Sunday, February 24, 2019

On the Other Origins of Haraal.

We all know the classic version of the story by now. Kibra says as much while prefacing the speech she is surely about to give us. We each nod our heads, but then don't really object when she goes on to describe the origin myth anyway.

Most commonly (or at least, traditionally) the culture-hero Haraal is believed to have been birthed from the trunk of an aging tree on the side of the peak known as Yorl'di. This mountain is generally considered to have been an isolated part of the southeastern Pashels. Haraal is unequivocally described as being exceptionally tall and of Ersuunian ideal, so theories that he may have been one of the Pach-Pah are quickly quashed. He fell from the mountain, injuring himself, and then he was nursed back to health by a family of herders who would become his first servants in the conquest of the whole Ersuunian Basin. Spectacular feats of strength, skill, and seemingly divine luck quickly follow, mixed in with some tribal politicking. Wrap it up with a few vague allusions to abduction and ethnic cleansing here and there, and you've got the early years of our beloved bronze god-chieftain. Plain, simple fun for the whole family at the monthly Reaffirmation of the Law.

But there is another story. Several in fact, but this fountain brings to mind one in particular.

In the Histories of All by our beloved Sage, Yashka, there is a single verse which reads that once Haraal had conquered the last of the Ersuunian holdouts in the west--specifically after he finished tightening an iron band around the skull of king Sperhel until his head exploded--he decided to "settle down and embrace the land of his birth."¹ This excerpt has three primary interpretations.

The first, generally tied with the above narrative, is that it is metaphorical, and that Haraal was decreeing that he was going to shift from conquest to administration, thereby embracing all of the land that he now claimed as his own by birthright. Thus "the land of his birth" is synonymous with every area of the Basin which he eventually claimed as part of his empire.

The second is that Haraal was specifically regarding the area where he would later found his court and capital city, styled on the palatial nomad camps of old. Following this line of logic, the area in the northwest of the Basin would have been the place where he was "born", which happened to be the farthest point in the entire empire from the purported site of Yorl'di.²

The logical conclusion of this interpretation was that Haraal was born in some other fashion, and that the mountain and tree were more symbolic than actual, historical sites. The Ersuunians of the northwest were quick to apply one of their own myths to the story, in their attempt to subsume their conqueror into their own culture, probably before those filthy mid-landers or water-drinking east-fringers could make the same claims or some such. The myth in question was one of immaculate conception.

There once was a great, nameless king among Ersuunians, said to be of the twentieth generation of nobles descended from the chieftain Gohr himself. This king had an insatiable desire for collecting wives, though for exactly what purpose was unknown: they were entirely leisured within his court, and were not made to engage in any state or domestic matters. Nor did they serve the less common but more infamous purpose of a harem, for they all remained virgins in his company, and he had no known children. The count varies from source to source, but it seems that he had several dozen such brides in gilded cages.

And one day, he decided to add one more to the bunch.

Kibra tells us that the young woman's name was Tiamis. She was the daughter of one of the king's sub-chieftains, and probably the sister of one or more women who were already the man's wives. She was brought to him in time for the spring harvest, when the chiefdom's agrarian subjects were paying their tribute of grain, animals, and leather. A great feast was held by the king to host the representatives of his vassals and bond-servants, as well as to celebrate his latest wedding. At that feast all manner of Ersuunian delicacies were to be found. Among these curiosities of semi-settled cuisine was the pasture date.

Ciudo asks our guide "what are pasture dates?" because of course he would. She seems all too happy to answer him.

"Pasture date" is a euphemism in modern speech used to refer to roasted horse testicles.

How they got that name and why anyone thought that disembodied genitals resemble pitted fruits, I cannot fathom, and I'd rather not try. But that is what they are, and that is the origin of the unusually-shaped, fist-sized globe which the statue now identified as Tiamis is reaching for.

I am not sure if I approve of this visual pun or not.

Our storyteller goes on to describe how great rows of spitted pasture dates were being roasted over trough-like fires all throughout the camp on that day. They were fresh- exceedingly so in some cases, for the stallions they'd been "harvested" from had been gelded earlier that morning. When Tiamis arrived at the banquet and saw these highly seasonal treats, she seized one at once. Unfortunately for her, the date she plucked had not been cooked sufficiently, and she did not realize how raw it was until she'd eaten more than half of it. Kibra illustrates her nonchalance at this discovery by shrugging her shoulders and mimicking downing the remainder.

I begin to consider what I will do for my lunch hour today, because none of us are going to be eating now.

Rather than becoming wretchedly food-poisoned, Tiamis felt herself become mildly bloated after her meal. Over the course of the next few days, it became apparent that she was miraculously (and severely) pregnant. Her husband was as confused as he was enraged, and chose to wait until the birth of the child to decide just what should be done. Tiamis gave birth after only forty days. Within minutes of his birth, the boy named Haraal was able to stand and speak, and warded his father away sternly. Another forty days passed, and he had grown into a fully mature young man. On the forty-first day of his life, Haraal strangled his "father" to death and assumed control of all his holdings. This story serves as an explanation for how Haraal appeared so suddenly and with such a solid power base at his disposal, once conquest of the Basin began. Tiamis and the other widows disappear from the narrative at this point, and the story quickly takes a shape resembling that of the traditional rise to greatness.

Kibra explains unsolicited that the merger of the two contradictory tales in this piece of art is meant to represent equal appreciation of all ideas, grand or small, orthodox or fringe, in the name of the greater goal of acquisition of knowledge. I am impressed- this simultaneously reaffirms Porylus' relationship with the Ivory Tower, and takes the latter to task in its approach of research in recent centuries.

Our guide turns and quits the scene now, gesturing with both hands for us to follow after her as we make our final approach to the tower of Porylus Mons.

I quietly wonder if any statues are hidden away here depicting the conflicting beliefs about the disappearance of Haraal.

¹ Verse 16,982, line 44 of the Histories of All, Yashka the Sage, 1284 BR.

² The third theory is that Yorl'di is misidentified with any of the Pashels, and that it was in fact the highest peak of the Oron'er Mountains. But this argument doesn't really come into play because the greatest proponents of it are based in Nambar, Serminwurth, and the pauper graves reserved for heretics after they've been ritually bled to death via paper cuts by priests of the Ivory Tower.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 21.

Everything is smaller in Porylus. That is a common expression in Deneroth, generally used to belittle the city, or to keep it in place relative to Deneroth as a "little sibling" in the mythology of post-Haraalian city-states. But it means that everything in Porylus is closer, more familiar. Cozy, dare I say. That is certainly what it feels like, as we ascend the spiral-pathed slope of the central campus.

The various stone buildings to our left and right are practically built on top of one another, rather than having vast yards and imposingly tall fences or walls between them. Dormitories seem to be spaces intermittently amid buildings operated directly by faculty and stuff, each of them identified by small graven signs out front or above the doorway. They almost look naked without an elaborate coat of arms or numerical rank range adorning them. We barely realize what it is when our amicable procession stops us in front of the dual-purpose admissions and visitors office- back in Deneroth, the comparable building at the ITU is a cathedral-shaped edifice which absolutely dominates one of the six gates leading to the campus, where as much ritual is performed to cleanse newcomers of the outside world as paperwork is done to make them feel at home.

I do see one deliberately placed symbol, however. Carved into an arch-shaped plaque above the entrance of the barrel-shaped office in bold, equidistant characters is a line taken from the Hymns of Knowledge-Making, written during the first decade following the death and canonization of Laizij.

"Find within these Walls the Whole of the World."

I hear my fellows repeat it as we approach the threshold, Ciudo even speaking it in the deliberately archaic dialect of the cult, a standard introductory subject for the students of dead and obscure languages at ITU.

The "walls" refer both to the institution of learning, whether Ivory Tower or Porylus in this case, as well as the bones of the human skull. The message indicates that possessed knowledge of anything and everything exists within one's own mind, though the spoken or written word do exist as valued vehicles for it. The brain becomes a sacred vessel meant to be filled to its fullest capacity with knowledge, with the elusive goal of complete knowledge implied, lurking but ever-present.

Within the brazier-lit office, the fitted stone walls and floors are bedecked in thick, decorative textiles of gold, red, and cooler colors. The far side of the one-room building is dominated by a huge series of shelves which hold hundreds of cylindrical wooden containers, each of which containing hundreds of rolls of parchment or more fibrous mediums. Several assistants navigate the archive on squat ladders, and several short lines of campus-dwellers or locals stand awaiting their turn. We are directed toward a large space which seems to have just been cleared of people pending our arrival. Bisecting the two halves of the room is a long, low counter of polished wood, covered in many places by similar containers or their documents, as well as an array of writing implements and what appear to be stamps or seals. I can scarcely count ten, as opposed to the set of eight-dozen generally required to keep up with bureaucratic standards at ITU.

Standing behind the middle of this counter is a woman with blindingly white teeth and red hair, possessed of equal measures of competence, friendliness, and exhausting chipperness.

Her name is Kibra, and apparently she will be our guide for the duration of our stay at Porylus.

Within a few short talecks the paperwork is sorted out and stored away, and we are able to depart. We are somewhat dismayed to find our wagon gone upon reentering the light of day, but Kibra assures us that all of our belongings will have been brought to our accommodations by now. The promise of being able to sleep in real beds overwhelms our momentary discomfort at the well-meaning breach of privacy, and we continue on up the hill. The crowd of onlookers has thinned by now with the continuation of classes, and we are somewhat more free to go as we please without feeling... doted upon.

As we walk, our new guide offers brief insights into each major building which we pass by- on their histories, and on any possible links which can be made to similar institutions back at the ITU, whether through architecture, shared instructors, or the rare exchange program which does not peter out amid webs of silver tape.¹ I appreciate Kibra's enthusiasm, though to be honest I am not particularly interested in what binds the two campuses together so much as what sets them apart from one another.

Now, as if Porylus Mons itself has read my scribbling, we turn a sudden corner which brings us out onto the level top of the hill, where several more buildings ring a broad, circular plaza dotted with benches and fixtures of plant life or the occasional torch-post. In the plaza's center is what appears to be the most expensive piece of stonework any of us have witnessed yet on the premises. It is a tall fountain of marble and other light-colored stones, carved and smooth and gleaming, even in the half-light of this cloudy day. I do not know how the fountain functions at first glance, when there are no other points of high elevation from which water could be flowing in order to provide gravity power. But I can't be too concerned with that detail, given that I can see what is depicted upon the fountain.

An intricately carved three-dimensional representation of the white bristlecone pine of Deneroth rises up just right of the fountain's center amid branch-like cascades of water and root-shaped streams down at its base. Just to the left beside it, reaching a hand out to pluck a bulbous fruit from one low-hanging branch, is a woman, nude save for a cloth which is wrapped around her waist. She clutches her stomach, the swell of which mirrors the turgidity of the tree's trunk.

These are the two contradictory tales of Haraal's birth, merged into one.

¹ While the majority of intra-University documents are contained within traditional binding of a red (really more of a dark wine color), materials concerning communication and cooperation with its sister campus are generally distinguished by a silver (more of a faded sky-blue) wrapping. This, coupled with the complete lack of silver coinage in and around Deneroth, has led many to joke that the color simply doesn't exist in the ITU, or that working at the University makes one color-blind to it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Goblin Watch, Episode 3: Mythology 2


Hello, and welcome back to Goblin Watch! The mini-series dedicated to the origins and iterations of everyone's favorite X and Y!

... Whoops, I didn't come up with variables for this intro.

Uh, let's see here... tricksters and knaves, no, I used that... critters and adventurer-fodder, no, that was from the time before last... This list really isn't going to last me as long as I had hoped unless I get creative. Maybe if I consult a thesaurus... Ah-hah!

Everyone's favorite sneaks and house-helpers! Yes, let's go with that.

Last episode, all the way back in the tumultuous year of 2018, we took a look at the earliest of the proto-goblins found in Classical Mythology- kobaloi, kabeiroi, kerkopes, ketcetera.

Today, we'll be moving forward by an indeterminate amount of time, and a few hundred kilomiles north to the interior of Central and Northern Europe, where the ancestors of the Germanic peoples settled during the later stages of the Indo-European migrations thousands of years ago. These peoples had a diverse set of religious beliefs and practices which fall under our umbrella of "Germanic mythology" today. Deities such as Odin/Wōtan, Thor/Donar, and Frigg/Frija figured prominently in those belief systems, and were venerated well into the Common Era before a shift toward newer religions caused a break in continuity. But other, smaller beings such as Heinzelmann,  Hödekin, and King Goldemar persisted or even came into existence as syncretized pagan outcroppings in a predominantly Christian context. What these three men have in common in modern German(ic) folklore is that they are all kobolds.

A kobold is a secretive spirit of a more domestic or artificial (in the sense of craft and artifice) persuasion than the wild or primal kobalos. They dwell in homes or the walls of mine shafts, assisting those who honor them (or at least staying out of their way), and causing a wide variety of mischief for those who anger them. They weren't just tricksters to encounter rarely in the wild or in the entourage of some greater god- in fact they seemed to factor significantly into the daily lives of mortals, albeit in an almost invisible way.

As mentioned in previous episodes, "kobold" seems to be etymologically descended from "kobalos", meaning a mischievous spirit or rogue. This etymology comes down to us from Jacob Grimm, a German mythologist as well as the elder of the famous Brothers Grimm. But that is not the only explanation for the origin of the word. Other competing etymologies look for a native Germanic origin.These include kuba-walda ("one who rules the house"), kofewalt (a cognate to Old Saxon cofgoda or "room-god"), and the contraction of the words koben and hold ("pigsty" and "stall spirit" respectively).

Interestingly, while these home, hearth, or room-related etymologies all distance the kobold from the kobaloi or kerkopes of ancient Greek and Anatolian religion, they also cause cause the kobold to resemble in function the di penates or domestic Lares of ancient Roman religion- spirits in effigy who also presided over and protected specific locations to which they were limited. There are, broadly speaking, three types of kobolds, and the above characterization fits best with the first.

House kobolds dwell in a family's home and act as house spirits--helping with chores, offering good luck, making it wealthy in gold or grain, etc-- though they are not bound to the existence of that house, nor do they originate from it. The home and the kobold seem to have completely independent ontologies. Many stories deal with how kobolds first come to live in a house of their choosing, often by announcing their presence through some ominous event and then reacting according to how the owners of the household respond. If a small, miserable creature appears at the door during a stormy night and the residents decide to take pity upon it and welcome it in, the kobold takes up residence in order to repay the favor. Or, if wood chips and cow manure are suddenly found tracked around the house and inside of the milk containers, a family who is tolerant of it will gain a kobold for being good sports. Other times a kobold has to be deliberately attracted to the home through a very specific set of events, such as bagging and speaking magic words to a bird standing on an anthill in the woods between the hours of noon and one o'clock on Saint John's Day.

I feel like that much work and planning could have more easily gone toward hiring a normal servant.

After a house acquired a kobold, it dwelt somewhere in the building, often in or around the central hearth. The occupants were expected to care for their new house spirit by leaving offerings out at night. These often took the form of food or drink, particularly beer for the subtype of house kobold called a bieresal, known to dwell in inn cellars. It appears that mortals did not generally interact with their kobolds directly. If all was as it should be, a kobold was not visible in the flesh (or whatever other form it took). Rather, they'd be represented by small effigies and statues, made in their ugly or exaggerated image and placed around the home by its owners. Kobold idols were being carved from boxwood at least as late as the 13th century, as recounted by the German poet Konrad von Würzburg, though Konrad describes the practice as mostly being "for fun" by that point in time, rather than as part of a serious ritual practice.

Heinzelmann,  Hödekin, and King Goldemar were each house kobolds, and each brought varying degrees of good fortune to their patrons. Goldemar was a great kobold in particular, being a king among kobolds with his own queen, nobles, and court in service of the human king Neveling von Hardenberg. His retribution was as terrible as his gifts were great, however. As with many kobold tales, a servant eventually tried to catch a glimpse of his invisible form by deception, and in response Goldemar killed him, chopped him up, roasted his meat, and left Castle Hardenstein after placing a curse of bad luck upon it. In fact, most of the high-profile, named kobolds in myths seem to rack up quite a body count from being angered so easily, invariably slaughtering and cannibalizing other people. Heinzelmann seems to be an exception to this, giving fair warning of his bad luck and generally acting more gentle.

Just don't ever ask him what's in the trunk of his car.

The next type is the mine kobold. These industrious workers were expert miners and metalworkers native to the shafts and tunnels of mines throughout early Renaissance-era Germany. Or rather, they lived in the stone of the shafts and tunnels. Some legends surrounding mine kobolds claim that they can actually move through solid earth the same way a human can move through open air. They seem to be more immediately malevolent toward humans than house kobolds are, with the bulk of tales about them showing them in a negative light. The sounds of kobolds working could be heard throughout otherwise quiet tunnels, and if one followed after the sounds of their drilling, shoveling, or knocking, one was liable to end up collapsing their tunnel, flooding it, or filling it with noxious fumes. Mine kobolds were also blamed for the disappearance of tools or food, or the breaking of machinery in and around the mine. But the most famous type of mine kobold trick takes a far more physical form.

They would deceive miners into prospecting what looks like rich veins of copper or silver and then mining all of the ore out, only for the miners to realize later on that the ore was worthless, devoid of precious metals, prone to causing skin irritation on contact, and sometimes possessed of a toxic gas which was released during the smelting process. These veins of junk were named after the kobolds who put them there and wisely avoided until the 18th century, when a Swedish chemist named Georg Brandt isolated a substance from it that was hitherto unknown to mineralogy. Later on in 1780, this metal was discovered to be an all new chemical element. Cobalt still bears the name of its ill-disposed creators.

Less frequently, mine kobolds were known to be benevolent, and to operate under the same system of respectful conduct and reciprocal favors as house kobolds. They were fond of such appeasements as silver and gold. In such instances, their tunnel-knocking could be interpreted as being a warning not to dig toward danger, or alternatively to dig toward hidden veins of metal. Or they could give them more poisonous cobalt. It was pretty tricky business.

This is the part where I make an aside to address the tiny, scaly elephant in the room. I believe that the classic mine kobold--a nasty interpretation of it in particular--was a partial inspiration for kobolds when they became monsters in the original release of Dungeons & Dragons. Territorial, fond of mining and traps, and antagonistic toward the subterranean creatures they lived close to (including the dwarves and gnomes whom traditional kobolds are often conflated with), these little para-goblins would go on to become an endearing and colorful part of fantasy pop-culture. I will leave the bulk of that discussion for its own episode someday, but there is one point I'd like to touch on. Oftentimes older tabletop gamers will remark at how strange it was for 3rd Edition to remake of kobolds as reptilian dragon-sycophants, but in researching for this project, I've come to wonder what inspired the "original" form of kobolds-as-adventurer-fodder to begin with. After centuries of approximately human or dwarf-like appearance, 1974 marked the date when kobolds became dog-faced goblins with scales and forehead-horns.

And let's not even get started on the Vulcan ears.

Carrying on the spirit of odd ones out, we come to the third and final major type of kobold.

The Klabautermann is the kobold of a ship, protector of sailors and giver of good fortune to fishermen of the Baltic and North Seas. Sometimes, it will even rescue people washed overboard. It takes a fairly modern appearance, seeming to be a little man with a yellow sailor's hat or coat, and smoking a pipe filled with tobacco. Rather than having figurines or effigies of the ship's kobold, its image is often carved into the mast of the ship directly. Unlike house kobolds who come and go as they please, a Klabautermann seems more strongly associated with a particular ship. For instance, they come to protect a ship by having lived in a tree used for wood in the construction of the vessel, so the ship becomes an extension of its home. A Klabautermann is also known to carry around a caulking hammer for ship repairs, lending some credence to one etymology for Klabautermann which derives from the Low German verb kalfatern, or "to caulk". But in keeping with the theme of dualism among kobolds, Klabautermann can also be responsible for accidents and pranks aboard a ship far out at sea. And rather than being punished for trying to see the kobold's physical form, he willingly reveals himself to the crew of a ship so that they know that they are doomed by a storm or some other impending terrible event. The sea-kobold even goes down with the ship in such instances.

Similar in name and shape but different in nature is the Dutch Kabouter. A Kabouter is a small creature who commonly lives in a hill, or in modern popular culture, a large mushroom house. They are more shy of humans than dedicated house spirit kobolds, but will occasionally teach a nice young Dutchman how to make wooden shoes or deep building foundations. Kabouter men typically wear long, full beards and pointed red hats. If you're noticing how similar this appearance sounds to a certain other fictional creature, you are correct: Kabouters were famously written about and richly illustrated by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet in their 1976 book series, Leven en werken van de Kabouter. In English this translates to "Life and works of the Kabouter", but when the book was translated for sale in English-speaking countries, "Kabouter" was replaced with the word "Gnome". Eight years later the Spanish animated television series David, el Gnomo was released, and the following year David the Gnome hit American audiences.

And he kept on swinging.

So here we have another example of syncretism between a member of the goblin family and something quite different. This conflation with other sprites and beings is as common for kobolds, up to and including King Goldemar whom I referenced above. In the cycle of legends surrounding Theoderic the Great (taking the mythical form of Dietrich von Bern), Goldemar is described not as a kobold but as a dwarf. This might be a case of the terms for such creatures being vague, overlapping, or even synonymous during the times they were first used, and then that convention carrying on into modern times. I believe that this is supported by the fact that his brother Elbegast was described as an Elf-king while hanging out and robbing people with Charlemagne in a Middle Dutch poem. Their other brother, the dwarf Alberich, appears in the Nibelungenlied and serves as a treasure guardian for the protagonist Siegfried. They were a pretty popular bunch.

Despite the long and storied histories of German and Dutch communities in the land that would eventually become part of the United States, I was surprised to find almost nothing in the way of kobold myths or traditions in modern North America. Perhaps because they were so often tied to certain houses, or particular families, or to the earth itself, the kobolds were largely left behind in the Old Country by emigrants. Of course, just because there's no popular tradition centered on them doesn't mean that they aren't here. A handful of kobolds have made their way to this "New World" over the ages, always keeping just out of human notice or the eyes of history in these strange new lands. When the Dutch privateer Jan Janszoon van Haarlem was captured by Barbary Pirates in 1618, you can be sure that his fleet's water-kobolds came in tow. When he became Murat Reis the Younger, Grand Admiral and Governor of the Republic of Salé, they hunkered down in those balmy ports and made an uneasy alliance with the Djinn of Morocco. And when his son Anthony Janszoon van Salee moved to the New Netherlands and became the first and largest grantee of land on Coney Island, they were right behind him, pleased to find a semblance of home at last. Certainly, Janszoon's descendants have enjoyed considerable good fortune for the past few centuries, being the Vanderbilt Dynasty and all.


Next episode, we'll be moving further west, to the shores of France as well as the British Isles and Ireland, where we will finally touch upon the linguistically modern goblin and its Insular Celtic neighbors.

I want to give a special thanks to all of my donors and supporters, as well as to one Goody Mooncup. Without her letter to the editor and advice column, I wouldn't have completed my research for this episode nearly as "quickly".

I am the Furtive Goblin, this was Goblin Watch, and I thank you for listening!

Dowden, Ken. European Paganism. Taylor & Francis, 2002.

Grimm, Jacob.Teutonic Mythology, Part 2. Kessinger Publishing, 2003 [1883].

Rose, Carol. Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1996.