Although today we find different kinds of gargoyles, their traditional function was as waterspouts. So it is not surprising that the word derives from the French ‘gargouille’ meaning ‘throat’, which in turn comes from the Latin ‘gurgulio’ (‘throat’ or ‘gurgling’).
A French legend tells of a dragon called La Gargouille, who lived in a cave near the river Seine and used to attack people and ships when they passed by. The civilians who lived in Rouen used to placate this dragon with human sacrifices. When St Romanus was sent to convert the people of Rouen to Catholicism, he made a deal with them. Romanus promised that he would capture the dragon if they let him build a church in the village and baptize them all. Romanus attacked the dragon with a crucifix and managed to drag it back to the village so the inhabitants could burn it at the stake. Whilst burning, the dragon spat fire, and its head and neck would not burn. The people of Rouen pulled the remains of La Gargouille from the ashes and mounted them on the wall of the new church to keep evil away.
Gargoyles can be traced back 4,000 years and were very common in Rome, Greece and Egypt. It is thought that the first real gargoyles appeared in Egypt, where people used the heads of different animals to decorate their buildings. When the Greeks saw these statues, they incorporated them into their own architecture, using mythological creatures like griffins, centaurs and harpies instead of the Egyptian animals. Soon gargoyles spread around Europe, where it was found that these waterspouts could prevent rain from running down the sides of the builidngs.
The phoenix is a sacred mythological bird. The Roman poet Ovid described it as a creature that reproduces alone and, unlike other birds, eats frankincense and other odoriferous gums. It lives for 500 years, and when it is time to die, it builds a nest in the branches of an oak tree and fills it with cinnamon and myrrh so that its last breaths are filled with wonderful scents. The nest ignites, consuming the phoenix in flames.
The young phoenix is then born from the ashes of the dead bird. Tradition has it that the new bird carries the rest of the ashes of the old phoenix to the Greek city of Heliopolis, also known as the City of the Sun.
The phoenix’s feathers are gold and crimson in colour and its body resembles that of an eagle.
Dumbledore’s phoenix is named after Guy Fawkes, the man who tried to burn down the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped garlic, Greek Olympian athletes chewed it, and many people think it keeps evil away – why?
The word comes from the Old English ‘garleac’ meaning ‘spear leek’. Native to Central Asia, garlic usage dates back over 6,000 years. It is used to flavour food in most cultures and is known to kill bacteria, keep the heart healthy and keep colds at bay.
Egyptians valued garlic so highly that sometimes they used it instead of money. They even placed garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamen to protect it from evil. In European folklore, vampires, werewolves and demons are repelled by garlic; it was also thought that if pregnant women are protected by it, jealous nymphs would not terrorize them. It was customary for people to hang cloves of garlic in their windows and rub them over chimneys and keyholes to keep the creatures of the night from coming into their houses.
Its association with evil spirits in ancient times is thought to derive from the fact that garlic is antibacterial and prevents certain mental illnesses. In those days the beneficial medical properties of garlic were unknown so when ailments of mind or body were cured, it was believed that the garlic had scared off evil spirits.
A potion is normally brewed by a witch/wizard, druid, magician, fairy or sorcerer. There are different kinds of potions: some bewitch people, like love potions; others heal them; the worst of potions are made to kill. Although potions are associated with witchcraft, in the ancient practice of Alchemy potions were in regular use.
Famous potions in literature include the love potion of Tristan and Isolde and the death potion of Romeo and Juliet.
Nowadays fantasy novels use potions for a variety of things, although the most common are healing and infatuations. These magical liquids have become so well known that they are also used in adventure/fantasy video games. Healing potions became so popular thanks to the Final Fantasy gameplay that the designers of this game produced a beverage called Potion and sold it in Japan.