Monday, April 09, 2007

An Armenian Grandmother "Old Country" Story Rememberance

No, I'm not normally up at this ungodly hour, but an old dog with an old bladder has become a nightly interrupt of my sleep.

Last night we were watching Mysteries of the Bible on the History Channel. The installment at 9 p.m. was about the apocrypha (books that didn't quite make it to canonical text of the Bible). What caught my attention was a segment about a book about Solomon--specifically magical powers that Solomon had that enabled him to conjure up evil spirits and have him do his bidding--such as building a temple. I immediately remembered a story told to me as a child......

My Aremenian grandfather came from the "old country". And when I write 'old country' I mean old country--the mountains of Turkey (formely Armenia) where they were goat herders. It also means that they had great superstitions and the spirit world was a very real and frightening world for them. [Now kids are impressionable enough to believe in these netherworld spirits, but logical enough to ask the question as to why she didn't see these spirits now. You see, spirits cannot cross water, and there was a big body of water between those spirit filled mountains and America. As an aside, if you were being chased by a spirit (and they came out at night and such and sometimes inhabited the bodies of goats so that if you picked them up they would start saying, "giddee, giddee, giddee" . I don't know what that means, but I do know that if I were to pick up a baby goat and it starting uttering a thing other than their unusual yelp, I'd drop it in a flash), you ran like hell to a stream and jump over it and you'd be safe. But you know that there would have to be another spirit varietal on the other side. In general, it would be safest not to go out at night, or you would likely have to spend the night in a stream.]

The Armenians, if you do not know, were Christian and there was a great genocidal war where 2/3 of the Armenian population were slaughtered. My grandparents, fortunately, escaped that great terror. But I do understand that my grandfather had a sister that bound her hair and breasts and fought against the Turks. How I wish someone had written down these stories! The war, though, is not my point. There is a story that she used to tell us as children that scared the bejeebers out of us. (Unfortunately ALL of my family from that side are dead, so asking adult questions of these childhood stories is impossible). Anyway, the story goes something like this....

There was a Book of Solomon that if one were to read it would convey great powers--either good or evil--upon the reader. The trick was that it was a ritualistic reading, so that one had to follow the instructions to the letter. As I remember my grandmother's telling of the story, you had to draw a circle ( my grandmother would gesture with an imaginary drawing the imaginary circle--I think that you also had to draw a star of David on the inside) and sit down. With the light of a candle you were to begin to read the book. Now here is the important (and at the time spine electrifying, mind terrifying because I as a child) part. Once you began reading, it was imperative that you not to look up. You see the act of reading the book would conjure up all manner of evil spirits, and if you were to look up you would go insane. My understanding is that later on you would get to the part that either they went away, or you fended them off successfully or had dominion over them.

My grandmother went on to tell of a man in my grandfather's village who had purportedly read this book and was proceeding to impress the other village men (testosterone pumping is universal!) with his powers. Of course the men did not believe him. The man points to the women by the water washing clothes. He takes a grease pencil and makes a special mark on his thumb nail. Suddenly, all of the women begin to undress themselves. The men are aghast (because these are modest women and this is quite a transgression of norm) and entreat the man to make the women stop shaming themselves. He then wipes the mark from his nail, and the women immediately cry out in alarm at their state of undress and quickly put back on their clothes.

We never paid much attention to these stories. We were modern day American kids, and in holding that station thought that most of these stories were just gobbledygook or old wives tales. We even thought the Armenian genocide story to be made up--unfortunately that ghastly story was true. But seeing the Book of Solomon on TV, and most particularly its portrayal of Solomon as a conjurer of evil spirits left me a bit breathless in remembrance of this story told to me many years ago by my Armenian grandmother. I found it odd to have this story at least to have been founded by an actual book even though there is a magical element about it. I'll have to do a little searching on this and will likely find things odder than systemic risk to read. Also, I'm anxious to talk to tell my sister about this.

A small digression from subprime and sytematic risk! At least I have this story down! I hoped that you enjoyed it. The dog is now in, and I can go to winkie land.

6 comments:

MarkM said...

You are turning out to be one complex lady. :)

Leisa said...

Complex is a kind word!

Anonymous said...

You never know what will resonate with you when reading a financial blog... Both of my parents were fortunate enough to be attending school in the US during the Japanese invasion of China. So I've always read everything I could find on the subject, including what is commonly referred to as the Rape of Nanjing (where my Mom was raised). The most terrifying account I recall reading was found inside a book about exorcism and the reality of evil spirits. The authors cited what they considered were reliable sightings of spirits in the midst of the slaughter. Sometimes I think our ancestors were more tuned in to reality than we are today.

2nd_ave

Leisa said...

2nd_ave--I had a former colleague (he was a brilliant copywriter) who was deeply moved by this story of Nanjing (I think also referred to as Nanking?). I've not read anything about it. I find these accounts tragically sad.

Unfortunately, we needn't look to the netherworld for evil spirits--there's enough of it here. I cannot imagine the horror of being a first person participant--as a perpetrator, as a witness or a victim.

Anonymous said...

You're right. It's more commonly referred to as the Nanking Massacre as that was the correct English spelling at the time (as was Peking rather than Beijing). Your former colleague most likely read Iris Chang's version of the story. She was a very talented Bay Area journalist/author who, unfortunately, developed depression and committed suicide while in the midst of researching yet another disturbing slice of history, the Bataan Death March.

2nd_ave

Leisa said...

Yes, that is what he had read, for I now remember the story of her suicide.