#FolkloreThursday, African legends, Bats, Faerie, Faeries, folklore, folklore creatures, preview of work, Red Caps, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, short story, Stories on Scrolls, Wattpad, writing, writing competitions
Bats have always been the subject of scary stories. That’s probably due to their world domination – they can be found everywhere but for the iciest places on earth. But Red Caps are far scarier as evidenced in the folklore that will follow.
Red Caps of Folklore and Mythology
A red cap or redcap, also known as a powrie or dunter, is a type of malevolent, murderous dwarf, goblin, elf or fairy found in Border Folklore. They are said to inhabit ruined castles found along the border between England and Scotland. Redcaps are said to murder travellers who stray into their homes and dye their hats with their victims’ blood (from which they get their name). Redcaps must kill regularly, for if the blood staining their hats dries out, they die. Redcaps are very fast in spite of the heavy iron pikes they wield and the iron-shod boots they wear. Outrunning a redcap is supposedly impossible.
The redcap familiar of Lord William de Soulis, called “Robin Redcap”, is said to have wrought much harm and ruin in the lands of his master’s dwelling, Hermitage Castle. Ultimately, William was (according to legend) taken to the Ninestane Rig, a circle of stones by the castle, then wrapped in lead and boiled to death. In reality, William De Soulis was imprisoned in Dumbarton castle and died there, following his confessed complicity in the conspiracy against Robert the Bruce in 1320.
Winter Fey (Redcap)
From his snow white beard and blue, frost-covered face to the wicked look in his frozen eyes, this little humanoid betrays a cruelty that only winter itself can match.
Environment temperate forests, mountains, or underground Organization solitary, pair, or gang (3–12)
Boot Stomp (Ex) A winter redcap wears heavy iron boots with spiked soles that it uses to deadly effect in combat. These boots give the winter redcap a kick attack that it can make as a secondary attack, either as part of a full-attack action or as part of its movement, just as if it had the Spring Attack feat.
Red Cap (Su) A winter redcap wears a tiny, shapeless woolen hat, dyed over and over with the blood of its victims. While wearing this cap, a winter redcap gains a +4 bonus on damage rolls (included in the above totals) and fast healing 3. These benefits are lost if the cap is removed or destroyed. Caps are not transferable, even between other redcaps. A winter redcap can create a new cap to replace a lost cap with 10 minutes of work, but until the winter redcap takes a standard action to dip the cap in the blood of a foe the winter redcap helped to kill, the cap does not grant its bonuses. Infused with the primal power of winter’s chill, a winter fey possesses the power to freeze its victims with a mere touch. It is said that this wintery power freezes the heart of any normally good fey, corrupting the creature’s nature and infusing it with hatred and spite. While a winter fey is visually recognizable as being a variant of its normal counterpart, its personality is decidedly altered. Whereas most fey are merely capricious and whimsical, winter fey take pleasure in causing pain and suffering. A winter fey is the same size as its normal counterparts, but it typically weighs a bit more because of the ice crusting its body.
Found mainly in the reaches of the far north and the frigid regions of the First World, winter fey live in places far too cold for most humanoids to survive without magical assistance. The harsh landscape and bone-chilling climate match the hearts of these bitter creatures. A winter fey found far from cold lands is typically acting on the orders of a liege or in pursuit of an especially wily victim, as few choose to wander so close to the “hot lands” without a particular purpose in mind. However, winter fey have been known to travel deep into warmer climates in order to play a worthy enough trick on a creature. Some winter fey are known to move south every winter in search of new creatures to steal from, torment, or maim. As cruel as a winter storm, a winter fey feels no remorse for those it hurts. For its own amusement, a winter fey leads its victims far from civilization without any means to protect themselves from the elements and then abandon them, typically leaving them to freeze to death. Such a fey creature targets the innocent and gullible simply for sinister laughs, spending months crafting an exceptional ruse and then watching it play out. Savoring such delicious cruelty is what winter fey live for.
Bats in Folklore and Mythology
In European cultures, bats have long been associated with witchcraft, black magic and darkness. The Weird Sisters incorporate the fur of a bat in their brew in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written around 1603-1605. Because bats are mammals, yet can fly, this gives them status as liminal beings in many cultural traditions. In Western culture, the bat is often a symbol of the night and its foreboding nature. The bat is a primary animal associated with fictional characters of the night, both villains, such as Dracula, and heroes, such as Batman. The association of the fear of the night with the animal was treated as a literary challenge by Kenneth Oppel, who created a best-selling series of novels, beginning with Silverwing, which feature bats as the central heroic figures much as anthropomorphized rabbits were the central figures to the classic novel Watership Down.
Among some Native Americans, such as the Creek, Cherokee and Apache, the bat is a trickster spirit. In Tanzania, a winged bat cryptid known as Popobawa, is believed to be a shapeshifting evil spirit that assaults and sodomises its victims.
Not all legends surrounding bats are negative, Chinese lore claims that the bat is a symbol of longevity and happiness, and is similarly lucky in Poland, geographical Macedonia and among the Kwakiutl and Arabs.
An old wives’ tale has it that bats will entangle themselves in people’s hair. One likely source of this belief is that insect-eating bats seeking prey may dive erratically toward people, who attract mosquitoes and gnats, leading the squeamish to believe the bats are trying to get in their hair.
In Mesoamerican mythology during the Classic-Contemporary period, bats symbolized the land of the dead, which was considered to be the underworld. They also symbolized destruction and decay. Bats may have symbolized in this way because they fly only at night and dwell in caves during the daytime and are associated with human skulls and bones by classic Maya ceramists. Central Mexicans sometimes depicted bats having snouts that looked like “sacrificial knives and carrying human head” in the Postclassic era. Bat images were engraved onto funerary urns, and were emphasized with large claws and round ears by Zapotecs. They were commonly associated with death. The depiction of bats on funeral urns and goods took on some the characteristics of the jaguar, which was, and still is, another entity of the night and the underworld. There have also been instances where bats are portrayed next to other animals portrayed negatively in Mesoamerica, including scorpions and other nocturnal animals such as owls. Pre-Columbian cultures associated animals with gods, and often displayed them in art. The Moche people depicted bats in their ceramics.
A life-size, ceramic bat-man was discovered and dug up from the Templo Mayor. The Templo Mayor is located in the center of the Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan. Known as a god of death, this statue has the clawed feet and hands of a bat, but the body of a man. The statue’s human-like eyes bulged out from the bat-like head, making the Zapotec images very realistic and living. In the 1930s, the Kaqchikel Maya were said to have proclaimed the bat was the Devil’s provider. Kaqchikel would leave the Devil’s underworld home and collect blood from the animals to be used for scrumptious meals to feed the Devil. “In the myths, the beast of prey and the animal that is preyed upon play two significant roles. They represent two aspects of life—the aggressive, killing, conquering, creating aspect of life, and the one that is the matter or, you might say, the subject matter”. In the Devil’s underworld, dead sinners would work off their sins to get to heaven, indicating that the bat, too, was a sinner and worked under the authority of the Devil.
According to Oaxacan mythology, the bat’s nocturnal nature can be traced back to its ancient jealousy of birds’ feathers. One day, as the myth goes, the bat felt isolated and undesirable, and told God that he was cold. God, fair and just, turned to birds in the animal kingdom and asked if they would show compassion and donate a feather to the bat to help him keep warm. The birds all agreed and began to pluck one feather from their bodies to give to the bat. With all of these feathers, the bat became even more magnificent-looking than all birds, and was able to spread color to the night sky. During daylight, the bat created rainbows that reflected vibrant colors from the sun. With his new beauty and abilities, the bat soon became arrogant and conceited. The birds grew tired of the bat’s self-glorification and decided to fly up to heaven and ask God to do something. When the birds told God of the bat’s behaviour, He was surprised and decided to take a look Himself. When on earth, God called on the bat to show him what he was doing. The bat began to fly across the light blue sky where, one by one, each feather began to fall out, uncovering the bat’s natural, ugly-looking body. When all his feathers were gone, the bat became distressed and ashamed of his appearance. He decided to hide in caves during the day and only come out during the night to search for his long-lost feathers.
According to a particular East Nigerian tale, the bat developed its nocturnal habits after causing the death of his partner, the bush-rat. The bat and the bush-rat would share activities, such as rummaging through the grass and trees, hunting, talking and bonding during the day. When at night, the bat and the bush-rat would alternate in cooking duties, cooking what was caught, and eat together. It appeared to be a dedicated partnership, but the bat hated the bush-rat immensely. The bush-rat always found the bat’s soup more appetising, so when eating dinner one night, asked the bat why the soup tasted better than his own and also asked how it was made. The bat agreed to show him how to make it the next day, but instead was forming a malicious plan.
Next day, as the bat prepared his soup, the bush-rat came, greeting him and asking if he could be shown what was agreed yesterday. Earlier, the bat had found a pot looking exactly like the one he used usually, but it held warm water and so decided to use this instead. The bat explained to the bush-rat that to make his soup, he had to boil himself prior to serving the soup, where sweetness and flavor of the soup came from the flesh. The bat jumped in the pot seemingly excited, with the bush-rat mesmerised. After a few minutes, the bat climbed out and while the bush-rat was distracted, switched pots. The bat then served his soup out of the soup pot, both tasted it. Overanxious and eager, the bush-rat jumped into the pot of warm water. He stayed much longer in the pot, dying in the process.
When the bush-rat’s wife returned that night to find her husband dead, she wept and ran to the chief of the land’s house, telling him about what had happened and what she was sure the bat had done. In hearing this, the chief became angry, ordering for the immediate arrest of the bat. It just so happened that the bat was flying over the house and overheard what was just said. He quickly went into hiding high up in a tree. When the chief’s men went looking for the bat, he could not be found. The search to arrest the bat carried on over several days, but he still could not be found. The bat needed to eat, so he flew out of hiding every night to hunt for food to avoid being arrested. This, according to Eastern Nigeria mythology, is why bats only fly at night.
Red Caps are creepy little buggers. Not only do they have talon-like claws, but they have eyes that glow in the dark. And that’s just the tip of the scary iceberg.
There are only male Red Caps due to a curse placed upon them when they breeched the Compact between Man and Fae.
Red Caps haunt the Borderlands between England and Scotland because their legend is strongest there, but any old castle will do. Once they pick a place to live, they protect it fiercely. Their favourite way to do this is to push boulders from up high onto their unsuspecting victims.
Due to poor nutrition, they look slightly emaciated. They have almost no hair and a scraggly beards which gives them the appearance of little old men.
Their appearance isn’t the only consequence of them breaking the Compact between Man and Fae. They are no longer able to use Fae Glamour. This lack of Fae magic they bypass by practicing black magic – which, of course, is forbidden. They are also forced to wear iron-tipped shoes as punishment for their many crimes.
The only way for them to maintain their immortality is to consume the flesh of humans and Fae alike. They prefer to only hunt humans for sport, but they’ll eat them if no Fae prey are around.
Red Caps get their name from the red caps they wear. These caps are dyed in human blood. They have to do this continuously to survive.
The only way to escape these cannibals is to outsmart them.
Furry. Black. Some skinny, some fat. Big eyes – blue, green, red, orange, yellow, or purple.
Were Red Caps or other type of Goblin-Faery in past life – becoming a bat is a reward for a life well-lived. They know all the magic of their previous kind and are immune to it. They try to help others against their previous kind.
They are a little comical – try to do magic they once had; think they’re stronger than they are; bit off-balance while flying.
Do have new magic: can hypnotise enemies; have excellent hearing.
All Faery-Hybrids were once other types of Fae. They became whatever Faery-rat, Faery-bat, Faery-baboon or other creature by living a good life and going against whatever their Fae-nature was. Some see this as a reward – after all, Faery-Hybrids are as close to mortal as Fae can get. Others see it as an abomination. Tree Nymphs usually become Faery-Hybrid plants.
I wrote Haunted Bats for a Wattpad writing competition. The prompt was a picture.
I didn’t think it was scary enough though for my Stories on Scrolls series. So I added Red Caps, the ultimate scary Faeries.
“ ‘Sorry, he’s a bit of an idiot,’ a second voice said.
Peering into the darkness, I finally saw the two bats hovering close to me.
‘Let me guess: Faeries?’
‘Faery-Hybrids,’ the first bat said proudly.
‘Uh-huh. I have to get home before the Red Caps get there.’
‘We’ll help you if you can get the Red Caps to stop eating us.’
‘They’re using the black magic seeping into the ground from the possessed in your castle to make themselves more powerful,’ a third bat said.
I saw then that the whole swarm had come to hover around me. They all had big eyes that glowed softly in the moonlight: red, blue, yellow, green, orange and purple. It was actually pretty. I shook my head to clear it. Faeries weren’t pretty.”
– Haunted Bats, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the third tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Do you like bats or do you fear them? Personally I like them – they eat mosquitoes. Red Caps are obviously terrifying. Thoughts?
Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free ebook. I won’t share your information and I’ll only email you once a month with updates on new releases, special offers, and a bit of news.