Eloko

Variations: Biloko (plural)

eloko

The Biloko of the Congo are vile, cannibalistic dwarfs or trolls of Nkundo folklore. They make their homes inside hollow trees, and they smell of the Congo’s rainforest. An Eloko has grass for a beard, clothes made of  leaves, and usually carries a bell, which is used to attract and bewitch unsuspecting humans. Despite their size, biloko are far stronger than the average human, and only heroes and sorcerers can defeat them.

Biloko represent the dangers of the forest, of going out alone, and of toying with danger. They are invoked to dissuade people from straying both physically and mentally, and warn husbands of the dangers of abandoning their wives. They may also represent various gangrenous diseases, as they slowly eat their victim away, eventually killing them by ending with the liver, where the spirit resides.

A Nkundo man once built a fenced-in hut in the forest to find game. Whenever the husband left for the village, he would warn his wife. “Remember, if you hear the sound of a little bell, don’t answer or you will die!” Yet as the monotonous hours went by, the wife found herself entranced by the ringing of a bell deep in the forest, coming closer and closer. Finally she ran outside calling to the eloko. “I’m here! Come to me!” she cried, and the eloko duly appeared. “Here I am, I have come to you”, he announced. The wife was overjoyed and prepared a meal for her guest, but the eloko refused the fried bananas and fish. “I only eat human meat, and I am so hungry…” he wheedled. “You are a delicious woman. Give me a piece of flesh”. The woman willingly proffered her arm, and the eloko took a portion of meat, which he roasted and devoured. Then he left, leaving the woman to bandage her wound in silence.

When her husband returned, he saw his wife bedridden and in pain. “I have sores”, she said. “Then take the bandage off, and have some medicine for it”. She refused, and would not explain further. But the next day the same gruesome episode repeated itself – the husband left, the wife entertained the eloko, and the eloko left the wife with another deep injury.

This time the husband did not believe his wife’s excuses, and decided to lie in wait instead of returning to the village. When the eloko returned that day, he pulled out a knife told the woman that this time he desired her liver. The husband immediately fired an arrow into the dwarf, then ran him through with his spear and decapitated him. But the eloko had already stabbed the wife in the liver, and she died. Those who love danger will die in it; or, those who play with fire will get burnt.

Other encounters with biloko treat them more as an enemy tribe than as forest bogeys. Likinda, Itonde, and Lianja, the grandsons of the spirit of Death Ilelangonda, went to war with the biloko, and tricked them into an ambush by scattering mbole-fruits on the path. They slaughtered all the biloko this way save for the wizard Inkankanga and his wife. Likinda caught up with them by turning himself into a baby, causing Inkankanga’s wife to pick him up and care for him. Then he climbed up a tree to throw fruits down to his adopted parents, but instead he transformed himself into a fruit and allowed Inkankanga to swallow him. The terrified eloko sorcerer killed his wife for being the cause of his impending doom, and then spent the rest of the day imploring Likinda not to kill him. Finally he fell into depressed acceptance, and the bored Likinda cut him up from the inside out. He returned to the village, where his story was celebrated with peals of laughter.

References

Knappert, J. (1971) Myths and Legends of the Congo. Heinemann Educational Books, London.

Knappert, J. (1977) Bantu myths and other tales. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Marool

Variations: Angler-fish, Carrachan, Devil-fish, Keddle-man, Kethrie, Kettach, Kilmaddy, Marmaid, Mareillen, Marsgum, Masgum, Meermaid, Merlin-fish, Molly Gowan, Monk-fish, Plucker, Shoemaker, Toad-fish, Weever, Wide-gab

Marool

The Marool of Shetland is a malevolent marine devil, appearing in the form of a fish. It has eyes all over its head, and a crest of flame. It can be seen in mareel, or phosphorescent sea-foam. During storms the marool can be heard singing wildly with joy when a ship capsizes.

Marool is only one of a number of names that have been applied to the anglerfish or monkfish.

References

Forbes, A. R. (1905) Gaelic Names of Beasts (Mammalia), Birds, Fishes, Insects, Reptiles, Etc. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Sirānis

Variations: Sirānas, Suryānās, Sirinā, Siwānis

Siranis

According to al-Qazwini, the Sirānis can be found in the undergrowth of Kabul and Zabulistan. Its name is derived from the Greek siren, from which the sirānis evolved beyond recognition.

Originally the sirānis was believed to be a marine animal with seven openings in its mouth, and which used its seven toes to play its snout like a musical instrument. This description, in turn, came to be that of the Qaqnus or Arghun, which was known by the same name as well. Sirinā was also the name of a system of walls with holes in them that replicated the call of the sirānis, and which was used by the Byzantines to attract and capture that animal.

Al-Qazwini, however, places the sirānis firmly on land as a carnivorous mammal with 12 openings in its snout. When it breathes, those orifices produce a pleasant sound like that of the mizmar or flute; indeed, it is said that it was the inspiration for the musical instruments.

A sirānis uses its musical prowess to capture prey. It produces a melody so entrancing that animals gather around it and swoon in wonder, giving the sirānis an open buffet to choose from. If none of the animals present are satisfactory, it lets out an earsplitting screech that scares its audience away.

In time, the proximity of the sirānis to the shādawār in al-Qazwini’s text led later authors to combine them, granting the more iconographically defined shādawār the predatory nature of the sirānis.

References

Contadini, A. Musical Beasts: The Swan-Phoenix in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Bestiaries. In O, Kane, B. (2005) The Iconography of Islamic Art. Edinburgh University Press.

Contadini, A. (2012) A World of Beasts: A Thirteenth-Century Illustrated Arabic Book on Animals (the Kitab Na’t al-Hayawan) in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Tradition. Brill, Leiden.

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

Aíǰe

Variations: Aíge, Spirit-Tadpole

Aige

The Aíǰe is associated with the Bororo of Brazil and Bolivia, and in particular the Páiwoe and Aróroe clans. It is a gigantic tadpole, somewhat like a hippopotamus.

Rubúgu of the Páiwoe first found the aíǰe while walking through a swamp. He liked the little animal and decided to keep it, taking it home in a vessel of water. Rubúgu had great plans for his little pet, and wanted it to become something great and amazing, so before covering its container with a fan he told it “Grow for me; thrive and become an extraordinary creature”.

And grow the aíǰe did. It became larger, and stronger, and it could sing a loud, buzzing song. Rubúgu had to keep switching it to increasingly large containers to support its bulk, and eventually he had nowhere left to put it. He tried doing a dance for the aíǰe, but the tadpole rejected Rubúgu’s mediocre talents. Instead, Chief Baitogógo of the Aróroe took the aíǰe, and honored it with a macaw-feather headdress and a marvelous dance, both of which pleased the tadpole greatly. Baitogógo told the aíǰe that it had to live in ponds, swamps, and lakes away from the Bororo, for it was so big and the magic of its song so powerful, it could pose a serious threat.

The aíǰe accepted, and before leaving it told Baitogógo that if the Bororo missed it, then they should fashion little tadpole sculptures in remembrance. Those figurines could be tied to a stick and swung in the air, making an amphibian buzzing much like aíǰe did. Thus the aíǰe went on to become one of the totems of the Bororo.

References

Albisetti, C.,; Colbacchini, A.; and Venturelli, A. J.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1983) Folk Literature of the Bororo Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Shādawār

Variations: Shadhahvar, Shadhahwar, Shādhahvār, Shad-hawar, Shād-hawār, Shad-havar, Shadhawar, Shadahvar, Shadahwar, Shadawar, Sadahvar, Sadahwar, Sadhavvar, Sadhazar, Sadhazag, Sadhuzag, Aras, ‘rs, ‘rsh

Shad-hawar

The earliest references to the musical-horned unicorn are given by Jabir Ibn Hayyan, around 900 A.D., where it is referred to as the Aras. It was given its most popular incarnation as the Shādawār by Al-Qazwini, which was subsequently copied with modifications by Al-Damiri and Al-Mustawfi. It was found in the farthest reaches of Bilad al-Rum, the Byzantine Empire, a vague location which to Al-Qazwini must have sounded remote.

Exactly how the shādawār’s name should be written and pronounced is unclear. Its writing has varied from author to author and manuscript to manuscript, sometimes starting with a Sā instead of a Shā, with the middle consonant being either a d or a dh (pronounced “the”), and ending in wār (Arabic) or vār (Persian). The spelling chosen here is ultimately arbitrary and based on Ettinghausen and Jayakar’s recommendations, and the most prevalent transliterations. The name is of unknown origin, but Hayyan’s aras is probably derived from “oryx”.

Unlike the more rhinocerine karkadann, the shādawār is an antelope-like ungulate with a single horn, but in this case it is long and hollow. There are forty-two hollow branches in the horn, and wind whistling through these flute-like holes results in beautiful, stirring melodies, so lovely that other animals will gather around to listen. Shādawār horns were offered to kings, who would hang them up as musical intruments. Depending on the angle they were held at, they would produce an enthralling tune or a sad dirge that moved all listeners to tears.

The shādawār has been incorrectly described as a flesh-eater, using its music to attract potential prey. In fact, Al-Qazwini makes no mention of any carnivorous tendencies. Al-Mustawfi, however, combines Al-Qazwini’s account of the shādawār with that of the carnivorous Sirānis immediately preceding it. It is the sirānis that lures prey to it with its music, and not the herbivorous shādawār.

Al-Damiri and Bochart give it seventy-two branches on its horn. Flaubert goes further and describes his “sadhuzag” as a black deer with the head of a bull, and a thicket of white horns on its head. It speaks to Anthony, describing its unique powers. “My seventy-four antlers are hollow as flutes. When I turn towards the South wind, sounds come out that attract enraptured beasts. Snakes coil around my legs, wasps cling to my nostrils, and parrots, doves, and ibises roost in my branches. – Listen! … But when I turn to the North wind, my antlers, thicker than a battalion of lances, exhale a howl; forests shudder, rivers retreat, fruit bulbs burst, and grasses stand on end like the hair of a coward. – Listen!”

References

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

el-Cheikh, N. M. Byzantium through the Islamic Prism from the Twelfth to the Thirteenth Century. In Laiou, A. E. and Mottahedeh, R. P. (2001) The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D. C.

Contadini, A. Musical Beasts: The Swan-Phoenix in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Bestiaries. In O, Kane, B. (2005) The Iconography of Islamic Art. Edinburgh University Press.

Contadini, A. (2012) A World of Beasts: A Thirteenth-Century Illustrated Arabic Book on Animals (the Kitab Na’t al-Hayawan) in the Ibn Bakhtishu’ Tradition. Brill, Leiden.

al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon). Luzac and Co., London.

Kraus, P. (1986) Jabir Ibn Hayyan : Contribution à l’historie des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam. Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres, Paris.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

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.

Dijiang

Variations: Ti-chiang

Dijiang

The divine bird known as Dijiang, the “Thearch Long River”, was like a yellow sack with an aura of cinnabar; Borges, calling it the Ti-chiang, described it as bright red. It had six legs and four wings, but no eyes or facial features of any kind, living in a perpetual state of confusion. It was also fond of singing and dancing.

This “state of confusion” led to the association of Dijiang with Hundun, a being of cosmic chaos. The undifferentiated Hundun had no eyes, ears, mouth, or orifices of any sort, and died when his guests tried to drill openings in his body.

Dijiang’s description can be found in the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas, where it is located in the Celestial Mountain along with large quantities of metal and jade. Borges attributes it to the T’ai Kuang Chi.

The four wings and six legs, as well as the lack of apparent head, suggest a magnified insect of some sort.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.