Since the beginning of time we have wondered about what is in the water. The sea, as we know, is full of mysteries, but so is the freshwater all around us. Rivers, lakes and swamps have many secrets of their own – or so the mythologies of the world says. There are freshwater creatures mentioned in just about every mythology of the world, if not them all. While some reside in the deep lakes and others dwell in underwater caves, there are many in between that are just as fascinating. Of course, since this list is made up of freshwater creatures from mythology and folklore, I wouldn’t hold your breath if you wanted to find them in the real world.
If you found yourself wondering about what freshwater creatures exist in mythology, look no further. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, however. There are many more freshwater creatures that you can find in the old folktales and mythologies, all you have to do is dive into it.
Abaia, Melanesian Mythology
According to Melanesian mythology, a giant eel-like creature called the ‘Abaia’ protects the waters of Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Isles. The eel is said to possess magical abilities and watch over the living things in freshwater lakes on the islands. Many think that the Abaia sees the other lake-dwelling creatures such as fish as its children, which is why it is so protective of them. It is said that the Abaia will thrash its powerful tail underwater if its children are disturbed or harmed. This thrashing causes an immense wave. The strength of men and even ships are not enough to survive it and the water brings those who would disturb the lake down into its depths.
Afanc, Welsh Mythology
The Afanc is a creature from Welsh mythology. It is said to be a demonic creature that can take on the appearance of a giant beaver, crocodile or dwarf. According to legend, this Welsh creature will attack and eat those to enter the water where it lives. There are various tales of the Afanc, including the slaying of the creature. One popular version of the Afanc myth comes from Iolo Morgannwg, a bard. In his story the bard claimed that two long-horned oxen belonging to Hu Gadarn were able to drag the creature from its lake, allowing it to be killed. An earlier version of the story claimed that the oxen dragged the Afanc to Llyn Ffynnon Las. Due to the deep and rocky banks of the lake, the creature was unable to ever escape and terrorise people again.
Ashrays / Water Lovers, Scottish Folklore
Scottish folklore is rife with water beasties and a number of fascinating creations. Ashrays, or Water Lovers, can be traced to Scottish mythology. An Ashray can be female or male, and are translucent water dwelling creatures. These creatures are nocturnal and are unfortunately mistaken for sea ghosts. If Ashrays come into contact with sunlight, they will melt into a puddle.
Bunyip, Australian Aboriginal Mythology
Australian Aboriginal folklore boasts of an unusual creature with a round head, stout body and long neck. This creature is known as the Bunyip. The Bunyip is known to dwell within the lagoons and swamps in Australia and some accounts of the creature claim it can also have a human figure. Many will swear that this creature roars or makes a booming noise. According to legend, women and children are the beast’s favourite meal.
Fossegrim, Scandinavian Folklore
If you ever hear the fiddle being played near water in Scandinavia, approach with caution. The Fossegrim is a troll or water spirit known in Scandinavian folklore. This creature is known to play beautiful songs on his Hardanger fiddle, attracting people to his side. It is thought that the Fossegrim is related to the nixie. He is known as näcken or Strömkarlen in Sweden, which translates to ‘The River Man’. The Fossegrim is heavily associated with rivers, waterfalls and mills. He is not known to be dangerous, though you may lose your sense of time listening to him play his fiddle. If you have the skills, you may even convince him to teach you how to play.
Honey Island Swamp Monster, Louisiana
Everyone is familiar with the legend of Bigfoot, but what if he had a swamp-dwelling cousin? Since 1963 there have been sightings in Louisiana of a humanoid cryptid known as the Honey Island Swamp Monster. Sources claim that the creature has webbed feet with three toes, causing many to think that Bigfoot as we know it has evolved webs on its feet over time to endure its swampy environment. There are also those who worry that the Honey Island Swamp Monster is actually from a scientific experiment that went horribly wrong. Accounts of the swamp creature have reached the public as it was featured on Lost Tapes. In the documentary it is claimed that the creature attacked a hunter in the swamps.
Jengu, Sawa People / Cameroon Folklore
There are few creatures that have a cult following, and the Jengu is lucky enough to have that honour. Located in Cameroon, the Jengu, or Miengu (plural) are widely said to be similar to a mermaid. They are beautiful, have long hair and charming gap-toothed smiles. This water spirit is an important part of life for the Sawa people in Cameroon. The Jengu live in rivers and even the sea, and are worshipped by many. They bring good luck to those to worship them and act as healers and mediators between the spirits and humans.
The inland group known as Bakweri use Jengu worship as a rite of passage for young girls. Girls between the ages of eight and ten are traditionally dressed in a garb made of fern fronds and take part in traditional activities. When the girl has completed her rite of passage, she is welcomed as a true member of the cult.
Jenny Greenteeth, English Folklore
When you think of duckweed you likely think of a pond-dwelling plant. When children in the north-west of England saw duckweed in the past, they were taught to run. It was said that the presence of duckweed in ponds indicated the presence of a far less friendly being – Jenny Greenteeth. Jenny Greenteeth is a monster, or elf in some records, who lives in ponds full of duckweed and drowns children in the depths.
There are many other figures similar to Jenny Greenteeth in English folklore, including the Grindylow and Peg o’ Nell. Both of these creatures will behave in a similar manner and drown both children and the elderly who stray too close to the water’s edge. Like many pond-dwellers, Jenny Greenteeth supposedly has sharp teeth, long, scraggly hair and green skin. When Jenny Greenteeth isn’t lurking in the water, she is likely prowling in the branches of trees in the night.
Kappa, Japanese Mythology
In Japanese mythology the Kappa resides in the waters. Kappa are thought to be freshwater creatures who are vampire-like entities. They are intelligent but do not usually cause too much trouble for humans. In the legends, Kappa are depicted as being the size of a 10 year old with the physical form of something resembling a monkey. They have fish scales in place of skin, are yellowy-green and carry water in hollow indentations on top of their heads. Legend states that a Kappa will lose their supernatural abilities if they spill the water on their head. Many will trick the creatures into spilling the water for their own personal gain, often by making them bow. If you find yourself on the bad side of a Kappa, try throwing them a cucumber – they have been known to love the fruit.
Mokele-mbembe, Congo Folklore
There is always talk of whether or not dinosaurs are still alive. We often conclude that, besides creatures such as crocodiles and similar animals, the answer is no. However, the supposed existence of Mokele-mbembe in the Congo basin may disprove that. Mokele-mbembe is said to be a dinosaur resembling an Apatosaurus. It has a long neck and tail, large body, and is often compared to the Loch Ness Monster. The pygmies in the swamp have reported hunting the creature for food, though it is difficult as they reside in the vast rivers and are thought to stay in caves on the riverside.
Rougarou, Cajun Folklore
Werewolf tales have haunted the world for centuries. One such werewolf tale comes from Louisiana’s swamps. This swamp-dwelling creature has been a topic of horror for many who live along the bayous of the state, living in fear. The Rougarou has been known to hunt Catholics who have not observed Lent as well as ill-behaved children.
Initially the Rougarou was known as the loup-garou – the French term for werewolf, though over time the name became as we know it today. Louisiana holds the Rougarou Fest, an annual festival that happens during October’s last weekend. The fear of the Rougarou is real for many due to the creature’s roots in Catholicism and Christianity. This creature serves as a reminder for those Christians who do not follow the rules of Lent. Legend states that if a Christian does not observe Lent for seven consecutive years they will become a Rougarou themselves. This transformation will force them to warn others of the consequences of ignoring Lent for the years to come themselves.
Shishiga, Russian Folklore
Russian folklore tells tales of a freshwater creature who dwells in the swamps. The Shishiga, or leshenka, is a female creature known to reside in marshes and forests away from towns and villages. She is pale, with long tousled hair and bears all to the world. Legends describe her as an entity who harasses those who come too near and is more than happy to bring ill-fortune to drunkards.
The Lernaean Hydra, Greek and Roman Mythology
Greek and Roman mythology are some of the most well-known mythologies of the world. There are tales of creatures so unusual we cannot help but wonder how they came to be. One such creature is the Lernaean Hydra, or as many call it, the Hydra. The Hydra is known as the offspring of Echidna and Typhon. While Echidna is described as a half woman half snake and Typhon a hideous monster with 100 dragon heads, Hydra is a mix of the two. Hydra dwells in the swamps outside of Lerna, which is near Argos. Tales describe it as being a humongous water snake with nine or more heads depending on the sources.
The Hydra was known to torment anyone who was in the vicinity of the marshes, including those in Lerna. Anyone who plucked up the courage to fight the monster would likely die in vain. It was found that when one of the Hydra’s heads was cut off, two more grew in its place. The fables dictate that the Lernaean Hydra was eventually slain by the Greek hero Herakles.
Uncegila, Native American Mythology
Uncegila is said to have fiery eyes and a shrouded fanged mouth. With time her form was revealed to the world and she was ginormous. Her long body was covered in scales, protecting her from any enemies she could have. She had claws of iron and a voice that sounded like thunder rolling through the vast sky. Anyone who had the misfortune of looking upon her would slowly go insane or blind. The stories say that in order to kill the hideous creature, a medicine arrow must be aimed at the seventh spot in her torso. The place where her heart lies behind the scales.
Vodyanoy, Slavic Folklore
Slavic mythology speaks of its own freshwater creature from legend. The Vodyanoy is a male water spirit. Czech and German tales have the same creature, though they are respectively called the Wassermann or nix. This creature has a frog-like face with long hair and a green-coloured beard. He is always naked though algae and grime cover his scaled body. Rather than human hands, he has webbed paws, red-hot eyes and the tail of a fish.
The Vodyanoy is said to be responsible for drownings in the water where he lives as well as other events. When he is angry, he may lash out and break dams, drown both animals and people and destroy water mills. To stop these things from happening, those who he could affect offer sacrifices to appease him. At times, rather than killing people, he will take them down into the depths to be his slaves, serving him for eternity. In some areas such as the Russian North, legends say that the Vodyanoys are ruled by an old man with a club, named Vodyan Tsar. The old man has the ability to sit on clouds and rise into the sky. When he is in the sky he has the power to form new lakes and rivers.
Conclusion on Freshwater Creatures
Which freshwater creatures do you feel the most drawn to? There are undoubtedly a few beings that you would not want to come across alone at night, but are there any that you would willingly want to meet? If you grew up hearing about another freshwater creature that you think will keep people up at night, share your story. There can never be too many things to be afraid of when wandering the swamps.