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Thursday, 11 August 2011


Today's topic is the peculiar and peculiarly long-necked variety of European Dragon known as The Gargoyle. Please note that the name refers properly to a type of a dragon and not to the grotesque demons aculpted on churches which are commonly but mistakenly called Gargoyles.

In architecture, a gargoyle is a carved stone grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building. Preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls is important because running water erodes the mortar between the stone blocks.[1] Architects often used multiple gargoyles on buildings to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimize the potential damage from a rainstorm. A trough is cut in the back of the gargoyle and rainwater typically exits through the open mouth. Gargoyles are usually an elongated fantastic animal because the length of the gargoyle determines how far water is thrown from the wall. When Gothic flying buttresses were used, aqueducts were sometimes cut into the buttress to divert water over the aisle walls.

The term originates from the French gargouille, originally "throat" or "gullet";[2] cf. Latin gurgulio, gula, gargula ("gullet" or "throat") and similar words derived from the root gar, "to swallow", which represented the gurgling sound of water (e.g., Spanish garganta, "throat"; Spanish gárgola, "gargoyle"). It is also connected to the French verb gargariser, which means "to gargle."[3] The Italian word for gargoyle is doccione o gronda sporgente, an architecturally precise phrase which means "protruding gutter." The German word for gargoyle is Wasserspeier, which means "water spewer[water spouter]." The Dutch word for gargoyle is waterspuwer, which means "water spitter" or "water vomiter." A building that has gargoyles on it is "gargoyled."

A grotesque figure, also known as gargoyle is a sculpture that does not work as a waterspout and serves only an ornamental or artistic function,[2] although the field of architecture usually preserves the distinction between gargoyles (functional waterspouts) and non-waterspout grotesques.

Gargoyles are said to scare off and protect from any evil or harmful spirits.

Legend of La Gargouille

A French legend that sprang up around the name of St. Romanus ("Romain") (AD 631–641), the former chancellor of the Merovingian king Clotaire II who was made bishop of Rouen, relates how he delivered the country around Rouen from a monster called Gargouille or Goji. La Gargouille is said to have been the typical dragon with batlike wings[Or alternately large side fins in other versions], a long neck, and the ability to breathe fire [spout water] from its mouth. There are multiple versions of the story, either that St. Romanus subdued the creature with a crucifix, or he captured the creature with the help of the only volunteer, a condemned man. In each, the monster is lead back to Rouen and burned, but its head and neck would not, due to being tempered by its own fire breath [given as a reason in later versions]. The head was then mounted on the walls of the newly built church to scare off evil spirits, and used for protection.[4] In commemoration of St. Romain the Archbishops of Rouen were granted the right to set a prisoner free on the day that the reliquary of the saint was carried in procession (see details at Rouen).

Location of Rouen
(As in most such cases, not far from the sea)

[Similar "Dragon" sightings were reported in this area up until about 1300.]

Wikipedia Sources:
2.^ a b Houghton Mifflin (2000). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 725. ISBN 978-0-395-82517-4.
3.^ Janetta Rebold Benton (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings. New York: Abbeville Press. pp. 8. ISBN 0-7892-0182-8.
4.^ a b Cipa, Shawn (2008). Carving Gargoyles, Grotesques, and Other Creatures of Myth: History, Lore, and 12 Artistic Patterns. Petersburg, PA: Fox Chapel Publishing Inc.. ISBN 978-1-56532-329-4.

“St. Romain and the Gargouille” Dragon

Physical: Snaky body and neck, slender head and jaws, [glowing?]moonstone eyes, membrane side fins, no legs
Behavior: Slithered, lived in the river, flood the countryside with water, afraid of the Cross
Type: Gargouille
Typical European Dragon: No
Why: Spouted water instead of fire
Notes: No mentioned of eating people. Only wanted [to live in] the territor

Photo: Viking Church with ornamenta Dragons (drekei) Ancestral to the Midieval Gargoyles. Drawing: Icelandic Nykur, sea monster distinguished by an exceptional Neck and sometimes confused with the Water-Horse.

Neck (water spirit)
The Neck/Nixie (German: Nix/Nixe/Nyx) are shapeshifting water spirits who usually appear in human form. The spirit has appeared in the myths and legends of all Germanic peoples in Europe.[1]

Although in recent times such creatures have usually been depicted as human in shape (albeit in many cases shapeshifting), the English Knucker is generally depicted as a wyrm or dragon, thus attesting to the survival of the other usage as any 'water-being' rather than an exclusively humanoid creature.

Their sex, bynames, and various animal-like transformations vary geographically. The German Nix and his Scandinavian counterparts are males. The German Nixe or Nixie is a female river mermaid.[1]

Names and etymology
In Norway, Theodor Kittelsen's Nøkken from 1904 is equally famous.

The names are held to derive from Common Germanic root [Elsewhere in the same Wikipedia article equated to the Nagas of India-DD]
The form Neck appears in English and Swedish (näck or nek).[3] The Swedish form is derived from Old Swedish neker, which corresponds to Old Icelandic nykr (gen. nykrs), and nykk in Norwegian Nynorsk.[3] In Finnish, the word is näkki. In Old Danish, the form was nikke and in modern Danish and Norwegian Bokmål it is nøk(ke).[3] The Icelandic word nykur is also used for hippopotamus.[1][3]

In Middle Low German, it was called necker and in Middle Dutch nicker.[3] The Old High German form nihhus also meant "crocodile",[1][3] while the Old English nicor[1][3] could mean both a "water monster" and a "hippopotamus".[3]

Common bynames are the Swedish Strömkarlen and the Norwegian Fossegrim.[3] Since the Scandinavian version can transform himself into a horse-like kelpie, he is also called Bäckahästen (the "brook horse").

In the English county of Sussex, there are said to dwell "water-wyrms" called knuckers. The Word knucker is derived from the Old English nicor[Used in Beowulf].[4]

English folklore contains many creatures with similarities to the Nix or Näck [Water Sprites] these include Jenny Greenteeth, the Shellycoat, Peg Powler, the Bäckahästen-like Brag, and the Grindylow.

1.^ a b c d e The article Näcken, tome 20, p. 317, in Nordisk familjebok (1914)
2.^ Köbler, Gerhard: Indogermanisches Wörterbuch.
3.^ a b c d e f g h i j Svensk etymologisk ordbok, by Elof Hellquist (1922) Lund, C. W. K. Gleerups förlag Berlingska boktryckeriet. p. 532.
4.^ Dragons & Serpents In Sussex

Another variation on the Gargoyle idea was to make a jug where the water would gush out of the dragon's mouth. Here is a North German coppere-alloy water-container ca 1200 with a monk in the mouth of the dragon, possibly another Jonah and the Whale ("Ketos")variation: the water comes out of the cowl behind the monk's head. Significant sightings of River Dragons have been made in more recent times in the Elbe and Rhine: and one must not forget also in the Thames!

-I would suggest that the "Common Germandic Root" used as the name for these water-wyrms was in fact the same as the English word NECK, ie, "Long-Necker," which in turn is synonymous with Gargouille. The references to "[Horses]Neck" came in by way of confusion with the separate but widespread tradition of the Water-Horse, and here again we seem to have the belief that Merfolk can change into giant eels or water-serpents. The Freshwater-Merfolk of Europe are also admirably similar to Kappas (and are so referenced in this Wikipedia article) and to Tyler's Freshwater Monkeys recently posted. The confusion comes from a different root, probably related to the Scandinavian Nisse (Gnome or Brownie), which happens to sound a lot like "Nessie"!

The North-European Longnecked Water Dragons (Which spouted water and not fire in the original stories, be it noted) seem to have been more common during the Viking Age and then became much less common during and after the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. People still believed the stories then, but they were not seen as commonly. Modern Fantasy stories speak of this as a "Loss of the Old Magic" which is a very common theme during modern days. The real reason was that the more common occurance of inland Sea Serpents or Freshwater Dragons and the Vikings florished in the Dark Ages and Early Middle Ages (say up to 1300) for a simple reason-Climate. The period of the Dark Ages was a milder climate and Vikings were able to colonise such places as Iceland and Greenland. At about 1250 the Little Ice Age came along, a worsening in climate. Soon enough, the Greenland colonies failed-frozen out of viability. The reports of Gargouilles actually continued sporadically up to about 1300 in France, Germany and other places, in the bigger rivers. but then the sightings suddely became much less common.

Gargoyles also occur in the Orient, and especially in China and Japan. From the Wikipedia article on Gargoyles comes this Gargoyle at Himeji Castle. It is interpreted as a sort of Makara and is fish-head-down (you can make out the fishlike features at the base) However, the middle part is peculiar in having four flippers an then the tail. Bevcause the head end is diving, the flippers are pointed backwards and pointed up.

[Illustration from DeviantArt]

The Traditional Japanese River-Dragon is also thought of as being Plesiosaur-shaped as being a "Snake" with a centrally-thickened body. It is also said to be a "String-of-buoys" but that part is described in terms such that its fluid nature is known

More importantly the front part of the River Dragon or Mizuchi is said to have a long neck with two large side fins at the base of the neck, as represented in this mockup built on a watercraft.

The description continues on to this day in the rare appearance of such Freshwater Japanese Dragons as Issii and Kusshii, both names derived from the older and more traditional types of Water-Dragons.

1 comment:

  1. I can't help thinking that in lieu of a dragon the North German water vessel shows a vastly enlarged Cockatrice! The article on Wyverns and Cockatrices as large pheasant-like birds is being reprinted in Richard Muirhead's publication Flying Snake and Part 2 is in the forthcoming issue.

    Probably the familiar image of the dragon was not so familiar then, and the maker of the vessel was going by the best reports at hand, but they were reports of the wrong type

    I shall be doing a followup report on the specifically Viking dragons in this same period, and they also turn out to be Longnecks (or Merhorses) since they were the kind represented on the prows of the Viking longboats.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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