30.11.10

The Mythical Creatures of Harry Potter

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If you are a Harry Potter fan, no doubt you will be familiar with the mythical creatures included in this fantasy series, which are all brought to life in the books and movies of the amazing British author, J K Rowling. Although the characters and the special effects in the movies are awesome, and the story itself is a writing masterpiece, the mythical creatures such as the centaur, dragon, giant, goblin, gryphon, mermaids and mermen, phoenix, werewolf and unicorn, among others, all contribute in making this series into the astonishing success that it has become.

For those of you not familiar with the Harry Potter phenomenon, the books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard, Harry Potter, and his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who are all students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main story involves Harry’s quandary involving the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents in his quest to conquer the wizard and the non-magical (Muggles) worlds.

Harry Potter Facts

There were a total of 8 Harry Potter movies made from the 7 Harry Potter books. The seventh book was  made into two movies due to its length, and the authors wish to include as much as possible into the movie. Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 1 was released in November 2010 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in July 2011. The names of each book and movie, detailing the publication year, number of pages and words, and the mythical creatures included, are listed below:

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States (1997) – 223 pages, 76,944 words 
Mythical creatures include – the Centaur, Dragon, Goblin and Unicorn

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) – 251 pages, 85,141 words 
Mythical creatures include – the Phoenix

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) – 317 pages, 107,253 words 
Mythical creatures include – the Werewolf

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) – 636 pages, 190,637 words 
Mythical creatures include – the Giant, Dragon, Gryphon, Mermaids and Mermen

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – (2003) - 766 pages, 257,045 words 
Mythical creatures include – the Phoenix, Giant

6. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2005) – 607 pages, 168,923 words
Mythical creatures include – the Phoenix, Werewolf

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2007) - 607 pages, 198,227 words Parts 1 and 2 
Mythical creatures include – the Werewolf, Giant, Dragon

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2007) – 607 pages, 198,227 words Parts 1 and 2
Mythical creatures include – the Werewolf, Giant, Dragon


© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Werewolf Myths and legends

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A Werewolf is a human which turns into a wolf commonly by being placed under a curse. The image of the Werewolf has undergone many changes over time, but what remains unchanged is its association with evil and darkness. Though originating from mythology and legend, there are those even today, who believe they are Werewolves.

A portrait of a Werewolf in human form reveals bushy eyebrows, long blood-red fingernails, narrow ears, rough hairy skin, and a dry mouth and ears. They are said to prefer the night and solitude, and are inclined to visit graveyards. The transformation from human form to Werewolf typically takes place under a full moon.

Ancient Werewolves

An early example of a Werewolf is found in the Greek myth of Lyacon, who was transformed into a wolf after eating human flesh.

The Neuri tribe northeast of Scythis were reported by Herodotus to be annually transformed for a few days, from human to wolf form.

In Armenian belief, a woman who committed a deadly sin was condemned to spend seven years as a wolf and during this time would one by one, make meals of her own children, and then those of her relative’s children.

French folklore included numerous Werewolf tales in the 16th century, and there were over 30,000 Werewolf tales alone in this country, between 1520 and 1630.

The First Werewolf

The first Werewolf in its more common and familiar form originates from a German town in 1591. At this time, the people of the countryside were terrified. The woods were filled with wolves that frequently attacked them.

During such an attack, what looked like a wolf stood up and revealed itself to be a man, known by those being attacked, as Peter Stubbe. He was put on a torture wheel and confessed to the murder of sixteen people.

He claimed to have been practising sorcery since he was a boy, and to have made a pack with the Devil, which eventually caused him to take the guise of a wolf and hunt down what he believed to be his enemies.

 Lycanthropy

A psychiatric condition concerning Werewolves, is known as Lycanthropy. A sufferer believes he is a wolf or other animal, stimulated perhaps by the belief that men can assume the forms of animals. It is a very rare condition supposedly linked to schizophrenia, but it has been around since Biblical times.

King Nebuchadnezzar in the ‘Book of Daniel’ was described as suffering a seven-year depression that culminated in a delusion that he was a wolf. It still appears in regions of the world, such as South America and Africa, involving animals such as lions, sharks, eagles and leopards.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Vampire Myths and Legends

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According to legend, the Vampire is an undead being that feeds on the blood of the living. They are able to walk among the living unrecognised, stalking their victims until they finally bare their fangs. Their most common traits are great physical strength, and immunity to any lasting effect from most injuries.

Ancient and often wise, these soulless bloodsuckers are able to transform themselves by shape shifting from one being to another. They have the ability to adopt human features as well as transform into other creatures, including bats and wolves. They turn their victims into one of their own with a single bite.

The Vampires of Eastern European folklore, were portrayed as repulsive, corpse-like creatures; in some cases with wings. Unintelligent and driven by a relentless thirst for blood, the image of these Vampires underwent a major change due to the art and literature of the 19th century.

Dracula

It was Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula’ (1897) which depicts the most well known example of the Vampire, exuding an aristocratic charm, and masking an unfathomable evil; inspired in part by tales of a savagely cruel prince known as Vlad III the Impalar, who lived in the 15th century in Romania.

The most famous Vampire story ever told begins when young solicitor Jonathan Harker is invited to negotiate a real estate deal, in a remote and derelict castle, belonging to a Transylvanian nobleman named Count Dracula. Dracula is a centuries-old vampire and sorcerer, who claims to be a descendent of Attila the Hun, and has abilities consisting of the black arts, alchemy and magic.

Unknown to Harker, the invitation is part of Dracula’s long contemplated plan for world domination, after recently rising from the dead with his three beautiful female Vampires, previously entombed in the chapel of the castle. Harker is subjected to the charm of Dracula and rescued from the clutches of the female Vampires (the Brides of Dracula). In truth, Dracula wishes only to keep Harker alive just long enough to complete his legal transaction and learn as much as possible about England.

Harker ‘escapes’ and Dracula leaves his castle to board a ship to England, taking boxes of Transylvanian soil to assist him to regain his strength.  He feasts on the ships crew and leaves the captain tied up to the ships helm, while departing in the form of a wolf. Soon Dracula is found menacing Harker’s devoted fiancĂ©e, Wilhelmina (Mina) Murry, and her friend, Lucy Westenra. Dracula visits Lucy's bed chamber on a nightly basis, draining her of her blood, while simultaneously infecting her with the curse of vampirism.


Not knowing the cause for Lucy's deterioration, her companions call upon the Dutch doctor, Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing soon deduces her condition’s supernatural origins, but does not tell anyone, although he attempts to keep the Vampire away with garlic. Finally Dracula entices Lucy out of her chamber late one night and drains her blood, killing her and transforming her into one of the undead.

Van Helsing, Harker, and Lucy's former suitors Arthur Holmwood and Quincy Morris enter her crypt and kill her newly acquired undead corpse. They later destroy Dracula's boxes of earth, depriving him of his ability to rest. Dracula bites Mina prior to leaving England to return to his homeland, and the heroes follow where in a final climatic battle, they finally destroy him.

Overcoming and Repelling Vampires

Although in the novel ‘Dracula’, the death of this Vampire was achieved through his throat being sliced through by a Kukri blade, and his heart being pierced by a Bowie knife, the traditional method was by ramming a wooden stake through the heart. Other methods of killing a Vampire included decapitation, burning or exposure to sunlight. Methods of repelling a Vampire included using; garlic, holy water, bibles, crosses and objects made of silver.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Banshee Myths and Legends

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Banshees are among the oldest ancestral spirits of the Fairy world in Irish folklore, and associated with the country as strongly as Leprechauns, shamrocks and potatoes. Also known as Bean-Sidhe, these Banshees were appointed to forewarn members of Irish families of impending death. The Banshee does not cry for just anyone. She is a solitary creature who loves the mortal family she is connected to. Fiercely loyal to her family’s members, and never forgetting her blood ties, she will follow them anywhere in the world.

In olden times a Banshee would be seen washing human heads, limbs or bloody clothing until the water was dyed with blood. Over the centuries this legend changed, and the Banshee is now said to pace the land, wringing her hands and crying. To hear a Banshee in the act of keening is to have witnessed the announcement of the death of a loved one.

According to legend that stretches back for more than a thousand years, each Banshee mourns for members of one family. Some say only the five oldest families have their own Banshees: the O’Neil’s, O’Brien’s, O’Grady’s, O’Connor’s and Cavanaugh’s.

Descriptions of the Banshee vary, but she appears in one of three guises representing the triple Goddess’s aspects: young woman, stately matron, or old hag.

  • As the first, she is a beautiful young woman, with red-gold hair, a green kirtle and scarlet mantle; the traditional dress of Ireland

  • As a matron, she is said to be tall and striking, contrasting sharply with the dark night. Pale and thin, her eyes red from centuries of crying, she possesses silver-grey hair streaming all the way down to the ground, and wears a thin, grey-white cloak, which clings to her body

  • As the hag, she usually wears grey hooded cloaks, or the grave robe of the dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, or be covered in a dark, mist-like cloak

Aibhill – King Brian Boru

Although there are many famous tales of the Banshee, one well known one dates back to 1014 AD, about a Banshee attached to the kingly house of O’Brien, who haunted the rock of Craglea above Killaloe. Legend has it that Aibhill the Banshee appeared to the aged King Brian Boru before the battle of Clontard, which was fought the same year.

Lady Fanshaw’s Banshee

One of the most notorious tales of a Banshee comes from the memoirs of Lady Fanshaw. Along with her husband she visited a friend in an ancient baronial castle surrounded by a moat. She was woken at midnight by a ghastly supernatural scream, which caused her to sit upright in bed. She looked towards the window and recounts that she saw a handsome young woman hovering outside her window in the moonlight. The woman was pale and dishevelled with loose red hair and was wearing a dress in the style of the ancient Irish. The vision stayed for a short while before disappearing with two load shrieks.
When morning came and she had relayed the event to her friend, she was told that she had seen the family Banshee. This Banshee was the ghost of a woman of inferior rank who had married one of his ancestors, but he had drowned her in the moat to atone for the shame he had brought on his family. She had come that night, as she always did, to announce a death in the family – one of his relations had passed away in her sleep.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Medusa Myths and Legends

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Although Medusa became known as was one of the most terrifying inhabitants of the Greek world; so hideous that whoever looked upon her would instantly turn to stone, she was originally a beautiful maiden whose flowing, lustrous hair had the power to even seduce the gods.

Poseidon, the god of the sea, was once so taken by her beauty he decided to ravish her. Unfortunately he committed the act in a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Athena’s vengeance was ingeniously cruel. She transformed Medusa into a hideous creature, and her hair into poisonous snakes.

The Grogans

Medusa’s sisters were born, monsters. Together they were known as the Grogans. The first was called Euryale, meaning ‘far roaming’, and the second was Sthenno, meaning ‘forceful’. Medusa, whose name translates as ‘ruler’, was the only mortal of the three.

The Grogans parents were Phorcys and Ceto, who had a reputation for creating monstrous offspring. Ceto gave birth to the Graeae, translated as the ‘grey ones’, who were three old crones called Enyo (horror), Deino (dread) and Pempredo (alarm).

These crones were the guardians of the Grogans, and between them they shared only one eye and one tooth. Phorcy also fathered the three-headed dragon called Ladon, which guarded the entrance to the legendary Garden of the Hesperides.

Phorcy’s and Ceto’s grandchildren didn’t fare much better: Polphemus, the Cyclops, who captured and nearly ate Odysseus’ crew, was the son of Thoosa (Porcys’ daughter) and Poseidon, the god of the sea.

The Legend

The demi-god Perseus was the son of the god Zeus, the ruler of the Olympians, and his mother was a mortal named Danae. When he was only a child, Perseus and his mother were set adrift in a wooden chest, because Danae’s father, King Acrisus, had received a prophecy that one day he’d be slain by his grandchild.

Mother and son were rescued by King Polydectes in Seriphus. King Polydectes however, was attracted by Danae’s beauty, and when Perseus grew older the king sent him on a perilous quest to retrieve the head of Medusa, so he could court Danae without her son’s interference.

On his mission, Perseus visited the Graeae and stole their only eye, to force them into helping him with his quest. They agreed and offered him winged sandals; a satchel in which to carry Medusa’s head, and a magical cap that allowed him to become invisible.

The goddess Athena approved of Perseus’ mission and also gave him a shining shield to assist him. Perseus located Medusa’s palace, which was littered with the statues of warriors who had perished in heir attempts to slay the Grogan.

Wearing his magical cap, Perseus roamed through the palace, looking for Medusa’s reflection in his silver shield. He found her sleeping, cut off her head, and managed to escape the other Grogans by using his invisibility cap.

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© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Will O' The Wisp Myths and Legends

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The disembodied light of the Will O’ The Wisp, hovering over marshes and damp ground has tempted travellers off the beaten track for centuries, and is said to make them recede, vanish or reappear somewhere else. This legend appears in folklore all over Britain and throughout Europe, and is ancient in origin.

Contrary to popular belief, ‘Will O’ The Wisps’ is not a plural term, but means, ‘the will of the wisps’ and is the name of the phenomenon itself. Names given to Wisps in Britain include Joan the Wad (in Cornwall), Peg-a-Lantern (in Lancashire), and Jenny-with-the-Lantern (in Yorkshire).

The Myth is Gaelic and Slavic in origin and has been used often in literature; in Denham Tracts, the ‘Wisps are Hobby Lanterns’, while in Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’, they are called swamp lights and appear in the Dead Marshes. Wisps have come to have a metaphorical meaning, often to describe a hope that leads you on, but is impossible to reach.

Jack O’ Lantern Legend

One of the most popular Wisp legends is; Jack O’ Lantern, a damned soul doomed to wander forever, while his symbol, a carved Halloween pumpkin, is believed to hold souls.

…There was once a quick witted but lazy farmer, called Jack. One day the Devil appeared before him and tried to tempt him, but he tricked him into climbing a tree, which the Devil could not find a way back down from. The Devil was forced to ask Jack for help, which Jack only agreed to, on the condition that he would never be allowed into Hell. The Devil kept his word, but Jack had been so bad all his life, he wasn’t allowed into heaven either. So, Jack hollowed out a gourd to make a lantern and wanders the world looking for a place to stay…

Jack is personified in ‘The Halloween Tree’ by Ray Bradbury as Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, and in the movie ‘The nightmare Before Christmas’ as Jack Skellington. He is sometimes known as ‘Jack O’ the Shadows’, or as Death itself.

There is a great deal of variation in the Will O’ The Wisp myth. Wisps were not always personified as evil creatures. Old tales tell of them guarding treasures and leading those brave enough to follow them to sure riches.

The most general explanation for them is that they are malevolent spirits, either of the dead, or non-human in origin. In some beliefs they are the spirits of stillborn or unbaptised children flitting between Heaven and earth, while in others they are fairies.

A popular explanation for presence of Wisps is that oxidation of hydrogen phosphide and methane over marshes, caused by decay of natural minerals, may cause lights to appear when they catch fire upon hitting the air.

Another consensus is that this does not explain why the lights are blue, and not the yellow of fire, and why sometimes these lights are seen away from marshes, such as in graveyards; also why it fails to account for cases where the lights have been reported to swoop, soar or move against the wind.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Giant Myths and Legends

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Ancient and modern cultures, from all around the world, possess legends of Giants. These legends portray Giants in many forms; good or evil, intelligent or mentally challenged, monster-like or human-like. However, there is one thing that is common about the Giants in every legend, from every culture; they are always, very, very tall.

Giants were primarily considered in early mythology to be associated with chaos and wild nature. According to Greek and Norse mythology, they were typically depicted as huge in statue, having superhuman strength, a long lifespan, and were sometimes in conflict with the gods. They were also described as being wise, although perhaps a little low in morals.

The image of Giants altered over time from the original version, which became evident in fairytales such as, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. The new perception of them was as being somewhat stupid and reputedly dangerous to humans, in that they ate humans and in particular, children. Other tales portrayed them also as being particularly perverse and cruel.

Ancient Giants

Ancient Giants appeared in the Bible (Genesis) as the Nephilim, or Fallen Ones, and also in the story of David and Goliath, where Goliath was said to be over three metres tall.

In Greek Mythology, the most famous examples of Giants were the Gigants, which were the offspring of Uranus and Gaia (Heaven and Earth).

The ‘One-Eyed Monsters’, such as the Cyclops and the Titans, were believed to lie buried under the Earth and cause earthquakes with their movements.

In Iceland mythology, the Giants often oppose the gods, and are given classifications such as Frost Giant, Fire Giant, and Mountain Giant.

In Arthurian legend and British lore, Giants are depicted in the tales of ‘Gog and Magog’, and feature in ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.

Giantesses

Giantesses are not discussed as much as their male counterparts in literature, but in Viking society, where women were more prominent, they greatly influenced Norse mythology.

Grid was a Giantess who discovered that Loki planned to have Thor killed by the Giant Geirrod. She saved Thor’s life by providing him with a girdle of might, iron gloves and a magic wand.

Another Giantess named Gerd, who was described as beautiful, married Freyr to prevent his sword being used to cover the Earth with ice.

Giantesses also appear in Eastern mythology, such as the demoness Putana, who attempted to kill the baby Krishna with poisoned milk from her breasts.

Giant Evidence

Excavations around the world have uncovered remains of skeletons and weapons which provide evidence that very tall people once existed. In addition, there exist in today’s times, many people who are extremely tall in comparison to what is considered, normal height.

Some of these excavations and evidence of Giants include:

  • The remains of mummified men and women found in the canyon, Barranc de Cobre in Mexico, (1930’s), where all were blond, and seven to eight feet tall.
  • A burial mound containing a skeleton nearly ten feet in length, found in Indiana (1879).
  • Human remains seven feet tall, which included horns protruding from the head, found in Pennsylvania (1880’s).
  • The finding of a complete arsenal of hunting weapons, (Agadir in Morocco), twenty times heavier than those used by a normal sized man, and which would require the hands of a Giant thirteen feet tall to use effectively.
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© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Leprechaun Myths and Legends

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The Leprechauns of Ireland are very contrary creatures. Sometimes a friend to humans, performing small helpful tasks, they can also become easily angered. They have been around since ancient times when Ireland was inhabited by fairy folk, before the Celts. Small in statue, they possess red hair, rosy cheeks, pointed ears, garments of green, and shoes with shiny buckles.

They are usually intoxicated and can handle surprising amounts of their favourite alcoholic drinks, such as Guinness and whiskey. They are cobblers who take great pride in their exquisite skill, and after their tasks are done they enjoy feasts and drinking, and become Clurauns. Clurauns are the havoc-causing aspect of the Leprechaun, raiding wine cellars and larders, and acquiring domestic animals to ride through the country.

Legend has it that a Leprechaun can grant three wishes to a mortal who captures it, and the mortal can then claim the Leprechauns treasure. However, once they are caught they somehow manage to trick the mortal to secure their release, and vanish, laughing merrily at their own deceit. Their good side is that they are grateful when a good deed is done, and will reward the deed with gold or wishes.

Leprechauns are known to steal or search for treasure, and hoard it for their entire lives. They always carry two coins. One is a silver shilling that is magically self-replenishing, returning to their purse once spent. The other is a dummy gold coin which is used to bribe their way out of situations, which turns to rock, leaves or ashes if given away. The crock of gold that they amass over their lifetime is traditionally believed to be at the end of the rainbow.

The earliest known reference to the Leprechaun is in the tale of ‘The Death of Fergus Mac Leite’, written around 1100 AD. In this story they are sea-creatures and their name is said to derive from the Irish word ‘preachan’, which when referring to a person meant ‘idle chatter’, or ‘up to no good’. It is also said that their roots go back to the Celtic god, Lugh, the great Sun god, with the name coming from ‘Luch-chromian’, meaning ‘little stooping Lugh’.

Over the years the traditional description of the Leprechaun has changed. He no longer holds the title of a miserly, grumpy fellow of legend. Instead he has become a lovable prankster, a merry little soul with a good heart, and a symbol of the ‘Luck of the Irish’.
He is used as a mascot, in jokes and riddles, and as a token of good fortune, with his crock of gold as a symbol of good luck. He has become the representation of Ireland.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Goblin Myths and Legends

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Although considered to be the cousin of the Elf, the Goblin represents the darker side of the fairy kingdom. Originating from European folklore, the Goblin was regarded as a malicious type of household spirit, similar to the ‘Brownie’ that resided in the homes, cellars and stables of unsuspecting families.

Unlike the helpful Brownie, the Goblin’s activity was similar to that of a poltergeist, with such antics as eating food and riding through the night on stolen horses. Some Goblins were reported to wear armour, carry weapons, and be guilty of murder.

Although compared to Dwarves in stature, the Goblin was more slender and powerful in body, with a tough skin; generally green in colour. They were depicted as unattractive, deformed, and ranged in size from a sprite, to that of a fully grown man.

Hobgoblin

Hobgoblins were considered to be a variety of Goblin which developed to become more muscular, taller, and possessed a brown coloured skin. They looked more like a human being, and were much more dangerous.

This strain of Goblin, which was believed to have possibly resulted from breeding by humans, were extremely haughty and egotistical, demanding status, leadership, and often power; becoming rulers of Goblin tribes.

Legend of Puck

Puck, a Hobgoblin also known as Robin Goodfellow, is the most famous of the Hobgoblins, appearing most notably in Shakespeare's, ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’. In this famous play, Puck’s love of mischief prompts him to put an ass’s head on one of the humans he encounters, which back-fires on him when Titania, Queen of the Fairies, falls in love with the transformed human.

To some, Puck is an innocent child, who enjoys playing with humans and fairies alike, whereas to others he is a trickster, hiding in the forest waiting for an opportunity to cause mischief. It has been considered that perhaps Puck is really a shape-shifter, a magical being capable of changing its shape at will.

Other Goblin Legends

Fachan is a Goblin of Irish legend. He is described as having one hand protruding from his chest, one leg from his hip, one eye, and one tuft of hair on his head.
He lives in deserted places and will attack anyone that ventures close.

Churnmilk Peg, a female Goblin who smokes a pipe, is a good friend to nature, and likes to protect hazelnuts from being picked before they become ripe. Her punishment if caught doing so, is to inflict the person with severe bloating or stomach cramps.

Red Cap, or Bloody Cap, lives along the borders of England and Scotland. Possessing grisly hair, fiery red eyes, protruding teeth and hideous talons, Red Cap also wears iron boots, a blood-soaked hat and carries a pikestaff, which he uses freely on intruders.

The Tengu of Japan, are mountain Goblins which come in two varieties; a bird-like species, and a pest that looks like a long-nosed priest. They are one of the best known
Monster-spirits, but are sometimes worshipped as revered spirits, or gods.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Dwarf Myths and Legends

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Dwarves are traditionally found in mythology in northern Europe. They are small and stocky in size, and live in dark underground places, such as caves or inside mountains. Possessing excellent night vision, they are usually ill at ease in the full light of day, and in some traditions they will turn to stone if the morning sunlight falls upon them.

They spend much of their day excavating the caves in which they live, and extracting the precious stones and metals. Rather than hoarding and protecting their wealth, they are more interested in fashioning beautiful armaments. These armaments are highly prized items with powerful magical properties.

The gods of mythology greatly admired the craftsmanship of the dwarves, and asked them to forge special weapons, such as Odin’s spear called Grungir. The weapon was supposed to be so perfectly crafted that it would never miss its target. The Dwarves also created beautiful and delicate pieces of jewellery using the silver and gold they found.

There are many different types of Dwarves identified in European folklore, and some of them include:

The German Dwarves, consisting of; The White Dwarves, who were pleasant, gentle and particularly good at working with precious metals like gold and silver; The Brown Dwarves who played tricks and were known to steal babies, and possessed excellent metal work; The Black Dwarves who lured ships on to rocks, tricked people into falling down mine shafts, and were skilled at heavy ironwork

Scandinavian Dwarves were skilled craftsmen, capable of replicating natural forms using artificial materials, such as replacing the hair of the goddess Sif. One of their most remarkable achievements was the creation of a full sized ship, which was changed into the size of a handkerchief using magic

Legend

In one Norse legend, the Dwarves were asked by the gods to forge a chain to assist them in restraining a monster wolf. Apparently it was prophesised that this wolf, named Fenrir, would destroy the world one day. The gods had come up with the idea of trapping him within a cage, but despite this being achieved, the wolf had always managed to escape.

The Dwarves agreed and offered the gods a chain which was very light. The gods were sceptical, but the Dwarves explained that the chain was made from; a cat’s footfall, a mountain’s roots, a woman’s beard, the breath of fishes, the sinews of a bear, and a bird’s spittle. Most importantly, they had woven their magic into the links of the chain. The chain was used successfully to bind the wolf, Fenrir.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Elf Myths and Legends

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Elves are mythical creatures from the tradition of European folklore. Being ‘at one with nature’, they live in woods, and according to legend they were left offerings at the springs and trees. Over time Elves have been represented as both; beautiful and wise noble creatures with small human-like form, and mischievous little people sometimes possessing a darker force.

Literature

The earliest mention of Elves in literature is from the Dark Ages, around 1000 AD. In the Old English poem ‘Judith’, the heroine is described as ‘brightly beautiful as an elf.’

By the time Shakespeare wrote of Elves in the 1500s they had lost their beauty, and were small, mischievous sprites appearing in the plays ‘The Tempest’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

In 1590 Edmund Spenser restored a bit of the Elves grandeur in his epic poem, ‘The Faerie Queene’, which was a tribute to Queen Elizabeth 1.

It was Tolkien however, who fully reinstated the Elves with ‘The Lord of the Rings’. 
His reference was from Norse mythology, and his Elves were tall, intensely beautiful and benevolent creatures.

The Shoemaker and The Elves – The Brothers Grimm

The Shoemaker and The Elves is the story of a shoemaker, who although very hard working, was very poor. One night, with only enough leather left to make one pair of shoes, he cut out the pattern and retired to bed. In the morning he found an exquisite pair of shoes which ended up making him a great deal of money. This same ritual went on for several nights, until the shoemaker and his wife hid behind a curtain and found that some little naked elves were creeping in to make the shoes and then leaving. The wife made them some clothes out of gratitude, and although the elves danced with joy at having something to wear, they then rushed off and were never seen again. However, from that time on everything went well for the shoemaker.

Elven Differences

In Scandinavia, there are three types of Elves: the light Elves who live with gods and goddesses in the Upper world; the dark Elves who live in the Lower world; and the black Elves who were skilled as smiths and lived in the world in between. They were known to be of human size, and the females were very beautiful.

In Germany, the Elves are small, mischievous creatures. They bring nightmares by sitting on the sleeper’s chest, and are responsible for the old German word for nightmare ‘Albtraum’, meaning ‘Elf Dream’.

In England, Elves are regarded as whimsical sprites. In the Dark Ages however, they were akin to gods, and the manifestation of a spiritual aspect of nature, which worked alongside humans. They were divided into two classes; rural Elves and their cousins, Hobgoblins and Robin Goodfellows (Puck).

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Mermaid and Merman Myths and Legends

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According to myth, the beautiful creatures of the ocean called Mermaids often took human lovers, and the male offspring that came of these unions became Otherworldly children, who would return to the ocean as Mermen.

You may have wondered why little is mentioned of Mermen, compared to Mermaids. Perhaps as the sailors of the past were always men, away from other women for long periods of time, a beautiful woman would be more pleasing to their eyes, than a handsome man.

This was of course to the advantage of these beautiful, yet unpredictable creatures.
Mermaids possess a woman’s body from above the waist, and a fish’s tail below. The classical image of the Mermaid is of her sitting on a rock, combing her hair, singing; and luring seafarers to their doom with her enchanted voice.

Mermaids have usually been portrayed as evil because of their association with Sirens; evil temptresses in Greek mythology. However, Mermaids were also said to give treasures to sailors they favoured, and would warn them about the approach of violent storms. All in all, they were considered to be creatures of whim.

Some Mermaids turned their backs on their natural ocean homes, and choose to take human lovers. They sacrificed their beautiful fish tails and assumed human form, in order to live on the land, for the sake of love with a male human. More often than not however, they would eventually return to the sea.

Mermen were depicted as having webbed fingers and toes, and in Greek mythology they were said to have green beards and hair, and were able to breathe under the water like fish. Rather than stay with their parents on land, they would invariably return to their real mother, the ocean, where they would cause violent storms, and sink passing ships.

Magical Charms

As a sailor in the ancient world, dependent upon safe passage across the perilous ocean, it was vital to have the gods on your side. As well as painting eyes on the prows of the ships so they could ‘see’ where they were going, amulets were also carried, and offerings made to the watery beings to encourage them not to sink the ship or kill the sailors.

  • Animals were sacrificed at the beginnings of voyages and offered to the aquatic world; in particular, horses, as they were sacred to the Greek god the sea, Poseidon.
  • Crystals were carried to protect sailors; such as agate, garnet, aquamarine and quartz.
  • Pieces of coral and jewels were attached to the prow for protection, so that Mermaids could take them as jewellery instead of luring the sailors.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Centaur Myths and Legends

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Although the Centaurs were based on a horse similar to the Unicorn, except for one they couldn’t be more different. In opposition to the purity of the Unicorn, most legends of the Centaurs described them as unruly creatures with untameable appetites for lust and debauchery, even though they derived from one of the noblest creatures.

Part-human, part-animal beings in Greek mythology tend to be evil and aggressive. Centaurs were depicted with the head and torso of a man, and the legs and lower body of a horse. They lived near Mount Pelion in the north of Greece, and followed the wine god Dionysus. As a result, they were often found partying and taking advantage of young females.

Origins

Many have speculated as to what may have inspired the myth of the Centaur. Some say Centaurs date back to Assyria in 2000 BC, while others say the myth has its origin in Vedic mythology of 3000 BC, in which the Gandharvas drove the horses from the Sun. Others still, say they were inspired by shepherds riding horses from Thessalony.

One theory is that the Centaurs were modelled on the Scythians, a nation of warriors who were the first to mount their archers on horses. When the Greeks first saw the Scythians with their skilful archery techniques, coupled with the speed and agility of the horse, it is possible that rumours arose about a race of beings who seemed to be; half-human, half-horse.

According to the most popular myth, Centaurs were the result of the King of Lapithae’s encounter with a cloud. King Ixion had arranged to meet Hera for a secret rendezvous, but Zeus heard about his wife’s infidelity and sent a cloud in the shape of Hera to meet Ixion instead. Ixion and the cloud created the Centaur race.

Chiron

Chiron was different all the other Centaurs because he was the result of a union between the Titan Cronos and Philya; a goddess of beauty, perfume, healing and writing. Chiron possessed great wisdom. He dedicated himself to studying and eventually became one of the wisest of all beings in Ancient Greece, particularly in the area of the healing arts.

Legend of Chiron’s wisdom spread throughout Greece and he became a tutor to some of the greatest heroes of the age, including Asciepius, Theseus and Heracles. His wise counsel also persuaded the goddess Thetis to marry Peleus, whose union produced the great warrior, Archilles.

According to the legend, Chiron met his end when he was hit accidentally by a poisoned arrow fired by Heracles. Chiron was immortal and so was not in danger of death, but in order to escape the pain of the poison he decided to give up his immortality. He gave it to Pormetheus, who was condemned to suffer an ever-lasting torture of having an eagle eat his liver every day.

Chiron was rewarded by having his image immortalised in the heavens as the constellation, Sagittarius.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Gryphon Myths and Legends

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The Gryphon is a symbol of dual natures; good and evil, tame and wild. Its physical features consisted of the body of a lion, wings and talons of an eagle, and ears of a horse. Gryphons represented the majesty of the bird, and the power of the animal kingdoms.

They varied in size, according to each cultures legend, but it was unanimous in that they were strong enough to fight dragons (although not tigers or lions), their feathers healed blindness, and their claws were magical.

Liquid placed in a cup which had been fashioned from a Gryphons claw would change colour is poisonous. Acquiring a claw was not easy; they were said to only be given to holy men as payment for their kindness, when they healed a Gryphons of its illness.

First documented in the Asian region known as Scythia, and passing to the Greeks through the tales of nomads, Gryphons were said to live in the mountains, have a natural ‘finding’ instinct, and hoard gold.

The Gryphons love of gold is representative of its associations with the Sun, and the gods associated with the Sun and light, such as Apollo, Dionysus and Ball. They are also believed to have laid eggs of agate (solar eggs).

Greek chariots were adorned with depictions of the Gryphon, and they were also prominent in Greek art, but essentially only featured as chariot-pullers for gods.  Indian art often portrayed Gryphons and chariots to represent the Sun.

In art form, Gryphons were often depicted inside a circle or wheel; a trait born from other symbolic meanings, such as the circular path of the Sun across the sky, and Nemesis’ Circle of Retribution, where all things including vengeance, eventually return to the beginning.

In the art of Heraldry, the Gryphon was the most-used creature. It signified the strong, aggressive and distinctly dual natures of the eagle and the lion. Interestingly, the eagle was the most used bird, and the lion the most used beast.

Gryphons were believed in ancient times to be real creatures; however, this may have been a result of nomadic peoples coming across ancient dinosaur bones in the Gobi desert. The prehistoric creature, Protoceratops, is a small horned dinosaur with many similarities to that of a bird, which bear resemblance to the Gryphon.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Phoenix Myths and Legends

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A mythical creature of glorious colours and living flame, the Phoenix can live for 1000 years before submitting to its legacy of death and rebirth. The Phoenix is one of the most ancient mystical creatures, and the most beautiful and amazing of all birds. It has a crimson, gold and purple plumage, resembling the colours of the rising Sun, and its head and beak resembles that of the heron or eagle.

Only one Phoenix exists at any time. Each bird can live from five hundred to well over one thousand years before it is consumed in its own flame, in order for a new bird to be reborn from its ashes.  As a Firebird, it has been suggested that it has the ability to turn its body into flame and fly through outer space, causing an eclipse of the Sun.

Though the appearance of the Phoenix may differ in the legends of a number of ancient cultures, including its size which some describe as gigantic, the message contained in each is surprisingly familiar. Throughout history the Phoenix has been closely related to the worship of the Sun, and has become a symbol of resurrection, immortality and life after death.

  • The beginnings of the Phoenix legend can be traced to the Orient, where the Chinese Phoenix is one of the four sacred animals which ruled over all other birds.

  • The ancient Egyptians identified the Phoenix as a Benu, a heron-like bird that was one of the sacred symbols of worship at Heliopolis, the City of the Sun.

  • The Greeks later adapted the legend by introducing the Sun god, Apollo into it, who would stop his chariot so he could listen to the Phoenix singing at dawn.

  • The Greeks and Romans pictured the Phoenix as looking more like a peacock or an eagle, lacking the extraordinary appearance that it has come to be associated with.

  • Some believe the legend of the Phoenix was inspired by a type of bird that is native to East Africa, which nests on salt flats, to protect the birds’ eggs with rising hot air.

The Legend

The legend of how the Phoenix came into being, tells of a bird with magnificent plumage that laid no eggs, had no young, and was already in existence when the world begun. The Sun granted this glorious creature the gift of immortality, and in return, the phoenix promised only to sing to the Sun. The Phoenix then flew to a faraway desert in the east, and praised the Sun with its songs for 500 years.

However, after all this time the beautiful bird grew old, and eventually it wanted nothing more than to be young and strong again. So the phoenix returned to the home it had left so long ago, and having crafted itself a nest out of cinnamon bark and an egg out of myrrh, it sat down upon a tall palm tree and asked the Sun to bless it with the vitality of youth once more.

The Sun looked kindly upon its old friend, and responded to the Phoenix’s request by shining down with the full force of its power. While all the other animals quickly hid themselves from the Sun’s fierce rays, the Phoenix remained in the nest it had built and was swiftly consumed by the flames until nothing was left but ashes. From its remains rose a new, younger bird, and this cycle has continued ever since.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Unicorn Myths and Legends

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The purest, noblest and one of the most beautiful mythological creatures, the Unicorn has been sought after, hunted and worshipped by humankind since the beginning of time. Unicorns are mystical beings whose natural purity has been known to have spiritual, magical and healing, abilities.

These distant relatives of horses are described as having a single, usually spiral horn growing out of their foreheads, but they can also been depicted with goat beards, lion tails and cloven hooves. Some have even been known to have wings.

A Unicorn’s horn is thought to be a prize trophy as its properties are capable of neutralizing all poisons. They are mysterious and elusive creatures, and their selfless yet solitary existence makes them impossible to find by ordinary means.

The Legend of the Lion and the Unicorn

According to myths form ancient civilizations, the Lion and the Unicorn have been destined to fight and chase each other across the heavens since the dawn of time.

In 3500 BC, the Babylonians believed the battle between the two creatures resulted from a clash of seasons, with the Unicorn representing spring, and the Lion representing summer. In the folklore, the two creatures fight for supremacy, but each year the Lion eventually wins. Summer will always follow, spring.

In this legend, both the Lion and the Unicorn are hailed as lords of all creatures, but their styles of sovereignty differ. Symbolically the Lion represents the urge to impose one’s will of order upon the world, while the Unicorn exemplifies the drive to bring harmony through insight and understanding.

Are Unicorns only a myth?

Unicorns have been discovered in ancient cave paintings, and are mentioned frequently in literature, including the Bible. Eyewitness accounts have been recorded by Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan. It has also been documented that partial skeletal remains of a Unicorn were discovered in Germany in 1663.

There are several sources from which the Unicorn myth could be derived, including narwhal tusks and the first sighting of the rhinoceros. Many people believe that Unicorns did exist in the past, while others believe they still exist in undiscovered places of the world.

© Copyright J M Lennox. All Rights Reserved.

Eastern Dragon Myths and Legends

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Unlike the dragons of the Western world, the dragons of the Eastern world and particularly China, are known generally as benevolent beings. The Chinese love their dragons so much they even call themselves, ‘Lung Tik Chuan Ren’, meaning ‘Descendants of the Dragon’.

Festivals celebrating dragons are important in the Chinese calendar, such as the large dragons in the New Year celebrations. With their association with wisdom, nobility, good fortune and abundance, it is easy to see why the dragon became the emblem of the Emperor, and why the dragon is a fundamental part of Chinese culture.

Year of the Dragon
The ‘Year of the Dragon’ occurs every 12 years and its qualities depend upon the year’s ruling element.

Earth dragons excel in diplomacy.
Fire dragons are competitive, extrovert and charismatic.
Metal dragons lack compassion and are full of unquenchable drive.
Wood dragons are ambitious and logical, but also creative and inquisitive.
Water dragons are open, compassionate, optimistic, and good communicators.

The Emperor claimed kinship with these creatures to affirm his divine status as the ruler of the land. Oriental dragons are linked with life force and water, and they can also bring rain and control rivers. They are especially very fond of, and like to collect, pearls.

The Four Dragons

The legend of The Four Dragons is about four dragons that lived in the eastern sea. These were; the Black Dragon, Long Dragon, Pearl Dragon and the Yellow Dragon.

As legend has it, one day these four dragons noticed a group of people burning incense and praying to the Jade Emperor to send rain, because their crops were dying. On the suggestion of Long Dragon, and on behalf of the people, the four dragons appealed to the Emperor, and he agreed to help them. However, ten days passed without rain, and the people were desperately eating bark, roots and clay.

At Long Dragon’s suggestion the dragons scooped up sea water and sprayed it over the land. The Sea God discovered this however, and told the Jade Emperor, who arrested them. Furious with the dragons, he ordered the Mountain God to trap them. The dragons decided that in order to continue to be able to do good for the people, the only solution was to turn themselves into rivers, so the people would always have water.

The Dragons became China’s four rivers:-
The Heilongjian (Black Dragon), the Changjiang (Long Dragon), the Zhujiang (Pearl Dragon), and the Huanghe (Yellow Dragon).

According to Chinese myths and legends, there are nine different types of dragon, each with its own abilities and purposes, and easily recognisable.

Ao
A dragon king who rules the four seas in the directions of north, east, south and west.

Celestial Dragon (Tianlong)
Supports and protects the mansions of the gods.

Coiling Dragon (Panlong)
Lives in bodies of water such as serene lakes, and becomes the guardian of its chosen watery habitat.

Dragon of Hidden Treasures (Futslong)
Guards concealed wealth and treasure. This powerful dragon can control earthquakes and volcanoes.

Horned Dragon (Quilong)
Is the most powerful dragon, can produce rain, and gains a horn after 500 years. It is also totally deaf.

Spiritual Dragon (Shenlong)
Creates wind and rain for the benefit of humanity.

Underground Dragon (Dilong)
Also known as the Earth Dragon, controls the rivers and underground waters.

Winged Dragon (Yinglong)
Gains its wings after 1000 years, and is the type of dragon that can fly.

Yellow Dragon (Huanglong)
Came from the River Luo to teach Emperor Fu Shi the art of writing.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.