Retrospective Week: The Spirit Harvester and Her Daughter
Posted on Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
In every society where life is precarious, there are stories about supernatural creatures that prey upon children, representing as they do innocence, vitality, and a community’s future. From changeling children to the wraith-woman who bathes her child in the fresh blood of human babies to the monsters that are designed solely to frighten children into good behavior and all the way to the modern-day urban legends of the neglectful babysitter, humanity has created a dozen of reasons to explain away the unexpected deaths of children.
In a universe like the Ingressa, though, where magic is inherent to the very existence of some worlds and technology reigns supreme on others, the lines become blurred. Is the story of the woman who made a bargain with a witch for her child just another one of these legends, conjured up to frighten people who are making the move from one world to the next? Or is it an actual true story, with children who were healthy one day found withered and cold the next? In the Ingressa, it’s difficult to tell–which, I think, is part of the fun.
With that in mind, here’s my favorite story from 2011, a tale about the spirit harvester and her daughter.
It is said that in a certain building in a certain town (the details change, but the overall story remains the same), there was a woman who desperately wished for a child, to the point of obsession. She had a husband, but despite years of trying, they remained childless. As the years went on, her obsession grew with her age, until she was an elderly woman, left alone by the passage of time. Medicine had not helped, and so the woman turned to magic. She went to a witch to beg for assistance, casting aside her pride and going down on her hands and knees to grovel for the witch’s mercy. After a hundred days and a hundred nights of pleading, the witch finally agreed to grant her wish if the woman agreed to be her servant: one year for each year she wanted her desired child to live. The woman, who was already very old, agreed. That very night, her belly swelled and rounded; by the morning, she had given birth to a lovely baby girl.
Immediately the terms of her service went into effect, though; she would go early in the morning to serve the witch’s beck and call, and return late at night to sleep, holding her daughter in her arms. The child herself never seemed to suffer the illnesses or troubles of childhood: she was a healthy and well-behaved child, content to lie in her cradle and to be held when her mother came home.
However, the day finally came when the old woman felt a clutching in her chest and knew her time was upon her. She went to the witch and begged for the life of her daughter. Too old and fragile now to even get down on hands and knees, the old woman merely wept until she had no more tears, until her drying blood began to seep from her eyes instead. The witch relented at this, and transformed the old woman into a spirit harvester, sending it out into the world at large. It is said that the old woman creeps into nurseries that are left unattended, to suck years of life and health off the infants she finds; these, she brings back to the witch that commands her. It is said that every year she steals from a child is split between the witch and her daughter, and that her mother’s love keeps her endlessly, desperately searching for more and more life to give to her beloved child.
Mothers and fathers beware: leave salt on your window sills and keep them tightly fastened, lest in the morning you discover your child withered to nothing more but a shriveled husk.
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