Astaroth: from Female Deity to Male Demon

Yes, it may also be Erishkigal, but sod it.

So, Hertfordshire University’s Open Graves, Open Minds unit have been running a ‘demon of the day’ campaign on Twitter this week. I’ll confess, as someone who started their interest with the Classical world and Ancient Near East, I’m rather partial to a good demon (I will, one day soon, write the article about Lilith I’ve been threatening.)

I had a rather good conversation with the OGOM project’s Twitter, and the excellent Dr Sam George on the nature of the Solomonic demon Astaroth.

I’m not too proud to admit that one of the reasons I know about Astaroth (and Baal, and Asmodeus) is because I was hoping to lay down the intellectual smack on something that irritates me: the belief that the demons of Christianity were the Gods of previous civilisations.

Which isn’t always true.

Of course… in the case of Astaroth… it sort-of… is.

Which is really fascinating, since becoming a demon isn’t the most interesting thing that happened to him.

His original name was Ashtoreth, and he used to be a goddess. Continue reading “Astaroth: from Female Deity to Male Demon”

D&D vs History: The Magical Staff

Today’s article is about the Staff. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my knowledge of D&D is largely confined to 1st and 2nd Edition, although I’m now running two historical fantasy campaigns using 5th.

D&D loves its magical staves. My personal favourite is the Staff of the Archmage (because, arguably, it’s a bit overpowered)  although various Staves of Healing (aka “nobody wanted to play a Cleric”), Staves of the Python/Adder, and once a Staff of the Woodlands came into my possession.

I originally intended this to be a continuation of the ‘Things D&D Got Right’ series that I’ve been doing on and off for a few years now. Unfortunately, I’ve sort-of been running out of things that D&D did get right, or at least things where D&D was more right than wrong.

Thus, I’ve decided to begin a slightly different type of article: ‘D&D vs History’, where I’ll be looking at historical and folkloric trends and examining how their portrayal in the game varies from the beliefs of real people living at times when magic and the supernatural were aspects of daily life. Continue reading “D&D vs History: The Magical Staff”

Writing the High-Functioning Sociopath

 

I’ve just finished Aliette de Bodard’s Tea Master and the Detective, a science fiction novella set in a spacefaring civilisation with technology bordering on the magical (if there was such a thing, I’d call it ‘High Sci Fi’). The novella was, as de Bodard herself freely admits, a meditation on the qualities of great fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes (with deliberate and direct allegories to Holmes and Watson in the persons of the protagonists Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child).

I very much enjoyed Tea Master, but it made me think of something that has made me put more than one book down – antisocial, atypical prodigies, and the hinterland between what makes them a draw, rather than an irritation.

So, I thought it might be interesting, and hopefully useful to someone somewhere, if I put a few thoughts down on the phenomenon of writing the sociopathic genius. Continue reading “Writing the High-Functioning Sociopath”

Increasing Your Writing Output

Image result for head on typewriterI’m always uncomfortable writing about writing: when it comes to history I can say, “This is material that I researched, you could possibly have researched it too, but you didn’t, so here it is…”

When I’m writing about writing, I’m acutely aware of the fact that while I’ve got books out I’m not that much of a big deal. I’ve got a lot more coming out later this year, and I think I’ve got “game”, as we middle aged historians call it, but I’m not a hugely successful writer.

Still, there’s one thing I have that other people can be objectively proved not to have: output.

It may be shite, but at least I wrote it. In 2017, despite one of the worst depressive slumps of my life, I managed an output of ~220k words. I once wrote a 100,000 word novel in a week. There are people who have produced more, but I’m also aware that there are a number of people who produced less, and have expressed interest in knowing how I did it.

I’ll also be entirely honest that I’m a bit harsh in places here, but excuses are something that annoys me, particularly since I was once quite good at making them myself.

So, here it is… Continue reading “Increasing Your Writing Output”

Blackness and the Demon in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

This is very much a work in progress and all input is gratefully received. I have deliberately steered away from making any analogy with modern society simply because I don’t have the expertise to do it in an informed way. If any reader has greater knowledge or capacity than me, they’re very welcome to use my work as they see fit.

In 1612, as a part of the infamous trial of the Pendle and Samlesbury witches, a young girl named Grace Sowerbutts gave evidence of her seduction to witchcraft:

“This Examinate did go with the said Jennet Bierly her grandmother, and Ellen Bierley, her aunt, to the house of Walshman, in the night time, to murder a child in a strange manner… after they had eaten [the child] the said three women and this Examinate danced every one of them with the black things: and after, the black things abused the said women. She describes four black things to go upright, but not like men in the face.”

This was far from the first time that blackness – not only the colour as we see here, but black bodies described as being racially African – had been associated with devilishness in Christianity. Continue reading “Blackness and the Demon in Medieval and Early Modern Europe”