Archives

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

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.

Tatzelwurm

The Tatzelwurm is an Alpine dragon-like creature with two legs near the front of the body.

It is known in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. It is aggressive, reported to attack livestock and, sometimes, humans. It ranges in size from two to six feet, with two legs in front of the body forcing it to slither or drag itself along the ground. Many accounts claim it is stumpy, with short legs and a wide snake-like body. Very rarely it is said to have four legs, but these are usually too small to be useful. In either case, the animal is said to have three large claws on each foot. Rearing up to intimidate prey or threats is common, as is making disconcerting noises that scare humans. It is sometimes described as having cat-like features, including large eyes and ear-like structures, but it has an overall reptilian appearance. In some stories, it is highly poisonous.

The first known story involving the creature includes two of them appearing before a farmer, Hans Fuchs. In some retellings of this story, as well as one of the most popular paintings of the beast, the tatzelwurms are attacking a pig. No matter what their target, their appearance seems to have so upset Fuchs that he died of a heart attack after running home and telling his family about the horrible creatures he just saw. Reports have been made as recently as the 1970s, but in modern times interest and reports have dwindled to the point that cryptozoologist believe that if it ever did exist, it is now extinct. Two of the most famous reports involve “evidence” in the form of  a skeleton supposedly donated to the Geneva Institute after a single photograph was taken before it was “lost” and a photograph taken in 1934 by Belkin. Both are considered to be falsified, although the photograph sparked enough interest for the Berliner Illustrierte to put together an expedition in search of the creature. Nothing was found, and public interest in the creature was lost.

This creature is a variant of the heraldic lindworm, and has several different regional names. While Tatzelwurm, the most common term for the creature, translates to “clawed worm,” other names include Bergstutzen (“mountain stump”), Springwurm (“jumping wyrm”), and Stollenwurm (“tunnel snake”). The latter name is also used for a creature found in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, which are built similarly to this monster. The tatzelwurm and stollenwurm, along with a beast with the alternatively spelled name “tatzlwurm,” also appear as monsters in the Final Fantasy video game series, although these renditions resemble more traditional western dragons, each sporting wings and legs capable of holding the body off the ground. Some cryptozoologists believe it is a relation of the Gila Monster, or even some variant of otter.

Leucrocotta

The Leucrocotta, also called the leucrotta, is a large hyena-like predator. Although stories of it come from Europe, it is reputed to live in India and northern Africa.

According to Pliny the Elder, in book 8 of his Natural History, the leucrocotta is the offspring of an Ethiopian lioness with another monster, the crocotta. Despite neither parent bearing resemblance to hoofed animals, the leucrocotta is said to have the haunches of a stag, as well as the chest, neck, and tail of a lion and the head of a badger, standing about the height of an ass. There is no mention of the forelegs. It is incredibly fast, sometimes called the fasted creature alive. According to some reports, it’s neck is so stiff that is must turn its body in order to move its head, while others report eyes that are thousands of colors, ever-changing, or somehow some kind of gemstone, although all of these attributes are found only in later documentation.

The two most distinctive features of this monster are its mouth and it’s voice. The mouth extends all the way back to the ears, and instead of individual teeth it sports a single shearing ridge of bone along each jaw, indicating it probably swallows what it eats without chewing. It is also able to create a wide variety of sounds, including mimicking human speech. The leucrocotta is known to listen for the name of a victim, then call that person into the night. It retreats into cover, usually the forest, until there is no chance that the victim will be able to call for help or run away, and only then kills its prey.

The leucrocotta bears strong resemblance to the hyena. The laughing call of the hyena may be the inspiration for the leucrocotta‘s ability to mimic speech. It also has some strong similarity with the prehistoric Mesonychids, an extinct order of carnivorous hoofed mammals, including Andrewsarchus, made famous in the BBC production Walking with Beasts. Mesonychids were possibly land-dwelling relatives of whales and dolphins, but are also related to modern sheep and goats.