There are so many different types of winged creatures in myth and folklore that I decided to spread them out over a number of posts. While not an exhaustive reference, I hope that these posts – as well as my other worldbuilding posts – will still be a starting point in finding new myth and folklore which can be incorporated into fiction.

The Firebird

“In Russian folklore, the Firebird is a magical bird with majestic plumage that glows red, orange and yellow, like a bonfire.” (Rosen 2009:152). Called “Zhar-Ptitsa” in Russian, the bird eats the golden apples of immortality and lights up the night. Brenda Rosen also notes in her book, The Mythical Creatures Bible “The Firebird appears in a famous Russian fairy tale in which Prince Ivan, the youngest son of the tsar, finds the tail feather of the Firebird and embarks on a fabulous quest to bring the bird back to his father’s kingdom.” (Rosen 2009:152).

More about the Firebird can be read here.

Ivan Bilibin's illustration to a Russian fairy tale about the Firebird, 1899.
Ivan Bilibin’s illustration to a Russian fairy tale about the Firebird, 1899.

The Simurgh

The Simurgh is a mythical bird of Persia, said to be “An immense creature the shape of a peacock with spectacular plumage, it has the claws of a lion and is large enough to carry off an elephant or a whale.” (Rosen 2009:152). The Simurgh features in the Sufi literature, in the story The Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar (Rosen 2009:152).

Sassanid silver plate of a simurgh (Sēnmurw), 7th or 8th century CE by Nickmard Khoey
Sassanid silver plate of a simurgh (Sēnmurw), 7th or 8th century CE by Nickmard Khoey

The Buraq

Definitely one of the stranger creatures to be described in literature is the Buraq (Arabic “al-buraaq”, which means “lighting”), the “mysterious mount that carried Muhammad on a miraculous journey” (Rosen 2009:104). “The Buraq is described as white and long, larger than a donkey and smaller than a mule. It has the face of a woman, he wings of an eagle, and the tail feathers of a peacock. In a single stride it is able to gallop a distance equal to the range of its vision.” (Rosen 2009:104)

A Buraq seen on a reproduction of a 17th-century Indian Mughal miniature
A Buraq seen on a reproduction of a 17th-century Indian Mughal miniature

The Lamassu

“In Mesopotamian mythology, Lamassu help people fight chaos and evil. Each day, they hold the gates of dawn open so that the Sun god Shamash can rise and also help to support the weight of the Sun disc.” (Rosen 2009:287) The Lamassu is described as combining the body of a bull or a lion, the wings of an eagle and the head of a bearded man. Statues of these Lamassu  can be found in the sites of ancient Babylonian and Assyrian cities (Rosen 2009:287).

Assyrian Lamassu at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.
Assyrian Lamassu at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.

The Benu

Considered the spirit of the Sun god Ra or of Osiris, “[t]he blue Benu bird was the original mythical phoenix in some versions of the Ancient Egyption Heliopian creation legend.” (Eason 2008:58)

“The Benu bird perched on the first mound as it rose from the primal waters at creation with the sun rising behind… They were considered creatures of rebirth. … The Benu is said to be consumed by flames every five hundred years, after which the young bird rises, carrying the ashes of its parent, which it buries beneath the sacred mound at Heliopolis, now an obelisk located in modern Cairo.” (Eason 2008:58)

Sources:

Easton, Cassandra. 2008. Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal power Symbols: A Handbook. Greenwood Press,London.

Rosen, Brenda. 2009. The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings. Sterling Publishing,London.

All images: Wikipedia Commons

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