Okay! We’re back with a normal issue of Nyogtha. No travelogues, just your questions and my answers about things that go bump in the night.
Hey Mr. Lucard. I finally read one of your columns yesterday thanks to a link in Eric and Gloomchen’s columns. After reading that Dagon argument thread, I think you are my new favorite writer. Anyhow, I have been getting into reading about religion lately and just got finished with a Mesoamerican religion class. I want to learn more about all interesting religions but I need some good books to start with. Any ideas for me? I’m just having trouble finding an interesting book that doesn’t misinform about the particular religion due to the author’s particular politics. Thanks for any reply.
Thanks for writing Angelo. It is hard to find books on religions, either currently practiced ones or dead ones, that don’t have some degree of bias to them. I guess my best recommendations would be the following:
ANYTHING by Joseph Campbell. Yes, I know that’s probably cliche to hear, but he’s well respected and his books are easily accessible to both the scholar and the common reader.
“A Field Guide to Demons” by Carol and Dinah Mack. Written by two people with Master’s degrees in Theology. At no time does any religious bias stand out. It’s a fascinating read to see what religions many of Christianity’s devils and demons originally came from and their original role in their respective Pantheons.
“Religions of the Ancient World” by Sarah Iles Johnston.
“Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic: Sumerian Origins of the Great Flood”. I recommend this for one big reason. Robert Best shows where the story of Noah came from and how the Biblical Myth is different from the original Sumerian epic. A lot of Christian zealots go nuts when they see this book, accusing Best of perverted Christian “fact” but in truth, it’s merely a compare and contrast of how one story is taken and changed by another religion for its own purposes. Nothing more. Excellent read.
“Spirituality and World Religions: A comparative Introduction” by George Saint-Laurent. Hard to find and a little bit old (1999) but well done and one of the better intro textbooks to the subject.
These five should be a good start for you Angelo, and I hope you continue you enjoyment of religious studies. Even if you’re not a religious person, the concepts of theology are an enjoyable read. Especially when you start to compare them to each other, or make note of the weird quirks each have.
Reader Greg Frame writes,
Great article, I was just wondering if there was an order that the Lovecraft stories, on the website you linked, should be read? Thanks.
As I told Greg via email, there is no rhyme or reason to Lovecraft’s writing. It is true that HP Lovecraft did end up reusing certain characters from his earliest stories in later years and of course that certain characters would reappear in more than one story such as Randolph Carter or various Great Old Ones, but that’s really it.
Instead, I gave Greg a starter’s guide to the best Lovecraft has to offer. For those of you also interested in learning about the Cthulhu Mythos, take not of the following short story titles and get ready to enjoy some great terror fiction.
Call of Cthulhu
The Shadow over Innsmouth
The Music of Eric Zann
The Rats in the Walls
The Dunwich Horror
The Outsider (my personal favorite)
The Thing on the Doorstep
The Music of Erich Zann
Just grab an anthology of Lovecraft and dig in.
My two favorite NON Lovecraft Mythos stories are “The Yellow Sign” by Robert Chambers and “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” By Neil Gaiman.
Reader Charles Mayo writes,
As someone who likes mythology and folklore. Also was once an avid Vampire/D&D nerd I like your column. I’m working on two stories one involving Norse Myth and various versions of the Trickster gods in myth. And also Werewolves I’ve picked up books on all these subjects but I was wondering if you had any favorites?
Once again good columns. I see you had to explain the Dagon from history and the one from the Cthulhu Mythos. Have you had to explain to folks that the Necronomicon isn’t real and that Lovecraft and a couple of his writer friends referenced each other in one anothers’ stories,
and thats what has made people believe that this mythos was/is “real”. At least thats what I’ve read.
Hi Chuck! Yes, I have had to explain that Lovecraft invented the Necronomicon and that it isn’t real. There is a faux Necronomicon based on Sumerian deities out there by an author only known as, “Simon,” but it’s totally fake. Much like people actually search for the Magus as if it was a real grimoire or Tobin’s Spirit Guide as if that tome existed anywhere outside of Ghostbusters.
Too often people mix fantasy with reality to a dangerous degree. And that’s why we have Chick tracts. I mean…that’s why we have Ron Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters. I mean… oh never mind. :-P
As for Trickster Gods, the best stories I find are old world Hebrew Tales, as Jehovah was originally portrayed as such, or Native American tales. Have you read the book, “Fool’s Crow” by James Welch or “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven” by Sherman Alexie? I’d recommend either for excellent Native American tales.
As for Lycanthropes? Well, I really don’t read fiction that much. I’m very much a non fiction reader, but I can recommend an anthology simply called “The Ultimate Werewolf.” I got it back in 1992, and the stories are still quite good. I would also suggest “The Vampire and the Werewolf” by R Chetwynd-Hayes as it is amazingly cute. And if you are in need of one more Werewolf story, I’ll appeal to your D&D playing heart and suggest “Heart of Midnight” from the Ravenloft novel collection by J. Robert King. A great twist on werewolf tales.
That’s all the letters I’m going to do for today as I’d actually like to churn out an essay of some sort for you guys.
The Mummy’s Curse
I thought it would be fun this week to cover the origins of this recent bit of folklore. The Curse of King Tut can be traced back to our most famous of mummies, King Tutankhamun. King Tut was a mere child when he died as Pharaoh; only 18 years old in 1320 BC. Famous Egyptologist and Archaeologist Howard Carter and his benefactor Lord Carnarvon finally opened the tomb on Nov, 26th, 1922 to find the greatest collection of Egyptian treasure (and by that I mean of both historical and monetary value) ever unearthed. Everything from furniture to weapons, to the preserved corpse of King Tut himself were found. However, once the tomb was opened, a straight set of events began to unfold, from disease to accidents, began to affect those associated with the dig. Was there in fact a curse upon the tomb?
Before we go into the occurrences, I want to bring up that nowhere in the tomb was there any commentary about a curse. None whatsoever. The entire theory of a mummy’s curse came from English Spiritualists and Occultists and over the years, the average joe has begun to believe there actually was some obscure curse written in hieroglyphics on a pyramid wall somewhere. But in fact, this is not so.
Although the tomb was opened on Nov 26th, The official opening ceremony would be held on Nov 29th. With newspapers and scholars around the world paying attention to this momentous occasion, Carter and Carnarvon began to exhume the tomb. Carter ended up spending from Christmas 1922 until the year 1930 removing goods from the tomb and cataloguing them, where they can now be seen in the Griffith Institute at Oxford University. Lord Carnarvon stayed at the tomb and continued his work there.
On March 6th of 1923, Carnarvon was bitten on the cheek by a mosquito. He cut the bite while shaving and it became inflamed and infected. Carnarvon but iodine on the cut and rested for a few days. When he felt better, he accompanied his daughter to Cairo, where he hoped he would be able to get medical supervision to look at his wound.
A week later Carnarvon had a fever and the blood poisoning in his cut caused him develop pneumonia. Carter came to his Lord’s bedside, as did Carnarvon’s wife and Son from other parts of the British Empire. Eventually Carnarvon died and the official cause was labeled Typhoid Fever.
Now here is where all the mumbo jumbo and controversy starts. A friend of Carnarvon, an American romance novelist named Marie Corelli believed he had not died from the bite but that the Lord has accidentally poisioned himself while handling items from King Tut’s tomb. She quoted Lord Carnarvon’s book, The Egyptian History of The Pyramids, where it stated many items in Egyptian pyramids and tombs contained secret poisons that would catch a grave robber unaware and cause him to suffer painfully before finally letting him die.
Now this is a reasonable belief. After all, it was in the realms of both the possible and credible. Could the mosquito bite have just been timed with the poison interacting with Carnarvon’s system? Or was it merely another death caused by a mosquito bite, an affliction that is quite common in the middle east even to this day?
But then of course Arthur Conan Doyle had to stick his nose into things again. Remember Doyle? Remember the Fairy incident I wrote about a few weeks ago in an earlier column? Well yeah, Mr. “OMG! I believe in everything and anything supernatural and I will do anything to prove these things exist” got involved and became the catalyst for the Mummy’s curse. Hard to believe this nut job wrote the Sherlock Holmes novels.
Now to be fair to Doyle, there were other writers suggesting the possibility of the Undead wreaking vengeance from beyond the grave on Carnarvon, but those were relatively quiet and dismissed. However on April 6th, the day after Carnarvon died, Doyle told the American Press, which then relayed it to the London Morning Post that he believed Carnarvon’s death was caused by. “An evil elemental.” I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. Doyle then launched into a diatribe about how all Egyptian tombs were protected by the occult and spiritual forces and how we are ignorant of what powers the Egyptians had in those days and what form the power of the elementals could take.
And with that we have the origins of the Mummy’s curse. But it gets worse. On April 7th, Doyle continued to flap his gums, stating he knew of another person who had fallen prey to Egyptian Black Magick, his friend Fletcher Robinson, who wrote for the Daily Express newspaper and also helped Doyle write the most popular Sherlock Holmes story ever, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Doyle claimed Fletcher had been investigating the British Museum’s mummy of an ancient priestess and whether or not it “exuded an evil aura.” Doyle claimed to have warned Fletcher not to investigate the mummy, but he was ignored and then Fletcher met with an untimely death. Of course, like Carnarvon, Fletcher died of typhoid fever, but Doyle insisted this was the work of elemental spirits and that typhoid was merely the power of the elementals guarding the mummies.
Newspapers and credible sources for the most part reported Doyle’s ramblings, but paid them no credible heed. Most people believed it was either Carnarvon had a brush with a hidden poison trap in the tomb, or he died from something akin to Malaria thanks to the mosquito bite. But as time went on, more and more peculiarities came to light about Carnarvon’s death.
First off, there were no mosquitoes in the Valley of the Kings, where King Tut was buried. And there never had been. For Carnarvon to have been bitten, it would have to have been in Luxor, where Carnarvon was staying during the excavations of the tomb. At the same time, it was proven than two mysterious things happened when Lord Carnavon died. The first was that the second he died, the entire city of Cairo lost electrical power for five minutes. British officials and newspapers and the Cairo hospital were able to confirm these events did coincide at the exact same time. As well, the son and 6th Earl of Carnarvon reported that at 2am on April 5th, Carnarvon’s dog Suzie, howled at the top of its lungs and dropped dead when it was it perfectly fine health.
And Doyle’s theories began to gain favor with people around the world. Perhaps there WAS a curse on the tomb of Tutankhamun.
At this point, every crackpot out there began to state something about the curse. Spiritualists were claiming to have warned Carnarvon about meddling with the Pharaoh and releasing dark powers onto the world. A clairvoyant named Cheiro wrote that he was possessed by the spirit of Egyptian Princess Makitaton, seventh daughter of the Pharaoh Akhnaton, and that s/he had tried to warn Carnarvon about a plague that would inflict him if he removed a single object from Tut’s resting place.
And newspapers began to run the false tale stating that not only did Carnarvon know there was a curse on the tomb and proceeded anyway, but that the entire excavation team knew, and that their greed and lust for fame won out, and so the team ignored all the warnings they had received. Which was in truth, none.
Another false story that came about was that supposedly the team came across an inscription over the enterence of the tomb. It was supposedly translated by a concerned Egyptologist and leaked to the press. “Death shall come on swift wings to whoever toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh.” Again, pure crapola. But like the mainstream press of our day, those of the 1920’s ran wild with this story, embellishing it and never bothering to actually look for facts. The story eventually grew to Carnarvon removed the tablet and hanging his own coat of arms in its stead. Why would he do that? It makes no sense. The man held ancient Egypt with great respect and awe, not contempt. Just sad.
TRUE Egyptologists played down the curse aspect. But even then, superstition began to weed out science and fact. Arthur Weigall, ex-chief inspector of Antiquities for Luxor wrote a correspondence to the Daily Mail in which he recited passages from a 1923 book (which of course was published AFTER Carnarvon’s death), which had a chapter called, “The Malevolence of Ancient Egyptian Spirits.” He reiterated the Fletcher Robinson incident, along with other unlucky Egyptian artifacts which had brought their previous owners doom. Weigall even included a story about Carnarvon’s canary and how it was eaten by a cobra that somehow got inside the cage on the day the tomb was opened. And of course Weigall ended the letter by saying,
“I have heard the most absurd nonsense talked in Egypt by those that believe in the malevolence of the dead; but at the same time, I try to keep an open mind on the subject.”
In April of 1926, Dr. Douglas Derry of the Cairo medical school reported finding a blemish on Tutankhamun’s mummy in the same spot on the face as Carnarvon’s. Weigall again had to interject his own comments saying, “… I must admit that some very strange things – call them coincidences if you will – have happened in connection with the Luxor excavations.”
And of course now that Scientists and Egyptologists were commenting that the curse was real, everyone started believing in it. The British Museum began received scores of packages containing Egyptian artifacts from people who feared they would be cursed in a similar fashion. At least the Museum gained from all this hoopla.
Now you’re probably wondering how all this spread from just one man’s, even a famous and well respected man, death. Well, Carnarvon wasn’t the only person that died or suffered misfortune from the excavating team.
A few months after Carnarvon died, his half brother, one Col. Aubrey Herbert, died of septicemia after a minor operation. He had nothing to do with the excavation by the way. Next on the hit list was Egyptologist Evelyn White. He committed suicide in a taxi cab in Sept 1924. It was rumoured he was part of the curse becauseMAYBE he had removed fragments of Egyptian artifacts from a monastery in Egypt and he feared the Curse. I personally think it because his parents named a boy Evelyn. There was even a note found reading,
“I know there is a curse on me, although I had leave to take those manuscripts to Cairo. The monks told me the curse would work all the same. Now it is done.”
Almost everyone who died in an odd way was being added to the curse’s list of victims. A friend of Carnarvon, Millionaire George Jay Gould died 24 hours after being shown the tomb of Tut by Carter from a sudden fever? More poison? The press didn’t think so. He was labeled a victim of the curse.
The New York Times reported on March 26th, 1926, “Sixth Tomb Hunter Succumbs in Egypt.” This latest death was the Director of Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre, Professor Georges Benedite. Georges tripped and fell in the tomb and quickly contracted pneumonia. Again, it would seem poison traps would be the case. Instead, Dr. JC Mardrus, the man who translated The Arabian Nights voiced that Georges had been stricken by an attack from unknown forces which the ancient Egyptians were obviously able to control.
By 1934 the curse had supposedly logged the following victims: Lord Carnarvon, his two half brothers, Evelyn White, Benedite, a Dr. Archibald Reed, who died of exhaustion after examining the Tutankamun mummy, Howard Carter’s assistant, who died of pleurisy, Carnarvon’s secretary, who died of a heart attack, the Secretary’s father, Lord Westbury who died of a suicide after hearing his son had died from the curse. A small 8 year old boy who was crushed by Lord Westbury’s hearse, Prince Ali Kamal Fahmy Bey of Egypt, who entered the tomb and was murdered while visiting England, an unnamed British Museum employee who suddenly dropped dead while labeling objects from the tomb, and finally Mr. Arthur Weigall himself, who helped perpetuate the belief in the curse, who died of a fever like so many others. The curse even lasted longer than any of the people who had anything tangentially related to do with the excavation. In 1976, the Director of Antiquities for the Egyptian National Museum died while treasures from Tut’s tomb were being moved to England.
But a rational and skeptical mind notices that the curse claimed almost no one from the actual dig. None of the workers, and not the man responsible for its unearthing, Harold Carter. The worst thing that happened to Carter was he developed gallstones later in life. He finally died of a heart attack in 1939, but lived to be well over 60. Carter’s friend and fellow excavator Callender died at roughly the same time and age, and some members, like Lady Herbert and Richard Adamson, lived until the early 1980’s. As these were the people who first entered the tomb and defiled it, why would they have survived for so long if the curse was real?
All of Carter’s experts who helped him find and excavate the tomb lived until they were in their seventies. Dr. Derry, who reported the blemish on Tut’s face and did the unwrapping of the mummy lived to be 87 and simply died of old age. You’d think he of all people would have suffered as well. When looked at with a fine eye, the curse only seemed to affect those remotely associated with the excavation while not affecting any of the principal players, save Carnarvon, at all.
The truth is, there was no curse. That simple. The only time curses were ever found in Ancient Egypt were in private tombs, never in Pharaoh tombs, and in Tutankamun’s day, they were totally unknown and nonexistent.
In fact the complied list from 1934 was dissected and shown to be unsubstantiated innuendo and heresy, by the very man who wrote it, Hebert Winlock. The list he complied was purposely to show that the newspapers were not fact checking and merely spewing pabulum to the public. Carnarvon was known to be sick before he entered the tomb and went in against his doctor’s wishes. Even after the bite was infected, Carnarvon ignored doctor’s orders and remained heavily active in the excavation. It’s no wonder he died knowing this. Evelyn White and Carnarvon’s half brother had nothing to do with Tutankhamun in any way. Carter’s assistant too was very ill before entering the tomb. Prince Ali was murdered by his wife, who shot him for cheating on her. No items from Tut’s tomb actually went to the British Museum, so there’s no way an attendant could have died from them, and Weigall was not part of the expedition and was linked only to the curse because he had commented on it.
Every single death that was linked to the Curse had some evidence that it had come from something else, either a prior sickness, to being made up by the press, to newspapers randomly taken a person who died and linking them to the curse somehow.
In all the curse of King Tut is a great piece of folklore lacking any substance. More than anything it proves why the average person should remain skeptical to the mainstream media, as even back in the 1920’s, journalists were willing to make up stories to sell papers and gain renown, rather than actually reporting news. A sad commentary on the media that it’s been style over substance for almost a hundred years, if not longer.
A friend emailed me saying she received six pounds or pre-cooked smoked Salmon. She wondered what she can do with it. So for this week’s recipe, I’ve decided to help her out!
Since she already has the salmon and precooked to boot, there’s not much you can do with it besides reheat it, or use it in a salad or something like that. I also have no idea how done the Salmon is, and that plays a big factor in making a recipe. So instead I’m going to include TWO different sauces she can use in conjunction with the Salmon to make it even tastier.
Sauce 1: Tomato-Caper Vinaigrette
I love capers! I can’t get enough of them. They’re so delicious and I use them whenever I can. I know capers are hit or miss with most people, but here the combination of tomatoes, capers, and salmon, will create a wonderful tangy flavor.
3 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 cup aged sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons copped fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Easy recipe to do. Just combine all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture sit a room temperature for at least half an hour. Once you have cooked the fish again (Grill it or broil it!) just drizzle a few teaspoons on the fish.
Sauce 2: Crunchy Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette
What can I say? Salmon’s and Vinaigrette’s are pretty much linked, especially in Western Europe. I’d serve this Salmon dish with Couscous or Basmati.
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse or whole grain Dijon mustard. (I recommend whole grain. It’s the best mustard you can get, but it might be too strong for some).
1 small shallot, finely chopped.
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.
With this sauce, you’re going to want to take the vinegar, mustard and shallot and whisk them together in a medium bowl. Then gradually add in the honey, then the oil, and keep whisking until everything is emulsified. Season to taste with the salt and pepper and like with the first sauce, drizzle a few tablespoons on the grilled or broiled Salmon.
I hope these two sauces have been a help. And to my other readers, if you have a cooking question or are looking for a recipe for some gathering or event, feel free to email me, as it’s what I’m here for!
Until next week when I’ll be back with more spooky tales from beyond the grave, you can find me over at my blog. I’ll see you then.