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Sunday, 28 August 2011

More Gargoyle Dragons but Out of Africa by Way of Rome

The Peluda, The Questing Beast, and The Dragons of Nodens

One of the specifically-named Gargoyle-type dragons of the North of France (Loire River area) was the Peluda or La Velue, which means The Hairy One. This one had the classic Plesiosaur description of a snake's head and neck threaded through a turtle's body, but also had as a defense a back full of spines like porcupine quills. It is plain enough to see that this is another maned Merhorse only the mane is not said to be made of hair it is said to be made of spines. Actually in most traditional descriptions, the mane is said to be of (keratinized or horny) spines instead of just hair, and in our culture we tend to think of the mane like a horse's mane and assume it is made out of just hair.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Peluda (sometimes called the "Shaggy Beast" or La Velue which is French for "Hairy One") is a supposed dragon or mythical beast that terrorized La Ferté-Bernard, France, in medieval times. It is said to have come from and lived near the Huisne river near the town. Despite the French origins, its more recognized name is Occitan —or any latin origin— for "hairy". Depending on the account, it had an ox-sized porcupine-like body["Covered with porcupine quills" probably an exaggeration for "having a crest like quills". The older depictions do not make the quills cover the body-DD] . Consistently, it was said to have these poisonous stingers that it could also shoot off its body, a snake's scaly neck, head, and tail, large, tortoise-like [sea turtle like?] body and legs, and a green color.

The lore proposed that the beast was denied access to Noah's Ark, yet survived the biblical flood by seeking refuge in a cave near the Huisne River. After many years, it returned to rampage across the countryside, wilting crops with its breath and devouring both livestock and humans. It was finally defeated after it killed a man's fiancée. He tracked it down and cut off its tail. This was the only vulnerable point on the beast, and it died immediately.[Heuvelmans notes in a case of a sea-serpent report when the creature was killed and its tail brought back that the tail is the least convincing part of the body to prove the story of a horrible beast-and it indicates a hoax to his way of thinking. The same could be said in this case-Dd]

The Peluda was said to be capable of the following feats, which vary between tales:

Searing breath that could wither crops.
Firing off its quills like arrows.
Invulnerability except for its tail.
Creating floods by stepping into rivers.
A single strike from its tail was lethal to a full grown man.
Breathing out fire as a typical dragon.
Spitting out a powerful stream of water

[It seems to me this started out as a typical waterspouting Gargoyle-Dragon, with the traditional power of water control ascribed to it. It would not be the searing breath that withered crops, but the presumed ability for it to withhold rain. most of the description "which vary between tales" would be later embellishments, although I don't doubt that it could kill a man with just a stroke of its tail.-DD]


Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 217, 289. ISBN 0-393-32211-4.

Shuker, Karl (1995). Dragons: A Natural History. Simon & Schuster, New York. ISBN 0-684-81443-9

The Shaggy Beast of La Ferte-Bernard, from Book of Imaginary Beings by J.L. Borges

See also: Gargouille

And while we are on the subject of snakeheaded and necked dragons, the Questing Beast of Arthurian tales seems to have a strongly Plesiosaurian shape without the quills, and there is some uncertainty as to what kind of feet it is supposed to have:
The Questing Beast seems to have been added on to Arthurian lore in the versions that were circulating in France at about 1300-1500, the end of the Middle Ages, but the type of dragon seems to be traditional in both France and England from long before then. It is a fourlegged and wingless dragon coloured like a leopard with a spotted tawny-red coat and a lighter belly: but all that goes to say is that it is very similar to the Sirrush.

The story goes that it makes a noise like a few dozen hunting dogs baying wherever it goes, which is a feature piously interpreted by the church fathers; and yet since the whole point of the story is that the creature is continually hunted but is never caught, the sound of the hunting dogs would be due to the hunting dogs that are always supposed to be pursuing it.

Questing Beast

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Questing Beast, or the Beast Glatisant (Barking Beast), is a monster from Arthurian legend. It is the subject of quests undertaken by famous knights such as King Pellinore, Sir Palamedes, and Sir Percival.

The strange creature has the head and neck of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion and the feet of a hart. Its name comes from the great noise it emits from its belly, a barking like "thirty couple hounds questing". 'Glatisant' is related to the French word glapissant, 'yelping' or 'barking', especially of small dogs or foxes.

The questing beast is a variant of the mythological giraffe.
[This is also said of the Sechet, Sirrush and Serpopard. It is obviously incorrect in any of those cases-DD]
The first accounts of the beast are in the Perlesvaus and the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin. The Post-Vulgate's account, which is taken up in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, has the Questing Beast appear to King Arthur in Chapter 19 of Caxton's version, after he has had an affair with his sister Morgause and begotten Mordred. (They did not know that they were related when the incestuous act occurred.)

Arthur sees the beast drinking from a pool just after he wakes from a disturbing dream that foretells Mordred's destruction of the realm (no noise of hounds from the belly is emitted while it is drinking); he is then approached by King Pellinor who confides that it is his family quest to hunt the beast. After his death, Sir Palomide followed the beast....

The beast has been taken as a symbol of the incest, violence, and chaos that eventually destroys Arthur's kingdom [The many barking dogs are also said to represent individual sins-D]

Gerbert de Montreuil provides a similar vision of the Questing Beast in his Continuation of Perceval, the Story of the Grail, though he says it is "wondrously large" and interprets the noise and subsequent gruesome death by its own offspring as a symbol of impious churchgoers who disturb the sanctity of Mass by talking. Later in the Post-Vulgate, the Prose Tristan and the sections of Malory based on those works, the Saracen knight Sir Palamedes hunts the Questing Beast. It is a futile venture, much like his love for Sir Tristan's paramour Iseult, offering him nothing but hardship. In the Post-Vulgate, his conversion to Christianity allows him relief from his endless worldly pursuits, and he finally slays the creature during the Grail Quest after he, Percival and Galahad have chased it into a lake.

The Questing Beast appears in many later works as well, including stories written in French, Spanish, and Italian.
However, in a few stories, the symbolic meaning of the Questing Beast is much more benign. For example, in T.H. White's The Once and Future King, the Questing Beast is actually a misunderstood creature. There is, in fact, no good reason for Pellinore to be hunting him, and the Pellinore's long search for the beast epitomizes all the meaningless knightly pursuits encouraged by a chivalry grounded in the "might makes right" purpose.

The Questing Beast looks a good deal like the Egyptian monster Ameimat here.

Amended Deviant Art Contest Submission for an Egyptian Dragon. This was the closest thing I could find to a Sechet design on the internet so I simplified the dragon to bring it in line with the original Sechet design, then added some colours to the background to make it show up better. No slight is meant on the original artist, but this Egyptian Dragon design is more authentic. The Sechet is illustrated in E.A. Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, quite near the start. Like all derived creatures it is supposed to be coloured like a leopard-tawny-red with darker spots and a lighter belly. It was the colouring associated with red that made the Sirrush to be known as The Red Serpent., and the mythical multiheaded Dragon of Revelation in the Bible is also red.

A very old Saharan water-monster, 10000 years old or more, marked near a water source. these were rather along the line of bunyips and depictions of them could commonly be confused with giraffes but not always so. The long legs represented rain or flowing streams and this one has rather an ostrich head and neck with a horse's tail at the rear. Note it does have four legs. At a very early age this representational water monster became confused with the giant water-lizard or Congo Dragon (depicted in parallel usually as a recognisably llizard-shape but shown as 12 to 24 feet long to scale with human figures)
The Water Monsters here became Serpopards in earliest Egypt and Mesopotamia and identified with Sechets and Sirrushes: the original idea may have been that they were also the same as Mokele-mBembe because they were identified with control of the water supply. They are also close to some grafitti-dragons in Europe of the Megalithic age which are also four-legged and Sirrush-like: some of these show up on very old rock art in Spain. Some of the "Brontosaurs" shown on South African rock art are also basically of the Sirrush design-but NOT in Central Africa for some reason.

Pallate of Narmer being the best-known representation of "Serpopards". The Saharan Water-monsters developed a specifically-paired stylisation probably around 6000-4000 BC. At first it was the tail that went all the way around in a circle, and because the body was rather oblong with feline-like feet, this stylisation came very close to the North American representations of Water-Panthers or Mishipizhws.

The Paired-entwined-necks version is not represented exactly that way in the Sahara but it seems to borrow from the design of the cadyseus. The Saharan examples I have seen show the two bodies divided down the middle at the spine and the creatures mirror-imaged on either side: the original idea seems to have been that one of them is male and the other is female. So presumably they are "Necking" and not wrestling.

That the same design simultaneously appeared also in Mesopotamia is also significant. There is also a stylized version from the early Balkan cultures and this has the four-legged bodies forming a box, the dragon heads on either side, and a dish or basin in between.

Yet another Egyptian depiction of "Serpopards"

Sechets have several similar names in Egypt and one surprising fact is that a very similar name turns up as a sea monster in the Northwest Coast area! One of the other names in Egypt is Sent (ends in hard-t so I suppose it should be "Sentt") which means "The Terror"-presumably in reference to the fact that it is a frightening creature. The Hieroglyphic for "Sent" at one time looked very much like a Plesiosaur but later it was "corrected" to be a cooked goose!

On this seal of Tutmose III shown below the Sechet design is not standing up like a quadruped bt it is stretched out horizontally for swimming. Yet the (not nearly so log) snakelike neck, four limbs on a shorter body and this time a crocodile like tail, are all of similar proportions. The limbs are more flipperlike (the left fore one is showing on the opposite side at "a") and the whole creature is more recognisably Plesiosaurian (as indeed this example was already labelled) "c" is the creature's head turned back in a half-circle.

Several Roman Legions adoted the Dragon as their emblem: most likely it was the windsock-dragon of Dacia (that could well be the personification of a destructive comet) But in the case of legions stationed in Egypt, it seems that some soldiers used the Egyptian dragon or Sechet, the one thay was most like the Sirrush of Ishtar gate. and because of their favoritism for this emblem some unusual associations came about. One result was that Sirrush-like dragons turned up afterwards in Tang China, just about in the Dark ages BUT appearing in China at the same time as Nestorian Christians and Goddess depictions which resembled the Virgin Mary.

For those of us that read Peter Costello's book In Search of Lake Monsters the next depiction is easily recognised: the two neck-entwined dragons were found in the mosaic still preserved at a temple complex at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire. It seems Nodens was identified with Mars, the War God of the Romans, and the dragons were imported by military men (although carrying over a marine decorative theme) But it is clear the dragons are carrying on the Serpopard tradition, and some similar depictions of intertwined dragons appear so late as to be contemporary with the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

One final thing is that the four legged "Red Dragon" or Sirrush seems to be the basic underlying reason for the dragon on the flag of Wales, with only the addition of wings modifying the original design very much. If Folklore is any indication, there were originally two dragons, one white and one red, and facing each other in contention, but the red dragon supporters won out and kept their own dragon on the flag, leaving the white one off. Possibly the white dragon was originally meant to be female.

Best Wishes, Dale D.


  1. La Peluda is very similiar to the story and look of the Tarrasque.

    After reading your article about la Peluda and the Gargouille I was wondering if a) you think the Tarrasque, la Peluda and the Gargouille were the same species (IF they existed) and b) what do you think about the Guivre?

    The Gouivre, legend has it, plagued all of France during a certain period until they figured out how to kill them off and eradicated them.(Cant quote the source since it is a french newspaper from a long time ago..).Sounds like a real animal to me since it wasnt only a single case but was described as a plague. Furthermore it has quiet a lot in common with the Gargouille, except that it is more serpentine, probably smaller, and was said to have a magic gem in its head.

  2. If it was a real animal and a reptile, the magic gem might be a reference to the "Third Eye" which we have as the pineal gland: Plesiosaurs had that.

    However, the different names blur into different categories. Gouivre is also another name for Wyvern; a different, smaller animal that is sometimes said to have feathered wings-and that makes it a bird. The problem is, once again, that the name of a Cryptid does not have the same species as an actual scientific or species name: different people are quite justified in using the same name to mean different things. That is why when it comes down to questions such as "Do you believe in Bigfoot?" or "Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?" the truthful answer really should be "Which one?" because different things get regularly called by the name.

    In the case of the French Dragons you mention the most obvious distinction would be that some of them are described with only two legs, some with four and some with six: some of them are winged and terrestrial and others are wingless and aquatic. For the current discussion we could say we are talking about wingless amphibious quadrupeds but the artistic tradition is liable to make out sculptural gargoyles as having wings. The actual description of le Gargouille does NOT mention wings (see earlier article), and it is in the same part of France as the Peluda. As mentioned, the Gouivre generally has wings and I would actually make the distinction the Gargouille is not "Supposed to have" wings while the Gouivre is "Supposed to have" wings, and therefore make a distinction between two differet categories. But in actual Folklore, that distinction might not be so hard and fast, some people doubtless used the terms more abiguously in the past. So we have to be careful about such things as the exact meanings of names when we are trying to move from a nonstandard usage to a more standard usage.

    And thank you very much for writing!
    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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