Majestic symbol of divine rulers The Griffin is a combination between a lion and an eagle, and is the size of an enormous lion. The back part of it's body is the lion's, while the head and front talons are eagles. On it's back are the majestic wings of the eagle with a 25 ft wingspan in adults.
The Griffin has long been a symbol. It is a sun symbol; an emblem of courage, strength, and intellect; a sign associated with many well-known heroes, such as Godric Gryffindor, Apollo, and Alexander the Great.
The iconography can be traced back to ancient Oriental culture. There exists an old deed of marriage between a western and eastern royal family that depicts a griffin attacking an antelope. The Griffin represents the day, the antelope night. Thus, the day triumphs over the night.
In this form, the legend of the Griffin made its way into the West. There it adopted its royal associations. It is a hybrid of two monarchs: the lion, king of the earth, and the eagle, king of the air. Christ himself was known as the king of earth and sky, and so the Griffin was thought to be a holy symbol. "Opinicus" is the name for a Griffin when it is depicted on a coat of arms.
But there were other, darker interpretations as well. Earlier scholars, such as Isidore, tell of the Griffin's taste for human flesh, and point to that foul appetite as a sign of the devil. The Griffin is combined out of multiple parts, like the Chimera. Combinations such as these were thought to be impure and evil.
I do not believe the Griffin is evil, but I do believe that it must be treated with respect.
Such little text on so impressive a beast
What is strange about griffins is that we have such a long history of iconography surrounding them, yet there is very little text describing them.
The earliest detailed, written description of a Griffin is found in chapter 85 the famous Travels by Sir John Mandeville:
“From this land [Turkey] go men to the land of Bacharia, where be full evil folk and full cruel. In that land be tress that bear wool, as though it were of sheep, whereof men make clothes and all things that may be made of wool.
In that country be many griffins, more plenty than in any other country. Some men say that they have the body upward as an eagle and beneath as a lion; and truly they say sooth, that they be of that shape. But one griffin hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions, of such lions as be on this half, and more great and stronger than an hundred eagles such as we have amongst us. For one griffin there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, if he may find him at that point, or two oxen yoked together as they go at the plough. For he hath his talons so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were horns of great oxen or of bugles or of kine, so that men make cups of them to drink of. And of their ribs and of the pens of their wings, men make bows, full strong, to shoot with arrows and quarrels.”
From this description, two things stand out to me:
- Do not get on the bad side of a Griffin.
- Where can I acquire one of the legendary bows crafted from the powerful bones of a Griffin? Where have those craftsmen gone?
Behaviours and magick properties of the griffin
Isidore also tells us that griffins can be found in the hyperborean mountains and that they are attracted to gold and gemstones. Arthurian legend elaborates on this. In those stories the griffins love emeralds above all. They become the keepers of a legendary emerald that was dislodged from the crown of Lucifer when he fell. A hero eventually discovered the emerald and the Holy Grail was carved from it.
Stephen Friar speaks of other magical properties. It is known that the Griffin's claw and feathers have the power of healing. It is not so potent as that of the Phoenix, but strong enough to restore a blind man's sight. In medieval Europe, the powerful nobles would drink from goblets fashioned from these materials, perhaps another reference back to the Grail.
Despite some of the stranger claims, and lack of clear historical text, the Griffin has cemented itself in our minds as the majestic ruler of the skies, and a steadfast ward against evil. Griffins adorn our most prestigious banners and royal armor. Griffins lifted the conqueror Alexander the Great into the skies, just as they bear the heroes of Azeroth.
When glorious battle calls, I dream of swiftly flying forwards mounted on a Griffin, our banner flashing behind us in the sun.
Written by Giles Ravensong.