Every culture has their own version of the “underworld” — whether it’s Hell or the Elysian Fields or Diyu. In Egyptian mythology you are given a chance at a life in the field of reeds, where you can spend the rest of eternity in peace. That is, of course, unless Ammit devours your unworthy soul.
Ammit — or Ammut or Ahemait — was the Egyptian goddess of divine retribution personified. However, she was not worshipped as a goddess. Instead, her image was thought to ward off evil. Generally depicted as a demon with the head of a crocodile, the torso of a wild cat, and the hidquarters of a hippopotamus, Ammit was called the “devourer of souls.”
She was usually found in the Halls of Ma’at to await the judgement of the deceased, though she was also shown standing beside the scales of justice. Ammit would only devour the souls of those who did not measure up on the scales, and though she was called a demon, she is not evil. In fact, the person who was accused of being unworthy was given the chance to defend themselves before being judged to eternal damnation.
Though you were safe if your heart weighed just about even with the feather on the scales, many feared Ammit’s devouring of their soul — also known as the second death. However, if you led a decent life you were spared from eternal damnation. Ammit was not an evil entity in the end but, more of a keeper of order in the underworld of Egyptian mythology and a reminder to the living to lead a good life.
Australia. Home to twenty-one out of the twenty-five most venomous snakes in the world. A magical place where deadly creatures from sharks to box jellyfish to spiders roam free. And yet, despite all of these known creatures, there is a myth of one that is far more terrifying living in the swamps and lakes and rivers. Its name is the Bunyip.
Bunyip is the aboriginal term for ‘devil’ or ‘evil spirit.’ It is an aquatic Aboriginal creature of myth described differently in several regions — under different names until European settlers used the more popular of them — and ranging in appearance from an ox to a hippopotamus to a manatee with a long neck. Though the image changes, one fact that all the legends have in common is that the Bunyip is said to be massive — a giant man-eater.
The Bunyip is known for its monstrous looks, his cries that echo, and the fact that it has killed several people definitely adds credence to the legend. However, not all agree that the Bunyip is harmful. In fact, he is sometimes described as being a protector of wildlife. This benevolent image is portrayed in popular culture where there exists a series of children’s books featuring the Bunyip.
Though the Bunyip can be either a monstrous man-eater or a benevolent protector, the legends seem to have some facts in common. If you find yourself traversing near bodies of water in Australia, remember to keep an eye out. For there may be something worse than the deadly bugs and snakes lurking about. One thing is for certain: if you hear its echoing cries or see a massive creature rise up from the depths, run.
Snakes appear throughout mythology in different forms, from the snake gods of Egyptian mythology to the world serpent Jormungand of Norse myth. However, in Greek myth snakes played many roles, and one such mythic snake was the Amphisbaina.
According to myth, the Amphisbaina was created when Perseus flew over the Libyan Desert with the severed head of Medusa and her blood dripped down to the sands below. This snake was two headed, one on each end, and had scaled feet like a chicken and feathered wings. It was considered a formidable adversary, especially since it is said that the snake could charge in either direction, and was described as being deadly poisonous; one bite and the wound would not heal, leaving the victim to die.
However, even though the Amphisbaina was considered deadly, it was also sought out for its healing properties. Some have speculated that its dried skin was a cure for rheumatism while others say that if the skin was worn around one’s neck it could cure a common cold. Another medicinal property tied with this creature states that the wearing of one of these — alive — around a pregnant woman’s neck would ensure a safe pregnancy. The Amphisbaina wasn’t just sought out for is healing properties. According to myth, it was also said that if the meat of the creature was ingested it would act as an aphrodisiac, attracting many lovers to the one who ate of it.
We always remember snakes in myth to be guardians or gods, monsters or tricksters. Amphisbaina was created from the blood of a creature, was given wings and feet and dual heads, but it is not a monster. Instead, the Amphisbaina is a great example about the dual nature of myth — a creature to be feared, and a creature to be revered.
Now that fall is here, we are starting to turn our attentions to some of the lesser known myths and legends regarding this time of year. And what better way to kick off the autumn season than with the myths surrounding the scarecrow? Therefore, today we will be looking at a few of the origin stories of scarecrows from around the world.
Scarecrows have been around since the ancient world, used by farmers to ward off birds from fields in order to keep the crop before it is harvested. The earliest signs of scarecrows being in use actually comes to us from ancient Greece. Aphrodite had a son named Priapus — God of fertility and horticulture — who was considered horribly ugly, and it was discovered that birds had tended to avoid any fields in which Priapus had been. Therefore, wooden statues of Priapus were erected in fields in order to keep the birds at bay.
However, the ancient Greeks were not the only ones to use a scarecrow. In pre-feudal Japan, scarecrows of different styles littered the rice fields. The most popular of the scarecrows used, however, were called the kakashi. These scarecrows were thrown together using old, dirty rags and bells and stick and were mounted on a pole before being lit on fire. Due to the smoke and the smell — kakashi literally translates to “something stinky” — the birds would stay away. The kakashi were actually based off of a Japanese deity named Keubiko who was a god of agriculture and wisdom. He couldn’t walk, but he knew everything, and his likeness was mimicked in the creation of the kakashi.
Human-like figures weren’t always used as scarecrows, and sometimes keeping the birds away was a full-time job. In Europe during the Middle Ages, small children would run around in the fields and clap blocks of wood together in order to scare away the birds. These children were called “crow-scarers.” Though after the plague struck, leaving fewer children around, the farmers decided to try to stuff old clothes with straw, placing a turnip or gourd on top as a head, mounting these figures in the fields. This method worked, of course, and soon these human-esque figures were used instead.
Of course, we still see this tradition continuing on today. Straw-stuffed clothes and fabric disguised as human-like guardians are still used, leaving them to protect not only our fields, but to decorate our homes during the fall season. So next time you see a scarecrow, keep in mind the history of such a simple figure, and remember what our ancestors did in order to ensure that the birds would stay away.
Are you ever terrified of traveling alone at night down dark roads? What if there were reports of a large, black dog that jumps on top of travellers and viciously attacks them? Terrified now? Well, in Dutch folklore there exists such a creature, and it is called the Kludde.
Though not much is known about the Kludde, it is said that it can change its shape from that of a large dog to a cat, a frog, a bat, or a horse, sometimes even appearing as a small tree or shrub that grows in height before your eyes. The only thing it keeps through all of its shapes are small, blue flames that flicker about its head. This creature is accompanied by the sounds of rattling chains as it paces the roads in search of unsuspecting victims. Though once the Kludde finds them, it is said that the creature jumps onto the back of the traveller, growing heavier and heavier until it forces the person down and tears them apart with its sharp teeth and claws.
Whether you are traveling alone or with a group, it is better to just stay off the roads at night if you happen to find yourself walking through the Dutch countryside. One thing is for certain, if you hear the rattling of chains or see blue flames in the night, run.
Vampires. The world has seen quite the evolution for the blood suckers in pop-culture, from Dracula to Interview with a Vampire all the way to Twilight, though one thing remains the same: they were humans turned into fanged, undead versions of themselves. However, the idea that vampiric creatures exist has been a part of cultures around the world for centuries in different forms. From the Adanbosam of West African myth — with their long legs they dangle from trees to entrap their prey — to the Vetala of ancient India — ghouls who inhabit corpses and hang upside down from trees. Today, however, we will be taking a look at the Manananggal.
The Manananggal is a vampiric creature that comes to us from the Philippines. During the day, the Manananggal is a woman — said to be beautiful — who separates her body in half and preys upon pregnant women and their unborn children by night. According to legend, the Manananggal will detach herself around the middle, hiding her lower half as bat wings grow from her back. She will take off in search of prey, perching on the roofs of houses and using her elongated tongue to suck the blood from sleeping pregnant women and their unborn children.
Though not much is known about the Manananggal, some people speculate that this creature of myth is based on an actual creature residing in the Philippines: Flying Foxes. Flying Foxes are in fact fruit bats, and not only could Manananggal be seen as originating based on these creatures, but so can several other creatures in Philippine myth and legend according to Tammy Mildenstein of SOS — Save Our Species project Filipinos for Flying Foxes — who has encountered these stories as she works with their herbivorous cousins. However, that is not to discount the people who actively believe these creatures to exist. In fact, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there have been multiple eyewitness accounts of people who claim to have seen the Manananggal still living in the Philippines to this day.
In any event, the Manananggal is simply a fearsome, vampiric creature who can blend in with humans by day, transforming herself by night. The thought is quite terrifying — pregnant women and their unborn charges being attacked while asleep by a woman with half a body and a tongue that slips into their bellies. One thing is for sure: if you ever see half a body abandoned somewhere, know that the Manananggal just might be nearby.
Manananggal in popular culture: Although the Manananggal hasn’t officially made its debut in popular culture herself, it is definitely worth mentioning that in 2016 independent director Prime Cruz released a romantic/gore film in the Philippines titled “Ang manananggal sa unit 23B” — which won two awards at the QCinema International Film Festival in 2016 for best director and best supporting actress — in which he portrays the Manananggal as a protagonist rather than a villain.
Last Fall, I offered the first modules of Monstrous Women. I’d always envisioned it as a generative workshop with two distinct sets of classes, but the funny thing is that monstrous women and women monsters refuse to be sorted and placed in tidy categories. I noticed some overlap, and so I decided to just run with it.
At the end of August, I will be running the second collection of Monstrous Women with all new material. This semester the selections will focus on The Shifting Shapes of Animal Brides, The Seductive Allure of the Femme Fatale, Weeping Women and Tearful Prophecies, The Female Descent into Hysteria and Madness, and Mayhem in Numbers and the Sacred Three. At the moment, there are only TWO seats left in the Thursday evening course. (Note: This is Friday morning AEDT for the Australian writers.) Come join us. It’s going to be a monstrously wonderful time.
On a side note, if you’re interested in the course, but don’t know what to expect, check out the pieces below, which were published by alums of the first session of Monstrous Women. Enjoy!
They wait for you, in the velvet castles of the night.
It’s not like they have anything better to do. Everyone knows the story stops for the hero, and who would the hero be but you? That is why every mirror in every inn in this town is enchanted, showing chiseled jaws, sculpted arms. Nine out of ten heroes have a verified need for encouragement along the way.
Author’s Notes: “The Velvet Castles of the Night” was inspired by the Monstrous Women class on vampires, and my own dislike of vampires, particularly female ones, and the way they are depicted in media.
Author Bio:Claire Eliza Bartlett is a US citizen who grew up in Colorado. She studied history and archaeology and spent time in Switzerland and Wales before settling in Denmark for good. When not at her computer telling mostly false stories, she works as a tour guide in Copenhagen, telling stories that are (mostly) true.
Odin wasn’t returning. I’d been a fool. Thinking I was special to be granted beauty, to share his bed. Believing that because Odin chose me, that meant that I was still one of the gods. But every time he left, his magic seeped out of my veins. And I waited and waited, dependent on his good will and his return.
Like god, like man.
The bastard had used me. He’d enticed me, fucked me, and left me behind.
Without Odin, I had no more magic. And without his magic, I was only one thing.
The Hidden One.
Author’s Notes: Intrigued by the tales of the Norse gods, I was listening to Neil Gaiman read aloud from his book on Norse Mythology. In his forward, he mentions that only a few Norse goddesses are remembered in story today. Many goddesses have names, but their lives and their deeds have long been forgotten. Curious, I researched the “forgotten ones”, intent on giving one of those goddesses a voice. I decided upon Hulda, who is only mentioned briefly as a witch and Odin’s mistress. I figured it must take a great woman to attract both the Allfather’s attention and ultimately his rejection, and so the seed for this story was planted.
In addition, during Monstrous Women, I discovered that the word “hulder” – the term for a female seductress with a cow’s tail – may have originated from Hulda’s name. I merged the two concepts, blending together the voice of a tale-less goddess with the plight of a woman cursed with the tail of a cow. And so, after hundreds of years forgotten, Hulda’s story is finally being told.
Author Bio: Cassandra Schoeber is a dark fantasy and horror writer. Unfortunately, there are times when her stories escape the page, wreak havoc, and eat innocent bystanders. She has published one novella, Ravenous with Fantasia Divinity Magazine, as well as several short stories, including: “Let It Snow” (Silver Apples Magazine); “When the Last Petal Falls” (Fantasia Divinity Magazine); “Hidden in the Shadow of a God” (Fantasia Divinity Magazine); and “He Knows” (Short and Twisted Christmas Tales).