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Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Werewolves

March 31, 2015 Leave a comment

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My Osprey book Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide was released last week. To celebrate, I’ll be posting and tweeting a fact a day for ten days: just a few of the things I discovered while researching and writing it. I’ll also be updating this post each day with a new fact. You’ll find more information in the book itself, and you may never look at this stock horror monster in quite the same way once you’ve read it. I know I don’t.

Like its companion volumes on Zombies and Vampires, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide collects a lot of deeply-researched information gathered from all times and places and presents it in an accessible and well-organized form for gamers and general readers alike.

For more on this book:
The first review (scroll down to the Comments section for more links as I find them).
A post about Werewolves and my most recent Osprey Myths and Legends book, Theseus and the Minotaur.

1. There are five distinct types of werewolf
As I read various ancient myths and medieval trial reports, I discovered something completely unexpected: not all werewolves are the same. I finally counted five distinct types, all of which I’ve covered in detail with histories, detailed descriptions, and case studies.
The five types are:
1. Viral Werewolves;
2. Cursed Werewolves;
3. Shamanic Werewolves;
4. Sorcerous Werewolves;
5. Obsessive Werewolves.

2. The Roman Empire helped spread lycanthropy across Europe
Until the first century, viral lycanthropy was confined to a small area of eastern Europe which became the Roman provinces of Moesia and Dacia. As Roman officials, merchants, and tax gatherers opened up the region, some of them contracted the virus and spread it throughout the Roman world.

3. St. Patrick may have rid Ireland of snakes, but he created the first documented Irish werewolves
The snakes of Patrick’s legend are a metaphor for Druidism, according to some writers. Another legend tells of certain pagans who drowned out his preaching by howling like wolves – whereupon he cursed them in the name of God, and they became the first recorded werewolves in Ireland.

4. Suleiman the Magnificent purged Constantinople of werewolves in 1542
The city was so overrun with werewolves that the Ottoman Emperor called out his Janissaries to deal with the situation. Over 150 werewolves were killed in one hunt alone.

5. Russia used werewolves to destabilize Sweden in 1790
The Swedish province of Calmar was overrun by a plague of wolves in 1790. Russia and Sweden were at war, and it was rumored that at least some of the creatures were werewolves that the Russians had created using Swedish prisoners. Sweden eventually sued for peace.

6. Buffalo Bill encountered a werewolf in 1906
According to the dime novel The Wolf Demon: Or Buffalo Bill and the Barge Mystery, the great scout and showman battled a wolf-like creature in Wyoming’s Wolf River Canyon. Cody claimed it was a werewolf, though some scholars believe it was actually a skinwalker from the local Arapahoe people.

7. The “Hounds of God” were an order of werewolf witch-hunters
At his trial in 1691, one Thiess of Kaltenbrun claimed to be a Hound of God, dedicated to protecting his community from supernatural threats. The Hounds were said to conduct raids into Hell itself on three nights of the year.

8. Britain and Germany both developed werewolf special forces in WWII
Germany’s Werwulf guerillas are fairly well-known, but Britain’s Talbot Group was founded in 1941 near Llanwelly, Wales and served throughout the rest of the war.

9. Vampires may be undead werewolves
According to a Greek tradition, a dead werewolf can rise from the grave as a vampire. However, the Greek word vrykolaka can mean both werewolf and vampire, which confuses matters somewhat.

10. Benjamin Franklin organized a werewolf militia
During the American Revolution, Patriot werewolves used their wolf forms to bring back valuable intelligence on British movements and troop strengths.

Thor Hits U.S. Libraries and Schools

March 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Rosen Thor Cover

I’ve just received a hardback edition of my Osprey Myths and Legends book Thor: Viking God of Thunder, published by Rosen Publishing in New York for the American schools and libraries market. It is available by itself or as part of the Heroes and Legends set, which also includes the Osprey volumes Dragonslayers, Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, King Arthur, and Robin Hood.

The inside of the book is the same as the Osprey edition, but Rosen’s solid hardback binding makes it more durable, and it lies flat without breaking the binding and scattering pages everywhere. And Rosen’s cover design is great. It keeps Miguel Coimbra’s fantastic art of Thor battling the frost giants, but turns the god’s name into a stony logo wreathed in lightning. I’m very, very pleased with it, and it’s strangely appropriate that my comp copy should arrive on the International Day of Happiness – another thing I knew nothing about until this morning!

I enjoyed working on this book immensely, and I’ve posted about it before. Here are some links for anyone who is interested:
Rosen Publishing (Thor)
Rosen Publishing (Heroes and Legends series)
Osprey Publishing (Thor)
Early reviews (scroll down to comments for more)
A more recent review

A New Review of “Thor: Viking God of Thunder”

February 26, 2015 1 comment

Thor

Patrick Mahon over at SF Crow’s Nest in the UK just posted a very nice review of my Osprey Myths and Legends book Thor: Viking God of Thunder. Here’s a link.

I’m very happy with the reception received by both this book and its companion volume on Theseus and the Minotaur, and I hope to have the opportunity to write more books on myth and folklore in the future. They’ve been passions of mine since I was a boy.

Here’s a link to some more reviews of Thor. Every time I see a new review, I add a link to the comments. If you’ve seen any reviews that aren’t linked there, please let me know – I’d like to make this collection as complete as possible.

A New Review of “Theseus and the Minotaur”

February 20, 2015 Leave a comment

My Osprey Adventures book Theseus and the Minotaur is getting some attention.

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Here’s a link to a new review on Random House’s suvudu.com site: http://bit.ly/1w58WYr

And here’s a link to an interview about Theseus, Thor, Warhammer, and other matters, also on suvudu: http://bit.ly/1Jw8AQ8

See also http://bit.ly/1CTRe9B for my earlier post on both this book and the Werewolves book.

And here’s a link to some new Theseus options for Andrea Sfiligoi’s excellent mythological miniatures game, Of Gods and Mortals: http://bit.ly/1ASBtlO

La Llorona: A Legend of New Spain

January 23, 2015 2 comments

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Known in English as the Weeping Woman, La Llorona (pronounced “yo-RO-nah”) is a legend of Mexico and the Spanish Southwest. The Weeping Woman is a type of ghost or demon that can be encountered anywhere in New Spain. According to the TV series Sleepy Hollow, a sub-type is also found occasionally in the Thirteen Colonies.

This article explores the legend of La Llorona, looks into a few variations, and suggests a range of ways to use this legend in Colonial Gothic adventures.

The Legend

Almost every Spanish-speaking population north of Mexico City has its own version of this tale. The details vary, but the ending is always the same.

Her name was Maria, she lived a long time ago, and she fell in love with a handsome ranchero. Because of him, she drowned her own children in a river.

Some say she killed them – and then herself – out of grief and rage when her ranchero abandoned her. Others say these children were from an earlier marriage, and she killed them so she could be free to marry again. According to a third version of the tale, her children drowned by accident when she left them alone to go to a dance with her new beau. All versions agree that her spirit cannot rest and she is cursed to spend eternity wandering and weeping, searching for her lost children along the banks of rivers and canals.

Ever since, people have seen a beautiful woman dressed in white walking beside rivers and canals at night, her hair disheveled and her eyes red from crying. Many have heard her weeping, and a brave few have gotten close enough to hear her sob “Ay, mis hijos!” – “Oh, my children!”

Some versions of the tale are darker still. It is said that bad luck will soon befall anyone who sees the Weeping Woman, or that she will steal, and even drown, any children she finds in the course of her wanderings.

Origins

It is not known whether the legend of La Llorona is based on an actual event. However, it is enticingly similar to both an Aztec legend and a story from the life of Hernan Cortez. It also evokes an even darker being from Mexican folklore.

La Malinche

La Malinche (also known as Malinali, Malintzin, and Doña Marina) was one of twenty women given to Cortez by the people of Tabasco in 1519. She served the Conquistador as a translator and advisor, eventually becoming his mistress and bearing his first son, whom he named Martín. She spoke Mayan as well as the Aztec language, Nahual, and helped Cortez form local alliances and head off potential rebellions. Cortez is reported to have said that after God, Doña Marina was the main reason for his success in Mexico. Contemporary Aztec records almost never depict Cortez without her by his side, and they sometimes show her alone, apparently acting on her own initiative and authority.

Unlike Disney’s Pocahontas, though, Doña Marina did not keep her European paramour. Cortez abandoned her to marry a good Spanish lady. While it is not recorded that she killed her children, and some sources claim she died in 1529, other sources hint that she did not suffer her abandonment meekly. In some later fiction she lives on as a vengeful resistance leader, and even as a vampire.

Cihuacoatl

Cihuacoatl was an Aztec goddess, the most prominent of several patron deities of childbirth and motherhood. It has been said that the Aztecs honored a woman who died in childbirth as highly as a warrior who died in battle.

According to Mexican folklore, the goddess was seen shortly after Cortez appeared, weeping for the loss of her children – an omen of the fall of the Aztec empire at his hands.

Cihuacoatl had a son named Mixcoatl, who became a god of the hunt and the stars. She abandoned him at a crossroads, but regretted her decision and returned weeping, only to find a sacrificial knife where her son had been.

The spirits of women who died in childbirth serve Cihuacoatl. Known as civitateo (“divine women”) they haunt crossroads at night, steal children, and cause seizures and other illnesses.

Although these Aztec legends do not correspond exactly with the commonly-told story of La Llorona, it is easy to see how they may have influenced its development.

Game Statistics

La Llorona can be many things, ranging from a tragic ghost to a vengeful goddess. Providing full Colonial Gothic statistics and rules for every conceivable variant would take an article far longer than this one. Instead, the following paragraphs suggest a range of possible approaches to creating a version of La Llorona that fits with the tone and magic level of the individual campaign.

The Colonial Gothic rulebook provides 2nd Edition rules for ghosts, and the Bestiary covers banshees. Either one would make a good basis for La Llorona, though the banshee’s Moan trait should be cut. For a more corporeal version, the GM might use the vampire from the rulebook (without any traits except for Night Vision and Undead) or the revenant from the Bestiary. Having selected the basic stats, the GM can then add traits as desired, to create his or her own vision of La Llorona.

The Weeping Ghost

When creating La Llorona as a ghost, the main decision to be made is how (or indeed, whether) the living can interact with her. At her most harmless she may be a spectral vision as insubstantial as smoke, to be laid to rest when the Heroes learn her sad tale, find her remains and those of her children, and give them a Catholic burial.

A more dangerous version may use mind-affecting magic of some kind to hypnotize children and send them walking glassy-eyed into the river – or to possess single mothers, especially those driven to the brink of despair by their circumstances, and force them to re-enact her crime. The lives of those she kills may be an offering to the angry spirits of her dead children, or she may simply be locked into an obsessive pattern of behavior, condemned to repeat it endlessly until she is stopped.

The Revenant

A solid, physically manifested version of La Llorona presents a different kind of threat. She has the inhuman strength of a lunatic and high grappling skills, which she uses to drown interfering mortals or simply break their necks. In a simple adventure, destroying her physical form stops her for good; for a longer and more challenging campaign thread, she simply comes back the following night, or month, until her tormented spirit is laid to rest by a Catholic priest or by Aztec-derived magic.

The Goddess

In a higher-powered campaign, La Llorona can be a vengeful manifestation of the goddess Cihuacoatl, imbued with all the terrible power that implies and determined to take the life of one Spanish or Anglo child for every Aztec who died at the hands of the Conquistadores. Alternatively she could be another Aztec deity, taking her own sacrifices since Catholicism replaced the bloody Aztec rites by which she was formerly appeased. In a Robert E. Howard-style horror story, she could be one of the last priestesses of such a terrible deity.

The GM has free rein in designing such a powerful entity. The legends of the civitateo give these creatures a shifting array of attributes including clawed hands and feet and the ability to wither limbs and cause fits and wasting diseases. One interpretation of these creatures may be found in my own Atlas of the Walking Dead, published by Eden Studios for their zombie survival RPG All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

The Mortal

In a low-magic or no-magic campaign, La Llorona may be entirely mortal – an 18th-century serial killer driven to madness by a life of abuse, or by the horror of having killed her own children to save them from an abusive father, or starvation, or some other threat. She may even believe that she has become La Llorona of the stories.

Adventures

An encounter with La Llorona can enhance even a non-fantastic Colonial Gothic campaign. Rarity gives supernatural incidents – or incidents that merely seem to be supernatural – a greater impact in a non-magical setting.

Of course, the GM can always decide, in the best Scooby-Doo tradition, that the apparent haunting has a perfectly mundane cause: the “ghost” turns out to be a madwoman escaped from a local asylum, a kidnap victim leading into a mundane plot, or an attempt to play on a local legend to keep prying eyes away from a hidden gold strike or a planned robbery.

In a more fantastic campaign, La Llorona might be one of several types of restless dead, given an added authenticity by her ready-made backstory and her long history in the real world.

Bibliography
De Aragon, Ray John. The Legend of La Llorona. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2006.
Beatty, Judith S. La Llorona: Encounters with the Weeping Woman. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2004.
Davis, Graeme. Atlas of the Walking Dead. Loudonville: Eden Studios 2003.
Perez, Domino Renee. There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Online Resources
“La Llorona,” Handbook of Texas http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lxl01
“La Llorona – Weeping Woman of the Southwest” (3 pages), Legends of America http://www.legendsofamerica.com/gh-lallorona.html

TV and Video
The Crying Woman (Spanish La Llorona), dir. Ramón Peón , 1933.
Supernatural, Season 1 Episode 1, The CW (Warner Bros.), 2006.
Grimm, Season 2 Episode 9, Universal, 2012.
Sleepy Hollow, Season 2 Episode 5, Fox, 2014.

The Obligatory Black Friday Post

November 28, 2014 1 comment

Theseus and the Minotaur

November 18, 2014 4 comments

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Just a quick reminder that my Osprey Myths and Legends book Theseus and the Minotaur officially hits the stores and e-tailers today.

Yes, I know you know the myth. Bull head, maze, fight, kill. But there’s more:

  • The story may have been an allegory for a Greek invasion of Crete before the Trojan War – archaeologists have found evidence of an attack on the palace of Knossos at the right time.
  • After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus got retconned into all kinds of myths starring other heroes.
  • Theseus grabbed Helen from Sparta before any Trojan had even set eyes on her.
  • The Minotaur wasn’t the only bull-monster he defeated.
  • Jose Pena’s art is just amazing – worth the price of the book by itself.

There’s more on this book – and another title I wrote for Osprey – in a previous post: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/theseus-and-the-werewolves/

And since I like Of Gods and Mortals from Ganesha Games and Osprey Wargames so much, I put together a bunch of Theseus-themed add-ons for the Greek pantheon. You can download a PDF here: http://bit.ly/1uqv0bb

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