Mythical Beasts: Pookah

The pookah is a creature found in Irish folklore. There are many different variations of the spelling for its name: puca, pooka, and puka are just a few of the most popular. Sometimes considered a fairy, this creature is primarily a shape shifter. As found in research most concede that the common shape this fairy shifts into is a horse, but a rabbit is how I know this creature. But it’s also been depicted as goats and, in more modern depictions, a shapeless orb and other more common animals and pets. If the pookah does appear as a human it is always with an animal characteristic, rabbit ears for example, or a cat tail.

There are conflicting stories about whether these creatures are benevolent or malevolent. Farmers tend to believe that these creatures were helpful and aided in growing crops and milling. Some stories are very reminiscent of the fairy tale with the Shoe Maker and the elves that came to make his shoes at night – pookahs would come into the mill at night and do the farmer’s work.

However pookahs were also blamed for harm that befell unwary, or lost travelers, and were used in typical bed time stories to ward children away from unfavorable locations and actions.

According to Wikipedia these creatures have also been featured as blood thirsty, vampire-like monsters, or just hunger after human flesh – but I’ve honestly never seen these examples. But the pookah has appeared in a multitude of stories and legends, especially in popular culture, particularly in video games.

Odin Sphere is probably the best example. Featured as fluffy rabbit creatures who have been cursed by the fairies. They also appear as see-through colored orbs in Etrian Odyssey 4.

In movies, if the 1997 animated film Anastasia, the main character finds a dog that provides the sign that she seeks when determining which road she’ll take. She affectionately names the dog “Pooka.”

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Mythical Beasts: Spriggans

sprigganOriginating from Cornwall, England, Spriggans are a malevolent form of fairy. They are grotesque in appearance but their magical powers are fairly limited to nothing more than tricks and maybe some weather-tampering and illness. They are also said to be able to shift their size, appearing either diminutive in stature, to the size of a giant. They make their homes typically around barrows and crypts, but also around cliff sides and old castles.

Said to be particularly nasty to those that have slighted them, their threat level to humans is high, if not deadly. Similar to Will-o’-the-Wisps, they are more commonly known for leading foolish travelers astray into swamps or off of cliffs. But they have also been blamed for natural catastrophes, such as draughts and bad weather, as well as illness within humans and livestock. Also, in typical fairy tradition, they are said to kidnap babies and leave behind Changelings in their place.

Ancient beliefs vary about the origin and purpose of these fairies. Some believe that these fairies are the ghosts of deceased giants, while others believe that they are the fairy guard of the more diminutive race of fairies. Similar to Leprechauns Spriggans are said to have hordes of gold hidden away, and that they could be tricks out of this treasure.

Until they were featured in Bethesda’s Oblivion and Skyrim, these creatures appeared very little in popular culture. They made brief appearances in the Shin Megami Tensei game series. Probably their more well-known appearance was in a Steven King short story “Crouch End” that later became an episode in the television series Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King.

The most popular and well known tribute to this fairy is a sculpture by Marilyn Collins. Located along a disused railway line in Crouch End, England, the Spriggan appears to materialize through the wall. It is this statue that is said to have inspired Steven King’s short story.

Mythical Beasts: The Grim Reaper

grimreaperSkeletal, black robed, and carrying a sharp-bladed scythe, the Grim Reaper is the perfect personification of Death. Often also depicted with an hourglass, every part of his being is designed to remind us mere mortals that, yes, we have an expiration date, and yes, he will be there to collect.

Throughout time and history there have been many depictions and personifications of death, but it wasn’t until the 1300s, during the middle ages when they were battling the Black Plague, that the Grim Reaper started to appear.

First depictions of the Grim Reaper were varied, and there was no single Grim Reaper. There could easily be as many as three in a single painting. Nor were they always depicted with a scythe. Weapons could include anything from spears to even arrows.

The name of the Grim Reaper has went through just as many historical transformation. At first referred to only as the “Angel of Death” or just “Death,” in the 1600s the term “Reaper” was finally coined. In 1800s “Grim” was finally tacked on.

The role of the Grim Reaper is as varied as its history. Many interpretations include this taxer of souls as merely a collector, or perhaps the very thing that committed the deed of the slaying. He could be there only at the time of his victim’s last breath, or he could be lurking in a corner… waiting – perhaps a deal or two struck to keep a person’s death at bay.

shadowgate

This dark specter holds a special place in my heart. As a child growing up he was one of the first forms of monsters that I was acquainted with. He appears in the Game Over of one of my favorite games, Shadowgate, and to this day he is still one of my favorite elements about that game. I recalled turning to my mother to ask about this creature called the Grim Reaper and her brief explanation excited me. Personified death? How intriguing (perhaps my parents should have worried, haha).

He makes many other appearances within literature. Video games other than Shadowgate or Shadowgate 2014 edition, include Persona3, and Castlevania, and even more that do not use the Grim Reaper name, but pay homage to him in appearance.

In literature his most iconic appearance is as the narrator for one of my most adored book The Book Thief, though I will concede that perhaps this is not the most accurate interpretation as a Grim Reaper since he actually says that this personification merely amuses him. He also makes appearances in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and in Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse.

reaper_5_800x600He appears in a plethora of other media and sadly I cannot list them or, nor would I even claim to know them all.

No doubt inspired by Greek’s ancient Thanatos as well as Charon, the Grim Reaper is not the only personification of death to exist. Nor is it the restricted to only a single culture. For instance Japan have their shinigamis, and Ireland has its Dullahan – both of these are monsters that I look forward to writing articles about in the future. Suffice it to say if there is one thing that cultures the world over have in common it is death, and it seems only natural that with that should come many various personifications of this dark and grim subject.