A continued look into the strange inhabitants of The Ancient Magus' Bride
Welcome back to The Wonderful Worlds of Fantasy! This week, we’ll be exploring some of the more recent items and creatures seen in The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Whether it be large dogs, tiny faeries, or wandering evils, everything has a root that can be traced back to real life myths, so let’s get started!
As we discussed last time, both magicians and magi come with a large and diverse history of magic, astronomy, and the unexplained. One of their most critical tools, the wand, is so deeply ingrained in this history that it has a unique history of its own. Wands can come in all sorts of sizes and shapes – from a thin rod to a largely decorated sceptre – and have a variety of purposes. Wands can vaguely be traced to the Stone Age in the form of "sticks" – long rods wielded by figures of power as a status symbol. It then became a part of many cultures, ranging from the Egyptians, who used a wand to send the departed souls to the next life, to the Romans, who used it in their mythological stories (called a caduceus, which is now a common symbol for medical practices), to the shaman in Central and East Asia, who used it as a drumming stick for ceremonies.
The true mystical power of the wand seems to originate most from Paganistic and Renaissance movements, where believers of the practice used wands to cast spells and perform rituals. Though the wand (called an athame in these rituals) was used in a more direct, aggressive fashion, many of the concepts can be linked to modern fantastical uses of wand. For example, athames were carved from a branch of a tree and often decorated for the person’s specific nature or characteristics. At other times, they were commonly associated with a particular element, like air or fire. Shamans in East Asia also may have contributed to the magical nature of the wand – they used it for religious ceremonies as well as medical purposes.
In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, wands are used as a way to better utilize and access a magi’s magic. Elias possesses more of a cane-like wand, whereas Chise makes her own wand using her magic, hair, and a tree born from the corpse of Nevus, a very old dragon. Chise can perform magic with or without the wand, but it’s seen to help her out in sticky situations, like when she wants to return home or needs to transform into a particular creature.
Chimeras, unlike wands or magi, come from a single source: Greek mythology. The word comes from khimaira, meaning "she-goat" or the original "chimera." Originally a fire-breathing beast that was a combination of many creatures, the term now refers to any horrid creation that features multiple animal parts. In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, one such example is Cartaphilius’ projects, and Ruth’s beloved owner, Isabel. Cartaphilius originally makes chimeras for the sole purpose of experimenting with life and death and finding a way to live without constantly suffering.
In Greek mythology, however, the chimera is often imagined as a lion-like creature, possessing a goat and lion head, a lion body, and a dragon-like tail with a snake head attached. Anyone who saw the chimera was doomed to die a terrible death; it was one of the worst omens to have. It was also a representation of an unspeakable, yet nearly immortal evil: only true heroes could defeat it in battle. The story of Heracles is one such example, as he fought off and killed the Nemean Lion, an offspring of the original Chimera. It is only Bellerophon, a mortal son of Poseidon, and the assistance of Pegasus, who slays the Chimera in one of the most striking tales about heroism in Greek mythology. There are traces of Chimera possibly originating from the Middle East and in Egyptian history, but without further proof, the Chimera is wholly a Greek creation, now a fantastical reminder of the horrors of manipulation.
The leanan sídhe is also a direct reference, this time to Celtic culture and mythology. Stemming from the Gaelic word leannan (concubine, sweetheart) and sídhe (of the fairy mound), the leanan sídhe is a woman from the fairy folk who comes to steal mortal men’s hearts away while also becoming their muse. Her power was often a double-edged sword, giving artists and writers the greatest imagination, but also inevitable suffering and madness. In return, she gains the truest emotion that she craves for all eternity. While not originally portrayed as evil or insidious, myths about the leanan sídhe appearing as a type of vampire no doubt stemmed from many fictional tales about artists losing themselves to madness out of creativity and unhealthy inspirations. This was especially popularized by the famous W.B. Yeats, who called the leanan sídhe a "bloodsucking vampire." From there on, this myth was passed on by other famous artists until it became a common belief.
In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, the leanan sídhe is a resident of Joel Garland's garden, taking on the form of a faerie vampire that can slowly suck the lives out of lovers in return for giving them great talent. She intentionally kept herself distant from Joel so he would not die an early death. Unbeknownst to her and Joel however, she still had an effect of making his garden bloom while also slowly draining him of life. After Joel passes away, she decides to remain in his garden, refusing to find any more lovers to ruin.
Next time: Cats? Banshees? Werewolves? In Part 4, we’ll be looking at more mystical creatures of The Ancient Magus' Bride and where they come from!