7 Terrifying Mythological Creatures that live in Rivers and Streams
Updated: Oct 19
Humans have always been intrinsically connected to water. We need it to live, and it provides a source of food, cleansing and even protection. Most of the great early civilisations sprouted along the banks of a river; Egypt along the Nile, China’s Ying Dynasty along the Huang Ho, even ancient Sumeria along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
For all that they were an essential source of water and sustenance, rivers would also have been a source of fear. A wobbly stone and a fast current could be fatal and, without the technology available today, those taken by the river could vanish completely. It is therefore unsurprising that most civilisations have some kind of river monster – said to snatch unsuspecting travellers from the banks. The Myths would be used to explain the disappearances of the drowned, as well as serving as a warning to keep young children from the water. With that in mind, it is easy to see why some of the creepiest mythological creatures hail from rivers and lakes. Shapeshifting horses, creeping cannibals and murderous beauties, they all begin at the Water:
Originating from Chile, the Nguruvilu has the face of fox and the long winding body of a snake. The creepiest part of the creature is its tail, equipped with spindly fingers and long claws. It uses its tail to snatch men from the surface and drag them to the bottom of the river where it consumes their blood.
The clever Nguruvilu also has some control of the water, draining the rivers and fords until they seem shallow enough to cross. The second someone attempts to cross the Nguruvilu creates a mighty whirlpool to snatch the unwary traveller up. The only safe way to cross a Nguruvilu river is by boat, or for a Shaman to defeat the Nguruvilu and make the waters safe again.
Said to inhabit the Murray River of South Australia the Muldewngk, like most Australian creatures, is said to be large, aggressive and deadly. The creature is said to be part man, part fish, with giant, scaled hands, topped with vicious claws. Large clumps of seaweed are said to hide the creatures, so it is important to always know what is in the water.
Escaping the Muldewangk’s huge grasp is also no guarantee of a reprieve and a quick death at the Muldewangk’s claws may be the more merciful option. Legend tells of a sailboat captain who defended his boat and crew from the creature – shooting it when it tried to grab them. The Captain fell ill shortly after. Weeping, painful sores opened along his body and he was stricken with fever. It took him six months to finally die.
With the body of a crocodile, neck of a giraffe and three strong horns, the Ninki Nanka lurks in the swamps of Western Africa. Unlike other myths, the Ninki Nanka preys exclusively on children, and the child that disobeys can shortly expect to become the Ninki Nanka’s victim.
In some accounts the Ninki Nanka is more draconic than anything else, however it is difficult to find an accurate portrayal of the creature as myth states that any who see it die. This death can either come quickly, or within four years of seeing it, however once you see the Ninki Nanka your death is inevitable.
While there are many mythical horses in British Mythology, there are none so dangerous as the Each-Uisge. Residing in the Lochs of Scotland, the Each-Uisge normally takes the form of a beautiful stallion – though it is said to take other shapes as well. Inland the creature is quite safe, and often tempts humans onto its back for a ride.
Once the unsuspecting human is seated however, things take dark turn. The Each-Uisge’s skin is adhesive and clings to the rider, making it impossible for them to tear themselves off its back. The horse dives to the deepest part of the loch and, once the poor human is drowned, tears them to pieces and consumes their flesh. The only part of the human that the Each-Uisge doesn’t eat is the liver which floats to the top of the water – marking the Each-Uisge’s kill.
Unlike the hideous beasts mentioned earlier, the Rusalka is dangerous in their duplicity. At first glance they appear to be nothing more than an exceptionally beautiful woman, tempting men towards them with their charms. Once the hapless male is within reach, she will tangle his feet in her hair and drag him beneath the water – laughing as he drowns.
These women are said to be the souls of the unquiet dead – women who died grisly deaths, usually involving drowning. In some legends these are the women who threw themselves into the water after being jilted by a lover, in others they are the souls of unbaptised children. Regardless of their origin they depicted as otherworldly beauties, with otherworldly cruelty.
The Shui Gui of China, or the Kappa of Japan is a child-sized, amphibious menace of the rivers. They are typically portrayed as green-skinned and web-footed with a shallow dish on its head that carries a small amount of water. The water contains the Shui Gui’s life force and if it is spilled or lost the creature will die.
Tales of the Shui Gui vary from mild nuisances to terrifying murderers. Some Shui Gui are said to kidnap humans and drown them, either to drink their blood or to steal the human’s Shirikodama. The Shirikodama is said to contain the human soul and is, fortunately, entirely fictional.
The cousin to the Kappa, Hyosube is another terrifying creature from Japan. A Shaman one created the living dolls to assist him in the building of a shrine. Once the Shaman was finished with them, he dumped the dolls into the river and the Hyosube was born.
The creature has a hairy body and a bald head. At night it is said to crawl from its underwater caves and creep into people’s houses to use their baths. Touching water tainted by the Hyosube can be fatal. It is also said the creatures can cause disease, afflicting people with fevers and eventual death.