Thursday, October 2, 2014

Scary fairy tales

At this time of year it's nice to take a moment and remember why our ancestors were so afraid of the long dark nights. For now is the time that the spirit world, the world of ghosts, forgotten gods, and fairies overlaps with ours, and it's important to remember why that's so horrifying.

Fear and revolution are a big part of what makes us human, which is why people have told horror stories, which we now call fairy tales, for tens of thousands of years. Unfortunately, we often miss this horror in the modern day, when fear is so often a thing of the past and the tales that were once told in the dark around a crackling fire are instead read as whimsical children's stories. But the darkness still lingers in these tales, waiting for you to crack them open and remake them into the
macabre tales they once were. 

The best thing you can do to gain inspiration from fairy tales is to read them a little differently, searching for the darkness at their heart, drawing on them for inspiration to startel, shock, and above all, give that tingling sense of fear that your readers are seeking from horror.

Think, for example, about changeling stories, in which the fairies replace a child with a fairy. In one, a mother goes out to fetch some water and when she returns: 

"She opened the door and felt at once that something terrible had happened. The fire had gone out. The cat's back was bristling. She hastened to the cradle where, instead of seeing her babies round and rosy face, she beheld a hideous dwarf with a dark and spotted face. He had a huge and gaping mouth; his hands and feet were evil, threatening, jagged claws. 
"Merciful heavens!" she cried in fear. "Who, are you? What have you done with my blessed child?"
The dwarf answered never a word, but grinned a wicked grin."

Fairies are often blood thirsty, so in place of this woman’s beautiful child something is left which could very well be evil; something which might drink her blood in the night, murder her neighbors, bring death and plague. Yet, these mothers can't ever be completely certain that the changeling isn't their baby, they just have a feeling, a sense that something is very, very wrong. The way the child screams, the way it grins, its cold calculating eyes, all scare her; but what can she do? She is trapped, treating the child like her own even though she is now terrified of it. 

Fairyland is filled with rivers of blood, with fields of corpses, with people who eat human flesh without knowing it, for it’s common in fairy tales for the wicked to share human flesh with the unsuspecting. In “The Juniper Tree” the wicked step-mother of a boy cuts off his head, then cooks him and serves him to his unsuspecting father who smacks his lips with pleasure at the unexpectedly tasty meat.

In this article I include just a few of the many scary fairy tales, but if you want more, please ask...
A Party With Vampires

Once in a poor village the boys and girls would hold their parties in abandoned houses. Here they would sing so loudly and have so much fun you could hear them clear on the other side of the village. They danced about, and the boys did tricks to impress the girls, and soon they were all shaking with laughter.
Late one night when they were partying, three unknown young men came through the door.
"Good evening," everyone greeted happily inviting them to join the general merriment. As the strangers began to dance one of the girls dropped a spindle. It rolled across the crowded dance floor and right under the feet of one of the strangers. When she bent to pick it up she noticed that the boys had hooves instead of feet (according to another version, she saw their tails).
Her heart began to race, he throat went dry, their mystery guests were vampires. 
Carefully she whispered of her discovery to her friends, warning them each of the danger, and one by one the people began to slip away from the party to flee, but they forgot one girl who was napping behind the stove.
When they realized that she was missing the next day the girls and boys went to the empty home. As they approached, they saw her smiling face in the window and so breathed a sigh of relief. 
The girl's all ran forward, happy to see that their friend was alright, but when they got into the house they started shrieking in horror. The vampires had sliced the girls face into a permanent smile, before placing her head on a stake by the window. The ceiling and walls were decorated with her guts and flesh.

The End

The nightmare creatures in fairy tales enjoyed tormenting people, the way a sadist or serial killer now craves the suffering of others. Yet despite this some people actually fell in love with these weird twisted creatures that would come in the night to cause them nightmares. So while the next tale is more weird than creepy, I like it because it reminds us of a type of witch and werewolf that we often forget, those who astrally projected souls from their haunt humanity. Also, it's important to keep in mind that the witch in this tale is causing nightmares because she enjoys suffering, or because she is forced to do so by something darker still...

The Man Who Married his Nightmare

There was once a young fellow who was ridden by "Marre " every night, and although he sprinkled flax-seed outside the door, and placed his shoes the wrong way before his bed, it was all of no avail, and he was at a loss what to do. 

He asked a wise woman for advice, who at once said that she knew what would help him. "When you go home," she said, " you must stop up all holes and chinks that there are in your room; the keyholes and windows must also be made fast. When that is done, you must bore a little hole in the door, and cut a pin to fit it exactly; this hole you must leave open to-night, but as soon as Marre has come in by it, spring to it and put in the pin, then she is in your power." 

The man did as the woman told him. During the night the Marre came in by the hole, which he immediately stopped up, to her great alarm. She went round about from keyhole to window, and made herself both small and thin to get out, but every place was closed fast, so that she could not get out, however many tricks she tried. When she saw that all her trouble was in vain, she besought him to take the little pin out of the door, and let her go as she had come, and she would never come again. Meanwhile he had been standing looking at her, and saw that she was a pretty girl, so he would not let her go in that way, but asked if she would be his sweetheart, and everything would be all right. "Yes," said she, "if you will really marry me, the mischief is over; let me out now like any other person." She was a girl from the next village, and when he knew that, he let her out at the door. Shortly after they had their wedding... and while in this version of the fairy tale she gave up her ways, most witches could not... oh no, the evil being which they worked with would not allow it. One witch tried to stop and the evil spirits surrounded her and beat her, kicked her, tortured her until her mind cracked and they could once more force her to do evil. One man had himself locked away so that he would starve to death and not have to do evil any longer, as dying was his only way out... though dead witches usually became vampires so perhaps even death isn't a release.

The End

Like I said, the nightmare tale was weird. Astral projection played an important part of European folk belief, there were  many vampires (not all) which were astrally projecting spirits from their corpses, and werewolves which were astral projects, and of course witches. Indeed many of the Swan and Heavenly maidens which men forced to marry them in fairy tales were likely astral projects as well. It's not always clear, however, when this is the case, but the stories about men marrying nightmares makes this fairly clear, for if the witches soul didn't return to her body she would die. In another similar German tale the witch was actually from England and ultimately escaped the man

The Devil and His Dandy-Dogs (Cornwall) 

A poor herdsman was journeying homeward across the moors one windy night, when he heard at a distance among the tors the baying of hounds, which he soon recognised as the dismal chorus of the dandy-dogs. It was three or four miles to his home; and, very much alarmed, he hurried onward as fast as the treacherous nature of the soil and the uncertainty of the path would allow; but, alas! the melancholy yelping of the hounds, and the dismal halloa of the hunter came nearer and nearer. After a considerable run, they had so gained upon him, that on looking back -- oh, horror! -- he could distinctly see hunter and dogs. The former was terrible to look at, and had the usual complement of saucer-eyes, horns, and tail accorded by common consent to the legendary devil. He was black, of course, and carried in his hand a long hunting-pole. The dogs, a numerous pack, blackened the small patch of moor that was visible; each snorting fire, and uttering a yelp of an indescribably frightful tone. No cottage, rock, or tree was near to give the herdsman shelter, and nothing apparently remained to him but to abandon himself to their fury, when a happy thought suddenly flashed upon him, and suggested a resource. Just as they were about to rush upon him, he fell on his knees in prayer. There was strange power in the holy words he uttered; for immediately, as if resistance had been offered, the hell hounds stood at bay, howling more dismally than ever ; and the hunter shouted "Bo shrove!" "which," says my informant, "means, in the old language, the boy prays." At which they all drew off on some other pursuit, and disappeared.

The End

The world was a horrifying place where death, poverty, illness, and even sorrow were all 'living' beings. They were vampires, fairies, witches, fickle gods, and more. In a way this was comforting, because while nearly everyone was killed by the witches and vampires there was hope that one could overcome and defeat these monsters eventually, though sometimes that's a painfully hard row to hoe.

A dark tale about a girl who is tortured by a vampire she unwittingly gets engaged to.

The tale of a girl who must rescue her love form the court of the dead on Halloween.

The tale of the spirit of the Moon being captured, tortured, and buried alive.

The tale of some wicked bogeymen which devour a girls family then carry her off in a bag so that they may torture her further.

The Deceived Vampire

Friday, September 26, 2014

Concept Art of Big Hero Six

Disney also announced an X-Prize in relation to "Big Hero Six"

Some of the Visual Development Artists of Big Hero

Who has previously done some of the beautiful work from "Lilo and Stitch"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Snow Queen's, Trolls, and Frozen

I loved the beautiful concept art of "Frozen" and as a folklorist I find it fascinating because it shows the continued evolution of stories from one era to the next. Of course, this evolution of stories happens both because our social values change and because people forget the older ideas about fairies and trolls. So my purpose for this article is two fold; first I want to celebrate the wonderful artists who made this beautiful film possible (Check out the book "The Art of Frozen" for more about this), and second I want to share a few interesting facts from fairy lore for those interested in learning them.

Trolls, Trow, and earth spirits.
There were often rock spirits that were extremely emotionally sensitive. In Iceland it was believed that they disliked loud noises, as well as violence and so tended to try to exist in isolation. Those who ended up witnessing violence anyways would change in nature, becoming dangerous poltergeist like spirits. This could also happen if they became too scared, which is why it was illegal to bring ships with dragon heads into port in island, as there were concerns that the rock spirits would be made angry by this. 

They were, however, generally helpful, mostly aiding shepherds and goatherds. Often to do this they would appear to these people in their dreams, as again their sensitivity prevented them from appearing to people directly, people having the power of the evil eye thanks to our greed and malice

The Trows of Orkney were mischievous often grotesque in appearance. Trow too would often take human children, raising them in their own world as they did Christof, though it was rare for these human children to be seen again. .They might also take great musicians and other people they loved away with them, leaving behind an empty body. Within the magical realm of the trow such people would often help those they'd left behind, for example, one girls mother was believed to have been taken this way so she was blessed with beauty and luck by the trow.

The Polish Snow Queen
The Snow Queen of Poland (named Miranda) is a heroic figure who saves the world from the undead when they rise up to conquer it. She appeared on a beautiful green island one day, no one knew from where. Her beauty was so splendid that the city and kingdom grew up around her as people traveled to live under her reign. 
The lord of the underworld Kosciey decided to invade this kingdom. Princess Miranda lead her army against Kosciey and ultimately defeated them by changing him into a lump of ice. Of course Kosciey escaped and plotted a new attack which lead to a long drawn out battle. 

In Japan the Yoki-onna are snow women who would often freeze people to death. Though sometimes they would seek shelter from the storm from humans. Other times they would fall in love with people, but they had to marry the human in secret because if it was revealed what had happened they would be forced to return to the cold. What was forcing them to exist as Yoki-onna is never mentioned so far as I know, and I've read dozens of stories with them.

In one story, when a young man who married a Yoki-onna mentions his previous encounter with her she grows furious and yells;

"Could you not keep your mouth shut after you’ve been silent for so long?” She scolded him. “I could kill you now, with a touch of my mouth you would freeze to death your limbs growing stiff. This would be a just punishment for what you have done for you have destroyed not only your luck mine as well. For behold,” she continued her voice assuming a calm tone, “I spared you in that lodge, because I saw you a thriving handsome young man who looked so scared and helpless before me. I felt sorry for you, but not only sorry for I felt the desire to enjoy the happiness of mankind. This is why I didn’t kill you then, for I loved you. Yes I loved you so I approached you in human form; I married you and enjoyed living with you for many wonderful years. Now you choose to destroy that, and I must return to my kingdom. I remember the happiness that I enjoyed here and my poor children which no parent would want to deprive of a father. So you may continue to live. Be a good father and find some way to atone for your present wrongs.”

If anyone has any thoughts on why the Yoki-onna are forced to live in the cold against their will I'd love to hear them.

Blogs of some of the concept artists

Monday, September 1, 2014


The Valley of Lötschental Switzerland remained isolated for thousands of years, with tall mountains surrounding it, and no real roads in or out until 1907. This allowed their traditional festival Tschäggättä to survive into the modern day.

It's difficult to know the exact origins of this festival, however, it's possible that it was a way of scaring evil spirits from a village, an or honoring dark spirits as well in order to convince them to leave the village alone. Both these ideas were fairly common in ancient Europe, though again it's difficult to know the exact function of the masks in Tschäggättä.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Manifesto - Make something beautiful

This picture comes from "A New Year's Present to the little ones from five to twelve. Part III." It's the first time a Santa was in a sleigh or had a reindeer. Such a simple picture but it changed the world and helped to inspire "The Night Before Christmas" which turned Christmas into a holiday about family, generosity, and wonder. For this reason this picture and poem, based on folk lore from The Forest Finns, the Dutch, the English, and the Germans has perhaps  done more than all the Olympics, Nobel Prizes, etc., to bring peace and happiness to people.

Modern scholars would have hated these poems if they had come out in our time, just as most critics hated "Star Wars," and many folklorists often hate Disney.

The truth, however, is that good stories and art are the ones which change the world, or at least improve someone's life. They give us moments of magic, help us feel better emotionally. It's been shown that the right picture can reduce depression, improve concentration, and more. The right pictures in this case being beautiful pictures of nature, or cute things. The right stories, too can inspire generations of people, and often these works of art and stories are inspired by fairy tales.

However, as I studied cross-cultural psychology focusing on folkloristics I found scholars acknowledging in the intro's and prefaces to their books that folkloristics is the driest field to study something interesting. Yet they then go on to write dry books which study the means of studying folklore.

Yes this is useful for textbooks, but it serves only one real purpose, to help scholars understand scholarship. In order to make these scholarly articles and books relevant for people we have to use them to make books that are interesting as useful for other purposes. Briggs, has done a great job with this in her books on fairies, but such scholarship is limited to England and  only goes so far.

I wanted to create something different, something with a purpose, and the purpose I chose was to help writers and artists, because they can change the world. Yes the things that artists and writers say they want such as archetypes are things that scholars hate, but there are lots of books on folklore that are useful for scholars, and hundreds of journal articles published every year as well.

So while I may pour through scholarly articles, books, etc., most of us have to have a different purpose than just writing these articles, we have to apply them to something. I've decided to apply them to help the people who make the world a more beautiful place through stories.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Celtic Tribes

There were many tribes in Ancient Britain, and Genetic studies show that the tribes of Wales are genetically different... to a limited extent. However, the people of Britain are also surprisingly similar. So even after all the invasions by Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Norman and more added their DNA to the mix, the British still remained. So the question is how much of their stories remained?

There are ghosts to whom waterfowl sing, that ask those they meet to feed and take care of the people of their land, and whom sailors ask for protection. There are black dogs which could be guardians to the underworld. It's hard to know what such stories mean, but stories can survive the conquest of other people, for example, the people of Greece were ruled by many outside nations for thousands of years, yet they retained a lot of their stories, to some extent.

In Greek fairy tales gods such as Hades would at times become a Magician from Turkey in order to kidnap the daughter of Demeter who became St. Demetrius. Churon became the lord of the underworld, rather than the boatmen to it, and Zeus became the Christian God, fighting a rebellion of Giants with thunderbolts, then after victory he buried them them under the mountains as Zeus had buried the Titans. We know this because we know the original myths that these fairy tales are based on. What we don't know is the myths that the British tales are based on. Still it seems that just beneath the changes to their stories exists older ideas. We can never truly know these stories, but by mapping them and looking at them in a different light I believe that we can better understand them.

I'm working on a map of Celtic Fairies and a Book to help you interpret Europe's Fairy Tales on Kickstarter.

Facts from a few tribal regions

Looking at a few specific tribal regions we find some interesting facts such as;

The Iceni tribe was always very resistant to change, when the Roman's conquered many of them fled to the fens (Wash) rather than submit to Roman rule and their queen Boudicca lead a revolt that killed thousands of Romans. And we see in this region some of the strongest continuing fairy traditions in South Eastern England. This land still had many fairies meeting, enforcing morality, for long after such traditions had faded. In addition to their good relationship with the fairies, they often had remnants of a sometimes troubled with the fairies, from the typical fairies kidnapping humans to tales of humans kidnapping fairies, for example;

The tale of two green fairy children who were taken in by a human, although the boy died of sorrow the girl slowly became human after eating human food.

Another tiny fairy was captured here, he called to his brother for help, but none came and he too pined away and died.

Corieltauvi Tribe in the Northern Fens includes stories such as;

A Moon Goddess which battles evil spirits on the fen but is captured, buried and must be rescued, after which she banishes away many of the evil spirits which makes the world safer for humanity.

The last deity which protects sailors in the East.

Isolated by vast moors and quick to accept Roman Rule, the Romans allowed them to continue to live as they always had. Interestingly enough they seem to have one of the closest relationships with the fairies in their stories I've ever heard, with the fairies commonly doing farm work, etc, for them. Here too there are also stories of fairy refugees fleeing to hide in their land.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2 More Witch Archetypes

The Lost

The world is filled with desperate people, but this was even more true in ancient times when women were forced to marry men who often didn't love them in distant villages where they were treated as outsiders by every human around them. Men too, could find themselves leaving home because there wasn't enough food in the village to feed them, then unable to find work they found themselves starving to death, looked down on by everyone around them.

In lore some of these people were lucky, they found a fairy who was willing to help, but not all fairies are helpful. Seeing an opportunity to pump up their ego, to take advantage of a lonely and desperate person many of the less kind fairies would attach themselves to the lost. They would give the lost magical secrets and aid in return for their complete emotional, physical, and often sexual subservience.

The fairies attached to The Lost were aggressive, controlling, and fickle. Acting like an abusive husband they would beat and torment the witch to get their way. The Lost couldn't leave even if they wanted to, for they were trapped in a supernatural relationship, however, they seem to have started to justify their relationship with the fairy, and become proud of it. The Lost had so little control over everything that they reveled in the magical powers they gained, but like children they often bragged about things they shouldn't have. They used their powers to threaten and blackmail the people around them, often trying to gain control over something. Thus many of these witches were found out because they would publicly yell at people that they would curse them to die, or because they would use their powers of divination to find out a powerful persons dark secrets.

Things would get progressively worse for The Lost, until at last the fairy bored of them and left. Grief stricken and relieved The Lost might swear that never again would they find themselves in such a situation, but there were are always more fairies looking to boost their ego through a relationship with a human. And in the end The Lost desires the feeling of power that comes from magic, even if it requires the abuse of something cruel.

Lucky Adventurous Tricksters

Examples: Hermes, "Jack and the Bean Stalk," hero in "Devil and the Three Golden Hairs," Hero in "The Drummer," and many, many more.

Perhaps the most common witch in fairy tales, the Luck Born are some of the most liminal of witches, for in fairy tales the pop in and out of the spirit realm with such ease, and gain spirit allies so readily that people hearing the story often don't even realize they are using magic.

Free loving and free wheeling they are quick to accept any task placed in front of them, and quick to befriend or trick any spirit at will. The hero of "The Drummer," for, pretends to be leading an army in order to force a giant into carrying him to the glass mountain (the other world).

Lucky Born are willing to work hard to accomplish their tasks, but at the same time, they are also willing to just lay down when a task is impossible and assume it will resolve itself, because for them it almost always does with the help of kind fairies. Fairies have always helped them, and always well, because the fairies like the kind free wheeling nature of the Luck Born.

Again going back to The Drummer, he's the only protagonist I know of who ever returned the shift of a fairy when he got a hold of it. Most stories of swan maidens, sky women, sealkie, etc, involve someone stealing these to gain power over the fairy. The Drummer, returned it immediately once he learned it belonged to someone. Then he risked his life to rescue the fairy whom it belonged to, despite knowing very little about her.

The one serious flaw with Luck Born is that since they think everything will always turn out, that the beans are magical, that if they just lay down some fairy will come along and do their work for them, etc. And they love to be helpful, they are quick to give advice, which won't work out very well for anyone else.