Mermaids, Vampires, Werewolves and Centaurs among many others are very familiar mythical creatures in the imaginary world we create in drawings, games and films. We know that their origins goes much further back into ancient history. But did these ancient people really believe in such mythical creatures? Are mythical creatures real?
Ye Old Tales
According to Geoffery of Mammoth (11th century) the first people of Britain were said to be tall powerful Giants led by formidable leaders such as Albion. However the Giants became extinct at the arrival of Brutus and his army. Rabelais built whole genealogies of Giants from Biblical to the Renaissance. But, 'Giants' could have been people who were 1ft taller than humans. No big deal. But what about the stranger mythical creatures? The Afnac of Wales created floods by swinging its beaver tail, the Jinshin Mushi produced earthquakes and primordial beings like Ymir and Pan-Gu created the world. Scientific understanding has replaced these tales but these myths or personifications has helped people understand their world more easily. (More recently when Russian spacecrafts went missing it was believed that they were eaten by the Great Galactic Ghoul). But then again who knew what lived in the English channel or under Japan? Others beings like the Banshee were simply ancient deities who became lowly beings as religious beliefs changed.
Bones of the Earth
Many mythical creatures go against the laws of science. Take the Dragon as an example, a beast so big that its body mass does not enable it to fly. In comparison the Ostrich is much smaller and cannot fly. But original evidence of these mythical creatures sprang up when their skeletons were discovered. When skeletal structures of long fish were found in the mountains the most suitable explanation at the time was that the long 'lizard' must have flown there. Archaeologists now speculate that the sea creature's body sunk to the sea bed, and over time the sea bed was pushed up to become a mountain. Skeletons of the Archaeopteryx, a dinosaur with wings was the basis for the Griffin and Basilisk. A rhino's skull was believed to be that of the Cyclops (the hole for the horn looked like an eye socket). Science can not always be sure what is extinct. Mythical creatures such as the Basilosaurus, Australopithecus and Neanderthals are apparently extinct but these may be living as Nessie, Bigfoot and as Tsiatko respectively.
If you were to read the likes of mythical creatures found in the ancient Chinese bestiaries like Congcong, Diniao and Xiao, it would be easy to believe that these were simply mutations of ordinary animals. But if you were to see a dog of 6 legs when travelling in the unexplored mountains it would be easy to assume that a whole race of them live there. In the West babies that were born deformed underpinned people faith in God as it seemed that God had failed in his creation of man, and was not a perfect creator. In <i>'City of God'</i> (c. 5th century), St. Augustine solved this by stating that for every child born abnormally different, God had created a human race just the same.
What the Heck Was That?
Many accounts of mythical creatures are said to have been exaggerations of what was really encountered. Stephen Asma in <i>'On Monsters'</i> (2010) states beasts fought by Alexander the Great and his army were hugely exaggerated psychologically fear arises, perceptions are distorted. Accounts of fabulous beasts left New World explorers like Christopher Columbus disappointed when they found no evidence of mythical creatures. Many sightings of mythical creatures were later found to be ordinary animals such as Rosmarus, a walrus and Manta, a stingray. Leonardo Da Vinci said that to describe a new animal you need to base it on a known one. Thus when these mythical creatures are taken literally they sound very strange. Could the head of a dog be a way of describing the head of a mandrill?
I may be bursting many bubbles here as modern science and documentation of species has pushed mythical creatures to the edge of extinction. But we have not explored the Otherworld that may intertwine with ours. Shamans, and other holy beings conversed with spirits of the spirit realms and people claim to have seen Angels. The flying Gurudas and hissing Nagas were believed to have existed when times were more auspicious and the realms were easily crossed. We should not leave out the Tulpa; a being that comes to life from ones imagination through the power of meditation. There is much to consider.
But speculation and doubt of so many if not all mythical creatures arose from Jenny Hanivers, creatures that seemed to be real but were later proved as a hoax. It is an art that has been practised for many years that became popular in Antwerp, Belgium to would sew together animal corpses making them look like real mythical creatures.
So what of the Mermaid, Vampire Werewolf and Centaur? The Mermaid comes from sightings, perhaps a mistaken sight of sea-lions or dugongs, Vampires a possible premature burial and Werewolves people suffering from lycanthropy. The Centaur is the strangest of all but the Black Devil from South America could explain much. Yet these stories fill our hunger for imagination and have found their way into the ancient Greek plays all the way through to the Hollywood movies. Whether they are perhaps real or false they are sources great inspiration and joy.
Article by Richard Egan from MythBeasts