In Caesar-occupied Gallia, Sucellos, one of the ancient Celtic gods, was in charge of agriculture, forests (and alcoholic beverages), as the post-conquest Gauls associated him with the Roman forest Sylvanus. He was originally one of the supreme gods, famous for his hammer, which killed and revived, depending on which side the god struck. He was therefore probably the god of death (and reincarnation), which explains the later focus on nature and the merging with Sylvanus, as the undead and fertility were often related.
He is seen in surviving portraits as a middle-aged bearded man, with a hammer in one hand, and a bowl or cauldron in the other. Often sitting at his side is his (probable) wife Nantosuelta, sometimes a three-headed dog and a raven.
Today's visit to the forest creatures will start in the Baltics. More precisely in Latvia, where in the local woods you can meet the Forest Mother, the goddess Meza mate. This patroness of hunters and foresters, who is called Medeine in neighbouring Lithuania, is also the protector of all forest dwellers, which as someone before me pointed out, is highly ironic as her human worshippers fiercely persecute her natural protégés.
Another Latvian vegetation demon is Lapu Mate, the Mother of Leaves, who is responsible for the autumn color change. How she manages to turn the green leaves yellow and red in a short period of time, I don't know, after all, she is a supernatural being and in her many years of duty she already knows how to do it.
This Czech woodland wraith belongs to a small group of the chosen few, among my favorite demons. (I don't even know why. Maybe because it appears mostly in storms and gales.) Dark, silent, sitting in the saddle of an equally dark horse. Sometimes he doesn't have a head. The wild hunter from Kostelec nad Černými lesy has a fiery hood.
He has sometimes been seen sitting motionless on a stump or stone, but usually leads the Wild Hunt. Other Czech word for this demonic ride is Štvaní, and it consist of wraiths, ghosts, phantoms, hellcats, werewolves, bears and other monsters. It races through the woods in a storm, with a fierce hunter at its head. It is deadly for anyone left in the woods when Štvaní comes; one of the few effective defenses is to stay face down on the ground or draw a magic circle around yourself. Sometimes even the usual things can be dangerous – a man near Jarošov nad Nežárkou untied a grain sack he found by the Žirovnička river and a pack of dogs flew out of the bag.
The Wild hunt sometimes went from the forest to the border of villages, Divoký lovec then threw bloody pieces of venison or horse meat on the doorstep. At Merklín it was said that whoever accepted the prey from the Wild Hunter would become one of the wraiths of the hunt.
Occasionally he performs other tasks – at the hill named Na strašidlech (Ghost´ place) near Horní Blatná, he guards the key to the hidden treasure.
Sometimes the Wild Hunter was not of supernatural origin, but a cursed man, as in Dolní Žandov, where he was the castellan of the former castle of Boršov, or in Varnsdorf; there it was the pious knight Banadietrich who carried it off. At other times he did not lead the Wild Hunt, but wild huntsmen (near Jindřichův Hradec), or spectral knights (Kopisty near Most). The aforementioned hunter from Kostelec was accompanied by a woman riding a horse without a saddle. At Kyšperk, the Wild Hunt was led by the fairy (or witch) Běla or Vela. She once lived on Doubravka Mountain, where she waited for her victims. Later, she and her black dog sank underground and began to ride at the head of the Štvaní.
A leader of Wild Hunt, Around Česká Třebová, is the forest spirit Huráně, like Hainzmichl (Hansmichel), who haunted the forest in Kovářská near Vejprty. At Kynžvart Spa, the giant Kober, a local forest spirit, went Štvaní for a change, as a black man called Hajman at Mariánské Lázně.
The tales of Wild Hunters and Wild Hunt come mainly from Bohemia, especially from the border mountains; they are rarer in Moravia, which does not mean that Štvani did not appear there, especially in the Jihlava region.
9.11.2023 (5. 10. 2002)
Yakutia is a large territory located in Siberia on the Lena River, and the Yakuts are the local people who arrived in that region sometime between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Today they are mixed with Evenks, Chukchi, Evens, and Russians, but they still form a distinct people with a rich culture, recorded since the nineteenth century.
Why am I telling you this? It´s simple – because all I know about the Yakut forest god Bai Baianai is that he belongs to the forest and to Yakuts, and I need to somehow wriggle out of my lack of information.
Nyrckes and Tapio are a married couple from Finland. Although Nyrckes is sometimes considered a male deity, she is, after all, in many cases a forest lady. Tapio, the Lord of the Woods, is undoubtedly already a man, and hunters sacrifice their first catch to him, as is the custom in many regions and the cases of various deities.
Finnish god of hunters and herders, protector of herds, and guide through the dense forest.
O Nyrikki, mountain hero,
Son of Tapio of forests,
Hero with the scarlet head-gear,
Notches make along the pathway,
Landmarks upward to the mountains,
That this hunter may not wander,
May not fall, and falling perish
In the snow-fields of thy kingdom,
Hunting for the moose of Hisi,
Dowry for the pride of Northland. 1)
Lemminkäinen begs him for help. Also, Ilmarinen's wife calls out to Nyyrikki in her long wailing of cattle being put out to pasture.
The son of Tapio and Mielikki (the most common version, there are other, quite possibly distorted variants of family relations by time or by copying of compressed sources) sometimes – the connection dates back to ancient times, long before Elias Lönnrot had the idea of compiling Finnish and Karelian songs into one coherent story – went by the name of Nyrckes (as confirmed by Mikael Agricola in his list published in 1551).
As the wife of the god of the forests.
Interpretation of the folk chants suggests a connection with squirrels, with possible contamination by Catholic figures of St George or St Bartholomew. The gender changes may also be due to the pressure of the artist's folklore, requiring the use of the feminine ending -ikki for the smooth flow of the verse.
1.) LÖNNROT, Elias. Kalevala : the Epic Poem of Finland. Translated by John Martin CRAWFORD. Standard eBooks, 2022 [cit. 2023-11-16]. avalaible from: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/elias-lonnrot/the-kalevala/john-martin-crawford
Now, get warm, it's easy to catch a cold up north. Today's last journey takes us to Zaire, Africa, among the pygmies, the dwarf inhabitants of that land. And it's a high-profile audience.
Tore, forest god and lord of the beasts is one of a small group of chosen deities - demiurges, or Creators. He sometimes looks like an old man with a long beard, likes to disguise himself as a leopard, and even prefers to prove his existence by storming. Or a rainbow.
Due to his high status, he has even been given the honor of becoming the godfather of a geo (actually rheio) graphic formation on Saturn's moon Rhea.
In Bohemia, the famous daemon meridianus, Polednice, has become a children's bogeyman like many others, but she didn't take the job to supplement her retirement pension. It was not necessary to conduct lengthy field research and keep statistics for many years to make people realize that the heat of midday carries with it the danger of heatstroke. And children in particular still need to be protected from the effects of the sun today.
In her original form, Polednice was the guardian of the noon hour. If she caught someone in the field, she would chase them away. Who was caught working, he had to spend an hour answering intrusive and tiresome questions. Or worse, she made him talk for sixty minutes straight. If he paused, he was threatened with beheading. Since there are no surviving records of the headless farmer finds, it seems our ancestors had enough to say. Sometimes Kosířka or Serpolnitsa, otherwise vegetation demons, took her place.
Occasionally, presumably when no one was caught in the fields, Polednice would sneak up to houses and steal children – Karel Jaromír Erben tells of this in epic detail in his eponymous poem. Alternatively, she flew in a whirlwind and killed by touch.
This dangerous dame, sometimes in the form of an old woman with horse hooves, dressed in white, was known to all western Slavs, each nation of course under its own name, so you may also meet a Południwka, Přezpołnica or Připolnica. In Poland, for example, she used to have companions when flying, seven black dogs.
The noon hour in Bohemia also includes Poledníček (Noonday man), a boy in a long white shirt who also keeps the noon hour quiet. Sometimes he kept an eye out for field thieves. He would come out of the woods and shout at people. And because he called them by name, many people naturally went to see who wanted them. And then he disappeared.
is, by the name, the demon of the midnight hour. Of course, no one was found in the field by then, so she is closer to the demons of fate. Just as the Celtic banshee announced death by singing with her midnight apparition. She too had a boyish version, the Půlnočník (midnight man), who wears, like the Noonday man, a long white shirt.
Her territory is the hour in which the bell was rung for evening prayer. She didn't much enjoy scaring the adults, soon becoming a pedagogical boogeyman, driving the children home. She used to wear a grey robe.
Her male counterpart, Klekáníček (the Kneeler), was not a boy for a change (like Poledníček and Půlnočník), but a little man, sometimes walking on his knees. Probably because he carried a sack and put naughty children in it. That's the kind of weight that sometimes gets through. He kept the disobedient ones in a hiding place under the bell tower. Klekániček known around Rokycany didn't like to be whistled at. Apparently he learned it from the hejkals, because like them he jumped on the whistler's back and stabbed him to death.
Two monsters of French folklore whose eating habits reveal their origins. They were probably born in the mind of a prankster or satirist (original influences cannot be ignored, of course) sometime in the Middle Ages. It survived until the Renaissance and spread to the British Isles, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Ladies have priority, hence the skinny Chicheface (Chichevache) comes first. In the work of Jean d'Outremeus we even find the simile "Aussi maigre qu'une chicheface, as thin as a Chicheface," so the poor creature was reputed by his appearance. The almost ghastly emaciation, which prevented the observer from focusing on other distinctive features (apart from the large flaming eyes), is not intended primarily to frighten; it is the result of dietary specialization. Indeed, the virtuous and obedient wives on which Chicheface feeds are in considerable short supply.
Husbands alone do not stay long. If they are over-eager bullies and arrogant masters of the household, Bigorne will have his fill of them. He has the appearance of a half panther, half cow, a scaly back and human face, and above all plenty of body fat, for his source of sustenance is abundant, unlike his companion's numerous prey. To this day.
Bigorne, see page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Cornish coast became the fate of many ships, probably for this reason the local pagan Celtic goddess Warna became the Christian patron saint of shipwrecked sailors. But landlubbers also turn to her, claiming the contents of the cabins and cargo holds of abandoned wrecks.
In Oceania, between Kiribati and Milli Atoll in the Marshall Islands, a large black snake lives. A really big one. If you get lost at sea in those places due to poor navigation, they say you've reached the bowels of Amam. Not that you'd figure it out right away until you notice you can't see any stars or hear the sea in the darkness. After a few days, you'll die of thirst, unless you find a bird named Lokto. He's the only one who can show you the way out, to the place where you got into the snake.
4.12.2023 (21. 3. 2004)
Sint Holo, the great horned serpent of the Cherokee, Crees, Chickasaws, and their neighbors, resides deep in an underwater cave. It is known to cause downpours and occasionally makes a sound indistinguishable from thunder.
This creature is highly revered because in its invisible form, it represents wisdom and knowledge. The saying: "to see Sint Holo, the horned serpent,“ is an admiring sigh at the ingenuity and wisdom of young men such as Sequoya, the creator of the Cherokee alphabet.
In search of more forest creatures, we head south to the old tried and tested Mediterranean. There's already been talk of dryads, tree nymphs. And almost inseparable from them is the god of forests, hunters, and shepherds, the mighty Pán. Or Pan, as the Latin transcription has recently taken over.
Since we're in Greece, we'd better start by talking about the pitfalls of kinship. The god Hermes and the nymph Dryope or the nymph Oineis, or Odysseus' wife Penelope, are thought to be the Pan's parents; Amaltheia is also suspected. Not enough? The story goes that Penelope has taken up with all the suitors who have tried to woo her during Odysseus' absence. And the supreme god Zeus and the nymph Oineide. Zeus and Hybris. More of Cronus and Rhea, in which case Pán would be one of the official Olympic siblings. It's not impossible.
The Olympians were particular about appearances, and when a creature with goat legs, horns, and a beard was born among them, its own mother (whichever of the above she was) was horrified and ran away. Allmighties were greatly amused at the appearance of the new addition to the family; the little god preferred to escape into the woods.
When he grew up, he stayed mostly in Arcadia – for he was in fact the Arcadian god of fertility, and from there his cult penetrated the whole of the Mediterranean. He loved to play the pipe and the nymphs, and was friends with the Satyrs and later with Dionysus. Most of his forays failed, he attempted several nymphs, Pythia preferring to turn into a pine tree (sometimes a fir), Syrinx into a reed. He had success with Echó and Selene.
Although the gods did not treat him well, he honored family togetherness. He taught Apollo, whom he liked best, to divine; though he knew he was creating competition, he allowed Hermes to make a copy of his reed pipe.
Otherwise, Pan behaved like any good woodland creature. He liked to rest, and when he was disturbed, he would run out of the bushes and roar. He was famous for his roar, and the near-historical record speaks of his power when he terrified an entire Persian army at the famous Battle of Marathon in -490. And in Athens, they built him a shrine for it, which was actually found in recent times on the northern slope of the Acropolis.
By misunderstanding the words Thamus pan-megas tethneke (Tammuz Almighty is dead), the news spread through the Mediterranean that Pan was dead, a thing hitherto unheard of. But although the Delphic Plutarchos took care to get the information out to all quarters, he had no particular success.
Faunus is not just the Roman version of the Greek Pan. As the god of the forests, the fields, and the protector of crops and fertility, he enjoyed far more honors than his Greek counterpart. He was closer to the Greek Demeter.
However, he also became king of the Latins – a name given to that nation only by his son Latinos. Faunus himself came from a much more equable family background than Pan, with whom he was identified and whose form he only took in later times. He was the son of the god of divination, Pico, and he probably entered among the deities after death. This gave rise to the small, not very widespread Tiberian cult of the former king. They called him Fatuus and added more and more attributes.
As a god, he also acted a little more responsibly, marrying (which never occurred to the god Pan), taking the goddess Fauna as his wife (admittedly, it is sometimes said that Fauna was his mother or sister, and his wife's name was Marica. Whatever her relationship to him, she was the goddess of the harvest and mother of the earth) and fathered the future forefather Latinus. Not that he didn't otherwise do like the Greek role models, he had quite a few illegitimate children – fauns.
Because Faunus held several important positions, he didn't stick to one name. The shepherds for whom he protected the flocks from wolves called him Lupercus, and on February 15 they celebrated Lupercalia. The Faunalia, celebrated under his own name, took place at the end of the year, on the fifth of December.
Faunus' most famous alter ego, however, is Sylvanus.
I deliberately consider him a double, because the roots of the forest god Sylvanus lie elsewhere. His fusion with Faunus occurred when their cults merged.
Sylvanus bears more signs of kinship with the Greek Pan, just as he, for example, liked to frighten passers-by. However, he came to the Romans from the Etruscans, who had a god named Selvans.
The first fruits were sacrificed to Sylvanus, his attributes being a scythe (pruning) knife and a pine branch. The function of protector of the fields and forests, along with which he was later adopted as Faun, he took over from Mars. Yes, you read that right. The much-celebrated god of war was in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture early in his career. That, by the way, is why today's third month of the year is called martius, or March, marec, and god knows what in the various languages that have retained their original names.
The later Faun took on the appearance of the Greek Satyrs in full glory, and with them all, after the advent of Christianity, surrendered some of his attributes to the devil. Neither Pan, nor Faunus, Sylvanus, and Lupercus, while useful, certainly deserved such treatment.
"Sweet, piercing sweet was the music of Pan's pipe" by Walter Crane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
6.12.2023 (12. 10.2002)
Haferbock is a German field demon whose name means an oat goat. And that's all I know about him.
Our second visitor from that land is a lady – Kornmutter, or Corn Mother. They know her – under different names, of course – all over Europe and have known her for quite a few years. She belongs to the mysteries of the harvest, the harvest festivals, and she is embodied in the last sheaf that was taken from the field.
In Bohemia, it was customary to add the last handful of grain to the sowing for the following year, and the celebrations of the Slavs in Arkona took an official form, when Svantovít's high priest divined from a drinking horn held by a statue of the god and from a large cake; after the ceremony a celebration broke out, from which no one was allowed to leave sober. In Britain, the last sheaf or load was proclaimed the Queen of the Harvest, or John Barleycorn; the Celts and the Cree Indians danced round the fires... There was a lot of it, and really in all cultures, because of course survival depended on the harvest.
In Western Europe, this creature usually took the form of an old woman, at least by name. In Scotland, Wales, Poland and Prussia, for example, they called her Baba (a Hag). But more about them some other time.
Back to the Slavs. Into the unpleasant company of one of many nightmares, the Nočnica. They know her in Russia, Poland, Slovakia and Serbia. She used to go out at night to torment children, which certainly does not testify to her courage.
The mothers of the afflicted offspring had various ways of dealing with the danger.
Because some authorities say that supernatural beings cannot touch iron, they hid an axe under the cradle.
The Nočnica looked like an elderly person of the female sex - let's say straightforwardly a hag. They knew her even in Bulgaria, where she looked even more horrible and lived in the forest. They called her gorska makva there.
14.12.2023 (25. 9. 2002)
Pale ladies, operating in Moravia. They are the spirits of girls who gave up and ran away from their weddings, or broke their vows even before that. Like the Manias, they attract passers-by, either with an enticing "Ú poď sem (Oooh, come here)," or in the form of a beautifully chirping white bird (from these two clues, a passing ornithologist could deduce the true origin of the vows). Those who obey risk being led astray. Occasionally, too, these pretty in-the-wind flying girls entertain themselves with that familiar practice of dancing a male victim to death.
A water maiden, inhabiting the west coast and central Africa. She has long dark hair, beautiful eyes and skin. She sometimes appears – as is usual – with a fishtail, sometimes with legs. Like any respectable beauty, she moves with the times – these days she favors offerings of perfume (imported), sunglasses, or Coke. Her favorite colors are red and white.
Unlike other demons and deities, she is still very popular today.
Now that we've come to Africa, let me introduce you to a creature that is widely believed in even today. And not only in the Congo. I dare not get involved in arguments with cryptozoologists (and the enormous inertia with which their minds wander, fired by the impulse of the possible existence of a mysterious creature, passing by other, not-so-favorable facts on their way). That would take me somewhere else entirely. But still... It's all very well to argue for a newly discovered species of buffalo – and that's a big animal indeed – but note that the cow crossing your path is not yet known to respectable biological science. Even Mrs. Latimer's fish is far from being a Mesozoic, it has never lived in them, only all its relatives, which no doubt fascinates the zoologist. For the fish is a large organism, much more susceptible to developmental changes than, for example, the ramen legs of the genus Lingula, which have survived from the proto-orthodox to the present day without being noticed by Mother Nature in any significant way.
I'm having a hard time. On the one hand, I'm willing to believe – and I readily believe – that, say, one can go after the Sasquatch and record success, albeit perhaps with a surprise. I'm left with the belief that some of the animals for whom we carried flowers at a Pleistocene funeral might have read their obituaries more recently. No one can make me do other things (never say never, I know, so far they can't).
Mokele Mbembe may be an as yet undescribed reptile – and not a small one – but not a surviving dinosaur. Certainly not a sauropod dinosaur.
Mokele mbembe, or translated from Pygmy The monster that stops the flow of the river is grey, with a long neck and a long tail, with one horn on its head and one tooth in its mouth. It likes to sink boats, although it is otherwise an herbivore. It lives in underwater caves.
Abbé Proyart states (in a book published in 1776) that the elephant's feet of this creature are provided with strong claws, and that his brother missionaries found in the jungle traces of these feet ninety centimetres in diameter. Since then, many testimonies, sightings, and descriptions have appeared. Unfortunately, not with photographs that could enrich my archive. Except for a fifteen-second shot taken by a Japanese film crew in 1992, which shows something large floating under the surface of the lake...
"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)