Welcome my old friend, Masha Holl. We’re buddies from my days in San Antonio. ~DD
Delilah and I share a passion…and it’s not what you think. Sure, I’m as, um, seduced by her stories as any reader, but I get a particular enjoyment out of the mythical dimension she gives them.
Writers of paranormal, fantasy and science fiction must learn quickly that when they create a hero that is more-than, or other-than human, they must also create a villain, or at least obstacles, that will adequately challenge the hero. But what adds to Delilah’s stories is that she creates a whole world that fits her characters. A whole new structure, a whole new set of rules, beliefs, a whole new reality.
And why would that please me particularly?
Because I’m a folklorist.
I don’t just read and know folk tales and songs. I don’t just collect traditional recipes and study articles on the theoretical relationship between African spider stories and the Norse trickster god Loki. I look at how people lived with all these tales and beliefs.
It does help when I have to take myself into the heart of the story-world I am creating.
But you have to wrap your mind around concepts that are as alien to a modern person as particle physics are to a sixth-grader, to put yourself in the shoes of a medieval peasant.
At the core of traditional, non-scientific thinking we have the opposite kind of perception: magical thinking.
How does this work?
Modern man believes in science. I mean, we all know science, and we know that science works. From the simplest things like boiling water to sterilize it, or wiping surfaces with alcohol or bleach to disinfect them, to more complex concepts like computers and phones, which we may not be able to fix, but we know someone knows, they’re just objects made of other objects, and not constructs working on the mystical power of spells.
We don’t need to perform arcane rituals in order to propitiate some power before we turn on the TV, or else it might blow up in our faces. We just hit a button.
We only read about magic. In Delilah’s books, maybe.
The world centered on magical thinking works differently.
There are still rules, but every moment, every step you take may be governed by some arcane law. Every aspect of your life may require a ritual, from a simple gesture to a complex dance. Or else…
The tradition I know best is the Russian folk tradition, so let me give you some examples from that world.
Any opening had to be “covered” by the sign of the cross. If you yawned, you placed a quick sign of the cross in front of your mouth. If you had a pot, a jar, a cup with some contents (and no lid) that you needed to leave unattended, you made a sign of the cross over the opening, or placed crossed twigs over it, in addition, of course, to whatever covering you put on top to protect it from dust and flies.
Why? Because there are more than the visible flying around and these things must be stopped just like flies and dust.
For the same reason, particular care had to be taken with removing deceased people from their homes, lest their spirits found their way back. You couldn’t just carry them out the door: it was a familiar path they could find again in their after-life and return to their earthly abodes.
In some areas, after the proper religious rites were performed in the home, and before the deceased was taken to the church for the final rites, the body would be removed through the window.
In other areas, however, even that would not be deemed sufficient, and a special opening would be made in an outside wall for the purpose, and then resealed.
Belts, crosses on chains hung around the neck, embroideries at cuffs and hems were not mere decorations, either, however pretty and elaborate. They served as the same “gates” for spirits and other intangible forces, a protection for the wearer against outside influence.
Naturally, on special dates when divinations were performed, such protections were removed, and the practitioner would just keep on the undershirt, unbelted, unbuttoned, and untied.
Can you imagine the fear and thrill of such a moment? For the sake of getting an uncertain and unreliable glimpse of the future, you ventured naked… Well, imagine walking naked into a jail cell full of drunken bikers. Yes, the cops are there, with guns and Tazers and batons. But would they ever get to you in time?
Stupid and insane you say? Why? Because it’s a logical, obvious, and tangible threat?
But the treat of the unknown, of the intangible and the unseen, was just as real and immediate to those living in a system of magical thinking and magical belief. If someone dies or goes insane during such a ritual, we might attribute it, with our modern science, to a heart attack, or a stroke.
A stroke due to an undiagnosed condition in an otherwise healthy, young, and strong individual.
How likely is that?
But are we all that sure of the true cause of the physical symptoms, and isn’t the unseen only so much better at hiding under our disbelief?
Masha Holl was raised on Russian folklore and French cuisine. Today, she writes science fiction and fantasy, and plays with computer graphics. Romance brought her to the U.S.A., so expect love and happy endings in her stories.
Check out Masha’s latest release!
Erik has no memories that go back more than five years. And no one knows how he’s lost them. No memories, no prejudices, and an empathic ability. It makes him the perfect diplomat for the Space Guild.
Then how can he remember the woman he saved from an explosion in space? Does she hold the key to his locked past? Is she the key to his future?