Fact or Fiction
Who would think,
watching the humble spider, that one such creature lived as Arachne,
a proud and beautiful maiden? Now few people admire Arachne - she
scuttles on spindly legs, fangs swivel in greedy mouth, and she sees
the world through four pairs of beady eyes.
As a girl, Arachne
could weave better than anyone. She thought her work so wonderful
that she challenged Athene, the goddess of the homely arts, to best
her in a contest. Thinking that she would teach Arachne a lesson, the
The girl and the
goddess sat at their looms. Athene's work was soon finished - perfect
in design and execution. Meanwhile, the finest cloth in the world as
Arachne wove. Pale with fury, Athene realized that it depicted the
failings of the gods.
Athene tore the
fragile cloth and cried, "Since you have such a talent for weaving,
let it be your task for evermore." As soon as the words were spoken,
Arachne felt her skillful hands shrink and curve into tiny spinning
organs. She saw her skin turn hard and shiny. Her entire body
shrivelled up. She had become a spider. To this day, the curse of the
goddess follows her - Arachne still spins and weaves her perfect
On his long
wanderings across the seas, the great Odysseus came to an island
where the Cyclops, a race of terrible giants, lived. Each Cycop stood
as tall as a pine tree, and in the middle of his forehead shone just
one eye. The eye was always on the lookout for prey, for the giants
loved to feast on human flesh.
Odysseus and his men
came ashore and decided to go to sleep in a cave. When they awoke,
they were not alone. A Cyclop had spotted them as he sheltered some
goats in a cave. Now he wanted them for a meal and would not let them
Odysseus thought of a
ruse. He offered the giant some wine and soon the drunken Cyclop was
asleep. Odysseus rammed a sharp wooden stake into the giant's eyeand
blinded him. With a scream, the giant woke up. He flung himslef
across the cave opening and blocking it, so the men could not get
At length it was time
for the flock to be let out. As the animals filed past, the Cyclop
checked that no-one was trying to crawl out between them, but did not
touch the beasts themselves. This was a mistake wily Odysseus had
expectec. Thus hanging upside down from the shaggy underbelly of the
goats, the hero and his men escaped to freedom.
It is believed that
Cyclops having two eyes preyed to an evil god for the ability to see
the future. The evil god tricked Cyclops and took away one eye and in
return the only future that they see, is their death.
Famed is the dragon
of legend, both in the West and in the East. The Eastern dragon is
possessed of immense grace and power. It's long, lithe body is
covered in brightly coloured scales and a wild mane frames its
camel-like face. Large antlers sprout like graceful coral branches
from its head.
Such a wondrous
creature takes a long time to grow. It takes a thousand years for a
dragon's egg to hatch. The infant dragon resembles a small snake a
little betrays its great destiny. After a thousand years more, it
acquires strong clawed feet and another thousand years later, the
later is fully fledged.
Dragons live wild and
free, and are masters of wind and water. They sleep in palaces of
jade and rock crystal deep under rivers and seas and, when they wake,
ethey fly high in the sky, looping and dancing on the wind. They can
summon up storms and rain, and also bring great bounties.
A dragon's tooth can
cure madness, and the pearl a treasure-guarding dragon possesses is a
great boon. It guarantees health and riches. Indeed, so mighty is the
the dragon that it has become the symbol of the most powerful man in
He who would confront
a magic army needs some magic of his own. How else would one, however
bold, fight against living skeletons? Their bones creak and crackle,
and their faces are stripped of all flesh, but no mortal can overcome
Long ago, a king
versed black arts up such a deathly force prevent the great hero
Jason from winning a fleece made of gold. The skeletons were born of
dragon's teeth that the king tricked Jason into sowing.
As soon as it touched
the ground, each tooth turned into a menacing skeleton, brandishing a
sword. Soon the skeletal warriors were winning. Luckily, the kings
own daughter, the sorceress Medea, had taught Jason how to defeat her
father's magic. Jason threw a small, smooth stone into the midst of
the surging army.
skeletons started to fight among themselves. Bleached skulls flew
through the air, arm and leg bones piles on the ground. The skeletons
destroyed each other, and Jason went on to claim the precious fleece.
Bracery helped him succeed, but not without the help of
Long ago, when the
world was young, people discovered the secret of fire. Duku, the
Monitor Lizard, had had the brightest hearth. People admired Duku. He
had long curved claws for digging out crocodile eggs, and a tough,
scaly skin covered his body. His strength was immense and few would
have dared tussle with him.
One day, there came a
terrible storm. The heavens opened, enormous waves lashed the shore,
and soon a flood destroyed the houses and put out nearly all the
Duku's fire was
drenched, but he managed to save one log. It still red and hot. The
lizard carried it to a tall tree, and started climbing. He put the
log in his jaws, but the log burned his lips. In the anguish. Duku
called to his wife, a clever, agile civet cat. She grabbed the log
with her claws and sped to the tallest branches. There, she and Duke
kept the embers aglow, under a large leaf for protection against the
At last, the storm
abated and the flood ebbed away. Duke and his wife came down, and
showed the people the still-burning log. The people were overwhelmed
with gratitude, for who can do withour fire? The Monitor Lizard has
been held in respect ever since.
sometimes attend gods and goddesses. When the god Osiris was
murdered, his sorrowful wife searched for his body, escorted by seven
scorpions. The creatures scuttled about her wherever she went, their
tails arched in menace.
At length Isis found
Osiris's coffin, built into the central pillar of a great queen's
palace. To be near Osiris, Isis became a nurse to the monarchs son.
As time went by, Isis grew fond of the child. One night, however, the
queen took a peep into the nursery, and screamed in horror at what
she saw. The little prince had been thrown into a great fire, and
Isis's scorpions were surrounding the blaze.
When Isis heard the
cries, she turned to the queen and said "Oh queen, the flames my
scorpions are watching over would have bestowed eternal life upon
your son, and now you have broken the spell. Woe be you! Now you will
remain an ordinary mortal."
Then Isis left,
taking her scorpion escort and the central pillar of the palace. With
the help of other gods, Isis revived her husband, but the couple
could not come back to our world. Isis and Osiris became the lords of
Rats of Hamelin
For as long as
time itself, people have feared rats. Rats hide inside houses and
slip unseen through walls and passages, spreading dirt and disease.
Indeed, long ago, it was rats that carried the Black Death all over
The mountain town of
Hamelin once became so infested with rats that the councillors
offeres a reward to anyone who could get rid of the rodents. A
stranger came to town, playing a merry tune on a thin silver pipe. He
offered to do the job.
He started playing a
fast tune, and rats appeared from every house. In their thousands,
they followed the piper down to the river. As the tune got even
faster, the rats jumped into the river and drowned.
When the piper
claimed his claimed his reward, the councillors refused to pay him.
What could a poor piper do to them? The stranger picked up his silver
pipe and started to play a wonderful new tune.
As he made his way
through town, children rushed out to hear him. They followed him as
he climbed up the mountain, they were with him when the mountain
opened, and they stayed with him inside after the mountain closed.
The children were never seen again, and the people of Hamelin did rue
the day when they failed to keep their promise.
It is whispered that
powerful spirits haunt many pools and streams. They are the ghosts of
young girls who drowned and became one of the pitiless Rusalki, or
water maidens. Such ghostly maidens appear in many guises: the
loveliest are as sweet as spring, draped in dresses of mist. But some
drowned girls are not so lucky - they turn into terrifying hags.
Their skin rots and becomes grey,their eyes bulge in dreadful menace
and their wet, tangled hair hangs sadly about their pale
The mere sight of
these spectres can strike fear into the stoutest heart. Danger from
water maidens is greatest in the wintertime, when they spend long
months dwelling in rivers and ponds. At a whim, they can bewitch man
As the Rusalki rise
from the cold misty water, they call to their victims in imploring
voices. Their prey cannot resist such pleas. They wade in after the
sprite and barely feel the cold bite of the river. As they take the
maiden's icy hand, she pulls them into the water. She takes them down
further and further until they drown and join them in death. Some
Rusalki even rejoice in inflicting drawn-out tortures upon their
Thus do water maidens
hold dangerous powers. Travellers should always carry the one know
talisman against their witchery-a sprig of wormwood,the charmed herb
used to ward off enchantments.
The power of music is
not always used for good, as the hero Odysseus discovered when he met
the Psirens. Psirens have the body of a bird and the face of a woman
and,with voices as sweet as their hearts are bitter, they lure
sailors to their deaths.
When Odysseus came
upon their small island, the Psirens were singing in a way that no man
had ever resisted. Fortunately Odysseus had been forewarned . He
asked his oarsmen to lash him to the mast as they rowed past the evil
creatures. Thus he would hear the heavenly music that had led so many
to their deaths, but not give in to it. To protect his men and render
them deaf to his own pleadings, which he knew would come, he had
blocked thier ears with wax.
As the mariners
approached the Psirens' island, Odysseus begged his men to free him.
The men could not hear him and kept on pulling on the oars. In
despair, the hero struggled and strained against the ropes that tied
him, but he could not break free.
As the men rowed
away, the Psirens threw themselves into the sea. The Fates had ruled
that should anyone resist thier charms, the Psirens were to be turned
into rocks. To this day, they remain a group of jagged outcrops
rising out of the water.
Long ago, there ruled
a great hero named King Beowulf. his last and perhaps greatest deed
was to defeat an evil treasure wyrm. The wyrm had immense wings and a
scaly body. Sharp fangs lined its jaws, jagged claws grew on its
paws, and burning flames shot out from its body with every breath it
For centuries, the
wyrm had been guarding a glittering treasure, buried deep within the
earth. One day, one of Beowulf's men found the treasure and stole a
golden cup from the hoard.
Back at Beowulf's
court, he boasted of his find. Even as the man spoke, the furious
wyrm was rising high into the sky. It shot long blasts of flames over
every house in the kingdom. By morning, Beowulf ruled over a charred
The king set off in
revenge and, with his companion Wiglaf, fought the monster. Thier
hearts were brave and, after a long fight, the two slew the monster,
but not before it had mortally wounded Beowulf.
buried the king under a great mound of earth. Around him lay the gold
and jewels that had brought death to the king and the evil
Some people walk the
earth that are not dead, yet not alive. Powerful magic has brougth
these unhappy creatures back from death, yet they do not belong to
the world of the living. They are zombies, sad slaves to a heartless
marks zombies out. They move, but their backs are bent and they
shuffle along slowly. They speak-but their words mean nothing. They
have no will of their own, so zombies can be set to labour at
exhausting tasks, inharsh conditions.
It is said that
zombie-masters rob their victims of their souls by swapping them with
those of lizards or certain butterflies. Thay also use a magic power
and a spell, or give their victims poison. The zombie-masters' secret
recipes use noxious weeds known only by practitioners of the black
The great fear that
preys upon zombie-masters is that their slaves might regain their
freedom. This can be achieved if the zombies are given salt. As the
zombies' soul return, the victims feel great despair and set out to
exact terrible revenge on the sorcerer that was their master. Then
they try to make their way back to their graves, there to find the
rest of which they were so unjustly robbed.