War of Kings is a blog dedicated to my favourite comic books, books, games and movies.

Friday, February 6, 2009

War Correspondence: Solomon Kane and the Priests of Bast

Today I went to the Central Lending Library in Durban to look at a book that is a collection of Robert E. Howard stories about Solomon Kane. You will recognise Howard as the creator of Conan, which led to stuff like Red Sonja and chainmail bikinis. I wanted to see what Howard had to say about the Staff of Solomon, as the Wikipedia article is…strange, and the rest of the internet appears to be silent on the matter. Yes, I did not think that was possible either, but it is.

When Solomon Kane was in Africa, he was given a cat-headed staff by the juju man N'Longa. A juju man is a highly racist version of a witchdoctor, but I won't blame Howard for that. Even H. Rider Haggard was guilty of that sort of thing. It’s a product of the times they lived in. Kane, being a Puritan, suspects that the staff is an Object of Dark Magic, but for some reason, he finds himself unwilling to get rid of it. This is fortunate, as it helps him fight of evil sorcerers and monsters. This reinforces Kane's suspicion that its is an Object of Dark Magic. But then he is captured by Arab slave traders, and is told by an elderly Arab named Yussef that it is the Staff of Solmon. King Solomon of Israel.

The staff has an incredible history - being first wielded by people who's kingdoms now lie under the sea, then by the Priests of Bast in Egypt, then by Moses, and the by King David and Solomon. In all cases it was used to fight of evil creatures and perform miraculous wonders. Then they run across some ancient ruins with a sealed door. Yussef warns his leader not to open the door, as this is likely a prison built by King Solomon to house an evil creature. (Because, of course, all ancient ruins in Africa were built by the Egyptians, Atlanteans or King Solomon.) But the Arab leader thinks that there is a great treasue behind the door. He orders his men to open it, and they do. Out rushes a demonic creature, who attacks and kills the Arab leader, and the rest of them flee, leaving behind Kane and the staff. Kane breaks his bonds, grabs the staff, and uses it to kill the creature. Looking at the staff, he realises that it is not a Object of Dark Magic, but an Object of Light.

I thought Howard invented the staff, but apparently does actually exist in legends. Unless the writer of the Wikipedia article on the Staff of Solomon is making things up. That is possible, as the article lists only one source, which is a description of the adaze(s) of Wepwawet being used in the opening of the mouth ceremony, part of the burial of a Pharaoh. The article claims that the staff is one of these objects. Wepwawet is a wolf-headed god often confused with Anubis - both were said to lead the dead into the underworld. Try as I might, I cannot find a link between Wepwawet and Bast. But apparently the makers of Age of Mythology could, as if you choose to follow Bast, you gain a technology called Adaze of Wepwawet which allows you to cut down trees faster.

Bast is, unfortunately, a very misunderstood goddess. The same can be said about Horus, Osiris, Isis, Set… well, just about any of the Egyptian gods. This problem stems partly from the fact that Ancient Egypt spanned a period of about 3000 years, and over time their beliefs about various gods changed drastically. They also had a habit of combining two gods into one. A further complication is added by the Greeks, who had an annoying habit of taking the gods of other cultures and identifying them with their own gods, and then projecting aspects of their own gods back onto the other gods, and then telling us about those attributes, despite the fact that the other gods never had them to begin with. Confusing enough? Bast was originally a solar lion goddess. Over time, Bast became associated with cats. But she was not the goddess of cats. She was a goddess with a cat head, who sometimes appeared in the form of a cat. She was regarded as a goddess of protection - but she would probably agree the best way to protect yourself is to go out and disembowel all of your enemies. It seems the Greeks decided she was like Artemis, and so told everyone she was a moon goddess. (By the way, the Panther God of Wakandia is apparently an aspect of Bast.)

There is one other problem with Howard's account - if you read Exodus you will notice that there are in fact two staves that perform miracles. At the burning bush Moses' shepherd staff turns into a serpent and back into a staff again, but when Moses and his brother Aaron appear before Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites, it is Aaron's staff that becomes a serpent. Aaron's staff turns the Nile to blood, and calls down plagues of frogs and insects. And then Moses' staff calls down hail and locusts. This does not make much sense - until you remember that God is performing the miracles, not Moses, Aaron or their staves.

Later Aaron's staff is put in the Ark of the Covenant, but Moses' one is not. So there may have been a tradition that Moses' staff was kept, and passed onto the Kings years later. But I can find no real evidence of this. This is an important issue, as I want to use the staff in my novel. But if Howard made it up, I don't think I can.

So I have two questions I still need to solve - did Howard make the staff up? And what do the makers of Age of Mythology know that I don't?

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