“Most people forget that the oldest stories of the beginning are sooner or later about ‘blood’.”
Moving away from the fertile crescent, skipping forward hundreds of years and throughout the known world we’ve had the growth of Christianity and Islam, the struggles between the two, technological progress of firstly the renaissance and then the industrial age to the modern age, power struggles and world wars have shaped the landscape and now society is very, very different.
In Christianity the flesh and blood have been fetishized into bread and wine. Ritual meals with the dead still take place every Sunday morning and most prominently, during All Saints and All Souls Days, where the dead are feasted with either by the collection of candy, or grave visits such as those common at Dia de los Muertos festivals.
This isn’t the whole picture. In many cultures blood plays an important part in ritual contexts. In many cultures stemming from Africa the blood of animals or humans is used in juju magic, which does not by necessity mean ‘bad’ or ‘black’ magic, it can govern any facet of life and fetishes, spiritual tokens, amulets are imbued in a ritual context, which usually includes some form of meal or food, where the offering of blood binds the process together, forms pacts between peoples and the dead or spiritual creatures or deities, and can revitalise an individual with new life from the life in the blood that has been ‘shared’.
These are just commonplace examples of well documented cases, without mentioning Aztec blood rituals, Chinese, Indian etc. I do not mean to write an exhaustive essay on blood rites across the world. I have a direct point which is summed up by the quote at the top of the article; an insight from the late Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, that everything comes back to blood.
Which is intrinsically linked to death. In Ancient Greece there was a Temple known as the Necromanteion, the Oracle of the Dead. Located in Epirus and said to stand on the converging rivers of the Acheron, Pyriphlegethon and Cocytus. The site is lost to us, there have been several possible temples but we may never be sure unless we find a sign saying ‘Hades was here’. It is documented however, and makes sense that Hades would have a temple considering the wealth of myth attributed to him and the necessity people have to contact their departed. There was a ritual process of purification, animal sacrifice, consumption of a meal, which may have included a hallucinogen, procession through the temple, tasks or questions asked of the petitioner before they could pose questions to the dead. The best description of the process is in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus petitions the ghost of Teiresias in the underworld, he sacrifices and ram and a ewe to pacify the restless spirits who gather about him. During the petition each ghost must drink of the blood sacrifice to speak with Odysseus, it gives them back enough life force, and Odysseus comes away with answers to his questions.
Ritual. Blood. Dead. Life. Magic. In my mind there is no magic in this world that is not necromantic magic. We have a very negative view of the dead, surprising as we are all heading that way, and the term ‘necromancy’ makes people think of goths and curses and evil. Proper usage is to bind the living and dead together in a dialogue. It was a secret of the ancient Dionysian cults, that the god of life and fertility had one name in summer but bore the name ‘Hades’ in winter. Like Osiris of Egypt, both the life giving Nile and governor of the dead. The dead go in the ground, from the ground comes life. This sounds very Lion King, or hippyish, but is entirely pragmatic in its dualism.
Now lets skip forward again to folklore. Keeping in mind the elements we’ve covered so far of Blood. Ritual. Dead. Life. Magic. There are creatures of folklore the world over that are axiomatically linked to these themes and no matter how much religion has tried to suppress them over the centuries they still prevail and today, even the least superstitious of persons know, from books and televised media of vampires, ghosts, daemons, fairies, goblins, elves, all which are derived from the same themes.
I could happily write posts on each of these creatures and explain how they fit in this narrative and were constructed from this panorama. But of principle note is the fairy.
All of these creatures belong to the fey. You may cry out against me. Your mentality may be so manipulated by the construction of the Victorian garden fairy that you cannot see how a vampire is a fairy which belongs to the realm of Blade or Buffy, or elves which are obviously brightly coloured assistants of Santa or angelic being of Lord of the Rings. You are mistaken. The vampire mythos is much richer than an action flick, Santa himself is a fairy and Tolkien wrote on the derivation of his elves as beings from the afterlife if you take the time to read his books and not just watch the movies.
Fairyland is none other land than ‘The Perilous Realm’, the land of the dead, the afterlife. I may have to write an article to support that statement but for now, go with it. Elves are our dead, the Alfr of Scandinavia are our ancestors who were given ritual feasts and blood sacrifice, the fairy mounds are grave sites, the fairy are left out devotions of food, vampires are creatures that step from the dark to feed on blood, the redcap goblins feed on the blood of the living, lambkin of the moss bathes in the blood of children, the list is nigh endless but all want one thing. Life. Life from blood. Some are good. Some are bad. The world in which they live is the last undiscovered country to which we must all eventually survive. It is a bleak future with little promise of reward of a good life. It is where the magic comes from, but always at a price. It is my world of fantasy which is so imbued by history, myth, religion and folklore that it is too close to home for many.
No heaven. No hell. Something other. Now and then we can glimpse it. I have glimpsed it, and I have some stories to tell.