Osschaert

Variations: Osschaard

Found in maritime Flanders, land of Waas, and especially Hamme, near Dendermonde, Osschaert is one of several mischievous shapeshifters that plague Belgium. He was particularly around the chapel of Twee Bruggen.

According to van Hageland, his name may be a combination of ors, an archaic word denoting a horse or more generally a mount, or os, an ox, with hard, meaning “strong” or “valiant”. In this sense, Osschaard or Osschaert is a headstrong and dangerous steed.

As with others of his kind, Osschaert appears in countless forms, most notably a human-headed bull with heavy chains on its legs and feet. He has also appeared as a dog, a rabbit, a horse, a giant, a dwarf… At Knoche-sur-mer, where he serves as a bogey to frighten children, he is a ghost with a bull’s head. Commonly he drags a long length of chain behind him.

Osschaert is mischievous rather than actively evil. He delights in jumping on the backs of people and forcing them to carry him until they collapse. He is just as likely to jump off his mount’s shoulders to dive into a woman’s basket, causing her to stagger under the sudden load. Osschaert particularly enjoys tormenting sinners and wicked people, and will target them above all others.

He rules over all the water in the area, so the first fish caught is returned as an appeasing gift to Osschaert. Not that he’s guaranteed to ensure a good catch. And beware of catching fish without thanking Osschaert! One fisherman dragged his catch onto the beach only to find himself pinned down for an hour by Osschaert; when he was finally released his catch had disappeared. Another fisherman pulled an incredibly heavy net onto his boat, only to find it full of horse manure.

At the church of Twee Bruggen, daring Osschaert out loud to scratch you will result in a mauling. Specifically, one only has to utter the formula Grypke, Grypke grauw, wilt gy my grypen, grypt my nou (“Grypke, Grypke grey, if you will gripe me, gripe me now”) and Osschaert will appear on your back and ride you to the nearest crossroads or image of the Virgin Mary. In fact, in areas where people dared Osschaert to appear resulted in the spirit becoming more cruel and aggressive due to being repeatedly called upon.

A young man of Doel, crossing a field by night, found himself face to face with an enormous, monstrous horse. “This is Osschaert”, he thought to himself. “I must get out of his way”. He decided to pass through the churchyard, but then met a dog the size of a horse on the main road. He crossed himself and took another path to the churchyard, but there was Osschaert in the form of a rabbit, jumping back and forth towards him. He tried to turn around the churchyard, only to find Osschaert waiting for him in the shape of a donkey with enormous fiery eyes the size of plates! That was the point when the man gave up, jumped the wall, and ran home in a cold sweat.

Another man, a fisherman of Kieldrecht named Blommaert, thought he could outsmart Osschaert. He usually placed his catch of fish in a water-tub near the window. One night he found that some fish were missing; not only that, but there were ashes on the hearth, as though someone had broiled the fish on the embers. Blommaert could find no signs of break-in, and concluded Osschaert was behind this mischief. When the same thing happened a second time, he decided to cure Osschaert of his thieving behavior. He covered the entire hearth with horse-dung, and scattered some ashes over it to disguise it. Osschaert showed up as usual, pronouncing “Blommeken, vischkens braeyen”, but when he tried to cook the fish it ended up spoiled with the dung. He ran away screaming and cursing in frustration. Blommaert celebrated his cunning revenge – but alas, it does not pay to outwit Osschaert. The next day, when Blommaert drew in his net, he found it extraordinarily heavy. After much effort, he hauled it on deck, and found it to be full to cracking with horse-dung. Osschaert laughed loud and long, and Blommaert returned home angry and defeated.

Today Osschaert is retired, if not dead. A priest at Hamme was said to have banished Osschaert to wander at the sea-shore for ninety-nine years. And at Spije, Malines, one can see Osschaert’s coffin. It is a small coffin-shaped bridge over a stream.

References

van Hageland, A. (1973) La Mer Magique. Marabout, Paris.

Harou, A. (1905) Mythologie et folk-lore de l’enfance. Revue des Traditions Populaires, v. XX, p. 96.

Thorpe, B. (1852) Northern Mythology, v. III. Edward Lumley, London.

Bøjg

Variations: Boyg, Bøjgen, Bojgen, Bøygen, Boygen, The Great Bøjg of Etnedal

Bojg

The Great Bøjg of Etnedal is a troll encountered by Peer Gynt in his Gutsbrandal adventures. It was memorable enough that Ibsen included it in his version of Peer Gynt, making it an even more otherworldly creature.

The Bøjg is vast, slimy, slippery, persistent, and shapeless. In the original fairytale, it has a head, which lessens its shapelessness somewhat. Ibsen describes it as a misty, slimy being, neither dead nor alive. Running into it is like running into a nest of sleepy growling bears. Its name comes from bøje, to bend, implying something twisting but also something that forces you to turn elsewhere, conquering without attacking. It coils around houses in the dark, or encircles its victims and bewilders them. Attacking the Bøjg directly is futile.

Wherever Gynt turns, he finds himself running into the clammy unpleasant mass. The Bøjg blocks his path to a mountain hut and nothing Gynt does can defeat it. In the fairytale Gynt fires three shots into the Bøjg’s head but to no avail; he eventually defeats the Bøjg through trickery. In Ibsen’s play the Bøjg is overcome by women, psalms, and church bells.

Within Ibsen’s symbolism it is seen as an insurmountable obstacle, a being of compromise and lethargy.

References

Hopp, Z.; Ramholt, T. trans. (1961) Norwegian Folklore Simplified. Iohn Griegs Boktrykkeri, Bergen.

Ibsen, H., Watts, P. trans. (1970) Peer Gynt. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

Great-hand

Great-hand

The Old Town of Edinburgh is honeycombed with cellars, passages, and tunnels. These subterranean labyrinths are home to ancient horrors long forgotten by the residents. Great-hand is one of these.

Great-hand lives in the tunnel beneath the Royal Mile, stretching from the Castle to the Palace of Holyrood. Once used by soldiers for surprise attacks, it eventually fell into disuse. Then Great-hand moved in and the passage was abandoned completely. Nobody ever left the tunnel alive.

The only thing that has ever been seen of Great-hand is a hand – an enormous grisly hand, with fingernails like the claws of an eagle. If that hand is attached to a body, none have seen it.

After a while of avoiding the tunnel, a piper declared he would cross the tunnel, playing his pipes the whole way to verify his progress. Taking his dog along with him, he entered through the cave near the Castle, and the sound of his pipes could be heard traveling underground as he went down the hill. Then, at the Heart of Midlothian, the music stopped. The attending crowd went back to the entrance of the cave to see the dog running out in abject terror, completely hairless. The passage was blocked up from both ends.

Similar stories are told across Scotland involving haunted caves, foolhardy pipers, and dogs shedding their hair with fright. They are cautionary tales warning of the perils of the underground.

References

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

Pinaviztli

Pinaviztli

The Pinaviztli is an insect of ill-omen known to the Aztecs. It looks like a spider the size of a mouse, smooth and hairless and fat-bodied, red and black in color.

The entrance of a pinaviztli into a house is a bad omen. It can be countered in one of two ways. The first is to draw a cross on the floor pointing to the four cardinal directions. The pinaviztli is placed in the middle, spat on, and asked, “Why did you come? I want to know, why did you come?” If it goes north, it is a sign of coming death. Any other direction heralds a lesser affliction. The insect is told “Go your way, I don’t care about you”, and it is dropped off at the nearest crossroads.

The second ritual consists of passing a hair through the pinaviztli’s body and tying it to a stick, leaving it dangling for a day. If it is gone by the next day, then harm is sure to befall the household. If it is still there, the people spit on it and are reassured that nothing will happen.

Sometimes a pinaviztli foretells the gift of good food.

References

Nuttall, Z. (1895) A Note on Ancient Mexican Folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, v. 8, no. 29, pp. 117-129.

Chemosit

Chemosit

Chemosit is a demonic bogey that prowls the lands of the Nandi in Kenya. Half man, half bird, Chemosit stands on a single leg and has nine buttocks. Its mouth is red and shines brightly at night like a lamp. A spear-like stick serves as a means of propulsion and as a crutch.

People are Chemosit’s food, but it loves the flesh of children above all else. At night it sings a song near places where children live, its mouth glowing in the darkness. Unwary children seeing the light and hearing the song believe it to be a dance. They head out into the night to find the party and are never seen again.

References

Hollis, A. C. (1909) The Nandi, their Language and Folk-lore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Issitôq

Issitoq

Issitôq, “giant eye”, is a gloomy helping spirit that appeared to the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. As Anarqâq had just lost his parents, Issitôq consoled him. “You must not be afraid of me; I, too, struggle with sad thoughts, so I will go with you and be your helping spirit”.

Issitôq has short bristly hair that stands straight up. Each of its eyes is in two sections. Its mouth is vertical, with a single long tooth at the top and two shorter ones at the side. It specializes in finding taboo-breakers.

References

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

Bifang

Variations: Bifang-bird

Bifang

The Bifang can be found on barren Mount Zhang’e in China. It looks like a crane but has only one leg; it has a white beak and red markings on a green background. Its call sounds like its name.

A bifang is an omen of inexplicable fire starting in town. This is probably connected to its red color. It was not always an evil omen, however, as it appears as a benevolent attendant of the Yellow Thearch in the Master Hanfei, and is the divine essence of wood in the Master of Huainan.

Some sources have the bifang itself as the arsonist, using fire it carries in its beak. Mathieu equates it with the Chinese crane, whose habit of standing on one leg may have inspired the bifang’s appearance.

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.

Rolling-calf

Variations: Rolling Calf

Rolling Calf

A duppy is a type of ghost or spirit native to Jamaica. While described as the souls of dead people, duppies have much in common with Old World shapeshifters and roadside tricksters. They may be found in bamboo thickets and cottonwood groves, and feed on bamboo, “duppy pumpkin”, and strangler figs. Duppies appear from seven in the evening till five in the morning, and sometimes at noon. Duppy activities range from simple mischief to arson, beating, burning, poisoning, and stoning, but they are powerless against twins and those born with a caul. A left-handed crack with a tarred whip and the burning of certain herbs keep them away.

Some of the more dangerous duppies include Three-foot Horse, whose breath is poison and which can outrun anything, but which cannot attack those in the shadow of trees. Then there is Whooping-Boy who rides Three-foot Horse while whooping loudly. Long-bubby Susan has pendulous breasts that reach the ground, and which she throws over her shoulders. Old Hige, the witch, is fond of abducting children, but can be confounded by rice thrown on the doorstep – the duppy cannot count above three, but is compelled to count the grains anyway.

Then there is Rolling-calf, one of the worst and most feared duppies. “Rolling” in this context means “roaming”, as in “rolling through town”. It is a shapeshifter that can appear in a number of guises. The best known is that of a hornless goat, black or white or spotted, with a corresponding caprine stench. One of its front legs is human, the other is that of a horse, and the two hind legs are those of a goat. Its tail curls over its back. Its eyes are red and glow like blazing fires. Flames come from its nostrils. There is a collar on its neck, with a chain that drags on the ground and rattles ominously. The rolling-calf can also appear as a cat, dog, pig, goat, bull, or horse, with the brindled-cat form being particularly dangerous. It can be as small as a cat, or as big as a bull.

A rolling-calf is the soul of a particularly wicked person. Butchers and murderers return as rolling-calves, as do Obeah men; the latter can also set rolling-calves on people. Rolling-calves are found in bamboo and cottonwood as well as caves and abandoned houses, coming out on moonless nights in search of sugar (they are fond of molasses) and breaking into cattle pens.

Rolling-calves can wreak all sorts of evil and blow “bad breath” on their victims, but they can be warded off in a number of ways. Flogging them with a tarred whip always helps, as does sticking an open knife into the ground. Even more useful is the fact that rolling-calves are terrified of the moon to a comical extent.

But whatever method is used to escape a rolling-calf’s clutches, you would be well-advised to leave the premises at once. The rolling-calf will return with a vengeance.

References

Beckwith, M. W. (1924) Jamaica Anansi Stories. G. E. Stechert and Co., New York.

Beckwith, M. W. (1929) Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Ix-hunpedzkin

Variations: Ix-hunpedɔkin, Hunpedzkin, Hunpedɔkin; Mexican Beaded Lizard, Heloderma horridum

Ix-hunpedzkinMexican beaded lizards are large, sluggish, and colorful Central American lizards. They have a venomous bite, and popular Yucatec Maya folklore has exaggerated their toxic qualities.

The Mayan beaded lizard, or Ix-hunpedzkin, is 3 to 4 inches long, with black, rose, and ash-colored bands across their bodies and a pink underbelly. It strikes with both its mouth and its tail. In fact, its entire body is virulently toxic, and it can kill a grown man if it so much as touches his clothes. Even that is not the ix-hunpedzkin’s most infamous activity.

Ix-hunpedzkins frequently enter houses and come in contact with humans. They can cause severe, debilitating headaches merely by biting the shadow of one’s head. These headaches are lethal if not treated immediately.

To heal a hunpedzkin-headache, the plant hunpedzkin or hunpedzkin-ak (or ix-hunpedzkin or ix-hunpedzkin-ak, the names are shared) must be used. It is a climbing plant found in association with Sabal japa, and its long, narrow, and yellow leaves resemble those of the henequen, except it is smaller and has soft spines. It is probably a Tillandsia. The leaves should be crushed or burned to ashes, poulticed, and applied to the patient’s head.

References

Pacheco Cruz, S. (1919) Lexico de la Fauna Yucateca. Merida, Mexico.

Roys, R. L. (1931) The Ethno-Botany of the Maya. The Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans.

Lebraude

Variations: Enfleboeuf, Souffle, Soufflet

Lebraude

Sometimes the toxicity of reptiles and amphibians was so powerful that their breath became a deadly weapon. The rarely-seen toads and salamanders in particular were blamed for all sorts of evil deeds.

The Lebraude is a sort of large lizard or salamander with black and yellow skin. It breathes once per day, and anything that contacts its noxious exhalation dies instantly. Humans perish, livestock expires, and even trees and grass wither up. In Puy de Dôme the Souffle (“Breath”) is a small snake or salamander whose breath kills anyone it sees first. Toads in Provence kill birds with their breath. In Vaucluse a salamander’s breath will cause humans to swell up until they die in their skin. The Souffle, Soufflet (“Bellows”), or Enfleboeuf (“Ox-sweller”) of Auvergne inflates and kills cattle.

Sometimes it is not the exhalation, but the inhalation that is feared. In the Cher, it was said that toads sucked bees out of hives, opening their mouths wide for the insects to come in. Reptiles born from a rooster’s egg in the Hautes-Pyrénées can inhale and swallow anything nearby, including birds and children.

References

Sébillot, P. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.