Worldwide, there is no shortage of myths. People believe all kinds of tall tales, and then share those stories with their family members and friends. Throughout history, myths were passed down through generation upon generation of oral tradition, with each successive group carrying the torch and extending the legend through the ages. Today, we still know many of those myths, and we obviously are familiar with many of the mythical creatures that make them up: the Loch Ness Monster, griffins, banshees, gnomes, and countless dragons, dwarves, demigods, and other things that go bump in the night.
But the cool part about myths is that there are so many you haven’t heard about. Sure, we’re all aware of the more mainstream ones, be it the Scottish Highlands’ Nessie or the United States’ Bigfoot. Thankfully, myth goes far beyond those well-known critters. In this list, we’ll do a deep dive into ten mythical creatures you’ve never heard of. These eye-catching legends are fascinating, fantastic, formidable—and a little creepy.
The oni is a very popular Japanese mythical creature that has taken on a new life in various media productions in that country. Once said to be part of a historic myth, the oni now resides and often makes appearances in anime, films, and theater productions across Japan and of Japanese inspiration. The myth that drives these modern references is very well-known, too, and has been handed down all across Japan for centuries.
The oni is a type of “yokai,” which is a Japanese word meant to indicate a spirit that can either be good or evil. Specifically, onis are portrayed as being orcs or ogres—and always with horns on their heads and wild, large eyes. Many onis wear brightly-colored clothes, and most of them carry with them a “kanabo” club. This type of club is an iconic Japanese weapon from history, made to be used with both hands and boasting a series of spikes and studs along its body. Samurais were said to use them in the feudal era in Japan, and now, onis are associated with them in stories and legends.
In addition to the bright colors often worn by these oni figures, many of them are also depicted as having bright red or blue skin. Some have more than two eyes, as well, and nearly all of them have large, sharp fangs and teeth in their mouths in addition to their horns. Their appearance is scary, obviously. And since their power as fighters is often unmatched, many mortals throughout Japanese history have created and handed down elaborate rituals meant to chase them away and keep humanity safe from supernatural harm.
Gorgons were well-known mythical creatures that made up some of the most popular stories handed down in ancient Greece. You know one gorgon very well, in fact: Medusa! Along with two other famous gorgons (Stheno and Euryale), Medusa was said to have a deadly stare that could turn people to stone. All three of those gorgons (and many more lesser-known ones who were reputed to have the same powers) could alter humanity forever by turning mortal men to stone in an instant should they ever cast a glance at the mythical beast.
Most gorgons of Greek mythology were immortal. And specifically, two of the trio of aforementioned well-known sisters were impossible to kill. Stheno and Euryale were destined to live forever, and could offer their unsettling superpowers however they saw fit for time immemorial. Medusa was not immortal, though, and that turned out badly for her.
A well-known Greek legend denotes how demigod Perseus was able to behead her, chopping away the snakes that made up her hair and ending her threat to humanity. Well, mostly ending it; Medusa’s severed head could still turn people to stone, but at least she wasn’t as much of an ambulatory threat as she’d been. But as for Stheno and Euryale, considering their immortality, they are supposedly still out there somewhere waiting to wreak havoc upon humanity…
In southeast Asia, the Pontianak is said to be a mythical demon woman who haunts and attacks human beings. Called the Pontianak in Malaysia, and known by the name Kuntilanak in neighboring Indonesia, this creature is often said to be a woman who died during childbirth ages ago. Other legends about the Pontianak give a wrinkle to that angle, claiming she was actually a pregnant woman who died before she could give birth to her child. Either way, these female spirits are said to be very, very angry and dead-set on getting revenge in the mortal realm.
In most descriptions of these scary spirits across both Indonesia and Malaysia, it is said to be a long-haired woman with pale skin who always dresses in white. They have long, sharp claws on their hands. With them, they often attack unsuspecting humans—most usually males—and then feed on their organs and entrails. Some Malaysian legends even claim the Pontianak finds its prey by sniffing scents that come from clothes. Because of that, many Malaysian people still to this day refuse to hang their clothes outside at night, fearful that the evil Pontianak will come across them and attack.
Ancient Jewish folklore tales passed down told stories of a difficult-to-define creature known as the Golem. These beings were amorphous from the beginning, originating as inanimate objects in some stories, and specifically as clay statues in others. Then, after a person performs a very specific rite upon the non-living thing, they were said to spring to life. Suddenly given the zest and zeal of the living, golems could go from statues and other stationary objects to servants that were intensely aware of and loyally catering to the person who granted them life.
Unlike many mythical creatures on this list, we have good news about the golems: they were mostly nice (or, at least neutral) beings! They didn’t exist to rain havoc down upon the world, but instead, they were said to be perfect servants ready to do whatever their creator asked. So, if the person who performed the rites to bring a golem to life wanted it to do evil, it would. But if that same person simply wanted, say, a housekeeper, the golem could take care of that as well. Honestly, that doesn’t sound so bad!
There are plenty of stories involving golem from all around the Jewish world. Most originate out of Central and Eastern Europe, of course. In one notable example from 16th century Prague, a rabbi was said to have created a golem out of clay he found at a river bank in the historic city. The golem he formed was made to protect Jews from hate crimes and religious persecution in Prague. That creation, the tale went, allowed the golem to summon spirits to help defend Jews against those who wished to do them harm.
Just like the Oni mentioned above, the Tengu is another mythical creature that hails from the folklore of Japan. In the Japanese language, the word “tengu” means “Heavenly Sentinel” or, alternately, “Heavenly Dog.” With that, some depictions of the Tengu hold that it is a “yokai” spirit meant for good instead of evil. Some even go so far as to depict the Tengu as a “Shinto kami,” or a higher-level god in ancient Japanese religious life.
The nation’s folklore tells many tales of the Tengu. Some legends claim that it’s a human with bird-like features and long, beak-like noses. In those instances, the Tengu is said to have wings as powerful and expansive as an eagle or a hawk. Other say it’s a human, but with more monkey-like attributes. Those tales of Tengu claim that it lives high in the trees and often hides away from humanity. Buddhist folklore even claims the Tengu are unwanted demons. They do more for evil in the world and against humanity than good, the Buddhists claim, and often bring about war and destruction.
Regardless, just like the Oni that were mentioned up top, the Tengu is part of modern popular culture in Japan. Its depiction is common in things like anime, films, and theater productions. And its image has softened quite a bit in the modern era. Take, for example, Pokémon! The famed Pokémon Shiftry was directly inspired by the legend of the Tengu.
Many mythical creatures tend to be scary because they have supernatural features that make them fearsome to mortals. They are huge, or strong, or scaly, or venomous, or—in the worst case scenario—all of the above and then some. The dybbuk operates a little differently, but for some reason, we think it might be the scariest mythical creature of them all.
The dybbuk (the plural for this word is “dybbukim,” by the way) hail from Eastern European mythology originating centuries ago, and function quite centrally in certain Jewish myths. According to legends handed down through the ages, the dybbukim are cursed spirits of lost, dead souls. These spirits cannot find peace or salvation on their own, and they must wander the earth searching for a human body to forcibly possess. Only then can they achieve their final goals on earth and release themselves from the spirit-trapped hell in which they’d been trudging along.
Of course, this possession is very bad for the human who suffers that fate. The only way to get rid of a dybbuk that has possessed a person is via an exorcism. Without that, the dybbuk will not leave the host until its finished its early business—and when it does go, the formerly-innocent host human is left a shell of themselves. Thus, the dybbuk ought to be feared perhaps more than any other creature on this list. While it can’t technically be seen on its own, its activities offer the worst fate for its human victims.
The next time you travel to Canada, beware of the Wendigo. Canadian folklore tells of a powerful, massive beast called as such that is said to possess human bodies. They can be made to look like humans in their visible form, too, and can thus easily lure unsuspecting people into terrible situations. These sirens will then sneakily possess the human which they’ve just lured away as prey. In turn, that person is said to return to society with a great desire for human flesh. Having turned into a cannibal under the influence of the Wendigo, the previously-normal human will go after their own loved ones, attempting to kill their families and eat their flesh.
Here is the craziest part, though: while you may be skeptical that the Wendigo exists at all, psychiatrists have already named a legitimate medical disorder after it. Known as “Wendigo psychosis,” this disease occurs when a human suddenly and irreversibly begins to crave the flesh of other humans. A psychotic disorder that has fascinated medical professionals for decades, Wendigo psychosis is actually an observable thing in the medical community. Now, whether or not it is actually caused by the so-called Wendigo can be left up for you to decide. But the cannibalistic desires that come up in humans were certainly inspired by this creepy Canadian legend.
The Basilisk may be one of the scariest creatures in all of ancient mythology. It originates in old European mythology, with tales of its supposed form, cunning, and aggression running rampant for centuries all across the continent. In fact, it was so popular for so long in the ancient world that some of its legends have carried over to the modern age. A few of the Basilisk’s alleged ancient activities are even mentioned in the “Harry Potter” series. You know you’ve made it when JK Rowling’s mega-hit takes aim at your myth, right?
But beyond “Harry Potter,” the Basilisk was said to become very, very scary in the ancient world. In many legends, it is depicted as a snake that has deadly venom which covers its scales. The venom is said to be so dangerous, in fact, that one light brush across its scales can quickly poison and kill a human or beast. Other legends hold that the Basilisk is actually much bigger than that. Some say it was an enormous serpent with powerful, magical eyes. One look from the large roaming creature could supposedly kill a person. While we say “if looks could kill” as a joke in the present day, the Basilisk supposedly really could make that happen.
Speaking of the present day, the Basilisk actually exists and is very much a real thing in Central and South America. We’re not pulling your chain about this, either! The common basilisk is a very small and relatively well-populated lizard species that roams the Western Hemisphere’s southern continent. That it takes its name from this horrifying mythical beast is an unfortunate fact for the real-life lizard. Don’t judge him on his mythical moniker inspiration!
As far as mythical sea creatures go, nobody fears any supposed swimming giant more than the Kraken. Sailors for ages have told tales of the supposed Kraken. All over the world, sailors and seafarers for centuries have reported hearing second- and third-hand stories about this monstrous, massive monster. Said to look something like an octopus (but much bigger), the Kraken possesses very powerful tentacles. Those tentacles are so large, and so strong, that they can supposedly yank entire ships down under the water. And if the Kraken isn’t interested in pulling a ship down into the depths, it simply uses its tentacles to split the thing in half—and for the sailors on board, the end result is effectively the same.
Of course, many skeptics point out that the Kraken almost certainly doesn’t exist. Any “sightings” of this supposed beast are more likely those of large octopus, or even giant squid, spotted by sailors out at sea for days and weeks on end. And any ships allegedly taken down by the Kraken likely weren’t felled by the mythical sea monster, but rather a terrible and unexpected storm with choppy waves and huge swells that make a ship go under. Still, the Kraken is everywhere, legends claim. It is part of the mythology of Norway, Denmark, Greenland, and Sweden. The story is so captivating that the National Hockey League’s franchise in Seattle is named for the mythical beast. And of course, one appeared in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, too.
The Aqrabuamelu is a mythical creature that was said to hail from ancient Mesopotamia. In the mythology of that far away and long-ago land, the ocean goddess Tiamat supposedly spent her time creating cryptid beings that were half-scorpion and half-human. Aqrabuamelu was one of those beings, with a human body from the waist up, and the powerful, crawly body of a scorpion from the waist down. Think of Aqrabuamelu like a minotaur or a centaur, but instead of a bovine body, it had even more of a creepy look down below. Other versions of the myth claimed Aqrabuamelu had an entirely human figure, but its skin was scaly like a scorpion, and it had the pincers and tail we associate with the barbed animal. That’s quite a combo!
Thankfully, Aqrabuamelu was not only a mythical figure, but a mostly benevolent one—or, we should say, one that more or less ignored humans and any potential human sacrifice. According to ancient Mesopotamian myths, Aqrabuamelu was strong, fast, and very skilled in hand-to-hand (er, claw-to-claw) combat. However, the being focused its aggression not on mere mortals, but on the gods. Tiamat was said to have created Aqrabuamelu and his related scorpion half-breeds specifically to win her war against the other gods of that day. Which is fine, as far as we’re concerned. Tiamat can have her scary scorpion offspring, so long as they don’t come after us!
[Image via FactFile/YouTube]