Monday, October 31, 2011

Light on Lolth from the Land of the Rising Sun

In my previous posts on Lolth, you have seen me use an identification of the Demon Queen of Spiders with the ancient figure of Lilith to draw the strands of the demonic, the vampiric, and the arachnid, together with the dark elves, to revision a coherent divine niche out of traditional and game materials. The name Liloth will serve to identify this composite or revisionary demon queen. I have, however, one more strand that I wish to draw on. For this final strand, we look to Japan and its rich store of folklore. Therein we find a figure of the spider woman, though she goes by multiple names in different areas and in different stories. She has rightly become a popular figure in Japanese horror, and provides some further possibilities for my vision of Liloth. I know that my references here are not exhaustive as I would like them to be, but I welcome any further resources that my readers may alert us to.

The figure is an attractive one to weave into our web of Liloth, because she is beautiful, and she combines various features of a beautiful woman and a spider, depending on depiction, just as Lolth does in her various depictions or aspects. She uses her beauty and charm to capture men. Playing on the association with strings, she often complements her appearance by playing on the biwa or some other traditional Japanese stringed instrument. This adds another possible area for exploration to Liloth: why not make her a patron of stringed music? If the silk of Liloth and driders were strong enough to hold a tune, it would have many other applications as well. Can we learn more from portrayals of this figure? Let us turn to the names used.

Right away, we face a problem of terminology. I found that there are at least three names that this shapeshifting yokai, or bakemono, goes by: tsuchigumo, jorogumo, and kumo onna. The first two names have entries on wikipedia which promise to be helpful for those wanting more details to mine:
Tsuchigumo or Jorōgumo

The latter name seems to be more common. The jorogumo entry at the Obakemono project provides additional information from folklore (and about the spider that shares the same name). The fact that there is a particular species of spider involved fits with game developments in which a particular kind of spider is particularly identified with Lolth. For an appearance of the the jorogumo in an RPG product, we need look no further than the cover of the final installment in the Kaidan adventure series Curse of the Golden Spear:

Michael Tumey & Rite Publishing's Dark Path, cover by Jason Rainville

Thanks to Michael Tumey for reminding me of this and allowing the use of the image. (I do wish there was a bigger version available, as I forgot this fact because one has to look at the illustration for some time to realize the woman's nature.)

The final name that I found for this creature is kumo onna. This is the name that occurs in Dark Tales of Japan: The Spider Woman, which is viewable on YouTube (parts 1, 2, and 3 -- thanks to Dave Gross who retaught me how to use Google in a moment of mental impairment). While these different names are used in different contexts, so far I have no reason to think that they represent any important distinctions in the figure, at least for our purposes here. Other places that you kind find the Japanese spider woman: Hellboy cartoon, Sword of Storms, features one, and so does the manga/anime xxxHolic, which has a character named Jorougumo. (The latter's blond hair is unique among the characters, which not only serves to mark her out as the sexy blond, but recalls the white hair of the drow -- hair the color of spider silk.) The figure also shows up as the Spider Queen in the video game Okami.

This matter of hair is a particular area that I would pay attention to if I were rebuilding avatars of Liloth to fight in games, and, for that matter, vampires/driders. Liloth's spidermaids (little Miss Lolthets?) would fit with the kind of action I see in the Japanese portrayals, and with the male fascination in women's long hair, if the web were to strike out from their hair. It also calls to mind all the white-haired witches in kung fu movies that are able to attack with their hair.

But there is more to be gained from reflecting on the jorogumo (or whichever name you prefer) than adding these elements to the characterization and mechanical build of Liloth.  Often, divine or demonic figures are assumed to be popular in only one culture or segment of the world's population in RPG worlds (a human god, a dwarven god, an Eastern god, etc.)  Whether assuming a world in which such supernatural figures are real, or from real world cases of amazing parallels between mythic figures (accounted for however), Liloth might benefit not merely from some Oriental elements, but from having an Oriental presence, as well.  If, say, driders and their goddess have an above ground (nocturnal) presence in your fantasy Japan, this is another area of world-building that will call for explanation and lead to more world-building.

We might do well to close by reflecting on this figure from the Jungian perspective: this is a male anima archetypal figure, and a negative one. It represents the fear that woman will catch you in her web, and that though she seems beautiful, she will turn out to be a monster that will suck you dry to sustain her own life. That she would reign over an entire underworld of threatening, shadowy figures as matriarch is not surprising, once we become aware of the elements that she reflects. That this figure of Liloth would seem like a more compelling figure is in keeping with the strength of the psychological elements combined: lust, entrapment, loss of self and life, etc.

In closing let me add this addendum: I believed I was being creative and somewhat original in my identification of Lolth and Lilith, but to show the nigh impossibility of actually being the first person to have a totally unique thought and do so something with it, check out this link that I later read, and this illustration that I recently found. While all the connections are not present, either implicitly or explicitly, it gives one pause if one is inclined to entertain Jungian thoughts. But who can tell with the power of linguistic attraction at work?  On that note, I bid you Happy Halloween, and a good Mythopoeic Monday.

Lilith Queen of Lust by Icequake Design

Other contemporary illustrations of the jorogumo may be found about the internet, for example, check out this illustration by Matthew Meyer.

1 comment:

  1. Por ese agujero en la conciencia ruedan y se abren camino unas esferas violetas o amarillas.