Cu Sith

Variations: Fairy Dog

Cu Sith

The Cu Sith (pronounced coo-shee), “fairy dog”, is a great beast associated with the fairies of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Fairy dogs are almost always malevolent and implacable with no love for humans. There are some stories of fairy dogs treating humans with kindness, but these are best regarded with suspicion.

A fairy dog is hideous in appearance. It appears as an enormous dog the size of a two-year-old stirk, with paw-prints as broad as a man’s outspread hand. The fur is dark green, lightening downwards to the paws. The ears are a deeper green in color. The tail may be flat and plaited, or long and coiled over the dog’s back.

During the day the fairies keep their dogs tied up to keep watch, and even untethered fairy dogs will hide in caves by day. Night-time is when they roam free and are at their most dangerous. They run in straight lines, silently; sometimes they make a sound like a galloping horse. They are deadly to humans and beasts, although at least one tale has them driven off by ordinary, mortal dogs.

Most dreaded of all is the cu sith’s bark. A fairy dog will bark three times, with an interval between each bark. The first and second barks are warnings; after the third bark the dogs appear and tear their victims to pieces. On the island of Tiree, those who hear the first baying of a cu sith know to immediately go indoors to safety.

Finding a cu sith tooth, on the other hand, is a sign of very good luck. The tooth itself can be placed in drinking water to cure the illnesses of cows, or in milk to cleanse it of a witch’s influence. The teeth tend to be found in odd places and are abandoned after the animal feeds. MacGregor tells of a farmer in Lewis whose potatoes were being stolen on a nightly basis. Yet stakeouts accomplished nothing – he could never catch the thief in the act. Then one day he found a fairy dog’s tooth sticking out of one of the potatoes. The tooth was passed down in the family for generations.

Cu sith can be avoided. A man traveling near Kennavara Hill, Tiree, saw a large dog (Campbell describes it as black in color) resting on a sand-dune. He gave it a wide berth and made for home. The next day he revisited the dune and found prints as large as his spread palm. These prints made a trackway leading to and disappearing on the plain. The dog had ignored him.

A shepherd from Lorn, Argyll, came upon two cu sith puppies curled up in their lair behind some rocks. They had green backs and sides and – most worryingly – were larger than his own hulking sheepdogs. The shepherd and his dogs wisely left before the parents showed up.

References

Briggs, K. M. (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books, New York.

Campbell, J. G. (1900) Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow.

Fleming, M. (2002) Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

MacGregor, A. A. (1937) The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands. The Moray Press, Edinburgh.

Muscaliet

Variations: Muscardin; Dormouse; Musquelibet, Musquelibus, Musquilibet (possibly)

Muscaliet

Nobody is quite sure what a Muscaliet is. Our only source for this unusual rodent is found in the bestiary of Pierre de Beauvais, and it appears to have been cobbled together from multiple unrelated accounts.

The muscaliet is found in India, in the land of the three talking trees that predicted the death of Alexander the Great. This by itself is suspect, as the accounts of Alexander in India only mention two trees, consecrated to the sun and moon. Then again, the sun-tree was said to have spoken twice and the moon-tree once, making for three tree speeches. The life of a copyist was a thankless one.

Beauvais gives the muscaliet a body like a hare, but smaller. Its legs, feet, and tail are like those of a squirrel, but the tail, while held in a squirrel-like manner, is larger. It uses the strength in its tail to jump from tree to tree. Its head is rounded, its ears small and weasel-like, and its nose long and pointed like a mole. There is a tooth sticking out of its mouth on either side, like a boar’s tusks, and it has bristles around its snout like the bristles on a boar’s back.

A muscaliet is a highly adept climber. No animal can catch it in the trees, and its claws are so sharp that it can cling to any surface. It eats fruits, leaves, and flowers and digs out its dens in the roots of trees. It is so “hot by nature” (calde de nature) that the tree it lives in eventually rots, withers, and dies as the muscaliet gnaws away at the roots.

This is a moral lesson. The tree represents a human; its leaves and flowers are good deeds, and its fruits are the soul. But the muscaliet is Pride, its sharp teeth are cutting words that Cruelty brings, and its feet show that cruelty is tenacious. Once Pride takes up residence within us, Beauvais warns, it rots us from the inside out.

The term “muscaliet” itself is an archaic French term for the common dormouse or muscardin (Muscardinus), that which Buffon described as “the least ugly of all the rats”. Its name is derived from its presumed musky odor; whether this attribution came before or after Beauvais’ usage is unclear. The –caliet part of the name superficially suggests heat, which would have inspired our bestiarist to describe it as “hot by nature”. Alternative, “muscaliet” may have been derived from the musquelibet, a creature like a roe deer in size, with an abscess-like growth that produces musk. This is the musk deer Moschus moschiferus, which does have tusks like a boar but little connection to the muscaliet otherwise – not even musk is mentioned.

Is this the fox-sized mouse described by Aristotle? It was a wonder of India found by Alexander, a mouse the size of a fox and with a noxious bite that harmed animals and humans. This sounds like a rat, and perhaps an early allusion to the diseases carried by those animals – rats were unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans, with black rats appearing in late antiquity and brown rats showing up in the 16th century. Tales of rats with toxic bites combined with dormouse and musk-deer anecdotes are likely the basis for the tree-poisoning muscaliet, which exists as a moral warning and not a zoological account.

References

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

Buffon, G. L. L. (1775) Oeuvres completes de M. le Cte. De Buffon, t. II. Imprimerie Royal, Paris.

Cahier, C. (1856) Bestiaires. Melanges d’Archeologie, 1856(IV), pp. 55-87.

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

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

Godefroy, F. (1901) Lexique de l’Ancien Francais. H. Welter, Paris.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

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

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

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.

Origorúso

Variations: Oriogorúho, Orio-goruhu; Suguma; Poópoó

Origoruso

The Origorúso (Kiwai) or Oriogorúho (Mawata) is a man-beast, an ogre from the folklore of the Kiwai islanders of Papua New Guinea. Its name is derived from the fact that it eats (orúso) its food raw (orío).

An origorúso has very short legs, and supports itself on its hands while walking. It has huge eyes and enormous ears; its cavernous mouth has protruding tusks like those of a pig. The tusks are superfluous, as an origorúso swallows its prey whole and raw.Its fingers are armed with long claws. Male origorúso have two penises. An origorúso can make a sound like a loud grunt or roar, but it can also speak normally with people.

At night an origorúso lies on one of its oversized ears, and uses the other as a blanket. By day the ears are usually rolled up.

Origorúsos live underground or inside large trees. They raid villages to carry off and eat people. Sometimes an origorúso will enter a village and devour everyone in one house before leaving. An origorúso used to carry off a child in a village every day, until a cripple guarding a little boy tied a string around the child’s leg. When the cripple went to sleep, the origorúso pulled on the child, and by doing so pulled the string and alerted the man. Everyone in the village wisely fled, with the exception of a man, a woman and their child. They managed to appease the origorúso by throwing pigs at it until it fed and went to sleep. Then they left behind a coconut shell full of lice collected from their child; the lice answered the origorúso’s calls and detained it while they made good their escape.

Sometimes humans can become origorúsos under the right condition. A Kiwai woman in childbirth, upon being insulted by her husband, transformed into an origorúso who pursued the husband relentlessly. A man who lived a while with a friendly origorúso slept in the creature’s ears and ate raw meat; it was all fine until the man’s ears started to grow as big as the origorúso’s. “You got bed, I got bed; you got mat, I got mat”, the origorúso said cheerfully. But the man, terrified, ran back home and hid among his people. It was all in vain. The origorúso, angered, lay siege to the village, and with him came other origorúsos, the horrific útumos that are the ghosts of decapitated men, and other vile spirits. They did not leave until the escapee was given to them, torn apart, and consumed.

Fragments of origorúso bone make potent fighting medicine and are given to dogs.

The origorúso is only one of a number of creatures with enormous ears used to sleep in. The Bina people refer to their oriogorúho as female and nocturnal. The Suguma seems to be synonymous with the origorúso. The Poópoó also has huge ears, and has skin covered with po (knobs); it either has huge tusks or normal-sized teeth, and it otherwise looks like a normal man.

References

Beaver, W. N. (1920) Unexplored New Guinea. Seeley, Service & Co. Limited, London.

Kirtley, B. F. (1963) The Ear-Sleepers: Some Permutatios of a Traveler’s Tale. The Journal of American Folklore, 76(300), pp. 119-130.

Landtman, G. (1917) The Folk-tales of the Kiwai Papuans. Acta Societatis Scientiarium Fennicae, t. XLVII, Helsingfors.

Landtman, G. (1927) The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea. MacMillan and Co. Limited, London.

Dard

Dard

The Dard is peculiar to the department of Vienne in France, but its physiognomy recalls that of the alpine dragons – and, like them, it probably evolved from mustelid accounts. It is a serpent with four legs and a short viper’s tail. It has the head of a cat and a mane running down its dorsal spine.

Dards drink milk from cows and can produce a terrifying whistle. They are nonvenomous, but bite viciously when provoked.

Peasants in Vienne claimed to recognize the dard’s likeness in the carvings of certain churches.

References

Ellenberger, H. (1949) Le Monde Fantastique dans le Folklore de la Vienne. Nouvelle Revue des Traditions Populaires, 1(5), pp. 407-435.

Arassas

Arassas

The Arassas hails from the folklore of Lagrand in the Hautes-Alpes region of France. It is a greyish-colored animal with the head of a cat and the body of a lizard. It lives in ruined houses and old crumbling walls. Its gaze kills immediately.

Like other European mountain dragons, it is likely derived from superstitions about otters and martens.

References

van Gennep, A. (1948) Le folklore des Hautes-Alpes, Tome II. J. P. Maisonneuve et Cie, Paris.

Come-at-a-body

Variations: Quadrupes improvisus (Tryon)

Come-at-a-body

Bravado and surprise are the weapons of the terrifying Come-at-a-body, a native of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. According to a Mr. B. B. Bickford of Gorham, NH, this is a small, woodchuck-like animal with soft velvety fur like a kitten’s. It runs directly at unsuspecting passers-by from out of the brush and comes to a sudden halt a few inches away from its startled quarry. Then the come-at-a-body spits like a cat, emits a mink-like stench, and runs away again.

References

Tryon, H. H. (1939) Fearsome Critters. The Idlewild Press, Cornwall, NY.

Liqimsa

Variations: Dhuga

Liqimsa

The Borana Oromo people of Ethiopia were once in thrall to the Liqimsa, “swallowers”. These were two vile man-eating monsters that looked like elephants, and they demanded a daily tribute of human flesh.

At this rate, the Borana knew they would be exterminated before long. Some fled their tormentors, settling in different areas and starting new lineages. Others went south, but the liqimsa followed them and swallowed them all.

Only thirty warriors survived and took refuge on the Namdur hill. Among those were two brothers – the elder was known for his cunning, and the younger renowned for his courage.

The older of the brothers faced the liqimsa and announced “By the grace of Waaqa, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will become immortal!” The two monsters began to argue, then fight, each claiming to more deserving of the gift of immortality. Soon they were uprooting trees and bludgeoning each other in their fury. This was the perfect opportunity for the younger brother to seize two lances, heat their points in fire, and run the monsters through their bellies.

With the liqimsa dead the Borana were free to repopulate and recolonize the areas they had lost, as well as conquer new regions and drive out their inhabitants.

Huntingford saw the legend of the liqimsa as a mythologizing of a historical event – namely, a series of military defeats inflicted by the Sidama people on the Borana.

The tale of Dhuga is probably derived from the liqimsa. Dhuga (“he drinks”) was bigger than an elephant and as tall as the Mega escarpment. A man would be sacrificed to him every day as food. This ended when a passing stranger released Dhuga’s current victim and attacked the monster while it was rolling in the dust to scratch its back and remove parasites. The stranger ran Dhuga’s belly through with a lance whose tip had been heated red-hot in fire, and that was the end of the monster.

References

Bader, C. (2000) Mythes et legendes de la Corne de l’Afrique. Editions Karthala, Paris.

Huntingford, G. W. B. (1955) The Galla of Ethiopia – The Kingdoms of Kafa and Janjero. International African Institute, London.

Dingbat

Variations: Bunkeri edithil (Wyman)

Dingbat

The Dingbat of the Great Lakes region is a terrifying hybrid of bird and mammal. It has a short, feathered body, short antlers, and large wings.

Dingbats specialize in tormenting hunters. During the deer season they catch bullets in mid-air, drink gasoline from hunters’ cars, and otherwise play such pranks as to render the sportsmen’s lives miserable. While they have not been seen recently, it is certain that any seemingly sure-fire shot that misses its mark is the work of a dingbat.

The only known dingbat specimen was exhibited at the Buckhorn Tavern (and House of Science and Learning) in Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

Someone who is different and unusual may be referred to as a dingbat.

The Latin name honors Edith Bunker, who plays a human dingbat in a popular televised documentary.

References

Wyman, W. D. (1978) Mythical Creatures of the USA and Canada. University of Wisconsin Press, River Falls.

Calydonian Boar

Variations: Kalydonian Boar

Calydonian Boar

The tragedy of the Calydonian Boar started when King Oineus of Calydon made a sacrifice of firstfruits that left out Artemis. The vengeful goddess sent a monstrous boar to ravage Aitolia. This Calydonian boar was the size of a bull, with red eyes, a high stiff neck with bristles rising like spears, tusks as big as an elephant’s, and fire and lightning flashing from its mouth. It gored people and livestock, plundered the crops, burned the fields, and ruined the harvest.

Oineus begged all the heroes of Greece to save him from the boar. They responded. The team that was formed to hunt the boar included Oineus’ son Meleager, the twins Castor and Polydeuces, Theseus of Athens, Jason of Iolcos, Iphicles of Thebes, Eurytion of Phthia, and Atalanta of Arcadia, among many others. The presence of Atalanta, a woman and a skilled hunter, ruffled a few feathers; some of the men thought it beneath them to hunt with her. Meleager made sure to silence dissent before heading out to find the boar.

Althaia, mother of Meleager and wife of Oineus, watched her son leave without fear. Why would she be afraid for his life? Did the Moirai not foretell that he would only die once a certain log was burnt up – a log that she kept safely locked away in a chest? What could the boar possibly do to him? Her brothers, the sons of Thestios, also went with the party, but she had faith that nobody would come to harm.

It wasn’t hard to find the Calydonian boar. Its spoor was a wake of death and destruction. The sight of the hunting party drove the boar into a furious rage, and the hunters quickly became the hunted. Enaesimus tried to turn and run, but was hamstrung. Nestor narrowly escaped death by using his spear to pole-vault to safety. Hippasus’ thigh was gashed open. Peleus accidentally killed Eurytion with his javelin in the heat of battle. It was Atalanta that drew first blood with an arrow behind the boar’s ear, an action that earned Ancaios’ scorn. “A man’s weapons will always be better than a girl’s! Watch this!” Ancaios hefted his axe just in time to get disemboweled by the boar. Finally Meleager himself stabbed the boar’s flank, killing it.

In due course the boar was skinned and its magnificent hide taken, to be offered to the most valorous of the party. Meleager gave it to Atalanta without hesitation. The sons of Thestios, his uncles, were furious. “A mere woman does not deserve such a prize”, they grumbled. “If Meleager won’t take it, it is ours by right”. Tempers flared. The uncles took the skin by force, provoking Meleager to draw his sword and kill both of them.

Althaia did not take the news well. When she heard her brothers were dead, she seized Meleager’s log and tossed it into the fire in a fit of rage. Meleager was burned up from within and died in agony, envying Ancaios’ swift death at the boar’s tusks. Althaia went on to kill herself in a fit of conscience. Meleager’s sisters wept bitterly until Artemis transformed all but two of them into guineafowl.

So it goes.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Ovid, Humphries, R. trans. (1955) Metamorphoses. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Erymanthian Boar

Erymanthian Boar

The Erymanthian Boar was a monstrous boar that made its home around Mount Erymanthos in Arcadia. It ravaged the land of Psophis, killing people and livestock and tearing up crops.

Heracles was commanded to bring the Erymanthian boar alive for his fourth labor. Along the way the demigod had an unfortunate and tragic encounter with the centaurs, one which would have severe repercussions in the future. Eventually Heracles found the boar and scared it out of its thicket with a mighty shout. After a long chase, the boar was tired out and and forced it into a snowdrift, where it was easily captured and brought back to Eurystheus. In a comic scene that graces many a Grecian urn, the cowardly king hid in a large storage jar until Heracles took the boar away.

After that the boar presumably met its demise, either at the hands of Heracles or elsewhere. The tusks of the Erymanthian boar were on display at the sanctuary of Apollo in Cumae, Italy, but Pausanias believed this claim to be highly dubious.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

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

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.