The Boggart – aka Tomte or Kobold

Tomte, by John Bauer

Some of you may recall reading about a boggart in the Harry Potter books. Better still, you may have read the book The Boggart by Susan Cooper.

In British folklore, a boggart was a house spirit, a creature that lived in a family’s home and, if treated nicely, might help out with chores. They might live in the closet under the staircase (shades of young Harry Potter himself), or perhaps out in a cozy corner of the barn with the animals, and were seldom seen.

In Germany, a similar creature was called a kobold. In Sweden, the little fellow was known as a tomte.

When in a helpful mood, the boggart might pitch in to milk the cows, churn the butter, feed the cattle, harness the horses, stack the grain in the field, etc. If cranky, though, especially due to insult or disrespect from the family, it might spook the cattle, turn loose the horses, curdle the cream, or play tricks like tying the tails of two cows together.

It also liked to pull the sheets off your bed in the middle of the night.

According to one description of an Irish boggart, the small fellow was about six inches in height, a red nightcap on his head, wore a leather apron, sported blue stockings, and smoked a tiny pipe. His face was “like a withered winter apple.”

There’s a nice tale of a boggart that was especially fond of pranks, and pestered the family so much that they decided to move from their cottage. They quietly loaded all their goods on a cart. As they were leaving, hoping to sneak away unnoticed, a neighbor passed by, and asked where they were going. The family looked back at the cottage and whispered that they were moving. To their surprise, the boggart poked his head out of the butter-churn strapped to the top of the pile on the cart. “Yep, we’re moving!” he called out. When the family realized the boggart was planning to go with them, they decided it was pointless to move, and unloaded the cart and decided to stay put.

The best thing about living with a boggart: if anything was accidentally knocked over or broken, you could blame it on the boggart.

The Boggart, by Susan CooperFor a great read, try Susan Cooper’s The Boggart:

“Sometimes extremely funny, sometimes wildly scary, and always totally absorbing, this remarkable story [is] brilliantly imagined and beautifully written. An outstanding achievement, The Boggart will work its special magic on all who read it.”

“Extremely funny, sometimes scary” –  sounds like the perfect spooky book.

 

The Giant Centipede – A Japanese Tale

Here’s a Japanese folk tale about a duel between a giant centipede and a warrior. This story has everything you’d want in a spooky tale: dancing carp, a huge marauding insect, human saliva, and a title earned: “Mr. Big Bag of Rice.”

It’s from a collection of tales published 1908 by Yei Theodora Ozaki, the daughter of a Japanese father and Western mother. Ozaki writes in her intro to Japanese Fairy Tales: “These stories are not literal translations, and though the Japanese story and all quaint Japanese expressions have been faithfully preserved, they have been told more with the view to interest young readers of the West than the technical student of folk-lore. (. . .) I have followed my fancy in adding such touches of local color or description . . . and in one or two instances I have gathered in an incident from another version.”

So . . . this event may not have happened exactly as described!

Now, on to the tale:

MY LORD BAG OF RICE

Long, long ago there lived in Japan a brave warrior known to all as Tawara Toda, or “My Lord Bag of Rice.” His true name was Fujiwara Hidesato, and there is a very interesting story of how he came to change his name.

One day he sallied forth in search of adventures. . . . So he buckled on his two swords, took his huge bow, much taller than himself, in his hand, and slinging his quiver on his back started out. He had not gone far when he came to the bridge of Seta-no-Karashi spanning one end of the beautiful Lake Biwa.

No sooner had he set foot on the bridge than he saw lying right across his path a huge serpent-dragon. Its body was so big that it looked like the trunk of a large pine tree and it took up the whole width of the bridge. One of its huge claws rested on the parapet of one side of the bridge, while its tail lay right against the other. The monster seemed to be asleep, and as it breathed, fire and smoke came out of its nostrils.

dragon graphic

At first Hidesato could not help feeling alarmed at the sight of this horrible reptile lying in his path . . . [but] putting aside all fear went forward dauntlessly. Crunch, crunch! he stepped now on the dragon’s body, now between its coils, and without even one glance backward he went on his way.

He had only gone a few steps when he heard some one calling him from behind. On turning back he was much surprised to see that the monster dragon had entirely disappeared and in its place was a strange-looking man, who was bowing most ceremoniously to the ground. His red hair streamed over his shoulders and was surmounted by a crown in the shape of a dragon’s head, and his sea-green dress was patterned with shells.

Hidesato knew at once that this was no ordinary mortal and he wondered much at the strange occurrence. Where had the dragon gone in such a short space of time? Or had it transformed itself into this man . . . ?

“Was it you that called me just now?”

“Yes, it was I,” answered the man: “I have an earnest request to make to you. Do you think you can grant it to me?”

“If it is in my power to do so I will,” answered Hidesato, “but first tell me who you are.”

“I am the Dragon King of the Lake, and my home is in these waters just under this bridge.”

“And what is it you have to ask of me?” said Hidesato.

“I want you to kill my mortal enemy the centipede, who lives on the mountain beyond,” and the Dragon King pointed to a high peak on the opposite shore of the lake.

“I have lived now for many years in this lake and I have a large family of children and grand-children. For some time past we have lived in terror, for a monster centipede has discovered our home, and night after night it comes and carries off one of my family. I am powerless to save them. If it goes on much longer like this, not only shall I lose all my children, but I myself must fall a victim to the monster.

“I am, therefore, very unhappy, and in my extremity I determined to ask the help of a human being. For many days with this intention I have waited on the bridge in the shape of the horrible serpent-dragon that you saw, in the hope that some strong brave man would come along. But all who came this way, as soon as they saw me were terrified and ran away as fast as they could. You are the first man I have found able to look at me without fear, so I knew at once that you were a man of great courage. . . . Will you not help me and kill my enemy the centipede?”

Hidesato felt very sorry for the Dragon King on hearing his story, and readily promised to do what he could to help him. The warrior asked where the centipede lived, so that he might attack the creature at once. The Dragon King replied that its home was on the mountain Mikami, but that as it came every night at a certain hour to the palace of the lake, it would be better to wait till then. So Hidesato was conducted to the palace of the Dragon King, under the bridge.

Strange to say, as he followed his host downwards the waters parted to let them pass, and his clothes did not even feel damp as he passed through the flood.

Never had Hidesato seen anything so beautiful as this palace built of white marble beneath the lake. He had often heard of the Sea King’s palace at the bottom of the sea, where all the servants and retainers were salt-water fishes, but here was a magnificent building in the heart of Lake Biwa. The dainty goldfishes, red carp, and silvery trout, waited upon the Dragon King and his guest.

Hidesato was astonished at the feast that was spread for him. The dishes were crystallized lotus leaves and flowers, and the chopsticks were of the rarest ebony. As soon as they sat down, the sliding doors opened and ten lovely goldfish dancers came out, and behind them followed ten red-carp musicians with the koto and the samisen. Thus the hours flew by till midnight, and the beautiful music and dancing had banished all thoughts of the centipede.

The Dragon King was about to pledge the warrior in a fresh cup of wine when the palace was suddenly shaken by a tramp, tramp! as if a mighty army had begun to march not far away.

Hidesato and his host both rose to their feet and rushed to the balcony, and the warrior saw on the opposite mountain two great balls of glowing fire coming nearer and nearer. The Dragon King stood by the warrior’s side trembling with fear.

“The centipede! The centipede! Those two balls of fire are its eyes. It is coming for its prey! Now is the time to kill it.”

Hidesato looked . . . and, in the dim light of the starlit evening, behind the two balls of fire he saw the long body of an enormous centipede winding round the mountains, and the light in its hundred feet glowed like so many distant lanterns moving slowly towards the shore.

Hidesato showed not the least sign of fear. He tried to calm the Dragon King.

“Don’t be afraid. I shall surely kill the centipede. Just bring me my bow and arrows.”

The Dragon King did as he was bid, and the warrior noticed that he had only three arrows left in his quiver. He took the bow, and fitting an arrow to the notch, took careful aim and let fly.

The arrow hit the centipede right in the middle of its head, but instead of penetrating, it glanced off harmless and fell to the ground.

Nothing daunted, Hidesato took another arrow, fitted it to the notch of the bow and let fly. Again the arrow hit the mark, it struck the centipede right in the middle of its head, only to glance off and fall to the ground. The centipede was invulnerable to weapons!

When the Dragon King saw that even this brave warrior’s arrows were powerless to kill the centipede, he lost heart and began to tremble with fear.

The warrior saw that he had now only one arrow left in his quiver, and if this one failed he could not kill the centipede. He looked across the waters. The huge reptile had wound its horrid body seven times round the mountain and would soon come down to the lake. Nearer and nearer gleamed fireballs of eyes, and the light of its hundred feet began to throw reflections in the still waters of the lake.

Then suddenly the warrior remembered that he had heard that human saliva was deadly to centipedes. But this was no ordinary centipede. This was so monstrous that even to think of such a creature made one creep with horror.

[But] Hidesato determined to try his last chance. So taking his last arrow and first putting the end of it in his mouth, he fitted the notch to his bow, took careful aim once more and let fly.

This time the arrow again hit the centipede right in the middle of its head, but instead of glancing off harmlessly as before, it struck home to the creature’s brain. Then with a convulsive shudder the serpentine body stopped moving, and the fiery light of its great eyes and hundred feet darkened to a dull glare like the sunset of a stormy day, and then went out in blackness.

A great darkness now overspread the heavens, the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed, and the wind roared in fury, and it seemed as if the world were coming to an end. The Dragon King and his children and retainers all crouched in different parts of the palace, frightened to death, for the building was shaken to its foundation.

At last the dreadful night was over. Day dawned beautiful and clear. The centipede was gone from the mountain.

Then Hidesato called to the Dragon King to come out with him on the balcony. . . . Hidesato pointed to the lake. There lay the body of the dead centipede floating on the water, which was dyed red with its blood.

The gratitude of the Dragon King knew no bounds. The whole family came and bowed down before the warrior, calling him their preserver and the bravest warrior in all Japan.

Another feast was prepared, more sumptuous than the first. All kinds of fish, prepared in every imaginable way, raw, stewed, boiled and roasted, served on coral trays and crystal dishes, were put before him, and the wine was the best that Hidesato had ever tasted in his life. . . .

His host tried to persuade the warrior to stay a few days, but Hidesato insisted on going home. . . . The Dragon King and his family were all very sorry to have him leave so soon, but since he would go they begged him to accept a few small presents (so they said) in token of their gratitude to him for delivering them forever from their horrible enemy the centipede.

As the warrior stood in the porch taking leave, a train of fish was suddenly transformed into a retinue of men, all wearing ceremonial robes and dragon’s crowns on their heads. . . . The presents that they carried were as follows:

First, a large bronze bell.

Second, a bag of rice.

Third, a roll of silk.

Fourth, a cooking pot.

Fifth, a bell.

Hidesato did not want to accept all these presents, but as the Dragon King insisted, he could not well refuse.

The Dragon King himself accompanied the warrior as far as the bridge, and then took leave of him with many bows and good wishes, leaving the procession of servants to accompany Hidesato to his house with the presents. . . .

The presents which he had received from the grateful Dragon King were found to be of magic power. The bell only was ordinary, and as Hidesato had no use for it he presented it to the temple near by, where it was hung up, to boom out the hour of day over the surrounding neighborhood.

The single bag of rice, however much was taken from it day after day for the meals of the knight and his whole family, never grew less—the supply in the bag was inexhaustible.

The roll of silk, too, never grew shorter, though time after time long pieces were cut off to make the warrior a new suit of clothes to go to Court in at the New Year.

The cooking pot was wonderful, too. No matter what was put into it, it cooked deliciously whatever was wanted without any firing—truly a very economical saucepan.

The fame of Hidesato’s fortune spread far and wide, and as there was no need for him to spend money on rice or silk or firing, he became very rich and prosperous, and was henceforth known as My Lord Bag of Rice.

The Will-o’-the-Wisp

will-o-the-wisp

The Will-o’-the-Wisp is “the tricksy twilight spirit who shows his deceptive torch or lantern on the dusky edges of the marsh” to lure the unwary into the mucky bog.

Will’s phantom light is not the hollowed-out turnip of Jack (O’ Lantern), but was said to be a wisp, a twist of straw used as a brief torch. The phenomenon is also know as the ignis fatuus, the fooling fire, and sometimes is suspected to be just a bit of marsh gas (which begs the questions of how it came to be set on fire, and why the tales often have the lights on the move, following nervous travelers for miles).

The luring light was typically bent on mischief. But, like many spooky encounters, it could be placated with a coin or pleasant word (or sent fleeing with the right counter-charm, usually a religious admonition). It’s simple: do the wrong thing and woe befalls you. Do the right thing and all is well.

The reported spottings, gleefully noted in the popular press, came equally from drunks stumbling home and observant vicars out late on their rounds.

will-o-the-wisp

In the first chapter of Dracula, a flickering will-o’the-wisp appears to help guide the strange, silent driver of the carriage that carries the poor protagonist, Jonathan Harker, on a wild ride deep into the inner reaches of the Transylvanian Carpathians to the foot of eerie ruined castle of the long-toothed Count:

Soon we were hemmed in with trees . . . and again great frowning rocks guarded us boldly on either side. Though we were in shelter, we could hear the rising wind, for it moaned and whistled through the rocks. . . . It grew colder and colder still, and fine, powdery snow began to fall. . . . The keen wind still carried the howling of the dogs, though this grew fainter as we went on our way. The baying of the wolves sounded nearer and nearer, as though they were closing round on us from every side. I grew dreadfully afraid, and the horses shared my fear. The driver, however, was not in the least disturbed; he kept turning his head to left and right, but I could not see anything through the darkness.

Suddenly, away on our left, I saw a faint flickering blue flame. The driver saw it at the same moment; he at once checked the horses, and, jumping to the ground, disappeared into the darkness. I did not know what to do . . . but while I wondered the driver suddenly appeared again, and without a word took his seat, and we resumed our journey.

I think I must have fallen asleep and kept dreaming of the incident, for it seemed to be repeated endlessly, and now looking back, it is like a sort of awful nightmare. Once the flame appeared so near the road, that even in the darkness around us I could watch the driver’s motions.

He went rapidly to where the blue flame arose—it must have been very faint, for it did not seem to illumine the place around it at all—and gathering a few stones, formed them into some device. Once there appeared a strange optical effect: when he stood between me and the flame he did not obstruct it, for I could see its ghostly flicker all the same. This startled me, but as the effect was only momentary. . . . Then for a time there were no blue flames, and we sped onwards through the gloom, with the howling of the wolves around us, as though they were following in a moving circle.

At last there came a time when the driver went further afield than he had yet gone, and during his absence, the horses began to tremble worse than ever and to snort and scream with fright. I could not see any cause for it, for the howling of the wolves had ceased altogether; but just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth and lolling red tongues, with long, sinewy limbs and shaggy hair. . . .

All at once the wolves began to howl as though the moonlight had had some peculiar effect on them. The horses jumped about and reared, and looked helplessly round with eyes that rolled in a way painful to see; but the living ring of terror encompassed them on every side. . . . I called to the coachman to come, for it seemed to me that our only chance was to try to break out through the ring and to aid his approach. I shouted and beat the side of the calèche [carriage], hoping by the noise to scare the wolves from that side, so as to give him a chance of reaching the trap.

How he came there, I know not, but I heard his voice raised in a tone of imperious command, and looking towards the sound, saw him stand in the roadway. As he swept his long arms, as though brushing aside some impalpable obstacle, the wolves fell back and back further still. Just then a heavy cloud passed across the face of the moon, so that we were again in darkness.

When I could see again the driver was climbing into the calèche, and the wolves had disappeared. . . . The time seemed interminable as we swept on our way, now in almost complete darkness, for the rolling clouds obscured the moon. We kept on ascending. . . . Suddenly, I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.

Proving once again that it pays to check the Yelp reviews before booking a room. And the Will-‘o-the-Wisp is sort of an early version of the errant GPS mapping program that tells you to take a right turn into the swamp.

The Loup-Garou

The loup garou

Most folks are familiar with werewolves, but this post introduces you to the Loup-Garou!

The loup-garou (comes from Latin lupus, for wolf) was a French version of the werewolf. The tales were imported to North America by early French voyageurs and settlers. The supernatural creature was an afflicted person under an enchantment; the poor fellow was turned into a hairy beast and roamed the woods at night in search of its prey.

Of course, if the right thing was done (as in the tale below from Vincennes, Indiana), the loup-garou might be released from its spell.

Real? Who knows. Useful? Like other scary stories, the legend could always be used to scare young children into obedience: “If you don’t behave, the loup-garou will get you.”

The loup garou
Werewolves of various sorts are found in the lore of many cultures.

According to The Moonlit Road: Strange Tales from the American South, in Cajun lore:

To protect against the Cajun loup garou : lay 13 small objects such as pennies, beans, or broom straws by your doors. The werewolf is not too bright. She cannot count higher than 12. When she comes to the 13th object, she gets soooo confused and has to start over. The poor thing will be there counting all night until the dawn when she must flee the sun.

(Apparently, the loup-garou could also be used to scare kids into studying their math lessons.)

Here’s a legend collected in the 1920s by Anna C. O’Flynn, a school teacher in the old French section of Vincennes, Indiana, found in an unpublished WPA manuscript circa 1937, The Creole (French) Pioneers at Old Post Vincennes. The loup-garou stories were credited to the telling of one Pepe Boucher.

The collection appeared on the website Folklore, Legends, Tall Tales: An Interactive Casebook for Knox County, Indiana, created by Richard L. King, reference librarian at the Shake Library of Vincennes University.

Charlie Page’s Loup Garou Story
As told by Pepe Boucher

Page was a dare-devil kind of man who hunted in the woods and feared nothing. He carried a “dirque,” or a big long blade knife, that open and shut with some kind of spring on its back. All he did to open the blade was press his finger on the back and puff! it was open.

There be plenty of Indians in those days and they knew Page and his beeg knife. Still Page and the Indians be pretty good friends; they know he not be afraid of them or their medicine man. In fact he not think of Heaven nor Hell with fear.

One night he was going home out past Vinegar Hill, a great big black dog stood in the path and growled and gnashed his teeth at Page. The dog did not seem to know that Page never got out of any animal’s path so there it stood even when Page said “A bas chien,” [Down, dog!] then wagging his hand said “Au Revoir.”

Other dogs get out of the big man’s way when he wave his hand. “Mais” [But] this one come advancing with hideous howls and gleaming red eyes that be like coals of fire in the black of the night. Then Page he be mad at the dog and he said “Bete Noir Vole! Vole!” [Black beast, got lost!]

Mais, the black beast did not fly away from him nor turn its eyes from his. With a great leap it came nearer to him by five feet. Then Page cursed and lifted his big foot to kick it in the jaw. With a stealthy pantherlike movement the great frothing beast sprang at his throat.

You bet this time he tried to kick and get his knife to finish the dog whose hot breath was singeing his hair – whose great paws were tearing his shoulders and whose fangs were near his neck. With one of his powerful arms he grab the neck of the dog until his tongue hang out. The shaggy hair on the dog’s neck be lashing his face and his eyes blazing with madness. The loup garou be trying to bewitch Page.

He know now it be loup garou.

Click here to read the rest of this tale and other loup-garou legends of the Vincennes area.

Need more proof? Here’s evidence, from a rambling legend of a man and his bride from the area of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. It references:

the story of one adventurous hunter who, determined to try his skill, made a bullet from a silver coin and patiently waited for his victim “to cross his path.” The cursed bullet sped toward the Loup Garou and instead of killing the monster only severed his tail, which was found, dried and stuffed. It was the wonder of the region, and was adored for years by the Indians as a powerful good luck piece.

There you go! A real Loup Garou tail (pun unavoidable)! What more do you need?