Mirrored from Suns In Her Branches | Kiya Nicoll.
Thiess the Livonian Werewolf had a very straightforward Hell to invade: a physically accessible place, located beyond a watery passage to the underworld (which seems likely to me to be a survival of something related to the Slavic myths of Veles, in which the chthonic cattle-lord god is ruler of the waters, and who, post-Christianisation, was partially recast as a Devil figure). It contained stolen things – field fertility, cattle blessings, and so on – which could be retrieved for the good of the community. (And indeed the earlier court conflict which made Thiess’s werewolfing more known in his village seems to have raised his status, possibly because people recognised him as someone who would go to great lengths for the common good.) For all that it was framed in Christian terms, it was not theologised in a Christian form – it was a thieves’ den staffed by the enemies of God, not otherwise made more complex with matters of sin, punishment, or even damnation. The nuances of orthodox theology were lost on Thiess, who claimed not to understand them.
It is less clear in what I know of this narrative what the Devil’s sorcerers got out of their end of the deal. Access to the food and resources stolen from the collective, perhaps, or magical powers inaccessible to ordinary folk – presaging, perhaps, the capitalist-imperial model in which certain forms of wealth and power render one immune to consequences. A guess might be that the sorcerers wished to be removed from the risks of community – when the collective status rose or fell, they did not wish to be bound to the same fate as others, and would make whatever deals it took to protect themselves and their families.
It is quite likely that they felt that those stored-up supplies were rightfully theirs – after all, they worked to bring the grain to harvest as well. Crop failure wasn’t fair, and wouldn’t anyone do what it takes to stave off starvation? “You wouldn’t want to see my children waste away, would you?” they might say. Security, certainty, the preservation of life itself, those were worth a deal with the Devil, who was, after all, only building a granary.
Perhaps the werewolves seemed to them the one on the Devil’s side. “I’ve done everything I can to protect my own, and here come these thieves in the night. They steal cattle and tear them apart to fund their burglary, they venture into the granary I helped build, they take the seed that I helped put there….” You can see it, right?
Here’s the interesting trick to it: regardless of whether or not I would place each of those people among the Devil’s partisans, all of them are opposed to this theological concept of Hell, this place into which the essentialities of life vanish and leave people bereft. For the most part, people have worked to close the gates of the Hell that they understand. Some may do it out of concern for whole communities, a more expansive care; others may do it to secure a better place for themselves, their families, because being able to provide for others gives them status and security, or whatever else. But the Devil’s party and those who steal back from them, whichever political faction one aligns with them, are agreed that their communities need food and there must be mechanisms to attain that end.
Hold that thought. (And I’m going to put a cut there, because this is going to get gigantic, I can already tell.)