My mother has long been wary about the seals in our waters. I grew up just a city block away from the water–a rocky coastline interspersed by a mix of sand and pebble beaches. There was quite a lot of marine life off the shore, as divers were happy to show to elementary school classes. Rockfish, octopi, Perch, all sorts of crabs, mussels, clams, the occasional jelly and–once in a blue moon–we could spot whales, porpoises, and dolphins off the coast.
Needless to say, seals were rather abundant. Each harbour had dockside places that sold seal food, and there were always a couple of harbour seals hanging around for goodies.
I don’t think my mom ever bought it. She did not want to encourage the seals. I must have been six or seven when she watched The Secret of Roan Innish, but the movie left a lasting impression on her. The plot revolves around a small community in Ireland, and a family that had, around the time that the main character’s brother had been born, moved away from their old home on Roan Innish. The main character’s brother was lost in the move somehow, and there were rumours of how the boy had been seen, using his cradle for a boat, rocking through the waters accompanied by seals.
We learn about how the protagonist’s ancestor had married a Selkie–a seal person–and how, when the family moved away from Roan Innish in modern times, the other side of the family, the Selkie side, simply reclaimed its descendant.
After watching the movie, Mom became newly aware of just how many seals were in the waters around her house. And just how interested they seemed to be in me.
She wasn’t keen on the idea of ‘reclamation’.
Selkies are shapeshifters. By shedding their seal skin they become human. However, they need the skin to regain their seal form. A general plot for Selkie stories is as such: A man falls in love with a Selkie woman, the man steals the Selkie’s seal skin to prevent her from returning to the sea. Maybe the Selkie falls in love with the human, too. Except for the Selkie giving the sea sad, longing looks, all is happy, they have kids, they make a life, etc. Somehow, the Selkie gets her skin back–either by finding where the human had hidden it, or by one of the children asking, innocently, “why does Daddy/Mommy keep a seal skin in the rafters?” Once she has the skin, she returns to the sea. She may or may not come back to visit the children.
Male Selkies are supposed to be very handsome and seductive. They seek out dissatisfied women. Supposedly, they can be summoned by shedding seven tears into the ocean.
The Secret of Roan Innish has some great scenes of just-transformed Selkies, though most of the Selkies stay in seal form for the movie.
Generally, Selkies are considered benign. However, there appears to be some ancient correlation with the malign Finfolk, with some island mythology stating that Selkies and Finfolk are one and the same and that Selkies aren’t all that nice at all.
And perhaps my Mom was right to treat seals with some wariness, as there is seal-boy in Chinook mythology. That’s fairly close to home. And there have been a lot of seal encounters in my life. Close encounters. Personally, if those are Selkies, I think they’re less interested in kidnapping than with seeing the look on my mom’s face whenever she sees them.
Selkies on Wikipedia
Edit: You know, the second I hit “publish” all the photo credit vanished. So, here it is: All photos used in this post were taken by Parker Knight at Flickr and are used under the Creative Commons license. Each photo links with the original on Flickr.
Not to be confused with the Australian dog breed, Kelpies have been my favourite supernatural creature since… well, since my neighbour told me about them when I was seven. They are also another example of how fairies aren’t all Tinkerbell.
Perhaps it has something to do with my unwavering love of all things horse-like.
Kelpies are shape-shifters that tend to take on the shape of a water horse. In this shape, they are generally dripping wet, have seal-like skin (wet and cold as death). They may also have water reeds in their mane. Some myths say they are green with black mane and tail. Others say white.
There are many water horse variations all across the UK and Ireland (Kelpie, nuggle, glashtin/cabbyl-ushtey, Ceffyl Dŵr, each uisge), and Scandinavia (Bäckahästen [brook horse], nøkken, nykur), are shape-shifting water-creatures that like to take on the shape of horses.
In human shape, the only way to tell that they’re a Kelpie is by the water reeds. There will always be at least one in the hair.
The story generally goes that the Kelpie will appear as a beautiful horse near a river or lake. It will lure people into riding it and, once the people are aboard, will then jump into the deepest part of the water, drown them, and then eat everything except for the heart of the liver.
That is the general story. It is modified in places for the variations: the Kelpie, for instance, generally inhabits streams or rivers; the each uisge inhabits the sea or lochs; the Ceffyl Dŵr, although associated with water (appearing close to pools and waterfalls), tends to have a more mist-like property. It is a water horse, but it may only trample its victims rather than eat them.
There are tales of good deeds done by Kelpies. Having the strength of ten horses makes them rather useful. One tale tells of a Kelpie working a mill while the farmer slept so that, in the morning, all the work was done.
Other tales tell of how people have tricked Kelpies: one farmer’s daughter was approached by a Kelpie who offered to pull her plough. She accepted. The Kelpie, using its super-strength, ploughed the field very fast. On the last row, he dug in and pulled for the nearby brook. She grasped her cross or bible and threw herself from the plough, getting away just before he plunged into the stream.
Mythical horses have long been associated with water. Poseidon was the God of both oceans and horses. Pegasus is his son and could make springs with the strike of his hoof. Additionally, there are also hippocamps, the undersea fish-horses that pull Triton’s chariot. They appear winged in some places.
Here is the Wiki article on Kelpies.
And just a reminder that today is the last day to sign up for Elle Casey’s Massive Sprintime Book Giveaway!
The painting is something I commissioned a few years ago for a book project that will never see the light of day. Done by my friend at http://wolflingart.com/ .
As I was looking through my blog today, I got the strange feeling that I was missing something.
That’s right. I forgot to link over to my Cabin Goddess Fourth Wall Friday experience!
Check it out! This is waaaaaaaay back in April, and I’m mortified that I forgot to share it on the blog. Gah! It offers a look inside the world of The Mieshka Files, with cameos by Kitty, Roger and Mieshka.
Keep an eye out for Monster Monday tomorrow. I think I will talk about Kelpies.
Right. Well. Better late than never, right?
Sorry, no pictures this time. The description of this creature, however, is very specific.
The Nuckelavee (or Nuckalavee) is my go-to creature to prove that fairies aren’t all sunshine and bubbles. This is probably the first creature I have highlighted that actually qualifies as ‘monster’.
It hails from Orkney Island mythology and, although it lives in the ocean, it habitually wanders onto land to raise hell. It seems to be invincible, except for an aversion to fresh water (if you cross a freshwater stream, it won’t follow you), and only the mercy of the Mither o’ the Sea (Sea Mother) will reliably stop it terrorizing the land and send it back into the ocean.
The Nuckelavee is not nice at all. And it looks as nasty as it acts. First picture a centaur, except and deformed. Some tales say that is isn’t like the usual man/horse centaur shape, but more like a horse and rider merged into one mutated creature. The human head is 10 times normal size and has one glowing red eye. The human arms are far too long, hanging down below the horse’s barrel. The horse’s legs have fin-like attributes to it, which makes sense due to its deep-water living quarters.
And it is completely without skin. Just a big, quivering mass of muscle and tendon; black blood pulsing through yellow veins.
There’s no mistaking this creature for anything else. This thing is so evil that it’s name is still taboo among the superstitious.
Apart from random, night-time, terror-raising strolls among the island countryside, the Nuckelavee has one tick that sets him into a rage. He does not like it when people burn seaweed (Kelp). If he notices seaweed being burned, he goes mad with anger. He starts a plague that begins on the island that burned the seaweed, spreading through the rest to kill cattle, horses, sheep, crops, everything. At this point, only the Mither o’ the Sea can stop him.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s entry! Here’s the Nuckelavee Wiki article and another page I referenced which has tonnes of information on Orkney mythology if you’re interested.
All right, I couldn’t find enough about the Panguan/Banguan/Taoist Magistrates from Hell to make a post on them. I did find a picture that I can use, however, and a few Japanese Wiki pages that use the same characters for the word, which makes me think they may have jumped countries at some point. However, those same characters are also used for normal, everyday justice system judges.
Anyway. Here there be dragons!
The first thing you need to know about the Eastern version of this popular mythological creature is that it is everywhere. As part of the Four Divine Creature/Benevolent Animals of Chinese mythological ranking, Dragons have been popular in China since before the first Emperor (Chin/Qin, the guy who ‘built’ the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army mausoleum.) conquered his way to a unified China some 2200 years ago (There was a dragon stature excavated that dated back between 4700-2900 BC). As far as the royal ranking system goes, only the emperor and his family (excepting the Empress, who wore a Phoenix) were allowed to wear dragons on their clothes. The emperor’s robes had nine dragons on them, while others would have a lesser number. High ranking officials had other creatures/animals to symbolize their rank: Scholars went with birds, starting with the ‘Paradise Flycatcher’ and moving through Quail, Duck, Egret, Silver Pheasant, Wild Goose, Peacock, Golden Pheasant, and ending with the Crane as the highest; the military started with Sea Horse, Rhinocerous, Panther, Bear, Tiger, Leopard, Lion, and ending with Qilin at the highest.
Fun note: The Dragon’s popularity and power status took a jump in the Qin (the first Emperor’s) dynasty. Where before it had been ranking the third most powerful Divine Creature, it jumped ahead of the Phoenix and the Qilin to become the most powerful. In Japan, which follows the pre-Qin model, it is still the third-most-powerful. The other creature is the Tortoise, in case you were wondering.
Chinese dragons traditionally are associated with water, being able to control storms, floods, droughts, etc.; event Dilong (literally, ‘Earth Dragon’) is associated with water—the name is a pairing, with Dilong’s opposite being Tianlong (‘Heavenly Dragon’ or “Sky Dragon’). The water association itself is to contrast with the Phoenix (Fenghuang).
Dragons represent power, strength, and good luck. No wonder the Emperor wanted them as a symbol.
In China, there are a lot of things with dragon names or a relationship with dragons. Longmen (Dragon Gate. Long means Dragon.) is a popular name—not only for the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, but for a a fabled gate where a carp could change into a dragon (this was hard to find on Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_carp#In_Chinese_culture). In my city, off the top of my head, we have Black Dragon Pool, Dragon Fist Road, Dragon Gate (another Longmen, which is located on top of a nearby mountain and offers great views of the city), and Panlong River (Dragon Boat River).
Excepting the exclusivity of the Emperor’s clothing, Dragons are used to adorn many things. The image above was taken from the ceiling of a covered walkway in the Taoist complex of Black Dragon Pool. Dragons are regularly used on gates, temples (acting a bit like gargoyles in some places), ancient sets of bells, teaware, furniture, ships, carriages, guns… most things under the sun, really.
In the first picture, the two outside dragons were from the buildings of the Black Dragon Pool Taoist temple complex; the middle one comes from a predominantly Buddhist temple complex called the Bamboo Temple.
Dragons in Japan
Like in China, Japanese dragons are often associated with water. Many of them are water deities. Some famous dragons are the Sea God or Dragon God that lives at the bottom of the ocean in the Dragon Palace (there is, in Chinese literature, a ‘Dragon King of the East Sea’. The Monkey King visits him in the Chinese epic Journey to the West. Japan also uses the ‘Dragon Kind of the East Sea’ but I do not know if there is any relationship between this dragon king and the Sea God/Dragon God, who may be more indigenous.). Yamato-no-Orochi, who I had originally thought was a snake, is classified as a dragon on Wikipedia. He has eight heads and eight tales, a habit of taking female sacrifices and boozing, and is made legend by his defeat at the hands of Susanoo, a Shinto storm god that had been exiled from heaven.
Other dragons have been translated from Buddhist scriptures into Japanese forms. This holds true for China as well, as the scriptures passed through China to Korea and Japan.
Although Buddhist in nature, there are plenty of tales of dragons living in rivers and pools. Mizuchi, although it seems to be indigenous, shares the same characters as a few Chinese dragons of the same ilk. This was a famous dragon to whom the Emperor made sacrifices after the Emperor’s engineers angered it.
I am far too underqualified to even begin analyzing the history and connections between these mythologies.
Dragons in Korea
Korea seems to have taken a lot of its Dragon mythology from China, which would make sense since it is closer to China. They are bringers of rain, clouds, associated with agriculture, and live in pools, rivers, and lakes.
A notable difference is how a dragon becomes a dragon. In Korea, it is believed that dragons evolve from Imugis if they catch a Yeouiju (Dragon Orb) that falls from heaven.
Korea also has the Dragon Cockatrice, which is rarer than a dragon, and are cometimes depicted as pulling the chariots of legendary figures or their parents. The Kingdom of Silla’s princess was said to be hatched from a Dragon Cockatrice egg (although, looking at Silla’s Wikipedia page, it seems that the King was born from an egg laid by a white horse. No mention of the princess when I skimmed.).
Phew. That was a long post. I hope it made up for the tardiness!
Cool links that I referenced:
Ranking Heraldry in Ancient China
Although Wikipedia isn’t comprehensive on Chinese mythology, it does have a neat list of Chinese Dragons.
Mother of Dragons—Ancient Daenerys Targaryen?
Chinese Dragon Wikipedia Page
My trusty laptop is heading into That Good Night. And, although we are fighting against the dying of the light, it’s a bit hard to fight against the dying of the hard drive.
A secondary file back up is running as I type this. Worst-case scenario, my friend and I will Frankenstein another hard drive into the laptop. I will be back in Canada in June. I will make the laptop limp there if I have to.
However, I’ve decided to write up enough Monster Mondays to last until mid-June. I’m open to suggestions as of what to write about!
If not, I’ve got plenty of ideas.
This week’s Monster Monday will come either later on today or tomorrow. I want to feature the Panguan/Banguan, Chinese Bureaucratic Demon Clerks in Hell, but information on them is rather difficult to find. Failing that, I shall feature the Phoenix or Eastern Dragons.
Right. So you might have noticed a rather quiet blog for the past wee or two. I shall be making up for it this week, with a few presentations of mythological creatures that you may or may not have heard about.
Today, I will talk about Chang’e, who was most popularly introduced to the West around the same time as the Jade Rabbit, via a transmission from NASA to the crew of Apollo 11 just before the first Lunar Landing:
Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
Buzz Aldrin: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.
The first variation of the Chang’e mythology goes like this:
Chang’e and her husband, Houyi the Archer, were Immortals who worked in the Jade Palace. One day, the Jade Emperor’s sons transformed into ten suns that scorched the Earth. To save the Earth, Houyi shot down nine of the sons, sparing the tenth to become the Sun.
The Jade Emperor was not happy with this outcome. He banished both Houyi and Chang’e to live as mortals on Earth.
After living on Earth for a while, Houyi has noticed how miserable his wife was with mortal life. He decides to go on a quest to restore their immortality.
The quest itself is a whole other story. He eventually receives the pill of immortality from the Queen Mother of the West (the West being the land of paradise and mysticism, possibly since the Buddhist scriptures came from India, which lies west of China), who warns him that only half the pill is required for immortality, and returns to the home where he and Chang’e live.
Someone (I forget exactly who, though I equate them with the snake in paradise and they might possible be Feng Meng, Houyi’s apprentice that I see referenced in one of the Wikipedia versions) tells her that Houyi was selfish and only brought one pill back. That Houyi planned to ascend to heaven without her.
That someone convinces her to swallow it. Since she swallows the entire pill, the overdose makes her start to float. Up and up she goes, until she is on the moon.
There are a few variations of the tale, but it always has the same basic elements: Chang’e was banished from heaven to be mortal, Houyi gets a magic pill of immortality, and Chang’e eats the whole pill and floats to the moon.
Fun fact: The Chinese Lunar Probes are all named after Chang’e.
Chang’e is worshipped on the Mid-Autumn Festival, which occurs around October. The moon around that time is supposed to be the most fullest and roundest, and it opposes the New Moon of Spring Festival/Chinese New Year.
As always, Wikipedia is a great source for mythology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chang%27e
“Monster Monday” doesn’t really fit so well, does it? When have I ever presented a true “Monster”? And, considering the tardiness of this most, I might as well rename it “Mid-Week Mythology”.
I thought I’d introduce the Chinese-Korean-Japanese story of the Rabbit in the Moon. Coincides nicely with Easter.
Known as the Jade Rabbit, the Chinese version has the rabbit constantly pounding a mortar and pestle to make the Elixer of Immortality—possibly for his companion up there, Chang’e (a woman who was tricked into taking too much of the Elixer and floated up to the moon, forever separated from her husband); more probably for the rest of the immortals. In Japan and Korea, the rabbit is pounding the ingredients for rice cake.
In some texts, the Rabbit is accompanied by a toad.
Alternatively, according to Buddhist legend, there were three or four animals who wanted to practice charity for a day. Depending on the place, these animals are jackal, otter, rabbit and monkey; or Fox, monkey and rabbit. They came upon an old man who was hungry and begged for food. The otter gathered fish from streams, the monkey gathered fruits from trees, and the jackal pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The Rabbit, however, could only gather grass. Instead of offering grass, the rabbit offered his body and threw himself on the beggar’s fire.
The rabbit was nor burnt. Instead, the beggar revealed himself to be Śakra—the ruler of the second heaven in Buddhist cosmology—and, touched by the Rabbit’s sacrifice, drew the Rabbit’s effigy on the moon.
Another version of this same tale results in the beggars (three in this version) revealing themselves as sages, gifting the Rabbit immortality, and raising him to the moon.
There are other tales of the Moon-Rabbit from around the world. A few Mezoamerican, which alternately involve a similar sacrifice from a rabbit to a starving Quetzalcoatl or have a rabbit thrown up at the moon in disgust because the God who sacrificed himself to make the moon hesitated.
A Cree story tells of a rabbit who wanted to ride the moon. Only the crane would take him. This trip is why cranes’ legs are so long—since the rabbit clung to them for the trip, they stretched.
A Qilin (qílín, ch’i-lin) is so far from the term “monster” that the comparison is laughable.
Qilin are the Chinese version of the Unicorn. Also known as Kylin, and Kirin in Japanese and Korean, seeing this four-legged animal is an omen of extreme good luck, with prosperity and serenity following in its cloven-hoofprints. It heralds the arrival and passing of a particularly wise sage or benevolent ruler. According to legend, the first Qilin appeared in the Yellow Emperor’s garden in 2697 BC.
So, what does this thing look like anyway? Well, there are a few different descriptions. Some think of it as more of a chimaera-type creature: Head of a dragon, body of a tiger with scales instead of fur; or (from Brittanica’s description) with a single horn, yellow belly, multicoloured back, the body of a deer, the hooves of a horse, and the tail of an ox. It is often depicted with fire on its body.
Depictions vary depending on the Chinese Dynasty: in the Jin dynasty (265-420), the Qilin is depicted with the body of a powerful hooved beast, scales, a dragon head, and wreathed with smoke and fire; in the Ming (1368-1644), it has oxen-like hooves, a dragon-like head, paired horns and flame-like head decorations; in the Qing (1644-1911–the last Dynasty), it has the usual dragon-head with deer-like antlers, the skin and scales of a fish, the tail of a lion, and the hooves of oxen.
In Korea, Kirin started off more deer-like but became more horse-like as time progressed. In Japan, the Kirin is ranked as the most powerful creature (which follows the pre-Qin dynasty hierarchy. The Qin dynasty is the dynasty which built the Great Wall and standardized a lot of things, such as the writing system and axel-length of carts. The modern name for China is thought to be derived from it, although it may also be derived from the Kitai empire). Nowadays, the Qilin is third-most powerful in the Chinese hierarchy.
It has often been compared with a Giraffe. In fact, the Japanese word for Giraffe is kirin. During the Ming dynasty, two Giraffes were brought to Nanjing and referred to as Qilin.
The Qilin has a very Jainist approach to life: it will not harm or tread upon any living thing. It does not eat flesh, and only punishes the wicked. It is very benign unless a pure person is threatened by a sinner. Then it becomes very fierce and fiery. Literally. Fire-breathing.
It is part of the Four Benevolent Animals, which include the Phoenix, the Dragon, and the Tortoise.
And yes, these two silver-coloured ones are frolicking on my window-sill. They’re female-male pair bought in Lijiang’s tourist trap area.
As always, Wikipedia is awesome.