Egg Nog, a history in several recipes

Eggnog is far older than most suspect.  It wasn’t invented recently. It has many forms, and many, many names. Historians and Etymologists bandy back and forth about the name, wondering if it originates from one of about ten different sources from Germany to Scotland, to the colonies. The simple truth is, that it is all and none. “Noggin” or “nugge” is a very old word, and it refers to the glass in which hot drinks were served, a “mug”. You may listen to men of science, debating when the exact word “eggnog” must have come about, but that would be silly, in my opinion, because it came about through constant reintroduction of old memories, old ways, and old languages, then was jumbled up again and again in the slang culture of the early Americas.

Warm eggs and alcohol have been a standard since antiquity. They were drunk in the colder months for obvious reasons. Their types range from drinks made with wine, to biersuppe, a German warm soup made from beer, to very loose custards, to curled concoctions that are strange to the modern eye. Here, I will give you a long history of my favorites. You will see the spices shift as the spice trade with he east died and then was reforged with sea power, you will see the introduction of fine white sugar and rum from the Americas. You may wish to make them all, and watch the progress of time through one single food.

Please assume that for all the following recipes, you will need the following:

  • a mixer (hand held works fine in this case)
  • a saucepan
  • egg separator
  • fine grater
  • a whisk

Caudell, a recipe

Very few cook books have survived the eras to mark the existence of the great variety of dishes and their countless preparations, and so no source exists for this recipe. You will have to take my word that it was a drink of choice, particularly for the ill. Saffron was seen to have mystical qualities to the Medieval mind, and it was used in almost everything. Keep in mind that this saffron was not the sort you see today in your grocer’s spice aisle. This was the saffron that now costs hundreds of dollar per ounce — true saffron— and we worked it by the handful.

I recommend eating this with the notion that it is a semi-savory soup. It might assist the modern palette to adjust.

Ingredients:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 2 cups of ale or sack (white wine) I recommend ale for authenticity. The poor could
  • often not afford sack
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • i leaf of mace
  • several tablespoons of sugar to taste

Instructions

  1. Beat the yolks into the ale, and then put the pot over medium heat, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken and become frothy.
  2. Once this comes to a boil immediately drop the heat to low and beat in the other ingredients, adjusting to taste

Serve in an open, bowl-like mug

Posset, a recipe

Possets were a kind of custard, sometimes loose enough to be drunk in a mug. In my day they were used primarily as medicine for the sick, or as fortifying drinks for travelers or for the clergy.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • cinnamon
  • several blades of mace
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • 18 egg yolks, plus 8 egg whites
  • 1 pint of sack (white wine)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar

Instructions

  1. Put the milk into a pot and add some cinnamon and mace, and bring to a simmer
  2. While the milk is heating through, in another pot beat the eggs thoroughly. add the wine, a grated nutmeg, more fresh cinnamon, and the sugar
  3. Heat the eggs through and then incorporate the cream once that comes to a boil
  4. Cover and allow to simmer for a time on the lowest heat, stirring occasionally

Serve in a mug with a little sugar on top

Eierpunsch, a recipe

This was a holiday favorite all through the Holy Roman Empire, when I was living in Strasburg

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of white wine (keep in mind that Germany has an excellent tradition of sweet white wines like reisling)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 5 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 c strongly brewed tea
  • 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Brew the tea and let it cool
  2. Whisk the eggs and add in the sugar and some of the white wine until it begins to get frothy
  3. Add the rest of the wine, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice
  4. Put in a pot and allow to heat through, but remove immediately before boiling
  5. Fish out the cloves

Serve in a mug with a little fresh whipped cream

Milk Punch, a recipe

From the early 1700’s the British and French had forged a somewhat calm trade relationship, despite all their bickering, making sherry and brandy fairly common and accessible. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz. brandy
  • 4 tsp cream
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Ground clove

Instructions

  1. Whisk the ingredients together until foamy
  2. Spice to taste, while whisking

Serve at room temperature, or turn it into something of a cocktail in these modern times by shaking over ice.

American Nog, a recipe

Trade between the colonies was largely one way for a very long time, that is to say, it was largely a circular endeavor. The British shipped goods to the entire western world, stole slaves from Africa, brought them to the Americas, and then took products from us for sale in Britain and the rest of Europe. This system was entirely focused on the wealth and excesses of England, and cared very little about the colonists. As such, it was tedious getting any items directly from Europe, which meant there was hardly ever brandy to be had. And so, the egg beverages commenced to be cut with rum from the Caribbean.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. brandy
  • 1/2 c. dark spiced rum
  • 1/2 c. sherry
  • 1/2 c. whiskey
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 1 qt milk
  • a dozen eggs
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Mix the alcohols. Separate your eggs, setting the whites aside
  2. Put the yolks into your mixer and beat until the the yolks are foamy. Slowly incorporate the sugar and spices.
  3. Add the alcohol slowly
  4. Add the milk and cream
  5. Pour this mixture into a separate bowl. With a clean bowl and whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the alcohol mixture

You may serve immediately at room temperature, or warm it through as needed and top with a little whipped cream. If storing it in the refrigerator, be sure to mix it regularly so that it doesn’t separate.

Modern Eggnog, a recipe

Modern humans are terrified of raw eggs, even when pasteurized. Now they buy rubbish in a carton and microwave it, throw in a shot of bourbon and call it finished, but to me this is a crime. So, allow me to help you out a bit. Here is a modern eggnog cocktail.

Ingredients:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 4 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. baker’s sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c. Amaretto or Grand Marnier (I prefer Grand Marnier, as it gives a nice sweetness)
  • 1 1/2 c. brandy (I use Remy Martin VSOP as it is inexpensive, but meshes well)

Instructions

  1. Whip the egg yolks in the standing mixer, then incorporate the sugar. Then the milk and cream until the mixture is frothy and pale.
  2. Slowly incorporate the alcohol

Serve warm or shaken over ice. I would top the warm version with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg, and the cold version with a twist of candied lemon rind.

I very much hope this brief history of eggnog has pleased you. I hope you can track the similarities, and admire the variety. Perhaps you even have ideas of how to craft a new recipe that borrows from history.

If you do try any of them, please do send me a picture. I post all images of my recipes sent in by readers, as a general rule.

Monstrous Myths: The Boogeyman

When I began this series of website entries, it was to demonstrate something of a “unified field theory” of monstrosity, if you will. My reasoning was simple: I am a monster, and if there were other species of hideous man-eaters shuffling over the earth, I would have seen them. For the sake of this experiment, it falls to me to demonstrate that your own mythology, as varied and complex as it is, supports my hypothesis. No monster does better in this capacity than the Boogeyman, and so, in the spirit of this Halloween season, and in celebration of the arrival of my second book, I have decided to pursue that infamous figure shrouded in darkness. My mission takes me from the rooftops to the bowels of the earth.

The Boogeyman is largely undefinable with androgynous leanings and an amorphous appearance, but notable for several key commonalities: he is ubiquitous, terrifying, and born of the shadows. In almost every culture, every country, there is a boogeyman. Spiralling away from Europe into Russia and south to Africa, these divergent stories diverge hardly at all — even their names are closely related linguistically. Variously described as dark, clothed in black, able to blend into the night seamlessly, this monster has one purpose: to torment children.

All the world over, you may goad your little ones with the horrors that could befall them for not eating their vegetables, but you also bless them to protect from such hazards.

There were cases of children vanishing. There were instances of abduction. Long before there were understandings of psychology or criminal analysis, these things were attributed to monsters. And every parent knew that the monster must be invisible to have gotten past their protections.

Every child knows that the monster will find them no matter where they cower and there is no blanket on the planet thick enough to protect them. Sometimes lurking beneath the bed, in the recesses of a closet, or in the corners of rooms by night, this devil invades their dreams. He is just waiting for a moment to gobble them up or spirit them away. The poor dears, heads full of nightmares, go to their beds certain that they have reached the end of their lives.

I think you can see why descriptions of the Boogeyman are never precise. The fear is less tangible now, but in the days of my first memories, death was everywhere, and most children did not live into puberty. The Boogeyman only takes the wicked children, but it is the wicked ones who are most likely to wilfully disregard their parents, or run away into the night to be overcome by the elements or some other horrible calamity. And as you know from reading my short stories, there absolutely were child-predators. The threat was mind-numbingly real, and thus, extremely effective.

But was it all a perfect storm of imagination? Was there ever a real Boogeyman to whom the first instances can be attributed, or is this merely the product of the universality of bad parenting, unseen criminal mischief, and the fear of chaotic reality?

I think not.

In a data set packed with noises beneath beds, knocking on walls, disembodied shadows that shift ominously — all easily explained by heightened awareness and fear — there are a few encounters that speak to me, and some of them come from you, my gentle readers.

Once in a great while, you find a child staring out a window at the man with the sharp smile in their favourite tree. Once in a while, there is the hooded figure on the rooftop next door, looking in as if waiting for something. Once in a great while, a child is saved from drowning by a dark hand. Once in a while, the forest herds a lost little one from its treacherous grasp. Once in a while, the monster with whom they live, turns up dead of a broken neck. Once in a while, the man tracking them vanishes into an orchard and is never seen again.

Once in a great while.

We are dangerous. We are killers, each of us unique. I have never willingly harmed a child outside of war, but I have eaten them. I have my ethics, my feelings, but they are mine alone. I am certain that many of my brethren have spirited your babies away. I am sure that there are many shadowy figures who wait to hear that some little one is nothing but a pain. Perhaps they are salivating in the wings, all too happy to make the baseless threat a reality.

Once in a while, however, a wild child is found.

In the twelfth century, only a few decades after the Norman Conquest of Britain, in the town of Woolpit, two children turned up in a field. They spoke a language no one had ever heard, and were entirely green from head to toe. The young boy was reportedly sickly and died, but the girl acquired English and told her benefactor of a land of eternal twilight. Called St. Martin’s land, its inhabitants were all a fine shade of green. According to this young lady, she and her brother were tending to a flock of animals, when they found a cave and wandered toward the sounds of bells, as if traversing a corridor between worlds.

The accounts that survive are extremely suspect for their vagueness, and modern historians would love to say that whether or not the events actually happened is irrelevant. Some discount it altogether as nothing but folklore, but yet again, they base this assumption only upon the few references to survive the ravages of time. Others believe it must have happened, and that the twilight realm was merely a larger cave, and they wandered out into the sun.

Before you ask, I cannot tell you if these events actually transpired, as this was before my time in England; Indeed it is before the time I remember as my awakening. I can tell you, however, that the story was extremely well-known in my day, and most everyone believed the siblings had been stolen from their beds by a vindictive witch, the fairies, or our friend, the Boogeyman. Compare the tale to Hansel and Gretel, first transcribed by the Brothers Grimm, but predating them. The abandoned little siblings fed a terrible diet of sweets by their cannibalistic captor, kept in the woods until the time was right to make a tasty pie. Everyone knew the Babes in the Wood, and everyone knew that they were lucky to escape.

The girl supposedly lived a normal life above ground, and she never exhibited any magical talents. She married well and was employed. She seemingly never tried to rediscover her colony of green people. And the green people never came looking for their lost children. If it is folklore, I fail to see the point. It could be the delusions of sickly children, but there are entirely too many details for which there is no account. I find it more likely, as odd as it sounds, that it did happen and that there is an explanation for a cloister of people living underground, suffering from chlorosis.

Anyone who has studied feral children knows that they, by definition, lack language. Yet these two spoke a tongue no one, not even their gentleman host, knew— and in those days, England was a cesspit of languages; Anglo-Saxon, Flemish, Briton, Gaelic, Dutch, Norman French. Someone had to have taught them this language. In an era when traveling was fraught with dangers and very expensive, it is doubtful that their ancestors migrated from a prohibitively distant foreign land to start a colony in a subterranean vault.

It is difficult to imagine what sort of person keeps animals in a cave, herds sheep underground. It must needs be someone who never wants to be seen, but eats meat by the pound.

And then again, there is the name of their idyllic sanctuary: St. Martin’s Land. Saint Martin of Tours is the patron saint of alcoholics. If the savage children had no knowledge of faith or English, I wonder how they know to call it that.

There are many explanations for these events, no doubt. It could be a simple story carrying on the ancient trope of the mystical “other” who reveals itself to align with the tainted world of man. It could be that there was a kindly hermit hoarding orphans who had nowhere else to go. It could be that the Boogeyman meant to gobble them up, and had himself quite the collection.

Hell, it could be all three.

Or it could be something else entirely. What that is, I leave to you. Is the Boogeyman real? Who took all the lost children? What peeks out from the treetops as you sleep? Why is it, over all the world, the creature is the same? Is he bad, good, or just terribly complicated?

Reflections

Here it is, or rather, here I am, in all my “glory”. In the late seventies I took one single polaroid photo, and kept it in my box. To avoid the meta data and photo recognition software (as well as other problems associated with displaying my image on the internet), I sent the photograph to an artist somewhere in Europe. He took some liberties, in an effort to make it more “artistic”, but I think the finished product is rather good. I do worry that it has not captured the eyes quite right, but then again, artists seldom do manage the distant stare of a malign intellect.

And before you scoff at me, I am malignant. If you knew how many times a day I peel the skin off of passers-by with my thoughts, you would never wish to come face-to-face with me, I assure you. Unless, of course, you fancy looking like an anatomical model of yourself.

Simonportrait.jpg

If you find me unsettling…good. It is as it should be. If not…see how easily you are fooled? The image will remain up for some time. I may at some point lock it. If I do, I will put the password somewhere or other, and you may hunt around for it. I apologize, but this may become necessary.

Combustion

“I hate it.”

I stare at him. How can he hate it? It is my face. I can understand not liking my face, certainly, but he has never said that he does not like my face, in fact quite the opposite.

“Don’t put it up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Again, I say why?”

He stomps away and before I can turn from this latest recording of my reflection, he is up the stairs and on the roof, forming an alliance.

“Did he show you that shit?”

Rebecca is caught mid-mouthful and mumbles incoherently. I join them, still caught in a tangle of confuse emotions. I have never found myself completely human, that is true, but my face is as balanced as any other: two eyes, nose, mouth – all slightly odd, but all in place. It meant a great deal to me to take that photo out into the light of day, to digitize and disseminate it to an artist so far away there would never be a risk of discovery. But here he is, hands on hips, glaring down at Rebecca as if he is my father, she my mother, and I have been caught smoking cannabis behind the Seven Eleven.

She dabs the corners of her mouth. “Um…You mean the picture?”

“Yeah, duh! I mean the fucking picture.”

Her gaze swivels to mine as if to imply one of her usually onomatopoetic rejoinders, like “Whhhhaaaaaaa?”

“It’s his book, his face, his life.”

The muscles in his neck tug as he scowls. “You’re okay with this?”

Jimmy, silent at the barbecue, flipping his hamburgers with purposefully stooped shoulders, finally glances backward. “Yo! Wanna relax?”

“No! No I do not want to relax!” He looks around him at every face, young or old, until finally, he realizes that no one feels nearly so strong as he does. In that instant, his ire is redirected to me. “What the fuck are you thinking?”

“Language!” Porter grumbles. The children look up from their table in the open greenhouse. Katherine’s face peeps above the window sill. He turns abruptly and latches onto me with an iron grip. I am dragged bodily from the roof, and down the stairs, following behind him in a shocked silence.

You know me, friends — if I may be permitted to call you that — and you know how much I dislike being given ultimatums. Quite possibly, you also understand that while I am willing to make enormous allowances for the sake of those in my care, I respond to anger in kind.

However, Chef is different. When he is upset with me, something happens to my organs, that results in a complete and utter shutdown of my nerves, tongue, or capacity for greater reason. I wither, in an entirely embarrassing fashion.

I apologize. This is again one of those times when I am acutely aware of the divide I traverse by discussing events out of chronological order. You see, since the publication process began, I have had to develop a system with my editor. I send all my diary entries to her on an almost daily basis. She reads them and tells me whether or not they are “plot”. I have no idea what “plot” she is referencing. Usually I do not have the slightest concept of what any one volume of my life will be “about”, until she has curated the entries. She scrubs detail, alters names, transforms the events so that they do not match any newspaper articles or news programs, and then arranges the entire thing so that it at least has some adherence to the standard publishing models of the industry. For this, I pay her a substantial salary and my literary agent sings her praises, but there are unfortunate side effects, such that when I receive Kristina’s emails (some half dozen a day), I am often told what I can and cannot discuss with my readers directly, as those details may arise in further sequels.

Why am I telling you this? So that you understand that the relationship I now have with Chef is a very different one than is detailed in my first novel, and do not think that in some way, I have misled you about my character. Believe me, I do not enjoy having multiple personality disorder, or frankly disorder of any kind, but this is the only way I am allowed to keep my dear website intact, concurrent with the published works.

When Chef pulls me to the car and steals the keys, I am surprised by the violence of his feelings. While he drives, I sit quietly, staring at myself in the wing mirror, wondering what I have done to earn his distemper. He does not ferry us very far; we end up at the river docks, parked facing the bridges.

“You can’t put it up.”

“Why?”

He closes his eyes and covers his face with his hands. “You know what they told you. They said no pictures. No evidence of any kind.”

They are not in control of my life. Nor does one commissioned portrait constitute a declaration of war. It is a drawn image, based upon a photograph. It is not documentation.”

“Simon, please…”

I cross my arms stubbornly. He makes a series of sounds and throws himself out of the car, pacing up and down its flank like a puma. I slowly unfold and emerge, barricading myself behind my door, arms draped over the roof.

“Explain to me what is really at issue here! You have never once seemed to care about them. Why all of a sudden?”

The metallic gaze slices up the bridge of my nose, and runs me through. “Really? With all the times I’ve had to stuff food down your throat and stitch you up with cooking twine to make sure the skin closes properly? Really?”

“You exaggerate.”

“I am not exaggerating and you damn well know it!”

“Chef—”

“I won’t allow it! I’m telling you not to.”

The air thickens around us as the full weight of what he has said settles. Never in all our acquaintance, not even since discovering all the many facets and implications of our partnership, has he ever seen fit to leverage my actions with that old magic. It is a betrayal, of all that we are, and as I look him in the face I see that he knows it. He knows I will not forgive him, and is willing to pay that price, if only to rescue me from a fate he believes I am ignoring.

“Is this a command?” My voice is a hiss, and comes out more sharply than I intend, but I cannot hide the disgust that I feel at the very notion of being anyone’s slave.

“Please, Simon. Do not post that picture.”

“And if I do?”

“I can’t watch you get hurt again.”

“Nothing will happen to me.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

I close my eyes, and think that if something did happen, it would merely be one in a long line of new things, new adventures that have made the last five years bearable.

“I just do. Far be it from me to once again cite my age and experience—”

He snorts. “Yeah, but here we go.”

“I am older and more knowledgeable than you. They will not bother me, and if they do, I will handle it. Stop manufacturing ancient clandestine cults out of a few stragglers who communicate by smoke signals.”

“Now you’re exaggerating.”

I slip around the car. Somewhere nearby a fishing boat trades its grateful use of the first month since the fisheries reopened, for the more lucrative task of tugging civilians out onto the water for the festivities. As I wrap my arms around his neck, the brine and anxiety mingle. He tastes of Hemingway burgers. Gunpowder wafts on the breeze as the fireworks displays are arranged.

“Nothing will happen to me,” I soothe. “Please stop worrying.”

“I can’t.”

“I know.”

He tugs on my hair and smashes his face to mine. “You can put it up, but please take it down if they ask you to.”

“I will,” I say, but in all honestly, I am disgusted at the thought of being at anyone’s behest. They know this. They know I will not bow out so easily, and they are right to fear my reply should they argue.

“Let’s stay here. This is a good place.”

The lot has begun to fill with other onlookers carrying lawn chairs and children. The sun has dipped below the water and the sky has darkened. Soon there will be sounds that put the canon fire of my youth to shame.

Strange that humans should celebrate their unions by blowing something to pieces.

Fossil Record

You know from reading my book, gentle reader, that I often discuss history — and in, quite possibly, and unexpected way — from the standpoint of someone who not only lived through it, but continues to find it fascinating. Humans tend to think of history as something that no longer has any function except as a standard, but that is not how I see it. I have a much more metaphysical perspective.

Let us craft a metaphor: I assume you know about gravity and the rules that govern the tug between very large objects, the complex and inextricable patterns that weave when many such bodies interact — for example, the solar system. These planets tug at one another, like dancers with hands clasped. History is not dead. It is not something that ceases to matter, no matter how long ago it transpired. History is, in fact, a large orb, ever-increasing in volume, dwarfing the tiny instantaneous present, rolling over the possible future. Everything you do swivels around that massive sun, though you perhaps, do not recognize it.

I do, but that is not because of any innate superiority. I merely have the benefit of perfect hindsight.

Given this, I have noticed something over the last, oh…perhaps three hundred years or so. It began with exploration— not the sort you did in the 1200’s for the sake of trade, but the sort done with science, immediately after the great enlightenment. Men began to wander around, picking up rocks and dusting them off. Men began to hypothesize incredibly simple (and therefore obviously true) things like evolution. Men began to wonder whence they came, and how long ago.

Their efforts, however, were greatly hampered, by the slow momentum of technology and one other thing — the mysterious vanishing of knowledge.

This is when I saw it: the eerie emotional state that slowly, creeping along like a fog, overtook the human mind. Psychology began to shift, and the focus of horror and revulsion became, not “the other”, but “the other within”. There is a profound gap in your mind. I compare it to walking into a room, and forgetting why you have gone. Standing around, looking at the place, wondering what it was you meant to do — Douglas Adams coined the term “woking” for this, and it is a lovely phrase I intend to utilize. So, deep in the subconscious dungeons of the human mind, a lost soul is woking…wondering what in the hell happened before the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria, wondering what was lost with war and the Dark Ages, wondering just when humanity began to be “human”, wondering if everything it knows…

Is wrong.

You maintain many misconceptions about antiquity. You look back upon tiny tablets and instruments you uncover and propose frankly insulting notions. For example: you look at the pyramids and an increasing number of you shrug and say, “Well, they could not possibly have done that, and so they must have had help from aliens.”

Aliens.

Superior beings from interminable distances away, came to this rock in craft we know not how to classify, and decided to cut up massive rocks and arrange them in clever stacks. Of course. How could I be so stupid to suppose that in fact, it is highly likely that there is a vast lack of information and that humans probably did it themselves. It is probably impossible that they moved these monoliths by encasing their ends in wooden wheels, thus turning the entire stone into an axel, and then slowly, via ropes, leverage, and sheer focus, rolled the things into place as was done in my lifetime. I suppose it is improbable that the evidence of canal and diamond saw usage found recently in the Valley of the Kings is ridiculous — I mean, they’d only been mining diamonds for… what? Ever.

Yes, this is all rhetorical sarcasm.

You have mysteries behind you, and I suppose it is not unreasonable that you will fill in those blanks with whatever thing seems to pack the space best — aliens can do anything (because they are imaginary in this context) and so they explain everything quite nicely. Until there are contradictions, until no one can agree with which aliens, how, when, and for what purpose. Rather like you did with gods, demons, and yes, my species, you can now use aliens to self-medicate your psychological defect.

But why are we discussing this?

Because I know, and have always known, that there is a disparity in the timeline of man. Nearsided men who look backward imperfectly always speak with such absolute certainty, whether or not it is warranted. They declare that civilized man is only 10,000 years old.

I defy them.

When they find things they cannot explain, like copper-lined clay jars that hold a modest charge when filled with vinegar, they shrug. When they unearth — or in this case pull from the deep — something like the Antikythera Mechanism, they make faces and say “I didn’t know men could do that! They must not have been common, the product of one single genius who died in obscurity, because we have only found one, you see.” When they look at the Roman aqueducts, their holding tanks that use properties of physics to move water uphill, their lines so straight that they deviate over vast distances by less than an inch, they often are awed.

They should not be awed. I tell you there is an enormous pocket of information folded into your blood, that no one will ever open. It is lost. But every now and again, men discover tiny hints, develop new ways of looking. First it was genetics, and you discovered that there were many races mingled together, that your entire race was actually composed of a multitude. This is marvelous enough, especially when it can be used to track your migration across the world.

Now that you know how to seek, you find.

Simon, you say, please come to the point. Why are we enduring this drawn out discourse upon the idea that already makes us cringe?

Something happened recently, and I find it fascinating. That is why.

It was recently discovered that Neanderthal, that long lost, red-headed, step-cousin of current man, built some of the oldest structures ever found, the earliest of any hominid. And they did it underground. Deep in Bruniquel cave in France, about 300 meters from the entrance, these “primitives” shaped and arranged natural mineral stalactites into little rooms. You are not the first masons. You are their descendants.

FullSizeRender

Homo sapiens is not the dawn of civilization, a race of superior entities that resulted when the best of nature got together and “humped”. In fact, the more you look, the more you find that it is more likely that these groups of hominids had very evolved and complicated ways of existing, ways that may have been passed to you. Ways that perhaps, even now, tug at you. It is possible that the desire to build is not yours, but belongs instead, to your Neanderthal lineage. And maybe buried in sands deeper than those which surround Ur, there are other Berbebez, Gobekli Tepe, or Bimini Roads.

It is not aliens, unless you consider those ancient parts of your firmament to be wholly alien to you. I advise you to look into that dark mirror. I advise you to embrace these shadows of your ancestry, and smile.

There are pieces missing, and I know that they pull at you in nearly imperceptible ways, but this unquantifiable force is dangerous. It gives rise to the most heinous of fictions.

These fictions are what bury humanity, better than any desert or jungle.

Monstrous Myths: Rå

Deep in the forests, mountains, and fjords of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark dwell a secret race of wardens, the rå. This myth is often conflated with the alfar or elves of German folklore, but they are markedly different. While the elvish appear to be aloof and supernaturally beautiful (at least, as far as the Medieval writer was concerned), unencumbered by the minutia of human life, and just as likely to smite as to assist, have an almost paternal awareness of mankind.

Pardon a short digression — a moment to explain why I will not be comparing my race to the elves.

I do not believe they exist. They are simply what happens to the hidden when the imagination of man takes over. Perhaps there are some particularly handsome members of my species, and perhaps they truly are ambivalent to people, but honestly, I do not think this is true. More than likely, pockets of humanity (towns and villages used to be quite isolated, especially during the colder months) met one or two of my species and learned that the only way to coexist was to pay homage, engage with care and deference. Given enough time and veneration, anything can me made godlike. Look at Gnesha, the elephant-headed many-limbed god of luck of Hinduism. He is not terribly attractive, but he has devotees the world over.

So for you fans of Tolkein, I am sorry. There will be no elves, just as there will be no vampires. Now please allow me to return to the myth at hand.

come in many forms: huldrå of the forests, the sjörå of the lakes, havsrå of the sea, bergsrå of the caves. Their duty, as perceived by man, is to protect and care for the particular natural element they inhabited. When you look closely at their descriptions, however, I think you will find that they are one species, a kind of nexus of all the previous myths we have addressed. One race, living on the outskirts of the remotest regions, fending for themselves, camouflaged or clothed, crossing paths with man to varying consequences.

You say, “But they have tails, don’t they, Simon?”

Not necessarily. Some tales have tails. Others do not. And the fact is, someone could merely have misinterpreted a dead animal hanging from a belt as a tail. When you live away from humanity, and have a tenuous grip on sentience, spinning wheels are not so common. You get what you steal, and often that means you don’t get anything. Not to mention the fact that clothes often interfere with our movement. a belt is the only thing worth making really.

huldra_by_timswit

Hulderfolk, or ”hidden ones”, dwell in the woods, and while the “female” of the species are supposedly comely, the “male” are quite ugly, with rather prominent noses. I think it safe to point out that there probably are no gender distinctions to be made. The more attractive ones were merely much more approachable, and thusly, equated with femininity. So too is it possible, as one image from the 1800’s suggests, that the “females” were simply dressed as women. Keep in mind also, the standards of beauty for the region: pale skin, lustrous hair, strong muscle. Dark eyes and hair would have been exotic, perhaps even lovely. Thus, the myths of beautiful forrest-dwellers can probably be distilled down to an encounter in the twilight of the North with a thin, pallid, creature in a dress, who looked nothing like anything the poor sod had ever seen before. She smiled demurely, and he was smitten. So, let us take these distinctions with a grain of salt, for all the in all their masculine and feminine forms.

What is important to note, is that the humans who worked the kilns would often leave huldrå gifts of food, in exchange for their assistance in guarding their fires at night. In ancient Germanic folklore, the holda was a witch, her festival celebrated during the “dead time” of winter when corpses were thought to roam: “The Twelve”. You may know it as The Twelve Days of Christmas…

The havsrå are an analogue to the mermaid, in some respects. Like any myth that has persisted for a lengthy time, they have many descriptions and forms. The most common image is a lithe and naked woman, combing her unwieldy, seaweed-like hair atop a rock. They too will provide their services in exchange for provisions. Similarly, the freshwater variety appear to float up from the depths and stare at passers-by, eat fish at them, or capsize craft and rob the struggling swimmers. But they too have a kindly streak, often guiding drowning men to safety.

Bergsrå of the mountains are cave-dwellers, and while they usually spend most of their time driving miners mad by stealing their tools, eating their food, and scaring the holy breath out of them, they are also known to kidnap the odd wanderer, spend an evening acquainting themselves with him, and then setting him upon the path home.

Who can really say if any of these tales are factual? I find it more likely that men capsized their own boats while staring at the eerie, nude monster along the shore, who was doing nothing more nefarious than eating lunch. Perhaps the wayward travelers were understandably exhausted and woke to find their fires being tended by creatures they’d rather befriend than antagonize. I have done many things for humans, including tend kilns, and so long as payment was received, my teeth were never bared. Once home, these humans told wild tales, and forevermore, any passing bird that cawed at the sound of thunder was thought to be a transformed sea nymph, any woman who crossed paths with you in the forest was a witch, and any odd sound from an unstable mineshaft was probably a troll.

Who can say? What I do know is that there were many men who never returned home, and their stories are much darker. Better to meet a than his hungry counterpart.

Image by timswit of Deviantart

Monstrous Myths: The Ghoul

Modern man has a highly unflattering image of the ghoul. That is to say that his impression is rather more like a zombie, mindlessly haunting a graveyard and stumbling around without fine motor skills. That is a very dangerous perception, and the Caliphates of the 14th century would shake their heads at you. The Sumerians would shun.

blightborn_ghoul_by_yanzi_5-d5lhkzz

The ghoul is an ancient demon. In fact it is one of the oldest myths that the continuity of human history can supply. Its origins date back to the first written stories, and it is not something with which one trifles.

Much like a hungry Yours Truly.

The gallu of Cuneiform lived in hidden places: ruins, burial grounds, and mountain tops. They hovered around the outskirts and “dragged the souls of the dead to the underworld”. I set that last line in quotation for a reason – to draw attention to the fact that that phrase bears a very close resemblance to the modern one as a euphemism for committing murder. For a very very long time, humans have said “I shall send you to your maker” rather than “I will kill you.” – which of course, no one would shout within earshot of people who might stop them. It would not be too far from the mark to suggest that the primary occupation of the gallu is not in fact in service to a deity, or a divine order, but that they were simply killing folks because they felt like it. The author who set down their myth in clay was merely being artistic.

That aside, gallu hang about, weaving into the folklore of Judaism, Islam, and Christian. From the gollum to the ghul of One Thousand and One Nights, they haunt the desert, the outskirts, finding ways to tempt the unwitting out into their territory so that they may consume them in peace. It is said they also eat recently deceased corpses, devour children, drink blood, and hoard wealth by rifling through pockets, graves, unguarded houses. This insatiable hunger, like that of the obour, makes their name synonymous with greed, even in the vernacular of today’s Middle Eastern cultures.

Whatever your particular vantage on the myth, the ghoul is certainly a creature that prays upon human misfortune and is crafty, if only in its ability to ensnare humans and rip them to shreds.

The behavioral comparison to my species seems evident. What is less so are the physical descriptions of such creatures. They can apparently change shape, but as I have upon many previous occasions, I will argue that this is simply a human way of explaining some other catastrophic event, for which the ghoul is not to blame. If you are stupid enough to leave your infant unattended, and it is snatched away by a large and fearless hyena, of course you will not wish to blame yourself. Instead the hyena is not a normal hyena – the sort you have outsmarted a dozen times before, the sort your infant has cooed at and giggled over. That hyena must be a demon in disguise. You rage against heaven or chaos, instead of taking responsibility, instead of killing hyenas, one of nature’s most hideous and malevolent creatures, you instead target me and mine.

Perhaps the human mind must find reasons to blame us, if only to muster the courage to destroy their only natural predator. Perhaps your desire to blame us for all your misfortunes is simply an adaptation. Perhaps you need it. I will not argue that it is vestigial, like the appendix. Instead, I will absolve you of guilt, and say that while I find this annoying, I do not take offense. You cannot help it.

I digress.

In all other ways, the ghoul is a perfect analogue to the obour, the classic wendigo, even the more exotic sounding gorgon. They are all one monster, fast, strong, in love with shiny things, sharpening their intellect by hunting the sentient. Most importantly – they are ravenous.

The image used here is a painting entitled Blightborn Ghoul  by  yanzi-5 of Deviantart