Isn’t it crazy that monsters existed in our belief systems before almost anything else? Today, we’ll be exploring mythical creatures and different types of monsters from tales that have captivated humans for longer than the written word has existed.
By taking a deeper look at some of these types of monsters, we can better understand some of the cultural influences of the time periods from which these stories emerged. By embracing the historical context and examining the commonalities between the cultures, we can paint a better picture of the spiritual standpoints of our ancestors and help to bridge the gap from one community to another.
For those of us on pagan paths, it is important to be aware of the folklore surrounding our practices. Some pagans believe wholeheartedly that these monsters exist (in our realm or another) while other pagans just work with the energy and symbolism of monsters from ancient mythology.
You’ll find that many of these types of monsters appear similar to each other. It’s possible that these mythical creatures are the same but simply have different names from various cultures.
Regardless, here are the top 30 most interesting mythical creatures in ancient mythology!
A chimera is an umbrella term for a type of mythical beast that is seemingly pieced together from the parts of other creatures. Examples of chimeras include the griffin, the hippogriff, the harpy, and the centaur, to name a few.
Greek mythology paints more specific pictures for these mythical creatures. According to the Greeks, the chimera is a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.
In Latin America, farmsteads are haunted by a creature that is said to such the blood of goats. This is one of the least “seen” types of monsters, though the legends date back thousands of years.
Attributed to a local vampire, attacks on livestock of this peculiar nature could be dated to the mid-1970s, but the creature wouldn’t receive its name until popularized on a radio show nearly 20 years later after many reports of eerily similar attacks.
Dragons, Wyrms, & Drakes
If you’re looking to learn about the most powerful types of monsters then you should definitely start with dragons.
Dragons are considered very powerful entities whose energies are often called upon in spellwork. The cultures with folklore surrounding dragons are widespread across the globe to the point that historians can’t seem to agree on a single source.
Dragons are known for being very proud and materialistic mythical creatures, hoarding gold and treasures for the sake of ownership, and breathing fire on anyone who tries to challenge them. However, dragons are also known to be incredibly intelligent creatures. If you are ever unfortunate enough to meet one, be respectful or he may add your bones to his collection.
This mythical creature, a serpentine chimera with the head and forelegs of a cat, was reportedly seen throughout Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland.
Adorning shields and family crests, sightings of a cat-like dragon were so common in medieval Europe that statues of the Tatzelwurm, also called the Alps Dragon, are considered some of the earliest surviving records of a now-extinct animal.
In some Abrahamic beliefs, a Djinn, or genie, is an elemental being that is capable of taking on the form of an animal. In the Quran, the prophet Muhammad sought out members of both Djinn and human communities. Djinns are invisible to humans, so if you claim to have seen one – no you didn’t.
A golem is a sort of construct, created from mud or clay and brought to life to do its creator’s bidding. Golems are obedient to a fault, so summoning one requires the practitioner to be very specific in their needs.
A golem would have been constructed by a powerful Jewish Rabbi to protect his people in times of persecution.
The most famous of the gorgons is Medusa, a worshiper of Athena who was cursed for her disobedience to possess slithering, spitting snakes for hair and a grotesque serpentine body. Any man who laid eyes upon the once-beautiful maiden would immediately be turned to stone.
Medusa is one of the mythological creatures whose legend has survived for thousands of years, but you may not know that there were actually many other gorgons in Ancient Greek mythology, too. She’s definitely one of the types of monsters you wouldn’t want to meet!
This elephant-sized serpent of South African lore guards a bottomless pit filled with diamonds. Unfortunately, any who are unlucky enough to discover this creature better have jewels of their own to offer in exchange for their safety from this cunning creature.
Griffins are ancient mythical creatures traditionally described as having the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. That said, griffins may appear as other bird-cat hybrids. Some may possess the silky black body of a panther and the ferocious beak and wings of a raven. Other griffins may have the body of a tiger or leopard and the wings and head of a falcon, hawk, or owl.
Referred to as “Hounds of Zeus”, griffins were tasked with guarding Zeus’ gold and riches hidden away in the Rhipaean mountains. These stoic guides and protectors will turn and show their fearsome talons if you dare to steal from their hoard.
Strangely enough, tales of chimeras that are similar in description to the griffins of Greek mythology can be traced to cultures all around the world, such as the Egyptian Hierakonpolis, the Shirdal of Iranian mythology, and the Sumerian Lamassu. It’s clear that griffins are important mythological creatures, regardless of their name.
A ferocious winged creature with the face and body of a woman, a harpy is the very personification of the fierce winds of a storm. They are known for stealing food and carrying away the wicked.
In Greek and Roman tales, the mighty hydra rears its many heads. When the mighty Hercules encountered the great beast he severed it at the neck, surprised to find that it sprouted two new heads in its place.
The frost giants of Norse mythology, some are hailed as gods and goddesses, while others are described as terrible troll-like beings. Occupying the realm of Jötunheimr, these enormous beings were often at war with the gods.
The lamia is a creature often depicted as half woman, half serpent. The first known lamia was a queen of Libya who had an affair with Zeus. Enraged with jealousy, the goddess Hera punished Lamia for her act of seduction, killing her children and cursing her with terrible insomnia.
In her sorrow, Lamia was transformed into a gruesome child-eating monster. This terrible creature was often spoken of in bedtime stories to ease the attitudes of disobedient children.
The lampades were the infernal nymphs of the Underworld, torchbearers, and companions to Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft and the Underworld. Some of the lampades in Hades are tasked with acting as handmaidens to the goddess Persephone while she reigns in the Underworld.
To some, lampades were kind creatures who helped travelers along their paths. Others are said to have befallen a much worse fate upon encountering these infernal beings.
A minotaur is a hulking man with the legs, head, and tail of a bull. Prominently featured in Greek mythology as a guardian and depicted in artwork for his legendary battle with Theseus, the tale surrounding the creation of a creature such as this is, well, about as disturbing as you’d imagine. We won’t go into detail.
The phoenix is a legendary bird of fire that is famously known for its ability to resurrect itself. During certain life stages, a phoenix may go through a transformative phase, catching itself on fire to be born again from its own ashes.
Phoenixes are known to sing beautifully sad songs, weep, and mourn. There has only ever been one known living phoenix at any given time, as it has no need to reproduce. Instead, the phoenix carries on through its lonely life until it is ready to start anew.
Native to the northeastern United States, a Pukwudgie is a small shape-shifting humanoid that stands about 2-3” tall. These little tricksters have the ability to disappear and will follow you around and cause trouble if you’ve gotten yourself on their bad side. This race of pygmy people is mentioned in both Ojibwe and Wampanoag folklore.
The vast oceans are teeming with undiscovered life that we may not have the chance to witness in our lifetime. Throughout history, seafarers have reported sightings of massive creatures, but the only ones we will know of are the encounters that were survived.
This massive sea monster thought to have been a whale, was known for being so great that its giant teeth emerging from the cold, Greenland Sea look like large jagged rocks. Unable to identify for certain, some believed this beast to have been a whale large enough to consume other whales or even the infamous Kraken.
Norse sailors, some of the most feared seafarers in history, were not intimidated by much. Even so, tales of a dreadful, tentacled giant waiting in the black depths of the ocean would send a chill down the spine of any Viking explorer.
Weary sailors would spot a small, lonely island in the distance. Seeking land, the Norsemen who approached the island would learn in horror that it was in fact the body of a monstrous squid. By the time they realized, it would be too late. This massive creature was capable of pulling in ships with its great tentacles and cracking through them quite easily with its devastating beak.
In the Scottish Highlands dwells a legend that boggles cryptozoologists to this day – the Loch Ness monster, affectionately referred to as Nessie. This creature may possibly be a great sea serpent or an ancient plesiosaur that survived the extinction event. The most obvious explanation to most is that she is simply a hoax.
In 2008, a sonar reading of Loch Ness was unable to detect the beast despite prior scans indicating the presence of a large creature. It is thought that Nessie would have been unable to survive the recent effects of the earth’s changes.
Navajo tribes tell the legend of a powerful malignant witch with the ability to shapeshift into animals like coyotes and wolves. While most native spellcasters choose to take on the role of healer, a skinwalker has succumbed to the ways of malevolent magic, rendering them animalistic and nearly invincible.
Commonly referenced in Old Norse texts, trolls are a race of creatures that may or may not have resembled deformed humans, depending on the source. Dwelling in forests and caves, trolls were known to spirit away careless travelers.
Depending on the type of troll, they may be very large or quite small and identify with a particular element.
The idea of a creature that cannot die – rather, thrives in death, has struck fear into the hearts of man since the beginning of time.
In Norse culture, a draugr is a corpse that has been reanimated to play the role of guardian for a treasure or tomb.
This horrible undead creature, although historically romanticized in literature, was known to suck the very lifeblood from your veins in order to achieve everlasting life.
In some traditions, vampires possessed the ability to transform into bats, allowing them access to the smallest of windows in the tallest of towers. These creatures famously bit the neck of their victims in order to extract their life essence.
Widely popularized in the 2000s by horror movie culture, the idea of a traditional zombie involved a corpse reanimated to endlessly walk the Earth and feast upon human flesh – sometimes brains, specifically.
In recent years, the idea of a virus that turns humans into unstoppable, mindless cannibals became one of the most terrifying potential apocalypses due to the fact that it’s just downright plausible. A single bite or scratch may contract the zombie virus, and in mere moments, you too would become one of the mindless masses.
In the deep forests of North America resides a haunting antlered creature. This towering beast with tight skin stretched over its gaunt face surfaced from numerous indigenous legends. Some tribes dare not speak its name for fear that the flesh-eating creature will find its way back to you.
In some legends, the Wendigo is a human spirit possessed by a demon or transformed by dark magic. A dangerous and stealthy hunter who stalks human prey in times of famine, this terrifying creature embodies the most disturbing aspects of human nature – the desperation of winter driving us back to our coldest, most primitive selves.
The idea that one of your own could be driven so mad or possessed to pick the very flesh from your bones when you’re at your lowest would send a chill down the spine of American tribes and travelers for countless generations.
A werewolf is a type of lycanthrope – that is, a human with the ability to shapeshift into a creature or animal. Specifically, werewolves are humans that transform into wolves when they are exposed to the light of the full moon.
Typically, folktales regarding the werewolf state that this change happens involuntarily, posing an additional threat to friends and family members of the lycanthrope that are unaware of the possibility of a transformation.
After changing, while a werewolf may retain some memories of his human form, he is unlikely to be able to control his actions in animal form and may lash out at those around him. Suffering a bite or scratch from a werewolf is enough to spread the disease to the recipient.
In Cajun lore, a witch could turn herself into a wolflike creature called a Rougarou or curse another poor soul to the same hairy fate.
Yeti, Sasquatch, & Skunk Ape
In legends all over the globe, there seems to be a sort of recurring character since before the time of recorded history: the sasquatch.
In Native American legends, a creature resembling a large, hairy man was said to carry off women and children who strayed from the tribe, never to be seen again. In the Himalayan Mountains, the mysterious yeti, a man-ape covered from head to toe with hair as white as the snow, makes an appearance in ancient Nepalese paintings.
Although their existence has been debated by cryptozoologists for many years, there have been countless reports of sasquatch-like creatures. Perhaps the mythical creature with which we have the closest physical connection, we are unlikely to understand the depth of meaning that the discovery of such an entity may bring.
What creatures color the pages of your culture’s mythos?