Devil-jack Diamond-fish

Variations: Diamond fish, Devil fish, Jack fish, Garjack, Litholepe, Litholepe adamantin, Litholepis adamantinus

Devil-jack Diamond-fish

John James Audubon is remembered today as an artist and ornithologist of considerable import. His practical jokes are less well known, and began with the unexpected arrival of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque at Hendersonville, Kentucky.

Rafinesque was a brilliant, enthusiastic, “exceedingly remarkable”, and very eccentric young naturalist who tested Audubon’s hospitality. After they had retired to bed, Audubon was roused by a commotion coming from Rafinesque’s room. As he describes it, “I saw my guest running naked, holding the handle of my favorite violin, the body of which he had battered to pieces in attempting to kill the bats which had entered the open window!” Rafinesque was convinced the bats were new species. Audubon was not amused.

Perhaps to avenge his smashed violin, Audubon decided to take advantage of Rafinesque’s credulity and eagerness to describe new species. He solemnly supplied Rafinesque with 10 drawings of completely fictitious fish, which were duly named and described in detail. The likes of the bigmouth sturgeon and the flatnose doublefin caused headaches for ichthyologists and tarnished Rafinesque’s reputation beyond repair.

The Devil-jack Diamond-fish (Litholepis adamantinus) is surely the most remarkable of those faux fishes, as evidenced by Rafinesque’s breathless description. This “wonder of the Ohio” is found only as far up as the falls and probably in the Mississippi as well. Rafinesque claimed to have seen it from a distance, and seen some of its scales, but otherwise he “principally relied upon the description and figure given [him] by Mr. Audubon”.

We are fortunate enough to have a complete and detailed description of the devil-jack. It is classified among the garfish but is quite unique. The body is blackish and fusiform, 4 to 10 feet long and up to 400 pounds in weight. The head takes up a fourth of the total length. The snout alone is large (as long as the head), convex above, and obtuse. The eyes are small and black, with the nostrils in front of them. The mouth is transverse and has large angular teeth. Dorsal and anal fins are of equal length, the tail is obtusely bilobed, and there is no lateral line. The body is covered in oblique rows of conical pentagonal brown scales, half an inch to one inch in diameter; they become the color of turtle shell when dried.

The scales are the devil-jack’s main claim to fame, as they are hard as flint, completely bulletproof, and repel hooks. They produce sparks when struck against steel. Only nets or the strongest hooks can take a devil-jack. It is inedible and a voracious hunter, usually seen lying motionless at the surface like a log. The scales are a miracle of nature, for “they strike fire with steel! and are ball proof!” [sic]

References

Jordan, D. S. (1886) Rafinesque. The Popular Science Monthly, June 1886.

Rafinesque, C. S. (1820) Ichthyologia Ohiensis. W. G. Hunt, Lexington, Kentucky.

Dungavenhooter

Variations: Crocodilus hauriens

dungavenhooter

The Dungavenhooter is a Fearsome Critter found lurking in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, although it once ranged as far as Maine. This cunning and dangerous swamp-dweller resembles an alligator with short legs and a thick, powerful tail. Notably, a dungavenhooter lacks a mouth, instead sporting enormous nostrils. The call is a loud snort.

Dungavenhooters ambush prey by hiding in whiffle bushes. They are especially attracted to inebriated loggers, presumably avoiding competition with the teetotal hidebehinds. Anyone passing within range is clubbed with the creature’s tail, then pounded into a gas which the dungavenhooter inhales.

References

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Dulhath

Variations: Dulhama (al-Damiri); Duhlak, Dulhak, Dulchaph (Bochart)

dulhath

The Dulhath has had a muddled history, with authors disagreeing with each other on the exact name, let alone the appearance. It is first mentioned by al-Qazwini, who refers to the dulhath, but al-Damiri describes it under the name of dulhama, and Bochart reports on the duhlak. Here al-Qazwini’s name has been given priority.

While the original description appears to be al-Qazwini’s, the dulhath’s pedigree probably goes back to jinn who appear as animals – in this case, an ostrich jinni. This in turn led to al-Qazwini’s dulhath as a demon found on certain desert islands, and which resembles a man riding an ostrich. It eats the flesh of humans who have been cast alive or dead into its territory. A dulhath will also invade ships to seek its prey, and when attacked by sailors it speaks loudly in a boastful voice, causing them to prostrate themselves before it. Bochart believed the “boastful voice” to have been some translation error derived from tales of sirens.

The best description of a dulhath is found in the tale of Aboulfaouaris the sailor. Sadly it is all but certifiable, as the creature in question remained unnamed, but its behavior is compellingly close to al-Qazwini’s broad outline. The dulhath that plagued Aboulfaouaris looked like a man of about 40. He had a monstrous shape, a big head, short bristly hair, and an excessively large mouth filled with sharp teeth. Eyes like those of a tiger glared above a flat nose with large nostrils. His arms were nervous, his hands large, and his fingers equipped with viciously hooked claws.

Aboulfaouaris and his crew encountered a dulhath near the island of Java. They saw a naked man clinging to a plank of wood in the sea, calling for help; accordingly the sailors rescued him and brought him aboard ship, where his appearance caused much consternation. When told that he had been narrowly rescued from drowning, the odd man smiled and said “I could have stayed for years in the sea without being bothered; what torments me most is hunger. I have not eaten in twelve hours. Please bring me something to eat, anything, I’m not particular”. An attempt was made to bring him clothing, but the dulhath explained that he always went naked. “Don’t worry, you’ll have lots of time to get used to it”, he added ominously, stamping his foot impatiently. Enough food was presented to him to feed six starving men. The dulhath polished it off and asked for more; the same amount was brought to him and disappeared in short order, and a third helping was called for. One of the slaves, shocked by the creature’s insolence, made to strike him, but the dulhath grabbed him both both shoulders and tore him in half.

All hell broke loose. Aboulfaouaris, sailors, slaves, all descended on the dulhath with sabers drawn, determined to kill the monster. But the dulhath’s skin was harder than diamond. Swords broke and arrows bounced uselessly off his hide. Then they tried to drag him off the ship, but the dulhath sank his claws into the deck, anchoring himself immovably. The sailors were utterly incapable of harming the dulhath. The dulhath, on the other hand, had no such problems as he took one of the sailors and ripped him to pieces with his claws. “My friends, you had better obey me. I’ve tamed worse people than you, and I will have no qualms about having you share the fate of your two shipmates”.

With that the reign of terror began. The dulhath was in full control of the ship, and ate his fourth course while the crew stared in terrified silence. Aboulfaouaris hoped that food and conversation might cause the monster to doze off, but the dulhath smugly reminded him that he had no need for sleep, and none of the soporific tales they told him would have any effect.

All hope seemed lost until deliverance came from the sky. The sailors looked up to see a rukh soaring overhead, and they scattered in fear. The dulhath, however, was unaware of the huge bird, and was standing confidently in the middle of the deck. An easy target! The rukh dove and carried the dulhath off before he could cling to the ship. But the intended prey wasn’t giving up without a fight, and he began tearing and biting into the rukh’s belly. The rukh responded by gouging out the dulhath’s eyes with its talons, and the demon retaliated by eating his way to the rukh’s heart. As it expired, the rukh caught the dulhath’s head in its beak and crushed it like an eggshell. Both monsters plummeted into the waves and vanished.

References

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

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

de Lacroix, P. (1840) Les Mille et Un Jours: Contes Persans. Auguste Desrez, 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.

Smith, W. R. (1956) The Religion of the Semites: the Fundamental Institutions. Meridian Books, New York.

Dwarf

Variations: Dvergr, Dvergar, Duergr, Duergar (Old Norse); Dvärgher (Old Swedish); Dweorg, Dweorh (Anglo-Saxon); Twerg (Old High German); Dökkalf, Dökkalfar, Svartalf, Swartalf, Svartalfar, Swartalfar (Dark Elf, Black Elf); Dverge (Norway); Bjergfolk, Troldfolk (Denmark); Dvärg (Sweden)

Dwarf

“Dwarf” is a broad term that has been used to describe any supernatural being of short stature, often stunted and ugly in form, and living under the earth. Here it is used to refer specifically to the Scandinavian dwarfs, the chthonic master craftsmen who emerged from Ymir’s corpse, the personifications of the earth’s might and riches. They are also known as Dark Elves or Black Elves, distinguishing them from the elves living on the surface.

When Odin and his brothers slew the frost giant Ymir, they used his body to make the world. From his blood they made the seas and rivers, from his flesh the land, from his bones the mountains, and from his teeth the stones. The vault of Ymir’s skull was the heavens, and fire from the land of Múspellheim became stars.

Living inside the ruin of Ymir’s body were maggots digging through his flesh. Odin gave them consciousness and human form, but, much like maggots, they continued their existence digging through earth and stone. Odin tasked four dwarfs – North, South, East, and West – with holding up Ymir’s enormous skull.

Dwarfs were twisted, hunchbacked, bearded, short-legged, pallid like corpses, shunning the sun – which turned them to stone. As there were no female dwarfs, they carved new dwarfs out of the rock. While small and ugly by the Aesir’s standards, they were also unequaled as artisans, smiths, and jewelers.

The greatest of the Aesir’s artifacts were made by dwarfs. After Loki cut Sif’s hair as a prank, the other gods forced him under penalty of death to restore her beauty. The trickster god went to the sons of Ívaldi, who not only fashioned perfect golden hair for the goddess, but also the ship Skídbladnir, and Odin’s spear Gungnir. Impressed with their work, Loki dared the dwarfs Brokkr and Sindri to do better, wagering his own head in the process. Despite Loki’s best efforts to stop them, which included turning into a fly and biting them at crucial moments, he was unable to prevent the creation of the golden boar Gullinbursti, the gold ring Draupnir, and Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. All those gifts were presented to the gods, who decided that the hammer was the greatest item made by the dwarfs. Brokkr made for Loki’s head, but was outwitted by the god. “I wagered my head only, and not my neck. You’re welcome to it – if you do so without touching my neck”. Frustrated, Brokkr settled for stitching the impertinent Loki’s lips together.

Dwarfs also made Gleipnir, the silken ribbon that was used to bind the Fenris-wolf. It was made from a cat’s footfall, a woman’s beard, a mountain’s sinews, a rock’s roots, a fish’s breath, and a bird’s spittle. The wolf was immediately suspicious of the fragile-looking thread, and the god Tyr had to put his hand in the wolf’s mouth to humor him. As expected, the dwarfs’ cord held fast and bound the Fenris-wolf, but at the cost of Tyr’s hand.

The dwarf Alvíss, the “all-knowing”, lusted after Thor’s daughter. The god consented to give him her hand in marriage, but only if he could answer the questions he asked. Thor then proceeded to ask Alvíss questions about the world and the universe, which the wise dwarf answered proudly. In fact, Alvíss was so engrossed in showing off his intelligence that he failed to notice the approach of dawn, and the unfortunate dwarf was turned to stone by the rising sun.

Known Eddic dwarf names include Ài, Àlfr, Althjófr, Alvíss, Andvari, Austri, Báfurr, Bifurr, Bömburr, Brokkr, Dáinn, Dólgthvari, Dóri, Draupnir, Dúfr, Durinn, Dvalinn, Eikinskjaldi, Falr, Fidr, Fili, Frosti, Fundinn, Gandálfr, Ginnarr, Glóinn, Hárr, Heptifili, Hledjólfr, Hörr, Hugstari, Ívaldi, Kili, Litr, Mjödvitnir, Módsognir, Náinn, Nár, Nidi, Nípingr, Nordri, Nóri, Nýi, Nýr, Nýrádr, Óinn, Ónarr, Óri, Rádsvidr, Rekkr, Sindri, Skáfidr, Skirfir, Sudri, Svíarr, Thekkr, Thorinn, Thróinn, Thrór, Váli, Vestri, Vídr, Vindálfr, Virfir, Vitr, and Yngvi.

References

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

Appenzeller, T. and the Editors of Time-Life Books. (1985) Dwarfs. Silver Burdett Company, Morristown.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Edwards, G. (1974) Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck. John Sherratt and Son, Altrincham.

Keightley, T. (1978) The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and other Little People. Avenel Books, New York.

MacCulloch, J. A. (1964) The Mythology of All Races v. II: Eddic. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.

Sturluson, S. (1916) The Prose Edda. Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London.

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.

Danghu

Variations: Danghu-bird

Danghu

Upper-Shen Mountain or Shangshen is a rugged, rocky peak with no vegetation on it, but there are hazelnut groves at its base. There, Danghu birds can be seen flying from branch to branch. A danghu looks like a pheasant, but it flies using its hypertrophied whiskers and throat feathers. Consuming a danghu protects from and cures myopia. Guo Pu extolled the virtues of the danghu, using it as a metaphor for the economical mindset of Daoism as it makes do with what it has.

Mathieu suggests that this bird is the masked Japanese grosbeak (Eophona personata), which is nonetheless unwhiskered and unpheasantlike.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Dodo

Variations: Kadindi, Kaddodi, Kadda, Swallower-of-Men

Dodo

The Dodo is a monstrous humanoid creature from the folklore of the Hausa people. He can be found lurking in the deep forests and swamps of sub-Saharan West Africa, with a range including Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Côte d’Ivoire. The dodo has nothing in common with the extinct flightless bird of the same name, and probably was derived from tales of giant snakes.

Not much is known about a dodo’s appearance. He – for the dodo is always male – is the King of Beasts, and can just as easily be the lion, the python, the elephant, or the rhinoceros. A dodo is humanoid in appearance and large in size, as he has to stoop to get through doors. He has long, shaggy black hair. He has a keen sense of smell, and can detect meat from far away. He has some degree of magic powers, but cannot cross running water (paradoxically, dodos also live in ponds and streams). Most importantly, the dodo has a vast mouth glowing red from the inside, a seemingly infinite stomach capacity, and a taste for human flesh. As one of the African “swallowing monsters”, a dodo can easily engulf an entire village.

A dodo is often a self-invited guest, eating more and more until there is nothing left. This is not always a bad thing. Once a miser and his son were preparing to butcher a freshly-slaughtered ox in the forest, far from prying eyes. They decided to cook it in a nearby fire – a fire which turned out to be a dodo’s glowing, cavernous mouth.

“Well well”, said the dodo. “Who has invited me?” The miser, hoping to placate him, said “I did!” and gave him a leg of beef, which the dodo put away in his bag. “Does a man invite a friend to a feast for such a small morsel?” said the dodo. In response, the miser gave him another leg. “Does a man invite a friend to a feast for such a small morsel?” The next two legs followed, then half the bull, then the remainder of the bull. “Does a man invite a friend to a feast for such a small morsel?” “But there is nothing left!” protested the man. “You are also meat”, came the response. Terrified, the miser shoved his son forward, and the dodo tossed him into his bag. Finally, he grabbed the miser himself. “What about you?” he said, throwing him into his bag as well. The dodo went to collect firewood, but in the meantime the father and son managed to cut their way out of the bag and made their escape. The dodo returned, shrugged, and got a meal of roast beef. The miser vowed he would never be greedy again, and devoted the rest of his life to sharing his food and wealth with others.

While dodos readily eat meat, they are also fond of taking human women as their wives, sometimes fathering repulsive half-dodo children with them. Dodos like to strike bargains with prospective spouses, promising to help them for the price of marriage; sometimes those “bargains” are more straightforward, consisting of “Would you like me to eat you or marry you?” Such unions are never happy, and the wife will always try to escape her captor.

One dodo story tells of a young woman, pregnant with her first child, drawing water from a stream. Another woman, jealous of her companion and looking to get her scolded, threw dirt in her pot before leaving. But as the pregnant woman tried to carry her water pot, a dodo came out of the water and helped her with her load. Before she could protest, he stated “If you give birth to a boy, he will be my friend. If your child is a girl, she will be my wife”. And with that, he disappeared back into the water.

The mother soon gave birth, and her jealous rival was prompt to report the news to the dodo. “She gave birth to a girl”, she announced, and the dodo was immensely pleased. He was content to wait over the years, until the girl had become a woman as beautiful as her mother. On the day of the girl’s wedding, the jealous woman once more reported the news to the dodo, and he decided to show up uninvited.

“Kadindi has arrived”, he boomed, as everyone stared at him. “I have come to collect the payment I am due”. The daughter was obviously unhappy about marrying the monster, so instead her father gave the dodo a horse, part of the bride’s dowry. “Here is the payment for your debt”, he said, and the dodo swallowed the horse. But that was not enough. Next he ate all of the cattle, all of the wedding feast, all of the guests, and finally the father and mother. There was only the daughter left, and in desperation she prayed to the heavens. “Dodo has come to demand payment”, she implored. In response to her prayer, a knife fell out of the sky, and it was promptly swallowed as well – killing the dodo, cutting open his belly, and causing all the livestock, food, guests, and parents to come out unharmed. The wedding went on as planned.

References

Tremearne, A. J. N. (1913) Hausa Superstitions and Customs. J. Bale and Sons and Danielsson, Ltd., London.