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The Al (or Elk) is a class of demon in the folklore of the Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and southern parts of Russia.


Lore

Als are demons of childbirth, interfering with human reproduction. The al is known by various other names, including alk in Armenian and Kurdish, ol, hāl and xāl in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, almasti or albasti in Central Asian Turkish speaking countries, and halmasti among the Dards.


Origin

Al was supposedly the first companion made for Adam and Eve by God. However, since it was made of fire and Adam, earth, they were incompatible. The introduction of Eve angered the Al, and thus why they attack women.


Description

In Armenian tradition, Al is described as half-human and half-animal, with a fiery eye, long thick hair, fingernails made of brass or copper, iron teeth, and the tusks of a boar.

Al usually carries scissors. When it wears a pointed hat covered with small bells it becomes invisible. Elks prefer damp dark places like stables and wet corners of houses.

According to Afghan mythology the als are young women with floating hair and very long nails who feed upon the corpses of the dead.

In Iran, the al is "a bony, thin old woman, with a clay nose, red face, and a straw or reedy basket hanging from its shoulder, in which the liver or lung of the young mother is placed."

In Central Asia, the al is customarily "a fat, ugly and hairy crone with sagging breasts, the one hanging over one shoulder, while hanging over her other shoulder is a woolen bag ... in which she has placed the heart and liver of her victim."


Behavior

In Armenian folklore, Al is said to attack pregnant women and steal babies up to forty days after childbirth, replacing them with imps. The als were also held responsible for miscarriage. After stealing the organs of a woman, the al attempts to escape and cross the first source of water, after which the woman cannot be saved.


Powers/weaknesses

Apotropaic wards against als include methods used against other demons (such as charms, prayers, iron objects, onions, and garlic), and preventing the al from reaching water.

The Al cannot touch iron. Sticking a needle into its garments will render it unable to do evil. In this state, it is usually made into a servant as it cannot remove the needle on its own. To protect an expectant mother, a sword or knife was kept at bedside to ward off the spirit.


References

  • Asatrian, Garnik (2001). Āl Reconsidered. Iran & the Caucasus (Leiden: Brill Publishers)
  • Ananikian, Mardiros H. (1925). Chapter XI: The World of Spirits and Monsters. Armenian Mythology. The Mythology of All Races. Volume VII. New York.