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.

Sermilik

The Sermilik, “ice-clad”, is an enormous and highly dangerous polar bear found in the seas around Aasiaat in Greenland. Unlike the bears it resembles, it has very long fur completely covered with ice. Four lumps of ice at the surface are in fact the four paws of a sermilik lying in wait, and young hunters are warned never to paddle near those.

References

Birket-Smith, K. (1924) Ethnography of the Egedesminde District. Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri, Copenhagen.

Osschaert

Variations: Osschaard

Found in maritime Flanders, land of Waas, and especially Hamme, near Dendermonde, Osschaert is one of several mischievous shapeshifters that plague Belgium. He was particularly around the chapel of Twee Bruggen.

According to van Hageland, his name may be a combination of ors, an archaic word denoting a horse or more generally a mount, or os, an ox, with hard, meaning “strong” or “valiant”. In this sense, Osschaard or Osschaert is a headstrong and dangerous steed.

As with others of his kind, Osschaert appears in countless forms, most notably a human-headed bull with heavy chains on its legs and feet. He has also appeared as a dog, a rabbit, a horse, a giant, a dwarf… At Knoche-sur-mer, where he serves as a bogey to frighten children, he is a ghost with a bull’s head. Commonly he drags a long length of chain behind him.

Osschaert is mischievous rather than actively evil. He delights in jumping on the backs of people and forcing them to carry him until they collapse. He is just as likely to jump off his mount’s shoulders to dive into a woman’s basket, causing her to stagger under the sudden load. Osschaert particularly enjoys tormenting sinners and wicked people, and will target them above all others.

He rules over all the water in the area, so the first fish caught is returned as an appeasing gift to Osschaert. Not that he’s guaranteed to ensure a good catch. And beware of catching fish without thanking Osschaert! One fisherman dragged his catch onto the beach only to find himself pinned down for an hour by Osschaert; when he was finally released his catch had disappeared. Another fisherman pulled an incredibly heavy net onto his boat, only to find it full of horse manure.

At the church of Twee Bruggen, daring Osschaert out loud to scratch you will result in a mauling. Specifically, one only has to utter the formula Grypke, Grypke grauw, wilt gy my grypen, grypt my nou (“Grypke, Grypke grey, if you will gripe me, gripe me now”) and Osschaert will appear on your back and ride you to the nearest crossroads or image of the Virgin Mary. In fact, in areas where people dared Osschaert to appear resulted in the spirit becoming more cruel and aggressive due to being repeatedly called upon.

A young man of Doel, crossing a field by night, found himself face to face with an enormous, monstrous horse. “This is Osschaert”, he thought to himself. “I must get out of his way”. He decided to pass through the churchyard, but then met a dog the size of a horse on the main road. He crossed himself and took another path to the churchyard, but there was Osschaert in the form of a rabbit, jumping back and forth towards him. He tried to turn around the churchyard, only to find Osschaert waiting for him in the shape of a donkey with enormous fiery eyes the size of plates! That was the point when the man gave up, jumped the wall, and ran home in a cold sweat.

Another man, a fisherman of Kieldrecht named Blommaert, thought he could outsmart Osschaert. He usually placed his catch of fish in a water-tub near the window. One night he found that some fish were missing; not only that, but there were ashes on the hearth, as though someone had broiled the fish on the embers. Blommaert could find no signs of break-in, and concluded Osschaert was behind this mischief. When the same thing happened a second time, he decided to cure Osschaert of his thieving behavior. He covered the entire hearth with horse-dung, and scattered some ashes over it to disguise it. Osschaert showed up as usual, pronouncing “Blommeken, vischkens braeyen”, but when he tried to cook the fish it ended up spoiled with the dung. He ran away screaming and cursing in frustration. Blommaert celebrated his cunning revenge – but alas, it does not pay to outwit Osschaert. The next day, when Blommaert drew in his net, he found it extraordinarily heavy. After much effort, he hauled it on deck, and found it to be full to cracking with horse-dung. Osschaert laughed loud and long, and Blommaert returned home angry and defeated.

Today Osschaert is retired, if not dead. A priest at Hamme was said to have banished Osschaert to wander at the sea-shore for ninety-nine years. And at Spije, Malines, one can see Osschaert’s coffin. It is a small coffin-shaped bridge over a stream.

References

van Hageland, A. (1973) La Mer Magique. Marabout, Paris.

Harou, A. (1905) Mythologie et folk-lore de l’enfance. Revue des Traditions Populaires, v. XX, p. 96.

Thorpe, B. (1852) Northern Mythology, v. III. Edward Lumley, London.

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.