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

February 26, 2015 Leave a 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

Of Gods and Mortals: Theseus

October 2, 2014 2 comments

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I wrote in an earlier post about the Osprey wargame Of Gods and Mortals, which has had me intrigued for a while. The core rulebook already has an extensive list of Greek deities and heroes, but with my Osprey Myths and Legends book Theseus and the Minotaur due for release in a few weeks, I decided to adapt some of the characters from the tales of Theseus for Andrea Sfiligoi’s mythological skirmish game. Needless to say, the following is to be considered a fan work and no challenge is intended to any existing copyrights.

If you already play Of Gods and Mortals, let me know what you think of these. If you don’t, and you like mythology, do yourself a favor and check it out. The core rulebook covers the Greek, Egyptian, Norse, and Celtic pantheons, and there are free downloads covering the Incas, the Japanese, and pre-Islamic Arab mythology.

Foes

Theseus already appears in the Greek force list, along with his most famous foe, the Minotaur. Earlier in his career, Theseus defeated six other foes on the road to Athens.

Periphetes the Clubber: 40 points
Q4 C2 Hammering Blow, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Periphetes was a son of the smith-god Hephaestus. He terrorized travelers on the roads outside Epidaurus, driving them into the ground with his great bronze club.

Sinis the Pine Bender: 40 points
Q4 C2 Pine Bending, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Pine Bending: Whenever Sinis is next to a tree while fighting an enemy, he can use 3 actions to make a pine-bending attack which automatically causes one casualty regardless of the dice roll. 10 points.
Sinis tricked travelers into helping him bend a pine tree, and then released it so his victims were catapulted to their deaths.

The Crommyonian Sow: 41 points
Q4 C3 Animal, Greedy, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
The Crommyonian Sow was a terrible wild pig that ravaged the area between Corinth and Megara.

Sciron: 38 points
Q4 C2 Ambusher, Traitorous Strike, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
The elderly Sciron haunted a steep cliff and begged passing travelers to wash his feet. While they were doing so, he kicked them off the cliff to their deaths.

Cercyon: 40 points
Q4 C2 Combat Master, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Cercyon was the King of Eleusis, and challenged passers-by to a wrestling match.

Procrustes the Stretcher: 35 points
Q4 C2 Smithy, Unique
May not appear in the same force as Theseus.
Procrustes was a mad smith who kept two beds in his house: one long and the other short. If a guest did not fit the bed Procrustes offered him, they were either stretched on a rack or their feet were lopped off, until they were exactly the right length.

Options for Theseus
Pirithous: Theseus was accompanied in many of his later adventures by the Lapith prince Pirithous. Pirithous is represented as a Q3 C2 Legend costing 48 points. When he is within 1 x Long of Theseus, they both gain the Group Fighter trait.
Antiope: Theseus married the Amazon warrior Antiope after the death of Phaedra, his second wife. Antiope is represented as a Q3 C2 Legend with the Shooter (Medium) trait, costing 47 points. When she is within 1 x Long of Theseus, they both gain the Steadfast trait.

Theseus and the Werewolves

September 7, 2014 5 comments

Wait, what?

It’s all right. I haven’t created a new contemporary urban fantasy franchise with sparkly Greek heroes battling emo lycanthropes in high school. But hold on while I just make a note of that….

No, this post is going to be about my next two books for Osprey Adventures. If you haven’t heard of Osprey Adventures before, the legendary military history publisher has been branching out with two new lines aimed – at least partly – at gamers and fantasy fans.

Osprey Myths and Legends does exactly what it says on the tin. This series presents the world’s greatest heroes (and monsters) in the classic Osprey format, combining well-researched text with lavish illustration and high production values. My first book in this series, Thor: Viking God of Thunder, was well received (click here for some links to reviews), so I was asked to write another – on Theseus and the Minotaur this time. It’s scheduled for release on November 18th and features some stunning color plates by Jose Pena.

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I guess I was seven or eight years old when I first discovered this tale. I had become obsessed with Greek mythology after discovering a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library and seeing a Saturday-morning rescreening of Ray Harryhausen’s 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts on TV. Over a decade later, my first game of Dungeons & Dragons featured a fatal encounter with a minotaur. Along the way, I also read about Theseus’ early adventures on the road to Athens. But when I got stuck into the research for this book, I discovered something intriguing. Well, two things, actually.

The first is that Greek myths used the comic-book technique of “retconning.” After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus began to pop up in the adventures of Hercules and various other heroes, usually in a minor role. He was one of the super-team that took part in the Hunt for the Calydonian Boar, along with his faithful sidekick Pirithous. He appears as a wise and compassionate King of Athens in the tragic tale of Oedipus. A few writers even tried to add him to Jason’s companions aboard the Argo, but some serious timeline problems prevented their attempts from sticking. He was too old for the Trojan War, but a couple of his sons were among the Greek troops in the legendary wooden horse.

The other intriguing thing is that the core of the Theseus myth looks like it could be an allegory. Theseus lived – if he lived – at a time when Athens was growing in power and throwing off Minoan and Mycenaean cultural and economic domination of the Greek mainland. It was developing its own distinctly Greek identity, which would become the template for Classical Greek culture. There is evidence for a war – or at least a raid – led by Athens in which the famous Minoan palace of Knossos was burned. And some ancient sources refer to a Cretan general with the name, or nickname, of Taurus, the Bull. Likewise, the six enemies Theseus defeated on his journey to Athens could be seen as symbols of the various independent city-states that Athens assimilated as its influence spread across Attica. There’s little if any definitive proof that the myth of Theseus is based on actual historical events, but the coincidences do seem to be telling a consistent story, and it made my dormant archaeological reflex twitch.

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The second book, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, is for the Dark Osprey line which focuses on horror and conspiracy, and follows on from earlier volumes about Zombies and Vampires. I collected werewolf legends and trial reports from across Europe and researched shapechanger myths worldwide to paint a picture of lycanthropy that expands upon what you will find in most movies, games, and novels. It touches on the standard fare – silver, the moon, Viking berserkers, SS werewolves, and so on – but I also uncovered a few surprises. Like, for instance, the fact that there are at least four distinct types of werewolf, each with its own unique characteristics. And the Greek tradition that a dead werewolf rises from the grave as a vampire. And the ancient werewolf cult that centers on Mount Lykaion in Greece.

Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide
is scheduled for release in March 2015, and there are some interesting titles scheduled for both of Osprey’s non-historical ranges.

Osprey has also expanded into wargames with an interesting and growing range of rule sets presented in slim, affordable books. There are historical rules, of course, but they also cover mythology, steampunk, and Hong Kong action movies. My personal favorite is Of Gods and Mortals, a compact and tidy little skirmish game in which the gods of various mythologies can take to the battlefield as super-units, accompanied by mortal and monstrous followers. It has a very neat mechanic which makes gods and mortals heavily interdependent.

Osprey Publishing has a long-standing reputation for quality that is very well deserved. I’m very happy to see them expanding into these new areas, and even happier to play a modest part myself. Check out the links below. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least one title that surprises and intrigues you.

Osprey Myths and Legends
Dark Osprey
Osprey Wargames

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