Tag Archives: legends

The Venus Flytrap: Swords In The Hands Of Children


How does a sword end up in a lake or a river, and stay dredged in its bed for millennia until one day someone’s small hands or feet chance upon it when none had before? That it fell overboard, that it was offered ceremonially or amidst a sacrifice, that its weight helped drown the body that wore its scabbard – the possible stories of how it came to be there are myriad, limited only by the imagination. But its long and silent afterlife in those depths is sheer mystery. This week, 8-year old Saga Vanecek was playing in southern Sweden’s Lake Vidöstern, its waters in low season due to a drought, when she discovered a pre-Viking era sword, which archaeologists have since dated to around 1500 years old. The archaeologists are still wading in those waters. So far, they have found a fibula brooch, which dates to 3 or 4 CE. And a coin from as recently as 18CE, which seems almost mundane in comparison.

If anything can be mundane, that is. What if the actual history of that coin is stranger than that of the sword?

There are other stories of children finding ancient swords in water bodies. In 2014, 11-year old Yang Junxi found a 3000-year old bronze sword while washing his hands in China’s Laozhoulin river. Last year, when another little girl found another sword in a lake, the discovery was laughed off by the person who claimed he’d put it there. Legend has it that Dozmary Pool, England, was where the mystical Lady of the Lake bestowed on King Arthur the sword named Excalibur, and where it was returned to as he died. Legend also holds that only the rightful Queen of Britain would next be given the weapon. Imagine being Matilda Jones, then age 7, and pulling a huge sword out of this very lake. And then having a local man who said he bought a cinema prop in the ‘80s with which he would drunkenly “knight” people claim he had thrown it into the lake back then as a Celtic ritual. How disenchanting.

When Monty Python and the Holy Grail was written, the lines “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony” must have seemed both brilliant and accurate. And they were, and would be still – except that we’ve seen what both capitalism-driven democracy and “due process” enact in the world, and don’t do for us, and the alternates don’t seem so farcical at all. Would I rather put my trust in a thrilled child who chances on a relic than on a predator who moved up level after level of power through entitlement and intimidation? Yes, I would.

I’m reaching for these stories neither as metaphor nor as deflection. Though it’s true that some things must lie in wait for a long time, and that the fantastical is sometimes real. It’s just that some weeks need a story out of the ordinary, for they help us cope with what is staggeringly, unconscionably unjust – and common.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on October 11th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Legendary Suckers


It must be terrifying to have it happen, to wake up one morning and find your animals – livestock, but perhaps pets too – completely exsanguinated, three puncture wounds on each carrion, evidence of vampiric occurrence. You would test your gun and say your prayers, tell your neighbours, and little by little the mythology of the creature that did this would grow, as would its trail of carnage.

They say they’ve found it: the chupacabra. But then, they’ve always been finding it, then second-guessing that they have. A fortnight ago, not one but two strange beasts were shot dead in North Texas, and it seemed, not for the first time, that the mysterious “goatsucker” of contemporary Latin legend had been found. And, not for the first time either, these claims were invalidated.

One news report said: “the DNA test showed that the animal was a canine-coyote hybrid and not a chupacabra.” As if they had the DNA of a chupacabra to compare it with and be able to say, conclusively, that it was not one. As if the chupacabra wasn’t exactly that: a canine-coyote mongrel with mange and a bad reputation.

I’m not particularly invested in proving the existence of the chupacabra. I am sure that, to people who’ve seen it, or had it wreak its terror on their farms, it exists indeed, no less than the phenomena I’ve encountered are real to me. I will believe this without a grain of salt, but I fall into that category of people who aren’t affronted by the paranormal. What intrigues me, then, is how scientific efforts to classify this creature are so quickly nullified. For a creature of a relatively short recorded history, dating back to just 1990, it should be rather satisfyingly easy to catalog it as an unfortunate crossbreed and be done with it, putting us unenlightened freaks in our place.

Yet the chupacabra evades once again. And this is what makes me think that it isn’t that the chupacabra, with such a dramatic approach, doesn’t want to be found, but that we do not really want to find it. As with all things stripped of their mystery, it would immediately lose its draw. And we all enjoy a little mystery.

Relative to the cryptids I have known, I feel sorry for the chupacabra. It’s less pretty than a fox, shyer than a vulture, a disadvantaged predator. It hasn’t, thus far, been known to touch babies. I’m not saying I’d like to have one in my life, but having consorted with at least one incubus, turned from my door many more, and jousted with trickster gods and ordinary sleight, I think the poor thing deserves a break.

And then I remember some less supernatural, but equally scary, beings I have learnt (from much experience) to spot on sight, and I understand better: under the decoy of mythology, under the cover of night, those with no quintessential magic of their own perform as all parasites do. Perhaps, like an unconvinced scientist, I too have miscatalogued. What I may have maligned as vampiric might only be chupracabric – miserable, misunderstood, maybe delusional, and profiting from the gullibility of people like me, partial to the profound. I wonder what might happen if I name the next chupacabra I see as counterfeit, and rescind its enigma…

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.