I Dream Of Mages

This Week’s Prompt:82. Power of wizard to influence dreams of others.

The Resulting Story: The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

Dreams and magic are large and recurring themes in a number of these prompts. And so today we’ll take some time to not only discuss the folklore of dreams and magicians—of which there is plenty—but some of their fascination, particularly in the time of Lovecraft, and some occult theories (however medieval). Needless to say, the man who commands dreams is to be feared in deed.

Recent works of fiction have put strains to separate the wizard from his various compatriots—the witch, the sorcerer, the warlock, the shaman, the priest, the magi. At its root, the word wizard does derive from the word “wise” and refers to the learned man or the sage. However, as we have documented, this does not mean a man who is benevolent nor does it mean one who does not make pacts with dark powers, nor one who does deal in holy powers. While witchcraft in an anthropological sense is associated with unintended malicious power, wizadry and sorcery tend to be more prepared. In a folklore sense, however, we would do well to remember that the line between the cunning folk and the wisemen is not always clear. So, what can wizards do?

In Scotland, we have many records of the powers that a witch or wizard might exert over the world. Powers over wind and weather, storms called up and sent back down are reported among court documents. In both Scotland and Nova Scotia, this power extends to strange orbs of fire in the night—often that burden the body and the mind. The same text reports tales of darkness conjured by sages of India in Marco Polo’s narratives. Scottish sorcerers also exerted the ability to render things sterile or fertile.

Scottish and other English wizards were also ascribed the power of commanding animals and humans alike, as we have discussed when talking of the devil’s deals. These powers could result in death or worse, trapping people until the starved. Particularly skilled practitioners as late as the 1800s (and to this day in some places) have the power to bewitch serpents and endure their bite without harm.

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Nova Scotia folklore reports a way of gaining power over a person with a ritual. One must find a frog, tie his legs to avoid him hopping, and put him atop an ants nest. In time, the ants will devour him, and the frog will begin hollering and yelling. You must not hear him holler—that will kill you. After nothing but ones are left, take the hopping bone—his hind leg. Place it on your target’s body for a few seconds, and they will be yours. This same rite yields different variations, sometimes using serpents for the purpose or using two bones. The first bone ensnares the second bone sends the person away.

Fiji and other places have reports of magic that follow a broad theme of requiring a portion of the victim to be of any use. This rule can be illustrated in a dispute between two men, Fillipi and Nayau. The two men, after arguing over who was the superior magician, exchanged food. The sorcerers set about certain secret workings on these objects, and then place them in the roof of their victim. These workings include fasting, eternal heat for four days, and aversion to the sea. Fillipi ends up dead—however, Nayau fails to find his body and release the evil Fillipi had built up. The Nayau man thus also falls dead, his spear stabbed into the incorrect grave on the last night. Proper treatment of the dead having unexpected consequences might be the topic of this weeks patreon or another time—needless to say cosmic events have sometimes emerged from reckless ignorance of cosmic forces.

Tibetan magic intending to harm someone is equally attested to. Placing hair or nail clippings under the altar of a wrathful deity, for instance, draws the destructive power towards the target. Cursing and invocation of these powers is alos a means of harm. More elaborate, however, is the ngan gdad. This ritual requires nail or hair clippings, placed in a circle. The cirlce is marked by four curses—each reaffirming that something must come to an end (the life, the descent, the heart, the body, the power)–which is smeared with menstral blood along with the clippings. The entire ritual is placed on a prepared paper with an image of the person, and wrapped in a package. The package in turn is placed in a yak’s right horn, with additional harmful items—the blood of a man, a woman, and a dog; brass and iron filings from a smith; earth from a cross road; and an object used in a suicide; a portion of a woman who died in birth; some acontine; and water from an underground spring. This concoction is topped off with two live spiders, who are sealed inside with the hair of a corpse. This is sealed with poisonous wood.

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The entire process is poisonous, so the sorcerer must avoid his own contact. After this, a ritual involving the bones of the poor, the butchered of war, and earth of a haunted mountain is preformed. The wrathful gods are invoked, and the magician will attempt to hide the horn in the victims house during dawn or sunset. Within three months, the first signs of misfortune appear. Eventually, the entire family of the house dies.

While this is the most elaborate Tibetan ritual, it is not the only means recorded for tibetan sorcerers to work harmful magic. A number of lesser rites are codified that invovle drawing a mandala of a specific color and working with a statue or image of a person. Others involve the writing out of names and descent to invoke illness and malady, and elaborate rituals like the above to call upon four armed killers. For sake of space, we will abridge those specific rituals.

 Interpretations of dreams in Tibet, as elsewhere, is seen is a way of understanding the future. Among most persons, dreams of being clad in armor, riding a miraculous steed, or being in formal dress are all good signs of progress and prosperity. However, dreams of storms, swamps, and filth are ill omens. Different spirits can also influence dreams—a theme we will follow through out our work, as the wizard often works through spirits and other such things. “One can also determine which class of spirits caused the hallucinations one experienced in a dream: if one saw a snowy mountain or a soaring white bird, then the lha caused this dream. When seeing an old temple, images of clay, a fox, or a small child, the dream was caused by the ‘gong po demons. To see snakes, frogs, girls with a·pale-blue skin, and mountain-meadows are mirages caused by the klu. The btsan make one see rocks, trees, riders, and warriors, the the’u rang let appear ash-coloured children in one’s dreams; if one sees the figures of Buddhist priests, of asses, monkeys, rats, horses, and dogs, these dreams were the work of the rgyal po demons, and if one trembles with terror and fear in the sleep, this is due to the influence of the bdud.”

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Dream interpretation is also marked by Cornelius Agrippa, a famed occult writer in the middle ages. Agrippa attests to beliefs that dreams are celestial influences—drawing the common distinction between fantasy and true dream. While dreams are according to Agrippa effacious, he regrards them as unreliable. Or, rather, omens that cannot be universally understood with one meaning. Nonetheless he argues for a focus on the potential and influence of dreams on this world, and if understood accurately is the most effective means of seeing the future.

Dreams as divine messengers are of course common. We have Daniel, a wise man who’s position is derived from his ability to understand dreams (and who, perhaps like a sorcerer, has no fear of animals). We have the Odyssey’s dream messages from Athena. We also have, notably, the use of dreams by Juno in the Aeneid. Here, dreams are the tools of wrath and are used to misled the Etruscans into a doomed war against Aeneas.

The use of dreams to see faraway places is promient in later works. We can consider, for instance, the story of visiting the Antartic that is found in . Here the narrator bears witness to a great battle among old gods—Zeus and Odin set about a war path, as their lands are being pushed ever farther back. A tale by the same author in  In The Pale of a similar man, who went to the Antarctic and found the lost tribes of Israel and the descendants of Moses living there as if in a new Eden.

The wizards power over dreams, however, takes the most direct appearance with the Night hag and other commanded spirits. We discussed the Night Hag at length here, but there is of course more to say then that. We can consider the creatures a Sumerian exorcist encountered, which included the invisible demon Alu. The alu dwell in ruins, and wait to rush upon people at night, enveloping them in their garments or sneaking into bed rooms to steal men’s sleep. They appear as half-man half-demon creatures, sometimes faceless, earless, or even limbless. The baku of Japan is another strange dream spirit—it frequently is called upon to eat dreams, and has a generally benevolent image. That said, a hungry baku may devour good dreams as well—destroying hopes in the process. The Baku has gained a more benevolent reputation as of late, however, as it eats nightmares of children. Also, it looks more snuggly then a demon lurking on your bed.

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Western powers over dreams are also ascribed. The Book of the Magus suggests a method by which a wizard may compel or bring forth true dreams. It relies on the construction of a ring dedicated to celestial powers, prepared at a key moment in time. The subject of the dream is to be tied to the power and moment—as is normal for the creation of such talismans in Western occultism. The practioner must also fast and obstain from many worldly pleasures in order to avoid ruining his project.

The Magus reports an incident where dreams give the impression of soaring and flying, in a way comparable to our earlier examples from weird fiction:

“At LINTZ I worked with a young woman, who one evening invited me to go with her, assuring me that without any risk she would conduct me to a place where I greatly desired to find myself. I allowed myself to be persuaded by her promises. She then gave unto me an unguent, with which I rubbed the principal pulses of my feet and hands; the which she did also; and at first it appeared to me that I was flying in the air in the place which I wished, and which I had in no way mentioned to her.

Pass over in silence and out of respect, that which I saw, which was admirable, and appearing to myself to have remained there a long while, I felt as if I were just awakening from a profound sleep, and I had great pain in my head and deep melancholy. I turned round and saw that she was seated at my side. She began to recount to me what she had seen, but that which I had seen was entirely different. I was, however, much astonished, because it appeared to me as if I had been really and corporeally in the place, and there in reality to have seen that which had happened. However, I asked her one day to go alone to that same place, and to bring me back news of a friend whom I knew for certain was distant 200 leagues. She promised to do so in the space of an hour. She rubbed herself with the same unguent, and I was very expectant to see her fly away; but she fell to the ground and remained there about three hours as if she were dead, so that I began to think that she really was dead. At last she began to stir like a person who is waking, then she rose to an upright position, and with much pleasure began to give me the account of her expedition, saying that she had been in the place where my friend was, and all that he was doing; the which was entirely contrary to his profession. Whence I concluded that what she had just told me was a simple dream, and that this unguent was a causer of a phantastic sleep; whereon she confessed to me that this unguent had been given to her by the Devil.”

In Mongolia the framing device of the Saga of the Wise Walking Khan involves the son of a khan enraging a group of magicians. These seven magician brothers are first approached by the two brothers, to learn the art of magic. They teach the elder brother false lessons, while the younger brother at night listens at night to learn the true lessons. Afterwards, the younger brother comes up with a scheme. He tells his elder brother that there will be a new horse in the stables asks his brother to take it to be sold—but not to walk past the seven magic brothers. The elder brother does not believe there is anything to fear from the magicians—after all, they didn’t teach any magic so they had no power. The Seven Brothers recognize the magical horse and worried their monopoly will be broken, descend with intent to kill the horse, after buying it.

The horse, it happens, is the younger brother in disguise. His intent was to turn into a horse, be sold, turn back, and flee.

After a shapeshifting chase, the younger brother finds his way to a great sage. He asks the sage to turn him into a bead and hold him in his mouth—and to turn seven beads into worms, as the magicians approach the door as mere men. The magicians see the worms, and thinking one is the younger brother, they turn into birds to devour them. The great sage drops the bead, and the younger brother emerges. He takes a great stick and kills them all. His saga then follows his tasks to repay the great sage.

The Greeks marked this division of dreams between fantasies and reality with the twin gates in the realm of Hades. There, dreams of falsehood flow from the gate of ivory, and dreams of truth from the gate of horn. Dreams are also there tied into the lands of the dead. The power of the dead to talk in dreams is attested to, almost as thoroughly as the power of the cunning wizard to speak with and command the spirits of the dead. But that will have to wait for another time.

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Around the time of this prompt, it was not only the occult world that had interest in the world of dreams. Rather, the scientific community—or the begins of one—showed interest. We can consider the work of Sigimund Freud, who suggested dreams showed supressed and buried desires and ills. Carl Jung, one of his disciples, expanded this notion of the power of dreams to communicate from the great unknown of the unconcious mind. Jung extrapolated the source of these dreams into a vast universal unconcious, where the whole of mankind might be said to be dreaming.

The notion of dreams that are more substantive then reality, and the potential for sages to influence them, calls to mind an old Taoist story. Once Chuang Tzu said that he was dreaming he was a butterfly—and only knew his happiness as a butterfly. The sage wondered, was he a butterfly still dreaming he was a man or a man dreaming he was a butterfly? The sage leaves the question unanswered.

In dreams a man can live a thousand lives, wear a thousand different faces. The power of dreams then is two fold—to make a life like illusion, and to send messages of great importance. It isn’t hard to see how a wizard with command over dreams might manipulate a community—even barely remembered, dreams of the same thing over and over are effective. If we grant our sorcerer can observer the sleeping persons, then we have new elements to introduce. A sorcerer might use these gazes to test his victims, as a sort of fantastic simulation. As we have seen here, the danger of a wizard is great especially if personally invoked. We had a wizard hero last story, so I think this time we will have one in a villainous role.

I am also feeling a bit more fantastic. That is, away from set in stone locations ot an unknown place. Given the Sumerian story, I think the lair of this wizard is the crumbling ruins of some old temple or palace—and perhaps there is where whatever ritual or tools he uses are found. What sorts of magic might he work? What plans does this wizard have? There is horror to be found in a man who from afar exerts power over the elements, the invisible killer. The dread master with his assistant spirits.

 

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Bibliography

Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene. Oracles and Demons of Tibet. Kathmandu, Nepal, Book Faith India, 1993.

Dalyell, John Graham. The Darker Superstitions of Scotland.Glasgow, R.Grifin.co, 1875.

Busk, Rachael Harriet. Saga of the Far East; or Kalmouk and Mongolian traditional tales. London, Griffith and Farran, 1973.

Fauset, Arthur. Folklore of Nova Scotia. New York, American Folk-lore society, G.E. Strechet and Co. 1931.

St. Johnson, Reginald. The Lau Islands(Fiji) and their fairy tales. London. The Times book co. ltd 1918.

Iliowizi, Henry. In The Pale: stories and legends of Russian Jews. Philidelphia. Coates. 1900.

Iliowizi, Henry. The Weird Orient: Nine Mystic Tales. Philidelphia. Coates. 1900.

Thompson, R. Campbell. The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia. London. Luzac and co. 1903-1904.

A Dreadful Day For A Wedding

This Week’s Prompt: 79. Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle—discovered by dweller.

The Resulting Story:Samson and Delilah

This week’s topic brings us to a common Gothic horror theme—the buried and forgotten secret. Especially in an ancient castle, who’s revelation undoes their very identity. Whether ghosts and bodies buried in the deep, or more recent atrocities, the dangers of things forgotten and buried is great. We discussed—in one of our most popular articles—the burial of persons beneath foundations. This sort of secret will take us to many other places. Mostly France though.

There are a few stories that relate to crypts bearing terrible secrets. One worth considering is the story of Lancelot and Dolorous Guard. Here a secret is discovered on a literal crypt—the tomb that Lancelot must be interred in after he dies. The majority of the revelation was joyous, however, as it revealed the knight’s heritage and true name. And that this castle was his. All well and good.

Lovecraft has his own story about the discovery of ancestry—the Rats in the Walls, where in our narrator learns of his heritage. His version, of course, is much more horrific. Without spoiling that story, I’ll leave a link hereThe origins of the Gothic Genre include underground churches and revelations of idenity in the Castle Ortanto—again, the revelation there is less of a horrible secret than the justification of the protagonist.

More pressing stories include those of monsters locked within castles. Here we go to France again, but later in time—the Age of Charlemagne. Here, we find Rinaldo who quests to forget his heart break over a lady love. He finds a land, where he sees a castle in a great pit. An old woman tells him a beast in the castle is kept from terrorizing the countryside, by regular sacrifices of flesh. Rinaldo agrees to venture forth and slay the beast—and attempts to do so. However, he fails at first. It is only when his love returns, and assists—over his loud protests—that the reptilian creature dies (it may be a dragon, but the description in Bulfinch does not specify. All the better I suppose.)

In Scotland, there is a similar story around Glamis Castle. There a secret chamber was used, according to tales dating back to 1840, a deformed and possibly vampiric child. Some accounts call the child a “human toad”, others as simply a strange shadow. The creature’s nature may never be known—at least one guest, the Earl of Crawford, suspected that the family invented the stories as they went along.

There is a creature that resembles this in Lovecraft as well—Byatis, a creature of Campbell’s creation that lives in the Severn Valley sealed in a stone vault beneath a great tower. The toad is a terrible creature, and knows many truths of the world that are worth keeping secret of course. The Edgar Allen Poe story, the Fall of the House of Usher, relates to a dragon as the obstacle of owning a shield and castle as well.

A more common revelation however, is not a monster locked away but a monster about. The folktales of Bluebeard in particular. The story of Bluebeard is a common one through out the world. A young woman marries a powerful and rich noble. He must leave for business shortly after their wedding, and forbids she enter one room. When she ignores him, she finds the many bodies of his prior wives. Bluebeard then either kills her, or she escapes and her family avenges herself on him.

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I mean he looks just lovely. Okay the eyes look maybe a bit crazy.

Variants of this story can be found the world over. In India, there is a version that features a tiger instead of a man or giant. The tiger fools the local brahmin, and marries his daughter. He abuses her at the home, threatening to reveal his true shape and devour her if she does not prepare meals based on what he hunts. And of course, being a tiger he hunts men and women in his woods. After a time, and a child is born—also a tiger—she sends a letter to her mother via crow, telling of this injustice. Her three brothers set out, and after some mishaps, rescue their sister and murder her child—and later her husband, when he tries to steal her back.

Among the people of Northern Canada, there is a similar story of a cannibal husband. Here the husband does more than demand food—he insists on feeding his wives salmon and nothing else to make them too fat to move. His latest wife, Mianna, outsmarts him however by eating ice and eventually making a dummy of ice to distract him. In time, she and her brothers kill Ímarasugssuaq, ending his rain of terror.

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Here old Bluebeard looks a bit creepy but less crazy.

In England, the story of Mr. Fox has a similar ogre of a man—who’s wife to be catches him kidnapping her replacement at the end and lopping off her hand! She sees this the day before their wedding breakfast, and is horrified at each step of the way. At breakfast, she reveals the grizzly reminder of the other bride, and her brothers slaughter Mr. Fox.

And there are so many forms of this story to go through! I’ve linked a collection of these folk tales here, for further investigation. The origins of the French version are debated—there is for instance, a common assumption that they relate to the serial killer Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais famously served with Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War. Afterwards, he went a bit…strange. A rampant child murderer and accused occultist, Gilles lost much of his fortune perusing contact with a demon called Barron and alchemy. He eventually, after kidnapping a cleric, attracted the attention of the local Bishop. After his crimes came to light, he was executed.

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Gilles De Rais needs more urban fantasy about his terrible alchemical experiments.

The other possible inspiration is Conomor the Accursed. Conomor is a Welsh or Breton king, known for his wanton cruelty. His own story begins after murdering three prior wives—and moving to his fourth, Trephine. Trephine refuses at first, due to Conomor’s reputation. However, the king threatens to invade her fathers lands and ransack them if she does not marry him. As Conomor is away on business, she uncovers the secret room containing relics of the dead wives. After praying for their souls, she learns that Conomor will kill her if he finds her pregnant—a story has warned him that his own son will kill him.

When he returns and makes the attempt, Trephine is saved by the three wives. They rescue her, and she gives birth to her child in secret—hiding him before Conomor finds and kills her.While St. Glidas does retore her to life—and her child becomes St. Tremorous—Conomor sometimes kills his son anyway. Other versions have St. Glidas and an array of thirty bishops march on the Accursed and anathemize him. Conomor then falls ill and his soul is swept up in a river of blood. In some variations he is so wicked, neither heaven nor purgatory nor hell will have him, and so he still wanders the earth.

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There are more stories that resemble it. The story of Three Crowns, for instance, has a forbidden room and a set of keys given to the daughter of a king by an Ogress. However, in this case, the revelation is not wicked, and in fact is what gets the daughter returned to her family. The story of Agib in Arabian Nights also features a forbidden door in his travels—this time by comely women, not an ogrish brute. The door hides something strange as well. But unlike Bluebeard, it is a wonder that punishes a lack of self control—not a pile of bodies from the owner.

The message of Bluebeard stories is often debated. The most overt is a condemnation of female curiosity, in the vein of Pandora’s Box. That woman who are asking to many question get killed. However, these stories are sometimes taken in a different light. Rather than warnings against curiosity, they are warnings of the danger of husbands. In this way, they might be similar to Beauty and the Beast stories but with a much darker ending. Certainly, the horror of the story—that a fortunate marriage, which a family is in someway dependent on, turns out to be to a monstrous—is not one that has faded with time.

And then there are the similar stories of monstrous and secretive husbands that are reversed. We can talk for instance about the woman who married a crab or a dragon or a toad or even a Dog—these stories feature a similar prohibition, usually related to seeing the host. In Greece for instance we have the story of Eros and Pysche.

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Pysche is told that she will marry a horrible monster if left on a certain cliff. The winds carry here to a wondrous palace, where an invisible set of servants and invisible husband await She is told never to look at him—but comes to enjoy his visits, his singing, and his presence. In time she becomes pregnant. Her sisters eventually worry about not hearing from their own, and go to meet her. Having heard from Pysche the arrangement, they persuade her to look upon her husband at night with a wax candle—however, upon finding her husband to be the beautiful god Eros, Pysche lets wax drop on his skin waking him. Eros flys off in a rage. Aphrodite, his mother, then gives Pysche a set of tasks to complete before she can regain her husband.

Another instance of this sort of story the story of the Tibetan Woman who married a dog. A single mother with three daughters receives tsampa from a dog—the dog asks they not eat it. The four of them eat it after three years, however, and the dog returns the next day. He asks for one of the daughters as a wife in compensation—which the mother relents to. The first two daughters who marry him hate him and are sent back. The third and youngest however is polite. After having two puppies by the dog, she passes a palace and wishes she lived there. The dog goes to the palace to beg and is “killed”–after his skin is stripped, he reveals himself as the king of the palace and the two puppies become children. A happy ending to the tail.

From Italy there is the story of the Dark King—which fuses Eros and Bluebeard. A young girl wanders into a cave, and finds it full of luxuries. Invisible hands serve her food, bath her, and dress her—it is so relaxing and wonderful that she forgets the entrance of the cave has vanished. After three months she meets the Moor king of the place, who gives her keys to all the rooms save one. After another three months, she has seen all the wonders of the place, and asks to go see her relations. She is allowed, on the condition that she return.

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Yeah, there’s a weird trend in illustrations to make Bluebeard vaguely Middle Eastern? Like that’s clearly his hair, but it’s also totally meant to be a turban right?

Appeasing her relatives and friends with gold, she enjoys herself and comes back. Three months later, she leaves again—this time, however, she boasts of the wealth in the palace. Her friends are eager to see. They suggest, when she explains that her husband won’t allow it, to kill her husband instead. They suggest sneaking in at night—and doing so, she finds him unsightly. When she goes to kill him, however, hot wax falls off her candle. He wakes and is saddened. As he dies, he offers her three hairs. When burned, he will save her from whatever danger she is in.

She, after an incident of cross dressing, mistaken identity, seduction by a queen, and imprisonment by a king, does burn the hairs. These bring about an army to save her from execution and even restore the Dark King to save her. The two are then married—and the Dark King becomes a beautiful prince, who’s kingdom was enchanted until he was wed with consent.

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Seriously, there’s some gruesome images on the Wiki commons–I didn’t feel like sharing them here.

…I’m personally going to assume he stayed dark skinned, because that makes the ‘twist’ ending more palatable.

From Turkey, there is the story of a Padishah, who marries his daughter off to a horse—as she is the only one that the horse allows to feed her. Unlike other stories, the husband immediately reveals himself as an amazing hero—when the daughter’s sisters mock her for her lack of a husband in a tournament, he appears and triumphs. He only asks that she not reveal who he is. Like the Dark King, he gives her three wisps of hair to burn when she needs him—and on the third day, she reveals his secret.

Her husband is taken away—his hag mother plans to kill her daughter-in-law as well. The daughter finds their dwelling at the end of the earth, on a great mountain. The mother is tricked into accepting her without murder—but still tries, with impossible and confusing household tasks to kill her. With her husbands help, the daughter triumphs each time.

Eventually the two flee, and are pursued by his mother and aunt, both witches (although with her snake whip, the aunt resembles a Fury). With some guile and magic, they escape and return home to live happily ever after.

These we might consider similar—they suggest that what at first appears monstrous is not as frightening as it seems. Indeed, the difference between a Beast and Bluebeard is the presence of genuine danger—Bluebeard is here to kill you. The beast isn’t.

We also can talk of the reverse, although it is less a horror story. That of men who take immortal wives, and defy their rules. Selkies and swan maidens are chief among these, but fairy brides are almost as troublesome.

The tabletop game, Bluebeard’s Bride highlights how effecting such a story can still be. And I think in this case, the tale needs little modification—this is the rare form of horrific knowledge that is genuine in its monstrous form. A hidden child or lost ancestry is less easily disturbing. But discovering one shares a home with a serial killer? That still has power. That has visceral fear.

So, we’ve talked a lot about one of the most horrific forms of folklore—finding a monster in your old home. What will we make of it? Well, come back next week to see!

Bibliography

Buck, Rachel Harriette. Roman Legends: A Collection of Fables and Folklore of Rome. Estes and Lauriat, Boston 1877

Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.

Kunos, Ignacz (Tr. Bain Nishbet). Turkish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales. A.H. Bullen, London 1901

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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.

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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.

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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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Sacred Guardians

This Weeks Prompt:76. Ancient cathedral—hideous gargoyle—man seeks to rob—found dead—gargoyle’s jaw bloody.

The Resulting Story: The Frog Church

The story of the gargoyle is an interesting one. Grotesque sculptures—specifically one spewing water, but I feel that is an unnecessary division here—gargoyles are fearsome creatures that adorn many old buildings and churches. The gargoyle is sometimes thought of as a protector of the church—a feirce creature that fends off or frightens away evil spirits. Certainly, the gargoyle in this story is playing the role of guardian. But the actual origin of the gargoyle is far stranger.

GargoyleRouen.png

 

 

It all begins with a priest and a dragon. The dragon, however, was more dreadful then your typical terrifying creature. In the tradition of medieval dragons, it was a beast with bat wings, a long neck, and breath of fire (rather standard fare for dragons, as opposed to other french creatures like the Tarrasque). St. Romanus, a chancellor to the king, went out to face the dragon. In some versions, the ones I prefer, he was added by a condemned man, and leashed the beast. Bringing it back to the city it had terrorized, the saint burned the creature. However, the head and neck would not burned—they had become fire proof with the aid of its own breath. So the head and neck were mounted in the church, to ward off wicked spirits. The head spontaneously spouted water—or blocked the rain in a way that looked like a fountain (a nice inversion of its earlier fire breath). St. Romanus also reserved the right for his church to pardon one criminal—non traitorous criminal that is—per year.

The gargoyle then is not at first a willing defender of the church, but the image is rather effective as a guardian. The gargoyle is of course not the only statue associated with the church and not the only statue that guards holy places.

We can consider, for instance, the church grim. We’ve discussed this creature before—a black dog that wards the church, sometimes buried in it’s foundations. The robbery we are dealing with seems likely to be foiled by a church grim, as the creature is much more frequently a physical protector then a mere spiritual one. Other accounts of the church grim—sometimes called the Padfoot–describe a white or white dog, the size of a donkey that stalks at night. Other times, it takes the form of a lamb in the graveyard. It is also reported that the sound or stalking by a church grim marks one for death, and when unseen the grim may make the sound of chains being dragged. Speaking to or striking the church grim gives the grim power over you—resulting in comedic instances like a man being dragged by a particularly mischievous grim all the way back to his window.

NIO Statues.png

 

 

We can also consider the Nio. Unlike gargoyles or grim, who are a type of creature or sculpture, the Nio are at least in theory the same two individuals everywhere. The Nio are fearsome defenders of the Buddha—frequently, the two wield thunderbolts and have rather frightening appearances. The exact origin of the two is unclear—some posit them as defenders of the Buddha in life who took up this role after death, some place them as Raksasa, some as thunder spirits. Almost always, one of the pair has an open mouth, the other a closed mouth. The meaning of this pattern is disputed at times—the open mouth to frighten off evil spirits, the closed to keep good spirits in; the open mouth as the first letter of the alphabet, the closed as the last; the open as in someway feminine, the closed as in someway masculine; and so forth.

Lion.png

This imagery, however, is repeated in the lion statues outside shrines in Japan. Komainu or shisa (Japan vs Okinawa) are in fact lions, not dogs, although their origins and naming are a tad convuluted. While I couldn’t find many stories on the komainu, the shisa is a popular general guardian spirit. I found the following stories on the site linked above:

A Chinese envoy brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa. Meanwhile, at Naha bay, the village of Madanbashi was being terrorized by a sea dragon that ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the king was visiting the village, when suddenly the dragon attacked. All the people ran and hid. The local priestess had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent a boy to tell him. The king faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded throughout the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon’s tail. He couldn’t move, and eventually died.

At Tomimori Village in the far southern part of Okinawa, there were often many fires. The people of the area sought out a Feng Shui master, to ask him why there were so many fires. He believed they were because of the power of the nearby Mt. Yaese, and suggested that the townspeople build a stone shisa to face the mountain. They did so, and thus have protected their village from fire ever since.”

The mystic lion statue guardian exists in Tibetan tales as well. We have a classic story of wealth there—a man regularly feeds a stone lion he finds in the woods. This man, Phurba, is notably poor, but still takes the time daily to feed the statue. The lion comes to life one day, and tells Phurba to come early the next day—and to put his hand in the statues mouth. There he will find gold, until the sun rises and the lion’s mouth closes. Phurba succeeds, and his rich neighbor Tenzin goes to do the same. Unlike Phurba, Tenzin does not take his hand out—and for his greed his hand is stuck into the lion.

Tibetan guardian spirits are also a fascinating delve in myth. They in a way resemble our gargoyle most closely—the spirit is a demonic creature, converted to Buddhism and then made a defender of what it converts. There is a long article I will link here, as I’m still reading the works relating to Tibet. However, this connection with the Gargoyle I think hints at some of the horror we can work with here.

Turning to the folklore of Hungary, we have another story of a mystic and righteous statue! A holy man dwelt long in the forest of Hrisco. So righteous and wise was the hermit, he was preferred as a negotiator—the legal authorities were rarely bothered. Eventually, he was called to deal with a peculair case of royalty. The Queen was a widow, and vowed to never remarry. When she met a man she fell in love with Francis, who was also a widower, she adopted him as a son. In time, Francis grew impatient and greedy—and locked the Lady of Larbor in her own castle, telling her servants she had gone mad.

Hungarian Hermit of Hiesco

The hermit, having been called by the king’s exiled and destitute lady, berated Francis—and suffered the wrath of the crown. Francis had the hermit locked in the highest tower and left to starve. And eventually the hermit did pass away—but the torment did not cease. For the next day, a statue of the monk appeared on a high rock near the tower. The statue pointed down accusingly at Francis—and despite the efforts of nobles and servants, the statue could not be destroyed. This accusing presence drove Francis mad—he demolished the castle, but the statue and castle returned. He fled, and died miserable and sleepless, the cruel presence of the monk haunting him to the last.

Our story I think then has a few interesting elements. The most overt parts is a story of the gargoyle in question, as a fearsome creature. A terrible origin story for the apparent statue. Here we can also observe the Lovecraft story, “The Terrible Old Man”. The story details a number of thieves trying to break into an easy mark’s house…and suffering a terrible fate. A useful technique here is the giving a clues to the history of the place, in small snippets and words. I have a nasty habit of just…saying what the story of a place or creature is. Our strange grotesque could have more hints around it. What sort of supernatural, or even alien, thing it had once been. Perhaps this is not the first thief to have met a grizzly end.

Particularly interesting to me is this recurring story, in both the Nio, the Gargoyle, and the Tibetan guardian deities, that an enemy of the holy place is converted into it’s most ardent defender. The potential parallel for our unfortunate burglar might work out well—perhaps a newly carved gargoyle bears an uncanny resemblance to him.

This story is also a good time to revisit the church as a location—particularly the Gothic cathedral. The most famous use of course is Hunchback of Notre Dame which…I have not read. I did see the Disney adaptation, which makes use of the gargoyles as…elements. Comedic relief I guess. Still, a cathedral is a fascinating location to me, as almost every cathedral is adorned with images. Stories in stained glass, statues of saints, names carved into the ground to mark tombs. A cathedral to me is certainty a presence as much as a place. It is easy to feel, among so many eyes and symbols, like you are being watched and judged.

Biblography

Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.

Henderson, William. Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders. Pub. for the Folk-Lore Society by W. Satchell, Peyton, 1879.

Pogány, Nándor. The Hungarian Fairy Book. [1st ed.] New York: F. A. Stokes Co., 1913.

 

 

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