Ancient Mythology Is Embedded Within the Constantine TV Series
Constantine is an American TV series that centers around the character of John Constantine, a British exorcist and occult detective who hunts supernatural entities. The entire Constantine series is based upon a vast mythology that encompasses the legends and folklore of many different cultures throughout history. The present article intends to focus solely on a few of the most relevant mythological elements behind the Constantine TV series.
The Ancient Magical Practice of Scrying
John Constantine is a demonologist and master of the dark arts. In the first episode of the series, he introduces Liv Aberdine to the ancient art of scrying. Scrying is a practice in which an individual looks into a special medium in order to detect various messages or visions. The final objective is usually revelation, inspiration or personal guidance. In the distant past, scrying was also used as a method of divination or fortune-telling. This method remains popular even today in occult circles.
Scrying was often performed by using a pendulum, which was made by taking a wedding ring or a ring often worn and tying it to a long hair or string. Pendulums could also be made out of crystal, silver weights, precious stones or necklaces. The string must not be twisted and it must not have any knots. The ring must pendulate at will above a thick piece of cloth which must be grey, square or round-shaped and with a diameter of approximately 30 centimeters. When using the pendulum, the elbow must move at a height of three centimeters above the table.
In the ancient art of scrying, it was taught that the mind should be focused only on the question to be asked, which should be formulated while the pendulum is still. The questions should be clear and precise. Interpretation of the pendulum’s movement was as follows: clockwise – a positive answer (the person can begin or proceed with one’s plans because they will be successful); counter-clockwise –the person must be careful in his or her plans (it may mean a positive answer but only after having taken cautionary methods); straight line left to right –a clear negative answer; straight line towards and from the person – a clear answer cannot be given (the question must be asked a little later); ellipse – meaning that, for the time being, the question cannot have an answer.
The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse (public domain)
Coblynau, The Gnomes of the Mines
Coblynau are gnome-like entities said to haunt the mines and quarries of Wales. According to descriptions, they are around 1.5 feet (45 cm) tall and quite ugly. Believed to be the spirits of deceased workers, they appear dressed in miniature mining costumes. Even though they work constantly, they never finish their tasks and are said to be capable of causing rockslides.
Folk stories maintain that the Coblynau do not injure humans unless controlled by someone who practices dark magic. Such is the case in the ‘Constantine’ series, where the Coblynau are summoned by a Romani witch, who orders them to kill John Constantine. According to Constantine, Romani witchcraft is the darkest type of magic.
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Edited Painting by John Bauer of two trolls (public domain)
Imbunche, Protector of Warlocks
In the Chilote mythology of the Chiloe Island in the southern part of Chile, the imbunche (also spelt invunche, meaning “short person” or “deformed person”) is a type of monster or demon that protects the entrance to a warlock’s cave.
This entity appears as a deformed humanoid with its head twisted backwards. It also has twisted arms, fingers, nose, mouth and ears. The entity walks either on one foot or on three ‘feet’ (actually one leg and two hands), because one of its legs is attached to the back of its neck. This creature cannot talk, but it can make guttural, rough sounds.
In legends, the imbunche is created when a first-born son, less than nine days old, was kidnapped or sold by his parents to a Brujo Chilote, a Chiloe warlock. If the baby had been christened, the warlock uses special spells to de-baptize him. The Brujo Chilote transforms the child into a deformed hairy monster by breaking his right leg and twisting it over his back. When the boy is three months old, his tongue is forked and the warlock applies a magic cream over the boy's back to cause thick hairs. During its first months, the imbunche is fed on black cat's milk and goat flesh, and then with human flesh from cemeteries.
Apart from being a warlock cave guardian, the imbunche can be an instrument of revenge or curses. As it has acquired magical knowledge over its lifetime spent guarding the cave, even if the imbunche is not initiated into wizardry, it sometimes acts as the warlock's advisor. An imbunche can come out of the cave if it is taken to the Warlock’s Council or if its cave has been destroyed or discovered. The creature is fed solely by warlocks and is only allowed to search for its own edibles if food is lacking inside the cave.
In the Constantine series, the imbunch systematically hunted down and murdered select individuals who were close to John Constantine.
Invunche and a wizard (CC by SA 3.0).
Lamashtu, the Female Demon Goddess
In Mesopotamian mythology, Lamashtu was a female demon goddess who threatened women during childbirth. Whenever possible, she would kidnap infants while they were breastfeeding. Lamashtu resembles Lilith to some extent. She is depicted with a hairy body, a lioness' head with donkey's teeth and ears, long fingers and fingernails, and the feet of a bird with sharp talons. She is often shown standing or kneeling on a donkey, nursing a pig and a dog, and holding snakes.
Lamashtu was said to act in malevolence of her own accord. She bore seven names and was described as seven witches in incantations. The demon Pazuzu was invoked to protect birthing mothers and infants against Lamashtu's malevolence, usually on amulets and statues.
In ‘Constantine’, Lamashtu started working for a group of ancient and powerful warlocks called the Brujeria and one of her orders was to kidnap babies that descended from the family line of one of their members. John Constantine was called in to help rescue the babies.
Protection plaque against Lamashtu (CC by SA 2.0)
Hand of Glory
The Hand of Glory is a mummified hand that was believed to entrance humans and help thieves in their work at night.
According to Sabine Baring-Gould (1873) in his book “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages”, the process to make a Hand of Glory is as follows: “The Hand of Glory is the hand of a man who has been hung, and it is prepared in the following manner: Wrap the hand in a piece of winding-sheet, drawing it tight, so as to squeeze out the little blood which may remain; then place it in an earthenware vessel with saltpeter, salt, and long pepper, all carefully and thoroughly powdered. Let it remain a fortnight in this pickle till it is well dried, then expose it to the sun in the dog-days, till it is completely parched, or, if the sun be not powerful enough, dry it in an oven heated with vervain and fern. Next make a candle with the fat of a hung man, virgin-wax, and Lapland sesame”.
A thief can light the fingertips of the hand or use the Hand of Glory as a candle-stick for the lit candle made from the hung man’s fat. Upon doing this, the thief can then open any locked door and paralyze those within the house until the job is done. There is also a formula which must be spoken: “Let those who are asleep be asleep and those who are awake be awake”. Then the hand can be placed on a table and one can go about his task.
As the Hand of Glory does its work, everyone in the house remains under a deep sleep. According to legend, the only ways to blow out the lit Hand of Glory are by using skimmed milk or blood which must be thrown over the hand. Some claim that the term “Hand of Glory” might be derived from the French “main de gloire”. This can be viewed as a modification of the word “mandrake”. This herb was used to cause madness, to expel evil spirits and to induce a deep sleep – a condition useful for thieves.
In ‘Constantine’, a Hand of Glory was used by John Constantine to briefly resurrect a dead friend by using a spell and lighting all five fingers.
Hand of Glory at the Whitby Museum, England. (CC BY SA 4.0)
Top image: Constantine TV Series logo (Wikimedia – fair use)
By Valda Roric
Alicia McDermott – “Mummified Hand from Yorkshire May be Last Hand of Glory Still in Existence. Available from: http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/mummified-hand-yorkshire-may-be-last-hand-glory-still-existence-004457?nopaging=1
Roric, Valda, “From History to Mystery”, 2016
Roric, Valda, “Wonders of History and Mythology”, 2016
Rene Louis, “Dictionary of Mysteries”