Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Nessie

With the most recent sighting in 2011, the Loch Ness Monster is more than a mere legend!

The Loch Ness Monster is a cryptid, a creature whose existence has been suggested but is not discovered or documented by the scientific community. (Carroll, Robert T)

For more information see:
Carroll, Robert T. (09-02-23). "Cryptozoology". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-04-12.  (Nessie can be contacted here)

Author’s Note:

More remarkable than being an alleged surviving plesiosaur-like creature, Nessie is also an alleged Christian, converted by St. Columba in the 6th century (1). Until Nessie’s conversion, it is alleged she was a monstrous murderess but her conversion appears to have calmed her bloodthirsty ways.

I have visited Loch Ness on a few occasions and sadly, have not met the acquaintance of Nessie. However, I did hear one story suggesting that in addition to Loch Ness being the largest lake in Britain, it is also connected to other bodies of water via underwater tunnels. I have no idea how true this is, but it certainly would account for the inability of the scientific community to locate Nessie…


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Mermaid

Photo by Tom Oates.
Christopher Columbus and the pirate Blackbeard reported seeing them. In Blackbeard's logbook, he actually declared certain areas of the sea no-go areas as he claimed they were 'enchanted' by mermaids. #atozchallenge

Mermaids - literally meaning sea-girls - are found in almost all the worlds oceans and are acknowledged in folklore across cultures. A chimera, typically they have the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. One of the earliest stories comes from Assyria where the goddess Atargatis turned herself into a mermaid after accidentally killing her (human) lover. Related beings include to sirens of Greek mythology and naiads. And like the sirens who often lure sailors to crash against the rocks, mermaids often appear to warn of approaching storms or danger.

 Photo by Tom Oates.This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. 

Author's Note:

I love merpeople. They bridge this world and the treacherous world of the sea. Like Banshees, they can often warn of danger and like many mythological beings, they can be helpful or harmful, just like the natural environment they represent and are a part of.

They have been celebrated in art and literature through out history, as exemplified by this photo above taken by Tom Oats. Called The Mermaid of Zennor, it is a wood-carved bench end from Zennor Church in Cornwall, dating from the late fifteenth century. Mermaids, especially split tailed mermaids, are often found in church carvings from the middle ages. A well known coffee franchise also uses a split tailed mermaid as part of its logo...

Monday, 14 April 2014

L is for Lambton Worm

A legend from the North East of England, the Lambton Worm is a dragon. A dragon who had been terrorising villagers, eating their livestock and growing so large, it could wrap itself around a hill seven times! The worm was fished out of the river Wear by John Lambton, heir to the Lambton Estate, while he should have been at church. There are many versions of the tale, however in one he is warned by a mysterious man that there would be repercussions for missing church and no good could come of his fishing expedition while he should be in the house of the Lord. John ignored this advice and fished a small eel out of the river. The mysterious old man warned him again, that no good could come of his catch, so he threw the eel down a well - and then forgot about it. Over the years, the eel grew and grew…

Finally, John goes off to join the Crusades for seven years (a magical number) and the Worm emerges from the well to reek havoc. He slithers to the Lambert Estate where John’s father can only pacify the monster by offering it the milk of nine good cows daily. Not only is the Worm poisonous, but it can reattach severed pieces of itself. Everyone who tries to slay the monster is eaten.

When John returns from the Crusades, he finds his father’s estate destitute and the local area blighted by the monster. However, he meets a witch who tells him how to slay the Worm. He must cover his armor in spearheads so that when the worm tries to wrap itself around him and crush him to death - it will rip itself apart on the spikes. John does this by the river which washes away the pieces of torn worm-flesh before they can reattach, killing the beast.

However, the witch also issues a curse. Once the beast is slain, John must kill the first living thing he sees. He arranges with his father that he will blow his hunting horn as soon as the Worm is dead, a signal for his father to release his hunting dog. Unfortunately, when his father hears the horn, he is so excited, he forgets to release the hound and runs out to his son. Unable to kill his own father, nine generations (another magical number) of the Lambton family are cursed.#atozchallenge


This image is in the public domain. Image Source: English fairy and other folk tales. By Edwin Sidney Hartland, Pforzheimer Bruce Rogers Collection (Library of Congress). Published by Forgotten Books, 1890.

Author's Note:

I come from the North East of England and the Legend of the Lambton Worm is well known to me.  However, I learned this tale not as a story, but as a song. Here's a bit of the chorus:

Whisht! lads, haad yor gobs, (=Be quiet, boys, shut your mouths)
An' aa'll tell ye aall an aaful story, (=I'll tell you all an awful)
Whisht! lads, haad yor gobs,
An' Aa'll tel ye 'boot the worm. (=about)

There are so many motifs here, it's hard to know where to start... A worm (another name for a dragon) wrapping itself around a hill is perhaps a reinterpretation of the tale of the Norse dragon Jörmungandr who was large enough to wrap itself around the world and grasp its own tail. Nine and seven are magical numbers. The Crusades helps us place this tale in time to a point, depending on who you ask, there were anything from nine to sixteen Crusades. Also in some versions of the tale, the worm is serpentine in appearance, suggesting that the roots of some parts of the tale were formed prior to the middle ages when European dragons acquired wings and legs (see D is for Dragon). Finally, the tale has most certainly taken on a cautionary tone, warning of the perils of missing church!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

K is for Kappa

Those who are brought to their deaths in Japanese rivers may become Kappa. The Kappa are small water demons: naked, ugly with webbed hands and feet and a tortoise shell on their backs and a slight depression on the forehead. They have green skin, a beak shaped nose and round eyes. They stink of rotting fish. Although the Kappa were once the ghosts of the living, killed in rivers, they have no compassion for human beings and lye in wait for people and animals who stray to close to the waters edge. Once they have a victim, they will drag them beneath the surface and devour them from the inside out! There are two methods of avoiding the Kappa: one is the bow as the Kappa rises to the surface; he must respond and as he does so, the water filled depression in his forehead empties and he must re-submerge himself and fill it before he can attack. The second is the offer him a treat; the Kappa loves cucumber and if one were to carve his name and age into the gift, the Kappa would spare the donor out of gratitude.

Page, Michael and Robert Ingpen
    1987 Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were. New York: Viking Penguin Inc.

Author's Note:

Both of these folkloric elements, the bowing and the bribery reinforce the human need to have control over the environment in which they live.The Kappa of Japan is also a legend and as a motif of a dangerous spirit that drags unsuspecting people under the water to their deaths, is represented in many cultures: Peg the Prowler and Jenny Greenteeth in Britian, Bolotnyi of the Slavic cultures, and Nicker of the Norse are just a few examples. None of these narratives are fairytales. They are as real as the environments they personify and represent the human need to ascribe a personality to the unknown forces they engaged in their daily lives. And they are all, of course, magic! 

Rose, C.
    1996 Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes and Goblins. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLID, Inc.

Friday, 11 April 2014

J is for Jabberwocky

- a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll in his novel Through The Looking Glass. However, it is the monstrous illustration of the Jabberwocky by John Tenniel in 1871 that secures its place in my Bestiary. Apparently his illustration was heavily influenced by the Victorian obsession with natural history and particularly with palaeontology, lending a dinosaur appearance to the Jabberwocky. Carroll wrote the poem while staying in Whitburn near Sunderland and may have been influenced by the local legend of the Lambton Worm, a dragon responsible for terrifying local villagers. #atozchallenge


Illustration by John Tenniel is in the public domain

Author's Note:

I love nonsense poems, my favourite is the Owl and the Pussy Cat. How I would love to own a 'runcible' spoon. Does anyone have one?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

I is for Incubus

Incubi (from the Latin verb, incubo, "to lie upon" are male demons in mythologies of many cultures who lie on, or have sex with, women. Females are called Succubi. The earliest mention of them comes from Mesopotamia  around 2400 BC where the hero Gilgamesh's father was said to be Lilu - an Incubus. Sometimes, an Incubus and a Succubus have a child together, the most famous example being Merlin from Arthurian legend. Some scholars argue that these demons were originally storm demons and due to mistranslation became known in their current form.  #atozchallenge


Author’s note:

I can’t help but wonder in times gone by when having a child out of wedlock was considered disastrous in many traditions, if the demonic Incubus did not provide a worthy explanation for such pregnancies. I also suspect that the Incubus is really less a sexual demon and more a psychic vampire, laying heart to heart upon its victims chest, draining the life out of them… Makes me think of the way my cat lies on my chest...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

H is for Harpy

In Roman mythology, harpies were the nasty, screetching winged monsters  known for constantly stealing food from Phineus. The meaning of the word appears to be "that which snatches" originating from the Greek word harpazein "to snatch".


Author's note:

Harpies are not restricted to mythology - Greco-Roman or otherwise. They are real, alive and form some of my current necessary associates. At worse, they snatch and steal. At best they are merely annoying and a tad on the screetchy side. Know any? Or am I the only Phineus among us?
#atozchallenge A-Z of Mythical Monsters.