Yohualtepoztli

Variations: Yooaltepuztli, Youaltepoztli, Hacha Nocturna, Night Axe, Night Hatchet; Tooaltepuztli (Sahagun, typo)

Youaltepoztli

Thud. Thud. Thud. The Yohualtepoztli reveals its presence in the mountains of Mexico with a loud, intermittent sound, much like that of an axe being driven into wood. This is what earns it its name, from yohualli, “night”, and tepoztli, “axe” or “hatchet”. It is a spirit or phantasm associated with Tezcatlipoca, and it exists to torment nocturnal travelers.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The dull blows continue, and the traveler breaks out into a cold sweat. Fleeing seems like a good idea, but paradoxically they would be best advised to follow the noise to the yohualtepoztli itself. It manifests as a humanoid creature resembling a headless man. Instead of a head, the yohualtepoztli has a stump, like that of a felled tree. The chest cavity is open and hollow, the heart visible inside, and framed on both sides by what look like small hinged doors. The doors flap loosely as the yohualtepoztli moves, and their impact against each other causes the dull thuds.

Priests, warriors, and other fearless people should immediately grab the yohualtepoztli’s heart and hold it tight, threatening to tear it out. Then the creature can be asked for fame, glory, riches, strength, and other gifts. It will offer an agave thorn in return for its freedom, but it should not be released until three or four thorns have been gifted. In turn, those agave thorns guarantee the capture of as many prisoners of war – and therefore, of as much fame, glory, riches, and strength.

Holding onto a yohualtepoztli’s heart is a harrowing experience. Less brave people may immediately pull out the heart without bargaining and run home. If this happens, the heart should be wrapped up in cloth and left overnight. By morning, if the heart has transformed into agave thorns, bird down, or cotton, then it is a good omen. If coal or rags are left instead, then bad luck is sure to follow.

But for those cowards who fear the yohualtepoztli and dare not approach it, there are no rewards. They will flee in terror at the sound of the night hatchet, and misfortune will befall them.

References

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

Robelo, C. A. (1908) Diccionario de Mitologia Nahoa. Anales del Museo Nacional de México, t. V, Mexico.

Sahagun, B. (1829) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. II. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Bulgu

Bulgu

The Guji Oromo of Ethiopia tell of a brother and sister who went down to the river to fetch water. There they met a Bulgu, “cannibal”, a fearsome ogre with four eyes, a head like an axe blade, arms like axe handles, and stocky legs like pestles. Before the children could react, the bulgu seized and devoured the boy. As he licked his lips, he told the girl “If you tell anyone about what you just saw, I will eat you, you and all in your family!”

Bulgu sketchThe traumatized girl ran home in tears. When questioned by her father about her missing brother, she remembered the bulgu’s words and said “He got lost in the brush, he wandered off alone”. But all she could think of was her brother’s death and the ogre’s threat, and she refused to eat for days, wasting away. Eventually she became too weak to move, and called her father to her bedside. “Father, build me nine high, thick fences around the house, and I will tell you why my brother disappeared”. Nine palisades were constructed of juniper, and the daughter finally told all. The father was incensed. He built a platform of branches above the hut to hide his daughter, then seized his lance and went off to slay the bulgu.

It was all in vain. The bulgu had heard every word the girl said, and approached the hut after the father was gone. Ten magic formulae were mumbled, and the nine gates and the door burst open. The bulgu searched high and low for the girl, and he wouldn’t have found her if she had not broken wind in fear. When her parents returned, the only thing left of her was her middle finger.

References

Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.

Tutschek, L. (1845) Dictionary of the Galla Language, v. II. F. Wild, Munich.

Kamikiri

Variations: Kami-kiri, Kami Kiri, Kamikiri-ma, Kamikiri-mushi, Kami Kiri Mushi; Amikiri (probably)

Kamikiri

Hair has been of historical importance in Japan. During the Edo period, the chonmage or topknot in men was a status symbol. In women, long hair indicated beauty and wealth, with differing hairstyles communicating age, rank, and availability. Cutting one’s hair was a solemn and drastic step associated with religious vows.

Cutting someone’s hair without their consent, therefore, was a spiteful and criminal act, even more so if it seemed to happen without reason. Inexplicable and sudden hair-cutting was known as Kamikiri, “hair cutter”. Most kamikiri incidents happened at twilight, and the victims were usually young women. Matsuzaka City was especially plagued by kamikiri. Often the hair was snipped off while the victim was walking, with the crime noticed only upon returning home.

Who was to blame for kamikiri? Demonic winds could have been the culprit, and they were countered with prayers written on papers and placed in hairpins. Kitsune were also blamed; after three women fell victim in one area, a fox was cut open and long hair found inside.

The phenomenon has also been attributed to a yokai, the kamikiri, kamikiri-ma (“hair-cutting demon”), or kamikiri-mushi (“hair-cutting insect”). It may have been a large longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae), but Edo scrolls elaborate that into a small humanoid creature with pincer hands and a birdlike face. The insect features may be due to kamikiri’s similarity with kamakiri, “praying mantis”.

Toriyama Sekien’s yokai compendia do not include the kamikiri, but rather the scorpion-like amikiri or “net-cutter”. This may be an error, or Sekien’s own spin on the scissors-handed yokai.

References

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

Hepburn, J. C. (1872) A Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary. American Presbyterian Mission Press, Shanghai.

Thunberg, C. P. (1796) Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia, v. III. F. and C. Rivington, London.

Balbal

balbal

Hooked nails, gliding flight, and a long, long tongue are the hallmarks of the Balbal. While its depredations are described in Tagbanua folklore, it is itself accused of hailing from predominantly Muslim Moro country. They have also been described as friendly with and indistinguishable from crocodiles.

Balbals appear before a corpse is buried. Gliding like flying squirrels or bats, these humanoid creatures land on thatched roofs and use their curved claws to rip their way through the straw. Once a hole has been cleared, the long tongue is used to lick up the corpse, skin, flesh, bones, and all. The corpse is then replaced by a banana stalk, identical to the deceased in every way except for a telltale lack of fingerprints.

Light and loud noises scare off balbals. Branches of Blumea balsamifera, known in the Philippines as sambong, sobosob, and gabon, will keep them away from a bedside. Finally, prompt burial is always effective.

References

Fox, R. B. (1982) Religion and Society among the Tagbanuwa of Palawan Island, Philippines. Monograph No. 9, National Museum, Manila.

MacClintock, S. (1903) The Philippines: A Geographical Reader. American Book Company, New York.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Lupeux

lupeux

“Ah, ah! Ah, ah!” The sound echoes through the still, moonlit ponds of Brenne. “Ah, ah, ah!” It’s a pleasant, gently teasing sort of laugh, in a soft human voice. You look around you, but the sound is hard to place. “Who’s there?” you might think of asking. “What’s going on?” Inhabitants of the Berry region in France know better than to respond. Your traveling companion chides you. “For the love of God, don’t answer a third time!”

The laughter comes from the Lupeux, a mysterious, perverse creature with a cruel sense of humor. The lupeux is heard but not seen. Its appearance is uncertain and varies from area to area, but it usually has the head of a wolf, as hinted by its name.

“Ah, ah!” You don’t heed your friend’s warning and call out once more. “What’s funny?” That’s when the floodgates open. The lupeux’s laughter ceases, and it begins to talk to you. In its friendly, genial, engaging voice, it relates juicy rumors, scandalous gossip, inside secrets. If you’re single, it tantalizes you with its matchmaking, sets you up with the hottest dates; if you’re romantically involved, it taunts you with your partner’s infidelity and reveals all their secret lovers. There is seemingly nothing the lupeux doesn’t know – or pretend to know.

Once in the lupeux’s spell, you do not tire of listening to it. You follow its congenial voice as it travels through the skeletal branches of blasted willows, desperate for more. Then the voice stops moving, and you stop in front of a pool, crystal clear, reflecting you and all your hopes and fears, all the tales the lupeux has planted in your head. You come closer for a better look – and the lupeux pushes you in. As you sink into the bottomless pool, as the cold water pours into your lungs and you take your last breath, you see the lupeux perched on a nearby branch, watching you drown and laughing in its charming, friendly voice. “Ah, ah! Now that’s funny”.

References

Jaubert, H. (1864) Glossaire du Centre de la France. Imprimerie et Librairie Centrales de Napoleon Chaix et Cie, Paris.

Sand, G. (1858) Légendes Rustiques. Amorel et Cie Libraires-Editeurs, Paris.

Bogey

Variations: Bogie, Boogy, Bogy, Bogeyman, Bogyman, Nursery Bogie, and many more

bogey

In its broadest definition, a bogey, bogeyman, or nursery bogie is any monster whose purpose is to scare children into good behavior. In turn, bogeys can punish different kinds of behavior, or even attack without provocation; they can be the cause of unexplained events or be in league with parents; they can be linked to specific areas, or show up on feast days and holidays. Any creature can be a bogey, with the only restriction being their use as a warning (i.e. “don’t go outside at midday or snakes will bite you”). Bogeys are probably the most ancient and widespread of creatures, and will continue to thrive as long as creative parents and gullible children exist. The proliferation of characters such as Slenderman is further proof of these child-snatchers’ enduring appeal.

The Bag Man is the classical bogey. Variations on a man (or woman, or monster) carrying a sack or basket can be found wherever bogeys exist. They are large, hirsute, and fanged. Often they have horns and cloven hooves, the remnants of their origin as demons and devils. Sometimes they are described in ethnically-charged terms, and named after feared and otherized minorities. Bag Men seek out unruly children and stuff them into their bag, carrying them away for punishment – usually devouring them. The Bag Man is most commonly known as the Bogeyman in English-speaking areas. In France he is the Croquemitaine, but also Bras de Fer, Lustucru, Moine Bourru… The French Babou is no doubt one and the same as the Italian Babau. Spanish-speaking countries contend with El Coco, while Arabic-speakers fear Abou Kees (“Man with a Bag”, literally “Bag Father”). In southern Africa the basket bearer becomes the Isitwalangcengce, a hyena-like creature whose head is the basket in which children are carried off. The Southern Californian Haakapainiži is an enormous grasshopper with a basket on his back.

Christmas Bogeys are an offshoot of Bag Men, often sharing many characteristics with them but restricting themselves to Christmas festivities. The likes of Père Fouettard in France, Krampus in Germany, Zwarte Pieter in Holland, and many others besides intimidate children into good behavior. The other major archetype of festive bogey is the Witch, and she usually works alone. The Italian Befana rewards and punishes children accordingly at the festival of Epiphany. The hag Chauchevieille attacks the unfaithful who skip midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Frau Gaude drives a pack of hellhounds through town on Christmas Eve. The Guillaneu of the Vendée rides a headless and tailless horse on the New Year. Trotte-Vieille of the Haute-Saone impales naughty children on her long horns, but can be placated with a cauldron of hot broth on the doorstep. In Lucerne, Straeggel shaves the heads of girls who have not finished their tasks on the last Wednesday before Christmas. The legacy of Christmas bogeys lives on today throughout the Western world, as children are taught to believe in a hairy man dressed in red and carrying a large bag; this man enters houses unbidden and judges children on their behavior, and accepts small offerings of cookies.

Another class of bogeys can be described as “interdictory” or “guardian” bogeys, frequenting certain dangerous areas and dissuading children from going there. One of these is the Green-toothed Hag, found mostly in Britain. There is Grindylow in Yorkshire; Jenny Greenteeth in Lancashire; Nellie Longarms in Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Shropshire; Peg Powler between Yorkshire and Durham, but also other such characters as Marrabbecca, who lives in Sicilian wells. They have long arms, sharp green teeth, and straggly hair, and drag children into stagnant pools to be devoured. The Hook Man is another such archetype, including the sinister Jan Haak of Holland whose large hook pulls children underwater. Water-horses such as Mourioche in Brittany also do their job in keeping riverbanks and beaches deserted. In the Ardennes, the waterways are guarded by the crustacean Traîcousse and the bulky lizardlike Mahwot’; the Karnabo’s eerie whistling sounds from abandoned slate quarries. The Biloko of the Congo gruesomely devour anyone who ventures into the deep jungle; the Colombian Abúhuwa and West African Dodo fill a similar role.

Yet other bogeys are harder to categorize. The Bells of Wallonia, whose ringing causes children to freeze in the middle of whatever grimace they are making. The Camacrusa of Gascony is a disembodied leg that eats children. Scandinavian Church Grims haunt places of worship. The Wallonian Colôrobètch nips children and inflicts them with frostbite. In Russia, the Domovoi and his associates can be used by parents for more sinister purposes. Gatta Marella is a nightmarish alpine cat. Lamiae and Striges are nocturnal predators of children in Greece. Used floorboards (lattes usées) in Mons and Tournai, France, become Latusés, bogeys that keep children out of the attic. The reptilian Whowie and the froglike Yara-ma-yha-who are invoked in Australia.

All of which goes to prove that, when it comes to the art of frightening children, humanity has no equal.

References

Callaway, C. (1868) Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus. Trübner and Co., London.

Canobbio, S. (1996) “Se non fai il bravo viene…” A proposito degli spauracchi per bambini. In Les Etres Imaginaires dans les Recits des Alpes. Imprimerie ITLA, Aoste.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1996) La Grande Encyclopédie des Fées. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (2005) The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. Abbeville Press.

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

Heiniger, P. Les Formes du Noir. In Loddo, D. and Pelen, J. (eds.) (2001) Êtres fantastiques des régions de France. L’Harmattan, Paris.Lambot, J. (1987) L’Ardenne. Pierre Mardaga, Brussels.

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

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

Lawson, J. C. (1964) Modern Greek Folklore: A Study in Survivals. University Books.

Sébillot, P. (1882) Traditions et superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Tijskens, J. (1965) Les Noms du Croquemitaine en Wallonie. Enquêtes du Musée de la Vie Wallonne, nos. 117-120, tome X, pp. 257-391.

Tremearne, A. J. N. (1913) Hausa Superstitions and Customs. J. Bale and Sons and Danielsson, Ltd., London.

Dulhath

Variations: Dulhama (al-Damiri); Duhlak, Dulhak, Dulchaph (Bochart)

dulhath

The Dulhath has had a muddled history, with authors disagreeing with each other on the exact name, let alone the appearance. It is first mentioned by al-Qazwini, who refers to the dulhath, but al-Damiri describes it under the name of dulhama, and Bochart reports on the duhlak. Here al-Qazwini’s name has been given priority.

While the original description appears to be al-Qazwini’s, the dulhath’s pedigree probably goes back to jinn who appear as animals – in this case, an ostrich jinni. This in turn led to al-Qazwini’s dulhath as a demon found on certain desert islands, and which resembles a man riding an ostrich. It eats the flesh of humans who have been cast alive or dead into its territory. A dulhath will also invade ships to seek its prey, and when attacked by sailors it speaks loudly in a boastful voice, causing them to prostrate themselves before it. Bochart believed the “boastful voice” to have been some translation error derived from tales of sirens.

The best description of a dulhath is found in the tale of Aboulfaouaris the sailor. Sadly it is all but certifiable, as the creature in question remained unnamed, but its behavior is compellingly close to al-Qazwini’s broad outline. The dulhath that plagued Aboulfaouaris looked like a man of about 40. He had a monstrous shape, a big head, short bristly hair, and an excessively large mouth filled with sharp teeth. Eyes like those of a tiger glared above a flat nose with large nostrils. His arms were nervous, his hands large, and his fingers equipped with viciously hooked claws.

Aboulfaouaris and his crew encountered a dulhath near the island of Java. They saw a naked man clinging to a plank of wood in the sea, calling for help; accordingly the sailors rescued him and brought him aboard ship, where his appearance caused much consternation. When told that he had been narrowly rescued from drowning, the odd man smiled and said “I could have stayed for years in the sea without being bothered; what torments me most is hunger. I have not eaten in twelve hours. Please bring me something to eat, anything, I’m not particular”. An attempt was made to bring him clothing, but the dulhath explained that he always went naked. “Don’t worry, you’ll have lots of time to get used to it”, he added ominously, stamping his foot impatiently. Enough food was presented to him to feed six starving men. The dulhath polished it off and asked for more; the same amount was brought to him and disappeared in short order, and a third helping was called for. One of the slaves, shocked by the creature’s insolence, made to strike him, but the dulhath grabbed him both both shoulders and tore him in half.

All hell broke loose. Aboulfaouaris, sailors, slaves, all descended on the dulhath with sabers drawn, determined to kill the monster. But the dulhath’s skin was harder than diamond. Swords broke and arrows bounced uselessly off his hide. Then they tried to drag him off the ship, but the dulhath sank his claws into the deck, anchoring himself immovably. The sailors were utterly incapable of harming the dulhath. The dulhath, on the other hand, had no such problems as he took one of the sailors and ripped him to pieces with his claws. “My friends, you had better obey me. I’ve tamed worse people than you, and I will have no qualms about having you share the fate of your two shipmates”.

With that the reign of terror began. The dulhath was in full control of the ship, and ate his fourth course while the crew stared in terrified silence. Aboulfaouaris hoped that food and conversation might cause the monster to doze off, but the dulhath smugly reminded him that he had no need for sleep, and none of the soporific tales they told him would have any effect.

All hope seemed lost until deliverance came from the sky. The sailors looked up to see a rukh soaring overhead, and they scattered in fear. The dulhath, however, was unaware of the huge bird, and was standing confidently in the middle of the deck. An easy target! The rukh dove and carried the dulhath off before he could cling to the ship. But the intended prey wasn’t giving up without a fight, and he began tearing and biting into the rukh’s belly. The rukh responded by gouging out the dulhath’s eyes with its talons, and the demon retaliated by eating his way to the rukh’s heart. As it expired, the rukh caught the dulhath’s head in its beak and crushed it like an eggshell. Both monsters plummeted into the waves and vanished.

References

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

de Lacroix, P. (1840) Les Mille et Un Jours: Contes Persans. Auguste Desrez, Paris.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

Smith, W. R. (1956) The Religion of the Semites: the Fundamental Institutions. Meridian Books, New York.