Facts and Fancies: Information to Myths
Once again, while starting to write, I discovered my life influenced by what I am writing about. Deciding to focus on the fishmen from Sirius, I found my email inbox filled with emails about the wonders of the star Sirius. It's a great place to begin looking at the sky for would be astronomers, for it's easy to locate.
More creepy yet, a stray internet wandering found me on a web page devoted to a tribe of people for whom cannibalism plays a key role in their myth, and they live on the same island I do, albeit on the far northern end. So on to the fishmen from Sirius...
They are called The Repulsive Ones by most of those who worship them. The Sumerians knew them as the Annedoti, which can be roughly translated to repulsive. Apollodorus refers to them as the Musarus, can also be translated to mean repulsive or abomination. They do not view these hideous ones as gods however, instead worshipping them as givers of knowledge.
Their Malian worshippers the Dogons call them the Nommos, however, they consider them to be gods and so use a more polite term. They rose out of the sea in all of their hideous splendor, yet instead of driving them away mankind welcomed them as wise teachers and created their civilization from their teachings. But why?
Let us consider. The first to rise out of the sea was Oannes, a repulsive conglomeration of man and fish. He had the body of a fish, but beneath his fish's head he also had a human head, and legs beneath his fish's tail. It seems odd such a creature would be welcomed with honors, even if he did come with gifts of knowledge. However, we can look to others for a clue as to why he was welcomed.
The Dogons are a tribe of people to live in the deserts of Mali. They have long fascinated astronomers, for before modern science was aware that Sirius was more than just a single star, they knew it had a companion. How did they know this? A star-faring race of amphibians they named Nommos came to earth from Sirius and granted the knowledge. Specifically, they say the Nommos landed in the sea. They rose out of the water. And are described as ugly amphibians with fish bodies with the legs and head of a man. But this is still not enough to earn them a welcome. So let us turn now to the Egyptians and their goddess Isis.
Isis is a popular Egyptian deity, as a practitioner of the magical arts; she raised her husband from the dead after he was killed. She is a mother goddess and nursemaid, sometimes bestowing immortality upon those she favors. A benefactor of mankind, she rescues those cursed with misfortune and protects sailors from the dangers of the open seas.
Known as the Goddess of the Dog Star, mariners looked at Sirius and prayed to Isis, hoping she would grant them safety over the seas. They wore amulets, and carved images of Isis -as a woman with a fish tail- on their ships for luck. Now here at last we have a reason for a warm welcome. Although they are known as the hideous ones, their women seem to hold a strange fascination over men.
Tales of mermaids and women of the sea abound, they ensnare men with their beauty of body and song, and even knowing this sailors dive to their deaths for want of a kiss from such beauties. Or is it a coincidence that in Tell es-Sa'idiyeh a man is buried with his head and genitals covered in images and skeletons of the bulti fish, a fish that the Egyptians associate with immortality?
A Hideous Feast
But we know no one and no thing does anything without motive, especially when tossing about knowledge capable founding of civilizations. It is easy to take advantage of those you're teaching, and this is precisely what the Annedoti did. First they influenced those they taught until they were seen as gods. While this grants ample control over followers, it was not control enough, for not everyone will become a follower, and even those who do might move beyond control if fanatical enough.
Rather than relying on traditional means of control; force, knowledge, and power, they found a more insidious means that could not be shaken off. Rather than controlling the mind, it controlled the body.
There is a rather insidious phrase that is repeated often "You are what you eat". As the Nommos wound their way into society, their leader, Amma, soon began to hear this phrase and to wonder. If you are what you eat, then wouldn't feeding his new students pieces of a loyal follower make them more loyal still? And wouldn't those who refused to follow him find themselves without a choice if they could be convinced to feast as well?
Looking further to the east we see that the Japanese are well aware of this trickery. Perhaps they witnessed what happened to those who welcomed the Hideous Ones. Perhaps they have deities and protectors who gave them the knowledge. However they know it, they warn that eating the flesh of a mermaid may gift the eater with knowledge of immortality, but is far more likely to be poisonous.
In fact, they point out that eating the flesh is likely to cause mutation. And what is a mutation but a forced change that requires true devotion to the Annedoti? Many of those who feast in this manner die hideous deaths, but many others change into horrible hybrids of fish and men. Fewer still obtain the secrets they seek.
This being the case, the leader of the Nommos merely had to convince those around him to feast on the flesh of one of his most loyal followers. Creating an elaborate ritual, he sacrificed one of his Nommos followers and invited the humans to a feast. Believing the meal to be only fish, they joined him and he soon controlled not only the teachings of the people around him, but their bodies as well.
How does this work? Beats me. For a sci/fi or science orientated game I would have the flesh operate along the same lines as a mood altering drug, and either keep the change permanent or force the villains to plan for a continuation of the feast. Great cult inspiration there, if you don't attend the cult meetings you'd either go into painful withdrawal or be fine, depending on the feel of the game. Or perhaps it somehow effects dormant DNA codes. In fantasy you don't need much of a reason, other than magic. It's mind control! Who cares /how/ it works! Everyone knows about mind control!
In a horror setting this could really take off. What happens to the character that is captured by the cult? Does it take a few doses or just one? Can bits of flesh be slipped into my food.... Imagine if the Vatican is taken over by the Annedoti or Nommos. No one even has to know, all they have to do is add in a slight change, and suddenly they have a world of followers.
A Feast of Blessing
Who is to say that the Annedoti are looking for control? Perhaps they merely mean well and wish to pass on teaching that they believe will help. In all their guises they are helping gods, and founders of civilization after all. Another name for the Annedoti is Apkallu, a name that portrays a kindlier meaning, Apkallu can be translated to mean Counselor, or Wise One. Oannes, the leader of the Annedoti is referred to as both an Apkallu and an Annedoti, as are his followers. Both Apkallu and Annedoti are fish people, and rose out of the waters to gift man with civilization.
Perhaps the feast is merely that, a feast. Intended to bring people and Apkallu together in friendship. Perhaps it is more than that and intended to be a blessing. If one can be taken over by eating the right foods can't one also be healed or improved? There are many who believe that eating something allows you to adopt the qualities of that creature, maybe by feasting on one of the Apkallu great knowledge or skill is imparted.
Make the Nommos and Annedoti legendary beings sought after for their knowledge. Perhaps the characters have a limited amount of time to find them and join their feasts, or someone they care for-- perhaps even one or all of the characters- will fall prey to the evils of mutation or death. Perhaps the Apkallu are the good guys of the setting, and work against the Annedoti trying to save mankind. I don't find this option nearly as fun, however I am known to favor campaigns against evil over campaigns in search of the good guys or where a battle is waged over humanity and the players must choose sides.
Bringing It Together
However the Nommos or Annedoti are introduced, what won't change is the fact that our civilization was founded on ideas and knowledge that came from creatures other than man. Creatures that came first from the stars, and then from the oceans, in both cases creatures from environments completely foreign where man can't survive unaided. What does this say about our civilization and way of life? Most cultures have the idea of an eventual Armageddon, where their gods (or God) return. Could it be that this will happen when our civilization hits a certain critical mass?
While we don't understand the consequences of our frenzied technological advances, perhaps that part of us that is influenced by the flesh eaten so long ago does. Maybe there really is subliminal messaging coming through the TV, but not the kind that most would have you believe; rather we are being influenced by that part of us that is inhuman and therefor unknown to us. Lovecraft claims that a geometry differing from the one we are familiar with is enough to drive us mad, so how does the geometry given to us by creatures from sea and space affect us?
On a smaller scale, these questions can be contained and explored by the characters in a single adventure or two. It is entirely possible that time has stretched the myth of these people, making them appear to be more powerful than they really are. In reality, maybe they can only influence a small group of people at a time. Rather than a global effect, one small town might have somehow been contacted and started working directly for the Nommos and Annedoti. Perhaps a group of people has captured a Nommos, and has begun to feast upon its living flesh. A small town of horrors might be created this way, or alternatively the town may have vanished as its people are carried off to Sirius.
The Dogons are a real people who live in Mali, and if contacted might be convinced to help the characters in understanding the motivations of the fishmen. They might even be the cause of a series of adventures, as they demand the characters prove their trustworthiness before they answer any questions. On the other side of the world, the Kwakiutl practice ritual cannibalism and believe that the universe consists of two categories: those eaten and those who eat. While they may have no insight to the Nommos, they will certainly be useful when dealing with eating the flesh of other beings.
Such antagonists can provide many hours of exploration and adventure for any genre. From comic mermaids flopping on the shore enticing men to eat to insidious far reaching Annedoti who have taken control of the subconscious, there is enough room for interpretation to inspire many worlds and problems. With a little thought and effort, there are many more questions to answer and creatures to eat. I have left out the possibilities of what lies in sea and space, there are doubtless countless more reasons for exploration in those places.