Vampires are one of the most common and popular themes in horror fiction. An enduring trope that continues to fascinate readers throughout the generation. But how do we imagine vampires? How do our ideals compare to the original vampires of folklore? The Succubi of Ancient Greece and Rome, and the haunting vampires of Slavic cultures throughout Eastern Europe.
Before the publication of Bram Stocker’s Dracula, the majority of vampires in prose or poetry were based on vampiric folklore, particularly from Slavic cultures, where vampires were almost always female. The recent popularisation of vampires in literary fiction and film has seen a reversal of the vampire identity where the vampire is now more often male and female vampires are a rarity.
Two of my recent microfictions will feature in Blood Lust by Black Ink Fiction. “The Hungering” focuses on a young female vampire, portraying her as the traditional vampire, a seductively dangerous predator but one who grapples to control her nature and blood lust. “The Burial” is a different look of vampiric folklore, instead focusing on an archaeological excavation and the discovery of a suspected vampire burial, the beliefs of the historical culture and the superstition of the modern cultures, a linking across time based on the strong belief and fear of vampires.
Disclaimer: I am genuinely creeped out by zombies.
Infection (Legends of Night Drabbles, #1) from Black Ink Fiction was an unlikely theme for me, but I am excited to say, I’ll be a featured author in this zombie/walking undead microfiction anthology. My 100 word drabble “The Revenants” is a dark fiction inspired by witchcraft, reanimation and the consequences of meddling with the fabric between life and death.
Keep a close eye on updates for more details on release date of Infection (Legends of Night Drabbles, #1) coming in 2021.
There’s any number of great epic dark fantasy books and series that explore the darker nature of humanity from the point of mercenaries, assassins and anti-heroes.
I decided to delve into some of that inspiration and an anti-hero protagonist in a flash fiction story. What motivates characters to choose a darker path? Does the morally ambiguous road they follow trouble their conscience?
The result was an interesting character with a psyche primed to survive, whatever the cost. A “riches-to-rags” story in the underbelly of a fantasy metropolis where the only ones imagining a hero are dependent on an anti-hero to survive. “The Hero of Silversmiths” will feature in the Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2) Anthology, coming soon in 2021.
One of the most interesting folklore research I did recently involved the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica. I have always been fascinated by the Aztec Empire and the many intriguing mythologies and my latest research was into the god of Underworld, Mictlantecuhtli. The death-god is often depicted in constant combat with the opposing force, the god of renewal Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. The two gods are constantly locked in a fight for supremacy, the balance between life and death.
The Aztecs practised human sacrifice on a colossal scale in the late stages of the empire. Recent archaeological excavations in the sacred city of Tenochtitlan at the base of one of the largest pyramid temples, the Tempo Mayor, huge wooden racks of skulls were offerings to the gods of war and rain. The extreme numbers of suggested human sacrifices coincided with Aztec empire expansion, it was probably considered necessary to appease the gods who could provide battle success and the rains to grow crops and support an increasing population.
The Aztec Underworld or Mictlán was ruled by god Mictlantecuhtli. To the Aztecs, every soul no matter the privilege or poverty during life, would descend through the nine layers of Mictlán to face Mictlantecuhtli. Not surprisingly, worship of Mictlantecuhtli was important to all Aztecs and during the Aztec month of Tititl , the temple Tlalxicco conducted a specific ritual human sacrifice. A chosen sacrifice became the embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli and sacrificed at night to honour the god.
In my flash fiction story, I was inspired by the elaborate skeletal depictions of Mictlantecuhtli and the creation myth where Quetzalcoatl is deliberately delayed in the Underworld while searching for the bones of every creature destroyed in the previous world. The Aztecs, like many past civilisations, had a cyclic view of time rather than a linear one. Drawing on inspiration from depictions of Mictlantecuhtli adorned in carved bones or as a skeletal figure, my flash fiction story was set during the Aztec month of Tititl at night at the temple Tlalxicco. Here the ritual sacrifice gruesomely transforms the flesh embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli into a skeletal representation of the death-god before sunrise.
Pleased to announce I will be joining a wonderful lineup of authors for New Tales of Old, Volume 1 to be published in 2021 by Raven and Drake Publishing! All stories and flash fiction in this anthology were inspired by the retelling and reimagining of fairytales. My story “A Trail of Corpselights” is inspired by gothic folklore of forests and the folklore behind corpselights, also known as Will o’wisps. You can read more here. My second story included in the volume is “The Dark Harpist” a reimagining of the Pied Piper of Hameln legends and the fairytales and folklore of the singing bones and enchanted harps. You can read more about this story here.
Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the New Tales of Old, Volume 1 will be updated when available. You can also keep an eye on my publications page here.
The past several weeks, I have been exploring many different aspects of European folklore, particularly involving the Fae. Below is a series of some of my research favourites, fae beings and associated folklore.
Seelie and Unseelie Fae
In Scotland, the Fae are often divided into the Seelie and Unseelie courts, or the Light and Dark , respectively. Unlike the Irish Fair Folk, the Seelie and Unseelie beings follow a stricter divide, those fae which are malevolent are found in the Unseelie Courts, while those who are more kindly toward mortals such as brownies (but like all fae beings, this does not mean there is no in dealing with the seelie. Just with all Fae beings in Icelandic, Irish and Welsh folklore, the tendencies of the Fae are not comprehensible by mortal means and their own needs will almost always take precedence.
In Iceland, elves are an integral part of Icelandic culture with folklore infused throughout everyday Icelandic life. Elf-stones as they are sometimes called are believed to be doorways to the underground realms and otherworldly lands where elves dwell. The disturbance of an elf-stones is often considered a major concern with recent road construction and a series of disasters befalling the site, workers and nearby region occurring when a recognised elf-stone was moved. Subsequently, the stone was relocated and the course of the highway adjusted to avoid disturbing the area further.
In Icelandic legend, the renowned waterfall Skogafoss, a spectacular waterfall in southern Iceland, fed by glacial melt is also associated with a legend of elves, buried treasure and the founding of the Icelandic landscape. A Viking Age sorcerer, Þrasi Þórólfsson directed the flow of two rivers threatening the drown nearby villages sparked the volcanic eruption of in the Mýrdalsjökull Caldera. According to the legend, a chest containing a valuable and powerful symbol of Þrasi’s magic was stored and guarded by the elves at Skogafoss until his return. Þrasi’s ring is believed to be just one small part of the treasure the sorcerer left buried and guarded behind Skogafoss but never returned to claim.
The Oak and Holly Kings
Throughout the British Isles and in some Germanic folklore, the Oak and Holly kings are ancient rivals, a timeless battle between Summer and Winter, Although both kings are sometimes depicted as older men the elemental and enduring nature of each gaining dominance only long enough until the next seasonal change. There have been some attention paid to the similarities with the ancient legend of the Horned god, or the Green Man.
Cornwall, while considered by many as a part of the UK , the Cornish people have their own unique legends and folklore Amin to The British lands. Pixies are known generally as mischievous and practical jokes. The Cornish pixies have become very popular in folklore and, where can be associated Piskies as they are often referred to in Cornwall, rare and responsible for the classic saying ‘away with the pixies.”
Piskies as they are often referred to in Cornwall, rare and responsible for the classic saying ‘away with the pixies.”
The Yuletide Troll
In Iceland, folklore and legend of trolls can be found at nearly every strange rock formation. Constant volcanic activity in Iceland has meant the these are plentiful and these formations are believed to be the mountain-dwelling trolls who were caught in the dawn sunlight, instantly turned to stone. Testimony to the Icelandic trolls versus the popular media view that they are stupid and slow-witted, is the dark yuletide legend of the troll-witch Gryla. You won’t find any stories in Iceland of red-nosed reindeer, present-making elves or a merry St. Nicholas. Instead, one of the oldest legends is Gryla and her 12 Yule lads, twelve mischievous and sinister trolls present for 12 days before and after Christmas Day, or the length of Yuletide. But on Christmas Eve, the Yule Lads’ mother leaves her mountain home to stalk the night. Gryla takes orphan children who, without the protection of hearth and home, are defenceless. Once stolen away in a sack, they are taken back to her husband in their mountain cave and cooked into a stew. For Icelandic lore, the safety of having a home, protection of family and from the harsh Icelandic winter is embodied in the threatening figure of Gryla.
My research has been delving into the folklore of mortal dealings with the Fae. References to the performance of tasks, is common in folklore, see the Thompson Motif Index for an example of “Tests” present in folklore. In modern fantasy an traditional fairytales, three (also a commonly tool for repetition in fairytales) tasks or quests is often the number required by a mortal to complete in order to achieve the predetermined goal.
In a new short story, I was interested in presenting the three tasks in impossible nature of the Fae, tasks which no mortal could be expected to endure, or tasks which, if completed successfully, would render irreversible harm to the mortal who completed them. I was interested too, in a way the Fae might silence anyone who successfully completed the tasks and therefore, defeated them.
In choosing the mortal who could endure all manner of tasks, which would be irreversible punishments, I chose someone to whom the Fae would also inherently fear and respect to a degree. The role of bards in ancient societies was more than provide entertainment, they provided record keeping, biographical accounts of battles or certain heroes and could as easily turn opinion against someone as turn it in their favour. The traits most important to any man able to support a family including a bard, is the strength or health of his body, the fine-tuned senses of touch in hands on instruments and the ability to sing. The completion of three tasks would require the mortal to endure tests that could permanently disfigure or damage but not to outright kill. These were some of the darker aspects that impossible tasks could take when mortals made deals with the Fae, a reason why such battles were rarely won or, as my story suggested, kept silent if they did succeed.
Another of my recent work-in-progress short fiction pieces, has been a dark fiction story inspired by wendigo psychosis an unusual form of ‘cultural psychosis’ specific to First Nations peoples of Canadian-North American Great Lakes regions where belief in a supernatural being, the wendigo, provides a unique cultural framework for a psychosis. This psychosis has specific disease symptoms which like the cultural belief – is unique – and found nowhere else in the world.
What is a wendigo then? It is a legendary being originating from northern Algonquian First Nations oral folktales and legends (recently popularised in supernatural fiction and movies), described in varying ways but, almost always, as a ravenous cannibalistic monster with an insatiable hunger. Historically, the First Nations peoples including the Algonquian, Cree and Ojibwa attributed wendigo possession to those driven mad in the harsh winter months of isolation and deprivation who resorted to cannibalism, often without a famine present.
In this short story, I was interested to take wendigo folklore and wendigo psychosis deliberately outside its necessary cultural context to explore the shadowy boundary between reality and insanity, and the inherent horror of uncertainty: a human monster or monstrous possession? This story was written through a single character’s point of view, exploring the darker, unintentional psychological motivations of a declining mental state and attempts to rationalise violent, aberrant behaviour.
I have recently finished writing a dark fiction short story inspired by the theme of wrath. My recent story focused on an unlikely suspect for a violent crime spree to explore the intersection between modern and past perspectives of criminal theory, such as aberrant psychology currently explaining what past eras accredited to demonic possession. The foundations of my short fiction developed from demonology resources, often examining demons from different cultures and the specific traits and proclivities associated with each of them, including the possession and influence of human emotions and actions like anger, violence, war, deception and murder.
I have been writing a new short fiction work inspired by the liminal folklore in some Inuit cultures. The liminal folklore I was interested to explore are closely linked to the harsh environment of northern Canada, from the permafrost and sea ice, where the risks from exposure and isolation are very real. The First Nations are the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Inuit “the People” occupy the traditional northernmost lands- called Inuit Nunangat, encompassing the northwest territories, northern Labrador and northern Quebec, consisting of 35% of Canada’s landmass and 50% of the coastline. To the Inuit, the land, water and ice are vital parts of the whole.
In a landscape of treacherous sea ice, blizzards and permafrost, traditional stories are told throughout generations to provide warnings for the dangers in disobeying laws and customs which are often closely tied to the history and landscape. There are several different beings in Inuit folklore that prey upon those who stray from the camp, children who become lost and the disorientating danger of the permafrost. Among these are the Taqriaqsuit or the “shadow people”, beings who are invisible or half-seen, who are heard but not seen but where a veil must be crossed between our world and their own. Beings also exist beneath the the sea ice, the Qallupilluk are child-snatchers who prey on children who stray too close to the dangerous frozen waterways and pack ice.
My latest short fiction work has been an interesting endeavour to explore unforgiving natural environments and internal psychological upheaval where the liminal world of the Taqriaqsuit and the Qallupilluk merges with the eerie north Canadian landscape and half-seen beings of folklore become a new reality.