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.

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.

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.

Calydonian Boar

Variations: Kalydonian Boar

Calydonian Boar

The tragedy of the Calydonian Boar started when King Oineus of Calydon made a sacrifice of firstfruits that left out Artemis. The vengeful goddess sent a monstrous boar to ravage Aitolia. This Calydonian boar was the size of a bull, with red eyes, a high stiff neck with bristles rising like spears, tusks as big as an elephant’s, and fire and lightning flashing from its mouth. It gored people and livestock, plundered the crops, burned the fields, and ruined the harvest.

Oineus begged all the heroes of Greece to save him from the boar. They responded. The team that was formed to hunt the boar included Oineus’ son Meleager, the twins Castor and Polydeuces, Theseus of Athens, Jason of Iolcos, Iphicles of Thebes, Eurytion of Phthia, and Atalanta of Arcadia, among many others. The presence of Atalanta, a woman and a skilled hunter, ruffled a few feathers; some of the men thought it beneath them to hunt with her. Meleager made sure to silence dissent before heading out to find the boar.

Althaia, mother of Meleager and wife of Oineus, watched her son leave without fear. Why would she be afraid for his life? Did the Moirai not foretell that he would only die once a certain log was burnt up – a log that she kept safely locked away in a chest? What could the boar possibly do to him? Her brothers, the sons of Thestios, also went with the party, but she had faith that nobody would come to harm.

It wasn’t hard to find the Calydonian boar. Its spoor was a wake of death and destruction. The sight of the hunting party drove the boar into a furious rage, and the hunters quickly became the hunted. Enaesimus tried to turn and run, but was hamstrung. Nestor narrowly escaped death by using his spear to pole-vault to safety. Hippasus’ thigh was gashed open. Peleus accidentally killed Eurytion with his javelin in the heat of battle. It was Atalanta that drew first blood with an arrow behind the boar’s ear, an action that earned Ancaios’ scorn. “A man’s weapons will always be better than a girl’s! Watch this!” Ancaios hefted his axe just in time to get disemboweled by the boar. Finally Meleager himself stabbed the boar’s flank, killing it.

In due course the boar was skinned and its magnificent hide taken, to be offered to the most valorous of the party. Meleager gave it to Atalanta without hesitation. The sons of Thestios, his uncles, were furious. “A mere woman does not deserve such a prize”, they grumbled. “If Meleager won’t take it, it is ours by right”. Tempers flared. The uncles took the skin by force, provoking Meleager to draw his sword and kill both of them.

Althaia did not take the news well. When she heard her brothers were dead, she seized Meleager’s log and tossed it into the fire in a fit of rage. Meleager was burned up from within and died in agony, envying Ancaios’ swift death at the boar’s tusks. Althaia went on to kill herself in a fit of conscience. Meleager’s sisters wept bitterly until Artemis transformed all but two of them into guineafowl.

So it goes.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Ovid, Humphries, R. trans. (1955) Metamorphoses. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Ccoa

Variations: Cacya; Chokkechinchay, Choquechinchay

Ccoa

In the Peruvian Andes, certain protective spirits are known to live in the mountains. Apus are guardian deities of regions, while aukis are spirits of cultivation. Their mountain haciendas keep a number of livestock as well as other spirits that serve the apus and aukis. Condors are their chickens, and vicuñas are their llamas. The ccoa is their cat and is the most feared of those spirits. Its primary dwelling is the mountain Ausangate, near the village of Kauri in the Cuzco district. It is associated with (and perhaps identical to) Choquechinchay, the evening star and a constellation of a fierce puma with brilliant eyes.

The ccoa is a catlike creature 40 cm tall and 60 cm long, with a tail 30 cm in length and 3 cm wide. It is gray with black stripes running the length of its body. Its head is proportionally a bit larger than a cat’s, with phosphorescent eyes; often there is hail running out of its eyes and ears. Sometimes the ccoa appears as a catlike bull with eyes of blood.

During the rainy season the ccoa emerges from highland springs in the form of clouds. An active and angry spirit, it seeks to steal the crops before the harvest, destroying them with hail. Its tail sweeps the clouds, bringing storms, hail, and deadly lightning. It is unclear whether the ccoa acts on its own initiative or if it only follows the orders of its spirit masters, but either way it is treated as a malevolent threat that must be placated.

When it comes to interaction with the ccoa, there are two kinds of people: those who serve the ccoa and those who fight it. The rich serve the ccoa, as their fields are never harmed by hailstorms. The poor fight it, as their fields are destroyed by the ccoa and their families stricken with disease. The ccoa is also revered by sorcerers, as it grants them powers by striking them with lightning.

The ccoa can be placated with suitable offerings. These are usually a combination of materials including incense, wine, gold and silver tinsel, llama tallow, and cañihua and huairuro grains, collected and burned on high ground. Sorcerers in particular must be sure to make offerings to the ccoa in thanks for their gifted abilities. The ccoa is angered by unsatisfactory offerings by sorcerers, children dying before being baptized, and attempts to fight off its hail.

The souls of unbaptized children are duendes, and they are irredeemably malevolent. When children die before they are baptized, they must be taken to he hills and burned to ashes. If unbaptized children are buried, the ccoa will strike their burial place with lightning and take the duendes to Ausangate as servants.

Sometimes the ccoa is replaced entirely by Santiago, a more neutral deity who causes hail and lightning but also protects crops.

The ccoa may be a modern-day descendant of the ancient Chavín feline cult.

References

Bankes, G. (1977) Peru Before Pizarro. Phaidon, Oxford.

Cumes, C. and Valencia, R. (1995) Pachamama’s Children. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul.

Harrison, R. (1989) Signs, Songs, and Memory in the Andes. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Mishkin, B. The Contemporary Quechua. In Steward, J. H. ed. (1946) Handbook of South American Indians v. 2: The Andean Civilizations. United States Government Printing Office, Washington.

Cactus Cat

Variations: Cactifelinus inebrius (Cox), Felis spinobiblulosus (Tryon)

Cactus Cat

Cactus Cats once lived in the wide-open Southwestern deserts. They were once found in saguaro country between Prescott and Tucson and in the Sonoran Desert as far south as the cholla hills of Yucatan. Nowadays the species is practically extinct following the exploitation and destruction of its desert home.

A cactus cat has thorny hair, with especially long, rigid spines on its ears and tail. The tail is branched like a cactus with scattered thorny hair. There are sharp bony blades on the forearms above the forefeet.

Cactus cats use their forearm-blades to cut deep slanting slashes at the base of giant cacti. One of those cats will travel in a wide circular path, 80 chains long, slashing every cactus it sees. By the time it returns to the first cactus, the sap oozing from the cuts has fermented into mescal. The cactus cat laps this alcoholic brew up hungrily. By the end of the second circuit the cat is thoroughly drunk and waltzes off in a drunken stupor. It yowls and rasps its bone blades together, a sound which carries through the desert night.

It is this fondness for liquor that was the downfall of the species. By following a cactus cat around, one could collect the mescal and deprive the cat of its sustenance. This was not an activity without risk, however. Thieves caught in the act were flogged to death with the cat’s spiny tail, leaving red welts deceptively similar to the effects of heat rash.

References

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.

Circhos

Variations: Cricos, Crichos

The story of the Circhos is one fraught with misunderstandings, mistranslations, and general confusion. It should serve as a morality tale on the importance of accurate information transmission.

Aristotle describes the habits of hermit crabs in detail. The carcinium (“small crab”) is soft-bodied after the thorax, resembling a spider, with two red horns and forward-pointing eyes. The mouth has hair-like appendages and two divided feet that it uses to catch prey. There are two additional smaller pairs of feet beside them.

Of the hermit crabs, the kind that lives in the nerita or brita shell is unusual because its right divided foot is small while the left one is large. It walks more on the left foot than the right. The nerita itself, Aristotle adds, has a large, smooth, rounded shell, and a red hepatopancreas, as opposed to the ceryx and its black hepatopancreas. During a storm the crabs hide under a rock, and the gastropods attach themselves to the rock and close their opercula.

All of the preceding information is stated consecutively. Michael Scot’s translation of Aristotle gives the name of kiroket to the nerita shell. Thomas de Cantimpré takes Scot’s kiroket and his descriptions of the hermit crab and gastropod, but omits connecting names and details to combine them into a single confused account. It is likely that Scot’s jargon and neologisms threw Thomas off.

Thomas de Cantimpré’s cricos (corrupted from kiroket) now has two fissures at the end of its feet, giving it three fingers and three nails on each foot (Thomas’ “common-sense” addition). Its left foot is big and its right foot is small, and it carries its weight on its left foot. The comparison of hepatopancreas colors becomes the shell of the cricos, colored black and red. In good weather, the cricos moves around; in bad weather, it attaches itself to rocks and doesn’t move.

Albertus Magnus takes up Thomas’ account, but drops the confusing details of the feet. The Ortus Sanitatis, on the other hand, creates some additional features out of whole cloth. The circhos or crichos has the head of a man and the body of a sea-dog (i.e. a dogfish or shark); it is healthy in good weather, but weakens and turns ill in bad weather.

Olaus Magnus borrows the circhos of the Ortus Sanitatis to populate his Scandinavian sea. The physical description of a human-headed fish is wisely redacted. Whether it was meant to represent an actual Scandinavian animal, or is merely plagiarism, remains unclear.

It is Olaus Magnus’ account that is best known today. Concept drift in modern retellings have led to fabrications such as a limping gait that forces the circhos to move only in fine weather and cling to rocks during storms, and even a “humanoid” appearance.

References

Aristotle, Cresswell, R. trans. (1862) Aristotle’s History of Animals. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Gauvin, B.; Jacquemard, C.; and Lucas-Avenel, M. (2013) L’auctoritas de Thomas de Cantimpré en matière ichtyologique (Vincent de Beauvais, Albert le Grand, l’Hortus sanitatis). Kentron, 29, pp. 69-108.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

Magnus, O. (1658) A compendious history of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, and other Northern nations. J. Streater, London.

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York. Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.