11 Mythical Creatures From Around the World (and Where To “Find” Them)
Delve deep into the myth, legend, and monsters of 11 distinct cultures and countries.
Cultures the world over have a roster of supernatural creatures, myths, and monstrosities to explore, whether you find yourself in the English woodland or the Japanese cityscape. The veracity of these beings — from fairies and witches to cunning women and monstrous men — is of course up for debate. But if you really want to hunt down mythical creatures from around the world, here’s what to look for and where to do so.
Belgium and the Netherlands
Known alternately as Bokkenrijders and Les Chevaliers du Bouc, Buckriders are fearsome flighted creatures of folklore in both Belgium and the neighboring Netherlands. Riding through the sky atop flying goats, these demons were said to steal souls for Satan. And wine, naturally. In fact, 18th-century thieves even co-opted the Buckrider myth and began to besiege peaceful Catholic farmers in the name of the Bokkenrijders, although nowadays the Buckrider reputation has softened to a Robin Hood–level of steal-from-the-rich goodliness.
Although you might recognize the figure of the Valkyrie from blockbusting Marvel movies — thank you, Tessa Thompson! — these mythical women (plural) originated in Old Norse mythology and were ultimately in charge of choosing who lived and died on the battlefield. Often depicted on horseback, Valkyries would carry the dead to Valhalla where they would train to fight alongside the Norse god Odin at Ragnarök, aka the end of the world.
Loch Ness Monster
It’s essentially impossible to talk about mythical creatures and not mention ol’ Nessie, aka the Loch Ness Monster. A fine figure of Scottish folklore, this underwater creature is said to have lurked in the depths of Loch Ness since as early as the 6th century. However, the creature’s popularity really soared in 1934, when the now-famed “Surgeon’s Photo” came to light and depicted the humped figure of Nessie (allegedly) rippling from below the surface. Naturally, Nessie-spotting tours abound in the Scottish Highlands, so you can always try and catch a glimpse for yourself.
Zombies may be more strongly associated with low-budget horror flicks and haunted Halloween houses in the white imagination of the Global North, but the zombie — a reanimated corpse — originally emerged in Haitian folklore. As reported in The Atlantic, enslaved Africans who committed suicide would be condemned to roam Hispaniola for eternity, “undead slaves at once denied their own bodies and yet trapped inside them — soulless zombies.”
Typically described as vampiric and bloodsucking, with the corporeal form of a scaly reptile but tufts of fur running the length of its spine, El Chupacabra — sometimes known as El Chupacabras — is understandably feared across Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the American Southwest. As its name suggests (chupa = suck; cabra = goat), the Chupacabra typically attacks livestock, draining their blood and leaving them for dead. Many write off supposed Chupacabra sightings as mange-afflicted canines or Xoloitzcuintles (Mexican hairless dogs), but, really, who knows?
The Yeti or Abominable Snowman, is a mammoth man-bear monster that’s said to stalk the foothills of the Himalayas — and the locals are convinced that such a creature exists. Deeply rooted in Himalayan folklore, the Yeti has been spotted for centuries in the region, and casts have even been taken of supposed Yeti footprints. Rational explanations have been given to explain away such sightings, but the myth endures. (And, in fact, Yeti-esque creatures exist in folklore around the world, from the Canadian Sasquatch to the US’s Bigfoot.)
Think: Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore’s beloved bird which (spoiler) rescues Harry and pals from the Chamber of Secrets. This flame-colored mythical creature didn’t originate in Hogwarts though; rather, it’s roots are said to be in Ancient Egypt, with Herodotus describing it as a rare, eagle-sized creature. Modern scholars also attribute the Phoenix to Greek mythology, however, where legend goes that it first spontaneously combusts and then rises from the ashes of its predecessor.
A subcategory of the Japanese Yōkai (supernatural monster), the Futakuchi-onna is a woman afflicted by a curse or disease who develops a second mouth, tucked under her hair and hidden from view until the last moment. Women that become Futakuchi-onna are typically miserly and rarely eat. Futakuchi-onna are prolific in popular Japanese culture, including Pokemon, anima, and horror films.
Born of a rendezvous between Pasiphaë (Queen of Crete) and a snow-white bull gifted to the King of Crete by Poseidon (God of the Sea), the monstrous Minotaur was eventually confined to an elaborate labyrinth crafted by Daedalus. Said to have had the body of a man and the head of a bull, the Minotaur devoured humans shipped in annually from Athens. It was one such would-be sacrifice who eventually went on to murder the Minotaur and put an end to his reign of terror — Theseus.
Vampire lore is long and legendary, crossing borders and continents. May associate them with Transylvania in modern day Romania; the streets of Wellington, New Zealand; or the deep south in the US — yes, confederate vampires are legit— but vampires actually originated in Croatia. A full two centuries before Stoker’s Dracula made vampires a veritable ~thing~, Croatian farmer Jure Grando would allegedly rise from the grave, sleep with his widow, and spook the locals.
Although Leprechauns might be the first entity that springs to mind when you think Ireland (despite the fact that the behatted, bearded, bedecked-in-green men aren’t actually prominent in Irish mythology), the Banshee — or bean sí — is far more rooted in the folklore of the Emerald Isle. Heralding the death of a family member by wailing outside the house, the Banshee is said to dress in a long grey cloak and bears some resemblance to La Llorona of Mexican myth and the Scottish caoineag.
Author: Lauren Cocking
Lauren is a Mexico City–based writer, editor, and translator from Yorkshire with bylines at CNN, BBC Travel, and Al Jazeera. She’s currently working on her first full-length literary translation in between harassing her cat, drinking smuggled Yorkshire Tea, and blogging about Latin American literature at leyendolatam.com.