Krakens, Basilisks, Clam-monsters

In his book Mirages on the Sea of Time (which I plan to return to) Edward Schafer describes a  monstrous mollusc with many of the traits of Hugo’s horrible octopus:

In imaginative literature, particularly, but also in some soberer sources, the ch’en mollusc acquired more extravagant attributes. It was transformed into a monster lurking in dark lairs — mysterious submarine grottoes — where it assimilated some of the traits of a sea-dragon, frothing at its ambiguous mouth and belching bubbles into the world of man, in a way somewhat reminiscent of the occidental dragon crouched over its kingly hoard and spouting puffs of smoke and fire:

“He worked his jowls and dripped saliva, gaping and sucking, so that people took him to be a veritable sea-basilisk [kraken, giant squid ]  or dragon-clam [clam-monster]”.

Edward Schafer, Mirages on the Sea of Time, California, 1985, p. 81

Oddly, this mythical creature (like the dragon “hid in the deep”, of which it may be a prototype or relative) is not regarded as evil. It’s merely one of the strange creatures living in an undersea Taoist fairyland corresponding to the terrestrial Kun Lun Mountain fairyland, and its most prominent power is the creation of the strange nautical mirages or fata morganas  which sometimes confuse sailors.  Schafer speaks of it as a kind of clam, but it behaves more like a cephalopod, and Schafer probably should have treated it as one (or perhaps, since it’s mythical,  as a hybrid clam-squid.)

Whether the Taoist clam monsters have anything to do with the thetan clams who have left bivalve engrams deep in our psyches, or with the Pirates of the Caribbean Kraken,  is unknown to me.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 1:29 am  Leave a Comment  

God of Confusion

W.B. Kristensen once remarked that the supposition that the origin of a phenomenon is simpler and more easily understood than that which proceeds from it, is untenable.  Every origin is in itself already a complex phenomenon, sometimes of an even more mysterious nature than that which it is supposed to explain.

Seth, God of Confusion,

    H. Te Velde, Brill, 1977

Seth was the Egyptian trickster / fool god of disorder, confusion and separation, deviance and licentiousness,  deserts, borders, foreigners and their gods, drunkenness, thunder, war, nightmares, crocodiles, and death. He was Horus’s uncle, seducer, and wife (and by Horus, the mother of Thoth), but they were also enemies, and when young Horus reached his full growth he tore Seth’s balls off. At times two were a duality in yin-yang opposition, at other times Seth ceased his independent existence and was absorbed into his nephew, at still other times they were joined into a Horus-Seth unity, and in the end Seth became simply evil. (more…)

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 3:55 am  Comments (1)  

From Scythia to Camelot

From Scythia to Camelot, Scott Littleton and Linda Malcor, Routledge, 2000 (revised ed.)

Colarusso: Nart Sagas of the Caucasus, Princeton, 2002.

Bachrach: History of the Alans in the West, Minnesota, 1973.

Darko, E., “Influences Touraniennes Sur l’Evolution de l’Art Militaire des Grecs, des Romans, et des Byzantins”, Byzantion #10, 1935.

“The Secret History of the Mongols and Western Literature“, John Emerson

This book argues that many of the main themes of the Arthurian legend can be traced back to the myths of the Alans — Northern Iranian nomads whose cavalry units served in the late Roman military. This kind of thing is right down my alley, and I mentioned this book in an earlier piece without having read it yet. A strong case can be made that the equestrian military forms and equipage of the medieval European aristocracy can be traced back to Alanic antecedents from the early Dark Ages, and this book merely extends this case to the literary culture of chivalry.

The methodology is philological, pre-structuralist, and pre-postmodern. The easy way out would be to follow Levi-Strauss or Deleuze and read it as mere proliferation — just another version of the myth, no truer than any other and part of a long series beginning with the Breton poets, Wace, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Sir Thomas Malory, et. al. and ending with T.H. White and Lerner and Loewe. (Alan Lerner, as it happens.)

But what Littleton and Malcor want to do is just the opposite: they’re saying that in actual fact, the Arthurian legends (which have always been set in the distant past) came into existence within the mixed Alano-Celto-Roman elites holding out in Britain and Brittany after 400 A.D. or so (at which time the legends referred back to a Roman soldier of two centuries earlier). Beyond that, they argue that those themes in the Briton-Breton legends which are shared with the Nart sagas of the Ossetes in the Caucasus (descendents of the Alans and of the Scythians) can ultimately be traced back to the pre-Roman steppe, rather than to Britain or Brittany.


Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment