Ajaju

The Ajaju was the terror of the Garo people of Achik Asong and Dura Hill in the Garo Hills of India. Nowadays members of this carnivorous species are a lot harder to find.

An ajaju looks like a chameleon with long kneeless legs. Its head may be like a human head or a chameleon’s head in appearance. It has twelve long, sharp, forked tongues that are very flexible and which it uses to lick up its prey’s flesh and blood.

The kneeless legs of an ajaju are like bamboo stalks without nodes. In the trees an ajaju can swing from branch to branch with ease, but movement on land is a lot harder. Chasing someone downhill is virtually impossible for an ajaju, but anyone running uphill would be immediately caught by the creature’s long sickle-like tongues, swallowed, and stripped of flesh and blood by the tongues. Then there would be nothing left save a few bones for the ajaju to spit out with distaste.

To attract prey an ajaju will call out in a shrill voice, “wa-o, wa-o, wa-o”. If someone responds, the ajaju will continue calling, coming nearer and nearer each time. That is why, if venturing into ajaju territory, one must call out in a high-pitched voice. If the ajaju responds, then one must remain silent and focus on putting as much distance as possible between them and the creature.

Ajaju parts are of great medicinal value, including as a substitute for missing bones when resurrecting someone. One narrator claimed to be in possession of ajaju parts from Rongkugiri, taken when a couple of ajajus were killed decades ago.

References

Rongmuthu, D. S. (1960) The Folk-tales of the Garos. University of Gauhati Department of Publication, Guwahati.

Akhekh

Variations: Ākhekh

As an incarnation or ally of the god Set, the Akhekh is associated with darkness and water (both elements of chaos). Pierret gives it an eagle’s head on a winged lion’s body; Budge specifies that it is an antelope with two wings on its back, and the head of a bird crowned with three uraei – the cobras on Pharaonic headdresses.

The akhekh is a symbol of terror, but the uraei also connect it to the power of the Pharaoh. Ramesses II was described as being an akhekh to his Hittite enemies. The Metternich stele shows a king in a chariot drawn by an akhekh galloping over two crocodiles.

References

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

Pierret, P. (1875) Dictionnaire d’archéologie égyptienne. Imprimerie Nationale, Paris.

Ayotochtli

Variations: Aiotochth, Aiochtochth, Armato, Contexto, Tatus

Ayotochtli, “tortoise-rabbit”, is Nahuatl for armadillo. Two somewhat mangled forms of the word appears in Topsell’s work.

Topsell attributes the description of the Aiochtochth or Aiotochth (also known in Spanish as Armato and Contexto) to Cardanus. It is found in Mexico, near the Alvaradus River. An aiotochth is no bigger than a cat and has the snout of a mallard, the feet of a hedgehog, and a very long neck. It is covered by a segmented, lobster-like shell resembling the trappings of a horse. It protects itself with that shell such that neither its head nor neck are clearly visible, with only the ears sticking out. Some of these creatures were brought back to London gardens where they were put to use destroying worms.

The entry for the aiochtochth immediately follows that of the Tatus or Armadillo, and Topsell claims they are comparable.

References

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

Tylor, E. B. (1861) Anahuac, or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern. Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, London.

Amixsak

According to Spencer, the term amixsak refers to any skin covering, such as the covering of an umiak or kayak. A modern Yupik dictionary gives amiq as meaning “skin” and amirkaq as a sealskin ready for use; the latter may be a more correct term.

When hunting a walrus, it is traditional to butcher the carcass on the ice and take as much as possible back home. If any amount of meat and skin has to be abandoned, the carcass must be given fresh water to drink and the skin must be dissected. If the skin is left behind on the ice, it will sink and become an amixsak, a vengeful monster. An amixsak will come up under an umiak, reach its flippers over the gunwales, and pull the boat under.

Removing the skin covering the flippers on a carcass prevents this danger.

References

Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Spencer, R. F. (1959) The North Alaskan Eskimo; a study in ecology and society. United States Government Printing Office, Washington.

Asp

Variations: Aspic, Aspis, Egyptian Asp, Egyptian Cobra, Egyptian Viper, Aspic Viper, Chersaiai, Chelidoniai, Hypnalis, Ptuades; Akschub, Pethen, Zipheoni (Hebrew); Plasyos, Hascos (Arabic); Aspe, Aspide (Italian); Bivora (Spanish); Schlang Gennant (German)

The Asp was the first snake to be born from Medusa’s blood, and it has the most poison in its body of any snake. As such it has garnered a fearsome reputation in classical sources. When speaking of the asp it is important to differentiate between the Egyptian cobra, the aspic viper, and the asp of legend, which is both and more besides. It is never clear exactly what the asp in ancient literature is supposed to be; indeed, it is best regarded as a composite of all that was feared in venomous snakes.

According to Topsell’s reference to Aristophanes, the name is derived from an intensive of spizo, “to extend”. It is also the name of a shield, an island in the Lycian Sea, and an African mountain, among other things.

Lucan gives the asp pride of place in his catalogue of snakes, but it is not described killing in gruesome detail. The reference to a “crest” and a “swelling neck” suggests a cobra.

Nicander says that the asp can grow up to a fathom (about 1.8 meters) long. It has four fangs and two tuloi (“cushions” or “mats”) over its forehead. It rears its body up from a coiled position, and its bite causes painless death.

Philoumenos specifies three types of asp. The chersaiai (“terrestrial”), Egyptian asp, or Egyptian cobra is 3 to 4 cubits long and pale grey, black, or red in color. There are three rows of black-bordered rufous spots on its back that join to form a zigzag band towards the tail. The chelidoniai (“swallow-colored”), asp viper, or water asp is smaller, 1 cubit in length, mottled with chestnut markings on a light brown background. There are reddish stripes on the head. The ptuades (“spitters”) or spitting cobras are 3 feet long and are grey, green, or gold in color. To that may be added the Hypnalis, so called because it sends its victims to eternal sleep.

Asps themselves are preyed upon by ichneumons, who coat themselves in an armor of dried mud. The asp can still win the battle by biting the unprotected nose. Ichneumons also eat asp eggs.

Asps are highly common in Egypt, and are regarded as the sacred snake of the Pharaohs. Pharaonic crowns show the asp to represent the king’s power. It is likely this is the snake Cleopatra used to kill herself.

The primary reference to the asp in Christian symbolism is Psalm 58. Asps have poor eyesight and will stop up their ears to avoid being charmed. To prevent themselves from hearing the music of charmers they close one ear with their tail and press the other to the ground. Thus they represent those who reject the message of God by stopping up their ears.

Not all asps are irredeemably bad. One female asp fell in love with an Egyptian boy, warning him of danger and keeping watch over him.

While very venomous, asp bites are sometimes nonlethal. The venom spreads rapidly to the core of the body. Typical symptoms include suffocation, convulsions, and retching. It can cause blindness by breathing in a victim’s eyes.

Aelian believed the bite of the asp to be beyond curing. He also contradicts himself by saying that the asp’s bite can be cured through excision or cautery. Pompeius Rufus supposedly tried to prove that an asp’s venom could be sucked out and neutralized, and had an asp bite him on the arm to make his point. He died because someone took away the water he would have used to rinse out his mouth.

Topsell denied allegations that asp bites were incurable. He suggests cutting into the flesh at the bite and drawing out the venom with cupping-glasses or reeds. Rue, centaury, myrrh, and sorrel, opium, butter, yew leaves, treacle and salt, induced vomiting, garlic and stale ale, aniseed, and a number of other remedies are prescribed.

As with all snakes, asps are frequently given legs and dragon’s features in medieval illustrations. A creature with its ear stopped up is unquestionably an asp. In Romanesque sculpture it appears as a dragon with a crest or mane; the asp from the Saint-Sauveur church of Nevers is a sort of six-legged lizard with a flattened head and a mane running the length of its body.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. I. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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

Anfray, M. (1951) L’architecture religieuse du Nivernais au Moyen Age. Editions A. et J. Picard et Cie., Paris.

Braun, S. (2003) Le Symbolisme du Bestiaire Médiéval Sculpté. Dossier de l’art hors-série no. 103, Editions Faton, Dijon.

Druce, G. C. (1914) Animals in English Wood Carving. The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, pp. 57-73.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Macloc, J. (1820) A Natural History of all the Most Remarkable Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Serpents, Reptiles, and Insects in the Known World. Dean and Munday, London.

Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

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

Arassas

Arassas

The Arassas hails from the folklore of Lagrand in the Hautes-Alpes region of France. It is a greyish-colored animal with the head of a cat and the body of a lizard. It lives in ruined houses and old crumbling walls. Its gaze kills immediately.

Like other European mountain dragons, it is likely derived from superstitions about otters and martens.

References

van Gennep, A. (1948) Le folklore des Hautes-Alpes, Tome II. J. P. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Angont

Angont

According to the Huron, the Angont is the source of death, disease, and all the misfortunes of the world. It is a monstrous snake that lives in a number of dark and secluded areas, including lakes, rivers, deep woods, under rocks, and in caves.

When sorcerers wish to kill someone, they rub items – hair, splinters, animal claws, wheat leaves, and so on – with angont flesh. Any such object becomes malevolent, penetrating deep into a victim’s vitals down to bone marrow, and bringing with it agonizing pain and sickness that eventually consumes and kills its host. Only the discovery and removal of the cursed object can prevent and cure this.

References

Vimont, B. (1858) Relations des Jésuites, v. II. Augustin Coté, Quebec.

Akampeshimpeshi

Variations: Lightning

Akampeshimpeshi

According to the Lamba people of Zambia, there is a great lake of water above the dome of the sky. This lake is held back by a weir protected by guardians appointed by Lesa (God). Sometimes Lesa appoints children to guard it, and their irresponsible playing makes holes in the weir and allow the water to spill to earth as rain. When Lesa appoints grown men to guard the weir, then there is no rain.

Lightning (akampeshimpeshi) is caused by the guardians of the weir swinging and tossing their knives (imyele). The knives do not fall – if they did, the earth would be destroyed.

When a flash of lightning hits the ground, an animal descends to the ground on the end of a long cobweb. It looks like a goat, with beard and horns, but has the feet and tail of a crocodile. Usually it returns to the sky on its string of web; if the cobweb breaks, the animal will be trapped on the ground and cry like a goat. In this state it is very dangerous and might kill people, so it is mobbed, killed, and burned by the Lambas. Anyone trying to slay this beast must have protective medicine (ubwanga bwayamba) to avoid being killed themselves.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

Anaye

Variations: Alien Gods; Bil, Binaye Ahani, Ditsi’n, Hakaz Estsán, San, Sasnalkahi, Teelget, Tiein, Tse’nagahi, Tsenahale, Tsetahotsiltali, Ya’, Yeitso, and others

The Anaye or “Alien Gods” are a group of ancient monsters who plagued the Navajo. They were born as a result of a grand social experiment – the separation of the sexes. Early on in the history of humanity, men and women quarreled often. They tried living apart for a while, but boredom and starvation eventually reunited them.

It was not without repercussions. The women who had been separated from the men resorted to various implements to relieve their sexual frustration. The Anaye were “fathered” by those unnatural acts, and their parentage was expressed in various ways. Yeitso, who was “fathered” by a stone, had flint armor; the horned Teelget’s “father” was an antler; the Tsenahale inherited their avian nature from a pile of feathers; and the limbless Binaye Ahani came from a sour cactus.

Each of the Anaye was born and abandoned by their horrified mothers, but survived long enough to become a threat. They ravaged the land, killing and eating as they pleased.

The Anaye reign of terror was brought to an end by the hero twins Nayenezgani, “Slayer of Alien Gods”, and To’badzistsini, “Child of Water”. They were the sons of Tsohanoai the Sun-carrier by Estsanatlehi, “Changing Woman”, and Yolkai’ Estsan, “White Shell Woman”, respectively.

The hero twins grew up rapidly and soon decided to find their father and their purpose. Along the way they met Spider Woman, who gifted them with a calming incantation and life-feathers that would protect them in the direst of circumstances. From Spider Woman’s house they passed through a series of environmental hazards. These included Tse’yeinti’li, the “Rocks that Crush”, a narrow chasm that would clap shut and kill travelers; Lokaadikisi, the “Cutting Reeds” with knifelike leaves; Xoc Detsahi the “Needle Cactus”, a field of animate cacti with vicious spines; Saitád the “Seething Sands”, mountainous dunes that engulfed climbers; and Totsozi the “Spreading Stream” that would widen itself to drown swimmers. Each of those malevolent terrain features were outwitted and subdued into turn.

When the twins reached Tsohanoai’s house they came face to face with two bear guardians, but Spider Woman’s sacred words calmed them. They did the same with two guardian snakes, two guardian winds, and two guardian lightnings, appeasing each in turn. Once inside the twins were hidden by Tsohanoai’s attendants in the four coverings of the sky to await their father.

Tsohanoai’s arrival was tempestuous. “Who are the two who entered today?” he bellowed. But the sun-carrier’s wife responded craftily. “Who are you to speak? Two youths came here looking for their father. If you see nobody but me, whose sons are these?” In a rage, Tsohanoai seized the bundle of robes and shook them out – the robe of the dawn, the robe of blue sky, the robe of yellow evening light, the robe of darkness – and the twins came tumbling out. He threw them against spikes of white shell in the East, spikes of turquoise in the South, spikes of haliotis in the West, and spikes of black rock in the North, and throughout it all they clung to Spider Woman’s feathers and were unharmed.

“I wish those were indeed my children”, sighed Tsohanoai. From then on he came to recognize his sons, and aided them in their quest to rid the world of the Anaye. After slaying their first Anaye, the titanic Yeitso, Tobadzistsini returned home to care for his and his brother’s mothers. But Nayenezgani earned his name that day, and went on to slay the remainder of the great Anaye. After Yeitso, Nayenezgani killed the carnivorous elk Teelget, the Tsenahale birds of prey, the kicking monster Tsetahotsiltali, the Binaye Ahani and their lethal gaze, Sasnalkahi the tracking bear, and many more besides.

But not all of the Anaye were killed. Tse’nagahi, the “Traveling Stone”, was spared after it swore to do no more evil. There was also a number of minor Anaye still in hiding – wretched, lonely, threadbare creatures that inspired pity rather than fear. Each of them managed to convince Nayenezgani of its importance in the scheme of things.

When Nayenezgani went to find San (Old Age), he found a wizened old woman, white-haired, bent and wrinkled. “I have come on a cruel errand, grandmother. I am here to kill you”, he said apologetically. “Why would you kill me?” she said weakly. “I have never harmed a single person. If you kill me then the human race will stand still. Boys will not become fathers. The old will not die and make room for the young. If you spare me I will help you increase the people”. So Nayenezgani spared San.

Then he set out to find Hakaz Estsán (Cold Woman). She lived on the highest peaks where snow lies on the ground all year. She was an old woman, lean, naked, shivering from head to toe, teeth chattering, eyes streaming constantly, with only snow-buntings for company. “Grandmother, I shall be a cruel man and kill you, that men may no longer die of cold”, he told her. “Kill me if you must”, chattered Hakaz Estsán. “But without me it will be permanently hot. The land will become dry. Water will disappear, and the people will perish in turn”. So Nayenezgani spared her as well.

Next was Tiein (Poverty). This was not one but two creatures, an old man and an old woman, both clad in filthy tattered rags and crouching in an empty house. “Grandmother, grandfather, I shall be a cruel man, for I am here to kill you” he stated. “Do not kill us”, said the old man. “Without us nothing would change, everything would be static. But we make clothing wear out and make people go out and fashion new and beautiful clothes. Let us live that people may continue making new things”. So Nayenezgani spared the couple.

Then there was Ditsi’n (Hunger). This was the chief of the Hunger People, and he was a massive, obese man with nothing to eat but the little brown cactus. “I shall be cruel”, announced Nayenezgani, “and kill you that people may no longer suffer of hunger”. But Ditsi’n said “Do not kill us, for without us, people would not care about food, they would not cook and prepare meals, they would lose the pleasures of hunting and cooking”. And they were spared as well.

Of the other minor Anaye less is told. We know that Ya’ (Louse) pleaded for its life, arguing that its presence taught compassion, that people would ask their friends to groom them, and so it was spared. As for Bil (Sleep), it made its case in a more direct (and humiliating) manner – by touching Nayenezgani with his finger and sending the hero into a blissful slumber.

Only then, when Nayenezgani had returned from sparing the last of the minor Anaye, did he and his brother rest. They went to the valley of the San Juan River, and they dwell there to this day.

References

Alexander, H. B. (1916) The Mythology of All Races v. X: North American. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.

Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.

O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.

Aspidochelone

Variations: Aspido-chelone, Aspidochelon, Aspidocalon, Aspidoceleon, Aspidodeleon, Aspidodelone, Aspischelone, Aspido-tortoise, Asp-tortoise, Asp-turtle, Fastitocalon, Shield-tortoise, Sea-monster, Sea-tortoise, Sea-turtle, Sulhafat, Turtle

Aspidochelone

The motif of the island-turtle or island-whale is one of the most common and pervasive of maritime yarns. Whether it is a turtle, a whale, a fish, or a crab, the story is the same. A great sea creature raises its back out of the water. Sea-sand and vegetation gather in on its rough back, until it looks like a small island. Sailors anchor their ship to the deceptive “island”, disembark, and light a fire. The monster, feeling the fire on its back, immediately dives, taking the sailors and their ship down to a watery grave.

Prototypes of the gigantic fish are in the Indian Zend-Avesta, the supposed 3rd-Century letter of Aristotle to Alexander, and the Babylonian Talmud composed around CE 257-320.

The monster in al-Jahiz’s account is a crab (saratan) – surely confusion with the similarly shelled turtle? In al-Qazwini’s entry on the turtle (sulhafat), he distinguishes between the terrestrial tortoise and the sea turtle. The sea turtle is of great size, and sailors believe it to be an island in the middle of the sea, landing on it and lighting a fire until the turtle stirs, whereupon those aboard the ship call out “Come back, for it is a turtle that felt the heat of the fire, come back that you may not go down with it!” Sindbad the Sailor encountered this creature in his first Voyage, but managed to escape with his life.

The Account repeated in the Physiologus and bestiaries such as the Exeter Book, and the monster is identified with the whale that swallowed Jonah. The original Greek versions of the bestiary talk of the Aspidochelone – a name of uncertain etymology. Chelone refers to a turtle or tortoise, but aspido has been assumed to mean “shield” or “asp” (as in, the snake). The “shield” origin may stem from the turtle’s shell, but it seems like a redundant descriptor for a turtle. Another possibility is that the turtle was originally more of a serpent, or that this is a reference to the aspidochelone’s evil.

Whatever the meaning, the name aspidochelone became corrupted over time to become the “fastitocalon”, and the turtle supplanted with the more familiar whale (although the description of a rough back sounds more like a turtle’s shell).

The Physiologus or Bestiary adds further moralizing elements to the story. The aspidochelone will exhale a pleasant odor from its mouth, attracting fish that are then swallowed. Thus the aspidochelone is an allegory for Satan. Sinners who anchor themselves to the Devil are doomed to go to Hell, and sinful pleasures are enticing as perfume.

The aspidochelone entry is preceded by the panther entry. Both use fragrant breath to attract other animals, but the aspidochelone is evil while the panther is an allegory for Christ. The juxtaposition is probably intentional. The fragrant smell of the aspidochelone may also be derived from the odorous cetacean substance known as ambergris.

Aspidochelones are minor subjects in medieval woodcarvings, visible at Kidlington, Great Grandsden, Isleham, Swaffham Bulbeck, and Norwich Cathedral. They can be distinguished by the presence of ships and cooking-pots on their back, or with their mouths open to attract fish.

References

Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

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

Cook, A. S. (1821) The Old English Physiologus. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Cook, A. S. (1894) The Old English ‘Whale’. Modern Language Notes, 9(3), pp. 65-68.

Curley, M. J. (1979) Physiologus. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Druce, G. C. (1914) Animals in English Wood Carving. The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, pp. 57-73.

Gordon, R. K. (1957) Anglo-Saxon Poetry. J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

Iannello, F. (2011) Il motive dell’aspidochelone nella tradizione letteraria del Physiologus. Considerazioni esegetiche e storico-religiose. Nova Tellus 29(2), pp. 151-200.

Al-Jahiz, A. (1966) Kitab al-Hayawan. Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Awladihi, Egypt.

Al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Wiener, L. (1921) Contributions toward a history of Arabico-Gothic culture, volume IV: Physiologus studies. Innes and Sons, Philadelphia.