Friday, September 25, 2015

Demonology Files: Lilith

Ever hear of Adam's ex?
They broke up over vanilla sex.

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Lilith: "I don't know why everyone has a problem with snakes. I mean, look at this cute little guy!"

In the garden of Eden, God created man, named Adam, from the earth. Also from the earth, He created a woman, named Lilith.

(But Christina, I'm looking at Genesis right now. It was Eve! Who was created from Adam's rib, not the earth. This lady Lilith isn't mentioned anywhere.

I know, I know. Shut up and listen to the story.)

For a while, Adam and Lilith were a happy couple. They were living in a garden of plenty and immortality. It's hard to be upset about that.

But there was a problem. Adam was a bit traditional in the bedroom. The guy liked missionary style. That's fine every now and then, but Lilith wanted to try something new. She wasn't getting crazy with costumes and dildos; she just wanted to be on top.

Adam said no. He was "the superior one" and Lilith, as a woman, was "only fit to lie in the inferior position."

Lilith argued that they were both created from the earth. Ergo, they're both equal. But Adam wouldn't listen to her, and she wouldn't listen to Adam.

When she realized this was getting nowhere, Lilith said, "F*** this," and left the Garden of Eden.

(I am not making this up. They seriously broke it off because of sex and Lilith was so angry she willingly left the garden. That's got to be the worst divorce in history.)

Outside of the garden, Lilith met hundreds of demons, and had sex with a lot of them. Even Satan was there, and he didn't mind taking the bottom bunk one bit.

God was just grossed out, and you can't really blame Him. If you're all-knowing, then you're constantly subjected to way too much information that you'd rather not know. He was also stunned with the number of babies Lilith was having. I don't know why He was surprised. If you have a lot of sex before the age of effective birth control, you're going to have a lot of kids.

He tried to talk her into coming back to Eden and being Adam's wife. When she refused, He cursed her, condemning her kids to an early grave. Every day, one hundred of her descendants will die.

Lilith wasn't too happy about that. Unless an amulet with an angel's name is hung over a newborn infant, she'll kill it.

The end!

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I don't know what Adam was thinking. Lucifer clearly got the better end of the deal.

You're not going to find this story in the Bible. Its earliest recording is the Alphabet of ben Sirach, a medieval text (dated around 700-1000 CE) that's a collection of Hebrew and Aramaic proverbs. Whether or not this story was known before the book was written, nobody knows.

I like this story. I think someone took a look at Genesis and asked, "If Adam was created from the earth, why was Eve created from his rib?"

And someone probably said, "Well, that would've made women equal to men."

"Well, what's wrong with that?"

Cue Lilith, who dared to ask for equal treatment and better sex.

Obviously, Lilith didn't get a lot of sympathy in ancient times. There's the child-murder, for one thing. These days, that part's usually dropped in modern retelling. But aside from that, ancient people had a bigger problem with Lilith. This is a woman who doesn't take shit from any man--human, god, or otherwise--and who decided sexual freedom was better than married life. *gasp* Scandalous!

These days, Lilith's getting a lot more sympathy. During the feminist movement of the 1960s, there was a surge of Liliths. Essays, stories, articles...there was even a whole magazine called Lilith in 1976 written by Jewish feminists. The movement upgraded Lilith from demon/monster to strong female symbol.

Modern Satanists (yeah, these guys are a thing, and some of the nicest people I've ever met) elevated Lilith to a goddess, since she's often seen as Satan's consort, and therefore, Princess of Hell. She's seen as a strong female presence in Satanism, often as a deity of contraception and sexual freedom.

Personally, I see the evolution of Lilith as a positive sign in the world of women's rights. For thousands of years, a woman's worth was determined only by the man she married and the amount of children she had. If she did neither, then the only other option was being a nun. Above all, the men were in charge. You did not question that. That's why Lilith was so feared and hated: she ran counter to everything a "respectable" woman was.

Now, we see through Lilith's transformation the transformation of women as a whole. Or rather, the transformation of people's perspective of women. Man, woman, straight, gay, married, single, kids or no kids, the moral of Lilith's story is, "Who cares?"

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Visit

The Non-Spoiler Part

Peak-a-boo! I'm going to kill you!

In short, if you like psychological horror, go see it. Like, now. No, really, look up the times to your nearest theater and go. I know M. Night has let us down before, destroying our innocence and shattering our souls with such abominations as The Last Airbender and The Happening. But he's back!

It's very basic, low-budget, amazing acting and script. Two kids go to their grandparents', whom they've never met due to an ancient spat between their mom and the old folks, and stay there for a week. Things go from kinda weird old person stuff to WTF we need to leave now pretty fast.

The kids were amazing. The daughter, Becca (age 15), has the teenage superiority complex, but at the same time she's incredibly patient with her germaphobic brother Tyler (13). And the whole reason she's doing this visit is because she wants to reconcile her mom and grandparents (the rift between them is so bad, the mom doesn't even have any pictures of the grandparents anywhere in the house). So even with the annoying teenager act, she's such a sweetheart and you're instantly rooting for her.

They even manage to make the amateur rapper funny. In a good way! I don't know about you, but I hate amateur rapping. Scratch that, I hate rapping, with very few exceptions. So when we first saw Tyler's hobby, I cringed and thought, Oh, so this is why it's a horror movie. But, no, he's actually pretty good at it. And he decides that the best way to swear is by using the names of female pop singers, which is genius. I need to start doing that.

And it's GENDER-NEUTRAL. I can count on one hand all the movies that don't have a damsel in distress, that don't objectify women in the hopes that flashing boobs will bring more sales, and that do have both the boy and the girl be equally in danger and equally capable of fighting the bad guys. The Visit is now one of those movies. Thank you, M. Night!

I don't like the mom; she's pretty weak until the end. And because the kids are making a movie (and because the creators also did Paranormal Activity), it's entirely from their cameras. So there's a lot of jiggling and jostling of the frame.

...those are the only bad things I can say about it. It's a great film. It does a lot of that creepy, tense kind of horror that crawls under your skin (and you don't really notice until you're trying to go to sleep that night), mixed in with the jumps and starts that make wusses like me hide behind our palms and peak out from our fingers.

For more details, proceed to part 2.



All the Spoilers 


The kids convince their single mom to let them stay over at their grandparents' house while she goes on a sex-cruise with her boyfriend. Lord knows, a week with the old folks is a hundred thousand times better than the alternative.

They get there and everything's cool, even with the 9:30 bedtime. Of course, they decide to break that rule immediately and sneak into the kitchen for more of Grandma's cookies. Instead of cookies, they find Grandma sleep-vomitting (akin to sleepwalking, but with vomit).  

Apparently--and this is a real thing, people!--Grandma suffers a kind of dementia called "sundowning." She goes crazy at night, every night, right at 9:30 (ding! well, it's time to start traumatizing the kids!) because her brain thinks she's a werewolf and every night's the full moon.

Meanwhile, Grandpa's "cleaning his gun" (which apparently requires sucking on the barrel like a lollipop) and wearing adult diapers, because he's incontinent, and has decided to keep all of his poop-filled diapers in the shed. As opposed to, I don't know, throwing them away?

The kids see this as perfectly normal behavior, even when Grandma decides to freak them out during their hide-and-seek game beneath the house. Oh, and they can't go into the basement because "there's mold." I'm sure that's all it is.

The house gets a couple of visitors from the hospital where Grandma and Grandpa volunteer, though they're not home during these house calls. They were supposed to come in last week, but didn't. Hm. Weird.

Finally, the kids decide things have gone far beyond old-person strange. Though it might just be because Grandma tried to break into their room with a kitchen knife. These kids are so judgmental. I'm sure she was just going to trim the curtains and decided that midnight was the perfect time to do it.

They get their mom on Skype while Grandma and Grandpa are outside. They show her the folks through the window, and she drops the M. Night twist: "Those aren't your grandparents."

Turns out, the hospital where the real grandparents volunteer is a psychiatric hospital. Our old couple is a pair of serial killers, having locked their kids in trunks and chucking them in the lake. After hearing about Becca and Tyler, our resident crazies decided, "You know what, we want to be grandparents for a week."

The kids are stuck playing the worst game of Yahtzee ever with the "grandparents" while their mom rushes to the cops. Becca slips away to the basement. Because I'm sure the psychotic serial killers decided to keep the real grandparents alive, right?

Yeah, no. The "mold" is a pair of corpses.

Then it's 9:30, and the shit really hits the fan. Becca is locked in the bedroom with the crazy grandma (which is both terrifying and I'm sure the name of a very bad porno). Meanwhile germaphobic Tyler gets to deal with Grandpa's diapers.

That is, until Becca grabs a piece of the broken mirror and gets stabby with Grandma. She breaks out and goes toe-to-toe with Grandpa. When she starts to lose, Tyler goes batshit insane--and awesome--by tackling Grandpa like a pro footballer and bashing his head in with the fridge door.
  
So, yeah. That happened.

The end!


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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: Epic Legends of Fantasy

This was a feast of fantasy. It's an anthology of 17 short stories and novellas by some of the greatest authors in epic fantasy, from Ursula K. Le Guin to (my personal god) George R. R. Martin. Over 600 pages of dragons, (non-explicit) sex, sword fights, gods, prophecies, and absolutely no rules.

The Thanksgiving dinner of fantasy stories. Includes the coma that immediately follows.

They got me right from the start with Robin Hobb's "Homecoming." It's in a diary format, which can be a bit of a turn-off because usually the protaganist ends up doing a bunch of ramblings that have nothing to do with the storyline. I'm doubly cautious of protaganists who are authors or artists of some kind, because they tend to be stereotypical emotional whimps. But Hobb made it work. Carillion goes from being a snotty, stuck-up bitch to a community leader and savior. And even in the beginning, you're rooting for her because her husband's a stupid asshole who gets her whole family banished and starts all of her troubles in the first place.

We've all read the standard epic fantasy of a great hero who leads an army of men (and/or elves and/or dwarves and/or whatever) against the evil army and dark lord, triumphs, marries the prettiest girl around, becomes a king, and lives happily ever after.

Except they tend to forget that war is a deeply psychologically scarring experience for everyone involved, especially the soldiers (except for 2% who are most likely sociopaths). In "Strife Lingers in Memory," Carrie Vaughn devotes all of two pages to that epic battle we've read in every other book. The rest is that pretty girl--now a queen--trying to deal with her royal husband's night terrors and depression that he hides from the people so they can remember the hero who saved them and not see the man who's been broken.

Yeah, see, there's no way none of these guys have PTSD. Where can we find a therapist around here?
   
While most of these stories have traditional epic fantasy settings, part of having so many authors is a huge diversity of worlds. Aliette de Bodard's "As the Wheel Turns" is based off of Imperial China, which I almost never see. The "wheel" is reincarnation, and every spirit drinks a potion to forget their past life, except for Dai-Yu. She's cursed with remembering every one of her lives because she has to choose which ancient spirit will rule the land: Tiger or Crane. I would place this story somewhere in horror, too, because the stuff Tiger and Crane do to this woman is terrifying.
  There was one thing I noticed about all of these stories that was both weird and troubling, and that's the place of women. A lot of these tales have very strong female characters, for which I'm grateful. For example, Melanie Rawn's Queen Olga stars in a "Kill Bill" times ten and destroys the people who killed her husband in "Mother of all Russiya," and Kate Elliot's Kareka is smart and strong and tricks her fiance into thinking he's saved her and killed all of his enemies. And then she back-tracks and runs away with a witch, in "Riding the Shore of the River of Death."

And yet, all seventeen of these stories were almost entirely set in patriarchal societies. Every. Single. One. Some had brief scenes or mentioned an equal-gendered or even a matriarchal society, but we either never see it or we get it for all of two pages.

The matriarchal society that was the opener for "Bound Man" was taken over by a guy a generation later and was essentially destroyed. The rest of the story is about a female warrior from that society who kills a bunch of trolls for the new patriarchal society she now lives in. (Although it does end on a slightly hopeful note that she and her daughter will bring change to this community, but we don't actually see it. All we see is a bunch of troll guts and woman-bashing from arrogant lords.)

And I get it. Epic fantasy is primarily based on medieval Europe, which is not exactly known for the suffragist movement. Heck, our own society today is patriarchal and sexist. And if you have a strong female character, putting her in a patriarchal society only makes her tougher because that's even more challenges for her to overcome. (And who doesn't love it when a sexist prick gets kicked in the balls?)

But come on. You're telling me that, when asked to write a short story or novella, none of the greatest minds of fantasy thought to place their story in an equal-gendered or (if you must have inequality) matriarchal society? None? And those writers who didn't even have a strong female character in their story treated their women worse than Supernatural (see my grudge against that show here). The entire book is over 600 pages and seeing story after story of the oppression of my gender got real old real fast. I started getting pissed around page 250 and had to put it down for a while.

"How come we never get to do anything fun in these stories?"
"How can we? I can barely breathe in this corset. You expect me to fight?"
"...that's part of the problem."

But in the end, despite the overall anti-feminist vibe, these were all fantastic stories and I loved every one of them. And George R. R. Martin's novella "The Mystery Knight" was set in the Game of Thrones universe and actually had a happy ending. How often does that happen?

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Brief History of Werewolves

Just a few decades ago, werewolf stories were strictly barred within the horror section. They were something terrifying, mysterious, wild. They still are, except today that somehow translates to sexy. Your best shot at finding a 21st-Century werewolf is in the romance section. My question is how the hell did that happen?

I guess you could chalk it up to humans' relationship with wolves. For thousands of years, wolves have been man's (or at least White man's) enemy. You can go as far back as the Old Testament. Every time the word "wolf" shows up, it's depicting a vicious enemy or a curse (such as the "wolf in sheep's clothing" quote, which comes from Matthew 7:15). Wolves were bad news. They threatened the Europeans' livestock, which was often a family's only source of food and income. Some continue that feud to this day, so it makes sense that we've seen wolves as nothing but villains for centuries. The idea of a human turning into a wolf is terrifying.

It was, in fact, considered absolute fact in medieval and renaissance Europe. In the early 15th Century, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg (1410-1437) called an assembly to determine the validity of werewolves. They unanimously decided that not only were werewolves 100% true, but to say otherwise was considered a sin and therefore heretical. As in, "Bitch, you're gonna burn if you don't agree that this guy can painfully and completely change his anatomy, physiology, and DNA into a completely different animal because Jesus."

Romans weren't big on wolves, either, except for the one who supposedly saved their founding fathers Romulus and Remus (the two kids above). So the Romans had a relationship with wolves and werewolves like boys do with girls: they're all nasty and gross and should be pushed into the mud, except for Mom.

In 1588 in south-central France, a story started of a nobleman who was friends with a huntsman. He asked the huntsman to go into the woods and get him some game for dinner. The huntsman went with his arquebus (an old-timey gun) and a knife. Instead of finding deer or rabbits, he was attacked by a massive wolf ('cause, you know, that's perfectly normal behavior for regular wolves who are in fact shy and secretive). He fired his gun, missed, and almost got his throat torn out. He managed to defend himself and during the fight cut off the wolf's paw. It ran away the best it could with three legs, howling in pain. Seeing as it was almost dark out, the huntsman went back to the nobleman's castle. When asked if he'd had any luck, the huntsman went to show him the wolf's paw, but was stunned to see that it was a woman's hand. Further, there was a distinctive gold ring on one of the fingers that the nobleman recognized. Enraged, he went to his wife, who was sitting by the fire, her right hand hidden beneath her silks. He demanded to see her hand, and she showed him the bloody stump. Realizing that he'd married a werewolf, the nobleman handed her to the authorities, who burned her at the stake.  I guess they weren't that happily married to begin with, because geez.

Around the same time, in Germany, there were tales of demon worshipping wizards who, upon crossing a river, would turn into wolves and ravage the countryside. Twelve days later, they would cross the river again and turn back. The scholar who reported this, Kaspar Peucer, said the way to tell a man was one of these wizards was to smell their skin. Their human skin was simply the wolf hide turned inside-out, which, I don't know about you, but that sound extremely uncomfortable and itchy. I mean...what if they have fleas, and then they turn the pelts inside-out...

Like the feared witches and sorcerers, people who could turn into wolves were said to have made a pact with the devil. It's hard not to be afraid of such a person today in the theater, never mind at a time when they were believed to be a very real threat, which sounds utterly ridiculous today. How did anyone believe such things to be real? To the point that there were enforced laws about it? Utter lack of education of the masses and complete dependence on the Bible and superstition only go so far, and certainly not far enough to instill this level of fear and paranoia over thousands of years. But there are a few theories.

The signs of severe malnutrition include receding and bleeding gums, as well as excessive hair growth. 700-800 years ago, when nobility was in charge and acting like a bunch of jerks, such extreme starvation was very common among the poor, who may have scavenged for food in low light, much like a wolf. It didn't help that a lot of these people wore animal skins as protection from the cold, since American Eagle and central heating didn't exist back then.

Another theory points to poor grain storage. Bad rye seed can cause hallucinogenic reactions, and voila! Another werewolf sighting.

Mental health was unchecked at the time, and nobody knew of a type of schizophrenia called lycanthropy. The patient believes that he or she is a wild animal, such as a wolf or werewolf. Such patients have been known to growl and snarl at perceived threats, and to gnaw on furniture as if it were prey.

Look out, a werewolf! Get the--oh, wait, it's just Grandpa. False alarm, people!

What's funny is that while people who were believed to be werewolves were punished and killed in Europe (okay, maybe funny isn't the right word...), they were revered in pre-colonial America.

Wolves were teachers and guides to many Native American tribes, who wanted to know better ways to hunt and cooperate. Wolf spirits were thought to be some of the best guardians of humans and the spirit world. Hunters would wear wolf pelts to better absorb the wolf's strength and cunning. Whole tribal structures were based off of wolf pack hierarchy.
 
One Native American legend tells of a woman who found a wolf cub in the forest while she was collecting wood. The cub was abandoned, starving, and close to death. And because she was awesome, she carried him back to the tribe, where she fed and raised him. As the cub grew, he and the woman became close friends. One morning when they went to the river to collect water, the woman looked back and saw their tracks in the soft mud. Human and wolf prints turned to two sets of wolf prints. Concerned (and maybe a little freaked out), the woman spoke to the chief ("Dude, my footprints turned to wolf prints; WTF?"). He said that, to thank her for saving his life, the wolf had given her a gift: the ability to exist in both human and wolf form. That evening she sat by the water with her wolf friend and looked at her reflection. A female wolf looked back at her.

...those don't look like tracks left by Prada heels. 

In the end, everything falls into the eye of the beholder. Native Americans sought to live in harmony with nature, so the werewolf was the ultimate being, man and nature intertwined. The Europeans tried to tame nature and were terrified of magic, so the idea of the werewolf as the bad guy (whether as an evil wizard or a representation of the wild and anti-civilization) lasted thousands of years. Now, we have a deeper understanding of the wolf. We no longer fear magic. So the idea of a super-sexy werewolf hero translates to billions of blockbuster dollars.

Progress! I think.

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