KL Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
Whether depicted as serpents, oversized beasts, or anthropomorphic giants, many monsters in world mythology possess the power to easily slaughter thousands of humans. If not outright destroy the world.
In fact, many are so powerful, divine intervention is necessary to slay them. And even the gods themselves don’t have it easy when up against these monstrosities.
Without further ado, here are the deadliest monsters in world mythology. Since time immemorial, these have terrified humanity with their savagery or evil.
From Medusa to the beastly hybrid Chimaera, to the hundred-arm Hecatoncheires, Greek mythology is chocked-full of deadly creatures you wouldn't want anywhere in your nightmares.
None, however, come close to Typhon, an immense serpentine giant described as having a multitude of heads, hands, wings, and even a lower body of writhing serpents. The progenitor of many other Greek monsters together with the she-serpent Echidna, Typhon infamous attacked Olympus and fought Zeus for rulership of the world. He did so after the thunder god emerged victorious from the war with the Titans.
The battle that ensured then shook the world. In some tellings, Typhon also attacked the other Greek gods by hurling rocks, forcing many to flee to Egypt.
Empowered by his mighty thunderbolts, though, Zeus succeeded in defeating the monster. Typhon was then bound and imprisoned in Tartarus, where he would remain for eternity.
Interestingly, Ancient Greece was hardly the only civilization with a story of a terrifying beast/monster fighting a chief god for rulership of the world. In Mesopotamia, there was the epic battle between Marduk and Tiamat. The early Sumerian poem Lugal-e also tells the saga of Ninurta versus the terrifying Asag, and later with Anzu.
Historically, Typhon was also identified with Set, the Ancient Egyptian God of Chaos and Storms. As mentioned above, some versions of the battle claim the besieged Greek gods fled to Egypt, where they remained till Zeus defeated the giant. These versions additionally “inform” that the Greek gods assumed animal forms while in Egypt, Thus why the Ancient Egyptian pantheon is full of deities with animal features.
In Norse mythology, Fenrir is a monstrous giant wolf and a child of Mischief God Loki. Together with the Midgard Serpent and Hel, the wolf’s rampage will bring about the end of the current world during Ragnarok. Ragnarok being the Nordic “twilight of the gods.”
As foretold by the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, the oversized wolf will even kill Odin, the mighty leader of the Asgardian gods i.e. the Æsir. Despite all his magical and combat abilities, the All-Father will be swallowed whole.
The Prose Edda further gives details on how terrifying Fenrir was even when just a cub. After prophecies foretold the wolf’s threat, the Æsir attempted to bind it but enjoyed no success; Fenrir easily broke two fetters wrapped around it. Undeterred, the gods then had the dwarves fashioned a magical binding and lied to the wolf that they merely needed it to test the binding. They would release it after the test.
Sensing deception, Fenrir agreed but demands someone places a hand in its jaws while the test is conducted, which the brave god Tyr agrees to. The binding then proves its worth, and in fury, Fenrir rips off Tyr’s hand in vengeance.
Notably, the magical binding is named Gleipnir, and is fashioned by materials such as the beard of a woman and the roots of a mountain. In other words, impossible objects.
The Eddas further state that Fenrir will remain bound by Gleipnir till Ragnarok. Once it has broken free, all hell breaks loose. There is no stopping the monstrosity till it fulfills its destiny.
Giants are typically bad news in Western mythology. Doubly so for Surtr because he is humongous, literally aflame with fury, and armed with a blazing sword that can decimate entire cities.
Another being destined to rise against the Æsir during Ragnarok, Surtr is a Jötunn, or giant, whose name translates to “the Swarthy One.” According to the Prose Edda, Surtr currently stands guard at the frontiers of the fiery realm Múspell. Upon the arrival of Ragnarok, he will lead the denizens of that realm to attack the Asgardians. During the actual war, the fiery giant will also battle the great god Freyr. Freyr himself will not survive this encounter.
Chapter 51 of the Prose Edda furthermore states that Surtr will bring with him a trail of fiery destruction wherever he rides. In battle, his flames will incinerate the earth. Even Bifrost, the magnificent rainbow bridge leading to Asgard, will be shattered when the sons of Múspell ride over it.
What’s worse, there is no clear indication within the ancient text as to who will defeat Surtr, or at least subdue him. The only consolation given is that two mortals will survive Surtr’s inferno and repopulate the reborn world. They will do so by hiding within “Hoddmímis holt,” the location believed by some academicians to be an alternate reference to the world tree Yggdrasill.
Yet another giant serpent dreaded by ancient gods, Apep is the personification of chaos in Ancient Egyptian theology. Believed as well to be the eternal opponent of light and truth, and the arch-enemy of the supreme sun god Ra.
Said to be born from Ra’s umbilical cord, descriptions of Apep are few and uneven in classic Egyptian myths; some versions actually state that he is a crocodile rather than a snake. During the years of the New Kingdom (1570 BC and 1544 BC), though, the mythos was expanded to describe Apep as Ra’s eternal enemy.
Specifically, Apep will await Ra at Bakhu, the western mountain where the sun sets every evening. On seeing the god, the serpent/crocodile attacks, with his roars shaking the underworld and his writhing creating earthquakes.
Protected by his entourage and empowered by prayers, Ra will then always win the ensuing battle. However, the showdown repeats the next evening. In other words, the Apep threat will never go away.
On the prayers mentioned above, to ensure Ra’s victory, the Ancient Egyptians will perform an annual ritual known as the Banishing of Chaos. During this, an effigy of the vile serpent would be burnt. Doing so is believed to be effective in protecting Egypt, and empowering Ra, for a year.
There is also the strange Egyptian text known as The Books of Overthrowing Apep. This guide contains instructions on how to make wax representations of Apep. For purposes such as spitting and stamping on, and incinerating.
Such rituals make it obvious that the serpent of chaos is not just regarded by the Ancient Egyptians as a supernatural threat. For them, Apep is the most detested foe of Egypt. Their religion’s deadliest monster too.
As far as backstory is concerned, Japan’s Yamata-no-Orochi could be the weakest monster on this list. An eight-headed serpent with eight tails and a body large enough for trees to grow on its back, Orochi terrified and devoured daughters of two Shinto earthly deities for seven years. Apart from this, Shinto chronicles contain no other details on the monster.
Orochi’s actual might could, however, be inferred from its slaying. On condition that he gets to marry the couple’s eighth daughter, the Shinto Storm God Susanoo agrees to kill the monster. He subsequently succeeds after intoxicating Orochi with eight vats of Japanese wine.
As one of the strongest Shinto gods ever, if Susanoo needs to incapacitate Orochi before attacking, can you imagine how dangerous the serpent is?
Notably, the appearance of Yamata-no-Orochi has long been noted for its resemblance to the Lernaean Hydra in Greek mythology. Historians have also suggested that the entire myth might be a metaphor for the re-channeling of an overflowing river with many tributaries.
Whichever the origin behind the myth, this is still one monster you don’t want anywhere near your backyard. You especially do not want it nearby if you have beautiful daughters.
There are hundreds of monsters in Chinese mythology and folklore. However, most if not all were vanquished with relative ease by gods and ancient heroes. That is, with the exception of Chiyou, the leader of the ancient Jiu Li tribe.
Described as having a bronze head, four eyes, and six arms each wielding a deadly weapon, Chiyou was the archenemy of Huang Di i.e. the Yellow Emperor, the legendary ruler that the Chinese venerate as a cultural ancestor. Throughout their decade-long war, Chiyou also constantly enjoyed the upper hand. During their final confrontation, the monstrous leader even expelled a fog that blocked out sunlight, hopelessly trapping Huang Di and his troops for days.
The Yellow Emperor would then have perished in that battle, had he not invented the South-Pointing Chariot, which he used to flee the battleground. Later, after Chiyou summoned a tempest in replacement, the drought demon Hanba also descended to the mortal realm to assist. She helped by blowing away the storm.
Chiyou was ultimately killed by Huang Di; one version of the story state that he was beheaded after capture. Because of his impressive battle record, subsequent Chinese emperors such as Qin Shihuang are known to have worshipped him as a god of war. This is an understandable if questionable move.
Interestingly too, while Chinese culture generally regards Chiyou as a deadly adversary, if not a monster outright, the Hmong people of Southern China venerates him as a wise ancient leader. In today’s Zhuolo Town, there is even a statue that commemorates Chiyou as an ancient ancestor of the Hmong.
Like the Yamata-no-Orochi, Kaliya is a multi-headed, extremely poisonous serpent. However, his story differs from the rest in that he never attempted to harm the world. His only crimes were to poison the lands around his river dwelling, and to attack the great Hindu God, Krishna.
According to the Bhāgavata, Kaliya (and his wives) took up residence at the Yamuna River to avoid Garuda, the eternal foe of all serpents. His doing so then toxified the river and the lands surrounding him. So poisonous was the aftermath, not even birds could fly near.
Later, he also alarmed Radha when she strolled near. Radha was the beloved consort of Krishna and on learning her distress, the god came to the river to confront Kaliya. Kaliya then attacked and constricted Krishna, but was sent away when Krishna stomped his tail.
Subsequently, Kaliya again attacked Krishna when the god went into the Yamuna to retrieve a ball. This time, the god leaped onto the serpent’s head and manifested the weight of the entire universe. Unable to bear the mystical weight, Kaliya vomited blood and began to die. He ultimately would have, had his wives not then prayed to Krishna for mercy.
Spared, the tale ends with Kaliya relocating to the beautiful underworld of Patala. Needless to say, his departure meant the lands around the Yamuna were once again safe.
Culturally, the scene of a dancing, flute-playing Krishna emerging from the Yamuna, while atop Kaliya’s head, remains one of the most beloved depictions of the god. In these depictions, the deadly serpent is usually shown as having multiple cobra heads.
Hinduism’s Mahishasura is more of a demon than a monster, although you certainly wouldn’t be faulted for mistaking, given his abilities.
A buffalo demon whose specialty is the ability to shape-shift, Mahishasura was undefeatable in battle, no thanks to a divine boon he earned from Creator God Brahma. So mighty was he that he even easily defeated the Deva i.e. godly forces lead by Indra, the King of the Hindu gods. After heaven was invaded, the Devas were all forced to retreat into the mountains. For a brief while, the wicked Mahishasura controlled the heavenly realm.
To reclaim their home, the Devas approached the Trimurti, the supreme trinity of Hinduism. Coalescing their might, the Trimurti then created the warrior goddess Durga, following which the Devas also gifted the goddess with copies of their divine weapons, as well as a lion/tiger mount.
Durga subsequently defeated Mahishasura after a protracted battle, one with Mahishasura constantly morphing his form. According to legend, the demon’s final form was a monstrous buffalo. Within Hindu religious art, this form is usually depicted as Centaur-like i.e. a bearded man with the torso and legs of a buffalo.
Of note, a warrior goddess was absolutely necessary for Mahishasura’s defeat. When refused immortality by Brahma, the demon asked that he only be killable by a woman. The chauvinistic Mahishasura was convinced no female would ever be able to defeat him in combat.
Fans of western fantasy fiction will sure notice the similarities to Tolkien’s Witch-King of Angmar in this. Famously, that fiendish wraith also fell because of a misguided belief. He was convinced that “no mortal man will ever destroy him.”
The oceans of the world are life-sustaining. But without a doubt, they count among the most dangerous places in the world too.
After all, would you want to be alone in the middle of the seas, drifting on just a dingy boat? With a storm looming in the distance?
Fear of the oceans in turn gave rise to many myths about horrific creatures residing in aquatic depths, the most terrifying of which is the Kraken. Nordic in origin, the Kraken is described as gigantic and squid/octopus-like, well capable of crushing even galleons with its many tentacles. Given its size, it could of course also effortlessly drag an entire ship down into the sea.
Such descriptions, in turn, lead academicians to theorize that the Kraken myth could possibly be inspired by sightings of giant squids. While scientific evidence about these strange creatures is still sparse, they are known to be able to grow to around 12 meters in length.
Lastly, within pop culture, the Kraken becomes even more frightening with the “upgrades” showered upon it. 1981’s Clash of the Titans reimagined the monster as a huge scaly humanoid with four arms, one that was as large as a city. In Pirates of the Caribbean, the deadly monster retains its Cephalopod features, with a maw that’s the stuff of Lovecraftian nightmares.
The summary of it, this is one oceanic monster you truly do not want to sail into during a holiday cruise. And if you do meet it, accept your fate. You will never see land again.
10. The Red Dragon of the Book of Revelations
The Bible has its own medley of deadly monsters and fiendish beings. From the primordial Behemoth and Leviathan in the Book of Job, to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, none are beings you’d ever want to meet. None are beings you are likely to survive an encounter with too.
Outside of Satan, though, no biblical monster is as terrifying as the red dragon of the Book of Revelations. Alternatively called the Ancient Serpent or the Adversary, and often identified with Satan himself, the dragon is described as huge and with seven heads and ten horns. Each head also macabrely wears a diadem.
According to Revelations, the red dragon will battle Archangel Michael in heaven. On earth, the beast will also relentlessly pursue the Woman of the Apocalypse, and when unsuccessful, wage war with the “rest of her seed.”
In the end, the dragon will be defeated, bound, and imprisoned in the abyss too, where it will remain till release. Of note, Christian theologians often identify the dragon with the deceptive serpent in the Book of Genesis. In other words, they regard the red dragon as not just a warmongering beast or a killing machine.
He is no less than the enemy of all mankind.
- Description of Typhon, Wikipedia.
- Description of Fenrir, Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Introduction to Surt, Norse Mythology for Smart People.
- Description of Apep, New World Encyclopedia.
- Myth and Interpretation of Yamata no Orochi, Japanese Wiki Corpus.
- Description of Chiyou, Wikipedia.
- Description of Kaliya, Wikipedia.
- Legend of Durga and Mahishasura, Divine Onlineium.
- Are Massive Squid Really the Sea Monsters of Legend? BBC.com.
- Revelations 12, Bible Gateway.
© 2021 Yong Kuan Leong