Did you know that the Russians believe in the Leshi, a dangerous creature who tickles its victims to death, or that St. George was actually a Roman solider? Do you want to know which mythical creature sneaks into Japanese bathrooms to lick them clean? Amaze your friends with stories of mischievous gods, unbelievable beasts, and the gullible people who believed in them! This book is packed with the wildest, weirdest, funniest, filthiest, foulest, wisest, grossest, brainiest, and best facts about myths and legends.
About the Author
Chris Mitchell is the author of The Breaking Bad Cookbook.
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How Many Greeks Can You Fit Inside a Horse?
By Chris Mitchell, Andrew Pinder
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Chris Mitchell
All rights reserved.
'GODZILLA IS COMING!!!'
The Japanese have an extremely unfair idea that enormous walking scaly green reptiles are something to be afraid of. If they met me they would see that we are really very gentle creatures and wouldn't hurt a fly! Unless it's a mealtime, in which case my stomach sometimes gets the better of me ...
Godzilla isn't actually a dinosaur. In fact, its name means 'Gorilla-Whale', which is a bit confusing because it looks like neither a gorilla, nor a whale. However, the famous Japanese monster is supposedly descended from dinosaurs and spent millions of years lurking in the depths of the ocean until nuclear radiation released during World War Two mutated it into the creature that has destroyed Japan and Tokyo dozens of times.
Of course, Godzilla isn't real ... but that hasn't stopped it starring in twenty-eight films (and counting) and having its own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Shinjuku, in Tokyo, even had a ceremony to honour Godzilla and make it an 'official cultural ambassador' – despite Godzilla destroying Shinjuku three times in movies!
Although Godzilla is the most famous of them, the Japanese believe in more than one monster stalking their islands. In fact, if you listen to all of their tall stories you might think you can't leave home without bumping into a demon or worse. But here are five of the strangest:
5. If you ever find yourself in a public toilet in Japan, avoid using the last stall at all costs. Because if you do, while you are sitting there you could receive a visit from the Aka Manto, a devilish demon who haunts the loo while bizarrely wearing a cape and a mask.
He will stick his hand under the door and ask you if you want red or blue toilet paper. Choose the red ... and he'll slice you up until your clothes are red! Choose the blue ... and he'll strangle you until your face is blue! And choose anything else ... he'll drag you down into the underworld with him. It's a bit of a lose-lose-lose situation really. The only way out of it is to say 'no paper.'
4. Traditionally, Japanese houses had walls made of paper, and the Mokumokuren are relatively harmless spirits that live inside these walls. If the paper gets ripped then the Mokumokuren's eyes can be seen watching everything you do from the holes in the walls ... creepy!
But, at least one traveller is said to have kept his head, and eyes, about him when he slept one night in an abandoned building. He woke up to see hundreds of eyes staring down at him, and instead of running away like a normal person he took out his knife, cut the eyes from the walls and sold them to an eye doctor for a tidy profit.
3. The Kappa are turtle-like river demons that are very polite and friendly ... until they trick you into getting in the water, where they drown you and suck your blood! Fortunately, there are a couple of easy ways to get rid of a Kappa.
The first is that they get their power from a small cup of water on the tops of their heads, and if it spills they become paralysed. A good trick if you see one is to bow to them – they are so polite that they are forced to bow back and the water goes sloshing out.
The second is they have a secret weakness ... for cucumbers! It's the only food they like more than blood, and if you give them one not only will they spare your life, they'll even grant you favours. So, if you're planning to go for a quick dip, best to bring your veg with you.
2. The Bake-Kujira, which translates to 'ghost-whale', is a huge 20-metre-long whale. Which isn't too uncommon in Japan, except that this whale is dead. The rotting car-cass is just a skeleton with stinking flesh hanging off it – a truly gruesome sight. The Bake-Kujira is said to be incredibly aggressive, attacking whaling ships whenever it spots them and, what's worse, if you fire a harpoon at it, it will just sail through without doing any damage.
But worst of all, if you are unlucky enough to spot one, but lucky enough to survive the encounter, then a curse comes down on your entire village, bringing famine and plague with it. Maybe it's better just to die!
1. The most bizarre mythological creature in all of Japan, if not in the entire world, is the Akaname, whose name translates as 'filth-licker'. He is a little goblin-like demon who, like the Aka Manto, loves to hang around in bathrooms. This slimy, naked creature crawls around the bathroom at night and licks up any grime, dirt ... or worse ... that it finds in a toilet.
While this is truly disgusting, it might seem like a pretty good idea to have something come in and clean your bathroom while you sleep. Unfortunately, his tongue is poisonous, so the more he laps up, the more likely you are to catch a horrible disease. Best to do the scrubbing up yourself I think!CHAPTER 2
The Maori people arrived in New Zealand on canoes (they must have been big canoes!) in the thirteenth century, and brought with them a Polynesian (a term we scientists use for the small islands dotted around the Pacific Ocean) mythology to describe the world around them – things like the sun and the moon, the wind, death, the seasons – that is poetic, beautiful and incredibly unscientific. As someone with a PhD in Universal Knowledge, I find it exceedingly annoying, but I do understand that not everyone has access to my wonderful learnatorium so I have to make allowances.
The Birth of New Zealand
Maui was the youngest in a family of boys, and longed for the day he could go out fishing with his brothers. They would tease him, saying that he was too little, and so skinny that they would mistake him for a piece of bait and throw him overboard. However, Maui had a secret – he possessed magic. And this is where the story gets better.
He took a mystical jawbone he had lying around and made a magic fishing line with it, snuck onto his brothers' waka (boat) and went out to sea with them. When he revealed himself to them they were angry with him and blamed him for their lack of success at fishing that day. They wanted to take him home, so he cast a spell that meant that the shore seemed further away than it actually was, and they continued rowing out to sea. It only made things worse when he took out his ridiculous jawbone fishing line and asked his brothers for bait.
They made fun of him and wouldn't give him anything to use, so he punched his own nose and smeared his blood all over the jawbone before hurling it into the ocean. His brothers were howling with laughter, but soon stopped when the line went taut and Maui snagged the biggest fish any of them had ever seen.
After a huge battle between Maui and the fish, he dragged it to the surface and it turned out to be the biggest fish the world had ever seen. While Maui went home to get help with the fish, his brothers began arguing over who would get credit for the catch and the fight turned violent – they began smashing each other and the fish, taking huge chunks out of it.
In the end, the fish was too huge to move, and over time it became the North Island of New Zealand, with the gashes and mounds the brothers had created becoming the valleys and mountains. The waka the brothers went out in became the South Island, and that's how New Zealand came to be.
And if you know any fishermen, who are known for exaggerating, with a taller tale than that, I will be very surprised!CHAPTER 3
Ireland is a wild land, and it was once populated by huge giants, the most famous of whom was Fionn MacCumhail. He lived a fairly exciting life and had many adventures, but he is best known for being the person who created the Isle of Man and the Giant's Causeway – a group of huge rocks off the coast of Ireland.
Of course, you and I both know that a) giants never existed and b) both the Isle of Man and the Giant's Causeway were created by well-known geographical phenomena. Not, as the legend goes, when Fionn ripped up part of Ireland to hurl at an approaching enemy and missed, thus creating the Isle of Man. But this is a book of myth and legend, not of fact and science, so here is the story of how Fionn created the Giant's Causeway:
Fionn MacCumhail wanted to get across the sea to Scotland, but as a giant he wasn't a great swimmer, and he didn't particularly want to get his feet wet, so instead he ripped up a number of large rocks and began building a bridge of stepping stones – the Giant's Causeway – to get across.
However, as he was working he heard the approach of a truly giant Scottish giant called Benandonner, who was so enormous he made Fionn look puny. Benandonner wasn't impressed with Fionn's bridge and was spoiling for a fight, much like when two T-rex used to meet back in the good old days. Fionn panicked, and didn't know what to do ... If he fought, he was sure to lose, and have you ever been on the wrong side of a giant's punch? It's not a pleasant experience.
Fortunately, his wife Oona was close by, and the clever Fionn dressed himself up as a baby. When Benandonner came looking for him, Oona told him Fionn wasn't there, but his baby was – would he like to see him? Benandonner took one look at the 'baby' and was terrified. If Fionn's baby was that big, then how big would he be? He turned tail and fled, leaving a relieved Fionn behind.
Sensibly, Fionn decided to abandon his stepping stone project, and the Giant's Causeway will forever be there, just off the coast of Ireland, as proof.
Leprechauns are the most famous mythological creatures in Ireland. These little sprites keep mainly to themselves, spending their time mending shoes or hiding pots of gold at the end of rainbows. However, they are incredibly mischievous (possibly because they are often drunk – although not as much as their lesser known cousins the Clurichaun, who are almost the same as Leprechauns, except their sole reason to be is to drink alcohol and cause drunken destruction!) and play tricks on farmers and villagers, such as riding on the backs of their sheep or dogs at night to move them to unexpected places.
They generally bear no ill will to humans, although that didn't help the poor woman who was once captured by a group of them and, because of their love of music and dancing, was forced to dance so much over the next eight years that her toes fell off! However, they are by no means the only mythological creature wandering the Irish countryside, although they are the only ones that will grant you three wishes if you capture them.
Banshees are best avoided at all costs. These fairy women can be heard wailing across the fields of rural Ireland, and if you spot one then it means someone in your family is sure to die. Even King James I was said to have seen one just before his death.
The Abhartach is something like a vampire-dwarf – effectively an evil dwarf who sucks blood. Our hero Fionn was the first to kill one of these, only for it to come back to life the next day seeking more victims. The only way to subdue it for good is to bury it upside-down head-first.
If you ever see a Leprechaun wearing red, beware. It is most likely a Far Darrig. These little creatures are said to have been men who wandered into the world of fairies by accident, and now spend their days warning other people from making the same mistake. They are fairly grumpy though, and tend to do irritating things like give humans nightmares and fool them into carrying corpses along roads for miles, thinking they are something other than dead bodies.
However, if one comes to your door in the dead of night, do let it in for a cup of tea. If you make it angry with you, it has the habit of switching babies for changelings – the children of fairies who are pretty mischievous themselves to say the least!
The Caoranach isn't a monster you will have to worry about on a trip to Ireland because St Patrick slew her after a two-day battle centuries ago (and also she's mythical, so was never actually real in the first place). The Caoranach lived in a lair that was said to be the gateway to the underworld, and she gave birth to demons and devils by the dozen, who would terrorise the nearby villagers. Fortunately, St Patrick put paid to her in an epic fight, and rumour has it at one point he allowed himself to be swallowed whole by the fiendish beast before hacking his way out from the inside with a crucifix.
It's stories like that which remind me to always make sure I chew my animals properly when I'm eating, rather than just swallow them whole. It's unlikely a cow will do to me what St Patrick did to the Caoranach, but you can never be too careful.CHAPTER 4
Like me, the Ancient Egyptians were smarter, more civilized and more cultured than anyone else in the world at the time. While they were building enormously complex stone pyramids and statues in the warmth of the desert, pretty much everyone else was freezing their butts off in mud huts – if they were lucky!
However, for all of my respect for their scientific and technological prowess, they still believed things that no dinosaur in his (or her) right mind could think were true.
The Egyptian gods were a pretty ugly bunch – and that's coming from a Tyrannosaurus rex! In general, they were normal humans from the shoulders down, but with the heads of animals on top. Khnum, the God of the Nile River, was no different because he had the head of a ram, and just to make things a little weirder, his head was green.
Despite these apparent disadvantages, the Egyptians had great respect for Khnum. They believed he sat at his potter's wheel all day crafting little human babies out of the Nile's clay before magically implanting them in the wombs of soon-to-be mothers. I can almost see where they were coming from ... the Nile was the source of life in the dry Egyptian desert. But as a scientist I have to put my claw down at the idea of being made of clay.
A Trip to the Underworld
Se-Osiris was the greatest magician Egypt had ever seen. When he was still a child he stood with his father Setna, who was pretty dim compared to him, and watched as two funeral processions went by. One procession, for a rich man, was expensive and filled with many priests and great offerings. The other was for a poor man, who had just a wooden coffin and his two sons to carry him.
Setna turned to his son and said, 'I hope one day to have a funeral like the rich man's.' The wise Se-Osiris was scornful and said he hoped for just the opposite – which really annoyed his father, I can tell you! The slow-witted Setna thought his son hated him, but Se-siris said it was just the opposite, and that if he didn't believe him then he could take a trip with him to the Underworld to see for himself.
Now, nobody had ever been to the Underworld and lived to tell the tale, so when Setna's young son said this he must have been pretty sceptical (almost as sceptical as I am about whether this story actually happened or not ...). Se-Osiris was insistent though, so they went to a temple and Se-Osiris mumbled a spell and threw down some magic powder and – hey presto! – suddenly their souls were free from their bodies and floating up in the air.
Se-Osiris (who knew a bit too much about all this for a human kid in my opinion ...) told his father they had to hurry because if they were caught in the Underworld by the time the sun next came up, they would be trapped there forever. And that wouldn't be a very good ending to the story. So off they flew, swifter than an arrow from an Ethiopian's bow.
The flying pair of souls quickly made it through Egypt and, thanks to Se-Osiris's magic, found the boat of Re that carried dead souls through the many lands of the Underworld to be judged by Anubis. Although most of the lands were peaceful and happy, there were some gruesome reminders of the violence and pain that awaited you if you failed the judging – like one poor fellow whose eye was gouged out and the empty socket used as a pivot for a door, so that every time the door opened or closed he was in excruciating pain.
Eventually, all of the newly-dead souls were brought in front of a great throne where Osiris, the greatest of the gods, and Anubis waited to judge them. Se-Osiris pointed out to his foolish father the scales on which Anubis was going to weigh their hearts, and also the two souls of the rich and poor men whose funerals they had seen.
Pretty soon it was their turn to have their hearts weighed, and the rich man stepped up first. Anubis took his heart, which must have been fairly grisly, placed it on the scales and put the Feather of Truth on the other scale. The rich man, who was pretty nervous at this point, watched in horror as the heart sank further and further until suddenly from the shadows Ammit, the Devourer of the Dead, the Eater of Hearts, who was a demon-dog, leapt up and scoffed it down. Osiris saw this and said, 'Take this man to Duat to dwell with Apep the Terrible in the Pits of Fire!' In case you're as slow as some of your teachers ... the Pits of Fire aren't a great place to be.
The poor man stepped up next, and if he wasn't worried before, he certainly was now! His heart was taken by Anubis, placed on the scales and ... it rose up as far as it could go. Osiris saw this and sent him into the Field of Peace, where everything he loved in the world could be found – an altogether better proposition than the Pits of Fire.
Swiftly, Se-Osiris led his father back to their bodies, and they got back just in the nick of time to see the sun rise. And to this day they are the only humans to have ever visited the realms of the dead, which I think is even more impressive when you take into account the fact that the realms of the dead don't actually exist!
Everyone knows how much the Egyptians loved their mummies! Even your history teacher could probably tell you that the rulers of Egypt were called pharaohs and were embalmed and buried in the great pyramids. But they weren't the only mummies you could find in Ancient Egypt.
Archaeologists have found thousands of mummified animals – everything from cats and birds to crocodiles and monkeys were wrapped up and buried. The Egyptians did this for a number of reasons: sometimes as offerings to the gods, sometimes so the human mummy could eat the animal mummy in the afterlife, and sometimes just because the animal was the favourite pet of the dead human! And the Egyptians really did love their pets. In fact, cats were considered so sacred that to kill one was punishable by death!
Excerpted from How Many Greeks Can You Fit Inside a Horse? by Chris Mitchell, Andrew Pinder. Copyright © 2015 Chris Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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