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Creatures and Characters in English 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 & play video games.

Black Annis

Black Annis is a blue-faced old lady or witch, she is also referred to as Black Agnes. She is described as having glowing eyes, long and sharp teeth, and iron claws which she uses to capture and eat people, specifically children. In legend, she reaches inside houses to snatch people up.
Other methods of capturing her prey include wandering the glens at night time looking for people or livestock to eat. Black Annis removes the skins from her victims and hangs them up on trees to dry out, she then wears the skins on her waist. According to folklore, she lives in a cave in the Dane Hills (in Leicestershire), that she dug out herself using her iron claws, which has an oak tree at its entrance.The Black Annis myth dates back as far as the 18th century in written texts that reference her home.

The Black Annis myth dates back as far as the 18th century in written texts that reference her home. In the 19th Century, her cave was filled with dirt in an attempt to bury her forever.

Black Annis (Black Agnes)

A depiction of Black Annis.
A depiction of Black Annis. | Source

Bluecap

A bluecap is a ghost or fairy which looks like a delicate, small, blue flame. It lives in mines and, if treated with respect, would lead the miners to deposits of minerals that were extremely valuable. They would also warn the miners of dangers, such as cave-ins. Bluecaps did not help out of the goodness of their hearts, however; as they worked hard they demanded that they be paid a wage equal to that of the working miners. They would not accept any more or less pay than what they felt they were owed, the miners would customarily leave their payment in a secluded corner for the bluecaps to claim.
Miners have claimed that they would occasionally see a flickering bluecap settle on a full tub of coal before it was removed from the mine.

Eachy

An eachy is a type of eerie lake monster reported to be living in both Windermere (around 1873) and Bassenthwaite Lake (as recently as 1973). An eachy has typically been described as a large gruesome humanoid being with slimy skin.
A scientific expedition was launched in September 1961 by three atomic scientists, who conducted an underwater exploration of the lake. They did not find the creature, however, which was described as being 13 foot long, triple-humped, and python-headed.
12 years later a man named Rudolf Staveness claimed to have seen the creature and taken 2 photographs of it. When questioned on the matter he said "Resting near to the Lake I saw something that made me both excited and intrigued at the same time. Something strange was swimming in the lake. It ducked below the surface and reappeared some distance away. The speed that the animal moved was amazing. I have never been able to find out what it was I saw, and my story has been met with some ridicule." There have been no reported sightings since.

The Eachy

A rendering of the eachy
A rendering of the eachy | Source

Gytrash

The Gytrash is a spirit which can take the form of a horse, dog or mule. It is said to haunt lonely and desolate roads, appearing to travellers. It can sometimes be benevolent and guide lost people back to the right roads. However, it can also malevolent and would lead people astray.
In some parts of England (Lincolnshire and Yorkshire), the Gytrash is called the Shagfoal and appears as a malevolent mule. The Shagfoal has evil glowing eyes and is referenced in Charlotte Bronte's, Jane Eyre.

Gytrash (Shagfoal)

The Gytrash as depicted in Jane Eyre
The Gytrash as depicted in Jane Eyre | Source

Jack o' Kent

Jack o' Kent is a cleric or wizard who, in legend, regularly beats the Devil in bets and games. His bets with the devil have become origin myths of many of the geological formations around the region English/Welsh border.

Jack often outsmarted the Devil by carefully wording the gambles he undertook, in order to trick him (similar to a genie). One story states that he made a deal with the Devil so that his crops would prosper; with Jack o' Kent planting the crops, and the devil providing the sun and rain that would help them to grow to prosperity. Jack then asked the Devil if he wanted the 'tops' or 'bottoms' of the crops, the Devil picked 'tops' thinking that he would receive a lot of wheat from the harvest, but Jack planted turnips which meant that all the Devil received was useless leaves. Jack proposed the same bet the next year and the Devil jumped at the chance to get the better of Jack and picked the 'bottoms', so Jack planted wheat and all the Devil got was useless roots and stems.

Jack o' Kent

A depiction of Jack O' Kent with the Devil over his shoulder
A depiction of Jack O' Kent with the Devil over his shoulder | Source

The Lantern Man

A lantern man is similar to a will-o'-the-wisp, a ghostly light which haunts the Fen of East Anglia. In the legends, the lights were actually evil spirits who were trying to entice their victims into the reed beds where they would drown to death. It is said that they are attracted to the sound of whistling, but a person could escape from them by laying down on the ground with their mouth in the mud.

A local man claimed to have encountered the lantern man and told his story to a folklorist called L.F. Newman. In his story, he accidentally attracted the lantern man as he was whistling to his dog when he was walking on the Fen. Instead of laying down, he fled to a friend's house. His friend hung out a horn on a long pole to try and distract the lantern man, but the next morning it was found to have been burned up. Since then the lantern man myth has been dismissed as the result of combustible marsh gas.

The Lantern Man

Artist unknown. Source: Mudie, A Popular Guide to the Observation of Nature (1836, p.144)
Artist unknown. Source: Mudie, A Popular Guide to the Observation of Nature (1836, p.144) | Source

Redcap

The Redcap is a type of malevolent goblin. It is described as always being male, often resembling a short, old man. A Redcap is described as having very long teeth and fingers (similar to talons), large and red eyes, long and shoulder-length hair, and a red cap on his head. In legend, they are said to make their homes in ruined castles where horrible deeds were done by tyrants.

If a traveller enters the Redcap's castle, the Redcap throws massive stones at them in an attempt to murder them. If he is successful in killing the traveller he removes his cap and soaks it in his victim's blood, thus giving it its red colour.
It is said that you can kill a Redcap by reciting holy scripture or holding up a cross. Once he has been vanquished he lets out a scream and vanishes in flames, leaving behind him a large tooth.

In Perthshire, there exists a tale of a benevolent Redcap who lives in Grantully Castle and defies legend by bestowing good fortune on any who see or hear him.

J.K. Rowing paid homage to the Redcap legend by making them a creature in her Harry Potter series of novels, they are goblin-like and lurk near to places that blood has been shed.

Redcap

A depiction of the Redcap carrying an iron scythe.
A depiction of the Redcap carrying an iron scythe. | Source

Revenant

A revenant is a reanimated corpse which has been brought back from death to haunt the living. Tales over Europe vary the features of the revenant, however, there are some common features. A revenant was typically a wicked or vain person when they were alive, someone who was typically described as a 'wrongdoer'. They have also been linked to the spread of disease.

In legend, the only way to kill a revenant is to exhume the body, remove its head and burn or remove the heart (similar to a vampire). A man named Walter Map wrote in the 12th century about a man in Hereford who came back from the dead. According to the tale, the dead man wandered the streets of his village at night time and called out the names of people who would die of sickness within three days. A bishop named Gilbert Foliot gave the advice at the time to: "Dig up the body and cut off the head with a spade, sprinkle it with holy water and re-inter it"

Further links with the revenant and vampires can be found in stories which state that revenants drink blood. For example, in Historia Rerum Anglicarum, the corpse of a revenant was reported to have been found in the grave, swollen and "suffused with blood". It was pierced and a stream of blood was said to have flowed from the wound. However, this is known to occur naturally as part of the process of decomposition.

The Revenant

Image showing a Revenant, monster in the AD&D game. Dungeons and Dragons Fiend Folio, Don Turnbull, 1981.
Image showing a Revenant, monster in the AD&D game. Dungeons and Dragons Fiend Folio, Don Turnbull, 1981. | Source

Screaming Skulls

A screaming skull is a human skull which talks, screams or haunts its immediate environment. In legend, the Bettiscome screaming skull (Dorset, England), was a skull of an African slave who had been brought over to England and owned by the owner of the house. When the slave died he had wished to be buried back in his homeland, and whenever anyone attempted to bury the skill anywhere else the skull would scream in protest.

Other known screaming skulls are as follows; Dickie in Derbyshire; St Ambrose Barlow, Greater Manchester; Anne Griffith, Yorkshire; Thephilus Brome, Chilton Cantelo; and two mystery skulls in Warvleton priory, East Sussex.

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© 2017 VerityPrice

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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 6 months ago from Norfolk, England

      I like the sound of Jack o' Kent. He sounds a clever man!

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