Monday, January 16, 2012

Execution by Element

wirenoose.JPG  By: taliesin

I had another one of those thoughts, recently.  (Hopefully, I'm not among the last folk to have it, and just don't know it.)  A steady diet of period pieces and fantasy sometimes prompts these things at odd moments.  My thought is this: it seems to me that before the modern period, it may be that all forms of execution may be grouped by substance of the cause or means of execution.  How?  Elementally, my dear readers.

Recall the four classical elements, then think about how premodern convicts were executed and the element involved.  Those who are stoned or buried alive: Earth.  Those who are drowned: Water.  Those who are burned: Fire.  The only element that may not obviously be associated with a historically popular means of execution is Air.  Perhaps hanging or being tossed from high places corresponds with Air.  Perhaps strangulation also belongs with Air.  What other means of execution are left?  Beheading?  Arguably, execution by metal would also be an Earth execution.

In a fantasy setting, I would like this elemental um, element, to come to the fore.  Going by the old adage, let the punishment fit the crime, certain executions, if not all corporal punishments, would be by the element according the category of the crime.  Crimes against people gaining their livelihood by the Earth would be met by an Earth execution.  Criminals who violated lèse-majesté would be hung.  Criminals sentenced to death for acts of pollution would be burnt with Fire or immersed in Water.  Perhaps offenders of the most heinous sort would be sentenced to multiple executions.  "Guilty of high crimes against the gods, his liege, the people, and all creatures, the Doomed one is sentenced to be stoned, removed before death and hung, removed before death and burned, and finally his ashes scattered in the Sea of Woe."  Or strangled while being held underwater, roasted, and then drawn and quartered (to the four quarters of the earth).  Given what he know about judges and human nature, creativity would come into play.  I've had another spurt of inspiration for the World of Ygg (the setting for my in-stasis S&W game) the last couple of days, and as I develop it, I will bear in mind the place of the elements in certain areas and how that would play into their system of justice as much as, say, their religions (these come up in the Greek and Persian analogues -- Kalokanikai and Aryanistan -- particularly.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Even if it is a tad morbid, this is how I wish you happy mythopoeicizing this MP Monday.


  1. remind me not to get on your bad side:)

  2. What about being noosed (air), then dropped in boiling water (fire *and* water), and weighted down with stones (earth)? Par-boiled perpetrator! Deliciously macabre. ;-)