Tag Archive | mythology

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

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.