Category Archives: Mythology

Monday Musing: Recycled Lore

Speculative fiction, being that it is purely speculative, is an evolving set of genres. Science fiction and fantasy are generally meant to be fluid and will reflect the times they were made in quite often. And because of this a great many variations will appear within the genre for things that everyone happens to share. What are the differences between Orcs and Orks? How many kinds of vampires are there actually? How distantly related are Legolas and the Keebler Elves?

Sometimes these differences are pretty profound, other times they’re almost non-existent. But what I’ve found most often is that the differences are generally discouraged if a specific work has reached an iconic status. Vampires have had dozens, if not hundreds of variations over the years, but many of the traits which are accepted as “canon” were originated either within Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the movie adaptations to follow. This is strange, because it means the original source material, the folklore, is generally forgotten in favor of variations on a theme of Dracula. It’s because of this that I personally went out of my way to include several variations of vampire in my stories and bring back old bits of lore that are often forgotten – like the fact a vampire can’t cross certain materials without counting every grain in their path.

More accurate than we thought

The funny thing is that, in my world of sci-fantasy reinterpretations of the mythological as biological creatures, I’ve had a few run-ins with people who felt that I had somehow been “wrong” to change the lore. As one person said to me very early on, “I prefer my version”. It’s not the only feedback you get, but it’s one that you realize is quietly prevalent. Though some books and movies get away with it because they’re popular, if something has flaws, it will be immediately criticized for getting the lore “wrong”. Hell, at one point even I took part in doing this before realizing the flaw in my thinking.

Because, after all, cultures that stagnate will never decay… right? Continue reading Monday Musing: Recycled Lore

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The Evolution Of Mythology

The fantasy genre, for all of its common tropes created in the modern day, draws its roots from mythology the world over. Though rarely depicting the stories as they were originally, these mythologies have formed the backbone of what we use today to craft our fictional worlds of magic and supernatural creatures. And, the thing about it is, when you look at what’s in the fantasy works of today and then look into the origins of the creatures in the past, the differences can be stark. Even figures known to the mainstream population are somewhat different than what they’d originally been.

The Leprechaun is one of the easiest changes to point out to people. Their clothing, general demeanor, and place in the lore have changed dramatically overtime. And with the Leprechaun we even see how fast it can happen as the creatures themselves didn’t show up in the folklore until relatively recently in cultural terms. The root stories, the ones that inspired the wee folk in the first place, are actually so different that you would barely recognize them at first glance. But the Leprechaun is far from being the only one. For instance, did you know the word”Dobby” is actually another term for “Brounies“?

Which is why the clothes were a big deal

And one of the things you’ll realize when you look at it close for a while is that there are pretty specific evolutionary paths for some of these mythical creatures. Especially in Europe, a single effect becomes more and more obvious as many creatures of the past were somewhat more innocent in appearance and gradually became more inhuman. Essentially the old trope of “good is pretty” and “evil is ugly” started to become more common over time. Though some creatures have always been evil and ugly, even downright terrifying (looking at you, Celtic and Germanic folklore), other creatures were a lot less dangerous looking at first glance. And, now, those creatures tend to look like something fairly different.

Why did that happen? Well, there are different reasons for different places, but for Europe the answer is pretty simple: Christianity isn’t keen on ambiguity… Continue reading The Evolution Of Mythology

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Monday Musing: What Our Afterlives Say About Us

Recently I wrote about the potential drawbacks of immortality and, funny enough, I haven’t stopped thinking about mortality since. We’re the only animals on this planet that understand we’re here for a finite time. From the day we first learn what death is, we know on some level that it’ll eventually be our turn. When we’re young, it doesn’t quite occur to us day to day, but we still feel it on some level. And when we’re older – well some of us can’t stop thinking about it. The fear of death, in one way or another, shapes our very lives as we decide how we want to spend what little time we have here.

And a result of this, as I mentioned last week, is that the very idea of religion is often an attempt at finding a way out. Mythology has often dealt with the ideas of the natural world and explaining what’s around us. We have gods of thunder to explain why lightning streaks across the sky and the world rumbles like the clash of a mighty hammer. We tell stories of how all the world’s ills came from a box opened in a moment of curiosity or eating the wrong fruit. It’s in our nature to personify the forces of the world around us. But your religion, if you’re honest with yourself, is almost always about your mortality – a fact I forgot to mention when writing on how to go about treating the faith of fictional characters.

Many would say that your religion is what you believe in, but there are systems of belief out there which are fairly anti-religious. Others would say that a belief in a god of some sort is required, but there are forms of Buddhism with no gods to speak of. And, of course, some would say the rites and rituals are what make a religion and that you’re otherwise just spiritual – but once again I don’t quite agree. I’ve personally interacted with people who aren’t Wiccan but will still practice some of their rituals. To them, it’s simply a mythology, even if it’s a religion for someone else. And we’ve all known people who hold a religion but don’t stick to the traditions. In fact, many think that someone who does try to stick to all of their traditions zealously is not of sound mind.

So, while these religions may have all of those beliefs and rituals, the one thing holding them above simple mythology is that people believe in their version of the afterlife. And the funny thing is, because it’s so important to these belief systems, that afterlife says a lot about the people that believe in it.
Continue reading Monday Musing: What Our Afterlives Say About Us

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Mythology Monday: Trapping A Leprechaun

As spring time rolls around and certain holidays come to pass, a few questions inevitably start popping up. Our modern holidays, inspired long ago by more ancient traditions, don’t make a lot of sense to us in our modern frames of reference. For instance, the Easter Bunny references a spring hare that traveled with some old European deities. Coloring eggs for Easter is part of an old Norse tradition representing the dawn. And, as for St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a whole lot we don’t fully understand about these little bastards.

The Leprechaun as we know them today have been changed repeatedly over the course of centuries. Beginning as part of Irish folklore, they’ve since become entwined with Irish stereotypes and traditions that have long since lost meaning.  With even the origin of their name not being entirely clear, with some sources citing “little people” and others saying it was referring to their jobs as shoe cobblers, it makes sense they didn’t stay firm in all that time. Even the color they wear and the way they behave has been altered to suit contemporary mindsets over the ages. By this point, they’re essentially an inkblot test of how you feel about the Irish – for better or worse.

But one thing that hasn’t really changed much about Leprechauns over the ages is the fact that they are magical, lucky, and generally holders of great wealth. Some stories say this is due to their workaholic nature, acting in a miserly fashion and hoarding every coin they could possibly get. Others say that it’s due to their magical nature and ability to do things no human could. And some even say they found the treasures lost or buried by people and simply kept them. But all variations of this story generally have one unifying detail: If you can capture the little shits, they have to bargain their way free – potentially even giving you the location to their treasure (which is one of the few things they’re bound to tell the truth on).

Just one problem for you: they’re trickster spirits, and they’re not about to go down willingly. Continue reading Mythology Monday: Trapping A Leprechaun

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Romans, Romance, and Roaming Dates

As of this writing, we’re all of one day away from St. Valentine’s Day. A day of lovers, romance, and bitter singles – many wonder just how the day came to be associated with such warm or contemptuous feelings. Saints are generally chaste and unrelated to such things, so  the idea of one being associated with young lovers is a bit hard to grasp. This is particularly true because the Catholic Church tells you to be ashamed of most emotions in one way or another and even defines a couple of them as cardinal sins. The only emotion the Church doesn’t seem to look down on at some point is guilt, which is probably why they so mercifully give you a shot of wine on Sundays. Of course, whenever such contradictions happen to come up it’s a good time to check for some sort of pagan holiday behind it all. Surprise, found one.

A quick google search for the origins of Valentine’s Day will no doubt produce dozens of articles talking about the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration held on February 15th. And this makes sense,  the most common of Catholic celebrations started as a pagan tradition of some sort. Like Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, Valentines is said by many to be lifted from the traditions of the pagans. And, of course, you can’t spell Romance without Roman – the people who literally originated the “romance languages” and gave us the very words we need to express our deepest desires.

Just one problem: it would appear that the connection doesn’t really exist… Continue reading Romans, Romance, and Roaming Dates

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History of the Holidays: Saturnalia

Ah, Christmas, a wonderful little paradox. A religious holiday long ago reduced to a secular celebration, draped in traditions few people understand, and generally agreed to not make a lot of sense when you think about it long enough. I’ve already covered once upon a time why Santa was introduced into the concept, and mistletoe, but so much else still doesn’t quite make sense. Like, for instance, why are we getting wasted and feasting on the day when Jesus’ parents were supposedly camping out with animals? And, more bafflingly to some, why are people celebrating Jesus’ birthday when a lot of sources indicate the guy was probably born in the summer?

Shepherds would not be wandering around in the winter.

And the answer to that question, often cited by the guy trying to pretend he’s above holiday cheer (or guys like me, who think it’s neat), is that Christmas as we know it is the amalgamation of several pagan holidays and festivals. Though long forgotten by the people celebrating the season, these events were gradually assimilated as new converts were brought into the fold. The time of Jul, the Winter Solstice, and many others all came to become a part of the celebration that we know today as the religion spread across Europe. But the one thing that started it all was a little festival called the Saturnalia, the Roman Festival of Saturn. And most people know about Saturnalia, they’ve heard the term thrown around, and they’ve probably had at least one person bring it up as a smug bit of trivia.

So, just one question: what the hell was Saturnalia about? Continue reading History of the Holidays: Saturnalia

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Jack, Gourds, and Trolls

As October rolled around and the blog calendar begged to be filled with topics to write, I penciled in what seemed like a good topic for a Mythology Monday. Many people have long known the story of Jack O’Lantern, the poor condemned soul who would wander the world. But, thinking about the nature of the story and the usual way folklore twists and bends from other traditions, I wondered where that story originated. Was there a cultural significance to turnips? Were there stories from older cultures that reflected the story of Jack, maybe putting light to why you would mimic his carving and stick a candle into it? There were a lot of possibilities, so I thought, surely, this would be a cute entry for the Halloween season.

vintage-halloween

But what I found was actually kind of amusing in a whole different sort of way. Because what I found was that the story of “Jack O’Lantern” specifically didn’t seem to have an origin. First being told in the mid 19th century (a little after the practice of lantern carving became most common), the folktale appeared a little late to the party to be credited for the practice. Other stories of similar nature have appeared across Europe, all to account for the origin of what is most commonly known as the Will-O-Wisp, but the actual act of carving a turnip and using it as a lantern seems to be somewhat unique. Essentially, while you could find the origins for other versions of the will-o-wisp stories across the continent, “Jack” didn’t really seem to have one.

Now, that’s not to say that the name itself was just pulled right out of a hat. “Jack” has also long been a character used in many stories about borderline (and sometimes not so borderline) tricksters. Like the trickster spirits of other cultures, “Jack” is generally a clever but troublesome fellow who’ll use his wits to get out of situations. But as I was considering that, something occurred to me about why so many articles just could not figure out the when and how for Jack’s inclusion on the gourd carving practice in Ireland.

Because, you see, I believe we’re looking at the result of massive generational Trolling… Continue reading Jack, Gourds, and Trolls

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History of the Holidays: The Winter Nights

The time of year has come once again, the world has turned autumn shades and winter is coming. A season of holidays, ranging from thankful to solemn, now begins to stretch over the dark months. And to open these we celebrate Halloween, the days of the dead, or variants thereof. Long made a family friendly holiday, there was once a time that All Hallows Eve was seen as a very serious and solemn time, marked with a time of worship and reflection that would help the Catholic Church convert the pagans in Northern Europe and give them an opportunity to celebrate their own rituals within the framework of Christianity.

Of course, many people today know of Samhain, the Celtic festival devoted to the time when the veil between this world and the next would be thinner. Every year, you’ll hear at least one person tell you of how Halloween was all based on this one holiday, that the various traditions we’ve lost the meaning to once held an important place in the Celtic celebrations. But few people actually take time to make note of the fact that Samhain was also the celebration of the New Year, a time when one year was coming to an end and the next year was about to begin. And fewer mention the fact that the Celts and Gaels weren’t the only ones with a celebration this time of year.

Because this was also the time of the Norse New Year, the Vetrnætr, the “Winter Nights”… Continue reading History of the Holidays: The Winter Nights

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Altternative Mythologies – Brazil

The Fantasy Genre has long been dominated by the religions and customs of countries touched on by the Crusades. While this makes sense, with the familiar image of a knight wandering foreign lands being key to the genre itself, there has been stagnation in recent times. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to look into the cultures of the world and find fascinating details about other mythologies often overlooked by the genre we so love, seeking out Alternative Mythologies.

The cultures of Europe and Africa have had some interactions with each other in the past, especially along the Mediterranean coasts. Egyptian mythology influenced Greek, as did Berber, and the same could be said the other way around. Many have known of the influences of Christianity on modern day Voudou and related groups. But that blend is rarely so complete that it would be difficult to know the origins of which belief came from what group. Though sometimes the details get lost to history, like with Poseidon being part of the Berber mythology long before being introduced to the Greeks, there is still some evidence from long ago that makes it possible to separate the two.

But what happens when that blend is a lot more complete and a mythology starts to form after the blending?

Behold, the beautiful mess of the mythology that is Brazil. Having been settled by the Portuguese during the colonial period, Brazil’s culture was heavily influenced from not one direction but rather three fully unique sources. The first, of course, was the indigenous people of the region, the Tupians in particular – a race of people defined by their language group, Tupian, which includes 70 different dialects. Then, as the Portuguese arrived, they did what Europeans generally do and tried to convert the country, introducing a whole new language and their culture. And, as the Portuguese arrived, they also brought along slaves, as the Europeans tended to do at the time, and introduced the unique flavors of the Western African cultures covered in earlier entries of this series.

The result was a wonderfully complex blend of the cultures of three different continents playing off of each other and creating something new. While the origins of some ideas are easy to identify, most are a gestalt which has grown greater than the sum of its parts. A creature shaped like something from the Amazon could behave like an African deity, be associated with a Christian concept, and have a name based on the Portuguese translation of a Tupian word.

So, while it would be impossible to cover the whole of such a rich culture in the space of a lowly blog like mine, it’s a time to give a brief look into the world of… Continue reading Altternative Mythologies – Brazil

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Strange Creatures, Stranger Desires

Since almost the dawn of civilization, people have claimed there are no such thing as new ideas. I’ve never been one to buy that, seeing as we’ve come so far compared to where we were in the past, but it’s still something people like to trade around. However, looking at the stories we tell and the repetition of plots and archetypes, it’s easy to understand why some would disagree. We like familiarity, we like to see something that feels comfortable to us, and thus newer ideas often sit as niche for a while. The other ideas, the old well-tread stories, are easier to push forward and thus easier to notice. Generally, they feature something timeless that doesn’t require a lot of change to feel contemporary.

But even those are usually different as time goes on, we’re always adding to what existed before. Sometimes, those changes even happen without the fans wanting them to happen. One of the loudest criticisms of the Twilight books is what they did to vampires and werewolves. Fans of the horror genres felt that creatures which could have been “cool” and threatening were now fairly pretty instead. Unfortunately for those people, it wasn’t really Twilight’s fault and that ship sailed a long time ago.

pitt-vampire

But not very long ago I mentioned that the same was happening to a more unexpected creature. Once upon a time, zombies were a fairly scary thing which were seen as this ultimate form of “the other”. But as time has gone on they’ve lost a bit of their edge. They now feature in comedies, dramas, action movies, and even…romances. With the production of things like Warm Bodies and iZombie, we’ve managed to find ourselves seeing zombies as something that you could love and be attracted to. And for whatever you may think of the over-saturation of the market – that’s a relatively new idea that in 36 years has taken us from this:

dawn-of-the-dead

To this:

liv

So, the question becomes: How exactly did we go from head-shots to money-shots? Continue reading Strange Creatures, Stranger Desires

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