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Archive for October, 2018

I’m off at Lake City Comicon, but I’m still excited about Nalo Hopkinson’s Voodoo-rich House of Whispers, so here’s another post from 2017 about dragons in the Voodoo religion.


We’ve all heard of Voodoo, that mysterious, wicked form of magic where curses are bestowed by sticking pins into dolls and the dead rise as zombies. Pop culture offers a sensational and even scandalous view of Voodoo in movies, books and on TV.

In reality, Voodoo/Vodou is a folk religion practiced in the Caribbean, especially Haiti. It is thought to be a fusion of West African, Native American, and Catholic religions. Vodou has spread all over the world, wherever Caribbean immigrants have traveled. Without a central authority or holy writings, it’s hard to know how many people practice Vodou today.

Every religion has its deities. In the case of Vodou, the supreme deity is Bondye but scores of nature spirits called loa serve as his intermediaries. And the loa just happen to include a few dragons. Damballah-Wedo and Ayida-Wedo are leaders of the Rada pantheon. Both take the form of gigantic rainbow serpents who give shape to the world.

Damballah, the father figure,  sired most of the pantheon. His relationship with humans is said to be remote, but fond. A lord of rivers and streams, he was honored in special pools where he could come to bathe. He also enjoyed forests with many trees. Whenever he came to Earth, his body would carve the land into canyons and valleys. At sea, his swimming provoked great waves.

His wife, Ayida, is a goddess of rain, and consequently fertility. It is said when she milks her cows, the rains fall onto the Earth. She can most often be seen as a rainbow arched over the land. Not surprisingly, Ayida is a popular deity compared to the more distant Damballah.

Together,  Damballah and Ayida are a perfect team, loving and devoted. Earth and sky shape each other. Without one, the other has no meaning. Decorative items often show them twining together. Their stable and affectionate relationship is an example to their earthly followers.

And you thought Voodoo was just about casting curses!


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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I’ll be out and about this weekend, at Lake City Comicon. It’s a one day comic convention in Coeur d’Alene, ID. This will be their first year, but they’re associated with Lilac City Comicon, which has been going for a few years now. My role is to sit at a book table and accost… I mean, strike up conversations with all passers-by.

Lake City Comicon will be at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. My table is in the Jacklin Building. We’re open from 10 am to 4 pm. If you’re in the area and love comic stuff, it would be a great chance to meet up.


Now, I can’t just drop the Voodoo theme I’ve had going for the past few posts, so here’s a re-blog of a post from a few years back.

Dragonwort (May 21, 2016)

Here’s a truly spectacular flower that will amaze and… well, maybe not delight you. To be honest, it’s kind of stinky.

Dracunculus vulgaris is native to Mediterranean regions from Greece and the Aegean Islands to the Balkans parts of Anatolia. It’s been known since ancient times and has a number of names: Voodoo Lily, Black Arum, Black Dragon, Snake Lily, and so on. Because it is so showy, it has been transplanted to yards and botanical gardens all around the world.

The plant has just a few big, jagged leaves, with the blossom reaching up to 2 meters tall. The single petal is scooped, somewhat like a calla lily, and deep red or purple. At the center is a prominent spadix, which is black. The flower’s sexual organs are deep inside the base of the flower and emit a “perfume” that smells much like rotting meat. Flies and other insects are drawn to the scent and crawl through a narrow gap to the chamber where the actual flowers are. Unable to escape, the insects are forced to crawl back and forth over the flowers, thus pollinating them.

When enough of the flowers are fertilized, the petals wither. This allows the flies to escape and perhaps carry pollen to another flower of the same species.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Here’s a folk story about Uncle Monday, courtesy of the Conjure Woman blog.


Everybody knows that Uncle Monday lives in the swamps of the Deep South. He usually keeps the shape of an alligator, but one of his jobs is to watch over mortal humans. So sometimes he takes the shape of a man and wanders the land. Whenever he encounters someone who is too proud or foolish, he tries to get them back on the right path.

One time, there was an old woman named Judy Bronson. She was a hoodoo doctor of some skill, and it went to her head. Soon she was bragging that Uncle Monday was nothing compared to her. Not only could she help anyone who came to her, but she could unravel spells and send them back at the caster. “Could Uncle Monday do that?” she scoffed.

Word of this got back to Uncle Monday. He was disgusted. “This woman’s pride is higher than a mountain!”

Not long after that, Old Judy wanted to go fishing at Blue Sink. Her neighbors warned her that Blue Sink was a bottomless lake, and besides that, Uncle Monday lived in those waters.

Was Old Judy worried about it? Not at all. Off she went, and just about dusk she threw in her line. Within seconds, something grabbed the bait. Something big, pulling hard enough to worry Old Judy just a little. And a few seconds after that, she found that she couldn’t move at all. Some spell had her paralyzed with her hands locked on the pole!

Old Judy remembered to be scared at last. In fact, she was as scared as a cat in a dog pound. She tried to dig in her feet, but the bottom was to slick. She tried to let go of the pole, but her hands were stuck tight. The harsh tugging continued, and Judy was dragged deeper and deeper into the water.

She couldn’t move, but she could cry for her life. And as she screamed, a beam of light burst out to shine on her. Was someone coming to help her? Well, someone was coming, all right. Far across the lake, a man in flowing robes came walking across the water just like Jesus. An army of alligators swam up behind him.

Who do you think it was?

Old Judy was speechless with terror, but Uncle Monday did not harm her. “I brought you here to learn a lesson,” he said. “You need to get off your high horse and admit your magic is nothing compared to mine.”

Uncle Monday and the alligators slid back into the water. When he left, the light faded and the night was black as pitch. There was Old Judy, paralyzed and alone in the chilly water. Or was she alone? Something scaly bumped against her. One of the gators had stayed as a guard. She felt him with every breath.

Old Judy was furious. She didn’t want to knuckle under to Uncle Monday. But the night stretched on, and she still couldn’t move a muscle. So she had time to think and after a while she admitted to herself that this was some powerful hoodoo and she wasn’t strong enough to break it.

Finally she yelled it out: “I’m not as big and bad a hoodoo doctor as Uncle Monday!”

As soon as she said it, the alligator on guard swam off into the darkness, and Old Judy heard someone calling her name. Her old grandma got worried and came looking for her. Old Judy barely stumbled out of Blue Sink and some of the neighbors came to help her get home. They told her she fell and had a stroke, but Old Judy knew the truth.

From then on, Old Judy threw away all her Voodoo and hoodoo things. She told everyone it was Uncle Monday who helped her to walk again.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

 

 

 

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Last weekend when I visited my local comic book shop, I got a terrific surprise. Nalo Hopkinson, the award-winning SF and historical author, is writing House of Whispers for D. C. Comics. House of Whispers follows the tradition of the equally award-winning Sandman, which introduced Neil Gaiman to the world. I was immediately captured by how Hopkinson drew on her Jamaican heritage. It’s much in the spirit of Gaiman’s mythic approach, yet wonderfully distinct.

It appears the supernatural cast here will spring from Voodoo lore of the Caribbean and Deep South. The main story focuses on a loa named Erzulie. Loas are sometimes referred to as if they were gods and goddesses, but the tales make them more like angels who move between the mortal world and the creator god, Bondiye.

In Erzulie’s palace, we quickly encounter a significant reptilian character. Uncle Monday is a loa from the same clan as Erzulie. However, he’s also one of those great figures who may originally have been a real person. The story goes that Uncle Monday was a shaman in Africa. Captured and brought to South Carolina, he was meant to be sold as a slave but escaped his bonds and fled to Florida. There he found refuge with the Seminole Indians, a tribe who resisted white colonization and took in many escaped African slaves.

In his native land, the shaman specialized in crocodile magic, which was very compatible with the natives’ alligator magic. Even though the loas told the shaman that conquest was inevitable, he vowed that he would never submit to slavery. Instead, he intended to transform himself into an alligator. In that guise, he would wait for better times.

So the Seminole tribe prepared for a great ritual. Amid much drumming, the shaman danced. His legs began to shrink. His skin turned scaly. His head sloped into an alligator’s toothy maw. Uncle Monday bellowed, making the waters tremble. Alligators came in answer to his call. There were dozens, then hundreds, then thousands!

The alligators formed an aisle. Uncle Monday was now the biggest one of all. He strolled down to the water. The other alligators followed him. According to Voodoo lore, Uncle Monday still lives in the murky swamps of Florida. Sometimes he comes out and takes on the form of a man, to wander the world and check on how the mortals are doing. Whenever he returns, all the alligators in the area start to bellow and carry on. That’s how people know that Uncle Monday is still alive and well in the swamp.

With only one issue of House of Whispers, it’s hard to know if Uncle Monday will be a benevolent or malevolent loa. His appearance thus far is certainly creepy. If you’re a fan of horror or urban fantasy, House of Whispers should be worth a read.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

 

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St. Leonard’s Forest is a region of The Weald, an ancient forest located in what is now Sussex, England. Legends say that many dragons once lived in this deep, wild forest. It must have been good habitat for them, with many hiding places and deer to feed upon.

The forest became associated with Saint Leonard of Limousin (485-559 C. E.), who ran a monastery nearby. During the last years of his life, he lived in the forest as a hermit. Saint Leonard wasn’t too old to have a few adventures, though! So many dragons were coming out of the Weald to attack the countryside that the people begged this holy man for help. Saint Leonard went in answer to their pleas. He fought the dragons, and patches of lily-of-the-valley sprang up where his blood flowed.

Saint Leonard was believed to have killed the last of their breed in the Weald. However, there may have been survivors. Dragon sightings were recorded in St. Leonard’s Wood as late as 1614 C. E.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

 

 

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Will you bear with me while I mix politics and the writing life for a bit? Normally I confine myself to dragon lore here at Wyrmflight, but I’ve experienced a moment of “total recall” that made me do some thinking.

Anyone living in the U. S. (and probably people outside our borders, as well) is aware of the confirmation fight over a supreme court nomination. The nominee has been accused of sexual assault. This comes amid the two-year-and-growing Me Too movement, where women are speaking up about their experiences with sexual harassment or assault. Powerful men are being accused years after the events occurred.

Against this background, I picked up a book given to me by a friend over the summer. Dragon Tales is an anthology from 1983, collecting stories that feature dragons. It’s edited by two revered figures, Isaac Asimov and Martin Greenberg. The authors are luminaries like Orson Scott Card, Gordon R. Dickson, Anne McCaffrey, Gregory Benford, and Dean Koontz. The editors made an effort to find work by early fantasists such as L. Frank Baum, and there were even a pair of women authors I hadn’t heard of before.

Imagine my surprise when the very first story included a sexual assault. A woman is pinned against the wall and kissed, despite her saying she doesn’t want this. It turns out she’s a dragon cursed into the form of a woman. Neat trick! But instead of punishing the fool who laid hands on her, she decides to help him get revenge on some guy he doesn’t like. Wha—?

Later, we see relentless bullying of a retarded man… for which the victim is persuaded to blame himself. We see barmaids equated with whores. Several tales use women as mere pawns, captured by dragons to serve as bait. One of these characters is so shocked by her experience that she becomes nearly mindless, yet apparently lives happily ever after. (“She is a mirror in which her husband can see himself.” This is what we call a Happily Ever After?)

In the most egregious case, a young woman sorceress is hounded by a stronger male sorcerer who sends an invisible incubus to grope and molest her. Ultimately this ends in her being raped while out-of-body fighting her persecutor. After winning, she is determined to summon that incubus again. But it’s not because she intends to punish him. Apparently she regrets missing out on the complete rape experience. WHA—???

When I finished the book, I told my husband I wanted to have a strong drink while taking a hot shower. Because fantasy is my beloved genre. It’s what I read and what I write, and I couldn’t believe the roots of it were buried in such filth. How could I not know this?

What made me really sad was to realize that, actually, I did know it. I read stories like these when I was in high school and bitched to my friends about the sexism. There was a terrible plot arc in the Avengers comic book, where Ms. Marvel (now known as Captain Marvel) was brainwashed and raped and had a baby in a matter of days. The rest of her team thought the baby was adorable and couldn’t understand why Ms. Marvel was so upset. I remember reading an interview with Anne McCaffrey, one of my early idols, who spoke of being asked to write soft-core porn for the SF magazines of the 1960s and ’70s. And she did write it, because the editors paid her well.

I guess I was oblivious, because I still read fantasy and comic books. And time went on. Until I read that anthology, I was able to forget how bad it was.

Now, the whole Sad Puppy debacle appears in a starkly different light. I thought they were all just obnoxious jerks. This anthology reminds me that when they say they want to get back to “the good old days of science fiction,” this is what they mean: women as pawns, women as whores, women who like being raped.

No. No. No. You assholes. No.

Things have gotten better, at least to some extent. Editors are more aware of demeaning content and have begun to avoid it. Certain factions may still think it’s funny to mock trigger warnings, but the warnings are there because they’re needed.

Do we, as a genre, still have miles to go before trigger warnings are no longer needed? Undoubtedly. But we who write fantasy really have come a long way since 1983.

If only certain judges and senators could say the same.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

 

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