Questing Beast

Variations: Beste Glapissante; Beste Glatissant, Bête Glatissante, Glatisant Beast; Beste Diverse, Bête Diverse, Diverse Beste, Diverse Beast; Besta Ladrador, Besta Desasemelhada (Portuguese, from the Demanda); Barking Beast, Yelping Beast

The Questing Beast is a creature of many names, sizes, and appearances. Several features, however, are consistent throughout its appearances in Arthurian legend. First, it very noisy, its offspring within its belly baying and yelping constantly. It is also always a portentous creature, but what it symbolizes has varied from author to author. Finally, it is commonly pursued or hunted, whether by knights or by its own offspring within its belly, and often ends up giving birth in the process.

Although “Questing Beast” has been popularized in the English-speaking world by Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the creature is more commonly known as the Beste Glatissant or Beste Glapissant (in modern French, Bête Glatissante or Bête Glapissante). Glatir or glapir refers to the sound coming from the creature’s belly, a yelping or baying sound like those of hounds chasing prey. This is also the definition of “questing”; a more accurate modern name would be the Yelping Beast or Barking Beast.

The concept of noisy animals in their mother’s womb precedes the Questing Beast. William of Malmesbury describes a dream that was had by King Eadgar. In it, the king sees a pregnant hunting dog lying at his feet. She was silent, but the pups in her womb were barking loudly. This was interpreted as meaning that after King Eadgar’s death, miscreants within his kingdom would bark against the church of God. In the Slavic Twelve Dreams of Sehachi, the titular character dreams of a foal neighing within a mare’s belly, and whelps barking in a dog’s belly; these are interpreted as mothers acting immodestly with their daughters and children rejecting the advice of their parents, respectively.

Another contributor to the genesis of the Questing Beast is the supernatural boar hunt. The most famous examples of those are the boar Twrch Trwyth and the sow Henwen. The latter is even more closely connected to the Questing Beast; like the Beast, Henwen (“Ancient White”) is white in color, and dangerously fecund. Her offspring were to be harmful to Britain, so she was hunted across the country, giving birth along the way to various young. Finally, Henwen disappeared into the sea at Penryn Awstin, similar to the stricken Questing Beast diving into a lake.

The oldest iterations of the Questing Beast have it encountered by Perceval over the course of his search for the Grail. In the Perlesvaus, Perceval finds a beautiful glade, with a red cross at the center of it. A knight dressed in white is seated at the far end of the glade, with a fair young damsel next to him. Soon a snow-white, emerald-eyed creature, between a fox and a hare in size, enters the glade. The whelps in its womb are barking like hounds, and it is terrified and agitated because of that. Perceval tries to take the small Beast onto his horse, but he is cautioned by the knight, who tells him the Beast has a destiny to fulfill. The Beast runs to the cross, where its twelve young are brought forth. They immediately tear their mother to pieces, but can only devour her head. Upon doing so, they go mad and scatter into the forest. King Pelles later explains the significance of the creature to Perceval: it represents Jesus Christ, and the twelve hounds that killed it and scattered are the twelve tribes of Israel.

Gerbert de Montreuil’s continuation of Perceval borrows from the Perlesvaus. We are not given a description of the Beast, but are instead told that it is grant a merveille (“marvelously large”). The Beast’s young are barking and yelping from within its belly, and when it comes up to the cross in the glade, they emerge violently, breaking it in two pieces. The young then devour their mother before going mad, turning on and killing each other. This bloody episode has a far more mundane meaning – Perceval is told that the loud, murderous whelps are the people who disturb church services by talking loudly and complaining about hunger!

In the Estoire du Saint Graal, there is a Beste Diverse (“Diverse Beast”) found beside a cross. No mention is made of its yelping, but it is white as snow, and has the head and neck of an ewe, the legs of a dog, black thighs, the body of a fox, and the tail of a lion. In the prose Merlin, the Diverse Beste or Beste Diverse sounds like 30 or 40 baying hounds and is moult grant (“very big”). Perceval is destined to hunt it.

In the prose Tristan, the Beste Glatissant has the legs of a stag, the thighs and tail of a lion, the body of a leopard, and the head of a snake; its yelping is equal to that of a hundred hunting hounds. The addition of snake, leopard, and lion elements grant it unsavory connotations; the combination of lion and leopard is reminiscent of the Beast of the Apocalypse, and a snake or dragon is always inauspicious.

No longer a creature of purity torn apart by its own offspring, the Questing Beast is now an evil, wretched being spawned from violence. Its mother was the daughter of King Ypomenes, who lusted for her brother. When she could not have him, she instead turned to a devil, who slept with her and convinced her to accuse her brother of attempting to rape her. He was duly sentenced to be torn apart by dogs. As he died, the brother proclaimed that his sister would give birth to a monster, one from whose belly the barking of dogs would forever remind others of his shameful death. As predicted, the daughter gave birth to the Questing Beast, and she was executed for her crimes.

The Saracen knight Palamides had particular reason to hate the Questing Beast, as its horrid shriek had killed eleven of his twelve brothers. In the Portuguese Demanda, the Questing Beast is finally slain during the last years of the Grail quest, when Palamides strikes it and it runs into a lake that immediately starts to boil. The lake has since then become known as the Lake of the Beast.

Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the foremost mention of the Questing Beast in English literature, follows the prose Tristan in its description. The Questing Beast is said to have a head like a serpent’s, a body like a leopard’s, buttocks like a lion’s, and feet like a hart. Its belly made a noise like thirty couple hounds barking. King Arthur first sees the Questing Beast after an illicit tryst with the wife of King Lot of Orkney. Arthur had stopped to rest by a well when the Questing Beast, making a horrid din, came up to drink from it. As it drank, the noise coming from its belly was quelled, but it started up against as soon as the creature had finished and ran off. Arthur then encountered Sir Pellinore, who hunted the Questing Beast. After Pellinore’s death, the task of hunting the Questing Beast was passed on to Sir Palamides.

Merlin later revealed to Arthur the significance of the Questing Beast. The king had seen the beast because he, too, had just done something unforgivable. The wife of King Lot was in fact his sister on his mother’s side, and the child of this adulterous and incestuous union – Mordred – was destined to destroy Arthur’s kingdom.

References

Evans, S. (1903) The High History of the Holy Graal. J. M. Dent & Co., London.

Gaster, M. (1900) The Twelve Dreams of Sehachi. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, pp. 623-635.

Löseth, E. (1891) Le Roman en Prose de Tristan, analyse critique. Emile Bouillon, Paris.

Malory, T. (1956) Le Morte d’Arthur, v. I. J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London.

Malory, T. (1956) Le Morte d’Arthur, v. II. J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London.

Nitze, W. A. (1902) The Old French Grail Romance Perlesvaus, A Study of its Principal Sources. John Murphy Company, Baltimore.

Nitze, W. A. (1936) The Beste Glatissant in Arthurian Romance. Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie, 56, pp. 409-418.

Paris, G. and Ulrich, J. (1886) Merlin: Roman en Prose du XIIIe Siècle, t. I. Librairie de Firmin Didot et Cie., Paris.

Pickford, C. E. (1959) L’evolution du Roman Arthurien en Prose vers la Fin du Moyen Age. A. G. Nizet, Paris.

Williams, M. (1925) Gerbert de Montreuil: La Continuation de Perceval, t. II. Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, Paris.

Qique

Variations: Qi-magpie, Qidui

“Where does the Qi-magpie dwell?” asks the Questions of Heaven. According to the Shan Hai Jing it makes its home on North Shouting Mountain. It looks like a chicken with a white head, the feet of a rat, and the claws of a tiger. It is a man-eater.

Mathieu identifies the que as the tree sparrow (Passer montanus). In the Questions of Heaven, the name Qi refers to the stars of Ursa Major, and the qidui is a quadrupedal fantastic beast. Mathieu concludes that the qique may have been a large bird of prey.

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.

Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent” or “Plumed Serpent” is one of the most iconic deities of the Mesoamerican pantheon. Sahagun also records a far more mundane creature by the same name.

The quetzalcoatl is found in the province of Totonacapan (Guatemala) and is the size of a medium water-snake. It is covered with feathers just like those of the quetzal bird. There are tzinitzcan, small light green feathers, on its neck, red feathers on its breast, and blue feathers on the tail and rings (coils?).

This snake is rarely seen, and when it does it flies and bites the person seeing it. Its bite is deadly and kills instantly, killing both it and its victim, for it exhales its venom and its life in one go.

References

Nuttall, Z. (1895) A Note on Ancient Mexican Folk-lore. The Journal of American Folklore, v. 8, no. 29, pp. 117-129.

Sahagun, B.; Jourdanet, D. and Siméon, R. trans. (1880) Histoire Générale des Choses de la Nouvelle-Espagne. G. Masson, 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.

Quvdlugiarsuaq

Variations: Auseq

Tales from 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.

The Auseq is a similar creature described as a giant caterpillar. It is dangerous to humans.

References

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

Qinyuan

Variations: Qinyuan-bird, Yuanyuan, Zhiyuan

Qinyuan

Mount Kunlun is the Pillar of Heaven, a place of great energy and endowed of a fiery brilliant aura. Four rivers – Black, Red, Yellow, and Oceanic – flow from Mount Kunlun, and the mountain is administered by the god Luwu, or the Queen Mother of the West Xi-Wangmu in later texts.

Many wonderful birds and beasts dwell on Mount Kunlun, including the Qinyuan or Qinyuan-bird. It looks like a bee, but is the size of a mandarin duck. Its sting is venomous enough to kill other animals and to wither trees.

Despite the classification as a “bird”, Mathieu believes it to be simply a large stinging insect.

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.

Qasoǵonaǵa

Variations: Gasogonaga, Kasogonagá, Kasogongá, QasoGonaGa; Lightning; Owner of Storms/Lightning

qasogonaga

For the Toba of Argentina, lighning takes the form of a small, hairy creature called Qasoǵonaǵa, the Owner of Storms. It is an anteater, or perhaps an elephant, with a long snout, long rainbow-colored hair, and four tiny feet. Qasoǵonaǵa can also appear in human form, retaining a small head and shaggy body. As Qasoǵonaǵa has been referred to by both male and female pronouns, there are probably more than one of these beings.

Qasoǵonaǵa, as the Owner of Storms, lives in the skies and is responsible for storms and other meteorological conditions. Lightning comes out of its mouth, while its angry roars become thunder. It is responsible for rain, or lack thereof.

While Qasoǵonaǵa may be a mighty force of nature, it can be quite friendly and grateful for help granted it by the Toba. Often a Qasoǵonaǵa falls to the earth, and has to be returned there by human intervention, as it is too small to return there on its own. In such cases a bonfire must be built, and Qasoǵonaǵa placed on top before it is ignited. The rising smoke will carry Qasoǵonaǵa back into the sky, and the happy anteater will reward its benefactor with powerful shamanic powers. Qasoǵonaǵa will also cause or stop torrential rain if its helper requests it.

References

Cordeux, E. J.; Karsten, R.; Lehmann-Nitsche, R.; Mětraux, A.; Newbery, S. J.; Palavecino, E.; and Terán, B. R. D.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1982) Folk Literature of the Toba Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Wright, P. G. A semantic analysis of the symbolism of Toba mythical animals. In Willis, R. (Ed.) (1990) Signifying Animals: Human Meaning in the Natural World. Unwin Hyman, London.

Wright, P. G. Dream, Shamanism, and Power among the Toba of Formosa Province. In Langdon, E. J. M. and Baer, G. (Eds.) (1992) Portals of Power. University of New Mexico Press.

Wright, P. G. (2008) Ser-en-el-sueño. Editorial Biblos, Buenos Aires.

Qiongqi

Variations: Thoroughly-Odd, Divine Dog

Qiongqi

Two versions of the Qiongqi, or “Thoroughly-Odd”, are described in the Guideways. The first variant of this Chinese creature is from Mount Gui, and resembles an ox with the quills of a hedgehog, and it howls like a dog. The second lives in the Land of the Demon People, and is a winged tiger. A third variety, referred to as a “divine dog”, is human with a dog’s head.

Qiongqi are carnivorous, and devour their prey head or feet first. They feed on people who wear their hair long, making them a particular threat to shamans and demons. They are evil creatures who devour the loyal and feed the rebellious, but they also eat insect poison.

Qiongqi has also appeared as the son of the thearch Lesser-Brilliance in Zuo’s Narratives, as the offspring of the Northern Desert Wind in Master of Huainan, and one of twelve divinities invoked in the Grand Exorcism.

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.

Qiqirn

Variations: Quiquern

Qiqirn

The Qiqirn is a huge dog of Inuit folklore. It is hairless except for its mouth, feet, and ear and tail tips. The mere presence of a qiqirn around men or dogs causes them to suffer fits, a state which ends only when the qiqirn leaves. However, the qiqirn is also extremely scared of humans, and will run away if an angakoq sees it.

Merkur suggests that the “fits” induced by the qiqirn’s presence may be a symbolic reference to shamanic initiation. It shares this feature with the initiatory bear spirit of Baffin Island.

In the Second Jungle Book, the qiqirn – as Quiquern – appears in a snowstorm as an enormous, toothless, and hairless dog, with two heads and eight pairs of legs. He leads two Inuit hunters towards more fruitful lands, and proves to be two sled dogs tied together.

References

Boas, F. The Central Eskimo. In Powell, J. W. (1888) Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. Government Printing Office, Washington.

Kipling, R. (1921) The Second Jungle Book. Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City.

Merkur, D. (1991) Powers Which We Do Not Know. University of Idaho Press, Moscow.