Fachen, a Strange Giant

Fachen, a Strange Giant


Strange Beasts

JON KANEKO-JAMES tells us about the half giants known as Fachen, which had one eye, one arm and one leg

Bit of weird personal information from me (this might be more than you really want to know:) I never really properly knew either of my grandmothers.

From what I remember, though, one of them (on my father’s side) was awesome and probably contributed the genetic material that made me turn out how I am.

When hearing that my mother was pregnant again, she immediately started taking her out to a series of walks in Cemeteries, Crematoria and derelict lunatic asylums (well… I might have made that last one up).

That’s why it’s a bit strange that I remember hearing about this monster from my Grandmother, despite the fact that the numbers don’t really add up.

On the other hand, from what I know of her, I can imagine her telling this tale to a baby squalling in its crib:

“When the world was young, there were a race of giants with only one arm. They also had only one leg, and only one eye. In fact they lived as if they were split down the middle, with all their guts hanging down one side. Imagine what that would be like.”

That’s the story, imagine my surprise decades later when (in the course of my daily weirdness) I find out it’s a real thing. Or at least, an authentic piece of folklore, rather than Grandma trying to warn me that I might get my arms and legs chewed off.

The creature is called (in Ireland and Scotland) the Fachen, and it’s almost exactly as described: a hairy giant, with with one arm growing out of its chest and only one leg, forcing it to hop.

The creature also only has one eye, which stares, open and saucer-like all the time.

The creature apparently hops around the wilder parts of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, striking out at people with it’s one, clawed hand.

The role of the Fachen is generally to get beaten at stuff: the hero Murachadh Mac Brian challenges one Fachen to a race, which he wins (being a biped).

Although, there a more fierce and powerful version of the Fachen myth that still affects people in the North of Scotland, the tale of the Biasd Bheulach, a creature that can either appear as a one armed and legged man like the Fachen, or as a terrible hound… with only one leg and one eye.

Regardless of how scary we might find the myth however, it’s a fact that workmen laying cable and repairing roads on the Scottish coast are still found unconscious, savaged down one side: their right arm and leg broken and damaged, bitten ragged. Some say it is the work of the Biasd Bheulach, jealous beyond control at the workman’s overabundance of limbs and eyes.

Some even say the monster is a memory of a magical pose called the glám dícenn, an especially potent ritual pose used by Druids and Celtic sorcerers when they wanted to issue a particularly potent prophesy or curse. Here’s an example of it being used in one of the stories from the Ulster Cycle, the Destruction of Da Dega’s Hostel:

“She came and put one of her shoulders against the door-post of the house, casting the evil eye on the king and the youths who surrounded him in the Hostel. He himself addressed her from within.

“Well, O woman,” says Conaire, “if thou art a wizard, what seest thou for us?”

“Truly I see for thee,” she answers, “that neither fell nor flesh of thine shall escape from the place into which thou hast come, save what birds will bear away in their claws.”

“It was not an evil omen we foreboded, O woman,” saith he: “it is not thou that always augurs for us. What is thy name, O woman?”
“Calib,” she answers.

“That is not much of a name,” says Conaire.

“Lo, many are my names besides.”

“Which be they?” asks Conaire.

“Easy to say,” quoth she. “Samon, Sinand, Seisclend, Sodb, Caill, Coll, Dichoem, Dichiuil, Dithim, Dichuimne, Dichruidne, Dairne, Darine, Deruaine, Egem, Agam, Ethamne, Gnim, Cluiche, Cethardam, Nith, Nemain, Noennen, Badb, Blosc, B[l]oar, Huae, oe Aife la Sruth, Mache, Mede, Mod.”

On one foot, and holding up one hand, and breathing one breath she sang all that to them from the door of the house.”

Sadly, the Fachen isn’t truely a cryptid, although there are stories from North Wales and the North of Scotland of strange, monopedal figures, outlined against the dusk, hopping along in abandoned places. We can only hope we don’t meet them…

JON KANEKO-JAMES is one half of Boo Tours, which runs ghost and supernatural tours around London, including talks about human skin covered books. Check out Boo Tours website is here. JON also has a new ebook, The Sleepless Man, which is a gritty urban fantasy exploring the suburban hell and squalid desire of the Selkie Wife myth. For more details visit here.

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Jon Kaneko-James is a London-based writer, with a particular interest in the history of magic and the medieval church. He works as a tour guide at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and maintains his own small guiding company called Boo Tours.

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