Episode 22B – Black and White

Episode 22B – Show Notes

Source: Arabian Folklore

  • This week on MYTH, we’ll be continuing the story Scheherazade began last time and finally venture inside the City of Brass.  You’ll learn that thrilling conclusions sometimes aren’t, that if someone takes the time to post lots of warnings, you should listen to them, and that throwing away the lives of your men for trinkets can really pay off.   Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the powerful demon born from the blood of murdered innocence.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures from around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 22B, “Black and White”.  As always, this episode is not safe for work.
  • When we left the story, our party had departed for the mysterious City of Brass on a mission from the Caliph, who wants to see a genie come out of a bottle.  After lying about how long he was going to be gone, Musa convinces an old desert guide named Shaykh to lead them.  After some adventures, they reached the city, but found it locked up tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge’s purse.  Twelve men committed suicide after trying to climb over the wall and, deciding that 13 was his lucky number, Shaykh himself climbed the homemade ladder to the top of the city walls.  You’re all caught up, so let’s get back to our friend Shaykh, who is in incredible peril.
  • Shaykh began to laugh madly, but the prayers of his friends reached up to him, and he began to pray along with them.  He stood there, swaying, for a full hour and staring at the splattered bodies of his dead friends, before he called down “I’m okay, guys!  Allah kept me safe (maybe I believed harder than the other guys did or something?) and averted the tricks of that asshole Satan.”  
  •  “I’m glad you’re okay, dude.  I was worried.  What did you see?”  “I saw ten maidens that looked like Houris of heaven (beautiful, chaste women described in the Quaran) calling to me and waving to me.”  Then it was dawn again, and time for another nappy nap.
  •  The maidens beckoned me and it looked like they were seated on the bank of a great lake, so I thought I would save myself some trouble and dive into the water (this story definitely has some similarities to the Greek story of the sirens, which we’ll get to when we cover Odysseus).  Of course, when I saw the bloated corpses of my twelve friends burst on the stones like rotten melons, it made me a little less anxious to jump.  I distracted myself by reciting the Quaran.  They feared its holy words, and the maidens vanished.  This was clearly an enchantment cast to protect the city.”  Then he climbed over the wall and down into the city.  He walked around the city, next to the wall, until he came to the two towers of brass, which sat beside two gates of gold.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t see any padlocks or any other visible lock.  Well, shit.
  •  Shaykh sat down on a bench and studied the gates.    After a while, it occurred to him that the horseman in the middle of one of the gates was a different color.  He looked a little closer, and realized that it was made of brass, instead of gold.  It held one hand outstretched as if pointing.  He looked closer, and realized that something was written on its palm: “If you want to enter, turn the pin in my belly button twelve times to open the gate.”
  •  He checked the statue, and sure enough, he found a solid gold pin set into the belly of the bronze statue.  As instructed, he turned the pin twelve times.  There was a click and then the horseman spun shockingly fast, the light shining like lightning and the door opened with a rumble like thunder.
  •  The door rolled open to reveal a long, sunless passage.  He entered and followed, still looking for a way to let people in.  The passage opened into a stone room that had clearly been a guardroom.  Partly, he could tell from the keen weapons and stout shields hung neatly from the ceiling.  Mostly, he could tell from the long wooden benches filled with dead men in armor and uniforms.  It’s not clear how they died, but it was clearly not violence.  He passed on and came to the main gate of the city, which the guardroom was clearly meant to defend.
  •  The door was barred with actual iron bars, but also with strangely crafted locks, bolts, and chains, as well as other fastenings he understood even less.  “Okay, Shaykh, think.  You don’t have the slightest idea how to pick these locks, and there’s a whole army waiting for your ass.  What do you do?”  “Well, Shaykh, clearly you need to find a key.”  “Brilliant idea, Shaykh.  And where, exactly, do you expect to find a fucking key, hmm?  Maybe they keep it on a little hook by the door?”  “Don’t be an asshole, Shaykh.  The dead guys were guarding the door.  They probably have a key.”  “That’s…actually a good idea, Shaykh.  I mean, it involves desecrating some corpses, but still a good idea.”
  •  He went back into the guardroom, and took a better look at all of the long-rotted corpses seated throughout the room.  There was a raised seat at one end of the room, with a man dressed in what may have been finer clothes before being ruined by age, mold, and corpse juice.  He figured that was probably the most senior guy in the room.  He hoped so, or he was going to have to start ransacking all of the pockets of all of the bodies, which would get very gross very fast.  He was lucky, and found a ring of keys in the first place he looked.  He took the nasty ass keys back to the gate and, sure enough, was able to unlock everything on the gate and swing it wide open for everyone to come in.
  •  Everyone moved to do exactly that, but Musa shouted at everyone to stay put.  “If we all go in at once, there’s nothing to stop some horrible thing from happening to all of us at once.  It’s probably better to leave half of us outside just in case something goes to hell in a handbasket.”  Everyone agreed that this was a good idea (or maybe they just didn’t want to disagree with the dude in charge), and half stayed out while the other half went in.  They buried the splattered, shattered bodies of the twelve men who had thrown themselves from the walls, and moved into the city to explore.
  • Everywhere they went, they saw the decayed bodies of doormen, eunuchs, chamberlains, and officers slumped on benches or reclining on silk couches.  Nothing lived in the city except the visitors.  The silence of the grave filled the city, and the echoes of booted feet on the stones felt foreign, alien.  They came to the market, and it was much the same.  The buildings were massive, towering over the city squares, and all of the merchant stalls were wealthy looking.  All manner of goods were set out on bronze plates; wealth gleamed everywhere amidst the dusty, cracked bones of the dead.
  • They go throughout the city and find nothing but fabulous wealth and dead men.  The soldiers loot, as soldiers are wont to do, filling their pockets with wealth and new weapons.  There’s a whole lot of description of exactly what wealth they find, but it gets as tedious as a Dickens novel pretty quickly.  The one thing they don’t see are food stores, not even rotted.  There was no food in the city.  Everyone here had starved to death.  They had continued to go about their business until the end, and when they were finally too weak to keep going, they sat down and died.  No one buried them, and their bodies lay in the street, making a mausoleum out of the beautiful city.
  • Near the city center, they find a pavilion with a beautiful couch lying under a silk canopy.  Musa sees a gorgeous woman lying on the couch, surrounded by gold, jewels, and copper statues of her slaves, one bearing a sword and one bearing a mace, guarding the corpse.  A robe of fine pearls drapes her body, and a crown of red gold crusted with gems lies on her head.  Here’s the end of the 575th night.
  • He rushes to her side, excited to finally find someone alive in this godforsaken city of death, but Talib grabs his arm.  “Dude, she’s not sleeping.  She’s dead.  Come on, do you really think a beautiful princess would be living here all alone, among the dead?”  Musa looks closer, and realizes it’s true.  The corpse has been masterfully embalmed, but the marks of death are on her.  
  • Between the slave statues, one white and one black, lies a tablet inscribed with a long litany about how all men die.  Adam, first of humanity, was not spared, nor was Noah, who saved the world from the flood.  Neither will you be.  One day, the Reaper’s chill scythe will come for you as well.
  • It also details how the woman, Tadmurah, daughter of the King of Amalekites, had lived in wealth and ease for all her life until the drought came.  For seven years, no rain fell.  All the crops withered and died, and then all green things.  The city became a barren wasteland.  The city had devoured its stores, and then its seeds and animals needed to replant when the rains came again, if they ever did.  It wasn’t until everything was gone, and the drought had killed everything as far as the eye could see that they realized they were fucked.  
  • The merchants had gone out to try and trade their fabulous wealth for food, but there was none to be had.  The surrounding towns were either suffering the same, or had long since picked up and left the waste.  Realizing that they didn’t have enough saved up to travel an unknown distance across the new desert to find a new home, they sealed up the city and tried to ignore their impending dooms until death came for them.
  • Musa comments that this is a fine example of why fear of God is the best treasure of all and that everyone should take warning that they not fall so in love with material wealth that they blind themselves to the doom slouching across the desert for their souls.  And now we’re on to night 577.  
  • Musa orders the soldiers to bring in the camels and pack up as much of the wealth from the city as can be carried safely.  The soldiers left to do as they were bid, and Musa started to do the same, but he noticed Talib staring at the preserved body of the beautiful princess.  “Talib, come on.  It’s time to go.”  “It seems a shame, Musa, to leave this fair damsel here with all of these fine treasures.  Surely there is nothing in the city as fine as what is here in this room.  The Caliph deserves the coolest shit, right?”
  • Musa face palmed.  Hard.  “Dude.  Did you not read the same tablet that I did?  She specifically warned against taking this stuff.  Don’t.  Just don’t.”  “Musa, don’t be a pussy.  The bitch is dead.  What’s she gonna do?  Finders keepers, asshole.”  Talib stepped up to the corpse to grab a big ol’ handful of bling.  It went down like the opening scene of a horror movie.  There was a soft click, and then Talib jerked.  He looked down to see almost a foot of bloody steel rising from the center of his chest.  He had just long enough to wonder how he was going to get the steel out of his body when there was a glint of steel from the other side of his head, a searing pain in his skull, and then darkness.
  • Musa stood there gaping, his face splashed in blood, brain, and bits of bone from the mangled corpse that had been his friend a few seconds before.  The entire thing had only taken a few seconds.  You might have expected him to scream, or cry, or at least give a dramatic ‘Nooooooo!’  He did none of these things.  Instead, he looked at the mound of gore and whispered “May Allah have no mercy on your soul.  I told you there was enough treasure elsewhere.  Greed ruins men.”  Ice.  Cold.
  • He turned on his heels and left the room, with the cooling body of Talib abandoned where it fell, to rot next to the embalmed body of the princess for all eternity.  He ordered his men to get the other troops from outside the gates, and then collect everything they could fit on the camels to take back with them.  He mentioned nothing about his dead friend.  Seriously. He’s a stone cold motherfucker.
  • They left the city, and Musa ordered the city’s gates closed behind them.  They journeyed on for a month before coming into sight of a towering mountain overlooking the sea, and absolutely riddled with caves.  As they approached the foot of the mountain, black-skinned men and women rushed from the fields up into the relative safety of the caves above.  Here and there, children could be seen peeking out from the caves, and the babble of a strange tongue none of them recognized could be heard.  Musa rode up next to Shaykh.  “Who are these people?  And why don’t they speak proper Arabic?”
  • “Seriously?  You don’t remember?  They’re the people we went on this whole goddamned trip to find!  Talib told us all about them, including that they spoke a strange language.  You remember Talib, right?  Your friend?  The guy who’s body you abandoned in the City of Brass without telling anyone until we noticed he was missing?”  “Let it go, Shaykh.  Let’s go find the king.”  They dismounted and set up camp.  Before they were done pitching the tents, the king had descended from the mountain peak and approached their camp with an honor guard.
  • “Greetings, strangers!  Be you man or jinn?”  “We’re men, or course.  But you, o king, must be a jinn, to judge by the fact that you live out here in this mountain, so far from civilization.”  I can’t decide if Musa is being ignorant or an asshole, but given that Talib told them the whole story, I’m going with he’s just a bastard.  
  • The king gave him the side eye, but decided to be civil. He was NOT a bastard.  “No, we are also children of Adam, descended from Noah’s son Ham, and this is the sea of Al-Karkar.”  Musa’s inner bastard kept right on raging. “What religion are you?  Do you worship my god, or are you going to Hell?”  “We’re Muslim, just like you.”  “Likely story.  How did you learn about the only true religion since no prophet ever came to this country?”  “Well, we used to worship each other, because this story is a wee bit racist and assumes that because we’re black, we’ll worship literally anything, but then a man appeared to us, rising out of the sea and lit with a heavenly glow.  He announced ‘there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prohet!  I am Abu al-Abbas al-Khizr.”  He goes on for a bit talking about how awesome religion is, but I’m gonna skip that bit.
  • He wound down and asked Musa “so who are you and what brings you all the way out here?”  “We are here in service to Al-Islam, the Commander of the Faithful, Abd al-Malik bin Marwan.  He heard that King Solomon had a habit of shoving jinn into bottles and throwing them into the sea.  He wants to see one, so we’re here to try and find one.  Or more.  You think you can help us?”
  • “Sure, no problem.  You can stay in the guest house.  Guest cave.  Whatever.  This way.”  He took them to a fantastically appointed guest house in the mountain, and he hosted and feasted them for three days.  While that was happening, the local king sent divers looking for bottles.  Over the course of the three days, the divers recovered twelve bottles.  In thanks, Musa showered the locals with lavish gifts.  In return, the local king added to the gift of the twelve bottles a gift of, quote, fishes in human form.  I don’t really know what that means.  Mermaids, maybe?
  • They had one more feast, and then they headed back on the long trip back to Damascus.  After over four years on the road, Musa and the surviving members of the party came before the Caliph bearing the promised bottled genies.  The caliph threw a feast for the returning adventurers, and Musa told the whole story, including how Talib bin Sahl had died.  The caliph listened to the whole story in rapt attention.  “That sounds amazing.  I really wish I could have gone with you.  It sounds amazing.  Now, let me see those bottles.  Gimme gimme!”  He pulled the stopper, and as promised, a massive jinn swirled into existence in a gout of dark smoke from each bottle and boomed “I repent!  I won’t take part in a rebellion ever again!  I swear!”
  • The Caliph had a tank made for the sisters of the deep (which sounds more and more like mermaids), filled it with water, and put them on display, but they died soon of the great heat of the city, since the tank was still pretty small.  It seems like an odd detail to include for no real reason, but whatever.  The woman was making it up on the fly to keep a homicidal king from beheading her, so you have to make some allowances.  The Caliph had the treasure taken from the City of Brass divided amongst the faithful and that is where Scheherazade paused for the 578th night, which seems like an absolute rubbish place to stop, since the story is basically over, but it worked, so she picked up again the next night.  
  • Musa asked for permission to appoint his son Governor in his place (which still doesn’t explain why he told his son a lie that definitely meant he thought his dear old dad was rotting in the desert somewhere; maybe he just really wanted to see his son’s reaction when he came back from the dead).  It was granted, so he retired to the Holy City of Jerusalem to worship.  He stayed there for the rest of his days, and died a happy, rich man.  Scheherazade had another story locked and loaded, but that’s a story for another day.  Still, I don’t want to die, so it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s monster is the ifrit.
  • The ifrit are a class of infernal spirits from the race of the jinn, and they are sometimes considered to be death spirits drawn to the life’s blood of murder victims.  Not in the way the ghul from last episode would be, though.  The ifrit is out for revenge for the slain.  To destroy such a demon, you had to drive an unused nail through the pool of blood that gave birth to it.  Like most jinn, ifrit have free will and can be believers or non believers, male or female, good or evil, but they are usually evil.  Very, very evil.  Otherwise, the exact attributes of the powerful spirits are vague and unstable, often conflated with the marid, a more different wicked, rebellious demon.
  • The term ifrit doesn’t occur in pre-Islamic poetry, and only shows up once in the Quran, where it is used to describe rebellious jinn.  In folklore, they are usually described as enormous winged creatures made of or wreathed in flame and smoke.  Picture the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, and you won’t be far off.  They typically live in underground caverns, desolate ruins, or empty deserts.  They live in a tribal society similar to ancient Arabic cultures (such as the Bedouins), complete with clans, kings, and tribal warfare.  They tend to marry within their own clans, or between clans for political reasons, but sometimes intermarry and interfuck with humans to create half demon hybrids.
  • Ifrits were one of the first beings created by Allah from the primal fire, and they are kind of arrogant about it.  They are shapeshifters, capable of taking the form of winged demons, the devil, dogs, pure smoke, towering pillars of flame, or innocent humans.  Some ifrit, those who choose not to believe, to be wicked instead, use this power to destroy humans, to wreak general havoc, or to steal sacred items from holy ground (and are sometimes confused with the ghouls from last episode).  Ifrit often chose to appear as humans with skins burned inky black from the primordial fires, which is why many travelers initially thought that Africans were ifrit when they first traveled there (and why the City of Brass was in Northern Africa).
  • The ifrit were feared for more than their shapeshifting abilities, however.  They were also stronger, faster, better with magic, and were immune to mortal weapons and steel.  Only magic, wielded by holy men, wizards, and warlocks, could harm the ifrit or bend them to human will (although in some stories, certain prayers recited by someone with true faith could destroy an evil jinn).  You had to be very careful when subjugating any jinn, since they tended to be very literal with commands (hence the stories of genies twisting wishes to fuck with the poor asshole making them).  
  • One of the coolest depictions of the ifrit lately comes from the television adaptation of Neil Gaimon’s American Gods.  An immigrant salesman meets a taxi driver and sees the flames rising behind his sunglasses.  Since he is from the Middle East, he recognizes the man as an ifrit of the jinn.  The ifrit insists that it doesn’t grant wishes because if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be stuck driving a fucking taxi.  By the end of their encounter, though, the two men are totally having gay sex and the ifrit finds a way to grant the poor salesman’s wish for a new life with the limited power left to him.  So if you do find a genie in a bottle one day, be careful how you phrase your wish if you don’t want him to fuck you over, or maybe you can just offer to suck his cock instead.
  • That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth and on Instagram as Myths Your Teacher Hated Pod.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.
  • Next time, we’ll be going back to visit the friendly trickster god Loki for a story that’s vaguely holiday themed.  You’ll learn that mistletoe can be dangerous, that you should never play with swords, and that Loki can be kind of a dick.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the gigantic, demonic, child-murdering friend of Santa Claus.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.