Thursday, March 26, 2015

Artefacts as Inspiration: Ivory Clappers

Inspirational Artefacts

artefact/ˈɑːtɪˌfækt/ noun: something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest.

At first glance, these don't initially strike the viewer as particularly mythos, but I had to include them once I read the description!

Egyptian, Amarna, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty.
1353-36 BCE
These clappers are shaped like hands. They were used in magical practices to scare away evil spirits and ghosts. By clapping them together a noise is created that accompanies a ritual. source.
Of course, the influence of Egyptian archaeology on the mythos, and indeed on popular culture of the 1920s, is undeniable so these fit in very well with the setting. Furthermore, they are a bona fide magical artefact, not just an amulet of power, or a grimoire, and this alone sets them apart from a great many of the items in Call of Cthulhu gaming.

What I particularly love about these is the fact you have to interact with them physically to make the magic work. This elevates them from mythos McGuffin, to mythos tool, which is something I find very appealing, and something I look for in my games. It also brings the Investigators round to finding

Is the volume of the sound made by the clappers significant?


In a scenario where these items need to be used, by banging them together. Now in a great many instances of magical artefacts in Cthulhu, they are not easy to break. Mostly because the Investigators are actively trying to destroy them, to thereby remove their maleficent influence. However, after 2-3000 years, how strong are these two planks of carved ivory? Does the magic inherent in them protect them from harm, or are they but an ingredient in the magical ritual you are invoking? Will they break the first time they are used ? It is of course unlikely the first time, more likely they'll break when dramatically appropriate! If they do break, do their powers remain? Many of the answers to these questions shall be dictated by the needs of the keeper, and the best use of the artefact for dramatic resolution at the table. If they do break, will any old piece of ivory do to replace them, or is there a ritual in their making, not just the carving of the hands? Will normal wood, or other more modern materials do to replace the noise made?

Other Examples

A brief search online gave a few other examples of this kind of instrument, and a site that states they were also used as a musical instrument. Maybe indeed there were musical ones, and magical ones, with the differences being either in their use, or manufacture.

Of course, the link between music and religion is close in many cultures, ancient Egypt included, so there are no doubt many cultures across the globe that would have similar artefacts with a similar in game effect.

One such item is a Chumash 'wansak', which is another kind of clapper, which was played like a pair of wooden spoons. Indeed, to bring this back to the Montreal inspiration of this blog, both Quebecois and Arcadian folk music can and make heavy use of wooden spoons. To the extent, that even today, when you walk along St Catherine street, there's a man there playing and selling wooden spoons for this use, so it shouldn't be too hard for enterprising Investigators to get their hands on a wooden replacement for their ivory artefact, with possible comedic tones, by heading off to their folk music contacts for some wooden spoons. But again we are heading into the connection with folk music, and folk magic, something that links back to the original artefacts too.

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