May 24, 2016

Mythical S

        S is a very magical letter, inhabited by many magical creatures in a variety of forms.  We have creatures of air, water, and fire; alluring beauties and hideous predators; humanoids, beasts, and spirits, and lots of hybrid variations of in-between.  Surely everyone should be able to find an S beast to their taste.

sphinx - a wise but perilous creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion.  Female sphinxes are Greek and deadlier than the male, which are Egyptian.  (Actually, some Egyptian sphinxes are female, too, because they often have the heads of pharaohs, just a few of whom were women.)  While both Greek and Egyptian sphinxes are strong, fierce guardians, the Greek females are known for their riddles.  In order to pass her, a traveller must correctly answer a riddle, and anyone who fails will be devoured.  (ancient Greek and Egyptian)

sylph - a spirit or elemental of the air.  According to Paracelsus, who invented the term with his alchemical theory of elementals in the early sixteenth century, sylphs are taller and stronger than humans and, to my surprise, rougher and coarser.  I’m not sure what “coarser” meant to Paracelsus, but the roughness of sylphs may be attested by the allegation that a gang of them murdered Abbé de Montfaucon de Villars in 1673 in revenge for his occult tell-all Comte de Gabalis.  Since the eighteenth century, however, they have come to be regarded as something more like wispy, pretty airy fairies.  (renaissance European)

siren - a beautiful creature whose song lures sailors to their deaths.  In early myths there are only two to five sirens, individually named, although now they’re often thought of as an entire species.  Their appearance  ranges from birds with the faces of women, to various proportions of avian and human characteristics.  Later they’ve been depicted as 100% sexy naked woman, and sometimes they’re even disguised as mermaids.  The Greeks described them as living in flowery meadows, despite their attempts to lure sailors; later authors place them within singing range of the sea.  In addition to singing, they play instruments, especially the harp.  (ancient Greek)

satyr - a wild woodland creature fond of wine, women, and song.  The original satyrs are humanoid with long beards, the tails and ears of horses, and a permanent erection.  Presumably their love of nature puts them one step above drunken frat boys, but I can’t say I find them any more interesting.  (ancient Greek)

sulchyh - an otter-like creature the size of a large dog, with rich, black fur and dark ruby eyes.  Sulchym are primarily subterranean and have a particular connection with the rufous dwarves who live in the same caverns, and with whom they can communicate telepathically.  (from Return to Tchrkkusk)

su - a large creature that dwells along river banks in Patagonia.  Its most interesting feature is
that the female carries her offspring on her back and protects them with her long, wide tail.  They were first written about by traveller André Thévet in 1575, but Edward Topsell embroidered the account in 1608 by describing the su as a “cruel, untamable, impatient, violent, ravening, and bloody beast.”  The su is also known for its warm fur, which is why the Patagonians hunt it by digging pit traps.  (renaissance European accounts of South American)

        And see previous posts on still more S creatures:

salamander - another elemental spirit described by Paracelsus, the salamander lives in fire.  Also see my version here. (renaissance European)

sea serpent - a sea monster of generally elongated form, though not necessarily strictly snake-like, a.k.a. seps or sepedon (universal)

selkie - a creature who lives in seal form in the ocean and in human form on land (ancient Celtic)

sirrush - a dragonoid with feline forelegs, eagle hind legs, and horns, a.k.a. mušḫuššu (Akkadian)

[Pictures: Sphinx, woodcut from Gesnerus Allgemeines Thier-Buch, 1669 edition (Image from Österreichische Nationalbibliothek);
Les Sirénes, wood block print by Raoul Dufy, 1911, from Le Bestiaire ou Cortége d’Orphée by Guillaume Apollinaire (Image from University of Wisconsin, digitized by Google);
Sulchyh, illustration by AEGN from Return to Tchrkkusk;
Of a Wilde Beast in the New-found World called SU, wood block print possibly by Jean Cousin the Younger from The History of Four-footed Beasts by Edward Topsell, 1658 (Image from Internet Archive);
Sea Serpent, wood block print possibly by Lucas Schan from Historiae animalium by Conrad Gesner, 1558.]

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