Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

All right, I’ve been scarily (ah-hah) bad about blogging recently. However, no way was I going to miss out on Hallowe’en, which is a feast that appeals to my sweet tooth and gives me costumes to look at (and photos for future blackmail to take). 

Of witches, werewolves, and vampires, dare I say, I don’t have a firm favourite when it comes to reading (or movies). (Yes, all right, calm down, there’s still plenty of Hallowe’en left to find me and feed me to a wandering hungry spirit…)

Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are pretty much unequaled for me when it comes to witches. They’re the traditional pointy-hatted type, but like almost anything the late Sir Terry had a quill in, they take the stereotypes and twist them into a pretzel, and provide a lot of awesome one-liners while they do it. 

Werewolves (and most other types of were-creature) are a fantasy and urban fantasy staple, and there are a lot of stories out there to pick from. I do rather regret the over-muscled “Alpha” stereotype, which always feels to me like the human author projecting pretty much the downside of a human mentality onto a character and using the “animal instincts” as the excuse, but I do have about three-quarters of my own were story saved on a thumb drive somewhere. The werewolf Alpha continually gets his come-uppance from a were-cat, in case you were wondering.

As someone’s about to point out, I do actually have a vampire novel out, Death is for the Living. It’s true. It also does bad, bad things to the traditional vampire tropes (vampire hunters on a yacht, in the Caribbean, anyone?), but I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m personally in favour of the slightly nastier vampire type – the type that has all the strength and magical or other abilities and lost any moral compass they started out with in a bar centuries ago.

So, without further ado, which mythical creature are you?

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, precognition

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, precognition

Abilities aren’t just telepathy, empathy

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, and precognition are chief among the so-called ‘mainline’ Abilities recognised by the IESRO. Because the IESRO regulates the most powerful Abilities across multiple species, their primary interest is the Abilities that manifest with recognisable consistency across species lines.

Among all species discovered to date, some form of empathy is the most common: the ability to communicate basic non-verbal concepts within a species and to others. Telepathy comes a close second, but because telepathy is primarily the ability to communicate complex concepts mentally, it can be hard to recognise cross-species as the underlying concepts required for it differ radically.

Kinesis is the easiest mainline ability to recognise in any species, entailing the ability to manipulate matter, but also one of the rarer ones, vying with precognition.

Precognition, the ability to predict the future, or at least to perceive the most likely turning of causality, is usually the rarest of the mainline Abilities, even if only by a fraction of a percent.

The IESRO recognises, but doesn’t regulate, a handful of other Abilities, many of them species-specific manifestations. Among the humanoid species, a couple of the more common unregulated Abilities are healers, who are mostly seen as a form of empath, and can diagnose injuries or diseases with varying degrees of accuracy, and some limited forms of kinesis, such as fire-starters.

The IESRO does not formally recognise, but will absolutely regulate on occasion, the ‘wild’ Abilities over a certain power level – Abilities that don’t precisely check a box for what can be done with them, but fall into potentially dangerous fields. Anst’s Ability to get around people’s mental defenses, most likely with its roots in empathy, would absolutely be such a case if it came formally to their attention.

Because a lot of the species in the early stages of their development, including humanoids, are uneasy with mental Abilities, wild Abilities are viewed with particular suspicion, as there’s less clarity around what they can do. While some may be worried about what a powerful telepath can pick from their brains (not a lot in most people’s heads worth the effort), or read past their vaunted poker faces with empathy, there is a general feeling that those are known and regulated hazards. Wild Abilities, well, who the hells knows?

Humanoids show a high incidence of some trace of Ability, but at this early stage in the species evolution, humanoid Abilities even eligible for IESRO registration are rare, and those not only eligible for registration but powerful enough to factor in as more than a blip in the lower registers are rarer yet.

A basic level of telepathy is a requirement in the Cortii for eligibility for derian training. Those without telepathy, or whose telepathy rating doesn’t reliably achieve the minimum required for active operations, become Base technicians – Instructors, in some cases, or medics, engineers, researchers, scientists. Those who achieve far enough over basic levels to achieve an IESRO rating are fully eligible for derian training, and stand a better than average chance of stopping a knife in the back: Cortiian deriani are generally highly trained and educated and well-travelled, but balance that with an ingrained tendency to be cautious rather than sorry.

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

‘Neither heads nor tails of it’, or, in the UK, ‘neither head nor tail of it’ refers to confusion, a state of puzzlement akin to staring at something so strange that you can’t decipher even which end of the matter you’re looking at. My favourite etymology theory for this phrase involves Cicero and confusion, nothing to do with currency at all.

I decided to look into this phrase after a copy-editor at ROC Fantasy left me staring at ‘heads nor tales’ (a bigger team doesn’t always mean better editing, class), and it turned out to be pretty interesting. 

There’s also some required disambiguation on ‘heads or tails’, the traditional ask when flipping a coin. A few of the etymology sites hold the opinion that the two phrases have the same origin, which I’m not entirely in agreement with, although I can completely understand why that theory looks tempting. 

Confusion doesn’t equal gambling, although it can lead to it

I’m not in agreement that you can draw an equals sign between ‘neither heads nor tails of it’ and ‘heads or tails’ because it smacks of sloppy thinking to me. ‘Heads or tails’, variously ‘navia aut caput‘, ‘heads or crosses’, etc., depending on your era and location is an ‘or’ phrase, a pretty simple ‘if this, then that’ outcome. Flip a coin to decide, because there are two outcomes are so equal it’s impossible to decide between them; let’s leave it to chance.

‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, indicates confusion at encountering something hitherto unknown or impossible to understand. Although it implies that there are two options to the confusion, you might also be looking at neither head nor tail, but the third generation of conjoined offspring. While you may certainly flip a coin to attempt to decide which end of the issue you’re looking at, or even if it is an end, I put it to you that this phrase is a lot less digital than the ‘heads or tails’, above. 

Neither heads nor tails

So if I’m so smart, what is the true etymology and meaning behind ‘neither heads nor tails’? 

Well, meaning’s easy. The Cambridge Dictionary, with its usual conciseness, boils it down to an inability to understand something.

The etymology seems to have got badly tangled in the ‘heads or tails’ debate. ‘Heads or tails’, after all, has a nice, clear, contemporary explanation, and flipping a coin goes back about as far as there were coins. Simple, and therefore popularly accepted. ‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, isn’t quite as simple, and, especially in the US, is assumed to relate to gambling, or possibly to a cute UK tradition, probably to do with sheep and isolated rural areas. 

However, if you look at French, for example, there’s an expression ‘sans queue ni tete‘, which translates to ‘without a head or a tail’ and means something confusing, which is anecdotal evidence that the Cicero explanation may have some truth to it. Why? Because French is a Latinate language (mostly); English is a part-Latin, part-Germanic hybrid with a vocabulary on Viagra and a bad habit of mugging other languages for new words. 

Cicero, for those who don’t know, was a Roman orator (calm down, it means a public speaker), and allegedly he used the phrase ‘ne caput nec pedes’ (neither head nor feet) to express a state of confusion. I like this theory because to me, it explains the slight difference in use and grammar between ‘or’ and ‘neither…nor’, and because there is an equivalent phrase in both French and English with the meaning of confusion.

Use in fiction

This phrase could be adapted very nicely to a variety of fictional settings. You’ve already seen three different variants in this one post, so if you toss in fantasy or sci-fi worldbuilding, the possibilities are nearly endless. Take a hydra, for example, or Cerberus, which are two examples I can think of to support the US version of the saying with the plurals.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Character interview: Khyria Ilan

Character interview: Khyria Ilan

Character interview with Khyria Ilan

Remote location on the Canadian West coast, with a Thermos of fortified hot chocolate.

J C Steel: I heard you took an assignment with Irin. Since it was in the news – what was Central Worlds like?

Khyria Ilan: Crawling in security. And high-tech marketing. I’m still debugging my systems of adware.

JCS: What do you expect the fallout to be?

KI: For Irin? He wants it all to go away. He’s refreshingly uninterested in anything that doesn’t have four feet and a tail. He’s been named heir to one of the most influential families in Central Worlds, and the clause he insisted on was making it temporary until another heir could be found. For Wildcat? Officially, nothing. Unofficially…I fully expect to hear from Irin’s father, in some shape or form.

JCS: What was you impression of Irin’s father?

KI: Intelligent.

JCS: And?

KI: You are aware that I was there on assignment, not a holiday.

JCS: Your personal impressions of a man are that highly classified? The Councils must have a high opinion of your intuition.

KI: [laughs] I remember when that line worked better on you. Fine. Intelligent, nasty, and rich.

JCS: Khyria.

KI: If Irin didn’t have – what’s the phrase? Daddy issues? – it’s possible he might find his biological father less odious. Or not. My personal impression of Irian do Maseka do Harek, since you ask, is that he and Irin aren’t so very different on some levels. However, unlike Irin, do Harek’s been running a business empire out of Central Worlds all of his life. There are lines that Irin has never contemplated crossing that do Harek has had to compromise on.

JCS: I see. Did you ever find out how Cahan of the Golden Valleys managed to make getting you to Central Worlds the problem of do Harek? Or even how he got an audience with the man?

KI: No. On the other hand, the link between Irin Seviki and Wildcat Cortia is publicly documented: that ill-considered rebellion Irin’s planet staged was covered by every major newscast. Once you assume that the initial step of Cahan gaining access to do Harek was feasible, as it demonstrably was, the rest was a simple matter of playing the odds.

JCS: Things you call simple keep my costs for headache medication high. It must have been…odd, to see Cahan and Irin in the same room.

KI: Was that a question?

JCS: An invitation. If you don’t want to discuss Cahan, how about Warron?

KI: Competent. Intelligent enough, on Central Worlds, to focus on understanding what the security measures and the threats were, rather than freezing at the amount of the unknown. Cahan made a sensible decision  when he put him in as guard commander. He’s tough and adaptable.

JCS: High praise, from a Cortiian for a human.

KI: You’re fond of the saying that the exception proves the rule.

JCS: [grins] Ouch. Do you think Cahan’s planet is going to get its entry into the Federated Planets?

KI: That would be the positive outcome for them and for the FPA. Taking a planet back to bare earth and re-populating is expensive, not to mention hard to keep quiet. Cahan’s appearance on Central Worlds indicates that the likelihood is high.

JCS: That happen often?

KI: The eradication approach? Not that the Cortii is aware of. Perhaps twice in the last millennium.

JCS: What do you think about their entry into the FPA?

KI: I recommended it.

JCS: I know that. I didn’t ask you what you thought the most practical containment solution was.

KI: I’d sleep better if the FPA were to erase life on that planet, my personal respect for some of its population not withstanding. As it’s not likely to happen…I’ve done what I currently can.

JCS: Last question: do you think Irin’s going to hear from his father more often?

KI: Yes. Irian do Harek didn’t strike me as someone who lets go of anything useful easily.

Egging on Easter traditions

Egging on Easter traditions

Egging on Easter – some of the less traditional traditions

I’m a big fan of any festival that involves bright colours and good things to eat. Chinese New Year is one of my personal favourites, since it includes firecrackers as well as all of the above. Christmas, too, is a great excuse for competitive gluttony followed by a food coma with a mound of new books by my side.

However, the one currently up on the roster is Easter, that icon of the Christian calendar, marking the death and resurrection of Christ. Which, for some reason, is widely celebrated with chocolate bunnies and eggs in weird colours (more on that later). As I’d be struck dead if I tried to claim I was a devout anything, I thought I’d have a look at some of the lesser-known Easter traditions and where they came from.

Pretty much everyone’s familiar with the bunnies and the dyed hard-boiled eggs. So how about fashion shows, kites, and murder mysteries?

Well, the fashion show apparently started in New York, according to Mental Floss, sometime in the mid-1800s. Traditionally, it’s considered lucky to wear new clothes on Easter (no real idea why, but I’d posit some link between new beginnings and new clothes…), and apparently some of the New York upper crust felt they should be displayed for a bit more than just the Easter church service. The tradition’s broadened a bit over the years, but still exists today in the Easter Parade.

And I mentioned kites, too, didn’t I? Well, in Bermuda they fly kites to symbolise Jesus’s ascension to Heaven. The kites are brightly coloured, and designed both to fly and to make noise in the air; a great tradition for an island where the Trade Wind blows from the East 364 days of the 365.

Murder mysteries. Well, I have no idea why murder mysteries, but in the Nordic areas, Easter is celebrated with murder mystery TV shows, book releases, and even short mysteries on the sides of the milk cartons. The Visit Norway site thinks it started as a marketing stunt in the early 1900s by a couple of young authors, but whether they’re right or not, Easter in most of the Nordic countries means crime mysteries galore. (And, may I say, Nordic crime shows are fantastic? Generally I have an issue with crime shows, because I figure out whodunnit it five minutes in and spend the remaining 40 minutes being sarcastic, but there’s a couple of Nordic ones that knocked my socks off: check out Trapped and Border Town.)

So… what’s your favourite weird and off-beat Easter tradition? (Beat kites and murder mysteries, I dare ya.)

Easter 2019 Sparkly Badgers

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