Creatures Beyond Mythology

Written By Avra Margariti

Avra Margariti is a queer author and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Strange Horizons, F&SF, The Deadlands, Vastarien, and Reckoning. Avra lives and studies in Athens, Greece. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).

Greek mythological monsters, hybrids, and other fantastical entities have become a well-known group of creatures in the Western world. From centaurs, to nymphs, to chimeras and sirens, those beings have populated the stories of antiquity, then later their tales were told and retold through many different media and configurations of myth. But few readers in the West are familiar with the creatures and personas of Hellenic folklore, who are just as imaginative as their Ancient Greek predecessors.


A female demon who is said to be capable of causing infertility, miscarriages, and high rates of child mortality—in later versions of the story even devouring infants. A Gello has twelve and a half names and is said to grin or grimace during her visitations (possibly because of the Greek root gel-/γελ-). In the Byzantine times especially, women faced trials and exorcisms if they were suspected of being plagued by, or collaborating with, a Gello. Even Sappho mentions Gello in one of her fragments, as a boogey that was used by parents to scare their children into obedience.


Similar to hobgoblins, a Kallikantzaros is a subterranean creature that spends most of the year in underground warrens, trying to chop down the tree that keeps the worlds apart with their axe. But on the twelve days of Christmas, just before the tree falls, Kallikantzaroi are summoned to the surface, while the veil between worlds is thin and permeable. Earthside, Kallikantzaroi spread chaos, steal festive treats, and harass humans, especially Orthodox priests who try to exorcise the creatures with holy water. On the day of the Epiphany, the Kallikantzaroi are compelled to return underground, where the tree that keeps the world below and the world above from merging has healed in their absence.


A mermaid, and the sister of Alexander the Great, who drank the waters of immortality and now wanders the seas, especially near the Aegean. When she meets a sailor, the gorgona will ask them if her brother is alive. If the sailors reply that he is dead, then she will drown them, then mourn their deaths and the destruction of their ships. If the sailors reply that the king is alive, his sister will let them and their vessel go unharmed. When she sings her laments and plays her lyre, the sea breaks into storm.


The Greek name for ‘fairy’, possibly related to the naiads of antiquity, though the neraides are not limited to bodies of water. In fact, they often dance in the forest among tall trees. If passersby manage to sneak up on the fairies and steal the gossamer shawls they have left on the grass, then the humans can charm the fairies to follow them home to the human world. Most often, the fairies become wives and give birth to children known as alafroiskiotoi—they of weightless shadows, who can move easily between worlds.


An optical illusion observed in Sfakia, Crete between late spring and early summer, the Drosoulites are men made of shadow that appear in the morning mist. Those walking shadows are connected to a 19th century battle in the valley near the medieval castle known as Francocastello. During that battle, the Greek soldiers were obliterated by Ottoman military forces. Folk stories revolve around the Drosoulites being the unquiet spirits of the defeated soldiers whose blood spilled upon the valley under the castle’s shade.


Closer to a ghoul than a vampire, the vourdoulakas (also known as vrykolakas) is a dead person with unfinished business. The vourdoulakas does not drink blood, but feeds on liver. They can only leave the grave under specific conditions. The day on which the vourdoulakas can walk among the living varies among local legends. Although not exactly a vampire, the revenant is also present in several Greek folk ballads (paraloges), the more prominent one being “Of the Dead Brother”, where a mother’s curse makes her dead son come to life so he can bring the family’s last remaining child, the youngest daughter, home from foreign lands before the mother succumbs to illness.


Those are the children born on a Saturday, a time associated with witchcraft. If you have been born on such a day, your wishes and curses become potent, giving you power over others. The Saturday-born, as well as other kinds of witches, have been linked, in the Greek folk consciousness, with having blue eyes. A color that makes sense considering the evil eye (mati) is also blue. Therefore, being born on a Saturday and having blue eyes was considered a sign of the child being not entirely of this world, a magic practitioner, or perhaps even an elf or other fairy-like creature.

A lot of the beings mentioned in this list were first introduced during ancient times, then cemented themselves into the rest of Greek history, superimposed over a mix of Orthodox and pagan beliefs, baskania (superstition), and interacting with Greece’s tumultuous journey toward its Independence and beyond. Greece is best known for its ancient myths, but the oral tradition of the Greek countryside and islands (especially the remote rural areas that use their own unique dialects) has become endangered, with few folklorists documenting the stories in written form, and those alive to remember them slowly fading.