Haakapainiži

Variations: Hakapainije; Nikama (Giant); Aatakapitsi (Chemehuevi); Taünara; Grasshopper

Haakapainizi temp

Haakapainiži, the Grasshopper as he is known to the Kawaiisu, is an unpleasant ogre from Southern California, although he lives on a rock in a Nevadan lake. His counterpart in Chemehuevi folklore is Aatakapitsi, and their tales are parallel.

Haakapainiži takes several forms, but the best known is that of a giant grasshopper walking on two canes, with a basket on his back. His legs are armed with viciously sharp spikes. His legs are long enough to allow him to walk the 20 miles between Inyokern and Onyx in one step. He also appears as a giant, a harmless-looking old man, and a swarm of grasshoppers. Haakapainiži sings as he walks, hiding his evil intentions.

Children are Haakapainiži’s prey, and he stuffs them in his basket for devouring later. As such he is correctly classified as a bogey, and parents will quell children with warnings of “Haakapainiži is coming!”

Once Haakapainiži met a young girl. He coughed up mucus into his hand and presented it to her, saying “Come get this fat, grandchild”. When she did, he tossed her in her basket and carried her off to Nevada, where he ate her. He repeated the same trick with a little boy, but the lad grabbed onto an overhead branch and escaped the basket.

Another time, Haakapainiži slept alongside the Quail Sisters, who saw no reason to doubt the singing insect’s words. “I will sleep above your heads, and don’t worry, I won’t stretch during my sleep”. Sure enough, the sisters woke up in the morning unscathed. “What a nice old man”, they said to themselves, before Haakapainiži stretched his spiked legs and gouged out their eyes.

The Yucca Date Worm girls fell afoul of Aatakapitsi in the same fashion. Their husband Kwanantsitsi, the Red-Tailed Hawk, restored their eyes, then set out to avenge them. Yet every time he approached Aatakapitsi, the giant seemed to shrink until he disappeared entirely, leaving nothing but a swarm of grasshoppers. Exasperated, Kwanantsitsi hunted down the grasshoppers with a stick until they were all dead. This time, when he backed away, he saw the giant’s lifeless body.

Haakapainiži was killed by Mouse, who heated an arrow-sharpening stone in a fire and tossed it into the grasshopper’s mouth. “Close your eyes and open your mouth, I’ll feed you one of my children”, said Mouse, and allowed the heated rock to burn Haakapainiži’s insides. Both Mouse’s home and the petrified remains of Haakapainiži can be seen at Inyokern.

References

Laird, C. (1976) The Chemehuevis. Malki Museum Press, Morongo Indian Reservation, Banning.

Zigmond, M. L. (1980) Kawaiisu Mythology. Ballena Press, Socorro.

As part of the Wednesday Digressions, I will also be including paeans to certain creatures I believe are woefully underrated. These will all be fairly modern, pop-culture creatures, and so will not be part of ABC, but I’ll be darned if I don’t give them a deserving moment in the limelight. There will be no particular rhyme or reason to them, but a fair few of them will be from BD (that’s Franco-Belgian comics to you, you uncultured swine), which are less well known in the English-speaking world.

What better way to start than with the nameless Giant Purple Slug? This monster is quite possibly my favorite pop-culture monster of all time, and was responsible for some of the most wonderful, pleasant dreams I had as a child. It is the primary “antagonist” of the 1972 Tif et Tondu book Sorti des Abimes (“Out of the Abyss”, more or less). A bit of background… Tif et Tondu is a Belgian BD by Will and Rosy that follows the adventures of private investigators Tif (the bald guy) and Tondu (the hairy guy, amusingly enough). Their tales fall mostly on the science-fiction side. Today the series is mostly remembered for introducing Monsieur Choc, the urbane, well-dressed, knight-helmeted international criminal mastermind.

But in Sorti des Abimes, it is not Monsieur Choc but a gigantic gastropod that causes consternation for our heroes. The adventure is set in the docks of London, where their friend the Countess Amélie “Kiki” d’Yeu is looking for her confiscated Great Dane. She finds him in a pound, along with something big, tentacley, and drooling green slime. (All art by Will, buy his books!).

sorti des abimes 1.jpg

The “thing” escapes its confines and slithers into the Thames, where it is sighted swimming through the canals and generally making the most delightful floppery ooshy sounds.

sorti des abimes 2

Of course, Our Heroes (O. H.) find out about this and won’t have any of it. I mean, the slug does eat its way through the Thames, chews through a few ship hulls, and drives a steamer aground, but what’s a few fish and ships between friends? Nonetheless, they find out that it’s an abyssal slug brought to the surface by a misguided biologist at the pound. Turns out that, having never seen the light of day, ultraviolet rays cause the slug to grow out of control. O. H. track it down to a dock, where – have I mentioned how much I love/am terrified of the dark outlines of huge things under the water?

 

sorti des abimes 4

The slug is making a water-based beeline for the sea, and crushing everything along its path. After O. H. try to kill it with a WWII-surviving Junkers Stuka (!), the slug decides it’s had enough and hauls its mass out of the water, looking for all the world like an adorable purple cross of Aplysia and Glaucus.

sorti des abimes 5

It’s not malicious or anything, it just decides to take a more direct route for the sea – a route that leads it to noted landmark Tower Bridge.

sorti des abimes 6

 

Fortunately for Tower Bridge (what would the Queen say?), O.H. realize that if ultraviolet rays make it grow, infrared rays must clearly have the opposite effect (ignore the spectroscopic and biological problems here, this was a 70s BD). They pelt the poor slug with IR radiation…

sorti des abimes 8

… whereupon it melts into black slime.

sorti des abimes 9

sorti des abimes 10

All it ever wanted was to return to the sea…

Gold-digging Ant

Variations: Formica maior, Formica aurum

Gold-digging ant

Herodotus originally placed the Gold-digging Ants in the sandy deserts in the land of the Dards, in India, within the Persian Empire. Some later sources, such as the Ortus Sanitatis, move them to Ethiopia. Their story is the same regardless of location.

Gold-digging ants are smaller than dogs, but larger than foxes. Pliny specifies that they are as large as an Ethiopian wolf, and the color of a cat. Skins of those ants brought before Alexander the Great were like panther skins. In the Ortus Sanitatis, the gold-digging ant is given a form unlike any ant – indeed, unlike any living animal, with a rounded, bird-like head and four legs with long talons. These ants are exceedingly fast, strong, and dangerous.

Most importantly, gold-digging ants excavate their nests in an area rich with gold dust. The sand they bring to the surface is full of the precious metal, making them an attractive target for treasure seekers, but they also fiercely defend their gold from anyone who would dare take it.

To steal the ants’ gold, camel caravans approach the nests on hot summer mornings, when the ants are safely underground. Gold sand can be quickly scooped up into bags, but the ants soon catch the scent of the intruders and hurry to the surface. Without a head start for the camels, the ants would easily catch up and dismember them.

Whatever the nature of the gold-digging ants, it is agreed that they definitely weren’t ants, and most likely were some sort of mammal. Suggestions include the hyena, whose Persian name resembled the Greek name for the ant; and the Siberian fox, whose digging and ferocity parallel those of the ant. The most compelling argument is elaborated by Peissel, who identifies the “ants” as Himalayan marmots whose tireless digging would have brought gold to the surface. Herodotus’ usage of murmex for ant may have muddled the distinction between ant and marmot.

References

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Herodotus, Macaulay, G. C. trans. (1890) The History of Herodotus, translated into English. Macmillan and Company, London.

Peissel, M. (1984) The Ants’ Gold. Harvill Press, London.

Pliny; Bostock, J. and Riley, H. T. trans. (1857) The Natural History of Pliny, v. III. Henry G. Bohn, London.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Cenchris

Variations: Cenchros, Cenchrines, Cenchridion, Cenchrites, Cenchria; Millet; Milliaris (from millet); Punter-schlang, Berg-schlang (German); Lyon (due to its color and ferocity); Famusus, Aracis, Falivisus (Topsell gives those last three as barbarous versions)

Cenchris

The Cenchris or Millet is one of the many venomous snakes spawned from the blood of Medusa that live in the Sahara desert. It was listed in the catalog of serpents assailing Cato and his men, but did not receive a separate account describing the effects of its deadly venom. Situated in Libya according to Lucan, Topsell stated it to hail from Lemnus and Samothracia.

The most obvious characteristic of a cenchris is that it always move in a straight line, and does not coil or flex its body. For this reason it can travel fast in a straight line, but cannot make sharp turns. In color it is a dusky yellow, looking like the color of millet seed, but Aldrovandi suggests it to be at least partly green. Regardless of the color, the cenchris is attractively spotted and speckled, bringing to mind millet or marbled columns. The pointed tail is turned upwards, like a lion’s. A cenchris grows to two cubits (about one meter) long.

The cenchris is most active and aggressive when millet is at the peak of its growth, and head to the mountains in the summer. Unlike other venomous snakes, it will use its entire body when attacking, wrapping around its victim and beating it; meanwhile, it fastens its fangs in its prey and sucks its blood out.

Cenchris venom rots and putrefies flesh, causing lethargy, stomachache, and death within two days if left untreated. Lettuce, flax-seed, savory, rue, betony, and daffodil in three cups of wine, followed by two drams of centaury, gentian, hartwort, nosewort, or sesame, makes a good antidote.

While not easy to narrow to a single species, the rectilinear locomotion suggests the cenchris to be inspired by large, heavy-bodied vipers such as the puff adder.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1640) Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae. Antonij Bernie, Bologna.

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lucan, trans. Rowe, N. (1720) Pharsalia. T. Johnson, London.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Serpents. E. Cotes, London.

This is going to be a weird update. This time I’m trying out something new: having a tumblr for the site. This is still very experimental, so I’m just testing the waters here to see how it goes and if it gets a positive response.

Simply put, ABC can now also be reached at abookofcreatures.tumblr.com. I’ll be using it sort of like the Facebook site, except that it’s going to have to go through all the entries one by one from the start, so… this might take a while before it gets up to speed, day by day.

Let me know if you think it’s worth it.

Margot la Fée

Variations: Margot-la-Fée, Margot, La Bonne Femme Margot (The Good Woman Margot), Ma Commère Margot (My Godmother Margot), Fée Morgant

Margot

The Margot la Fée, “Margot the Fairy”, or more simply Margot, are fairies native to Brittany, particularly Collinée, Lamballe, Moncontour, and most of the Côtes-d’Armor. They are generally seen as benevolent and protective, but capable of deadly violence when provoked. The name of Margot – also used for magpies – is probably derived from Morgan or Morgana, as evidenced by the alternative name of Morgant; most local names are placatory terms of affection. Margot fairies are closely associated with megaliths, caves, treasures, and snakes, leaving the beaches to the Fées des Houles and the Groac’h.

Like most fairies, Margot fairies vary a lot in appearance, appearing as both young and old women as well as animals. They spend part of their time as snakes, both willingly and against their will, in which form they are most vulnerable. They possess considerable magical powers, dance in circles at night, haunt dolmens, swap babies with voracious changelings, and flee religious symbols.  Sometimes a Margot would take a fancy to a handsome young shepherd and choose to keep him in a cave for herself. In those cases time itself would seem to slow down, such were the pleasures that the fairy offered.

Margot fairies happily care for the livestock of their neighbors, even going so far as to feed them in the caverns while their owners were away. The Margot’s own livestock remained in the caves, emerging only to feed. On the other hand, hungry Margot fairies will tear a cow to pieces and devour it, only to restore it to life by the next morning, missing only any pieces that had been eaten by humans during the feast.

Margot fairies are often the guardians of fabulous riches. They will handsomely reward those who aid them, and punish any who take advantage of their generosity. If they tell you to take a certain amount of treasure and no more than that, you would be wise to follow their instructions to the letter. One man who took more gold from the Crokélien Hill fairies than he was instructed to had his son taken away from him, never to be seen again.

Other gifts of the Margot are more prosaic. They will offer piping hot loaves of bread to the hungry – loaves that never get smaller, no matter how many slices are cut from them. But if a piece is offered to someone else deemed unworthy by the fairies, the loaf will no longer regenerate.

Small acts of compassion are looked on with great favor. Two harvesters, resting after scything wheat, encountered a little grass snake eating the breadcrumbs they left behind. One tried to kill it, while the other stopped him, saying it would be wrong to kill a small, harmless animal. In the evening a Margot appeared to the second man and thanked him for protecting her daughter. She gave him two belts, one for him and one for his friend, telling him not to mix them up. His was of pure gold, while the other he tied to an oak tree, which wilted overnight.

Another man working near the hill of Crokélien encountered a Margot, who asked a favor of him. “Bring a large washtub with you”, she said, “and go to the Planchettes Bridge at sunrise. There you will find a grass snake. Put the washtub over it and sit on top. If anybody asks you why you’re there, tell them you’re waiting for the blacksmiths to fix the tub. At sundown, remove the tub, and you shall be richly rewarded for your help”. The man did as he was told, and sure enough, the snake was there at the bridge as the fairy had said. He covered it with the washtub and sat patiently there for the rest of the day, weathering the taunts and jeers of passers-by with aplomb. At sunset he removed the tub to find a beautiful maiden underneath. She was the Margot’s daughter, who transformed into a snake one day every year, and would have been killed had it not been for the man’s intervention. As promised, he never wanted for gold or silver for the rest of his life.

Human midwives will also be recruited by Margots to aid them in childbirth, gifting them with the power of second sight for the occasion. But woe to her if she let on that she could still see the fairies! A vindictive Margot would gouge her eye out, or spit in her face and blind her.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1996) La Grande Encyclopédie des Fées. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1887) Légendes Locales de la Haute-Bretagne: Les Margot la Fée. Maisonneuve et Ch. Leclerc, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1904) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Premier: Le Ciel et la Terre. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

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

Sébillot, P. (1968) Le folklore de la Bretagne. Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.

Melalo

Variations: The Filthy One, The Dirty One, The Obscene One

Melalo

According to the Roma of Eastern Europe, notably Romania and Slovakia, all the diseases and ailments of the world can be traced back to a family of creatures born from an unholy union of fairy and demon. These unloved bastard children, hated by their parents, take their spite out on humans.

Long ago, the good fairies or Keshalyi lived in the high mountains, while the evil Loçolico, former humans warped and twisted by the Devil, lived underground. But when the King of the Loçolico took a fancy to Ana, Queen of the Keshalyi, their separate worlds were brought too close for comfort. After Ana turned down the ugly King of the Loçolico, the demons responded by hunting down and devouring the Keshalyi. Only Ana’s forced marriage to the King saved her people from utter annihilation.

Ana found her husband so disgusting that she refused to consummate the marriage. The King finally forced himself on her following the advice of a golden toad, who told him to feed her the brains of a magpie. Ana fell into a deep sleep, and soon after conceived Melalo, their first son.

Melalo, literally “filthy”, “dirty”, or “obscene”, is the oldest and most feared of Ana’s children. He is a small, dirty grey (the English translation oddly gives the color as green), unkempt bird with two heads. He has sharp claws which he uses to tear out hearts and rip bodies to shreds; with his wings, he stuns victims and makes them lose their reason. Melalo foments anger, rage, cruelty, sadism, frenzy, rape, and insanity. Those he has affected can only chatter like a magpie.

Melalo would go on to influence the creation of the remainder of Ana’s brood. It was he who put his mother to sleep with his vapors, and convinced his father to sire Lilyi, his sister, wife, and eventual mother to countless women’s diseases. Melalo also guided the conception of his siblings.

To counter Melalo, one must tie an amulet with his image to the afflicted part of the body.

It is possible that the two-headed bird imagery that created Melalo started with the Hittites, who took it to Byzantium and eventually to Russia and Austria. Meanwhile, the expression yov hin jiamutr Melaskero (“he is Melalo’s son-in-law”) has persisted in reference to a violent, nasty person.

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.