MONSTERS! One thing cultures from around the globe share is a love of creating legendary beasts! They might alight from the heavens and tear you apart with bronzed claws, breathe fire upon your thatched roof cottage, or even turn you to stone with a mere glance. They might be conquered by clever heroes, or be nigh indestructible juggernauts of destruction. In darkness they stalk, seeking bloody vengeance, the blood in your throat, or the very dreams in your mind!
There are fewer places where people have shown more creativity than in the invention of the monstrous. Whether the strange dreams of a bored shepherd or the calculated creation of a canny elder, monsters teach us both what a culture fears and what a culture values. A monster will prey on the lazy, or the gluttonous, or the indiscreet, and these things teach us lessons about the mother culture's preferred virtues and most feared vices. In this way, the monstrous becomes a pedagogue of sorts, a sort of homespun morality tale designed to keep society together.
How much do you know about the world's most terrifying, monstrous beasts of legend? We have created a list of some of the most notorious, the most terrifying creatures to ever haunt the dreams of humankind. Can you identify them?
The world serpent of Norse myth, Jörmungandr was capable of surrounding the entire earth and grabbing its own tail! The child of Loki, it would fight against the forces of the Gods when Ragnarok came, and though Thor would slay it, the poison would do in the Thunder God as well.
A European legend of a lizard with a crowned chicken head, the Basilisk was said to instantly slay all those who met its gaze. It was supposedly born from a cockerel's egg that had been incubated by a toad, so if you've got any motherly toads lying around, give it a shot!
A mythical antelope horned jackrabbit of the North American wilds, the jackalope is not exactly the figure of terror many of these other creatures are. People would commonly create fake examples of this creature, using a bit of creative taxidermy!
Also known as the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti is originally a Himalayan myth. These shaggy beasts walk upright like men but are covered with thick white hair that makes them blend in with the snowscape.
A joke run wild, Drop Bears are a mythical form of Koala Bear that drops down on hapless tourists and tears them to shreds with its mighty claws. There are no Drop Bears, but year after year, new crops of tourists are taught to live in fear of them!
A terrifying beast of Greek legend, the Chimera had the body and head of a lion, a goat's head on its back, and a serpent for a tail! So captivating was this legend that the name lived on, and now a chimera refers to a creature with cells coming from two or more zygotes.
A Celtic monster from the Scottish Highlands, the Cait Sidhe is a ghostly cat with a black body and a spot of white fur on its chest. The Celts believed it was capable of stealing one's soul, so watch out on your next stroll across the moonlit moors!
A Persian myth, the Manticore was another hybrid monster: it had the body of a lion, the head of a man, and why not, a poisonous tail that shot quills. Its name simply translates to "man-eater," so if you take a nap in its mouth, you really have no one else to blame.
Noblest of steeds, Pegasus is thought by many to be a type of creature but actually Pegasus is just his proper name. He doesn't have a scientific name, being mythological, but let's go with winged horse. He's Greek, by the way, and was ridden by the famed hero Bellerophon!
Half man, half horse, the Greek Centaurs were not mindless beasts but supposedly a race of thinking creatures all to themselves. They were seen as a wild and lustful species, much like the goat-like Satyrs, but this was supposedly due to their upbringing, not due to any natural wildness. The Centaur Chiron, who was raised to be "civilized," was supposed to be wise and the model of restraint.
Three-headed dog of the underworld, Cerberus stands at the gates of Hades and prevents any of coming in or out. As the ultimate guard dog, his name has been associated with security in its all its forms, and is often used as such by businesses.
A monster from Assyrian legend, the Lamassu is a wise, protective deity that takes the form of a bull's body, a human head, and mighty wings to bear it aloft. Statues of Lamassu would be placed at the entryway of structures to ward away evil.
The mighty Minotaur is a mythical beast with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Due to his dangerous nature King Minos had a large Labyrinth built to contain the monster and gave annual offerings of young men and women for the monster to eat!
Half bird and half woman, the creature called the Harpy came swooping out of Greek mythology. They were the very personification of the stormy sky and stole food out of the hands of their victims. The nerve!
Arising out of Greek mythology, the Phoenix was a magical bird that, upon its death, would rise again in a fiery explosion. It is supposed to have been brightly colored, although ancient scholars disagree about what the colors exactly were!
A relatively recent legend, the Mothman is supposedly seen roaming about the hills of West Virginia. It appears as a winged man with weird reflective red eyes, and some say it was somehow involved in the collapse of a bridge, killing dozens of people.
Taken from the old English word Bugge, which means a frightening thing, the Bugbear is a mysterious bear-man said to roam the forests of England, terrifying children. It was a boogeyman of sorts.
A Scottish legend, the Kelpie was a malevolent water spirit said to inhabit a lake. It could transform into a mighty horse or a beautiful woman and was probably a story to warn children away from dangerous waters.
The Unicorn was believed by ancient Greeks to be a real creature and is thus not involved in their myths. It was a horse or goat topped by a single horn and was said to allow only virgins to ride upon its back. The horn was said to have curative properties and could ward against poison, making fakes quite valuable.
A creature of Hebraic myth, the Golem was a man-sized creature molded out of clay. Upon being completed, the word "Ehmet" was carved on its forehead, meaning truth, and it would come to life. When the time came for it to be destroyed, the first letter of "Ehmet" was erased, leaving "Met," the Hebrew word for death.
A creature from Hebrew myth, Leviathan does not necessarily refer to a particular monster but is rather a kind of creature. Specifically, it describes an enormous sea monster, often thought of as a whale of impossible size.
Creatures of Greek legend, Sirens were supposed to combine the features of a beautiful woman with the wings and torso of a bird. They would sing songs to prompt sailors to leap overboard, and their power was such that Odysseus bound himself to his ship's mast to resist their charms.
Frost giants of shocking strength, the Jötunn were the sworn enemies of the Norse Gods. Though they could occasionally find common cause to work together, the Gods warred with the Giants down through the ages. They were known for their gluttony and greed.
Faeries of Germanic origin, Kobolds were tiny, misshapen men who would occasionally do benign household chores, but would turn malicious if not properly respected. The name of the metal Cobalt actually derives from these creatures, as the miners thought them responsible for its toxicity.
A musclebound giant with a single eye, the Cyclops became most famous in the Homeric Odyssey. Ulysses crept upon him as he slept and blinded his eye, allowing his ship to escape without being crushed by hurled boulders.
A supernatural, demonic creature, the Ifrit was a kind of Arabian Djinn, particularly one born from the vengeful blood of a murdered victim. Djinns were generally not seen in a positive light, and this became more so when Islam became the dominant faith of the region, at which point they took on a Satanic cast.
A real plant, it is the false origin of the mandrake that makes them legendary. They were said to grow from the blood of hanged men, and that gave them powers of illusion. They were also said to scream when touched or otherwise harmed, and to have a man-like shape occasionally.
Vampires exist in many cultures' legends, but the most famous are arguably those of eastern European legend. They feed on the blood of hypnotized victims and are possessed with horrifying supernatural powers, like the ability to turn into a bat or a wolf, or even a cloud of mist.
An animated body consumed by greed over the possessions it bore in life, the Draugr are a form of terrifying Norse revenant. They were said to haunt their barrows and to provide a most unwelcome surprise for grave robbers.
A creature of modern myth based on the old English word for "corpse," Liches are horrifying undead sorcerers. Bound to some kind of magical jewelry that keeps them from death, the Lich is consumed with a hatred for the living due to their undead nature, and are not at all the people they once were!
The Baku is a spirit from Japanese myth. Its appearance is a hodgepodge of many creatures, with an elephant's head and trunk and a tiger's claws. It is a devourer of dreams and nightmares, and if respectfully called upon, may protect you from your darkest night terrors. Beware, however, for if it stays hungry, it will eat your hopes next!
A fairy of late Irish folklore, Leprechauns were mischievous spirits who wore green clothes and buckled shoes and guarded a secret pot of the gold at the end of a rainbow. Legend has that if you caught one, it would grant you three wishes!
Daughter of the titanic beast known as Typhon, Hydra is a many-headed serpent beast from Greek legend. Later myths would claim that when each head was decapitated, another two would grow, making it all but immortal. Hercules supposedly burned each head and kept it from regenerating, but for a single immortal head, which he buried.
Born from Egyptian myth, the Sphinx had the body of a huge lion and the head of a human being. Sphinxes in the Egyptian tradition were seen as guardians and were often found in statuary outsides temples or palaces.
A creature of European myth, werewolves walked as men most of the time, but beneath the night of a full moon would turn into ravenous wolf-men. They were all but impossible to kill, perhaps being vulnerable to silver or true faith, but perhaps not, depending on the storyteller!
The Will o' the wisp is a creature of English folklore. It is a strange faerie that takes the appearance of a mote of light hovering in the darkness, forever out of reach. It leads travelers astray from their paths, and they risk drowning in its moors and swamps.
A creature of Caribbean mythology, Zombies are associated with Voodoo beliefs. They believed that a special powder could reanimate the dead and compel the husk to obey the Voodoo practitioner. These creatures had no willpower to act on their own and were totally under their master's control.
Appearing as the ghostly form of a woman, perhaps in a grey cloak, the Banshee would roam the Irish hillsides, wailing in despair. Her crying was said to have magical force behind it, chilling the hearts of those who heard it and, in some cases, foreshadowing their own deaths.
A pan-European imagining of the incarnation of death, The Grim Reaper appears as a skeletal figure in a long black cloak, bearing a scythe, representing his role in harvesting the living. The Reaper is also occasionally pictured holding an hourglass whose time is running out and may be seen riding a pale horse.
A creature of legend from Japan, the Oni are a race of evil, horned demons. Having distorted, monstrous faces and frequently horned or having terrible fangs, Oni were seen as gluttonous, malevolent, and at least somewhat stupid, but all but unbeatable in combat.