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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Demons in the Midst

Air Date: Week of July 21, 2000

Host Diane Toomey talks with Carol Mack, author of “A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits,” about some other-worldly varieties of wildlife.

Transcript

TOOMEY: The height of the summer travel season is upon us, and vacationers and day trippers alike are busy consulting the maps and guidebooks that highlight the new places they're exploring. Joining me is Carol Mack. She's the author of an unusual book that might deserve a place in your backpack, along with the usual guides to flora and fauna. It's called A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. And it begins with a description of the kinds of creatures you might encounter on a summer trip to the beach.

MACK: Most of the creatures, sea fairies and demons that you might approach on the beach, would come out of the water, usually at night. And they're all amphibians. There's one in South America called the Munuane , and he is very, very large and toothless. He travels on a raft and carries a bow and one arrow, which never misses.

TOOMEY: And he's also a bit of a dimwit, isn't he, Carol?

MACK: Well, yes, a lot of the large ones are. Of course, what you have to know about him is that his vulnerability, his flaw, really, is that he has eyes in his knees.

TOOMEY: Now, I think it's safe to say that the Munuane is -- I don't know, the environmentalist of the demonic world, Carol? Have I got that right?

MACK: Well, the Munuane is one of the guardian demons, and you find that in all of the demons of the water and forest. All the habitats, actually. That many of them are considered guardians. Whenever there are fish out in the water, the Munuane will appear to make sure that no fisherman takes too many. That there isn't greed about fish. Once that happens, then he will attack. And you have to remember that all of these demons and fairies consider the turf that they live in to be theirs, and they consider the human trespassing.

TOOMEY: Turning to another type of terrain, I think a lot of us might have had the experience of walking through the woods and feeling like we're being watched by a pair of unseen eyes. Carol, to whom might those eyes belong?

MACK: Well, if you were in Brazil, they might belong to the Kuru-pira . He stands upright like a human being, but has all animal features and fangs. He has no knee joints. This is fortunate for the traveler in the forest, because he cannot really get up easily if he falls. And therefore you have a lot of time for escape.

TOOMEY: This creature kills in a particularly disgusting way.

MACK: He does. His urine is lethal, so he can urinate on a person and the person will die. Or he may hold them very tightly and crush them.

TOOMEY: What a way to go.

MACK: Very bad, very bad. But he won't always do this. He again is a guardian species of the Desana people in Brazil, and he is guarding the woods, the creatures of the woods, against people who may take too much game.

TOOMEY: You also write about a creature called the Leshi, and this one seems like a really mischievous type. Tell me about the Leshi.

MACK: A Leshi, I think, comes from the word "forest" in Russian. And he is the spirit of the forest. And he's very ancient, and he shape-shifts a lot. And he can look like a wolf or a bird. He can become a mushroom. He can look like a neighbor. All he does is just endlessly mysterious tricks. So a lot of the cowherds in Russia would make a deal with a Leshi to protect their cows. So he could be very helpful. On the other hand, you had to recognize that he was in charge there. Otherwise, he might indeed do you in.

TOOMEY: In what manner would he do that?

MACK: Well, one thing he has been noted for is tickling his victim to death.

TOOMEY: I don't know what I'd prefer, the urination or the tickling.

MACK: Yeah, yeah, I know. I think maybe the tickling.

TOOMEY: If one had to choose.

MACK: If you had to choose.

TOOMEY: Now, the way to disarm a Leshi is?

MACK: Well, if you wanted to disarm him, and some people really like them, you would take your clothing off and put it back on inside-out, and put your shoes, your left shoe on your right foot and your right shoe on your left foot. Because this will outsmart him. Or if you want, you could give him an offering, which many people do. Porridge, he likes porridge. And he also likes a good joke, which is very unusual for the demons. He's the only one I encountered that will laugh.

TOOMEY: Carol, I'm going to hazard a guess that some of our listeners haven't had a first-hand experience with these creatures in the great outdoors. And for those of us who don't often get out of the range of a Starbucks, nature is still a pretty scary place, isn't it?

MACK: Yes. I mean, I'm an urban dweller. And you forget the power of nature when you live in a suburb or a city. And so, when we go out, we're stunned by it, and of course, we forget that the people from whom all of these stories and creatures have come live this way all the time.

TOOMEY: Carol, you've spent a lot of time researching these creatures, and maybe a night or two dreaming about them. In your opinion, are they evil?

MACK: No. Actually, I would have to say that they get very close to the edge of those big philosophical questions, but most of these demons and fairies, they were originally pagan deities. They were nature spirits. They were creatures who imbued all the habitats, all the forest, every stone, every mountain was animated by the presence of these spirits.

TOOMEY: So, they were a bearer of a message to us that we were about to enter into a special place.

MACK: Yes. They were saying to the traveler: Here are the things that you have to pay attention to. This isn't your terrain.

TOOMEY: I guess the take-home message here is, be careful out there.

MACK: Yes. And have some sense of wonder. (Laughs) I think that wonderful sense of oh! about the territory you're visiting, and think about this wonderful strata of creatures and stories that have been out there before us.

TOOMEY: Carol Mack is a playwright who, with her daughter Dinah, has written "A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits". Carol, thanks for joining me today.

MACK: Thank you so much, Diane. It was fun.

 

 

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