Musca Macedda

Variations: Musca Macèdda, Musca Machèdda, Musca Maghèdda, Musca Manchèdda da Mancu

Musca Macedda

A fabulous treasure awaits discovery in Sardinia. This treasure takes the form of two barrels, identical in appearance. One of those barrels contains riches beyond imagination. The other barrel is full of deadly flies – the Musca Macedda. Anyone opening the barrel full of flies brings about not only their own death, but the destruction of the world. This treasure may be found all over Sardinia, including near Alghero, Esterzili, Sorgono, the church of Valenza, and many other places. Nobody has dared open it.

The musca macedda’s name refers to the slaughter and massacre it brings about; it is also known as the musca manchèdda da mancu, i.e. of the left hand, for if the right hand is the hand of God, the left hand is that of the Devil. A musca macedda resembles a common fly but can be up to the size of a sheep. The one reported from Nuchis was as big as an ox’s head. A musca macedda has powerful wings, and in places where these flies are buried one can hear their infernal buzzing. The stinger is huge and deadly.

Only the local priest is spiritually strong enough to ward off a musca macedda. At Iglesias it was said that a holy man delivered the country from demonic flies that had already destroyed multiple towns such as Galte in Nuorese, Ilani near Orotelli, Oddini, and Thiddorai. The musca macedda at Nuchis tore the region apart before dying between the Church of San Cosimo and the Parish of the Holy Spirit, between two black boulders of volcanic rock.

Belief in the musca macedda appears to be an ancient one. It has been suggested that the flies arose with the Spanish invasion of Sardinia, since at least one tale says that they issued from the tomb of a Spanish saint. It is more likely that they are a personification of the diseases and epidemics that ravaged Sardinia at various points in its history.

References

Bottiglione, G. (1922) Leggende e Tradizioni di Sardegna. Leo S. Olschki, Geneva.

Mokele-mbembe

Variations: Mokéle-mbêmbe, Mokele Mbembe, Monstrous Animal; Nsanga; Emela-ntouka, Emia-ntouka, Aseka-moke, Ngamba-namae, Killer of Elephants, Water Elephant; Nguma-monene, Badigui, Ngakoula Ngou, Diba, Songo; Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu

Mokele-mbembe

Tales of the Mokele-mbembe, “One Who Stops the Flow of Rivers” (or, more simply, “River-Shutter”), come from the Congo River Basin, around the Ikelemba, Sanga, and Ubangi rivers and Lake Tele. It is the most discussed and well-known of the “African mystery beasts” primarily due to the cryptozoological interpretation that defines it as a surviving sauropod dinosaur. It – or its unnamed predecessor, at any rate – was initially described as hailing from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

There is nothing unique about the mokele-mbembe. It is at least four notable mythic creatures: the river-shutter, the pachyderm slayer, the unicorn, and the giant reptile. River-shutters are sub-Saharan creatures with an aptitude for withholding or releasing a river’s water; in communities dependent on life-giving water, this can mean the difference between life and death. The pachyderm slayer – a creature so mighty and dangerous that it routinely kills the biggest and scariest animals known – is a far broader category that has been famously applied to the dragon and the unicorn. The presence of a single horn is a recurring feature of monsters, most notably the unicorn. Finally, giant reptiles (often irresponsibly called “dragons”) are a worldwide theme.

The first to suggest the existence of a large dinosaurian creature was big-game hunter and zoo supplier Carl Hagenbeck. Hagenbeck reports a huge animal, half elephant and half dragon, from deep within Rhodesia (not the Congo, where the mokele-mbembe eventually took up residence). He said that there are drawings of it on Central African caves but provides no further detail on that angle. All in all it is “seemingly akin to the brontosaurus [sic]”. Hans Schomburgk, one of Hagenbeck’s sources, stated that the lack of hippos on Lake Bangweulu was due to a large animal that killed hippos. An expedition sent by Hagenbeck to investigate the creature’s existence found nothing. Tantalizing as it may be, the entire episode with the nameless saurian is no more than an aside in Hagenbeck’s book, an attempt to attract potential investors by capitalizing on the contemporary “dinomania” sweeping the globe.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw a vast increase in public interest in dinosaurs. In 1905 the mounted skeleton of Apatosaurus was unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History and London’s Natural History Museum inaugurated its Diplodocus. Soon museums across the world were receiving their own gigantic sauropod skeletons courtesy of Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and patron of the sciences. In 1907 the skeletons of enormous sauropods emerged in German East Africa; these eventually formed a hall of titans in Berlin’s Natural History Museum. Hagenbeck’s account of a living sauropod was not written in a vacuum, but was – consciously or not – drawing on contemporary massive interest in massive reptiles.

E. C. Chubb of the Rhodesia Museum dismissed Hagenbeck’s claim. To him, this creature was no more than another example of the “land edition of the Great Sea Serpent”. He received further accounts of the Rhodesian creature, a large beast with flippers, rhinoceros horns, a crocodile’s head, a python’s neck, a hippo’s body, and a crocodile’s tail; a three-horned creature from Lake Bangweulu, Zambia, that killed hippos.

The next step came with Lieutenant Paul Graetz in 1911. He wrote about the Nsanga of Lake Bangweulu, a “degenerate saurian” like a crocodile but without scales and armed with claws on its feet. Graetz supposedly came by strips of nsanga skin but saw nothing more tangible.

The account that concretized the mokele-mbembe and gave it its name was that of German officer Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz. His report places the mystery beast firmly in the Congo, around the Likouala rivers. The mokele-mbembe has smooth, brownish-grey skin. It is approximately the size of an elephant, or a hippopotamus at the smallest. Its neck is long and flexible. It has only one tooth, but that tooth is very long; “some say it is a horn” adds Stein (this feature is usually ignored, as it does not conform to the sauropod narrative). It has a long, muscular tail like a crocodile’s. It attacks canoes and kills its occupants without eating them. The mokele-mbembe is vegetarian and it feeds on a type of liana, leaving the water to do so. It lives in caves dug out by the sharp bends in the river. Stein was shown a supposed mokele-mbembe trackway but could not make it out among the elephant and hippo tracks.

Stein’s account is the basis for the modern mokele-mbembe legend. The report was never officially published, but was publicized by Willy Ley (who inexplicably linked the mokele-mbembe to the dragon of the Ishtar Gate).

This in turn led to successive expeditions to the Congo by James H. Powell Jr. and Roy Mackal. Mackal determined the mokele-mbembe to be 5 to 10 meters long, most of which is neck and tail. It has smooth brown-grey skin and a very long neck with a snakelike head on the end. Sometimes there is a frill, like a rooster’s comb, on the back of the head. The legs are short and stout, with three claws on the hind legs, and leave 30-centimeter-wide prints. The malombo plant is the staple of the creature’s diet. While herbivorous, the mokele-mbembe is very aggressive and will destroy any canoes that approach it. It does so by tipping the vessels, then biting and lashing out with its tail.

In addition to the mokele-mbembe, Mackal is responsible for bringing to light a whole menagerie of prehistoric survivors and some unusually-sized modern reptiles as well. The Emela-ntouka, for instance, is larger than an elephant. Its skin is smooth, hairless, and wrinkly, brown to grey in color. Its legs are thick and columnar to support its weight. The tail is heavy and similar to a crocodile’s. There is a single horn on the front of the head. These creatures are herbivorous and kill buffaloes and elephants by goring them with their single horns. If all this sounds familiar, it’s because none of it is distinguishable from what has been said about the mokele-mbembe (including the horn, no longer an inconvenient detail). Mackal optimistically proposes that the emela-ntouka is a late-surviving ceratopsian dinosaur.

Nguma-monene, “large python” (from nguma, “python”, and monene, “large”) is reported from the Dongou-Mataba river area. It is a large, serpentine reptile, some 40 to 60 meters long, with a saw-toothed ridge down its back. The head is snake-like with a forked tongue that flicks in and out. It is greyish-brown like just about every other large reptilian cryptid. It is indistinguishable from the badigui, ngakoula ngou, diba, or songo of the Ubangi-Shari. All of these are giant snakes which kill hippos and browse on tree branches without leaving the water. They leave tracks behind like those of a lorry. All of them are indistinguishable from the mokele-mbembe. Mackal describes them as enormous monitor lizards.

The Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu, or “animal with planks growing out of its back”, is restricted to the Likouala-aux-Herbes in the Congo. It is known solely as a large animal that has large “planks” on its back with algae growing between them. The rest of its appearance is unknown. Only one informant reported the mbielu-mbielu-mbielu. Mackal makes a surviving stegosaur out of it.

Finally there is the Ndendecki (a giant turtle), the Mahamba (a giant crocodile), and the Ngoima (a giant eagle). None of these are any more believable than the mokele-mbembe and its host of synonyms.

It would be tedious to list all subsequent expeditions (all unsuccessful) or the anthropological procedures used (all unprofessional). It should however be noted that the hunt for the mokele-mbembe has been coopted by the creationist movement. For some reason these people have decided that the discovery of the mokele-mbembe will be enough to destroy the entire theory of evolution (it won’t) because a surviving dinosaur would be a lethal paradox to science (it isn’t).

There is nothing unique about the mokele-mbembe, but as a vaguely defined reptilian river-shutter it is a sort of Rorschach test that viewers can project their preconceptions onto. Far from a detailed local legend, the myth of the mokele-mbembe evolved to suit the needs of the visitors who sought it, whether zoo suppliers, colonialists, cryptozoologists, or creationists. Any underlying folklore about river-shutting reptiles has long been abandoned and discarded, relegated to an etymological footnote. It does not fit the narrative.

References

Hagenbeck, C., Elliot, S. R. and Thacker, A. G. trans. (1911) Beasts and Men. Longmans, Green, And Co., London.

Ley, W. (1959) Exotic Zoology. The Viking Press, New York.

Loxton, D. and Prothero, D. R. (2013) Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids. Columbia University Press, New York.

Mackal, R. (1987) A living dinosaur? E. J. Brill, New York.

Naish, D. (2016) Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Weishampel, D. B.; Dodson, P.; and Osmolska, H. (2004) The Dinosauria, 2nd Edition. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Markupo

Variations: Macupo, Marcupo

Markupo

The Markupo is a serpent known to the Hiligaynon of the Philippines. It lives in the highest mountains of the historical province of Bulgas, between Marapara and Canlaon.

In appearance the markupo is a huge snake with a distinctive red crest. Its long tongue has thornlike hairs. It has sharp tusks and a forked tail.

The markupo sings sonorously on clear days. Its exhaled poison is instantly lethal to the touch. If sprinkled on plants, this poison withers the plant, kills any birds that land on it, and kills any beast touched by its shadow.

References

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

Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.

Muscaliet

Variations: Muscardin; Dormouse; Musquelibet, Musquelibus, Musquilibet (possibly)

Muscaliet

Nobody is quite sure what a Muscaliet is. Our only source for this unusual rodent is found in the bestiary of Pierre de Beauvais, and it appears to have been cobbled together from multiple unrelated accounts.

The muscaliet is found in India, in the land of the three talking trees that predicted the death of Alexander the Great. This by itself is suspect, as the accounts of Alexander in India only mention two trees, consecrated to the sun and moon. Then again, the sun-tree was said to have spoken twice and the moon-tree once, making for three tree speeches. The life of a copyist was a thankless one.

Beauvais gives the muscaliet a body like a hare, but smaller. Its legs, feet, and tail are like those of a squirrel, but the tail, while held in a squirrel-like manner, is larger. It uses the strength in its tail to jump from tree to tree. Its head is rounded, its ears small and weasel-like, and its nose long and pointed like a mole. There is a tooth sticking out of its mouth on either side, like a boar’s tusks, and it has bristles around its snout like the bristles on a boar’s back.

A muscaliet is a highly adept climber. No animal can catch it in the trees, and its claws are so sharp that it can cling to any surface. It eats fruits, leaves, and flowers and digs out its dens in the roots of trees. It is so “hot by nature” (calde de nature) that the tree it lives in eventually rots, withers, and dies as the muscaliet gnaws away at the roots.

This is a moral lesson. The tree represents a human; its leaves and flowers are good deeds, and its fruits are the soul. But the muscaliet is Pride, its sharp teeth are cutting words that Cruelty brings, and its feet show that cruelty is tenacious. Once Pride takes up residence within us, Beauvais warns, it rots us from the inside out.

The term “muscaliet” itself is an archaic French term for the common dormouse or muscardin (Muscardinus), that which Buffon described as “the least ugly of all the rats”. Its name is derived from its presumed musky odor; whether this attribution came before or after Beauvais’ usage is unclear. The –caliet part of the name superficially suggests heat, which would have inspired our bestiarist to describe it as “hot by nature”. Alternative, “muscaliet” may have been derived from the musquelibet, a creature like a roe deer in size, with an abscess-like growth that produces musk. This is the musk deer Moschus moschiferus, which does have tusks like a boar but little connection to the muscaliet otherwise – not even musk is mentioned.

Is this the fox-sized mouse described by Aristotle? It was a wonder of India found by Alexander, a mouse the size of a fox and with a noxious bite that harmed animals and humans. This sounds like a rat, and perhaps an early allusion to the diseases carried by those animals – rats were unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans, with black rats appearing in late antiquity and brown rats showing up in the 16th century. Tales of rats with toxic bites combined with dormouse and musk-deer anecdotes are likely the basis for the tree-poisoning muscaliet, which exists as a moral warning and not a zoological account.

References

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Buffon, G. L. L. (1775) Oeuvres completes de M. le Cte. De Buffon, t. II. Imprimerie Royal, Paris.

Cahier, C. (1856) Bestiaires. Melanges d’Archeologie, 1856(IV), pp. 55-87.

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Godefroy, F. (1901) Lexique de l’Ancien Francais. H. Welter, Paris.

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

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

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.