Olgoi-khorkhoi

Variations: Olgoi khorkhoi, Olgoj chorchoj, Allergorhai-horhai, Allergorhai horhai, Allghoi khorkhoi, Temen-Sul-Khorkhoi, Temeen Suul (Mongolian name of Tartar sand boa), Intestine Worm, Mongolian Death Worm, Tartar Sand Boa, Eryx tataricus

It has forever been in human nature to exaggerate the lethality of animals, regardless of whether or not the animal is actually deadly or even poisonous. Salamanders become fiery creatures whose breath slays, water shrews are accused of poisoning and killing cattle, geckos are so virulent they cause leprosy, viper venom causes the human body to melt… the list is endless.

One of the victims of this demonization is the creature known in Mongolia as the Olgoi-khorkhoi or “intestine worm”, also known in English by the even more sensationalistic name of “Mongolian death worm”.

Mongolian folklore is ambivalent on snakes. They are associated with dragons and the water world, and thus are worthy of respect and should not be killed; on the other hand, they are symbols of malice, antagonists to the forces of good, and hostile beings that should be destroyed. Saying the word mogoi (“snake”) is not recommended, with euphemisms like urt khorkhoi (“long worm”) or khairkhan (“holy” or “merciful”) used instead.

The olgoi-khorkhoi is a serpent that looks like a sausage, two feet (0.6 meters) long, and lacks a head and legs. Its color is a white brocade. It is so poisonous that looking at it is dangerous and anyone who touches it dies instantly. It lives in the sandiest, driest areas of the Western Gobi desert. If it shows up in a yurt, the inhabitants move out. It comes out after the rains when the ground has become damp.

Paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews was informed of the olgoi-khorkhoi’s existence by the Mongolian Premier, and went on to hear much about it. Usually people had not seen one themselves, but knew others who had, and every time they went to a play where the olgoi-khorkhoi was said to be abundant, the inhabitants told them the creature could be found a few miles away. The scientist was optimistic about his chances of capturing one thanks to the neutralizing powers of dark glasses and steel forceps. No specimen was ever seen or captured, however.

The existence of the olgoi-khorkhoi was popularized by Andrews and fellow paleontologist and science-fiction author I. A. Efremov, and much has been posited since about its appearance, habits, and true nature.

However, the real identity of the olgoi-khorkhoi is far more prosaic: it is the Tartar sand boa, a desert-dwelling, nonvenomous snake. This was confirmed by Gorelov, who showed a specimen of the boa to people in the Gobi. They asserted that it was indeed an olgoi-khorkhoi and that they were afraid of it. Gorelov also reported an individual olgoi-khorkhoi preserved in a jar and exhibited in Dalaanzadgad Town during a holiday.

References

Andrews, R. C. (1926) On the Trail of Ancient Man. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

Andrews, R. C. (1932) The New Conquest of Central Asia. The American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Kuzmin, S. L.; Dunayev, E. A.; Munkhbayar, K.; Munkhbataar, M.; Oyuunchimeg, J.; and Terbish, K. (2017) The Amphibians of Mongolia. KMK Scientific Press, Moscow.

Shuker, K. P. N. (2003) The Beasts that Hide From Man. Paraview Press, London.

Karnabo

Variations: Carnabot

The Karnabo is found on the Rocroi plateau, near Regniowez in France. It is an Ardennes bogey, comparable to the Mahwot but with a more restricted distribution. Belief in it may trace back to some forgotten historical event. It lives in an abandoned, sealed-off slate quarry.

In appearance the Karnabo is hideous to behold. It is almost human in shape, but it has basilisk eyes and a long, trunk-like nose. It is believed to have come from Rièzes, and to be the offspring of an itinerant sorcerer and a 67-year-old female ghoul. Its evil deeds are numberless.

The horrible nasal whistling of the Karnabo is enough to paralyze or asphyxiate anyone foolish enough to wander within range of the quarry. Livestock are killed outright. While the Karnabo may have inherited its father’s diabolical powers, it also learned from him how to cure paronychia by chanting magical phrases. It works its curative powers on Good Fridays.

Once a young girl dared to play in the vicinity of the slate quarry. As soon as she came near the entrance of the tunnel, the Karnabo pounced on her and dragged her underground. Since then neither her nor the Karnabo have been seen, and the entrance has been sealed off. On stormy nights the sobbing of the girl and the nasal roars of the Karnabo can still be heard.

References

Lambot, J. (1987) L’Ardenne. Pierre Mardaga, Brussels.

Meyrac, A. (1890) Traditions, coutumes, légendes et contes des Ardennes. Petit Ardennais, Charleville.

Akhekh

Variations: Ākhekh

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.

References

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.

Ayotochtli

Variations: Aiotochth, Aiochtochth, Armato, Contexto, Tatus

Ayotochtli, “tortoise-rabbit”, is Nahuatl for armadillo. Two somewhat mangled forms of the word appears in Topsell’s work.

Topsell attributes the description of the Aiochtochth or Aiotochth (also known in Spanish as Armato and Contexto) to Cardanus. It is found in Mexico, near the Alvaradus River. An aiotochth is no bigger than a cat and has the snout of a mallard, the feet of a hedgehog, and a very long neck. It is covered by a segmented, lobster-like shell resembling the trappings of a horse. It protects itself with that shell such that neither its head nor neck are clearly visible, with only the ears sticking out. Some of these creatures were brought back to London gardens where they were put to use destroying worms.

The entry for the aiochtochth immediately follows that of the Tatus or Armadillo, and Topsell claims they are comparable.

References

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

Tylor, E. B. (1861) Anahuac, or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern. Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, London.

Asp

Variations: Aspic, Aspis, Egyptian Asp, Egyptian Cobra, Egyptian Viper, Aspic Viper, Chersaiai, Chelidoniai, Hypnalis, Ptuades; Akschub, Pethen, Zipheoni (Hebrew); Plasyos, Hascos (Arabic); Aspe, Aspide (Italian); Bivora (Spanish); Schlang Gennant (German)

The Asp was the first snake to be born from Medusa’s blood, and it has the most poison in its body of any snake. As such it has garnered a fearsome reputation in classical sources. When speaking of the asp it is important to differentiate between the Egyptian cobra, the aspic viper, and the asp of legend, which is both and more besides. It is never clear exactly what the asp in ancient literature is supposed to be; indeed, it is best regarded as a composite of all that was feared in venomous snakes.

According to Topsell’s reference to Aristophanes, the name is derived from an intensive of spizo, “to extend”. It is also the name of a shield, an island in the Lycian Sea, and an African mountain, among other things.

Lucan gives the asp pride of place in his catalogue of snakes, but it is not described killing in gruesome detail. The reference to a “crest” and a “swelling neck” suggests a cobra.

Nicander says that the asp can grow up to a fathom (about 1.8 meters) long. It has four fangs and two tuloi (“cushions” or “mats”) over its forehead. It rears its body up from a coiled position, and its bite causes painless death.

Philoumenos specifies three types of asp. The chersaiai (“terrestrial”), Egyptian asp, or Egyptian cobra is 3 to 4 cubits long and pale grey, black, or red in color. There are three rows of black-bordered rufous spots on its back that join to form a zigzag band towards the tail. The chelidoniai (“swallow-colored”), asp viper, or water asp is smaller, 1 cubit in length, mottled with chestnut markings on a light brown background. There are reddish stripes on the head. The ptuades (“spitters”) or spitting cobras are 3 feet long and are grey, green, or gold in color. To that may be added the Hypnalis, so called because it sends its victims to eternal sleep.

Asps themselves are preyed upon by ichneumons, who coat themselves in an armor of dried mud. The asp can still win the battle by biting the unprotected nose. Ichneumons also eat asp eggs.

Asps are highly common in Egypt, and are regarded as the sacred snake of the Pharaohs. Pharaonic crowns show the asp to represent the king’s power. It is likely this is the snake Cleopatra used to kill herself.

The primary reference to the asp in Christian symbolism is Psalm 58. Asps have poor eyesight and will stop up their ears to avoid being charmed. To prevent themselves from hearing the music of charmers they close one ear with their tail and press the other to the ground. Thus they represent those who reject the message of God by stopping up their ears.

Not all asps are irredeemably bad. One female asp fell in love with an Egyptian boy, warning him of danger and keeping watch over him.

While very venomous, asp bites are sometimes nonlethal. The venom spreads rapidly to the core of the body. Typical symptoms include suffocation, convulsions, and retching. It can cause blindness by breathing in a victim’s eyes.

Aelian believed the bite of the asp to be beyond curing. He also contradicts himself by saying that the asp’s bite can be cured through excision or cautery. Pompeius Rufus supposedly tried to prove that an asp’s venom could be sucked out and neutralized, and had an asp bite him on the arm to make his point. He died because someone took away the water he would have used to rinse out his mouth.

Topsell denied allegations that asp bites were incurable. He suggests cutting into the flesh at the bite and drawing out the venom with cupping-glasses or reeds. Rue, centaury, myrrh, and sorrel, opium, butter, yew leaves, treacle and salt, induced vomiting, garlic and stale ale, aniseed, and a number of other remedies are prescribed.

As with all snakes, asps are frequently given legs and dragon’s features in medieval illustrations. A creature with its ear stopped up is unquestionably an asp. In Romanesque sculpture it appears as a dragon with a crest or mane; the asp from the Saint-Sauveur church of Nevers is a sort of six-legged lizard with a flattened head and a mane running the length of its body.

References

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

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

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

Anfray, M. (1951) L’architecture religieuse du Nivernais au Moyen Age. Editions A. et J. Picard et Cie., Paris.

Braun, S. (2003) Le Symbolisme du Bestiaire Médiéval Sculpté. Dossier de l’art hors-série no. 103, Editions Faton, Dijon.

Druce, G. C. (1914) Animals in English Wood Carving. The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, pp. 57-73.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

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

Macloc, J. (1820) A Natural History of all the Most Remarkable Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Serpents, Reptiles, and Insects in the Known World. Dean and Munday, London.

Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

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

Dajna

Variations: Thunder Camel

In Maltese, dajna refers to a fallow deer or an unkempt woman. It is also the name of a titanic primordial camel that lived on Malta before the Deluge.

A dajna or thunder camel had the head and neck of a camel but was ten times the size of an elephant. It could not fit into Noah’s Ark and went extinct as a result, but a population of these colossal camels survived in the netherworld.

Although a dajna is highly dangerous to human beings, the yellowish milk produced by the females is a remedy for baldness. Only heroes dare retrieve it.

References

Mifsud, S. D. (2017) The Maltese Bestiary. Merlin Publishers Ltd, Blata l-Bajda, Malta.

Tsé’nagahi

Variations: Tse’naga’hai,Rolling Rock, Traveling Rock, Traveling Stone, The-one-having-no-speed; Tieholtsodi, Water Monster

Tsé’nagahi, the “Traveling Stone”, was one of the many Anaye or Alien Gods. These primordial monsters were born from unnatural sexual practices, and grew up to ravage and persecute the Navajo people. Tsé’nagahi took up residence at Betchil gai, the Shining Rock, or at a lake where Tsé’espai points up. An enormous mobile stone, it killed people by hurling itself at them. If it saw someone at a distance, it would set off in pursuit, overtaking them if they stood still only to turn around and roll over them.

Nayenezgani planned ahead before coming within range of Tsé’nagahi. When he approached the traveling stone’s lair, he took his black knives and planted them in the ground. Then as he come closer he planted his blue knives, followed by his yellow knives and his serrated knives at closer intervals.

When Tsé’nagahi saw the monster-slaying hero approach, it immediately started for him, hurling itself at him as though thrown by a giant hand. But it rolled over the knives in the ground, which cut slivers of rock out of its body. These fragments became the different rocks used for pigments, each colored based on where it came from: stone from Tsé’nagahi’s bones became white rock, his flesh became blue pigment, his hair black pigment, his mouth and blood red pigment, and his intestines yellow ocher. The moisture from his sweat, mucus, tears, and urine became the wet spots that ooze from rocks today.

Nayenezgani fired off a lightning arrow, and Tsé’nagahi realized it had bitten off more than it could chew. It wheeled around and fled with Nayenezgani in pursuit. The hero continued to knock pieces off Tsé’nagahi as they raced across the land of the Navajo, leaving characteristic geological deposits behind.

In the end the chase led to the San Juan River, where Tsé’nagahi dove underwater. Nayenezgani continued to head it off and attack it – three times he did so, and the fourth time Tsé’nagahi was gleaming like fire underwater. It was virtually unrecognizable as the monstrous rock it had once been.

Sawé [my baby, my darling], take pity on me”, it implored Nayenezgani. “If you spare me I will no longer harm your people. I will remain in the rivers, I will keep the mountain springs open and supply your people with freshwater”. Nayenezgani stayed his hand. “Very well then”, said the hero, “if you keep this promise I will spare you. But rest assured that if you ever break it, I will seek you out and this time I will kill you”.

Tsé’nagahi kept his promise. From that day forward he was Tieholtsodi, the Water Monster, a soft-furred otter with horns like a buffalo. Tieholtsodi is benevolent and benign; he is everybody’s friend.

References

Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.

Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.

O’Bryan, A. (1956) The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians. Bulletin 163 of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.

Sasnalkáhi

Variations: Cac na’alka hi, Bear that Pursues, Tracking Bear

The fearsome Sasnalkáhi, the Bear that Pursues, was a monstrous bear that terrorized the Navajo people. As one of the Anaye, Sasnalkáhi was born from unnatural sexual practices; in this case, his “fathers” were a smooth stone and a leg sinew. He lived in a cross-shaped mountain cave at Tse’bahástsit, the “Rock that Frightens”. Once Sasnalkáhi set on a hunt, his prey had no hope of escape.

When Nayenezgani set out to slay Sasnalkáhi, he carried yucca fruit in his left hand and hard oak twigs in his right hand. Those medicinal plants warded off Sasnalkáhi’s attentions.

Eventually Nayenezgani found the bear’s head emerging from a hole. He inspected the east, south, and west entrances; when he got to the north, Sasnalkáhi’s head immediately withdrew, and the bear headed for the south entrance. This time Nayenezgani was waiting for him, and when Sasnalkáhi stuck his head out, Nayenezgani decapitated him.

“You were a bad thing in life”, proclaimed Nayenezgani to the head. “You caused nothing but mischief. But now I will make you useful to the people; you will feed them, clean them, and clothe them in the future”. Sasnalkáhi’s head was chopped into three pieces. One piece was thrown east, where it became tsási (Yucca baccata). One piece was thrown west, becoming tsásitsoz (Yucca angustifolia). The last piece was thrown south, to become nóta (mescal). The nipples became pinyon nuts, while two pieces of fat cut from around the tail became a bear and a porcupine. The left forepaw, gall, and windpipe were taken as trophies.

References

Locke, R. F. (1990) Sweet Salt: Navajo folktales and mythology. Roundtable Publishing Company, Santa Monica.

Matthews, W. (1897) Navaho legends. Houghton Mifflin and Company, New York.

Reichard, G. A. (1950) Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York.

Cu Sith

Variations: Fairy Dog

Cu Sith

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.

References

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.

Celestial Stag

Variations: Celestial Roe

Celestial Stag

Celestial Stags or Celestial Roes are neither roe stags nor are they celestial. They are Chinese spirits that haunt deep areas, corpse-demons native to the ore mines of Yunnan province. As with numerous other creatures, their name is probably phonetically derived.

Celestial stags are born from the souls of miners unfortunate enough to be trapped deep underground by cave-ins. There the trapped miners are kept alive by the breath of the earth and of the rare metals around them. Their material substance dies and rots away, but their essences cling to life and become celestial stags.

Perhaps because of this traumatic genesis, the primary goal of a celestial stag is to reach the surface. The stag will do anything it can to reach this goal. When a celestial stag meets a miner it is overjoyed and asks for tobacco. Then it begs the miner to take it to the surface. Stags will try to bribe miners by promising them the choicest veins of gold and silver. If this fails they become violent and torture miners to death.

But worse yet is the outcome if their wishes are granted. A celestial stag that reaches the open air dissolves – flesh, bones, clothes, and all – into a pestilential liquid that spreads disease and death.

The only way to escape these creatures is to kill them before they can do harm. If celestial stags are discovered, miners will wall them up in abandoned galleries. Another way out is to promise to haul the stags to the surface in a bamboo lift. Halfway up the rope is cut and the stags plummet to their death – a merciful end to their grim lives.

Borges attributes his account of the celestial stag to G. Willoughby Meade’s Chinese Ghouls and Goblins.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

De Groot, J. J. M. (1907) The Religious System of China, Volume V, Book II – On the Soul and Ancestral Worship. E. J. Brill, Leiden.