Some mythical creatures sure know how to hog the limelight; such as the unicorn and the centaur. However, there are a wealth of other weird and wonderful entities out there, hidden away in little-known folklore tales across the world. From blood-sucking beasts (that aren’t vampires) to noisy underground spirits, here’s a look at some of the oddest mythical beings – some of them benevolent, others definitely from the wrong side of the tracks.
10) The Knockers. Ever heard of Stephen King’s book, The Tommyknockers? Well, delve into folklore, and you’ll realise that the original ‘knockers’ weren’t sinister aliens at all, but actually little subterranean spirits. Knockers hail from Cornwall, Devon and Wales in the UK, and according to legend, they love nothing more than to knock on the walls of a tin mine just before a cave-in – alerting the miners and leading them to safety.
However, not all the stories depict them as kindly folk. Some tales say that it’s their knocking that causes the cave-ins in the first place. Others believe that the mischievous knockers like to lead miners further and further underground, until they’re unable to find their way back again. Whatever the knockers were up to, the miners wisely decided to take no chances. In recognition of these noisy spirits (and to keep them happy), they always left the last bite of their Cornish Pasty on the floor for them to eat. Failure to do so would undoubtedly arouse the anger of the spirits that shared the mines with them.
9) The Nue. Fancy meeting a beast that’s a mix of tiger, racoon, snake and monkey? No, neither do we! The alarming nue is a combination of all these animals, and unsurprisingly, the Japanese believe that they’re a bringer of ill-fortune and misery. Thanks to its strange appearance, this yokai (spirit) is sometimes referred to as the ‘Japanese chimera’, and like its Asia Minor counterpart, it has a talent for wreaking serious havoc!
One ancient Japanese tale tells of a nue and an Emperor. The poor Emperor in question, after having been plagued with nightmares for weeks, became seriously ill; and a dark cloud appeared above the roof of the palace. He hired a brave samurai warrior to investigate before it was too late. The samurai kept watch one night, eyes fixed on the rolling black cloud, then with lightning speed, he fired an arrow into it. After a moment or two, the dead nue came tumbling out. The locals buried the monster quickly, though afterwards said that the mound under which it was buried was cursed.
8) The Drop Bear. The drop bear is a favourite Australian tale, designed to petrify unsuspecting tourists. In simple terms, this mythical beast is an enormous koala with a twist; it’s wild and likes to feast on human flesh. So, how big are we talking here? Well, most people agree that it’s around the size of a leopard or large dog, with matted orange fur, muscular forearms and a set of fearsome teeth.
Like its smaller, cuddlier relative, the drop bear rests in eucalyptus trees during the day. However, that’s where the similarities end. Unlike your standard koala, it has a habit of dropping down onto the head of its victim and eating them. Apparently, a dab of vegemite behind the ear is enough to deter them, though make sure you wash it off before going out in public afterwards. Alternatively, walking through the bush with a sharp object held above your head might do the trick. It may all sound far-fetched, but some experts believe the drop bear myth might have stemmed from people discovering the bones of the ancient of the marsupial lion, which went extinct many thousands of years ago. Who knows, maybe there are still one or two of the ancient lions around, lurking in the trees of Australia…
7) The Nasnas. This folkloric creature from the Middle East really is the stuff of nightmares. Depicted as half a human, with only one arm, one leg, half a torso and half a head, this monstrous spirit manages to hop around with alarming agility. It can also shapeshift and has a particular fondness for transforming into a little old man, tricking its victims into helping it, then launching an attack. To make matters even worse, some versions of the legend claim that the nasnas also has bat-like wings and can pounce on people from above.
What about after it’s caught up with you? Well, some say that a single touch from the nasnas can strip the flesh from your body in a matter of seconds. Others report that you get beaten to death by the nasnas’s one good hand. Now there’s a pleasant thought to take away with you.
6) The Impundulu. Sometimes called the Lightning Bird, this supernatural creature hails from South Africa and is as large as a human, with a taste for consuming as much flesh as it could get its claws on. As the nickname suggests, this canny beast can also summon up lightning, and is able to transform into different forms.
In fact, the impundulu likes to change into a human from time to time, and has no issues with attacking people, then drinking their blood. Witches and witch doctors were said to be particularly fond of these mythical birds and kept them as their protective, powerful familiars, before passing them down to their children. However, there was a catch. Failure to keep the impundulu well-fed would result in the creature immediately turning on its owner, which given its vast appetite, was no mean feat.
5) The Loogaroo. Okay, we’ll admit, we chose this one because it has an amazing name. The loogaroo is a particularly unpleasant demon from West Indian folklore and is a kind of vampire / werewolf hybrid. The name is actually a mutation of Loup Garou¸ which means werewolf in French.
However, there are some key difference between a loogaroo and its vampire / werewolf relatives. For starters, loogaroos are normally old women, and they’re in league with the Devil. Like a werewolf, this eerie creature can shapeshift at will, then sneak into people’s houses and suck their blood. As with all good supernatural blood-suckers, if they drain too much blood, the hapless victim will end up becoming a loogaroo too. Did we mention that the loogaroo can also change into a ball of blue light? Keep an eye out for it when you’re next wandering around the West Indies in the dark.
4) The Gowrow. What sort of mythical beast likes to lurk in the caves and lakes of Arkansas, and pounce on passers-by? It’s the gowrow! This fearsome-looking creature reputedly grows to twenty-feet long and is reptilian in appearance, with a set of huge tusks. Its name comes from the sound that it makes as it creeps through the dark caves; not that you’d want to be close enough to hear it.
One enterprising Arkansan citizen told his local town that he’d captured a gowrow and was charging people an admittance fee to come and see it. However, unsurprisingly, he told his audience that the creature had escaped, causing pandemonium as the townspeople fled back home in a state of panic. Think it all sounds pretty far-fetched? Well amazingly, there’s a documented account of the remains of a gowrow being discovered in a cave, along with plenty of animal bones around it. And yes, you guessed it, some of those bones were human.
3) The Am Fear Liath Mor. When you’re next in Scotland, make sure to visit Ben MacDhui, the second tallest mountain in the country. Legend has it that a ten-foot ape-like creature haunts its summit and causes feelings of dread and panic in all those who venture too close. Like many Scottish legends, this creature has a name that’s hard to pronounce, which is probably why it often goes by the name ‘The Grey Man’ instead.
Some people claim to have seen or heard the terrifying ape, lumbering up the mountain-side. One such person was John Norman Collie, a scientist. He encountered the Am Fear Liath Mor in 1890 but was so terrified by his experience that he didn’t report it until 35 years later. He claimed: “I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch, and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.” He concluded by saying: “I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.” We can’t say we blame him.
2) The Alkonost. According to Russian legend, the alkonost is a mythical being with the body of a bird and the head of a beautiful female, who lives in Heaven or the underworld, depending which story you want to believe. Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, when she sings she makes men forget everything, which makes her pretty dangerous indeed.
However, it’s not just singing that this folklore entity specialises in. When she’s ready to lay her eggs, she comes down to earth and rolls them in the sea. After seven days, the eggs crack open and storms break out across the water, making it impossible for sailors to travel. In fact, some versions of this legend claim that the alkonost is very particular about the weather and will adjust it to suit her mood at the time.
1) The Baubas. Here’s one creature guaranteed to keep you up at night. The baubas hails from Lithuania, and is a black, spindly limbed demon with flashing red eyes and wrinkled fingers. He also has an unfortunate taste for stealing naughty children and making them disappear forever. Yes, you guessed it, this is Lithuania’s answer to the bogeyman – only far, far more frightening.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, this horrific beast doesn’t live in a remote forest or cave. He’s said to reside right in the comfort of your own house, under the carpet or bed. As such, the baubas is often used as a threat to misbehaving children to change their ways, or risk being dragged off to who knows where by a bona fide demon. Now there’s a comforting thought!
Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger is also available, and The Case of the Hidden Daemon is coming soon!