Mythological Rambling

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IWSG – Massive Rewrites Ahead

Published September 2, 2020 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, pre-writing this post even more in advance than usual (today is the 21st!), because right now the situation is freshly in my mind and I haven’t been distracted by the other, much smaller rewriting project I’m about to start (and which I will be eyeballs deep in by the time this post goes up).

So, for the past week(ish), I’ve been rereading the series of quasi-Young Adult novels I wrote in 2104, set 17-20 years after the Trojan War, starring the illegitimate daughters of Achilles and Odysseus (both characters I made up) and the (equally illegitimate) son of Aias (who is a genuine mythological character whose actions as an adult have been lost to time but undoubtedly do not resemble my version in any way).  This wasn’t a simple reread, however.  This was a detailed reread, leaving myself a lot of notes using the “Comment” feature on the word processor.  Because I had a look at these already, back in July (or was it June?), and realized that hey, they were actually a lot better than I had remembered them being.  And so I kind of wanted to polish them up for release (for free via LeanPub and itch.io, naturally), which promises to be a much faster endeavor (sort of) than finishing the world-building to polish up that low-fantasy-with-steampunk-elements novel that also needs rewriting and releasing.

Of course, there are a lot of associated works that would also want fixing up.  The whole novel series started out as a spin-off of my Trojan War novel Ilios, which I had temporarily published via LeanPub and then eventually took down because I was quite ashamed of how bad it was.  (I have not at the moment revisited it to see if I want to try to fix it up, because I know that would be even more work.  Plus it is not aimed at the same audience.)  On top of that, there’s a novella called “Patroclos and Achilles” which was also a spin-off of Ilios, and which I directly referenced in the new introduction for Ariadne, the daughter of Odysseus.  I just reread that one this morning, and overall it’s actually pretty good (which is good, since it’s currently floating around the internet already…I think…or was it the other thing about them in the afterlife that’s already up…?) except that the ending makes me cringe, because it got a lot of things flat-out backwards, because there was a lot I didn’t understand about same-sex relationships in ancient Greece before reading The Greeks and Greek Love by James Davidson, and now that I do understand those things (and consequently a lot of ancient Greek culture makes more sense!) I want to fix anything and everything that I’ve written that gets it wrong.  So the novella probably needs to get the first rewrite, before I move on to the Atalanta and Ariadne books.  There will need to be a lot of work done on every reference to same-sex love in those books, naturally.  The mindset I gave the characters was appallingly modern in that for some reason too many people found it funny to think that Achilles had been the boyfriend of his friend and “squire” Patroclos.  There is no reason anyone in classical Greece would have found that funny…though there is the question of if we have any freaking way of guessing what the Greek attitudes towards such relationships would have been in the Late Bronze Age, since we have no written texts from the Mycenaeans other than clerical documents like inventory lists and notes on court cases.  (Though considering some lines of the Iliad have to be aged back to the Mycenaean era in order for the lines to be restored to their proper dactylic hexameter, it does seem possible, if not probable, that enough of the mythic aspects of the culture were unchanged by the end of the Bronze Age that they can be taken to reflect many of the cultural details of the era in which they were set.  Possibly.)

Anyway, the same-sex stuff is pretty minor in the Atalanta and Ariadne books (which really need a series title, but I’m not sure what the heck it would be, considering the early books give no indication just what a massive foe they’re eventually going to go up against, even though at foe’s servants have been targeting them at least since book one, if not from several years before it) compared to a lot of the other things that need fixing.  Matters of clothing for non-Greek peoples at the time (though at least I did learn at some point post-writing them that they would absolutely know what trousers are, so I can dispense with the absurd descriptions of “leg sleeves”) are one of the things that need a thorough fixing, but at least that’s something that will be relatively easily dealt with.

The biggest problem is how to handle the lack of money.

And no, I don’t mean I’m broke.  (Though I do have less of it than I’d like since I lost my job.)  And I don’t mean my heroic trio is broke, either.

I mean the fact that they didn’t have coinage yet in the Late Bronze Age.

I apparently didn’t know that when I was writing these books, especially the first one, which (among other things) has a fairly lengthy and important sequence in a marketplace.

How do you write a marketplace in a barter economy?

I mean, I know they had them.  The Mexica (aka Aztecs) had marketplaces, but in their case it was made simpler because they used cacao beans as a form of proto-currency (which even led to a form of counterfeiting, because some people would hollow out the beans and be trading with empty husks!), but that’s the only case I’m aware of in which there are written records of a non-money-based market.  (The written records being the accounts of the conquistadores seeing said market, so they are not the greatest of records, being essentially tourist accounts written by people of lesser education and not scholarly analyses.)  Based on the Iliad, the main way things seem to have been “valued” was by how many oxen they were worth, but I can’t really have two teenage girls and an early twenties young man carrying oxen about to trade with.  (Though it would be amusing to see them try it!  Goodness knows Atalanta would probably be able to carry a small ox a short distance, as could Eurysakes…maybe.  Ariadne, no.  Just no.  A very small calf, maybe.  A lamb or a kid, definitely.  But I don’t recall measurements of value in sheep and goats, just oxen.  Though I’m ashamed to admit that it’s been years at this point since I last read the Iliad.)

Does anyone know of any books — fiction or non-fiction — about how people might hold a market in a place without money?

I could really use some examples, whether how other people handle it in fiction or how people in reality dealt with things before there was money.  (I mean, realistically, how did food get shared about?  Did the nobles gather up the food from the farmers and then redistribute it to the people, or did the farmers take it to a market to trade it for other things they needed, like clothes, new animals or hired hands?)  Outside of the first book, it’s not going to be a huge issue, since they mostly get what they need in the later books via guest-friendship as they spend a lot of time visiting (and often going on quests for) kings who had fought alongside their fathers at Troy, but wow, is that first book hamstrung until I know how to handle the marketplace!

Additionally, there are various other concerns, mostly around trying to make the books line up better with history/archaeology.  There are a lot of books I read in the two years after writing the books that dealt with the subject of that area in the Late Bronze Age, like The Ahhiyawa Texts, but that was years ago now, and I’ve forgotten a lot of the details, and some of them were gotten out of the university library that I no longer have access to now that I’ve graduated, while others are probably in this house somewhere but I have no freaking idea where because my life is a pigsty.  For two of the books, I’d also need to do a lot of research into what Babylon looked like at the time, and what the court of Ramses II would have looked like, but those shouldn’t be too difficult with non-academic sources…I hope.

Speaking of other things that need fixing up, you may have noticed the word “squire” in quotes up above.  The translation of the Iliad that I’m fond of (it’s prose instead of trying to force the translation into English verse, and it uses the proper Greek names instead of Roman ones) is from like 1913 (give or take a decade), so it does use some awkward things like describing Meriones as “nephew and squire” of Idomeneus, and describing people as “knightly” and so on.  That means those things got into my books, too.  😦  It is so annoying, and decidedly anachronistic, but I have no idea what the period-appropriate term would be.  While I’m sure most readers would probably accept using the anachronistic medieval term “squire” since it’s quite easy for modern people to understand what it means about the person’s professional role, I dislike it for its extreme anachronism.  I should probably have a look at the most recent translation(s) of the Iliad and see how they handled whatever term was being replaced with “squire”.  Mostly, this is only going to impact the prologues (each book has a prologue set during the war) and when they meet certain Trojan War veterans (including the aforementioned Meriones), but it’s something I want to be able to fix on general principles.

A more wide-ranging problem is that I have to figure out how much a sixteen-year-old slave girl in the Late Bronze Age who had somehow kept herself entirely chaste would typically have known about sex.  Because one of the ways I wanted Atalanta and Ariadne to be different from their fathers is that they remain virgins, unlike Atalanta’s father who was quite lusty (the number of his accomplished/potential/desired conquests at Troy seems to grow every time I read a new book on the subject) and unlike Ariadne’s father who slept his way around the Mediterranean for ten years before finally going home to his all-too-faithful wife.  For some reason, when I was first writing these, I decided to accomplish that by having Atalanta nearly kill a man to stop him from raping her, following which Athene erased all her memories of the very concept of sex, and nothing can ever make her remember that sex even exists.

I have no idea why I did something so mind-bogglingly stupid.

My new version is much more simple:  she’s asexual.

I think the reason for the bizarre backstory gymnastics is that I wrote these books about a year and a half before I came to understand that I myself am asexual, so…I don’t know.  As an explanation, it doesn’t entirely make sense, but it’s the best one I can come up with, honestly.

Whatever the reason I originally wrote it, it has to go.  Now, I do want Atalanta to retain a childlike innocence (including on sexual matters), but there’s not going to be anything supernatural or traumatic about it.  She’s just not terribly bright and doesn’t pick up on subtext and subtle details of situations, and the classical Greeks certainly didn’t like to…well, they didn’t like to write about sex, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t like to talk about it and doesn’t necessarily mean the same was the case about their Late Bronze Age ancestors, but one does tend to fill in the gaps with the historical culture when one is dealing with the Greek Heroic Age.  Anyway, I have to decide just how much she knows, and how much she suspects of what she doesn’t know, and how she would interpret any mentions of things she doesn’t know.  That will have to be figured out before I can start writing, and it will be a lot of work making sure to catch every single absurd instance and replace it with something more simple and believable.  Atalanta spent all seven books sort of traipsing back and forth across the line from “possessing the mind of an absurdly stupid child” to “just a little bit dim and very innocent”, and that’s generally something I need to fix.  I also need to fix Ariadne’s side of their relationship; they’re very co-dependent, in an entirely platonic, non-romantic way on Atalanta’s part, whereas I realized late in the game that Ariadne is actually in love with Atalanta and refusing to admit it even to herself, so I need to work that in and make it more obvious throughout and yet in a way that makes it clear that Ariadne will never be willing to act on her feelings.  (That may be a more subtle task than I’m capable of, but we’ll just have to see what happens in the new drafts!)

I also have various other things I have to decide on, too.  Like, I don’t want to use the Aeneid‘s version of the immediate post-Troy events, but I also have scattered throughout the books various references to the journey of “Aeneas” with his band of Trojan refugees.  So I’m thinking of setting up something halfway between the Iliad‘s version of post-Troy events (in which Poseidon commented that Aineias was to become the new king of Troy after the war) and the Roman version, so that Aineias became King of Troy as planned by the Greek gods, only then Korythos (son of Alexander/Paris by his first wife, the nymph Oenone) drives him out and takes over the kingship, so Aineias still sets off for the future site of Rome.  (And I don’t think the gens Julius completely made up the idea of Roman descent from Aeneas/Aineias; I think they did get that from some of the Greek settlers in Italy, as the ancient Greeks did love to set up mythical ancestors for various people they met (Medes, Perses, etc).)  But I’ll have to decide when that happened, how far they had gotten in rebuilding the walls, how much violence was entailed, why in the world Aineias would have fled rather than stayed and continued to fight (especially against a son of that weakling Alexander!) and so forth.  Some versions of the abduction of Helen do include Aineias having gone with Alexander to Sparta, so maybe this should be a version like that (though there’s no indication of Aineias being there in the one flashback I have to the abduction itself…though given the presence of his mother in the flashback it wouldn’t be hard to believe it) and Korythos makes the demand to the remaining people of Troy that they shouldn’t follow Aineias since he aided and abetted in the arrival of the harlot who ruined the marriage of Korythos’ parents and for whose sake the citadel of Troy was besieged for ten years and then destroyed.  Yeah, that might work, actually.  Korythos wouldn’t even need an army if he turned the majority of the people against Aineias.  Cool, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Names, on the other hand, are something to worry about.  Specifically, how far do I want to go in using the Greek names?  Like, some of them are easy.  Patroclos > Patroclus, Aias > Ajax, Aineias > Aeneas, Heracles > Hercules, Zeus > Jupiter (like anyone now would use that in a Greek setting, lol), but do I want to go the whole hog?  Do I want to use Achilleus instead of Achilles, Alexandros instead of Alexander, Ganymedes instead of Ganymede, Bellerophontes instead of Bellerophon…stuff like that.  (And yes, all those names do come up in the books.  (BTW, the spellchecker in my browser is insisting that the correct spelling of “Bellerophon” is “Telephoner”.  Like, wow.))  Part of me is annoyed with myself for using any of the Romanized/Anglicized versions, but the rest of me is like “seriously, Achilleus and Ganymedes?” (For some reason I’m much more cool with Bellerophontes than a lot of the other typically-always-Romanized/Anglicized-even-by-scholars names.)

Speaking of names, I’m not even sure what I should be calling the Greek people as a group.  For the historic period, Hellenes would be correct, and I do use it sometimes.  In the Iliad, the names Achaians, Danaans and Argives are used pretty much as direct synonyms, chosen for metrical reasons.  Of course, Argives was right out as a choice in my books because that specifically means people from Argos.  Achaians — while the source of the Hittite name for the Mycenaean Greeks, Ahhiyawa — seems most likely to refer specifically to people from Achaia Phthiotis, the region of Thessaly where Achilles’ father Peleus reigned.  (Unlike the classical Greeks with their city-states, the Mycenaeans seem to have had kingdoms in more of the sense we think of for Medieval Europe.  As far as I can tell.  Which isn’t far.)  Danaan was likewise the source of a foreign name that may have referred to Mycenaean Greeks (Danaja, used by the Egyptians and possibly also the Phoenicians, and which I do have Ramses II use), but as I recall it doesn’t even refer to a particular location in Greece, but rather to a mythical ancestor figure.  I’m not sure if that makes it more likely to have been what the Mycenaeans called themselves (Hellas and Hellene, after all, coming from the mythical figure Hellen) or if it was actually applied to them by mistake by their contemporaries and then the mythical figure was made up to explain it after it had stuck.  (The mythical figure might have even been made up in the classical period to explain the LBA-authentic name Danaan used in Homer, for all I know.  There are, after all, many things in the Iliad that are accurate to the Late Bronze Age but not to the classical era, particularly in the Catalog of Ships, where some of the places were so long gone by the historic period that no one even knew where they had been.)  There’s a lot that the scholarly community doesn’t know about this sort of thing, and even more that I don’t know, since it’s been years since I did the research, and I never got too far into the really detailed and up-to-date research even back then.  What would actually be correct is, of course, of lesser importance in this case than the basic question of which name should I use?  In the original drafts of the books, I primarily used Achaians, with a pretty hefty dose of Hellenes, and the occasional Danaans thrown in there just to be confusing.  😛  At some point after the novels were finished, I wrote an invocation of the Muse-type intro to the series that defined Achaians as people from northern Greece and Danaans as people from the Peloponnese, which is not entirely out of line with scholarly thinking as far as I remember and is entirely in line with how foreign people use the related terms (since the Hittites were more northerly and the Egyptians directly south), but…I dunno.  Among other things, trying to define the peoples by where they live in an invocation to the Muse feels weird in and of itself!  (But on the other hand it would at least give me some consistency, while still allowing the Egyptians to call them Danaja.)

*sigh*

I could probably keep going with this post forever and not run out of issues I’m going to have with these rewrites, but I’ve been at this for like three hours now, so I think I better stop.  Especially since I was supposed to be spending this afternoon sorting through the ghastly build up in my inbox.  😦  Guess that’s being put off yet another day…

Anyway, my biggest worry at the moment is, as I indicated, how in the world to handle a marketplace in a pre-money economy.  I’d like it to be as realistic as possible to what the Late Bronze Age was like, but how in the world does one look up what a Hittite marketplace looked like ca. 1230 BCE?  (It’s the marketplace in the mostly-rebuilt Troy, which was in Hittite territory.)  I’m going to have to do some heavy research before I dive into the rewrites.

But first I’m going to do the rewrite on my fusion of Velvet Goldmine with the 1996 (rather awful) movie adaptation of Emma, which means now I need to dive into rereading the original book and keep my rewrites in pace with my rereading, so I can keep straight things like how long Emma spent using “Mr.” in talking to and about Frank Churchill, when Mrs. Weston had her baby, when the Knightley boys returned to London, etc.  (All things that were completely ignored by said film adaptation, naturally.  I need to watch the new adaptation whenever it makes it onto Netflix or Hulu or whatever.  I missed it in the theatres because its release was cut short by all the theatres closing…but I do want to see a good (or at least better) adaptation, even if its Frank Churchill will never be as hot.)  And that’s precisely why I’m writing this post so far in advance, because otherwise my mind will be filled with Regency England instead of the Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age .

Book Report: Compendium of North American Cryptids

Published May 23, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

You can already tell two things from the image I started out with.  One, this isn’t for Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, and two, I took the picture of the cover myself.  Now, technically, that turned out not to be necessary, as (just now) I looked it up on Goodreads and found that it does actually have a listing (though it doesn’t have any reviews) so I could have downloaded the cover image from there.  But since I’d already taken my own photo, I figured I’d just go with it.  (Please ignore the sheet beneath it.  When your preferred method of buying new bedding is “on clearance at Target,” you don’t have as much choice of patterns as you might like.)

The full title of this book had no hope of fitting into the title of the post.  I could say “click on the thumbnail and read the photo for yourself” but then you’d have to wait while it loaded, so I’m just going to transcribe the text on the cover of the book, line by line:

Compendium of
North American Cryptids
& Magical Creatures
The Official Magimundi Guide
*
150th Anniversary Edition
Written by Foxfire Castellaw
Annotated by Wyn Diego

By Mike Young, Maury Brown & Ben Morrow
Illustrated by Ffion Evans

As you can guess from all that, this is roughly the equivalent of buying Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, but actually by J.K. Rowling.  (My mother, I might add, actually did buy that.  In a three-pack of books that were produced to benefit charity.  I actually used the one on quidditch for my Read Harder book on sports last year, in fact.)  The biggest difference here, though, is that I didn’t realize that was what I was getting.

See, I was backing a Kickstarter called “Cryptid Cuties” that was enamel pins (soft enamel, unfortunately) of various cryptids.  As add-ons, you could get a copy of this book, a plush cactus cat (very cute and cuddly, but mine has a slight factory defect, which is sad) and when I added it on, I thought I was getting a Faeries-like book compiling all the different regional folklore/urban legends of mysterious critters.  So I was pretty surprised when I got it out of the package and read that cover!  (Though I’d already been confused by the return address on the package, which was from Learn Larp, LLC, and I was sitting there going “what the heck is this?  I didn’t order any cosplay supplies, and I don’t even have the social skills to play a tabletop RPG, let alone a LARP!”)

It turns out that this book is a sort of bestiary for a particular LARP (that’s Live Action Role Playing for those of you who aren’t geeky enough to know the term), but rather than being written as a collection of stats and such, it’s written as if it was an actual book for within the fantasy world, so it’s a perfectly entertaining read even for people like me who have no intention of ever playing the associated game.  (It does, however, mean I won’t be using it as fodder for any future April A-to-Z sessions, though!)

The creatures covered in the book fit into four categories:  “actual cryptids,” “general mythic/legendary monsters,” “definitely made up for this,” and “wait, is that a real cryptid or did they make it up?”  With a few outliers that are hard to categorize, like the Fiji Mermaid, which isn’t really any of the above, having been a carnival hoax.

The first category includes old standbys like the Jersey Devil, the Mothman, chupacabra, jackelopes, and sasquatch.  The second category has things like thunderbirds, golems, homunculi, werewolves and vampires.  The third category has things like gobwins (no, that’s not a typo) and humfaeries (both of which were actually designed by Kickstarter backers from a previous campaign, it turns out)  The final category ranges from things that really sound made up, like the cactus cat and the wampus cat (picture a centaur with a puma’s body instead of a horse’s), to things that I could believe are actually folkloric, like duwende, fiddle spider and lightning snake.

Each entry has an illustration, and they’re all quite nice, though of course the artist is no Brian Froud (then again, who is?).  The entries themselves vary in entertainment value, since not all the concepts can be described in a particularly entertaining manner.  That, however, is where the annotations come in:  the annotator is snarky, thinks he knows everything, and has a very low opinion of the author.  In the course of his annotations (which are not, admittedly, on every entry) you get a good sense of what kind of character he is, and his attitude towards the author is almost always entertaining.  I think the annotations are what really sets this apart from other books of the type.

I don’t know if the book is actually available for purchase anywhere, because of the three web addresses printed inside the book, I only actually visited one, http://www.magimundi.wiki, which obviously is not set up to sell merchandise.  The more official-sounding one, http://www.magischola.com, I couldn’t access, because my anti-virus software was adamant that it was a phishing site.  I have no idea why they would think that, but…when it gets that screechy about it, I tend to chicken out.  The third web address was http://www.learnlarp.com, which sounded more like it was about the LARPing aspect than about the magical world that had been created as the setting for the LARP games.


I actually finished this on Monday and haven’t started a new book yet, because I’ve been too glued to my 3DS to figure out what I want to read.  (That’s the problem with MegaTen games:  they really sink their tentacles into me.)  I’m disappointed that they didn’t add any 3D elements, but I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that they didn’t dub it!  (I’m gonna freak if they don’t give us a voice cast in the end credits, though.  The computer’s AI sounds to me so much like a particular seiyuu that it’s driving me crazy wondering if it’s really him, but noplace I’ve looked online, so far, has had a cast list for it.)  What I’ve seen of the new material, so far, has left me a bit uncertain:  the new human character looks like a female Vincent Valentine, and seems to have the same exact motivation as the villain of Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army, which could be good or bad, and they introduced a new “demon” in the form of a lolita Persephone/Kore who for some bizarre reason is calling herself her own mother.  (Seriously, that is not Demeter.  No.  Freaking.  Way.)

I realize no one cares about any of that, but I just had to get it out there.

Also, I found a line really hilarious because they didn’t quite think through the overtones of the way they localized it:

D’you have any idea what you’re saying, Jimenez?

*cough*

Sorry, I meant to talk about what I’m gonna read next.  Probably 16, because I have something picked out that’s been sitting on my “to read” shelf for like three years.

A to Z: Zaccoum

Published April 30, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Ah, finally at Z!  There were a surprising number of “Z” choices, but it was much harder to find one that wasn’t Chinese.

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

So, let’s follow standard procedure and start with the Compendium text.  In this case, it’s from Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse:

A tree believed to grow in Jahannam, the Islamic hell.  It bears fruit shaped like the heads of devils.
Its existence is mentioned in the Qu’ran.

And before I move on any further, let me start out by saying that I do not know what spellings are viewed as the most correct when transliterating from Arabic to English, so I apologize right now if I use any that are incorrect.  Obviously, the ones in the text quoted from the game are not mine to change, and in all other spellings, I’m following what’s on the Wikipedia page, because while it’s not a completely reliable source, it’s…well…easily accessed.  (Because I suck.)

According to said Wikipedia page, the Zaqqum is not mentioned very frequently:  looks like it’s only in four verses.  (Now that I think about it, that’s not actually surprising.  Something that only exists as part of the torments of sinners after death would hardly be mentioned frequently in a religious text.)

As you might be able to tell from the game art, the Zaqqum is a tree with fruit shaped like heads.  It’s actually supposed to be devil heads, not human heads, though.  The game’s art is vague enough that it works either way, but in this other art I found of the Zaqqum, the heads look human:

By Shahhh [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The fruit from the tree is fed to the sinners — one of the only foods they’re allowed to eat — in order to increase their suffering, burning and tormenting them from within.  Or the fruit is the fruit of all the sins they committed in their lifetimes, so the more evil a sinner is, the bigger his personal Zaqqum is, I guess is what that’s saying?

According to Wikipedia, there are three real types of plant that have been nicknamed “zaqqum,” but looking at the pages about those plants, I’m not entirely clear as to why.  (Well, one of them is poisonous, so I guess that’s why in that case, but the other two are less clear.)

.

..

Well, that was an underwhelming post.  Sorry.  A-to-Z burn-out, I guess…

A to Z: Yurlungur

Published April 28, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Aaaaaand we have another one I really shouldn’t be doing.  But this was one of the ones I really wanted to cover, you know?

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

This colorful fellow shows up quite frequently.  His compendium text for the Devil Survivor and Shin Megami Tensei IV games is:

A snake with a rainbow body from Murngin lore.

He is a fertility deity who controls the weather and resides in a holy pond filled with rainbow-colored water.  He is a grand entity that transcends good and evil.

Although actually, that last sentence is only in the Devil Survivor games, not the Shin Megami Tensei IV games.

But setting that aside, let’s start with the basics.  Unless you happen to be particularly well versed in the cultures of that part of the world, you’re probably wondering what “Murngin” means.  It refers to a particular aboriginal group in Australia, but it’s actually an outdated term:  Yolngu is the currently accepted name for the group.  Anything more detailed than “they live in northern Australia” would either end up with me making mistakes and or spouting misinformation/misunderstood information, so I’m instead just going to point you in the direction of the Wikipedia page on them if you want to learn more.  (It cites a lot of sources; even if the page itself is less than useful, the sources are probably good.)

Read the rest of this entry →

A to Z: Xi Wangmu

Published April 27, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

This one is daunting, but after the last few, it’s refreshing to know that when the post is over, I’ll sit back and say “that is way too lacking in information” not because there isn’t any information, but because there’s too much of it.  Um, naturally, it’d be better if I didn’t sit back and say that at all, of course, but…I’m up to X.  Of course I’m experiencing a little burn-out…

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Xi Wangmu has been a pretty frequent inclusion in the more recent MegaTen games, but she didn’t start appearing until the PS1 era.  Dunno why.  Anyway, this is her compendium entry from the two Devil Summoner games:

A goddess revered in ancient China who grew popular during the Han Dynasty.  Her palace was said to be atop the mythological Mt. Kunlun.

She is mostly human in appearance, with a distinctive headdress, as well as the tail of a panther and the teeth of a tiger

Originally she was said to govern the Five Calamities, but later came to be depicted as a beautiful sage and enshrined as the ruler of Mt. Kunlun.

Among her legendary encounters was Sun Wukong, who stole and ate the Peaches of Immortality.

And a more abbreviated entry from the Shin Megami Tensei IV games:

An ancient Chinese goddess who ruled over the Kunlun mountains.  She was worshipped during the Han Dynasty.

She looks like a human, but is said to have the teeth of a tiger and tail of a leopard.  She kept the peaches of immortality, which Wu Kong stole and ate.

Admittedly, the biggest difference there is that one says tail of a panther and the other says tail of a leopard, but…

Let’s move on to the real Xi Wangmu!

Er, to a small sliver of the real one, anyway.  There’s a lot there.  (Like, whole books of it.)

It should come as no surprise — given that the games tend to be at least relatively accurate, and that they get more accurate the closer to home things are — that what the game says is pretty much correct.  It leaves out a lot, but it’s not wrong about anything, as far as I can tell.  For about the first thousand years (give or take a couple of centuries) of her known existence, she was ferocious, and had…well, the Wikipedia page only mentions the teeth of a tiger, but I doubt the game simply made up the tail.  After she became part of Taoism, though, that’s when she became the “Queen Mother of the West” that she’s been ever since.  (“Queen Mother of the West” being the translation of Xi Wangmu, btw.)

Pao-Shan Tomb Wall-Painting from the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). Wikimedia Commons

This painting could easily be an influence on the game art, don’t you think?  (Well, maybe not.  But the colors are very similar!)

Anyway, after she ceased to be a dispenser of pestilence, then she did indeed become known as “the dispenser of prosperity, longevity, and eternal bliss” at about the time that China was prospering due to the added trade from the Silk Road, and the different regions were better able to get to know each other.

According to legend, she met with countless famous figures, including a long list of emperors, a number of heroes, and even the father of Taoism…and in one account, it was actually Xi Wangmu who wrote his famous Dao De Jing, one of the foundations of Taoism.  (Or is Daoism the correct way to write it?  The various pages on Wikipedia are inconsistent on that score…and I’m so tired I actually wrote “correction” instead of “correct” just now…)

Her home was not always said to be on Mt. Kunlun, but that seems to have become the default after a while.  Likewise, sometimes she was said to grow the Peaches of Immortality, other times different peaches that only extended life, and other times they were merely nearby.  She’s known for serving them to her guests, though, regardless of where they grew.  (In that respect, she could be compared to Idun or Hebe, with their golden apples and ambrosia respectively…)  And yes, Sun Wukong did steal them from her once, though I had to go through about five different Wikipedia articles to confirm that!  (It was my own fault, though.  When Xi Wangmu’s page didn’t say that, I should have just looked his up straight away.)

..

.

Bah.  I need to stop writing these posts at night when I’m tired from work.

A to Z: Wendigo

Published April 26, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m sure I had lots of other choices for “W”.  Well, some other choices, anyway.  But Wendigo is the only one who ended up in my list as I went through the games where I could easily access the compendium.

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Aside from the horns, he seems more like a yeti than a wendigo, really.  But he’s a suitable sight for the terrified central trio of Devil Survivor, who meet him at the beginning of the game, before they’re used to seeing demons everywhere, and the next morning are given the prediction by their future diaries (lol, anime inside joke) that they’re going to be killed by him that day.

Anyway, this is what his compendium entry says in four of the five games available to me:

An abominable snowman of Canada.  Its height is over five meters.

It has a face that looks like a skull and its thick fur lets it run quickly in the snow.  It appears in villages and eats humans.  Sacrifices are common to avoid being attacked.  It is also said to be a type of spirit that dwells in mountains.

(The fifth, Persona Q, doesn’t feature wendigo.  He doesn’t seem popular in the Persona sub-series, which is odd, because you’d think he’d fit right in.  Though actually, the last sentence was only in two of the four games.  The rest was in all four.)

As with some of the other demons I’ve looked at (yesterday’s, for example), the description of the wendigo seems to be based on something very specific, something that isn’t the original belief, but I don’t know what, precisely.  Since it was made the title character of a 1910 short story by Algernon Blackwood, the wendigo has taken on an entirely new and ever-changing life outside of the culture in which it originated, to the point that some people probably don’t even realize it started out as a native monster from before the arrival of Europeans on this continent.  But a lot of that is in horror fiction and/or horror movies, all of which I avoid, so I’m gonna skip the wendigo’s second wind as a monster (even though that’s the one that seems to be the game’s real point of reference) and go instead to the original one.

The beast we call the wendigo actually has a lot of names, coming from the Ojibwe, Algonquin and Cree languages.  As that might indicate, the original belief was widespread across what is now the northeast United States and eastern Canada.  The wendigo is a man-eating beast that symbolizes gluttony, and the insatiable results of simply giving in to gluttony and greed:  every time a wendigo ate a human, they grew proportionately by the amount of meat they consumed, meaning that next time they fed, they would need even more meat, in an endless cycle, which is why the uncontrollable glutton was also always emaciated and starving.

The actual, supernatural wendigos are not cannibals (despite usually being labeled as such) because they don’t eat each other.  However, a human being could become a wendigo if they gave in to their greed too readily, or if they spent time with real wendigos.  Those human wendigos were cannibals, eating whatever humans they could.  The Wikipedia page on the wendigo mentions several documented cases of cannibalism that were said to be humans becoming wendigos, one of them dating back to 1661!  Of course, the only cure for a human who became a wendigo was death.  Thankfully, such cases dwindled in the 20th century.

.

..

I feel like there was more I needed to say here.  Probably shouldn’t be trying to write at midnight.  Maybe I’ll remember later and edit this.  (Or maybe this nonsense will still be here when the post goes live in five — er, four and a half — days.)

In any case, I wanted to close this post with a link to another (long completed) enamel pin Kickstarter (yes, I’m obsessed) that has a very different take on a wendigo.  The pins are cute little faces of monster girls, but there’s also non-SD art of the first three, which is, well, not quite NSFW, but very close to it.  (So probably don’t click the link if you’re at work…)  And yes, if you were wondering, the wendigo pin is one of the ones I’m getting.  (Hey, be glad I didn’t do this on Mothman, too.  I had one there I could have linked to, too…)

A to Z: Vouivre

Published April 25, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Today’s demon is one I first met in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey on the Nintendo DS…the 3DS remaster of which will be releasing on the 15th of next month!  YAY!  (I am frankly astonished that I somehow managed to go this long through this process without mentioning that…)  Okay, “YAY” might be a bit of an exaggeration, though;  Strange Journey was even more ham-fisted in certain story aspects than the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei games, but I can’t help being excited every time a new MegaTen game comes out in English, you know?  Besides, I never forced myself to get the Law and Chaos endings of it the first time around, so this way I can do the smart thing and start with them, so that the Neutral ending becomes my reward.  (Thankfully, I had learned that lesson by the time Shin Megami Tensei IV came out…)

Right, lengthy digression over with.  Let’s get on to today’s featured entity…

Image copyright Atlus. Provided by the Stealing Knowledge blog on tumblr. Click for link.

Yeah, this was one of those demons where my first reaction was “WTF?!”  (Though it’s nothing compared to the bondage Angels…)  When I finally got one in my party and could read the information in the Compendium, that didn’t really help explain to me why she was half human and half red, winged Silurian.

This is her entry from Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse:

A female dragon with bat wings.  Sometimes depicted as a beautiful female spirit.

They have bat wings, eagle legs, and a snake tail, and are all female.  The secret of their power is the garnet gem in their forehead.  If it is stolen, they lose their power and must obey the gem’s owner.

Yup, not…not…not really explaining anything, is it?  (Her wiki page has her Strange Journey entry, and it’s not significantly different.)  Honestly, I have a feeling that what we have here might be another Porewit situation, only the wiki hasn’t caught on to this one.

You know why I think that?  This is the only image off the appropriate Wikipedia page:

From the Liber Floridus, circa 1448. Via Wikimedia Commons.

It describes the vouivre (Franc-Comtois dialect), or guivre (old French), as having “a long, serpentine body and a dragon’s head” and “venomous breath.”  Aside from living in small bodies of water (EDIT:  when I wrote this last night, that said “small bodies of language”; I must have been more tired than I thought) and having a strange tendency to be embarrassed by (or afraid of) naked people, they were pretty much just plain old dragons, if perhaps rather small ones.  In fact, Wikipedia claims that the English word “wyvern” comes from “guivre,” and that “guivre”/”vouivre” had in turn come from the Latin “vipera”

None of that has much to do with the highly specific MegaTen description.  The closest I could come to that in the Wikipedia article was this bit here:

in The Drac: French Tales of Dragons and Demons, the vouivre is depicted as a female creature with dazzling, green scales which emanate sound as the vouivre flies. The vouivre is depicted as greedy, her head crowned with pearls and a golden ring about her tail. The beast in this story stayed in a cave for most of her time, then left to bathe only for a few minutes.

The page didn’t actually cite the book properly (like listing author, year of publication, etc), so I had to look it up on Goodreads.  Turns out the book was published the same year I was born!  Given that the sole Goodreads review mentions that one of the other dragons in the book is the Tarasque, another odd MegaTen demon with strangely specific compendium entries, I have a feeling that someone among the MegaTen staff has a copy of that book.

And yet what little Wikipedia and the review has to say about the voivre in that book doesn’t quite fit with the compendium entry, either, so it still feels like something a bit weird is going on.  Exactly what, though, is hard to pin down.  Did that book’s version of the vouivre become popular enough in Japan to receive a fictional version that became so well known as to feel like it was the real thing to the average Japanese reader?  Did some name substitution go on somewhere?  Or is that really what that book has to say about the vouivre?

Needless to say, I plan on buying a copy and reading it to find out!  (That makes three books I’ve come across in this process that I’ll be buying…)

So this post has ended up being a bit more of a mystery than I intended.  Sorry about that.  (I’ll (hopefully) come back and edit in a bit more after I read that book, but that won’t be much use to those just passing through for A-to-Z…)

A to Z: Ukobach

Published April 24, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Whew, the end is finally in sight!  (Like last time, I’ve had to promise myself a reward for finishing…)

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Ukobach is an old stand-by for the MegaTen series, though he’s not a surefire to be in every installment.  (Um…no, that was not supposed to be a pun…)  His appearances are so randomly spaced that I only have one compendium entry for him (only one out of five recent games had him, in other words), from Persona Q:

A subordinate demon of Hell, ordered by Beelzebub to stock the fires that heat its iron pots.  He also throws coal into the fire to torment humans trapped in Hell.

Yup, that’s deeply informative.  His MegaTen Wiki pages has a couple more entries, but they don’t really say anything different, they just phrase it slightly differently.  They also mention that he’s the first demon you get in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, which I might add is one of my favorite MegaTen games…except for the clunky combat.  (I even have a Raidou Kuzunoha action figure!)  I loved watching demons (including Ukobach here) trailing along behind Raidou through the streets of Taisho-era Japan…

Anyway, this is one of those demons that I knew had to have either tons of information or almost none.  Because you see him all over the place.  In Japanese video games, anyway.  (Probably in American ones, too, but I don’t play as many of those, for whatever reason.)  For example… Read the rest of this entry →

A to Z: Tzitzimitl

Published April 23, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

I wonder if Nahautl names look as daunting to native speakers of other languages as they do to native speakers of English?  Though Tzitzimitl is actually fairly tame, as Nahautl names go.  (Quechua names can also be pretty intimidating.  Actually, maybe it’s just long names in any language that isn’t either Germanic or Romance that look impossible.  I even stumble over Greek names sometimes…)  Of course, right now, I have a killer visual migraine going on, and everything looks daunting.  So I should just get on with the plot and hope the caffeine kicks in to get rid of the flashing lights in front of my eyes.  (I wonder how many people in older times thought they were crazy and/or having visions just because they had an odd form of headache?)

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

So, this is the way Tzitzimitl looks in most of the MegaTen games.  (Her appearance in the two Persona 2 games was a lot like this, only toned down a bit, and as to Devil Children…well, the less said about that the better all around, it seems from what little I know about it.)  In Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker and Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse, her compendium entry says this:

Aztec goddesses of night and fear.

They constantly attack the sun and cause solar eclipses.  They demand a sacrifice once every 52 years.

In Persona Q, on the other hand, her compendium entry says this:

Goddess of Aztec myth governs night and fear, symbolizing death and evil.  Her war with the sun caused a catastrophic solar eclipse.  She seeks a sacrifice every 52 years.

Obviously, you notice there are some discrepancies there.  The first three games refer to Tzitzimitl as more a type of being than a single goddess, and the fourth one mentions a single goddess.

Read the rest of this entry →

A to Z: Shiisaa

Published April 21, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Somewhat ironically, my return to Japanese mythology is again visiting non-standard Japan.  Specifically, we’re looking at an Okinawan mythical being again.

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Though he didn’t show up in the earlier MegaTen games, Shiisaa has been a standard since the PS2 era.  (Though his earliest appearances were before that, he didn’t become standard until the Playstation 2.)  So I’ve got a couple of versions of compendium text on him for you.  First, from the two Devil Survivor games:

A holy beast said to protect houses from evil and grant them fortune.

It is known to have the power to keep evil away.  Ceramic statues in its image are placed on the roofs of houses, in similar fashion to gargoyles.  In Okinawa, souls of the deceased become balls of fire and will burn houses, but Shiisaa keeps such spirits out.

And from the Shin Megami Tensei IV games:

A holy beast said to protect houses from evil and grant them fortune.  It looks similar to Shinto guardian dogs, but is actually modeled after a lion.  There are many stories about it in Ryukyu lore.

Persona Q‘s text is almost identical to that; there’s just a couple of words deleted for it.

And, because the wiki made it available, here’s his text from Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE (which is, I believe, a PC MMO, and one that’s not being supported anymore at that):

A legendary creature said to repel disasters and misfortune and bring good luck to villages. Shiisa resemble a cross between a lion and a dog. They are revered as guardian deities in Okinawa. Their form is thought to be derived from the lions of the ancient Orient.

Shiisa are holy beasts that possess the power to repel demons and exorcise evil spirits that cause fires. Shiisa statues can be found in a variety of places, such as on the roofs of houses and outside temples. The statues are placed so that they face northeast (toward the Demon gate), south (to guard against fire), or the direction of a gate or cross-street.

Okay, so that’s a lot of game text (admittedly, much of it is repetitive), so it’s high time to move on to the real thing, eh?

Read the rest of this entry →

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