Yohualtepoztli

Variations: Yooaltepuztli, Youaltepoztli, Hacha Nocturna, Night Axe, Night Hatchet; Tooaltepuztli (Sahagun, typo)

Youaltepoztli

Thud. Thud. Thud. The Yohualtepoztli reveals its presence in the mountains of Mexico with a loud, intermittent sound, much like that of an axe being driven into wood. This is what earns it its name, from yohualli, “night”, and tepoztli, “axe” or “hatchet”. It is a spirit or phantasm associated with Tezcatlipoca, and it exists to torment nocturnal travelers.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The dull blows continue, and the traveler breaks out into a cold sweat. Fleeing seems like a good idea, but paradoxically they would be best advised to follow the noise to the yohualtepoztli itself. It manifests as a humanoid creature resembling a headless man. Instead of a head, the yohualtepoztli has a stump, like that of a felled tree. The chest cavity is open and hollow, the heart visible inside, and framed on both sides by what look like small hinged doors. The doors flap loosely as the yohualtepoztli moves, and their impact against each other causes the dull thuds.

Priests, warriors, and other fearless people should immediately grab the yohualtepoztli’s heart and hold it tight, threatening to tear it out. Then the creature can be asked for fame, glory, riches, strength, and other gifts. It will offer an agave thorn in return for its freedom, but it should not be released until three or four thorns have been gifted. In turn, those agave thorns guarantee the capture of as many prisoners of war – and therefore, of as much fame, glory, riches, and strength.

Holding onto a yohualtepoztli’s heart is a harrowing experience. Less brave people may immediately pull out the heart without bargaining and run home. If this happens, the heart should be wrapped up in cloth and left overnight. By morning, if the heart has transformed into agave thorns, bird down, or cotton, then it is a good omen. If coal or rags are left instead, then bad luck is sure to follow.

But for those cowards who fear the yohualtepoztli and dare not approach it, there are no rewards. They will flee in terror at the sound of the night hatchet, and misfortune will befall them.

References

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

Robelo, C. A. (1908) Diccionario de Mitologia Nahoa. Anales del Museo Nacional de México, t. V, Mexico.

Sahagun, B. (1829) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. II. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Ix-hunpedzkin

Variations: Ix-hunpedɔkin, Hunpedzkin, Hunpedɔkin; Mexican Beaded Lizard, Heloderma horridum

Ix-hunpedzkinMexican beaded lizards are large, sluggish, and colorful Central American lizards. They have a venomous bite, and popular Yucatec Maya folklore has exaggerated their toxic qualities.

The Mayan beaded lizard, or Ix-hunpedzkin, is 3 to 4 inches long, with black, rose, and ash-colored bands across their bodies and a pink underbelly. It strikes with both its mouth and its tail. In fact, its entire body is virulently toxic, and it can kill a grown man if it so much as touches his clothes. Even that is not the ix-hunpedzkin’s most infamous activity.

Ix-hunpedzkins frequently enter houses and come in contact with humans. They can cause severe, debilitating headaches merely by biting the shadow of one’s head. These headaches are lethal if not treated immediately.

To heal a hunpedzkin-headache, the plant hunpedzkin or hunpedzkin-ak (or ix-hunpedzkin or ix-hunpedzkin-ak, the names are shared) must be used. It is a climbing plant found in association with Sabal japa, and its long, narrow, and yellow leaves resemble those of the henequen, except it is smaller and has soft spines. It is probably a Tillandsia. The leaves should be crushed or burned to ashes, poulticed, and applied to the patient’s head.

References

Pacheco Cruz, S. (1919) Lexico de la Fauna Yucateca. Merida, Mexico.

Roys, R. L. (1931) The Ethno-Botany of the Maya. The Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans.

Tlilcoatl

Variations: Acoatl

acoatl

The Tlilcoatl (“black snake”) or Acoatl (“water snake”) is a long, powerful snake found in the swamps and waterlogged caves of Mexico. This glossy black snake is thick enough that a man’s arms can just barely wrap around it. The scales are a glossy black in color. The head is large, with blazing eyes and beardlike appendages at the back similar to those of the barbel. The tail is bifurcated.

The powerful mouth of a tlilcoatl can generate a suction strong enough to draw in prey from a distance. Tlilcoatls feed mostly on fish, but they are not above drowning and eating people. They can spit venom as passers-by, incapacitating them enough to suck them in, pull them underwater, and devour them.

Sometimes a more elaborate stratagem is required. A tlilcoatl will dig out a small pool and stock it with fish to serve as bait. It pauses after depositing a new catch of fish, looking around, then going back to get more. It is tempting to profit from the snake’s absence to steal fish. But the tlilcoatl, standing erect, easily detects thieves, and chases them so fast that it seems to fly over the grass. Once in the snake’s coils there is no escape; the tlilcoatl pushes both ends of its tail into the unfortunate victim’s nostrils (or any other opening) before squeezing the life out of them.

There is, however, a means of stealing a tlilcoatl’s fish cache and escaping alive. All that is required is a hollow tree. When chased by the serpent, would-be fish thieves should hide within the tree. The tlilcoatl will coil around the unyielding trunk and squeeze so hard that it dies.

References

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

Sahagun, B. (1830) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. III. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Xicalcoatl

Variations: Jicara Snake, Chocolate Cup Snake, Malinche

xicalcoatl

Both large and small varieties of the Xicalcoatl, the Aztec “Chocolate Cup Snake”, exist, and may be found in the waterways of Mexico. They are black in color with variegated bellies. When they reach maturity, xicalcoatls develop an excrescence on their backs. This natural growth looks like a jicara (a gourd chocolate cup) down to the last detail, with colorful designs and patterns on its smooth surface.

Xicalcoatls lure humans to their doom by submerging themselves in water and allowing the painted jicara to show above the surface. A passer-by, seeing the chocolate cup seemingly floating on the water, will try to seize it, but their attentions only cause the cup to drift further and further away. When the victim reaches a sufficient depth, the xicalcoatl causes the water to churn and drown the unfortunate chocolate-seeker.

A watered-down version of this tale persists in Mexico in the form of the evil fairy Malinche, who leaves painted chocolate cups in the water to tempt children.

References

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

Sahagun, B. (1830) Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, v. III. Alejandro Valdés, Calle de Santo Domingo, Esquina de Tacuba, Mexico.

Chonchón

Variations: Chonchon, Chonchoñ, Chon Chón, Chuncho, Chucho, Chuchu, Chaihue; Chonchones (pl.); Cocorote, Corocote (Venezuela); Cuscungo (Ecuador); Tecolote, Telocote (Mexico)

Chonchon

The Chonchón is a bird of ill omen from Chile and Argentina; it originally hails from Araucanian Mapuche folklore. Chonchón is also the name of a kind of kite.

In its simplest form it is a bird of the night, an owl (Strix rufipes) that flies on silent wings during the night to announce illness, death, or some other unwelcome event. When its croaking is heard it is advised to throw ash into the air and utter a few prayers in the hopes of turning away its evil.

The chonchón is also said to be a calcu or evil sorcerer in disguise. It resemble a human head, with oversized wing-like ears that allow it to fly. During the night, these sorcerers’ heads detach themselves from their bodies and fly around to cause mischief, invisible to most, their ominous tué, tué, tué call announcing misfortune. They have the same powers as sorcerers do, and have been known to suck the blood of sleepers.

In order to repel chonchones, several methods are recommended. These include drawing a Solomon’s seal on the ground, laying out a waistcoat in a specified manner, or reciting certain phrases or hymns such as the Magnificat, the Doce Palabras Redobladas, “Saint Cyprian goes up, Saint Cyprian goes down, Saint Cyprian goes to the mountain, Saint Cyprian goes to the valley”, or “Jesus goes ahead, follow him behind”. Doing any of these actions forces the chonchón to leave, or even fall to the ground where it can be destroyed. If the headless body of a chonchón sorcerer is found, turning it onto its stomach prevents the chonchón from returning to it. Finally, a more humane means of dealing with a chonchón is to yell “Come back tomorrow for some salt!” The next day, the chonchón in its human guise will show up and sheepishly request the promised salt. Except perhaps for the last method, most interference with the ways of chonchones will eventually incur the revenge of the chonchón or its friends.

One chonchón was reportedly grounded in Limache when someone made a Solomon’s seal, causing a large bird with red wattles to fall out of the sky. It was decapitated and its head fed to a dog, whose belly swelled up as though it had eaten a human head. Later the local gravedigger told that unknown persons had come to bury a headless body.

Not all chonchones are irredeemably evil, however. A Mapuche man in Galvarino once woke up early in the morning to find his wife’s body without her head. He immediately realized that she was a chonchón, and turned the body onto its stomach to prevent the head from reattaching. As expected, a chonchón soon flew heavily into the house, flapping and staggering as though blind. It then turned into a dog and whined pleadingly to be reunited with its body. The man took pity on it and allowed it to do so, and it became his wife once more. “Every night I leave, without you knowing, and visit distant lands”, she explained. She begged him not to tell anyone, and swore she would never harm him, and both kept their word; the story became known only after the wife died of natural causes.

Some authorities separate the chonchón from the chuncho, with the former being the sorcerous flying head and the latter the owl. Their calls are also different, with the chuncho hooting chun, chun, chun. They have further owl equivalents in the Venezuelan cocorote, the Ecuadorian cuscungos, and the Mexican tecolote. It is also compared to the myth of the voladora, a witch who flies while cackling loudly.

All this is quite unfair to the owls themselves, which benefit the farmers by eating mice, rats, and other vermin.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Coluccio, F. and Coluccio, S. (2006) Diccionario Folklórico Argentino. Corregidor, Buenos Aires.

Rodríguez, Z. (1875) Diccionario de Chilenismos. El Independiente, Santiago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.