Mythical Beasts project
What an absolute pleasure it was to research the Iberian Peninsula. The most common myths I came across were of the goblin and brownie type (as a UK audience may know them). There is a beautifully bizarre variety of boogeymen lifted straight from Hieronymus Bosch paintings, and a mass of enchanted ladies, which are just as perplexing as any Boggle. We get some classic Greek mythology, as well as a solid mix of all the big hitters - Dragons, Unicorns, Vampires, Elementals, Trolls and Devils. As well as lesser found Hydras, Harpies, Tarasques, good lordy it's got it all!
If you would like to pick up a copy of the new Iberian Peninsula map, it is available here
Onto the Bestiary
Ayalga and Cuélebre
For soon-to-be obvious reasons, I wanted to do these together. Let's start with the Cuélebre, they are spread all across Spain and have many varied stories that follow the familiar motifs that you would associate with a dragon-type beasty - they look like a giant serpent with wings, they have Bezos/Musk levels of greed for treasure, and have the less than ideal problematic tendency for kidnapping women. In the case of a Cuélebre, this is done through enchanting a "young maiden", the Ayalga.
Post-enchantment, The Ayalga becomes press-ganged into the assistance of guarding the Cuélebres hoard. The Ayalga had never intended on a career as an assistant curator working with a collection stored mostly in an unvisited cave, poor hours, poor pay, and only a manipulative reptile for a co-worker. Though, it would fill out the CV perfectly for working with a City Council. The Ayalga will spend her days singing sad but enchanting songs in the hope of luring some brave//daft soul to come and kill the Cuélebre. If they do manage this, and then somehow have the bizarre notion to poke her with a willow twig, the spell will be broken and they get all that sweet dragon swag and the girl.
There are various accounts of what a Balborinho is; it is generally understood as a destructive whirlwind/tornado. The Balborinho is controlled at its centre by some unnatural power, either in the form of a sorceress, a witch, or the souls of peasants who had committed agrarian crimes (presumably ones more severe than scrumping). Views differ on how to deal with a Balborinho, from the fairly mundane - making the sign of the cross, all the way up to chucking a penknife into the maelstrom. I'm not sure of the efficacy of either method, but it's probably best not to throw blades into natural disasters - they are dangerous enough without being armed.
Akin to the traditional tales of the wildmen in other parts of Europe. Basajarau ( or Basajaun as they are more commonly known as in the Basque region) were large hairy hominids living in wooded areas, tending to livestock, mastering smithing skills and building dolmens. Which is pretty much the ideal life plan if modern capitalism and land ownership hadn't stuffed it all up.
Indeed, the noble Basajarau lived that good life and were generally peaceful and helpful chaps helping protect livestock from predators and the elements, all in exchange for a bit of bread, which seems a pretty good deal. A few accounts talk of them being fearsome and best avoided but - to be fair to the usually peaceful Basajarau - I'm not sure what part of living deep in the woods tinkering away on your projects says "bother me".
Auto-include simply on the merit of its name, phonetically it sounds like "boo" which is possibly the cutest, and the most on-the-nose naming of a boogeyman ever. It's a giant Owl-man with fiery eyes and arms as strong as wolf traps, it sneaks into houses late at night and steals kids. Still, it is a mighty cute name.
The stick used by some really unsympathetic Velencian parents, Butoni creeps through the keyhole to steal children who cry, won't sleep or don't finish their tea. And well, it is amazing there are any children left in Valencia. For the uninitiated, those conditions pretty much describe all children, ever. We have to assume there was a team of Butoni working around the clock but - given there are still people in Valencia - they either had a strong union or, just aren't too committed to the role. I mean considering the larger issues at play in the world, they must find it hard to really care if your kid doesn't finish every last pea.
A note on the design. I based this Butoni on the images of them on traditional socarrat tiles, there are other images of Butoni which are more akin to marginalia, but I really loved the style of the tiles and would recommend a google of "socarrat tiles" if you want to see beasties presented in a different way.
OG Estruch, possibly Europe's oldest vampire myth. The Tale tells of a 12th century noble sent to Llers to be generally rotten to pagans and witches. One of said witches had the good (or potentially terrible) idea to curse him before she was burnt at the stake.
I'm generally against including anything witchy, as generally, you can translate witch to mean any woman who didn't follow whatever societal expectations were placed on them at that particular point in history. This usually meant having any degree of individualism or having the audacity to be educated or smart, for which they usually were ostracised, tortured and ultimately killed. But throwing out a curse of eternal unrest at the moment of execution is pretty much cackling witch 101 so let's roll with it.
Anyway, witchy curse successful and Comte Estruch is now an undead, demonic, pagan-hating, heaven-denied, son of a gun. He rises from the grave at night to do exactly what we have come to expect vampires to do: suck blood, bed maidens, sow terror and just generally be a right pain in the bum of the local community. If he wasn't the original, you'd call him a cliche but this is the blueprint for the vampire format that has held for a century.
Estruch finally meets his end by "a nun with magic and spiritual gifts," (let's not even get into that oxymoron) she exorcises him and it's all good again. Yay!
Lodging itself so firmly into the "what the hell? why? what's the point? I kinda like it" category, we have the unique Docejo. A one-winged, one-eyed bird with human lips that can only drink water from the Jucar. It loves a good tune and entertains itself by loudly burping through the night.
Literally translates as "nice to meet you", which is kinda relevant, you may see these called a whole number of things and they tie into the wider enchanted moors/mouro/moura category. These myths are prevalent across Spain and Portugal but concentrate much higher in the SE.
Despite these tales being common, it took me a lot of wonky translations to figure out the key points of these stories and not just be confused. To be honest, I should have realised I needn't have bothered, after the Docejo you'd think I would have realised this. I should have accepted that these tales are just simply a bit odd, or the symbology isn't as immediately obvious to modern eyes.
The Encantada are generally beautiful women forced to do an endless repetitive task, not always (but pretty much always) it is combing their lovely long hair. They have usually been left in this enchanted state by a male Mouro to guard treasure. They try to enchant a suitor to break the spell and it can get confusing to figure out how to do this (I guess that's the point). The spell could be broken with offerings of bread, milk, a kiss, taking the comb, realising some unspecified challenge i.e don't look at that thing over there. If you succeed in breaking the spell, you get to marry a beautiful Encantada and get the loot, so that's nice. Fail however and your new honey will be doubly cursed and you will lose both the lady and the treasure.
I was so happy to get to include Geryon! He is from Greek myth, but I couldn't include him on the Greek map as he was located in Spain. I was pleased to see he has been kept alive in Spanish mythology, so he got to be added to this map. Yay!
Family reunions will always be fun if Medusa is your sweet old Gran and your uncle is Pegasus. Geryon shows you can still be unique even in a family of such characters, described as a giant with 3 heads, either on 1 body or 3, and sometimes having 4 wings or 6 legs. He really is a bit of a pick-and-mix for an illustrator. He also has a 2 headed dog called Orthus, who lives in the shadow of his overachieving 3 headed brother Cerberus.
Geryon met his end when Herakles labours brought him to Iberia in search of Geryons magnificent red cattle. In exchange for protecting his livelihood from a cattle rustling demi-god, Geryon won an arrow dipped in hydra venom delivered to his facial region.
But which face?
Tales of bridge-building devils and imps are common all across Europe. The Galhardo is Portugals very own "knock you up a bridge overnight, promise it won't get weird guv"
Galo De Barcelos
I can smell the peri-peri chicken in the air, and hear the Buena Vista Social Club classics being cranked out. UK readers will have seen the Galo De Barcelos adorning the walls of any Nandos they have graced, like a cave-painted idol to the lords of spicy feasting. Potentially readers in other countries have entered and potentially worshipped at Barcelo's shrine too. Who knows.
Anyway, for those not versed in Nandos, the myth is as follows.
A traveller from Galicia was passing through Barcelos and was falsely accused of nicking off with some silver. He was tried and sentenced to hang, which sounds a bit heavy-handed, mainly because it was.
The condemned man asked to be taken to see the judge who condemned him. And, in what sounds like an unlikely twist in the judicial protocol, they indeed took him to the judge's house. The judge was sitting, about to tuck into a bit of roast rooster.
Do people eat roosters? can you eat roosters?
Yes, apparently you can eat rooster, so why don't we? Let's not get into food ethics, good lord.
Anyway, your man turns to the judge and says something along the lines of "I'm as surely innocent as that rooster will surely crow when you hang me." This put the judge off his dinner - and presumably off tidying up after dinner - as sure enough the next day when they hang the convict, up pops Old Crispy and crows.
They rush to the hanged man and found him still alive thanks to some shoddy knotwork. The man was freed, and that's how we got spicy chicken.
A Hydra! Outside of Greece! It was really "cool" to find this one - hydras have been a pretty rare find when researching for the maps and I was happy to get to draw another. Herensuge has as many varied tales as he has heads, and screw it, I've got time today so let's look at a couple of them:
The first involves a magic stick. Like sportscars, some of us would look tragic carrying around Excalibur. For the gentleman entitled to a free bus pass, a magic stick might be the way to go; humble, earthly, elemental, unassuming, but still dope, just like you. Conversely to my previous witterings, the guy who gets the magic stick in this story is a young gun (goddamn kids, they get all the cool stuff). For some reason, he's carrying a cake around. When he's stopped by an old lady who asks for a slice, he gives her the whole cake - nice. Seeing as he's such a nice lad, she gives him a magic stick that can kill in a single blow.
I've wondered if this is just any stick over a certain size used "right", presumably you didn't have to swing it hard or something. Anyway, "magic" stick equipped, he becomes a shepherd and beast killer at the palace level. One day, a beast begs for its life and offers up the location of a palace hidden in the woods where he will gain great wealth. When he arrives at the woodland palace, he sees people drawing lots on who will get sacrificed to Herensuge. The king loses, but the nice lad accompanies him and administers several bonks on various heads with a magic stick killing the Herensuge. The king is stoked, and the protagonist marries the princess, it's a classic nice lad done good story.
The second features a knight making penance for killing his parents (no idea why he did it, no idea why he thinks mashing a dragon up will fix it). He ventures off to rescue a woman who is to be sacrificed to a Herensuge. But pretty quickly he realises he has massively stuffed this and it might not be as easy as he had made out in the pub the other night. Out of options and coming up short on bravado, the knight assesses his options. Realising they comprise of dying or peeing his pants then dying, he pulls out a hail Mary, and falls to his knees praying to St Michael. St Michael sticks his head in to see what's going on, notices the Herensuge, and is also of the opinion of "no thanks, I don't want none of that," so asks God to kind of supervise the entire fiasco. In a very rare instance of having to escalate beast killing to the very highest level of management, God does actually show up. Feeling buoyed up by having his super big mate as backup, St Michael decapitates the Herensuge. Presumably, several times. Sounds tiring.
There are more stories out there, some a bit more fairytale with the Hernesuge being an enchanted prince or alike. If you like dragon stories, have a little google it will turn up some variations.
Homem Do Chapéu De Ferro
He was said to be one of the torturers of Jesus on the run-up to the passion. So we know that we have the raw goods of something genuinely horrid here and, as Jesus curses him, all that horridness comes to fruition. The information regarding the transformation is kind of fragmented/lost so we'll skip along to the end product.
Homem Do Chapéu De Ferro appears at midnight near roadsides, olive trees, fig-trees, or fountains. He wanders the dark areas for 3 nights, but don't worry he's got some lovely mates for company - a snarling black pig, a large stag "whose armour touches the dome of the towers", or a rooster "black as the night of thunder". I think he gets one sidekick per night for the 3 days he's hanging out. They are said to be the Devil taking on different guises. Just in case his demonic gang isn't sufficient, he can also cause storms. He loves revenge and goes about robbing and killing anyone he believes wronged him. He is a giant figure with an iron hat buried into his head and his mouth is a ragged slit that belches fire - lovely.
La Cuca Fera
I loved this one, it's the story of a beloved dragon and in quite the narrative twist for dragon lore, it culminates in a demon and dragon dance party.
In the mountains of Begues, the Cuca Fera was born, with the usual terrifying appearance of a dragon. Well kind of - he is most commonly depicted in a similar way to the Tarasque of France, with a shell on his back and a long crocodilian head. The Cuca Fera lived a quiet life in the mountains watching life roll by - fields being tended, harvests being brought in, the seasons slowly blended from one to the other - and he started to feel a bit lonely. Awwww.
One night, he was awoken by the sound of screaming. The Baron's daughter had been kidnapped by an arrogant knight who - shirking any chivalric codes, basic law, or the concept of consent - had abducted the Baron's daughter, Rosaclara. Good old Cuca Fera got straight in there and gave the knight his best scary dragon impression. It worked; the knight wanted none of it and bolted. It might have worked a bit too well as Rosaclara was pretty convinced by the performance too. The Cuca Fera reassured her he wasn't really about that #dragonlife, and took her back to her dad's castle. Overjoyed with the return of his daughter, the Baron declared the Cuca Fera, "the guardian of the village of Begues." Everyone is happy, and we learn the patronising lesson that even ugly things can be sweet and probably shouldn't be hit with a halberd. They all eat cake, it's all lovely.
Enter stage right an envious demon. Jealous of the love shared between the townsfolk and La Cuca Fera, he devises a plan to lead La Cuca Fera out of town and trap him in a cavern. For the record, trying to make friends by trapping their other mates in a cavern, ravine or pit rarely plays out well.
It took La Cuca Fera a long time to escape and, when he did, he ran straight back to the town. He was thrilled to see the villagers and they were stoked to see him back, the whole town, young and old came out to have a massive celebration. Shocked, the demon appeared in the village and in a massive act of growth says something like, "I was wrong, I can see how much you love the Cuca Fera despite his fierce appearance. Please forgive me, I want to change, please may I join your party?".
They all party, and some say the demon's heart grew 2 sizes that day.
Lagarto De Jaen
Cheeky fountain-dwelling fella who would pop out to eat livestock, people, etc; all the major dragon food groups. As usual, the villagers weren't too happy and he was dealt with in one of 3 ways. It was either tricked into eating gunpowder and blown up, tricked into eating tinder and set alight, or stabbed up by a knight in a suit of armour made of mirrors, like some chivalric disco ball.
L Dragón De Bronchales
An interesting dragon, more of a pain in the butt than a real threat. The dragon had the ability to hypnotise with its fiery eyes - when under its spell, it would go about raiding the pantry with the same glazed gluttony as a middle-aged man getting back from the pub. The dragon also took to drinking the milk from nursing mothers, which is a surprisingly common motif in folklore, that I still find weird. Dairy theft seems to have been a primary concern for our ancestors, and there is abundant folklore about it, if you want to get weird, treat yourself to a google of the strange as-hell "Tilberi".
Like the aforementioned boozeyman's wife, the locals get fed up with waking up with all the choice snacks gone and decide they are going to do something about it. They build a massive circular wall of fire around the dragon's lair. At sunset, he comes out and is unable to hypnotise anyone through the wall of fire. The dragon takes the hint and sodds off, never to be seen again.
Los Mulachinis Del Cielu
What do you get if you cross cherubs with Zeus? Answer: Los Mulachinis Del Cielu. One-eyed babies that frolic among the clouds, chiselling out lightning bolts and hurling them with deadly accuracy. Adorable.
Hairy Trolls, that are very similar to their Nordic brothers and sisters in the way that they turn to stone in sunlight. Unlike their Northern counterparts, they are fairly small but make up for this by having some powers of sorcery.
Maria Da Manta
Portuguese boogeyman, described as having horns, eyes of fire and inhabiting watery places to punish wayward kids. Very similar to water boogeymen/women the world, I always enjoy these - their purpose is beautifully clear ("don't go near that dangerous thing") and they are usually great fun to draw.
The anti-sherpas of the Sierra Nevada. They are the small, furry and furious monkey-fairies that are not to be messed with. Furious George's favourite pastimes include brutalising mountaineers and causing avalanches.
Morgos are little mining goblins, extracting minerals from seams in the Almaden region. I found very little information about them though, if UK mining culture is anything to go by, I'm sure there will be many tales tucked away, still talked about in the region. Hopefully, one day we'll hear more.
Giant one-eyed, hairy, 10-fingered embodiments of cruelty and brutality. If they had received a private school education, they may have made a passable politician; they didn't, so will likely have to settle for a career in media. Ojáncanu enjoyed smashing up huts, blocking rivers, wrecking up farms and forests, and just generally being rotten. The best shot you have at defeating an Ojáncanu is to pluck the single grey hair in its massive fiery red beard. Fair play to the Ojáncanu for carrying all that rage and stress and only developing one grey hair.
Another notable thing about the Ojáncanu is its birthing cycle. So, how do we navigate the treacherous waters of cyclops mating habits without making an obvious and terrible "one-eyed monster" joke? Or do we just lean into it? I guess it doesn't matter as Ojáncanu doesn't go about things in such a predictable way, nope. When an Ojáncanu dies, the others drag the remains beneath a Yew or Oak tree and, after 9 months of getting stinky in the Spanish sun, worms appear. Now is the female Ojáncana's time to shine; she feeds the worms her milk, and three years later they will turn into Ojáncanu. And that, boys and girls, is where baby Ojáncanu come from. Precious.
Someone, presumably - "oooh unicorns are pretty"
Oricuerno - "hold my beer"
The Oricuerno is a very, very, jazzy unicorn. Different from your bog-standard middle-aisle Aldi Unicorn, the Oricuerno is a splendid white horse who has never understood the concept of over-accessorising. It has the legs of a fallow deer, the tail of a lion, a twisting horn fading from white, to black to red, and to tie it all together teensy wings on each of its hoofs. Alright, we get it, you're majestic.
Another interesting boogeyman, visually identical to a greek Harpy. There isn't much to say, it was simply used to stop children crying. How threatening an upset child that a harpy will come to get them will in any way be comforting, I have no idea.
A Peeira is a guardian of wolves and werewolves. Peeiras give out a calming aura that helps soothe the pack she looks after, focussing their minds. She also has the ability to heal herself and the other members of the pack. Needless to say, this is terribly handy for the pack, and they will become the most dominant in the region. Apart from the team of ravenous super-wolves and werewolves, Peeira themselves are said to be very peaceful, pleasant, and of course beautiful. Well mostly, there are also tales that Peeira can become werewolves too.
Seen as either a demon or a bogeyman, Quarantamaula is a varied character from place to place. Most notably, and probably his scariest form, is that of a half-man, half-chicken monster that lives in the swamp and will harm/kill passers-by. This de-escalates to the slightly menacing (or plain annoying) habit of his cat form; in cat-mode he likes getting on your roof and bashing about, mainly hoping to freak the kids out - what an arse. It then de-escalates again to a snail form, at which point you have to wonder what the point even is. Supposedly, it is to show that evil has infinite forms - trust us, that snail is evil.
Certainly not your Tolkien-esque Ent. There is no earthy wisdom to be found here, no peaceful giant, just destruction and death. So, the Roblón started as an average bit of an oak tree with a hole in its trunk big enough for, let's say, a small girl seeking shelter from a storm to crawl into. Obviously this happened, and the girl's warmth and breath from within it stirred life in the tree which then ungratefully proceeded to crush her. Absorbing the squished girl into its fibres, it became sentient and began to outgrow/out-compete any plant life in the area. When Roblón had maxed out his gains, it uprooted itself and just went entirely tree-hulk around the locale. His reign of terror continued until he was spotted sleeping, and people remembered wood is flammable.
The Nymphs of the Tagus river. A slight adaption from Greek Naiads with a bit of a muse flavour.
Going by many different names regionally, he is a small gnome/goblin type of creature. Described as having dark skin, wearing a red pointy hat, a long black and grey cloak, having a hole in his left hand, and walking with a limp. Sometimes he is also given animal features such as a tail, horns, or sheep ears. So there are a lot of fun ways to draw this guy.
He plays out like pretty much any house-dwelling Brownie; loves playing pranks, treat him good and he will clean the house for you through the night, treat him poor and he's gonna trash the place. They are hard to get rid of them when they adopt you, even following you to new homes. To be rid of a Trasgo, you will need to present it with an impossible task, Trasgo are prideful and a bit dim, so sending it to the shop for "tartan paint" or a "long-weight" usually does the trick. More traditional options are fetching water from the sea in a basket, whitening a black sheep, or picking up millet with its left hand, which it can't do due to the hole in its left hand. That last one seems harsh.
La Tinyosa is a creature that appears in the fogs to steal children back to her hiding place. Described as beautiful and nearly see-through, she worked as a warning about the dangers of mists and fogs and to stop children from wandering off.
Velha Da Égua Branca
There are various origin stories of Velha Da Égua Branca. Some say she was a stingy woman who lived in the time of Christ; punished for refusing to give bread to a wandering religious figure, Christ then cursed her so that all the bread she cut would bleed. This only lasted for 3 days of gore-loaves as then she died, rising from the grave to ride a white horse, carrying the same bloody knife. Other tales link her to the ancient goddess Epona, or as an embodiment of the moon and night. Who knows, regardless, she is the only one capable of standing against the previously mentioned Homem Do Chapéu De Ferro. She is seen as a benign figure, generally riding around freeing cattle and making a bit of noise. Not ideal, but could be much worse given she is undead, mounted and carrying a blade.
I couldn't find out much about the Xacia, which is unfortunate. They are the Galician mermaids and have the classic top-half human, bottom-half fish combo, and fortunately for them, they love the water.
Well Obrigado / Gracias for joining us on this jaunt through some of Iberia's regional folklore, we hope you have enjoyed it.
Till next time.