The Folklore of Ivan and Koschei the Deathless

kosheiWe have all heard of Baba Yaga at some point — in art, literature, even gaming.  But Russian lore talks about a lot of interesting witches and sorcerers, about going on life-changing quests and completing impossible tasks.  However today we will be looking at one in particular — a certain immortal sorcerer who murdered a prince over and over again until he was defeated.  I am, of course, talking about Ivan and Koschei the Deathless.

Their story begins with Ivan’s parent’s death.  Ivan’s sisters marry wizards disguised as birds and, after discovering how lonely it is being, well, alone, Ivan sets out to find them.  He meets Marya — a warrior woman — along the way whom he marries.  However, Marya sets off to war, warning Ivan to not open a specific door.  Which, no surprise, he does.  Ivan discovers an old, withering man, draped in a dozen chains, begging for water.  Ivan brings him barrels of it, which the man uses to revive himself, shedding his disguise, breaking his chains, and revealing himself to be none other than Koschei the deathless.  Koschei swears he will kidnap Marya for revenge and disappears, leaving Ivan alone in the now empty room.koshei 2

This is where the crazy adventure begins.  Ivan finds them, saves Marya, only to be caught by Koschei’s faster horses and then murdered.  Each time he is killed, however, one of this sisters’ husbands save him until eventually they tell him of a faster horse he can find if he only visits Baba Yaga.  So, Ivan sets off to Baba Yaga’s house, survives and passes her three tests, and obtains his incredibly fast horse.  He then sets out to save Marya and, eventually, kill Koschei the Deathless once and for all.

Their story is one of adventure, death, and impossible tasks.  Koschei the deathless could not defeat Ivan in the end, despite being all-powerful and immortal.  And though he was defeated in the end, he will live on in stories as the evil sorcerer, waiting to send the young hero on his quest of self discovery.


For more reading on Ivan and Koschei the Deathless (sources):

Myths of Spring — Part 2

Today is the day — the first of two — in which the Earth’s equator passes directly through the center of the sun, causing the day to be balanced in both light and darkness.  This phenomenon is called the Equinox — more specifically, the Spring Equinox.  Days like today were rife with superstitions and myths and legends and everything in between.  However, today we will be looking at another couple of myths from around the world  that talk about the change of seasons.  Last time we took a look at both Chinese and Greek mythology — at the kidnapping of Persephone and at the candle dragon himself.  But now?  Now we will see what the Canaanites believed as well as the Norse in regards to the change of seasons.

springAccording to Canaanite beliefs, the changing of the seasons happened after Baal — the god of storms — defeated the god of the sea to become king of the gods.  Baal thought himself to be above all, and so he ordered that Mot, the god of the dead, was to not set foot anywhere on the earth except for the desert.  Mot, forced to wander the desert, turns around and invites Baal to the Netherworld for a “visit.”  Baal is, in turn, forced to go in order to save face as the new ruler of the gods, however when he gets there, Mot tricks him into eating the food of the dead: mud.  Thus, Baal is trapped in the underworld and the world dries up into an eternal summer — crops do not grow, the land becomes scorched, and the heat causes the waters to dry.  While Baal is away, Baal’s wife — Anat — prays for her husband’s release.  The gods refuse to help her, so she herself descends to the Netherworld to plead with Mot directly. Mot of course refuses, and thus an infuriated Anat battles the god of the dead and defeats him, wounding him so badly he cannot stop her from taking Baal away.  Rains were restored, but because Baal ate the food of the dead, he is required to spend a part of every year in the Netherworld, and at summer’s end he can come back and heal the world once more.

sprin3Our second myth today is a funny one, since many versions of this myth exist and they all contradict each other.  The beginning is usually the same: either Frigga (Baldur’s mother), Odin (Baldur’s father), and Baldur himself begin to suffer from nightmares about Baldur’s death.  Frigga goes around and has every living and non-living thing swear that no harm will come to Baldur — with the exception of mistletoe.  The other gods make a game of throwing things at Baldur and watching them bounce off harmlessly until Loki convinces a blind Hodr (in some versions of this myth, he is Baldur’s brother) to throw a spear that Loki guides.  This spear is made of mistletoe, and when it pierces Baldur’s chest, he drops down dead.

spring2This is where the myth changes.  In some versions, both Hodr and Baldur die — Hodr being killed for murdering his brother.  In these pre-Christian versions, Frigga begs Hel to release them and they are allowed out — separately — for half of the year only.  Hodr, because he is blind, is associated with darkness and explains the winter seasons while Baldur was described as a god of light and therefore was the other half of the year — summer and spring.  Other post-Christian versions of this myth tie Baldur to Christ in that he will only rise once more after Ragnarök, returning from the land of the dead.  However, these post-Christian versions also depict Baldur as being passive as objects are thrown at him while pre-Christian versions show him as being battle-ready at all times.

These myths from both Canaanite and Norse mythos are both examples not only of spring/seasonal myths, but also show how myths have changed over time.  From Baldur’s myth which has so many versions including his rebirth, to the myth of Baal which has many versions as well — including one where every seven years the two fight, the winner deciding if there will be a good season or a drought.  The truth is, there were many myths, legends, fables and stories, some of which do in fact explain away the changing of the seasons.  But let us remember today that with the start of spring, there is a god walking out from the land of the dead somewhere.  And whether they be Persephone, Baldur, Baal, or some other god/goddess, let us rejoice with the return of all things green and celebrate.


For more reading on spring myths (sources):

Click to access 11baldr.pdf

Myths of Spring — Part 1

With spring just around the corner, a lot of our ancestors would celebrate the change in weather and the return of green by telling stories and gathering for f estivals.  Of course, today we are fully aware of the rotation of the Earth around the sun and on its axis, giving to us the scientific explanations for the change of seasons.  But what did they think back then?  How did our ancient predecessors explain these changes?  What were these stories?  Instead of looking at all of them, we will be taking a look at a few over these next two weeks, leading right up to the Spring equinox.  So today?  Let’s take a look at the myths of Hades and Persephone and Zhu Long, the Candle Dragon.

LMG100045When talking about the changes in season, the Greeks looked to the gods and their troubles which affected the mortal world.  The story of Hades and Persephone explains these changes as Demeter’s mood swings — Demeter being the mother of Persephone, the Goddess of Spring.  A quick look at this myth has Hades kidnapping Persephone, and Demeter — the Goddess of the Harvest and Agriculture — begging Zeus to give her her daughter back as she fails in her duties.  Persephone of course eats three pomegranate seeds before Zeus can interfere, which forces him to decide that for half of a year she is to be with her mother while the other half she is forced to return to Hades.  During the times Persephone is gone, Demeter becomes inconsolable, neglecting her duties and letting the world around her wither and die.  However, when Persephone is returned, Demeter jumps back into action, revitalizing the land.

spring 2Following in the same fashion, the Chinese myth of Zhu Long the Candle Dragon explains not only one, but all the seasons, as well as the changes in night and day.  You see, Zhu Long — or Zhu Yin — was a huge, scaly, red dragon that was shaped like a serpent and had a human head. According to myth, one of his eyes represented the sun while the other the moon, and when they were open it was daytime, while at night his eyes were closed.  In his mouth he holds a candle that lights the gate of heaven, and his breath is what changes the seasons.  You see, when Zhu Long exhales he casts winter across the land, but when he inhales he brings summer.

These are but two of many myths that discuss the change of seasons.  So whether you believe that a God kidnapped a Goddess or a giant, serpentine dragon is inhaling to bring about the summer, just know that the days will be getting longer and longer until we find ourselves enjoying the Spring Equinox once more and welcoming back Hades’ Dread Empress, Persephone herself.


For more reading on these two myths (sources):

Fairy Tale Friday – Puss In Boots

puss in boots 2We often see retellings of popular fairy tales, from Snow White to Sleeping Beauty.  But what about the others — the lesser known tales?  We’ve seen a few movies and books tackle them, often casting them as side characters such as Pinocchio and Rumpelstiltskin.  Today, however, we will be taking a look at a more obscure tale, one that many Shrek fans would be vaguely familiar with.  His name?  Puss In Boots.

Puss In Boots, or “The Booted Cat,” is about a millers youngest son who inherits a talking cat.  The cat, through trickery, gains power and wealth for his master throughout the story until they are both ultimately set.  You see — long story short — after the cat asks for boots and receives them, he sets out and catches a rabbit, presenting it to the king as a gift from his master.  After several months of doing this, the cat learns that this king is going out for a drive with his daughter.  The cat persuades his master to then enter the river, getting him to remove his clothes which are discarded by the cat.  The king stops to investigate, only to have the cat tell  him that his master is a Marquis who has been robbed.  The king takes him in and his daughter falls in love with him immediately.puss in boots

If this wasn’t enough trickery for you, the cat goes ahead and begins telling the people along the road to announce to the king that the land belongs to said Marquis — the penniless, youngest son of a miller.  He then continues on to a castle where a shapeshifting ogre lives, though the cat ends up devouring him after the ogre transforms into a mouse.  So when the king arrives, they tell him that the estate belongs to the Marquis which impresses the king, convincing him to give his daughter to the miller’s youngest son in marriage, and the cat lives happily ever after.

I know, this one’s a bit odd.  But this is also a very brief summary of the Italian tale that has captured our imaginations for centuries.  For the full story, feel free to head over to SurLaLune Fairytales and give it a read — let us know what you think of this lesser known tale down below.

As an added bonus, bust out your pens and dust off your keyboards, for we have some exciting news for you.  TimelessTales Magazine is having an open submission call right now through March 4th for Puss In Boots poetry!  So be sure to submit yours before the deadline!

TimelessTales Magazine

Currently looking for Puss In Boots poetry.  “For poems, you may technically send us multiple pieces up to 1,500 words total, but please be considerate of our editor and only send your best and most polished work.” Currently they are open to all forms or retellings though they will note accept eroticism.

Word Count: Up to 1,500 Words
Deadline: March 4th, 2019
Payment: $20


The Folklore of Haunted Art

The saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is one that we have heard said in regards to famous photographs.  Whether they are sad, depressing, joyous, shocking, the more you stare, the more you come to your own conclusions.  But what if you were wrong?  What if you saw a painting and thought it was just an expression of a tortured artist only to find out that the painting has killed?  Could that even be possible?  Join us as we take a look at two of the most notorious paintings known for the chaos they sow.

painting 2The first painting we are looking at today is known as the Anguished Man.  The most disturbing thing about this painting isn’t the image itself — though the image is quite unsettling.  In fact, it was discovered that the artist had mixed his own blood into the paint as he had worked, committing suicide shortly after.  Ever since, every owner of this painting has complained of shadow figures, pets becoming distressed at unseen things and even at the painting itself, and even sounds of crying that, after being investigated, have no source.  Current owner Sean Robinson keeps it safely locked away, though you can find his YouTube channel in which he has posted videos of the creepy occurrences happening within his home.

The second painting is a bit more well known.  Titled, The Hands Resist Him by Bill painting 1Stoneham, the painting depicts a young boy standing in front of a window, a doll in the shape of a young girl beside him, with what appears to be clawing hands pawing at the glass of the window trying to get to the boy.  Originally painted as a way for the artist to deal with his adoption, the painting hung in an art gallery until it was sold in 1974.  However, ten years after this purchase, the buyer, the owner of the gallery, and an art critic who had written an article about the painting, all died.  That is not the end of the story, however.  Eventually, the painting resurfaced.  On eBay.  The terrified seller claims that the figures in the art come to life at night, while some people who view it claim to have physical illnesses or even blackouts.  Though there is no need to fear, for the painting was eventually bought by another art gallery where they keep it locked away.

These two paintings are just examples of countless of other haunted paintings that are scattered around the world.  And while the artist of the Anguished Man remains a mystery, we can at least hear what Bill Stoneham says about his own haunted painting, which makes his a bit unique.  According to Stoneham,

“When I painted the Hands Resist Him in 1972, I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment. The hands are the ‘other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm. Both the owner of the Gallery where ‘Hands’ was displayed and the Los Angeles Times art critic who reviewed my show were dead within a year of the show.  I’m sure it was coincidence, but some of what I paint resonates in other people, opening the inner door. Or basement.”

So the question is, what do you believe?  Can an ordinary painting become haunted because of memories and feelings and emotions?  Or are we left to view only paintings such as Anguished Man as an exception due to its dark history?  Is there such a thing as a cursed piece of art?  Or is it all mere coincidence?


For more reading on these and other haunted paintings (sources):

The Folklore of Oshiroi Baba

OSHIROI BABAThere are Winter Witches and Snow Queens that litter folklore and mythology — from giant ogresses to hags who eat children.  The more you look through them, the more you notice a pattern of death and cannibalism.  However, there is one wintry figure who is neither, who brings sake to weary and cold travelers.  Her name is Oshiroi Baba.

Oshiroi Baba, or the Face Powder Hag, is considered a servant to the Goddess of Cosmetics and appears as an ancient looking woman, her back bent with age, leaning on a bamboo cane.  She is clothed in kimono rags, with a straw hat broken and heavy with snow.  In her other hand, she holds a bottle of sake.  But it’s her face that gives her her name: her wrinkled and lined face is covered in oshiroi — white powder just like what the geisha’s wore.  The last bit of her appearance goes to her mirror, and the reason why I leave this for last is because it is usually not seen.  However, the sound of a clanging mirror being dragged behind her is always heard, alerting you of her presence.

The most commonly told stories of Oshiroi Baba are by travelers who find themselves lost and cold, wandering in snow storms.  She brings her sake and offers travelers a chance to warm up before they continue on their way.  The most famous story about her is very different and comes from the Hasedera Temple.  According to the story, the monks were starving after their food was confiscated by the army, and they prayed, pleading that they may finish their work.  The next day, they spotted a woman washing rice at the well, and as they watched, they noticed she would empty the bucket of all but a single grain, and when she would, the bucket would magically refill.  She repeated this until there was enough food to feed all of the monks.

There is not much lore in regards to the Oshiroi Baba.  Some believe her to be a variation of the Yuki Onna, traveling down the mountain to demand makeup or sake from travelers, others believe her to be a blessing.  However, the belief that there is a winter hag who brings sake to those who are cold is a much more warming thought.  So if you ever find yourself lost in the snow, keep an ear out for the sounds of a clanking mirror as it might be Oshiroi Baba bringing you warm sake to give you strength.


For more reading on Oshiroi Baba (sources):
Oshiroi Baba – The Face Powder Hag

The Myth of Frau Perchta

frau perchta 2Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is a well-known Yuletide figure.  However, over the years we have seen some of the more… unsavory characters come into the spotlight.  Krampus was one of those characters from folklore who became wildly popular after his 2015 horror/comedy debut on the big screen.  However, there are still other mythic stories, legends and folktales of different Yule spirits and demons and elves and trolls. Today, we are going to be taking a look at one of these, a witch who punishes naughty children.  Her name is Frau Perchta.

Frau Perchta comes to us from Austrian and Bavarian tradition, becoming more well known with her other name Frau Berchta which was popularized by the brothers Grimm.  She is also associated with Berchta the Germanic goddess of abundance who was demonized by the Catholic church and referred to as a witch. Either way, Frau Perchta is generally depicted as a crone dressed in rage with a beaked, iron nose.  Sometimes she carries a cane, but almost always she carries a long, sharp knife that she keeps hidden beneath her skirts.

frau perchtaYou see, Frau Perchta — much like Santa Claus — will reward good children and punish the bad.  She also punishes women for unkempt households and unspun flax. For those she deems good, a silver coin is left for them.  If she deems you unworthy, if you forget to leave out a bowl of porridge for her, if your flax is half spun and unfinished, she slits open your abdomen, removes your organs, and replaces them with straw.  She was also associated with the Wild Hunt, flying through the night sky while accompanied by her demonic Perchten — Krampus-looking creatures — and elves and unbaptized babies. During the last three thursdays before Christmas, you will hear the sounds of thunder and wind roaring, however it is really Frau Perchta leading her Wild Hunt.

Either way, Frau Perchta doesn’t seem like a woman to cross.  Whether she is a crone who judges your housework, or someone who comes to punish the naughty and reward the nice, or even the leader of the Wild Hunt itself, Frau Perchta promises punishment for those who she sees as undeserving.  One thing is for certain: whichever version of her tale you believe, be sure to have your house dust-free and stay indoors on the nights leading up to Christmas or Frau Perchta might replace your organs with straw.

For more reading on Frau Perchta (sources):