The Little People: a quick overview

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I’ve posted to this blog, but ah, that’s what happens when you’re using multiple platforms and media formats.

I was talking to a friend about some of the folklore and traditions that surrounds Europe, especially the countries that make up the British Isles, modern day Ireland definitely has a strong connection to these stories, and the topic of fairies came up. Or rather, several tumblr posts about fairies came up, without any traditional context. One was about a toy with which you could ‘name’ and ‘summon’ a fairy to you home, another was about the odd things people do with regards to sacred trees, or locations where odd things have been said to happen.

2000px-british_isles_euler_diagram_15-svg

For reference: The lands and islands which make up the British Isles. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Suck it up, my first vampire…

The recent vampire craze seems to be dying down now, as the meteoric rise of vampires in popular media slows down after the initial push brought on by Twilight and the marketability of the genre to young women is now going onto greener fields, not that it has altered the staying power of the blood suckers, what with shows like Penny Dreadful, and countless adaptations of Dracula making their way onto the airwaves. (Not to mention older shows like the Vampire Diaries and True Blood… if those are no longer airing, then my mistake.)

Anyway, vampires have always had a place in our stories. Whether it be quaint folktales, or dramatic novels, which in the West, often took on sexual connotations. However, I remember my first vampire simply being a corpse, improperly buried in yang soil, so that the soul finds no rest and remains on the mortal plane. There are other methods, but improper burial is the most common form. Such concepts exist in certain regions of East Asia, predominately in Japan, China and Korea. A result of short distances and trade which involved more than just material goods. Knowledge and culture also were passed between groups of people, albeit in a less overt way.

I am not speaking for the Japanese or Korean vampires, but the one in China were stiff limbed with rigor, and would hop everywhere. Taoist priests could use items such as Ofuda paper to banish the corpse again, so that it returns to its grave and stops attacking people, either to eat them, or to drink their blood.

Sunlight also banishes them to their graves, and that is the ideal time to get rid of them, burning their bodies and killing htem off for good.

Parallels… The Crane Wife and a story of Yuki Onna

I was recently listening to a recording of The Crane Wife 1, 2, 3 by The Decemberists (see below) when it struck me that there very familiar elements in the story to another that I had read when I had been a child.

Both tales were of Japanese origin – the story of the Crane wife, who takes on human form and stays as her unknowing rescuer’s wife until the day he finds her true identity, and the most common version of Yuki-Onna, the Snow Maiden.

The version I’m referring to is from Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn. It goes as follows:

Two woodcutters—a father and son—were trapped in the forest when a sudden blizzard arose. They took shelter in an abandoned cabin, huddling in their clothes to sleep next to a meager fire. In the middle of the night, the son awoke when the door banged open and an ethereally beautiful woman came in from the blizzard. The woman crept over the father and blew her breath on him, then sucked up his living essence. As she turned to do the same to the son, she paused. Captivated by his youth and beauty, the Yuki Onna said she would let him live, but only on the condition that he never speak of this night.

The following winter, the young man was standing in his doorway when a beautiful woman traveler came walking by. The man offered her refuge from the elements, and the woman accepted. They quickly fell in love, and the woman never made it to her destination. She stayed on, married the young man, and they lived happily for years. They even had several children.

One night, when the kids where happily playing, the man looked up at his wife and a memory surfaced that he hadn’t thought about in years. When his wife asked him what was the matter, he told her of his encounter with the snow spirit years ago, wondering if it had all been a dream. The smile fell from his wife’s face, as she revealed herself to be that very same Yuki Onna.

She was livid that her husband had broken her promise, and would have killed him there were it not for the children. As it was she left instantly, leaving the husband behind with regret and sorrow.

Like the Crane Wife, the revelation of the wife’s true identity leads to her leaving the husband.

Animals in myth: The Butterfly as a symbol of romance

The butterfly has often featured as a symbol of love in Chinese culture. From the tragic folktale of two lovers, (unsurprisingly called “The Butterfly Lovers” who have inspired their own music, television dramas and movie adaptations) to lesser known stories and traditions that made up old marriage customs, wherein the couple would recieve a pair of scissors carrying a butterfly motif as part of the dowry. This was to symbolize the union between the two, and may in fact be linked to yet another story: It is said that each pair of lovers are born as a one-winged butterfly, and before meeting their other half, can never fly.

It’s rather cute, though personally, I find that it can be a rather restrictive view of relationships in the modern world.

Anywho, I’ve included a recording of two movements of the Butterfly Lovers concerto for your enjoyment.

For those unfamiliar with the story, a brief summary follows:

Zhu Yingtai sets off for a formal education, though she has to dress as a man to do so. During her studies, she meets Liang Shanbo, another student studying at the academy and they eventually grow to know one another as friends. Yingtai falls in love with Shanbo, though he never realizes that she is actually a woman for all the hints she gives him.

Yingtai is eventually summoned home, and the two part, with Shanbo promising to visit after he escorts her home.

Shanbo visits several months later, only then, learning that Yingtai was a woman all along, but as she is already bethrothed, can only leave, heart broken.

He eventually dies, and on the day of her wedding, Yingtai is unable to move past his grave due to the strong winds and weather. When his tomb door is opened, she jumps in, and two butterflies emerge, flying off together.

Those who listen

I recall reading a lot of short story anthologies when I was younger. There was a particular series – known as Short and Shivery which collected some tame to creepy horror stories in the same vein as The Monkey’s paw, written in 1902 by W. W. Jacobs. Nothing that would spark terrible nightmares, but certainly not stories that a child would be encouraged to seek out.

One particular story in the collection, named The Green Mist told the tale of a fair maid, and a patch of cowslips. A summation follows:

It was believed that bogies, or little people existed in nature all around. Unseen, but certainly not unfelt. Mischief makers, they were — the neighbours that must be lived with, but carefully.

Now, the maiden was often bedridden, as her body was frail and prone to weakness, yet that did not stop her from trying to live her life. And one evening, she proclaims that she wanted to live as long as the cowslips that grew by their door, though the words are quickly forgotten in face of other troubles.

As the year goes on, the girl recovers, going forth into town. She meets a boy, they take to each other, and when the boy visits, he plucks the cowslips to give to her.

Imagine wearing a flower crown made of these

Imagine wearing a flower crown made of these

When she sees the flowers in his hands, she turns him away. Her face goes pale, and the health and vigor that she had gained quickly fade away.

The fae have always been around, one way or another. And words are what they weave best. Be careful what you wish have certainly been an adage that has existed for a long time, leading to entertaining works like the Labyrinth and other stories. The tale of the girl and her cowslips may be an older version of that same cautionary tale.

The Iron Queen, memed.

*Blows dust off this blog.* There are times you wander around the reaches of the internet and come across something so awesome, that it needs to be shared. Below is a picture which depicts a Persephone who lives up to her titles, who is true to her origins, and most definitely deserves her reputation. I’ve got nothing to add to the words already written on the original post, and instead invite you to click through to it. (Via the picture)

Art by asphodelon of tumblr. Depicts Persephone marching off as she hands Hades a flower. Text reads – “Kick his ass baby, I got yo flower”.

Selected quotation from the tumblr post. Click the image to go to original post.

There is a reason Hades name is just “The Rich One” and her’s is “The Iron Queen”. She took her job as queen of the underworld very very seriously and she had a mean streak a mile wide. When Orpheus came down to fetch his wife Hades was all for letting them go he was so moved by the man’s music, but Persephone is the one that set the trial knowing that Orpheus couldn’t resist looking- in some versions of the myth after he’s ripped apart by nymphs she seats him in their court to be their musician and it’s implied that was her plan all along- to not only keep one soul but to gain another- capable of great music to please her husband. When the whole thing with Adonis went down, she threatened the stability of all the world to tip the scales in her favor. According to Homer when men wanted to call curses down on the souls of the departed they invoked her name.

Animals: Loyal and true

I wonder sometimes, just what exactly causes the animals in stories to help the protagonist, especially when it seems as if they’ve done nothing to inspire the sort of good heartedness or loyalty.

I am speaking, of course, of the little nightingale in Oscar Wilde’s story of “The Nightingale and the Rose”. (At first, I was also going to include the wolf from the Firebird, but on second thought, the wolf has known the hardships of hunger, and the avoidance of it is to be appreciated.)

In the story, a poor student wishes to woo a beautiful girl, who happened to be the daughter of a professor. A nightingale hears of his wooing woes – that the lady in question refuses to dance with him unless he is able to meet her demands – that of a red rose, the reddest there could ever be. She decides to help him, as she believes in love to the point where she sacrifices her heart’s blood in order to create a red rose where none bloomed before, pricking herself on a thorn and bleeding out.

Though she demanded the student be true to love in return, he never heard her. Only finding the results of her sacrifice, calls it luck and is finally turned away from his lady as his prospects are not as great as others who have also been courting her.

Maybe I’m too cynical to appreciate the message set out by the nightingale, but I can only see how her act is unappreciated and overlooked by the very person she tries to hard to help. While others notice her loss, I doubt the student will ever realize the true extent of his circumstances. He’ll curse his lack of success, the rose will wither – thrown away and wasted.