Winter is coming! Let’s play some instrumental music, grab a hot cup of tea and go on an exciting journey to read some mysterious, chilling and definitely wonderful stories of Persian mythological creatures. If you are a fan of the fantasy genre and you’ve read Harry Potter, you definitely know about its magical creatures, like the elegant phoenix on Dumbledore’s shoulder or the dragons in the Triwizard Tournament. The interesting fact is that many of these characters have existed in Persian culture for thousands of years. Just like the creatures of Greek mythology, they have their own stories and they are linked to the Persian culture in their own way.
Lesley Bolton talks about myths as half-truth stories which are passed along by people in different cultures. Although they are fictional, they have roots in reality and people told them to justify phenomena that could not be understood easily. Talking about those events and phenomena in the shape of myth, gave them the power to face different obstacles and find peace of mind.
Like any other type of myth, the stories that you are going to read have been told from one generation to the next and some of the details can vary depending on the preferences of the storyteller. However, you can find these creatures and read about them in Avesta. This book is the oldest Zoroasterian book that includes different sections, one of which is the stories and explanations of Persian mythology.
What Are Persian Mythological Creatures?
There are many different Persian mythological creatures in Iranian culture. Iran has always been intertwined with rich poetry, art and story. Some of the characters are good and peaceful while the others are doomed and carriers of sorrow and fear. The world of these creatures is deep and widespread. We are going to tell you the stories and backgrounds of some of these creatures and help you get to know them better.
Qoqnoos or Phoenix, The Magical Bird
Almost all the good fantasy stories have a phoenix in them. In Persian literature, phoenix is a rare and graceful bird that flies like no other creatures. Its voice can make other birds stop singing and its beauty is undoubtable. Qoqnoos can live for a thousand year and nothing is capable of killing it. But when the right time comes, the bird starts gathering firewood and sits in the middle of it. By singing a sorrowful song, this Persian mythological creature flaps several times to make a fire and gets ready to burn itself in flames and rise from the ashes once again.
In Persian culture, Qoqnoos is the symbol of eternity and bliss. Iranians mention this bird in their conversations when they want to talk about self development and great achievements in life. When you are in trouble and difficulty, you should think of phoenix and believe that eventually, you will get something out of this situation and rise again stronger than before.
Manticore, The Playful Killer
If you travel to Iran and start a conversation with Iranian oldtimers, they will warn you of a creature with the body of a lion, tail of a scorpion and head of a man that kills its baits in cold blood to the melody of a lullaby. The ancient tales say that Manticore or the man-eater is faster than any other creature that ever existed in this world. Its skin is so hard that no weapon that human beings ever invented can stand against it. The only creatures that Manticore cannot defeat are elephants, but human beings are its favorite type of food. On the cold nights of winter when you are covering yourself with a blanket and get ready to go to sleep, when the only sound that you can hear is the sound of leaves that are moving around by breeze, manticore announces its presence with a growl and kills its bait. Its voice is too sudden that leaves you shocked! Manticore gets closer to the poor bait slowly and uses its tail to inject poison to the bait’s body. Then, when the chosen human being cannot move or scream for help, Manticore throws out the part that is poisonous and starts eating its food. This Persian mythological creature leaves no trace of itself except for a little bit of flesh and blood that cannot be tracked down.
We can read about Manticore in ancient stories that found their way to India and then Greece. When a member of a society went missing and people could not find them, they blamed Manticore for that and prayed to God to keep them safe against this creature.
Dragon or Azhi Dahaka
There are so many tales about powerful and adorable dragons that can get trained and help human beings in their missions. Daenerys and her three dragons in Game of Throne is a good example of what we are talking about. But, what we know from Persian dragons is quite different from the popular opinion. Azhi Dahaka or dragon is the embodiment of the demon or Ahriman in Persian mythology.
In the old days, Ahriman or demon which stands against Ahura Mazda or the God, created a fearsome monster to destroy all the goodness in the world and bring chaos. Ahriman did his best by giving three frightening heads to a huge serpent which is the symbol of evil in Persian culture and put it among the human beings. Azhi Dahaka was so powerful and it could be aware of any kinds of threats instantly, so killing it was almost impossible until a hero did something extraordinary. Fereydun, who was a brave man, could not tolerate people suffering because of Azhi Dahaka, so he imprisoned this beast. He could not kill him at that moment because many demons could leave its corpse and capture the world. Azhi Dahak is chained inside Damavand Mountain until the end of the world when Garshasb who is the greatest hero kills it for good.
Another word for Azhi Dahaka is Zahhak. In Shahnameh, written by Ferdowsi, a great Persian poet, Zahhak was the king of Iran who had a serpent on each of his shoulders. He was a tyrant ruler and used to feed young men’s brains to his serpents. Eventually, Fereydoon imprisons him in the mountain for his day to come.
Huma Bird, The Bird of Fortune
One of the most amazing Persian mythological creatures is the Huma bird that can change your destiny forever if it flies above your head. My grandfather used to wish me luck by saying that he wants Huma to always be around me when I feel down or worried. People describe this bird similar to phoenix. It has a glorious body and has two genders inside itself. Huma flies around the world tirelessly to spread bliss and happiness. The bird never dies and the people who even think about injuring this sacred creature will make the biggest mistake of their lives, and they will be doomed.
Al, The Invisible Monster
If you listen to Iranian grandmas, they all say that the woman who is in labor or just gave birth to her child must not be alone. Her family and friends should be with her for at least 10 days and she has to keep the lights on. Then you have to cover any pool in the area, put something made of iron around her bed and pin a needle to her dress. If not, Al, the invisible creature, finds its way through the shadows and walks on the trees’ boughs with its long legs to get to the woman’s house. It takes out the woman’s liver and runs away. If Al can wash the liver inside water, the woman dies, but if you can catch it soon you save the poor woman.
When the baby is born, you must bury the placenta with a piece of iron because Als are scared of this metal. If it could find the placenta and eat it, the newborn baby would die and there is nothing you can do about it.
Among Persian mythological creatures, Al is the scariest one. Its name means red because this creature has red skin. Its long legs help it run very fast and you cannot catch it easily.
We can think of different reasons, but one of the main reasons behind the existence of Al can be postpartum depression or any sudden death of a mother or child that was not understandable for people of the past. So, they created this character to justify these unfortunate events for themselves.
Bakhtak, The Silent Strangler
Have you ever woken up and realized that you are awake, but you cannot move your body? In this situation, you may think that is a simple sleep paralysis and you just need to wait a minute to wake up completely, but there is something else behind it. Bakhtak is an invisible heavy creature who sits on your chest and makes you paralysed. You cannot move or even scream. When Bakhtak feeds enough of your fear, it will let you go.
There is an equivalent of Bakhtak in English culture called night hag. These two creatures look almost the same. They have the shape of a man with a lot of hair on their body and walk slowly to get to their baits.
Zaar, The Evil Spirit of The South
The most mysterious and captivating Persian mythological creature is Zaar. People of The South of Iran believe that each wind has its own spirit. When these spirits find their way to your eyes and ears, you will get mad, so they say, Zaar has possessed you. There are different Zaars that bring their own illness and normal physicians cannot treat you. If you are struggling with a Zaar you need to go to a Mama Zaar or Baba Zaar who are experts. With a special ceremony called Zaar Giri (exorcism), a Mama or Baba Zaar sings special music and performs their special dances to connect to the Zaar and make it leave your body. You cannot get trained to be a Mama or Baba Zaar. This is a gift or curse that you get born with and you pass it to the next generation. You can book a Hormoz Tour or travel to the south of Iran, especially Qeshm Island and if you are lucky enough, you can witness this mysterious ceremony.
Now that you know about Persian mythological creatures, you can find many similarities between this culture and other cultures, all around the world. Although some of these creatures may not be pleasant, their story brings us hope. Because at the end of the day, there is always someone who helps us survive and live a better life.