Mediaeval Style Mythical Beasts
The authors of Mediaeval bestiaries were not merely concerned with providing a description of creatures. No, for them, everything in Creation had a purpose - nothing had been made without an ulterior aim: the edification and instruction of sinful man. So, each creature described is not merely an animal but a living parable, imbued with moral or religious symbolism.
There are several differences between the creatures described in Mediaeval bestiaries and those typically posted in the 'lifeform' section here or those found in fantasy novels. Firstly, the creators of the bestiaries were not usually concerned with practicalities: we find bizarre blendings of beasts; Pliny described the ostrich as the result of a mating between a giraffe and a flea (the mind boggles!).
Secondly, and most importantly, the beasts are imbued with profound moral and religious symbolism: the hydrus or the pelican represents Christ, the serra the backsliding man, the boar the fierceness of rulers. In many cases, it is clear that the habits of the creatures (as described by the authors) were determined by the symbolism, rather than, as one would expect, the other way round. It is not only the exotic and mythological beasts that are described this way: many everyday beasts receive a makeover, for example the beaver whom castrates himself when pursued by hunters or the weasel who conceived through the ear and gave birth through the mouth.
This scroll is a place to post creatures inspired by Mediaeval bestiary writers. They can be either 'genuine' Mediaeval beasts (I will start the scroll off with a few) or else ones in a similar style. Any invented ones should hold true to the general theme of the beasts here; in particular, they should have symbolism, either moral or religious (not necessarily Christian of course - it could be the symbolism of a fictitious religion in your world).
There are two main ways you could fit this in to a world. Either you could just take the creatures and put them in - many make good creatures and certainly would give a world a certain feel - or, alternatively, this could simply be what the scholars of the world believe: maybe the real beasts of a world are as different from their bestiary entries as those of our world our.
For the interested, you should be able to find a translation of a mediaeval bestiary (ideally complete with original illustrations) in a good public library. Of course, many of them disagree with each other on some of the beasts, so where this occurs in one I have posted I have arbitrarily chosen one description (the one I liked best).
N.B. Now that I've done a couple, reading the scroll submissions will give you a better idea of what I mean.
There lives in the oceans a huge fish known as the serra, which has huge wings. It can reach up to 30ft in length, with a wingspan stretching to 80ft. The serra's greatest delight is to race against ships: when it sees a ship in full sail upon the sea it will launch itself out of the water, beating its wings strongly and keeping pace with the ship. The wily beast will frequently spread its wings upwind of a ship, attempting to cut off its wind. Though its speed will frequently give it initial success, after several miles it will flag, lacking the stamina to continue, and landing again in the ocean, will sink back in to the briny deeps.
The serra is like the things of this world, while the ship is the image of the just man, who sails unharmed and without shipwreck through the storms and tempests of this world. The serra, unable to keep up, represents those men who at the beginning set their hand to good works but cannot continue with them. They are overwhelmed by vice and sin, which drag them into the depths like the waves of the sea.
'He that endureth to the end shall be saved.' (Matthew 10:22).
The hydrus, or idrus, is a noble reptilian beast that can reach up to 10ft long and inhabits the rivers and swamps of hot areas. It should on no account be confused with the hydra, a beast of a quite different nature. The hydrus is the deadly enemy of the crocodile and the wyvern, against which it imploys subtle and intelligent tactics.
If a crocodile or wyvern should be unfortunate enough to be sleeping with its mouth open, the hydrus, coating itself with slippery mud, will slip in to the open mouth. This will prompt the crocodile or wyvern in to an involuntary swallow. Once inside the hydrus will exert all its strength and burst out of the stomach, killing its swallower but itself emerging unscathed.
The hydrus' bite is also to be feared, for it produces great swellings which will persist and cause sickness. These can be lethal: the only cure is to coat the swellings in cattle dung which will cause them to subside.
The crocodiles represent death and hell, whilst the hydrus represents Our Lord Jesus Christ who, taking on human flesh died and, like the hydrus entering of its own free will the crocodile, descended in to the bowels of hell. Once there, He burst out, rising from the dead and dealing a deadly blow to death itself and freeing all those unjustly detained.
'Oh death, I will be thy plagues; Oh grave, I will be thy destruction.' (Hosea 13:14)
The charadrius is a small, entirely white river bird, found in the court of kings. The dung from its gut is a cure for weak eyes. If a person is sick then, if the man's illness is mortal, the charadrius will turn away its head as soon as it sees him: all will know that that man will die. However, if the man will recover, the bird will look at him and, taking all the sickness on to itself, will fly up to the sun, burn off the sickness, scatter it in the air and cure the sick man.
The charadrius symbolises Christ the Redeemer. Like the charadrius, Christ is wholly white and without sin. When Jesus came to us, he turned his face from the Jews because of their unbelief and turned instead unto the Gentiles, lifting their burdens and redeeming them from sin, bringing them new life.
'Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.' (Isaiah 53:4).
The offspring of a lion and a hyena, the leucrota is known for its swiftness and hunts in packs. It is as big as an ass, has the hindquarters of a stag, the chest and legs of a lion, the head of a horse and cloven hooves. Its head is disfigured by a wide mouth that stretches ear to ear; in this mouth are found not teeth, but horizontal strips of sharp bone. From its mouth comes a continuous sound that uncannily resembles the chattering of human speech, though no words of meaning can be made out.
The leucrota symbolises the false prophets who, though they may speak at great length, will say naught of truth or of substance; their false babble serves only to deceive the ignorant and to lead the righteous astray.
'Be wary of false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them.' (Matthew 7:15)
The pelican is a white waterbird that lives by the banks of the great rivers. It has a large, distinctive bill and in this it catches fish, which it can store in its bill to take home to feed its young. The pelican is devoted towards its young; towards them it shows exceeding love. However, as the young grow older, they strike their parents in the face. The parent pelicans strike back and kill them; however, they are then filled with remorse and, after grieving for three days, the mother will peck open her own breast and bleed over her young, pouring her blood over them and bringing them back to life.
The pelican is a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ who created all things; He made us from nothing. But we rebelled against God, just as the pelican's young do against their parents, and so were condemned to death and hell. Christ, by his death on the cross, poured out his blood for us; through this we were redeemed from death and granted eternal life.
'I have begotten sons and raised them up, but they have despised me.' (Isaiah)
Therarn (Note that this one doesn't really exist; hence the non-Christian symbolism)
The therarn is a large hawk with ruddy-brown feathers, a golden breast and a plume of sacarlet upon its head. Though a deadly hunter, it is entirely blind, when hunting it relies purely on its sense of hearing and vision. In the wild, it will attack any beast, regardless of size and will frequently but beasts much larger than it to flight. When tamed by a human, the hawkmaster must train it carefully to only attack suitable prey; however, without constant care it will break free and attack its holder and others. The therarn can fly higher than any other bird.
The therarn is the symbol of justice, the highest authority upon this world. True justice, as guided by the natural law of Andur, Lord of Order, is blind and will punish any who cross it, mighty or meak, rich or poor. Even when fettered and corrupted by humans to serve their own ends, justice still serves a higher law and will do all it can to slip out of their control, reward the innocent and punish the guilty.
'True justice is blind; all are equal before her gaze. The best of men's laws are still subject to a greater Law.' (Book of Andur, Jaeland 18:6)
The mole is a creature condemned to perpetual darkness. It is bling and has no eyes; always it burrows beneath the earth, digging and overturning it, gnawing at the roots. Never does it sleep; always it digs, blind and senseless; condemned to darkness.
The mole is the image of the pagan idols who are blind, dead and dumb, and also of their worshippers who wander in the eternal darkness of ignorance and folly. The mole is also the symbol of heretics who lack the light of true knowledge and devote themselves to earthly deeds. Like the eyeless mole which digs in the earth, heaping up soil and eating the roots of crops, they serve the desires of the flesh and succumb to the lure of pleasure, all the while trying, in every way possible, to gnaw at the roots of all that is good.
'In that day a man shall cast his idols to the moles and to the bats.' (Isaiah 2:20).
The scitalis is a large, carnivorous reptile. It is elegantly patterned with beautiful iridescent markings; so impressive are these that all who observe it slow down, fascinated, to observe it. Whilst they stare in wonder, the scitalis, lazy, slow and full of sloth as it is, will come up to them and devour them where they stand. The scitalis is full of internal heat; so hot is its body that its irridescent markings glow, adding to their beauty; even in the cruel frosts of winter the scitalis will expose its body to the open air.
Possessed of no virtue itself, the scitalis is like the sins and licentious pleasures of this world who, through their pleasing outward appearance and attractions, ensnare the weak-willed in to sin. Such people do not progress spiritually and, just as the scitalis devours its helpless foe, those in the sway of sin will be devoured by death, losing their eternal life. Just as the scitalis is warm, as if heated by internal fire, so are the sins of this world fueled by the fires of hell, placed their by the devil to snare the righteous.
'For the wages of sin is death' (Romans 6:23)
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? Responses (8)
This is cool. I love history. I love symbolism. I love this.
Obviously a good deal of work went into this scroll. I'm not sure if I've ever voted on a scroll before, I'd rather vote on entires individually I think because some I like much more than others. It seems like they all symbolize Jesus, but I guess that's what whoever wrote the book cared about. I like symbolism, but when everything you see reminds you of either Jesus or the devil depending on whether you like it or not it ceases to have meaning to me. But whatever... it's a neat idea for a scroll.
It's true - they (mostly) represent Jesus or the devil, but then the person writing it was most likely a monk. In the Middle Ages, religion was an incredibly powerful and important force in people's day to day lives and, depending on your world, it could be the same there (though not necessarily). It would be quite easy to adapt either these creatures (or similar ones) so that they respresented things from a dominant fantasy religion - note the therarn, which represents justice.
This is a great idea. I have recently begun searching old beastiaries of different cultures for ideas for creatures. It is where the Alerion bird I created came from... This is a true helpful submission just to let people know about the amount of information out there that we are forgetting.
It brings to mind the old pagan practice if divining through animals....their symbolism and meanings.
I am an avid fan of using animals for color and interest in my games, so I will have to add to this scroll a few of the more mundane animals and what they represented to the early practitioners of pagan religions.
(Any amount of heraldry research would divine quite a bit of info as well)
This is an awesome one. Gets the mind working it does :)
If anything, this is a great reminder to think outside of the box. The medievals were so creative with imagining their foreign creatures: http://bestiary.ca/