Found in a Forest tables

Matazo Kayama, Frozen Forest

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10 weird things found in a forest clearing

1. A cart wheel made of marble, with a very tall candle at its center. While the candle is unlit it serves as a solar and lunar clock. If the candle is lit, the clock acts as a compass: its shadow points to a specific place (as suiting the DM’s needs). For as long as the candle is lit, and 24 hours after it is snuffed, the person that lit it is unable to rest and sleep.

2. A black flower that always moves away from the hand that tries to pick it. If somehow picked, a portal to the Underworld opens.

3. Three unbreakable, untearable yet quite flexible giant leaves (1 metre wide each). There appears to be no matching tree around. If taken out of the forest they try to constrict and suffocate whoever carries them.

4. A boar tusk, roughly the size of an open hand, with a serpent-like symbol engraved on it. If shaken, something can be heard inside it. It is resistant to any normal damage. Can be broken only by a charging boar, at which point the spine of a small snake is revealed.

5. The journal of a ranger’s shadow. It is made of the shadows of big leaves, bound with silver hair. The book can be grasped normally (it feels like touching cold dandelions). It is full of bitter entries: the shadow is bound to follow its owner around, never able to do what it wants.

6. Three little holes recently dug, as if someone wanted to plant something but then left in a hurry. The holes only accept teeth – anything other put in is ejected. If teeth are planted the next night a full-grown double of the tooth’s owner sprouts. Tusks also work.

7. A saw made entirely out of wood. Useless against wood, cuts stone easily. Will not let its owner rest in any settlement larger than a small village.

8. A rope ladder tied on a large tree branch. Cannot be separated from it. However, each person can cut and take one and only one step out of it. The step can be used to reach a safe place once – then it disappears forever.

9. A full helm (its closed visor is sculpted in the realistic likeness of a human face) half buried in the vegetation. If opened there emerges a small plant head on a very long, branch-like neck, waiting to be fed.

10. Α dead baby hanging from a tree branch. Stillborn, it was left in the air so as the soul would be reclaimed by birds (it has already been taken).

8 weird beings found in a forest clearing

1. (Only at night) An old man who despises the sun. He will pay handsomely for a piece of the sun or anything that is related to the star of day; he will then proceed to ritually destroy the object. If somehow tricked into staying with the characters until morning, he is bound to the nearest tree for a year.

2. The ghost of a long-dry stream. Appears as a pond of silvery water and will communicate with anyone that drinks from it (its water tastes like gaseous honey, its voice is like water dripping from a corpse’s lips). Will reveal the location of a magical dowsing rod (that leads to lost memories) to anyone carrying some of its water to a large city well. Only a special container will do the trick, which can be crafted from the hoof of a legendary forest boar.

3. A single cow moving backwards, part of a god’s stolen herd. If slain its meat will restore any wounds and heal all fatigue, but if its bones are not buried afterwards, the god-owner of the herd will know of the deed.

4. Three acorn spirits in the guise of children. They will ask to be guided out of the forest, and will try to climb on the three stronger characters, mentioning that they are very tired. If they are allowed to, they slowly and almost imperceptibly immerse themselves in their carriers’ bodies (8 hours). If completely immersed, they turn the carriers’ bodies to earth within 3 days, and a little tree sprouts from each.

5. A heavy-backed mother of three, her head always covered with a thick woolen kerchief. She will lead the characters to a destination within the forest, if they help her with a mundane chore. However, if the PCs refuse to help her with the chore, she removes the kerchief.
If the acorn spirits are on the characters she will immediately chase them away, saving the characters.

6. Large crows dining on a long table, upon golden goblets and silver plates. They are ancients of their species, and can cover huge distances very quickly; they can even fly up to the sun and bring a piece of it back. If they are disturbed while eating, or they are not addressed in a polite way, they trap half of the PCs in the other half’s shadows.

7. A peddler of hair, fur and wigs has spread his merchandise all around the clearing. Is currently looking for customers, as well as providers of exotic hair. For a sample of his merchandise roll on attached table.

8. A noble old man trying to make a compact with a spirit of darkness. He needs the blood of a special animal to craft the ink for the contract. If the PCs aid him he will reward them handsomely with his new powers. If they refuse and try to stop him, nightmares will haunt them, while in the forest, making rest impossible.

Table – Hair-peddler’s merchandise

1A wig made of scarecrows’ straw hair. Any kind of bird is unable to harm, or even approach the wearer, who however becomes slow in his movements and reactions.
2Hair of a corpse, still growing (one centimeter per night). They are unbreakable, but will try to subtly arrange for the hanging of anyone who uses them.
3Patches of boar fur boiled in liquid shadow. They can be used to walk on quicksand and pit traps without danger.
4A whip made from the gold-coloured ponytail of a long dead acrobat, renowned for her skill, notorious for her cruelty. It can be used to make a horse jump impossible distances, even walk on walls; however, as soon as the horse stops it falls dead. Horses will not willingly go near anyone carrying the whip.
5The complete (280cm long) fur of a winter snake, a species long thought to be extinct. A scabbard covered with this will break any faulty weapon inserted in it, no matter how tiny its flaw. Thus it is prized by weaponsmiths.
6A shoulder-length wig made of silver hair; the whole thing is extremely polished, so as to act as a flowing mirror when under moonlight. Any animal reflected in the wig can verbally communicate with the wearer.
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Abhartach – Το Κελτικό βαμπιρικό ελατήριο

Ο πιο ενστικτώδης αλλά και λιγότερο πρακτικός ή αποτελεσματικός τρόπος για να διαβάσεις μια εγκυκλοπαίδεια ή λεξικό είναι να ξεκινήσεις από την αρχή. Το ότι η αποδοτικότητα είναι μια απείρως υπερεκτιμημένη έννοια κάνει αυτομάτως συμπαθή αυτόν τον τρόπο ανάγνωσης. Επίσης, μιας και τα γράμματα των αλφάβητων φέρουν αρκετή δύναμη από μόνα τους ως σύμβολα που έχουν φορτιστεί από εκατομμύρια/δισεκατομμύρια ατόμων, η γραμμική πορεία εντός μιας εγκυκλοπαίδειας μπορεί να είναι μια εν δυνάμει μαντική υπόθεση (όπως μαντικές τεχνικές μπορεί να είναι και το άνοιγμα τόμων σε τυχαίες σελίδες ή το πάτημα τυχαίου λήμματος στη Wikipedia).  Δυστυχώς, το ζήτημα με τις κοινές εγκυκλοπαίδειες είναι πως αναπόφευκτα, λόγω του θεματικού εύρους των περιεχομένων τους, η πλειοψηφία των θεμάτων θα είναι εκτός των ενδιαφερόντων των περισσοτέρων αναγνωστών, και άρα βαρετή για αυτούς.

Στην περίπτωση όμως ειδικευμένων εγκυκλοπαιδειών, θεματικά περιορισμένων, τα πράγματα αλλάζουν. Εκεί υπάρχει μια θάλασσα από λήμματα σχετικά με το αντικείμενο της εκάστοτε εγκυκλοπαίδειας – για να ανοίξει κάποιος την όποια θεματική εγκυκλοπαίδεια, οι πιθανότητες λένε πως έχει ένα άλφα ενδιαφέρον για το εν λόγω θέμα.

Το αντικείμενο της Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology της Theresa Bane είναι προφανές από τον τίτλο. Ξεκίνησα λοιπόν να τη διαβάζω από την αρχή, από το “A”, μιας και δύσκολα θα θεωρήσω ως ενοχλητικά αδιάφορη κάποια μυθολογική βαμπιρική καταχώρηση. Μπορεί το πρώτο λήμμα, Abchanchu (Βολιβιανό βαμπίρ με τη μορφή καλόβολου γέρου), να μην άφηνε πολλά περιθώρια σχολιασμού, το αμέσως επόμενο όμως ήτανε άκρως σαγηνευτικό.

Ένα από τα αρχαιότερα βαμπιρικά πλάσματα της Δυτικής Ευρώπης είναι ο πάλαι ποτέ Κέλτης Abhartach, που έδρασε πριν αρκετούς αιώνες στην περιοχή Slaghtaverty της σημερινής Βορείου Ιρλανδίας. Τρία ήταν τα χαρακτηριστικά του Abhartach: τυραννικός άρχοντας, ισχυρός μάγος και ανάστημα αφύσικα κοντό (τα δυο τελευταία στις νησιώτικες Κελτικές χώρες εύκολα σηματοδοτούν αλλόκοσμη προέλευση).

Οι ιστορίες συμφωνούν στα εξής: ο Abhartach ήταν ένας δεσποτικός άρχοντας που καταδυνάστευε τους υποτελείς του. Όταν πέθανε (εδώ υπάρχει μια διχογνωμία ως προς τον τρόπο, βλέπε παρακάτω) θάφτηκε όρθιος μέσα στον τάφο, σύμφωνα με το συνήθειο για τους αρχόντους της εποχής. Την επόμενη κιόλας ημέρα, ο Abhartach επέστρεψε στον οικισμό και απαίτησε από όλους τους υπηκόους του να ματώσουν μέσα στο προσωπικό του δοχείο για να πιει – κανονικός φόρος αίματος. Ο Abhartach ξαναθανατώνεται έπειτα από κάποιες μέρες (πάλι υπάρχουν διαφορές ανάλογα με την εκδοχή), αλλά επιστρέφει αμέσως, σα να μην έγινε τίποτα, ζητώντας το καθιερωμένο ξέχειλο κύπελλο. Εν τέλει απαιτείται η συμβολή ενός δρυίδη, ο οποίος συμβουλεύει το σωστό τρόπο ταφής: ο νεκροζώντανος πρέπει να θαφτεί κατακόρυφα, με το κεφάλι κάτω όμως (σε κάποιες εκδοχές πρέπει προηγουμένως να τρυπηθεί με ραβδί από πουρνάρι), και από πάνω του να υψωθούν λιθάρια. Έτσι το πλάσμα παγιδεύεται, δίχως όμως να πεθάνει πραγματικά – ακόμη και σήμερα είναι επικίνδυνο για όποιον πλησιάσει στον τάφο του.

Όσον αφορά το πως πεθαίνει αρχικά ο Abhartach, οι περισσότερες εκδοχές αναφέρουν πως ο απηυδισμένος λαός ζήτησε από τον πολέμαρχο Fionn mac Cumhaill να φονεύσει τον τύραννο. Στην εκδοχή που υπάρχει στην Encyclopedia της Theresa Bane, ο νάνος-μάγος τρέφει τρομερή κτητικότητα και ζήλια για τη γυναίκα του· ένα βράδυ σκαρφαλώνει στον τοίχο του σπιτιού τους, προσπαθώντας να φτάσει στο παράθυρο της κρεβατοκάμαρας με την ελπίδα να την πιάσει σε κάποια απιστία. Γλιστράει όμως στο πρεβάζι και σκοτώνεται από την πτώση.

Όπως και να έχει, ο Abhartach είχε προνοήσει να κάνει contingency ξόρκι, έτσι ώστε με το θάνατό του να γίνει νεκροζώντανος. Ένα πλάσμα κυριολεκτικά απέθαντο: ο δρυίδης αναγνωρίζει πως το πλάσμα δε γίνεται να πεθάνει αμετάκλητα, παρά μόνο να παγιδευτεί μέσα στο σκάμμα του τάφου με τα λιθάρια άνωθεν. Ο ήλιος δε φαίνεται να ενοχλεί το ον, μιας και αναφέρεται ρητά πως είναι μέρα όταν έρχεται στον οικισμό για το φόρο αίματος.

Σχετικά με τους μετέπειτα θανάτους του Abhartach, στην εκδοχή που ο Fionn mac Cumhaill είναι ο αρχικός φονιάς, το ίδιο άτομο συνεχίζει να σκοτώνει ανεπιτυχώς το νεκροζώντανο. Στην εκδοχή της Bane οι υποτελείς μισθώνουν κάποιο δολοφόνο για να κάνει τη δουλειά.

Υπάρχει μια διαμάχη όσον αφορά το κατά πόσο οι βαμπιρικές, αιματολαγνικές λεπτομέρειες του θρύλου έχουν προστεθεί πολύ πρόσφατα, ιδίως γιατί ο θρύλος έχει χρησιμοποιηθεί ως απόδειξη της Ιρλανδικής αφετηρίας του Bram Stoker όσον αφορά το Dracula. Αυτή η διαμάχη είναι κάτι που δεν αφορά το παρόν κείμενο· ο συγκεκριμένος θρύλος έχει μια συνολική δύναμη ως έχει, άσχετα αν κάποια τμήματά της είναι χιλιετίες νεότερα από κάποια άλλα.

Ίσως το πιο αξιοσημείωτο από τα περιεχόμενα της ιστορίας είναι ο τρόπος με τον οποίο το νεκροζώντανο πλάσμα επιστρέφει μετά από κάθε φορά που πεθαίνει: πηγαίνει στους υποτελείς του και απαιτεί το φόρο αίματος, χωρίς ωστόσο να κάνει κάποια νύξη για τις απόπειρες εναντίον της ζωής του, λες κι αυτές δεν έγιναν ποτέ. Είναι σαν ένα ελατήριο που λυγίζει ασύγχρονα με το Χρόνο, σαν ένα παθιασμένο αυτόματο εκτός Ιστορίας: ένα πλάσμα που έχει ξεφύγει από τον κυκεώνα των συνεπειών, από το αίτιο και το αιτιατό. Αυτό είναι που δίνει και τον άκρως παράκοσμο αέρα στο πλάσμα, πέρα και πάνω από την ίδια την απέθαντη φύση του. Δεν είναι μόνο ο φαινότυπος και η διατροφή που τον ξεχωρίζουν από τους ζωντανούς, αλλά και η ίδια η συμπεριφορά όσον αφορά τη μνήμη και τα συμβάντα. Αυτό είναι το σημάδι ενός πραγματικά μη ανθρώπινου πλάσματος, και όχι κάποιο τρομακτικό κάλυμμα που απλά κρύβει από κάτω ανθρώπινα χαρακτηριστικά προσωπικότητας και συμπεριφοράς.


Βιβλιογραφία:

Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, Theresa Bane

The Dolmens of Ireland, Borlase

Folklore and the Fantastic, Harris

 

 

 

 

 

Αλπικός χριστουγεννιάτικος παγανισμός – Η θεά Πέρχτα

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Στους απομονωμένους οικισμούς της κεντρικής Ευρώπης (και δη των Άλπεων) οι νύχτες του χειμώνα είναι τεράστιες (ειδικά σε αυτούς με βορεινό προσανατολισμό που ενδέχεται να μη βλέπουν ήλιο για μήνες) και οι θεότητες τρομερές. Οι άνθρωποι κουρνιάζουν μέσα στα σπίτια τους γύρω από τρεμάμενες εστίες, οι άνεμοι απ’ έξω σκούζουν σαν τα άλογα του Άγριου Κυνηγιού, και οι οικιακές σκιασμένες γωνιές είναι γεμάτες με το υπερφυσικό. Τα μωρά στοιβάζονται κάτω από τις κούνιες τους μόλις εμφανιστεί η σκιά ενός γέρικου γυναικείου προσώπου στον τοίχο του δωματίου. Τα μαξιλάρια της Πέρχτα, παραφουσκωμένα με χιόνι, τινάζονται καθ όλη την διάρκεια της εορταστικής χριστουγεννιάτικης περιόδου, στολίζοντας τις οξείες, ρινόμορφες σκεπές. Εδώ η λατρεία του λευκού Χριστού έχει πολύ περιφερειακή συμμετοχή στους εορτασμούς του χειμερινού ηλιοστασίου.

Υπήρχε ένα επιτραπέζιο κάποτε με το όνομα «Η Χώρα του Παραμυθιού». Το ταμπλό του ήταν ένα απέραντο δάσος, μέσα στο οποίο στήνονταν φιγούρες ελάτων, κάτω από τις οποίες υπήρχαν διάφορα γεγονότα και αντικείμενα με παραμυθένια θεματολογία. Το ότι το παιχνίδι αυτό ήταν γερμανικό είναι αναμενόμενο για όποιον έχει μια κάποια επαφή με το φολκλόρ της κεντρικής Ευρώπης – τους περισσότερους από εμάς δηλαδή, μιας και η καταλογογράφηση των αδερφών Γκριμ έχει φροντίσει για αυτό. Το ότι οι αρχικές εκδοχές αυτών των ιστοριών ήταν αρκετά σκοτεινότερες και πιο ωμές από τις αποστειρωμένες βερσιόν των σύγχρονων παιδικών βιβλίων είναι γνωστό. Η ανίχνευση των λαϊκών μύθων που στοίχειωσαν και στοιχειώνουν αυτούς τους τόπους έχει ενδιαφέρον από πολλαπλές γωνίες – προφανώς και από τη σκοπιά της αρχαιολογίας μαι γενεαλογίας των παραμυθιών. Και θαρρώ πως δεν υπάρχει καταλληλότερη περίοδος για αυτήν από τη χριστουγεννιάτικη, γύρω από την οποία υπάρχει πλήθος υλικού, με δημοφιλέστερο μάλλον αυτό που αφορά τον Krampus. Εδώ θα καταπιαστώ με κάποια λιγότερο γνωστή φιγούρα.

Πριν από δύο με τρία χρόνια, όταν είχα πρωτοανακαλύψει την ανεξάντλητη δωρεάν δεξαμενή που λέγεται Sci-hub, ανάμεσα σε μυριάδες άλλα papers κατέβασα και ένα με τον τίτλο “The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda and Related Figures” του Lotte Motz. Το συγκεκριμένο επιστημονικό κείμενο του 1984 έχει ως θέμα μια χειμερινή θεότητα της κεντρικής Ευρώπης η οποία ανιχνεύεται με διάφορα ονόματα στις γερμανόφωνες περιοχές των Άλπεων, της Νότιας Γερμανίας και της Βοημίας/Τσεχίας. Το paper αυτό, μαζί με τη σχετική ενότητα του πρώτου τόμου της μεταφρασμένης Τευτονικής Μυθολογίας του μεγαλύτερου εκ των αδερφών Γκριμ, είναι οι βασικές αγγλόγλωσσες πηγές για τη θεά και τα έθιμα που σχετίζονται με αυτή.

Η θεά Πέρχτα (Perchta) (όπως είναι το όνομά της στις Άλπεις) και οι παραλλαγές της εμφανίζονται κυρίως κατά το χειμώνα και ιδίως εντός της εορταστικής περιόδου, δηλαδή στις δύο εβδομάδες ανάμεσα στα Χριστούγεννα και τα Φώτα. Πρόκειται για μια θεά με νομαδική νοοτροπία, προερχόμενη εκτός του χώρου των οικισμών, η οποία είναι αυστηρή και απρόσκλητη επισκέπτρια στα χωριά. Τρυπώνει τα βράδια στα σοκάκια, κοιτάει από τα παράθυρα μέσα στα κοιμισμένα σπίτια, κυκλοφορεί με τον περίγυρό της στους επαρχιακούς δρόμους. Ακόμη και όταν η παράδοση την εγκαθιστά κάπου, το άντρο της είναι η σπηλιά και το πηγάδι – εκάστοτε στοιχειώνει πηγάδια τα μεσημέρια, φέρνοντας στο νου την σλαβική Poludnica από την οποία είναι εμπνευσμένα και τα noonwraiths του Witcher.

Η Πέρχτα είναι αυτή που προκαλεί το χιόνι τινάζοντας τα μαξιλάρια της πάνω από τον κόσμο – τα πούπουλα που δραπετεύουν είναι οι χιονονιφάδες. Πρόκειται για μια θεότητα με έντονο το στοιχείο των αντιθέσεων. Τα δυο πρόσωπα με τα οποία εμφανίζεται, ένα γηραιό – με μεγάλη μύτη, αποκρουστικό, και μονίμως οργισμένο – που παραπέμπει σε μάγισσα του παραμυθιού (ή η μάγισσα παραπέμπει σε αυτό) και ένα νεαρό, λαμπρό και όμορφο. Αυτή η Ιανική διπολική φύση αντικατοπτρίζεται και στη συμπεριφορά της, με το γηραιό, άσχημο πρόσωπο να είναι αυτό που τιμωρεί τους ανθρώπους και το φωτεινό νεανικό να είναι το πιο ευμενές, το οποίο συνδέεται και με τη γονιμότητα – γυναίκες που βρέχονταν στο πηγάδι της μπορούσαν να μείνουν έγκυες.

Όσον αφορά τη δραστηριότητά της, είναι κατά κύριο λόγο συνδεδεμένη με το γνέσιμο και την ύφανση, καθώς και την εποπτεία της συμπεριφοράς. Ελέγχει το κατά πόσο οι γυναίκες είναι τακτικές στον αργαλειό, κατά πόσο τιμούν την αργία των εορτών – απαγορεύεται να ασχοληθούν με τον αργαλειό κατά το δωδεκαήμερο – αλλά και το κατά πόσο οι άνθρωποι εφαρμόζουν τη νηστεία των ημερών. Σε όλες τις περιπτώσεις η τιμωρία της προς τους παραβάτες είναι παραδειγματική: τους ανοίγει τις κοιλιές, τις γεμίζει με χώμα, κλαδιά, άχυρα και πέτρες, κι έπειτα τις ράβει χρησιμοποιώντας ένα υνί για βελόνα και σιδερένια αλυσίδα για κλωστή. Πολλές φορές η δυσμένεια της στρέφεται προς όσα παιδιά είχαν ανήθικη συμπεριφορά, αλλά κάποιες φορές και προς τα μωρά, τα οποία θέλει να τραυματίσει, και για αυτό οι γονείς τα χώνουν κάτω από την κούνια τις νύχτες των γιορτών.

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Ο περίγυρος που συνοδεύει την Πέρχτα είναι όσο πολυποίκιλος και γκροτέσκος ταιριάζει σε μια απειλητική θεότητα των μεγαλύτερων νυχτών της χρονιάς. Περιλαμβάνει νεκρά, αβάπτιστα μωρά, κακομορφισμένους νάνους και τεχνίτες, καθώς και φρενήρεις γυναίκες που ακολουθούν την πορεία σαν μάγισσες σε συνάξεις δαιμόνων. Υπό αυτό το πρίσμα της ορδής (συνήθως νυχτερινής) η θεά θυμίζει τους θρύλους για το Άγριο Κυνήγι, αυτό το πολυσυλλεκτικό λεφούσι που καλπάζει στους Ευρωπαϊκούς ουρανούς – για κάποιες από τις αρτιότερες εμφανίσεις του στην ποπ κουλτούρα παραπέμπω στα Books of Magic κόμιξ, και στο εξώφυλλο του Blood Fire Deathτων Bathory. Με αυτόν τον περίγυρο συναντάται στους δρόμους εκτός του πολιτισμού και ζητά από τους διαβάτες να επισκευάσουν το άρμα της. Για πληρωμή τους δίνει κομμάτια ξύλου που όταν ιδωθούν την επόμενη μέρα στο χωριό έχουν μετατραπεί σε χρυσό. Η κουστωδία όμως απαντάται και εντός των χωριών (ή πάνω από αυτά), κατά τις νυχτερινές ώρες.

Τα έθιμα που συνδέονται με την Πέρχτα έχουν να κάνουν με λιτανειακές πορείες από μεταμφιεσμένα άτομα (συνήθως νεαρούς άντρες). Κυριαρχούν οι γκροτέσκες μάσκες ζώων και οι μάσκες της θεάς (τόσο αποκλειστικά μιας εκ των δύο εκφάνσεών της, όσο και διπρόσωπες), όλες με αποτροπαϊκή δράση. Οι πορείες χαρακτηρίζονται από οχλαγωγία, με χρήση κουδουνιών και μαστιγίων, και κυνήγι των περαστικών. Το βράδυ αφήνονται φαγητά σε καίρια σημεία του σπιτιού (κατώφλι, παράθυρα, μπροστά στην εστία, ακόμη και στις στέγες) για εξευμενισμό της θεάς.

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The Nacirema people

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The life of the Nacirema people of North America, a tribe with a surprisingly developed market economy, is characterized by rituals and practices that we would consider alien, barbarous, and even going contrary to the self-preservation instincts. The late anthropologist Horace Miner’s extensive studies of the tribe culminated in the “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” paper*, originally published in 1958. Let’s take a look at a few selected parts, the first of them concerned with the ritual visits of the tribesmen to a member of a sacerdotal order:

In addition to the private mouth–rite, the people [of the Nacirema tribe] seek out a holy–mouth–man once or twice a year. These practitioners have an impressive set of paraphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods. The use of these objects in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client. The holy–mouth–man opens the client’s mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth. Magical materials are put into these holes. If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied. In the client’s view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay. The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy–mouth–men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.

[…]One has but to watch the gleam in the eye of a holy–mouth–man, as he jabs an awl into an exposed nerve, to suspect that a certain amount of sadism is involved. If this can be established, a very interesting pattern emerges, for most of the population shows definite masochistic tendencies. It was to these that Professor Linton referred in discussing a distinctive part of the daily body ritual which is performed only by men. This part of the rite involves scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument.”

Upon reading this excerpt for the first time, an image that came into my mind was that of a sacred mountainous retreat (namely the seat of power of the holy men) and a winding, narrow path, upon which the tribesmen traveled each year on their pilgrimage to the holy-mouth-men. Though never mentioned inside the text, a mountain (or at least a hilltop) is a somewhat obvious locale for the temple: in the text it is strongly implied that the people of the tribe consider the holy men keepers of power and somewhat apart and above them; it is also implied that the Nacirema travel to visit the holy-mouth-men in a sort of yearly pilgrimage; “the people seek out a holy–mouth–man once or twice a year” – “seek out” has a tone of the adventurous, of a quest for something that is not readily available, something or someone outside the daily-life plateau. Even the “naturally occurring holes in the teeth” evoke images of caves and rock formations. As for the sadism and masochistic aspects of Nacimera, they are already established via the horrendous practices mentioned above.

The following excerpt concerns ceremonies taking place in specialized temples named latipso:

The latipso ceremonies are so harsh that it is phenomenal that a fair proportion of the really sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. Small children whose indoctrination is still incomplete have been known to resist attempts to take them to the temple because “that is where you go to die.” Despite this fact, sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. No matter how ill the supplicant or how grave the emergency, the guardians of many temples will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian. Even after one has gained admission and survived the ceremonies, the guardians will not permit the neophyte to leave until he makes still another gift.

The supplicant entering the temple is first stripped of all his or her clothes. In everyday life the Nacirema avoids exposure of his body and its natural functions. Bathing and excretory acts are performed only in the secrecy of the household shrine, where they are ritualized as part of the body–rites. Psychological shock results from the fact that body secrecy is suddenly lost upon entry into the latipso . A man, whose own wife has never seen him in an excretory act, suddenly finds himself naked and assisted by a vestal maiden while he performs his natural functions into a sacred vessel. This sort of ceremonial treatment is necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness.[…] From time to time the medicine men come to their clients and jab magically treated needles into their flesh. The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte, in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men.

A place closer to the underworld (“that is where you go to die”), an occult temple of a rich religious elite which must be gorged in gifts. Even the removal of the clothes is reminiscent of cthonic mythology (for instance Ishtar’s descent to the Underworld involves the gradual discarding of her clothes and ornaments).

The fact that the Nacirema in everyday life avoid exposure of their bodies and their natural functions (i.e. excretory acts), if taken into account along with their earlier mentioned obsession with the extraction of teeth and the scraping of the face, leads to the image of a tribe that has demonized the body. It considers it shameful and glorifies pain inflicted upon it as purificatory. Note also the largely patriarchal nature of the latipso temple clergy: the vestal maidens assist, while the medicine men are those having a substantial, energetic, leading role in the healing rituals.

The final excerpt refers to the tribe’s reproductive taboos:

Reference has already been made to the fact that excretory functions are ritualized, routinised, and relegated to secrecy. Natural reproductive functions are similarly distorted. Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act. Efforts are made to avoid pregnancy by the use of magical materials or by limiting intercourse to certain phases of the moon. Conception is actually very infrequent. When pregnant, women dress so as to hide their condition. Parturition takes place in secret, without friends or relatives to assist, and the majority of women do not nurse their infants.

As with the other bodily functions, intercourse is taboo among the Nacirema – it is obvious that these people have a deeply instilled fear and abhorrence of their bodies. All things coming out of the body are shameful, even infants, which are born in secrecy and are not even nursed by their mothers in most cases. See also how intercourse is limited by the lunar phases, a clear indication of its ritualized nature.

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Let’s change the subject: Palindromes are (among other things) words that read the same backwards as forward. Two of the most famous palindromes are the Byzantine “ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ” and the Roman “SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS.” They usually offer a pleasant sense of fulfillment if someone discovers their palindrome nature on his own. (This paragraph contains a hint towards another layer of the Nacirema peoples)

*Body Ritual Among The Nacirema

Monster Compendium I: Zombie

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Δεν έχω δει ούτε ένα επεισόδιο Walking Dead, και οι ταινίες με ζόμπι που έχω παρακολουθήσει συνολικά στη ζωή μου δεν πρέπει να ξεπερνάνε τις 10 σε αριθμό. Το στερεοτυπικό ζόμπι είναι μια μορφή νεκροζωής η οποία χαρακτηρίζεται από μηδενική νοημοσύνη, τουλάχιστον όπως την αντιλαμβάνεται η μέση ανθρώπινη κοινωνία, και όλη της η συμπεριφορά κατευθύνεται προς την ικανοποίηση μιας ανάγκης, η οποία μπορεί να είναι είτε η πραγματοποίηση της εντολής του ατόμου που είναι υπεύθυνο για [τη μετατροπή σε|το σήκωμα του] ζόμπι, είτε η ακόρεστη πείνα, είτε η εξάλειψη πάσας ανθρώπινης ζώσας φιγούρας σε κοντινή ακτίνα (πιθανός συνδυασμός με την προηγούμενη ανάγκη). Δεν πρόκειται για μια συμπεριφορά η οποία είναι ακονισμένη προς αυτή την ικανοποίηση, δεν πρόκειται δηλαδή για έναν κυνηγό με τελειοποιημένο σώμα και συνεργασία με το περιβάλλον (όσον αφορά την ικανοποίηση της πείνας ή το σκότωμα), αλλά απλά για ένα σώμα, συνήθως πεθαμένο, με τα σημάδια της σήψης πάνω του, το οποίο κινείται χάρη σε μαγεία ή/και πνεύματα που έχουν συμβάλει στην τελετή σηκώματός του. Καμία νίκη επί του θανάτου λοιπόν.

Είναι πλήρως υλικό (corporeal), και άρα κοντά στην δικιά μας πραγματικότητα, την καθημερινότητα δηλαδή, σε σχέση τουλάχιστον με τα υπόλοιπα νεκροζώντανα πλάσματα. Εμφανίζεται συνήθως σε αγέλες, με αποτέλεσμα να χάνεται ο τρόμος λόγω ακριβώς της πληθωρικής παρουσίας των οντοτήτων – η υπόνοια πάει περίπατο όταν βλέπεις ή διαβάζεις για ζόμπι που έχουν κατακλύσει την πόλη. Η δε μόδα της βιολογικής αιτίας του zombiefication (ιός δηλαδή), που κυριαρχεί τα τελευταία n χρόνια, μόνο αποστροφή μπορεί να μου δημιουργήσει, μιας και γειώνει το υπερφυσικό με κάτι το οποίο είναι μετρήσιμο και παρατηρήσιμο με επιστημονικούς όρους/μεθόδους – και βέβαια αντιμετωπίσιμο με αυτό τον τρόπο. Με το ζόμπι δε μπορείς να μιλήσεις, ενώ δεν αποπνέει κάποιου είδους μεγαλείο, δεν έχει σχέδια τα οποία πρέπει να αποκρυπτογραφήσεις, να τα χαλάσεις, ή να βοηθήσεις να πραγματοποιηθούν, εν αντιθέσει με τους πιο έξυπνους νεκροζώντανους.

Εκτός τέχνης βέβαια, στην πλειοψηφικά αποδεκτή πραγματικότητα, το ζόμπι είναι αρκετά ενδιαφέρον να το σηκώνεις όντας νεκρομάντης ή κάποιος άλλος μάγος που ασχολείται με τους νεκρούς, μιας και πρέπει να ασχοληθείς με το πτώμα και την απόκτησή του, να πιάσεις πιθανώς το κρύο και ελαφρώς σάπιο δέρμα (πάνω στο οποίο θα ζωγραφίσεις σύμβολα και θα ανάψεις incenses), να το διατάξεις να σηκωθεί και να νιώσεις την ικανοποίηση όταν αυτό πράγματι κουνηθεί και σταθεί μπρος σου έτοιμο να σε υπακούσει (ικανοποίηση περισσότερο δημιουργική, μιας και δημιούργησες μια νεκροζωή, παρά εξουσιαστική) ή σε άλλη περίπτωση να συμφωνήσεις με τα πνεύματα που θα το κάνουν αυτό, πιθανώς βρίσκοντάς τα σε κάποια ενδιάμεση ουδέτερη διάσταση, όπου και θα γίνει η συνάντησή σας. Μπορείς μάλιστα να δοκιμάσεις να σηκώσεις διάφορα είδη πέρα από ανθρώπους, ή να σηκώσεις σκέτα μέλη (χέρια, ωμοπλάτες, εγκεφάλους, δέρματα). Αν σηκώσεις ένα δέρμα μπορείς μετά να το φορέσεις, και αυτό να σε μεταμφιέζει, ή να σε πετάει αν προσθέσεις και επιπλέον μαγείες, ή έχεις τα κατάλληλα πνεύματα να σε κουβαλάνε μέσα του. Ένα σακί που πετάει είναι αυτό που μας συνδέει με το επόμενο νεκροζώντανο.

Keyholes and the Uncanny, Part 1: General Remarks

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The closed door of a room during night-time is, for that room’s inhabitant, a sign of security and isolation at the same time. Many a child has been torn before the dilemma of an opened or closed bedroom door. And perhaps it is not so rare the person that covers the keyhole opening, either with the corresponding key, a cloth, or even stuffs it with plain paper, so as to avoid the possibility of an unwanted gaze penetrating it and falling upon him during the small hours of the night.

General Remarks

Concerning the keyhole:

The bedroom doors, as well as most of the interior ones in contemporary houses, are the ones still retaining the kind of keyhole with an aperture large enough for an eye to look through, or to be used as passageway for a thin object. This is the keyhole of interest for this text, the one that could be said to contain two functions:

peering through (which in the more sophisticated doors of nowadays has been transferred – taking into account the impregnable to the eye secure lock – to the spy-hole/peep-hole (or the electronic camera even)),

securing the door (which function has remained with the lock even in doors with more modern locking mechanisms).

Of all the interior spaces guarded by locks of the aforementioned kind that is of interest to us, I mostly focus upon the bedroom in this text, since sleep and keyholes seem to have a highly peculiar relationship.

A door shut

In the case where the door is closed and/or locked but the keyhole is empty, it (the keyhole) provides a sensory connection between the outside and the inside. It is a window. But whereas the house window is usually an opening directed almost exclusively from inside to outside*, it seems that some of us mostly experience this particular window in reverse. We know the space outside the door; it is the space of our house. We do not need to look upon what lies outside the room, or rather we should not have to look – the space should correspond to what we have in our mind. The only being having a reason to look through is a stranger gazing into the room from the outside, trying to know what lies on the inside.

The keyhole is the most vulnerable part of a closed door, its thinner part, the one most easily violated. It is also its only immaterial part; it is a passage, whereas all other parts of the door are barriers or tools with a solid nature. It is a crack in an otherwise solid object, in this object’s continuous and sometimes seamless surface (the space beneath the door is also a vulnerable spot, but it is outside the bounds of the door per se). But while being the door’s weakest point from a physical point of view, the keyhole is at the same time its more essential one, as far as control over it is concerned, for it is through the keyhole that the door can be more safely secured. It is also the only part which connects the two spaces, inside and outside, which are otherwise separated by the existence of the closed door.

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If someone is outside the door, hidden, waiting, and we are gazing through the keyhole, that person can easily surprise us if it suddenly brings its eye to look through the other side of the hole. It is a fear of the suddenness of this surprise (along of course with the possibility of the confirmation of the existence of a stranger) which can create anxiety to the one being on the inside. And it is not only the gaze that can come through the hole, but any imagined kind of murder weapon or even a voice, which can even be disembodied, without a perceptible in the observer’s field of vision body. One may well stuff the keyhole with a suitable material, but then, there is always the possibility of an entity on the outside pushing it back, resulting in (from the insider’s point of view) the apparent self-motion of an inanimate object, hence uncanniness.

It is also one of the two parts with which one can interact with the door (the other being the door handle). But, while the door handle interacts directly with the user’s body, the keyhole does so indirectly, through the use of the key. It is thus the only part of the door adding a third component to the system consisting of the door and the person behind it, namely the object responsible for its existence: the key.

Because of the opening’s smallness, gazing through the keyhole has a sense of the forbidden. Such small, narrow fields of vision are outside the normal, everyday experience, more reminiscent of static optic organs than anything else. They imply difficulty and constraints, restrictions in one’s visual appropriation of space, thus limits in one’s power, leading to the creation of a certain degree of helplessness. But the fact that those small and rigid fields of vision are outside the everyday experience makes them exotic, mysterious, something to be tasted with guilty pleasure. The fact that only our eye could be perceptible from the door’s other end (and this only if one focuses one’s gaze upon the lock) creates a sense of privacy, of isolation, perhaps of undetectability. The interplay between these two, somehow conflicting senses (namely that of restriction and helplessness, and that of impregnable isolation and untraceability) could be considered as the root for much of the beholder’s (on either side of the door) state of feelings and/or mind.

*Georg Simmel, “Bridge and Door,” in Rethinking Architecture, trans. Edward Shils, ed. Neil Leach (London: Routledge, 1997), 67

Russian Folk-tales of Horror & the Grotesque, part 3

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Link to Part 1

Link to Part 2

The following stories are drawn from two books which are available for free online:

A: Afanas’ev, A. N. Russian Folk-Tales. With introduction and notes by Leonard A. Magnus

B: Ralston, W. R. S. Russian Folk-Tales

The Fiend(B: p.10)

Summary: A young girl meets a man who asks her to marry him. When the girl follows him one night, she traces him inside a church, in which he sees him devouring a corpse who had been left for the night. When asked by him on the next days, she subsequently denies of having seen him that night. But each time she answers him, the death of a member of her family follows suit. Finally, when it is clear that she is to die next, she is told to order a priest to take her coffin out of the house and bury her at a crossroads. After a while she is brought back to life, and finally confronts the Fiend/man with holy water.

Comments: Apart from the information about the village festivities in the beginning, in which we see gender separation during daytime (the girls were gathered together for the day), and this separation’s dissolution during night-time, the text informs us of the importance of the Place of Origin, as far as social bonds are concerned. The girl, Marusia, will not accede to marrying the alluring youth, unless he reveals to her his origins. Her mother provides her with a plan to do so, which involves the use of a ball of thread, the one edge of which must be thrown above one of the youth’s buttons. Here, parallels can be drawn to the presence of balls of yarn in mythology and folklore, as well as to the image of the spinner (usually a woman) almost worldwide. The unravelling of the tangled ball, as an act of creation (see The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda, and Related Figures, p.10-11), an action that brings order to chaos, is magically (in a sympathetic way) related to discoveries, to overcoming of chaotic situations (as is the labyrinth, which Theseus “conquered” and “ordered” via the ball of yarn given to him by Ariadne). As in the microcosmic scale the tangled mess is unravelled and ordered, thus also in the macrocosm. So, in order for the girl to find the youth’s place of origin, the ball of thread is useful, not only in a semi-practical way (since following it will indeed reveal the man’s residence – though the distance covered should be restricted), but also in a magical, symbolic way.

The revealing of the youth as cadaver, as a corpse-eating sort of ghoul, is done through the girl’s climbing of a ladder, in order to visually access the church’s interior. The church itself offers no protection, to the integrity of the dead or the living, as we have already seen in the Viy sub-genre. The place, by itself, appears to have no power over evil. As for the girl’s climbing of the ladder, it can be associated to the symbolic axis mundi of the building (see comments on the “Dead Witch”), thus making the vertical movement on it a passage through worlds, unattainable through horizontal movement; the dead body and the cadaverous youth could well be considered to be on a different world layer. The fear of the girl in front of the devouring of the dead flesh (an action breaking the taboo of cannibalism, as well as the sanctity of the dead) is evident, leading it to rush action, which will prove her doom.

The death of her parents first, and then of herself, comes apparently (I use the word here with the “rationalizing through written facts alone” meaning, not the “naturally” one) through the medium of word alone. The youth’s proclamation is inescapable. Even the old sage woman, the counsellor archetype we have seen on the “Headless Princess”, is now unable to provide direct help against the fiend’s curse. On the contrary, she accepts the fact that the girl will die, and tries to guide her towards an indirect, post-mortem solution. Her guidelines are of particular interest: Marusia’s body is not to be removed through the door, but via a passage that is to be dug underneath the threshold. Then, it is to be buried at a crossroads.

The avoidance of the threshold requires of us to shed some light to the threshold symbolism. According to Mircea Eliade, the threshold of the residence, as well as the threshold between two separate spaces in general, is a border, a separation of their qualities, distinguishing the two different worlds that correspond to each. But it is also the passage between them, their mode of communication. The threshold has also its guardians, beings that bar entrance to enemies and evil spirits.(The Sacred and the Profane). On this occasion, the avoidance of formal exit through the threshold could well refer to the circumvention of the transition between two worlds, namely that of the living, expressed by the house interior, and that of the dead, outside the dwelling. A sort of trick actually, so as to trick the soul, the guardians, or both, so as the soul to remain on this world. Another explanation could be the analogy between the passage through the earth and the womb, as a symbolic birth, which could lead to an eminent rebirth of the dead girl.

From there on, the story presents us with the motif of metamorphosis, the resurrection of a being in another form (a flower in the story), the transition between forms after a while being voluntary on the part of the subject, through an specific action. The motif of transfiguration of being is widely spread in the Russian folk-tales, as is also the performance of magic by stomping on the ground (the mode of metamorphosis for Mariusa). This action can be seen as symbolically provoking a rift in the earth, an invasion of the being, a symbolic, vertical, axis mundi, through which powers of the supernatural can seep into the “normal” world. Thus magic could be worked.

Another widespread, in the Russian lore, motif, is that of the Water of Life, which has the ability to bring back the dead to life. In other tales, the Waters of Life are two, one for restoring the body back to wholeness/removing the decay, and one for bringing life back to it, but here there is only one. Water is worldwide considered an element of rejuvenation and of rebirth, and more than that, an agent of change, due to its fluid nature. It also symbolizes purity, being occasionally an anathema to impure spirits, as in this story, where the Holy Water is able to destroy the fiend.

The Shroud(B: p.307)

Summary: In a game of daring, a girl goes to the graveyard and sees a shrouded corpse sitting on a tomb. She takes with her the shroud, back to her home, while the corpse does not utter a word (it is not its time yet). After a while the corpse comes to the girl’s window and demands the shroud back. However, it isn’t satisfied by her giving just giving it, but wants the girl to return it to the grave, from where she took it. The same happens during the next night, but in both cases the corpse is driven away by the dawn. The girl’s family decides to go to the church during a mass, whereupon a great whirlwind is unleashed, and picks up the girl, nothing to be seen of her again, except for her back hair which is left on the spot.

Comments: On the beginning of this story we are reacquainted with the notion of the woman as spinner, accompanied by the statement that the lazy girl tries to make the other ones spin for her, through favours. This mutual exchange is indirectly frowned upon by the story, which is perhaps a lesson in self reliance. The social nature of the girls’ spinning gatherings is accompanied by echoes of female initiation rites(see Rites and Symbols of Initiation).

Fear, or rather the absence of it is the driving force behind the tale. We read that fear of cemeteries after dark is an almost universal one, as well as is the fear of removing holy items from a church (an icon on the occasion). The only person who does not fear in the tale is the lazy one, which somehow implies a connection between prudence and diligence. Fear of death and the dark is almost universal, so I will not elaborate on it here. The removal of holy items from their rightful place has much to do with the idea of the holy as detached from the physical world, the world of everyday persons. The interior of the temple is considered as belonging to a different world, in which the places of items are determined (directly or indirectly) by the powers dwelling in that other world. These places, since corresponding to another world and pre-decided by intelligences of it, are not to be tampered with by mortals of our world.

Midnight hour is implied here as the most ominous of hours, a time of danger. If one considers the instinctual fear of night, it is only natural that its middle, midnight, is its most threatening time.

As in “A Tale of the Dead/The Coffin Lid”, the Shroud appears valuable to the dead, a possession for whose recovery the dead will persistently try anything. Return of it must be done in a manner similar to how it was taken. Simply giving it to the undead while far from its original place will not do. This is a ritualised action, implying a ritual of reversal behind the whole activity, in order to satisfy the wronged party.

Present here, for one more time is the cock as a herald of dawn, his crow dispelling the presence of supernatural (for a bit more see the comments on “A Tale of the Dead/A Ride on the Gravestone”).

Once again we see here the helplessness of the Russian church against evil or the supernatural. The building offers no protection to the hunted girl, who is summarily taken away by a whirlwind. The power of nature is here presented as an agent of the supernatural, and of revenge (or justice, depending on the point of view). Only the girl’s braid remains among the normal world.

In conclusion, it seems that the belief in nature’s power was great among the Russians, overshadowing that of religion. Despite the conversion to Christianity, the pagan roots were deep, and Russians are not necessarily convinced of the omnipotence of the new religion. The Russian nature on the other hand, almighty and terrible in many of its manifestations since time immemorial, is a deeply feared mistress, but it is also the one that can protect against the evil and the unnatural (the power of day-coming).

Vasilisa the Fair(A: p.109)/(B: p.150)

That is perhaps the crowning jewel of the Russian fairytale corpus, a darkly beautiful tale. I will not try to summarize it here, but will instead just mention some of its weird elements.

Summary: Vasilisa has a doll, left to her by her dead mother, which is to be fed by the girl, in order to perform tasks for her. When she speaks to Vasilisa, the doll’s eyes glow like candleflames. The Baba Yaga’s fence is made of dead men’s bones; on the top of the fence are stuck human skulls with eyes in them – those eyes glow brightly at night; instead of uprights at the gates are men’s legs; instead of bolts are arms; instead of a lock is a mouth with sharp teeth. Incorporeal hands appear, under the doll’s will, and the flaming eyes of the skull she takes home spit forth a mighty conflagration.

Comments: We see again here the appearance of the animate doll (as in the “By command of the Prince Daniel” story), this time its origin lying with Vasilisa’s dead mother: Transference of a magical gift through blood one could argue, especially from female to female. The doll itself, besides an aid to the girl, is also a tutor of sorts; we read that it teaches her herb-lore. The doll demands nutrition in order to provide help to her owner. Vasilisa forfeits her own food, part of her own power and lifeforce one could say, in order to achieve some extraordinary effect. Here lie the whispers of elder witchcraft, of those reciprocating systems that are built on symbolic exchange. The doll as such does not require any sustenance, but the act of Vasilisa’ deprivation, her offering up of the necessities for her own survival, brings about the easing of her burdens. Drawing parallels to fasting is somehow dubious; the act itself is ascetic, but the mention that Vasilisa keeps getting plumper remains a thorn to the side of this argument, from a physical standpoint.

Baba Yaga makes an appearance in the story, from which we can glean some of the witch’s characteristics. Her place of dwelling is in the deep woods and there is where she systematically cannibalizes people. The hut’s facade is described as utterly grotesque, its normal structural parts being replaced by bodily ones, which respond to the witch’s voice. The image of the whole evokes a giant body, the anthropomorphic evocations obvious (instead of lock a mouth with sharp teeth, hands in place of bolts, etc). A Freudian analyst would probably elaborate on the analogies between the hut and the vagina, as well as explain away Baba Yaga herself as the archetype of the terrible mother which must be overcome by the heroine, in order for her to claim her independence. The same archetype however could be also attributed to the stepmother, the core cause behind the quest, while the doll could be connected to the early memories of childhood, where the child is still considering his will as the factor provoking change in the world.

The main quest of the heroine is one for the spark of fire. The fire is not discovered here, but rather reclaimed, avoiding thus comparisons to Promethean figures. The fire is however necessary for the act of spinning (which was performed by the heroine), in contrast with the acts of knitting and sawing, and thus is Vasilisa forced to take up to nightly wanderings. The triptych of women, each performing an activity associated with the processing of fibres and cloth, is reminiscent obviously of the triads of women in mythologies (the Fates for instance).

The quest itself could be considered absurd if judged by logical and practical means: the trip to Baba Yaga’s hut for a spark of fire takes days, time in which one could probably discover some other means of producing fire. But time and (especially) logic work many times in different ways in mythological and folk-tale settings. As it happens, upon returning to the house, Vasilisa herself thinks about the absurdity of her quest, saying that “they can’t be still in want of a light at

home.” But as it happens, the natural laws were suspended during her absence, and indeed her stepfamily was unable to light a fire by any means possible. Thus, the fortress of logic remains unassailable, from a structural point of view, but the natural laws stand defeated.

We are also familiarized with the three riders passing systematically from the hut of Baba Yaga, their nature explained by the witch: They are personifications of day, night, and the sun, who we are told are servants of Yaga. The implications of this declaration is that the witch, if she so wishes, could change the order of appearance of each, or even the time of appearance of each, thus leading to the conclusion that she can bend the perception of time itself (since time, especially for the folk of yester days was mainly perceived by the cycle of day, night, and the sun’s appearance).

Bibliography:

Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane

Eliade, Mircea. Rites and Symbols of Initiation

Motz, Lotte. The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda, and Related Figures (paper)

Piaget, Jean. The Child’s Conception of the World