Bestiary 12

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Hippogriff

Spelling varies. Fabulous beast, cross between a horse and an eagle, in form of a griffin. The original idea came from Virgil: to signify impossibility or incongruence, he spoke of breeding horses with gryphons, which came from Rhiphaen Mountains far beyond the ice bound seas.

Hippogriff was unknown in antiquity. He was created in the middle ages and became famous only after Arioso made him a mount of the pagan knight Roggiero in the “Orlando Furioso”.

Hippogriff was a winged steed of the wizard Atlas. Knight Rogero blundered into the castle of Atlas and got trapped in its maze. Rogero’s lover, warrior-maid Bradamant, rode in to rescue him. But Rogero has been caught because he believed that he heard Bradamant’s voice from within the castle. He has to follow the phantom voice forever because the infinite chambers of the labyrinth he was wandering in were the creation of his own mind. Bradamant, hearing Rogero’s voice, is about to be ensnarled herself, when another of the Palladins, brave Astolfo, arrives with a magic horn, the sound of which dispels all fantasy. With one blast of the horn the magic castle of Atlas disappears. Rogero, Bradamant and many other prisoners found themselves sitting on bare rocks on a mountainside. In another tale knight Orlando went mad at the time Charlemagne needed a full complement of his Palladins for a battle with the Moors. Astolfo attempts the ultimate test. He steals the hippogriff and flies on it to the Ruby Towers of the castle of the Earthy Paradise, to seek cure for his friend’s madness. In Paradise he meets St.John, who takes him to the place of lunacy – the Moon. There, in a valley, he finds Orlando’s lost senses and retrieves them. Before leaving the Moon, Astolfo is shown a vision of the Fates weaving destiny from the threads of oblivion. In one of the last cantos of “Orlando Furioso”, Astolpho unsaddles and unbridles the hippogriff and sets him free.

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Dogheads

Dogheads appear in many cultures all over the world. The most intriguing are the Koerakoonlased, group of man-beasts from the Estonian legends. They are half men and half dogs, but their bodies are divided longitudinally, with one hand and foot of a man and the other half like a dog. They could run on all fours, and their reasoning was a mixture of human and animal. They lived at the end of the world, constantly attacking and murdering humans. Men were unable to defend their homes. Only the smell of rhamnus shrub could drive the dogheads away. They would overpower people, eat them, and feast their children on human flesh. Women and children were taken captive, fattened and later slaughtered for fresh meat. In some tales they have human body and dog’s head with a single eye in the centre of the forehead.

Estonians, seeing in 1854 Bashkirs, Kalmuks and Cossacks with the Russian army for the first time, considered them dog-heads.

Pliny the Elder, in Book 7 of Historia Naturalis, speaks of Kynokephaloi, dog-headed tribe from India, who cannot speak and only bark.

Marco Polo placed them on the Island of Andaman.

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Bunyip

Swamp monster of Australian aborigines, a marsupial rat size of a house. It inhabits reedy marshes and lagoons of the interior. Numerous sightings in 19th and early 20th century declined, and there were none in the last 70 years, prompting fears that Bunyip may be extinct. Reported only from the SE corner of the continent, its description varies widely.

Dreamtime, the Aboriginal tradition, paints Bunyip as a spirit which inhabited rivers, lakes and swamps, always malevolent towards humans, defending its territory and devouring the intruders. At night Bunyip was said to pray upon women and children. All Bunyip were huge and menacing, some covered in feathers, or even in crocodile’s scales. Common feature of aboriginal drawings of Bunyip are horse-like tail, flippers and tusks of a walrus.

White settlers’ view is very different. Bunyip was seen not as a killer but a shy grazing herbivore. There were two main types reported . The most common had a dog-like face and long shaggy coat. More rare was Bunyip with a long maned neck. G.Hobler reported to Sunday Morning Herald in 1847 that “it was about size of a calf, dark brown, with long neck and pointed head, large ears, two large tusks and a thick mane of hair from the neck to the shoulders. When it ran off in a shambling gallop, you could see a large tail. Forequarters were much larger than the rear.”

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Homa

Spelling varies. Persian bird, related to good fortune and glory, crammed full of symbolism. He can fly to the highest heaven, he bestows blessings on those whom he covers with his wings. Often contrasted with an owl, who stands for curse and misfortune, or with a raven, the scavenger. Homa feeds on fragments of bone, as not to be a charge on other creatures.

In Gustav Flaubert’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony” we read a curious line: “Homa gave himself as a drink to men to communicate his strength to them.” The footnote explains that Homa was the creative word, one of whose incarnations was the Sacred Tree of Life, the stems of which were crushed to give an intoxicating juice drunk during Zoroastrian sacrifices. In this meaning “homa” is identical to sanscrit “soma”, possibly identified as plant ephedra. And we can go on and on and on. In Persia homa is a favourite subject of furniture decorations, in wood and metal.

Together with other mythical menagerie, Homa dwells on the fabled Mount Qaf.

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Bestiary 11

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Mermaid

In the land of Ti, in the East of Kien Mu, there live Teishin.”Tomo kummo dzue”’, Chinese chronicle translated into Japanese, reports that they have a head of a man and the body of a fish. It does not say weather they are mortal or not. True mermaids have a definite streak of immortality running in their blood, besides the power of prophecy and granting wishes. Listening to mermaids can bring on madness. They enjoy tempest, but grow sad in calm weather. And old seamen’s superstition says that recording a sighting of a mermaid in the ship’s log book will bring bad luck. One of the best described encounters is found in the ship’s journal of Henry Hudson. Considering the grisly fate his expedition met, there may be something in the old superstition.

Drawing of Mermaid above is by Nat from smallestforest.net.

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In the 6th cen a mermaid was caught in North Wales, baptised, and in some old calendars took a place as St.Murgen. She was born Liban, one of the daughters of Eochaid and Etain. Around AD 90 the sacred spring nearby, which was sacrilegiously neglected, overflew, and formed Lough Neagh. Eochaid and his family drowned in the flood. Liban was swept away with her pet dog, but she was preserved in a subaqueous cave , where she spent a year with her dog alone. She prayed to be turned into a salmon, so she could play with the fish that swam past her. God granted her a fish tail, but the top end of her body remained female. Her dog was turned into an otter. Together they swam around for centuries.

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Meanwhile, Ireland became Christian, and one day St.Comgall sent his cleric Beoc to Rome on a business. As they sailed along the coast, a very sweet voice sung to them from underneath the waters. Clerics thought it was an angel, but Liban surfaced and spoke to them, telling her story and arranging a meeting with Beoc the following year, after his return from Rome. Beoc kept his appointment and fished out Liban a year later. She was given a choice- live on land the same length of time she spent under the sea, or dies and ascend to heaven. She chose the immediate death. Baptised Murgen (e.g. sea-born) she entered the heaven as one of the Holy Virgins. Many wonders were done through her in the Teo-da-Beoc church. Another variant of mermaid is merrow, from Irish “muirrughach”. Possibly not a true sea-people, they inhabit a strange dry land beneath the seabed itself. Using an enchantment, they can cross the water layer in between to reach the dry land. W.B.Yates called them mermaids and wrote that their women are beautiful, head and torso of a woman, lower end and a tail of a fish. On the other hand, their men have noses like pigs’ snouts, fiery red eyes, green hair, green teeth and arms like short scaly fins. No wonder that merrow females like to marry human males instead. Descendants of such unions are still living in Machaire, Ireland. Such people are usually under some kind of a curse: either they cannot sleep at night for the haunting sounds of the sea in their ears, or they are doomed not to speak . Male merrow were known to befriend the fishermen.

Henri L.Joly in his “Legend in Japanese Art” lists a Mu Jima, a hairy mermaid, without elaborating.

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Al

Als are demons originating in Persia, later also appearing in Christianity and in Armenia. Half men and half animals, of both sexes, they have hair of snakes, eyebrows of brass, eyes of glass, teeth of iron, tusks of boar and face white as snow. St.Peter and St.Paul are credited with meeting als on the road during their apostolic travels and conversing with them.

Afghani Al are female, always looking about 20 years old, with long teeth and nails. They feed on corpses like Hindu Churel.

In Armenia Als developed into shaggy demons with bristling hair, who lived in watery or damp places. Fiery eyed with hair of snakes, they always carried iron scissors as weapons. Their king is chained in an abyss, shrieking continuously.

Bestiary 10

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Alibatu

Transparent tigers of Tlon, conceived as a series of mental processes whose unfolding is to be understood only as a time sequence. The only relevant authority on Alibatu is Jorge Louis Borghes, in his ”Uqbar, Tlon, Orbis Tertius”, where he omits to give them a name.

Alibatu are neither ghosts nor spirits of tigers and under some conditions they may become virtually visible. They hunt ordinary red-blooded prey in the bamboo groves of Uqbar, in Tlon. Being transparent, they can see by their whole body, by the surface of their skin. As far as we know, Alibatu do not procreate.

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Ent

In the world of J.R.R.Tolkien, Ents were forest giants, shepherds and guardians of trees in Middle Earth.

When Varda, the Queen of the Heavens, rekindled the Stars and the Elves awoke, the Ents also awoke in the great forests of Arda. They came from the thoughts of Yavama, the Queen of the Earth. At the time of awakening they could not speak, but Elves taught them to. They loved learning languages and they devised a tongue of their own, which was so complicated that none but Ents ever mastered it.

Mostly they lived alone, often in the mountain caverns. Their meals were ent-draught, clear liquid stored in stone jars, magical fluid glowing with gold and green light. In the years of starlight Ents were both male and female. In the age of Sun the Ent wives became enamoured of the open lands where they could tend fruit trees, flowers, grain and grasses, while male Ents loved the trees of the forest. Before the end of the Second age of the Sun the gardens of Ent wives were destroyed and with the gardens went the Ent wives. No tale tells of their fate and Ents wandered for many ages in search of them. Ents did not die in the manner of men through ageing, but without the Ent wives they became a dwindling race, as many were slain with steel and fire. Forests were hewn down and burnt. Many old Ents became “treeish”, moving but little, resembling trees.

By the time of Bilbo, Ents were half men, half trees, 14 feet tall. Their leader was Fangom, or Treebeard, huge and ancient, with rough bark trunk, branch-like arms and gnarled seven-fingered hands. He had no neck, and his head was as thick as the trunk. His large brown eyes were wise, with greenish light. His grey beard resembled a thatch of twigs and moss. He was made of fibre of trees but moved swiftly on unbending legs with feet like living roots. For the Ents’ final involvement with the affairs of the world, see The Lord of the Rings.

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Fu-Hsi

The Chinese chronicles record that when the earth solidified and the people were settling in the riverlands, Fu-Hsi, the “Heavenly Emperor” (2953-2838 BC) governed amongst them. He taught his tribes how to fish with nets, how to hunt and to rear domestic animals. He instituted matrimony. From supernatural tablets entrusted to him by a horse-shaped scaly monster out of the waters of the river Meng, he deduced the Eight Diagrams, which remain to this day the fundamental symbols of traditional Chinese thought.

He had been born from a miraculous conception in the pond famous for its dragons, after a gestation of 12 years. His body was serpentine, with human arms and a head of an ox. He married his sister, goddess Nu-kua, who was also shaped like a half a dragon and carried a head of an ox.

Their successor, Shen-Nung, the “Earthly Emperor” (2838-2698 BC) was 8 feet 7 inches tall, with a human body and a head of a bull. He was the god of agriculture and pharmacology. He was conceived miraculously through an intervention of a dragon. As a child he was abandoned in the mountains, but the wild beasts nourished him until his mother took him back. He invented plough, exchange of goods by barter and a system of knotted strings to keep records. He taught men smelting and using oil in the lamps, as he was also god of fire. He wrote the “ Pen tsáo”, the Great Herbal , and at 168 years of age he joined the Immortals after he’d eaten a poisonous herb.

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Humbaba (Also read as Huwawa or Humumba)

Giant who guards the mountains of cedars in the Epic of Gilgamesh. No clear description survives, and several widely differing reconstructions were put forwards from the inferences in the clay tablets. Georg Borckhardt (Wiesbaden 1952) summed up the known fragments. According to his research, Humbaba was taller than three men, he had paws of a lion and humanoid body covered in horny scales. His arms and legs were as stout as tree trunks; his feet had the claws of a vulture and on his head two bull’s horns. When he walked, earth shook as in an earthquake. His tail and the male member each ended in a snake’s head.

Gilgamesh, the 5th king of Uruk (Erech), who ruled despotically for 126 years, enlisted help of his half animal friend Enkidu and together they killed Humbaba, for no clear reason. Goddess Ishtar brought Gilgamesh the news that the gods were upset. She offered to help, if Gilgamesh became her lover. Gilgamesh refused. Spurned goddess sent against them Bull of Heaven who spew fire, killing 300 men with one breath. The duo killed the bull and Enkidu flung its hind leg at Ishtar with an insult. Gods decided to punish them. Wounds Enkidu got in the fight with Humbaba started festering and he died from them. Lamentations and the further trek of Gilgamesh in the search of his dead friend form the core of the “Epic”.

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Hooloovoo

Supraintelligent manifestation of colour blue evolved on the third planet orbiting Epsilon-Eridanii and briefly encountered at the Restaurant at The End of the Universe (D.Adams). Conceptual barriers prevent accurate description in human terms, but certain rough analogies may be drawn.

Colour Blue is fiercely independent, self-sufficient and capable of creating entire reality, especially the pthalo-based derivates. It has a well defined sense of humour. To the outsiders it mostly appear as a diffused reddish-orange hue surrounding material objects, evaporating on closer inspection. When in distress it can temporarily refract into a free-standing prism. Activities resembling social intercourse, marbling, arts and sports were reported. Two of the most popular pastimes appear to be surfing the invisible wavelengths of the spectrum and obscuring the true colour of the participants. Occasionally Hooloovoo has been accused of invading minds of other species. It was smuggled by African slaves into American music; it popped up in the Blue Period of P.Picasso, etc. Criminal charges were invariably dropped for the lack of tangible evidence.

Bestiary 9

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Ahuitzotl

In Aztec folklore of Mexico Ahuitzotl is a strange animal about size of a dog, that lives in the water. It has hands and feet like a monkey and another hand at the tip of his extraordinarily long tail. It lives in deep water, waiting for the humans to come to the edge of it. When it sees a victim, its long tail, ending in a monkey’s hand, grabs the human and pulls him under water. After three days the dead body is cast ashore without its eyes, teeth and nails. These are the only things Ahuitzotl is after. Nobody would touch the returned body, only a priest, who sends it to a small house erected near the water, because it is clear that the rain god Tlalocs had chosen that soul for Paradise. Flue is played to him and relatives are told to rejoice because of this choosing.

Ahuitzotl appears on Aztec carvings, but the hand at the end of its tail is never shown, the tail is always coiled and the hand hidden.

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Vata

Planet wide sentient kelp from the seas of Pandora in the Tau Ceti system (F.Herbert: Jesus Incident, Lazarus Effect), was called Avata by the first human colonists (from Indian “Avatar”).”One in the many”, kelp was capable of cross-species telepathic communication. It was not edible and close presence to kelp was disorienting and hallucinogenic, fragmenting human mind. Kelp had a language of its own, transmitted by light, pulsing and glowing nodules like “fireflies of the sea “.

Air born vector of Avata were highlighters, huge orange spherical balloons filled with hydrogen gas, some over 50 metres in diameter. Truncated sphere was flattened along the top, which formed muscular base for the tall rippling sail membrane, capable of tacking into the wind. Numerous long corded tendrils extended from the underside, carrying the ballast rocks or any cargo ‘lighters wanted to move. Grazing the ground with ballast rocks, sparks often ignited the hydrogen and the balloon would explode in a ball of fire.

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Neither kelp nor highlighters were bothered by deadly poisonous predators of Pandora – Hooded Dashers, Spinnerets, Nerve Runners and others, who decimated the human colony. Avata projected into the predators’ mind images which rendered her safe. Kelp was considered a hindrance to colonisation of the planet and it was exterminated by the human settlers. Without the kelp to subdue the fitful rages of tides, the seas of Pandora took over and eroded the two small landmasses, forcing the humans to move into or on the sea.

Genetic material of kelp was preserved in the engineered human clones and the planet-sized consciousness remained in a true kelp-human hybrid, Vata, born to a woman shortly before the demise of the kelp.

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Buraq

Variously spelled Al-burak, Borak, Al-Bouraq etc., all meaning “lightning” in Arabic. Buraq is the animal that Muhammad mounted on the night of his ascension to heaven. The earliest tradition held that Muhammad climbed a ladder to reach the heaven. Later sources introduced a more dignified means – buraq: “smaller that a mule, larger than an ass, with human face, with hoofs and tail of a cow and rump of a horse. The saddle was emerald green, harness of pearls, turquoise stir-ups. In one stride it went as far as the eye could reach.”

The Sura 17 of Koran, which is said to deal with Muhammad’s vision of his ascension, mentions neither the ladder, nor the beast. Buraq first appeared to account for Muhammad’s overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back, a round trip of 1600 miles, which is suggested in the above mentioned Sura 17.

The face of buraq was later changed into the one of a veiled woman. In visual art Muhammad’s image was never shown, only alluded to, by a pink cloud. Since the 14th cen. it became a favourite subject of Persian miniatures. Today buraq often appears on trucks and buses in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A contemporary Indonesian airline is also called Buraq. The saddle is shown to the pilgrims in the Mosque of Al-sakhra in Jerusalem. Muslims of India usually picture buraq with man’s face, with wings and the tail of a peacock.

One legend tells that buraq, on leaving the ground, tipped a jar of water. The Prophet was taken up to the 7th heaven, along the way speaking in each of the heavens with the patriarchs and angels living there, then He crossed the Unity and felt a coldness that chilled his heart when the Lord laid a hand on his shoulder. Man’s time is not commensurable with god’s time: on his return the Prophet raised the jar, out of which not a single drop had yet been spilled.

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Chimera

In Greek “khimaira” is a she-goat. Monster with lion’s head, goat’s body and serpent for tail. Dating from 5th cen BC, it is an ancient symbol of elemental chaos and dangers of land and sea. Born from the union of Echidna and Typhon, Virgil gives her “body all aflame”. It came from Lycia, where ther was a volcano of the same name.

Hesiod held that Chimera had three heads, lion’s at the front, goat’s rising from her spine, and serpent’s at the tip of her tail. Not every classical author took her seriously. Plutarch suggested that Chimera was the name of a pirate captain who adorned his ships with the images of a lion, goat and a snake. Rabelais cracked a joke: ”Can a Chimera, swinging in the void, swallow second intentions?”

Corinthian Bellerophon, riding on a winged horse Pegassus, shot Chimera dead with his arrows.

Bestiary 8

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Salamander

Small lizard living in fire. It is believed to be poisonous. Pliny the Elder, in Book 9 of Historia Naturalis, chapter 67, informs us that salamander casts venom from its mouth. If it touches man or a woman, their hair will fall out and the skin touched will turn white. An antidote was made by brewing stinging nettle in tortoise broth. Pliny then continues: ”it seeks the hottest fire to breed in but quenches it with the extreme frigidity of its body.” Christians took this idea further and made the salamander a symbol of struggle against the desire of the hot flesh. What more, salamander was believed to be genderless, neither male nor female, and therefore could not propagate.

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In the Ancient Egypt the pictograph of salamander became a hieroglyph for a man who died of cold. Despotic king Francis of France used salamander as a symbol of his absolute power. In his coat of arms, salamander was surrounded by flames above the description “I nourish and extinguish.” The notorious 12th cen letter from Prester John to the Emperor of Byzantium states: ”Our realm yields the worm known as salamander. Salamanders live in fire and make cocoons, which our court ladies spin and use to weave cloth and garments. To wash and clean these fabrics they throw them into flames.” Marco Polo attested that salamander was a substance, not an animal. Nobody believed him. Goods woven from asbestos were sold as salamander’s skins, a firm proof of the lizard’s existence.

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In zoology, salamanders are small brightly coloured amphibians. The rare Giant Salamander from Japan (Andrias japonicus), reaching formidable 4 feet in length and 20 lbs in weight, is sadly nearing extinction. Nocturnal, it lives to 50 years of age or more and its meat is said to be very tasty.

Zu

Also spelled Anzu, meaning in both instances “tempest”. Monster bird from Sumer, appearing frequently in Mesopotamian literature, as a manifestation of demonic forces which are dangerous but not always evil. “Zu and the Tablets of Destiny”, an epic tale preserved on clay tablets, recounts how in his greed for power and domination Zu decided to steal from the god Bel the Tablets of Fate and Destiny, which gave the owner the supreme power over men and gods. Entering the Great Hall of Bel, he awaited the coming of a new day. As Bel made the day appear, Zu snatched the tablets from the Bel’s hands and flew off, to hide in the mountains. The sudden shift in the cosmic order had dramatic results. The rivers dried at their source and the gods were helpless. Anu, the sky god, conveyed the assembly of gods. As he calls upon one god to come forth and fight the devious bird, the extant text breaks off.

From inferences in other sources it appears, that after several major deities refused the task, Lugalbanda, then a mortal king of Kish, stepped in and tackled Zu. He invited the bird to a banquet, made him drunk, then slayed him. For his victory he was raised to the ranks of deities and became a god of shepherds. Lugalbanda’s wife, goddess Ninshun, was a mother of Gilgamesh, the 5th king of Uruk.

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The epic of “ Lugalbanda and Eumencar” recounts a totally different encounter with the bird. Zu is said to inhabit the inaccessible peaks of carneol mountains, where his nest is in the top of the eagle tree. He is enormous, herding the wild bulls for supper. Lugalbanda on his travels through the wild mountains of Zabu blunders into the nest of Zu, while the big bird is away and only his young chicks are home. The hero realises he has to approach Zu cautiously and he proceeds to to feed and actually worship its young, decorating them with kohl and white feathers. On his return to his nest, Zu is pleased and return rewards Lugalbanda with supernatural powers. “Gilgamesh and Huluppu-tree” places Zu in the sacred tree which goddess Inanna tended in her garden to make a bed and a seat from it. Huluppu-tree is infested with vermin: a serpent, Zu-bird and demon Lilith. Gilgamesh is summoned to intervene. He kills the serpent with his axe and Zu and Lilith wisely flee.

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Bestiary 7

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Opinicus

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.

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Jabberwock

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.

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Abraxas

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.

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Al Jassassa

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.

Bestiary 6

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Girtablulu

Scorpion people from the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the upper part they were human; instead of legs they had body and legs of scorpions. They guarded the entrance to Mashu Mountains whose peaks reach to the shores of heaven and whose roots descend to hell. Their abode was at the gate where the Sun rose. Scorpion people were awesome of knowledge, their glance was death. They were written about for millennia, but no additional details seem to have emerged.

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Geryon

Geryon means a “Crane” in Greek. In their mythology he was a monster with three heads, three bodies and four wings. Son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe, he was a brother of Echidna. Owner of the famous sunset-tinged cattle whom Heracles had to steal as his 10th task. Flocks were guarded by a two-headed dog Orthus and by shepherd Eurythion. Geryon’s domain was in the furthest west, on the island of Hesperia, west of Spain, where the cattle was herded together with the flocks of Hades.

In pursuit of the Geryon’s cattle Heracles ended up building the Gibraltar Strait, the Pillars of Heracles. While he was at this task, in the blazing sun, he got overheated. In anger he shot his poisonous arrows at Helios, god of Sun. Amused, or frightened, the god lent him his golden cup in which Heracles sailed over the sea to Hesperia. There he was attacked by the dog Orthos. Heracles clubbed him to death, and finished off the guardian Eurytion as well. As he was getting away with the cattle, Menoetes, herdsman of Hades who was in the next pasture, summoned Geryon. The ogre pursued Heracles as far as the river Anthemus where Heracles shot him dead. Many further incidents happened on his way back to Greece (see entries for Cacus and Echidna), before he brought the Geryon’s cattle to his master Eurystheus, who in fear sacrificed them all to Hera.

Geryon ended up as the guardian of the 8th circle of Hell. Placed in the heavens he is the constellation of Orion and his two-headed dog Orthos below him is Canis Major and Canis Minor, with brilliant Sirius as one of its eyes.

In Dante he is a symbol of fraud.

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Garuda

Half man and half eagle of Hindu mythology, vehicle of god Vishnu. Lord of the birds, enemy of snakes and evil-doers, destroyer of nagas. Also called Aksha.

At the beginning of time Garuda hatched from an enormous egg, 500 years after it has been laid . His father was Kasyapata, a Brahman identified with a Pole star, his mother Vinata, one of the daughters of Daksha. From the eggshell Brahma then produced the divine elephants. He has white face, red wings and golden body. His hate of snakes comes from his mother Vinata, who had a long feud with Kadru, her co-wife and mother of all snakes. Vinata lost a wager with Kadru, who demanded the Amrita, the Water of life which conferred immortality, as a ransom.

Garuda entered on a quest. Amrita was kept on a Celestial mountain, surrounded by terrible flames and violent winds. Assuming a golden body, Garuda drank up many rivers and extinguished the fires. A fiercely revolving wheel, sharp-edged and brilliant, protected Amrita, but Garuda diminished his body and entered between the spokes. Two fire-spitting snakes were the guardians. Garuda blinded them with dust and cut them up into pieces. Then, having broken the revolving wheel, he flew forth with the Amrita which was contained in a moon goblet.

Enraged gods followed in pursuit. Indra flung his thunderbolt at Garuda, but the bird suffered no pain and dropped but a single feather. The bolt of Indra was broken, though. When Garuda delivered the Water of Immortality to the demons, his mother was released, but ere the demons could drink, Indra snatched the moon-goblet and flew back to heaven. Demon snakes licked the grass where the goblet was placed by Garuda and their tongues were divided into two forks. Vishnu then chose Garuda as his vehicle and made him immortal. Wings are rare in Hindu mythology, as there is no need for them. Protagonists either soar through the space or ride the flying vehicles. Garuda is an exception. His wings are so powerful that with the wind from their motion he can stay the rotation of the three worlds.

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Green man

An ancient archetype of interaction between man and nature, symbol of irrepressible life. We know green man from thousands of carvings, from ancient days to middle ages, but he is seldom found in literature.

He appears as part of Dionysian rites on the Roman triumphal arches, or as Okeanus, Bacchus with beard of seaweed. He is found on the entire European continent, from Spain in the West, all the way out to Cathedral of St.Dimitri in Vladimir, in Russia,(built 1193-7). The most impressive carvings come from the gothic cathedrals of Europe (“The Green Man of Bamberg”). Over 40 heads look through the foliage in Royal Portal of Cathedral of Charters (cca 1150). We find him on Cathedral of Poitiers (13th cen), as Mantegna’s self portrait in Ducal Palace (1474), and on the main gates to Kew Gardens, executed by D.Burton in 1843.

One of the rare appearances in literature comes from the cycle of Arthurian Legends. A completely green knight in green armour on a green horse arrives to Avalon and issues a strange challenge to the most valorous of the knights. The combatant is to cut off the head of the Green Knight, then and there, under one condition. In a year’s time the challenger is to come to the castle of the Green Knight, and the master will then cut off his head in turn. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and beheads the Green Knight. Unperturbed, the green rider picks up his own severed head and gallops away. Naturally, honour compels Sir Gawain to keep his end of the bargain and the long story continues.

An interesting tale about the Green Man of Knowledge survived in British oral tradition, and was recorded in 1954 in Aberdeen, showing that Green man and his heritage is well and alive.

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Grendel

Giant cannibal of Norse legends. Part human, part sea-monster. Protected by sorcerous spells, so no weapon could pierce his hide. For 12 years he haunted the Heorot, the Golden Hall of Victory of king Hrothgar of Danemark. At night, after the satiated heroes fell into a drunken slumber, Grendel came, slaughtered them and feasted on their bodies. During the day he lived with his ogress mother in a great hall on the bottom of a deep stagnant mere in the heart of the black-dark forest. Her hall was full of serpents and misshapen creatures. Here Grendel kept the hoards of weapons and gold he stole from the murdered warriors.

Legendary English hero Beowulf came to visit the Danish king and stayed the night in Heorot, despite the warning of the king Hrothgar. That same night Grendel came to feed. Knowing that the weapons were useless against the protective spells of Grendel, Beowulf seized the monster by his arm and after a struggle he wrenched it off the shoulder. Screaming Grendel fled to die in his lair. Jubilant Danes hung his arm as a gory trophy from the rafters of Heorod. Next night the ogress mother came to claim it. Beowulf had to fight again. He descended into the mere, down to the ogress hall under the water and with his charmed sword cut her head off. Curse of Heorot was thus lifted.