Worm of Haftvad

Among the many stories told in the Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings, is that of Haftvad. Haftvad had seven sons, as his name indicates, and lived in a poor but hard-working town on the Persian Gulf during the reign of Shah Ardashir.

It came to pass that Haftvad’s daughter, who was busy spinning cotton, interrupted her work to eat an apple. Inside her apple there was a worm. Instead of tossing it aside in disgust, she saw it as a good omen, and put it in her spindlecase. “Thanks to this lucky worm”, she told her friends, “you will be amazed at what I’ll do”. The other girls laughed, but by the evening she had spun twice as much as she usually did.

Thus Haftvad’s daughter went on spinning, and every day she fed the worm a piece of apple, and the cotton practically spun itself into fine thread. Her industriousness did not go unnoticed by her parents, and she willingly showed them her secret. Haftvad decided to abandon all his work to care for the wondrous worm. He fed it nourishing food, and the worm grew larger and larger, outgrowing the spindlecase. Its skin was like black musk with a saffron-colored pattern on it, and Haftvad put it in a black chest.

The worm brought fortune to Haftvad and the whole town. Eventually a nobleman complained about Haftvad’s success, but Haftvad recruited an army from among his followers, took control of the town, and killed the nobleman.

By then Haftvad’s power had grown – and so had the worm. Now too big for the chest, it was relocated to Haftvad’s mountain fortress, where a specially-built stone cistern accommodated it. There it was fed on rice, milk, and honey by Haftvad’s daughter till it grew as large as an elephant.

Haftvad was unstoppable. Backed by armies, a fortune, and the good luck that the worm brought, no power on earth could stand up to him. His renown finally reached Shah Ardashir, who sent two armies to destroy Haftvad – but the power of the worm could not be undone, causing the defeat of the first army and the demoralization of the second.

It was then that Ardashir was informed of the worm’s true nature. It was no ordinary worm, but a devil in disguise, a creation – perhaps even an incarnation – of Ahriman. Only its death would allow the defeat of Haftvad.

Armed with this knowledge, Ardashir and a hand-picked group of men infiltrated the fortress disguised as merchants. They brought with them gold, jewels, wine, two chests of lead, and a bronze cauldron. “I have prospered thanks to the worm”, announced Ardashir to the guardians of the fortress, “and have come to pay homage to it”. As a further sign of good faith, he offered wine to all those that the worm commanded – and soon, the keepers were drunk.

That was when Ardashir made his move. The lead was melted in the cauldron and brought over to the worm’s cistern. The worm raised it head, opened its mouth, and stuck out its red tongue in anticipation of its meal, only to have boiling lead poured down its throat. Its death throes shook the very foundations of the fortress.

The death of the worm brought an end to Haftvad’s fortunes. His fortress was rapidly captured, and he and his eldest son were gibbeted and riddled with arrows.

References

Ferdowsi, A.; Davis, D. trans. (2006) Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. Viking, New York.

Welch, S. C. (1976) A King’s Book of Kings: The Shah-Nameh of Shah Tahmasp. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Wulver

Wulver

The Wulver lives alone in a cave halfway up a steep knowe on the Isle of Unst in Shetland. He stands upright like a man, but has a wolf’s head and a body covered in short brown hair.

A peaceful loner, the Wulver never harms people as long as he isn’t harmed. He likes to fish, and for hours will sit upon a rock, the “Wulver’s Stane”, and catch yearling coalfish. Frequently he will leave a gift of a few fish on the windowsill of the poor and old of Shetland.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

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

Wapaloosie

Variations: Geometrigradus cilioretractus (Cox)

Wapaloosie

Wapaloosies are found in Pacific Coast forests, and appear to be the mammalian answer to the inchworm. A wapaloosie is as big as a dachshund, with velvety fur, woodpecker-like feet, and a spike-tipped tail that aids in its caterpillarish climbing. And climb a wapaloosie does, moving effortlessly up the tallest of trees to feed on bracket fungus.

The wapaloosie drive to climb continues long after death. One lumberjack in Washington shot a wapaloosie and made a pair of fur mittens out of it. When he grabbed an axe, the mittens immediately shimmied up the handle to the top. They proceeded to do so with everything the lumberjack tried to hold, so he was forced to discard them. The mittens were last seen clambering over lumber slash.

References

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

Wako

Variations: Waco

Wako

The Wako are tsawekuri, animal spirits in the folklore of the Cuiva of Colombia and Venezuela. They look like pacas, with spots and long vicious fangs. Wako dig caves with many small exits and hiding-places, and live there in large numbers. Their call sounds like ao, ao, ao, ao.

Wako are carnivorous and anthropophagous. Anyone who ventures into their caves is hunted down and devoured. However, they refuse to chase anyone who is naked.

A Cuiva man who was left by his wife once made the suicidal decision to dig into a wako nest. Despite his son’s entreaties, he dug into the hole where a wako had been seen, feeling around with his hand and pulling it out quickly. His actions startled the wako, who ran out of their burrow calling ao, ao, ao, ao. There was nothing left of him after they were done.

Another man descended into a wako cave to avenge his pregnant wife, who had been eaten by the wako. He successfully exterminated the entire nest of wako.

References

Arcand, B.; Coppens, W.; Kerr, I.; and Gómez, F. O.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1991) Folk Literature of the Cuiva Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Wingoc

Variations: Wing (obsolete), Wingocak (pl.), Wingwak (pl.)

Wingoc

The Wingwak are the Algonquian spirits of sleep. A wingoc appears as a somniferous fly or butterfly, with greater numbers appearing to bedevil people into sleep (they typically show up five per person). The term wingoc is also used for sleep; compare ingwac, to be sleepy, and ingwam, to sleep.

A man playing in the sky once fell through a hole to land on Earth. There he found people sleeping, and one man sleeping more than the others. The heavenly visitor fashioned himself a small bow and arrows and started shooting at the clouds of flies above the sleeper. With some of the wingwak killed and others set to flight, the sleeper awoke. The celestial man then imparted his wisdom to the Algonquians, warning them of the arrival of the bearded men who would be the end of their race.

Expressions include ni nisigok wingwak (“the wingwak kill me”, i.e. “I am overwhelmed with sleepiness”) and wingwak ondjita manek (“there are so many wingwak”, i.e. “everyone’s asleep”).

References

Chamberlain, A. F. (1900) Some Items of Algonkian Folk-Lore. The Journal of American Folklore, 13(51), pp. 271-277.

Cuoq, J. A. (1886) Lexique de la Langue Algonquine. J. Chapleau et Fils, Montreal.

Lemoine, G. (1909) Dictionnaire Francais-Algonquin. G. Delisle, Chicoutimi.

Whowie

Variations: Whowhie

Whowie

The Whowie was the terror of the Murray River in the Riverina district of Australia. He was like an enormous goanna, about twenty feet long, with six goanna legs and a huge frog-like head; he was perhaps somewhat like the huge monitor lizards that once roamed southern Australia. While very slow in his movement, he had no reason to be fast, as everyone fleed in terror from him. At night, the whowie would crawl into grounds where people were sleeping, and proceed to devour anyone who couldn’t get away. Thirty to sixty people could disappear down his cavernous mouth during one of those raids. During the day he would sleep in his cave on the Murray River, or bask along the riverbank; his movements created the sandhills of Riverina.

With the passage of time, the depredations of the whowie were starting to take their toll on the inhabitants. The water-rat tribe was first to convene, as they had suffered most from the whowie’s attention. The chief solemnly announced that they had no choice but to flee to a safer land or face certain annihilation. “I shall let you decide what we shall do”, he told his people. It was an elder who stood up and implored his people to stay. “We have lived here all our lives; we have always had plenty to eat, and much to do along the river. Now we dare not go there because of the whowie. Let us think of some other way by which we may be rid of this menace”.

A strict night guard was instated, and the aid of several other tribes was called for. The water-rats searched for the whowie, and found footprints leading into the cave’s one opening. As the whowie’s cave was many miles long, they knew it would take a week for him to return to the outside, and so they had all the time they needed.

Soon help had arrived from all over, from the kangaroo, platypus, eagle, magpie, cockatoo, lizard, snake, opossum and crow tribes, and many more besides. After holding a corroboree and spending a night in celebration, dancing, and storytelling, all of them busied themselves gathering sticks. The sticks were gathered into bundles and piled up halfway in the cave and at the entrance. Then, when they believed the whowie was soon to appear, they set the wood on fire.

Smoke and flames filled the cave, and the whowie roared and coughed angrily – but what good were his teeth and claws against smoke and fire? He struggled upwards through the cave for six days and appeared on the seventh burned, blinded, and gasping for breath. That was when the tribes descended upon him with spears, axes, and nulla-nullas, inflicting mortal wounds on their enemy. The giant lizard could only drag himself back into his cave, and was never seen again.

Now the whowie can still be heard sighing from deep inside the cave on the Murray River. He is dying, or perhaps his spirit has survived underground in some form. But either way he is harmless, and has become nothing more than a bogey with whom parents can threaten their children into good behavior.

References

Molnar, R. E. (2004) Dragons in the Dust. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Reed, A. W. (1965) Myths and Legends of Australia. A. H. and A. W. Reed, Sydney.

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