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On the borderland between superstition, occultism, and science are the many monsters, human or animal, reported from many parts of the world throughout human history. The word "monster," from the Latin monstrum, implies a warning or portent. The term is used derogatorily in reference to malformed or misshapen animals and humans, as well as creatures of great size. Because of the awe and horror excited by monstrous births, they were traditionally regarded as an omen or a sign of God's wrath with a wicked world. Many street ballads of the sixteenth century moralized about monstrous animals or malformed human beings. Today, persons born with bodies outside the social normsgiants, dwarfs, and Siamese twinsare studied under the scientific label of "teratology." Deformed and limbless children are now known to be caused by rare genetic factors or by the use of such drugs as thalidomide in pregnancy.

In modern times, much of the superstitious awe surrounding legendary monsters has passed into the world of fiction, and talented novelists have created images of scientific or technological doom like Godzilla and Frankenstein, the evil from the subconscious like the vampire Dracula, or the product of unrestrained animal-like urges, Dr. Jekyll's Mr. Hyde. Such literary monsters have been powerfully represented in horror movies, which have presented increasingly terrifying creatures from the edge of civilization and human experienceswamps, ocean depths, and outer space. Such fictional monsters undoubtedly owe their power to the eternal fascination of the clash between good and evil in human affairs and the old theological themes of judgment and damnation.

Few stories achieved this metaphysical terror so powerfully as Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the possibilities of evil inherent in all human beings are released from the kindly Dr. Jekyll in the shape of the demonic Mr. Hyde. Stevenson also varied this theme in his short story Markheim, where a debauched murderer is confronted by an angelic alter ego.

Mysterious creatures reported from isolated places, having an existence somewhere between myth and natural history, continue to fascinate and attract while playing on subconscious anxieties. The discovery by Western scientists of the gorilla and the colocynth have given substantive hope to the idea that some of the legends of monsters may refer to actual survivors of ancient species. This has generated a new field of research, cryptozoology.

Loch Ness Monster

A large, aquatic, dinosaur-like creature is said to inhabit the large area of Loch Ness in Scotland, a lake about 24 miles long and a mile wide with a depth of from 433 to 754 feet. Since a monster was reported in ancient Gaelic legends and in a biography of St. Columba circa 565 C.E. , it is supposed that there may be a colony of monsters.

Modern interest dates from the 1930s, when a number of witnesses reported sightings. The creature has been photographed repeatedly and even filmed, though some of the more frequently reproduced films have been shown to be frauds. It appears to be about 45 feet long, of which 10 feet is head and neck, 20 feet the body, and 15 feet the tail. The head is small and sometimes lifted out of the water on the neck, high above the body. The skin is rough and dark brown in color, and in movement the creature sometimes appears to contort its body into a series of humps. It can move at speeds of around 13 knots, and in general appearance resembles a prehistoric plesiosaurus.

On April 8, 1976, the monster made the front page of the New York Times, which featured records of an underwater camera using a sonar echo technique. Known in Britain affectionately as "Nessie," in the mid 1970s the creature was given the formal name of Nessiteras rhombopteryx by naturalist Sir Peter Scott in an attempt to secure official protection. A British Act of Parliament requires that any rare species of animal qualifying for conservation must have a scientific name.

The Loch Ness Monster is the most famous of a number of reported lake monsters, such as the similar creature reported at Lough Muck in Donegal. In other parts of England and Scotland, reported creatures include Morgawr in the area of Falmouth, Cornwall, and Mhorag (or Morag) in Loch Morar, West Inverness, Scotland. There are numerous reports of sightings, and some photographs. In 1910, a plesiosaurus-type creature was reported in Nahuel Huapi, Patagonia.

Interest in the Loch Ness monster was stimulated by reports of the decomposing body of a sea creature caught by the Japanese trawler "Zuiyo Maru" about 30 miles east of Christchurch, New Zealand, on April 25, 1977. The carcass was about 30 feet long, weighed two tons, and was raised from a depth of approximately 900 feet. For a time, it was suspended above the trawler deck by a crane, but the captain feared that the evil-smelling fluid dripping from the carcass would pollute his catch of whip-tail fish and ordered the creature to be dumped overboard. Before this was done, Michihiko Yano, an official of the Taiyo Fishery Company aboard the vessel, took four color photographs and made a sketch of the carcass, after taking measurements. He described the creature as like a snake with a turtle's body and with front and rear flippers and a tail six feet in length. This suggests a creature resembling the plesiosaurus, which flourished from 200 to 100 million years ago.

When Taiyo Fisheries executives heard about the unusual catch, they radioed their trawlers around New Zealand, ordering them to try to recover the carcass, but without success. Japanese journalists named the creature "The New Nessie" after Scotland's famous Loch Ness Monster, and a large Tokyo department store planned to market stuffed dolls of the creature. Fujior Yasuda of the faculty of fisheries at Tokyo University has examined Yano's photographs and concluded that the creature was definitely not a species of fish, and Toshio Shikama, a Yokohama University paleontologist, was convinced that the creature was not a fish or a mammoth seal. For reports of this incident see the London Daily Telegraph (July 21, 1977), London Times (July 21, 1977), and Fortean Times (no. 22, summer 1977).

Yeti (or Abominable Snowman)

The Yeti is a giant humanoid creature that has long been part of the folklore of the high Himalayan region in Asia. The popular name "Abominable Snowman" derives from the Tibetan term Metoh-Kangmi or "Wild Man of the Snows." Other names in the Himalayan regions of Kashmir and Nepal are Jungli-admi or Sogpa "Wild Men of the Woods." There are many stories told by Sherpas of the giant Yeti that carried away human children or even adults. In 1951, such stories suddenly attracted scientific interest when a photograph of a large Yeti footprint taken by mountaineer Eric Shipton on an Everest Reconnaissance Expedition appeared.

The Abominable Snowman had been reported by westerners as early as 1832 in an article by B. H. Hodgson for the initial volume of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The first European to see Yeti footprints was Major L. A. Waddell, who found them in the snows of northeastern Sikkim at 17,000 feet in 1889, but believed them to be tracks of the great yellow snow bear (Ursus isabellinus ). Additional reports filtered back to the west through the twentieth century.

In 1925, N. A. Tombazi, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, saw a large humanoid creature walking upright at a distance of 300 yards in Sikkim, and afterward examined footprints in the snow. In February 1942, Slavomir Rawicz escaped from a Siberian prisoner-of-war camp with six companions and crossed the Himalayas to India. In his book The Long Walk (1956), Rawicz claimed that he saw two Yeti-type creatures, eight feet tall, in an area between Bhutan and Sikkim.

In the 1950s, various expeditions to track down the Yeti failed to produce any tangible evidence of its existence, but in 1972 a Sherpa named Da Temba saw a 4'6" creature, possibly a small Yeti, in Nepal. The cumulative effect of the large number of reports of Yeti sightings from Sherpas reinforces the possibility that there is a large humanoid creature in the Himalayas, but the area is a vast one and the creature could be even more elusive than the Loch Ness monster.


Other creatures of a Yeti type have been reported frequently from different areas of the world, notably isolated regions of the Pacific Northwest. The popular term "Bigfoot" seems to have been a newspaper invention for the creature named "Sasquatch" by the Salish Indians of southwest British Columbia. The Huppa tribe in the Klamath mountains of Northern California use the name Oh-mah-'ah, sometimes shortened to Omah, while the name Seeahtiks is used in Vancouver Island.

It is interesting to note that reports of Yeti-type creatures cover a fairly consistent trail through the remote mountainous regions of Asia across to similar regions in Alaska, Canada, and North America, suggesting a rare and elusive species distributed over similar isolated areas. In the Russian areas of Asia, such creatures have been named Almast, Alma or Shezhnyy Chelovek. Bigfoot has been frequently reported in Canadian and North American territories from the early nineteenth century on. In modern times, construction workers in Northern California claimed to have seen a large ape-like creature, eight to ten feet tall, in Bluff Creek in October 1958. It walked upright and left large footprints, which indicated a creature weighing 800 pounds. Investigations were stimulated after the widespread showing of a 16mm color film supposedly of the creature taken by Roger Patterson, a rancher in Bluff Creek, California, on October 7, 1967. This film shows what appears to be an erect ape-like figure at a distance of some 30 feet.

Such creatures were systematically investigated by Irish explorer and big-game hunter Peter Byrne, who organized a three-year search in 1971. He traveled many thousands of miles between Nepal, Canada, and the United States, interviewing hundreds of individuals and evaluating claimed sightings of Bigfoot. Byrne visited Patterson before his death in 1972 and found his story and the film convincing. Byrne, like fellow researchers, was repeatedly distracted by the likes of the 1968 prankster in Colville, Washington, who tied 16 inch foot-shaped plywood boards to his feet and made tracks in the woods. He sent a photograph to Peter Byrne, who dismissed it as an obvious fake. Meanwhile an ordinance in Skamania County, Washington, prohibits wanton slaying of ape-creatures, with substantial penalties.

Further interest in Bigfoot was generated in 1982 by the sighting reported by Paul Freeman, an employee of the U.S. Forest Service. He came face to face with the creature at a distance of no more than 200 feet. Both fled in fear of the other. Interest in Bigfoot continues and over the last generation several research centers such as the Bigfoot Information Center and the now defunct Sasquatch Investigations of Mid-America were established. While Forteans have kept interest in Bigfoot alive, the dearth of definitive encounters with the creature have caused many to doubt the authenticity of the legends.


Baumann, Elwood David. Bigfoot: America's Abominable Snowman. New York: Franklin Watts, 1976. Reprint, New York: Dell, 1976.

Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. Alien Animals. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1981.

. The Bigfoot Casebook. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1982.

Byrne, Peter. The Search for Big Foot: Monster, Myth or Man. Washington, DC: Acropolis Books, 1975. Reprint, New York: Pocket Books, 1976.

Campbell, Elizabeth M., and David Solomon. The Search for Morag. London: Tom Stacey, 1972.

Clark, Jerome. Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Phenomena. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Costello, Peter. In Search of Lake Monsters. London: Garnsteon Press; New York: Coward, 1974. Reprint, London: Panther, 1975.

Dinsdale, Tim. Loch Ness Monster. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961.

Farson, Daniel, and Angus Hall. Mysterious Monsters. London: Aldus Books, 1978.

Florescu, Radu. In Search of Frankenstein. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1975.

Gould, Rupert T. The Case for the Sea-Serpent. London: Philip Allan, 1930. Reprint, Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1969.

. The Loch Ness Monster and Others. London: Geoffrey Bles; New York: Citadel Press, 1976.

Halpin, Marjorie, and Michael M. Ames, eds. Manlike Monsters on Trial: Early Records and Modern Evidence. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.

Heuvlmans, Bernard. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1868. Reprint, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968.

. On the Track of Unknown Animals. New York: Hill and Wang, 1958. Rev. ed. 1965. Reprint, London: Paladin Books, 1970.

Hodgson, B. H. "On the Mammalia of Nepal." Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1 (1832).

Mackal, Roy Paul. The Monster of Loch Ness. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1976.

McNally, Raymont T., and Radu Florescu. In Search of Dracula: A True History of Dracula and Vampire Legends. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1972. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Meredith, Dennis L. Search at Loch Ness: The Expedition of the New York Times and The Academy of Applied Science. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1977.

Meurger, Michel, with Claude Gagnon. Lake Monster Traditions: A Cross Cultural Analysis. London: Fortean Tomes, 1988.

Moon, Mary. Ogopogo: The Okanagan Mystery. London: David & Charles, 1977.

Napier, John. Bigfoot: The Sasquatch and Yeti in Myth and Reality. London: Jonathan Cape, 1972. Reprint, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973. Reprint, London: Abacus, 1976.

Price, Vincent, and V. B. Price. Monsters. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1981.

Sanderson, Ivan T. Abominable Snowman: Legend Comes to Life. New York: Chilton, 1961.

Scott, Peter. "Naming the Loch Ness Monster." Nature (December 11, 1975).

Shackley, Myra. Wildmen: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma. London: Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystery and Lore of Monsters. London, 1930. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1968. New York: Citadel Press, 1970.

Witchell, Nicholas. The Loch Ness Story. London, 1974. Rev. ed. London: Penguin Books, 1975.

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453. Monsters

  1. Abominable Snowman enigmatic yeti of the Himalayas. [Tibetan Lore: Wallechinsky, 443]
  2. Aegaeon gigantic monster with 100 arms, 50 heads. [Gk. and Rom. Myth.: Wheeler, 5]
  3. Ahuizotl small creature with monkey hands and feet, a hand at the end of its long tail. [Mex. Myth.: Leach]
  4. Ammit part hippopotamus, part lion, with jaws like a crocodiles. [Egypt. Myth.: Leach]
  5. Amphisbaena two-headed monster, either scaled like a snake or feathered; one head remains awake while the other sleeps. [Roman Myth.: White]
  6. Anubis jackal-headed god. [Egypt. Myth.: Jobes, 105]
  7. Argus hundred-eyed giant who guarded Io. [Gk. Myth. and Rom. Lit.: Metamorphoses ]
  8. banshee spirit with one nostril, a large projecting front tooth, and webbed feet. [Irish Folklore: Briggs, 14]
  9. basilisk lizard supposed to kill with its gaze. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Handbook, 93]
  10. beasts of the Apocalypse one has ten horns, seven heads, and ten crowns on the horns; the other has two horns and speaks like a dragon. [N.T.: Revelation 13:1,11]
  11. bonnacon Asian monster with bulls head and horses body, and fatally incendiary excrement. [Gk. & Rom. Myth.: White]
  12. bread-and-butter fly its head is a lump of sugar, its wings are made of thin slices of buttered bread, and its body is a crust. [Br. Lit.: Lewis Carroll Through the Looking-Glass ]
  13. Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges the three Hecatoncheires (or Centimani), giants each having 50 heads and 100 arms. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 118]
  14. Brontes cruel thunder-maker of the three Cyclopes. [Gk. Myth.: Pan finder, 47; Jobes, 251, 400]
  15. cactus cat has thorny hair and ears, knifelike leg bones, and a branched tail. [Am. Folklore: Botkin]
  16. Cacus fire-breathing giant monster. [Rom. Myth.: Kravitz, 49]
  17. Caliban misshapen missing link. [Br. Lit.: The Tempest ]
  18. capricornus half goat, half fish. [Gk. Myth.: NCE, 450]
  19. Cecrops the traditional founder of Athens was half man, half serpent. [Gk. Myth.: Hamilton, 393]
  20. Cerberus three-headed watchdog of Hades. [Gk. Myth.: Avery, 270]
  21. Charybdis Poseidons daughter; monster of the deep. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ; Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ]
  22. chimera mythical creature: goat-lion-dragon; vomited flames. [Classical Myth.: LLEI, I: 325]
  23. cockatrice half-serpent, half-cock; kills with glance. [Heraldry: Brewer Dictionary, 243]
  24. Cyclopes Poseidons sons, each with one eye in the center of his forehead. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ]
  25. divis devils shown as cat-headed men with horns and hooves. [Pers. Myth.: Barber & Riches]
  26. Echidna half nymph, half snake; never grew old. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 85]
  27. Fenris frightful wolf, grew sinisterly in size and strength. [Scand. Myth.: LLEI, I: 328]
  28. Frankensteins monster created from parts of corpses. [Br. Lit.: Frankenstein ]
  29. Geryon celebrated monster with three united bodies or three heads. [Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ]
  30. Gorgons monsters with serpents for hair and brazen claws. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 114; Gk. Lit.: Iliad ]
  31. Grendel giant in human shape; lives in a murky pond. [Br. Lit.: Beowulf ]
  32. griffin fabulous animal, part eagle, part lion. [Gk. Myth. and Art: Hall, 143; Ital. Lit.: Purgatory ]
  33. harpy foul-smelling creature; half-vulture, half-woman. [Gk. Myth.: Mercatante, 212213]
  34. hippocampus fabulous marine creature; half fish, half horse. [Rom. Myth. and Art: Hall, 154]
  35. hippogriff offspring of griffin and mare. [Ital. Lit.: Orlando Furioso ]
  36. Hydra seven-headed water snake; ravaged Lerna, near Argos. [Gk. and Rom. Myth.: Hall, 149]
  37. Jabberwock frightful burbling monster with flaming eyes. [Br. Lit.: Carroll Through the Looking-Glass ]
  38. Kirtimukha the Face of Glory, depicted as a lions head, without body or limbs. [Hindu Myth.: Barber & Riches]
  39. Kraken giant snakelike sea creature. [Dan. Folklore: Merca tante, 194195]
  40. Ladon dragon who guarded the Apples of the Hesperides. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 145]
  41. Lamia scaly, four-legged, hermaphrodite creature. [Br. Folklore: Briggs, 260262]
  42. Leviathan frighteningly powerful sea serpent. [O.T.: Job 41; Psalms 74:14; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1]
  43. Loch Ness monster Nessie; sea serpent said to inhabit Loch Ness. [Scot. Folklore: Wallechinsky, 443]
  44. Medusa the only mortal Gorgon. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 161]
  45. Midgard serpent monstrous serpent that encircles the earth. [Norse Myth.: Leach, 723]
  46. Minotaur beast with bulls head and mans body. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 714]
  47. mock turtle turtle with a calfs head, hooves, and tail. [Br. Lit.: Lewis Carroll Alices Adventures in Wonderland ]
  48. Naga semi-divine beings with serpent bodies and human heads of terrible and ferocious aspect. [Hindu Myth.: Leach]
  49. Nicor Scandinavian sea monster; whence, Old Nick. [Br. Folklore: Espy, 44]
  50. Nidhogg terrible beast in Nastrond; gnaws ashtree, Yggdrasil. [Norse Myth.: Wheeler, 259]
  51. nix or nixie siren-like water-sprite, sometimes fish-tailed, that lured men to drown. [Teutonic Myth.: Barber & Riches]
  52. opinicus fabulous amalgam of dragon, camel, and lion. [Heraldry: Brewer Dictionary, 782]
  53. Orc monstrous sea creature; devours human beings. [Ital. Lit.: Orlando Furioso ]
  54. Orthos two-headed dog; brother of Cerberus. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 186]
  55. python huge serpent which sprang from stagnant waters after the Deluge. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 227]
  56. Questing Beast serpent-headed leopard that emitted loud noises. [Br. Lit.: Malory Le Morte dArthur ]
  57. roc white bird of enormous size. [Arab. Lit.: Arabian Nights, Second Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor]
  58. Sagittary half man, half beast with eyes of fire. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Handbook, 947]
  59. Sasquatch giant hairy hominid said to lurk about the Pacific Northwest. [Am. Hist.: Payton, 601]
  60. Scylla half beautiful maiden, half hideous dog. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ; Rom. Lit.: Metamorphoses ]
  61. siren half-woman, half-bird, enticed seamen to their death with song. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 934]
  62. 666 number of the blasphemous beast with seven heads and ten horns. [N.T.: Revelation 1314]
  63. Sphinx head and breasts of a woman, body of a dog, and wings of a bird. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 246; Gk. Lit.: Oedipus Rex ]
  64. Typhoeus hundred-headed beast killed by Jovian thunderbolt. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 1111]
  65. Typhon tallest of the giants; his arms and legs ended in serpents. [Gk. Myth: Benét, 1034]
  66. werewolf a man transformed into a wolf. [Eur. Folklore: Benét, 1082]

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monsters The meaning of the word ‘monster’ has undergone drastic variations throughout history. The word involves a twofold Latin root — ‘monstrum’, from monere (to warn) or monstrare (to exhibit) — and was in principle the equivalent of the Greek teras, meaning sign or warning. The ‘monsters’ of the classical world were thus those signs, not necessarily of human or animal origin, that were clearly identifiable as such, and teratology, the science that studied those signs, was simply a different form of divination. It must be emphasized that it was precisely because of their unusualness that monsters were defined as being clear and distinguishable warnings.

It is important to take into consideration that during the Middle Ages a distinction was drawn between monstrous individuals and monstrous races or species, and that the members of these particular groups, who were first given a systematic classification by Pliny the Elder (23–79 ad), qualified as ‘monsters’ mainly as a consequence of their unusualness. They were monsters not so much because they were deformed, but because they were rare and extraordinary. From this point of view, a monster was a curiosity, a portent, an unusual sight.

The Renaissance saw the first serious attempt to bring the ambiguous nature of the word ‘monster’ to an end, and to bring the study of teratology within the scope of anatomical investigations. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century treatises on monsters the senses of ‘monster’ both as a divine or unnatural sign or omen, and as an unusual or curious phenomenon, were seriously challenged. According to Martin Weinrich, a German naturalist who wrote a treatise on monsters at the end of the sixteenth century, not every phenomenon that threatened the natural order could legitimately be called ‘a monster’. Teratology, on the other hand, could no longer be defined as a discourse related primarily to unusual events. It was suggested, by the French surgeon Jean Riolan and the Italian naturalist Ulysses Aldrovandi, that the new teratological science claimed to understand monstrosity exclusively in terms of physical deformity. By defining monsters as natural beings, it became possible to establish a classification of potential deformities based, for the first time, on anatomical criteria. But this new attitude towards the realm of monsters was not without its difficulties. First, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century anatomists, naturalists, and surgeons proposed so many different definitions of the word ‘monster’, on many occasions upon examination of a single and isolated case, that far too often there was no possibility of reaching a consensus about a ‘monstrous’ nature. Second, in order to separate the study of monsters from the popular imagery — still anchored during the Enlightenment in medieval and Renaissance sources — the enlightened teratologist understood that abnormalities had to be established as fact before any further investigation could legitimately take place. This lack of agreement in the definition of the term ‘monster’ helps to explain why the study of physical abnormalities was almost strictly confined to a collection of examples or instances during the eighteenth century. For example, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society between 1665 and 1780, there were over 100 communications regarding forms of ‘monstrosity’, and the French Academy of Sciences published another 130 papers on the subject between 1699 and 1770.

A transition from the understanding of monsters as beings ‘from outside’ to seeing them as ‘deviations from within’ led in the mid nineteenth century to teratology becoming a modern science, whose main concern was no longer the enquiry into the nature and origins of monsters but the study of major physical abnormalities or malformations in humans or animals. In fact, when the French naturalist Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire published his Traité de Teratologie — the first important milestone in the contemporary history of teratology — in 1832, he explicitly mentioned that this new teratological science should refrain from using the word ‘monster’ to describe its new object of study. From the mid nineteenth century, those who suffered from major or minor physical abnormalities, no matter how serious or unusual their condition, were no longer termed ‘monsters’ in scientific literature. However, many of these, like Siamese twins for example, were still referred to as ‘monsters’ in the ‘freak shows’ and circuses popular during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.

Javier Moscoso

See also congenital abnormalities; freaks.

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monsters and imaginary beasts

monsters and imaginary beasts: The mythologies and legends of ancient and modern cultures teem with an enormous variety of monsters and imaginary beasts. A great number of these are composites of different existing animals and of human beings and animals. Among the animal composites are the Babylonian winged bulls and leopards; the Hindu winged elephants; the Greek three-headed dog Cerberus; the Western European griffin, with a lion's body and eagle's wings; the dragon, with a winged reptilian body and fiery breath; and the Chimera, with a goat's body, lion's head, and lizard's tail. Examples of human-animal composites abound in Greek mythology; the Triton, with a man's head and torso and a sea-serpent's tail; the Siren, with a woman's head and a bird's body or a woman's head and torso and a fish's tail; the satyr, with a man's head and torso, a ram's horns, legs, and hooves, and a horse's ears and tail; the sphinx, with the body of a lion and a woman's head and bust; and the centaur, with a man's head and torso and a horse's body. Most such creatures represent evil or at least mischievous forces. The restless souls of the living dead are embodied, in ubiquitous legends, by vampires. Equally grisly and widespread is the werewolf legend (see lycanthropy), in which a man is transformed by night into a wolf that devours human beings. A few imaginary creatures are benign, e.g., the gentle unicorn, a medieval European symbol of chastity and the power of love. The Native North Americans, particularly the Eskimo, who have no epic hero, have created a vast panorama of monsters, ogres, bodiless heads, cannibal mothers, and semihuman beasts. The Zuñi and Pueblo peoples respect many beasts that are considered curers of illness, guardians, and intercessors. Most of these spirits are associated with actual animals. In the folklore of the United States a host of fantastic, impossible "fearsome critters" have been developed. There are the prock, also called the sidehill dodger or the gwinter, an animal with shorter legs on one side that enable it to keep its balance while feeding on steep mountains; the augerino, an underground creature in Colorado that lets the water out of irrigation ditches; and the glitch of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., that is responsible for general chaos. Legendary monsters and beasts, which appear to be a feature common to all cultures, are the subject of considerable scholarly study.

See S. Thompson, Tales of the North American Indians (1929); R. Barber and A. Riches, A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts (1972); B. Evslin, Monsters of Mythology (25 vol., 1987–90).

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278. Monsters

See also 286. MYTHOLOGY .

an abnormal dread of deformity, usually in others.
1. the state or quality of being monstrous.
2. a monster or monsterlike thing or person. monstrous , adj.
1. the state, quality, or phenomenon of being immense, wondrous, or extraordinary.
2. a prodigious thing, person, or event.
a love of monsters or marvels. Also called teratosis .
Biology. resembling a monster.
1. the writing or collecting of fantasies containing monsters and prodigies.
2. Biology. the scientific study of monstrosities or abnormal formations in plants or animals. teratologist , n. teratological , adj.
an abnormal fear of monsters or of giving birth to a monster.

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Monsters peer and prowl, roar and ravage in myths and legends the world over. They are the stuff of nightmares, the looming presences outside the comforting circle of firelight, the menacing shapes glimpsed moving through the shadows of trees or in deep water. Monsters are creatures that represent everything that is fearful about the natural world and the darker corners of human nature. Mythological monsters inspire dread and embody evil. They challenge heroes and heroines to prove their worth in order to advance in their quests or simply to survive.

Types and Characteristics of Monsters. Monsters are by definition unnatural, something that should not exist. The word monster comes from the Latin monstrum, meaning a sign of future events. The Romans used the word to refer to bizarrely unusual eventssuch as a rain of mud or the birth of a two-headed calfthat were believed to show divine displeasure or a troubled future.

The world's mythmakers and storytellers have created hundreds of kinds of monsters, but all share two qualities. First, monsters are not human. Even those that look and act to some extent like people are not fully human. Second, monsters are hostile to people, enemies of the human world.

A monster may be a creature grown unnaturally large and strong. Fenrir, the immense world-devouring wolf of the Norse* gods, was so large that when he opened his mouth his jaws spanned the gulf between earth and sky. According to the Ambundu people of Angola, the hero Sudika-mbambi slew two giant creatures in the underworld: the great serpent Kinioka kia Tumba and the monstrous crocodile Kimbiji kia Malenda.

Many monsters are hybrids, the offspring of unions between deities or demons and animals or people. Hindu myths tell of Bhutas, monstrous beings born of unions between demons and ghosts. They hover over sleeping people and drop disease into their ears. In Chinese myth, Lei Jen Zu was the son of the thunder dragon and the earth. The egg from which he hatched was formed when lightning struck the earth. He started out as a human but then changed into a green-faced dragon with boars' tusks and an anteater's snout.

underworld l and of the dead

deity god or goddess

Monsters may be composites that combine the features of several kinds of beings. The Chimaera of Greek myth, for example, had the head of a lion, the body and legs of a goat, and the tail of a

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

snake. Another Greek mythological monster, the Lamia, occurred in various forms, one of which was a mixture of woman, rabid dog, cow, and mule. Even monsters that are not hybrids are generally deformed or hideous. The Flying Head of the Native American Iroquois people is a huge, hungry head with wings of flapping hair, fiery eyes, and knife-blade teeth. Palraiyuk, an Eskimo water monster, has two faces, two spiked tails, and three stomachs. Roman mythology features Cacus, a creature with an enormous spider body and three fire-breathing heads, who hunts at night for anything warm-blooded.

Some monsters combine human and animal qualities. The tengu of Japanese mythology, mysterious and mischievous supernatural creatures, are part human and part bird. Eastern and northern European cultures have legends of werewolves, beings that look like humans but take wolf form when the moon is full. Such shape shifting, or shape changing, is a common feature of monster legends. The Chaga, a Bantu people of Tanzania, have a tale about a young woman who met a handsome man at a village dance. She married him, but after they left her village together, she discovered that he was really a werewolf.

Not all such beings are hostile to people, at least not all the time. For example, the centaurs of Greek myth, creatures half human and half horse, were sometimes warlike and sometimes friendly. Dragons, the fire-breathing serpents of myth and legend, also appear benevolent on occasion, as do giants. The term monster is generally reserved for the destructive and cruel creatures who attack and torment people.

Many mythic monsters prey on human beings. The Aborigines of northern Australia have stories about the Namorodo, skeletons that fly by night. They create more Namorodo by sucking the flesh from living people and turning them into arid skeletons. The vampires of European legend also feed on humans by sucking their blood. The fearsome Minotaur of Greek mythology had to be fed a steady diet of young humans. Grendel, one of the monsters in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, preyed on the warriors of Denmark. Native American mythology, too, includes many eaters of human flesh. Among these are the Hantceciitehi or cannibal dwarfs of the Arapaho people, the Dzoavits or cannibal giants of the Shoshone, and dozens of people-eating giants, babies, grandmothers, water monsters, and more.

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

benevolent desiring good for others

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

Monsters and Myths. The Orokaiva people of the Pacific island of New Guinea have a myth that includes the themes of shape shifting, unnatural union, and cannibalism. A monster named Totoima married a human woman. He was in human form at first, but when his wife had children, he turned into a wild boar and devoured them. His wife got the help of a magician. After Totoima ate his baby son, the magician made the boy grow up at once in the boar's stomach. The son then burst forth, killing the boar. The wife married the magician and fed the boar's meat to her neighbors.

A Native American myth from eastern North America illustrates the hero's role in protecting the community from monsters. Gluskap, a trickster god and hero, created a village where life was perfectuntil the spring that provided water dried up. A villager went to investigate and found a huge, grinning monster who had built a dam to hold all the water. Inside the monster's gaping mouth were the many things the monster had devoured, and the man did not like the way the monster was eyeing him. Gluskap saw what was happening and armed himself with a sharp knife made from a flint mountain. He fought the monster and slit its stomach open, causing a mighty river to flow forth. Then he seized the monster, squeezed it small, and tossed it into a swamp. It became no more than a croaking frog.

How to Defeat a Flying Head

Intelligence and good fortune may be more useful than brute force against monsters. In a myth of the Iroquois Indians, a clever woman outwits the Flying Head. Knowing that the Head would see her, she roasted chestnuts in a fire and ate them with obvious enjoyment. The Head thought she was eating stones heated by the fire and decided to share the feast. It flew into her hut and gobbled up the hot stones of the hearth and the entire fire. But the Head could not swallow the fiery stones, because it was only a head with no stomach. It could not spit them out past the barrier of its teeth. It had to hold the hot stones in its mouth until they burned it up.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

Greek mythology contains a great number of monsters. Heroes such as Odysseus* and Hercules* are frequently pitted against them. Sometimes the outcome depends as much on good luck and sharp wits as on strength. Odysseus, for example, outwitted a one-eyed Cyclops after blinding him. One of Hercules' tasks was to clear the Stymphalian Marshes of the monstrous, man-eating birds that infested them. Hercules tried shooting the birds out of their nests with arrows, but there were far too many of them. When he shook his weapons in frustration, the rattling sound drove the birds into flight. At this, Hercules ran about shaking his weapons and uttering a loud battle cry, and the birds kept flying until they left the human world altogether.

See also Basilisk; Beowulf; Centaurs; Cyclopes; Devils and Demons; Dragons; Fenrir; Furies; Giants; Golem; Gorgons; Griffins; Harpies; Hydra; Leviathan; Loch Ness Monster; Manticore; Minotaur; Nemean Lion; Satyrs; Scylla and Charybdis; Serpents and Snakes; Sphinx; Thunderbird; Trolls; Unicorn; Vampires; Werewolves.

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mon·ster / ˈmänstər/ • n. an imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening. ∎  an inhumanly cruel or wicked person: he was an unfeeling, treacherous monster. ∎ often humorous a person, typically a child, who is rude or badly behaved: Christopher is only a year old, but already he is a little monster. ∎  a thing or animal that is excessively or dauntingly large: this is a monster of a book, almost 500 pages. ∎  a congenitally malformed or mutant animal or plant. • adj. inf. of an extraordinary and daunting size or extent: outfitted with a monster 120-mm gun.

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"monster." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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monster misshapen creature XIII; † prodigy; horribly cruel or savage person; huge object XVI. — (O)F. monstre — L. mōnstrum something marvellous or prodigious, orig. divine portent, f. monēre warn.
So monstrous XV. — OF. or L. monstrosity XVI. — late L.

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"monster." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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monsterall-nighter, biter, blighter, fighter, igniter, inciter, indicter, inviter, lighter, mitre (US miter), overnighter, reciter, righter, sighter, smiter, writer •shyster • rhymester • backbiter •expediter • prizefighter • dogfighter •bullfighter • gunfighter • lamplighter •highlighter • downlighter •moonlighter • uplighter • firelighter •screenwriter • scriptwriter •copywriter • signwriter • typewriter •songwriter • ghostwriter •underwriter •blotter, cotta, cottar, dotter, gotta, hotter, jotter, knotter, otter, pelota, plotter, potter, ricotta, rotter, spotter, squatter, terracotta, totter, trotter •crofter •concocter, doctor, proctor •Volta • prompter • wanter •adopter, dioptre •Costa, coster, defroster, foster, Gloucester, impostor, paternoster, roster •lobster, mobster •oxter • monster • songster •witchdoctor • helicopter •teleprompter • globetrotter

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