Xicalcoatl

Variations: Jicara Snake, Chocolate Cup Snake, Malinche

xicalcoatl

Both large and small varieties of the Xicalcoatl, the Aztec “Chocolate Cup Snake”, exist, and may be found in the waterways of Mexico. They are black in color with variegated bellies. When they reach maturity, xicalcoatls develop an excrescence on their backs. This natural growth looks like a jicara (a gourd chocolate cup) down to the last detail, with colorful designs and patterns on its smooth surface.

Xicalcoatls lure humans to their doom by submerging themselves in water and allowing the painted jicara to show above the surface. A passer-by, seeing the chocolate cup seemingly floating on the water, will try to seize it, but their attentions only cause the cup to drift further and further away. When the victim reaches a sufficient depth, the xicalcoatl causes the water to churn and drown the unfortunate chocolate-seeker.

A watered-down version of this tale persists in Mexico in the form of the evil fairy Malinche, who leaves painted chocolate cups in the water to tempt children.

References

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

Sahagun, B. (1830) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. III. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Indombe

indombe

Indombe is fire, Indombe is life, Indombe is motherhood, Indombe is a slave to the power of death. She is an enormous copper snake over three feet wide, and several miles in length, and she makes her home in the trees of the Congo. Her cupreous body glows red with internal heat; she is immeasurably old, associated with the sun and the sunset in particular. Her tale is mysterious and metaphorical, and her ancestry is probably Semitic.

Itonde, hero and creator figure of the Congo, had been sent on a bizarre errand. His sister-in-law was pregnant, and she had developed a craving for snakes, so Itonde and his brother Lofale went into the forest to find them. There they saw Indombe coiled in a tree, shining bright as the sun. “Great Indombe”, said Itonde, “come down and let us talk together”. As Indombe refused to leave her perch, Itonde started chanting: “Indombe of the Bakongo, come down so I may carry you!” The giant snake was furious. “How dare you try to bewitch me?” she roared, causing her flames to flare and illuminate the entire forest. She then put her red-hot head on Itonde’s shoulder, severely burning him and leaving him for dead.

Fortunately for Itonde he was the owner of a magic bell, and he rang it, immediately recovering from his injuries. He did not want Indombe to gain the advantage of nightfall, so he captured the sun itself. Indombe next tried to constrict him, but Itonde kept ringing his bell, causing him to grow taller and stronger while the snake weakened.

It was in this state that Itonde triumphantly carried Indombe back to his village. He set her down outside the entrance of the village, and Indombe immediately coiled around the village and swallowed every last man, woman, and child. “You monster!” cried Itonde. “I’ll kill you, cut you up, and eat you!” Itonde produced his enchanted machete, and Indombe, seeing her death approaching, warned the hero. “If you kill me, eat me all today; you will not survive if you leave a single piece”. She was then promptly decapitated, cut into slices, and fried in oil. Itonde ate every piece, but left the inedible head, putting it under his bed.

Next morning, he awake to the horrifying discovery that Indombe was still there – but was now a ghost! “I told you eat all of me” she explained, “so now I return as a spirit, to aid you and show you a good place to live”. The spectral copper snake led Itonde to her village, a beautiful, disease-free location for future generations. Itonde then found out that Lofale was dead, killed by Indombe; but he could not avenge himself on a ghost, so he sought out a man in the forest. His quarry tried to hide by transforming into the first sugar-cane, but Itonde found and killed him as an expiatory sacrifice, discovering sugar-cane in the process.

“This village shall be yours because you are a strong fighter”, said Indombe. “Your name shall now be Ilelangonda. Farewell to you all”. With that the ghostly snake coiled up, jumped into the river, and disappeared.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

Okpe

okpe

Okpe is a massive, quadrupedal ogre from Argentinian and Chilean Tehuelche folklore. He looks like a pig made of impregnable solid rock, without soft spots or weaknesses. Okpe preys on children, luring them with braised meat before carrying them off in a device on his back. Children captured by Okpe are taken into the jungle and devoured. Attempts to thwart his actions fail, as he is impervious to conventional weaponry.

Once Okpe abducted an older child, who had the presence of mind to hold onto an overhead branch and escape his captor. While Okpe sought his victim and screamed for him to return, the child ran back to his village. There a mare was butchered – as the Tehuelche do in emergencies – and its skin was stretched out on the ground. When Okpe trundled through in pursuit of the boy, he slipped on the stretched hide and fell so heavily that his stony armor rattled! Okpe started to cry in defeat, crying so hard that his tears caused a flood that went up as high as his teeth. He never bothered the Tehuelche again.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Agrippa

Variations: Égremont, Vif

Agrippa

In Brittany, the Agrippa is one of the most feared and malevolent grimoires, a living book with a mind of its own. Its name in Tréguer is derived from that of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, but it is also known as Égremont in Châteaulin and Vif (“Alive”) around Quimper.

An agrippa is enormous, standing fully as tall as a man. Its pages are red, while its letters are black – although some variants exist with black pages and red text. It contains the names of all the devils, and how to summon them.

Agrippas are living, malicious creatures, and resent being read. An untamed agrippa will display only blank pages. To get the letters to appear, the agrippa must be battled, thrashed, and beaten like a stubborn mule. A fight with an agrippa can last hours, and victors come out of it exhausted and drenched in sweat. When not in use, an agrippa must be chained to a strong, bent beam.

Only priests can be trusted to keep agrippas, as they have the training and the force of will required to master it. They use it to deduce the fate of the dead by calling upon all the demons in order; if none will admit to having taken the deceased’s soul, then they were saved. Long ago all priests had agrippas, and a newly-ordained priest would inexplicably find one on his table. However, agrippas have since found their way into the hands of laymen, and the temptation to use them can be very strong. A priest will not be able to sleep well as long as one of his parishioners has an agrippa.

Uninitiated readers of the agrippa will always smell of sulfur and brimstone, and walk awkwardly to avoid treading on stray souls. A man with an agrippa will find himself incapable of destroying it – a task that will become increasingly desperate, as possession of an agrippa will prevent entry into Paradise. Loizo-goz, a man from Penvénan, tried to rid himself of his agrippa by dragging it away to Plouguiel on the end of a chain, but came back home to find it had returned to its usual place. He then tried burning it, but the flames recoiled from the book. Finally he dumped the agrippa into the sea with rocks tied to it, only to see it climb out of the water, shake its shackles off, and make a beeline for its suspended perch. Its pages were perfectly dry. Loizo-goz resigned himself to his fate.

Eventually a priest will arrive to save the owner of an agrippa. He will wait until the unfortunate is at death’s door, whereupon he will come to his deathbed. “You have a very heavy burden to carry beyond the grave, if you do not destroy it in this world”, he tells him. The agrippa is untied and brought down, and while it tries to escape, the priest exorcises it, and sets fire to it himself. He then collects the ashes, places them in a sachet, and puts them around the dying man’s neck, telling him “May this weigh lightly upon you!”

Other times a priest will have to save a man whose reading of the agrippa took him too far. A Finistère parson found his sacristan missing, and his agrippa open wide on the table. Understanding that the sacristan had summoned the devils and been unable to dismiss them, he started calling upon them one by one until they released him. The sacristan was blackened with soot and his hair was scorched, and he never told a soul of what had transpired.

References

Le Braz, A. (1893) La Légende de la Mort en Basse-Bretagne. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Luzel, F. M. (1881) Légendes Chrétiennes de la Basse-Bretagne, v. II. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Seignolle, C. (1964) Les Évangiles du Diable. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.

Usilosimapundu

Variations: Ugungqu-kubantwana, Ugunqu-kubantwana

Usilosimapundu

Usilosimapundu, “the rugose beast” or “the nodulated beast”, is a creature of superlatives. There are hills and mountains on his vast body, with rivers on one side, highlands on another, forests on the next, highlands and cliffs on other sides; he is so large that it is winter on one side of him and summer on the other. Two enormous trees, the Imidoni, serve as Usilosimapundu’s officers and servants. Usilosimapundu’s head is a huge rock, with eyes and a broad red mouth. He is a swallower, like many oversized African creatures, but also a force of nature, a personification of landslides and earthquakes.

The sorceress-princess Umkxakaza-wakogingqwayo (“Rattler of weapons of the place of the rolling of the slain”) was promised a great many cattle by her father the king, and the land was scoured for the finest livestock available. Unfortunately the very best cattle proved to be the property of Usilosimapundu. “Take them now”, he warned the soldiers, “but do not expect to get away with it”.

Umkxakaza was greatly pleased by her gift, and Usilosimapundu’s threat was forgotten as the years went by. That is, until the day the earth shook, and Usilosimapundu came to Umkxakaza’s doorstep. Two leaves detached from the Imidoni and took human form before heading for Umkxakaza and ordering her to do their bidding. They forced her to help prepare food for Usilosimapundu to eat – and eat he did, swallowing up everything in town. Finally Usilosimapundu had Umkxakaza climb onto his back, and he lumbered away with his trophy.

Of course, Umkxakaza’s father sent his armies to retrieve his daughter, but what good were the weapons of man against a living continent? Their spears landed in rocks, grass, ponds, trees – none of them had any effect on Usilosimapundu. Umkxakaza’s mother was the only one who continued to follow Usilosimapundu, and the beast obligingly gave her maize and sugarcane to eat while she hurried behind him, but eventually even the queen had to give up. She kissed Umkxakaza, weeping, bidding her to go in peace.

Usilosimapundu dropped Umkxakaza off in a fully furnished cave. “Your father spoiled me by taking my cattle”, he said, “so now I have spoiled him. He will never see you again”. With that Usilosimapundu left and was not seen again.

That was far from the end of Umkxakaza’s adventures, as she was abducted by the Amadhlungundhlebe half-men who fattened her up for eating. She escaped those new captors by summoning a storm, and made her way back to her father’s town, where she was greeted with joy and celebration.

Usilosimapundu has a female counterpart in Ugungqu-kubantwana, the mother of animals. Her name refers to the sound she makes when moving – gungqu, gungqu – rather like that made by a heavy wagon on a bumpy road.

References

Callaway, C. (1868) Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus. Trübner and Co., London.

Barcädžy Calh

Variations: Wheel of Balsæg/Barsæg/Barsag/Balsag/Marsug/Father Ojnon, Thinking Wheel, Cutting Wheel

Wheel of Balsaeg

When Soslan or Sosryko, greatest of the Nart heroes, was born, his mother had him dipped in magical fire. The process rendered him immortal and invulnerable, but alas, the smith’s tongs had held him by the knees, which became his only weak spot.

After many adventures, Soslan was finally defeated by the jealous Syrdon. Aware of the hero’s weakness, Syrdon incited the devils to fire their arrows from below ground into his horse’s hooves. Like its master, the horse had only one weak spot, in this case the underside of its hooves.

Once the horse fell, Syrdon called upon the enigmatic Barcädžy Calh, the Wheel of Balsæg or Cutting Wheel. The Wheel was a Thinking Machine, an intelligent and malevolent automaton that took the form of a razor-sharp metal wheel with steel teeth and flames bursting from it. It came rolling down from the heavens to the Earth, setting fire to plains and forests as it went on its headlong charge to the Black Sea. Only birch trees managed to avoid the flaming Wheel’s wrath. Soslan gave chase to it and captured it, but it escaped his grasp, flew at him, and sliced through his knees, leaving him for dead. The hero’s sons chased the Wheel back into the Black Sea, but it was already too late. The Narts buried him as he died; his last act from the grave was the impalement of Syrdon. Soslan’s nephew avenged him by breaking the Wheel in half.

Balsæg, also known as Barsæg, Marsug, and permutations thereof, remains unknown. Knowledge of his nature has been lost, save that he is the proprietor of the Wheel. In some accounts, the Daughter of the Sun sends the Wheel to kill Soslan; in others, it belongs to Father Ojnon – John the Baptist. It may have its origin as a solar symbol or accessory in solstice rituals. Finally, in some retellings the Wheel is reduced to a mere training discus, albeit a very sharp one. Soslan is tricked into bouncing it off his weak spot.

References

Cayla, F.; Quesnel, A.; Welply, M.; and Laverdet, M. (1997) Le guide illustré des mythes et légendes. Hachette, Paris.

Colarusso, J. (2002) Nart Sagas from the Caucasus. Princeton University Press.

Dumézil, G. (1978) Romans de Scythie et d’alentour. Bibliothèque Historique, Payot, Paris.

Littleton, C. S. (1979) The Holy Grail, the Cauldron of Annwn, and the Nartyamonga: A Further Note on the Sarmatian Connection. The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 92, no. 365, pp. 326-333.

Devouring Gourd

Variations: Devouring Pumpkin; Sala Fruit (possibly)

Swallowing Gourd final

Not all swallowing monsters are animals. In Bantu folklore, gourds and pumpkins have the potential to grow into vast, devouring creatures. Such plants usually grow where evil sorcerers or ogres were slain.

The devouring gourd of Usambara was discovered by a group of little boys at play. “Look at how big that gourd is getting!” said one of the boys. To their surprise, the gourd responded. “If you pluck me, I’ll pluck you!” it said. The boys ran home and told their mother, who refused to believe them. But their sisters insisted on seeing the large gourd, and when they were taken to it, they said as their brothers had, “Look at how big that gourd is getting!” This time the gourd did not respond, and the girls went home to complain about their brothers being liars.

As the gourd was not plucked, it continued to grow. Eventually it became the size of a house, uprooted itself, and went about swallowing everyone in the village. After consuming everyone within reach, it rolled into a lake.

Only one woman had survived the gourd’s rampage, and she was pregnant. When her son was born, they lived together in the ruins of the village. When the son got around to asking where his father was, his mother told him “He was swallowed by a gourd, which is now in the lake”. The son decided to avenge his father, and went out to the lake where he could see the gourd’s ears sticking out of the water, and he proceeded to taunt the vegetable. “Gourd, come out!” he yelled. “Gourd, come out!” Annoyed and enraged, the gourd hauled itself out of the lake, but the boy was ready for it, and fired a volley of arrows into it. The tenth arrow killed it, and it died with a roar that could be heard all the way to Vuga. The boy cut it open with a knife, released the villagers unharmed, and went on to become a great leader of his people.

Gourds are not the only plants that devour and kill people. Another carnivorous plant, a pumpkin, grew over the burial location of an evil shapeshifting porcupine. It repeated everything that was said to it, and when an axe was brought to destroy it, it proceeded to swallow everyone. The poisonous Sala fruits of the Ronga have arms and legs, and wield spears ands shields.

References

Knappert, J. (1977) Bantu myths and other tales. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Werner, A. (1968) Myths and legends of the Bantu. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., London.