Griffins and Griffin Mythology
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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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
by Nightmareartist at Zazzle.com
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"
Less Dangerous Griffins!
More recent griffin portrayals make them appear somewhat less dangerous.
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!
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.
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!
More about Griffins
Article on Griffins at New World Encyclopedia.
© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe