Fantasy. The means by which we escape our world and become part of another. These stories have intrigued cultures since the beginning of time, and have provided a way for us to celebrate human achievement and imagination. Standing opposite the larger-than-life heroes that grace these stories are mythical, magical beasts, foes of the mighty heroes and the means by which they prove their prowess. While some of these creatures seem larger than life, people swear to have seen them alive, wandering our world. Here are the 10 that are seen most often:
These majestic creatures have become a fantasy staple. They symbolize all that is pure and good in the world and possess magical power equal to that of any villain. While no unicorns have been found, in 1663 a German archaeologist decided to create a unicorn skeleton using mammoth and rhinoceros bones. His work, which he claimed was a true unicorn skeleton, was eventually discovered to be false but stories of unicorn sightings persist to this day. Unicorns have been seen in Scotland, and a unicorn lair has been reportedly found in North Korea. While most admit unicorns to be a creature of pure fiction, some continue to insist that they do or did exist.
The banshee is a creature from Irish folklore, a female spirit that wanders the world bringing messages from the underworld to the world of the living. The banshee’s signature is a wailing or screaming that forebodes death. Banshees have caught on in popular fantasy and have been featured in many popular films and TV shows. More often, a banshee is heard rather than seen. But because the banshee is so deeply ingrained in Irish culture, it is no wonder that sightings are frequent. A recent incident involved a woman who saw a figure wandering her property. She called the police but when they arrived, they found no one. After the police left, the woman received a call that her mother had just passed away. Sightings/hearings of these ghosts are limited to Ireland but don’t go searching for one if you’re ever there. Someone in your family might pay for your curiosity.
And even though seeing these grumpy creatures doesn’t bring luck or fortune, hundreds still wander the Icelandic countryside searching for these elusive creatures. Not only do sightings of these little creatures abound, Iceland even has several elf-experts who spend their lives looking for and studying elvenkind. If you’re interested, some will even lead you on an expedition so you, too can share in this piece of Norse lore.
This beast is one of America’s most popular, and most frequently sought after, monsters. In fact, Bigfoot has become so popular that pranksters have been known to dress up as the hairy beast just to help perpetuate the myth. While many have tried to catch a glimpse of the beast, or find evidence of its existence, none have found anything conclusive. There have been pictures of footprint, silhouettes, and endless eyewitness accounts but Bigfoot’s existence still remains contested. Even with all of the pranksters who have pretended to be Bigfoot, people continue to search for him. If you’re out at night in the Pacific Northwest, keep an eye out for the beast. Maybe you’ll be the one to bring the creature to light.
Merfolk, mermaids and mermen that is, have been a legend since ancient times and their personalities have shifted as different cultures have told stories about them. Homer’s Oddessey recounts the sirens that lure men to them with their hypnotic songs after which they devour them. Then, in more modern literature, mermaids became the beautiful, benevolent saviors of sailors who would have otherwise drowned. Stories of these creatures have permeated nearly every seafaring culture, so it is no surprise that sightings still occur to this day. Mermaids continue to be seen by sailors and tourists and because of their popularity, one aquarium has even hired a woman to put on a mermaid tail and swim in the aquarium for visitors to see.
Nowadays the only mythological creature with about as much screen-time as vampires is none other than the werewolf. Whether you’re a fan of Underworld, Van Helsing, or Twilight werewolves are definitely “in.” And it’s no wonder they’re so popular—who wouldn’t want to be able to change from a human into a monstrous wolf? Due to their popularity in modern culture, it’s no wonder that there have been numerous werewolf sightings across the United States. No place is more saturated with werewolf sightings, or werewolf culture, than Wisconsin.
Native American legend plays a large part in why Wisconsin is a hub of werewolf activity. Local legend states that the tribe that inhabited Wisconsin was given the gift of werewolf transformation. Old Bray Road, for example, has been the location of several sightings dating from the 1930’s to the present day. A 1999 sighting by a young woman who claimed to have been attacked by a werewolf on the road prompted others to come forward with similar stories.
While the origin of this creature is firmly rooted in fiction, it has rooted itself firmly into the mythical canon of the North. Algernon Blackwood introduced this creature in his classic tale The Wendigo published in 1910 Even though the creature first appears in literature, the concept of a “Wendigo” reaches beyond fiction. As the legend goes, a person who resorts to cannibalism—a harsh reality for those stuck in the cold, isolated North—slowly devolves into a creature that is half demon, half man. This legend is also rooted in Native American lore which sees the wendigo as a person or being who has lost balance with nature and has become something truly monstrous as a result.
As far as sightings go, Wendigos have been seen in the North, mostly in Canada and New England states. Witnesses, both drivers and even campers, have reported seeing a large, wild-looking humanoid similar to Bigfoot. So watch out if you’re travelling in Canada or northeastern states—if the tales are true, you may end up as a meal if you run in to this beast!
A mythical creature unique to America comes in the form of a half-man-half-moth creature known as “Mothman.” This legend first appeared in the 1960’s and a flood of sightings followed. Mothman was described by a young couple in West Virginia as a flying man-like creature with eyes that glowed bright red. The most intriguing thing about this creature is that witnesses gave similar descriptions and sightings were in a limited geographic area. Then again, witnesses may have just read the newspaper stories and wanted to become part of the hype. Regardless, the sightings caused public panic and caused quite a stir.
You may think that the Mothman was a creature of another time, a fad that faded and went, but Mothman continues to be spotted to this day. He has been spotted by a paranormal investigator in Tennessee, who described him as being around 8 feet tall and having eyes that glowed red. A man in Texas reports that since seeing the Mothman as a young child, he has had frequent, recurring nightmares. While the name may sounds comical at first, clearly this moth is no joke.
These small creatures have a varied and rich history in both Europe and America. One of our favorite fairies, Disney’s Tinkerbell, shows that our society has changed the way fairies are perceived. In medieval England, fairies were considered meddling and mischievous but in more recent history, they were seen in a more positive light. In fact, in the early 1900’s a society was formed specifically to investigate fairies whom were seen as friendly. Walt Disney himself was a member of the Faery Investigation Society, which may account for some of the magic he was able to infuse into his films.
Now, though, the pendulum may be swinging back to where it hung in medieval times; recent studies show that while fairy sightings have increased again (with hundreds of sightings per year), they are no longer the fun and friendly bearers of magical pixie dust. Rather, these fairies are prone to aggression and wear a frown more often than a smile. Public opinion has even named fairies as “scary,” and being more akin to imps or gremlins than the beloved fairies of Peter Pan.
Dragons have always inhabited our collective imagination, from the beginning of the world to modern times. Dragon lore spans time, culture, and even religion; dragons and are present in various forms in most mythology from America to Europe to Asia. Most accounts and tales of dragons name them as vicious fire-breathing behemoths that hoard gold and wreak havoc wherever they appear. From the wyrm that killed Beowulf to the dragons of Game of Thrones and the mighty Smaug, dragons permeate modern culture.
What you may not know, though, is that while modern cultures often associate dragons with fantasy tales and superstition, some people still claim to have actually seen dragons. For instance, in 1976, residents of a town in Texas swore that a dragon lived in the adjacent countryside. Fear in the form of a scaly beast that eats fishermen overshadows a hamlet in modern Tibet. Most recently, in 2002 a group of 500 people in China claim to have seen a sleek, black-scaled dragon in Lake Tianchi. Are these beasts myth or are they real? Science may never prove one way or the other but stories will continue to surface because these magnificent beasts, fact or fiction, symbolize the wisdom, strength and power that we all seek.