Sermilik

The Sermilik, “ice-clad”, is an enormous and highly dangerous polar bear found in the seas around Aasiaat in Greenland. Unlike the bears it resembles, it has very long fur completely covered with ice. Four lumps of ice at the surface are in fact the four paws of a sermilik lying in wait, and young hunters are warned never to paddle near those.

References

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

Swamfisk

Variations: Swam-fisk, Swamfisck, Swamfysck, Svvamfysck, Ahunum, Hahanc

Swamfisk

The Swamfisk described by Olaus Magnus appears off the coast of Norway and is much less common than cetaceans. It is frequently hunted for its fat and oil, used primarily for treating leather and providing light during the long winter months.

Swamfisks are very fatty animals and are excellent sources of fat and oil. They have round, globulous bodies, forming a huge distensible bag that is almost entirely stomach; there is no neck to speak of. The mouth is in line with the belly and can engulf vast amounts of fish. Swamfisks are voracious eaters and convert everything they consume into additional mass until they are little more than floating bags of blubber.

When attacked by larger creatures a swamfisk will curl up on itself like a hedgehog, folding its skin and fatty tissues over its head. It will remain like this until the danger goes away. If hunger strikes while a swamfisk is curled up, it will be forced to eat part of itself to assuage its insatiable gluttony.

De Montfort believed it to be a giant octopus.

References

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

de Montfort, P. D. (1801) Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere des Mollusques, Tome Second. F. Dufart, Paris.

Swan, J. (1643) Speculum Mundi. Roger Daniel, Cambridge.

Skeljaskrímsli

Variations: Fjörulalli (Beach Walker), Fjörulabbi (Beach Roamer), Fjörudýr (Shore Animal), Rauðkálfur (Red Calf), Saeúlfur (Sea Wolf), Skeljalabbi (Shell Roamer), Skeljalalli (Shell Walker)

Skeljaskrimsli

The name Skeljaskrímsli, “shell monster”, refers to a number of Icelandic shore animals known by a variety of names. Consistent among the accounts are the association with the beach, a hump on the back, and a coat of shells that rattle as the creature walks. Shell monsters have been sighted on the coasts of all the main regions of Iceland, and at least one report (the Glúmsstaðir farm’s in Fljótavík, Hornstrandir) describes a freshwater specimen.

As specified by Hlidberg and Aegisson, the skeljaskrímsli proper is a quadrupedal marine creature, bulky and powerfully built. It is the size of a winter’s old bull calf or a huge horse. The neck is broad, the jaws and teeth impressive, and the eyes reddish. There may be a phosphorescent glow coming from the mouth. The skeljaskrímsli’s tail is long and armed with a lump at the end. The short, strong legs end in circular feet armed with large claws.

The skeljaskrímsli earns its name from the thick reflective coat of shells (or flaky scales) that covers its body. These rattle and scrape against each other as the creature moves, giving warning of its arrival. As the shell monster approaches, its powerful stench also becomes apparent. There is little good to say about the shell monster – even its blood is toxic.

Skeljaskrímslis live in the sea and haul themselves onto shore in the dark moonless nights of the northern winter. Often they can be seen before or after spells of bad weather and storms. They are attracted to light and will leave deep gouges in farmhouse doors. Suffice to say that anyone who encounters one of these surly brutes will be in for a bad time.

Most weapons are useless against a skeljaskrímsli’s formidable defenses. One farmer who battled a skeljaskrímsli managed to keep it at bay until the monster tired and returned to the sea; the farmer was stricken with leprosy for his trouble. Another farmer managed to wound a skeljaskrímsli, but some of its poisonous blood spattered onto him, and he died in agony soon after.

To harm a skeljaskrímsli one must resort to alternative ammunition. Shooting silver buttons, grey willow catkins, or lamb droppings from a gun are the only ways to injure and kill this beast.

The Fjörulalli is the best-known variant of the skeljaskrímsli. It is also the size of a winter’s old bull calf, and has been reported as being smaller, about as big as a dog. A tail may or may not be present, and the head is a small, rounded outgrowth. It is covered with shells or lava fragments that scrape together as it moves. Unlike the larger shell-monsters, these smaller ones are usually harmless. They will, however, tear the udders off sheep, and pregnant women should avoid them lest they negatively affect their unborn babies.

References

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

Serra

Variations: Serre, Pristis, Vivella, Sawfish, Saw-fish, Flying Fish

Serra

The Serra (“saw”) or Saw-fish is a mainstay of bestiaries. Traditionally identified with the sawfish, it also includes features of the flying fish and comes with a ready moral message for the benefit of faithful readers.

Pliny mentions a fish named Pristis which is two hundred cubits (over 90 meters) long, is viviparous, and seemingly covered with hair. Pristis was also a common name given by Romans to ships. Isidore of Seville gives us the ur-description of the serra as a fish with a serrated (serratus) crest which cuts through boats as it swims under them.

Later additions expanded on this account. The serra is a huge seagoing fish or monster with gigantic fins. When it sees a ship, it spreads its fins, catching the wind, and chases after the vessel in an attempt to outspeed it. After two hundred yards the serra gets bored, folds its wings, and sinks back into the ocean. The ship represents the Righteous, who press on in the face of adversity, while the serra represents fickle and lazy people who start out trying to be Christians but discourage easily.

Why the serra chases after the ship is uncertain. The moral suggests jealousy, but the propensity of the serra to slice up ships with its saw-crest implies a more malevolent motive. Other accounts describe it as more bloodthirsty, sinking ships to feast on sailors, while some (perhaps confused with dolphins?) are said to take pity on sinking ships and lift them out of the waves.

The serra does not fly, instead using its massive fins move like a sailboat, but medieval artists commonly show it flying above ships anyway. Eventually the serra’s iconography was muddled with the dragon’s, and it became another dog-like or reptilian winged monster.

The position of the saw has also been a subject of contention. Isidore of Seville’s crest (crista) was interpreted in ways ranging from a rooster’s comb to a saw-edged dorsal fin. None of them locate the saw on the end of the nose.

Buel regards the sawfish as an innocent and inoffensive creature. The occasional attacks on boats are attributed to parasitic copepods, whose burrowing into the sawfish’s flesh drives the creature into delirious agony and causes it to lash out at anything nearby.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1613) De Piscibus, Libri V. Bononiae.

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

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

Druce, G. C. (1919) On the Legend of the Serra or Saw-fish. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Second Series, v. 31.

Hippeau, C. (1852) Le Bestiaire Divin de Guillaume, Clerc de Normandie. A. Hardel, Caen.

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Pliny; Bostock, J. and Riley, H. T. trans. (1900) The Natural History of Pliny, v. II. George Bell and Sons, London.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Sachamama

Variations: Sach’amama, Sacha-mama, Sach’a-mama, Sacha Mama, Sach’a Mama; Boa constrictor

Sachamama

Sachamama, “Mother of the Forest”, is one of the three ancient snake mothers of the Peruvian Amazon. She is the mythological boa constrictor, in the same way as the Yakumama is the anaconda. Sachamama is about forty meters long and two meters wide, with an iguana-like head and scales like stone plates. There is a bulldozer-like blade under her neck. Trees, bushes, vines, fungi, and all sorts of living things grow on her back, such that she never moves unless provoked.

Not that Sachamama needs to move. She has magnetic or hypnotic powers capable of drawing to her any animal that passes in front of her head. The animals living on her also have those magnetic powers. She can also cause storms, rain, and lightning, inducing fevers and headaches in anyone foolish enough to intrude in her domain. Illnesses caused by the Sachamama require shamanistic intervention to cure, usually involving chants and lots of tobacco smoke.

The plants growing on Sachamama’s back are unique – a veritable pharmacopoeia of medicinal herbs that would save countless lives if the Sachamama allowed it. There is boa huasca, a liana with healing resin. Lluasca huasca is another vine whose phlegm-like resin heals facial blemishes. Puma huasca and puma sanango are vines whose cooked stem and cooked root (respectively) cure sorcery and evil spells, and whose spirits are jaguars. Zorrapilla or shabumpilla is a herb that heals cuts and injuries. The lluvia caspi (“rain tree”), rayo caspi (“lightning tree”), or trueno caspi (“thunder tree”) is an enormous tree whose bark, cooked and eaten, grants the ability to create and quell storms.

Most encounters wth the Sachamama occurred during the rubber boom in Peru, when many rubber harvesters found themselves entering the snake’s domain. A man and his wife collecting rubber once sat by the trunk of what seemed to be a huge fallen tree. When they cut into it with their machetes, it bled; when they built a fire, the trees shook, and a torrential downpour extinguished the fire. Next day the “fallen tree” had vanished. In its spot was a wide road. The man consulted a shaman who told him what he was dealing with. “The Sachamama lives in one place but she has moved. She doesn’t like trespassers”. Despite the shaman and his wife’s advice, the man decided to follow the road and find Sachamama. He came upon the tree trunk in a meadow, in the midst of human and animal bones, and at the end of the meadow was a cave where mesmerized animals were congregating. The “trunk” was Sachamama’s tail, and the “cave” her mouth! He cut through the trance with his machete and ran for his life.

References

Galeano, J. G.; Morgan, R. and Watson, K. trans. (2009) Folktales of the Amazon. Libraries Unlimited, Westport.

Montes, F.; Harrison, K. trans.; in Posey, D. A. (ed.) (1999) Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. United Nations Environment Programme, Intermediate Technology Publications, London.

Stiglich, G. (1913) Geografia Comentada del Peru. Casa Editoria Sanmarti, Lima.

Shoo Fly

shoo-fly

Noted journalist, humorist, and spinner of tall tales Dan De Quille introduced the Shoo Fly to the world in the October 14, 1870 issue of the Territorial Enterprise. Since then, attempts to find a representative type specimen of this remarkable insect have failed.

Shoo flies are large aquatic flies native to a shallow warm lake fourteen miles northeast of Mud Lake in Washoe County, Nevada. They were discovered and appropriately named by prospectors. A shoo fly is black in color, four inches long and with an abdomen three inches in circumference. The transparent wings resemble those of a horsefly and produce a ten-inch wingspan. Shoo fly larvae are deep green in color, six inches long and four inches wide, and feed on rushes; after roasting they look like sweet potatoes and have a vegetable taste, making them prized food commodities.

Swarms of shoo flies buzz over the waters of the lake and under it. The flies can go underwater and produce an air bubble that forms around their heads. With this organic scuba gear, the flies can stay underwater indefinitely.

One dead fly was brought back to civilization by the prospectors, where it was displayed dangling from a string in Piper’s Saloon at the corner of B and Union streets. But when a San Francisco entomologist volunteered to identify the insect, suggesting that it may be a hymenopteran (bee or wasp) rather than a dipteran fly, De Quille pointed out that the snow storm blew all the flies into their lake, and the proprietors of the saloon refuse to part with their attraction. Furthermore, he added – tongue firmly in cheek – that based on the shoo fly’s “cuspidated tentacles” and the “scarabaeus formation of the thoracic pellicle”, he believed it to be “a genuine bug of the genus “hum””.

References

Lewicki, J. and the editors of LIFE (1960) Folklore of America, part V. LIFE Magazine, Aug. 22, 1960.

Loomis, C. G. (1946) The Tall Tales of Dan De Quille. California Folklore Quarterly, Volume V, No. 1, January 1946.

Schilalyi

Variations: Shilalyi, Shulalyi, Šilali

shilali

Schilalyi, “Cold” or “Cold One”, is the fifth of the children of Ana, and her third daughter. She and her siblings are the Roma demons of disease, and are the result of unnatural and undesired liaisons between the Keshali queen Ana and the King of the Loçolico.

After Ana’s fourth child, Melalo advised his father to serve her a cooked mouse which the King had spat on, along with soup. Ana fell ill, and as she drank water, Schilalyi crawled out of her mouth. This unnatural birth earned Schilalyi particular loathing from her mother. Schilalyi in turn tormented her brothers and sisters until her husband Bitoso was born.

Schilalyi’s form is that of a white mouse with many little legs and possibly multiple tails, and she is the cause of chills and cold fevers. To counter her symptoms, patients are treated with dried mouse lungs and stomachs, steeped in alcohol.

White mice are regarded as agents and offspring of Schilalyi, leading to one alleged incident where a pharmacist’s lab mice were drowned in a well to ward off certain disaster.

References

Clébert, J. P. (1976) Les Tziganes. Tchou, Paris.

Clébert, J. P.; Duff, C. trans. (1963) The Gypsies. Vista Books, London.

Meyers Brothers Druggist (1910) Demons of Disease. Meyers Brothers Druggist, v. 31, p. 141.

Pavelčík, N. and Pavelčík, J. (2001) Myths of the Czech Gypsies. Asian Folklore Studies, v. 60, pp. 21-30.