The Myth of the Kappa

kappaImagine this: a winding river in Japan.  The scenery is lovely, the day warm, and all of a sudden something near the water moves.  It looks like a child, so you draw closer. But when it turns around you find yourself face to beak with a grinning kappa.

Kappa are a type of water spirit who are considered incredibly intelligent and lecherous creatures, inhabiting bodies of water all throughout Japan.  In fact, there are still signs in certain areas warning people of the kappa who are said to dwell in that body of water. They are typically described as being about the size of a 10-year-old child, yellow-green in color, and looking like a scaled monkey or having a tortoise shell instead of skin.  They are also said to have beaks on their faces and speak many languages as well.  On the tops of their heads is an indentation filled with water that give the kappa their powers, and if they should lose that water they are rendered powerless.

kappa 2They are known for drowning or devouring children who wander too near the water, waiting in toilets and assaulting women, and occasionally attacking men.  However, if you can trick one into bowing, emptying the contents of its head, and offer to replenish it, the Kappa will be generous and grant the person a wish or a favor.  They are also attributed to introducing the art of bone setting and salve creating to humans.

Though the benefits to helping one seem great, the majority of signs point away from the kappa, warning people from their habitats.  One thing is for certain: if you happen to find yourself face to face with one, bow low and wait for your opportunity to flee, or refill his head and be blessed with any wish you could desire.

For more reading on the kappa (sources):

The Myth of the Phoenix

phoenixThe concept of immortality has fascinated humanity for centuries.  One of the greatest questions most religions seek to answer is what happens after.  And indeed, what does happen after? Most religions believe in an afterlife — a heaven and hell; Tartarus and the Elysian Fields.  But what about rebirth? What about reincarnation? Well, there was a myth in which this was addressed, the concept of being reborn from the ashes of what came before.  Of course, I am talking about the legendary phoenix.

The phoenix first made its appearance in Egyptian mythology, bursting from the heart of Osiris himself.  They were large birds with red and gold plumage, crying out with beautiful voices, and living for no less than half a millenia.  Only one phoenix was said to live at a time, and other creatures were said to fall dead when they saw it due to its beauty and sadness.  However, the biggest piece of the myth is its death. You see, there are several stories describing how this happens, though one thing remains the same — the phoenix dies within flames and is reborn from its own ashes.

phoenix-2.jpgOne version of the rebirth myth states that the phoenix fashions a nest for itself, made with aromatic boughs and spices, before setting it on fire while within.  The phoenix would then die amid the flames. Once the fire died, leaving a pile of ash, the new phoenix would then burst from the ashes — the remains of its predecessor — and embalm the ashes in an egg of myrrh.  This egg would be flown to Heliopolis — “City of the Sun” — and deposited on the altar for Re, the sun god. Another version of its rebirth states that the phoenix will fly to Heliopolis to die in a fire on the altar.  Either way, the ashes left behind were said to be able to bring a man back from the dead, according to legend.

The phoenix is a creature that will live on in story — a bird who does not truly die, who is reborn from the ashes of what came before.  And whether or not we believe in an afterlife,the phoenix represents something else, something more — the idea that not just us as people, but our ideas, our hopes and dreams, can be reborn from what came before.  

For more reading on the phoenix (sources):

The Myth of Pegasus

Pegasus — the name has become quite popular over the years.  From movies to video games to books, the winged horse has made its appearance and captured the hearts of audiences everywhere.  But where did this magnificent creature come from? How was it created?

pegasus 2

According to Greek mythology, Pegasus was born from the blood of the severed head of Medusa.  A white stallion with wings, Pegasus was gifted to the Muses who accepted him with open arms. According to myth, when he arrived, the creature was so delighted that he stomped his hooves on the ground and from beneath them sprang the stream Hippocrene which is found on Mount Helicon.  This spring became known as the fountain of the Muses. Of course, there are other versions of this story, including that when the Muses sang the mountain would rumble in joy, and Poseidon told Pegasus to kick it to make it stop, thus opening the spring.

pegasusAs well as causing streams to bubble up, Pegasus was also made famous when he was tamed by the great hero Bellerophon who had been gifted a bridle from the goddess Hera.  Bellerophon captured the creature, eventually riding him in battle against the chimera. Once Bellerophon is killed, Pegasus finds himself a servant of Zeus, charged with carrying his thunderbolt.  After years of faithful service, Zeus honors him by creating a constellation.

Pegasus was a son of Poseidon and Medusa, birthed from her blood.  He was a gift to the Muses, a loyal steed to the hero Bellerophon, and a faithful servant to the god Zeus.  Pegasus, with his white coat and fluffy wings, was a majestic, wild beast, and he will be forever immortalized amongst the stars.

For more reading on Pegasus (sources):

The Folklore of the Yuki Onna

yuki onnaImagine this: you find yourself lost in the woods, high up in the mountains of Japan.  Snow is falling in a thick curtain, and out of the corner of your eyes you see a woman dressed in white slipping amongst the trees.  You blink and she is there, sucking your life force from you as you freeze up, turning solid as ice. This is the fearsome creature known as the Yuki Onna.

Yuki Onna are Japanese yokai — a category of supernatural beings in Japanese folklore which includes demons, monsters, and creatures.  Their legends are more prevalent amongst the people living in the Japanese Alps where they can await — and eventually hunt — unsuspecting travelers who find themselves lost during snowstorms.

yuki onna 2The Yuki Onna are described as being beautiful, with long, black hair and violet eyes.  Their flesh is pale, their kimonos white to blend in with the snow. Their powers include being able to freeze a human by sucking out their souls with their icy breath and entering homes, flash-freezing entire families while they sleep.  However, not every interaction with the Yuki Onna ends with their human prey frozen. In fact, some lore suggests that they will fall in love and marry. However, the Yuki Onna are immortal, and when their husbands realize she does not age their marriages fall apart.

So be wary, travelers.  If you happen to find yourself lost on a snowy mountain road, keep your eyes out for a woman of great beauty dressed all in white.  For she may be a Yuki Onna, awaiting her latest prey.

For more reading on the Yuki Onna (sources):

The Myth of Arachne

arachne 3Imagine being amazing at something.  Now imagine being known for it, for people celebrating your talent, even comparing it to the gods.  Can you see it? Can you feel your pride building? Now picture the goddess you are compared to coming for you, and you are going toe-to-toe with her.  And you win. Your prize? Eternity transformed into a creature, a punishment earned because you were too proud to say you weren’t better than the goddess herself.  This is the story of Arachne and Athena.

The story of Arachne and Athena’s contest has changed over the millennia. Most stories start off the same way: Arachne was a talented weaver.  In most versions, she is proud of her work, and this leads to her downfall. For you see, some versions have Athena becoming enraged and challenging Arachne to a contest because of this, some that Arachne herself challenged her, and others that Zeus called for it as he was the judge.  A lot has changed from version to version of the story, and that is no different when it comes to what they weave. However, the main theme that seems to be constant is that Athena weaves four scenes of the gods who punish humans who believe themselves to be their equals while Arachne weaves four scenes of the gods punishing humans for no reason.

arachneThis is where the story changes the most, however: the ending.  I will tell you all three of the main versions. In one, Arachne beats Athena and, while in a rage, Athena curses Arachne to take the form of a spider.  In another, Arachne and Athena wagered their weaving — the loser being unable to touch a spindle or loom ever again. In this version, Athena wins, and Arachne is so distraught that she will no longer be able to weave that Athena, taking pity on the girl, transforms her into a spider so that their bargain may not be broken. The last version of this story is that Athena is beaten, however she is impressed by the girl’s skills.  So, she kisses Arachne’s forehead to give her the wisdom to see how her boasting has hurt and angered others and — in her sorrow — she hangs herself. Athena then transforms the rope into a web and Arachne into a spider.

arachne 2Either way, the story of Arachne is a cautionary tale.  Her pride gets her into trouble when she believes herself to be above the gods, and her punishment is one that leaves her cursed for eternity.  One thing is for sure: never anger the Greek gods, or you might find yourself challenged by them — and in turn, cursed for all of time!


For more reading on the myth of Arachne (sources):

The Folklore of “The Scottish Play”

macbethThe theater has been host to much folklore over the years.  There is the saying “break a leg” which means “good luck” — though you are never supposed to actually wish someone “good luck.”  There are stories of haunted sets due to deaths, of cursed parts — such as the ghost in “the Peony Lantern” which stems from a 1919 performance in which the two actresses playing Otsuyu and her maid fell sick and died within a week of each other.  However, there is one play that no one dares utter the name of. One that has supposedly been cursed for centuries. And that play is Macbeth.


macbeth 2

According to lore, to even utter the name of the play was considered horribly bad luck, therefore it was always referred to as “The Scottish Play.”  This all stems from the notion that — again, according to legend — Shakespeare used actual incantations for the witches, causing a coven to curse the play forevermore.  Another theory is that the actual incantations the witches speak during the performance is the curse itself, causing all of the misfortune that has befallen this play since its opening day.

macbeth 3

As we take a look at a few of the accidents that have occurred throughout the years, we have to begin in 1606 when the actor playing Lady Macbeth died the day before the play was to debut.  This forced King James I to ban the play for years in order to prevent any further incidents. However, the actresses who have played Lady Macbeth have been known to suffer the worst of it.  There are stories of the actors being strangled, breaking both of their legs, falling to their deaths off the stage, and — the worst of it all — being attacked by audience members who become completely bewitched by the play.  This leads us to 1849 when — in New York — the audience was so bespelled by the play that a riot broke out, killing over thirty people. Macbeth 4When Laurence Olivier played Macbeth, he was almost killed by a heavy weight that mysteriously dropped from backstage, and during his performance they used real swords which, unfortunately, led to one flying into the audience, hitting one of the patrons and causing him to have a heart attack.  In 1942, three actors died under unexplained circumstances, and the costume designer took their own life on opening night. The final story we have of this play’s destruction comes to us from 1953 when actor Charlton Heston was in a horrific motorcycle accident during rehearsals, leaving both of his legs badly burned for his performance. The reason? His tights had been mysteriously soaked in kerosene, leaving them highly flammable.

With every curse there comes the chance to break it.  And this one is no different. According to theater folklore, should you utter the name of the play you must immediately exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, curse, then knock on the theater door in order to be allowed back in.  So if you happen to find yourself cast in “The Scottish Play” fear not! Just whatever you do, do not say the name of the play, or you might find yourself added to the list of unexplained deaths this play has been collecting since the very beginning.

For more reading on the curse of Macbeth (sources):

The Myth of the Manticore

manticore 2Imagine this: you are walking through a jungle with a group of people when something moves just at the corner of your vision.  You turn to move, but it’s too late. The massive, reddish creature moves too fast for you to track as it leaps towards you, claws extended.  You have just encountered a manticore.

According to Greek myth, the manticore was a massive creature, a chimera of different parts that created the fearsome man-eater.  Generally described as having a human-like face, the creature had a red, lion’s body, the tail of a scorpion or a dragon — depending on which account you believe — and having three rows of teeth.

manticoreTo accompany it’s monstrous appearance, the manticore was allegedly fast, more swift than its massive size should allow.  It is so fast that supposedly no man can keep up with its lightning speed. To top this all off, the manticore is said to have extremely sharp claws — claws so sharp that they could cut a man into ribbons with a single swipe!  Of course, making this creature even more terrifying, some accounts describe the manticore as being winged, like a dragon. Its tail is barbed and poisonous, having the capability of shootings its stingers towards its victims.

The fearsome appearance of the manticore is sure to give anyone who encounters it nightmares.  Though according to legend, the manticore preferred to attack a group of travellers, the way to mark its coming is its call: the loud boom of a trumpet.  So beware travellers, and listen for the sound of music amongst the trees. For it might not be a person practicing their notes but rather a terrifying creature lying in wait for its next meal.

For more reading on the manticore (sources):