July 12, 2016

Mythical W

        W has a nice variety of creatures, so without further ado, we’re off to see the wizard.  And on the way…

will-o-the-wisp - A ghostly light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs and marshes.  It attempts to lure people into danger.  There are a wonderful array of names for these creatures, as well as different ideas of exactly what they are, including lost souls or ghosts, demons, fairies,  or fiery flying serpents.  On occasion they mark buried treasure, especially in Scandinavia and Mexico. A will-o-the-wisp called Peggiwick plays an important role in the Kate and Sam Adventures.  I particularly love how this wood engraving by Jakubowski captures the feel.  (Universal, except possibly in Africa)

werewolf - At its simplest, a person who transforms into a wolf - but there are many possible variations.  The transformation can be at will, or involuntary.  It can be permanent or temporary, one time or recurring.  The wolf-form can retain human sentience, or be wholly lupine, although either way its appetites become wholly bestial.  One can be born a werewolf as a particular species, or (more traditionally) become one through infection from another werewolf, or through curse or enchantment.  In wolf form it may look exactly like an ordinary wolf, or it may have no tail, or it may be especially large, or have human eyes.  You can recognize a werewolf in human form by traits such as a unibrow, claw-like nails, low-set ears, and bristles under the tongue.  (European, although similar creatures exist in other parts of the world involving, instead of wolves, such predators as tigers and jaguars.)

wendigo - An evil, cannibalistic supernatural being embodying insatiable greed and gluttony.  Emaciated, grey-skinned, and covered with sores, no matter how many humans they devour, they are always starving for more.  In some regions they’re normal human-sized, but in some regions they’re giants.  (Algonquian)

wyvern - A classic European dragon with two legs instead of four.  Wyverns are generally smaller and weaker than the four-legged varieties, and usually cannot breathe fire or speak.  There’s also a sea-wyvern with a fish tail.  (European)

weewilmekq - A water monster resembling a giant leech.  I don’t have much information, but its horns may have healing properties.  (Wabanaki)

witch, wizard, warlock - Why three words for magic users, all from different roots, begin with the same letter is a strange coincidence.  The warlock is the most evil, having begun right from the start as a traitor in league with the devil.  The wizard began as a wise man, and the witch has had the most varied history, as well as the most mysterious etymology.  Of course cultures all around the world have the concept of people with supernatural powers, but the way they’re viewed can vary widely.  Probably one constant is fear - even if the power is believed to be generally benign, supernatural abilities are always going to be unnerving.  (Universal)

welwa - A monster with a mane like a horse, antlers like a deer, face like a bear, eyes like a polecat, and a body that mixes them all.  It lives in woods, and travels in a wind and a fog, not seeming to touch the ground.  The welwa of the Golden Wood “flew with her feet, and walked with her wings; her head was in her back, and her tail was on top of her body; her eyes were in her neck, and her neck in her forehead.”  (Romanian)

wolpertinger - A rabbit with antlers, fangs, and wings.  Previously mentioned here.  (Bavarian)

[Pictures: Bldne ogniki (Ignis Fatuus), woodcut by Stanislaw Jakubowski, 1929 (Image from lamus-dworski);
Wyvern with wings displayed, illustration by Graham Johnston from A Complete Guide to Heraldry, 1909;
The Battle with the Welwa in the Copper Wood, illustration by Henry Justice Ford in The Violet Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang, 1901.]

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