It

It

Shetland is home to a number of creatures, some malevolent and some benign, but the most disconcerting of all is the entity known only as It.

Nobody can agree on what It looks like, and It has never appeared in the same form twice. Whether It is a shapeshifter or uses magic to obscure Its true appearance is unknown. Descriptions include a lump of “slub” or jellyfish, a legless animal, a headless human, and a bag of white wool. It could be a large otter or seal, but to those who have seen It, there is no otter or seal that compares. It is legless, but runs faster than any dog; It is wingless, but flies faster than any eagle; It is silent, but people understand what It is saying without hearing a word.

One Shetland house was plagued every Christmas by It. A man living there was alerted to Its presence, Its movement sounding like a mass of dead flesh hitting the floor. The man ran outside armed with an axe and a Bible, and chased It up the cliffs, embedding his axe in Its body while uttering a holy word. It was immobilized before It could dive back into the sea.

When the man called his friends over, they could tell if It was alive or dead, and It looked different to each of them. It was buried in earth and a trench dug around it, but nobody dared check on It. A stranger was brave enough to observe the burial site, but a mist rose, and something emerged from the ground to roll into the ocean. It had escaped.

References

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Vodyanoi

Variations: Vodianoi, Vodyanik, Vodnik, Vodeni Moz, Deduska Vodyanoy (Water-Grandfather), Vodianoi-chert (Water Devil), Vodianikha (female), Topielec (Drowner, Polish), Vodyany-ye (pl.); Bolotnyi (potentially)

Vodyanoi

The malevolent and murderous Vodyanoi, from voda or “water”, is the Slavic water spirit. It frequents lakes, ponds, rivers, and other bodies of water, but it especially prefers mill-ponds. Their homes range from the humble dwellings of sand and slimy logs of Olonets to underwater palaces of crystal, decorated with gold and silver taken from shipwrecks, and illuminated by a magic stone shining brighter than the sun. The palaces are primarily known from Kaluga, Orel, Riazan, and Tula. The female vodyanyoi is also known as the vodianikha, although a rusalka or a drowned woman will also be taken as a bride. Variants of the vodyanoi are known in Belarus, Poland, and Yugoslavia.

A vodyanoi varies wildly in appearance. It can be roughly human in appearance, with big paws, horns, tail, and eyes like burning coals; it can be a huge man covered with grass and moss, with shaggy white fur, or with scales; it can be black with huge red eyes and a long nose, or bluish and slimy, bloated and crowned with reeds. Sometimes it appears in the form of a human, as an old man with green hair and beard that turned white with the waning moon, as a white-bearded peasant in a red shirt, as a naked woman with enormous breasts combing her dripping hair while seated on a log, or in the form of guardsmen and children. It can be half fish and half human, or appear as a huge moss-covered fish, a swan, or even a bouquet of red flowers on the water. In Smolensk the vodyanoi is humpbacked and has the feet and tail of a cow, while in Vologda it is a log with little wings flying over the water. A vodyanoi out of the water and in human guise can be identified by the water oozing out of its coat.

The vodyany-ye are immortal, but grow younger or older with the moon. They are weak on land, but virtually invincible in the water, and they dislike going out of the water beyond the bank or mill-wheel; some vodyany-ye refuse to emerge from water beyond the waist. They like to ride livestock until they die of exhaustion. Their presence in the market is an omen; if a vodyanoi buys corn at high prices, the harvest will fail, but a vodyanoi buying cheaply foretells bountiful crops.

They rest in their palaces during the day, and come out in the evening splashing the water with their paws, making a noise that can be heard over great distances. Vodyany-ye hate humans and lurk in the water after sunset, dragging people in when the opportunity arises. Those they drown become their slaves, or if attractive enough their wives. They take offense to anyone attempting to retrieve the bodies of the drowned, seeing them as their rightful property. Recovered bodies with bruises and marks on them were seen as bearing the scars of battle with a vodyanoi. In some places the presence of a vodyanoi became a serious threat. One mill-pond in Olonets held a vodyanoi family that required a constant source of corpses to eat. The inhabitants of the area learned to avoid the pond, and the family was eventually forced to relocate.

A vodyanoi sees mill-dams as an insult, and will destroy them to keep the water flowing. Horses smeared with honey, hobbled, and drowned with millstones make good placatory offerings. Drunk passers-by can also be pushed into mill-ponds to earn the vodyanoi’s trust.

As with other evil spirits, a vodyanoi can be exorcised; in fact, in some areas such as Tula, the vodyanoi is indistinguishable from the devil. Shooting a vodyanoi with buttons has been known to kill them as well. But while a vodyanoi can bear grudges, it can just as soon show gratitude. One vodyanoi who was aided in fighting off a rival promised never to drown anyone.

A vodyanoi is not hostile to fishermen and millers due to their affinity with water. Millers would deposit bread, salt, vodka, black sows, and ram’s heads at the water’s edge as offerings to the vodyanoi, and offer black roosters when building a new mill. Some millers were on such good terms with their local vodyanoi that they dined with them every night. Fishermen, on the other hand, would toss butter or tobacco into the water, saying “here’s some tobacco for you, vodyanoi, give me a fish!” A pleased vodyanoi would drive fish into a fisherman’s net. Finally, beekeepers also kept up good relations with the vodyanoi by offering honey and wax, and in return the water-spirit prevented humidity from damaging the hives.

The bolotnyi, from boloto or “swamp”, is a possible variation of the vodyanoi found in swamps.

References

Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Ivanits, L. J. (1989) Russian Folk Belief. M. E. Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, New York.

MacCulloch, J. A. and Machal, J. (1918) The Mythology of All Races v. III: Celtic and Slavic. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

Araǵanaqlta’a

Variations: AraGanaqlta’a, AraGanaGalta’a; AraGanaqlate’e, AraGanaGalate’e; Owner of the Snakes, Father of the Snakes

Araganaqltaa

Araǵanaqlta’a is the father or owner of the snakes in Argentinian Toba folklore. It can be found in a range of habitats, but usually likes rivers and deep caves with access to water. In addition to snakes, which are all under its command, it is associated with water, rainbows, and storms.

The araǵanaqlta’a appears as a large, multicolored snake, 10 meters or more in length, resembling a bushmaster or fer-de-lance. It has a red crest, its “sign” (ndage), on top of its head, and a sawlike structure on either side of its body that allows it to move. An araǵanaqlta’a’s tail ends in two hooks which it uses to hold prey. The females are known as araganaqlate’e, the mother of the snakes.

Araǵanaqlta’a are shapeshifters, adjusting to fit their environment, and are also known in the form of four-legged snakes, as humans in elegant business attire, or as rheas with colorful necks. No matter what shape it takes, however, the araǵanaqlta’a always has its characteristic ndage, which identifies it as a powerful mythical creature.

Araǵanaqlta’a are intelligent and enjoy human conversation. These snakes will punish desecrators of nature and persecutors of snakes, but will reward those who they find worthy. After a hunter treated an araǵanaqlta’a with respect and obeisance, the snake promised him that he would have all he would ever need, and taught him how to heal the sick with his words.

References

Wilde, G. and Schamber, P. (2006) Simbolismo, Ritual, y Performance. Paradigma Indicial, Buenos Aires.

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

Chonchón

Variations: Chonchon, Chonchoñ, Chon Chón, Chuncho, Chucho, Chuchu, Chaihue; Chonchones (pl.); Cocorote, Corocote (Venezuela); Cuscungo (Ecuador); Tecolote, Telocote (Mexico)

Chonchon

The Chonchón is a bird of ill omen from Chile and Argentina; it originally hails from Araucanian Mapuche folklore. Chonchón is also the name of a kind of kite.

In its simplest form it is a bird of the night, an owl (Strix rufipes) that flies on silent wings during the night to announce illness, death, or some other unwelcome event. When its croaking is heard it is advised to throw ash into the air and utter a few prayers in the hopes of turning away its evil.

The chonchón is also said to be a calcu or evil sorcerer in disguise. It resemble a human head, with oversized wing-like ears that allow it to fly. During the night, these sorcerers’ heads detach themselves from their bodies and fly around to cause mischief, invisible to most, their ominous tué, tué, tué call announcing misfortune. They have the same powers as sorcerers do, and have been known to suck the blood of sleepers.

In order to repel chonchones, several methods are recommended. These include drawing a Solomon’s seal on the ground, laying out a waistcoat in a specified manner, or reciting certain phrases or hymns such as the Magnificat, the Doce Palabras Redobladas, “Saint Cyprian goes up, Saint Cyprian goes down, Saint Cyprian goes to the mountain, Saint Cyprian goes to the valley”, or “Jesus goes ahead, follow him behind”. Doing any of these actions forces the chonchón to leave, or even fall to the ground where it can be destroyed. If the headless body of a chonchón sorcerer is found, turning it onto its stomach prevents the chonchón from returning to it. Finally, a more humane means of dealing with a chonchón is to yell “Come back tomorrow for some salt!” The next day, the chonchón in its human guise will show up and sheepishly request the promised salt. Except perhaps for the last method, most interference with the ways of chonchones will eventually incur the revenge of the chonchón or its friends.

One chonchón was reportedly grounded in Limache when someone made a Solomon’s seal, causing a large bird with red wattles to fall out of the sky. It was decapitated and its head fed to a dog, whose belly swelled up as though it had eaten a human head. Later the local gravedigger told that unknown persons had come to bury a headless body.

Not all chonchones are irredeemably evil, however. A Mapuche man in Galvarino once woke up early in the morning to find his wife’s body without her head. He immediately realized that she was a chonchón, and turned the body onto its stomach to prevent the head from reattaching. As expected, a chonchón soon flew heavily into the house, flapping and staggering as though blind. It then turned into a dog and whined pleadingly to be reunited with its body. The man took pity on it and allowed it to do so, and it became his wife once more. “Every night I leave, without you knowing, and visit distant lands”, she explained. She begged him not to tell anyone, and swore she would never harm him, and both kept their word; the story became known only after the wife died of natural causes.

Some authorities separate the chonchón from the chuncho, with the former being the sorcerous flying head and the latter the owl. Their calls are also different, with the chuncho hooting chun, chun, chun. They have further owl equivalents in the Venezuelan cocorote, the Ecuadorian cuscungos, and the Mexican tecolote. It is also compared to the myth of the voladora, a witch who flies while cackling loudly.

All this is quite unfair to the owls themselves, which benefit the farmers by eating mice, rats, and other vermin.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Coluccio, F. and Coluccio, S. (2006) Diccionario Folklórico Argentino. Corregidor, Buenos Aires.

Rodríguez, Z. (1875) Diccionario de Chilenismos. El Independiente, Santiago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Mourioche

Variations: Guenne; Fausserole (possibly)

Mourioche

Nobody knows for sure where Mourioche came from. Some say that he (for lack of a better pronoun) was once a Breton man or a woman, versed in the dark arts, who sold their soul for a magical ointment. Other accounts make him a simple werewolf without control of his actions. Dubois whimsically claims he was once the court jester of an undersea kingdom, and was banished for bad behavior. There are even claims that he is the Devil himself.

It is more likely that Mourioche has always haunted Brittany, spreading his brand of cruel humor along the coastlines of Côtes-d’Armor and around Jugon-les-Lacs. He is a water-horse, and a shapeshifter; there is no end to the forms he has assumed, and he loves using his powers in creative ways. Mourioche is usually seen in the form of a yearling colt, pig, cow, or sheep, often with a pair of muscular arms.

Mourioche comes out at night, and preys on nocturnal travelers. Sometimes he is a horse standing by the side of the road, waiting for riders. His spine stretches as more and more people get on, then he gallops right into the lake, his laugh echoing in the darkness. At other times he wrestles passers-by, grappling with his brawny arms and throwing his victims into muddy ditches. He will jump onto men’s back and force them to carry him until they drop of exhaustion. He will follow people along the road, changing shape every time they turn to look at him, and making a sound like tearing canvas.

Drawn-out sadistic pranks are Mourioche’s favorite form of entertainment. A farmer of Saint-Cast once found Mourioche in the form of an abandoned ewe, and took him home to his barn. The next day, when he went to check on his new sheep, he found a cow; the day after, it had become a horse. On the fourth night, it was a sheep again, who laughed and said “Why do you check on me every morning? You’re weird!” It was then that the farmer saw that all his animals had been slaughtered. He reached for his shotgun, but Mourioche took off, destroying half the barn and abducting the farmer’s three children (who were never seen again). Mourioche is not without mercy, though, and he left behind a golden necklace.

Mourioche is not without his faults, however, and is baffled by anyone who doesn’t fear him. One man nonchalantly carried Mourioche all the way back home, and the shapeshifter fled when he called his wife. Another time Mourioche took a tailor on his back, who threatened to cut his ears off with his scissors. The tailor was returned to dry land very quickly.

In Matignon, parents would get their children to bed with a “hattaï, mon p’tit gars; Mourioche te prenrait!” (“hurry, my l’il lad, Mourioche will take you!). It is also said that of a frightened person that “il a eu peur comme s’il avait vu Mourioche” (“he’s scared as though he saw Mourioche”). To ward off Mourioche, one must curse him with “Mourioche, le diable t’écorche” (“Mourioche, the Devil flay you”).

The Fausserole of Saint-Cast is very similar, and may be another form of Mourioche. She likes to appear as a white beast, a dog or a calf, and has no qualms about tossing clergy around, as the rector of Saint-Cast found out.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Morvan, F. (1998) Vie et mœurs des lutins bretons. Actes Sud.

Sébillot, P. (1882) Traditions et superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

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

Sébillot, P. (1968) Le folklore de la Bretagne. Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.

Fayette

Fayette

The Fayettes (“little fairies”) live in the Forez region in France, today around the Loire basin. They are believed to be the descendants of the Greek nymphs, having escaped the advance of Christianity in the Mediterranean.

In France they are much tinier versions of their former selves, but their magical powers are undiminished. They guard the caves and forests, and can be seen dancing in the woods of Couroux, in the Beaujolais. Like any self-respecting fairy, they like to abduct children and leave insatiable changelings behind. Those fairy children are best brought to the mouth of a cave and threatened with violence, causing the fayette to return the stolen child. Te, vequio le tio, rends me le mio (“There, here’s yours, return mine”).

During the night, the fayettes do their laundry under the moon. Travellers in the woods are advised to sing at the top of their lungs to make sure they’re not mistaken for threats. At daybreak the fairies dissipate like fog, sometimes leaving behind solid gold washboards that would make anyone’s fortune.

During the day the fayettes take the form of moles, and take pleasure in ravaging gardens. This is why moles have pretty little pink hands.

References

Proth, M. (1868) Au Pays de l’Astrée. Librairie Internationale, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1904) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Premier: Le Ciel et la Terre. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Eintykára

Variations: Tapezu’á, Honey Man

Eintykara multiple

The Eintykára stingless bees, as told by the Chamacoco of Paraguay, are those that produce the golden honey. This honey can induce mild hallucinogenic effects, due to the presence of an ergot fungus on the plants the bees visit. But even more remarkable is their ability to swarm together and shapeshift into a man.

Eintykára hives have long, tubular wax entrances through which the bees enter and leave. An older single woman used to pass by such a hive every day, and its suggestive appearance made her mind wander. “Oh, what a beautiful eintykára hive!” she would say. “If only it were a handsome man who would make love to me…”

She continued to fantasize about the phallic hive, day in and day out. Eventually she started referring to it as her husband. “Ah, there is my husband again. He’s still there. If only he were a man, I would marry him on the spot”.

Finally, one night she was visited by a stranger. He was unlike any man she had seen – his skin was milky white, and his hair was as golden as honey. “Who are you?” she asked, stunned by his beauty. “I am Eintykára, the hive you desired and talked to for so long. I wish to take you as my wife, and support you and your people”.

And so it came to pass that the woman married Eintykára, and they had children together. He was unnaturally intelligent, and a diligent, tireless worker admired by the entire village. He never seemed to eat; instead, he would go into the forest, transform into a swarm of bees, and then reintegrate after collecting enough nectar. His “waste” was beeswax and eintykára honey, which he would distribute to all. That is why some of the Chamacoco are fair-skinned, for they are among his descendants.

Another eintykára was also known to have joined a Chamacoco village, but he and his adopted people were tragically killed in a raid by a neighboring tribe. They set fire to the houses, and though he tried to turn into an eintykára swarm and fly away, enough of his bees were incinerated to kill him.

References

Cañedo, J. A.; Belaieff, J.; Cordeu, E. J.; Frič, A. V.; Métraux, A.; and Pittini, R.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1992) Folk Literature of the Chamacoco Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Lange Wapper

Variations: Lange-wapper, Long Wapper

Lange wapper

Centuries ago, the woods around Antwerp crawled with demons, goblins, and all sorts of evil creatures. They became so troublesome that the townsfolk organized a massive raid, mobilizing priests and arming themselves with bell, book, candle, and icons of the Virgin Mary. The countryside was scoured, and every monster they found was exorcised and banished to the sea.

They did not check the water. One creature escaped their attention by waiting quietly for them to leave. From there he made his way into the canals of Antwerp, where he settled down and incubated his resentment towards humanity.

This was Lange Wapper, or “Long Wapper”. As a shapeshifter, he has no fixed appearance or size. He can be be taller than buildings or the size of a mouse. However, his favored forms usually have long, skinny legs with which he walks on water. These legs can stretch to enormous lengths, allowing him to peer in windows and terrify the inhabitants. The strange movements he makes on those stilt-like legs are the origin of his name, as wapper is an antiquated term for “balance”, and an even more ancient term for “big man”.

Lange Wapper revels in his shapeshifting powers, using them for pranks of varying cruelty. He can become an abandoned kitten, a scared-looking dog, a priest, a nun, a rich man, a beautiful woman, a beggar in rags… any shape that lets him draw unsuspecting victims towards him. Other times Lange Wapper grows to gigantic size and towers over drunkards staggering home at night, frightening them to death. He can duplicate himself as much as he likes, filling dark alleyways with monstrous apparitions. Wappersrui and Wappersbrug are some of his preferred haunts.

A form he often used was a newborn baby, crying on the side of the road. If someone picked him up out of pity, they found their burden slowly growing in weight, until they finally drop it in alarm. The demon then laughs hysterically, and dives back into the canal. He loves milk and especially likes playing this trick on mothers and wet-nurses, draining them dry before making his escape. Lange Wapper also does his best to delay midwives and doctors from attending to women in childbirth.

One time Lange Wapper turned himself into a woman who had four suitors, and soon enough the first suitor arrived to demand her hand in marriage. “I accept, but only if you go to the Notre-Dame cemetery and lay yourself across the crucifix, until midnight”. Confused but elated, the man set off. He was followed by the second suitor, who made the same proposal. “Of course! But only if you go to the Notre-Dame cemetery, take a coffin, carry it to the crucifix, and lie in it until midnight”. The third suitor was told to knock three times on the lid of the coffin, and the fourth had to take an iron chain and run around the crucifix three times, dragging the chain behind him. As expected, the first suitor died of fright when he saw the second crawl into the coffin, the second had a heart attack when the third knocked on his coffin, and the third dropped dead when he heard the fourth running around and rattling his chain. The fourth suitor, baffled, returned to his lover – the real one, this time – to tell her the news, and she committed suicide upon hearing it. Lange Wapper found all this quite amusing.

Lange Wapper does have a soft spot for children, and often becomes a child himself to play with them. But old habits die hard, and he still can’t resist ending the games with some prank.

Unfortunately for Lange Wapper, Antwerp became more and more hostile to him. Modernization of the canals was certainly an annoyance, but the worst came when his fear of Our Lady was discovered. Images of the Virgin Mary proliferated, and soon the demon found himself facing religious imagery everywhere. He has not been seen in a long while; for all we know, he has given up and returned to the sea.

References

Griffis, W. E. (1919) Belgian Fairy Tales. Thomas Y. Crowell, New York.

van Hageland, A. (1973) La Mer Magique. Marabout, Paris.

Teirlinck, I. (1895) Le Folklore Flamand. Charles Rozez, Brussels.