The first time many people heard of the term 'fantastic beasts' was in the Harry Potter novel (and movie) sharing the same title. These descriptions conjured up visions of grand creatures, moving with such a tremendous force that, if seen in today's world, would surely cause one to faint from the sheer sight of it. While today's cryptids don't exceed past creatures such as the chupacabra or Big Foot, during the Middle Ages, these creatures weren't just believed in - they were also written about in a special book referred to as a Bestiary.


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It sounds like something made up in a fantasy book series and while many authors do relate their works to it, this dictionary of sorts was, in fact, very real. It was so real that when these creatures appeared in manuscripts from the same time period, they were often depicted alongside real animals such as lions or elephants, which, during the Medieval Ages, were considered exotic since there were none native to Europe at the time. Before much of the world was explored, this bestiary held a high place in the Middle Ages and these (now) imaginary creatures were both symbolic and elusive.


The unicorn described in Medieval literature was very different from the depictions we have today, and, while it did share some traits with J.K. Rowling's portrayal of the creature, it was altogether unique. Rather than being a beautiful horse-like animal that was gentle and sweet in nature, unicorns were considered savage and wild, and nothing to be tamed or canoodled with.

Catching a unicorn was a process and required a (preferably gorgeous) maiden to whom the unicorn would be naturally drawn, and when the unicorn came and laid its head in the lap of the maiden, a hunter hidden nearby would strike it down. It's said that these creatures would be hunted for their horns, which had healing and purification powers.


Not every beast in the bestiary would come with a tale that was enough to make a person tremble in their boots. The bonnacon was one such animal with a surprising, skunk-like defense mechanism... but so much worse.

The creature resembled that of a ram but it was said that if a person got too close, the bonnacon would spray 'fiery dung' at its attacker. Once the spray was decided on, there wouldn't have been many places to hide - it's written that this putrid-smelling liquid could be sprayed as far as three acres.


In real life, the basilisk would likely dominate any other creature on earth, making for fierce competition when it comes to the world's top predators. Even for humans, the basilisk holds unparalleled talents that are matched by no weapon or foe. In order to get near one of these serpent-like beasts, a man would have been required to cover his eyes and plug his nose, because just looking at or smelling a basilisk was fatal.

Therefore, it proved nearly impossible to ever get near enough to one, should one have ever existed, and there was surely no cure for such powers as this creature was said to possess. All in all, a battle with a basilisk would have been a fruitless and foolish mission that was fatal from the start.


The dragon is perhaps one of the most common and well-known beasts in the bestiary. They've been depicted across various works of fantasy for centuries, with each depiction varying from one to the other. One thing that remains the same, however, is this beast's fire-breathing power and the strength it has in its tail and its wings.

Whereas a dragon might be drawn to have a ferocious set of teeth, this is a mere distraction from its tail which will surely be whipping around to land a potentially fatal blow. The appearance of the dragon has changed throughout history as well as in accordance to which culture is depicting it, but it's altogether the same creature.


In terms of the most wholly symbolic beasts from the bestiary, the phoenix has been popularized in literature, film, and even artwork. According to the University of Notre Dame, the phoenix was never necessarily depicted in colors of orange and red, and that this is likely due to its fiery nature.

The creature has always been bird-like, though, with most descriptions stating that when the bird knows its life is coming to an end, it will place itself on a pyre of sticks (or frankincense and myrrh in some cases), where it will go up in flames. The next day, a new bird will emerge in some form, continuing the life of the old in the new. This symbolism of rebirth and literally rising from the ashes has only grown in popularity as it's become a metaphor, in modern times, for strength and resiliency.

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