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.

Grootslang

Variations: Groot Slang, Big Snake, Great Snake, Great Snake of the Orange River, Ki-man

The Grootslang, literally “big snake” or “great snake”, dwells in or around the Orange River in the Richtersveld, South Africa, in association with fabulous diamond deposits. Its home may be in the Orange River itself, a pool underneath the King George Cataract, a big rock, or a semi-mythical cave known as the “Wonder Hole” or the “Bottomless Pit”. The cave is said to be the source of the diamonds of South Africa; from there they move down a pipe to the river, which carries them to the sea.

As its name implies, the grootslang is an enormous snake, big enough to take cattle at the water’s edge. It has huge diamonds in its eye-sockets, and its presence exerts an evil influence on all who see it. It is some forty feet long, and leaves a serpentine spoor on muddy river banks that is 1.5 to 3 feet wide. There are never traces of feet associated with the grootslang’s spoor.

Over time the grootslang has accumulated elephantine features. This stems partly from the cryptozoological desire to connect it to the mokele-mbembe and other such surviving dinosaurs, and partly from Rose’s description of it as “huge, like an elephant, with the tail of a serpent”.

References

Cornell, F. C. (1920) The Glamour of Prospecting. T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., London.

Green, L. G. (1948) Where Men Still Dream. Standard Press Ltd., Cape Town.

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

Variations: Ro, Bete-Rô, Bete-Ro, Bete Rô, Bete Ro (Rô Beast)

The Rô Beast lived in a cavern at the Pointe de Roux, off Aytré near La Rochelle. A hideous dragon with a winged body and a long scaly tail, Rô was also armed with a malign, near-human intelligence. It used its cunning to lay traps for humans and devour them. It was feared across the coastline, and none could stand against it.

But the reign of Rô was ended by seven pagan heroes that arrived on a boat by high tide. They had come to judge Rô. Panicking, the dragon retreated to the Pont de la Pierre, keeping its eyes on its tormentors. There, the heroes loosed seven arrows: two closed its eyes, two pierced its ears, two sealed its nostrils, and one pinned its horrid mouth shut. Roaring and thrashing in agony, Rô was cast into a deep pit, where it will remain until the end of time. The seven pagan heroes took their places as guardians around the pit where Rô thrashed impotently.

Rô still lives, screaming its rage from its prison. When it howls to the north, the gulf of Chevarache in the Breton Pertuis is agitated with waves; when it howls to the south, it’s Maumusson that stirs. The old folk say that it’s a good thing it doesn’t turn to the west, for the islands would turn to dust.

The legend of the Rô beast seems to have grown around the local landscape. The Pont de la Pierre was a ruined cromlech. Seven granite stones (now gone) around a deep pit were said to have been the heroes’ seats of justice. The image of Rô was recognized in the arch of the principal portal of the Church of Talmont, although it may just as well be the lion of Ezekiel.

Who were the pagan heroes? The image of warriors from the sea evokes Vikings, but it may be a relic of an older Gaulish legend of gods arriving from the sea. As for the name Rô, Dontenville saw in it a corruption of an older pagan deity.

References

Dontenville, H. (1966) La France Mythologique. Tchou, Paris.

Lamontellerie, A. (1995) Mythologie de Charente-Maritime. Le Croit Vif, Collection Documentaires.

Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Moha-Moha

Variations: Moha, Great Barrier Sea-serpent, Great Barrier Reef Sea-serpent, Chelosauria lovelli

The Moha-Moha was seen on a beach on Great Sandy Island by schoolteacher Selina Lovell and a small group of accompanying people on June 8, 1890. It was, however, familiar to the natives of the region by the name moha-moha, “dangerous turtle”. It was known to attack coastal camps and catch people by the leg. By January 3, 1891, details of the encounter were published in Land and Water. This in turn resulted in a more formal description by William Saville-Kent, who requested further details from Lovell and gave the creature the name of Chelosauria lovelli.

A “monster turtle fish”, the moha-moha was 30 feet long, with an enormous dome-shaped body, a long neck, and a twelve-foot-long tail. It allowed Lovell to observe it for half an hour while standing five feet away from it. Then it turned towards the sea, raising its body and tail above the water and tossing a number of fish into the air before dashing off into deeper water.

The moha-moha had a saurian face, with teeth or serrated jaw-bones. The skin was glossy and smooth as satin. It had its mouth open and visible above the water, and no visible nostrils, leading Lovell to conclude that it breathed through its mouth. The rounded jaws were 18 inches long. The head and neck were a greenish white with white spots on the neck and a white band around a very black eye.

The dome-shaped carapace, about 8 feet across by 5 feet high, was slate-grey in color and smooth. The long tail was silver shading to white with thumb-nail sized scales and a chocolate-brown fin. The scales lay perpendicular to the tail, like the tiles of a roof. The head and tail were very different from each other, looking like they had come from two different animals. Lovell was unable to see the feet, but she was told that the moha-moha had feet like an alligator.

Whatever it was that Lovell saw, she was immediately treated with condescension. Buckland, editor of Land and Water, believed the moha-moha to have been a Carettochelys, “a monster turtle” from the Fly River (despite the fact that Carettochelys does not exceed 30 inches in length). He added that “the fair observer must have been mistaken on this very important point”. Lovell responded indignantly, but the editor stood by his statement, making it clear that the moha-moha combined fish and tortoise and thus was scientifically impossible.

To Saville-Kent, Lovell sent a confirming document signed by her and all the witnesses present. But Saville-Kent’s description of the moha-moha takes on a mocking tone, recommending using it as “the chief ingredient… of a new and alderman-enthralling brand of turtle soup”. It won’t be long before moha-moha is on restaurant menus, and the “Queensland brand-new, soup-potential species should possess “a local habitation and a name” that shall separate it decisively from the common herd of sea-serpents that have already had their day”.

Heuvelmans took a very negative view of the moha-moha, which all the more remarkable considering his unquestioning acceptance of far more ambiguous sightings. He refers to the “innocence and ineptitude” of the parties involved, and states that “with all due respect to her sex, [Lovell] can only be an arrant liar, and a bad liar at that”, accusing her of “psychotic behavior” and “mythomania”. He proceeds to discredit her account, pointing out that no animal has scales like the moha-moha.  “One pities her poor pupils, for her own style is often so confused as to be incomprehensible”, he adds snidely. He compares its shelled, fish-like appearance to both armored Devonian fishes and the Indian makara. “I find it hard to believe that Miss Lovell was not a dotty old maid who had picked up, but not digested, a smattering of palaeontology and Brahmin legend. Exit Chelosauria lovelli.”

What, then, did Lovell see on that beach in 1890? Most telling is the remark that the head and tail do not seem to belong on the same animal. France suggests a turtle entangled in a fishing net, with the mesh and its contents – broken floats, brown seaweed, and other debris – giving the impression of a long tail. Unfamiliarity and the unreliability of recollection did the rest. Native accounts of moha-moha attacks and ferocity may refer to other animals, perhaps seals.

References

France, R. L. (2016) Historicity of sea turtles misidentified as sea monsters: a case for the early entanglement of marine chelonians in pre-plastic fishing nets and maritime debris. Coriolis, 6(2), pp. 1-25.

France, R. L. (2017) Imaginary sea monsters and real environmental threats: reconsidering the famous Osborne, ‘Moha-Moha’, Valhalla, and ‘Soay Beast’ sightings of unidentified marine objects. International Review of Environmental History, 3(1), pp. 63-100.

Heuvelmans, B.; Garnett, R. trans. (1968) In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents.

Saville-Kent, W. (1893) The Great Barrier Reef of Australia. W. H. Allen & Co., Waterloo Place, London.

Alber

The Floitenthal, near the Ziller Valley in the Tyrol, has two great mountains, the Floitenthurm and the Teufelseck. The latter, the “Devil’s Corner”, is so name because the devil himself is said to descend from it in the form of a great fiery dragon glowing like an electric fire. The dragon flies a narrow hole, the Bleiarzkar, towards the Zillertal. This demonic dragon is known as the Alber, and it brings with it plague, war, and famine.

One time, during a night as black as pitch, two men climbed a cherry tree by the Mission Cross of Algund, near Meran. These men were Hanser, a tailor and a notorious ne’er-do-well, and old Loaserer Sepp, an honest villager.

To be fair to Sepp, he did not mean to participate in any unseeming behavior. Hanser had made a bet with some equally debauched friends to pick cherries from the tree near the cross, but, being an abject coward, he could not do it on his own, so he roped Sepp into accompanying him.

Both men climbed the tree, but Hanser filled his hat by the handful while Sepp could not find a single cherry no matter where he looked. Sepp was beginning to feel uncomfortable when, all of a sudden, the Alber flew by, throwing its burning light upon the scene.

Hanser was so scared he almost fell off the tree, but Sepp held the other man and prevented him from falling. “Are you so far gone, Hanser, that the devil gives you his blessing and lights your way?” said Sepp. “Then may God preserve you!” The honest man then turned to the fiery dragon. “Hi there! Wait a little until I find some cherries too!” The Alber left at once.

Sepp was a good, honest man, and the evil one had no power over him. His bravery was lauded long afterwards.

References

von Günther, A. (1874) Tales and Legends of the Tyrol. Chapman and Hall, London.

Grand’Goule

Variations: Grand’Gueule, Grande Goule, Grande Gueule; Bonne Sainte Vermine (Good Holy Vermin)

The Grand’Goule (corrupted from grande gueule, “great gullet” or more simply “big mouth”) is one of many French dragons associated with cities and their patron saints. In this case, it is linked with Poitiers. The current and best-known effigy, created by one Gargot, dates to 1677. The tradition itself goes back at least to 1466, where “the dragon” is mentioned in a list of banners and insignia carried during a rogation day procession.

As seen in its carved effigy at the abbey of Saint-Croix, the Grand’Goule is a monstrous bat-winged dragon with a gaping mouth. It is armed with hooked claws and a forked scorpion’s stinger. It is bronze green in color with a red collar around its neck.

The dragon terrorized Poitiers until it was slain. One account says that Saint Radégonde of Poitiers killed it through a fervent prayer – a prayer which literally flew like a projectile and hit the dragon like a crossbow bolt. Another tale says that a condemned criminal volunteered to slay the dragon, but he perished from its poisonous breath in his moment of triumph.

Scotsman John Lauder reported seeing the remains of a “hideous crocodile” with a huge mouth chained to a wall in a palais in Poitiers. The relic was believed to be centuries old and though to have been spontaneously generated from rotting matter in the prison, although Lauder expressed his doubt on the last matter. It killed several prisoners before being shot by a condemned man, who won his life by doing so.

Traditionally the Grand’Goule was brought out on rogation days, paraded along with the relic of the True Cross. It was decorated with ribbons and banderoles and treated with respect, with cherries, tarts, and pastries – golden-brown casse-museaux, literally “snout-breakers” – tossed into its mouth. It is affectionately referred to as the Bonne Sainte Vermine, the “Good Holy Vermin”.

References

de Chergé, C. (1872) Guide du Voyageur à Poitiers et aux Environs. Librairie Létang, Poitiers.

Clouzot, H. (1897) Spectacles Populaires en Poitou. La Tradition en Poitou et Charentes, pp. 305-317.

Clouzot, H. (1901) L’Ancien Théatre en Poitou. Bulletin et Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest, XXIV(2), pp. 153-521.

Foucart, E. V. (1841) Poitiers et ses Monuments. A. Pichot, Poitiers.

Lauder, J.; Crawford, D. ed. (1900) Journals of Sir John Lauder, Lord Fountainhall. University Press, Edinburgh.

de la Marsonnière, J. L. (1883) Un Drame au Logis de la Lycorne. H. Oudin, Poitiers.

de Plancy, J. C. (1863) Dictionnaire Infernal. Henri Plon, Paris.

Nanabolele

Variations: Dinanabolele, Linanabolele (pl.)

Thakáne and her two brothers were the children of a Basotho chief. In some versions there is only one brother, Masilo; in some retellings the siblings are orphans, in others their parents are merely distant figures. Either way Thakáne was like a mother to her brothers. She cared for them, made their food, and filled their water jugs. When they had to go to school, it was Thakáne who took them there. When they were circumcised in the traditional grass huts, the mophato, it was Thakáne who took them there and waited on them until the ritual was over and they had rested. It was their sister who brought them the clothes they would wear as men.

But Thakáne’s brothers did not accept her choice of clothing. Only items made from the skin of a Nanabolele would do. They wanted shields of nanabolele hide, and shoes of nanabolele leather, and clothing of nanabolele skin, and hats cut from nanabolele, and spears tied up with strips of nanabolele. They refused to leave the mophato until their request was fulfilled.

It was a tall order. The nanaboleles, they who shine in the night, were horrid, reptilian creatures that live underwater and underground. They glow in the darkness, giving off light like the moon and stars do. They were deadly predators. Surely there was some mistake! “Why do you ask the impossible?” asked Thakáne. “Where am I supposed to find nanabolele skin? Where? ?” But her brothers would not be swayed, declaring that it became them, as the sons of a chief, to wear nanabolele skins.

So Thakáne set out, knowing that if their father was around, he would have done the same. It fell upon her to accomplish the task in his stead. She set off with oxen, beer calabashes, sweetcorn balls, and a large retinue in search of the nanaboleles. She sang as she went:

“Nanabolele, nanabolele!

My brothers won’t leave the mophato, nanabolele!

They want shields of nanabolele, nanabolele!

And shoes they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!

And clothes they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!

And hats they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!

And spears they want of nanabolele, nanabolele!”

When Thakáne sang, the waters of the nearby stream parted, and a little frog hopped out. “Kuruu! Keep going!” it told her. Thakáne kept going from river to river, following the directions given by frog after frog, until at last she came upon the widest and deepest river yet. She sang her song, but nothing responded. Then she tossed some meat in, followed by an entire pack ox, but nothing happened.

Finally, the waters stirred, and an old woman stepped out, greeting Thakáne and inviting her to come in with her. Thakáne followed the old woman into the river, followed by her company. To her surprise, there was an entire river under the water, dry and breathable. But there was nobody there. It was empty and silent as the grave.

“Where are all the people, Grandmother?” said Thakáne to her guide. “Alas”, said the old woman. “The nanaboleles have eaten them, adults, children, cattle, sheep, dogs, chickens, everything! Only I was allowed to live, I am too old and tough to eat, so they make me do their work for them”. “Yo wheh!” said Thakáne. “We are truly in danger then”. But the old woman bade them hide, leading them into a deep hole which she covered with reeds.

It wasn’t long after Thakáne and her friends had hidden that the nanabolele returned to the village, sounding like a huge herd of oxen. The creatures glowed, shining like the moon and the stars, but they did not sleep, instead sniffing around intently. “We smell people!” they snarled. But they found nothing, and eventually tired and went to sleep.

That was the opportunity Thakáne had been waiting for. She and her companions emerged from hiding and, singling out the biggest nanabolele, quickly slaughtered it before it could wake up the others. Then they flayed it in silence and prepared to leave.

Before they left, the old woman gave Thakáne a pebble. “The nanabolele will follow you. When you see a red dust cloud against the sky, that will be them on your trail. This pebble will save you from them…”

Sure enough, dawn had barely broken when Thakáne saw the cloud of red dust. The nanaboleles were in pursuit! Thakáne quickly dropped the pebble on the ground, and it grew, becoming an enormous mountain that she and her friends climbed. They took refuge at the top, while the nanaboleles exhausted themselves trying to climb it. Then, as the reptiles lay catching their breath, the mountain shrank, Thakáne picked up the pebble, and the chase continued.

Thus it went on for several days, with the nanaboleles catching up only to be worn out by the pebble-mountain. But when Thakáne reached her home, she called upon all the dogs of the village to attack the nanaboleles. The creatures, terrified, turned tail and ran back to their abandoned village under the river.

There was only one thing left to do. The nanabolele skin which gives off light in the dark was cut and prepared into items of clothing and armor and weapons, and Thakáne herself took them to her brothers in the mophato.

Nobody else had seen such wondrous items, and Thakáne’s brothers rewarded her handsomely, giving her a hundred head of cattle.

References

Dorson, R. M. (1972) African Folklore. Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, New York.

Jacottet, E. (1908) The Treasury of Ba-Suto Lore. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London.

Postma, M. (1974) Tales from the Basotho. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Olgoi-khorkhoi

Variations: Olgoi khorkhoi, Olgoj chorchoj, Allergorhai-horhai, Allergorhai horhai, Allghoi khorkhoi, Temen-Sul-Khorkhoi, Temeen Suul (Mongolian name of Tartar sand boa), Intestine Worm, Mongolian Death Worm, Tartar Sand Boa, Eryx tataricus

It has forever been in human nature to exaggerate the lethality of animals, regardless of whether or not the animal is actually deadly or even poisonous. Salamanders become fiery creatures whose breath slays, water shrews are accused of poisoning and killing cattle, geckos are so virulent they cause leprosy, viper venom causes the human body to melt… the list is endless.

One of the victims of this demonization is the creature known in Mongolia as the Olgoi-khorkhoi or “intestine worm”, also known in English by the even more sensationalistic name of “Mongolian death worm”.

Mongolian folklore is ambivalent on snakes. They are associated with dragons and the water world, and thus are worthy of respect and should not be killed; on the other hand, they are symbols of malice, antagonists to the forces of good, and hostile beings that should be destroyed. Saying the word mogoi (“snake”) is not recommended, with euphemisms like urt khorkhoi (“long worm”) or khairkhan (“holy” or “merciful”) used instead.

The olgoi-khorkhoi is a serpent that looks like a sausage, two feet (0.6 meters) long, and lacks a head and legs. Its color is a white brocade. It is so poisonous that looking at it is dangerous and anyone who touches it dies instantly. It lives in the sandiest, driest areas of the Western Gobi desert. If it shows up in a yurt, the inhabitants move out. It comes out after the rains when the ground has become damp.

Paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews was informed of the olgoi-khorkhoi’s existence by the Mongolian Premier, and went on to hear much about it. Usually people had not seen one themselves, but knew others who had, and every time they went to a play where the olgoi-khorkhoi was said to be abundant, the inhabitants told them the creature could be found a few miles away. The scientist was optimistic about his chances of capturing one thanks to the neutralizing powers of dark glasses and steel forceps. No specimen was ever seen or captured, however.

The existence of the olgoi-khorkhoi was popularized by Andrews and fellow paleontologist and science-fiction author I. A. Efremov, and much has been posited since about its appearance, habits, and true nature.

However, the real identity of the olgoi-khorkhoi is far more prosaic: it is the Tartar sand boa, a desert-dwelling, nonvenomous snake. This was confirmed by Gorelov, who showed a specimen of the boa to people in the Gobi. They asserted that it was indeed an olgoi-khorkhoi and that they were afraid of it. Gorelov also reported an individual olgoi-khorkhoi preserved in a jar and exhibited in Dalaanzadgad Town during a holiday.

References

Andrews, R. C. (1926) On the Trail of Ancient Man. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

Andrews, R. C. (1932) The New Conquest of Central Asia. The American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Kuzmin, S. L.; Dunayev, E. A.; Munkhbayar, K.; Munkhbataar, M.; Oyuunchimeg, J.; and Terbish, K. (2017) The Amphibians of Mongolia. KMK Scientific Press, Moscow.

Shuker, K. P. N. (2003) The Beasts that Hide From Man. Paraview Press, London.

Kurrea

The Kurrea is an enormous reptilian creature from the Boobera Lagoon, the Barwon River, and the Narran River in New South Wales, Australia. It may be considered the local variant of the rainbow serpent, although the lumping of such entities may be overzealous. The term kurrea, a Euahlayi word, has also been translated as “crocodile” in the one Narran River account, but a “serpent” interpretation is probably more correct. A 39-foot carving of the kurrea is clearly snake-shaped.

The deepest part of the Boobera Lagoon is bottomless and that is where the kurrea lives. An enormous serpentine creature, it is incapable of moving on dry land. When a kurrea wants to travel, it tears up the ground on the banks of the lagoon, excavating channels along which it can swim. The many shallow channels around the lagoon are evidence of the kurrea’s movements.

Anyone who dared fish, swim, or paddle in the Boobera Lagoon would immediately be attacked and devoured by the kurrea. This hostile behavior could cause serious shortages, as the lagoon had large flocks of waterfowl and schools of fish.

Once a man called Toolalla, of the Barwon River, decided to rid his people of the kurrea. He was a skilled hunter and, armed with his sharpest and strongest weapons, he stood on the bank of the lagoon. Before long the kurrea had noticed him and swam towards him. But despite all his preparations, Toolalla discovered that even his best weapons could not even injure the kurrea.

Toolalla made the wise decision to flee for his life. The kurrea followed him, gouging out a channel at high speed and rapidly gaining on his prey. Toolalla managed to climb up a tall bumble tree where the snake could not reach him. The bumble tree is also the kurrea’s mother-in-law, and the only thing it fears. Eventually, frustrated and disappointed, the kurrea returned to the Boobera Lagoon, where it continued to be a threat to all who trespassed on its domain.

Today the kurrea is harder to see. Its descendants are the gowarke, the giant, black-feathered, red-legged emus of the Baiame swamps.

References

Buchler, I. R. and Maddock, K. (eds.) (1978) The Rainbow Serpent: A Chromatic Piece. Mouton Publishers, The Hague.

Mathews, R. H. (1907) Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales. William Appleworth Gullick, Sydney.

Reed, A. W. (1982) Aboriginal Myths, Legends, and Fables. Reed, Wellington.

Ajaju

The Ajaju was the terror of the Garo people of Achik Asong and Dura Hill in the Garo Hills of India. Nowadays members of this carnivorous species are a lot harder to find.

An ajaju looks like a chameleon with long kneeless legs. Its head may be like a human head or a chameleon’s head in appearance. It has twelve long, sharp, forked tongues that are very flexible and which it uses to lick up its prey’s flesh and blood.

The kneeless legs of an ajaju are like bamboo stalks without nodes. In the trees an ajaju can swing from branch to branch with ease, but movement on land is a lot harder. Chasing someone downhill is virtually impossible for an ajaju, but anyone running uphill would be immediately caught by the creature’s long sickle-like tongues, swallowed, and stripped of flesh and blood by the tongues. Then there would be nothing left save a few bones for the ajaju to spit out with distaste.

To attract prey an ajaju will call out in a shrill voice, “wa-o, wa-o, wa-o”. If someone responds, the ajaju will continue calling, coming nearer and nearer each time. That is why, if venturing into ajaju territory, one must call out in a high-pitched voice. If the ajaju responds, then one must remain silent and focus on putting as much distance as possible between them and the creature.

Ajaju parts are of great medicinal value, including as a substitute for missing bones when resurrecting someone. One narrator claimed to be in possession of ajaju parts from Rongkugiri, taken when a couple of ajajus were killed decades ago.

References

Rongmuthu, D. S. (1960) The Folk-tales of the Garos. University of Gauhati Department of Publication, Guwahati.