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.

Agropelter

Variations: Anthrocephalus craniofractens (Cox), Brachiipotentes craniofractans (Tryon), Argopelter (erroneously), Widow-maker

Agropelters are violent and aggressive critters found in lumberwoods from Maine to Oregon. Injury and death blamed on freak falling branches are always the work of an agropelter, who hates lumberjacks for their invasion of its territory.

Our only description of an agropelter comes from Big Ole Kittleson, who survived an agropelter attack long enough to see the creature escape. An agropelter has the villainous face of an ape on a sinewy little body, with incredibly powerful arms like organic whips.

Agropelters use the prodigious strength of their arms to break off and fling branches. They always pelt with pinpoint accuracy, smashing or impaling their victims. Big Ole Kittleson was fortunate enough to be pelted with a rotten branch that crumbled upon impact.

Apart from their murderous activities, agropelters are highly agile climbers and brachiators, and make their home in trees by eating and hollowing out the center of a dead tree. Pups are born on February 29 and always in odd numbers. Agropelters subsist on a diet of owls and woodpeckers. As these birds are sadly being exterminated, the agropelters are getting scarce.

References

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

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

Aderyn y Corph

Variations: Aderyn y Corff, Aderyn y Cyrff, Corpse-bird

Aderyn y Corph

The Aderyn y Corph or corpse-bird chirps at the door of a dying person in Wales. Its call is dewch, dewch (“come, come”). It has no feathers or wings and can soar easily without them. When not presaging death it lives in the land of illusion and fantasy.

It is a variant of the screech owl whose call portends death. Aderyn y corph is also Welsh for the screech owl or brown owl.

References

Evan, D. S. (1858) An English and Welsh Dictionary. Thomas Gee, Denbigh.

Sikes, W. (1880) British Goblins. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London.

Amhuluk

Variations: Amhúluk; Atunkai, Atúnkai (associated)

amhuluk

Amhuluk is a creature associated with drowning, disease, and the malarial fog that rises from the water’s surface. The Kalapuya of the Willamette River locate the Amhuluk in a lake near Forked Mountain, fifteen miles west of Forest Grove in northwestern Oregon. He originally wanted to inhabit the Atfalati plains but eventually went into the more comfortable lake. There he settled and indulged his passion – drowning others.

Amhuluk is terrible to see. He is spotted, with long spotted horns on his head, and his four legs are hairless. Various items are tied to his body so they can be carried around. He keeps several spotted dogs. Wherever he steps, the ground sinks and softens.

Everything Amhuluk sees is captured and drowned in his lake. Even the trees around the lake have their crowns upside-down around the lake, and the sky itself is drowned in the muddy water. The banks of the lake are slimy and boggy, trapping all manner of animals. Grizzly bears instinctively enter the lake when they grow old, and are changed into other beasts. The Atúnkai, an otter or seal-like water creature, is the usual product of this metamorphosis.

Three children once went out in search of adsadsh-root. There, at Forked Mountain, they met Amhuluk rising out of the ground, and marveled at his beautiful spotted horns. “Let’s take the horns”, they said, “and make digging tools out of them”. But Amhuluk impaled and lifted up two of the children on his horns while the eldest boy escaped. The child returned home in terror. “Something horrible has taken my brother and sister”, he told his father. Then he slept, and his parents could see that his body was covered in blotches. The father went out, retracing his children’s steps to the Forked Mountain. There the bodies of his children appeared out of the fog rising on the water. They were still impaled on Amhuluk’s horns, and they cried “Didei, didei, didei” (“we have changed bodies”). Five times they rose and spoke, and five times their father wailed mournfully. For five days he waited, camping near the lake and mourning his children, and each of those days they appeared, repeating their sad litany – “Didei, didei, didei”. Then they sank under the surface and were never seen again. Amhuluk had claimed them for his own.

References

Gatschet, A. S. (1888) A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, v. II. R. P. Studley & Co., St. Louis.

Gatschet, A. S. (1891) Oregonian Folklore. Journal of American Folk-lore, v. IV, pp. 139-143.

Gatschet, A. S. (1899) Water-monsters of American Aborigines. Journal of American Folk-lore, v. 12, pp. 255-260.

Skinner, C. M. (1896) Myths and Legends of our Own Lands, v. II. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Abaia

Abaia

There is a lake in British New Guinea. It is deep and full of fish, and Abaia, the magic eel, dwells at the bottom. Abaia does not like to be disturbed. Like many snakes and eels in Melanesian beliefs, it is closely associated with weather, storms, and floods.

Once a man found Abaia’s lake and caught many fish. Then he invited the other inhabitants of his village to share in the endless bounty. They too filled their nets, and one woman caught Abaia himself, but the eel managed to escape.

In retaliation for this affront, Abaia caused it to rain that night. The lake water rose and everyone drowned – everyone, save for one old woman who sought refuge in a tree. She was the only one who had not eaten any of the fish.

References

Dixon, R. B. (1916) The Mythology of All Races v. IX: Oceanic. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

Ambisiangulo

Variations: Ambize Angulo, Negulla Omasa; Pezze-Mouller, Piexe Molhar (Portuguese), Meermin (Dutch), Sirene (French), Hog-fish, Ambize (erroneously), Angulo (erroneously)

Ambisiangulo

The travelers’ accounts of Purchas and Dapper include the unlikely Ambize Angulo or Ambisiangulo. This creature can be found in several bodies of water, including the Quansa and Zaire Rivers and a number of lakes in the Congo and Angola. Its name is derived from the Kikongo mbisi (“fish”) and ngulu (“pig”); here, preference has been given to Dapper’s name, as it is closer to the original words. It is also known as Pesiengoni, Pezze-Mouller, Meermin, and Sirene in various languages, several translating to “mermaid”.

Mermaid or not, an ambisiangulo is a homely creature. Tipping the scales at 500 pounds, it measures eight feet long and four feet wide, and is a uniform dull grey-brown. The females have a pair of teats and the males have a horse’s member, but they are otherwise indistinguishable. The forehead is high, the head and eyes oval, the mouh large but chinless, the ears reduced to thin, flat skin. The ambisiangulo’s two arms are short, and end in fingers that are long, and triple-jointed like those of humans – but they cannot be flexed. The tail is rounded and shaped like a target.

Ambisiangulos feed on grass growing on the sides of rivers, and never leave the water. Purchas claimed that an ambisiangulo hunt was perilous, but Dapper describes a far more leisurely approach. The ambisiangulos are easily captured and slain with barbed harpoons, despite the lugubrious, eerily human cries of pain they emit. An injured ambisiangulo is allowed to escape, as its slow flight can be followed in a canoe. The flesh is fatty and tastes of pork, earning it its common name. The ear bones cure malaria, and the powdered skull of male ambisiangulos is a remedy against kidney stones. The ribs on the animal’s left side can be prepared into blood-staunching bracelets and protective amulets.

References

Dapper, O. (1676) Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche Gewesten. Jacob van Meurs, Amsterdam.

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

Etambala, M. Z. La faune du Royaume de Congo et de l’Angola dans les récits de voyage et les journaux missionnaires de la fin du XVIe et du XVIIe siècle. In Stols, E.; Werner, T.; and Verberckmoes, J. (2006) Naturalia, Mirabilia & Monstrosa en los Imperios Ibéricos (Siglos XV-XIX). Leuven University Press, Leuven.

Marsy, F. M. (1764) Histoire moderne des chinois, des japonnois, des indiens, des persans, des turcs, des russiens etc. Tome douzieme: histoire des africains occidentaux. Desaint & Saillant, Paris.

Purchas, S. (1626) Purchas His Pilgrimage: or Relations of the World and the Religions observed in all Ages and Places discovered, from the Creation unto this Present. William Stansby, London.

Swan, J. (1643) Speculum Mundi. Roger Daniel, Cambridge.

Apshait

Variations: Apsai, Apshai

Apshait

The XXXVIth chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead refers to the corpse-gnawing beetle Apshait. In typical apotropaic gestures, the soul of the deceased threatens the apshait with a knife, and runs it through with a spear.

The apshait may have originated in carrion beetles found in the bandages and bodies of poorly-prepared mummies. Later texts confuse the apshait with the tortoise, which dies as Ra lives.

References

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

Budge, E. A. W. (2016) The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Dover Publications Inc., New York.