Tag Archive | myth

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.

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.

Baku

The Baku is a creature from Japanese lore that devours nightmares.

The baku is a benevolent creature, working with humans and depending upon them for its food. The creature was described as early as the 14th century. It is sometimes described as being from China, and the myths do seem to originate from this country. The baku’s features are not consistent throughout time, sometimes giving the creature horns, the body of a horse, or the eyes of a rhinoceros. It does consistently feature the feet, and sometimes specifically the claws, of a tiger; the trunk of an elephant; and tusks. This composite creature resembles the tapir, so much so that the name is given to both the supernatural and the zoological creature. Modern representations of the baku make it indistinguishable from its mundane namesake.

The baku can be called upon by a person to help deal with nightmares. A baku can be called upon before one goes to sleep, either verbally or through the use of talismans or images of the creature. A person can also invite a baku to eat a nightmare after they wake up. The baku is thought to devour not only the offending dream, but the spirit that brought it, preventing further nightmares. In some stories, the baku may eat someone’s dreams without invitation. This can be troublesome, as an uninvited baku may eat all of the person’s dreams, depriving them of sleep.

Similar to Native American dreamcatchers, the image of the baku can be used to ward off evil dreams as well, be it through drawings, kanji, architectural incorporation, or even toys or dolls of the creature, and can be placed either in the bedroom, in particular under the pillow, or even hung outside the house. This practice became prominent in the Edo period, between 1603 and 1868, and continues today. The baku has also become tied to the Treasure Boats of the Seven Lucky Gods, which has the kanji for “baku” written on the sail. An image of this boat or of the baku is placed under the pillow on the night before the new year begins. It is believed that a good dream that night will ensure good fortune for the year. This is an extension of the belief that if a baku eats bad dreams, they will be transformed into good luck.

The modern tapir-like baku appears in several guises. One of the most popular instances in Western civilization is the Pokémon Drowzee, a yellow and black creature that looks like a bipedal tapir, with the power to eat dreams. They are becoming increasingly common in manga, animation, and video games.

Chamrosh

The chamrosh is a Persian bird with the body of a dog.

Like it’s more famous cousin, the Simurgh (or Senmurv), the chamrosh lives at the peak of Mount Alburz, under the Haoma or Hōm tree, sometimes known as the Harvisptokhm, or “tree of all seeds.” This tree is the source of all the seeds found throughout the world. Whenever the Simurgh takes off or lands on her roost, the seeds of the tree fall to the ground, where the chamrosh gathers them for distribution. The creature uses wings and body to sweep the varied seeds into the heavenly Vourukasha Sea. From there the seeds would be taken up into clouds and rained down upon the Earth.

According to the Avesta, it is also charged with the protection of Persia. Every three years, the chamrosh is sent by an angel to snatch invaders and drop them from mountaintops to protect the land.

Some accounts claim that the chamrosh is the archetype of all birds, and the ruler of all avifauna. However, it is more common to see the Simurgh given this role. As the chamrosh is less well-known and bears a strong resemblance to early depictions of the larger creature, it is possible that the attributes of the two creatures is being mixed up. In more recent stories of the Simurgh, the chamrosh is completely removed, and the function of distributing seeds is achieved through the flapping of her wings. It is possible that she inherited the other abilities and responsibilites of the chamrosh as the mythology changed and the chamrosh faded into obscurity. The chamrosh is rarely seen in modern works. A creature by the same name, although looking more like a pink parrot with a long tail, appears as a monster in the video game Final Fantasy XI.

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.

Hippalectryon

This is the hippalectryon, with the head and forequarters of a horse and the wings, tail, and hindquarters of a rooster.

The hippalectryon is odd in that it does not seem to have a story attached to it. Instead, it shows up in ancient Greek black-figure pottery and coins. Sometimes it is depicted with a rider, and often this is a small boy. Some scholars argue that this is an alternative representation of Pegasus, or else that the creature is based on early, changing representations of its more famous cousin.

It is an awkward combination of horse and cockerel, somehow able to attain flight even with a rider despite having the wings of domesticated fowl. Without any story, it is difficult to determine anything about the beast’s behavior for certain. It is possible that the properties attributed to the two animals that make up the hippalectryon are present in the beast. Roosters were thought to ward off evil spirits with their crowing, while horses were often funerary symbols, escorting the dead to the afterlife.  Because it is intentionally ridiculous, it is possible that the creature is designed to protect against evil by inducing laughter.

With that in mind, go on. Laugh at him. He won’t mind. That’s the point of him, after all.