Beisht Kione Dhoo

Variations: [Yn] Beisht [y] Kione Dhoo ([The] Beast of [the] Black Head); [Yn] Beisht Kione ([The] Beast of Head) (erroneously)

Beisht Kione Dhoo

Fishermen on the Isle of Man have traditionally observed a number of customs. Whistling on board “bothers the wind” and is discouraged. Sticking a knife in the mast on the appropriate side causes the wind to blow from that direction. Losing items on board is bad luck; borrowing items from “lucky” boats brings good luck. Four-footed land animals should not be mentioned by name, but instead by a circuitous sea-name – rats, for instance, are “long-tailed fellows”. Cold iron is a remedy to most acts of bad luck.

Then there is a number of sea creatures that can wreak havoc on fishing vessels. Of the the Beisht Kione Dhoo, the Beast of Black Head, is the most terrifying. It makes its home in the sea-caves on Black Head, near Spanish Head at the southern tip of the Isle of Man. The few who have seen it say it has a head like that of a large horse, and it can be heard roaring by fishermen off Spanish Head. Some say it is the soul of a man killed by pirates in order to protect their treasure hidden in the headland’s caves. Nobody has attempted to claim that treasure.

To placate the Beisht and bring on good luck, rum is left in the cave at Spanish Head. Fishermen heading out to sea would throw a glassful of rum overboard in hopes that the Beisht will grant them a bountiful catch.

References

Broderick, G. (1984) A Handbook of Late Spoken Manx: Grammar and Texts. Max Niemeyer, Tübingen.

Killip, M. (1976) The Folklore of the Isle of Man. Rowman and Littlefield, New Jersey.

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

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.

Davalpa

Variations: Devalpa, Dawal-bay, Himantopus, Himantopode, Sciratae, Shaikh al-Bahr, Old Man of the Sea, Tasma-pair, Nasnas (erroneously)

Davalpa

“Would you be so kind as to carry me across the river?” The Davalpa, or “strap-leg”, looks up at you as he begs in a wheedling voice. It’s hard to deny the old man this one favor. He’s hunched, frail, and withered, dressed in rags which cover his entire body. It can’t hurt to help him, and you easily lift him up onto your shoulders. It is then that his legs appear – long, leathery straps that burst out of his clothes and wrap themselves around your neck. You find yourself barely able to breathe, staggering under your charge’s weight, all while the davalpa cackles and whips you, ordering you to move where he wishes. You’re his prisoner now, and will remain so until your death.

That is how davalpas catch their victims. Their legs, while 3 meters long and powerful, do not let them move around normally, and so they use unwilling humans as their mounts. Sometimes they have multiple long snakelike legs that erupt out of their belly, and a tail they use to whip their mounts. Sometimes they constrict their victims to death, a merciful fate compared to the slavery they impose.

Davalpas can be found in the Iranian deserts and on uncharted islands in the Indian Ocean, where they sit by the side of the road and wait for potential rides to show up. The most famous davalpa was the Old Man of the Sea, which Sindbad the Sailor met on his fifth voyage. The Old Man successfully enslaved Sindbad, forcing him to do his bidding, but Sindbad managed to escape the creature’s clutches by fermenting grape juice and offering it to him. After getting drunk, the Old Man’s grip loosened and he fell off; Sindbad smashed his head with a rock.

Sindbad’s adventure with the Old Man of the Sea is almost an exact copy of previous accounts. Al-Qazwini locates the davalpas on Saksar Island, which they share with the cynocephali. A sailor tells the story of how a strange person wrapped his legs around his neck and enslaved him, forcing him to pick fruits. He escaped by fermenting grapes and inebriating the davalpa; the experience left him with scars on his face.

Al-Jahiz refers to the creature as dawal-bay in Arabic. As with the Waq-waq, he believes it to be a cross between plants and animals.

Oddly enough, the davalpa is not of Persian origin. The earliest mention of davalpas is from Alexander’s Romance, where they are called the “savage Himantopodes” and share their land with Cynocephali, Blemmyes, Troglodytes, and other strange races. Himantopus means “strap foot”, and is currently in use today for the black-winged stilt, a shorebird with long slender legs. Pliny specifies that those strap-foots are incapable of walking, and get around by crawling; later he describes the snub-nosed, bandy-legged Sciratae, which seem to be one and the same.

One possibility is that the davalpa was inspired by apes, which can cling tightly and whose shorter legs might be less apparent at first glance. More intriguingly, Tornesello suggests that the various monstrous races of Hellenic myth arose from recollections of foreign soldiers during the Greco-Persian wars. The Sagartians in Xerxes’ army rode horses and used twisted leather lariats to entangle and kill enemies. The parallels with them and the davalpas include the leather-strap weapon, its use in strangling people, and the apparent incapability of walking (the Sagartians were always on horseback). Sagartioi can also be seen as the linguistic ancestor of Skiratoi.

Thus the davalpa concluded its journey. Inspired by Greek distortions of Persian warriors, it found its way back to Persia where it had lost all of its previous subtext and gained entirely new meaning. Today modern Iranian satirists and cartoonists have used the davalpa to represent greedy, parasitic institutions – especially helpful if those institutions disapprove of direct criticism.

References

Browne, E. G. (1893) A Year Amongst the Persians. Adam and Charles Black, London.

Christensen, A. (1941) Essai sur la Démonologie Iranienne. Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Al-Jahiz, A. (1966) Kitab al-Hayawan. Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Awladihi, Egypt.

Marashi, M. (1994) Persian Studies in North America. Iranbooks, Bethesda.

Masse, H. (1954) Persian Beliefs and Customs. Behavior Science Translations, Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

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.

Ricks, T. M. (1984) Critical Perspectives on Modern Persian Literature. Three Continents Press, Washington D. C.

Tornesello, N. L. (2002) From Reality to Legend: Historical Sources of Hellenistic and Islamic Teratology. Studia Iranica 31, p. 163-192.

Mi’raj

Variations: Al-Mi’raj (usually erroneously), Miraj (lacking the ‘ayn), Mirag (see previous, also Egyptian pronunciation)

Miraj

When Alexander the Great visited Jazirat al-Tinnin – the Dragon’s Island – he was immediately presented with an opportunity to play the hero. The inhabitants of this unspecified island in the Indian Ocean were terrorized by a fire-breathing dragon, which would exact a tribute of two oxen a day to be left at the opening of its lair. Ever the tactician, Alexander stuffed two ox-skins with pitch, sulfur, and other unpalatable substances, and had them dropped off for the dragon; the reptile perished soon after eating them.

Among the gifts Alexander was given for this sauroctonous feat was a Mi’raj, a creature resembling a yellow rabbit with a single black horn on its forehead. It was apparently so aggressive that wild animals would flee at the sight of it – a feature it shared with the karkadann, and which may have arisen from confusion between the two unicorns. It certainly wasn’t fierce enough to avoid being captured (alive or dead).

The exact pronunciation of the name is unclear, as with the absence of diacritics, “mi’raj” may as well be “mu’raj”. It is sometimes rendered as Al-mi’raj, literally “The mi’raj”; this is unnecessary in English, and any usage of this term preceded with “the” or “an” is redundant. Bochart (and by extension Flaubert) refers to it as “mirag”, which is correct in Egyptian Arabic but drops the difficult ‘ayn.

Al-Qazwini was the first to report the story of Alexander and the mi’raj. Al-Damiri describes the mi’raj as “great [and] marvelous”.

If there is any factual basis for the existence of the mi’raj, it may well have been a rabbit with facial tumors caused by papillomaviruses. The same has been used to explain the origin of the jackalope, a North American hybrid used to fool tourists and usually created by grafting horns on a jackrabbit skin.

References

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

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

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

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.

Seznec, J. (1943) Saint Antoine et les Monstres: Essai sur les Sources et la Signification du Fantastique de Flaubert. PMLA, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 195-222.

Zimmer, C. (2011) A Planet of Viruses. University of Chicago Press.