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Posts Tagged ‘dragons’

Sorry folks, last weeks post got interrupted by a little ol’ thing called Hurricane Isaac.  What a gods bedamned blow hard. He just would not take a hint and leave.  However, I’ve now officially flown a kite in a hurricane.  The bucket list grows ever smaller.

Now I thought about doing another storm based critter, like the tengu and their bag of winds.  However, the sun is shining and hot today, and that always makes me think of one thing.  Vampires.  Buckle in kiddies, let’s talk about those supernatural leeches, those over grown ticks, the venerable suck heads, the vampires.

We’ve got to start with definitions, because blood is a powerful force and form of sustenance in a lot of mythologies.  Lots of things drink blood, from gods to sphinxes, to the little alp when he can’t get his preferred meal.  To be considered a vampire you have to be pretty much defined by your hunger, by the one thing that drives you.  To be a vampire you don’t have to just like or need blood, you have to be consumed by it.

And that’s just a little sad.  It’s like being impressed by an alcoholic’s need for booze.  Vampires, especially the earlier you go back in the mythos, are wretchedly simple creatures.   Oh sure, they have died and come back, and that’s neato, but they spend all their immortal nights chasing after the red stuff, and it doesn’t give them time for much else.  There is some evidence that the older they got, the more self control they learned, but even Dracula got all hot and bothered by a paper cut.  Even I don’t go nutso over a spilled drink, and I’m a proper lush.   Okay… I’ll wince if it’s scotch… but that’s not my only defining feature damn it!

And most vampires probably don’t live all that long.  This whole Anne Rice thing of a vampire protecting his progeny and teaching them the glorious rites of immortal life is a damn new thing.  In ninety percent of stories, vampires crawl their way out of their own coffins and are left to their own devices.  Sometimes it’s not even another vampire that makes a baby vamp.  Sometimes it’s a curse or the wrong funeral rites being performed, it depends on the culture.  However, a lot of newly risen vamps spend the first night running around like savage dogs, and there is no daddy vamp to tell them ‘sun hot, sun bad’.   They get to find that out at dawn, and maybe they get to cover and maybe they don’t, but by now the villagers are probably looking for them anyway.  It’s a hard knock unlife.

The idea of undead blood suckers is neigh onto universal, like a lot of the big beasties I focus on. Like most things, vampires in different regions can have a variety of powers. We can put this down to cultural differences, or maybe different strains or bloodlines of vampires, or a few other things.   Sometimes the vampires can turn into animals, or mist.  Sometimes they can hypnotize, sometimes not.  Sometimes the vampire is dead to the world, pun intended, during daylight and sometimes it is perfectly awake, just trapped indoors.  There is no one formula.

What’s more interesting though is the variety of weaknesses the vampires get.  I mean, dragons vary from region to region, but you still pretty much need a hell of a sword or lance to actually deal with one.  Vampires get a doozy of restrictions, some that make sense and some that are outright whacky.  The idea that vampires can’t willingly cross running water, and have to be ferried or carried across, is a common one.  Several authors have used the idea of vampires being restricted in cities because of underground water pipes.   Garlic isn’t the only herb that keeps them at bay, everything from myrrh to lavender has been used, and the ever useful wolves bane.  Silver usually isn’t in the vampire myths, unless it’s a silver cross, but it shows up occasionally.  My favorites are the various cultures that have the vampires as extremely o.c.d.  In these legends you can distract a vampire by throwing beans or rice at it, and it is compelled to gather them all up and count them.  This is weird, not only because the idea of a savage animal in ragged grave cloths being compelled to neaten and count is amusing, but also because a form of this shows up in China and Romania, separate cultures with a very similar myth.

And of course killing a vampire is only as hard as driving a wooden stake through a breastbone… which is actually pretty hard.   Tip for you all, go up under the ribcage with a longer stake, the heart is still there.  The fastest way to a vamp’s heart is through the stomach, and Up.   Oh, and some cultures require a rowan stake, or more commonly one of ash.  Got to love the ever helpful vamp and snake killing ash tree.   It is wise to bury the corpse at a crossroads, and removing the head is just common sense. In case some fool removes the stake and the creature rises again.   For the totally obsessive (show of hands people) burn head and body separately and scatter the ashes into different bodies of water.  That recipe would keep Freddy bloody Kruger from making another movie, much less your average vampire.

Now, the origins of vampires are many and varied.  Quite frankly, the idea of vampires having one single origin may be something fairly modern, because obsession with vampires has grown startling since Victorian times.  Why?  Because the Victorians gave them the sexy.  They turned vampires into seducers more than any other culture, and the act of feeding into something down right dirty.  Oh, they weren’t the only ones, but they were the ones that shaped the culture for us.  In a lot of cultures, humans are food and just food, and it is doubtful how many vampires would spare the precious blood on fueling a hard-on anyway.

Likewise, the connection between vampire and church has grown in modern times.  Though faith usually repelled vampires in most cultures, it was the faith of the person more than the symbol of any one faith.   Now there are a few takes on vampires that have Judas as the first earthly vampire, punished by God to be a night-walking bloodsucker because of his betrayal.  The same God who sent his own kid to get hammered?  Why yes, yes it was, but no one ever accused him of constancy.  Lilith actually makes a better candidate for mother of vampires, but hell there are a couple of versions of the first vampires being of alien origin, and only later mixing their blood with human stock.

The most common scientific explanation for vampire myths may be one of the least satisfying ever.  The current theory is that primitive people saw the movements and swellings caused by rigor and thought it was a sign of the body coming back to life.  Because primitive equals beyond stupid in most of these theories.   Blood was a part because of the way blood will leak from the mouth and eyes of a non-formaldehyde filled corpse.  Twitching bleeding body equals bloodthirsty night fiend the world over just doesn’t quite satisfy me, not a bit, but hey, I try to look at all the angles.

I could bring up Vlad Tepish here or Elizabeth Bathory, but I won’t.  Just being a power hungry psycho doesn’t make you a vampire, and bathing in virgin blood may be one person’s search for immortality, but is probably just another one’s kink.  I also consider the ‘energy vampire’ that has become so popular with goth kids to be a separate phenomena.  Sure, there are creatures that feed off pure energy, but that would be another category. And just because you suck all the life out of the party kid, don’t make you a vampire per say.

So where to end this post?  Ah, I know!  Holy water jello shots all around!  First one whose stomach melts goes out in the sun!

 

Writing Posts-

More inventive vampire killing strategies.  Wooden bullets are done to death.  How but a wood shot claymore?

Vampire blood sports.  Humans are sick cookies, you know they are going to toss two starved vamps in a cage at some point and see who wins.

Diabetic vampires.

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So, what lives in a bottle, has a terrible temper, and tends to dislike the majority of the human race?   No, not me!  Damn it.  I mean another type of rummy all together.  A djinn rummy.

The djinn are hard creatures to approach in an article, because the Western view of them and the original traditions vary so greatly that one might as well be talking about two separate creatures.   Many people try to make a distinction between djinn and genie, but I’m going to try to stick as close to the original material as I can.  Djinn, or jinn (and yes, that’s the plural no matter which spelling you use, a single creature is a jinni) are much older creatures than most Americans know.  They predate the 1001 Arabian Nights that made the creature so popular in fairytale circles.  Hell, they predate the Qur’an, which is one of the biggest sources for djinn lore you are likely to find in most other circles.

Yep, you got that right.  Djinn are mentioned extensively in the Muslim holy book.  Even more than the elohim and giants are mentioned in the Torah.  In the Qur’an, Allah made three types of creature.  Angels, usually described as made from light or air, humans who were made out of clay, and djinn made out of ‘smokeless fire.’  In some unofficial accounts the djinn were made second, and their fire was utilized to help bake the clay of mankind.  And by utilized, I mean the poor buggers have a history of being enslaved that stretches out to before the first clay-feet broke away from their ape cousins.

Djinn as a separate race were considered to have a society as complex as any human group.  They have kings and priests, weddings and wars, and most essential, free will.  The angels have no will of their own, but the djinn were free to make their own decisions.  Even the wrong decisions.  A particular djinni decided not to bow to Allah’s new creation, the humans, and was kicked out of paradise for it.  You got that right again, the origins of Satan from the Middle East perspective was a fiery djinn who didn’t like being told to bend knee.

However, djinn aren’t demonized in their origin culture, not always anyway.  There are some more modern interpretations that liken them to devils.  With djinn as invisible voices whispering to every good person to give into evil and vice.  Earlier though they were more often just seen as primitive, with legendary tempers, but they are free to follow Allah and seek out paradise after judgment day just like humans. Or free to screw up and go down to Hell, probably the frozen sections where their fire will flicker and suffer in the cold.

Keep in mind, the stories of djinn predate the Quran, this is just the earliest comprehensive written text we have of them.  You find statues and depictions of djinn all over the Middle East, with indications that certain sects worshiped them at times.  They were called the hidden ones, and the giving gods.  They were a race born of fire who usually weren’t perceived by humans and, and I love this, usually most humans didn’t appear clearly to them either.  Essentially, most of the time they spent on a plane or frequency just a touch out of phase with humanity, appearing ghostly when glimpsed, but also seeing men and woman with equal lack of focus.

Now we get into the genie and a bottle thing.  See a lot of random magic is attributed to djinn, just as much of it is attributed to the fey in Ireland, or ghosts in America.  Something moves off the shelf?  Might have been brushed by a djinni.  A fortune teller can actually see the future?  Maybe a friendly djinni is whispering in their ear.   A wizard manages to stop a sandstorm or quell a war?  He must have enslaved some powerful djinn to help.

The djinn, as semi-intangible beings, could be bound with knowledge and certain magic.  Not just to bottles either, but to anything handy.  Rings and amulets were just as common as old bottles.  The djinni was bound to it, and probably didn’t live inside the object as much as was summoned into this plane by the object, and forced to do the bidding of its master.

Many djinn quickly became accustomed to slavery, just like most humans do.  Let’s face it, it’s the strong and rare person with spirit enough to rebel.  Solomon was said to have scores of djinn at his command, advising his advisers.  The djinn were so used to slavery that when he died they kept going on about their tasks until someone (usually Allah) sent a worm to chew on their old master and prove that he was dead.  Only then did they realize they could bugger off back to wherever they came from.

Djinn have a variety of powers, depending on the particular djinni.  Many scholars divide them into categories, very rarely are the categories consistent.  Most of them can travel great distances in the blink of an eye, so that if you wished for treasure the djinn didn’t make it appear so much as run off to find some and whisk it back in a few heartbeats.  Weather control seems to be a rare gift in a few, as is accurate prophecy.   Almost all djinn seem to be able to change shape, some of them preferring the shape of snakes or dogs, or even dragons, to a human shape.  The sash and vest look made so famous by Barbara Eden and Aladdin’s friend are actually mythological sound.  Often djinn would appear dressed in white clothing with long braided hair.  Often fire showed in their eyes, which is only to be expected.

There is a possible link between the early concept of djinn, and some of the early race of dragons.  A few scholars and novelists alike have thought that dragons were made sometime between angels and man.  Often they were set to guard the garden, or paradise or whatever, and did something to get kicked out.  The connection between the djinn being born out of fire and the fiery dragons is probably just tenuous conjecture, but it is interesting how some root concepts spread out through the Abrahamic religions.

So in some ways, the traditional djinn is less impressive than the Western genie concept.  They aren’t wish dispensing vending machines capable of anything.  In other ways, they are absolutely fascinating.  An ancient idea of a creature just as complex and intelligent as man, just living slightly out of synch with their human predecessors, is actually fairly common.  Is it any wonder that a few of them are going to resist summoning and binding?  That when you order one to deliver your fondest wish, it’s going to do it’s best to screw you over? It’s not like they are getting paid for their troubles. I’m amazed the poor bastard didn’t get an affirmative action program together centuries ago.  Or at least unionize.

 

Writing prompts.

Human gets summoned into the bottle of a djinni master.  What talents does the human have that the djinn might need?  What wishes can he grant?

Just what were the djinn doing before all these smelly flesh golems got made out of clay?

Black market amulet and bottle trade throughout the Middle East and Africa.  And you thought conflict diamonds were nasty.

 

 

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All right, week three here we go.  I started out with a beastie I felt neutral about, went to one I’m pretty fond of, and now it’s time for one of those critters that I just can’t stand.

So, which to choose?  I was sore tempted to do vampires, and the rebel rouser in me wanted to tackle angels just because I knew I’d get shouts of objection.  Instead, I settled on one of the biggest and most predominant symbols of magic and myth.  Let’s talk about those scaly, fire breathing, matched-luggage waiting to happen bastards, the dragons.

Dragons are one of the foremost symbols of magic and power for a reason, the damned things show up everywhere.  Every culture, every continent where there are men, you’ll find stories of the overgrown lizards with the power of flight and a variety of other gifts.  In my studies and obsessions I’ve found only a handful of creatures that show up everywhere, and I’ve used the dragon as one of my top three for ages.

But wait, I hear someone object, the Asian dragons are so different from the Western concept.  And those specimens from Australian and South American myth vary as well, I know.  However, maybe not as much as you’d think.

There are great serpent style dragons in the west.  Usually classified as wyrms, they usually lived underground, in wells, and rivers.  For the record, most of the serpent dragons of Asia are associated with water and the underground as well.   Then again, there are winged dragons in the East, though they are rare.  In some cultures they are a different breed of dragon.  In some cultures the dragon metamorphoses through its life cycle. They form wings, usually feathered not leather, only at the very height of their physical and spiritual growth.   These dragons tend to breath fire, granted spiritual fire, and are assumed to have great powers and wisdom, from the ability to shapeshift to knowing the secrets to immortality.

Wait a second though, the winged dragons in the West are rare as well.  They are the oldest and the most dangerous because they have powers and knowledge that the lesser wyrms and wyverns don’t possess.   See my point? Yes, the creatures are different, just as big cats vary greatly depending on their species and environment.  The biggest difference though is not in the animal, but in how the cultures responded to their traits.

Let’s try an example. A big lizard kills anything that treads into a certain mountain valley, and the Medieval approach was mostly to saddle up and kill the fucker.  An Eastern approach is more prone to respect the territorial nature of the beast.  Then it becomes not a monster, but a guardian of that particular mountain pass, and should be respected and avoided if possible.

Granted, I’m stereotyping and painting with a wide, wide brush.  I’m trying to condense a fairly large topic into an interesting and coherent ramble.  There are stories in the West of dragons acting as guardians of places, castles, and even family lines.  There are stories in the East of people falling afoul of the wrong serpent’s temper and paying the price.  The differences are largely cultural.  Usually in the East the power of the dragons is creative, fixing imbalances and preying occasionally on wicked men.  Usually the dragons of the West are hitting at random. People saw the loss in peasants and livestock and weren’t really bothered looking for a bigger picture.

In other cultures the approaches vary accordingly.  Even in Europe, go a few  centuries before the medieval period and you find Greek and Roman tales that range the gamut.  Sometimes serpents and dragons needed to be bumped off by great heroes.  Sometimes they were servants of various gods and served a purpose. The winged and feathered serpents of South America were prayed to or feared depending on which type of serpent and which civilization interacted with it.  The indigenous legends of New Zealand and Australia treat dragon-like creatures as just another wild animal, though ones with great powers and cunning.

Since I try to include a nod to different explanations, there has been a long standing theory that dinosaur bones are the source for dragon myths.  That natives world-wide saw the great lizard bones and extrapolated their legends from there.  It’d be more fun if the occasional unidentifiable dinosaur bone were actually a dragon’s but whatever.  There aren’t many stories about men finding the bones of a dragon. The stories all start with the dragon finding the men, and often snacking.

Where the first dragon, as we know dragons, came from is a source of fascination for many myth makers and story tellers. Interestingly, there are some spiritual traditions who think that the dragons we know are actually an off shoot of an older dragon race.  That there were some creatures that were around first, before man, and the dragons mankind has dealt with are only poor descendants, baser creatures.  You get a few echoes of this in Greek mythology, where dragons and serpents were often created from the blood of gods or produced by the mother of monsters.  Likewise in Javanese myth and even some of the Australian, dragons came from the World Serpent or the Dream Snake, and hold their power as only a shadow of their maker.  Some people even think dragons were created by God as guardians for the first Garden of Eden.

I believe that if dragons were assumed to be fact, one would have to admit there are lots of types of dragons.  A variety of species fitting in different environments and with different appearances and personalities.   That applies to most mythological beasts.  There are more types of werewolves than you can shake a silver tipped cane at.

In a lot of ways, for a lot of spiritual matters, I have more liking for the Eastern approach.  A viewpoint of respect and trying to look at the larger balance could have done Medieval Europe a hell of a lot of good.  Except… dragons are often such wankers!  Most I wouldn’t share a drink with, even if they were buying. They are big, don’t have many weaknesses, and usually just smart enough to be arrogant sods.  They are convinced of their own superiority, or they’d be a lot better at keeping a low profile and not getting chased down by every lad wrapped in tin.  If dragons were around today, they’d be the subjects of a reality show, and they’d come off about as likable as those poor people on Hoarders.

And let’s talk about that little bit of OCD shall we?  Do you think dragons really have a need for gold or gems, or even virgins?  (Another thing that branches through more cultures than you’d think. Much like the unicorn, dragons seem attracted to purity.  If only because they like their food fresh.)  No, they just seem to have about the same scruples and instincts of a magpie.  They’ll claw their way through a mountain, or a village, for a shiny bauble that has caught their attention.  Anyone objects and the dragon will be the one to take offense. Because of course the world’s riches are their right.

There is something alluring about pure arrogance.  Confidence is an aphrodisiac, and when you are that big and bad, there is just too thin a line between confidence and arrogance.  A tyrannosaurus is big and scaly and confident. Would you want to revere one?  Although in certain cultures I’m sure one would.  Personally, I think I’d look great in some dragon skin boots.

So there you have it, round three of my blog experiment.  Each article so far has been purposefully different because I’m listening to various responses and seeing what people are finding most helpful and entertaining.  I want a good balance between both, so give me a shout.

And anyone who has any dragon problems, lets us talk.  You bring the lance, I’ll bring the marshmallows.

 

Writing Prompts

Dragons adapting to modern society.  It’s been done before I know, but give it a shot.

Natural predators, is a dragon an apex predator or would you think that there might be something else that could prey on them?

New origin myths, dragon or the egg, which came first?

Antarctica dragons.  They are everywhere else, why not there?  Have fun.

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