Tag Archives: mythical creatures

Valkyries – Special Edition of the Mythological Creatures Series


Welcome to this special edition revival of my mythical creatures series.

The valkyrie comes to us from Norse mythology and were believed to be female virginal warriors. They were usually depicted as blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned. The word ‘valkyrie’ literally meant ‘chooser of the slain’ and so it was believed the valkyries decided which warriors on the battlefield would live and which would die. Six, nine, or thirteen valkyries would await above the battlefield as the battle was fought, and afterwards the valkyries would choose half of the slain to bring with them to Valhalla, ruled over by Odin, while the rest went to Freya’s Folkvangr. Anyone not taken by Freya and judged unworthy of Valhalla went to the goddess Hel and her underground realm.

In fact, it was Freya who led the valkyries, and Freya had first choice of the fallen, so the better way to express it is to say the chosen went to Folkvangr while the balance were escorted to Valhalla by the valkyries, provided they were judged worthy. Freya was the goddess of love, fertility and beauty, and was sometimes also attributed as the goddess of death and battle as well. She possessed a cloak of falcon feathers which allowed her to take the form of a falcon.

Arthur Rackham‘s illustration to The Ride of the Valkyries
Some valkyries could assume the form of white swans, but if such a valkyrie were ever seen by a mortal in her womanly form, she was doomed by Odin to mortality and could never again walk the halls of Valhalla.  At this point the legend of the valkyrie seems to have fused with that of the swan maiden. Swan maidens were believed to possess a cloak of feathers, and if a mortal found and kept the cloak, he could possess the maiden – similar to the legends of the silkies.

The origins of valkyries are uncertain, and a multitude of storytellers and poets has contributed to the lore, muddying the original core substance of the valkyrie. In the very dim past, the valkyrie in its first form may have been similar to the Celtic warrior-goddess, the Morrigan. They were also possibly influenced by Germanic paganism, and may have in the early days been viewed as demons of the dead (a theory posited by Rudolf Simek).

“The Ride of the Valkyries” by the German painter William T. Maud.    
In this guise, the souls of the dead would have ‘belonged’ to the valkyries, as contrasted with their later role of conductors of dead where they merely escorted the dead to Odin. As the view of valkyries changed, they became more human and less demonic, and it was then that tales of valkyries falling in love with mortals began to emerge.

Hilda Ellis Davidson theorises that the valkyries may have originally evolved from the concept of priestesses to a god of war. Such priestesses may have overseen the putting to death of captives after a battle. Who would die was usually chosen by lot (to send a message to the enemy and demoralise his forces) and may have involved the concept that those who were to die were chosen by the god, and the priestesses would preside over the sacrifice. I rather like this notion… now which book can I use this in!

References

Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis (1990). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-013627-4 

Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer ISBN 0-85991-513-1 

This is an A to Z Challenge post. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

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River Spirits – Mythology

River Spirits
OK, I promised you a mythical creatures post every month, and I missed April. I know, I know! If you’ll stop tossing rotten fruit for just a moment I can explain – I was busy with the A to Z Blogging Challenge! If you missed the series of posts I wrote for the Challenge on Somebody Has To Say It, you can check them out here

So this is our fourth mythological creatures post, and today we’re looking at water creatures of the rivers and lakes. Previous posts in the mythical creatures series can be found here (on dragons, fantastical horses, mythical creatures of the sky and saltwater spirits – Part 1 and Part 2). 

Rusalka 

This one comes to us from Slavic mythology. Believed to be the souls of murdered young women who died in or near lakes, they haunt the waterside until their murder is avenged but aren’t always violent. 

An alternative myth is that rusalka are the souls of girls who suicide, either girls jilted by their lovers, or unmarried pregnant women. Sometimes rusalka were babies, believed to be the souls of unbaptised children born out of wedlock and consequently drowned by their mothers. Baby rusalki wander the forest searching for someone to baptise them so they can rest, but aren’t necessarily benign and may attack a human. I can’t think of any way to look at this myth that isn’t tragic!  

The rusalka lives in the body of water where she died, but may come out at night. They were known to sit in trees and comb out their hair while singing songs, or to dance with other rusalki.  They would keep their comb with them, as they could not survive long out of water, but a rusalka’s comb gave her the power to summon water when needed.

Rusalki are described as having translucent skin. Some myths give them eyes of green fire, while in others their eyes have no pupils. Their hair is green or golden and always dripping wet. In some legends, if her hair were to dry, she would die. 

Rusalki may (but not necessarily) entice men or children to drown to their deaths. Men were often enticed by singing, similar to sirens and mermaids, while children were attracted by baskets of fruit. Men drawn by rusalki could die in a number of ways – by drowning in her arms, by hearing her laugh, or, bizarrely, by being tickled to death! Apparently a good laugh can be the death of you…

Undine

The name comes from the Latin word for wave, which to me is beautiful. Sometimes it’s ‘ondine’ instead of ‘undine’, and they were water elementals, although they also appear in European mythology as fairy creatures. As elementals, undines are soulless, but they may gain a soul by marrying a man and bearing his child.This has made them a common feature of romantic and tragic literature.

Undines are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. Like many other water spirits, they have beautiful voices – one almost begins to think it is a pre-requisite for the job!

There is a German folktale in which Ondine is a water nymph who curses her cheating husband to stop breathing if he ever sleeps again. Interestingly, this tale is the origin for ‘Ondine’s Curse’, the historical name for congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, in which sufferers lose control of their breathing while sleeping. It is typically fatal if untreated. Something to file away for your next trivia night…
  

Naiad

Naiads are a type of nymph bound to fountains, wells, springs, brooks, rivers, marshes, ponds and lagoons. There were a number of different types of naiad, with different names depending on the nature of the body of water she inhabited. If a naiad’s water home dried up, she would die with it. 

Naiads were known to be jealous and in some myths are regarded as dangerous because they would lure men underwater using their beauty. A man foolish enough to venture into a naiad’s embrace was never seen again. This is becoming something of a trend, isn’t it? One naiad, betrayed by her husband, blinded him in revenge. What can I say? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…

However, in Greek mythology, naiads were considered friendly spirits who could foretell the future and helped sailors survive storms. Now that’s a little more positive!

Kelpie

We looked at the Each Uisge in my previous post Beasties of the Deep. Kelpies are that monster’s inland cousins, haunting the river and lochs of Scotland.  

A kelpie appears as a beautiful horse, usually black although sometimes it is said to be white. In some tales, it is green with a black mane and tail. Although it appears nothing more than a lost pony, beware its constantly dripping mane! This is your warning all is not well…

Kelpies are known to transform into beautiful women to lure men to their deaths, or into handsome men to lure women to their deaths. In their human form, they are often wet or have water weeds in their hair. The horse form is most often used to lure children into the water, where it will drown and eat them. It encourages the child to ride on its back. A kelpie’s skin is cold as death and, once mounted, the waterhorse’s skin becomes sticky and the victim cannot escape. The kelpie then dives to the bottom of the river to devour its victim, except for the heart or liver.

There is the Scottish tale of nine children trapped on a kelpie’s back while a tenth keeps his distance. Normally, nine children wouldn’t fit on one horse, but part of the magic of the kelpie is it can ‘stretch’ to accommodate any number of riders. the kelpie chased the elusive tenth child, but he escaped. In another variation, the boy strokes the waterhorse’s nose, and when his hand becomes stuck, he cuts his own hand off! Resourceful but gruesome… such is the stuff Scotsmen are made of…
 

I’m entered in the Best Australian Blogs 2012 Competition for both Flight of the Dragon and Somebody Has To Say It. If you like this blog, or Somebody Has To Say It, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d be so good as to stop by and vote for me here.

You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here – Dragons, Fantastical Horses, Creatures of the Sky, Mythical Creatures of the Sea – Part 1 and Part 2

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Beasties of the Deep: Mythological Creatures of the Sea – Part 2

Mythological Creatures of the Sea

Welcome to Part 2 of Mythological Creatures of the Sea. If you missed Part 1 you can find it here. Previous posts i the mythical creatures series can be found here (on dragons, fantastical horses, and mythical creatures of the sky). Today we’re dealing with other beasts of the deep!

Hippocampus depiction in ancient art
Hippocampus – Still no hippos….

Common to Phoenician and Greek mythology, the hippocampus is typically depicted as the front half of a horse with a fish’s tail. 

Poseidon, god of the sea, but also of horses and earthquakes (talented chap!), was described by Homer as drawn by “brazen-hoofed” horses over the sea’s surface, whereas Neptune (the Roman name for Poseidon) has a sea chariot drawn by hippocampi, gicing the god slightly different depictions in each culture. 

Neptune’s horses do appear as hippocampi in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. I’ve seen this fountain in the flesh…er, stone… and didn’t realise the horses were more than just horses! In my defence, it was a little crowded at the time. And I had sore feet. 


You don’t see this one much in fantasy, I’m afraid. So if you’re looking for something a little unusual… consider the poor, forgotten hippocampus!
The Trevi Fountain in Rome

Kraken – Oh, giant octopus!

OK, that’s some octopus. The kraken, of truly giant proportions, probably had more than 8 arms and was reputed to live off the coasts of Norwayand Iceland.

One tale goes that the Kraken was sometimes mistaken for an island, and the real danger to sailors is the whirlpool left in its wake. Other tales more commonly have the kraken wrapping its tentacles around hapless ships and dragging them to a watery grave. It was said if the kraken were to seize hold of the largest man-of-war, it could be pulled to the very bottom of the sea. 

The myth may have grown from sightings of the giant squid, estimated to grow to 13–15 m (40–50 ft) in length (including tentacles). Although giant squid usually lives at great depths, they are sometimes sighted at the surface and may even have attacked ships.

The kraken makes an appearance in The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The monster that drives the Fellowship of the Ring into the mines of Moria may also have been a kraken or kraken type creature. 


Man o’ War

Kraken
















Each Uisge – Beautiful Horse!

 Pronounced Ach (rhymes with Bach, the composer; the “ch” is a gutteral sound, caught in the throat, almost as if you are choking – if you’ve ever heard a Scot say ‘Och!’ you know what I mean) ishkeh (like “shish kabob”, without the first “sh” and “bob” at the end). Yes, as far as I can see, there is no logical connection between the spelling of these words and their pronunciation!

Considered a relative of the Scottish kelpie, or waterhorse (which is not a Loch Ness Monster type-creature – we’ll cover waterhorses ina  future post), the Each Uisge of the Scottish Highlands is reputedly the most dangerous water-dwelling creature in the British Isles. 

Unlike the kelpie, the Each Uisge lives in the sea, sea lochs and fresh water lochs and is far more vicious. It often appears as a beautiful horse or an incredibly handsome man. In human form, the Each Uisge can be recognised only by the water weeds in his hair. Highlanders tended to be wary of lone animals or people near the edges of lochs for fear it was the Each Uisge. 

If a man or woman mounts the Each Uisge while in horse-form, they are safe so long as they remain out of sight or scent of water – although this may be difficult in Scotland! For if the Each Uisge scents water, his back becomes sticky, preventing the rider from dismounting. The Each Uisge then drags his rider to a watery doom, diving to the very deepest part of the loch. After the rider has drowned, the Each Uisge devours his victim, except for the liver which floats to the surface. Presumably the poor soul has unstuck from the Each Uisge’s back at this point….

One tale of the Each Uisge recounts a blacksmith from Raasay who lost his daughter to the Each Uisge. In revenge, the blacksmith and his son made a set of large hooks, then roasted a sheep and heated the hooks until they were red hot. A mist appeared from the water and the Each Uisge rose from the depths of the loch, seizing the sheep, and the blacksmith and his son rammed the hooks into its flesh, killing it. Nothing remained in the morning except a jelly like substance.

The Each Uisge makes an appearance in the Bitterbynde trilogy by Australian author Cecilia Dart-Thornton.

Selkies – Seal People

Selkies, also called silkies or selchies, are also Scottish in origin (also Faroese, Icelandic and Irish folklore). A selkie is a magical seal which can take the form of a human. When in human form, the selkie sheds its seal skin. Without the skin, it cannot return to seal form. 

Unlike many other mythological creatures, the selkies lend themselves to romantic tragedies. A human might take a selkie for a lover, not knowing their lover is not human, and wakes one day to find them gone. In other’s, knowing their lover is a selkie, the mortal takes and hides the selkie’s seal skin, denying them the ability to return to the sea. This is the only way a human can keep a selkie lover, for if the human does not hide the selkie’s skin, the selkie must wait seven years before they may make contact with their human lover again. 

Male selkies are very beautiful and seductive to human women, but prefer dissatisfied women, such as those at home waiting for their fishermen husbands. If a woman wishes to call a selkie, she must go to a beach and shed seven tears into the sea. Then the selkie will come to her. 

If a man steals a selkie’s skin, she is in his power and forced to become his wife. Female selkies supposedly made prized wives, but they often gaze at the sea, missing their home. If she can find her skin, she will return to the sea, even if she has mortal children. Often it is one of her children who unwittingly finds her skin and allows her the opportunity to escape. How sad! Such escaped selkie women usually avoid their mortal husband but may return to visit their children from time to time. 

In the Faroe Islands there is the story of the Seal Wife. A young farmer goes to watch the selkies dance on the beach. Hiding the skin of a selkie maid, he forces her to marry him, and hides her skin in a locked chest to which only he has the key. On the day he forgets the key, she takes back her skin and escapes back to the sea, leaving behind her husband and children. 

Although selkie lore tends to romantic tragedies, not all tales are about faithless lovers. The fisherman, Cagan, married a selkie and sailed against his wife’s wishes into dangerous weather. His selkie wife shifted to seal form and saved him, although this meant she could not return to him or her happy home for seven years. 

I find the selkie folklore very sad. Nothing ever seems to go right for selkies who love mortals or mortals who love selkies. Doomed from the start!

Selkies also appear in the Bitterbynde trilogy by Australian author Cecilia Dart-Thornton.

That’s it for our mythical creatures of the sea. I’ve been asked to cover undines and rusalkas (other types of water creatures, although more typically associated with fresh water) so if you have any special requests, do let me know!

You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here – Dragons, Fantastical Horses, Creatures of the Sky, Mythical Creatures of the Sea – Part 1, and Spirits of Inland Waterways

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.


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Mythical Creatures of the Sea – Siren Song of the Deep – Part 1

Mythical Creatures of the Sea

So she poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst of his spirit.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Welcome to the March mythical creatures installment. You can find the previous posts here (on dragons, fantastical horses, and mythical creatures of the sky).

I have too many mythical creatures of the sea to cover, so I’ve split it into two posts. Don’t worry, I won’t make you wait until April! The second half will be up next week. 

Mermaid

We’re probably all familiar with the contemporary depictions of this mythological sea creature, a female human from the waist up with the tail of a fish. A male version of a mermaid is known as a ‘merman’ and collectively they are known as ‘merfolk’ or ‘merpeople’. But what is the origin of the myth?

As it happens, mermaids are depicted in many cultures, far too many legends to cover here.
In British folklore, mermaids are considered unlucky omens, either foretelling disaster or causing it. Mermaids may also be a sign of approaching bad weather. 

A popular Greek legend has it that Alexander the Great’s sister turned into a mermaid after she died (can I have this afterlife?). When she encountered a ship, she would ask the sailors ‘Is King Alexander alive?’ If the sailors replied ‘He lives and reigns and conquers the world’ she would be pleased enough to calm the sea and bid the sailors farewell. Any other answer enraged her and caused her to raise a terrible storm, dooming the ship and every sailor on board. 

Mermaids typically live in the ocean, using their beauty and charm to lure sailors to their deaths. They have also been described as being capable of swimming up rivers or streams to freshwater lakes. One legend recounts the Laird of Lorntie going to the aid of a drowning woman, only to be dragged back by his servant. Uncharitable man! But no, the servant warned, the woman is a mermaid, whereupon the mermaid screamed she would have killed the laird if not for the lucky intervention of the servant. Whew! Close escape. 

Traditionally the mermaid was depicted unclothed, but censorship in modern culture has resulted in mermaids shown partially clothed or with hair covering their breasts. Interestingly, some mermaids are described as 2000 feet long! That is not a fish I want to have an argument with…

Most lore deals with the female, with mermen described as uglier and wilder than mermaids and having little interest in humans. Looks like us gals are safe from this creature!

The mermaid appears frequently in popular culture. There is, of course, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and quite recently, mermaids made an appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Or were they sirens…

Sirens

The sirens come from Greek mythology and were depicted in later folklore as mermaid like, and thus often confused, but they are not the same thing at all!

The sirens were originally described as ‘winged maidens’, but later portrayed as ‘fish-like’, thus creating the confusion with mermaids. Early Greek art shows the sirens as birds with large women’s heads, bird feathers and scaly feet. This transformed to female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings, and playing musical instruments, most often harps. Later, Sirens were sometimes depicted as beautiful women, whose bodies, not only their voices, are seductive. Lastly, the mermaid-like depiction appeared. 

As mentioned, mermaids used their beauty and charm to lure sailors to their deaths (often compelling the men to jump overboard to drown in the mermaid’s arms) but sirens instead used their singing to lure sailors toward rocks, thus sinking the ship on the rocky coast of their island. The siren’s song is beautiful and irresistible, described as:

‘Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.’

From this legend comes the expression ‘siren song’ referring to an appeal that is hard to resist but, if heeded, will have terrible consequences. 

One version of the legend goes that sirens ate their victims. Another, based on the depiction of victims with rotting flesh, suggests the sirens do not kill sailors for food. Instead, the sirens lure sailors to be their companions but, with their feathers lost, cannot feed their new companions, who starve to death when they refuse to leave. I like that version better myself. 

Dangerous seductresses, the sirens were considered the daughters of the river god Acheolus and their number ranged from two to five. The Greeks did not regard them as sea deities, although the Romans more closely linked them to the sea as daughters of Phorcys (primordial sea god of hidden dangers of the deep – now isn’t that a mouthful?). The sirens did not live in the sea, but in a flowery meadow on their island. 

One tale has the sirens as companions of a young Persephone (daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess, Demeter) and given wings by Demeter to allow them to search for Persephone when she was abducted by Hades to become queen of the underworld. An alternative version of the myth has Demeter cursing the sirens for failing to intervene in Persephone’s abduction. The sirens searched for Persephone but eventually gave up and settled on their island home. Later, they were provoked by Hera (wife of Zeus) to enter a contest with the Muses and, defeated, were deprived of their wings.

Sirens are fated to live only until the mortals who heard their songs could pass on by. In Homer’s classic The Odyssey, Odysseus plugged his ears with wax so he could not hear the siren’s song and so the sirens cast themselves into the sea and drowned (or turned into rocks, or so says the alternative version… go figure!). 

According to the mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, they were not sirens, but did the  bidding of sirens. 

The sirens are not truly creatures of the sea, but I have covered them here because they are sea-related and so often confused with mermaids. 

Tritons

Triton is a Greek god, son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and Amphitrite, goddess of the sea, whose herald he is. He is most often represented as a sea-coloured merman

Over time, Triton’s name and image came to be associated with mermaid-like creatures, the Tritons.  Tritons were both male and female and formed the escort of marine divinities. Tritons were a race of sea gods and goddesses born from Triton.

Tritons are often considered the aquatic versions of satyrs. We haven’t covered satyrs yet – we’ll get to them in a  future post, but think Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Another description of Tritons is that of the Centaur-Tritons, also known as Ichthycentaurs, depicted with two horse’s feet in place of arms. 

Tritons are the trumpeters of the sea, using great trumpets of conch.  Blowing the conch would calm the waves, or stir them up. 

Triton (the god) appears in The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. He helps his father fight against the Titans of the sea, and is very rude to Percy Jackson, who is his half brother. In the book he is described as a young-looking merman with two fish tails instead of one, green skin, black hair tied into a ponytail, and wearing armour studded with pearls.

Nereids

Another one from Greek mythology! Those Greeks sure did get around. The Nereids were the nymphs of the sea, daughters of Nereus, god of the sea (how many sea gods are there, I ask you?). He had fifty daughters, so he sure knew how to party. 

These lovely ladies were friendly folk. Finally, a mythical creature that wants to be my friend instead of eat me, drown me or kill me! Nereids were known for helping sailors through rough storms and lived mostly in the Mediterranean. Too bad if you’re sailing across the Atlantic when a storm blows up…

The Nereids also often accompanied Poseidon (another sea-god if you recall…) and lived with their father in a silvery cave. The most well-known is Thetis, mother of Achilles. Who knew? First time I heard Achilles was half-sea-nymph!

Other notable Nereids included Amphitrite, Poseidon’s wife (who else would a sea-god wed than the daughter of another sea-god?) and Galatea, who had the dubious honour of being the love of Cyclops.  

I’m off to consult my mythical creatures bestiary for next week’s Part 2 – Beasties of the Deep: Mythical Creatures Beneath the Waves. 



 
You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here – Dragons, Fantastical Horses, Creatures of the Sky, Mythical Creatures of the Sea – Part 2, and Spirits of Inland Waterways

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.
Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

I Say Gryphon, You Say Griffin – Mythical Creatures of the Sky

Gryphon

Welcome to my third instalment about mythical creatures. The first two are here, on dragons and fantastical horses. Today we’re looking at the fearsome beasts populating our fantastical skies. 

If you’re a fantasy writer you probably spell this ‘Gryphon’. 

Is there a fantasy writer alive who can resist the lure of replacing an ‘i’ with a ‘y’ or an ‘f’ with a ‘p’? It just looks so much more mystical! I’m guilty as charged, so I am here to introduce you to the gryphon (or griffin, maybe griffon, if you’re nota fantasy writer!).

The gryphon has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. The gryphon inherited a certain amount of status from the traditional belief the lion was king of the beasts. As such, the gryphon was considered powerful and majestic and itself a king of creatures. It was also the symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.

Traditionally, gryphons were found guarding treasures and priceless possession. That’s some heavy duty guard dog! 

Gryphons appear in a number of fantasy books but the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Mercedes Lackey’s ‘Valdemar’ books. Oh yeah… and those weird War of Power books. That was possibly a genre confusion between ‘fantasy’ and ‘erotica’. 

Sphinx – Greek not Egyptian!

In the Greek tradition, the sphinx is part lion, part woman and part eagle. Yep, always a woman. Sorry guys, you lucked out on this one, no lion and eagle bits for you! The sphinx has the head of a  woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird and was the guardian of the city of Thebes. Visitors were only permitted to pass after they answered this riddle:
 “Which creature in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?”
If you didn’t give the right answer, the sphinx strangled and devoured anyone who couldn’t answer the riddle. Eww! Certainly discourages hasty answers. I wonder how long you could think about it and if you could just decide to leave instead of answering?

The riddle was ultimately answered by Oedipus. Apparently devastated, the sphinx threw herself from a high rock and died. Seems a bit strange for something with wings, but it’s preferable to the alternative ending, which is she devoured herself. Double eww!

The death of the sphinx was followed by the rise of the new Olympian deities.

I can’t think of a book I’ve read with a sphinx, but I’ve got one featuring in my book The Blood Infernal. They also cropped up in some of the really old Dungeons & Dragons computer games, the Forgotten Realms ones I think. True to form, they asked riddles!

Phoenix – Holy Smoke!

The phoenix is a bird described with colourful plumage and a tail, most traditionally, of gold and scarlet (like Fawkes in the Harry Potter movies). Some legends describe the tail feathers as blue, green or purple, but really red and gold makes more sense. It fits with the fire theme, yeah? It’s so important to make an impact! The phoenix also has a beautiful song.

The phoenix lived anywhere between 500 – 1000 years before bursting into flame. OK, it builds a nest first, and then ignites. Close enough! It burns to ash and a new phoenix is born (or reborn) from the ashes (or sometimes an egg). I’m not sure why the nest is important. Legends differ as to whether the new phoenix is the offspring of the old phoenix or the old phoenix itself reborn. If the latter, this is one immortal bird!

The phoenix appears in Egyptian and Greek legends, but is described differently. To the Egyptians it was a stork or heron type bird, to the Greeks a peacock or eagle. In Greek tradition, the phoenix lived next to a well (in Phoenicia… surprise surprise). Each dawn it would bathe in the well and the Greek sun god, Helios, stopped his chariot to listen to the phoenix sing. Naturally, his chariot was the sun… your preferred vehicle of choice is the sun too, isn’t it? No? Time for an upgrade, Helios style!


Fawkes of Harry Potter fame is likely the most well-known phoenix currently, but phoenixes also appear in many other fantasy books. 

Hippogriff – Is That A Hippo Griffin Hybrid?

Actually the hippogriff has nothing to do with hippos! Supposedly it was the offspring of a gryphon and a mare (female horse). That tends to make it a little rare since gryphons look at horses more as, well, lunch than lover! Interestingly, it’s been suggested this gave rise to the expression  “to mate griffins with horses” – or in modern language, “pigs might fly!”. 

It probably comes as no surprise, then, to know the hippogriff was a symbol of impossibility and love. Oh… how sweet.

Hippogriffs do all right for themselves, apparently being faster, stronger and smarter than their fathers (sorry guys, looks like Mum holds all the cards in this one!) and able to travel at the speed of lightning. On the other hand, hippogriffs were easier to tame than gryphons, I guess because they were half domesticated animal to start with. I want me a hippogriff!

The most well-known hippogriff of the moment is Buckbeak from Harry Potter. I can’t think of another book featuring a hippogriff, but they also appeared in the Dungeons & Dragons computer games. 

What mythical creature would you like to see in future instalments? Or do you have a burning, unanswered question about a mythical creature? Let me know in the comments!

 






Photography by Erin Janssen Photography © 2012

You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here – Dragons, Fantastical Horses, Mythical Creatures of the Sea – Part 1 and Part 2, and Spirits of Inland Waterways

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