Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

Damn, it’s been a busy week.  I had a convention this weekend, made and put up some new jewelry, even did two days of heavy editing before submitting to a publisher briefly open to unrequested manuscripts.   Finally, it’s Wednesday, a day when I don’t have to do a damn thing. A rest before I go back to my day job on Bourbon Street Thursday.  Maybe I’ll take a nice long bubble bath.

 

… Shite, I’m forgetting about the blog again aren’t I?

 

All right!  First blog, then bubbles.   Wouldn’t want things to slither on by me, so today I’m going to just play for scale.  Today I’m going to talk about a creature both fearsome, and sacred.   Let’s look at the naga.

 

From Indian mythology, naga are often depicted as female, but the male versions definitely exist.  At essence, they are snake people, cobra people most traditionally.  Shapeshifters who can be human formed, snake formed, or anything in between.  I mean anything.  Giant snakes, little snakes, lots of snakes.  Snakes with just human heads, humans with snake bottom halves done mermaid style.  In some of the more Eastern varieties (Naga will show up in Cambodia and the Philippines and many other places where Hinduism is spread) they take the form of a great serpent with multiple heads, hydra style.  Pretty much you name it, this lot can do it, and unlike a lot of more western creatures, the variants are not seen as separate monsters or species, just the naga trying on new forms.

 

Why such versatility?  Because in most texts the naga are semi-divine beings.  They are often considered immortal.  True immortal too, not Greek god immortal where you can still one with a sword.  They are outside of the Wheel, and have connections to the many gods and often step into the role of priests or intermediaries between humans and the divine. Besides their immortality, they can heal wounds and poisons, predict the future, and kill with venom or just a powerful glare. In some tales they are just a step less powerful than the devata and right on par with the apsara.

 

The exception comes with Garuda, the big eagle-god of the son.  Big surprise, eagles and snakes don’t get along.  In Garuda oriented texts, the naga get all the negative attributes of snakes.  Venomous, untrustworthy, preying on the week and helpless.  They are still useful and powerful, with naga able to do everything from control the whether to bring fertility to lands and women.  But damn it, don’t you side with those lousy snakes or eagle will claw your eyes out!

 

As usual, I’m highly biased.   Both sides probably have lots of ass holes to choose from, and the occasional good ones.  That is true for Every damn critter on my blog.  The proportion of good ones to ass-hats is one of my qualifiers for if I like a beastie.

 

Traditionally naga are often represented with a jewel or pearl for their bindi or third eye.  This is a symbol of their power, and yes there are a few stories of people hunting them for the pearl.  It’s a great tool for divination and may be their source of immortality.  Of course, you’ve got to overcome a literal den of vipers, will probably piss off a few gods, and there is always the karmic backlash on the next turn of the wheel.  But hey, if you really manage immortality, you don’t have to worry about that last one do you?

 

Like many creatures, there are similar beings in most cultures.  There is a particularly nasty legend in China of a snake with a woman’s head, and it is both an old story and a modern urban legend, which yells immortal to me.  There are snake people of the Amazon, and of course a host of medieval demons associated with snakes that have that half-and-half look of the naga.  Not to mention Greek variants like the lamia.

 

Most of those stories lean a lot more to the nightmare version than anything define.   Often it depends on how a particular culture views snakes, some seeing them as deadly and dangerous, some seeing them as a source of wisdom. The (insert name) of South America are just like any other tribe, keep out of their way and respect the customs and you should be fine.   Screw up and it’s fangs for the memories.

 

I’m also seeing a shift over time as cultures blend.  A Chinese concept seems to be filtering West to India, in which new naga are made by snakes getting curious and turning themselves human.  This shows up with a lot of animal types in Asia, including kitsune and tanuki in Japan.  I’m not sure how much traditional roots the concept has, but it’s actually a fun idea to play with.  The original naga were obviously just their own species, but big surprise, not many mythologies out there on exactly how they go about breeding. If they leave their clutches out in the wild like a lot of snakes, maybe it takes the wee little buggers some time to grow intelligent and ‘curious’ enough to sprout legs.

 

Of course, the young, curious sorts are bound to cause trouble.  Young curious sorts always do.

 

Writing Prompts

No… I won’t suggest naga breeding programs.   I will however suggest a story where a snake and eagle are in marriage counseling.

 

So want an Indiana Jones story where his current girl is actually a naga, but we’ll never get the rights.

 

Am I the only one who wants a pair of naga skin boots?  Hey, they’re immortal, they’ll heal won’t they?

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This is probably going to be a short one, partially because I’m busy with other endeavors, and partially because wordpress changed how their tracker widgit works and I now have no idea if anyone is actually reading this blog.  Really folks, a few comments so I know this is amusing to just me and two or three friends would do a writers confidence a world of good.  This is number twenty, let’s hear some shout outs.

And though this post may be short and sweet, it’s about one of my favorite cuddly wuddly balls of death ever.  Ladies and gentle-beings, my friend Manny, the manticore.

(Holds up Hand Puppet, looks at it grinning at me, and quietly puts it away and takes my meds.)

… Now, most people think manticores are Greek beasties, popularized by Pliny and spread around medieval bestiaries with the same frequency of griffin poop.   You’d have no idea how often those little balls in the floral patterns around coat of arms are really griffin feces.  Grapes?  Nuts? Abstract bits of frippery?  Don’t you believe it, griffin droppings all the way.

Actually, the manticore isn’t a Greek beastie at all, it’s up and up Persian, and at least as old as the Egyptian sphinx.  It’s name literally translates as man-eater, and that’s what it likes to do.  Crunch men, women, and tasty children between three rows of pointy teeth.  With the body of a red lion and the head of a man, that three tooth grin is what gives orthodontists the world over a case of the vapors.

After the basic form, man headed grinning lion, which is creepy enough, some later manticore gained appendages like horns, dragon’s wings, and a scorpion tail.  Of all these, the scorpion tail is the most common and most traditional.  In fact, the manticore is said to have a variety of poisonous outlets.  Its red lions fur often hides poison tipped quills, which the beast can throw with disturbing accuracy.  In some legends the manticore’s poison is some of the deadliest in the world.   Yet in others, it prefers to paralyze its victims so it has time to mock and strip away any pesky clothing that might get stuck in its teeth.  Because there is nothing quite so yummy as chilled, quivering peasant.

Now I personally have never found out just what the manticore meant in heraldry.  I half imagine that a few families, in an effort to be different, decided to shake things up from the usual hippogriff and unicorn motif.  It would be like Paris Hilton changing her little dog for a gila-monster.  It would cause talk, it would, but it  wouldn’t be exactly a wise idea.

And big surprise, later on the church made the poor dragon-winged man-eater a sign of the devil.  More amusingly, some see it as a unholy cross of the zodiac signs scorpio, aquarius, and leo.  Never mind that the Persians had a completely different astrological system.  Never mind that the manticore didn’t bother tempting people into sin or bringing about evil.  It ate people, often slowly and painfully, but that’s about it.  You might as well make a rabid polar bear the symbol of the devil.

In fact, thats a great idea for a cartoon series.  He can be chased off by the koala pope.

There have been incidents of the manticore showing up in graffiti on church walls.  Not because the manticore is evil, but because it would really piss off the church.  And I don’t mean modern graffiti either, I mean sixteenth-century graffiti.  When the crips and bloods were religious orders.

As for the manticore itself, it’s one of those sweet cute creatures I feel sorry for.  Much like the stories of man eating tigers in India. You snack on one or two wandering school children and you get a bad wrap forever.  The only reason there aren’t more stories of manticore hunters is because the Persians didn’t go chasing after their monsters like later knights.  They usually had since to leave the beasts alone in teh wilderness, and only took necessary measures when the creepy crawlies started to become a real nuisance to the livestock.

Also, a big fire breathing lizard is probably an easier target than something that grins at you after you are paralyzed.

But why can’t the poor little manticores be left alone to poison and snack on hapless people in peace, like the gods intended?  It’s not like you are going to miss a bat-winged grinning lion trying to sneak up on you.  Its grin doesn’t make it the ruddy cheshire cat, able to appear and gobble you up at a moment’s notice.  I think that time frame-needed a serious dose of PETA, Persians for Ethical Treatment of Anthropophages.

Writing Prompts

People for Ethical Treatment of Anthropophages, that’s a brilliant idea that is.

Uses for manticore quills besides poison.  I’m thinking hats.

Mythological graffiti artists.  I’m picturing huge letters above a great serpent.  THY ASS’TH BE DRAGON

Read Full Post »

Okay, so last post I announced my new jewelry store, Dual Seed Studios http://www.etsy.com/shop/DualSeedStudios/about/  and you all should check it out.  I’ll probably have to do a post on just what “Dual Seed” means to me and why I chose it, no it’s not as dirty as you might think.  But this isn’t time for that, this is a time for myth and folklore and things that go bump in the night.  Or things that go bump in the bedroom.  In honor of my own obsessive endeavors, let’s look at two different sources of inspiration.  The muses and the leanan-sidhe.

Muses are so popular that I didn’t want to do a full post just on them, because much of it you might already know.  Nine women, born of Zeus, who represent all the arts and sciences of the ancient world.   Traditionally, they inspire artists and creators within their fields.

… Or do they.  First of all, since I’m focusing on things that people might not have heard about the muses, originally there were only three of them, and they had nothing at all to do with Zeus.  Some said they were born of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth.  Others made them out to be more like water nymphs, born from springs and occasionally man made fountains.  We’ve already talked about nymphs and their semi-divine nature, and the connection between muses and fountains stays in the background long after the three become nine.

Also, originally they were sources of inspiration, but they didn’t have specific areas or arts to personify.  They sort of leaked inspiration like a leaky faucet, giving it to whoever they were closest too.  This included lovers of course, but in some darker tales it didn’t necessarily need to be willing lovers.  That’s right, some people took inspiration from muses, along with anything else they wanted, and do we really expect a ditzy hyper-nymph to be able to put up much of a fight?  Maybe the pantheon of muses expanded when more generations of Muses were born, and maybe they started hanging out with Zeus and Apollo and such for a bit of protection.  Not that you could trust those two infamous womanizers around anyone with a bit of curves. Even calling Zeus ‘daddy’ is likely just to turn the nasty horndog on more.

Then, in another part of the world but maybe just as old a concept, there is the leanan sidhe (no, that was not an awkward segue, shut up!)  One of the Irish (sometimes Scottish) fey, she is a beautiful and powerful creature who grants inspiration to her lovers.  Willing lovers only this time, anyone who tried to force himself on a leanan sighe is going to lose more than his balls.

Even when the leanan sighe has a new beau, the artist  in question is doomed to suffer.  The leanan sidhe is absolutely the worst of girlfriends.  She demands all your love and attention even as she insists you work on your art.  And even when you are a dutiful lover, she quite often drives you into complete madness.  The candle that burns brightest slips a bloody cog, to mix a metaphor.  Literally, almost all of the lovers, read victims, of the leanan sidhe live brilliant, and short, lives.  Usually ending with them gibbering in madness, overwhelmed either by faerie glamour or forced inspiration.  Uncontrolled ideas bubbling up through the brain pan can be just as dangerous as supernatural sex, probably more so.

Later mythologies have the leanan sidhe as kind of a vampire who feeds on her lovers’ life forces. She probably gets more of a boost from their love.  She doesn’t need to drain her little pets, but I bet she gets a giggle out of the self destructive path the little mad bastards cut through their lives.  There are always more desperate artists to fill her bed.

Now I talk about the leanan-sidhe as a singular figure, and to be honest the older myths have it as a type of fey, with lots of the ‘barrow lovers’ as the name loosely translates too, running about and causing brilliant but short lives.  More recently, in popular media especially, she is becoming a singular figure, and I’m kind of waiting to see if that happens more and more with the other old fey.  I’m wondering if the human story will condense several old myths together, much like they’ve done with various pantheons, until we have the Redcap, the Dionne Sidhe (singular), instead of a bunch of the buggers running around.

It’s also fascinating the connection between sex, inspiration, and water.   Those three things get combined far more than just these two examples.  The apsara of India are supernatural dancers who seduce and inspire gods and men alike, often causing at least trouble in their marriage beds.  They follow music wherever it is, and are connected with waters and clouds.  Saraswati, godess of knowledge and arts, gets linked to flowing water and pure water sources as well.  Of course the Roman goddesses of fountains are poor knock off copies of the muses (like everything else in Rome), but how many seers, male and female, scry through water for their inspirations throughout history?

On a personal note, though the original three muses were mostly focused on poetry and song, I always liked the idea of nine muses who covered art, history, and science.  There is a huge gap in modern times between art and science that really just doesn’t need to exist.  Both require inspiration, dedication, and a bit of bloody luck.  Why not search for that luck in the form of a beautiful nymph?  Men have found inspiration in far worse things.

Okay, insert obligatory joke of muses being all ‘wet’ here, goodnight folks.

 

Writing Prompts

Two thousand years in the future, what ‘arts and sciences’ exist and what muses have provenance?

Women’s lib, a muse goes into business for herself.  Maybe using an artist as a tool and ghost writer.

Modern psychological drugs versus leanan sidhe madness magic, who wins?  Certainly not the poor bipolar artist stuck in between.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

All right lads and lassies, hold onto your hats, your knickers, and your first born because this is going to be a doozy.  Ready for it?  I’m going to try and tackle the fey, head on and without a helmet.
Oh boy oh boy.   The fey, the fairies, good folk, fair ones, wee folk, the gentry, whatever you want to call them including ‘oi, put down that sheep!’.  You thought my post on dragons had a lot of ground to cover?  If ever there was a rambling, brambling group, it was the fey.
Why?  Because the fey aren’t a type of creature, not a species.  It’s easier to think of the fey as their own class taxonomically speaking.   Maybe their own phylum, but I’ll stick with class for now.   The fey are a loosely connected bunch of creatures, most of them vaguely humanoid or humanish in appearance, that covers everything from pixies to bridge trolls.  Many of them are shapeshifters, and even the once that don’t have powerful illusions called glamour that are absolutely real to all your senses.The problem is, no one is quite sure what the connection between the many types of fey is, other than they are considered fey.  They have fey glamour and tap fey magic, so they are fey. Circular logic is nothing when thinking of the fey, mobius logic is a distinct possibility.
But lack of logic has never stopped me before, so let’s try it like this.  First and the most obvious thing about the fey, they were born of Earth, in fact they are often a lot more earthy than most humans.   Many fey have associations with nature and natural functions, some tie their various courts and organizations in with the seasons.  Even the ones that live in human homes and cities tend to be a bit… rustic.   Angels come form heaven, vampires are infected or cursed, the Egyptian gods are probably aliens form another dimension, but the fey are 100% earth born stock.
Next fact, the fey mostly don’t live here anymore.
Yep, I’m just going right to that.  Sad to say that most people who see fairy lights or belive in a fairy under every rosebush are probably about five-hundred years too late.  Oh, the fey are said to visit, usually slipping over during twilight or dusk, but they don’t stay long.  They pop up in groves of ash, oak, and thorn, or slip through a mirror, or hop through a ring of mushrooms. They visit some old haunts and cause some mischief and are gone again.  Some cultures still believe in household fey, fey that are used to humans and make themselves useful, and these varieties seem to stick around to modern day.  Hell, Icelandic elves are still living inside boulders and rescuing politicians from car accidents.  (True story.)   Mostly though, the fey are off in Faerie, a realm they evacuated too sometime in the last 1500 years or so.
See, the humans more or less kicked their asses when it comes to who owns this planet.  Cold iron drives away fey and fey influences, and many of the places that early man held holy were special to the fey as well. Those same places that various incarnations of the Christian church have done their level best to destroy.
And yes, Iron has much to answer for, but Monotheism has more.  Many of the older fey were respected bordering on worshiped by the tribes of men they encountered.  Early pagans didn’t see them as gods most of the time, but they sure were invited to all the best rituals and parties.  Which meant that the Church hated them along with anything remotely pagan, at least anything they couldn’t steal for thier own.Anything worshiped but not God was instantly of the devil, and the Church has tried to connect the fey and demons for centuries, despite the two having very different origins.  In some accounts fey were angels who wouldn’t fight on either side during the war between Lucifer and God, but damn does that story get applied to a lot of random critters that the Church wants to try to cram into their mythology.  Holy water and crosses don’t really seem to bother anything but the weakest fey, not unless those crosses are made of iron.
Which, ahem, doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any dealings between the fey and demon-kind.  Fey were earthly remember, true children of the elements.  Finding and/or crafting a whole plane of existence to slip away to, what we now refer to as Faerie, isn’t exactly an earthly talent.  But it is something that might be attributed to ex-angels.   There are a few legends of Faerie owing tithe to Hell, payment for help rendered in escaping man and iron.   Basically, the fey chose the wrong bloody sub-contractors when building their new home, and have been over the barrel for it ever since.
Here is where I pause and try to show another perspective.  Modern historians attribute many of the fey myths to the Picts.   Not that the Picts started the stories, but that the Picts, or maybe the tribes before them, were the fey.  That as the Romans swarmed over the land, the Picts retreated to the hills and became ‘hidden folk.’   Odd and rustic figures that were only seen in fleeting glances, keeping odd customs and revels that weren’t well understood.
Is there some validity to this perspective?  Absolutely.  A lot of our fairy myth comes from Ireland, and from oral traditions that we have absolutely no way of dating.  We don’t know if fey stories were told of the Picts or by the Picts.  We certainly know that Roman steel was the bane to Pictish bronze.   Some of the old Irish myths, like the Daione Sidhe, the tall elegant fairies that heavily influenced Shakespeare and Tolkien alike, definitely have some older roots.  The people of the Hill could refer to the burial mounds of the picts as much as to the mythical creatures that are said to live beneath the mounds.
Still, the myths are more widespread than the picts were.  In fact, many cultures have ‘fey-like’ figures in their folklore.  From the small people with wings kind, to the more esoteric and wide spread.  I prefer to think of the fey as a race older than humanity, that existed for a time along side, till they saw where their futures were headed and decided to bug out.  This is not at all as an odd concept as it sounds, and can be found in cultures from the Philippines to the Southwest United States.
Another thing that has largely changed over time, the original fey were seen as very clannish, tribal, or outright independant. (Yes, like the early picts and other pagans, I said there was validity in the perspective.) Put three humans together to talk, and you’ll get four different opinions.  Put three fey together, and you’d get eighteen.   It was only in Medieval Europe, after the fey were off in their own realm, that they seemed to adopt a feudal system with courts and courtiers.  Maybe this was the humans putting their own politics on their folklore.  Maybe once they were in a new land, the fey found that Faerie needed a King, because the King is the land and all that.  Maybe a war with Hell forced the tribes to unite, in a way the Picts never managed, and once united the old ways faded away for fairy kind just like it does with mortal folk.
Considering that most fey seem to have the memories of goldfish, and the record keeping capacity of deranged third graders, I doubt even they would know the answers to those questions.   Chances are, it’s a combination of all of the above.
How you deal with a fey largely depends on if you are in their world, or if they are in yours.  If you are in Faerie proper, chances are you are in big trouble.  In fact, you’re already screwed.  Yes, you.  Take my knowledge without so much as a gift in return?  Oh boy how you’d owe me if I played by the rules.   Faerie is broken, time and space are mashed together with illusion and intent.  It’s not as malleable as the dream realms and not as vindictive as Hell, but if you break the rules you could find yourself stuck serving some fey lord for seven by seven years.   Seven years, that stretch like seven hundred in the mortal realm.   Never take a gift in Faerie, not so much as directions without a clear waiver of debt.  Don’t eat the food, don’t drink the wine.  Dance at your own peril.  If you are on a path, walk it, don’t deviate and don’t go running off into the woods.  Never thank a fairy, thanking implies debt.   Never rob from one
Unless you think you are clever or mad enough to break the rules, in which case more power to you.  Good luck. At very least you’ll provide a source of laughter.
If the fey is in your territory, you’ve got about as much power as they do in the reverse situation.  Anything from an iron nail to a four leaf clover can ward them off, red thread can burn them, and if you think you are under glamour, the fairy version of illusion and enchantment, you can try turning your coat inside out to confuse their spells. Some fey seem unable to tell a straight lie, and almost all are bound by their word spoken three times. Fey stick to their rules, if you know the type of fey you can figure out what rules to adhere too, but those are pretty good guidelines.  You’ll also tend to have better luck with a bowl of whiskey than a bowl of cream, those Irish roots are strong.
Just remember, fey are not human.  They don’t think like humans.  They don’t even think like humans think they think.  They can be callous or kind, cold or hot, merry and mad.  Few of them have much respect for humans.  You live too short to have any real perspective or merit.Many of them carry a great deal of jealousy and disdain.  You inherited their home, through your ancestors being bigger bastards in the evolutionary game.  If you are lucky, you might be a source of fascination.  If you are unlucky, you might just be a toy, and a very breakable one at that.

Writing prompts
Obvious one, the bronze age humans have to split earth instead of the fey.
The fey aren’t picts, they are Neanderthal, and they want their planet back.
Fairy glamour is tapped for better virtual reality.  The virtual world wide web runs off fairy blood.

Read Full Post »

For those of you who missed yesterday’s post, I’m starting a new novel.  Anyone who wants to read a rough first chapter should definitely check out the post.  It involves a federal organization that delivers and protects dreams, like the post office only much, much more fun.  With that on my mind, I thought I’d do a quick but appropriate post on one of my favorite little dream related creatures.
Now most cultures have a variety of creatures that cause nighttime distress, manipulate or deliver bad dreams, or just like to snack on sleeping people.  We discussed one of those not too long ago, the alp of German folklore.  (Hmm, wonder why I’m mentioning him again.  Really, go read yesterday’s post for a giggle.)   However, there are only a handful of standard creatures that help alleviate bad dreams.  Most traditional remedies involve chasing off or killing the creature causing your problems, or getting a friendly healer or shaman to prepare you an amulet for protection and good dreams.   The dreamcatcher concept is common in more than just the Native American cultures.
Surely though, if there are beasties and ghoulies that bring nightmares, there must be something out there that does the opposite?  Most supernatural critters exist in some form of whacky ecosystem, with predators and prey, checks and balances.  Well my favorite has always been the baku, both for it’s effectiveness and it’s outright ferocious adorableness.
The baku started as a Chinese beastie, but for reasons we’ll see has become almost wholly associated with Japan over the centuries.  There are some reports of them keeping pestilence and general evil at bay, but their most consistent trait is the ability to eat nightmares and even sometimes good dreams.   It gobbles them up whole cloth, plucking them from the sleeper’s mind and going about on their way.
And that’s it.   No other special abilities.  No shapeshifting, wish granting, or even the ability to speak.  It’s just a beastie that slurps down your subconcious neurosis.  However it has been a mainstay of Japanese culture for hundreds of years, and Chinese even longer.  Like many Asian beasts, it is described as ‘chimerical’ by folklorists of the west.  Mostly because every beast in those cultures is, or more importantly their descriptions are always hodgepodge.  Even when describing their dragons, most oriental cultures try to liken the features to the nearest regular animal they know.  So a dragon has the head of a camel, the scales of a fish, the talons of an eagle.  Ect.   It isn’t really a chimera like we think, those are just handy descriptions.
The baku is described as having the trunk of an elephant, the paws of a tiger, an ox tail and often small horns or tusks.  It’s a small little guy though.  Maybe half the height of a man, and that elephant trunk is more than adept at rooting out your nasty dreams for it’s breakfast.
Which brings us to the odd/interesting moment.  For the last thirty years, thanks to some innovative anime, the baku has become directly associated with the tapir.  To the point that the tapir is often called baku, and baku is often called tapir.  The guys with their wee trunks and snuffling behavior have hit a huge popularity level now that they have been linked to the mythology.
And I want to stress, before the story changes, that this is a brand new phenomena.  Tapir were just not linked to baku originally.  Not till later, when tapir where named mo and mahk in China because of the beasts resemblance to the myth.   For gods sake, one of the anime that helped make this happen was the magna based off Pokemon. The drowsy, a tapir like mud-dwelling critter, is also a dream-eater.  This wasn’t the first link between tapir and the more traditional, more ferocious, tiger-pawed baku, but it is one of the most prevalent. (Yes, I know these sad facts, I also know the turtles in Mario Bros. were based on kappa, and that’s where King Koopa comes from.  Mythology is Everywhere!)
So, much like the changes in the tengu, we are going to see a major paradigm shift in both popularity, and origin stories of the baku in the next fifty to a hundred years.  Which may only fascinate me, but it fascinates me wholly.  Yes yes, I know I’m crazy, but hey it’s my bizarre perspective that is supposed to make these blogs fun.  I give it five years before a tapir logo ends up on some kind of sleep aid drug.   Since the buggers are Not suited to being raised as pets, even by those wealthy enough to afford some eccentric help with their bad night’s sleep.

Writing Prompts
Baku rental agency.  The things look like vacuum cleaners already, might as well have door-to-door salesmen.
Dream plagues. What happens if a certain bad dream spreads from more than one mind?  Is a single baku enough for a village?
Chimerical practice.  Try and describe a regular animal in chimerical terms.  For instance the elephant, with a nose like a snake and huge floppy ears like a great dog.  It can be real fun to see how confusion quickly sets in when you rely on poor analogy.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »