Thursday, April 17, 2014

9 Things You Didn't Know About Vampires

1-Vampires are most likely to take the form of owls, not bats. Though they would also take the form of dragons, rats, cats, wolves, and even trees or pieces of straw.

2-Vampires could and often did get married, or returned to their mortal spouse. They would often have children with these mortals who were half vampire and half human.

These half-vampires had the power to see through the vampires illusions and kill them more easily than a regular mortal could.

In one tale a vampire was married to a woman for many years, and had a son with her. For some reason the tale doesn't make clear the woman decides she wants her vampire husband dead and so gets her son to kill him.

3-There were many types of vampires, one of the most commonly believed in occurred because people were believed to have multiple souls, one of which remained in a persons corpse for a number of days or even centuries after they'd died. (Depending on the person and the regional beliefs). Sometimes this soul would learn to leave the body, and could gain power by drinking blood and or milk. This soul was very much like a ghost. They had a solid form, but could slip through the tiniest cracks like water.

4-Vampires didn't leave bite marks as their magic allowed them to close up any wounds they made, that way they could kill their victims without leaving a trace.

5-Vampires could gain control over people's souls by making them sneeze three times in a row.

6-Sunlight almost never hurt vampires, rather the sound of the cock crowing in the morning (a sacred time and sound) or the day time in general caused them to loose the ability to move, or forced them to return to their bodies).

7-Blood held one of a persons souls. Thus it had magical powers, and taking a bit of it was like taking a bit of someones soul. That's why familiar spirits would drink the blood of the witches they were partnered with. In fairy tales people could also leave behind their life force inside blood so that they could live on in dolls, rags, or other objects.

Drinking blood allowed the vampire to steal a persons magical power, but it also not only killed the person but trapped or destroyed one of their souls.

8-Any soul which remained on earth would go crazy and become a vampire. Thus The Grim Reaper, Hermes and other psychopomps who lead souls into the land of the dead were actually protectors of mortal life. They didn't kill people, they took potential vampires to the after life in order to prevent vampires.

9-Vampires are related to fairies.
Vampires and fairies are very similar, and in fact vampires could be said to be a form of fairy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Domesticated Fairies

As humanity encroached on nature the fairies didn't just vanish, instead they began to adapt to civilization. There are thousands of fairy tales and bits of lore from around the world about wilderness spirits who became the spirits of fields, gardens, yards, and even people's homes.

As human civilization has expanded many nature fairies have started to adapt to our farms and our suburbs by living in fields, in trees near our homes, and in our gardens. In one case an obviously wild fairy known as Broonie have started to protect people and their grain, even casting spells on the crops to give a good harvest. In gratitude the people made him some clothes, but Broonie was still feral, so as with so many other stories he was offended that anyone should think he would need clothes and he ran off never to be seen again. (George Fraser Black)

In Croatia there is another forest fairy known as a Vedi, which are as tall as the trees, who live in small villages or cities within the forest. They act as mischievously as anyone would expect a forest spirit to act. Worse they even enjoy suffering such that they will kidnap and torture people, releasing their victims right before they die from the pain and suffering. Yet the Vedi who live near civilization have started to adopt human families, protecting them against natural disasters. Yet even these Vedi are still somewhat feral. For they still harm and cause mischief for the neighbors of those they've adopted.

“This may be illustrated by the expression: "Dear God, let our vedi help us and don't let their vedi harm us"). It was believed that after one pronounced such a prayer, the spirit would come quickly to the person's aid.” (Conrad, 2001)

Domesticated fairies often lived along side humans. The Scrat of Germany, for example, lived in the trees near a persons house, protecting them from evil spirits. Brownie type fairies in Britain were once fairies of groves of trees or pools of water who had moved into people's homes. This meant that even after people left the wilderness maintaining a relationship with the spirit world was important in lore.

In many places people would actively seek to domesticate nature spirits by giving them gifts. In Scotland people would pour milk on the rocks for the spirits within, in parts of Russia they would put oatmeal and vodka in the water for the water mother, in Japan they would give the spirits sake and pray to it.

Celebrations throughout Eurasia were often centered on the idea of building a better relationship with the nature spirits. In Japan people had to lure the spirits of the mountain down to their fields if they wanted a good harvest. Sacred dances, plays such as the ones held in Greece, and festivals were all meant to entertain the nature spirits.

"The Golden Bough” notes the idea of building a relationship with fairies repeatedly in one specific case it mentions that in parts of France the last sheaf would be named the Mother of the Wheat, Mother of the Barley, Mother of the Rye, or Mother of the Oats and would be made into a puppet dressed in clothing and given a crown and a blue or white scarf. In another case he notes that:

“A branch of a tree is stuck in the breast of the puppet which is now called Ceres. At the dance in the evening Ceres is set in the middle of the floor, and the reaper who reaped fastest dances around it with the prettiest girl for his partner. After the dance, a pyre is made. All the girls, each wearing a wreath, strip the puppet, pull it to pieces, and place it on the pyre along with the flowers with which it was adorned. Then the girl who was the first to finish reaping sets fire to the pile, and all pray that Ceres may give a fruitful year” (Frazer, 1922)

In this ritual then, we see a clear continuation of the belief that tree spirits help create a fruitful harvest. In parts of Dumbartonshire, the Maiden of the corn would be dressed in ribbons and hung in the kitchen for the entire year. In Bruck in Styria she would even be dedicated in the Christian Church indicating the longevity of the peoples’ respect for the fairies involved in the harvest, or at least in the tradition.  Here they also took the extra step of making the finest ears of grain into a wreath which were twined with flowers and carried on the head of the prettiest girl in the village. The Slavs also made a wreath from the last sheaf known as the Rye-mother, the Wheat-mother, the Oats-mother, the Barley-mother, and so on which would be placed on a girl’s head and kept until spring when it would be mixed with the seeds the farmers planted. Other people drench with water the last girl who cut it in addition to the sheaf of grain. The fertility of the fairy is considered to be so strong that it is believed that the person who cuts the last sheaf of wheat will be married within a year.

Though it wasn't just through offerings that people domesticated nature spirits, sometimes they would domesticate them by force. In Japan, for example, people waged war on many of the nature kami to force them to help with the harvest. The same is true in Ireland, and Wales. In Germany people would threaten to cut down a tree if it didn't help their crops to thrive.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fairy Refugees and Outcasts

While many fairies lived in glamorous courts, beautiful crystal castles, and on golden mountains, many others lived in squalor, refugees, hiding from both humanity and fairy kind. These fairy refugees were banished for a number of reasons from Wars to political rivalries, or simple jealousy.

In Denmark one small troll/dwarf like being was caught flirting with the king of the trolls wife. Thus he had to go into hiding, taking the form of a cat and living with a human family to avoid the kings wrath.

In Brittany one fairies clan was destroyed by another neighboring clan of fairies and was forced to hide in the form of birds (and they would grant wished to any human kind enough to feed them while they were in hiding)

On "The Isle of Man" a fairy danced with a human girl on a day sacred to the fairies, and so was banished by the fairy court to live among humans for the rest of time.

Often times the house fairies of Europe were fairies who'd been banished from the fairy court, forced to learn hard work by serving the humans until the humans saw fit to pay them, thus proving their worth. Other house fairies lived among the humans because they needed shelter.

In Ireland, and many other places it was believed that humans had at one time waged war on the fairies, a war which the fairies lost. Defeated the fairies were forced into hiding. Humans, after all, have many forms of magic to help them overcome the fairies. Humans can use salt and iron, magical symbols and words which drive the fairies away or destroy their magic. In other places, such as Japan, and even the Celtic lands, humans had the power of the evil eye and were impure, both of which weakened the power of the fairies. Thus fairies could only use their greatest spells when humans weren't looking at them. More than this humans could accidentally place a curse on a fairy with a simple look.

In Ireland the Tuatha De Danann were unable to defeat the Irish in a test of arms because of the Irish peoples’ powerful druids and deities. So now the fairies are forced reside in the hills and rocks of Ireland much as fairies do throughout Europe (Wentz, 1911).

“Pixies were often supposed to be the souls of the prehistoric dwellers of this country. As such, pixies were supposed to be getting smaller and smaller until, finally, they are to vanish entirely.” (Wentz, 1911)

This paints a much more terrifying picture of some of the fairies than we often imagined. According to this account, the pixies who people often think of as cute, little, playful fairies, are small because they are shrinking into oblivion. What’s more, they have had to live for thousands of years with the knowledge that they will eventually disappear and that those humans who will remain are the decedents of the people who forced them into their horrible fate. It is no wonder then that such beings are caught between human-like sympathy and incredible bitterness because, while they must retain some human emotion, much of this emotion must be anger at being driven into their current state.

Many fairies are starving and bedraggled, they dwell in squallier, some even live under human homes, in invisible huts in backyards or in even worse conditions such as where humans throw their garbage. “There is a widespread story of a fairy woman who begs a cottager not to throw water out at the doorstep, as it falls down her chimney. The request is invariably granted (Andrews, 1913).

Such fairies often create an illusionary world, a world filled with good food, yet they still depend on human food for their sustenance. They therefore steal bread, meat, fruit and more from humans.

It may even be that many wilderness fairies (such as brownies which can also haunt forests and pools of water) became house fairies because they no longer had anywhere else to go but still felt the moral need to continue working.

In fairy tales many fairies were ostracized, considered far less then human. This is shown clearly in one German tale where a King chases down a “Wild Little Dwarf” as if he were game. Later when the king complains that he didn't catch any animals that day his men assure him that; “there is not so good a sportsman as you to be found in the whole world. You must not, however, complain of our day's luck; for you have caught an animal, whose like was never before seen or heard of." (Desent & Anderson, 1906)

Fairies often returned this cruelty in kind in yet another German story some travelers come across a group of fairy like beings living in a cave, huddling around fires to keep warm. Here the fairies trap the humans and begin to use them for their meat, roasting them on spits. (Krauss, 1883) Yet the fairies must always remember that humans once defeated them, drove them into the caves and so humans can still destroy them with iron, the evil eye and magical symbols if we wish.

Still not all relationships between humans and fairy refugees were bad. A farmer who lived in Emserwald Germany had no friends or relatives nearby to stand as Godfather for his child so he entered the woods. Here he found a dwarf, who asked to take the role. The dwarf was very pleased to be asked but he was too poor to give much of a gift to the child. When searching the cave where he lived the dwarf found a coal-black root and told the farmer that if he was starving he should distribute a little of this root to each member of his family. Than one hard winter the family was starving and so they ate the root which put them into hibernation until spring when there was food in the forests again. The fairies gift in this case wasn't some treasure but a means to avoid starving to death by avoiding the problem (Jegerlehner, 1907).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

3 Animated Fantasy Shorts

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Secrets of the Forgotten Goddesses

The first people were not farmers, they didn't concern themselves with the earth they worried about the hunting and fishing, the forests, mountains, and the water. Thus the most important goddesses in ancient lore was not the earth mother, rather they were the spirit owners of specific places.

In Selkup lore a forest goddess could appear to hunters and give them great skill, while in Japan the Kami of the mountains were most often goddesses who had a close relationship with hunters. Other Siberians would talk of a women who gave birth to magical reindeer, sometimes with eight legs, that would help shamans. Just as Loki in his female form gave birth to an eight legged horse that helped Odin. This has lead to the notion of the "Deer Mother."

More common in folktales from Japan and Europe, however, is the importance of female water spirits, which could often take the form of serpents. In the earliest lore we have from Japan it was female water kami that could take serpent form  which ruled the mountains. In Northern Italy it's female water spirits that take the form of Golden snakes the cause the plants in a region to grow. Just like the nymphs of Ancient Greece, the Nixies of Germany. These water spirits were commonly believed to possess early shamans giving them the skills and knowledge they needed to build and protect civilization.

So as civilization adapted the water goddesses transformed from being spirits of fishing and clean water to being spirits of farming and civilization. Indeed the idea of muses, and fate spinners is likely based on these early hunting and fishing goddesses. Indeed the Celts believed that skills from poetry, ship building came from the will female fairy like beings. Further in parts of Eastern Europe people held rituals to honor the water goddesses contributions to agriculture, weaving, and civilization into the modern era. Yet oddly enough the focus shifted away from this multitude of goddesses, of fairies, towards beings like Gaea, for which we have no evidence of extensive worship in most places. Indeed the Siberian people's didn't start worshiping any form of Earth Mother until the introduction of agriculture, while the Greeks, Celts, etc didn't pay much attention to her, and the Japanese primarily worshiped local mountain goddesses until they were conquered by the Imperial Court and forced, often with violence to recognize the Imperial ancestor, the Sun Kami as the primary deity.

Interesting points for Writers

Raised By Heroes

Nymphs in mythology founded cities, raised Zeus, and heroes, just as they raised Heroes in Germanic, Russian, and Celtic lore.

Protectors of the Land

Each land is protected by a deity, most often female. This deity helps the animals and plants thrive, inspires the people of the land, and protects them from evil spirits. If she gets sick, comes under attack, or is killed the region would unravel. In Japanese and Greek mythology she would often call on hunters to help her fight off evil, unclean enemies.

In Celtic lands the fairies often needed human knights to help them, for humans had iron and other magical devices weapons which they could not touch.

Further if one of these goddesses died a new one would have to be sought out, otherwise the land and it's people would die with her.

Descended from the Goddess

The people of a region were very often descended from a goddess's union with a hero figure. The people of Arcadia Greece, for example, were the children of a nymph who determined what the moral standards of the city would be and enforced these moral standards. She did this not only as the goddess of the city, but as the grandmother of the people who lived within it.

There are tales throughout the world of a man who marries a fairy figure of some form, has children, only to have the fairy eventually leave him. Yet she still watches over her children in secret. There are a number of reasons why she can't show herself to her children directly. Such as the fact that humans have the power of the evil eye which can harm fairies, or humans are impure which can also do them harm. In Russia it was believed that sins hurt fairy like creatures, and that humans eventually became so sinful the fairies had to flee the land. In Japan impurity (such as dirt, blood, death, etc) caused kami to loose their power. While in Western Europe if a human gazed at a fairy it could actually hurt the fairy, preventing it from using their magic.

So while humans may be descended from a fairy like beings which love them as a grandmother would, this fairy like being can only show itself to a few people.

Lament of Ur and Jenny Greenteeth

There is an ancient Mesopotamian poem called "The Lament of Ur" in which the founding goddess of Ur morns the destruction of her city. A ghost city to which she is now tied.

Jenny Greenteeth is a water spirit of Shropshire next to Wales, and is likely a former water goddess similar to those found in Wales. Except her land was conquered and her people destroyed. So she was forgotten and left alone.

These are essentially ghost goddesses.

Jacob Grimm tells of many of these ghost goddesses throughout Germany who've lost the ability to speak, but will still occasionally show people hidden treasures.

These spirits are lonely refugees from a forgotten world, though they appear to occasionally try to get their old world back. Nymphs and Jenny Greenteeth, among others will often possess people just as they used to, likely hoping to gain another shaman, but in the modern day this is often considered to be an attack, as possessions cause people to have violent reactions at first, thus the spirit is exorcised.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bad Marriages - Feminism in Fairy Fairy Tales

Learn about Analyzing and Interpreting Fairy Tales

Many fairy tales, especially those told to the Grimm Brothers were passed on from mothers and grandmothers or nannies to their children, as men participated very little in raising children during the "Once Upon a Time." Yes there were peasants who told each other the tales in bars, hospices, or on trips, and there were wondering entertainers who told tales, but women were the ones from who most children learned fairy tales. This means that to some extent the themes that exist within fairy tales are the themes which the women of the past wanted to exist within them.

It's important to keep in mind, however, that fairy tales aren't the tale of the warrior caste, they are the stories of peasants, and as such they are primarily about people, men or women, who succeed through kindness, hard work, luck, cunning, or by following the advice of others. In other words there aren't many strong characters, mythology is the realm of the warrior women. The moral of these stories are the morals of a culture that was obsessed with hard work, rather than being true to oneself.

You can learn more at Fairy Tale Hero Archetypes and Fairy Tale Heroines.

Further for all their fancifulness with regards to the existence of magic, fairy godmothers, and the like, fairy tales tended to take a realistic, though often harsh, view of the life of women and girls. This is likely in part because part of the purpose of these tales was for mothers to prepare daughters for the troubles they might face, and pass on information on how to survive the harsh and cruel reality, while giving some, all be it, magical hope to them.

For every Cinderella who lived happily ever after there were other women who like in Rumpelstiltskin was married off to a greedy king who was going to kill her if she didn't do impossible work. It's important to keep in mind that women rarely ever chose who they would marry instead they were married off, given away by their fathers. In fairy tale worlds of magical creatures they are given away not only to cruel men but to beasts, pigs, lions, frogs, devils, and dragons.

In most such cases there were four methods by which women could deal with this situation.

1-Take control of the situation. In the original "Frog Prince Tales" the princess would get tired of the annoying frog and so throw him against the wall causing him to burst out of his skin. While in "Hans My Hedgehog" the princess burns the hedgehogs animal skin forcing him to stay in human form.

Of course, it would have been difficult for most women to take control of a situation by force, because they went to live in their husbands town, which meant they were were outsiders with few allies.

(Note there is an alternative explanation for the notion of the women taking control in these relationships which is that shamans and witches across Eurasia would get familiar spirits. If they were to survive as witches they often had to take control of their familiar spirits. When shamans heard tales of fairy tales in which a person committed violence against a magical being they identified the theme of the story as a shaman encountering their familiar spirit for the first time. and establishing their dominance in the relationship.)

2-Women could try to win over their 'beast' husbands with love and kindness.

3-Women could try to gain an ally. Given that they were in a strange village when they first married, women would often seek out an ally who could help them. Of course there were risks involved in this as well. In a variation of "Rumpelstiltskin" a little man named Tom Tim Tot tells the girl that he'll help her, but then she belongs to him. In this story it's obvious that in return for the alliance girls were often expected to give up things they might not want to.

An ethnologist pointed out that serf girls were often pushed to sell their bodies for extra food, and help, while Purkiss tells of a Scottish girl who was living in a strange new house where she was bugged repeatedly to give up her body. In order to survive this situation the women would often have to gain some knowledge, some secret with which she could blackmail her oppressors. This is likely one of the primary reasons women in fairy tales, and witches, often gained control of a situation by learning a secret, such as Rumpelstiltskin's name.

In Mikso Hane's book "Peasants, Rebels, Women and Outcasts," she tells of a women during the Meiji Era whose husband and his parents forced her to do nothing but weave all day. She couldn't take care of her son, she couldn't eat for very long, if she spent to long in the bathroom they would hit her, etc. She was essentially imprisoned to make them money, which they than used. Then she was cast aside for the husbands mistress. Standing out in the snow, watching her husband laughing with this other women she finally snapped, and burnt down the house.

The point is that in the past women could easily be married to both abusive and greedy husbands, who often simply exploited them for their labor, and for sex of course. There's a French memoir, in which a woman wished to be married but married an abusive husband, so she wished for children, but her children were just more work, so in the end the only dream she has left is for death.

This last point, the dream of death tells of the last means by which women had to defend themselves. Painful endurance, and or running away. There are many tales in which a father will essentially sell his daughter to a devil, such as in "The Girl with No Hands." In this story the girl cuts off her own hands and endures pain and suffering to avoid having the devil take her. Essentially she makes herself unable to work so the devil can't take her.

In Japan there are tales from Tono of wild women who ran off into the forests and mountains to live, likely to escape abusive husbands. While In Selkup lore Satyr like creatures would teach unhappy women the secrets of hunting so they could live int he forests on their own.

In the end then fairy tales were very often based on the possible dissatisfaction of marriage. Though at the same time they gave women hope, hope that they could change their spouses or find an ally. While such dreams are pleasant modern feminists have pointed out that what they really do is prevent women from trying to change their situation. Hope for magic, hope for a better world, in this case often prevents action to make things better.