Bjarndýrakóngur

Variations: King of the Bears, Einhyrningur (Unicorn)

The Bjarndýrakóngur, the “King of the Bears”, is the undisputed monarch of the polar bears of Iceland. It is born from a female polar bear and a walrus or a bull.

A bjarndýrakóngur has red cheeks and a single horn on its forehead. The horn, which is its scepter of authority, has a sharp end and is tipped with a platinum globe. It emits a bright light in all directions such that the bjarndýrakóngur can always see its way through the darkness.

The king of the bears is as wise and noble as it is powerful. It understands human speech and demands loyalty and obeisance from other polar bears. While easily capable of killing with its horn, it only does so in self-defense or in judgment on wayward subjects.

It is said that, on a Whitsun church service in the 18th century, a procession of 12 or 13 polar bears was seen ambling from the outer parts of Iceland. They were led by a stately and benevolent bjarndýrakóngur. The clergyman greeting them in full regalia, as did the congregation, and bowed to the king, who returned the bow. The bjarndýrakóngur continued to lead his subjects through southern Iceland. At Borgamór the last bear in the line killed and ate a sheep, whereupon the king ran the offending bear through with his horn. Eventually the royal cortège reached Grenivík where they disappeared into the sea.

The only animal that will dare challenge the king of the bears is a redcheek or redjowl. This is a highly aggressive polar bear with distinctive reddish pink coloration on one cheek. Redcheeks will attack any beast or man that it encounters – but against the king of bears they meet their match.

 References

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

Rhox

Variations: Rhax, Rhagion, Rhogalida (“grape-spider”)

The name Rhox indicates similarity to a grape. It may be the same as the spider known as rhogalida or “grape-spider” on Crete, although nobody is quite sure what a rhogalida is either. Aelian places it in Libya, but it is otherwise described as a common Mediterranean spider.

In any case the rhox, as described by Nicander, Philumenus, and Pliny, is a sort of spider or phalangion. has a toothed mouth in the middle of its stomach and short, stubby legs that move in succession – a description more reminiscent of a millipede or centipede than a spider. It is smoky or pitchy black in color. Its venom is instantaneously deadly, and known symptoms include web-like strands in the urine.

The short legs may be a misinterpretation, as the description and lethality both suggest the malmignatte or Mediterranean black widow.

References

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

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

Cueille-Aigue Serpent

The small neighborhood of Cueille-Aigue, in the Montbernage area of Poitiers, was once witness to a reptile of extraordinary resilience. An event of this magnitude, of course, led to wildly divergent and contradictory accounts. The one reproduced here is the most implausible – and, therefore, the most correct.

One fine morning, an inhabitant of the Cueille-Aigue discovered an enormous serpent in his cellar. He called the neighbors to aid him, and, armed with spades, picks, and other gardening utensils, they attacked the monster. The snake responded by retracting its head into its body, like a turtle into its shell.

As everyone knows, a snake cut in two will regenerate unless the head is destroyed. The serpent was chopped in half, into quarters, into increasingly fine pieces until it was nothing but mincemeat. Alas, they never could find the head.

References

Ellenberger, H. (1949) Le Monde Fantastique dans le Folklore de la Vienne. Nouvelle Revue des Traditions Populaires, 1(5), pp. 407-435.

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.

Gallo de la Muerte

Gallo de la Muerte

Every hundred years, a kite in the Spanish mountains lays a red egg in a gorse bush. From that egg hatches a black and white bird, larger than a chicken, which lives exactly fifty years. When that bird dies, a green worm emerges from its rotting flesh. That worm gradually metamorphoses into a Gallo de la Muerte – a Rooster of Death.

A gallo de la muerte has black plumage and a white comb with blue and reddish spots. Anyone who hears its whining, screaming quiquiriquí is doomed to die the next day.

The only remedy for this death sentence is a particular herb that grows among the mountain apple trees from the start of spring till the month of May. This herb is blue and has black roots. The remedy involves boiling this herb in rosemary water and praying over the concoction before it is imbibed.

References

Candón, M. and Bonnet, E. (1993) A buen entendedor…Anaya & Mario Muchnik, Madrid.

Llano, M. (1998) Obras Completas, t. I. Alianza Editorial, Madrid.

Nkala

Variations: Crab-monster

Nkala

The Nkala is one of several sorcerous familiars associated with witchcraft in Zambia. A nkala kills people by eating their shadows. Anyone in possession of a nkala, therefore, has obtained it for criminal purposes.

It takes the form of a crab, 4 feet long, almost as wide as it is long. It has a head at either end, each head resembling that of a hippo, complete with the lumps by the eyes. Sometimes those are described as “nose-like projections”. It eats shadows with both heads at the same time.

To kill a nkala, medicine is prepared from nkala remains and placed in a duiker horn sealed with wax. A second duiker horn is partially filled and used as a whistle to attract the nkala. Once the creature shows itself in response to the whistle, it is shot. The “noses”, large claws, and some of the other claws are taken for use in medicine.

References

Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Turner, V. (1975) Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

White, C. M. N. (1948) Witchcraft, Divination and Magic among the Balovale Tribes. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 18(2), pp. 81-104.

Wulver

Wulver

The Wulver lives alone in a cave halfway up a steep knowe on the Isle of Unst in Shetland. He stands upright like a man, but has a wolf’s head and a body covered in short brown hair.

A peaceful loner, the Wulver never harms people as long as he isn’t harmed. He likes to fish, and for hours will sit upon a rock, the “Wulver’s Stane”, and catch yearling coalfish. Frequently he will leave a gift of a few fish on the windowsill of the poor and old of Shetland.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Nartôq

nartoq

The helping spirit Nartôq is “the pregnant one” or “the big-bellied one”. Iglulik Inuit shaman Anarqâq first encountered this spirit while out hunting caribou. Nartôq is a horrifying sight – its nose is on its forehead, and its lower jaw runs down into its breast.

When they first met, Nartôq charged Anarqâq threateningly, disappearing just before it reached him. Later on Nartôq reappeared and introduced itself to Anarqâq. “I was hot-headed earlier because you yourself are too quick to anger”, it told the shaman. “You need never fear me as long as you abandon your short temper”. Since then Nartôq become one of the shaman’s best helping spirits.

References

Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Nuppeppō

Variations: Nuppefuhofu (Mizuki); Nikubito (probably); Hō (probably); Nopperabō (probably)

The word Nuppeppō is derived from nupperi or nopperi, meaning “flat-faced” and referring to a flat, dazed expression. This yokai first appears in texts from the Edo period, and resembles nothing more than a blob of flesh with arms and legs. Its folds of skin and fat give it the appearance of a face on its body. While repulsive, nuppeppōs are frequently comical and inoffensive.

Sekien’s rendition of the nuppeppō has a culinary theme, placing it under a bronze bell that calls monks to their meals. The nuppeppō itself may be edible; according to Maki Bokusen, a nuppeppō-like creature appeared in the gardens of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. This nikubito (“meat-man”) was taken away to the mountains away from the shogun’s sight. Alas, he discovered too late that it may have been the legendary Hō described in the book of the Hakutaku. One bite of the Hō’s flesh would reinvigorate a person’s constitution.

Shigeru Mizuki added further embellishments to the nuppeppō based on Sekien’s image. His “nuppefuhofu” is a “spirit of flesh” found in deserted temples. Monks that choose to sleep in those temple are unpleasantly awakened by the fleshy sound of its aimless staggering.

The Nopperabō is a later yokai probably derived from the nuppeppō. It is human in appearance except for its face – completely featureless and smooth as an egg. Unlike its older counterpart, the nopperabō is only ever a thing of terror.

References

Foster, M. D. (2015) The Book of Yokai. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Sekien, T.; Alt, M. and Yoda, H. eds. (2017) Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedias of Toriyama Sekien. Dover Publications, New York.