Friday, January 28, 2011

Shahmeran-> Melusine-> Nixie

Se7enImage by NURETTIN MERT AYDIN via Flickr
Today I'm over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment (Q3E) with Matt Rush, and since some of you may be popping over from there, I thought I'd show off the kind of stuff I love: World Folklore. I say "world" because every society has a version of the tale you thought you knew. I like to find the connections between them all, and my favorites have Eastern Roots.

Shahmeran really belongs on a Wednesday with the other goddesses, but I thought I'd roll her into a post about Tarsus and it's historic sites. That's where she's supposed to live, in a cave not far from the city. There are also blood stains in the Roman bath that belong to her. Fair enough? (That's the cave up there on the right.)

Important notes:
  • Shah = queen & Meran = snake
  • The Shahmeran is a beautiful woman who is a snake from the waist down. Forever young, she is the queen of the snakes, wise and benevolent with healing powers. She passes her powers down to her daughter when she dies.
So the story of the Shahmeran goes like this:

The Meran are a peaceful lot, and wish to live in their watery caves without interference from the outside world. But one day a young man named Cansab falls into a well (or a cave, depending on which story you follow). He can't get back out, so the Meran take mercy on him and allow him to stay with them.
Cansab constantly wants to return home, so Shahmeran finally agrees. She warns him to stay away from the baths, because his skin will turn to scales and reveal that he has been with the Meran. Cansab also promises to keep the way to the Meran cave a secret. Which of course, he can't.

The Shah of the people (or whatever else you want to call the guy in charge) falls ill, and someone mentions that the Shameran is the cure. All the citizens are draggged to the bath, one by one, to find out who knows the Meran secrets. (Apparently, the turning-into-a-snake-when-you-touch-water thing wasn't one of the secrets.) Cansab avoids being captured for a long time, but eventually he's found out and "persuaded" to reveal the location of Shahmeran's cave.

The Shahmeran is killed in a battle at the roman bath (which his why her blood stains the walls there still) and then she's cut into three pieces. The first piece is given to the vizier who hatched the evil plan. He is poisoned by it and dies, but the second piece is given to the Shah and he is healed. As a reward, Cansab is given the third piece and he becomes incredibly wise. The Shah makes Cansab the new vizier.

And no snake alive doesn't know this story, so that's why they bite people.

When I visited Tarsus, I didn't see the bath, but I did visit a cave. Supposedly, the Seven Sleepers were buried alive in it. But I tell's the cave of Shahmeran. Why do I think that? Several reasons:
  1. There's another Seven Sleepers cave near Ephesus, and it's more likely to be from the correct time period for that story.
  2. There are trees outside the cave in Tarsus covered in prayers. You know, little strips of cotton tied to the branches. (This one in Cappadocia is plastered with wishes.) Lots of girls tie one on for protection.
  3. The cave is supposed to heal whatever ails you, which is what the Shahmeran was known for.
  4. There a story about someone who fell down into the cave and couldn't get out. Might that be Cansab?
  5. It feels kind of damp in the cave, like there's water somewhere down at the bottom. Just right for a Meran hideout. There are lots of underground springs feeding the rivers in the area.
So what does this have to do with Melusine and a Nixie? Full circles.

Well, it's a long story, but it starts with Mersin (near Tarsus, btw). That's where my DH is from and I lived there for a while. The town has a Deniz Kizi (mermaid) story that I researched a bit, without success. But then I started to write the tale of KizKalesi and stumbled on Melusine of Lusignan, France, because my MC's mother was a Lusignan. (I tracked some geneology. Crusaders came from Western Europe, you see.)

Melusine was human most of the time. She was wise and beautiful, and her noble husband adored her. But one day a week, she bathed and reverted to nixie form. (Kind of like Cansab did when he was forced to take a bath, see?) She forbade her husband to see her on that day, but he peeked and she freaked. (In some tales she turns into a dragon.) Then she hopped back into her river and was never seen again. (She must have known what happened to Shahmeran!)

Melusine had a double tail, but her namesake may have been Byzantine. In fact, her namesake may have been from Armenian Cilicia, specifically from the capital city of Tarsus. (Bingo!) Like my favorite post on goddess culture, the stories intertwine. And you know that story spinning stuff that starts rolling in your head....but I'm not going there. I'm working on the djinn. (But I do have one character named Melisende. Couldn't resist!)


Related Articles:

Starbucks with a shot of Byzantine

Some famous Nixies:

you know where this came from!

In churches across Europe
@St-Pierre de Bessuéjouls
Sirene of Warsaw

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Matthew MacNish said...

Wow. This is awesome. You always know the coolest stuff!

Tracy said...

Hi Carolyn! I stopped over from Matthew's blog to wave hello. I already left my comment about your query over there, so I won't bore you with it again here. :D

Old Kitty said...

Oh poor Shahmeran! OH that's so so sad!!! Her body should have killed all these nasty men!! Awwww poor Shahmeran!! Thank you so much for this amazing and very sad story!! Poor Shahmeran!!

I love your pic over at Matt Rush's!! Sorry my comment there was pretty darned useless!! I think your novel's synopsis is amazing though!! Good luck! Take care

LTM said...

Carolyn! You're so smart. I want us to go on a European vacation together. Who needs a guide with you around? Plus, we'd have fun~ xoxo <3

Jules said...

I'm here because I'm pissed! It seems I have missed several of your latest posts. I was trying Google Reader but apparently it does not load all I follow either.

I have not abandoned you. I guess I'll have to pick each blog one at a time to find out what is going on. I left a comment over at Matt's.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Rachel Searles said...

New follower! I saw your comment about old Turkish women on CQG's post and had to come husband is from Istanbul, so I've got a lot of Turkish influence in my life too :) Glad I found your blog!

Josin L. McQuein said...


I love blogs like this that give cultural refernce for the stories the author writes.

I left you a crit on the QQQE. Hope it helps.


Josin L. McQuein said...

Of course, I meant "reference" in that post. My rural Texas accent must've creeped up on me with that one.

Hart Johnson said...

I love this stuff! Nixie's are shapeshifters, yes? I used one in a Harry Potter fan fic I wrote once. But I really love the cultural tie-together you do along with the mythology piece. Very fun stuff!

Unknown said...

What a cool story! And you know that people who fall into caves can't keep their mouth shut and end up eating 1/3 of something. Typical! Anyway, I think it's really cool that the story is still passed on through generations and I plan to educate as many snakes as I can.

Lydia Kang said...

That was so interesting. I love those trees with the prayers. Such a lovely thing!

OJ Gonzalez-Cazares said...

what a great post! interesting to see the link between cultures and characters... gods and demons represented as half humans... intriguing, uh? could it be their way of saying that even gods are not perfect? that they had their weaknesses? or maybe that's how they made them more real, more approacheable... just lovely! Have a great weekend!


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