Bès Bulan

Variations: Hantu Bulan (Malay), Moon Spirit

Bès Bulan, the Moon Spirit, lives with the moon; during the fruit season, it also lives on top of a small hill. When it calls – oioi… – it is trying to get people to eat, and anyone who hears it should avoid going deep into the jungle lest they be killed and devoured.

At night the moon spirit descends to where the moonlight falls. If a sleeping child awakes and sees the moon shining through the roof, the spirit will cause the child to cry non-stop.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Kuyūtha

Variations: Behemoth; Leviathan; Kuyūban, Kuyoota, Kuyūta, Kuyootan, Kuyūtan, Kuyoothan, Kuyūthan, Quyuta; Kujata (erroneously based on mistranslation from Spanish), Rakaboûnâ (erroneously based on mistranslation from Arabic)

Kuyutha

Early Islamic cosmology tells that when God created the Earth, he saw it to be wobbly as a ship in a stormy sea. To support it he created an angel who held it by the east and west. But there was nothing below the angel, so he created a red ruby rock (or a green gemstone rock, according to al-Wardi) a with 7,000 perforations in it, from each of which issues a sea whose breadth God only knows, and the angel stood on the rock.

Then God created (or brought down from Heaven) a great bull to support the rock. This bull is enormous beyond comprehension. Al-Qazwini describes the bull as having 40,000 eyes, 40,000 noses, 40,000 ears, 40,000 mouths, 40,000 tongues, and 40,000 legs. Al-Damiri’s list gives the bull 4,000 of each of these features instead. Al-Wardi refers only to 40,000 horns and 40,000 legs. The distance between each of the bull’s pairs of legs would take 500 years to cover. The spread of his horns goes beyond the boundaries of the Earth. He breathes twice a day; as his nose is in the water, this causes the tides to ebb and flow. When he shifts he causes earthquakes.

The bull held the rock on his back and horns, and he stands on the back of a great fish (with or without a layer of sand between the bull and the fish). The fish is so large that all the seas would be like a grain of mustard in his nostril. Below the fish are varying combinations of water, earth, suffocating wind, sand, darkness, and mist, and that is as far as human knowledge goes.

Spectacular as it may be, this cosmology was apparently never taken too seriously. Al-Qazwini relegates it to his section on “Differing Opinions of the Ancients on the Shape and Location of Earth”; the cosmological sections of the Wonders of Creation are much less poetic. It inspired the Persian expression az mah ta mahi, “from the moon to the fish”, i.e. the whole of creation.

What are the names of the bull and the fish? Logically, a giant land creature and a giant sea creature in an Abrahamic religion would be Behemoth and Leviathan, respectively. Indeed, Guest and Ettinghausen attribute the oldest rendition of this cosmology to Ahmad-e Tūsi’s Wonders of Creation, where the bull is Behemoth and the fish Leviathan. But textual corruption sets in around the time al-Qazwini cites Wahb bin Munabbih in his own Wonders of Creation, and by then the two godbeasts had swapped names. The fish became Behemoth (Bahamut or Bahemut in Arabic) while the bull was saddled with increasingly garbled misreadings of Leviathan – Kuyūban or Kuyūthan in al-Qazwini, Kuyūtha or Kuyūthan in al-Damiri, Kuyūthan in al-Abshihi, and so on.

Older English translations of Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings incorrectly translate the bull’s name to “Kujata”. Borges apparently would have pronounced “j” as “y”, so newer editions of the Book use the more accurate “Quyuta”.

Perron gives the name of the bull as Rakaboûnâ, a hilarious but entirely understandable translation error.

References

al-Abshihi, C. (2008) Al-Mustatraf fi kul Fann Mustadhraf. Dar Al-Marefah, Beirut.

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

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

Al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

Guest, G. D. and Ettinghausen, R. (1961) The Iconography of a Kashan Luster Plate. Ars Orientalis, v. 4, pp. 25-64.

Lane, E. L. (1883) Arabian Society in the Middle Ages. Chatto and Windus, London.

Al-Mundir; Perron, N. trans. (1860) Le Nâċérî: La Perfection des Deux Arts. Bouchard-Huzard, Paris.

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.

Al-Wardi, S. (2007) Kharidat al-‘ajaib wa faridat al-gharaib. Maktabat al-Thaqafa al-Diniyya, Cairo.

Akampeshimpeshi

Variations: Lightning

Akampeshimpeshi

According to the Lamba people of Zambia, there is a great lake of water above the dome of the sky. This lake is held back by a weir protected by guardians appointed by Lesa (God). Sometimes Lesa appoints children to guard it, and their irresponsible playing makes holes in the weir and allow the water to spill to earth as rain. When Lesa appoints grown men to guard the weir, then there is no rain.

Lightning (akampeshimpeshi) is caused by the guardians of the weir swinging and tossing their knives (imyele). The knives do not fall – if they did, the earth would be destroyed.

When a flash of lightning hits the ground, an animal descends to the ground on the end of a long cobweb. It looks like a goat, with beard and horns, but has the feet and tail of a crocodile. Usually it returns to the sky on its string of web; if the cobweb breaks, the animal will be trapped on the ground and cry like a goat. In this state it is very dangerous and might kill people, so it is mobbed, killed, and burned by the Lambas. Anyone trying to slay this beast must have protective medicine (ubwanga bwayamba) to avoid being killed themselves.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

Bakunawa

Variations: Baconaua (Hiligaynon)

Bakunawa

The Asian eclipse monster has analogues in China, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, and the South Sea Islands. In the Philippines, where the legend is widespread, it is usually a dragon or serpent or even an enormous bird. Bakunawa, “Eclipse”, is one of the best-known.

The Bakunawa of the Cebuano, or Baconaua as it is known to the Hiligaynon, is a colossal, fishlike dragon as large as the Negros and Cebu islands. It resembles a shark, with gills, a lake-sized mouth, and a striking red tongue. Whiskers one palmo long adorn its mouth. In addition to its powerful ash-gray wings, it has smaller wings along its sides.

Long ago there were seven moons in the sky. Bakunawa gobbled them up one by one until it came to the last and largest moon. It failed to swallow it, and tried to bite it into manageable chunks, sinking its teeth deep into the moon’s surface. To this day the bakunawa’s teeth-marks can still be seen on the moon. Every now and then the bakunawa will take to the sky and attempt to finish the job it started by swallowing the moon, causing an eclipse. To make it release the moon, utensils are clanged loudly together to startle it.

The bakunawa’s den is in the deepest parts of the sea. In January, February, and March its head faces north and its tail south; in April, May, and June its head faces west and its tail east, in July, August, and September its head points south and its tail north; and in October, November, and December its head is east and its tail west. The positions of the bakunawa during those four phases are used to divine the best time to build houses.

A children’s game called Bakunawa for 10 or more players involves one player as Buan, the moon, while another is Bakunawa. The remainder form a circle, holding hands and facing inwards. The moon starts inside the circle and Bakunawa is outside. The goal of the children in the circle is to prevent Bakunawa from entering the circle and capturing the moon – the moon itself cannot leave the circle. Bakunawa can ask individual players “What chain is this?” and they can answer that it is an iron, copper, abaca, or any material they can think of. When Bakunawa captures the moon, the players exchange roles or swap with players in the circle.

References

Jocano, F. L. (1969) The Traditional World of Malitbog. Bookman Printing House, Quezon City.

de Lisboa, M. (1865) Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol. Establecimento Tipografico del Colegio de Santo Tomas, Manila.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.

Ramos, M. D. (1990) Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines. Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City.

Reyes-Tolentino, F. and Ramos, P. (1935) Philippine Folk Dances and Games. Silver, Burdett and Company, New York.

Apep

Variations: Āpep, Āapep, Aaapef, Apophis, Rerek; further names from the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu listed by Budge are Nesht, Tutu, Hau-hra, Hemhemti, Qettu, Qerneru, Iubani, Amam, Hem-taiu, Saatet-ta, Khermuti, Kenememti, Sheta, Serem-taui, Sekhem-hra, Unti, Karau-anememti, Khesef-hra, Seba-ent-seba, Khak-ab, Khan-ru… uaa, Nai, Am, Turrupa, Iubau, Uai, Kharubu the Four Times Wicked, Sau, Beteshu

apep

Apep, Āapep, or Apophis in Greek, is the chief chthonic monster in the Egyptian cosmogony, born during the dark times of the First Intermediate Period and depicted as an enormous serpent with winding coils or alternatively as a giant crocodile, or with a human head and hands as in the Stele of Taqayna. He is described as being a hundred and twenty cubits (55 meters) long, or otherwise thirty cubits (14 meters) long, with the first eight cubits made of flint and with coils like sandbanks, lying on a sandbank 450 cubits (205 meters) long.

Apep is darkness, cloud, wind, rain, mist, and storm. The antithesis of light and life, his primary goal is the destruction of the sun god Ra and his solar barque, causing the elimination of light and day and the victory of chaos and darkness. Assisted by a retinue of lesser demons and serpents – the mesu betshet or “children of rebellion”, the snakes Seba, Af, and Nak, and the crocodile Seshsesh – he hides under the earth and below the horizon, and attempts to swallow Ra’s barque every night. Ra, aided by his cortège of gods, thwarts Apep’s attempts time and time again, allowing the sun to rise once more. Occasionally Apep gains the upper hand, causing storms, earthquakes, and solar eclipses, but those end as Ra is cut free from Apep’s stomach. The serpent’s inevitable fate is to be chopped up into pieces and cast back into the abyss, but he always returns the following night, as full of malice and venom as ever, in an endless cycle of destruction.

In a mythology revolving around the sun, Apep, sworn enemy of Ra, darkness personified, is as evil a creature as could exist in the Egyptian pantheon. Some degree of respect was granted him; the Hyksos pharaoh Apepi (r. 1590 – 1550 BCE) took him as his namesake, in a perverse move likely intended to instill fear in the native Egyptians. As a deity, he was never worshipped, but always avoided, spited and mutilated in effigy during natural disasters.

The apotropaic “Book of Overthrowing Apep” (4th century BCE) provides helpful instructions for the faithful, including exhortations for “Spitting on Apep”, “Trampling on Apep with the Left Foot”, “Taking the Knife to Smite Apep”, “Taking the Lance to Smite Apep”, “Putting Apep on the Fire”, “Fettering Apep”, and other such activities. The Book of the Dead features the soul of the deceased piercing Apep, praying for aid in destroying Apep at the apex of his power. Apep’s gruesome punishment is described at length – he is to be speared, stabbed with knives, each bone of his body separated by red-hot knives, scorched, roasted, and consumed by fire. Each name of Apep had to be cursed separately, and the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu lists the serpent’s many names.

In time the role of Apep as the enemy of the Sun overlapped with that of the desert god Set, once the primary defender of the solar barque from Apep’s depredations, such that Apepi is described in ca. 1274 BCE as a monolatrous worshipper of Set.

References

Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Ames, D. trans. (1965) Egyptian Mythology. From Mythologie Generale Larousse. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Budge, E. A. W. (1913) The Papyrus of Ani: a reproduction in facsimile, vol. I. G. P. Putnam, New York.

Budge, E. A. W. (1913) The Papyrus of Ani: a reproduction in facsimile, vol. II. G. P. Putnam, New York.

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

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

ElSebaie, S. M. (2000) The destiny of the world: a study on the end of the universe in the light of ancient Egyptian texts. M.A. diss., University of Toronto.

Faulkner, R. O. (1937) The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus: III: D. The Book of Overthrowing Apep. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 23, no. 2, pp. 166-185.

Simpson, W. K., Faulkner, R. O., and Wente, E. F. (2003) The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Turner, P. (2012) Seth – a misrepresented god in the ancient Egyptian pantheon? PhD diss., University of Manchester.

Wilkinson, R. H. (2003) The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, London.