Sphinx

The sphinx is a leonine creature with the head of a ram, hawk, or human.

An Egyptian Sphinx, or androsphinx.

An Egyptian Sphinx, or androsphinx.

While similar creatures appear in many different cultures, the sphinx is native to ancient Egypt. There are three subspecies, each with a different head structure. The criosphinx features the head of a ram; the heiracosphinx has the head of a hawk; and the androsphinx has the more familiar human head. The sphinx is a guardian creature, most commonly seen as protector of sacred areas. The various head structures signify the deity with which it is most strongly associated. The criosphinx can be found in great numbers near the temple of Amon, and androsphinxes often bear a curious resemblance to the pharaohs whose tombs and temples they guard. They are also associated with the sun. An ancient creature, the sphinx predates most other apparently “hybridized” beasts from the area.

 

The criosphinx (left) and heiracosphinx (right), two lesser-known species of Egyptian sphinxes.

The criosphinx (left) and heiracosphinx (right), two lesser-known species of Egyptian sphinxes.

A second species of sphinx, or “phix” is known in ancient Greece. It is found in Thebes, although it is thought to originate from AEtheopia. Like its Egyptian cousin, it also has a lion’s body. It has the head and bust of a human woman. Some older versions are reputed to have a snake or dragon tail, sometimes even said to have a snake’s head at the end. A variation of the creature sports feathered wings, although it is not capable of powered flight. Like the Egyptian sphinx, this creature is sometimes found in a guardian role, and can sometimes also be seen near tombs and temples. The Greek sphinx is highly aggressive and known to kill and eat unwary travelers. It is also intelligent, and it is known to be able to hold conversations with humans, most notably posing riddles for potential victims. They can be high strung and do not respond well to being bested in a battle of wits, sometimes leading to self-harm or even suicide.

The Greek Sphinx, noted for having wings and being more aggressive than the Egyptian species.

The Greek Sphinx, noted for having wings and being more aggressive than the Egyptian species.

While the striking appearance of this creature make it instantly recognizable, hardly any stories of it survive. This makes examination of common behaviors, territories, and other information difficult. Both the Egyptian and Greek sphinxes are thought to be connected to older, less familiar traditions. Contact with other cultures brought many changes to the creature, rendering it symbolic of the sun, knowledge, strength, and even Jesus. It was also retroactively associated it with other creatures such as the Assyrian Lamassu.

Today, the best known is the Great Sphinx of Giza, also called “Sesheps,” a 260 foot long statue. Other well-known sphinxes include the alabaster sphinx of Memphis; the nine-hundred criosphinxes of Thebes; and the sphinx of Queen Hetapheres II, possibly the first of her kind. Greek art has many examples of the sphinx, often paired with a lion, gryphon, or second sphinx. In modern culture, the sphinx appears as both a monster and a keeper of knowledge. A pair of Greek sphinxes are seen in  both the novel and the film The Neverending Story. While both versions use a  Sphinxes appear novels Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, Pyramids by Terry Pratchett, and the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. A 2003 video game called Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy features a character based upon the Great Sphinx as the player character.

Further reading:
Encyclopedia Britanica
Theoi Greek Mythology
New World Encyclopedia
King Tut One

Overhaul

Hello there. It’s been a long time.

I’m going to overhaul this blog. It’s been sitting stagnant for too long. I’m going to fix that.

The old posts will stand for now, but I may overhaul them in future to match the new layout.

There will still be an attempt at a picture from me. There will also now be images from other sources, if I can find them.

And why I thought not citing things was a good call is beyond me. Citations it is.

This should be fun. I’ll try to get a new beast in the new format up soon.

Will o’ the Wisp

The will o’ the wisp is a fairy creature that most often manifests as a glowing light in bogs or swamps.

A will o’ the wisp is thought to lead travelers off the safe paths in dangerous areas, looking like a lantern and disappearing when foolish travelers are lost and in danger. This is not always a deliberate attempt to harm a traveler, and is often viewed as a fey version of a joke. A will o’ the wisp may also lead a lost traveler back to safety, if the person is kind to it and, in some cases, offers payment.

It takes different forms in different parts of the world. In England, it is often thought to be the spirit of a traveler doomed to wander the Earth for all time in punishment for a misdeed. In some versions, he carries a lantern carved from a turnip, and is thus the source of the original jack o’ lantern stories. In other parts of the world, it is seen as an elf or a gnome of some sort. Although usually small, there are a few portrayals in which the creature is much larger than expected. In Germany, the creature’s head is what glows, and the legs are incredibly long, enabling it to run away if pursued. Unlike many other fey creatures, the will o’ the wisp seems to be intrigued by religion rather than repelled, and tales of them flocking to a priest invoking God’s name in an attempt to banish them or requesting baptism sometimes correspond to the belief that these are the spirits of those who died before they could be baptized.

The will o’ the wisp is usually attributed to marsh gas known as phosphorated hydrogen, which ignites on contact with air. It is released by decomposing plant and animal matter in the bogs, and would also explain the occasional sighting in graveyards.

The creature makes minor appearances in modern media, one of the most prominent being as the silent guides for Merida in Pixar’s Brave. A will o’ the wisp named Blubb makes an early appearance in the novel The Neverending Story, but did not make the film, probably because of difficulty portraying him.

Wolpertinger

The wolpertinger is a small Bavarian creature similar to the jackalope.

Although different areas describe the creature differently, the wolpertinger most commonly resembles a rabbit or squirrel with wings, antlers, and fangs. Most variations still use a mammal as the base of the monster, such as a pine martin. Others give it the body of an owl. In some descriptions, the wolpertinger also features the webbed feet of a duck. The creature is known in woodcarvings dating back to the 17th century. It is probable that it originated with sightings of rabbits afflicted with cottontail rabbit papilloma virus (CRPV), which causes a form of cancerous growths, usually near the head, that can resemble either horns or fangs.

Although it has a formidable appearance for such a small creature, the wolpertinger is usually a shy beast. It is supposedly attracted to beautiful young women. To capture it, a young woman should accompany a hunter at night, when the creature is active, looking for a secluded area where the creature is likely to nest. Once it reveals itself, the woman should expose her breasts, which for some reason will transfix the creature, making it easy to catch. Many examples of stuffed wolpertingers, composed of several different animal parts, are on display in Bavarian towns, many of which were supposedly caught through this method.

Loup Garou

The loup garou is a type of werewolf native to France and Francophone regions of North America.

The name “loup garou” translates oddly, as “loup” is the French term for “wolf,” while “garou” is probably based on an old Frankish word meaning “man-wolf,” giving it the name “wolf werewolf.” Odder still, the creature does not seem to live up to its name, looking very little like the canine that such a name suggests. Most often described as having a wolf’s head and tail but remaining upright and seeming to be a man otherwise, this creature  resembles the Hollywood portrayal of the Wolf Man. In further contrast to the more mainstream werewolf, a loup garou will retain human intelligence when it transforms, and sometimes attempt to dress as a human.

The original story is tied heavily to Catholicism, as a person typically becomes a loup garou after missing too many masses or confessions or repeatedly skipping the Lenten traditions. This transitioned into a belief that the creature targets Catholics who are similarly lax in their religious duties. A loup garou can also be created by the curse of a witch or sorcerer, although the belief that biting can transfer the curse is a more recent addition to the creature’s lore. In at least one version of the story, the curse will be lifted after 101 days if the victim does not speak of his condition, at which point he or she will pass the curse on to someone else.

The loup garou came to the Americas with French immigrants and settlers, and it mixed with native folklore. Today, very little of the original myth remains. Different regions have different specifics about the creature. In Louisiana, the loup garou is often said to travel via large bats, and in some cases share aspects with vampires, in particular the drinking of blood. Some are obsessed with counting, and can be deterred from attacking if they see something with many small items to count, such as the holes in a sieve, and some fear the sound of croaking frogs. In many cases it is a replacement for the boogey-man to scare children into obedience. Very often the loup garou has lost the ability to transform in the Americanized stories, usually as other myths became tied to it, such as the sasquatch and the wendigo. For example, the Ojibwa people tell stories of the “rugaru,” a creature created by a man indulging in cannibalism, which is the same process for becoming a wendigo. Both creatures are described as large bipedal creatures with fierce animal aspects.

Keythong

The keythong is a heraldic beast resembling a gryphon with no wings.

Like the more familiar gryphon, a keythong has the body of a lion and the head and forelegs of an eagle. Instead of wings, it sports spines or from its back and shoulders, often resembling an abstraction of the missing wings. These are often gold, thought to symbolize the sun, although this may also be because of the common use of the color gold to depict gryphons in heraldry. It is also possible for the keythong to have horns on its head. Keythongs are sometimes considered to be  male gryphons, although there is debate within the heraldic community as to whether the term “male gryphon” is a misnomer for the keythong, making it an entirely separate beast.

The keythong originated in the 15th century, sometimes called an alce. When it first appeared, there was no distinction made between the keythong and the proper gryphon, so they share many attributes from medieval lore. Gryphons are known as protective beasts, once considered Zeus’s watch dogs. They are loyal, mating for life and not taking another mate if their partner should die. Also, as a coupling of the eagle, the king of birds, and the lion, the king of beasts, it is thought of as a regal creature. It is fierce in battle, and would rather die than surrender to a foe. It is not clear if the keythong shares the gryphon’s dislike of horses.

Ndzoodzoo

The ndzoodzoo is a type of unicorn from South Africa.

Unlike its smaller cousin, the abada, the ndzoodoo is large and can be aggressive, a trait shared with many members of the unicorn family. It is said to be larger than a zebra, fleet of foot, and fierce, ready to attack if a threat appears. While it is always differentiated from the rhinoceros when a description is given, sometimes explicitly differentiated, exact specifications on the color of the  hide and  and length horn vary greatly. It is sometimes said to be a dark brown color, while other reports describe it with similar markings to the quagga, an extinct subspecies of zebra with few stripes on the body and a brownish coloration. The horn varies from two-and-a-half feet long to a ten inch protrusion covered in hair. The horn is also sometimes said to be flexible when needed, and can be curled up to keep it out of the way when the beast isn’t fighting, giving it some similarity to the yale and its swiveling pair of horns. Unlike several of its cousins, the horn does not have the ability to detect poison or purify and heal.

The earliest records of this creature are seen in cave paintings done by bushmen in Natal, in which striped creatures with a single horn are shown. Several explanations have been put forth to explain its inclusion in both the paintings and later stories told to and by colonists and explorers in the area. It is possible that an antelope seen in profile would appear to have a single horn; it could also be a depiction of an injured creature or a sport, accidentally born with a single horn instead of two. Just as the Arabian oryx is thought to be a possible inspiration for the more common northern unicorn, it is possible that the gemsbok, also known as the southern oryx, inspired this Kalahari-version of the creature.