April 26, 2016

Mythical P

        Today I offer a selection of mythical P creatures, and it just so happens that I’m making split pea soup for dinner tonight, even though I completely forgot that it’s Tuesday and I was supposed to post something.  Conspiracy theorists, make of that what you will.  In any case, I think the theme of most of these P’s is flight - although I’m not actually thinking about it too hard, what with the forgetting about having to post something and all.

pixie - small, mischievous humanoid spirits, who are native to the moorland areas in the southwest of the UK, and often dwell in barrows, ring forts, and other archaeological sites.  They are extremely playful and love to dance and wrestle.  They are traditionally enemies of the fairies.  (Cornish)

pooka - Etymologically related to that knavish sprite call’d Puck, pooka are shape shifters who can be humanoid, or may have characteristics of animals, either ears and tail, or the entire appearance, especially horses, goats, cats, dogs, or rabbits.  They are usually dark in color.  Like the pixies, pooka are generally mischievous but not malevolent.  (Irish)

piasa - This mysterious creature was depicted as a large mural on a cliff overlooking the Mississippi River.  At the time it was first seen by Europeans it was somewhat dragonoid, but at some point in the eighteenth or nineteenth century it acquired wings and became known as a bird.  We know nothing about the habits of this creature, which is now extinct, its cliff having been quarried away for limestone.  The only record we have of its legend was published by a professor in about 1836 and was probably simply made up by him.  (probably Cahokian)

poltergeist - a ghost that makes physical disturbances, such as moving objects, making noises, and hurting people.  A poltergeist may haunt a person or a location.  According to Walt Kelly’s pup dog, poltergeists make up the principal type of spontaneous material manifestation.  (Sorry; in-joke for fans of Pogo.)  (nearly universal)

pterippus - a winged horse.  The most famous pterippus is, of course, Pegasus.  Indeed, Pegasus is the only one in classical mythology.  But it would be such a waste to have only one of such a cool and useful beast, so isn’t it nice to know there’s a word for a whole species of them?  (ancient Greek)

pyrallis or pyrausta - a dragonish insect with four legs and transparent wings.  It is born of fire, specifically the fire of the copper-smelting furnaces of Cyprus, and it cannot survive except in the fire.  (Cyprian)

phoenix - a bird that is reborn from the ashes of its own death (or, according to some theories, the ashes of its predecessor).  A phoenix can live for as long as 1,400 years in each of its cycles of life, and is associated with the sun.  They may vary in size from eagle to ostrich, and their coloring may also vary, but is always magnificent.  (ancient Greek and Roman)

[Pictures: Le Cheval, wood block print by Raoul Dufy, 1911, from Le Bestiaire ou Cortége d’Orphée by Guillaume Apollinaire (1918 edition);
Piasa Bird, woodblock print by Brian Reedy (Image from his Etsy shop WoodcutEmporium);
Phoenix, wood block print from Bestiarius by Magister Joseph Berreurius, 1524 (Image from A Fantastic Bestiary by Ernst and Johanna Lehner, 1969).]

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