Cuero

Variations: Hide, Skin; Manta; Huecú, Chueiquehuecu, Chueiquehuecuvu, Trelque, Trelquehuecufe, Trelquehuecuvu, Trilkehuecufe; Ghyryvilu (erroneously?); El Cuero (erroneously)

Cuero

The tale of the living cow-hide is widespread throughout the lakes of Chile. Originally a type of huecuve, a Mapuche evil spirit responsible for all sorts of ills, it has since assimilated into local folklore and been attributed to animals such as the octopus and ray. Sometimes the creature is merely a physical manifestation of the huecuve, which can then go on to possess people or animals and inflict them with consumption.

The Mapuche term for this creature is Trelquehuecuve, “skin huecuve”. In Spanish-speaking contexts it is known as Cuero, “Hide” or “Skin”, or Manta, “Mantle” or “Cloak”. Molina describes it as a variant of the ghyryvilu or fox-snake, another aquatic terror.

A cuero is a creature that looks like a cowhide, sheepskin, or goatskin, stretched out flat and laid on the surface of the water. It is usually white with black or brown spots, or brilliant yellow and white. The edges of the cuero are armed with hooked claws. The cueros of Butaro laguna, Atacama, resemble living fabric with suckers; they are also the souls of the damned. In central Chile the cuero is an octopus that resembles a cowhide with numberless eyes and with four enormous eyes in its head. Laguna Copín, Aconcagua, is home to a furry, flat creature fond of human flesh.

Anything that enters the water is engulfed and squeezed in the cuero’s folds, and dragged under to have its blood sucked out. After feeding the cuero will release its drained prey and find itself a solitary beach on which to stretch out, bask, and digest peacefully. Unexplained drownings are the work of a cuero. In Ovalle and Coquimbo the goatskin cueros couple with cows and sire deformed offspring.

Cueros can be killed by tossing branches of quisco cactus (Cereus or Echinocactus) into the water. The creature will attempt to seize the cactus, injure itself, and bleed to death. The heroic youth Ñanco successfully confronted a cuero by holding quisco in his hands and tying quisco branches to his legs

The motif of the living hide extends to other beings and motifs. Another Chilean folktale tells of a magical cow that told its master Joaquin to kill and skin it. The resultant cowhide was alive in its own fashion and served Joaquin as a boat, and the cow’s eyes in his pocket granted him the power to see through anything. At the end of his adventures, the skin, bones, eyes, and other remains of the cow were collected for burning, but the moment the last hair of the cow touched the pile, the cow was brought back to life, plump and healthy, and walked off to the farm as though nothing had happened.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

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

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Guevara, T. (1908) Psicolojia del pueblo araucano. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Latcham, R. E. (1924) La organización social y la creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Molina, M.; Jaramillo, R. trans. (1987) Ensayo sobre la Historia Natural de Chile. Ediciones Maule, Santiago de Chile.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Carcolh

Variations: Lou Carcolh (erroneously)

Carcolh

The French town of Hastingues, it is said, is built over an enormous cave honeycombed with entrance tunnels. Deep within that cave dwells the Carcolh (“snail”), also inaccurately known as “lou Carcolh” (“the snail”). The word is itself derived from the Spanish caracol, and does not have any special meaning, as evidenced by the béarnese riddle u houmiot qui s’emporte sa maysou darrè deu cot? Lou carcolh (“A little man who carries his house behind his back? The snail”).

Nobody knows how long the carcolh has lived there, or how old it is. It is a gigantic, slimy, shaggy serpent, with a shell as big as a house, and long prehensile tentacles.

The inhabitants of Hastingues hid their treasures underground before the Spanish invasion. Many have ventured into the cave in search of those treasures, and vanished without a trace. The carcolh does not move much, but its tentacles seize anyone who approaches it, dragging them into its shell to be consumed at leisure. At least one witness saw the carcolh drinking, and managed to escape before it saw him. He then blocked up the tunnel he had entered by, and swore never to return there again.

References

de Charencey, C. (1903) Etymologies Francaises et Provencales. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, v. 12, pp. lix-lxiv.

Foix, V. (1903) Glossaire de la Sorcellerie Landaise. Revue de Gascogne, v. 3, pp. 362-373.

Peyresblanques, J. (1977) Contes et Légendes des Landes. J. Pémartin, Dax.

Rolland, E. (1877) Devinettes ou Enigmes populaires de la France. F. Vieweg, Paris.

Butatsch Cun Ilgs

Variations: Butatsch-ah-ilgs (erroneously, apparently a typo in Rose’s encyclopedia)

Butatsch Cun Ilgs

The Lüschersee, a small Swiss alpine lake nestled in the heather-covered hills of Graubünden, seems tranquil enough on the surface. Yet it is said that the lake’s waters reach down to the center of the Earth, where eternal fires rage. This is the home of the Butatsch Cun Ilgs, the “Cow’s Stomach”.

Long ago, during a more feudal time, the shepherds of Graubünden were in a constant struggle for freedom from the cruel barons and lords of the land. Their masters were prone to treating them unjustly, and even harming them for sport. A group of noblemen once returned from an ibex hunt to find herds of cattle and sheep grazing peacefully by the Lüschersee. Naturally they decided to kill them. With loud whoops and peals of laughter, they drove the animals before them, hacking at them with their swords and forcing them into the lake to drown. The peasants could only watch as the lords mocked them.

It was then that the water started to foam and bubble, and the Butatsch cun ilgs heaved itself onto the shore. It had the appearance of an enormous cow’s stomach, and was covered with thousands of eyes. The eyes had hypnotic powers, and if they focused on one point, bone-melting flames would erupt.

Mesmerized by the Butatsch cun ilgs, the lords stood dumbly as the enormous mass trampled and crushed them. Butatsch cun ilgs slipped back into the water after killing them all, leaving the shepherds terrified but unharmed.

Since then Butatsch cun ilgs has only reappeared twice, in 100-year intervals. The second time it came out of the Lüschersee, it gouged the rapids of the Nolla along its path. The third time was during a terrifying thunderstorm, when the monster of the Lüschersee slithered through a rivulet, tearing out the banks, causing massive landslides, and creating ravines.

After this last appearance – the starmentusa notg or “Night of Terror” – the Butatsch cun ilgs was not seen again. Yet sometimes a distant, unearthly bellowing can be heard over the still waters of the lake… “The Lüschersee roars”, say the shepherds, and bring the hay in.

References

Burde-Schneidewind, G. (1977) Historische Volkssagen Aus Dem 13. Bis 19. Jahrhundert. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin.

Derichsweiler, W. Das Safiental. In Schweizer Alpenclub (1919) Jahrbuch das Schweizer Alpenclub. Stämpfl & Co., Bern.

Jecklin, D. (1874) Volksthümliches aus Graubünden. Orell Füssli & Co., Zürich.

Rose, C. (2000) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. W. W. Norton and Co., New York.

Sarmatian Sea Snail

Variations: Sarmatian Snail, Limaçon de la Mer Sarmatique, Philosmon (Greek, potentially), Aknib (Turkish, potentially), Albakr (Tartar, potentially), Lucrab (Arabic, potentially), Cochlea Sarmatica

Sarmatian Sea Snail

Anyone wishing to make a book on monstrous fishes should head to the Sarmatian Sea, exhorts Thevet. There, in what is now known as the Baltic Sea, may be found enough nightmares to satisfy the most avid teratologist.

One of these is an enormous snail, the size of a barrel. It has antlers like those of a stag, equipped with gleaming, pearl-like tips. It has a rounded cat-like snout with whiskers, and glowing eyes that light its path like candles. Its mouth is deeply slit, and a hideous fleshy excrescence dangles below it. Its neck is thick, and its tail is long, multicolored, and mottled like a tiger’s. Unlike most other snails, it has four feet armed with hooked claws.

While amphibious, the giant snail is usually out in the open sea, and is rarely seen on the coast due to its wariness.  During good weather it will crawl up onto the beach to graze. Its flesh is tasty and good to eat, and helps against liver and lung problems, much like the meat of large Madagascan turtles cures leprosy.

Thevet reports the Sarmatian Sea snail from Denmark, and mentions having seen similar creatures in the Black Sea, where they are known as Philosmon by the Greeks, Aknib by the Turks, Albakr by the Tartars, and Lucrab by the Arabs. These may well be the same animal.

Linnaeus cautiously included the Sarmatian Sea snail as Cochlea Sarmatica in a footnote, admitting that “fabulosa est“.

It is most likely that this giant snail was born of confusion between the shells of turtles and the shells of snails. Thevet was also working with a number of notes taken at different times, and it does not seem implausible that he muddled them together to create chimeras. Turtles were long seen as bizarre creatures, and the Ortus Sanitatis represents them as snails with legs, making them the basis for the giant snail. Further confusion with seals led to the whiskers and large eyes, and the antlers were provided by branching fungi. For all we know, none of these were from the Baltic Sea.

References

Linnaeus, C. (1759) Animalium Specierum. Theodor Haak, Leiden.

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

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

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

Vallot, M. (1834) Mémoire sur le Limacon de la Mer Sarmatique. Mémoires de L’Académie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-Lettres de Dijon, Partie des Sciences, Frantin, Dijon.

A-mi’-kuk

Variations: Ă-mi’-kuk, Ä-mi’-kuk

A-mi-kuk

Kayakers in the cold seas of the Arctic Circle are the A-mi’-kuk’s favorite prey. The last thing they see are the a-mi’-kuk’s prehensile tentacles exploding from under the surface and wrapping around them, dragging both kayaker and boat under.

The a-mi’-kuk is large, leathery-skinned, and slimy. Its four long tentacular arms are used for seizing prey and swimming rapidly through the water. There is no escaping it – it will follow prey taking refuge on ice by swimming below it and bursting out onto the surface. Making for land is equally futile, as the a-mi’-kuk can swim through the earth with as much ease as it does through water.

A-mi’-kuks around St. Michael, Alaska, are known to migrate underground to inland lakes. The presence of one is a good sign for the lake. When an a-mi’-kuk leaves its lake, the channel it digs drains it dry, but when it returns the sea returns with it.

Nelson proposed the octopus as the origin of the a-mi’-kuk. He also gives ä-mi’-kuk as the name of the sea otter; what bearing this has on the legendary creature is unknown.

References

Nelson, E. W. (1887) Report upon Natural History Collections Made in Alaska Between the Years 1877 and 1881. Arctic Series of Publications Issued in Connection with the Signal Service, Government Printing Office, Washington.

Nelson, E. W. (1900) The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Extract from the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, Washington.