April 14, 2022

N is for Nature

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        Today I’m considering mythical creatures associated with the forces of nature, and there are so many I couldn’t possible list them all.  I’ll start by just brushing over some of the most common types…
        A wide variety of cultures have myths about magical creatures that pull or chase the sun across the sky, as well as monsters that occasionally chomp at the sun, causing eclipses.  Snow, ice, and winter seem to be embodied by giants all around the northern latitudes in cultures of both Europe and North America.  Many different cultures have celestial serpents associated with the rainbow.
        Another common type is a bird that brings storms.  The most famous is the thunderbird of a number of North American peoples.  Although there are variations, generally it looks like a huge eagle, which creates thunder by flapping its wings, and sparks lightning from its eyes.  It is associated with the sky, naturally, and often battles the pernicious creatures of the water or underworld.
        In China many sorts of extreme weather are presaged by magical creatures.  The feiwei is a six-legged, four-winged snake that can bring up to seven years of drought, while the shangyang bird predicts rain by dancing on its single leg.
        The Ccoa of Quechua folklore is sort of like a grey-striped cat, except that he has huge fiery eyes that shoot out hail!
        In Zambia storms may be caused by lightning monsters, who are front half goat and back half crocodile (flashback to C) and who create lightning by snapping back and forth between earth and sky on long stretchy threads.  In Australia a similar job, complete with threads, is done by lightning serpents.
        The ahuizotl of Mexico looks rather like a dog-headed monkey, but its most interesting trait is the hand at the end of its tail, with which it seizes its victims and drags them to their death in the water.  It is a servant of the rain gods, 
and sometimes considered a water protector, as well.
        In Japan can be found the thunder beast Raiju, which looks like a dog, badger, or weasel composed of white and blue lightning.  During storms it gets agitated, cries out with the sound of thunder, and races all over the place scratching trees with its claws.  In a twist you might not have seen coming, it also likes to sleep in people’s belly-buttons!  The remedy is: don’t sleep on your back outdoors during bad weather… But then you probably didn’t need the threat of Raiju to tell you that.
        My favorite storm creature is the kasagonaga of Argentina and the Gran Chaco region, which looks like a small, hairy anteater with a long snout, tiny feet, and rainbow-colored fur.  Its roar is thunder, lightning shoots from its mouth, and it chooses when the rain comes.  However, powerful as it is, sometimes it falls down to earth and is too small to get back up by itself.  Humans have to help by sending it up to the sky on the smoke of a bonfire.  If you do help one, it will be enduringly grateful.
        Tired of all these storms?  Then it’s time for the halcyon.  This bird lays its eggs on the seashore, or even on the sea, in the midst of the gales of winter - yet for the fourteen days that it hatches its young, the ocean remains completely calm and untroubled by storms.  (This is where we get the phrase “halcyon days.”)
        The bujanga is a sort of dragonoid winged monster of Java and West Malaysia, who has knowledge of all creatures and forest lore (flashback to K), and is a protector of the jungles.

        In modern Mayan folklore there are four balam, which are jaguar spirits that are protectors of nature.

        The Green Man who occurs all across Europe and beyond, is entirely covered by, if not actually composed of leaves and other plants, and is associated with fertility, forests, and all sorts of nature and plant growth.
        Among the many, many nature-creatures I’ve discussed before, you can revisit the renaissance alchemists’ elementals: earth gnome, air sylph, fire salamander, and water undine.  There’s the pyrallis that can’t live outside its fire, nymphs for every conceivable body of water, and dryads for every species of tree, plus all manner of water spirits including nixie, knucker, and vodyanoy.  The leshy is a forest protector.  There’s the cherufe of volcanos, Namazu of earthquakes, and my own “fairies” of the seasons.
        Earlier in this year’s alphabet at D we had the impundulu associated with lightning and the batibat who is a tree spirit, and at M we met the kelpie, a water spirit.  There will be more to come, as well - Foreshadowing!
        The moral of all these beings is Don’t Mess with Mother Nature - or any of her myriad spirits and monsters!  A Pro Tip for environmentalists is to get on the right side of these creatures in order to enlist their help in mitigating the worst effects of climate change.
        Where’s your favorite place to enjoy nature, or your favorite way to engage with the natural world?

[Pictures: Thunderbird (The Last Thunderbird), wood engraving by Dale DeArmond, 1988 (Image from daledearmond.com);
Feiwei, illustration by Siyu Chen from Fantastic Creatures of the Mountains and Seas, 2015;
Ahuizotl, illustration from Codex Telleriano-Remensis, c. 1562 (Image from Bibliotheque nationale de France);
Raiju, wood block print from Kanda-Jihitsu by Ban Koke, 1806 (Image from National Diet Library);
Kasagonaga, illustration by Ellen Surrey for “Monstrum”, 2020 (Image from PBS);
Halcyon, illumination from bestiary, 1226-1250 (Image from Bodleian Libraries);
Green Man, pen and ink by Rheannon Ormond (Image from Etsy shop RheannonOrmond1);
Season Fairies, reduction block prints by AEGN, 2021.]


James Pailly said...

Halcyon is one of my favorite words, but I never really knew where the word came from. It makes sense that it was the name for a mythical creature.

Steve Slack said...

I really appreciate the time your put into these posts. it makes sense that nature would be packed with creatures and lightening seems to be a big voice for nature (no surprise).
Hope you are enjoying the A to z challenge.

Love or Eros


I think my favorite place to take in nature is any place with moving water, be it lakes and rivers or even fountains.

It makes sense that there'd be a lot of creatures that have commonality with specific forces of nature. I'd imagine that back in the day, observing nature was today's equivalent of reading a social media feed.

It's not surprising that there are many monsters found on social media. Haha!


Jayashree Srivatsan said...

I have read articles that animal behavior shows a marked change prior to a tsunami amd they can be observed for early warnings and predictions

Jayashree writes

Deborah Weber said...

Your posts are fun and give me so much to think about Anne - how does it get better than that? I'm not sure I ever considered but OF COURSE eclipses would be explained by a creature taking a bite out of the sun. I think the favorite creature you've introduced me to today is the feiwei - a multi-winged and legged snake! I definitely seem to all about the serpents lately.

I'm not sure I could choose one favorite place in nature - I love gardens, and I love being near lapping water and watching waves; and the slow time of trees is very inviting as well.

Kristin said...

I like water, lakes, rivers and oceans. And I like the Blue Ridge mountains. Just about anywhere out of the city and far from lots of people.

Mrs Fever said...

I like that description of the halcyon -- and the accompanying artwork is beautiful!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Anjela, I laughed at your comparison of nature and social media... but it's a good point!

Jayashree, you're absolutely right that animals and all different natural forces are deeply interconnected, so it definitely is reasonable that people would associate different mythical creatures with forces of nature, as well.

Deborah, I don't think I can choose one part of nature, either. Gardens and forests would be high on any list, though.

Kristin, do you live in a city most of the time, or are you able to get away from people more often?

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I love the season fairies!! So beautiful, they caught my eye right away :)
Also, the kasogonaga <3 <3 I gotta find a story...
The Multicolored Diary

Prakash Hegade said...

Wow! so much to read and understand here! :-D

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I loved this! I'll have to do some research on these creatures...

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: N