Bigorne

Variations: Bugorne; Bicorne, Bycorne, Bulchin, Fill-Gutt (English); Biurro, Biarro, Biligornia, Tantafera (Italian)

Bigorne

Bigorne is as corpulent as its counterpart Chicheface is emaciated. This bloated creature was said to feed solely on husbands who obeyed their wives, and as such was fat and well-fed. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

The name Bigorne is presumably derived from bicornis, “two-horned”, and also refers to a two-horned anvil. Bigorne itself claims to hail from the fictitious land of Bigornois. The word and variations of it have also been used to refer to debauched old women, to navy infantrymen (bigorniaux or bigreniaux), and to periwinkle snails (bigornebigorneau).

Representations of Bigorne show a massive creature taking clear inspiration from the better-known Tarasque. It has overlapping scales on its rounded back, a smooth belly with lozenge-like scales, clawed bestial forepaws, webbed hindpaws, and a tufted tail. Its face is somewhat human in appearance, unlike that of Chicheface. Alas, no horns are present.

Bigorne has no shortage of patient and submissive husbands to feed on. In its signature poem, Le dit de Bigorne (“The say of Bigorne”), it states that Bons hommes sont bons a manger (“Good men are good to eat”). It is accosted by a desperate man who seeks deliverance from his wife, begging it to eat him; the Bigorne has to excuse itself as it’s still working on its last meal – Attens ong peu beau damoyseau / Laisse mavaller ce morceau / Qui est tresbon ie ten asseure / Et puis a toy ie parleray / Et voulentiers tescouteray (“Wait a bit handsome youth / Let me swallow this morsel / Which is quite delicious I assure you / And then I will talk to you / And gladly listen”). It refers to women and Chicheface disdainfully and brags of its gluttony: Ils viennent a moy a milliers / Aussi grans comme de pilliers (“They come to me in the thousands / Each as big as a pillar”). It finally consents to eat the man; this being a medieval farce, the poem ends on a suitably crude tone as the Bigorne requests that he not break wind or urinate while it swallows him. Il ne te fault point deschausser / Ni despoiller, cest ma nature / Bons hommes font ma nourriture (“You needn’t remove your shoes / Or undress, for it’s my nature / Good men are my food”).

Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles. A masquerade in Florence in the first half of the 16th century saw the likeness of a monstrous beast paraded through the streets. Dubbed Biurro, it bore a sign on its chest proclaiming: Io son Biurro che mangio coloro che fanno a modo delle mogli loro (“I am Biurro and I eat those who do their wives’ bidding”).

The uglier Chicheface has proven more popular than its content companion. Stripped of its chauvinistic overtones, the Bigorne is also a fearsome black beast that roams around Saintonge at night.

References

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

de Chesnel, A. (1857) Dictionnaire de Technologie, t. I. J. P. Migne, Rue d’Amboise, Paris.

Gay, J. (1871) Bibliographie des ouvrages relatifs a l’amour, t. II. J. Gay et Fils, Turin.

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

Silvestre, L. C. (1840) Bigorne qui mange tous les hommes qui font le commandement de leurs femmes. Crapelet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Tuyango

Variations: Tagänogók

tuyango

The Tuyango is a carnivorous swamp bird from Argentinian folklore. The Mocoví know it as Tagänogók, while “tuyango” is of Guaraní origin. These birds are currently believed to have been hunted to extinction.

A tuyango looks a lot like a rhea, but it has a distinctive yellow neck. It preys on humans, which it kills and drags back to its lair to devour.

The hawk had a particular vendetta against the tuyangos, and sought to avenge their cannibalism of humans. One tuyango returned to his home with two dead men only to find his four children clubbed to death. The tuyango cried, ejeeejee, before heading out with his mate to find the hawk. But the hawk asked for fire, and he flew in and out of the smoke until the tuyangos were exhausted and thoroughly confused; only then did he club and kill them. He returned to widespread joy; when his daughter told him “Daddy, a cannibal bird is coming”, he reassured her that he had already killed the tuyango, and all were happy.

References

Cipolletti, M. S.; Guevara, J.; Lehmann-Nitsche, R.; Terán, B. R. D.; and Tomasini, J. A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1988) Folk Literature of the Mocoví Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Indombe

indombe

Indombe is fire, Indombe is life, Indombe is motherhood, Indombe is a slave to the power of death. She is an enormous copper snake over three feet wide, and several miles in length, and she makes her home in the trees of the Congo. Her cupreous body glows red with internal heat; she is immeasurably old, associated with the sun and the sunset in particular. Her tale is mysterious and metaphorical, and her ancestry is probably Semitic.

Itonde, hero and creator figure of the Congo, had been sent on a bizarre errand. His sister-in-law was pregnant, and she had developed a craving for snakes, so Itonde and his brother Lofale went into the forest to find them. There they saw Indombe coiled in a tree, shining bright as the sun. “Great Indombe”, said Itonde, “come down and let us talk together”. As Indombe refused to leave her perch, Itonde started chanting: “Indombe of the Bakongo, come down so I may carry you!” The giant snake was furious. “How dare you try to bewitch me?” she roared, causing her flames to flare and illuminate the entire forest. She then put her red-hot head on Itonde’s shoulder, severely burning him and leaving him for dead.

Fortunately for Itonde he was the owner of a magic bell, and he rang it, immediately recovering from his injuries. He did not want Indombe to gain the advantage of nightfall, so he captured the sun itself. Indombe next tried to constrict him, but Itonde kept ringing his bell, causing him to grow taller and stronger while the snake weakened.

It was in this state that Itonde triumphantly carried Indombe back to his village. He set her down outside the entrance of the village, and Indombe immediately coiled around the village and swallowed every last man, woman, and child. “You monster!” cried Itonde. “I’ll kill you, cut you up, and eat you!” Itonde produced his enchanted machete, and Indombe, seeing her death approaching, warned the hero. “If you kill me, eat me all today; you will not survive if you leave a single piece”. She was then promptly decapitated, cut into slices, and fried in oil. Itonde ate every piece, but left the inedible head, putting it under his bed.

Next morning, he awake to the horrifying discovery that Indombe was still there – but was now a ghost! “I told you eat all of me” she explained, “so now I return as a spirit, to aid you and show you a good place to live”. The spectral copper snake led Itonde to her village, a beautiful, disease-free location for future generations. Itonde then found out that Lofale was dead, killed by Indombe; but he could not avenge himself on a ghost, so he sought out a man in the forest. His quarry tried to hide by transforming into the first sugar-cane, but Itonde found and killed him as an expiatory sacrifice, discovering sugar-cane in the process.

“This village shall be yours because you are a strong fighter”, said Indombe. “Your name shall now be Ilelangonda. Farewell to you all”. With that the ghostly snake coiled up, jumped into the river, and disappeared.

References

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

Calopus

Variations: Aeternae, Analopos, Antalope, Antholops, Aptaleon, Aptolos, Pantolops; Jachamur, Jachmur, Jamur, Yamur (Bochart); Chatloup (erroneously)

Calopus

The antelope was known to the Greeks as Analopos (and variations thereof, derived from the Coptic Pantolops according to Bochart) and to the Romans as Calopus, “pretty foot” . These creatures were believed to inhabit India, Syria, and the Euphrates basin, and were fond of drinking the cool Euphrates water.

A calopus resembled a roe deer in appearance and size, with the exception of large saw-toothed horns growing out of their heads. These horns can be used to shred branches and human limbs alike, but are also easily entangled in thickets. A calopus trapped in this way will cry out, making it easily found and killed by hunters.

Alexander the Great encountered a number of these antelopes in India, where at least one obscure account refers to them as “aeternae”. The creatures pierced the Macedonian shields with their horns, but they were no match for Alexander’s soldiers, who slew anywhere from five thousand and four hundred to eight thousand five hundred and fifty of them. This, Topsell concludes, is the reason why we barely see any more of these animals.

Possible identities for the calopus include a number of antelopes, but also the moose, whose tree-shredding behavior may have inspired the calopus’ serrated weapons.

The “chatloup” (“catwolf”) name popularized by Barber and Rose appears to be a corruption of calopus.

References

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

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

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

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Behemoth

Variations: Shor Ha-bar (“Wild Ox”), Bahamut, Bahamoot

Behemoth

Behemoth is the plural form of the Hebrew behemah, or “animal”; appropriately, the word is used to describe a creature of vast size and bulk.

The best-known reference to Behemoth is offered in the Biblical book of Job (40:15-24), where it is mentioned in God’s whirlwind tour of humbling natural wonders. The Behemoth eats grass like an ox, and its strength is in its muscular loins and tight-knit thigh sinews. Its tail stiffens like a cedar, its bones are like bronze, and its legs like iron bars. Despite its power, it is apparently passive and indolent, lying in marshes under lotus plants, and feeding in the mountains alongside the wild animals. Behemoth does not fear the river when it rushes into its mouth, and cannot be taken with hooks; only God can approach it.

Psalms 50:10 makes reference to “the behemoth on a thousand hills”, nowadays translated to “the cattle on a thousand hills”. The Midrash elaborates on that, making the Behemoth large enough to sit on the thousand mountains it feeds on, and making it drink six to twelve months’ worth of the Jordan River in one gulp.

The Talmud gives the Behemoth further cosmic significance. The behemoth were created male and female, but to prevent them destroying the Earth, God castrated the male and preserved the female in the World-to-Come for the righteous. This vision of the Behemoth has been interpreted as metaphoric, with the Behemoth representing materialism and the physical world.

If Behemoth is an animal known to us today, the primary candidates are the wild ox, the elephant, and the hippopotamus. The wild ox seems dubious, otherwise the Behemoth would not eat grass “like” an ox. The elephant’s trunk may have been the basis for the “tail”, but the description refers to stiffening, something which the hippo’s tail does. Another possibility is that the “tail” is in a fact a euphemism, and the description refers to the virility and vigor of the bull hippopotamus. Further details – living in water, feeding on land, a mouth big enough for the Jordan to rush into, terrifying power – all but prove that the hippopotamus is the subject of Job’s verses. Bochart agreed, heading his discussion of Behemoth with “non esse elephantum, ut volunt, sed hippopotamum“.

The Arabian Bahamut is a further magnification of the already-large Behemoth, turning it into a vast cosmic fish, one of the foundations on which the Earth stands. It is so big that all the seas and oceans of the Earth placed in its nostril would be like a mustard seed in a desert.

Behemoth is now a synonym for any large animal. Buel gives us behemoth as a possible originator of the word “mammoth”, alongside the Latin mamma and the Arabic mehemot.

The suggestion that Behemoth is a late-surviving dinosaur is best left unaddressed.

References

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

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

Buel, J. W. (1887) Sea and Land. Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Slifkin, N. (2011) Sacred Monsters. Zoo Torah, Jerusalem.

Margot la Fée

Variations: Margot-la-Fée, Margot, La Bonne Femme Margot (The Good Woman Margot), Ma Commère Margot (My Godmother Margot), Fée Morgant

Margot

The Margot la Fée, “Margot the Fairy”, or more simply Margot, are fairies native to Brittany, particularly Collinée, Lamballe, Moncontour, and most of the Côtes-d’Armor. They are generally seen as benevolent and protective, but capable of deadly violence when provoked. The name of Margot – also used for magpies – is probably derived from Morgan or Morgana, as evidenced by the alternative name of Morgant; most local names are placatory terms of affection. Margot fairies are closely associated with megaliths, caves, treasures, and snakes, leaving the beaches to the Fées des Houles and the Groac’h.

Like most fairies, Margot fairies vary a lot in appearance, appearing as both young and old women as well as animals. They spend part of their time as snakes, both willingly and against their will, in which form they are most vulnerable. They possess considerable magical powers, dance in circles at night, haunt dolmens, swap babies with voracious changelings, and flee religious symbols.  Sometimes a Margot would take a fancy to a handsome young shepherd and choose to keep him in a cave for herself. In those cases time itself would seem to slow down, such were the pleasures that the fairy offered.

Margot fairies happily care for the livestock of their neighbors, even going so far as to feed them in the caverns while their owners were away. The Margot’s own livestock remained in the caves, emerging only to feed. On the other hand, hungry Margot fairies will tear a cow to pieces and devour it, only to restore it to life by the next morning, missing only any pieces that had been eaten by humans during the feast.

Margot fairies are often the guardians of fabulous riches. They will handsomely reward those who aid them, and punish any who take advantage of their generosity. If they tell you to take a certain amount of treasure and no more than that, you would be wise to follow their instructions to the letter. One man who took more gold from the Crokélien Hill fairies than he was instructed to had his son taken away from him, never to be seen again.

Other gifts of the Margot are more prosaic. They will offer piping hot loaves of bread to the hungry – loaves that never get smaller, no matter how many slices are cut from them. But if a piece is offered to someone else deemed unworthy by the fairies, the loaf will no longer regenerate.

Small acts of compassion are looked on with great favor. Two harvesters, resting after scything wheat, encountered a little grass snake eating the breadcrumbs they left behind. One tried to kill it, while the other stopped him, saying it would be wrong to kill a small, harmless animal. In the evening a Margot appeared to the second man and thanked him for protecting her daughter. She gave him two belts, one for him and one for his friend, telling him not to mix them up. His was of pure gold, while the other he tied to an oak tree, which wilted overnight.

Another man working near the hill of Crokélien encountered a Margot, who asked a favor of him. “Bring a large washtub with you”, she said, “and go to the Planchettes Bridge at sunrise. There you will find a grass snake. Put the washtub over it and sit on top. If anybody asks you why you’re there, tell them you’re waiting for the blacksmiths to fix the tub. At sundown, remove the tub, and you shall be richly rewarded for your help”. The man did as he was told, and sure enough, the snake was there at the bridge as the fairy had said. He covered it with the washtub and sat patiently there for the rest of the day, weathering the taunts and jeers of passers-by with aplomb. At sunset he removed the tub to find a beautiful maiden underneath. She was the Margot’s daughter, who transformed into a snake one day every year, and would have been killed had it not been for the man’s intervention. As promised, he never wanted for gold or silver for the rest of his life.

Human midwives will also be recruited by Margots to aid them in childbirth, gifting them with the power of second sight for the occasion. But woe to her if she let on that she could still see the fairies! A vindictive Margot would gouge her eye out, or spit in her face and blind her.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1996) La Grande Encyclopédie des Fées. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1887) Légendes Locales de la Haute-Bretagne: Les Margot la Fée. Maisonneuve et Ch. Leclerc, 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. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1968) Le folklore de la Bretagne. Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.

Usilosimapundu

Variations: Ugungqu-kubantwana, Ugunqu-kubantwana

Usilosimapundu

Usilosimapundu, “the rugose beast” or “the nodulated beast”, is a creature of superlatives. There are hills and mountains on his vast body, with rivers on one side, highlands on another, forests on the next, highlands and cliffs on other sides; he is so large that it is winter on one side of him and summer on the other. Two enormous trees, the Imidoni, serve as Usilosimapundu’s officers and servants. Usilosimapundu’s head is a huge rock, with eyes and a broad red mouth. He is a swallower, like many oversized African creatures, but also a force of nature, a personification of landslides and earthquakes.

The sorceress-princess Umkxakaza-wakogingqwayo (“Rattler of weapons of the place of the rolling of the slain”) was promised a great many cattle by her father the king, and the land was scoured for the finest livestock available. Unfortunately the very best cattle proved to be the property of Usilosimapundu. “Take them now”, he warned the soldiers, “but do not expect to get away with it”.

Umkxakaza was greatly pleased by her gift, and Usilosimapundu’s threat was forgotten as the years went by. That is, until the day the earth shook, and Usilosimapundu came to Umkxakaza’s doorstep. Two leaves detached from the Imidoni and took human form before heading for Umkxakaza and ordering her to do their bidding. They forced her to help prepare food for Usilosimapundu to eat – and eat he did, swallowing up everything in town. Finally Usilosimapundu had Umkxakaza climb onto his back, and he lumbered away with his trophy.

Of course, Umkxakaza’s father sent his armies to retrieve his daughter, but what good were the weapons of man against a living continent? Their spears landed in rocks, grass, ponds, trees – none of them had any effect on Usilosimapundu. Umkxakaza’s mother was the only one who continued to follow Usilosimapundu, and the beast obligingly gave her maize and sugarcane to eat while she hurried behind him, but eventually even the queen had to give up. She kissed Umkxakaza, weeping, bidding her to go in peace.

Usilosimapundu dropped Umkxakaza off in a fully furnished cave. “Your father spoiled me by taking my cattle”, he said, “so now I have spoiled him. He will never see you again”. With that Usilosimapundu left and was not seen again.

That was far from the end of Umkxakaza’s adventures, as she was abducted by the Amadhlungundhlebe half-men who fattened her up for eating. She escaped those new captors by summoning a storm, and made her way back to her father’s town, where she was greeted with joy and celebration.

Usilosimapundu has a female counterpart in Ugungqu-kubantwana, the mother of animals. Her name refers to the sound she makes when moving – gungqu, gungqu – rather like that made by a heavy wagon on a bumpy road.

References

Callaway, C. (1868) Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus. Trübner and Co., London.