Friday, 3 June 2016

FFF: Monsters from Myth You Probably Haven't Heard Of

Day 3.

Today's Five Friday Favourites is going to take a slightly different beat in that rather than talking about music, I thought I'd dig into folklore and tell you about my favourite vampires. Not the literary type, not Dracula or Carmilla, Louis or Lestat. For one thing, I've already talked about that sort of thing, so I thought I'd take another tack. In the course of writing this I started to realise that I was also looking at demons/daemons so I adjusted my purview slightly in order to accommodate that.

The thing about vampires is that they come in many forms and are found pretty much every tradition and culture around the world.

1) The Strix: The owl spirits of ancient Rome, the Strix are a terrifying force that feed on flesh and blood. In particular they feed on the blood of infants, sucking it from their prey with long beaks. I can see why this would be terrifying to people in a time when infant mortality was high. It is a little odd though, given that it was common for unwanted children to be exposed on Rome's rubbish dumps. I just have images of the Strix congregating on the rubbish dumps to feed on recently exposed babies, which is a pretty cool image for a horror story.

One thing I'm interested in is that these creatures are so linked to nature, while at the same time being recoginably vampires. I wonder at the use of the owl as motif of terror, especially given that in Greco-Roman myth the bird is connected to Athena or Minerva. Could this be one of the more misogynist aspects of the culture, a suggestion that a woman with knowledge or wisdom is a monster? Probably not, but knowing how patriarchal Rome was, the idea is there.

Later the monster would mutate, the word became Strigoi, or Striges, in many Eastern European tongues, which has a meaning of Witch or Vampire. Not surprisingly one of these places is Romania.



2) The Lamia: A name drawn from a Queen of Libya who was said, in Greek myth, to be a child eating demon, the Lamia is connected to snakes and serpents. As much a daemon as a vampire, she is usually depicted as being half woman, half snake, the monster is seen in more than one culture and seems to chime with depictions of Melusine in the Medieval period. In fiction and poetry she has been shown in Keats' poem of the same name, and in Tim Powers' vampire novels. In other mythological traditions we find creatures like the leanan sidhe, the succubus and incubus and the langsuir that have corresponding traits, languid predators who use sex to achieve their goals. One might even suggest that Carmilla draws some of her power from such ideas.


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3) The Penanggalan: Drawing from further away we come across something truly strange, in the form of this Asian monster. Unlike the first two entries, the Penanggalan looks human by day and it is only after dark that its full horror is revealed. This takes the form of its floating head with guts attached, able to fly through the night and feed from the unwitting living. Associated with black magic and the occult, the creature is not usually considered to be undead. The most common myths depict them as midwives who make pacts with demons and become monstrous as a result, and like the Strix they prey upon children. Unlike the owls though, they also feed on pregnant women. Their victims contract a wasting disease, sicken and die.

Again, this makes sense, we can see the root of the fear being tied up in the fragility of bringing new life into the world.
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4) Vorthr: A Norse monster now and one that is most definitely undead (undead, undead), the Vorthr is a tomb guardian, similar to Tolkien's barrow wights and very likely the source of the Draugr in the Skyrim computer game. They are often shown as being immensely strong and able increase in size. They are also associated with strong scents of decay, they are rotting corpses pretty much. While they sound like zombies to us, it should be noted that they not only devour flesh (not just limiting themselves to brains) but drink blood too. This also forms the basis of many of the Medieval ideas of what a vampire was, a figure that was much more zombie like than Count Dracula.



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5) Adzeh: An African monster, the Adzeh is particularly creepy. An insect demon, drinking life from the land and from humans, it often appears as a stunted ebony dwarf but is also shown as a large firefly. A possessing creature, the Adzeh takes over its victims, which are considered witches by the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo.