Legendary creature

A legendary, mythical, and mythological creature, also traditionally called a fabulous beast and fabulous creature, is a fictitious, imaginary, and supernatural animal, often a hybrid, sometimes part human, whose existence has not or cannot be proved and that is described in folklore or fiction but also in historical accounts before history became a science.

In the classical era, monstrous creatures such as the cyclops and the Minotaur appear in heroic tales for the protagonist to destroy. Other creatures, such as the unicorn, were claimed in accounts of natural history by various scholars of antiquity.[1][2][3] Some legendary creatures have their origin in traditional mythology and were believed to be real creatures, for example dragons, griffins, and unicorns. Others were based on real encounters, originating in garbled accounts of travelers' tales, such as the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which supposedly grew tethered to the earth.[4]


Minotauros Myron NAMA 1664 n1
In classical mythology, the Minotaur was defeated by the hero Theseus.
85-Oxford 1511 - Unicorno
Medieval bestiaries included mythical animals like the monoceros (above) alongside real animals like the bear.

A variety of mythical animals appear in the art and stories of the Classical era. For example, in the Odyssey, monstrous creatures include the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis for the hero Odysseus to confront. In other tales there appear the Medusa to be defeated by Perseus, the (human/bull) Minotaur to be destroyed by Theseus, and the Hydra to be killed by Heracles, while Aeneas battles with the harpies. These monsters thus have the basic function of emphasizing the greatness of the heroes involved.[5][6][7]

Some classical era creatures, such as the (horse/human) centaur, chimaera, Triton and the flying horse, are found also in Indian art. Similarly, sphinxes appear as winged lions in Indian art and the Piasa Bird of North America.[8][9]

In medieval art, animals, both real and mythical, played important roles. These included decorative forms as in medieval jewellery, sometimes with their limbs intricately interlaced. Animal forms were used to add humor or majesty to objects. In Christian art, animals carried symbolic meanings, where for example the lamb symbolized Christ, a dove indicated the Holy Spirit, and the classical griffin represented a guardian of the dead. Medieval bestiaries included animals regardless of biological reality; the basilisk represented the devil, while the manticore symbolised temptation.[10]


Roof detail, dragon
Symbolic power: a dragon in the Imperial City, Huế, Vietnam

One function of mythical animals in the Middle Ages was allegory. Unicorns, for example, were described as extraordinarily swift and uncatchable by traditional methods.[11]:127 It was believed that the only way for one to catch this beast was to lead a virgin to its dwelling. Then, the unicorn was supposed to leap into her lap and go to sleep, at which point a hunter could finally capture it.[11]:127 In terms of symbolism, the unicorn was a metaphor for Christ. Unicorns represented the idea of innocence and purity. In the King James Bible, Psalm 92:10 states, "My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn." This is because the translators of the King James erroneously translated the Hebrew word re'em as unicorn.[11]:128 Later versions translate this as wild ox.[12] The unicorn's small size signifies the humility of Christ.[11]:128

Another common legendary creature which served allegorical functions within the Middle Ages was the dragon. Dragons were identified with serpents, though their attributes were greatly intensified. The dragon was supposed to have been larger than all other animals.[11]:126 It was believed that the dragon had no harmful poison but was able to slay anything it embraced without any need for venom. Biblical scriptures speak of the dragon in reference to the devil, and they were used to denote sin in general during the Middle Ages.[11]:126 Dragons were said to have dwelled in places like Ethiopia and India, based on the idea that there was always heat present in these locations.[11]:126

Physical detail was not the central focus of the artists depicting such animals, and medieval bestiaries were not conceived as biological categorizations. Creatures like the unicorn and griffin were not categorized in a separate "mythological" section in medieval bestiaries,[13]:124 as the symbolic implications were of primary importance. Animals we know to have existed were still presented with a fantastical approach. It seems the religious and moral implications of animals were far more significant than matching a physical likeness in these renderings. Nona C. Flores explains, "By the tenth century, artists were increasingly bound by allegorical interpretation, and abandoned naturalistic depictions."[13]:15 Similarly, the historian Richard Kieckhefer explains, "Magic is not meant to work but to express wishes, or to encode in symbols a perception of how things do or should work."[14]

See also


  1. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. University Press. 1911. p. 581.
  2. ^ Bascom, William (1984). Alan Dundes, ed. Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. University of California Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780520051928.
  3. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Steve (2000). A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192100191. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  4. ^ Large, Mark F.; John E. Braggins (2004). Tree Ferns. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Incorporated. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-88192-630-9.
  5. ^ Delahoyde, M.; McCartney, Katherine S. "Monsters in Classical Mythology". Washington State University. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  6. ^ Grimal, Pierre. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Blackwell Reference, 1986.
  7. ^ Sabin, Frances E. Classical Myths That Live Today. Silver Burdett Company, 1940.
  8. ^ Murthy, K. Krishna (1985). Mythical Animals in Indian Art. Abhinav Publications. pp. 68–69. ISBN 978-0-391-03287-3.
  9. ^ O'Flaherty, Wendy (1975). Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook. Penguin.
  10. ^ Boehm, Barbara Drake; Holcomb, Melanie (January 2012) [2001]. "Animals in Medieval Art". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 5 January 2017.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Gravestock, Pamela. "Did Imaginary Animals Exist?" In The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature. New York: Garland. 1999.
  12. ^ J. L. Schrader. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 44, No. 1, "A Medieval Bestiary" (Summer, 1986), pp. 1+12–55, 17.
  13. ^ a b Flores, Nona C., "The Mirror of Nature Distorted: The Medieval Artist's Dilemma in Depicting Animals". In The Medieval World of Nature. New York: Garland. 1993.
  14. ^ Kieckhefer, Richard. "The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic". In The American Historical Review, Vol. 99, Issue 3, 813-836. 1994, 814.

External links

Alan (legendary creature)

The Alan are deformed spirits from the folklore of the Tinguian tribe of the Philippines. They have wings and can fly, and their fingers and toes point backwards.The Alan are said to take drops of menstrual blood, miscarried fetuses, afterbirth, or other reproductive waste and transform them into human children, whom they then raise as their own. They live near springs in extremely fine houses, made of gold and other valuables.


The Alkonost is, according to Russian mythos and folklore, a woman-headed bird. It makes amazingly beautiful sounds, and those who hear these sounds forget everything they know and want nothing more ever again. She lives in the underworld with her counterpart the sirin. The alkonost lays her eggs on a beach and then rolls them into the sea. When the alkonost's eggs hatch, a thunderstorm sets in and the sea becomes so rough that it becomes impossible to traverse. It is also known as the Sirens. The name of the alkonost came from a Greek demigoddess whose name was Alcyone. In Greek mythology, Alcyone was transformed by the gods into a kingfisher.


An Alphyn (from the Germanic word for "chaser" or "wolf"), also known as awfyn or alfin in older writings, is a rare heraldic creature. It is much like a heraldic tyger, but stockier and with tufts of hair covering its body, and also has a thick mane and long thin tongue. Another notable characteristic is its knotted tail, reminiscent of Celtic design and similar to that of the griffin. Sometimes it is depicted as having an eagle's or dragon's talons on its forelegs, other times they are cloven, like a goat's. Occasionally all four feet are depicted as having the claws of a lion. In English heraldry, the Alphyn was used as a heraldic badge of the Lords de la Warr, and also appeared on the guidon held by the knight in the Milleflour Tapestry in Somerset.

In England's first printed book, William Caxton's "Game and Playe of the Chesse" the chessmen now known as bishops are described instead as Alphyns, representing judges: "The Alphyns ought to be made and formed in manere of Juges syttynge in a chayer wyth a book open to fore their eyen."

Brag (folklore)

A brag or braag is a mischievous shapeshifting goblin in the folklore of Northumbria (Northumberland and Durham) and often takes the form of a horse or donkey. It is fond of letting unsuspecting humans ride on its back before bucking them off into a pond or bush and running away laughing. One notable example is the Picktree Brag that was said to take other unusual forms such as a calf with a white handkerchief around its neck, a naked headless man, and even four men holding a white sheet. A brag at Humbleknowe was never seen but made hideous noises in the night.

Ceffyl Dŵr

Ceffyl Dŵr is a water horse in Welsh folklore, a counterpart of the Scottish kelpie.In her 1973 book Folk-lore and Folk-tales of Wales, Marie Trevelyan says that the Ceffyl Dŵr was believed to shapeshift and even fly, although this varies depending on region. For example, in North Wales he is represented as being rather formidable with fiery eyes and a dark forbidding presence, whereas in South Wales he is seen more positively as, at worst a cheeky pest to travelers and at best, as Trevelyan puts it, "luminous, fascinating and sometimes a winged steed".The Ceffyl Dŵr is said to inhabit mountain pools and waterfalls. Even though it appears solid, it can evaporate into the mist. In one form of the legend the Ceffyl Dŵr, as a horse, leaps out of the water to trample and kill lone travelers.Another form of the legend reports that the Ceffyl Dŵr entices the unwary traveler to ride him. Flying into the air, the Ceffyl Dŵr evaporates, dropping the unfortunate rider to his death.


Coblynau are mythical gnome-like creatures that are said to haunt the mines and quarries of Wales. They are said to be half a yard (1.5 ft) tall, and very ugly. Like Knockers, they are dressed in miniature mining outfits. They work constantly but never finish their task, and are said to be able to cause rockslides.

The word Coblynau is derived from the English Goblin ultimately derived from a Germanic source akin to the German Kobold, via the French Gobelin.Coblynau are mentioned in the Constantine episode "The Darkness Beneath", but the description of the creatures given is closer to knockers.


The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Greek: γρύφων, grýphōn, or γρύπων, grýpōn, early form γρύψ, grýps; Latin: gryphus) is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle's talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds by the Middle Ages the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, Griffins were known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions.In Greek and Roman texts, griffins and Arimaspians were associated with gold deposits of Central Asia. Indeed, as Pliny the Elder wrote, "griffins were said to lay eggs in burrows on the ground and these nests contained gold nuggets."In medieval heraldry, the Griffin became a Christian symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.

Jann (legendary creature)

Jann (Arabic: جَنّ / جُنّ‎, jann) is a type of Jinn in Arabian- and Islam-related lore which has several meanings:

Designation for the Jinn-genus, to distinguish them from the term "Jinn" as a collective noun for all supernatural creatures.

The father of all Jinn created from the fires of samum, sometimes identified with Iblis or Azazel.

A primitive type of Jinn, which dwelled on earth before the actual Jinn emerged or a transformed type of Jinn, comparable how apes are related to humans. These Jann are regarded as the most harmless class of supernatural creatures.

Joint snake

A joint snake is a legendary creature of the Southern United States, the myth likely having spread elsewhere.


The kinoko (木の子) is a yōkai told in legends of the Kinki region.

Kishi (folklore)

The kishi is a two-faced demon in Angola. According to legend, a kishi has an attractive human man's face on the front of its body and a hyena's face on the back. Kishi are said to use their human face, as well as smooth talk and other charms to attract young women, who they then eat with the hyena face. The hyena face is said to have long sharp teeth and jaws so strong they cannot be pulled off anything it bites.

The word kishi, nkishi, or mukisi means "spirit" in several Bantu languages spoken in Zaire, northern Zambia, and Angola.


An onikuma (鬼熊, literally "demon bear") is a mythological Japanese yōkai originating in the Kiso Valley in Nagano Prefecture. It is a bear-like creature that has been known to walk upright. They sneak into villages at night to carry off livestock for food. It was described in the Ehon Hyaku Monogatari, a collection of supernatural tales published in 1841.

Panther (legendary creature)

A Panther is a creature in ancient legend that resembles a big cat with a multicoloured hide.

Under medieval belief, after feasting, the panther will sleep in a cave for a total of three days. After this period ends, the panther roars, in the process emitting a sweet smelling odor. This odor draws in any creatures who smell it (the dragon being the only creature immune), they are eaten by the panther, and the cycle begins again.

The ancient Greeks believed the panther was one of the favored mounts of the god Dionysus.

Other names for this creature are pantera, pantere, and love cervere.

Salamanders in folklore

The salamander is an amphibian of the order Urodela which, as with many real creatures, often has been ascribed fantastic and sometimes occult qualities by pre-modern authors (as in the allegorical descriptions of animals in medieval bestiaries) not possessed by the real organism. The legendary salamander is often depicted as a typical salamander in shape, with a lizard-like form, but is usually ascribed an affinity with fire, sometimes specifically elemental fire.

Sprite (folklore)

A sprite is a supernatural entity. They are often depicted as fairy-like creatures or as an ethereal entity.The word "sprite" is derived from the Latin "spiritus" (spirit), via the French "esprit". Variations on the term include "spright" and the Celtic "spriggan". The term is chiefly used in regard to elves and fairies in European folklore, and in modern English is rarely used in reference to spirits.

There are examples of sprites and similar entities in literature, one of which is the air spirit Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest.


The squasc (pronounced [ˈskwaʃ]) is a mythological being of the Eastern Lombardy region folklore.It is said to be small, hairy, tawny, similar to a squirrel without tail, but with an anthropomorphic face.

Its nature is somehow between that of a bad spirit (assimilable to the boogeyman or Blackman) and that of an elf or imp. Like the former, the squasc is summoned to frighten children, but like the latter it loves playing jokes on people, particularly young girls.

Tyger (heraldry)

Tyger, also known as heraldic tiger is a beast used as a charge in heraldry.


Vâlvă (plural vâlve) is a female spirit mentioned in the Romanian folklore. The Vâlve are believed to walk over the hilltops at night, and are subdivided into Vâlve Albe ("White Vâlve"), who are considered beneficial, and Vâlve Negre ("Black Vâlve" or "Dark Vâlve"), who are considered evil. In certain contexts, they are believed to have human form (especially when they came to protect villages from a storm). They may also appear under various guises, such as shadows or black cats. They also have the ability to shapeshift.

Water leaper

The Water Leaper, also known as Llamhigyn Y Dwr, is an evil creature from Welsh folklore that lived in swamps and ponds.

It is described as a giant frog with a bat's wings instead of forelegs, no hind legs, and a long, lizard-like tail with a stinger at the end. It jumps across the water using its wings, hence its name.

It was blamed for problems ranging from snapping fishing lines to eating livestock or even fishermen.



See also
Canting arms

black and white
See also

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