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Griffins and Griffin Mythology

Updated on February 4, 2015

The Griffin - Mythical Chimera

The Griffin (also spelled gryphon or griffon) is a chimera or hybrid mythical creature. It has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Griffins may also have the legs and talons of an eagle, often only the front legs. They are often portrayed with the ears of a horse.

Powerful and majestic, griffins were known as guardians of gold and treasure. In medieval times they came to be symbols of monogamous marriage. They also came to represent Jesus, since they walked on the earth or flew in the air with equal ease, symbolic of the human and divine nature of Christ. More recent portrayals of griffins are of fantasy creatures in literature as well as in role playing games.

Hagen and the Griffins by Ron Embleton

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Early Griffins

Griffins are mythical creatures found in the legends and myths of many cultures around the world. They have thebody of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle; sometimes eagle legs and talons for forelegs. Their ears may appear like those of a horse.

There have been suggestions that their origin lies in fossils of flying dinosaurs. However, it is more likely that they, like other chimeras, are creations of human imagination.

Bronze Islamic Griffin. Early 11th century artwork from Al-Andalus or Fatimid Egypt
Bronze Islamic Griffin. Early 11th century artwork from Al-Andalus or Fatimid Egypt | Source

Early references to griffins are found in ancient Persian and Egyptian mythology. Griffins were often used as statues in Persian palaces. These early statues usually showed the griffins with horizontal wings lying along the back of the body. Griffins were also depicted as pulling chariots of the gods of Mesopotamia and the Pharoahs of Egypt.

Fearsome Griffins in European Mythology

Griffins often appeared in European mythology. Originally they were considered fierce, dangerous creatures, quite the enemy of humankind.

In European mythology there are griffins that seem to be somewhat similar to dragons. They fly around threatening people, taking their livestock to eat. Of course they also killed the people.

Fortunately, there were usually a few heroes around to challenge them, defending the people, and rescuing any beautiful maidens who got carried off.

The Legend of Gudrun: Hagen slays the Griffin

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In this Norse myth, Hagen the hero kills a griffin that gets too close. Sorry, griffin!

I must admit, though, dragons look much better flying than these half lion creatures!

The griffins look a lot more majestic to me when they are walking on the ground, or just standing in their traditional pose. When they have their wings spread and are ready to march along, or just sit there regally, they're pretty cool!

Griffin in the Land of Oz!

Yes, there's also a griffin in the Land of Oz - that marvelous land created by Frank L. Baum. You know the place that Dorothy visits with her dog Toto, and pretty soon realizes she isn't in Kansas any more. I guess if she met this griffin she'd know that for sure!

It's actually not really a griffin, but rather the wicked witch Mombi who has taken on the form of a griffin. I guess she thought that would be scary. And Princess Ozma has to deal with it of course.

Griffins in Heraldry

Griffins have been pretty popular in heraldry, appearing on coats of arms, flags, and such of the important families in Europe.

The logo of Cottasche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart. It shows a griffin and the year 1640 in Roman numbers.
The logo of Cottasche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart. It shows a griffin and the year 1640 in Roman numbers. | Source

Majestic Griffins

Celtic Gryphon

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Generally, griffins have been considered quite majestic creatures. Well they are hybrids of a lion, king of beasts, and the eagle, king of the air! And quite fierce looking too, definitely deserving of respect.

Love Tapestry; fragment; Basel c. 1450
Love Tapestry; fragment; Basel c. 1450 | Source

Apart from representing strength and valor, befitting the noble families, griffins also came to represent fidelity in marriage. The mythological griffin was strictly monogamous, mating for life. So faithful was the griffin that if it's partner died it never mated again.

Mosaic of Griffin, discovered in the crypt of the cathedral of Bitonto.
Mosaic of Griffin, discovered in the crypt of the cathedral of Bitonto. | Source

In medieval Christianity griffins came to represent the dual nature of Christ.

Walking on the ground and flying in the air symbolized Christ's human and divine nature.

Modern Portrayal of Majestic Griffins

These realistic-looking griffins are quite a remarkable sight!

These griffins seem to be living like eagles, with a home high up in the mountains. Isn't that fantastic!

Griffins on Cliff Poster

by Nightmareartist at Zazzle.com

Night Griffan by Joshua Stephen Mersereau
Night Griffan by Joshua Stephen Mersereau | Source

Buy your own Griffin!

Cool Griffin designed by Jody Bergsma.

Made from cold cast resin, hand painted and polished.

Approximate dimensions: 3 7/8" x 4 1/2" x 5"

Quite impressive!

Less Dangerous Griffins!

More recent griffin portrayals make them appear somewhat less dangerous.

Sleeping Griffin

The Griffin Asleep by John Tenniel

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John Tenniel, the well-known illustrator, drew this sleeping "gryphon" for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Looks kind of cute really!

Of course, you're right, it's sleeping. What happens when it wakes up - it seems to have quite some talons there!

Cute Griffin!

But, actually, just look at this cute gryphon! He's just sitting there listening to the Mock Turtle's sad story. Obviously he's not much of a danger, to Alice at least.


Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock turtle. John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s "Alice in Wonderland".
Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock turtle. John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s "Alice in Wonderland". | Source

Dancing Griffin!

And then we have this downright silly griffin! He's doing the "quadrille" with the Mock Turtle - a ridiculous dance at the best of times, but danced by a griffin, goodness me!

Dancing the "Quadrille" with Alice and the Mock Turtle. John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s "Alice in Wonderland".
Dancing the "Quadrille" with Alice and the Mock Turtle. John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s "Alice in Wonderland". | Source

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      This is indeed a magnificent lens. Pinned onto my Magical Beasts board and blessed. Who would have thought that the griffin was become a symbol for fidelity in marriage. And kudos for digging so deep into the depths of Griffin lore that you found the Ozma reference. I had a good time here! Out by g+ and digg.

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      jvcronje 4 years ago

      The griffin has always been my favourite mythical beast. In some cases they do have snakes as tails with a snake head at the end, but I suppose you know this.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 4 years ago

      Thank you for sharing these great mythical beasts

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      griffins are the awesomest

    • Monica Ranstrom profile image

      Monica Ranstrom 4 years ago

      I think griffins are cool! I had no idea they showed up in so many different stories! Nice work.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 5 years ago from London

      Thank you for visiting and blessing my snowdrop lens...that was so kind, and much appreciated....there's something quite compelling about gryffens; they seemed very powerful to me as a child, and although fierce, I've always thought them protectors of the good and the just.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i like Mythology ........... you are really awesome...........

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      I remember the one from Alice in Wonderland but hadn't seen some of the others. Very informative.

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      Griffins are really cool. I really like all of the mystical creatures.

    • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

      DesignedbyLisa LM 5 years ago

      Always thought they were pretty cool.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 5 years ago

      I'm more of a dragon fan than a griffin fan, but your lens has improved my opinion of them! :)

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 5 years ago

      Griffins are cool, but they're a bit disturbing at the same time. Neat lens!

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 5 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Mythology has always fascinated me...and these griffin images are wonderful.

    • jptanabe profile image
      Author

      Jennifer P Tanabe 5 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @Kitsune64: Thanks for the suggestion. M. Pena does make the most gorgeous griffins - I've added some of her work.

    • profile image

      Kitsune64 5 years ago

      Much love for griffins! If you haven't seen them before, you should check out the figurines of M. Pena. She does beautiful griffins.

    • BryanLSC profile image

      BryanLSC 5 years ago

      The gryphon is my favourite legendary animal! Eagle's head and lion's body! This is basically the mix of the 2 kings of the animals (land and sky)! What else is cooler than this?! Great lens!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Excellent lens, I love legendary creatures like these too. Having read a lot of books by Zecharia Sitchin, which describe the "Gods Of Old", the Anunaki, creating man in their image, and other experiments that they did with cloning (all very believable from ancient Sumerian texts, and tying in exactly with Eve being created from Adam's rib for example), is it not possible that creatures such as Griffins, also Centaurs and Minotaurs did actually exist many thousands of years ago. The later legends could likely be just tales handed down from man's pre-historic times, as possibly happened with Atlantis. Who knows, but I hope one day that we will better understand the past. Blessed by an angel.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 6 years ago

      I used to read a lot of mythology but I got away from it. Its fun to rediscover the pleasure.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Another great mythology lens, the way you tell the story of these creatures makes it come alive. So nicely done! Can't wait to read more of your lenses.

    • awakeningwellness profile image

      awakeningwellness 6 years ago

      I wouldn't say I was a fan of griffins but I do have a statue of one that I bought many years ago and he is quite handsome. :)

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