Melalo

Variations: The Filthy One, The Dirty One, The Obscene One

Melalo

According to the Roma of Eastern Europe, notably Romania and Slovakia, all the diseases and ailments of the world can be traced back to a family of creatures born from an unholy union of fairy and demon. These unloved bastard children, hated by their parents, take their spite out on humans.

Long ago, the good fairies or Keshalyi lived in the high mountains, while the evil Loçolico, former humans warped and twisted by the Devil, lived underground. But when the King of the Loçolico took a fancy to Ana, Queen of the Keshalyi, their separate worlds were brought too close for comfort. After Ana turned down the ugly King of the Loçolico, the demons responded by hunting down and devouring the Keshalyi. Only Ana’s forced marriage to the King saved her people from utter annihilation.

Ana found her husband so disgusting that she refused to consummate the marriage. The King finally forced himself on her following the advice of a golden toad, who told him to feed her the brains of a magpie. Ana fell into a deep sleep, and soon after conceived Melalo, their first son.

Melalo, literally “filthy”, “dirty”, or “obscene”, is the oldest and most feared of Ana’s children. He is a small, dirty grey (the English translation oddly gives the color as green), unkempt bird with two heads. He has sharp claws which he uses to tear out hearts and rip bodies to shreds; with his wings, he stuns victims and makes them lose their reason. Melalo foments anger, rage, cruelty, sadism, frenzy, rape, and insanity. Those he has affected can only chatter like a magpie.

Melalo would go on to influence the creation of the remainder of Ana’s brood. It was he who put his mother to sleep with his vapors, and convinced his father to sire Lilyi, his sister, wife, and eventual mother to countless women’s diseases. Melalo also guided the conception of his siblings.

To counter Melalo, one must tie an amulet with his image to the afflicted part of the body.

It is possible that the two-headed bird imagery that created Melalo started with the Hittites, who took it to Byzantium and eventually to Russia and Austria. Meanwhile, the expression yov hin jiamutr Melaskero (“he is Melalo’s son-in-law”) has persisted in reference to a violent, nasty person.

References

Clébert, J. P. (1976) Les Tziganes. Tchou, Paris.

Clébert, J. P.; Duff, C. trans. (1963) The Gypsies. Vista Books, London.

Meyers Brothers Druggist (1910) Demons of Disease. Meyers Brothers Druggist, v. 31, p. 141.

Pavelčík, N. and Pavelčík, J. (2001) Myths of the Czech Gypsies. Asian Folklore Studies, v. 60, pp. 21-30.

Colôrobètch

Variations: Colô Rodje Bètch, Colô Rotje Bètch, Clô Rotje Bètch, Colôrobètche, Colaurobètch, Colaurobètche, Colau-rodje-bètch, Corobètch, Routge Bètch

Colorobetch

Bogeys represent a variety of childhood fears – darkness, retribution, the murky depths of deep ponds… In Wallonia children are menaced by the personification of the bise or icy wind, in the form of a bird with a red beak.

He can be found around Andenne, Bastogne, Dinant, Huy, and Neufchâteau, and Warsage; in On, Oignies, and Stavelot he is simply the “red beak”. The Somme-Leuze redbeak is a monstrous sparrow, the Condroz and Hesbaye variety is a pigeon, while the Namur redbeak is Colôrobètch or Colô Rodje Bètch, the “Red-Beaked Rooster”.

As his name indicates, Colôrobètch has a beak stained red with blood; beyond that, it is unclear whether he is a bird, a human, or a grotesque combination of both. He preys on children unwary enough to walk in the cold without adequate clothing, nipping at their exposed faces and hands until they turn red, dry, cracked, and bleeding. Colôrobètch comes out in the winter to pinch noses and spread frostbite.

In Andenne Colôrobètch becomes a nocturnal water bogey who drags children into the Meuse.

References

Pignolet, M. (1985) La Symbolique du Coq. Le Guetteur Wallon, 61 (3), pp. 81-104.

Tijskens, J. (1965) Les Noms du Croquemitaine en Wallonie. Enquêtes du Musée de la Vie Wallonne, nos. 117-120, tome X, pp. 257-391.

Romŝiwamnari’

Variations: Romŝiwamnare’

Romsiwamnari

The Romŝiwamnari’ are forest and cave demons, known to the Šerente people of Tocantins, Brazil. They look like large birds with flabby, flightless bat’s wings, armed with beaks like scissors. Their call is an eerie whistle. Romŝiwamnari’ also appear as tapirs, or as stout humans with prominent teeth and a howler monkey’s tail. When in human guise, a romŝiwamnari’ resembles the Pope – a relic of missionary activity in Brazil.

Romŝiwamnari’ not only prey upon the living, but also ambush and consume the souls of the dead. A sufficiently powerful shaman can kill them while in the realm of death, but other souls are greedily devoured.

A man of the krara’ society and his pregnant wife once encoutered a pair of romŝiwamnari’ in a cave. The man held the monsters off as long as he could while his wife escaped, but he was outmatched and decapitated by the romŝiwamnari’. The woman brought the news to the rest of the village, and the other krara’ launched an assault on the romŝiwamnari’ cave. Three of the villagers were killed in the battle, but they slew the two romŝiwamnari’ – unaware that there were two more in hiding. However, the boy the woman gave birth to grew into a mighty hero in less than a year, and he avenged his father by burning the romŝiwamnari’ bones and killing the other two demons. The romŝiwamnari’ were not seen again in that area.

References

Crocker, W. H.; Giaccaria, B.; Heide, A.; Lea, V.; Melatti, J. C.; Nimuendajú, C.; Seeger, A.; Verswijver, G.; Vidal, L.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. (eds.) (1984) Folk Literature of the Gê Indians, v. 2. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Nimuendajú, C.; Lowie, R. H. (trans.) (1942) The Šerente. The Southwest Museum, Los Angeles.

Peteu

Variations: Peteu de Vergisson, Bête Faramine, Oiseau de Vergisson, Esiau de Vregesson, P’teu, Pteu

Peteu

The picturesque town of Vergisson, in France’s Saône-et-Loire, was once home to the Peteu. This was a great and monstrous bird, with broad wings and whiplike feathers surrounding its razor-sharp beak. It was spiritually descended from the emouchet or kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), but also of the humble kinglet, whose name in the Maconnais dialect is répteret, répeteret, or repteu, which in turn is shortened to pteu.

The peteu would fly from the Rock of Solutré to the Rock of Vergisson, soaring over its domain in search of prey. When it spotted something, it folded its wings, dove, and carried off its prize. The peteu devoured sheep, pigs, goats, cows, horses and their carts! Its loud wingbeats terrified livestock and sent them running all the way back to their stables. Most heinous of all, it dove at Mr. Bruys de Serrières, who was quietly writing his History of the Popes, and defecated onto his manuscript before flying away. There was no end to the peteu’s evil.

It was Émilien Protat who organized a hunting party to rid Vergisson of the bird’s tyranny. The small but courageous group of men made for the Rock of Solutré where the peteu was last seen. When the raptor flew over their heads, blocking out the sun, the quick-thinking Émilien fired his rifle into it. The peteu fell to the ground, but would have taken Émilien’s head off had he not rammed his rifle into its mouth and fired.

The hunters returned to Vergisson in triumph to have their quarry plucked and roasted. Imagine their surprise when the peteu, stripped of its feathers, weighed no more than four ounces!

Peteu skeleton

References

Ducrost, A. (1888) Le P’teu ou L’Esiau de Vregesson Qu’ere ine Bête Faramine. Annales de l’Academie de Macon, s. II, t. VI, pp. 379-397.

Protat, G. (1966) Le Peteu de Vergisson ou la Bête Faramine. Protat Frères, Macon.

Caladrius

Variations: Charadrius, Caradrius, Caladres, Kladrius, Icterus, Galgulus, Stone-curlew

Caladrius

The Caladrius is a miraculous healing bird, believed to range from Europe to Jerusalem. It is generally believed to have originated from the stone-curlew, with other influences including seagulls, falcons, herons, ibises, owls, and any of a number of plovers (Charadriidae).

A caladrius is a waterbird the size of a hen or dove. It has immaculately white plumage, with a long neck, yellow eyes, beak, and legs, and rarely straight goat’s horns. Earlier accounts refer to it as being yellow, while others grant it reddish wings, spots, and a yellow-tinged dark color. It is an unclean bird and must not be eaten.

In its simplest form, the caladrius will cure jaundice by returning the stare of a patient who gazes intently at it. This connection to jaundice was inspired by the striking, staring yellow eyes of the stone-curlew. Its dung and the marrow of its thigh-bones will cure blindness.

A caladrius knows if a patient will live or die. It will look at someone who will be cured, and look away from someone doomed to die. Sometimes all it takes to be cured is touching the caladrius. The caladrius touches its beak to the patient’s mouth, taking disease and sickness into itself, and flies into the sky, where the sun burns the illness into oblivion.

This equates the pure and flawless caladrius with Christ, as it looks at and heals the faithful, granting them life, taking sins away in the process. The caladrius was iconographically represented in the role of a healer, sitting on the bedstead of a sick person and either looking to or away from the patient.

It was often kept in the court of kings for its curative powers. The sale of live caladrius was a potentially lucrative business, but merchants had to hide their specimens to avoid having people come in to see them and get cured for free.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. III. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

de Beauvais, P.; Baker, C. ed. (2010) Le Bestiaire. Honoré Champion, Paris.

Druce, G. C. (1912) The Caladrius and its Legend, Sculptured upon the Twelfth-Century Doorway of Alne Church, Yorkshire. Archaeological Journal, vol. 69, pp. 381-416.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013) Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

White, T. H. (1984) The Book of Beasts. Dover Publications, New York.

Wright, T. (1845) The Archaeological Album. Chapman and Hall, London.

Rukh

Variations: Rokh, Rukhkh, Roc, Ruc; Griffon, Griffin, Gryphon

Rukh

The lineage of the Rukh (or, less correctly, Roc) is an ancient and venerable one, with tales of enormous birds stretching back into ancient Egypt. Generally believed to live in Madagascar (or possibly at the top of Mount Qaf), it is another iteration of the Arabian ‘Anqa, the Persian Simurgh, and the Indian Garuda and Cyena. The name rukh itself may have come about by a corruption of simurgh, which in turn came from cyena.

There is little defining the appearance of the rukh; it is a gigantic bird of prey, but what exactly that entails has varied from artist to artist. The only indisputable feature is that it is enormous. A rukh is as big as the storyteller needs it to be, leading to accounts of a hatchling rukh with wings a thousand fathoms (over 1800 meters) in length!

Rukhs are uncontested predators capable of feeding on the largest and most dangerous land animals. They have a particular fondness for giant serpents, elephants, and karkadanns or rhinoceroses. Sindbad observed that when a karkadann spears an elephant on its horn, the elephant’s fat runs into the rhino’s eyes and blinds it; a rukh will then swoop down and carry both combatants off to feed its chicks. Rukhs also appear to have some degree of intelligence, using boulders to smash prey.

The best-known interactions with rukhs were those of Sindbad the Sailor, who encountered them on his second and fifth voyages. The first time around, Sindbad found himself alone on a deserted island – not an uncommon occurrence in his life – and discovered a strange white dome, some fifty paces in circumference. As he pondered what the structure might be, the sky darkened as a huge rukh appeared. The dome was none other than its egg. Fortunately for Sindbad, it showed no interest in him as it sat on the egg and dozed off, and Sindbad tied himself to its leg with his turban, figuring that it might fly him to more civilized lands. In time the rukh awoke, screeched, and took off on the most terrifying ride of Sindbad’s life. When it finally landed he untied himself as fast as he could and ran for cover, while the rukh busied itself seizing a giant serpent in its talons and flying off with its prey.

Sindbad’s fifth voyage was even more catastrophic. This time, Sindbad’s crew went ashore without him and found the white dome of a rukh’s egg. Despite Sindbad’s warnings, they broke the egg and killed the chick inside. As they butchered the chick, the two parent rukhs appeared, their angry calls louder than thunder. When the sailors tried to flee in their ship, the birds returned with enormous boulders in their talons. The male’s rock narrowly missed the ship, but the female scored a direct hit, sinking the vessel. All sailors on board died with the exception of Sindbad, who drifted off towards further adventures.

In the tale of Aladdin, the evil necromancer attempts to convince Aladdin to demand a rukh egg to hang from the ceiling, a request which infuriates the genie. “You want me to hang our Liege Lady for your pleasure?” he roared, before informing them that such a wicked request could only have come from their enemy. In this case the author combined the rukh with the ineffably pure and holy simurgh.

Abd al-Rahman the Maghrebi, who had travelled far and wide across the world, obtained a rukh chick’s feather quill capable of holding a goatskin’s worth of water. He and his companions obtained it from a rukh chick that they cut out of an egg a hundred cubits long. The parent rukh flew after them and dropped a rock on their ship, but unlike Sindbad’s crew they successfully avoided it and went on their way. All those who had eaten the baby rukh’s flesh remained youthful and never grew old.

Ibn Battuta saw a rukh soaring over the China Seas. It was sufficiently far away to be mistaken for a flying mountain, and he and his companions were thankful that it did not notice them.

Marco Polo had the opportunity to observe rukhs on Madagascar; he believed them to be griffons, and specified that they were not half lion and half bird as he was led to believe, but simply enormous eagles. They had wings 30 paces long with feathers 12 paces long, and would pick up elephants and carry them into the air, dropping them onto the ground from great heights and feeding on the pulverized remains. A rukh feather was brought as a gift to the Great Khan, who was greatly pleased with it.

The rukh is not to be confused with al-Marwazi’s camel-like urine-spouting animal of the same name, described as zabraq by al-Mas’udi and as phalmant by Bochart. This grounded rukh may also be related to the rook chess piece, but both are far removed from the giant raptor.

The giant elephant bird Aepyornis of Madagascar, or its remains, was feasibly the origin of the rukh. It was, however, flightless, harmless, and non-elephantivorous. The rukh feathers that circulated as curiosities during the Middle Ages were fronds from the Madagascan Raphia vinifera palms.

References

Adler, M. N. (1907) The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Oxford University Press, London.

Bianconi, G. G. (1862) Degli scritti di Marco Polo e dell’uccello ruc da lui menzionato. Tipi Gamberini e Parmeggiani, Bologna.

Burton, R. F. (1885) The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. V. Burton Club, London.

Burton, R. F. (1887) Supplemental Nights to the Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. III. Kamashastra Society, London.

Casartelli, L. C. (1891) Cyena-Simurgh-Roc: Un Chapitre d’Evolution Mythologique et Philologique. Compte Rendu du Congres Scientifique International des Catholiques, Alphonse Picard, Paris.

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

Golénischeff, W. (1906) Le Papyrus No. 1115 de l’Ermitage Impérial. Recueil de Travaux Relatifs a la Philologie et a l’Archéologie Egyptiennes et Assyriennes, v. 12, pp. 73-112.

Kruk, R. (2001) Of Rukhs and Rooks, Camels and Castles. Oriens, vol. 36, pp. 288-298.

Payne, J. (1901) The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, vol. V. Herat, London.

Yule, C. B. (1875) The Book of Ser Marco Polo. John Murray, London.

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.