Celestial Stag

Variations: Celestial Roe

Celestial Stag

Celestial Stags or Celestial Roes are neither roe stags nor are they celestial. They are Chinese spirits that haunt deep areas, corpse-demons native to the ore mines of Yunnan province. As with numerous other creatures, their name is probably phonetically derived.

Celestial stags are born from the souls of miners unfortunate enough to be trapped deep underground by cave-ins. There the trapped miners are kept alive by the breath of the earth and of the rare metals around them. Their material substance dies and rots away, but their essences cling to life and become celestial stags.

Perhaps because of this traumatic genesis, the primary goal of a celestial stag is to reach the surface. The stag will do anything it can to reach this goal. When a celestial stag meets a miner it is overjoyed and asks for tobacco. Then it begs the miner to take it to the surface. Stags will try to bribe miners by promising them the choicest veins of gold and silver. If this fails they become violent and torture miners to death.

But worse yet is the outcome if their wishes are granted. A celestial stag that reaches the open air dissolves – flesh, bones, clothes, and all – into a pestilential liquid that spreads disease and death.

The only way to escape these creatures is to kill them before they can do harm. If celestial stags are discovered, miners will wall them up in abandoned galleries. Another way out is to promise to haul the stags to the surface in a bamboo lift. Halfway up the rope is cut and the stags plummet to their death – a merciful end to their grim lives.

Borges attributes his account of the celestial stag to G. Willoughby Meade’s Chinese Ghouls and Goblins.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

De Groot, J. J. M. (1907) The Religious System of China, Volume V, Book II – On the Soul and Ancestral Worship. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Dingbat

Variations: Bunkeri edithil (Wyman)

Dingbat

The Dingbat of the Great Lakes region is a terrifying hybrid of bird and mammal. It has a short, feathered body, short antlers, and large wings.

Dingbats specialize in tormenting hunters. During the deer season they catch bullets in mid-air, drink gasoline from hunters’ cars, and otherwise play such pranks as to render the sportsmen’s lives miserable. While they have not been seen recently, it is certain that any seemingly sure-fire shot that misses its mark is the work of a dingbat.

The only known dingbat specimen was exhibited at the Buckhorn Tavern (and House of Science and Learning) in Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

Someone who is different and unusual may be referred to as a dingbat.

The Latin name honors Edith Bunker, who plays a human dingbat in a popular televised documentary.

References

Wyman, W. D. (1978) Mythical Creatures of the USA and Canada. University of Wisconsin Press, River Falls.

Akampeshimpeshi

Variations: Lightning

Akampeshimpeshi

According to the Lamba people of Zambia, there is a great lake of water above the dome of the sky. This lake is held back by a weir protected by guardians appointed by Lesa (God). Sometimes Lesa appoints children to guard it, and their irresponsible playing makes holes in the weir and allow the water to spill to earth as rain. When Lesa appoints grown men to guard the weir, then there is no rain.

Lightning (akampeshimpeshi) is caused by the guardians of the weir swinging and tossing their knives (imyele). The knives do not fall – if they did, the earth would be destroyed.

When a flash of lightning hits the ground, an animal descends to the ground on the end of a long cobweb. It looks like a goat, with beard and horns, but has the feet and tail of a crocodile. Usually it returns to the sky on its string of web; if the cobweb breaks, the animal will be trapped on the ground and cry like a goat. In this state it is very dangerous and might kill people, so it is mobbed, killed, and burned by the Lambas. Anyone trying to slay this beast must have protective medicine (ubwanga bwayamba) to avoid being killed themselves.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

Nue

Variations: Nue-dori (Nue-bird)

Nue

Described as a “bird-beast”, the Nue lacks any avian physical features. It exists largely outside the Japanese yokai canon, best known from the Tale of the Heike (1371).

The kanji for the word nue are “night” and “bird”. It is likely that the legend of the nue started with a Chinese bird. When it appeared in the 8th-Century Kojiki and the Manyōshū it was a bird that sang mournfully in the forest at night. Purification rituals would be performed in the palace after its sad song. This is probably the White’s thrush or toratsugumi (Zoothera dauma).

In the Tale of the Heike the nue becomes a frightening hybrid creature with the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki or badger, the limbs of a tiger, and a snake’s or viper’s tail. It makes a cry like that of the nue thrush and lives deep in the mountains. It would appear in the sky over the emperor’s palace every night, hidden in a foreboding black cloud.

The nue was shot out of the sky by Minamoto no Yorimasa with a single arrow. For this feat he was awarded the sword known as Shishiō, the “King of Lions”, which is still on display at the Tokyo National Museum. The event also established Yorimasa’s reputation as a slayer of monsters, and he killed a second nue during the reign of a later emperor.

A 15th-Century Noh drama by Zeami Motokiyo tells the tale of the nue’s slaying from the perspective of the nue. Its forlorn lament over its death hearkens back to its origin as a bird with a sad song.

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.

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.

Myrmecoleon

Variations: Myrmecoleo, Myrmekoleon, Mermecoleon, Mermecolion, Mirmicaleon, Mirmicoleon, Murmecoleon, Formicaleon, Ant-Lion, Antlion

Myrmecoleon

The Myrmecoleon, or Ant-lion, is a tale of two creatures and many translation errors. Druce distinguishes between the Eastern myrmecoleon, a hybrid of lion and ant, and the Western myrmecoleon, a carnivorous insect. These are one and the same, but the vagaries of translation led them down separate paths.

The Eastern myrmecoleon is found primarily in Greek, Arabian, Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syrian bestiaries. Its pedigree can be traced back to the giant gold-digging ants originally described by Herodotus. Further additions were added to the account as it evolved away from its origin. Nearchus claimed that the skins of the ants were as large as those of leopards. Pliny said that the horns of an Indian ant at the Erythraean temple of Hercules were remarkably large. Agatharchides, Aelian, and Strabo tell of Arabian and Babylonian lions called “ants” (myrmex) that have gleaming golden fur and reversed genitals (probably hyraxes, which have a distinctive dorsal gland).

The translators of the Septuagint were faced with the unfamiliar term lajisch or layish in Eliphaz’s phrase “the old lion perishes for lack of food” (Job 4:11). In the Vulgate it was rendered as tigris, and modern translations use “old lion”, but the Septuagint, drawing on obscure Classical species of lion, arbitrarily used the term myrmekoleon. Its name presupposes a hybrid of ant and lion; as the Bible is inerrant, this led led to the necessary existence of a creature whose father was a lion and whose mother was an ant. The fruit of this improbable union is a lion in front and an ant behind, and dies of starvation since the ant half cannot digest what the lion half eats, while the lion half cannot eat the plants the ant half requires. Thus “the myrmecoleon perishes for lack of food” became a logical statement, and was expounded upon in the Physiologus.

Myrmecoleon antlionThe Western myrmecoleon originally appeared in Latin sources and subsequently found its way into European bestiaries. This ant-lion is both ant and lion – an insect that preys on ants as lions prey on other animals, an ant to us, a lion to ants. It is an ant with a white head and a black body marked with white spots. It appears in bestiaries as something like a large ant or spider. This is a real animal – the antlion is a larva with huge jaws that constructs funnel-shaped traps in sand to catch ants. It eventually metamorphoses into a lacy-winged fly, but both larva and adult are completely harmless to humans.

As a denizen of bestiaries the ant-lion has its own religious connotations. The Eastern myrmecoleon is two-faced, double-minded, unstable, and deceitful. The Western myrmecoleon represents Satan lying in wait for sinners.

References

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

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Druce, G. C. (1923) An account of the Μυρμηκολέων or Ant-lion. The Antiquaries Journal, 3(4), pp. 347-364.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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

Newbold, D. (1924) The Ethiopian Ant-lion. Sudan Notes and Record, 7(1), pp. 133-135.

Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

Ilomba

Variations: Malomba (pl.); Mulombe, Mulolo, Sung’unyi (Kaonde); Ndumba (Alunda); Man-Snake

The Ilomba is one of several familiar spirits associated with sorcerers and witchcraft in Zambia. Malomba appear as snakes with human heads and share the features and emotions of their owners. As malomba are obtained through deliberate sorcery in order to kill enemies or steal food, anyone suspected of having an ilomba is up to no good. That said, powerful chiefs and hunters are said to have their own malomba to protect them from witchcraft. Owners of malomba are usually male.

Evil sorcerers can make malomba in a number of ways. Most commonly, a mixture of certain medicines and water is made and placed on a piece of bark. Five duiker horns are placed next to this. A plait of luwamba or mbamba (spiky grass) is made to about 15-18 inches long and 0.5-1 inch wide; the duiker horns are placed at one end of this plait. Fingernail parings from the client are put in the horns, and blood taken from the client’s forehead and chest are mixed with the medicine. Some of the concoction is drunk by the client, while the rest is sprinkled onto the plait with a second luwamba plait. After the first sprinkling, the plait turns ash-white. The second sprinkling turns it into a snake. The third gives it a head and shoulders that resemble the client in miniature, including any jewelry present. The shoulders soon fade away to leave only the head.

The ilomba then addresses its master. “You know and recognize me, you see that our faces are similar?” When the client answers both questions in the affirmative, then they are given their ilomba.

Once obtained, an ilomba will live wherever the owner desires it to, but usually this is in riverside reeds. Soon it makes its first demand for the life of a person. The owner can then designate the chosen target, and the ilomba kills the victim. It kills by eating its victim’s life, by consuming their shadow, or by simply feasting on their flesh or swallowing them whole. Then it returns and crawls over its owner, licking them. People who keep mulomba become sleek and fat and clean, are possessed of long life, and will not die until all their relatives are dead. This comes at a steep price, however, as the ilomba will hunger again, and continue eating lives. If it is not allowed to feed itself, its owner will grow weak and ill until the ilomba feeds again.

Soon the unnatural death toll will be noticed, and a sorcerer is called in to divine the hiding place of the ilomba. To kill an ilomba, a sorcerer will sprinkle nsompu medicine around its suspected lair. This causes the water level to rise and the ground to rumble. First fish, then crabs, and finally the ilomba itself appear. The snake is promptly shot with a poisoned arrow – and its owner feels its pain. They die at the same time.

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.