Mythological creatures come in all shapes and sizes, but it seems the same old creatures always hog the headlines. We constantly hear about gremlins, zombies, gorgons and cyclops — but now it’s time for some lesser-known creatures to shine. Ten of the more obscure mythological creatures appear below, a collection that includes messenger squirrels, horse-headed, human-bodied tricksters, and gigantic, thrashing catfish that supposedly cause earthquakes. Since it’s tough to rank bizarre qualities, these mythological creatures are ranked based on their alleged deadliness.
Sirens may scream over the sea, but Sirins sing sweetly in the skies. Bearing the face of a woman and body of a bird, these creatures of Russian legend actually stem from the Greek myth of the sirens, with the same ability to lure followers to their deaths. Later Sirin legends painted them in a more positive light, as they became symbols of harmony, everlasting joy and happiness straight from heaven. Russian settlers even used Sirin illustrations in the Bible, with the Sirins perched atop trees in paradise. The beautiful-faced birds are often found flitting about on postcards, early religious writings, gold pendants and pottery.
We’ve all heard not to shoot the messenger, and that may hold true even in the case of the gossipy messenger of Norse myth known as Ratatoskr. Ratatoskr is a sharp-toothed squirrel that scampers up and down Yggdrasil, which is the Norse world tree, carrying messages back and forth between an eagle that sits atop the tree and a worm that lives beneath the tree’s roots. Information must come fast and furious, as Ratatoskr has been popping up in Norse poetry and prose since the 13th century. One theory for the origin of the weird squirrel likens Ratatoskr to malicious gossips, explaining why the messenger role went to a lowly animal. Another says the role may have arisen due to the tree squirrel’s shrieking warning call, which can easily sound like he’s screaming nasty things.
Suffer from excruciating nightmares? Ever wake up with a weight on your chest, unable to move or breathe? That may be the work of the Bakhtak, a creepy being of Persian folklore that sits on your chest while you’re sleeping. No one is quite sure why the Bakhtak takes such glee in filling you with bad dreams or causing near-suffocation and sleep paralysis, but we do know the Bakhtak gets around. The Bakhtak of Iranian fame is often depicted as a little goblin-like creature, but the same concept takes on the guise of an Old Hag in English folklore and is similar to the Mara of Scandinavian origin.
7. Lambton Worm
We can thank John Lambton for the existence of the Lambton Worm. English folklore says the creature only exists because Lambton didn’t feel like going to church one day. Lambton instead went fishing. He caught a small worm-like thing, became convinced it was Satan, and threw it in a nearby well. Years later, Lambton left to fight in the Crusades, and while he was away, the worm grew to massive proportions, eating livestock and wreaking havoc in the surrounding village. No one could kill it — except Lambton, after his return. But Lambton did not follow all the special instructions for the kill, resulting in a curse on his family for nine generations. Lambton men in the first three generations actually did die before their time. Today, there’s a Worm Hill in the village of Fatfield, in northeast England, where the worm supposedly lived.
The Loch Ness monster may lurk in Scotland, but the Irish have their own mysterious cryptid water creature, the Dobhar-chu. Smaller and quicker than lumbering ol’ Nessie, Dobhar-chu have been described as “water hounds” that swish through the waters using their orange, flipper-like feet to propel their fur-clad bodies. They are described as a mix between a dog and an otter or a dog and a fish and have allegedly killed humans. Granted, the last death attributed to the Dobhar-chu happened in the 17th century when a woman was attacked while washing her clothes at a lake. Her husband managed to kill the Dobhar-chu, and the creature’s mate that subsequently came after him, but that did not kill off the myth. Dobhar-chu have allegedly been spotted as recently as 2003, when Irish artist Sean Corcoran spied one on Omey Island.
A trip to the Philippines may include sandy white beaches and snorkeling among the coral, but it can also include being tricked and led astray by the folkloric creature Tikbalang. With the head and feet of a horse and body of a human, this extremely long-limbed creature likes to hide under bridges or in thick trees and groves. He can turn himself fully human or become invisible altogether. Legend says it is possible to tame a Tikbalang, but only if you somehow manage to rip out one of the sharp spines that make up his mane and then use the spine as a talisman to subdue the creature. To do this you must first jump onto his back, hold on as he bucks like a raging bull and then tie him up with a special cord. Good luck.
Traveling in the Philippines can also mean getting your blood sucked dry by a mythological Sigbin. These goat-faced creatures can supposedly suck your blood through your shadow, which is an especially incredible feat since they supposedly lurk about only at night. In addition to their vomitous odor, they are known for their large ears they clap above their heads, their lengthy back legs and whip-like tail, and their ability to become invisible. Legend says families with the power to control Sigbin keep the creatures in clay jars. Others believe Sigbin sightings have actually been sightings of a new species of animal.
Don’t invite a tribe of Blemmyes to dinner — unless you want to be on the menu. Originally thought to be from Africa, Blemmyes are often called acephalous monsters, referring to the headless nature of their human bodies. Their lack of head, however, doesn’t mean they lack a man-eating mouth. Their eyes and mouths just so happen to be in the middle of their chests. These cannibalistic creatures were first mentioned in the ancient world by Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC, and they were later noted in the work of Roman author Pliny the Elder. Blemmyes-like creatures were also mentioned as the Anthropophagi in Shakespeare’s Othello. They continue to pop up in modern literature, sometimes with traits that include a special language or armed with weapons such as blow darts and spears.
Move over, Godzilla — here comes Gashadakuro. This behemoth beast of Japanese folklore, also known as Odokuro, is a giant human skeleton. Gashadakuro’s bones supposedly come from starvation victims and are part of a monster that is said to stand more than 80 feet tall. Gashadakuro’s main goal is biting the heads off humans, and don’t bother trying to keep an eye out for his arrival. The only way you know he’s coming is by a ringing in your ears.
If you’ve ever wondered why Japan has so many earthquakes, you can believe the seismologists, who point to Japan’s location in the volatile region known as the Ring of Fire. Or you can believe Japanese mythology, which blames the frequent quakes on a creature known as Namazu. Namazu is a massive catfish that inhabits the mud beneath the earth’s surface. Although he’s usually restrained by the god Kashima, the god can sadly let his guard down from time to time. When that happens, Namazu begins to violently thrash about, resulting in violent quakes. Namazu is so engrained in Japanese culture he is pictured on many of the country’s earthquake-warning devices. Namazu remains a delicate topic in Japan — a Pokemon episode featuring a similar catfish monster, Whiscash, was banned when it was scheduled too soon after several earthquakes.