The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Discworld.
The volcano erupted. Apparently, it does that on occasion still, and…the city’s still standing, the cane fields unrazed, nobody evacuated, there wasn’t even an earthquake. It was more like an ash burp. I was still sorry not to have seen it, because there didn’t seem to be any other way to know that it had happened, except by word of mouth of new friends I made in this city…who might have, on second thought, been joking.
One good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: hot springs. They were a half hour’s drive past the edge of the city, through the definitely-horizontal sugar cane fields, then past rice paddies terraced to keep up with the incline of the mountain—if we can say that a volcano is just a mountain with extra geothermal activity—and through the semi-domesticated jungle that the volcano dressed up in. The venue was like a park, with several families strolling down the cobblestone paths, sometimes in swimsuits. Bamboo fences divided and hid the hot spring pools (access to which pools varied in price depending on the temperature or mineral concentration of the water.) It was like sitting in a mossy stone bath tub of warm broth, under the light and chill mountain rain. I toweled off and came out feeling deeply juvenated, if smelling a shade fartlike.
One tall bamboo fence, topped by a vast netted tent, turned out to be a butterfly sanctuary and flower garden. The rest of the area were mostly more cobblestone paths and cold boulder-rivers, some plots of grassy turf and other plots of semi-domesticated jungle, a hiking trail upwards to adventure, and a hiking trail downwards to an eatery.
We had grilled garlic scallops in the half shell for lunch. I can’t get seafood this fresh at mountains of the same altitude up north, maybe due to less competent urban planning, or maybe due to the capital being on a bigger island with far more distance between the mountains and beaches, or maybe due to the belligerent introversion of the mountains themselves. I also had the fried chicken, and while this town has a signature chicken recipe that isn’t fried, there’s something about the chickens here that taste more like chicken no matter what the recipe. I wonder if it’s something in the feed.
Another good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: previous explosions can make some of the most fertile ground for farming, and that residual fertility can last for generations.
To Corporeal Cecilia, the volcano is personified but not anthropomorphized. He (the volcano, not Corporeal Cecilia) just looms there and grumps. My source for the personification-anthropomorphization was J. A. Macculloch’s The Religion of the Ancient Celts (“In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and […] this led later to more complete personification”) although Cecilia, who is currently taking anthropology classes, knows this as an unfashionable anthropological theory wielded to justify colonialism. (Ahem, “more complete” personification?)
The volcano does have a story, as Cecilia told me. There was a seven-headed dragon (that’s the volcano, zoomorphized…or should that be cryptozoomorphized?) and some legendary heroic figure that dueled the dragon, and the townsfolk were so happy this hero won that they named the volcano Laon after the hero. Which could get confusing, because the dragon was the volcano?
My proto-source for personification and anthropomorphism was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There’s a faithful film adaptation of Hogfather somewhere out there that probably best shows Discworld theology, the Hogfather being the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus. Sir Pratchett peppers a fair few books with Anthropomorphic Personification, by those words, with Capitalization.
What gets less brightly highlighted, though, is Discworld’s sort of Animism, probably because it’s never called that, let alone with Capitalization. Discworld has a natural phenomenon known as the Narrative Imperative. This prevents heroes from dying off before the villains, and also allows the medieval fantasy battle party to get very meta about everything. I think that could be one example. Another could be the idea introduced in the Tiffany Aching quintet, about how witches awaken to their abilities depending on the geology of their home. Granny Weatherwax’s power grew from the granite mountains of Lancre (or, according to a fellow witch in-world, from having a mild inborn predisposition to witch-ing which may or may not be genetic…and then working bloody hard at it.) Tiffany’s power grew from the chalk hills, which age-peer witches give her flack for, and one old witch who meant well but couldn’t help being flabbergasted. Older and wiser witches know the bones of the chalk hills are flint, which is more acceptably rocklike, but most of the big magic that Tiffany does calls to the oceanic origins of her land and name.
My concept of sea witches grew out of that sort of animism, how the coral bones call to the fetch, and the salts turn to fluid crystals and liquid rock. Beaches are edges, too—liminal spaces between sea and earth, and even whitecaps on the high seas a liminality of sea and sky.
What about volcanic witches? Far less explosive and destructive than stereotyped, I gathered, at least around this volcano. How does one capital-w Work with an animistic grump dressed like some plant goddess of mountain-jungles and fields (who does good, but really doesn’t know or care or try to do it, or take thanks for it because he’s that much of a grump)? Or an adversarial dragon named after the hero who slew him?
I can still feel the warmth of the scalding, sulphuric waters. That’s all that grounds me on this subject, really, and walking around in Volcano Country, and eating stuff grown in Volcano Country, and catching conversations and stories in and of Volcano Country, and breathing the air. What do I make of this all, with folklore and pop culture and passé anthropological jargon, and why? (This is neither rhetorical nor curious. I’m just settling into an approach, or honing a perception.)