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Mythical Creatures of the Water: Shapeshifting Dolphins

By Yona Williams    6/28/10

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All over the world, water serves as an important symbol and possesses a high level of cultural and religious significance. In this article, you will encounter a handful of water-related creatures that have appeared in the myths and legends of various countries, such as the Boto shapeshifters and encantados associated with Amazon River folklore.

Dolphin Shapeshifter (Boto)

In traditional Amazon River folklore, the Boto is described as a dolphin that has the ability to transform into a striking young man that has an appetite for seducing girls. He walks about the land, impregnates the females, and then returns to the river in the morning – once again becoming a dolphin of the Amazon. This shapeshifter dolphin is referred to as an encantado. Some researchers believe that the legend of the dolphin originated because of the similarity between the sexual reproductive parts of the dolphin and humans.

Because of legends that involve the dolphin, it is said that it is bad luck to take the life one that lives in the Amazon River. There is also a tale that says that making eye contact with Amazon River dolphin results in an individuals suffering nightmares for the rest of his or her life. It is said that some cultures use/d dried eyeballs and other parts of a dolphin in some rituals – many of which involved the help of a priest.

Encantado

In Portuguese, the term 'encantado' is used to refer to an 'enchanted one.' The Brazilian term has been used to describe creatures that have come from an underwater realm (often viewed as a marine paradise) that typically possess shapeshifting abilities. At times, the encantado is seen as a spirit being, while other times, it is depicted as a shapeshifting snake or a dolphin with the capability to turn into a human.

Over the years, the belief in these creatures has diminished. However, locals of South America still believe they exist to this day. Some have even claimed to have spotted the spirits, as well as have interacted with the creatures. Interestingly, these spirits can be compared to the same features as fairies that appear in European folklore.

One of the most common examples of an encantado is the freshwater dolphin that dwells in the Amazon River – called the Boto. It is a larger and more primitive-looking type of dolphin than other types of dolphins found in the Amazon. There are stories that deal with the encantado that involve snakes, which vary from common serpents to coral snakes.

Encantados often possess impressive musical abilities, seductive qualities, and a thirst for partying. They love to engage in sex, which often results in a slew of illegitimate children. Craving the pleasures and difficulties of the human world, the encantados long to mingle with the mortals. When transforming into a human, the act usually takes place at night.

Encantados are believed to possess magical powers, such as the ability to control storms, 'haunt' humans into doing what they please, as well as cause illness and even death. Shamans and holy men were often called upon to intervene in the activities of encantados.

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