Tarasque

Variations: Tarasca, Tarasco, Tarascona, Tarasconus, Tarascus, Tirasconus, Tirascurus

tarasque

The story of the Tarasque is inextricable from that of Saint Martha and the southern French town of Tarascon. It features on the coat of arms of Tarascon, and it is attended to by the Order of the Tarascaires, the Members of the Provencal Order of Knights of the Tarasque. It is part of a long and venerable tradition of French beasts associated with particular cities and usually paraded through the streets during relevant feast days.

Etymologies for the Tarasque’s name vary. Folklore attributes the name of Tarascon to the Tarasque, but it is most likely that the dragon was named after the city. Tarascon itself may have been derived from Tauriscus, a Gaulish tyrant supposedly slain by Hercules. As to the origin of the tale itself, everything from vanquished pagan religions to displaced captive crocodiles has been suggested.

The earliest elements of what was to become the tradition of Saint Martha in Provence originated in Vézelay in the 11th century. By the end of the 12th century these had been associated with Saint Martha, and developed concurrently with Tarascon. The Vita S. Marthae of the Pseudo-Marcella is the oldest reference to the Tarasque, and is dated somewhere between 1187 (the date of the discovery of Saint Martha’s relics in Tarascon) and 1220. Vincent of Beauvais and Jacobus Voragine based their accounts on the prototype of the Pseudo-Marcella and gradually brought Saint Martha into 13th century martyrologies. The tale served to strengthen the cult of Saint Martha in Provence, and further establish Tarascon’s identity as a cultural, political, and religious center.

The Tarasque was found in the woods between Arles and Avignon, near town of Nerluc (“Black Lake”), or otherwise in the Rhone, in a hole by the river. The Pseudo-Marcella gives the most complete description. The Tarasque was a dragon, half animal and half fish, larger than an ox and longer than a horse, with teeth as sharp as swords, and armored on both sides like a turtle. It had the face and head of a lion, a horse’s mane, a back sharp as an axe, spiky scales as sharp as augers, six bear-clawed legs, and a serpent’s tail. It was more than a match for a dozen lions or bears. Having come by sea from Galatia, the Tarasque hid in the river, sinking boats and devouring anyone who came near. In a flourish of erudition, we are told it was the offspring of the sea-serpent Leviathan and the onachus or bonnacon, a creature that fires burning dung as a weapon. The mechanics of such a coupling are left unexplained.

The Pseudo-Rabanus adds that the Tarasque, in addition to being an enormous dragon with hooked fangs, had pestilential smoke for breath and sulphurous sparks coming from its eyes. It whistled and roared horribly, and the mere infection of its breath was lethal. It lived along with other serpents.

The people of Nerluc entreated Martha to deliver them from this menace, so the saintly woman entered the woods in search of the Tarasque. She found the dragon halfway through eating a man. Far from being intimidated, she sprinkled the Tarasque with holy water and brandished a cross, whereupon the dragon came to her as peacefully as a lamb. Martha leashed it with her belt and delivered it to the people, who avenged themselves by tearing the Tarasque apart with lances and stones. Subsequently Saint Martha preached and converted the townsfolk to Christianity. Some modern retellings claim that the people came to regret the killing of a now-harmless creature, but there is no mention of this in the texts.

It was from then on that Nerluc became known as Tarascon, in honor of the dragon defeated by Saint Martha and the power of Christ. However, there is no indication that Tarascon was ever called Nerluc; it is more likely that the story of Saint Martha was attached to a local tradition involving the Tarasque as a symbol of fertility or destructive floods. The description in the Pseudo-Marcellus reads like an overview of the effigy, and the multiple feet brings to mind the feet of people holding and moving the dragon.

The effigy of the Tarasque has made its appearance on the streets of Tarascon on multiple occasions, including on Pentecost and on the feast day of Saint Martha (July 29th). In the former it is wild and untamed, breathing fire; in the latter it is tame, chastened, held on a leash by a little girl. Its manifestations are accompanied by celebration, games and music, including the traditional chant:

Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco, Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco de castéu!

Laissas la passa, la viéio masco

Laissas la passa, que vai dansa

Leissas la dounc passa, la viéio masco!

(“Lagadigadèu, the Tarasque, Lagadigadèu, the Tarasque of the castle!

Let her pass, the old mask

Let her pass, she’s going to dance

Let her pass then, the old mask!”)

In this case, lagadigadèu is an untranslatable expression, a sort of Tarasconian war-cry, a musical tally-ho.

The Tarasca, a dragon effigy paraded in Spanish cities during Corpus Christi celebrations, is a direct descendant of the Tarasque.

References

Dumont, L. (1951) La Tarasque. Gallimard, Paris.

Mistral, F.; Berthier, A. trans. (1862) Les Fetes de la Tarasque. M. E. Drujon, Tarascon.

Tilbury, G.; Banks, S. E. and Binns, J. W. (eds.) (2002) Otia Imperialia. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Véran, J. (1868) Histoire de la Vie et du Culte de Sainte Marthe. Seguin Ainé, Avignon.

Very, F. G. (1962) The Spanish Corpus Christi Procession: A Literary and Folkloric Study. Tipografia Moderna, Valencia.

Voragine, J. (2004) La Légende Dorée. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris.

Velue

Variations: Hairy Beast, Hairy One, Shaggy Beast, Shaggy One (English); Peluda (erroneously outside of Spanish writings)

velue

The Velue, the “shaggy one” or “hairy one”, is a dragon from the Huisne River, near La Ferté-Bernard in the Sarthe. It was overlooked by Noah during the Flood but survived anyway, nursing a grudge and devoting its existence to spiteful destruction. The Velue’s egg-shaped body was the size of a large ox and covered with shaggy green fur from which pointed spikes emerged. It had the head of a nightmarish snake and the massive legs of a tortoise. Its snake’s tail could slay man and beast alike with a single swipe.

The creature breathed fire and ravaged farms and crops. It gobbled down flocks of sheep and ate shepherds for dessert. It would even be so bold as to enter the streets of the old city – moats and walls were powerless to stop it. When pursued, it would return to the Huisne, displacing enough water to cause it to flood and ruin the surrounding fields.

Women and children were the dragon’s favorite food, and it prioritized agnelles or “she-lambs”, the most beautiful and virtuous maidens of the land. This was to be the Velue’s undoing. After it took a young damsel for a meal, it was hunted down by the girl’s fiancé and tracked to its lair in the Huisne under an ivy-covered bridge. He stabbed the dragon’s tail and killed it instantly. Its death was much celebrated.

The tale of the Velue is relatively new. Its basis dates from the 15th Century and it was resurrected and expanded in the 19th Century. Much of it is in the tradition of French local dragons such as the Tarasque, but it has not had any major festivals or iconographic conventions. The oldest and only presumed historical depiction of the Velue is a terracotta fountain sculpture dated from the 17th or 18th Century, found in a ditch on the road of La Chapelle-Saint-Rémy.

If anything the use of the term agnelles for Fertois women has existed separately from the dragon. In the 16th Century La Ferté-Bernard sided with the Catholic League during the wars of Henri IV. Its governor Dragues de Comnène was a wily commander who claimed descent from the Eastern kings. During a siege led by René de Bouillé, the governor sent a detachment of soldiers out of La Ferté disguised as women. The ruse almost worked; some of the besiegers came gallantly up to the damsels and found themselves under attack, but René de Bouillé’s forces quickly sent the disguised warriors packing. The victory highly amused Henri IV and provided no end of jokes concerning “les agnelles de la Ferté, dont il ne faut que deux pour étrangler le loup” (“the she-lambs of the Ferté, only two of which can throttle a wolf”).

The term “peluda” has gained traction as a name solely because it was used by Borges. Some sources even claim it to be an Occitan word – never mind the fact that La Ferté-Bernard is nowhere near the Midi. Borges used the word as a direct Spanish translation of “velue” (much like “hairy beast” or “shaggy beast”) and has absolutely no business being used outside of a Spanish context.

References

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

Charles, L. (1877) Histoire de La Ferté-Bernard. Robert Charles, Pellechat, Le Mans.

Clier-Colombani, F. (1991) La Fée Mélusine au Moyen Age. Le Léopard d’or, Paris.

Flohic, J. (2001) Le Patrimoine des Communes de la Sarthe, v. II. Flohic Editions, Paris.

Roy, C. and Strand, P. (1952) La France de Profil. Editions Clairefontaine, Lausanne.

Chicheface

Variations: Chiche-face, Chiche Face, Chichefache, Chechiface, Chincheface, Chiche; Chichevache, Chichivache (erroneously), Thingut, Pinch-Belly (English)

Chicheface

Chicheface is as starved as its counterpart Bigorne is satisfied. This etiolated creature was said to feed solely on wives who obeyed their husbands, and as such was skeletal and malnourished. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

Some confusion has resulted over the name. Chiche face means “thin face”, possibly derived from the Spanish chico, “small” (although Chapoulaud suggests a separate derivation from the patois chichou, “puppy”). Corruption of this word through intermediaries like chichefache has led to the alternate spelling of chichevache, “thin cow”, popularized in English.

There is very little of the bovine in Chicheface. It is somewhat like a terrifyingly thin werewolf, barely skin and bones. Its head and body are those of a wolf, its forelegs are clawed and its hindlegs are hooved.

Satire featuring Chicheface revolves around the lack of good and submissive women, and usually begs wives to remain independent and willful. Le dit de Chicheface (“The say of Chicheface”), preserved in the Auvergne mural, depicts Chicheface with its prey in its mouth. Chicheface laments its lot in life – Moy que lon appelle Chiche Face / Très maigre de coleur et de face (“I who am called Chiche Face / Very thin of color and face”). The woman held in its jaws is the only thing it’s found to eat in ten thousand years. Des ans il y a plus de deux cens / Que ceste tiens entre mes dens / Et sy ne lose avaler / De peur de trop longtemps jeuner (“For more than two hundred years / I’ve been holding her between my teeth / And I dare not swallow her / For fear of fasting too long”). As for the long-suffering woman, she regrets her decisions in life, having done everything her husband told her to do, and begs wives not to do the same – Vous qui vivez au demourant / Ne veulez pas come moi faire (“You who live at home / Do not do as I did”).

Jubinal’s satirical poem on the life of Saint Genevieve mentions Chicheface in a warning addressed to the saint: Gardez-vous de la Chicheface / El vous mordra, s’el vous rencontre (“Beware of the Chicheface / It will bite you, if it meets you”). In the Life of Saint Christoffle, we are given the curse Va, que tu soys confondu / Orde, sanglante chiche face! (“Go, may you be confounded / Vile, bloody chiche face!”). Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In the Clerk’s Tale, “noble wives full of high prudence” are warned not to imitate the good and patient Griselda “lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail”. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles.

The skinnier Chicheface has proven more enduring than its rotund companion. Various carved grotesques have been described as the Chiche without further elaboration. In all likelihood Chicheface’s existence may have preceded the misogynistic legend attached to it, and it continued to exist in the popular mind as a sort of hideous bogey.

References

Allou, C. N. (1821) Description des Monumens des Differens Ages. F. Chapoulaud, Limoges.

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Jubinal, A. (1837) Mystères Inédits du Quinzième Siècle, t. II. Téchener, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Bigorne

Variations: Bugorne; Bicorne, Bycorne, Bulchin, Fill-Gutt (English); Biurro, Biarro, Biligornia, Tantafera (Italian)

Bigorne

Bigorne is as corpulent as its counterpart Chicheface is emaciated. This bloated creature was said to feed solely on husbands who obeyed their wives, and as such was fat and well-fed. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.

The name Bigorne is presumably derived from bicornis, “two-horned”, and also refers to a two-horned anvil. Bigorne itself claims to hail from the fictitious land of Bigornois. The word and variations of it have also been used to refer to debauched old women, to navy infantrymen (bigorniaux or bigreniaux), and to periwinkle snails (bigornebigorneau).

Representations of Bigorne show a massive creature taking clear inspiration from the better-known Tarasque. It has overlapping scales on its rounded back, a smooth belly with lozenge-like scales, clawed bestial forepaws, webbed hindpaws, and a tufted tail. Its face is somewhat human in appearance, unlike that of Chicheface. Alas, no horns are present.

Bigorne has no shortage of patient and submissive husbands to feed on. In its signature poem, Le dit de Bigorne (“The say of Bigorne”), it states that Bons hommes sont bons a manger (“Good men are good to eat”). It is accosted by a desperate man who seeks deliverance from his wife, begging it to eat him; the Bigorne has to excuse itself as it’s still working on its last meal – Attens ong peu beau damoyseau / Laisse mavaller ce morceau / Qui est tresbon ie ten asseure / Et puis a toy ie parleray / Et voulentiers tescouteray (“Wait a bit handsome youth / Let me swallow this morsel / Which is quite delicious I assure you / And then I will talk to you / And gladly listen”). It refers to women and Chicheface disdainfully and brags of its gluttony: Ils viennent a moy a milliers / Aussi grans comme de pilliers (“They come to me in the thousands / Each as big as a pillar”). It finally consents to eat the man; this being a medieval farce, the poem ends on a suitably crude tone as the Bigorne requests that he not break wind or urinate while it swallows him. Il ne te fault point deschausser / Ni despoiller, cest ma nature / Bons hommes font ma nourriture (“You needn’t remove your shoes / Or undress, for it’s my nature / Good men are my food”).

Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles. A masquerade in Florence in the first half of the 16th century saw the likeness of a monstrous beast paraded through the streets. Dubbed Biurro, it bore a sign on its chest proclaiming: Io son Biurro che mangio coloro che fanno a modo delle mogli loro (“I am Biurro and I eat those who do their wives’ bidding”).

The uglier Chicheface has proven more popular than its content companion. Stripped of its chauvinistic overtones, the Bigorne is also a fearsome black beast that roams around Saintonge at night.

References

Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.

de Chesnel, A. (1857) Dictionnaire de Technologie, t. I. J. P. Migne, Rue d’Amboise, Paris.

Gay, J. (1871) Bibliographie des ouvrages relatifs a l’amour, t. II. J. Gay et Fils, Turin.

Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.

Michel, F. (1856) Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot. Firmin Didot Freres, Fils, et Cie, Paris.

de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.

Silvestre, L. C. (1840) Bigorne qui mange tous les hommes qui font le commandement de leurs femmes. Crapelet, Paris.

de Soultrait, G. (1849) Notice sur le Chateau de Villeneuve en Auvergne. Bulletin Monumental, s. 2, t. 5, Derache, Rue du Bouloy, Paris.

Tyrthwitt, T. (1868) The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. George Routledge and Sons, London.

Lupeux

lupeux

“Ah, ah! Ah, ah!” The sound echoes through the still, moonlit ponds of Brenne. “Ah, ah, ah!” It’s a pleasant, gently teasing sort of laugh, in a soft human voice. You look around you, but the sound is hard to place. “Who’s there?” you might think of asking. “What’s going on?” Inhabitants of the Berry region in France know better than to respond. Your traveling companion chides you. “For the love of God, don’t answer a third time!”

The laughter comes from the Lupeux, a mysterious, perverse creature with a cruel sense of humor. The lupeux is heard but not seen. Its appearance is uncertain and varies from area to area, but it usually has the head of a wolf, as hinted by its name.

“Ah, ah!” You don’t heed your friend’s warning and call out once more. “What’s funny?” That’s when the floodgates open. The lupeux’s laughter ceases, and it begins to talk to you. In its friendly, genial, engaging voice, it relates juicy rumors, scandalous gossip, inside secrets. If you’re single, it tantalizes you with its matchmaking, sets you up with the hottest dates; if you’re romantically involved, it taunts you with your partner’s infidelity and reveals all their secret lovers. There is seemingly nothing the lupeux doesn’t know – or pretend to know.

Once in the lupeux’s spell, you do not tire of listening to it. You follow its congenial voice as it travels through the skeletal branches of blasted willows, desperate for more. Then the voice stops moving, and you stop in front of a pool, crystal clear, reflecting you and all your hopes and fears, all the tales the lupeux has planted in your head. You come closer for a better look – and the lupeux pushes you in. As you sink into the bottomless pool, as the cold water pours into your lungs and you take your last breath, you see the lupeux perched on a nearby branch, watching you drown and laughing in its charming, friendly voice. “Ah, ah! Now that’s funny”.

References

Jaubert, H. (1864) Glossaire du Centre de la France. Imprimerie et Librairie Centrales de Napoleon Chaix et Cie, Paris.

Sand, G. (1858) Légendes Rustiques. Amorel et Cie Libraires-Editeurs, Paris.

Camacrusa

Variations: Came-crude, Came cruse, Came-cruse, Jambe Crue, L’Òs-de-la-Mala-Cama; Sopatard, Sopa-tot-sèr, Soupe-toute-sé (potentially); Ramponneau (potentially)

camacrusa

The Camacrusa, Came Cruse, Came Crude (“Raw Leg” in Gascon) or Òs-de-la-Mala-Cama (“Bone of the Bad Leg”) is a French nocturnal bogey that can be found in Gascony, notable around Aire-sur-L’Adour in the Landes. Its horrifying appearance is generally left to the imagination, but as its name implies it is usually a disembodied leg, possibly somewhat flayed.

Despite its appearance, a camacrusa is very rapid in movement, capable of hiding behind haybales, jumping over ditches and hedges, and easily running down its prey – children who remain outside after dark. How it eats them is unspecified.

Its role has largely been usurped by more traditional bogeys such as Ramponneau and the Sopatard (“Sups-late”) or Sopa-tot-sèr (“Sups-every-evening”). The latter in particular is closely associated with the camacrusa, for as the nursery rhyme goes: “La cama-cruda e lo sopa-tot-sèr, que hèn la nueit plenha de danger” (“The raw-leg and the sups-every-evening, make the night full of danger”).

References

Foix, V. (1904) Glossaire de la Sorcellerie Landaise. Revue de Gascogne, III, pp. 257-262.

Heiniger, P. Les Formes du Noir. In Loddo, D. and Pelen, J. (eds.) (2001) Êtres fantastiques des régions de France. L’Harmattan, Paris.

Nippgen, J. (1930) Les Traditions Populaires Landaises. Revue de Folklore Francais, IV, pp. 149-172.

Margot la Fée

Variations: Margot-la-Fée, Margot, La Bonne Femme Margot (The Good Woman Margot), Ma Commère Margot (My Godmother Margot), Fée Morgant

Margot

The Margot la Fée, “Margot the Fairy”, or more simply Margot, are fairies native to Brittany, particularly Collinée, Lamballe, Moncontour, and most of the Côtes-d’Armor. They are generally seen as benevolent and protective, but capable of deadly violence when provoked. The name of Margot – also used for magpies – is probably derived from Morgan or Morgana, as evidenced by the alternative name of Morgant; most local names are placatory terms of affection. Margot fairies are closely associated with megaliths, caves, treasures, and snakes, leaving the beaches to the Fées des Houles and the Groac’h.

Like most fairies, Margot fairies vary a lot in appearance, appearing as both young and old women as well as animals. They spend part of their time as snakes, both willingly and against their will, in which form they are most vulnerable. They possess considerable magical powers, dance in circles at night, haunt dolmens, swap babies with voracious changelings, and flee religious symbols.  Sometimes a Margot would take a fancy to a handsome young shepherd and choose to keep him in a cave for herself. In those cases time itself would seem to slow down, such were the pleasures that the fairy offered.

Margot fairies happily care for the livestock of their neighbors, even going so far as to feed them in the caverns while their owners were away. The Margot’s own livestock remained in the caves, emerging only to feed. On the other hand, hungry Margot fairies will tear a cow to pieces and devour it, only to restore it to life by the next morning, missing only any pieces that had been eaten by humans during the feast.

Margot fairies are often the guardians of fabulous riches. They will handsomely reward those who aid them, and punish any who take advantage of their generosity. If they tell you to take a certain amount of treasure and no more than that, you would be wise to follow their instructions to the letter. One man who took more gold from the Crokélien Hill fairies than he was instructed to had his son taken away from him, never to be seen again.

Other gifts of the Margot are more prosaic. They will offer piping hot loaves of bread to the hungry – loaves that never get smaller, no matter how many slices are cut from them. But if a piece is offered to someone else deemed unworthy by the fairies, the loaf will no longer regenerate.

Small acts of compassion are looked on with great favor. Two harvesters, resting after scything wheat, encountered a little grass snake eating the breadcrumbs they left behind. One tried to kill it, while the other stopped him, saying it would be wrong to kill a small, harmless animal. In the evening a Margot appeared to the second man and thanked him for protecting her daughter. She gave him two belts, one for him and one for his friend, telling him not to mix them up. His was of pure gold, while the other he tied to an oak tree, which wilted overnight.

Another man working near the hill of Crokélien encountered a Margot, who asked a favor of him. “Bring a large washtub with you”, she said, “and go to the Planchettes Bridge at sunrise. There you will find a grass snake. Put the washtub over it and sit on top. If anybody asks you why you’re there, tell them you’re waiting for the blacksmiths to fix the tub. At sundown, remove the tub, and you shall be richly rewarded for your help”. The man did as he was told, and sure enough, the snake was there at the bridge as the fairy had said. He covered it with the washtub and sat patiently there for the rest of the day, weathering the taunts and jeers of passers-by with aplomb. At sunset he removed the tub to find a beautiful maiden underneath. She was the Margot’s daughter, who transformed into a snake one day every year, and would have been killed had it not been for the man’s intervention. As promised, he never wanted for gold or silver for the rest of his life.

Human midwives will also be recruited by Margots to aid them in childbirth, gifting them with the power of second sight for the occasion. But woe to her if she let on that she could still see the fairies! A vindictive Margot would gouge her eye out, or spit in her face and blind her.

References

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1996) La Grande Encyclopédie des Fées. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1887) Légendes Locales de la Haute-Bretagne: Les Margot la Fée. Maisonneuve et Ch. Leclerc, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1904) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Premier: Le Ciel et la Terre. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1905) Le Folk-Lore de France, Tome Deuxième: La Mer et les Eaux Douces. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1906) Le Folk-lore de France, Tome Troisième: La Faune et la Flore. Librairie Orientale et Américaine, Paris.

Sébillot, P. (1968) Le folklore de la Bretagne. Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris.