Cahab

Variations: Caab; Sahab (typo)

Cahab

Among Aristotle’s many references to the elephant, we are told that its five toes are not perfectly jointed, its forelegs are larger than its hind ones, and its hind legs have short ankles. It has a trunk that it can use as a hand, drinking and eating with it, pulling up trees with it, and using it to breathe when walking through water. This remarkable appendage is cartilaginous and jointless.

The 1220 Latin translation of Aristotle by Michael Scot was based off an Arabic translation from the Greek. Scot retained various Arabic words in his text, and hence Aristotle’s passage on the elephant’s appendicular anatomy became et habet duo cahab parva respect magnitudinis corporis sui – here, cahab is Arabic for “ankle”, and the phrase reads “and [the elephant] has two ankles that are short relative to the size of its body”. Scot used cahab consistently to refer to the ankle or the talus bone.

Thomas de Cantimpré did not recognize the word cahab and assumed it to be the subject of the verb habet. From that the sentence became Caab animal marinum est, ut dicit Aristotiles, parvos habens pedes respectu corporis sui, quod utique magnum est, “Caab is a sea animal, as says Aristotle, whose legs are small in proportion to its body, which is huge”. Based on that and the remainder of the Aristotelian description, Thomas says that the caab has one leg that is long and which it uses as a hand to bring vegetation to its mouth; this leg is made of cartilage. Thomas also misreads the behavior of the elephant in water and makes his caab a fully aquatic marine animal, one that breathes underwater and then, upon reaching the surface, spouts the water it swallowed while breathing. Finally, he spontaneously gives his animal the feet of a cow.

In turn, Albertus Magnus “borrows” Thomas’ account, dropping the reference to Aristotle. This time it is called cahab, and now all of its legs are cartilaginous and resemble those of a calf. Albertus also makes a logical association with the cetacean act of spouting; his cahab holds its breath underwater and spouts at the surface sicut delfinus et cetus.

The last iteration of the cahab is provided by Olaus Magnus, who transposes this odd cartilage-legged sea creature into Scandinavia. He tactfully compares the cartilaginous feet to those of both cows and calves (vaccae, aut vituli). Olaus cites Albertus Magnus as the source of the cahab in the Latin version of his Historia, but the French and English translations omit this crucial citation.

Finally, the English translation misreads the name of the cahab as “sahab”, decisively casting this elephant adrift in a sea of translation errors.

References

Aristotle, Cresswell, R. trans. (1862) Aristotle’s History of Animals. Henry G. Bohn, London.

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

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

Gauvin, B.; Jacquemard, C.; and Lucas-Avenel, M. (2013) L’auctoritas de Thomas de Cantimpré en matière ichtyologique (Vincent de Beauvais, Albert le Grand, l’Hortus sanitatis). Kentron, 29, pp. 69-108.

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

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

Magnus, O. (1658) A compendious history of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals, and other Northern nations. J. Streater, London.

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

Nadubi

Nadubi

The Nadubi is one of a variety of evil nocturnal spirits that haunt Australia. Nadubi may be found on the rocky plateau of Arnhem Land. They serve as a warning against traveling alone in the bush during the chilly hours of night.

Nadubi are a spirit people similar to humans in appearance but with barbed spines sprouting from their elbows and knees. Cave paintings at Oenpelli show a nadubi woman with spines on several areas of her body, including her elbows and vulva. Another cave painting at Sleisbeck shows a kangaroo-like creature with a spiny tail and spiny projections on its mouth and rear; this may also be a depiction of a nadubi.

A nadubi will creep up on a lone traveler and project a spine into his or her body. The victim can only be saved by the timely removal of the spine by a medicine man; usually this aid is administered too late, and the unfortunate sufferer sickens and dies. As only medicine men can see nadubi, it falls onto them to drive those malignant spirits away from encampments.

Despite their best efforts, every now and then the vigilance of the medicine men slips, and a scream in the night testifies to the fate of another solitary wanderer.

References

Johnson, D. (2014) Night Skies of Aboriginal Australia. Sydney University Press, Sydney.

Mountford, C. P. (1957) Aboriginal Bark Paintings from Field Island, Northern Territory. Records of the South Australian Museum, v. XIII, no. 1, pp. 87-89.

Mountford, C. P. (1958) Aboriginal Cave Paintings at Sleisbeck, Northern Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum, v. XIII, no. 2, pp. 147-155.

Roberts, A. R. and Mountford, C. P. (1975) The Dawn of Time. Rigby Limited, Adelaide.

Swamfisk

Variations: Swam-fisk, Swamfisck, Swamfysck, Svvamfysck, Ahunum, Hahanc

Swamfisk

The Swamfisk described by Olaus Magnus appears off the coast of Norway and is much less common than cetaceans. It is frequently hunted for its fat and oil, used primarily for treating leather and providing light during the long winter months.

Swamfisks are very fatty animals and are excellent sources of fat and oil. They have round, globulous bodies, forming a huge distensible bag that is almost entirely stomach; there is no neck to speak of. The mouth is in line with the belly and can engulf vast amounts of fish. Swamfisks are voracious eaters and convert everything they consume into additional mass until they are little more than floating bags of blubber.

When attacked by larger creatures a swamfisk will curl up on itself like a hedgehog, folding its skin and fatty tissues over its head. It will remain like this until the danger goes away. If hunger strikes while a swamfisk is curled up, it will be forced to eat part of itself to assuage its insatiable gluttony.

De Montfort believed it to be a giant octopus.

References

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

de Montfort, P. D. (1801) Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere des Mollusques, Tome Second. F. Dufart, Paris.

Swan, J. (1643) Speculum Mundi. Roger Daniel, Cambridge.

Ichisonga

Ichisonga

The Ichisonga is a pachyderm-slayer from the folklore of the Lambas of Zambia, usually found in the Kafue River. It is a herbivorous water beast that resembles a rhinoceros and has a horn on its forehead.

Although a grass-eater, the ichisonga has a special hatred for the hippopotamus. If an ichisonga hears a hippo, it leaves the Kafue River, traveling along the bank so the hippo does not scent it. Then it re-enters the water, goes for the largest bull hippo, and stabs it to death with its horn.

If an elephant is killed nearby, the ichisonga will roar and drive the hunters away from the carcass. It then stays near the elephant’s remains for days until the carcass rots. The ichisonga is motivated by uŵulwishya – jealousy.

References

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

Rumptifusel

Variations: Villosus sumptuosus (Tryon), Rumtifusel (Tryon)

Rumtifusel

There is a common misconception that “owl pellets” are left behind by owls. This belief, spread by highfalutin scientists, is a load of hooey. Any lumberjack can tell you that those pellets are wadded-up clumps of clothing, the only remains of unfortunate greenhorns who approached a Rumptifusel.

Rumptifusels are big, vicious animals covered in a fine pelt not unlike mink. They are flat and very flexible and not too fast. Much like the anglerfish and the alligator snapping turtle, the rumptifusel lures prey within reach by appealing to greed. A rumptifusel catches its prey by draping its thin body over a stump or log in plain sight, looking for all the world like an abandoned expensive fur coat. When a greedy tenderfoot approaches for a better look, the rumptifusel – moving with deceptive speed – engulfs its victim. The underside of the critter is lined with tiny sucking pores, and its prey is thoroughly drained off its bones.

References

Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Skeljaskrímsli

Variations: Fjörulalli (Beach Walker), Fjörulabbi (Beach Roamer), Fjörudýr (Shore Animal), Rauðkálfur (Red Calf), Saeúlfur (Sea Wolf), Skeljalabbi (Shell Roamer), Skeljalalli (Shell Walker)

Skeljaskrimsli

The name Skeljaskrímsli, “shell monster”, refers to a number of Icelandic shore animals known by a variety of names. Consistent among the accounts are the association with the beach, a hump on the back, and a coat of shells that rattle as the creature walks. Shell monsters have been sighted on the coasts of all the main regions of Iceland, and at least one report (the Glúmsstaðir farm’s in Fljótavík, Hornstrandir) describes a freshwater specimen.

As specified by Hlidberg and Aegisson, the skeljaskrímsli proper is a quadrupedal marine creature, bulky and powerfully built. It is the size of a winter’s old bull calf or a huge horse. The neck is broad, the jaws and teeth impressive, and the eyes reddish. There may be a phosphorescent glow coming from the mouth. The skeljaskrímsli’s tail is long and armed with a lump at the end. The short, strong legs end in circular feet armed with large claws.

The skeljaskrímsli earns its name from the thick reflective coat of shells (or flaky scales) that covers its body. These rattle and scrape against each other as the creature moves, giving warning of its arrival. As the shell monster approaches, its powerful stench also becomes apparent. There is little good to say about the shell monster – even its blood is toxic.

Skeljaskrímslis live in the sea and haul themselves onto shore in the dark moonless nights of the northern winter. Often they can be seen before or after spells of bad weather and storms. They are attracted to light and will leave deep gouges in farmhouse doors. Suffice to say that anyone who encounters one of these surly brutes will be in for a bad time.

Most weapons are useless against a skeljaskrímsli’s formidable defenses. One farmer who battled a skeljaskrímsli managed to keep it at bay until the monster tired and returned to the sea; the farmer was stricken with leprosy for his trouble. Another farmer managed to wound a skeljaskrímsli, but some of its poisonous blood spattered onto him, and he died in agony soon after.

To harm a skeljaskrímsli one must resort to alternative ammunition. Shooting silver buttons, grey willow catkins, or lamb droppings from a gun are the only ways to injure and kill this beast.

The Fjörulalli is the best-known variant of the skeljaskrímsli. It is also the size of a winter’s old bull calf, and has been reported as being smaller, about as big as a dog. A tail may or may not be present, and the head is a small, rounded outgrowth. It is covered with shells or lava fragments that scrape together as it moves. Unlike the larger shell-monsters, these smaller ones are usually harmless. They will, however, tear the udders off sheep, and pregnant women should avoid them lest they negatively affect their unborn babies.

References

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

Great-hand

Great-hand

The Old Town of Edinburgh is honeycombed with cellars, passages, and tunnels. These subterranean labyrinths are home to ancient horrors long forgotten by the residents. Great-hand is one of these.

Great-hand lives in the tunnel beneath the Royal Mile, stretching from the Castle to the Palace of Holyrood. Once used by soldiers for surprise attacks, it eventually fell into disuse. Then Great-hand moved in and the passage was abandoned completely. Nobody ever left the tunnel alive.

The only thing that has ever been seen of Great-hand is a hand – an enormous grisly hand, with fingernails like the claws of an eagle. If that hand is attached to a body, none have seen it.

After a while of avoiding the tunnel, a piper declared he would cross the tunnel, playing his pipes the whole way to verify his progress. Taking his dog along with him, he entered through the cave near the Castle, and the sound of his pipes could be heard traveling underground as he went down the hill. Then, at the Heart of Midlothian, the music stopped. The attending crowd went back to the entrance of the cave to see the dog running out in abject terror, completely hairless. The passage was blocked up from both ends.

Similar stories are told across Scotland involving haunted caves, foolhardy pipers, and dogs shedding their hair with fright. They are cautionary tales warning of the perils of the underground.

References

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.