Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dark Beasts of Germanic myth...


Well in my never-ending quest for interesting and bizarre mythological creatures to fit into my novels, my research took me to the myths of Germany, and what treasures I have found!

The first beast worthy of mention is the rather rude sounding Aufhocker... Not a name I'd try and pronounce around small children or members of the clergy...
The word Aufhocker literally means to 'lean upon'. It is a creature that  is said to jump on the back or shoulders of lone wanderers at night, its attack instilling such horror in their victims that they collapse in fright. Although some myths state that the individual collapses not from fright but because once the Aufhocker attaches to a victim it grows dramatically in size/weight. 

You can see in the picture of the Aufhocker statue in Hildesheim (Germany) that the artist of the sculpture has depicted the Aufhocker as a human in shape. However  the actual form and nature of this mythological creature is quite unclear. Interestingly, many stories apparently describe the Aufhocker as a shapeshifter, who may appear in the guise of a dog or a sad old lady (personally the sad old lady guise would be the scariest). However, the link with the dog shape-shifter is interesting because in Belgium there is a  hell hound called the Kludde, whose modus operandi is remarkably similar to the Aufhocker, in that it stalks lonely roads at night, and jumps on the back of travellers ripping their throats out.
However, there are other descriptions of the Aufhocker as a type of zombie (corporal undead), or kobold (type of Germanic imp) or as some type of vampire or werewolf.
According to Wikipedia the Aufhocker is "considered to be a very dangerous theriomorph that tears the throats out of humans. The connection to attacking victims in the throat is what links the aufhocker to vampirism."
(A theriomorph is: a creature (usually a deity) capable of taking the form of an animal)

According to myth, the aufhocker can not be killed. However, as the Aufhocker seems to have been blended with vampirism, lycanthropy and hell-hound mythology thoughout the ages, it is said that they can be driven off by prayer, churchbells, dawn or (this is my favourite) profuse swearing.

The next beast is the Nachtkrapp or Night Raven, is a mythological creature inspired to strike fear into children.
Several versions of the Nachtkrapp exist. In most legends, the Nachtkrapp is described a giant, nocturnal raven-like bird.
The most popular (and hideous) of the legends claim that the Nachtkrapp leaves its hiding place at night to hunt. If it is seen by little children, it will abduct them. The giant bird then flies to its nest whereby it grossly devours the child by first ripping off their limbs and then picking out their heart.
There are of course, other legends, in which the Nachtkrap will merely abduct children by placing them in his bag (how he holds this bag I do not yet know) and take them 'away'.
There is also the W├╝tender Nachtkrapp (German, lit. Angry Night Raven).  Despite its name, this appears to be a tamer version of the Nachtkrapp; instead of abducting children, it simply crows loudly and flutters its wings, until the children have been terrorized into silence (I personally don't see this as being very effective....)

Image courtesy: Benrey
Then, there is the Guter Nachtkrapp (German, lit. Good Night Raven) is a benevolent version of the Nachtkrapp. This bird enters the children's room and gently sings them to sleep. Clearly the inventer of this myth had never actually listened to the not-so relaxing song of a raven.

The other fascinating beast I discovered in my research is the Nachzehrer - a German Vampire-like creature. This creature however, does not drink living blood, but consumes the dead.
As you may have noted, the Germanic mythologies have much in common with many of the other Slavic and European myths with small differences.

The Nachtzehrer literally translated as "night waster" (also referenced as nachzehrer.)  Is a myth from the Northern region of Germany. The Nachtzehrer is an undead creature easily recognisable by its rather strange habit of holding the thumb of one hand in the other and walking about with only its left eye open.

This creature was believed to have the ability to kill family members through some type of long-range magic. The Nachtzehrer awakens whilst still in the grave. Whilst still entombed, it would begin to eat its own shroud and then feed on its own flesh. As it does this, a member of its family (in the land of the living) would begin to waste away, and the Nachtzehrer gets stronger.

The myth continues to say that at times the Nachtzehrer will rise from it’s grave and feed on the bodies of other corpses. They also are said to find mates in the corpses of  women who have died in childbirth. Apparently, it is possible to track a Nachtzehrer by the the sucking sound it makes (similar to that of a breastfeeding baby).

To become a Nachtzehrer, the individual does not need to be bitten. It is more a case of unusual death circumstances, or epidemic deaths. Additionally, if a child was born with part of the amniotic sac on their head (particularly if it was red), than they were believed to become a Nachtzehrer on death (a little unfortunate for them!). So, to prevent this, the amniotic sac would be dried and preserved, and later fed to the child and this would reverse the curse.
Other preventive measures according to Darkness Embraced (a Vampire mythology site) were: Placing a chunk of earth under the chin of the deceased, placing a coin or stone in their mouths, tying a handkerchief tightly about the neck, placing nets or stockings inside the grave (vampires in northern Germany were said to be compulsive untiers of knots), or being buried face down to avoid its potentially dangerous gaze. Some extreme preventative measures would be to decapitate the head of the deceased, drive a spike in it’s mouth to fasten the head to the ground, or fixed the tongue so it couldn’t move (WTF?) It is important to remember in the past, belief in the arcane was strong, and as life was hard for many, the desire to go to heaven was strong. So any measure that may prevent the dead from rising was regarded as legitimate and at times necessary to ensure that individual finally got their eternal peace.
 

The very last creature I'm mentioning today is of more a inter-European mythological beast and is is truly bizarre. It is called the Chichevache  also known as the anchevache or thingut is a mythical female monster, believed to have survived by eating good and virtuous women...
Courtesy: Deviant art Chichevache
Legends describe Chichevache as a thin cow-faced creature. It was said to be poorly nourished because virtuous women were rare! (Dear me!) Chichevache however, also had a male counterpart, the bicorn (also spelt bicorne or bycorne), which was supposed to have eaten good, kind, loyal and obedient men. The bicorn was well built and healthy, supposedly due to the abundance of good men to feed upon. (Hmmm...you've got to love the misogynistic tendencies of times past...not.)
Chichevache featured in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Many French poets also have written ballads about Chichevache and Bicorns.




Anyway, I have spent waaaaay too long on this, and have much work to do, I'm inspired, and ready to write. Hope you found this little sojourn into Germanic myth as fascinating as I did. Have a great weekend!




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tick Tock - please stop the clock!

So, Magical Redemption is to be released in a few weeks, I've got edits due in a matter of days, and also two University assignments due on Monday.

I am underpressure - in a way I haven't been in years. I'm suffering choice paralysis, which do I do? Last night I completed one of the assignments and then checked my email to discover more edits waiting... with a note suggesting haste from my editor. So... which to start? Assignment two or edits? I know myself as a creature of habit, that whichever I start, I will want to finish. I don't like jumping from one to the other. Ugh.

To add an extra layer of complexity to the issue, it is also school holidays and my offspring demand attention and no babysitters are available... Hmmmm. So here I am, pondering my problem on the blog, procrastinating even more.

So on that note, I bid you farewell, to flick a coin and decide which to commence first.

...edits it is!

Oh and if you want something to whet your appetite, here's an interview with Lucian, posted up on Lauries Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews....
 http://lauriethoughts-reviews.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/magical-creations-by-nicola-e-sheridan.html?spref=fb


Friday, October 5, 2012

Zombies and Dead Creatures of Myth.

I am fascinated, or perhaps horrified by the resurgence of interest in Zombies... particularly books that categorise themselves as zombie romance... I realise that in most cases the Zombies aren't the romance characters but still... the label "zombie romance"... eeeeew. So to improve my ignorance on the matter, I've decided to do a little research on Dead Creatures of myths, focusing primarily on the Zombie but also touching on some of the others.

As we've established, Zombies have been a fixture in literature and film for many years.  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; a Modern Prometheus (1818) is often attributed to starting the trend.
Since then, there have been numerous zombie films and books, from Night of the Living Dead (1968) to the Resident Evil film series that started in 2002 and is still going on strong. The walking dead hold a place in the collective imaginations of the world.

Zombies
Versions of zombies appear in the folklore of many world cultures dating back to prehistory.
The etymology of the word Zombie is unclear.
-Some sources say was first used around 1871, from the West African origin (cf. Kikongo zumbi "fetish;" Kimbundu nzambi "god"), originally the name of a snake god, later with meaning "reanimated corpse" in voodoo.
- it may also hail from Louisiana creole word meaning "phantom, ghost,"
- or from Spanish sombra "shade, ghost."
-or Haitian Creole - zonbi
-or North Mbundu - nzumbe
References: here and here

Needless to say, the term is often applied to describe a hypnotized or reanimated dead person without of conscious thought and self-awareness, yet is mobile and able to respond to surrounding stimuli.



 
The mythological hero Gilgamesh (who hails from ancient Mesopotamian myth) is said to have spurned the advances of a rather vindictive goddess Ishtar who threatened to to mete out her revenge on him by allowing the dead to go up and eat the living. (Sounds like an ancient Zombie Apocalypse to me!)
 
In France during the Middle ages it was believed that a person who had been murdered may rise from the grave to avenge the crime.
  • In 12th Century England, there were allegedly several cases of reanimated corpses (also known as revenants) that were found wandering through villages at night spreading disease and killing anyone they met.
  • In the Caribbean, practitioners of Vodou believe that a Bokor (sorcerer) can revive a corpse, creating a zombie who remains under the sorcerer's power. Other sources say that Vodou sorcerers can turn living people into zombies by giving them a poison made by pufferfish and  entering it into the bloodstream through a wound. The poison induces a hypnotic state in which the person can become a virtual slave of the sorcerer.
  • In Africa there are a number of zombie myths, derived from a west African type of Vodou. There is in West African culture an astral zombie which may be kept in a bottle to provide luck to its owner (quite Genie like!).
  •  In some South African cultures it is believed that a dead person can be turned into a zombie by a small child.It is also believed in some areas that witches can turn a person into a zombie by killing and possessing the victim's body in order to force it into slave labor. After rail lines were built to transport migrant workers, stories emerged about "witch trains". These trains appeared ordinary, but were staffed by zombie workers controlled by a witch. The trains would abduct a person boarding at night, and the person would then either be turned into a zombie worker, or beaten and thrown from the train a distance away from the original location. [Wiki info]
It is interesting to note that zombies in most cultures can be returned to grave by sprinkling salt on them, or on their grave, or by the sorcerer or witch revoking the spell.

Draugr

The draugr come from Norse mythology and were the animated corpses of Viking warriors returned from the dead to attack the living. As the Vikings were buried with considerable wealth and weapons the draugr guarded their treasures fiercely. They were believed to have supernatural strength after they emerged from the grave as eerie wisps of smoke. They killed living things by crushing them, eating them and drinking their blood.

Golem

In Jewish folklore, a Golem is an animated artificial man. Not really a zombie however. The word comes from the Hebrew word gelem which means 'raw material' [Rosen, B., 2010, pp 203]. Traditionally made from clay and animated through magic or religious words being written on its forehead or on a piece of paper in its mouth. There are tales in which medieval European rabbi's  created and animated Golem's to do their bidding. The most famous of which was was created by Rabbi Judah Loew a 16th Century scholar in Prague. According to the legend which is remarkably 'frankensteinesque', Loew created the Golem to protect the residents of a Jewish ghetto from harm. Alas, the creature turned violent and began killing non-Jews before turning on its creator.

Of course there are other dead creatures of myth, here are a few others that come to mind.

Toyol: Malaysian mythology.(Also known as tiyanak in Philippines, Komon-tong/lay in Thailand). The Toyol is a dead fetus/baby that is reanimated and may work with a Bomoh (witch doctor) or other person who feeds it (breastfeed it blood, give it cups of milk etc). The Toyol can be dangerous or mischievious.
Banshee: Celtic mythology, female spirit omen of death (often dressed in bloody rags).
Vampire: Really, do I need to write anything here? The market is flooded with them.

 
And on that note...enjoy your weekend.
 



    Image links: