Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog
Ironically, the Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog is neither a dog nor a snake. It is in actuality the second largest rodent in the world, coming in a close second to the Brazilian Capibara, and it lives among the ice floes in the Arctic circle regions of Sweden and Norway.
Early Vikings called it "0ostervoort goovort", or Holy Rat, and they worshiped it as a God and built shrines in its honor. With the coming of Christianity, however, Snake Dog worship was banned, and its followers were burned at the stake and, when no wood was to be found, drowned in the fjords with giant stone crosses tied around their necks. Erik the Red, later discoverer of Greenland, was an avid Snake Dog worshipper; he fled to Iceland when neighbors found a Snake Dog shrine in a secret basement room of his stone house. In The Sage of Erik the Red, the entire Snake Dog Worshiper pogrom is dismissed in typical Nordic understatement as "some killings."
The highly aggressive Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog, which frequently attacks humans, is notable for its distinctive tentacles, each of which has a paralyzing stinger at its end. The tentacles also have suction cups that the rodent uses to grip its prey. The tentacles must be kept damp, so Snake Dogs tend to live very close to bodies of water, although they can and sometimes do wander inland. A flat tail resembling that of a beaver allows the Snake Dog to dam up small streams to create pools of water where the creatures frolic and mate. Unlike a camel's hump, which is used for the storage of water, the hump of the Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog actually holds the creature's brain.
Today, because of civilization and over-hunting, the Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog is virtually extinct. The creatures aggressive nature often forced humans to destroy them out of self-defense, while a late-20th century Chinese belief in the Snake Dog brain as an aphrodisiac led to overhunting - a famous National Geographic photo from 1999 shows the carcasses of hump-less snake dogs littering the permafrost of Spitsbergen. Today they're protected by the Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish governments and linger on in selected nature preserves.
As one might expect from such a noble and savage creature with such a rich history, the Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog appears in numerous works of music and literature. Beowulf prays to the Holy Rat before going off in search of Grendel. Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's early symphony was inspired by the life and death of a Snake Dog worshipper - he abandoned it because of protests from religious groups. Henrik Ibsen used the Snake Dog as a metaphor for unrequited love in his play The Wild Hump of Peer Silver. And of course Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream was notoriously inspired by the painter's unexpected late-night sighting of a Snake Dog on a lonely road crossing a frozen stream on a dark winter night.