Musca Macedda

Variations: Musca Macèdda, Musca Machèdda, Musca Maghèdda, Musca Manchèdda da Mancu

Musca Macedda

A fabulous treasure awaits discovery in Sardinia. This treasure takes the form of two barrels, identical in appearance. One of those barrels contains riches beyond imagination. The other barrel is full of deadly flies – the Musca Macedda. Anyone opening the barrel full of flies brings about not only their own death, but the destruction of the world. This treasure may be found all over Sardinia, including near Alghero, Esterzili, Sorgono, the church of Valenza, and many other places. Nobody has dared open it.

The musca macedda’s name refers to the slaughter and massacre it brings about; it is also known as the musca manchèdda da mancu, i.e. of the left hand, for if the right hand is the hand of God, the left hand is that of the Devil. A musca macedda resembles a common fly but can be up to the size of a sheep. The one reported from Nuchis was as big as an ox’s head. A musca macedda has powerful wings, and in places where these flies are buried one can hear their infernal buzzing. The stinger is huge and deadly.

Only the local priest is spiritually strong enough to ward off a musca macedda. At Iglesias it was said that a holy man delivered the country from demonic flies that had already destroyed multiple towns such as Galte in Nuorese, Ilani near Orotelli, Oddini, and Thiddorai. The musca macedda at Nuchis tore the region apart before dying between the Church of San Cosimo and the Parish of the Holy Spirit, between two black boulders of volcanic rock.

Belief in the musca macedda appears to be an ancient one. It has been suggested that the flies arose with the Spanish invasion of Sardinia, since at least one tale says that they issued from the tomb of a Spanish saint. It is more likely that they are a personification of the diseases and epidemics that ravaged Sardinia at various points in its history.

References

Bottiglione, G. (1922) Leggende e Tradizioni di Sardegna. Leo S. Olschki, Geneva.

Fad Felen

Variations: Fall Felen

Fad Felen

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 hen wrach (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.

References

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.

Bès Kěmwar

Variations: Hantu Ulat (Malay), Maggot Spirit, Riverside Maggot Spirit, Tip-of-Leaf Maggot Spirit, Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, Hantu Ulat Duri, Thorny Maggot Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Sòk, Hantu Ulat Bulu, Hairy Caterpillar Spirit; Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, Hantu Ulat Terbang, Flying-Maggot Spirit

Bes Kemwar

The Bès Kěmwar, “maggot spirit”, is one of the many bès or disease spirits known to the Jah Hut of Malaysia. A polyvalent spirit, it is depicted as a maggot or caterpillar, with variants distinguished by hair, thorns, wings, and other details. It eats rice, vegetables, and other crops. It is responsible for aches in bones, joints, and muscles. If its caterpillar hair falls into water and that water is drunk, it causes coughing and bleeding in the throat. Maggot spirits are also known to live in rotten tree trunks and feed in them. Anyone who approaches the fallen tree will be bitten in the leg by the spirit, causing redness, swelling, and itching. All the toenails fall off but the swelling will be gone by two or three months.

The riverside maggot spirit lives by the river and appears only during the jungle-fruit season in February. It flies onto the heads of old people and causes all their hair to fall off.

The tip-of-leaf maggot spirit feeds on the leaves of coconut and rice. To prevent this attack on crops, a pawang must bless the plants with a pounded mixture of daun setawa and kunyit mulai, which is burned to ashes and scattered over the plantation.

Bès Kěmwar Jě’la, the thorny-maggot spirit, lives on leaves. It causes restlessness and rheumatism.

Bès Kěmwar Sòk, the hairy caterpillar spirit, lives on the tips of tree branches. Its hair drops into drinking water and causes irritation and swelling in the throat. This affliction can be cured by a poyang while in its early stages, but untreated victims will eventually die as they cannot eat or drink.

Bès Kěmwar Těrbang, the flying-maggot spirit, lives in bushes and eats the leaves of the daun mengkirai tree. Its urine and stool falls on anyone who passes under the tree, causing the victim to become bald and swollen. In the evening it flies onto the roofs of houses and opens them up. Children seeing its eyes reflecting like mirrors will be terrified into crying. Burning daun-kesim keeps this nocturnal nuisance away.

References

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

Muscaliet

Variations: Muscardin; Dormouse; Musquelibet, Musquelibus, Musquilibet (possibly)

Muscaliet

Nobody is quite sure what a Muscaliet is. Our only source for this unusual rodent is found in the bestiary of Pierre de Beauvais, and it appears to have been cobbled together from multiple unrelated accounts.

The muscaliet is found in India, in the land of the three talking trees that predicted the death of Alexander the Great. This by itself is suspect, as the accounts of Alexander in India only mention two trees, consecrated to the sun and moon. Then again, the sun-tree was said to have spoken twice and the moon-tree once, making for three tree speeches. The life of a copyist was a thankless one.

Beauvais gives the muscaliet a body like a hare, but smaller. Its legs, feet, and tail are like those of a squirrel, but the tail, while held in a squirrel-like manner, is larger. It uses the strength in its tail to jump from tree to tree. Its head is rounded, its ears small and weasel-like, and its nose long and pointed like a mole. There is a tooth sticking out of its mouth on either side, like a boar’s tusks, and it has bristles around its snout like the bristles on a boar’s back.

A muscaliet is a highly adept climber. No animal can catch it in the trees, and its claws are so sharp that it can cling to any surface. It eats fruits, leaves, and flowers and digs out its dens in the roots of trees. It is so “hot by nature” (calde de nature) that the tree it lives in eventually rots, withers, and dies as the muscaliet gnaws away at the roots.

This is a moral lesson. The tree represents a human; its leaves and flowers are good deeds, and its fruits are the soul. But the muscaliet is Pride, its sharp teeth are cutting words that Cruelty brings, and its feet show that cruelty is tenacious. Once Pride takes up residence within us, Beauvais warns, it rots us from the inside out.

The term “muscaliet” itself is an archaic French term for the common dormouse or muscardin (Muscardinus), that which Buffon described as “the least ugly of all the rats”. Its name is derived from its presumed musky odor; whether this attribution came before or after Beauvais’ usage is unclear. The –caliet part of the name superficially suggests heat, which would have inspired our bestiarist to describe it as “hot by nature”. Alternative, “muscaliet” may have been derived from the musquelibet, a creature like a roe deer in size, with an abscess-like growth that produces musk. This is the musk deer Moschus moschiferus, which does have tusks like a boar but little connection to the muscaliet otherwise – not even musk is mentioned.

Is this the fox-sized mouse described by Aristotle? It was a wonder of India found by Alexander, a mouse the size of a fox and with a noxious bite that harmed animals and humans. This sounds like a rat, and perhaps an early allusion to the diseases carried by those animals – rats were unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans, with black rats appearing in late antiquity and brown rats showing up in the 16th century. Tales of rats with toxic bites combined with dormouse and musk-deer anecdotes are likely the basis for the tree-poisoning muscaliet, which exists as a moral warning and not a zoological account.

References

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Buffon, G. L. L. (1775) Oeuvres completes de M. le Cte. De Buffon, t. II. Imprimerie Royal, Paris.

Cahier, C. (1856) Bestiaires. Melanges d’Archeologie, 1856(IV), pp. 55-87.

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

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

Godefroy, F. (1901) Lexique de l’Ancien Francais. H. Welter, Paris.

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

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

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

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Bès

Variations: Hantu (Malay)

The Bès are the evil spirits of the Jah Hut, an Orang Asli people from peninsular Malaysia. They are true spirits, existing independently and not emerging from humans alive or dead. The vast majority of bès, or hantu as they are known in Malay, are malevolent beings associated with disease. Far less numerous than the bès are the jin (underground spirits), nabi (guardian spirits), and kemoch (spirits of the dead).

All the bès were created along with ‘iblis, the evil one, by Proman, God’s assistant, who botched the creation of the first man. Their great stronghold is a Pauh Janggi Bringin Sungsang, a “Giant Mango Tree Entwined by a Strangler Fig”, that stands beyond the ocean. From there they sally forth to cause all kinds of trouble. God allows it because the bès keep the world in balance, taking life that others may in turn live.

Sickness is caused by the influence of the bès. This usually happens by night – while we sleep, our soul leaves our body and wanders in the jungle. A bès who finds that soul will prevent it from returning, and the owner of the soul will fall ill.

Healing is the duty of the puyang or medicine man. It is their job to locate the missing soul and return it with the help of the good spirits, otherwise their charge will die. The běni’sòy ceremony is used in those cases. It involves drawing the evil spirits out of the body and transferring them into a palm leaf bundle brushed over the skin. Once the bès is trapped, the bundle can be safely disposed of.

Spiritual wood carvings of the bès in question are made to help draw the evil spirit out. These carvings establish an iconography for the bès and allow us to see them as the Jah Hut do.

References

Teoh, B. S. (1986) Bes Hyang Dney: A Jah Hut Myth of Peninsular Malaysia. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 59(2), pp. 139-144.

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

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.