The character known as “Eris” first surfaces in the Early Grecian Period, being worshipped as a Goddess of Discord. Her attributes in this instance are well known, including her famous appearance in the tale of the Apple of Discord, and her various progeny; for these, the reader is directed to the early chapters of Erisiana.
There has been much debate over whether there existed a more concentrated cult of Eris, perhaps something like the mystery cults of Mithras and Xenu. Though one or the other party of this debate now and then declares victories and final solutions, no consensus seems to take hold.
(On one hand, Demikristo, a late Roman alchemical writer, or someone writing under his name, blamed the Roman historian Suetonius for “injuring the Erisian cult and revealing its secrets for no good reason”; apparently the work that contained entirely too many details was an appendix of Suetonius’s Lives of Famous Whores, now sadly lost. On the other hand, Demikristo also rages against such confirmed figments of his imagination as the Atlantean Enlightened Ones, who are fictitious and do not exist.)
Eris was known to the Romans as Discordia, the Goddess of Discord; this shows something about the Roman imagination. (Plutarch tells some Romans also called her “Magnante (?Maiora) Mater”, or the Greater Mother, but this was mostly to piss off the cultists of Cybele, Magna Mater, or the merely Great Mother. See the Hourglass edition of Gorgias’s “On Non-Existence” for this and other similar religious pranks of Ancient Rome.)
(Still different was the goddess Limesia, whose epithet was Maxima et Minima Mater, the Greatest and Smallest Mother, the patron of mathematicians.)
The Greco-Roman world was not the limit of Eris’s reach: her name was well known in lands distant from the limes of those dominions.
To the Germanic people of the northlands, her name was Urbitsch. One particular Germanic tribe of the period of Rome’s fall, the Vandals, took up her worship from the ruin of some Roman metropolis, and carried her images with them through Gaul and Hispania, and established beneath her flags the brief-lived Vandal kingdom of Carthage.
For thirty-five years a mere mention of the golden orb and the five-fingered black hand of the Vandal flag were enough to loosen bowels everywhere on the Western Mediterranean; in 455 the Vandal navy landed in Italy, and looted Rome itself. The city was spared total destruction because of the bravery of Pope Leo, who challenged Genseric, the Vandal leader, to a coin-flipping contest which the devout Erisian could not refuse. Leo’s losing score of 3-4 was close enough for pillage to be permitted, but no murder, burning or universal buggery was done, and after three days the Vandals departed in a nice disorderly manner.
The Vandal kingdom met its end in 534, defeated and destroyed by the Byzantines after many tries and many great defeats; it is said the last words of Gelimer, the last Supreme Vandal to lead a nation under that express title, were “Vicisti, Discordia” — or “You have won, Eris, you bitch”; the Vandals were not blind to the nature of their goddess.
In the Greco-Bactrian kingdom of Alexander’s heirs (where today Afghanistan broods) she was known as Roxana Pandemos or “Roxana of the People”; the original Roxana was Alexander’s wife. Adoration of her, and horror felt at her barbaric un-Grecian ways, merged with the Greek cult of Eris to form this tempestuous goddess of whims and variable fortune.
Her cult was eventually carried under that name to far Cathay, or China, as Daxia Ro Sa, though she was already known there as Ye He, the Ninth Bamboo Celestial Concubine of the Heavenly Kingdom. This duplication resulted in the well-known cult of Double Trouble, blamed by many for such “folklore-fueled” disasters as the Boxer Rebellion (1898–1901), and the decidedly tyrannic and bizarre, though brief, reign of the Mongolian warlord and “god-king” Un Derpantsu (1914–1915). Worst of all, some perversion of this originally beautiful and serene cult resulted in the founding of the Tama Lakan monastery that came to house the Goatse Lama and his followers, of which the less is said, the better.
(The curious may consult p. 133 ff. of Erisiana for more of this pest, but it is not advised.)
The name and character of Eris spread to India, too, through the ruin of Alexander the Great’s empire — though the spreading was more forceful and immediate. Rather than a mercantile trickle through the kingdoms of his successors, the Diadochi, as with China above, the name and cult of Eris were transmitted to India in pitched battle.
The only defeat of Alexander’s glorious career came at the hands of his own troops. To avoid a rebellion of his war-weary soldiers he retreated out of India, still undefeated on the formal field of battle, never to return. His troops were spooked by the fear of falling over the edge of the world, thought to be mere 600 miles away, and by the sight of wild Indian elephants, three times the size of the African ones of Carthage, and veritable mountains compared to Alexander’s merely horse-sized Sogdianian war pachyderms.
The retreat, though ordered by Alexander, was disorderly and accompanied by much bitterness, bloodshed and even Grecian in-fighting; Bucephalus, the only one of Alexander’s companions capable of succeeding him died under mysterious circumstances, and the emperor walked west, without looking back at the conquests he had failed to make, and knowing his only capable heir was dead, and with his own passing so too would pass his empire and the first dream of the world united under a single mailed iron fist of steel. (For later instances of similar misfortunes, consider the case of Caligula and Incitatus, or Bismarck and Schmetterling.)
Among those lost in the fittingly disorderly retreat were five Erisian clerics, tending to a portable shrine that had been an heirloom of Alexander’s Macedonian family for centuries. Gebadi, a local prince, captured them and in a characteristic show of goodwill allowed the clerics to live if they but swore eternal fealty to him. This they wisely did. The resulting Kshatriya temple and cult of Eris Bhavani survived for a few centuries, until it was either destroyed or assimilated by a predecessor of the Thuggee cults of the region.
The focal object of Alexander’s shrine, a golden orb inscribed with the Greek phrase “all you shall conquer, yet in flames shall all ye crash down”, made a few uncertain appearances in Indian history, the last of these being “a spherical golden idol held by a most indecent black statue, depicting a woman in the midst of a certain unspeakable convulsion”, reported by one of the survivors of the Black Hole of Calcutta, 1756. (Michael Ballard, “A Memoir of the Empire of Indostan and My Good Friend Sir Roger Dowlett”)
Though no early record of her being known survives in Japan, or Nippon if one insists on being obscure, she was known from the Tokugawa period (1603–1868) on at the very least. Her local name was Futashita-Onna, or Lady Two Tongues, and she was the subject of many woodcuts, some of them unsuitable for the weak-kneed and children of all ages. Despite some wild speculation on part of Western mythologists such as Hearn, it is most likely that her figure and attributes were carried to the Land of the Rising Sun by Portuguese traders before or early during the Tokugawa period of isolation. The differences in her character and the unfamiliar aspects of her legend can be explained by the same isolation and hostility to foreign influences: the differences were the result of a necessary process of naturalization that was the way of all those foreign elements that were not abandoned.
One should remember that in Japan’s unique religious mixture of Shintoism and Buddhism Futashita-Onna was merely one of many gods, and most probably regarded more as a “monster” or a “yookai” rather than an actual divinity, though in Japanese folklore no such stigma of negativity attached to yookai as with the Western dragons, hobgoblins and other Satanic beasties.
One intriguing folktale positions Futashita-Onna as the queen of the tanuki, or the Japanese raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus), thought to be shape-shifters, magicians, and bringers of mischief and occasional good luck. The tale, possibly faintly echoing the Grecian tale of the Golden Apple of Eris, has the Tanuki Queen preparing a great feast, inviting great many attractive maidens from the surrounding countryside, and so mixing the crowd that no-one could know who was a girl invited there, and who a tanuki in exceedingly beautiful female shape. One human girl, however, reputed to be the prettiest of all of them, refused the Queen’s call. The Tanuki Queen was angered, spat out the octopus dumpling she had in her mouth, and the girl-tanuki all sprouted octopodean tentacles and horribly molested the attending maidens. (This tale has been adapted, with some liberties, in the Taboo XXX Fairytale series of animated “anime” folktales from around the world.)
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, best known for his exquisite woodblock print “Rainy Day Tanuki” (1881), apparently also drew a print called “Queen Tanuki and the Fisherman’s Wife”; but no copies of that work survive.
The connection of Eris the many-faced and wilful to the chaos god Nyarlathotep of the works of Howard Phillips “Lips” Lovecraft, an American writer of weird fiction, should be obvious.
It is said that in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, there is a small booth near the gates of the city, near the place where all footsore pilgrims of the Christian kind pass. It is said that in that booth sits a small old man, clad in a toga, with a worn bicycle tire around his neck.
Occasionally he sleeps; sometimes he eats a humble little meal; most of the time he watches, with great dignity, the pilgrims as they stagger their last few miles to the cathedral.
He does not speak to anyone, but if any pilgrim stops to talk to him, he smiles, points at the bicycle tire around his neck, and shows a card on which is written, in abominably horrible handwriting, this message:
I AM TIRED, TOO.
Then he sits down, strokes the tire round his neck for a while, smiles, and says or signifies nothing more.
Some say he is the greatest sage alive. Some do not.