Mythical creatures are deeply rooted in folklore and mythology, and many serve as inspiration for blockbuster movies and beloved animated films. While many aspects of the history of these creatures are well known, some are less so. On this list are just some of these lesser-known facts about mythological creatures.
Related: 10 ‘Little People’ Myths From Around The World
10 Leprechauns Are a Protected Species
Leprechaun: otherwise known as a tiny bearded man dressed in green and in possession of a pot of gold that is hidden at the end of a rainbow. These solitary creatures are said to be fond of making shoes and playing tricks on humans. While they are prominently featured in Irish folklore and are thought to live in a colony in Ireland, there is also an official colony in Portland, Oregon.
Columnist Dick Fagan sought to beautify a very small concrete median that had previously housed a lamppost. So he planted some flowers in the dirt in the street in front of his office in Portland in 1948. He named it Mill Ends, after his column. To spread the word about his unofficial “park,” he claimed he had seen a leprechaun rooting around in the flowers one day. So he ran outside and caught the leprechaun, who then granted him a wish. Fagan wished for a new park, and the leprechaun gave him the flowery spot he had been caught in. “Mill Ends Park” was officially dedicated on March 17, 1948, and subsequently became known as the largest leprechaun colony outside Ireland.
Leprechauns are also protected under European Union Law and have been since 2009. The law aims to preserve an area in Louth, The Sliabh Foy Loop, for flora, fauna, and leprechauns. Those who lobbied for this law claim that there are only 236 leprechauns left in Ireland and that they are all living in the Louth area.
9 Household Staples Against Fairies
Speaking of fairies (leprechauns are part of the fairy family), they originated in English folklore. The earliest writings about these creatures came from Gervase of Tilbury, a 13th-century English scholar and canon lawyer. The fairies he wrote about were both good and evil, with the evil ones causing so much fear in Ireland that it was forbidden to refer to them by name.
Houses were built with fairy travels in mind, aligning front and back doors so they could be left open at night to let the fairies pass through. Those who believe in these magical beings believe that they live in a parallel universe called the “realm of the fey” and hide from humans because we invaded their land.
Fairies are also said to love sparkly things, so if you want to avoid having your precious items stolen, you should pour a circle of salt around them to protect them. Should you run into a fairy at night, just throw breadcrumbs at it and flee.
8 The Legend of Amarok
Inuit mythology tells the tale of a giant wolf or Amarok that devours any person who hunts alone at night. Several stories feature the Amarok, including the one that tells of the boy who called out to the lord of strength to increase his own physical strength. An Amarok appeared out of nowhere and struck the boy to the ground with its tail. As the boy fell, several small bones fell around him. Stunned, the boy realized that the bones came from his own body. The Amarok told the boy that these small bones were preventing his growth and ordered him to return every day to learn how to fight. After a few days, the boy had enough strength to overpower three large bears.
The Inuit people revere the wolf and see its existence and hunting abilities as a boost in their ongoing quest for food. They also believe the wolf to be essential in maintaining big game populations. Those who want their children to grow up to be good hunters place an anklet made of a wolf’s feet and lower leg muscle fibers around the infants’ ankle. This would ensure that when the child is old enough to start hunting, he would be blessed with the speed and endurance of a wolf.
7 Mermaid Tears
Mermaids were originally considered to be half woman, half bird, but the bird part was exchanged for half fish after a dispute with the Muses. Images of mermaids were painted during the Stone Age around 30,000 years ago. Over the centuries, they became associated with misfortune and death, especially for sailors who braved the open seas. Those who wanted extra protection would carry an aquamarine gemstone as it was said that aquamarine is made from mermaid tears and would protect seamen during voyages.
One of the earliest mermaid legends was born in Syria and centered around the fertility goddess, Atargatis. Often depicted in mermaid form, Atargatis is considered by many to be the “original” mermaid.
During medieval times, the hundreds of accounts of mermaid sightings resulted in the existence of mermaids being accepted as fact for many people.
6 The Superpowers of the Phoenix
According to legend, only one phoenix lived at a time, and each one lived for 500 years. As a phoenix’s time drew near, it would build a nest and set itself on fire. Before long, a new phoenix would rise from the ashes in its place.
The Greeks and Egyptians saw the phoenix as a symbol of the sun, with one myth saying that Apollo would stop both the sun and his chariot to listen to the magnificent bird’s dawn song. The bird also symbolized renewal and rebirth, and because it once lived in Paradise, it never truly died.
The phoenix was also believed to have several powers and abilities, including an incinerating touch that could render a human to ashes in mere seconds. They were super fast, with incredible strength as well as teleportation and shapeshifting abilities. Some believe that one phoenix still inhabits Earth at any given time, awaiting its inevitable death and rebirth.
5 Modern Jinn Tale
Jinn, also known as djinn or genie, are supernatural creatures found in Islamic mythology. These spirits also have the ability to shapeshift and are made of smokeless fire and air. Furthermore, they are considered to be dual dimensional and can live in both visible and invisible realms.
While Jinn are thought of mostly in the form of a genie, such as the wish-granting one seen in the movie Aladdin, they can also be used for protection. A modern story tells of a girl who had been bullied incessantly at her boarding school. During one such incident, the bully ripped a chain from the girl’s neck. Immediately the girl began speaking in a deep male voice while her body buckled and twisted. At the same time, the bully’s tongue swelled to the point where she struggled to breathe. It was only when teachers were called to the scene that things returned to normal.
Soon it was discovered that the bullied girl’s parents had gotten the chain their daughter was wearing from a shaman. The chain contained a jinn.
4 A Persistent Omen of Death
A banshee is yet another type of fairy found in Irish folklore. The infamous scream of a banshee is said to be an omen of death. Some even believe that every family in Ireland has its own banshee. Banshees are said to be spirits who appear in several forms, including a headless woman carrying a bowl of blood and an old woman with a veil covering her face. Once they become aware of someone looking at them, they vanish into a cloud of fog.
Some banshees are extremely angry because they hated their families while they were alive. In their disembodied state, their howls are said to mean that they are celebrating the imminent demise of a family member they hated. For this reason, they are among the most feared creatures in Ireland.
To this day, the belief in banshees remains strong. In 2018, Willy Good from Cork, Ireland, shared his chilling story. He heard a terrifying howl many years ago and initially thought it came from cats prowling around his house. However, the noise moved around his walls, and cats were nowhere to be found. It went on for 45 minutes and then abruptly stopped. Willy eventually forgot about it and went to bed.
The next morning he got the dreadful news that his neighbors—a father and daughter who didn’t live far from him—both died during the night. Willy was convinced then that more than one banshee had visited his house to warn him of the impending tragedy.
3 Unicorn Prevents a War
The unicorn is one of the most beloved mythical creatures in the world. They are usually portrayed with shining white fur and a multicolored horn and mane. The legendary creature is believed to possess magical abilities, and ancient cultures described it as a real animal. It was even included in natural history books at one point. Since the early days of the Church, the unicorn has also been adopted as a symbol of Christ and his invincible strength.
Legend has it that a unicorn was instrumental in Genghis Khan’s decision not to conquer India. Khan was on his way with his army when he came across a unicorn. The unicorn bowed down to him, and Khan saw this as a message from his deceased father and decided to turn his army back.
2 From Buggy Man to Boogeyman
It is thought that the legend of the boogeyman or bogeyman may have originated in Scotland. Still, it is somewhat of an impossible task to determine which countries may have related the first tales because the legend is so widespread.
One of the most famous depictions of the boogeyman is a monster hiding under the bed in a child’s room. The boogeyman takes on different forms depending on the country: In England, it is a shadowy ghost; in Germany, it is a goblin; in Russia, it’s Baba Yaga; and in Mexico, it is La Llorona.
In the UK, it is believed that the boogeyman was once the “nickname” of the buggy men who were responsible for collecting the dead during the Black Plague. Because these buggy men were constantly in contact with dead people, they often contracted the disease and became emaciated and extremely pale. This appearance is what is thought to have led to them eventually being called boogeymen.
1 The Mystery of Dragons
Much like boogeymen, it is unclear where exactly the legends of dragons first emerged. What is known is that they had been described as early as the times of the ancient Greeks.
For thousands of years, people had no idea what the massive fossils meant that were occasionally being discovered around the world. Therefore, a connection was made to dragons instead of dinosaurs. Dragons were soon seen as villains that needed to be slain by brave fighters, and they were cast in the role of Satan by the Christian church. The fire-breathing mouth of a dragon was also believed to be the entrance to hell.
Medieval folklore included the tale of St. Margaret of Antioch, who was thrown in prison for her Christian beliefs. Legend has it that a dragon was lurking in the prison cell, and as soon as she entered it, the dragon swallowed her whole. God gave St. Margaret the power to burst through the dragon’s stomach, which led to her survival and the dragon’s death. St. Margaret eventually became the patron saint of childbirth.