21 Obscure French Mythology Creatures & Monsters

French mythology and folklore isn’t as famous as Greek, Norse or even Roman mythology. Despite this, French folklore contains a number of unique and very interesting mythological creatures not found in other mythologies.

Some of the most famous creatures and monsters in French mythology and folklore include the Lou Carcolh, a gigantic carnivorous snail, the Guivre, a beast part serpent part dragon, the Arassas, a creature with a lizard’s body and limbs but the head of a cat, and many more.

This raises a question however: why is French mythology so little known outside of France proper?

The explanation for this relative obscurity of French mythology is simple. Most French mythological or folk beliefs were strongly tied to Christianity, so any unusual occurences were usually said to be caused by God, demons or saints.

Thus, most French myths and folk tales are part of a common European set of beliefs, all connected by Christianity.

That being said, there are quite a few documents and historical sources that describe many fantastical creatures and monsters the French common folk, or even priests and nobility, strongly believed in.

Most of these had their origin in pre-Christian times, and belief in them was so strong they endured the conversion from paganism to Christianity.

Other times, these creatures were a mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs, such as the werewolf, that the Medieval Church conveniently used to accuse an innocent person or another of being a practitioner of magic.

Without further ado, below is a list of monsters and creatures one can find in French mythology and folklore.

21 French Creatures and Monsters from Mythology & Folklore

Crions, Courils, and Gorics

The French region of Brittany is home to a unique type of dwarfs or gnomes known as crions, courils, or gorics. The word “goric” closely resembles “Korrigan” (meaning small dwarf or dwarf-like spirit) and since they all may derive from a root meaning “spirit,” the similarity in names makes sense. Like the nains, these smaller beings live in abandoned Druidic monuments or under the foundations of ancient castles.

Locals believe that these small, yet incredibly strong beings, standing between two and three feet tall, built the megalithic monuments of Carnac.

Every night, the gorics dance in circles around Carnac’s stones, and if a human interrupts their dance, they are forced to join until they collapse from exhaustion, met with the gorics’ mocking laughter.

Like the nains, gorics are also guardians of hidden treasures.

Courils, another type of these beings, are found around the ruins of Tresmalouen. They also enjoy dancing and can be malicious toward anyone who accidentally enters their circle. Morlaix Castle is haunted by gorics that are only a foot tall and live in underground holes. They possess vast treasures, which they sometimes share with fortunate humans, but only one handful is allowed. If someone tries to take more, the treasure disappears, and the person’s ears are slapped by invisible hands.

The night-washers (eur tunnerez noz) are malevolent spirits that appear at night on riverbanks, asking passers-by to help them wash the linen of the dead. If refused, they drag the person into the water and break their arms.

The Loup Garou

Loup Garou is the name French legends and folk tales use to describe a werewolf, a creature that has been documented in France since the 13th century.

The Loup Garou is believed to be an ordinary human during the day, but transforms into a wolf at night to prey on neighbors and unsuspecting individuals.

Often, the Loup Garou is thought to be cursed by a witch, and the transformation could involve other animals such as horses or large black dogs.

The cemetery-dwelling Loup Garou is known to dig up and feast on fresh corpses. Remedies for this curse may include exorcism, blood shedding, or death.

In other French-speaking regions, like French Canada and Haiti, the Loup Garou has been incorporated into local folklore.

 In Haiti, the monster is described as a red-haired woman who drinks blood from a sleeping person’s toes, resembling a vampire more than a werewolf.

The Mourioche

The Mourioche is a malevolent, shape-shifting demon with a bestial nature, capable of transforming into any animal it desires. It generally resembles a one-year-old young horse.

This demon poses a particular threat to children, and Breton parents often warn their misbehaving or noisy babies that the Mourioche is coming. When someone seems to have experienced a shock, it’s said that they must have seen the Mourioche.

It’s unlucky to cross paths with this creature, but even worse for someone who mistakes it for an ordinary horse and tries to ride it. After a wild ride, the rider will be thrown into an abyss, resulting in a broken neck.

The Ankou

The Ankou is a greatly feared evil spirit among Breton peasants, known for traveling through the region in a cart, collecting souls. In the dead of night, a creaking axle can be heard going down quiet lanes. When it stops at a door, a soul leaves the doomed house, and the Ankou’s cart moves on.

The Ankou, likely a female figure, is typically depicted as a skeleton. In his book on the legend of death in Brittany, Anatole le Braz suggests that the Ankou is a remnant of the death-goddess from prehistoric dolmen-building people in Brittany.

MacCulloch believes the Ankou is a recollection of the Celtic god of death, influenced by medieval portrayals of ‘Death the skeleton,’ who oversees everything beyond the grave and carries the dead to his realm.

In some Breton churches, a small model or statuette of the Ankou can be seen, usually a skillfully crafted skeleton. The belief’s peasant origins are evident in the use of a cart or wagon, rather than the more elaborate coaches seen in other cultures.

The Nain

The nain is a terrifyingly grotesque creature from French folklore in the region of Brittany, similar to the gargoyles found on many churches from the French region of Brittany.

With dark, menacing faces, these demonic beings have cat-like claws and hooves like a satyr. They have dark, tangled hair, small, gleaming red eyes, and harsh, cracked voices that evoke fear in those who encounter them on desolate moors or remote roads.

They are known to haunt ancient dolmen rock formations built by a long-gone race and dance around these ruined tombs at night, under the faint starlight, while singing a simple chant:

"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday and Friday."

They avoid mentioning Saturday and Sunday, as these days are believed to be protected from fairy interference. The reason for this chant is unclear; it might be related to the calendar or could simply be nonsense.

Bad luck follows anyone who witnesses the nains’ midnight revels, and joining their dance will result in certain death within the year. The nains’ most important celebration takes place on the first Wednesday in May, which suggests they may have once been held in high regard.

Despite their seemingly harmless dancing, the nains have a darker side. They are known to forge counterfeit money in hidden caves. Fairy gold is notorious for its fleeting nature, turning into beans or withered leaves when examined later. This is the kind of currency that the nains create, which appears genuine initially but is ultimately worthless.

The nains are also believed to have created a mystical alphabet, engraved on several megalithic monuments in Morbihan, particularly Gavr’inis. According to tradition, anyone who can decipher this magical script will be able to find hidden treasure. However, attempting to do so would likely be a waste of time and money, as the inscriptions are either already deciphered or purely symbolic.

The nain is surrounded by an air of sorcery. It is said to have abilities in prophecy, divination, and enchantment, often used for evil purposes. As a result, the mention of the nain evokes shudders and frowns among Breton peasants, who avoid the dolmens they are said to haunt whenever possible.

The Youdic

Many French legends are dark and gloomy, reflecting the depths of the forests where they were likely conceived. Most folk tales have a melancholic undertone, and it’s rare to find a joyous theme in French stories.

In the Montagnes d’Arrée, there’s a vast, eerie peat bog called the Yeun, long believed by locals to be the entrance to the underworld. This mysterious place has given rise to many legends.

In summer, it appears as a large moor covered in vibrant purple heather, which can be traversed up to a certain point. However, those who venture further risk encountering a treacherous, seemingly bottomless quagmire called the Youdic, surrounded by what appears to be solid ground. Many have fallen victim to this deceptive bog.

At times, the waters of the Youdic appear to simmer and boil, and the nearby peasants believe that when this happens, infernal forces are celebrating beneath the surface. They think that it’s only the presence of St. Michael, whose mount is close by, that prevents these forces from causing harm to those crossing the Yeun.

Numerous stories circulate about this strange whirlpool of mud and bubbling water. In the past, animals suspected of being evil spirits were thrown into its dark depths. It was believed that malevolent fiends would take the form of large black dogs, and any animal displaying suspicious behavior was taken to the Youdic by a member of the local priesthood. The creature would then be cast into the churning waters with appropriate ceremonies.

The Tarasque

The Tarasque is a legendary creature from French folklore, particularly from the region of Provence. It is described as a dragon-like monster with a lion’s head, six short legs similar to those of a bear, a long and scaly tail with a stinger like a scorpion, and a turtle-like carapace on its back. The Tarasque is said to have inhabited the area around the Rhône River, terrorizing the local population.

The legend of the Tarasque is closely associated with the story of Saint Martha, a figure from the New Testament. According to the tale, the people of the town of Nerluc (later renamed Tarascon) were tormented by the Tarasque, which devoured humans and animals alike. Saint Martha, who was visiting the region, managed to tame the beast using prayers and holy water.

She then led the now-docile Tarasque back to the town, where the frightened townspeople attacked and killed the creature. Witnessing the Tarasque’s transformation and death, the people of Tarascon converted to Christianity.

The story of the Tarasque has become an important part of the local culture in the town of Tarascon. An annual festival called “La Tarasque” or “La Fête de la Tarasque” is held in the town to celebrate the legend, featuring processions and reenactments of Saint Martha’s taming of the beast.

The Arassas

The Arassas is a legendary creature from French folklore, and is the equivalent of the Tatzelwurm. This bizarre chimera possesses the body and limbs of a lizard, combined with a cat’s head.

Ranging from 1 to 7 feet in length, its short lizard-like body has 2 to 6 feet. The creature is said to dwell in the lofty caves and caverns of the French Alps.

Said to be venomous, the Arassas is also believed to strike with toxic breath and emit a shrill or hissing noise.

Charlemagne’s giants

Charlemagne was a medieval European king who reunited large parts of modern-day Germany, Northern Italy and almost all modern day France into a single political entity named the Holy Roman Empire.

Such was his greatness that numerous tales, myths and legends were said about him, including the giants that either served or opposed him, such as:

Balan, described by French myths and tales as a giant or colossus, was celebrated for his bravery and power. As the father of the giant Fierabras, Balan and his offspring ultimately met their end at the hands of Charlemagne.

Aenothereus, known as Charlemagne’s personal bodyguard, was famed for his immense stature and might. His extraordinary capabilities allowed him to effortlessly annihilate entire military forces as if he were merely cutting grass.

The Bayard

Bayard, a legendary horse from medieval French and Italian mythology and famously appears in tales about Charlemagne’s adventures.

This extraordinary horse was immortal, unparalleled in speed, and could adapt its size to accommodate its rider.

Bayard at first belonged to Emperor Charlemagne, but was later gifted to Aymon’s four sons. When a single son rode Bayard, its size was similar to other horses, but as additional sons mounted, it stretched to fit them all.

In variations of the legend, particularly in the Normandy region of France, Bayard is portrayed as a mystical water creature that can appear as either a human or a horse.

Inhabiting riverbanks, marshlands, and pools, the Bayard lures reckless humans to ride it when assuming its horse form. However, once mounted, the creature throws the riders into the water or bushes.

The Croquemitaine couple

Croquemitaine is the name of a frightening, monstrous creature, originally a hobgoblin, in French folklore. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Croquemitaine and his spouse, Madame Croquemitaine, appeared in children’s cartoons and paper toys. However, these characters are depicted as terrifying beings.

Monsieur Croquemitaine has a grotesque face with a wide mouth, enormous teeth, hollow eyes, a bulbous nose, pointy ears, a frilly white beard, thick eyebrows, and spiky white hair. He is dressed in a peasant’s attire, complete with a jacket, belt, breeches, stockings, and square-toed shoes.

His wife resembles a rough peasant as well, with empty, wide-eyed gaze, a prominent bulbous nose and lips, and massive teeth. She dons an 18th-century style crossover dress and apron.

The Croquemitaine couple essentially function as nursery bogeymen, with their malevolent actions used to scare children into behaving properly.

The Guivre

The Guivre is a name given to a mythical hybrid creature found in the legends and folklore of medieval France.

As described in bestiaries, it possesses the body of a serpent combined with a horned dragon’s head. Importantly however, the Guivre had no wings.

This fearsome creature was believed to dwell in pools, woods, forests, and isolated damp locations. Known to be particularly aggressive, it would seize any opportunity to attack humans.

Unlike winged dragons, the Guivre would only target those wearing clothing. As a result, the key to avoiding its attack was to undress, prompting the beast to flee.

The Guivre is now most commonly encountered in French heraldic imagery.

The Lou Carcolh

The Lou Carcolh is a colossal mollusk-like beast found in French mythology. Commonly described as an immense, slimy, snail-like snake with large, hairy tentacles and a huge shell, it was believed to reside in a massive cave beneath the town of Hastingue in the Les Landes region of southwestern France.

The thick slime left behind could be observed well before the creature appeared, but humans avoided getting close, as anyone who approached carelessly would be swiftly seized by a tentacle, pulled into the cave, and swallowed by its enormous mouth.

Le Grande Lustucru

Le Grand Lustucru, which translates to “The Great Would You Believe It,” is the name of a massive ogre from French nursery lore.

This frightening figure, depicted as a colossal, gruesome cannibal with a pig’s head, was a 19th-century nursery bogeyman used to scare young children into going to sleep. The nursery rhyme about this character can still be found in some French children’s lullaby collections:

Do you hear in the plain
A noise coming toward us?
One might say the sound of chains,
Trailing over pebbles.
It's the great Lustucru who comes.
He'll come again then go away,
Carrying in his knapsack
All the little children who aren't asleep.
(M. Warner, No Go the Bogeyman, [1998], p. 219)

Melusine

Melusine, sometimes called Melisande, is a terrifying female creature from medieval French folklore and traditions. She is described as having a beautiful young woman’s head and torso dressed in medieval attire, dragon wings, and the lower body of a monstrous serpent.

The tale of Melusine was well-known in French folk history before Jean d’Aras recorded it in 1387. She was the daughter of Pressina, a fountain fairy, and Elinus, a mortal king of Albany (Scotland).

Their marriage was based on the condition that Elinus would never see Pressina giving birth, but he broke this promise.

As a result, Pressina and her three daughters, Melusine, Melior, and Platina, were forced to return to their fairy realm.

When the daughters gained their full supernatural powers, they sought vengeance on their father, imprisoning him in a cave in Northumbria (England).

Realizing her daughters’ actions, Pressina cursed each of them, and Melusine was doomed to transform into a water serpent from the waist down once a week. She could only escape this fate if she found someone who would agree not to see her on that day, but breaking this agreement would condemn her to exist solely as a hideous winged snake.

Melusine eventually married Count Raymond of Poitiers, who constructed the Chateau of Lusignan for her. Most of their children were born with terrible deformities, but the last two were normal.

When the count broke his promise, Melusine jumped from the castle’s ramparts and disappeared as a winged serpent-mermaid, leaving behind a noble line of descendants claimed to be the ancestors of the French monarchy.

Melusine is often portrayed as a double-tailed mermaid in the heraldic symbols of France and the British Isles.

The Ogre

The term “ogre” refers to a specific category of giants found in folklore. Generally, ogres are massive, humanoid males with limited intelligence, incredible strength, cannibalistic tendencies, and are easily outsmarted by clever humans.

Puss in Boots and the Ogre

The origin of the name “Ogre” is believed to be from either Charles Perrault (1628-1703) in his work, Histoires ou Contes du temps Passe (1697), or Marie-Catherine Jumelle de Berneville, Comtesse d’Aulnoy (1650-1705) in her story, L’Orangier et l’Abeille (The Orange Tree and the Bee, 1698).

Regardless of who created the term, the translation of these French fairy tales into English brought the word “ogre” into the English language as a descriptor for this type of giant.

Pere Fouettard

Pere Fouettard, translating to “Father Spanker,” is an ogre character found in French traditions and folklore.

This figure emerged around the beginning of the 18th century and is portrayed as a large, middle-aged countryman dressed in early 19th-century attire, complete with a worn top hat, high collars and necktie, waistcoat, tailcoat, breeches, stockings, and buckled shoes.

Pere Fouettard is known to seek out misbehaving children, placing them in a basket on his back to be taken away for imprisonment and punishment.

 As such, he serves as a nursery bogeyman that parents use to promote good behavior in their children, especially during the holiday season when he is considered the counterpart to the benevolent Pere Noel.

The Rongeur d’Os

In the folklore of Normandy, a region in northern France, there exists a malevolent, monstrous creature known as Rongeur d’Os, or the “Bone Gnawer.”

This entity is depicted as an immense dog that ambushes and terrifies travelers journeying on desolate roads at night. The Rongeur d’Os shares similarities with the Gytrash from English folklore in terms of its behavior and actions.

Beast of Gevaudan

Between 1764 and 1767, a fearsome creature known as the Beast of Gevaudan terrorized southeastern France.

This wolf-like creature with red fur and a black back was notorious for attacking cattle and people, ripping open their innards. Some speculated that it could be a hybrid between a wolf and a hyena.

Although shot at multiple times, the beast continued its reign of terror. King Louis XV dispatched soldiers to eliminate the creature, but even after they believed it to be dead, it struck again.

In 1767, Jean Chastel finally managed to kill the beast using two silver bullets, convinced that it was a vampire. The beast’s remains were transported to Paris.

The film Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) was inspired by these events.

The Vouivre

The Vouivre, known as the Wyvre in the region of Nevers, is the French equivalent of the English Wyvern.

This creature is frequently depicted as a dragon-like being possessing a ruby or diamond between the eyes.

This gemstone enables the Vouivre to see, and if it is stolen while she is asleep, she can be killed. Numerous sorcerers sought this ruby for their magical endeavors.

The Vouivre was believed to dwell in deserted castles and monasteries, where she guarded vast treasures.


References:

  • The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters by Rosemary Guiley
  • Giants, monsters, and dragons by Carol Rose
  • Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish, Cottie Arthur Burland, Brian Innes
  • Legends & Romances of Brittany by Lewis Spence
  • European Myth & Legend by Mike Dixon-Kennedy
  • Mythologies compilled by Yves Bonnefoy
  • French legends, tales and fairy storiesby Picard, Barbara Leonie
Atlas Mythica

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