Things That Have Wings but Shouldn't

Posted on 06/21/2010
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Throughout myths and legends there tend to be creatures with wings that are not seen that way in nature. The human fascination with flight is something that countless psychoanalysts and psychologists have looked into for centuries. However, simply put, it is something we can not do without mechanical help and something we could not do at all until the early part of the 20th century with the invention of the airplane—albeit poorly made airplanes that did not stay in the air for too long until the invention was refined to the mass commuter planes of the modern age. We can walk, run, carry things, swim, dive, and countless other things, but humans can not fly like the countless birds in the sky. Myths and legends seem to be a pallet for us to impart this desperate desire of our hearts by including other creatures that can not fly and do not have wings then going through the process of giving them wings, creating a whole new species by the addition of these magical feathers. All cultures around the world have the habit of putting wings onto animals who are born without them, making this dream of flight a universal one that transcends space and time. Let's take a look back at these fantastic beasts.



The gryphon (also acceptably spelled griffin or griffon) is a mythical beast with the body of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle in the legends of the northern Mediterranean—particularly ancient Greece and later Rome. Since the lion was considered to be the king of animals and the eagle the kind of birds, this creature represented power and majesty in every fiber of its being. It was a guardian of the divine and representative of divine power. The earliest depiction of this creature is on a fresco in the main throne room at the Knossos Bronze Age palace (circa roughly 15th century BCE)—linking to the gryphon's ties with power and guardianship. The creature shows up in Central Asian mythology too in the 5th century BCE (one thousand years after Bronze Age Knossos). While it keeps its job as a guardian, this Persian Empire gryphon is seen as a guardian for evil and witchcraft.



The alan is a legendary creature that is believed to have originated in the folklore of the Philippines as most of the stories about them come from that area. An alan is half human and half bird. They tend to be mostly humanoid in their appearance but with very large wings. However, their human forms are slightly strange in the fact they have fingers where their toes should be and toes where their fingers are supposed to be. This twist in formation was to help them with their daily relaxation and nocturnal habits of sleeping by hanging upside down in the trees. Some tales show their mischievous side, but most of the time alans are very friendly toward humans. Occasionally, they are seen to take in orphaned or abandoned children, raising them in the forests as one of their own.



The hsigo (also spelled hsiao) is a creature from Chinese legend. They had bird wings (composed of layered feathers) that were large enough for controlled flight of their slightly smaller forms (about 2-3 feet tall). Their bodies resembled monkeys, and according to the Chinese legends they were actually considered to basically be a different breed of monkey with wings. The main difference though is the fact they had human like faces. To see one though was a bad omen. His presence was to be an indicator of a coming drought. They are said to be Frank Baum's inspiration for the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz that swoop down and grab Dorothy and her traveling party.



The wyvern (or wyvern) is a winged serpentine reptile from Medieval legends and used a great deal in the heraldry of the Middle Ages. In addition to its set of large, leathery wings that could propel it nimbly through the sky, the wyvern generally has two legs and a very long barbed tail that occasionally has a poisonous barb at the end. It's name is derived from the Old North French word “wivre” which means “viper.” Such a name really speaks to its snake like appearance, rather than the lizard like one of a dragon. In heraldry, the animal was used to symbolize war and envy.



Gargoyles are interesting creatures with a strange beginning. These grotesque dragon like carved features with random human characteristics began popping up in Medieval France about the 13th century to act as downspouts on the newly built cathedral rooftops. The first true gargoyle story though surrounds the actions of a priest named Romanus who promised to to rid the area around Rouen of a dragon called La Gargouille if they agreed to all be baptized and build a church. The villagers of course agreed and the priest held up his end of the bargain. Romanus subdued the dragon then led him back to the town to be burned. However, the dragon's upper body was too fire resistant to burn so it was mounted on the town wall as a reminder to the villagers of the benefit they received from Christianity. This legend made the ugly winged humanoid/dragon like creatures common place on churches throughout France even after the architectural designs of the rooftops did not require them as drainage spouts. A combination of reasons can explain these monsters on beautiful churches. They were to ward off evil—swooping down from their ledges to keep evil beings away from the church—and to remind parishioners of the perils of following the ways of evil.



The peryton was a magical creature that combined the attributes of a stag (or deer) and a bird. The peryton was thought to be an animal from the lost continent of Atlantis. Some interpretations of the creature picture it as a complete deer with merely the attached plumage of wings, but the majority of descriptions and drawings have it have the antlers, head, neck, and forelegs of a stag attached to the wings and hindquarters of a sizable bird. Even though the combination of its parts were simple peaceful creatures (stag and bird), the peryton had an insatiable taste for human flesh, a hunger so powerful that the creature was believed to have contributed to the downfall of Rome because it had such a liking for the blood of Roman citizens. This winged deer was said to cast a strange shadow though—that of a human man. The peryton would use his shadow to trick humans traveling alone or in isolated areas into being either calm or even welcoming to the other “person” about to round the corner. However, once the peryton had attacked and eaten its fill of the person it had chosen to attack, its shadow would actually fit its form and it will be unable to kill another human until the hunger rears its ugly head again. The time between these killings and the resuming of a human shadow varies between stories and legends. Yet, the point is that these gentle winged deers were actually carnivorous monsters.

Author: Brooke Windsor Copyrighted ©