Fanes' saga - Short essays
The vulture is told to be living on the walls
of the Croda Vanna
(Sass dla Crusc) and to be related with the flüta,
i.e. a flame, usually described as bluish, that can be seen somewhere
on the wall every now and then. It seems that analogous occurrences
have also been observed on the Piz da Peres (a mountain
east of Marebbe, m 2507).
This apparently mysterious phenomenon may find a very simple explanation.
A self-lighting flame (far from human activities) is generally
related with the spontaneous self-combustion of some natural gas,
often derived from carrion rotting (will o’ the wisps).
We must remark, now, that both the Sass
dla Crusc and the Piz da Peres display an abrupt
drop on one face, while the other side only shows a mild slope,
so that the edge of the precipice can be attained quite easily.
Therefore, it is possible that animals, either surprised by thick
fog, or chased by a predator, occasionally fell down from the
cliff. Had this happened, the carrion would stop on the first
ledge that could retain it and there, on one hand it would attract
vultures, on the other, once in a while, a will o’the wisp
would appear. This might well explain why a link (actually an
indirect one) was observed between vultures and the mid-wall flame.
Notice that the phenomenon is told as being observable “once
per year”: a frequency (to be intended as average) fully
compatible with the proposed mechanism, i.e. a relatively rare
occurrence, albeit not an exceptional one at all.
It is quite plausible that the variul,
i.e. the vulture, that feeds on corpses, therefore “takes
them away”, has been considered as ideally taking possession
of the dead’s “vital spirit” as well. This type
of association is present in almost all cultures. More so, as
the Fanes area lacks both wood to burn corpses and earth to bury
them, it is probable that the first funeral rites simply consisted
of exposing the dead to carrion-eating birds, like vultures and
crows. Therefore, it is quite probable that the cult of the vulture,
which we can perceive at the root of the story of the “variul
de la flüta” was, at least at its origin, a form
of cult of the dead.
this perspective, we can also read the fact that the pseudo-eagle
is described as “the king of a far away island”: this
island indeed is but the world of the dead, with which the vulture
is strictly connected. Much more complex is the interpretation
of the “one-armed men”, a concept that will come back
several times over the legend. To this regard, I may only advance
an hypothesis, to be taken just as such.
These “one-armed men”, who at the end will actually
enter battle on the Fanes’ side, are described as gallant
warriors “armed with a sword”. What is missing to
a warrior, wearing a sword, but one-armed? Obviously, he can wear
no shield. We may guess, therefore, that the “one-armed
men” were a sect of “vulture-men” who vowed
fighting shieldless, “as if they were one-armed”.
We can be supported by anthropological comparisons, one one hand
with sects like the “jaguar-men” or the “eagle-men”
of the Aztecs, on the other with the Norwegian berserkers. These
entered battle in full nudity or only covered by wolf- or bear
skins, convinced to be “invulnerable”, or better that
their blind aggressive furor and the fame that preceeded them
represented their best defense (and invigorated in their warlike
virtues by the use of hallucinogen substances, maybe Amanita
muscaria, that brought them to lose their reason). The berserkers
also were a sect (sacred to Odin) and possessed a totem animal
(bear and/or wolf) that they believed to embody in battle. Like
the Fanes’ vulture-men, by the way, the berserkers also
ended up representing a cause of grave social upsetting, so that
king Erik of Norway was compelled to banish their society in 1015,
although they represented the élite corps of his army.
We must finally remark that the existence among the Fanes of a
sect of warriors consecrated to the vulture, within a society
still devoted to marmots, might have represented an intermediate
stage, a fundamental step towards the transition to a vulture-dominated