Arguably worse than licorice: Black Annis

Happy (almost) Halloween! In honor of my favorite holiday, we’re going to cover a more traditional monster this month: a good old-fashioned baby-eating hag. Normally I shy away from doing monstrous witches (as I’ve noted on this blog before, the misogyny underlying the myths can get to be a bit much), but this particular witch is so fun that I could not pass up the opportunity. 

That winter skin tone

Blue hag
Like, this, only more blue.

Black Annis (also known as Black Anna, Black Anny, Black Agnes, and Cat Anna) seems, on the surface, to be a witch as stereotypical as a pumpkin spice latte. Hailing from Leicester, England, she’s got blue skin (like a Smurf! …Or a corpse) and a taste for human flesh. But Annis is no basic witch. If you’re looking for costume inspiration for your office Halloween party, look elsewhere. The iron talons replacing Annis’s hands will be difficult to type with, and her skirt of tanned children’s hides will certainly get you in trouble with HR (not to mention how difficult it will be to find a top to pair it with; many depictions of Annis have her with no top at all, which will definitely get you in trouble with HR). She doesn’t have a tell-tale hat or broomstick that would help your office workers guess what you are, and in some descriptions has only one eye.

Even if she doesn’t inspire social acceptable costumes, Black Annis looks pretty awesome. A 19th century poem describes her thus:

“‘Tis said the soul of mortal man recoiled

To view Black Annis’ eye, so fierce and wild

Vast talons, foul with human flesh, there grew

In place of hands, and features livid blue

Glared in her visage, whilst her obscene waist

Warm skins of human victims close embraced…”

There is a wealth of artistic interpretations of her out there, but none with permission to share, so I’ll just link to a few of my favorites here (and here and here and here and here) for you to get a taste.

It’s what you do that defines you

Tanning hide
Like this, only more f-ed up.

As cool as Black Annis looks, for me, monsters don’t come to life just by looking scary. It’s what they do. Here is where Annis gets really fun. Like any good bogeyman, she steals, skins, drinks the blood of, and eats children who wander too far into the woods. But that’s just her baseline. Annis has also been known to get creative, climbing up into trees so that she can jump down on unsuspecting passersby. If not enough people come to the woods, she comes into town. The people of 18th-century Leicester had to build their houses with as few and as narrow of windows as possible, fearing that Annis would wriggle her long, thin arms through any apertures and dig her talons into their children.

If she can’t get human flesh, Annis will rip apart farm animals. She is also a major-league teeth grinder, loud enough that if you are lucky, you can hear her coming and have a few precious moments to hide. Piss her off, and her howls will echo for miles. 

There is an account from 1942 that describes three children running into Black Annis around Christmas time. Just as the sun set, their stepmother sent them into the forest to collect wood. They begged her not to make them go, knowing that their only protection from Annis was daylight (which turns her to stone). But the stepmother insisted, and so into the dark they went. A snuffling noise caught their attention, and, unable to locate its source, they looked through their witch stone to see what it was. Through the hole, they saw Annis’s blue, hideous face leering at them. Screaming, the children dropped their sticks and fled. In her rush to give chase, Annis bloodied her shins on the sticks, and paused to tend to her wounds. Even though that gave the children a head start, and even though they ran with everything they had, Annis still caught them at their cottage door. 

That might have been the end of the them, if it had not been for their father. Hearing their screams, he came out and buried an ax in Annis’s face. Still she did not fall, screaming “BLOOD! BLOOD!” as she stumbled in the direction of her cave. Then the Christmas bells started to toll, and, at long last, she fell down dead.

But apparently not dead-dead, because stories about her persist.

Heeere’s Anny!

Cave
Like this, only with more skins.

Back in her heyday, Annis lived in a cave she dug with her own talons, decorated with (you guessed it!) human skin. 19th-century eyewitnesses described “Black Annis’s Bower” as 4-5 feet wide and 7-8 feet long, having a “ledge of rock, for a seat, running along each side.” Nowadays, the cave is filled in with earth, and a housing estate sits on the site where Annis once sat sucking on her bones. But it’s said that a tunnel once connected that cave with Leicester Castle, and that Annis haunts the area still

Where did Annis come from? Some say that she might be inspired by a nun (who really seemed to be an okay person, so idk) that took care of a leper colony in the late medieval period. Others think that maybe Annis was born of a cultural memory of real child sacrifices to an ancient goddess (!). Really, Annis could be based on any number of goddesses or mythical figures (including Hel, daughter of Loki and some time goddess of the underworld). 

Regardless of who thought her up, it’s hard to argue with Black Annis’s efficacy as a bogeyman.This Halloween, let’s honor her by growing our nails out, getting a little crazy with that turquoise eye shadow, and seeing just how deep we can wedge our arm into the couch to retrieve that long-lost, scrumdiddlyumptious Cheeze-It. 

Happy Halloween, everybody. 

What brand of umbrella would be best to shield oneself against a full-grown witch dropping out of a tree? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

IMAGE CRED: Marc Palm for the ogress; Ser Amantio di Nicolao for the tanning hide; David Quinn for the cave.

What a hoot: La Lechuza

When doing research for this blog, if I want to feature any kind of female monster I have to sift through a lot of moaning-ghost-who-lost-her-lover type of B.S. It’s almost as bad as your stereotypical “whoops we built [insert building] on an Indian burial ground.” Any legend that colors outside of those boxes is welcome.

La Lechuza colors outside of the box. She is probably one of the more recognizable monsters on this blog, at least to living along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Spanish speakers will recognize that her name translates to “the owl;” a simple name that hints at her elegant horror.

Sobs in the dark

A long time ago, after some townsfolk discovered that their neighbor was doing black magic, they killed her. As one would expect, she returned to take revenge on every generation thereafter. But there was a twist: she came back partially owl.

Or maybe it was that La Lechuza was once just a normal woman, who in exchange for magical powers made a terrible deal with the devil.

Seriously.

Or maybe she is many women, vengeful ghosts whose husbands were faithless or remarried after their deaths (*sigh*…those tired tropes again).

Though they might not be certain where she comes from, those that know la Lechuza know that if they hear strange sounds outside their door, they had better lock it tight and plug their ears. The classic Lechuza move is to wait outside someone’s house in the dark and then, with increasing urgency, to make sounds that replicate the cries of a human baby. If the heartless (or smart) human does not take the bait, she might try human whistles or trills. She will keep it up until the victim’s curiosity (or annoyance) get the better of them and they come outside.

What they find could drive them mad. As I mentioned before, la Lechuza is a hideous cross between woman and owl. She is big enough to carry a grown man off with her talons, and has a human enough face so you can read her expression as she watches you with her big, flat eyes. Some tales give her a beak; in others she has a mouth so that she can speak to you in her deep voice and ask you, for example, to hand over your newborn. Presumably she is also able to spin her head around (I found no accounts of that, but sincerely hope that it is the case).

So once you leave the safety of your house, you’re basically dead. Most Lechuza victims are carried off as food, fated to end up in a giant owl pellet ready to be dissected in hell’s elementary school.

Death and dented cars

Even if you don’t end up eaten (or have your offspring eaten) by la Lechuza, her presence means nothing good. She has long been considered an omen of death, and often leaves thunderstorms and other misfortunes in her wake.

Owlrighty then.

When not attacking people in their homes, she targets cars, especially along dark, deserted stretches of highway. Among her powers are the ability to neuter technology, so victims will suddenly find their battery dead as a giant owl runs them off the road.

An example: There was once a couple that thought la Lechuza was bunk. As they drove down a dry, empty road late one night, their windshield wipers abruptly squealed across the glass. The couple joked that it must be La Lechuza. Half a second later, something black loomed up ahead; they cursed and slammed on the brakes. It was a giant owl, perched on top of a phone pole, watching them. Hearts in their throats, the couple sped away, new Lechuza believers and lucky to be alive.

As if all of these offenses weren’t enough, La Lechuza is also known to carry out petty attacks. This includes pecking at people’s faces and tearing up their flesh (and clothes, I guess, but the flesh seems more important).

Basically, screw that meanie owl. Which brings me to my next point…

#^@&ing bird!

There are a a few ways that you can fight back against La Lechuza, but my favorite is to gustily cuss her out (though there are accounts of her killing you if you try). Apparently if you scream at her loudly and colorfully enough, she will leave you alone.

Finding royalty-free images for this post was a bit of a challenge.

A second exciting way of defending yourself is to blast la Lechuza with a shotgun. This, too, has varying results…presumably you have to get the shot right the first time, because you won’t get a second chance. Stories of success include an old woman disappearing for several weeks after a Lechuza was shot; when she finally emerged, it was with a limp. A more gruesome tale recalls a man shooting the Lechuza out of the sky and then finding a woman’s corpse bent over a high tree branch the following morning. (It is easier, I suppose, to think that the woman might be the dead Lechuza, rather than the victim of some heinous, more mortal crime.)

Prayer, trying seven knots in a rope, or asking for help from a curandera are also defense options, as is good old-fashioned salt. Personally, I think that a mixture of two or more probably wouldn’t hurt.

Of course, some say that La Lechuza isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you of something. But what fun is that?

Would calling la Lechuza a “flipping poopoo-head” be sufficient to save one’s life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

IMAGE CREDIT: Thank you Diego Delso of Wikimedia for the snowy owl; barloventomagico of Flickr for the creepy darkness owl, and Kellepics of Pixabay for the flexible lady.

You’ve goat to be kidding me: the Bokkenrijders

The venerable Paul Karle recently did me the service of sharing a quote from Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit:

“Serial murder may, in fact, be a much older phenomenon than we realize. The stories and legends that have filtered down about witches and werewolves and vampires may have been a way of explaining outrages so hideous that no one in the small and close-knit towns of Europe and early America could comprehend the perversities we now take for granted. Monsters had to be supernatural creatures. They couldn’t be just like us.”

-John E. Douglas

In another post brought to you by Humans are Terrible!™, let’s dig into a crime spree so monstrous that it was blamed on Satan himself, and the equally monstrous response to it.

Ignoble steeds

Zoom in on Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands. Look at any pictures of modern Limburg and you can almost hear the classical music play: It is full of gently rolling hills dotted with the occasional patch of forest, exactly the type of imagery you’d expect to find under generic inspirational messages about wholesomeness or peace.

Bokkenrijder
A handsomely dressed bokkenrijder dude.

But back in the 18th century, especially on nights with a full moon, you would not have wanted to be caught in that quiet countryside alone. Voices echoed over the hills, cackles and hoots booming down from the black sky. If you looked up, you might see a group of men leering back at you, fingers clutched in the fur of unnaturally large, flying goats.

Satan gifted these goats (or bucks, because I guess goats without horns would not be demonic enough) to whatever outlaw would pledge himself to him. Night after night, his bokkenrijder (or buckrider) gangs soared through the sky, seeding terror wherever they went.

Preposterous deeds

You can imagine the kind of shenanigans that the brigands got up to when they had volitant goats as their getaway car. The bokkenrijders conducted raids throughout the peaceful countryside, robbing and beating all in their path, especially wealthy farm or church owners. As they flew, they could be heard crying “Across houses, across gardens, across stakes, even across Cologne into the wine cellar!” (One assumes that this refrain was born deep in the bowels of said wine cellar.) They trampled people under the hooves of their monstrous goats (*cue Grandma Got Runover By a Bokkenrijder soundtrack*) and drank potions in a bizarre gang initiation ritual that secured their pact with the devil.

Burning farmhouse
Real dick move, bokkenrijders.

Even people that may not have been legit bokkenrijders got on the bandwagon, capitalizing on their reputation to extort money from the terrified countryfolk. There are accounts of “fire letters” being delivered to wealthy farm owners by self-professed bokkenrijders–notes saying essentially “give me money, or I’ll use my Satanic skills to burn your house to the ground.”

One has to wonder if it was bold moves like this that eventually got the rijders into more earthly trouble.

Some suspect leads

Limburg officials began to investigate where these bokkenrijders were coming from, and reported back with some whackadoodle stuff.

Satan
“Let’s all get goaty with it.” -Satan

Reddit’s /NoSleep includes one take on the story. Late one night, ordinary robbers made the mistake of trying to escape law enforcement by running into a strange patch of woods. There, they happened upon a crossroads. The full moon illuminated a sign scribbled over with old Dutch, “Devil” prominent among the words.  The outlaws read the sign aloud (as one always should upon coming across something that is clearly a summoning spell), and a horned figure emerged from between the trees to offer them a sweet, goaty deal.

A few of the brigands said “hell no” (get it?) and escaped back to civilization, choosing to face the noose rather than the guy who left hoofprints in his wake. These were the ones who allegedly brought this bokkenrijder origin story to town, where it spread like arson fire.

Church-sanctioned bleeds

Keep in mind that all of this was happening at a time where a lot of people were struggling to make ends meet, and only the wealthy were getting by. It’s not surprising that some turned to crime. Sure, the burning things and the hurting people and the bringing ole’ Satan into it was not cool. But I think it’s safe to say that the retribution went a wee bit overboard. Some even say that officials might have invented the bokkenrijder myth themselves in order to justify their obscenely violent crackdown on thieves.

Between 1730 and 1780, hundreds were killed in a wave witch trials for bokkenrijders. In typical witch trial fashion, most of the victims were innocent and confessed only under pain of torture. They didn’t have a bright future once they did. Bokkenrijder executions were brutal, even for the time: People were strangled at the stake and then burned, had their hands cut off and then burned, or were simply burned alive. It was bad enough that one dude stabbed himself until he died, presumably to avoid the heinous execution in store.

Bokkenrijder statue
One of many bokkenrijder statues.

In spite of this outsized retribution (or maybe because of it), the power of the bokkenrijder myth persisted. Today, it continues to persist, albeit as a historical relic in the form of statues and business names. I think that the takeaways from this story are simple:

1) Trust not your fellow man.

2) Trust goats even less.

Have you ever been trampled by a goat? Share your story in the comments below.

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons for the poster (by Theo Molkenboer) and Satan’s face (artist not machine readable (…!)); Pixabay’s kolyaeg for the burning house; and Flickr’s Crossroads for the statue.