OCEAN LUKELORE Hello everyone, welcome to Lukelore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. This episode? Ocean monsters! Carrying on from River Monsters, and hopefully soon followed by Miscellanious Waterways monsters, as a part of our ongoing Ghost Story Guys PSA: NATURE.
Stay out of it. Especially trees and water. Let’s start strong and obvious here: We’re talking sea monsters? We’re talking The Kraken.
Pretty much everyone has surely heard of the Kraken by know. A giant squid or octopus big enough to smash up a ship, plucking the unluckily snack sized sailors up in its many tentacles to drop into its gaping maw. From Jules Verne to Pirates of the Caribbean, the Kraken is pretty well known with tales retold across the centuries. The original tales seem to be Nordic in origin. The oldest written tales being in 1180 by King Sverre of Norway. The Kraken was thought to roam from the coasts of Norway to around Greenland and Iceland, being a threat to any boat unwary enough to cross its path. Any boat too much to attack head on being dealt with by stirring up a maelstrom to suck the ship underwave, from there the delicious morsels the Kraken wanted won’t have time to drown before being devoured. Fish are said to follow in the wake of the Kraken in large numbers though, so the brave and the foolish can risk drawing its attention should they want to try and make a good catch before theoretically getting away safely.
There are a few possible mundane explanations for tales of the Kraken. First up, ships used to be a lot smaller. When the Polynesians, the Vikings, and the Greeks were booking it all over the place can you imagine how terrifying it would be seeing the washed up corpse of a giant squid? Giant squid are some serious Thalassophobia fuel as it is, fear of what may be lurking in the unknown depths. Giant squid HAVE been recorded as attacking modern ships, typically coming to a bad end on the propellors, and these old ships were significantly smaller than a modern day cruise liner or even old Empire Galleons. A giant squid as it is could very likely flip one and whacking at it with oars will be a lot less effective than a turbine powered propeller in seeing one off. But even if you just see a beached corpse of a giant squid, see this horrific betentacled THING from the depths, your imagination could definitely run wild. Can they get bigger, what if this was a baby? Scratch that, how did this die? DID SOMETHING BIGGER KILL THIS MONSTROSITY? There’s also a bit of a dumb and rude possible theory from recent discourse. Blue whales can cavort a bit on the surface when mating, and… Well, they are the largest mammals. In every way. Urgh… The theory goes that waving blue whale dongs in great enough numbers at a distance could look a bit Kraken-y. “What the hell is that?” is certainly the correct response to what a sailor was seeing here, but they were barking up the wrong tree with what exact terror was violating their eyes. Okay, from a stone cold classic to an underated mythological monstrosity: Scylla. I’ve seen people try to lump Scylla in as a Mediterranean variation of the Kraken, but that’s really selling short just how terrifying Scylla is. Scylla’s origin varies in the details but are all at their core very typically Greek. Scylla was a damn fine looking water nymph that people lusted after, and someone jealous cursed her into a monstrosity.
Gaius Julius Hyginus, an author from a little over 2,000 years ago, gives an absolutely brilliant description of Scylla. This is definitely the one which has stuck with me from childhood. Once transformed by a poison, Scylla grew 6 heads. Each head having four eyes and three rows of shark’s teeth, her body became 12 tentacles with a ring of 6 dog’s heads around what was her waist and having a cat’s tail for good measure. She was featured in the Odyssey, where Scylla was risked as the lesser of two potential giant sea monsters and Odysseus nearly made it around the Rock of Scilla in Calabria but he got complacent while watching out for the larger monster Charybdis, allowing her to burst out of the depths to grab up 6 sailors, one for each head to snack on, before eating them very noisily alive.
Here’s a nice pretentious first for LukeLore… Let’s quote a translation of Homer! "...they writhed
gasping as Scylla swung them up her cliff and there
at her cavern's mouth she bolted them down raw—
screaming out, flinging their arms toward me,
lost in that mortal struggle." I mentioned the Polynesian people with my Kraken round up, but that was a Nordic local and the Polynesian people had their own versions of giant multi armed sea monsters.
I can only apologise for the terrible pronunciations to follow, but I’m going to do my best…
The Maori have a legend of the giant octopus Te Wheke-a-Muturangi, which was fought to the death in a couple of stories. In some by Kupe the Navigator and in some by the Ngati Ranginui ancestor Tamatea. There’s some argument here over which is the more authentic, and if one plundered the myth from the other, which I’m really not qualified to wade in on. Myth is frequently an amalgam, and there’s very rarely a single definitive story you can trace back to as The Definitive One. Te Wheke-a-Muturangi was an octopus with a body three arm-spans long and each of its eight arms being five arm-spans a piece. No blockbuster movie CGI Kraken, but don’t forget what I said about the size of boats pre-dating the days of Imperial Expansion. This is not a fight most people are going to win! The Wheke was a guardian creature sent to battle the hero in some stories, initially beaten by cutting off an arm with a handy adze (ADZ) tool and then chased to its lair to finish the monster off.
Te Wheke-a-Muturangi can also refer to a series of paths across the Pacific ocean being the tentacles of the Wheke.
There’s a Kraken name check within the French Polynesian tradition, as their name “Taumata-Fe’e-Fa’atupu-Hau” is usually translated as the Grand Kraken Octopus of Prosperity. That may just be the translators being Eurocentric though now I think on that one… Not all monsters are gigantic, some are sneakier. South America has the Encantado, a type of dolphin with evil magical powers. Not the obvious evil monster, although dolphins CAN be right horrible gits when you look deeper into their behaviour, and let’s face it, as Terry Pratchett wrote: “Never trust a species that grins all the time.”. They’re clearly up to SOMETHING.
The threat here comes from their cunning on top of their magic. The Encantado can disguise themselves as humans, roaming freely where they will should they want to, and they are drawn to music festivals where they like to attend as musicians. They’re usually friendly enough, but they have a nasty habit of taking a liking to human girls they can hypnotise with their magic to drag away to their underwater city Ecante. A disguised Encantado will usually be wearing a hat they keep on at all times, as they have a very distinctive small bald spot that is their disguised blowhole.
Purely looking at folklore as cautionary tales, the Encantado is one heck of a double threat. Not only be careful at the water’s edge, but also beware of strangers. Not all that many sea monsters are reported outside of mythology, certainly not in a similar way to lake monsters that are tied in to the folklore of associated long term settlements, which seem to have a stronger ongoing tradition. I mean, don’t feel safe or anything, because there’s plenty of missing ships all the damn time, and the most dangerous monster is the one you don’t catch, but there are plenty of examples of something else to be had here. Mysterious hard to identify creatures that wash ashore with the brilliant name of Globsters. As in they’re a monster glob.
Globster is such a great portmanteau.
Globsters are an opportunity for people to come together, random passersby and scientists alike, collectively saying: “Holy crap, what the hell was that? I’m glad it’s dead, BUT WHAT IF THERE ARE MORE?” Thankfully a Globster will usually turn out to be a known sea creature that just happened to rot in a terrifying way, which Poseidon then chucked onto a beach for a laugh to see how humans react. The bigger the creature in life, the weirder the monstrous corpse can get.
The St. Augustine Monster that washed ashore on the coast of Florida in 1896 was such a weird mess that people initially thought it must be a giant octopus, yet instead turned out to be the collagenous matrix of a sperm whale’s blubber that had come loose during decomposition. Both the Bermuda Blob and Bermuda Blob 2, great naming there guys, of 1988 then 1997 were both whale carcasses. The first Bermuda Blob was excitedly embraced as a cryptid, but later genetic analysis techniques of the stored remains sadly proved it was weird whale leftovers. Bermuda Blob 2: Mystery Corpse Bugaloo was similarly proven to be whale adipose in a 2004 tissue analysis, not unlike the St Augustine Monster. Differences in rates of decomposition across the parts of a whale, along with the rate at how scavengers attack these parts, can leave a weird looking free floating chunk of whale not normally found outside of their insides. But some of these festering corpses spat out of the dark depths aren’t so mundanely explained…
The Stronsay Beast is a famous Globster that was washed up on the Orkney Islands of Scotland in 1808 after a storm. Initially terrifying everyone by being 55 feet in length, or 16.8 metres, with a 10 foot or 3.1 metre circumference. As big as that was, it was also with a chunk of tail missing so could have been a lot longer. It was decided at the time to be some form of new sea serpent and so, in honour of Erik Pontoppidan who had written about sea serpents in the 1700s, it was given the scientific name Halsydrus pontoppidani.
Spoilsports have tried to say it was just a rotting basking shark, since they can hit a stage of decomposition where they’re apparently a pseudo-plesiosaur. A typical enough Globster to have a neat term for it. But for true believers that the ocean depths are full or terrors, there’s a few details that don’t match up here. Basking sharks come in at 36 feet, or 11 metres, which is pretty shy of the Stronsay Beast even without speculating how much tail was missing. The Beast was supposed to have had three pairs of either “wings” or “paws” that combined with bristled fins, these same bristles also making a mane all down its back. Said bristles were reported as glowing in the dark when wet. None of which sounds like a rotting basking shark! That’s more than enough for this episode: Screw the ocean, it is filled with terrors.
I would like to again apologise to the assorted Polynesian people’s names whose pronunciations I did my best with. I would rather stumble trying than leave out such an important seafaring culture when I’m talking about oceanic folklore, though.
I found tackling the oceans weirdly difficult, but I reckon I can dig deeper on this one. I shall master my Thalassophobia and return at some point, although it may be classical mythology heavy again. I do kind of love me some classics though, let me know if you enjoyed how this deeper dive turned out.
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