Korreds: The Underground Folk of Brittany

Korreds (also called Korrs) are guardians of treasures and standing stones in the folklore of Brittany (northwestern France). They prefer to live underground, in caves under the dolmens. They might also live under heaths, in sea-cliff caves, or in natural caverns. The related teuz and poulpikan types live in bogs or swamps.

Korreds have the strength of giants despite their small stature. They are said to live beneath the dolmen stones of Brittany. They have bright red eyes, dark skin, and often a hunched back. They are prophets as well as magicians, and are said to know the secrets of all treasures hidden in their neighborhood. They congregate around stone circles and love dancing but are more malevolent than other Gallic faeries. They are sometimes called bogul noz, “Children of the Night.”

The main delight of korreds is in dancing, which they do so vigorously that the grass burns in circles under their feet. They only dance at night, and usually on Wednesday, their traditional day off. They react with violence to mortals who disturb their dance-rituals, although mortals may be swept up in the ecstasy of the dance. Korreds are not always unkind to mortals, but they are never overly friendly.

In ancient times, Phoenician dwarves or sprites arrived in Brittany and intermarried with certain families of korreds. These dwarves were both kouretes (courètes) and karkinoi, another word for kabeiroi (carikines). Modern korreds are divided into the “old korreds,” the original pure lineage, and the “new korreds” who have a bit of this foreign heritage. Old Korred lineages include: Jetins (somewhat shorter), Vihans (also shorter), Hommes Cornus (from Gascony), Corics, Kerions, Kouricans, Gwazig-Gan, Kourils (or Courils), and Korandon. New Korred lineages include: Corriquets, Guerrionets, Korriks, Boudiguets, C’Horriquets, Corrandonnets, and Kornikaned (carry small horns on their belts).

In other parts of France, these beings are known as crions. They are also found in the Pyrenees and in Cornwall, where they are known as spriggans. Unlike spriggans, korreds are apparently unable able to grow to giant size.

The Evolution of Fae

Alas, the title of Leo Elijah Cristea’s most recent post on the fae is not a reference to how these beings emerged and diversified through random mutation and natural selection. It is, however, a wonderful discussion of the varieties of Fair Folk one encounters in myth and literature. In particular, this post tries to tackle those elements that are recognizable as at least suggestive of faeries in world mythology, always admitting that whatever overlap (or identity) is claimed must only be claimed with due appreciation for how the source cultures themselves do different things with their various nature spirits, angels, or what have you.

If we delve back in time and focus on the birth of these various stories, even widening our net and including other “fae-like” beings whose appearance or vocation has led them to be tangled up in the same net as faeries—such as the short, stout Northern Dwarves, the elfin Álfar and Svartálfar who could become the aos sí, as well as the creatures already discussed—it becomes clear that appearance alone is sometimes enough to define the beings from different realms as fae.

In this way, we can trace the evolution of the faeries through their alteration and adaptation, drawing up lines of likeness between similar beings, as well as their manmade transformations throughout literature and popular culture.

This is an excellent article, well worth the read!

A Real Live Paleontologist Discusses the Biomechanics of Godzilla

Mark Witton is mostly known (to me) from his research into pterosaurs. In this blog post, he has some appreciative things to say about the new Godzilla movie:

For 2014, Godzilla is a fully digital and, as we all know, relatively faithful to the original designs. It has, however, been altered in ways which would be difficult to execute if we were still watching a man in a suit. A lot of these changes, as well as the design of Godzilla’s adversaries, were pretty neat because they tie into what we know about animal biology, scaling and functionality, and I get the impression that the guys behind this latest Godzilla – Legendary Pictures – put a lot of effort into making half-sensible creatures which biologists, biomechanicists and functional anatomists can be relatively happy with. And yes, yes yes: there’s a buttload of stuff which is clearly nonsense: there’s no way these animals could be the size they are, or firing beams of nuclear fire from their throats and so forth. But that’s just par for the course for a Godzilla movie, and I’m not going to jump on boring old bandwagon of highlighting how impossible the whole lot is. What’s far more interesting, and what I want to focus on here, is how Legendary built their animals around standard movie monster tenets to produce creatures which are not only intriguing and cool-looking, but also chime with real animal biology and functionality.

My favorite line:

If we’re willing to stretch belief a bit (I assume we are, what with a fictitious 100 m tall reptile being the subject of discussion here)…

Witton discusses the new Godzilla’s foot structure, gills (!), and proportionally smaller head and finds that each makes a certain amount of sense within the context of the movie. Then he really shines as he looks at the aerodynamics of the flying beasties Godzilla battles. It’s all quite fascinating if you enjoy a little bit of science with your enormous lizard beasts.

Tolkien: The Meaning of LOTR

A long-lost audio recording of a speech Prof. Tolkien delivered at a social gathering in Rotterdam is soon to be released to the world. According to Noble Smith at HuffPo:

The recording took place on March 28th, 1958 in Rotterdam at a “Hobbit Dinner” put on by Tolkien’s Dutch publisher and a bookseller. Tolkien’s own publisher, Allen and Unwin, paid for his trip to the Netherlands to attend this special party. According to his letters the author was chuffed to find that Rotterdam was filled with people “intoxicated with hobbits.” Tolkien showed up at a packed hall where 200 hobbit fanatics had come to hear him and other scholars talk about Middle-earth.

And there was much rejoicing.

The Science of Game of Thrones

I always enjoy it when fantasy makes at least some kind of scientific sense.

The video mentions fire-breathing dragons. A while back I found this explanation, apparently written by someone with a background in organic chemistry, of how dragon fire might work. If I ever had a cause to include dragons in a story, this is probably how they would breathe fire.

Twelve Uses of Dragon’s Blood (plus Some Other Useful Dragon Parts)

There really are many uses of dragon’s blood in folklore and legend, many of which far predate the work of Albus Dumbledore. Here are some of the uses that strike me as the most interesting/cool/noteworthy.

“Dragon’s blood” can mean at least three different things in an early text or story. First, it can refer to the actual blood of a fantastic beast from mythology. Second, it can refer to a resin noted for its bright red color, obtained from a number of trees, most commonly Dracaena cinnabari, the so-called “dragon’s blood tree” from the island of Socotra. Finally, it can refer to the poisonous mineral cinnabar, also known as mercury sulfide, which was sometimes confused with dragon’s blood resin in ancient times—with disastrous results! The word “cinnabar” actually comes from Persian words meaning “dragon’s blood.”

Let’s begin with world mythology and the uses attached to the blood of an actual dragon:

(1) Acid. The dragon that eventually killed Beowulf had blood so acidic it could eat through iron. Medieval alchemists held that dragon’s blood was the only solvent capable of dissolving gold. There is, therefore, a nugget of truth in J. K. Rowling’s assertion that the twelfth use of dragon’s blood discovered by Dumbledore is “oven cleaner”: something as caustic as dragon’s blood would definitely remove baked-on food from practically any surface!

(2) Poison. In Armenian legend, dragon’s blood could be applied as a poison to weapons. In Slavic legend, the blood of a dragon was so vile and poisonous that the earth itself would not absorb it. It should be noted here that cinnabar is also highly poisonous. The effects of cinnabar poisoning include tremors, extreme mood changes, and loss of hearing progressing to severe mental derangement and death.

Given these first two uses, the positive nature of most of those that follow are more than a bit surprising. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, however, if dragons are interpreted as wild, unpredictable creatures capable of bringing health and blessing as well as death:

(3) Source of Invulnerability. In Germanic legend, the hero Sigurd bathed in dragon’s blood and was granted invulnerability. Similarly, when the hero Ornit dipped his armor in the substance, it too became impervious to mundane weapons.

(4) Source of Secret Knowledge. When Sigurd accidentally tasted the blood of the dragon Fafnir, it granted him the ability to understand the language of birds. Some have interpreted this as the blood imparting a knowledge that is available to dragons but not to humans.

Finally, three more effects of a more general nature are sometimes claimed for dragons in western mythology. All of them probably derive from the primitive idea that one can gain the powers or abilities of something by consuming a part of it. Since dragons are noted for their keen eyesight, bravery, and long life, these should not be terribly surprising:

(5) Cure for Blindness. As noted below, dragon’s blood resin is touted as a cure for many physical ailments. Since dragons are associated with keen eyesight, this particular cure deserves special mention.

(6) Bravery Enhancer. Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic patent medicines for anxiety or depression sometimes include trace amounts of cinnabar.

(7) Lifespan Extender. Probably goes very closely with the invulnerability.

The next five are actual uses of dragon’s blood resin, which can be bought online and at various herbalist and other specialty shops.

(8) General Cure-All. On the island of Socotra, dragon’s blood is used as a cure-all for practically everything: fevers, kidney stones, wounds, tumors, respiratory and gastrointestinal complaints, etc. In ancient times, Greco-Roman naturalists such as Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides discussed the curative properties of this substance.

(9) Magic Enhancer. Those involved with Wicca, neopaganism, hoodoo, and other practices claim that burning powdered dragon’s blood as  an incense can increase the potency of spells or rituals related to protection, banishing, prosperity, luck, love, and fertility.

(10) Coloring Agent. Dragon’s blood is also used as a dye, ink, or painting pigment. Socotrans use it to dye wool. Neopagan, Wiccan, Hoodoo, and other practitioners say dragon’s-blood ink can be used for writing spells, runes, magical seals, etc.

(11) Varnish. Dragon’s blood resin has been used to coat and stain wooden objects for centuries. In the eighteenth century, it was especially sought as a varnish for violins. Similarly, cinnabar was used in ancient Japan and elsewhere to lacquer both wooden and clay vessels.

(12) Mouthwash. This is another use to which Socotrans put dragon’s blood. Dissolved in water and gargled, it can serve as an astringent, a stimulant, and even a kind of toothpaste.

Finally, here are a few tidbits about the other parts of the dragon and the uses to which they can be put:

Dracontia: This was a stone said to exist within a dragon’s skull. If retrieved from a still-living dragon, it could be used as an antidote for a wide array of poisons. Simply boil it in water, then drink the water.

Bones: Powdered dragon bone (called longgu) has long been prized in Chinese medicine as a cure for madness, dysentery, diarrhea, and kidney ailments among other complaints. In some cultures, the first vertebra of a dragon can be worn as a charm to give the wearer sway with people of power. The same is also claimed for dragon’s teeth and heart-fat.

Teeth: Dragon’s teeth are also thought to have great medicinal value in the east, where they are used to treat madness, spasms, epilepsy, etc. In Greek mythology, dragon’s teeth can be sown in a field, and warriors will spring up.

Heart: Another detail from Germanic mythology is that eating a dragon’s heart is said to confer wisdom. At least, that is what the birds who watched Sigurd cook one said would happen. Pliny the elder claimed that consuming dragon’s heart confers strength and intelligence.

Fat: According to Pliny, the fat of dragons dried in the sun cures ulcers and repels undesirable beasts. Mixed with other ingredients, it can cure visual impairments, ulcers, and poisonous wounds.