Kamikiri

Variations: Kami-kiri, Kami Kiri, Kamikiri-ma, Kamikiri-mushi, Kami Kiri Mushi; Amikiri (probably)

Kamikiri

Hair has been of historical importance in Japan. During the Edo period, the chonmage or topknot in men was a status symbol. In women, long hair indicated beauty and wealth, with differing hairstyles communicating age, rank, and availability. Cutting one’s hair was a solemn and drastic step associated with religious vows.

Cutting someone’s hair without their consent, therefore, was a spiteful and criminal act, even more so if it seemed to happen without reason. Inexplicable and sudden hair-cutting was known as Kamikiri, “hair cutter”. Most kamikiri incidents happened at twilight, and the victims were usually young women. Matsuzaka City was especially plagued by kamikiri. Often the hair was snipped off while the victim was walking, with the crime noticed only upon returning home.

Who was to blame for kamikiri? Demonic winds could have been the culprit, and they were countered with prayers written on papers and placed in hairpins. Kitsune were also blamed; after three women fell victim in one area, a fox was cut open and long hair found inside.

The phenomenon has also been attributed to a yokai, the kamikiri, kamikiri-ma (“hair-cutting demon”), or kamikiri-mushi (“hair-cutting insect”). It may have been a large longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae), but Edo scrolls elaborate that into a small humanoid creature with pincer hands and a birdlike face. The insect features may be due to kamikiri’s similarity with kamakiri, “praying mantis”.

Toriyama Sekien’s yokai compendia do not include the kamikiri, but rather the scorpion-like amikiri or “net-cutter”. This may be an error, or Sekien’s own spin on the scissors-handed yokai.

References

Foster, M. D. (2015) The Book of Yokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Hepburn, J. C. (1872) A Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary. American Presbyterian Mission Press, Shanghai.

Thunberg, C. P. (1796) Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia, v. III. F. and C. Rivington, London.

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Inventorum Natura

Una Woodruff

Inventorum Natura (IN from now on) is a strange and wonderful book. It is a coffee-table book with ancient pseudoinformation that has in turn been treated as genuine. Half of it is in Latin. It translates an ancient document that never existed. It has a tri-triceratops kraken. Confused? Read on.

You can purchase the book from here and here.

Scope

IN falls firmly on the “Pretty Pictures” axis of Bestiary Classification. Purportedly a translation of a lost manuscript by Pliny the Elder, it covers the animals, plants, cultures, and places encountered by the Roman historian. It is not a comprehensive creature encyclopedia, but provides a broad selection of creatures from across the world, including an economical description of horse-unicorns and rhino-unicorns within the same page.

Organization

The text follows Pliny’s travels around the world. As such it’s narrative and not clearly divided, but can be roughly separated by region, such as Africa, India, China, and Hyperborea. If you’re looking for something in particular, there is a table of contents.

Text

Readable both in Latin and English, the text is a joy to read through, especially for Latin scholars brushing up on their skills.

This is where I need to issue a disclaimer. The text of IN is entirely fictitious and written by the author. Pliny never visited China, or sailed to Hyperborea, or encountered krakens. This may seem obvious, but the text is written and treated as though it were a genuine never-before-seen discovery being revealed for the first time, and kayfabe is maintained all through the book. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll address further issues under the “research” heading.

Images

All of the journal entries are illustrated by at least one gorgeous full-page color painting. Una Woodruff is a talented artist who excels at painting plants, and it really shows – a lot of the most memorable creatures in the book are plants. The animals on the other hand have a strange not-quite-realness to them, a sort of uncanny valley that makes them even weirder.

In fact, even if you don’t read Latin, and even if you don’t want another reference for your bestiary bibliography (bibestliography?), the art alone makes it worthwhile for teratologists of all stripes. Besides this is the only book I know of that gives the kraken three triceratopsian heads.

Research

Here’s where my main beef with IN comes in. There are no references whatsoever, but it owes a lot to Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. In fact, I’d argue that more creatures are from IN than are from anything Pliny wrote! It’s great for an entertaining read, but anyone looking for scholarly research should look elsewhere.

Some of the fabricated information has been used (without citation) in other books. Information laundering, if you will. The description of the pyrallis as a dragon-insect comes from IN. Page and Ingpen’s Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were uses the description of Hyperborea, especially with the two-headed frogs. And of course the Peryton’s in there…

Summary

A beautiful book, written and illustrated so skillfully that it has fooled a nonzero amount of people. I like the book, and I love the art, but its scholarship problems give me pause. 3/5 if you’re like me and get irrationally annoyed by teratological embellishment, 4/5 if you don’t mind.

3

Animalito

Animalito

During his time in Spain, Prosper Mérimée was introduced to a number of current superstitions by his traveling companion Vicente. This worthy Valencian informed him of certain animalitos, “little animals”, available for purchase in France from unscrupulous sorcerers.

Nobody knows what they look like save that they are tiny animals that live in reeds. The notorious embellisher Dubois gives them dog mouths and lizard heads. The reed an animalito lives in is sold with a knot in one end and a sturdy cork in the other.

Animalitos are magical beings, capable of granting their owners any wish, any request they desire. Napoleon had one of these imps with him, which prevented him from being killed while in Spain. Only silver bullets can harm those protected by an animalito.

In return for their services, the animalitos request a steep price. They have to be fed every 24 hours. They crave the flesh of unbaptized children, and if that is not available (as is often the case), their master has to cut a piece of flesh from his or her own body. Vicente recounts the tale of an old friend, Romero the footman, who cured his lung disease with the help of animalitos. Now he can run from Valencia to Murcia without breaking a sweat, but his bones show through his skin, his eyes are sunken…

The animalitos are eating him alive.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Mérimée, P. Les Sorcières Espagnoles. In Mérimée, P. (1873) Dernières Nouvelles de Prosper Mérimée. Michel Lévy Frères, Paris.

Dear readers of ABC, once again the time has come for the author to take a brief sabbatical that is entirely unrelated to ABC and entirely related to things happening in the Real World (TM). Don’t worry, it will be for two weeks only (this is a promise!) and when I get back you’ll have your regular fix of creatures as scheduled.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, etc. etc.

Bakunawa

Variations: Baconaua (Hiligaynon)

Bakunawa

The Asian eclipse monster has analogues in China, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, and the South Sea Islands. In the Philippines, where the legend is widespread, it is usually a dragon or serpent or even an enormous bird. Bakunawa, “Eclipse”, is one of the best-known.

The Bakunawa of the Cebuano, or Baconaua as it is known to the Hiligaynon, is a colossal, fishlike dragon as large as the Negros and Cebu islands. It resembles a shark, with gills, a lake-sized mouth, and a striking red tongue. Whiskers one palmo long adorn its mouth. In addition to its powerful ash-gray wings, it has smaller wings along its sides.

Long ago there were seven moons in the sky. Bakunawa gobbled them up one by one until it came to the last and largest moon. It failed to swallow it, and tried to bite it into manageable chunks, sinking its teeth deep into the moon’s surface. To this day the bakunawa’s teeth-marks can still be seen on the moon. Every now and then the bakunawa will take to the sky and attempt to finish the job it started by swallowing the moon, causing an eclipse. To make it release the moon, utensils are clanged loudly together to startle it.

The bakunawa’s den is in the deepest parts of the sea. In January, February, and March its head faces north and its tail south; in April, May, and June its head faces west and its tail east, in July, August, and September its head points south and its tail north; and in October, November, and December its head is east and its tail west. The positions of the bakunawa during those four phases are used to divine the best time to build houses.

A children’s game called Bakunawa for 10 or more players involves one player as Buan, the moon, while another is Bakunawa. The remainder form a circle, holding hands and facing inwards. The moon starts inside the circle and Bakunawa is outside. The goal of the children in the circle is to prevent Bakunawa from entering the circle and capturing the moon – the moon itself cannot leave the circle. Bakunawa can ask individual players “What chain is this?” and they can answer that it is an iron, copper, abaca, or any material they can think of. When Bakunawa captures the moon, the players exchange roles or swap with players in the circle.

References

Jocano, F. L. (1969) The Traditional World of Malitbog. Bookman Printing House, Quezon City.

de Lisboa, M. (1865) Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol. Establecimento Tipografico del Colegio de Santo Tomas, Manila.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.

Ramos, M. D. (1990) Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines. Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City.

Reyes-Tolentino, F. and Ramos, P. (1935) Philippine Folk Dances and Games. Silver, Burdett and Company, New York.

Onchú

Variations: Enfield; Alphyn; Water-dog, Sea-dog

Onchu

The Onchú, “Water-dog”, is a peculiar Irish creature with a long history of phonetic transformation. It is better known as the Enfield or Alphyn.

Of the three variants it is the enfield that has the most defined morphotype. It has the head of a fox, the chest of a greyhound, the talons of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the hindlegs and tail of a wolf. A more simple description gives it the head of a fox, the breast and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters of a wolf, combining the cunning of the first, the honor of the second, and the ferocity of the third. There may be a mane and a lion’s tail. Enfields are rarely used in heraldry, most notably appearing in green as the crest of the O’Kelly family of Ireland. This is traditionally attributed to an incident when Tadhg Mór Ua Ceallaigh, the ancestor of the O’Kellys of Hy-Many, fell in battle against the Danes at Clontarf. An enfield or dog-like creature emerged from the sea and protected Tadhg Mor’s body until it was recovered.

As for the alphyn, it vaguely resembles a tiger, sometimes with the same clawed forelimbs as the enfield. It shares its name with the term alphyn or alfin for the chess bishop, itself derived from al-fil, “the elephant”, but this is coincidental. Elephants were well-known in bestiaries long before the decidedly unproboscidean alphyn, which appears at the end of the fifteenth century.

The word onchú is more ancient than enfield or alphyn, and is probably derived from , “hound”, and on, “water” (as in onfais, “plunging”, and onfaisech, “diver”). It is synonymous with doburchú, the otter (literally “water dog”). Therefore the onchú can be inferred to be a dog or dog-like animal that lives at least partly in water. Onchú also is used to mean “banner”, or “standard”, suggesting that the use of the onchú on battle-standards was common enough that the name was transferred to the item – and that its use preceded the battle of Clontarf.

The confusion only increases with the pluralization of onchú to give onchoin or onchainn. Onchainn in turn became onfainn following the trend of ch conversion (e.g. Dunphy from Donnchaidh). Williams traces phonetic vagaries and lists a sequence of alterations: onfainn to anchainn to anfainn to anfaill to anfild to enfild. Anfaill also gave rise to the less-successful alternative name of alphyn. Further assimilation with the heraldic sea-dog gave the onchú/enfield/alphyn a mane and clawed, bird-like forelegs.

Since then onchú has been used as a term for a large water beast. It is wild, fearsome, valorous, heroic, with reptilian and venomous qualities (probably the origin of its green color). The onchú that lived between Loch Con and Loch Cuilinn killed nine men. Muiredach pursued it into the water and slew it, earning the title of Cú Choingelt, “Hound of the Pasturage”.

Williams proposes the adoption of onchú as the official Gaelic term for the animal. Enfield remains an acceptable English version.

References

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

Cooke, T. L. (1859) Proceedings, November Meeting. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, v. 2. McGlashan and Gill, Dublin.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Williams, N. J. A. (1989) Of Beasts and Banners: The Origin of the Heraldic Enfield. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, v. 119, pp. 62-78.

Poreskoro

Poreskoro

Poreskoro, “Tailed” or “Caudate”, is the ninth and final child of Ana, the ultimate Romani demon of disease produced from an unhappy and abusive relationship between Queen Ana of the Keshalyi and the King of the Loçolico.

After the failed attempt at sterilization that produced Minceskro, the distraught Keshalyi fed their Queen a mixture of cat hair, powdered snake, and hair from the hound of hell. This time the result was Poreskoro. A bird with four dog heads, four cat heads, and a snake tail with a forked tongue, Poreskoro is a hermaphrodite who does not require a mate to produce offspring. Its children are bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, and all the pestilences, epidemics, and pandemics known to humanity. Poreskoro dwells deep underground with its offspring; its appearance on the surface heralds widespread destruction and disease.

It is small comfort, then, that even the King of the Loçolico had a shock upon seeing this monstrous child, and realized that his marriage was going nowhere. He and Ana divorced under two conditions – first, that the Loçolico would leave the Keshalyi alone as long as Ana was alive; second, that every Keshalyi nymph having reached the age of 999 would be given away to the Loçolico.

So it came to pass that Ana lived in blessed seclusion in an isolated mountain castle, rarely leaving, and sustained by the Keshalyi. Every morning three of the nymphs visit her and give her a single drop of blood from their left hand to keep her alive. She sometimes appears in the form of a golden toad, but more often she is only heard saying the word ana, meaning “bring” or “pass”. If you hear that, then you must pick up a frog, beetle, or other small animal and toss it into a bush, otherwise Ana will crush you under a rock.

As for her demonic children, they live on, and the diseases they spawn are endless.

References

Clébert, J. P. (1976) Les Tziganes. Tchou, Paris.

Clébert, J. P.; Duff, C. trans. (1963) The Gypsies. Vista Books, London.

Meyers Brothers Druggist (1910) Demons of Disease. Meyers Brothers Druggist, v. 31, p. 141.

Pavelčík, N. and Pavelčík, J. (2001) Myths of the Czech Gypsies. Asian Folklore Studies, v. 60, pp. 21-30.