Thursday, April 12, 2012

List 12 Cool Mythical Creatures: Part II

. Thursday, April 12, 2012

This is the second installment of the list of mythical creatures. Apparently there are just too many “really cool” ones out there, so this second installment finishes off the extensive list that We originally came up with! At 12, 20 or 50 years old, these creatures of myth are still cool.

12. Pegasus

In Greek mythology, Pegasus is a winged horse, son of the god Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa. Pegasus is associated originally for carrying thunderbolts for Zeus. He is generally pictured in white, sometimes in golden wings, and almost always in the air. History is not fully agreed on how the Pegasus originated, and so there are two legends behind the birth of Pegasus. First, it is said that Pegasus was born from Medusa’s head when she was beheaded by Greek hero Perseus. Second, it is said that Pegasus was born when Medusa’s blood mingled with sea foam (Poseidon, the sea god). However, no matter which view you may prescribe to, Pegasus was heroic and had a special place in Greek history. Pegasus was critical in the victory of Bellerophon, the “slayer of monsters”, against the Amazon armies and the monster Chimera. After this victory, it is said that Pegasus went to Olympia and joined the stables of Zeuss, in a retirement of sorts. Pegasus was a great flier, which may partially account for his tenure in the sky. Unlike some other gods of Greece, Pegasus was not immortal but because of his faithful service, Zeus honoured him with a constellation. On the last day of his life, Zeus transformed Pegasus into a constellation, which is where he still flies today.

11. Griffin

The legendary Griffin is a fascinating creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, each representing the power and majesty of the creature. The lion and eagle are considered to be “kings” of the land and air, respectively. Variations of ancient lore say the griffin builds a nest, like an eagle and lays sapphires instead of eggs, and it is common among legends that it is the job of the Griffin to protect gold and treasure. In Greek mythology, griffins guarded the gold of Scythia from the Arimaspians, a race of one eyed giants (Cyclops), who would try to steal the gold. Given that treasures were the domain of royalty in classic times, where royalty and godliness were intertwined, this also lent a de facto air of divinity to the Griffin. The feather of a griffin and the talon both are supposed to have medicinal properties so powerful that it can even restore sight to the blind. Interestingly, with the uncertainty around the birth of the creature, its origins seem to predate ancient Greece, with similar images appearing as early as the Egyptian Empire in 2000 BC and in 5th Century BC in the Persian Empire in Asia. Later in the years, as the Griffin became an accepted symbol of the Catholic church, and even appeared in elements of church architecture, goblets in griffin claw design (made from antelope horns) and griffin eggs (ostrich eggs) were highly prized in medieval European courts. This morphed into the image of the Griffin being adapted to coats of arms and European naming conventions.

10. Gargoyle

A gargoyle is technically defined as a water spout projecting from a gutter to throw the water away from the walls and foundations. In medieval architecture, the gargoyles, which had to be very numerous because of the many gutters which were carried on the tops of flying buttresses, and higher and lower walls, were often very decorative, consisting, as they did, of stone images of grotesque animals. Although they are no longer considered gargoyles, due to the lack of ability to drain water, the grotesques on modern structures are still considered by most people to be gargoyles. Though made of stone, these creatures conjure up enough real life from the imagination that many young children think of them as real creatures, and several wroks in book and film have indeed brought life to these stone creatures. Perhaps one day eons ago they breathed until looking at Medusa…

From a living standpoint, there is one legends that says the Gargoyle began as a fierce dragon named La Gargouille, described as having a long, reptilian neck, a slender snout and membranous wings who lived in a cave near the river Seine. The dragon caused much fear and destruction with its fiery breath, spouting water and the devouring of ships and men. Each year, the residents of Rouen would placate Gargouille with an offering of a victim, usually a criminal, though it was said the dragon preferred maidens. Around 600, the village was saved by St. Romanis, who promised to deal with the dragon if the townspeople agreed to be baptized and to build a church. Romanus subdued the dragon by making the sign of the cross and then led the now docile beast back to town on a leash made from his priest’s robe. La Gargouille was then burned at the stake, it is said that his head and neck were so well tempered by the heat of his fiery breath that they would not burn. These remnants were then mounted on the town wall and became the model for gargoyles for centuries to come.

9. Basilisk

The Basilisk is a fabulous reptilian monster of ancient and medieval legend, sometimes used in heraldry. This king of the reptiles (from Greek basileus ‘little king’) was said to be hatched from an odd looking cock’s egg by a serpent or a toad in a dunghill. Of all the legendary monsters, few were deadlier. It was also believed to be the incarnation of the Death God. Accounts of this monster differ, but it was commonly said to have either the face of a cock or a distorted human face, with the wings and feet of a fowl and the tail of a serpent. It was represented this way in heraldry. The Basilisk was also reputed to be a deadly creature with a destructive power similar to that of the fabulous Gorgon of Greek legend. The foremost description we have for this beast is found in Pliny’s Natural History, a compilation of ancient (and mostly Greek) sources written in Rome in 77 AD.

Its powers included breath that could scorch the earth and kill plants, animals and people alike. It was believed to have the power to split rocks; its skin was covered with a slimy deadly poison with the able to spread over anything it touched; and its eyes was so fierce that its glance was lethal, even to itself. Smartly, hunters who sought to slay the basilisk were wise to carry a mirror so that it would kill itself with its own look. The other method was to set a weasel on the monster, since it was thought to be the only creature capable of withstanding the cockatrice’s deadly stare.

8. Fairy

Fairies are supernatural beings and spirits, who reside in a place somewhere between earth and heaven that can be either good or bad. Fairies can range from cute little winged pixies to trolls under bridges to dwarfs of either good or evil intentions. The belief in fairies seems to reach back into ancient times, being traceable both in written and oral tradition. Traces stem from the Sanskrit gandharva (semidivine celestial musicians) to the nymphs of the Greeks and Homer, the jinni of Arabic mythology, and other folk characters of the Samoans, Arctic, and other indigenous Americans. A common conception of fairies today, especially in children’s fairytales, rests largely upon their depiction in old folklore tradition where they were generally described as serious and sinister. However, we all know the current “good fairy” such as the fairy godmother in children’s stories like Cinderella and Snow White and the seven dwarfs and one who gives us money for teeth. The word “fairy” is derived from the Latin fata, or fate, referring to the mythical Fates, three women who spin and control the threads of life.

King James I of England, in Daemonologie, his book about witches, called Diana, the goddess of witches, and the “Queen of Fairies.” Oberon, the name of the King of Fairies, also was the name of a demon summoned by magicians. Fairies were also claimed to be familiars of witches. Currently Neo-Pagan Witches believe in fairies and some see them clairvoyantly. Some Witches say their Craft was passed down by fairies through the generations of their families. Fairy lore is particularly prevalent in Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. Fairies are common in literature from the Middle Ages on and appear in the writings of the Italians Matteo Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto, the English poet Edmund Spenser, the Frenchman Charles Perrault, and the Dane Hans Christian Andersen, among others.

7. Leprechaun

Not all monsters have to be wicked and evil! While there may be the odd creation of Leprechauns as evil, this creature is often described as a happy little dude with a song on his vioce, a riddle on his tongue and a pot of gold that we all want to find. Though technically a fairy, the Irish Leprechaun is well enough known that he deserves a separate posting on this list. The first appearance of the Leprechaun was in the early 17th century in Irish literature (The Honest Whore, Part 2 by Dekker, 1604), and sporadically after that as the legend gained popularity Throughout the years and iterations in literature, the leprechaun has gone through different sets of clothing, styles and looks, but the theme of a mischievous little fairy creature remains constant.

6. Minotaur

The Minotaur of ancient Greece was a bull-headed man, whom King Minos jailed in the Labyrinth which Daedalus had built in Crete. Before he ascended the throne of Crete, Minos struggled with his brothers for the right to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of approval by the gods for his reign. He promised to sacrifice the bull as an offering, and as a symbol of subservience. A beautiful white bull rose from the sea, but when Minos saw it, he coveted it for himself. He assumed that Poseidon would not mind, so he kept it and sacrificed the best specimen from his herd instead. When Poseidon learned about the deceit, he made Pasipha, Minos’ wife, fall madly in love with the bull. She had Daedalus, the famous architect make a wooden cow for her. Pasipha climbed into the decoy and fooled the white bull. The offspring of their lovemaking was a monster called the Minotaur. The creature had the head and tail of a bull on the body of a man. It caused such terror and destruction on Crete that Daedalus was summoned again, but this time by Minos himself. He ordered the architect to build a gigantic, intricate labyrinth from which escape would be impossible. The Minotaur was captured and locked in the labyrinth. Every year for nine years, seven youths and maidens came as tribute from Athens. These young people were also locked in the labyrinth for the Minotaur to feast upon.

When the Greek hero Theseus reached Athens, he learned of the Minotaur and the sacrifices, and wanted to end this. He volunteered to go to Crete as one of the victims. Upon his arrival in Crete, he met Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, who fell in love with him. She promised she would provide the means to escape from the maze if he agreed to marry her. When Theseus did, she gave him a simple ball of thread, which he was to fasten close to the entrance of the maze. He made his way through the maze, while unwinding the thread, and he stumbled upon the sleeping Minotaur. He beat it to death and led the others back to the entrance by following the thread.

5. Faun

A Faun is one of a class of rural deities represented as men with the ears, horns, tail, and later also the hind legs of a goat. They typically lived in wilderness and forested areas, were usually good creatures, though often given in to temptation, as seen in stories such as Mr Tumnus in the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, who initially aids the Ice Queen out of fear but eventually discovers his stronger side of self-sacrifice for the good of others.

4. Hydra

The Hydra lived in the swamps near to the ancient city of Lerna in Argolis of ancient Greece. The Hydra is said to have been the offspring of Echidna (half maiden – half serpent), and Typhon (had 100 heads), while other versions have the Hydra as the offspring of Styx and the Titan Pallas. The Hydra had the body of a serpent and many heads, which varies from five up to one hundred, but generally nine is accepted as standard. One head in particular could never be harmed by any weapon, and if any of the other heads were severed another would grow in its place, while its breath was also quite deadly. The creature terrorized the vicinity for many years until Heracles journeyed to Lake Lerna in search of the dreaded Hydra. When he reached the Hydras’ hiding place, Heracles drew the monster from its hole with flaming arrows then attacked the beast, flaying at each head with his sword but, being a smart guy, he soon realized that this approach would not work, since the heads just grew back. Heracles called for help from Iolaus, telling him to bring a flaming torch, and as Heracles cut off the heads one by one from the Hydra, Iolaus cauterized the open wounds with the torch preventing them from growing again. Eventually Heracles removed all but one of the Hydras’ heads. The one remaining could not be harmed by any weapon, so, picking up his hefty club Heracles crushed it with one mighty blow, he then tore off the head with his bare hands and quickly buried it deep in the ground, placing a huge boulder on the top. After he had killed the Hydra, Heracles dipped the tips of his arrows into the Hydras’ blood, which was extremely poisonous, making them deadly. Other versions say that while Heracles fought the Hydra the goddess Hera sent down a giant crab which attacked his feet. This legend comes from a marble relief dating from the 2nd century BCE found at ancient Lerna, showing Heracles attacking the Hydra, and near his feet is a huge crab.

3. Sandman

The Sandman is a mythical character in Western folklore who brings good dreams by sprinkling magical sand onto the eyes of children while they sleep. Traditionally he is a character in many children’s stories, invoked to help (or lull) children to sleep. He is said to sprinkle sand or dust on or into the eyes of the child at night to bring on dreams and sleep. The grit or ‘sleep’ (rheum) in one’s eyes upon waking is supposed to be the result of the Sandman’s work the previous evening. Ole Lukøje, one of Hans Christian Andersen’s more obscure folk tales, told of the different dreams the Sandman gave to a young boy in a week. E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote an inverse depiction of the lovable character in a story called Der Sandmann, which showed how sinister such a character could be made. He is real, though. According to the protagonist’s nurse, he threw sand in the eyes of children who wouldn’t sleep, with the result of those eyes falling out and being collected by the Sandman, who then takes the eyes to his iron nest on the moon, and uses them to feed his children. The protagonist of the story grows to associate this nightmarish creature with the genuinely sinister figure of his father’s associate Coppelius. In modern day art, the namesake has been used for villains in comic books and the subject of a very dark version of getting to sleep in the song “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.

2. Mermaid

Mermaids have been in human stories for more than 3000 years, with the first recorded stories being from the Assyrians in 1000 BC. The culture was very advanced and based a significant amount of activity in ocean-going trade and travel, and so naturally developed many legends from the sea. Mermaids were often said to entice sailors and people from the shore through their singing – hence the legends of the sirens – and bring them into the sea or run their ships aground.Through the tales of Arabian and later British folklore, mermaids were continually given the same bad reputation, and it was not until the modern 21st century adaptions of stories that mermaids became the “good” creatures that we know them as today.

1. Zombie

According to the tenets of Vodou, a dead person can be revived by a bokor, or sorcerer. Zombies remain under the control of the bokor since they have no will of their own. “Zombi” is also another name of the Vodou snake lwa Damballah Wedo, of Niger-Congo origin; it is akin to the Kikongo word nzambi, which means “god”. There also exists within the West African Vodun tradition the zombi astral, which is a part of the human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor’s power. The zombi astral is typically kept inside a bottle which the bokor can sell to clients for luck, healing or business success. It is believed that after a time God will take the soul back and so the zombi is a temporary spiritual entity. [Wikipedia]

Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, presented a pharmacological case for zombies in two books, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988). Davis traveled to Haiti in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie by two special powders being entered into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: ‘powder strike’), includes tetrodotoxin (TTX), the poison found in the puffer-fish. The second powder consists of dissociative drugs such as datura. Together, these powders were said to induce a death-like state in which the victim’s will would be entirely subjected to that of the bokor. These techniques are both known to have been used by Voodoo and Santeria sorcerers as tricks.

With the popularity of the Twilight series, vampires and werewolves are getting all the airtime, but zombies are not too far behind. Although the legend has been around for some time, and dates back to early Africa and the pre-voodoo culture of the Caribbean, George Romero really created the modern notion of the brains-eating, loping monster that reanimates from the dead and breaks through the ground in graveyards. His seminal movie Night of the Living Dead introduced to the horror and defined the genre. The delight of zombies has been well used in popular culture and will no doubt continue to thrive as long as people like to be scared.

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