Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Miracle of the Bones

I've been doing a lot of reading on Medieval witchcraft trials for a non-gaming project I'm working on, and over and over I see references to "the miracle of the bones" wherein an animal is killed and eaten, and then resurrected when its bones are placed in its skin, and the whole blessed. The details vary according to time and place, but that's the gist. There are obvious parallels to the Norse story of the resurrection of Thor's goats, of course.

In the course of my work on the Greyhawk deities, I decided to incorporate this myth into one of their stories. Merikka, Oeridian demigoddess of agriculture, first described in the excellent module N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God and then largely forgotten except for a perfunctory entry in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (which annoyingly and in my opinion unjustifiably reversed several details that were explicitly mentioned in the module), seemed a perfect fit. There was very little written about her, and this would add a lot of color. Here's what I came up with for her:
In ancient times, there was a young woman named Merikka, an ordinary peasant girl on a farm. One day it came to pass that her village was raided by orcs, burned, and all its inhabitants put to death and eaten. All but one, that is, for her father returned from hunting in the nearby woods to find his life and family destroyed. Weeping inconsolably, he gathered up the charred and gnawed bones of his only daughter and placed them in the skin of the family work-horse, thinking to carry them off for a more decent burial than the death she received. 
As he reached the spot where she was to be buried, he set down the horse-skin and spoke wailing prayers of grief to Velnius, the god of the sky, wishing that simple farmers could just live their lives in peace and not bother anyone else, and digging the grave for his daughter as he did so. Suddenly he heard a horse’s whinny from behind him, and whirled around. There, before his startled eyes, was his own daughter, bright and beautiful and very much alive, along with the family horse. Both were apparently completely unharmed. 
Merikka smiled warmly at her father and spoke. “Your words of grief and simple desire for the safety of the farm have been heard, father. Thanks to you, I have been reborn, now a goddess, and I will try to keep the simple peace that is your due and the due of all farm-folk.” And with that she and the horse vanished, and her father became the first disciple of the goddess of agriculture. He lived a long and peaceful life thereafter, spreading the tale of his daughter’s rebirth.
- The Miracle of the Bones
If you're interested in the original sources, here are some links: Ecstasies by Carlo Ginzburg, Night Battles by Carlo Ginzburg, and The Shaman of Oberstdorf by Wolfgang Behringer.