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.

Angont

Angont

According to the Huron, the Angont is the source of death, disease, and all the misfortunes of the world. It is a monstrous snake that lives in a number of dark and secluded areas, including lakes, rivers, deep woods, under rocks, and in caves.

When sorcerers wish to kill someone, they rub items – hair, splinters, animal claws, wheat leaves, and so on – with angont flesh. Any such object becomes malevolent, penetrating deep into a victim’s vitals down to bone marrow, and bringing with it agonizing pain and sickness that eventually consumes and kills its host. Only the discovery and removal of the cursed object can prevent and cure this.

References

Vimont, B. (1858) Relations des Jésuites, v. II. Augustin Coté, Quebec.

Anaye

Variations: Alien Gods; Bil, Binaye Ahani, Ditsi’n, Hakaz Estsán, San, Sasnalkahi, Teelget, Tiein, Tse’nagahi, Tsenahale, Tsetahotsiltali, Ya’, Yeitso, and others

The Anaye or “Alien Gods” are a group of ancient monsters who plagued the Navajo. They were born as a result of a grand social experiment – the separation of the sexes. Early on in the history of humanity, men and women quarreled often. They tried living apart for a while, but boredom and starvation eventually reunited them.

It was not without repercussions. The women who had been separated from the men resorted to various implements to relieve their sexual frustration. The Anaye were “fathered” by those unnatural acts, and their parentage was expressed in various ways. Yeitso, who was “fathered” by a stone, had flint armor; the horned Teelget’s “father” was an antler; the Tsenahale inherited their avian nature from a pile of feathers; and the limbless Binaye Ahani came from a sour cactus.

Each of the Anaye was born and abandoned by their horrified mothers, but survived long enough to become a threat. They ravaged the land, killing and eating as they pleased.

The Anaye reign of terror was brought to an end by the hero twins Nayenezgani, “Slayer of Alien Gods”, and To’badzistsini, “Child of Water”. They were the sons of Tsohanoai the Sun-carrier by Estsanatlehi, “Changing Woman”, and Yolkai’ Estsan, “White Shell Woman”, respectively.

The hero twins grew up rapidly and soon decided to find their father and their purpose. Along the way they met Spider Woman, who gifted them with a calming incantation and life-feathers that would protect them in the direst of circumstances. From Spider Woman’s house they passed through a series of environmental hazards. These included Tse’yeinti’li, the “Rocks that Crush”, a narrow chasm that would clap shut and kill travelers; Lokaadikisi, the “Cutting Reeds” with knifelike leaves; Xoc Detsahi the “Needle Cactus”, a field of animate cacti with vicious spines; Saitád the “Seething Sands”, mountainous dunes that engulfed climbers; and Totsozi the “Spreading Stream” that would widen itself to drown swimmers. Each of those malevolent terrain features were outwitted and subdued into turn.

When the twins reached Tsohanoai’s house they came face to face with two bear guardians, but Spider Woman’s sacred words calmed them. They did the same with two guardian snakes, two guardian winds, and two guardian lightnings, appeasing each in turn. Once inside the twins were hidden by Tsohanoai’s attendants in the four coverings of the sky to await their father.

Tsohanoai’s arrival was tempestuous. “Who are the two who entered today?” he bellowed. But the sun-carrier’s wife responded craftily. “Who are you to speak? Two youths came here looking for their father. If you see nobody but me, whose sons are these?” In a rage, Tsohanoai seized the bundle of robes and shook them out – the robe of the dawn, the robe of blue sky, the robe of yellow evening light, the robe of darkness – and the twins came tumbling out. He threw them against spikes of white shell in the East, spikes of turquoise in the South, spikes of haliotis in the West, and spikes of black rock in the North, and throughout it all they clung to Spider Woman’s feathers and were unharmed.

“I wish those were indeed my children”, sighed Tsohanoai. From then on he came to recognize his sons, and aided them in their quest to rid the world of the Anaye. After slaying their first Anaye, the titanic Yeitso, Tobadzistsini returned home to care for his and his brother’s mothers. But Nayenezgani earned his name that day, and went on to slay the remainder of the great Anaye. After Yeitso, Nayenezgani killed the carnivorous elk Teelget, the Tsenahale birds of prey, the kicking monster Tsetahotsiltali, the Binaye Ahani and their lethal gaze, Sasnalkahi the tracking bear, and many more besides.

But not all of the Anaye were killed. Tse’nagahi, the “Traveling Stone”, was spared after it swore to do no more evil. There was also a number of minor Anaye still in hiding – wretched, lonely, threadbare creatures that inspired pity rather than fear. Each of them managed to convince Nayenezgani of its importance in the scheme of things.

When Nayenezgani went to find San (Old Age), he found a wizened old woman, white-haired, bent and wrinkled. “I have come on a cruel errand, grandmother. I am here to kill you”, he said apologetically. “Why would you kill me?” she said weakly. “I have never harmed a single person. If you kill me then the human race will stand still. Boys will not become fathers. The old will not die and make room for the young. If you spare me I will help you increase the people”. So Nayenezgani spared San.

Then he set out to find Hakaz Estsán (Cold Woman). She lived on the highest peaks where snow lies on the ground all year. She was an old woman, lean, naked, shivering from head to toe, teeth chattering, eyes streaming constantly, with only snow-buntings for company. “Grandmother, I shall be a cruel man and kill you, that men may no longer die of cold”, he told her. “Kill me if you must”, chattered Hakaz Estsán. “But without me it will be permanently hot. The land will become dry. Water will disappear, and the people will perish in turn”. So Nayenezgani spared her as well.

Next was Tiein (Poverty). This was not one but two creatures, an old man and an old woman, both clad in filthy tattered rags and crouching in an empty house. “Grandmother, grandfather, I shall be a cruel man, for I am here to kill you” he stated. “Do not kill us”, said the old man. “Without us nothing would change, everything would be static. But we make clothing wear out and make people go out and fashion new and beautiful clothes. Let us live that people may continue making new things”. So Nayenezgani spared the couple.

Then there was Ditsi’n (Hunger). This was the chief of the Hunger People, and he was a massive, obese man with nothing to eat but the little brown cactus. “I shall be cruel”, announced Nayenezgani, “and kill you that people may no longer suffer of hunger”. But Ditsi’n said “Do not kill us, for without us, people would not care about food, they would not cook and prepare meals, they would lose the pleasures of hunting and cooking”. And they were spared as well.

Of the other minor Anaye less is told. We know that Ya’ (Louse) pleaded for its life, arguing that its presence taught compassion, that people would ask their friends to groom them, and so it was spared. As for Bil (Sleep), it made its case in a more direct (and humiliating) manner – by touching Nayenezgani with his finger and sending the hero into a blissful slumber.

Only then, when Nayenezgani had returned from sparing the last of the minor Anaye, did he and his brother rest. They went to the valley of the San Juan River, and they dwell there to this day.

References

Alexander, H. B. (1916) The Mythology of All Races v. X: North American. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

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.

Cactus Cat

Variations: Cactifelinus inebrius (Cox), Felis spinobiblulosus (Tryon)

Cactus Cat

Cactus Cats once lived in the wide-open Southwestern deserts. They were once found in saguaro country between Prescott and Tucson and in the Sonoran Desert as far south as the cholla hills of Yucatan. Nowadays the species is practically extinct following the exploitation and destruction of its desert home.

A cactus cat has thorny hair, with especially long, rigid spines on its ears and tail. The tail is branched like a cactus with scattered thorny hair. There are sharp bony blades on the forearms above the forefeet.

Cactus cats use their forearm-blades to cut deep slanting slashes at the base of giant cacti. One of those cats will travel in a wide circular path, 80 chains long, slashing every cactus it sees. By the time it returns to the first cactus, the sap oozing from the cuts has fermented into mescal. The cactus cat laps this alcoholic brew up hungrily. By the end of the second circuit the cat is thoroughly drunk and waltzes off in a drunken stupor. It yowls and rasps its bone blades together, a sound which carries through the desert night.

It is this fondness for liquor that was the downfall of the species. By following a cactus cat around, one could collect the mescal and deprive the cat of its sustenance. This was not an activity without risk, however. Thieves caught in the act were flogged to death with the cat’s spiny tail, leaving red welts deceptively similar to the effects of heat rash.

References

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

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

Myrmecoleon

Variations: Myrmecoleo, Myrmekoleon, Mermecoleon, Mermecolion, Mirmicaleon, Mirmicoleon, Murmecoleon, Formicaleon, Ant-Lion, Antlion

Myrmecoleon

The Myrmecoleon, or Ant-lion, is a tale of two creatures and many translation errors. Druce distinguishes between the Eastern myrmecoleon, a hybrid of lion and ant, and the Western myrmecoleon, a carnivorous insect. These are one and the same, but the vagaries of translation led them down separate paths.

The Eastern myrmecoleon is found primarily in Greek, Arabian, Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syrian bestiaries. Its pedigree can be traced back to the giant gold-digging ants originally described by Herodotus. Further additions were added to the account as it evolved away from its origin. Nearchus claimed that the skins of the ants were as large as those of leopards. Pliny said that the horns of an Indian ant at the Erythraean temple of Hercules were remarkably large. Agatharchides, Aelian, and Strabo tell of Arabian and Babylonian lions called “ants” (myrmex) that have gleaming golden fur and reversed genitals (probably hyraxes, which have a distinctive dorsal gland).

The translators of the Septuagint were faced with the unfamiliar term lajisch or layish in Eliphaz’s phrase “the old lion perishes for lack of food” (Job 4:11). In the Vulgate it was rendered as tigris, and modern translations use “old lion”, but the Septuagint, drawing on obscure Classical species of lion, arbitrarily used the term myrmekoleon. Its name presupposes a hybrid of ant and lion; as the Bible is inerrant, this led led to the necessary existence of a creature whose father was a lion and whose mother was an ant. The fruit of this improbable union is a lion in front and an ant behind, and dies of starvation since the ant half cannot digest what the lion half eats, while the lion half cannot eat the plants the ant half requires. Thus “the myrmecoleon perishes for lack of food” became a logical statement, and was expounded upon in the Physiologus.

Myrmecoleon antlionThe Western myrmecoleon originally appeared in Latin sources and subsequently found its way into European bestiaries. This ant-lion is both ant and lion – an insect that preys on ants as lions prey on other animals, an ant to us, a lion to ants. It is an ant with a white head and a black body marked with white spots. It appears in bestiaries as something like a large ant or spider. This is a real animal – the antlion is a larva with huge jaws that constructs funnel-shaped traps in sand to catch ants. It eventually metamorphoses into a lacy-winged fly, but both larva and adult are completely harmless to humans.

As a denizen of bestiaries the ant-lion has its own religious connotations. The Eastern myrmecoleon is two-faced, double-minded, unstable, and deceitful. The Western myrmecoleon represents Satan lying in wait for sinners.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

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.

Druce, G. C. (1923) An account of the Μυρμηκολέων or Ant-lion. The Antiquaries Journal, 3(4), pp. 347-364.

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

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.

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

Newbold, D. (1924) The Ethiopian Ant-lion. Sudan Notes and Record, 7(1), pp. 133-135.

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

Opimachus

Variations: Chargol, Ophiomachis, Ophiomachus, Opimacus, Opymachus, Ibis, Snake-eater; Attachus (probably); Opinicus, Epimacus (probably)

Opimachus

There is only one Biblical mention of the insect called chargol, in Leviticus 11:22, as one of the four insects that are safe for consumption. It has been assumed to mean “beetle” in some translations. Other identifications include a katydid or bush cricket, a species of Gryllus cricket, or the wart-eating cricket.

The Septuagint’s translators borrowed heavily from Aristotle in an effort to give names to all the animals in the Bible. An Aristotelian account of locusts fighting and killing snakes (perhaps based on stories of insects feeding on dead snakes?) gave the chargol the name of ophiomachus, “snake fighter”. This in turn became the opimachus or opimacus, described by Thomas de Cantimpré and subsequently Albertus Magnus as a worm that attaches itself just below a snake’s head. It cannot be removed and kills the snake.

By the time the opimachus or opymachus was described in the Ortus Sanitatis (citing Thomas), it had become confused beyond recognition. While Thomas and Albertus list it among the insects, it is now placed with the birds as a small fowl. It is depicted as a quadrupedal griffin with a long pointed beak and large rabbit’s ears. It has longer hind legs to permit it to jump. It may or may not be the same as the bird known as attachus.

Dapper says that the ophiomachi or ibides (ibises) are birds that live in Ethiopia and are so named because they eat snakes.

Finally, the long journey of the snake-fighter comes to an end with the opinicus or epimacus, a variety of generic heraldic griffin whose name is almost certainly derived from a Levitical insect.

References

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Dapper, O. (1686) Description de l’Afrique. Wolfgang, Waesberge, Boom, & van Someren, Amsterdam.

Harris, T. M. (1833) A Dictionary of the Natural History of the Bible. T. T. and J. Tegg, London.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Nadubi

Nadubi

The Nadubi is one of a variety of evil nocturnal spirits that haunt Australia. Nadubi may be found on the rocky plateau of Arnhem Land. They serve as a warning against traveling alone in the bush during the chilly hours of night.

Nadubi are a spirit people similar to humans in appearance but with barbed spines sprouting from their elbows and knees. Cave paintings at Oenpelli show a nadubi woman with spines on several areas of her body, including her elbows and vulva. Another cave painting at Sleisbeck shows a kangaroo-like creature with a spiny tail and spiny projections on its mouth and rear; this may also be a depiction of a nadubi.

A nadubi will creep up on a lone traveler and project a spine into his or her body. The victim can only be saved by the timely removal of the spine by a medicine man; usually this aid is administered too late, and the unfortunate sufferer sickens and dies. As only medicine men can see nadubi, it falls onto them to drive those malignant spirits away from encampments.

Despite their best efforts, every now and then the vigilance of the medicine men slips, and a scream in the night testifies to the fate of another solitary wanderer.

References

Johnson, D. (2014) Night Skies of Aboriginal Australia. Sydney University Press, Sydney.

Mountford, C. P. (1957) Aboriginal Bark Paintings from Field Island, Northern Territory. Records of the South Australian Museum, v. XIII, no. 1, pp. 87-89.

Mountford, C. P. (1958) Aboriginal Cave Paintings at Sleisbeck, Northern Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum, v. XIII, no. 2, pp. 147-155.

Roberts, A. R. and Mountford, C. P. (1975) The Dawn of Time. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.