This mysterious bird-headed figure, referred to casually as the “Birdman,” is one of many strange symbols found on inscribed wooden tablets written by the early people of Rapanui (Easter Island.) The tablets have never been translated, but are believed to have been religious in nature.
The unicorn is one of the most ancient mythological beasts. Although in modern times it is most often depicted as an ethereal white horse, it has been variously described as an antelope, sheep, goat, or as a composite creature akin to a griffin or sphinx. Then, as later, the unicorn was a symbol of power and virility.
The oldest description of a unicorn occurs in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and in Mesopotamian art it is depicted a a great beast with a ringed neck and long, curving horn. The earliest mention of the unicorn in the West comes from a Greek account of a fearsome beast with a red head and blue eyes; it’s horn is ascribed the properties later given to the bezoar stone: protection against poisons and disease. Later, Aristotle was to describe the unicorn as a type of antelope.
While the Indian creature was almost certainly a fancifully described Rhinoceros, scholars today believe the Mesopotamian creature to have been a giant aurochs (a now extinct species of buffalo). It is this beast which is described in Old Testament accounts, and probably identical to the mythical ‘Bull’ of Ninevah. A mistranslation of the name (Re’em, ‘horned’) led to the legend of the one-horned beast, to which the strength of God is compared. Jewish legend linked the unicorn to the lion, describing them as fierce enemies, an image carried over in heraldic art.
In the middle ages, the unicorn was described as a small, goat-like creature who was nonetheless very fierce, and whose capture could only be accomplished by a virgin, whose virtue attracted the beast. Although many of these stories tended to be quite adult oriented, the obvious parallels to the legend of Christ and his virginal mother, the virgin who was chosen as the only suitable vessel to contain the incarnation of God.
The virgin and the Unicorn, Leonardo Da Vinci
Gilgamesh and the unicorn
The Cherubim were originally the ancient protectors of the Mesopotamian Tree of Life. They were often depicted supporting the thrones of deities and kings.They are closely related to (and often identical to) the sphinx.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, they are the four vast, winged creatures described in the visions of Ezekiel, each winged creature bearing four faces: a lion, a bull, eagle, and human head.
In later Christian tradition, the four Cherubim (tetramorphs) are associated with the four evangelists of the New Testament.
In ceremonial magic, the four kerubim are the living energy of the tetragrammaton, and rulers of the fixed signs of the zodiac. Kabbalistically, the Order of Cherubim correspond to the sphere of Chokmah.
The chubby baby angels we commonly refer to as “cherubs” are in fact putti, and are carry-overs from Roman paganism.
A Mesopotamian Kerub protecting the Tree of Life
A nineteenth century depiction of Cherubs
The Simurgh is an ancient, immortal Persian mythological beast similar to a griffin or Phoenix. It is most often described as having the head and foreparts of a dog, the wings and tail of a peacock, and a body covered with scales.
The Simurg is associated with the Tree of Life and present in many old tales of the creation. He is benevolent, protective guardian figure with healing powers.
In later times, he is depicted as a more typical phoenix-like creature.
Images of Simurgh
One of many stylized representations of a mythical sea creature of the Northern Native tribes. Known to the Haida people as Wasgo, and to the Tlingit people, Gonakadet, the Sea-Wolf.
This creature, who is part wolf, part whale, figures in numerous folk tales about a young man who uses the skin of a sea creature for night fishing; he is caught by a pair of whales who punish his deception by transforming him into a creature of the sea.
Older pictographic representations of Wasgo reveal a creature very similar to the horned serpent Avanyu.