All throughout history, the world has told stories of fantastical creatures. Many of these beings were considered wondrous and incredible. However, the reverse side must also exist, occupied by terrifying mythological creatures. The only intention of these monsters was seemingly to wreak havoc and destruction, strike fear, torment their victims, and commit inhumane atrocities. These horror myths are strangely appealing to us by drawing upon our own fears and insecurities through the passive medium of storytelling and may act as a warning. Some of these creatures are more familiar than others, such as those from Greek and Egyptian mythology, but every culture possesses its own chilling monster stories.
1. Jorogumo: The Terrifying Mythological Japanese Spider Seducer
In Japanese mythology, a Jorogumo was a deadly hybrid creature that could transform from a spider into a beautiful woman to seduce victims to their death. The story goes that when a Jorogumo spider, a common species found in Japan, reached 400 years, it gained the power to shapeshift and developed an appetite for human flesh. Disguised as beautiful women, the Jorogumo were able to enchant and lure men into their web of lies. Their webs were constructed of silk threads so robust that, once trapped, no man could possibly escape. The Jorogumo would then administer their lethal venom, gradually weakening their victim, to savor their prey as long as possible. A slow and painful demise for their sorry victim.
2. Gashadokuro: The Skeletal Giant of Japan
Gashadokuro are gigantic skeletal mythological creatures amalgamated from the bones of human skeletons. In situations of mass death, such as famines or wars, individuals could not receive proper funeral rites and thus were unable to move on after death. As their bodies decayed, their souls became twisted with wrath and resentment towards the living. Their souls and bones merged into one enormous being called a Gashadokuro, translated as the ‘starving skeleton’.
Terrifyingly silent, aside from the unnerving chattering of their teeth, these mythological creatures skulked around deep in the night, looking for their prey. Finding their victim, they decapitated them and drank their blood. A Gashadokuro would continue terrorizing the night until the resentment of every soul, residing within the creature had dwindled, no longer animating the skeletal monster.
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3. Penanggalan: The Malay Disembodied Vampire
Penanggalan are infamous mythological creatures known by different names throughout Southeast Asia. In Malay myth, a Penanggalan was once a mortal woman who performed witchcraft and black magic.
A popular version of the myth states that one woman agreed to become vegetarian for 40 days in exchange for youthful beauty. Ultimately, she broke her pact and was cursed to become a flesh-eating Penanggalan. During the day, she resembled an ordinary woman, but at night her head would detach from her body, floating around with her trailing entrails. This disembodied figure flew around searching for sustenance in the form of pregnant women and infants, draining them of their blood; those fed on by this vampiric creature ended up contracting a fatal disease. Returning to her abode, a Penanggalan would soak herself in vinegar to shrink her organs back into her body. A Penanggalan, therefore, could be recognized during the day by this tell-tale smell of vinegar.
4. Lamashtu: The Mesopotamian Mother of Demons
The demon goddess of Mesopotamian mythology, Lamashtu, was a hellish hybrid creature usually depicted as pregnant covered with thick hair and two skulls over her breasts, a snake’s tail, large wings, three eyes, and taloned feet. The head of this beast was said to be either a jackal, lioness, snake, or hawk, depending on the source.
Lamashtu was known to enact destruction by polluting nature and water, spreading disease, causing nightmares as well as drinking the blood and devouring the flesh of men. She is said to have especially terrorized pregnant women and children. The demoness would force miscarriages to occur and kidnap infants feeding them with her own poisonous milk before chomping on their bones and satisfying her thirst with their blood. Lamashtu herself was considered as the mother of many demonic creatures and monsters who carried out her malevolent bidding.
5. Ammit: The Egyptian Devourer of the Dead
In Ancient Egyptian religion, Ammit was a beastly goddess with the head of a crocodile, the frontal body of a lion and the rear of a hippopotamus. Known as the “Devourer of the Dead”, Ammit fulfilled a particularly gruesome role in the judgment of souls. In the underworld, Thoth would weigh the heart of an individual against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth. The scales would remain balanced if the individual was pure but would be tipped if this was not the case, determining that this person was unworthy of eternal bliss. These hearts of the impure were thrown to Ammit. The beast, devouring their hearts, would ensure that these souls ceased to exist forever.
6. Typhon: The Greek Monster of Monsters
In Greek mythology, Typhon was regarded as the fiercest, deadliest, and biggest of giants, monsters, and gods. It is generally considered that Typhon possessed the upper body of a man, hundreds of snakes comprised his bottom half, his eyes gleamed red with fire, and wings sprouted from his back. Descriptions of Typhon do vary, but it is largely understood that he was an immeasurably colossal being with numerous wings, heads, hands, and snakes.
According to Hesiod, this monstrous creation of Gaia and Tartarus attempted to overthrow Zeus and rule over the heavens. Unsuccessful in this attempt, Zeus conquered Typhon with a hundred lightning bolts and imprisoned him within the pits of Tartarus. Indeed, Typhon is said to have been buried under Mount Etna, his constant rage resulting in any volcanic activity. The most terrifying monster in Greek mythology, Typhon was also said to father other infamous Greek monsters such as Cerberus, the Hydra, and the Chimera.
7. Hydra: The Serpentine Leviathan of Greece
The Hydra was a gigantic serpent with numerous heads — this number varied according to differing sources — who resided in the lakes of Lerna. The water-dwelling monster is said to have blood and breath of poison.
Several versions of the myth claim that the monster possessed a regenerative ability, for each head that was decapitated would result in two more growing in its place. The most infamous tale of the Hydra is the completion of Hercules’ Second Labour, where the hero is sent to slay the monster. With the aid of his nephew, Iolaus, Hercules decapitated and, importantly, cauterized each head to hinder the Hydra’s regenerative power. Finally, Hercules beheaded the last immortal head of the serpent, dipped his arrows in its poisonous blood for future enemies, and buried its head — still alive — under a heavy rock.
8. Mare: The Norse Nightmare
In Norse mythology, a mare was a demonic spirit who had the ability to induce nightmares in sleeping people. During the night, this mythological creature would sneak into a person’s home through their keyhole. Climbing upon the chest of the sleeping individual, they would provoke terrifying nightmares based upon the sleeper’s fears and anxieties. Their victim would experience a heavy weight on their chest, awareness of a dark presence and find themselves unable to move or wake up; an ancient mythological explanation of what is now known as sleep paralysis.
Unlike the above painting, a mare was considered to be a female demon appearing to humans as either a youthful, beautiful woman or an old, hideous hag.
9. Draugr: The Norse Zombie
Resurrected corpses of Viking warriors, the draugr, were terrifying zombie-like mythological creatures who roamed the world searching for their victims. The draugr could be clearly recognized by the stench of rotting flesh and their skin being a deathly black or blue color. They possessed staggering strength, could increase their body as they liked and haunt the dreams of the living.
In some versions of the myth, these undead mythological creatures were also thought to have several magical powers such as shapeshifting, premonitions, and weather control. The only motivation for these bloodthirsty mythological creatures was to slaughter any living being, whether humans or livestock, to satiate their thirst for flesh and blood. The draugr condition appeared to be contagious, like modern ideas of zombies, as those killed by the draugr would resurrect themselves as these creatures. The draugr were pretty indestructible and the only way to kill them was through decapitation, incineration of the body, and discarding of the ashes in the sea.
10. Banshee: Terrifying Irish Mythological Creatures
One of the more infamous mythological creatures on this list, the banshee, was a female spirit or fairy known to be the harbinger of death in Irish folklore. Depending on the version of the myth, she is either described as a hauntingly striking beauty or an ancient crone. She is said to have long white hair, a grey cloak, and eyes permanently red from her tears.
This mythological creature was known to be a foreteller of death to those who laid their eyes on her, through her piercing scream. Indeed, the most terrifying quality of the banshee was her painfully disturbing wail. Their scream was so bloodcurdling that it was said to affect a person’s mind and could be heard from a great distance.