(urth) Soldier of Sidon writeup

Ab de Vos foxyab at casema.nl
Mon Apr 2 02:13:16 PDT 2018

Both group-internal violence as in human sacrifice or external violence 
as in war are both embedded in myth and ritual. Nowadays, propaganda and 
scapegoating groups of people are comparable to myth. The concept of the 
sacred was involved in both acts of killing as in holy war (O.T. Israel, 
Uria the Hittite, Gideon) or even burials (Human sacrifice in graves 
excavated at Ur). Of course the sacrificial patterns change over time 
and culture. Even the economy may be viewed as a sacrificial pattern 
with its own glory (capital), power (money), sacraments (consumptive 
wealth) and divinity (the invisible hand of the market system). If we 
take technology into account and the way it is fetishized we have one 
underlying pattern to both fantasy and science fiction and indeed 
(modern) culture. Biblical Cain is represented as the father of smiths 
which may be an example of early culture criticism.

Op 2-4-2018 om 03:10 schreef David Stockhoff:
> Marc, I'm working through your write-up for Latro in the Mist. I've 
> barely scratched the surface, but your voice is authoritative, your 
> writing is clear, and your arguments are logical and yet sensitive to 
> all the mysteries and motivations of Wolfe's story and characters. 
> It's more than solid---it's definitive. I stand in awe!
> You note, regarding the Great Mother's aversion to iron, that "Beyond 
> the fairy tradition, it does not seem that a clear reason for the 
> aversion to iron is ever given..." This issue has always bothered and 
> fascinated me---the reasoning behind the fairy tradition and how it is 
> (inconsistently) used in literature as well as specifically how it 
> works here. Why would the Mother behave like a fairy, and why would 
> Ares behave like a human? If this is the case, is either entity 
> diminished or enlarged by this treatment? Does it reveal basic 
> assumptions about gods, or is it a forcing of categories necessary 
> under some strict Wolfean scheme, or merely a convention?
> The question of why fairies dislike iron may be one of those that 
> can't ever satisfactorily answered. All sorts of arguments have been 
> made, including contradictory ones. For example, (1) "Iron has magical 
> properties" such as magnetism; it was first known and used in the form 
> of meteoric iron (literally, "sky iron") and was used in lightning 
> rods on church steeples (2) "Iron signifies ironworking and other 
> human skills"  that are naturally inimical to fairies, who only use 
> "natural" materials or magic and can't even tie shoes (3) "Iron is 
> from the earth and fairies are sky creatures."
> These principles can be applied to good effect in fairy stories that 
> address a limited aspect of the magical world (e.g., the meteoric 
> elf-armor-slicing sword in /The King of Elfland's Daughter/, or the 
> glamours of /Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell/). But theories #1 and #2 
> are generally negated by the fact that fairies (and gods) can be both 
> skilled ironworkers */and /*masters of magic. And #3 is just lazy new 
> age nonsense.
> Comprehensive discussion of fairies---and hot babes---here: 
> http://www.medbherenn.com/faerie-lore.html
> I'm not sure we actually know anything concrete about historical 
> worship of the Great Mother. Maybe Wolfe is just applying Occam's 
> Razor to fill in a gap where it serves his plot. But somehow the 
> Mother's aversion to iron has to fit with both the universal folklore 
> tradition about the (un)dead and the worship of Pleistorus as you 
> describe it: "the War God of the Thracians receives sacrifices to an 
> iron sword planted in the ground which represents him both in 
> Herodotus and in *Soldier of Arete*."
> How can the natures of the Mother and Pleistorus be so fundamentally 
> incompatible that they respond differently to the same elemental 
> material? Or is this something operating above the level of elemental 
> divinity? Perhaps it makes sense to assume an opposition of the divine 
> female principle to the male, but (a) why represent this opposition 
> with iron blades (b) why force Ares into representing the male 
> principle just because he wields a sword?
> Three lines of thinking could apply to both fairies and the Great 
> Mother, and I think they are instructive.
> First, iron can symbolize the life force, because it channels 
> lightning, smells like blood, and can be reshaped, meaning that 
> fairies, being originally dead (originating in ancestor worship, are 
> hurt by it. When Tolkien's blades are forged and reforged, this is in 
> part iron/steel being used to represent the life force (though it can 
> also signify the death force in the form of "satanic mills"). Because 
> iron has "life" in it, it can be used to bind the spirits of the dead. 
> This belief underlies iron cemetery fences, knives under the cradle, 
> and iron-bound coffins for detested (i.e., vampiric) individuals.
> But Wolfe probably would not go for this explanation, since his gods 
> (unlike the Nazgul) are actually positive forces who reflect the true 
> God. It also seems like a later, rationalizing response to 
> technological development and the Carolingian relegation of the pagan 
> gods to superstition, rather than true Iron Age belief. However, this 
> principle would allow life-sucking undead entities to be weakened by 
> or have reason to fear iron.
> Second, iron's best-known feature is that it can be made sharp 
> (sharper than stone or bronze) and tough and thus is (obviously) 
> associated with war. War means constant use of weapons against armor: 
> constant repair and sharpening of swords, as contrasted with the 
> ongoing making of new slingstones and spear and arrow heads. The fact 
> that Pleistorus is represented by a sword is telling. In fact, in 
> Hellas it might especially be associated with the Doric invaders of 
> the Iron Age, some of whom became the warlike Spartans, whose slaves 
> tell Latro (as noted) about their worship of the Mother and the 
> Spartans' destruction of her forests. Unlike spears and arrows and 
> bronze daggers, which feed people (iron plows came later, with the 
> Romans), swords are purely instruments of war (like an AR-15 vs. a 
> "hunting rifle").
> On the other hand, it seems likely that a goddess of harvest and 
> hunting would deeply prefer her sacrificial victims to be offered up 
> intentionally as a gift of value rather than as waste. The Mother 
> would not want battle corpses piled on her shrines or to be offered 
> victims killed in anger. But then, she is not in fact made weak by 
> iron, like a fairy, but simply "refuses to drink the blood of any 
> sacrifice which has touched iron." Indeed, she could reasonably abhor 
> all violence other than that needed to gather food, since it 
> diminishes her worshipers and their reliance on her, or sanction only 
> violence that does not shed blood (such as strangling).
> This theory seems to support your overarching thesis of beating 
> Martian swords into plowshares, without necessarily relying on 
> traditions of fairies or the dead. But it resonates with these 
> traditions because they tell us both the gods and the dead are 
> sensitive to such matters. Furthermore, the methods of killing men in 
> war are also quite different from those used to kill animals; 
> similarly, methods of corpse disposal are different for honored humans 
> as opposed to hated ones, criminals, or animals.
> Regardless of how the gods felt about it, ironless animal and human 
> sacrifice was real. Forensic archaeology suggests that when humans 
> were ritually executed and committed to the bogs in northern Europe, 
> they were neither drowned (despite the obvious convenience of that 
> method) nor burned (even though that was the norm for that time and 
> place), nor killed with swords (perhaps too noble a death?), but were 
> instead strangled, hit on the head, axed, and/or had their throats 
> cut. Cutting throats does not need a strong blade that cuts through 
> bone and remains sharp.
> Their deaths were highly intentional, in other words, and resembled 
> animal sacrifice; they were performed with full knowledge of an 
> audience, whether human or supernal/infernal, and whether being killed 
> in this way was honorable or dishonorable. This seems to fit with the 
> traditions regarding fairies and the undead, but it's not obvious what 
> the underlying logic might be. If the spirits of the dead were feared 
> enough to need fending off with symbolic iron---but never with 
> swords---this might be explained by the "life force" theory. Perhaps 
> iron swords sent the warrior's spirit directly to the afterlife 
> without the gods' devouring it, while iron's life-affirming properties 
> denied the restless dead a return to this plane. Maybe the sacrifice 
> part was simply forgotten in folklore, for obvious reasons.
> https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/03/were-europes-mysterious-bog-people-human-sacrifices/472839/
> Personally, I am skeptical that human sacrifice to gods or elements 
> was routine, or that it occurred other than in times of famine or 
> other crisis. I suspect that at least some of these people were hated 
> and feared as malevolent beings (rightly or not) who required 
> denigration and treatment as animals. Whereas respected people might 
> be killed in battle and burned or buried with their retinues, the 
> "staged violence" and location of the bog peoples' deaths must have 
> been meant to deliver them and their spirits to the underworld in such 
> a manner that their spirits were destroyed, while others' spirits were 
> welcomed whole into the underworld. If that was the case, then it 
> could not have been the sacrificial victims whose spirits were feared, 
> but everyone else's, because the power of ritual was strong.
> And that is why the restless dead fear iron, water, and fire and not 
> string, clubs, or bronze (and it has nothing to do with "life force"). 
> (Other evidence suggests a similar logic for decapitation.)
> On 3/24/2018 4:11 PM, Marc Aramini wrote:
>> Here are the write-ups for Latro in the Mist and Soldier of Sidon. 
>> They are very long because they are meant to serve as annotated 
>> commentaries in the absence of annotated editions.
>> Latro in the Mist
>> https://pastebin.com/26eeCgit
>> Soldier of Sidon
>> https://pastebin.com/Pg615bEW
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