The Beast Must Feed

This Week’s Prompt:117. A secret living thing kept and fed in an old house.

The Resulting Story: The Family Business

This prompt resembles another prompt we covered some time ago, about secret rooms in castles and homes. There might be some overlap in what we discuss here and what was touched upon there. There is the creature of Glamis Castle we discussed then—a monstrous, vampiric or amphibian offspring that was kept in a secret chamber apart from humanity. There was the strange beast that guarded the castle Orlando fought. Both of these strange monsters lurk in secret around the castle, but they are not so often described as being “fed”.

For that, the first creature or entity that came to mind was  a spirit from Chinese folklore—a gu . This is a creature, often a centipede, that is created by trapping a number of poisonous insects and animals in a jar, and waiting to see which one emerged victorious. This creature is the most venomous, having absorbed the venom of all the dead creatures it has killed. These creatures could appear, disappear, cause lights to appear, infect food and drink, and in some cases control the souls of dead victims. They resemble all sorts of insects and toads and serpents. More pressingly for us, they were able to shift a victims wealth to the sorcerer who created them. In many stories, this monstrous spirit had an appetite that had to be maintained, so that the family’s prosperity could continue.

Symbols for the Gu poison and Jincan (Golden Silkworm, a related creature)

A comparable sort of spirit was documented in Wales. Some of them are more akin to ghosts, but one knight by the name of Sir David Llwyd had a familiar spirit bound in a great book. He once left home without taking the book with him, and realizing his mistake, sent a servant home to fetch the book. The child, curious as young boys are, opened the book after which the spirit appeared and demanded orders. The boy, in shock, told the spirit to go and toss stones into the river—and the spirit obeyed, filling the air with stones the boy had to dodge, until the river was full. Then, it came back demanding more orders—and so the boy in desperation asked the stones be thrown back where they came from. Luckily, this delay in the books delivery has caught Sir David’s attention and he arrives on the scene, commanding the devil back into the book, ending the chaos as he closes it.  While this demon required no feeding, it is in need of constant  supervision.

Sometimes, these hideous beings do not wait to be bound, but instead bind another.  A lady in the woods was apparently infamous for this behavior, bewitching a man named Einion with illusions such that his wife, Angharad, seemed a decayed old hag, and the spirit the most beautiful of women. He split their wedding ring in two when he departed with the spirit, taking half the golden ring with him. As he wondered under her spell, he by chance looked under his ring, and saw on the horizon that which he desired most. He decided then to put the half the ring under his eyelid to see that spot forever—and while he was trying to do so, a man in white with a staff rode up to him. Hearing his plight, the man offered to take him back to his wife. When Einion got on and looked behind him, he did not see the Lady of the Woods, but only vast hoof prints in the ground. The man in white asked if he wished to see the Lady of the Woods, handing him his staff with which to see the goblin. And the Lady of the Woods was a horrifying repulsive witch of great size. As he screamed, the man cast his robe over him, and took them both to the hill near Trevelir.

The Lady in the Woods, meanwhile, had taken on the shape of a young knight and made love to Angharad—having told her that Einion was dead. And they prepared to marry, as the Lady of the Woods promised to make her the most noble woman in Wales. At the wedding, where everyone had gathered, there was a contest to play  a harp that Einion had left behind, the best harp in Wales. None could play the harp, but at last Einion arrived—appearing to his wife as a decrepit old man—and offered to play. And this won Angharad’s heart, although she could not break the illusion—even with the ring restored. So Einion granted her the staff and she saw the goblin’s true shape. After she was revived from fainting, the illusion ended, the banquet and pageantry vanished, and they returned to happy lives.

A more classical beast in the castle story comes to us from Italy. Here, we have a lady with only one son. Oh how she loved her son. Once, while her son and his companions were out hunting, she was visited by a strange lady. The lady asked to put her horses up with the ladies—who refused, as her horses would mix with no others. As she turned to leave, however, her son and his companions returned. The mysterious woman was in fact a fairy—and she bewitched the entire company to become satyrs. Satyrs, brutish and monstrous until the lady could find one who would marry him as he was.  In the meantime, he and his companions had to stay in the stables away from home.

As  his mother failed to find marriage in the land, the prince waited in the stables for rescue. And espied one day, in the gardens near the stables, the daughter of a duke. With a hand he beckoned her over, because like most satyrs he had the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. She drew near, but seeing his form, was disgusted and ran off.

The next day the same pattern repeated, as he asked if she wished him well and she protested she did not despite her approaches. The narrator informs us that she cannot yet say she loves him, and in fact goes to her mother about the affair. The mother warns her daughter to stay away from the monsters, and she does so for a month—before at last returning. The prince entreats her so sweetly that she is moved—or perhaps it is his promise of suicide if she rejects him. At last, she say she wishes him well—and at last the fairy comes forth and breaks the spell.

Which I admit confuses me, as the fairy swore only when he was wed would the curse be lifted. I suppose the prince was especially fortunate his fairy was fickle.

King Zahak is a more royal example of a hidden hunger. A man of spectacular charisma, but little self control and wisidom, the devil Ahriman advised him to murder his own father and become king of Arabia. Then, the same devil became his cook—and an excellent one at that! For his service, Zahak asked the cook what gift he would want. And the cook asked only to kiss Zahak twice—on each shoulder. Zahak allowed it, and from the kisses sprang two black serpents who attacked and bit at Zahak. The cook took his leave, not seen again as Zahak struggled with this curse. The snakes could not be cut free—they simply regrew whenever they were cut off. Eventually, a doctor came—again Ahirman in disguise—and revealed to Zahak that the only cure for his affliction was to eat a dish prepared with the brains of two men. And so, Zahak turned to grotesque cannibalism.

Zahak, consulting about those snakes

In time, the Emperor of Iran fell out of favor with the people. Zahak arrived to them as a savior, and with a great army drove out the emperor, chasing him down and eventually executing him by sawing him in half. However, his hunger did not abate. His agents find two men each day to give him. Two heroic men, Armayel and Garmayel, seek to rescue these victims by becoming royal cooks and replacing one of the human brains with brains of a sheep. The saved man was sent away to the mountains to live.  In time, after centuries of tyranny, Zahak was overthrown—but that is a story for another time.

Comparable in some ways to Zahak, but also to Bluebeard, is the story of Prince White Pig. Here a boy traveling on a road insults an old fairy while traveling. For this, he is cursed to be a pig by day (although the most handsome prince by night, which…I’m unsure such curses work as intended). His father builds a stone enclosure for him to live in. The prince decides to marry, and a bride is found. Of course, when the pig-groom who has spent all day wallowing goes to kiss her, she slaps him back. The prince than devours her. And a second bride, who undergoes the same ‘trial’. The third bride is kind to him, and thus lives long enough to see his handsome princely nature by night. She must not reveal this fact about her husband, however, or she will need a steel dress and steel shoes to find him again.

Of course, to the surprise of none, the taunting of her mother becomes too much and she reveals at last the real nature of her husband.  Eventually, with the aid of fairies, she finds that her husband is back to being a prince and about to marry a princess.  With the help of a servant, she saves her husband from the princess who was drugging him every night. After they speak, they go to the king, who lets them leave as husband and wife.

Which, I mean, he did eat two other human beings for slapping him, I’m not sure he’s exactly husband material.

There is also of course the  ancient Minotaur. For those unfamiliar with the story, Poseidon once sent King Minos a snow white bull as confirmation of his king ship—on the condition that it be sacrificed to the Earthshaker. King Minos, however, found the bull to beautiful to sacrifice and kept it. In revenge, the god of the sea made the queen Pasiphae fall in love with the bull—and the queen had the inventor Daedalus devise a way for her to make love to the bull. The result of this was the Minotaur, half man and half bull.

The minotaur was a fierce being and, being neither man nor beast, had no natural source of nourishment. So he fed upon human flesh, and thus had to be contained. Daedalus was again employed to create a labyrinth to contain the monster, and every seven years offerings, Athenian youths were offered to the beast. 

There seems to be a common line with these monsters however. These creatures that demand blood and must be imprisoned give or are correlated to an ascent to power. Zahak receives power from Ahriman—and receives his hunger from Ahriman. The bull secures Minos’s kingship…and brings the Minotaur. The gu demon brings wealth but also threatens the family and is used to feed on the populace. Even the pig and satyr princes derive from uses of power and rudeness—and in the case of the pig, turn literally from man-eating monster into heroic prince like night and day. Sir David’s familiar granted him extreme power and knowledge—even if it cost him his curacy—and the lady of the woods took the shape of noble ladies and knights in her travels.

To keep the old power alive, the old monster must be fed sounds like the basis for a gothic horror story indeed. We will see what sort of monster dwells in the old house next time…but until then. What stories of beasts in the basement have you heard?

Bibliography

Busk, Rachel Harriette, 1831-1907. Roman Legends: a Collection of the Fables And Folk-lore of Rome. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1877.

Carrière, Joseph Médard. Tales From the French Folk-lore of Missouri. Evanston: Northwestern university, 1937.

Pang, Carolyn. “Uncovering ‘Shikigami’: The Search for the Spirit Servant of Onmyōdō.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 99–129. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41955532. Accessed 25 Aug. 2020.

Sikes, Wirt, 1836-1883. British Goblins: Welsh Folk Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends And Traditions. Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1880.

Forbidden Texts And Wild Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

WoodWose1.png

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

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

Two Satyrs By Peter Paul Rubens.png

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

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

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

Sasquatch.png

Quite a photophobic family.

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

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

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

Mapinguari.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migo

Yeah, I can totally see the Yeti connection…

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

Yellow Sign.png

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

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

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