In a previous post, I talked about some of the very frightening and very odd (a cursed wash rag?) creatures of Japanese mythology. Well, Japan hasn’t cornered the market on strange beasties, let me tell you.

One of the strangest I’ve come across is the papstesel, from Italian legend. This creature is as chimerical as they come, having the body of a human woman and the head of a donkey. One arm is an elephant’s trunk and one leg ends hoofed like a cow while the other is taloned like a bird. It has a snake for a tail and the face of an old man in the middle of its back.

Pretty gruesome-sounding, isn’t it? What were these guys smoking when they dreamed this thing up? Interestingly, according to the website,, the papstesel figures in German literature as well, being referenced at one point by Martin Luther during one of his speeches against the church.

I found the papstesel when I was researching Italian mythology for my novel, Warriors of the Light. Setting part of the story in Venice, Italy, I wanted something other than the usual Greco-Roman pantheon of gods, goddesses, and monsters. When the papstesel popped up in my search, I had to make use of it mainly because it’s so bizarre.

I couldn’t find a whole lot of information on it except it is a water denizen so, as most creative people are wont to do, I used some artistic license. My papstesel is a representative of the creatures of the Mystic Realm. He/She can speak both through the donkey mouth and through the old man on its back. It appears from the sea to strike a bargain with one of my magical human characters back in 15th century Venice.

Originally I had planned on only using the papstesel in one scene but have beefed up its role somewhat in an additional scene. It was fun to include such a wild-looking creature in the story and, who knows, it could appear again. Characters, after all, have a way of taking on lives of their own.

Check out a picture of the papstesel on the following website:

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