Bestiary


Info on some mythical beasts from http://pantheon.org/areas/bestiary/ :

Pegasus
 
In Greek mythology, Pegasus is the winged horse that was fathered by Poseidon with Medusa. When her head was cut of by the Greek hero Perseus, the horse sprang forth from her pregnant body. His galloping created the well Hippocrene on the Helicon (a mountain in Boeotia). When the horse was drinking from the well Pirene on the Acrocotinth, Bellerophon‘s fortress, the Corinthian hero was able to capture the horse by using a golden bridle, a gift from Athena. The gods then gave him Pegasus for killing the monster Chimera but when he attempted to mount the horse it threw him off and rose to the heavens, where it became a constellation (north of the ecliptic). In another version, Bellerophon killed the Chimera while riding on Pegasus, and when he later attempted to ride to the summit of Mount Olympus, Zeus sent a gadfly to sting the horse, and it threw Bellerophon off its back.
 
Kraken
 
In Norwegian sea folklore, the Kraken is an enormous sea monster which would sometimes attack ships and feed upon the sailors. It was supposed to be capable of dragging down the largest ships and when submerging could suck down a vessel by the whirlpool it created. It is part octopus and part crab, although others refer to it as a giant squid or cuttlefish. (See also: Sea Serpent.) It was first described by Pontoppidan in his History of Norway (1752).
 
Leviathan
 
Literally, “coiled”. In the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, the Leviathan is some sort of chaos animal in the shape of a crocodile or a serpent. In other bible texts it is taken to mean a whale or dolphin, because the animal is there described as living in the sea. Later the Leviathan became a symbol of evil, an anti-divine power (some sort of devil) which will be destroyed on Judgement Day. The Leviathan appears in more than one religion. In Canaanite mythology and literature, it is a monster called Lotan, ‘the fleeing serpent, the coiling serpent, the powerful with the seven heads’. It was eventually killed by Baal. The Leviathan is also the Ugaritic god of evil. “This great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.” — Ps.
 
Manticore
 
A monstrous creature which inhabits the forests in Asia, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The manticore, considered to be the most dangerous predator in these regions, has the body of a lion and a head with human resemblance. The mouth is filled with three rows of razor-sharp teeth and the scaled tail ends in a ball with poisonous darts. The monster stalks through the forest in search of humans. Upon an encounter with a human, the manticore fires a volley of darts at the victim, who dies immediately. This unfortunate person is devoured completely, even the bones and clothing, as well as the possessions this person carried, vanish. When a villager has completely disappeared, this is considered proof of the presence of a manticore.
 
Nixes
 
In Norse folklore, they are water spirits who try to lure people into the water. The males can assume many different shapes, including that of a human, fish, and snake. The females are beautiful women with the tail of a fish. When they are in human forms they can be recognized by the wet hem of their clothes. The Nixes are considered as malignant in some quarters, but as harmless and friendly in others.
 
Safat
 
Maybe the most curious bird of all is the Safat. She is supposed to spend all her time flying and never comes to rest. As she soars, usually high, she lays her eggs which hatch while they are falling through the air. Only the shells reach the ground, and if part of a shell is eaten by an animal, the animal will go mad.
 
Unicorn
 
The unicorn is a legendary animal. It is usually portrayed as a slender, white horse with a spiraling horn on its forehead, although its appearance and behavior differs, depending on the location. In the west it was usually considered wild and untamable, while in the Orient it was peaceful, meek and thought to be the bringer of good luck. There it is usually depicted as a goat-like creature, with cloven hooves and a beard. In Japan it is called Kirin, and in China Ki-lin.
The word “unicorn” is based on the Hebrew word re’em (“horn”), in early versions of the Old Testament translated as “monokeros”, meaning “one horn”, which became “unicorn” in English. The creature is possibly based on the rhinoceros or the narwhal, a marine creature with one horn. In the west it was first mentioned by the Greek historian Ctesias in 398 BCE. According to him they lived in India and he described them as ‘wild asses which are as big as a horse, even bigger. Their bodies are white, their heads dark red and their eyes are deep blue. They have a single horn on their forehead which is approximately half-a-meter long.’ This description was based on the tales of travelers, and is a mixture of an Indian rhinoceros, the Himalayan antelope, and the wild ass. The horn itself is white at the base, black in the middle and with a sharp, red tip. It is believed to possess healing abilities. Dust filed from the horn was thought to protect against poison, and many diseases. It could even resurrect the dead. Amongst royalty and nobility in the Middle Ages, it became quite fashionable to own a drinking cup made of the horn of an unicorn, not in the least because it was supposed to detect poison. The belief in the healing abilities of the horn is probably based on a medieval story. In this particular tale, many animals once gathered around a pool in the midst of night. The water was poisoned and they could not drink from it, until a unicorn appeared. He simply dipped his horn in the pool and the water became fresh and clean again. Another medieval story tells of the capture of a unicorn by a maiden. The unicorn was far too fast and wild for the man that was hunting him. He could only be tamed by a maiden who sat lonely underneath a tree in the woods. Attracted by the scent of purity he would lay his head on her lap and she would rock him to sleep. Then she would cut of his horn, and leave him for the hunter and his dogs. There have been attempts to give these tales a Christian interpretation. In the first tale the horn symbolizes the cross and the pool the sins of the world. In the second story the maiden was Maria, the unicorn Jesus Christ and the horn a representation of the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus, embodied in the unicorn, was killed for sake of a sinful world.
 
Vegetable Lamb
 
The tale of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary comes from the Middle Ages, a traveler’s tale from the far east. It’s full name was ‘Planta Tartarica Barometz’ – ‘barometz’ is the Tartar word for ‘lamb’. The fruit of the Vegetable Lamb was cotton, but travelers from Europe knew nothing about cotton in those times. They reasoned that the material was wool – a fabric they did know. The figured that since wool came from sheep, and that the plant was some kind of animal/plant. They thought that the puffs of cotton were tiny sheep attached to the plant by their navel. It is said that the plant bent to let the sheep graze on the grass beneath it, and that when all the grass was gone, the sheep dropped from the plant and ran off, the tree dying. The myth of the Vegetable Lamb dates back to the 11th century in the Middle and Far East. It is a species of fern. The ‘body’ of the Vegetable Lamb is the root of the plant.
 
Yara-ma-yha-who
 
In aboriginal cultures, there was a vampire-like being, described as a little red man, approximately four feet tall, with a very large head and mouth. It has no teeth and swallowed its food whole. Its most distinguishing features were it hands and feet. It tips of the fingers and toes were shaped like the suckers of an octopus. The yara-ma-yha-who lived in the tops of fig trees and did not hunt for food, but waited until unsuspecting victims sought shelter under the tree. It then jumped down and placed its hands and feet on the body. It would drain the blood from the victim to the point the person was left weak and helpless, but rarely, to cause the victim to die. The creature would later return and consume its meal. It then drank water and took a nap. When it woke, the undigested portion of its meal would be regurgitated. According to the story, the person regurgitated was still alive, and children were advised to offer no resistance should it be their misfortune to meet a yara-ma-yha-who. Their chances of survival were better if they let the creature swallow them. People might be captured on several occasions. Each time, they would grow a little shorter until they were the same size as the yara-ma-yha-who. Their skin would first become smooth and then they would begin to grow hair all of their body. Gradually they were changed into one of the mythical little furry creatures of the forest. The story of the yara-ma-yha-who was told to young children who might wander from the tribe, and to naughty children to scare them that it might come and take them away.
 
Tikbalang
 
A half-man half-horse creature from Philippine folklore. It lives in secluded areas in swamps. It is said that the knees of the tikbalang rise above its head, hiding its face. The tikbalang is responsible for misleading travelers so that they will get lost. However, a traveler may find his way back by wearing his shirt inside-out. It is also believed that if it rains with the sun fully out, a tikbalang is getting married.
 
Tatzlwurm
 
Also known as the tunnel worm, jumping worm or mountain stump. The tazel worm, a worm-like lizard about two to three feet long with two or four short legs, is said to be so poisonous that even its breath could kill a human. It is also said to be very agressive, attacking anything that moves. Rumored to live in the Alps, some say that it can jump two or three yards in one bound. Its scales are supposedly so thick that blades cannot pierce them.
 
Re’em
 
Many monsters were created on the Sixth Day, some destroyed during the Flood, some still with us. The re’em is described as a giant even among these strange animals. At any given time, only two exist, one male and one female, because had more of them existed, the world could not support them. No one is certain what the re’em looks like. The sources describe him as fierce, fast, and indomitable. Scholars argue about the number of his horns, some say he has one, like a unicorn or a rhinoceros. Some say two, and he could be related to the giant aurochs (Bos primigenius), a species of a wild ox that became extinct during the sixteenth century. On the other hand, he may be a purely mythological creature, based on the bas-reliefs of the huge Mesopotamian and Egyptian beasts that were unquestionably familiar to the Jews of the Talmudic era. The re’ems live at the opposite ends of the earth, one in the east, the other in the west, and for seventy years never see each other — until the day of their mating. Finally they meet, mate once, and then the female kills the male with one bite. The female becomes pregnant, and her pregnancy lasts for twelve years.  During the last year she cannot walk, only role from side to side, and she survives only because her saliva waters the earth around her sufficiently to produce enough vegetation for her support. Instead of giving birth, her stomach bursts open and she dies instantly. However, twins are born, one male and one female. They get up immediately and wander away, one to the east, one to the west. During the flood, when Noah collected all the animals into the arc, the re’ems came to join the procession. However, because of their giant size, they could not fit into the arc. Yet Noah saved them. One version claims he tied them behind the arc, and they followed it by running and later by swimming. Another version tells that the flood happened just as the young re’ems were born, so they were small enough to fit in the arc. King David had an encounter with a re’em. When David was still a simple shepherd, he saw a sleeping re’em and thought it was a mountain. He started climbing it, and the re’em woke up and lifted David on his gigantic horns. David vowed that if God saved his life, he would build Him a temple, a building as high as the re’em himself. God heard him and sent a lion. As the lion is the king of the beasts, the re’em bowed to him by prostrating himself on the ground, and David could descend from the horns. Then God sent a deer, and the lion started chasing her. So David was saved from both the lion and the re’em.
 
Ouzelum Bird
 
A fabulous bird that flies backwards and thus does not know where it is going, but likes to know where it has been.
 
Firebird
 
In Russian folklore the Firebird (Zshar-ptitsa) is a miraculous bird. Its feathers shine like silver and gold, its eyes sparkle like crystals, and it is usually been seen sitting on a golden perch. At midnight this bird comes to gardens and fields and illuminates the night as brightly as a thousand lights; just one feather from its tail could light up a dark room. The Firebird eats golden apples which give any who eat them youth, beauty and immortality; when the bird sings, pearls would fall from its beak. The Firebird’s chants can heal the sick and return the vision to the blind.
 
Cusith
 
An enormous hound of the Scottish Highlands. It is said to be a dark green in color, with a long braided tail and the size of a bullock. Whenever his baying was heard on the moors, farmers would quickly lock up their women because the hound’s mission was to round up women and drive them to a fairy mound so they might supply milk for fairy children.
 
Cherufe
 
The Cherufe is a enormous lava creature in Chilean mythology who lives in volcanoes and feeds upon young maidens. To protect the local population, the sun god sent his two warrior daughters to guard the Cherufe. With them they brought magical swords which are capable of freezing the creature. But on occasion it will escape and thereby causing volcanic eruptions.
 
Centipede
 
A terrifying, man-eating monster the size of a mountain. It lived in the mountains of Japan near Lake Biwa. The dragon king of that particular lake asked the famous hero Hidesato to kill it for him. The hero slew it by shooting an arrow, dipped in his own saliva, into the brain of the monster. The dragon king rewarded Hidesato by giving him a rice-bag; a bag of rice which could not be emptied and it fed his family for centuries.
 
Bunyip
 
A bellowing water monster from Aboriginal legend, believed to bring diseases. It lives at the bottom of the water holes, swamps, lakes and rivers of the Australian outback. The creature is roughly the size of a calf and requires calm water to live in. Unless its food sources are interfered with, the bunyip usually leaves human beings alone. However, if necessary it has the strength to pull a person down into the water and drown him. The name comes from an Aboriginal word meaning “devil” or “spirit”.
 
Bishop-fish
 
 The bishop-fish is a European sea-monster. It has the shaved head of a Catholic monk and the body of a huge fish. Its existence has been documented as early as the thirteenth century when one was caught swimming in the Baltic Sea. It was then taken to the King of Poland, who wished to keep it. It was also shown to some Catholic bishops, to whom the bishop-fish gestured, appealing to be released. They granted its wish, at which point it made the sign of the cross and disappeared into the sea. Another was captured in the ocean near Germany in 1531. It refused to eat and died after three days.
 
Amphisbaena
 
The Amphisbaena is a Greek serpent with two heads and eyes that glow like candles. It has a head at each end of its body. This is how it got its name which means “goes both ways” in Greek. It is also called the “mother of ants”, because it feeds on ants. If it is chopped in half, the two parts will join again. The medical properties of the Amphisbaena were recorded by Pliny. The wearing of a live Amphisbaena is a supposed safeguard in pregnancy. The wearing of a dead one is a remedy for rheumatism. Medieval bestiaries also document the Amphisbaena as a two-headed lizard, and even a two-headed serpent-like fowl.
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