Scytale

Variations: Scytalis (Latin), Scytall, Scicalis, Sciscetalis, Seyseculus, Picalis, Situla; Caecilia (erroneously)

scytale

The Scytale (Greek) or Scitalis (Latin), probably derived from scintilla (“spark” or “glimmer”), is one of the many venomous snakes born from the blood of Medusa in the Libyan desert. It was mentioned in the catalogue of snakes that plagued Lucan and his men, but does not get more than a cursory description.

A scytale shares a lot of characteristics with amphisbaenas: earth-colored, heavy-bodied, blunt-headed and blunt-tailed. But while the amphisbaena has two heads, the scytale only looks like it has two heads. Its tail is rounded, flatter, and thicker than the rest of its body, but the scytale only slithers in one direction. More notably, a scytale has scales, markings, or spots on its back that shimmer and gleam in the colors of the rainbow. Its body generates a lot of heat.

Slow and sluggish, the scytale has no means of running down prey. Instead, it uses the gleaming, iridescent markings on its back to mesmerize onlookers, causing them to draw near and within striking range.

The intense inner heat of the scytale allows it to emerge in the winter to shed its skin, even with frost still on the ground. It shares this cold tolerance with the amphisbaena.

Scytale venom is indistinguishable from amphisbaena and viper venom, and remedies for it are the same.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1640) Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae. Antonij Bernie, Bologna.

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

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.

Lucan, trans. Rowe, N. (1720) Pharsalia. T. Johnson, London.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Serpents. E. Cotes, London.

Skötumóðir

Variations: Skate Mother; Fluxuskrímsl (Flake Monster); Vatnsandi (Water Spirit); Vatnaskratti (Water Devil)

skotumodir

Skate in Iceland are mystical creatures. Saint Peter recognized them as the holiest fish in the sea, and they are intimately connected with the number nine. A skate has nine good qualities and nine bad. It will watch over a drowned man for nine nights, and spend the next nine nights eating him. A skate will carry its young within her for nine months, then lie upon them for nine weeks, during which a stone grows within them. This stone, the “skate-stone”, could make a man invisible for one hour, or relieve labor pangs. Empty mermaid’s purses, or “Peter’s purses” as they are known, have lost their skate-stones.

Most terrifying of all is the Skötumóðir, or “Skate Mother”. Like the other Icelandic “fish mothers”, they are not necessarily skate themselves; in fact, some accounts describe them as evil whales that resemble skates. They are enormous and toxic to eat, with backs like mud-covered islands, and sport nine tails. Unlike regular skate, they have been found inland, in freshwater, and even on dry land.

There is always a swarm of skate swimming around a skötumóðir. As they are caught by fishermen, the sea seems to get shallower as the skötumóðir rises to the surface. Finally, the vengeful skate mother hooks its wings onto the gunwales of the boat, and drags it below the waves.

To evade a skötumóðir, prompt action is required. When the huge ray latches its wings onto the boat, they must be immediately chopped off with whatever sharp implement is handy. This will effectively neutralize the threat.

An enormous skate, no doubt a skötumóðir, was one of three monsters terrorizing people around Lagarfljót, lying in wait at ferry crossings. It was transfixed to the bottom of the river by a powerful sorcerer, and unless it has escaped, it is there still.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

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

Selamóðir

Variations: Seal Mother

selamodir

The Selamóðir, or “Seal Mother”, is the protector of the harbor seals and grey seals of Iceland. It is called by seals when persecuted, or it may appear of its own accord to defend its charges. Unlike most seals, it can be found inland as well as at sea, in freshwater and saltwater.

Seal mother or not, a selamóðir is a monstrous sight. It is like a seal in general appearance, but of “unusual dimensions”, “terrifying size”, or simply the size of a large foreign dog with short legs. It is reddish-pink in color (perhaps with a red neck), with flashing eyes and a back like an island. There is a tuft of hair, like brushwood or heather, between its eyes.

Seal mothers may be found wherever seals gather, and ferociously attack anything that approaches their “children”. There is one report of a selamóðir charging out of the sea to scare off would-be seal hunters, and others of selamóðirs swimming upriver.

A selamóðir was also one of the three monsters inhabiting the Lagarfljót river. It slept under the waterfall, and was much feared until it was vanquished and transfixed to a rock.

References

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

Swan Valley Monster

Swan Valley Monster

The Swan Valley Monster made its appearance on August 22, 1868, in the otherwise tranquil locale of Swan Valley, Idaho. Its presence was witnessed and reacted to by an unnamed old-timer crossing the river at Olds Ferry.

The first thing he saw of the monster was an elephant’s trunk rising from below the surface and spouting water. This was followed by a snake-like head the size of a washtub, with a single horn that kept moving up and down, and long black whiskers on both sides of the face. It had ten-inch-long fangs and a red forked tongue that spewed green poison. When it hauled its massive body onto the shore, the old-timer noted that it must have been twenty feet long, and it stank to high heaven. A pair of wing-like fins – or fin-like wings – came out of the sides of its neck. Its forward half was like a snake, the thickness of a calf, greenish-yellow with red and black spots; this in turn led into a fish-like section with hand-sized rainbow scales shining in the sun; finally, the tail was a drab, scaly gray like a crocodile or lizard tail. Shiny black barbed spines, like those of a porcupine, lined its back from head to tail. Finally, it had twelve stubby legs that were easily missed at first glance; the first pair under the fins had hoofs, followed by two pairs of legs with razor-sharp claws, then a pair of hoofed feet, a pair of clawed feet, and another pair of hoofed feet near the tail.

Of course, the old-timer’s first reaction to the abomination slithering up the bank was to fire a slug into its eye. The monster reared up, hissing, bellowing, and spurting poison over its surroundings, so it got shot a second time in its yellow belly, convulsed, and stopped moving. Everything its poison had touched, whether trees or grass or other living beings, withered and died.

As the monster was too large to be carried off by one man, the old-timer returned to town to fetch a wagon and six strapping lads to help him, as well as a tarp to protect them from the poison. They could smell the odoriferous creature a hundred yards away, and one of the men had to stay with the horses to keep them from bolting, while another got sick and refused to come any closer. But when they reached the bank where the monster had fallen, there was nothing but withered vegetation and a trail leading to the water.

Presumably the Swan Valley monster had crawled back into the river to die – or perhaps it didn’t die. Whatever its fate, the old-timer recommended keeping a close watch on the river, as “I’ve hunted an trapped an fished all over the state fer nigh ontuh seventy-five year… but I ain’t never seen nothin tuh compare with that speciment”.

References

Clough, B. C. (1947) The American Imagination at Work. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Fisher, V. ed. (1939) Idaho Lore. Federal Writers’ Project, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell.

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

Sāmm-abraṣ

Variations: Sāmma-abraṣ, Abraṣan (dual); Sawāmm-abraṣ, Sawāmm, Biraṣa, Abariṣ, Abariṣa (plural); Borṣ-sāmm, Abu Braiṣ, Abu Breiṣ, Borṣ, Wazaghah, Gecko

Samm abras

[Guest art courtesy of the talented Iguanamouth! Drop by and check them out if you haven’t already!]

The gecko has long been unfairly associated with leprosy in the Middle East, probably due to its greyish, leprous appearance, translucent, shedding skin, and detachable tail. Its common names of sāmm-abraṣ (“leper poison”) and abu braiṣ (“father of leprosy” or more simply “leper”) reflect the belief that it somehow transmits a deadly poison that causes leprosy.

Al-Qazwini and Al-Damiri describe the sāmm-abraṣ as being a large species of gecko, small-headed, long-tailed, with a leprous, sickly appearance. A sāmm-abraṣ is highly toxic and spreads leprosy by contact, often rolling in salt to transmit the disease. Its unwanted presence can be averted by the smell of saffron.

It is unlawful to eat or sell a sāmm-abraṣ, as one poet reflects “By God, even if I were His entirely, I would not be a slave eating abariṣ”. However, its blood cures alopecia, its liver alleviates toothache, its flesh heals scorpion stings, and its skin destroys hernias.

A sāmm-abraṣ in a dream is believed to represent poverty, anxiety, and toxic slander.

In India it is told that a gecko crawling over a sleeper’s body forebodes their imminent death, and a gecko falling on someone’s face makes them an albino. Ganges water and “gold water” in which gold has been placed counter the gecko’s poison, but it still ruins any food it touches.

The unwarranted evil reputation of the gecko, while deep-rooted, has not always been the case. Geckos feature in ancient Egyptian art in an apotropaic function, protecting the deceased from scavenging insects.

References

al-Damiri, K. (1891) Hayat al-hayawan al-kubra. Al-Matba’ah al-Khayriyah, Cairo.

Fremgen, J. (1996) The Folklore of Geckos: Ethnographic Data from South and West Asia. Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 55, pp. 135-143.

Guilhou, N. (2009) Lézards et geckos dans l’Égypte ancienne. IVe Rencontres archéozoologiques de Lattes, UMR 5140 – CNRS, Université Paul-Valéry
Montpellier 3.

Jayakar, A. S. G. (1908) Ad-Damiri’s Hayat al-Hayawan (A Zoological Lexicon), vol. II, part I. Luzac and Co., London.

Orr, J. (1915) The New Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume III. The Howard-Severance Company, Chicago.

al-Qazwini, Z. (1849) Zakariya ben Muhammed ben Mahmud el-Cazwini’s Kosmographie. Erster Theil: Die Wunder der Schöpfung. Ed. F. Wüstenfeld. Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen.

Sverðhvalur

Variations: Sverdhvalur, Sword-whale, Swordwhale; Sverðfiskur, Sverðfiskar, Sverðfiskr (Sword-fish); Sverðurinn (Sworder); Brúnfiskur, Brún-fiskur (Brown-fish); Sveifarfiskur (Crank-fish); Slambakur (Slap-whale); Staurhvalur (Stump-whale); Einbægslingur (One-fin); Haskerðingur (High-Fin; potentially the basking shark or the swordwhale); Killer Whale, Orca, Swordfish

Sverdhvalur

The Sverðhvalur (“Swordwhale”) or Sverðfiskur (“Swordfish”) is one of the illhveli, or “evil whales” that lurk off the coast of Iceland. Like the other evil whales, it is unfit for eating, and the steypireyður or blue whale is its mortal enemy.

The sverðhvalur’s most distinctive feature is the sharp bony fin growing out of its back. This fin is 3-12 cubits (1.5-6 meters) tall. The sverðhvalur is about the size of a sperm whale at the largest, and its spouting is short and heavy. Its face is owlish in appearance, with a pointed snout and a large mouth set with vicious teeth. If the brúnfiskur (“brown-fish”) is one of its many aliases, it can be assumed to be brown in color, but another account describes it as grey.

The sverðhvalur is a fast swimmer, and beats the water on either side of it with its fin when agitated. It is often accompanied by a smaller whale – perhaps its offspring – that swims under its pectoral fin and feeds on its scraps. The bladed dorsal fin is used as a weapon, and a sverðhvalur will swim underneath good whales to cut their bellies open with crisscross slashes. Whales will beach themselves rather than suffer a sverðhvalur’s attack. Sverðhvalurs are also wasteful eaters, choosing to eat only the tongue of cetacean prey and leaving the rest to rot. Boats are treated in the same way as whales are, with the dorsal fin punching holes through hulls or slicing cleanly through smaller boats and sailors alike.

Other encounters, especially with larger vessels, are more harmful for the whale. A trading ship sailing from eastern Iceland to Copenhagen came to a stop in the middle of a large pod of whales, and suddenly felt a strong tug coming from below. When the ship moored in Copenhagen, a large fish’s tusk was found sticking out of the hull.

Another sverðfiskur followed a boat off Eyjafjörður, and gave up the chase only after a gun was fired into its gaping mouth.

The term sverðfiskur or sverðfiskr (“sword-fish”) has been used to refer to the swordfish, the sawfish, and the killer whale. The basking shark and the killer whale have also been accused of slicing through ships and eviscerating whales with their fins, and it is the killer whale or “swordwhale” that appears to be the sverðhvalur’s ancestor.

References

Anderson, P. (1955) Bibliography of Scandinavian Philology XXIV. Acta Philologica Scandinavica, Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

Árnason, J.; Powell, G. E. J. and Magnússon, E. trans. (1866) Icelandic Legends, Second Series. Longmans, Green, and Co., London.

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hermansson, H. (1924) Jon Gudmundsson and his Natural History of Iceland. Islandica, Cornell University Library, Ithaca.

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

Stella

Variations: Sea Star

Stella

Stella, or the sea star, derives its name from its unusual appearance that resembles a painted star.

Much like its namesake, a stella is so hot that it burns, liquefies, and effectively cooks anything it comes in contact with. It will intentionally touch fish in order to kill them. Evidence for this incandescent nature was found in a large stella washed up on the shores of Maguelonne. Almost a foot in diameter, it was found to have five mollusk shells inside it, two of which were half-liquefied.

References

Boaistuau, P. (1564) Histoires Prodigieuses. Vincent Norment et Iehanne Bruneau, Paris.