Issue Date – 16 June 2009
The Royal Mail commissioned artist Dave McKean to produce a set of six stamps based on mythical creatures. The Paranormal Database takes a brief look on how these magical creatures fit into UK and Irish myths and legends.
The first stamp depicts a fire breathing dragon. Fire was not the only weapon of the dragon - a many were poisonous, and several dragon slayers were killed by ingestion of the venom even though they had slain their foes.
The dragon slayers of legend are a mixed lot. A few are the typical wandering knights, others underestimated farm lads who dispatch their foes with cunning rather than strength. The village blacksmith would often become a savior, and when all else fails, never underestimate the power of the mob.
The Welsh flag has its own creation story. Vortigern, King of the Britons, encountered a red dragon and a white dragon fighting in a deep underground. The white dragon fled, leaving the red dragon victorious - the king took the creature to be his emblem.
Further dragon stories can be found here.
There are no known sightings of 'living' unicorns in the UK or Ireland, though two unicorns feature in the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland (selected by Robert III as a symbol of strength and purity), and one in the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (representing Scotland, with a lion symbolising England).
The horn of the unicorn, known as an alicorn, was once heavily sought after by the rich and powerful, and unsurprisingly, is much more common than its former owner. The Horn of Windsor was owned by Queen Elizabeth (valued in her life time as being worth £10,000), and was presented to her in 1577 by Martin Frobisher who found it on a dead fish (most likely a narwhal).
The church is also said to hold several alicorns, including one at Chester Cathedral.
Pixies, or Piskies, are almost exclusively found in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset within the UK. Dartmoor is thought to be a particularly popular place, with a sighting in 1897 of a small figure wearing red and blue clothing - he quickly vanished when he realised that he had been spotted.
Like other fairy folk, pixies were mostly benevolent, although their sense of humour and trickery sometimes went beyond what mankind found acceptable. Their acts of kindness were often spoken about, helping tidy homes and in Haytor, tending to a roadside grave.
According to Holinshed's Chronicle, the giant Albion once ruled over Britain, before being defeated by Hercules at Hartland Point, Devon. This cleared the way for humans to colonise Britain.
It is good to know that myths and legends concerning giants did not die with Albion, and they continued to appear throughout the UK. Many strange rock formations were blamed on giants, and the placement of standing stones were attributed to contests of great strength, normally involving a game of quoits. Other giants are said to be merely resting under hills and mountains until disturbed (or being needed).
More places in the UK relating to giants can be found here.
Contrary to its portrayal in recent films, the mermaid is quite a malevolent creature. Several pools and rivers in the UK are said to be home to a mermaid, and children were once warned to stay away from the areas, as the creature would drag them under the water to drown.
Mortal men would often become infatuated once seeing a mermaid, with fatal results. One Lancashire sailor who fell in love with a mermaid died on the day he was due to elope with her. Two brothers in the Shetland Islands tried to swim to the North Pole to win the heart of a mermaid, with obvious results.
One of the more documented merfolk case occurred at Orford, Suffolk. Around AD 1169, a hairy man was caught in the sea and brought to the Castle. He was unable to speak (even when hung upside down and tortured), and ate raw fish. He remained in the castle for six months before escaping back into the sea.
For more mermaid stories, visit this page.
Few mythical creatures are so prevalent then that of the fay or fairy folk. The fairy family covers many different forms, from pooka (an Irish entity which, unless pacified, would cause chaos) to pixie, goblin to hytersprite (a Norfolk creature similar to a Jack O'Lantern).
Fairy haunts were as numerous as the types of the little people themselves. Goblins would prefer crags and dark woodland, while other fairies would set up homes in ancient burial mounds. Some would move into human homes and help cook and clean, though they were proud and would move away if offered a gift or payment.
A recent fairy sighting occurred in 1979 at Wollaton Park, Nottingham. A group of school children encountered up to sixty gnomes who drove around them in small silent cars. Mass hallucination or a brief return of the fairy folk..?
Sites of fairy activity can be found here.