Tag Archives: A Book of Creatures

Butatsch Cun Ilgs


Okay. It’s okay. I’m okay.

Well. This one is…terrifying. I’ve discussed my fear of water monsters before, and this thing…what with the eyes, and the entire lack of a head, and the resemblance to a cow’s guts…this is a thing that is Just Not Right.

But there’s more to it than that. This is more than a simple lake monster. Between the biology that shouldn’t work and the arsenal of magic powers – to say nothing of the sheer, landscape-shaping strength of the thing – I think we may be dealing with a minor Old One here.

Naturally, I’m already thinking of ways to use this in a story. The most obvious, of course, is another starmentusa notg – straight up, kaiju-style action. And of course, there’s the Lovecraft option, to have the Thing in the Lake corrupting the entire landscape around it. One idea that struck me right away was the idea of some monster hunters finding much more than they hoped to find. I’ve already got something similar on the back burner, but who said I could only ever use an idea once?

We shall see…

A Book of Creatures

Variations: Butatsch-ah-ilgs (erroneously, apparently a typo in Rose’s encyclopedia)

Butatsch Cun Ilgs

The Lüschersee, a small Swiss alpine lake nestled in the heather-covered hills of Graubünden, seems tranquil enough on the surface. Yet it is said that the lake’s waters reach down to the center of the Earth, where eternal fires rage. This is the home of the Butatsch Cun Ilgs, the “Cow’s Stomach”.

Long ago, during a more feudal time, the shepherds of Graubünden were in a constant struggle for freedom from the cruel barons and lords of the land. Their masters were prone to treating them unjustly, and even harming them for sport. A group of noblemen once returned from an ibex hunt to find herds of cattle and sheep grazing peacefully by the Lüschersee. Naturally they decided to kill them. With loud whoops and peals of laughter, they drove the animals before them, hacking at them with their swords and…

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Tabib al-Bahr

There are a lot of creatures at A Book of Creatures that are vicious, predatory, or even cruel if they’re self-aware enough. All of them would be terrifying if they were real. Some of them are terrifying anyway.

This is the first on I’ve seen that’s broken my heart.

Here we have a creature of total kindness, compassion and mercy toward humanity. A creature that has the power to transform itself into f@#king Leviathan, and it uses that power only to aid and heal those who once held it prisoner.

And what happens? Upon capturing another one of these wondrous creatures, the very same people who benefited from this aid and healing “sacrifice” it for its gemstone.

Maybe we deserve the other monsters.

A Book of Creatures

Variations: Doctor of the Sea, Sea Doctor


The mysterious Tabib al-Bahr, the “Doctor of the Sea”, is found in the writings of the alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Its appearance is not very clear; we know that it is a fish with a yellow gemstone in its forehead, and that it is also human in shape. This marine animal, despite its considerable magical powers, is very caring and altruistic. It derives its name from the gemstone in its head, which can heal any ailment; it attends to other sea creatures by rubbing its head twice or thrice on their injuries, healing them instantly. Perhaps because of this self-sacrificing nature, the tabibs also do not resist capture by humans, instead waiting patiently for the right time to escape.

The gemstone of a tabib al-bahr is of great value to alchemy. If the creature is slaughtered and its stone taken out of its…

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Lavandière de Nuit

Now this is interesting. I was familiar with the wailing Irish harbinger of death, the banshee, but I’d also heard snippets of stories referring to them washing shirts, and I was wondering where those came from. This explains it. No surprise that there should be some cross-pollination between wailing spirits of death, though for the banshee it’s the wailing itself that’s the omen of death, while for the lavandières the wailing and singing is incidental to the washing, which is the actual omen.

I must confess myself surprised about one thing: I had no idea that the lavandières were so powerful. Banshee are generally satisfied to herald death; the washerwomen are willing and able to inflict it.

Perhaps there’s a story there…

A Book of Creatures

Variations: Lavandière, Laveuse de Nuit (French); Kannerez Noz, Cannerez Noz, Gannerez Noz (Breton); Bean nighe, Bhean Nighe, Caoineachag, Nigheag Bheag a Bhroin (Gaelic); Washerwoman, Night Washerwoman, Washer of the Ford, Little Washer of Sorrow (English)


The lavandières de nuit (“washerwomen of the night”) are present in some form or other from Scotland to Provence. Their exact nature is uncertain; sometimes they are ghosts, other times members of the fairy kingdom. Their best-documented haunt is Brittany.

Lavandières are female, and can be seen washing laundry in the odd hours of the night. They usually take the form of tall, gaunt, and withered crones, but the Gollières a Noz of Romandie are as beautiful as they are cruel. Some of them sing as they wash, earning them the name of kannerez noz (night singers). Their song is sadder than a De Profundis. Those of Morbihan have had their song recorded as…

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Auñ Pana

This is a nasty one. Not only do these things hit some of the phobia buttons I’ve discussed before, but they’re smart enough to understand basic engineering (one of the scariest things you can say about any monster is “it can think”), and reasonable enough to work together with other monsters that share a common interest (the scariest thing you can say is “they’re working together”).

Honestly, given all that, the ability to cast Baleful Polymorph just seems gratuitous.

A Book of Creatures

Variations: Pehiwetinome

Aun Pana

The Auñ Pana are evil man-eating fish from the folklore of the Yanomami of Brazil and Venezuela. They are large, have arms, and are covered with hair. Apparently they also have some degree of magical power. The auñ pana live in deep water and school with Pehiwetinome, which are equally large and anthropophagous.

A group of auñ pana and pehiwetinome once tore down a bridge that the Yanomami were crossing by biting through its wood. The bridge collapsed and became a raft, and the surviving Yanomami were turned into monkeys and pigs.


Albert, B.; Becher, H.; Borgman, D. M.; Cocco, L.; Colchester, M. E. M.; Finkers, J.; Knobloch, F.; Lizot, J.; and Wilbert, J.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1990) Folk Literature of the Yanomami Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

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Another creature from A Book of Creatures that seems to have been imported directly from my nightmares.

It’s all too easy for me to imagine being out in the open water somewhere – shipwrecked, perhaps? – treading water, no land in easy reach, then looking down to see those huge shining eyes rising up beneath me. Then that beak, big enough to take me whole and already wide open resolves out of the murk…

Chills. It’s bad enough to have a monster after you. But when it’s a sea monster, you can’t even run.

A Book of Creatures

Variations: Ziph, Ziphio, Ziphij, Xiphia, Xiphias, Zyffwal


The Ziphius is a huge and horrifying sea monster, reportedly found in northern seas and near the Scandinavian coast. It resembles a whale in shape and size, but with a viciously sharp beak and terrifying bulging eyes. The beak and bristly hair around the head and neck combine to give it an owlish appearance. The ziphius also has a pointed dorsal fin, paw-like flippers, and horizontal stripes down its length. It is a carnivore, feeding on seals and sailors alike.

The Ortus Sanitatis gives it four fully-formed legs and tail, making it look more like a beaked lion or even a hedgehog. Olaus Magnus describes its hideous, beaked head, comparing it to an owl (or a toad in the French translation). It has a deep maw, horrid large eyes, and a knife-like dorsal fin used to tear holes in ships. Gessner compared it…

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Davy Jones

Once again passing along one of my favorite creatures from A Book Of Creatures. This one is more horrifying in appearance than most (at least in the form shown here), but then, spirits and demons like Mr. Jones don’t need to even pretend at functional biology.

I do wonder where Davy Jones fits into the demonic hierarchy relative to Leviathan, whom I’d been given to understand was Hell’s admiral. Since the sailors who believe in Mr. Jones probably have few theologists among them, I suspect they don’t have an answer for me.

A Book of Creatures

Variations: David Jones

Davy Jones final

Where there is the sea, there will be Davy Jones. He is the demon of the ocean, the proprietor of Davy Jones’ Locker where all drowned sailors go. Originally from British tales, he has since been expanding his influence across the ocean; as long as sailors fear the deep, this “blackguard hell’s baby” will continue to exist.

There is no limit to the shapes Davy Jones can appear in. He is the whale, the shark, the whirlpool, the giant squid, the hurricane, all the fears of sailors. He has been described with huge saucer eyes, triple rows of teeth, a tail, and horns, with blue smoke pouring from his nostrils. When the sailors of the Cachalot landed an enormous, barnacle-crusted bull sperm whale with a twisted lower jaw, some of them declared they had killed Davy Jones himself.

Davy Jones rules over the lesser demons and spirits…

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What a ridiculous creature! Can you imagine! How could anyone have ever believed…

Yeah. This one makes me wonder how many of the critters over at A Book of Creatures are second- or third-hand misunderstandings of real animals.

A Book of Creatures

Variations: Manati


Thevet’s visit to the island of Hispaniola turned up a number of unusual and exotic creatures, one of which is a grass-eating fish known as the Bocarin or Manati.

Found in both rivers and the ocean, the bocarin looks primarily like a full wineskin tapering from the navel to the end of the tail. This corpulent monster is 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, and has grey skin with sparse hair. It has two legs at its shoulders, which it uses to swim with, and round, four-toed elephant’s feet with prominent nails. Its head is like that of an ox, except with a smaller face, much smaller eyes, and a much larger and fleshier chin. Females bocarins give birth to live young, and suckle them from teats much like whales do.

Thevet deemed it to be the most deformed and grotesque fish he had ever seen in…

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