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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

I almost put these critters off a few weeks, because they are similar in a lot of ways  to the fey.  In fact, some modern traditions lump them together, and I can definitely see why.  Still, there are enough differences and things that you just may not have heard to make them worth a separate post.  Besides, sometimes I have the soul of a very dirty old letch, and so you might just be surprised on my take on the inspiration to letches everywhere, the nymphs.

Nymphs have their origins in Greek myth, then adapted later by the Romans like every other myth the Greeks had.  Yet like many other beasties I talk about you can find similar if not identical ideas all over the world.  And I don’t just mean naked young women who run through the forests, although they certainly are that.  Nymphs really are more than just the outside appearance, though it’s hard to remember that after studying histories written by thousands of years of peeping toms.

First of all, there are more types of nymphs that most people think about.  The basic five categories are celestial, underworld, sea, land, and tree.  That’s right, there were enough nymphs running around that you needed categories for them, and even within those categories there were different subgroups.  Like the branches of tree nymphs (pun intended as always). Dryads were specifically the nymphs of oak trees, and meliae were the nymphs of the ash.  Even then there were different levels of nymph, some who were connected to a single grove, some who were bound to a single tree.  The hamadryad would die if you cut down her specific tree, but some of her sisters would be fine as long as their grove survived.

Nymphs, depending on the variety, age, and individual traits, were somewhere between elementals and genius loci.  They were bound to one place, and connected to it in ways that weren’t exactly clear to humans.  It may simply be a chicken and egg problem, does a nymph reflect her land or the land reflect its nymph? Of course, there were a few free range nymphs, mostly of the celestial and underworld variety, who traveled on the winds or in the retinue of various gods.   Most of the pretty young women in the background of the different depictions and portraits of the gods were nymphs just hanging about. Which type of nymph showed up depended largely on the god involved, and of course any visiting god would draw out any local nymphs.

And the nymphs had some of the similar origins as the gods.  Many sprang straight from Gaea after enough blood from various suitors was spilled on her.  To that matter, some nymphs didn’t stay nymphs.  Charybdis was a nymph of the waters before she was transformed, or chose to transform, into a horrible ship eating whirlpool monster.  Scylla might or might not have had the same bag.  The older the nymph, the more individualaity they seemed to posses.  Starting out childlike and quite frankly a bit dumb, joyful but dumb, and slowly growing in wisdom over their semi-immortal existence.

And on that note, lets talk about sex.  Yay sex!  It’s great isn’t it?   Oh wait, I mean lets talk about the sexual connotations connected to nymph lore.  Everyone knows nymphomania got it’s origins from those sexy, slutty nymphs right?   Well… kinda.  Most nymphs danced and sang and splashed in their waters without a stitch on, and this certainly attracted a great amount of attention.   However, as minor goddesses in their own right, you could run into some major trouble spying on them for too long.  You could be struck blind or mad, fall into a deep obsession, and occasionally just die or get transformed into something icky.   Yes, it’s true that nymphs would sleep around, with gods and each other, man, woman,  and occasionally beasts.  They were nature spirits, unfettered by human morality.  However, they are most often described as beautiful maidens, because though a few slept around, mostly they were content to dance and sing and play.   They weren’t succubi, screwing anything that came there way.  In fact, few if any human men got their attentions, and satyrs, centaurs, faun and the like usually had to run the nymphs down and force the issue.  The nymphs were lovely and easy targets, but not the hypersexual creatures that they are made out to be now.

Oh yeah, and keep in mind the time frame.  Depending on if semi-immortal spirits like nymphs adapt with the times or not, they could still look like beautiful maidens, in the very Greek sense.   Meaning you would be lucky if they look older than thirteen, ten to twelve is probably far more likely.  Spirits do get affected by perceptions, so perhaps they might change to a more modern standard of beauty, but there is a good chance that ‘jailbait’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s interesting how many cultures have a belief of humanoid figures attached to nature.  We call it anthropomorphizing.  Humans tend to define the world in human terms, and see it in human forms.  Yet, it’s surprising how often the idea of the young woman in the trees, or rivers, or air shows up as well.  Nymphs are symbols of creativity and freedom, of innocent abundance.  So little of human nature is that innocent, it seems odd how often those particular sets of symbols still crop up.

Writing prompts.

The nymph Olympics.  Hey the original affair was men only, times change.

Missionaries desperately trying to clothe and educate the nymphs.  Lots of luck folks.

Lots of people have used deformed nymphs to show the affects of pollution.  Lets go the other way.  How does a nymph react to a wind farm?  Or a solar farm?  What are the Hover Dam nymphs like?

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Whoopsy daisy, it’s almost nine p.m. and I haven’t done my weekly Monster Monday.  Bad John, bad writer, no keepy schedule no get the scotchy.

Seriously though it’s been an odd week, but I promised myself I’d keep to my deadlines and so I shall.   Here is a quicky post on a creature about as different from the leyak of last week as you can get.  Something as adorable and absurd as the pengallan was grotesque.  Let’s talk about the barometz, also known as vegetable lambs and tartary sheep.

Frankly, I absolutely love these guys.   Imagine a plant that looks a bit like a large cabbage, that unfolds until a little lambs head pops up.  Rather than being a grotesque mockery, the lamb is cute as a button, bahs at you once or twice, and then blooms like a flower giving wooly birth.  After some time you’ve got a young lamb attached to its vegetable roots by a viney umbilical cord, and the wee sheep starts grazing on the grasses around it.

Okay, so maybe it’s just a tiny bit creepy.

I really can’t make up this stuff.  In many of the old depictions the lambs slept on the top of the stalks, just like sunflowers, only you know wooly and with hooves dangling.  The stalk would bend down when they fed, and it was important not to let them over feed. If they ate all the grass in the area the barometz would starve and the plant would die with it.  Cutting the stalk/umbilical cord also killed both plant and sheep. Likewise you had to watch out for wolves and bears, who found sheep that couldn’t run away quite tempting.  Or maybe the wolves just wanted to try vegetarianism, tartary lambs count right?  Unless you are one of those people who say things like ‘I don’t eat anything with a face.’

The only way to eat the lamb without killing the plant was to wait for it to die of old age and drop off on its own. This happens once a season. So in those accounts the flora sheep must age faster than their pure fauna cousins, but with proper tending I imagine you could make a barometz plant last you years.  I’ve never heard of the barometz making seeds, but one must assume there is some form of reproduction.  Maybe you need a very specialized gardener to both breed and cross-pollinate, or a very disturbing type of bee.

The barometz was said to be from central Asia, an exotic location for most of medieval Europe.  In a way, barometz was linked to cotton.  People said that the best cotton came not from regular cotton plants, but from vegetable lambs that were allowed to grow fat for harvest.  The wooly fern is also often called after the barometz, as its wooly rhizomes do look like a lamb all curled up and waiting to sprout.  However, there are similar stories in the world.  The most closely linked would be the water sheep of China, which are very similar to barometz except more gourd-like than cabbage.  There are even reports of some Jewish folklore in which a similar creature could be harvested and have their bones used for prophecy.

Now, I don’t usually do plugs for other media, but I’m mildly fascinated that the barometz does show up now and again in popular culture.   For an obscure bit of lore, I’ve seen it in videogames and comics and TV shows.  I saw it recently on a webcomic called Skin Deep, just in the background of an odd occult shop.  It appears in the Fantastical Creatures tarot, an odd collection of old lore. It even showed up in a show called Lost Girl and they used the bones for a full on vision quest, just like the old Jewish legend.   I’m amazed how such a silly little creature has, shall we say, taken root in our culture.

Yeah, I couldn’t help myself.

I’m a bahhhhhd boy.

 

Writing prompts.

Barometz gardening, there has to be some fascinating stories in a profession that combines horticulture and shepherding.

Bonsai barometz, the bite sized treats.

Come up with your own plant/animal hybrids.  Squash schnauzers and papaya parakeets all around.  Just no sea cucumbers, cause those things are disgusting.

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