One thing that really winds me up is a statement that you often hear from Neo-Pagan wishful thinkers: ‘The Christian demons are just the gods of pagan religions.’ I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but very, very often the demons of Christianity were the demons of whatever religion dominated before Christianity. There were times when Christians said other people’s gods were demons (lots of rather hot words were exchanged during the persecutions and counter-persecutions of the Roman Empire, but those were difficult times). Generally though, Christianity preferred to spread by adopting and adapting. That’s why we have Irish Gaelic deities as Saints, and Halloween on October 31st.
Ah, the party Cleric. In my gaming experience there are two kinds of people who play the party Cleric: the pragmatic player who looks around the table, sighs, and then says “I’ll play the party Cleric”, and players who know the GM likes to fill dungeons with undead.
I’ve already touched on one of the sources of the D&D cleric class in my article on Paladins and Magic Swords. This was Turpin, the Archbishop of Rheims, who Gary Gygax’s first gaming group referenced (possibly) erroneously when they described ‘the priest Turpin who went into battle wielding a mace to avoid shedding blood.’
First of all: apology/disclaimer: I’ve written this while on holiday, without my books, so it might be a bit scrappy
This is a bit of a stray thought/idea to be developed coming out of my research for my presentation at the ASSAP Seriously Possessed conference in a couple of weeks. In the research for my paper I came across a strange overlap between cases of demonic possession, haunting and witchcraft. It’s a bit of a work in progress, but here’s what I’ve got so far…
Haunting — The Tedworth Drummer
According to the account written by Joseph Glanville, Charles II’s Chaplain, a vagabond artist named William Drury was arrested for causing a public nuisance and travelling under false documents in the town of Lugarspal in Wiltshire, 1661. The tenant of Tedworth House, named Mompesson, confiscated the man’s drum and had him bound over by the local bailiff to be seen before the Justice of the Peace, at which the man confessed that he had forged his documents and begged to be given his drum back. Months later,
Many of us will be familiar with the image of the Danse Macabre: scenes depicting dancing skeletons, and the living dancing with the dead. In the work of Herefordshire chronicler Walter Map he describes a knight who rescues his dead wife from a dance of the dead.
What’s less well known is that for a disquieting length of time – from the 13th to 17th centuries – the Medieval European might be able to see a live enactment of the Danse Macabre as bands of strangers, friends and neighbours dancing themselves to exhaustion, or even death. This was the dancing plague: St. Vitus’ Dance, The Dancers of St. John, Tarantism. Continue reading “The Dancing Plague in Medieval Europe”
The historian Philip Almond describes 1550-1700 as ‘the golden age of the demoniac’. There are a lot of reasons, one of the biggest being the Reformation. Demoniacs had been important in the days of the early church, when church fathers were trying to build a new religion in an environment of borderline (and sometimes outright) hostility. On the other hand, as D P Walker tells us in his book Unclean Spirits, by the middle ages there were no more pervasive threats to subvert. Christianity was the ruling religion of Europe, and those heretics who did exist could be hunted directly by fire and the sword.
As the movie The Exorcist will show you, demons are a problem to this day. Modern clerics in both the Church of England and the Catholic Church still treat people who believe they’re possessed by demons (for the purposes of this blog I should state that I don’t care whether they really are possessed or not, I write about history not the paranormal).
However, demons could be a real problem if you were living in Medieval Europe. In fact, the idea that demons can get you killed is absolutely incontrovertible – in London of 1725 a drunk died of exposure in a well because neighbours ignored his cries for help, believing he was a demon. Not only that, but in 1597 Alice Goodridge, accused of sending a demon to possess Thomas Darling, died in prison awaiting trial for witchcraft.
Interestingly, though, those possessed by demons (demoniacs) occupy a more ambiguous status in the bible. Although John 8.44 describes The Devil as “a liar and the father of lies”, demoniacs in the Gospel were among the first witnesses to Christ, and often showed a clearer understanding of divine truth than the apostles. In fact, Christ himself was accused of being a demon, and of “casting out demons by the prince of demons.”
Snow isn’t a particularly scary thing for those of us who live in cities, but once you’re outside that comforting envelope of civilisation the desolate crisp whiteness and obscure visibility can turn the landscape into a dangerous alien world. The idea that predators lurk, ready to come out in the snow and snare the unwary is hardly a surprise.
Yuki Onna is a Japanese ghost called the Snow Maiden. She is every rice-boy’s Japanese girl fantasy: beautiful, dark almond eyes; pale, almost translucent skin; delicate and demure. She might appear naked, invisible except for her dark hair and eyes against the snow. Other times she might be wearing a thin white kimono, but those dark eyes are cold and merciless. Her embrace, even her breath, is deadly.
For the hunter Hiro, trudging home through the snow, she was death. He saw her faint figure in the waivering snow. Fearing for a lone woman he called out, “Beautiful woman, beautiful woman, we must find out way home.”
She did not answer. He moved closer, calling, “Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, you have nothing to fear.”
Finally, he drew close enough to see her, the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. His heart leapt for joy, despite the snow.
“Come closer, hunter,” she said, in a small voice. “And collect your reward.”
Hiro leaned forward, his lips ready to receive his kiss. Her pale, icy skin burned his cheek. At the last moment, he opened his eyes to see the cold, pitilessness in her eyes, but it was too late – her chill breath froze him into statue of ice.
Other times Yuki Onna preys on parents looking for children lost in the snow. She carries a baby in her arms, drifting through the snowstorm until someone finds her. Any who accept the child from her arms is frozen to death.
Sometimes, though, Yuki Onna can be merciful. In one Japanese folk-tale a young hunter/trapper/woodsman is spared because of his youth and good looks, but is made to promise that he will not tell anyone about the snow maiden. Years later he has met and married a beautiful wife who he regales with the story, only to have her reveal herself as Yuki Onna. In most versions she spares his life, sometimes because of the children, other times because he has technically told no one but her.
Another snow related spirit is Snegurochka. She’s another snow maiden, again with a heart of ice, but this time she has a loving mother with magical powers. When she meets a handsome woodcutter, but cannot love him, her mother gives her the ability to experience human feelings. Unfortunately the warmth of her love destroys her icy body and she melts away to nothing. Continue reading “Snow Queens and Devil’s Footprints: Haunted Winter Storms”