For the 4th of July weekend, my family and I went to the Jersey Shore. The Jersey Shore has a mixed reputation. My immediate thought conjures Snookies and stark tan lines. But staring at the sea, you forget about that. You think of strange creatures tucked behind the crest of the ocean. Of ghost tunes you almost heard, but when you turn around, you can’t imagine where it came from so you look back at the sea and shift a little in your seat.
People are familiar with the creatures in the sea from Western folklore. They know about verdant sea-glass in a mermaid’s hair, the sharp teeth of siren singing from a slick jetty. They know about water horses pounding hooves in the surf and leviathans napping in the tides.
But today, I’d like to direct your attention to other watery creatures. Diversify your list of monsters and mythical beings, so to speak. I’ve included some of these creatures in my own writing, but they need a home! Future writers, take note and snatch up these orphaned beings so they can find a loving, watery home in your worlds.
1. Makara; Hindu mythology; sea creature that boasts a half-terrestrial, half-aquatic form. Sometimes the creature wears a stag’s crest, an elephant’s trunk, a crocodile’s jaws and a whale’s tail. In Hindu mythology, the makara is the vehicle of the goddess of the river Ganga. In temples around the world, you’ll usually see makaras at the entrance as protectors and guardians to sanctuaries.
2. Su Iyesi; Turkish mythology; sea nymph who is usually incorporeal and intangible, but can take the form of a beautiful woman. Her eyes burn and she wears a fish’s tail. Sometimes, the Su Iyesi is linked to water related death tolls, storms and shipwrecks. Like the water, she can be terrible or benevolent.
3. Suvannamaccha; Cambodian/Thai mythology; a mermaid princess who holds a famous role in other Southeast Asian versions of the Ramayana. She tried to spoil the god Hanuman’s plans in rescuing Sita, but instead fell in love with him. In artistic depictions, she’s draped in gold scales and glimmers in the water.
4. Kappa; Japanese mythology; a water spirit that can be benevolent or tricksterish. There’s lots of legends about the kappa and its traits throughout regions in Japan, but its most consistently described as a being with a beak, a shell and a hollow crown on its head that is filled with water and is the source of the spirit’s power. Some legends mention that the kappa is obsessed with manners and can be tricked if the person who sees it executes a very deep bow.
5. Berberoka; Filipino mythology; swamp creature that sucks the water out of ponds, letting the fish swell to the surface so that unsuspecting passersby come to fish. Then, the creature attacks and swallows the traveler whole. Makes you wary of pools with abundant fish…
Below are two story recommendations that feature non-Western water spirits. They’re both gorgeously written. I highly recommend them!
- Shveta Thakrar’s “She Sleeps Beneath The Sea” about Indian naginis. http://www.faeriemag.com/products/faerie-magazine-issue-31-summer-2015
- Isabel Yap’s “A Cup of Salt Tears” about kappas http://www.tor.com/2014/08/27/a-cup-of-salt-tears-isabel-yap/
Happy Writing! Hope you all had a pleasant long-weekend!