Friday, December 20, 2013

Reindeer Tales of Shamanism and the Spirit World

Want to write a Christmas story about magical reindeer? Here are a few strange, important points to keep in mind about the "Little Reindeer" of the northern spirit world.

1-Reindeer and their kin are sacred, metaphysical animals in lore. In some tales they and their relations are the sun, fleeing from a hunter. In Sami lore this magical flying reindeer had glowing antlers, and should he ever be caught by the hunter the end of the world would begin as chaos followed (possibly darkness as the light of the sun went out). This sun reindeer is often depicted as white with massive horns of gold.

2-Shamans among these northern people would send their souls out in the form of reindeer to battle each other and the evil spirits which dwelt in the darkness, for reindeer are about 400 lbs of mussel and with the power of the shamans soul involved they could be much, much greater. Though the shaman wasn't safe in these battles for if their soul was injured in the form of a reindeer so too would the shaman be, if it died, so would the shaman.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

8 strange things you didn't know about Santa, Christmas, and Winter Fairies

Father winter by alexson1
Ravens Shires guide to Christmas. Chirstmas is a liminal Holiday, a time which like the fairies themselves exists betwixt and between. For it is a time of both death and rebirth, of transformation, when society is symbolically destroyed in war and reunited in peace. A celebration of the gods and times that came before, the original Winter Solstice Celebrations are likely more beautiful and strange than you likely ever imagined. As always my hope with this list is to give you inspiration from lore to create unique and engaging stories;

1-Christmas was originally very much like Halloween, as it was a time when the spirits of the dead and the fairies could visit, haunt, and hunt humanity. Among some people's this was mostly positive, ancestral spirits would come and visit and feast with them. Though not all dead spirits were good, nor were all fairies. For example, Russian vampires which came from the spirits of still born children known as Drekavac would be especially active at Christmas time, flying about the countryside in the form of birds looking for victims to drain the blood from. Thus people would often prepare for Christmas by hanging herbs, signs and other things that would drive away evil spirits. Similarly Draugr, undead corpses, were more active in Germanic and Scandinavian countries during Christmas as well. These undead beings were very much like witches, and may have been the spirits of those who had learned such magic in life or in death. They may also initially have been the nightmares of the dead (souls could leave the body during dreams, so the souls of the dead could also leave when they dreamed).

Friday, December 13, 2013

What are Dragons? Creating a Definition for Dragons



What is a dragon? 

Art by Anne Stokes
http://www.annestokes.com/dragons/
It might seem like a silly question, we all know what dragons are. Yet as I find myself preparing to write a series of articles on dragons I realize that there isn't a good definition for what they are.

Google Searches definition is "A mythical monster like a giant reptile. In European tradition the dragon is typically fire-breathing and tends to symbolize chaos or evil, whereas in East Asia it is usually a beneficent symbol of fertility, associated with water and the heavens"

This of course gives us what people most commonly think of as dragons, which are two very different types of beings. That is; 'European symbols of greed which breath fire,' and "Asian serpent deities of water and sky.' Such designations are problematic because they cause us to miss many other important types of dragons and aspects of folklore. For example, one of the oldest local Kagura (sacred dances) we know about, Susanoo, the kami of wind and the underworld is depicted as battling two fire breathing 'dragons.' While in Europe there were many dragons which were clearly water spirits, growing in wells, that didn't have the ability to breath fire. One of the most famous stories of a dragon kidnapping a princess involves such a 'dragon.' In other words both Asia and Europe had multiple things we would consider dragons.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A short about zombies and the love of a father



Yeah, I know nothing to do with fairies, but seriously awesome anyways. This is the story about a father who knows he's turning into a zombie and has to figure out how to get his infant daughter to safety before this happens.

Stories are about emotions, and building characters and this one has both in spades.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Bigfoot, Satyr and Forest Spirit Legends for Writers - Part 1

Once upon a time when a Selkup women of Northern Siberia faced severe abuse at the hands of her husband there was often no one to whom she could turn, for she was an outsider in his village. She had married into his clan from another, one which may even have been an enemy previously or on whom the clan may just have declared war. As an outsider she had few rights. So when she went to weep she had to do it alone in little glades within the Taiga, away from the her mother in law and the village that didn't care about her. Here on the wet bed of moss under the shade of the trees she must have longed for someone who could come and take her away, and or who could teach her to survive on her own. For women were forbidden from learning how to hunt, how to use bows, or do anything which would give them the ability to survive on their own.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Celtic Vampires and Irish Vampires

Dark overlord by XiaoBotong
"Dracula" may be a fantasy story about a vampire from Transylvania but it's written by a man from Ireland, a man who no doubt grew up with tales of Celtic vampires to inspire his nightmares, dreams, and stories. For the Celtic lands are filled with stories about the bloodthirsty dead and cruel fairies.

In one Irish story a young girl named Kate heads to the graveyard to prove her courage by retrieving a blackthorn walking stick from it;

When she had her hand on the blackthorn a voice called from the tomb:
"Leave the stick where it is and open this tomb for me."
Kate began to tremble and was greatly in dread, but something was forcing her to open the tomb--she couldn't help herself.
"Take the lid off now," said the dead man when Kate had the door open and was inside in the tomb, "and take me out of this--take me on your back."
Afraid to refuse, she took the lid from the coffin, raised the dead man on her back, and walked on in the way he directed. She walked about the distance of a mile. The load, being very heavy, was near breaking her back and killing her. She walked half a mile farther and came to a village; the houses were at the side of the road.
"Take me to the first house," said the dead man.
She took him.
"Oh, we cannot go in here," said he, when they came near. "The people have clean water inside, and they have holy water, too. Take me to the next house."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Maleficent and the Fairies of Sleeping Beauty

I'm crazy excited about the upcoming film "Maleficent"



One of the things that excites me so much about this is that it's Robert Stromberg's directorial debut; The concept artist for "Hunger Games," and the Matt Painter for films like "The Golden Compass," and "Pan's Labyrinth," as well as many, many others.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cinderella was a Witch and friend to the Fairies

The moral of the French version of "Cinderella" seems to be 'have rich friends.' And indeed this story was written for the wealthy of the French court, only loosely based on fairy tales. Which is perhaps why I've always found this story to be a little boring as the heroine in it doesn't do anything, a fairy godmother just shows up and all her troubles are solved.

This isn't, however, the version collected by the Brothers Grimm.

Most people who study this version obsess over the punishment of the sisters and wicked Stepmother, what fascinates me is that Cinderella is very clearly a witch in this tale.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A fantasy Writers Guide to Fairies, witches and vampires.

My book on fairies, witches, and vampires is now up on Kickstarter, please check it out.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/768022427/strange-dreams?ref=live

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Baba Yaga - Queen of Darkness

Baba Yaga by Wiggers123

There is a point in folktales where the forest changes into the other world of spirits, a point where one steps from the world of the living into the land of the dead. It is at this point, between life and death, that Baba Yaga dwells.

For Baba Yaga can at times be considered a Queen of the Land of the Dead, the guardian to the gates of the dead. As such it's her job keep the dead from returning to the world and to protect the living from the dead. Although seemingly similar jobs these two things are emotional opposites. For on the one hand she will snatch away someone to devour, yet at the same time she'll help someone rescue a lost love from other monsters that dwell in the spirit world.

What we see than is that Baba Yaga is both the one who kills unworthy humans trying to pass into the world of the dead, and at the same time she's the one who helps worthy heroes enter the land of the dead to save a lost love.

Those who go to her, such as Vasilisa the Beautiful must pass certain tests, accomplish certain tasks (most often with the help of the shamanistic familiar spirits) in order to escape the land of the dead. Should they fail in their task Baba Yaga will devour them.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Elves - Lords of Nightmares

Cute prancey dancey little wisps of beings, or funny nosed cartoon characters, or wise and beautifully stoic
Druid by Damascus 5
lords...

Elves have been portrayed in many ways by popular culture, but they have almost never been portrayed the way they are portrayed in fairy tales.

In "Childe Rowland." The Elf King calls out the famous lines Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Man, at which point he threatens to make the mans brains into a delicious pudding. (Yum.....?)

This is of course after the elf king kidnapped a beautiful mortal girl in order to force her to be his slave in fairyland.

In the ballad of "Lady Isabel" an elf knight plays the part of a serial killer, seducing woman away with him, than after making them undress he drowns them.

Elves stalked the night much as vampires.

In Germany Elf's (known as Alp's) were the cause of nightmares, for they enjoyed attacking people in their sleep in order to terrify them. In addition to enjoying the flavor of fear in their victims these elves had a taste for blood which they would drink from the nipples of children and men. But their favored food was milk which they would drain from cows and the breasts of woman. (Which is actually much like the vampire monsters of Eastern Europe which would drain milk from cows as well).

Friday, August 2, 2013

Strange Things About Witches You Probably Didn't Know

1-The term witch or cunning originally meant something akin to "Those who work with spirits (fairies)." So
Witches and shamans are different words
for essentially the same thing.
Picture is Female Witch Doctor by Arsenal 21
most of the witches spells were actually rituals to help them communicate with the spirit world. Many times they had no real magic themselves, rather their primary job was to act as mediators between the human and the fairy realms. (Or to help wicked spirits cause trouble in the world).

Witches and Cunning were very much like shamans. That is they got their power by entering the fairy realm or by asking for help from fairies, not from themselves.

2-Witches and Cunning worked for the familiar spirits (fairies), not the other way around. Though often the relationship between a witch and familiar became fairly symbiotic.

While some familiars took the form of animals many of these familiar spirits were spirits of the dead, One witch from Italy's familiar spirit was her dead father.

The Familiar Spirit themselves often had a master 
who was the devil or a fairy queen.

3-Almost no one ever chose to be a witch or cunning, rather the fairies or evil spirits chose them. In fact many people tried to resist becoming a witch or a cunning. But the familiar spirits would come to them and force them into the relationship, sometimes even possessing them, causing them to into a wild hysteria until they agreed to do what the spirits wanted.

A woman named Elizabeth Chandler even prayed to god to help her be rid of her two familiar spirits, but they kept appearing to her anyways. In the English Fairy tale "Yarrley Brown" a young man gets stuck with a familiar spirit who helps him while invisible, which freaks out everyone around him so that soon the young man is alone and friendless. When he at last tries to get rid of "Yarrley Brown" the familiar fairy replies;

"but I never said that I'd leave thee alone, Tom, and I never will, my lad! I was nice and safe under the stone, Tom, and could do no harm; but thou let me out thyself, and thou can't put me back again!"

Many fairies and spirits wanted to have a relationship with humanity, 
to be able to influence the world. Witches and Cunning 
Were their method of building this relationship.


Witch Fall by Anotherwanderer
4-Despite these potential problems most witches were close friends with their familiar spirits. At times a witch and a fairy could even become lovers. For example one young girl in Scotland was given the secret to magically divining the truth of things in return for becoming the lover of a fairy man.

5-To do their job witches often sent one of their souls out of their bodies to travel the human world or the spirit world. They would often do this through; extreme cold, fasting, sleep deprivation, and various forms of meditation.  While on their 'spirit journey' the witches body goes comatose and appears near death or to actually be dead.

During this time the witches soul is free to wonder the human and spirit worlds. Often times this Journey was undertaken to;

Gain magical knowledge
Familiar spirits would often guide their witches to ceremonies where they would meet a Fairy Queen, the Devil, other witches and other magical beings in order to increase their magical knowledge.

To fight illness and blight
Many witches throughout Europe would battle evil spirits in the spirit world. In the Baltic lands some people would fight evil spirits that wanted to blight their fields in the form of wolves.

To gain mystical enlightenment and philosophical understanding
Christian Saints would often leave their souls to have conversations with angels and see the afterlife (think "Dante's Inferno." Knowledge of various other philosophies besides the Christian one were also gained by those who went on spirit journey's, however, Christian Journey's were by far the most common.

To gather information on this world or cause mischief
Witches might also leave their bodies in order to find thieves or become thieves. Their soul could go about in the form of an animal (such as a cat) in order to cause mischief and attack people in the night.


5-One of the most important tasks of a cunning was to retrieve stolen or lost goods. This was a dangerous job, however, because if a witch accused someone who was found innocent of a theft than the witch could be liable for falsely accusing the person and punished accordingly

6-Good people might inherit evil spirits, and thus be forced by these spirits to become an evil witch. At the same time of course this means that a greedy person might inherit good spirits and so be forced to become a good cunning.

7-Evil Witches were most often motivated by revenge, by a malicious hatred of humanity (often times they especially hated men and or beautiful women).

8-Witches were often revolutionary figures. One man was told by the spirits to rob from the rich to give to the poor and he gathered thousands of followers to help him do this. Of course the rich didn't like this and he was soon killed.

9-It was dangerous to talk about ones relationship with fairies and familiar spirits. In a Welsh Folk Tale (Kaddy's Luck) one girl told her husband how the fairies had aided her when she young her baby was stolen away. This is one reason we have so little information on witches, because they were always reluctant to tell anyone about their relationship with the fairy world.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Russian Vampire Lore


In the lore of ancient Russia the souls of all people, not just vampires are trapped in their graves, going mad with the weight of the earth on them and the cold of the winter.

There is a Russian Folk Funeral Song which laments that; “Dark and joyless is our prison-house,"

When folklorists would ask about this, or where the souls of the dead lived people answer;


How long would it take for you to be trapped in the freezing
cold earth before you went insane and would do
anything to escape?
Vampire Painting by Vyle-Art
"Stone and earth lie heavy on our hearts, our eyes are fast closed, our hands and feet are frozen by the cold." 

"Especially during the winters do the dead suffer; when the spring returns the peasants say, "Our fathers enjoy repose," and in Little-Russia they add, "God grant that the earth may lie light on you.” (Ralston, 1872)

The soul in Russian folk belief is complex and difficult to understand as there was likely to some extent the belief that there was more than one soul, and that the soul was clearly separate from the body. Consider for example the following; a man "said to his wife the night before his death:

 "What a beautiful bird I heard singing by my bedside to-night." "I well believe it," she replied. To which he answered: "It was my ghost; I cannot live long.”

What we see than is that a person's soul could leave their body just before they died, although presumably the
There were some vampires that took the form
of birds, especially owls.
Picture by Emily Fiegenschuh
bird form of this soul indicates that the soul the man saw in the above tale is the soul which flies off to heaven. (Though this is debatable given other fairy tales in which souls in the form of a bird remain on earth). What's important, however, is that everyone has a soul which stays in the ground and which may potentially come up to haunt mankind.

In "The Dead Mother" a mother comes back from her grave to suckle her baby and eventually drains  away it's life. She than takes the baby's body and it's soul to stay with her in her grave.

It's sorcerers who are truly terrifying, for they have an astounding array of powers and abilities. Indeed Russian peasants often drew very little if any distinction between living and dead sorcerers, for both wrecked havoc upon them in a similar fashion.

Vampires than can be living sorcerers, astral projections of the dead which take solid form to attack people (which is why the  vampire doesn't have to dig their way out of their grave), or they can be risen corpses. The challenge to understanding vampires and any similar idea is that folk beliefs are not usually clear and often confusing as many different people had various ideas about the same thing.

Vampires Rarely Worked Together
In the "The Two Corpses" a poor soldier is walking home on leave when a corpse begins to chase after him, he of course flees as fast as he can and eventually the corpse chases the soldier into a church where another corpse is waiting for the soldier. Rather than eat the soldier, however, the two corpses, being territorial, begin to fight with each other over who the soldier belongs to. Luckily for the soldier they argue for so long that the cock crows in the morning and the two vampires collapse unable to move in the daytime.


Vampires Often Relish Cruelty In all its Forms
It's true that there were elegant vampires
but many were described simply as corpses
Picture by Chris Anyma
Vampires didn't just attack people, they went after people's food source as well, that is they would drain cows of their milk, for without this milk a peasant family could easily starve to death. Vampires would also blight crops to leave a family starving.

In general vampires are fairly vindictive and very cruel creatures, so starving peasants and blighting crops are just two of the many wicked things they love to do beyond simply drinking blood. We can see their cruelty and vindictiveness in “The Fiend” in which a girl falls in love with a charming and suave man (who is really a vampire like creature in disguise). Eventually the man proposes to her and she is of course ecstatic to be marrying the charming man, however, she grows curious about where he lives because she wants to know where she'll live when they are married. So one day she follows the vampire home and discovers that he lives in a graveyard where he eats corpses. Terrified she runs off hoping that he didn't see her, but of course he did and he is furious that she followed in. In revenge he begins to attack and kill her family in order to get her to confess that she followed him, but she continually refuses to say anything and so her family is killed off one by one.

This story provides a dark depiction of a vampire courtship in which the vampire is not attacking the girl he sought to marry directly but is killing off the ones she loves. As her loved one's die around her  the girl finally seeks advice from her grandmother, who tells her that she can die and come back to life on the condition that she can never enter a church again. In this way the girl is able to hide from the vampire who presumes that she is actually dead. Of course, this sort of trickery never works for long in fairy tales and eventually the girl must confront the vampire more directly.

Vampires are Nearly Impossible to Kill
Defeating vampires in Russia usually isn't very easy to do as shown by the story of “The Sorcerer and the Soldier.” In this story a poor soldier is returning home when he encounters a man who convinces him that there will be some good food at a wedding. Hungry the soldier goes with the man to the wedding where he discovers that the man is in truth a vampire figure who kills the wedding guests. In order to prevent the vampire from killing again the soldier hunts him down and battles him until at last day comes and the vampire can't move. At this point the soldier burns the vampire but rats, worms, and other creepy crawlies begin to form from the vampires ashes. Should just one of these things have escaped it could have reformed into the vampire, so in order to slay the vampire the soldier had to capture each of these things and throw them back into the fire.

Other sorcerer type vampires would seek to kill a family member when they died so that they could come back to life. Thus even when a vampire died they usually had a chance to come back to life.



Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hansel and Gretel - In the Spirit World

When I was still a teeny tiny little critter a rain storm swept over the tundra where I lived in a village of only 300 people with no roads in or out. I ran into my friends house to escape the rain and soon we were were listening to his mother tell us the tale of two friends who went into the long grass near the river, there they smelled something delicious cooking. Lured by the smell they soon met an old lady… who as you can guess turned out to be a witch. Although in this version of the story one of the two friends dies the other manages to escape across a river with the help of a crane.
Like these two children Hansel and Gretel were also lured by food to into a witches trap and at the end of their story they needed to ride on the back of a bird to escape as well.
Sure we can easily just chalk these stories to the need for cautionary tales, and indeed the Yupik people I grew up with loved to scare their children into avoiding doing dangerous things. (Given how dangerous the tundra was if we hadn’t been at least a little afraid of it none of us would have survived). But I think that there’s a lot more to these stories than that.

A Spirit Journey through the land of the dead
When they are returning home Hansel and Gretel run into a river that they didn't have to cross to get to the witches house, but which they must cross to return. In order to get across this new river they must ride on a duck over some water to get out of the woods. It was common for the shamans, the witches and the cunning to need to ride on ducks, swans or geese to get into and out of the spirit world, especially the land of the dead. Just as it was common for them to be led in the spirit world by a spirit guide in the form of a white bird, just as Hansel and Gretel were lead through the to the the witches house. Forests themselves were often considered such spirit worlds, or used to represent them in old stories.

It seems extremely unlikely that it is simply coincidence that figures so similar to spirit guides in the land of the dead are present in this story about two children who are starving and on the cusp of death. Indeed it’s quite possible that the white bird and the duck represent the fact that Hansel and Gretel are dead, that like so many shamans before them they must enter the realm of the dead, and find their way back in order to get their powers. It's also possible, however, that only Hansel is dead, he is the one the witch captures and to get him back his sister must follow him into the land of the dead and free him from the witch. ,

Keep in mind, however, that almost no shaman, no person really enters the spirit world only once, rather they tend to go back into the spirit world over and over again, and Hansel and Gretel may go back into the spirit world to save the souls of other children who are on the cusp of death, may journey back to fight the evil spirits which are causing the famine, to negotiate with the rain spirits, etc.

Ghost of their Mother
In addition to the shamanistic elements it’s also interesting to note that when Hansel and Gretel return home their mother is already dead, given that she was starving it seems likely that she'd starved to death. 

Two aspects of this are important; first birds often represented the spirits of the dead, so it's possible that the bird which lead Hansel and Gretel into the land of the dead was their mother. For example the spirit of a murdered boy in "The Juniper Tree" returns in the form of a bird to kill his murderer. When a man heard a supernaturally beautiful birds song he realized that his soul had left his body and he would die soon.

 It's also possible, however, that the mother was present in the witch as the spirits of the dead which returned would at times be most likely to attack their families, this was especially true of vampires.


Story ideas
A mother becomes a spirit of the dead and lures their children into the land of the dead in order to try to devour them…

A girls brother dies and she must enter the realm of the dead to free him from the evil beings which now hold him in their clutches

Two children die, but manage to escape the land of the dead and so can now enter the land of the dead to free others.

Read the Fairy Tales

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Writing Fairy Characters

The world of fairy is filled with some of the most provocative stories and interesting characters.

Fairies are not as they were depicted in the
Victorian Era. Rather they are deeply emotional
beings which control the fate of everyone.
The problem is that during the Victorian Era fairy stories began to focus on fairies as nothing more than whimsy. Now they are only depicted as nature spirits or as guardians of childhood. Yes at times they controlled nature. Certainly some of them had a special connection with children. There is, however, so much more to them than these things.

Fairies like all characters need emotional 
and psychological depth.

There is so much more to fairies than most people give them credit for. More than just nature spirits, fairies have palaces, shepherds, and more. In lore fairies taught humans how to build civilization, and were often the guardians of houses and cities.

It's through understanding people's beliefs about fairies backgrounds that we can begin to understand their motivations and emotions.


Understanding the Fairy Type

Nearly every fairy in fairy tales has similar fairies which are featured in other stories and other bits of lore. This means that you can begin to put together a series of character traits, and even a possible history for the fairy based on not just the events of one story, but of multiple stories and bits of lore.

For example the 'Dwarfs' in "Snow White" were called zwerg in the Grimm Brothers version of the story. Zwerg are magical shape changers, who tend to be very social, living in large underground cities, but some few of them choose to live in the woods. These few are different from the  others, in that they have a tendency to either want to help humans too much, or they hate them with a burning passion.

As another example the Banshee is an ancestral spirit who became a fairy but was so obsessed with helping their family that they constantly leave fairy land in order to guide their decedents. They are filled with such an all consuming devotion to those they love that their eyes are constantly red from crying over their hardships.

Finally Rumpelstiltskin was likely a lot like Merlin. He stated he cared about life more than anything else, and he didn't want just any baby he wanted a prince who would become king. So just as Merlin took King Aurthur from his mother Rumpelstiltskin sought to take a prince from a greedy selfish king.

Of course it's easier to understand the fairies type in depth if you can read the language their stories are actually written in. But there should be enough information on many of the beings in English to put together an interesting guide to any given fairy. However, I've found that when I need a translator I can usually hire one for fairly cheap to do a little research.


Create a Background

All fairies have a background, one which sometimes spans millions of years given their immortal lives.

You can figure out many pieces of a character background from what they are.

For example many nymphs taught humans how to weave, and helped them found cities which they than became the guardians of. So the background of many of these nymphs depends on the cities they protect. Imagine them trying desperately to help cities occupied by the Ottoman Empire, the Nazis, and more. Yet since they are forgotten there is very little they can do to help.

As another example the Tylwyth Teg of Wales were at times said to be a previous people who had been driven into the fairy realm by human invaders. This would many that many of the older Tylwyth Teg would resent humanity, though would also fear them. Not all Tweleth Teg are ancient, however, for they do have children. So imagine how children, raised to fear humans must feel. Especially when they first see pathetic hungry serfs. They would have to wonder why they should be afraid? Many of them play with human children in tales, or even help them. So the question is would your Tylwyth Teg feel sorry for the humans, angry at them and vindictive against them?


Add Character Traits and Psychological Depth

Now that you've delved into your fairies background you can begin to piece together what traits, flaws, and psychological depths.

I've listed some common fairy traits here.

In addition begin to look at the things your fairy does, how he acts. Try to find people with similar psychological profiles to fill out your fairy more than you usually can for fairy tales.

For example if you were to review the household fairy of farmsteads in Scandinavian countries known as the Tomte and than looked for psychological profiles that fit their activities you might look for common psychological profiles of farmers, as these fairies choose to live on farms. Than because they tend to prefer only to interact directly with children you can give them a bit of a Peter Pan Syndrome, or add to their psychology that they don't like complected people or situations. Finally because they spend their free time doing dangerous things such as robbing neighbors houses you could add some of the psychology of heavy risk takers into their nature as well.

Give Your Fairy Some Motivation

What does the fairy want? What is it that motivates them, what drives their overall actions? Every time a fairy appears they do so for a very specific reason, to fulfill some goal.

Fairies always have an agenda. They are the ones who control fate after all, so in essence the world really does revolve around them.

More than simply understanding what your fairy wants, however, you need to understand how they plan to get it. How does giving gifts to a poor peasant help them achieve their goals? How does causing someone to have a stroke aid in their plans.

Certainly some fairies live to cause trouble and so don't have a larger scheme, while others simply feel sorry for every poor person they see. But even without a larger plan these fairies still have some motivation, an emotional drive, and the stronger that drive, the more compelling the fairies drive is, the more interesting their character will become.

As importantly the characters motivation will help to create conflict and drama within the story as their motivations clash with others... or support others.








Friday, July 26, 2013

Ideas for Anime, Manga and Stories from Japanese Folklore

"There is an indigenous Japan, and elements of that are what I`m trying to capture in my work."
Hayao Miyazaki

All stories come out of a culture, out of the ideas of a people. So anime and manga grew in part out of Japan's existing folkloric and traditional roots.

Of course not all anime or manga is based on folktales, but such stories are useful when coming up with ideas for an anime or manga because there are so many amazing tales and elements within them. This is why Hayao Miyazaki is able to create such great films, because he has a great framework to start with in the folktales of Japan.

I'm hoping to help you to build your own framework for great stories using Japanese folktales.


1-Look at Settings

Much of what defines a person and a culture comes out of the setting they find themselves in. This is why looking through potential settings first can be a great place to begin coming up with story ideas. Start by looking through Japan's prefectures, pick one and read about it. Learn about its cities, its food and its folktales. Each of these regions has a hundreds if not thousands of ideas associated with it.

An example I've already used in another article is the Niigata Prefecture of Japan, in which

"there is the sense of peaceful villages surrounded by an often treacherous wilderness, connected by precarious and often dangerous paths for most of these stories feature travelers seeking shelter or people spirited away while traveling from one village to another. More than simply a wilderness than, the people of the Niigata prefecture were surrounded in folklore by a spirit world filled with snow women, oni, kami and more. This of course is true of Japan which had innumerable isolated villages."

By looking at the setting we start to form an emotional picture while also developing ideas for our characters.

Sado Island within the Niigata prefecture for example was a place in which monks were banished into exile by the Emperial Court, the city of Agato within the Niigata prefecture of Japan is the wintering ground for hundreds of swans, in the south one of the most popular dishes is a monk fish and mushroom hot pot. There
is a lake in the Niigata prefecture that is the winter home for thousands of swans so is filled at Christmas time and new Years with flocks of the beautiful white birds.. This would be the perfect place for a romantic moment, an odd fight scene (swans can become very violent), or many other events within a story.

The point is that if you have no Idea what to do at all beginning by reading about a specific setting will help you come up with ideas.


2-Read Japanese Tales and Lore

Japan has one of the richest and most complex sets of folklore and folk religions in the the world so it can take a long time to fully understand them. That said you can still gain a lot by reading a few bits and pieces of lore. In the spirit of traveling through this with you let me point you to some interesting folktales and snippets of lore.

"The Laughing Dumpling"
I like this story both for the character, a poor old lady who is obsessed with making the perfect rice ball, and because the plot isn't about some epic battle, rather its about how a cooks skill leads her to become a servant to an oni in a castle in the spirit world.

"The Bear Guardian" 
The story itself is fairly simple and straight forward, but it's not the story that interests me in this tale. Rather what's interesting to me about this story is that it shows how an animals spirit can become a tutelary kami of a village, a common theme in traditional Japan where an enshrined cow becomes a kami that heals skin disorders, a white deer becomes a kami of a mountain, etc.

"The Snow Woman"
A common story in Niigata involves snow spirits (sometimes as a woman or a little boy) seeking shelter and or food on cold winter nights. One family shares a bowl of miso with wild boar soup with a snow boy, another farmer gives shelter to a snow woman during a particularly bad story. In the story I linked to a snow woman marries a woodsman.

"The Cat Guardian"
Another short story that's full of possibilities for something longer. In this story a magical cat is sent by some kami to protect a young girl from evil spirits. With the right setting and unique characters this story could be a winner.


I'm continually adding more bits of lore on Niigata which you can see here.


3-Write down a List of Characters

By now you should have a number of story ideas and perhaps even a character in mind. If not, however, one should hopefully form as you begin to write down some potential characters.

As you make a list of possible characters think of how each one would fit into the setting you have chosen.

For example you may have noticed form watching anime's that the stories often include the polite friendly hero, Fairy Tale Archetypes. That is characters who find success, despite being weak, because they make friends with others.

In Niigata such a character might have the advantage of being able to make friends with a number of different creatures seeking shelter from the snow. Kitsune, snow woman, tanuki, have all in folk tales sought the warmth of a hearth and each of these beings would interact with the character differently.

4-Put Together Moments

Life is made up of a series of fleeting moments, each one beautiful because it is temporary, because it fades. In Japanese Mythology the First Emperor, an immortal kami, chose to marry someone who would die and so who was beautiful, rather than marry a less attractive woman who would never die.

The moral of the story is in essence that beauty comes from fleeting moments. Start thinking about these moments, read over the setting again to get ideas, think about how your character would interact with this setting.

Most of all become aware of the moments within your own life. Think about going to your favorite restaurant, about staying up too late, about looking at a giant moon, about feeling afraid as you trip your way to the bathroom in the dark. Any of these moments can become a scene in your story, a way to develop your characters.



With the Idea Done the Hard work Begins

As the final steps you need to put together a plot for your story, and than of course begin the long struggle of writing your story out. Still I'm hopeful that you'll be aided in this process with the use of the folktales and the setting you choose.






Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nine Strange Things about Fairies

1-People Once Believed Their Fate Was Controlled By Fairies

The root for the word fairy means ‘those who control death (and life);" in other words "the controllers of fate."

Fairies often gave humans their fate from birth (As in "Sleeping Beauty). In ancient times fate wasn't an abstract concept, the fate which controlled all humans, whether good or bad, was what the fairies made it to be.

Originally Fairies were not  prancey dancey little creatures beloved
 by little girls and derided by everyone else as too surgery. 
They can be fearsome and dangerous beings.


2-There are Fairy Traditions All Over the World

Because Fairy was originally a term to describe a type of being, just as deity is one can see many related “fairy traditions” from around the world, including the Kami of Japan, the Rusalka of Russia, and more.

Many of these beliefs are even interrelated. After all ancient peoples moved around and so their stories and beliefs spread. So even the Altaic People's Northern Asia and Japan and the Indo-Europeans in India have ancient connections with each other and with fairy beliefs of Europe.


3-Many People's Worshiped Fairies Before They Worshiped Deities

The word "temple" originally meant wood (forest, trees, etc). People in Northern Europe once thought that deities lived in natural objects and it was offensive to build temples to them. Even in Rome they didn't build temples for centuries but prayed instead to trees and fire.

Of course worship might not be a good word for the relationship as people would bargain with and even threaten to kill the fairies in order to get what they wanted. Nature fairies after all were also the ones who caused illness, in Ancient Rome people would perform rituals of civilization in order to scare nature fairies away to prevent people from getting sick.


4-Most Fairies Were Believed to Have No Childhood

Fairies and deities could grow up in a year, or might even be born old from the very beginning. Even fairies who had a childhood could be thousands of years old and so would barely remember it. This is why many if not most fairies have a serious case of Peter Pan Syndrome and want to get their childhoods back.


5-In Mythology Humans are Related to Fairies

Humans are born from Nymphs in Greek Mythology (Who are Zeus's Aunts). In Celtic Mythology Humans are the children of the Deity of the Underworld. Humans can have children with fairies and fairies often have children with humans.

In lore humans often became fairies when the died... Other times humans would turn into fairies without dying, simply by eating fairy food or traveling into fairyland. More than this some fairies would on occasion become human if they eat human food for too long.


6-Poltergeists are Fairies

Tree fairies could live on in the boards made from their tree. These fairies would at times haunt houses, in one Norse folk tale the spirit of an elder tree haunted the room of two children.

Fairies from Ireland to Pakistan were angered if a house was built in their paths and would cause trouble for the people in those houses, much as poltergeists are supposed to..

Rock fairies became poltergeists if they saw a human get murdered as they were sensitive to violence, so sometimes what we think of as the spirit of an angry murdered person might really be angry rock spirits.

Many of the things we think of as ghosts people once thought were fairies. Of course it's also true that humans could become fairies when we died.


7-Fairies Always Between and Betwixt

Humans who died at sunset might become fairies, caught forever between living and dead. Other humans who died in childbirth, before they were given a name, or other important periods of transition would also become fairies.

Fairies in general almost always seem to be somewhere between two extremes. The Nymphs for example are trapped  between lusty woman and silly childishness.

Fairies Tend approach people when they are between stages of their life which is why they are often seen by teenagers. Fairies often give advice in rhymes or incomplete gifts because they don't like destinations they like Journeys.


8-Fairy Love

Because fairies can see the future they know who they'll love before they even meet them. This is why they'll kidnap people to marry them or children to raise, because although they've never met they know who they are 'destined' to be with.


9-Fairies helped create and protect civilization

Many fairies preferred humans and cities over nature. Banshees and their ilk would help keep specific families safe, brownies would live in homes, grants would protect cities, while nymphs were the founders of cities.

Indeed people once believed that it was certain fairies who'd taught humans how to overcome the wilderness.

Further the reason a vampire can't enter a house unless they are invited is because the household fairy won't let them. The reason that many evil beings couldn't cross water was because the water fairies wouldn't let them (also because water was a divider between other worlds and they couldn't leave their's).

The reason we knock on wood is to awaken the wood fairy within it so that it will bring us good luck.



Monday, July 22, 2013

Heroes in Fairy Tales

Fairy tales were originally the stories of the peasants in societies which were divided into castes. So the heroes from fairy tales are different from other archetypal heroes in that they are rarely ever strong. Instead they use their kindness, hard work, cunning or simple luck to find victory.

The Fairy Tale Heroes lack of strength makes them a different sort of protagonist for most fantasy stories which involve at least some combat to achieve success.

In "Spirited Away" the protagonist is a whiny weak little
girl  who is pulled into the spirit world.
She can only succeed in saving her parents and getting
home by working hard and being polite.
Further fairy tale heroes are typically forced into their adventure by desperation. They come under attack by other worldly forces, their loves are kidnapped, they are starving and without work. Whatever the reason they are peasants who have no choice but to risk everything in hopes of a better life.

A common theme in fairy tales than is for a young person to leave there home because his parents can no longer afford to feed them, giving them two options, take any job they can get or starve to death.

A movie I like to point to which has a great fairy tale style hero is "Transformers." While not a fairy tale the lead protagonist in it is exactly what I think of when I think of fairy tale heroes. He isn't a fighter, rather he's a clever outcast who is thrown into extreme circumstances and so is forced to become a hero.

Fairy Tale Hero Archetypes

Hard Working and Polite Hero

Building good relationships is the key to success. This is true between people but it is also true of folk religions and fairy tales are often tales of folk religions. The moral of many folk tales is not to complain around the spirits, to be polite, to work hard. Take for example the story of "Grandfather Frost" in which a young girl is left by her wicked step mother to die in the cold. As she sits there freezing to death an old frost spirit comes along and asks her how she is. Rather than complain that she is freezing, however, she is polite and tells the frost spirit she is fine, so he takes care of her and makes her rich.

In "The Three Little Men in the Wood" the
protagonist only has a paper dress to wear but still
sweeps the walk way in the middle of winter
 for three little fairy men.
In modern times we see a similar theme in Miyazaki's film "Spirited Away" in which the protagonist Chihiro finds her self in the spirit world. In order to survive the spirit world a person must work hard, must be polite. This is in truth the only way that an ordinary human can survive in the spirit world with beings that are much more powerful than they are.

In the Russain Fairy Tale “The Girl in the Well” a girl finds herself in the “Other World” which exists at the bottom of the well (think falling down a rabbit hole such as in "Alice in Wonderland"). The protagonist in this case is able to earn great wealth in this strange land by helping it's people with their problems such as cleaning up after sheep.

When faced in the night with an Alp (a shapeshifting elf which causes nightmares, drinks blood, and causes illness one could try to negotiate with the fairy like being by offering to serve it coffee in the morning.


Tricky Rouge Hero

Lest one get the false impression that being polite is the only way to be successful there are the Trickster Rouges.

Perhaps the most famous of these characters is Robin Hood who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. Yet despite his fame he isn't representative of all of these heroes, many of whom robbed from the rich to give to themselves. In “Thumbling as Journeyman” the Thumbling helps some bandits rob a royal treasury in order to get rich himself, while also helping the bandits become rich as well.

Clever Rouges are the heroes of heist stories which have always been popular. Their morality may be questionable at times but most people love to read about them anyways. In modern films we usually make the targets of such criminals rich, greedy and nearly criminal themselves in order to forgive the rouges their theft. It was rare for this to be stated overtly in fairy tales.

Its never stated that the Giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” did anything to Jack, who was trespassing. There is, however, the assumption that the giant, being a man eating giant, deserves to be robbed.

Things are often left unsaid in fairy tales because there was an expectation that everyone had an understanding of the character archetypes with no explanation needed.

For example, in the Yupik tale “The Raven, The Sun, The Moon and the Stars” Raven uses his magic to steal the sun, moon and stars from the deity who owns them. He does this to help humanity who has no light without these things in the sky. It's easily assumed than that because the deity is hording the light of the sky for himself he is greedy and deserves to be robbed.


Peter Pan is another famous trickster figure, although unlike most he could actually fight and was just tricky for fun. - Peter Pan Character Image: Colored by *RenaeDeLiz on deviantART


Outcast Trickster Hero

Every era has a group of people who have fallen through the cracks of society. Becoming impoverished through no fault of their own.

In the industrial revolutions tailors found their job replaced by machines and factories. So there were a lot of previously skilled workers had no work. This is why trailers of often desperate travelers in fairy tales.

The Valiant Little Tailor” tells the tale of a Tailor who sets out and through trickery and cleverness is able to defeat giants and unicorns in order to marry the kings daughter.

Poor soldiers and veterans are another common character within this archetype. For a long time soldiers were only paid in the right to loot. Yet because they had traveled to distant lands they often new things no one else did. Further they were brave and strong after years of war.

The hero of “Boots of Buffalo Leather” is a soldier who has learned magic on his journey. Through the use of this magic and a bit of trickery on his part he is able to become wealthy.

Going back to "Transformers" we see the Protagonist as a similar sort of character. An outcast in the sense that he is a geek, teased by his peers. He gets the girl and saves the day by being clever and of course brave. In the third movie he takes on the role of new college graduate as his form of outcast, who much like the tailors of old fairy tales are the skilled people of society who can't get jobs.


The Trusting Fool or Outcast Hero

The comedic relief of the hero world, trusting heroes can also take on a serious role. They are one of the more popular archetypes in Japanese anime which still views trust and friendship as important moral lessons.

It is trust and an ability to make friends that allow these heroes to succeed where others would fail, even though these heroes are typically portrayed as foolish and weak.

One of the oddest portrayals of this protagonist type is in "The Fool and the Birch Tree." In this story the protagonist trusts a birch tree which he believes is talking to him. So he sells his cow to the tree but is later able to find a lot of money within the tree itself.

Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk" starts out as a trusting fool when he also trades his cow to a strange little man for some magic beans.


Born Under a Lucky Star

Many protagonists have no actual qualities which help them succeed. They don't trust the right people, think cleverly, or do really much of anything. Rather they succeed purely on luck. Cinderella for example may have worked hard, but doing so got her no where closer to her goal. She was just lucky that a fairy was looking out for her.


The Selfish Hero
Although a rare character in fairy tales, The Selfish Hero occurs in one of the more popular fairy tales of “The Frog Prince” in which the Princess refuses to keep her promise to the frog and ultimately sets him free by trying to kill him. We also see a selfish hero character in "The Mari and the Lime Tree" in which a man threatens to kill a tree spirit if it doesn't make him rich.

Selfish heroes are hard for many people to sympathize with because they succeed by being selfish, by being spiteful and greedy and all the things heroes aren't supposed to be. One could argue that they are lucky as well as selfish because most people who act that way in fairy tales end up dead... or worse.




Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fairy Tale Villains

I love villains, not real ones of course, but the villains from fairy tales and fantasy stories. I would say that it's just me but I've heard a lot of people say that the villain is their favorite character in a number of stories.  And indeed villains are often a lot more fun than heroes. They are ridiculous, over the top and full of strange but interesting quarks.

Fairy tales tend as a rule not to have as well rounded characters as other forms of literature, instead they are filled with archetypes and what many would deride as stereotypical, flat characters. However the fact that the characters are archetypes means that to some extent they are understood from the beginning. This allows people's imaginations to fill in their personality gaps the way they fill in the details of how the characters look. In other words by using flat archetypes fairy tales allow us each to create our own perfect characters for each story.

 In more complex stories based of fairy tales the villains themselves typically go through metamorphism of sorts, changing from one character archetype to another. Jafar from Disney's "Aladdin" for example goes from being a 'false donor' to being a 'deceived villain' after a short stint of rampaging about. This is possible because of the longer format of these stories, and such a transformation allows heroes to defeat villains they otherwise would not be able to.

Types of Fairy Tale Villains

The False Donor
Perhaps the most fun of all the villains "The false donor" is a trickster figure, for example the sly fox in "The Gingerbread Man" who tricks the Gingerbread Man into riding on his head so that he can eat him, or Rumpelstiltskin who helps a poor girl in order to take her baby from her.  At some point in the story the false donor will use the people's desires against them, tricking them into making a deal so that the false donor can obtain some nefarious objective.

Most Disney Villains are False Donor's
at some point  in the story.
In stories we like clever villains, and their moments of guile in a part because these allow for some very interesting character actions, and in the case of Disney, some of the best songs. The audience doesn't need to see the villain's complex emotions to appreciate or enjoy them. The desire for power, beauty, or revenge is often the only real motivation a villain needs for us as the readers of a story to appreciate them. Indeed Rumpelstiltskin, one of the most famous villains doesn't have an easily discernible motivation, yet many people love him.


One false donor type I feel hasn't been played to their full potential are those which trick parents into giving away their children. Certainly Rumpelstiltskin has been played up, but there are a number of devils or other beings which convince traveling fathers to give up their child through trickery. This child must than go on an adventure to escape the bargain their parent made with the devil. The story in this case than is about the child going on an adventure to avoid some terrible fate.

The unicorn in "The Valiant Little Tailor"
was defeated because he was so
enraged he ran into a tree.
Rampaging Villain
Wild and completely over the top, rampaging villains can be terrifying, funny, and or the bases for a good adventure story. Think for example of Cruella de Vil who rampages about like a maniac in her car, hitting her dull witted henchmen, and generally acts in a way that's so wicked it's funny. This is not to say that all rampaging villains are funny, there is nothing funny about Godzilla for example. Rampaging villains can be the most horrifying of all the villain archetypes because of their ability to cause wanton destruction, to kill with impunity.

In fairy tales rampaging villains ultimately defeat themselves by focusing so intensely on their destructive goals that they end up destroying themselves.

In “The Two Corpses” there are two vampire like monsters which chase down a soldier and than fight over who gets to eat him as their rampaging turns them against each other until the sun comes up.

Going back to Cruella de Vil we see that she ultimately crashes her car while driving in her furious rage and so is defeated.


The Deceived Villain
An often larger than life villain who the hero is able to overcome through trickery by playing off of their pride, greed and or evil. These are Kings, lords, powerful wizards. In Disney's "Aladdin" Jafar is so arrogant and has such a craving for power that in the end that he defeats himself when Aladdin convinces him to become a Genie, an all powerful prisoner which is trapped inside a small a lamp.

In the fairy tale "Puss and Boots" Puss is able to trick an ogre who is the king of a realm by pretending to believe that the ogre can't change into a mouse. The ogre, offended that Puss thinks so little of him changes into a mouse to prove his power and being a cat Puss eats him the moment he does.


The Devil
Devils, like false donors, offer people something they want in return for something nefarious. The difference is that devils are up front about their desires. They let the character know from the beginning what they want in return for their help. This means that stories with devils are from the beginning about characters trying to figure out how to get out of the bargain they just made.

Rude and Lazy Villain
Bullies more than purely evil villains, the purpose of the Rude and Lazy Villain is to act as a contrast to the protagonist's qualities, to show how good the protagonist is. In Disney's "Cinderella" her 'wicked' step sisters are ugly, bad singers, dull, lazy, and bullies where as Cinderella is; beautiful, hard working, kind, smart, and a good singer.

Typically in fairy tales Rude and Lazy Villains are defeated by a magical being they are rude to. After all in magical worlds where curses are real, being rude, lazy or attempting to bully others eventually leads to being cursed. For Example in “The Girl in the Well”  the Rude and Lazy Sister of the Heroine refuses to work for the people of the magical world and so rather than being rewarded with wealth she is cursed with thousands of defecating insects.


In one story Baba Yaga is the protagonists aunt
who forces her to clean, or do other impossible
household choirs.
Evil Stepmother and The Domestic Witch
In many ways the Evil Stepmother is like a false donor in that they promise something but turn out to be something else entirely. However, like the Domestic Witch they often ultimately give the protagonist a gift through their mistreatment of them. Hard work in the fairy tale world, after all, is one of the greatest sources of success, so by forcing the protagonist to labor night and day the Evil Stepmother/Domestic Witch sets them up to get magical gifts and or help. In the story of "The Three Little Men in the Woods" for example the heroine is made nicer by her step mothers cruel treatment and so shares her food with three magical fairy beings who in return give her the gifts of wealth, beauty and the perfect marriage.





Ultimately the key to understanding fairy tale villains is that they each have a weakness the form of a desire which blinds them to all else. It is this desire which made them become a villain, such desires have commonly been things like beauty, money, power, to terrify people, a baby, to advance their own children over the needs of another, wild wanton destruction, etc.  Whatever the case it is usually the villains desire which leads to their downfall when the villains fail (though in some stories they ultimately win).

When writing a fairy tale than it's important to determine what it is the villain wants, from this will come the villains actions, and their means of their ultimate downfall.

Learn more about fairy tale archetypes at http://fairies.zeluna.net/2013/06/fairy-tale-character-archetypes.html

Monday, June 24, 2013

Japanese Folklore of the Niigata Prefecture

In reading the folklore of Niigata there is the sense of peaceful villages surrounded by an often treacherous wilderness, connected by precarious and often dangerous paths for most of these stories feature travelers seeking shelter or people spirited away while traveling from one village to another. More than simply a wilderness than, the people of the Niigata prefecture were surrounded in folklore by a spirit world filled with snow women, oni, kami and more. This of course is true of Japan which had innumerable isolated villages.

When looking for inspiration for writing a story and art to draw sometimes the best settings already exist in the world around us which is why today I'm going to explore the folklore of Japan, more specifically of the Niigata prefecture in hopes that this interesting and often overlooked region of Japan will help you in your story telling endeavors.

Throughout the Niigata Prefecture there are tales of encounters with the ghosts of people who froze to death in harsh snow storms and of dangerous spirits seeking to kidnap young woman to be their wives. There are a number of stories of Snow Woman and boys seeking shelter during particularly bitter snow storms at the huts of isolated farmers. In one story a Snow Boy creeps into a house to join a family for dinner, helping himself to some miso and boar soup before running back out into the snow where he leaves no tracks.

In yet another story of a magical being seeking shelter from the cold a Kitsune (fox) in the form of a woman seeks shelter with a farmer. As the story progresses they fall in love and have children together.



There is the sense in these stories not only of a coldness, but of warmth, of closely connected villages, of families and people sheltered against the winter in warm houses with pots of hot soup cooking over hearths. So this harsh winter is contrasted by beauty, especially in Agato where hundreds of swans make their winter home.

Like much of Japan the mountains rise up right over the ocean, making travel between villages difficult. Yet young woman had to travel between villages, for they usually married people from elsewhere. This perhaps is why there are so many stories of young woman going missing, taken by oni or becoming ghosts. In one such story a girl is getting ready to be married with an oni descends upon her in the form of a dark cloud and takes her into the wilderness.  Unable to give up on her lost daughter her mother seeks her out until she finds her in the oni's mansion in the forest and helps her escape by getting the oni extremely drunk.

Despite the dangers of the spirit world in folklore there were many tales in which magical beings helped humans as well. A river kami gave a wood cutter one of her children to raise so that he could have a child of his own, and this child made the wood cutter very wealthy.

In another story a calico cat helped an old lady become wealthy by turning into a beautiful woman which became a famous singer in far away Edo.

You can read more about the Lore and Setting of Niigata at "Bits of Japanese Folklore"




Isolated Villages: Japan

Freezing cold rain mixes with snow, creating streams of slush that run down the side of the mountain while also freezing a layer of ice on the cold rocks and trees. The hunter caught in this storm ducks underneath a large pine tree. It's late spring, but in the mountains snow still remains. Even so a pocket of grass and meadow flowers have started to grow on the sunny side of the mountain which the hunter hopes will lure the hungry deer close enough for him to shoot one with his bow. He is still fairly close to his village, close enough that he could see it if it in the valley below weren't for the rain, but it would will still take more than two hours for him to walk through the trees back to it. For in these mountains physical distance is meaningless, raging rivers, streams, thick brush, rocks, forest and the mountains themselves all hinder travel. It could take nearly a day to walk to the next village over, so people rarely do. 

In Japanese Lore it wasn't just distance that kept people from traveling from one village to another, for Japan is a rough land with harsh mountain weather making it difficult and treacherous to walk from one place to another. So treacherous that people once believed that Japan's the paths and forests were haunted. In early Japanese lore the kami, or gods of the wilderness which lived in passes, river fords, and mountain paths were wild and so killed half the people who tried to pass through them. Wolves, bears, magical tanuki, foxes, otters, and tengu all haunted the mountains as well, hunting travelers, carried them off or lured them astray. And than there were the others; other clans, bandits, outcasts, people who for some inexplicable reason seemed to dwell in the wild and the Emishi who were the native peoples of Japan. A people so good at fighting that although they had been greatly outnumbered they fought furiously against the Japanese for well over a thousand years.

It was the isolation of the many villages within the mountains that caused Japan to develop the way it did contends a number of folklorists. Here, in tiny pockets of civilization, surrounded by a wilderness filled with potential dangers people made family and village the center of their worlds, rather than individual self. This is why when a village met to discuss potential actions they would talk until everyone came to a consensus on what to do, rather than simply accepting a majority vote. It is also why people were often refereed to not by name but by their place within a family. Thus someone talking about the father  of a house to the west might refer to them as the “Father of the Western House.” This father for his part would have his identity tied to his place in the house. As the father  he was stern, seemingly aloof and unapproachable for the other members of the family, a few years before, when his father had been the Father he had been more at ease, in a few years when he became grandfather he would be even more at ease. Further the mixture of danger from other groups of people and the challenge of dealing with the forces of nature likely contributed greatly to the idea that nature spirits themselves had to be defeated and or pacified through offerings.

In early Japan people not only had to contend with the danger posed by neighboring clans which could at any moment decide to attack in order to take more land, they had to contend with other peoples. Initially Japan was inhabited by the Emishi on the central island, the Aino to the North and the Ryukyu to the south. Than came the people of the Yayoi culture who eventually came to conquer Japan. Early on the Yayoi culture was not united, however, they were divided into multiple warring clans.

Disputes over land and water rights were also likely extremely common in early Japan and even through to the Meiji era. In folk lore such disputes were not only between people but between kami. Before 800 AD there were a number of tales of kami fighting over water rights which many scholars think represent tales of disputes between villages. Other tales of kami battling against travelers and society are thought to be tales of the Emishi and villages of Japanese people who didn't want to come under Imperial control.

The danger of attack from other peoples, as well peoples dependence on natural phenomenon such as mountains, rivers and the sea which provided food and life, yet at the same time were also the source of great destruction such as volcanic eruptions, floods, and tsunamis.

We see the importance of the village manifested through the importance of the village boundary. It was at these boundaries which people would erect shrines or place stones which were supposed to be the homes of a protective kami. Rituals to drive away noxious insects, plague, spirits, and more would all end at this village boundary. Other communal prayers with the help of a medium would take place here to protect the village from the outside. Indeed the world outside the village could almost be likened to an other world from which evil spirits, disasters and the like could attack. This is why people so often encountered such things at the edge of the village. Indeed the world outside the village was often considered an other world, and on occasion a person leaving the village might inadvertently stumble into this other world of spirits.

Having developed with so many isolated villages Japan doesn't have a single coherent folk religion but is divided into hundreds of related folk religions. It is true of course that when the Emperors clan defeated the others he began to issue decrees in order to solidify his control, which included making his own local folk religion into the national religion by codifying it as Shintoism. The Emperors would also pass decrees in 780 AD and 807 AD against the use of shamanism and similar magical practices outside of shrines. Despite the best efforts of the central government, however, independent shamans and magicians continued to play an important roll throughout Japan and were even the dominant force in many parts of Japan. This situation continued until 1873 when all forms of shamanistic ecstasy practices were outlawed, this law drove shamanism underground and likely played some roll in the intensity of peoples hatred of certain types of witch families. It was also largely responsible for the fact that by the 1960s most young people didn't believe in shamanism anymore, even in villages which had strong traditions and even still retained a few shamans.