The Upiór is present in Slavic and Turkic folklore and resembles the vampire. The Upiór is depicted as a ravenous and insatiable creature with vampiric features. Belief in the Upiór may have spread across the Eurasian steppes through migrations with its origins in the regions surrounding the Volga River and the Pontic steppes.
An Upiór is created after the death of those who practised sorcery who undergo transformations in their graves and can assume animal forms. The Upiór is described as having an enlarged cranium and an elongated tail and also capable of flight.
Upiór can assume any form including human forms. Individuals under the sway of an Ubır are tormented by a ceaseless hunger and progressively become frail. An Upiór deprived of sustenance becomes aggressive and eventually driven to consume carrion and human blood.
Upiór are blamed for causing epidemic outbreaks, distress and madness in humans and animals.
In suspected Upiór cases, the grave is exhumed and nails driven into the coffin. This practice, reminiscent of contemporary vampire narratives, is widely regarded as effective.
In 2012, the discovery in Bulgaria of an 800-year-old skeleton with an iron rod stabbed through its chest, led to speculation of a vampire burial.
Upiór and Vampires
Immortality and Feeding off Life Essence:
The Upiór and the vampire both possess an insatiable hunger – whether blood, life essence, or energy. The Upiór is voracious and devours not only the flesh but also the life force of its victims leaving them weakened and dying. The vampire is also known for its hunger for human blood in order to prolong its existence.
Shape-shifting and Manipulation:
The Upiór is also a shape-shifter, which allows it to assume various forms including animals. Vampires are sometimes suggested to take the form of bats or wolves to enable them to blend into the night. This shared attribute with the Ubir suggests a link between folklore.
Dread and Vulnerability:
Both the Upiór and the vampire evoke a sense of dread and vulnerability in their victims. The ability of both Upiór and vampires to deceive the senses, blend with humanity and consume life energy strikes a common fear of violation that transcends cultural boundaries. The shared fear of deceitful danger hidden beneath a facade.
I’m really excited to announce I’ve been nominated for the Ditmar Awards for Best New Talent and Best Novella for Bluebells – an LGBTQI, disability dystopian alternate history horror.
I’m a recipient of the 2023 Horror Writers Association Diversity Grants to allow me to continue research for my HWA mentorship project with Lee Murray. The final piece will be an alternate history, gothic horror, GBTQI, disability with Fae versus gangsters in 1920s Sydney.
It’s a great time to be writing with my heart, soul and passion. Very excited to see where diversity in horror and dark fantasy can take us!
Welcome to Anoka, Minnesota, a small city just outside of the Twin Cities dubbed “The Halloween Capital of the World” since 1937. Here before you lie several tales involving bone collectors, pagan witches, werewolves, skeletal bison, and cloned children. It is up to you to decipher between fact and fiction as the author has woven historical facts into his narratives. With his debut horror collection, Cheyenne and Arapaho author Shane Hawk explores themes of family, grief, loneliness, and identity through the lens of indigenous life.
While it is hard to choose favourites from this collection which spans so many real-world themes, societal marginalisation, stigma and indigenous horror themes, there were several stories that really resonated with me.
The opening story ‘Soilborne’ was dark tale that really plunged its claws into me. ‘Wounded’ was a journey into the darkness of a mind and family. ‘Transfigured’ was a striking Halloween story that proved the perfect ending to this collection of the dark, haunting and macabre.
Anoka was a fantastic collection of indigenous horror where Hawk delivered a host of genuine characters, masterful storytelling and a series of dark, weird and haunting horror in a well-written psychological horror collection.
Highly recommended read for fans of horror, dark fiction and psychological horror. A must read!
** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **
Merlin is the archetypal wizard from Arthurian lore. Merlin is a Latinized version of the Welsh Myrddin. His exact origins are lost in myth and there is no concrete evidence, but there was possibly several individuals who were guardians to kings, prophets and bards existed toward in the late fifth century. What we have today has become the basis for the Arthurian lore about Merlin.
Merlin’s first appearances in the Latin works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century Welsh cleric. The Prophecies of Merlin written in the early 1130s and are verses apparently made by the fifth century prophet, Merlin. Monmouth did invent many of the prophecies himself which stretched beyond the 12th century. In the History of the Kings of Britain, Monmouth formed the foundations for the Arthurian legends where Merlin becomes a key character. Monmouth confuses the chronology placing Merlín in both the fifth and sixth centuries. He is allegedly a magical child born from a union between a mortal woman and a spirit (a daemon, which later Christian writers interpreted as the Devil) but he has great magical abilities with prophecy and matures quickly like many demi-gods from Classical mythology.
Accordingly, Merlin moves great stones from Ireland to the Salisbury Plain to construct Stonehenge (which actually much older than the fifth or sixth centuries CE). It is Merlín who organises for king Uther Pendragon to seduce Igraine. From the union is a son – the infant Arthur. Here, Monmouth’s story leaves Arthur and he doesn’t reappear until a third poetic workwhere The Life of Merlin continues the tale of Artur but instead focuses on Merlin sister- Ganieda. Vita Merlini written by Monmouth in about 1150, is a biography of sorts about the adult Merlin but it a written account of twelfth century oral lore, mythology, cosmography, cosmology and natural history.
In Vita Merlini, Merlin fights at the Battle of Camlann. Unlike many Arthurian stories and romantic poems, instead of glorifying war, the horrifying effects of trauma on individuals and their families are made plain. Merlin rules South Wales. Peredur of North Wales argues with Gwenddoleu, the King of Scotland and Merlin and King Rhydderch of Cumbria join with Peredur against the Scots in a savage battle. Arthur is wounded and taken from the battlefield to Avalon for healing.
The Britons finally rally their troops and force the Scots to retreat. Seeing victory ahead, Merlin instructs on the correct burial rites for all the dead before the trauma of war overwhelms him and he flees into the forest. There he exists as a hermit – naked and mad, he hunts animals and harvested nuts and wild fruit. He observes the animals and birds learning their ways and studying all the natural world around him.
After the Battle of Camlann and Merlín has fled to the woods, Queen Ganeida, Merlin’s sister and the wife of King Rhydderc worries for her brother’s well-being. She sends searchers into the woods to look for Merlin in hope of bringing him out of his madness. One of the searchers comes to a fountain hidden by hazel thickets. There he finds Merlin, naked and unkempt, talking to himself. The searcher doesn’t want to alarm Merlin with his presence so instead he softly plays the lyre and sings about the mourning of Guendoloena for her beloved husband, Metlin and of the worry of Ganieda for her brother.
The music was enough to sooth Merlin’s soul and he remembered who he was, and what he had been, and everyone he had set aside in his madness. He asks the searcher to take him to the court of his old friend King Rhydderch. There, Metlin walks through the city gates, and his sister Ganieda and wife Guenedolena run to meet him. In their love and joy at his return, they lead him to the royal court where King Rhydderch receives him with great honour. Suddenly surrounded by the vast crowd which he’s been unaccustomed to such human company, his madness returns and desperately, he tries to escape to the sanctuary of the woods.
Rhydderch refused to let his old friend go, fearing for his safety in the wild, he has Merlin chained whereupon he falls silent and morose, refusing to speak or acknowledge anyone.
Merlin bowed his head for a moment as if softening, but then the madness in him spoke, “I will be free of her, free of you, free of love and its binding chains, therefore it is right that she be allowed her chance of happiness and marry a man of her own choosing, but beware should that man ever come near! On her wedding day, I will come to her and give her my gifts.”
Metlin explained King Rhydderch’s wife – Merlín’s own sister- is having an affair. He prophecies three different deaths for the son. The king laughs at so many different prophesied deaths for the same boy and apologies for doubting his wife’s fidelity. Queen Ganieda is greatly relieved to have her secret affair kept hidden as a jest.
Merlin is granted freedom but neither his sister Ganieda or his wife can entreat him to stay in the city. Merlin’s sister and wife watch him leave for the solitude of the forest. Both were convinced his derangement had no truth to the three different predicted for the death of the queen’s son.
The boy in question grew into a young man, and one during a hunting expedition with friends and his horse throws him over the cliff but his boot snags a tree the branch suspending his body in the air while his head is submerged beneath the water and he drowns. This fulfils the three deaths for the son according to Merlin’s prophecy.
Merlin was freed and made his way the gates. His sister caught up with him there, telling of her love and begged him to at least see out the winter in comfort with her.
Merlin left and Ganieda built a lodge for him, where she brought him food and drink. Merlin thanked her for that and for her company. On one occasion, Merlín forts the death of the king she must to return quickly to court. He asks that when she return to him, she must bring Taliesin, who lord recently arrived after visiting Gildas in Brittany.
Ganieda returns to Merlín with Taliesin. Merlin explains how they’d taken the badly wounded King Arthur to the Avalon after the battle of Camlann, leaving him in the healing care of Morgan le Fay. He explains events from Vortigern to King Arthur and long period of Saxon domination which would eventually lead to a return to British ruler after a prolonged and bloody conflict.
Perhaps the best-known portrayal of Merlin comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur written in 1485. This is romanticised tale of how the infant Arthur was raised in a stewardship until after on the death of his father, Uther Pendragon, Merlin presents the youth, Arthur to the knights of the land. Merlin sets a task to prove Arthur is Uthet’s true heir by if he can withdraw the sword Excalibur from the stone in which Merlín has embedded, he is the rightful ruler of Britain. Here, Merlin acts as Arthur’s adviser but disappears from the story early in Arthur’s reign. An unrequited passion for Nimue (or Viviane) the lady of the lake tricks Merlín into revealing how to construct a magical tower of hidden by mist which she then uses to imprison him.
Danu is one of the oldest Celtic goddess. She is represented by the earth and its abundance. Many place names in Ireland are associated with her, most notable the Paps of Anu in Kerry, which resemble the breasts of a large supine female, part of the land.
Danu is known as the ‘beantuathach’ (farmer) associating her with fertility. Rivers are also associated with her and in general, the fertility and abundance of the land.
Not many stories involving the Danu survive, but she appears is one story about Bile, the god of light and healing. Bile was represented as a sacred oak tree that was fed and nurtured by Danu resulting in the birth of Daghdha.
Danu is associated with the Tuatha Dé Danaan, the people of the goddess Danu. These were a group of people, descended from Nemed, who had been exiled from Ireland and scattered. Danu offered them her patronage allowing them to reunite, learning new magical skills and return to Ireland in a magical mist. The mist is Danu’s symbolic embrace. The Tuatha Dé Danaan are the clearest representatives in Irish myth of the powers of light and knowledge. The Tuatha Dé Danaan were associated with Craftsmanship, music, poetry and magic, as was Danu herself.
Meera and her twin sister Kai are Mades—part human and part not—bred in the Blood Temple cult, which only the teenage Meera will survive. Racked with grief and guilt, she lives in hiding with her mysterious rescuer, Narn—part witch and part not—who has lost a sister too, a connection that follows them to Meera’s enrollment years later in a college Redress Program. There she is recruited by Regulars for a starring role in a notorious reading series and is soon the darling of the lit set, finally whole, finally free of the idea that she should have died so Kai could have lived. Maybe Meera can be re-made after all, her life redressed. But the Regulars are not all they seem and there is a price to pay for belonging to something that you don’t understand. Time is closing in on all Meera holds dear—she stands afraid, not just for but of herself, on the bridge between worlds—fearful of what waits on the other side and of the cost of knowing what she truly is.
The Bridge by J.S. Breukelaar is an dystopian alternate future – in a world like Australia and not. Similar to the protagonist Meera – part human and not. She is bereaved after the death of her twin sister Kai and suffers survivors guilt. In meeting the mysterious witch figure Narn, who knows more than she says about Meera but shares the loss of her own sister, a strong connection to forged.
Encouraged by the future offered placement in the Redress Program. Meera finally sees this chance to belong to the Regulars as an opportunity to set aside her past, the grief of losing Kai and finally start living her own life. But be careful what you wish for because all transformations come at a cost and this one might be higher than Meera is willing to pay.
In The Bridge, Breukelaar writes a stunning combination of the fantastic, futuristic and the metaphorical. The division between fate and desire, hope and reality are twisted and spun into an elegant futuristic dystopian fairy tale.
For fans of modern and futuristic fairy tale and folklore retellings and reimagining, contemporary dark fantasy and dystopian settings. A highly recommended read!
** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **
Nat Drozdova has crossed half the continent in search of the stolen Dead God’s Heart, the only thing powerful enough to trade for her beautiful, voracious, dying mother’s life. Yet now she knows the secret of her own birth—and that she’s been lied to all her young life.
The road to the Heart ends at the Salt-Black Tree, but to find it Nat must pay a deadly price. Pursued by mouthless shadows hungry for the blood of new divinity as well as the razor-wielding god of thieves, Nat is on her own. Her journey leads through a wilderness of gods old and new, across a country as restless as its mortal inhabitants, and it’s too late to back out now.
…or accept the consequences of her own.
Blood may not always prevail. Magic might not always work. And the young Drozdova is faced with an impossible choice: Save her mother’s very existence…
The journey of Nat Drozdova continues but she now possesses Spring’s Arcana and is coming into her own Divinity. While she battles internally with the reality her mother has lied to her throughout her entire life, and that she was born simply to allow her mother to assume to divinity on American soil, Nat comes into her own power and makes her own decisions as she travels towards the Salt-Black Tree and whatever ending awaits her there.
She seeks the Dead God’s Heart but what she intends to do with it once she possesses it, she is yet to be sure. One thing she does know-Nat Drozdova is her own Divinity, and if that means battling her mother and Baba Yaga, she will do so.
The Salt-Black Tree is the final instalment in the Dead God’s Heart duology.
Saintcrow’s writing is superb and she provides a thrilling and satisfying ending to her series. The plot is fast-paced while still being insightful to characters development and the detailed world-building. The comparisons to Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, while relevant on the surface, Saintcrow’s duology blows them away with a darkness and ruthlessness in development and immigration of divinities and human belief which is fresh and bold. This finale is a masterpiece of talented writing while maintaining the integrity of the characters and the world building at the core of in this urban fantasy duology.
A highly recommended read for fans of urban fantasy, Russian folklore and world mythology. A thriller of an urban fantasy and a read!
** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **
Frigg (Old Norse Frigg, “Beloved”) is the highest-ranking of the Aesir goddesses. She’s the wife of Odin, and the mother of Baldur.
Frigg is depicted as a völva – a Viking Age practitioner of the form of Norse magic known as seidr. Seidr was a shamanic discerning fate and working within that structure to bring about changes – often weaving new events into being. In this way, Frigg and the Vanir goddess Freya are confused or by the Viking Age – combined into the same figure.
In the Viking Age, the völva was an itinerant seeress and sorceress who traveled from town to town performing commissioned acts of seidr in exchange for lodging, food, and often other forms of compensation as well. Similar to other northern Eurasian shamans, her social status was highly ambiguous – she was exalted, feared, longed for, propitiated, celebrated, and even scorned. This seems a very unlikely practice for a woman in Frigg’s position as the wife of a Chieftain and leader of the gods, Odín.
The Vanir goddesses Freya is often confused with Frigg in later writings – so much so that they are often the same figure. Freyja means “Lady” which is a title rather than an actual name. In the Viking Age, Scandinavian and Icelandic aristocratic women were sometimes called freyjur, the plural of freyja.
Odin’s has frequent absences from Asgard when he assumes the role of The Wanderer donning a ragged black cape and hat and walking among the mortals in Midgard. During Odin’s absences, Frigg assumes control of Asgard and the gods and she is the only other than Odín who may sit on Hliðskjálf – the high seat that enables sight anywhere in the Nine Worlds.
Frigg’s had a significantly elevated position among the Aesir but was treated cautiously because her weaving included not just fate but also the weather and her clothing was known to change appearance based on her moods.
Favoured people: Women; especially wives and mothers
Manifestation: She wears a belt which keys hang as common for the Viking Age ruler of the household
Attribute: Distaff from a loom
Constellation: In Norse cosmology, the constellation now known as Orion’s belt was called Frigg’s distaff or spindle
Runes: Mannaz, Pertho, Wunjo
Hall: Fensalir (“Marsh Hall”) is the after-death destination for happily married couples who can spend eternity together.
One hundred years ago, the vampire Victory retired from a centuries-long mercenary career. She settled in Limani, the independent city-state acting as a neutral zone between the British and Roman colonies on the New Continent.
Twenty years ago, Victory adopted a human baby girl, who soon showed signs of magical ability.
Today, Victory is a city councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations within Limani. Her daughter Toria is a warrior-mage, balancing life as an apprentice mercenary with college chemistry courses.
Steel Victory follows several protagonists including Victory, a vampire and leader of her free city state Limani and her human adopted-daughter Toria – a mage bonded to another mage to form a warrior pair. They are still in training and not yet combat ready but soon must face the realities of war whether they’re ready or not.
Victory is embroiled in the rising of an anti-Fae alliance within the council that governs the city and also within the populous itself. Brutal assaults and banning of Fae individuals from businesses sees injustice and discrimination made plain.
While the Roman army marches on the Limani, Victory is forced to battle on two fronts: a physical war looming and an internal Civil War brewing.
Gribble’s vast world building skilfully uses alternate history and fantasy that is highly detailed while still fast-paced. The clever plot weaves history and magic and is a masterstroke by Gribble.
Highly recommended to fantasy readers, alternate history, occult, LGBTQI and readers who enjoy skilful and vast world-building. A great read!
** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **
Morgan le Fay is also known as Morgana, Morgana and is one of the most powerful enchantress from Arthurian lore. She became very popular in the modern times from the novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon. Some of legends have their roots in medieval times which were transformed into the novel which was incredibly popular.
Morgan probably appears the first time in literature in The Life of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100 -1155 AD). This text became one of the classic texts connected with the Arthurian legends. Among the stories Arthur’s of knights and adventures, Morgan is portrayed as a dark character. She often leads the heroes of the legends into danger and has a very sensual part in the stories as a seductress.
It is still open for debate concerning the legends, myths, and literature about Morgan Le Fay’s true character in the Arthurian tales. In the medieval stories, Morgan le Fay is one of the most popular, intriguing, and mysterious women connected with Camelot. She was believed to be a healer, enchantress, and a witch with many spiritual talents.
According to the tale written by Thomas Malory (1415 – 1471), Morgan was unhappily married to King Urien. She became a sexually precious woman who had many lovers – including the famous Merlin. Her love of Lancelot was unrequited and Morgan appeared to be involved either directly or indirectly with King Arthur’s death.
In the later medieval stories, Morgan le Fay was a woman who served the people with her spiritual talents changed. Morgan appeared as the daughter of the Lady Irgraine and her first husband Gorlois which made King Arthur her half-brother. She was also an adviser to Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
Morgan also became Merlin’s lover and he apparently taught her witchcraft. She was a keen became a powerful witch.
In the 13th century, her role expanded in the Vulgate Cycle and Post-Vulgate Cycle. Morgan le Fay became an anti-heroine. She was cast as malicious, cruel, and an ambitious nemesis to Arthur. In these tales, Morgan was sent to a convent to become a nun but this was also the place where she started her study of magic.
One of the most important parts of her story is her unrequited affection for Lancelot. She used all of her knowledge, potent herbs and enchantments trying to make Lancelot love her. In these stories, he appears tries to resist her enchantments but eventually he succumbs to her spells and keeps him in a prison. When he gets ill and is near death she releases him. There are many different variations of this story – in some Morgan appears as seductress and in others, as a lost woman who really loves Lancelot.
The final version of the legend concerns her use of witchcraft. She is described as a witch using her spells for her own goals. In these tales, she gains the ability to transform herself into a crow, a horse, or any other black animals.
When Morgan Le Fay disappears for a considerable time, Arthur believes her dead until he meets her again and she declares she’ll move to the Isle of Avalon. Arthur discovers the rumors about a secret affair between her and Lancelot were true.
The story ends with Morgan dressed in a black hood who takes the dying Arthur to his resting place in Avalon. She seems strongly connected with death and belongs neither the world of the dead nor the world of the living.