Cerastes

Variations: Kerastes (Greek); Ceristalis, Cristalis, Sirtalis, Tristalis (corrupted from original Latin Cerastes); Cerust (Arabian); Schephiphon (Hebrew); En Geburnte Schlang (German); Ceraste, Serpent Cornu (French), Horned Serpent (English)

cerastes

The Cerastes, “horned”, is one of the many snakes born from the blood of Medusa in the Libyan desert. It receives a passing mention in Lucan’s catalogue of snakes. Another cerastes mentioned by Theophrastus and Pliny, in the form of a two-horned herbivorous worm, is obviously a caterpillar.

No more than 2 cubits (about a meter) long, the cerastes is sandy-colored and white, with red streaks across its back. The skin is very soft and stretchable. On the head are two, four, or eight horns, described as worm-like or ram-like. The fangs are like those of a viper and are not crooked. Instead of a backbone, a cerastes has a cartilaginous spine, making it the most flexible of all snakes.

The horns of a cerastes have two documented functions. They are used as lures to attract birds, with the snake buried under the sand with only the horns protruding. Horned snakes can also be found guarding wild pepper plants in Arabia, and they use their horns to gore and kill people. To harvest the pepper, fire must be set to burn out the cerastes, blackening the pepper as a result.

It is said that Helen of Troy, while eloping with Paris, stepped on a cerastes’ back and broke it. This is why they move in such a sinuous, crooked fashion, causing their scales to rustle as they go.

No other snake can endure thirst as long as the cerastes. They seldom or never drink. As for reproduction, they bring forth live young. They are solitary and aggressive towards humans, but the Psilli of Libya live in harmony with them. If one of the Psilli is lightly bitten they spit on the bite to heal it. A stronger bite requires antivenin made by gargling water and spitting it into a pot for the victim to drink. The most severe cases are cured by lying naked upon the equally naked sufferer.

Cerastes bites cause necrosis, priapism, madness, dimness of sight, scabs, sharp pain like the pricking of needles, and inevitable death within nine days. Topsell recommends cutting off stricken flesh to the bone or outright amputation. The wound should then be dressed with goat dung and vinegar or garlic, or barley-meal, or cedar, rue, or nep juice, or otherwise salt, honey, or pitch. Daffodil, rue, radish-seed, cumin, wine, castoreum, calamint, and emetics should be imbibed.

The cerastes is the namesake of the Saharan horned viper Cerastes cerastes. The viper’s knack for sidewinding seems an obvious forerunner to the cerastes’ flexibility.

References

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

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

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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

Lucan, trans. Riley, H. T. (1853) The Pharsalia of Lucan. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Tilbury, G.; Banks, S. E. and Binns, J. W. (eds.) (2002) Otia Imperialia. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

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

Chipfalamfula

chipfalamfula

Chipfalamfula, “River-Shutter”, is an enormous aquatic creature found in Ronga Bantu tales and waterways of Mozambique, notably in the bay of Delagoa. It is of indeterminate gender and species, being either a whale or rather a colossal catfish. Chipfalamfula has control over all water, and can provide or withhold it as it pleases, causing droughts and floods alike. It is so large that its belly is a world on its own, with fertile fields, livestock, and communities of people living there happily and wanting for nothing. Tales of young girls living inside Chipfalamfula before returning to the surface may be regarded as coming-of-age stories.

Chichinguane, the youngest daughter of Chief Makenyi, was beloved by her father, but envied and hated by her older sisters. When the young women went to the riverbank to fetch clay for plastering walls, the eldest sister ordered Chichinguane to stay at the bottom of the clay pit and hand her the clay. She did as she was told, only to be left behind by her older sister to face a rising tide.

She had just about given up hope when Chipfalamfula surfaced next to her and opened its cavernous mouth. “Come inside, my daughter”, it told her reassuringly. “Come inside me where you will live in peace and comfort”. So Chichinguane did as she was told, and lived inside Chipfalamfula, sharing the river-shutter’s bounties with its other children.

Years passed, and the outside world caught up with Chichinguane as it was bound to do. Makenyi’s daughters came down to the river again, balancing pitchers of water on their heads and singing “We are the group who puts pitchers on their heads… She who killed her sister killed her in the swamp, where the reeds are tall…” The youngest of the group lagged behind. She was the new youngest member of the family, and now received the same hate the presumed-dead Chichinguane did. She wasn’t good at balancing a pitcher either. She sat down and wept, when lo and behold Chichinguane appeared, attracted by the singing. Her stay in Chipfalamfula had metamorphosed her, and she was now covered in glistening silvery scales. She also wasn’t particularly pleased with the lyrics of the song. “You tried to kill your sister?” she shouted, striking her younger sister. But the girl didn’t even recognize her, whereupon Chichinguane relented, and helped her little sister carry her pitcher. However, she did not follow her into the village, instead diving back into the river.

Soon Chichinguane and her youngest sister were meeting every day, and eventually Chichinguane told her sibling the truth about her and why she lived in the river. The sister returned and told her mother, who followed her to the river and tried to embrace her long-lost daughter. But Chichinguane warned her “Do not try to hold me, mother, I am now a fish and I must live in the water”. She slipped out of her mother’s arms like a greased eel and disappeared underwater again.

She still longed to return to her family, and finally Chipfalamfula allowed her to leave, blessing her with a magic wand to use in time of need. Chichinguane returned to her mother’s hut, where her silver scales fell off her body and become silver coins. Then she told them her story, of her older sister’s treachery, and of the land of milk and honey inside the river-shutter.

Chichinguane interceded to prevent the oldest sister’s execution by the furious Makenyi. This was a mistake, as she returned to her schemes. Talking Chichinguane and the youngest sister into climbing up a tree and sawing off branches, she then collected the branches and left, leaving them out on a limb. To make matters worse, a family of one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed, and one-eared ogres saw the two girls in the tree and started cutting it down. Fortunately, Chichinguane used the river-shutter’s wand to heal the tree every time it started to fall. The ogres grew tired and decided to rest, giving Chichinguane and her sister a window to escape. They climbed down the tree and ran with the ogres in hot pursuit, and when they reached the river, Chichinguane touched it with the wand and sang “Chipfalamfula, shut off the water”. The water parted before her and the two girls ran through to safety. The ogres were halfway through when Chipfalamfula opened the water again and drowned them. On their way back, Chichinguane and her sister found the ogres’ cave, full of untold riches, and returned home in regal finery.

The eldest sister was decapitated despite Chichinguane’s entreaties.

The name Chichinguane has confusingly been given to both the youngest and the eldest daughter. The latter is the case in Junod’s older source; Knappert’s usage of the name for the heroine has been preserved here.

References

Junod, H. A. (1897) Les Chants et les Contes des Ba-Ronga. Georges Bridel et Cie, Lausanne.

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

Camacrusa

Variations: Came-crude, Came cruse, Came-cruse, Jambe Crue, L’Òs-de-la-Mala-Cama; Sopatard, Sopa-tot-sèr, Soupe-toute-sé (potentially); Ramponneau (potentially)

camacrusa

The Camacrusa, Came Cruse, Came Crude (“Raw Leg” in Gascon) or Òs-de-la-Mala-Cama (“Bone of the Bad Leg”) is a French nocturnal bogey that can be found in Gascony, notable around Aire-sur-L’Adour in the Landes. Its horrifying appearance is generally left to the imagination, but as its name implies it is usually a disembodied leg, possibly somewhat flayed.

Despite its appearance, a camacrusa is very rapid in movement, capable of hiding behind haybales, jumping over ditches and hedges, and easily running down its prey – children who remain outside after dark. How it eats them is unspecified.

Its role has largely been usurped by more traditional bogeys such as Ramponneau and the Sopatard (“Sups-late”) or Sopa-tot-sèr (“Sups-every-evening”). The latter in particular is closely associated with the camacrusa, for as the nursery rhyme goes: “La cama-cruda e lo sopa-tot-sèr, que hèn la nueit plenha de danger” (“The raw-leg and the sups-every-evening, make the night full of danger”).

References

Foix, V. (1904) Glossaire de la Sorcellerie Landaise. Revue de Gascogne, III, pp. 257-262.

Heiniger, P. Les Formes du Noir. In Loddo, D. and Pelen, J. (eds.) (2001) Êtres fantastiques des régions de France. L’Harmattan, Paris.

Nippgen, J. (1930) Les Traditions Populaires Landaises. Revue de Folklore Francais, IV, pp. 149-172.

Calopus

Variations: Aeternae, Analopos, Antalope, Antholops, Aptaleon, Aptolos, Pantolops; Jachamur, Jachmur, Jamur, Yamur (Bochart); Chatloup (erroneously)

Calopus

The antelope was known to the Greeks as Analopos (and variations thereof, derived from the Coptic Pantolops according to Bochart) and to the Romans as Calopus, “pretty foot” . These creatures were believed to inhabit India, Syria, and the Euphrates basin, and were fond of drinking the cool Euphrates water.

A calopus resembled a roe deer in appearance and size, with the exception of large saw-toothed horns growing out of their heads. These horns can be used to shred branches and human limbs alike, but are also easily entangled in thickets. A calopus trapped in this way will cry out, making it easily found and killed by hunters.

Alexander the Great encountered a number of these antelopes in India, where at least one obscure account refers to them as “aeternae”. The creatures pierced the Macedonian shields with their horns, but they were no match for Alexander’s soldiers, who slew anywhere from five thousand and four hundred to eight thousand five hundred and fifty of them. This, Topsell concludes, is the reason why we barely see any more of these animals.

Possible identities for the calopus include a number of antelopes, but also the moose, whose tree-shredding behavior may have inspired the calopus’ serrated weapons.

The “chatloup” (“catwolf”) name popularized by Barber and Rose appears to be a corruption of calopus.

References

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

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

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

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

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

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Cenchris

Variations: Cenchros, Cenchrines, Cenchridion, Cenchrites, Cenchria; Millet; Milliaris (from millet); Punter-schlang, Berg-schlang (German); Lyon (due to its color and ferocity); Famusus, Aracis, Falivisus (Topsell gives those last three as barbarous versions)

Cenchris

The Cenchris or Millet is one of the many venomous snakes spawned from the blood of Medusa that live in the Sahara desert. It was listed in the catalog of serpents assailing Cato and his men, but did not receive a separate account describing the effects of its deadly venom. Situated in Libya according to Lucan, Topsell stated it to hail from Lemnus and Samothracia.

The most obvious characteristic of a cenchris is that it always move in a straight line, and does not coil or flex its body. For this reason it can travel fast in a straight line, but cannot make sharp turns. In color it is a dusky yellow, looking like the color of millet seed, but Aldrovandi suggests it to be at least partly green. Regardless of the color, the cenchris is attractively spotted and speckled, bringing to mind millet or marbled columns. The pointed tail is turned upwards, like a lion’s. A cenchris grows to two cubits (about one meter) long.

The cenchris is most active and aggressive when millet is at the peak of its growth, and head to the mountains in the summer. Unlike other venomous snakes, it will use its entire body when attacking, wrapping around its victim and beating it; meanwhile, it fastens its fangs in its prey and sucks its blood out.

Cenchris venom rots and putrefies flesh, causing lethargy, stomachache, and death within two days if left untreated. Lettuce, flax-seed, savory, rue, betony, and daffodil in three cups of wine, followed by two drams of centaury, gentian, hartwort, nosewort, or sesame, makes a good antidote.

While not easy to narrow to a single species, the rectilinear locomotion suggests the cenchris to be inspired by large, heavy-bodied vipers such as the puff adder.

References

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

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lucan, trans. Rowe, N. (1720) Pharsalia. T. Johnson, London.

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

Colôrobètch

Variations: Colô Rodje Bètch, Colô Rotje Bètch, Clô Rotje Bètch, Colôrobètche, Colaurobètch, Colaurobètche, Colau-rodje-bètch, Corobètch, Routge Bètch

Colorobetch

Bogeys represent a variety of childhood fears – darkness, retribution, the murky depths of deep ponds… In Wallonia children are menaced by the personification of the bise or icy wind, in the form of a bird with a red beak.

He can be found around Andenne, Bastogne, Dinant, Huy, and Neufchâteau, and Warsage; in On, Oignies, and Stavelot he is simply the “red beak”. The Somme-Leuze redbeak is a monstrous sparrow, the Condroz and Hesbaye variety is a pigeon, while the Namur redbeak is Colôrobètch or Colô Rodje Bètch, the “Red-Beaked Rooster”.

As his name indicates, Colôrobètch has a beak stained red with blood; beyond that, it is unclear whether he is a bird, a human, or a grotesque combination of both. He preys on children unwary enough to walk in the cold without adequate clothing, nipping at their exposed faces and hands until they turn red, dry, cracked, and bleeding. Colôrobètch comes out in the winter to pinch noses and spread frostbite.

In Andenne Colôrobètch becomes a nocturnal water bogey who drags children into the Meuse.

References

Pignolet, M. (1985) La Symbolique du Coq. Le Guetteur Wallon, 61 (3), pp. 81-104.

Tijskens, J. (1965) Les Noms du Croquemitaine en Wallonie. Enquêtes du Musée de la Vie Wallonne, nos. 117-120, tome X, pp. 257-391.

Carcolh

Variations: Lou Carcolh (erroneously)

Carcolh

The French town of Hastingues, it is said, is built over an enormous cave honeycombed with entrance tunnels. Deep within that cave dwells the Carcolh (“snail”), also inaccurately known as “lou Carcolh” (“the snail”). The word is itself derived from the Spanish caracol, and does not have any special meaning, as evidenced by the béarnese riddle u houmiot qui s’emporte sa maysou darrè deu cot? Lou carcolh (“A little man who carries his house behind his back? The snail”).

Nobody knows how long the carcolh has lived there, or how old it is. It is a gigantic, slimy, shaggy serpent, with a shell as big as a house, and long prehensile tentacles.

The inhabitants of Hastingues hid their treasures underground before the Spanish invasion. Many have ventured into the cave in search of those treasures, and vanished without a trace. The carcolh does not move much, but its tentacles seize anyone who approaches it, dragging them into its shell to be consumed at leisure. At least one witness saw the carcolh drinking, and managed to escape before it saw him. He then blocked up the tunnel he had entered by, and swore never to return there again.

References

de Charencey, C. (1903) Etymologies Francaises et Provencales. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, v. 12, pp. lix-lxiv.

Foix, V. (1903) Glossaire de la Sorcellerie Landaise. Revue de Gascogne, v. 3, pp. 362-373.

Peyresblanques, J. (1977) Contes et Légendes des Landes. J. Pémartin, Dax.

Rolland, E. (1877) Devinettes ou Enigmes populaires de la France. F. Vieweg, Paris.