All illustrations are by Stephan D. Mifsud.
We’ve already featured a collection of Maltese myths and legends that have haunted our islands for years, but as things get brighter and cheerier, it’s good to keep a few mysteries alive.
1. Għaġeb tal-ilma
The serpent, which lived in water but could happily slither along the land, was said to be the physical embodiment of the seven deadly sins. It looks like St. Paul never really got to these as the flesh-eating serpent had a notoriously venomous bite.
Put simply, this was a shark that’s the size of a whale. Not really much to add on to that, but we shall anyway – gotta kick you while you’re down. Although probably related to the Megalodon (i.e. crazy, terrifying, prehistoric shark), as recently as 1956 the Silfjun resurfaced. A retired Englishman swimming in St Thomas Bay was dragged down to the depths by a monster shark, large enough to split a fishing vessel in two, much to the horror of the student who witnessed the whole thing happening.
Even a tiny island’s got its own dragons! This garigue-dwelling monstrosity travelled to and from the netherworlds via passages in our stone. As if following a creepy dragon into it’s cavern wasn’t scary enough as a concept.
Not to be confused with the Ba’baw, a Gawgaw is a monster whose only crime was being born on the 24th of December at midnight. A curse for being born at the same time as Christ, the Gawgaw transform into a zombie-like creature, shambling through the streets late at night on Christmas eve. Many born on this day fight off the curse by staying up all night and counting rice.
Some say the gidmejmun are iIndividuals cursed into looking this way for their evil acts. The creatures hide in trees and caves, wailing all night to ease their sorrows and frighten those who get too close.
6. Waħx il-baqar
This terrifying beast roams through country lanes and village streets at night. His hoofs clip across the floor, and if the terrifying horns are scaring you – no need to panic. Apparently just looking into its eyes is enough to kill you.
A trickster through and through. The għafrit promises the world, and delivers nothing but pain. The only way to get your revenge is to trap the demon in a jug – which is no mean feat. The demonic spirits are slippery, and a lot more powerful than they look. Be careful what you wish for, because the best outcome on an Għafrit wish, is death.
No one would really recommend leaving your child alone in the dark, but legend has it that a baby left alone during the first 40 days of life runs the risk of having its soul replaced by a demon’s. The baby will quickly fall ill and start to look deformed. The only cure is finding a specific wayside chapel, half burying the changeling and begging a patron saint to bring your child back to you.
Dak mhux ibni, bdiltuhuli, tdejjaqhuli.
Bonus: Ċensa l-Mewt
Because even though we featured her in the last edition, she’s too terrifying not to get a second mention!
“Ara ġejja l-mewt għalik, biex tixwik, biex taqlik”
If you love these stories, then you absolutely must pick up a copy of Mifsud’s The Maltese Bestiary. And why not buy one for a friend – it is soon Christmas after all!