Monster of the Week: Cerberus

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Hercules capturing Cerberus, 1545, by Sebald Beham

Hercules capturing Cerberus, 1545, by Sebald Beham

Cerberus (Kerberos), the hound of Hades, is a legendary three-headed dog of Greek and Roman mythology. Like his counterparts the four-eyed Norse dog Garmr and the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis, Cerberus is the guardian of the gates of the Underworld, tasked to keep out the living and keep in the dead. His back is covered by a mane of snakes, and his tail is described as being that of a dragon or a snake.

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Monster of the Week: Kupua

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Kupua are Hawaiian demigods with shape-shifting abilities. Due to their transformative abilities and supernatural powers, kupua are described variously as heroes, monsters, or tricksters. Some kupua are known to be destructive and vindictive, with a tendency to kill or devour their enemies. There have also been accounts of kupua acting benevolently as kindly spirits watching over their family members or helping the maka`ainana (common people). Kupua are known throughout the Hawaiian islands.

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Monster of the Week: Kumiho

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The Kumiho is a Korean nine-tailed fox. Image: Gumiho by canitiem at deviant art.

The Kumiho is a Korean nine-tailed fox.
Image: Gumiho by canitiem at deviant art.

The Kumiho (구미호), or Gumiho*, is a nine-tailed fox spirit. In Korean tradition foxes that have lived for a thousand years, accumulating a great deal of energy, turn into Kumiho. The Kumiho is similar to other fox creatures, such as the Japanese kitsune and Chinese huli jing. Though they have similar magical abilities and longevity, Kumiho are more malevolent than other fox spirits. Of these long-lived legendary creatures, the Kumiho is the only fox that kills and eats humans.

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Monster of the Week: The Baba Yaga

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Baba Yaga of Vertigo's Fables.

Baba Yaga of Vertigo’s Fables.

The Baba Yaga (called Baba Jaga in Poland, Baba Roga in Bosnia, Baba Pehtra in Slovenia, and Ježibaba in the Czech/Slovak lands) is a forest-dwelling witch of Eastern European folklore. She is, in many ways, the archetype of the woodland witch, and traits such as the eating of wayward children and flying with brooms may be attributed to legends of the Baba Yaga. In the Skazki (fairy tales) of Russia, she sometimes appears as a trio of “sister” Baba Yagas, much like the Greek Hecatae or gorgons (though when appearing as a trio, these Baba Yagas are usually less sinister, and often helpful). She is described as having a big nose, iron teeth, tangled hair, bony legs and a long reach. The Baba Yaga is very clever and powerful, having control over the elements and the “three riders”—the white horseman of the dawn, the red horseman of the sunrise, and the black horseman of nightfall. In the oldest Baba Yaga stories, her powers resemble those of a goddess more than a witch, and she and her hut act as guardians/gateways to the underworld. Continue reading

Monster of the Week: The Wendigo

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“Wendigo” by Carver Edlund

The Wendigo, “Spirit of the Lonely Places,” is a monster of the forests of the Eastern United States and Canada—areas of North America with long, cold winters. The Wendigo is said by the Algonquian peoples to be a wild anthropophagic creature created by a human having been possessed by a demonic Manitou spirit. (The name “wendigo” may apply to either the evil spirit or the inhabited physical creature.) Legends state that a person becomes a Wendigo by the consumption of human flesh. Other stories tell of people “going Wendigo” through dark shamanic magic or by being bitten by one (as with werewolves), but survival of a Wendigo attack is rare, and a gradual transformation due to cannibalism, whether out of desperation or choice, is the most commonly cited cause of infection. Continue reading

Monster of the Week: Giant Spiders

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giant_spider_1_by_jantiff_stocksLegends and lore of spiders are numerous and widespread, and many of these involve giant spiders, and human-spider hybrids. Spiders are spinners and weavers, and therefore often associated with the spinning of tales as well as webs. Here are a few of the trickster deities, monsters and cryptids from the fascinating world of arachnids. Continue reading

Monster of the Week: The Cluricaun

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cluricaune book illustration

Wood engraving from Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (Croker).

You’ve heard of the Irish leprechaun, but do you know about the Cluricaun? Although considered by some to be the same creature, just more liquored up, the Cluricaun is among the “solitary” class of creatures of Faerie, who “are nearly all gloomy and terrible in some way” (Yeats). Like other Irish elvish creatures, Cluricauns are said to be descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann. The naughty drunkard of the family (called Clobhairr-ceann in Irish), the Cluricaun is a trickster, thief and mischief-maker who inhabits beer and wine cellars. He (for, as with leprechauns, there is no lore of the existence of females of the species) is known to go out drunk-riding on the backs of hapless dogs and sheep on moonlit nights. His face is flushed with gin blossoms and his clothing is neat and bright, and often includes blue stockings, gold-laced hats and silver-buckled shoes—but rarely an apron or tool belt. Unlike some other, more industrious creatures of Faerie, a Cluricaun doesn’t work! Continue reading

Monster of the Week: Kitsune

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Stone Kitsune

Stone Kitsune. Image from Japan Travel Guide

Kitsune are mischievious fox spirits. The term kitsune means “fox” in Japanese, but when used in English it refers to the mystical foxes of Japanese folklore. Kitsune are a type of yōkai, a creature with supernatural abilities. They are similar to the wild foxes found throughout the world, but for their magical powers. Continue reading

Monster of the Week: The Beholder

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Beholder by Hungrysparrow

Beholder © by Hungrysparrow at Deviantart.

The Beholder is a cruel and rapacious monster from the world of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Unlike most other creatures found in the various versions of the role-playing game since its original 1974 release, the Beholder is unique to the D&D realms, and not based on any other monster.

Usually found underground in large, cavernous spaces, the Beholder is a floating monster with a spherical shape. It has one large eye, and ten smaller eyes on stalks. The D&D Monster Manual describes the Beholder’s appearance as “covered in chitinous plates, scales, or leathery flesh. Its great bulging eye sits above a wide, toothy maw, while the smaller eyestalks that crown its body twist and turn to keep its foes in sight.” Continue reading

Monster of the Week: Gabriel

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Every angel is terror.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, 1923
Gabriel in a fresco from the Tsalenjikha Cathedral by Cyrus Emanuel Eugenicus. 14th c.

Gabriel in a fresco from the Tsalenjikha Cathedral by Cyrus Emanuel Eugenicus. 14th c.

The Angel Gabriel (גַּבְרִיאֵל , جبريل) is known throughout the Abrahamic faiths of the world. An archangel by tradition, if not by rank, Gabriel sits at the hand of God. He is called Saint Gabriel in many of the Orthodox Christian Churches, and is the patron saint of messengers. As a Messenger of God himself, Gabriel is one of the few Heavenly Host who communicates with people directly, often appearing as a mortal man.

Gabriel is also a warrior in many traditions, fighting not only in celestial battles alongside his brother Michael, but also on Earth, assisting the prophet Muhammad with strategic advice in many military campaigns. Continue reading