Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Forests in a Fantasy World / Part 1

From Satyrs to Pixies, the forests of our imagination are filled with strange creatures. These are perhaps the most magical of all realms, a place of fear and wonder.

Near at the end of the Paleolithic era forests began expanding across Europe, overtaking the boreal grassland, bringing starvation and desperation in their wake. For humanity had learned to live by hunting large plentiful game in the wide open plains, where mammoths, buffalo, and other herds could live. So well we often view ourselves as destroying forests, there was once a time when the expanding forests destroyed many human tribes. That's when farming began to push into Europe, began to push back against the expanding forests.

Writing Prompt - Most books have humans driving out elves and fairies, but once, it seems that it was the other way around. Tell the story of a human which is being taken over by the forests.
by Witold Pruszkowski


Dark Forests 

For the Tlingit, a Native American tribe of hunter-gatherers, forests were a dark place, the realm of the unclean dead. It was the ocean, the provider of food which they clung to.

Europe was oftentimes very much the same way.

The reason people in Medieval Europe believed that the devil lived in in the forest, and the devil in European lore often looks like the earlier forest spirits, is because there was something devilish about the nature of many forest spirits. Forest spirits loved to lead people astray, loved to torment people. In Eastern Europe the kings of the forest would at times kidnap people and torture them for days, even years at a time. While in Russia they might tickle a person to death. In Japan the Oni and Tengu would spirit people away to devour them.

As I point out in my upcoming book;

Many people will go out into the wild and never return and often no one will ever know what happened to them, they will just be gone. Leaving behind only whispers, rumors of what might have happened..... One Nenets tale for example begins; " At the fork of a river was a chum (teepee) where a woman lived with her two sons. One day the woman went to gather food and never returned. What had become of her no one knew, perhaps a bear and eaten her or she drowned in the river. The only trace of her was her two little sons alone in the chum."

Other tales tell of people coming across empty villages, not knowing what happened to the people who had lived in them, only knowing that the forest is now taking them over.

It makes sense then, that in any culture the forest would be regarded with a certain amount of fear, even when it was sacred.

The Roman ethnographer Tacitus says of one sacred grove;

Every man who enters it must do so bound with a fetter, as a mark of humility and an avowal of the power of the divinity. If he happens to fall down, he may not lift himself up and rise to his feet, but must roll himself out along the ground. This wood is the center of their whole superstition, being looked upon as the cradle of the race, and the god of it as the universal ruler to whom all other things are subject and obedient.


Forest Spirit - The Vörsa

The Vörsa, in Komi folklore, were the personification of the forest and so tobacco or fishcakes had to be left on a tree stump for him if a person sought to use his forest. Those who did not leave him an offering would meet with misfortune.

The Vörsa would most often appear as a bear, though their voice could be heard in the cry of the owls. They could also take the form of a bird in order to fly away from people in a great woosh, or when he was angry he could take the form of a whirlwind. On occasion they would appear as a tall man in a coat made of black wool. They lived in houses deep in the woods, and were typically accompanied by their dog.


Forest Spirit - Cakən (Mari-El)

When someone dies in the forest they can only go free when they kill another so they haunt the forest hoping to do this. They have cloaks which make them invisible and cause humans to get lost so that they may murder them.


Writing Prompt - Tell the story of a person who has become a Cakən

A Place of Freedom

Forests were also a place of freedom and food. The earliest Slavic people depended on the forest for nearly everything, even a large portion of their diet was gathered from it. What's more they used it to protect them from their armies rampaged across the steppes the early Slav villages were sheltered deep in the woods.

In Selkup lore, when a woman was abused by her husband, neglected by her village she might meet a Mul Qip. A satyr like being who would teach her to be a highly skilled hunter, who would teach her what she needed to survive on her own in the forest so that she could at last run away from her village. Japanese lore is also filled with people who flee into the wilderness in order to escape the harshness of their lives, who marry an often dangerous forest spirit.

Robin Hood, and many other peasants throughout European Lore also found freedom in the forest and in the service of the Fairy Queen who lived within it. The fairies often called on people throughout Europe to Rob from the Rich and Give to the poor. To rebel against the nobility... (read my article on this here)

In Japan the forest spirit
Tengu were at times believed to be
 the teachers of stealth, combat, and
 the magic which ninjas used.



Portals to other worlds

In mythology forests were portals to the spirit world. Even in the smallest bit of woodland a person could find themselves in the land of the dead, elfland, or some other strange place.

Indeed you could easily hide your entire kingdom of elves in a city park. You can read my short article on this here.


You can read about Europe's last pagans, one of the most interesting forest people here.

Check out more Writing Prompts Here


List of Fairy Creatures of the Forest

Aghoy (Philippines)
Appearing as beautiful humans they are forest dwellers. They come out of the forests at night to cause mild mischief such as moving things around or occasionally taking food. They are friendly, however, and will guide people to things which the person has lost. Further they will give humans plants with medical properties.

Albasta (Mari-El)
The spirit of the bathhouse, a shape changer it may appear as a man or as a women or as an animal, yet it travels in the form of a shooting star sending. They have a strong relation to the forest spirits living in the swamps and ravines and at times are said to be the same beings. They often attempt to have sexual relations with humans and their kiss is the cause of cold sores. Yet at the same time they punish sexual impurity in women and men by killing or sickening them. 
Its power is in the little finger of it's left hand which if broken causes it to loose all its magical power.

Anjana (Spain)
A female fairy creature which foils evil beings. They live in the forest and rest on sides of banks where they can speak with the water. They also often  help injured animals and plants.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anjana_(Cantabrian_mythology)

Bayan Ahaa or Bayan Hangai (Mongolia)
A spirit who rules over the forest, and so is the one hunters often pray to for success. Their figures are often carved into the sides of trees, or snowmen are build or from a stick with a human face carved onto it to represent them. People are careful not to throw things into the woods as this might insult the Bayan Ahaa and cause him to curse the person.

Ворса (Komi)
The bopca could appear as a giant (often nude) with shaggy ears though he could also appear as a whirlwind, however, he was a shapeshifter and would often take the form of a cat or other small animals.
They would often attack people or steal from them, unless the hunter made offerings to him (such as tobacco), in return for which the bopca might even tell the hunter where to find game. 
As a joke he would lure people into the woods, and cause them to get lost. Sometimes he would give people riddles which they had to solve to be able to return home. Other times he simply kidnapped them. Those taken by him aged rapidly, thus a child taken might return a few years later as an old man. 
The Bopca were at constant war with the vakula (water spirits), thus it was dangerous for people to come out at noon when these two powerful forces would fight each other.


Diwata (Philippines)
Beautiful and often benevolent nature spirits. Although there are numerous and varied accounts as to what they should look like, a general trend may be observed in that they are normally human in appearance—beautiful and seemingly ageless at that—save for some distinct characteristics. This may take the form of not having a philtrum or having continuously smooth and supple skin that somehow resemble fingernails, without any wrinkled parts in the elbows and knees. They also tend to be fairer than average, as pale skin has been associated with the supernatural even during pre-colonial times (for example, the "white lady" belief is prevalent in the East and Southeast Asian regions).
The Diwata can be called upon ritually for positive crop growth, health, and fortune. However, like most such fairy creatures the Diwata also caused illness or misfortune if not given proper respect. They are said to reside in large trees, such as acacia and balete and are the guardian spirits of nature, casting blessings or curses upon those who bring benefits or harm to the forests and mountains. 


Fata Pădurii (Romania)
'The forest girl,' A beautiful spirit of the forest which tries to lure men into the woods with her. If one refuses her advances she may at times tell them "Stay than, you do not know what you are missing." After this she often turns them into flowers. Though if a man accepts her offer, and doe
s not please her she may turn them into a tree. Other times she might actually attack and rape young men in the forest. 


Hulder (Norway)
A supernatural female being which live underground in the forests. They are young beautiful woman who act as sort of wood or forest nymphs. She can at times have lynx ears, or be hollow in the back like an old tree stump. 


Kapre (Philippines)
Appearing as a nearly eight foot tall hairy man who smokes a big ganja pipe and wears a belt which allows them to become invisable to humans. The Kapre can befriend people, though they often would play pranks on them, typically by causing travelers to loose their way in the mountains or forests. They could cause people to become confused even in familiar surroundings. Thus people affected by the Kapre might forget that they are in their own yard or fields. 
As nature spirits they can cause the trees to rustle, smoke to rise from a tree. They also cause abundant fireflies in forests (which come from the sparks of their pipe). Often those tricked by the kapre will hear laughter but see no source for it.






Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Eve Scary Short Films

There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago
It's the most wonderful time of the year


Traditionally Christmas Eve was a time for people to snuggle around fires, the smell of chestnuts roasting, of sweet cookies and other treats baking, while they told ghost stories about the long winters nights. Tales of Perchten the Belly Slitter, and Vampires in the form of owls, and many many different ghosts.

So start the fire, dim the lights, and discover some of the creepiest stories, sure to bring your family closer together this year, because you'll all be to scared to leave the fireside.

Of course given that it's the modern day, you might want to huddle around your gadget and watch some creepy videos as well, So in this post I'm including some creepy short videos, however, I still recommend a fire if you can pull it off, because research shows that the flickering of a dim fire actually does alter the way you think, which can make things much creepier.

































Also it might be fun to read these Two Sentience Horror Stories 

You can also check out my post on some of the darkest fairy tales, which you can play on to make your own creepy stories. http://fairies.zeluna.net/2014/10/scary-fairy-tales.html


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The concept artists behind "Star Wars - The Force Awakens"

Star Wars always has stunning art and "The Force Awakens is certain to as well. Interestingly it seems Disney has many of the artists from "Guardians of the Galaxy" working on this film, though there are a few others, such as Jake Lunt who is coming on as a Creature Designer.

Iain McCaig

Did art for Star Wars I - III, as well as "The Avengers" and "Guardians of the Galaxy"







Dan Walker

Has a really massive portfolio of work which includes "Guardians of the Galaxy," Doctor Who, "Captain America," "John Carter," "Thor" The Dark World."




David Hobbins

From "Guardians of the Galaxy" to "Mars Needs Moms" David Hobbins is a brilliant designer of mechanical objects.


According to svpow.com Hobbins is also the original designer for some interesting Star Wars spaceships based on dinosaur bones. So he's able to pull his art from some very unique and interesting sources.





Andree Wallin





Jake Lunt 






Matt Attallsopp




Keith Christensen
















Fantasy Writing Prompts - Shepherds in Fairy Land



You might not realize it but shepherds, cowherds, etc. are some of the most important characters in the original fantasy stories (myths and fairy tales). From the cyclops shepherds of Greece to the shepherd girls who worked for the fairies of France, shepherds existed at the border between the magical and human world. As such they were often liminal, magical people who knew a number of spells to help keep away evil spirits and bring luck. Some were just clever people who knew a few tricks, while others were out right witches who had alliances with the lords of the forest.


1-Someone is hired to be the shepherd/cowherd for the fairies. In some fairy tales this happened because a girl was poor and the fairies were trying to help out, other times it happened because the fairies genuinely needed help watching and cleaning up after their sheep (they hated doing these sorts of jobs). As a general rule the fairies over paid for this service, often making their herds people extremely wealthy.

Of course guarding the sheep of fairies could also mean that the shepherd has to keep these animals safe from greedy kings who want to steal the magical herd, ogres, other fairies, and more.


2-The problem of keeping sheep safe from enemies and monsters in a magical world is a common one which shepherds in a fantasy world would have to deal with. During a time when so many people died of starvation those who protected people's food were the true heroes.

Tell the story of a shepherd who is called in to keep a herd safe from witches which steal the milk, werewolves, giants, dragons, etc.

(Note: In Russia a shepherd/cowherd would get paid by the whole village to watch their animals, and would take turns staying with each villager for a certain amount of time so they would get to know everyone)


3-Watch the children
In many places children were responsible for watching the sheep and cows. So instead of a cowherd or shepherd a hero could watch the children who watch the animals. Keeping them safe from boogiemen and hags.


4-Shepherds and cowherds would often bring the animals on journeys into dangerous wilderness areas. Either to deliver them to a buyer or to allow them to graze on large, fresh pastures. Tell the story of some herdsmen bringing the animals through a wilderness in a fantasy world.

5-Because they knew so many wilderness paths, cowherds would sometimes become ninjas in Japanese lore, using their job as an excuse to spy and their knowledge to aid their allies.


6-Because they had to fend off bandits and wild animals herdsmen occupy a mythical place as warriors in many cultures. Cowboys, David slaying Goliath, etc.

Tell the story of a peasant rebellion lead by shepherds.


Read all my Fantasy Writing Prompts here...






Monday, November 24, 2014

Festivals and Holidays for Fantasy Writers



We often forget in the modern era is that most festivals of the past were built around the idea of spirits and deities being present. Halloween, Easter, and Christmas were times when spirits both good and bad were unleashed upon the world.

Given this there are two important aspects to many holidays in a fantasy world;

1-Holidays and festivals are built around the desires of spirits, fairies, and deities. What people do during them depends on the personality of these beings. What's more the spirits want humans to celebrate and have fun on these holidays. Indeed, they'll punish those who work on them, who don't eat, drink and make merry as it were. They also punish those who force their workers to work these holidays.

2-Historically many holidays were both a celebration and a way to deal with the fact that so many potentially dangerous creatures were roaming the land. So they were a happy and scary time. People would leave offerings for the spirits to keep them calm, would travel in masks either to pacify them or scare them away, or sometimes would avoid going out all together.

Tschäggättä Festival in Switzerland, a sort of reverse haunted house
in which the monsters visit you. 

Types of Celebration

Although there are many different aspects to holidays I'm outlining some of the most common;

Dead come home or roam the world.

There was a typical belief that the spirits of the dead would return to the land of the living, often on multiple holidays of the year. During this time they would be provided with many of the comforts any living traveler would be given, such as warm beds, food, drink, etc.

These spirits of the dead could bring blessings to their loved ones, but they could also be dangerous, especially if not provided for. Many of them would also take part in "wild hunts." Lead by deities they would roam the countryside, hunting either for human victims or souls of evil spirits, depending on whether they were good or bad.

In some places there were very specific notions about these spirits, such as that the female fairies didn't want to be seen by men, so on certain holidays men would all stay in doors. In other places clean water was left out so that they could wash their children, or food was left on roof tops so that they could there, rather then coming into the house.



Feast

Feasts are an important part of fairy lore, as it was often believed that the spirits would share in feasts with the celebrating people. Often portions of sacrificed animals would be put out for the spirits to feast on, or placed into fires so that fire spirits could carry these away. Oatmeal, vodka, or other items might also be poured into the water for the spirits within.

What's important to understand, however, is that in most of these cases it was believed that the spirits wanted to take part in the feasts of humans, wanted to be a part of the community, even if they were invisible or hidden in some way. Though there are tales of them taking a much more direct part in such feasts, in which people actually saw and spoke with them at the tables where they ate.


Topsy Turvy

The spirit world is a topsy turvy place, and the celebrations and holidays are often meant to be an equally topsy tuvey time, when serfs and slaves could tell their masters anything without repercussions. When many of the rules of morality went out the window. When men dressed as women and women as men. Twisting social conventions is an important part of many holidays. Often this was because it was believed that the world of the dead was the mirror opposite of the human world. In Rome the topsy turvy celebration was to remember a better time, before Jupiter had taken over, while in other places it was to honor freedom loving spirits.

In the province of South Tyrol, Northern Italy, there remains a chaotic, 
topsy turvey festival, filled with remnants of gender bending shamanism, 
I have a short discussion of this festival here.


Performances

Dances, plays, parades, and other performances were put on in honor of the visiting spirits and gods. In one Japanese festival a play was put on to honor Susanoo's battle to save their village from fire breathing dragons. In Greece plays and the Olympics were also ways of honoring the gods.

In some places people would dance with a scarecrow like figure, or bundles of sticks which they believed the spirit had possessed.


Trick-or-Treating

Mummering, or as we now call it "Trick Or Treating" was a part of many holidays, in many different places, though it's purpose could vary from place to place. Some times it was very much like caroling, in which the mummers would put on performances, singing, dancing, even plays would be done for the people of the home, and presumably at one time even the spirits who were visiting.

Other times the mummers would seek to scare away the spirits, for example, in Mari-El the men would go about dressed in animal costumes beating walls, fences, steps and womens clothing with switches in order to chase away evil spirits. While still other times the mummers would placate the spirits by dressing to honor them. The Mummers might also have been taking advantage of the fact that spirits demanded generosity, by begging from door to door.



Gift Giving/Luck Bringing

There were historically many gift givers and luck bringers, from animal spirits, to fairies who left money in shoes, to beings who promised to make a home wealthy and prosperous during the year., or house spirits who would give gifts to the children. The exact nature of these gift givers was highly variable from place to place and holiday. So have fun with the idea of gift givers. Think of many beautiful, or odd creatures that could bring gifts and luck to people during the holidays. 


Divination

Celebrations often involved numerous forms of divinations. Coins might be placed in the bottom of food, with those getting them being promised the best year. Around Christmas Russia girls would stand with their backs facing the bath house and their dresses pulled up over their heads. The spirit of the bathhouse would then either pinch or pat their bottoms, which would let them know if they would have good or bad luck through the next year. Others would dance in front of mirrors on Christmas in order to see the face of their future husbands, or bury something at the crossroads. Indeed there are so many ways of gaining divination from active spirits during the holidays that it would be impossible to fit all of them into a book.  


More Holidays then the modern era

There were no Saturdays off, or vacation days. Instead people often made up for this by having a dizzying array of holidays and ceremonies, some of which lasted for some time. The Twelve Days of Christmas, for example, was a real thing.



Examples of Celebrations

Kueca - Mari-El

A spring holiday which involves multiple days of celebration.

The first day involves preparing food and brewing beer as offerings to the spirits of the dead. Then people go to the bathhouses to bathe. When they are finished they leave food and everything the spirits need to bathe in the bathhouse so that they may bathe the next day.

The next day when the dead come out to the land of the living in order to bathe people may see them by sitting on the roof with their clothes inside out. On this day no one is allowed to work with their hands. They kick fodder for the animals with their feet, they don't light the oven, they don't even comb their hair. One of the few things they can do with their hands is place a spoon in the window for each family member, should one of these spoons fall, the person it represents will die within a year.

The food which was prepared beforehand is placed out in the home for the dead to share in with the family. The offerings for the dead and the deities which rule over them consist of; pancakes, bread, pies, eggs, etc. Just before the feast begins the people say prayers to their visiting 'guests,' aka, the spirits of the dead.

The next day a Juniper tree is brought into the home and lit on fire. The people then jump over this flame while asking the spirit of the fire (fire mother) to cleanse them of evil. More food is eaten in another feast of rooster, fish soup, bread, colored eggs. before which more prayers are said to the dead. Once more the spirits might take part in this.

Then the next day people go to the bath houses and bath with the spirits of the dead, while placing candles out for the lords of the underworld.

Finally on the last day they celebrate as a village, and the priests go from bath house to bath house saying prayers and throwing beer in the hearths.


Christmas - Austrian Alpine Villages

At Christmas time a goddess named Perchta, either appearing as a lady in white or a horrifying hag with an iron nose (two forms depending on her mood and purpose) would come, leading an army of the spirits of dead children (and in some places living children whose souls had left their bodies in their dreams). People would leave them food, and her gifts that were white (salt, eggs, flour, etc.).

People would also be expected to clean their homes and finish their spinning before Christmas, for Perchta would punish disorder and laziness, sometimes with an insane degree of ferocity, as one of her nicknames was "The Belly Slitter."

Though she was also generous to those who had been good. For girls who completed their tasks would get silver pennies, and villages would get blessings. In addition, children might get rewards for clean homes.

Equally important was her demand that people feast on Christmas, that they have fun, for those who did not could be subject to punishment as well. Servants, master, no matter their place in society they all feasted together in her honor.

Before Christmas day, young men of the village would dress up as both the beautiful and hideous. They would rush about the versions of her. They would rush about the village shouting for joy, ringing bells, and cracking whips, as a way of honoring her and celebrating the festival.

Perchta was also believed at times to hunt down evil spirits, with the spirits of the children in the form of dogs, goats, or fairy like beings they would search out evil vampire like beings, as well as other dark influences in the village.



Kusa - Mari-El (Summer Festival)

A sacrifice to the important deities in a sacred grove, this begins when the priests from multiple villages will at times meat to discus which gods should receive sacrifices for this ceremony, and which animals should be sacrificed to them, and which priest should do what for the ceremony. Money is then collected form the households to buy the animals for the sacrifices.

Animals are then chosen and cloth is tied around their neck, and the priest prays that the animal be acceptable to the deity it is meant for.

The priests assistants bake bread, pure maidens prepare mead, and evil spirits are exorsized from the village.

The morning of the ceremony the priests go into the grove, as the whole ceremony takes a week they will sleep in this grove, in a small hut built for them. Fires are kept burning the entire time.

A log is palced up by the sacrifice tree, with a candle wedged in a crack in the top. Fresh linden twigs are spread out and a white cloth is placed over these. Then the loaves of bread, along with bowls of mead are placed on these. Usually eight small loaves and one large one, though the number can vary. These are for the spirits that are in the grove.

The other villagers bathe outside the sacred grove in a brook, or in water warmed in pots near the grove. They also wash white clothes and drink tea while waiting for these to dry. When they are ready they change into them and enter the grove.

The sacrificial animal is tied to a long pole about ten feet from the fire. The priest holds an ax over a bowl of water and prays to the deity. An assistant pours molten pewter onto the ax plade which runs intot he bowl of water, and the priest observes how it solidifies to see if the diety is pleased with thanimal.

The priest appraoches the animal with a fire brand, and the assistant follows strking an knife against the ax three times.

The priest then touches the animal with the firebrand on the head, neck, and back.The priest takes the knife, goes to the tree and prays once more to the deiiy to accept the sacrifice.

He then circles the fire clockwise goes to the animal and prays again to the deity, all those present kneel and watch the animal. Water is poured over the animal until it shudders. When it at last does people rise to their feet thanking the deity. The feet of the animal are bound and it is laid on its side, head towards the tree, The animals throat is slit and the priest catches a few drops of the blood on a wooden spoon which is taken to the fire. Spoonfull after spoonful of the blood is taken to the fire. The animal is dressed out. Some of the animal is cooked for the diety and some for the people. While people wayt for the three or four hours for the feast they go outside the grove (except the priests who stay to do the work).

The people are called back into the grove, and they give offerings to pay for the ceremony (poor give less, rich more).

The priest then prays for blessings. He then speaks to the people, asking them to live good lives. Meat is thrown into the fire for the deity and everyone sits in a ciricle. First they eat porridge and mead, then the meat is distributed to them.

The priests will then stay behind to make further sacrifices over the course of the next few days under different trees for different deities.






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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hobbit - Concept Artists


Art by John Howe





Alan Lee



Art by Andrew Baker







Neck Keller's Art











Art by Eduardo Pena





Additional Concept Artists with awe inspiring sites.

Wayne Barlowe


Brendan Heffernan 





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Awesome Fantasy Art in the Public Domain

Art by Peter Nicolai Arbo






Sophie Gengembre Anderson






Lawrence Alma-Tadema







Arnold Böcklin









Adolphe William Bouguereau





Edward Burne Jones





Jean Baptiste Camille Corot




José Jiménez Aranda




Jules Elie Delaunay



Gustave Dore
















Frank Dicksee