Exploring our Fantasy Beasts of the Wizarding Realm bundle
Exploring our Fantasy Worlds With Safari Ltd
With our Fantasy Beasts of the Wizarding Realm bundle, you’ll get five fantastical creature figures (and one real world animal) to help you explore a world of imagination. Let’s learn more about these creatures, and their origins in mythology and folklore!
Unlike the other creatures in this set, the snowy owl is a real animal. It lives in the far northern regions of North America, Europe and Asia where it’s very cold. The snowy owl’s bright white fur help it blend in with its Arctic habitat. Unlike other owls that hunt at night, snowy owls are mostly active during the daylight hours.
While owls are real animals, they have a strong history of symbolism in mythology. In African cultures, owls are often seen as bad omens. Conversely, in Asian cultures, the opposite is often true. In most Western and European cultures, owls are seen as beings of great wisdom. This goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, where the owl was associated with the Athena, the goddess of wisdom.
In many Native American cultures of North and South America, the owl is often associated with death and destruction. Some tribes, like the Apache and Seminole, have historically linked the owl’s hooting noises to the sounds made by boogeymen, to warn children to behave. On the other hand, some tribes, including the Pawnee, see the owl as a protector, keeping people safe from harm and danger.
We move now from a real bird to a completely mythical one: the Phoenix. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Phoenix is a fiery bird, associated with the sun. According to the myth, the Phoenix burns up at the end of its life, only to be reborn again from the ashes.
Phoenixes are often depicted as fiery birds, with gleaming red, yellow and orange feathers that give the appearance of being on fire. It is said that they may live up to 500 years before the cycle of rebirth begins again.
Though the Phoenix legend is believed to originate in Ancient Greece, there are some connections that point to Ancient Egypt as well. Additionally, many cultures have similar legends of fiery birds, including the Firebird of Russia, the Garuda of Hindu culture, and the Fenghuang of East Asia.
Expanding on the subject of mythical birds, we come to the Hippogryph, a mythical and fantastical beast that is part bird and part horse. The front half of a Hippogryph is that of an eagle, while the back half is that of a horse.
The Hippogryph is Ancient Greek in its origins. Its name comes from the word hippo, meaning horse, and Gryffon or Griffon, a mythical half eagle, half lion creature. The Hippogryph is the symbol of Apollo, god of the sun.
Some view the Hippogryph as a symbol of undying love, since its two parent creatures – the horse and the Griffon, are known to be natural enemies. Hippogryphs are noted for their incredible speed, and their ability to fly across the entire world. In some literature, they are even said to be able to fly to the moon!
Discussing the Hippogryph is a convenient way to shift from mythical birds to mythical horses. The most famous mythical horse-like creature of them all is the Unicorn. The Unicorn resembles a horse in many ways, but can be differentiated by the large spiral horn that sprouts from its forehead.
The Unicorn is prominently featured in many Ancient Greek texts, but its origins go much further back, as Unicorns are seen in art of the Indus Valley civilizations of 2000 BC. The Ancient Greeks did not include Unicorns among mythical creatures, instead believing at the time that they were absolutely real creatures.
Unicorns are often viewed as symbols of purity and nature, being wild and untamed creatures. Their horns were believed to be able to cure sickness and make poisoned water drinkable. Though they are often shown to be completely white, black Unicorns are also occasionally shown in artwork.
There are some real life animals that may have given rise to the myth of the Unicorn. One is the rhinoceros. While some species of rhino have two horns, others – like the Indian rhino – have one nose horn. If someone who had never seen a rhinoceros was only told about what one looked like, they might envision an animal similar to the Unicorn.
Another creature that may have helped spread the Unicorn myth is the narwhal. The narwhal is a type of whale with a long, spiraling horn sprouting from the forehead of male individuals. These horns are remarkably similar to what Unicorn horns are said to look like. It is believed that people long ago sold narwhale horns as “Unicorn” horns.
Our last two fantastical beasts are neither horse nor bird. Both of our final creatures are in the dog family. Cerberus, according to Ancient Greek mythology, is the “Hound of Hades”, who guards the gates of the Underworld. Cerberus is often depicted as a dog or wolf with three snarling heads.
Though usually shown with three, the number of heads Cerberus is shown to possess was not always consistent in artistic depictions, though it was almost always more than one. He also is occasionally shown with the tail of a snake or dragon. He was the son of Typhon, a monstrous giant with multiple snake-like heads. Cerberus had many brothers which also featured numerous heads, including the Hydra, a huge serpent-like monster, and the Chimera, which featured the heads of a lion, a goat, and a serpent.
In Greek mythology, the hero Hercules was tasked by a king to complete twelve tasks, or “labors”. The final labor was to travel to the Underworld and capture the hound Cerberus. Hercules asked the master of Cerberus, the god Hades, for permission to take Cerberus out of the Underworld, which Hades granted as long as Hercules could capture Cerberus without using weapons.
Hercules succeeded, capturing Cerberus with his bare hands and bringing him before the king. The king was so frightened of the monstrous dog that he begged Hercules to return him to Hades, and freed Hercules from having to perform any further labors.
Though there are some instances of humans turning into wolves in Greek mythology, the myth of the Werewolf as we currently know it developed mostly in the Middle Ages, and was largely a way for the religion of Christianity to interpret the symbols and myths of other, non-Christian civilizations. In modern times, Werewolves remain a popular subject matter for fantasy books, movies and other media.
A Werewolf, according to most legends, is a human that has been cursed with “lycanthropy”. Often the curse is spread by being bitten by a Werewolf. Every full moon, the cursed are said to turn from humans into beastly, monstrous wolves. Often, when they turn back into their human form, they have no memory of what they have done during the night.
Werewolves are said to be vulnerable to silver. There are many beliefs on how a Werewolf can be “cured”, including subjecting them to extreme physical activity, or using a plant called wolfsbane. Unfortunately, many of these attempts through the ages to cure what is not a real affliction did not work out very well for those who were supposedly “cursed”.
We hope that learning a bit about the history of these fantastical mythical monsters will help inspire your imagination as you create your own amazing adventures with these fascinating creatures of make believe.