October 29, 2010

Words of the Month - Things That Go Bump In the Night

        Hallowe'en is nearly upon us, and it's time you were prepared for some of the more unusual words that might haunt you at this time of spirits and spooks.  We all know about witches, zombies, werewolves and ghosts, but what would you do if you were out trick-or-treating and encountered an ouphe?  Basic self-preservation requires that you learn these words before the sun goes down on October 31.

ouphe - imp, goblin, elf
     You'll find these troublemakers in England.  The word first appeared in Shakespeare (1623) and, funnily enough, may simply be a typographical error for oaph, as in oaf.  It turns out that oaf and elf come from the same root, the connection being that children with mental or physical abnormalities were said to be changelings.  Thus a person who was thought to be stupid or slow was elfish.  As for true goblin ouphes, they can be pronounced more like oaf, or more like oof.  I prefer the latter, but however you pronounce their name, watch out for their mischief.

rakshasa - an evil humanoid creature that feeds on human flesh and spoiled food, and is a shapechanger, illusionist, and magician
     Rakshasas are a terrible danger to travellers in India.  According to Hinduism, Rakshasas may have been particularly evil humans in former lives, and according to Buddhism they are demons of the army that fought Buddha, but in either case they're known to disturb sacrifices, desecrate graves, dine on human travellers, and carry off heroes' wives.  They have long sharp teeth and venomous fingernails, and are said to have as many as ten heads.  If you wish to defeat one, you'll need to be a hero.

dybbuk - the dislocated soul of a dead person, which can possess a living person
     The danger of dybbuks is worst in Eastern Europe.  According to Jewish folklore a dybbuk often uses the possessed person to help it finish a task it was unable to do before death.  Supposedly a dybbuk can sometimes be benevolent, but I don't think I want to risk getting a malicious one.

tokoloshe - a creature variously believed to be a zombie, a familiar, a gremlin, or a demon.  It's created by a shaman in order to wreak revenge on the shaman's enemies.
     It is in southern Africa that you need to watch out for tokoloshes.  The word comes from Zulu and is spelled a variety of ways, including Tikoloshe.  They are small, hairy, and may have holes in their skulls or gouged-out eyes, but they're usually invisible to adults, due to a pebble they carry in their mouths.  They're thought to frighten children, rape women, steal things, and cause illness and death.  But the most evil thing about them is that real people in Africa are sometimes attacked or murdered out of fear of witchcraft and tokoloshes.

far darrig - a solitary Irish fairy who wears a red coat and cap and delights in playing pranks on people - especially gruesome tricks
     This word is an Anglicization of the Irish fear dearg, meaning Red Man.  According to Gil Hamper, "Mortal terror amuses the far darrig. Occasionally, he invites a mortal to enter a lonely bog hut, then he orders him to make dinner out of a hag skewered on a spit. The man usually faints. When he recovers, he finds himself alone with the sound of laughter filling the air, but coming from no distinguishable source. It is advisable to say 'Na dean maggadh fum'-- do not mock me', when you encounter a far darrig, that way you cannot be used in one of his macabre games. Unfortunately, he plans his tricks so well that a mortal is snared long before he realizes the need to protest."
He can also give evil dreams.

baku - a Japanese creature that devours dreams and nightmares
     Traditionally the baku was depicted as sort of an elephant-headed tiger.  More recent versions often show the baku looking like a tapir.  Now that anime and manga have become popular in the West, various versions of the baku can be seen here, including baku-based Pokémon.  Whatever its appearance, if the far darrig or any other Hallowe'en stuff is giving you nightmares, the baku is the creature for you.

[Pictures: Rakshasa, photo by Manohara Upadhya;
Baku, wood block print by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), (posted by Peregrine Fisher).]

1 comment:

Pax said...

Good information to have on scary Hallowe'en nights! I enjoyed this compendium. One never knows when knowledge of one or another of these words (or the ideas/creatures they represent) might come in handy. Thanks!