Lyngbakur

Variations: Lyng-bakur, Lyngbakr, Ling-back, Heather-back; Jasconius, Iascanus; Hólma-fiskur, Hólmafiskur (Island Fish)

Lyngbakur

The Lyngbakur is the largest of all the illhveli, the largest of the whales, indeed one of the largest creatures in the sea. In Icelandic lore only the hafgufa (or kraken) is bigger than it, and the two giants are frequently interchangeable.

Despite its enormous size, the lyngbakur is rarely seen, and it does not go out of its way to sink ships the way its smaller brethren do. Most of the time its back is the only thing seen, looking like an island covered with a growth of heather. Its eyes are dorsally located, giving the impression of circular pools of water. From a distance the lyngbakur seems jet-black, but on closer inspection it is a mossy grey. It is tailed and finned like other whales.

The lyngbakur is a slow swimmer, and tends to doze at the surface, looking indistinguishable from a heather-covered island. It is possible to go right up and land on it, but the whale eventually awakes and dives, and anyone still on it will be drowned. Some fishermen in southern Iceland stayed two days on the whale’s back before it sunk, but they had the presence of mind to escape while they could. Trying to draw water from the “pools” on the island is certain to awaken it. The lyngbakur feeds only once every three years, but when it does it engulfs anything in its path, fish, birds, and whales alike.

The saga of Arrow-Odd relates the titular hero’s adventures, which include an encounter with a lyngbakur sent by his enemy Ogmund. He stopped by a large heather-covered island, and had five of his crew disembark to find drinking water. Before long the island began to move, going underwater and drowning the unfortunate crewmen.

Saint Brendan moored at a small island covered with sparse vegetation and with no sand on its shores. He and his followers spent the night praying on the island, but left next morning in a hurry as the ground began to shake. They returned to their ship in time, where they found out that they had been on the back of a Jasconius or Iascanus, a great whale that seems to be none other than the lyngbakur. The next time they encountered the whale, Saint Brendan fearlessly sang Easter Mass on it, and none were harmed.

It is said that there is only one lyngbakur, and it will live until Armageddon.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Edwards, P. and Pálsson, H. (1970) Arrow-Odd: A Medieval Novel. New York University Press, New York.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Llamhigyn y Dwr

Variations: Water Leaper, Water Spirit

Llamhigyn y Dwr

Welsh fishermen, especially around Llyn Gwynan and Llyn Glas, have to contend with the attention of the troublesome Water Spirit, the Llamhigyn y Dwr or “Water Leaper”.

A llamhigyn y dwr looks like a large and monstrous toad, except with a long tail and wings instead of legs. It hides in lakes and other bodies of water, and is carnivorous by nature. Shepherds know not to let their sheep or dogs near the water’s edge, lest the llamhigyn y dwr pounce on them and drag them below.

Fish lost to anglers in those lakes are always the work of a llamhigyn y dwr. It will take the bait cleanly off hooks, or even pull fishermen into the lake. They are fast and powerful swimmers, and will run away with hook, line, rod, and angler. One fisherman’s grandfather told of hooking a llamhigyn y dwr, only for it to emit an ear-splitting shriek, and it would have pulled him off the boat had his friend not been with him.

These tales of the llamhigyn y dwr were told – with significantly more colorful language – by one Ifan Owen, a trustworthy angler by trade with no reason to exaggerate.

References

Jones, T. G. (1930) Welsh Folklore and Folk-custom. Methuen and Co., London.

Rhys, J. (1901) Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, vol. I. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Lavellan

Variations: Water Shrew, Water Mole, Blind Mouse, Common Lizard

Lavellan

The Lavellan is a toxic mammal found in northern Scotland, primarily Caithness.

A lavellan’s appearance is unclear and unassuming; at the very least, it is believed to be small and furry. Sibbald believed it had the head and color of a marten, while other accounts describe it as resembling a shrew or a lizard. It has bright eyes and moves very quickly.

Lavellans are highly poisonous, and are capable of harming cattle from forty yards away. Their very breath is noxious. They are also lethal to humans, as told in one satirical song: “Let him not go away from the houses, to moss or wood, lest the Lavellan come and smite him”.

Farmers kill lavellans on sight and preserve their skin. Water in which a lavellan skin has been dipped is a certain remedy for lavellan poisoning. Boiling a lavellan head will also provide an antidote.

It has generally been assumed that the lavellan is a demonization of the water shrew, also known locally as water mole or blind mouse. The shrew’s saliva is mildly toxic but nowhere near as virulent as the lavellan’s. Harvie-Brown and Buckley, on the other hand, propose that the common lizard – brownish in color, bright-eyed, swift, and unfamiliar – was the originator of the lavellan. It may well be a combination of both.

References

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

Fleming, J. (1814) Contributions to the British Fauna. Memoirs of the Wernerian Natural History Society, Vol. II, Part I, pp. 238-251.

Harvie-Brown, J. A. and Buckley, T. E. (1887) A Vertebrate Fauna of Sutherland, Caithness, and West Cromarty. T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh University Press.

Pennant, T. (1818) British Zoology, vol. I. J. Christie, Dublin.

Lange Wapper

Variations: Lange-wapper, Long Wapper

Lange wapper

Centuries ago, the woods around Antwerp crawled with demons, goblins, and all sorts of evil creatures. They became so troublesome that the townsfolk organized a massive raid, mobilizing priests and arming themselves with bell, book, candle, and icons of the Virgin Mary. The countryside was scoured, and every monster they found was exorcised and banished to the sea.

They did not check the water. One creature escaped their attention by waiting quietly for them to leave. From there he made his way into the canals of Antwerp, where he settled down and incubated his resentment towards humanity.

This was Lange Wapper, or “Long Wapper”. As a shapeshifter, he has no fixed appearance or size. He can be be taller than buildings or the size of a mouse. However, his favored forms usually have long, skinny legs with which he walks on water. These legs can stretch to enormous lengths, allowing him to peer in windows and terrify the inhabitants. The strange movements he makes on those stilt-like legs are the origin of his name, as wapper is an antiquated term for “balance”, and an even more ancient term for “big man”.

Lange Wapper revels in his shapeshifting powers, using them for pranks of varying cruelty. He can become an abandoned kitten, a scared-looking dog, a priest, a nun, a rich man, a beautiful woman, a beggar in rags… any shape that lets him draw unsuspecting victims towards him. Other times Lange Wapper grows to gigantic size and towers over drunkards staggering home at night, frightening them to death. He can duplicate himself as much as he likes, filling dark alleyways with monstrous apparitions. Wappersrui and Wappersbrug are some of his preferred haunts.

A form he often used was a newborn baby, crying on the side of the road. If someone picked him up out of pity, they found their burden slowly growing in weight, until they finally drop it in alarm. The demon then laughs hysterically, and dives back into the canal. He loves milk and especially likes playing this trick on mothers and wet-nurses, draining them dry before making his escape. Lange Wapper also does his best to delay midwives and doctors from attending to women in childbirth.

One time Lange Wapper turned himself into a woman who had four suitors, and soon enough the first suitor arrived to demand her hand in marriage. “I accept, but only if you go to the Notre-Dame cemetery and lay yourself across the crucifix, until midnight”. Confused but elated, the man set off. He was followed by the second suitor, who made the same proposal. “Of course! But only if you go to the Notre-Dame cemetery, take a coffin, carry it to the crucifix, and lie in it until midnight”. The third suitor was told to knock three times on the lid of the coffin, and the fourth had to take an iron chain and run around the crucifix three times, dragging the chain behind him. As expected, the first suitor died of fright when he saw the second crawl into the coffin, the second had a heart attack when the third knocked on his coffin, and the third dropped dead when he heard the fourth running around and rattling his chain. The fourth suitor, baffled, returned to his lover – the real one, this time – to tell her the news, and she committed suicide upon hearing it. Lange Wapper found all this quite amusing.

Lange Wapper does have a soft spot for children, and often becomes a child himself to play with them. But old habits die hard, and he still can’t resist ending the games with some prank.

Unfortunately for Lange Wapper, Antwerp became more and more hostile to him. Modernization of the canals was certainly an annoyance, but the worst came when his fear of Our Lady was discovered. Images of the Virgin Mary proliferated, and soon the demon found himself facing religious imagery everywhere. He has not been seen in a long while; for all we know, he has given up and returned to the sea.

References

Griffis, W. E. (1919) Belgian Fairy Tales. Thomas Y. Crowell, New York.

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

Teirlinck, I. (1895) Le Folklore Flamand. Charles Rozez, Brussels.

Lavandière de Nuit

Variations: Lavandière, Laveuse de Nuit (French); Kannerez Noz, Cannerez Noz, Gannerez Noz (Breton); Bean nighe, Bhean Nighe, Caoineachag, Nigheag Bheag a Bhroin (Gaelic); Washerwoman, Night Washerwoman, Washer of the Ford, Little Washer of Sorrow (English)

Lavandiere

The lavandières de nuit (“washerwomen of the night”) are present in some form or other from Scotland to Provence. Their exact nature is uncertain; sometimes they are ghosts, other times members of the fairy kingdom. Their best-documented haunt is Brittany.

Lavandières are female, and can be seen washing laundry in the odd hours of the night. They usually take the form of tall, gaunt, and withered crones, but the Gollières a Noz of Romandie are as beautiful as they are cruel. Some of them sing as they wash, earning them the name of kannerez noz (night singers). Their song is sadder than a De Profundis. Those of Morbihan have had their song recorded as follows:

Tors la guenille, tors // Le suaire des épouses des morts.

(Wring the rags, wring // the shroud of the wives of the dead).

Often a lavandière is condemned to wash a shroud in atonement for a sin committed in life. Some merely did laundry on Sunday. Others were greedy misers who denied decent clothing to the poor. The grimmest were those guilty of infanticide. The outline of a baby’s corpse could be seen in their blood-soaked sheets; try as they might, the blood never washed out, and the bones never whitened.

The bean nighe of the British Isles are women who died in childbirth before their time, and who are doomed to wash the clothes of those fated to drown until the day when they were meant to die. Their appearance foretells death. Some are aligned with the Morrigan, and wash the corpses of the dead. Cú Chulainn saw one, the daughter of Bodhbh, washing bloodstained clothes and weeping; he died in battle not long after.

In France, especially in Brittany, they call passers-by to help them wring out the laundry. This isn’t a choice – those who accept out of ill will get their arms broken, and those who refuse are drowned. To escape their clutches, one must wring in the same direction they do, turning clockwise when they turn clockwise and vice versa. But this has to be kept up all night, and the lavandières never tire. One false move and the unfortunate victim is crushed, wrung out, their corpse mangled beyond recognition. Even the strongest man is no match for a lavandière, who wrings humans out as easily as a pair of tights.

Another way of escaping their clutches is to tell them Diwasket ho poan ha me diwasko ma hini (“wring out your sins, and I will wring out mine”). Running away at top speed always helps, and lavandières cannot cross recently-ploughed fields. Finally, making the sign of the cross or reciting Biblical verses is always helpful.

The lavandière of Chantepie was a stingy woman who buried her husband in a dirty shroud. She continues to wash it every night.

The lavandières of Fond-de-Fond hold up the bodies of the recently-deceased.

In Landéda, the lavandières are powerless against the goodhearted, but tie the sinful into knots.

The lavandière of Noes Gourdais, near Dinan, appeared early in the morning and had a skull for a head.

The Mille-Lorraines of Lower Normandy form fairy circles around ponds.

Several lavandières gather in the pond of Roc-Reu, and drown anyone who tries to touch them.

Around Dinan, the teurdous (“twister”) is a rare male counterpart. He does not wash, but instead offers to help washerwomen wring out their laundry. If they accept, he breaks their arms.

The true nature of the lavandières is more prosaic. Unfamiliar sounds have been invoked – the croaking of frogs or toads, for instance, might have suggested the sound of washboards. The lavandières themselves may have had nothing supernatural about them. A number of flesh-and-blood women may have had reason to do laundry at night: those who worked during the day, those who did not wish to be seen doing menial work, those who wanted to clean the clothes of their illicit lovers… Anyone coming upon them could be forgiven for seeing them as ghosts.

Others managed to exploit the superstitious fear of lavandières. A garde-champêtre in Vaucluse once stumbled upon a pair of lavandières in spectral white clothes. “Wring the laundry!” they cackled, grabbing him by the collar. And wring he did, all night long. He also noted the fine quality of the cloth they were washing, but did not dare stop until morning, when they left. Only later did the warden find out that a nearby castle had been robbed of various items of clothing. He had spent the whole night helping the thieves wash their ill-gotten gains.

References

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

Giraudon, D. La lavandière de nuit Ar gannerez-noz. In Loddo, D. and Pelen, J. (eds.) (2001) Êtres fantastiques des régions de France. L’Harmattan, Paris.

Kilfeather, A. (2003) Legend and wetland landscape in Ireland. Journal of Wetland Archaeology, 3, pp. 37-50.

Le Quellec, J. (1988) Le légendaire du Sud-Vendée: organisation spatio-mythique. Etuderies 3-4.

MacPhail, M. (1898) Folklore from the Hebrides III. Folklore, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 84-93.

Sand, G. (1877) Légendes Rustiques. Ancienne Maison Michel Lévy Frères, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1881) Littérature orale de la Haute-Bretagne. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1904) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Premier: Le Ciel et la Terre. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1968) Le folklore de la Bretagne. Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.