"Understand that thou hast within thyself herds of cattle
. . . flocks of sheep and flocks of goats
. . . understand that the fowls of the air are also within thee.
Understand that thou thyself art another world in little,
and hast within thee the sun and the moon, and also the stars.
Thou seest that thou hast all those things which the world hath."
Origin (alchemical writings)
This is the infancy of the science of cryptozoology, which is the search for creatures
undocumented by hard evidence: bestiaries, tall tales and travelers' accounts, mythology
and folklore. People relate tales of weird animals seen in the next country, the next
borough, the next town: the modern equivalents are stories of Bigfoot, UFOs and marine
monsters, the Goatsucker and its ilk. Charles Fort collected accounts of such things, Jung
wrote monographs on such phenomena as UFO sightings, websites on cryptozoology
document supposed evidence.
The following accounts come from all over and do not form a comprehensive list, but there
are things here I have not found elsewhere. They fall into a handful of specific categories,
some of which are easy to explain and some difficult. There are wonder tales from
medieval bestiaries, alegorical in nature: about asps, beavers, hedgehogs. There are tall
tales of far countries and the animals that flourish in them: vegetable sheep and monopods,
flying serpents and cinnamon trees; if you like these "Here be Dragon" accounts, then read
Herodotus - a man who would make up stories about anything.
But what are we to make of Gerard, the English herbalist, writing that he had with his own
eyes seen young geese hatched out of the barnacles on driftwood? Or Andrew Crosse
achieving the spontaneous generation of insects during a chemical experiment? Or Olaus
Magnus, archbishop of Uppsala in Sweden, who claimed that the ruling class of his country
were, most of them, "man wolves" who at Christmastime turned into werewolves, broke
into houses and revelled in slaughter and drunkenness until dawn? Were these people all
joking, or raving?
I think they were joking: twenty centuries of jokes should give us plenty of material to pick
from. During the Renaissance, the Vatican received letters from Prester John, detailing
the wonders found in his entirely fictional kingdom; the letters do exist, being in the
Vatican library, but who wrote them? Who wrote the Illuminati documents, which
claimed to come from a circle of mystics poised to take over Europe? They were the
cousins of the witnesses who saw the Loch Ness Monster, who met yetis in mountain passes
and invented marvelous yarns about hoop snakes and giant ants. Some were mistaken.
Some were mischievous.
All were interesting. Read on.
ACARUS CROSSII: Andrew Crosse, an English country gentleman, in 1837 made the
following experiment, which excited much publicity: he mixed two ounces of powdered flint
with six ounces carbonate of potassa, fused them with heat, reduced the compound to
powder and dissolved it in boiling water, obtaining silicate of potassa. This he diluted in
boiling water, slowly saturating with hydrochloric acid. This he then subjected to "a
long-continued electric action, through the intervention of a porous stone" (?) in an effort
to form crystals of silica. This did not happen, but on the fourteenth day of the
experiment, he observed a few minute whitish lumps on the middle of the electrified stone.
By the eighteenth day, these had grown and stuck out seven or eight filaments. On the
twenty-sixth day, they had become perfect insects, standing erect on a few bristles, which
were their tails. On the twenty-eighth day they moved their legs, detached themselves
from the stone, and began to move about. Perhaps a hundred insects were thus generated,
the smaller having six legs and the larger eight; they were pronounced as belonging to the
genus Acarus. Mr Crosse repeated his experiment many times with the same result, as did
others, creating countless acari which came unerringly to life, fed, multiplied, and died only
(but that without exception) upon exposure to frost. The insects were called Acarus
AGUINUM, THE SERPENT'S EGG: this ensures success in law-courts and a favorable
reception by princes, and was written of by Pliny. There are two methods of obtaining the
Serpent's Egg. In the first, the Egg is formed of the spittle and secretions of an angry
serpent and "was round and about as large as a smallish apple; the shell was cartilaginous
and pocked like the arms of a polypus." In the second account, the Egg must be caught in
a cloak when the mating serpents fling it into the air, whereupon the possessor must make
off on horseback (pursued by hissing, thwarted snakes, one presumes) until safely across
ALERION: in heraldry, a kind of eagle. The alerion is mentioned in one of the three letters
of Prester John on the marvels of the East. It is the lord of all other birds, larger than the
eagle, the color of fire, and with wings sharp as a razor. Only one pair exists in the world.
After sixty years two eggs are laid, which are brooded sixty days and nights; when these
hatch the parents, accompanied by birds of the region, fly to the sea and drown themselves,
whereafter the other birds guard and nourish the young until they can fly.
AMPHISBAENA: a serpent with two heads, one in front and one at the tail. Thus it is
able to slither in either direction with equal ease. Its eyes shine like lamps.
APE: according to medieval bestiaries, there are five kinds of apes. The cercopithecum has
a tail; the sphinx is rough-haired and tame; the cynocephalus is like a monkey with a long
tail and a dog's face; the satyrus has a pleasing face and lively gestures; the callitrix has a
pointed face, long beard, and a wide tail.
The female ape gives birth to twins: one it loves, and the other it hates. When hunted, the
mother carries its loved one in front of her, while the other must cling to her back. But as
she tires, since she is running on two feet only, unwillingly she drops the best-loved child,
and thus the hated one is saved.
ASP: the asp has a strategy, to avoid enchantment by songs meant to lure it forth from its
cavern, by pressing one ear to the ground and stopping the other with its tail. This same
asp guards the tree from which balm drips, and if a man tries to steal the balm, he must
first put the asp to sleep by means of instruments - that is, by music. Bruneta Latini says
the asp carries a precious stone called the carbuncle which enchanters hope to obtain by
saying certain words, but the asp deafens itself and defeats them; this stone is the dracontis
or dragon stone described by Pliny and Solinus, which in two medieval lapidaries is
identified with the carbuncle.
There are many kinds of asps. The first is the dipsas, which is so small it is not seen when
trodden upon, and its bite kills before it is felt; its bite causes men to die of thirst. The next
is hypnalis, called the prialis, which is the serpent from which Cleopatra got her death; it
kills by sleep. The third is the haemorrhois: after the bite of this asp one sweats blood in
such a way that life itself pours out through the veins. The fourth is the prester asp, which
runs with its mouth open and steaming; its bite causes such swelling that the victim dies
because putrefaction sets in. And the last is the seps, by the bite of which the whole body
ASPIDOCHELONE, Latin aspido testudo: the shield-turtle, the sea monster so vast that
men take it for an island and disembark their boats upon its back, but when they kindle a
fire it dives and they are drowned.
BARNACLE GEESE (and the Barnacle Tree): according to Gerard's Herball, there are
trees found in the north of Scotland and the Orchades (presumably the Orkney Islands) on
which grow shells of a white color tending to russet, wherein are contained little living
creatures; when these shells open and the creatures fall out, those falling over land come to
nothing but those which come to water become fowls of the breed called barnacle geese; or
in north England, brant geese; or in Lancashire, tree geese. Gerard wrote that he himself
had seen a log of driftwood cast ashore on the island in Lancashire called the Pile of
Foulders, and on this log were shells like mussel-shells but sharper and whitish, and living
in the shells small mussels shaped like birds. As these grown they force the shell open and
slowly hang out until the beak alone remains and there is a bird hanging out by its beak,
which falls into the sea and there grows feathers and becomes a fowl larger than a mallard
but smaller than a goose, with black legs and bill, and black and white feathers spotted like
the English magpie; called a Pie-Annet Bird.
BAROMETZ: the vegetable lamb, which grows (attached by its long tail) head-downward
from a tree.
BASILISK: this is the king of serpents; it kills serpents by odor, men by its glance, and
birds by the fire issuing from its mouth; however the weasel can kill it. It is a half foot long
and is marked by white spots, with a white mark like diadem on its forehead. It is also
called the regulus and the sibilus, the latter being a kind of basilisk which kills by hissing.
If seen first by men, the basilisk dies; otherwise the man is the victim. To defend himself, a
man holds up a glass vessel, and the poison cast from the basilisk's eyes is caught in this
and cast back.
BEAVER: the name of this beast, castores, comes from castrando, "castrating". The
beaver is a very gentle animal in whose testicles is a medicine valuable for various maladies.
When hunted, it bites off its testicles and throws them at the hunter, who takes them and
departs. Should another hunter pursue after, the beaver shows its incompleteness and is
left unharmed. The allegory states that those who wish to live chastely should sever
themselves from sin and throw it in the face of the devil, who will depart when he sees that
nothing belongs to him.
BEES: Latin apes, from which the word apiary is derived. Bees are born from the
carcasses of oxen: to create them the flesh of slain calves is beaten so from the decayed gore
worms are born which grow into bees. If irritated, the same bees have a poison which they
spread in their honey. Demokritas is cited with Virgil and Mago for effecting the
generation of bees from bullocks' corpses. The Book of Albertus Magnus claims that
drowning bees and flies may be revived if placed in warm ashes of pennyroyal.
The Lydian goddess Artemis of Ephesos was served by a college of priestesses called
melissae, "the bees".
The Greeks believed that bees came from dead oxen and could be raised by killing an ox
and leaving it in a sealed room for thirty-two days. This story persisted for hundreds of
years; directions for producing bees this way were last published as late as 1842. Until
1609, when an English beekeeper observed a queen laying eggs, queens were believed to be
"kings" who ruled over their hives; Virgil wrote that bees collected their young from leaves
and sweet plants; Xenophon called the queen the housewife of her hive, its guiding brain.
The Dutchman Swammerdam thought that queens were fertilized by an "odoriferous
effluvia" produced like an exhalation of perfume from drones. The Roman scholar Varo
wrote that diarrhea in bees could be cured by giving them urine to drink and that bees
gathered wax from flowers. Piny the Elder wrote that bees could be slain by echoes. It was
widely believed that the sound of clashing cymbals caused bees to swarm.
News bees: in Appalachian folklore, "news bees" appeared as omens to those wise enough
to read them: there were yellow news bees, which meant that good things were in the
offing, and black news bees which warned of imminent death. The black news bees would
fly in the windows and out again, and fly straight for the nearest cemetery; they would
hover making a sound like a human being talking.
Carpenter bees: English naturalists in the nineteenth century distinguished three kinds of
architectural bees: carpenter-bees, which worked in wood, mason-bees which worked in
stone, and mining-bees which work underground. They said the carpenter-bee - in
particular one kind named the violet carpenter-bee for the beauty of its wings - chose dry
wood just beginning to decay for a nest; it would gnaw the wood away bit by bit, digging a
tunnel, and then turn perpendicularly and construct a gallery. One naturalist sawed open
a log of baywood and discovered a gallery eight feet long containing a honeycomb; others
described the bee storing pollen to feed its young, laying an egg, and sealing the
egg-chamber with a thin wall of clay before beginning another egg-chamber. The violet
bee, they said, laid an egg, covered it with a paste of honey and pollen, and laid over this a
cover of wooden chips and sawdust laid in concentric circles and cemented with a glue of
her own devising.
BEHEMOTH: a giant beast, greatest of all the earth's creatures. There is a legend that,
just as God created all beasts male and female, so too he created Behemoth and Leviathan,
the monsters of the ocean and of the earth, making one male and one female of each
species. But had either pair coupled, they would have destroyed the world in the violence
of their union - so vast were they. Therefore God for each pair castrated the male and slew
the female, preserving the flesh in salt.
CALADRIUS, CHARADRIUS: a bird like a heron, entirely white. It is found in the king's
house and prognosticates the outcome of illnesses; for if it refuses to gaze in the face of a
sick man, that man will die, but if it looks him in the eyes it draws the sickness into itself
and flies away into the sun where the sickness is consumed.
CATERPILLARS: in Greek mythology, these may be killed by having a menstruating
woman (or girl at her first menstruation) walk round the beds with bare feet (and breasts)
and unbound hair; at once the caterpillars curl up and fall dead from the leaves in twisted
CERASTES: a serpent with four pairs of little horns, which show when the rest of its body
is buried in the sand; thus it uses them for bait to draw prey to itself. It is more flexible
than other serpents, and seems to have no spine.
CHAMELEON: (from Plinius on the works of Demokritos) "Demokritos relates that its
head and throat, burnt on logs of oak, cause storms of rain and thunder, as does the liver if
burnt in tiles. The rest of his remarks smack of sorcery; and though I think them false, I'll
omit them all save where a point must be refuted by mockery, eg., the right eye, plucked
from the living creature and added to goatmilk, removes white ulcers on the eyes; the
tongue, worn as a amulet, the perils of childbirth. The same eye, in the house, favours
childbirth; if brought right in, very dangerous. The tongue, taken from the living animal,
controls the results of courtcases; the heart, tied on with black wool of the first shearing,
overcomes quartan fevers. The right front foot, tied as an anulet to the left arm by a
hyena-skin, is a strong protection against robbery and night-terrors; and the right ear (or
jaw) against fears and panics. The left foot however is roasted in a furnace with the plant
also called chameleon; an unguent is added; and the lozenges thus made are stored away in
a wooden vessel, and, if we may believe it, make the owner invisible to others. The right
shoulder has power to overcome adversaries and public enemies, especially if a person
throws away sinews of the same animal and treads on them. But as to the left shoulder, I'm
ashamed to repeat the grotesque magic that Demokritus assigns to it: how any dreams you
like may be sent to any person you like, and how these dreams are dispelled by the right
foot, just as the torpor caused by the right foot is dispelled by the left flank . . ." Etcetera.
Also the liver acts against lovecharms; the juice of helenium (elecampane) drunk in the
skin, cures melancholy; the tail halts or divides rushing rivers, and lulls snakes to sleep.
The hawk, swiftest of all birds, if it chances to fly over a chameleon crawling on the ground,
is dragged down and falls through some force to the ground.
CHITTERLINGS: "In south these ancient giants were nothing more than Chitterlings
from the waist down - I tell no lies - the serpent who tempted Eve was a Chitterling, yet it is
written of him that he was wilier and subtler than other animals. So are Chitterlings.
Furthermore some academics maintain that this tempter was the Chitterling named
Ithyphallus, into whose shape good master Priapus was once transformed, a great tempter
of women in paradise as they say in Greek, or what we call pleasure gardens in French . . .
If what I am saying stretches your Lordship' credulity, then go, an it please you (after
drinking that is) to Lusignan, Vouvant, Mervent and Pouzauges in Poitou, where you will
find solid witnesses of ancient renown, who will swear to you on the armbone of St
Rigomer, that Melusine, their foundress was a woman down to the cockbone, and the rest
below that was a snaky Chitterling of a Chitterling snake . . . The Scythian nymph Ora
likewise was partly woman and partly Chitterling in body. Nevertheless she seemed so
beautiful to Jupiter that he lay with her and had a fine son off her named Colaxes."
Rabelais, Pantagruel, quart livre, chapter 38.
CINNAMOLGUS: an Arabian bird, so called because it makes its nest from the fruit of the
cinnamon tree. Because merchants esteem this cinnamon more than any other kind, men
gather these nests by shooting arrows weighed with lead to bring them down; for they
cannot reach the nests because of the height and fragility of the branches.
COBRA: these hunt the firefly, attracting them with a stone held in the cobra's mouth; and
the name of this Indian stone is the cobrastone.
CORPSE CANDLES: these are will-'o-the-wisps seen in the countries of Cardigan,
Caermarthen and Pembroke and in other parts of Wales. One little light seen betokens a
stillbirth or an infant's death; a larger light means the death of an adult; two or more of
different sizes mean many deaths, of perople of various ages together.
In Cambria, in the archdiocese of St. David's, corpse candles are called canwyll corpt and
are believed to be a light which issues from a dying victim's house (sometimes from his very
bed!) and travels to the church where he will soon be buried.
COW: a dun cow vanquished by Guy Earl of Warwick on Dunsmore Heath was six yards
in length and four in height. Boas are named after cows (bos) because they pursue them
and suckle them until they are dead, drained.
CRANE: legends of pygmies seem to trace back to classical myths which told of the
Pygmaei, a race of little men who lived either underground or in houses built of eggshells,
and who went to war against the cranes, which eventually exterminated them. From this
root tale stemmed the legends both of little men living underground, and of the Little
People? From Pliny, probably.
CROCODILE: burn a crocodile's skin, powder this, and strew it on a limb that is to be cut
or burnt - then there will be no pain. Who stabs a crocodile and anoints himself with it,
will feel no wounds or blows. From Harpocration.
CROW: if a man carries the heart of a male crow and a woman the heart of a female, they
will agree between them all their lives. From Harpocration.
DOVE: there are as many colors of doves as there are manners of speaking through the
laws and the prophets, but the red dove rules over all. The colors and their meanings are
these: red because Christ redeemed man with his blood; black, obscure sermons; speckled,
diversity of the twelve prophets; air-colored, for Elisha who was snatched up through the
air; ashen for Jonah preaching in hair shirt and ashes; gold, the three boys who refused to
worship the golden image; white, meaning baptism; stephanite, for Stephen, the first
Dragons hunt the dove and doves hide from dragons in the shadow of the peridexion tree
DRAGON: In alchemical lore, this may be winged or unwinged, and this may also be the
uroboros, symbol of eternity - said to impregnate himself, his tail being the masculine and
his mouth the feminine organs. The dragon devours himself from the tail upwards until
his whole body has been swallowed into his head. Also: the dragon begets, reproduces,
slays, and devours itself.
Still in alchemy, the "dragon's head" (caput draconis) is the term for the poison vapour
breathed out by the flying dragon; this last is also the "dragon of Babel" because it comes
flying with great swiftness from Babylon. However the winged dragon that stands for
quicksilver becomes a poison-breathing monster only after its union with the unwinged
dragon which corresponds to sulphur. Source: Carl Jung, alchemical writings.
In European folklore, the dragon hunts the elephant's calves, for which reason (?) the
elephant mates only reluctantly; but if offspring are desired, the cow elephant at the hour
of birth wades into a pool up to her udders and there gives birth. For the dragon catches
the elephant by entwining its length around the elephant's feet, and if the birth were not in
water the dragon would devour the calf. Also: the dragon hunts the elephant, springing
upon them from tall trees, and never attacking save from the advantage of height
In India, dragons are held to hunt doves, which hide from them in peridexion trees; the
hunting dragons are thwarted, for fear of the peridexion tree's shadow. When the shadow
is on one side of the tree the doves flock to that side and the dragon skulks on the other,
and vice versa, but when any dove leaves the shadow the dragon will devour it.
Storks and stags and ichneumons are the enemies of dragons. Storks and stags may hunt
them; as for the ichneumon, when a dragon is seen the ichneumon covers itself with mud,
closes its nostrils with its tail, attacks the dragon and kills it. Source: medieval French and
Jenny Hanivers: a number of peculiar creatures were observed in Paris by Hieronimus
Cardanus (a sixteenth century Italian mathematician and physician) and he wrote
describing them: "two-footed creatures with very small wings, which one could scarcely
deem capable of flight, with a small head . . . like a serpent, of a bright colour, and without
any feather or hair." These creatures were about the size of small rabbits. They were
probably Jenny Hanivers - fakes made from composites of the bodies of actual beasts, for
example the fake "mermaids" created from monkeys sewn onto fish-tails. Jenny Hanivers
were immensely popular during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Jenny
Haniver dragons were probably made from sea skates or rays.
There are not many accounts of actual dragons (even the story of St George's dragon is
pretty vague and tends to change from source to source) but here are three:
Garguiyle: the medieval dragon Garguiyle haunted a river in France; origin of the world
gargoyle. In the 700's, St Romanus delivered the city of Rouen from Garguiyle. He did it
in this manner: on Ascension day, the saint took a condemned criminal from prison and
ordered him to go fetch the dragon; the criminal obeyed, and the monster followed him
into the city, walked into a bonfire kindled by the saint, and promptly burned to death.
Tarasque: the dragon of the Rhone, killed by St Martha.
Snap: patron dragon of Norwich in East Anglia. Prior to the year 1835, Snap was yearly
paraded up to the town's cathedral in a procession featuring the mayor, the town
corporation, and four whifflers armed with drawn swords. At the cathedral's door, Snap
would sit meekly down on "the dragon's stone" just outside the doors throughout the
church service, and never offer to enter.
ECHIDNA: in Greek mythology, she was the daughter of Gaea (the Earth) by Tartaros
(the incarnate Underworld), a terror and a mother of monsters; her upper half was a
beautiful woman, her lower body a serpent. Her children were the Greek monsters Scylla,
Gorgo, the Chimera, the Nemean Lion, the dog Cerberus and the hideous dog Orthus
which was owned by Geryon, who was the eagle that devoured the liver of Prometheus.
She also gave birth to many dragons; she was the mother of dragons. She mated
incestuously with her son Orthus, and their child was the Sphinx.
ELEPHANT: the elephant is reluctant to mate, but if offspring are desired he goes to the
East near Paradise where the mandrake tree is found. The cow eats first, followed by the
bull, and immediately she conceives; at the time of birth she wades into a pool up to her
udders and the calf is born. For the dragon is the enemy of the elephant, which it catches
by entwining its length around the elephant's feet: if the birth were not in water the dragon
would devour the calf.
The odor of an elephant's burning skin or bones will expel serpents from any place.
LA FEMME AUX SERPENTS: in church carvings - such as gargoyles, for instance - this is
a lewd woman suckling serpents, contorted with feet which become serpents, being bitten
upon the breasts by serpents, flanked by serpents, with serpents pulling her hair, or
associated with a knotwork of serpents.
FLIES: drowning flies (according to the Book of Albertus Magnus) may be revived if
placed in warm ashes of pennyroyal.
From a letter by Benjamin Franklin to Jacques Barbeu Dubourg: ". . . a toad buried in the
sane may live, it is said, until the sand becomes petrified; and then, being enclosed in stone,
it may still live for we know not how many centuries. The facts which are sighted in
support of this opinion are too numerous, and too circumstantial not to deserve a certain
degree of credit.
"I have seen an instance of common flies preserved in a manner somewhat similar. They
had been drowned in Madeira wine, apparently about the time when it was bottled in
Virginia, to be sent here <to London>. At the opening of one of the bottles, at the house of
a friend where I was, three drowned flies fell into the first glass that was filled. Having
heard it remarked that drowned flies come back to life in the sun, I proposed making the
experiment upon these. They were therefore exposed to the sun upon a sieve which was
employed to strain them out of the wine. In less than three hours, two of them began by
degrees to recover life. They commenced by some convulsive motions in the thighs, and at
length they raised themselves upon their legs, wiped their eyes with their forefeet, beat and
brushed their wings with their hind feet, and soon after flew away, finding themselves in
Old England, without knowing how they came thither. The third continued lifeless till
sunset, when, losing all hopes of him, he was thrown away."
FLYING SQUIRREL: the giant wooly flying squirrel, Eupetaurus cinereus, was first
discovered in 1888; not seen by scientists since 1924; a live specimen was found by Peter
Zahler and Chantal Dietemann (amateur zoologists from the US) in north Pakistan in the
summer of 1994.
FOSSILS: fossil spines of sea urchins which Dioscorides calls Ioudaikos lithos were used in
medicine from Egyptian days onward. In ancient China fossils were known and used in
medicine on a large scale. From Li Tao-Yuan's writings in the Shiu Ching Chu
(Commentary on the Waterways Classic) at the end of the fifth century AD: "In Shih-Yen
Shan there are a sort of stone-oysters which look like swallows. There are two varieties of
these stone shapes, one large and one small, as if they were parents and offspring. During
thunderstorms these 'stone-swallows' fly about as if they were real swallows." Later
Chinese authors mention stone oysters, conchs, stone silkworms, and also dragon bones and
St Cuthbert's beads were found, after every storm, strewn on the shores of
Northumberland; these were apparently fossilized crinoids washed out of their shale
bedding by the storm-waves - but the faithful knew they had been fashioned by St
Cuthbert for good Christians to keep and treasure. The beads were fragments varying in
diameter from a pea to a sixpence, hollow in the middles, and perhaps an inch or two long:
jointed tubes, jointed star-shapes, jointed five-petaled flowers, etcetera.
GANSAS: a certain breed of wild swan, found upon the island of St. Helena, which migrate
as a yearly custom to the moon. Source: "The Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a
Voyage Thither", a novel written in 1638 by one Domingo Gonsales, alias a certain Bishop
Francis Goodwin of England. The good Bishop claimed (as the hero-narrator of his novel)
to have flown to the moon aboard a vessel towed by trained gansas. (Cyrano de Bergerac's
"Voyage dans la Lune" usually called the first science-fiction novel ever, is dated 1649.
Actually one Lucian of Samosata wrote a satirical moon-journey narrative way back in 160
AD. And Herodotus, the king of all tall-tale authors, came way before even this.)
GOAT: so lascivious is the he-goat, so hot is its nature, that the diamond that neither fire
nor iron can break is dissolved by the goat's blood.
GOATSUCKER, OR EL CHUPACABRAS: a creature which first appeared in Pueto Rico
in 1994, and has since been seen in Hispanic communities in El Salvador, Costa Rico,
Miami, Los Angeles, Texas and Long Island. Mexican newspapers have reported dozens of
goatsucker sightings and attacks; the animal victims reputedly have two puncture wounds
on their necks and are drained of blood. Goatsuckers themselves supposedly resemble
three-foot rats with wings.
THE GOLEM: In 1580, according to legend, Judah Loew ben Bezalel - a wise and revered
rabbi in the ghetto of Prague - created a golem to protect his persecuted people. This
golem was a giant formed from shapeless clay, which would live as long as the Jewish
people were threatened by prejudice and violence; when the people were safe at last, so the
golem would revert to lifeless clay.
But as the clay monster fought to defend the Jews, he grew larger and larger with every
blow - so huge, in fact, that at last the Hebrew word emet (truth) engraved upon his
forehead was no longer visible. At last the golem defeated the enemies of the Jews, but in
doing so he became wantonly destructive - a danger to all - and the emperor, in fear, gave
his promise to protect the Jews, in exchange for the monster's destruction.
But the golem resisted this sentence of death - for even monsters wish to live.
At last the wise rabbi, with a single stroke of the hand, wiped away the first letter of the
word upon the monster's forehead: emet (truth) became met (death) and the creature
dissolved into a mass of shapeless clay. Thus the golem was destroyed . . . but he will
return to life someday "when the desperate need for justice is united with holy purpose".
GOOSE: cut out the tongue of a goose alive and lay it upon the breast of a man or a
woman asleep, and they will confess all that they have ever done.
HAWK: see chameleon.
HEDGEHOG: the hedgehog is covered with spines: at harvest time it goes into the
vinyard, climbs the vine, and shakes the grapes onto the ground, that it might roll upon
them and carry them home, affixed to its quills, to feed its young. Thus man should care
for his vinyard and spiritual fruits lest the devil carry them away.
HERCINIA: this bird is born in the Hercynian forest in Germany. Its feathers so glow in
the dark that they make a visible path like a beacon.
HERRING: "If one put the head of a fresh herring upon the coals to fumigate, and he get
up on the house in the night, he will think that all the stars run into one. And if any one at
the full moon shall put the head into a dry fig, and shall lay it on the fire when the air is
still, he will see the orb of the moon as big as half of heaven. And if you powder the stone
pyrites, and in like manner lay it on, there will be thunder and lightning. And if you also
lay on earth, which fell from an hour upon a man, there will be an earthquake in the
place." From Harpocration.
HORSES: in Persian mythology, the white horse Tishtriya fought the black horse Apaosha
(the demon of opposition) when the latter obstructed the sources of the rain lake; Tishtriya
made two futile attempts to vanquish Apaosha but at the third attempt, with the aid of
Ahuramazda, succeeded. Thereupon the sluices of Heaven opened and a fruitful rain
poured down upon the earth.
Neo-Persian "coffin" is literally "wooden horse"; in the Middle Ages the funeral pyre was
called St. Michael's horse. The nightmare in Welsh mythology was represented by the
capering skeleton of a horse with a broken-off horn; pursuing the dreamer, it is thwarted
by a may-tree in flower. Gypsies meantimes banish nightmares by throwing a bone upon
On the forehead of the newborn colt is found a poisonous substance called hippomanes
which is used in love potions, and if it is immediately removed, the mare will not suckle the
foal. The horse's lust can be cured by cutting its mane.
The White Horse of Berkshire, in England: this existed and was well known in the 1800s.
The Horse was a vast figure cut into a chalk hillside in Berkshire, and it was a local custom
to hold a ceremony called the "Scouring of the White Horse" during which the figure was
cleaned out and renewed. Local tradition had it that the figure was originally cut to
celebrate the victory of King Ethelred and his brother Alfred the Great over the Danes at
Ashdown, AD 871. Other horses, giants and cut figures (one is a stag) were rife upon the
chalk hills of England; most were cut by private citizens in historic times, and their dates of
origin and original makers are known. They seem to be cut to celebrate various events, or
perhaps on sheer whim; one was apparently the work of schoolboys - rather like crop
circles, or perhaps Olympic Rings laid in rocks on farmer's fields, which happened during
the Winter Olympics in Calgary. There is a Red Horse in Warwickshire, cut into the soil
of Marlstone Rock near the village of Tysoe.
HULDRES: in Norwegian folklore, beautiful women with long tails and brindled or
light-colored bodies. Huldres, by their music, enchant men whose calling takes them
among the mountains, but no harm can happen if the traveler carries a piece of steel, or of
silver. In one tale, a smith captured a huldre in a wood, by holding over her the barrel of
his rifle. He married the huldre; they quarreled because she wished to spit and roast their
child for supper; but when he objected, the huldre threw round him a steel wire, and he
had to give in.
HYENA: in the eye of the hyena is a stone called hyena which, held under the tongue,
enables one to predict the future. Solinus however says that this stone is to be found in the
stomach of the hyena's young.
Harpocration writes: "The hyena is a four-footed animal, savage, and ambiguous; for this
creature is born female, and, after a year, turns male, and then, for the next year, turns
female again, and brings forth, and gives suck: and the gall of this animal, being sweet, has
efficacy for a miracle; and a great miracle is made of it: and this is the composition: -Take
the eyes of the fish glaucous, and the right eye of the said hyena, and pot it up in a glass
vessel, covering it well." He goes on to relate how one takes the fat of any fearsome beast
or ugly creeping thing and mixes it with a little of this confection, and anoints the wick of a
lamp with this, everyone around will see the beast thus invoked. Or a little of this, cast
upon a coal in the fireplace, will cause everyone in the house to see the creature invoked
and flee in fear. Or mix it with a little sea-water and sprinkle it about, and everyone will
flee imagining the sea is in their midst.
ICHNEUMON: the enemy of the dragon. When a dragon is seen the ichneumon covers
itself with mud, closes its nostrils with its tail, attacks the dragon and kills it. (Like a
mongoose killing a snake?)
ISLANDS OF ANIMALS: The Isle of Thanot was composed of a soil fatal to serpents;
hence it was named the Isle of Thanotos, the island of death. And the Canary Islands were
the home of a breed of giant hounds; thus the old cartographers named it after canis, Latin
On old maps, off the British coast are marked several islands which cannot now be
identified by their names or their positions. There are two unidentified islands among
these: insula avium and insula arietum. The first is an island of birds which holds "a fayre
tree, bull of bowes, and on every bough sate a fayre birde, and they sate to thycke on the
tree that unnethe only lefe of the tree myght be seen," and which may be linked to the
legend of St Brandan, who was told by the birds that they were fallen angels. The second
isle was "the ilonde of shepe, where every shepe was as grete as an ox and there is never
colde either but ever sommer" and was possibly meant for the Fortunate Isles, the abode of
the blest, the medieval name for the Madeiras and the Canaries.
JACULUS: a flying serpent. It lies in wait in a tree until some animal comes, and then
throws itself upon its prey to kill it. Also: flying serpents were supposed to migrate into
Arabia over some unknown mountain pass, arriving every year like migrant birds.
JENNY HANIVERS: see dragons. Jenny Hanivers are small fake mythical beasts, made
from the bodies of actual animals.
KINGFISHER: Latin halcyon: the kingfisher lays its eggs on the shore near midwinter
when the ocean surges. An unexpected calm then occurs, and in it for seven days the
kingfisher broods its young, and for seven days more it feasts them. Sailors watch for
these fourteen halcyon days, during which no tempest is feared.
LEVIATHAN: a giant fish, greatest of all creatures of the sea. There is a legend that, just
as God created all beasts male and female, so too he created Behemoth and Leviathan, the
monsters of the ocean and of the earth, making one male and one female of each species.
But had either pair coupled, they would have destroyed the world in the violence of their
union; so God for each pair killed the female and castrated the male, preserving the
carcasses in salt.
LEUCROTA: a swift animal born in India, this is the size of an ass with the hindquarters
of a stag, the chest and legs of a lion, a horse's head, cloven hooves, a mouth split as far as
the ears and instead of teeth, a continuous bone. With its voice it imitates the sounds of a
LICE: "What we caught we left behind, but what we failed to catch we brought with us" -
a riddle posed to Homer by some fisherman who had poor luck, but managed to bring
home a fine harvest of lice.
LEONTOPHONUS: a beast whose ashes are spread on meat in order to catch lions.
LIONS: there once was a belief that lions never sleep. (See leontophonus, above.) Lions
pursue unicorns and unicorns lions, but the lion dodges around a tree and when the
unicorn plunges its horn into the tree-trunk and cannot free it, the lion then devours its foe.
LUXURIA FIGURES: as seen on church carvings, the woman as damned temptress -
usually on the verge of being carted off wholesale to Hell.
MAMMOTHS: these became extinct about seven to ten thousand years ago, but a
population of survivors persisted (according to the fossil record) on Russia's Wrangel
Island in the Arctic Ocean up to 3,700 years ago. Wrangel Island once belonged to the
Siberian-Alaskan land mass, but became detached about twelve thousand years ago; the
surviving mammoths may have persisted because the island provided a suitable plant diet
which had elsewhere vanished. The fossils, found in 1991, included twenty-nine teeth and
tooth fragments and also tusk and bone fragments; the researchers who found them said
these relict mammoths were smaller than the Siberian breed, being about two meters tall at
the shoulder as opposed to three meters.
Mammoths were described by the Chinese as early as the fourth century BC, as a living
species of huge creatures with curved necks and small eyes, very stupid and inert; named
the fyn shu, or "self-concealing mouse". The name stems from the finding of frozen
mammoth carcases heaved out of the Siberian tundra, preserved in permafrost; these
carcases would melt out from time to time, their meat quite edible and their ivory forming
a valuable trade good - and giving rise to the widespread belief that the interior of the earth
was inhabited by gigantic animals - dark brown and emitting a great stench - which moved
around with ease underground, but died the instant they saw the light of day.
Arab traders brought mammoth ivory from Siberia to Khiva near the Aral Sea in the tenth
and eleventh centuries, to be carved and sold abroad; after the early seventeenth century
mammoth ivory in vast quantities was imported to Europe - totaling the tusks of at least
MAMBA MUTU: a monster from Lake Tanganyika, the mamba mutu is a fish-tailed
human which raids villages and devours the blood and brains of its victims.
MANANANGGAL: causing great fear in Manila in 1992, the manananggal is a sort of
vampire which appears as a woman who can cut her body in two; the top half flies around
after dark, searching for infants to devour. The two halves must reunite before daybreak.
The manananggal can be warded off with a sting ray's tail.
MERMAIDS: About 1701 AD, in Orkney, two fishermen drew up with a hook a mermaid
"having face, arms, breast, shoulders, etc, of a woman, and long hair hanging down the
neck; but the nether-part from below the waist hidden in the water". One of the
fishermen, in his surprise, drew a knife and stabbed at her, whereupon she cried out and
went over backwards, breaking the hook, and was gone.
In 1775, a mermaid was caught in the Grecian islands: it had "the features and complexion
of a European; its eyes of a fine light blue; its nose small and handsome; its mouth small;
its lips thin; its teeth small, regular, and white; its chin well shaped; its neck full; its ears
like those of the eel, but placed like those of the human species; and behind them are the
gills for respiration, which appear like curls. Some are said to have hair upon the head;
but this has none, only curls. But its chief ornament is a beautiful membrane, rising from
the temples, and gradually diminishing till it ends pyramidically, forming a foretop like
that of a lady's head-dress. It has no fin on the back, but a bone like that of the human
species. Its breasts are fair and full, but without nipples; its arms and hands are well
proportioned, but without nails on its fingers; its belly is round and swelling, but no navel.
From the waist downward, the body in all respects resembles a codfish. It has three sets of
fins, one above the other, below the waist, which enables it to swim out upon the sea; and it
is said to have an enchanting voice, which it never exerts except before a storm." The
writer (source: Chambers Book of Days quoting the Annual Review) states he saw the
mermaid with his own eyes, and it was about three feet long altogether.
In an account of a mermaid sighting in Wales, the farmer who saw the mermaid said it
resembled a youth of sixteen or eighteen years, with a very white skin; "The form of its
body and arms was entirely human; but its arms and hands seemed rather thick and short
in proportion to its body. The form of the head and all the features of the face were
human also; but the nose rose high between the eyes, was pretty long, and seemed to
terminate very sharp." The tail seemed to be of a brownish substance, submerged under
the water. "It looked attentively at him and at the cliffs, and seemed to take great notice of
the birds flying over its head. Its looks were wild and fierce; but it made no noise, nor did
it grin, or in any way distort its face." He walked up to within about a hundred yards of
it, but when he returned with others to look again, it was gone.
In French, the mermaid is "la luxure". La concupiscence is the single-tailed mermaid, and
la luxure is the double-tailed. See also luxuria figures.
MICE: in Pseudo-Aristotle we found written: "Iron is of great strength and very hard,
though it is said that in Cyprus there are mice which are able to gnaw it."
A vast army of patriotic mice once delivered the land of Egypt from the armies of
Sennacherib of Assyria, by gnawing through the straps of the enemy's shields and the
strings of their bows.
MONOPODS: Sir John Mandeville wrote of these men with one foot each, who would lie
on their backs and use their monopodal feet for umbrellas: "In that contree ben folk that
han but oon foot, and thei gon so fast that is it is marvaylle and the foot is so large that it
schadewethe all the Body aghen the soone, whanne they wole lye and rest hem."
MOTHMAN: in 1966-67 there were more than 100 sightings of Mothman in West Virginia.
He was a monster, a six-foot tall humanoid with a ten-foot wingspan, no head and two
bright red eyes between the shoulders. He could run alongside speeding cars.
MUSCALIET: a fruit-eating animal living in the country of the three dry trees which
announced to Alexander of Macedonia the day of his death. It climbs trees to eat and
hollows out its nest under the roots, and it flies with the strength of its tail.
NIGHTINGALE, LUSCINIA: this sings at dawn so enthusiastically it almost dies. Two
birds will vie with one another in song, and the loser often dies, abandoning life rather than
Also, the nightingale loves the rose, and fables relate the doomed tale of their love - so
great, that the nightingale will not leave its love to seek the Simurgh, a symbol of God; so
great, that the bird kills itself with impalement upon the rose's long thorns.
Harpocration relates that the eyes and heart of nightingales, laid about men in bed, keep
them awake. To make one die for sleep, dissolve the eyes and heart and give them secretly
to the victim to drink; he will never sleep, but will so die, and it admits not of cure.
PARANDRUS: an Ethiopian beast. It is the size of an ox and the color of a bear; its
hooves are cloven, its horn branch, its head is a stag's and its hair is long. It changes its
appearance to conceal itself in its surroundings.
PEACOCK: Harpocration writes: "But a Peacock is a more sacred bird. Its eggs are good
to make a golden color, and so are goose eggs; and when a peacock is dead, his flesh does
not decay, nor yield any stinking smell, but continues as it were embalmed in spices."
PEEWIT: a creature that flies in the air. "It has a crest of seven colours, two-fingers-long,
which stands up and comes down. It is itself of four colours, as in relation with the four
seasons of the year. It is called koukouphas or poupos, as is written on the subject in the
preceding work called the Archaic Book. The creature is sacred." From the Kyranis of
Hermes and of Harpokration.
PELICAN: nothing equals the love of the pelican for its young. However, when these begin
to grow, they strike their parents in the face. Their parents in turn strike and kill them.
Then, after three days, the mother pierces her side and sheds her blood over the dead
children, reviving them.
PERIDEXION TREE: this is a tree of India whose fruit is so sweet that doves flock to sit in
the branches, and dragons hunting the doves are thwarted, for fear of the peridexion tree's
shadow. When the shadow is on one side of the tree the doves flock to that side and the
dragon skulks on the other, and vice versa; but when any dove leaves the shadow the
dragon will feast.
PIE-ANNET BIRD: a goose hatched out of barnacles upon driftwood. See barnacle geese.
PIG: "One evening in October / When I was far from sober / And dragging home a load of
manly pride, / My feet began to stutter / So I laid down in the gutter / And a pig came up
and parked right by my side. / Then I warbled 'It's fair weather / When good fellows get
together,' / Till a lady passing by was heard to say: / 'You can tell a man who boozes / By
the company he chooses!' / Then the pig got up and slowly walked away." Anon.
PIG-FACED LADIES: the tale of the pig-faced lady was a folk story common in Europe
during the middle ages. A newly-wed lady of rank and fashion (so the tale goes) annoyed
by the pleas of a beggar-woman and her child, exclaimed: "Take away your nasty pig, I
shall not give you anything!" to which the beggar-woman cursed her, saying: "May your
own child, when it is born, be more of a pig than mine!" And so the lady gave birth to a
lovely little daughter afflicted with the face of a pig. This pig-baby thrived and grew, and
became a pig-girl and then a pig-woman . . . a lovely dainty lady right up to the neck, you
would say, but there her beauties ended; and her manners were in every respect, alas, those
of a pig at the trough. No servant would remain in her parents' employ, no fortune-hunter
was desperate enough to wed the creature; at last her unhappy family founded a hospital,
whose trustees were bound to keep and cherish the pig-faced damsel, and there the poor
thing spent the rest of her days.
Pig-faced women were often exhibited by showmen: these were bears, their heads carefully
shaven, roped upright in chairs like women, and adorned with shawls and gowns, hats and
ringlets and flowers.
POMEGRANATE: the pomegranate-tree was named side, which in Greek myth was the
name of the wife of Orion the Hunter, who went on a journey to the underworld - like
Demeter, who was doomed to spend half of each year in the underworld after she ate six
seeds of a pomegranate. Another legend relates that the first pomegranate grew from the
blood of a virgin who killed herself on her mother's grave to escape rape by her father.
QUAILS: when there are great storms on the coast of the Lybia (ie Libyan?) Desert, the
sea casts up great tunnies ashore, which breed worms for fourteen days which grow and
grow and become birds, namely quails. "For illusion; dissolve the eyes of a quail, or of the
sea-tench, with a little water in a glass vessel for seven days, then add a little oyl; put a little
of this in the candle, or only anoint a rag, and light among the company, and they will look
upon themselves like devils on fire, so that every one will run his way. In the sardonyx
stone engrave a quail, and under its feet a sea-tench, and put a little of the aforesaid
confection under the stone in the hollow of the ring; and, when you are willing to be seen,
anoint your face all over with the aforesaid confection, and wear the ring, and no man shall
see you . . ." From Harpocration.
RATS: certain districts in England were famous because, it was said, no rats would live
there, and rats that were carried there promptly died: these were Buchan in
Aberdeenshire, and also Sutherlandshire, and also Morven and Roseneath in Scotland.
Rats could be rhymed to death by clever-tongued men. Rats which had been devoured in
their holes (for rats are cannibals) are frequently found to be entirely turned inside out,
their whole skins inverted, even to their toes.
REMORAS: the bones of the fish remora are sewn in a horse's hide, and being carried
aboard a ship, that ship will not budge in the water at hoisting sail or move till the charm is
removed. From Harpocration.
SAILING FISH: Sir Stamford Raffles wrote in his Life, in 1822, that there existed in the
ocean off Singapore a sailing fish, called by the natives ikan layer, which was about
ten-twelve feet long and travelled by hoisting their dorsal fins like sails; he sent home a set
of these fins as they were beautifully cut and formed a model for a fast sailing boat. See
SALAMANDER: a small multi-colored lizard. If it should come upon a fire of a burning
furnace, the fire is immediately extinguished, and even if it should enter a bath of water
then that water becomes cold at once. French bestiaries however cite the salamander as a
bird that leaves on pure fire and from which is produced something that is neither silk,
linen, or wool; cloth made of this thread can only be cleansed by putting it in the fire,
where it does not burn.
SAWFISH: (serra, serre, sarce) this is a monster in the sea, which has enormous wings.
Upon seeing a ship it raises its wings and races against the vessel. When it flies ahead of
any ship it holds backs the wind from the ship's sails, and when it cannot go faster than the
ship it plunges back thwarted into the sea.
SCITALIS: a serpent whose back gleams so that the pleasure of beholding its markings
slows down all who see it, and those it cannot pursue are caught, stunned by the marvelous
appearance of the scitalis.
SEA SERPENTS: on December 12th 1857, a ship named the Castilian and bound from
Bombay to Liverpool, sighted a sea serpent about ten miles distant from St Helena, at the
hour of six in the evening. From the captain's testimony: "While myself and officers were
standing on the lee-side of the poop, looking toward the island, we were startled by the
sight of a huge marine animal, which reared its head out of the water, within twenty yards
of the ship . . . shewing us distinctly its neck and head, about ten or twelve feet out of the
water. Its head was shaped like a long num-buoy; and I suppose the diameter to have
been seven or eight feet in the largest part, with a kind of scroll, or tuft of loose skin,
encircling it about two feet from the top . . . The ship was going too fast, to enable us to
reach the mast-head in time to form a correct estimate of its extreme length; but from what
we saw from the deck, we conclude that it must have been over two hundred feet long.
The boatswain and several of the crew who observed it from the top-gallant forecastle, state
that it was more than double the length of the ship, in which case it must have been five
hundred feet. Be that as it may, I am convinced that it belonged to the serpent tribe; it
was of a dark colour about the head, and was covered with several white spots."
SEA MONSTERS (AND VAST FISH): in the writings of one Olaus Magnus, archbishop of
Upsal, are the following tales:
In August 1532, cast upon the shores of Tinmouth was a dead beast of vast magnitude,
roughly ninety feet long and twenty-five feet in thickness. It had thirty ribs on a side, most
of them twenty feet long; three bellies like caves and "thirty throats, whereof five were very
great" - two fifteen-foot fins; no teeth, but growing to his palate about 1000 plates of horns;
hairy on one side <?>; the head from crown to chaps being twenty-one feet. It had eyes
and nostrils like an ox's, far too small for the proportions of its head - which had also two
great holes like blowholes. The meat of this beast, cut up and shared out amongst the
neighborhood, filled one hundred great wagons.
About whales: some are hairy, and of four acres in size (ie 4 times 240 feet by 120 feet in
the archbishop's estimation). Some have eyes so big that fifteen or twenty men may sit
upon each, and upon each eye 250 flexible horns each six or seven feet long. The backs of
whales are pebbled like gravel, so that mariners fix their anchors to them, disembark and
light fires to have a picnic, whereupon the whale wakes and drags sailors and ship under.
There are horrible fish off the coast of Norway, with very black square heads of ten or
twelve cubits, with huge eyes eight or ten cubits around; the apple of the eye being of one
cubit and fiery red, so that in the dark of night they appear to fishermen like burning
lamps. On the head there is hair like long goose-feathers hanging in a beard. The body is
small in proportion, fourteen or fifteen cubits long. These monsters destroy many ships.
This account is confirmed by an epistle of Ericus Falchendorf, metropolitan archbishop of
Norway to Leo X, written about 1520. The head of one such creature was preserved in
The whirlpool, or prister, is a kind of whale, 200 cubits long and very cruel. It has a large
round mouth like a lamprey, with which it sucks in its meat or water, and will cast forth
such floods as drown ships and sink them. It will sometimes raise itself above the
ship-yards of a vessel and twist its forked tail around the ship, but is frightened away by a
trumpet of war or the mere sound of cannonfire.
On the coasts of Norway are blue and gray worms, about forty cubits long but scarcely
thicker than the arm of a child. They swim the sea in a straight line, scarcely to be seen
where they go. These hurt no man, save that one touches him - then the skin that brushes
his will swell up. Olaus saw these himself, but did not touch them, being warned by
Sailors in Norway say there is a serpent there, 200 feet long and twenty feet thick, which
lives in rocks along the coast and will crawl inland to feed on calves, lambs and hogs. It is
black, has hair hanging from its neck a cubit long, sharp scales and flaming eyes. It kills
Another sea monster in the Norway waters is described as "another serpent, of an
incredible magnitude, that lifts himself high above the waters, and rolls himself round like a
For further raving from Olaus Magnus, see the entry on werewolves.
SIMURGH: the pheonix.
SNAKES: in backwoods American folklore, there are joint snakes and hoop snakes and
coachwhip snakes and black snakes lying in wait in the woods, and these are their
Joint snakes are long and spotted, and when you hit one, it breaks apart - flying apart, in
pieces about six inches long. And when you leave it lying, the head slowly hunts up the
other pieces and the snake comes back together. Hoop snakes have a sting in the end of
their tails, and they can roll up just like a hoop, and roll away like a hoop; they have a
spike on the end of their tails, and whatever they stick that spike into, dies. Even if it's a
tree, it dies. A hoop snake can kill a tree in about fifteen minutes. Coachwhipsnakes have
a tail just like a braided whip - a whip with four plaits. The snake wraps itself around its
prey, and then it whips whoever it has caught with its tail; its tail can crack like the snap of
a whip. It whips its prey into submission. Black snakes, if you annoy them, will get on
you and get around your neck and choke you to death.
Still in American folklore, to cure a rattlesnake bite you need to find a certain weed, and
the way to find this weed is as follows: tease a rattlesnake until it lashes around in a fury
and bites itself; then follow it and it will lead you to the weed. Another cure is to chew a
big piece of salty meat, the saltier the better; or just to salt the wound, which draws the
From European bestiaries: to drive away the serpent, waft the odor of an elephant's
burning skin or bones. The snake is the creature of the Resurrection, for it sheds its skin,
dying, and is reborn. A serpent slain will be revived by a magic leaf brought to it by
another serpent, which will come gliding with the herb and lay it upon its comrade's head.
SPRINGHEEL JACK: in 1837-38, the citizens of London were accosted by a mysterious
humanoid able to leap across entire streets in a single bound. He was called Springheel
Jack, and described as having bony fingers, pointed ears, a metallic helmet, glittering
garments and a flashing chest lamp. He would jump out at people as they answered
doorbells, trying to scratch their faces and then spraying them with an anesthetic gas.
Subsequently, Jack has been sighted flying over rooftops in Aldershot (1877), Liverpool
(1904), and Mattoon, Illinois (1844). This personage deserves a guest appearance on the
STORKS: Harpocration writes that every spring the storks form an army, and all sorts of
birds fly out of Egypt, Libya and Syria to a place in Lycia and a river called Zanthus, to
engage in battle. If the army of the storks wins, there will be riches and abundance of the
fruits of the field; if the crows and vultures and other carnivorous birds who form the
opposing army win, there will be a multitude of sheep and oxen and four-footed beasts.
The Lycians go to stuff feather beds of all the feathers which fall in rafts upon the
He who takes the heart of a stork, conqueror in war, and ties it up in the skin of a hawk or
vulture and writes upon it "because I have conquered mine enemies" and ties it to his right
arm, will be invincible in war.
Also: the children of storks care for their feeble and blind parents, carrying them upon
their backs, feeding them faithfully: for this reason the gratitude of children toward
parents is called antipelargia, stork-gratitude. All this, from the book of "The Magick of
Kirani, King of Persia, and of Harpocration", printed in 1685.
SWALLOWS: further, Harpocration writes: take a young swallow, put it in a pot, lute it
up and bake it - then, opening the pot, you will find two young ones kissing each other and
two more turning one from the other. Take those two that kiss and dissolve them in oil of
roses, or give the ashes in drink, it is a love potion. The remedy for it is a little of the ashes
of the swallows which turn from each other.
TOADS: in a book on Northumberland it is related that in 1793 a mason named George
Wilson met a toad, which he wantonly immured in a stone wall he was then building. He
made it a cell in the middle of the wall, and plastered it in so as to be airtight. Sixteen
years later, the wall was opened to make way for a passage for carts and the toad was
discovered, torpid but alive; it soon hopped away, and vanished forever from history.
Source: Chambers Book of Days.
UNICORN: Rabelais wrote of unicorns: "They are a cursed sort of creature, much
resembling a fine horse, unless it be that their heads are like a stag's, their feet like an
elephant's, their tails like a wild boar's, and out of each of their foreheads sprouts a sharp
black horn, some six or seven feet long. Commonly it dangles down like a turkey-cock's
comb; but when a unicorn has a mind to fight or put it to other use, what does he do but
make it stand, and then it is straight as a arrow."
Aelian (AD 200) wrote: "With beasts of other species that approach, it is gentle, but fights
with those of its own kind, and not only do the males fight naturally among themselves, but
they contend even against the females and push the contest to the death." Arabic
mythology holds that the unicorn, if tempted by a virgin or beautiful girl, will suckle and
then, drunk upon milk, fall asleep and be captured. European mythology tells that dogs
couple while the unicorn is slaughtered.
And from Saint Hildegard of Bingen, in the twelfth century, comes the following advice:
"Take some unicorn liver, grind it up and mash with egg yolk to make an ointment. Every
type of leprosy is healed, if treated frequently with this ointment, unless the patient is
destined to die or God intends not to aid him. For the liver of that animal has a good, pure
warmth and the yolk is the most precious part of the egg and like a salve. Leprosy,
however, comes frequently from black bile and from plethoric black blood. Take some
unicorn pelt. From it, cut a belt and gird it around the body, thus averting attack by
plague or fever. Make also some shoes from unicorn leather and wear them, thus assuring
every healthy feet, thighs and joints, nor will the plague ever attack these limbs. Apart
from that, nothing else of the unicorn is to be used medically."
Alicorn is any piece of a unicorn's horn. This substance is a detector of poison, as are the
horn of the cerastes, the snake's tongue, and the aetites (ie lapis aetites, the eagle's stone?).
Ctesias of Cnidos, the Greek historian and doctor, chipped in with this description, written
in 398 BC: "There are, in India, certain asses, which are as large as horses, or larger.
Their bodies are white . . . and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn on the forehead,
which is about a foot and a half in length. The dust filed from this horn is administered in
a potion as protection against deadly drugs. The base of the horn is pure white, the upper
part is sharp and of a vivid crimson; and the remainder, or middle portion, is black.
Those who drink out of these horns made into drinking vessels are not subject, they say, to
convulsions or the holy disease. Indeed, they are immune even to poisons if, either before
or after swallowing such, they drink wine, water, or anything else from these beakers.
Other asses, both tame and wild, and, in fact, all animals with solid hooves, are without the
ankle bone and the gall. This ankle bone, the most beautiful I have ever seen, is like that of
an ox in general appearance and in size, but it is as heavy as lead, and its color is that of
cinnabar through and through. The animal is exceedingly swift and powerful, so that no
creature, neither the horse nor any other, can overtake it." This account is probably based
on rhinoceros-horn drinking cups imported from India; these horns were commonly
painted in bands of white, red and black.
And from Talmudic texts: "And in our land there is also the unicorn, which has a great
horn on its forehead. And there are also many lions. And when the lion sees a unicorn, it
draws him against a tree, and the horn pierces so deep into the tree it cannot pull it out
again, and then the lion comes and kills the unicorn - but sometimes the matter is reversed .
. ." And finally, in the sacred writings of Persia, this description occurs: ". . . the
three-legged ass . . . stands amid the wide-formed ocean . . . its feet are three, eyes six,
mouths nine, ears two, and horn one. Body white, food spiritual and its is righteous . . .
The horn is, as it were, of pure gold and hollow . . . With that horn, it will vanquish and
dissipate all the vile corruption due to the efforts of noxious creatures . . ."
VIPER: the male viper has the appearance of a man, and the female that of a woman to the
waist, but below the navel she has a crocodile's tail; thus she has no place to conceive.
When the male injects its seed into her mouth, she cuts off his member and he dies; and
when the young are born they rip the mother open, emerging, and thus she dies. In later
versions the viper is a serpent, but conception occurs when the male inserts his head into
her mouth; then she bites off his head, and he dies.
VULTURE: according to Egyptian mythology, vultures were only and always female and
they were fertilized by the wind. When pregnant, the vulture flies to India and there finds
the eutocium stone, which is like a nut in size, but when moved it sounds like a bell. At the
moment of birth the vulture sits on the stone and delivers without pain. This stone of
painless delivery is also attributed to the eagle and is then called the eagle-stone, or lapis
Vultures, amber, bass, lingurius: (from Harpocration) Lingurius is a stone about the hills
Lingui, but some say it is the gum of the poplar tree; Lynx is a bird also called gyps or
vulture; Labrax is the fish bass, known to all. A salve made of these things is sovereign for
all dimness of the eyes, and in three days makes the sight sharp. It cures the beginning of
a suffusion, a cataracts, turning back of the eyelid, etc, etc - every imaginable malady of the
eyes. "And this is the confection of it: -Of olibanum four ox, lapis lingurius two ox,
vulture's gall four ox, liver of a bass three ox, the best honey six ox, when this is old, it is
better. But Kirani's eye-salve was thus: of olibanum six ox, gall of a bass, gall of a vulture,
each six oz, pepper three oz, honey without dross three oz." Evidently, lingurius is amber.
WATER-SNAKES: Ydros is a water snake which lives in fields and swims in ponds with
head held high. There is a stone in its head. Catch the fish alive and make it vomit up the
stone, by hanging it up live and suffumigating it with laurel, conjuring it in this manner:
"By him who created thee, to whom that cloven of thine does devoutly pray, if thou wilt
give me the stone I will not hurt thee, yea, I will let thee go home again to thy friends."
Then, after the snake has vomited up the stone, gather it in silk and keep it as a cure for the
dropsy or swelling with water. From Harpocration.
WEREWOLVES: Olaus Magnus, archbishop of Upsal (this would presumably be Uppsala,
Sweden) wrote this: in the cold northern climes of Sweden, at Christmas time gangs of men
transform into wolves and run amuck, attacking all men, breaking down doors and
invading households, to kill all within then sally down cellar and drain the tuns of beer or
mead, leaving the barrels piled atop one another. Members of the wolf sect are initiated
by mumbling certain words and drinking a cup of ale to a man wolf, who if he accepts the
same, the man natural is accepted into their society. Among the man wolves were
rumoured to be the great men and the chief nobility of Sweden.
WOLVES: according to Harpocration, who drinks a wolf's blood shall infallibly go mad,
nor is there any cure. If you put a wolf's right eye in your pocket, all four-footed beasts
shall flee from you and no enemy will touch you, not even if you pass through the midst of
many foes; this too puts away all phantoms and cures fits and agues. A sheep will never
tread upon the skin of a wolf. "Also the eye of a wolf, and the first joint of his tail, carried
in a golden vessel, will make the bearer powerful, and glorious, and honourable, and rich,
WOODPECKER: Pliny describes the woodpecker which, when its nest is plugged at the
entrance, applies to the hole an herb which unplugs whatever it may touch (a leaf of sfara
califoes, as described by E. R. Eddison?).
Harpocration writes that if you stop up the hole of a woodpecker's nest, the woodpecker
will bring a magic herb which opens all things. If you have this herb, you can open all
locks, doors and bolts, and tame all wild beasts, and be beloved of all and acquire all things.
"If, therefore, any man engrave a woodpecker on the stone dendrites, and a sea-dragon
under its feet, and enclose the herb underneath it which the woodpecker found and carried,
every gate will open to him . . . he shall learn those things that are in the gods . . . shall
assuage the waves of the terrible sea, shall chase away all deveils, and shall appear good to
ZEBRA: A zorse is the hybrid offspring of a zebra and a horse. A zonie is a zebra-pony
cross. A zebroid, on the other hand, is a zebra-donkey cross, but sounds like something
from outer space.
The book of "The Magick of Kirani, King of Persia, and of Harpocration", circa 1685; in
which one Harpocration relates that in Babylon, near the city of little Alexandria, is a pillar
with a great tower, which the inhabitants say they brought from the edifice of Solomon:
looking upon it, Harpocration found it written upon with strange letters, which an old man
interpreted to him in the Eolich tongue. This book is written from the writings on the
pillar, and from the magic of Kirani, which was the great gift of the Agarenes to him.
Foxfire magazine (for American snake folklore and news bees).
Carrington, Richard, "Mermaids and Mastodons".
Clark and McMunn, "Birds and Beasts of the Middle Ages" - essays on alegorical
bestiaries, Physiologus, bestiaries of love, etc.
Chambers, R., "The Chambers Book of Days", 1862.
Gerards, "Gerard's Herball", from the edition of Th. Johnson, 1636.
Harrison, "Medieval Man".
Hone, William, "William Hone Year Book", 1838.
Johnson, W., "Folk-memory".
Ley, Willy, "Rockets".
McCulloch, Florence, "Mediaeval Latin and French Bestiaries" - whose own source is
Physiologus and other mediaeval bestiaries.
Weir and Jerman, "Images of Lust".
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