Saint of streets, and brilliant one, that strays by night;
Foe of radiance, but friend and mate of gloom;
In howl of dogs rejoicing, and in crimson gore,
Wading 'mid corpses through tombs of lifeless dust,
Panting for blood; with fear convulsing men.
Gorgo, and Mormo, and Luna, and of many shapes,
Come, propitious, to our sacrificial rites!
- Philosophumena of Hippolytus
Book IV, Chapter XXXV
Mormo is a Spirit that bites bad children. This female figure from Greek and Roman Mythology is possibly a Vampire. She may be a companion or Avatar of Hecate, the Greek goddess of the moon and magic. Very little information about Mormo has survived from classical antiquity, where she appears to have been revered in part of a mystery cult.
As with Lilith, the identity of Mormo may have started as a more general term, which then became more personified over time. Mormo appears in a few plays of Aristophanes, who uses the name as if it were a synonym for "bogey man" or "monster".
Hippolytus of Rome, in his Refutation of all Heresies (also known as the Philosophoumena), detailed a pyromantic form of Divination that invoked Mormo, Bombo, Gorgo, Hecate, and Luna. As described by Hippolytus, the divination was nothing more than a Hoax involving pyrotechnics and a cauldron with a fake bottom, a hoax he proceeded to debunk the way one might ruin the secret of a magic trick. Therefore, Mormo might have magic and powers connected to fire.
Note that phrases from the Philosophoumena are hard to clearly define and explain. When he says "Gorgo, and Mormo, and Luna, and of many shapes," is that calling out to three, four, or just one entity? Is Mormo just another name for Hecate, and/or the Moon? Does Gorgo refer to a Gorgon? Hecate is a three-headed goddess, and there were three Gorgon Sisters in Greek Mythology, and three names are given in that line.
In The powers of evil in Western religion, magic and folk belief, Richard Cavendish says that Mormo was a "nursery bogy" that was a source of fear for Erinna of Telos, a poetess of Ancient Greece. In the very next sentence he opines that Gorgo indeed refers to Medusa, and says the face in the moon used to be called the "Gorgon's Head". The face of Medusa was a common protective device in ancient greece, known as the Gorgoneion.
Wikipedia makes tantalizing references to a Mormo in australian mythology, but (as of this writing) never explains the reference.
Mormo in the Cthulhu Mythos
In the story The Horror At Red Hook, H.P. Lovecraft directly connected Mormo to Lilith. He referenced Hippolytus, but put a more sinister twist upon the worship of Mormo.
'O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs (here a hideous howl bust forth) and spilt blood (here nameless sounds vied with morbid shriekings) who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, (here a whistling sigh occurred) who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, (short, sharp cries from myriad throats) Gorgo, (repeated as response) Mormo, (repeated with ecstasy) thousand-faced moon, (sighs and flute notes) look favourably on our sacrifices!'
As the chant closed, a general shout went up, and hissing sounds nearly drowned the croaking of the cracked bass organ. Then a gasp as from many throats, and a babel of barked and bleated words - 'Lilith, Great Lilith, behold the Bridegroom!' More cries, a clamour of rioting, and the sharp, clicking footfalls of a running figure.
-H.P. Lovecraft, The Horror At Red Hook,
In that tale, Mormo/Lilith/etc certainly seems more sexualized than most the Gods and Horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. It's Lovecraft, so the orgies are certainly not graphic.
Several internet sites listing entities of the Cthulhu Mythos connect Mormo with The Hydra, an Outer God created by Henry Kuttner for a story entitled Hydra, but none of them (at least none I've seen) elaborate on the connection. Kuttner's Hydra lives in another dimension and feeds on the brains of those who engage in Astral Projection. (I haven't read any Kuttner, so I can't tell you much more.)
In the Trail of Cthulhu RPG, Kenneth Hite says Mormo is Diana, Mab, Lamia, Lilith, Medusa, The Moon, and/or several other Gods, Titans, and Great Old Ones. He links her to vampires, werewolves, and dogs, and says she's an enemy of Bast. As with all of Hite's write-ups of Gods and Titans in that book, the Keeper (GM) is encouraged to decide which of the contradictory elements are true and which are mere myth or misunderstanding.
Game and Story Use
- Mormo is a great unknown, with tantalizing wisps that a Player (or Player Character) might google up, but no clear historical or mythic persona that you can point to and say "this is what Mormo is all about". The GM is free to twist the remnants of myth nicely, and the players won't know whether to expect magic, cthulhu, vampirism, satanism, etc.
- What Hippolytus sees as mere confidence game might turn out to be Coded Myth or hidden Alchemical teachings. Yes, the image of gods in the cauldron and firey demons on the ceiling is done with reflective crystal cauldron bottoms and combustive chemicals, but that doesn't mean it has to lack magic, meaning, or power.
- Or, in a dark and cynical game, Hippolytus may have been conjecturing or talking nonsense in an attempt to discredit the competition.
- Lovecraft's variation on Hippolytus, and the exerpted text from both, is an example of how a GM can take some element from mythology or history and make it creepier when Cultists of a Religion of Evil get their hands on it. The link to Hippolytus at newadvent.org also has some awesome details on the ceremony that can be used for flavor and window dressing. He presents it from a dryly skeptical point-of-view, but it was probably quite impressive to those experiencing it first hand without benefit of explanation.
- Some folks like to mix sexuality and horror - it shows up in movies quite often. Mormo, with her vampiric roots, is a rare case of that making sense within the context of a Call of Cthulhu game.
- I note that in the Philosophumena, the chant mentions Gorgo, and Hite's interpretation (in Trail of Cthulhu) of linking Mormo to Medusa, a Gorgon, does set a precedent that could be utilized in a very silly game. If calling to Gorgo invokes to a Gorgon, does calling to Mormo invoke a Mormon? :)
- I was just back on the wikipedia page, checking to see if any new information was available. Some joker had posted that a Mormo is a common unit of measurement in Utah. So very sad (and yet again, perfect for a really silly game).