Behold, the mighty myths of Britain. Whether they originated in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales, we’ll be looking at some important myths that have become more well known not just here, but further afield. From simple spirits, through to heroics that have been told throughout the ages, this week, we’re checking out our Top 10 British Myths.
Honestly thought he was a swedish myth, nope, anglo saxon. Beowulf is Scandanavian, hero of the Geats (the Goths), and his story takes place in Scandanavia where he fights for the king of the Danes, but the narrative was born on the British Isles, an English poem. The story tells of his fight against Grendel, his mother, and finally a mighty dragon.
Now, this is clearly an ancient work of fiction… but is it entirely? There are some scholars that link it to an early oral myth, the Bear’s Son Tale that has threads that run farther into history, muddying the waters of the tale’s origin. More likely that the saga is just evidence of how folktales grow and evolve over time, and not even some questionable CGI and bad choices with 3D cinematography will be enough to kill this particular myth.
9) Spriggans, Brownies, and Boggarts
Starting this trio of mythical woodland beings with Spriggans, whom originated in the south-west of England – particularly around Cornwall. Fun fact, they are pronounced “sprid-jan” as opposed to “sprigg-an”. In any event, these spirits were easily offended and then would proceed to play tricks and pranks on those they didn’t like. Mischievous puts this group mildly.
Meanwhile the Brownies and Boggarts are a type of household spirit originating in Scotland. Again, they are depicted as pranksters, who have been known to turn vicious when angered, much like Boggarts who also get into this trio. Boggarts are a bit more generic, covering but they too are just spirits who are tricksters… Spirits who get violent, if you happen to anger them.
8) Black Shuck
Across Britain are countless “Black Dog” stories, ghostly hounds that foretell, or bring death. The Grim from Harry Potter falls within that category, but the hound of death has dozens of names across the country and beyond. Churchgrims, barghests, yeth and wisht hounds, the black dog of Aylesbury, Lyme Regis, and Newgate, Muckle Black Tyke, Black Shuck.
The creature is a story that haunts every corner of England, and stories range from dogs that besiege churches on the night of storms, killing petitioners, seen haunting moors and country roads, and harassing people, and some narratives include the Beast of Bodmin and it’s kin, big cats seen wandering the nation. It has inspired many a tale, such as SCP-023, the creatures encountered early in the Witcher, and of course the Hound of the Baskervilles.
A Banshee, originating from Ireland, is a mythical female spirit who was usually associated with the death of a family member or loved one. They would wail, shriek and scream – mourning the loss of their loved ones. They’re often associated with mounds that litter the Irish countryside, which are mounds of earth and stone over a grave or a number of graves.
It’s fair to say that Banshees are one of pop culture’s more commonly used tropes. It’s rare they’re ever one of the big bads of a game, or fantasy series, but the potential is there. They are typically not too hostile, as their sole motivator in their uneasy life is to mourn their loss. However, much like their reflection in many games or series, whilst they may not immediately be hostile, they protect the land they care for. Their scream can pierce the ear drum, so be careful out there!
6) Giants in Ireland
Irish mythology is not tremendously well recorded, with many conflicting accounts and incomplete legends, but the general idea is that the land was settled by tribes of giants.
First came the Tuatha De Danann, like unto gods, followed by giants who embody destruction, the Formorians, followed by the Fir Bolg or “Bag Men” who were descended from slaves of Greece returned home.
Maybe. Depending on the account the Tuatha came to Ireland, left, and returned as gods after centuries of study in the cities of knowledge. What we mostly have to go on is Christian accounts of spoken stories which are something of a shambles and written rather “interpretively” but the stories – in whatever order – are interesting. Silver arms, powerful magic, war, slavery, and ancient mystery. Well worth diving into.
The beast that comes from the north sea to destroy all life. This thing is one of my favourite nightmare creatures of all time, horse and rider fused together, a skinless monster that exhales death, and hunts remorselessly any living thing that catches their burning eyes.
As beasts of the ocean, they’re stymied by fresh water, so if you’re fast enough to cross a stream before the Nuckelavee catches and kills you, you’ll be safe… for a little while. Even saying its name without praying afterwards is said to be enough to draw its attention. Some myths say that burning seaweed will drive it away, but will cause it to slaughter all the cattle it can find before it returns to the ocean to wait.
4) Saint George & The Dragon
Saint George & The Dragon is a legend of the real Saint George, who was alive around the year 300. Apparently, a dragon was demanding human sacrifices and Saint George sought out and slew the dragon. After slaying the dragon, Saint George saves a princess who was to be the next sacrifice.
Whilst the origins of the story comes before the Christian retelling, there’s a common theme with the story. It’s a very simple story of light overcoming darkness, which became a huge trope for stories throughout the years. Sure, you may play a game of Dungeons & Dragons, or perhaps you’re hunting dragons in Elsweyr, or perhaps you get your dragon fix from Game of Thrones… Before any of that, there was Saint George slaying dragons and rescuing the princess.
3) Robin Hood
Arguably one of the more popular myths from us Brits, Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. Indeed, it’s such a popular myth, that there is actually an annual festival around Robin Hood. This festival includes comedy, magic tricks, archery and jousting – You name it, it’s done here and it’s a great day out. However, you’re not here to see us tell you to go visit Sherwood Forest for yourself (but you should).
Robin Hood and his Merry Men are a strange one. There is some truth behind the myths, as there was indeed a Robin Hood (or at least someone who can be faithfully considered the man of legend). However, his feats are always a subject of much conjecture. Well worth looking up some of the feats accomplished by Robin Hood, which are nicely documented on Wikipedia.
The Loch Ness Monster, often referred to as simply Nessie, is a creature that supposedly lives in Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. For years and years, dating back to the 1930’s, Nessie was long considered to be a very true and real possibility. A true myth brought to life, all because of an image that surfaced. Once this surfaced, the rest was history, communities gathered to find the truth.
There are many websites out there covering the Loch Ness Monster, but there has never really been any conclusive evidence. There’s been lots of Sonar, lots of photos – and yet we’re still no closer to finding the truth. Don’t worry though, it’s probably just a log or something with a long shoot sticking out. You know, like a really long neck or something.
Or perhaps it was just someone sticking their hand out of the window.
1) King Arthur
Our nation’s greatest king, the man of legend and his noble knights, coronated by right of divine providence and the drawing of sword from stone. His noble adventures pitch him against dark fey, treachery, and the blasted French. He has been tied to the holy grail, the slaying of dragons and the mysterious Questing Beast, in trials evocative of Hercules.
He reaches the top of this list because there are some very serious questions about the existence of Arthur, or possibly Uther Pendragon, and while plenty of his mythology has been heavily mangled through interpretation, rewrites, propaganda and the simple passage of time and oral history. But there are some locations and ancient inscriptions either suggest or outright state the reality of Arthur, although many of these are also heavily subject to scrutiny.
These myths have all been debunked now, well at least we think we’ve debunked them. Hmm, perhaps there’s more to these myths than initially meets the eye? Here are two more legendary features from Britain.
Not a legend as such, more of a Great British mystery. The purpose of the triliths has been lost to time, the methods of their construction is up for debate, and its significance to solstices is questionable but does not stop 21st century druids flooding to it at the pinnacle of seasons.
It’s a tourist attraction, a staple of the British countryside and something that we hold up as an icon of the sheer depth of our history, and the green rolling hills of our landscape. It’s also incredibly evocative, inspiring many stories of fey folk, magic, and of course ancient aliens because we simply can’t have an ancient monument without them.
Honourable, because this beasty hails more from northern Europe rather than from Britain, but we do have one notable example in the Lambton Worm. The story goes that a young man skipped church to go fishing in the river Wear, turned up a worm that he threw into the well. While he went to war the worm had time to grow to monstrous size and terrorise the locals. When the man came back he slew the beast, covering his armour in arrowheads so that the creature couldn’t constrict him.
Lindworms (Linnormr) are long, wingless, draconic creatures, some capable of wrapping around the world. They feature heavily in British heraldry, but like a lot of our culture was brought over by people invading us.
Enough! We’ve heard enough from all of you commoners, it’s time for you to lay down your quill and let’s look over your findings. Ah yes, I see the problem here, we’ve not got enough eye-witness accounts. You there, you’ll have to help us out. See the poll below, have a good read over them, so we can spend more time of our research on one of these following topics of interest:
Another myth has been busted, so thank you very much for your cooperation. Perhaps you think there’s another myth that should have been included? Did we include all of the British Myths you could think of? Did we get the order right? Share your thoughts of our mythological findings in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.