The second story is about some uhh formidable female creatures that are called the Shees. It is kind of a plural but in Romanian, instead of saying she and the plural is they, you make a strange plural in Romanian too. In Romanian it’s Ielele. And these are fantastic female creatures that on the night of June 24th, which is Summer Solstice, come out of nowhere, out of thin air and dance. And dance is extremely beautiful, and uh all people are forbidden, they are not allowed to see this dance. Of course, following to this interdiction, everybody wants to see this dance. So people go out into the woods, and crazy people try to see the dance of the Iele, but if they see, they go crazy. And these ieles are very nice creatures except for this sequence, the dance sequence. But if you bother them and don’t respect them and don’t show them admiration for their fantastic beauty, although you are not supposed to see them dance. They will come and bring water from the fount. And the first person that drinks water from the fountain after the Iele will drop dead. So people take very great care on the night of June 24th umm, somehow ambivalently to see the ieles, but not see them dance and not make them upset, but thinking of them in very nice terms. And again they have another name, also very nice in Romanian. They are called either the Iele or sânziene which means, it’s the name of a flower, a yellow flower called in English Sweet Woodruff.
Background: This informant has lived in Romania their whole life and is very interested in the folk traditions of various countries. They found this piece of folklore from other people in Romania.
Interpretation: The connection between these spirits and the Summer Solstice shows a way of marking the passing of time. The Summer Solstice could have been chosen as the time for this event to mark the change of seasons. The tale also ascribes power to these women who can use magic to deal with any men that bother them. This phenomena could be due to the incredibly hot and muggy nature of the Romanian summers. People could have retreated to the forest for shade, and potentially hallucinated or tried to make sense of something that happened. Sunstroke may also be a reason for the association with death and madness if you witness the Ielele. The informant and I both believe that this story is a way of making sense of nature in the blistering heat of mid-summer. More info on the Ielele can be found at (Mafa, A. (2021, November 4). Ielele, the magic beings of the Romanian folklore. ImperialTransilvania. https://www.imperialtransilvania.com/2021/11/05/read-more/argomenti/events-1/articolo/ielele-the-magic-beings-of-the-romanian-folklore.html)
Informant is a USC student living in California.
“The Squonk is a creature that foresters and lumbermen started seeing in the late 20th century in Pennsylvania hemlock forests. So they’d be cutting down trees and in the glade, and they’d see a squonk. And they’ve described them as like ugly dog-like creatures with loose-fitting skin and really huge eyes that are like full of sadness and hatred for themselves and then, um, if a squonk knows that it’s been seen, it will dissolve into a pool of its own tears and, yeah, I’ve never seen a squonk but I like the legend of it, I like to think they’re out there.”
I asked my informant whether or not he knew of any legendary animals. He told me about the squonk, which he first encountered on the Internet, and then found more information in bestiary texts.
Legendary creatures can be somewhat associated with spirits—they generally don’t appear without a particular reason or are tied to a specific place (depending on how popular the creature is). Spirits are also usually reminders from the past that appear to uphold culture, enforce the status quo, and/or remind people of traditions. In the case of the squonk, it seems to be related to issues regarding deforestation and/hunting, warning humans (as it appears to foresters and lumberjacks) against the dangers of doing so, given how it seems to be a creature filled with sadness. Spirits come and go, some evade human contact while others don’t, so their existence is guaranteed more by the texts and performances that contain them rather than their actual presence. In the case of the squonk, as it is a relatively recent creature, its presence on the web is a textual space it exists in, providing meaning for its existence.
Background: Informant was born and raised in Florida, with a very religious father. This story was told to me in person.
Informant: My dad always told me that sasquatch was gonna get me… whenever we’d go up to North Carolina or went to a cabin in the woods. It was definitely a cabin in the woods story. One time I woke up in the middle of the night and I could’ve sworn that Bigfoot was outside and I totally freaked out.
Me: What did you do?
Informant: I immediately went and woke up my dad and told him that Bigfoot was outside. I was so scared.
Me: what did your dad say?
Informant: He didn’t care. He just told me to go back to sleep and that Bigfoot wasn’t out there.
Thoughts: It’s funny to think about the line that parents will draw in order to play a prank on their children and when they aren’t invested enough to keep up “the bit.” Obviously, my informant’s dad doesn’t really believe in Bigfoot if he was able to wave it off and tell his son to go back to sleep. If he really believed in Bigfoot or had even the slightest thought that. Bigfoot was real or was worried about it, the thought of Bigfoot being outside would have woken him up instantly and he would’ve responded to his son in a different way.
Background: Informant has a Norwegian background from his fathers’s side and was raised being told about these Norwegian traditions and holidays, and this anecdote was told to me over a FaceTime call.
Informant: We would have a special toll hunt on the seventeenth of May… or syttende mai. Kind of like an easter egg hunt but trolls.
Me: Why did you hunt trolls?
Informant: Umm… it’s because trolls have a negative connotation, like how you’re supposed to clean your house in Chinese tradition on Chinese New Year to get out the bad luck… for us it was trolls.
Me: Did you get a prize for finding the trolls?
Informant: Yeah, we would get rewarded in chocolate.
Thoughts: Syttende mai in Norway is also known as Constitution Day, which is an official public holiday throughout the country. Essentially, it’s a country-wide party—people dress up in traditional costumes, with a lot of parades and drinking and ice cream. Syttende mai is not celebrated in any large way outside of Norway, as it would be like celebrating the Fourth of July as an Irish person—it just doesn’t really make sense to. It’s interesting to me how the informant’s mother brought together various folklores in order to give her children meaning on syttende mai as children born and raised in America. Trolls in Norway are seen to be creatures that are evil and dangerous, and beings that belong in the wilderness, not by the home, so there is even meaning behind the act of hunting trolls in Norwegian folklore, especially since the informant was rewarded for finding the trolls.
Context: I heard about the Tokoloshe from my friend who lived in South Africa for two years. His mom is also a professor of South African Art.
The Tokoloshe is a small and terrifying creature that seriously messes with your ability to have a restful night’s sleep. Tokoloshes are a creature from Zulu mythology that inhabit South Africa.
Tokoloshe are described physically in many ways, though a constant seems to be their small size. Sometimes they are described as small humanoid creatures and other times they are described as more primate-like.
These creatures are often malevolent and quite dangerous. They are said to crawl into sleeping people’s rooms and cause all kinds of havoc — from simply scaring them all the way to choking them to death with their long, bony fingers. It seems to particularly enjoy scaring children, often leaving them with long scratches on their bodies. One way to keep the Tokoloshe at bay is to put bricks beneath the legs of one’s bed. This will put them out of reach, and hopefully out of harm’s way, of the Tokoloshe.
As mentioned above, raised beds are an important way to combat the Tokoloshe. Traditionally, many South Africans in areas rife with Tokoloshe myths slept on grass mats encircling a warm, wood fire that would keep them warm during the bitter winter nights. However, sometimes healthy people would inexplicably be found dead come morning.
There is a theory that sleeping close to the fire in their homes may have depleted the oxygen levels and filled the home with carbon dioxide. As it is heavier than pure air, it would sink to the bottom of the home where people slept. Thus, seemingly healthy people and sometimes entire families would be found dead. A parallel was found between elevated sleepers and a lack of death so the Tokoloshe was told as a story forewarning those who slept close to the ground (and the fire). While it might not be an actual malevolent creature, what kept away a Tokoloshe would also keep away death from carbon monoxide.
This is a fascinating example of the use of folklore to create tangible changes in the lifestyles of people. Although the Tokoloshe might not actually exist, the introduction of this creature in Zulu mythology ultimately resulted in a positive impact on communities who believe in it. It has saved people from becoming ill and has prevented deaths, as well as indirectly educated children about the potential dangers of sleeping close to a fire indoors. Even people outside of the intended audience of believers of Zulu mythology can benefit from the knowledge that the Tokoloshe exists in case they find themselves sleeping near a fire source within an enclosed area, and I am sure I will keep this in mind if I encounter a similar situation.