Cathach

Variations: Cáthach

Cathach

Ireland’s three dragon sisters Dabran, Farbagh, and Cathach were the offspring of the gatekeeper of Hell and the all-devouring sow; they were nursed by the red demon of West Ireland. Cathach, the youngest of the three, made her home on Inis Cathaig (now Scattery Island).

A horrible sight she was to see, a great dragon bigger a small isle, with a back like a round island covered with scales and shells. A rough bristly mane like a boar’s covered her foreparts. When she opened her cavernous mouth filled with a double row of sharp teeth, her entrails could be seen. A cruel eye gleamed in her head. Her body stood on two short, thick, hairy legs armed with iron nails that struck sparks on the rocks as she moved. Her belly was like a furnace. The tail of a whale she had, a tail with iron claws on it that ploughed furrows in the ground behind her. Cathach could move on land and swim with equal ease, and the sea boiled around her.

Dabran and Farbagh were both slain by Crohan, Sal, and Daltheen, the three sons of Toraliv M’Stairn. When Cathach sensed the loss of her siblings, she went on a rampage, laying waste to the lands around the Shannon Estuary from Limerick to the sea, sinking ships and paralyzing commerce for a year. When the three brothers returned and saw the destruction wreaked by Cathach, they were so distraught that they flung themselves into the sea to their deaths.

Cathach herself was defeated by a far more humble and unassuming hero. When Saint Senan made landfall on Inis Cathaig, Cathach prepared to devour him whole. But the holy man made the sign of the cross in front of her face, and she was quieted. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, leave this island, and hurt no one here or wherever you leave to”. And Cathach did as she was told. She disappeared into the estuary and went to Sliab Collain without harming anyone; and if she is still alive, she has remained obedient to Senan’s command.

The ruins of the church of Saint Senan can still be seen to this day on Scattery Island.

References

Hackett, W. (1852) Folk-lore – No. I. Porcine Legends. Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 2(1), pp.

O’Donovan, J. (1864) The Martyrology of Donegal. Alexander Thom, Dublin.

Stokes, W. S. (1890) Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Stokes, W. (1905) The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee. Harrison and Sons, London.

Watts, A. A. (1828) The Literary Souvenir. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, London.

Famocantratra

Variations: Famocantraton (Dapper)

Famocantratra

The Famocantratra (as Flacourt describes it) or Famocantraton (in Dapper and subsequent works) is a small lizardlike animal found in Madagascar. Its name means “leaper at the chest”.

The famocantratra’s back, chin, and top of its neck, legs, and tail are made of small paws or claws which allow it to adhere to trees like glue. It is almost impossible to see as it sticks to trunks. Its mouth is always open to capture insects and other small invertebrates.

It will leap onto the chest of anyone who passes by, and it holds on so fast that the skin has to be sliced off with a razor. For this reason it is feared and avoided by the natives of Madagascar.

References

Dapper, O. (1686) Description de l’Afrique. Wolfgang, Waesberge, Boom, & van Someren, Amsterdam.

de Flacourt, E. (1661) Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Francois Clouzier, Paris.

Come-at-a-body

Variations: Quadrupes improvisus (Tryon)

Come-at-a-body

Bravado and surprise are the weapons of the terrifying Come-at-a-body, a native of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. According to a Mr. B. B. Bickford of Gorham, NH, this is a small, woodchuck-like animal with soft velvety fur like a kitten’s. It runs directly at unsuspecting passers-by from out of the brush and comes to a sudden halt a few inches away from its startled quarry. Then the come-at-a-body spits like a cat, emits a mink-like stench, and runs away again.

References

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Bès

Variations: Hantu (Malay)

The Bès are the evil spirits of the Jah Hut, an Orang Asli people from peninsular Malaysia. They are true spirits, existing independently and not emerging from humans alive or dead. The vast majority of bès, or hantu as they are known in Malay, are malevolent beings associated with disease. Far less numerous than the bès are the jin (underground spirits), nabi (guardian spirits), and kemoch (spirits of the dead).

All the bès were created along with ‘iblis, the evil one, by Proman, God’s assistant, who botched the creation of the first man. Their great stronghold is a Pauh Janggi Bringin Sungsang, a “Giant Mango Tree Entwined by a Strangler Fig”, that stands beyond the ocean. From there they sally forth to cause all kinds of trouble. God allows it because the bès keep the world in balance, taking life that others may in turn live.

Sickness is caused by the influence of the bès. This usually happens by night – while we sleep, our soul leaves our body and wanders in the jungle. A bès who finds that soul will prevent it from returning, and the owner of the soul will fall ill.

Healing is the duty of the puyang or medicine man. It is their job to locate the missing soul and return it with the help of the good spirits, otherwise their charge will die. The běni’sòy ceremony is used in those cases. It involves drawing the evil spirits out of the body and transferring them into a palm leaf bundle brushed over the skin. Once the bès is trapped, the bundle can be safely disposed of.

Spiritual wood carvings of the bès in question are made to help draw the evil spirit out. These carvings establish an iconography for the bès and allow us to see them as the Jah Hut do.

References

Teoh, B. S. (1986) Bes Hyang Dney: A Jah Hut Myth of Peninsular Malaysia. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 59(2), pp. 139-144.

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Celestial Stag

Variations: Celestial Roe

Celestial Stag

Celestial Stags or Celestial Roes are neither roe stags nor are they celestial. They are Chinese spirits that haunt deep areas, corpse-demons native to the ore mines of Yunnan province. As with numerous other creatures, their name is probably phonetically derived.

Celestial stags are born from the souls of miners unfortunate enough to be trapped deep underground by cave-ins. There the trapped miners are kept alive by the breath of the earth and of the rare metals around them. Their material substance dies and rots away, but their essences cling to life and become celestial stags.

Perhaps because of this traumatic genesis, the primary goal of a celestial stag is to reach the surface. The stag will do anything it can to reach this goal. When a celestial stag meets a miner it is overjoyed and asks for tobacco. Then it begs the miner to take it to the surface. Stags will try to bribe miners by promising them the choicest veins of gold and silver. If this fails they become violent and torture miners to death.

But worse yet is the outcome if their wishes are granted. A celestial stag that reaches the open air dissolves – flesh, bones, clothes, and all – into a pestilential liquid that spreads disease and death.

The only way to escape these creatures is to kill them before they can do harm. If celestial stags are discovered, miners will wall them up in abandoned galleries. Another way out is to promise to haul the stags to the surface in a bamboo lift. Halfway up the rope is cut and the stags plummet to their death – a merciful end to their grim lives.

Borges attributes his account of the celestial stag to G. Willoughby Meade’s Chinese Ghouls and Goblins.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

De Groot, J. J. M. (1907) The Religious System of China, Volume V, Book II – On the Soul and Ancestral Worship. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Liqimsa

Variations: Dhuga

Liqimsa

The Borana Oromo people of Ethiopia were once in thrall to the Liqimsa, “swallowers”. These were two vile man-eating monsters that looked like elephants, and they demanded a daily tribute of human flesh.

At this rate, the Borana knew they would be exterminated before long. Some fled their tormentors, settling in different areas and starting new lineages. Others went south, but the liqimsa followed them and swallowed them all.

Only thirty warriors survived and took refuge on the Namdur hill. Among those were two brothers – the elder was known for his cunning, and the younger renowned for his courage.

The older of the brothers faced the liqimsa and announced “By the grace of Waaqa, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will become immortal!” The two monsters began to argue, then fight, each claiming to more deserving of the gift of immortality. Soon they were uprooting trees and bludgeoning each other in their fury. This was the perfect opportunity for the younger brother to seize two lances, heat their points in fire, and run the monsters through their bellies.

With the liqimsa dead the Borana were free to repopulate and recolonize the areas they had lost, as well as conquer new regions and drive out their inhabitants.

Huntingford saw the legend of the liqimsa as a mythologizing of a historical event – namely, a series of military defeats inflicted by the Sidama people on the Borana.

The tale of Dhuga is probably derived from the liqimsa. Dhuga (“he drinks”) was bigger than an elephant and as tall as the Mega escarpment. A man would be sacrificed to him every day as food. This ended when a passing stranger released Dhuga’s current victim and attacked the monster while it was rolling in the dust to scratch its back and remove parasites. The stranger ran Dhuga’s belly through with a lance whose tip had been heated red-hot in fire, and that was the end of the monster.

References

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

Huntingford, G. W. B. (1955) The Galla of Ethiopia – The Kingdoms of Kafa and Janjero. International African Institute, London.