Here there be dragons: Piasa

Father Jacques Marquette with Indians.

Father Marquette

I’m putting the piasa in with dragons because I’m too lazy to start a category for feathered serpent birds of the Western Hemisphere and put in the piasa and Quetzacoatl.

As far as we know, the first white guy to see the frightening dragon bird was Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest who came to Illinois in 1673. His Illini tribe guides explained that the creature he saw portrayed as a petroglyph on a cliff face above the Mississippi was called a ‘piasa.’ The name means ‘bird that devours humans.’

Apparently, the bird was a gentle neighbour of the Illini tribe, preying on deer and other mammals. It lived in the cliff while and the Illini lived on the plains below. The red, black, and green piasa was at least 30 feet long, with a wingspan of 16-18 feet. It also had the antlers of a deer–and the face of a man, but twisted and deformed.

Unfortunately, another tribe invaded the Illini and they went to war. The good guys won, but the piasa ended up scavenging the battlefield.

“Yum,” thought the piasa when it tasted human flesh. “Gotta get me some more of this.”

So it started to prey upon the Illini.

A brave group of 21 warriors decided to take on the piasa before it ate the entire tribe. The bravest of them all was Massatoga, who had to serve as bait for the bird. Under Massatoga’s command, the warriors defeated their enemy and the Illini were safe once more.

The piasa hasn’t been seen since 1856. That’s when work in a nearby quarry shattered the cliff face and the petroglyphs fell into the Mississippi.


Ikiriyo: Wandering spirits (of the living!)

Murasaki Shikibu

Image via Wikipedia

I’m featuring a Japanese spirit today, in the hopes of bringing attention to the plight of thousands of people left homeless in Northern Japan by the quake and the tsunami that followed. If you also think that things from Japan are cool, please donate to your local Red Cross to help those living without access to adequate shelter, enough food, and clean water. Thank you.

The American Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross
Red Cross UK

Okay, not a demon at all, but VERY COOL…

Wandering spirits aren’t uncommon in folklore (and in this blog). The difference with the ikiryo is a) Japanese (automatic cool), and b) the person who owns the spirit is still alive.

Anyone can develop an ikiriyo — just get so pissed off, vengeful, or jealous that the feeling develops a power of its own and leaves your body. The ikiriyo then attacks the person you’re ticked at by entering their body.

There’s a famous incidence of this in The Tale of Genji, one of the first novels (that we know about), attributed Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman in the early 11th century. Lady Rokujo’s vengeful and jealous ikiriyo attacks and kills her rival, Lady Aoi.

Again, here are those links:

The American Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross
Red Cross UK


The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters

by Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Gabriel, J. Philip, Spirit Matters

Vampires we know and love #18: Pelesit and Polong: Vampires in my pocket

Think vampires are all the same? Think again! Vampires come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins ice cream. So, this special DotW feature, Vampires we know and love, spotlights different kinds of bloodsucking fiends from around the world.

Pelesit and Polong: Vampires in my pocket

Aw! Mini vampires! They’re so cute! Or, maybe not.

The Pelesit and Polong are a tiny Malaysian vampire tag-team, each smaller than your index finger. The Pelesit goes into the ring first. It turns into a cricket to enter a house and find an unsuspecting sleeper. When it does, it cuts a hole in the person’s skin and uses its amazing cricket powers to call for its Polong partner in crime, by, er… chirping (I guess that’s why it needs a partner).

The Polong–who looks like a tiny woman–then crawls under the person’s skin and takes possession, making him/her die, raving like a lunatic.

But there’s another factor in the Pelesit/Polong combo: their master, a Malay magician, a jinjangan. The Polong that does the actual dirty work isn’t born, but created, to serve a wizard (or witch), and then sent after a certain target individual.

If you’d like to create your own Polong at home, naturally I’ve got the recipe. First, get yourself the blood of a murdered man (have fun with that), put it in a bottle, and recite secret charms over it. After seven or fourteen days, a bird-chirp will announce the birth of a Polong of your own. Feeding of your Polong is simple. It wants you. Cut your finger and put it in the bottle every day. This will sting a little.

The Polong has a couple weaknesses. Apparently it can’t take the heat because black pepper will drive it away. A good Muslim Imam should also be able to make a Polong that’s infected a person confess the name of its owner. But they lie sometimes, so don’t always trust what they say.

If you want a Pelesit to go with your Polong, that’s harder. My sources give two different methods, but they both have two things in common: an anthill and the tongue of an infant (not attached). R. O. Winstedt says it can only be created by women, and that she has to go into the forest, turn her back to the moon and her front to an anthill, recite a charm and catch her own shadow. With patience, a child appears. She has to grab its tongue. The rest of the kid then disappears. It turns into the Pelesit.

William Walter Skeat, in his Malay Magic: being an introduction to the folklore and popular religion of the Malay Peninsula (1900), says that the method is this:

Go to the graveyard at night and dig up the body of a first-born child whose mother was also first-born, and which has been dead less than forty days. On digging it up, carry it out to an anthill in the open, and there dandle it… After a little while, when the child shrieks and lolls its tongue out… bite off its tongue and carry it home. Then obtain a cocoa-nut shell from a solitary ‘green’ cocoa-nut palm, and carry it to the place where Three Roads Meet, light a fire and heat the shell till oil exudes, dip the child’s tongue in the oil and bury it in the heart of the three cross roads… Leave it untouched for three nights, then dig it up and you will find it has turned into a Pelesit.”

Demonspotting: Forneus

Loads of demons can teach their ‘masters’ how to persuade people to share their point of view. Or there’s a great course at the University of Waterloo.

Forneus also has this ability, though I don’t know if he’d do better than Dr. Smith. And even though tuition is a monster, it’s not quite as much of a monster as Forneus. A sea monster to be specific.

You can tell people who are in league with Forneus because you’ll suddenly think how great they are, and so will everyone else even if they originally hated the guy. Also, they will know a bunch of languages without any study.

Forneus is a marquis who oversees twenty-nine legions of spirits.

Scientific American on Maxwell’s Demon

Thanks once again to Jolaine Incognito for:

a) subscribing to Scientific American!

b) sending me a link to something cool!

Seems like Maxwell’s demon is alive and well and featured in Scientific American this month. The thought experiment is being used to look for ways to cool molecules to near Absolute Zero (Tee hee, “near absolute”.).

Read more about it here: (Sorry, you have to subscribe to get the whole article.)

There’s a cool animation about it here.

Maxwell’s Demon debunked. And the debunking debunked.

Schematic figure of Maxwell's demon

Image via Wikipedia

I just like to say “debunked”…

So, when I wrote my post about Maxwell’s Demon, I knew I was on shaky ground… I’m not the most science-headed individual. (Friday, at work, someone was talking to me about dosimeters. I nearly asked if a dosimeter measured the number of dosas that came with your lamb korma. And then she told me what a dosimeter actually does, which I found scarier than any demon. But I knew what she was talking about because there’d been one on Castle a couple weeks ago.)

Anyway, you know who has a lot of science in her head? Jolaine Incognito, infrangible author of last year’s uber popular May is Mummy Month feature.

So, before making myself look like a dork on the interwebs, I asked Jolaine if she’d double-check my work. She kindly consented. She found I hadn’t made any mistakes (which made me walk a little taller all day), but she did have something to add. Here it is:

I suppose there’s no fun in pointing out that Maxwell’s demon has been debunked, since the work he puts in sorting the molecules would result in a net entropy increase.

Although the flip side of the debunk is kind of fun.   If Maxwell’s sorting mechanism were a being of limited abilities (or whatever his phrase was), then the entropy-expending debunk would apply. The limited being would expend work interacting with the particles (measuring speeds, opening doors, etc). That’s the work that increases the net entropy. However, if the sorting mechanism had mystical, non-measurable qualities enabling it to measure the particles and move the door in non-physical ways (i.e. without involving matter-on-matter interactions or interventions based on the pesky laws of nature), then that extra entropy wouldn’t be generated. In other words,  Maxwell’s demon only works if it is a demon.

Next: Scientific American on Maxwell’s Demon

Maxwell’s Demon: Breaking the Laws of the Universe

Demons are not big fans of laws. The demon we’re going to talk about
today has only one purpose in his purpose in his life, and that’s to
subvert one of the basic laws of nature, to ensure the universe never
reaches equilibrium. Oooooh, scary.

Or maybe not.

The second law of thermodynamics says that the entropy of an isolated
system can never decrease. According to it, “over time, differences in
temperature, pressure, and chemical potential tend to balance out in
an isolated physical system.”[wikipedia]

So, basically, the law says that if you bring two bodies of different
temperature into contact together and isolate them from the rest of
the universe, the hot side will heat up the cold and the cold side
will cool down the hot and they will come to the same temperature. For
example, if you have a closed chamber and you inject a gas of two
different temperatures into it, the molecules of the gas will disperse
so the temperature of the chamber will be the same in every area of
the chamber. The hotter molecules of the gas aren’t going to gather in
one corner, the cooler molecules in another. Nope, everything will
disperse equally.

Unless, of course, you get demonic forces involved.

And so, on December 11, 1867, a demon was born. A Scottish physicist
named James Clerk Maxwell, found a way to violate the second law and
wrote about it in a letter to a friend. He expanded on the theory in
his 1870 book Theory of Heat.

Maxwell imagined that same closed chamber of gas we talked about

Maxwell's demon, hard at work breaking the second law of thermodynamics

earlier, but with a few changes. He put a wall in the chamber, making
two rooms, with a little door just big enough to let molecules pass
from one side to the other. At that door, Maxwell placed a super
smart, super fast demon.

Because this demon just wants to break laws, specifically the second
law of thermodynamics, the demon opens the door to let all the hot molecules to one side and all the cold molecules to another (Of course we all know that gas molecules bounce around, so the demon just waits
until a hot molecule bounces toward the door and opens it.).

So, in a closed chamber, through demonic interference, you get bodies
of two different temperatures. Thanks, Maxwell’s demon!

By the way, it wasn’t Maxwell who named his demon. He called the
creature a “finite being.” The guy who identified it as a demon was
William Thompson, who was eventually ennobled as the First Baron
Kelvin by Queen Victoria. Maxwell hated that the being in his chamber
got called a ‘demon.’ Like any smart person, he realized that messing
around with supernatural forces is a really bad idea.

Tomorrow: Maxwell’s Demon debunked. And the debunking debunked.