During a recent exercise in finding writing topics, I was challenged to type “Desperate for…” into my Google browser. You want to know what I discovered? People are desperate for attention, approval, and affluence (usually they call that last one “money” or “a loan.”) Women are desperate for a miracle, a man, a baby, or a house. And some are desperate for the weekend… or—even—the presence of God (sometimes specifically “Jesus” or “the Holy Spirit.”).
Try “Desperate to…” and you’ll find people all desperate to know, learn, do, buy, or sell something. Desperate to travel. To please someone. To lose weight fast. And again, to get married.
Bottom line, most people are longing for a love relationship of some kind. A search for significance and a concern for the future.
“It is not weakness to desire love. The weakness is when we settle for less than love.” –Crystalina Evert
In today’s tale from the mythology of the Chiloé Islands, we’ll learn about El Trauco, an ugly troll-like spirit creature considered the father of “natural” children. (A legal—though somewhat archaic—term in Chile, meaning “born out of wedlock.” Does that make marriage an “unnatural” state?!)
Once Upon a Time in a Dark Wood…
El Trauco is depicted as a hideous little monster (about 80 cm or 2.5 ft. tall) who inhabits the woodlands near Chilote homes and wears a ragged suit and conical bonnet made of quilineja, the husk-like leaves of a creeping vine also used to fashion baskets and brooms. He speaks but in guttural grunts, and his legs end in simple stumps. But he has the strength of a giant, can fell any tree in three whacks of the stone axe he carries.
And he seems to entice young women in great numbers! Of course, to many girls the lurking shadow of El Trauco instills a disquieting worry of the unknown, a dread to avoid at all costs. Their mothers share this preoccupation, knowing full well the result of his mischief. Desperate to thwart any forest encounters, they rarely send girls of a certain age alone into the hills in search of herbs or firewood. Even the company of a little brother will caution and scare off El Trauco, who never accosts in the presence of witnesses.
Yet many women, young and old, who’ve “met” El Trauco will insist he’s not so bad. Despite his rather repugnant looks, he awakens an irresistible sensual attraction and holds a searing grip on their thoughts. They struggle to get him out of their mind.
But El Trauco focuses all his attention on single women, especially the pretty and pleasing ones. He’s not interested in married women (who might be unfaithful, but never with him). Ever alert, El Trauco spends most of the day hanging from the branch of a tique (large, tall tree), in wait for his “prey.” Perhaps the anticipated object of his desire, perhaps a mere passerby who catches his eye.
Desperate for a Woman
Here she comes… When he glimpses from his high perch a solitary girl he wants, El Trauco descends rapidly to the ground for the “attack.” With his axe, he strikes the tique trunk three such resounding blows that its echo seems to tumble all the trees.
The strange noise startles the girl. Before she has a chance to recover from her fright, the fascinating Trauco appears beside her. His axe twists into a hollow wooden cane called the Pahueldón. From this magic stick emanates a soft and sweet but powerful breath.
Helpless to resist the magnetic force of El Trauco’s spell, the girl fixes her gaze on the sparkle of his penetrating, diabolic eyes and falls into the bushes in surrender at his feet. Insensible, she sleeps peacefully and dreams of erotic love, while he proceeds to “deflower” his target.
If anyone bothers or interrupts him in the process, El Trauco is said to blow a curse on them. This aire may deform the unfortunate snoop or even kill him on the spot.
“All that is buried is not treasure.” –Unknown
When night falls, El Trauco returns home to his grumpy and sterile wife, the fearsome Fiura. The daughter of La Condená (a sort of goddess of vice), La Fiura barely minds his activities—she concentrates on the local men!
Desperate for a Story
The girl herself awakens, confused and tearful. Whether minutes or hours have passed, she has no knowledge. She scrambles to her feet, shakes the dry quilineja leaves from her messy hair, shoves on her tangled clothing, and stumbles, half-dazed, in the direction of her home.
As time passes, the body of the girl possessed by El Trauco undergoes dramatic changes. She never tries to hide her pregnancy, since she feels that she is not a “sinner” but only the victim of a supernatural being before whom, everyone knows, no single woman can stand.
In the old days, Chilotes tried numerous bizarre rituals to rid themselves of the presence of El Trauco. Sometimes, this “protection” would work. And sometimes, nothing and no one can stop him.
Nine months later the child of El Trauco is born. Linked to the fairy tales of island mythology, neither mother nor baby suffers any social disgrace due to their situation. No awkward questions, no mentioning names.
In general, all Chilote myths relate in some way to good or bad luck, death or life (fertility and sexuality). In the figure of the Trauco, all is sexual symbolism. This salacious troll creature corresponds to the vampire or incubus of European myths.
Desperate for a Man
The myth of the Trauco developed important implications, out of whatever moral necessities existed during earlier cultural periods. First, it acted as a defensive weapon, a brake, if you will, to the sexual impulse by inducing young women to conserve their virginity.
After a done deal, the Trauco constituted a satisfactory excuse for a pregnant single woman. The tale portrayed the woman and child as innocents and permitted them to live in their rural society without the significant social stigma experienced in many places not so many years ago. Sadly in Chile, the child often received more of the brunt of illegitimacy than his mother, who sooner or later would marry and leave El Trauco’s son with Grandma.
In my own Seaglass Books, the character Melissa Travis’s nemesis, Delicia, is pregnant in Pursuit of the Pudú Deer. The kids in town say she ran into El Trauco last summer—with a snide grin. Because everyone’s pretty sure the father of her baby is not the guy she’s blaming. In fact, maybe she’s La Fiura herself.
It’s pretty much a bad joke in these modern times. But in those conservative, pre-divorce, pre-DNA days in Chile, men rarely acknowledged out-of-wedlock paternity. They might even be censured themselves if it were known publicly. False accusations abounded. Just not so much in Chiloé…
But the legend of El Trauco traces to more than just the hanky-panky of youthful passion. After all, those slip-ups are what shotgun weddings were/are for. In Hope Chest (my current work-in-progress), I deal with a more sinister side of the Trauco myth.
Desperate for the Truth
In many instances, the skeletons in the closet wear the disguise of the Trauco. The truth is, we have married men and even relatives involved here. Rape, incest, adultery, and a web of seduction not always woven by the guys. Some young single girls made it almost a game to pursue the married men, especially those working away from home.
A dangerous gamble, because the women—and children—always ended up paying the bill. Sometimes over and over. Desperate for love, or one of its many inferior substitutes…pleasure, popularity, validation, admiration? All fun until someone gets hurt. The amusing antics in the thicket seldom make it to the golden anniversary party.
Why did everyone cover so much up with an old story and a bitter laugh? Compassion, of course, for victimized girls—and even for faithful wives back tending the home fires and hoeing the potato patch.
But compassion gone wrong, I wonder? Never to expose wrongdoers leads to lots of new little Traucos keeping the generational wheel spinning.
God’s grace is oh-so-much greater than all our sin, but many people don’t want grace. Because it implies they need it. What’s so bad about being good? Or pure? Because it might make someone feel they don’t measure up?
Who does? I don’t, and I mean that. I can’t change the past, but I can be forgiven and change the future. Every day I chose a new beginning “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3, ESV).
And now we have bumped into the elephant in the room, and I don’t know if I can get around it without stepping on somebody’s toes: Why does the idea of righteousness—true right living—offend so? And should we follow my truth or your truth? Or…God’s truth?
Desperate for Life
Let me tell you I don’t want anyone inspecting the closet of my heart either, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need occasional cleaning and ordering. Are my Christian values too black and white? Gray seems to be the fashionable shade these days. Are the lines of my (life)style too hard…or too soft? God keep me from choosing anything, whether old or new, just because it’s trendy.
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” –Dr. Seuss
Yeah, I know I’m kind of uncool. Believe me, I’m not steamrolling to scold, shame, or chastise my friends. But sometimes I just feel called to point out that monster in the woods who disdains dignity and discipline and dismisses monogamous marriage as an “unnatural” restraint.
The robe of righteousness is costly. But you can squander a lot of your soul, too, in the search for a bright new soulmate under every tree. I’m not afraid to guard my treasures and lift up a beacon to beauty and purity. And shine a bit of light in the wilderness.
Most people wander along, desperate for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in the best way they know how. But behind that chasing of the wind often hides a fear of death.
“Fear of death lies at the heart of almost all human behavior from flashy cars to racial bigotry.” –The Worm at the Core, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg & Tom Pyszcynski
How’s that, you ask? Because we’re desperate to be noticed, remembered, loved, respected. We fear loss, pain, inferiority, disappointment, and defeat. We fear that our lives may turn out useless, meaningless, joyless.
Desperate for a Romance
Later in life—sometimes not so late—we fear sickness, loneliness, and unloveliness. Here’s another dark path where El Trauco lurks and plays tricks on the mind. Chilote “spinsters” are convinced they must have at least a child or two so they won’t be without caregivers in their old age. That social pressure to conform before it’s “too late” overcomes even their fear of El Trauco.
As a writer, I was interested in Dorothy L. Sayers’s take on the “artificial happiness” of some storybook characters in her exploration of Christian creativity, The Mind of the Maker. (Author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Sayers was a contemporary of Agatha Christie and C. S. Lewis.)
She writes that when characters are “…not permitted to suffer loss within their own microcosm, they have suffered irretrievable loss in the macrocosm.” In other words, if a writer doesn’t allow her characters to suffer over the course of the plot, she actually kills the story. And our unwillingness to limit our freedom even a little leads to big losses over the long haul.
“Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.” –Charles Dickens’s rules for writers
Surprisingly, real romantic happiness involves an awful lot of dying to self. We resist that, reject it, fear it. But it’s in all the best stories.
Snow White had to eat the poisoned apple to be awakened by the prince. Sleeping Beauty slumbered in a deathlike state for a hundred years. Cinderella endured a youth of drudgery. And think about Beauty and the Beast. In volunteering to save her father’s life, she died a psychological death to hope, though it turned out better than beautiful.
In and outside of books, we’re dying and desperate for love. Sometimes we think we’re entitled to it. Yet we’re totally confused about what it is and how to find it.
Happily Ever After
In these days of one-night stands and no-strings chain relationships, I’m often tempted to ignore the whole topic of love vs. lust in my writing. After all, who wants to be considered old-fashioned and outdated? The times endorse all kinds of sexual situations and set-ups, and in the era of pills and abortions and radically altered social mores, it’s all much easier than inventing the Trauco.
In my (non-inspirational) browsing, few characters even get married anymore, let alone wait for such an antiquated arrangement. Most of the romances feature “forbidden” relationships (not likely) or fake engagements or re-encounters ten years after the baby. Or oh yes, the billionaire boss. (Fantasy, too!)
While it may present a challenge for the average writer to sell romance without sex, plenty of sex pops up without a pinch of romance. As a reader, I’m desperate for a “happily-ever-after” book that doesn’t equate romance with bodice ripping and sexual tension. Of course, we can go for the “sweet and clean” labels as opposed to erotica. But some of that tastes—dare I admit?—stale, saccharine, and boring.
How do I write God’s truth in a world of honest emotions and hard choices? In life, there’s such a thing as sweet spice and pure sex. But so often, instead of holding out for the best, we settle on the banal and barter the wonder of white-hot passion for cold, emotionless carnality.
God, make us desperate for true love—and nothing less. Make us desperate for You—and no lesser gods. And make us wait.