Gathered on this page are scholarly and anecdotal facts on the mythical beasts whose feathers, hair, and scales are used in the enchantment of magical cores for my wands. Large chunks of the information below are taken from Lady Gryphon's Mythical Realm a splendid website with lots of lore and much more artwork. Some quotations are also taken from the Theoi Project, an excellent site for information on ancient Greek lore.
This is not to say they are easy to tame, however, and their horns can be deadly when the unicorn is aroused to defend itself. Herbivores, the unicorns come in a range of sizes, those of Europe being comparable to ponies in size, while those of the India are similar in size and appearance to Arabian horses. Unlike horses, however, unicorns have cloven hooves. The Greek Ctesius described them as a kind of Indian wild ass with a single horn and tremendous speed and aggressive behavior. Megasthenes similarly describes the Indian unicorns as unsociable and wild except during the rutting season. The spiral horns were prized by hunters in order to make drinking vessels for Hindus of the highest caste, vessels which could neutralize poisons (See: Rudiger Robert Beer, Unicorn: Myth and Reality, p. 18).
Unicorn hair, a traditional core component of many old wizard wands, has a silvery white light like moonlight. It shimmers with the spirit of masculinity tempered by worship of the Moon Goddess in her full, motherly aspect. Enchanted into a wand, unicorn hair lends it steadfastness and gentleness, along with the soft insight into things magical, emotional, and feminine. There is a quality of indestructibility and incorruptible purity in unicorn hair which is ideal for wands intended for use solely for the good. The unicorn's spirit has, like the famous horn, healing properties.
For much more lore and scholarship on the unicorn and its history in literature, I highly recommend the above-cited book, Rudiger Robert Beer's Unicorn: Myth and Reality. Trans. by Charles M. Stern. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1972. The German title is Einhorn:Fabelwelt und Wirklichkeit.
"The Hyppogryph is the offspring of the Gryphon and the horse. The hippogryph is the creation of a single known writer, Ariosto, an Italian Renaissance poet,who devised the beast forhis epic, Orlando Furioso. In classical tradition, the Gryphon is the mortal enemy of the horse. Ariosto mated the improbable pair, inspried by a line from Virgil's Eclogues: 'Now griffins will be mated with horses.' In Orlando Furioso Ariosto joins the two as a symbol of love." (Joe Nigg, The Book of Gryphons, p. 32)
The Griffin, on the other hand, can be traced back through artistic representations to 3000 B.C. Associated with the sun, Griffins pulled the chariot of Apollo. They were guardians of the Great Goddess in Minos. Griffins also pulled the chariot of the Greek god Nemesis (Nigg, 47). Griffins also have a long association with gold, reportedly seeking and digging for gold to make their nests of that precious solar metal.
Gryphon feathers when conjured metaphysically shine with a golden-red light and an aura of pride and courage that is quite palpable. Elementally, the griffin, because it is both aquiline and feline, partakes of strong affinities with Air and Water. However, its fiery qualities of masculine action and assertion are also pronounced. In legend magical powers of healing have been attributed to the griffin's feathers, even the curing of blindness, which may be symbolic for enlightenment.
Lady Gryphon (who ought to know) has this to say at some length:
"The Gryphon (and the many spellings there of) is a fabulous beast with the characteristics of two of the most noble of beasts -- the lion and the eagle. It is most easily recognized as a eagle having the hindquarters of a lion. Representations are found in art wide-spread through many cultures, appearing as heraldic beasts, ancient sculptures, relief's, mosaics, and legends.
"The 9th century Irish writer Stephen Scotus asserted that gryphons were highly monogamous. Not only did they mate for life, but if one partner died, the other would never re-mate. The egg-laying habits of the female were first properly described by St. Hildegard of Bingen, a German nun writing in the 12th century. She outlined how the expectant mother would search out a cave with a very narrow entrance but plenty of room inside, sheltered from the elements. Here she would lay her eggs (about the size of Ostrich eggs), and stand guard over them, especially protecting them against the mountain lions which then roamed the areas inhabited by the gryphon. Some authorities claimed that griffins hatched out of chunks of agate rather than eggs.
"Griffins love gold and gemstones, which they steal, hoard and guard with savage strength and ferocity, in ancient times they were symbols of guardianship, protection and the retribution of justice, but in the 19th century assumed the mantel of harmless, and even gentle creatures.
"The vast majority of gryphon's belong to the one species, Raptopantthera gryphos. There are two main varieties: the northern, or Hyperborean griffon, and the Indian griffon. The northern gryphon lives in the hilly forests and mountains of north-eastern Europe and Russia. These forested areas once extended deep into the Ukraine - much further south then they do today. The Indian griffin is found in mountainous regions of North-Eastern India and the Middle East. The only other species of the genus is the opinicus, Raptopanthera opinicus, recognizable by its feline, as opposed to aquiline, forelimbs. It was always rare and is now most certainly extinct."
"The griffon is a large, fierce looking creature, about 2 ft higher then a shire horse. The strong wings sprouting from its back are strong enough to carry it at enormous speeds, and lift it off the ground bearing heavy prey.
"Long ears, sharp eyes and cruelly hooked bills make the griffon a fearsome beast. The tail functions as a rudder in flight. The heavy rear paws help provide extra thrust during take-off and are used to hold pray down while the beak and claws do their worst. The claws are like massive eagles' feet. As the griffon swoops on its quarry, the rear talon sinks into the flesh first. Then the front claws close to form a deadly cage, firmly gripping the doomed creature.
"The world's only stuffed griffon is a fine specimen of the Hyperborean variety. The gryphon was shot down over Copenhagen by the Belgian Huntress Nadine Legrand. It is now preserved in a Danish Museum." (From Lady Gryphon's Mythical Realm )
See also: Joe Nigg, The Book of Gryphons. Cambridge: Apple-wood Books, 1982.
The Opincus has the forefeet of a lion
rather than those of an eagle
The Theoi Project gives these quotations on the hippocampoi:
"There [at Taenaros] Neptunus [Poseidon] brings hom to haven his coursers wearied by the Aegean flood; in front their hooves paw the sand, behind, they end in fishy tails beneath the water." -- Thebaid 2.45
"He [Poseidon] towers on high above the peaceful waves, urging his team [of Hippokampoi] with his three-pronged spear: frontwise they run at furious speed amid showers of foam, behind they swim and blot out their footprints with their tails." -- Achilleid 1.25
"Eratosthenes says that he himself saw the place [town of Helike], and that the ferrymen say that there was a bronze Poseidon in the strait, standing erect, holding a Hippokampos in his hand, which was perilous for those who fished with nets." -- Strabo 8.7.2
"[Description of an ancient Greek painting:] Poseidon's journey over the sea I think you have come upon in Homeros, when he sets forth from Aigai to join the Akhaians, and the sea is calm, escorting him with its sea-horses and its sea-monsters (ketea); for in Homeros they follow Poseidon and fawn upon him as they do here in the painting. There, I imagine, your thought is of dry-land horses -- for Homeros maintains that they are 'bronze-hoofed,' 'swiftly-flying,' and 'smitten by the lash' -- but here it is Hippokampoi that draw the chariot, creatures with web-footed hoofs, good swimmers, blue-eyed, and, by Zeus, in all respects like dolphins." -- Philostratus the Elder 1.8 (qtd. in Theoi.com)
Lady Gryphon has this to say on her website (www.mythicalrealm.com):
"The phoenix was a fabulous mythical Arabian bird, said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry. It was said that only one phoenix existed at any one time, and it was very long-lived - no ancient sources gave it a life-span less than 500 years. As its end approached, the phoenix made a nest of aromatic branches and spices, set it on fire, and was consumed in the flames. From the ashes (according to some sources, from the midst of the flames) miraculously sprang a new phoenix.
"The ancient Egyptians linked the myth of the phoenix with the longings for immortality that were so strong in their civilization, and from there its symbolism spread around the Mediterranean world of late antiquity. At the close of the first century Clement of Rome became the first Christian to interpret the myth of the phoenix as an allegory of the resurrection and of life after death. The phoenix was also compared to undying Rome, and it appears on the coinage of the late Roman Empire as a symbol of the Eternal City.
"In Chinese mythology, the phoenix is the symbol of high virtue and grace, of power and prosperity. It represents the union of yin and yang. It was thought to be a gentle creature, alighting so gently that it crushed nothing, and eating only dewdrops. It reflected the empress, and only she could wear the phoenix symbol. Jewelry with the phoenix design showed that the wearer was a person of high moral values, and so the phoenix could only be worn by people of importance. The Chinese phoenix was thought to have a large bill, the neck of a snake, the back of a tortoise, and the tail of a fish. It carried two scrolls in its bill, and its song included the five whole notes of the Chinese scale (I don't exactly know how it could sing with its mouth full). Its feathers were of the five fundamental colors: black, white, red, green, and yellow." (From Lady Gryphon's Mythical Realm )
ORIENTAL DRAGON (LUNG)
Lady Gryphon states:
"In the mythology of various Oriental countries, the dragon is the supreme spiritual power, the most ancient emblem and the most ubiquitous motif in Oriental art. These Dragons represent celestial and terrestrial power, wisdom and strength. They reside in water, bring wealth and good luck and, in Chinese belief, rainfall for their precious crops. The dragon in traditional Chinese New Year's Day parades is believed to repel evil spirits that would inevitably spoil the new year. The five-clawed dragon became the Chinese Imperial emblem (the four-clawed being the common dragon). The three-clawed dragon is the Japanese dragon. In Hindu mythology, Indra, god of the sky and giver of rain, slays Vitra, Dragon of the Waters, to release rainfall. ...
"There are many differences between the classical dragon and the Chinese dragon, these include the ability to fly even without wings, shape-shifting abilities, and of course the general benevolent behavior to the populace.
"The Chinese dragon (Lung) was a divine bringer of rain, necessary for the good of the people. Throughout Chinese history the dragon has been equated with weather. It is said that some of the worst floodings were caused when a mortal has upset a dragon. The dragon was also a symbol of the emperor whose wisdom and divine power assured the well-being of his subjects. Many legends draw connections between the dragon and the emperor. Some emperors claimed to have descended from the dragon. Chinese dragons of myth could make themselves as large as the universe or as small as a silkworm." (From Lady Gryphon's Mythical Realm )
DRAGONS OF THE WEST
The name Dragon comes from the Greek Drakon, which seems primarily to have referred to the wingless Earth dragons. There are, naturally, also Water Dragons which have from time to time been encountered as sea serpents. The Loch Ness Monster is one example of the freshwater aquatic dragon; Skylla, of Greek legend is an example of the saltwater variety. The Water Dragons do not have the ability to breathe fire. They do, however, often have multiple heads, such as the famous nine-headed Hydra. The Greeks recorded tales about many drakones -- the Ketea, a race of sea dragons, Ladon the hundred-headed dragon which guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides, Python, the drakon that guarded the oracle of Delphi until slain by Apollo.
Dragons were, and still are, employed to guard treasures. Sometimes they continue in this role long after the original owners of the treasures have passed into oblivion. This is not to suggest that dragons can be domesticated, but rather than they seem to possess an instinct to guard treasures. Typically only deities can command dragons even in a limited degree, summoning them to do their bidding. It is, however, the extreme indestructablilty of dragons that has lent them such a monstrous reputation, and the fact that they will not scruple to eat humans.
"The dragon's mysterious ability to produce bursts of flame is one of the most potent weapons in its arsenal. Dragon observers claim to have recorded emissions up to 200 meters (656 feet) long, attaining temperatures of over 1000 Degrees Celsius (1832 Degrees Fahrenheit), and many people have sought to explain how this remarkable feat is achieved. Professor Heinz Diebtrich, of the Gotlingen Institute for Cryptozoology in Germany, has proposed that dragon ingest phosphor-laden rocks which break down in a special stomach (termed the phosphorocatabolic stomach by Professor Diebtrich), to release a volatile gas, which is flammable on contact with the air. Attempts to investigate the phenomenon - and to reproduce it in a laboratory - have proved difficult, and frequently fatal." (From Lady Gryphon's Mythical Realm )
The use of dragon scales in wandmaking is a ancient art which is thought to have originated in India where dragons were once plentiful. The pracitce is hazardous for two reasons. First the caustic nature of dragon's blood resides also in the scales so that they must be handled carefully with heavy gloves and tongs. When sawn into shards and quenched, the scale takes on the lustrous qualtiy of its astral light. Enchanted into a wand it appears as a dark fire, primarily in the violet and ultraviolet frequencies. The scales of black dragons are particularly acidic and dark, which is not to say they are evil, but merely powerful in magical energies well-suited to dissolving, banishing, protecting, and opening what is closed. The red dragon, so closely associated with Wales, is most often found in the mountains of that country. It's character is more noble than the black dragons and its red magic particularly suited for healing and protection of one's land and people. Similarly, Green dragons lend themselves to magic of growth and fecundity. Dragonscale imparts to a wand the quality of implacable indominability and tenacity.
For much additional information in the Greek tradition consult the Theoi Project website.
In Welsh myth, the owl is linked to Bloduwedd, the maiden made of flowers who was created by Gwydion to marry his nephew Lleu. She later betrayed her husband with a lover and for that was punished by being turned into an owl. In this story, the owl is chosen perhaps for its predatory nature to indicate that Bloduwedd, far from being the idealized flower-maiden her male creators intended (gentle and beautiful), she had a mind of her own and the heart of a raptor. Druid justice seeks not to "punish" so much as to recognize the true nature -- at least in this case! Owls are still called bloduwedd in Welsh.
Used as a magical core, the feather of the spirit owl shines with a misty grey light, faintly blue like starlight on snow. Its powers are for wisdom, cunning and stealth, for the owl is the companion and emblem of the Hellenic Goddess Athena, wise leader of Attic Greece and patroness of cunning Odysseus. The owl spirit lends great powers of secrecy -- both for keeping secrets and unlocking things that are hidden. It is well-suited to magic of forests and animals, and to magic of the night.