Alber

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.

References

von Günther, A. (1874) Tales and Legends of the Tyrol. Chapman and Hall, London.

Lidérc

Variations: Ludvérc, Mit-mitke, Ignis Fatuus

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.

References

Dégh, L. (trans. Halász, J.) (1965) Folktales of Hungary. The University of Chicago Press.

Dömötor, T. (1982) Hungarian Folk Beliefs. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Beast of the Charred Forests

Variations: The Beast, Dhu Guisch (“Of the Black Firs”)

Tradition holds that the dense, impenetrable forests of Scotland once covered most of the Highlands and Outer Hebrides, but fell to the Norsemen. The Scandinavians burned down the forests to dominate the trade in timber, and to prevent potential ambushes from forested areas.

In Sutherland the destruction of the forests is attributed to a dragon, the Beast of the Charred Forests. This terrifying, powerful monster was born from a fire that burned for seven years and lived in fire. It once stalked over northern Scotland, breathing fire and incinerating trees. There was no escaping its wrath, and people would abandon their villages to the dragon whenever they heard it was near. Only a man who saw it before it saw him could slay it.

But the Beast itself met its match in Saint Gilbert. When it came upon St. Gilbert’s Church in Dornoch, it roared “Pity on you, Dornoch!” Saint Gilbert, who had previously dug a hole and hid in it to see the dragon before it appeared, emerged from his church armed with a bow and arrows, and repeated the Beast’s boastful statement to its face. “Pity on you, Dornoch!” The beast prepared to breathe fire on Dornoch, but the Saint’s first arrow pierced and killed it immediately. It was buried on the moor between Dornoch and Skibo, and a stone – the Beast’s Stone – was placed over it.

The presence of charred pine stumps in the peat moss of Ross, Sutherland, and the Reay is evidence of the Beast’s ravages.

References

Dempster, M. (1888) The Folk-lore of Sutherlandshire. Folk-Lore Journal v. VI p. 3, pp. 149-189.

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Ieltxu

Variations: Iditxu, Iritxu

Ieltxu

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.

References

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.

Cathach

Variations: Cáthach

Cathach

Ireland’s three dragon sisters Dabran, Farbagh, and Cathach were the offspring of the gatekeeper of Hell and the all-devouring sow; they were nursed by the red demon of West Ireland. Cathach, the youngest of the three, made her home on Inis Cathaig (now Scattery Island).

A horrible sight she was to see, a great dragon bigger a small isle, with a back like a round island covered with scales and shells. A rough bristly mane like a boar’s covered her foreparts. When she opened her cavernous mouth filled with a double row of sharp teeth, her entrails could be seen. A cruel eye gleamed in her head. Her body stood on two short, thick, hairy legs armed with iron nails that struck sparks on the rocks as she moved. Her belly was like a furnace. The tail of a whale she had, a tail with iron claws on it that ploughed furrows in the ground behind her. Cathach could move on land and swim with equal ease, and the sea boiled around her.

Dabran and Farbagh were both slain by Crohan, Sal, and Daltheen, the three sons of Toraliv M’Stairn. When Cathach sensed the loss of her siblings, she went on a rampage, laying waste to the lands around the Shannon Estuary from Limerick to the sea, sinking ships and paralyzing commerce for a year. When the three brothers returned and saw the destruction wreaked by Cathach, they were so distraught that they flung themselves into the sea to their deaths.

Cathach herself was defeated by a far more humble and unassuming hero. When Saint Senan made landfall on Inis Cathaig, Cathach prepared to devour him whole. But the holy man made the sign of the cross in front of her face, and she was quieted. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, leave this island, and hurt no one here or wherever you leave to”. And Cathach did as she was told. She disappeared into the estuary and went to Sliab Collain without harming anyone; and if she is still alive, she has remained obedient to Senan’s command.

The ruins of the church of Saint Senan can still be seen to this day on Scattery Island.

References

Hackett, W. (1852) Folk-lore – No. I. Porcine Legends. Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 2(1), pp.

O’Donovan, J. (1864) The Martyrology of Donegal. Alexander Thom, Dublin.

Stokes, W. S. (1890) Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Stokes, W. (1905) The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee. Harrison and Sons, London.

Watts, A. A. (1828) The Literary Souvenir. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, London.

Velue

Variations: Hairy Beast, Hairy One, Shaggy Beast, Shaggy One (English); Peluda (erroneously outside of Spanish writings)

velue

The Velue, the “shaggy one” or “hairy one”, is a dragon from the Huisne River, near La Ferté-Bernard in the Sarthe. It was overlooked by Noah during the Flood but survived anyway, nursing a grudge and devoting its existence to spiteful destruction. The Velue’s egg-shaped body was the size of a large ox and covered with shaggy green fur from which pointed spikes emerged. It had the head of a nightmarish snake and the massive legs of a tortoise. Its snake’s tail could slay man and beast alike with a single swipe.

The creature breathed fire and ravaged farms and crops. It gobbled down flocks of sheep and ate shepherds for dessert. It would even be so bold as to enter the streets of the old city – moats and walls were powerless to stop it. When pursued, it would return to the Huisne, displacing enough water to cause it to flood and ruin the surrounding fields.

Women and children were the dragon’s favorite food, and it prioritized agnelles or “she-lambs”, the most beautiful and virtuous maidens of the land. This was to be the Velue’s undoing. After it took a young damsel for a meal, it was hunted down by the girl’s fiancé and tracked to its lair in the Huisne under an ivy-covered bridge. He stabbed the dragon’s tail and killed it instantly. Its death was much celebrated.

The tale of the Velue is relatively new. Its basis dates from the 15th Century and it was resurrected and expanded in the 19th Century. Much of it is in the tradition of French local dragons such as the Tarasque, but it has not had any major festivals or iconographic conventions. The oldest and only presumed historical depiction of the Velue is a terracotta fountain sculpture dated from the 17th or 18th Century, found in a ditch on the road of La Chapelle-Saint-Rémy.

If anything the use of the term agnelles for Fertois women has existed separately from the dragon. In the 16th Century La Ferté-Bernard sided with the Catholic League during the wars of Henri IV. Its governor Dragues de Comnène was a wily commander who claimed descent from the Eastern kings. During a siege led by René de Bouillé, the governor sent a detachment of soldiers out of La Ferté disguised as women. The ruse almost worked; some of the besiegers came gallantly up to the damsels and found themselves under attack, but René de Bouillé’s forces quickly sent the disguised warriors packing. The victory highly amused Henri IV and provided no end of jokes concerning “les agnelles de la Ferté, dont il ne faut que deux pour étrangler le loup” (“the she-lambs of the Ferté, only two of which can throttle a wolf”).

The term “peluda” has gained traction as a name solely because it was used by Borges. Some sources even claim it to be an Occitan word – never mind the fact that La Ferté-Bernard is nowhere near the Midi. Borges used the word as a direct Spanish translation of “velue” (much like “hairy beast” or “shaggy beast”) and has absolutely no business being used outside of a Spanish context.

References

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

Charles, L. (1877) Histoire de La Ferté-Bernard. Robert Charles, Pellechat, Le Mans.

Clier-Colombani, F. (1991) La Fée Mélusine au Moyen Age. Le Léopard d’or, Paris.

Flohic, J. (2001) Le Patrimoine des Communes de la Sarthe, v. II. Flohic Editions, Paris.

Roy, C. and Strand, P. (1952) La France de Profil. Editions Clairefontaine, Lausanne.

Indombe

indombe

Indombe is fire, Indombe is life, Indombe is motherhood, Indombe is a slave to the power of death. She is an enormous copper snake over three feet wide, and several miles in length, and she makes her home in the trees of the Congo. Her cupreous body glows red with internal heat; she is immeasurably old, associated with the sun and the sunset in particular. Her tale is mysterious and metaphorical, and her ancestry is probably Semitic.

Itonde, hero and creator figure of the Congo, had been sent on a bizarre errand. His sister-in-law was pregnant, and she had developed a craving for snakes, so Itonde and his brother Lofale went into the forest to find them. There they saw Indombe coiled in a tree, shining bright as the sun. “Great Indombe”, said Itonde, “come down and let us talk together”. As Indombe refused to leave her perch, Itonde started chanting: “Indombe of the Bakongo, come down so I may carry you!” The giant snake was furious. “How dare you try to bewitch me?” she roared, causing her flames to flare and illuminate the entire forest. She then put her red-hot head on Itonde’s shoulder, severely burning him and leaving him for dead.

Fortunately for Itonde he was the owner of a magic bell, and he rang it, immediately recovering from his injuries. He did not want Indombe to gain the advantage of nightfall, so he captured the sun itself. Indombe next tried to constrict him, but Itonde kept ringing his bell, causing him to grow taller and stronger while the snake weakened.

It was in this state that Itonde triumphantly carried Indombe back to his village. He set her down outside the entrance of the village, and Indombe immediately coiled around the village and swallowed every last man, woman, and child. “You monster!” cried Itonde. “I’ll kill you, cut you up, and eat you!” Itonde produced his enchanted machete, and Indombe, seeing her death approaching, warned the hero. “If you kill me, eat me all today; you will not survive if you leave a single piece”. She was then promptly decapitated, cut into slices, and fried in oil. Itonde ate every piece, but left the inedible head, putting it under his bed.

Next morning, he awake to the horrifying discovery that Indombe was still there – but was now a ghost! “I told you eat all of me” she explained, “so now I return as a spirit, to aid you and show you a good place to live”. The spectral copper snake led Itonde to her village, a beautiful, disease-free location for future generations. Itonde then found out that Lofale was dead, killed by Indombe; but he could not avenge himself on a ghost, so he sought out a man in the forest. His quarry tried to hide by transforming into the first sugar-cane, but Itonde found and killed him as an expiatory sacrifice, discovering sugar-cane in the process.

“This village shall be yours because you are a strong fighter”, said Indombe. “Your name shall now be Ilelangonda. Farewell to you all”. With that the ghostly snake coiled up, jumped into the river, and disappeared.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

Cherruve

Variations: Cheruvoe, Cheurvoe, Cheurvue, Cherufe

Cherruve

The Cherruve is the Chilean spirit of comets and asteroids. Originally no more than the Araucanian meteorite, the cherruve’s role has since expanded to include lava, volcanoes, fiery exhalations, will-o-the-wisps, whirlwinds, and animate stone axes.

Cherruve appearance varies from area to area, but it is usually described as a comet, or a great serpentine creature with a human head and lava dribbling from its mouth. Its appearance has been anthropomorphized to various degrees and conflated with aspects of European mythology; in the Andes it becomes a huge seven-headed dragon; elsewhere it is confused with dragons, devils, and giants, or bipedal goats with flaming eyes.

Cherruves live underground and in volcanoes, and streak across the sky by night. The appearance of a cherruve in the sky heralds the spread of an epidemic, the death of a great leader, or other misfortunes, while the cherruve’s vomit is lava and its movements underground cause earthquakes. They make thunder by tossing human heads. The more dragon-like cherruves may demand the sacrifice of Mapuche maidens, and will withhold the flow of rivers if their demands are not met.

Comets, asteroids, and meteors are all cherruves, as are meteorites and oddly-shaped volcanic rocks. Cherruve rocks are collected by sorcerers, who use them to carry out their evil purposes by sending them at their enemies. They are ordered to suck blood and inflict death and disease, and can operate on their own, returning diligently to their masters after performing their duties.

Cherruves are also capable of feeling more human emotions. One cherruve married a Cloud, and their beautiful daughter, ethereal and pale, was Snow. Despite the cherruve’s jealous attempts to keep his wife under lock and key, she was abducted by his mortal enemy Wind. Every now and then Wind would blow Cloud over the volcano, and her tears became rain, while the cherruve’s own despair turned into destructive eruptions. The cherruve redoubled his efforts to protect Snow, and kept her from leaving the mountain during the daylight hours. Snow’s curiosity about the world outside continued to grow, and one day she finally managed to escape her father and climb out into the light. She marveled at the sun, the songs of birds, the colors, all infinitely beautiful and unknown to her. The longer she stayed outside, the happier she was, and yet the weaker she felt. Her mother tried to protect her, but the spiteful Wind carried the Cloud away. When Snow sat down, exhausted, the love-stricken Sun came down to give her a kiss. When the cherruve finally caught up with his daughter, he found nothing but a puddle of crystalline water.

References

Faron, L. C. (1964) Hawks of the Sun. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh.

Guevara, T. (1908) Psicolojia del pueblo araucano. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Latcham, R. E. (1924) La organización social y la creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Lenz, R. (1897) Estudios Araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Pino-Saavedra, Y.; Gray, R. (trans.) (1967) Folktales of Chile. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Chimera

Variations: Chimaera, Chimaira

Chimera

The Chimera or Chimaera (“goat”) was the daughter of Typhon and Echidna. She was the terror of Lycia in southern Turkey, killing people and livestock and torching crops.

Homer describes her as being a lion in front, a serpent behind, and a goat in the middle, with the power of breathing fire. Hesiod specifies that she had three heads. The lion’s head was in its customary place, the snake’s head was on the end of the tail, and the goat’s head emerged tumorously from the middle. Hyginus gives all three heads the ability to breathe fire, while Apollodorus states that only the goat head could do so, functioning as some kind of shoulder-mounted flamethrower.

While Homer’s description might suggest a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a snake’s tail, the Chimera has been consistently represented in Greek art with multiple heads. Usually she is mostly lion with a snake tail; the goat has proven tricky to depict convincingly, ranging from a head to the entire front half of a goat. Some Etruscan renditions add wings. The iconography behind the Chimera may go back farther, and may be of Asian origin. The term has also been used to describe various unrelated hybrid animals, with or without multiple heads.

She was finally slain by Bellerophon, who had been sent to Lycia to die. The wife of King Proitos had fallen madly in love with him; after he rejected her advances, she told her husband that Bellerophon had tried to seduce her. Enraged, the king dispatched Bellerophon to Iobates of Lycia, bearing a message requesting him to kill the messenger. Iobates sent him to battle the Chimera – surely an impossible task.

But Bellerophon had the favor of the gods, and the aid of the winged horse Pegasus. Mounted on Pegasus’ back, he easily flew out of range of the Chimera’s fiery breath, and shot her to death with arrows. Some accounts add that he rammed a lump of lead into her throat, where it melted and suffocated her.

Chimera bwChimera was a study in contradictions. Her three components did not make any sense together. Her name meant “goat”, but the goat was the least coherent part of her, reduced to a mere head in an anatomically dubious position. Evidently something so contradictory as the Chimera needed a rational explanation, even to the ancient Greeks. Plutarch believed she was inspired by a pirate captain, whose ship was decorated with the three component animals. Servius Honoratus said she was a loose interpretation of the Lycian landscape. Mount Chimera was a volcano, with snakes at its base, goats wandering around its heights, and a pride of lions at the top. Bellerophon, arriving on his ship Pegasus, set fire to the mountain and eradicated the dangerous animals.

The Etruscans dedicated the Chimera to the supreme god Tinia. The Etruscan Arezzo bronze of the Chimera remains the most enduring image produced of her. As a hybrid she was both celestial and chthonic, representing the year and the seasons. The lion, hot and strong, was summer; the snake, cold and ground-dwelling, was winter; and the transitory goat was spring and summer.

In The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the Chimera is a great, green-eyed, dragon-winged creature with a luxuriant mane; she is as capricious as desire and imagination. She reveals breathtaking new perspectives to humans, pours insanity, ambitions, hopes, and dreams into their minds, drives people to dangerous quests, and kills anyone content in wisdom. She is woefully incompatible with the rational, stoic Sphinx, and their attempts at copulation fail.

“Chimera” has entered our vocabulary in a number of ways, always in reference to incongruity. A chimera or something chimeric is fanciful, improbable, and imaginary. A chimera can also mean an organism with distinct cells from different zygotes. Finally, Chimaera is a genus of deep-sea fish, named after its bizarre appearance.

References

Bazopoulou-Kyrkanidou, E. (2001) Chimeric Creatures in Greek Mythology and Reflections in Science. American Journal of Medical Genetics 100:66-80.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

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

Hesiod; trans. Elton, C. A. (1832) The Theogony. In Hesiod. A. J. Valpy, London.

Homer, trans. Buckley, T. A. (1851) The Iliad of Homer. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Locatelli, D. and Rossi, F. (2010) Les Étrusques: Pouvoir – religion – vie quotidienne. Série Civilisations, Hazan.

Roes, A. (1934) The Representation of the Chimaera. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 54, Part 1, pp. 21-25.

Schmitt, M. L. (1966) Bellerophon and the Chimaera in Archaic Greek Art. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 70, No. 4, pp. 341-347.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Till, B. (1980) Some Observations on Stone Winged Chimeras at Ancient Chinese Tomb Sites. Artibus Asiae, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 261-281.