Mythical Creatures Guide: Names & Types

Instructor: David White
Throughout history, mythical creatures have populated stories from around the globe. Through this lesson, you will explore some of those creatures and gain insight into possible explanations for their presence.

What Are Mythical Creatures?

For fans of fantasy, mythology, and science fiction, creatures like the Minotaur or the yeti are probably very familiar. Yet, while these are common characters in modern entertainment, they come from very old myths and legends, and their purpose was usually for something other than entertainment.

Creatures like Big Foot, Mothman, and unicorns are known as mythical creatures. These are creatures that exist in mythology, legend, or folklore, but have never actually existed in the real world. Some creatures, like unicorns or mermaids, have been described in historical documents; however, those documents are likely exaggerating or describing an animal that was unknown to them at the time.

Every culture has its own mythology and legends that are populated with various fictitious creatures. Given that, it would be impossible to provide a comprehensive list within the confines of this lesson. Instead, this lesson will focus on a few creatures from various parts of the world.

Mythical Sea Creatures

For centuries, sailors returning from long ocean trips have told stories of sea monsters. In some cases, these stories were nothing more than exaggerations to make them look heroic or to excite their audience. In other cases, however, they served as a type of warning to others that, in certain parts of the ocean, there was danger.

In Middle Eastern lore, a creature called Leviathan is a giant sea serpent that, depending on whose providing the description, has been described as simply a large creature of the sea, a servant of a higher being, or the devil himself. Despite the different descriptions of Leviathan, what all the interpretations have in common is that they're describing an obstacle to be overcome so that the righteous can survive and thrive.

While Leviathan can be interpreted as metaphor, other mythical sea creatures serve as a warning or possible explanation. For example, since the 13th century, Nordic sailors have told stories of the kraken, a gigantic octopus-like beast that could sink entire ships with a single tentacle. There is no sea creature that matches the description of the kraken, but there are many other large creatures in the sea that could have caused considerable damage to ships, and the kraken was an exciting way to explain those unknown creatures.

The kraken is a giant squid-like creature that terrified sailors.

Mythical Creatures of the Forest

Much like the sea, forests have long been a source of mystery and mythology. In many cultures, ogres and trolls populate forest mythology, entertaining and terrifying young and old. In China and Japan, Kijo, a female ogre, was said to wander the woods tricking travelers and eating children. A common characteristic of trolls and ogres from various cultures, the eating of children serves as a warning that if a child were to wander off alone into the woods, they could be killed.

While ogres and trolls are sources of danger, other creatures like hakuturi are protectors of the forest. Originating in the Maori culture in New Zealand, hakuturi are described as giant birds that, according to legend, punish those who fail to show respect for nature and engage in activities that harm the earth.

Mythical Creatures of the Mountains

Many mythical creatures are often described with anthropomorphic features, meaning they bear some resemblance to humans. One such creature is the yeti, a Big Foot-like creature that wanders the mountains of Tibet. Because certain mountainous regions and altitudes are uninhabitable, people can easily imagine other types of creatures living in those environments that, like Kijo, should keep people from venturing into dangerous territory.

Creatures like Big Foot or the yeti are often described with anthropomorphic features.

Common inhabitants of mountain folklore are various types of giants like Idris, a mountain giant from Welsh mythology. Idris lived on a mountain top so high up that few people could reach the top. According to the legend, those who could reach Idris and sit atop his throne would be granted incredible power. Like Leviathan, Idris represents a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that, if overcome, has tremendous rewards.

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