Monsters of Myth

Hello everyone, welcome to Lukelore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. This episode is something of a slightly odd one, as Folklore and Myth aren’t quite the same thing. Ish. It’s a bit complicated. Folklore, Mythology, and Legend are all connected, but with some commonly used distinctions. Mythology is usually heavily codified, with deep religious or cultural ties. Legend is typically based in history, although not always confirmed historical events, that becomes mythologised. Folklore is a little sideways of all this. Much smaller in scope and localised, frequently handed down in the oral tradition. Not even always as a spoken narrative, but frequently in songs or rhymes. Obviously, Folklore has been steadily getting collected and written down more for decades, if not centuries, as technology has made keeping records easier and easier. It’s the source of origin distinguishing it from Myth or Legend. But you know what? It’s all mine now! I’ve blurred the lines a lot already at times, but this episode I’m making a focused effort to draw a line. It’s all folklore, and it’s all on the table for the show! SECTION BREAK – My personal favourite I don’t think this has ever actually come up on the show, or over on the main show either, but I do have an all time favourite creature out of myth and story!

That would be the Griffin.

One of Europe’s strange chimeric creatures used in heraldic devices the griffin is the front half of a giant eagle with the rear half of a lion, able to fly with the wings of its eagle half.

And to say why I latched on to them is unusual. They were just… Kind of there.

Growing up, the curtains of the kitchen were a deep red with a griffin pattern, and this just seeped into my growing mind along with all the ghost stories and folklore I soaked up with a sponge to result in me being the oddball I am today.

The griffin itself is a classical hybrid that comes from at least the bronze age, with various art from 3,000 years ago onwards depicting them. As a fusion of the king of the beasts and the king of the birds it was a symbol of power in both Egypt and Greece. Even as the spread of Christianity transformed the classical world, the church seemed to like this myth. The griffin in Christian countries became a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine. Original stories had them a little simpler, if still majestic. Griffins loved gold, and should you be able to follow one back to its nest without ending up getting eaten you could find collected gold in the nest itself as well as now knowing there is gold to be mined in the area.

Griffins don’t tend to be depicted as having human intelligence, like stories of dragons or a similar part lion creature from antiquity the Sphinx, but have pretty consistently been a wild if powerful animal.

There’s a fantasy fiction trope of riding a griffin into battle, because it was an apex death from above predator anyway so you may as well point it at the enemy and let it carry you along in full armour since it’s so strong anyway.

Technically, a griffin is always a part eagle part lion. If you start putting different animals together, you get different mythological beasts, so if you put the front half of an eagle on the back half of a horse you get a Hippogriff. But, just for fun, I highly recommend you Google up “trash griffins”. If you’re an active follower of the Ghost Story Guys Instagram you may have already seen these, the artist M. Tillery made a poster of mixtures made from two smaller common animals. So a Starling Cat, a Sparrow Mouse, and a Pigeon Rat are among them. They’re the kind of things that should definitely populate a fantasy world somewhere causing chaos. A half raven/half raccoon that would fight God for a half eaten bagel out of a bin may well be my spirit animal, it’s a fun art project to chase up. SECTION BREAK – The Goodest Boy in Hades I don’t think Cerberus, the guardian of the entrance to the Underworld, gets their due. They turn up in a lot of places in fiction, as a three headed hound, but there’s a lot more just below the surface here - as striking an image as they can be when they turn up. For a start, Cerberus is no simple beast. Like a lot of the monsters in Greek mythology, Cerberus was more accurately a God or Demigod, being the child of Typhoeus and Echidna. Based on this, they may have been able to talk as well, being a fully sentient and intelligent if monstrous looking divine being. The head count is a little low at three, too. Some sources talk more of 50 or a hundred heads, with Cerberus potential being an incredibly wild hydra style creature. Three hound heads are a very common depiction, though, and that may not just be the artist’s arm getting tired. One of the characteristics of Cerberus in some descriptions is that they have a tail made of snakes, and even snakes in their mane, so the surplus headcount could just be assorted surplus venomous heads. I say “just” like that isn’t a terrifying addition… But yeah, Cerberus is more than just a dog with two spare heads. They’re a terrifying demigod that means business. Speaking of business… In all of myth only three people are known to have successfully gotten past Cerberus. All three being renowned heroes of myth, which I call pretty damn good odds for that job given they’re making sure the realm of the dead is a one way trip for all the souls of human history. Orpheus on his quest to try and rescue Eurydice from the underworld managed to charm Cerberus with his music, the music so beautiful that Cerberus stood aside and let Orpheus pass. On a less noble note, when Aeneas visited the underworld it was with the help of drugged honey-cake that put Cerberus to sleep, which speaks to the hound nature of them I guess. This tale is where you get the phrase “a sop for Cerberus”, describing bribing an uncooperative person into being quiet. Hercules, on one of many drunken rampages, got into a fistfight with Cerberus and proceeded to choke them out despite the biting snake heads, before parading Cerberus about Greece leaving fear and panic in his wake. Not too sure whose side I was on for that one… Although the two made a united front of terrifying Eurystheus who was stupid enough to demand Hercules bring him Cerberus as one of his 12 labours, who proceeded to run away and hide in a giant pot when Hercules returned triumphant. Still, Cerberus is definitely the Goodest Boy of the Underworld, even with three mistakes to their name and an unflattering turn of phrase. Even the simpler depictions of just a three headed hound are usually a fun stand out in modern stories using them. SECTION BREAK – The elephant sized lizard in the room If I’m going to go out of my way to blunder into mythology, I don’t think I can avoid talking about Dragons.

Dragons are odd to talk about, as for all their global ubiquity, perhaps because of it, what dragons exactly do you talk about? There is a very broad West vs East approach to them, which proceeds to ignore other dragon-like depictions around the world such as the horned serpents of Native American myth renowned for their knowledge, and such examples as the South American feathered serpent God Quetzlcoatl. Let’s keep it simple-ish with a broad Old World West vs East focus. Western Dragons tend to be six limbed enormous lizards that breathe fire, although tended to be more poisonous than incendiary in classical depictions. While easily predating Christianity, once the church had become the norm across Europe dragons become linked to evil and even directly becoming manifestations of the Devil in tales told about them. Tolkien with the Hobbit further codified what exactly a dragon means to Western pop culture in a similar way to Stoker with vampires, taking assorted myth and folklore to condense down into an iconic image redefining how dragons were seen going forwards. Powerful, arrogant, smart, deadly, most definitely fire breathing and loving to hoard treasure. That they were evil was unquestionable in the stories of Middle Earth. But dragons were too awe inspiring to remain that way. Dragons are just too popular in Western pop culture to stay frozen as what Smaug had defined. Sometimes animalistic, sometimes still evil and simple in their use, dragons are everywhere and generally pretty well loved even in their villain turns. They’re no longer considered a front for the biblical devil, at least. If there’s a fantasy world, there’s generally going to be a dragon, whether it’s a subversion or an iconic interpretation - that trope is very likely to appear and be a crowd pleaser to boot. Eastern Dragons, more specifically East Asia, are a little different. Divine for starters, not demonic. Instead of the stocky almost living tank depiction of the Western Dragon those of the East are lithe and serpentine. They represent flowing water and raging storms, as opposed to fire and lurking in underground lairs. They represent knowledge, not greed.

Arrogance still comes into it, whether from some stories or in the Chinese Zodiac as a character flaw those born under the year of the Dragon need to be aware of, but I suppose it’s easy to be arrogant when you’re overwhelmingly powerful.

But there’s an interesting global response to these ultimately very different depictions.

Show people a picture of either, and that person will name you a dragon with no problem! SECTION BREAK – You are already dead At the risk of having too much of a reptile theme this episode, I wanted to bring up a myth I’ve really enjoyed over the years. That of the Hydra. I feel overexposure has lessened just how terrifying this concept for a monster is. It’s poisonous. Not as in, don’t eat it, which probably don’t do that either, but every breath it exhales is both poisonous and corrosive. Just breathing in where a Hydra breathes out is enough to melt a person. To get an obvious one out of the way, it’s also a giant lizard. It sounds simple, but you know what isn’t a giant lizard? Basically everything else. Then we get on to the really cool Hydra tricks. If you cut off one head, two more grow in its place. This is somewhat of a multiplication problem, as we’ve just gone over the small problem that this is a giant lizard that exhales acidic poison. Without strange gift of the gods magical weapons to back you up, you need to fight a Hydra the hard way. Cauterise the neck stumps as you cut the heads off, while the other heads are trying to eat you, while every breath you take may be a lung full of Hydra halitosis that melts you inside out. Then there’s the small problem of other magical properties the Hydra has. Plant Hydra teeth, get skeleton warriors from the underworld sprouting. Most people my age have very fond memories of Jason and the Argonauts, were a classic Ray Harryhausen fight follows after the teeth of the Hydra are planted and a prayer said over them. Spoilers for a classic over half a century old, those skeletons kick everyone’s ass. Could you imagine the modern military blowing up a Hydra with a missile, then all the teeth blown into the floor sprout skeletons to fight, and then the hydra they only thought was dealt with managed to regenerate into an even bigger monster while the skeletons distracted them? Where is this movie? I kind of need it! I may need to write that idea up as a Spec Script horror feature… (Update from future Luke, I have begun writing a horror Spec Script called Hydra) SECTION BREAK That’s all for this episode. I’ve joked a little today about tackling myth head on, but the show has always been open to a wider focus anyway with no small number of figures of myth hiding in previous episodes. But consider yourselves warned that we’re planning on going to some stranger places this year too, especially on some guest host spots currently in the early stages of development.

Both Cerberus and Asian Dragons already have an entry in Wanda Fraser’s Dark Art series online, with showcase blurbs provided by me. Definitely go check those out, and I’ll see if Wanda is interested in adding a Griffin or European dragon to the series. No promises there, but I’ll see if I can nudge Wanda’s muse on these two. I definitely want a Griffin!

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