10 Fascinating and Frightening Legends From Around the World
Myths, legends and lore exist in all cultures, and in all regions, around the world. Such stories teach us how to live, what morals to uphold and the consequences of straying from the well beaten path. Stories of monsters, redemption, humiliation and the constant battle of good vs. evil can all teach us something about who we are and how we live. Now we’ll embark on a trip across time and cultures and explore 10 legends and myths from around the globe.
1. Tibet: The Hidden Himalayan City of Shambhala
It is said that between eight mountain ranges, resembling a lotus, lays an invisible city that very few have access to. Those who have risen to the highest level in the spiritual plane can enter its gates through the mist. Lakes filled with jewels and grand palaces adorn the city. Mentioned in the ancient scripts of the Kalachakra Tantra, this city has an instrumental role when the apocalypse nears.
When greed and corruption fill the earth, a united army of evil will descend upon these mountain peaks. The veil of the city will lift and the King of Shambhala will leave his palace and meet the evil army at the gates. An immense battle will rage, but ultimately return good to the lands.
2. Central America: El Cadejo
This beast, built similarly to a dog, lurks in the dark corners of cities and villages, waiting upon hapless victims. Smelling of sulphur and urine, it rattles through graveyards, attacking and eviscerating anyone who dare go out after dark.
There are three types of black cadejo, ranging from the devil incarnate to its scouts and minions. However, if a victim is lucky, a white cadejo will be waiting nearby. White cadejos are said to protect those wandering late at night, and can fend off all but the most evil of black cadejos.
3. Poland: The Obra Water Monster
In the western region of Poland, it’s said there lurks a snake monster so large that it makes a habit of pulling anything that lurks too close to the lake underwater. Witnesses report seeing swans, dogs and various birds snatched into the lake, never to break the surface again. Even more terrifying, this creature is rumored to try to overturn the boats of fisherman on the lake. Because of this, many avoid the sparsely populated shores of Lake Obra after dusk.
4. Iran: Zahhāk
Ths story speaks of a boy who was born with little moral character and easily influenced by others. Persuaded by the whims of an evil magician, Zahhak kills his own father, and heads down a path of his own destruction. One day, the magician kisses Zahhaks on both shoulders, and out of them grew two snakes that feast on the brains of humans. If Zahhak did not feed them, the magician told him, the serpents would feast on his own brain.
The legend of Zahhak, who in later stories ends up taking the throne and slaughtering two men daily, is said to represent the way in which men dispossess themselves from their own homicidal lust. In essence, the devil on his shoulders is making him do things he otherwise wouldn’t.
5. Taiwan: Hoko Po, the Tigress Witch
This is an ancient fairytale of sorts, which speaks to the danger of letting those you don’t know into your home. Two daughters, left alone while their mother travels to a nearby village, let an old woman in their house late one night. The old woman, claiming to be their great aunty, lulls them to sleep and then begins to feast on the younger daughter. The older daughter, who wakes and catches her, is chased through the home and woods by the Tigress Witch, only to use trickery to the Witches’ ultimate demise.
The Tigress Witch story has a similar theme to fairytales told the world over. Such themes include the danger of those we don’t know, and the danger that an old woman without children presents (she hungers for them, but that hunger has turned to eating their flesh).
6. Argentina and Uruguay: Luz Mala
The legend of ‘bad light’ is popular in Northeastern Argentina and Uruguay. It is said that wispy streaks of light begin to appear hovering over the ground when the barrier between the spirit world and the human world is low. Often concurring with the driest months in the year, this light is said to be a bad omen, a manifestation of the devil, and a visible manifestation of spirits’ pain. Those who are said to have followed the light have found human remains at its source.
7. Arabia: The Ifrit
An Ifrit is an ancient Arabian myth of a demon-like creature that inhabits the Earth below ruins. On land they can take the shape of dogs or hyena, and often attempt to lure unsuspecting humans to their death. However, in their underground lairs they live much as humans do, with kings and societies and even marriage. Ifrits cannot be defeated in any sort of human battle, but magical conjuring can help undo the spells they place on humans.
The Ifrit is still feared in modern times, and indeed many believe Ifrits live below the pyramids of Egypt. In fact, going there at night is seen as taking a huge risk with your life.
8. Zimbabwe: Nyami Nyami, the Zambezi River God
The Nyami Nyami is said to have the head of a fish and the body of a snake. Responsible for all life in the Zambezi River, he can either bring bountiful harvests upon the people living on its shores, or destroy their crops. Often depicted as being fair and just, the Nyami Nyami was generous for many years, as he and his wife swam the great river.
However, when the Kariba Dam was built, it was said it separated Nyami Nyami from his wife forever, and he withdrew away from the human world. Multiple floods and deaths on the Zambezi since the dam’s construction have been blamed on the anger of this river god.
9. Native American Sioux: The Iktomi
The Iktomi (meaning spider) is a jokester and a trickster in many Sioux legends. He will cajole animals and humans alike into following his bidding, often ending in the subject of his trickery being made into a buffoon. While the qualities of the Iktomi are looked down upon in Sioux culture, he is used as a way to teach children of the consequences (i.e. humiliation) of not having sound moral character. However, Iktomi can turn occasionally, becoming a violent and dangerous character, and teaching the far more serious consequences of straying from cultural practices.
10. Australia: The Rainbow Serpent
The Rainbow Serpent Myths of Australia are as wide ranging as Aboriginal culture on the continent. In some stories, the serpent falls from the heavens, after creating the stars, and helps bring life to the land. In some stories the snake is a male, in others it is female.
However, one thing many stories have in common is that the snake is solitary and does not like being disturbed. In one telling, the Rainbow Serpent is so angry by the simple presence of a family around it, that it enters their hut at night and feasts on them. However, despite its somewhat cranky demeanor it is responsible for water supplies and therefore an incredibly important character in Australian deserts.