Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Land Beyond the Forests - Actual Folklore for use in Games

The Strigoi, the Nosferatu, and the Prikolitsch Also, the Scholomance  From The Land Beyond The Forest by Emily Gerard, Harper Brothers (1888)

I don’t know why, but I saw mention of this last week and it rang a bell in me.  Not because I am not familiar with the whole domain of TRANSYLVANIAN MONSTERS from 140 years of seeing the traditions permuted through an Anglicized lens onto a movie screen, but because I was reading about the RuneQuest demons The Porphyr who are essentially vampires with blue skin and fancy claws.  Anyway, the work I quote here was said to have heavily influenced Bram Stoker and his Dracula.  These quotes have useful information and so I throw them out for consideration for gaming material.  I think it's interesting to think about what the actual historical folklore was, where it came from, who was recording it, and what's happened to the meanings and forms since then.  This particular book was likely well-read by many of the seminal authors of the horror and fantasy genre, and it's chock full of traditional tropes to work on and think about.

Check this out:

The mourning songs, called bocete, usually performed by paid mourners, are directly addressed to the corpse, and sung into his ear on either side. This is the last attempt made by the survivors to wake the dead man to life by reminding him of all he is leaving, and urging him to make a final effort to arouse his dormant faculties—the thought which underlies these proceedings being that the dead man hears and sees all that goes on around him, and that it only requires the determined effort of a strong will in order to restore elasticity to the stiffened limbs, and cause the torpid blood to flow anew in the veins.  (emphasis mine) (p. 181)



(That’s right – in Transylvania, death is merely for the weak of will.  Hang on to that thought)

In the case of a man who has died a violent death, or in general of all such as have expired without a light, none of these ceremonies take place. Such a man has neither right to bocete (my note: lamentations), privegghia (my note: a vigil), mass, or pomeana (my note: a wake), nor is his body laid in consecrated ground. He is buried wherever the body may be found, on the bleak hill-side or in the heart of the forest where he met his death, his last resting-place only marked by a heap of dry branches, to which each passer-by is expected to add by throwing a handful of twigs—usually a thorny branch—on the spot. This handful of thorns - or mana de spini, as the Roumanian calls it—being the only mark of attention to which the deceased can lay claim, therefore to the mind of this people no thought is so dreadful as that of dying deprived of light. (pp. 184-185)



(Perhaps this is where the idea comes from that Vampires are destroyed by sunlight)

This restlessness on the part of the defunct may either be caused by his having concealed treasures during his lifetime, in which case he is doomed to haunt the place where he has hidden his riches until they are discovered ; or else he may have died with some secret sin on his conscience—such, for instance, as having removed the boundary stone from a neighbor's field in order to enlarge his own. He will then probably be compelled to pilger about with a sack of the stolen earth on his back until he has succeeded in selling the whole of it to the people he meets in his nightly wanderings. These restless spirits, called strigoi, are not malicious, but their appearance bodes no good, and may be regarded as omens of sickness or misfortune. (p. 185)



(Strigoi are dead murderhobos who never fenced their ill-gotten treasures in life)

More decidedly evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Roumanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell. There are two sorts of vampires, living and dead. The living vampire is generally the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons ; but even a flawless pedigree will not insure any one against the intrusion of a vampire into their family vault, since every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent persons till the spirit has been exorcised by opening the grave of the suspected person, and either driving a stake through the corpse, or else firing a pistol-shot into the coffin. To walk smoking round the grave on each anniversary of the death is also supposed to be effective in confining the vampire. In very obstinate cases of vampirism it is recommended to cut off the head, and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic, or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing its ashes over the grave. (p. 185)

(Twice illegitimate!  Note – you can shoot a vampire to death in the coffin as well as stake him or her.)

First-cousin to the vampire, the long-exploded were-wolf of the Germans, is here to be found lingering under the name of prikolitsch. Sometimes it is a dog instead of a wolf whose form a man has taken, or been compelled to take, as penance for his sins. In one village a story is still told - and believed—of such a man, who, driving home one Sunday with his wife, suddenly felt that the time for his transformation had come. He therefore gave over the reins to her and stepped aside into the bushes, where, murmuring the mystic formula, he turned three somersaults over a ditch. (p. 186)

(Mystic formula!)

As I am on the subject of thunder-storms, I may as well here mention the scholomance, or school, supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all magic spells are taught by the devil in person. Only ten scholars are admitted at a time, and when the course of learning has expired, and nine of them are released to return to their homes, the tenth scholar is detained by the devil as payment, and, mounted upon an ismeju, or dragon, becomes henceforward the devil's aide-de-camp, and assists him in "making the weather"—that is, preparing the thunder-bolts. (p. 198)

 (You could be part of the nine, or that last one.  I wonder if it’s the best of the 10 or the worst?  Also, ISMEJU is my new favorite word)

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