Sunday, October 31, 2010

Black Cats

Halloween is a time of ghosts, goblins and black cats. If you own a black cat, I would recommend keeping it indoors until the holiday is over. Even today, black felines have a persistantly fearsome reputation for bad luck and witchcraft, giving some disturbed individuals an excuse to harm them. Black cats were not always so maligned however.

Oagans-Bast was the sacred black cat god popular in the monotheistic religion of ancient Egypt. All cats, but especially black cats, were held sacred and kept in Egyptian homes for protection, fertility and luck. It was believed the god's spirit would enter the cat, and bless its family with prosperity. Killing any cat in ancient Egypt, even accidentally, would result in your death as well. 

This all changed during the Middle Ages. The black cat became associated with witches, and as a consequence were destroyed in hideous ways. Witches were believed to transmutate into a cat nine times during their life. In Hungry, cats in general were assumed to become witches between the ages of seven and twelve. To avoid this fate, crosses were cut into the cat's skin. The thirteenth century pope Gregory IX declared the Cathars (a heretical religious sect) bred black cats because the animals were the devil in disguise. A holy war against the Cathars was declared shortly after the Pope's announcement.  

Elizabeth the First 

At the coronation of Elizabeth the I of England in 1558, Protestants carried a cat filled wicker dummy of the pope through the streets, ultimately tossing the terrified creatures into a massive bonfire. If I were Elizabeth, I'd be worried about death looking over my shoulder too. 

 Author: Edward Topsell

In the seventeenth century it was thought various bits and pieces of black cats could cure illnesses. People wishing to avoid sickness often buried the tail of a black cat under the doorstep of  their homes. English naturalist Edward Topsell proscribed blowing the ashes of a black cat's burned head into painful or blind eyes three times a day.  

There is good news though. Buddhists consider all cats lucky, including the black ones. The Buddhists say if a black cat enters your home, and you treat it nicely, good luck will come your way. Also, if a black cat should cross your path, and doesn't harm you, luck is yours.

King Charles the First

Charles the I of England had a black cat he took everywhere. Believing the cat good luck, he was devastated when the cat died suddenly, and expected the worst. The very next day, Charles was arrested and ultimately beheaded.

More recently, black cats have appeared in literature, including "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe. To read the story, click HERE. Other stories including black cats are "A Cat's Tail" by Mark Twain; "The Cat and the Moon" by William Butler Yeats; and "Mulliner Nights" by P.G. Wodehouse. 

Some businesses use black cats in their logos.  They include Eveready Batteries, and Ritz-Lanvin's "My Sin" perfume.

"My Sin" perfume.

I have no idea what this smells like, but the bottle is nice. Since cats are often associated with sensually, and the woman is portrayed with offspring, I'm not sure what they're trying to say. If you use "My Sin," you'll have numerous illegitimate children perhaps. 

A black cat game!

A board game by Parker Brothers called The Black Cat Fortune Telling Game was released in 1897. This looks like a more recent edition.

So I hope you and your cat, black or otherwise, celebrate this Halloween safely. Maybe a black cat will enter your home. That's good luck in Yorkshire, England you know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



It's Twins!

Though the world has seen many difficult births, there were none so difficult as Pegasus' arrival to the world. For the rare person totally unfamiliar with Pegasus, he's the fabulous winged horse of Greek mythology beloved by adolescent girls everywhere. He began his immortal existence when Medusa, his snake-haired mother, was efficiently beheaded by the hero Perseus. It's perhaps not so well known the great white horse had a twin. Pegasus sprang from Medusa's headless neck accompanied by his brother, the giant Chrysaor. Sadly, the gigantic twin didn't resemble a horse.

The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor

Sea Foam

By emerging from Medusa's neck, Pegasus and Chrysaor's birth, like Athena's from the head of Zeus, was considered higher than a common birth. Like many myths, there are other versions of Pegasus' birth. One variant confirms Chrysaor's delivery from Medusa's neck, but states Pegasus manifested from Medusa's blood murging with sea foam. The sea foam accounted for the white coat of Pegasus. Regardless of details, immediately after birth Pegasus flew to Mount Helicon, thrilling the muses by striking the ground and creating a well called Hippocrene (horse spring). Pegasus' name actually means "spring" in the Greek language. It seems everywhere he struck a hoof a spring would form.

Pappa Poseidon

If Medusa was Pegasus' mother, who was his father? That gentleman was Poseidon, in his persona as a horse god. Before Medusa developed her permanent hair trouble, she was considered an extremely beautiful, but vain, woman. So beautiful, that Poseidon had a torrid affair with her concluding in a soap opera worthy love scene on the floor of Athena's temple. Poor Athena was understandably upset, and punished Medusa by transforming her hair into snakes. The former beauty queen was now so ugly, a mere glance would turn men to stone. Though you may think Medusa's punishment enough for Athena, never underestimate the anger of an offended god. Athena's anger would lead directly to Pegasus' birth.

Artist: Caravaggio

Athena's Revenge 

Once, an evil intentioned King named Polydectes, sent Our Hero Perseus away on the impossible task of retrieving Medusa's head. Polydectes wished to aquire Perseus' lovely mother unhindered by the suspicious son. The wily Athena saw her chance. She helped Perseus gather the magical equipment needed to defeat the stony-gazed Medusa. Perseus collected a knapsack from Hesperides to contain the severed head, an extremely durable sword and helmet of invisibility from Zeus, winged sandals from Hermes and a mirrored shield from Athena herself. By looking at Medusa's reflection in the shield, Perseus avoided a granite future and freed Pegasus from Medusa's body. With the exception of Polydectes, and the now headless Medusa, everyone was happy with the outcome. 

Bellerophon, Pegasus and Chimaera
Date: ca 570-565 BC
Location: J. Paul Getty Museum

The Woes of Bellerophon

Perseus wasn't the only exile sent away for being inconvenient. Our next hero, named Bellerophon, approached King Proetus of Tiryns to absolve his crime of accidentally killing either his brother, or a mysterious man called Belleros. While there, the king's wife took a liking to the youthful Bellerophon, but to her disappointment, the liking wasn't mutual. Angry and vindictive, she accused  Bellerophon of molestation. Since the king didn't want to kill a guest, he sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law (Iobates). This behavior is usually referred to as "passing the buck." The father-in-law, on learning his appointed task, didn't want to kill a guest either, so he sent Bellerophon on the impossible quest of dispatching the terrifying Chimera. The Chimera was a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, body of a goat and a tail like a serpent. As the appalling creature was wreaking havoc in local villages, Iobates didn't hold much faith in Bellerophon's surviving its onslaught. Satisfied the troublesome Bellerophon was taken care of, father-in-law went to bed for a much needed rest. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to father-in-law Iobates, a seer told Our Hero that defeating the Chimera required the aid of Pegasus. 

Enter Pegasus

Pegasus with Athena

The helpful seer also informed Bellerophon that acquiring the untamed Pegasus demanded sleeping in the temple of Athena. While Bellerophon slept, Athena appeared in a dream. Placing a golden bridle next to the snoozing hero, she instructed him to sacrifice a white bull to Poseidon and approach Pegasus with the bridle. Upon waking, Bellerophon did as told and captured the wild Pegasus. A second version of this story relates that Athena tamed Pegasus herself, and gave the bridled Pegasus to Bellerophon in preparation for his Chimera showdown. In any case, Bellerophon had Pegasus in hand and was off to dispatch a monster. After a pitched battle the Chimera was defeated, but Bellerophon's victory was not enough for Iobates. The unsatisfied father-in-law sent the pair to fight fearsome Amazons. Eventually, a weary Bellerophon complained about the woefully ungrateful Iobates to Poseidon. After withstanding the resulting flood, Iobates concluded Bellerophon was innocent of molestation and gave him a daughter to marry.  

Bellerophon and Pegasus

Bellerophon's Fall

Our Hero's victories made him so disgustingly proud he tried riding Pegasus to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. The annoyed Zeus sent a fly to sting Pegasus, who bucked causing Bellerophon's sudden fall to earth. Though Athena cushioned his fall with soft ground, he was crippled and spent the rest of his life a begger. Pegasus, without Bellerophon, continued flying to Olympus and became the thunder bearer for Zeus. It's interesting the origin of Pegasus may have been Pihassassa, the ancient Hittite god of thunderstorms. Later, as a reward for faithful service, Zeus sent Pegasus to the sky as a constellation. On that day, a single white feather fell from Pegasus and landed near the city of Tarsus

The constellation of Pegasus

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unicorn Sighting

Here's a strange piece of news. A Toronto resident named Peter Hickey-Jones claims he captured an actual unicorn on film while bird watching in the Don Valley wetlands. Though obviously a hoax, it would be nice if true and unicorns really did exist. Oh well.

The film is being studied by the Ontario Science Centre who urge caution if sighting a unicorn.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Elves: Light and Dark

Artist: Unknown

Not long ago, I took a quiz called What Mythological Creature are you?. After answering the twelve questions, it told me I was an elf. This was news to me, since I never considered myself elf-like. Here is the paragraph the site produced.

What Mythical Creature are you?
Your Result: Elf
Elves are skilled, intelligent craftsmen and warriors. An elf will devote his or her life to a certain trade, and thus become the best in the universe at what they do. Elves are commonly very quiet and reclusive, causing them to be shy. However shy, they are not naive and posess a great deal of knowlege and wisdom that seems to be inherited at birth. Elves are immortal, and very dedicated to nature. They walk in harmony with their surroundings, but are not wholely over emotional beings. Love is not thought of as deep or passionate for these creatures, but rather a pairing, or mating that is ultimately result in offspring.
What Mythical Creature are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Knowing little about elves, I decided to do some research. I learned elves come from Norse mythology, and are a race of divine, or simi-divine creatures. Originally minor gods of nature and fertility, they can help, or hinder, humans with the aid of magical powers. They often deliver inspiration for art or music. Usually, when I think of elves, my first image is Santa's elves building toys in the North Pole. There's a lot more to elves than toy building. Before Christianity, elves were categorized as either light or dark. 

Light Elves

Light Elf
Source: Here

Like angels, light elves lived between heaven and the world of man. By heaven, I mean the Old Norse heaven Alfheim, found below the dwelling place of the gods. Though capable of interacting with gods, light elves weren't placed as high as the supreme beings. The Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) wrote of the light elves, and their dark cousins in his Gylfaginning.

 "There are many magnificent dwellings. One is there called Alfheim. There dwell the folk that are called light-elves; but the dark-elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike the light-elves in appearance, but much more so in deeds. The light-elves are fairer than the sun to look upon, but the dark-elves are blacker than pitch."  

So, while the light elves are "fairer than the sun," their dark cousins are something very different.  

Dark Elves

The Nightmare (1781)
Artist: Henry Fuseli 

Dark elves, wishing to avoid light, live in the murky underground of Svartalheim. Though "dark elf" may allude to their subterranean living quarters, they are commonly described as avaricious and annoying to an extreme. They're actually very similar to dwarves. Like dwarves, dark elves grow from maggots in Ymir's body. Ymir, who I wrote about before, was responsible for a host of troublesome entities springing from various parts of his body. Also like dwarves, dark elves look like hideous people, and turn to stone when sunlight strikes them. They're often blamed for nightmares, sitting on peoples' chests; and whispering frightening dreams into ears. The German word for nightmare is Albtraum, or "elf-dream." 

Tall or Tiny?    

A small forest elf
The Sun Egg (1932) by Elsa Beskow

Though early light elves were human sized, in modern folklore they became tiny. Fortunately, 19th century Romanticism helped return them to their original stature. Since I think taller elves are more interesting, this was a positive development. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings also promoted the taller elf.

Try taking the quiz yourself, and learn what mythological creature you are.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sidehill Gouger

The Sidehill Gouger
Artist: Walter Bender

My father had the unhappy tendency to tell the same jokes and stories until violence threatened. He did this partly to share his brand of hilarity, and partly to annoy the heck out of poor slobs trapped within earshot. One of his worn out tales concerned cows with legs shorter on one side than the other. The freakish cows' legs were mismatched from grazing on steep mountains while perpetually facing in the same direction. Some cows had shorter left legs, and some had shorter right legs. My father's deformed cows sound a lot like the sidehill gouger. 

The sidehill gouger is yet another "fearsome critter" from North American folklore. They're peaceful herbivores, who live in mountainside burrows, and lay between six to eight eggs. If you look closely at the painting above, you'll notice the mother is a "left-sided" gouger, while her pup is "right-sided." This tragic occurance results in much heartache when the unfortunate pup is unable to follow its mother around their mountain home. When gougers try to travel in the wrong direction, they tip over and fall, rendering them helpless to wild predators and human hunters. Another difficulty occurs when "left-sided" and "right-sided" gougers manage to mate and produce pups with mismatched legs. For example, the offspring may have a short right front leg, and a long right back leg. These sad little pups soon become a predator's meal.   

     A goat-like gouger

It's said gougers from the Appalachians have fur only on the side facing away from the mountain. Apparently, rubbing against the boulders on the mountain's slope wears the fur off, leaving the skin smooth to the touch, and tough like leather. Those characteristics make the gougers' furless side very attractive to handbag makers. 

A badger-like gouger with corkscrew tail

It obvious no one truly knows what a sidehill gouger looks like. While some observers swear the gouger resembles a goat, others keenly insist a badger fits the bill. Even the creature's name is cause for disagreement. Though sidehill gouger is the most popular tag, other names include wowser, hunkus, rickaboo racker and cutter cuss. It's certainly enough to make me cuss! In Vermont, the gouger is called the wampahoofus. Enterprising farmers of that state bred the creatures to cows so their bovines could easily traverse the mountainous environment. This must have been the origin of my father's cow story. Personally, I like sidehill gouger the best. They walk on hillsides, and gouge out a path in the process. 

The French dahu.

North America isn't the only country with loopsided creatures traversing the mountains. In France you'll find the dahu, a mountain goat-like animal easily captured with ground pepper. The unsuspecting dahu, smelling the scattered pepper, violently sneezes causing either a rocky concussion, or a sudden roll down the mountainside to the hunters below.   

There's also claimed to exist the sidehill or wild haggis of Scotland. The less said about that little creature the better!    

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Manticore - The History of Four-footed Beasts
Author: Edward Topsell

I've seen some creepy smiles in my time, but this is the creepiest yet. The creepiest of all creepy smiles belongs to a charming beast called the manticore. As you can see, the manticore has the body of a lion, a man's head with rows of shark-like teeth, and a tail covered in poisonous quills capable of being shot from a good distance away. The beast also has a voice like a trumpet, the ability to leap great distances, and the energy to keep going like the Energizer Bunny. Any unfortunate human captured by the manticore was consumed entirely, including bones, clothing, and items being carried. In some later stories, the manticore would query its intended meal with riddles before killing. To tell you the truth, if I saw a manicore, I wouldn't need to wait for the flying quills or riddles. I'd be dead without them! The manicore's name means man-eater. It's a good name and states the case.

Manticore - Bedeian Library
This poor manicore looks more buck-toothed than shark-toothed.

It's "man-eater" name orginated from the Middle Persian martya, "human, mortal being" and xwar, "to eat".  Understandibly, the manticore was considered the most deadly creature in Asia. Though the myth was of Persian origin, the manticore was believed to reside in India and Indonesia. It was mantained manticores were hunted on elephants in India while the creatures were young and without stings. The beast entered European mythology by way of Ctesias, a Greek doctor working at the Persian court of King Artaxerxes II during the fourth century BC. Pausanias, in Description of Greece, said:

The beast described by Ctesias in his Indian history, which says is called martichoras by the Indians and "man-eater" by the Greeks, I am inclined to think is a lion.  

What did our friend Pliny the Elder think?

Pliny the Elder

Unlike Pausanias, Pliny the Elder swallowed the manticore myth hook, line and sinker. In other words, he swallowed it whole. Quoting Ctesias he wrote:

The mantichora has the face and ears of a human with grey eyes, a triple row of teeth that meet like the teeth in a comb, a lions body of a blood-red color, and a voice like a pan-pipe blended with a trumpet. It stings with its tail like a scorpion. It is very fast and has a special appetite for human flesh.

Like Fox Mulder of the X-Files, Pliny the Elder wanted to believe. 

Manticore - Museum Meermanns

In medieval Europe, the manticore symbolized tyranny, envy and the devil. It was evil personified. As late as the 1930's, peasants of Spain thought the creature signified bad omens. It was a beast that kept going, and going and going! 

So if you hear of manticores in your neighborhood, grab the closest elephant and dispatch them while they're young. They're not nice to have around.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Legends of the Siamese Cat

Black Manx and Royal Siamese
Artist: W. Luker Jr.

I have a Siamese cat who thinks the universe revolves around him. His persnickety and superior attitude must be fed by an inherent cat knowledge about the history and legends of his ancestors.

The Cat Back
Artist: Hu Chan

Many years ago in Siam (Thailand), the Siamese cat was a very exclusive feline. Being reserved for the king and royal family, no common sorts such as ourselves could own one. When a royal died, a household Siamese was selected to capture and contain the dearly departed's soul. Don't think anything bad happened to the cat. It wasn't sacrificed, or buried with the dead, but instead lived a life of luxury with the monks and priests of the local temple. There, the lucky Siamese ate all the best food from gold plates, and slept on the softest of silk cushions. These luxuries were provided by relatives of the deceased in a desperate bid for good fortune and special blessings. The selected cat was believed to possess rare powers of intercession for the soul of the departed. When the king himself died, his Siamese representative attended the new king's coronation, so the former king could be present at the royal event and festivities. 

In Thailand, Siamese cats are called "Wichien-maat," a name that means Moon Diamond.

Some Siamese have crossed eyes and kinks in their tail. I once had a Siamese with crossed eyes. Though her peculiarity didn't bother HER, I could never tell which direction she was looking. When I thought she was aiming for my lap, she was aiming for the curtains instead. Here is a legend that explains why Siamese cats have crossed eyes and kinked tails. 


A long time ago, a terrible war was fought by Siam to defend its kingdom. Since all Siam's men were sent to battle, Buddha's golden goblet was left unprotected. Two Siamese were chosen to preserve the goblet in the sacred temple. The male cat was named Tein, and the female Chula. All went well until Tein became uneasy and left (after mating with Chula) to find a new priest capable of caring for the goblet. Poor Chula, now expecting kittens, never took her eyes off the sacred goblet. As a safeguard against sleep, Chula nervously wrapped her long tail around the goblet's stem to foil thieves. When the kittens were born, they amazingly received Chula's physical quirks she developed as a watchcat. They had crossed eyes and tail kinks. So if you possess a Siamese with crossed eyes, or a kinked tail, remember Chula and her brave protection of Buddha's sacred goblet.

Asian Silver Jade Ring

Here's a second story about the Siamese and its kinked tail. Once, a princess of the Royal House of Siam used her cat's tail as a ring stand when taking a bath. The cat, not wishing to loose the ring, obligingly developed a kinked tail to safeguard the special object for "his" princess.

Cat Eye
Photographer: Justin Scarpetti

Whether or not your Siamese has crossed eyes, or a kinked tail, treat him well, they're very interesting cats with a long and royal history. No wonder they're persnickety and superior! They're also very sweet.


Since finishing this post yesterday, I realized I left a very entertaining legend out. It's the legend of the first Siamese.  

Noah's Ark

The story of Noah is known far and wide. After Noah built his ark, he filled it with animals two by two. It began to rain. It rained and rained and rained with no end in sight. The animals in the ark became very bored and searched for something to do. The monkey, spotting the pretty lioness, immediately fell in love. Wooing occurred and soon, tiny Siamese kittens were born. They had the cleverness and agility of the monkey, and the courage of the lioness. Come to think of it, my Siamese is a bit like a monkey himself! 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Artist: Jack Kirby

In honor of my refrigerator collapsing, I've decided to write about Ymir, a primeval frost giant from Norse mythology. Much like my fridge, Ymir's birthplace was a vast area of melting ice flowing from the misty Niflheim, to a huge gaping void called Ginnungagap. The ice melted due to the heat from nearby Muspelheim, a fire kingdom of smoldering embers and rancid margarine. No...wait...the rancid margarine is from my fridge. As Ymir slept on a bed of melting ice, new giants sprang from the sweat of his steaming evil body. A male and female giant appeared from Ymir's left armpit. Though an armpit birth seems strange to me, it worked for Ymir. Later, another male giant emerged when one of Ymir's legs mated with the other. That's even weirder than the armpit birth. Such extraordinary births in mysterious ways and odd places woke Ymir up and gave him an appetite. 

Artist: N.A. Abilgaard - 1790 

To sate his hunger, Ymir drank milk from Audhumla, the giant primeval cow. While Ymir ate, Audhumla licked ice and liberated an individual named Buri, who became the ancestor of the gods. He can be seen in the painting above uncomfortably emerging from what looks like rock. Buri had three grandsons named Odin, Vili, and Ve. Those three eventually proved to be the undoing of Ymir. 

Odin and his Brothers Creating the World

As Ymir slept (sleeping again!), Buri's three grandsons crept up on Ymir and killed him. The massive torrents of blood produced by the dead Ymir drowned all the frost giants except Bergelmir and his wife. They hid in a hollow tree and later escaped by ship to found a new family of giants. You just can't keep good evil giants down! At least Ymir's body didn't go to waste, as Odin and his two brothers used it to form the world. They busily transformed his flesh into earth; teeth into pebbles and boulders; bones into mountains; and hair into trees and grass. We're surrounded by bits and pieces of Ymir. The best part is what happened to his brain. The three brothers threw it into the sky and made the clouds. As one final, but very important touch, Odin and his brothers used Ymir's eyebrows to make a wall to safeguard Midgard, the dwelling place of humans.

Frost Giants
Artist: Unknown

After the flood, the new frost giants were angry, and vowed to avenge their ancestors' deaths by destroying the gods on the Day of Ragnarok. I don't entirely blame them for being upset. It can't be pleasant dying in such a nasty way. I'm sure my refrigerator would sympathise


On a side note, one of Saturn's moons is named Bergelmir. It must be very frosty there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mythological Art- Nathan Simpson


While searching the internet, I found an Australian artist named Nathen Simpson who's created a series of  interesting drawings and paintings based on Greek mythology. What do you think of this Pegasus painting? Though I do like the wings, it appears a bit tangled otherwise. I'm sure it's just me, as I'm hopelessly ignorant and know nothing of art and learning. According to Mr. Simpson's website, his paintings employ "archaic simplicity of prehistoric, ancient and medieval iconography, naive painting and children's art particulary in the use of stylisation, lack of pictorial perspective and the 'awkward' sense of balance and proportion." The artist's style reminds me of Pablo Picasso. Regarding the subject, Pegasus was the winged horse whose father was Poseidon, the god of the sea, and mother was Medusa of the perpetual bad hair day. Yes, that's the woman with snakes for hair. Not only did their handsome winged progeny become the bringer of thunderbolts to Zeus, he also formed springs by striking the ground with his hooves. A very useful horse indeed. As for the artwork, if my parents were Poseidon and Medusa, I'd have an awkward sense of balance too.  


The Minotaur is a figure from Greek mythology with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. He lurked in the center of the Cretan Labyrinth aggressively waiting to dispatch passersby. Every nine years, seven young men and seven young woman were sent into the labyrinth to become a Minotaur feast. This sacrifice was necessary to avert a plague set as punishment to avenge the murder of Androgeus by Aegeus, the King of Athens. Aegeus committed the murder in a jealous rage as Androgeus was winning all the prizes at the Panathenaic Games. It's always sad when an adult man behaves like an overgrown twelve year old. Finally, after many years of sacrifice, the Minotaur was killed by Theseus, who escaped the labyrinth by following a trail of thread provided by Ariadne. Like many myths, there are other versions of the Minotaur story, but this is probably the best known.   


Don't ask me why, but the Manicore is a favorite of mine. This mythological beastie sports the head of a bizarre toothy man, and the body of an animal, in this case a lion. It's the Minotaur in reverse! The monster's tail is often covered in poisonous spines projectable at will. Though the head of Simpson's Manicore doesn't look very man-like to me, there are certainly a lot of teeth to make up for the discrepancy. The creature's name means man-eater, a tag emphasizing its general disposition.

Mr. Simpson is currently studying Ancient Greek, Latin and French at Sydney University. I wish him luck with his endeavors. I've often wanted to study the history of Ancient Egypt at university myself. Though feeling somewhat jealous, I promise not to hunt the artist down and dispatch him. I don't want any plagues. I'm having enough trouble with my refrigerator blowing out.   

Thursday, August 12, 2010



Recently, in my blog Barking at the Moon, I wrote an account mentioning my parent's woodshed dwelling rooster. After finishing the post, I wondered if any myths existed glorifying the chicken. A trip to Wikipedia revealed the scary looking creature seen above. Meet the rooster headed cockatrice, a people terrifying nightmare with a nasty talent for petrifacation and general death. The cockatrice's very birth was cause for concern, as its unlikely mother was an egg laying rooster. The unnatural rooster was a poor parent who abandoned its child in favor of the carefree, hen chasing, life it preferred. The rejected egg was incubated by a toad, or possibly snake, a confusing circumstance that must of disturbed the infant cockatrice. Then again, remembering it's basic evilness, maybe it didn't care. 


Echoing it's strange birth, the cockatrice had the head of a rooster and the tail of a lizard. It's name comes from the Latin calcare "to tread" a name differentiating it from the similar basilisk, who was usually (but not always) portrayed legless. 


If you had the misfortune to stumble upon a cockatrice, what would happen? According to Pliny the Elder, an author and naturalist born 23 AD in Italy, the cockatrice was only 12 inches long, but packed a wallop. He wrote:

   Its touch and breath can scorch grass, kill bushes and burst rocks. Its poison is so deadly that once a man on a horse speared a cockatrice, the venom traveled up the spear and killed not only the man, but also the horse.

Pliny the Elder
This was a deadly creature capable of turning people to stone with a mere look, touch, or even breath. Could anything be done to dispose of such an awful monster? A mirrored shield was guaranteed to kill a cockatrice, as the aggressor's evil eye would reflect back and turn the beast to stone. Strangely, a rooster's crow would cause instant death. If no mirrored shields or roosters were available, there was one animal totally immune to the cockatrice's wrath. That animal was the weasel. I have no idea why the weasel was immune to the cockatrice's breath, glance and touch. It just was. 

Cockatrice and Weasel
15th century manuscript
Since Pliny the Elder said the cockatrice was only 12 inches long, this must be an unusually large cockatrice, or remarkably small weasel. 

Room of the Fire in the Bogo
Artist: Raphael
Pope Leo IV is on the balcony extinquishing flames with his blessing. He was a busy guy!

There WAS another way of destroying a cockatrice. The History of Serpents (1608) by Edward Topsell includes the following story about a cockatrice and a pope. One of the legendary creatures was found alive in a church vault during the mid 9th century leaving numerous people dead by its poisoned breath. Great chaos resulted until the creature was finally dispatched by the prayers of Pope Leo IV. As I said, he was a busy guy.

Run! This could be the cockatrice's rooster mom!