Vatnaormur

Variations: Water Serpent, Lake Serpent; Lagarfljotsormurinn, Lagarfljot Worm; Lyngorm, Slug

The lakes of Iceland are home to a wide variety of Vatnaormar, “water serpents”. These serve as the Icelandic equivalent of lindorms, water-horses, and other malignant freshwater monsters.

Most famous of these is the Lagarfljot serpent. This creature originated in a farm in the Herad, near Lagarfljot Lake. A woman gave her daughter a golden ring, and suggested she put it under a lyngorm – a slug, literally “heath snake”. In a few days the snake was so big it was bursting through the linen-box where the ring was kept. The terrified girl tossed box, snake, and ring into the Lagarfljot.

With the passing of years the snake grew big enough to prey on people and livestock. It would also spew venom onto the land. In the end it met its match in either Bishop Gudmundur Arason, two Lapp sorcerers, or a magically-empowered poet. Regardless of who it was, they were brought in to kill the serpent, but found the creature too powerful to kill. So instead it was bound, with a rope tied around its neck and another around its tail. The beast now lies bound at the bottom of Lagarfljot for all time; occasionally it arches its back over the water, and that is an ill omen. It has been sighted multiple times in 1479, 1555, 1594, 1749-1750 and 1819, appearing as a great snake with humps or spikes on its back, or a monstrous horse. Sometimes it stretches itself onto the riverbanks while spewing massive amounts of poison. It is referred to in a 1590 geographical map of Iceland, with the ominous text “A huge monster has its lair in this lake, constituting a danger to the inhabitants and appearing ahead of significant events”.

The serpent that grows along with the treasure it guards is a recurring motif, first appearing in the saga of Ragnar Lodbrok where the serpent eventually has to be slain by the titular hero.

The story of the serpent of Skorradalsvatn is identical to and older than that of the Lagarfljot serpent; it appears that its account was transposed to Lagarfljot over time.

Other Icelandic water serpents include the Hvalvatn serpent (striped with a cat-like head), the huge Hvita River serpents (gaudy in Arnessysla, striped in Borgarfjordur), the Kleifarvatn serpent (30-40 meters long and black in color), the large Skafta River serpent (multi-colored), and the mysterious dry-land serpent of Surtshellir.

References

Boucher, A. (1994) Elves and Stories of Trolls and Elemental Beings. Iceland Review, Reykjavik.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Simpson, J. (1972) Icelandic Folktales and Legends. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Beast of Barrisdale

Variations: Wild Beast of Barrisdale, Loch Hourn Monster

The Beast of Barrisdale lives near Loch Hourn in Scotland. Unlike other lake monsters, it has three legs, two in front and one in back, which leave distinctive tracks in Barrisdale Bay. It also has huge wings which allow it to fly. It makes its lair in the Knoydart Hills, near the dark cliffs of Ladhar Bheinn.

At the end of the 19th century, a crofter from Barrisdale said he frequently saw it soaring high over the Knoydart hills. Once it chased him with malicious intent, but he made it home safely – slamming the door in its face, no less, as he used to relate. An old man by the name of Ranald MacMaster also claimed to have found the tracks of the monster in the hills and along the sandy beaches around Barrisdale Bay. The monster’s frightful roar is said to be heard by night.

References

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

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Mitchell, W. R. (1990) It’s a Long Way to Muckle Flugga: Journeys in Northern Scotland. Souvenir Press, London.

Bès Kotak

Variations: Hantu Kotak (Malay), Box Spirit

Bès Kotak, “box spirit”, is a bès or spirit from the folklore of the Jah Hut people of Malaysia. It is apparently box-like in appearance and is a river spirit that lives in the muddy hollows of rivers.

When a person dives into the river to catch fish, the box spirit presses or sits on that person, causing them to become heavy, sink into the mud, and drown. Two or three days later the body will float to the surface, proof of the fate that awaits any who invade Bès Kotak’s domain.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Hoga

Variations: Andura

Tenochtitlan, the great city of Mexico, is built on pilings on Lake Texcoco, much like Venice. In that lake is found numbers of the fish known as Hoga by the natives of the land and the Spaniards, and as Andura (vampire bat!) by natives further south.

A hoga has a head and ears very like those of a hog. It is the size of a seal or porpoise. There are five half-foot-long barbels around its mouth. When swimming it seems to change color from red to yellow to green like a chameleon. It gives birth to live young like a whale does.

Hogas are omnivorous. They live close to the shore where they feed on the leaves of the hoga tree. They are highly aggressive, as dangerous as the velachif, and will kill and eat animals larger than them, which is why they are hunted relentlessly. Their flesh is delicious and tastes like albacore.

The hoga skin in Thevet’s possession was destroyed by vermin, but fortunately he claims to have seen the creature alive in person.

Delaunay believed the lake not to be Lake Texcoco, but rather the nearby Lake Chalco. The Hoga could not be positively identified.

References

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

Paré, A.; Pallister, J. L. trans. (1982) On Monsters and Marvels. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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

Mahwot

Variations: Mahwot’, Mawhot’

The Mahwot is a monstrous creature that makes its home in the Meuse River snaking through the Ardennes. A lizard-like amphibious monster the size of a calf, it runs back and forth on the bottom of the river from Revin to Liège and back. It has been sighted at Revin and Givet on a July night in 1870.

Its primary purpose lies in keeping children away from the water. As an aquatic bogey, it will not hesitate to pull in and devour any child foolish enough to play too near the Meuse.

The mahwot rarely leaves the water. Its appearance on land is believed to be a bad omen, presaging death, war, or pestilence. More importantly, it will haul itself onto land at the beck and call of angry mothers to eat naughty children. As the warning in the local dialect goes, “V’la le Mahwot, si tu n’ti tais nai, d’ji vas t’fouaire mandjie!” (“here’s the mahwot, if you don’t shut up right now, I’ll have you eaten!”). The phrase is effective.

References

Lambot, J. (1987) L’Ardenne. Pierre Mardaga, Brussels.

Meyrac, A. (1890) Traditions, coutumes, légendes et contes des Ardennes. Petit Ardennais, Charleville.

Ugjuknarpak

Variations: Giant Mouse

The giant mouse Ugjuknarpak once lived on an island in the middle of a long, narrow lake near the source of the Colville River in Alaska. It was like a field mouse in appearance, but it had impenetrable skin. So thick and hard was its hide that even the largest harpoons, knives, and arrows could not penetrate it. It was also armed with a long, prehensile tail that it coiled around its prey.

The Inuit traveling to Nerleq to trade with the people of Point Barrow lived in constant fear of the Ugjuknarpak. If anyone made the slightest sound in the vicinity of the island, the giant mouse would pounce upon them, grabbing and capsizing the umiaqs with its long tail before biting the people to death and devouring them.

Trade slowed as the Ugjuknarpak continued its depredations. But it could not be avoided, as the people needed to go down the river to buy blubber on the coast, and return before the river froze in order to hunt caribou.

One day a man, fearing for his daughter’s life, decided to put her on an umiaq separate from the main fleet. This one had few people and fewer dogs and babies that might make sounds. He himself took one of the more crowded umiaqs – and his fear was realized. Along the way a dog snarled a little, and the Ugjuknarpak pricked up its ears and fell upon the boats. The girl, on the other hand, had passed ahead in safety. She never saw her parents and brothers again, and she knew that the giant mouse had killed them.

In time the girl was married and had a son of her own. As soon as he could understand, his mother told him “you are now a boy, and you will become a man, but you will never be strong enough to avenge your parents and uncles”. She did this knowing that, far from being discouraged, the boy would be goaded into slaying Ugjuknarpak.

The boy grew into a tall and powerful young man and took the name of Kugshavak, “Woodpecker”. He was soon joined by his brother Hagáneq, “Fellow”, a boy with hands like the flippers of a bearded seal. He too was motivated to avenge his fallen kin.

The brothers had adventures together and performed great feats, until the day came when they set out to slay Ugjuknarpak. They set out in the early morning and reached the island silently. Ugjuknarpak was just waking up and yawning, its jaws so big the brothers could see the dawn through them. Woodpecker paddled around the island in his umiaq while Fellow swam alongside him with the ease of a seal.

Ugjuknarpak soon noticed them and set off in pursuit. The brothers led it to a plain by the river. There they dodged its every lunge and bite while studying it, and finally noticed that its skin crinkled at one place on its neck. That must be its weak spot. Armed with flint knives on long spears, they stabbed the giant mouse as its fury redoubled. The brothers pressed their attack on the weakened, bleeding monster until at last it collapsed and died. The brothers found many broken knives and arrowheads in its skin, witnesses to Ugjuknarpak’s resilience.

The head was severed along the neck’s weak spot. It was taken to Ivnaq, a place on the river where all umiaqs could see it as they passed by. The head decayed, but it is still terrifying to see; it is the size of a walrus’s head, with long fangs and a long gristly nose like that of a field mouse. It lost none of the terror it once inspired. Those paddling by it speak in whispers and tie their dogs’ noses so they make no sound.

References

Ostermann, H.; Calvert, W. E. trans. (1952) The Alaskan Eskimos as Described in the Posthumous Notes of Dr. Knud Rasmussen. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Bès Pa’

Variations: Hantu Kotak (Malay), Pa’, Spirit Pa’

Bès Pa’, the Spirit Pa’, is a river jellyfish spirit that can expand to any size it wishes. It is usually found living in deep mud. Anyone who steps on a buried pa’ will fall into the mud along with the spirit. To prevent this, one must take a finely crushed mixture of iron rust and broken glass and sprinkle it over the offending muddy area.

References

Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

Funkwe

The Funkwe is a colossal snake from the folklore of the Lambas of Zambia. It is approximately eighty miles in length and has a tail like that of a fish. These serpents live at the sources of the Kafulafuta and Itabwa rivers, coiled up in holes deep beneath the surface.

When a funkwe wants fish to be abundant, it starts swimming downstream, followed by schools of fish. Eventually its head reaches the great Kafue river while its tail is still at the source of the Kafulafuta – a span of eighty miles. It returns from the big river and brings the big fish with it.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

Hujiao

Variations: Tiger-dragon, Crocodile-tiger, Cuo-fish, Tiger-cuo

The Yin River and the Yangtze are home to large numbers of Hujiao, or tiger-dragons. A hujiao has the body of a fish with the tail of a snake, and makes a sound like a mandarin duck. It is probably the same as the cuo-fish, whose young hide in their mother’s womb, and the tiger-cuo, which has black and yellow patterns, the ears, eyes, and teeth of a tiger, and is capable of turning into a tiger. All of those are probably sharks.

Eating hujiao flesh prevents hemorrhoids.

References

Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Chipique

A serpent lives at the foot of Victoria Falls – at least, that’s what Dr. Livingstone presumed. Barotse folklore holds that this monster, the Chipique, came from the ocean, traveling over a thousand miles to rest at the falls.

The chipique rules the river by night, and it is unsafe to approach Victoria Falls during that time. Thirty feet in length, the chipique can easily grab a canoe and immobilize it. Its head is small and slate-grey, while its serpentine, heavy body winds in black coils.

Eyewitnesses include Mr. V. Pare, who saw the chipique in 1925. It reared and disappeared into a cave.

References

Green, L. G. (1956) There’s a Secret Hid Away. Howard Timmins, Cape Town.