Mythology's Hybrids: Human Imagination Or Alien Genetics?Author: John Prytz
There are many puzzling features in mythology, if taken as purely mythology, regarding the so-called gods. I say so-called because to my way of interpreting things, the gods weren't mythological but flesh-and-blood extraterrestrials with advanced technology, especially in the field of bioengineering or genetic engineering. A puzzling feature regarding the ‘gods' and related tales, or even tails, are the half-and-halves (my phrase – you probably won't find it lasted in any index in any mythology text). But these half-and-halves, some of which I'm going to cite, are just scratching the surface of the sum total of those represented in our ancient mythologies. The interesting point is that these hybrids are universal within that collective mythology. That is, they appear across all cultures; all geographies. Anytime something supposedly mythological, is represented everywhere, it's time to sit up and take closer notice that things might not be quite as mythological as things first appear.
So what are some other common and relative well know examples of half-and-halves where half of the half is a human half?
If you're a Christian, I guess you accept the reality of Angels – humans with wings.
You have the Greek mythological Centaurs (a human head on a horse's body).
Cupid (or Eros) is in Greek or Roman mythology a human (‘god') with wings.
The Cynocephali are a medieval dog-headed people.
There's also the Indian ‘god' called Ganesha with an elephant's head atop a human body.
Also from India there's the Garuda, a half-human (head and torso) and half raptor (wings and talons).
You have the Gorgons, especially the infamous Medusa, a human head on a human body, but with serpents' (snakes') for ‘hair'.
You have the Harpies, females having a human head on a bird's body.
The Persian Huma had a gender crisis being half male, half female – with wings.
If you attach a lion's head on a giant's body, you get the Humbaba of Gilgamesh fame.
The Kurangaituku was a Maori (New Zealand) bird-woman.
The Lamassu (or Shedu) were winged bulls with human heads in ancient Mesopotamian or Assyrian mythology.
The ancient Greek Lamia had a female head and upper torso, but from the waist down, she was just a snake.
Also courtesy of the ancient Greeks, we are presented with the Manticore – a human face on a lion.
Then you have the Mermaids or Mermen with human heads on the body of a fish or fish-like creature.
You have the Greek Minotaur – that's a bull's head on a human's body.
Then you also have Satyrs, hybrids with a human head on a goat's body.
The Sirens are bird-maidens (a female head and body with bird wings and tails).
You have the really well known Sphinx (a human head on a lion's body).
The Tengu is a Japanese birdman.
The Typhon is the father of all monsters in Greek mythology, who was a man from the waist up, and a mass of seething vipers from the waist down.
But there are other half-and-halves that have nothing to do with humans and human features. For example:
The Ahuizotl was an Aztec dog adapted for life in the water - but with a hand at the end of its tail.
The ancient Egyptian Amemait possessed a crocodile head attached to the body of a lion and that to the hindquarters of a hippo.
Anzu (also called Zu of Persian and Sumerian mythology) is depicted as a lion-headed eagle.
If you have the body of a horse, but the head of a bull, you're probably a Bonnacon.
The Chimera is a triple-headed, triple-bodied composite of lion, goat and dragon.
The Cockatrice is a winged cockerel with a serpent's tail.
Dragon's themselves are an amalgamation of a lizard or snake or serpent with wings.
There's the Fenghuang from Chinese mythology, which is a hybrid cock, swallow, swan and goose.
You have the Gryphon (or Griffin – alt spelling), a combo of a lion's body tacked onto the head, talons and wings of an eagle.
Then there's the Hydra, a lion's body with serpent heads.
The Japanese Kappa had a monkey-like face with the ‘arms' and legs associated with frogs, along with the body and shell of a tortoise.
From Hindu mythology, there's the Makara with the head of a crocodile but the body and tail of a fish.
One can't of course forget Pegasus, the flying winged horse.
A Peryton has a deer's (or stag's) head and body but with wings; perhaps useful to Santa?
From Arthurian mythology arises the Questing Beast with a serpent's head but various feline body parts, but also hooves (not paws and claws).
The Qilin is a Chinese version of the Unicorn, but with the body of a deer, hooves of a horse and the tail of an ox.
The Simurgh from ancient Persia is an eagle-like raptor with the head of a dog, the claws of a lion and tail of a peacock.
The Tarasque has a lion's head, but the body of a serpent – with wings.
The Yale was antelope-like but with boar tusks and an elephant's tail.
The Biblical Book of Revelation has more anomalous hybrids within than you can shake a stick at, from seven-headed dragons to locusts with humans faces and the tails of scorpions, to a sea beast with, you guessed it, seven heads but collectively ten horns which sort of looks like a leopard with bear's feet!
Now if two (or seven) heads are better than one; if many arms and hands make for lighter work, then rest assured we have many beasties, and ‘gods' that have many heads and/or arms.
For starters, well the Hydra comes immediately to mind, ditto the Greek multi-headed dogs (Cerberus with three heads and Orthrus with two heads; collectively each with a snake for a tail). The Amphisbaena (Greek) was a serpent with two heads – one at each end. That's sort of like the Mesoamerican ‘god' Quetzalcoatl, often depicted as a feathered snake with a head at each end. The Scylla is a multi-headed sea monster with a woman's torso attached to a dog's body with a (cheaper by the) dozen legs! Not quite as bizarre was the Azhi Dahaka who was an ordinary run-of-the-mill triple-headed serpent (perhaps the inspiration for Godzilla's nemesis, the Ghidorah).
That's just a sample, but there are lots of others, especially from the Indian (as in subcontinent) mythology. For those, see the India section below.
Are some of the ‘gods' themselves half-and-halves? Most of the Egyptian ‘gods' tend to have an animal head but a human body. For example:
Amon (or Amun) had the head of a ram.
Anubis has a jackal head placed on a human body.
Bastet has a cat's head atop a human body.
Harakhte was another falcon-headed deity.
Hathor was often depicted as a cow-headed goddess.
Horus has a falcon head placed on a human body. Of the four sons of Horus, three had animal heads (Duamutef – jackal; Qubhsnuf – hawk; and Hapi – dog).
Khnum was another ram-headed god.
Ra (or Re) has the head of a falcon.
Sebek (or Sobek) was one of their gods who had a crocodile head.
Seker (sometimes known as Sokar) had a hawk's head.
Sekhmet has a lioness head placed on a human body.
Then there's the ancient Egyptian God Seth (Set) – a really one off. See below for more nitty-gritty details.
Sokar (sometimes known as Seker) has a falcon head placed on a human body.
Thoth has an ibis head placed on a human body.
It's interesting that several ‘gods' have falcon heads on human bodies. If Horus, Sokar, Ra and others depicted as falcon-headed were figments of the ancient Egyptians' imaginations, you'd think there would be enough animal heads to go around without duplicating. I mean it would make things easier in terms of who's who. However, there's more than one ‘god' with a jackal's head, a hawk's head or a ram's head as well.
Speaking of strange non-terrestrial appearances of the ancient Egyptian ‘gods', let's take the ancient Egyptian ‘god' Seth (or Set). Here's how various mythology texts tend to describe him.
He [Seth] was often depicted as a tall beast – perhaps a jackal or donkey – with a long muzzle.
Seth (Set) was mostly depicted as a fabulous creature, with a curved snout, square ears, forked tail, and canine body, or sometimes as a human with only the head of the Setanimal. It has no complete resemblance to any known creature, although it could be seen as a composite of an aardvark, a donkey, a jackal. Some early Egyptologists proposed that it was a stylized representation of the giraffe due to the large flat-topped 'horns' but the Egyptians themselves distinguished between the giraffe and the Set animal. In the late period Set is depicted as an ass or with the head of an ass.
When depicted in animal form, the god Seth is a very odd creature, with a long snout, short ears, and a pointy, upright tail. There have been many attempts to try to identify this creature with a known animal. The possibility remains that it is purely a mythological creature. To Egyptologists, it is known as ‘the Seth-animal'.
[Seth is] depicted with floppy ears and an erect and divided tail.
Set is represented as having the features of a fantastic beast with a thin, curved snout, straight, square-cut ears and a stiff forked tail. This creature cannot with certainty be identified and is commonly called the ‘Typhonian animal'. Sometimes Set is depicted as a man with the head of this strange quadruped.
Seth has a bizarre appearance. His human-form body is topped by a head that appears to combine the rounded snout of an aardvark (unknown to the ancient Egyptians) with curious, straight, flat-topped donkey ears. When represented in fully animal, four-legged form, he also displays a long neck, a dog-like body and an erect, curiously forked tail. Egyptologists have struggled valiantly to identify Seth's component features: the more imaginative include camel, long-nosed mouse, hare, antelope, pig, giraffe and boar.
If Seth (Set) was an ‘ancient astronaut', and extraterrestrial ‘god', then by implication all his kin were too and by implication so were all the ancient Egyptian ‘gods' (noted above), and by implication the whole lot of the polytheistic ‘gods'.
If the physical appearance of the ‘gods', or at least one representative ‘god' can not be reconciled with that of any living thing known to man, then that alone is suggestive of something not-of-this-Earth; an extraterrestrial in other words, or the catch phrase, an ‘ancient astronaut'.
Let's now take as examples some other geographical regions and their half-and-halves.
Mesopotamia (Persia) had several hybrid ‘gods': Mithra had the head of a lion on the body of a human – with wings; Ahura Mazda on the other hand had a human head, but, like Angels, they had bird wings.
Half-and-halves are common throughout nearly all cultural mythologies, not just European and Egyptian ones, and other combinations from other mythologies have been realized. Here's a small sample:
India: As noted above, when it comes to multiple body parts, you have the many headed hydra. However, one culture in particular seems to revel in multi-headed and/or multi-armed gods or creatures – ancient Indian (as in subcontinent) mythology. For example, the Nagas of India were multi-headed cobra-like snakes. Brahma had multi-heads; Shiva had multi-arms; ditto Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, and Yama. Agni and Ravana have multi-heads and multi-arms.
Then as noted above, there's the Indian elephant-human hybrid ‘god' called Ganesha.
Peru: Ancient Peru had a pot-load of half-and-halves. There were owl-headed supernatural folk healers; unreal monsters shown flying through the air with falcon wings and tails attached; sculptures of half-human half-feline beings. In fact you had the flying felines known as the Ccoa, somewhat larger than a domestic cat with a winged body. The Ccoa was one of many frequent appearances of flying creatures containing human, feline and bird characteristics.
There must be something about Mesoamerica that has a thing about felines. The mysterious Olmecs have images of a human body but with feline facial features. Unfortunately, the Olmecs vanished mysteriously leaving only the images for us to speculate on.
Where's the body-on-the-slab-in-the-lab evidence? With no fossil evidence of any such hybrids, perhaps this is where mythology overrides reality. Perhaps it is just a natural pondering to wonder ‘what if' human abilities could be combined with some other animal's abilities; or what a composite of one animal's body parts attached to another animal's body parts might achieve.
But then again, maybe that's not the case.
Now clearly, judging from the small number of examples noted above, a lot of people, our ancestors, went to a lot of valuable time and effort to create or depict in often quite considerable detail all over the world, the who's who, and what's what, in tens of thousands of paintings, literature, statues, figurines, murals, monuments, carvings, pictograms, hieroglyphs, etc. to what we (their descendents) would call nonsense – purely imaginary entities. But I maintain our ancestors would not go to extraordinary lengths to devote precious resources into making images of beings they knew to be imaginary. Translated, they believed with all their hearts and souls that these beasties, globally numbering in the multi-hundreds, whether ‘gods' in various combinations or lesser mortals (human-animal) or purely animal-animal forms, really existed. Multiply that by more multi-hundreds of ‘normal' mythological characters that have been honored with thousands of monuments, and well there's apparently a whole ancient expensive and often backbreaking industry devoted to what again, we superior modern descendents of theirs, believe to be nothing at all.
As an exact parallel, ‘modern' human have built and erected all manner of monuments, memorials and statutes to really real historical people. Many are on display in all manner of public parks for the pigeons to rest their weary wings on.
Then again, in our modern era, nobody designs and builds cathedrals just to provide work for the construction industry, but rather because the relevant powers-that-be, the instigators and designers and fundraisers of cathedrals firmly believe there is a being who deserves such monuments to be built in his honor. Now the fact that being probably doesn't exist, at least as a supernatural creator deity, but rather just one of many of an advanced race of extraterrestrials is irrelevant. You build the cathedral because you believe that being exists – full stop. Atheists don't build cathedrals. Okay, our smart-as-we-are ancestors believed the half-and-halves really existed.
Now that we've seen some of the puzzling anatomical features associated with the half-and-halves, beasties that are composites of two or more terrestrial life forms, here's a hard as solid rock case study that not only illustrates time and effort but might highlight why human imagination is not at work. There's a very large life-size statue from ancient Assyria housed in the British Museum of a winged, human-headed bull (probably representing Shedu or Lamassu). That would be odd enough, but in this statue of a bull with wings and a human head, you find that the bull is depicted with five legs (please note I can count up to five!). Now, if you were to design from scratch a mythological beastie, one thing I'm pretty convinced of is that you would NOT give it five legs! So, I ask instead, is this statue a representation of one of the ‘gods' genetic experiments?
Now before pursuing that tack, we're all aware of the various plants and animals we've artificially selected for via breeding pairs of organisms that have the sorts of characteristics we desire such as leading to faster horses; disease resistant wheat, cuter puppy dogs, etc. Sometimes we interfere at the cellular level to increase the pace of the changes we want. We've all heard of genetically modified food or genetically modified organisms; of DNA from one species being spliced onto the DNA of another species. We've heard of harvesting animal tissues and organs for transplantation into humans. We've come into the era of the designer baby, or at least prospective parents undergo genetic counselling and testing before having children. Having children is no longer hit or miss and take your chances. And it won't be long before babies will be made-to-order if the parents so wish.
Now imagine the genetic tricks a highly advanced, if somewhat amoral race of ET's were to use terrestrial stock to further their genetic research and agenda. Even several hundred, far less thousands of years in advance technologically of us could produce the half-and-halves of our mythologies.
So, were the half-and-halves of our mythologies evidence of genetic and bioengineering experiments by the ‘gods', the ‘gods' own version of "The Island of Dr Moreau"? If these hybrids are not the wild imaginations of our ancestors, and standard Darwinian natural selection cannot adequately account for them, then it's clear an alternative artificial selection mechanism must be contemplated instead. What on Earth (or off Earth) could be the driving force behind such artificial selection – behind the required bioengineering or genetic engineering required? Well, unless your best guess is better than my best guess, ET, that's who.
But then it all ceased to be; then they all went away, either literally (as I suspect) or within the human imagination (and if so, why?).
One thing I'm convinced cannot adequately for the massive range of our mythological hybrids are fossils. Fossils cannot explain the half-and-halves. There aren't going to be too many buried skeletons of a lion minus its head that just happens to have a human skull in the immediate vicinity to explain the Sphinx. And what about the odds of finding the skull of a falcon minus body that just happens to rest next to a headless human skeleton and thus explain several of the Egyptian ‘gods'?
Now clearly some of these half-and-halves beasties are going to ultimately prove to be mythical – figments of the human imagination invented for reasons now lost and buried by the sands of time. Some cases are probably of real beasties we all know today but embellished for reason or reasons unknown and probably unknowable. There's going to be cases of linguistic misinterpretations or misunderstandings or errors in translations. Then too there's going to be cases of someone who told someone who told someone who told someone who told someone over many miles and probably generations before the tale was written down. The 20th generation retelling of an ‘eyewitness' account explains some of the half-and-halves.
But are the mythological half-and-halves all really products of pure human imagination and embellishments and 20th generation retellings? If that be the case, why are there no more recent equivalents, in the multi-hundreds, in our ‘modern' (say within the last 300 years of fictional literature, later films and TV) apart from those taken directly from our mythological ancient history like Mermaids? Nearly all ‘modern' literature's creations are human (Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Harry Potter, and Captain Kirk as examples – even if they do come from another planet like Superman or Mr. Spock). The Creature from the Black Lagoon was humanoid; ditto the Wolfman who at no time was represented as being a wolf's head on a human body or vice versa. Frankenstein's Monster was still human, even if patched together. Dracula may have been able to shape-shift into a bat, but he never was actually half-human and half-bat – ditto Batman. Even Donald Duck was still a duck; Mickey Mouse was just a clothed talking mouse. Some of the Egyptian gods were represented as half-and-halves, but The Mummy wasn't! So, if all is assumed to be human imagination, then there's this discrepancy between way back then and recent history. The one obvious ‘modern' exception is the well known novel "Island of Dr. Moreau".
The "Island of Dr. Moreau" was originally a novel published in 1896 by H.G. Wells with film adaptations in 1933 (as the "Island of Lost Souls"), 1977, and 1996. It basically deals with vivisection and an obsessed scientist who conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations. This all takes place on a remote island, the inhabitants being those experimental animals being turned into strange looking humans by one Dr. Moreau – the obsessed mad scientist in question. I'm just substituting the ancient ‘gods' for the more modern Dr. Moreau; the so-called mythological half-and-halves for those modern fictional experimental animals turned into abominations.
That ‘modern' novel aside, you may think the ancient mythological menagerie – if entirely imaginary - exhibits quite an intense range of the human imagination in the creation of half-and-halves. I'd beg to differ. There's an immense array of potential half-and-halves possibilities that apparently have never been realized, or at least popularized. The whole plant and invertebrate communities have largely been ignored, which may make sense from the biological reality of a genetic engineering standpoint. I do realize that Hollywood has rectified this with several versions and sequels to "The Fly" and B-Grade films like "The Wasp Woman", and probably several other B-Graders in that vein. But 1) those cinema features were relative rarities in terms of modern half-and-halves images and 2) there was never any possibility of mistaking those films for anything else other than social commentary and/or entertainment, just like the novel by H.G. Wells.
Anyway, as to what might have been imagined by our ancient ancestors, but never really was, though I do seem to recall a mythological human head on an octopus body, but that was about it when it came to the invertebrate and plant kingdoms – no lobster heads on a human body; no human heads on a slug; and as for humanoid rose bushes – forget it!
However, when talking real modern half-and-halves, one would be remiss not to mention Mothman, a winged hominoid with glowing red eyes, associated with the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia around the period of November 1966 through December 1967. Mothman's been the subject of several books, dozens of articles, and at least one motion picture ("The Mothman Prophecies" – 2002). However, there have been no sightings since. Perhaps Mothman's a purely imaginary half-and-halves case, one never before or after seen. Maybe.
Finally, there might be a really real modern version of the ‘gods' and their half-and-halves. If UFO / alien abductions are to be believed, taken at face value, (somewhat backed up and supported by animal mutilation cases), then the alien ‘gods' – collective now called the ‘Greys' – are still manipulating human genetics and further progressing with the evolution via artificial selection (breeding) of the human species, as well as their own, for the apparent objective is nothing less than a human-alien (or human-grey) hybrid. That this is implausible, well, recall from mythologies around the world those human-animal hybrids like the Satyr, Sphinx, Minotaur, Mermaid, and a host of others.
Science librarian; retired.