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From evil spirits and destructive demons … to the legendary Sphinx and Wendigo (wendy-go) … Here are 14 of the most bizarre beasts from myth and folklore
Legends from India and Africa say that this beast emerges to feed only on human corpses. At about 3 feet (1 m), it’s described as displaying the physical straits of several different animals. That includes a skeletal body with badger-like forearms, the hindquarters of a bear, and human ears mounted on a rabbit-like noggin. It’s said to make a soft crooning sound as it eats human carrion, which is its only food source. Some sources think this legendary beast might be connected to sightings of Old World porcupines.
Known as a male forest spirit, this creature originates in Slavic folklore. It will often appear like a tall, pale-skinned man with hair and beard composed of vines and grass. But sometimes he’s depicted as having hooves, horns, and a tail. Often seen in the company of bears and grey wolves, the Leshy is thought to protect wild animals and trees. In fact, the creature can also assume the shape of plant life ranging from a blade of grass to towering trees. While some accounts describe them as mischievous, other accounts offer a darker perspective. The leshy is said to enjoy luring human travelers to their caves where the victims are tickled to death.
#12 Namazu (nah-mah-zoo)
This giant catfish is said to exist in the mud underneath the Japanese islands, and is held accountable for causing earthquakes. Other stories claim Namazu lives under the Earth where it swims through underwater seas and rivers, causing destruction as it travels. It is subdued by the thunder god Kashima, who uses a stone to restrain the catfish. Some sources think the mythical Namazu could be linked to a long-held notion that catfish will become active just before an earthquake strikes. When people in ancient times observed this activity, they reasoned that the quakes were related to humongous catfish. Or so the story goes. What do you think?
#11 Garuda (ghar-oo-dah)
This bird-like creature appears in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain mythologies. Known as the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu, he’s also regarded as the king of all birds and is the enemy of all snakes. He’s either depicted as a giant bird with open wings, or as a man with wings and birdlike features. That includes huge talons and the formidable beak of a bird of prey. Garuda is a powerful protector figure who can swiftly travel anywhere. In ancient Indian epics, his wings flap powerfully enough to stop the Earth from spinning. Did you know Garuda appears in the state insignia of many countries, including Thailand and Indonesia? The Indian air force uses him in their coat of arms.
#10 The Wolpertinger (voll-per-tin-gher)
This creature is found in German folklore, and inhabits the Bavarian Alpine forests. Accounts vary, but the beast is said to exhibit the body of a squirrel, the legs of a pheasant, a rabbit’s head, wings, and the antlers of a deer. This animal resembles other found in other folklore, such as the American Jackalope, which resembles a jackrabbit with the horns of an antelope. It shares some similarities with the Elwedritsche (el-wid-dritch), which is an animal that resembles a chicken with antlers. Today, stuffed animal versions of the Wolpertinger are sold as souvenirs. And the creature is on permanent display at the German Hunting and Fishing Museum in Munich.
#9 The Toad Monster
There are a few variations on this creature that was worshipped throughout Pre-Columbian Meso-America. Known as Tlaltecuhtli (towel-tek-kut-lee), some sources say the Aztecs viewed it as a monster that formed the basis of their story of creation. While it could be interpreted as male or female, most accounts refer to it as an earth goddess that was identified with fertility. Interpreted as a type of toad monster with an enormous mouth, fangs, and clawed feet, she was thought to require regular blood sacrifices. That was the only way to maintain the world’s order, since she was believed to be the source of all living things. And maybe she still is. In 2006 a massive monument to this deity was excavated in the center of Mexico City that weighed some 24,000 pounds (11 metric tons). It’s one of the largest Aztec monoliths yet recovered!