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.

Cherruve

Variations: Cheruvoe, Cheurvoe, Cheurvue, Cherufe

Cherruve

The Cherruve is the Chilean spirit of comets and asteroids. Originally no more than the Araucanian meteorite, the cherruve’s role has since expanded to include lava, volcanoes, fiery exhalations, will-o-the-wisps, whirlwinds, and animate stone axes.

Cherruve appearance varies from area to area, but it is usually described as a comet, or a great serpentine creature with a human head and lava dribbling from its mouth. Its appearance has been anthropomorphized to various degrees and conflated with aspects of European mythology; in the Andes it becomes a huge seven-headed dragon; elsewhere it is confused with dragons, devils, and giants, or bipedal goats with flaming eyes.

Cherruves live underground and in volcanoes, and streak across the sky by night. The appearance of a cherruve in the sky heralds the spread of an epidemic, the death of a great leader, or other misfortunes, while the cherruve’s vomit is lava and its movements underground cause earthquakes. They make thunder by tossing human heads. The more dragon-like cherruves may demand the sacrifice of Mapuche maidens, and will withhold the flow of rivers if their demands are not met.

Comets, asteroids, and meteors are all cherruves, as are meteorites and oddly-shaped volcanic rocks. Cherruve rocks are collected by sorcerers, who use them to carry out their evil purposes by sending them at their enemies. They are ordered to suck blood and inflict death and disease, and can operate on their own, returning diligently to their masters after performing their duties.

Cherruves are also capable of feeling more human emotions. One cherruve married a Cloud, and their beautiful daughter, ethereal and pale, was Snow. Despite the cherruve’s jealous attempts to keep his wife under lock and key, she was abducted by his mortal enemy Wind. Every now and then Wind would blow Cloud over the volcano, and her tears became rain, while the cherruve’s own despair turned into destructive eruptions. The cherruve redoubled his efforts to protect Snow, and kept her from leaving the mountain during the daylight hours. Snow’s curiosity about the world outside continued to grow, and one day she finally managed to escape her father and climb out into the light. She marveled at the sun, the songs of birds, the colors, all infinitely beautiful and unknown to her. The longer she stayed outside, the happier she was, and yet the weaker she felt. Her mother tried to protect her, but the spiteful Wind carried the Cloud away. When Snow sat down, exhausted, the love-stricken Sun came down to give her a kiss. When the cherruve finally caught up with his daughter, he found nothing but a puddle of crystalline water.

References

Faron, L. C. (1964) Hawks of the Sun. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh.

Guevara, T. (1908) Psicolojia del pueblo araucano. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Latcham, R. E. (1924) La organización social y la creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Lenz, R. (1897) Estudios Araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Pino-Saavedra, Y.; Gray, R. (trans.) (1967) Folktales of Chile. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Caladrius

Variations: Charadrius, Caradrius, Caladres, Kladrius, Icterus, Galgulus, Stone-curlew

Caladrius

The Caladrius is a miraculous healing bird, believed to range from Europe to Jerusalem. It is generally believed to have originated from the stone-curlew, with other influences including seagulls, falcons, herons, ibises, owls, and any of a number of plovers (Charadriidae).

A caladrius is a waterbird the size of a hen or dove. It has immaculately white plumage, with a long neck, yellow eyes, beak, and legs, and rarely straight goat’s horns. Earlier accounts refer to it as being yellow, while others grant it reddish wings, spots, and a yellow-tinged dark color. It is an unclean bird and must not be eaten.

In its simplest form, the caladrius will cure jaundice by returning the stare of a patient who gazes intently at it. This connection to jaundice was inspired by the striking, staring yellow eyes of the stone-curlew. Its dung and the marrow of its thigh-bones will cure blindness.

A caladrius knows if a patient will live or die. It will look at someone who will be cured, and look away from someone doomed to die. Sometimes all it takes to be cured is touching the caladrius. The caladrius touches its beak to the patient’s mouth, taking disease and sickness into itself, and flies into the sky, where the sun burns the illness into oblivion.

This equates the pure and flawless caladrius with Christ, as it looks at and heals the faithful, granting them life, taking sins away in the process. The caladrius was iconographically represented in the role of a healer, sitting on the bedstead of a sick person and either looking to or away from the patient.

It was often kept in the court of kings for its curative powers. The sale of live caladrius was a potentially lucrative business, but merchants had to hide their specimens to avoid having people come in to see them and get cured for free.

References

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

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Druce, G. C. (1912) The Caladrius and its Legend, Sculptured upon the Twelfth-Century Doorway of Alne Church, Yorkshire. Archaeological Journal, vol. 69, pp. 381-416.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

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

Wright, T. (1845) The Archaeological Album. Chapman and Hall, London.

Chonchón

Variations: Chonchon, Chonchoñ, Chon Chón, Chuncho, Chucho, Chuchu, Chaihue; Chonchones (pl.); Cocorote, Corocote (Venezuela); Cuscungo (Ecuador); Tecolote, Telocote (Mexico)

Chonchon

The Chonchón is a bird of ill omen from Chile and Argentina; it originally hails from Araucanian Mapuche folklore. Chonchón is also the name of a kind of kite.

In its simplest form it is a bird of the night, an owl (Strix rufipes) that flies on silent wings during the night to announce illness, death, or some other unwelcome event. When its croaking is heard it is advised to throw ash into the air and utter a few prayers in the hopes of turning away its evil.

The chonchón is also said to be a calcu or evil sorcerer in disguise. It resemble a human head, with oversized wing-like ears that allow it to fly. During the night, these sorcerers’ heads detach themselves from their bodies and fly around to cause mischief, invisible to most, their ominous tué, tué, tué call announcing misfortune. They have the same powers as sorcerers do, and have been known to suck the blood of sleepers.

In order to repel chonchones, several methods are recommended. These include drawing a Solomon’s seal on the ground, laying out a waistcoat in a specified manner, or reciting certain phrases or hymns such as the Magnificat, the Doce Palabras Redobladas, “Saint Cyprian goes up, Saint Cyprian goes down, Saint Cyprian goes to the mountain, Saint Cyprian goes to the valley”, or “Jesus goes ahead, follow him behind”. Doing any of these actions forces the chonchón to leave, or even fall to the ground where it can be destroyed. If the headless body of a chonchón sorcerer is found, turning it onto its stomach prevents the chonchón from returning to it. Finally, a more humane means of dealing with a chonchón is to yell “Come back tomorrow for some salt!” The next day, the chonchón in its human guise will show up and sheepishly request the promised salt. Except perhaps for the last method, most interference with the ways of chonchones will eventually incur the revenge of the chonchón or its friends.

One chonchón was reportedly grounded in Limache when someone made a Solomon’s seal, causing a large bird with red wattles to fall out of the sky. It was decapitated and its head fed to a dog, whose belly swelled up as though it had eaten a human head. Later the local gravedigger told that unknown persons had come to bury a headless body.

Not all chonchones are irredeemably evil, however. A Mapuche man in Galvarino once woke up early in the morning to find his wife’s body without her head. He immediately realized that she was a chonchón, and turned the body onto its stomach to prevent the head from reattaching. As expected, a chonchón soon flew heavily into the house, flapping and staggering as though blind. It then turned into a dog and whined pleadingly to be reunited with its body. The man took pity on it and allowed it to do so, and it became his wife once more. “Every night I leave, without you knowing, and visit distant lands”, she explained. She begged him not to tell anyone, and swore she would never harm him, and both kept their word; the story became known only after the wife died of natural causes.

Some authorities separate the chonchón from the chuncho, with the former being the sorcerous flying head and the latter the owl. Their calls are also different, with the chuncho hooting chun, chun, chun. They have further owl equivalents in the Venezuelan cocorote, the Ecuadorian cuscungos, and the Mexican tecolote. It is also compared to the myth of the voladora, a witch who flies while cackling loudly.

All this is quite unfair to the owls themselves, which benefit the farmers by eating mice, rats, and other vermin.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Coluccio, F. and Coluccio, S. (2006) Diccionario Folklórico Argentino. Corregidor, Buenos Aires.

Rodríguez, Z. (1875) Diccionario de Chilenismos. El Independiente, Santiago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Catoblepas

Variations: Katoblepas, Catablepon, Katoblepon, Catobleponta, Gorgon (erroneously)

Catoblepas

The Catoblepas, “that which looks downwards”, is probably the most hideous and repulsive of living things, so horrid that its mere glance is lethal. Pliny locates it in Ethiopia, around the source of the Nile, Aelian puts it in Libya, and Topsell gives a range of Hesperia and Lybia.

According to Pliny, the body of a catoblepas is of small size, and its limbs are heavy, but its massive head is too heavy to be held up and always looks downwards. This is a good thing, as anyone who saw the eyes of a catoblepas died.

Aelian gives more detail, describing it as the size of a bull, but with a grim expression, shaggy eyebrows, and small bloodshot eyes. It looks downwards, and has a horselike mane that starts on its head and covers its face. The catoblepas feeds on poisonous plants; when threatened, it shudders and raises its mane in warning before opening its mouth and belching a foul, toxic gas. This gas poisons the air around it, and anything that breathes it loses its voice, collapses in convulsions, and dies. Other animals give it a wide berth because of this. There is no mention of a deadly gaze.

Topsell combines the catoblepas with the Gorgon, stating that the myth of Perseus originated from a war with African Amazons led by Medusa. The snake-hair of the gorgons was inspired by the catoblepas’ messy mane. His fanciful description borrows liberally from gorgons and adds thick eyelids, scales like a dragon, tusks like a boar, no hair on the head, wings, human hands, and a size between that of a bull and a calf. He also denies that a catoblepas can kill with its breath, which is unheard of in the animal world; it is far more likely to kill with its eyes like the well-known cockatrice. He gives as proof an anecdote of Marius’ soldiers encountering a catoblepas and thinking it a sheep, only to die immediately when it looked up at them. It was eventually killed in an ambush by spear-men, and its skin was sent to the temple of Hercules in Rome.

It is in Flaubert’s Temptation that we get the most nightmarish vision of the catoblepas. Here it is a sprawling, long-maned black buffalo with the head of a pig dragging on the ground. Its neck is long and thin like an emptied intestine. It is also granted the power of speech, addressing Anthony. “Fat, melancholy, wild, I perpetually feel the warmth of mud under my belly, hiding infinite rot under my armpit. My skull is so heavy that I cannot lift it. I roll it around me, slowly; – and, jaws opened, I tear with my tongue poisonous herbs watered with my breath. Once, I ate my paws by accident. No-one, Anthony, has ever seen my eyes, or those who have seen them are dead. If I lifted my eyelids – my pink and swollen eyelids, straight away, you would die”.

Cuvier suggested that this maned, hoofed, and downward-looking abomination of nature was inspired by the harmless gnu or wildebeest.

References

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

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

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