Saturday, March 29, 2014

Analyzing and Interpreting Fairy Tales

Folk Religion

Many fairy tales are remnants of older folk and peasant religions, fairy faiths which effectively remained the beliefs of the peasants right up into the modern Era. Yet even where beliefs in spirits of the fields remained they changed over time, so people often forgot the original meaning of many characters and events in fairy tales.

Although the ancient folk religions are complex a few of the more interesting aspects of them with regards to fairy tales include.

Building a relationship
Folk religion is about building a relationship with the spirit world. Thus in folk tales people often found success by being polite to supernatural beings, by acting in a moral way. For example, in "The Three Little Men in the Woods" a young girl shares her bread with three fairies "little men" who in return give her magical gifts. In the Russian Fairy Tale "Grandfather Frost" a young girl doesn't complain even as the Frost Spirit is making her colder and colder and so is given great wealthy.
In Japan there were numerous fairy tales about the importance of building and maintaining a relationship with everything from old tools, which were believed to have souls, to animals. 

Forest Spirits and Fairy Soul Bargains
Fairies and similar spirits around the world desired human servants to help them as nannies, as black smiths, as servants, etc. Often such spirits would make deals with people, offering them wealth if they would agree to work for the spirit later. Thus most tales in which a person bargains with a devil are really remnants of older tales in which a person sells their soul to a forest spirit or fairy. After all the notion of selling ones soul to the devil isn't present in early Christianity or Judaism, in Christianity, for example, the devil gets the soul of the unbaptized or of sinners, so his goal would be to make people sin, not to get a nanny or servant.

In "The Soldiers and the Devil" for example, a dragon (which the fairy tale calls a devil) appears to some starving soldiers and promises to make them rich if they'll work for him at the end of seven years. At first they are happy to make the deal but as the end of the seven years draws closer they start looking for a way out of their deal.

This notion of tricking the spirit after getting wealth from it was common. In France it was believed that many wealthy people had become wealthy by making a bargain with  with  fairies, in which the fairies would provide them with wealth for seven years, at the end of which the fairy would own the person. However, when the fateful date was coming up the person would run out to the priest and get blessed so that the fairy couldn't take them.

Shamanism and Witch Familiars
Often in fairy tales a persons encounter with strange creatures was based on the witches encounter with familiar spirits. For example in stories with the The Frog Prince motif, the frog was very much like a witches familiar, demanding and controlling, until the witch took control through violence.

Entering the Realm of the Dead or Sky
The characters of many stories enter the spirit world. For example, I would argue that in their tale Hansel and Gretel entered the world of the dead, as newly dead spirits were often lead into the world of the dead which resembled the forest by a white bird. The realm of the dead was often guarded by an evil witch who would seek to eat the spirits of the dead. and in order to escape this realm you had to ride a duck or boat across a body of water.

Hidden Witchcraft
Fairy tales are filled with hidden witchcraft. For example, in the Russian and German versions of Cinderella the heroine creates her own fairy godmother by growing a tree on her mothers grave and gets help from familiar spirits (mice were the most common familiar spirits in these lands.)

Protecting Oneself
Fairy Tales are often filled with tales of how to keep oneself safe from evil influences. Not going out at night, not going near certain rivers, staying on the reindeer path, putting iron under ones bed, getting a baby baptized as soon as possible, etc.

Feminism (Read the Full Article)

Ultimately when interpreting fairy tales it often helps to interpret them through the lens of the ancient female perspective. This is because although people would share stories in bars, hospices, and on the road, fairy tales tended to be passed down from mothers and nannies to children. Indeed the Grimm Brothers collected most of their tales from women. Because of this the voice in fairy tales is very often female. Yet the society these women lived in didn't empower them, and so while there are many stories in which men are treated as an object, a prize to be won by heroines, women aren't necessarily empowered by these tales. Instead fairy tales with female protagonists tend to be lessons which teach young girls how to survive in a world which is very often against them.

One of the key things to remember is that at one time young women would be sent away to marry by their fathers to a man they might not know, in a village where the young women would be treated as outsiders. What's more their new husbands might be abusive and cruel. Further, the women were expected to work themselves practically to death. In Japan there is one women who would be scolded if she spent too long going to the bathroom, while in Russia women were the first ones awake in the morning and the last ones to bed at night.

There are four key motifs we see in fairy tales that deal with this.

The overworked women, such as in the tales of Rumpelstiltskin in which a women is locked away and required to do an impossible amount of work.

Women who must take control of their situation with violence or blackmail. There are many stories in which a women finds herself married to a monster, and manages to succeed by reveling what they are.

Winning the affections of a "Beast" through love.

In the wilderness. From Japan to Ireland there are tales of people encountering 'wild women' in the forests. Women who don't fit into society. Among the Selkup wild women were specifically women who had sought the wilderness to escape abusive husbands. In Japan one wild women tells how she used to live in the village but had to flee it. While less specifically stated in Europe it's likely that there were many women who chose to flee into the wilderness when possible, rather than stay in an abusive home.  The wilderness in this case represents both freedom and fear, for it is an unknown place, a place away from society, where those who've suffered must flee.

Peasants Tales

These are peasants tales, which means they are both lessons about how to survive as a peasant and dreams of success. For the most part this can be understood in the context of the hero archetypes which exist within fairy tales. There are a few things to keep in mind, however.

Cunning is moral
To the peasants cunning is a form of morality, because in many situations only the cunning could survive.

Success through luck
Often people in fairy tales were successful primarily for luck, because peasants thought that success came from luck or supernatural forces. A person who had suddenly become wealthy was believed to have found fairy gold for example. (Which given that every once in a while people find

Rob the rich
Peasants often viewed it as acceptable to rob from the rich.

Hard Work
Success in fairy tales tends to come from hard work, because that's how peasants succeeded.

Be Kind
When you are powerless your survival often depends on being kind and listening to the advice of others.


Many Lands and Many Times
Fairy tales belong to not one, but many times and lands. "Hansel and Gretel" for example, came out of a famine in the 1300's in Western Europe. Yet at the same time the idea of using a chicken bone to trick a blind witch into thinking the protagonists were skinny came out of Ugric lands in Eastern Europe and Asia. Further the story itself was collected in the 1800's. So the story of "Hansel and Gretel" belongs not only to Germany but also Eastern Europe, and to many time periods as well. This makes it very difficult to interpret fairy tales through the lens of history as they can often mean so many different things.

Dreams of Childhood
Most fairy tales were collected during an era when people began having a romanticized view of childhood. This is in contrast to most of the eras in which they were told when childhood was in essence ignored and forgotten by the adults telling the stories.


There are two ways to view the psychology of fairy tales. One is from the modern perspective, that is to try to understand how these stories are seen by readers today. The other is to try to understand how they might have been seen by people who heard them "once upon a time." This later use of psychology while interesting is extremely difficult, as with no one to interview, we don't have an exact understanding of past cultures.


Unfortunately, most fairy tale books are primarily filled with B.S. which mostly comes from the ideas of Freud and Jung. For although Jung and Freud are popular bases for trying to interpret mythology and fairy tales, their ideas have largely been debunked and their understanding of ancient or even international cultures was limited to say the least. For example, Carl Jung claimed that the similarity between many fairy tales and myths represented deep seated psychology which was present in all people. Apparently Jung forgot to take into account the fact that he was primarily only looking at European tales which for the most part have common linguistic and even Genetic Roots. He for example, failed to take into account Yupik Tales, Japanese Tales, South East Asian stories, and tales from a plethora of other cultures. Indeed even in Europe the meaning of tales has largely changed. Originally European Heroes were by and large selfish, only caring about themselves. They did the things they did merely for their own glory, to build their own fame. This is far different from the current Western idea of what makes a hero.

Yes it's fun to say that this or that figure represents something to all humans, or that the fact that Hansel and Gretel have to ride on duck represents their budding sexuality, but the truth is that none of these notions make any real sense.

The Top Ten Most Touching Moments in Animated Feastures

Article by Ty Hulse

These are the ten most touching moments in American Animated Feature Films. Choosing them was extremely difficult as there are so many wonderful moments, so many beautiful pieces of animation, so please let me know what you think the most touching moments are.


Up was perhaps the most touching movie ever, dealing with both age and youth, but most of all with life in a beautiful way. This is the moment when the protagonist passes on the badge his wife gave him to a boy whose been ignored by his father.

The Secret of NIMH

A mother feeding her sick child, just before she goes on a series of adventures, risking everything to save him.


Art can transform people.

Food transforms an egotistical critique into a man who loves the art he critiques again.

Iron Giant 

Perhaps the most beautiful moment of self sacrifice ever created, the Iron Giant flies into a nuclear missile to save his friend.

Lion King

A father teaches his son about responsibility.


An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

The two "American Tail" movies are a very touching pair of movies, so why did I pick this scene? Because this is the moment when Fievel accepts his heritage even as he looks to the future.

Cats Don't Dance

For some failure is a constant companion, so constant that they grow embittered. This song is sung by a character who had given up on her dreams, only to discover them again. The song "Tell Me Lies" lets us that she doesn't know if she can succeed, but it tells us that she has started to dream again.

Lilo and Stitch

"This is my family. I found them all on my own. It's Little and Broken But Still Good, Yeah still good."

Even little broken families can be perfect.


Eva finally admits that she likes Wall-E in a very real way, and Wall-E gets his first taste of love.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

CGI Peanuts by Blue Sky

The 3D Animated Peanuts has a lot of great animators working on it, though only a few of them have personal websites

A Few Key Figures with websites.

Richard Fournier
Rio 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Epic

Gianluca Fratellini
Hotel Transylvania, Rio 2 and Epic

Jolk Volk 
Rio 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Rio, Dragon Hunters

David Loss
Rio 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Epic

Dan Segarra
Rio 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Epic

Raymond Ross
Rio 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Epic

Justin Weg
Rio 2, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Epic

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Animation - Shot Progression and Referencing

Animators are amazing actors, who can become anyone from little girls to birds. These videos show their progression from developing the ideas for their characters to the final shots we all know and love.

Frozen- Shot Progression from Bobby Pontillas on Vimeo.

Animation Direction: Shot Progression from David Tart on Vimeo.

My Animation Workflow from Pete Paquette on Vimeo.

Progression of an Animated Shot: Gothel & Rapunzel Disney's Tangled from Jamaal Bradley on Vimeo.

Hero and the Message shot progression from Luke on Vimeo.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Muggles Rule!: 10 reasons the magical world needs ordinary people

Article by Ty Hulse

These are ten ways which ordinary people, or their inventions could rescue or at least help dysfunctional magical worlds in fantasy books and fairy tales.


Every problem in "Harry Potter" could have been solved with an Encyclopedia and a Library Card Catalog.

In the book "Wizards Bane" by Rick Cook a computer programmer ends up in a magical world where he organizes the magical system and becomes the most powerful person in the world.

All this begs the question; What would it be like to be a librarian in a magical world, especially if you weren't magical yourself?

For those of you who don't remember, Library Card Catalogs let you
look up just about any mention of anything, in any book, newspaper, or
scholarly journal. In fact Google's original system is basically just a card
catalog for the internet.
 So, for example, if you were to look up Petrification you would see
that there were about two dozen things that caused it. Looking at each of these
you would notice that roosters killed a bunch of them.... Problem Solved.

2-Military Structure and Strategy

Military planning, or really any sort of planning never seems to be the strong suit of people in a magical world.

For example, in Narnia they seem to have never heard of such simple things as flanking.

Fire and Movement tactics never seems to be used in most magical worlds, and military training seems to be pretty rare for magical creatures and wizards as well.

A little organization and planning from a non-magical genius could change everything in these worlds. Yes an ordinary person might not be able to use spells, and so might not be as good in a direct fight but that isn't always necessary.

General George S. Patton is considered one of the Greatest Generals of WWII but he'd never flown a plane, he didn't need to, he just needed to know how to use one in combat.

Great generals aren't the best fighters, they are the ones with the tactical, strategic, and logistical know how to lead an army. So A good drill Sargent or General could easily change the course of most magical worlds.

Great generals aren't always the best fighters, and none of them
have flown every type of plane, driven every type of tank, fired
every kind of missile, or managed every computer system, they
just understand how to use these.


In fairy lore the fairies and deities were often faced with extinction because their children were either sickly or they couldn't have them by themselves, thus they needed to marry humans in order to have children.

Of course marrying into the magical world would bring it's own set of problems.

4-Iron and Magical Symbols

Ordinary humans in folk lore weren't so ordinary. We had this uncanny magical ability to use things like Iron, Pentagrams, Crosses, Garlic, and other items which could drive away magical creatures. In fact in Celtic lore it was believed that when two kingdoms of fairies went to war the side with the human would win.


Speaking of being able to use magical items, in Japan many spirits lost their powers when they were around unclean things such as corpses or poop. They needed to possess humans, rocks, trees, animals, etc. in order to avoid being exposed to these. More then this, they sometimes were being attacked by something unclean (such as giant centipedes) and so needed a human to come and rescue them.

6-Underground Rebellions

From the Communist Underground that spanned across nations, to the Germanic Peasants Rebellion, to more modern political movements, ordinary people are able to organize massive international philosophies and at times rebellions.


Just because wizards in a lot of Fantasy Books can't use Tech doesn't mean they wouldn't benefit from hiring a computer geek, or even a simple secretary to help them organize massive mounds of information.

8-Menial Labor

Many mythological beings needed humans for menial labor. Baby sitting their children, combing and grooming their hair, cleaning, etc.

While not glamorous, babysitting a bunch of fairy kids, or becoming a barber for dragons and hags would at least be interesting.


Non-electric systems for communication were invented, which for some uses would put most methods of communication in fantasy worlds to shame.

The telegraph tower had mechanical arms on top. Changing their position in a specific order would communicate thousands of potential messages to other towers, which would change their mechanical arms to relay the message until everyone in the country knew what was happening.  

10-Hue and Cry

When one person witnessed a crime or saw a wolf and yelled, everyone was required to come to help, while also raising the hue and cry to bring more people. This way within a few moments whole villages would be mobilized against criminals, or monsters. So the poor boogyman in the child's closet might find himself swarmed by an angry village of hundreds of people in a few moments.

What are some more inventions and ideas that magical worlds in fantasy books and fairy tales could benefit from?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The buddy films and character design of Hanna-Barbera

Article by Ty Hulse

Perhaps with the exception of Disney few animators have had as big an impact as Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

Yes Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and others created wonderful and funny animations, but their animations didn't transform the industry in the way Hanna-Barbera's films did. From the first purely animated television show "Huckleberry Hound," to one of the longest Running TV series "Scooby-Doo," Hanna Barbera created the method of limited animation necessary to bring the costs down for TV and now the internet as well.

More than this they created methods of story telling which transformed the industry as well. In fact I believe one of the biggest reasons for their continued success similar to Pixars success. That is the use of "buddy's" as the focus of most of their stories.

No matter how dicey things got Scooby and Shaggy
always found time to eat a good meal.

People like wacky and strange friendships, and character connections. Perhaps because so many of us are looking for solid connections in our own lives. This was contrasted in many ways with "Loony Toons" which was purely gag based. While such wacky gag based animation can be wonderful, and in the case of the Loony Toons, often better then many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, they are harder to write. It's far easier to develop hundreds of 20+ minute "Scooby-Doo" episodes, along with movies, than it is to do the same with Bugs Bunny, and in order to make feature length movies Loony Toons have always transformed the relationship of the characters to some extent. Further it's proven easier to keep a series like "Scooby-Doo" running for a longer period of time.

Because of the "Limited" nature of their animations, the way the characters moved and were drawn had to be carefully controlled. A single line out of place would quickly be noticed, and could change the characters apparent mood and personality. Further, the movements had to be controlled in a way that would be accepted by the audience, and with so little frame, each one counted.

This is the first animation Hanna directed by himself, though he still did it as part of a larger studio. It's interesting to see what artists will come up with when they strike out in partnership with other artists, as opposed to being employed by a production company.

Shamanism in Japan

Article by Ty Hulse

Mediators with the Kami and Spirits

Purchase: Filmed between
 1991 and 1997, this film documents the final years of the charismatic Ms. 
Taki Kudo, a medium, healer and fortune teller. Every year she comes to 
Japan's sacred Mt. Osorozan where the mediums draw chopsticks 
for the best places to set up their booths. Summoning the spirits of the dead

Many of the kami and spirits want to connect with humanity, but cannot do so directly (in ancient lore kami are weakened by impurity, which our world is filled with, so rather than appear directly they often choose to possess objects such as rocks, trees, mountains, mirrors, or people so that they'll be safe from the impurity of the world), so to become involved they choose some few people to be shamans, mediators between humanity and the world of the kami.

In Japanese lore the first kami came down from the heavens via the pillar or the tree of life and possessed humans causing some of them to enter a state of ecstasy by performing a wild dance or a long period of music using the koto. In this way the kami made the first shaman families of Japan and it was these shaman families who became the ruling elite.

Yet at the same time these shamans were dangerous to the power of the Emperor and the Shogunate (Sort of like head general and typically the true ruler of Japan). A shaman could at anytime show up with a message from the kami which condemned the actions of the rulers, or threatened their power. In Japan's early history their was a shaman to the Kitsune (fox spirits) which started a rebellion against the Emperor. The danger posed by these shamans (often, but not always known as Mikos) caused the Emperor to outlaw much of shamanism, though he never fully succeeded in eliminating it.

Working with the Other World.

While shamans in most of the world focus on sending their souls into the spirit world to mediate with it, the shamans of Japan typically become possessed by the spirits of the other world. While possessed they often enter a trance like state and might dance wildly, shake violently, bounce or levitate while in the seated position, roar, make animal noises, or do other similar sorts of things. The key here, however, is that they also gain the ability to act as a conduit for the spirits voice and powers. This gave the shamans a lot of authority and power, though they were not magicians, as this power wasn't there own. Yes a shaman could learn to be a magician and manipulate magic themselves, but that wasn't what made them a shaman, what made them a shaman was the ability to use or be used by kami and other spirits.

Living as a Shaman

A shamans experiences and life often varied greatly, for it depended on their station, the will of the spirits, the era in which they lived, whether shamanism was still acceptable or feared. Further some shamans would marry humans while had an intimate relationship with the kami and spirits which had possessed them. There are even stories of various shamans having 'virgin' births through the kami, and so they had children who were kami in their own right. Still there were some basic types of shamans which can be identified.

Japanese Shamanism and Siberian Shamanism
have similar roots, with both likely coming from
the same source, thousands of years ago.

Traveling Shamans

Because of the importance of traveling shamanesses and the desire of  many shamans to live with like minded people, to have friends and allies causes some shamans to group together into their own villages. These typically female shamans would spend half the year in the village of shamans and the other half of the year traveling from community to community. This meant that there could be entire villages of hundreds of mikos who were independent of the official shrine system  (though they were often under Imperial license). The Mikos in these villages lived together in small groups within shared households that together made up a village. Although it's difficult to say exactly what life was like for these mikos within their villages as there are only a few records of this they would set out every New Years and travel the countryside for six months. Those who had husbands would be accompanied by their spouses who would would act as porters, helping to carry the shamans baggage, while also working to keep them safe on the road. Meanwhile their their sons and the older men would stay at home to tend the farms and keep the village. During this time outside of the village the members of each household would travel together, with each household going to different villages. They would have two goals, the first was to aid the people of other villages by performing the kuchiyose as well as other function, the second was to look out for beautiful girls between the ages of 8 and 15 who had the potential markings of being good mikos. There is some indication that these girls were purchased from their families, and that beautiful girls were chosen.

Wandering Shamans

As the shrine systems began to brake down many mikos who had previously performed in shrines found themselves unemployed and forced to wander from village to village. Other miko were unable to pay the high taxes which were required to work within the shrine system and so had to leave their homes to wander the country. In many ways these Tabijoro or Aruki miko (walking mikos) became 'unclean' workers themselves as they looked for nearly any job they could. They of course still performed the normal miko jobs of being possessed by the spirits of the dead and kami in order to act as messengers or healing the sick, enriching harvests and performing other religious-magico functions. However, others were rumored to be prostitutes, and others still became entertainers at way stations on the road. In other words these mikos had become some of the lowest members of society and very nearly unclean. Dispte this they could also be very important to small villages which had no access to other shamans.

Local Shamans

There were many shamans who had a specific home, a place within their village or city. Some of these lived much like we would expect aesthetics to live, dwelling in small huts in villages, quietly going about their lives.

In the North Eastern Section of mainland Japan, young blind girls were selected to train for the roll of shamaness. Most often sent by their parents to attend some form of formal schooling, and to live with another shamaness, a Sensei, who could teach them their art. Because they were so vital to their communities, and because this was likely the only work open to blind girls these shamanesses continued to work even after shamanism of all forms was outlawed, for this reason ethnographers were able to get better records of their training and practices than they could of most other shamanesses, which is why so many texts on folk religion and shamanism have focused on them.

Other local shamans would become the toast of the nobility and other upper circles of society. For example, an aesthetic named Tonomura was sitting with some samurai when he explained that one of their relatives was sick because the spirit of a dead person had possessed him. Soon after Tonomura impressed these samurai by giving them details about the spirit of the dead person so a samurai named Katsu Kokichi asked to be the aesthetics student. Within less then a year Tonomura was flooded with requests by the wealthy people to teach them or say prayers for them. Tonomura wasn't a shaman himself, however, he was part of a partnership. When trying to determine what the winning numbers would be for a lottery, for example, he had a girl across from him, he then intoned his prays, lit a sacred fire and handed the woman a sacred staff decorated with paper streamers. She than became possessed of the spirit of a kami and foretold the future. Although shamanistic partnerships are common in many places, in which a drummer or chanter will aid a shaman in getting into a state of ecstasy, Japan is the only place I know of where the nonshaman aesthetic gets more credit than the shaman does. I would presume this has to do with Buddhism and Confucianisms mandates against shamanism and woman, with these two ideas trying to lesson the power and role of the female shaman.

Miko aren't all shamans, and not all shamans
are Miko, but the Miko/Shaman relation
is historically important.

Shrine Shamans

Before they lost their homes in the shrine systems, many mikos likely led semi-comfortable lives within the shrine system, performing all the religious-magico duties that the wandering mikos performed. For them, however the kagura, or ritualized dance was perhaps the most important means of calling the kami. Like many other shamans they may also have been married to the kami as well. However, in very early times some of these would even become possessed of the goddess in order that she might enjoy sexual relations with the priest of the temple, though this activity is only mentioned a few times. In some cases the young boys who served at Buddhist temples would also become possessed by goddesses, though again this is rarely mentioned, so the activity may have been extremely rare, or it may simply not have been mentioned in official records very often because it wasn't thought of as very important.

Imperial Shamans

There were also shamans who were members of the imperial family, high level officials, or even at one time the rulers of nations. Recall that in many cases it was the greatest shamans that became the ruling classes of Japan. For example, the kami of Mount Miwa, one of the most powerful in ancient political history, became the ancestor kami of the Noble Riiwa and Ramo families through the conception of the noble virgin, Tama-yori-hime. Her name literally means a female shaman possessed by a spirit of a god (tarnu “spirit,” yari “possessing,” and hime, “an ancient honorific title for a noble woman”). In another tradition Princess Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime, who was an aunt of the Emperor Suijin became the wife and shaman to Omononushi. When a massive epidemic swept through the land and killed nearly half the people the horrified Emperor prayed to the kami to understand what was happening and his aunt become possessed by the kami and explained that he needed to seek out an Otataneko and appoint him as the high priest. When this was done the plague ended.

Princess Yamato-hime was one of the Emperor's daughters who was chosen to be the head priestess of the Sun kami at the imperial families shrine during the reign of Suinin. It was she who traveled the land until she came to Ise where she erected the most important shrine in Shintoism. She was still serving when her nephew Prince Yamato-takeru visited her before going to war in the east. At this time she gave him the sword Kusanagi no tsurugi. This sword had been endowed with powers by Susanowo-no-kami and so allowed the prince to defeat the Emishi and their kami.

Solitary Shamans

Learning the art of shamanism and the secrets to help others often required long periods of quite contemplation in the mountains. So Japan's lore is filled with those who would go up into the mountains to learn from the spirits, away from humanity. Yet more often than not these aesthetics would return to civilization, or at least live on the edge of civilization in order to help humanity. Their purpose after all, was most often to act as mediators between the spirit and the human world.

Each region had it's own variation of shamanism
because Japan isn't historically a single religion
but many, which all came under Imperial control.
While they technically had to follow the Emperor's
religion, they all still followed their own to some extent.

Family Shamans

There are many traditions of families with their own set of kami, their own ancestral spirits. In Okinawa for example, each family has their own kami known as ukamagam and tukurugam, both of which are passed down to the eldest son, and from there to any branch families as well. True to the female shamanistic character of Japan, however, the relationship with kami is most often cared for by the eldest sons wife.

The Ukamagam are sometimes considered to be ancestral spirits, but other times are believed to be separate beings all together. Regardless of whether the ukamagam is an ancestral spirit or not they are a key part of the families connection to the spirit world, acting to help insure a happy household. They also act as bridge between the family and the kami of the heavens.

The tukurugam is a guardian spirit which protects the house from robbers, thieving little animals, and the like. They also act as a connection between the household and the other kami of the earth and sea. Though the tukurugam are tied to the eldest son in a family they are also tied to the household itself. So when a new house is built the family moving in will ask shamans to ritually ask the tukurugam to settle into the household.

Still the existence of these household kami, doesn't make a member of the family a shaman, it just gives them the potential to have their own personal shamanistic traditions, which they sometimes do. The most famous, or infamous of these family shaman traditions are those who worship animal spirits. These traditions are interesting because unlike much of Japan's post Buddhist culture they are matrilineal, with the animal spirits being passed down from the mother to each of her daughters. This means that the sons of one of these families will usually seek out a wife from another of these families, in order to continue to enjoy the benefits which the animal spirits provide. Of course sometimes all it took to become a family which worked with animal spirits was moving into a house, or onto land which had once been owned by such a family. Further, since animal spirits could dwell inside of drawers, jars, and more, even buying or receiving one of these from a family which had animal spirits could stick a family with them as well.

Keep in mind that one of the key jobs of Shrines is to
build and maintain a relationship with the Kami.
This means not only honoring them, but traditionally
also entertaining them.

The Shamans Work

The Kuchiyose

Kuchiyose is the act of becoming possessed by the kami for some purpose. For an experienced shamaness the state of ecstasy is a moment of calm, a moment of clarity, a prayer in which they are filled with a spirit, whom they are than able to speak for. There were three kinds of kuchiyose

1 - kami kuchi_ possession by gods or spirits in order to divine, heal the sick,etc.,

2 - shi kuchi—possession by the souls of the dead to report conditions, desires, etc., of the dead.

3 - possession to obtain information concerning the activities, locations, thoughts, etc.,of people who were at a distance. (Fairchild)

There were a number of different ways of performing the kuchiyose, one of which involved having the patron place a dead tree leaf in one of the mikos sacred bowls of water. The miko would than breath into the water and stir it three times with a twisted peace of paper, at which point the miko would become possessed.

Other Mikos would use a rosary which was at times called irataka nengu and was often passed down from teachers to their disciples for generations (often on the death of the teacher). It could be as much as eight feet long and would be made from some three hundred soapberry wooden beats, as well as the claws of animals, figures made from the jaw bones of dear and foxes, as well as the horns of deer, the teeth bears, claws of eagles, shells, and other sacred items.

The Sasa Hataki would use long pieces of the bamboo grass sasa which they would tap to their faces and heads while sitting before a bowl of water. They would than invoke various spirits for a long time before shaking and becoming possessed.

Those miko who would become possessed by fox spirits would use a cylinder object which was called a gehobako, which the fox spirit was said to live in. In nearly all cases the Miko carried a box also called a gehobako which held these sacred objects, many of which were said to be possessed by various spirits.

Still other miko would use  two Oshira Kami Dolls, one male (which had three bells attached to it) and one female (which had four bells attached to it). These were made from an eight inch piece of mulberry wood with a dress made from a simple piece of cloth with a hole cut in it to go over the head.

Once possessed the miko would be able to speak for the dead and or various kami. They could also cure illnesses, exorcise evil spirits,  perform rituals to protect people and homes from possession, and perform divination with regards to agriculture as well as various other  religions-magico functions.
This was contrasted with the ontake ko (male shamans) who were  believed to have a special relationship with the spirits of foxes, being able not only to exorcise them but also to become possessed by and than control the spirits of foxes. In order to perform their rituals these shamans would work in pairs. So when exorcising a fox one Ontake Ko (called Zenza) would make on offering of soy bean paste and fried bean curd to the fox. These offerings would be placed before the other shaman known as Chuza.

There is some evidence that the lion dance in many regions
is the partial decedent of the old bear dances, of previous mountain
religions which worshiped bears.

Sacred Dances

Sacred dances known as kagura were an important means for a shaman or some other person to become possessed by the spirits. In  the Shimane Prefecture there is an independent system of professional ohinto priests which managed to survive into the modern day, even after their practices had been outlawed many times by the Meiji government. Theses ohinto perform the kagura for Omoto (an ancestral kami, or a collective of ancestral kami) which dwell within a long straw figure of a snake which is coiled around a sacred tree. For the ritual this snake is carried in procession through the village to the shrine where the kagura is going to be performed in it's honor. At the end of this dance Omoto-sama typically possesses one of the villages and gives his message.

In this village the dancers are all male as are the mediums, however, this dance used to be performed by a miko who became possessed with the help of a male mountain aesthetic (who was at times her husband). Now the ritual tends to be performed by volunteers and priests who go through a week long purification process.

Kagura-no are dances which are performed in masks and costumes to tell stories of myths and epics. One of the more interesting of these Epics is a local version of Susa-no-o's story in which he fights a pair of dragons which whirl around him breathing fire and smoke. Others are fights between yamabushi and evil spirits. At the end of this performance one man becomes possessed such that he falls into a trace or begins to jump wildly about and has to be restrained by the priests. After the possessed person and possessing spirit have been calmed the priests will ask them questions important to the villages future (such as the harvest for the next year, potential disasters, and the like).

Becoming a Shaman

Tiny ice crystals hang in the still cold night air, caking everything in the small village with layers of frost so that even the thin layer of snow seems new. A young girl steps shivering from the cool house where she is staying, and into the freezing night air. Her pure white clothes seem to blend perfectly with the cold white snow and if anyone were to see her the could be forgiven for thinking that she was a snow woman. But if anyone saw her, other than those few who had been purified in order to be able to watch her, she would have to start over again. And her stomach has started to burn from hunger so intensely that she's still thinking about it even as her bare feet step out into the freezing cold snow. It's been days since she's slept so even the cold isn't enough to keep her from dozing for long enough to fall over a small pine into a snow drift.

A bucket of water sits out for her at the edge of the trees and mountains just a little ways ahead. Although it was just placed there she has to brake a very thin layer of ice that has formed on it. She takes a breath and hefts the bucket, than pauses. Tired, hungry and cold she reconsiders what she is about to do for a moment, but just a moment, there is no going back now. She pours the freezing cold water over her head and nearly lets out a shriek as the cold water shocks her system, washing away the hunger, the fatigue, all her worldly thoughts and concerns, at least for a moment. She's not even half way through the hardest part of her training, and it seems impossible to imagine how such a young girl could continue on this way for much longer.

In most cases a potential shamanesses would spend from 3 to 5 years  learning the art of the kuchiyose, magico-religious rituals, important ballads, and gaining an understanding of the kami. After which these girls would begin the most severe part of their training. For 21 days they would be kept in a tiny hut in front of their mistresses house, during which time they couldn't be exposed to sunlight. Three times each night they would have to sneak out, and remaining unseen by others they would have to pour cold water over themselves. They had to abstain from most foods, and had very little to eat. In one case the girls could only eat chestnuts, nutmegs and potatoes for the first seven days, than they could only eat small unsalted riceballs for the next seven days, and during the last seven days she could only eat a small amount of raw foods as she had to avoid fire. During this period in time they weren't allowed to sleep, or lay down, but could only kneel three times a day. If they became exposed to an impurity such as blood they would have to start over, Thus young girls often had an easier time than older girls who were prone to having periods, and so often did have to start over. Blood of any sort after all would drain a kami of it's power and so would prevent the kami from visiting the girl for the first time. Still some older woman did become shamanesses would perform purifying rituals to deal with this, or would start their ablutions over when they began to menstruate and so would be able to become possessed by the kami.

Their graduation ceremony was called kami tsuku (attaching the kami) as this was the ceremony in which a kami would possess the girl for the first time, and so become her guardian spirit During the ceremony the young itako would mount bags of rice as if they were a horse, and offerings would be set before her for the spirits. The itaku would put her feet in these offerings and be asked which spirit had attached itself to her. She would respond with the name of the kami and at times than fall over in a faint, to be caught by her primary instructor. After this a wedding would take place between her and her guardian spirit in order to unite them. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Francis Glebas - Disney Storyboards

A master artist who created the storyboards for some of Disney's most beautiful scenes. From the "Whole New World" sequence in "Aladdin" to Donald Duck in "Fantasia 2000."

More recently he's moved to Blue Sky Studio's where he's done storyboards for "Epic" and "Rio 2."

He has a very good blog with a lot of information on how to create stories.
He also has books here.

Below Are Images from Disney's "Hercules," "Aladdin," and Francis's book "The Animators Eye"

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Explore Italy's Alpine Fairylands

2-Snippets of Fairy Tales

If you wake up to the smell of amazing bread, fresh alpine forests, and the weight of a little mischievous fairy bouncing on your stomach you'll know the spirits have carried you away to Italy.

The mountains in Northern Italy team with the ancient fairies from the time before the Romans, as well as the spirits of the later Empire and the German invaders.

The Italian Tourism website describes the artists of Northern Italy as "Straddling Reason and Insanity." Perhaps this happened because, of all the fairies which team in this ancient land.
Fantastic mountain villages dot the land, isolated during the Once Upon a time, the tales of this land feature lonely hunters, and villages on which the fairies can descend. In one fairy tale nymph like water fairies known as Anguana, grow jealous of a village, because the women there have discovered the secret to being eternally beautiful. So in the dark of night, while the men are out hunting, the Anguana descend on the lonely village and slaughter all the women and girls there. They then burn the village to the ground. 

Yet as was the case with all fairies, the Anguana's nature isn't fixed in stone because they can also be good and kindly fairies. They taught humans how to produce sugar, glass, salt, and more. In essence they created the civilization in parts of Northern Italian lore.

Like everything in this mountainous region, the Anguana come from the clash of many cultures. They are nymphs, perfect nearly every way, yet they always have some flaw. A gooses foot, a hollow moss filled back, the lower half of a reptile, just as the Germanic Nature Spirits are said to have. (A similar Italian fairy, including some from the Mountains of the North spend half their time in snake form, and half their time as beautiful women).

While the passes are filled with Orco (Ogres) that must be bribed to have safe passage along the mountain roads. In addition to waylaying travelers they could use their magic make people dance for an entire night, sometimes making people dance themselves to death. Only the morning light could save a person from this curse.

From WikiCommons
This then is a land filled with fairies. Most of these fairies are neither good nor bad, but take care of the land, often the lakes. Keeping the water pure and clean, while helping to insure that the surrounding land remains fertile and beautiful.

Here in the mountains the song of the 
fairies could be heard drifting over the 
land, its sweet sound filling the valleys. 

The Waterways were clear and the meadows beautiful, thanks to the fairies
Image from Wikicommons

Snippets of Tales

In Piedmont an elegantly dressed silver nosed fairy came to a poor washer woman's home and asked to hire the woman's daughters for a job. The eldest daughter went first, and after walking for an exhasting number of days they came to a massive castle with hundreds of rooms, one of which the girl could not enter. She does so, however, and as punishment Silver Nose throws her into the fire in the room. The second daughter does the same. The third daughter manages to free her eldest daughters, and tricks the silver nosed fairy into carrying them back home to her mother.

Here too humanity is defended by the fairy folk. One form of fairy would undo the evil spells of witches, and defend people against the monsters that haunted the night. These tended to live in Oak trees in people's yards, in chimney's or at times in haystacks. They worked especially hard to protect new born babies. And would travel about on Christmas, when people would, at one time, celebrate them.

There is also a Northern Italian version of "The Elves and the Shoemakers" the resembles the Germanic one very closely.

A young carpenter encountered some water fairies at Lake Subiolo in Valstagna. They tried to lure him into dancing with them, but he continually refused. At last they gave him the gift of being one of the greatest carpenters in teh world, yet of always being poor. So it was that he made many of the wonderful wooden works in churches throughout Italy, but he never had money.

Fairies in this land often live in snake as well as human form. In one tale a young man falls in love with a fairy, and she with him, but he doesn't realize that she spends half her time in snake form.

Once two shepherds were resting between some rocks when they heard a such a beautiful song that they held their breath, for fear of breaking the spell of the sound. Slowly the song came closer to them, until at last they saw a beautiful fairy women, wrapped in a mantle, her long golden hair gleaming in the sunlight.
"It's the fairy of the lake," One Whispered.
"Shhhhh" the other silenced him.
At the last moment the fairy noticed them, and suddenly ashamed to be seen she covered her face with her long blond hair and fled back towards the lake. The grass didn't even bend under her feet.
On impulse one if the shepherds chased her, but he could not catch her.
Later the two shepherds saw a giant golden snake, and fled from it in fear.

Later a hunter would encounter this same golden snake, and shoot it. The snake died and with it so did the lake which dried up soon after.

From Wikicommons

A Few Fairies of Italy

Basadone (Italy)
The Personification of the wind. They are good nature spirits which appear as nimble humans and float up on breezes.. They often protect children during a storm. He is attended by funny and somewhat ugly servents with whom he roams through fields.

Buffardello (Italy)
A one and a half foot tall anthropomorphic goblin like creature. They dress in red clothes, or just a red cap and pointed shoes. Some appear as children other appear as old with beards. They often sit in trees or the hay, although they are typically invisible. They live in nut trees and on occasion buildings.
The buffardello loves to tease people and animals, and spends much of it's time teasing peoples pets. They also like to bounce and play on peoples chests while they are asleep which causes the people to feel like they are suffocating. They may also hold people down and put their hand in peoples mouths in order to scare them. Additional mischief included hiding or moving objects, turniff of lights, tearing wall paper, cutting peoples hair and beards into patches, undoing bundles of cloth. Further they can be heard scampering around the houses at night, especially running up and down stairs.
In addition to mischief they often also steal from mankind, including  wine, hay, laundry, milk (including that directly from cows). They may also suck the blood of animals, ultimately killing them. At times they may also take the beauty of girls.
They have many magical properties associated with them including the power to control the wind.

Folletto (Italy)
Small trickster figureswho are very agile, elusive and able to fly and become invisible. They live in burrows in the woods, especially near conifers. Or at times they can live in  human homes, backyards, and barns. They almost ever only come out at night to have fun and tease the animals in the stables, mess up their hair of women, and create clutter among the farm tools and in the house. Although they are tiny normally they can change their hight, sometimes their shape, and so forth.

Gnefro (Italy)
A small fairy which appears like a child, but only shows themselves at night. They like to play pranks on solitary wonderers though they rarely do anything serious. On occasion they will live in a human house which they will protect and aid.

Lauru (Italy)
Little people who cause mischief such as riding animals (dogs, sheep, etc) until they are exhasted. They also tie the hair of animals and people into knots. Though oddly enough they have a sense of fair play, protecting the poor (especially farmers) from their bosses, etc. They are every intelegent.
Being internally duelistic they both steal from people but also help people to find money. They have huge stashes of treasure and so often a farmer or boy will catch them and try to force them to tell the farmer where it is, but the Lauru almost always outsmarts the human in the end. Though if you can manage to steal the Lauru's hat yor scarf you'll become rich.

Lenghelo (Italy)
Often spiteful but not evil this fairy loves to tell dirty jokes, jump on stomachs of sleeping people and so forth. They may also provide people with luck, however, such as by providing them with winning lottery numbers.

Mazarol (Italy)
They are old men with a sturdy build which dress in red, with a turquise jacket  and a large hat. He is vindictive against those who betray trust. In one tale a girl trampled over his path, angering him so that he breathed in her face causing her to forget her previous life. He than brought her back to serve him, teaching her how to make butter and cheese while promising to teach her how to make wax. Before this could happen a hunter recoginized her and brought her home, they tried to revive her memory but failed until at last an old lady gave her milk form a white goat at which point her memories returned. She was the one who taught her people how to make butter and cheese.

Monachicchio (Italy)
Said to be the spirits of children who died before they were baptized they are handsome with a gentle character (They also wear a red cap like most fairies). They usually appear to children with whom they spend a lot of time playing. They often play childish pranks on adults such as tickling thier feet, pulling off their covers, or sitting on them while they sleep. They tie the hair of animals into knots.
They will whisper sweet words into the ears of beautiful girls and lick or pinch their cheeks.
They can vanish at will  by clapping their hands in order to return to their home in a cave ful of treasure.

Munaciello (Italy)
A form of house fairy, they often aid people in a house bringing them luck or money. They also blow in the ears of sleepers to wake them when danger is coming. They can be problematic however for they like to touch beautiful women in their invisable state. You can get them to be beneficial with food, in return for their gifts. Though they will curse any who reveal that they live in a house. They tend ot come out at night to give people the treasures. Its unknown if these treasures come from the Munaciello themselves or if they are stolen from other people.

Scazzamurrieddhru (Italy)
A little old man who dresses in tobacco colored clothing and always wears a hat on his head. He sits on the chests of those who are sleeping makeing them sleep restlessly. They repay kindnesses done to them with gold coins or by pointing their benefactor to a hidden treasure. If you can steal his hat he mut also point you to treasure.
The Scazzamurrieddhru will appear to those going into the cemetery at night. Those doing so however are attacked by the Scazzamurrieddhru who will jump on the persons chest causing them to laugh uncontrollably until they die.

Squasc (Italy)
Small, hairy and reddish much like a squirral without a tale and an anthropomorphic face. They are boogie man type creatures which loves to frighten children, especially young girls.


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