Mythical Creatures, and Where to Find Them
Around the world, countries celebrate and fear mythical creatures from legends dating back centuries. Tales of strange beings extend beyond Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy to spirits, sprites, fairies and monsters — some good, some evil.
What are some of the most significant fabled creatures — and where can you seek these storied entities for yourself? We've gathered some of the most compelling tales, and tell them here.
The mythical Domovoi is known to be a guardian of sorts for the people of Russia. Described as a hairy, bearded male in human form, the Domovoi lives in a family home as a spirit guardian (often hiding under the stove).
These guardians, although frightening in description, are actually positive forces that are good to have around. Families may even leave treats for their Domovoi. (Although, if you leave a utensil out at night, it has a habit of going missing.) Domovoi are known to touch or even smother you in your sleep to alert you of something bad on its way.
Seek for yourself: Souvenir shops sell Domovoi dolls throughout Russia, so you can take home your own house protector.
Before Polynesian settlers arrived in what was believed to be uninhabited Hawaii, they encountered temples, roads, bridges and more. Who created the infrastructure? According to legend it was the Menehune, the original natives of the islands.
The Menehune are rumored to be small, dwarf-sized and crafty people. The similar word "manahune" means "lowly people" in Tahiti, but this may actually have originally referred not to the Menuhune's size, but to their lower status.
In any case, today the never-seen Menehune are considered to be mischievous creatures who like to have a little fun with unsuspecting visitors.
Seek for yourself: Explore Disney's Aulani Resort on the island of Oahu, and you will find Menehune hidden throughout the grounds. Find them in the trees, in hotel rooms, in restaurants and even in the elevators (as shown above).
South Africa's Tokoloshe
Another mischievous — and scary-looking — dwarf is said to be found in Africa. Actually a water sprite, in Zulu mythology, Tokoloshes become invisible when they drink water, and can bring trouble and pain, often at the bidding of another.
The Tokoloshe are so feared in Africa, there is a special salt sold to ward away the spirit.
Seek for yourself: Tales are so gruesome — they will kill you in your sleep — that you don't want to find a Tokoloshe. If you aren't afraid, try taking the Mystery Ghost Bus Tours of South Africa, which searches for the evil sprite.
The famous fairies of Ireland known as leprechauns have been described as little men with red beards, dressed in green, who hide pots of gold at the end of rainbows.
Tales of the tricksters date back to 8th century legends, and there are various theories as to where their name comes from. Some believe it's rooted in the word "luchorpán," which means small body, while others think it comes from the Irish "leath bhrogan," or shoemaker.
Interestingly, leprechauns were originally depicted as wearing red, not green. No matter the color, it is rumored that if you catch a leprechaun, he will grant you three wishes in exchange for his freedom.
Seek for yourself: Leprechauns are only found in Ireland, so if you spot a rainbow while on the Emerald Isle, find the end of that rainbow! (Or, just buy a leprechaun souvenir.)
Kitsune, or "fox" in English, is another mythical spirit guide. For the Japanese, kitsune are shape-shifting fox with up to nine tails — the more tails, the older and wiser they are.
These spiritual shape-shifters can be the bearer of life-changing news. Or, they can play tricks on a person by disguising themselves in their human form.
Tales of Kitsune date back to the 11th century, with stories written about them found not only in Japan, but in China and India.
Seek for yourself: You may not find a nine-tailed fox, but you can meet 100 regular foxes at Kitsune Mura, a zoo-like fox village located in the Miyagi Zao mountain town of Shiroishi. Its nickname? "Fox Heaven."
Another shape-shifting spirit is said to be found in the Philippines. Aswang are evil spirits that manifest as many different monsters, including witches, vampires, werewolves and ghouls.
This monster is particularly evil in that its desire for human flesh leans more toward children and women — or even worse, a pregnant woman and her unborn child!
Documentation of the creature dates back to the 1600s, when Spanish explorers discovered how much Filipinos feared the mythical creature.
Seek for yourself: It is believed your best chance of encountering an Aswang is in Roxas City, the capital of Capiz. Here, locals use garlic to ward away the evil being. Maybe wear a string of garlic, just to be safe.
Scotland's Loch Ness Monster
When a Scottish couple went to the local papers to report seeing a giant animal swimming around the surface of Loch Ness in 1933, it created a frenzy. A reward was offered for the capture of the monster and ever since, people have been on the lookout.
Over time, sonar readings and other tests have been performed on the lake in search of the beast or its remains.
On June 3, 2019, a team of scientists, testing the water for DNA samples, proclaimed that there "might" be truth to the myth.
Seek for yourself: Loch Ness is closest to the city of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Trains are available from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Norwegian sailors were the first to report tales of a giant octopus/squid that could sink a ship in the Nordic waters. The legend of the Kraken is found throughout Scandinavia and northern Europe, with stories perpetuated by authors like Jules Verne, who depicted a giant squid creature larger than men in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Even Herman Melville gave the kraken a mention in "Moby Dick."
Seek for yourself: Giant squid measuring up to 43 feet in length can be found in all the world's oceans, though they're not large enough to sink a ship. You may want to stick with checking out the smaller version at the National Aquarium of Denmark.
Puerto Rico's Chupacabra
The blood-drinking, flesh-eating monster known as El Chupacabra was first reported in Puerto Rico in the late 1990s, when livestock were drained of their blood. Since then, the vampire-like creature has been said to strike fear throughout Latin America.
Sightings of the creature, which is said to look like a hairless dog, continue to this day. The likely reality is a little less sensational: Researchers believe dogs with mange disease can lose their hair, and what people are seeing are infected dogs (which are not going to suck the blood from livestock).
Seek for yourself: This is one wild animal you shouldn't be seeking.
Bram Stoker may have written the book on Count Dracula of Transylvania, but the real Dracula was known as Vlad the Impaler. The ruler of Romania didn't turn into a bat or drink blood, but his acts of cruelty in war earned him his name and inspired the 1897 novel.
While many consider Stoker's Dracula the prototypical vampire, author John William Polidori wrote of a vampiric character more than 80 years earlier, in his short piece of fiction "The Vampyre."
To this day, the fascination with vampires is evident in movies, TV and books, including the fantastically popular "Twilight" series.
Seek for yourself: Visit Bran Castle, which bears a striking resemblance to Stoker's castle of Dracula, even though Stoker never visited Romania.
Not all mythical creatures are evil. In China, the dragon has long been associated with power and good fortune and is connected to water, rain, lakes and rivers — in fact, China's four largest rivers are all named for dragons.
So revered is the dragon that there are temples and shrines built to honor it, and it is one of the Chinese zodiac signs.
Seek for yourself: The Mid-Autumn Festival (Sept. 13, 2019), Chinese New Year (Jan. 25, 2020) and the Dragon Boat Festival (June 25, 2020) all incorporate dragons into the festivities.
The Ocean's Mermaids
Mermaids — half woman, half fish — have their roots in ancient mythologies dating back thousands of years, and they have appeared in folklore around the world. The earliest known renderings of the creature were found in cave paintings from the Palaeolithic (Stone Age) some 30,000 years ago. (There have long been tales of mermen, as well, although they are less frequent.)
Hans Christian Andersen helped propel the creature into popular culture when he wrote "The Little Mermaid" in 1836. Ever since, mermaids have continued to pop up in books, TV and film, with Disney making a big "splash" with its mermaids in "Peter Pan" and, of course, its own version of "The Little Mermaid."
Fun fact: In 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids in the waters of the Caribbean, calling them "not half as beautiful as they are painted.” In reality, it's believed what he saw were manatees.
Seek for yourself: Since 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in central Florida has featured live "mermaids" you can see in person at the 400-seat submerged Mermaid Theater. The experience is both strange and remarkable.
Mermaids may have been a delight to see, but for sailors in Greece and Italy, sirens were mythical water women to be avoided. Their singing was said to be so enchanting, sailors would run their ships aground or onto rocks. Half woman and half bird, they were able to sing from the sky or the sea to get sailors to follow them.
Sirens famously appeared in Homer's "Odyssey" as children of Greek gods and were spiritual beings.
Seek for yourself: Take a sailing tour of the Greek Isles, including stops in Santorini and Mykonos, and listen for the sounds of sirens. You can even take a "Sirens of the Aegean Sea" cruise through Asimina Tours.
This ape-like man-animal has long been rumored to stalk the mountains of the Himalayas.
It was Englishman Charles Howard-Bury who coined the term Yeti, when he led an expedition to Mount Everest in 1921. During his expedition, Howard-Bury found giant footprints that his Sherpas said belonged to the "man bear," which translates to "yeti" in Tibet. (In neighboring Nepal, it means "jungle man.")
In April 2019, the Indian Army gave some credence to the myth when they reported seeing Yeti-like footprints in a mountainous region between Nepal and Tibet. The prints measured 32 x 5 inches.
Western folklore refers to a similar snow monster as the Abominable Snowman.
Seek for yourself: You're always welcome to brave the Himalayas in the hopes of spotting this mythical beast...or at the very least, his very formidable footprints.
North America's Sasquatch/Bigfoot
Hairy mythical creatures aren't just resigned to roaming snowy climes. Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest long passed down tales of a beast known as Sasquatch.
The British explorer David Thompson reported discovering footprints belonging to the gangly beast in 1811, and there have been hundreds of other alleged sightings since. Alas, there remains no concrete evidence that the monster, believed to measure up to 15 tall, actually exists. Animal Planet even produced an entire documentary series, "Finding Bigfoot," in an effort to confirm the beast's existence, and came up empty-handed.
You may also know Sasquatch by his other, more straightforward name: Bigfoot.
Seek for yourself: Keep your eyes peeled while hiking in the wilderness of Banff National Park, where (alleged) sightings have been reported.
Pixies were known in folklore for bringing good tidings to the English countryside and for throwing festive garden parties with lots of music. In more modern times, their reputation has become one of mischief; they're said to lead travelers astray, stealing their horses and even children.
The tiny winged female creatures have appeared in tales for many centuries, but in 1824, Cornish author Samuel Drew sadly wrote of their end: "The age of pixies, like that of chivalry, is gone," he reported. "There is, perhaps, at present hardly a house they are reputed to visit. Even the fields and lanes which they formerly frequented seem to be nearly forsaken. Their music is rarely heard."
In reality, their legend has very much lived on.
Seek for yourself: Visit the town of Ottery St. Mary in East Devon to enjoy Pixie Day. Legend has it that the town was once occupied by pixies who believed every time the church bells rang, one of their kind would die. So they captured the town's bell ringers and imprisoned them in a cave by the river.
Local scout groups act out this story on the festive day, which also features stalls, live entertainment and a barbecue. Held on the Saturday closest to Mid-Summer's Day, the tradition is more than 500 years old.