Myth Monday: The Boy Who Could Not Shiver (German Fairy Tale)

The Boy Who Could Not Shiver (German Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Note: Just so everybody knows, when I first wrote this it was A LOT longer, so I edited out a few parts to make it a somewhat quicker read. I’ll post the full version later on either here or Wattpad.

Naab_-_Kallmünz_in_2014 by David Schiersner wikimedia commons

Once upon a time, there was a village man who had two teenaged sons. The elder boy, Jack, was smart and could do anything you asked him to do. His younger brother Hans … well, he had some trouble learning. You could tell him to do something, he’d just get a faraway look in his eyes. People in town used to mutter behind his back, “That boy is so stupid. He must be a real burden for his father.”

However, when it came to courage, Hans had it in spades, while his older brother was a horrible scaredy-cat. One night they had guests over, and one of the men began to tell a spooky story. Just as the man neared the middle of the story, Jack squeaked out, “Please stop! This is too scary—it’s making me shiver all over.”

Hans cocked his head at his brother. “What do you mean, ‘shiver all over?’”

Jack scowled at him. “I mean, the story’s so scary that it’s making me shake.”

“A scary story can make you shake?” Bemused, Hans shook his head. “I’ve never had that happen to me.”

“That’s because you’re too dumb to be afraid,” Jack retorted, causing their father to roll his eyes and all the other guests nod in agreement.

Hans frowned. “That’s not fair. I want to know what’s like to shiver.”

Dejected, Hans began to walk through the town by himself. He spent the day thinking about his bad luck, his stupidity, how everyone hated him, and all he wanted was to know how to be afraid. Finally, in frustration, Hans yelled out, “What is it like to shiver?”

“What’s that?”

Surprised by the voice, Hans turned around and found a man leading a team of horses and a wagon coming up behind him. The waggoner looked at him questioningly. “Did you say that you want to know what it’s like to shiver?”

Hans cringed. “Yes, I did. But I don’t know how to do it.”

The waggoner shrugged. “Well, I don’t know how to teach you that, but you look like you need a hand. Come with me—there’s an inn I visit a ways up the street. I’ll buy you something to eat.”

Grateful, Hans walked with the waggoner up to the inn. As they walked through the door, Hans was explaining to the waggoner that he didn’t know how to be afraid, that he had no idea what it was like to shiver. The inn’s owner overheard the pair talking and waved Hans over.

“Couldn’t help but hear you guys,” the big man said as Hans approached. “You’re looking to be scared?”

Hans nodded. “Yes sir, I am.”

“Have you heard about the haunted castle?”

Hearing him speak, the innkeeper’s wife rushed out of the kitchen. “Don’t tell him that!” she hissed. “Too many people died of fright there already.”

That perked Hans’s interest. “‘Died of fright’ you say?”

The innkeeper nodded smartly. “Yup. It’s full of ghosts and demons. But get this—the king himself has said that if anyone can survive three nights alone in that castle and bring back the treasure inside, then he can marry the princess.”

“Hmm.” Considering all the information before him, Hans shrugged. “Well, marrying a princess is great and all, I guess, but what I really want to do is learn to shiver. I’ll give it a shot.”

The very next morning, Hans went to the king and proposed that he spend three nights in the haunted castle. The king was impressed—mistaking Hans’s dimwittedness for courage—and allowed him to go. “You must not bring another living thing with you,” the king told Hans. “But I will grant you any tools that you may need. What would you like?”

“Just a fire, a cutting board, a turning lathe, and a knife,” Hans answered.

Castillos_Hohenfreyberg_y_Eisenberg,_Eisenberg,_Alemania,_2015-02-15, by Diego Delso wikimedia commons

These items were granted, and Hans went to the castle by himself. The castle was a crumbling wreck, and as it loomed over Hans its windows looked like soulless black eyes boring down on him. But, Hans being Hans, didn’t notice any of this, and he let himself into the castle without hesitation. After exploring the ruins a bit, he found a room that didn’t have any holes in the walls or roof and decided that this would be where he rested. He built up a fire with the torch the king had given him, then set the cutting board, knife, and lathe to the side, and made himself comfortable.

At midnight, just as Hans was beginning to sulk that nothing frightening had happened yet, he rose to his feet to stir the fire. As he plunged the rusted old poker into the embers, he heard a sound from a dark corner of the room.

“Meow! Meow!” the voice whimpered. “How cold it is!”

A strange voice coming out of an empty corner would have been enough to frighten anyone, but Hans only scowled in its direction and said, “Well, don’t be stupid—come closer to the fire so you can warm up.”

Black_cat_with_glowing_eyes by Laveol wikimedia commons

No sooner did Hans say these words when two huge black cats, each the size of a mastiff dog, leaped out of the tiny corner and settled beside the fire. As they warmed themselves, the cats turned their blazing red eyes to Hans and said, “Would you like to play a game of cards with us?”

“I’d like to very much,” said Hans, “but would you please do me a favor and let me see your feet?”

Obligingly, both of the cats held out their paws for Hans to examine, stretching out their wicked claws, each the size of scythes. Studying the claws, Hans said, “Ugh! Now that I’ve seen those things, I’d rather not play a game, thank you.”

And with that, Hans killed both of the demon cats and tossed their bodies out of the window and into the moat.

No sooner did the dead demon cats hit the moat water when suddenly a hoard of black cats and black dogs of every size lunged out of the same dark corner and flooded the room. They rushed around Hans and charged through his fire, scattering the embers as though they wanted to put out the light.

For a moment, Hans just watched all of this in mild confusion, but when he saw the mess they made of his fire, he grabbed his cutting board and knife and shouted, “Get out of here, you horrible things!” A few of the demons managed to escape, but Hans killed most of them with the board and knife and deposited their bodies in the moat.

By now it was quite early in the morning and Hans was exhausted. Taking a moment to build up the fire again, Hans then trudged over to the moldy old canopy bed in the room and collapsed into it. No sooner did he lie down than the bed began to quake. Before Hans knew what was happening, the bed reared up like a horse, then went galloping through the castle on its four wooden legs. Hans, unalarmed, just hung on to the bed until it crashed headlong into the castle’s front gates, splintering to pieces and flipping him end over end onto the ground.

Kicking off the mildewed blankets and pillows, Hans dusted himself off, muttered, “How can anybody sleep in a bed that does that?”, went back up to his room and fell asleep by the fire.

At daybreak, the king came to the castle to check on Hans. Finding him asleep by the fire, the king was at first heartbroken, thinking that the boy had died of fright. As the king mourned, Hans woke up, assured the king that he was well, and told him, “Actually, the night was kind of nice.” Later, when Hans went back to the inn for breakfast, the astonished innkeeper told him he was certain Hans would have died. When asked if he had learned to shiver yet, Hans snorted and replied, “Not at all. I’m starting to think I’ll never learn.”

As per the bargain, Hans went back to the castle for the second night. As he sat there by the fire, he heard a man scream. Glancing up, Hans blinked in surprise as the upper half of a man’s severed body flopped down through the chimney.

Hans arched an eyebrow. “A whole lot of noise for only half a man. Where’s the other half?”

Promptly, there was another unearthly shriek and the man’s lower half crashed down the chimney.

“That’s better,” Hans said, rising to his feet. “Put yourself together while I build up the fire again.”

No sooner did Hans build up the fire than was there another chorus of wails, and nine more severed men thudded down through the chimney. After putting themselves back together, they all stood. Nine of them carried human thighbones and set each one up on their ends. The first corpse who had appeared produced two human skulls from his rotting pockets. Standing, the first wraith rolled the skulls like balls and knocked down the thighbones.

Hans lit up at the sight. “Ooh, that looks like fun. Can I play?”

The first corpse that had fallen down the chimney looked at him and said, “Yes … but only if you have any money.”

“Lots,” Hans answered. “But those balls are uneven. Let me smooth them out.”

Taking the skulls, Hans ground them down on his lathe until they were perfectly smooth. Hopping to his feet, Hans and the revenants bowled all night long and had a great time until daybreak, when the creatures vanished and Hans went to sleep. The king visited again to check on him, and Hans told him about the great bowling party he had with the ten dead men.

We made bets, and I lost some and won some. But I still haven’t learned to shiver!” the boy moaned.

That third night, Hans again sat himself down by the fire. Just as he began to dread that he would never know what it would be like the shiver and be afraid, six men marched somberly into the room, bearing a coffin on their shoulders. Recognizing the coffin, Hans sprang to his feet and said, “Wait a minute! I know who that is—that’s my dead cousin! Here, put him down on the floor here.”

Wordlessly, the six men did as they were asked. Hans pried the coffin lid off and, looking down, did indeed see the face of his dead cousin. Touching the dead man’s face, Hans said, “You’re as cold as ice!” Scooping the corpse up, Hans carried it to the fire and proceeded to rub its back and chest. The body did not warm, so Hans then carried it to a bed and tucked the body in snugly, and laid down next to it.

In time, the body began to warm, then move. As the corpse opened its eyes, Hans grinned and said, “Aha! See? That’s all you need to come back to life—just some warmth.”

“Yes,” the dead cousin said, slowly sitting up. “And now that I am alive … I will strangle you!”

Horrified, Hans jerked back. “What?! That’s the thanks I get for bringing you back to life? In that case, you’re better off dead!” Grabbing his dead cousin by the collar, Hans yanked the body out the bed, flipped him back into the coffin, and slammed the lid shut. He stood there glaring as the six men quickly picked up the coffin and hurried out of the room.

Disgusted, Hans threw his hands up. “I give up. Nothing’s going to make me shiver!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

Hans scowled up at the giant. “Hey—you can’t kill me without my consent.”

“Watch me!”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, old man. You might be strong, but I’m far stronger than you.”

Nearly turning inside out with rage, the giant howled, “Fine! Prove it to me then—if you can beat me, I’ll let you go. Follow me.”

Not the least bit worried, Hans followed the giant through the twists and turns of the old castle until they reached the smithy. By the forge stood a huge anvil. Picking up an axe, the giant walked up to the anvil and swung the axe down, cleaving the anvil in half as though it had been no more than a lump of butter.

“Pfft,” Hans huffed. “I can do better than that.”

Stunned by Hans’s boast, the giant trailed closely behind Hans, watching every move he made. Hans picked up the giant’s axe and walked over to another anvil. Motioning for the giant to stand on the other side of the anvil, Hans pointed to the surface. “See that?”

Confused, the giant leaned forward. As he did, his immense beard draped over the anvil. “See what?”

With barely a grunt of effort, Hans swung the axe down onto the anvil, pinning the giant’s beard down between the top of the anvil and the axe’s blade. As the startled giant squirmed and yanked on his beard, Hans picked up an iron bar and snarled, “Now I’ve got you, you old crank. Prepare to die!”

Hans beat the giant all over the head and body until the creature begged for mercy, promising that he would let Hans live and even give him all his treasure if Hans would just set him free. Hans decided that the giant was telling the truth, but even after he pulled the axe free, he kept it close to him as the limping giant led him into the depths of the castle. Opening a door, the giant pointed to three massive chests of gold.

“The first one is to be given to the poor,” the giant said, “the second one is for the king, and the third one is for you.”

Impressed, Hans began to thank the giant, but in the distance a cock crowed and the giant vanished. Shrugging to himself, Hans groped his way out of the depths and returned to his room, sleeping there until the king arrived.

Now that the treasure had been retrieved and distributed and the haunted castle conquered, the king was more than happy to uphold his end of the bargain. Making Hans a prince, the king married him to the princess and threw a magnificent wedding feast. As happy as he was to marry the princess, Hans was sullen during most of the feast, for he had not learned to shiver.

This bothered the princess greatly, and she discussed it with one of her ladies in waiting. The maiden, concluding that Prince Hans might never know fear but could still learn to shiver, came up with a clever plan. Taking a pail, she went out into the palace garden and scooped cold water from the little brook there, being careful to catch as many gudgeon fish as she could. She gave the pail to the princess, who hid it in their room.

That night, as Prince Hans fell asleep, the princess snuck out of bed and retrieved the pail of water and fish. Tip-toeing over to the snoring Hans, the princess upended the bucket all over him.

“Blaaaaaarrrggghhhhh!” Horrified, Hans snapped awake and jumped out of bed, dancing around their room as he frantically shook out his soaked nightgown, freeing the squirming fish from his collar and sleeves. “What’s going on? Why am I shaking like this?!”

The princess laughed. “Darling—you’re shivering!”

Astonished, Hans looked down at himself, at the flopping fish around his feet. “Oh … this is what shivering is like? Thank you! Thank you darling, I finally know how to shiver … although I didn’t realize it would make such a mess.”

Myth Monday: Baba Yaga, the Monstrous Russian Witch (Slavic Folktale)

Myth Monday: Baba Yaga, the Monstrous Russian Witch (Slavic Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Okay, if you’ve seen the John Wick movies, you probably heard the titular character being referred to as “Baba Yaga” by the terrified Russian mobsters he picks off. One character explains that the Baba Yaga was a boogeyman of Russian folklore.

Nyet, tovarisch … she was so much worse.

Well, of course, as with most legends and myths, it depends on who’s telling the tale. For the most part, Baba Yaga was described as a very old woman, hideously ugly, who lived in the darkest of the woodland and practiced powerful magic. She was a cannibal, preferring the taste of children, though she was not averse to any adults who might wander her way. Baba Yaga was capable of great cruelty and wickedness, but, surprisingly, could also be moved to help people in need.

Baba Yaga’s mythological evolution is interesting. In the mid-1700s, Russian scholar Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov compared the Slavic gods with their Roman counterparts. He suggested that the Slavic gods were really just Russian versions of the Roman gods (not entirely; the Romans always shoehorned their gods into the beliefs of the people they conquered, but that’s another blog.) The only Slavic deity that Lomonosov couldn’t match to a Roman god was Baba Yaga. There was no Roman or Greek equivalent to her. This would mean that A) Baba Yaga was 100% unique as a deity, B) belief in her was so strong that the Slavs refused to accept any outside influence on her myth, and, my personal theory, C) she freaked the Romans out so bad that they just didn’t want to have anything to do with her.

But what is that identity? Unfortunately, almost all we know about Baba Yaga and the other Slavic gods was passed on to us orally, so many of the early stories are probably lost forever. She’s probably an amalgamation of many Dread Goddesses and Mother Goddesses, cobbled together by various Eastern European tribes and clans as they met throughout history.

Because we’ve lost the early myths, we don’t know what Baba Yaga’s real name might have been, or which goddess she might have been most closely associated with. “Baba Yaga” is likely an honorific title given to her and was probably created only centuries ago when Christianity became the dominant religion in Eastern Europe and saying the true name of an evil entity was thought to draw it to you. With the influence of Christianity, the woodland death goddess was suddenly shrunk down into a nasty old lady and frequently recast as the Devil’s grandmother.

The term baba in Slavic cultures usually means “grandmother,” though it does have roots in the words for both “midwife” and “sorceress.” This isn’t surprising; in many cultures, older women worked as midwives, having spent the majority of their adulthood helping other women in their village or tribe give birth. They would have been highly skilled in herbs and medicines, and well-versed in charms for fertility, for helping the mother and baby during labor, and for preparing bodies in the sad event that one or both subjects didn’t survive the process. Having so much knowledge and practice, these older women were probably very successful in delivering healthy babies and helping mothers survive the ordeal, so the older women would have been looked upon as magic workers. 

However, the term yaga doesn’t have an exact translation, though it relates back to many Slavic words meaning, “abusive,” “angry,” “horror,” “dirty,” and even “evil woman.” Now that people weren’t worshipping her as a Dread Goddess, but still believed that she was a vile creature that haunted the woods, the Slavs reimagined her as a crotchety, ugly, evil old woman. Essentially, if we were to very loosely translate Baba Yaga’s name to modern English, it would come out as something like, “Grandmother Evil.”

Witch_with_Broom by Iryna Pustynnikova, wikimedia commons

Some tales even depict Baba Yaga as three sisters instead of a singular character, relating back to the myths of a Trifold Goddess (a goddess who is depicted in three forms, often in a girl/mother/crone aspect, such as the Fates in Greek mythology, or as three sisters each with special power, like Macha/Badb/Nemain in Celtic mythology.) Stories featuring the Baba Yaga sisters usually portray them all as being ugly and ferocious, but the eldest and middle sisters are more helpful, while the youngest is much more bloodthirsty.

As I’ve said before, Baba Yaga is incredibly ugly. It doesn’t matter if she’s portrayed as a benefactor or a villain, in every story she is just ugly. I mean, like advanced ugliness. Being so old, Baba Yaga is, of course, wizened, but she is often described as having grotesquely sharpened or even iron teeth, a severely longed or hooked nose, hands gnarled into claws, and might even be hairy to the point of sporting a beard—or having nose hairs so long that she could tie them together under her chin. Storytellers often note that there is something wrong with one or both of Baba Yaga’s legs: Baba Yaga may be completely missing one leg, she may have one normal leg and the other one is a serpent (again, relating back to the earth mother theme: snakes were associated with the earth and with infernal wisdom; they could travel to the Underworld and talk to the dead; due to their ability to shed their skin, were used as symbols for immortality), or might have had both legs except they’re nauseatingly skinny (leading to one of her nicknames, “Old Bony Legs,”) or missing all of their bones. She can be the size of a little old lady, or she can stretch herself the full width of her house. Baba Yaga is also said to be very filthy—remember, one of the root words for yaga is “dirty.”

Baba Yaga lived in possibly the most interesting house in all of mythology: it was a cottage that stood upon a set of giant chicken legs. Not a whole chicken, mind you, just the legs (sometimes a pair, sometimes only one, sometimes four. I never said that mythology was consistent.). If Baba Yaga became tired of the area where she was living, she would order her house to walk off to a new location. Sometimes the legs are constantly moving, turning the house round and round so only those who knew the special spell could get inside. Frequently, the house was said to be devoid of doors and windows, leaving only a chimney for Baba Yaga to come and go (sound familiar?)

If a hut set on a pair of T. Rex-sized bird legs isn’t enough to creep you out, then you should take a look at Baba Yaga’s fence circling her home; the fence is entirely built out of human bones, collected from the people she’s eaten. Every few feet a skull is driven down atop a spike … and there’s always one spike left empty for the next victim’s head.

Given that Baba Yaga has difficulties with her legs and is said not to be able to walk, she usually gets around by either hopping astride a broom or, much more likely, climbing inside a giant stone mortar (for those of you who don’t know what that is, a mortar is a sort of bowl designed to hold herbs or spices that will be ground up. Remember what I said earlier about older midwives knowing about herbs?) and propels it along with her pestle (grinding tool.) To make sure no one knows where she’s been, Baba Yaga sweeps away her tracks with her broom.

Even immortal witches have to eat, and Baba Yaga’s favorite food by far is human children. Every story I’ve read about Baba Yaga shows her threatening to eat the story’s hero for dinner. Like the Basket Woman, Jenny Greenteeth, and other monsters from mythology, Baba Yaga was probably used to scare small children to keep them from wandering off into the forest and becoming hopelessly lost. On the other hand, if we go back even farther, we find that many old religions described death and burial as returning to the Mother Goddess’s womb. Maybe the whole cannibalization thing was just a misremembered metaphor for going back to the goddess. One can only hope.

No discussion of Baba Yaga is complete without mentioning the story of Vasilisa the Beautiful. Since I don’t want this blog to be like fifty pages long, I’ll give you the shortest version I can:

Vasilisa was a beautiful Russian girl. When she was young, her dying mother gave her a magic doll and told Vasilisa that if she ever found herself in trouble, she should feed the doll and talk to it. After her mother’s death, Vasilisa’s father married a haughty woman with two daughters of her own. The stepmother and stepsisters hated Vasilisa and gave her the most grueling tasks to do. To accomplish them, Vasilisa fed her magic doll, told her what the trouble was, and the doll would come to life and finish all her tasks for her.

Determined to be rid of Vasilisa, the stepmother put out all the fires and candles in the house. She then ordered Vasilisa to go to their neighbor’s house and ask for a lump of live coal so they could relight their home.

Grandmother_and_the_granddaughter by vidgestr, wikimedia commons

Of course, that neighbor was Baba Yaga.

Vasilisa was frightened, but she consulted her doll. The doll assured her all would be fine and guided her to the witch’s chicken-leg hut. The hut was spinning around in place but, coached by the doll, Vasilisa said the magic spell, “Little house—turn your back to the woods and your front to me!” The house paused, righted itself, then sat down, allowing Vasilisa to enter.

At sunset, Vasilisa watched in horror as a monstrous woman dropped down from the chimney into the house. Covered in folded, wrinkly skin, a beak-like nose curving over jagged, bloody iron teeth, boneless legs dragging behind her as she pulled herself across the floor with her clawed fingers, Baba Yaga shrieked at Vasilisa, demanding to know who she was and why was she in Baba Yaga’s home. Vasilisa was terrified, but she did as her doll had taught her, telling the disgusting witch that she was a maid in need of work.

Baba Yaga eyed Vasilisa for a moment, then told Vasilisa that she did in fact have three tasks for the girl, but warned Vasilisa that should she fail in any of them, then Baba Yaga would eat her. Baba Yaga’s chores were impossible for Vasilisa to accomplish, but the brave girl fed her magic doll and the doll finished all the work.

As with basically every stinkin’ myth or folktale out there, there are two different endings to the story. In the first version, Baba Yaga is disappointed that Vasilisa finished the tasks, but agrees to give her a coal to bring home, placing it inside an empty human skull. As Baba Yaga hands Vasilisa the skull, the witch asks the girl how she was able to do all the work. Vasilisa replies, “With my mother’s blessing.” This causes Baba Yaga to freak out and she throws Vasilisa, her doll, and the skull out of her hut. Clearly Christian-influenced.

The second, possibly older version hints that Baba Yaga had suspected that Vasilisa’s stepmother had sent her to the hut in hopes that the witch would eat her. After Vasilisa finishes the tasks, Baba Yaga gifts her with a coal inside a human skull. She asks Vasilisa to make sure that her stepmother and stepsisters see the gift, escorts Vasilisa out of the house, and bothers her no more.

Either way, both versions have Vasilisa returning home with the skull. When she shows the skull to her stepmother and sisters, a brilliant light blasts out of the skull’s eyes sockets and burns the cruel women to ash. Vasilisa then moves to Moscow, where she becomes a famous weaver and marries a prince.

All thanks to a cannibalistic witch!

In recent times, Baba Yaga’s found a lot of new popularity. She pops up again and again as a reoccurring villain in the Hellboy comics, a character in the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons, was featured in shows like The Witcher, Lost Girl and Supernatural, appears in a number of novels and movies, and, of course, is John Wick’s nickname in the franchise.

I don’t care how many people John Wick has killed with a pencil, he’s got nothin’ on the real Baba Yaga.

Myth Monday: The Most Powerful Swords in Mythology (World Mythology)

Myth Monday: The Most Powerful Swords in Mythology

By Kara Newcastle

Ever seen Disney’s Hercules? At one point, Herc comes up against the evil centaur Nessus, loses his sword in the river and starts to panic. As Hercules thrashes around searching for his sword, he tries to refocus himself by repeating what he’s learned in hero-training.

“Right. Rule number 15 … A hero is only as good as his weapon!!”

Here, Hercules grabs a hold of something and brandishes it triumphantly … only to realize it’s a fish. That aside, Hercules wasn’t entirely wrong; for some mythological characters, the weapon makes the hero. And some of their swords are pretty damn cool (there were so many to chose from, I might do another list in the future!)

  1. Excalibur (England): Of course, this one’s a gimme, but no mystical weapons list would be complete without it. To begin, Excalibur was not the sword that King Arthur pulled from the stone (that’s a literary shortcut authors and Hollywood like to use); after Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, he used it on several campaigns, eventually shattering. Deciding it was time for Arthur to have a sword worthy of a king of all England, the wizard Merlin took the young king to meet the Lady of the Lake (one of many), where the water spirit gifted Arthur the magical sword Excalibur and its scabbard. The scabbard was enchanted so that whoever wore it would not bleed to death in battle. However, the sorceress Morgan Le Fey stole it and threw it back into the lake, so after Arthur fought his evil son Mordred he died from his wounds. In most versions of the story, Arthur orders his knight Sir Bedivere to throw Excalibur back into the lake, where it is caught by the Lady of the Lake.
Katana_blade_1505_Osofune_school by Rama

2. Kusanagi The Grasscutter (Japan): After slaying the multi-headed Orochi Serpent, the storm god Susanoo proceeded to chop up the dragon’s body. Upon cutting off the dragon’s fourth tail Susanoo was surprised to find a sword inside. Calling it Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, Susanoo presented it to his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu as a sort of peace offering after all their feuding. Amaterasu passed the sword down to her descendants, and eventually it came into the possession of the hero Yamato Takeru. One day Takeru was trapped in a field by his enemies, who set the grass on fire in the hopes of killing him. Depserate to escape, Takeru drew the divine sword to cut back the grass, but when he did he found that the sword had the power to control the wind. Takeru used the sword to turn the fire back onto his enemies, and afterwards gave it the name that it is known by today: Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the Grasscutter. The sword continues to be bestowed upon different family members and is featured in a number of stories. Today, it’s alleged that the Kusanagi no Tsurugi is kept at the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, Japan. Said to be too divine to be view by mortal eyes, its kept locked away. The last time it was seen was in 2019 at Emperor Naruhito’s ascension ceremony. It symbolizes the virtue of valor and is one of the Imperial Treasures.

3. Fragarach (Ireland): Forged by the gods, the sword was first owned by Manannan Mac Lir, the god of the sea. Also known as the Retaliator, the Whisperer and the Answerer, it was bestowed upon Nuada, the first high king of Ireland. Kings of Ireland had to be physically perfect, so when Nuada lost his arm in battle, he abdicated in favor of Lugh, the future god of the sun, and gave him Fragarach as the symbol of his kingship. Fragarach was incredibly powerful; it could easily cleave through a shield or wall, delivered wounds that were always fatal, made its opponents weak, and, when held against a person’s throat, had the ability to force the person to tell the truth (which is why it was also called the Answerer.)

  1. The Harpe (Greece): A harpe is a sword that is either sickle-shaped, or has a straight blade with a sickle-like point protruding out towards the tip. Sometimes the myths say that Cronus used a harpe made of flint or adamantine to castrated his father Uranus, but the harpe was most famously used by the hero Perseus. A son of Zeus (big surprise), Perseus was determined to protect his mother Danae from King Polydectes of Seriphos, who wanted to marry her. Wanting to get the boy out of the way, Polydectes manipulated Perseus into going on a quest to slay the monster Medusa and bring back her head. Perseus found the way to Medusa’s cave, but was at a loss as to how to kill her without being turned into stone by her stare. The answer of course came from the gods: Athena gave Perseus a highly reflective shield, Hades gave him his helmet of invisibility, Hermes gave him his winged sandals, and Zeus gave Perseus a harpe made of adamantine (sorry, I can’t help but look at Zeus at this point as an absentee father trying to make good with his son.) Not only as Perseus able to use the harpe and the other gifts to kill Medusa, he also used the sword to destroy a sea monster summoned by the god Poseidon. (Side note: it was not known as a kraken. The kraken is a Norwegian sea monster. All the same, that still stands as a really cool quote to yell.)

5. Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegār (Persian): This emerald-encrusted sword once owned by King Solomon was featured in the world’s longest epic poem, Amir Arsalan-e Namadar, and was wielded by the eponymous hero (Amir Arsalan, if that helps) on his many quests. One of his quests was to face the giant, horned demon Fulad-zereh, who had been terrorizing the world by flying through the air and kidnapping beautiful women, and now had usurped the throne of the fairy king and turned many of his courtiers to stone. Fulad-zereh’s mother was a powerful witch, and she had enchanted Fulad-zereh so that nothing could harm him … except for the sword Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegār (she might as well have been designing the first Death Star.) Knowing this, Fulad-zereh guarded the sword carefully, but Amir Arsalan was able to outwit him and kill both Fulad-zereh and his mother with Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegār. The sword was so powerful that any wound that it inflicted would not heal unless treated with a special potion—an ingredient of which was Fulad-zereh’s brain, but Amir Arsalan had no problem making it.

6. Beowulf’s swords Hrunting and Næġling (Danish): Two swords are noted in the epic poem Beowulf, and interestingly, despite their unique abilities neither one of them help him. Beowulf was a warrior from Geatland, and he and his men were summoned by King Hrothgar of the Danes to help them kill the monster Grendel, who had been raiding Hrothgar’s drinking hall. Not long after arriving at the great hall, Beowulf proceeded to boast about his many adventures, irritating the king’s retainer Unferth. Unferth accused Beowulf of lying, to which Beowulf mocked him back. After witnessing Beowulf disarm Grendel—literally—Unferth falls quiet. The Geats and Danes don’t have long to celebrate Beowulf’s victory, as Grendel’s even more monstrous mother comes for revenge. They pursue her to a lake, where she plunges to the depths. There, Unferth hands Beowulf his sword Hrunting, telling Beowulf that the sword would never fail the one who held it. Happy for the gift, Beowulf leapt into the lake after Grendel’s mother and drew Hrunting … only to find that it was useless against the creature. This has led some scholars to wonder if Unferth had lied about the sword’s power in the hopes that Beowulf would lose (don’t worry, he didn’t.) Many years later, Beowulf’s kingdom is attacked by a dragon, and Beowulf, now an old man, goes out to confront it. He takes with him the sword Næġling, a very ancient weapon that had been passed down to him through his family and was said to contain immense power. Unfortunately, by now Beowulf is too old to wield it properly, and he is killed by the dragon’s venom.

7. Gram (Norse): Once upon a time, the Norse warrior Sigmund was enjoying himself mightily at the wedding feast of his sister Signy. As he parties with the other Vikings, a stranger in a black cloak enters the hall and walks straight up to the Barnstokker tree growing in the middle of it. The man draws out a sword, lifts it up, and plunges it straight into the trunk of the tree. The man says to all in the stunned hall, “He who pulls out this sword will keep it as a gift from me, and he will know that he never carried a better sword than this.” The man was Odin, the king of the gods in disguise, and as soon as he walked out of the hall every man there lunged for the sword. Only Sigmund was able to pull it free. King Siggeir becomes envious and tries to buy the sword Gram, but when Sigmund won’t part with it, the king begins a campaign of murder and torture against Sigmund and his family. Sigmund manages to keep the sword until it is broken in battle by Odin himself. Sigmund’s wife Hjordis keeps both pieces for their future son, Sigurd. Years later a dwarf named Regin tells Sigurd about an amazing hoard of gold guarded by the dragon Fafnir, and Sigurd promises to slay the dragon if Regin can forge him a sword. Regin repairs Gram, and Sigurd uses it on several quests. The last time Gram is seen is when it is placed between the bodies of Sigurd and the Valkyrie Brunhilde on their funeral pyre.

8. Kladenets/Mech-samosek (Russia): The actual translation of “kladenets” is a little tricky, but most stories that feature the Kladenets describe it as a “self-swinging sword”—in other words, a sword that fights on its own. Also known as a mech-samosek, the sword cannot be forged, it has to be retrieved by a hero from a burial mound (the root word of the name means “treasure”,) and will do the fighting for the hero itself. Some versions state that the sword must be held, that it can kill anyone with a single blow, but if you hit the dead body a second time the sword will bounce back and cut your own head off. The Kladenets is most frequently listed as the weapon of the folk hero Ivan Tsarevich.

9. Thuận Thiên (Vietnam): In 1418, seeing that the land we now know as Vietnam was suffering under Ming control, Long Voung, the Dragon King, decided that it was time he helped the humans out. The best way to do that was to bestow his own sword upon them, but there was one problem: the sword came in two pieces. Long Voung sent the blade of the sword down river, where it was dredged up by a local fisherman three times. Realizing that this was something significant, the fisherman brought the blade home and kept it in a corner for several years. After some time Le Loi, a general at this time, visited the fisherman’s home. Almost immediately, the sword blade began to glow brightly. Holding it up, Le Loi saw the words Thuận Thiên, “Heaven’s Will,” etched on the blade. Seeing this as another sign, the fisherman insisted that General Le Loi take the blade. Some time later, Le Loi was fleeing his enemies through the woods, when a sparkle caught his eye. Looking up, he saw a jewel-studded empty sword hilt dangling in the branches of a banyan tree. Bewildered, Le Loi climbed up, pulled down the hilt, and fitted it into the blade he found at the fisherman’s house. Seeing that the pieces fit together perfectly, Le Loi realized this was a sign from heaven, showing him that he had the gods’ approval. The sword caused Le Loi to grow extremely tall, and have the strength of a thousand men, and seeing him with the divine weapon help rally the people of Vietnam to his side. Within ten years, the Vietnamese had driven out the Ming Chinese, and Vietnam was now an independent country with Le Loi as its king. A year later, Le Loi was on a pleasure cruise on Ho Luc Thuy (Green Lake), when a giant turtle with a golden shell emerged from the water and swam towards him. In a human voice, the turtle told Le Loi that his task was complete, and that he needed to return Thuận Thiên before its divine power corrupted him. Le Loi looked down at the sword at his side (which was twitching towards the turtle, as if wanting to go to it) and realized that the turtle was right. He tossed Thuận Thiên to the turtle, who caught it in its beak, and then sank beneath the water. Since then the lake has been known as the Lake of the Returned Sword, or Sword Lake.

10. Skofnung (Norse):I was trying to focus on as many different swords without repeating myself, but I came across this one. I don’t remember ever reading about it before, and there’s not a whole lot I found right now, but it’s just too cool not to mention.

The origins of Skofnung are a little murky, but early writings of the sword say that it was stolen from a burial mound by the Icelandic Viking Skeggi of Midfirth, who was chosen by lot to go in and get it. Eventually, it comes into the possession of Danish king Hrolf Kraki, who declared it to be the greatest sword of any in the Northlands. Not only was it supernaturally sharp and incredibly strong, it was also possessed by the souls of twelve of Hrolf’s most faithful warriors (and HOW did that happen? I’m not totally sure I want to know.) The sword passes hands several times and is even the lone survivor of a shipwreck. At one point one of the owners warns a friend that any cut made by Skofnung will not heal unless it is rubbed with the Skofnung Stone, which I don’t know exactly what that is. Mostly I’m just hung up on the ghosts of twelve dead berserkers bound to the sword right now.

Myth Monday: Why is a Black Cat Crossing Your Path Bad Luck? (Superstitions)

Myth Monday: Why is a Black Cat Crossing Your Path Bad Luck? (Superstitions)

By Kara Newcastle

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

-Groucho Marx

Black cat by Frostdragon wikimedia commons

Imagine you’re taking a nice leisurely stroll on a bright sunny day. You’re in a great mood. Everything is right in the world, you have no worries, no problems …

And then without warning, a black cat darts across the sidewalk in front of you. It doesn’t even spare you a glance as it trots by and vanishes under a shrub, but now you find yourself frozen in place. Your jaw drops and a chill riddles its way down your spine as you struggle to wrap your mind around what just happened.

A black cat crossed your path—now you’ve been cursed with bad luck!

Okay … but why? It’s just a black kitty cat that happened to walk past you. If it means bad luck, it should only be for whatever rodent it chances upon, not you.

So why are you so freaked out?

Cats in general and black cats in particular have a hand a long and complicated relationship with humans. In Ancient Egypt, cats were sacred, believed to be protectors of the home and the people within. The sun god Ra turned into a cat every night to fight the apocalypse snake Apophis, and the goddess of happiness was the extremely popular, cat-headed woman Bastet (see my blog on her here!) The Egyptians loved their cats so much that if someone killed a cat they would be condemned to death, and it was said that the Egyptians were conquered by the Persian king Cambyses II after he ordered his soldiers to paint cats on their shields and carry live cats into battle with them. The Egyptians were so afraid of harming the cats that they surrendered.

Lately, I’ve found many online blogs and articles that claim that black cats were especially holy in Ancient Egypt because Bastet herself was a black cat. I find that claim iffy mythologically speaking, since I’ve never found any myth mentioning that specifically. However, there are many statues of Bastet in cat-form that were carved out of black basalt, so that might be where that connection comes from.

The worship of Bastet had spread into Rome, and was a popular religion for hundreds of years, eventually going head-to-head with early Christian sects. At first the Christians were fairly unconcerned with Bastet, but as their own popularity grew and members became fanatical, many primitive church leaders began to claim that worshiping deities like Bastet was evil, that she was a servant of Satan and had to be destroyed. That attitude extended to the hundreds of cats that lived pampered lives in the temples, and when the cult of Bastet died (and it died hard), it became open season on cats. Black cats were probably especially targeted since so many of Bastet’s statues were of a black cat.

Gradually memory of Bastet died out and people became mostly disinterested in cats, regarding them as at best a farm animal and at worst little better than the rats they hunted. It was not uncommon to see dozens milling around a farmstead in the country, picking off the abundance of rodents that would chew their way through a family’s food stores. Since most men worked in the field and most women stayed to care for the home, cats became more accustomed to women.

Unfortunately, this spelled disaster for both women and cats; from the mid-1400s until the late 18th century, a combination of civil unrest, economic failure, epidemic, famine and religious fanaticism gave birth to the horrifying witch hunts. Fearful and uneducated people looked for scapegoats to pin their troubles on, and all too frequently blame fell on women. The women were targeted for any number of reasons—being too opinionated, outliving too many husbands, living long past the age when most people would have died, having knowledge of medicinal herbs, living alone, being disfigured—and the accusations of witchcraft spread to their cats.

According to the witch hunters, a witch was a person who sold their soul to the Devil. In return, the fiend granted his new servants magical powers, and a monstrous assistant known as a familiar. A familiar was a demon, but it had the power to transform itself to look like an ordinary animal and then go out to help the witch commit crimes against her neighbors. With all the cats on a woman’s farm, it was easy to assume that they could be demons in disguise. Witches were also thought to be able to transform themselves into animals, and more often than not that animal was a black cat.

 It wasn’t long before the hunters’ half-assed, biased research found tales of black Bastet. Additionally, the Greek goddess Artemis her Roman counterpart Diana, both associated with witchcraft, could turn themselves into black cats (this is probably where the idea that human witches could turn themselves into cats came from.) The Greek goddess of magic Hecate was said to keep black cats, and the Viking goddess Freya was not only a goddess of love, but also of war and magic, and rode in a chariot pulled by cats (it’s interesting to note that the Vikings loved their fluffy skogskatt, but a few hundred years later their descendants were murdering them in droves.) Furthermore, both the Scots and the Irish had legends of the malicious fairy cat Cat Sith (read the blog here and its most famous story here!) that was almost entirely black. The Scots also believed that one could summon a demon in the form of a huge black cat.

This did not help cats at all.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand: why is it bad luck for a black cat to cross your path? Because the black cat might be a witch or a witch’s familiar, of course. Fear of black cats and witches became so bad that many people would have panic attacks at the mere sight of a black cat, thinking that it had come to do them harm. That cat crossed your path, cutting you off short … it might have just cut off the rest of your life right there.

It’s very symbolic and very full of crap.

By the time the plagues ended, cats were welcomed back into cities and town, albeit somewhat cautiously—though science was fast replacing superstition, many people had grown up with fears of witches and their feline sidekicks, and the superstitions remained. Not only did they remain, but they also traveled; the Puritans brought their distrust of black cats to the New World, and in the Salem witch trials, the afflicted claimed that they could see spectral cats, and the accused trying to escape death made up stories of devilish felines.

A_Black_Cat by Nino Barbieri wikimedia commons

Now, some of you might be wondering that if a black cat crosses your path and it means bad luck, would a white cat crossing your path mean good luck? Yes—depending on where you live. For reasons I’ve yet to find out, in America it’s believed by some that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck and a white cat crossing your path is good. In England the opposite is true: the white cat is bad and the black cat is good. An Irish belief states that it’s bad luck for a black cat for a black cat to cross your path in the moonlight—this means you will die in an epidemic (Ireland? Any recent reports on this?) And the Germans like to complicate it further by stating if a black cat crosses your path from left to right it’s good luck, but right to left is bad luck.

And other cultures say that if the cat is walking ­to you, then it’s bringing you good luck. If it walks away from you, then it’s taking the good with it.

Naturally, this is all a load of dirty litter. Me myself, I’m happy to see a black cat cross my path. About four years ago, I was on vacation on Cape Cod, walking along a sidewalk in Hyannis when a black cat suddenly sauntered across my path. I stopped and screamed, “KITTY!!!!” in delight. The cat took one look at me and ran off in terror.

It made me wonder if cats have a similar superstition about us?

Myth Monday: The Cat Who Loved a Man (Aesop’s Fable)

Myth Monday: The Cat Who Loved a Man (Aesop’s Fable)

By Kara Newcastle

Centuries ago on the island of Cyprus lived a young man named Stamitos. He was extremely handsome and every girl and woman he passed would pause and gaze at him longingly, but not one of them caught his interest. Stamitos, in addition to being so handsome, was also incredibly picky, and he found something wrong with every woman he met. He roamed the length and width of the island, but he could not find a woman that met his exacting standards.

Indeed, the only female Stamitos had any affection for was his pretty little cat, Euphrasia. She was perfect to him in every way, from the way she placed each of her little round paws on the ground, to the way she sat on the windowsill. Stamitos loved playing with Euphrasia, cradling her in his arms, bringing home pretty little things to entertain her with. Not once did she scratch him, treated him indifferently, or watched him judging eyes. More than once Stamitos would sigh wistfully, run his hand along her arching back and say, “You are so beautiful and so perfect. You understand me so well, and you never hide your feelings from me. If you were a human woman, I would marry you.”

Little did Stamitos know but Euphrasia understood what he said, and for a moment, her heart soared, because she loved him as well. When Stamitos would say aloud that he would marry her if he could, Euphrasia wanted nothing more than to be human.

Now, it so happens that the island of Cyprus was sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and having Stamitos living there particularly frustrated her; no matter what she did, what beautiful, graceful, talented girl she moved into his way, Aphrodite could not cause Stamitos to fall in love. Hearing Stamitos say that he would marry his cat if he could, Aphrodite was at first outraged … but at the same time, she couldn’t help but pity Euphrasia the cat, who was so in love with the man that she prayed to become human for him.

Considering it briefly, Aphrodite decided that she would like to see what would happen, and answered the youth and his cat’s prayers.

Waiting for the moment Stamitos sighed those words again, Aphrodite extended her delicate hand and granted the wish. Before Stamitos’s astonished eyes, the sleek form of Euphrasia the cat vanished before him, and in her place stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. It took a moment for each to come to their senses, but when they realized what had happened, Euphrasia joyously threw herself into Stamitos’s open arms. Within days they were married.

Aphrodite watched all of this with a mixture of amusement and satisfaction at having conquered the arrogant youth, but in time she began to wonder exactly how much had Euphrasia changed. Her body was different now, but what of her mind?

Desperate to know the truth, the goddess waited until the couple had climbed into bed together one night. As Euphrasia and Stamitos wrapped their arms around one another, Aphrodite chose that moment to release a mouse into their room.

Hearing the scurrying sounds across the wood flood, Euphrasia’s ears perked up. Rolling over in the bed, she saw the mouse rushing across the floor, and without a second thought, she lunged out of bed, pouncing upon the mouse with her hands and feet. Ducking her head down, Euphrasia bit the mouse through the neck, killing it.

Disgusted by what she had just witnessed, Aphrodite turned the woman back into a cat, knowing now that no matter how much a creature can change its outward appearance, its true nature would always shine through.

Myth Monday: The Three White Cats and the Spinning Wheel (French Fairy Tale)

Myth Monday: The Three White Cats and the Spinning Wheel (French Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Once upon a time in Brittany, there was a king and queen who loved each other more than words could possibly describe, but they were saddened for they did not have any children. Wanting nothing more than a baby of their own, the royal couple became desperate and approached a powerful and wise sorceress who lived in the mountains. The sorceress listened intently to their plight and nodded slowly, gazing off into the distance.

“I do see a child in your future,” she told the elated monarchs. “It will be a beautiful baby girl, and she will be born to you before the year’s end.”

As the king and queen joyously embraced, the conjurer’s face grew dark. She reached out and caught the queen’s sleeve in her fingers, stopping her from leaving the fortress. “Take heed,” the sorceress warned. “If your daughter should ever marry a prince, she will fall down dead.”

At those words, the queen was overcome with horror and the king began to rage at the sorceress, accusing the enchantress of cursing his unborn daughter. The sorceress snapped her hand up, stopping the king in his murderous tracks.

“You do insult me,” the witch hissed, “but be assured that I have not placed a curse upon your daughter—I have no reason to do so. In fact, because I see how distraught the queen is, allow me to offer you a way to guard the princess’s health; find three white kittens—purest white, without a hair of any other color upon their bodies—and raise them with your daughter. Give the kittens three balls of linen thread, and three balls of gold. Should the kittens play with the linen thread, the princess will face no harm.

“But … should the kittens ever play with the three golden balls …” The sorceress’s face softened. “Be prepared for the worst.”

The king was not comforted by the sorceress’s advice, but the queen took the recommendation to heart. As soon as their daughter, Princess Mireille was born, the queen ordered her courtiers to comb the countryside and find three perfectly white kittens. The vassals searched diligently, and soon three kittens—perfectly white, without a single hair of different color upon them—were brought back to the castle. When she became old enough to speak, Princess Mireille named her kittens Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle, and all four loved each other very dearly. Mireille adored her cats, and the trio played happily at her feet, batting their linen balls back and forth to her and each other. They never once paid any notice to the three golden balls.

Princess Mireille grew into a beautiful, clever, intelligent young woman, and Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle spent every waking moment in her company. They were just as bright and curious as Mireille was, and when the princess learned how to spin thread, the cats sat and watched, enraptured by the furiously spinning wheel and the long strands of thread she pulled free. They would often try to help in their own way, grabbing the linen thread in their teeth and pulling, batting at the blurring spokes of the spinning wheel, gingerly placing their small paws upon the pedal.

All too soon, Mireille turned sixteen, and all the princes of the neighboring lands came to court her, as her parents had refused to betroth her at birth, for fear of the curse coming to pass. Fortunately for all, Mireille was amused by the attention, but was not interested in any of the princes that came to visit; they were too dull and haughty, and, worst of all, they did not like her cats. Mireille dismissed them all.

One morning, a prince named Taillefer came to call upon Princess Mireille. He was a handsome as many of the other princes and gave Mireille wonderful presents, but he was different from the others; he was kind and intelligent, he was polite and listened to Mireille when she spoke.

Best of all, Taillefer loved to play with Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle.

Mireille plunged headlong into love, and waited anxiously for the days when Taillefer would visit, and dread when he would leave. They spent so much time together—with the three white cats always close by, of course—that Mireille was sure that he loved her as well, but she worried that he would not say so out loud. One night as Taillefer prepared to depart, Mireille, hardly aware of what she was doing, grabbed both of Taillefer’s hands and pulled him close to her.

“I don’t want you to leave,” Mireille whispered. “Not now, not ever. I love you Taillefer! Please say the same. Please say you would be my husband?”

Taillefer’s eyes widened at Mireille’s words, and just as the princess feared that she had made a fool of herself, Taillefer smiled and swooped down, wrapping her in his arms. “I love you, Mireille. I will be your husband.”

At that moment, Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle, who had been lounging quietly nearby, all turned their attention to the three golden balls, left to collect dust in the corner.

Horror tore through the castle when Mireille’s beloved cats were seen chasing the golden balls up and down the corridors. Mireille’s parents nearly swooned with terror, but, strangely, miraculously, Mireille did not fall down dead as predicted.

Before the royal family had a chance to wonder if the curse had been wrong, a messenger arrived from Taillefer’s castle with horrifying news: Prince Taillefer had fallen ill with a strange disease the doctors couldn’t identify. They fear that he would not live much longer.

Fearful for her true love, Mireille wrapped herself in a cloak, slipped out of her castle and rode by herself into the mountains, up to the palace of the sorceress her parents had consulted before her birth. The princess barely had a chance to dismount her mare before the fortress’s gates swung open, and the sorceress strode out.

“Princess Mireille,” the sorceress said, waving Mireille’s trembling bow away. “I have been waiting for you. I learned about your betrothed, Prince Taillefer. I am deeply saddened for you.”

“I don’t understand,” Mireille blurted out. “How is it that Taillefer has taken so ill? IS there anything that can be done? How can I help him? The curse—my cats were playing with the golden balls—you said—”

The sorceress sighed. “One question at a time, Your Grace. I’m sorry to tell you that one of the princes you turned away became envious of Taillefer, and used a witch to curse him into sickness.”

“How do I break the spell?”

“There is a way …” The sorceress gazed steadily at Princess Mireille. “It will not benefit you.”

Mireille spread her hands. “Anything! I’ll do anything to save him!”

“I know. Listen—to break the evil spell, you must spin ten thousand skeins of wool thread before Christmas Eve.”

The color drained from Mireille’s face. “Ten thousand …? But … Christmas is twenty-seven days away. How can I …?”

The sorceress shook her head. “It must be done. If ten thousand skeins are not spun on your spinning wheel by that time, Taillefer will die Christmas Eve at midnight. If you do not complete this task, you will die of heartbreak.”

The enormity of the task weighed down on Mireille’s quaking shoulders, but she shook her head hard. “No. No, I can do it … I won’t sleep, I won’t eat. I’ll keep spinning—”

“And you’ll work yourself to death.” The sorceress looked at Princess Mireille sadly. “Succeed or fail, you will die, Princess. That is the curse I saw upon you. I am truly, truly sorry. There is nothing that can be done.”

Tears flooding her eyes, Mireille spun away from the sorceress, leapt back atop her mare and raced for home. Barging inside, Mireille didn’t even bother to remover her cloak. She sat down at her spinning wheel and set to work, spinning until daybreak, with her three worried white cats watching her every moment.

Morning brought new tears to Mireille; though she had worked all night long, she had barely produced two skeins of thread. She sat beside her spinning wheel with her face in her hands and sobbed. She felt Leonce and Leonelle pawing at her knees and Lyonette rubbing against her ankles, all three meowing anxiously and gazing at her with large, concerned eyes.

For a moment, their love drew Mireille out of her weeping. She looked at each of them and whispered, “If only you understood what was happening. I wish you could help.”

Leonce perked up. “We do understand,” he said

“And we can help,” Lyonette added.

“We know how to spin,” said Leonelle, nodding towards the spinning wheel. “We’ve watched you do it.”

Lyonette licked her lips eagerly. “If you can get us two more spinning wheels and wool, we can help make thread.”

“But we’ll have to move fast,” Leonce declared. “Even with all of us working, there isn’t a lot of time left.”

Mireille was astonished, to say the least, but her three white cats reminded her of what was at stake—the life of the prince, and hers as well—and the princess immediately leapt into action. She retrieved two more spinning wheels and ordered as much wool as each servant could carry to be brought up to the spinning room in the tower. Once the pile wool reached the ceiling, Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle ushered Princess Mireille out, urging her to rest while they went to work.

All day and well into the night the cats worked the spinning wheels, producing yard after yard of thread so fine that one was sure only a princess could have made something so wonderful. At night when the humming of the spinning wheels fell quiet, Mireille would creep into the tower to check on her devoted pets. She would find the three of them curled together, fast asleep, with an ever-growing mound of skeins stacked in a corner.

With every skein of the thread the cats completed, Prince Taillefer’s health began to improve. By Christmas Day, all ten thousand skeins of thread were finished, and the prince was well enough to get out of bed. Upon hearing of the magnificent feat, the sorceress herself visited Mireille and her three white cats and praised them all, encouraging the princess to give each cat a reward. Mireille was more than happy to do so, and at her wedding she gave Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle each a seat of prominence at the banquet table, perched upon velvet cushions and draped in her finest jewelry, which each of them had always admired.

The cats were overjoyed at accomplishing their feat, and Mireille loved them more than ever. As the princess and her new husband cradled their cats at the wedding feast, they began to notice a strange, throbbing hum—much like the whir of a spinning wheel—coming from Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle. At first Mireille was alarmed, but her three white cats told her it was nothing to worry; they had absorbed the sound of the spinning wheels, and now that they were happy, they hummed the sound in remembrance.

And that’s why cats purr.

Myth Monday: How the Cat Arrived on Noah’s Ark (Hebrew Legend)

Myth Monday: How the Cat Arrived on Noah’s Ark (Hebrew Legend)

Hunting cat by Olivier62 wikimedia commons

By Kara Newcastle

Interestingly, neither the Torah nor the Bible makes mention of the domestic cat. It’s not sure why, as the cat would have been known in ancient Israel at the time, but it’s likely that since the cat was regarded as a deity in the Egyptian pantheon, it came with some negative connotations for the Hebrews, which was summarily passed on to the Christians.

However, somebody had to explain where cats came from. Fortunately, we have legends and folklore to provide those answers … even if there are several versions and each one gets a little weirder than the last.

And they all take place on Noah’s ark.

Version 1:

Days into the voyage, as the rain continued to fall in sheets so dense that he could not see even the prow of his great boat, Noah made his rounds of all the animals he had collected. As he reached the lower levels, Noah was horrified to see two of the mice he collected speedily gnawing away at the ark’s walls and joists. The mice’s relentless chewing was weakening the supports, threatening to cause the ark to spring leaks that would rapidly sink the great boat.

Noah’s first thought was to smash the traitorous vermin with a hammer, but he dared not; he was expressly forbidden by the Lord God from harming any of the creatures aboard the ark … but he couldn’t stand by and do nothing at all. In rage and desperation, Noah ripped off one of his leather gloves and threw it at the mice with all his might.

As his glove arched through the air, it twisted over, the four fingers pointing downward, the thumb lifting up. As Noah watched in amazement, the glove shifted, lengthening, the fingers stretching, the thumb growing longer. A small round head pushed out of the top of the glove, sprouting pointed ears and whiskers.

Hitting the floor of the ark lightly on four rounded paws, the animal the world would know as the cat blinked, looked back at the astounded Noah briefly, then turned its attention to the mice gnawing away at the woodwork. The mice, sensing that this creature was not their friend, squeaked in alarm and fled into the bowels of the ark, the cat bounding after them with all speed.

That is how the cat was created, and how the cat saved the ark from sinking.

Version 2:

As Noah made his rounds of all the animals aboard the ark, he was outraged to discover that the mice, ignoring God’s orders, had multiplied wildly and were hard at work not only eating all of the ark’s food stores but also chewing the boat apart, putting the ark in danger of sinking. Knowing that he was not allowed to kill any of the animals aboard the ship, Noah pleaded to God for help. Hearing him, God directed Noah to approach the lioness and waved his hand in a circle three times above her head. Obeying, Noah went to the lioness and waved his hand three times around her head.

Once Noah was finished, the lioness snorted, then lowered her head to the floor of the ark.

“Blargh!” she growled, and spat out a cat.

(Another version has the lion spitting out a male cat and the lioness spitting out a female cat.)

Version 3:

Not wanting any of God’s creatures to survive the Great Flood, the Devil went to the mice aboard the ark and convinced them to chew through the wood, in hopes that they would eat straight through and cause the ark to sink. Discovering the plot, but knowing that he was not allowed to kill any animal aboard the ark, Noah asked God what he should do.

In response, a lion nearby shook his mane, snuffled, then wrinkled his nose.

“RA-CHOO!” it sneezed, and out of its nostrils, two cats came tumbling out: a male from its right nostril, and a female from its left.

(And yet another version has the lion sneezing out a male cat, while the lioness sneezes out a female cat at the same time.)

Version 4:

While aboard the ark during the height of the falling rain, a lecherous monkey decided he would put the moves on the lioness, wooing her away from under her oblivious husband’s snout. The lioness was apparently unsatisfied with her mate enough that she didn’t think twice about getting together with a monkey, and, as a result, cats were born.

Bonus Story!:

This is a story that comes much later, specifically from the Isle of Man. Aside from being a tiny island in the middle of the fearsome Irish Sea with one of the weirdest national flags you might come across, the Isle of Man is especially famous for its Manx cats. These cats are born either with stubby little tails or no tails at all. And the people there have their own explanation as to why their kitties look this way:

As God began to deluge the earth with forty days and nights of ceaseless rain, Noah and his family were making the final preparations for their ark. They had secured all their supplies and obtained two of every animal … except for the cats. For whatever reason, one of the cats just wasn’t willing to get on the ark. Noah and his family tried to grab it, corral it, herd it onto the ark, lure it with food, waved its mate around to get its attention, but it just would not get on.

Seeing the waters rapidly beginning to rise, Noah knew they couldn’t wait any longer. He and his sons climbed into the ark, pulled up the ramp, began pushing the heavy door shut—

And that’s when the cat decided to run inside.

Fortunately for Noah, that cat made it inside just in time, escaping the floodwaters and enabling Noah to keep his promise to God to protect his creations …

Unfortunately for the cat, it didn’t quite clear the door entirely, and its tail was snipped off. Once the floodwaters receded, the tailless cat made its home on what would become the Isle of Man.

And that’s why Manx cats don’t have tails.

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Hundreds of years ago in Japan, there was a small village that was home to a big family. That family was headed by a hardworking farmer and his equally hardworking wife, and they had several hardworking children—except for the youngest one. His name was Akio, and he was a good boy, but he wasn’t born strong, and he couldn’t keep up with all that needed to be done on the farm. He was quite smart, and was especially talented at drawing, which is what he was often doing instead of hoeing the garden or carrying water. Akio’s favorite thing to draw were cats, and whenever he saw one, Akio dropped what he was doing and drew the cat. He drew cats in the dirt, on the walls of their house and barn, on their screens, anything that was nearby at the time.

Akio’s parents loved him as much as they loved their other children, but in time they came to realize that they no longer had the money to support their large family, and Akio was too weak to really contribute to the farm. His parents didn’t want to send Akio away, but it was his mother who suggested that they bring Akio to the temple nearby to become an acolyte. She reasoned that Akio was very smart and would learn things quickly, and the temple would provide him with a place to sleep, clothes and food. He wouldn’t be very far away, and he would be well taken care of.

Akio’s parents were saddened by the decision, but they thought it was best, and after telling their son about it, Akio agreed. The next day Akio and his parents went to the temple, where the head abbot welcomed Akio into their order. They shaved Akio’s head and gave him new clothes and food. Akio’s parents were relieved that their youngest child would want for nothing now.

Unfortunately, neither Akio’s mother nor father took into consideration just how much Akio loved to draw cats. Akio was an obedient student for the most part, but when he became bored, he drew cats. Whenever one of the temple cats sauntered past him, Akio would stop his studying or his prayers and draw the cat. He drew them all over the temple walls, in the abbot’s books, on the screens and pillars. The flustered abbot told Akio to stop drawing cats—he was at the temple to become a monk, not an artist! Akio genuinely tried to resist, but he just couldn’t help himself. He kept drawing cats.

One day the abbot set Akio to studying and left the boy at his books for a time. When the old abbot came back to see if Akio had any questions, he stopped short, horrified to see that Akio had pushed aside his texts and had spent the entire hour drawing a cat mural across one of the temple screens.

“That does it!” the abbot thundered, nearly startling the oblivious Akio right out of his skin. “I’ve asked, I’ve warned, I’ve scolded, I’ve all but begged you to stop drawing those cats, but you still do it. You have defied me for the last time! You must leave this temple—you’ll never be a good priest!”

Shaken by the rage in the old man’s voice, Akio dropped his paintbrush, ducking his head down so the abbot couldn’t see his tears. “I—I wasn’t trying to … I’m not doing it to be disobedient. I just …” He swallowed hard, his voice barely a whisper past the lump in his throat. “I just really like drawing cats.”

Grinding his teeth, the abbot glared down at the boy. The old man looked up at the screen Akio had ruined and opened his mouth to retort … but as he took in the images before him, the abbot’s anger faded. He studied each cat that Akio had painted, noting how graceful they appeared, how lifelike in their poses.

Akio might not have been an attentive student, but the abbot could clearly see how talented the boy was.

Sighing, the abbot shook his head. “Even so, it’s clear that this is not the place for you, son. You’d rather paint than study, so perhaps you should go and become a painter. But you can’t do that here.”

Akio was saddened, but he did what he was told and gathered what little he had, taking special care the pack his ink and paint brushes. The abbot was kind enough to walk Akio to the gate, and as he guided Akio through, the old monk said, “I’m sorry it has come to this, but please be safe. Remember—avoid large places and stick to small.”

With that, the abbot turned around and walked back to the temple. Shouldering his bag, Akio stood in the road, looking first to the monastery, then back I the direction of his family farm. His first thought was to return home, but he was sure his father would be furious at him for being disrespectful to the abbot, so Akio quickly decided against it. He turned in the opposite direction, towards the neighboring village. There was a temple there too … maybe he could go there and become an acolyte. This temple or that, it didn’t matter so long as his father didn’t find out.

Making up his mind, Akio started walking the twelve miles to the next village.

Now, the neighboring village did have a temple there, but what Akio didn’t know was that it had been abandoned for a long while. A disgusting rat monster had attacked the monks there and taken over the temple. A dozen different samurai had gone in to slay the yokai, but every single one of them met with a gruesome death at the rat demon’s kama-like teeth. The monster would often leave a lantern burning in the temple to attract unwitting travelers to come inside, where they would be devoured. Because there was no way to defeat the rat monster, the temple was abandoned. By the time Akio arrived in town, it was late at night, and everyone was asleep; no one was there to warn the boy.

Akio saw the silhouette of the temple in the distance, barely illuminated by the glow of a single lamp in the window. Relieved to see that at least one priest was awake, Akio hurried to the temple and pushed through the door. Inside, he found the lone lamp in the center of the temple, but no monk or abbot attending the flame.

Dropping his bag on the ground, Akio glanced around; ugh, the place was filthy! There were cobwebs hanging like sheets from the rafters, a carpet of dust all over the floor … obviously, these monks were too busy with their duties to clean. They must have been in desperate need of an acolyte. They’d take him in for certain.

Pleased with what he saw, Akio helped himself to a seat down by the lantern and waited, sure that somebody would be a long shortly. He sat and waited, and waited, and waited … and waited … but no one came. At length Akio began to grow bored. He fidgeted, looked around … and saw an immaculate white paper screen set up in a corner.

Akio just couldn’t help himself. Grabbing his writing box from his bag, Akio ground up his inks, added a bit of water, dipped his brushes, and set to work. Tired though he was, Akio was seized by creativity and drew over a dozen different kinds of cats: cats, kittens, old cats, jumping cats, fluffy cats, cats with short tails, cats sitting, cats colored like koi fish, cats licking their paws, skinny cats, fat cats, napping cats, hunting cats … cats and cats and cats!

As Akio put the finishing touches on his last cat, he felt his eyelids droop. He yawned and stretched, realizing groggily it must have been quite late now, and he still hadn’t seen anyone in the temple.

Grabbing his bag, Akio began to lie down in front of his masterpiece to go to sleep. His head was barely an eyelash-length above his bag when suddenly, inexplicably, the words of his old abbot raced through Akio’s head.

“Remember—avoid large places and stick to small.”

Blinking, Akio sat up. He hadn’t really thought about what the abbot had said until now. What did it mean?

Peering in the dusty darkness of the temple, Akio felt an odd shudder rippled through him. “Well,” he said to himself, aware of how his voice shook. “This place is so big … I’ll feel better in a small spot anyway.”

Picking up his bag, Akio stood and groped through the shadowy edges of the room until he found a cabinet with a sliding door. Pushing the door back, Akio crawled inside, and found that he fit perfectly.

“That’s better,” he said. Laying down, Akio slid the door shut. There was a small split in the door’s panel, allowing a bit of the lantern light to seep in, so Akio turned his back on it and went to sleep.

Akio didn’t know how long he had been asleep before the shrieking woke him up. It was the worst sound Akio had ever heard, cutting straight through his dreams, and shocking him awake. Terrified, Akio twisted around in the cabinet, struggling to remember where he was. The cabinet, that’s right … but he couldn’t see anything. The lantern in the center of the temple had gone out.

A second shriek ripped through the night, and now a chorus of hideous growls and hisses answered it. Something big thumped outside, and Akio felt the whole temple shake. His heart in his throat, he pressed his eye to the crack in the wood. He thought he saw two small red lights side by side each other, darting from a corner. Before Akio could register what it was, something huge rushed past the cabinet, thundering by on four feet.

Three more pairs of lights appeared at the edges of the room—yellow-green this time—and Akio shrank back from the door, choking back a gasp. He clapped his ink-stained hands over his mouth as the creatures screamed again, as another beast roared, as something slammed to the ground, as massive animals tore back and forth, making the temple shake down to its foundations. The screams and roars grew worse, louder, and faster until only one of the things was screeching, squealing, gagging …

Then it was over. All the growls and hisses stopped. Akio couldn’t hear any movement outside his cabinet, but he didn’t dare look through the crack to be sure. He sat there, trembling, rocking himself, barely able to breath for fear that the monsters would hear him. Akio stayed like that until he saw the rays of sunlight shining brightly through the chink in the door.

Slowly, Akio inched the door open, pausing to listen. Hearing nothing but the birds singing outside, Akio drew in a breath, then opened the door wider.

The first thing Akio saw was the blood. Buckets of it strewn across the floor, over the walls, up the pillars. Next, he saw that much of the temple furniture and decoration had been smashed, windows broken, walls buckled out. A fight had happened here, but between who?

Pausing, Akio looked back at his cabinet, then ahead of him, where his painted screen stood facing out. Everything had been obliterated except for that screen and his cabinet. It was like whoever was fighting was trying to stay away from where he was hiding.

Wanting nothing more than to get out of this cursed building, Akio circled around the screen—and stopped dead, a revolted, horrified scream catching in his chest.

Laying on the floor in the center of the temple was a mammoth rat, the size of his mother’s cow!

The thing was hideously ugly, made worse by the gaping, bloody wound in its throat. Akio stared at the dead monster in disbelief, scanning it from the tip of its ragged nose down to its snake-like tail …

Jolting, Akio shook his head, rubbed his eyes, then looked again, squinting at the blood around the rat’s foul body. Circling all around it were paw prints—cat’s paws! There looked to be hundreds of cat prints all around the body, trailing away and back to the …

Astounded, Akio didn’t even feel his jaw drop open as he stared at the screen he had painted the night before. All his cats were there as he had drawn them … but now every single one of them had blood smeared on their mouths. And they all seemed to have that satisfied, smug look cats would have after a successful hunt.

Akio’s cats … they had come to life that night. They had sprung down from the screen and saved him from the rat demon that was hiding in the temple!

When Akio recovered his senses, he raced down to the village to tell everyone what had happened. The villagers hailed Akio as a hero, and the temple was reclaimed and sanctified. Akio joined the temple as an acolyte …

But he never stopped drawing cats.

Myth Monday: Night of the Octosquatch (Aliens & UFOs)

Myth Monday: Night of the Octosquatch (Aliens & UFOs)

By Kara Newcastle

C2E2_2015_-_Yip_Yip_(17306143315) Chicago Comic Con 2015 by GabboT wikimedia commons

Driving at home late at night after a long, hard day of work is crappy enough; you’re exhausted, you’re hungry, you’re probably still stewing over something your idiot boss forgot to do and you’re getting the blame for it yet again …

Now imagine finding something blocking your usual way home. A weird something. Something weird and hairy.

Something that looks like a furry octopus with glowing eyes. Walking on land.

Suddenly your boss’s B.S. seems kinda minor.

That’s what happen one summer night in Spain in 1961. Around 11 p.m., a trucker named Arquimedes Sanchez and his partner (who refused to be identified following the sighting) were en route from the Basque Mountains in the province of Vizcaya to deliver a shipment of jackhammers to Puerto de Barazar. They took the same road they had every night for years. They knew every twist and turn, and never had an issue getting home.

Until that night. (Well, yeah. … otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about it.)

Basque_Country_August_2016 by Tiia Monto wikimedia commons

According to Sanchez and his partner, they were turning a bend in the road when their headlights illuminated something at the base of a steep embankment in front of them. To the men, it looked like a fuzzy octopus! Shocked, Sanchez braked hard in front of it, catching it in the middle of his headlights. The thing flinched back, as if startled, then raises a tentacle up to cover its glowing eyes … that’s when Sanchez and his partner realized that the thing they were staring at was standing there, reaching a height of 3 to 4 feet tall and covered with rust-colored fur.

The men said they stared at the mini-Cthulhu and it stared back at them, unmoving, for what seemed like several minutes. At some point, Sanchez was so frightened that he decided they had to rid the world of this furry cephalopod. Sanchez devised a brilliant idea to get the monster out the way: he ordered his partner to go after it with one of the jackhammers. His terrified partner probably responded with, “¡Que te den!” and refused to move from his seat.

Likely fighting off panic, Sanchez went with Plan B and threw the truck in reverse. He backed up a way, put the truck in drive, and gunned it towards the creature, coming to a screeching halt just a few feet from it.

The beast scooted back but didn’t get out of the way.

Sanchez tried this a few more times, succeeding in eventually making the Cousin It creature so nervous that it backed up against the embankment, but still wouldn’t move off the road. Sanchez did report that at some point during this one-sided game of chicken another truck rolled past them. If the driver saw anything, he didn’t react and just kept on going.

By now not only was Sanchez nearly out of his mind with fear, but it also dawned on him and his buddy that they still had a delivery to make, and this thing in the road was going to make them late. Perhaps summoning up the last ounce of his courage with a cry of, “Screw this!”, Sanchez floored it. The mustachioed mollusk reacted, shuffling out of the way and into the darkness, permitting the two practically hysterical men to careen their way back into town.

Since this sighting, paranormal researchers have taken to dubbing the hirsute bipedal octopus Octosquatch, since its physical description resembles that of a Sasquatch-like entity (sort of, I’ll explain in a minute) and, well, was an octopus.

Spain, as with every other country on the planet, does have legends and reports of Bigfoot-type creatures tramping around their forests and mountains, but none of them have taken to wearing an octopus on their head. However, while the story is recounted in numerous books and blogs, the actual description of how the Octosquatch was standing is never fully described (it’s possible the original report in Spanish has more detail,) but illustrations of the Octosquatch show what looks like a hairy octopus standing straight up on its tentacles.

We don’t know for certain if this truly was an extra-terrestrial being—though admittedly it does bear more than a passing resemblance to the Yip-Yips from Sesame Street—but when it is discussed, you’ll frequently find it in chapters and books about aliens and UFOs. Generally, the Octosquatch is listed as an alien encounter because it really doesn’t look like anything … and it’s so weird to write it this way … “naturally unnatural” from our world, if that makes any sense. As far as I can tell at this point, there were no reported sightings of UFOs in the area before or soon after the encounter.

This is why we have to flash forward seven years to find a connection between the hairy Squidward and aliens.

Seven years later on August 16, 1968, a farmer by the name of John Mateu woke up at 6 a.m. to begin his work on his farm four miles outside of Tivissa, in the province of Tarragona. As he got the feed ready for his cattle, he noticed a bright light reflecting in the distance. Thinking that maybe it was a car that had gotten stuck, Mateu told his wife that he was going to see if the driver needed any help. He trekked over a half-mile to the site, trailed by his lovable dog.

Upon reaching the spot, Mateu has startled and confused by what he found there; it wasn’t a car, but some kind of hovering, glowing, metal device that he said looked like “half a watermelon.” It hung suspended in the air, about four feet above the ground.

Hang on, it gets weirder.

As Mateu studied the craft, he became aware of movement on the other side of the vehicle. The two apparent owners of the ship were hauling their way through the field back towards him, running as fast as they could on their tentacle-like legs.

Yup, the octopus aliens were back. Again, they seemed to have tentacles for limbs, but they were moving so quickly Mateu wasn’t sure if they had four or five legs. They were light in color, but this time they seemed to be hairless. Mateu later said they were “disgusting.”

Long_arm_octopus_(Octopus_minor) by Ulrich Walder wikimedia commons

Possibly fearing that the human farmer was going to hijack their metallic space melon, the octoaliens jumped in and sped off into the sky. Mateu was so freaked out by what he saw that he fainted right there in the field, and laid there most of the day, as his wife had assumed that he had gone back to work after helping the stalled “car” and didn’t think to look for him. His dog was unharmed.

After Mateu recovered and made it home, he and his brother Sebastian examined the area where Mateu had seen the craft and the hairless octopi. They discovered that the grass beneath where the flying ship had been was burnt in a perfect circle. Mateu later found two more older scorch circles of the same size nearby. No scientific tests were made of the sites, but both men reported that their watches stopped in the vicinity of the circles. A similar claim was made by a Hungarian couple who came to investigate.

Okay, so there’s the possible UFO/alien octopus connection right there. That doesn’t definitively prove that the Octosquatch was an alien, but it lends some credence. Both events happened in the summer, both featured land octopuses, and the two locations are about four hours away from each other (plus there’s an incident from 1967 when a woman from Barcelona claimed to have seen a “cactus creature” with “four limbs,” but that was the extent of the report I found), so maybe the Octosquatch and his bald cousins were making regular trips there.

Even so, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t point out that all these stories could be a load of crap. In the truckers’ case, it was late, it was dark, they were likely tired, and they could have run into something or someone that they mistook for a monster—a dreadlocked backpacker maybe? And who knows, they could have been wasted on Patxaran at the time, which would have altered their perceptions.

As for John Mateu, it was his brother Sebastian who wrote a letter to the Barcelona Tele-Express detailing the incident, and though he sent it without a return address, he still signed it with his name. UFOlogists flocked to the area to investigate it, and after a combination of local pressure plus a published plea from the Center for Interplanetary Studies, Sebastian reluctantly came forward. Worried that he would lose his job as an accountant over the mess, Sebastian stated that he wouldn’t elaborate any more on the encounter to any reporters, though he did respond to the Center for Interplanetary Studies via letter (no, I don’t know what the letters said.) As for John Mateu, he was apparently cornered in a tavern by reporter Alex Boots. Whatever story Mateu told Boots—plus the absolute lack of any concrete findings—caused a boatload of investigators to decide the whole thing was a hoax.

So, what are we left with? As usual, a wacky story with no clear answers. Meanwhile, I’m just sitting over here wondering if cooked Octosquatch pairs well with marinara sauce.

Montreal_Comiccon_2015_-_Yip-Yip_Martian_(19267534189) day one by Pikawil wikimedia commons
Yiiiiip yip yip yip yip … ooooh! Hoax! Uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh

Myth Monday: Metal Man, or The Aluminum Alien of Alabama (Aliens & UFOs)

Myth Monday: Metal Man, or The Aluminum Alien of Alabama (Aliens & UFOs)

By Kara Newcastle

The Metal Man as photographed by Chief Jeff Greenhaw, 1973
The Metal Man as photographed by Chief Jeff Greenhaw, 1973

Generally speaking, when people think of “UFOs” and “tinfoil,” they usually think of those sketchy guys who make tinfoil hats to block out the telepathic rays of the hovering extra terrestrials overhead … because, you know, tinfoil was designed for that sort of thing. However, there was an incident where an alleged alien seemed to have found an alternate use for our beloved crinkly leftover wrap.

Dateline: October 17, 1973, Falkville, Alabama, around 10 pm. While the rest of America was glued to their TV sets watching the Watergate scandal unfold, 26-year-old (another article said he was 23) chief of police Jeff Greenhaw received a call from a frantic, unnamed woman who reported that a spaceship had landed in a field by her house. And if that wasn’t odd enough, she also stated that a large entity had departed the ship and was now roaming around in the woods.

Alien or not, the woman was frightened enough that Chief Greenhaw decided that it was probably worth a look. Taking his gun, flashlight and handcuffs, Greenhaw hesitated, then took his Polaroid camera as an afterthought. Whether he believed in aliens prior to this I never found out, but there had been many UFO reports prior to this event—the Pascagoula, Mississippi abductions happened not quite a week prior, remember this—so maybe the chief thought on the off-chance that aliens were real, maybe he’d get a picture.

Arriving at the house in question, Greenshaw (from what I read, he was alone the entire time) didn’t see any flying saucers parked in the field, but he did notice the figure the woman reported in the woods, now standing in a gravel road. Driving slowly forward, Greenhaw approached what he probably assumed was a prowler or peeping Tom, then got out of his truck …

And once he saw what it was, Greenhaw really wished it had been an ordinary human pervert.

Standing in the beam of Greenhaw’s flashlight was a human-like thing, appearing to be clad entirely in a suit made from extra-shiny aluminum foil. It had no discernible neck and wore what appeared to be a faceless helmet with an antenna sticking straight out of the top. It walked and moved its arms, but Greenhaw said the motions were all wrong; the movement was clunky, almost robotic, and yet it had the physical mannerisms of a young child, or maybe something more akin to a monkey.

Startled, Greenhaw yelled, “Howdy, stranger!” at it. The thing didn’t respond, but just toddled along in its robotic way. Greenhaw tried to speak to again, asking if it was a foreigner (you don’t get more foreign than outer space, may I point out), but again, it would not answer.

Greenhaw had the presence of mind to jump back into his truck and grab his Polaroid camera. He managed to snap at some good pictures of Robbie the Robot before turning the truck back on to use the headlights to better illuminate the being. The chief also turned on his red and blue flashing lights (I don’t know why—looked cool reflecting off the foil spacesuit maybe?)

That’s when the metal monstrosity ran for it.

Shocked, Greenhaw put pedal to the metal, but even his truck, going at 35 miles an hour (as fast as he could safely go in that uneven area), had a hard time keeping up with this alien Usain Bolt. Greenhaw said that the alien-robot-whatever-it-was ran faster than any human being possibly could, and would make impossibly long bounding leaps, causing Greenhaw to wonder if it had springs in its feet or some kind of propulsion system. He never mentioned if it went “clank-clank-clank” or “crinkle-crinkle-crinkle” as it fled. This is something I would like to know.

Unfortunately, as Greenhaw pursued the entity, his truck hit a bump in the field, causing him to careen into a ditch. By the time he extricated himself, the tinfoil terror was long gone, and never seen by anyone again.

Chief Jeff Greenhaw at the site, no copyright infringement intended
Chief Jeff Greenhaw at the site for reporters.

With little else he could do, Chief Greenhaw returned to the police station and dutifully filed his report. It should come as little surprise that the report was made public, and soon journalists from all over the country descended on Falkville to interview Chief Greenhaw. People were particularly interested in the case because, as I mentioned earlier, about six days before this event two men in Pascagoula, Mississippi reported that they had been abducted by three humanoid creatures that appeared to be wearing—get this—shiny, crinkly, aluminum foil-like suits and moved in a robot-like manner. Could there be a connection? Pascagoula is about 350 miles away from Falkville—maybe the aliens traveled in that direction.

It may come as something of a surprise to learn that the small town of Falkville was not happy about the whole affair. In fact, the people of Falkville made Greenhaw’s life a living hell almost immediately after he reported his sighting; he was openly mocked in public, his wife divorced him, his trailer home burned down under suspicious circumstances, and within a month of the sighting, the town council fired him as police chief.

Falkville first uploaded by Seth_Ilys, wikimedia commons
That red dot is Falkville … a little town with metal man problems.

The whole story is too weird … maybe not the weirdest I’ve documented here so far, but weird. On the surface, the encounter is remarkable in the fact that Chief Greenhaw met something that didn’t look alien; nearly all sightings of extra terrestrials up to this point feature something that is described as biological—in other words, clearly a living creature. In Chief Greenhaw’s case, he saw something that could either be a robot (based on its mechanical-like movements), or possibly an alien in a spacesuit (which would make sense if there was something on this planet that could harm an E.T. and it needed protection … or its mother was just overly protective, that’s a possibility too.)

But I mean … seriously, look at the pictures again. That thing looks like a rejected early design for the Michelin Man, and I’m not saying that to be mean. True, I don’t know what an alien’s spacesuit would look like, but this setup here looks homemade, and kind of cliched with the antenna sticking out of the top.

Metal man jeff greenhaw 1973
Klaatu barada nikto

Sooo … what? Was this hoaxed then? If it was, I doubt that Chief Greenhaw was behind it; as you read above, his life was destroyed by this encounter. If he hoaxed this and thought he would get something out of it like money and fame, then he miscalculated badly.

Furthermore, based on what I’ve read, Chief Greenhaw is still alive as of this writing and maintaining that he saw an alien or robot that night. The encounter happened nearly fifty years ago. That’s a long time to be clinging to a hoax that most people don’t even remember.

The other possibility was that somebody pulled an impressive prank. Like I said, to me that suit looks homemade, and it has been suggested that it was actually a fireproof asbestos suit. Stick a fast runner inside the suit (someone suggested that a high school track athlete could have pulled off the high-speed run, while others claim that it was a child in the suit based on its size compared to its surroundings), act all mechanical and creepy, lurch around in a wooded, unpopulated area late at night, mix in a likely stressed and tired police chief, just a few days after a terrifying UFO abduction featuring creatures with metallic skin, and you might just convince even the most skeptical of people that there’s a metal-coated alien sprinting around out there.

Do I think it’s a hoax? I have to lean towards “yes” right now; I think Chief Greenhaw was the victim of an elaborate prank. I think somebody cobbled together a cumbersome suit and started tramping around the woods to scare the neighbors for kicks. When the chief of police showed up, the fraudster likely panicked (which is why it lingered on the road and wouldn’t speak), then hauled it out of there. I doubt they were able to outrun any kind of vehicle, but Greenhaw might have been so confused that he thought it was moving that fast. They didn’t come forward later because, well, they had been trespassing at night scaring the locals and caused a police officer to drive into a ditch—not to mention all the media attention the town was getting—they were afraid of getting in major trouble.

Or they might have been thrilled by all the chaos and just decided to sit back and watch it unfold.

Oh, and what about the lady reporting the UFO in the field? It’s possible she was in on the hoax. It’s also possible that she was bat-crap crazy with fear over alien invasions that she thought she saw something in the field. For all we know it was a hippie bus dropping off our Threepio-wannabe. Greenhaw never saw a UFO, never reported any kind of strange markings in the field, and the woman was listed as anonymous, so if someone did call in a UFO sighting to the police, we currently have no way of tracking her down and asking her.

Unless SHE was actually the alien! Dun, dun, duuuuuun!

To my knowledge, there haven’t been any more sightings of the Tinfoilien or anything resembling it since then. If any of them show up in plastic wrap, zippered baggies or Tupperware containers, let me know.