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Legendary Creatures of this World and Beyond
Legendary Creatures, Creatures of Myth and Mystery, Are they Real?
I have always been fascinated by legendary creatures. They appear in tales of wonder, fantasy, legends, and mythologies of all cultures. Some appear in the tales of many cultures, others are specific, peculiar even, to a particular culture. Some are beautiful, bringers of good fortune and happiness; others are dangerous, evil, and have to be battled and defeated by heroes.
Whatever their nature, these creatures of myth and legend are certainly wondrous. Without them, our world would be a much duller place.
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Legendary Creatures Are Mysterious and Wonderful!
Legendary creatures are found in mythology or folklore, and are sometimes called "fabulous creatures." These mythical creatures are not just the "talking" creatures, clever animals able to communicate with human beings in our own language, like those that appear in Disney movies.
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Many mythical creatures were believed to have supernatural powers, some good, some evil, powers that even in contemporary times have no physical explanation. In fact, legendary creatures came to symbolize the power of good or evil, or virtues and vices. Most cultures have some variation on these creatures, often with similar legends and cautionary tales.
Many mythical creatures are chimeras, combinations of two or more animals. For example, the griffin has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle; Pegasus is the horse with wings found in Greek mythology. Some are even combinations of a human being and one or more other creatures: A centaur is a combination of a man and horse, a minotaur of a man and bull. The mermaid, or merman if it's male, has the head and torso of a human and the lower body and tail of a fish.
There are special books called "bestiaries" that describe the "beasts" of legend. Particularly popular in the Middle Ages, they were often illustrated with lovely pictures and accompanied by a moral lesson. They give a unique insight into the medieval mind.
Bestiaries feature beautiful illustrations and moral tales, some with religious overtones as mystical meanings are derived from supernatural creatures.
This bestiary, a reproduction of the thirteenth century manuscript is a beautiful example. Each of the 136 illuminations are reproduced in glorious color.
Creatures of Legend - Are They Real or Imaginary?
These legendary creatures come in all shapes, sizes and characters. They have a variety of different abilities, some plausible albeit in an unknown form (like the single horn of the unicorn, or the monster that lives in the deep waters), others supernatural (like the fire-breathing dragon or the immortal phoenix).
Some may have actually have existed in the past but have since become extinct. Others like the Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch continue to be "sighted" and people continue to search for them while skeptics continue to seek to disprove their existence.
So, the origins of these legendary creatures are disputed and varied. But it is for sure that they have played significant roles in human society for hundreds if not thousands of years.
They have played significant educational roles, inculcating cultural values and norms. Many have been used by parents to discipline their children, for example there are tales of the scary Baba Yaga or the Yeti or the troll that captures and even eats naughty children!
For sure these mystical creatures stimulate our imagination and give substance to our desire to experience more than this physical world. For many people, whether they truly exist in physical form is actually secondary to their role as symbols of virtues and vices, challenges to be overcome by heroes, and reminders of the frailty of human beings in the face of the wonders of the world.
For me their existence is real, at least in the mind and spirit, the realm of existence that transcends our physical bodies. This realm can be considered the world of imagination, or the world of spirit. Either way, its existence adds immeasurably to our life experience and I'm a great believer in that!
What Do You Think?
Are Legendary Creatures Real or Imaginary?
Legendary Dragons - They Breathe Fire!
My Chinese zodiac sign is the dragon, so that's one of my favorites and where I'll start.
I love dragons, collect them, and love to read about them or watch movies about them, especially when they're shown in a somewhat sympathetic light since I'm a dragon! Actually, though, dragons are rather scary if they're not on your side.
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Dragons are special, they fly and they breathe fire. That's pretty cool! Certainly more exciting than many of the other Chinese zodiac signs, I reckon. Dragons are the only mystical creatures in the Chinese zodiac - goats, monkeys, snakes, rats, horses and so on are all real creatures that we find in the physical world. The dragon, however, is different. It doesn't exist in our world, at least not now, and maybe not ever. Yeah, a giant flying lizard, maybe a dinosaur, could have existed, but do you think a creature can actually breathe fire? That's the stuff that myths and legends are made of! Dragons are generally pretty dangerous to people, and many stories exist of them burning peoples' homes, carrying off sheep and other creatures to eat, even capturing young maidens and flying off with them. So dragons are dangerous!
Most of the legends about dragons have been of their ferocity and danger to humankind. In many cases, though, they provided a special, supernatural even, challenge for a hero to overcome in his quest to achieve some good purpose.
A typical example is the tale of Saint George who famously slew a dragon which had been terrorizing a city. Upon his victory over the dragon the people were grateful and converted to Christianity. George became the patron saint of several European nations, including England, so I heard all about him growing up. Of course, since I lived in Scotland we weren't so impressed by him, but slaying a dragon was still considered quite notable. I guess, though, he really became the patron saint on account of converting people to Christianity, not for killing the dragon!
Dragons are also associated with tales of magic, wizards and such. All the best wizards deal with dragons at some point! That's probably because they are really mythical creatures, not just extinct dinosaurs, but beings with supernatural abilities.
My Favorite Dragon Movie
This is my favorite dragon movie! It features the last great dragon, Draco, who is the good sort. And he happens to be voiced by Sean Connery, which certainly makes him sound good! The movie is a lighthearted look at the last days of this last dragon and his fight against evil, assisted by a former dragon slayer, played by Dennis Quaid, and assisted by a rescued maiden (of course) and the ridiculous Pete Postlethwaite. Such fun!
Oriental Dragons - Spiritual Symbols of Heavenly Power
Later, I discovered that there are major differences between the European dragons I knew about growing up and the dragons referred to in the Chinese zodiac.
The Chinese dragon is wingless and has a long serpentine body. It usually has a beard on its face. Unlike the Western dragon that is dangerous and usually considered evil, the oriental dragon is a powerful spiritual creature, benevolent and a bringer of good fortune. In China, the dragon was often adopted by emperors as a sacred symbol of power.
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So, since the zodiac sign of the dragon belongs to Chinese mythology I reckon my dragon is this kind, a spiritual creature symbolizing heavenly spiritual power!
Unicorns Are Good Mythical Creatures
Unicorns, basically white horses with a single horn, are very special creatures. They are good mythical creatures. Most legendary creatures have some pretty scary, sometimes downright evil, characteristic and usually inspire fear. Such creatures have to be defeated by the hero.
The unicorn, on the other hand, is truly beautiful, pure, and brings only goodness, even able to cure evil. Being so good and pure, it is often said that only the pure virgin can tame a unicorn. Thus the unicorn is enjoyed as a symbol of purity and beauty, and as one of the few mythical creatures not associated with fear and violence.
The Last Unicorn Movie
Based on the book by Peter S. Beagle "The Last Unicorn" is my favorite unicorn movie. It has simple animation but the voices from an all star cast and the haunting soundtrack make it wonderful. This is just a lovely movie with such sympathy toward the unicorn, and with a host of other mythical creatures as well as humans, even a magician!
Pegasus is not a Unicorn!
Not to be confused with Pegasus, the unicorn doesn't fly, doesn't have wings. Pegasus is the winged horse of Greek mythology who helped Bellerophon, the tragic Greek hero, to defeat the fearsome chimera by letting him ride his back. Pegasus is often depicted as a beautiful white flying horse, and so rather resembles the white unicorn.
Fairies - Favorite Creatures of Legend and Mythology
Fairies, or faeries, are supernatural beings, small and humanoid. There are many types of fairy, and they appear in numerous stories, legends, and of course "fairy tales"! Fairies in older times were depicted much differently. Both tall shining beings, somewhat like angels, and short troll-like creatures were descriptions of the past. Wings were not needed, as fairies could fly by magic or on the backs of birds. In modern times fairies are usually young and beautiful, female, and often have wings.
Fairies have a variety of characters, some are tricksters, noted for their mischief and malice perhaps leading travelers astray, others are playful but benign, often protectors of nature, and wise and helpful to humans.
Fairies are popular in art as well as literature. Well known artists who have produced amazing pictures of fairies include Arthur Rackham, Brian Froud, and John Anster Fitzgerald, to name but a few.
There are even those who seek to photograph fairies! Perhaps the most famous of these are the The Cottingley Fairy Photographs taken by two young girls back in 1917. These caused great excitement and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed the photographs to be genuine. The girls later confessed to have faked them, except that there was a fifth photograph taken in 1920 of the fairies alone in the sunbath. The girls swore that this photograph was a genuine photograph of the Cottingley Fairies.
Phoenix - Legendary Immortal Bird
The phoenix exists in many cultures around the world, symbolic of the immortality that human beings long for. It is a beautiful bird, which lives a long time and then dies in a fire of its own making, only to rise again from the ashes.
Feng huang - the Chinese phoenix
The Chinese phoenix, or Feng huang, is slightly different in nature. Unlike the Western phoenix which goes through a never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, the Feng Huang is immortal so it never dies.
The Feng Huang is a sacred Chinese bird, the most beautiful of all the birds in China. It is gloriously adorned with feathers of all colors, its tail colored red, azure, yellow, white, and black. Feng Huang sings a special sweet song, which is said to be the source of the Chinese five note musical scale.
Nessie - The Scottish Legendary Creature
Nessie is special to me, since I grew up in Scotland. Loch Ness is a large, deep body of water, very dark in color. The atmosphere around the loch is mysterious, with often a mist forming on the water. No wonder people imagine monsters living in the depths!Here's my husband's artistic impression of "Nessie."
Loch Ness 2 by Yuichi Tanabe
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There have been numerous sightings of Nessie, who is described as having a long, slender neck and a rounded body with four large flippers. Generally grey or dark brown in color, Loch Ness Monsters apparently range in size from an elephant to a whale.
Some of the sightings of Loch Ness Monsters have been accompanied by photographs and more recently video recordings; but many of these turned out to be fake, such as the famous "Surgeon's Photograph" hoax. I've been to Loch Ness where Nessie lives, but not actually caught sight of anything I can swear is the Loch Ness Monster. But that doesn't mean there isn't one!
More about Legendary Creatures
- Mythical creature - New World Encyclopedia
Article on New World Encyclopedia.
© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe