A Menagerie of Magical Creatures (Part 2)

[ This week I’ve been sharing some of my favorite fantastic beasts from the Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. You can go here to see the first half of the alphabet. ]


          The dragon of death in the Voluspa, the Niddoghr drinks blood and eats the flesh of corpses. After Ragnorok at the ending of the world it will live in Nidavellir. It gnaws endlessly upon the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil. In later Christian times Nidhoggr was not forsaken, becoming the dragon who tormented the dead in the bowels of hell at the spring of Hvergelmir.


woodblock2 O Goncho

          A gigantic white winged dragon from the traditions of Japan. The O Goncho inhabited a particular stretch of water near Yamahiro. Every fifty years it transformed into a golden bird with a cry resembling the howl of a wolf.


The Oats Goat

          The name of the spirit of growing oats. Children are warned to stay away from him. Sometimes there are two goats, a man and a woman.


          In George Macdonald’s novel Phantastes, the ogre refers to a sinister, pointy-toothed woman who tricks the hero into looking into a certain cupboard by telling him not to.



          Also known as the Mongolian Death Worm, the Olgoi-Khorkal is said to live in the Gobi Desert, where it grows up to four feet long, spits corrosive poison, and delivers a devastating electric shock that has been known to kill animals as large as a camel.



          In Polish mythology, these are field spirits who have the appearance of dwarves with multi-colored eyes and grass instead of hair. They are usually seen at noon or dusk, vigilantly ensuring that everyone is working hard, tending the fields. They are dressed in white or black, with no other colors. They cause people to lose their sense of direction, and they have been known to ride over sleeping people with their horses. If anyone falls asleep on the job, they may kill him. The way to appease them is to offer them two eggs, a cockerel, a toad, and a crow placed unseen in a ditch.



          The Pombero is an Elf in Argentinian folklore who can impregnate women with the touch of his hand, but is fond of children and, if you offer him a cigarette, will help you find anything that you’ve lost.


Revolving Beast

          In the Irish story “The Voyage of Maelduin,” the travelers land on an island where they encounter a horrific sight: a giant beast revolving itself inside its own skin, contorting its bones and assuming ever-changing shapes so that no one could say what it really was. Rearing from side to side, it caught sight of Maelduin and his men, pursuing them by casting stones as they made their escape.



          The ever-renewing pig that reappears on a roast every night, fully cooked, in Irish and Norse mythology.



          In Celtic tradition, the Salmon of Wisdom is one of the most important magical creatures, having a memory that stretches back to the beginning of the world.



          The Mesopotamian Lion Man, shown as a man above the waist and a lion below, stands upright and carries a staff. He is also called “Uridimmus” or “Mad Lion.”



          In European magical lore, a sylph is an elemental spirit of the air. The leader of the sylphs, who are invoked in magical workings where the cooperation of the winds is required, is called Paralda.



          This frightening creature, whose name means “Owl-Woman-Monster,” was reported among several tribes of North America, including the Yakama and the Shasta. She is described as an evil old woman who carries a basket and is heard calling out at twilight, “Owl is lost.” Those who follow the sound of her voice meet a terrible end.



          In Japan there’s a story about a little girl whose father had promised to sacrifice her to the Rain Serpent if it made rain come. She, however, killed the serpent.

That same day she met an old woman, who was really the Mother of Toads, and expressed gratitude to the girl for having killed the dangerous Killer of Toads, all of whom were her great-grandchildren. She gave the girl a toad skin, by means of which she could disguise herself in any shape she wished. The girl went to the royal palace disguised as an old woman and was taken on as a cook. In time she revealed herself in her true shape to a prince who fell in love with her and married her immediately.



          The Urus was a huge bull with saw-toothed horns that it used to cut down trees. The only way to capture an Urus was to wait until it accidentally drank seawater, which made it disoriented and confused so that it stabbed the ground with its horns or became entangled in the trees it was attempting to fell.


Whist Hounds

          Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, is said to lead a phantom procession of headless hounds that precedes the hearse of the dead.

A Menagerie of Magical Creatures (Part I)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was in York, England in the fall of 2006, I bought a copy of the Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures for ten pounds.

It certainly weighed ten pounds. At over 400 pages, it might include every magical creature: Native American, Polynesian, Celtic, Russian, African, South American, all mythologies are included. And, if a single creature has been omitted, I still haven’t found it.

Lately I’ve been going through and reading the whole book, scribbling down the names of my favorite fantastic beasts as I begin outlining a series of novels I’m working on. Today I wanted to share just a few of my very favorites, A—M. Check back on Thursday for the second half of the alphabet.


          This cat sneaks into people’s houses and steals their money. Has the ability to transform itself into a dragon. Or a rooster.

alicanto Alicanto

          A bird that will continue eating gold until too big to fly.


          “The Asipatra lives in the underworld of Yamapura and tortures the souls of condemned sinners. Its name means ‘Sword-Wing’—the feathers of its fleshy wings are scythe-like and slice through the air. It also has claws like knives. It lives in the branches of a tree made from spears.”


          The Badger carries a great bell and sometimes disguises himself as a venerable sage so that people will respect him.

Basket Monster

          A monster that looks like an open basket and sometimes steals away with children.


          “In mediaeval French legend, Chapalu was the name of an enormous and insatiable cat which preyed upon the unwary. In French Arthurian legend, Chapalu was overcome by Sir Kay.”

Dahak (the Devil)

          A dragon-ish creature with three heads and a body made of lizards and scorpions. His sole purpose is to destroy all goodness in the world. He was finally conquered and imprisoned in chains beneath a mountain until the end of time, when he will arise to destroy all humanity. In Xena: The Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, he occasionally takes on a human form.

(Apparently there’s a Persian prophecy that at the end of time he will be released from his prison in Mesopotamia to kill a third of mankind).

Eight-Forked Serpent of Koshi

          A Japanese monster with eight heads and eight tails whose eyes glow red. It was finally defeated when the hero Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male created a huge enclosure with enormous towers, in each of which he placed eight vats of beer. While the serpent slept, the hero emerged from hiding and severed the eight heads. Blood from the monster flooded the whole area, but among the wreckage of the creature’s body, he discovered an enchanted sword.


          A giant wolf in Norse mythology who was imprisoned deep under the earth by a chain made from the sound of a cat, the beard of a woman, the roots of the mountains, the spittle of a bird, and the breath of a fish.


          A giant grasshopper who hunts for children and carries them away in a great basket. It was finally overcome by a mouse who tricked it into swallowing a red-hot stone which turned it into stone from within.


          In Anglo-Saxon lore, the Haug-Bai were the barrow-wights who lived in the ancient, turf-covered graves of forgotten ancestors. They were especially adept at guarding treasure. St. Guthlac of Cambridge actually lived in such a hollowed-out barrow and was continually having to defend himself against the attentions of the Haug-Bai, who kept up a running assault upon him.

These bedraggled, alarming creatures with their thin faces, long teeth, and flaming eyes had their knee joints backwards. They could only be killed if they were beheaded and then their skulls placed between their knees.

Frodo Baggins is rescued from the attention of the Barrow Wights by Tom Bombadil in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. They drag him into the dark and attack him along with his three companions. It is from the treasure hoard of the Haug Bai that Tom chooses weapons for the hobbits.

KlCfTHawk of Achill

          According to ancient Irish myth, the Hawk of Achill is one of the oldest creatures. He spoke with Fintan mac Bochra, one of the first men to colonize Ireland, a man who has also been an eagle, a falcon, and a salmon.

The hawk says that he is a staggering 6,515 years old and discusses with Fintan the whole history of Ireland from the time of the great flood.

Fintan tells the hawk that when he was in the form of a salmon, he experienced the coldest winter’s night at the waterfall of Assaroe encased in the ice, and that while he was there a bird came and pecked out one of his eyes.

The hawk admits that it was himself that did it.

When Fintan demands compensation for this theft, the hawk tells him about battles he has witnessed and feasted upon, including the conflict in which Fintan’s twelve sons fell at the Battle of Moytura Cong. The hawk stripped the flesh and took a juicy gobbet from each of the fallen sons. He also devoured the hand of the High King of Ireland, Nuadu, who afterwards made a prosthetic silver hand.

The magical property of the Hawk of Achill is length of life and memory through the changes of time.


          A gigantic fish, several miles in length, that was said to occupy the Great Northern Sea of China. Remarkably, the Kw’en could transform itself into a massive bird called the P’eng.


          Mediopollo is the Spanish folk hero in chicken form that is also known as Half Chick. As the runt of a chicken’s clutch of egg, he is smaller than his brothers and sisters. But although he never grows much larger than a chick, he has great adventures.


          The Morgens are Breton water fairies or mermaids which lure sailors to join them in their underwater palaces. One Sea Morgen, known as Dahut, was responsible for the destruction of the city of Ys.

The Morgen is ever young and seductive. She sleeps by day in an underwater grotto, rising at night to sit on the rocks along the shoreline. Sitting in the moonlight, she combs her hair with a golden comb, singing a song whose charm is irresistible. Any sailor who hears it is doomed, for if she touches him the man will die—the frustrated Morgen is left clutching a corpse, her passionate nature unfulfilled.