Giants That fell From the Sky (Giant Primer part 5)

Last of a five part Primer on Giants (which starts here).

The religious mysteries of the various cultures that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea basically start with some sky god knocking up the earth goddess. Some have a prologue of sorts where an unknown (and bored) creator diety brought all creation into being, and then that god – or his son, knocks up mother earth, and the action starts.

Invariably, though, He spills his seed upon the ground, and that makes a mess of paradise.

You know what this means, right? Yes. Aliens.

When I expand upon that notion (wholly unsupported with actual fact – so that we’re all clear) I think of Titans. First, because you can derive a narrative like this fairly cleanly from known mythology. Second, because I happen to know a good bit about that mythology and third because Titan is easy to spell and type.

Also, the Titans were big. Sources that agree on nothing else agree on this. Big horny giants from the sky. Aliens.

The Titans

atlas_santiago_toural_gfdl
Atlas – via Wikipedia commons

Here’s how I have imagined it for my time-traveling superhero RPG Go Action Fun Time:

As the Old Galactic Empire fell apart, during what we call the late Pleistocene,  a starship made its way out into the frontiers of the Galaxy, far beyond any working jump-gate, and took orbit around our small planet. The starship was crewed by refugees, or revolutionaries, or criminals, depending upon your perspective, but none disagree that they were no longer safe in known Imperial Space.

They set up operations on a small continent (Atlantis – as it would turn out), tectonically unstable, but rich in resources. The operation was to be brief – a rest stop to re-supply the Mother Ship – but something went Very Wrong in orbit, and the landing party found itself stranded in this primitive paradise. Or, alternately, depending on the source, the Mother Ship recalled them and when they refused to go, they were abandoned. Or, they were simply abandoned.

The Titans, like most advanced races, found it easier to adapt themselves to an environment rather than the other way around, and they assumed a form modeled on one of the most versatile species in extant in that biosystem at the time – namely hominids. Except they adopted a really astonishingly large version of it.

(c) Watts Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Titans – doing what they do best.

They possessed star-age technology, but little infrastructure to support it. For that they needed labor.  The legendary Hectonchirie and Cyclops were gigantic automatons, but even these great things were insufficient. They began modifying the local fauna, creating giant chimeric monsters to serve as beasts of burden.

Even this proved unsatisfactory. The local hominids seemed puny, but they were relatively bright and versatile. What could we do with them to make them a little larger?

Among their wondrous artifacts, though, was a “wish machine”, a matter/energy converter that can be controlled by thought; the pinnacle of Titan technology, and almost certainly stolen by this particular group.

Sheltered by their isolation, and cushioned by their stolen technology, their passions ran unchecked by hardship for centuries, and the whole planet became their footstool. Their civilization was a long, destructive party that raged for thousands of years. But their slaves kept learning, and became more and more independent, running a shadow society around and in spite of the quarreling Gods, who took it all for granted until it was far too late.

Civil war, a slave insurrection, and tectonic instability finally caught up to them, and they were forced to abandon their civilization. Many abandoned the planet altogether, but a few remained: The Titans, the Aesir (who would inhabit North America until the end fo the Ice Age),  the gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia and Greece. But they were too few to call a civilization, and the world, as it were, had passed to humans.

The Nephilim

nephilim-giants
Good, clean Biblical fun.

Closely related to this are the Nephilim – mentioned in the Bible and consequently speculated upon by all manner of new age and fundamentalist Christian wackos to the point where it’s not even fun anymore.

For my money Nephilim = Titan. The outcome was the same.

SOURCES:

A nice clean summary:

http://www.greeklegendsandmyths.com/titans.html

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The Muans (Giant Primer pt4)

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Kumbhakarna the rakshasa out for a stroll.

The third of our giants who grew from the ground are the Muans. The series starts here.

Muans ( a term made up well after the fact) are a race of supernatural immortals native to southeast Asia. Their lost history informs the legends and myths behind the Asura and Devas and Jinn and Oni of more recent human cultures.

The term comes from the pseudo-scholarly work of Col James Churchward at the end of the 19th century. While he was in error about just about everything in his speculative account of a prehistoric south-pacific lost continent, we have appropriated the name anyway.

The lower sea levels of the late Pleistocene revealed the fertile hills of a great peninsula stretching from south-east Asia, across what is now called Oceanea, and nearly to Australia. Across these muddy hills, a large and aggressive strain of Homo Erectus concocted a civilization of sorts that we now call Mu.

That Homo Erectus inhabited this peninsula is a paleo-archaic fact. Beyond that, we speculate that they developed a civilization of sorts, and then a mighty civilization. That civilization allowed them to grow – physically – into something much larger and fiercer than their humble Homo Erectus progenitors.

Homo Erectus topped out at 6’ or so, which was enormous compared to contemporary hominid species. While they matched modern human in size, their skulls were smaller and flatter. This did not stop them from using fire and devloping a distinct style of tool making often referred to as Acheulian culture. (So if you need a name that is not Mu – there you go).

Let us imagine now that some of these fellows went beyond fire and finely chipped stone axes; that they created a genuine civilization of some sort on the muddy shores of that ice-age subcontinent. What might remain? Not much, the rising seas would not have been kind. But folklore in that part of the world goes back a looong way.

Hawaiian lore speaks of a transpacific civilization before the Polynesian culture which conquered the island around the 13th century. This civilization actually had very little structure. The people hunted and fishing, shared everything communally, and disputes were settled by the eldest among them. This speaks more of a low population density than any particular enlightenment.

Southeast Asian folklore is filled with ogre-like creatures with fangs and occasionally too many limbs or heads. These creatures were slavers and cannibals. Until you get to Hindu myth – which is never that simple.

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Ravana fighting Indra and his elephant because politics.

The Asuras and Rhaksasas of Vedic myth opposed the gods (specifically they opposed Indra and his allies), and often behaved badly towards those ends, but not all were evil. Most adhered to a fairly ascetic life, and the differences between the Asuras and the gods seem mostly political.

Asuras and Raksasa are shape-shifters, and come in a bewildering variety of forms.

Let’s put this together in a single (wholly fictional) narrative:

At least a half million years ago, the advancing Acheulian civilization stumbled upon the secret of eternal life. Perhaps it was gift from Outside Forces, perhaps it was derived from purity of spirit, perhaps they developed it through science. Remember: humans got from wild wheat fields to landing on the moon in just over 5000 years.

So the Muans had biological regeneration, shape change, and dimensional manipulation (to carry some legends forward). That’s better than computers and gunpowder. Respect.

It may be that the price of eternal life was never having children.  If so, it seems the Muans found a way around it, but the results might have been horribly mutated: the Oni of Japanese myth, and a tribe of descendants crossing Africa and eventually working northwards up the Atlantic to become the Fomorians.

Muans themselves lived by a strict moral code. They worshipped no gods, and indeed spat upon all supernatural notions. They fought one another, but never to the death, and serious disputes were always arbitrated by other Muans. They had an ascetic philosophy of continually improving oneself – for what else is the point of eternal life?

But Muans regarded all other human variants as little more than animals, suitable only as slaves, and occasionally food. Hece their reputation in folklore.

As the ice age ended, about 15,000 years ago, the waves would start to overtake their homeland. Crushed for resources, the Muans began to battle one another – unheard of to that point. Even so, a series of volcanic eruptions about 8000 years ago would have sealed their doom as a coherent people. The survivors wandered inland, and disappeared into myth.

SOURCES:

Mu in general:

https://redice.tv/news/the-lost-lands-of-mu-and-lemuria

Homo Erectus

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-erectus

http://anthro.palomar.edu/homo/homo_2.htm

http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/homo-erectus-a-bigger-smarter-97879043

http://www.becominghuman.org/node/homo-erectus-0

Hawaii:

http://www.kahunaresearchgroup.org/case-log/legend-of-the-mu-people-hawaiis-original-inhabitants

Other Mythology

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/hmvp/hmvp43.htm

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Asura

Asuras are mythological lord beings in Indian and Persian (Ariæns) texts who compete for power with the more benevolent devas (also known as suras).[1] Asuras are described in Indian texts as powerful superhuman demigods or demons with good or bad qualities. The good Asuras are called Adityas and are led by Varuna, while the malevolent ones are called Danavas and are led by Vritra.[2] Other specific sections of Asuras exist, and they are known as Daityas, Anavayas, and Raksasas.

http://www.hindu-blog.com/2010/06/difference-between-asuras-and-rakshasas.html

http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php/Rakshasa

http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-asia/jinn-tales-wish-masters-throughout-time-005138

Images:

http://www.indiatimes.com/culture/who-we-are/9-facts-you-didn-t-know-about-kumbhakarna-the-rakshasa-258358.html

http://www.indyachalo.com/chalukya.html

The Giant Primer: Norse

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Hearthstone gamecard art : Artist Greg Staples

Giant Primer hub page

To western minds, the most common sort of giant we conjure up are derived from Norse and Celtic mythology – more specifically the Norse. The vikings thought a lot about giants, and unlike the Celts, they had the good sense to record their tales prior to becoming Christians.

To the Norse, the giants were the counterparts to the Gods; the loyal opposition. The giants were not necessarily evil (nor were the Aesir and Vanir necessarily good).  Rather, the gods the vikings revered fought to create some useful order within the chaos that sprung from the giants.

Daniel McCoy, compiler of Norse Mythology of Smart People explains:

Jotunheim is also known as Utgard (pronounced “OOT-guard;” Old Norse Útgarðr, “Beyond the Fence”), a name which establishes the realm as occupying one extreme end of the traditional Germanic conceptual spectrum between the innangard and the utangard. That which is innangard (“inside the fence”) is orderly, law-abiding, and civilized, while that which is utangard (“beyond the fence”) is chaotic, anarchic, and wild.

http://norse-mythology.org/cosmology/the-nine-worlds/jotunheim/

The old Norse term for giant, surviving to us as Jotun, roughly translates to “Devourer”, which is chaotic and untidy, but not essentially evil. The Norse saw this as a necessary part of the Cycle of Things: order is carved out of chaos, but chaos inevitably creep back to devour order. Yet from that chaos, order will eventually emerge.

The Norse gods sprang from the corpse of a great giant that had consumed the previous world. So it goes.

Let’s translate that to fur-clad boots on the mythical ground.

The Jotum are a large, proud race of giants dwelling beyond the frigid horizon – in this case Greenland, and the northern wastes of Asia and north America. The center of their lands was the Arctic Ocean.

While relatively uncivilized, they were not stupid, and this, coupled with their large size, could enable them to withstand the arctic conditions of the latter ice ages. But large size brings large appetites, hence their reputation as devourers.

There would not have been a lot of them – needing a lot of territory to sustain themselves. Twenty giants assembled would be an army.  But that would be all they would need unless they were assaulting Asgard itself.

Where puny humans see strength in numbers, giants would see only scarcity. They would have little incentive to invent civilization as we understand it. The primary purpose of organized agriculture, after all, is to allow for an increase in population. Also, glaciers will discourage this anyway.

So they hunted and gathered in sparse groups spread across sprawling territories. Even isolated they had nothing to fear but starvation and each other, and the latter would have been an unlikely threat.  Every Jotun knew every other Jotun.

One can easily imagine them riding about on the glaciers, atop their mastodon mounts, trained polar bears flushing out seals. Perhaps they herded wooly rhinos the way we herd cattle.

mamoth-rider-color

Given that humanoids cap out at eight feet and a thousand pounds or so, a twelve foot, six ton giant could only be sustained supernaturally. Now, let’s go to the Niven theory of magic, that it becomes more prevalent in barren wastes than in settled, or biologically richer lands. Under these assumptions, the giants would need the glaciers just to stay standing.

In the end, the giants overtake the Gods in the Ragnarok, but the Norse saw this as part of a cycle rather than an ultimate end. And the pattern, deep winters, rising oceans, long period of warm calm, receding oceans and deep winters, can be loosely mapped to expanding and contracting ice ages.

The Asgardians might mitigate the Jotun for a while, but they never overcome them. The true enemy of the Jotun is global warming.

SOURCES

https://www.artstation.com/artist/gregstaples

 

A Primer on Giants

This is part one of several.

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Image source:

http://www.jasoncolavito.com/laniers-a-book-of-giants.html

Giants of all shapes and a surprising variety of sizes stomp all across the myths and folklore of the world. It seems that wherever people have made up stories, they have made up stories about giants.

The boring part first: it does not tax the human imagination to anthropomorphize natural forces into people-shaped gods larger than ourselves. It is by far more likely that each and every giant myth arose from our own imagination along these lines, compared to actual giants as actual fact. Giants are a grittier, more grounded re-imagining of our own gods, or more commonly, the downgrading of the gods of those we have just conquered.

Sure, on occasion, one tribe would encounter a substantially taller tribe, and in retelling that encounter the new strange tribe may grow taller with each telling. The Caucasian giants of prehistoric America may very well be tales of the Inuit’s encounter with Vikings, passed and expanded upon all down the trade routes as far as Peru.

It is supposed, though not established, that the effective maximum height for a human frame is about fifteen feet. As height doubles, mass squares. So if we doubled Shaquille O’Neal (pro basketball player – using his official playing stats of 7’1” and 325 lbs) we get 14’2” and over 105625 lbs. That approaches the limit for proportionally scaled calcium bones to sustain the load. However, you will almost certainly run of of blood circulation before that point.

The tallest known humans hover around 8 feet tall, all suffering from a tumor in their pituitary gland causing the gland to release an excess of growth hormone. Most have circulatory problems. The high end for fully functional seems to be about 7’6” and 350 or so pounds. There are many famous athletes and performers (besides O’Neal) who functioned at or near this size, and perhaps many more that we do not know about. These conditions, though are extremely rare, and it’s hard to plausibly imagine an entire people this size.

Actual facts, though, are not nearly as compelling as completely making shit up. So let’s do that instead.

Giant myths grow from two varieties: those that grew upon the Earth, usually before the dawn of humanity, and those who fell from the sky, typically, but not always, to interbreed with humanity.

GIANTS THAT GREW FROM THE EARTH

Norse Giants

The Fomorians

The Muans

 

Jack meets the Cockatrice

In this excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Beanstalk and Beyond, the Ogress has imprisoned Jack in the giant chicken coop, where he discovers that he is not the only non-chicken trapped within.

Cockatrice scan

 

When I have told this story in the past, I typically described the bird as a hen or a goose. Truth is far stranger; I have not seen anything like this bird before or since. In the moonlight, it seemed about the size of a good goose, but parts of its head had scales instead of feathers. Its eyes glowed amber, like a dragon’s, if you’ve ever had the misfortune to stare into such a gaze, and its beak had teeth.

“We must escape tonight, before sunlight,” that beak announced.

“Wha-aaw!” I jumped, for I was yet unaccustomed to animals starting conversations with me.“You talk.”

“Of course I talk; I’m a cockatrice. And I am relieved that you speak some words as well. You’re a human, right? Funny, I’d always imagined your kind larger and hairier. No matter. We must escape tonight.”

 

 

Big, Black, (Dead) Scary Dogs

 

August 4, 1577, in the midst of a raging thunderstorm, the Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh, England received a visit by a huge black dog with fiery eyes and claws. [1]According to Reverend Abraham Fleming’s account in his book, A Straunge and Terrible Wunder:

This black dog, or the devil in such a likeness (God he knoweth all who worketh all) running all along down the body of the church with great swiftness, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible form and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling upon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them both at one instant clean backward, in so much that even at a moment where they kneeled, they strangely died.”

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Artwork presumably by Rev Fleming as well. From Wikicommons.

[The actual book is part of Google Books – which paradoxically defies easy linking.)

Huge, black ghostly dogs have been reported in Britain since antiquity. The one cited above is called the “Black Shuck” by the East Anglian locals. In northern England they use the term Barghest (with several different spellings). There are many other regional variants, but if you say “Hell Hound”, everyone knows what you’re talking about.

Most of them will think you’re talking about one of countless ghost stories floating about in British folklore. But in May of 2014, archaeologists from DigVentures, excavating Leiston Abbey in Suffolk , literally just up the road from Blythburg,  uncovered the bones of a dog estimated to be seven feet long and weighing 200 pounds in life. Prelimary carbon dating put this creature within margin of error of the date of the attack on the church.

The Daily Express (a local paper) reported that  project director  Brendon Wilkins  said: “Most of these legends about dogs may have some roots in reality.”

Let’s see if we can chase this big, black dog down.

Britain, like the rest of Europe, was habitat for giant wolves, and even a large species of hyena well into the Pleistocene. There is evidence that Neanderthals and the “cave Hyenas” competed for prey, and even caves. But by the time the ice melted, the woods of  Britain were home only to smaller wolves and foxes. If a band of Cave Hyenas somehow survived into historical times, someone would have shot one, and mounted its head on a wall somewhere.

While wild canines are not plausible, the Isles have been known to breed and domesticate huge hounds for centuries.  A modern Irish wolfhound can grow pretty close to the size of the abby’s hell hound, and they might have come bigger. Domesticated hounds for hunting and defense are present deep into Irish folklore, and there are reliable Roman accounts of Gauls importing war dogs from the Briton or Ireland.

{My excellent source for this here: http://www.historyireland.com/uncategorized/war-dogs-among-the-early-irish-2/]

So, applying Occam’s razor, they dug up someone’s pet.

If a huge, black, feral hunting dog were running amok in the countryside, it’s not hard to conceive how that could inspire some tall tales. And when it eludes men who are otherwise boastful of their hunting prowess – then it must have supernatural powers.

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I am a creature of nightmares….

Those powers vary wildly by the teller. Not even the glowing eyes can be relied upon; in some versions they dog has no head at all. Like just about every other phantom in British folklore, they are bound somehow to the water, and their appearance can foretell certain doom.

Plus, a dog bigger than you are is inherently scary.

hellhound
That’s more like it… Art by Rashi. Chandra

Since that conclusion is actually kinda dull, let me make one up:

Long ago, a Celtic Noble took his loyal dogs off to war. Ass they faced the enemy, though, the noble lost his nerve and abandoned his dogs, who were later captured, tortured and burned to death, because these were terrible human beings. The angry ghosts odf these dogs forever prowl the deep woods and dark places, seeking out terrible human beings – or perhaps just random human beings, to claim their revenge with fang and fire.

War dogs may have some limited tactical value against tribal war-bands, but they were little more than a nuisance to organized armies such as the Roman legions, and were no longer seen in battle as active combatants by the mid first millennium.

Or – or – they stopped using them because they realized they were creating more hell hounds with every battle.

Maybe both.

Relevant links:

Cave Hyenas: http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/c/crocuta-crocuta-spelaea-cave-hyena.html

Black Shuck info at Shuckland: http://www.hiddenea.com/shuckland/introduction.htm

A recent find in East Anglia : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2629353/Is-skeleton-legendary-devil-dog-Black-Shuck-terrorised-16th-century-East-Anglia.html

Related : http://www.ancient-code.com/7-foot-tall-hellhound-skeleton-unearthed-near-ancient-monastery-in-uk/

Atlas Obscura (always good content) on the same incident: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/archaeology-folklore-and-the-skeletal-remains-of-a-hellhound

Hell Hounds: http://www.mythicalcreaturesguide.com/page/Hell+Hound

Celtic hound – good overview: http://www.historyireland.com/uncategorized/war-dogs-among-the-early-irish-2/

http://www.britannica.com/art/Barghest

Rashi draws big, scary anime dogs:  http://rashichandra.blogspot.com/2011/02/h-for-hellhound.html

 

[1] That same night the steeple collapsed, most likely from a lightning strike.