Monday, June 28, 2010

The Teakettler

Artist: Costas Koutsoukos
 Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Lumberjacks either enjoyed fooling gullible people, or spent way too much time in the woods surrounded by trees and one another. In any event, a fourth "fearsome critter" brightening American folklore is the Teakettler. Like the Axehandle Hound, the Teakettler hails from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Resembling a short legged dog, with cat-like ears, the Teakettler races around backwards while doing its tea kettle impersonation. No, that shrill whistling noise you hear is not your tinnitus kicking up, its the Teakettler blowing off steam. It LITERALLY blows off steam. While running backwards (Teakettlers always run backwards), steam pours from its mouth, and a high pitched shreak announces its presence. A shy creature, it's only been seen by a few lumberjacks in the right place at the right time. So if you happen to be in the woods, and hear a tea kettle whistling, it may not be campers making breakfast, but the Teakettler doing its crazy, backwards, steamy race. 


Sunday, June 27, 2010


Southwest Native American Myth
"The speed in which the wings of a dragonfly moved would open up doorways to other realms and dimensions."

Dragonflies are one of my favorite insects. A pet sitting client of mine has a condominium with a dragonfly populated pond directly behind it. A couple of days ago, I stood watching as the swooping creatures chased one another from place to place. They looked like tiny helicopters. When I returned home, I googled dragonfly folklore and found quite a lot of information.  

Someone's going to get nipped!

Dragonflies are an old (predating the dinosaurs) and very successful species. They belong to the order Odonata, a name that means "toothed." Though no dragonfly has a stinger, they do have tiny jaws used to catch mosquitoes, flies, and other nasty bugs that live to cause trouble. If you catch a dragonfly with your hands, it may nip you. This is treatment you'd richly deserve. Leave them alone!  

In Europe and early America, the dragonfly had a fearsome reputation, due to its habit of darting around, and its scary needle-like appearance. If a dragonfly wasn't out to get you, nothing was! Here's a short list of dragonfly nicknames common in Europe and America:
America - Devil's Darner, Water Witch.
England - Devil's Darning Needle, Ear Cutter.
Wales - Adder's Servent
Norway - Oyenstikker (Eye Poker)
Sweden - Blindsticka (Blind Stingers)
Germany - Wasserhexe (Water Witch)
Portugal - Tiraolhos (Eye Snatcher) 

The dragonflies will get you!

Misbehaving children were told if they didn't behave, dragonflies would sneak in late at night and sew up their eyes and ears while they slept. The Swedes believed dragonflies could poke out peoples' eyes with their long pointy bodies. They also believed the Devil used dragonflies to weigh souls. Remember this the next time a dragonfly hovers around your head. You may be in big trouble.

The English and Australians called dragonflies "Horse Stingers." It was thought horses twitched and kicked due to the fiercely biting dragonflies darting around them. In reality, the dragonflies weren't bothering the horses, but instead eating the mosquitoes and horseflies making the poor animals' lives miserable.

Freya's looking very fetching!
Artist: J. Penrose  c. 1890

But the situation wasn't all bad. There was one Swedish cult who believed the dragonfly was a holy animal that symbolized Freya, the goddess of love and fertility.  

Chinese Brocade

What about the dragonfly in cultures other than Europe and America? In China, notwithstanding some lovely textiles, the dragonfly was not highly regarded. Though they did symbolize summer, they also stood for instability and feebleness. The poor dragonfly couldn't seem to win. But wait! There's some good news in Japan! 

Bell-Flower and Dragonfly by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

In Japan, the dragonfly was symbolic of many noble ideals. These ideals included success, happiness, courage and victory in battle.There's an old legend about an Emperor from Japan who was bitten by a horsefly. After snacking on the unfortunate Emperor, the nasty horsefly found itself consumed by a hungry dragonfly. In honor of the brave (and hungry) dragonfly, the Emperor named his country Akitsushima, or Isle of the Dragonfly.  

Highborn Japanese families loved the dragonfly. They pictured it on everything from jewery to furnishings to textiles. Dragonflies were far and wide!

But don't get too excited. There's more bad news to come.

What a delightful little shirt! Yuck! Cafepress.

They were (and still are) found digesting in some peoples' stomachs. In Bali, dragonflies are fried with coconut and vegetables. Meanwhile, in Thailand and Laos, dragonfly larvae are roasted and gobbled up. Yum! 

Painted Gourd by Brad Hawiyeh-ehi

At least Native-Americans valued the dragonfly. The Navahos believed dragonflies were symbolic of water purity. I guess if the water was pure enough for dragonflies, it was pure enough for the Navahos. There's also a wonderful Zuni myth about two children left behind when a corn crop failed to grow. The boy made a corn husk doll to coax a smile from his sister. Miraculously, the doll came to life, and so amazed the corn maidens, they produced a huge crop of corn luring the child abandoning family back home. That story is both wonderful and disturbing at the same time. Why were the children abandoned? 

Dragonfly crop circle

One last thing before I finish this long and time consuming post. This was a crop circle found in Wiltshire, England in the year 2009. It was 150 feet long, and very beautiful.

Rainbow Dragonfly by Marlene Page

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


                       Crazy little monster.                      

Today, we're visiting the Australian outback to encounter an odd red vampire called the Yara-ma-yha-who. He comes from Aboriginal folklore, and is not easily missed with his large head and big toothless mouth. "Wait!" you ask. "How can he drain blood if he has no teeth?" This is a good question easily answered by the logical realization he drains blood through the suckers on his hands and feet. Dracula, with his tired old biting technique, obviously has nothing on the Yara-ma-yha-who.  

Picture by Stevyn Colgan

The Yara-ma-yha-who's approach includes no active hunting, but only stealthy concealment within branches of fig trees. When a tired traveller sits beneath the shade, the sneaky vampire drops down and quickly sucks their blood through ninble fingers and toes. Fortunately, he has no interest in killing his victims, only wanting them weakened to finish his weird culinary ritual. When the victim is feeble enough, Yara-ma-yha-who opens his huge mouth as far as it can open, and swallows the person whole. After eating, he drinks water (victim swallowing can make a guy thirsty) and takes a nap. This is good, since napping is always considered wise by all the best experts. Upon waking, the strangest part of an already strange story begins. The vampire suddenly regurgitates his victim, not only rendering them a bit smaller than before, but with a vague reddish tint. 
This one is extra hungry.
Artwork by Michael Slack

The story of the Yara-ma-yha-who is told to small children in danger of wandering away. "If you roam too far," parents say, "the Yara-ma-yha-who will suck your blood and swallow you whole." I'm surprised they leave the house at all! Naturally, some people are slow learners and find themselves gobbled up more then once. When this happens, the repeat victims get smaller and smaller and redder and redder until becoming a Yara-ma-yha-who themselves. So when in Australia, tell your children not to rest under trees. If the dingoes don't get them, the Yara-ma-yha-who will.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Tarasque

It's always wise to chew your food.

This terrifying creature devouring a hapless knight or peasant is called the Tarasque. Though originally believed to hale from Galatia, a part of central Anatolia in modern Turkey, it became famous in the French city of Nerlic (Provence), where it persistently ruined the countryside and refused to be killed. Not a prepossessing beast, this semi-dragon scorched retinas with its six short legs, turtle shell, scaly tail with nasty scorpion sting, and the face of a miserable old man. Worst of all, its breath was like flames. Obviously, Scope had not yet been invented. 


The Taraque came by its beauty and charm naturally, as its parents were a scaly, incineratory, bison-like creature named Onachus, and the biblical sea serpent Leviathan. The apple didn't fall very far from the tree.

He was in such a hurry he forgot his pants!

You can't say the King of Nerluc didn't try having the Tarasque removed from his territory. Tired of chaos, death and destruction, he relentlessly assaulted the beast with brave knights and loaded catapults. To his great dismay, nothing seemed to work. Finally, along came Martha.

Martha was a charmer.

One day, St. Martha (48 AD) heard of Nerlic's troubles. Promising certain success, she confronted the Tarasque armed with only a cross, holy water, and demure white dress. I don't know why she's not wearing white in the above picture. Maybe the white dress got dirty, so she changed. Standing barefoot before the Taraque, she charmed the beast with hymns and prayers until it became gentle as a kitten. Then, using her severed braids, she lead the now tame Tarasque back to the city of Nerlic. Unfortunately, the story did not end happily.

Kill the beast!

Nerlic's peasants, terrified to the point of loosing their retinas completely, attacked the cowering Tarasque and killed it. The poor tame Tarasque offered no resistance and died in Martha's arms. The weeping Martha, being a good Christian girl, forgave the peasants and set to work converting them. Successfully converted, the now contrite peasants (and King) changed the town's name to Tarascon in honor of Martha's fallen friend.

 Tarascon's coat of arms.

The story of St. Martha and the Tarasque contains many similarities to Beauty and the Beast. Both feature a frightening monster tamed by a gentle maiden, and horrified townspeople bent on its slaughter. King Kong is another example much like the Tarasque's tale.

This Beast looks a bit like the Tarasque. He has the air of an old man.

The Beast isn't the only creature who resembles the Tarasque. Here's a dinosaur called the Ankylosaurus, sporting the distinct look of the Medieval monster. As it became extinct 65 million years ago, it had no knights or peasants to snack on when hungry. 

Hoover those peasants!

Lastly, here's a vase by Pablo Picasso based on the Tarasque. This type of animal-like art is called zoomorphic. It can be found at the National Museum of Wales. I think it looks like a vacuum myself.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Roc

The Roc is a mythological Arabic and Persian bird so large it could capture and eat elephants. Appearing in 1001 Arabian Tales, it became popular in the Sinbad the Sailor story when  unknowingly saving Sinbad from a shipwreak.

I like this picture, but not as well as the first. 

 Sinbad, finding himself in the Roc's nest accompanying an egg as large as"148 hens eggs," needed to find a way out as quickly and unintrusively as possible. Carefully tying himself to the Roc's leg with his turban, Sinbad flew off hanging on for dear life. The bird flew so high the Earth vanished from sight. Finally, Sinbad escaped when the Roc returned to Earth and flew by an island. That was one high flying bird! 

This looks larger than 148 hens eggs.

The origin of the Roc can be found in the mythological Indian story about a fight between the half-human, half-eagle Garuda (who loved to snack on snakes), and the serpent Naga. According to German historian Rudolf Wittkower, Naga is a word that means both snake and elephant. Since the elephant has a long snake-like trunk, this makes sense.

Garuda was so huge, he could block out the sun.

There's another story about Garuda flying off with an elephant and tortoise caught engaging in a massive fight. This story is found in both the Sanskrit Mahabharata and the Ramayana. After carrying the squabblers away, Garuda ate the malcontents. I have no idea why the elephant and tortoise were fighting. In Indian myth, the world rests on the backs of four elephants, who in turn, are all standing on the back of a tortoise. The whole crowd slowly travel through various examples of chaos. You'd think with such cooperation transporting the world, elephants and tortoises would get along better. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt.  

  It's possible the Roc myth was encouraged by skeletons of the Aepyornis. Extinct since the 17th century, "Elephant birds" reached a height of over 10 feet and weighed nearly half a ton. These massive, though obviously flightless, birds may have been perceived as Aepyornis chicks. If that's the chick, I wouldn't want to meet the parents! The ostrich is another feasible baby Roc inspirer. 

An Aepyornis egg compared to a chicken egg.

I'll end this post with a quote about the Roc by Marco Polo (1254-1324). Polo was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote extensively about Central Asia and China. 

Marco Polo saw many colorful things.

"It was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size, so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it was so strong that it will sieze an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at his leisure." 

The Roc was a tempermental bird best not to make angry. Keep this in mind if you ever encounter an unusually large egg. The huge Roc was known for destroying ships in revenge if its egg was tampered with. Confine yourself to chicken eggs for your breakfast meal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Brag

There's a malicious creature found in Northumberland and Durham England who must be a close friend of Shucks. This vile old spirit is a shape-shifter called the Brag. Unsuspecting travellers may encounter Brag as a lonely horse or donkey idling along an isolated road, quiet field, or windy moorland. Thinking the animal is wonderfully tame, the poor traveller will climb onto the animals back, only to be taken on a wild ride until thrown into a cold pond or thorny bush in total terror. The nasty shape-shifter then runs off laughing at the scratched, drenched, and otherwise humiliated soul who is now thoroughly bewildered about what just happened. 


The Brag is very similar to the Phooka of Ireland, and Kelpie of Scotland, two more shape-shifting equines often associated with lakes and other waterways. The Kelpie, a sometimes black, sometimes white horse, is actually worse than the Brag, since instead of merely laughing at its victim, it drowns and consumes them. The Phooka, a glistening black horse with yellow eyes, will abduct children and throw them over a steep cliff, possibly into water below. Since water is a traditional gateway to the underworld, the Brag and its cousins may be remnants of a pre-Christian equestrian cult. It's also interesting that brag is the word for ghost or goblin in northern England. 


The Brag does not alway appear as a horse. At times it will take the shape of a calf wearing a white neckerchief, a headless man without a stitch on, or four men carrying a sheet. An old article about the Brag can be found HERE.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Barnacle Geese

Our ancestors were nothing if not imaginative. One example of their overactive minds were the tree growing Barnacle Geese. Being a Barnacle Goose was a tricky and dangerous existence. The birds, hatching from barnacles attached to shore growing vegetation, would drop to the water when mature and float away if not caught and eaten by hungry humans. If unlucky enough to land on the ground, they promptly died. The eaten Barnacle Geese were great favorites for Friday meals, since they weren't considered forbidden meat, but allowable fish. What a wonderful excuse for eating poultry on Friday and getting away with it! 

The Barnacle Tree

The Barnacle Goose myth was popular from the 13th to 18th centuries and was accepted by such knowledgeable experts as the sixteenth century English herbalist William Turner, and John Gerard, the author of Generall Historie of Plantes. If they believed in Barnacle Geese, then they had to be real!  


There really is a Barnacle Goose. As you can see, it's a striking black and white bird that would attract attention even without its interesting folklore. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Into the West

When I started this blog, my very first post was about a mythological Irish horse named Enbarr. The amazing Enbarr not only possessed the talent of indestructibility, he could run across earth and sea without touching ground or water. Enbarr came from a land called Tir na nOg (Land of Youth). In 1992 a movie was made called Into the West , about two Irish traveller boys and a mysterious horse called Tir na nOg. The boys, running wild since the death of their mother, keep the horse in their father's apartment until it's stolen by a shady horse dealer. After snatching Tir na nOg back, they go on a journey across Ireland where it soon becomes clear the horse has an agenda of its own.

I remember watching this movie years ago and enjoying it a great deal. Though I don't recall all the details, I do remember the boys putting Tir na nOg in the service elevator and leading him into their father's apartment. Since I believe the movie is still available to rent, I recommend finding and watching it if you can. The movie has a very interesting ending.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Squonk

In the hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania can be found a "fearsome critter" called the Squonk. Like the Axehandle Hound, there's nothing very fearsome about this sad little beastie. It's wrinkled skin and many warts may provoke a cringe or two, but no screams of terror. 

The Squonk is a shy creature who hides to conceal the wrinkled skin and warts found ugly. Thinking itself hideous, it sniffles and cries constantly, dreading the occasional passerby who may point and laugh. Strangely, its loose and bumpy skin is held in high regard by some, inspiring hunters to track and capture the unhappy animal. Though tracking the Squonk is a simple matter of following the tear saturated gound, actually catching the weeper is much more difficult. When cornered, the Squonk sobs and blubbers until completely dissolving into a pool of salty liquid. 

One man, named J.P. Wentling, succeeded in catching a Squonk by mimicking its sobbing and miserable howling. Stuffing the creature into a bag, he ran off with his prize until noticing the bagged burden suddenly lightened. Peering inside, he discovered all remaining was some liquid and nothing more. His cleverly captured Squonk had melted away to a mess of tears.

If you'd like to try your hand at catching the elusive Squonk, it's said chilly nights slow its flow of tears, and discourage its traveling among the hemlock forests. As its habitat has sadly shrunken, finding the elusive beastie may prove more difficult than ever. Be sure to take many tissues.


Friday, June 4, 2010


The Qilin is a hooved mytholoical beastie found in East Asian countries that is a hodgepodge of assorted creatures usually called a chimera. The Qilin pictured above was popular in the Qing dynasty of China (1644-1911). As you can see, it had a head like a dragon, antlers of a deer, colorful scales like a fish, sturdy hoofs of a ox and lastly, a tail just like a lion's if a lion had fish scales running down it. The orange on its legs is fire. You would think you were hot stuff if you saw one, since spotting a Qilin was considered a good omen bringing rui, otherwise known as serenity or prosperity. Once you got over its wild and terrifying aspect, you would learn it's a serene and gentle soul that only becomes dangerous if a good person is attacked. If this happens, fire will shoot from its mouth. 


This looks like a Qilin shooting fire from its mouth.

The qilin has may other talents besides shooting fire. Though these talents can vary from one story to another, it does have an amazing ability to walk on grass without squashing the blades. It can also walk on water. Its gentleness is a talent in itself, and proves this by not stepping on living things and never eating meat. 


Strangely, the Qilin was often associated with the giraffe. Maybe because the giraffe steps carefully with its long legs, is a vegetarian, has horn-like appendages on its head, and has a patterned coat looking much like fish scales. In Japan, the giraffe is called a Kirin, the name for the Qilin in that nation. 


This is a photo of the Qilin Dance. The Qilin Dance is considered very hard to do due to the weight of the costume's head. The person controlling the head swings it around in a very energetic fashion so the Qilin will appear powerful.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Salmon of Wisdom

Let's go back to Ireland to meet the Great Salmon of Wisdom. This wonderfully brainy fish (fish IS brain food) can be found in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. The story goes that a common salmon gobbled up nine hazel nuts it found bobbing in the Well of Wisdom. These were obviously not ordinary hazel nuts. They were hazel nuts bobbing in the WELL OF WISDOM. Eating these special nuts gave our friend the salmon all the knowledge found in the wide world. It also meant the first person to catch and eat the fish would gain all the knowledge the cooked salmon contained. 

A poet named Finn Eces dedicated seven years of his life to find this very wise salmon. Finally, after seven long years, he pulled it to shore. To be honest with you, if this salmon was so wise, why did it get caught?! This is a mystery I cannot explain. Finn Eces told his young apprentice Fionn to get out the pan and cook the salmon so Esos could become the wisest man in the whole world. As you may know, nothing ever goes as planned. In the process of cooking the salmon, Fionn burnt his thumb on a bit of frying oil. Placing the scorched thumb in his mouth, he soon learned all the salmon's knowledge was contained in that one drop of oil. Fionn, and not Finn Eces, became the brilliant one. 


When Eces saw Fionn, he noticed the glint of wisdom in the apprentice's eyes. Angrily, he asked Fionn if he ate a piece of fish on purpose. "No." Fionn countered back, " I only burnt my thumb on a bit of hot oil, and licked it off to remove the sting!" After that, all Fionn need do was bite his formerly burnt thumb, and all the salmon's knowledge would magically appear in his mind.