Three More Mythological Creatures From the Harry Potter Series

This is the second in a series of 3 blog posts by Annie Caley-Renn about the Harry Potter series, which we’re running to coincide with the launch of our newest hunt, THATMuse Harry Potter (you can read the first blog post, A Parisian Wizard, here). The THATMuse Harry Potter Launch will take place on Saturday 17th February at 2.30pm. See the quiz question at the bottom of this post for the chance to participate!

Last week, we asked you to name a magical creature which has the front half of an eagle, and the back half of a horse, which features in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The answer is of course, a Hippogriff! Though the Harry Potter series certainly brought these beasts into the popular attention, mentions of hippogriffs go back as far as the Latin poet Virgil, who mentioned them in his major works, the Eclogues. The word itself is derived from the ancient Greek, hippos (horse) and the Italian, griifo (griffin – another magical creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion).

Though everyone knows that J.K. Rowling didn’t invent unicorns, dragons or mermaids, the Harry Potter series is stuffed full of mythical creatures which have their origins in either Greek mythology or British and Scandinavian folklore. In celebration of our latest treasure hunt, THATMuse Harry Potter (the launch event will be on Saturday 17th February at 2.30pm), here are three more magical creatures featured in the Harry Potter series, with their origins in mythology:

1. Basilisk

As any Harry Potter fan will know, J.K. Rowling’s Basilisk is a huge snake, “twenty feet long at least”, which lurks in the Chamber of Secrets, popping out occasionally (using Hogwarts’ old-fashioned plumbing system to get around) to attack muggle-borns. Its weapon of choice is pretty neat: it can kill its victims simply by looking at them. The “real” basilisk – the “king of snakes”, first mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, is also reputed to kill victims with its glare. The main difference seems to be that Pliny’s basilisk is a lot smaller, “not more than twelve fingers in length” – though it is sometimes also portrayed as being half snake, half rooster. Basilisks have popped up in various forms throughout the ages, with some differences: some say that their breath, as well as the fatal stare, can kill, others mention that they can breathe fire, or kill by the sound of their voice. Most bizarrely though, most accounts agree that the way to defeat a basilisk is with a weasel, who’s smell and/or urine will kill it if you just pop one into the basilisk’s hole. Well, that would have been a different ending to the second Harry Potter book!


A Boggart in the Harry Potter series is a shape-shifting creature, terrifying in that it will change its form to what it knows will scare its victim most. Its “real-life” counterpart takes almost as many shapes: the word “boggart” comes from the same root as “bogeyman”, and the boggart takes various forms in English folklore. A common type is a Household Boggart, a mischievous creature which wreaks havoc by souring milk, pulling on people’s ears or pulling their bedsheets off at night. There are also more sinister boggarts which hang out in marshes, and have been accused of more serious crimes like abducting children. Stories and urban legends abound, with slightly different versions all over Britain, but popular ways of keeping boggarts away include hanging a horseshoe on the door or leaving piles of salt outside your bedroom. Can you remember the spell that a wizard might use to defeat a boggart?

A Domovoi, a Russian creature similar to a household boggart (but usually benevolent).


It’s a great shame that the sphinx Harry encounters in final challenge of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire never made it to the movies (one can only assume they’d used up their CGI budget on dragons).  Harry must answer the sphinx’s riddle in order to pass, a plot device lifted directly from Greek mythology. Greek sphinxes, which typically have the head, shoulders and torso of a woman, the lower half of a lion, and the wings of a bird, are famous for their riddling ways, blocking the passage of such famous Greek tragic heroes as Oedipus. Egyptian sphinxes, however, are generally male, and tend to have the head of a king. The most famous Egyptian sphinx is the Great Sphinx of Giza (whose beard is at the British Museum and features in one of our THATBrit treasure hunts there!), generally believed to represent the Pharaoh Khafre.

Oedipus and the sphinx, by the French painter Ingres (at the Louvre, and part of our Beauty & the Bestiary treasure hunt).

So there you have it! One of these three creatures will show up in our newest hunt, THATMuse Harry Potter. Can you guess which one?

Our THATMuse Harry Potter launch event will be on Saturday 17th February, beginning at 2.30pm. If you would like to win a place on this hunt for you and a friend, you can do so by answering this third and final Giveaway Quiz Question (see rules below):

What is the French word for a magic wand (both inside and outside of the world of Harry Potter)? If you don’t know, the answer may surprise you!

RULES of the competition:
1)      Follow or like our page on either Instagram, Twitter (@THAT_Muse_) or Facebook (Treasure Hunt at the Museum)

2)      Retweet or share one of our competition posts, using the hashtags #THATMuse AND #THATMuseHarryPotter

3)      Tag a HP fan friend

4)      Email with your answer to the question, with the subject line “THATMuse Harry Potter Giveaway Quiz”

Check back next week, where we’ll reveal the answer to this Giveaway Quiz Question in another Harry Potter-related blog post!