The Floitenthal, near the Ziller Valley in the Tyrol, has two great mountains, the Floitenthurm and the Teufelseck. The latter, the “Devil’s Corner”, is so name because the devil himself is said to descend from it in the form of a great fiery dragon glowing like an electric fire. The dragon flies a narrow hole, the Bleiarzkar, towards the Zillertal. This demonic dragon is known as the Alber, and it brings with it plague, war, and famine.
One time, during a night as black as pitch, two men climbed a cherry tree by the Mission Cross of Algund, near Meran. These men were Hanser, a tailor and a notorious ne’er-do-well, and old Loaserer Sepp, an honest villager.
To be fair to Sepp, he did not mean to participate in any unseeming behavior. Hanser had made a bet with some equally debauched friends to pick cherries from the tree near the cross, but, being an abject coward, he could not do it on his own, so he roped Sepp into accompanying him.
Both men climbed the tree, but Hanser filled his hat by the handful while Sepp could not find a single cherry no matter where he looked. Sepp was beginning to feel uncomfortable when, all of a sudden, the Alber flew by, throwing its burning light upon the scene.
Hanser was so scared he almost fell off the tree, but Sepp held the other man and prevented him from falling. “Are you so far gone, Hanser, that the devil gives you his blessing and lights your way?” said Sepp. “Then may God preserve you!” The honest man then turned to the fiery dragon. “Hi there! Wait a little until I find some cherries too!” The Alber left at once.
Sepp was a good, honest man, and the evil one had no power over him. His bravery was lauded long afterwards.
von Günther, A. (1874) Tales and Legends of the Tyrol. Chapman and Hall, London.
Thakáne and her two brothers were the children of a Basotho chief. In some versions there is only one brother, Masilo; in some retellings the siblings are orphans, in others their parents are merely distant figures. Either way Thakáne was like a mother to her brothers. She cared for them, made their food, and filled their water jugs. When they had to go to school, it was Thakáne who took them there. When they were circumcised in the traditional grass huts, the mophato, it was Thakáne who took them there and waited on them until the ritual was over and they had rested. It was their sister who brought them the clothes they would wear as men.
But Thakáne’s brothers did not accept her choice of clothing. Only items made from the skin of a Nanabolele would do. They wanted shields of nanabolele hide, and shoes of nanabolele leather, and clothing of nanabolele skin, and hats cut from nanabolele, and spears tied up with strips of nanabolele. They refused to leave the mophato until their request was fulfilled.
It was a tall order. The nanaboleles, they who shine in the night, were horrid, reptilian creatures that live underwater and underground. They glow in the darkness, giving off light like the moon and stars do. They were deadly predators. Surely there was some mistake! “Why do you ask the impossible?” asked Thakáne. “Where am I supposed to find nanabolele skin? Where? Ná?” But her brothers would not be swayed, declaring that it became them, as the sons of a chief, to wear nanabolele skins.
So Thakáne set out, knowing that if their father was around, he would have done the same. It fell upon her to accomplish the task in his stead. She set off with oxen, beer calabashes, sweetcorn balls, and a large retinue in search of the nanaboleles. She sang as she went:
My brothers won’t leave the mophato, nanabolele!
They want shields of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And shoes they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And clothes they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And hats they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!
And spears they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!”
When Thakáne sang, the waters of the nearby stream parted, and a little frog hopped out. “Kuruu! Keep going!” it told her. Thakáne kept going from river to river, following the directions given by frog after frog, until at last she came upon the widest and deepest river yet. She sang her song, but nothing responded. Then she tossed some meat in, followed by an entire pack ox, but nothing happened.
Finally, the waters stirred, and an old woman stepped out, greeting Thakáne and inviting her to come in with her. Thakáne followed the old woman into the river, followed by her company. To her surprise, there was an entire river under the water, dry and breathable. But there was nobody there. It was empty and silent as the grave.
“Where are all the people, Grandmother?” said Thakáne to her guide. “Alas”, said the old woman. “The nanaboleles have eaten them, adults, children, cattle, sheep, dogs, chickens, everything! Only I was allowed to live, I am too old and tough to eat, so they make me do their work for them”. “Yo wheh!” said Thakáne. “We are truly in danger then”. But the old woman bade them hide, leading them into a deep hole which she covered with reeds.
It wasn’t long after Thakáne and her friends had hidden that the nanabolele returned to the village, sounding like a huge herd of oxen. The creatures glowed, shining like the moon and the stars, but they did not sleep, instead sniffing around intently. “We smell people!” they snarled. But they found nothing, and eventually tired and went to sleep.
That was the opportunity Thakáne had been waiting for. She and her companions emerged from hiding and, singling out the biggest nanabolele, quickly slaughtered it before it could wake up the others. Then they flayed it in silence and prepared to leave.
Before they left, the old woman gave Thakáne a pebble. “The nanabolele will follow you. When you see a red dust cloud against the sky, that will be them on your trail. This pebble will save you from them…”
Sure enough, dawn had barely broken when Thakáne saw the cloud of red dust. The nanaboleles were in pursuit! Thakáne quickly dropped the pebble on the ground, and it grew, becoming an enormous mountain that she and her friends climbed. They took refuge at the top, while the nanaboleles exhausted themselves trying to climb it. Then, as the reptiles lay catching their breath, the mountain shrank, Thakáne picked up the pebble, and the chase continued.
Thus it went on for several days, with the nanaboleles catching up only to be worn out by the pebble-mountain. But when Thakáne reached her home, she called upon all the dogs of the village to attack the nanaboleles. The creatures, terrified, turned tail and ran back to their abandoned village under the river.
There was only one thing left to do. The nanabolele skin which gives off light in the dark was cut and prepared into items of clothing and armor and weapons, and Thakáne herself took them to her brothers in the mophato.
Nobody else had seen such wondrous items, and Thakáne’s brothers rewarded her handsomely, giving her a hundred head of cattle.
Dorson, R. M. (1972) African Folklore. Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, New York.
Jacottet, E. (1908) The Treasury of Ba-Suto Lore. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London.
Postma, M. (1974) Tales from the Basotho. University of Texas Press, Austin.
The Lidérc or Ludvérc is a polymorphic and polyvalent entity from Hungary. In its various guises, it appears as a will-o’-the-wisp, an astral phenomenon, a sexual vampire, a sleep nightmare, a sorcerer’s familiar, and a household spirit.
The origin of the term lidérc is unknown. It may or may not be of Slavic origin. In current Hungarian it usually refers to a flickering light or a marsh flame. It is also part of the compound words lidércfény, “will-o’-the-wisp”, and lidércnyomás, literally “lidérc pressure”, referring to nightmares and mental depression.
In its most spectacular form the lidérc is a shooting star or flame that travels through the air. In Zala County it appears as a fiery rod that excretes fire. A lidérc in Zselicség appeared as a staddle that caused outbreaks of fire and burned down pig-pens. Elsewhere a lidérc might be a marsh flame, a star, or a fiery person. It can breathe fire and make flames break out wherever it wishes.
A lidérc picks unhappy lovers as victims – widows, widowers, wives or those betrothed to soldiers, all are fair game to the lidérc. It flies into their house and takes the form of their loved one, whether male or female. It seduces them, giving them their heart’s desire while slowly draining them of their life and vitality. The victims waste away until they are literally loved to death, whereupon the lidérc becomes a star again and sets off in search of new prey.
While accomplished and silver-tongued mimics, a lidérc cannot change at least one of its legs, which is a bony, scaly leg of a goose or chicken, or even the iron shod foot of a horse. Scattering ashes at the doorstep will reveal that one foot wears a boot, while the other is that of a goose, and expose the lidérc. A lidérc can also be prevented from entering a house in the usual ways – garlic, trouser-cord, and other repellents will keep a lidérc at bay.
One such lidérc was reported from Gajcsána, as told by Jószef Jankó of Baranya County and collected by Mária Vámos in 1961. The village bell-ringer’s daughter wished to sleep in the barn, and her father set a bed for her there according to her wishes. She slept there throughout the summer. She seemed happy enough with the arrangement, but the bell-ringer and his wife couldn’t help but notice that she was losing weight and seemed constantly dizzy.
One night, the bell-ringer chanced to see a shooting star coming to Earth above his barn. Determined to understand what was going on, he confronted his daughter, asking if she had been seeing anyone recently, and she finally confessed to being in love with a handsome young man who visited her every evening. Sure enough, that night the watchful father saw the star land outside the barn, transform into a handsome lad, and walk in.
The next day, the bell-ringer decided to switch places with his daughter, despite her protests. He had her stay in the house, while he wore her clothes and ducked under the blankets in the barn. It wasn’t long before the lidérc arrived and lay in bed next to him. The father carefully ran his hand down the suitor’s leg – it was the scaly leg of a goose. Now aware of what he was up against, the bell-ringer ran out of the barn with the lidérc on his tail, and managed to enter the house and lock the door in time.
After that incident, the daughter remained safely at home, and the bed in the barn became host to a straw dummy smeared with excrement and waste. The lidérc was furious, spitting fire and throwing sparks all over the barn, but to no avail. After several more nights, the lidérc gave up and was never seen again.
The term lidérc also refers to a household spirit, one which is hatched from the first-laid egg of a black pullet that has been incubated under the armpit. The lidérc-chicken that hatches is featherless and latches onto the man who cared for it. It is intelligent and can talk. It will fetch treasure and do its master’s bidding, and subsist on butter, but in reality it is the master that has to fear the lidérc. The lidérc will constantly need new tasks to accomplish, and if its master does not provide it with such distractions, it will pester him from dawn to dusk. Eventually it will kill such an uncooperative master.
To rid oneself of a domestic lidérc, one must give it a task that is patently impossible, so impossible that the creature will be forced to quit or die of frustration. Traditional examples include fetching sand in a sieve, or squeezing themselves through a tiny hole in a tree-trunk, while one modern example is to making a telephone out of sand. Such tasks should be beyond even the most creative lidérc.
Dégh, L. (trans. Halász, J.) (1965) Folktales of Hungary. The University of Chicago Press.
Dömötor, T. (1982) Hungarian Folk Beliefs. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
The Minokawa is a Bagobo eclipse creature, comparable to other voracious dragons such as the bakunawa and the markupo. Its equivalents in other Filipino cultures include the Arimaonga of the Maranao, the Ban-og or Bannog of the Iloko and Tinguian, and the Baua of the Hiligaynon, Pampangan and Tagalog.
The minokawa appears as a bird as big as the islands of Negros and Bohol (it is unclear with this refers to combined or separate island masses). It has a beak and talons of steel, sharp swords for feathers, and mirror eyes.
It lives on the eastern horizon, above the clouds and outside the sky. There it lies in wait for the moon every night, and tries to devour her every time she appears. The moon has eight holes in the horizon to enter the sky, and another eight holes to leave the sky; thus she confuses her would-be predator, and manages to avoid being eaten – most of the time, at least. When the minokawa manages to start eating the moon, it causes a lunar eclipse.
The ultimate goal of the minokawa is to swallow the moon, then the sun, and then descend upon Earth to devour all its inhabitants. Fortunately, it can be startled in the same way as normal animals. During an eclipse one must scream and make noise to cause the bird to release its catch. The minokawa stops out of surprise, curiosity, or even appreciation of the music.
Its counterpart, the baua of the Hiligaynon, relents after the promise of ample food. It lives in a cave called calulundan, above the sky and guarded by blue smoke.
The ban-og of the Iloko and Tinguian is big enough to darken the sky in flight, and strong enough to carry off both a hunter and his porcine quarry. It builds its nests on the tops of trees on a distant mountain, and brings even the biggest animals as food for its chicks. However, it can be easily outwitted and tricked into its own demise.
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.
As an incarnation or ally of the god Set, the Akhekh is associated with darkness and water (both elements of chaos). Pierret gives it an eagle’s head on a winged lion’s body; Budge specifies that it is an antelope with two wings on its back, and the head of a bird crowned with three uraei – the cobras on Pharaonic headdresses.
The akhekh is a symbol of terror, but the uraei also connect it to the power of the Pharaoh. Ramesses II was described as being an akhekh to his Hittite enemies. The Metternich stele shows a king in a chariot drawn by an akhekh galloping over two crocodiles.
Budge, E. A. W. (2015) The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. II. Dover Publications Inc., New York.
Pierret, P. (1875) Dictionnaire d’archéologie égyptienne. Imprimerie Nationale, Paris.
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 – oi… oi… – 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.
Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
Ieltxu is a Basque creature found in the caverns and wells of Gernika. Notable haunts include a pit in Nabarrizmendi and the Busturia well.
Ieltxu appears either as a human or as a bird shooting flames from its mouth. At night only its burning fire is seen. While its appearances are sudden and terrifying, an ieltxu is not evil, merely mischievous. It enjoys leading people astray and getting them lost, especially if they can get lost near a cliff.
Around Bermeo it is Iditxu or Iritxu who appears as a small pig. It leads people on a merry chase through the night only to return them to where they started, exhausted and empty-handed.
Altuna, J.; Fornoff, F. H., White, L., and Evans-Corrales, C. trans. (2007) Selected Writings of Jose Miguel de Barandiaran: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography. Center for Basque Studies, Reno.
When the Fad Felen, the “Yellow Pestilence”, “Yellow Death”, or “Yellow Plague”, came to Wales in the 540s, it took the form of a column of watery cloud, one end on the ground and the other high in the air. Any living creature caught in the pestiferous pillar died or sickened to death. It was called the Yellow Pestilence because of the livid, bloodless complexion of those stricken by it. Those physicians who tried to cure the afflicted themselves took ill and died.
Taliesin the poet prophesied the death of Maelgwn Gwynedd, King of North Wales. “A strange creature will come from the marsh of Rhianedd”, he said, “to punish the crimes of Maelgwn Gwynedd; its hair, its teeth, and its eyes are yellow, and this will destroy Maelgwn Gwynedd”. This manifestation of the Fad Felen was perhaps a hideous hag with baleful eyes, in the same way as the ague is referred to as the wrach or henwrach (the “hag” or “old hag” respectively). Other accounts speak of it as a basilisk; the poet Rhys Tenganwy mentions a scaly monster with claws and pestiferous breath.
Maelgwn Gwynedd saw the Fad Felen through the key-hole of Rhos Church, and died as a result – presumably a poetic way of saying that he died of plague in the church.
Llwyd, R. (1837) The Poetical Works of Richard Llwyd. Whittaker & Co., London.
Rees, W. J. (1840) The Liber Landavensis, Llyfr Teilo. The Welsh MSS Society, Llandovery.
Rhys, J. (1884) Celtic Britain. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.
Rhys, J. (1892) Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion. Williams and Norgate, London.
Sikes, W. (1880) British Goblins. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London.
The Cu Sith (pronounced coo-shee), “fairy dog”, is a great beast associated with the fairies of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Fairy dogs are almost always malevolent and implacable with no love for humans. There are some stories of fairy dogs treating humans with kindness, but these are best regarded with suspicion.
A fairy dog is hideous in appearance. It appears as an enormous dog the size of a two-year-old stirk, with paw-prints as broad as a man’s outspread hand. The fur is dark green, lightening downwards to the paws. The ears are a deeper green in color. The tail may be flat and plaited, or long and coiled over the dog’s back.
During the day the fairies keep their dogs tied up to keep watch, and even untethered fairy dogs will hide in caves by day. Night-time is when they roam free and are at their most dangerous. They run in straight lines, silently; sometimes they make a sound like a galloping horse. They are deadly to humans and beasts, although at least one tale has them driven off by ordinary, mortal dogs.
Most dreaded of all is the cu sith’s bark. A fairy dog will bark three times, with an interval between each bark. The first and second barks are warnings; after the third bark the dogs appear and tear their victims to pieces. On the island of Tiree, those who hear the first baying of a cu sith know to immediately go indoors to safety.
Finding a cu sith tooth, on the other hand, is a sign of very good luck. The tooth itself can be placed in drinking water to cure the illnesses of cows, or in milk to cleanse it of a witch’s influence. The teeth tend to be found in odd places and are abandoned after the animal feeds. MacGregor tells of a farmer in Lewis whose potatoes were being stolen on a nightly basis. Yet stakeouts accomplished nothing – he could never catch the thief in the act. Then one day he found a fairy dog’s tooth sticking out of one of the potatoes. The tooth was passed down in the family for generations.
Cu sith can be avoided. A man traveling near Kennavara Hill, Tiree, saw a large dog (Campbell describes it as black in color) resting on a sand-dune. He gave it a wide berth and made for home. The next day he revisited the dune and found prints as large as his spread palm. These prints made a trackway leading to and disappearing on the plain. The dog had ignored him.
A shepherd from Lorn, Argyll, came upon two cu sith puppies curled up in their lair behind some rocks. They had green backs and sides and – most worryingly – were larger than his own hulking sheepdogs. The shepherd and his dogs wisely left before the parents showed up.
Briggs, K. M. (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books, New York.
Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.
Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.
MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.
Bès Bulong, the spirit Bulong or simply Bulong, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It walks around by night. If it sees anyone walking about between midnight and 6:00 AM, it will pull out that person’s soul and leave them unconscious.
Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.