Category Archives: Mythological Beasts and Spirits

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Norns

Norse mythology seems to have been developed more recently than Greek mythology, and some of its entities apparently reflect this. For example, the Norns bear certain similarities the the three Fates. The Norns are also female spirits, a trio of sisters whose names exhibit wide variations in spelling, depending on the source. I will use the names from the glossary at the back of my copy of the Poetic Edda: Skuld, Urth, and Verthandi. These three were said to determine the fates of gods and men. They spun these fates by Urd, the well of destiny at the a base of Yggdrasil, the tree which connects the nine worlds. Those of you who have seen The Avengers: Age of Ultron might recall a scene which alludes to the Norns and Urd without explaining them.

For my story, The Fear of a Farmer (copyrighted but not yet published), I took some artistic license and moved them out to sea. There, they utter false prophecies to dissuade the hero from his appointed task.

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Norns from The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: Robert Lambert Jones III).

Here is a portrait of one of the Norns. I wanted to show more facial detail to develop her visual character.

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A Norn from The Fear of a Farmer (copyright: Robert Lambert Jones III).

After I had done this, I looked up some paintings by more regarded artists. I was interested to compare my black and white renderings to theirs. This one is supposedly titled The Norns and was allegedly done by Arthur Rackham. I can verify neither the title nor the artist. I have my suspicions since the style of this one is so different than that of another one attributed to him.

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Here is an eerie depiction of the Norns over a cradle.

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The Norns (1889) by Johannes Gerts.

The Norns in this picture are shown at the base of Yggdrasil. Well, technically, Yggdrasil was an ash tree, not an oak.

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The Norns Uror, Veroandi, and Skul under the world oak Yggdrasil (1882) by Ludwig Burger.

Another black and white….

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Die Helden Und Gotter Des Nordens, Oder: Das Buch Der Sagen (1832) by Amalia Schoppe.

… and a couple in color.  Both are titled (guess what?) The Norns. I’m fairly confident that the first of these actually is by Arthur Rackham. The second was also attributed to him, but I am not as confident of this. It is, however, an interesting abstraction that plays on the imagination.

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In both of these examples, I like the ethereal use of color. Additionally, the utilization of silhouettes in this last illustration adds to its effectiveness.

One more portrayal…

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The Norns by C. E. Brock.

… and out.

Next week: another mythological being.

 

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Griffin

Then silently it landed with its wings completely spread But never moved its gaze from Galen's face it must be said. The monarch screeched with lifted head, its brow in regal frown, And Galen trembled as he kneeled and laid his burden down. From: The Kraken by Robert Lambert Jones III
Then silently it landed with its wings completely spread
But never moved its gaze from Galen’s face it must be said.
The monarch screeched with lifted head, its brow in regal frown,
And Galen trembled as he kneeled and laid his burden down.
From: The Kraken by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

My brother-in-law, James P. Wood, made the above illustration to go with a scene from my first story poem, The Kraken, in which the main character has an encounter with the Griffin King. I obviously borrowed this creature from existing mythology and medieval heraldry, and it appears in historical and current coats of arms, two examples of which are shown below.

Crimean Coat of Arms
Crimean Coat of Arms

 

Flag: Utti Jaeger Regiment, Finnish Army
Flag: Utti Jaeger Regiment, Finnish Army

The Griffin (or Gryphon) has the head, wings, and legs of an eagle at its front and the body, hind legs and tail of a lion. It is similar to the Hippogriff, which is the offspring of a Griffin and a mare (see the appropriately titled earlier post in this series for more on the Hippogriff). In heraldry, the Griffin represents courage, boldness, and skill in battle. It was sometimes given significance in Christian symbolism.

Perhaps my favorite rendition of a Griffin is this one made by John Tenniel for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I like the way the artist places it in the pose of a sleeping dog.

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Of course, I must offer the requisite version by William O’ Connor from Dracopedia: The Bestiary.

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I will leave you with one more illustration by James P. Wood from The Kraken.

Amid the whir and flutter of appendages, they sailed In feathered flight. A mighty squad, through azure skies they trailed. From: The Kraken by Robert Lambert Jones III
Amid the whir and flutter of appendages, they sailed
In feathered flight. A mighty squad, through azure skies they trailed.
From: The Kraken by Robert Lambert Jones III

The Kraken can be ordered on Amazon by clicking here.

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Chimera

The original Chimera is a creature from Greco Roman mythology which has the head of a lion, the head (or body) of a goat, and the tail of a serpent (often represented with a serpent’s head). The earliest reference we have is from the Iliad by Homer. Shown below is an intriguing Etruscan bronze, the Chimera of Arezzo, from the 4th Century, A. D.

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Going back even further, there is this Greco Roman mosaic from Palmyra, 3rd Century, A. D. It depicts the battle in which Bellerophon slays the Chimera while riding on Pegasus, the winged horse which he tamed with the help of the goddess, Athena.

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As is often the case in mythology, it all started with a woman. Bellerophon resists the efforts of Sthenoboea, the wife of King Proteus, to seduce him. Angry at being jilted, she levels accusations against him. This is reminiscent of the tale of Joseph resisting the efforts of Potiphar’s wife to seduce him. The latter is found in the book of Genesis from the Old Testament and is, incidentally, the older account.

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife by Miklos Mihalovits.
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Miklos Mihalovits.

Anyway,  King Iobates of Lycia, the father of Sthenoboea, assigns Bellerophon a number of heroic tasks, including the slaying of the Chimera. Athena gives our hero a golden bridle which will enable him to mount and ride Pegasus. In this next painting, Athena can be seen standing in the background.

Bellerophon by Alexander Ivanov.
Bellerophon by Alexander Ivanov.

I will end this post with another depiction of the ensuing battle.

Bellerophon and the Chimera by Samuel Moore-Sobel
Bellerophon and the Chimera by Samuel Moore-Sobel

 

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: The Staff in the Tree

While the topic of mythological beasts and spirits is of genuine interest to me, I think it is obvious by now that I have been using it to shill (shamelessly, I might add) my own poem, The Staff in the Tree. The poem is now available on Amazon. This week’s post is a summary of those creatures from this series which appear in my story. It is primarily pictorial (ouch – alliteration) and is accompanied by some written excerpts.

Padded paws and feathered wingspan, lion's mane, and all of white, Softly silent, pale and ghostly, stalked the Shedu in the night. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Padded paws and feathered wingspan, lion’s mane, and all of white,
Softly silent, pale and ghostly, stalked the Shedu in the night.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

In the sky, they flew and galloped while cavorting overhead, Carried on each horse's body eagle's wings and eagle's head. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
In the sky, they flew and galloped while cavorting overhead,
Carried on each horse’s body eagle’s wings and eagle’s head.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

Said the wily, flitting Enfield, auburn fox with wings of gray, "Have you seen the Spirit Father? What, exactly, did he say?" From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Said the wily, flitting Enfield, auburn fox with wings of gray,
“Have you seen the Spirit Father? What, exactly, did he say?”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

Leonid, with eagle's talons, wingless, though, with knotted tail, Through the mist, an Alphyn sentry stared them down and gave them hail. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Leonid, with eagle’s talons, wingless, though, with knotted tail,
Through the mist, an Alphyn sentry stared them down and gave them hail.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

"Best to stop," the Shedu cautioned. "Hidden by the hoot of owl, I perceive the furtive footsteps of the Freybug on the prowl." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“Best to stop,” the Shedu cautioned. “Hidden by the hoot of owl,
I perceive the furtive footsteps of the Freybug on the prowl.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

"Why should you deny my challenge? Is it that I have no wings? Missing these, I still can best you. Come. See how my venom stings." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“Why should you deny my challenge? Is it that I have no wings?
Missing these, I still can best you. Come. See how my venom stings.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

From its place of hibernation, from its lair beneath the lake, Rupturing the liquid membrane, to the surface burst the Drake. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
From its place of hibernation, from its lair beneath the lake,
Rupturing the liquid membrane, to the surface burst the Drake.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

With her arms, the Sprite embraced him, pressed her mouth on willing lips, Then drew back and laughed with pleasure, placed her hands upon her hips. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
With her arms, the Sprite embraced him, pressed her mouth on willing lips,
Then drew back and laughed with pleasure, placed her hands upon her hips.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

"You are in a place of danger. Walk in hope and righteous fear. Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“You are in a place of danger. Walk in hope and righteous fear.
Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

Dignified, the ancient giants, from their homes of bark and wood, Hearkened to the forest maiden, in the fog before her stood. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Dignified, the ancient giants, from their homes of bark and wood,
Hearkened to the forest maiden, in the fog before her stood.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

 

I apologize for the repetitious reference in each caption. To save time, I simply took from my media file some of the images I had included in previous posts. More details about the book can be obtained by clicking here.

Next week: another creature.

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Dryad

Dignified, the ancient giants, from their homes of bark and wood, Hearkened to the forest maiden, in the fog before her stood. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Dignified, the ancient giants, from their homes of bark and wood,
Hearkened to the forest maiden, in the fog before her stood.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

Dryads are among my favorite characters from mythology and folklore. From Greek mythology to modern times, their interpretations in art and literature are varied. They are tree spirits, certain versions of which can emerge from their arboreal homes as human beings. Most of the representations I have found are female.

The Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
The Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
The Dryad by Henry John Stock.
The Dryad by Henry John Stock.

In other versions, they are so bound to their homes that they die if their trees are cut down. I wish I could credit the following painting, but I could find no information on the artist. If anyone knows and can tell me, I will gladly update this post (artist: Emile Jean-Baptiste Philippe Bin – many thanks to Colin Smith for the information). I was intrigued by the idea of a dryad emerging to prevent a woodsman from cutting down her tree. The painting implies a story.

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In this painting by Edward Burne-Jones, the female figure is not a Dryad proper, but rather a woman temporarily transformed into a tree. She transforms back when the lover who neglected her repents of his actions. Though I haven not yet read the story, I think it comes from The Metamorphoses by Ovid. Still, the painting is reminiscent of the original concept of tree spirits.

The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones
The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones

They are sometimes portrayed as males. For  The Staff in the Tree, I envisioned them as giant warriors, spirits that can emerge from their trees and take on solid form. This gave me good imagery around which to work some verses. In the story, the Dryads are forest guardians who are shrewd, severe, and entirely not to be messed with. I must cop to being influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s portrayal of the Ents in his Ring trilogy.

Juvenile though my drawing at the top of this entry may seem, it was a hard one for me to make with my limited technique. It certainly pales against the other images I have shown. I will end with a painting relevant to this post and last week’s as well.

Dryads and Naiads by Walter Crane.
Dryads and Naiads by Walter Crane.

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Naiad

"You are in a place of peril. Walk in hope and righteous fear. Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“You are in a place of peril. Walk in hope and righteous fear.
Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

This is another spiritual being from mythology and folklore which makes my imagination run. So much has been and can be done with Naiads. In Greek mythology, they were water nymphs who were particularly associated with bodies of freshwater such as rivers and streams. Certain of them were among the various classes of nymphs and sprites who were courted or raped by some of the male gods.

A Naiad by John William Waterhouse
A Naiad by John William Waterhouse

Their behavior toward humans is described as variable in various legends. These feminine spirits could be helpful, frivolous, or jealous. They could also be dangerous. They have sometimes been shown as abducting…

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse
Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

… or even drowning men. The pictures below take two different and compelling approaches. In The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper, we see a type of “before” picture. For me, the strength of this painting is in the combination of its title and the relaxed posture and facial expression of its subject. A subtle intensity smolders in her eyes, and the relative peace of the composition suggests her lethal capability.

The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper
The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

This next painting is of the “during” variety. The posture of the Naiad is submissive save for the grip of her hands on a fisherman’s arms. This contrast is poignant, and the poor man is doomed while still alive.

A siren (or sprite or Naiad) is shown pulling a fisherman under in this painting by Knut Ekwall.
A siren (or sprite or Naiad) is shown pulling a fisherman under in this painting by Knut Ekwall.

A question I have asked myself is whether or not the representations of women as being helpless or dangerous might have arisen as a result of attitudes which limit their roles in society. In such cases, are those who cannot be controlled regarded as threatening? I’ve gotten on my high horse before. Now I’ll beat my dead one by saying again that I think there is tremendous room for creativity in the way that female characters of many kinds can be portrayed in the mythologies we create for our entertainment and instruction. In my own poem, I have tried to use the Naiads’ combination of perceived vulnerability and lethal capability in portraying them as something which I hope is different.

As I said near the top of this post, Naiads are usually described as being freshwater nymphs or spirits. I will end with the creative approach in the painting below by Gustave Dore in which these mysterious creatures are shown in a different setting. They almost seem to be part of the rocks in this seascape.

Naiads of the Sea by Gustave Dore
Naiads of the Sea by Gustave Dore

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Sprite

With her arms, the Sprite embraced him, pressed her mouth on willing lips, Then drew back and laughed with pleasure, placed her hands upon her hips. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
With her arms, the Sprite embraced him, pressed her mouth on willing lips,
Then drew back and laughed with pleasure, placed her hands upon her hips.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

Sprites are spirits or fairies of various sorts. They are often identified with certain geographies or habitats such as water and forests. In my mind, it is hard to separate them cleanly from such beings as naiads, dryads, and nymphs. They are not always shown as feminine in gender. The following painting by Ernst Josephson is nondescript enough to draw in the imagination of the viewer. One reference interpreted “Nacken” as “The Water Sprite” and cited the year of completion as 1884 as opposed to the date given in the caption. I am not an art scholar, so I can verify neither.

Ernst Josephson: Näcken. NM 1905
Ernst Josephson: Näcken.
NM 1905

Here are a couple of additional offerings titled, “The Foam Sprite”…

The Foam Sprite by Herbert James Draper.
The Foam Sprite by Herbert James Draper.

…and “Singing Sprite” by Herbert James Draper, a Pre-Raphaelite artist.

Singing Sprite by Herbert James Draper.
Singing Sprite by Herbert James Draper.

In closing, I must admit that the following painting by  Draper is what inspired the use of the Mountain Sprite in one of my own attempts at an epic story poem. I would describe her as attractively insubstantial, and she was a character which I could use for some spiritual symbolism.

Clyties of the Mist by Herbert James Draper
Clyties of the Mist by Herbert James Draper

I have noted in posts from my Literary Legislation and Mythology on Canvas categories (black strip on the left of this page) that female characters from mythology are often visualized as wearing nothing or next to nothing. One could ascribe various meanings to this or offer different explanations as to why this is the case.

More spirits next week.

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Wyvern

From its place of hibernation, from its lair beneath the lake, Rupturing the liquid membrane, to the surface burst the Drake. From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
From its place of hibernation, from its lair beneath the lake,
Rupturing the liquid membrane, to the surface burst the Drake.
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

The Wyvern was a winged, bipedal dragon. Technically, it differs from the Drake, which was a smaller version of a winged, four-legged dragon, but various literary works have used the term, Drake, to represent dragons in general. I took poetic license and used both terms interchangeably because it afforded me more flexibility in forming rhymes. For this, I hope I will be forgiven by those who are purists.

St. George and the Dragon by Paolo Ucello. Note that the dragon in this particular painting is a Wyvern.
St. George and the Dragon by Paolo Ucello.
Note that the dragon in this particular painting is a Wyvern.

The Wyvern appears in Celtic works, as shown below.

Wyvern depicted in a 14th Century Welsh manuscript.
Wyvern depicted in a 14th Century Welsh manuscript.

This creature is believed to have been used in medieval heraldry as well.

Possible symbol of the medieval kingdom of Wessex.
Possible symbol of the medieval kingdom of Wessex.

I tried to avoid modern fantasy art since the imagery is so familiar to enthusiasts, but I couldn’t ignore this diagram of a Wyvern skeleton. It harks back to my grade school (and current) fascination with dinosaurs, and it reminds my of illustrations from some of the books I owned in childhood.

Wyvern skeleton by BerserkMecha on Deviant Art.
Wyvern skeleton by BerserkMecha on Deviant Art.

Allow me to indulge myself by ending today’s post with another drawing of my own.

Bowstring sang, and arrow quivered... From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
Bowstring sang, and arrow quivered…
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Lindorm

The term, Lindorm, is both Danish and Swedish. Depending on its use, it can be synonymous with Lindworm, used in reference to any giant serpent, or used to represent a sea serpent.

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I’m sure there’s a plausible answer, but I wonder how cultures from cold, northern climates developed mythologies with huge, reptilian monsters.

There is an interesting folktale called Prince Lindorm (also King Lindorm, Prince Lindworm, and King Lindworm) that has been called Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. Let’s just say it’s Scandinavian. This tale has generated a bit of modern fan art. It has also been portrayed by professional illustrators. I especially like the older examples. I’m not entirely certain as to who did the following illustration. Owing to its similarity to the next one, I’m inclined to attribute it (tentatively) to Henry Justice Ford, but I could be wrong.

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You can find various versions of this tale in their entirety and for free by typing in the title on a word search. I won’t provide links due to their number. One element they all seem to have in common is the one shown above. A prince under a curse exists as a Lindorm and demands a bride. A number don’t make the cut and are messily dismembered. Finally, one tries a different approach. Wearing multiple gowns, she insists first that the snake shed his skin when he orders her to undress. He does so, and she removes one gown. This process is repeated until the Lindorm is an almost shapeless mass. The maiden then scrubs away the offending flesh to reveal a handsome prince.

The theme of serpents and maidens is VERY old  and rather widespread in mythology and in folktales. Here is an image which I can attribute to Henry Justice Ford:

The Beautiful Woman Soothes The Serpent King (1900) by Henry Justice Ford.
The Beautiful Woman Soothes The Serpent King (1900) by Henry Justice Ford.

I know it’s not the same thing, but I can’t help but notice the similarity of these images to the Genesis account of the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden (one version of how all the trouble started, but keep in mind that Adam was also described as culpable in that account). This has been represented so many times that I suffered from choice anxiety when choosing images for this post. I opted for variety, including selections from William Blake…

(c) Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Eve Tempted by the Serpent by William Blake.
(c) Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.
Eve Tempted by the Serpent by William Blake.

… to this interesting, more cartoonish, and different cultural perspective by David-Dennis…

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…to this oddly chimeric take by Jon Roddam Spencer Stanhope…

Eve Tempted by the Serpent (c. 1877) by Jon Roddam Spencer Stanhope.
Eve Tempted by the Serpent (c. 1877) by Jon Roddam Spencer Stanhope.

… and a similar but older adaptation by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

From the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512) by Michelangelo.
From the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512) by Michelangelo.

This seems like as good a place as any to stop (or would it be better to say begin?).

p.s. For moral purposes, let me say that Eve is portrayed without clothing in all of these examples because, well… she was.

Next week: something else suitably scaly.

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Lindworm

"Why should you deny my challenge? Is it that I have no wings? Missing these, I still can best you. Come. See how my venom stings." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“Why should you deny my challenge? Is it that I have no wings?
Missing these, I still can best you. Come. See how my venom stings.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

This is perhaps the most grotesque of the creatures in this series. It is an awkward-looking reptile, a dragon with only two legs and no wings, but “bipedal, wingless dragon” sounds more erudite. Alternatively, one might view it as a two-legged serpent. It is another of the creatures used in heraldry.

There are different ways to interpret a Lindworm. Sometimes they are shown as walking on two “hind” legs on which they balance. The forelimbs are obviously missing. This approach seems to me to be the one used in the following coat of arms.

Coat of Arms of Wurmannsquick
Coat of Arms of Wurmannsquick

My eyes were drawn to the following illustration for its bold lines and its detail and because it incorporates elements of an older style. As the credit at the lower right of the drawing implies, I believe it was drawn by an artist who goes by the name of Liza Phoenix. If I am wrong please correct me so that I can update my information.

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Alternatively, a Lindworm may be portrayed as lacking hind legs and writhing like a snake. Its forelimbs might be used for pulling itself along and/or grabbing at prey as in the next illustration (for which I could find no credit).

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Pictures like these used to rev my motor when I was a boy. Actually, they still do. Next week, I will mention a variant of the Lindworm.