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.

Akampeshimpeshi

Variations: Lightning

Akampeshimpeshi

According to the Lamba people of Zambia, there is a great lake of water above the dome of the sky. This lake is held back by a weir protected by guardians appointed by Lesa (God). Sometimes Lesa appoints children to guard it, and their irresponsible playing makes holes in the weir and allow the water to spill to earth as rain. When Lesa appoints grown men to guard the weir, then there is no rain.

Lightning (akampeshimpeshi) is caused by the guardians of the weir swinging and tossing their knives (imyele). The knives do not fall – if they did, the earth would be destroyed.

When a flash of lightning hits the ground, an animal descends to the ground on the end of a long cobweb. It looks like a goat, with beard and horns, but has the feet and tail of a crocodile. Usually it returns to the sky on its string of web; if the cobweb breaks, the animal will be trapped on the ground and cry like a goat. In this state it is very dangerous and might kill people, so it is mobbed, killed, and burned by the Lambas. Anyone trying to slay this beast must have protective medicine (ubwanga bwayamba) to avoid being killed themselves.

References

Doke, C. M. (1931) The Lambas of Northern Rhodesia. George G. Harrap and Company Ltd., London.

Ccoa

Variations: Cacya; Chokkechinchay, Choquechinchay

Ccoa

In the Peruvian Andes, certain protective spirits are known to live in the mountains. Apus are guardian deities of regions, while aukis are spirits of cultivation. Their mountain haciendas keep a number of livestock as well as other spirits that serve the apus and aukis. Condors are their chickens, and vicuñas are their llamas. The ccoa is their cat and is the most feared of those spirits. Its primary dwelling is the mountain Ausangate, near the village of Kauri in the Cuzco district. It is associated with (and perhaps identical to) Choquechinchay, the evening star and a constellation of a fierce puma with brilliant eyes.

The ccoa is a catlike creature 40 cm tall and 60 cm long, with a tail 30 cm in length and 3 cm wide. It is gray with black stripes running the length of its body. Its head is proportionally a bit larger than a cat’s, with phosphorescent eyes; often there is hail running out of its eyes and ears. Sometimes the ccoa appears as a catlike bull with eyes of blood.

During the rainy season the ccoa emerges from highland springs in the form of clouds. An active and angry spirit, it seeks to steal the crops before the harvest, destroying them with hail. Its tail sweeps the clouds, bringing storms, hail, and deadly lightning. It is unclear whether the ccoa acts on its own initiative or if it only follows the orders of its spirit masters, but either way it is treated as a malevolent threat that must be placated.

When it comes to interaction with the ccoa, there are two kinds of people: those who serve the ccoa and those who fight it. The rich serve the ccoa, as their fields are never harmed by hailstorms. The poor fight it, as their fields are destroyed by the ccoa and their families stricken with disease. The ccoa is also revered by sorcerers, as it grants them powers by striking them with lightning.

The ccoa can be placated with suitable offerings. These are usually a combination of materials including incense, wine, gold and silver tinsel, llama tallow, and cañihua and huairuro grains, collected and burned on high ground. Sorcerers in particular must be sure to make offerings to the ccoa in thanks for their gifted abilities. The ccoa is angered by unsatisfactory offerings by sorcerers, children dying before being baptized, and attempts to fight off its hail.

The souls of unbaptized children are duendes, and they are irredeemably malevolent. When children die before they are baptized, they must be taken to he hills and burned to ashes. If unbaptized children are buried, the ccoa will strike their burial place with lightning and take the duendes to Ausangate as servants.

Sometimes the ccoa is replaced entirely by Santiago, a more neutral deity who causes hail and lightning but also protects crops.

The ccoa may be a modern-day descendant of the ancient Chavín feline cult.

References

Bankes, G. (1977) Peru Before Pizarro. Phaidon, Oxford.

Cumes, C. and Valencia, R. (1995) Pachamama’s Children. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul.

Harrison, R. (1989) Signs, Songs, and Memory in the Andes. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Mishkin, B. The Contemporary Quechua. In Steward, J. H. ed. (1946) Handbook of South American Indians v. 2: The Andean Civilizations. United States Government Printing Office, Washington.

Cactus Cat

Variations: Cactifelinus inebrius (Cox), Felis spinobiblulosus (Tryon)

Cactus Cat

Cactus Cats once lived in the wide-open Southwestern deserts. They were once found in saguaro country between Prescott and Tucson and in the Sonoran Desert as far south as the cholla hills of Yucatan. Nowadays the species is practically extinct following the exploitation and destruction of its desert home.

A cactus cat has thorny hair, with especially long, rigid spines on its ears and tail. The tail is branched like a cactus with scattered thorny hair. There are sharp bony blades on the forearms above the forefeet.

Cactus cats use their forearm-blades to cut deep slanting slashes at the base of giant cacti. One of those cats will travel in a wide circular path, 80 chains long, slashing every cactus it sees. By the time it returns to the first cactus, the sap oozing from the cuts has fermented into mescal. The cactus cat laps this alcoholic brew up hungrily. By the end of the second circuit the cat is thoroughly drunk and waltzes off in a drunken stupor. It yowls and rasps its bone blades together, a sound which carries through the desert night.

It is this fondness for liquor that was the downfall of the species. By following a cactus cat around, one could collect the mescal and deprive the cat of its sustenance. This was not an activity without risk, however. Thieves caught in the act were flogged to death with the cat’s spiny tail, leaving red welts deceptively similar to the effects of heat rash.

References

Cox, W. T. (1910) Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts. Judd and Detweiler, Washington D. C.

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

Bayfart

Bayfart

The Bayfart is an animal whose existence is reported by the inhabitants of Finnmark. It is something like a seal, roughly the same size and shape. Its fur is greyish. It has small ears and a single horn on its head surrounded by hair, and hog-like bristles around its nose. Its forelegs have claws as long as a lion’s, while its has two flippers for hind legs.

Thevet received a bayfart skin from a Scotsman, who obtained it in Denmark in 1570. It had been caught in the Northern Sea.

References

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

Wulver

Wulver

The Wulver lives alone in a cave halfway up a steep knowe on the Isle of Unst in Shetland. He stands upright like a man, but has a wolf’s head and a body covered in short brown hair.

A peaceful loner, the Wulver never harms people as long as he isn’t harmed. He likes to fish, and for hours will sit upon a rock, the “Wulver’s Stane”, and catch yearling coalfish. Frequently he will leave a gift of a few fish on the windowsill of the poor and old of Shetland.

References

Angus, J. S. (1914) A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect. Alexander Gardner, Paisley.

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

Saxby, J. M. E. (1932) Shetland Traditional Lore. Grant and Murray Limited, Edinburgh.

Myrmecoleon

Variations: Myrmecoleo, Myrmekoleon, Mermecoleon, Mermecolion, Mirmicaleon, Mirmicoleon, Murmecoleon, Formicaleon, Ant-Lion, Antlion

Myrmecoleon

The Myrmecoleon, or Ant-lion, is a tale of two creatures and many translation errors. Druce distinguishes between the Eastern myrmecoleon, a hybrid of lion and ant, and the Western myrmecoleon, a carnivorous insect. These are one and the same, but the vagaries of translation led them down separate paths.

The Eastern myrmecoleon is found primarily in Greek, Arabian, Armenian, Ethiopian, and Syrian bestiaries. Its pedigree can be traced back to the giant gold-digging ants originally described by Herodotus. Further additions were added to the account as it evolved away from its origin. Nearchus claimed that the skins of the ants were as large as those of leopards. Pliny said that the horns of an Indian ant at the Erythraean temple of Hercules were remarkably large. Agatharchides, Aelian, and Strabo tell of Arabian and Babylonian lions called “ants” (myrmex) that have gleaming golden fur and reversed genitals (probably hyraxes, which have a distinctive dorsal gland).

The translators of the Septuagint were faced with the unfamiliar term lajisch or layish in Eliphaz’s phrase “the old lion perishes for lack of food” (Job 4:11). In the Vulgate it was rendered as tigris, and modern translations use “old lion”, but the Septuagint, drawing on obscure Classical species of lion, arbitrarily used the term myrmekoleon. Its name presupposes a hybrid of ant and lion; as the Bible is inerrant, this led led to the necessary existence of a creature whose father was a lion and whose mother was an ant. The fruit of this improbable union is a lion in front and an ant behind, and dies of starvation since the ant half cannot digest what the lion half eats, while the lion half cannot eat the plants the ant half requires. Thus “the myrmecoleon perishes for lack of food” became a logical statement, and was expounded upon in the Physiologus.

Myrmecoleon antlionThe Western myrmecoleon originally appeared in Latin sources and subsequently found its way into European bestiaries. This ant-lion is both ant and lion – an insect that preys on ants as lions prey on other animals, an ant to us, a lion to ants. It is an ant with a white head and a black body marked with white spots. It appears in bestiaries as something like a large ant or spider. This is a real animal – the antlion is a larva with huge jaws that constructs funnel-shaped traps in sand to catch ants. It eventually metamorphoses into a lacy-winged fly, but both larva and adult are completely harmless to humans.

As a denizen of bestiaries the ant-lion has its own religious connotations. The Eastern myrmecoleon is two-faced, double-minded, unstable, and deceitful. The Western myrmecoleon represents Satan lying in wait for sinners.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Druce, G. C. (1923) An account of the Μυρμηκολέων or Ant-lion. The Antiquaries Journal, 3(4), pp. 347-364.

Flaubert, G. (1885) La Tentation de Saint Antoine. Quantin, Paris.

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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

Newbold, D. (1924) The Ethiopian Ant-lion. Sudan Notes and Record, 7(1), pp. 133-135.

Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.