Looking back on all the blather I’ve produced in this blog space over the past year, I realize I am compiling a “CliffNotes” version of novel research. It occurs to me that I should cite my sources—most of which originate on the Internet. I do try to vet my sources, but some of this is executed via gut feeling. I urge any of my five fans to exercise rigid investigation of source material. It’s like science. The data is specific, but only to what is known. The rest, is, well, fodder for writers.
That said, for my blog last week, I had a difficult time finding information regarding winged horses. As members of their own special taxonomic ranking there’s a load of data to sort through. Kind of like several days-worth of laundry.
The attraction of writing about magical beasts lies in a quality of limitlessness. Writing them is far easier than writing human characters. Perhaps it is their singularity. Fictional dragons, for example, have progressed from the unruly and terrifying beasts of Middle Earth and medieval England, to intelligent and loyal steeds. They speak, they learn, they communicate like dogs, and in most cases, are loyal to the point of self-destruction.
The ancient Chinese were busy digging, apparently seeking dinosaur bones for medicinal use. Fossilized snake-like creatures were often found curled as if in sleep. This mystical finding led to the belief in dragons, symbolizing the Emperor, conveying power and good luck. They nurture the Chinese people by bringing rain for crops. Chinese dragons don’t have wings, either, but they have no problem ascending to the sky if they have the proper body part to assist. They generally are viewed as benevolent, wise, powerful, and lucky.
Vampires have also achieved acceptable status. The blood-thirsty Count Dracula was descended from widespread human belief in the undead. Aside from ghosts, demons and zombies (a later revenant type), vampires were not only the undead, or risen from the dead, but they are in the habit of drinking blood—in fact they are dependent upon it in many cases. They once were feared to the point of exhumation and mutilation of the dead. Vampires were blamed for deaths in livestock and humans alike. The undead terrified people around the globe, in numerous cultures—and probably still do so. Today’s vampire, in the last several decades, has become a creature of allure, danger, and yup, a bit of humanity. Vampires fall in love, save lives, look gorgeous, and dress well. In fact, my opinion is that the modern, western vampire personifies the wishes of many of us. To be powerful, attractive and live forever. The mere inconvenience of avoiding daylight, acquiring the next meal and being unable to admire oneself in the mirror is nothing when compared to one’s innate sense of superiority.
Today is Halloween. So, even though you will be reading this tomorrow on All Hallows’ Day, I have to discuss an even more ubiquitous and fearful creature: the witch.
This magical being is even more closely human than the vampire. In many cultures the witch can be male as well as female. Witchery shows up in nearly every corner of the globe. There are witches in Latin America, Native and European America, Asia, Africa and Europe. That’s about everyone. Witches in most cultures are evil, specializing in harming innocent human beings. Among Navahos they spread illness using corpse powder. For the Zulu, witches are consulted by the sick for healing. Japanese witches, using foxes as familiars, are tricksters, and often come from old witching families.
Our iconic witch, Elmira Gulch, is fully American, in peaked cap and black cape, warty skin, and long gnarled fingers. The color of her skin may not be kelly green, but she does have a prominent nose. And she is female. The term “warlock” became popular in 19th century western fiction, a curious conceit for a male witch. Witches from way before the Grimms and Christiansen, were feared and treacherous, much less heretical. Frank Baum personified a benevolent magic practitioner in his Ox series, and since then witches have enjoyed a transformation into forces for good, especially against their own kind. Contemporary Halloween observances call for our seriously homely woman with a skin condition to make an entrance, swooping down upon us on her broom. But perhaps after the dead who visit the living world after midnight on All Hallow’s Eve, she can resume her benevolent personality. And, of course, transform herself into someone even more alluring than the sexiest vampire.
It’s easy to see how the data collected for magical beings is what we call in the research field, “dirty”. Meaning that the data is marred and cluttered by imprecise data. But I think it would be a waste of time to try to clean it up. As I said previously, this state of unlimited interpretation and possibility is the reason that we love these beings so much. Fear them, too, I suspect.