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E is for Everlasting.
Looking at the thesaurus, everlasting, immortal, undying, fadeless and several others are synonyms.
Everlasting adj 1 never coming to an end; eternal 2 lasting for an indefinitely long period (Collins English Dictionary).
Who hasn’t dreamt of having their loved-ones with them forever? Or, more selfishly, living forever?
But eluding death just leads to wasting your life in search of the Philosopher’s Stone, trying to steal apples or ambrosia from the gods, or – worse – making deals with dark creatures.
What folklore and literature has taught us is that the chase for immortality always turns the seeker into a monster.
Voldemort ripping his soul into pieces, for example.
In folklore and literature there are several creatures that are everlasting, usually via a curse. But being a vampire/werewolf/shape-shifter of various origins doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Some people dig monsters.
So how do you become immortal without becoming a blood-sucking fiend or another kind of monster?
Folklore of Immortality
In mythologies around the world, humans who achieve immortality are often regarded as gods, or as possessing god-like qualities. One of the earliest works of literature, the 22nd century B.C.E. Epic of Gilgamesh, focuses on a hero’s quest for immortality. In some traditions, immortality was bestowed by the gods themselves. Other times, a normal human would unlock alchemical secrets hidden in natural materials that stopped death in its tracks. According to the ancients, the secrets of immortality could be found within the Earth, on the moon, or even in your own back yard.
Chinese alchemists spent centuries formulating elixirs of life. As early as 475 BCE, Chinese texts reference the Mushroom of Immortality, a key ingredient in the elixir of life. The Lingzhi, literally translated as the “Supernatural Mushroom,” is the oldest known mushroom used medicinally. According to the 82nd century Book of Han, the “Masters of Esoterica; alchemists; magicians,” known as the Fangshi knew secret locations on Mount Penglai where the Lingzhi grew. Several Qin and Han Emperors sent large expeditions in search of a genuine mushroom of immortality, but none succeeded.
The idea of ingesting liquid metals for longevity is present in alchemical traditions from China to Mesopotamia to Europe. The logic of the ancients suggested that consuming something imbued the body with the qualities of whatever was consumed. Since metals are strong and seemingly permanent and indestructible, it was only rational that whoever ate metal would become permanent and indestructible.
The chief goal of every Medieval alchemist was the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. Efforts to discover the Stone were collectively called the Magnum Opus, or Great Work. The Philosopher’s Stone is said to turn basic metals like lead into precious metals like gold and silver. It also produces immortality. In some legends, possession of the Stone alone grants unending life. In others, the Stone is used to synthesize the Elixir of Life. The Philosopher’s Stone symbolizes perfection, enlightenment, and bliss.
While the West anthropomorphized the lunar surface into a Man on the Moon, many Eastern cultures imagine a Moon Rabbit. In China, Japan, and Korea, the Moon Rabbit is visualized as using a mortar and pestle. In Chinese mythology, the Moon Rabbit is mixing the elixir of immortality. Chinese Folklore portrays the Moon Rabbit as the companion of Chang’e, a goddess who also lives on the moon. Chang’e herself, in some stories as a mortal human and in some an outcast deity, consumed too much elixir of immortality and floated to the moon. Other stories say she consumed the Elixir to float to the moon & escape her husband.
There are also mythological ways to become immortal.
Immortality has always been a dream for humans; the desire to avoid death is universal, whether because of fear, a thirst for knowledge, or simply a love of living.
In Japanese mythology, there was a mermaid-like creature known as a ningyo. Described as a cross between a monkey and a carp, they lived in the sea and would normally bring bad luck or stormy weather if caught. (If they washed up on shore, they were said to be an omen of war).
One particular myth involves a girl known as the “Eight Hundred Nun.” Her father accidentally brought her ningyo meat, and she ate it and was cursed with immortality.
A common theme in many Greek myths involving mortals was the punishment and danger of hubris, or extreme pride. Many mortals tried to trick or challenge the gods, and all were punished, many of them for all eternity. Earlier in his life, Sisyphus tried to trick Zeus and trapped Thanatos, the personification of death in Greek mythology. This led to a world where no one could die, which really bothered Ares, the god of war.
So he was punished by having to roll a boulder up a hill every day, only to have it roll back down every night.
The Peaches of Immortality play a very large role in the Chinese epic Journey to the West. Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, was chosen as the Protector of the Peaches and ended up consuming one of them, which bestowed upon him 1,000 years of life. He escaped at first, but was later captured. Of course, since he had also eaten the Pills of Immortality, Sun Wukong was unable to be executed.
A figure from Slavic folklore, Koschei the Deathless was known for his titular characteristic: his inability to die. What is most interesting about this figure, however, is that his immortality was not foolproof. It was said that when Koschei cast the magical spell to protect and defend himself, he accidentally left room for error.
Koschei maintained his life and immortality through the removal of his soul. Taking it from his body, it was said he hid it in a needle, inside an egg, in a duck, in a rabbit, then locked it in an iron or crystal chest, and buried it under a green oak on an island.
Koschei the Deathless further safeguarded his soul by ensuring his animal vessels, or seals, could get away. Legend has it that if the chest was ever dug up and opened, the duck would try to flee. If the duck was killed, the rabbit would try to run.
It is only once his opponent reached the egg that Koschei’s life was truly endangered. The egg contained the needle which held the heart of his power. According to myth, possession of the egg was enough to gain control of the demon. Furthermore, should the egg break, the needle within it would break as well, forcing hundreds of years of age down upon Koschei in a single instant, vanquishing the demon once and for all with the power of age.
In Greek mythology ambrosia grants immortality.
In Greek mythology, ambrosia was considered the food or drink of the Olympian gods, and it was thought to bring long life and immortality to anyone who consumed it. It was often linked to nectar, the other element that the gods consumed; usually, it was thought that ambrosia was the food and nectar was the drink of the gods. In general, ambrosia was only consumed by deities; when Heracles achieved immortality, Athena offered him ambrosia; while when Tantalus tried to steal some to give to other mortals, he was punished for committing hubris. Whoever consumed ambrosia no longer had blood in their veins, but another substance called ichor.
In Norse mythology golden apples grant immortality.
Idun (pronounced “EE-done;” from Old Norse Iðunn, “The Rejuvenating One”) is a goddess who belongs to the Aesir tribe of deities. Her role in the pre-Christian mythology and religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples is unfortunately obscure, but she features prominently in one of the best-known mythological tales, The Kidnapping of Idun. In this tale, which comes to us from the skaldic poem Haustlöng and the Prose Edda, Idun is depicted as the owner and dispenser of a fruit that imparts immortality. In modern books on Norse mythology, these fruits are almost invariably considered to be apples, but this wasn’t necessarily the case in heathen times. The Old Norse word for “apple,” epli, was often used to denote any fruit or nut, and “apples” in the modern English sense didn’t arrive in Scandinavia until late in the Middle Ages.Whatever species Idun’s produce belongs to, its ability to sustain the immortality of the gods and goddesses makes Idun an indispensable presence in Asgard.
In Arthurian legend, Avalon is where Arthur goes to await a time when Britain needs him again.
This mystical place serves as a place of magic. In some accounts, Avalon is also called the Fortunate Isles (a name for the paradise in Greek mythology). Geoffrey of Monmouth actually mentions Avalon in his accounts and relates the island as part of Arthurian legend. In his depiction, Avalon is the place where Arthur is whisked away to after suffering a mortal injury at the hands of his son Mordred. Legends say that Avalon is where Arthur finally dies of his wounds. But other legends say that Avalon was where Arthur went to recover and live in an immortal state. Among those that help heal Arthur is the “head of the sisters,” Morgan le Fay. In some accounts, Morgan le Fay is Avalon’s faery queen, because Avalon itself is the world of the Fey.
Another mystical place is Tír-na-n-Og. According to the work of W.B. Yeats, it’s even more magical than Avalon.
There is a country called Tír-na-n-Og, which means the Country of the Young, for age and death have not found it; neither tears nor loud laughter have gone near it. The shadiest boskage covers it perpetually. One man has gone there and returned. The bard, Oisin, who wandered away on a white horse, moving on the surface of the foam with his fairy Niamh, lived there three hundred years, and then returned looking for his comrades. The moment his foot touched the earth his three hundred years fell on him, and he was bowed double, and his beard swept the ground. He described his sojourn in the Land of Youth to Patrick before he died. Since then many have seen it in many places; some in the depths of lakes, and have heard rising therefrom a vague sound of bells; more have seen it far off on the horizon, as they peered out from the western cliffs. Not three years ago a fisherman imagined that he saw it. It never appears unless to announce some national trouble.
There are many kindred beliefs. A Dutch pilot, settled in Dublin, told M. De La Boullage Le Cong, who travelled in Ireland in 1614, that round the poles were many islands; some hard to be approached because of the witches who inhabit them and destroy by storms those who seek to land. He had once, off the coast of Greenland, in sixty-one degrees of latitude, seen and approached such an island only to see it vanish. Sailing in an opposite direction, they met with the same island, and sailing near, were almost destroyed by a furious tempest.
According to many stories, Tír-na-n-Og: is the favourite dwelling of the fairies. Some say it is triple-the island of the living, the island of victories, and an underwater land.
The Fae and Immortality
When we think of the Fae, we immediately think of their everlasting nature.
Unlike other immortals, though, fairies are not indestructible. Their immortality is best described this way: fairies can be killed, but they do not die of natural causes. That is, even though they most certainly can die, they won’t die of old age or a natural failure of the body. In this way, many fairies are considered to be hundreds, if not thousands of years old.
As shown in my short story from earlier this month.
“Jamie didn’t care much for Faolan, but even he was shaken by the other Fae’s death.” – Rumour Has It, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
Obviously, dying isn’t a regular occurrence among the Fae.
Yet, in the Tales of the Onyx Labyrinth they struggle to live to thirty. There’s a reason these Fae aren’t immortal like the rest of their kind…
But let’s first look at what immortality means to the Fae.
Immortality (from the Origin of the Fae page]
There are different ways to gain immortality. It, of course, means different things to different beings.
The first is being cursed with immortality. This usually happens among human magic-users. It can take on many forms, from being stuck at the same age forever and never changing to living until a certain age and being hunted down by the enemy and then born again just for the painful cycle to continue forever.
The second is stealing immortality – or being granted the gift of immortality. Both requires the Elixir of Life to be consumed. The elixir is kept safe in Avalon, though there are always those stealthily enough to steal from the Fae. Some mortals are granted the gift for services rendered (like saving an entire race of Fae).
The third is striking a deal with the Unseelie Court, mostly with the king himself. But this usually results in the seeker becoming more monstrous the longer he/she lives. Which, of course, suits the needs of the Dark Court. An example is the Obayifo.
The last way to be immortal is being born with it. All Fae are born immortal. Though, certain things can change their state. Being immortal doesn’t mean being indestructible. Fae kill Fae all the time over silly disputes – the King of the Dead, Ankou, wouldn’t have a realm otherwise. And curses can influence even what immortality means: the Fae living in the Labyrinth suffer for perpetuity over something none of them were involved in, though they all die very young (even to mortal standards).
The Fae, and made immortals, can live for thousands of years if not killed off. They are patient with their plans: it doesn’t matter if a plan has to take twenty – or two hundred – years to come to pass, they have the time to wait. Living forever also means that most of them are never in a hurry to do anything: time is their friend.
Of course, there’s a difference between immortality and longevity.
Immortal adj 1 not subject to death or decay; having perpetual life 3 everlasting; perpetual; constant 4 of or relating to immortal beings 5 an immortal being (Collins English Dictionary).
Longevity n long life (Collins English Dictionary).
If only the Labyrinth Fae had either…
There’s a reason the Labyrinth exist. And a reason why the Fae there live only there – or are very different from their topside counterparts. (We’ll look at the differences in other posts.) The biggest thing that makes the Labyrinth Fae almost pitiable is their extremely short lifespan. Not only is food scarce in the Labyrinth, but different Courts (each having their own labyrinth within the Labyrinth) fight over resources. None, though, are as fierce as the Dragon Court. Even they have their secrets…
“She now knew the truth about the Labyrinth and the reason for the Dragon Court’s Curse.
Blaze shivered as the truth kept replaying in her mind’s eye. The Dragon Nymph who’d just tried to kill her was the legendary sorceress Morgan Pendragon. Blaze had grown up with the stories of how she’d nearly wiped out all Dragons and magic from the mortal realm with her greed for power.
What the stories hadn’t shared was that Morgan was also the Dragon Court’s first queen.
Blaze leaned against the passage wall, her need to escape the centre of the earth overwhelmed by the shocking truth. All Morgan had told her was authentic. Except: it had been her idea, her spell and when they’d double-crossed her she had released the Curse as retaliation.
Blaze peeked into the forbidden staircase, but it was still empty.
Morgan’s spell had targeted everyone in the Labyrinth, not just the Dragon Fae.
Running up the stairs, Blaze kept wondering how much it had changed them from their counterparts topside and in Faerie. Besides the age-thing, of course.”
– Fire in the Dark, Tales of the Onyx Labyrinth, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
What are your thoughts about things that last forever? Did you enjoy the story? Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Any other stories about the everlasting you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board about immortality.