A beast from heraldry. Oxford Dictionary of English admits that the “term is of uncertain origin and meaning”. The earliest appearance in English heraldy is as the supporters of arms of the Worshipful Company of Plasterers of London, granted in 1556. Four years later, it appears on the crest of the company of Barber Surgeons of London. Some modern heraldists claim that opinicus developed from the Griffin of the classical Greece. If that is a case, it evolved a long way. The beast on the Barbers’ crest has a square stocky body with vaguely feline legs, short mop of a tail, wings, long neck of a swan, birds’ head and long ears. In Edmondson’s “Heraldry” (1780), Opinicus had a body and fore legs of a lion, head and neck of an eagle, griffin’s wings and camel’s tail. However Boutel in 1863 described it as a heraldic monster with front half being a dragon and aft a lion, with camel’s tail. Choose your own.
An animal described by Lewis Carrol. Information on it is so well disguised in the professional jargon, that it is best to quote the original text:
– “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome rath outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock,my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the fromious Bandersnatch!”
And so on, and so on. You get the idea. The image above was drawn by Nat, my own interpretation is shown below. Artistic license is wide open.
Abraxas was originally a sequence of Greek letters which was read as a word. It was also written “abracax”, from which sprung the magic word “abracadabra”. Numerical value of the word is 365, same as the number of days in a year.
In second century AD the main heretic opposition to Christianity were Gnostics. Ruthlessly exterminated by the Founding Fathers, very little is known about their system of believes. We do know that one of the leading Gnostics, Basilides of Alexandria, personified the word abraxas, and started a cult related to Sun God around it. He claimed Abraxas as a supreme deity, the ruler of the 365 circles of creation, good and evil together in one person. Jesus Christ was seen only as a phantom sent to Earth by Abraxas.
The name Abraxas was inscribed on charms, amulets and precious stones. Abraxas was depicted in many ways. On one 2nd century Gnostic gem it has a rooster’s head, human torso and arms, whip and shield in his hands, and a pair of serpents instead of legs.
In in the Koran (Sura 27), Al Jassassa is a name of the beats or a monster that will appear at the Last Judgment. According to the folklore, he or she will have a bull’s head, hog’s eyes, elephant’s ears, horns of a stag, neck of an ostrich, lion’s breast, colour of a tiger, back like a cat, camel’s legs, the voice of an ass and the tail of a ram. The beast will mark those who are saved and those who are damned. As with Jabberwocky, the outer limit of artists’ license is not defined.