Ompax

Variations: Ompax spatuloides

Ompax

What would you do if your breakfast was a species new to science? Carl Theodore Staiger, director of the Brisbane Museum, was faced with this conundrum in August of 1872. During his visit to Gayndah, Queensland, he was served an unusual duck-billed fish for breakfast. The worthy naturalist decided to have the specimen sketched. He then went ahead and ate the specimen anyway.

The entire description of Ompax spatuloides is derived from the sketch and Staiger’s recollection (sadly, we are not told of the Ompax’s gastronomical merits). Count F. de Castelnau described it as a ganoid fish something like a paddlefish, eighteen inches long and dirty mahogany in color. The spatulate beak is similar to a platypus’, the eyes are small and near the top of the head, the pectoral fins are small, and the dorsal, caudal, and ventral fins appear to be connected. It can only be found in a single water hole in the Burnett River, alongside the lungfish Ceratodus.

Ompax spatuloides was listed in several catalogues of Queensland fishes, despite immediate and scathing criticism from other ichthyologists. O’Shaughnessy remarked that “all the characters of [the Ompax] are gathered from a drawing made after and not before the repast… the Record thinks he would be scarcely justified in admitting Ompax spatuloides, sp. n., into the system.”

The mystery of the Ompax was solved by someone writing to the Sydney Bulletin under the name of “Waranbini”. The author confesses that the Gayndah locals prepared a fish for Staiger’s breakfast by assembling the head of a lungfish, the body of a mullet, and the tail of an eel (and, presumably, the bill of a platypus). It was cooked and introduced as a new species, one that might not be seen again for months, and Staiger fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Since then, unusual fish were met in the Gayndah district with an exclamation of “it must be an Ompax!”

References

Castelnau, F. L. P. (1879) On a New Ganoïd Fish from Queensland. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, v. 3, no. 1, pp. 164-165.

Whitley, G. P. (1933) Ompax spatuloides Castelnau, a Mythical Australian Fish. The American Naturalist, v. 67, no. 713, pp. 563-567.

Roperite

Variations: Rhynchoropus flagelliformis (Cox), Pseudoequus nasiretinaculi (Tryon)

Roperite

The Roperite is one of the few Fearsome Critters found outside the northern lumberwoods. Its home is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where the digger pine grows, and it tends to live in herds. An active and gregarious animal, it has not been seen in a while, and there is concern that it may already be extinct.

Roperite biology is a mystery. We know that it is the size of a small pony, and that it has a a remarkable rope-like beak which it uses to lasso its prey. Its skin is leathery and impervious to the thorn and rock of its chaparral habitat. Its legs are well-developed and flipper-like. A. B. Patterson of Hot Springs, CA,  reported a tail with a large set of rattles. It is unknown whether roperites are bipedal or quadrupedal, whether they are fish, fowl, or beast, and whether they lay eggs, give birth to live young, or emerge fully-formed from mountain caves. Local legend has it that they are the reincarnated ghosts of Spanish ranchers.

Roperites run at blistering speed. Their legs give them a gait halfway between bounding and flying. Nothing can outrun them, and no obstacle can slow them down. Even roadrunners are trampled or kicked aside. Roperites are predators that chase down their prey and lasso them with incredible dexterity, then proceed to drag their through thornbushes until they die. The rattles on the tail are used to impressive effect during the chase, intimidating quarry with a whirring din worthy of a giant rattlesnake. Jackrabbits and the occasional lumberjack are taken.

References

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

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

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

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.

Falajitax

Variations: Leile, Leile, Liwo

Falajitax

The Falajitax snakes are both violent ogres and benevolent rain-bringers. The Makka of Paraguay believe that they come from humid areas and bring the water with them wherever they go. Most falajitax live in the Chaco forests.

A falajitax has a head like that of a rhea. When it rears up with its body out of sight, it looks exactly like a rhea, and fools many hunters into coming too close. It wears earrings. Its massive serpent body is beautifully colored with eye-catching stripes. But a falajitax need not stick to one form, as it can assume any appearance it wishes, including human and equine guises. A falajitax disguised as a horse can tempt people into riding it, galloping with them into a lake where they drown.

At best, the falajitax are intelligent creatures that can be reasoned with by shamans. Falajitax often protect sources of honey in the forest, and the shaman can placate them by singing and soothing them with a sort of balm. A group of Makka and their shaman were permitted to harvest honey, and the falajitax next guided them to their secret stores of honey. The snakes finally appeared in the shaman’s dreams, telling him that they would live in peace with the Makka.

The falajitax that chased a rhea-hunter was much less friendly. With its head raised, it would beckon him to approach, then lie down and roll up as he came closer. When he discovered the deception, he rode off at full speed, with the falajitax following close behind, jumping from branch to branch like a monkey. When the hunter reached a burned field, the falajitax stopped moving, for such places are unpleasant to the snake. The man returned with other villagers and killed the helpless falajitax, taking its beautiful skin, but after they hung it out to dry it started to rain. The torrential downpour stopped only after they had thrown the skin away.

At worst, the falajitax are little more than anthropophagous monsters. They often swallow people alive, but victims can escape by cutting out the serpent’s heart from within – a difficult proposition, considering that a falajitax has multiple decoy hearts around its neck, with the real heart located in its tail. It took two days for one hunter to find the falajitax’s heart and slay it; by then, his hair and clothes had been dissolved and his skin was decomposing. Fortunately for him, his wife’s magic comb restored him to health. But if the falajitax decides to kill first, then there is no escape. The snake constricts its prey to death and then introduces its tail in its victim’s anus, making it walk like a macabre puppet.

References

Arenas, P.; Braunstein, J. A.; Dell’Arciprete, A. C.; Larraya, F. P.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1991) Folk Literature of the Makka Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Chicheface

Variations: Chiche-face, Chiche Face, Chichefache, Chechiface, Chincheface, Chiche; Chichevache, Chichivache (erroneously), Thingut, Pinch-Belly (English)

Chicheface

Chicheface is as starved as its counterpart Bigorne is satisfied. This etiolated creature was said to feed solely on wives who obeyed their husbands, and as such was skeletal and malnourished. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

Some confusion has resulted over the name. Chiche face means “thin face”, possibly derived from the Spanish chico, “small” (although Chapoulaud suggests a separate derivation from the patois chichou, “puppy”). Corruption of this word through intermediaries like chichefache has led to the alternate spelling of chichevache, “thin cow”, popularized in English.

There is very little of the bovine in Chicheface. It is somewhat like a terrifyingly thin werewolf, barely skin and bones. Its head and body are those of a wolf, its forelegs are clawed and its hindlegs are hooved.

Satire featuring Chicheface revolves around the lack of good and submissive women, and usually begs wives to remain independent and willful. Le dit de Chicheface (“The say of Chicheface”), preserved in the Auvergne mural, depicts Chicheface with its prey in its mouth. Chicheface laments its lot in life – Moy que lon appelle Chiche Face / Très maigre de coleur et de face (“I who am called Chiche Face / Very thin of color and face”). The woman held in its jaws is the only thing it’s found to eat in ten thousand years. Des ans il y a plus de deux cens / Que ceste tiens entre mes dens / Et sy ne lose avaler / De peur de trop longtemps jeuner (“For more than two hundred years / I’ve been holding her between my teeth / And I dare not swallow her / For fear of fasting too long”). As for the long-suffering woman, she regrets her decisions in life, having done everything her husband told her to do, and begs wives not to do the same – Vous qui vivez au demourant / Ne veulez pas come moi faire (“You who live at home / Do not do as I did”).

Jubinal’s satirical poem on the life of Saint Genevieve mentions Chicheface in a warning addressed to the saint: Gardez-vous de la Chicheface / El vous mordra, s’el vous rencontre (“Beware of the Chicheface / It will bite you, if it meets you”). In the Life of Saint Christoffle, we are given the curse Va, que tu soys confondu / Orde, sanglante chiche face! (“Go, may you be confounded / Vile, bloody chiche face!”). Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In the Clerk’s Tale, “noble wives full of high prudence” are warned not to imitate the good and patient Griselda “lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail”. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles.

The skinnier Chicheface has proven more enduring than its rotund companion. Various carved grotesques have been described as the Chiche without further elaboration. In all likelihood Chicheface’s existence may have preceded the misogynistic legend attached to it, and it continued to exist in the popular mind as a sort of hideous bogey.

References

Allou, C. N. (1821) Description des Monumens des Differens Ages. F. Chapoulaud, Limoges.

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

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Jubinal, A. (1837) Mystères Inédits du Quinzième Siècle, t. II. Téchener, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Bigorne

Variations: Bugorne; Bicorne, Bycorne, Bulchin, Fill-Gutt (English); Biurro, Biarro, Biligornia, Tantafera (Italian)

Bigorne

Bigorne is as corpulent as its counterpart Chicheface is emaciated. This bloated creature was said to feed solely on husbands who obeyed their wives, and as such was fat and well-fed. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

The name Bigorne is presumably derived from bicornis, “two-horned”, and also refers to a two-horned anvil. Bigorne itself claims to hail from the fictitious land of Bigornois. The word and variations of it have also been used to refer to debauched old women, to navy infantrymen (bigorniaux or bigreniaux), and to periwinkle snails (bigornebigorneau).

Representations of Bigorne show a massive creature taking clear inspiration from the better-known Tarasque. It has overlapping scales on its rounded back, a smooth belly with lozenge-like scales, clawed bestial forepaws, webbed hindpaws, and a tufted tail. Its face is somewhat human in appearance, unlike that of Chicheface. Alas, no horns are present.

Bigorne has no shortage of patient and submissive husbands to feed on. In its signature poem, Le dit de Bigorne (“The say of Bigorne”), it states that Bons hommes sont bons a manger (“Good men are good to eat”). It is accosted by a desperate man who seeks deliverance from his wife, begging it to eat him; the Bigorne has to excuse itself as it’s still working on its last meal – Attens ong peu beau damoyseau / Laisse mavaller ce morceau / Qui est tresbon ie ten asseure / Et puis a toy ie parleray / Et voulentiers tescouteray (“Wait a bit handsome youth / Let me swallow this morsel / Which is quite delicious I assure you / And then I will talk to you / And gladly listen”). It refers to women and Chicheface disdainfully and brags of its gluttony: Ils viennent a moy a milliers / Aussi grans comme de pilliers (“They come to me in the thousands / Each as big as a pillar”). It finally consents to eat the man; this being a medieval farce, the poem ends on a suitably crude tone as the Bigorne requests that he not break wind or urinate while it swallows him. Il ne te fault point deschausser / Ni despoiller, cest ma nature / Bons hommes font ma nourriture (“You needn’t remove your shoes / Or undress, for it’s my nature / Good men are my food”).

Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles. A masquerade in Florence in the first half of the 16th century saw the likeness of a monstrous beast paraded through the streets. Dubbed Biurro, it bore a sign on its chest proclaiming: Io son Biurro che mangio coloro che fanno a modo delle mogli loro (“I am Biurro and I eat those who do their wives’ bidding”).

The uglier Chicheface has proven more popular than its content companion. Stripped of its chauvinistic overtones, the Bigorne is also a fearsome black beast that roams around Saintonge at night.

References

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

de Chesnel, A. (1857) Dictionnaire de Technologie, t. I. J. P. Migne, Rue d’Amboise, Paris.

Gay, J. (1871) Bibliographie des ouvrages relatifs a l’amour, t. II. J. Gay et Fils, Turin.

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

Silvestre, L. C. (1840) Bigorne qui mange tous les hommes qui font le commandement de leurs femmes. Crapelet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

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.