Welcome back to another installment of The Mythology of Ancient Magus Bride, where we take a look at the origins behind many of our favorite characters and smaller aspects of the show. As you know from my previous two posts, the mangaka Kore Yamazaki, loved to pull from various mythology in her construction of this world. We see evidence of this all over the place, from the characters themselves to the world building to the minute details. With these posts, I wanted to try and capture and examine these myths and people as examining their origins allows us to have a better and deeper understanding of the show as a whole. Usually I would present you with six aspects of the show to examine, but I only had time for five this time. Tonight we’ll examine the meaning and history of poppy flowers, the origins of Chise’s stone necklace, the mythology of transformative animal pelts, the legends surrounding faerie world time, and the connection between red hair and magic.
The Myth and History of Poppy Flowers
Poppy flowers play an important role throughout the anime and manga for Chise in particular. They are the flowers she crafts in her first lesson of magic with Angelica — pulling from an old memory of her mother — and the flowers she is continually making in her sleep through the help of the teddy bear Elias gives her. They become bartering tools, symbols of her relationship with her long dead mother, and symbols of Chise’s own outpouring of magical energy. Through the last two posts, we know for a fact that Kore Yamazaki is pulling from a variety of different sources for pretty much every detail she adds to this book. Her use of the poppy flower is no different, stemming from a long history of symbolism, mythology, and medicinal uses that make its inclusion in this series no coincidence.
“In the West, red poppies mean remembrance. In the East, they symbolize passionate love and success. In the West, white poppies mean a peaceful rest. In the East, they’re used for remembrance at funerals.” (Atelier Emily blog) The symbolism behind poppy flowers are as extensive as their many uses, going back to Ancient Greece. It is said that the god of sleep (Hypnos) and the god of death (Thanatos) live in a cave that can only be reached by following the river of forgetfulness, the River Lethe. At the entrance of the cave, travelers are beckoned to with bunches of poppies as the twins sleep, often adorned with poppy flowers in their hair. Often you could also see Hypnos depicted with a glass of poppy juice in his hands, which he offers to travelers. The association is understandable given the nature of the opium poppy and its ability to both induce a sense of intoxication as well as pain relief, producing a mental state where one could easily feel like they are being transported to the world or dreams or even the Underworld.. However, poppy flowers have another important meaning, one that developed after the first World War: remembrance. Shortly after the end of World War I, soldiers returned to Flanders to find the fields where their comrades had been slain full of red poppy flowers. The color so reminded them of the blood spilt during the battle, that red poppies have been made the official flower of remembrance.
And it’s this multifaceted history that informs the juxtaposition of Chise and poppy flowers throughout the series. They first appear as the flowers she remembers seeing with her mother in one of her few happy memories, becoming both a symbol of remembrance as well as death. We also see its connection to the world of dreams through Elias’ teddy bear which produces tiny crystal poppies as Chise sleeps. As for Chise using the flowers for bartering, I like to think there’s a connection there as well, especially when we remember that opium poppy plants are highly valuable for the drug they contained. There’s a lot more I didn’t have space to include here, so I encourage you to dig a little deeper yourself and let me know what you find in the comments.
Adder Stones or the History Behind Chise’s Necklace
One of Elias’ first gifts to Chise on her arrival to his home. A strange stone necklace with a naturally occuring hole straight through the center. We see later that this necklace is not only for Chise’s protection but also allows Elias to track her movements. But could there be a deeper history to this gift, one that would make its prominence throughout the series more understandable. Much like all of Kore Yamazaki’s other inclusions in this series, the stone necklace does come with a variety of magical and historical connotations attached, making a small addition to Chise’s character all the more important through a bit of research.
Adder Stones, Witch Stones, Hag Stones, Serpent’s Eggs, or Glain Neidr are all different names for practically the same thing: a stone with a hole through the center not crafted by human hands. These stones were highly sought after throughout the UK and Europe for their magical properties and ability to bring good fortune. Among other things, these stones have been known to ward off the spirits of the dead, protect against snake bites, prevent bad dreams, banish illness, increase fertility, and see into the word of the fae. Much of its uses can be traced back to the stone’s origin. It was commonly believed that running water could negate magic, and through an adder stone’s creation by river or sea water, it gains the ability to prevent or cancel out magic. This is especially true when we look at its relation to faeries. The legend goes that if you possess or look through the hole of an adder stone, you’ll be able to see through any magic a faerie may be trying to use to disguise themselves or their world, allowing the wearer to see the truth.
In chapter 20 of Ancient Magus Bride, we see Ruth suggest to Chise that she look through the hole of her necklace at a guest that has come to visit Elias. As she looks though the hole of the stone, the appearance of the spirit changes into what it truly is. Yamazaki plays with subtleties when incorporating the mythologies she finds. It’s these small moments and the symbolic meanings behind objects give depth to her stories. For the Adder Stone, not only does it allow Chise to see the truth behind a spirit’s form, it acts as a symbolic gift from Elias that comes with a message. Not only does it somewhat act as a cancellation to her magic, but his gift of this stone to her seems to signify his willingness to want to project her and shield her from bad memories.
Chise’s Enchanted Were-Pelt
The mysterious figure of Ashen Eye makes an appearance one day to the home of Elias and Chise, bearing a gift for the young mage apprentice. This gift? An enchanted fox pelt that he immediately wraps Chise in, sending her off gallivanting through the woods in fox form. It’s a curious gift, one that was probably given out of mischief or misguided well-being, as most fae gifts are. But for the purpose of this story, what could have been some of the origins Kore Yamazaki was drawing from when she wrote this scene and the other scenes when Chise transforms through the magic of the pelt? In fact, there is a long history of enchanted pelts being used to transform into a variety of animals, mainly wolves and bears. Stories you may have heard through the legends and media surrounding werewolves.
Found in the Volsunga Saga, the myth of the father and son pair Sigmund and Sinfjotli is probably one of the more famous Norse myths about the werewolf. It tells of these two wanderers who come upon a cabin in the woods. In it, they find two enchanted wolf pelts that grant them all the power, swiftness, and cunning of an actual wolf. The catch, however, is that once put on, the pelts cannot be taken off for ten full days. The pair agree to use their new powers to hunt down and fight travelers, splitting up to each take down seven men each. But when Sinfjotli breaks the agreement by killing eleven men, his father fatally wounds him. It is only through the power of Odin that the men are healed and able to return to human form. But it wasn’t only animal pelts that could transform men into wolves, many times you could be gifted or find a belt made of hide that could do the trick as well. These kinds of stories were found throughout cultures especially in Celtic and Norse traditions. The word berserk, especially, comes from the legend of the berserkir who were Norse warriors who believed that donning the pelt of their totem animal would grant them its strength. These animals were often bears or wolves.
Chise’s pelt is much the same as the legends above, with some differences in execution and usefulness. In many of the folklore, it seems as though the use of an enchanted pelt or belt would only grant you the form of the animal it was made from. For Chise, she can somehow use the pelt to transform into many different animals, from a fox to a bear to a wolf. All of the animals she transforms into are common were-animals, but the fact that her pelt serves a multi-purpose transformative tool is a fairly different take on the legend as a whole. We see that the basics are the same however. She is granted all the abilities of the animal she becomes with only a slight amount of confusion or forgetfulness.
The Passage of Time in the Faerie World
The motif of faerie time makes an appearance in episode fifteen but also periodically throughout the series. The Otherworld that Kore Yamazaki has crafted for her faerie characters is a world where time passes at a faster rate than the outside world. We see Chise and Elias go into this world in order to heal, only to come out and find months have passed in the human world. This concept of the difference in the passage of time between worlds isn’t new. It’s a motif that’s been used throughout Celtic and Welsh mythology for ages, and even beyond the UK. The faerie Otherworld is supposed to be a land of abundance, joy, and everlasting beauty, bordering on our perception of what the afterlife may look like, so it makes sense that time would pass differently there.
The amount of time that passes is different between stories however. It could be that a day corresponds to a year or that a month or two corresponds to a century. In the story of Oisin, it tells of a great Celtic warrior named Oisin who encounters a beautiful woman on a pure white horse while out hunting one day. The woman tells Oisin that she is the princess of Tir Na Nog and she is looking for a great warrior to come with her to the Otherworld and be her husband and king. Oisin is so captivated by this woman that he immediately jumps on the back of her horse and follows her into the faerie realm. There they are married and live together for three years. However, Oisin begins to long for the familiarity of home and eventually convinces his fae wife to let him return, with the one caveat that he cannot set foot off his horse or he will never be allowed to return. On his return, though, he finds that 300 years have passed since his departure, and in a twist of fate, Oisin falls of his horse becoming a shriveled old man in the process. It’s an interesting tale, with many more throughout Celtic lore like it. I would even compare the legends of King Arthur’s foretold return to these tales as well. The legend goes that he is resting on the magical island of Avalon, due to return and become king once again, an obvious blending of Celtic and Christian mythos.
The slowed passage of time in the faerie world becomes an advantage for Chise, allowing her to heal in a safe environment. Titania and Oberon also make repeated offers to Elias to allow her to stay in faerie in order to counteract her short lifespan, but Yamazaki’s Otherwold comes at a price, your humanity. I don’t know if I’ve heard too many tales of a human losing their humanity when they go into a faerie realm in the sense that their body changes. I have heard legends, especially of people who venture into the Underworld, where eating any food of that world will trap you there forever. It’s fairly interesting how Yamazaki takes these myths and gives them her own little twist in order to fit her story.
The Connection Between Red Hair and Magical Ability
In the Japanese lexicon of colorful hairstyles, red hair has a variety of meanings: temper, outgoing personality, tsundere characteristics, and sexuality. They were also commonly associated with European characters since the vast majority of Japanese people have black or brown hair. However, from Chariot in Little Witch Academia to Mary in Mary and the Witch’s Flower to Shirayuki in Snow White with the Red Hair, another meaning is starting to be ascribed to red-haired characters: magical abilities or an association with the occult (more in Shirayuki’s case of working with herbs). Chise does carry many of the ascribed characteristics of classic red-haired anime characters, but I think it’s interesting to look at the juxtaposition of her Japanese heritage, red-hair, and powerful magical abilities. If we also compare this to legends surrounding women with red hair, we’ll see that there is a long history of red-haired men and women being associated with magic.
The misconceptions and folklore surrounding redheads evolved over the ages since the time of the Greeks. Many of these prejudices have to do with the simple fact that red hair is extremely rare, coming from a mutated recessive gene. This commonly put redheads at the forefront of in-group/out-group mentality and scapegoating. During the middle-ages, it was believed that a red-haired child was conceived through “unclean” sex, either outside of marriage or with the Devil himself. In the evolution of Christian iconography, many of the foremost temptress (or “independent” as we would call them now) women were pictured as redheads, from Eve to Lilith. However, the connection between witchcraft and red hair really took off during the age of the witch hunting craze through the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum. In it, it is said that red hair, green eyes, and freckles are obvious signs of guilt because it means they had contact or relations with the Devil. There is also the connotation of the red-head as the temptress, something that can be easily associated with witchcraft or magic as well.
In Chise’s case, we definitely do see the Japanese meanings behind red hair: the fiery personality and the drive to do whatever she can for her friends. But what we also get is a stark contrast between her Japanese heritage and the almost European connotations behind her hair color. Her status as outcast in Japan is made ever more apparent by her hair color, something passed down from her mother much like her ability to see spirits. When she comes over to England, that feeling of outcast disappears and she is loved for her red hair, often called Robin by the faeries around her (something I’ve touched on in previous posts). I think it’s fitting then, in episode twelve, when her chosen mode of transportation back to Elias from the dragon kingdom is in the form of a phoenix. Fiery, powerful, and a symbol of life.
Thanks for reading! Part 4 will begin with entry number six I wasn’t able to get to: the myths surrounding Yule and the Winter Solstice. As always, let me know if there’s something you want me to cover. See you then!
Update 3/23/18: Updated chapter reference and photo in Adder Stone section. Updated were-pelt photo.
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