town, in abandoned houses. They employ insects as agents to spy on victims or plant curses, and some cases argue they also make use of dogs for this purpose.

The last of these creatures is a ghoulish one. These creatures have long nails, fetid breath, and sharp teeth. They can hear the groans of the dying miles away, and eagerly gather at night around trees in cemeteries to feast on the corpses within. If they come across a funeral, ghouls freely make off with the living and the dead. Loud noises and fire frighten off the creatures, however, so proper celebrations keep them at bay. If they manage to get the corpse, they will turn it into a pig and make off with it—and try to feed it to another human being, turning them into a new ghoul.

The aswang first came to my attention from an episode of Grimm. I don’t remember any of the other elements of that episode, but the image of the long tongued creature horrified me. I don’t believe it separated its body as it does in these stories, but the distinctive appearance and feeding habits have made the aswang famous. There is even a resource on Philippines folklore and mythology, the Aswang Project, named for the creature.

A story from nearby Java also caught my attention. Here two men are lead to a cavern, to marry a magical serpent. They went to a spirit gateway, and after burning incense and making offerings, they were told to close there eyes. One obeyed, the other kept his eyes open. The one who closed his eyes waited until told to open them—and found the cavern replaced by a great palace, the dirt road a grand highway. He was invited in and asked to choose a princess to marry. They were married and agreed to meet Monday and Thursday, and she would give him money each time until she ran out. After that, he would return to serve in the palace.

Candi Naga

The friend who kept his eyes open saw none of this—just a cave full of large snakes. He of course didn’t have the heart to tell his fellow about the illusion. Here the revelation isn’t dangerous itself—rather it denies one the benefits and luxury they might have had.

Our story is thus about finding and revealing secrets, although the sort that are perhaps not disclosed in full. The prompt mentions a shadow cast on the wall, which calls to mind an onlooker. Crouched near the opened door frame, looking into this forbidden room. Another has come into the darkness. A light is lit—and their familiar silhouette appears on the wall. Only, moments later, something horrific wakes. Perhaps a winged shape emerges, or perhaps long clawed appendages reach out. And the intruder is gone.

There is a Lovecraftian creature this reminds me of—the Haunter of the Dark. This creature, associated with the artifact the Shining, can go anywhere abroad at night. It cannot emerge during light, and thus modern electrical lights leave it trapped in an abandoned church. Yet when the power grid comes out, it seeks the one who freed it—on black wings, with three eyes, on a whirlwind it arrives. This creature has since been viewed as an embodiment of the great Nyarlathotep, which then possessed the body of the viewer. He and it perished luckily when lighting struck.

Haunter in the Darkn.png

This Lovecraft story is situated between two other stories by Robert Bloch, which feature an invisible vampiric creature that rides on cold winds to devour a man from Providence after being summoned and a Doctor Ambrose Dexter being possessed by the lord of a thousand forms. While working on nuclear weapons, which of course is a horror all its own. The details of this creatures functions can be found examined on Lovecraft Science here.

Our story could be instead arranged around this as a midpoint. The discovery of a strange monster in the darkness of a room—one that, drawing upon the Bluebeard stories and Vampire ones, wants its presence hidden—could serve not as the rising climax but as the discovery that incites action. In the middle of the night, you might see strange shapes coming from the older house or the abandoned churches, down from the hill in between flashes of lighting. I do think Lovecraft’s idea, a blackout in a modern city allowing it free and a thunder storms lighting bolts revealing the creature for mere moments, before it flees and moves away. That’s a strong way to build tension in a very visual way—one that I think can be communicated in writing, albeit in a way that would be more clipped than my normal writing.

Oh the terror.

What creatures of the night do you know and dread? What things fear the light or despise it’s presence? Comment below!

Bibliography

Ramos, Maximo. “The Aswang Syncrasy in Philippine Folklore” Western Folklore, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1969), pp. 238-248.

Wessing, Robert. “Spirits of the Earth and Spirits of the Water: Chthonic Forces in the Mountains of West Java” Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1 (1988), pp. 43-61.

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Off the Map

This Week’s Prompt: 93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.

The Resulting Story: Yonster Over Yonder

This week, we are covering a concept or topic that came up before briefly when we discussed lost Irem: lost and hard to find lands. However, this time, I’m going to focus specifically on the nature of the place as unfindable, and discuss places long sought or supposed that have entirely vanished or been moved into the world of metaphor.

Stories of cities of luxury and wonder, just over the horizon, have existed since the conception of stories. But there was certainly an explosion of such cities during the colonization of the Americas. One of the most elaborate stories–especially tracing the changes in narrative over the years and the telling–is El Dorado.

Map Big.png

The first reports of El Dorado were in fact accounts of a ritual for the new chief of the Musica, not a city itself. This ritual involved an offering to the gods and a dive into a nearby lagoon. Afterwards, the new king was adorned with golden dust–hence the name, El Dorado. The Gilded Man.

After the Spanish conquered the Muscia, and found their gold supplies mostly imported, the legend moved somewhat. It became not merely a single man, but an entire city made of gold. These cities were supposedly isolated from the world. The city of gold was believed perhaps to recognize Christians (a tell tale sign of a European origin), and numerous map makers added it’s location to their maps (leading to a few failed attempts to reach the confirmed city).

Map ElDorado

El Dorado on the above map–note that Manoa is another name for El Dorado.

Part of El Dorado’s origins come from reports by Hernando Cortez, that claim there lies in the West of the Aztec Empire a province more populous than Spain and richer than the recently plundered cities. These rumors played into the notion of seven legendary cities of gold in the Americas. These cities were located in the southwest, among the Zuni, and of course contained no gold. Six of these cities were ransacked by the Spanish, desperate for gold. The seventh  city, sadly but not unsuprisingly, did not exist and has never been found.

Cortez’s writings also contributed to the stories of La Ciudad Blanc. This region in Hondaras was vaster than Mexico, and had as many inhabitants and far far more riches. This region was multi-cultural, with a number of native language groups living there. The conquistadors never found evidence of such a place, although lost cities have been found in the rainforest since then.

In South America, two of these cities are recorded. One is the City of the Caesars–this city was of course rich in gold, silver, and diamonds. Unlike others, we have more detailed descriptions of what it looks like–it’s between two mountains, one of gold and one of diamonds. Some accounts have the city moving to avoid capture. Inhabitants of the city range from ghosts, lost Spanish survivors, exiled Mapuche, giants, and the remains of the Inca Empire! Some believe that stories of the Empire of Peru inspired the legend itself!

The other city is the Lost City of Z–a city that contained a temple with hieroglyphics, statues, and arches. Pursuit of this city was put off do to World War II. Still, the city was the most recent to be pursued to my knowledge.

The French reported a similar city in the North. More accurately, they claimed to record an Iroquois legend of the land of Saguenay. This was a land to the north, with great silver and gold mines and inhabited by blonds, who loved furs and had them in abundance. This of course was never found, and was perhaps a lure to get more settlers into Canada.

Atlantis

Back across the Atlantic, Europe was no stranger to imaginary lands. The most famous of course gave the ocean it’s name–the island of Atlantis. Described first in Plato’s dialogues, the city was founded by Posiedon’s children and, generations later, began an expansionist conquest. The island itself was paradisal, and about the size of Anatolia, if not larger. The hubris of

Further north is most distant Thule, a land where the sky meets the sea. Early descriptions say the land has no air or water, but rather something like a jelly consistency. It is six days north of Britain’s northernmost edge and where the Sun goes to rest. Some sources point to Iceland or the Faroes, others Britian itself (some quotes about Pictish blood support this understanding) and others say it is ice-locked beneath the polestar.

The land of Prester John is in the other direction. Prester John’s kingdom was rumored to be in Asia, at first specifically in India. Supposedly, the kingdom was founded when the disciple Thomas visited India, and was a land of plenty and wisdom. Prester John was sometimes a descendant of the Three Wise Men who visited the birth of Christ. Later reports even claimed that his grandson, King David of India, was conquering Persia during the Fifth Crusade–an inaccurate report of the very much Tengri Ghengis Khan. Over time, Prester John’s kingdom was moved closer to Ethiopia (the term “India” referred to a wide number of places, including Ethiopia). It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that notions of the Preseter John were dispelled.

Cockaignee.png

Cockaigne was another lost utopia, although much more clearly allegorical. It’s roads and houses were made of pastries, everything was free, roasted pigs wandered the streets with knives in them already. The only location it was ever ascribed, jokingly, to London (as the land of Cockneys). Brittia, a place between Britain and Thule in many descriptions, was a similar paradise ruled by a Frankish king.No taxes were paid, and no labor required except manning the boat that brought the dead over.

Moving farther along we can find in Egypt Zerzura. Zerzura is a white city built around an oasis, guarded by giants at all times. Its front gate is carved to resemble a bird At the center of the city is a sleeping king and queen. A traveler who touches the beak will achieve entrance into the city, and find the great treasures within–a story that reminds me of narratives of the City of Brass.

City Locations

One of the suggested locations of Biringan City.

Moving off to the Philippines, there is Biringan City. This city, according to some accounts, pulls people in a trance–against their will to an elegant city. Some reports indicate that fisherman and drivers will end up in this city by mistake–fishermen especially when their catches go poorly. The spirits that dwell there sometimes abduct the soul of those they love, leaving behind only a lifeless corpse. These creatures, engkantos, are also responsible for skin diseases and can change their appearance at will.

Circling up again, we can find another lost and unmarked land in the Pacific. Here, we find two versions of a strange mountain. In China, it’s called Mount Pengali. It is the home of the Eight Immortals, and knows no misery or sorrow. Here there are fruits that grant everlasting youth, and summer never ends. There are even wines that will raise the dead that the First Emperor sought out. To contrast that is an account of Mount Horai from Japan–an island who’s atmosphere is made of thousands and thousands of dead souls, which if inhaled grant wisdom of the dead. The inhabitants here are childish–odd, given the presence of the dead–and no nothing of wickedness. The island’s winters are cold and harsh.

Moving to the mainland and across to Tibet, we come to our last group of unseen and unmarked lands.  Mount Kunlun is on such place–a place inhabited again by divinities and animals. The Queen Mother of the West has made her place her, with fruits of immortality, trees of jade, and more. Immortals regularly visited, while a river circling it that pulled all things down into it kept out the unworthy.

Shamballah.png

Not far away, we move from Taoist influenced missing lands to Buddhist ones. Shambhala is also located in Tibet. The land is in some case ruled by the future buddha, and the capital city is shaped like a three dimensional mandala. Other texts, particularly Hindu ones, point to it as the birthplace of the last avatar of Vishnu. When the world has reached its end, and the wheel must begin again, it will begin again in Shambhala.  This paradisal place will be the seed that grows into a new world.

All of these paradises seem primed for a story about journeys and obsessions. A metaphorical attempt to attain the past–to reach back to something felt of the past. Something dimly remembered and distant–we should consider that, for many of these European stories, physical distance was the same as temporal distance. These far away places were often equated to earlier times in the past–they were places that could hold a secret Eden. What place do you remember, distantly? That you can’t place where exactly or even when?

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We Can Dance If We Want To

This Week’s Prompt: 77. Unspeakable dance of the gargoyles—in morning several gargoyles on old cathedral found transposed.

The Resulting Story: The Harvest Moon Shines Down

The power of dance is one of the most primal things in the history of the world. I don’t mean that in a dismissive sense—dance is sophisticated, and its uses in religion and folklore will be discussed down below in a moment. What I mean is that dance is probably, along with song, one of the forms of entertainment that can be found everywhere—it requires no instruments, only a body with which to express itself. The dance of the gargoyles will thus lead us into something of a deep dive into dance, from a number of places. I will note that for gargoyles in particular, such dances are probably meant as a part of the Witches Sabbath. But we’ve already discussed that.

Dervish.png

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Witch’s Sabbath, there is the whirling Dervish. A mystic Muslim tradition, Dervishes seek to approach God from experience and personal virtue—their dances are often long and strenuous, seeking to reach a state of religious ecstasy and connection in their straining. These dances bring the dervish into a trance, allowing for the experience of god directly. As with many mystic groups, dervishes also swear a vow of poverty and have a reputation in many parts of the world as miracle workers.

Following the dervishes east, we come to India. I feel obliged to note that with a week to do research, Hinduism’s many many practices and tales are not able to be entirely or thoroughly examined. This is at best a summary.

The largest, and most famous form of dance regarding miracles and statues here is the Tandava—the dance done by Lord Shiva on the dwarf demon of ignorance. Doing so maintains the balance of knowledge and ignorance, while at the same time symbolically re-enacting all the cosmos: creation and destruction in one hundred and eight fluid motions.

Shiva Nataraja.png

This dance is not the only dance of course—there is the famed dance of Kali. While Kali has a poor reputation in the West from a certain movie, her role as defender of the world and destroyer of demons is more prevalent. However, in at least one tale, she grows too eager in her efforts. Dancing on the bodies of slain demons, and rampaging without fear, she begins to destroy the world until her husband—Shiva, Lord of the Dance—throws himself beneath her feet, calming her.

Kali and Shiva, along with other deities, are key to the practices commonly called Tantra—a collection of practices that sadly I do not have time to delve into beyond a mere note of its existence as a group of rituals in Hindu and Buddhist traditions that seems interesting.

Moving from India, we go north now to Tibet. Tibetan dances include the Cham Dance—a ritual that seeks to promote prosperity and destroy evil spirits. According to legend, the ritual was invented to allow the construction of a monastery in the 8th century, which was delayed do to the presence of wicked spirits. The dance can last as long as fifteen days, and is as much theater as visual performance. It culminates, ultimately, in the destruction of dough effigy—symbolically the three enemies of Buddhism: Ignorance, Jealousy, and Hatred.

Tibet also plays host to the Snow Lion Dance—a tradition that has spread over China, Japan, and Tibet. The Lion Dance in Tibet takes the form of two boys dressed as snow lion, accompained by musicians who play as they dance from house to house at New Years. The Snow lion is a symbol in Tibet of regional and divine power, snow lionesses raising some of the greatest folk heroes and snow lions serving as the mounts of mountain gods.

The Lion Dance in China has a different origin—according to legend, during the reign of the yellow emperor, a lion stopped a great monster from harassing a city. The monster was not slain, and promised to return the next year. With no lion to defend them, the people of the city made a false lion to trick the beast. And so the Lion Dance was born.

Moving south to Bali, we have another dancing creature that at a glance resembles a lion. The story here is more complex, however, as the dance recreates the battle between Baronga and Rangda. The story goes that Rangda, the mother of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the tenth century, was condemned by Erlangga’s father because she practiced black magic. After she became a widow, she summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the leaks and the demons, to come after Erlangga. A fight occurred, but she and her black magic troops were too strong that Erlangga had to ask for the help of Barong. Barong came with Erlangga’s soldiers, and fight ensued. Rangda casted a spell that made Erlangga soldiers all wanted to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris into their own stomachs and chests. Barong casted a spell that turned their body resistant to the sharp keris. At the end, Barong won, and Rangda ran away.

Barong Dance.png

Re-enactments of this dance, which can go on for sometime, are sometimes dangerous. Overly engaged dancers must be carefully restrained from harming themselves with their weapons, and the ceremonial masks are themselves sacred forces. An element of this story that is partially interesting to me is the fact that Rangda may in fact be a re-incarnation of an earlier sorcerer queen, Calon Arang, who destroyed settlements and released plagues on the world.

Moving further a sea, and north to Japan, we have their own lion dances, and sacred re-enactments. These recall the story of Amaterasu’s retreat from the world—a result of her brother’s lack of hospitality. Nothing could get her to return, and in her absence, the world began to fail. Not only from the natural consequences of her absence—such as the failure of crops—but also by the growing presence of demons and other creatures. One of the stories of how she was lured out of her cavern was by the Dawn goddess of dancers, Amenouzume. Her performance, dressed in moss and then in nothing at all, inspired cries and laughter among the gods until Amaterasu came out to investigate.

Kagura dances began in the imperial household, as sacred entertainment. Over time, however, the dances spread out to the general populace and gained a number of variations. All of them are presented are forms of worship, and are pleasing to the gods when preformed. The imperial versions have been preformed since the year 1000 A.D. and many of the folk variations include re-enactments of tales and ritual workings. Some resemble possession dances, others lion dances of China, and so forth.

Moving from the Phillipenes, across the Pacific, we reach Hawaii. Here stories of dance, particularly the hula, are tied to a handful of gods—the goddess Pele, the goddess Laka, and the goddesss Hi’iaka. In some variations, Laka was the inspiration for the dance, in the swaying of the leaves and trees. In other cases, Pele dances the first hula to signify her victory over the goddess of the oceans. And in the cases of Hi’iaka, the dance is done to appease an angry Pele.

Pele Home.png

Wahikpau o Pele

Coming back to the United States, the power of dance was recognized by First Nations for sometime. The one I remember best, however, was a relatively recent development—the Ghost Dance movement of 1889-1891. The Ghost Dance was a religious movement, beginning in Nevada, and spreading outward on two seperate occasions. According to it’s practitioners, the Ghost Dance would, when done properly, reunite the world of the living and the dead. The returning spirits would then help drive the colonists out of the Americas, and usher in an age of prosperity and peace. The movement had variations, notably among the Lakota, and other spiritual practices—such as ghost shirts, which would repel bullets. The Ghost Dance movement met its end in an unfortunately predictable way—while some practitioners remain, the US Military considered the movement ‘troublesome’, and at the Wounded Knee Massacre, effectively ended the movement by force.

GhostDance

An interesting aside—the Dene are the only tribe that refused to take part in the Ghost Dance when offered. Speculation varies as to why, but I had always heard it was because “the dead returning” came across significantly more sinister then elsewhere.

Crossing the United States and going north some, we come to Europe. Here there are two traditions to discuss—and then onto the horror story. The first is the Egg Dance. The dance is an old Easter Celebration, potentially pagan before that. There a few variations, but in general the dance involves dancing around or with eggs and attempting to break as few as possible while doing so. In some traditions, as is reported in 1498, if a couple danced among the eggs and no eggs were broken they were instantly betrothed—regardless of parental opinion.

Egg Dance.png

The other dance in Europe I would like to discuss is far more horrific. The Dancing Plague of 1518 is an incident of mass hysteria in the Holy Roman Empire that compelled four hundred individuals to begin dancing for days on end rest until they collapsed—resutling in deaths from exposure, heart attacks, or exhaustion. The plague lasted one month, and is not the only one of it’s kind. Dancing outbreaks in Europe are documented over a one thousand year period—from the seventh to the seventeenth century. Incidents range from around twenty dancers to the four hundred above. Most documents indicate women as the primary participants, although some dancing plagues were predominantly children or even a lone man. Explanations ranged from natural causes of excess hot blood, the curse of St. Vito, the curse of St. John, and demonic possession. Cures were thus various: hired musicians to play, prayers and pilgrimages, exorcisms, isolation and containment. Eventually the plagues simply ceased.

Which brings us to the horror aspect of our story. One part of dance that can be horrific is its compelling, instinctive in a compelling way—as silly as it sounds, dancing can invoke a loss of control, especially in a communal context. And losing control is a frightening experience at times. If the dance is the sole source of horror, this would be the place to start. But our prompt points away from this, at first at least. No, our prompt presumes we are witnessing the dance of another—Gargoyles, which here may as well stand in for strange, monstrous creatures. Perhaps Lovecraft meant to invoke the fear of a community of Gargoyles at all. The story The Festival seems the most likely to have come from this prompt—it is an archaic Yule-Tide celebration that involves strange winged creatures, crowds, and a procession. As we’ve seen, dances often recount communal history and celebration, and The Festival in a way centers around such notions.

To make a revelation horrific, it must reveal something horrifying. This is perhaps self-explanatory, but one of the faults of Lovecraft’s writing is the difficulty of such revelations. It can’t merely be “things man was never meant to know”—such secrets feel more of a cheat in these days then an actual horrific reveal. Digging into Lovecraftian and Gothic secrets, there are plenty to choose from. There are revelations about family, about self, about the real nature of the universe—although that one descends quickly into “it was so profoundly shocking I can’t describe it” which is cheating.

Another potential reference is a story from the Dreamlands—here a priest goes up a mountain, to where the gods dance. And there, he encounters more than he bargained for as the gods are joined by more terrifying and powerful gods, who do not take kindly to being watched. This I think—the discovery of the size and breadth of a community of monsters, or the violation of a secret pact and the consequences there of, are perhaps more interesting to examine then simple revelation.

Of course, this is already running longer than normal—and I’ve only barely touched on the nature of dance in folklore and traditions! What are some you know? What meaning or purpose do they have? How have they touched you?

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The Root of the Mountain

This Week’s Prompt: 70. Tone of extreme phantasy. Man transformed to island or mountain.

The Resulting Story: Mountain out of a Man

The creation of a mountain or island or even the world from a single person or creatures is far from new. We discussed last year the tradition of murder at the dawn of time—of great primeval crocodiles and serpents and monsters of the sea that oppose sky gods and are murdered for it. Among these many beasts, there are a handful that in turn are laid out to form the foundation of the world—a testament to their size and to their importance in the world.

Tiamat

Marduk fighting Tiamat

The first example of such a creature we will discuss is the most malicious. Tiamat is a vast mother goddess, the primordial salt water sea that rages at the death of her husband the freshwater sea. In her war with her grand children she :

Made in addition weapons invincible; she spawned monster-serpents,

Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang;

With poison, instead of blood, she filled their bodies.

Fierce monster-vipers she clothed with terror,

With splendor she decked them, she made them of lofty stature.

Whoever beheld them, terror overcame him,

Their bodies reared up and none could withstand their attack.

She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,

And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,

And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;

They bore cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Her commands were mighty, none could resist them;

After this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters.

Her exalted commander, Kingu, bore the Tablets of Destiny and power over all the gods! Tiamat’s shape is hard to say. While moderns may think of her as a great dragon, she appears in some cases more like a cow with great udders, and certainly odder then most reptiles with her lips. Each portion of her is divided up to make the cosmos—the sky is held by her ribs, her tears are the Tigris and Euphrates, the Milky Way is her tail. The blood of Kingu was used to make mankind.

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Ymir and his cow

The other example is Ymir—First living thing of the Norse mythos, born when the lands of fire and frost met. At this point, the great first giant emerged—Ymir. And shortly after he found his great cow companion—to my knowledge, this is unrelated to Paul Bunyan. He persisted like this for a time, fathering the frost giants. Eventually, however, the sons of Bor—Odin, Ville, and Ve—slew him and arranged the cosmos from his body. From his skull, they made the heavens. From his hair, forests. His bones became the hills, the seas run with his blood. His brains were made into clouds, his eyebrows were men. And in one case, the maggots that fed on his corpse became the dwarfs.

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Less malicious is the act of Pangu. Pangu is from Chinese myth, and takes on his form not from a violent ambush or great war, but as he comes to old age. In his early years, with the aid of four beasts, Pangu separated the earths and heavens to make a habitable cosmos and cut Yin from Yang with a great ax. But as time went on, he came to grow old and die at the age of 18,000. Slowly, he takes on the form of the world as he passes on into death. Like Ymir, his body is divided up into various parts of the world. The wind is his breath, the thunder his voice, his left eye floats upwards to be the sun, his right eye is now the moon. The fleas on his body became animals, his beard became the milky way, his head mountains, his bone marrow great diamonds.

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Svyatogor coming on his steed

There are other, debatable examples. Typhon, for instance, was trapped beneath a mountain and an island in one version of his myth. But trapped is not the same as became, I don’t think. More directly linked to our tale is the Russian bogatyr, Svyatogor. Svyatogor is a mountainous man, who eventually lays down in his own stone coffin to die. He passes his strength on to Illya, the greatest of the bogatyrs, through his breath.

Mt. Mayon.png

Mt.Mayon–yes, the smoke formed like that naturally.

Perhaps the least malicious, even less than Pangu, is Mt. Mayon. Mt. Mayon is the result of a tale of love between Magayon and the prince Panganoron. The two’s relationship enrages the failed suitor Pagtuga, who gathers his warrior s and steals Magayon’s father. The ensuing war sees the lovers victorious, but Patgua’s warriors shoot one of the two—versions differ—on the way home. The other commits suicide, and are both are buried. After their burial, a mountain arises from their graves—Mt. Mayon, a still active volcano.

Fictionally, I’m again reminded of the story of YISUN from Kill Siz Billion Demons, who destroys themselves to create a pair of gods, who in turn make all gods. This generation of gods in turn gives themselves over entirely to death in order to create a world each—with life and creatures spreading forth from their holy city of Throne.

The stories so far touch mostly on great cosmic creations. I think ours will be more like Mt. Mayon—a place of legend, yes, but not as grand as the entire world. Our story, as one of ‘phantasy’ instead of horror, I feel a cataclysmic battle less of interest then the slow, gradual expansion of a mind. We start with a body, a man or woman, and slowly they become something more—something vaster, and often covered in life. We can consider, perhaps, that both mountains and islands are found in groups—ranges and chains. At the same time, they can be quite lonely places. A deserted island or a lonely mountain is not an uncommon description.

The nature of this story will be, I think, entirely atmosphere—it could be horror, but it feels more calm and meditative and thus perhaps a bit strange for this blog. Still, it will be an engaging story to write and place to explore. Spacing and pacing the progress from mortal to monument might be difficult. It requires attention to sentence length, to description, to punctuation, and to variation. Atmosphere and mood are, in my opinion, far harder to grasp and far more essential then action or characterization. To make a house feel alive is no easy feat.

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