Sunday, 11 September 2016

Believe In Magic (Night's Black Agents, Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists)

You probably noticed an article that's been floating around these past few days about skeletons in Spain. For those who haven't: divers discovered a bag of human remains off the coast of Alicante, and when the police got involved several other dump sites were discovered. All contained skeletal remains, some contained personal items as well, and DNA tests showed that the weathered bones from the first bundle had been buried in soil for decades before being disinterred and dumped at sea.

Naturally this sparked lurid theories about Santeria, because when you find bones in peculiar places naturally your first thought is 'witchcraft!' Oddly if you Google search skeleton and Alicante one of the first hits is Skeleton International, Removals and Storage but this has got to be someone's idea of a joke.

Also found with the remains were letters and photographs, including official documents from the Tax Authority. All three bags were found close together on the sea bed, and contained bones from several different people.

If the website Think Spain is to be believed - and I'm not sure it is - also found, but not mentioned by other news sources, is "a type of wooden pole, split down the middle which signifies the end of the road in certain areas of witchcraft, and a closed basket containing laurel leaves and a hermetically sealed container filled with a yellow-colored liquid."

All of which sounds a little lurid, which makes me suspicious; my usual attitude is 'if it sounds too good to be true, somebody's lying their arse clean off.'

That said, in folklore laurel's well known particularly in the Mediterranean for its purgative and purification properties. Sacred to Apollo, laurel "was believed to endow prophets with visions, and is associated with poetry partly because, as evergreen, it symbolizes immortality, and largely because its intoxicating properties are associated with poetic inspiration." (Funk and Wagnalls Folklore, Mythology and Legend). It can be used as a love charm, and has been used in tales to induce forgetfulness.

Funk and Wagnalls has this to say about bones: "the use of bones in divination is world-wide. Astragalomancy, divining by means of small bones, has given rise to several series of games: board games like pachisi [sic], dice games, jacks, etc." So you can thank diviners for your favorite RPG.

It also says "The Chinese have elaborate ceremonies to keep the physical soul out of their houses and contentedly in the tomb or sealed up in it. If the animal soul [which resides in the bones] has sufficient vitality, it will animate the skeleton or skull and commit horrid and revolting crimes - cannibalism, rape, etc - in the countryside." Bear that in mind next time you watch Mr Vampire.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying it doesn't have to be Santeria to be witchcraft of some kind. Laurel's forgetfulness combined with the tax returns and photographs could indicate someone's trying a novel way of managing their income tax burden. Or this is some kind of love charm, but personally I'm rooting for tax fraud. Love charms are so 14th Century.

It's difficult to judge this kind of thing from several thousand miles away and through another language; I doubt that the English-speaking sources have the whole story. I have some sympathy for the Santeria worshipper who says that this kind of thing doesn't happen in his religion. It must be wearing to know that every time a non-believer sees something vaguely like an episode of Buffy the non-believer turns to your religion, points a finger and calls it crazy.

That said, it does seem like a ritual attempt. It's the tax returns that really pique my interest. If it were organized crime or a serial killer trying to move evidence from an insecure body dump site to a more secure one, you'd think the only thing found would be the bones. Maybe some clothes or shoes. Paper, though, after thirty or forty years in the ground with a corpse and then an indeterminate time unprotected in the ocean; all due respect to CSI but you wouldn't be able to tell if it was tax returns or a Disneyland brochure. Which argues that the paperwork was a more recent addition to the dump, and tax returns are too easily traced for this to be an attempt to hide evidence. Criminals are often stupid, but you'd have to be an award-winning idiot to do something like that.

I'll offer one other supposition: whoever did this has access to a boat, but isn't an experienced boater. Someone who knew what they were doing wouldn't have dumped the bones anywhere near a spot where they'd be easily found. Someone who regularly went out to sea would know where divers congregated. It's not as if they roam like migrants across the ocean waves; if you're a dive school and you know a safe spot for lessons, you keep going back to that safe spot. It's only sense. You've got enough unknown variables with the students without adding to your troubles by going somewhere you don't know well.

With all that in mind, let's try some gamification:
  • Night's Black Agents: Some of the documents found with the bones can be traced to a low-level Conspiracy asset. The asset, a property developer, was riding high before the 2008 crash but suffered catastrophic losses when the market tanked. That's when the Conspiracy moved in; it needed a safe haven in this port town to cover its smuggling operation, and hid its money, equipment and special-build vampire havens among the property developers' asset list. The property developer has never liked this arrangement and has turned to witchcraft in hope of getting the bloodsuckers off its back. The witchcraft may or may not be genuine, but the fuss this discovery raises is about the blow the lid off the whole shebang.
  • Trail of Cthulhu: Transposing the action to the 1930s, the bones were put to rest during the Rif War as an attempt to use witchcraft to guarantee the safety of the witch's relatives, sent to Morocco as conscripts. This attracted the attention of a Deep One colony off the coast, which interpreted this as a ritual sacrifice intended to placate the Deep Ones. Now the fish-men are leaning on the witch's family like a kind of Mythos protection racket: keep providing the sacrifices and we'll keep your relatives safe with our magic powers.
  • Esoterrorists: The bones were put there by an Esoterrorist cell which is trying to provoke conflict between the authorities and worshippers of Santeria. The cell thinks that stirring up controversy with provocative headlines will make people fearful of witch-cults next door, which in turn will lead to a weakening of the Membrane. The bags of bones were just the start; the cell intends to stage a fake Santeria terror strike, perhaps some kind of ritual sacrifice gone wrong. The cell disguises itself as a reality TV show, and its camera crew always being in the right place at the right time is the first clue that something's up.
That's it for me. Enjoy!

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