Welcome back to another installment of my new multi-part series where we look at the mythology behind Ancient Magus’ Bride. Throughout the series, we’ll be looking at both the origins of some of these characters as well as how their portrayals differ from the myth. As a general rule, each post will cover six new pieces of folklore and mythology, so if I’ve missed something, don’t be alarmed! I will most likely get around to it in a future installment. However, if you want to make sure I cover something, feel free to leave me a comment below or even tweet at me (link to my Twitter in the sidebar). Today, we’ll be covering some of the most interesting tidbits from the show and manga: my theories on the origins of Elias, the legend of Cartaphilus, the story behind the king of the cats, Silky’s dual history, the mythology behind Leanan Sidhe, and the history of changelings. As usual, I’ll provide links to all my sources, so feel free to click through them to learn more. Enjoy!
What exactly is Elias?
One of the first things you notice about this series is the character design of Elias Ainsworth, Chise’s mysterious magic instructor and potential husband. His head is a skull that looks to be a cross between some type of canine and a ram or type of antelope. The rest of his body is fairly human-like with some differences being his hands ending in claws, which he normally covers with gloves, and his feet sometimes ending in paws. For me, and many other fans, the question of what exactly is Elias has been stirring around the conversation of Ancient Magus’ Bride since the beginning. In my quest to find answers, I stumbled upon a curious blog post from Tumppu-tale on Tumblr detailing Elias’ connection to a mythical figure right out of Native American folklore: the Wendigo.
If you’re like me and are fairly obsessed with folklore and urban legends, you have perhaps heard of the podcast called Lore. More specifically episode 18 presents us with our first introduction to Wendigo folklore. Primarily a creature of Algonquin mythology, it is commonly described as having a gaunt human form, its skin pulled tight over its body enough to show its bones. Its eyes are sunken into its head, its complexion is the ashen gray of death, and it has an appetite for human flesh. It’s believed that a person becomes a Wendigo if they were forced into cannibalism in order to survive or became possessed by an evil Wendigo spirit. There are also accounts of Native American shamans becoming Wendigos from practicing dark magics. While this description may not fully match our Elias just yet, let’s take a look at a short story from 1910 by Algernon Blackwood entitled The Wendigo, a story that has forever influenced the portrayal of this creature in popular culture.
You can find the full novella in electronic from Project Gutenberg here. This portrayal was so popular that it eventually wound up influencing Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary where he described the Wendigo as an ugly, grinning creature with yellow-grey eyes, ram horns, and vapor coming from its nostrils. You see where I’m going with this? We see the first connections to Elias in episode seven when he transforms into his true form: a giant creature, canine feet, long claws, and what looks like exposed ribs. Next is episode ten where Chise finally gets the chance to talk with Lindel about Elias’ past. We learn that Lindel found him wandering the snowy wilderness, without any memories. Well, that’s not actually true. He can recall that he at one point tasted human flesh. The descriptions begin to add up: horns, giant and gaunt body, a head that looks like a skull, and a thirst for human flesh. We can also add in his origin in the cold wilderness as that is just the type of environment that Wendigo’s are purported to like. There are also those comments from Titania and her guardsman, saying that Elias is neither human nor faerie, that he is just a spirit pretending to be human.
Cartaphilus: The Wandering Jew
The origins of Cartaphilus, or Joseph as he likes to be called, are much easier to trace than our strange protagonist Elias, dating back to the time of Jesus Christ. The legend cannot be found in the bible, but was a story that became popular in the Middle-Ages. However, an officer that slaps Jesus in John 18:20-22 is sometimes cited as the basis for the legend. The story itself tells of a man (sometimes a porter or door-keeper for Pontius Pilate) who stepped out of the crowd as Jesus, carrying his cross, stopped to rest on his way to Calvary. The man — sometimes called Caraphilus, Ahasuerus, or Malchus — struck Jesus and urged him to go faster. Jesus turned to the man and said “I go, and you will wait till I return.” And wait Cartaphilus did, purportedly still wandering the Earth to this day, waiting for the final coming of Jesus (if some legends are to be believed).
The story started to become popular around 1228 when an English chronicler described a strange man an archbishop met in Armenia on his travels. The man claimed to have been present at Jesus’ crucifixion and cursed to live until his return. Baptised Joseph, the man lived among the Christian clergy, hoping his change in lifestyle and pious living would earn him forgiveness. It was again revived in 1602 in Germany through a pamphlet claiming that a Lutheran bishop met a man purported to be Cartaphilus. However, the pamphlet may have been linked to anti-jewish sentiment and their perceived connection to the antichrist during that time. Most recently, the legend of The Wandering Jew is being connected to another strange story of a long-lived person, that of the Count of St. Germain. The stories surrounding this character are pretty interesting, especially his involvement in the practice of Alchemy.
The Cartaphilus we see in Ancient Magus’ Bride is one devoid of purpose, always searching for the next experiment or interesting thing to tinker with. He seems to not remember the reasons behind his goals nor holds any empathy for humanity anymore. It seems as though his extended life-span has made him separate himself from his former humanity, becoming something other. It’s an intriguing story, and I also urge you to look more into the Count of St. Germain. There are a bunch of cool podcasts that have episodes on him right now.
The Legend of the King of the Cats
The mythology behind the king of the cats is fairly simple. In fact, you can read the defining story of this legend here in full. It tells of a man who is walking home one night when he encounters a procession of cats, all walking on their hind legs, carrying a small coffin between them. The procession drew close to the man and, in a squeaky voice, one of the cats said “Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toidrum’s dead.” In his surprise and confusion, the man rushes home to his wife who is sitting with her cat Old Tom and recounts his tale. At the end, Old Tom jumps up and proclaims that he is now the new king of the cats and rushes off into the night to the utter surprise of the couple.
There is another folktale from Ireland that recounts a very special feast for the Chief Bard of Erin given by Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht. At this feast, the bard Seanchan was so jealous of the treatment of the nobles around him that he refused to eat or drink anything for the three days of the feast. The king and his servants tried as much as they could to get him to eat something, offering him one egg which he finally agreed to eat. When a girl went to go get the egg though, she found that a rat had carried it off. In anger and shame, Seanchan cursed all mice with his poetry, so much so that ten fell dead right then. He then cursed all cats, specifically the king of the cats, for not catching the mice like they were supposed to. In anger, the king of the cats, Irusan, storms into the castle and carries the bard away on his back to get his revenge. But before he can kill him, St. Kieran kills the king of the cats with a hot poker, saving the bard.
This last story is an interesting one that resonates more with the events in the anime as it tells of a curse befalling all cats and their subsequent revenge. In some ways, the cats in these stories were also believed to have been elves in the shape of cats. But in both stories, it tells of the double lives many cat owners wonder about as they let their cats out to roam.
Brownies vs Banshees: Silky’s Past
Silver — or Silky as she is also called — is a very interesting character in the Ancient Magus Bride universe. Not only is she connected to the long history of Banshees in Irish folklore, as evidenced by episode 15, but she also connected to the just as deep folklore surrounding the fairy creatures called Brownies (not the dessert unfortunately). At first, I wasn’t entirely sure if I could actually make the connection that she was a Brownie, but the Wikipedia page solved that for me. If you scroll all the way down to the pop culture section, you’ll see an entry on Ancient Magus’ Bride specifically referencing Silky. But for the moment, let’s start at the beginning of her story, before she became part of the Ainsworth household.
We get introduced to SIlky’s history in episode 15, where we see her sitting outside a burned-out and collapsed building, tear stains on her cheeks, clad in a flowing yet tattered robe. In a sense, she is the fairly traditional image of a Banshee. The name comes from the Irish translation Ban-Sidhe (usually pronounced Ban-Shee) meaning “woman of the fairy mounds”. Below, we’ll talk a bit about the Leanan Sidhe. Where the Leanan Sidhe is the giver of life/inspiration, the Ban-Sidhe is the harbinger of death, usually for one particular family. She has many description, but one is of a young virgin girl who is often thought to be a member of the family who died young and was given the task to warn the rest of her kin if death approached by keening or wailing into the night. The keen is a traditional form of mourning for those of Irish/Celtic heritage often performed by a woman of the family. There is some debate over whether each family has their own Banshee or if only those of the higher-class or more old-blooded Irish. Or if you like the more scientific explanation, this Wired article points towards a specific type of owl as being the source of the Banshee legend. (But that’s no fun right?)
The flip-side of Silky’s history is her life after throwing off the mantle of Banshee to become what is, in essence, a Brownie. This creatures are often depicted as small in stature, with a wrinkled face, and thick brown hair all over their bodies. They are often wearing brown hooded cloaks and carrying a walking stick. Not exactly the image of Silky, but it is their connection with the home that is the most important. Brownies are considered a type of household spirit or deity. They are often left an offering of milk or porridge in exchange for their work and the good fortune they bring the family. They are known to do your chores, clean the house, and generally help on the farm during the night as long as you don’t insult them or try and spy on them. We can see this depiction in Silky as she was connected to that house long before Ainsworth moved in and is often shown cleaning or cooking for them.
The Leanan Sidhe: the Irish Muse
Episode nine is our first encounter with the character referred to as a Leanan Sidhe (pronounced Lan-awn Shee). It’s an episode where the characters, Joel and the Leanan Sidhe, are each both star-crossed lovers and victims of unrequited love. Joel, having caught a glimpse of her once in his rose garden, is smitten with the fairy’s beauty. The Leanan Sidhe, contrary to her very nature, becomes attached to this older man because of his kindness. In episode 14, we see the conclusion of this love story, with Joel peacefully passing away after finally getting to see the mysterious woman in his rose garden once more. However, the legend of the Celtic fairy woman known as the Leanan Sidhe didn’t always have such positive and romantic stories attached to it.
The history dates back to ancient Celtic lore as evident by the name itself. Leanan Sidhe basically translates as “mistress of the fairy mounds” as reference to the fact that you could expect to meet a member of the fae race on a hill or burial mound. These hills were often seen as entrances to the realm of Tir Na Nog or Fairy — that otherworldly place the original inhabitants of Ireland were forced into when foreign invaders took over their land. In the ancient Celtic tradition, Leanan Sidhe were seen as lovers to artists, who often acted as their muse. In exchange for the poet’s devotion, they would be inspired to write poems and songs that would bring them great fame for years to come. The only downside was that loving a fae woman often leads to obsession and an early death. In some ways we can relate this to our modern idea of the “starving artist” — those creative types who toil away for hours on a project, forsaking self-care in favor of inspiration and dreams of fame.
Ancient Magus’ Bride paints the Leanan Sidhe as leaning more towards a vampire though, something that is a more modern idea. This change in the story may have stemmed from a later Victorian era obsession with the myth of the Succubi. It was then taken up by famous Irish poet W.B. Yeats who popularized the Leanan Sidhe as a blood-sucking Succubi figure in Irish folklore. In a quote from his book Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, Yeats writes “Most of the Gaelic poets, down to quite recent times, have had a Leanhaun Shee, for she gives inspiration to her slaves and is indeed the Gaelic muse — this malignant fairy. Her lovers, the Gaelic poets, died young. She grew restless and carried them away to other worlds, for death does not destroy her power.” A fairly dark representation, but one I believe the mangaka was drawing from when she wrote the character of the Leanan Sidhe.
Changelings and Shannon’s Origins
Episode 15 of Ancient Magus’ Bride introduces us to the concept of the changeling, a figure in Irish and Germanic folklore with a long history. In the anime, the character of Shannon tells Chise that she is a changeling, a fairy child who was exchanged at birth with a human child to live out her days with a human family. Her human changeling counterpart on the other hand got to live out his days in the fairy world, slowly becoming less and less human over time. Shannon eventually returns to the Otherworld after working as a doctor, bringing her knowledge of medicine to those fairies that need it. In contrast, the true myth of the changeling is often brought about by our lack of knowledge in medicine.
It’s not often that I get to bring up the Lore podcast twice in one blog post, but I’m not one to pass up a chance like this. Episode 11 of Lore deals with the superstitions surrounding changelings, telling of it’s much darker past, filled with fear of the unknown. It particular it tells of past times when our knowledge of medicine was not as advanced as it is now. This lack of knowledge led to misunderstandings and fear which fed into old superstitions. Changelings are commonly thought of as fairy children who are exchanged for a healthy human child. They can be shriveled old fairies, an actual fairy child, or even a bundle of sticks or carved piece of wood. A mother or family member would point to a child as a Changeling if it was born with defects, became bad-tempered, or died suddenly for no reason. It was also thought that children who we would now classify as autistic were actually Changelings.
Ancient Magus’ Bride paints this legend in a positive light, showing Shannon as having grown up to become a successful doctor, eventually marrying the man she replaced. But the legend often skewed much darker and wasn’t just reserved for children, as episode 11 of Lore shows us. It was also used to explain a woman gaining confidence in herself, someone becoming sick, or the onset of depression or other mental health issues. Often these accusations ended in death or severe injury for the accused for the only way to get rid of a Changeling and return the human child was by poison, burning, or beating.
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