Issitôq

Issitoq

Issitôq, “giant eye”, is a gloomy helping spirit that appeared to the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. As Anarqâq had just lost his parents, Issitôq consoled him. “You must not be afraid of me; I, too, struggle with sad thoughts, so I will go with you and be your helping spirit”.

Issitôq has short bristly hair that stands straight up. Each of its eyes is in two sections. Its mouth is vertical, with a single long tooth at the top and two shorter ones at the side. It specializes in finding taboo-breakers.

References

Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Guiamala

Variations: Ghiamala

Guiamala

The Guiamala is found in the African kingdoms of Gadoua and Giaca (or Gadda and Jaka), east of the kingdom of Bambuk. It is a huge animal, taller than an elephant but not as bulky, and capable of moving swiftly. It is a sort of camel, having a long neck, a camel-like head, and a dromedary’s hump or two on its back. Its legs are incredibly long to allow it to stand over 20 feet tall. For defense the guiamala is equipped with seven straight, pointed horns, each about two feet long. The horns are black, covered with tawny hair and a black point. The hair falls off after the horn has grown to a certain length. The hooves are cloven like an ox’s.

Guiamalas are not picky eaters, and will eat thorns and other low-quality browse. They also eat very little, allowing them to survive in arid areas. They are docile and harmless and could feasibly make good pack animals. Their flesh is edible and tender.

References

Delisle de Sales, J. C. (1769) Dictionnaire Theorique et Pratique de Chasse et de Pesche. J. B. G. Musier, Paris.

Labat, J. B. (1728) Nouvelle Relation de l’Afrique Occidentale, t. IV. Pierre-Francois Giffart, Paris.

Bifang

Variations: Bifang-bird

Bifang

The Bifang can be found on barren Mount Zhang’e in China. It looks like a crane but has only one leg; it has a white beak and red markings on a green background. Its call sounds like its name.

A bifang is an omen of inexplicable fire starting in town. This is probably connected to its red color. It was not always an evil omen, however, as it appears as a benevolent attendant of the Yellow Thearch in the Master Hanfei, and is the divine essence of wood in the Master of Huainan.

Some sources have the bifang itself as the arsonist, using fire it carries in its beak. Mathieu equates it with the Chinese crane, whose habit of standing on one leg may have inspired the bifang’s appearance.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Wingoc

Variations: Wing (obsolete), Wingocak (pl.), Wingwak (pl.)

Wingoc

The Wingwak are the Algonquian spirits of sleep. A wingoc appears as a somniferous fly or butterfly, with greater numbers appearing to bedevil people into sleep (they typically show up five per person). The term wingoc is also used for sleep; compare ingwac, to be sleepy, and ingwam, to sleep.

A man playing in the sky once fell through a hole to land on Earth. There he found people sleeping, and one man sleeping more than the others. The heavenly visitor fashioned himself a small bow and arrows and started shooting at the clouds of flies above the sleeper. With some of the wingwak killed and others set to flight, the sleeper awoke. The celestial man then imparted his wisdom to the Algonquians, warning them of the arrival of the bearded men who would be the end of their race.

Expressions include ni nisigok wingwak (“the wingwak kill me”, i.e. “I am overwhelmed with sleepiness”) and wingwak ondjita manek (“there are so many wingwak”, i.e. “everyone’s asleep”).

References

Chamberlain, A. F. (1900) Some Items of Algonkian Folk-Lore. The Journal of American Folklore, 13(51), pp. 271-277.

Cuoq, J. A. (1886) Lexique de la Langue Algonquine. J. Chapleau et Fils, Montreal.

Lemoine, G. (1909) Dictionnaire Francais-Algonquin. G. Delisle, Chicoutimi.

Pira-nu

pira-nu

The Pira-nu, “black fish”, is born in old timber canoes lost in the rapids. This Argentinian fish is of great size, with a horse-like head and big eyes. It swims at the surface of the water to capsize canoes, and it quickly devours humans and livestock that have fallen into the water.

References

Ambrosetti, J. B. (1917) Supersticiones y Leyendas. La Cultura Argentina, Buenos Aires.

Tarasque

Variations: Tarasca, Tarasco, Tarascona, Tarasconus, Tarascus, Tirasconus, Tirascurus

tarasque

The story of the Tarasque is inextricable from that of Saint Martha and the southern French town of Tarascon. It features on the coat of arms of Tarascon, and it is attended to by the Order of the Tarascaires, the Members of the Provencal Order of Knights of the Tarasque. It is part of a long and venerable tradition of French beasts associated with particular cities and usually paraded through the streets during relevant feast days.

Etymologies for the Tarasque’s name vary. Folklore attributes the name of Tarascon to the Tarasque, but it is most likely that the dragon was named after the city. Tarascon itself may have been derived from Tauriscus, a Gaulish tyrant supposedly slain by Hercules. As to the origin of the tale itself, everything from vanquished pagan religions to displaced captive crocodiles has been suggested.

The earliest elements of what was to become the tradition of Saint Martha in Provence originated in Vézelay in the 11th century. By the end of the 12th century these had been associated with Saint Martha, and developed concurrently with Tarascon. The Vita S. Marthae of the Pseudo-Marcella is the oldest reference to the Tarasque, and is dated somewhere between 1187 (the date of the discovery of Saint Martha’s relics in Tarascon) and 1220. Vincent of Beauvais and Jacobus Voragine based their accounts on the prototype of the Pseudo-Marcella and gradually brought Saint Martha into 13th century martyrologies. The tale served to strengthen the cult of Saint Martha in Provence, and further establish Tarascon’s identity as a cultural, political, and religious center.

The Tarasque was found in the woods between Arles and Avignon, near town of Nerluc (“Black Lake”), or otherwise in the Rhone, in a hole by the river. The Pseudo-Marcella gives the most complete description. The Tarasque was a dragon, half animal and half fish, larger than an ox and longer than a horse, with teeth as sharp as swords, and armored on both sides like a turtle. It had the face and head of a lion, a horse’s mane, a back sharp as an axe, spiky scales as sharp as augers, six bear-clawed legs, and a serpent’s tail. It was more than a match for a dozen lions or bears. Having come by sea from Galatia, the Tarasque hid in the river, sinking boats and devouring anyone who came near. In a flourish of erudition, we are told it was the offspring of the sea-serpent Leviathan and the onachus or bonnacon, a creature that fires burning dung as a weapon. The mechanics of such a coupling are left unexplained.

The Pseudo-Rabanus adds that the Tarasque, in addition to being an enormous dragon with hooked fangs, had pestilential smoke for breath and sulphurous sparks coming from its eyes. It whistled and roared horribly, and the mere infection of its breath was lethal. It lived along with other serpents.

The people of Nerluc entreated Martha to deliver them from this menace, so the saintly woman entered the woods in search of the Tarasque. She found the dragon halfway through eating a man. Far from being intimidated, she sprinkled the Tarasque with holy water and brandished a cross, whereupon the dragon came to her as peacefully as a lamb. Martha leashed it with her belt and delivered it to the people, who avenged themselves by tearing the Tarasque apart with lances and stones. Subsequently Saint Martha preached and converted the townsfolk to Christianity. Some modern retellings claim that the people came to regret the killing of a now-harmless creature, but there is no mention of this in the texts.

It was from then on that Nerluc became known as Tarascon, in honor of the dragon defeated by Saint Martha and the power of Christ. However, there is no indication that Tarascon was ever called Nerluc; it is more likely that the story of Saint Martha was attached to a local tradition involving the Tarasque as a symbol of fertility or destructive floods. The description in the Pseudo-Marcellus reads like an overview of the effigy, and the multiple feet brings to mind the feet of people holding and moving the dragon.

The effigy of the Tarasque has made its appearance on the streets of Tarascon on multiple occasions, including on Pentecost and on the feast day of Saint Martha (July 29th). In the former it is wild and untamed, breathing fire; in the latter it is tame, chastened, held on a leash by a little girl. Its manifestations are accompanied by celebration, games and music, including the traditional chant:

Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco, Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco de castéu!

Laissas la passa, la viéio masco

Laissas la passa, que vai dansa

Leissas la dounc passa, la viéio masco!

(“Lagadigadèu, the Tarasque, Lagadigadèu, the Tarasque of the castle!

Let her pass, the old mask

Let her pass, she’s going to dance

Let her pass then, the old mask!”)

In this case, lagadigadèu is an untranslatable expression, a sort of Tarasconian war-cry, a musical tally-ho.

The Tarasca, a dragon effigy paraded in Spanish cities during Corpus Christi celebrations, is a direct descendant of the Tarasque.

References

Dumont, L. (1951) La Tarasque. Gallimard, Paris.

Mistral, F.; Berthier, A. trans. (1862) Les Fetes de la Tarasque. M. E. Drujon, Tarascon.

Tilbury, G.; Banks, S. E. and Binns, J. W. (eds.) (2002) Otia Imperialia. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Véran, J. (1868) Histoire de la Vie et du Culte de Sainte Marthe. Seguin Ainé, Avignon.

Very, F. G. (1962) The Spanish Corpus Christi Procession: A Literary and Folkloric Study. Tipografia Moderna, Valencia.

Voragine, J. (2004) La Légende Dorée. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris.

Mazacoatl

mazacoatl

The Mazacoatl, “deer snake”, is a great serpent that lives in caves on steep mountains and cliffs. It has antlers on its head and a rattle on its tail. It never leaves its lair, as it can draw in with its breath rabbits, deer, and humans alike.

References

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