Monday, May 14, 2012

Anglo-Saxon Monsters and Creatures

by Richard Denning

The Anglo-Saxons believed in many different creatures and monsters. They populated their world and haunted their nightmares. Today I look a bit at some examples.

Barghests (sometimes called black dogs) are evil creatures who appear as huge black dogs or hounds, as large as a calf. They can move silently at times.  Some can shape-shift and appear as different creatures. These terrifying dogs are often linked to certain roads, gates or locations near water.

Dweorgar ( or dwarfs)are usually described as ugly, often bad tempered and occasionally evil. Dwarves are talented at making magical items and artefacts. They created many of the powerful artifacts made by the gods such as  the Brisingammen of Freya.

Svart├ílfar (dark elves) these are very different from the beautiful light elves that became Tolkien's elves and which today we might be more famliar.  Dark elves are ugly and misshapen but perhaps nearer an evil version of Santa's elves. They can influence human dreams and give nightmares. They live underground. Possibly sunlight can turn them to stone which is why they avoid it.

Ravens : Ravens, although a natural bird have deep symbolism in Saxon Mythology. Firstly Woden (Odin) has two ravens called Huginn and Muninn (thought and memory) who flew across the world and brought news back for the god. Ravens were often seen at battlefields and so became associated with death. Indeed seeing a large black bird became a bad omen suggesting imminent death for someone.

Grendel Grendel is one of three foes, along with Grendel's mother and a dragon, in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. Grendel is thought of as a huge troll like creature who dwells in a swamp or a cave. Those are the sorts of locations the Saxons thought trolls lived. Beowulf eventually kills Grendel.

There were just a few creatures who the Anglo-Saxons believed inhabited the woods and hills. It was for fear of them that they avoided such places in the night. When bad things happened they would blame them and they would pray to Woden and Freya to protect their families. 

These sketches are by Gillian Pearce who prepared them for my new book Shield Maiden - a historical fantasy for children which blends history with mythology. Find out more:


  1. Elizabeth Gayle FellowsMay 15, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Great information on "Anglo Saxon Monsters & Creatures".

  2. Lovely illustrations and some pleasing snippets.
    I doubt barghests are Anglo-Saxon though. They are typically a Yorkshire & North East spirit ( though other places have Black Dogs of various kinds)

  3. This is a great article very informative thank you.


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