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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

I’ve been regaling you with tales of the sirrush, a dragon of Babylonian lore. Unlike many dragon tales, the sirrush dwells in a zone of intersection between history and legend. Documents exist from the era that can confirm or deny details about this dragon. One of these is a text from the Book of Daniel.

Daniel, of course, is a famous Biblical prophet. His mission was to throw down idols and expose what, to him, were false gods. Since Babylon was the world’s great power of the time, Daniel went after their pantheon.

In those days, priests of the god Baal housed a sirrush in one of their temples. They worshiped the dragon, believing this was their god personified on Earth. Upon seeing the sirrush, Daniel declared this was nothing but a beast. The priests of Baal were insulted. They challenged him to prove his words. Daniel baked barley cakes, but secretly poisoned them with pitch, hair and tar. When these were fed to the sirrush, it caused the creature to swell up and burst!

Naturally, the priests were even more furious. They demanded justice from their king. This led to Daniel’s stint in the den of lions, from which the prophet miraculously emerged unharmed. The king was suitably impressed that Daniel’s god had protected him. He had the priests of Baal thrown into the lion’s den instead, where they were instantly killed.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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King Nebuchadnezzar II ruled the Babylonian Empire between 634 and 562 B.C.E. As his conquests mounted, he wanted to secure his capital and inspire awe at the same time. To do this, he build a wall around Babylon that supposedly was wide enough to race chariots on top. Visitors to the city had to pass through one of several magnificent gates.

The most famous of these is the Ishtar Gate. Excavated in 1904, it holds reliefs of several animals representing gods in the Babylonian pantheon. There are lions representing Ishtar (goddess of love), bulls representing Adad (god of storms), and the chief god, Marduk, represented by a strange creature called the sirrush.

Sirrush, also translated as mushhshushu or muhushu, is often referred to as a dragon, but that could be because nobody knew what else to call it. Like many mythological creatures, it is a hybrid beast combining a serpent’s head with forked tongue, either horns or a curled crest, a long neck, scaly body, fore paws of a lion, hind legs of an eagle, and a long tail held upright behind it.

Because the other creatures on the Ishtar Gate are realistic depictions of living animals, some scientists have suggested that the sirrush also represented an actual animal known to the Babylonians. It’s hard to imagine what that might be! However, a giraffe has been put forward as one possible model for the sirrush. They do have long necks and horns. From a distance, the giraffe’s markings might look like scales. While giraffes are not native to Mesopotamia, an empire such ad Babylon could have imported strange creatures from outside the region.

Another idea is that Babylonian scientists had discovered fossil bones and were trying to make sense of them. Either dinosaur bones or bones of a giant mammal like Paraceratherium, from Asia, could have accounted for the legends.

Join me on Wednesday for a Biblical tale of the sirrush.

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This is from my soon-to-be-published Swords and Sorcery novelette, The Weight of Their Souls. To be truthful, I’d hoped to have it published by now, but I’m waiting for the cover art. (Aren’t we always waiting for the cover art?)


We gathered in the doorway, and Malachai drawled with casual disdain, “What is it with you, Ravenbeard? We’re facing this unholy thing, and you say you won’t stand with us. Why?”
“Brother,” Mordekai said sternly. “Leave it. We don’t have time for this.”
“The way I see it, we aren’t the ones short on time.”
“That’s between me and my mates,” I answered.
Malachai crossed his arms stubbornly. “Funny, I don’t see any of them here.”
I wanted to punch him, or maybe throw up. “That’s right,” I said through gritted teeth. “You don’t. We fought the wyvern on Vanra Field. What did you do?”


The Weight of their Souls should be coming out soon! Meantime, here are a few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Long ago, in the French province of Provence, there was a fearsome dragon called the Tarasque. The monster inhabited a stretch of the Rhone river where marshes surrounded a rocky island. It preyed upon travelers, both on land and water, and it tore down dams and levies so that flooding was rampant. Due to all this destruction, the whole area was uninhabitable.

The Tarasque had such a horrifying appearance that people had a hard time even describing it. They said it was as big as a bull, with a massive turtle’s shell, a lion’s head, and six bear-like legs. The tail was long and scaly, tipped with a scorpion’s sting. The local king brought an army, including catapults, but nothing could stop the dreaded dragon.

After many months of woe, news of the beastly plague reached a monastery where a holy woman lived. Saint Martha felt pity for the people who suffered such a blight. She went to the banks of the Rhone river. The Tarasque rushed to attack her, but Saint Martha did not run from it. Instead, she sang a hymn of the Lord so beautiful that it charmed the terrible creature. Soon the dreaded dragon laid its head in her lap.

Saint Martha returned to the city, the monster following at her heels like an obedient hound. The people of this land were heathens, and she wanted to show them the power of the Lord. Alas, their fear still gripped them. Knights rushed forth. Even when they slashed it with blades of steel, the Tarasque made no move to defend itself. It died there, unresisting.

Saint Martha grieved, and she preached a sermon that converted the heathens to Christianity. To show remorse for having slain a creature that had become tame and helpless, the king changed the name of his city of Tarascon. A castle, Chateau Tarascon, was built on the island in the Rhone River where the dragon once dwelt. Since the 15th Century, local festivals have been held to honor the famous resident.

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Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Koschei is a legendary character of Russian folklore who sometimes took the shape of a dragon. He seems to have originally been a man, in some versions related to the dreaded witch, Baba Yaga. With his magical might, Koschei could change his form to the dragon or a whirlwind. However, that was not his greatest power. Koschei was called Deathless because he had discovered the secret to immortality!

Perhaps it was more of a work-around for death. Koschei had learned how to separate his soul from his body. He kept his soul in a secret hiding place. As long as it remained inviolate, Koschei could never be killed.

Freed from the fear of death, Koschei embarked on a reign of terror. Nobody could resist his draconic power, and of course, no one could kill him. Only one brave prince stood against the tyrant. Koschei tried to force him into submission. He assumed his whirlwind form and swooped down upon the prince’s beloved wife. Screams trailed behind them as he snatched her away.

The prince faced a grim choice, to submit to a tyrant or lose his dear wife. But the princess was just as brave as her husband. She pretended to admire her captor. With flattery, she tried to find out the source of his immortality. First she found out that his soul was hidden away. Then she begged to know where it was hidden. Koschei enjoyed her attention, but he wasn’t completely taken in. He gave her a false answer. The princess got a message to her husband telling him of the hiding place. He rushed to the spot and destroyed the supposed vessel of Koschei’s soul.

When it became evident that Koschei was alive and as wicked as ever, the princess again pleaded to know where his soul was kept. Again, he lied. Again, she got word to her husband and again he tried to destroy Koschei’s soul. It did no good. A third time, the princess wheedled and teased. Koschei gave what seemed like a ridiculous answer: his soul was in a pebble, inside the yolk of an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a great rock, on an island.

After many trials, the brave prince managed to find the island, the rock, the hare, the duck, and the egg. Believe it or not, there was a pebble inside the egg! He took it back to confront Koschei, fully expecting that the dragon would kill him. But a slight blow from the tiny pebble restored the wizard’s soul. All the deaths that had been warded off suddenly fell upon him, and he was killed instantly! The prince and princess were reunited, and peace restored to the land.

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Of all Egypt’s reptilian gods, the biggest and baddest was definitely Apep, a. k. a. Apophis. This primordial serpent god was a force of chaos without redeeming feature. The other two I’ve mentioned, Wadjet and Sobek, may have been dangerous but they were still firmly established with the “light” pantheon headed by the sun god, Ra. Apep ruled the “dark” pantheon, forces of chaos and destruction that sought to overthrown Egyptian society and traditions. As such, he was Ra’s natural enemy.

A chaos serpent had existed in Egyptian mythology from the earliest times, although actual reference to Apep by name starts around the time of the pyramids. He was depicted as a gigantic golden snake, 16 yards long (14.6 meters). Unlike Egypt’s other gods, he never had a human form. Apep was believed to live in Duat, the underworld. His restless movements caused earthquakes. When he ventured into the upper world, he would surely be confronted by Ra’s allies. Their battles were thought to create violent storms.

Egyption lore told that Ra traveled through the heavens each day in a golden barge. However, each night, he had to pass through Duat before he could reach the eastern horizon. Once Ra ventured into Apep’s domain, he was prey for the mighty serpent. In various tales, Apep tried to stun Ra and his companions with his terrible gaze. Or he might try to swallow the entire barge! Fortunately, Ra knew of the danger. He had an entourage of deities along for the trek through Duat, including another chaos god, Set, who was said to defeat Apep and ensure Ra’s escape from the underworld.

Clearly, Apep was not a god to be worshipped, but one to be warded off by any means necessary. Surviving papyrus and carvings include spells or curses to defeat the evil god. Small drawings or models might be made so that they could be stepped on, crushed, spat on, chained,  or stabbed with spears and knives. Apep’s power was so dreaded that it was believed dangerous to keep these for any length of time.

The only public celebration known to be associated with Apep had a similar purpose. Each year, giant snake replicas would be constructed. Through spells, all the evil in the world was imbued into these images — and then they were set on fire. Symbolically, this was to purify Egypt of Apep’s wicked influence for another year.

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Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Another prominent serpent god of Ancient Egypt was Wadjet. Initially the patron goddess of Dep (modern day Desouk), Wadjet took the form of a cobra, or a woman with a cobra’s head. She was known as the Green One, as in the green of papyrus where cobras naturally lurked. In her early incarnations, she was depicted as a serpent coiled around a stalk of papyrus. Later, both kings and deities were shown with Wadjet coiled around their heads and reared back in threat.

Initially, Wadjet was a symbol of rulership in Lower Egypt — that is, the Nile Delta closest to the Mediterranean Sea. Her image was prominent on the Red Crown, or deshret, worn by early rulers. Perhaps due to the cobra’s lethal venom, Wadjet was believe to protect against evil. Women also prayed for her protection during childbirth.

When Egypt because unified into the form we now recognize, the Red Crown was joined with the White Crown, or hedjet, of Upper Egypt. This formed the the Double Crown, or pschent. Wadjet moved over to make room for Nekhbet, the vulture goddess who symbolized Upper Egypt. Together, these Two Ladies made up a symbol called the uraeus and were the traditional symbol of pharaonic rule.

As a protective goddess, Wadjet naturally became associated with the pantheon of Re, the Sun God. Her allies included Re, Hathor and Bast. She maintained her place as a guardian of Egypt throughout its long history.

Interestingly, Wadjet’s main festival, the Going Forth of Wadjet, took place on December 25th. Perhaps we’re all lucky her cult faded with the centuries, or we might have to sing about Christmas cobras instead of those cute flying reindeer!

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Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

Read Full Post »

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