Chouyu

Variations: Jiuyu, Jiyu

The slopes of Exceedingly Lofty Mountain in China are home to the Chouyu. It is like a rabbit but has a bird’s beak, owl’s eyes, and the tail of a snake. It falls asleep (i.e. plays dead) when it sees people. If a chouyu is seen it is an omen of a locust plague.

Mathieu identifies this animal as the armadillo, but admits with impressive understatement that China is a bit far from the neotropics…

References

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.

Kongamato

Kongamato

The Kongamato, “overwhelmer of boats”, is a river-shutter of Kasempa District in northern Zambia. It is known from Kaonde folklore, and the Jiundu Swamp is one of its favorite haunts. The fact that the Jiundu has historically been a haven for thieves, murderers, and assorted lowlifes is probably relevant.

A kongamato is a kind of bird, or rather a lizard with the membranous wings of a bat. It has a wingspan of 4 to 7 feet across and lacks feathers, its body covered in skin. It is mostly red in color. The beak is armed with sharp teeth. Claims that the kongamato is a surviving pterosaur are best forgotten.

Kongamatos live downstream of river fords. There they cause the river to stop flowing and the water level to rise, overwhelming and tipping over canoes. Sometimes a canoe will slow down and come to a dead stop despite the paddler’s best efforts; this is because a kongamato has seized the boat from underneath the water.

Few people see a kongamato and live, and the kongamato itself is invulnerable and immortal, eating any projectile thrown at it and leaving no physical trace of itself behind. When it kills people it devours only the two little fingers, the two little toes, the earlobes, and the nostrils. That said, four deaths attributed to the kongamato in 1911 did not record any such mutilation; more likely, then, that a kongamato caused their deaths by the flooding of the Mutanda River near Lufumatunga.

To ward off kongamato attack, the charm known as muchi wa kongamato is used. This consists of mulendi tree root ground and mixed with water. The resulting paste is placed in a bark cup. When crossing a dangerous ford, the mixture is sprinkled onto the water using a bundle of mulendi bark strips. This wards off the kongamato and its floods.

References

Melland, F. H. (1923) In Witch-bound Africa. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Opimachus

Variations: Chargol, Ophiomachis, Ophiomachus, Opimacus, Opymachus, Ibis, Snake-eater; Attachus (probably); Opinicus, Epimacus (probably)

Opimachus

There is only one Biblical mention of the insect called chargol, in Leviticus 11:22, as one of the four insects that are safe for consumption. It has been assumed to mean “beetle” in some translations. Other identifications include a katydid or bush cricket, a species of Gryllus cricket, or the wart-eating cricket.

The Septuagint’s translators borrowed heavily from Aristotle in an effort to give names to all the animals in the Bible. An Aristotelian account of locusts fighting and killing snakes (perhaps based on stories of insects feeding on dead snakes?) gave the chargol the name of ophiomachus, “snake fighter”. This in turn became the opimachus or opimacus, described by Thomas de Cantimpré and subsequently Albertus Magnus as a worm that attaches itself just below a snake’s head. It cannot be removed and kills the snake.

By the time the opimachus or opymachus was described in the Ortus Sanitatis (citing Thomas), it had become confused beyond recognition. While Thomas and Albertus list it among the insects, it is now placed with the birds as a small fowl. It is depicted as a quadrupedal griffin with a long pointed beak and large rabbit’s ears. It has longer hind legs to permit it to jump. It may or may not be the same as the bird known as attachus.

Dapper says that the ophiomachi or ibides (ibises) are birds that live in Ethiopia and are so named because they eat snakes.

Finally, the long journey of the snake-fighter comes to an end with the opinicus or epimacus, a variety of generic heraldic griffin whose name is almost certainly derived from a Levitical insect.

References

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Coogan, M. D.; Brettler, M. Z.; Newsom, C.; Perkins, P. (eds.) (2010) The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Dapper, O. (1686) Description de l’Afrique. Wolfgang, Waesberge, Boom, & van Someren, Amsterdam.

Harris, T. M. (1833) A Dictionary of the Natural History of the Bible. T. T. and J. Tegg, London.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Vinycomb, J. (1906) Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, with Special Reference to their Use in British Heraldry. Chapman and Hall, London.

Xiao

Variations: Raucous-Bird

Xiao

The Xiao or Raucous-Bird dwells on China’s Bridge-Channel Mountain. It is a bird with four wings, one eye, and a dog’s tail. It makes sounds like a magpie. Eating it cures abdominal pain and diarrhea. The Shan Hai Jing assures us that it resembles Kuafu the Boaster, which it does not.

It shares its name with an unrelated simian creature that resembles a Yu-Ape with longer arms.

References

Strassberg, R. E. (2002) A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. University of California Press.

Aderyn y Corph

Variations: Aderyn y Corff, Aderyn y Cyrff, Corpse-bird

Aderyn y Corph

The Aderyn y Corph or corpse-bird chirps at the door of a dying person in Wales. Its call is dewch, dewch (“come, come”). It has no feathers or wings and can soar easily without them. When not presaging death it lives in the land of illusion and fantasy.

It is a variant of the screech owl whose call portends death. Aderyn y corph is also Welsh for the screech owl or brown owl.

References

Evan, D. S. (1858) An English and Welsh Dictionary. Thomas Gee, Denbigh.

Sikes, W. (1880) British Goblins. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, London.

Bifang

Variations: Bifang-bird

Bifang

The Bifang can be found on barren Mount Zhang’e in China. It looks like a crane but has only one leg; it has a white beak and red markings on a green background. Its call sounds like its name.

A bifang is an omen of inexplicable fire starting in town. This is probably connected to its red color. It was not always an evil omen, however, as it appears as a benevolent attendant of the Yellow Thearch in the Master Hanfei, and is the divine essence of wood in the Master of Huainan.

Some sources have the bifang itself as the arsonist, using fire it carries in its beak. Mathieu equates it with the Chinese crane, whose habit of standing on one leg may have inspired the bifang’s appearance.

References

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.

Stymphalian Bird

Variations: Stymphalide, Bird of Ares

Stymphalian bird 2

Pausanias theorized that the Stymphalian birds originated in Arabia, citing the presence of fierce desert birds known as the Stymphalides. He then admits that the population found at Stymphalos, in Arcadia, may have been the result of a few wayward birds making their way into Greece. Following this line of reasoning, Pausanias deduces that they earned the name of Stymphalides due to their fame in Greece, and the name then supplanted whatever name they originally had in Arabia!

The appearance of the Stymphalian birds is no less muddled. Their most feared weapon is the sharpened, pointed tips of their wing feathers, which they fling like darts to stab their prey. Sometimes their feathers and beaks are made of bronze or iron, the better for piercing armor. Pausanias described them as about crane-sized, but resembling the ibis in shape, but with a stronger bill; elsewhere he says they are like hawks or eagles. In Greek art they have been represented as ibises, swans, and other such waterfowl; at least one obol from Stymphalos shows a bird with a short crest and a stout, powerful bill. Finally, no doubt influenced by tales of harpies and sirens, the temple of Stymphalian Diana also has stone statues of virgins with birds’ feet.Stymphalian bird bw

It remains true that the Stymphalian birds were first and foremost associated with Lake Stymphalia. They terrorized the region, ravaging crops, killing people, and poisoning the ground with their dung. Fox suggests that the legend originated as a glamorization of a plague or pestilence rising from the marshes, which would explain their noxious qualities. While their feathered darts could pierce armor, they were powerless against a certain type of tree bark, which held them fast like quicklime. There was only so much bark to go around, though, and the birds seemed numberless.

It was this scourge that Heracles was sent to destroy. As his sixth labor, it was one of a list of impossible tasks, and indeed the vast numbers of birds seemed beyond the hero’s strength. Heracles got around this by exploiting a simple fact – despite their numbers and ferocity, Stymphalian birds were as easily spooked as sparrows. Fashioning a pair of bronze castanets, he made such a din that the flock took off in a panic; from there he shot a great number down with his arrows, while the remainder of the birds flew off and were never seen in Arcadia again.

That was not the end of the Stymphalian birds, as from Greece they made their way to the Black Sea and populated the Island of Ares, where they became sacred guardians to the god of war. It was this flock that Jason and his Argonauts encountered on their way to Colchis. While the birds of Ares managed to wound the Argonaut Oileus with a feather projectile, they were scared off once more by the noise of rattling bronze armor, but not before pelting the Argonauts with a hailstorm of feathers.

References

Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1963) Greek Mythology. From Mythologie Generale Larousse. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Apollonius, Coleridge, E.P. trans. (1889) The Argonautica. George Bell and Sons, London.

Fox, W. M. (1964) The Mythology of All Races v. I: Greek and Roman. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.

Pausanias, Levi, P. trans. (1979) Guide to Greece, volume 2: Southern Greece. Penguin Books, London.