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Female Mythological Creatures

Instructor: Jason Waguespack

Jason has taught Political Science courses for college. He has a doctorate in Political Science.

This lesson will teach you about female creatures in mythology. You'll be taken through Greek, Irish, and Norse myths and learn about different female spirits, monsters, and other entities.

The World of Female Mythical Creatures

Popular blockbuster movies give us no shortage of female mythological creatures. The fearsome snake-haired Medusa has appeared in multiple feature films, as have mermaids and sphinxes. So why are we drawn to these creatures? Mythology offers timeless insight into human nature and humanity's beliefs of the unknown. Fantastical female entities, like their male counterparts, can be attractive or hideous to the eyes, wise or foolish, good or evil. For this lesson, we'll take a journey through the world's myths and folklore to glimpse the different female entities they have to offer.

Nymphs

In Greek mythology, nymphs are spirits of nature that take on pretty, young female forms. There are many different kinds of nymphs, and they watch over different parts of nature. For example, nymphs who preside over forests are called Dryads. Nymphs who look over rivers and springs are known as Naiads. There are also Oceanids, who look after the sea, and Oreads, who preside over mountains. Nymphs could be gentle, musical, and kind, but sometimes were portrayed as vengeful and destructive.

A Nymph
nymph

Mermaids and Sirens

The sea-dwelling mermaid is a myth common to multiple cultures. A mermaid has the upper body of a pretty human female and the lower body of a fish. Aside from being found in lakes or seas, mermaids can also be seen on rocks combing their hair while holding a mirror. Mermaids were feared as a sign of bad luck for sailors, because they were popularly depicted as luring sailors with song to the depths of the ocean. Similar creatures found in Greek mythology are the Sirens. While the Sirens also lure in sailors with song, unlike mermaids, a Siren has the head of a woman and a bird's body parts. Sirens are depicted in the Greek myths of Jason and the Argonauts and The Odyssey.

Gorgons

Medusa
medusa

The Gorgons are female creatures in Greek myth who guard the entrance to the Underworld. A Gorgon is a hideous creature that can turn anybody that looks at them to stone. Gorgons have impenetrable scales covering their bodies, along with fangs, brass hands, and living snakes for hair. They were sometimes depicted by artists as having wings. Three Gorgons are referred to in myth: Euryale and Stheno, both immortal, and Medusa, the only mortal Gorgon. Medusa was changed into a Gorgon by the goddess Athena who was angered when Medusa desecrated Athena's temple by having intercourse with Poseidon there. Medusa would later be killed by the Greek hero Perseus when he sliced off her head.

Harpies

In Greek mythology, the harpies were winged monsters that had the bodies of birds but the faces of hideous old women. The word 'harpy' comes from the word 'snatcher.' Harpies are shown to take away people to the Underworld to torment them. A group of harpies also acted as tormentors to the blind prophet Phineus by stealing his food every time he sat down to eat. However, thanks to Jason and the Argonauts, the winged Boreads chased off the harpies and never bothered Phineus again.

The Sphinx

A Sphinx
Sphinx

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