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.

Erumía

Erumía is a gigantic jellyfish associated with the Papuan village of Mawata. She lives on the reef Tére-múba-mádja offshore of the Gésovamúba point. The édeéde, or normal jellyfish, are her children, and they are abundant on that reef. She is also the patron of all the fish. Her long, slimy, stringy tentacles can sting a man to death, and any swimmer who sees them stretching in their direction knows to flee for their lives. The tentacles can be seen floating around the mouth of the Bina River.

As the patron ororárora or spirit of Mawata, Erumía is associated with the people of the village, the “Erumía people”. She appears in dreams as a good omen and grants “lucky things” for fishing.

References

Landtman, G. (1917) The Folk-tales of the Kiwai Papuans. Acta Societatis Scientiarium Fennicae, t. XLVII, Helsingfors.

Landtman, G. (1927) The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea. MacMillan and Co. Limited, London.

Circhos

Variations: Cricos, Crichos

The story of the Circhos is one fraught with misunderstandings, mistranslations, and general confusion. It should serve as a morality tale on the importance of accurate information transmission.

Aristotle describes the habits of hermit crabs in detail. The carcinium (“small crab”) is soft-bodied after the thorax, resembling a spider, with two red horns and forward-pointing eyes. The mouth has hair-like appendages and two divided feet that it uses to catch prey. There are two additional smaller pairs of feet beside them.

Of the hermit crabs, the kind that lives in the nerita or brita shell is unusual because its right divided foot is small while the left one is large. It walks more on the left foot than the right. The nerita itself, Aristotle adds, has a large, smooth, rounded shell, and a red hepatopancreas, as opposed to the ceryx and its black hepatopancreas. During a storm the crabs hide under a rock, and the gastropods attach themselves to the rock and close their opercula.

All of the preceding information is stated consecutively. Michael Scot’s translation of Aristotle gives the name of kiroket to the nerita shell. Thomas de Cantimpré takes Scot’s kiroket and his descriptions of the hermit crab and gastropod, but omits connecting names and details to combine them into a single confused account. It is likely that Scot’s jargon and neologisms threw Thomas off.

Thomas de Cantimpré’s cricos (corrupted from kiroket) now has two fissures at the end of its feet, giving it three fingers and three nails on each foot (Thomas’ “common-sense” addition). Its left foot is big and its right foot is small, and it carries its weight on its left foot. The comparison of hepatopancreas colors becomes the shell of the cricos, colored black and red. In good weather, the cricos moves around; in bad weather, it attaches itself to rocks and doesn’t move.

Albertus Magnus takes up Thomas’ account, but drops the confusing details of the feet. The Ortus Sanitatis, on the other hand, creates some additional features out of whole cloth. The circhos or crichos has the head of a man and the body of a sea-dog (i.e. a dogfish or shark); it is healthy in good weather, but weakens and turns ill in bad weather.

Olaus Magnus borrows the circhos of the Ortus Sanitatis to populate his Scandinavian sea. The physical description of a human-headed fish is wisely redacted. Whether it was meant to represent an actual Scandinavian animal, or is merely plagiarism, remains unclear.

It is Olaus Magnus’ account that is best known today. Concept drift in modern retellings have led to fabrications such as a limping gait that forces the circhos to move only in fine weather and cling to rocks during storms, and even a “humanoid” appearance.

References

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

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

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.

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York. Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.