atozchallenge

E is for Empusa/empusae

Today we’re traveling to Greece. It’s been a wild day, but you’re getting two for the price of one in this segment of our trip!

Name: Empusa, or as a species, it’s empuse. The plural is empusae. (meaning is unknown)

Type: Originally, a vampire-like demigoddess, later a species of monsters under Hecate’s command.

Origin: Greek mythology

Description: Here’s what wikipedia says about her, “Empusa was the beautiful daughter of the goddess Hecate and tohhe spirit Mormo. She feasted on blood by seducing young men as they slept (see sleep paralysis), before drinking their blood and eating their flesh…. In later Greek mythology, her role was reduced to a species of Hecate a spectre called an empuse or empusa (pl. empusae). The empusae were sent by Hecate to guard roads and devour travelers (Hecate was also the goddess of roadsides). According to Philostratus, empusae ran and hid, uttering a high-pitched scream, at the sound of insults.”

Interesting facts: The word is still used in regards to shapeshifting hobgolins that harass Greek shepherds. In literature, they’re used in Grecian Rune by James Matthew Byers, and in the Percy Jackson series.

Have you ever heard of the demigoddess Empusa or the empusae?

D is for Doppelgänger

Today’s belated trip sponsored by the letter D takes us throughout Europe with a brief dip into Egypt, since while the word is German, there are several mythologies which have their own versions of it.

Name: Doppelgänger (means “double walker”)

Type: Paranormal, usually ghostly double.

Origin: European mythology/folklore

Description: They are typically described as the feeling of glimpsing at oneself in your peripheral vision, somewhere you couldn’t possibly be catching your reflection. They can be either shadowy, vague figures or life-like.

Interesting Facts: The mythologies I found that include doppelgängers are Norse mythology, in which it’s a spirit predecessor who goes before the living person and can be seen performing their actions before they do. It is called a vardøger. Finnish mythology has an etiäinen (which means “a firstcomer”) that is a spirit summoned by a shaman or person in great need so they can receive information. It looks and acts like the person who summoned it in order to obtain the message.

Finally, there’s the ka (meaning “spirit double”) in Ancient Egyptian mythology, which is a copy of the original person’s feelings and memories. It’s used in the Egyptian’s take on the Trojan War in “The Greek Princess” where Helen’s ka misled Paris of Troy to help stop the war.

Something else of interest is the fact that according to Nature, a scientific magazine, while being treated for epilepsy by using electromagnetic stimulation of the patient’s brain, the woman experienced the awareness of a doppelgänger near her, even though she was psychologically healthy. Also, several famous people such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Abraham Lincoln reportedly experienced their ghostly doubles as well.

Source: Wikipedia

Have you heard of the doppelgänger before? If so, where did you learn about it?

C is for Chupacabras

Welcome back for today’s letter… C! Today, we’re traveling to North and Central America for this creature.

Name: Chupacabras (means “goat sucker”) Chupacabra is also used, but it is a regularized form of the original word.

Type: Bloodsucking creature

Origin: Puerto Rican and Latin American folklore

Description: The chupacabras is most commonly described as a reptile-like creature with scaly skin and sharp spines running along its back. It supposedly hops like a kangaroo and has sharp fangs, a forked tongue, and stands about 3-4 feet tall. It’s also described as smelling like sulfur. A less common description of the chupacabras is a hairless wild dog with a pronounced spine, fangs, and claws. It is supposed to look like a dog-reptile hybrid.

When it bites it drains out the victim’s blood (like a vampire) and even their organs sometimes. The bite mark is said to be either three holes in the shape of an upside-down triangle, two holes, or one, which isn’t a very definite answer. *grin*

Interesting Facts: Chupacabras received its name from the fact that it has a habit of attacking livestock, and particularly goats. It was first reportedly spotted in 1995 in Puerto Rico. Biologists and others who have researched it conclude that the chupacabras are merely coyotes, or dogs, with mange, which explains the less common description of the vampire-like beast. It’s been featured in many books, video games, TV shows, and movies.

Have you heard of the Chupacabras before? If so, where did you learn about it?

B is for Basilisk

Hey everyone! Welcome back for today’s letter… B for my creatures of folklore, mythology, and the paranormal theme! I hope you all didn’t fall prey to too many April Fool’s pranks yesterday. I fell for one, but then I put on my skepticism hat for the rest of the day. *grins*

Name: Basilisk (means “little king”)

Type: Legendary reptile from the Medieval bestiaries

Origin: Europe

Description: The basilisk is described as either a small snake, or as pictured to the side, it’s a very odd rooster that has a crown-like crest and possesses the tail of a snake. It is extremely toxic, and the common way to find its burrow is to see if the ground nearby is infected. It prefers dry places, and it can kill by odor, look, and mouth. Its bite can cause hydrophobia (basically, rabies).

Interesting Facts: Medusa and the basilisk share a couple of common traits in that they both can kill with their gazes as well as be killed by looking at themselves in mirrors. Although, it seems the most common way to kill a basilisk is by a weasel attacking it. It’s also mentioned a few times in the Bible.

A is for Akka

Hello everyone! Today marks the start of the A to Z Challenge. This month, I’ll have a theme going on, which is creatures from folklore, mythology, or the paranormal. I’m quite excited about it, and since I’m learning Finnish, I’ve decided to start out with a Finnish spirit.

Name: Akka (means “old woman”)

Type: Deity, Spirit

Origin: Sámi, Finnish, and Estonian mythology

Description: Akka is the goddess of harvest and female fertility. She is the Finnish Earth Mother goddess, and she is closely tied to birth, farming, and death. She would be called on for earth magic and channelling. She was one of the most worshiped deities in Finland and Estonia (where she is called Maan-Eno).

In Sámi mythology in the Finnish Lapland, there’s a deity named Madderakka who is closely related to Akka. Madderakka is the goddess of childbirth. Three of her daughters, Sarakka, Juksakka, and Uksakka, take care of the child from conception to infancy.

Interesting Facts: Her husband is Ukko, the Finnish sky god, who is pretty much the equivalent of Thor with some resemblance to Odin in Norse mythology, and in Greek mythology, his equivalent would be Zeus. It’s said when they make love that thunder rolls. *grins*

She was also known as Rauni, which is from the Finnish word for mountain ash, or Rowan tree, which is sacred to her.

Z is for Zmeu

Woohoo! So, we’ve made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge. Who else is really excited about that? First of all, I’d like to say Thank You to everyone who has stopped by, commented, and followed my blog. You guys and gals have blown my mind! It’s been a phenomenal month getting to meet everyone.

And now onto today’s topic. A Zmeu is of Romanian folklore and mythology. It’s basically a slavic dragon with anthropomorphic features, namely its humanoid legs, arms, and ability to use and make possession such as weapons. His magical powers include the ability to shapeshift, fly, and spit fire. He has supernatural strength.

In Romanian mythology, the zmeu is seen as the embodiment of selfishness and greed. He typically steals something that’s very important, and Făt-Frumos, the Romanian version of “Prince Charming,” has to gain it back through his selfless bravery. Even though the zmeu has amazing abilities, it’s no match for Făt-Frumos.

In Moldavia, a zmeu is sometimes pictured as a vampire-like creature that takes the shape of a flame then goes in the room of a young girl or widow. Once inside, he becomes a man and seduces her.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • The name zmeu most likely comes from the Slavic word Zmey, which is a Slavic dragon with three heads. The plural form is zmei, and the feminine forms are zmeoaică and (fem. plural) zmeoaice.
  • Some English translations refer to a zmeu as a variation of an ogre or giant from western European mythologies. Like ogres, a zmeu kidnaps a maiden to be his wife in his otherworldly realm.
  • The word zmeu also refers to the kites that children fly. It’s also the word for dragon in German, Russian, Norwegian, Swedish and Scottish English.
Have you heard of the Zmeu before? What do you think of them? Have you enjoyed the A to Z Challenge this month?

Y is for Yeti

The Yeti, also known as the Abominable snowman, is an ape-like creature that prefers the frozen mountain ranges of Himalaya, Nepal, India and Tibet. Meh-Teh is the common term it’s known as in the region.

While similar to Bigfoot, the Yeti’s North American counterpart, the Yeti differs in both preferred terrain, temperature and general surroundings. Men have hunted the Bigfoot with fervor, but the Himalayan mountains give plenty of cover and peace to the Yeti, as well as act as a natural deterrent to eager hunters.

The few eyewitness reports available say that the Yeti is a large creature that walks on two legs. It has a massive frame and ape-like features. The size of markings found in the snow suggest a creature, or creatures, able to walk great distances and reach to heights that normal humans, and sometimes even Sherpas, would have difficulty reaching.

Interesting Tidbit:

  • In 1960, Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer, went in search of physical evidence of the Yeti existence. After sending a Yeti scalp from the Khumjung monastery to the West to be tested, the results showed it was probably the scalp from a Himalayan antelope. Anthropologist Myra Shackley didn’t agreed saying that the “hairs from the scalp look distinctly monkey-like and that it contains parasitic mites of a species different from that recovered from the serow.” (The Himalyan antelope is a serow.)
  • Walt Disney World’s roller coaster Expedition Everest contains a 25-foot-tall audio-animatronic Yeti during the ride.
  • For a list of movies, songs, and other popular culture items that feature the Yeti: click here.
Have you heard of the Yeti before? Seen references to it in pop culture? Let me know!

X is for Xana

The Asturian nymph, Xana, is typical water spirit. Tied to a location of pure running water, she is usually described as a fair maiden of Nordic origins with blonde or light brown hair, slender frame, and extraordinary beauty.

While nymphs, in general, are not inherently malicious, they do have their darker sides. The xana, for instance, replaces human babies with their own. Some tales talk of darker colored xanas, who crawl through keyholes and steal belongings or bite the people living inside.

Some tales mention enchanted xanas who need help to release themselves of the spells and curses cast on them. After being unbound by the curses, the xana repays with gold and silver that it has either stolen, or found, before returning to its source of water.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • Should a xanino, a baby xana, be exchanged for a human infant, it will grow up within a matter of months.
  • Asturians have a method of telling if the child has been changed, which is placing eggshells near fire to make the young xanino exclaim his true nature, despite his young age.

Have you heard of the Xana before? What do you think of these water nymphs?

W is for Wendigo

The Wendigo is from Native American mythology, more specifically to the Algonquian-speaking tribes. It is a spirit of cannibalism that either manifests itself or possesses humans and slowly turns them into a horrifying monster who craves the flesh of his own kin. Unlike vampires or zombies, the Wendigo is a living spirit. Also, it is usually tied to cold winter and starvation that impacted multiple Native American tribes.

Appearing ghoulish with ashen colored skin, bulging eyes, and an extremely emaciated body, the Wendigo strikes fear with its looks, its sharp claws and fangs, and unending hunger. The spiritual and mental corruption of the spirit slowly changes the host until nothing distantly human remains of the possessed. At the final stages, after eating human flesh, the stench of corruption and death will permeate the body of the Wendigo, making it unable to mask its presence anymore to anyone who might encounter it.

The tribes used the Wendigo as a means of self-control, moderation and cooperation, as corrupt and greedy people were apt to become Wendigos themselves. While having to eat human flesh to survive the harsh winters was a unavoidable at times, those who survived tended to commit suicide or resign themselves to death due to the fear of becoming possessed and therefore dangerous to the tribe as a whole. If left unchecked, those who had consumed human flesh were very likely to develop Wendigo psychosis, a state where the person will prefer, if not crave, to cannibalize again despite having a multitude of other food sources available.

Such state is most likely a basis to certain Wendigo tales among the natives.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • After feeding and gorging itself, the Wendigo grew in proportionate size, retaining the hunger and thus always remaining both hungry and emaciated despite consuming multiple bodies.
  • For Algonquian culture, it was not uncommon for someone to develop a craving for human flesh over time, and the fear of such sparked stories of the Wendigo. 
  • Just 25 miles from food supplies at Hudson’s Bay Company post, Swift Runner, a Plains Cree trapper, murdered and ate his wife and five children after his eldest son had died during the winter 1878. He is one of the most famous cases of Wendigo psychosis.
So, what are your thoughts on Wendigos and Wendigo psychosis? Have you heard about these before? Seen a TV show or movie with them or read anything about them?

V is for Valkyrie

Valkyries, from Norse mythology, are “the chooser of the slain.” This comes parts of the Old Norse name valkyrjur with valr meaning “slain on the battlefied” and kjósa meaning “to choose.” These warrior women are an ingrained part of the mythology and viking culture.

Valkyrie are fierce women, with blond hair and tall build. Wielding a gilded shield and a sword, trident or spear as their preferred weapon, they are viewed truly worthy of welcoming any brave warrior to Valhalla. They select only the most heroic of the fallen and bring them to Odin.

When not on battlefields, the valkyrie served mead to the fallen in Odin’s great hall. They also are usually described as the lovers of great warriors. They are associated with swans and can even shapeshift into them.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • While depicted on various amulets from the Scandinavia to the Germany, the myth of valkyries (as well as Old Norse runestones and traditions) has traveled far beyond those regions with the Vikings, even becoming part of other cultures.
  • Some believe that the origins of the valkyries point to demons who hunted the souls of the fallen and captured them for slaves after battle. Others claim they are the female personification of death, who reaps the souls from fallen men.
  • Valkyries aren’t an entirely new subject on my blog. For more information, check out Into the Paranormal: Fylgjur and Valkyjur.
Your turn! What do you think about Valkyries? Have you read, watched, or played something with one in it?