Boundary Pond in Maine, near the Canadian border, is the only spot where Billdads live. These creatures are beaver-sized with long kangaroo-like back legs and short forelegs. The paws are webbed and the beak is strong and hawk-like. The powerful tail is large and flattened, like a beaver’s.
The first hint that a billdad is about is a distinct sound, like a paddle hitting the water. This is caused by the billdad’s method of fishing, which consists of jumping above a surfacing fish and smacking it hard with its flat tail. Adult males can cover over sixty yards in a single leap. The stunned fish can then be collected and eaten at leisure.
The retiring billdads are usually heard and not seen. They are left alone by lumberjacks – and with good reason. The only man known to have eaten billdad meat, the late Bill Murphy, suffered odd symptoms after tasting it. He ran screaming out of the mess hall and leaped over the lake just like a billdad. Alas, he could not swim like one.
Billdad has been off the menu since.
Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.
The Skvader is a taxidermist’s chimera found in Sundsvall, in the Swedish province of Medelpad. It is a winged hare, combining the skins of a European hare and a capercaillie.
The original skvader was made by Rudolf Granberg in 1918, based on an illustration of a hunter’s tall tale from 1874. It was preserved in a museum in Sundsvall and has since then become an unofficial symbol of Medelpad.
Fraser, M. (1947) In Praise of Sweden. Methuen and Co. Ltd., London.
Panafieu, J. and Renversade, C. (2014) Créatures fantastiques Deyrolle. Plume De Carotte, Toulouse.
The Lidérc or Ludvérc is a polymorphic and polyvalent entity from Hungary. In its various guises, it appears as a will-o’-the-wisp, an astral phenomenon, a sexual vampire, a sleep nightmare, a sorcerer’s familiar, and a household spirit.
The origin of the term lidérc is unknown. It may or may not be of Slavic origin. In current Hungarian it usually refers to a flickering light or a marsh flame. It is also part of the compound words lidércfény, “will-o’-the-wisp”, and lidércnyomás, literally “lidérc pressure”, referring to nightmares and mental depression.
In its most spectacular form the lidérc is a shooting star or flame that travels through the air. In Zala County it appears as a fiery rod that excretes fire. A lidérc in Zselicség appeared as a staddle that caused outbreaks of fire and burned down pig-pens. Elsewhere a lidérc might be a marsh flame, a star, or a fiery person. It can breathe fire and make flames break out wherever it wishes.
A lidérc picks unhappy lovers as victims – widows, widowers, wives or those betrothed to soldiers, all are fair game to the lidérc. It flies into their house and takes the form of their loved one, whether male or female. It seduces them, giving them their heart’s desire while slowly draining them of their life and vitality. The victims waste away until they are literally loved to death, whereupon the lidérc becomes a star again and sets off in search of new prey.
While accomplished and silver-tongued mimics, a lidérc cannot change at least one of its legs, which is a bony, scaly leg of a goose or chicken, or even the iron shod foot of a horse. Scattering ashes at the doorstep will reveal that one foot wears a boot, while the other is that of a goose, and expose the lidérc. A lidérc can also be prevented from entering a house in the usual ways – garlic, trouser-cord, and other repellents will keep a lidérc at bay.
One such lidérc was reported from Gajcsána, as told by Jószef Jankó of Baranya County and collected by Mária Vámos in 1961. The village bell-ringer’s daughter wished to sleep in the barn, and her father set a bed for her there according to her wishes. She slept there throughout the summer. She seemed happy enough with the arrangement, but the bell-ringer and his wife couldn’t help but notice that she was losing weight and seemed constantly dizzy.
One night, the bell-ringer chanced to see a shooting star coming to Earth above his barn. Determined to understand what was going on, he confronted his daughter, asking if she had been seeing anyone recently, and she finally confessed to being in love with a handsome young man who visited her every evening. Sure enough, that night the watchful father saw the star land outside the barn, transform into a handsome lad, and walk in.
The next day, the bell-ringer decided to switch places with his daughter, despite her protests. He had her stay in the house, while he wore her clothes and ducked under the blankets in the barn. It wasn’t long before the lidérc arrived and lay in bed next to him. The father carefully ran his hand down the suitor’s leg – it was the scaly leg of a goose. Now aware of what he was up against, the bell-ringer ran out of the barn with the lidérc on his tail, and managed to enter the house and lock the door in time.
After that incident, the daughter remained safely at home, and the bed in the barn became host to a straw dummy smeared with excrement and waste. The lidérc was furious, spitting fire and throwing sparks all over the barn, but to no avail. After several more nights, the lidérc gave up and was never seen again.
The term lidérc also refers to a household spirit, one which is hatched from the first-laid egg of a black pullet that has been incubated under the armpit. The lidérc-chicken that hatches is featherless and latches onto the man who cared for it. It is intelligent and can talk. It will fetch treasure and do its master’s bidding, and subsist on butter, but in reality it is the master that has to fear the lidérc. The lidérc will constantly need new tasks to accomplish, and if its master does not provide it with such distractions, it will pester him from dawn to dusk. Eventually it will kill such an uncooperative master.
To rid oneself of a domestic lidérc, one must give it a task that is patently impossible, so impossible that the creature will be forced to quit or die of frustration. Traditional examples include fetching sand in a sieve, or squeezing themselves through a tiny hole in a tree-trunk, while one modern example is to making a telephone out of sand. Such tasks should be beyond even the most creative lidérc.
Dégh, L. (trans. Halász, J.) (1965) Folktales of Hungary. The University of Chicago Press.
Dömötor, T. (1982) Hungarian Folk Beliefs. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
The Minokawa is a Bagobo eclipse creature, comparable to other voracious dragons such as the bakunawa and the markupo. Its equivalents in other Filipino cultures include the Arimaonga of the Maranao, the Ban-og or Bannog of the Iloko and Tinguian, and the Baua of the Hiligaynon, Pampangan and Tagalog.
The minokawa appears as a bird as big as the islands of Negros and Bohol (it is unclear with this refers to combined or separate island masses). It has a beak and talons of steel, sharp swords for feathers, and mirror eyes.
It lives on the eastern horizon, above the clouds and outside the sky. There it lies in wait for the moon every night, and tries to devour her every time she appears. The moon has eight holes in the horizon to enter the sky, and another eight holes to leave the sky; thus she confuses her would-be predator, and manages to avoid being eaten – most of the time, at least. When the minokawa manages to start eating the moon, it causes a lunar eclipse.
The ultimate goal of the minokawa is to swallow the moon, then the sun, and then descend upon Earth to devour all its inhabitants. Fortunately, it can be startled in the same way as normal animals. During an eclipse one must scream and make noise to cause the bird to release its catch. The minokawa stops out of surprise, curiosity, or even appreciation of the music.
Its counterpart, the baua of the Hiligaynon, relents after the promise of ample food. It lives in a cave called calulundan, above the sky and guarded by blue smoke.
The ban-og of the Iloko and Tinguian is big enough to darken the sky in flight, and strong enough to carry off both a hunter and his porcine quarry. It builds its nests on the tops of trees on a distant mountain, and brings even the biggest animals as food for its chicks. However, it can be easily outwitted and tricked into its own demise.
Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.
Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.
Ramos, M. D. (1990) Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines. Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City.
The single reference to the Makalala comes from an account written by Fischer, who attributes it to the Wasegua or Wasequa of Tanzania. These people live some 8-9 days’ journey inland from Zanzibar, with Fischer hearing of the makalala during a stay in Bagamojo and a visit to the Nguru Mountains. Fischer’s observations were summarized and repeated by Marschall under the title “Problematic bird”.
A makalala is an enormous bird, standing taller than an ostrich, with very long legs. Its head and beak are those of a bird of prey. Its wings end in plates of a compact, horny substance, which make a lot of noise when struck against each other – hence its name, which means “noisemaker”. It is a powerful flyer and feeds on carrion.
For all its size, a makalala is a very skittish, shy bird. The only way to come close enough to kill it is to feign death, and when the makalala approaches, the hunter can spring to life and knock it down.
Chiefs of the Wasegua wear makalala skulls as helmets. Fischer also saw in Zanzibar a baleen-like object tapering from 20 cm to 1.5 cm, and with a thickness of 0.5 cm, but did not believe at the time that it came from a bird.
Fischer, G. A. (1878) Briefliche Reiseberichte aus Ost-Afrika, III. Journal für Ornithologie, XXVI(6), pp. 268-297.
Marschall, C. (1879) Comptes-rendus zoologiques. Bulletin de la Société Philomathique de Paris, 7(3), pp. 169-181.
The Shuyu or Shu-fish can be found in abundance in China’s Peng River. It looks like a chicken with red feathers, and has four heads (or four eyes), six feet, and three tails. It caws like a magpie. Eating it cures melancholy.
The red color, multiplicity of appendages, and the triple (three-lobed?) tail combine to suggest a crayfish or lobster.
Mathieu, R. (1983) Étude sur la mythologie et l’ethnologie de la Chine ancienne. Collège de France, Paris.
Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.
The tale of Kusa Kap is told on the islands of Dauan and Mabuiag in the Torres Strait. The primary difference is the setting of the events and the name of the fisherman – Maiwasa in Mabuiag, Kaudab in Dauan. Of the two, the Dauan account is more detailed and is the primary source here.
Kaudab was a successful and handsome young dugong hunter from Dauan. He was recently married to Bakar, a woman so beautiful she was expected to never leave the house. But he had also attracted the attention of Giz. Giz was a dogai, a cunning female spirit with long ears and the ability to shapeshift. Giz would spend long hours desiring the beautiful red-headed man for herself, and she was so jealous that she wouldn’t leave him out of her sight. Giz could not tolerate Bakar’s existence.
One day, as Bakar was looking for octopus, Giz dove into a rockpool and turned herself into an octopus. Bakar had never seen an octopus before, and she leaned over the pool to try to grab it, only for Giz to grab her in her tentacles and pull her underwater. Bakar knew immediately that this was no ordinary octopus, but a dogai in disguise, and screamed to Kaudab for help – but alas, he was too far away to hear her.
This was only the beginning of Giz’s revenge. She pulled Bakar through Apangabia-taian, the tunnel beneath the sea, and took her to the island of Kusar, near New Guinea. There she abandoned the young bride before returning to Kaudab’s home and transforming into Bakar herself. When Kaudab came home, Giz tried to prepare food for him, but she did not know how to do so, burning her fingers on the coals, cackling wildly, and breaking wind crudely with every movement. Thus Kaudab knew his wife had been replaced by a dogai.
Bakar, meanwhile, was alone on a deserted island. There was nothing to eat beside kusa seeds (kapul). She became pregnant as a result, and eventually laid an egg like that of a sea-eagle’s. It hatched into a baby eagle that she cared for with as much love as if it had been a human child. She named the bird Kusa Kap after the kusa seeds that had conceived him.
With Bakar’s care Kusa Kap grew quickly. His first attempts to fly were clumsy, but soon his wings were strong enough to carry him to the tops of trees. In time he was strong enough to fly to Daudai and bring back coal, string, bark, and a bamboo knife, which Bakar used to get a fire going so she could start cooking food.
The next day Kusa Kap saw a dugong for the first time. He seized it in his talons and carried it off for Bakar to cook. In time he was capturing many dugong, sending the surplus to Pösipas.
Finally Bakar told her son to go to Dauan, and gave him directions to find Kaudab’s house. He informed him of Bakar’s plight by responding to his questions with nods, and directed Kaudab to Bakar’s island by alighting on the mast of his canoe and guiding him. Before long Bakar and Kaudab were joyfully reunited again.
The only thing left was Giz, and Kusa Kap swooped onto her and carried her off in his talons. After torturing her at length by dropping and recapturing her, he let go of her far away from Dauan. She plunged into the sea and turned to stone, becoming Dogail Malu, the dogai sea.
There is a final twist to the tale of Kusa Kap. In the account of New Guinea given by d’Albertis, he is informed by his traveling companions of a gigantic bird, some 16 to 22 feet in wingspan, whose wings make a noise like a steam engine. It lives around the Mai Kusa river. He adds that the natives have seen it carry dugongs into the air. He rejects the claims and later shoots a red-necked hornbill, which is a large bird that makes a strange noise in flight; he succeeded in convincing two or three of his companions that this was, in fact, the bird in question.
Either way, despite Kusa Kap being described as an eagle, Haddon identifies the red-necked hornbill as the origin of the Kusa Kap legend on the basis of its dugong-snatching activities.
d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. I. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.
d’Albertis, L. M. (1881) New Guinea: What I Did and What I Saw, v. II. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston.
Haddon, A. C. (1904) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, v. V: Sociology, Magic, and Religion of the Western Islanders. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Lawrie, M. (1970) Myths and Legends of Torres Strait. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.
Bès Chèm, “Bird Spirit”, is applied to a number of Malaysian spirits. One of them is a jungle bird-spirit that lives on big branches touching each other. As the wind moves the branches, they make a sound – e… e… e… – which means the spirit is on the branch. If anyone passes by underneath the branches, the bird spirit passes urine and scatters tiny, poisonous feathers onto the interloper. These cause anyone they touch to become thin forever.
Another bird spirit lives deep in the jungle and visits villages at night. It makes a sound – pok… pok… – which children are not allowed to repeat. If they do the spirit enters the house, prevents them from sleeping, and makes them cry.
Other bird spirits protect padi fields from destructive animals, cause headache and sneezing, possess little children and cause convulsions, steal the souls of sleepers, and cause children to be born with gap teeth.
Werner, R. (1975) Jah-hět of Malaysia, Art and Culture. Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
According to Pliny, the Lagopus (“hare foot”) or ptarmigan is so named because its feet are covered with hair like those of a hare’s foot. It is the size of a pigeon and white all over. While delicious to eat, the lagopus cannot be tamed or kept outside of its native land, and it putrefies rapidly when killed.
Thomas de Cantimpré misreads the allusion to the native ground of the lagopus, and instead deduces that the lagopus does not eat in the open air. Having made that conclusion, it is only logical that it must carry its food into a cave to eat it. Albertus Magnus makes the further logical deduction that the lagopus cannot fly well.
Although only the feet are described as hare-like, depictions show it with a hare’s head as well. It is often shown standing in front of a cave.
Aiken, P. (1947) The Animal History of Albertus Magnus and Thomas of Cantimpré. Speculum, 22(2), pp. 205-225.
de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.
Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.
Magnus, A. (1545) Thierbuch. Jacob, Frankfurt.
Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.
Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.
Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.
Ieltxu is a Basque creature found in the caverns and wells of Gernika. Notable haunts include a pit in Nabarrizmendi and the Busturia well.
Ieltxu appears either as a human or as a bird shooting flames from its mouth. At night only its burning fire is seen. While its appearances are sudden and terrifying, an ieltxu is not evil, merely mischievous. It enjoys leading people astray and getting them lost, especially if they can get lost near a cliff.
Around Bermeo it is Iditxu or Iritxu who appears as a small pig. It leads people on a merry chase through the night only to return them to where they started, exhausted and empty-handed.
Altuna, J.; Fornoff, F. H., White, L., and Evans-Corrales, C. trans. (2007) Selected Writings of Jose Miguel de Barandiaran: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography. Center for Basque Studies, Reno.