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Creatures and Characters in European Mythology

Updated on December 10, 2017
VerityPrice profile image

Verity is simultaneously pursuing a physics degree and a teaching degree. In her spare time, she likes to cook and play video games.

Alp - Germany

An Alp is a deamon which in German mythology sits on the chest of a sleeping person and manipulates their dreams to create horrible nightmares. It is also said that the Alp becomes heavier and heavier until the crushing weight wakes the sleeper but leaving them unable to move. This could be an early representation of the condition of sleep paralysis.

The Alp

Source

Banshee - Ireland

The Banshee is a fairy in female form who begins to wail/screech if someone is about to die. It is said that a Banshee would 'attach' themselves to a person and wail as a sign that they were going to die soon. It is also said that hearing a banshee wailing could signal the passing of a family member who was far away, before any formal warning of the death could travel.

The Banshee

Source

Basilisk - Britain

The Basilisk was said to be the king of serpents, and could cause death at a single glance. The Basilisk is the opposite of a cockatrice, as in, a Basilisk is hatched from the egg of a serpent after being incubated by a cockerel. The weakness of a Basilisk is a weasel. It is thought that the Basilisk may have originated from early sightings of what are today known as cobras.

The Basilisk

Source

Black Shuck - England

The Black Shuck is a ghostly, shaggy, black dog. It can also be characterised by its large red eyes and has a size comparable to a calf. It is said that the Black Shuck is an omen of death and that any who see it are destined to die. This is similar to the Grim from JK Rowling's Harry Potter series.

The Black Shuck

Source: "Blackdog" by Liza Phoenix - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackdog.jpg#/media/File:Blackdog.jpg
Source: "Blackdog" by Liza Phoenix - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackdog.jpg#/media/File:Blackdog.jpg

Ceasg - Scotland

A Ceasg is a scotiish mermaid (or maid of the wave). She is half-woman/half-salmon and possesses supernatural qualities, i.e being able to grant three wishes to anyone lucky enough to capture her.

Cerberus - Greece

Cerberus is a multi-headed dog (though is commonly described as having three heads), with a serpent for a tail. He resides in Hades and stops the dead from being able to leave the underworld. Traits that have been attributed to Cerberus across the ages have been the eating of flesh, eyes which flash fire and a mouth with three tongues.

Cerberus

Cerberus with Psyche
Cerberus with Psyche | Source

Chimera - Greece

The Chimera is a hybrid creature, usually described as having the body of a lion, the head of a goat growing from its back and a snake for a tale. It is said that a Chimera could breathe fire. In old text the Chimera is often referred to as a 'she'.

The Chimera

A plate depicting a Chimera
A plate depicting a Chimera | Source

Dames Blanches - France

Dames Blanches literally translates to white ladies, they have the form of a supernatural ghostly woman. It is said that they resided near rivers and on bridges, they would attract the attention of passers by but would refuse to let them pass unless they danced with her. Anyone who refused would be thrown over the edge, but any who danced were left unharmed.

European Dragon - Europe

The European Dragon is most commonly depicted as a scaly, lizard-like creature with 4 legs and bat-like wings. Some of which have the ability to breathe fire. Dragon's blood is said to have magical properties and in fairy-tales are rare ingredients in potions.
Dragons are intelligent and like to collect gold and treasure, they usually live in caves with their amassed wealth.

The Dragon

European Dragon breathing fire
European Dragon breathing fire | Source

Fenrir - Scandinavia

Fenrir is a monstrous wolf who, in Norse mythology, was prophesied to kill the god Odin. In some accounts it is said that Fenrir devours the world.

Herne the Hunter - England

Herne the Hunter is an antlered ghost who haunts Winsor Forest and Great Park. First mentioned in writing by Shakespeare; Herne was a man who, in fear of being punished for a crime he committed, hung himself from a tree in the forest. He is sometimes seen riding a horse and accompanied by demon dogs and other forest animals as if on a hunt to capture souls.

Herne the Hunter

Herne the Hunter on his horse
Herne the Hunter on his horse | Source

Kelpie - Scotland

A Kelpie is a water spirit able to change form from horse to human. In tales a person (or commonly a child) will ride on the back of the horse form of the Kelpie, to then be devoured and have their entrails wash up to be recovered at a later date.

La Guita Xica - Spain (Catalonian)

La Guita Xica is a green dragon-like creature who protects the people of Catalonia. It is described as being long, with a long neck, and having fangs. It was originally described as being half-dragon half-mule and a threatening force. But over the years it has taken on the form of a dragon and has become a protector of the people.

Medusa - Greece

Medusa is described as being a Gorgon; a woman with wings, a hideous face, venomous snakes as hair and a gaze which turns anyone who meets it into stone. Medusa's head was cut off but still retained its ability to turn people to stone, for this reason the
goddess Athena placed the head on her shield.

Medusa

Medusa's head on Athena's shield
Medusa's head on Athena's shield | Source

Pegasus - Greece

Pegasus is a winged stallion, pure white in colour and often depicted as 'divine'. According to legend, everywhere that Pegasus struck his hoof to the Earth a pure spring of water would erupt. It is also thought that he carried thunderbolts to the god Zeus. It was said that Zeus transformed him into the constellation known as Pegasus today.

Pegasus

Pegasus
Pegasus | Source

Phoenix - Greece

The Phoenix is a colourful bird (most often depicted as red and yellow, with yellow or blue eyes) which undergoes the process of being reborn. When the Phoenix reaches old age it dies in a burst of fire before rising again from the ashes. A phoenix was featured quite heavily in the Harry Potter book & film series.

The Phoenix

A Phoenix
A Phoenix | Source

Unicorn - Greece

The Unicorn is often depicted as a white horse-like creature with a single spiral horn protruding from its head. It is often associated with purity and it was said that only a virgin could ever capture one. Unicorns have been associated with magical properties such as healing sickness. It is theorised that the Unicorn is based on a now extinct type of rhinoceros called the Elasmotherium, which had a single elongated horn on its head.

The Unicorn

A Unicorn
A Unicorn | Source

Valkyrie - Scandanavia

A Valkyrie is one of many women who watch over battles and select who will die and who will live. The Valkyries take half of those who die to an afterlife named Valhalla which is presided over by the god Odin. The Valkyries serve the men mead when they are not at combat.

The Valkyrie

The Valkyries ride
The Valkyries ride | Source

Vodnik - Czech Republic

Vodnik is a male water spirit who is said to take the form of a naked (or shabbily dressed) old man with a frog-like face. He is covered in scales similar to a fish and is also coated in algae, he has webbed hands similar to a frog and the tail of a fish. The Vodnik will break dams and drown local townsfolk; either from anger or to have them serve as his slaves. The Vodnik stores the souls of the men drowned in porcelain cups and is equal to their wealth.

The Vodnik

Vodnik emerges
Vodnik emerges | Source

Xana - Spain

The Xana is a female creature, described as extremely beautiful with long hair that she brushes with combs made from sun or moonbeams. They are said to live by bodies of pure water. Their voices are hypnotic; anyone with a pure soul will feel love and peace, anyone with an impure soul will feel as though they are being suffocated and can be driven insane.

What do you think?

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Notes

There are so many amazing mythologies and cultures to dive into that I really had to restrict myself here. I plan on writing more of these as a series covering Oceania and perhaps the Americas. Please comment and tell me what you think! Which one of these was your favourite? What would you be particularly interested to read about in the future?

© 2015 VerityPrice

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    • VerityPrice profile imageAUTHOR

      VerityPrice 

      2 years ago from UK

      Yes I learned so much while doing the research for this article. I am English but I had never heard of some of the English myths above. I enjoy reading about events or objects in the historical time period which effected the myths of the age :)

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I don't know some of these creatures. It is very interesting what they symbolize.

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