Kranokolaptes

Variations: Kephalokroustes, Sklerokephalon

kranokolaptes

Nicander classified the Kranokolaptes, the “Head Striker”, as a phalangion or spider. This is all the more puzzling because the description has nothing arachnoid about it. No doubt its deadly bites were seen as reason enough to list it after wolf spiders and malmignattes.

The kranokolaptes is an insect found in Egypt, and which develops in the persea tree (perhaps Mimusops). It has the appearance of a moth, with four downy felt-textured wings that leave an ashy dust behind. Philoumenos described it as green in color, but that is apparently a misreading of Nicander. The head of the kranokolaptes is hard, heavy, and nodding; its abdomen is thick and fat. It has a deadly stinger located below its head.

A kranokolaptes will use its stinger to attack the heads and necks of humans and cause instant death. Kranokolaptes stings are deadly unless victims are treated with its antidote – a kranokolaptes drowned in oil.

It has been suggested that hawkmoths (Sphingidae), with their impressive sizes, thick abdomens, and prominent probosces, are at the root of the kranokolaptes tale. The vampire moth Calyptra thalictri is even more compelling. Having evolved from fruit-piercing moths, vampire moths use the same methods to puncture skin and drink blood – and they rock their heads back and forth as they penetrate, explaining the “nodding” aspect. The similarities end here, however, as a bite from Calyptra merely causes swelling and irritation.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

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.

Yara-ma-yha-who

Yara ma ya who

The Yara-ma-yha-who of Australia are restricted to the forests of the Pacific coast, and their absence elsewhere should be considered a blessing. They are primarily nursery bogies, dissuading children from frequenting dangerous areas.

A yara-ma-yha-who is a grotesque sight, and would be amusing were it not for its ghastly habits. Not more than four feet tall, red, and covered with fur, a yara-ma-yha-who has a disproportionately large head. It can open its toothless mouth like a snake, and its throat and belly are similarly distensible. An adult man can be easily swallowed by a yara-ma-yha-who without discomfort. Its fingers and toes are equipped with suction cups. Yara-ma-yha-who are good climbers, but can only waddle like cockatoos on land.

Thick-leaved fig trees are the yara-ma-yha-who’s favorite haunt. They can wait for days in the branches until some hapless traveler, perhaps seeking shelter from sun or rain, lies under the tree. Lone children are their favorite prey.

When a yara-ma-yha-who attacks, it attaches its hands and feet on its victim’s body, using the suction cups to drain the blood out of them. It does not empty them entirely, but only enough to make them faint. It then leaves its victim for a while, eventually returning to swallow them whole, head first. A little dance lets the food slide down, the meal is washed down with water, and the yara-ma-yha-who takes a nap.

After waking up, the yara-ma-yha-who vomits its prey out. The human is almost always alive and playing dead; there is no reason to fight back as the creature can overpower the strongest man. The yara-ma-yha-who takes five paces, then returns and pokes his victim’s sides with a stick. Then it walks away ten paces before returning to tickle the human under the arm or neck. A fifty-yard stroll is followed up by more tickling, then the yara-ma-yha-who goes behind a bush and sleeps.

This ritual is always repeated. The yara-ma-yha-who know that if they fail to carry out these actions, the spirit of the fig tree will mumble in their ears, causing them to transform into glowing tree mushrooms.

For this reason it is safest to play dead until this point, when you get to your feet and run. “Where have you gone, my victim?” calls the yara-ma-yha-who if it hears you escaping, but its awkward gait makes it easy to outrun. After failing to recapture prey, a spiteful yara-ma-yha-who will drink up all the water in nearby wells and water-holes, leading people to seek liquid from tree sap – and thus end up exposed to yara-ma-yha-who attack.

It is important not to let a yara-ma-yha-who swallow you multiple times. The second time you are swallowed and regurgitated, you become shorter and completely hairless. By the third time you are shorter still, and thick hair grows over your body. Eventully, after enough cycles of swallowing and vomiting, you become a yara-ma-yha-who yourself.

Heuvelmans believed the yara-ma-yha-who was inspired by tarsiers. Furry, big-eyed, and with suction-cup fingers, it is more a mammalian frog than anything else.

References

Heuvelmans, B. (1958) On the Track of Unknown Animals. Rupert Hart-Davis, London.

Smith, W. R. (2003) Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines. Dover Publications, Mineola.

Palis

Variations: Pālīs, Pa-lis, Pali (erroneously)

Palis

The Palis (“foot-licker”; rhymes with “police”) can be encountered in the deserts of Iran. There is no description given for this creature, but its appearance is presumably as vile as its habits.

A palis is a vampiric creature that preys on sleeping travelers. It locates their feet and proceeds to lick the soles, steadily draining blood away until the host dies.

Most means of thwarting a palis revolve around concealing one’s feet. The palis is thankfully rather stupid, and can be easily convinced to give and go elsewhere. The best-known method of dealing with a palis was pioneered by two muleteers from Isfahan, who went to sleep in the desert with the soles of their feet touching, blanketing themselves so that only their heads were visible. When a palis arrived, it circled for hours, searching vainly for their feet all night long. By daybreak it slunk away, lamenting its bad luck. “I have wandered through a thousand and thirty-three valleys, but I have never seen a man with two heads!”

References

Browne, E. G. (1893) A Year Amongst the Persians. Adam and Charles Black, London.

Christensen, A. (1941) Essai sur la Démonologie Iranienne. Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (2005) The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. Abbeville Press.

Masse, H. (1954) Persian Beliefs and Customs. Behavior Science Translations, Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

Scarbo

Scarbo

Scarbo is a vampiric dwarf with specialized tastes. He enjoys nothing more than entering the rooms of poets, artists, and writers, and spending the night tormenting them. With his razor-sharp fangs, he bites into his host’s neck, then helpfully cauterizes the bloody wound with a metal finger heated red-hot.

He clambers around the victim’s room, scrabbling at the rafters, scratching at the bedposts. He whispers threats into their ears – and his creativity knows no bounds, as he describes in loving detail the burial shroud he has planned for his victim, the funeral that he will hold, and the sobbing children that will gather in his wake.

He spends the entire night in the room, growing larger as the moon rises, then, as dawn approaches, he flickers, turns blue and translucent, and winks out like a snuffed candle.

Scarbo’s primary contributions to the arts are the Gothic prose poem Gaspard de la Nuit, reportedly written by the Devil himself, and the piano piece of the same name by Ravel, which matches his fiendish activities with its fiendish difficulty.

References

Bertrand, L. (1904) Gaspard de la Nuit. Ambroise Vollard, Paris.

Alp-luachra

Variations: Art-luachra, Arc-luachra, Airc-luachra, Dochi-luachair, Just-halver, Joint-eater, Mankeeper, Darklooker, Art-pluachra (mispronunciation)

Alp-luachra

Fairies are far removed from the sanitized Victorian ideal we are accustomed to. There are beautiful fairies; there are also ugly fairies, cruel fairies, and vile, parasitic fairies. The alp-luachra belongs to the last group.

Native to Ireland, where it can be found across the island, the alp-luachra is a small, newt-like creature not unlike Ireland’s native smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). It was born of ignorance and fear of the unknown – in this case, the habits of the newt. Any similarities end there, however. The smooth newt is a harmless denizen of ponds, while the alp-luachra lives off “the Pith or Quintessence of what the Man eats”, as Robert Kirk put it.

Infestation is simple enough. Anyone asleep outdoors is at risk. Alp-luachras slip into the open mouths of sleepers, and from there work their way into the stomach. The entire process is painless, and hosts are never aware of their slimy new occupants. That is, until the symptoms manifest themselves: pain in their sides as the alp-luachras make themselves comfortable, and increasing, insatiable hunger. The alp-luachras eat the food ingested by their hosts, growing larger, reproducing inside them until their wriggling becomes unbearable; meanwhile, their hosts waste away, becoming gaunt and emaciated. In the span of a few years, the unfortunate victim eventually dies of starvation, and the alp-luachras move out to find new victims.

As the alp-luachra’s glamour prevents it from being seen by physicians, it must be tricked into leaving the body by other means. Inhaling the strong fragrance of savory food can coax them to come out, as can eating very salty food. Once outside the body, the alp-luachra can be licked to cure burns.

Douglas Hyde recounts the story of one farmer from Connacht who suffered from alp-luachra infestation for half a year, until an itinerant beggar and the Prince of Coolavin told him how to get rid of them. He started by eating a large quantity of salted beef. While this made him thirsty (and no less hungry), it made the alp-luachras thirstier. He then lay down with his mouth open above a stream; the alp-luachras, sensing water, crawled out of his mouth and into the stream, one by one. All in all, he had been host to a dozen alp-luachras and their mother, seven times their size.

He never slept on the grass again.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (2005) The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. Abbeville Press.

Hyde, D. (1890) Beside the Fire. David Nutt, London.

Kirk, R. (1893) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, & Fairies. David Nutt, London.