BAḴTAK, a folkloric she-creature of horrible shape, personifying a nightmare. Baḵtak was believed to have been one of Alexander’s slave girls who accompanied him on his expedition in search of the water of life (āb-e ḥayāt; see āb ii). According to the legend, after the water was found, it was poured into a goatskin; but, before it could be carried away, a crow punctured the skin with its beak, spilling the contents onto the ground. Baḵtak then quickly scooped the water into her hands and drank it; thus both she and the crow are said to have become immortal. Alexander, enraged, ordered her nose cut off and replaced with a nose of clay.

Baḵtak is reputed to know where all the treasures of the earth are hidden. A nightmare occurs when Baḵtak throws herself upon the sleeper who, in the dark, must try to grab the creature’s nose. Lest she lose her nose, Baḵtak will reveal one of the treasures to him; but, if the sleeper wants to stop the nightmare and make Baḵtak go away, he must wiggle his finger (Ṣ. Hedāyat, Neyrangestān, Tehran, 2536 = 1356 Š./1977, pp. 123-24; cf. H. Massé, Croyances et coutumes persanes, Paris, 1938, II, pp. 366-67). Baḵtak has also been described as a massive, perspiring black bundle which falls upon the sleeper and tries to suffocate him. She also answers to Bīnīgelī (clay-nosed) or Ḡūl (Donaldson, The Wild Rue, London, 1938, pp. 175-76). Other names include: Barḵafj, Būšāsb, Estanba, Faranjak, Gūšāsb, Ḵorḵojīvan (M. Moʿīn, Farhang-e fārsī III, p. 2778 s.v. Kābūs).

Baḵtak resembles the Āl, another “female devil” of Iranian folklore “whose attack can be neutralized by grabbing its nose.” Other Baḵtak-like creatures, which appear in local folklore, are: Taptapo (in the Rāmhormoz region) who has a necklace (nābanda) which it hangs on a nail or a tree; Ševlī (in the Arāk region) “which weighs like a mountain on the chest of the sleeper and prevents him from moving or shouting;” and Šavah (in the Ḵomeyn region, probably a variant of the word šabaḥ, ghost), who like Taptapo has a necklace (galūband) on which its life depends and which, before throwing itself on the hapless sleeper, it hangs on a drain spout (Archives of the Markaz-e Farhang-e Mardom, Tehran, communication from A. Enjavī).

The name Baḵtak also appears in the Safavid period romance Romūz-e Ḥamza, as Ḵosrow II Anōšīravān’s evil vizier. M. J. Maḥjūb believes Baḵtak in this context to be a misreading of Boḵtag or Boḵtak, the father of Bozorgmehr, Ḵosrow’s wise counselor (M. J. Maḥjūb, oral communication).

Bibliography: Given in the text.

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(F. Gaffary)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988

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Vol. III, Fasc. 5, p. 539