Five Mythical Birds from Around the World

Alicanto Image by JohnnyMellado – CC BY-SA 4.0

Birds have always played and important part in human culture appearing in the legends, myths and fables of people all around the world.  Presented here are five legendary and mythical birds from different parts of the world, each with their own folklore and fables attached.

The Legendary Alicanto Bird

In Chilean folklore and mythology the Alicanto is a strange, mythical, bird that inhabits a strange but very real place known as the Atacama Desert ( Desierto de Atacama) and other parts of Chile, South America.   The desert is rich in minerals and ores and according to legend is home to a mythical bird called the Alicanto that is said to eat different ores of metal.  Its wings are said to shine at night with beautiful metallic colors and its eyes radiate colorful lights.   These wonderful illuminations are said to be caused by the different metals it has eaten.  For example, if it eats gold it emits a golden light or if it eats silver its light is silvery and if it eats copper it may be reddish though its wings are often described as being a coppery green.  Sometimes it may eat more than one kind of metal resulting in different colors being emitted.  Because of the light it emits it does not have a shadow.

Because of the heavy nature of its diet the bird spends most of its time on the ground being too heavy to fly and considered flightless.  When it has not eaten for a long time it becomes lighter and can run much faster.  It lays two eggs whose shells are made from the metal it eats.  According to folklore, miners and prospectors would secretly follow an Alicanto hoping it would lead them to a rich deposit of metal ore or a secret horde of treasure known as an entierros.  These legendary hoards were said to have been hidden by indigenous people hiding their treasure from the Spanish.  It was also said pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake hid their treasure in the desert.

Hopeful miners or prospectors would follow the light of bird’s wings in the darkness.  If the Alicanto became aware of them it turned off the light losing its follower in the thick darkness.  If the follower was of bad character and not true of heart the bird would lead them over a cliff to death.  One legend tells how a Chilean Silver Rush was sparked on 16 May, 1832 when a miner named Juan Godoy followed an Alicanto to rich outcrop of the precious ore.  This event led to a rush to mine silver with many miners striking rich.

The Basan in Japanese Mythology and Folklore

In Japanese folklore and mythology the Basan is a chicken-like bird sometimes called Basabasa, or Inuhōō and also  known as the “Fire Rooster”.    It was said to have its home on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the mountains of Iyo Province which is now known as Ehime Prefecture.   According to old depictions it looks like a large chicken with a large, intensely red comb. It is said to breathe ghost-fire from its beak which is not hot but a cold fire that glows.

They made their homes in bamboo covered mountain recesses but were known to occasionally materialize late at night in human settlements.   The wings of the Basan are said to make a strange and unearthly rustling sound when flapped.  If a human inside a house hears this noise and looks outside to investigate they will just get a glimpse of the bird as it disappears before their eyes.

The Firebird in Slavic and Russian Folktales

In Russian and Slavic folklore the Firebird is a beautiful, magical bird that is much desired but has a reputation of being both an omen of doom and a blessing for those who manage to find one of its feathers, or capture it.  The Firebird is described in various ways but essentially as a bird with brilliant, glowing orange, red and yellow plumage giving it the appearance of fire, hence its name.  The feather continues to glow even when one is lost making it a valuable prize for the finder emitting enough light to fill a large room.   They are usually depicted in the form of a fiery bird of paradise of varying in size with the story and artist.   It is an extremely beautiful bird and although not usually regarded as particularly friendly is not aggressive, or vicious, but is associated with danger.  This is because of its role as a bringer of danger to whoever finds it and very often a bringer of doom to those who demand its capture.

The typical structure of a firebird story begins with the finding of a feather by the hero.  All though initially pleased with the find the hero eventually begins to see it as the cause of all of his troubles. This is followed by a bullying king or tsar ordering the hero to undertake one, or more, difficult and dangerous quests in search of something rare and valuable. The hero often has the assistance of a magical animal helper such as a horse or wolf who guides him throughout.  The final quest is usually for the Firebird which must be brought back alive to the tsar or king.  On the quest the hero has a number of adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess.  On return with the Firebird the tsar or king dies and the hero becomes ruler and marries the beautiful princess obtaining his heart’s desire.  In many ways it is a rite of passage for the hero who grows in wisdom and maturity throughout until he becomes strong and able enough to become the ruler.

The Boobrie in Scottish Folklore

In the legends and folklore of the west coast of Scotland the Boobrie is a shapeshifting entity that usually appears in avian form.  It is also known to take on other forms such as that of a water horse or bull.  The Boobrie was said to make a deep bull-like bellowing call described as being similar to that of a common bittern though these are infrequent visitors to the region.   When it appears as a water horse it has the ability to gallop over the tops of lochs and rivers as if they were solid land.   It was also known to manifest as a huge vampire-like insect in summer that sucks the blood of horses.  However, its preferred form appears to be that of an oversized water bird such as a cormorant, great northern diver or the extinct flightless great auk.  Although considered mostly aquatic it was known to take to the land sometimes concealing itself in tall patches of heather.

The Boobrie is considered to be a voracious predator.  Otters are said to be its favorite food and although it eats these in great numbers it will raid ships carrying livestock having a liking for calves, lambs and sheep.  Of course this made it an enemy of the local island farmers of the area. One legend from the Isle of Mull tells how a farmer and his son were ploughing a field beside Loch Freisa.   They were using a team of four horses but ran into trouble when one lost a shoe and could not continue.  Looking round they saw an unknown horse grazing peacefully close by.   Wanting to get the ploughing finished they decided they would try the unknown horse in place of the one that lost its shoe.   Hitching it up along side the other three they were heartened to see the unknown horse seemed to take to the task with ease and their ploughing progressed well. 

The Anqa of Arabian Mythology

In Arabian mythology the Anqa is large, marvelous and mysterious female bird. It is said she flies far away only returning once in many ages but can be found at the place of the setting sun.  She is also known as Anka, Anqa Mughrib or Anqa al-Mughrib.   Mughrib, has several meanings such as “strange, foreign,” “distant” or “west sunset” signifying the mystery and fantastical attributes of the bird.

Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book, “The Wonders of Creation” describes the Anqa as very beautiful with four pairs of wings, a long white neck. He claimed it possessed a small resemblance to every known living creature and they were related to birds that lived alone on Mount Qaf.   He also claimed they were wise gaining wisdom and experience through their lifespan of 1700 years and mates when it reaches the age of 500 and an egg is produced. When the chick hatches it will stay in the nest for 125 years before it leaves.  The Anqa is so large its diet consists of large fish and elephants and nothing else.

© 12/05/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 12th, 2021 zteve t evans

The Giant and the Geoglyphs of the The Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama Desert – Image by Julian Hacker from Pixabay

The Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert (Desierto de Atacama) of Chile, South America, located between the Andes Mountains and the coastal Cordillera de la Costa mountain range is the oldest desert on the planet. However, with an average temperature of 18 C or 63 F it is not the hottest desert in the world but being sandwiched between two mountain ranges creates special atmospheric and weather conditions making it the driest non-polar desert in the world.  The desert landscape is dry and arid with an otherworldly appearance and has been used for simulations of future expeditions to Mars.  The driest part of the desert receives less that a millimeter of rain annually on average though rainstorms do occur on rare occasions which bring rapid but fleeting growths of wildflowers.

Geoglyphic Art

Although the Atacama is a desolate, inhospitable place today there is much evidence of ancient human presence.   There are more that 5,000 prehistoric works of art known as geoglyths that have been situated on or created from the landscape.  A geoglyph is a work of art or construction that is formed on the ground in parts of the landscape.  They are usually 4 meters or more in length and constructed of durable materials found in the locality such as stone, rocks, gravel or earth.  They are considered a type of ancient land art and in some cases rock art and are usually highly visible from a distance.  In some cases such as some of the famous Nasca lines of Peru they appear to have been constructed to be viewed from above though it is not certain that was intended.  The Nazca lines were built between 200-800 BC and about 800 kilometers distant.   However, the Atacama glyphs are believed to have been built between 600 and 1500 AD and although not thought to be as old are more numerous and with varied styles covering a much larger region.

It is believed both sets of geoglyphs had multiple symbolic and ritual purposes and communicated certain information to people who understood their symbolism.   The Atacama geoglyphs are thought to have played an important role in the transportation system and networks that connected the great civilizations of South America in pre-Hispanic times.  They were believed to have been built and improved upon by more than one early South American culture including The Tiwanaku and Inca Empires as well as other groups.  The geoglyphs are formed in many different shapes including human, animal and geometric in about fifty varying types.  Some of these works were placed or created in isolated sites while others appear in panels of figures up to fifty in number.   They are located throughout the Atacama Desert in valleys, or on pampas or hillsides and always close to pre-Hispanic paths or tracks which were the routes of the llama caravans through the arid and desolate landscape connecting the ancient people of the region.

Types and Forms of Geoglyphs

Image by SznegraCC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There were three methods that have been identified that were used to create the geoglyphs.  One method was to scrape away the top layer of the landscape such as soil or sand revealing a contrasting color below.   Another way was to use rocks and stone and other materials to form shapes on the landscape.   They also used a combination of these two methods and sometimes paint to create other geoglyphs.

Geoglyphs in geometric shapes are the most numerous. There are many different types of these including rectangles, circles, concentric circles, arrows, crossed parallel lines, rhomboids and other shapes.  There are also zoomorphic figures especially llamas and alpacas, but also animals such as fox and monkeys, birds such as eagles, flamingos, and seagulls and fishes such as dolphins or sharks.   There are also depictions of amphibians such as lizards, snake and toads which were believed to represent ancient divinities associated with water.  One of the most often repeated depictions are of caravans of llamas with 3 or more ranks of up to 80 animals in lines.   Humans are also depicted engaged in activities such as fishing, hunting, religious ceremonies and sex.

Ancient Signposts

Luis Briones in his paper, “The geoglyphs of the north Chilean desert: an archaeological and artistic perspective”, published in the March 2006 issue of the journal Antiquity discussed the geoglyphs and came up with some interesting ideas. The real function and purpose of the geoglyphs may never be known but Briones believes they may have served several functions.   Their location along the trade routes through the Atacama seems to have been deliberate.  It may be they acted as signposts providing the travelers, who would know their meaning, with certain types of invaluable and useful information.

They may have served as pointers or landmarks perhaps indicating where water or fodder for animals may be found, or warning of difficulties in the landscape and indicating safe paths.   It may be that they are part of an early religion or cult which may have combined commercial traveling with religion.  Following such a path may have been a rite or ritual or perhaps an initiation or pilgrimage.   If they did contain information they may have been an early form of writing.  However, to read their meaning you would have to know what the shapes and the way they were set meant along with how punctuation and syntax was used.  Unfortunately, that knowledge is now lost, if it ever existed and we can only guess.

The trade routes would have been an important part of the economy for any civilization or culture.   The moving or essential items such as corn, potatoes, fish and other food as well as commodities such as turquoise, copper and cotton to distant markets helps bind civilizations and empires together.   Moreover, they transported news and perhaps orders or commands from the government centers.

The Atacama Giant

One of the most spectacular of these geoglyphs is known as the Atacama Giant, a large anthropomorphic figure set on the side of the hill of Cerro Unitas.  It is the largest known prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world being 390 ft (119 m) long and believed to depict a deity of a local population from 1000 – 1400 AD.   It was believed to be an early astronomical calendar that told those who knew how to read it important dates such as crop cycles and seasons in relation to how certain parts of it aligned with the moon.   Anything that might help predict rain or weather would be very useful in the dry, barren regions of the Atacama Desert.  

Hill figures are often thought to have been intended to view from some distance, suggesting the giant may have been strategically placed.  The giant has a stylized unnatural appearance made up of squares, rectangles and parallel lines at varying angles to create a geometric representation of a massive anthropomorphic figure.    It appears to be either wearing a headdress such as one made of feathers or had rays emanating with from its head or from behind it.    How the moon or other astronomical objects related to these lines was believe to give the season and times of the year. 

The Giant and the other geoglyphs provide evidence of the activities of humans in these inhospitable regions. There are many similar examples of such landscape art found all around the world including the Nasca lines, and the White Horse of Uffington and other English hill figures, the Blythe Intaglios of California USA and the Steppe Geoglyphs of Kazakhstan are but a few examples.

© 23/04/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright April 4th, 2021 zteve t evans

Argentine Folklore: The Legend of the Origin of the Carau

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File:Crying bird2.jpeg – CC BY-SA 3.0 – Source

The Carau

The carau (Aramus guarauna), is a bird found in the wetlands of Argentina and other countries in the Americas.  It is also known as the crying bird, limpkin, carrao or courlan and is looks like a cross between a crane and a rail.  From the northeastern part of Argentina comes a legend about its origin which also warns about the dangers of disrespecting one’s mother.

The Legend of the Origin of the Carau

The story tells how a mother suffering from a terrible illness sent her son to fetch medicine for her from a nearby village which she desperately needed.   Her son was a young man who was perhaps not too bright and more than a little selfish and he set off walking to the next village to get the medicine. On the way he heard the distant sound of an accordion playing.  Intrigued by the music he followed the sound and came to a place where a country dance was in full swing. Like many young men he liked to dance and liked nothing better than dancing with a pretty girl.  Searching out  the prettiest girl he asked her to be his partner and was soon completely taken up with dancing with her.

He was enjoying himself so much he forgot his poor, sick mother was waiting for him to return with her medication. He danced and caroused with her all through the afternoon and as evening began to fall one of his friends tapped him on his shoulder and said,

“Please accept my condolences on the death of your poor mother.  I am very sad and very sorry for you.”

“It matters not that my mother has died, I will have time to grieve later. Right now I am enjoying myself” he replied and carried on dancing through the night.  As dawn was breaking he asked the girl if he could go home with her.  She looked at him with disbelief and anger and said,

“My home is far away and if it were near I would never allow one such as you who has no love for his mother to pass through the door!”

This shocked the young man and broke his heart as he suddenly realized what he had done and he went home crying bitter tears.  God looked down and as punishment for his callousness towards his poor sick mother turned him into a large bird wearing the black feathers of mourning. Ever since his lamenting cry will be heard at dusk, through the night and at dawn, as a warning to all young men to respect their mothers, until God sees fit to pardon him.

© 05/09/2018 zteve t evans

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Copyright August 9th, 2018 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Legend of the Creation of the Iguazú Falls

A Wonder of the World

The Iguazú Falls are a natural wonder of the world situated on the Iguazi River on the border of Argentina and Brazil.   In the Guarani/Tupi language, Iguazú, means big water and the Iguazú waterfall system is the largest in the world. People lived around the Iguazú Falls long before the arrival of the Spanish having their own long held beliefs and religion.  One of their most important rituals was the annual sacrifice of a virgin to M’Boi, the Serpent God who lived in the Iguazú River and was the son of Tupa, the Supreme God.

Naipi and Taruba

In a village on the banks of the Iguazú lived a very beautiful maiden named Naipi who was to be married to a great warrior named Taruba from a nearby tribe.  The two of them were deeply in love and looked forward to the blessed day with excitement and anticipation. One day before her wedding Napi went walking along the banks of the river and as M’Boi passed along the river he looked up and saw her.  Never had he seen a maiden of such grace and beauty before and he fell in love with her. He decided he must have her and went to the Guarani elders telling them of his desire and demanding they give her to him in the sacred ritual.

A Desperate Plan

The elders were frightened of M’Boi and rather than upset him they decided that Naipi would be sacrificed to him the day before her wedding.  Of course poor Naipi was frightened and upset and Taruba was furious and determined that she would not face such a terrible death. They knew that if the elders found out they would stop them and if M’Boi found out they would both die, but decided that death together would be better than death apart.  Therefore, they decided they would run away together and set a time and place of rendezvous to carry out their desperate plan. As Naipi and Taruba were setting off in a canoe to go down river the Serpent God saw them and chased after them furiously.

M’Boi’s Anger

Taruba rowed with all of his strength and managed to keep a few feet ahead of the angry god.  M’Boi became so angry that his serpent body expanded to the width of the river. As he twisted and turned he created new curves in the river making the canoe rock dangerously two and fro but this only increased the anger and determination of Taruba who rowed even harder refusing to give up.   Suddenly, M’Boi became so filled with rage he caused the very earth to split asunder causing the river to plummet wildly into the chasm he had created taking the vessel with it, causing it to spin uncontrollably around. The sheer force sent Taruba flying from the canoe to land onto the bank.  Trapped in the falling canoe Naipi watched helplessly as the bottom of the chasm opened up under her. As she was about to smash into the bottom M’Boi transformed her into massive rock to stop her escaping him.

Rainbow

On seeing his beloved turn to stone, Taruba attempted to climb down to her but M’Boi pulled his hands into the earth and as he stretched out his fingers to try and take hold they turned into roots and Taruba turned into a palm tree on the Brazilian side of the falls  that was forever rooted to the place above the newly formed waterfall. From this position Taruba could see Naipa on the Argentine side of the falls and she could see him but they could never ever touch, kiss or embrace. To make sure this never happens the jealous Serpent God watches them from a deep part of the river called the Devil’s Throat. Nevertheless, although Naipa and Taruba can never be reunited their love can be seen forming a rainbow from the palm tree on Brazilian side of the falls to the rock that is Naipa on the Argentine side.

© 29/08/2018 zteve t evans

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Copyright August 29th, 2018 zteve t evans

Brazilian Folktales: Domingo’s Cat

 

Magical Animal Helpers and Tricksters

Humans have always had a long and beneficial association with animals and animal helpers appear in many fairy tales from around the world.  Sometimes they are tricksters as in this story and sometimes they are teachers or guides that take the hero through difficult situations and very often they are magical.  Presented below is a retelling of a Brazilian fairy tale from Tales of Giants from Brazil, by Elsie Spicer Eells, illustrated by Helen M. Barton, called Domingo’s Cat and has much in common with Charles Perrault’s “The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots, from the 17th century.”

The Story of Domingo’s Cat

The story begins with a man named Domingo who fell upon hard times and had to sell everything he owned just to buy enough food to keep from starving.   After all his possessions had finally been sold he had nothing left in the world except his cat which he loved dearly.  He vowed that come what may he would never sell his cat and that he would rather starve before he let any harm come to it. As it sat upon his lap he told it,  “Have no fear my only friend, I will never let you go or let harm come to you, I will die of starvation first.”

The cat rubbed its head against him and replied, “My good master Domingo, while you have me I will never let you starve.  I am going to go out into the wide world and find both our fortunes. You must put your trust in me.”

Treasure for the King

With that Domingo’s cat jumped down from his master’s lap and ran off into the jungle.  Presently, he stopped and began digging a hole in the ground with his fore paws. He dug furiously throwing up the earth all around and mixed in with the earth were many silver pieces. He gathered some of these up and took them home and gave them to Domingo to buy food.  Then he went back to the jungle collecting the remaining silver pieces and took them to the king.

The next day the cat went out into the jungle and began digging more holes  and this time mixed in with the dirt were pieces of gold. He gathered these up and took them to the king who again was very pleaded with it.   The following day the cat went out into the jungle and again began digging a hole but this time the earth was mixed with many shiny diamonds which he took along to the king.  Again, the king was surprised and very happy with the cat and asked him where he was getting all these riches from.

“It is not me, it is Domingo my master,”  replied the cat.

The Wedding

The king was very impressed and thought that Domingo must be very rich.  Indeed, he thought he must probably be richest man in all his kingdom and therefore just the man to marry his beautiful daughter whom he had been looking for a suitable husband for. Therefore, he suggested to the cat that his master may like to marry her. The cat took the news back to Domingo who agreed he would like to marry the king’s daughter but pointed out that he did not have any clothes anywhere near fine enough to wear to a wedding let alone as the bridegroom to the king’s daughter.

“Don’t worry about that or anything else,”  the cat told him, ” I will take care of everything and make all the necessary arrangements.  Just leave it all to me.” 

The Wedding Suit

The cat ran back to the king and said,  “Your Majesty, I have bad news.  A terrible fire broke out in the tailor’s shop where my master, Domingo was having his wedding suit made and the tailor and his assistants were all burnt to death.  Now everything in the shop is nothing but ashes including Domingo’s wedding suit. I wonder if perhaps you could find him something suitable for such a grand wedding from your own wardrobe.”

The king readily agreed and himself chose the finest clothes and sent them with a servant to Domingo.   After Domingo had put the clothes on he looked very smart and perfectly dressed for such an important wedding but he realized there was a problem.

“I look very fine but I have no splendid palace to take my wife home to after we are married,”  he told his cat.

“Leave it to me,” said his cat, “I will see to it at once.”   and ran off into the jungle until he came to a huge and magnificent castle where a great giant lived.  He banged on the door until the giant came and answered it and then said, “Great giant, will you lend your castle to my master Domingo, please, just for a while?”

The giant snorted and shouted angrily “What me lend my castle to that pauper Domingo? Certainly not!  Go away!”

“I will not go away and I will have your castle,” said the cat and in the blinking of an eye changed the giant into a mouse and pounced upon it and ate it.

The Giant’s Castle

The giant’s  castle was indeed very wonderful and had a beautiful and stately palace. There were rooms marvelously decorated with wonderful words of art and adorned with gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and much, much more.  Outside the palace, inside the castle walls, was a beautiful garden filled with wonderful flowers and singing birds and it was indeed a most fitting place for Domingo to bring his new bride home to.

After the wedding a stately carriage took Domingo and his wife to the caste and when they arrived they saw his cat sitting in the window watching for them, but that was the last they ever saw of him because he disappeared into the jungle to look for another kind, penniless master to make rich.  Maybe one day he may find you and then – well, who knows?

© 22/8/2018 zteve t evans

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Copyright August 22nd, 2018 zteve t evans

Mexican Folklore: The Legends of Popocatepetl & Iztaccíhuatl

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Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl By AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl are two active volcanoes in Mexico that overlook Mexico City one of the great cities of the world.  They are associated with many myths and folktales and there is also a romantic legend from the Aztec period that attempts to explain their origin.

The Aztec empire began as Triple Alliance of city states in the Valley of Mexico.  These city states were Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan with Tenochtitlan eventually becoming the dominant military power.  The Valley of Mexico is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that are part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.  Naturally, with such dominant and dramatic features in the landscape the volcanoes became the subject of many myths and legends and the following two folktales give accounts of how the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl originated and were named.

Princess Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl

The first tells how the Aztec Emperor had a daughter named Princess Iztaccihuatl who was a very attractive woman.  Her beauty and her social position as the emperor’s daughter encouraged many rich and powerful men to seek her hand in marriage.  Although she was spoilt for choice her favourite and the one she gave her heart to was an Aztec warrior named Popocatepetl and he in return gave his to her.

As is often the case the rulers of empires and nations need to impose taxes on their citizens and subjective people to pay for state functions, services and for many other reasons.  Unfortunately taxes are never popular with those who have to pay them and the Aztec taxes were particularly oppressive.  One of the victims of these taxes were the Tlaxcaltecas people who had no love for the Aztecs in the first place and they rebelled refusing to pay.

The Emperor decided that he would send his army to put down the Tlaxcaltecas rebellion and Popocatepetl was chosen to lead it.  Before he left for war Popocatepetl asked the emperor his permission to wed his daughter.  The Emperor agreed but only if Popocatepetl returned victorious and only then would there be a big wedding and celebration.

Popocatepetl readily agreed and prepared the army for war.  Before he left he promised Princess Iztaccihuatl that he would return victorious and there would be a great wedding and victory celebration. Princess Iztaccihuatl did not want him to go to war but she agreed to keep herself for him until the day of his return when they would consummate their love.  Popocatepetl kept this promise safe, deep within his heart looking forward to the day of his return.

Popocatepetl had many rivals who were jealous of his prowess as a warrior and for his place in the heart of Princess Iztaccihuatl and one of these was named Tlaxcala.  One day while the war was being fought Tlaxcala went to her and told her that Popocatepetl had been killed in battle.  Naturally, Princess Iztaccihuatl could not imagine that anyone would tell such a terrible lie and believed him.   Devastated with grief for the loss of her loved one she could not eat or drink thereafter and slowly wasted away and died.

Meanwhile, the war with the Tlaxcaltecas people was proving to be a long and bloody campaign. Although Popocatepetl led his warriors bravely and skilfully it took a long time to subdue the rebellion and no news came to him of the tragic death of his beloved.  Eventually, he gained victory and returned in triumph looking forward to his marriage to Princess Iztaccihuatl and to consummate his love with her.   When her father told him of her terrible death he was overcome with grief.   Darkness fell upon him and he went from the palace and wandered through the streets in black despair for several days.  At last he decided he would do something to honour her and make sure the memory of her would last forever and vowed to create an eternal monument to her.

He piled ten hills on top of each other to create one huge mountain that rested under the sun.  Then tenderly lifting the body of the princess he carried her up the mountain and gently laid her down.  He bent and kissed her lips then raised a torch and knelt before his love keeping an undying watch over her everlasting slumber.  There the two lovers became transformed through the ages into two magnificent volcanoes that look out over Mexico City today and this is how Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl will remain until world’s end and the final judgement is cast.

According to the legend there are times when Popocatepetl yearns to hold his beloved again.  They say his heart still carries the eternal passion he held for her and every now and then it bursts free with smoke and flame.  The legend also tells how the liar Tlaxcala repented of his evil deed and wandered off and died nearby.  Over time his body became the volcano called Pico de Orizaba who now watches from afar the dreaming of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, knowing they can never again be separated.

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Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl By AntoFran (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Náhuas Legend

Probably the best known version of the story of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl is the Nahuas legend.  This tells that many years before the arrival of Cortes and his Spanish conquistadores there was once an Aztec Emperor who was much loved by all of his people.  The Emperor and his wife had no children and they desperately wanted a baby and so did the people so that their line would continue.  One day with joy in her eyes the empress went to see her husband and told him that she was with child.  The Emperor was overjoyed and in due course his wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. The happy couple named their daughter Iztaccíhuatl which in their language meant white lady.  The people were also delighted with her birth and loved her greatly.

As she grew up Iztaccíhuatl was taught all of the things that were appropriate, important and necessary for a daughter of the Aztec rulers to learn.  In this way her parents prepared her to rule when they had passed on.   Being young and beautiful and an Aztec princess she had many suitors but she fell in love with a young warrior chief of her people named Popocatepetl.

One day Popocatepetl was sent to fight a war by the Emperor who promised him that if he could bring back the head of his enemy he would give him permission to marry Iztaccihuatl.  Popocatepetl vowed he would do this and motivated by the thought of marriage to Iztaccihuatl went off to war.  The war turned out to be a long and bloody struggle that was waged for several months.  One of his rivals sent a message to the emperor saying that Popocatepetl had been killed in battle.   When the Emperor told Iztaccihuatl she became inconsolable with grief and sorrow and fell into a black depression.  She spent days on end crying and would not eat or drink and eventually died of broken heart.

However, Popocatepetl was still very much alive and eventually  triumphed and returned to the emperor with his enemy’s head in triumph expecting to marry Iztaccihuatl.  He was shocked to find that the funeral of Iztaccihuatl was underway and when the Emperor told him that she had died after being told by another warrior of his supposed death, he was devastated.

Popocatepetl took the body of Iztaccihuatl and carried it for many miles and then ordered his warriors to build a funeral table for her to rest upon.  This was done and the table was decorated with many beautiful flowers and Popocatepetl gently laid the body of his love upon the table.   Then he kneeled over the body to watch over her and he died in that position.  The Gods looked down and were moved by the dedication of Popocatepetl and turned the two bodies into huge volcanoes.   The largest of these is Popocatepetl whose name in Náhuatl means smoking mountain.  Sometimes even today smoke can be seen issuing from him which is said to prove that the fire he had for Iztaccíhuatl still survives.

© 10/01/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 10th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

Guatemalan Folklore: El Sombrerón

El Sombrerón

In the folklore and of Guatemala, El Sombrerón is a legendary bogeyman figure who also appears in other Latin American countries such as Mexico. He also is known by other names such as Tzizimite, Tzipitio, and the goblin, but generally appears as a short male dressed all in black. He wears a thick black, shiny belt and black shiny boots that click when he walks. On his head, he wears a large black sombrero hat.

He often has a horse and will braid its mane and tail. His favorite occupation is to court young ladies who have large dark eyes and long black hair which he likes to braid for her. He will serenade and play his guitar for her but will also place soil on her plate and she will have problems eating and sleeping.

His favorite time to appear is at dusk when he can sometimes be seen leading a line of four mules around the city or its urban districts. When a girl responds favorably to his advances he will tie his mules to her house and begin to serenade her by singing and playing his guitar.  Sometimes he will dance for her.  It is said by some residents of Parroquia Vieja and La Recolección districts in La Antigua, Guatemala, that when there is a full moon he can still be seen at times wandering through the streets.

Susana

One legend of El Sombrerón tells how an attractive young woman named Susana from La Recolección was troubled by this strange, amorous spirit. Susana was the daughter of a woman who was the owner of a local store. She was very pretty with long dark hair and big hazel eyes.  One pleasant summer night she was sat out on her balcony watching the stars come out when she was approached by a rather short man dressed all in black wearing a large black sombrero hat. He was carrying a silver guitar slung over his back.

He stood below her balcony looking up to her and he sang and strummed his guitar and she fell under his spell. Luckily her mother looked out and called her inside but from that moment on Susana could not get the strange man out of her mind. In fact, he would appear out of nowhere either in the house or outside and begin playing his guitar and singing to her. Sometimes he would begin to braid her long dark hair while she appeared helpless to stop him. Strangely each time she was given a plate of food it was found to be contaminated with soil. It made no difference who prepared it or who served it to her it still became contaminated preventing her from eating properly and her health began to suffer. Eventually, her worried mother cut her hair and took it to the church and asked the priest to soak it with holy water and to pray over it. The priest did as he was asked and after a few days, the strange little man stopped bothering her.

Another Victim

Another legend tells how one village girl went out one night to sit on her balcony and enjoy the light of the full moon. She was surprised to hear the sound of a guitar playing and a soothing voice singing a beautiful serenade. Looking over the balcony she saw a strange, dark, squat figure in a large sombrero hat playing a silver guitar while singing up to her. Struck by the music and singing she listened but was disturbed by her mother who heard and knew who was out there and came out and called her in quickly. However, it was too late for she had fallen under his spell and every night the strange man in the big hat would appear and serenade her keeping her awake all night long.

One night he climbed the balcony and entered her room and began to braid her hair as she sat spellbound. Tradition says that once he finishes the first braid she would become his bride for eternity but that never happened in this case. Although she was under his spell El Sombrerón likes to keep moving from one girl to the next and he grew bored with her and moved on to another victim. Although he has them under his spell rather than marry them he prefers to throw stones and dirt in their food so that they cannot eat and slowly starve and die of a broken heart. That is what happened to this poor girl.

Warning

The legend of El Sombrerón is a warning to young girls that moonlight and music can easily be used by men of bad intentions as a means of seduction and to remember and uphold the traditional family values and the standards of society. It reminds them that courtship has certain rituals and rules that should be obeyed and followed rather than fall for the charms of mysterious strangers on dark nights under the moonlight.

© 23/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 23rd, 2017 zteve t evans

Latin American Folklore: La Patasola

La Patasola - Public Domain

By Rafael Yockteng (http://leyenco.iespana.es/quindio.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

La Patasola

In Latin American folklore La Patasola, or one-foot,  is a predatory supernatural woman preying on those males who tend to live or work on the edge of civilization close to the wild such as hunters and forest workers.  La Patasola has only one foot or leg and appears to her victims as a beautiful woman often taking on the likeness of a victim’s loved one.  She will choose a victim and try and separate him from his companions and enticing him further and further into the jungle.  Once she has led him to a remote place she will change into a terrifying, one legged vampire-like creature that lusts after the blood and flesh of humans.   She will suck the blood from her victims until they are dry and then eat their raw flesh.

La Patasola haunts the remote mountains and dense untamed forests and other thickly wooded places with lush verdant vegetation.   She is seen as a guardian of the wild animals and the jungle and the enemy of those who kill animals or destroy the jungle environment that she lives in.

She mostly strikes at night tending to lurk on the fringe of semi-civilized places looking for male victims such as loggers, miners, hunters, shepherds and herders who tend to spend a lot of time around the edges of the wild places.  She will often disrupt their activities if they are interfering with her territory by blocking paths and shortcuts through the jungle and disrupt hunting dogs making them lose the scent trail.

La Patasola is found in different regions many South American countries and is known by different names with different attributes in different places.   A similar creature is found in the Colombian Pacific Coast region called La Tunda

A Shapeshifter

La Patasola is so named because she has only one leg which has an hoof for a foot.  Despite these apparent disadvantages she can move very swiftly around the jungle and wilderness.  She is said to only have one breast, a large hooked nose, bulbous eyes, thick lips and sharp teeth with elongated canines which she uses to puncture the skin of her victims and suck their blood.  Her head is a mass of long, wild, matted hair.  La Patasola is a shapeshifter who can change her body into different forms such as a loved one of an intended victim, or a huge black dog or cow.

It is said that when she is happy she will climb to the top of a tree or mountain and sing the following song,

I’m more than the siren ,

I live alone in the world

and no one can resist me

because I am the Patasola.

On the road, at home,

on the mountain and the river,

in the air and in the clouds

all that exists is mine.” (1)

The Origin of La Patasola

There are many different stories that tell how La Patasola originated.  In most cases she has been a woman of bad character displaying lecherous or lewd behaviour.  Some versions say she murdered her own son and was punished by being mutilated and banished to the jungle.  Another version says that she was evil and cruel to men and women.   She was punished by having her leg chopped off with an axe which was then burnt in front of her as she died,  Now she haunts the jungles, mountains and wild places on the edge of civilization.   Another account tells that she had an affair with her husband’s employer and when he found out he murdered her and his boss and although she died her soul now dwells in a one legged body.

Variations of La Patasola

There are similar entities to La Patasola found in many parts of Latin and South America. For example there is the Sayona in Venezuela, though they are more common in Columbia which tells of a vampiric female called La Tunda that is a shapeshifter with a wooden leg.  However what ever shape she assumes will also have a wooden leg which she carefully conceals from intended victims.

A Warning!

Gruesome entities such as La Patasola tend to serve as warning or morality tale in Latin American folklore.   Often, they reinforce the accepted roles of gender and sexual and moral behaviour in society especially for the lower classes.  It is believed that such legends and folktales help reinforce the family values especially the traditional nuclear families with a dominant male at their head.  Although La Patasola is used to warn against the sexual and moral behaviour in females it is the men who are her victims and also must moderate their behaviour.  Secret liaisons in the woods with females can bring a risk of horrific consequences.

© 16/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 16th, 2017 zteve t evans

The Lost World of El Dorado

rohm_d237_conquistadors_exhort_their_supporters

Public Domain

In search of El Dorado

In the 16th century when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered Mexico they began to hear rumors of a fabulous priest-king who was said to cover his body with gold dust. The conquistadors called him El-Dorado or the Gilded King, and the Golden One. The city he ruled over was said to be paved with gold and held unimaginable treasures.

The Zipa and the Zaque

When the conquistadors explored what is now Columbia they found the Muisca people who were organized into the Muisca Confederation. This confederation had two rulers; the Zipa and the Zaque. The Zipa ruled over the southern part of the confederation that was then called Bacatá and now known as Bogota and during the time of the Spanish conquest the Zipa held ascendency over the Zaque.

The Zaque ruled over the northern part of the confederation. These were positions of tremendous prestige, authority and power and they were held in great honor by the people. Elaborate ceremonies surrounded them and were part of their duties to participate in and perform.

The Zipa was held in such high esteem that even members of the Muisca nobility would not dare to look him in the face. Although the position was inherited it was not from a patrilineal line. The new ruler would come from the oldest son of the oldest sister of the previous Zipa so he would be the nephew. Although there were some exceptions to this and the people had some say in the matter, but usually only to give their consent to the successor at the ceremony on Lake Guatavita.

One of the most important tasks of the Zipa was to offer the gods gold and this was done with great ceremony at Lake Guatavita the sacred lake of the Muisca. In a ceremony on barge on Lake Guatavita the Zipa would be covered in mud and then gold dust sprinkled over him and then floated out to the middle of the lake. While his people watched from the shore he would dive in the water washing himself clean of mud and gold dust. His attendants then threw gold and silver objects and precious stones into the water for the gods and the people would roar their approval from the shore.  Read more Continue reading

Supernatural beings in the Chilote mythology of Chile

The Chiloé Archipelago lies just off the southern coast of Chile. The islands are remote and isolated and over the centuries the people developed a unique mythology and many folk traditions that enriches their island culture. Their mythology tells of how the archipelago was believed to have been created and the deities that take care of the sea. They also have a number of supernatural creatures and entities that have evolved along with the mythology. The following examples give an insight into the rich culture that grew up among the island people.

The Basilisco chilote

The Basilisco chilote is a strange beast that has the body of a snake and the head of a cockerel. It is hatched from an egg that has been incubated by a cockerel. It is said that creature will slither under houses and dig a hole to create a lair. From there it draws the saliva, phlegm and moisture out of the bodies those who sleep there, causing their flesh to shrink and shrivel against their skeleton and death through dehydration. At all costs one must avoid looking into the eyes of the basilisco as its gaze turns humans to stone. It is best not to let Basilisco chilote hatch, but to kill one the egg must be burned immediately it is laid and the chicken that laid it must be killed to stop more eggs being laid. The only one way to be free of the Basilisco chilote once it has targeted a victim is to burn the house above its lair to ashes.  Read more