Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mythic Creatures exhibit: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Today I was able to see my friend from Alaska, and visit the new exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science : Mythic Creatures. 
This exhibit is dedicated to the creatures of myth and folklore. The relics and story books describe them in detail, and some creatures are based in fact, while others are completely fiction. 
 The exhibit has three sections: Water, Land and Air. It covers different creatures from around the world, including 

the Kraken!  This creature was described by many sailors about fiive hundred years ago, and it was featured in poetry: 
"Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea
 His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
 The Kraken sleepeth . . . "
 Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Kraken is also well known in the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. 

Many other sea creatures were believed to be lurking in the depths of the ocean, including Hippocampi (half horse and half fish), Sea Serpents, and of course, Mermaids.  

Many mermaid sighting may have been inspired by the manatee, a real creature that lives in the ocean. 
Mermaids were in sailors' tales from all over the world. One mermaid from Africa was known as the sea witch Mami Wata, while a heroine named Sedna became the creator of sea creatures in the Inuit culture. These were fascinating tales. 
Griffins are best known from stories in Greek mythology, but similar creatures have been described in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Kings and Queens used griffin images to symbolize power and wealth. 
Griffins were often painted on vases and lamps in Greece. They are mentioned in many Greek myths. 
The Unicorn has a fascinating origin as well, in both the East and the West. 
In the East, the unicorn was called the quilin or kirin. They were peaceful creatures whose appearance brought luck and good fortune. The Asian unicorn had the head of a lion, the body of a deer, and sometimes more than one horn. 
In the west, the unicorn symbolized purity and peace. The traditional western unicorn had the tail of a lion, the clooven hooves of a goat, a beard and a twisted, pearl horn.  
This unicorn is aslo featured on coats of arms, especially for royalty in Europe. 
The Barong Ket was a new mythical creature to me. It is featured in stories from Bali and Indonesia. The story of the Barong Ket is very interesting, and it involves a terryfing goddess. 
Although the Barong Ket is a trickster, it represents good and brings balance to the people. It's greatest foe is Rangda, the goddess of destruction. 
Barong Ket and Rangda battle every year, re-created by dancers using elaborate costumes. Sometimes Barong Ket wins, and sometimes Rangda wins.
The Barong Ket costume requires two dancers, and it is often elaborately decorated to draw the crowd's attention. 
Another interesting trickster is the japanese wind goblin: the Tengu. Tengus are known for their cleverness, and their arrogance. The japanese saying, "tengu ni naru" is a common warning against becoming too arrogant. 
Tengus have shimmering wings, and shape shifting abilities. They are often used in japanese folklore to teach lessons about stealing, lying and cheating. 
Large eagles are also used in many types of western folklore. They are featured in Greek and Roman mythology. I couldn't help thinking of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. 
The Phoenix has many different names in folklore throughout the world. 
The Benu is from Egypt. The FengHuang is from China and the Phoenix is from Europe. 
This bird is well known for symbolizing rebirth, but in Egypt it is a guardian of the Underworld, and in China, it is a bird who fights a dragon to bring peace. There are many different descriptions of the phoenix. 
The Pegasus is well known in Greek and Roman folklore. Pegasus was a companion to Perseus in defeating Medusa, and many gods and goddesses have pegasi mounts and chariots. The Pegasus is often depicted as a warrior. 
Dragons have long been in mythology, from the time mankind found dinosaur bones. 
In the west, dragons are scary creatures, intelligent and powerful. In the east, dragons are creatures of wisdom and balance. 
Many story books had detailed illustrations of dragons fighting knights and destroying villages. They were believed to reside in the mountains, in caves guarding hoards of gold and jewels. 
Dragons often symbolized fear and greed in the west. 
In the east, dragons symbolize honor, wisdom and royalty. The emperor was often refered to as the dragon in many Asian countries, and dragons were embroidered on royal robes to reinstate that fact. 
In some stories, dragons are evil, and the majestic FengHuang will battle the dragon to save the people. This fight symbolized yin and yang, and it was often carved in medallions of the wealthy and royal.  
At the end of the exhibit, they had a photo booth and gift shop. You can buy all kinds of post cards, books, figurines, jewelry and clothes with fairies, unicorns, dragons and mermaids. 
These magnets were pretty cool. 

This exhibit was a lot of fun, and it was very useful for story research and writing inspiration. The exhibit itself is not very big, but the history, diversity and imagination was a fascinating addition to the museum.
This exhibit will be at the Denver Musem of Nature and Science until September 7th, and I recommend it to writers, readers and fans of fantasy and folklore. 

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