Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Restless Dead

The undead have been given a bit more life recently. Literally every facet of popular culture is flooded with them. Whether you are attempting to avoid the shambling hordes in The Walking Dead (Comic, TV Show or Game), watching strangely breathy vampires duke it out over a barmaid in True Blood or reading about a werewolf who takes his shirt off for no reason, chances are good you've been touched by the trend in some way.

Even if it is just by watching that pale chick from Twilight tackle a cougar...

I will never tire of this .gifSource

It's not that surprising really. As we've discussed before, humanity has been making up monster myths from the day we stopped being particularly clever ground-apes and started being slightly stupid sentient beings. As it happens, a lot of these involve dead things and creatures that walk the line between life and death.

Want some examples? OK, let’s start with this. Remember the Draugr from Skyrim? Of course you do, there were millions of the buggers littering every dungeon in the province. Well, they are actually pulled from Norse myth. The Skyrim versions are an amalgamation of the traditional Norse Draugr (an unquiet spirit that could cause incredible havoc if it put its mind to it) and the Haugbuii ,or barrow-dweller, who essentially filled the role that Skyrims Draugr fill in-game. They guarded the graves of important men and killed those who entered. The best account of them is probably in Grettirs saga, where the eponymous hero kills the Dragur Glamr.

Hi! Have you heard the good news of Hela?Source

Actually, it’s impressive how many of the undead myths we have come from the Vikings and other early Germanic cultures. Most of it is all tied up in layers of pagan mysticism and fear. Werewolves, for another example, might have started at as Ulf-skeres or Wolf-Skins. Otherwise known as warriors who fought in wolf-pelts and were a little bit insane, see also Bere-Skeres (Bear-Skins) otherwise known as Berserkers. The sight of these guys losing their minds in the most explosively violent way possible made some people think they were actual fusions of man and animal.
That’s some serious violence.

Apparently shirts were always optional thoughSource

Now, as for those pesky, cougar-tackling vampires. Most people trace the origins of the myths back to Vlad the Impaler, the man who liked to stick virgins upon spears and murdered all of the turks (Robert Patterson might have stopped at the impaling women part). The thing is, there are other, older, vampire myths. Unsurprisingly these vampire myths largely come from the civilised world (because Vampires are sissies, there I said it) with some of the most screwed up coming from Ancient Greece…including the origin of the fiendishly sexy female bloodsucker, as well as a woman who lends her name to the Vampire realm in Warhammer.

Each of the popular undead myths came about as unique analogues for real-world issues and problems. Zombies represent fear of the faceless mob (or consumerism, if you’re George Romero), Vampires are a walking STD and Werewolves are the risk of giving into humanities more beastial urges. Yet each one also arises from humanities endless fascination with death.

Can I bum a smoke?Source

Nothing frightens and intrigues us quite so much as what happens when we die. For all we see it, we can never really know. Making up stories about some kind of afterlife, even a horrific one, at least serves some small comfort.
When I die, I certainly hope I come back as a Berserker.

Until next time friends, let us say Skål! and drink together.

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