Category Archives: Folk Lore
Also called: Black Pete, Black Peter, Père Fouettard, Schwaarze Péiter
Etymology: Black Peter
December has come and with it many familiar Winter Celebrations and Holidays.
The Dutch character of Zwarte Piet is one mired in controversy and folklore. In the folklore of the Low Countries of Europe, Zwarte Piet is a companion to Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas if you please in Dutch. Saint Nicholas is also synonymous with Santa Claus for those living in the US. Unfortunately for the character of Zwarte Piet, he has come under a lot of controversy and allegations of racism in recent years, especially among the Netherland’s migrant community.
Zwarte Piet is traditionally depicted as being black as he’s said to either be a Moor from Spain or to have gotten black from going down chimneys delivering presents. Many people who dress up as Zwarte Piet, dress in colorful Renaissance Page outfits, blackface makeup, curly wigs, red lipstick, and earrings. The character of Zwarte Piet that most people in the Netherlands have become familiar with first appeared in a book written by Jan Schenkman in 1850.
The Feast Of Saint Nicholas – December 5-6th
Where many American children get excited for Santa Claus on December 25th, in Europe, children get excited for Saint Nicholas’ arrival on December 5th (Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands) or 6th (Belgium and Luxembourg). His arrival is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Zwarte Pieten for plural) who hands out sweets and presents to many children. Zwarte Pieten will begin to make their appearances in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’ Feast. Their first appearance is when Saint Nicholas arrives and is greeted with a parade. In some parts of the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas will arrive by boat, having come all the way from Madrid, Spain. The Zwarte Pieten’s job then is to entertain the children, handing out sweets known as pepernoten, kruidnoten and strooigoed as Saint Nicholas makes his rounds.
Zwarte Piet’s Origins – Clash Of Cultures, Religion & Traditions
For anyone who even does just a cursory study of the Winter Celebrations of Christmas and the numerous related holidays for this time of year, can see that there has been a constant, evolving and changing view of how the Winter Holidays and Traditions have changed or adapted over the centuries and even millennia.
Many people can easily find and take note of Pagan elements for the holidays and why they were celebrated. The arrival of a new religion, Christianity as it spread and took over, clearly supplanted many of these older holidays and often the older Pagan traditions were adapted to the Christian celebrations of Christmas with new Christian imagery and symbolism.
Sometimes the origin and introduction of one tradition are clear cut and easy to point out and other times the passage of time has made it murky and there tends to be a lot of guesswork and overlay that makes it harder to separate all of the different elements. Ultimately it is a mixture and grab bag of different religions and traditions that have mixed together and changed over the years.
The Wild Hunt – Odin
I’ll include this connection as it is one that is often passed around and it does appear to bear merit.
The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures of a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught and forced to join the Wild Hunt or they can evade the Hunt until dawn.
Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. One connection made is that of Woden or Odin in Germanic folklore. On New Year’s Eve, Woden would ride out during the night on his white, eight-legged steed Sleipnir. Woden or Odin is always accompanied by his two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn. These two ravens would sit at the edge of a chimney, listening to those within and then tell Woden of any good or bad behavior of those living in the dwelling. This report would determine if Woden left any gifts or chased down and abducted the unruly mortal with his Wild Hunt.
Middle Eastern Connections?
I came across this when doing research for the figure of Hajji Firuz.
Just as Zwarte Piet is paired up with Sinterklaas, so too is Hajji Firuz paired up with Amu Nowruz.
Where Sinterklaas is known to give gifts out to children, so too does Amu Nowruz give out gifts to children on Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Amu Nowruz’s name means “Uncle Nowruz.” The Russians hold a similar tradition of the “Grandfathers” for both Winter and Spring who die and are replaced by the other or reborn. The tradition of gift-giving doesn’t become associated with some of the European deities until the arrival of Christianity.
The character of Hajji Firuz has also been under similar attacks by people who see a negative racist implication in some countries such as Iran. Despite this, many people still love Hajji Firuz and the air of festivities he brings. His darkened skin is often seen as only face paint representing soot from a fire.
Exactly how good of a connection there is between Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet with Amu Nowruz and Hajji Firuz? It’s hard to say, though the similarities between the two are interesting to note.
Sinterklaas, You’re The Devil
To better understand Zwarte Piet, one needs to understand who Sinterklaas is. Unlike the American Santa Claus who is seen as fat and jolly, Sinterklaas is a thin and stern man who is a combined figure of both Saint Nicholas from Turkey and the Germanic god Woden.
Saint Nicholas – From Myra, Turkey, Saint Nicholas is a Catholic Bishop who rides on his white horse, Amerigo as he travels. He is the patron saint of children, sailors and the city of Amsterdam. There are stories of Saint Nicholas leaving gifts in choir boys’ shoes and throwing money down chimneys to pay for a girl’s dowry that has contributed to the modern celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day and Christmas.
Woden – It has been pointed out that Woden is a god of poetry and wisdom. He is also the god who brought and introduced runes, the writing system. This is seen in the Dutch traditions of singing songs, writing poems and the passing out of pepernoten. Even Sinterklaas’ hat and staff are a reflection of Woden and not just that of Saint Nicholas, a stern catholic bishop riding on his white horse. Though the horse too is a reflection of Woden’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir that he rides. Woden’s helpers are the ravens, Huginn and Muninn who report back to him of all of mens’ deeds.
The connections of Sinterklaas traditions to Pagan Europe before its Christianization is fairly well known. And since then, there has been a further, continued mixing of Christian elements to a Pagan figure. Some of which haven’t always been completely smooth or “nice and tidy” changes. Nor has the image of Sinterklaas always been so benign.
Before the appearance of any companions for Sinterklaas, he would be the one to deliver gifts to good children or coal and switches to naughty children. At this point, he pretty much worked alone.
Sinterklaas wasn’t a very nice figure and one who could also provide a lot of nightmares. With the influence of Christianity and wanting everything in absolutes of black and white, the imagery of Sinterklaas chaining the devil became prominent as the triumph of light over darkness. This is a theme very central to the Yule-tide celebrations for the turning of the year as the nights now begin to grow shorter and the days longer.
Sidenote: I had notes say the pepernoot would have letters on them and made of chocolate. The pepernoot doesn’t have to be made of chocolate. That these letters represented runes that Woden would pass out to men. I did find, looking at this closer, that the tossing of pepernoten at children, especially a baby stems from an old fertility rite where Sinterklaas is blessing them.
Medieval Times – Enslaving The Devil
During the Medieval Times of Europe, Saint Nicholas is sometimes shown as having tamed or chained the devil. This figure may or may not necessarily be black. For the Netherlands, there is no mention of any devil, servant or any sort of companion for Saint Nicholas between the 16th and up to the last half of the 19th centuries.
A long-standing theory then has suggested that Zwarte Piet and many of the similar characters found in Germanic Europe such as Krampus in Austria, Ruprecht in Germany, Père Fouettard and Housécker (Mr. Bogeyman has been offered translation of this name) in France and Luxembourg, and Schmutzli in Switzerland to name a few.
While all the others dark helpers of Sinterklaas are outright devils or dark, soot covered men, the image of Zwarte Piet is the only one who seems to have changed to become an outright black person. That when we get to the 19th and 20th century Netherlands, Piet has become a Moor and servant to Saint Nicholas who helps the old man out on his nightly rounds.
Zwarte Piet’s Arrival To Dutch Traditions
By the time Zwarte Piet is introduced to the mythos of Christmas as a companion of Sinterklass, there has been a change in the overall attitude of Sinterklaas’ nature and character. Before Zwarte Piet, Sinterklaas was seen as something of a bogeyman. Was he bringing presents, coal, a beating with a switch or worse yet, carrying you away in his bag never to be seen again?
With the introduction of Zwarte Piet, some of the darker, more terrifying attributes of Sinterklaas were now part of Zwarte Piet’s character. This change owes a lot to the Christian dichotomy of Good and Evil with no in-betweens. While Zwarte Piet is introduced as Sinterklaas’ servant, it is still very much connected to the previously mentioned concept of chaining and enslaving the devil.
Unfortunately, with Zwarte Piet now getting all of these negative characteristics, many children became afraid of Zwarte Piet as he’s the one who now punishes and a bogeyman to be avoided. This again was changed around the 1950’s and 1960’s with Sinterklaas again becoming the sterner and dour of the two while Zwarte Piet becomes more of a benign figure passing out gifts and treats along with behaving in a clownish manner that children love.
Codifying A Legend
The earliest mention of Sinterklaas having a companion or servant is in 1850 when a school teacher, Jan Schenkman published the book: “Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht” (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”). At first, this early servant is a page boy, a dark-skinned person wearing the clothing of the Moors. This book introduced the tradition of Sinterklaas arriving by steamboat from Spain. This version of Saint Nicholas has no mention to his Turkish connection in Myra.
In the first edition of Schenkman’s book, the servant is shown dressed in simple white clothing with red piping. Beginning with the second edition of the book in 1858, the servant’s page outfit becomes more colorful that is more typical of early Spanish fashions. Schenkman’s book stayed in print until 1950 and has shaped much of the Netherland traditions and celebrations of Saint Nicholas’ Day.
What’s In A Name?
The one thing to note is that in Schenkman’s book, Sinterklaas’ servant isn’t named. However, Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm had made reference to Sinterklaas’ companion being named Pieter-me-knecht in a note written to E.J. Potgieter in 1850. Alberdingk Thijm later wrote in 1884 remembering how as a child in 1828, he had gone to a Saint Nicholas celebration at the home of Dominico Arata, an Italian merchant living in Amsterdam. He recalled that during this time, Saint Nicholas had been accompanied by “Pieter me Knecht …, a frizzy haired Negro”, who, instead of a switch to punish children with, carried a large basket filled with presents.
The Dutch newspaper, De Tijd in 1859 took note of how Saint Nicholas was often seen in the company of “a Negro, who, under the name of Pieter, mijn knecht, is no less popular than the Holy Bishop himself.”
By 1891, the book Het Feest van Sinterklaas names Sinterklaas’ servant Pieter. Up until around 1920, there had been a number of books giving this servant varying names and even appearances.
By 1920, as the Dutch celebrations of Sinterklaas became more standardized, the name of this servant became Zwarte Piet. At first, he was portrayed as being dull-witted, clumsy and speaking broken-Dutch.
WWII – After the liberation of the Netherlands, Canadian soldiers who were helping to organize the Saint Nicholas celebration and distribute out presents, dressed up as Zwarte Piet. As these numerous Zwarte Pieten moved through Amsterdam passing out their gifts, the idea of more than one Piet stuck and has continued.
All of these Pieten all have different tasks and roles in helping Sinterklaas. Some of these other Pieten are: Hoofdpiet, Navigation Piet, Present-Wrapping Piet, Pepernoten Piet and so on. The antics of Piet have also taken on being more silly and clownish to entertain children.
A Saint’s Miracle and Dutch Slavery
Unfortunately, this is a fact of history and since the codification of Zwarte Piet to be seen as black and a servant of Saint Nicholas, somewhere along the lines it has clearly become confused. The Christian belief of Saint Nicholas chaining the devil has likely, subconsciously gotten confused with the actual slavery. In the 15th century, the name of Black Peter was an alternative name for the devil.
Contributing to this legend is a story from the Legenda Aurea as retold by Eelco Verwijs in 1863, one of the miraculous deeds performed by the Saint after his death is that of freeing a slave boy in the “Emperor of Babylon’s” court and returning him to his parents. In this story, there is no mention at all of the child’s skin color.
Another thing to be noted about the date of 1863, is that this is when the Dutch abolished slavery, though it would still take a little bit of time for the last slave to fully be free.
Later books found in the 20th century of both fiction and non-fiction began to appear wherein Zwarte Piet is mentioned as a former slave that had been freed by Saint Nicholas and then stays on to become a friend and companion, helping him out in the Saint’s annual visits to the children.
During the 1500’s to 1850 roughly, the Dutch did engage in slavery that helped to build up their empire over three continents and places like Suriname and Indonesia. It’s surprising to see that for a nation that had such a deep investment with slavery, that it is largely still glossed over in the classrooms for history. While the Dutch did not keep many slaves, the West India Trade Company did transport thousands of slaves to other parts of the world.
Other Takes On Zwarte Piet
High Barbary – Piracy – One take on explaining Zwarte Piet as black is that he’s a Moor from Spain. A few stories of Zwarte Piet’s origins connect him with piracy and the raids that the Moors would conduct along the coasts of Europe. So if Piet isn’t wearing a page’s outfit, he’s dressed as either a Moor or in a pirate’s garb. Hence the gold earrings that Piet used to wear.
Chimney Sweep – In the 1950’s, another explanation often given to try and soften the image of Zwarte Piet and resolve the issue of slavery is that Zwarte Piet is a chimney sweep. So Piet’s skin is black from going down the chimneys delivering gifts to children. In places like Belgium, Zwarte Piet will leave the gifts in children’s shoes much like La Befana leaves gifts in the shoes of Italian children.
This explanation of soot often isn’t accepted as people will point out that Piet still has curly or frizzy black hair, red lips and more importantly, that his clothes are still immaculately clean.
Crime & Punishment
Before being a gift-giver of Sinterklass, Zwarte Piet would be the one to punish naughty children. Some of the punishments he would dole out are:
*The least of a child’s worries is receiving a lump of coal as a reminder to be good.
*Some bad children will get a “roe” – which is a bundle of twigs or switches.
*If a child was really naughty, he or she might be hit with that roe or switch.
*Particularly bad children get carried away back to Spain where Sinterklaas lives. This part of the legend and punishment is a reference to the times when the Moors raided along the European coasts and would abduct people into slavery.
Also, depending on the version of this part of the myth being told, the bad children carried away in the sack either become Pieten themselves or get eaten.
Signs & Changes Of The Times
Of course, once the image of Zwarte Piet became standardized, it took off in the Netherlands in the early 20th century and instead of doling out punishments, Zwarte Piet hands out treats from his bag and continues his role as Sinterklaas’ helper.
Towards the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century, the character of Zwarte Piet has come under attack as many people see the character to be very racist in some very negative portrayals of stereotypes. At current, there have been discussions on how to update the image of Piet to try and remove the racist elements to others outright calling for Piet’s being banned from the Saint Nicholas celebrations.
There have been efforts to try and ease this problem, some like the NPS replacing the black Pieten with a rainbow of Pieten. Others have called for alterations to characteristics of Zwarte Piet to be changed such as the frizzy hair, red lips, and no earrings. Other proposed changes put forth by the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism have been to stop the portrayals of Zwarte Piet as being “stupid, inferior or a dangerous black man.” Even the use of blackface makeup with Zwarte Piet has caused a lot of debate. If Piet is supposed to be black from the soot while going down chimneys, he should only look smudged, not totally black. And certainly other countries such as the US and the UK when first encountering Zwarte Piet see a very strong negative connotation with the use of blackface when portraying a black person.
There are many Dutch and those who celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in places such as Aruba, Curaçao, Indonesia, Sint Maarten, and Suriname who do not see a problem with Zwarte Piet and accept an evolution of a character to become a friend of children and a positive representation of color in the Christmas/Winter traditions. To them, he’s just black, but not necessarily of African descent and is more of a fairy tale type figure who delivers gifts and has become removed from the enslaved devil he once was.
The argument then is trying to get an awareness that how Zwarte Piet has been depicted is a caricature and very much so negative stereotypes of black people. Namely with the afro hair, thick red lips and being shown as too buffoonish.
While there are efforts to try and make changes to how Zwarte Piet is depicted, there are still protests and demonstrations against Zwarte Piet. The protesters cite the racism in Zwarte Piet’s depictions as being a very lazy, clownish black stereotype that in other settings and countries, would be very offensive. Articles have recounted examples of children from African decent being bullied. Adults and children alike of African descent who get called Zwarte Piet and any possible unspoken and underlying implications of what’s being referred to with the comment of slaves, someone who is foolish, stupid, lazy or dangerous, who’s only purpose is to be there for someone else’s entertainment.
And as has been noted in comments and articles while reading up on Zwarte Piet, it hasn’t been until the last couple of generations that there as more and more immigrants and people of other ethnic groups moving to the Netherlands that, the Dutch mindset of what is appropriate and what’s seen as racist is currently being challenged by outsiders.
Cultural & Historical Disconnect
It has been commented on by one journalist, Dimitri Tokmetzis, “”I don’t think the Dutch want to offend black people with Zwarte Piet. We don’t have a history with blackface, on the other hand, there are clearly some racist undertones that many people won’t recognize. Zwarte Piet is always depicted as stupid and one song even states that although Zwarte Piet is black, you can basically trust him because he means well. So there is this disconnect between the intentions of most people and how it comes across to those who are more sensitive to racial issues.”
Which would be the heart of it, a disconnect and denial by some who don’t see or fail to see the racist implications in the figure of Zwarte Piet as he is currently represented. Another commentary has pointed out a lack of the Netherlands own sensitivity to their colonial history and the impact it has had. Not surprising when others have pointed out that in history books in school, the subject barely gets covered or glossed over.
The flip side to why many Dutch may have a hard time accepting the racist elements is that Zwarte Piet is so closely tied to a children’s celebration and it feels so much like an attack on childhood memories and nostalgia. It can be very difficult to have an ugly truth of what was once thought socially acceptable be pointed out as no it’s not.
Movie Time! – Santa & Pete
I was delighted one year when visiting an Aunt of mine during the holidays, that when searching for a Christmas movie to watch, we came across the movie of Santa & Pete with James Earl Jones staring as the Grandfather and narrator of the story as he tells his grandson of their family history.
I had already come across the figure of Zwarte Piet when reading the book “When Santa was a Shaman.” I had been worried this would show some of the more negative associations and connotations with Piet. To my relief, the movie shows a very positive portrayal of the character and showing both Santa and Pete as friends and equals in their work to visit the children at Christmas and passing out gifts.
This is what I see, if the more positive aspects of Zwarte Piet can get focused on, as a friend to children and gift giver, we have a positive representation of someone of color within the overall Christmas mythos and celebrations.
As it stands, when reading the various articles and controversies regarding Zwarte Piet, there are still a lot of the more negative associations attached to him and no one is quite sure on how to make the appropriate changes to the character in order to keep him while others are calling for his complete banning and removal from Dutch traditions.
Pleiades Star Lore Around The World
For many tribes in the African continent, the Pleiades mark the beginning of the agricultural season.
East Africa – In the Swahili language, the Pleiades are called: “kilimia” which means to “dig” or “cultivate.” The Pleiades appearance in the heavens is seen as being time to start digging or the arrival of rain.
North Africa – The Tuareg Berbers call the Pleiades by the name of: Cat ihed, pronounced as: shatt ihedd or Cat ahăḍ, pronounced as: shat ahadd. The name means “daughters of the night” in the Berber language. Other Berber tribes have called the Pleiades star cluster by other names such as: Amanar “the guide” and Tagemmunt “the group.”
The Tuareg Berber have a proverb that translates into English as:
“When the Pleiades fall, I wake up looking for my goatskin bag to drink. When the Pleiades rise, I wake up looking for a cloth to wear.”
It is a proverb that takes note of the changing of the seasons to prepare for the heat of summer and the colder weather that the rainy season brings.
South Africa – The Basotho call the Pleiades “Seleme se setshehadi” meaning the “female planter.” When the Pleiades leave the night sky around April, the Basotho’s tenth month, along with the appearance of the star Achernar marks the beginning of their cold season. Like many South African cultures, the Pleiades are associated with agriculture and plenty. The Khoikhoi tribe call the Pleiades by the name of Khuseti, the stars of rain or rain bearers.
The Pleiades star cluster is known by several names among many tribes.
Karatgurk – In the stories told by the Wurundjeri of Victoria, Australia, the Pleiades represent a group of seven sisters known as the Karatgurk. They were the first to hold the secrets of fire and each of the sisters carried live coals on the end of their digging stick. The sisters refused to share the coals with anyone and eventually were tricked into giving up the secret of fire to Crow who in turn brought the gift of fire to the rest of humanity. As to the sisters, they were taken up into the night sky where their glowing fire sticks became the stars of the Pleiades cluster.
Kidili – A moon god of the Mandjindja from Western Australia, he had tried to rape some of the first women on Earth. In retaliation, the lizard men, Wati-kutjara attacked and castrated him using a boomerang before leaving him to die in a watering hole. As for the women, they became the Pleiades star cluster.
Kungkarungkara – They are the ancestral women in the lore of the Pitjantjatjara tribe.
Makara – According to the Adnyamathanha tribe, the Makara (The Pleiades) are the wives of stars within the Orion constellation.
Napaltjarri – From Central Australia, they were seven sisters being chased by Jilbi Tjakamarra. He had attempted to use love magic on one of the sisters. She refused Jilbi’s advances and she and her sisters fled from him. They fled all the way to Uluru where they searched for honey ants. While there, the sisters again saw Jilbi and they went to Kurlunyalimpa and the other spirits of Uluru who transformed the sisters into stars. In response, Jilbi transformed himself into the Morning Star seen in Orion’s Belt where he continues to chase after the seven sisters.
The Seven Sisters And The Faithful Lovers – In this story of the Koori’s Dreamtime, the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters were a group of seven beautiful ice maidens. Their parents were huge mountain whose peaks were hidden by the clouds and an ice-cold stream who flowed from some snow covered hills. The Seven Sisters would wander the land, their long hair flowing out behind them like storm clouds. Their beauty was so great, that many men loved them, but the sisters were always cold in returning any affections.
One day, a man by the name of Wurrunnah, caught two of the sisters and forced them to live with him while the others continued on their journey home to the sky. Wurrunnah soon found that the sisters he caught were ice-maidens and took them to his camp fire in order to try and melt the ice off of them. This only served to put out his fire and dimming the brightness of the two sisters.
The two sisters were very lonely and sad by their captivity and every night, they would look up to the night sky where they could see their sisters calling for them. One day, Wurrunnah told the two sisters to go out and gather some pine bark. After a short trip, the two came to a big pine tree where they began with stripping the bark off of it.
As they stripped bark off the pine, whose totem was the same totem as the sisters, it began to extend upward towards the sky. The two sisters saw their opportunity and climbed up the tree to their home in the sky with their sisters. The two sisters never did regain their full brightness in the heavens and is why two of the Pleiades are dimmer than the others. The journey of the seven sisters is remembered every time it snows.
The Berai Berai Brothers And The Seven Sisters – Another story told of the Seven Sisters is that when they were on earth, of all the men in love with their beauty, the Berai Berai or two brothers were the most devoted. They always brought all the choicest catches from their hunts to the Sisters as an offering and token of their love. This love was not returned and when the Sisters wandered away, up to the mountains, the Berai Berai followed after them.
After the Sisters left for their journey to the sky, the Berai Berai mourned. A grave depression fell upon them that they eventually died. The spirits of the Dreamtime took pity on the brothers and placed them up in the sky, up where they could hear the Sisters sing. On clear nights, the Berai Berai can be seen, represented by the stars that form Orion’s Sword and Belt.
The name for this constellation in Lithuanian is Sietynas and Sietiņš in Latvian. Both of which have a root word: sietas meaning “a sieve.” In both Latvian and Lithuanian folk talks, the Pleiades constellation is shown as an inanimate object, a sieve that is stolen by the devil from the god of thunder or it is used to bring light rain by the thunder god’s wife and children. In some Lithuanian folk songs, Sietynas is depicted as a benevolent brother who helps orphaned girls to marry or he helps walk soldiers across fields.
Ben Raji Mythology
Living in western Nepal and northern India, the semi-nomadic Ban Raji refer to the Pleiades as the “Seven Sisters-In-Law and One Brother-In-Law” or “Hatai halyou daa salla.” For the Ban Raji, when the Pleiades rise up over the mountains at night, they see their ancient kinfolk. The timing for the appearance of the Pleiades over the Nepali mountains along the Kali River, marks when it is 8 p.m. local time.
Bronze Age And Celtic Mythology
In Bronze Age Europe, the Celts and possibly others may have associated the Pleiades with grief, mourning and funerals. At this period of time and history, the time of the Autumn Equinox and Solstice would have occurred around the time that the Pleiades star cluster rose in the eastern skyline as the sun set. The precession of the constellations over the centuries and millennia would have since changed for the timing of the Equinox and Solstice celebrations. This Solstice celebration is possibly a predecessor to the modern Halloween, Samhain and All Souls Day celebrations. While a good many Pagan and Wiccan sites are quick to point out such a connection, more secular sites don’t necessarily see a connection. What seems more plausible is that it does have connections as a Harvest Festival and the end of the harvest season before winter comes.
An artifact discovered in 1999 called the Nebra Sky Disc, due to where it was found in Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt in Germany, shows the Pleiades star cluster on it along with the Sun and Moon. Two golden arcs on the disk mark the solstices. It has been dated to somewhere around 1600 B.C.E. and part of the Bronze Age Unetice culture. Unlike the megaliths of much of Europe, the Nebra Sky Disc is a portable astronomical instrument.
Aztecs – The Aztecs based the beginning of year on the appearance of the Pleiades asterism when it rises in the east before the sun’s morning light became too bright. They called this star cluster by the name of Tianquiztli, meaning “marketplace.”
The Aztecs were very good astronomers and kept careful track of the heavens. Their calendar was based on a 52-year cycle. The Pleiades were carefully watched to make sure the world wouldn’t end. At the end of each 52-year cycle, the Aztecs held a religious ceremony to ensure the rebirth of the sun and continued movement of the heavens. The Aztecs strongly believed their ceremony would prevent demons of darkness from coming to the Earth and devouring mankind. For this, they offered up to the gods human sacrifices.
Mayan – During colonial times, the Pleiades were used to track the time by diving up the night.
An epic legend tells the story of the Pleiades star cluster. There had been a long standing feud between the heavenly twins Hun-Apu and Xbalanque and a giant named Zipacna. With the help of several other youth, the twins pretended that they were building a house. They started with digging a large hole in the ground. As they were digging, Zipacna came along and asked what they were doing.
The twins told Zipacna they were building a house but were having trouble with digging a hole for the foundation deep enough. Zipacna was persuaded to help and he went down into the hole. Once he was at the bottom of the hole, the twins and their helpers began to throw stones, dirt and tree trunks down on him. When the hole was completely filled in and everyone was certain that Zipacna must be dead, they continued to build a house over the spot marking his grave.
Unknown to the twins, Zipacna was still alive. Yes he had been knocked out by the weight of everything piled and thrown on him. Once he had regained consciousness, he lay there and waited, pretending to be dead until the house was completed.
With the house completed and everyone inside celebrating, Zipacna made his move. Throwing up his shoulders, Zipacna’s great strength allowed him fling the house up into the sky towards the heavens. There, the twins and everyone with them became the Pleiades, unable to get back down to the earth.
Monte Alto Culture – This also includes other cultures such as Takalik Abaj and Ujuxte who are known to have made early observatories. They used the Pleiades stars and Eta Draconis as references in the night sky. The Pleiades are called “The Seven Sisters” and thought to be where they originated from.
To the Chinese, the Pleiades are known as Mao, the Hairy Head of the White Tiger of the West. The Pleiades seem to be the first stars mentioned in astronomical literature, appearing in the Annals of 2357 B.C.E. Aside from the name Mao, the Pleiades are also known as The Blossom Stars and Flower Stars.
The ancient Egyptians recorded seven stars within Pleiades. Some scholars believe that the seven chambers of the Great Pyramid represent the seven stars of Pleiades.
The goddess Hathor has an interesting take in her role and aspect as a Mother goddess for it was believed by the ancient Egyptians that “Seven Hathors” would appear at the birth of a new baby, foretelling his fate. The reason they’re mentioned is that during the Ptolemaic Period, when Egypt was under Greek rule, the Seven Hathors became identified with the Pleiades star cluster.
Aside from Hathor, the Pleiades also represented the goddess Net or Neith, the “Divine Mother and Lady of Heaven.”
French History And Literature
La Pléiade is a post-Renaissance literary movement that references the Pleiades constellation and seven poets from the Alexandrian period during the reign of Ptolemy II. The La Pléiade title has been used by two groups of poets from Toulouse during the beginning of the 14th century and another group founded by Pierre de Ronsard in 1553. Their goal was to promote the classical literature of Greek and Rome with translations rather a perceived, outdated use of Latin. While the group were not known for being innovators, they did provide the foundations of French Classicism.
The Pleiades were considered by some ancient Greek astronomers, such as Eudoxus of Cnidos to be a distinct constellation separate from Taurus. This asterism is mentioned of by Hesiod and Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey. The ancient Greek text Geoponica mentions the rising of the Pleiades cluster. The Greek temples of Hecatompedon, built in 550 B.C.E. and Parthenon, built in 438 B.C.E. are oriented to the rising of the Pleiades.
For the Greeks, the setting of the Pleiades around October and November was a time to bring their ships in to port and to plow and sow their lands. Hesiod makes mention of the Pleiades numerous times in his “Works and Days,” alluding to their importance as a time of stormy weather and planting. Greek sailors were known to consult the heavens for the appearance of the Pleiades before setting sail.
Orion And The Pleiades
The Greek story is perhaps the most well known to many Westerners about the Pleiades star cluster.
The Pleiades is a group of seven sisters whose father is the titan Atlas. As their story goes, the Pleiades were traveling with their mother Pleïone, through Boeotia when they encountered the Greek hero Orion. He expressed such a deep infatuation and interest in them that he relentlessly pursued the sisters and even their mother. And with their father Atlas now holding the earth up on his shoulders, this very likely encouraged Orion in his antics as he thought no one could stop him.
After running from Orion for seven years, the sisters became tired of such extreme harassment and pursuit. In their desperation, they appealed to Zeus who in response, placed them up in the heavens, specifically in the Taurus constellation where they would be protected by the mighty bull from Orion’s unwanted advances. In the accounts that include Pleïone being chased by Orion, she too is placed up in the heavens, this a further punishment for the titan Atlas to be separated from not only his wife, but daughters.
In the end, being placed up in the heavens doesn’t seem to have helped them much, for when Orion died, he too was immortalized up in the heavens as a constellation. He can be seen up there still chasing after the Pleiades.
Variations to this story say the Pleiades committed suicide after the death of their brother Hyas. Other versions say that when the sisters pleaded to the gods for mercy from Orion, they were changed first into doves and then later into stars.
If the Pleiades weren’t getting chased by Orion, then they became stars after committing suicide over the fate of their father Atlas. Or the loss of their siblings the Hyades and Hyas. After their death, the god Zeus placed the sisters up into the heavens to become the famous star cluster.
Companions Of Artemis
This version of the myth follows closely the more well-known story of the Pleiades being chased by Orion. The Pleiades were the companions of the virgin goddess Artemis. She wasn’t too happy with Orion when he came upon the Pleiades while playing. In his lust and infatuation, he chased the Pleiades. On their behalf, Artemis pleaded with Zeus to intervene and he did so by transforming the sisters into doves and then into stars, becoming out of reach of both Artemis and Orion. Zeus, not to be completely without compassion for his daughter, the path of the Moon passes between the Pleiades and Orion so that she has a chance to be reunited with her friends on a regular basis.
Contrarianism – Daughters Of An Amazon Queen
While many variations of the Greek myths regarding the Pleiades are similar, especially in regards to names and parentage; Theocritus’ Idylls, using references from Callimachus differs greatly from the more familiar myths. In the Idylls, the Pleiades are the daughters of an Amazon queen. Their names are: Coccymo, Glaucia, Lampado, Maia, Parthenia, Protis and Stonychia. The sisters are supposed to have created ritual dances and nighttime festivals.
Ancestors Of Dionysus
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, the Pleiades appeared as an omen of victory for Dionysus’ war against India. There is further mention that the pleiad Electra was the foster-mother of Harmonia, the grandmother of the Greek god Dionysus. And thus in a way, Electra can be seen as Dionysus’ ancestor.
Indian Astronomy And Mythology
The Pleiades are known by a number of different names such Karttikeya, Kṛttikā, Kārtikā, Kumara or Subrahmanya. In both Indian astronomy and Hindu astrology, the names Krttika and Kartika translate into English as: “the cutters.” Like the ancient Greeks, India has a number of different, varying and often conflicting stories of Kṛttikā.
Hindu Mythology – A story associated with this star cluster tells how the war-god Skanda was raised by six sisters known as Kṛttikā, making it so that one of his names he is known as is Kartikeya or “Son of the Kṛttikā.” Skanda or Kartikeya was born to Agni and Svāhā after the Kṛttikā had impersonated themselves as six of the seven wives of the Saptarshi in order to make love with Agni. When the Saptarshi learned of this incident, they began to doubt their wives’ chastity and divorced them. Since then, the wives were known as the Kṛttikā.
As the six Kṛttikā, they are seen as the mothers of Skanda, his six faces represent them. Slight variations to this say that Skanda developed his six faces in order to drink the milk from his six mothers.
Hindu Astrology – Kṛttikā is the third nakṣatras or lunar mansion out of twenty seven other naksatras. The Pleiades are known as the Star of Fire and one of the most prominent of nakshatras associated with anger and stubbornness. They are ruled by the Hindu god of war, Kartikeya. Another deity associated with Kṛttikā is Agni, a god of sacred fire. Additionally, it is ruled by the sun or Surya and has the symbols of a knife or spear. There is a Hindu tradition of naming children according to the naksatra they’re born under. Each naksatra will have four syllables associated with it that is used for that start of a child’s name.
Kumarasambhava – “The Birth of the War God”
In an epic poem written by Kalidasa from the 4th and 5th centuries C.E., the gods had wished for a god to born in order take on and kill the demon Taraka who had a geas or boon that he could only be killed by a son of Shiva.
The problem, is that Shiva was deep in his meditations and not at all interested to his wife Parvati. That is, at least not until Kama, the god of love struck Shiva with an arrow. Now, after having practice abstinence for so long, Shiva’s virility was incredibly potent and the other gods fear what would happen. So they took Shiva’s seed and dropped it into a fire. It is from this, that the god Skanda, whose name means: “Spurt of Semen.”
Tamil Mythology – The Pleiades are known as Karthigai, they were the six wives of six Rishis, represented by the stars of Ursa Major. The seventh was known as Arunthadhi, associated with the star Alcor. She is the wife of Vasistha, the seventh Rishi or Sage. He is associated with the star Alcyone. Another name of the Karthigai is Saptha Kanni, meaning the “Seven Virgins.”
A variation to this story is that the Krttika had all lived together up in the heavens. One day, Agni, the god of fire fell in love with the seven Karthigai or Krttika. In trying to forget his love for them, Agni wandered the forest until he met Svaha, the star Zeta Tauri.
Svaha was immediately infatuated with Agni and disguised herself as one of the Krttika in order to seduce him. Agni truly believed he had made love with one of the Krttika. Svaha became pregnant and gave birth to Skanda.
As soon as Skanda was born, rumors began to circulate that one of the wives of the Rishis was his mother. This caused the Rishis to divorce their wives. Of them all, only Arundhati remained married. The other Krttika went on to become the Pleiades.
The Pleiades are known as Lintang Kartika in Javanese, it is a name that is from the Sanskrit word Kṛttikā, one of the nakṣatras in Hindu astrology.
In Japan, the Pleiades star cluster is known as Subaru, meaning “coming together,” “cluster” or “united.” The name and image are also the same name for a car manufacturer, Subaru.
Another name for the Pleiades is Mutsuraboshi, meaning “six stars.” This name dates from the 8th century Kojiki and Manyosyu documents. The Pleiades have also been called the Hoki Boshi, meaning “dab of paint on the sky” or “brush stars.”
A story found among the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, tells the story of Dümur, the eldest son of Ligedaner who is the mother of all the stars. Ligedaner is identified as being the star Capella in the Auriga constellation, Dümur is identified as the star Antares and the youngest son is identified as Pleiades.
Ligedaner’s sons came down from the vault of Heaven to visit with her where she lived on the atoll Alinablab. While there, a contest was proposed that who ever was the first to reach a certain island somewhere out in the East would be named the King of Stars.
The contest was agreed to and the sons prepared themselves to take off to claim the title of King. Ligedaner asked Dümur to take her with him in his canoe. Dümur refused as he saw that his mother wanted to take as many things with her as she could and thereby slow down the canoe with its weight.
Ligedaner asked each of her sons in turn to take her with them in their canoes and each in turned refused. Until she got to her youngest son, Pleiades who finally accepted her request to go with him. Ligedaner had seven objects she was taking with her and as she got into the canoe, she instructed Pleiades where to load and place each object.
When they were finally loaded up, Pleiades took his place to start rowing. He was surprised to find that instead of being weighed and slowed down by all the objects, that his canoe shot out into the water with great ease nor did he have to use his oars. The seven objects it turned out, had been previously unknown sail rigging and with his canoe driven by the wind, it took no time at all to catch up with his brothers.
As Pleiades’ canoe caught up with Dümur’s canoe, Dümur demanded, on his rights as the first-born son that his youngest brother hand over his canoe to him. Dismayed, Pleiades complied with the demands. Ligedaner proceeded to play a rather mean trick on Dümur by turning the canoe around and then when she jumped with Pleiades into the sea, she took with her the yardarm. Together, Ligedaner and Pleiades swam on towards the island to the East.
Dümur found that in order to sail Pleiades’ canoe, he had to fasten the sail to his shoulders, causing him to become bent over. By the time Dümur reached the island, he found that his youngest brother Pleiades and Ligedaner had beaten him there already and that Pleiades now claimed the title of King of the Stars. Angry, Dümur desired to never see his brother Pleiades again. This separation fo Dümur and Pleiades can be seen in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere as when Pleiades rises in the East, Dümur (as the star Antares) sets in the West. The bent back of Dümur is also seen represented by the curved line formed by the stars outlining the bent body of Scorpius.
Also known as: Apollo Moritasgus
Possible Etymology: “Great Badger” or “Sea Badger”
There’s a lot of Celtic mythology, stories and deities that’s not very well known. Much of it hasn’t survived the test of time with various conquests by the Ancient Romans as they expanded their empire and the later spread and influence of Christianity.
The god Moritasgus is known from four inscriptions found at the site in Alesia. In two of the inscriptions, Moritasgus is identified with the Greco-Roman god Apollo.
From the scant inscriptions, the only known family is his wife, a cow goddess by the name of Damona.
Shrine In Alesia
The site of Alesia, was an oppidum, a type of a defended settlement dating from the Iron Age. The group of ancient Celtics, the Mandubii founded it in the area of present day Burgundy, France.
The shrine located here was near a curative spring where many sick and afflicted people would come to bathe in its waters. The shrine and it’s spring were located near the eastern gate, just outside of the city walls. The shrine was an impressive temple with baths and porticoes where people would likely sleep, hoping for prophetic visions and healing.
A number of votive objects modeled after people showing different afflicted parts of their body have been found. All of these were dedicated to Moritasgus. Further, surgeon’s tools have been found at the site, suggesting that the priests located at the shrine may have also been surgeons.
Medicinal Uses Of Badgers?
Odd as that sounds, in Gaulish medicines and even later medival European medicines, the fat of the European badger was used. This likely serves as the connection to a healing god and badgers.
Specifically, the ingredient, taxea or adeps taxonina, “badger fat” was seen as a potent medical ingredient that the ancient Germanic and Celtic people traded with the Greeks and Romans. Taxea is a secretion the subcaudal glands of the European Badger. This secretion from the glands is a pale-yellow fatty substance with a gentle musky scent. This taxea incidentally is similar to the castoreum from the scent glands of beavers.
The main use of taxea was for treating impotency. The Gaulish word tasgos, has a root meaning of “peg” or “stake” and it has been argued that because the badger’s nose is pointed, there might be a phallic meaning to the use of the word taxea. Which could mean then that the use of taxea for treating impotence, could have a connection to any ancient Celtic use with sympathetic magic.
A fourth century medical writer, Marcellus includes the use of badger fat in his book “De Medicaments.” Another short treatise from the fifth century, “De Taxones,” discusses the magical-medicinal properties of badgers and has various incantations to speak while dissecting this animal.
The Irish Saint, Molaise in myth is believed to have descended into hell dressed in badger skins in order to rescue a leper.
Others Named Moritasgus
There are a few people who have shared the same name. Most notable is an ancient ruler of Senones from the first century B.C.E.
The story of “Aunty Greenleaf and the White Deer” is one that I found while looking up another article on an American Folklore site. The imagery that came to mind while reading the story caught my imagination and I set it to the side while I worked on other projects for Brickthology before coming back to it.
Now, sometime later as I began working on this post, I find that the story of “Aunty Greenleaf and the White Deer” is one of several stories from S.E. Schlosser’s “Spooky New York” which is a collection of ghost stories and folklore from around New York State.
Further, is that many of the sites that mention and reference this story, merely reprint it. Only one additional mention is of Aunty Greenleaf appearing as a character in Fables’ “The Wolf Among Us” game. It does leave me to question the validity of Aunty Greenleaf as an actual folkloric figure or if she can be considered a newer folkloric and literary character who first makes her appearance in 1995.
Even if Aunty Greenleaf doesn’t appear before Schlosser’s “Spooky New York,” this is how new mythological characters find their place. Enough people who want to view the story of Aunty Greenleaf as a literary source and new piece of folklore will certainly succeed.
The story of Aunty Greenleaf goes as follows: she is your typical elderly woman who lived alone in a small house outside the town of Brookhaven. She was known as a witch who people avoided except for when they needed her knowledge of herbs and healing. Like many suspected and accused witches, the townspeople accused Aunty Greenleaf of being in league with the devil.
Typical accusations against Aunty Greenleaf included claims that she had hexed a farmer’s pigs so that they all died after he had spoken ill of her. Another accusation involved a prominent townswoman who claimed to have dreamt of Aunty Greenleaf and the next morning, her daughter fell deathly ill. Another wild claim placed Aunty Greenleaf and her fellow witches crossing the Atlantic Ocean in an egg shell for a Sabbath in England before returning at sunrise.
This is typical of people during Colonial times in the Americas or even in Europe. Superstitions and fear when anything bad happens or a streak of misfortunes and it’s easier to blame the town outcast or someone who doesn’t quite fit in.
Aunty Greenleaf’s story picks up and get more interesting one year during early fall when people started talking about a large, white deer that has been seen in the surrounding forest of Brookhaven. Several large hunting parties were organized by the townsfolk to hunt down this white deer. It soon became clear that this white deer was impervious to bullets and people started to believe this deer to be supernatural in nature.
It wasn’t long after, that the women of Brookhaven also began having problems with churning their butter and a number of livestock sickened and died. It wasn’t too difficult for the people to blame the presence of the white deer. Added to this, those people affected had had run-ins with Aunty Greenleaf at one point or another during the past month.
Finally, a hunting party was put together in earnest and the people of Brookhaven really began hunting the white deer. They had gone all day and most of the night hunting the deer before it was finally spotted. It was the largest and fastest that anyone has seen. The hunting party was hard pressed to keep up. Several people fired at the deer, but it kept on running and the hunting party soon return empty-handed.
One farmer became rather obsessed with hunting the white deer, every chance he had when he wasn’t busy with his farm. It was this farmer who decided there must be some connection between the white deer and witchcraft. The farmer took some silver and melted it down to make bullets.
Ah! But aren’t silver bullets only for werewolves? Yes and no. Silver is a sacred metal, connected to the moon and there is folklore silver to harming other supernatural creatures such as vampires and witches who turn into rabbits.
Anyhow, rifle in hand, the farmer went hunting the white deer. This time he succeeded in hitting the deer with one of his shots. The farmer managed to track the deer close to Aunty Greenleaf’s house before it vanished in the growing darkness of night.
The next day, the farmer learned that Aunty Greenleaf was ill. From the moment she took to her bed, the local farm animals stopped dying and the families who were having trouble with their churning were back to normal. Less than a week later, Aunty Greenleaf died and the doctor who cared for her told the minister he found three silver bullets in her spine.
After the death of Aunty Greenleaf, the phantom white deer was never heard of or seen again in Brookhaven.
Also known and spelled as: boogerman, boogeyman, boogieman, boogie man, boogyman and bogyman
Pronounced – boo g-ee-man, boh-gee-, boo-
The term or name bogeyman is often used to describe an entity or monster that causes an irrational source of fear. The bogeyman’s appearance is frequently nebulous and vague, leaving much to the imagination. This has led some people to believe that it may be a shape shifter that can reflect what a person most fears.
Stories of the Bogeyman vary by culture and even from home to the next as it is a creature often used by parents to keep children from misbehaving. For many children, that irrational fear of the unknown, that unknown terror under the bed, in the closet, lurking just outside a window, coming through unlocked doors and down chimneys is very real. Even if parents didn’t tell stories to frighten children, there would still be this irrational fear of the unknown for many. Many though, outgrow this irrational fear as they grow up and often find there truly is nothing to fear.
Possible Historical Connections
Tracing the name and origins of the name bogeyman is a bit murky and there have been many ideas and theories put forward.
A few sources place the appearance of the word bogeyman in the English language from the Scottish word bogle, which means “ghost” or “hobgoblin” which dates to around 1505. Other sources will place the word bogeyman to around 1836 as another name for the Devil. It certainly seems to have become popular with the works of Scottish poets such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
Another idea is that the word comes from the Middle English word bugge, meaning a “frightening specter.” Other similar words to this are boggard, bogy, bugbear, the Welsh bwg, the Scots Gaelic bòcan and the German word bögge; all of these words refer to a goblin or frightening creatures.
This idea is a rather interesting source for the Bogeyman as a “boggy man.” Bog men can be found periodically preserved in peat bogs. In these stories, the bog men arise from the dead much like zombies to attack the living.
The name bogeyman may come from the Bugis people who were pirates from Indonesia and Malaysia. Its likely that English and French sailor brought home stories of the bugis where it becomes anglicized to bogeymen. They would tell their children “if you’re bad, the bugisman will come and get you!” Eventually, the word bugis changes into the word bogey. Etymologists tend to disagree on the Bugis being the source for the Bogeyman as the word and term had been in use long before the Europeons started exploring and colonizing Southeast Asia.
There’s a claim that Bogeyman is a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte who had been nicknamed “Boney” by the British. He was used as a threat for British children of the time and that somewhere along the line, Boney becomes Boneyman and further becomes Bogeyman.
Snot Your Friend
The most interesting connection of the bogey man is the relationship of its name as a slang term for snot and boogers.
A Monster By Any Other Name….
Nearly every culture around the world has its own version of the bogeyman. Some faceless monster used to keep unruly children in line and from misbehaving.
There’s a long list of them that can be given too.
Afghanistan – The Bala or Newanay Mama, which means “The Monster or Crazy Person”, is used to scare children when they won’t sleep or take their medicine.
Albania – In South Albania, there is the Katallani “the Catalan” a monster which relies on the historical Catalan occupation of the region centuries ago used to scare children. In South Italy, there is the Gogoli, “the Mongol” another historical use of the Golden Horde that is used to frighten children into behaving.
Algeria – The H’awouahoua is a chimerical monster made up of many different animal parts with eyes that are blobs of flaming spit and a coat made from the clothes of those children it eats.
Azerbaijan – A monster called Khokhan (“xoxan”) is used for scaring children into behaving.
Bahamas – The “small man” is the name given to an entity who rides in a cart that pulls itself. He picks up any child found outside after sundown. Anyone taken by the small man becomes a small person and rides with the small man forever. The term “rollin’ cart” has been used to scare children into behaving themselves.
Belgium – Oude Rode Ogen (Old Red Eyes) is known throughout the Flanders region, it is believed to have originated in Mechelen and is a cannibalistic shape-shifter that is able to change from a human to a black dog. Oude Rode Ogen later becomes a children’s story in the 1900’s called “The Nikker” who eats children that stay up past their bedtimes.
Belize – The Tata Duende is a small wrinkled goblin with a beard, no thumbs and backwards feet who wears a large brimmed hat. He is described as a protector of the forests and animals who scares children from going out to play at night or in the jungle.
Bosnia, Croatia, Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia – In these countries, the Bogeyman is called Babaroga. Baba means “old woman” and rogovi means “horns.” So the name literally means “old woman with horns.” The specifics of Babroga vary from household to household. In one household, Babaroga will take children and put them in her sack where she will take them to her cave to eat. In another household, she will take children, pulling them up through small holes in the ceiling.
Brazil – The “Bag Man,” called “homem do saco” in Portuguese, “hombre de la bolsa,” “hombre del costal” or “del saco” in Spanish is one such monster or man-like creature who is known for carrying off misbehaving children in a sack. There is also another very similar creature the “Bicho Papão” or Eating Beast who will carry off children. Bicho Papão is also known as Sarronco, the “Deep-Voiced Man”. Another monster is the Cuca, a female humanoid with an alligator head. Parents will sing a lullaby to their children at night about how Cuca will come take them away if they don’t go to sleep. Cuca appears as a character in Monteiro Lobato’s Sítio do Picapau Amarelo book series that uses a lot of Brazilian folklore. The difference between Bicho Papão and the Bag Man is that the Bag Man comes during the day and Bicho Papão comes during the night.
Bulgaria – The Torbalan or “Man-with-a-sack” is the name of the local bogeyman. In some places, a dark, hairy ghost-like creature called a Talasam who lives in the shadows of barns or in attics is what will come to scare children into behaving.
Czech Republican – A creature known as the Bubak, a scarecrow is used to frighten children into behaving. It will hide along riverbanks, making a crying noise like an infant to draw victims to it.
Congo – The Dongola Miso or “Creature with Scary Eyes” is used to scare children into going to bed on time. It is also used to warn children and adults alike about the dangers of dealing with and speaking to strangers.
China – The Ou-Wu is a witch or scary looking woman who kidnaps children that misbehave. She is popular in the southern regions of China and Hong Kong. The term is the origin for “monster” and has become used as a synonym for ugly or hideous.
Cyprus – In the Cypriot dialect, Bogeyman is known asd Kkullas.
Denmark – Here, the Bogey Man is known as busseman or Bøhman and is known for hiding under the bed where it grabs children who won’t sleep. Much like in the English language, the name has become a slang term for snot or nasal mucus.
England – In Yorkshire, children are warned that if they steal from orchards, they might get eaten by a fairy in the form of a giant caterpillar known as Awd Goggie. Another similar monster is “The Gooseberry Wife” who guards gooseberries on The Isle of Wight.
Egypt – The Abu Rigl Maslukha, “Man With Burnt/Skinned Leg,” is a particularly scary story told by parents to children who misbehave. The Abu Rigl Maslukha is a monster who got burnt as a child as he wouldn’t listen to his parents. He will grab children and cook them to eat.
Finland – Here, the Bogeyman is known as Mörkö. In the Moomin stories, the Mörkö or Groke is a frightening, dark blue and big ghost like creature.
France – Here the Bogeyman is called “le croque-mitaine” which means “The mitten-biter.” Another translation of the name is “the hand-cruncher.”
Georgia – In addition to a “Bag Man,” there is also the “Bua” used by parents to scare children who have misbehaved. No real description of Bua is given and its suspected there’s a link between it and the the Georgian word bu which means owl.
Germany – There is the black man or Der schwarze, called so for his preference to hiding in dark places like closets, under the bed or out in the forests. There is a children’s game called Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann (Who is afraid of the Bogey Man). There is also an old traditional folk song “Es tanzt ein Bi-Ba-Butzemann in unserm Haus herum” that translates as: A Bi-Ba-Bogeyman dances around in our house. Another name for the Bogeyman is Buhmann or Butzemann. And finally there is also the Grossman.
Greece – The Baboulas is said to hide under the bed, though parents will tell stories of this creature in other ways to frighten children into behaving.
Guyana – The Jumbi is the name for the Bogeyman and like many other variations, it too lives in the dark, staying in closets and under the bed. It is used to scare children to eat their food so that they can defend themselves against him.
Haiti – A tall man, with legs two floors high is believed to walk around the towns at midnight, catching and eating those people who stay outside. He called Mètminwi which seems to be a contraction of the French “maître,” for master and minwi, the French word minuit” for midnight. So his name translates to “Master of Midnight.” There is also Tonton Macoute or Uncle Gunnysack who would trap misbehaving children and eat them for breakfast. The MVSN, a secret police force in Haiti used this myth as a form of control as many so called Tonton Macoutes were followers of Voodoo.
Hejaz, Saudi Arabia – The Dojairah and Umna al Ghola, which means “Our mother the Monster” is used to scare children when they misbehave or outside alone at night.
Hungary – Stories of the Mumus is used to scare children. There is also the Zsákos Ember, a man with a sack. A final monster is the Rézfaszú bagoly or “Copperpenis Owl” and whose description is that, a giant owl with a copper penis.
Iceland – The Grýla, is a female troll who would take misbehaving children and eat them during Christmas Eve. Fortunately, she has been dead for quite some time. She is the mother of the Yule Lads who are Iceland’s version of Santa Claus.
India – There are a number of different names for the Bogeyman in India. In North India, the Bori Baba who carries a sack is used to frighten children. There is also the Chownki Daar, a night security guard who will come and take children away if they won’t go to sleep. In South India there is the Rettai Kanna (the two-eyed one) or Poochaandi who used to threaten children in the state of Tamil Nadu. There is also the Buchadu or Boochodu is used similarly in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Bihar parents use the demon Bhakolwa for scaring children. In Karnataka, there is the demon Goggayya, the “terrible man,” central Kerala has the Kokkachi who will take away disobedient children. More bogeymen like creatures are the Oochandi of South Kerala, the Gongo of West Coast India, a male ghost called Buva or Bagul Buva among the Marathi speaking people is used for scaring children and finally there is the Kaan Khowa used by Assamese parents who will eat children’s ears if they don’t go to sleep.
Indonesia – The Wewe Gombel is a ghost that kidnaps children who are abused by their parents. She takes them to her nest on top of a palm tree where she cares for the children until the parents realize what it is they have done. If the parents decide to change their ways, the Wewe Gombel will return the children. The Wewe Gombel’s story originated with an event that took place Bukit Gombel, Semarang.
Iran – The Lulu is used in Persian culture to frighten children into behaving. The Lulu is also sometimes called the Lulu-Khorkhore or “bogeyman who eats everything up.”
Iraq – There is the Saalua from ancient folklore. She is a half-witch, half-demon ghoul used by parents to scare their children. Saalua is mentioned in a story found in the 1001 Arabian Nights. She is known too in other Gulf countries.
Italy – The “L’uomo Nero” or The Black Man is used, he is a tall man wearing a heavy black coat and either a black hood or hat to hide his face. Alternately, he is a ghost with no legs. Parents are known for knocking under the table and pretending someone knocked on the door as they say: “Here comes l’uomo nero! He must know that there’s a child here who doesn’t want to drink his soup!” Unlike other monsters, L’uomo Nero doesn’t actually harm or eat children, he just take them away to a strange, frightening place. There is a lullaby used with L’uomo Nero who keeps a child with him for a whole month. Black is also used as a pun in politics in Italy as the color is associated with fascism. Unfortunately it also has negative, derogatory racial puns and slurs associated with the color black. Other places in Italy, the name babau is used for the Bogeyman.
Japan – The Namahage are demons that warn children not to be lazy or cry. During the Namahage Sedo Matsuri or “Demon Mask Festival,” villages wear demon masks pretending to be these spirits.
Korea – The Dokebi is a monster used against misbehaving children. Other variations to Dokebi are the Mangtae Younggam, an old man who carries a mesh sack to carry away kidnapped children in. Other places they have the Mangtae Halmum, an old woman with a mesh sack.
Macedonia – Aside from the Babroga, there is also the Strasilo (the “frightener”) who comes out at night, hides under beds, in forests, caves and basements. It is said to grab and eat children.
Mexico – El Cucuy is an evil monster that hides under children’s beds at night. He will kidnap and eat any child who disobeys their parents. He is described as being a small humanoid with glowing red eyes. Sometimes he is believed to have been a child who was a victim of violence that has come back to life.
Myanmar – The Pashu Gaung Phyat is used to threaten children with. The name means Malayu Headhunter. In Burmese, the Malays were called “Pashu,” which may have come from Bajau or Bugis. Many ethnic groups in Eastern Malaysia were notorious for being headhunters right up until the 1970’s with the Wa tribe.
Nepal – There is the “Hau-Guji” in Nepali. The Newars tell of an ape-like monster called Gurumapa who enjoys eating children. There is a story told of this creature found at Itum Bahal in the inner temple of Kathmandu.
Netherlands – The bogeyman is known by many names, some of these names are: Boeman, Boezeman, Boezehappert, Jan Haak, Mannetje met de haak, Bullebak, Boevent, Beukèl, Haantje Pik, Tenensnijder, Boelekerel, Nekker, Krolleman, Heintje Pik, Okkerman and so on. Many of these are known for hiding in the water. As Boeman, it is depicted as a creature that resembles a human, dressed all in black with sharp claws and fangs and will hide under the bed or in closets. It too will take those children who have misbehaved and won’t go to sleep and lock them away in his basement for a period of time.
Norway – The Bogeyman is called Busemannen, much like the Boeman of the Netherlands, it is depicted as a creature that resembles a human, dressed all in black with sharp claws and fangs and will hide under the bed or in closets. It too will take those children who have misbehaved and won’t go to sleep and lock them away in his basement for a period of time.
Pakistan – The Bhoot or Jin Baba is used by parents to scare children into behaving. This creature is a ghost Djinn. In other places it is known as Kathu Ki Maa.
Philippines – There are a number of different bogey man like monsters. The Pugot, Sipay, Mamu and Mumu. Among the Kapampangan people, there is the Mánguang Anak or Child-Snatcher.
Poland – Places like Silesia or Great Poland use the bebok (babok or bobok) to scare children into behaving. Another creature is the Hastrman, a scarecrow that much like the Czech Republican Babuk also hides along riverbanks, making noises like an infant to draw people to their doom.
Portugal – The Portuguese brought Bicho Papão (the Eating Beast) or Sarronco (Deep-Voiced Man) to Brazil. They also have an “homen do saco” or Bag Man. The difference between Bicho Papão and the Bag Man is that the Bag Man comes during the day and Bicho Papão comes during the night.
Quebec – In this province of Canada, the “Bonhomme Sept-Heures” or 7 O’clock Man is used to scare children into behaving if they won’t go to bed or else he takes them to his cave to eat them.
Romania – The Bau-Bau is used by parents to scare children into behaving.
Russia – The Babay is said to hide under the bed. The Babay is described as an old man with a bag or a monster who will come take them away if they misbehave. Similarly spelled, is the Babayka who comes at night for misbehaving children.
Serbia – The Bauk is an animal-like creature from Serbian mythology, it is described as hiding in dark places such as holes or abandoned houses where it waits to grab and carry of its victim to eat. It can be scared away with light and noise. It is known for having a clumsy gait.
Singapore – The local bogey man stories here are of Ah Bu Neh Neh or Matah who will snatch up misbehaving children. Matah is a variation off the Malay word Mata-Mata which means spy or spies and is used as a nickname for the police.
Spain – El Cuco, El Coco or El Bolo, a shapeless figure or hairy monster who eats children that misbehave when they won’t go to bed is used in place of the Bogeyman. Parent will sing lullabies or tell rhymes to their children about the dangers of refusing to go to sleep or else El Coco will come eat them. The nursery rhyme for El Coco is thought to have originated in the 17th century and has since changed over the years. El Coco has also traveled overseas to the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. There is also the El roba-chicos or child-stealer who is used in many Spanish speaking countries. Incidentally, Coconuts received their name from El Cuco due their resemblance to the Spanish bogeyman. Another shapeless monster is El Ogro or Ogre that is also described as being hairy and will hide in closets and under beds where it will eat misbehaving children if they don’t go to bed. There is also the El Sacamantecas or “Fat Extractor” who is used for scaring children into good behavior by killing people to take their fat.
Sri Lanka – The Sinhalese people tell stories of the Gonibilla, “the sack-kidnapper” who will come day or night to carry off misbehaving children.
Sweden – The Bogey man is known as the Monstret under sängen or “Monster under the bed.”
Switzerland – The Bogeyman is called Böllima or Böögg and is an important figure in Springtime ceremonies as he or it symbolizes winter and death. In the Sechseläuten ceremony held in the city of Zürich, the effigies of Böögg are burnt.
Trinidad and Tobago – Many use folklore as a means of scaring misbehaving children into obey. The most common word used is the Jumbie. Many of their “Jumbies” are the Soucouyant, Lagahoo, La Diables and Papa Bois to name a few. The name Bogeyman will also be used in many urban areas. It can also be called “The Babooman.”
Turkey – The Gulyabani is a gigantic and strange monster that scares both children and adults alike.
Ukraine – The Babay is also present here just as it is in Russia.
United Arab Emirates – The Om Al- Khadar wa Alleef, meaning Mother of green and leef “bark” is used to scare children. She take the appearance of a tall woman who long hair flows in the wind. She is often used by parents as a means of getting children to stay indoor after sunset and go to bed. What’s interesting is that the Palm tree is used as the inspiration for this figure due to the scary sounds it can make when the wind blows, its height and how in the dark, it can resemble a woman.
United States – Aside from the classic Bogeyman, there is also the Jersey Devil used to scare travelers and the old British stories of Bloody Bones or Rawhead and even Tommy Rawhead told in the U.S. South. During the Cherokee Corn Festival, young men will wear caricature masks making fun of politicians and using them to scare children or chase after young women. This was known as a Booger Dance and the dancers are referred to as Booger Man. In areas of the Pacific Northwest, the bogey man will appear as a green fog. Other places the Bogeyman will scratch at windows, hide in closets or carry them off in a sack. Warts in some children’s stories are said to be transmitted to someone by the Bogeyman. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, the term “der Butzemann” is used for male scarecrows and female scarecrows are Butzefrau.
Yukon – In this province of Canada, the Quankus take and puts misbehaving children into a large sock, carrying them away at night. Quankus too is used by many parents to scare children into going to bed.
Etymology – Scottish & Irish – “a boorish old man”, Modern Scottish Gaelic – “old man”
In the Scottish Gaelic language, the word breaks down to “bod”, meaning “penis” and its suffix “’ –ach”, that translates to mean “someone who has a penis.”
Pronunciation: ˈbōdək, ˈbäd-
Historically, the word and name Bodach comes from the Scottish Gaelic term for an “old man” referring to a mature person. It had once been used as a derogatory term to refer to peasants and farmers (bothach) by the warrior class of the Scots. In more modern times, the term is used more affectionately then its former derogatory intent.
In Irish, the word bodach also means a churl or clown, referring to someone who was an old or churlish person, serf or peasant. There are some children’s stories where the word bodach is translated as curmudgeon or the name Nod is used in its place.
In time, the word bodach found its way into the English language by the British, who used the word to refer to a mythological being or spirit much like a goblin, bugbear or bogeyman. Here the bodaich is used as a cautionary story for keeping misbehaving children in line. Behave or else the bodach will come down the chimney to take you away!
There are certain regions of Wales and Scotland where the term bodach is used for a type of imp or fairy. Frequently, this is one of the more mischievous, shape-shifting types.
Omen Of Death
In Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), a much more formidable form of the bodach as the bodach glas (the Dark Grey Man) is a harbinger of death.
While not used very often, bodaich do appear from time to time in literature. The bodach has altered a bit of its appearance into modern literature. In Dungeons &Dragons, the name has a minor spelling change to bodak and becomes an undead entity, largely black in color. The same description of black, shadowy creatures is used in Dean Koontz Odd series where they appear at different sites just before a disaster takes place. The same type of shadowy creatures appears in the movie “The Eye.” Even W. B. Yeats make mention of a bodach in his prose The Hour-Glass where a bodach appears to the character, the Fool and attempts to trick him out his money with a riddle.
Also spelled: Azban, Asban or Azaban, Espun, Hespuns, Hespens
Azeban is a low-level raccoon trickster spirit in Abenaki folk lore and mythology. The Abenaki’s traditional homeland is known as Wobanakik, meaning “Place of the Dawn” and located where Northern New England and South Quebec are today. Another tribe that Azeban is associated with is the Penobscots.
Like many animal tricksters from Native American folklore, Azeban is known for doing many foolish and mischievous things. Unlike many of the tricksters, Azeban is not dangerous or malevolent as they prefer to tricking others for food or other deeds.
There are a few stories regarding Azeban and his antics.
A Dog Named Azeban
For those who study the stories and folklore of the Abenaki, there is a story where a woman, Cedar Girl named her six dogs based on their characteristics. This had caused a lot of confusion because people that the trickster of Azeban was a dog, not a raccoon. The dog was so named as he had the characteristics of a raccoon.
As to the story itself, Azeban, the dog was one of a litter of six pups born to Awasosqua or Bear Woman. The other pups were: Awasosis (Little Bear), Kwaniwibid (Long Tooth), Mikwe (Squirrel), Moosis (Little Moose) and Soksemo (Good Nose). All six pups are spirits and so named for their characteristics. But when you’re translating from one language into another, you can see how misunderstandings and mistakes can happen.
Raccoon Learns A Lesson
This is the type of story that explains how the raccoon came to have his black facial mask and ringed tail.
Once there were two blind men living in a village who had become very unhappy as they could no longer see or do things for themselves. Frustrated and unhappy, the two settled themselves on a log, determined to remain there.
They remained there until Glooscap happened upon them one day and asked what was wrong.
The two replied that no one wanted them around as they could no longer take care of themselves or help anyone else and were planning to remain on the log until they died.
Not willing to let them die unable to take care of themselves, Glooscap built a wigwam for the two. Then he took a rope, instructing them to go down to the river and tie it to a tree and to tie the other end to a bucket. When the two wanted to drink, all they needed to do was put the bucket in the water and pull it back in to them.
This of course is where Azeban or raccoon comes into the story. He saw what was going on and decided he would enjoy a bit of fun and mischief.
When one of the men went down to get water, Azeban followed after. When the bucket was thrown into the river; Azeban very sneakily took the bucket and moved it up onto the sandy bank.
Pulling in the bucket, the blind man found only sand in his bucket and not water as expected. The man returned to his friend lamenting that the river had gone dry and there was no more water to be had.
The friend accused the other of being lazy and not having gone at all for water. That he was just making excuses.
The first man insisted he told the truth and the second man went down to the river so he could prove it.
Azeban had already gone back down to the river and moved the bucket back into the water so that when the second man arrived, he was able to pull up some water. This only confirmed the second man’s accusations of the first being lazy. This started a fight and argument.
Some time later, Azeban noticed that the two men were cooking dinner. They had four pieces of meat in a pot. Planning more mischief, Azeban stole two pieces of the meat and then hid himself.
When the first man came to serve himself, he took two pieces of meat from the pot. It is when the second man went to get his food that the trouble began again. He accused the first taking all the meat for himself in addition to being lazy and refusing to get water.
The first man claimed he had only taken two pieces of meat and that there should still be two other pieces of meat. Once more the two men fought and Azeban just sat back laughing to himself about it.
Eventually Glooscap returned and saw the two fighting. He asked them what the fighting was all about and the second man told of how the first was too lazy to get water from the river and then his taking all of the food.
Hearing that, Glooscap looked around and quickly spotted Azeban where he was laughing at the two blind men. He knew then instantly what was happening.
Glooscap proceeded to take a piece of coal from the fire and then he seized Azeban, drawing a black mask around his face. He told Azeban that this was for stealing the meat from the two men. Then Glooscap took the coal and drew four rings around Azeban’s tail, telling him that this was for causing all those fights. These marks would be a reminder of Azeban’s misdeeds and thievery.
Azeban And The Waterfall
In this story, Azeban was out wandering around looking for something to do rather than stay at home, taking care of the things that he should have been doing.
As Azeban wandered along through the wood, he heard the chirping of baby birds above him in the trees.
Azeban called up to the baby birds, trying to get them to come down to him and play. The mother birds knew of the type of mischief and trouble that Azeban could cause and forbade their nestlings from going. They knew Azeban to be a nest robber and that he was very likely to eat the young fledglings instead of playing..
Prevented from causing trouble with the birds, Azeban wandered on until he found himself in a valley leading through some hills. Tilting his head, Azeban could hear something that sounded like a good number of people all shouting.
Curious, Azeban went to go find the source of the noise. He followed the sound ot the end of the valley. As the noise got louder, Azeban finally found the source when he pushed through some bushes and found himself at the edge of a cliff.
There, Azeban found himself looking out over the Winnoski River as it flowed down, forming a waterfall. It was the sound of all this rushing water and the roaring sound it made that Azeban had heard.
For some reason, Azeban decided to get into a shouting match with the waterfall. As it is just water and a waterfall, it couldn’t answer back to Azeban’s challenges and kept on doing what rivers and waterfalls do.
So Azeban kept yelling, angry that the waterfall would ignore him. With each challenge that Azeban made to the waterfall, he couldn’t out match the sound of the roaring water.
Eventually with Azeban’s antics of trying to out shout the waterfall, he got too close to the edge of the cliff where he lost his balance, falling into the water and getting swept out over the falls.
Alternate Spelling: Amaroq
Also known as: Great Wolf
In Inuit mythology, Amarok is the name of a gigantic, monstrous wolf. There is another wolf entity, Amaguq who is a Trickster deity. While very similar and from the same culture, neither Amarok nor Amaguq are the same being.
Amarok is said to hunt down and devour those who are foolish enough to go out hunting alone at night. Unlike other wolves who hunt in packs, the Amarok is a lone hunter.
Folk Lore & Legends
* One particular legend of Amarok is that of a young boy who was physically stunted and was hated by his village. Wanting to improve his strength, the young boy called out to the Lord of Strength. At his call, an Amarok appeared and proceeded to knock the boy to the ground with its tail.
This act caused a number of small bones to fall from the boy’s body. The Amarok told the boy that these bones had prevented his growth and that he needed to return daily in order to increase his strength. The boy did so and after several days of meeting with the Amarok and wrestling him, he gained enough strength that he was able to beat three large bears and win the prestige and esteem of his people.
* Another legend tells that Amarok came when the caribou had become so numerous that many were becoming sick and weakening from the lack of food. Amarok began hunting the weak and sick caribou so that the herd was strong and healthy again.
* Yet another story goes that a man, who mourned the death of a relative of his, had heard that an amarok was close by. Deciding to seek out the amarok’s lair, the man took another family member with him.
Once the two had found the amarok’s lair, they found it had pups and they proceeded to kill all of them. The deed done, the man’s family member became frightened and the two fled to go hide in a cave.
From the cave’s entrance, they could see the amarok returning with food for its pups. When the amarok couldn’t find its pups, it ran to a lake nearby and began to pull something human-shaped up out of the water. At the same time, the man fell dead at his relative’s feet.
It is believed that the amarok took the man’s soul from his body as “nothing remains concealed” from the amarok and no matter how far away the man hid or ran, it would extract revenge for the death of its pups.
There are many stories where an amarok kills or captures people.
Cryptozoology & Possible Prehistoric Connections
In his book “Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo,” the author Hinrich Rink makes note that the native Greenlanders use the term “amarok” to refer to a large “fabulous” animal. Other tribes living in the Arctic use the term “amarok” to refer to a wolf.
The stories surrounding Amarok and his description sound plausible enough to some that he may have a real world basis.
Dire Wolf – These Ice Age predators lived some 1.8 million years to 10,000 years ago. They like so many of the Pleistocene megafauna died out during the end of the last Ice Age. Its very possible that the ancestors to the Inuits passed on stories of dire wolves as their descriptions are similar to that of Amarok with being large (five feet long) wolves.
Hyaenodon – Another Ice Age predator, they were the early ancestors to modern hyenas with the largest being the Hyaenodon giga. It has been suggested by some that stories of Amarok may be stories of this creature.
Shunka Warakin – For those who follow cryptozoology, among the Iowa tribes (part of the Sioux), the name means “carries off dogs.” Like the Amarok, it is described as being a large wolf-like animal of Native American folklore.
Waheela – Another cryptozoology candidate, Amarok is sometimes seen as being the same as a creature known as a Waheela. Stories of the Waheela are found in the Northwestern part of Canada. They are also a wolf-like creature similar to the Amarok.
Personally, I think the Dire Wolf is the most likely candidate for any real world or historical basis and truth to the Amarok. The Waheela and Shunka Warakin are also likely when seen as possibly being the same animal, just a different name.
Found in the folklore of the Shetland Islands of Scotland, is the wulver, which is described as being a humanoid being with a wolf’s head and covered in short brown fur all over. Wulvers were never human to begin with and are a type of spirit being or fairy.
Wulvers dig their homes in the side of a steep knowe (a knoll or hill). The most famous wulver is known for fishing out on a rock in the water known as “Wulver’s Stane.” It was not uncommon for the wulver to leave a few fish on the window sill of a poor family’s home. The last reported sighting of a wulver was in the early 20th century.
The ancient Celts believed the wulver to be evolved or descended from wolves and that the wulver represented a transitional stage between wolf and man.
A few websites catering to the lore and study of werewolves have tried to categorize wulvers as a type of lycanthrope or werewolf. The problem with this is that werewolves are shape-shifters and the wulver is most definitely not.
Thanks to folklore and the likes of Universal Studios’ The Wolfman, werewolves are known for a reputation of being mindlessly violent monsters. The wulver on the other hand is known for keeping to itself and is peaceful when left alone. Wulvers are also known for being kind-hearted and guiding lost travelers back to their villages.
Possible Reality Behind The Myth
There is a medical condition known as hypertrichosis in which there is an excessive amount of hair growing all over the body.
It’s possible that sightings of the Wulver may have been those born with this condition given the isolation of the Shetland Islands centuries ago would lead to families marrying into each other and passing on genes that cause this genetic condition.
This would likely explain too a wulver’s kind-heartedness as a person trying to reach out to those who shunned and cast them out due to their appearance through no fault of their own other then the quirk of genetics.
Also known as: The King o’ the Cats
The King of the Cats is a folk tale that comes from Britain. The earliest version of this story was found written in a letter by Thomas Lyttelton, the 2nd Baron Lyttelton. The story was first published in 1782 by Walter Scott who reported it as being a well known nursery tale from the Scottish Highlands. The story “The King of the Cats” continues to be seen and used in many places of modern references, from William Shakespeare to video games and even in comic books such as Batman where Catwoman’s brother is referred to as The King of the Cats.
The Basic Story
One winter night, a man comes bursting home through his door calling out to his wife and startling the family cat: “Who’s Tommy Tildrum!?!”
Startled, the man’s wife asks him what the matter is and who this Tommy Tildrum is.
The man proceeds to tell his wife how he was working in the cemetery digging a new grave when he had fallen asleep. He woke up hearing a cat’s meow and when he looked out over the edge of the grave hole, he saw a group of nine black cats all carrying a small coffin with a gold crown laid upon it. That at every third step the cats took, they’d all meow again in unison. Eventually the group of cats made their way towards the man. One of the cats stood before the man and said: “Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.”
With that, the family cat burst out with: “Old Tom’s dead! Then I’m the King of the Cats!” as he rushed up the chimney, never to be seen again.
Variations of the Story
A variation of this story from Ireland has a man selling a calf at the November fair in Macroom, County Cork. After he’s sold the calf, he leaves the fair late in the evening and on his way, passes by the Inchigeelagh graveyard where a cat puts its head through the railings and tells the man: “Tell Balgeary that Balgury is dead.” The rest of the story pretty much follows its English counter-part with the family cat running out on the door once the man returns home to tell his story.
Continuing the Irish Connection
A king or lord of cats is also found in a couple of early Irish stories. In some versions of the Imtheacht na Tromdhaimhe (The Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution) in which there is a dispute between the bard Senchán Torpéist and the king Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht. The dispute led to Senchán cursing all mice with a dozen of them being killed in shame. This in turn led to the death of several cats that were responsible for keeping the mice population in check. In retaliation, the king of the cats, Irusan son of Arusan tracked Senchán down with the intention of killing the bard. However, Irusan was killed by Saint Kieran instead.
This story was later rewritten and published in Lady Jane Wilde’s book Ancient Legends of Ireland as “Seanchan the Bard and the King of the Cats” in 1866. Fame poet and author W.B. Yeats republished it in 1892 in his book Irish Fairy Tales. The story is also retold again as “the King of the Cats Came to King Connal’s Dominion” in Padraic Colum’s The King of Ireland’s Son published in 1916.
In the original story, the family cat Tom and the cats seen in the grave yard are described as being black cats with a spot of white. In Celtic fairy lore, the Cat Sith is a fairy creature described as being a large black cat with a spot of white on its chest.