Lusca

Variations: Giant Scuttle, Him of the Hands

Off the shores of Andros Island in the Bahamas are the blue holes. These are deep submarine caves that appear as dark “holes” in the sea. Local lore claims that they are bottomless, and while it may be safe to sail over them, diving is perilous. The Lusca embodies the terror of these dark places and personifies their dangerous currents. The blue holes are littered with the skeletons of its victims and the wreckage of boats and outboard motors.

A lusca is a gigantic octopus or cuttlefish, sometimes said to be half octopus and half dragon. It is also known as a “giant scuttle”, where “scuttle” is the Bahamian term for octopus, and “Him of the Hands”, although it is unclear whether those are actual hands or merely a reference to cephalopod arms. Those arms can reach up to 75 feet (roughly 23 meters) long. They are dangerous because they can grab a boat or a fisherman from one end and anchor themselves to the bottom on the other; if they cannot make fast to the seafloor, they cannot pull their prey down.

The lusca shoots its “hands” out of the water to snatch anyone or anything that comes too close to a blue hole. A lusca can stop a two-master dead in the water, coiling its tentacles around the rudder while its “hands” reach up and feel around the deck. The moment the tentacles contact a human, they immediately pull the unfortunate sailor into the water.

George J. Benjamin and Jacques-Yves Cousteau were both warned of the dangers of the lusca, but failed to find any trace of the giant octopus. In fact, Benjamin succeeded in retrieving an outboard motor supposedly lost to a lusca, much to the bemusement of the motor’s proprietor.

Wood and Gennaro identify the St. Augustine blob, found on a Florida beach, as being the same animal as the lusca. As the blob was found to be a mass of connective tissue from a large vertebrate, probably a whale, this is unlikely.

References

Benjamin, G. J. (1970) Diving into the Blue Holes of the Bahamas. National Geographic, 138(3), pp. 347-363.

Cousteau, J. and Diolé, P. (1973) Trois Aventures de la Calypso. Flammarion.

Fodor, E. (1981) Fodor’s Caribbean and the Bahamas. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

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

Wood, F. G. and Gennaro, J. F. (1971) An Octopus Trilogy. Natural History, LXXX(3), pp. 15-24 and 84-87.

Kigutilik

Kigutilik, the spirit with the giant’s teeth, was encountered by the Iglulik Inuit mystic Anarqâq. It emerged from a hole in the ice while Anarqâq was out sealing in the spring.

Kigutilik is monstrous to behold. It is as big as a bear, but taller, standing on long legs with large bumps at the joints. It has two tails, a single large ear connected only through a fold in the skin, and massive teeth like the tusks of a walrus. It is bare-skinned with hair in fringes on its body.

When it appeared it roared – ahahah! Anarqâq was so terrified he ran home without securing the spirit’s aid as a helper.

References

Rasmussen, K. (1929) Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Glydendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Trebius

Variations: Trebius Niger (Black Trebius), Trebeus, Swordfish

Trebius

Within his discussion of the echeneis or remora, Pliny digresses briefly to mention the murex, a seashell that also can adhere to ships and prevent them from moving. He then credits Trebius Niger with the knowledge that the echeneis is a foot long, five fingers thick, and capable of hindering the movement of a ship; if preserved in salt, it can draw up gold that has fallen down a deep well.

The next paragraph addresses a miscellany of fishes. The mena changes color, becoming white in winter and black in summer. The phycis (a goby or lamprey) also changes color; it is also the only fish that builds a nest of seaweed to spawn in.

Thomas de Cantimpré combines all those accounts and misreads the name of Pliny’s source for the name of a fish. This miraculous textual transformation is the origin of the trebius niger or black trebius. This composite fish is a foot long, black in color and changing to white depending on the season. It can hinder ships like a remora, and even a small salted piece of it can draw gold out of wells. Unlike other fishes, the trebius builds a nest to lay its eggs in.

After having decided that the trebius is a fish, Thomas sticks to his interpretation. A later passage cites Trebius Niger and describes swordfish attacks on boats. This is again read to be an allusion to the trebius, and, as a result, it becomes armed with a sharp beak that it uses to sink ships (despite its size, apparently).

The trebius is shown nesting in a tree in the Hortus Sanitatis. Albertus Magnus gives us the most memorable depiction of the fish, giving it a pointed nose, a beard, clawed feet, and a nest with an egg inside.

References

Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.

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

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

Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.

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

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

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

Physeter

Variations: Physeterus, Physalus, Pistris, Pistrix, Prister. Pristes, Pristis, Capax (“roomy”, referring to its huge mouth), Capidolio (Italy), Mular, Peis Mular (Languedoc), Senedectes, Senedette (Saintonge), Spouter, Whirlpool, Whirl-pool, Whirlepoole

Physeter

The Physeter, “blower”, Prister, or Whirlpool, is an enormous, monstrous whale. The name, originally associated with a spouting sea monster, has today become the scientific name of the sperm whale or cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus).

Pliny states that the largest animals in the Indian Sea are the Pristis (shark) and the Balaena (whale). The largest animal in the Ocean of Gaul is the physeter. It lifts itself up like an enormous column, towering higher than the masts of ships, and spouts a flood of water.

The most notable reference to the physeter as a monster comes from Olaus Magnus. He describes the physeter as two hundred cubits long, with a large, round mouth like that of a lamprey, a tough black hide, and a prehensile tail about 15 or 20 feet wide. It uses its mouth to suck in massive quantities of water which it then spouts violently onto its prey from the blowholes on its head. Its tail can coil around ships and crush them.

Two different images are given by Olaus for the physeter. One is an upright, spouting monster with a horselike head, a gaping, toothless mouth, an erect mane running down its long neck, and a ribbed belly. The other is the tusked, frilled whale which appears in multiple places on the Carta Marina. Münster copies the first version and gives it more canine features, including large fangs and floppy ears; the second he refers to as the trolual or teuffelwal, the “devil-whale”.

Physeters are cruel, malicious creatures that will sink ships for sport. As a physeter’s hide and thick fat are too thick for conventional weapons to penetrate, sailors must resort to other means to ward off the whale’s attentions. One way is to blow trumpets or fire artillery; the loud noises can startle and scare off the physeter. Another is to throw barrels or smaller boats in the path of the whale to distract it.

Rondelet describes the physeter as so named because when it blows it projects a massive amount of water like a mist, which can fill and overturn smaller boats. It is spectacularly large, with a huge mouth, sharp teeth, a large fleshy tongue, and a breathing tract much larger than that of any other animal. It differs from the orca in that it is longer and lacks a fin on its back. One physeter was taken in Italy was placed by the Duke of Florence in front of his palace, but it had to be removed due to its stench. By this point the draconic seahorse of Olaus Magnus has been abandoned; this is the sperm whale as we know it today.

The greatest contribution the physeter has made to literature is in the pages of Rabelais’ epic tale of giants. In Pantagruel, the titular giant and his friends encounter a massive physeter roaring and spouting water, rising higher than the masts of the ship. Panurge immediately wails, comparing it to the Leviathan and the monster that attacked Andromeda, and fears that “it will swallow us all, men and ships, like pills”! But Pantagruel chides him, saying he is better off fearing the horses of the Sun, which snort fire, instead of this monster, which merely blows water. Pantagruel duly peppers the physeter with arrows until it expires and “turned belly up, as do all dead fish”.

De Montfort believed Olaus Magnus’ physeter (apart from the sperm whale) to be a colossal octopus.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bologna.

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

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.

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

Münster, S. (1552) La Cosmographie Universelle. Henry Pierre.

Nigg, J. (2013) Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. University of Chicago Press.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Rabelais, F. (1858) Oeuvres de Rabelais, t. II. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

Rondelet, G. (1558) L’Histoire Entiere des Poissons. Mace Bonhome, Lyon.

Sainéan, L. (1921) L’histoire naturelle et les branches connexes dans l’oeuvre de Rabelais. E. Champion, Paris.

Geluchart

Variations: Animal Monstrueux (Monstrous Animal) (Paré); Testudo Polypus (Gesner)

Geluchart

Iambulus the Greek sailor saw many marvels on the Islands of the Sun. One of those is an unnamed animal, small, round, and similar to a tortoise. It has two diagonal yellow stripes on its body, with an eye and a mouth at each end of the stripes, giving it four eyes and four mouths around its body. It eats with all four mouths, which all lead into a single gullet and stomach; its inner organs are likewise single. This creature also has many feet which allow it to move in any direction it wishes. Most miraculous of all is its blood, which is endowed with such healing power that it can instantly reattach severed body parts. As long as the cut is fresh and the body part is not vital (a hand, a foot, a limb, and so on), the animal’s blood will glue it back on again.

The adventures of Iambulus were recalled by Diodorus Siculus and cheerfully dismissed by Lucian as “obviously quite untrue” but a highly entertaining story nonetheless.

Temporal’s 1556 French translation of Leo Africanus’ works appends the travels of Iambulus and other seafaring yarns, lending them more credibility by association (or giving Leo’s accounts less credibility in the same manner). Translation errors have already set in, considering the adventures of Iambulus were translated into French by way of Tuscan. In Temporal’s version, the unnamed round animal now has two lines on its back in the form of a golden cross, and one eye and one ear at the end of each line, allowing it to hear and see in four directions. There is only one mouth through which the animal feeds. Its blood can cause any dismembered, still living body to come back together. The account is accompanied with a memorable image of the creature, with a long, thin tail ending in a tuft; the number of legs is fixed at twelve in the picture. Severed limbs surround the animal.

Is this the same as the Geluchart of the Caspian Sea? Thevet’s Cosmographie describes an animal called the geluchart, named after a nearby lake where it is also found in abundance. It has a head like a turtle’s (but much bigger), a small rat’s tail, and eight legs (four on each side). It is covered with scales and mottled with red and black spots. Thevet affirms that it is the tastiest fish in existence.

Thevet may have had the Iambulus creature in mind – specifically the illustration in the Temporal translation, as Thevet mentions the rat’s tail present in the image but not in the text. Either way, Vallot lumps them together, along with Gesner’s Testudo Polypus (“Many-legged Turtle”). For lack of a better term “geluchart” has been adopted as a title for this entry.

Paré’s unnamed “monstrous animal” is taken directly from Temporal’s Iambulus, with an image copied from that account. Paré erroneously credits Leo Africanus with describing the “very monstrous animal” but otherwise repeats the attributes given to it, including blood capable of sealing any wound. The description mentions several legs as well as establishing a “rather long” tail, “the end of which is heavily tufted with hair”. Its location is moved from Iambulus’ mythical island; it is now “born in Africa”.

Vallot attributes the ocellated pufferfish as the origin of this creature, but surely its origin in ancient Greek utopian fiction makes such association futile? Its wondrous properties cause Paré to wax poetic. “But who is it who would not marvel greatly on contemplating this beast, having so many eyes, ears, and feet, and each doing its office? Where can be the instruments dedicated to such operations? Truly, as for myself I lose my mind, and would not know what else to say, other than that Nature has played a trick to make the grandeur of its works be admired”.

References

Diodorus; Oldfather, C. H. trans. (1967) Diodorus of Sicily in Twelve Volumes, v. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Gessner, C. (1586) Historiae Animalium Liber II: Quadrupedibus Oviparis. Johannes Wecheli, Frankfurt.

Leo Africanus; Temporal, J. trans. (1556) De l’Afrique. Jean Temporal, Lyon.

Leo Africanus; Temporal, J. trans. (1830) De l’Afrique. Gouvernement de France, Paris.

Lucian; Turner, P. trans. (1961) Satirical Sketches. Penguin Books, London.

Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.

Paré, A. (1996) Des Monstres et Prodiges. Fleuron, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Vallot, D. M. (1834) Mémoire sur le Limacon de la Mer Sarmatique. Mémoires de L’Académie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-Lettres de Dijon, Partie des Sciences, Frantin, Dijon.

Tompondrano

Variations: Tòmpondràno, Tompon-drano, Tompoudrano

Tompondrano final

Tompondrano, “lord of the water” or “master of the water”, applies to multiple concepts within the folklore of Madagascar. For our purposes, it refers to at least two types of water snake – one which was commonly encountered in day-to-day life, and an undefined marine monster. Whales, sharks, and crocodiles are also known as tompondrano; the Sakalava proverb “the amby never leaves the master of the water” apparently refers to the pilotfish. The alternative spelling of tompoudrano is phonetically identical to tompondrano in French.

The tompondrano is a water-snake blessed by the Vazimba, a mythical ancient race that lived in the center of Madagascar. For this reason it is respected as a sacred animal. It should not be killed, and dead tompondranos are wrapped in red silk in the same way as human corpses. Tompondranos are good swimmers, often seen crossing ponds and rivers in the forest, but they are not notably large (the largest snake in Madagascar, the akoma or Madagascar ground boa, is some 2.7 meters long).

A very different tompondrano was seen by G. Petit in 1926, on the night a cyclone was announced. He describes seeing bright and fleeting lights produced intermittently every few seconds, something like a much weaker signal beacon of a ship. They were emitted by a large aquatic body rolling on its axis and leaving an indefinitely long phosphorescent trail behind it. Petit was later told by Vezo informants that he had seen a tompondrano a creature 20 to 25 meters long, large and flattened, with hard plates on its body and a tail like that of a shrimp. It is the tompondrano’s head that is luminous. Its mouth is ventrally located, and the creature turns itself upside down to attack targets on the surface. There is a retractable fleshy hood that protects the eyes. It is either legless or has appendages like those of whales. To ward off its unwelcome attentions, an axe and a silver ring are suspended at the bows of boats.

References

Birkeli, E. (1924) Folklore Sakalava. Bulletin de l’Academie Malgache, IV, pp. 185-417.

Jourdran, E. (1903) Les Ophidiens de Madagascar. A. Michalon, Paris.

Romanovsky, V.; Francis-Boeuf, C.; and Bourcart, J. (1953) La Mer. Larousse, Paris.

Sibree, J. (1896) Madagascar Before the Conquest. Macmillan, New York.

Bayfart

Bayfart

The Bayfart is an animal whose existence is reported by the inhabitants of Finnmark. It is something like a seal, roughly the same size and shape. Its fur is greyish. It has small ears and a single horn on its head surrounded by hair, and hog-like bristles around its nose. Its forelegs have claws as long as a lion’s, while its has two flippers for hind legs.

Thevet received a bayfart skin from a Scotsman, who obtained it in Denmark in 1570. It had been caught in the Northern Sea.

References

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Quauhxouilin

Variations: Quauhxovili

Quauhxouilin

The Quauhxouilin, “eagle-fish” (from quauhtli, “eagle”, and xouilin, a type of fish) is an edible Mexican fish. Its head resembles that of an eagle, with a curved, golden-yellow snout. Its body is long and large and smooth like an eagle. This fish has neither scales nor bones; its meat is soft throughout and makes good eating.

References

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

Sahagun, B.; Jourdanet, D. and Siméon, R. trans. (1880) Histoire Générale des Choses de la Nouvelle-Espagne. G. Masson, Paris.

Bregdi

Bregdi

A malicious sea monster from Shetland waters, the Bregdi is feared for its habit of chasing boats. Once it has caught up with a boat, it wraps its long fins around it, putting them up over the gunwales, and dives with the boat in its deadly embrace.

Fortunately a bregdi’s attentions can be deterred in two ways. Like many other supernatural creatures, the bregdi hates the touch of cold steel. A simple skuni (knife) is more than enough to combat it. Slashing the fins as soon as they appear over the gunwales will make it let go and flee. It is also terrified of amber beads, and a single amber bead thrown at a bregdi is enough to scare it off.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

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

Aspidochelone

Variations: Aspido-chelone, Aspidochelon, Aspidocalon, Aspidoceleon, Aspidodeleon, Aspidodelone, Aspischelone, Aspido-tortoise, Asp-tortoise, Asp-turtle, Fastitocalon, Shield-tortoise, Sea-monster, Sea-tortoise, Sea-turtle, Sulhafat, Turtle

Aspidochelone

The motif of the island-turtle or island-whale is one of the most common and pervasive of maritime yarns. Whether it is a turtle, a whale, a fish, or a crab, the story is the same. A great sea creature raises its back out of the water. Sea-sand and vegetation gather in on its rough back, until it looks like a small island. Sailors anchor their ship to the deceptive “island”, disembark, and light a fire. The monster, feeling the fire on its back, immediately dives, taking the sailors and their ship down to a watery grave.

Prototypes of the gigantic fish are in the Indian Zend-Avesta, the supposed 3rd-Century letter of Aristotle to Alexander, and the Babylonian Talmud composed around CE 257-320.

The monster in al-Jahiz’s account is a crab (saratan) – surely confusion with the similarly shelled turtle? In al-Qazwini’s entry on the turtle (sulhafat), he distinguishes between the terrestrial tortoise and the sea turtle. The sea turtle is of great size, and sailors believe it to be an island in the middle of the sea, landing on it and lighting a fire until the turtle stirs, whereupon those aboard the ship call out “Come back, for it is a turtle that felt the heat of the fire, come back that you may not go down with it!” Sindbad the Sailor encountered this creature in his first Voyage, but managed to escape with his life.

The Account repeated in the Physiologus and bestiaries such as the Exeter Book, and the monster is identified with the whale that swallowed Jonah. The original Greek versions of the bestiary talk of the Aspidochelone – a name of uncertain etymology. Chelone refers to a turtle or tortoise, but aspido has been assumed to mean “shield” or “asp” (as in, the snake). The “shield” origin may stem from the turtle’s shell, but it seems like a redundant descriptor for a turtle. Another possibility is that the turtle was originally more of a serpent, or that this is a reference to the aspidochelone’s evil.

Whatever the meaning, the name aspidochelone became corrupted over time to become the “fastitocalon”, and the turtle supplanted with the more familiar whale (although the description of a rough back sounds more like a turtle’s shell).

The Physiologus or Bestiary adds further moralizing elements to the story. The aspidochelone will exhale a pleasant odor from its mouth, attracting fish that are then swallowed. Thus the aspidochelone is an allegory for Satan. Sinners who anchor themselves to the Devil are doomed to go to Hell, and sinful pleasures are enticing as perfume.

The aspidochelone entry is preceded by the panther entry. Both use fragrant breath to attract other animals, but the aspidochelone is evil while the panther is an allegory for Christ. The juxtaposition is probably intentional. The fragrant smell of the aspidochelone may also be derived from the odorous cetacean substance known as ambergris.

Aspidochelones are minor subjects in medieval woodcarvings, visible at Kidlington, Great Grandsden, Isleham, Swaffham Bulbeck, and Norwich Cathedral. They can be distinguished by the presence of ships and cooking-pots on their back, or with their mouths open to attract fish.

References

Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

Cook, A. S. (1821) The Old English Physiologus. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Cook, A. S. (1894) The Old English ‘Whale’. Modern Language Notes, 9(3), pp. 65-68.

Curley, M. J. (1979) Physiologus. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Druce, G. C. (1914) Animals in English Wood Carving. The Third Annual Volume of the Walpole Society, pp. 57-73.

Gordon, R. K. (1957) Anglo-Saxon Poetry. J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

Iannello, F. (2011) Il motive dell’aspidochelone nella tradizione letteraria del Physiologus. Considerazioni esegetiche e storico-religiose. Nova Tellus 29(2), pp. 151-200.

Al-Jahiz, A. (1966) Kitab al-Hayawan. Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Awladihi, Egypt.

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.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Wiener, L. (1921) Contributions toward a history of Arabico-Gothic culture, volume IV: Physiologus studies. Innes and Sons, Philadelphia.