Category Archives: folklore

Chickcharnie

When sightseeing on the Island of Andros, dear readers, keep your eyes peeled for a creature that Bahamian folk tales describe as a three-toed elf, a red-eyed man-beast or a birdlike creature with a lizard’s tail and a fluffy mane, that likes to hang upside down from trees. Quite monstrous really. And carry flowers or bright bits of cloth, with which you will, if rumors are to be believed, be able to charm the creatures– so long as you treat them respectfully. This is something you will surely want to do.

Why, you might ask? Well, it’s quite simple really. If you piss these touchy lil’ buggers off they’ll make your head spin right around. Right on around. Dastardly.

… Of course, should you treat the elf with respect, you may be blessed with good luck for the rest of your natural life—a boon not to be sneered at, in the author’s humble opinion.

Of course, some doubting souls claim that Tyto pollens, an extinct species that is distantly related to the Common Barn-owl ( Tyto alba), is the origin of the chickcharnie myth. Tyto pollens was a large, flightless burrowing owl rumored to have been territorially aggressive, though it coexisted with humans. Rapid deforestation by white explorers in the 16th century led, sadly, to this creature’s extinction… or just to the chickcharnie’s retreat from common view…

Whichever version of the story is true,  the author is ready to chance it, as some good luck– and a beach vacation– would be greatly appreciated.

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“The Cock is a Bird that Can Tell Time”

 

Copyright: Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 36v

You cannot blame the author for the sheer volume of noteworthy cocks in the world. She is perfectly aware that she has already written about the Cock of Dawn, but that was from the Chinese tradition, and the author reserves the right to differentiate between Chinese and Roman cocks. Ahem. In any case, were you to blame anyone for the next double entendre, dear readers, it would have to be Pliny the Elder, who writes that cocks “were designed by nature to announce the dawn; by singing they awaken men.” Indeed.

They are also, he avers, quite the little oracles: omens and auspices can be read in the behavior of cocks. Indeed. The author once knew a man who swore he could predict the weather with his. True story.

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Sea krait: love machine of the underwater world

If you are like the author, dear readers, you were inordinately excited by the release of the first installment of the “Life” series, a follow-up to “Planet Earth,” which aired on the  Discovery channel and its affiliates this sunday. And if you know the author at all (at all, I say), the three of you who read with any regularity (ahem) would immediately have recognized that the sea krait was destined to be the newest addition to the annals of BV.

Because it is impossible to ignore the single most prominent feature of these Hydrophiidae  : sea kraits Do. It. All. Day. Long. In more scientific terms, they “copulate. prodigiously. diurnally.” During which time the much smaller male is unable to disengage.

You read it right, dear readers. “Unable to disengage.”

No female sea kraits were available for comment (or their native reticence prevented them from kissing and telling), but we might imagine that this unique (ahem) situation has its benefits and its drawbacks:

 *First: the male is unable to claim fatigue and roll over before he gets the job done.  BUT:

*this leaves the female no option of… shall we say creative vocalization and a speedy retreat. NEVERTHELESS:

*there is no need for the female to long for just a bit more post-coital cuddling, AND

* she has no need to wonder if he’s going to call again. After all, dear readers, she  knew he was a snake when she picked him up.

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Dissertation Owls Asleep on the Job

Folkes, while the dissertation elves, tiny little owls that creep into grad students’ bedrooms to madly type pages whilst the tortured souls sleep, are on furlough,  I have been working furiously on my thesis. The result? A certain lack of Beastliness. And vocabularity.

This will be remedied shortly, just as soon as the Muse goes on strike again, as she (the fickle bitch) is wont to do.

– sj

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Echeneis: stubborn little bastard of a fish.

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Isidore of Seville, who is, let’s face it, quite the hero for BV, named it the “delay,” for obvious reasons In the 1st century CE, Lucan wrote of it as  “…the sucking fish / Which holds the vessel back though eastern winds.” 

This little sucker was the echeneis, a small fish no more than six inches in length, which made its home in the Indian Ocean, and is said to have clung to ships and delayed their passage. When this fish latches on to a seagoing vessel, the most Shakespearean of gusts or invocations thereof would not move the ship, which would seemed to have become rooted to a fixed point in the roiling sea.

This fish, dear readers, reminds me of someone… another stubborn little bastard. Who could it be? ah, well. It’ll come to me…

In any case, Pliny the Elder elaborated, noting that it is used for making love-charms, and spells to slow litigation, and that it can be used to hold back the birth of a pre-term fetus until term. “This fish” says Pliny,  “is not eaten.”  “Some say,” says Pliny,” that “this fish has feet.” Pliny is loathe to believe this last tidbit. It’s not particularly that the presence of feet is more far fetched than the efficacy of its presence in charms and spells, but simply that “Aristotle says it does not.” And it’s simply quite gauche to argue with Aristotle—at least, it was in the 1st century.

AHA! I remember now: who could resemble an impedance to progress impervious to either reason or pathos?

Why, it’s the author’s writer’s block, of course- her worst enemy while adrift in the rough seas of dissertation.

 

yes, it’s one of those days folks. Send the life rafts… And mind the echeneis.

 

 

 
 

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Money Might Not, But Barnacle Geese Do (grow on trees)

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 Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 36r

What medieval-inspired bestiary would be complete without the Barnacle Goose?  According to Sir John Mandeville, who wrote in the 14th century CE, this fantastic creature is–or was– a species of goose that grows on trees. Not in trees, mind you. On trees.

In his Travels, Sir John writes that

 I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes. For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat. And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.

We moderns might be inclined to trow it impossible, too. Yet is it possible that the barnacle goose finds its equivalent in recent college graduates, who find themselves suddenly adrift of the parental money tree, and must function on their own or perish?  Indeed, the author sees many subtle similarities. Barnacle goslings grow on trees that overhang bodies of water; the young birds hang from their sprouting-points by their beaks.  When the birds are “ripe,” they fall. The fortuitous ones, which fall into the water, float and find themselves well on their way to healthy, productive adult lives. But those that fall on land– or go to graduate school– face a harder fate. Some die. The 14th century besties apparently all died, as there simply aren’t many tree-growing geese running about these days.

Yet today’s hapless little geese, who unerringly choose graduate studies in something “esoteric” like “Medieval English” or “Philosphy,” may in fact return to the life-giving tree well into adulthood, until the tree at long last shouts:

“Enough already! how long does a dissertation TAKE, anyway?

sigh.

take it from the author of BV, dear readers. major in something useful, like billiards, or graft.

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No, It’s not a Typo; It’s the “Cock” of Dawn.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have  Chinese folklore to thank for next entry: the celestial cock, aka the “cock of dawn.”

<< The author respects all cultures and will not resort to infantile murrmerings about the word “cock”. But, dear readers, it’s gonna be difficult.>>

The Cock of Dawn, or so it is said, is a “magnificent golden three-legged cock” <<ahem>>.  According to myth,  he lives in the mile-high Fu-Sang tree in the Land of Sunrise.  It is believed that he is the ancestor of all worldly cocks <<ah-ahem>>, that he crows exactly three times a day (to mark the sunrise, zenith, and sunset) and that his red comb signifies the sunrise.

According to a legend  describing the conjunction of yin and yang, the God of the immortals (Tung-hua Ti-chun) gave this bird to a lucky fellow named Shen-i, who rode the back of the celestial cock <<oh, come now, we are all mature adults here, lets be serious>> to the heat of the midday sun, where, it is said, he attained perfect happiness.  Just him and his golden three-legged cock. (Until he set up regular visits with his wife, who was living over on the moon at the time.)

…In all seriousness,  dear readers, it is a lovely story and we should not be swayed from its import by our puritanical, repressed, juvenile obsession with naughty bits. And yet… one cannot help but wonder whether, on the occasional lonely night on the moon, Shen-i’s wife didn’t long for a little celestial cock of her own.

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