A to Z Challenge Folklore

Cannibalistic Fae: Ogres #folklore #AtoZChallenge

C is for Cannibalistic

I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.

If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.

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cannibal n person who eats human flesh; animal that eats others of its own kind

Collins English Dictionary

My most memorable first encounter with an ogre in fiction is the first Shrek movie. But there is so much more to this maligned creature.


The Jataka, Vol. V, tr. by H.T. Francis, [1905]

Once upon a time there lived a king in a city of the Northern Pañcālas, in the kingdom of Kampilla, named Pañcāla. His queen consort conceived and bare a son. In a former existence her rival in the harem, being in a rage, said, “Some day I shall be able to devour your offspring,” and putting up a prayer to this effect she was turned into an ogress. Then she found her opportunity and, seizing the child before the very eyes of the queen and crunching and devouring it as if it were a piece of raw flesh, she made off. A second time she did exactly the same thing, but on the third occasion, when the queen had entered into her lying-in chamber, a guard surrounded the palace and kept a strict watch. On the day when she brought forth, the ogress again appeared and seized the child. The queen uttered a loud cry of “Ogress,” and armed soldiers, running up when the alarm was given by the queen, went in pursuit of the ogress. Not having time to devour the child, she fled and hid herself in a sewer. The child, taking the ogress for its mother, put its lips to her breast, and she conceived a mother’s love for the infant, and repairing to a cemetery she hid him in a rock-cave and watched over him. And as he gradually grew up, she brought and gave him human flesh, and they both lived on this food. The boy did not know that he was a human being; but, though he believed himself to be the son of the ogress, he could not get rid of or conceal his bodily form. So to bring this about she gave him a certain root. And by virtue of this root he concealed his form and continued to live on human flesh. Now the ogress went away to do service to the great king Vessavaṇa, and died then and there. But the queen for the fourth time gave birth to a boy, and because the ogress was now dead, he was safe, and from the fact of his being born victorious over his enemy the ogress, he was called Jayaddisa (prince Victor). As soon as he was grown up and thoroughly educated in all learning, he assumed the sovereignty by raising the umbrella, and ruled over the kingdom. At that time his queen consort gave birth to the Bodhisatta, and they called him prince Alīnasattu. When he grew up and was fully instructed in all learning, he became viceroy. But the son of the ogress by carelessly destroying the root was unable to hide himself, but living in the cemetery he devoured human flesh in a visible form. People on seeing him were alarmed, and came and complained to the king: “Sire, an ogre in a visible shape is eating human flesh in the cemetery. In course of time he will find his way into the city and kill and eat the people. You ought to have him caught.” The king readily assented, and gave orders for his seizure. An armed force was stationed all round the city. The son of the ogress, naked and horrible to look upon, with the fear of death upon him, cried aloud and sprang into the midst of the soldiers. They, with a cry of “Here’s the ogre,” alarmed for their very lives, broke into two divisions and fled. And the ogre, escaping from thence, hid himself in the forest and no longer approached the haunts of men. And he took up his abode at the foot of a banyan tree near a high-road through the forest, and as people travelled by it, he would seize them one by one, and entering the wood killed and ate them. Now a brahmin, at the head of a caravan, gave a thousand pieces of money to the warders of the forest, and was journeying along the road with five hundred waggons. The ogre in human shape leaped upon them with a roar. The men fled in terror and lay grovelling on the ground. He seized the brahmin, And being wounded by a splinter of wood as he was fleeing, and being hotly pursued by the forest rangers, he dropped the brahmin and went and lay down at the foot of the tree where he dwelt. On the seventh day after this, king Jayaddisa proclaimed a hunt and set out from the city. Just as he was starting, a native of Takkasilā, a brahmin named Nanda, who supported his parents, came into the king’s presence, bringing four stanzas, each worth a hundred pieces of money. The king stopped to listen to them, and ordered a dwelling-place to be assigned to him. Then going to the chase, he said, “That man on whose side the deer escapes shall pay the brahmin for his verses.” Then a spotted antelope was started, and making straight for the king escaped. The courtiers all laughed heartily. The king grasped his sword, and pursuing the animal came up with it after a distance of three leagues, and with a blow from his sword he severed it in two and hung the carcase on his carrying-pole. Then, as he returned, he came to the spot where the man-ogre was sitting, and after resting for a while on the kuça grass, he essayed to go on. Then the ogre rose up and cried “Halt! where are you going? You are my prey,” and seizing him by the hand, he spoke the first stanza:

Lo! after my long seven days’ fast
A mighty prey appears at last!
Pray tell me, art thou known to fame?
I fain would hear thy race and name.

The king was terrified at the sight of the ogre, and, becoming as rigid as a pillar, was unable to flee; but, recovering his presence of mind, he spoke the second stanza:

Jayaddisa, if known to thee,
Pañcāla’s king I claim to be:
Hunting thro’ fen and wood I stray:
Eat thou this deer; free me, I pray.

The ogre, on hearing this, repeated the third stanza:

To save thy skin, thou offerest me for food
This quarry, king, to which my claim is good:
Know I will eat thee first, and yet not balk
My taste for venison: cease from idle talk.

The king, on hearing this, called to mind the brahmin Nanda, and spoke the fourth stanza:

Should I not purchase the release I crave,
Yet let me keep the promise that I gave
A brahmin friend. To-morrow’s dawn shall see
My honour saved, and my return to thee.

The ogre, on hearing this, spoke the fifth stanza:

Standing so near to death, what is the thing
That thus doth sorely trouble thee, O king?
Tell me the truth, that so perhaps we may
Consent to let thee go for one brief day.

The king, explaining the matter, spoke the sixth stanza:

A promise once I to a brahmin made;
That promise still is due, that debt unpaid:
The vow fulfilled, to-morrow’s dawn shall see
My honour saved, and my return to thee.

On hearing this, the ogre spoke the seventh stanza:

A promise to a brahmin thou hast made;
That promise still is due, that vow unpaid.
Fulfil thy vow, and let to-morrow see
Thy honour saved and thy return to me.

And having thus spoken, he let the king go. And he, being allowed to depart, said, “Do not be troubled about me; I will return at daybreak,” and, taking note of certain landmarks by the way, he returned to his army, and with this escort made his entrance into the city. Then he summoned the brahmin Nanda, seated him on a splendid throne, and, after hearing his verses, presented him with four thousand pieces of money. And he made the brahmin mount a chariot and sent him away, bidding his servants conduct him straight to Takkasilā. On the next day, being anxious to return, he called his son, and thus instructed him.

The Master, to explain the matter, spoke two stanzas:

Escaped from cruel goblin he did come
Full of sweet longings to his lovely home:
[26] His word to brahmin friend he never broke,
But thus to dear Alīnasattu spoke.

“My son, reign thou anointed king to-day
Ruling o’er friend and foe with righteous sway;
Let no injustice mar thy happy state;
I now from cruel goblin seek my fate.”

The prince, on hearing this, spoke the tenth stanza:

Fain would I learn what act or word
Lost me the favour of my lord,
That thou shouldst raise me to the throne
Which, losing thee, I would not own.

The king, on hearing this, spoke the next stanza:

Dear son, I fail to call to mind
A single word or act unkind,
But now that honour’s debt is paid,
I’ll keep the vow to ogre made.

The prince, on hearing this, spoke a stanza:

Nay, I will go and thou stay here;
No hope of safe return, I fear.
But shouldst thou go, I’ll follow thee
And both alike will cease to be.

On hearing this, the king spoke a stanza:

With thee doth moral law agree,
But life would lose all charm for me,
If on wood-spit this ogre grim
Should roast and eat thee, limb by limb.

Hearing this, the prince spoke a stanza:

If from this ogre thou wilt fly,
For thee I am prepared to die:
Yea, gladly would I die, O king,
If only life to thee I bring.

On hearing this the king, recognizing his son’s virtue, accepted his offer, saying, “Well, go, dear son.” And so he bade his parents farewell and left the city.

The Master, to make the matter clear, spoke half a stanza:

Then the brave prince to his dear parents bade
A last farewell, with low obeisance made.

Then his parents and his sister and wife and the courtiers went forth from the city with him. And the prince here inquired of his father as to the way, and, after making careful arrangements and having admonished the others, he ascended the road and made for the abode of the ogre, as fearless as a maned lion. His mother, seeing him depart, could not restrain herself and fell fainting on the earth. His father, stretching out his arms, wept aloud.

The Master, making the matter clear, spoke the other half stanza:

His sire with outstretched arms, his son to stay,
Wept sore. His mother, grieving, swooned away.

And, thus making clear the prayer uttered by the father and the Act of Truth repeated by the mother and sister and wife, he uttered yet four more stanzas:

But when his son had vanished quite
From his despairing father’s sight,
    With hands upraised the gods he praised
Kings Varuna and Soma hight,
Brahma and lords of Day and Night.
By these kept safe and sound of limb,
Escape, dear son, from ogre grim.”

“As Rāma’s fair-limbed mother won 1
Salvation for her absent son,
When woods of Daṇḍaka he sought,
So for my child is freedom wrought;
And by this Act of Truth I’ve charmed
The gods to bring thee home unharmed.”

“Brother, in thee no fault at all
Open or secret I recall;
And by this Act of Truth I’ve charmed
The gods to bring thee home unharmed.”

“Void of offence art thou to me,
I too, my lord, bear love to thee;
And by this Act of Truth I’ve charmed
The gods to bring thee home unharmed.”

And the prince, following his father’s directions, set out on the road to the dwelling of the ogre. But the ogre thought, “Kshatriyas have many wiles: who knows what will happen?” and climbing the tree he sat looking out for the coming of the king. On seeing the prince, he thought, “The son has stopped his father and is coming himself. There’s no fear about him.” And descending from the tree he sat with his back to him. On coming up the youth stood in front of the ogre, who then spoke this stanza:

Whence art thou, youth so fair and fine?
Knowest thou this forest realm is mine?
They hold their lives but cheap who come
Where savage ogres find a home.

Hearing this, the youth spoke this stanza:

I know thee, cruel ogre, well;
Within this forest thou dost dwell.
Jayaddisa’s true son stands here:
Eat me and free my father dear.

Then the ogre spoke this stanza:

Jayaddisa’s true son I know;
Thy looks confess that it is so.
[31] A hardship surely ’tis for thee
To die, to set thy father free.

Then the youth spoke this stanza:

No mighty deed is this, I feel,
To die, and for a father’s weal
And mother’s love to pass away
And win the bliss of heaven for aye.

On hearing this, the ogre said, “There is no creature, prince, that is not afraid of death. Why are not you afraid?” And he told him the reason and recited two stanzas:

No evil deed of mine at all,
Open or secret, I recall:
Well weighed are birth and death by me,
As here, so ’tis in worlds to be.

Eat me to-day, O mighty one,
And do the deed that must be done.
I’ll fall down dead from some high tree,
Then eat my flesh, as pleaseth thee.

The ogre, on hearing his words, was terrified and said, “One cannot eat this man’s flesh”; and, thinking by some stratagem to make him run away, he said:

If ’tis thy will to sacrifice
    Thy life, young prince, to free thy sire,
Then go in haste is my advice
    And gather sticks to light a fire.

Having so done, the youth returned to him.

The Master, to make the matter clear, spoke another stanza:

Then the brave prince did gather wood
And, rearing high a mighty pyre,
Cried, lighting it, “prepare thy food;
See! I have made a goodly fire.”

The ogre, when he saw the prince had returned and made a fire, said, “This is a lion-hearted fellow. Death has no terrors for him. Up to this time I have never seen so fearless a man.” And he sat there, astounded, from time to time looking at the youth. And he, seeing what the ogre was about, spoke this stanza:

Stand not and gaze in dumb amaze,
    Take me and slay, and eat, I pray,
While still alive, I will contrive
    To make thee fain to eat to-day.

Then the ogre, hearing his words, spoke this stanza:

One so truthful, kindly, just,
    Surely never may be eaten,
Or his head, who eats thee, must
    Be to sevenfold pieces beaten.

The prince, on hearing this, said, “If you do not want to eat me, why did you bid me break sticks and make a fire?” and when the ogre replied, “It was to test you; for I thought you would run away,” the prince said, “How now will you test me, seeing that, when in an animal form, I allowed Sakka, king of heaven, to put my virtue to the test?” And with these words he spoke this stanza:—

 To Indra once like some poor brahmin drest
    The hare did offer its own flesh to eat;
Thenceforth its form was on the moon imprest;
    That gracious orb as Yakkha now we greet.

The ogre, on hearing this, let the prince go and said,

As the clear moon from Rāhu’s grip set free
Shines at midmonth with wonted brilliancy,
So too do thou, Kampilla’s lord of might,
Escaped from ogre, shed the joyous light
Of thy bright presence, sorrowing friends to cheer,
And bring back gladness to thy parents dear.

And saying, “Go, heroic soul,” he let the Great Being depart. And having made the ogre humble, he taught him the five moral laws, and, wishing to put it to the test whether or not he was an ogre, he thought, “The eyes of ogres are red and do not wink. They cast no shadow and are free from all fear. This is no ogre; it is a man. They say my father had three brothers carried off by an ogress; two of them must have been devoured by her, and one will have been cherished by her with the love of a mother for her child: this must be he. I will take him with me and tell my father, and have him established on the throne.” And so thinking he cried, “Ho! Sir, you are no ogre; you are my father’s elder brother. Well, come with me and raise your umbrella as emblem of sovereignty in your ancestral kingdom.” And when he replied, “I am not a man,” the prince said, “You do not believe me. Is there any one you will believe?” “Yes,” he said, “there is in such and such a place an ascetic gifted with supernatural vision.” So he took the ogre with him and went there. The ascetic no sooner caught sight of them than he said, “With what object are you two descendants from a common ancestor walking here?” And with these words he told them how they were related. The man-eater believed and said, “Dear friend, do you go home: as for me, I am born with two natures in one form. I have no wish to be a king. I’ll become an ascetic.” So he was ordained to the religious life by the ascetic. Then the prince saluted him and returned to the city.

[35] The Master, to make the matter clear, spoke this stanza:

Then did bold prince Alīnasattu pay
    All due obeisance to that ogre grim,
And free once more did wend his happy way
    Back to Kampilla, safe and sound of limb.

And when the youth reached the city, the Master explained to the townsfolk and the rest what the prince had done, and spoke the last stanza:

Thus faring forth afoot from town and country side,
    Lo! eager throngs proclaim
    The doughty hero’s name,
Or as aloft on car or elephant they ride
    With homage due they come
    To lead the victor home.

The king heard that the prince had returned and set out to meet him, and the prince, escorted by a great multitude, came and saluted the king. And he asked him, saying, “Dear son, how have you escaped from so terrible an ogre?” And he said, “Dear father, he is no ogre; he is your elder brother and my uncle.” And he told him all about it and said, “You must go and see my uncle.” The king at once ordered a drum to be beaten, and set out with a great retinue to visit the ascetics. The chief ascetic told them the whole story in full; how the child had been carried off by an ogress, and how instead of eating him she had brought him up as an ogre, and how they were related one to another. The king said, “Come, brother, do you reign as king.” “No, thank you, Sire,” he replied. “Then come and take up your abode in our park and I will supply you with the four requisites.” He refused to come. Then the king made a settlement on a certain mountain, not far from their hermitage, and, forming a lake, prepared cultivated fields and, bringing a thousand families with much treasure, he founded a big village and instituted a system of almsgiving for the ascetics. This village grew into the town Cullakammāsadamma.

The region where the ogre was tamed by the Great Being Sutasoma was to be known as the town of Mahākammāsadamma

Pueblo Indian Folk-Stories By Charles Lummis [1910]


A DISOBEDIENT child is something I have never seen among the Pueblos, in all the years I have lived with them. The parents are very kind, too. My little amigos in Isleta and the other Pueblo towns–for they are my friends in all–are never spoiled; but neither are they punished much. 1 Personal acquaintance with a spanking is what very few of them have. The idea of obedience is inborn and inbred. A word is generally enough; and for extreme cases it only needs the threat: “Look out, or I will send for the Grandfathers!”

Now, perhaps you do not know who the Grandfathers are; but every Pueblo youngster does. It has nothing to do with the “truly” grandpa, who is as lovely an institution among the Tée-wahn as anywhere else. No, the Abuelos were of an altogether different sort. That name is Spanish, and has three applications in Isleta: real grandparents; the remarkable masked officials of a certain dance; and the bad Old Ones. These last are called in the Tée-wahn tongue T’ai-kár-nin (Those-Who-Eat-People). They were, in fact, aboriginal Ogres, who once sadly ravaged Isleta.

The T’ai-kár-nin had no town, but dwelt in caves of the lava mountain a couple of miles west of this village–the Kú-mai hill. It is a bad place at best: bleak, black, rough, and forbidding–just the place that a properly constituted Ogre would choose for his habitation. In the first place, it is to the west of the town, which is “bad medicine” in itself to any Indian, for that point of the compass belongs to the dead and to bad spirits. Then its color is against it; and, still worse, it is to this day the common stamping-ground of all the witches in this part of the country, where they gather at night for their diabolical caucuses. Of its serious disrepute I can convey no better idea to the enlightened and superstition less American mind than by saying that it is a sort of aboriginal “haunted house.”

So the hill of Kú-mai was a peculiarly fit place for the Ogres to dwell in. Deep in its gloomy bowels they huddled on the white sand which floors all the caves there; and crannies overhead carried away the smoke from their fires, which curled from crevices at the top of the peak far above them. Ignorant Americans would probably have taken it for a volcanic emission; but the good people of Shee-eh-whíb-bak knew better.

These Ogres were larger than ordinary men, but otherwise carried no outward sign of their odious calling. Their teeth were just like anybody’s good teeth, and they had neither “tushes” nor horns nor hoofs. Indeed, except for their unusual size, they would have been easily mistaken for Indians of some distant tribe. But, ay de mi! How strong they were! One could easily whip five common men in a bunch–“men even as strong as my son, Francisco,” says Desiderio; and Francisco is as stout as a horse.

They were people of very fastidious palates, these Ogres. Nothing was good enough for them except human flesh–and young at that. Their fare was entirely baby–baby young, baby brown, and baby very fat. They never molested the adults; but as often as they found an appetite they descended upon the village, scooped up what children they could lay their hands upon, and carried them off to their caves. There they had enormous ollas, into which half a dozen children could be thrown at once.

There seemed to be some spell about these Ogres–besides their frequent hungry spells–for the Pueblos, who were so brave in the face of other foes, never dared fight these terrible cave-dwellers. They continued to devastate the village, until babies were at a premium, and few to be had at any price; and the only way the people dared to try to circumvent them was by strategy. In time it came about that every house where there were children, or a reasonable hope of them, had secret cubby-holes back of the thick adobe walls; with little doors which shut flush with the wall and were also plastered with adobe, so that when they were shut a stranger–even if he were a sharp-eyed Indian–would never dream of their existence. And whenever arose the dreaded cry, “Here come the T’ai-kár-nin!” the children were hustled, shivering and noiseless, into the secret recesses, and the doors were shut. Then Mr. Ogre could come in and peer and sniff about as he liked, but no chance to fill his market-basket could he find. And when parents were forced to go away and leave the babies behind, the poor young ones were inclosed in their safe but gloomy prisons, and there in darkness and silence had to await the parental home-coming. These inconveniences were gladly borne, however, since they preserved the children–and we all know that preserved baby is better than baby-stew. It was, of course, rather rough on the Ogres, who began to find all their belts most distressfully loose; but no one seemed to consider their feelings. They were pretty well starved when the Spaniards came and delivered the suffering Isleteños by driving off these savage neighbors. This looks suspiciously as if the whole myth of the Ogres had sprung from the attacks of the cruel Apaches and Navajos in the old days.

There was one queer thing about these Ogres on their forages they always wore buckskin masks, just like those of the Abuelos of the sacred dance. Their bare faces were seen sometimes by hunters who encountered them on the llano, but never here in town. It was in connection with these masks that Isleta had a great sensation recently. The Hungry Grandfathers had been almost forgotten, except as a word to change: the minds of children who had about quarter of a mind to be naughty; but interest was revived by a discovery of which my venerable friend Desiderio Peralta was the hero.

This dear old man–news of his death has come to me as I write this very chapter–was a remarkable character. He was one of “the oldest inhabitants” of New Mexico–older than any other Indian among the twelve hundred of Isleta, except tottering Diego; and that is saying a great deal. His hair was very gray, and his kindly old face such an incredible mass of wrinkles that I used to fancy Father Time himself must have said: “No, no! You apprentices never do a thing right! Here, this is the way to put on wrinkles!” and that he then and there took old Desiderio, for a model, and showed the journeymen wrinkle-makers a trick they never dreamed of. Certainly the job was never so well done before. From chin to hair-roots, from ear to ear, was such a crowded, tangled, inextricable maze of furrows and cross-harrow lines as I firmly believe never dwelt together on any other one human face. Why, Desiderio, could have furnished an army of old men with wrinkles! I never saw him smile without fearing that some of those wrinkles were going to fall off the edge, so crowded were they at best!

But if his face was arrugada, his brain was not. He was bright and chipper as a young blackbird, and it was only of late that a touch of rheumatism took the youth out of his legs. Until recently he held the important position of Captain of War for the pueblo; and only two years ago I had the pleasure of going with two hundred other Indians on a huge rabbit-hunt which was under his personal supervision, and in which he was as active as any one, both on his feet and with the unerring boomerang. His eyes were good to find about as much through the sights of a rifle as anybody’s; and on the whole he was worth a good deal more than I expect to be some seventy years from now. He was a good neighbor, too; and I had few pleasanter hours than those spent in talking with this genial old shrivel, who was muy sabio in all the folk-lore and wisdom of his unfathomable race; and very close-mouthed about it, too–as they all are. Still, there were some things which he seemed willing to confide to me; and he always had. an attentive listener.

Desiderio was not yet too old to herd his own cattle during the season when they roam abroad; and, while thus engaged, he made a discovery which set the whole quiet village agog, though no other outsider ever heard of it.

One day in 1889 Desiderio started out from the village, driving his cattle. Having steered them across the acequia and up the sand-hills to the beginning of the plain, he climbed to the top of the Kú-mai to watch them through the day–as has been the custom of Isleta herders from time immemorial. In wandering over the rocky top of the peak, he came to a ledge of rocks on the southeast spur of the hill; and there found a fissure, at one end of which was a hole as large as a man’s head. Desiderio put his face and his wrinkles down to the hole to see what he could see; and all was dark inside. But if his eyes strained in vain, his ears did not. From far down in the bowels of the mountain came a strange roaring, as of a heavy wind. Desiderio was somewhat dismayed at this; for he knew at once that he had found one of the chimneys of the Ogres; but he did not run away. Hunting around awhile, he found in the fissures of the rocks some ancient buckskin masks–the very ones worn by the Ogres, of course. He put them back, and coming to town straightway told the medicine-men of the Black Eyes–one of the two parties here. They held a junta; and after mature deliberation decided to go and get the masks. This was done, and the masks are now treasured in the Black Eye medicine-house.

I have several times carefully explored the Kú-mai–a difficult and tiresome task, thanks to the knife-like lava fragments which cover it everywhere, and which will cut a pair of new strong shoes to pieces in an afternoon. It is true that in this hill of bad repute there are several lava-caves, with floors of white sand blown in from the llano; and that in these caves there are a few human bones. No doubt some of the savage nomads camped or lived there. None of those famous ollas are visible; nor have I ever been able to find any other relics of the Hungry Grandfathers.



THE word izimu, in the Zulu tales, is usually, as by Callaway and Theal, translated ‘cannibal.’ But this word, with us, is ordinarily applied to people who, for one reason or another, are accustomed to eat human flesh. As Callaway pointed out long ago, however, “it is perfectly clear that the cannibals of the Zulu legends are not common men; they are magnified into giants and magicians.” Perhaps it might also be said that the attributes of the legendary amazimu were transferred to the abhorred beings, who, driven to cannibalism by famine, kept up the habit when it was no longer needed and, as Ulutuli Dhladhla told the bishop, “rebelled against men, forsook them, and liked to eat them, and men drove them away . . . so they were regarded as a distinct nation, for men were game (izinyamazane) to them.”[1] In fact, he distinctly says that “once they were men,” and implies that they were so no longer.


The Basuto use the word madimo (singular ledimo) for ‘cannibals,’ badimo for ‘spirits’ or ‘gods.’ Zimwi is the Swahili word for a being best described as an ogre; the word occurs in old, genuine Bantu tales, and I have heard it used by a native; but most Swahili nowadays seem to prefer the Arabic loan-words jini and shetani. A ghost is mzuka; but the stem -zimu survives in the expression kuzimu, “the place of spirits “-thought of as underground -and muzimu, a place where offerings are made to, spirits. The Wachaga and the Akikuyu have their irimu, the Akamba the eimu (the Kamba language is remarkable for dropping out consonants), and the Duala, on the other side of Africa, their edimo. Other peoples in West Africa, while having a notion of beings more or less similar, call them by other names. The makishi of the Ambundu in Angola play the same part in folk-tales as the amazimu-their name may perhaps be connected with the Kongo nkishi (nkisi in some dialects), which meant originally ‘a spirit,’ but now more usually ‘a charm,’ or the object commonly called a ‘fetish.’ The Aandonga (in the Ovambo country south of Angola), strangely enough, tell the usual ogre tales of the esisi ‘albino.’ Albinos are found, occasionally, in all parts of Africa; they are not, as a rule, so far as one can learn, regarded with horror, though the Mayombe of the Lower Congo think that they are spirit children, and observe particular ceremonies on the birth of such a one.

The appearance of the izimu is variously described, but it seems to be agreed that he can assume the appearance of an ordinary human being, if it is not his usual guise. The Zulus and the Ambundu say they may be recognized by their long, unkempt hair-a noticeable point among people who either shave off their hair frequently for reasons of cleanliness, or build it up into elaborate structures, like the conical coiffures of Zulu wives or the head-rings of their husbands.

The makishi are sometimes said to have many heads; in one story when the hero cuts off a dikishi’s head he immediately grows a second; in another a dikishi carries off a woman and makes her his wife; when her child is born and found to have only one head the husband threatens to call it “our folk” to eat her if she ever has another like it. As the second baby appears with two heads the threat was not fulfilled. But, thinking it best to be on the safe side, the wife took the elder child and ran away, hid for the night in a deserted house, was surprised when asleep by a wandering dikishi, and eaten after all.

Other accounts of the amazimu are still more weirdly sensational. The irimu of the Wachaga is said to be a ‘were-leopard’-that is, a man who is able at will to change himself into a leopard. But in one story this irimu, or leopard, is described as having ten tails; in another he presents himself in human shape at a homestead, as a suitor to the daughter, but is detected when she catches sight of a second mouth on the back of his head. In the Ronga story of “Nabandji” the people of the cannibal village whence the young man takes a wife all have this peculiar feature. It may not be out of place here to mention a Hausa (Nigeria) belief that a witch has mouths all over her back. It is not easy to see what can have suggested this notion.

The Chaga idea of the irimu seems to be a fairly comprehensive one. An unfortunate man, who broke a tabu, was turned into an irimu, with the result that thorn-bushes grew out of his body, and he wandered about the country, swallowing everything that came in his way. His brother, whom he had considerately warned to keep his distance, consulted a diviner and, by his advice, set the thorns on fire. When they were all burned away the irimu returned to his own proper shape.

Sometimes the amazimu are said to have only one leg, or only half a body; one story of a Kikuyu irimu describes him as having one leg, but two heads, one of which was stone; one-half of his body was human, but the other half stone. The Basuto speak of a set of beings with one leg, one arm, one ear, and one eye, but these are called matebele (it is not quite clear why), not madimo. They carry off a chief’s daughter, though it is not suggested that she is to be eaten. In the story of “The Mothemelle” we hear of cannibals (madimo) “hopping on one leg.” But these half-bodied beings, while appearing in folklore all over Africa, are, as a rule, quite distinct from the amazimu. They are not invariably malignant; often,. indeed, very much the reverse. They will be discussed later on.

The Grey Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang, [1900]

The Ogre

There lived, once upon a time, in the land of Marigliano, a poor woman called Masella, who had six pretty daughters, all as upright as young fir-trees, and an only son called Antonio, who was so simple as to be almost an idiot. Hardly a day passed without his mother saying to him, ‘What are you doing, you useless creature? If you weren’t too stupid to look after yourself, I would order you to leave the house and never to let me see your face again.’

Every day the youth committed some fresh piece of folly, till at last Masella, losing all patience, gave him a good beating, which so startled Antonio that he took to his heels and never stopped running till it was dark and the stars were shining in the heavens. He wandered on for some time, not knowing where to go, and at last he came to a cave, at the mouth of which sat an ogre, uglier than anything you can conceive.

He had a huge head and wrinkled brow—eyebrows that met, squinting eyes, a flat broad nose, and a great gash of a mouth from which two huge tusks stuck out. His skin was hairy, his arms enormous, his legs like sword blades, and his feet as flat as ducks’. In short, he was the most hideous and laughable object in the world.

But Antonio, who, with all his faults, was no coward, and was moreover a very civil-spoken lad, took off his hat, and said: ‘Good-day, sir; I hope you are pretty well. Could you kindly tell me how far it is from here to the place where I wish to go?’

When the ogre heard this extraordinary question he burst out laughing, and as he liked the youth’s polite manners he said to him: ‘Will you enter my service?’

‘What wages do you give?’ replied Antonio.

‘If you serve me faithfully,’ returned the ogre, ‘I’ll be bound you’ll get enough wages to satisfy you.’

So the bargain was struck, and Antonio agreed to become the ogre’s servant. He was very well treated, in every way, and he had little or no work to do, with the result that in a few days he became as fat as a quail, as round as a barrel, as red as a lobster, and as impudent as a bantam-cock.

But, after two years, the lad got weary of this idle life, and longed desperately to visit his home again. The ogre, who could see into his heart and knew how unhappy he was, said to him one day: ‘My dear Antonio, I know how much you long to see your mother and sisters again, and because I love you as the apple of my eye, I am willing to allow you to go home for a visit. Therefore, take this donkey, so that you may not have to go on foot; but see that you never say “Bricklebrit” to him, for if you do you’ll be sure to regret it.’

Antonio took the beast without as much as saying thank you, and jumping on its back he rode away in great haste; but he hadn’t gone two hundred yards when he dismounted and called out ‘Bricklebrit.’

No sooner had he pronounced the word than the donkey opened its mouth and poured forth rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls, as big as walnuts.

Antonio gazed in amazement at the sight of such wealth, and joyfully filling a huge sack with the precious stones, he mounted the donkey again and rode on till he came to an inn. Here he got down, and going straight to the landlord, he said to him: ‘My good man, I must ask you to stable this donkey for me. Be sure you give the poor beast plenty of oats and hay, but beware of saying the word “Bricklebrit” to him, for if you do I can promise you will regret it. Take this heavy sack, too, and put it carefully away for me.’

The landlord, who was no fool, on receiving this strange warning, and seeing the precious stones sparkling through the canvas of the sack, was most anxious to see what would happen if he used the forbidden word. So he gave Antonio an excellent dinner, with a bottle of fine old wine, and prepared a comfortable bed for him. As soon as he saw the poor simpleton close his eyes and had heard his lusty snores, he hurried to the stables and said to the donkey ‘Bricklebrit,’ and the animal as usual poured out any number of precious stones.

When the landlord saw all these treasures he longed to get possession of so valuable an animal, and determined to steal the donkey from his foolish guest. As soon as it was light next morning Antonio awoke, and having rubbed his eyes and stretched himself about a hundred times he called the landlord and said to him: ‘Come here, my friend, and produce your bill, for short reckonings make long friends.’

When Antonio had paid his account he went to the stables and took out his donkey, as he thought, and fastening a sack of gravel, which the landlord had substituted for his precious stones, on the creature’s back, he set out for his home.

No sooner had he arrived there than he called out: ‘Mother, come quickly, and bring table-cloths and sheets with you, and spread them out on the ground, and you will soon see what wonderful treasures I have brought you.’

His mother hurried into the house, and opening the linen-chest where she kept her daughters’ wedding outfits, she took out table-cloths and sheets made of the finest linen, and spread them flat and smooth on the ground. Antonio placed the donkey on them, and called out ‘Bricklebrit.’ But this time he met with no success, for the donkey took no more notice of the magic word than he would have done if a lyre had been twanged in his ear. Two, three, and four times did Antonio pronounce ‘Bricklebrit,’ but all in vain, and he might as well have spoken to the wind.

Disgusted and furious with the poor creature, he seized a thick stick and began to beat it so hard that he nearly broke every bone in its body. The miserable donkey was so distracted at such treatment that, far from pouring out precious stones, it only tore and dirtied all the fine linen.

When poor Masella saw her table-cloths and sheets being destroyed, and that instead of becoming rich she had only been made a fool of, she seized another stick and belaboured Antonio so unmercifully with it, that he fled before her, and never stopped till he reached the ogre’s cave.

When his master saw the lad returning in such a sorry plight, he understood at once what had happened to him, and making no bones about the matter, he told Antonio what a fool he had been to allow himself to be so imposed upon by the landlord, and to let a worthless animal be palmed off on him instead of his magic donkey.

Antonio listened humbly to the ogre’s words, and vowed solemnly that he would never act so foolishly again. And so a year passed, and once more Antonio was overcome by a fit of home-sickness, and felt a great longing to see his own people again.

Now the ogre, although he was so hideous to look upon, had a very kind heart, and when he saw how restless and unhappy Antonio was, he at once gave him leave to go home on a visit. At parting he gave him a beautiful table-cloth, and said: ‘Give this to your mother; but see that you don’t lose it as you lost the donkey, and till you are safely in your own house beware of saying “Table-cloth, open,” and “Table-cloth, shut.” If you do, the misfortune be on your own head, for I have given you fair warning.’

Antonio set out on his journey, but hardly had he got out of sight of the cave than he laid the table-cloth on the ground and said, ‘Table-cloth, open.’ In an instant the table-cloth unfolded itself and disclosed a whole mass of precious stones and other treasures.

When Antonio perceived this he said, ‘Table-cloth, shut,’ and continued his journey. He came to the same inn again, and calling the landlord to him, he told him to put the table-cloth carefully away, and whatever he did not to say ‘Table-cloth, open,’ or ‘Table-cloth, shut,’ to it.

The landlord, who was a regular rogue, answered, ‘Just leave it to me, I will look after it as if it were my own.’

After he had given Antonio plenty to eat and drink, and had provided him with a comfortable bed, he went straight to the table-cloth and said, ‘Table-cloth, open.’ It opened at once, and displayed such costly treasures that the landlord made up his mind on the spot to steal it.

When Antonio awoke next morning, the host handed him over a table-cloth exactly like his own, and carrying it carefully over his arm, the foolish youth went straight to his mother’s house, and said: ‘Now we shall be rich beyond the dreams of avarice, and need never go about in rags again, or lack the best of food.’

With these words he spread the table-cloth on the ground and said, ‘Table-cloth, open.’

But he might repeat the injunction as often as he pleased, it was only waste of breath, for nothing happened. When Antonio saw this he turned to his mother and said: ‘That old scoundrel of a landlord has done me once more; but he will live to repent it, for if I ever enter his inn again, I will make him suffer for the loss of my donkey and the other treasures he has robbed me of.’

Masella was in such a rage over her fresh disappointment that she could not restrain her impatience, and, turning on Antonio, she abused him soundly, and told him to get out of her sight at once, for she would never acknowledge him as a son of hers again. The poor boy was very depressed by her words, and slunk back to his master like a dog with his tail between his legs. When the ogre saw him, he guessed at once what had happened. He gave Antonio a good scolding, and said, ‘I don’t know what prevents me smashing your head in, you useless ne’er-do-well! You blurt everything out, and your long tongue never ceases wagging for a moment. If you had remained silent in the inn this misfortune would never have overtaken you, so you have only yourself to blame for your present suffering.’

Antonio listened to his master’s words in silence, looking for all the world like a whipped dog. When he had been three more years in the ogre’s service he had another bad fit of home-sickness, and longed very much to see his mother and sisters again.

So he asked for permission to go home on a visit, and it was at once granted to him. Before he set out on his journey the ogre presented him with a beautifully carved stick and said, ‘Take this stick as a remembrance of me; but beware of saying, “Rise up, Stick,” and “Lie down, Stick,” for if you do, I can only say I wouldn’t be in your shoes for something.’

Antonio took the stick and said, ‘Don’t be in the least alarmed, I’m not such a fool as you think, and know better than most people what two and two make.’

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ replied the ogre, ‘but words are women, deeds are men. You have heard what I said, and forewarned is forearmed.’

This time Antonio thanked his master warmly for all his kindness, and started on his homeward journey in great spirits; but he had not gone half a mile when he said ‘Rise up, Stick.’

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the stick rose and began to rain down blows on poor Antonio’s back with such lightning-like rapidity that he had hardly strength to call out, ‘Lie down, Stick;’ but as soon as he uttered the words the stick lay down, and ceased beating his back black and blue.

Although he had learnt a lesson at some cost to himself, Antonio was full of joy, for he saw a way now of revenging himself on the wicked landlord. Once more he arrived at the inn, and was received in the most friendly and hospitable manner by his host. Antonio greeted him cordially, and said: ‘My friend, will you kindly take care of this stick for me? But, whatever you do, don’t say “Rise up, Stick.” If you do, you will be sorry for it, and you needn’t expect any sympathy from me.’

The landlord, thinking he was coming in for a third piece of good fortune, gave Antonio an excellent supper; and after he had seen him comfortably to bed, he ran to the stick, and calling to his wife to come and see the fun, he lost no time in pronouncing the words ‘Rise up, Stick.’

The moment he spoke the stick jumped up and beat the landlord so unmercifully that he and his wife ran screaming to Antonio, and, waking him up, pleaded for mercy.

When Antonio saw how successful his trick had been, he said: ‘I refuse to help you, unless you give me all that you have stolen from me, otherwise you will be beaten to death.’

The landlord, who felt himself at death’s door already, cried out: ‘Take back your property, only release me from this terrible stick;’ and with these words he ordered the donkey, the table-cloth, and other treasures to be restored to their rightful owner.

As soon as Antonio had recovered his belongings he said ‘Stick, lie down,’ and it stopped beating the landlord at once.

Then he took his donkey and table-cloth and arrived safely at his home with them. This time the magic words had the desired effect, and the donkey and table-cloth provided the family with treasures untold. Antonio very soon married off his sister, made his mother rich for life, and they all lived happily for ever after.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane


Variations: Ogro, Orculli, Norrgens

All throughout fairy folklore the ogre, a cannibalistic humanoid with an extremely malicious temperament, exists. Described as larger and more broad than a man but not quite the size and strength of a GIANT, the ogre is variously defined as being hairy, carrying a club, and having an overly large head. The female of the species is called an ogress.

It has been suggested the word ogre originated in the pre–Christian folklore of the Scandinavian Vikings. The Norse term yggr (“lord of death”) was a title of the god Odin to whom human sacrifices were made. As the stories of Odin spread to the British Isles and were retold over the years the god eventually evolved into a GIANT, living in the clouds and consuming human flesh; the word yggr transformed into the word ogre. Some sources claim ogre was a French word originally created by author Charles Perrault (1628–1703) for his book Histoires ou Contes du temps Passé (1697) while other sources say it was first used by his contemporary Marie-Catherine Jumelle de Berneville, Comtesse d’ Aulnoy (1650–1705).

The fairy mythology of Yorkshire, England, has more GIANT and ogre folklore than any other location in the world. In Scandinavian folklore the words ogre and TROLL are oftentimes used interchangeably.

Some famous ogres from folklore, literature and mythology are Allewyn, Babau, Babou, Balardeu, Croque-mitaine (Croquemitaine), Dents Rouge, Fine Oreille, Galaffre, Grand Colin, Huorco, L’Homme Rouge, Orch, Orlo, Pacolet, Père Fouettard, Père Lustucru, Pier Jan Claes, Raminagrobis, Saalah, and Tartaro.

*Learn more in the book.

Ogre under bridge. Image credit.

Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore by Theresa Bane


Variations: Tork Angegh

A DEV, GIANT, or OGRE from Armenian folklore, Tork was once an angry and raging individual who eventually came to master his temper and became a hero, after a fashion. In most of his stories, it is his reputation for his propensity for violence which enables him to overcome obstacles. He was described as being gigantic and having eyes as blue as heaven, eyebrows as black as pitch, a hooked nose, a veritable hump, teeth like hatchets, fingernails like knives, and being thick chested like a mountain with a waist resembling a rocky vale.

Tork was also immensely strong; as a child he could crumble up boulders into pebbles with his hands. Although a skilled architect and mason, Tork was by trade a shepherd; as lions and tigers feared him, these creatures would protect his flocks. If he should accidentally destroy a town or in a fit of anger raze it to the ground, he was quick to rebuild it. Meek and modest, he was not vengeful nor was he a glutton, as his favorite foods were honey, milk, and yogurt.


In the folklore of the Tupiian people of Brazil the word yurupari has several meanings; some say it is a generic term for all demons and spirits while others claim Yurupari is a malicious individual being but are uncertain if he is a god, OGRE of the forest, or a NATURE SPIRIT.

*Learn more in the book.

Ogre witch. Image credit.

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John & Caitlín Matthews


In the mythology and folklore and of the Khosian people of South Africa, the Aigamuxa are man-eating ogres who inhabit the dunes of the Kalahari desert. Though human in appearance, they have eyes in their instep or in the heels of their feet, so that they are constantly forced to stop and lift a foot in order to see where they are going. Despite the fact that they appear human, they are huge in stature with gigantic hands and feet and enormous sharpened teeth. Whenever they catch human prey, they tear them in pieces and devour them. However, like most ogres, there are very stupid and easily tricked. One story tells how the trickster god Jackal was being pursued by a troop of Aigamuxa. Jackal scattered tobacco dust in his wake, which irritated the eyes of his pursuers and enabled his escape.


A gigantic female ogre from the legends of Japan. The Kojin had thousands of arms, which she used to crush her victims to death. She was especially fond of killing and eating children, but in more recent times was turned back to goodness, becoming a protectress of children instead of their hunter.


The generic term ‘ogre’ is given to many of the cannibalistic giants of world culture when mythology is beginning to lapse into folklore and fairytale. It was first used by the French storyteller Perrault in his Contes (1697), and more bizarrely by George Macdonald in his Phantastes where he uses the word ogre to describe a sinister, pointytoothed woman who tempts the hero into looking into a certain cupboard by warning him against such action. This reverse psychology succeeds in making him look within. Ogre is a name loosely given to any bugbear or bogeyman who spooks you or follows you. The most recent cinematic appearance of an ogre is that of the foulbreathed Shrek who, against the odds, wins the hand of the princess.

*Learn more in the book.

Forest Ogre. Image credit.

Further Reading:

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

Ogres can be found in the folklore of several places, though the one people are most familiar with is the European humanoid one that enjoys eating human flesh. And though the term ogre and giant, and ogre and troll are used interchangeably in some places, the true hallmark of an ogre is that it enjoys human flesh (and other kinds of meat), has bad hygiene, is human-like in size and appearance with some exaggerated features (bigger head, hands, or feet), have a bad temper, aren’t sociable, and are usually not the sharpest pencil in the bunch – though the occasional wise ogre is an exception to this rule.

A lot of ogres are seen as being big: not tall and muscled, but more rotund and muscled. They usually also have bad skin, no hair, and in some cases, even tusks. A lot of ogres are usually featured with big clubs.

And though it is clear that ogres enjoy eating humans, it is sometimes the focus of stories that they prefer eating children. And in some tales, they eat their own.

Ogres in Modern Culture

Ella Enchanted Film/Book

Nish, an ogre who eats humans and the leader of the pack of ogres. 

Learn more here.
Ogre in Ella Enchanted. Image credit.

Shrek Film/Book

An ogre is a mythical beast and the species of the titular character Shrek. They are feared and vilified around the world due to misconceptions about their nature, portraying them as man-eating beasts. Ogres live in swamps and lagoons. Ogres are very large, tall and fearsome humanoid beasts. 

Learn more here.
Shrek Ogre. Image credit.

Lord of the Rings Film/Book

Ogres were monstrous and destructive creatures of legend and folklore of Middle-earth.

During the Riddle-game with GollumBilbo Baggins, in his attempt to solve Gollum’s fifth riddle, sat thinking of all the horrible names of all the giants and ogres he had ever heard told of in tales.[1]

No ogre is ever mentioned in the annals of the Elder Days and none are known to have played any role in the wars and battles. It is entirely possible that they were simply a mythical race.

Learn more here.

Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan

Ogres were a race of large, cruel, monstrous and hideous humanoid monsters that live in the caves of Canada.

As Jason, Piper, Leo, and Hedge were rescuing Tristan McLean, Enceladus summoned a group of Gegenees, and four Ogres to attack the heroes. One of them was named Brutel who battled Leo until he was eventually defeated. Many Ogres fought in the battle against the Hunters of Artemis, but they were defeated after Hera managed to form a bright light and destroy them.

Learn more here.

In the series, Laistrygonian giants have been referred to as cannibals, northern giants, sasquatch, and ogres.

Learn more here.
Laistrygonian giants Image credit.

The Spiderwick Chronicles Film/Book series

Mulgarath is the main antagonist of the bestselling book series The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. He is an evil, gigantic ogre whose goal throughout the series was to steal Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to become more powerful. He is the archenemy of Jared Grace. Mulgarath is highly intelligent, traitorous, arrogant, ruthless and sadistic. Like all ogres, Mulgarath is known for bullying other unseen creatures, as he demonstrates tendencies in commanding or ordering other faeries.

Learn more here.
Illustration of Mulgarath. Image credit.
Mulgarath in the film. Image credit.

The Iron King book series by Julie Kagawa

Ogres work as guards and even cooks in the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Grimm TV series

Siegbarste (ZEEG-bars-tuh; Ger. Sieg “victory” + Barst (from bersten) “burst, broken”) is an ogre-like Wesen that first appeared in “Game Ogre“.

When they woge, they gain rough, pale yellow, leather-like skin, a distorted ogre-like face with a long nose, larger ears and a bigger lower jaw, and slightly pronounced teeth. Some Siegbarstes also gain a short, scraggly beard and lose some of their hair. They also become more bulky. They possess dense bones, thick skin, and a high tolerance for pain, making them extremely difficult to kill. They are incredibly strong creatures and are able to easily overpower humans, Grimms, or Wesen. Their high pain threshold is medically described as congenital analgesia, and they are also known for their potent body odor and tendency to carry on vendettas “to the grave.”

Learn more here.
Siegbarste. Image credit.

And there are many others to choose from!

Ogres in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Ogres

Ogres are immensely strong creatures. They are taller than most humans, but well-muscled to the point of looking out of proportion. They don’t have any hair because of the toughness of their skin. Most are great cooks and are employed as such by the fae who can afford to and who can deal with the strength and hunger of these creatures.
Ogres don’t usually mix with other fae. They do live in clans, though, for protection from those who would hunt them for sport. Killing an ogre is akin to medieval knights slaying a dragon among young fae nobility.
Some have made their homes in the mortal realm, though these are usually truly solitary creatures who do not live in clans. Though some of them are exiled, not all ogres in the mortal realm are.
Not only do they enjoy the flesh of any mortal being or fae creature, they also on occasion eat their young (or anyone killed in a brawl). It’s rare for them to eat anything but meat.
They are great warriors and would accomplish much if not for the infighting among clans.

Translation of Ogre to Afrikaans: Mensvreter.

See them in action:

Solitary Fae (Origin of the Fae #6) by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

What do you think of ogres? Where did you hear about ogres for the first time? Any folklore about ogres you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

9 thoughts on “Cannibalistic Fae: Ogres #folklore #AtoZChallenge”

  1. “Once upon a time”….a for certain hook to a faerie/folklore tale! Again, incredible ogre’ studies and images. For me the most interesting story was “The Hungry Grandfathers”…right up my ‘Dig Artist’s Diary” theme for AtoZ 2023. Truth about the behavior modification of the Isleta and Pueblo people. Well done ! CollectInTexasGal

  2. Cannibalistic fae is clever for C. I wouldn’t have thought of that. Whenever I think about orges or, specifically orcs, I am cursed to think of orc romances. I’ve seen people posting about those on Instagram and wish I hadn’t. lol

    1. Thanks. I thought about adding orcs here, but as Tolkien made them up from other creatures (ogres and trolls, mainly), I’m still debating how to use them. I don’t see how orc romances could be popular…

  3. When researching folktales in translation I discovered that for many authors “ogre” was a catchall term for any creature in other cultures’ folklore. I have seen “ogre” used for ghoul, yokai, oni, troll, and a bunch of other separate things 🙂

    The Multicolored Diary

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