Cenchris

Variations: Cenchros, Cenchrines, Cenchridion, Cenchrites, Cenchria; Millet; Milliaris (from millet); Punter-schlang, Berg-schlang (German); Lyon (due to its color and ferocity); Famusus, Aracis, Falivisus (Topsell gives those last three as barbarous versions)

Cenchris

The Cenchris or Millet is one of the many venomous snakes spawned from the blood of Medusa that live in the Sahara desert. It was listed in the catalog of serpents assailing Cato and his men, but did not receive a separate account describing the effects of its deadly venom. Situated in Libya according to Lucan, Topsell stated it to hail from Lemnus and Samothracia.

The most obvious characteristic of a cenchris is that it always move in a straight line, and does not coil or flex its body. For this reason it can travel fast in a straight line, but cannot make sharp turns. In color it is a dusky yellow, looking like the color of millet seed, but Aldrovandi suggests it to be at least partly green. Regardless of the color, the cenchris is attractively spotted and speckled, bringing to mind millet or marbled columns. The pointed tail is turned upwards, like a lion’s. A cenchris grows to two cubits (about one meter) long.

The cenchris is most active and aggressive when millet is at the peak of its growth, and head to the mountains in the summer. Unlike other venomous snakes, it will use its entire body when attacking, wrapping around its victim and beating it; meanwhile, it fastens its fangs in its prey and sucks its blood out.

Cenchris venom rots and putrefies flesh, causing lethargy, stomachache, and death within two days if left untreated. Lettuce, flax-seed, savory, rue, betony, and daffodil in three cups of wine, followed by two drams of centaury, gentian, hartwort, nosewort, or sesame, makes a good antidote.

While not easy to narrow to a single species, the rectilinear locomotion suggests the cenchris to be inspired by large, heavy-bodied vipers such as the puff adder.

References

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

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.

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.

Vouivre

Variations: Vaivre, Givre, Guivre, Wivre

Vouivre

Vouivres, the great fiery serpents of France, have been reported primarily from remote, mountainous regions, where they haunt springs, wells, caves, deep ponds, and ruined castles. They are known from Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Savoie, the Jura mountains, and neighboring areas, with possible relatives in the Aosta Valley and Switzerland.

The word “vouivre” is derived from the Latin vipera, or “viper”. Vouivres themselves are the spiritual descendants of Mélusine, stripped of her human features. They have been described as dragons, serpents, and fairies in the form of great reptiles; they are always the guardians of priceless treasures.

In its most simple definition, a Vouivre is a female dragon. Vouivres vary wildly in appearance, but are always female and associated with fire and water. The classic vouivre, as observed in Faverges, Fleury-la-Tour, Mont-Beuvray, Rosemont, Solutré, and Thouleurs, is an immense winged serpent covered with fire. Instead of eyes, a vouivre has a single large diamond or ruby in its head that guides it through the air. She removes it when bathing, leaving it blind and vulnerable to theft. Possession of a vouivre’s eye-stone would bring riches and happiness to anyone who stole it. The immense vouivre of Boëge guards treasure and wears a priceless golden necklace. In La Baume she is 4 meters long and covered in gems and pearls. She sometimes leaves gems behind where she lands. The Lucinges vouivre is a glowing red viper that whistles eerily in flight. The Gemeaux vouivre, which appeared between 2 and 3 in the afternoon, was hooded like a cobra.

In Brizon, she is equally likely to appear as a bird or a winged beech marten with a brilliant necklace as she is to have the form of a great serpent with wings and a diamond on its tail. Vouivres may not even look like animals. In Chevenoz she appears as a burning fireball streaking across the sky, in Saint-Jean-d’Aulps and Vallorcine she is a single-eyed tongue of fire, and in Le Biot she is a star whose appearance foretells war and strife. The Orgelet Castle vouivre looks like a red-hot iron bar in flight, and the vouivre of Sixt-Fer-À-Cheval is a plumed golden necklace that flies through the air.

One of the more effective ways of slaying a vouivre has been making a spiked barrel to hide in. At Condes, a man managed to steal a vouivre’s diamond and hide in a nail-studded washtub; the infuriated, blinded dragon killed herself trying to get to him. While another man at the Aosta Valley slew a vouivre in a similar manner, other prospective thieves have not been so lucky. The vouivre of Reyvroz had a necklace of great value, which was stolen by a man in a spiked barrel; she died and the thief died soon after. The vouivre of Samoëns had her pearl necklace stolen in the same manner, but she constricted the barrel anyway and made the thief return the necklace; she then disappeared and was never seen again. In Manigod, where grass would not grow for a couple of years after the vouivre’s passage, a man who stole her diamond was killed, his barrel smashed, and the gem retrieved.

Finally, as with all dragons, vouivres are vulnerable to the power of saints and other holy persons. The vouivre of Saint-Suliac was cast into a deep cave by Saint Suliac after she killed one of his monks. The location became known as the Trou de la Guivre, the Guivre’s Hole.

In Thollon-Les-Mémises, among other places, “vouivre” has become a byword for an unpleasant, nasty woman.

Modern versions of the vouivre, perhaps conflating her with Mélusine, have embellished with her the features of a seductive woman. Marcel Aymé makes her a wild girl of the forest with an entourage of vipers, and Dubois makes her a beautiful fairy who sheds her dragon skin when bathing.

References

Aymé, M. (1943) La Vouivre. Gallimard.

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

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1996) La Grande Encyclopédie des Fées. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Joisten, C. (2010) Êtres fantastiques de Savoie. Musée Dauphinois, Grenoble.

Monnier, D. (1819) Essai sur L’Origine de la Séquanie. Gauthier, Lons-Le-Saunier.

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

Vatnagedda

Variations: Eiturgedda, Vatna-gedda, Loch Pike, Poisonous Pike

Vatnagedda

A number of Icelandic fishes are extremely toxic, but the Vatnagedda or “loch-pike” is probably the deadliest of all. Despite its name, it looks less like a pike and more like a small furry flounder, golden in color (although blue variants have been reported). They are also known as Eiturgedda, or “poisonous pike”.

The poison of the vatnagedda is found in its flesh and skin. Merely touching it is enough to cause death. The corrosive toxins can dissolve organic and inorganic matter alike, and eat through layers of clothing. Even ghosts are not immune to vatnagedda poison. The presence of a dead vatnagedda is enough to scare off any evil spirit, and vatnagedda fat will cure pain caused by ghosts and sorcery.

Vatnageddas live at the bottom of murky lakes. They hate light, which is said to kill them, and so are only seen at the surface before storms and in fog. To catch one, the hook must be baited with gold. Anglers must wear gloves made of human skin, or multiple layers of skate-skin; even then, handling the fish will result in rashes and inflammation.

The main problem after landing a vatnagedda is holding on to it, as its poison will eventually destroy any material around it. One specimen that had been wrapped in two horse-skins melted its way underground and vanished into the earth. Wrapping it in the caul of a child, followed by the caul of a calf, is the only known way to transport a vatnagedda.

Jon Arnason tells of a sorcerer who aided a farmer and his son. Some evil spirit was visiting their home, and its repeated hauntings were driving the young daughter to madness. The sorcerer, wearing human-skin gloves and armed with a hook baited with gold, captured a vatnagedda from Gedduvatn (Pike Lake). The dead fish was placed in a bottle, wrapped in multiple layers of sheepskins and leather, and loaded onto a pack-horse for the journey home. By the time the sorcerer returned, the horse had developed a hairless, sunken patch on its back where the vatnagedda had been, and it was debilitated for the rest of its life. The vatnagedda was buried under the threshold of the house, and the ghost never returned. The girl made a full recovery.

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.