Mi-ni-wa-tu

Mi-ni-wa-tu

The Mi-ni-wa-tu, or “sea monster”, is known from the folklore of the Tetons, and may be found in the Missouri River.

A mi-ni-wa-tu is an amphibious creature with a body like that of a buffalo, and covered with red hair. It has a single horn in its forehead, and a single eye. Its back is notched like a saw or gear.

The mi-ni-wa-tu may be safely seen at night when it swims powerfully up the river, churning the water and glowing like fire; in the spring, it breaks up river ice. Seeing a mi-ni-wa-tu during the day causes confusion and loss of sight. Madness sets in; after a day of convulsions, the unfortunate victim dies.

References

Dorsey, J. O. (1889) Teton Folklore Notes. Journal of American Folklore, Vol. II, No. IV, pp. 133-139.

Mi’raj

Variations: Al-Mi’raj (usually erroneously), Miraj (lacking the ‘ayn), Mirag (see previous, also Egyptian pronunciation)

Miraj

When Alexander the Great visited Jazirat al-Tinnin – the Dragon’s Island – he was immediately presented with an opportunity to play the hero. The inhabitants of this unspecified island in the Indian Ocean were terrorized by a fire-breathing dragon, which would exact a tribute of two oxen a day to be left at the opening of its lair. Ever the tactician, Alexander stuffed two ox-skins with pitch, sulfur, and other unpalatable substances, and had them dropped off for the dragon; the reptile perished soon after eating them.

Among the gifts Alexander was given for this sauroctonous feat was a Mi’raj, a creature resembling a yellow rabbit with a single black horn on its forehead. It was apparently so aggressive that wild animals would flee at the sight of it – a feature it shared with the karkadann, and which may have arisen from confusion between the two unicorns. It certainly wasn’t fierce enough to avoid being captured (alive or dead).

The exact pronunciation of the name is unclear, as with the absence of diacritics, “mi’raj” may as well be “mu’raj”. It is sometimes rendered as Al-mi’raj, literally “The mi’raj”; this is unnecessary in English, and any usage of this term preceded with “the” or “an” is redundant. Bochart (and by extension Flaubert) refers to it as “mirag”, which is correct in Egyptian Arabic but drops the difficult ‘ayn.

Al-Qazwini was the first to report the story of Alexander and the mi’raj. Al-Damiri describes the mi’raj as “great [and] marvelous”.

If there is any factual basis for the existence of the mi’raj, it may well have been a rabbit with facial tumors caused by papillomaviruses. The same has been used to explain the origin of the jackalope, a North American hybrid used to fool tourists and usually created by grafting horns on a jackrabbit skin.

References

Bochart, S. (1675) Hierozoicon. Johannis Davidis Zunneri, Frankfurt.

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

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

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.

Seznec, J. (1943) Saint Antoine et les Monstres: Essai sur les Sources et la Signification du Fantastique de Flaubert. PMLA, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 195-222.

Zimmer, C. (2011) A Planet of Viruses. University of Chicago Press.

Sinad

Variations: Sinād, Sénad, Senad

Sinad 2

The Sinad is an Indian creature of uncertain appearance and dubious maternal instinct, described by Al-Jahiz, Al-Qazwini, and a number of other Muslim authors. Its primary characteristics – also attributed to the karkadann – were its sharp, thorny tongue and its unusual method of giving birth.

Al-Qazwini describes the sinad as similar to but smaller than an elephant, and larger than an ox. When the female is ready to give birth, the young sinad would stick its head out of its mother’s womb, feeding on grass and waiting until it was mature enough to run away. This was because the mother sinad, following her parental instincts, would attempt to lick her calf clean – in the process flaying the flesh off its bones. Once it was large enough, the calf would squirm out and gallop to safety.

This lethal tongue was also associated with the karkadann, and representations of them became blurred. Some images of the sinad are elephantine, while others came to follow the established iconography of the karkadann, giving it one or two horns. Al-Gharnati stated that the kings of China tortured people by having a karkadann lick them. Marco Polo, in his disillusioned report on the unicorn, said that its deadliest weapon was its tongue.

Flaubert, in his Temptation of Saint Anthony, makes an allusion to the Sénad as a three-headed bear that tears its cubs apart with its tongue. Here he conflates the sinad as described by Bochart with Pliny’s description of the bear licking its amorphous newborn cubs into shape. The three heads are a Flaubertian flourish.

References

Ettinghausen, R. (1950) The Unicorn. Studies in Muslim Iconography, Freer Gallery of Art Occasional Papers Vol. 1, No. 3, Washington.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Polo, M. (1965) The Travels. Penguin Classics, London.

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.

Seznec, J. (1943) Saint Antoine et les Monstres: Essai sur les Sources et la Signification du Fantastique de Flaubert. PMLA, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 195-222.

Caspilly

Variations: Caspilli, Neemora (Persian)

Caspilly

The Caspilly is a “marvelously large, and strong” fish from the Indian Ocean, described by Ambroise Paré on the basis of two separate accounts by André Thevet.

Thevet placed it in the Arabian Gulf (which may just as well be the Red Sea as the Persian Gulf), saying that it is known to the Arabs as caspilly, and to the Persians as neemora. The caspilly is almost as wide as it is long, but no more than two feet long. It has no scales, and its skin is spiky and barbed like that of a shark. On its forehead is a lancet-like spine, a foot and a half in length, that it keeps tucked along its nape. When it is hungry, it goes for the first fish it sees, stabbing it in the belly with its horn until its prey bleeds to death. Its teeth are venomous and bites are deadly. Applying a dead caspilly to a bite, on the other hand, will cure it. The horn is of great medicinal value, and caspilly are shot with arrows from a safe distance to retrieve such a prize.

Thevet also reports a nameless fish from the Peruvian sea, with a swordlike horn three feet long. This fish is a specialized whale killer. Upon seeing a whale, the fish will hide underneath before stabbing it in the navel with its horn, leaving the whale to writhe in its death throes and capsize nearby ships. Once the whale is dead, it can be eaten at leisure.

Paré economically combines both accounts, giving the caspilly a four-foot-long horn and making it the terror of the Arabian sea. He adds that the Arabs of the region hunt caspillys with giant hooks baited with camel meat. Any caspilly who greedily takes the bait will tire itself out on the line, eventually slowing down enough to be shot with arrows, brought onto ship, and bludgeoned to death. Caspilly flesh is edible, and caspilly alicorn is just as potent against venom as that of the unicorn.

In all likelihood the Caspilly was born from accounts of swordfish and killer whales, contaminated by lionfish and porcupinefish. The venomous bite may have been derived from the famed toxicity of pufferfish. Aldrovandi cautiously included it with his Herinaceus marinus, the porcupinefish, as Herinaceus arabus, the Arab hedgehog.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1642) Monstrorum historia cum Paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium. Bononiae.

Paré, A. (1582) Discours d’Ambroise Paré – De la Licorne. Gabriel Buon, Paris.

Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.