Drew W.

Appalachian Giant Spirits

Drew W.
Appalachian Giant Spirits

I found a thread, and I think I'll pull on it.

Finding some practical success with my investigation into recorded folk tales of the Bony Lady, Baba Yaga, I thought I would turn the same technique to spirits that are distinctly American in origin. One such entity comes from what are known collectively as 'The Jack Tales'. They earned this name by featuring the same incorrigible protagonist, an Appalachian boy by the name of Jack, go figure.

Looking through my collection of Jack Tales for one that might have some magical tech to share, I came across one about a giant by the name of Old Fire Dragaman. Old Fire Dragaman (they always use his whole name, not Ol Dragaman or Fire Dragaman, but Old Fire Dragaman) is reported to stand twice as tall as a house, with a giant pipe four feet long that continually sends up smoke like a steam engine. He has a long blue beard that drags on the ground and wears a wide brimmed hat and a long coat. Old Fire Dragaman is a hungry giant spirit. During the course of his tale he repeatedly drops in on a number of folks right at dinner time and eats everything on the table and in the pantry, leaving his victims to starve until they can find more food.

This doesn't really seem like a spirit that one would want to conjure up, does it? All he offers in the tale are a quick way to be terrified and to go hungry at the same time. There are benefits to trying to work with this spirit, I think, so let's dig further and find a way to avoid having to lay out a holiday dinner for him every time we'd like to try and bring him into our magical lives.

Jack, the protagonist in the tale, holds a lot of what my grandma (maybe everyone's grandma) called 'common sense'. Jack figured he could get Old Fire Dragaman to appear and save his meal at the same time. He did spend time preparing and laying out the meal but when Old Fire Dragaman came out of the woods, his pipe billowing smoke, his beard dragging along the ground, Jack did two things different.

The first thing he did was that, instead of calling the spirit by his name, he called him 'Dad', and put on an act that he was his son. When Old Fire Dragaman heard this his mood changed and he didn't seem hungry. Jack tested him, asking him if he wanted some food, but Old Fire Dragaman refused the meal, and this is the second bit that is different, picked up a large piece of coal instead to keep his pipe lit. There was some brief conversation in which the giant referred to Jack as his son, before making his way back into the hills.

The meal seems to be what is needed to attract Old Fire Dragaman, but if the magician uses a familiar tone with the spirit, calling him Dad or Pop or something along those lines, then the meal doesn't have to be dedicated to the spirit in its entirety. Having some coal to choose from as an offering seems sufficient at this point.

So far, so good, but not really beneficial to the magician, let's look at what Jack did next?

Having worked with the spirit in this way, Jack was able to follow Old Fire Dragaman to where he lived. This is the benefit of working with the giant, finding his home, because in his home are the spirits that can actually work the type of magic that we, as fine gnomeschooled magical creatures, can use to our advantage.

Old Fire Dragaman lives in a fine house at the bottom of a sinkhole. If you know where a sinkhole is, particularly one in the woods, then that might be a good place to set up a large picnic and try your hand at invoking the giant spirit. Inside the house at the bottom of the sinkhole, which can only be found (found here being a loose term) by going through the above play acting and coal-offering, inside that house live the three beautiful sisters. These are the spirits that you want to gain access to. 

In the story, the girls give Jack an ointment that protects against burns, a sword and a ring, these are the tools you should bring with you. The sword is used to cut off the giant's head when he returns, just like Jack found that he had to do. The ring is, as is termed in the story, a 'wishing ring'. 

Two of the sister spirits just require acknowledgement that they are beautiful, they know that each one of them is more beautiful then the next. The third beautiful sister, the one that gifts the sword (or in our case, maybe a knife that can be used to banish the giant spirit) and the wishing ring requires acknowledgement of her beauty and a red ribbon. The magician should profess that she is beautiful and that she or he wishes to marry her, and the ribbon is a sign of the engagement promise.

In the story, Jack is abandoned in the sink hole and the narrative turns to him surviving a period of starvation, at the end of which he makes a wish almost unconsciously, that is immediately granted. To me, this is saying that a period of fasting is required for the ring that we brought to the ritual, the one we wanted to enchant with the power to fulfill our wishes, this is required for it to work.

Let's recap, what will we need for this new magical tech? A sinkhole, moraine, or similar depression in a wooded setting, a picnic (which will serve as our final meal before a period of fasting), a large lump of coal and a red ribbon for the offerings, and our own knife for banishing Old Fire Dragaman once he has given access to the three sister spirits, some ointment and a ring to enchant.

I don't know how the ritual will go, what words should be spoken, probably no one does, right? But the frame of a ritual is there, the evidence that these spirits exists is there in the folk tale, all that an every day magician needs to do is try long enough through a process of trial and error until contact is made. 

So where is that thread that I talked about pulling on? Offerings to Old Fire Dragaman are needed to gain access to the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters are the spirits that can perform magic for you. This is very similar to the folk tales of Baba Yaga, who has servants or captives depending on how you enter her stories. Baba Yaga herself won't give you much, she is too powerful and too old to care about anything but feeding off of you. Her servants, on the other hand, her cat, for instance, and her serving girls, when bribed, are the ones that can provide magical assistance. Not only do the servants provide assistance but they are needed to extricate from engagement with the larger spirit, just like with Old Fire Dragaman. Once engaged with the Appalachian Giant Spirit the only way out is through. Once we enter Baba Yaga's hut we are in her service until we can bribe her minions to help us escape with whatever magic we have stolen or they have given us.

This is the model for working with these spirits, spirits that live on indefinitely in folk tales. I wager some are as old as time and that those stories have changed and evolved as the folk spirits carved out new niches in our world.