A Modern Bestiary – Z is for Zmaj

Z is for Zmaj. And no, you are not mistaken. The Zmaj is not a creature of Celtic myth. They hail from the Balkans, where the letter Z is used with gay abandon while the letter J is treated as though it were a Y or a long ‘I’ which is why the name for them is pronounced as though it were spelled Zzzm-eye.


While I need but one letter.



But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Some consider them dragon-kin, and portray them so:

while others see them as lizard-like:

and still others as wyrms, with a snake’s long body and a ram’s horns:

From Milenko Bodirogić’s “Fairies and Dragons – Serbian Mythology”. Photo source: www.serbia.com.

Unlike most dragons, the Zmaj is considered a benevolent creature, willing to defend his people and one of the very few who can defeat the Azjada. That is a kind of demon who’s apt to bring hailstorms and even tornadoes down upon ready-to-harvest fields of grain, on vineyards and on orchards full of ripe fruit.

The Azjada, who is also called an Ala, may hide within anvil-shaped storm clouds like these. Or produce them from her own body:

The goal of the Azjada seems unclear. Some say they come to destroy the crops, and others blame it on simple greed. Their intention is to steal the harvest and feast upon it. All agree that they are voracious and particularly fond of eating children, the more tender and innocent the better. No surprise, then, that she is considered close kin to the infamous Baba Yaga, though the Azjada appears to be far younger and prettier and lives in the sky, not a chicken-legged house hidden deep in the woods.

Why am I including the Zmaj in all of this?

Because some of them fled the Balkans and claimed sanctuary in Faerie. The slaughter and utter destruction resulting from endless wars, and especially the world wars, drove them to distraction. Here was an enemy they could not defeat, a multi-million-pated monster far more lethal than the merely three-headed Zmey Gorynych of Russian and Ukrainian fame.

A painting by Viktor Vasnetsov (Wikimedia Commons)

They were granted refuge, but won themselves only a few years of peace before The Fall swept them back out of Faerie and dumped them here, on the other side of the world from their original homes, and where they have remained, for the most part, taking advantage of the ignorance of husbands in the West.

For the Zmaj‘s a cunning creature indeed, and capable of shapeshifting into many other forms, including that of a human. Such men are lustful, well-built, and commonly of an exceedingly pleasing demeanor, such as may sorely tempt a disappointed wife or lover. Or even an exiled Faerie Queen.

Not that all in the West can by fooled by them. Here, for example, is a painting by William Blake entitled “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun,” one of a series he produced to illustrate the Book of Revelations between 1805 and 1810:

Another of the paintings is much better known these days, having been the focus of a popular novel (and movie) by Thomas Harris concerning a serial killer who wants to become The Red Dragon.

Neither book nor movie, however, had much to say about the true identity of this particular dragon, which is clearly a Zmaj with dishonorable intentions! Note the ram’s horns!

Once the cuckolded husband identifies his rival, however, the resolution is remarkably peaceful. Because the Zmaj is so fond of humans, he will not turn on them, and while in his human guise, he has only the strength of a mortal man to draw upon. One can, in fact, win a fist fight with him. Or, if a woman, one can seize his ear with one’s fingernails and simply lead him out the door and perhaps out of the village as a whole, telling him to begone.

The real danger comes later. For the Zmaj may well breed sons on such women, and those sons are likely to grow into men who are formidable in many ways.

A medieval example would be Vuk Brankovic, a Serbian nobleman whose control over his fief was so complete it was simply known as Vukova zemlja (Vuk’s land), and who would have considered MacArthur a worthy adversary.

Who knows what Zmaj-bred men like that might do in today’s world, where they are not limited to the speed of a galloping horse nor handheld weapons like swords and lances?

A Modern Bestiary – Y is for Yarthkins

 Y is for Yarthkins, as they are known in the fens of the northern parts of England. In other lands they are known as the Quiet Folk and are numbered among the dwarvish races. Adults stand between half a yard and two and a half feet tall. They wear black for the most part, when they wear clothing at all. As their skin is also black, they can vanish easily into the darkness, which they much prefer to daylight. Often enough they do wear red or gray hats but have little in common with Redcaps.

The Quiet Folk, you see, do not dip their hats in the fresh red blood of their victims. Instead, the color bespeaks the power of invisibility those conical hats grant the Yarthkins, not to mention strength and courage well beyond the norm for even the brashest among the little people.

The Yarthkin is not known for his or her beauty, however. Their forearms tend to be overlong and their beards and brows are bushy as hawthorne and nearly as prickly. Yet many of the males are totally bald by the time they’re five, having begun to go gray at the tender age of four!

Yet the Yarthkin is quite long-lived despite a short childhood. More than a few were around when Pontius Pilate washed his hands two thousand years ago.

Their noses and their bodies are frequently misshapen in some way and they have feet very like those of ducks or geese.

Useful indeed in the waterways of the fens.

These are the fens of Wood Walton in Cambridgeshire, England

Which greatly resemble the Suisun Marsh, part of the San Francisco Bay and Delta region of central California:

Which is why the Yarthkins caught up by the shockwave that stranded so many fae here on Earth after the Fall have taken refuge in the wetlands stretching eastward from San Francisco. The Delta’s islands and marshes are far less populated by humans and their machinery than anything closer to the coast.

There have been side effects to their presence, however, including bits of wild magic that may find a focal point in yarthkin burrows yet strike at random passersby. That’s because the Quiet People are so well protected by the earth itself. These strikes are small in scope, but can cause startling transformations of individual humans and animals, changing them into a form closer to their true nature, or perhaps just making them a better fit for their habitat. This wee creature, for example, was captured last week near the town of Rio Vista:

Best not to bother the Yarthkins, though. They do indeed know much about the depths of the earth and the hidden locations of gold and other precious metals, but if you think to catch one like a leprechaun and force him or her to give up their secrets? Think again. The Mother Lode lies not in the Delta but in the mountains further to the east. And if you should  offend them… Well, the Quiet Folk may be slow to anger but they’ll hold a grudge for the length of their long lives, and they are nigh impossible to appease.

  This is a human whose husband dug up a Yarthkin’s home, and paid for it with his life and his wife.

They dislike the sound of church bells in particular, but also the noise made by drums or farm machinery, and they truly hate humans who try to cheat them, break their promises, or abuse any Yarthkin. Above all, do not force a Yarthkin to take off his rather peculiar boots and show you his duck feet.

While the Quiet Folk are not ashamed of their feet, it’s rude, and they’ve heard about how odd some humans are. They’ll have no truck with any foot fetish!

You won’t see them coming, either.

They can take on human form and move about in total silence in the dark, as this lad is doing, and if they decide to take revenge, they might well make your children go lame, or visit sickness upon your whole household. Some have been known to make grown men and women lose their minds.

Do them a kindness, however, and the Quiet Folk can be amazingly generous. More so to those who serve them well in time of need, as a midwife, a judge, a referee, or even as a coachman if they must travel by way of man-made roads. Or you might be asked to host a faerie feast, perhaps even a wedding. In the latter case, though, especially after the keg has been tapped and beer poured into mug after mug, you’d be well advised to avoid the same two topics as many a wise man will at any such well-lubricated gathering – politics and religion!



A Modern Bestiary – X is for the Unknown

X can stand for a great many things – the Greek letter Chi, a foreshortened form of Christ, the spot on a map where treasure is buried, or simply for the Unknown. When it comes to Niseag, the creature more commonly known as Nessie, or the Loch Ness Monster, very little is known.

Niseag is most often described as quite large, with a very long neck, a smallish head, and one to several humps that rise out of the water as she swims in the Loch.

This shot is known as “the surgeon’s photograph” supposedly taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist, in 1934.  A bit grainy and blurry as well, it’s now believed by nearly everyone to have been a hoax concocted by Marmaduke Wetherell and his son-in-law.

Here’s another, also thought to be a hoax:

Judging by these images and similar photos of other crytpozooids, the shutterbugs in question must have either remarkably bad luck or bad lenses.

There is a great deal of misinformation bruited about as well. For instance, the first report referring to Niseag as a monster was published in the Inverness Courier in 1933 by Alex Campbell, who was the water bailiff for Loch Ness at the time. A Londoner named George Spicer and his wife said they had been driving around the loch when he and his wife saw “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life.” According to the two Brits, she was trundling across the road toward the loch with “an animal” in her mouth.

Now, ‘trundling’ implies the presence of feet, not flippers, but a creature looking a bit like this one might be so described. It looks like a hybrid dragon/seal of some sort.

The first report was followed by the first fuzzy photograph and then by an order of protection from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the police, to keep the creature from being trapped, attacked, or shot.

None of that ‘first report’ business is true, of course. The first recorded sighting of the creature was in the River Ness, not the Loch. And it was in 565 A.D., not 1933. That’s when St. Columba made his way into northern Scotland, much of it still inhabited by pagan Picts.

A portrait of St. Columba at Bridei’s Fort. He was considered one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, and the Apostle to Pictland in particular. He was also a son of clan MacEwen, the original Ewen being a younger son of the High King of Ireland, called the O’Neill and sometimes Neill of the Nine Hostages – that being the number of other kings’ sons he held captive to ensure their fathers’ good behavior.

Now, St. Columba was quite an impressive fellow. He’s said to have been a man of great stature and powerful build, a man who had such a loud, melodious voice that he could be heard from one hilltop to another when he preached. When he arrived in Scotland, however, he was in disgrace and had no reputation worth claiming in Ireland, let alone a foreign country. What he had was the isle of Iona, given to him by a kinsman. So he founded an abbey there and then set off to evangelize the none-too-terribly-interested Picts.

The Abbey at Iona still stands today.

While in northern Scotland, St. Columba ran across some local people burying a Pitctish man. They said he’d been swimming in the River Ness when a ‘water beast’ attacked and killed him. Whereupon St. Columba saw his opportunity to make a new name for himself. He promptly sent one of his followers, named Luigne moccu Min, to swim across the very same river.

Some saint, eh?

Then, when the water demon went after Luigne, Columba waded into the water, making the sign of the cross and invoking the name of Christ. He is believed to have ordered the creature to “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” To everyone’s amazement, the creature stopped as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and then fled. Columba claimed all the credit for this for himself and his god, happy to let the Picts believe they’d seen a miracle.

The truth, of course, is that the creature was pulled back with ropes, for Columba was a canny devil and had set the whole thing up the night before, having heard what happened to the Pict.

It worked very well indeed. Thereafter, the Picts flocked to Columba’s Christ on a Cross, and he earned himself many honors, much worldly power, and not a few very fine stained glass windows in the churches erected by his converts:


How do I know all this? Why, I was there, tending to the creature and her babes when that silly Pictish ass tried to kill the tender hatchlings, and so earned his just reward! What did you think was going on?

Nowadays, Clan MacEwen will sometimes claim to have thereby pulled off the greatest hoax in history, but others know better. And no, I won’t be telling you where you can find Niseag today, nor yet her offspring. X does indeed mark the spot or spots and I will say no more.

If you like, though, you can visit the Loch Ness Centre and Monster Exhibit at the Drumnadrochit Hotel, up toward the northern end of the loch. They’ve done the creature up as the plesiosaur you see below, never mind the fact that the vertebrae in a plesiosaur’s long neck would never have allowed the poor beastie to swim like a swan:

Besides, dear Niseag is ever so much more beautiful than that!



A Modern Bestiary – W is for Water Bull

That’s right. W is for water bulls. And no, I do not mean water buffalo. Those ridiculous creatures would not last a week in the Highlands in winter. No, true water bulls are Faerie’s version of Highland cattle, with even more of an attitude.

And yes, this fine fellow is demanding, “What the bloody hell are you looking at, mate?”

Highland cows, or as Glaswegians tend to pronounce it, ‘hayland coos,’ are a wilder breed than most, and bulls even more so. Those horns, for example, may make an American think of Texas longhorns and cattle drives and the cowboys they’ve mostly seen in the movies, but no drover has any luck with a water bull.

In Scotland, they’re called the tarbh uisge or airbh uisge, which is Gaelic for “water bull’ or ‘sea bull’. The word for water, uisge, is one you may have seen before, since it’s also part of uisghe beatha, the water of life. which has long since been shortened and anglicized into the one word ‘whiskey.’


Of which, here are a few of my favorite varieties…

The water bull of Scotland is normally nocturnal and is most often found in the moorlands or along the shores of Scotland’s lochs, long saltwater inlets from the sea that look like lakes but aren’t. You will likely know that word too, loch, from either the silly romantic ballad about Loch Lomond or because you’ve heard of the Loch Ness monster.

Which we’ll discuss another time, if you please, since even this, the best photograph ever taken of the beast, is still quite deceptive. The layers of fable and wishful thinking and outright chicanery that have attached themselves to the Loch Ness monster take a bit of unraveling. That’s especially true of the more far-fetched explanations of the sightings, such as this beef-witted nonsense:

Nor is the Loch Ness monster anything like the water bull, which is much closer kin to the water horse (otherwise known as the kelpie).

The water bull has the amphibious nature of the kelpie, and is likewise known for its shapeshifting talent. But where the kelpie is attracted to humans, and apt to seduce them into accepting a fateful ride on its back, the water bull is far more interested in cows than people. Nor will the water bull consume its hapless rider, leaving behind little more than a bloody hunk of the victim’s liver.

This is far more to the water bull’s taste – a fertile female of (nearly) his own kind!

So he is most likely to wait until dark and then try and insinuate himself into a herd of highland cattle, taking on the appearance of the very thing he wants most to avoid – a true bull.

Sexy? Well, not to me. But as Dickens put it in The Pickwick Papers: “Everyone to his own taste,” the old woman said when she kissed her cow.

If the water bull should succeed in his quest, the result is apt to be a calf born some months later. The tarbh uisge, however, has no ears. They are apparently a problem for some water-dwellers, and so he does without them. His offspring, therefore, turn out to be half-eared, with the tops missing. Knife-eared, according to Highlanders, who do their best to kill the poor creatures at once, upon discovery.

That’s not so easily done, since you cannot drown the calf anymore than its sire.

But if you allow it to grow up, you’ll soon find your whole herd is corrupted. Your cows and calves will disappear into the water and you’ll be left with nothing more than muddy hoof prints.

Your best hope, then, is spotting the water bull before he has his way with the ladies. Or letting your own bull have at him.

See? No ears. And his offspring’s knife-ears are likely to be either crimson or purple in color, making them easy to spot.

You may well lose your bull, though. The tarbh uisge‘s no pushover. It has been said the water bull can set off earth tremors simply by stamping his feet!

That’s a problem, here, since some of them were transported  to the San Francisco Bay & Delta by the very same shockwave that has trapped so many Fae in this world since the Fall. For California was already earthquake country, and prone to such things. The Delta, in particular…

…because all those waterways are prone to flooding, and must be protected by an extensive levee system. This is what happens when a levee breaks…


Whole islands can go underwater, with crops and farmland destroyed in the process, and levee roads cut, and sometimes sizeable cities go under (as happened once with half of Antioch!)

What can you do, then?

First, keep a sharp eye out for water spouts. They were once uncommon, and so were tornados in California, but climate change has wrought a difference in this as well as the snow pack up in the mountains, and funnel clouds are no longer rare.

Thing is, the smaller ones that seem to skitter across the water’s surface like a living thing… just might be exactly that: a water bull, seen from a distance.

My advice is to use a spotting scope or binoculars, if you have nothing else, to make sure of your sighting. As I’ve mentioned, the water bull will have no ears, and may be quite shaggy and large indeed.

Then what?

Load up your shotgun. The easiest way to be rid of the water bull is to kill it with silver. The Scots and the islanders who live in the Hebrides or on the Isle of Manx grew accustomed to adding silver sixpence to the lead shot in their shells:

But of course, things have changed and the coins have been adulterated to the point where they contain so little silver, they’re useless for this, or for potting a werewolf. American money’s a little bit better, but not much. The dime, for example, no longer contains any silver at all, and the quarter is now only 10% silver. So jewelry might well be a better option, or bits of sterling from other sources.

Or you might think about an electric fence.


As it turns out, the water bull, being wet all the time, is especially sensitive to a wee bit of voltage!



A Modern Bestiary – V is for Valkyrja

V is for Valkyrja, which is a word taken from the Old Norse for “chooser of the slain.” And then commonly rendered as Valkyrie, referring to the female spirits who are sent to select the bravest men from among those fallen in battle so they can then go to Valhalla and join Odin’s einherjar. They usually forget to mention that the goddess Freyja gets half of the chosen (and first pick, at that). Too busy with all that nonsense about the brass brassieres, I suppose.

Here’s one view of Valhalla, focused on the feasting rather than the constant daily battle practice, in which all of them will die again and again and again, only to be revived at dinner time. Some paradise, eh? Getting ready for Ragnarok is your only goal, and all the other options are worse. Much worse.

The Viking view is all wrong, of course. Honestly, these are supposed to be shield maidens of one sort or another, and yet they are only portrayed in one of two ways, with and without the brass brassiere.

Here’s one with the brass bazoukas, and with wings as well…and are those moose antlers?

 And here’s the usual alternative…topless.

Now, tell me, does either of these outfits make ANY sense, in this world or the afterlife, when BOTH feature all that snow and ice? Why would any woman ever put up with frostbitten nips?

I know. I know. My own attire is skimpy indeed in some respects, but that’s only in Faerie, where the weather is perfect. All day. Every day. Nor am I prone to sunburn. Or even mosquito bites.

So… let us dispense with this fantasy.

The Valkyrja, first and foremost, are dead women.

That means  any man lusting after them, even if it’s only in his own imagination, is indulging in necrophilia. Should he succeed in his quest, the resulting encounter will not be… fantastic.

  If any man succeeds in the usual way, this is how it goes… the Valkyries will haul whatever may be left of him to the Bifrost Bridge, where they ask for a hall pass from Heimdall, and then they’ll deliver him to Valhalla. En route, you may note his complete lack of interest in them, and his inability to participate in any part of the process.

It doesn’t get any better than that. He may be served endless horns of mead and ale, and he may feast to his heart’s content, but the legend says nothing about any other form of close encounter. He’s dead. She’s dead too. It would be gross.

And if our hero should be so unlucky as to encounter any of the valkyrja before he dies in battle, well, his prospects are going to get worse. He is likely to meet up with what is known as a scag– or skass-valkyrja. This is a Valkyrie who has not passed into the afterlife, and who is close kin to the Norns.

 If you’re not familiar with the Norns, they are something like the women known to the ancient Greeks as the Fates. And as they spin out the woolen fibers that measure your life, they determine both its length and its course.

So, too, with the skass-valkyrja. But rather than wait until you die in battle to decide what your destiny will be, the skass-valkyrja will make the decision beforehand. And may well enforce the decision, then and there.

  She may cast a screaming spear at you, and while the spear is small in size, its effect is lethal. It will strike you in the ribs and feel more like the sting of a bee or a stitch in your side than an actual wound, but you cannot escape its effects. All your organs will fail, one by one, in a cascade of agony that may closely resemble an acute case of pancreatitis.

There will not be a visible injury, and as pancreatitis is commonly caused by excessive intake of alcohol, no one will even know that you’ve been assaulted. No investigation will uncover what has really happened to you.

Therefore, be warned. If you wish to meet a Valkyrie, join the Marines and do it in the old-fashioned way, via the cult of Odin. Otherwise, settle for a Budweiser. Find yourself a living woman, if one will have you, and if not, then settle on something less dangerous. Invest, perhaps, in a personal appliance.


A Modern Bestiary – U is for Uncail

Uncail, however, is not what he is. It’s simply the Irish word for “Uncle.”

I do not know his true name. I’m not even sure if there’s only the one, or if there are more of his kind. Nor do I know the name of his kind. What I do know is that he is old, and he presents himself as an old man. As in human. Which he is not. Or at least not entirely.

  Uncail has always been old, for as long as I’ve known him, and I am not young. He is old in the geologic sense, as mountains are. And not upstart mountains like what you see in the Sierra Nevadas or even the Himalayas. Appalachian-old.

There a stories told about him, but even then he goes unnamed. He is simply “the old man” who lives all alone in a cottage remote from any town or other human habitations. His home is avoided by all, and that includes the Fae.

Much of what little we do know comes from Fae who stray into his domain by accident,  in ignorance, or through confusion rather than malice.

  This water goblin, for example, has a rather limited intellect and has been known to wander into many odd corners of the world(s). Harmless, in large part, this creature follows the fluttering butterflies in hopes of finding the Little Folk among them and enticing them to play with her.

The tale she tells is one that some humans have told as well, and the outlines are always the same.

  It begins with a whirlwind. Sometimes no more than a dust devil. More often, though, it’s a full-grown tornado. Whatever it’s size, it comes swirling across the land in the heat of the day, full of fury… and sometimes full of Fae!

That is what makes it a fairy whirlwind.

What? Did you think the idea for Sharknado sprang full-grown from a script-writer’s brow?

Personally, I think I could handle Sharknado (so long as it doesn’t include hammerheads – I refuse to believe they are creatures of Nature). I’m not so sure about taking on a fairy whirlwind.

Much like a swarm of bees, the typical fairy whirlwind takes shape when a colony of the smaller Fae grows unhappy with its current situation. Discomfort, despair, fury, frustration and hormones running amok all play their part. Encroachment by humans is commonly the cause of their sudden displacement. When that happens, the little ones may come together to create a greater whole in the shape of a larger, more powerful Fae.

This composite Fae can be dangerous, even to other Fae, for most of its higher functions are limited. It operates on instinct, and that instinct tells it to strike out, either in retaliation or for new and much less crowded territory.

In its earliest stages, a building swarm can be beautiful, especially at night.

Fairy lights lend ethereal grace to their movements, even in moments of anger.

But as the day dawns, and the summer’s heat builds, the swarming Fae soon reach a fever pitch of irritation. Together with the upward whirl of hot air, what was merely a mass movement can become violent.

 When this happens, the fairy whirlwind takes on a demonic character, and sometimes the shape of one in its willful destruction of everything in its path.

Yet when Uncle sees one, he does not run from it. He doesn’t try to take shelter (though YOU should!). No, Uncle responds to the whirlwind by crying out, “God bless you!”

And if the Fae within the whirlwind are in the midst of their usual pranks, and they’ve taken a human child from someone’s home, leaving a changeling in its place? They will then drop the stolen baby.

And Uncle catches it.

Which isn’t easy. These two men managed to catch a baby thrown from the upper floors of a burning apartment building – no tornado torque involved – and narrowly avoided disaster.

Why Uncle does this, I do not know. It may have been instinct on his part at one point – the Fae dropped it. He caught it.

Then what? Whenever the story is told by humans, it always turns out that the “old man” has no kin of his own and no way of knowing where this baby came from. And so Uncle raises the child as his own.

But Uncle himself never grows any older. And human children do grow up. So what then? Does he need to catch another? Or is there something else going on?

Sometimes, that composite Fae inhabiting the fairy whirlwind takes on far more definite form. A female form. And she is most certainly ticked about something.

I’ve taken to calling her Auntie. Mostly for lack of a better name, I admit. She’s a mystery all her own, and she comes armed with thunder and lightning, so I’ve been reluctant to ask any personal questions.

I’m dying to know, though. Why does the mere offer of God’s blessing cause her to drop those stolen children? And why does Uncle do it? Is he trying to save the babies? Or simply to spite her? Or does he actually mean what he says? And is it that which gives him his power?

A great many Irishmen and women to this day can claim descent from one of the rescued, so clearly they suffered no serious harm and did rejoin human society.

They might not have been very happy about it at first, of course.

This little girl is clearly upset by the sudden loss of her fairy playmates.

And so is this sad little tyke, who’s lost his very best human friend.

I cannot explain what is going on, with Uncle or with Auntie. I can tell you, if you encounter them, best you stay out of it altogether.

And keep a weather eye out for those twisters. Where once they were rarities in California, even the utterly natural kinds of whirlwinds are building in strength and numbers now, thanks to climate change. Because of that, funnel clouds are no longer unusual here. And some of them are full of fairies.





A Modern Bestiary – T is for Trowe

  T is for Trowes, and I don’t mean britches, though many Trowes wear them, and so they spare us the sight of that which no woman can find enticing. They are thought to be barrow wights by some, but are not ghostly. Merely invisible when they wish. Some consider them close kin to trolls because they too are creatures of the night. Others think them a form of the undead. But sunlight does not burn a Trowe, as it will a vampire. Nor will it turn one into solid rock.

  Now a rarity even in the Orkney Isles, and sometimes the Shetlands, the Trowes are dwarf-like in appearance, being short and somewhat misshapen, low-browed creatures.

They mainly go barefoot and cannot be shod by a cobbler working with any type of hide less resilient than that of a dragon. Their toe nails, you see, can drill right through boiled leather. Besides which, a Trowe with a howe to maintain soon grows annoyed by the need to remove his shoes or boots for the sake of digging in the dirt or tunneling into the dark red sandstone of the Orkneys, using his natural assets.

Some there are who live in sea caves, or atop rugged sea mounts, preferring those which offer them a solitude untroubled by the presence of humans.

  One such rocky pinnacle, the so-called Old Man of Hoy (Hoy being the island itself), was actually named for the Trowe who calls it home, although most modern men have long since forgotten about him.

Another group of Trowes guards the Yesnaby cliffs on the Isle of Hrossey. 

The most-feared of the Trowes is the Hogboon, which once haunted nearly every old mound to be found in the Orkneys. The word itself is a corruption of the Old Norse term haug-bui, or sometimes haug-buinn. It can be roughly translated as “mound-dweller” or “mound-farmer.”

An especially unpleasant Hogboon once inhabited the most famous mound of all, called Maeshowe by modern men and Orkahaugr by the Vikings.

 Maeshowe is a passage tomb, built nearly five thousand years ago. The Vikings never succeeded in evicting the so-called Hug Boy or Hog Boy of Maeshowe, who possessed amazing strength of both body and body odor. But tourists have now accomplished the feat using cameras and cell phones and loud, silly questions!

The Trowes and the Hogboons, however, should not be considered true Fae. They are instead hybrids of men and mound-dwellers! For long before ever the Vikings showed up, there were men here. Smallish, dark-haired, clever men.

And women too, of course. They were Pictish, and wild enough to give even the Roman legionnaires a real run for their money. Hence Hadrian’s Wall, built to keep the nasty buggers out!

 Much inclined to go naked in battle, especially during fair weather campaigns, it was the Picts’s custom to paint themselves bright blue with woad, which only made them more frightful to look upon. Worse, it did nothing to ease that personal aroma problem, also horrific to the bath-addicted Legionnaires.

The Romans never did succeed in conquering Pictland, let alone the Northern Isles. In 875 A.D., however, the Vikings invaded. They did take over the islands, and many a Pict went into hiding. Some moved into the mounds, where sharing close quarters with hogboons all through the long dark winters of the Northern Isles (and remember – the winter wind can scour them at 130 miles per hour, come January)… well, nature took its course.

One result? The Trowe has now acquired a taste for certain human forms of music and dance! For fiddlers, in particular.

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, for example, are the favorite musicians of many a modern hogboon!

And since the Fall, there are more than a few Trowes living here in the New World. You will find them in the Mother Lode, where old gold mines offer them shelter and privacy near enough to what they had at home in Faerie.

Some old mines offer much more than others, however.

The Black Bart Inn, in San Andreas, California, for example, has a dance floor in its basement that IS an old gold mine, wherein much music is made. And tales are told of a ‘ghost’ who pulls many a prank on customers and bartenders alike.

I cannot say whether this mischievous spirit is truly a ghost or a Trowe who has taken up residence in a congenial tunnel. No need to worry overmuch, as the haunting of the Black Bart Inn has never resulted in serious injury to a human, although on at least one occasion, it did lead to flying pie in the restaurant. A rude remark by a tourist led to the pie case being yanked open by unseen hands, and the contents being flung in all directions. Without whipped cream, so it could have been worse. Or maybe just a bit tastier.

If you should wander into an old mine up in the Mother Lode, however, and happen upon an odd ‘face’ in the rock…


You’ve certainly stepped into a Trowe’s howe!  Save yourself. If you can, run. If you can’t, bring a fiddle along, or least a bit of fiddle music you can play – Alison Krauss and Union Station, for example – and be polite! Because no one is likely to find your bones if you trespass upon a Trowe’s hide-out and don’t even bother to carry an I-pod!

A Modern Bestiary – S is for Spriggan

Yes, S is for Spriggan – perhaps the most unsightly of the Fae.  Sometimes referred to as ‘goat-men’, they are grotesque in several ways, and dangerous despite their small size.

         Here, a spriggan is shown emerging from a wall in Crouch End, London. It’s a talent born of the creature’s make-up, which is closely related to stone.

A spriggan often looks like a wizened old man, but has a large child-like head that resembles a human child with progeria. That would be the rare genetic defect that causes a human child to age with such rapidity the youngster is already dying of old age by the time he or she approaches anything like adult size. Nearly all of them die before reaching the age of 14.

  Humans suffering from progeria tend to go bald at a very early age, but commonly wear headgear to conceal the fact. Because of this, one might mistake a human for a spriggan, which is not nearly as risky as its converse, mistaking a spriggan for a human.

These are traits common to progeria victims, to which I would add ‘manga eyes’ – the disproportionately large head often features eyes that look too large as well, as is often depicted in ‘manga’ style graphic novels.

   Some look less human than others.

   And some, like this little girl, resemble living mummies.

The spriggan, however, is actually kin to the trolls of Scandinavia.

  Note the large nose and sparse hair and fur on this young troll’s body.

  The adult troll, however, can grow to a considerable size, and is as well known for its brute strength as its body odor and its lack of intellect.

The spriggan can also grow to enormous size, and do so almost instantaneously!  This is why they are sometimes said to be the ghosts of giants.  Well, in the Nordic sense of the Jotun, this is partially true – the Norse have never clearly drawn a line separating the giants from the trolls in Jotunheim. The spriggan is distinct from the troll, however, in one important respect – a spriggan can withstand direct sunlight where a troll is apt to be turned to stone in a permanent fashion or burnt to a crisp.

This unfortunate fellow poked his head of his cave at the wrong time.

A Celtic spriggan of the traditional sort is mostly likely to be found in Cornwall these days. Wherever you find one, however, it is best to view the creature as anything but ethereal, whether or not it can pass through walls and emerge from stones.  In some ways, it is made of stones and sometimes looks like a stack of rocks come to sudden and rather horrifying life.

  Do NOT throw rocks at a spriggan!  They are apt to return the favor by throwing chunks of themselves at you in turn, and with deadly accuracy. What’s worse, they can recall the parts they’ve hurled at you, rather like Thor’s hammer, and then, of course, they can do it all over again.  As many times as they like.

For this reason, and because they are impervious to so many magical weapons and spells, the spriggans often serve as bodyguards to other fae.

Unlovely, yes, but effective in their own way.

Spriggans also serve as guards and watchmen. Formerly, they were often found at the sites of ancient ruins, stone cairns (which they can imitate to an amazing degree), and barrows, especially if the tombs contain any form of buried treasure.

Nowadays, and especially since the Fall, spriggans often work as security guards at banks and check-cashing offices.

If you should spot a security guard who sports a prominent nose, large eyes, and a bald head, like either of these two fellows, be polite and keep your distance.  Above all, if you should have grand larceny in mind, go pick another bank to rob!



A Modern Bestiary – R is for Rosmer

1126931186_imefairy32 The Rosmer is a peculiar creature, often described as having the head of either a horse, a whale, or a dog with its tongue hanging out.  Sailors have also reported seeing a mane of coarse hair on its pate and lots of whiskers on its face.  Supposedly, it has a human’s arms and torso, though those “hands” are heavily clawed, and its body ends with the tail of a fish.

rosmarine_27681_lg  This version sports four feet while others depict only two.  And that tusky head looks more like that of a boar than a dog or a whale.

Sometimes called a Ruszor by the Vikings, or a Rosmarine by the British, it normally prefers the icy waters of the north, and is far better known from the shores of Norway, or the Orkneys and the Shetlands, than it is from the rest of Great Britain.

The Rosmer, however, is not a Hippocampus or true sea-horse, like the one shown below.

seahorse-by-oz-best  Nor is it half as friendly as the Hippocampus tends to be.  The Rosmer will certainly not offer a ride and rescue to sailors who have been washed overboard.  Alas, the Rosmers are lascivious creatures and highly inclined to disport themselves with any hapless humans they run across in their domain.

Rampant by nature, they are apt to assault passersby with the relevant body parts and such encounters are commonly lethal.  That is because the typical Rosmer has an organ that is stiffened and reinforced with a sturdy os penis, or baculum, such that it resembles a battering ram and lacks only a forged iron ram’s head.

battering-ram  The Romans were highly dependent on symbolism, and considered rams to be admirable for their overt “masculinity” if not their aroma.  Literal-minded, the lot of them.

In times of old, the Rosmer was inclined to ignore humans, whether it encountered them in the water, aboard a boat, or ashore on either land or ice.  They could come ashore themselves and take off their “skins” in the same way as selkies, but seldom did so.  In any case, humans were fewer in number and boats were far smaller back then.  Humans who were inclined to slaughter living creatures purely for the sake of those ivory tusks were not armed with rifles, like those who kill elephants now, and so were more evenly matched with their prey.

walrus-ivory     For some reason, humans often feel compelled to carve pieces of ivory, as has been done here.

walrus-scrimshaw-2          In other cases, they seem to think that scrimshaw, somehow, is more needful and beautiful than the living creature itself.

Try to take a Rosmer’s tusks, however, and the outcome will be anything but artistic.  Instead of a walrus, which they greatly resemble, the ivory hunter may find himself confronting an irate fae creature massing as much as 22 times the weight of the man.  The Rosmer will not hesitate to express his opinion on the matter, using either his bulk, his tusks, or his penis which, as noted above, is even more impressive than that of the average walrus.


And the walrus is rather amazing.  Here, for example, is a link to video showing a walrus engaging in autoerotica.  Warning:  you may wish to view it in privacy.


The walrus’ baculum often reaches two feet in length, and is hefty enough that the Inuit, who call them oosiks, once used them as war clubs.

walrus-baculum1Imagine, then, the Rosmer whose baculum is displayed below:

rosmer-the-largest-ever-penis-bone-2    And  imagine what that bone might do to a disrespectful human!

Worse yet, the Rosmer feeds in much the same way as a walrus.  It uses vibrissae (whiskers) on its face to search the sediments on the sea bottom for shellfish.

walrus-vibrissae                  On sensing clams and the like, it will either root for its supper or use its tongue to shoot hydraulic jets at the muck.  Upon catching the clam, it will then use that tongue in reverse to suck its prey right out of its shell, a process which requires no more than six seconds regardless of the clam’s size (which may rival that baculum).

walrus-food    An irate Rosmer may do the same to those parts of a man that are cylindrical and therefore vaguely clam-shaped. Thus the hapless hunter may find himself catching it fore AND aft.

Since the Fall, Rosmers are finding life difficult in this world.  Like the walrus, they depend on pack ice overlaying the continental shelf where the seas are shallow.  There, they can most easily reach their own happy hunting grounds 150 feet below and then rest or reproduce in relative safety on the ice floes.


The north polar ice cap, however, is shrinking, and retreating from the continental shelves with astonishing speed as a result of global warming.  Here’s a look at what is happening in the Chukchi Sea:


This leaves the walrus and the Rosmer with fewer places to even exist, let alone prosper.  Should the Rosmer realize what is happening, I would expect them to act in self-defense, or perhaps to seek vengeance.  What form that might take, I cannot say, but must assume it will be proportionate to the crime, which is a form of genocide.

A Modern Bestiary – Q is for the Questing Beast

1126931186_imefairy32The Questing Beast is a curious creature.  Some say it’s compounded of several others .  It has the head of a snake, the body of a leopard, the backside of a lion and the hooves of a deer.

questing_beast_by_navarose-d6y907x  Which sounds something like this, does it not?  Or even this:

questingbeast-2  The latter version looks less like a Frankenstein’s monster, I think.  The color scheme is far more functional for a beast well known to spend most of its time in the woods.

The traditional view is taken from the legends of King Arthur.

questing-beast-and-arthur According to the highly unreliable Mallory, the Questing Beast confronted Arthur after his affair with Morgause, his half-sister.

Somehow Mallory overlooked the fact that Arthur waylaid both his half-sisters, and was not in the least confused about who they truly were.  Morgause, after all, was the wife of King Lot of the Orkneys, and therefore a personage in her own right.  As for Morgaine… ah, that is a long said tale for another day.

morgan_le_fay-sandys_frederick_  Morgaine le Fey was a good friend of mine, and of many other elves, which is why I named my only daughter in her honor.  I did not know Morgause well at all but you may rest assured that both sisters had good cause for the enmity they held toward their brother.  As did Mordred, the bastard son born to Morgause and Arthur who would later destroy his father’s kingdom.

Supposedly, Arthur was taking a nap and woke from a dreadful dream about the lad and that catastrophe to come.  And that is when he saw the Questing Beast drinking from a nearby pool. 

questing-beast-w-arthur  Here is a far more accurate depiction of the Beast, which is closer kin to a giraffe than a leopard, snake, or lion.  One wonders if earlier artworks were based upon third or fourth-hand accounts of the African wonder, as is the camelopardis.

The man most famous for hunting the Questing Beast was King Pellinore, whose whole family was dedicated to the task.

sir-palomedes-2   It was Sir Palamedes, the Saracen Knight of the Round Table, though, who finally succeeded in killing the creature.

Pellinore claimed the Questing Beast had been born of a human woman, a princess who lusted after her brother, the prince (reverse the genders involved and it sounds familiar, doesn’t it? )  She proceeded to sleep with a demon who promised he would make the boy love her.  When she turned up pregnant as a result, the princess promptly accused her brother of rape.

Interesting how both of the brothers involved in Mallory’s incestuous situations with their sisters end up being “falsely accused” in one way or another.


artus2-by-durer  Here is the “heroic” King Arthur as Albrecht Dürer portrayed him.  Literally a knight in shining armor.

As for Pellinore’s “innocent” prince, his father had him torn apart by dogs as punishment for his crime. Before the prince died, however, he predicted his sister would give birth to an abomination, and that the monster would make the same sounds as the pack of dogs waiting to kill him.

This is supposed to be the origin of the sound the Questing Beast makes, which originates from its stomach and has been described as resembling that made by a pack of thirty or forty dogs on the hunt.  Because of this, the Questing Beast is also known at the Beast Glatisant, which means the Barking Beast.

dog-pack  Personally, I find a large pack of dogs in full cry to be quite disturbing.  Especially if they are hunting me and mine.

Tales of the Quest for the Holy Grail, however, describe the Beast in very different terms.  In one case, it  is pure white in color.  It is still a chimera, but smaller than a fox and quite beautiful.  The noise from its belly, however, is that made by its unborn offspring, who achieve birth by tearing their mother apart from within.

The truth is worse than this.  The youngsters consume their mother, and then set off as a group to pursue and pull down other prey.  In Faerie, they would have been schooled by older males even as older bull elephants train young rogues.

marauding-elephants  Here, a young bull elephant is about to learn a lesson in manners.

In this world, however, few adult males survived the Fall.  The Barking Beasts do not truly mature here.  They do not part ways with the pack either, and their savagery is remarkable.  Their handiwork is now commonly mistaken for the work of werewolves despite the striking differences in the wounds made by their fangs.

If you would defend yourself from even one of them, however, you would be well-advised to rely on cold iron rather than silver bullets.

werewolf-full-moon  And do not think you are only at risk when the moon is full.