Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Previews

The following are excepts from my books; "A Writer's Guide to Fairies, Witches, and Spirit Journeys," "Hags, Werewolves, and Vampires from Mythology for 5e and Pathfinder."

Writer’s Guide to Fairies, Witches, and Spirit Journeys from Mythology

Into the Spirit World A dark storm bears down on the Hungarian village, rumbling with hail. There are dragons in that storm, and with it comes the people's greatest enemy – hunger. Should the storm hit their fields, the people will have another starving winter of stuffing their bellies with inedible leaves to keep the hunger away, another winter where they'll have to decide who has enough to eat and who dies. One young man still recalls the whimpers of his little sister during the last starving winter, when she lay so motionless, he'd thought she'd died. He also recalls the constant funerals and the wails of those so hungry they thought they would be next. He will not allow his village to starve like that again. He lays down as if asleep, and in his trance, his soul flies from his body in the form of a wolf to do battle with the witches, serpents, and dragons of the storm. Victory means that his village will eat this winter, but should he lose, people will starve, and many will die. Three hundred miles to the southwest, in Italy, armies of shaman-warriors known as benandanti ride animal spirits such as hares to battle against witches who are trying to steal the life of the land. To the north, people send their souls from their bodies in the form of wolves to attack the devil at the gates of hell, before he can escape with the crop seed he has stolen from their village. Further north men send their soul from their body in the form of giant bears to assist their comrades in arms, and to the east, a man's soul battles a giant in order to rescue the spirits who bring the fish up the river or to return rain to the dry fields. Shamanism is a life and death struggle for the survival of communities which takes place in a world of spirits, for human villages couldn't survive without battling, negotiating with, or seeking aid from powers which most people will never see. Among the most dramatic stories of European shaman's are the shaman-witch battles between different lands or against dark spirits, in which witches known by many different names in many different countries would raid each other's villages for the life of the land, for milk from the cattle, and to stop or cause storms. These same witches would protect their own villages from other witches, and the dark forces which were always seeking to steal life and destroy crops. Equally as dramatic, although less attested to in Europe, are the tales of people entering the other world to rescue a soul in order to bring the 4 dead and dying back to life and health. But, perhaps the most common reason to enter the other world was to take part in the witches Sabbath, which Pocs states was likely a remnant of the witches of old communicating with the spirits of the dead and otherworld. A way to learn magic and negotiate for their village's success. Regardless of the shaman's purpose for entering the spirit world, once there, they had to deal with its strange denizens and navigate its extensive lands. Doing so created many of the epic stories we now call myths and fairy tales. Witches were Shamans Europe obviously had many magical traditions, and not all of them were shamanistic in nature. That said, shamanistic traditions at least somewhat inspired the most interesting witches in Europe. Wilby states that; Scholars in this field unanimously acknowledge that descriptions of encounters between cunning folk or witches and individual spirit-helpers or familiar spirits are also, like descriptions of Sabbath experiences, likely to have derived from pre-Christian shamanistic visionary traditions. Shamanism is the use of some form of trance to commune with the other world in one of three ways. The first way of communicating was via spirit journeys in which the shaman’s soul leaves their body, the second was via familiar spirits in which the shaman communicates with spirit entities which assist them, and the third was via possession in which spirits possess the shaman in order to speak for them or commune with them. Almost no witches used all three of these methods for communicating with the spirit world, and in Central and Eastern Europe, most only used one. There were many other magical and magico-religious traditions within Europe of course, such as Necromancers who summoned spirits to them, and prophets which communicated with otherworldly powers without using one of the shamanistic methods, and magicians who would mix herbs and magical formulas. But the shamanistic traditions were perhaps the most common. Such shaman's went by many names; such as cunning, witches, benandanti, talos, etc. I choose the term witch in this book to describe European shamans (despite the fact that it usually only referred to evil shamans in the past with 5 words like cunning folk referring to good users of magic) because it has become the most common term for practitioners of magic using otherworldly power within our culture. The Spirit World What happens in the spirit world matters, perhaps more than what happens in the mortal one. Any injury the shaman-witch receives in the spirit world is suffered by their mortal self. Worse still, however, their soul can be in jeopardy in the spirit world. This means that while the witch/shaman's body might be laying in bed, or sitting in meditation, the dangers they faced in the spirit journey were very real. What's more, the stakes were often high. Such stakes could be anything from the life of an individual to the survival of their entire village or nation. The spirit world in which the witch shaman's journeyed was filled with numerous creatures, strange and beautiful, which could almost all be either enemy or friend. Success in their journey often depended on their ability to negotiate with these creatures, which is why fairy tales are often more about being clever than strong, for there were only a limited number of beings who could ever fight many of the monsters in the other world. Even the gods of Norse and Greek myth would often sneak past, flee from, trick, or be captured by these creatures. Indeed, I would argue that negotiation and trickery were the two most important parts of surviving the European spirit world. In a Russian fairy tale, in which the young protagonist is about to journey to meet the child-eating monster who lives at the edge of the land of the dead known as Baba Yaga, a Russian Grandmother gives her the following advice; "Now listen to me, my darlings, I will give you a hint: Be kind and good to everyone; do not speak ill words to anyone; do not despise helping the weakest, and always hope that for you, too, there will be the needed help." In the modern day, the film that best depicts a spirit journey is "Spirited Away." As with many such fairy tales, the protagonist in this story is expected to work hard and act polite in order to survive. Yet at the same time, through her kindness, she receives help from a number of spirit creatures, and so is able to accomplish what might otherwise be impossible tasks. Baba Yaga, the aforementioned monster who commonly devoured children, would also require girls who showed up to her home to clean, weave, and perform other choirs or suffer death. Here too the protagonists succeeded not by their own skill, but by their kindness and politeness to the beings of the spirit world. Such 6 stories are common throughout Europe and Asia. The characters in these stories were rarely able to succeed or survive without help from the magical residents of the spirit world, yet these same residents were also the ones who threatened and killed them if they failed. Understanding the residents of the spirit world then is perhaps the most important part to understanding the spirit world itself, and most of these residents fall into one of four types.
End of This Section of Preview

More from Spirit Journeys

Our Good Neighbors Fairies – Owners of the Land A gentle snow falls as you set your fish traps in the river as silently as you can. The bitter pain of hunger has long since been replaced by the raging agony of starvation, by the desperate stuffing of yourself with dirt, inedible leaves, moss, anything to 8 make the pain of slowly starving go away. Even when you slip on the icy mud and crash headlong into the freezing water, you do your best to keep quiet. The spirit who lives in the forest behind you loves the quiet, and swearing would offend the sensitive spirit of the water. What would be worse would be to let the spirit of the cold know that you are suffering, which would serve to incur its wrath. So, without any sign of discomfort, you quietly climb out of the freezing water and finish setting your fish traps. Finally, done, you pour a little gruel, close to the last of your food into the water, and as politely as possible, explain to the spirit of the river that your family is starving and ask it to provide you with fish. As you leave your traps, you hang some fabric from a tree for the spirit within, hoping that it too will improve your luck. For you only have one hope left, that the fairies who own the land around you will take pity and share their bounty with your family. Many people feel they are out of place, as if they are intruders in this strange world of ours. At one time, people believed that this was because they didn’t live in a truly human world. Instead, they believed that our world was ruled by a plethora of magical creatures that could take many forms from dragons to fairy women. Those humans wishing to move to a new home had to fight and make peace with these magical rulers of the land, and often times, the act of making peace with the magical owners of the land could be thought of as leasing a piece of land from them. People would make offerings of food, money, or cloth to the spirits in return for the right to live and prosper in a particular place. Take for example, a story from the Ural Mountains in which some hunters discover a large lake. Upon approaching the lake, the hunters startled some water spirits on the shore. The spirits fled into the water, and the hunters thought of fleeing as well; however, when they saw how many fish were jumping in the lake, they overcome their fear and started to fish. However, try as they might, they had no luck, even with the fish jumping all around them. Eventually, they went to their elders for advice. An old man told them that they must make an offering to the water spirits if they want to fish the lake. Based on the old man’s advice the hunters sacrificed a white bull and cooked it. They left some of the meat in the bushes near the lake, and the next day when they returned, they were able to catch a lot of fish. Since that time, the fish were so plentiful that people forgot the times of famine. (М. А. Созина, 2002) 9 Compare the above tale to a memorate from Buckow, German in which two farmers were fishing when a nix came out of the water and asked them for cloth to make trousers. One farmer refused and the other promised he would bring the cloth the next day. After he kept his word, every net that he threw into the water was filled with fish. The farmer who had refused the nix’s request, however, never caught fish again. In the world of fairies, success in life was predicated on maintaining a good relationship with the spirits who controlled the land. Today, these owners of the land are often thought of as “Nature Spirits”, but this term only gives a small part of the picture. In truth, the spirit owners of the land are beings, which were attached to a specific location, which doesn’t necessarily make them nature spirits in the way we would think of it. As we’ll see many of these fairies wanted people to be successful at farmers, manufacturing, hunting, fishing, and herding animals. In

Horror and Folk Tales

Imagine a land where over a third of the population has been slaughtered by vampires, where children go to bed fearing that a dark god will come down the chimney to snatch them away, and where werewolves besiege cities. This was the world that people believed they once lived in. When tuberculosis killed thousands in Rhode Island, it was believed that vampires were responsible. Similarly, when the plague struck, killing a third of the population of Europe, it was believed that witches were the cause. This was a world where dark gods stalked murky, fever filled swamps and where giants roamed the countryside, snatching people out of windows for quick snacks. This was the land of fairy tales, where even good isn't always kind. In one fairy tale, a girl refuses to clean up sheep crap for some fairy shepherds… so they curse her and she dies, covered in biting insects, snakes, and other creepy crawly things. In Lithuania, the Odin-like deity brings gifts to the poor; however, he also takes the form of a handsome youth in order to lure girls to dance with him. Then, the next morning, those who did dance with him are found hanged, for he is a god of death, of hanging, and of drowning. In the Alpine countrie,s a female Santa Claus figure cuts open the bellies of children who didn’t clean their houses and stuffs them full of garbage.
I'm sure that since you’re reading this book on the darker aspects of fairy tales, you know that many people enjoy horror stories. Indeed, fear and revolution are a large part of what makes us human, which is why people have told horror stories for a long time – horror stories that we now call fairy tales. Unfortunately, we often miss this horror today, where fear is so often a thing of the past and the tales that were once told in the dark around a crackling fire are, instead, read as whimsical children’s stories. Worse still, many of the most terrifying fairy tales are ignored. For example, the tales of the Grimm brothers have dark elements, but they were collected from literary circles of the upper class as often as not, so their purpose wasn't as much to scare as to discuss a whimsical world. Even so, darkness still lingers in these tales, waiting for us to crack them open and remake them into the macabre tales they once were. Indeed, many of the most popular villains of horror stories, from bloodthirsty vampires to dark, twisted ghosts, come from fairy tales. However, there are many more villains that we are missing. Some of the creatures that are rarely discussed include the family of serial killers who sent the spirits of insects to possess and torment people, the creature in the bathroom who skins people alive, and the beautiful fairy girls who collect the heads of boys dumb enough to speak with them. We will explore many of these villains and other terrifying elements in fairy tales within this book. Perhaps, however, the best thing to do to gain inspiration from fairy tales is to read them a little differently, searching for the darkness at their heart, and drawing on them for inspiration to startle, shock, and above all, give that tingling sense of fear that your readers are seeking from horror.
Think, for example, about changeling stories in which fairies replace a child with a fairy in disguise. In one of these, a mother goes out to fetch some water and when she returns:

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

Fairies are often bloodthirsty, so in place of this woman’s beautiful child, something is left which could, very well, be evil – something which might drink her blood in the night, murder her neighbors, and bring death and plague. Yet, these mothers whose children have been replaced can never be completely certain that the changeling isn't their baby – they just have a feeling, a sense that something is very, very wrong. The way the child screams, the way it grins, and its cold, calculating eyes all scare her, but what can she do? If she mistreats the child, the monster it truly is might take offence… so she is trapped, treating the child like her own even though she is now terrified of it.
However, what was truly horrifying for people in the past was that they believed that these things could actually happen. They believed that their loved ones could be replaced by a monster, so much so that in 1849, a man believed that his wife, Bridget Cleary’s illness was caused by the fact that she had been replaced by a fairy. So, he and a group of people, including Cleary’s own father, tried to force her to take some magical herbs, and when she refused, they tortured her with a hot poker. They threw a noxious brew of herbs over her, causing her to cry out. They then began to shake her, trying to drive the spirits possessing her

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Dark Shamanism and the Connection to Werewolves, Vampires, Hags

Cannibalism and the consumption of blood are associated with shamanism, that is the act of going on spirit journeys away from one’s body, all over the world. One of the foremost experts on witch mythology and folk religion, Emma Wilby points out ;

recent studies, when taken in conjunction with relevant material from older fieldwork, clearly confirm that although cannibalistic rites are strongly associated with the witch figure in many indigenous cultures across the world, they are also central to many traditions classified as ‘‘shamanistic’’, with the latter practices being defined, among anthropologists, as ‘‘shamanistic cannibalism.’’ While these practices have been reported in all the world’s habitable continents…

Charles Ste´panoff has recently noted that: “In all of Siberia, as in many places where shamanism is usually identified, shamans are suspected of ‘‘devouring’’ other humans . . . Tuvans often told me that shamans can ‘‘bite and eat people.’’ These are not myths about a remote past: a shaman proudly claimed to me to have himself ‘‘eaten’’ several people, but not yet enough, he recognized, to be called a ‘‘great shaman.’’

It has long been recognized that psychophysical compulsion is a feature of most shamanistic traditions, typically emerging in the context of possession and initiation (in the latter case, acceptance of the shamanic vocation often being likened to profound surrender to an overwhelming force). Anthropologists studying dark shamanic traditions have noted that similarly compulsive urges underpin the shaman’s need to journey in subtle body to hunt down and consume human flesh. In this respect, with regard to his random killing sprees at least, the shaman is believed to be fundamentally innocent of the murders he commits.

Throughout this text, you will find that hags, vampires, and werewolves are each pushed by sudden, uncontrollable urges to devour, and that each of these has strong associations with shamanistic spirit journeys. This is not to say that all vampire, werewolf, and hag tales come from stories of dark shamans, but many clearly do, and even those that don’t likely took at least some of their elements from tales of witches.

Keep in mind that despite the danger posed by such shamans they were often tolerated within their communities, for their devouring of life gives them the power to help their community and protect it from the greater dangers of other shamans or human eating spirit sand deities. In order to do this latter job the shaman would need to befriend these cannibalistic spirits in order to steer them in specific directions. Further, such dark shamans would often leave their villages and only devour the enemies of their people, at least until they died at which point their spirit might no longer be able to tell friend from foe. Again Wilby states:

Ste´panoff noting that

In Siberia, shamans’ cannibal practices are not seen as a bad habit of a particular category of ‘‘evil’’ or ‘‘black’’ shamans, or as a lapse contradicting their benevolent mission of healing. Rather, it looks like an inevitable expression of what makes them shamans. Humans are just one of the numerous objects of their appetite, besides hostile spirits and simple presents of meat and alcohol . . . the shaman’s body is from birth (as opposed to by will) an active channel, and that is why, traditionally, ‘‘devouring’’ is not precisely understood as a ‘‘bad action’’ from an ethical point of view.

In this context, even when a shaman is lynched or ostracized the process may be strangely devoid of blame, with Ste´panoff, noting that in Siberia, ‘‘Cannibal shamans are killed or abandoned in order to preserve lay people rather than as a kind of punishment.’’ From this perspective, dark shamanistic traditions are sustained by the profound fatalism that thrives in any preindustrial culture required to endure a high incidence of sickness and death.

Ste’panoff’s observation is that societies that had to endure a high incidence of death and fear of their own destruction almost all developed dark shamanism is likely true. After all, the peoples of Siberia, South America, and South East Asia all suffered conquest by foreign armies and rampant plagues before anthropologists began recording their religious beliefs. It shouldn’t be surprising than that the stories of dark shamanism found around the world, after the spread of small pox and the conquest by outsiders were found in Europe during the darkest days of the medieval eras. In Chipley Lavicek’s book “The Black Death,” he quotes a writer who lived through the plague;

In many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds, both day and night, and all were thrown in those ditches and covered with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with ear that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any dead, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.

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Hags and Wicked Witches

The man awoke to find himself unable to move, a crushing pain pressing down on his chest as he tried desperately to breath. Long talons stroked his face as he struggled and failed to move. He caught glimpses of a monster sitting astride his chest, her green teeth descended towards him, glinting in the moonlight. His life flashed before his eyes as he realized he was about to die, devoured by the hag who was toying with him like a cat with a mouse.
All at once, he was free, the hag was gone. Someone had walked into the room, driving the creature off. The man lay panting for breath, still struggling to move, his heart racing, head spinning. Finally, when he was able to sit up, he grabbed an apple off the table next to his bed and took a bite, but it tasted funny so he tossed it aside. The next morning he found a dead woman lying next to his bed, a bite taken out of her, exactly like the bite he’d taken out of the apple.
(Based on a German Fairy Tale)

Long after stories of encountering fairies and vampires faded in England and the lowlands of Germany, people still feared hags and witches which they believed stalked among them. In England, people heard of characters, such as Peg Prowler, who would come from the depths of water ways to drown people. Even in the Americas, people still feared the power of witches. There is something about the idea of hags that terrifies people to their cores, whether it is the realization that the stories of them come from something far more ancient than their civilization, or the duality of a cannibal and murderer who could appear as a grandparental figure, they were the fears that people clung to for thousands of years.

The most famous hags appear to have been the shadows of nearly forgotten dualistic deities. For instance, Katherine Briggs says that the hag, Cailleach Bheur, “seems one of the clearest cases of the supernatural creature who was once a primitive goddess, possibly among the ancient Britons before the Celts. There are traces of a very wide cult: Black Annis of the Dane Hills in Leicestershire with her blue face, Gentle Annie of Cromarty Firth, the Loathly hag in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale…”. Black Annis, who is mentioned as an aspect of this goddess, was a terrifying monster who would stalk through villages at night, snatching people out of their homes with her clawed hands like an eagle would a mouse. Cailleach is further featured as the villain in some Scottish Fairy Tales. Similarly, the stories of ogres likely came from the tales of the Etruscan god, Orcus, and the water hags who stalked the English lakes and rivers likely came from nymph-like goddesses like those found in Wales and all across Europe. The nature of these deities wasn’t entirely changed by their becoming hags – in fact, only half of it was remembered. Tymoczko (1985) points out that Celtic deities were a contradiction “represented as attributes with divergent symbolic associations – crow and grain, child and severed head.” Tymoczko believes that kindly goddess figures like St. Anne of Ireland and hag monsters such as Dahut who used her powers to bring destruction both came from the same mother goddess, but that the stories of this goddess were split into the nurturing and destructive aspects of her into two beings. “Dahut certainly has features of the Terrible Mother. She is a magician whose supernatural powers and skills bring destruction to her people. Her sexuality is out of control, and she kills the ones she loves. Dahut is associated with images of confinement – she is mistress of a magic wall that holds out the sea…”
This notion that the most famous hags are the darker aspects of dualistic deities makes a lot of sense, for even the Wild Hunter of Germanic lore appears to have been the darkest aspect of Odin. After all, people feared their deities all across Eurasia as much as they revered them. The goddess of growing plants and spring in Greek lore was also known as Dread Persephone, the queen of the dead who brought plagues on cities, which displeased her. Obviously, chthonic deities such as Hades and Persephone, the rulers of the realm of the dead (and in the case of Persephone, “an agricultural goddess”) weren’t hags. Rather, the ideas and fears that people had about them are similar to people’s fear of hags and witches. For example, people feared the curses of witches, and in in places like Sicily, many of curse tablets written were prayers asking Persephone to bring misery to one’s enemies (Cubera). Those who used Persephone to curse others were likely grateful for her help, but always had to worry that someone else might ask Persephone to curse them in similar fashion. Thus, the goddess of spring and plants was also the goddess of the death and evil witchcraft: someone who was both feared and loved.
The duality of deities was an important aspect of their character. Loki, the god of nets and fishing, who aided farmers with furrowing, was also a god of lies and was foretold to be the one who would bring about the end of the world in Norse mythology. Deities in ancient Europe were

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The Realm of the Dead
In folklore, one could sometimes-accidently stumble upon the realm of the dead by walking into the forest, or up a mountain. This realm of the dead is very much like the mortal world, with cities, villages, etc. Those spirits of the dead that leave this realm and enter the mortal realm become corrupted and dangerous. Many of the hags lived on the edge of the realm of the dead, keeping the spirits of the dead from returning to the realm of the living.
Of course, odds are the world you would be playing in would have its own realm of the dead, so exactly how the hags connection to these would work, depends on the world in which you are playing. If for example, you have the standard d20 Chaotic Evil, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, etc. realms then perhaps the hag would shift their alignment and personality to fit the outskirts of whichever of these planes they are living on, but would be able to change alignment to that of another plane if they moved there. Hags, after all are transmutable be