Mythology is one of the best premises a book can offer me when I’m looking to read something new! Many people use mythology, legend and folklore interchangeably… Did you know that a myth is simply a story created to explain natural phenomena? Today we have science but ancient people relied on myths to understand their natural environment. Everyone knows about Greek and Norse mythology but instead of nature taking part in the explanations gods and deities were used.
Now legends are a little different in that they don’t explain so much as relate events from a culture’s past and can get rather large in the telling. Folklore are more down to earth, are meant to entertain and almost never reference gods. The world is a very big place and there are all sorts of stories from mythology, legends and folklore that can be tapped into for inspiration… The more obscure the better! Lets meet some of the obscure mythological monsters I found for inspiration…
The Aztec culture comes from Central Mexico from 1300-1521 when three tribes banded together. They are technically a specific ethnic group but share many traits with the other people from the time. They believed in a pantheon of gods and many legendary creatures are associated with the Aztec mythology.
One is the ohuican chaneque which are small, sprite like beings similar to fairies but which are connected to elemental forces as guardians of nature. They make their home in the underworld and come to earth through a dry kapok tree. They confuse people who wander in the jungle and you must yell Juan 3 times to break the spell or become lost or worse.
The ahuizotl has fur which clumps into spikes due to the waterproof nature and is of a dog-like size. Due to its raccoon like hands it is supremely capable especially with the added benefit of a third hand on the end of its tail. If you appear near their watery lairs they will grab you with their tail and drag you down into the depths of their home to eat your eyes and feast on your nails and teeth. It is a natural creature who does the work of the god Tlaloc as those drowned by it are destined for paradise.
Hawaii is full of legends that mingle islander folklore with Japanese myths. Many of these revolve around water.
One of these are the nanaue, shark men who come from Hawaiian mythology. Nanaue was the son of the shark king and a maiden. He was born with a gaping fish mouth on his back but his mother hid it from the people. The king warned her not to feed their son meat. One day she gave in to his desire for meat and he shape-shifted into a shark man then went on a rampage around the islands eating maidens.
Another is the Mo’o, a giant lizard dressed in jet black scales that glisten. Thought to be guardian deities, they can shapeshift from huge dragons to small geckos and even to seductive women thus their ability to elude capture. Making their homes in underwater caves, pools or deep ponds, you can find their remains in the rock formations left behind as their bodies rotted. As a final protection they have the power to control water and the weather plus they aren’t afraid of using those for defense. You can check before entering water by offering a branch or flower and if it flows away swiftly then the area is occupied.
Iran is the birthplace of Persian mythology and has many similar legends and folklore as associated with medieval Europe.
The shadhavar is a creature whose bones gift music. Similar to the unicorn but with the body of a gazelle their horn has 42 hollow branches that when wind passes through them produces a sound so pleasant and seductive that animals come from far and wide to listen. When such a horn is taken it can be played on like a flute with one side producing an upbeat cheerful tune while the other a mournful, depressing shriek. Rumor has it that shadhavar attack their audience for food but it is believed that they can’t possibly be carnivores hence it is discounted.
Another they have is a phoenix like relative. The simurgh is a giant bird able to carry off an elephant with the plumage of a peacock and the head of a dog and the claws of a lion. It’s female and benevolent roosting the the Tree of Life, in the center of the world sea. When she took flight the seeds of all plants that had been deposited on it dropped out and floated on the winds all across the world. She gives out golden feathers to those she loves so she may be called to their side in times where they need her aid.
Japanese Folklore has a huge number of creature stories centered on yokai or supernatural monsters whose purpose range from the malevolent to the mischievous, but if the human reacts appropriately can bring them good fortune.
One fascinating yokai is the enenra which literally means lightweight fabric smoke and you guessed it is composed of smoke and darkness. It lives inside bonfires and when the time is right emerges in a human form. There is a legend that when certain people have died they’ve turned into a rare form of enenra who people have mistaken for a grim reaper.
The raijū is a legendary thunder beast from Japanese mythology whose shape might mimic that of a wolf, dog, fox, cat or weasel. It’s body is composed of lightening and can fly about like a lightening ball. It’s cry is the sound of thunder. It is a calm beast and harmless to humans except during thunderstorms when it will leap about trees, fields and building agitated until the weather calms.
There are many different myths surrounding the varied Native American nations but a few of these even cross tribe boundaries as belief in them spread far and wide.
The tah-tah-kle’-ah is a race of monstrous owl-women, by the time the Yakama Indians came to know them there were only five of the women left. They live in caves and enjoyed the flesh of children but would eat all manner of vermin that are considered inedible to most other animals. They lure in humans by mimicking their language. Legend says that when one of these owl-women drowned an entire species of owls were created using her eye and that owl is now an omen of death universally to almost all Native American tribes.
Teihiihan are thought to be child-sizes monsters, strong, bloodthirsty and fierce fighters who can outrun an Arapaho warrior. These cannibal dwarves often attack in large numbers and appear in many oral stories from many different Native American nations. One of the most dreaded of figures it is said that in a previous life these were fearsome warriors who died in battle and now must return to fight again.
Africa is filled with many different nations and communities each with their own folklore and legends.
The tikoloshe comes from Zulu mythology. It is an evil-spirited gremlin sent by a shaman to vex his enemies. They are much shorter than the corpse from which they are made, hairy, withered and grey which you can rarely glimpse as they can become invisible at will by swallowing a pebble. Their eyes have been gouged out but it is able to use its other senses to move around. They can be used to simply scare you, cause an illness or even in extreme cases cause death!
The adze comes from legends of the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. It is a vampire that can take the form of a firefly. When you capture one though it changes into a human appearance all the better to attack you and eat your organs. Of course if you are mightier you can slay it in this form… as an insect it will suck your blood and spread malaria and other diseases. Those who are victimized by the adze are possessed by them and become a witch.