Awhile ago, I began working with gargoyles. Well, gargoyles is the wrong term; grotesques would be more accurate, but no one knows what you’re talking about when you call them that. Everyone seems to know what a gargoyle is, more or less, but unless the statue doubles as a fountain, it’s a grotesque. The word gargoyle, after all, is thought to stem from the Latin “gurgulio, gula, gargula,” the same stem for the word “gargle” in modern English. Without the fount, it is simple a grotesque.
Gargoyles have fascinated me for a long time. In folklore, they serve as protective spirits for buildings, typically churches. Think on some of the medieval churches you may know of, such as Notre Dame in France. The large, bestial carvings upon them, whether full-body or merely a frightening face, were thought to drive off malevolent spirits. At night, they are thought to come alive and roam the streets and buildings they protect.
About three or four years ago, a friend of mine was getting rid of some of her things, including a standing grotesque. I immediately contacted her for it and sent her the money; within a few days, I was holding my second gargoyle, the first sitting on my desk at home to protect my room while I was gone.
His ears had broken off in transport, despite my friend’s loving attention to his packaging. I found one amongst the newspapers and managed to glue it back on, but the second was gone forever, likely mixed into a crack of paper that I didn’t notice while tossing out the wrappings. She was quite heartbroken to hear of his loss, but there wasn’t much either of us could do. The Post Office isn’t exactly known for handling items with care.
After gluing his ear back on, I gave him a good wash. I tend to do this with all my newly bought items, if I can. It’s a way of cleansing them, physically and spiritually, and for me to get a better idea of what the item is like. I found the nooks and crannies on the grotesque’s body, my fingers roaming over rocks and fur and wing alike, getting a feel for him and he for me. Once it was done, I dried him and settled him in place on my desk in my dorm room, where he could see everything. I named him Bob.
“Bob?!” you’re probably wondering. Yes, his name is Bob. Of course, I’m sure it isn’t his true name, but it’s the one I use for him and he’s okay with it.
I chattered at him then, as I am wont to do. As a child, I was fond of heading straight into the garden center at my local grocery store when my mother was shopping, to talk to the squirrel statue that hung out among the ferns. I would talk to him about what had passed since the last time I had seen him. When I went into the garden center one day and found him gone, I was crushed. Another time, I drew a fish on the wall of my bedroom and spoke to it. My mother had washed the lines of crayon that encircled my room away, but she had neglected to check behind my little plastic bookcase and see if I had drawn anything there. I was, apparently, smart enough to know that my mother would wash away the crayon but if I hid the important thing behind my bookcase, she wouldn’t find it. Apparently I knew she would underestimate my craftiness.
Then again, she should have known better. After all, I am her daughter.
And so I nattered on at Bob, talking with him when my roommate was gone. I asked him to keep an eye on my room that first day, to protect it while I was asleep and when I was out.
When we moved to Virginia, I settled Bob on my altar, no longer on the bookshelf that he had called home for the first few years we worked together. From his post, he can see our bedroom and straight through the apartment to the front door. He can’t see the kitchen too well, nor the living room, but the fact that he can see the front door and note who comes and goes there comforts me. I’ve another grotesque, currently packed away in the boxes from my parents’ house, that will hopefully, one day, grace the living room here, but for now he sits in slumber, waiting.
Over the years, I have only come across a handful of other folks who work with grotesques and gargoyles the same as me, and only one who seems to be as enthusiastic – if not moreso – as me. My work with Bob, and hopefully others in the future, stems from my research into the folklore of his kind and my personal experiences with him. He’s a quiet individual, one who seems at home with his job and would be uncomfortable doing anything else. Though, what else he might do baffles me, so intermingled his guardianship is with his character.
Caring for Bob is fairly easy, for me. I wash him carefully when he gets too dusty with a magical wash, taking care to reach all of him. Sometimes, I will rinse him, if he’s gotten too dusty. When I leave offerings for the gods and the spirits I work with and honor, I know he’s aware of them and that he partakes at times. All in all, though, he is fairly low maintenance, like a guard dog who prefers to sit and watch, focused on his task. I am grateful for him and it is difficult to imagine a settled life without him to guard us at night and when we are gone away.