Three French Mythological Beasts You May Not Know About...

Posted by Yasmin on 3rd Nov 2023 in the blog in the french culture category

Untitled design 1

To keep the spooky energy alive for a little bit longer following halloween, here's a new blog about three absolutely bone-chilling mythical beasts that originate from France. Who knew such a romantic country could have such a dark twist to its folklore...

1. The Lou Carcolh

Untitled design

The French may be notorious for their ‘spirited’ outlook on life, embracing phrases such as ‘L’eau fait pleurer, le vin fait chanter’ ('water makes one cry, wine makes one sing'), and pairing their royal liquor with a plate of perfectly assorted cheeses. This, following a nice plate of garlic-infused escargots, will surely fill up one’s growing ‘petit creux’ ('little hollow' — an informal French idiom to express hunger). However, the thought of a monstrous escargot devouring us back is an idea not so uncommon to those living in the commune of Hastingues, in the French department of Landes. The townsfolk coined the nickname ‘Lou Carcolh’ for the commune, due to its location on a round-shaped hill hugging the outside of an alleged cavern with a large net of tunnels, where deep within lives a monstrous beast named the ‘Lou Carcolh' — the nightmare snail.

Nobody knows how long the Carcolh has lived there or how old it is, but nonetheless, the vision of this slimy creature is a gruesome one. It is described as half snake and half mollusk with a snail shell on its back. With hairy, slithering tentacles extending and sprawling for miles — covered in gruesome slime dripping out of its grotesque face — it slyly snatches its prey and devours it whole, usually in the dark, dead hours of the night. Before the Spanish invasion, it is said that the locals of Hastingues hid their treasures and important belongings underground to prevent them from being stolen or lost to the ages. Future generations who avariciously dug and searched the hill and cave in secret for those treasures reputedly witnessed and were captured by the Lou Carcolh.

Interestingly, there is no written document about the Lou Carcolh dated earlier than the 20th century. However, many mentions contain descriptions of the vicious monster, as well as tales of being able to see the snail’s slime trail glistening in the sunlight from the top of the church tower, alerting the locals of its hungry arrival long before it gets close enough to attack. There was apparently a witness who stole some eggs from the mollusk’s cave, and managed to escape and barricade the entrance before he met a squelching demise. It became an idiom especially to warn women and children who wanted to walk outside at night, that “the Carcolh will catch you!”. This pertained mostly to the dangers of strangers who may be out at night, but the Lou Carcolh may be the most petrifying of them all — if it really is just in hibernation, and not dead or entirely mythical as some people choose to believe.

The Lou Carcolh reportedly hasn’t been witnessed in around fifty years or so, which means the giant beast is soon due to awaken to quench its burgeoning hunger. If you ever visit Hastingues, beware your gluttony! The caves you venture into may be the place of your self-sacrifice to the Carcolh’s everlasting human feast…

2. The Beast of Gévaudan

Untitled design 5

Second on the list we have the terrorising ‘Beast of Gévaudan’. This creature’s story is especially harrowing due to the fact that it was actually recorded in history. Unlike 21st century news of WiFi blackouts and AI overtaking the world at lightning speeds, the people of 1764 and 1767 had a much more feral and bloody crisis on their hands. This ferocious Beast committed a series of vicious attacks in the province of Gévaudan in southern France on around a hundred men, women and children. La Bête is described as being wolf-like in appearance, with sharp, gnawing teeth, fiery eyes, a long snout, stripy red or black fur, and swinging a large, furry, boisterous tail. However, some scholars debate that it could have been some kind of werewolf, war-dog, bear-dog, or even a different creature entirely such as a lion or striped hyena. This theory was further supported by a local dragoon leader and the first of multiple to hunt the beast — named Jean-Baptiste Duhamel — who said, “You will undoubtedly think, like I do, that this is a monster, the father of which is a lion. What its mother was remains to be seen.”

Some suspect the killings could have been premeditated and committed by a serial killer; as many as 16 victims were reported to have been decapitated, which is a method of killing that few animals are able to consistently achieve. Many were hunted by this infamous beast, but the first burial notice recorded from an encounter with this dark, fantastical misfortune was of a young fourteen year old girl named Jeanne Boulet, who was attacked and killed while tending to a flock of sheep in the mounds of Vivarais on the outskirts of Gévaudan. While young women like Jeanne were not so lucky to live to tell their chilling tale, others were, such as 10 year old Jaques Portefaix. He allegedly fended off the rabid beast by launching various sticks at it, and young children such as himself who fought the creature were rewarded by King Louis XV an education fully funded by the palace. The King took it upon himself to send royal hunters to capture this beast, as it became a creature with a large reputable bounty on its head.

In September 1765 a large wolf was shot by a royal gun-bearer named Francis Antoine, who was awarded highly and seemed to have killed this manic creature for good. However, more ignored attacks began again a few months later, and finally an outbreak of them in June 1767 caused enough bloodshed that it led a nobleman to organise a hunt to finally rid the country of this beast once and for all. So many attacks conjured the theory that there was more than one Beast of Gévaudan, but after another wolf was shot by a local on June 19th, the majority of people seemed to believe this was the death of the Beast. Although these attacks seemed to have ceased, or at least continually unrecorded, there’s always a lurking possibility that this terrorising beast could be tailing your scent as you walk by the looming forests of Gévaudan.

3. La Gargouille

Untitled design 6

You might recognise this last terrifying, winged creature, and may have even walked past various statues of it throughout your life. This historical beast, known as the ‘Gargouille’, is infused with French legend, and its supposed death even formed a small tradition in France for a period in history. The story goes that a gargantuan and fierce water-belching dragon terrorised the town of Rouen in Normandy — flooding it from the marshes along the banks of the Seine which trailed through the land. The creature was said to have thick and ugly, coarse, grey-green skin on a body resembling a serpent; big bat-like wings; a long, sharp, spiky tail; clawed and webbed feet; a long, dripping snout; and a void-like mouth with deathly sharp fangs.

The Dragon flooded the fields and reeked chaos and tragedy, sinking ships and devouring the passengers as well as anyone who dared to cross its path to satiate its growling hunger. It wouldn’t be long before the entire town was drenched and utterly destroyed by this mischievous monster. The superiors running the city haggled a deal with the demanding beast that in exchange for keeping their citizens safe from outside dangers, they would supply it with one human per year for its consumption along with its own supply of livestock, and free reign on anything — or anyone — that crosses its path. This was deeply, morally disturbing for the superiors, especially hearing the Gargouille express its preference for virgin maidens. The only compromise they could find was giving it prisoners who were already condemned to death, praying that would keep the greedy Gargouille at bay.

This continued until an archbishop named Father Romain (St Romanus) decided to brave this vicious and terrifying creature head on, reputedly on the condition that the people would build and join his church. He brought with him a prisoner to lure the Gargouille out of its lair. Moments before its petrifying pounce, the priest struck up in the air a cross made from pure gold, which he had secretly been hiding as a weapon. The metal reflected the sunlight directly into the beast’s eyes which made it submit almost immediately to the archbishop, who then tied a leash around its neck with his scarf and led it back into the town with no resistance. The prisoner who almost met his death set the foundation for the 'Bishop's Privilege', which was a tradition ongoing until the start of the French Revolution to annually pardon a prisoner who was condemned to death.

The Beast was burned at the stake for its inhumane crimes but it is rumoured that the Gargouille’s head and shoulders remained even after the flames died out. In other accounts they even turned to stone — which were then mounted outside the church to remind the citizens of the power and goodness of Christianity and its God. The rest of the Gargouille's ashes were allegedly thrown into the river, and the Beast was slain forever. The Garouille’s remains mounted to the church inspired an architect with the concept of the more commonly known stone fixture, after seeing rain pour out of its mouth away from the masonry of the church from atop the wall. This protective gutter system spread all over churches across France and the rest of the world, which also turned into regular gargoyle statues — sometimes known as ‘grotesques’ — after more advanced gutter systems were invented. These stone beasts symbolise protection from evil and are in part designed to spread the message of the goodness of God through the fable of the Gargouille. However, some also believe that they resembled relics from Pagan cultures and religions which predated the Christian churches as a way to make conversion to Christianity more appealing to Pagans. If you ever look up at a church and find yourself beneath one of these winged creatures, you best pray you won’t get drenched!

Check out some of our other blog posts!

Find out your French level!

Posted on by Adam in the french test category

Do you want to find out your level in French? Then take this test NOW!

Read more

Emily in Paris

Posted on by Kafi in the misc., french culture category

Emily in Paris season 1 vocabulary recap. What you can learn from the Netflix hit show!

Read more

Have fun learning French Today

People from all over the world enjoy learning French with Alexa Polidoro’s popular French audio and video lessons.