In the olden days, before science existed, people sought explanations for why the world exists as it does. Humans being humans, their first explanations revolved around ascribing human-like characteristics to natural phenomena, which in turn became the first gods worshiped by humankind.
From there, stories spread about the nature of the gods. In time, people began telling other stories that sought to explain such things as the origins of humankind, what happens after death, or the exploits of ancient heroes. Many other mythical creatures are thought to have started the same way - for example, stories of giants being an attempt to explain the existence of massive fossilized bones (which we now know belonged to long-extinct animals such as mammoths). As these stories passed down from generation to generation as either legends or religion, it gave birth to the fantasy genre we all knew and love.
In a sense, mythology is a blend of history and fantasy, with elements of what might have really happened wrapped up in cultural beliefs, and the shaped by the worldview of the societies that created the myths in question. Even in the present day, more than a few such myths are still prevalent despite their no longer being openly supernatural, such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree.
Older myths often contained bizarre and fucked up shit like incest and rape, because people in ye olden times were fucking deranged and kinky as all hell, and as far as they were concerned, nothing was off limits.
Put far less bluntly, several cultures saw their gods as models OF human behavior rather than FOR human behavior, and as such are not inherent indicators of how "deviant" a society was (though it also doesn't mean they might not have been fucked up in some ways). Naturally, exceptions to this "rule" do exist, e.g. Buddhism, where the central figurehead Buddha is one to be emulated rather than worshiped directly (which is apparent if you're not the kind of brainless worm who thinks all religion is the same).
Shifts in mythological narratives can also occur due to cultural osmosis and/or conflict; some "foreign" god are integrated into local mythos or considered an aspect of a local god, while other gods (usually from conquered peoples) were sometimes demonized, maybe even literally.
With different cultures from country to country, mythologies all had their own angels/demons/spirits/energies, with their moralities varying based on how their own cultures and others perceived them. Natural phenomena (the sun, the sea, storms, etc.) and common abstracts (chaos, order, art, etc.) will inevitably feature in nearly any culture's pantheon.
- 1 Connection with Fantasy Genres
- 2 Mythologies
- 2.1 Greco-Roman
- 2.2 Norse
- 2.3 Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
- 2.4 Egyptian Mythology
- 2.5 Japanese Mythology
- 2.6 Arthurian Mythology
- 2.7 Chinese Mythology
- 3 Urban Legend
- 4 Popular mythology elements used in Fantasy
Connection with Fantasy Genres
As you can see, many an author took interest in the old legends and decided to include its elements in their own stories. Notably, Tolkien took many elements from the Norse and Germanic Mythologies and popularized the concept of fantasy races like Dwarfs and Elves.
It bears mentioning that, between these connections and the fact that some mythologies form the basis for a few modern-day beliefs, e.g. the Abrahamic religions, while others often incorporate historical and semi-historical figures (with obvious overlap), liberties will be taken with adapting such figures to a given fiction, the same as it would be with any other adapation. TL;DR The following descriptions have no necessary bearing on the matter of whether or not a given being exists. That's a matter we'll leave to the reader.
There's a god for every aspect of ordinary life, like smithing, governing and war. The most important gods/goddess you need to know are Jupiter/Zeus, the guy with the lightning power who is the king of the gods; Juno/Hera, wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage, childbirth, and women; Minerva/Athena, goddess of wisdom and war born from Jupiter having a massive headache fully grown up and armed; Dis Pater/Pluto/Hades, Jupiter's eldest brother and the god of most of the Greco-Roman afterlife; Neptune/Poseidon, Jupiter's other brother and the god of the seas; Apollo, god of the sun, music, and archery; Diana/Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt; Ceres/Demeter, goddess of the harvest; Mercury/Hermes, messenger of the gods; Venus/Aphrodite, goddess of sex and love; Mars/Ares, god of war; Vulcan/Hephasteus, god of the forge; Vesta/Hestia, goddess of the hearth; Bacchus/Dionysus, god of wine and drunken revelry.
According to Greek myth, the first beings to come into existence were Gaia (the Earth) and Uranus (the sky). They had three sets of children: the Cyclopses, the Hecatonchires (giants with a hundred hands), and the Titans. Uranus imprisoned the first two in Tartarus, the deepest part of the underworld. This upset Gaia and she called upon the Titans to castrate their father with a flint scythe she had made. Saturn/Kronos/Cronus, the youngest of their number, agreed and duly carried it out, becoming the new king of the world. However, Uranus warned Cronus that he too would be overthrown by his children.
Cronus sought to avoid this, so he ate each one of them as a new one is born from his wife Rhea, but Rhea hid Zeus and fooled Cronus into eating a rock. Zeus then grows up and tricks his father into drinking wine mixed with mustard which makes him puke, saving all his brothers and sisters inside his father's belly (and who were somehow undigested), thus igniting a war that leads to the overthrow of the Titans. This event is known as The Titanomachy (Battle of the Titans). After all the Titans had been imprisoned in Tartarus and the Cyclopses and Hecatonchires freed, Zeus formed a government with the rest of his gods while living a comfy hedonist life where he raped many mortal girls and had many bastard sons for the lulz.
Roman myth can't agree on anything, because, unlike Grecian legends, it isn't racist and isolationist as fuck and takes from all Indo-European religions it encountered. This also means that it deviates from the "twelve important gods" rule that the Greeks had, and every area and time period had its own important gods. Imagine it as something akin to ancient Hinduism, minus all the mysticism (at least until all the Egyptian-esque mystery cults started popping up at the dawn of the Empire) and with the occasional emperor being declared a god after his death.
The stuff introduced in Greek myth is pretty widespread. Some of it so widely used people forget it came from the Greeks in the first place.
Most notable heroes with lots of media adaptions:Zeus (in his more positive depictions) Hercules/Heracles, Theseus, Perseus, Daedalus, the leaders of both sides of the Trojan War (Achilles, Hector, Paris etc.).
Most notable villains in media adaptions: Zeus (in his more negative depictions), Hades (only a villain in media adaptions; the original Hades was considered highly honorable if rather dour), Hera (but only in works involving Zeus' bastards), the Titans, Ares, various offspring of Echidna.
Artifacts that tend to show up in media adaptions: Pandora's box, Daedalus's inventions (especially the wings of Icarus), the sun chariot, the Nemean Lion skin, ambrosia, all sorts of stuff used by the gods (Zeus's thunderbolts, Hades's helmet of invisibility, Neptune's trident, Hermes's winged sandals, Athena's shield -- sometimes with Medusa's head on it...).
Like the Greeks, there's a god for every aspect and their most hated enemies are tower tall humanoid creature who the gods/goddess also related to, but were called Giants instead of Titans. The Norse mythos contains a lot more references to snow, winter and wolves than the Greek one. This is somewhat unsurprising.
Basically, in the early world's life cycle, there were these Frost Giants who were sweats born from the armpit of Ymir, the first of giants. There was also a giant cow, Audhumla, the udder of which Ymir frequented. Then that giant cow accidentally created a god by just licking a salty rock, Buri, who then "begat a son" - fuck knows how. This son, Bor, had a wife Bestla who gave birth to Odin and his brothers. Odin does not like giants since they come out of Ymir's stinking armpits like rats and they eat a lot so he and his brothers Vili and Ve killed Ymir. Ymir was so fuckhuge that his blood caused a massive flood that killed other Frost Giants. Odin then used Ymir's body to forge a new world. The death of Ymir also brought forth many life forms without Odin's touch like the Dwarves, who were basically Ymir's corpse maggots. Then like the Greek gods, Odin formed a government with gods/goddess of each daily life aspect. And then Ragnarok will come.
- Odin - The All father and king of the gods, as mentioned above.
- Frigg- Wife of Odin. Not much is known about her.
- Thor - Son of Odin, and god of Thunder, Storms and Oak Trees. Most prominent of all Norse mythology in pop culture due to the Marvel hero sharing the same name and a family of similarly Norse-inspired folks (Loki, Odin and Hela).
- Loki - A shape shifting trickster god said to be the blood-brother of Odin, who likes to dick about with his fellow deities. Also having his own Marvel adaptation, Loki is frequently shown as a villain primarily due to his role in the death of Baldur (see below).
- Baldur- Son of Odin and Frigg. God of light and the sun, said to be the most beloved of all the gods. Frigg asked all things to swear an oath not to harm Baldur, save for the mistletoe bush, which she thought to be harmless. Loki, being a spiteful jackass, took advantage of this oversight and arranged for Baldur to be slain by a mistletoe dart.
- Heimdall- The watchman of the gods, said to have senses so keen he could hear grass growing on the other side of the world.
- The Valkyries - Adaptions only, they're forces of nature at best in the original myths.
- Fafnir - Son of Hreidmar who after being cursed by Andvari's gold, becomes a fuckhuge dragon yo.
- Sigurd - Also known as Siegfried, this top bloke single-handedly slew Fafnir
and was later murdered
- Grendel - technically from Beowulf, this guy is the son of Cain and is "harrowed" by the sounds of singing from the King Hrothgar's mead-hall Heorot. One day he snaps and attacks the hall, continuing to attack it every night for twelve years. Did we mention he consumes the men he kills?
- Mjölnir - Thor's Hammer. Could return to him when thrown like a boomerang, but has a rather short handle because of Loki messing with its creation.
- Lævateinn - A really powerful sword.
- Gram - Sigurd's Sword, used to kill Fafnir.
- Gungnir - Odin's Spear.
- Megingjörð - Belt of
While there many mythologies that have different telling of the dwarf race, we will be talking about the Norse version.
After Odin murderfucked Ymir and killed a bunch of giants through blood flooding (see above) maggots came out and were festering on Ymir's flesh. Yes. These corpse maggots are the precursor of the dwarfs. So Odin found these maggots and turned them into the dwarf we all knew and love. They have the talent of mead brewing, metal smithing and making magical artifact. Many of iconic weapon like Thor's hammer are crafted by the dwarfs. But most importantly of the dwarfs creation is perhaps Odin's spear, why? BECAUSE IT IS NAMED "GUNGNIR"!! that's like the name of the warhammer dwarf god "Grungni", only with the letter "r" in the wrong place.
Anyway, other things about dwarfs is that they can turned to stone if they exposed to the sun for too long (wtf were they vampires too?). They are sometimes refer to as "black elf" since they were corpse maggot and they were described as being dead or resembling human corpses.
There are also four known dwarfs in the mythologies: Austri, Vestri, Norðri, and Suðri (which means “East,” “West,” “North,” and “South”) and they got the crappy job of holding the corner of the sky (aka the Atlas treatment) just because they have super strength.
In Norse myth, they were demi-god like beings whose sole purpose is to be more beautiful and superior-than-you. They are described as "more beautiful than the sun" with their demi-god status apparently linked to the gods of Vanir and Aesir. Their lord is a Vanir god called Freyr, who rules the elves’ homeland, Alfheim. They commonly cause humans to suffer illness but have the power to cure any illness only if sacrifices are offered to them, what a bunch of dicks. It is also possible for humans to become elves upon death. Elf and human can also interbreed; the mix of human and elf is described as having the look of a human but possess extraordinary intuitive and magical powers.
Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
The one everyone most familiar with in the West and the Middle East, since you learn them in church. Or synagogue, or mosque, you get the idea.
Much of the Abrahamic mythology is drawn from the old Hebrew bible though has been expanded considerably by Prose and Poetry over the centuries meaning that there is a wealth of third-party, non-canon material out there for DMs to use in their campaign settings. Christian mythology is one of the many mythologies that were derived from Jewish mythology, the same goes for Islamic mythology and many others from Middle Eastern countries. Hence, they are collectively referred to as "Abrahamic" after the Biblical patriarch.
So in Abrahamic mythology there is only one god, or at least only one true god: YHVH, which most people would just refer to him as GOD since his name is too sacred to speak of and because he is the only god that exists, with all others being false idols and products of human imagination. In fact, we don't even know how its pronounced, the two most common anglicizations being Yahweh and Jehovah. In Islam, he is instead called Allah.
Before the world was born, according to Milton - there was the "war in heaven" (not this one) where Lucifer, the most perfect of God's creations, the best of the archangels rebelled against God with a third of the angels in Heaven, but was defeated and cast down to Hell, in which he was imprisoned.
After that, God creates the world. It is said that he created the world in 7 days, hence the seven-day work week we all know and love: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (although those names themselves are drawn from various pagan, Roman, and Norse traditions -- Sun, Moon, Tyr, Woden/Odin, Thor, Frigga/Freya, and Saturn -- because flexibility is important when it comes to winning converts). He then created many animals, plants and the first two humans: Adam and Eve. He observed them in the Garden of Eden (aka his research facility) watching them having fun and telling them that they could do anything they wanted, except from eat the fruit of one particular tree in the garden. But that promise was broken when the woman, Eve was tempted by a winged serpent -who according to Milton, was actually Lucifer in disguise seeking to avenge himself by corrupting humanity- to eat the fruit, which held within it the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve having eaten the fruit, gained knowledge and dignity which made them embarrassed by their lack of clothing. God found out and exiled from the garden them to the mortal world. The serpent is also punished with his wings taken from him, turning him into the snek we all knew and feared. According to Christianity, this also introduced original sin, fundamentally changing the nature of humankind from natural innocence to inherent wickedness.
In the mortal world, Adam and Eve worked hard to survive and later conceived two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer while Abel was a shepherd. When they both offered their produce to God, God only favored Abel's. (According to some, it was because Cain hid his best offering from God. By this point if you are a true Vampire: The Masquerade fan, you would know what's coming next, but without the vampire shit.) Cain killed Abel, and his punishment for murder was to never farm ever again; wherever he spilled his brother's blood, the earth became cursed so that it can never grow anything. Basically denying Cain's favorite job and career. However, punishments differ in other mythologies and it's a clusterfuck. Adam and Eve later had the third son Seth, which is the true ancestor of mankind and Cain is then exiled to the land of the Nod where he built the City of Enoch (because he can't farm) and conceived many other descendents. There's also the claim that Eve was not the first wife, but Lilith, a woman who was created from the same dirt as Adam. Felt too hot shit for Adam, so she ran away with an archangel called Samael (the Fallen name for Lucifer in some stories) though in other stories she ran away a demon prince called Asmodeus (
not this one actually, probably yes this one) and begat a whole race of demons called the Lilim or Lilitu. In Vampire: The Masquerade however, she taught Cain cool dark magic and shit.
As for the rest, it's easier to find the nearest Bible and/or Koran and read it for yourself. Just don't call it mythology where anyone can hear you, unless you enjoy offending people and don't particularly care about being ostracized or worse, depending on where you do it.
Most notable heroes with lots of media adaptions:
- Jesus: Please tell us you're joking. If for some reason you're actually serious and have a few hours to spare, find the nearest church and ask whoever's in charge to tell you about him. He will be happy to give you the full story.
- Abraham: The common tie between the three Abrahamic religions, his covenant with God makes him and his descendants the first of the Jews.
- Samson: Legendary hero whose power was tied to never cutting his hair
- David: Once killed a mighty warrior with a slingshot. He became the king of Israel afterwards.
- Solomon: David's son, also King of Israel. Better at his job then just about anybody who came after him, and (more relevant to media appearances outside of direct-Biblical-adaption) frequently reputed to be a (usually holy) sorcerer of some kind.
- Moses: See the Exodus for details.
- Noah: See below for his boating adventure.
- A few angels; notably, only two are given names: Michael and Gabriel (there's also an Abbadon in the Book of Revelation, but he's usually considered a Fallen Angel like Lucifer). Also notable and mentioned in the Bible: the Angel of Death, aka The Destroying Angel (no name given Biblically, but the Catholic and most Eastern Orthodox Apocryphas (as well as Jewish tradition, especially the later Kaballic one), identify him as Azrael).
- God is rarely depicted as a particularly active hero, but may work in mysterious ways.
Most notable villains with lots of media adaptions:
- Satan/Lucifer/The Devil (may or may not be the same character): With the many different interpretations, it's hard to tell which is which, but the general gist is that one angel disagreed with how God was doing business and staged a great rebellion. God cast him and his kin out of heaven and forced them to live in a realm where they are never able to feel his presence, and now he takes his hatred of God out on humanity by leading them into damnation. If you want to trigger people, just ask how he could have fallen and introduce evil to the universe when God's supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and purely good. It's been giving theologians headaches for centuries.
- Judas Iscariot: One of Jesus' apostles who sold him out to the Romans, leading to the crucifixion. He hung himself shortly afterwards in a fit of despair.
- Cain: Adam and Eve's son after being cast out of paradise. Murdered his brother Abel for petty reasons.
- Pharaoh from the tale of Moses
- Sometimes God and/or various angels are depicted negatively, as either being passive in the face of evil or complicit (or being giant monsters out to destroy the world). Naturally, those kinds of interpretations are highly frowned upon for the obvious reason that people still worship God and do not like it when other people call His actions evil.
- It should be added that Fallen Angels are a Canonical (as in, actually appear in the New Testiment) option to have Evil Angels without making God Himself Evil, although it still runs into the problem of why God made his own angels susceptible to becoming evil in the first place. (Note that this is more an early Jewish and Christian motif than a later Jewish or Islamic one, due to changes and differences, respectively, in theology.)
Non-Biblical figures who show up in media adaptions
- Lilith, the fanon first wife of Adam, the first man. It must be emphasized that she does not exist in any biblical source (other then the first woman being created twice--but then again, a lot of things happen twice, slightly differently described each time, in Genesis), but that being said, was reputed to be one of Satan's many wives and a mother of demons.
- The Wandering Jew and Longinus: because Jesus implied that certain people listening to him speak would be around for the Second Coming (although two obvious alternate readings are that Jesus was talking about his shortly impending Resurrection, or referring to the then-future, but politically easy to foresee, Great Revolt of 66 AD, whose results could easily be seen as something that would be talked about in the same tone as the end of the world at the time), two non-biblical figures show up, starting in medieval works: The Wandering Jew, an Jew of the era, cursed to immortality, and Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus' side with a spear during the Crucifixion, similarly cursed to immortality. Can show up as villains, heroes, or mere cameos. (Both are more likely to show up in literature and RPGs then visual media; Longinus, in particular, is the identity claimed by an important historical vampire in Vampire: The Requiem.)
- Various non-Biblically mentioned Angels.
Artifacts that tend to show up in media adaptions:
- The Holy Grail (either the cup that Christ drank from at the Last Supper, or a cup used for various purposes during the Crucifixion, or it was used for both)
- The True Cross (so named because of the dozens of other crosses falsely passed off as the one Jesus was crucified on--not helped by the fact that the Roman Empire crucified a lot of people, as Crucifixion was the standard Roman method of execution of non-Romans.)
- The Spear of Destiny and various other objects associated with the Crucifixion: In certain media, the Spear of Destiny (which pierced his side during crucifixion) as well as the nails which pinned him to the cross are considered gifted with magical powers because they have the blood of God on them.
- Other objects from the Crucifixion that can show up in media and are sometimes (but more rarely then the above) assigned supernatural powers include the Crown of Thorns, the 30 pieces of silver payed to Judas, the whip used for the 39 lashes, and a sponge.
- The Veil of Veronica and/or the Shroud of Turin: These are two relics that purported to be pieces of cloth that were miraculously imprinted with an image of Christ's face after being in contact with him sometime during the crucial four days. The former is lost; the latter is of rather dubious authenticity.
- The Ark of the Covenant: Where Moses supposedly put the shards of the original Ten Commandments (and possibly Aaron's rod and a pot of manna). Famously disappeared during one of the various times Jerusalem was sacked.
- The Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil
- The Fruit of Life.
Humankind had become incredibly corrupt and sinful, so God decided to have the sea level to suddenly rise to the kind you see in disaster movie like The Day After Tomorrow. He instructed the sole righteous man on Earth named Noah to build an ark big enough to contain every animals and in the world as well as his family, or just each animal species with their own female and male pairing so that they could reproduce. God even instruct Noah to build the ark with the size he demands: 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height (450 × 75 × 45 ft or 137 × 22.9 × 13.7 m), it's almost as if God intended this. The ark is also made out of some probably extinct wood called "Gopher" (that's just how the Hebrew word is pronounced, gofer -- it's not related to the furry critter), probably the best kind since the ark has to withstand waves after waves of tsunami for a long time and a tragically, all of them are probably used up just for the ship. After the flood came and everyone is on the ark, they basically float for 40 days until the water goes down.
Moses and the Exodus of the Hebrew
Another myth took place in Egypt. There once lived the Israelite (later the Jewish) people, the chosen people of God. They had come to reside in Egypt were living in peacefully harmony until one day some asshole Pharaoh came and starts to oppress the shit out of them. The Pharaoh hated how the Hebrews breeds like rats so they had every one of their male children to drown in the river of Nile. Moses, our hero of the story survived as an infant and was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter (oh the irony). Moses eventually grow up and learn of God Yahweh and is commanded to free his people and guide them on an exodus to the promised land. Pharaoh and his army tried to stop them but god basically said fuck you and send twelve powerful plagues to fucked them over. The plague is so effective that Egypt became a frigging wasteland, but no undead unfortunately. Later, Moses guide his people to close the red sea where he do the iconic sea splitting to make a crossing passage. The Pharaoh and his goons tried to take chase but was once again pwned by the sudden sea crushing them both side when they were on the sea. After traveling with his fellow Hebrews, Moses decided to talk to the god on the mountain for sometime and came back with the Ten Commandments, ten rules willed by god and if these rules were crossed, the severity of the punishment will be depend on which rule was broke (Ex. commit heresy like worshiping other gods will be awarded with genocide of the entire cities of man, woman, chidren and animals). Unfortunately, some of his unfaithful followers were slacking off and was worshiping some chaos-looking-brother-fucking-golden-bull-idol and was ordered by Moses to have them execute. Moses and his follower arrived to their promised land after a delay of 40 years due to the Israelites' incessant disbelief in God, which is, unsurprisingly, Israel! The Israelites then spend a long chunk of their history trying to kill off the native Caananites, all while being repeatedly punished for continually abandoning God's worship in favor of false idols.
Things drawn from Abrahamic Myth / Demonology
The "bibles" (Jewish, Christian and Islamic holy books) and associated apocrypha are undoubtedly HUGE sources of inspiration for game developers, particularly Dungeons and Dragons where monsters are ported over, virtually unchanged and names of significant figures are also often used.
- The idea that Hell has Nine layers - Baator - though where Dante's layers have distinct punishments, Baator's layers are the realms of powerful lords.
- Names of significant demon/devil characters: Asmodeus - demon of Lust, Baalzebul (or other variants like Baalzebul, Beelzebub) - demon of gluttony, or Mammon - demon of avarice
- Different orders of Angels, or angel analogues such as Genies (or djinn, as they were originally called in Islamic tradition)
A wide family of heretical beliefs mixing Abrahamic theology with Greek philosophy, Gnosticism believes in the existence of two gods; the true omnipotent God of the spiritual world and the Demiurge, the false god who created the Earth. Seeing as the world was created by a flawed creator, it is inherently flawed itself, so your goal ought to be to transcend the physical plane and escape to the perfect world of the spirit. Typically the Demiurge was identified with the god of the Old Testament, while the true god was seen as the one preached by Jesus, in an attempt to explain the apparent dissonance between their depictions. Where Satan fits into the picture depends on the exact sect, some portraying him as a force of liberty that seeks to free mankind from the tyranny of the Demiurge while others see him as seeking to further mankind's imprisonment by distracting them from spiritual matters with his temptations. Often associated with the western occult tradition of Hermeticism, also a mixture of Abrahamic and Greek traditions, though not all Hermetics are necessary Gnostics. There were countless different sects of Gnosticism, and describing the differences between them would likely require its own article.
While Gnosticism is hardly the most well-known religion due to the early Christian Church's ultimately successful efforts in wiping it out and the lack of surviving information on how it was practiced, it has influenced several fantasy settings, like Kult, The Elder Scrolls and both of the World of Darkness Mage games.
Most well known for its collection of gods with the heads of animals. Unlike Greek or Norse mythology, has very little emphasis on mortal or demimortal heroes.
Egyptian mythology is wildly inconsistent due to spanning numerous cultures over thousands of years: for instance, the world is alternately said to have been created by Ra, Atem, Ptah, Thoth, or a collection of eight gods known as the Ogdoad. Whoever was the supreme god mainly depended on what city you were in and what time period it was, but the most well-known one was the sun god Ra. A common theme was the maintaining of a divine order known as Ma'at. Maintaining Ma'at on Earth was seen as the prime responsibility of the Pharoah, a priest-king who was seen as the bridge between mortals and gods. Another major theme is the concept of the death and rebirth of mortals and gods alike, leading to the famous Egyptian practices of mummification and the construction of elaborate tombs.
- Ra: Falcon-headed (although he was also often depicted as a ram or a scarab) god of the sun. During the night, he voyaged through the underworld where he would battle the monstrous serpent Apophis.
- Osiris: Formerly the god-king of Egypt, he was murdered by his brother Set and became the god of the afterlife. Due to the Egyptian obsession with funerary rites, this made him a very important god.
- Isis: Sister/wife of Osiris and goddess of magic and wisdom. Her sorcery was what allowed Osiris to rise from the dead to become god of the afterlife. Her influence was particularly strong during the Roman Empire, and some scholars believe that elements of her worship may have influenced Christianity by way of the veneration of the Virgin Mary.
- Horus (no, not that Horus): Falcon-headed sky god and son of Osiris. Waged war against Set to avenge his father. This included humiliating him by ejaculating in his salad. He is heavily associated with the symbol known as the Eye of Horus, which was believed to protect against evil.
- Anubis: Psychopomp deity. Although in actual Egyptian mythology he was only Osiris' servant, his striking jackal-headed appearance has made him more well-known.
- Set: God of deserts, who due to being associated with foreign invaders was demonized into an evil god who murdered Osiris. Wasn't the ultimate villain of Egyptian Mythology, that would be Apophis (who was so evil Set was portrayed as fighting him even after being demonized), but Apophis is nowhere near as infamous.
- Apophis: Essentially, the God of Evil and Darkness. Enemy of all living things, and the sort of guy who picks a fight with Ra each and every night, even though he loses every time.
Japanese laymen don't really bother separating their religions, taking up whatever is convenient or trendy at a particular phase in their life, and thus the major religions (Shinto, Buddhism), some more minor ones, and various folk heroes exist simultaneously. Rarely touched by non-Japanese works that aren't the pantheon for Japan analogs.
According to the Kojiki, the world (or just Japan) was created by 2 gods: Izanami (the wife) and Izanagi (the husband). There were 5 other gods with difficult to pronounced name like Kotoamatsukami (別天津神, "Separate Heavenly Deities") before them but they entrust these two for the world's creation because they are gender-less and thus unable to procreate next generation. Izanami and Izanagi belongs to the Kamiyonanayo ("Seven Generations of the Age of the Gods") and they shape the earth with this totally awesome spear called Ame-no-nuboko (天沼矛, "heavenly jewelled spear") and create islands, lands using salts. They then settled down onto the land they've created and mated. Unfortunately, the first two children: Hiruko and Awashima they've conceived were mutants, badly formed that the parent decided to send them on a lone boat trip before their 3rd birthday (Hiruko survived, worked hard and became a god known as Ebisu). Turns out after confronting their elder about the misfortune, it was Izanami's fault for not acting properly during the mating ritual, causing birth defect and such. After some proper mating, their descendants were born, that would eventually be modern day Japanese islands(or they children's name were given a land to lived on and those land were named after them). Izanami then died giving birth to Kagu-tsuchi, a human torch wannabe that burned his mother upon his birth. Izanagi was angered and behead his child into eight piece, which would became 8 volcanoes and his blood on Izanagi's sword became the sea god Watatsumi and rain god Kuraokami. This also marks the end of the creation.
Izanagi was in grief that he traveled to Yomi ("land of the dead") to see his dead wife. Unfortunaly, Izanami already belong to Yomi after eating its food. Izanagi's stubbornness to not left Izanami in the dark land, he waited there because Izanami agree to go back if she had some rest, but the worried Izanagi decided to see what's going on with his dead wife by lighting a torch using his magical head comb only to find his wife was already a maggot ridden ghoul like monster. Izanagi scared shitless that he ran away while Izanami called Shikome (ugly underworld woman) to chase him. After a long looney tune chase that involves Izanagi's use of his magical hair dress and his urine to stop his pursuer, he eventually return to the living realm with Izanami cursing that she will kill 1000 person everyday with Izanagi responded that he will give birth 1500 person if so.
- Izanami and Izanagi: See above.
- Amaterasu: Goddess of the sun. Japanese royal family once claimed descent from her, but stopped doing so after World War II. How the majority to entirety of Japan's people as a whole weren't as well, since far younger people are ancestors of the majority of far larger and less isolationist populations, was never explained.
- Susano-o: Amaterasu's brother and god of storms. Kicked out of heaven for being a dick. While walking the earth he proceeds to kill the Orochi, among other (anti-)heroics, and bribes his way back into heaven with the fat loot he finds.
- The Orochi: Giant nine-headed snake monster that likes to eat (?) female sacrifices. Susano-O gets it drunk and kills it, then he finds the Kusanagi on its corpse.
- The Buddhas: While normal Buddhists don't "worship" the Buddha, more Shinto leaning Japanese often do. See Buddhism whenever someone is assed to add it for how it's supposed to go. Gautama Buddha is the one people talk about when they say "The Buddha", but the completely separate Budai/Laughing Buddha is the main one ignorant westerners know the visual of.
- Various Buddhist demons: Mostly assholes that tried to stop people from achieving enlightenment. Some are actually former assholes who were redeemed by enlightened people and now act as protectors.
- The Four Heavenly Kings: Bishamonten, Jikokuten, Zouchouten and Koumokuten, the guardians of the North, East, South and West respectively. Their title is co-opted by everything (no seriously, everything) with four members in Japanese culture, though westerners may not notice it because the title gets translated a shit ton of ways depending on the context.
- Yokai: Various mythical monsters. The most famous are the Kitsune, Kamaitachi, Tengu and (though not always counted as one) Oni.
Historical People Shrouded in Myth
- Emperor Jimmu: THE GOD EMPEROR OF JAPAN as well as the first Emperor. The descendants of Goddess Amaterasu and the leader of Yamato clan. Most of his records were old and depict him as a warrior hero god character accompanied by a three legged crow and wielding a long bow. He died at the age of 126 and has little to no worshipers in modern day other than having at least a shrine and grave.
- Abe no Seimei: A court magician who lived between 921 and 1005. Fiction tends to make him an actual wizard.
- Himiko: Queen of Japan around 200 AD. Chinese records make it clear she existed but very little is known about her.
- Masakado: Samurai who led a brief rebellion till 940. He's considered the god of Tokyo. His shrine/grave occupies some of the most expensive real-estate in the world, as it is thought that neglecting his shrine will cause his angry spirit to bring disaster upon Tokyo.
- Takiyasha Hime: His daughter. Fiction makes her a sorcerer with a toad Familiar. Possibly entirely fictional.
- Tomoe Gozen: A female Samurai that actually fought in battle in 1184.
- Oda Nobunaga: Self proclaimed "Demon King of the Sixth Heaven" (That's historical fact recorded by a Jesuit missionary who knew him personally). Defacto unifier of Japan, while the dominos he set up were falling, he was murdered by his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide for unknown reasons. His successors conquered the country after he did the hard parts, forming what would become the Tokugawa Shogunate. Since he was ruthless and called himself a demon, it's no mystery why fiction depicts him as a literal one.
- Hattori Hanzo: A general during the late Sengoku era. He's better known for allegedly being a Ninja.
- Ishikawa Goemon: Bandit during the late Sengoku era, executed along with his infant son by being boiled alive after a failed assassination attempt on Nobunaga's successor. Reputed to be a Robin Hood-like figure and also allegedly a Ninja.
Artifacts that tend to show up in media adaptions:
- The Imperial regalia (Kusanagi, Magatama and the Yata no Kagami): A sword, mirror, and rosary that are considered the badges of office for the emperor.
- Katana created by famous swordsmiths
- Muramasa: Swords created by the famous (and real) swordsmith Sengo Muramasa. Allegedly his swords have a taste for blood and are demonic in nature and can't be sheathed if they haven't tasted blood yet.
- Masamune: Even though Masamune lived hundreds of years before Muramasa, their swords are often counterparts in fantasy. In contrast to Muramasa, Masamune's blades are supposedly holy.
- Kotetsu: Nagasone Kotetsu was a quality swordsmith from the Edo period with a really fitting name (虎鉄 or "Tiger Iron"). His works are notable but if they show up in fiction expect them to be inferior to the above two.
The story of a boy who becomes king of England and his knights. Arthurian lore is unusual among mythology in that historians actually know the names and history of the authors who created most of it. This doesn't make it any more consistent, in-fact even authors directly continuing existing stories couldn't be assed to keep basic things consistent.
Of some minor note, the story of King Arthur may have some sorta kinda basis in reality. If he existed, he was apparently a general, not king, who successfully fought in at least one battle to contain the invading Anglo-Saxons during the era after the collapse of the western Roman Empire. Given many, many washings through the story retelling and expanding machine after being combined with the mythos associated with the Holy Grail, we wind up with the King Arthur mythology.
(no shit are you fucking stupid oh my god jesus christ come on its IN THE FUCKIN-)
- The Knights of the Round Table
- Lancelot: The closest of Arthur's companions and the greatest knight of the age, but also infamous for his long affair with Guinevere. Some scholars believe he was not part the original group of knights and actually just a completely separate fictional knight that met Arthur in a crossover and never left.
- Galahad: Lancelot's son. Absolutely pure of heart, and is this able to complete the quest for the Holy Grail. After finding it, he ascends into Heaven along with the Grail.
- Kay: Arthur's Gish step-brother. One of the earliest written knights, but nobody remembers him. Kay was a guy's name once upon a time.
- Merlin: Arthur's wizard and mentor, as well as the template for almost every other wizard in fantasy fiction since the genre was a thing. Works vary wildly on how benevolent he is and how he got his powers. Originally named Myrddin, but that sounded too close to "shit" for audiences that knew French, which was a lot of people at the time, so it was changed.
- Morgan le Fay: Merlin's opposite number. Sometimes Arthur's half-sister because fuck consistency. Depending on the story, she is either an ally or an enemy of Arthur.
- Guinevere: Arthur's wife. Falls for Lancelot shortly after they meet, and somehow their affair goes unnoticed until exposed by Morgan le Fay and Mordred.
- Lady of the Lake: A fey chick who gives Arthur Excalibur after the sword in the stone breaks. Since most adaptations make the sword in the stone and Excalibur one in the same her role varies wildly. Sometimes said to be Lancelot's adoptive mother.
- Mordred: Most commonly depicted as Arthur's bastard son with his half-sister (who may or may not be Morgan le Fay depending on the story), but like a lot of things in Arthur Mythos his background is inconsistent as hell. All that's certain is he doesn't like Arthur and wants to take over.
- The Green Knight: Shows up to the castle one day and challenges each knight to chop his head off with an axe, on the condition he gets to do the same thing to them next year. Nobody is willing to accept the challenge... except Gawain. Gawain beheads the Green Knight only for him to pick the head right back up and walk away, reminding Gawain of their deal. Gawain survives thanks to the the Green Girdle and learns the whole thing really was a test of the knights' courage by Morgan. If this sounds uncharacteristically consistent to you, it's because he only appeared in one story, albeit a well regarded one.
- The Black Knight: There's a few different ones, or it could just be another case of zero consistency. (It should be noted that knights with black armor were actual semi-historical figures; blackening up your armor made it vastly easier to maintain for a solo knight without a squire, so a Knight without a liege sometimes did so while either seeking new employment, or just plain wandering; alternately, the knight painted up his armor and shield to conceal his identity. Either way, you have a knight without a master, a worrying prospect to the feudal mind.)
- Very few adaptions use the Anglo-Saxons, the people who the earliest chronicles claim he fought against.
Notable Artefacts: Arthurian myth has some of the highest artifact density out there. Among the most famous are:
- The Holy Grail: Has some connections to the life of Jesus, see above. Short version is that it grants immortality.
- The Sword in The Stone and/or Excalibur: The legendary sword which acts as Arthur's badge of office. In some versions of the myth they are the same sword, others not; some versions even name the other sword "Caliburn"--which is just a translation of the French "Excalibur" to Latin)
- The Green Girdle: Obtained by Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A girdle of green silk and none who wear it can be killed.
- The Round Table itself: Most works just make the round table a mundane table, but a few give it magical powers of some kind. The symbolic importance is that all knights are considered equal to each other as it lacks any ends for a head to claim.
Since China lived right next to various, heavily religious nations countries like India and Tibet, their mythology contains many gods from Buddhism, although the ancient Chinese tended more towards Taoism as a general rule. Chinese mythology is pretty well known and famous in Asia and one of its most famous myths, "The Journey to the West", brought forth near-endless adaptations, everyone's favorite anime/manga about a certain half-monkey xeno super fighter.
World Creation according to Chinese Mythology
The Chinese mythos displays a heavy Taoist belief influenced by the Zhou Dynasty that passed it down from generation to generation until the Three Kingdoms era, where one Xu Zheng finally committed the story to paper. Basically, there is but formless Chaos in the beginning and it coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18,000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced, and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu was a Tengan Toppa-sized sky titan and a hairy primitive humanoid; he would separate the yin and yang (earth and sky) by lifting up the sky and holding it for the next 18,000 frigging years (because fuck you Atlas, you derivative hack). While doing his lifting, both the sky and earth grew ten feet (3 meters) everyday.
Pangu finally died at the end of this period, with the world forming from several of his remains: His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice, thunder; his left eye, the sun; his right eye, the moon; his head, the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood, rivers; his muscles, fertile land; his facial hair, the stars and Milky Way; his fur, bushes and forests; his bones, valuable minerals; his bone marrow, sacred diamonds; his sweat, rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became animals. Kinda similar to Ymir the giant, except he wasn't murdered and it wasn't metal enough that the blood became killer tsunamis.
An ancient goddess named Nüwa was the one who created humanity out of clay. She was busy but the the pillar holding the sky broke so she had to fix it herself using a giant azure turtle's shell as water container. But even then that is not enough so she had to sacrificed herself to repair the sky. There's also other version where she is depicted as the Chinese version of Eve, as well as the daughter of Jade Emperor, the first god.
Xiyou Ji (Journey To The West)
Xiyou Ji (or Journey To the West) is an important historical Chinese fantasy adventure novel about a journey undertaken to India by a Chinese Buddhist monk, known as Tang Sanzang/Xuanzang or Tripitaka, to get better copies of the Buddhist sacred texts. In this, he has recruited four protectors throughout the journey who agree to help him in atonement for their various sins; two guys nobody cares about: a disgraced commander from heaven named Zhu Bajie, whom was punished by the gods into a pig like beastmen (who everyone calls an idiot, even the narrator) and Sha Wujing, a random sand bandit whom was also from heaven and was banished (the black sheep of the party); a horse (whom was secretly the dragon king's son, also disgraced); and the real protagonist, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King (Yes, DragonBall Z started out life as a riff on Journey To The West, so Superman fanboys claiming originality can eat shit).
Wukong is quite a Mary Sue at first glance, with a superpower suite to match (Flight, immortality, disguise-piercing super sight, a steel-hard body, transformation mastery, being able to turn strands of hair into anything up to and including perfect clones of himself... DBZ wishes it could be that bullshit.); HOWEVER, he's also very much the Only Sane Man™ on this journey and proves to be an archetypical, cunning-if-occasionally-childish trickster through and through. In contrast, Xuanzang is rather unworldly, Zhu Baije is an idiot, Sha Wujing is what effectively amounts to a non-entity, and the horse is essentially just a horse. (For more detail, see "The Monkey King's Backstory" below.)
They proceed to set off on a journey where they learn the virtues and teachings of Buddhism and encounter a lot of interesting folks and weird episodes (such as monsters who wanted Xuanzang's flesh for immortality and power) along the way, many of which you might recognize if you're a fan of Japanese or Chinese-themed fantasy works.
The Monkey King's Backstory
Because it gets referenced a lot, but isn't quite that important to discussing the rest of Journey to the West, here's The Monkey King's history:
Sun Wukong was born from a stone egg, which was contained within an ancient rock that had been created by the coupling of Heaven and Earth; the meteor struck a mountain inhabited by wild monkeys. Despite his categorically extraterrestrial origin, he emerged from the magical egg looking much like the locals, save for being made of rock. After leading his tribe to the well-hidden source of a stream, Sun Wukong took the title of "Handsome Monkey King". From there he would proceed to travel the world and establish further influence and power, making several alliances after collecting powerful weapons and armor like your average JPRG protag. This included his trademark staff, phoenix-feather cap, gold chian-mail shirt and cloud-walking boots.
At some point, the Chinese equivalent of Hell came calling for his soul; rather than accept death and reincarnation, Wukong decided to wipe the names of him and any monkey he knew from the Book of Life and Death. This pissed off the gods - in particular troubling Yama (also known as Enma), the other Kings of Hell and the Dragon Kings - due to the inherent blasphemy and the sheer clerical hell that would result. When the Jade Emperor got wind of this, he figured the solution was to kick Sun Wukong upstairs to Heaven, thinking that a place amongst the gods would keep him in line. Unfortunately, he tried to pull one over on the Monkey King - Wukong was indeed admitted to heaven, but as protector of the Cloud Horses, I.E. a fucking stable boy. The Monkey King's reaction was measured and reasonable: he sets the horses loose, fucks off back to his mountain and declares himself "The Great Sage, Heaven's Equal (齊天大聖)". Unable to arrest the sneaky bastard, Jade Emps thought to pacify him again, this time appointing him guardian of a heavenly peach garden. While a much higher position than before, it conveniently excludes him from being invited to a royal banquet for all the important gods. Apparently Jade Emps thought the same trick would work twice.
Deciding to step his rebellion game up a notch, he drinks the Jade Emperor's royal wine, along with chowing down on longevity pills and the garden's peaches - which he likely was doing anyway, since each peach on their own would grant immortality. Thoroughly stocked up on extra lives, the Monkey King then proceeded to solo the entire Army of Heaven - 100,000 celestial warriors, all 28 constellations, and the four Heavenly Kings - all without breaking a sweat. He even matched the strength of Erlang Shen, a pretty cool guy who is the Jade Emp's nephew, has a truth-seeing 3rd eye on his forehead and was the best of Heaven's generals; even when Sun Wukong was captured, it was only through the combined efforts of Tao and Buddhist forces, including several of the greatest deities, and finally Guanyin, a Bodhisattva (an incredibly powerful god-like entity that guides others towards enlightenment, and the only one who could actually subdue and control him).
...and then what? They certainly couldn't execute the Monkey King for obvious reasons, and trying to distill him into an elixir for recreating the longevity pills just made him stronger and gave him even more fucking superpowers. Enter Buddha, as in THE Buddha, who appeals to his pride by claiming that he can't escape the Buddha's palm. Sun Wukong accepted, being the smug motherfucker he is, and leaps almost effortlessly to an area with five pillars, where he leaves his mark by writing his title on them (and in some versions by peeing on them as well). Leaping back, he finds himself back in the Buddha's palm, where it turns out he'd never left - the pillars he'd marked were Buddha's fingers. Having one-upped the ultimate trickster, Buddha then turns his hand into a mountain and traps him under it, sealing him with a special talisman before he can lift it off (yeah, he can bench press mountains, get on his fucking level).
Then the monk Sanzang came along, prompting the Monkey King to bargain for his freedom - as it happens, Guanyin (the Bodhisattva who had helped captured him previously) is searching for disciples to act as his bodyguard, and allows him to join. Buddha ensures his compliance with an unremovable headband that he tricks Sun Wukong into wearing, which tightens painfully when the monk chants a certain sutra. (That's 2-0 for Buddha!) Guanyin decided it wasn't fair for Buddha to COMPLETELY own his shit, and gave Wukong three super-special 'emergency' hairs. He then sets off with the monk, and the rest is history.
Another type of myth, except this is more of modern day taste and are more rooted in pop culture than anything else. In Japan many classic myths of Yokai continue to "exist" and have modernized to fit with new technology (for example, a cursed cart may become a cursed car). See creepypasta. Here are some examples:
- Bigfoot - Also known as Sasquatch. It is a creature of ape and man named after its big foot print on the ground. Its sighting are mostly around Pacific Northwest.
- Bloody Mary - It is said to be a malevolent spirit who if you call its name "Bloody Mary" in front of a mirror three times, she will come and do something horrible to you. A pretty stupid game often participate by college students and idiots.
- Chupacabra - A small bear size monster who likes to suck a goat's blood dry. First spotted in Puerto Rico where it kills 8 sheeps. It is said that its influcence has spread across the latin America. Allegedly, the idea of the chupacobra was just stolen from the movie Species.
- Grays - A stock alien appearance of short, large headed, large eyed, generally naked, grey men. Allegedly probe humans, steal cows and make patterns in vegetation while riding around in a saucer shaped spacecraft. Supposedly crashed in Rosswell, New Mexico in 1947, which was covered up by the US Government as a "weather balloon" (more recent declassification suggest it was a balloon, just an experimental and classified one meant for Cold War era spying).
- Area 51 - An actual military base in Nevada that the crashed spacecraft was allegedly taken to. Allegedly home to all sorts of government experiments on the supernatural and/or extraterrestrial. Though the existance of the factual military base existing was always known, the US government didn't officially acknowledge it till 2013. Officially it's used for testing experimental and captured aircraft and thus highly classified. Supposedly, the US government thought that the UFO hysteria was good cover for the then-secret U-2 program, as any spotted aircraft could be explained away by kooks as an alien spacecraft.
- Men in Black / Majestic-12 - Another component that's common to UFO conspiracies is a secret branch of the government dedicated to keeping the public in the dark about the existence of aliens. The urban legend version is significantly scarier and more malevolent than their movie counterparts.
- Loch Ness Monster - A long necked sea creature that allegedly lives in Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands.
- Kiyotaki tunnel - A haunted tunnel in Japan. Said to be built by slaves in 1927. It is said to have an unfortunately length of 444 meter long (4 is a lucky number in Japan) and it is a famous suicide spot. There were witness who saw the spirit of suicide victim walking towards the tunnel. There are reports where the traffic light outside the tunnel to suddenly change color and cause car accidents.
- Slender Man - a fictional character that originated as an Internet meme created by Something Awful forums user Victor Surge in 2009. It is depicted as resembling a thin, unnaturally tall man with a blank and usually featureless face and wearing a black suit. The Slender Man is commonly said to stalk, abduct, or traumatize people, particularly children. The Slender Man is not tied to any particular story, but appears in many disparate works of fiction, mostly composed online.