With more than 4.9 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or trying to convince someone not to offer your god a peanut. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 4,941,391-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: Mythological Human Hybrids
What it’s about: For as long as humans have been making up stories, we’ve been making up stories about creatures who are part-human, part-animal. A Greek demigod mates with a horse, and the result is a half-man, half-horse. A grief-stricken Assyrian goddess flung herself into a lake and became half-fish. A Poseidon admirer slights the sea god, who then makes his wife fall in love with a bull, conceiving a half-man half-bull. A woman in a French myth sleeps with a bear and their offspring is a Jean De L’Ours. At the center of all these myths are two universal truths. One, beneath our intelligence and emotional capacity, we are ultimately animals. Two, we’ll have sex with almost anything.
Strangest fact: Alongside broad categories like centaurs, mermaids, and demigods of classical mythology, there’s a full category for pig-faced women. Tibetan mythology has the Vajravārāhī, a vengeful tantric deity who’s depicted with a sow’s head above her ear. South Asian folklore tells of the churel, a vengeful ghost of a woman who died in childbirth due to the neglect of her relatives, who she haunts. She appears as a beautiful maiden to lure men to their doom, but then takes her true form, as a hideous, pig-headed monster. Hindi goddess Varahi has a pig’s head, and is depicted as a warrior and protector. But strangest of all is the 15th-century tale of the pig-faced woman, a wealthy woman born with the head of a pig because someone cursed her mother while she was pregnant. The strange part is, the myth seems to have originated simultaneously in England, France, and the Netherlands, and within a century was accepted as fact. Tales of pig-faced women persisted throughout Western Europe until the 1800s.
Biggest controversy: Sportscaster-turned-conspiracy-theorist David Icke isn’t the only person who believes there are lizard people out there. Wikipedia has a long list of reptilian humanoids, including everything from Echidna and Lamia from Greek myth, to Fu Xi, Shenlong, and Nüwa from Chinese myth, to more modern folklore like the Loveland Frog or the Thetis Lake Monster, to the Draconians, Sleestaks, and Killer Croc.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Dungeons And Dragons was a solid overview of mythology. The list includes Monster Manual favorites like the harpy (a bird with the head and torso of a human woman), lamia (a sort of river mermaid with duck feet), manticore (a lion with a human head, and sometimes bat wings), selkie (a seal who takes human form on land), and the aforementioned centaur.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Many human-animal hybrids are deadly to humans (although animals seem to be off the hook). Besides mermaids and the vengeful pig-faced women mentioned above, there are Deer Women, whom Ojibwe believed would take the form of a beautiful women to lure men, and then stomp them to death with her deer-hooved feet (occasionally a deer woman was depicted with a centaur-like deer lower half). Although Sirens, who lured sailors to their death on rocky shores, were sometimes depicted as beautiful women, they were usually thought of as part bird (hence the singing).
Also noteworthy: While various mythologies include hybrids with nearly every type of animal, the part-human/part-fish seems to be the most persistent. Variations of the mermaid include the Amabie (Japan), Ceasg (Scotland), Finfolk (Orkney Islands), Iara (Brazil), Makardhwaja (India), Melusine (Europe), Merrow (Ireland), Nixe (Germanic), Ningyo (Japan), Pincoy (Chile), Rusalka (Slavic), Sirena chilota (Chile), Suvannamaccha (Thailand), and Triton (Greek). Last week, we repeated Futurama’s joke about the mermaid with the fish part on top, but the Cook Islands have a mythological figure called Avatea, a moon god who was half-man, half-fish, but divided vertically, so the fish half was on the left, and the human half on the right.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: For someone looking to learn more about Hindu iconography, this page makes a surprisingly good place to start. Besides the elephant-headed Ganesha (and his lesser-known consort, Vinayaki), Supreme God Vishnu takes numerous animal-hybrid forms, including Hayagriva (man with a horse head), Matsya (part fish), Narasimha (part lion), and Varaha (part boar). Vishnu also rides on Gardua, a part-human bird.
Further down the wormhole: While nearly every link on the list leads to a creature or list of creatures, insectoid merely leads to a definition: anything insect-like. That can include robots, monsters, and aliens. The latter appear frequently on the list of alleged UFO-related entities. We’ll see if the truth is out there next week.