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.

Mazacoatl

mazacoatl

The Mazacoatl, “deer snake”, is a great serpent that lives in caves on steep mountains and cliffs. It has antlers on its head and a rattle on its tail. It never leaves its lair, as it can draw in with its breath rabbits, deer, and humans alike.

References

Nuttall, Z. (1895) A Note on Ancient Mexican Folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, v. 8, no. 29, pp. 117-129.

Minceskro

Variations: Minceskre, Minčeskre, Minceskol

Minceskro

Minceskro, “the one who came up from the female genitals”, is the eighth child and fourth daughter of Ana, Queen of the Keshalyi, and the King of the Loçolico. She and her siblings are all Roma demons of disease produced from an abusive and unnatural union.

By the time Lolmisho the Red Mouse was born, Ana was in a state of despair at the vile children she had mothered. She begged Melalo to sterilize her and prevent further demons from being born. The two-headed bird obliged, telling her to bury herself in a dung heap. But instead of having the desired effect, all that accomplished was allowing a dung beetle to enter her body.

From that dung beetle was born Minceskro, a hairy little beetle that crawls over the body and enters the bloodstream. She is the cause of blood maladies and venereal diseases – gonorrhea, leucorrhea, syphilis… Her husband is Lolmisho, and their children are measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, and many more besides.

Minceskro’s origin has led to a traditional remedy for syphilis consisting of burying the patient in manure and sprinkling them with firewater. This procedure drives out the beetle and heals the ulcers.

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.

Muirdris

Variations: Muirgris (erroneously); Sínach, Sinech; Píast Uiscide (“Water Beast”); Úath (“Horror”)

muirdris

Fergus mac Léti, the King of Ulster, was an inveterate swimmer. Captured while sleeping by water-spirits, the lúchorpáin or “small bodies” (actually the first appearance of leprechauns), he was awoken by the cold water they tried to carry him into. This allowed him to turn the tables on his would-be captors, and he seized three of the lúchorpáin. Fergus demanded that the sprites grant him three wishes: the ability to breathe underwater in seas, pools, and lakes.

The sprites granted him his wish, in the form of enchanted earplugs and a tunic to wear around his head. But like all wishes granted by the Fair Folk, it came with a caveat. Fergus was not to use his gifts at Loch Rudraige (Dundrum Bay) in his own land of Ulster.

Of course, Fergus arrogantly disregards the rule and swims underwater at Loch Rudraige anyway. There he encounters the Muirdris, the “Sea Bramble” or “Sea Briar”, a huge, mysterious, undefined horror that inflates and deflates, expands and contracts like a bellows. It has features of a thorn-bush, with branches and stings, and its appearance alone is deadly.

Fergus does not take well to his encounter with the muirdris, and he is horribly disfigured after seeing it, with his mouth moving to the back of his head. His courtiers are dismayed, as a man with a blemish cannot be king, but they somehow keep this defacement a secret from Fergus for seven years. They prevent him from accessing mirrors, and surround him only with people who will protect the king’s deformity. He finds out only after Dorn, a highborn slave, taunts him about it after he strikes her with a whip. She is bisected for her troubles, and Fergus goes to face his nemesis alone.

The battle between Fergus and the muirdris lasts a day and a night, during which the water of the loch bubbles like a giant cauldron. Finally Fergus slays the monster with his bare hands, and emerges from the loch holding its head in triumph – only to collapse and die from the ordeal.

A thirteenth-century retelling of Fergus’ tribulations renames the monster sínach or sinech. In this version, it is the king’s wife who reveals his secret after an argument.

The muirdris is a monster, but is it rooted in fact? Surely the expansion and contraction, the comparison to a thornbush, and the disfiguring stings strongly suggest a large jellyfish, perhaps the lion’s mane jellyfish.

References

Borsje, J. (1996) From Chaos to Enemy: Encounters with Monsters in Early Irish Texts. Brepols Publishers, Turnhout.

MacKillop, J. (2005) Myths and Legends of the Celts. Penguin Books, London.

Margot la Fée

Variations: Margot-la-Fée, Margot, La Bonne Femme Margot (The Good Woman Margot), Ma Commère Margot (My Godmother Margot), Fée Morgant

Margot

The Margot la Fée, “Margot the Fairy”, or more simply Margot, are fairies native to Brittany, particularly Collinée, Lamballe, Moncontour, and most of the Côtes-d’Armor. They are generally seen as benevolent and protective, but capable of deadly violence when provoked. The name of Margot – also used for magpies – is probably derived from Morgan or Morgana, as evidenced by the alternative name of Morgant; most local names are placatory terms of affection. Margot fairies are closely associated with megaliths, caves, treasures, and snakes, leaving the beaches to the Fées des Houles and the Groac’h.

Like most fairies, Margot fairies vary a lot in appearance, appearing as both young and old women as well as animals. They spend part of their time as snakes, both willingly and against their will, in which form they are most vulnerable. They possess considerable magical powers, dance in circles at night, haunt dolmens, swap babies with voracious changelings, and flee religious symbols.  Sometimes a Margot would take a fancy to a handsome young shepherd and choose to keep him in a cave for herself. In those cases time itself would seem to slow down, such were the pleasures that the fairy offered.

Margot fairies happily care for the livestock of their neighbors, even going so far as to feed them in the caverns while their owners were away. The Margot’s own livestock remained in the caves, emerging only to feed. On the other hand, hungry Margot fairies will tear a cow to pieces and devour it, only to restore it to life by the next morning, missing only any pieces that had been eaten by humans during the feast.

Margot fairies are often the guardians of fabulous riches. They will handsomely reward those who aid them, and punish any who take advantage of their generosity. If they tell you to take a certain amount of treasure and no more than that, you would be wise to follow their instructions to the letter. One man who took more gold from the Crokélien Hill fairies than he was instructed to had his son taken away from him, never to be seen again.

Other gifts of the Margot are more prosaic. They will offer piping hot loaves of bread to the hungry – loaves that never get smaller, no matter how many slices are cut from them. But if a piece is offered to someone else deemed unworthy by the fairies, the loaf will no longer regenerate.

Small acts of compassion are looked on with great favor. Two harvesters, resting after scything wheat, encountered a little grass snake eating the breadcrumbs they left behind. One tried to kill it, while the other stopped him, saying it would be wrong to kill a small, harmless animal. In the evening a Margot appeared to the second man and thanked him for protecting her daughter. She gave him two belts, one for him and one for his friend, telling him not to mix them up. His was of pure gold, while the other he tied to an oak tree, which wilted overnight.

Another man working near the hill of Crokélien encountered a Margot, who asked a favor of him. “Bring a large washtub with you”, she said, “and go to the Planchettes Bridge at sunrise. There you will find a grass snake. Put the washtub over it and sit on top. If anybody asks you why you’re there, tell them you’re waiting for the blacksmiths to fix the tub. At sundown, remove the tub, and you shall be richly rewarded for your help”. The man did as he was told, and sure enough, the snake was there at the bridge as the fairy had said. He covered it with the washtub and sat patiently there for the rest of the day, weathering the taunts and jeers of passers-by with aplomb. At sunset he removed the tub to find a beautiful maiden underneath. She was the Margot’s daughter, who transformed into a snake one day every year, and would have been killed had it not been for the man’s intervention. As promised, he never wanted for gold or silver for the rest of his life.

Human midwives will also be recruited by Margots to aid them in childbirth, gifting them with the power of second sight for the occasion. But woe to her if she let on that she could still see the fairies! A vindictive Margot would gouge her eye out, or spit in her face and blind her.

References

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

Sébillot, P. (1887) Légendes Locales de la Haute-Bretagne: Les Margot la Fée. Maisonneuve et Ch. Leclerc, 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. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

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

Melalo

Variations: The Filthy One, The Dirty One, The Obscene One

Melalo

According to the Roma of Eastern Europe, notably Romania and Slovakia, all the diseases and ailments of the world can be traced back to a family of creatures born from an unholy union of fairy and demon. These unloved bastard children, hated by their parents, take their spite out on humans.

Long ago, the good fairies or Keshalyi lived in the high mountains, while the evil Loçolico, former humans warped and twisted by the Devil, lived underground. But when the King of the Loçolico took a fancy to Ana, Queen of the Keshalyi, their separate worlds were brought too close for comfort. After Ana turned down the ugly King of the Loçolico, the demons responded by hunting down and devouring the Keshalyi. Only Ana’s forced marriage to the King saved her people from utter annihilation.

Ana found her husband so disgusting that she refused to consummate the marriage. The King finally forced himself on her following the advice of a golden toad, who told him to feed her the brains of a magpie. Ana fell into a deep sleep, and soon after conceived Melalo, their first son.

Melalo, literally “filthy”, “dirty”, or “obscene”, is the oldest and most feared of Ana’s children. He is a small, dirty grey (the English translation oddly gives the color as green), unkempt bird with two heads. He has sharp claws which he uses to tear out hearts and rip bodies to shreds; with his wings, he stuns victims and makes them lose their reason. Melalo foments anger, rage, cruelty, sadism, frenzy, rape, and insanity. Those he has affected can only chatter like a magpie.

Melalo would go on to influence the creation of the remainder of Ana’s brood. It was he who put his mother to sleep with his vapors, and convinced his father to sire Lilyi, his sister, wife, and eventual mother to countless women’s diseases. Melalo also guided the conception of his siblings.

To counter Melalo, one must tie an amulet with his image to the afflicted part of the body.

It is possible that the two-headed bird imagery that created Melalo started with the Hittites, who took it to Byzantium and eventually to Russia and Austria. Meanwhile, the expression yov hin jiamutr Melaskero (“he is Melalo’s son-in-law”) has persisted in reference to a violent, nasty person.

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.

Mantabungal

Mantabungal

The Mantabungal is known to the Tagbanua of Palawan, in the Philippines. It is found primarily in the forests of Mount Victoria in Baraki, and is the most feared of the mountain demons.

A mantabungal is like a cow in body and voice, but lacks horns. It has a long coat of shaggy hair that reaches the ground. Its monstrous mouth has two pairs of huge incisors – two above and two below – that it uses to tear its victims to shreds.

One man reported hearing bovine moos while gathering gum in the mountains. Spooked and disoriented in the darkness, he ran aimlessly into the forest as far as he could and spent the night shivering miserably under a tree. When he returned to camp, he found that the mantabungal had destroyed everything he had touched. His hut, gear, and even the firewood had been dismantled and chewed to bits.

References

Fox, R. B. (1982) Religion and Society among the Tagbanuwa of Palawan Island, Philippines. Monograph No. 9, National Museum, Manila.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.