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Fantasy Races and Creatures Index

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Origin: Various

Appearance: Usually depicted as a winged being; in the Hebrew Bible, they have many wings and many eyes.

Angels are spiritual beings that act as intermediaries between God and humanity. They carry out God's will, deliver heavenly messages, and take the souls of righteous people to the afterlife. The mythology of angels can be traced back to Zoroastrianism, one of the world's oldest religions, which relates a cosmic battle between good and evil, angels and demons.

Bai Ze

Origin: Chinese mythology

Appearance: A long, white creature—often compared to an ox, a dragon, or a goat—with multiple eyes, horns, beards, and a furry tail. Sometimes depicted with wings.

A symbol of wisdom, foresight, and protection the Bai Ze knows the names of all beings and can communicate with anyone. Legends say the Bai Ze appeared to the Yellow Emperor and told him how to overcome the supernatural creatures in the world. There's a similar creature in Japanese mythology called a kutabe.


Origin: Irish mythology

Appearance: A ghostly woman or shade, sometimes wearing a shroud or a veil.

Banshees shriek, wail, or sing, foretelling the death of someone in the Irish household they’re connected to. In some stories, their scream can only be heard by the person who will die. The word banshee comes from the Irish bean sidhe, which means “woman of the hills” or “woman of the fairies.” Now, they are more associated with ghosts than with fairies.


Origin: Greek and Roman mythology

Appearance: A giant serpent or a huge lizard with wings.

A basilisk hatches when a rooster sits on a toad’s or serpent’s egg. Their gaze is lethal; Saint George vanquishes one by using his shield as a mirror so the basilisk sees its own image and dies. According to some myths, they are vulnerable to a rooster’s crow, are venomous, and can breathe fire. The weasel is said to be immune to the basilisk’s gaze and venom. The basilisk and the cockatrice are sometimes referred to as the same monster, though other stories differentiate them.


Origin: Scottish folklore.

Appearance: Short, ugly creatures, usually naked or wearing rags. 

Mischevious household spirits, brownies will secretly help with chores if the residents leave them milk, honey, or other food. If they are given clothing, they will leave. They can become nasty if they're angered.


Origin: Korean mythology.

Appearance: A fiery dog.

Bul-gae are from the kingdom of darkness and serve its king. The king sends the dogs to steal the sun and the moon, and their failed attempts explain solar and lunar eclipses.


Origin: Scottish and Irish folklore.

Appearance: A large black cat with a white spot on its chest.

The Cat-Sith, or Cait Sidhe, is a fairy creature that steals souls before burial. They will walk on two feet if no one is looking. Some tales suggest the Cat-Sith is not a fairy but actually a witch that has shapeshifted into a cat.


Origin: Greek mythology.

Appearance: The torso, head, and arms of a human and the legs and tail of a horse.

The offspring of Centaurus (who was the sun of the king Ixion and a cloud), centaurs live in the forests and mountains of northern Greece. They are wild, chaotic warriors, and numerous Greek heroes challenge them to battle. Two centaurs, Pholus and Chiron, were friendly to humans, but they were the exception.


Origin: Greek mythology

Appearance: Three-headed dog with a serpent’s tale, lion’s claws, and mane of snakes.

Cerberus is a giant, three-headed dog that guards the gates to the underworld. He devours anyone trying to enter or escape, though the legendary musician Orpheus lulls him to sleep by playing a song on a lyre in order to get past. Cerberus’s name is likely derived from the greek words kêr (death) and erebos (darkness).

In modern fantasy, the cerberus myth has inspired a category of creature (the plural is cerberi)—three-headed dogs that are often guardians.


Origin: European mythology.

Appearance: Humanoid, though there may be some odd differences, like extra toes

Fairies steal human children by leaving changelings in their place—either their own babies need human milk to live, they want beautiful children for themselves, or out of revenge. Changelings are often more mischevious or have larger appetites than their human counterparts.  


Origin: Greek mythology

Appearance: A three-headed creature with a lion’s body and head, a goat’s head, and a snake for a tail.

In Greek mythology, the fire-breathing Chimera was born to Typhon and Echidna, and it was a sibling to Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra.

The monster-slayer hero Bellerophon is known for riding Pegasus into battle and slaying the Chimera. These days, fantasy literature often uses the term chimera to mean any creature formed of various animal parts.


Origin: Greek and Roman mythology.

Appearance: A winged creature with the head and feet of a rooster and the tail of a serpent.

A cockatrice hatches when a toad sits on a rooster’s egg for nine years. Like the basilisk, the cockatrice’s gaze is lethal and turns anyone unlucky enough to meet their eyes into stone; they’re vulnerable to a rooster’s crow; they’re venomous; and the weasel is the only animal immune to their abilities. The basilisk and the cockatrice are sometimes referred to as the same monster, though other stories differentiate them.


Appearance: One-eyed giant.

The greek poet Hesiod describes three specific cyclopes—Arges, Brontes, and Steropes—who where blacksmiths that forged Zeus's thunderbolts. Later, Homer depicts one-eyed giants as a race of dim-witted, cave-dwelling shepherds in The Odyssey. Both versions are known for their size and strength. 


Origin: Various.

Appearance: They often look monstrous in some way, sometimes depicted as animal-human hybrids. The Western depiction of tails, horns, and hooves resemble satyrs and other animal hybrids in Greek mythology.

Demons appear in various myths, legends, and religions, usually as evil supernatural creatures—the enemies of God and angels. However, the ancient Greeks spoke of daimons as guardians, spiritual beings that could be either good or evil. 

Dire Wolf

Origin: North American mythology/history

Appearance: A giant wolf.

Dire wolves have origins in real-world history; fossils point to a species called canis dirus, bulkier and stronger than grey wolves, that went extinct around 13,000 years ago. DNA studies suggest they were genetically different from grey wolves—so much so that they didn’t even interbreed.

The prefix dire comes from the latin dirus, which means terrible or threatening. Dire creatures in modern fantasy literature are bigger, stronger, and more intelligent than their everyday counterparts.

Giant wolves are also common in other mythologies—from Fenrir (Loki’s child in Norse

mythology) to Romulus and Remus (Mars’s children in Roman mythology) to Raijū (a lightning god from Japanese mythology).


Origin: Various

Appearance: A giant serpent with wings

Since dragons are part of so many mythologies from around the world, historians theorize

that the stories are based on ancient people discovering dinosaur bones. Myths from Mesopotamia dating back to 2100 BCE describe the Mušhuššu—scaly creatures with the back- legs of an eagle, the front-legs of a lion, and long, thin bodies with a snake-like tongues. They are protectors who bring good fortune.

Other myths include the Egyptian deity Apep, a giant serpent of chaos; the Greek serpent Python, who lives in the center of the earth; the Chinese horned dragons called Qiulong, whose powers are related to water and weather; the Hebrew-based Leviathan, a fire-breathing serpent mentioned in the Bible; and the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent that symbolizes death and resurrection.


Origin: Norse mythology.

Appearance: Short, stout humanoids.

Known as dvergar in Norse mythology, dwarves are often associated with craftsmanship, mining, and mountains. They are known for their blacksmithery and forging Odin's spear and Thor's hammer. In some stories, they are magical shapeshifters and are similar in stature to humans, but modern fantasy describes them as short and stout. 


Origin: European mythology

Appearance: Various

European philosophers thought the world was composed of the four classical elements that most fantasy fans are familiar with: fire, water, earth, and air. Some thinkers also linked these elements to spirits or demons. Paracelsus, an alchemist and physician from the 16th century, wrote A Book on Nymphs, Sylphs, Pygmies, and Salamanders, and on the Other Spirits, which links each element to a mythical creature. Nymphs are creatures of water, emotive and fertile; sylphs are creatures of air, detached and creative; pygmies, or gnomes, are creatures of earth, stubborn and long-lived; and salamanders are creatures of fire, wild and intense.

Modern fantasy literature often plays with these elements, linking creatures to specific powers, perhaps replacing nymphs with mermaids or gnomes with golems. Other stories add more elements to the equation, such as metal, wood, or lightning.


Origin: Norse mythology.

Appearance: Tiny winged fairies or tall, beautiful humanoids.

In Norse mythology, elves, or the Álfar, were beautiful, magical beings. During medieval times, they were portrayed as tiny trickster fairies; they would steal human children and put changelings in their place. Tolkien popularized the tall, beautiful, humanoid version.


Origin: French mythology/architecture

Appearance: A winged, demonic creature made of stone.

Gargoyles are prominent in medieval architecture, often carved from drains atop cathedrals to ward off evil spirits (and keep rainwater away from the building). They are often a chimerical mix of various animal parts, which gives them an odd and terrifying appearance. Legends suggest they come to life at night and can only communicate when wind or rain passes through their mouths. Gargoyles’ other potential powers include water manipulation, immortality, and the ability to turn into stone or turn others into stone. They are unable to stray far from the building they are supposed to be guarding.


Origin: Various

Appearance: A transparent, spectral humanoid.

Every culture has legends involving ghosts—dead spirits that appear to the living. Ghosts are often portrayed as misty and transparent because ancient societies linked a person’s spirit with their breath, which looks like white fog in the cold. Ghosts appear in Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad, but they don’t interact with the living much.

Medieval Europe portrays ghosts as either souls that have unfinished business or demons that torment the living. In Buddhist and Hindu texts, Preta (Sanskrit for hungry ghost) are undead spirits that look like mummies with distended stomachs; they did evil during their lifetimes and have an insatiable need for food. Japan has an urban legend about an undead girl named Hana-ko-san who will appear in the girl’s bathroom on the third floor of a school and might grab you or eat you.


Origin: European mythology.

Appearance: A small humanoid, sometimes wearing a pointed hat.

Gnomes live underground, in forests, or in gardens. They can move through the earth as easily as walking on it, and sunlight turns them to stone. In Germanic folklore, gnomes resemble old men who guard treasure. 


Origin: European mythology.

Appearance: A short creature with yellow teeth. In modern depictions, they often have green skin.

Goblins are evil or mischevious fairies. Some stories suggest they can turn invisible. They are sometimes portrayed as tricksters who steal things or play tricks on people, and other times as malevolent beings who give people nightmares and steal babies. Goblin is also an umbrella term for small beings that live in dark places. Varieties of goblins include bugbears, gremlins, hobgoblins, redcaps, and kobolds. 


Origin: Jewish folklore

Appearance: A humanoid made of clay or mud

Jewish folktales describe a clay creature being brought to life to protect a community, but then becoming violent. In stories, golems are often useful servants, though they will take any order literally. Some tales describe animating a golem by writing a sacred word onto a paper and putting the paper in the golem’s mouth or affixing it to its head; if the paper is removed, the golem becomes inert. In Hebrew, golem means shapeless mass or unformed.


Origin: Greek mythology

Appearance: A winged-woman with snakes for hair, scaly skin, and a long tongue.

The Gorgons are three monsters from Greek mythology—Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa—whose gazes turn people to stone. The first two sisters are immortal, but Medusa is not. The hero Perseus beheads her using a reflective shield to look at her instead of staring straight into her eyes.

Gorgon comes from the Greek word gorgos, meaning grim and terrible. Modern fantasy literature often refers to gorgons as a category of monster, rather than three specific figures.


Origin: Greek, Asian, and Middle Eastern mythology

Appearance: A creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.

Often guardians of gold and treasure, griffins appear in various mythologies. They’re generally

associated with royalty, because the lion is the “king of beasts” and the eagle is the “king of birds.” This is probably why they’re common in medieval Europe heraldry as well. In ancient Egyptian art, griffins are shown trampling people, representing a pharaoh defeating his enemies. In Greek mythology, griffins defend a mountain hiding treasure and are enemies with cyclopses who tried to steal their wealth.


Origin: Various

Appearance: A large black dog, often with red eyes.

Hellhounds are giant dogs, often guardians of the underworld or omens of death. Some stories describe them smelling like brimstone or burning the ground they walk on. Myths about hellhounds include Cerberus from Greek mythology, a three-headed dog who guards the gates to the underworld; Garmr from Norse mythology, a wolf who guards Hel’s gate; the hounds of Annwn from Welsh mythology, who hunt people on specific nights; and the black dogs from Latin American mythology that are thought to be reincarnations of the devil.


Origin: Italian poem

Appearance: A creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a horse.

Hippogriffs are born from a horse and a griffin—a rare event, since griffins prey on horses. They are not as common in legends as the griffin, first appearing as a wizard’s steed in Italian poet Ariosto’s 1516 poem Orlando Furioso. Ariosto was likely inspired by a line from the Latin poet Virgil’s The Eclogues; Virgil wrote "Griffins will now mate with mares” to describe something impossible.

Human-Eating Plant

Origin: Various mythologies and rumours

Appearance: A plant or a tree big enough to pull a human inside and digest them.

Carnivorous plants have evolved in places like swamps, where the waters leach the flora of the minerals they need, so they get their nutrients by snaring bugs or other life. Many myths play off this reality by depicting plants that eat people. 

German explorer Carl Liche tells a (debunked) story about seeing a Madagascar tree that looks like a giant pineapple eat a girl during a tribal sacrifice. The Vampire Vine from Nicaragua supposedly drains people’s blood. The Yate Veo Tree in Central America impales its victims on hidden spikes. The Death Flower on the El Banoor releases a toxin that forces people to fall asleep on its petals.


Origin: Greek mythology

Appearance: A giant water snake with nine heads.

The Hydra, sometimes called the Lernean Hydra because it lives in the marshes of Lerna, is the

offspring of Typhon and Echidna, sibling to Cerberus and the Chimera. The number of heads varies according to legend, but if you cut one head off, two more will emerge. Hercules and his nephew Iolaus defeat the Hydra by cutting off its heads and cauterizing the wounds before new heads can emerge. Though the final head is immortal, Hercules cuts it off and buries it under a rock. Modern fantasy literature sometimes refers to hydras as a category of creature, rather than one specific monster.


Origin: Japanese culture

Appearance: A giant monster.

Kaiju, meaning strange creature in Japanese, are monsters that are popular in Japanese cinema. Stories featuring kaiju usually involve the monster attacking a city and the military failing to defeat it. Often, the only thing that can counter a kaiju is another monster of similar size.


Origin: Scottish mythology

Appearance: A black horse with a water-soaked mane.

Kelpies are shape-shifting spirits that haunt lakes, rivers, and streams. They usually take the form of a horse, but some stories describe them transforming into beautiful women or hairy humans. In horse form, they lure people—particularly children—onto their backs and drown them in the nearest body of water; their victims become magically stuck to their backs and cannot get free. Some tales describe thunder sounding when a kelpie’s tail enters the water. You can tame a kelpie by putting a magic bridle on its horse form.


Origin: Japanese and Chinese mythology

Appearance: The dragon-scaled body and head of a deer, a single horn, and the tail of an ox, often covered in fire.

The Japanese kirin only appears during peaceful times. They are considered a holy creature, never harming innocents and not even flattening grass when they walk. Chinese mythology describes a similar creature called a qilin, which has a single horn or duel antlers, the body of a deer, head of a dragon, and scales of a fish. In Korean mythology, it’s known as a gilin, and in Vietnamese mythology, it’s referred to as a kỳ lân.


Origin: Japanese folklore

Appearance: A shapeshifting fox with multiple tails.

Magical foxes with powers that increase as they get older, kitsune are sometimes tricksters, sometimes loyal guardians. When they reach 100 years old, they can transform into a human. Every hundred years, they grow a new tail, and some legends say their fur changes to white or gold when they grow their ninth and final tail. Powers associated with kitsune include generating fire or lightning by wagging their tails, invisibility, the ability to possess others, and the ability to create illusions. There are thirteen types of kitsune, each corresponding to an element in Japanese mythology: celestial, void, wind, spirit, earth, fire, forest, river, ocean, mountain, thunder, sound, and time.


Origin: Irish mythology.

Appearance: A tiny old man in a red or green hat and coat. 

Mischevious shoemakers who live underground, leprechauns love song and dance. It's said if you catch one, they will grant you three wishes. Some myths suggest they bury gold in pots at the end of rainbows.


Origin: Greek and Persian mythology

Appearance: The head of a human, the body of a lion, and a scorpion’s tail.

The manticore is a human-eating monster known for its viciousness. Some legends describe them shooting stingers from their tail. Modern versions include wings. According to Persian mythology, manticores can devour any beasts except elephants, leaving no trace of their meal behind. Humans are their favourite prey.


Origin: Greek mythology

Appearance: A white, winged horse.

Pegasus is the child of Poseidon and Medusa, arising from his mother’s neck after the hero Perseus beheads her. Because he inherited water magic from his father, springs arise when he stamps his hoofs, and two springs in Greece, both named Hippocrene, are attributed to him.

Another hero, Bellerophon, captures Pegasus and rides him while fighting the Chimera. Bellerophon later tries to ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus, but Zeus sends a horsefly to sting Pegasus, who bucks Bellerophon off. Pegasus ends up in Olympus, where he pulls Zeus’s chariot of thunderbolts. Pegasus’s name likely comes from the Greek word pêgê, which means of the spring, or pêgazô, which means sprung forth. Modern fantasy literature sometimes refers to pegasi as a class of creature, rather than a specific one.


Origin: Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology

Appearance: An eagle-like bird with yellow, orange, red, and gold feathers.

There is only one phoenix in the world at a time, which lives for five hundred (in some stories, one thousand) years, then builds a nest, sets it on fire, and is consumed by the flames. From the ashes, the phoenix is reborn. The Bennu, a bird from Egyptian mythology, may have inspired myths about the phoenix. Legends describe the new phoenix carrying the ashes in an egg made of myrrh to the Egyptian city Heliopolis (“the city of the sun”). The phoenix represents regeneration, resurrection, renewal, and immortality.


Origin: Celtic mythology.

Appearance: A tiny, pointy-eared humanoid wearing green. Modern versions have wings.

Pixies are mischevious; they will play pranks on humans and lead travelers astray so they become lost. In some stories, they are helpful. They like music and dance.  


Origin: Arabic mythology

Appearance: A giant, eagle- or condor-like bird.

With feathers as big as palm leaves, the roc is so large, it can carry and eat an elephant. It is featured in several stories in the Middle Eastern folktale collection, The Arabian Nights, including a tale where a roc carries Sinbad to its nest. In the 13th century, Italian explorer Marco Polo further spread the myth of the roc, writing that he saw a giant bird seize an elephant.

Sea Monster

Origin: Various.

Appearance: Various.

Multiple cultures have myths about sea monsters. These include Beisht Kione, an eel-like dragon

that lives at the bottom of the ocean (Irish mythology); the Hafgufa, an island-sized creature that eats whales and ships (Icelandic mythology); Jörmungandr, also known as the World Serpent, who can wrap around the world and bite its own tail (Norse mythology); the Leviathan, a multi-headed sea serpent (Jewish mythology); Umibōzu, a sea spirit that destroys ships (Japanese mythology); and, of course, the Kraken, a giant squid that drags ships beneath the ocean (Scandinavian mythology).


Origin: Egyptian and Greek mythology.

Appearance: A creature with a lion’s body, a woman’s head and torso, eagle’s wings, and a snake’s tail.

Egyptian mythology describes the Sphinx as a creature with a lion’s body and a man’s head; it was a benevolent guardian, protecting the pyramids and destroying the sun god’s enemies. Greek mythology, however, depicts the Sphinx as female, a murderer who terrorizes the town of Thebes and devours travelers who can’t correctly answer her riddle (“What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night?”). The hero Oedipus defeats her by solving her riddle (“A human, who crawls as a child, walks as an adult, and uses a cane in old age”). The Sphinx may have been siblings with the Chimera, Cerberus, and the Lernaean Hydra. Modern fantasy literature often refers to sphinxes as a category of creatures.


Origin: Various.

Appearance: A white horse with a single horn on its forehead.

The unicorn appears in early Mesopotamian artwork as well as Indian, Chinese, Hebrew, European, Roman, and Greek mythology. The Greek historian Ctesias describes, during his Indian travels, seeing a white horse with a purple, horned head. The Bible features an untameable horned animal called a Re’em. Aristotle and Julius Caesar claimed to have seen similar creatures. European mythology depicts the unicorn as incredibly intelligent with a soft spot for virgins. Legends suggest the unicorn has healing powers and drinking their blood can prolong life.


Origin: European folklore.

Appearance: A serpentine, lizard-like creature with wings, similar to a dragon but with one pair of legs instead of two.

Legends say that wyverns pollute the land they fly over. Frequently featured in medieval heraldry, wyverns represent disease, conquest, aggression, valour, and war. They’re often described as smaller than a dragon and unable to breathe fire. Their tales are pointed and poisonous.


Origin: Haitian history and voodoo.

Appearance: A decomposing, animated corpse.

Zombie mythology is rooted in the brutal slavery of Africans in colonial Haiti; the people were tempted to die by suicide to escape their terrible lives, but they were afraid they wouldn’t go to the afterlife and would become undead, cursed to slavery forever. Later, voodoo religion practiced in Haiti, West Africa, the Caribbean, and South America suggested sorcerers, called bokors, could raise people from the dead. American pop culture appropriated this myth and the rest is brain-eating history.

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