Apshait

Variations: Apsai, Apshai

Apshait

The XXXVIth chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead refers to the corpse-gnawing beetle Apshait. In typical apotropaic gestures, the soul of the deceased threatens the apshait with a knife, and runs it through with a spear.

The apshait may have originated in carrion beetles found in the bandages and bodies of poorly-prepared mummies. Later texts confuse the apshait with the tortoise, which dies as Ra lives.

References

Budge, E. A. W. (2015) The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. II. Dover Publications Inc., New York.

Budge, E. A. W. (2016) The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Dover Publications Inc., New York.

Yohualtepoztli

Variations: Yooaltepuztli, Youaltepoztli, Hacha Nocturna, Night Axe, Night Hatchet; Tooaltepuztli (Sahagun, typo)

Youaltepoztli

Thud. Thud. Thud. The Yohualtepoztli reveals its presence in the mountains of Mexico with a loud, intermittent sound, much like that of an axe being driven into wood. This is what earns it its name, from yohualli, “night”, and tepoztli, “axe” or “hatchet”. It is a spirit or phantasm associated with Tezcatlipoca, and it exists to torment nocturnal travelers.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The dull blows continue, and the traveler breaks out into a cold sweat. Fleeing seems like a good idea, but paradoxically they would be best advised to follow the noise to the yohualtepoztli itself. It manifests as a humanoid creature resembling a headless man. Instead of a head, the yohualtepoztli has a stump, like that of a felled tree. The chest cavity is open and hollow, the heart visible inside, and framed on both sides by what look like small hinged doors. The doors flap loosely as the yohualtepoztli moves, and their impact against each other causes the dull thuds.

Priests, warriors, and other fearless people should immediately grab the yohualtepoztli’s heart and hold it tight, threatening to tear it out. Then the creature can be asked for fame, glory, riches, strength, and other gifts. It will offer an agave thorn in return for its freedom, but it should not be released until three or four thorns have been gifted. In turn, those agave thorns guarantee the capture of as many prisoners of war – and therefore, of as much fame, glory, riches, and strength.

Holding onto a yohualtepoztli’s heart is a harrowing experience. Less brave people may immediately pull out the heart without bargaining and run home. If this happens, the heart should be wrapped up in cloth and left overnight. By morning, if the heart has transformed into agave thorns, bird down, or cotton, then it is a good omen. If coal or rags are left instead, then bad luck is sure to follow.

But for those cowards who fear the yohualtepoztli and dare not approach it, there are no rewards. They will flee in terror at the sound of the night hatchet, and misfortune will befall them.

References

Nuttall, Z. (1895) A Note on Ancient Mexican Folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, v. 8, no. 29, pp. 117-129.

Robelo, C. A. (1908) Diccionario de Mitologia Nahoa. Anales del Museo Nacional de México, t. V, Mexico.

Sahagun, B. (1829) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. II. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Is this an “Art of ABC” or a “Making of ABC” entry? It could be both, so I went with Art because it’s all about the art.

Part of my job in making ABC entries is painting the illustrations. And like every semi-competent artist I despise everything I do. But sometimes I think I’m really missing the mark with a painting, and decide to start over for a number of reasons. What might those be? Let’s take a look at some dishonorable discharges.

comparison aloes

Some do-overs are simple. I decided the first Aloés I painted (top) just wasn’t interesting enough. Too generic, primary-colored, and simple. Too flat. And the “pear-shaped” crown, well… let’s just say it looked like crap.

comparison mbielu3

The Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu was painted during a time when I wanted to be as creative as possible. When I set out to draw the creature with planks on its back, I originally made the top image, taking the planks to heart. But it didn’t seem creative enough at the time. After consulting with my housemate at the time (who is definitely one of the Top 5 People I Respect The Most), the suggestion was “why not teeth that look like planks?” So I went with that and made the hippo-mesoplodont you see below. But now, in retrospect I’ve been trying to keep ABC depictions more “conventional” to go with the research, so I included a sketch in the entry that combined both.

One thing was for sure: I was not going to paint a stegosaur.

comparison pilou

I’ve also been trying to push back against things made up by other authors, in a bid to go back to the roots. The Pilou has no description, just the fact that it makes noise. Dubois saw fit to describe it as a dormouse-elf, and I wanted it to be different. I decided to do a sort of fuzzy jumping spider creature, seeing that those are a lot cuter than dormice, but it couldn’t seem to work for me (left). I eventually threw in the towel and made a dormouse creature anyway. It’s me, I’m part of the problem…

comparison pyrallis

The Pyrallis has been incorrectly described as a dragon-insect following Woodruff’s lovely image of one, so I definitely wasn’t doing that. The creature described almost certainly was a moth drawn to flame, but that wasn’t as interesting. Maybe a firefly? That’s on fire, after all. A tail-glowing scorpionfly with a lit match for a proboscis? Now we’re talking!

I redid this one due to material issues. I had been using textured watercolor paper, and at the size which I did it, the texture overwhelmed a lot of detail (top). So I repainted the whole thing on newly purchased hot-pressed watercolor paper, the fine grain doing a much better job (bottom). I do think the lighting turned out better in the original though. Look at how bright it turned out!

comparison shoo fly

This one’s a lot simpler. The original Shoo Fly I thought was really simple and generic, with only a snorkel-proboscis as a clue that it lived underwater. So I took the head and thorax of a horsefly, the flattened abdomen of a botfly, and took some cues from the awesomely-named Strashila incredibilis to round out the portrait of the submarine fly.

Bulgu

Bulgu

The Guji Oromo of Ethiopia tell of a brother and sister who went down to the river to fetch water. There they met a Bulgu, “cannibal”, a fearsome ogre with four eyes, a head like an axe blade, arms like axe handles, and stocky legs like pestles. Before the children could react, the bulgu seized and devoured the boy. As he licked his lips, he told the girl “If you tell anyone about what you just saw, I will eat you, you and all in your family!”

Bulgu sketchThe traumatized girl ran home in tears. When questioned by her father about her missing brother, she remembered the bulgu’s words and said “He got lost in the brush, he wandered off alone”. But all she could think of was her brother’s death and the ogre’s threat, and she refused to eat for days, wasting away. Eventually she became too weak to move, and called her father to her bedside. “Father, build me nine high, thick fences around the house, and I will tell you why my brother disappeared”. Nine palisades were constructed of juniper, and the daughter finally told all. The father was incensed. He built a platform of branches above the hut to hide his daughter, then seized his lance and went off to slay the bulgu.

It was all in vain. The bulgu had heard every word the girl said, and approached the hut after the father was gone. Ten magic formulae were mumbled, and the nine gates and the door burst open. The bulgu searched high and low for the girl, and he wouldn’t have found her if she had not broken wind in fear. When her parents returned, the only thing left of her was her middle finger.

References

Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.

Tutschek, L. (1845) Dictionary of the Galla Language, v. II. F. Wild, Munich.

Ix-hunpedzkin

Variations: Ix-hunpedɔkin, Hunpedzkin, Hunpedɔkin; Mexican Beaded Lizard, Heloderma horridum

Ix-hunpedzkinMexican beaded lizards are large, sluggish, and colorful Central American lizards. They have a venomous bite, and popular Yucatec Maya folklore has exaggerated their toxic qualities.

The Mayan beaded lizard, or Ix-hunpedzkin, is 3 to 4 inches long, with black, rose, and ash-colored bands across their bodies and a pink underbelly. It strikes with both its mouth and its tail. In fact, its entire body is virulently toxic, and it can kill a grown man if it so much as touches his clothes. Even that is not the ix-hunpedzkin’s most infamous activity.

Ix-hunpedzkins frequently enter houses and come in contact with humans. They can cause severe, debilitating headaches merely by biting the shadow of one’s head. These headaches are lethal if not treated immediately.

To heal a hunpedzkin-headache, the plant hunpedzkin or hunpedzkin-ak (or ix-hunpedzkin or ix-hunpedzkin-ak, the names are shared) must be used. It is a climbing plant found in association with Sabal japa, and its long, narrow, and yellow leaves resemble those of the henequen, except it is smaller and has soft spines. It is probably a Tillandsia. The leaves should be crushed or burned to ashes, poulticed, and applied to the patient’s head.

References

Pacheco Cruz, S. (1919) Lexico de la Fauna Yucateca. Merida, Mexico.

Roys, R. L. (1931) The Ethno-Botany of the Maya. The Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans.

Lebraude

Variations: Enfleboeuf, Souffle, Soufflet

Lebraude

Sometimes the toxicity of reptiles and amphibians was so powerful that their breath became a deadly weapon. The rarely-seen toads and salamanders in particular were blamed for all sorts of evil deeds.

The Lebraude is a sort of large lizard or salamander with black and yellow skin. It breathes once per day, and anything that contacts its noxious exhalation dies instantly. Humans perish, livestock expires, and even trees and grass wither up. In Puy de Dôme the Souffle (“Breath”) is a small snake or salamander whose breath kills anyone it sees first. Toads in Provence kill birds with their breath. In Vaucluse a salamander’s breath will cause humans to swell up until they die in their skin. The Souffle, Soufflet (“Bellows”), or Enfleboeuf (“Ox-sweller”) of Auvergne inflates and kills cattle.

Sometimes it is not the exhalation, but the inhalation that is feared. In the Cher, it was said that toads sucked bees out of hives, opening their mouths wide for the insects to come in. Reptiles born from a rooster’s egg in the Hautes-Pyrénées can inhale and swallow anything nearby, including birds and children.

References

Sébillot, P. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Chicheface

Variations: Chiche-face, Chiche Face, Chichefache, Chechiface, Chincheface, Chiche; Chichevache, Chichivache (erroneously), Thingut, Pinch-Belly (English)

Chicheface

Chicheface is as starved as its counterpart Bigorne is satisfied. This etiolated creature was said to feed solely on wives who obeyed their husbands, and as such was skeletal and malnourished. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

Some confusion has resulted over the name. Chiche face means “thin face”, possibly derived from the Spanish chico, “small” (although Chapoulaud suggests a separate derivation from the patois chichou, “puppy”). Corruption of this word through intermediaries like chichefache has led to the alternate spelling of chichevache, “thin cow”, popularized in English.

There is very little of the bovine in Chicheface. It is somewhat like a terrifyingly thin werewolf, barely skin and bones. Its head and body are those of a wolf, its forelegs are clawed and its hindlegs are hooved.

Satire featuring Chicheface revolves around the lack of good and submissive women, and usually begs wives to remain independent and willful. Le dit de Chicheface (“The say of Chicheface”), preserved in the Auvergne mural, depicts Chicheface with its prey in its mouth. Chicheface laments its lot in life – Moy que lon appelle Chiche Face / Très maigre de coleur et de face (“I who am called Chiche Face / Very thin of color and face”). The woman held in its jaws is the only thing it’s found to eat in ten thousand years. Des ans il y a plus de deux cens / Que ceste tiens entre mes dens / Et sy ne lose avaler / De peur de trop longtemps jeuner (“For more than two hundred years / I’ve been holding her between my teeth / And I dare not swallow her / For fear of fasting too long”). As for the long-suffering woman, she regrets her decisions in life, having done everything her husband told her to do, and begs wives not to do the same – Vous qui vivez au demourant / Ne veulez pas come moi faire (“You who live at home / Do not do as I did”).

Jubinal’s satirical poem on the life of Saint Genevieve mentions Chicheface in a warning addressed to the saint: Gardez-vous de la Chicheface / El vous mordra, s’el vous rencontre (“Beware of the Chicheface / It will bite you, if it meets you”). In the Life of Saint Christoffle, we are given the curse Va, que tu soys confondu / Orde, sanglante chiche face! (“Go, may you be confounded / Vile, bloody chiche face!”). Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In the Clerk’s Tale, “noble wives full of high prudence” are warned not to imitate the good and patient Griselda “lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail”. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles.

The skinnier Chicheface has proven more enduring than its rotund companion. Various carved grotesques have been described as the Chiche without further elaboration. In all likelihood Chicheface’s existence may have preceded the misogynistic legend attached to it, and it continued to exist in the popular mind as a sort of hideous bogey.

References

Allou, C. N. (1821) Description des Monumens des Differens Ages. F. Chapoulaud, Limoges.

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Jubinal, A. (1837) Mystères Inédits du Quinzième Siècle, t. II. Téchener, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.