Variations: King of the Bears, Einhyrningur (Unicorn)
The Bjarndýrakóngur, the “King of the Bears”, is the undisputed monarch of the polar bears of Iceland. It is born from a female polar bear and a walrus or a bull.
A bjarndýrakóngur has red cheeks and a single horn on its forehead. The horn, which is its scepter of authority, has a sharp end and is tipped with a platinum globe. It emits a bright light in all directions such that the bjarndýrakóngur can always see its way through the darkness.
The king of the bears is as wise and noble as it is powerful. It understands human speech and demands loyalty and obeisance from other polar bears. While easily capable of killing with its horn, it only does so in self-defense or in judgment on wayward subjects.
It is said that, on a Whitsun church service in the 18th century, a procession of 12 or 13 polar bears was seen ambling from the outer parts of Iceland. They were led by a stately and benevolent bjarndýrakóngur. The clergyman greeting them in full regalia, as did the congregation, and bowed to the king, who returned the bow. The bjarndýrakóngur continued to lead his subjects through southern Iceland. At Borgamór the last bear in the line killed and ate a sheep, whereupon the king ran the offending bear through with his horn. Eventually the royal cortège reached Grenivík where they disappeared into the sea.
The only animal that will dare challenge the king of the bears is a redcheek or redjowl. This is a highly aggressive polar bear with distinctive reddish pink coloration on one cheek. Redcheeks will attack any beast or man that it encounters – but against the king of bears they meet their match.
Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.
Uiluruyak is the Yupik word for the meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius). Hunters say it may be encountered on the sea-ice of Alaska. Nelson interprets the name as “wi’-lû-ghó-yûk” and describes it as a sea shrew.
When a uiluruyak sees someone, it darts at them with blinding speed, piercing through the sole of their boot and crawling all over their body underneath the clothes. If the victim stands perfectly still, the uiluruyak will leave by the same hole it entered; not only that, but those who have earned its approval in this way go on to become successful hunters.
If one should move even slightly while the uiluruyak is exploring, the rodent immediately burrows into its victim’s flesh, piercing their heart and killing them.
It is recommended that one stand perfectly quiet and still when seeing a mouse on the ice, just in case it is a uiluruyak.
Jacobson, S. A. ed. (2012) Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, v. I. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Nelson, E. W. (1900) The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Extract from the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, Washington.
The Borana Oromo people of Ethiopia were once in thrall to the Liqimsa, “swallowers”. These were two vile man-eating monsters that looked like elephants, and they demanded a daily tribute of human flesh.
At this rate, the Borana knew they would be exterminated before long. Some fled their tormentors, settling in different areas and starting new lineages. Others went south, but the liqimsa followed them and swallowed them all.
Only thirty warriors survived and took refuge on the Namdur hill. Among those were two brothers – the elder was known for his cunning, and the younger renowned for his courage.
The older of the brothers faced the liqimsa and announced “By the grace of Waaqa, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will become immortal!” The two monsters began to argue, then fight, each claiming to more deserving of the gift of immortality. Soon they were uprooting trees and bludgeoning each other in their fury. This was the perfect opportunity for the younger brother to seize two lances, heat their points in fire, and run the monsters through their bellies.
With the liqimsa dead the Borana were free to repopulate and recolonize the areas they had lost, as well as conquer new regions and drive out their inhabitants.
Huntingford saw the legend of the liqimsa as a mythologizing of a historical event – namely, a series of military defeats inflicted by the Sidama people on the Borana.
The tale of Dhuga is probably derived from the liqimsa. Dhuga (“he drinks”) was bigger than an elephant and as tall as the Mega escarpment. A man would be sacrificed to him every day as food. This ended when a passing stranger released Dhuga’s current victim and attacked the monster while it was rolling in the dust to scratch its back and remove parasites. The stranger ran Dhuga’s belly through with a lance whose tip had been heated red-hot in fire, and that was the end of the monster.
Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.
Huntingford, G. W. B. (1955) The Galla of Ethiopia – The Kingdoms of Kafa and Janjero. International African Institute, London.
Greenland, notably Aasiaat, tell of a gigantic maggot called Quvdlugiarsuaq. It
is so big that the legend of Aqigsiaq tells of a dwelling place that survived
an entire winter on the blubber of one quvdlugiarsuaq.
is a similar creature described as a giant caterpillar. It is dangerous to
K. (1924) Ethnography of the Egedesminde
District. Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri, Copenhagen.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first notable record of Kludde’s appearance was penned in 1840 in Ternat, by the Baron of Saint-Genois. This back-riding shapeshifter appears in Brabant and Flanders, notably in Merchtem and in Dendermonde, where he lives in the Dendre. In Ostend he is considered a necker or nix, and the flat country knows him as a werewolf. He causes fear and confusion and drinks green pond-water, but avoids crosses and consecrated areas.
comes out at night in the Flemish mists. He has earned his name from the call
he cries while fleeing – “Kludde, Kludde”! As a shapeshifter, he has no fixed
appearance, and Kludde has been encountered in the forms of a great black dog
with a rattling chain around its neck, a half-starved horse, a sheep, a cat, a bat,
a frog, or even a tree. The only constant in Kludde’s transformations is the
presence of two dancing blue flames that flit ahead of him. These are Kludde’s
Kludde plays are mischievous but not deadly. In the guise of a black dog or werewolf
he will jump onto a person’s neck, and vanish after wrestling his victim to the
ground. As a horse, he tricks people into riding him, only to gallop full-tilt
and fling his rider into a body of water. As his erstwhile jockey flounders in
the water, Kludde lies on his belly and laughs loud and long, vanishing only
when the victim emerges from the water. As a tree, Kludde appears as a small
and delicate sapling, before growing to such a height that his branches are
lost in the clouds. This unexpected event shocks and unnerves all who see it,
and amuses Kludde.
foolish to evade Kludde, as he can wind like a snake in any direction, foiling
attempts to outmaneuver him. Trying to seize him is like grabbing air, and it
leaves burns behind. He can also make himself invisible to some people and not
to others, driving travelers out of their minds as they try to describe the
protean creature tailing them – yet when their companions look behind, they see
nothing but an empty road.
de Blécourt, W. (2007) “I
Would Have Eaten You Too”: Werewolf
Legends in the Flemish, Dutch, and German Area. Folklore 118, pp. 23-43.
van Hageland, A. (1973) La Mer Magique. Marabout, Paris.
J. C. (1863) Dictionnaire Infernal.
Henri Plon, Paris.
Thorpe, B. (1852) Northern Mythology, v. III. Edward
Chemosit is a demonic bogey that prowls the lands of the Nandi in Kenya. Half man, half bird, Chemosit stands on a single leg and has nine buttocks. Its mouth is red and shines brightly at night like a lamp. A spear-like stick serves as a means of propulsion and as a crutch.
People are Chemosit’s food, but it loves the flesh of children above all else. At night it sings a song near places where children live, its mouth glowing in the darkness. Unwary children seeing the light and hearing the song believe it to be a dance. They head out into the night to find the party and are never seen again.
Hollis, A. C. (1909) The Nandi, their Language and Folk-lore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
The Guiamala is found in the African kingdoms of Gadoua and Giaca (or Gadda and Jaka), east of the kingdom of Bambuk. It is a huge animal, taller than an elephant but not as bulky, and capable of moving swiftly. It is a sort of camel, having a long neck, a camel-like head, and a dromedary’s hump or two on its back. Its legs are incredibly long to allow it to stand over 20 feet tall. For defense the guiamala is equipped with seven straight, pointed horns, each about two feet long. The horns are black, covered with tawny hair and a black point. The hair falls off after the horn has grown to a certain length. The hooves are cloven like an ox’s.
Guiamalas are not picky eaters, and will eat thorns and other low-quality browse. They also eat very little, allowing them to survive in arid areas. They are docile and harmless and could feasibly make good pack animals. Their flesh is edible and tender.
Delisle de Sales, J. C. (1769) Dictionnaire Theorique et Pratique de Chasse et de Pesche. J. B. G. Musier, Paris.
Labat, J. B. (1728) Nouvelle Relation de l’Afrique Occidentale, t. IV. Pierre-Francois Giffart, Paris.
The Roperite is one of the few Fearsome Critters found outside the northern lumberwoods. Its home is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where the digger pine grows, and it tends to live in herds. An active and gregarious animal, it has not been seen in a while, and there is concern that it may already be extinct.
Roperite biology is a mystery. We know that it is the size of a small pony, and that it has a a remarkable rope-like beak which it uses to lasso its prey. Its skin is leathery and impervious to the thorn and rock of its chaparral habitat. Its legs are well-developed and flipper-like. A. B. Patterson of Hot Springs, CA, reported a tail with a large set of rattles. It is unknown whether roperites are bipedal or quadrupedal, whether they are fish, fowl, or beast, and whether they lay eggs, give birth to live young, or emerge fully-formed from mountain caves. Local legend has it that they are the reincarnated ghosts of Spanish ranchers.
Roperites run at blistering speed. Their legs give them a gait halfway between bounding and flying. Nothing can outrun them, and no obstacle can slow them down. Even roadrunners are trampled or kicked aside. Roperites are predators that chase down their prey and lasso them with incredible dexterity, then proceed to drag their through thornbushes until they die. The rattles on the tail are used to impressive effect during the chase, intimidating quarry with a whirring din worthy of a giant rattlesnake. Jackrabbits and the occasional lumberjack are taken.
Brown, C. E. (1935) Paul Bunyan Natural History. Madison, Wisconsin.
Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.
Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.
The Guji Oromo of Ethiopia tell of a brother and sister who went down to the river to fetch water. There they met a Bulgu, “cannibal”, a fearsome ogre with four eyes, a head like an axe blade, arms like axe handles, and stocky legs like pestles. Before the children could react, the bulgu seized and devoured the boy. As he licked his lips, he told the girl “If you tell anyone about what you just saw, I will eat you, you and all in your family!”
The traumatized girl ran home in tears. When questioned by her father about her missing brother, she remembered the bulgu’s words and said “He got lost in the brush, he wandered off alone”. But all she could think of was her brother’s death and the ogre’s threat, and she refused to eat for days, wasting away. Eventually she became too weak to move, and called her father to her bedside. “Father, build me nine high, thick fences around the house, and I will tell you why my brother disappeared”. Nine palisades were constructed of juniper, and the daughter finally told all. The father was incensed. He built a platform of branches above the hut to hide his daughter, then seized his lance and went off to slay the bulgu.
It was all in vain. The bulgu had heard every word the girl said, and approached the hut after the father was gone. Ten magic formulae were mumbled, and the nine gates and the door burst open. The bulgu searched high and low for the girl, and he wouldn’t have found her if she had not broken wind in fear. When her parents returned, the only thing left of her was her middle finger.
Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.
Tutschek, L. (1845) Dictionary of the Galla Language, v. II. F. Wild, Munich.