Heluo Zhi Yu

Variations: Heluo-fish, Never-Old Bird

Heluo

The Heluo Zhi Yu or Heluo-fish can be found in China’s Tower River. These unusual fishes have one head and ten bodies each, and bark like dogs. Eating them cures tumors.

According to Yang Shen’s encomium, a heluo-fish can transform itself into a Never-Old Bird, which steals rice grains from threshing pestles, falls into the mortar, and dies.

The single head and multiple tails may be a description of an octopus.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Hugag

Variations: Rythmopes inarticulatus (Cox), Reclinor rigidus (Tryon)

hugag

The Animal That Cannot Lie Down is a near-universal tale arrived at independently by multiple cultures and commonly attached to accounts of the moose. The Hugag is another permutation of this theme repackaged for the whimsical world of backwoods tall tales. Whether it came spontaneously into existence, was derived from native tales of the Stiff-Legged Bear, or is a bit of Classical jokery from Cox, none can say for certain.

Hugags are found in lumberwoods territory, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada, and are the largest beasts of the lumberwoods. Cox describes them as looking like enormous moose, with the chief difference being jointless legs and overdeveloped upper lips. The head and neck are hairless, covered by a leathery skin. The ears are corrugated and floppy. The feet have four toes, and the coat and long tail are shaggy. Tryon adds more detail, giving it a warty snout, a bald, lumpy head, and pine needles for hair. It stands 13 feet tall and weighs up to 6,000 pounds. Pitch oozes from its pores.

A hugag is completely incapable of lying down. It is constantly on the move, browsing from trees by wrapping its upper lip around branches, and occasionally stripping bark. Pine knots are its favorite food. It sleeps by leaning against a tree. Bent trees, posts, and cabins are signs of a hugag’s passing. Hugag hunters can easily bag their quarry by sawing almost completely through a tree, so that when a hugag leans against it the tree collapses, leaving the animal helpless on the ground. Most of the time it is difficult to find hugags, mainly because they disguise themselves as piles of pine slash. Fortunately hugags are quite harmless, barring cases when they lean on houses.

Mike Flynn is the current record-holder hugag hunter, having killed a massive 1,800-pounder on the Turtle River, Minnesota. It was a juvenile.

References

Beck, H. P. (1949) The animal that cannot lie down. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 39(9), pp. 294-301.

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

Dorson, R. M. (1982) Man and Beast in American Comic Legend. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

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

Huayramama

Huayramama

Huayramama, “Mother of the Wind”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She has no direct biological counterpart, but is believed to be an enormous boa with an old woman’s face and very long hair that tangles in the clouds – in comparison, her counterparts the Sachamama and the Yakumama are the boa constrictor and the anaconda, respectively.

The guardian of the air and the daughter of the red huayracaspi or “wind tree”, she is herself the mother of all the good and evil winds. Huayramama also grants power to deserving healers and shamans, giving them control over the weather.

Don Emilio Shuña was one such man. After fasting for nine days and drinking ayahuasca tea brewed from the huayracaspi, he was rewarded by the appearance of Huayramama, her long body billowing in the sky and her hair trailing behind her. She landed on his house and proclaimed “OK, man, here I am. What is it you wish?” “I want to control the wind, the rain, and anything from the sky”, said Don Emilio. Huayramama granted him his wish on condition he fasted for an additional forty-five days. At the end of that period of fasting, Don Emilio gained the magical powers he asked for, and was taught songs by the Huayramama herself. He could control weather, heal those afflicted by evil winds, return crops to life, and revitalize dying fisheries. When the Huayramama’s malevolent children tried to stir up trouble, he drove those winds under the trees through fasting, singing, drinking huayracaspi tea and blowing tobacco smoke. Huayramama would touch his head to strengthen him in times of need. He also used his powers for simpler blessings, such as preventing rain to allow local boys to play football in peace.

At the end of a long and charmed life, Don Emilio finally died. Perhaps it was rival sorcerers who murdered him, or perhaps the evil winds finally won. All who knew him wept. He was buried under the huayracaspi in the middle of the forest, for as he said, “that tree is my mother”.

References

Galeano, J. G.; Morgan, R. and Watson, K. trans. (2009) Folktales of the Amazon. Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Hidebehind

Variations: Hide-behind, Hide Behind, Ursus dissimulans (Tryon)

hidebehind

Hidebehinds are very dangerous animals, found throughout American logging country. It gets its name from always hiding behind something, and nobody has ever seen one – to be more specific, no greenhorn has ever seen one.

Experienced lumberjacks know that the hidebehind looks a lot like a bear, walking upright, standing about 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall. Its slender body is covered in long black fur, thick enough that its front and back are interchangeable and its face (if it has one) is unknown. The forelegs are short, powerful, and armed with bear-like claws. The tail is like that of a French sheepdog and is held curled upwards.

A hidebehind is so narrow that it can conceal itself behind a ten-inch tree. No matter how fast you move, the hidebehind moves faster; you can whirl around to catch a glimpse of it, but it will always be out of sight behind a tree. They are extremely patient stalkers, capable of fasting for seven years before finding suitable prey.

Human and grebe intestines are the mainstay of a hidebehind’s diet. It uses its hooked claws to disembowel unwary loggers, pouncing from its hiding place with a terrifying laugh. Sometimes the hidebehind’s peal of laughter is enough to scare prey to death before they are ripped open.

Fortunately hidebehinds loathe the smell of alcohol, and just one bottle of beer is a guarantee of total safety in hidebehind country. Kearney warns that a hidebehind might disembowel a logger before noticing intestinal alcohol, so ideally a good state of inebriation is required.

References

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

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Kearney, L. S. (1928) The Hodag and other Tales of the Logging Camps. Democrat Printing Company, Madison.

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

Haakapainiži

Variations: Hakapainije; Nikama (Giant); Aatakapitsi (Chemehuevi); Taünara; Grasshopper

Haakapainizi temp

Haakapainiži, the Grasshopper as he is known to the Kawaiisu, is an unpleasant ogre from Southern California, although he lives on a rock in a Nevadan lake. His counterpart in Chemehuevi folklore is Aatakapitsi, and their tales are parallel.

Haakapainiži takes several forms, but the best known is that of a giant grasshopper walking on two canes, with a basket on his back. His legs are armed with viciously sharp spikes. His legs are long enough to allow him to walk the 20 miles between Inyokern and Onyx in one step. He also appears as a giant, a harmless-looking old man, and a swarm of grasshoppers. Haakapainiži sings as he walks, hiding his evil intentions.

Children are Haakapainiži’s prey, and he stuffs them in his basket for devouring later. As such he is correctly classified as a bogey, and parents will quell children with warnings of “Haakapainiži is coming!”

Once Haakapainiži met a young girl. He coughed up mucus into his hand and presented it to her, saying “Come get this fat, grandchild”. When she did, he tossed her in her basket and carried her off to Nevada, where he ate her. He repeated the same trick with a little boy, but the lad grabbed onto an overhead branch and escaped the basket.

Another time, Haakapainiži slept alongside the Quail Sisters, who saw no reason to doubt the singing insect’s words. “I will sleep above your heads, and don’t worry, I won’t stretch during my sleep”. Sure enough, the sisters woke up in the morning unscathed. “What a nice old man”, they said to themselves, before Haakapainiži stretched his spiked legs and gouged out their eyes.

The Yucca Date Worm girls fell afoul of Aatakapitsi in the same fashion. Their husband Kwanantsitsi, the Red-Tailed Hawk, restored their eyes, then set out to avenge them. Yet every time he approached Aatakapitsi, the giant seemed to shrink until he disappeared entirely, leaving nothing but a swarm of grasshoppers. Exasperated, Kwanantsitsi hunted down the grasshoppers with a stick until they were all dead. This time, when he backed away, he saw the giant’s lifeless body.

Haakapainiži was killed by Mouse, who heated an arrow-sharpening stone in a fire and tossed it into the grasshopper’s mouth. “Close your eyes and open your mouth, I’ll feed you one of my children”, said Mouse, and allowed the heated rock to burn Haakapainiži’s insides. Both Mouse’s home and the petrified remains of Haakapainiži can be seen at Inyokern.

References

Laird, C. (1976) The Chemehuevis. Malki Museum Press, Morongo Indian Reservation, Banning.

Zigmond, M. L. (1980) Kawaiisu Mythology. Ballena Press, Socorro.

Hrosshvalur

Variations: Hrosshvalr, Hrosshualar, Hrosshveli, Rosshvalur, Equinus Cetus, Horse-whale; Saehestur (Sea Horse); Stökkull (Jumper, probably erroneously); Stori Svinhvalur (Large Pig-whale); Pollur (Tenacious One); Monoculus

Hrosshvalur

The Hrosshvalur, or “Horse-whale”, is among the most cruel and dreaded of the Icelandic illhveli, or “Evil Whales”. Only the Stökkull and Raudkembingur rival it in malice. It is irredeemably evil and is unfit for eating, its flesh vanishing from the pot if cooked, and its consumption was banned by law.

The hrosshvalur is easily confused with its fellow illhveli; notably, it has a red crest similar to the raudkembingur, and tends to jump onto ships like the stökkull. It is distinguished from those two by its enormous eyes, which have earned it the nickname of Monoculus (“One-Eyed”). It earned its name from a somewhat equine head, a flowing red mane covering more or less of its neck, a horse’s tail, and a call like a horse neighing. It also smells bad, is covered with fine fur, and its insides are like those of a horse. Jon Gudmundsson, who confused it with the stökkull, depicted it with a dappled back. These whales grow 30 to 80 cubits (15 to 40 meters) long.

As with other illhveli, the hrosshvalur delights in destroying ships. A hrosshvalur will charge over the waves at high speed, holding its head just above the water with its mane trailing behind. These whales sink ships by jumping onto them, or pressing their weight on them until they capsize. Horse-whales are also portents of bad weather, and can create huge waves by whipping their tails. A number of euphemistic names are used to refer to horse-whales, to avoid attracting their attention. While not as easily distractable as raudkembingurs and stökkulls, their large eyes are a notable weakness.

In the 13th century, a hrosshvalur that surfaced alongside a ship was bombarded with every heavy implement available, which caused it to sink back below the waves. Another hrosshvalur attacked the heroes Hjalmper and Olvir; it was defeated with the help of a Skeljungur (“shell whale”), vagnhvalur (“chariot whale”, or killer whale), and two vultures. A cutlass thrown into one of its large eyes weakened it significantly, and it was torn apart by the whales.

Hrosshvalurs are also associated with the dark arts. The size and ferocity of the horse-whale made it an excellent accomplice for sorcerers and witches bent on destruction, and a perfect form to assume when causing chaos. In the Kormaks saga, the witch Dorveig transforms herself into a hrosshvalur to attack the brothers Kormakr and Dorgils. They recognize her from her eyes, and drive her off by throwing a javelin into her back.

It is generally believed that the hrosshvalur was derived from the walrus, and ultimately gave it its name by converting hval-hross to walrus. However, it was clear early on that it and the walrus were very different animals, as Gudmundsson separately describes both the hrosshvalur and the walrus (rostungur) in detail. Another possibility would be the giant squid, which would have contributed the large eyes and a mane of tentacles.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Dillmann, F. Les Yeux de Dorveig: À propos de la métamorphose en hrosshvalr d’une sorcière de la Kormaks saga. In Heizmann, W. and van Nahl, A. (2003) Runica – Germanica – Medievalia. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.

Fraser, F. C. An Early 17th Century Record of the Californian Grey Whale in Icelandic Waters. In Pilleri, G. (1970) Investigations on Cetacea, vol. II. Benteli AG, Bern.

Hermansson, H. (1924) Jon Gudmundsson and his Natural History of Iceland. Islandica, Cornell University Library, Ithaca.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Larson, L. M. (1917) The King’s Mirror. Twayne Publishers Inc., New York.

Hrökkáll

Variations: Hrökk-áll

Hrokkall

A malicious Icelandic wizard once revived a dead, half-rotted eel, giving rise to an evil and toxic creature. It was the first Hrökkáll, or “coil-eel”. The wizard may be long dead, but the eel’s descendants went on to infest polluted waters.

A hrökkáll is two feet long, and resembles an eel in appearance. It lives in still ponds and stagnant water, and occasionally in running rivers. It has flexible, iron-hard scales, and sharp saw-toothed fins. As with many Icelandic fishes, it secretes corrosive venom and its meat is poisonous. Captured hrökkálls have been known to melt their way through earth and rock to squirm back into the water.

Hrökkálls lie in wait until someone steps in the water. Then they coil around the person’s leg and constrict it, slicing into flesh and bone alike and amputating the limb. It is unknown whether hrökkálls use their acidic venom or their bladed fins (or both) to do this. They will dismember humans and horses in this way, but sheep are safe as their legs are too narrow for the hrökkáll to gain a hold.

Hrökkáll in common parlance has since evolved to mean electric eels.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Zoëga, G. T. (1911) English-Icelandic Dictionary, Second Edition. Sigurdur Kristjansson, Reykjavik.