April 12, 2016

Mythical N

        I’ll reiterate that my selections of mythical creatures aren’t intended to be comprehensive - how would that even be possible?  Still, one thing I find especially interesting about the mythical creatures of N is how many of them are aquatic.  I wonder why that should be when these creatures come from lots of different languages over four continents.  N must be an intrinsically watery letter.

nymph - minor female nature deity, usually associated with a particular location or element of nature.  Nymphs are always young, beautiful, and fond of frolicking about while scantily clad, making them an ever-popular subject for artists.  There are hundreds of different kinds, as illustrated by the fact that there are not only nymphs of trees (dryads), but nymphs of each different species of tree.  (I wrote about an oak tree nymph in Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom.)  Some famous aquatic nymphs include the Nereids of the Mediterranean Sea, and naiads of fresh water.  (Greek and Roman)

nixie aka neck - These names cover a variety of water spirits, from Scandinavian shapeshifters to German river mermaids, to northern French mermaids of fresh water, especially springs.  The word is etymologically related to knucker, although nixies are definitely not dragonoids.  (Germanic, especially Scandinavian)
Nessie - The Loch Ness Monster is a mysterious cryptid often thought to be something along the lines of a plesiosaur.  There wasn’t much loch monster lore until 1933, when the mysterious beast was seen crossing a road toward the loch.  There may have been a few sightings prior to that, including St Columba’s encounter with a water monster in the River Ness in the sixth century, but the evidence suggests that Nessie is a fairly young monster.  (Scottish)

ningyo - a fish-like creature with the face of a monkey and a voice like a lark or a flute.  One woman who unknowingly ate the flesh of a ningyo lived to be 800 years old, but in general fishermen throw back any that they catch for fear of storms and other misfortunes.  (Japanese)

Nariphon girls - These maidens grow on the Nariphon tree, attached to the tree branches by a stem on their heads.  They were created to distract lustful forest men from attacking women (specifically Indra’s wife Vessantara) who went into the forest to gather fruit.  The Nariphon girls look exactly like humans except that they have no bones, and have some magical powers.  (Thai)

Namazu - a giant catfish who lives in the mud under Japan.  His occasional thrashing causes earthquakes.  The Japanese Earthquake Early Warning logo features a highly stylized catfish in his honor.  (Japanese)

númhyalikyu - an enormous halibut with a back that looks like rippled sand so that it can be mistaken for an island aspidochelone-wise.  It has a valuable magical crystal embedded in its seal-like head, and makes a deep, reverberating humming sound.  It brings storms, and when it swims near the surface causes treacherous shallows.  (Pacific Northwest Kwakwaka’wakw)

niffler - a fluffy, black, long-snouted burrowing creature that loves anything glittery.  Nifflers are gentle, but can cause terrible destruction by their uncontrollable habit of madly digging anything and anywhere in their search for shiny objects.  (British wizarding world)

nyamatsané - a mysterious creature that appears in a folk tale collected by Andrew Lang.  The nyamatsanés are never explained or defined, but I discover from the story that they love their grandmother, eat pebbles, can jump very far and run very fast, and hate humans and dogs.  Eating the liver of a nyamatsané causes insatiable thirst.  (Basotho)

[Pictures: Saturs and Nymphs on Naxos, woodcut by Sarah Young (Image from Sarah Young’s web site);
The miller sees the nixy of the mill-pond, illustration by H.J. Ford from The Yellow Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang, 1894;
Ningyo, wood block print from Konjaku Hyakki Shui by Toriyama Sekien, c 1781 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Namazu causing the Great Ansei Eathquake of Edo, detail of a wood block print, 1855 (Image from Pink Tentacle);
The Nyamatsanés Return Home, illustration by H.J. Ford from The Pink Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang, 1897 (Image from Google Books);
Earthquake Early Warning system logo featuring Namazu.]

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