6 Myths and Legends of the Middle Ages That Still Puzzle Us Today

To this day, we haven’t completely figured out where our beloved mythical creatures such as unicorns and dragons actually come from. The truth is, some of them have been the stuff of legends for hundreds, thousands of years. Below you can find some information about myths and legends that we still don’t know much about.


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Arthur and Merlin

 

Merlin

Merlin. Source: Wikimedia

The existence of the legendary British ruler and his mentor Merlin whom popular culture loved depicting in all shapes in forms pretty much since the Middle Ages has never been confirmed or denied one way or another. Characters beloved by many of us have found their roots in British medieval folklore and romance. Some historians claim that the legend of King Arthur was based on a real king of post-Roman Britain who defended England against the Saxons. They also say that the character of Merlin was based on a 6th-century Scottish Druid who, however, lived about a century after Arthur’s alleged demise.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood and a Merry Man

Robin Hood and a Merry Man. Source: Pinterest

Robin Hood is perhaps the most famous member of English medieval folklore, after King Arthur and Merlin. He was the one who started the “Robin Hood” and the “thief with a heart of gold” trope in modern popular culture. The folklore usually depicted him with a bow and arrow and a band of “Merry Men” who lived in Sherwood Forest and spent their time stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Robin Hood’s story is, however, just that – a story. It’s allegedly based on stories of real-life outlaws such as Eustace the Monk and William Wallace, although some historians claim that he was a real person.

Incubus and Succubus

Incubus and his victim

Incubus and his victim. Source: Wikimedia

These two demons were quite prominent in medieval urban legends. The incubus is a male demon who, according to mythology, sneaked into women’s bedrooms in order to have sex with them while they were sleeping for various purposes. The succubus is his female counterpart. The symptoms of such a visit included waking dreams or sleep paralysis.

The church, well-known for providing explanations that shamed women, used the incubi as one of those explanations for their sexual sins.

Ogres

Ogre

Ogre. Source: Flickr

Ogres (and ogresses) were said to be monsters that ate people. The myths originated in medieval France and Britain, but the creatures feature prominently in the folklore of other cultures as well. They were usually depicted as very large and strong and with disproportionally massive heads with a lot of hair. The most prominent examples of the creatures in literature are the giants in “Jack and the Beanstalk” and Grendel from “Beowulf”. The jotnar from the Norse mythology also display several Ogre traits.

Unicorns

Unicorn

Unicorn. Source: Wikimedia

These legendary beasts first appear in the Greek mythology – the ancient Greeks were convinced of their existence. In the medieval Europe, unicorns were believed to be wild forest creatures that could only be captured by virgins. Unicorns’ significant presence in religious art was a testament to its representation of grace and purity. The horn was said to have magical healing properties – this belief was unfortunately exploited by con artists who sold pieces of narwhal horn, passing it off as unicorns’.

Wyverns

The golden wyvern of Wessex

The golden wyvern of Wessex. Source: Wikimedia

A wyvern is, contrary to the popular misconception, is not the same thing as a dragon. Dragons are associated with fire (which is natural, given their fire-breathing talents) whereas wyverns are associated with ice and cold weather, and have venomous teeth. The wyvern is a very significant part of heraldry, particularly in the United Kingdom. In fact, the dragon on the Welsh flag is believed by many to have been originated from a wyvern. A golden wyvern was also an important figure in the medieval kingdom of Wessex, England.

Wyverns have also been a part of folklore and modern fantasy fiction for quite some time. A New York Times bestseller, Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas, features wyverns in connection with witches, for example. Many RPGs also involve them extensively.

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