In the Mediterranean, the Nymphs formed a diverse nation (not in the strict sense of the word) of lower divine beings. These pretty girls knew nothing but singing, dancing, and fun. It is hard to say whether it is worse to use the word nymphomaniac to describe a persistently sexually unsatisfied woman, or to extend the term to a group of females with a purely nymphal idea of life. But more than one nymph has experienced life from the other side; their infatuation with handsome young men has proved to be the nymph's undoing. Despite occasional friendships with the divine celebrities Artemis, Apollo, and Dionysus.
Let's focus on some details before I‘ll tangle up more.
represent the water element and are the most numerous group. Among them are counted the Oceanids, the daughters of the Titan Okeanos, who numbered three thousand, as well as the hundred daughters of Nereus, but the Naiads were mostly freshwater fairies. River, lake, and even the Naiads of the individual springs. Those who lived in the mineral springs were among the elite who could divine and heal.
Some of the Naiads had Olympian careers, some became myths. I'll mention two, both of whom entered legend through the Trojan War.
Oenone was the daughter of the river god Cebren and lived in Troad. There, on Mount Ida, she met the shepherd Paris. At the time, he had no idea that he was actually the son of King Priam of Troy, and so the company of the beautiful nymph came in handy. But then fate came in the form of a trio of goddesses and an apple, and Paris soon learned of his origins and bid farewell to the shepherds and Oenone.
The rest of the story is notorious thanks to Homer, Paris kidnapped Helen, the deceived husband didn't take kindly to it, he picked up a bunch of friends and after a few millennia, Heinrich Schliemann was able to build a reputation as a great archaeologist.
The ungrateful Paris returned to Mount Ida only after being shot by the Achaean archer Philoctetes. He returned to die. And this is where the naiad Oenone re-enters his story.
In three versions.
The romantic one has Paris dragging himself to Ida to find his former love. But he died before she knew it, and the nymph had no choice but to throw herself into the funeral pyre of her lover and perish with him.
A more realistic story admits that Paris remembered Oinone for her art of healing (a gift of Apollo) and came back to her for perfectly understandable but selfish reasons. Oenone, to whom his son Korythos was born after Paris's departure, for similarly understandable reasons... she simply left him alone.
And according to the third version, Paris simply did not find her.
We don't find Oenone in Homer's Iliad. Nor in the Odyssey. But in the story of the endless wanderings of the most famous hero of the Trojan War, a nymph named Calypso does appear. She lived on the island of Ógygia, and the first man she ever met was Odysseus. This experience marked a seven-year hiatus for the Ithacan king on his journey home. Only then did the gods take pity on the man, living in absolute luxury, with a loving partner in splendid surroundings, and allow him to set sail again in a half-decayed boat to meet further hardship and divine antipathy. And you know what, read the Odyssey, the aforementioned Mr. Schliemann did it and it paid off.
belong to the spirits of vegetation. At first, poor things, were mortal because they mostly lived in trees; if the tree was felled, the dryad died. Later they abandoned this habit and ran freely in the woods and groves, making friends with the Silens.
Naming them is not as easy as it might seem. Originally, this name belonged only to the nymphs of the oak, while the Caryatids were the fairies of the walnut, the Meliae of the ash.
Of the dryads, we remember Dryope. Apollo fell in love with this nymph. And because the Olympian gods were not easy – their fickleness was widely known, and no sensible girl would willingly become involved with any of them – Apollo had to get to Dryope by subterfuge.
First, he transformed himself into a turtle to get among the dancing dryads without any trouble. They began to play with the cute little creature. When the turtle got past the Dryope's breasts, he turned into a snake. The other nymphs fled; before the terrified Dryope could faint, Apollo assumed a form of his own and made the best of the sudden privacy and sudden shocks.
are mountain demons. As such, they are among the oldest beings in the world, born by Gaia along with the higher protruding surface.
Among the Oreads was the most famous nymph, Echo. She was deprived of her voice because of her loquacity, for she kept Hera so that the supreme goddess could not catch her husband in flagrante delicto during one of Zeus' endless series of advances. She was not allowed to speak first since then, and even then could only repeat herself.
Fate played her even worse. Since Hera's curse, Échó preferred to walk alone in the woods. She would have accepted her fate if she hadn't met Narcissus. The shy, self-absorbed young man had charmed her. She could not speak, however, and so she tried to remain significantly silent. It would have helped – if she had chosen someone else. Narcissus, himself the son of the nymph Leiriope, ignored her. Partly out of shyness, partly because he was used to nymphs.
The unhappy Échó suffered until she was tormented, leaving only her voice, which still echoes, as it were, especially in the mountains. Narkissos, however, did not fare well either, the nymphs persuaded Aphrodite and she caused him to fall in love with himself. Then he drowned himself in a well in which he admired his image.
Naiad in the picture: Charles-André van Loo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
According to The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston 1994), a Drac or Draca is a female water demon that drowns women and children and eats them - you may encounter it somewhere in Asia. In France, however, it was the name of a dragon residing in the Rhone River. In the thirteenth century, this monster was known for devouring children, but in fact, age did not seem to matter so much. In his existence, he killed over three thousand villagers (mostly from the village of Beaucaire) and knights who tried to eliminate it or were simply passing by. After a successful life for the dragon, in which he met no Saint George, he peacefully passed away by old age.
Perhaps because of his invincibility, perhaps as a reminder, a town a few miles from Saint Tropez is still named after him – Draguignan.
Můra (the moth in Czech) is not only a nocturnal butterfly of the Noctuidae family, but also one of the human demons, widespread throughout the world. The type which is known to almost all cultures, central Europe has no exception. The ancient Germans called it Mara, the nowadays Germans called it Mahr. The origin of this particular demon is probably Slavic, which can perhaps be heard from the name. So the Czechs know it as Můra, the Bulgarians as Morava, the Poles as Mora, elsewhere it was called kikimora, the latter merging with another creature of the same name.
Same as Bludičky, these demons were sometimes the souls of unbaptized children, but the more familiar and general idea of the Můra is Doppelganger, the soul of a living person, which comes out of the body in sleep and does harm.
Můra usually appears in the form of a shadow, a snake, a mouse, a cat, or a butterfly, or as a straw stalk or hair. And it does harm: it brings bad dreams, drinks blood, and sucks the milk of nursing women – all in the sleep of the victim.
If you don't want to sleep at night, just draw a pentagram (in Czech called Muří noha, moth's foot, in German Drudenfuß) on the door. If you don't good at drawing, then a mirror, some herbs, or axes crossed on the doorstep works well.
The male counterpart of the Můra is the Morous, and with him, we have entered straight into the Middle Ages, which were alive with dualism. If the Můra was female (which it originally was not, that role was open to anyone, regardless of gender), then her partner had to inevitably be a Morous. Except for sex, all other attributes were identical.
They are also called Chmurniki or Obłoczniki and stand at the interface between the world of human and the element demons. They are found in southern Poland and Ukraine and become the souls of living people, or the souls of the hanged, drowned, or suffocated, who fly away into the clouds during a storm. They then move, fight, howl, and throw lightning.
Serbo-Croatian cousins of Planetnici are Zduhaczi, but they are the souls of sleeping people. Which is again a typical doppelganger motif, as in the case of the Můra.
Treasures can be found pretty much anywhere. Most often in places where you wouldn't look for them, because the point of a depot is to hide valuables in a safe place, not where anyone can trip over them or start poking around once they know about the hidden stash of gold or jewels.
But in the legends, the treasures have their own firm places.
Perhaps most often the castle dungeons. Not exactly illogical, but statistically unlikely in the boring reality. The number of manor houses or fortifications far outnumbers the number of real hidden treasures. In the world of legends, however, almost every castle, ruins even at a premium, hides some valuable secret.
Such is also Hoštejn Castle standing near Zábřeh (Šumperk District, now Czechia). To be more precise, it exists near this town. Today, on the hill above the village of the same name stands only a monument from much more modern times, a pyramid, built after the First World War and celebrating the completion of the railway line. Most of the ruins of the former medieval castle, which apparently never recovered from its involvement in the Hussite wars, fell victim to this; it was conquered as the seat of the Protestants, and as the property of a Catholic landlord. It was certainly a tumultuous history but from our point of view a minor one (though probably an inspiring one, as we shall see).
From which part of it the Hoštejn treasure came is not clear. Moreover, even as a ruin the castle served as a hideout for a local band of robbers in the sixteenth century, so there are several possibilities. However, rumors confirm the existence of hidden valuables, including the usual barriers.
This brings us finally to the point: the local ghostly guardian. This consists – apart from the White Lady, who tends to give away the location of the treasure – of a One-eyed hare. According to some, it is an allusion to the one-eyed Hussite leader Jan Žižka.
The hare is, however, a magical animal even without physical defects. If this animal ran across a person's path, bad luck followed. And a hare that dared to visit the village in the summer caused panic, as the frightened villagers expected a larger-scale disaster, fearing above all a fire.
The dark counterpart of Saint Lucia, who on what was once the shortest day of the year, in the form of an ugly hag, gifted good children with apples, prunes, and nuts, and punished bad ones, including sinning adults. The Lutzelfrau was active in southern German-speaking areas, in southern Germany, but also among Hungarian Germans. The solstice, which used to fall on 13 December, was a good day for witch hunts, which is why this anthropomorphic personification took on their form on that day, why her official colleagues were charged with protecting her from their spells, and why the barns were smoked on that day since the evil witches always liked to attack the most important and essential element of the household, the source of livelihood, the cattle.
In Czech countries, the saint woman and her dark side merged. It was believed, that is, presented to children believe, if they did not fast, Lucie would come with a large knife, cut open their stomachs, and fill them with groats. But even the adults were not safe. On St Lucy's Day, the walking Lucy masqueraders, „Lucky“ (that is a Czech plural of the name, not an adjective of luck), dressed in white, wearing a mask with a stork's beak or a face dusted with flour, checked that the ban on spinning flax was not broken and that everything was tidy, for Christmas was just around the corner and St Lucy was considered the epitome of cleanliness.
Although her radiant name points more to the purity of mind and spirit.
Let me introduce you to another member of the large herd of horses that roam the British Isles. So far we've had the pleasure of a Kelpie, a Ceffyl-Dwr, or an Each uisge, so let's supplement your education with a Noggle (called a Nuggle in Orkney). This is another little grey horse-like creature that runs around the countryside unsaddled. And if you climb on its back...
I'm getting the nagging feeling that the Industrial Revolution didn't start in England by accident. Stephenson's locomotive certainly didn't plunge into the water with you and turn into a flaming blue cloud.
The Noggles have another annoying habit – they like to stop spinning mill wheels.
One of the most common local Czech boggards which belong to the demons of human origin.
Well – rather he belonged, with the nineteenth century and the rise of volunteer fire departments he was doomed to extinction, for no modern and orderly townsman back then would let a man in flames go unnoticed. Intervention certainly did not take long (although unfortunately no such sources, which are the records of the fire brigades, indicate such).
It should be noted, however, that the Fire man was a more rural revenant. According to tradition, it was an after-life punishment for pushing the boundary marks. But even the cities did not escape the fire of cursed men and women...
The classic figure, carrying a boundary stone on his back and sometimes calling out: "Where to put it?" sometimes took the form of a burning barrel, wheel, or pole. Also a dog or a hare. And many names, what a region, what a different morality, or rather language. In Moravia, it was known as Fajermon (from the German Feuermann), in Bohmerwald and western Bohemian foothills it was called Světlík. In eastern Bohemia, it was called Žavák. Elsewhere Dýma, or Dýmač. With this name, however, we enter the uncertain landscapes of ancient times.
The Fire man comes into folk tales from the deep past of Slavic paganism, although he was later officially declared to be one of the fallen angels (as were the water demons, who are said to have descended from those overthrown angels who hit the water in their dive flight).
In his original form, the Fire man was a close relative of the Will-o-the-Wisps (they too were demons of human origin according to Czech tradition). Aside from the quite obvious burn, he could seduce and drown a person, as he appeared in the form of fireflies in the swamps, tear apart – or – (a very rare situation, but still here a chance) save the people lost in the bogs.
When I tried to find one about the Fire man in my meager collections of Bohemian tales and legends, I quickly found two whose main themes were the dishonest person and the nightly wailing of "Where shall I put it?", but in neither case was the unfortunate man on fire. Instead, I found two other tales in which fire and curses play a part. It is actually one tale – just set in two different locations and to two different historical figures.
Just like the well-known South Bohemian builder Jakub Krčín, the North Moravian Jiří Tunkl from Brtníček Castle made his mark on history by founding ponds. Neither of them was popular with the subjects and both of them stayed near their former work after their deaths to plow the dykes, harnessed to a fiery plow, driven by the devil. Not much in common with men of fire, I admit, but the similarity amused me – though it isn‘t of course unintentional.
Human imagination is not unlimited, anthropomorphic forms of various elements can be found everywhere. The ancient Slavs fit many things into physical forms. Diseases are not excluded.
Thus: the anthropomorphic personification of Death for a long time did not have the shape of a skeleton with a scythe, it used to be a woman or a beautiful girl in white, residing in an underground realm full of candles. She appeared at crossroads and especially at the bedsides of the sick – as we all know, if it stood by the head it was bad, if it showed up at the feet it was just a memento mori, or a reminder that nothing lasts forever, for this time the failure to observe basic hygiene only cost us yellowing of the skin. Sometimes she could be fooled (by turning the bed), but it was never for long. Patience brings roses (or lilies?).
Mor, mořena, chuma (Russia) dzuma (Poland), kuga (South Slavs), were personifications of the most widespread medieval disease, plague (but then every epidemic was diagnosed as plague, so that the present physician if he were also a demonologist, could certainly describe a whole new species of this family.
The Likhoradka had chills and Pristrit fever in the resort, the Ospa matuschka represents smallpox. And so it would go on forever.
I'd better go and make some tea with lemon.
A forest spirit from South Bohemia, who chased poachers. Apparently he had good reason for this, because his relatives from Tabor, the Pohunkove, doing the same, were the spirits of crooked hunters.
6.7.2023 (5. 10. 2002)
Scottish spook, rather a placeholder name for a variety of different bogeymen, from goblins to ghosts to the Devil.
Big bat, winged monkey or pterosaur, these are the possibilities of the pop-quiz What is the mysterious Ahool from West Java forest? The only thing everyone agrees on is the name – it came to him from the sounds the creature with the monkey head, dark grey furry body, big eyes, hunting small game and living in waterfalls (we all know from the movies that behind every decent vertical flowing river there is a cave) makes:
Rusalki belong among human demons. It was only really late in time that these beings began to be associated with Vilas and other faeries; in the original Slavic mythology and in later folklore, Rusalki were creatures different in nature, although associated with the water element.
But the journey to water was not easy and certainly not short. Rusalka is not born directly from the human soul, its predecessor is Nav, or Mavka, (Navjak, Navija or Navka, depending on the region and language). Already in the name of this demon, one can recognize the connection with the Beyond. Nav means Dead, and comes from the Greek naus or navis, referring to the ships that took the dead west across the sea (the Gothic naus is the same origin), and if we remember the Celtic Avalon, we have the original Indo-European idea of the afterlife. It's hard to say whether the circle is completed in the water element of the Rusalka, probably not, but it's nice from a symbolic point of view.
The origin of the word Rusalka is uncertain. Apart from the commonly known and recognizable root rusa (red hair color) or rusa – river, a Mediterranean influence can also be traced. In ancient Rome, the Dies Rosae, Days of Roses, the festival of roses, and the coming of summer, Rosalia, were celebrated in May. These penetrated through the Balkans to the Eastern Slavs, where they were domesticated as Rusalia. They became a memory of the dead and from there, it is only a step to the actual birth of the Rusalka. The belief in the mavka was so strong that it did not allow a new name to be added to these demons, let alone replace them, as would happen later, so the rusalka was included after them, as a logical continuation of the species.
To return to the origin – Nav is the soul of a drowned person, later an unbaptized human soul, appearing in the form of a black bird with red eyes. It flies mainly in reduced visibility (at night, in fog or rain), moaning and whining in chimneys and over rivers. Children and pregnant women are particularly troubled. And now beware - if it is not rescued in seven years (usually by baptism), it turns into a Rusalka. The cult of the dead is intertwined with the cult of the elements.
However, not all sources mention this developmental stage. If the Nav is the soul of an unbaptized child who, after a certain time, turned into a Rusalka, then the Rusalki themselves were also said to be the spirits of drowned girls, brides who died before marriage, or suicides. In any case, both beings belong to human demons.
The Rusalki themselves resemble the Vilas. Their power is hidden in their long, wet hair, which must not dry out. By combing it out, the Rusalki cause floods, because, unlike the Vilas, they are more or less harmful creatures. The list of their practices is long. Apart from simple drowning, they used to tickle people to death, (they liked to ask questions like sphinxes and then behave similarly according to the answer), break down bridges, dams, sink ships, in short, behave - like humans. The origin cannot be denied.
Illustration by Ivan Bilibin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
I'm going to offer you some strange creatures that no one ever believed existed, but that have made their way into the narrative - they are part of Wisconsin lumberjack folklore. When they sat around the campfire at night after their hard work, they were having fun. And they made up beautiful stories.
My father used to take the same approach to spooks in the olden days of my childhood when he would supplement the pedagogically ineffective warning "A headless mare runs behind the park,“ (which would certainly have prompted me to explore) with "...and smoke comes out of her mouth.“
An interesting creature of the Minnesota woods. Its head is shaped like an axe, its body like a handle, and it feeds on hatchets. That's why loggers don't like it.
A very useful bird, for it lays square eggs, which the lumberjacks cooked to use as dice. The Gilly galoo's eggs have acquired their interesting shape through natural development, as the gilly galoo nests on the very steep slopes of Pyramid Fort and would have rolled and lost its classically shaped eggs.
"It's exactly the same size as a sunfish, only much bigger," the loggers say of this fish. And they add that the goofang swims backwards to keep water out of its eyes.
A bird that doesn't have its head on straight. Or does it? It builds its nest inside out and flies backward. It doesn't care where it goes, but it wants to see where it's been.
Look out, danger. Hidebehind is always behind your back. No matter how you turn, he's always behind you. No one can see him. No one has ever seen him. Many a lumberjack has been eaten by this monster!
Nature has equipped this bird with only one wing, so the pinnacle grouse can circle in only one direction. Depending on the season and the conditions of the observer, the feathers change color.
It feeds on rabbits. It hunts them with a rope-like beak, catching the fastest rabbits with it like a lasso. It is about the size of a pony.
Named after the sound it makes – it resembles the gurgling of boiling water in a teapot. Teakettler walks backwards and smoke comes out of his mouth.
This fish is afraid of water, flies very well, and nests, as it were, in trees.
15.7. 2023 (1.4.2002)
Oh, the hot medieval Arabian deserts. Bedouins on camels, long caravans wandering from oasis to oasis, a chatty wife who never lets the ruler sleep at night, so it's no wonder she's in danger of decapitation.
While vampires and the Inquisition run rampant in Europe, here mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences flourish and no one has to hide their religious beliefs and faith. (Isn't this the most amazing and, unfortunately, nowadays least likely story of the Thousand and One Nights?) Still, one must beware, for the children of darkness are everywhere.
The most dangerous desert demon is the ghoul. You'll find it in ruins, abandoned places, and especially cemeteries. The ghoul is primarily a necrophage, a creature that feeds on the flesh of the dead. It is unlikely to be brave, as it likes to bite into the flesh where the blood has not yet clotted - attacking children or sleeping or weakened travelers. He can take on an animal form, which makes his ambushes easier.
>According to many years of research, he seems to be a human demon, as he often becomes a reanimated corpse that has lain in a secret grave for a long time. When such a creature realizes one night that bedsores are not exactly what one expects from the afterlife, it rises, digs itself to the surface, and then has no choice but to join the ranks of its new relatives.
>Islamic tradition knows several kinds of these dangerous creatures, the most dangerous being the female ghoul, the norm, the bloody vampire who seduces gullible men. The eager newlywed then soon ends up as the main course of Sunday lunch.
>A demon closely related to the ghoul is Qutrub. All these creatures, ghouls, lamias, Adam's first wife Lilith, are primarily the personification of the terror of the desert. For the Bedouins on camels, the caravans wandering from oasis to oasis, and ultimately the talkative Scheherazade knew that the greatest treasure at the other end of the sands was one's own life. And under the blazing sun, among the scorpions, in the hot sand, where often only the miserable, unusable black water gushed, it didn't matter what god you believed in.
As long as he led you to an oasis.
15.7. 2023 (25. 4. 2002)
"Things just happen. What the hell."
* Terry Pratchett. Hogfather
Welcome to my world. For the longest time I couldn’t think of right name for this place, so I left it without one. Amongst things you can find here are attempts of science fiction and fantasy stories, my collection of gods, bogeymen and monsters and also articles about things that had me interested, be it for a while or for years. (There is more of this, sadly not in English but in Czech, on www.fext.cz)