Onchú

Variations: Enfield; Alphyn; Water-dog, Sea-dog

Onchu

The Onchú, “Water-dog”, is a peculiar Irish creature with a long history of phonetic transformation. It is better known as the Enfield or Alphyn.

Of the three variants it is the enfield that has the most defined morphotype. It has the head of a fox, the chest of a greyhound, the talons of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the hindlegs and tail of a wolf. A more simple description gives it the head of a fox, the breast and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters of a wolf, combining the cunning of the first, the honor of the second, and the ferocity of the third. There may be a mane and a lion’s tail. Enfields are rarely used in heraldry, most notably appearing in green as the crest of the O’Kelly family of Ireland. This is traditionally attributed to an incident when Tadhg Mór Ua Ceallaigh, the ancestor of the O’Kellys of Hy-Many, fell in battle against the Danes at Clontarf. An enfield or dog-like creature emerged from the sea and protected Tadhg Mor’s body until it was recovered.

As for the alphyn, it vaguely resembles a tiger, sometimes with the same clawed forelimbs as the enfield. It shares its name with the term alphyn or alfin for the chess bishop, itself derived from al-fil, “the elephant”, but this is coincidental. Elephants were well-known in bestiaries long before the decidedly unproboscidean alphyn, which appears at the end of the fifteenth century.

The word onchú is more ancient than enfield or alphyn, and is probably derived from , “hound”, and on, “water” (as in onfais, “plunging”, and onfaisech, “diver”). It is synonymous with doburchú, the otter (literally “water dog”). Therefore the onchú can be inferred to be a dog or dog-like animal that lives at least partly in water. Onchú also is used to mean “banner”, or “standard”, suggesting that the use of the onchú on battle-standards was common enough that the name was transferred to the item – and that its use preceded the battle of Clontarf.

The confusion only increases with the pluralization of onchú to give onchoin or onchainn. Onchainn in turn became onfainn following the trend of ch conversion (e.g. Dunphy from Donnchaidh). Williams traces phonetic vagaries and lists a sequence of alterations: onfainn to anchainn to anfainn to anfaill to anfild to enfild. Anfaill also gave rise to the less-successful alternative name of alphyn. Further assimilation with the heraldic sea-dog gave the onchú/enfield/alphyn a mane and clawed, bird-like forelegs.

Since then onchú has been used as a term for a large water beast. It is wild, fearsome, valorous, heroic, with reptilian and venomous qualities (probably the origin of its green color). The onchú that lived between Loch Con and Loch Cuilinn killed nine men. Muiredach pursued it into the water and slew it, earning the title of Cú Choingelt, “Hound of the Pasturage”.

Williams proposes the adoption of onchú as the official Gaelic term for the animal. Enfield remains an acceptable English version.

References

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Cooke, T. L. (1859) Proceedings, November Meeting. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, v. 2. McGlashan and Gill, Dublin.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Williams, N. J. A. (1989) Of Beasts and Banners: The Origin of the Heraldic Enfield. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, v. 119, pp. 62-78.

Poreskoro

Poreskoro

Poreskoro, “Tailed” or “Caudate”, is the ninth and final child of Ana, the ultimate Romani demon of disease produced from an unhappy and abusive relationship between Queen Ana of the Keshalyi and the King of the Loçolico.

After the failed attempt at sterilization that produced Minceskro, the distraught Keshalyi fed their Queen a mixture of cat hair, powdered snake, and hair from the hound of hell. This time the result was Poreskoro. A bird with four dog heads, four cat heads, and a snake tail with a forked tongue, Poreskoro is a hermaphrodite who does not require a mate to produce offspring. Its children are bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, and all the pestilences, epidemics, and pandemics known to humanity. Poreskoro dwells deep underground with its offspring; its appearance on the surface heralds widespread destruction and disease.

It is small comfort, then, that even the King of the Loçolico had a shock upon seeing this monstrous child, and realized that his marriage was going nowhere. He and Ana divorced under two conditions – first, that the Loçolico would leave the Keshalyi alone as long as Ana was alive; second, that every Keshalyi nymph having reached the age of 999 would be given away to the Loçolico.

So it came to pass that Ana lived in blessed seclusion in an isolated mountain castle, rarely leaving, and sustained by the Keshalyi. Every morning three of the nymphs visit her and give her a single drop of blood from their left hand to keep her alive. She sometimes appears in the form of a golden toad, but more often she is only heard saying the word ana, meaning “bring” or “pass”. If you hear that, then you must pick up a frog, beetle, or other small animal and toss it into a bush, otherwise Ana will crush you under a rock.

As for her demonic children, they live on, and the diseases they spawn are endless.

References

Clébert, J. P. (1976) Les Tziganes. Tchou, Paris.

Clébert, J. P.; Duff, C. trans. (1963) The Gypsies. Vista Books, London.

Meyers Brothers Druggist (1910) Demons of Disease. Meyers Brothers Druggist, v. 31, p. 141.

Pavelčík, N. and Pavelčík, J. (2001) Myths of the Czech Gypsies. Asian Folklore Studies, v. 60, pp. 21-30.

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.

Camphruch

Variations: Camphur (Paré), Camphurch (Aldrovandi)

Camphruch

The only description of the piscivorous Camphruch is provided by Thevet, who places this unusual unicorn in the Maluku Islands. Paré copies Thevet’s account but locates his “camphur” in Ethiopia, on the Isle of Molucca (!). Aldrovandi refers to the “camphurch”.

The camphruch is amphibious, living on land and in water like a crocodile. It is as big as a doe and has a thick grayish mane around the neck. The single horn on its forehead is three and a half feet long, as thick as a man’s arm at its thickest, and is movable like an Indian rooster’s comb. The forelegs are cloven deer’s hooves. The hindlegs are webbed like those of a goose. Camphruchs feed on fish and swim in both fresh and salt water.

Some believe that it is a species of unicorn, and that its horn neutralizes poisons. It is held in high regard in the islands, and the king of one island proudly bears the name of Camphruch – his courtiers have to make do with the names of lesser beasts, fish, and fruits.

Many of Thevet’s accounts were second or third hand. It is entirely possible that the camphruch was born from a muddle of multiple descriptions – narwhal, fur seal, beaver, goose, and antelope may have contributed. A much later dictionary entry dispenses with all that and describes the “camphur” as a single-horned Arabian donkey.

References

Paré, A. (1582) Discours d’Ambroise Paré – De la Licorne. Gabriel Buon, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Vallot, D. M. (1821) Explication des Caricatures en Histoire Naturelle. Mémoires de l’Academie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-lettres de Dijon.

Beathach Mòr Loch Odha

Variations: Big Beast of Loch Awe, Big Beast of Lochawe

big-beast

Like so many other lake monsters, the true nature and appearance of the Beathach Mòr Loch Odha, the “Big Beast of Loch Awe”, is shrouded in mystery. Some say it resembles a giant horse, while others describe a colossal eel. What is known for certain is that the Big Beast is a large and powerful creature with twelve legs. It can be heard in the dead of winter, breaking the ice on the frozen loch.

It has been a long time since the Big Beast was last seen. Its existence is all but forgotten on the shores of Loch Awe, and a resident of Ford interviewed by Fleming in 2001 had nothing to say on its subject.

References

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

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

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.

Oókempán

ookempan

Oókempán is an ogre known to the Tehuelche of Argentina and Chile. He looks like a very large man, but has a shell on his back and moves around on all fours like a pig. Oókempán abducts children, enticing them with a bit of meat before slinging them into a box on his back and carrying them off. Any child playing on their own is at risk of being taken and presumably eaten. Attempts to stop Oókempán will fail, as his hard shell prevents any damage from reaching him; his weakness is in his heel, which is unprotected.

It was Oóuk’en, “truth”, the man incapable of lying, who put an end to Oókempán’s kidnappings. He interceded after a child escaped by grabbing hold of an overhead branch as Oókempán passed under it. Oóuk’en went to meet Oókempán at the top of a cliff. “What did you do with the children?” he asked the ogre. “I took them to increase my people”, replied Oókempán. “I only eat rhea, and I needed them to hunt for me”. After some more small talk, Oóuk’en pushed Oókempán off the cliff, shattering his shell and killing him.

The presence of fossil elephant bones in the region have been seen as evidence of Oókempán’s existence.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.