Stella

Variations: Sea Star

Stella

Stella, or the sea star, derives its name from its unusual appearance that resembles a painted star.

Much like its namesake, a stella is so hot that it burns, liquefies, and effectively cooks anything it comes in contact with. It will intentionally touch fish in order to kill them. Evidence for this incandescent nature was found in a large stella washed up on the shores of Maguelonne. Almost a foot in diameter, it was found to have five mollusk shells inside it, two of which were half-liquefied.

References

Boaistuau, P. (1564) Histoires Prodigieuses. Vincent Norment et Iehanne Bruneau, Paris.

Vodyanoi

Variations: Vodianoi, Vodyanik, Vodnik, Vodeni Moz, Deduska Vodyanoy (Water-Grandfather), Vodianoi-chert (Water Devil), Vodianikha (female), Topielec (Drowner, Polish), Vodyany-ye (pl.); Bolotnyi (potentially)

Vodyanoi

The malevolent and murderous Vodyanoi, from voda or “water”, is the Slavic water spirit. It frequents lakes, ponds, rivers, and other bodies of water, but it especially prefers mill-ponds. Their homes range from the humble dwellings of sand and slimy logs of Olonets to underwater palaces of crystal, decorated with gold and silver taken from shipwrecks, and illuminated by a magic stone shining brighter than the sun. The palaces are primarily known from Kaluga, Orel, Riazan, and Tula. The female vodyanyoi is also known as the vodianikha, although a rusalka or a drowned woman will also be taken as a bride. Variants of the vodyanoi are known in Belarus, Poland, and Yugoslavia.

A vodyanoi varies wildly in appearance. It can be roughly human in appearance, with big paws, horns, tail, and eyes like burning coals; it can be a huge man covered with grass and moss, with shaggy white fur, or with scales; it can be black with huge red eyes and a long nose, or bluish and slimy, bloated and crowned with reeds. Sometimes it appears in the form of a human, as an old man with green hair and beard that turned white with the waning moon, as a white-bearded peasant in a red shirt, as a naked woman with enormous breasts combing her dripping hair while seated on a log, or in the form of guardsmen and children. It can be half fish and half human, or appear as a huge moss-covered fish, a swan, or even a bouquet of red flowers on the water. In Smolensk the vodyanoi is humpbacked and has the feet and tail of a cow, while in Vologda it is a log with little wings flying over the water. A vodyanoi out of the water and in human guise can be identified by the water oozing out of its coat.

The vodyany-ye are immortal, but grow younger or older with the moon. They are weak on land, but virtually invincible in the water, and they dislike going out of the water beyond the bank or mill-wheel; some vodyany-ye refuse to emerge from water beyond the waist. They like to ride livestock until they die of exhaustion. Their presence in the market is an omen; if a vodyanoi buys corn at high prices, the harvest will fail, but a vodyanoi buying cheaply foretells bountiful crops.

They rest in their palaces during the day, and come out in the evening splashing the water with their paws, making a noise that can be heard over great distances. Vodyany-ye hate humans and lurk in the water after sunset, dragging people in when the opportunity arises. Those they drown become their slaves, or if attractive enough their wives. They take offense to anyone attempting to retrieve the bodies of the drowned, seeing them as their rightful property. Recovered bodies with bruises and marks on them were seen as bearing the scars of battle with a vodyanoi. In some places the presence of a vodyanoi became a serious threat. One mill-pond in Olonets held a vodyanoi family that required a constant source of corpses to eat. The inhabitants of the area learned to avoid the pond, and the family was eventually forced to relocate.

A vodyanoi sees mill-dams as an insult, and will destroy them to keep the water flowing. Horses smeared with honey, hobbled, and drowned with millstones make good placatory offerings. Drunk passers-by can also be pushed into mill-ponds to earn the vodyanoi’s trust.

As with other evil spirits, a vodyanoi can be exorcised; in fact, in some areas such as Tula, the vodyanoi is indistinguishable from the devil. Shooting a vodyanoi with buttons has been known to kill them as well. But while a vodyanoi can bear grudges, it can just as soon show gratitude. One vodyanoi who was aided in fighting off a rival promised never to drown anyone.

A vodyanoi is not hostile to fishermen and millers due to their affinity with water. Millers would deposit bread, salt, vodka, black sows, and ram’s heads at the water’s edge as offerings to the vodyanoi, and offer black roosters when building a new mill. Some millers were on such good terms with their local vodyanoi that they dined with them every night. Fishermen, on the other hand, would toss butter or tobacco into the water, saying “here’s some tobacco for you, vodyanoi, give me a fish!” A pleased vodyanoi would drive fish into a fisherman’s net. Finally, beekeepers also kept up good relations with the vodyanoi by offering honey and wax, and in return the water-spirit prevented humidity from damaging the hives.

The bolotnyi, from boloto or “swamp”, is a possible variation of the vodyanoi found in swamps.

References

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

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Ivanits, L. J. (1989) Russian Folk Belief. M. E. Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, New York.

MacCulloch, J. A. and Machal, J. (1918) The Mythology of All Races v. III: Celtic and Slavic. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

Skeljúngur

Variations: Skieliungur; Svarfhvalur, Suarfhualur (Iron Whale); Skútuhvalur (Schooner Whale); Tigrishvalur (Tiger Whale); Hnúfubakur, Humpback Whale

Skeljungur

The Skeljúngur, or “shell whale” is one of the many illhveli, or “evil whales” of Iceland. Unlike its brethren, the skeljúngur is edible and safe to eat, making it the most dangerous of the edible whales. It has even helped humans on occasion; one young skeljúngur aided Hjalmper and Olvir in battle against a vicious hrosshvalur.

It is described as ranging from 20 to 45 meters long. It is very fat and short-flippered, lacks dorsal fins, and its entire body is covered with shells that rattle as it swims. The shells tend to make it itchy, and it will rub its head against rocks in deep coastal waters. Despite its portly appearance, it is a fast swimmer, earning it the nickname of “tiger whale”. It dives vertically, and sleeps vertically with its head sticking out of the sea. Whether it has teeth or baleen is unclear.

A shell-whale will position itself in the path of an oncoming ship, and will continue to obstruct the vessel’s course if the captain tries to avoid it. Skilled sailors should change their course fast enough to evade it, as sailing right onto it causes the whale to throw the ship and kill all on board. When destroying boats, it likes to strike them with its fins and tails. Skeljúngur armor makes them impervious to most attacks and quite fearless, and the whales will play dead to entice prey within range. The whaling ship Minerva off Grimsey thought they had killed a skeljúngur, but the seemingly dead whale immediately recovered and destroyed the boat sent to finish it off.

Skeljúngurs hate the sound of iron being ground and filed. If one of these whales hears that loathed sound, it will go frantic and beach itself to get away from it. The alternate name of svarfhvalur (“iron whale”) is derived from this aversion.

Skeljúngur is also another name of the humpback whale or hnúfubakur.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hermansson, H. (1924) Jon Gudmundsson and his Natural History of Iceland. Islandica, Cornell University Library, Ithaca.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Larson, L. M. (1917) The King’s Mirror. Twayne Publishers Inc., New York.

Númhyalikyu

Variations: Númhyělekum

Numhyalikyu

Númhyalikyu, “one chief one”, is an enormous, monstrous halibut of Pacific Northwest Kwakwaka’wakw folklore. Its back looks like a beach, complete with ripples left behind by the waves. It has the head of a seal, with a shining spot that gleams like fire.

If a númhyalikyu is killed, its head can be stabbed and its gleaming ornament extracted, revealing it to be a hard and shiny crystalline object. This is known as tlúgwi, and it is highly valuable. It is hard to pinpoint the location of a númhyalikyu, however, as it makes a deep humming sound that reverberates through water and air and rumbles through the trees, seeming to come from everywhere at once.

Númhyalikyu brings bad weather and storms. When it comes to the surface, it creates treacherous shallows that wreck canoes. Its rippled back, often just below the surface of the water, can be easily mistaken for a small island.

Númhyalikyu’s dance is númkahl, “personification of númhyalikyu”. The initiate playing the part of númhyalikyu wears a face mask, and is caught on the beach after metaphorically leaving the sea.

References

Curtis, E. S. (1915) The North American Indian, v. X. The Plimpton Press, Norwood.

Orabou

Variations: Orobon (erroneously)

Orabou

Mount Marzouan, once known as Mount Orabou, was described by Thevet in his Cosmographie. It is home to a small population of Arabs, and the waters of the sea there house a fish known as Orabou, for which the mountain was once named.

Not much is known of the orabou’s appearance. Thevet only states that it is nine to ten feet long, and is plated with armor like a brigandine, although its scales are not as tough as a crocodile’s hide. The depiction of the orabou provided gives it a humpbacked, rather feline appearance.

Orabou flesh is particularly foul-tasting, and Thevet believed that old camel meat and Livonian mastiff were preferable to the execrable orabou. Eating it also results in kidney and bladder stones. Despite that, the inahabitants of Mount Marzouan eat it anyway, treating their stones with a diuretic concoction of orabou fat, two handfuls of false gold dust, and cyclamen.

Paré takes the orabou from Thevet, but misspells its name as the phonetically-similar “orobon” and its locality as “Mount Mazouan”. Ever the embellisher, he also adds that it is extremely ferocious towards other fish.

The orabou may have been inspired by crocodiles, although Thevet makes a distinction between the two. Another possibility is a monitor lizard, like a similar creature encountered by Sir Andrew de Toulongeon and Pierre de Vaudrei in the desert of Palestine. It was a three-foot-long green lizardlike animal covered with sturgeon-like scales, having feet like the hands of a child, a head like a hare’s, and a long lizard’s tail. It made sounds like a cat, and was feared by the Arabs accompanying the knights. Naturally this affront to the natural order was promptly slain.

References

Butazzoni, F. (1997) Los Ensayos del Orobon. Ariel, Montevideo.

Paré, A. (1614) Les Oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré. Nicolas Buon, Paris.

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Wright, T. (1848) Early Travels in Palestine. Henry G. Bohn, London.

Taumafiskur

Variations: Taumhveli (Bridle-whale); Taumur, Taumi (Bridle, Striped One); Stóri-hnýfill (Big Shorthorn)

Taumafiskur

The Taumafiskur, or “bridle fish”, is one of the many illhveli – the “evil whales” of Iceland. It is the most dangerous and feared of the evil whales, as are the others. Its flesh is inedible, and speaking its name at sea will attract its unwelcome attention.

Its name is derived from the white or pink stripes extending from its eyes to its mouth, and from its mouth outwards. These contrast sharply with its raven-black color, and give the appearance of a bridle. In the East Fjords it is known as the “big shorthorn”, distinguishing it from the “little shorthorn” or minke whale which is smaller and shorter-finned. The taumafiskur is slightly larger than the stökkull in size.

Taumafiskurs are cruel, destructive, and spiteful; worse than that, they have an excellent memory and will hold grudges for as long as they live, tracking down anyone who has escaped them. They flip boats over, tear them up with their teeth, pummel them with their tails, and even get under them crosswise and fold them in half.

One minister from Fáskrúðsfjörður survived a taumafiskur’s attack by clinging to the wreckage of his boat. Since then, he was unable to go to sea without the whale zeroing in on him again, seeking to kill him once and for all.

Another time the crew of a Danish fishing boat sighted a taumafiskur around the Snæfellsnes glacier. They were saved by the quick thinking and skill in the dark arts of the captain, who dove overboard with a small bag in hand, and when he returned he assured them the taumafiskur would not bother them anymore. And sure enough, it was not seen again that day.

Exactly what the captain used to repel the taumafiskur is unknown. The substances known to be abhorrent to taumafiskurs (and most likely other illhveli) include chewed angelica, rotting baitfish, bilge-water, cod-liver oil, live fire in a bucket, juniper, cow or sheep manure, sulfur, chopped fox testicles, and yarrow. Setting fire to these substances before throwing them overboard was believed to make them more potent. Taumafiskurs can also be distracted by loud noises and barrels thrown into the water, and sailing into the sun can dazzle them into giving up the chase.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Tabib al-Bahr

Variations: Doctor of the Sea, Sea Doctor

Tabib-al-bahr

The mysterious Tabib al-Bahr, the “Doctor of the Sea”, is found in the writings of the alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Its appearance is not very clear; we know that it is a fish with a yellow gemstone in its forehead, and that it is also human in shape. This marine animal, despite its considerable magical powers, is very caring and altruistic. It derives its name from the gemstone in its head, which can heal any ailment; it attends to other sea creatures by rubbing its head twice or thrice on their injuries, healing them instantly. Perhaps because of this self-sacrificing nature, the tabibs also do not resist capture by humans, instead waiting patiently for the right time to escape.

The gemstone of a tabib al-bahr is of great value to alchemy. If the creature is slaughtered and its stone taken out of its head, it can be used to create gold out of silver. It was that gemstone that drew Jabir ibn Hayyan into seeking out the tabib al-bahr.

After enlisting the aid of a number of skilled sailors, Jabir set sail into the Indian Ocean. He eventually found a group of tabib al-bahrs near the unknown island of Sindiyyāt. The net was cast, and one of the creatures was caught. It started striking its cheeks in a feminine act of desperation, and Jabir realized that the tabib they had caught was a young woman of great beauty. She was taken on board and imprisoned in a small cabin; she seemed incapable of speech beyond mumbling in an unknown language. Jabir was given the chance to test her powers by bringing in a sailor with torticollis. After the tabib rubbed her gemstone on his arms and legs, he was immediately cured.

This situation was not to last long. One of the sailors, a young man, fell in love with the strange creature, and Jabir allowed them to live together in the cabin. Eventually she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, human in all aspects except for a marvelous, shining forehead. As the boy grew, the mother was eventually given free reign of the boat, as she seemed attached to the crew, keeping them company, tending to their injuries, and caring for her son. Unfortunately that was not the case, and after a long inspection of all possible escape routes, she finally climbed over the railing and dove into the water. Her husband was brokenhearted, but he swore to care for the son she left behind.

Eventually the ship sailed into a storm from which there seemed to be no escape. Throwing anchors into the water did nothing to hold the ship, and it was on the verge of capsizing. That was when they saw their tabib al-bahr sitting calmly on the surface and waving to them. All the sailors begged her to save them, and in response she transformed into a colossal fish, big enough to stretch from one end of the sea to the other. By swallowing huge quantities of seawater, she lowered the sea level enough for the storm to be quelled. While the sailors worried over whether or not she’d swallow them next, her son dove into the sea after her. The next day he returned to the ship, and his forehead now had a yellow gemstone in it.

Later on Jabir had the opportunity to catch two more tabib al-bahrs, one of which was sacrificed for its gemstone. Jabir marveled at it, a wondrous artifact the likes of which humans would never make.

This tale may not be meant literally, and it has generally been taken as some kind of alchemical allegory. His scribes agreed, noting that it is “very symbolic”, with elements representative of fire and water.

The alchemist-poet Ibn Arfa’ra’sahu dedicated several verses to the tabib al-bahr, saying that “the truest of scientists have vouched for it, Plato and his student Aristotle”.

References

Mahmud, Z. N. (1961) Jabir ibn Hayyan. Maktabat Misr.

Kraus, P. (1986) Jabir Ibn Hayyan : Contribution à l’historie des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam. Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres, Paris.