Monday, May 17, 2021

StorySpotting: Weather wizards and cloud pirates (New Amsterdam)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Where was the story spotted?

New Amsterdam, season 3, episode 11 (Pressure drop)

What happens?

Dr. Iggy Frome, New Amsterdam's resident psychiatrist, runs into an interesting case: a young man who insists that he can control the weather with his mind. A self-proclaimed "weather nerd", Iggy convinces him to get a scan, hoping to find an explanation for the delusion. While waiting for a scan, he jokes that the man either has a tumor, or "he is a tempestarii." When Dr. Kao asks him what those are, he says "medieval wizards who could control the weather."
(Obviously the guy turns out to have a medical condition in the end.)

What's the story?

Let's say up front that Dr. Frome uses the Latin incorrectly: tempestarii is the plural of tempestarius, storm-maker. We know of these strange medieval wizards from the writings of Agobard of Lyon, a 9th century archbishop who wrote a treatise titled "On Hail and Thunder." And no, that's not the title of the next Thor movie.

According to Agobard the people around Lyon claimed that storms, hail and thunder were raised by storm-makers. These wizards were in league by the people of Magonia, a magic land of sky pirates. Magonians sailed in the clouds on their ships, and under the cover of the storms raised by tempestarii they stole the crops from the fields.

While the good archbishop Agobard rails extensively about the stupidity of people who believe such things, I gotta admit I love everything about this. I am predisposed to: weather wizards are an integral part of Hungarian folklore. I blogged about them here but I want to add some more info.

Hungarian weather wizards are called garabonciás, derived from the Italian word for necromancy. They are mortals who gain their magic powers by going to a secret wizard school abroad, usually in Italy or Transylvania (eat your heart out, JK Rowling). After they complete their studies, they all have to sit on a spinning wheel of fortune, and one of them has to fall down and die so the others can gain their powers. 
And you thought your graduation was tough.

Garabonciás wizards most often deal with the weather. They can summon storms just like the tempestarii. They usually wander from village to village, asking for milk, eggs, bread and other simple foods. If people are rude to them, they create a storm to punish them and destroy the crops. In one story, the garabonciás turns eggs into hail, and milk into clouds. They can also travel inside storm clouds or even in whirlwinds. While they sound terrifying, they are actually often helpful: they can protect villages from hail, and deflect magic storms summoned up by witches.

The garabonciás' most common features are his book and his dragon. The latter are usually aquatic creatures that bring storms when they fly up into the sky. Garabonciás use their magic book to summon up these dragons, tame them, and ride them, creating raging storms, lightning, and thunder. People often called storm clouds 'dragon's tail'. Some believed the wizards ride the dragons to Africa, where they sell their cool meat for protection against the heat.

Garabonciás beliefs lived on well into the 20th century. Some famous Hungarian writers and poets - Petőfi Sándor, Csokonai Vitéz Mihály, Jókai Mór - were rumored to have been garabonciás. Also, in the early days of bicycles, people tended to claim anyone riding a strange metal contraption at breakneck speed had to be a garabonciás too. Makes sense to me.


When someone asks you for a cup of milk or a bite of bread, don't refuse them.

1 comment:

  1. I was very surprised, as I was reading, to come across "Hungarian weather wizards" as not only have I not heard of any weather wizards, I didn't realize there were country specific ones! How fun! What an unusual education they have! Makes one wonder just what the original storytellers were drinking to come up with such strange ones!