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Posts Tagged ‘sea serpents’

The Zuni tribe of New Mexico honors many spirits, including the ocean spirit, Kolowisi. This great serpent lived in a sacred spring at the foot of a mountain. There was a village nearby called Home of the Eagles. It was a thriving community led by a chief who had a lovely daughter. Her only flaw was that she couldn’t stand to be dirty. She was so focused on staying clean that she insisted on having her own room, away from her family.

When she couldn’t stand feeling dirty any more, she would go to Kolowisi’s spring to wash her clothes and bathe. She did this so often that Kolowisi got tired of having his spring fouled with soap and silt. He thought of a way to punish her.

The next time the maiden returned to the spring, she found a small baby, all alone in the water. At once she felt a powerful attachment to the child. She took it with her when she returned home. She went straight to her room to care for it.

Imagine the surprise when an unmarried maiden turned up with a baby! The daughter explained everything to her father, and wouldn’t be parted with the child for any reason. The chief was very confused, for he knew no mother would just leave her baby in the middle of a spring. But he was also a wise man. He decided to wait and see what would happen.

That night, the maiden put the baby down to sleep. Then she lay down, too, after such an exciting day. Once she fell asleep, the baby began to transform. He stretched out his legs, and then his arms, longer and longer until they became the coils of a serpent. It was Kolowisi, serpent of the sea! All that night, he rested his giant head near hers as she slept. When the dawn came, he stole her away to the spring.

Although Kolowisi was irritated by having his spring disturbed, he had become fond of the maiden. He asked her to be his wife. And since the spring was her favorite place, she gladly agreed.

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“Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Exist,” reads the subtitle. Well, what kid could resist that??

Tales of the Cryptids is a nonfiction book that attempts to document strange and legendary creatures from all over the world. Full disclosure — the author is a good friend of mine. She has a knack for finding weird and fascinating subjects to explore. Although I’m a skeptic of some topics she’s covered, like Sasquatch and Alien Encounters, she doesn’t cheerlead for uncritical acceptance of pseudo-science. Halls, a former reporter, provides good documentation that balances those fascinating legends with possible real-world explanations. She always encourages the child reader to ask questions. That alone is remarkable and much needed in the modern world.

Part of the book is devoted to sea serpents and lake monsters. My favorites! She covers the Loch Ness Monster, but also mentions the Stronsay Beast, “Champy” of Lake Champlain fame, and similar sightings in the Altamaha River, Georgia (USA). Coverage includes interviews with scientists who are trying to rule out the most obvious possibilities. Halls presents popular theories, such as that the Stronsay Beast may have been a partly decomposed basking shark, or that Nessie is a surviving plesiosaur.

Best of all, for me, is an awesome map showing reputed water monsters all over the globe. Some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t. A great reason to to search out information on these mysterious creatures. If you have a curious youngster between about 8 and 14, I whole-heartedly recommend Tales of the Cryptids.

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Legend from the Hattite people of central Turkey relates how the storm god Teshub did battle with the water dragon Illuyanka — and lost. To keep his enemy down, Illuyanka took out Teshub’s eyes and heart. Teshub was forced to depart, blind and humiliated, but it isn’t that easy to kill a god.

Once he’d nursed his wounds, Teshub devised a strategy for healing and revenge. He courted the earth goddess, Hebat, married her, and sired a son named Sarruma. Sarruma grew up to become a mountain god. In the way of the times, Teshub negotiated a marriage for Sarruma. The bride was Illuyanka’s own daughter! Teshub prevailed upon Sarruma to ask his new father-in-law for a nuptial gift — the eyes and heart of Teshub. Illuyanka agreed, though one suspects with some hesitation. Thus Teshub’s strength and eyesight were restored.

The marriage went forward, but after some time Teshub confronted his old enemy once again. The battle raged, and this time Teshub gained the upper hand. At the last moment, Sarruma came to the field. He must have become fond of Illuyanka, for he was enraged to realize his father had used him in a scheme for revenge against his wife’s father.

Sarruma cried out, “If you kill him, you must include me. Show us no mercy!” And Teshub showed no mercy. He killed both Illuyanka and Sarruma with a storm of lightning and thunder.

Can you imagine the conversation between Teshub and Hebat afterward? “He told me to do it, honey.” It just goes to show that the Greeks didn’t have a lock on the highest drama in mythology.

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I’m always excited to discover a dragon legend that I hadn’t heard before, and I can hardly wait to share this one with you.

Teshub (a.k.a. Tarhun, Tarhunt, Tarhuwant) was a storm god of the ancient Hurrian and Hittite cultures. These were very late Stone Age and Bronze Age civilizations, flourishing in central Turkey beginning about 2,200 BC. This makes them contemporary with Mesopotamia, a culture more widely taught in US Schools.

The Hurrians blended with their neighbors and became the Hittite civilization by about 1,600 BC. What’s interesting about the Hittites is that they are mentioned in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible but so little was known about them that many archaeologists believed they were actually a mythical race. In the mid-19th Century, though, archaeologists began to make discoveries that revealed the Hittites to be equivalent in power with Egypt in that era.

So Teshub was a god of storm and sky. He’s recognizable by carrying thunderbolts and riding a carriage drawn by bulls. In the Hurrian mythos he was married to the mother goddess Hebat. The Hittites paired him off with the sun goddess Arriniti but maintained much of the bull imagery.

Illuyanka was a dragon deity, enemy of Teshub. Parts of his name come from the word “eel,” so perhaps he was a water dragon. The reason for the battle is lost to time, but Illuyanka and Teshub fought fiercely. Alas, Illuyanka was victorious. To punish his enemy, he took Teshub’s eyes and heart.

It isn’t that easy to kill a god, though. Come back next time to learn about Teshub’s come-back plan.

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I’m doing a signing today for my latest book, The Seven Exalted Orders, so I’m short of time, but here’s a recap of the ten most-viewed posts from 2013.

10. A Real (Dead) Sea Monster, 10/16/13
09. Quetzalcoatl Part 2, 9/4/13
08. Lindworms Part 3, 2/12/13
07. Legend of Yamata no Orochi, 5/14/13
06. Sheet Metal Dragon, 9/11/13
05. Just For Fun 13, 1/22/13
04. Chicken Naga Curry, 4/30/13
03. Just For Fun 14, 3/28/13
02. Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, 1/4/13
01. Eight Immortals Cross the Sea, 10/26/13

If you missed some of these, or want to see one again, here’s your chance to check it out. Enjoy!

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On the topic of so-called “dragonfish,” there’s a third and most famous sort, the Arowana. These are a clan of striking fresh water fish whose bodies are long and flat with fins running along the top and bottom. Arowana are living fossils, with evidence of the family dating to the Cretaceous. In modern times, various species live in tropical Australia, Asia, South America and Africa.

All of these fishes are large and beautiful, but they have especially deep roots in Asian culture, whence the “dragon fish” name springs. Their barbels and long, trailing fins were thought to resemble the “moustaches” of legendary dragons. In the US, we sometimes see Arowana housed in aquariums sited at Chinese restaurants. They are considered very lucky (possibly because they would have provided a lot of food for the table) and an omen of prosperity.

The restaurant fish are likely youngsters, because most species reach 2 to 3 feet in length and require a large tank to house them. Their natural habitat is slow moving, murky rivers in jungle areas where overhanging vegetation provides cover. They have a kind of primitive lung that allows them to breathe air. Arowana lurk near the surface and jump out to ambush prey. One species in South America is reported to have jumped up to 6 feet high to snare a meal!

Unfortunately, these beautiful fish are threatened by habitat destruction. Several species are endangered and cannot be caught or sold. However, international treaties do allow commercial breeding, so the fish you may see in pet shops should be captive bred. It’s sad to think such an impressive animal might one day disappear from the wild.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned how dragons can appear in unexpected places. I first saw Arowanas in a video game called “Animal Crossing,” where you can catch fish to earn money. Little did I know this would be just one more surprise dragon in my life.

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It’s all very well to read about sea monsters like the Giant Oarfish, and deep sea dwellers like Dragonfish, but what if you want a water dragon of your own? Believe it or not, there are a couple of “dragon fish” you can keep in a home aquarium.

Violet Goby is a species found in the US from South Carolina south along the Atlantic coast to northern Brazil. They have long, thin bodies with larger heads and vicious-looking teeth. Their eyes are small, and they don’t see well.

Pet stores often promote these “dragon fish” as aggressive carnivores. In fact, they are algae eaters who tend to hide in the daytime. However, their natural foraging behavior is to root around in the sand, and this can put on an entertaining show.

If well cared for, Violet Gobies can grow to an impressive 2 feet in length. and develop a silver/blue hide that is described as metallic or iridescent.

The natural habitat for Violet Gobies is coastal marshes, bays and river outlets where the water is warm and brackish (that is, a mix of fresh and salt) with a sandy bottom. Keeping them in aquariums requires a bit of know-how and more equipment like heaters than your basic goldfish tank. Here’s a link to a good care-of page.

But wait, there’s more! Next time I’ll tell you about an even more impressive “dragon fish.”

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