Various Countries Worldwide
Mythical and Legendary Creatures on Banknotes
In the realm of mythical creatures depicted on banknotes, there are actually rather a lot of them to consider. It quickly comes a point where one must ask if whether or not this one or that one ‘fits’ into the category. Of course, then the category itself is up to debate. While legends usually refer to things and places that have some basis in fact, myths are generally considered to have no factual basis. While legends can be considered outlandish tales that have stretched the truth beyond the breaking point, myths are generally the ‘gods and monsters’ stories. Of course the two are often interchanged in modern usage, and so I have decided, for the purpose of this article, to include legends as part of the mythical category.
Some banknotes are replete with legend and mythical images, especially German Notgeld (Emergency Money) issued after WWI. These notes, especially the Serienschein (Series Notes – banknotes that were issued primarily as collector’s items) can be found depicting many types of mythological creatures, from walking skeletons to giants to witches to dragons to just plain odd-looking monsters. There are so many, in fact, that I have only listed a few of them from my collection.
I’ve tried to stay within the confines of what would fall into a normal, regular individual may consider to be mythical, but even still, there are considerations. In dealing with known pseudo-religious persons or ‘creatures’ I stayed with what I am most familiar with. There are some depictions of sculptures, statues, etc. of indigenous deities in Africa and the Americas that I was unsure of, so I left most of them out of this for the time being.
In the end, I’ve wound up with a mere sampling of the types of mythological creatures that can be found on worldwide banknotes. Some of these you will find familiar and some not, which is of course great fun to learn about.
France 50 Francs issued 1946
Urbain Le Verrier on front and Neptune on back
The first banknote with anything like a mythological creature was an old souvenir French banknote my father brought back from his time oversees in the 1950’s. It was a sight to behold for a young child who had only seen the rather blasé designs circulating in the US during the 1970’s. The design had a depiction of Neptune on the back, complete with trident and a pet fish.
The French 50 Franc note also had a depiction of the constellation Capricornus, which only later did I learn was actually a ‘Sea-Goat’ half goat, half fish, like a kind of goat-mermaid. Capricornus has an interesting mythology, where she was sometimes called Amalthea, which takes us back to when the Greek god Zeus was an infant.
Zeus was born to the goddess Rhea and the god Cronus, who, after overthrowing his father Uranus, were ruling over the earth. After some time Cronus learned of a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him as he had done his father. So as soon as his children were born, Cronus would devour them in order to prevent this from occurring. After consuming their first five children (including Neptune/Poseidon), Rhea had had enough and she gave birth to the sixth child, Zeus, secretly in Crete. She surrendered a stone wrapped up as a baby to Cronus who promptly swallowed it whole. It was Capricornus, or Amalthea, who became a foster mother and nursed Zeus while he was hidden from Cronus. Zeus would eventually grow up and depose his father, which was pertly done by giving him a potion that caused him to regurgitate what he had swallowed, including the stone and all his previously devoured children.
Neptune was the Roman name for the Greek god Poseidon, who was the god of horses and the sea. His personality was said to be like that of the oceans, often placid, but also tempestuous and sometimes violent.
Later on, in 1846, a French astronomer named Urbain Le Verrier, who is featured on the front of this banknote, was hard at work at studying the orbit of the planet Uranus, when he thought that there should be another planet beyond it. Working with a German college Johann Gottfried Galle in Berlin, they were able to confirm this planet and, following the process of naming planets after the Greco-Roman gods, named it Neptune.
Austria – Notgeld 80 Pf. & ½ Krone
Krampus and Santa Claus
Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon monster that punishes misbehaving children during the Christmas holiday. He is a devilish companion of Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas). The name is from the German word Krampen for “claw.”
In the German language countries of Europe December 5th was considered Krampusnacht, or Krampu-night, where this demonic figure visits households and if there were bad children there, they will be left with a bundle of sticks with which they might even be hit with. The really bad kids might be carried off to be thrown into a nearby river or lake. A non-demon version of this character is Knecht Ruprecht, which is like a wild-man who is the assistant to Santa, and he deals with the bad children. In the Netherlands there is a similar character called Black Pete.
But in these places, December 6th is traditionally Nikolastag, or St. Nicholas day. It was on this day that the Christmas presents would be delivered by Santa Claus to the Good children.
The Same series of emergency notes also depicted Santa with the Kristkind at his side. The Christkind, or Christ-Child. Santa of course is the universally known Christmas gift bearer who lives at the North Pole. The Christkind was an invention of Martin Luther who wanted to help keep Christ in Christmas, which was evidently an issue even back then. Making the Christ-Child the bearer of gifts to children at Christmas was and remains a popular Christmas motif in some European and Latin countries today.
Bhutan 2 Ngultrum issued 1986
In the Bhutanese language, their country is called Druk Yul, “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, and the Bhutanese themselves are called Drukpa, “Dragon People”. The sound of thunder is said to be the roaring voice of the druk, or dragon, which can be heard soaring through the mountainous country, with lightning said to be the dragons fiery breath.
Bhutan 5 Ngultrum issued 1986
This banknote has the mythological bird Bja Tshering, or Bird of Long Life depicted on wither end of the front. :ike it’s western counterparts this Golden Phoenix’s legends of long life and rebirth resound in the Bhutanese culture. It has also been associated with the Black-Necked Crane whose loyalty and devotion are evident with their mating for life.
Canada 20 Dollars – Issued 2005
Queen Elizabeth with a portion of the Parliament Building on front, Native myths on back including: Raven and the First Men, How the Grizzly Bear got it’s hump, Mythic Messengers & Spirit of the Haida Gwaii.
The Canadian 20 dollar banknote is itself a work of art. But it goes an extra step as it celebrates Canadian aboriginal arts and for 20 Dollars, we can all have a few masterpieces of our own on the back of this wonderful banknote.
Shown on the back at left is Raven, who long ago was alone in the Queen Charlotte Islands when he spied a clamshell. The Raven’s curious nature drew him closer and he saw that there were very small human beings that were living in the shell. The beneficent Raven was charmed by these creatures and invited the small humans to come away with him to his land where he would help them. These were the first Haida peoples.
Prominently featured at right is Grizzly Bear and his human wife with their cubs, Mouse Woman, both the Good and Bad Bears, Beaver, Eagle, Frog, Wolf, Dogfish Woman, a small Human paddler, and a Shaman dressed in traditional Haida garments. These creatures are all in a single canoe, being paddled by the small human and the Raven. The symbology is that while these creatures may not all get along they are nonetheless working together and are going forward for their collective good.
Germany 10000 Marks issued 1922
This is the famous “Vampire” note issued in 1922. This note depicts Albrecht Durer’s painting “Portrait of a young man” was chosen to be on the banknote, this painting was slightly altered by the engraver at the Reichsdruckeri, who had altered the banknote in the neck of the portrait to depict a rather gothic looking vampire, representing France, which is sucking the life blood out of the throat of Germany through reparations for World War I.
Hong Kong 100 Dollars – Standard Chartered Bank issued 1999
Mythical Horse named “Qilin” a dragon-like creature with a mane, scales, and tail. They are often shown with fire around their mane and hooves. They punish evil doers and protect the innocent.
Manchukuo 50 Fen issued 1935
Dragons on a Japanese puppet state within China during WWII
Dragons – Chinese dragons are usually shown with 4 toes while Japanese have three. I don’t know what happened here, but this dragon has 5 toes. While the Japanese dragons can be destructive, Chinese dragons are benevolent and are associated with rain.
Denmark 50 Kroner issued 1997
Authoress Karen Blixen on front and a Centaur on back
Centaur at Landet church built in the 12th century at Tåsinge, Denmark.These mythical creatures obviously have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse. They are said to have two hearts, one in the normal Human chest and one in the horses area, and both beat in unison. Possessed of great strength, they, like the one shown on the back of this banknote, are often depicted in a warrior status.
Denmark 100 Kroner Issued 2006
Composer Karl Nielsen on front and a Basilisk on back
A Basilisk is a rooster with a snake’s tail that was hatched by a toad from a rooster’s egg, so a seemingly impossible creature. Legend has it that its odor can kill snakes, and fire coming from the basilisk’s mouth kills birds. Any human who chances a glance at this creature will lose their life. Probably due to it being half snake, it is said that only a weasel can kill a basilisk. This particular mythological creature is a depiction of the one at Tømmerby Church in Vester Hanherred, located in northern Denmark.
Georgia 50 Lari issued 2013
“King” Tamara on front and Saggitarius on back
The Sagittarius, aka Chiron, a centaur with bow and a snake for a tail. He was immortal, but was erroneously shot with a poisoned arrow by Hercules. Immortal, Chiron was to suffer the poison for eternity. Hercules bargained with Zeus for Chiron to change places with Prometheus who was in eternal punishment for giving fire to man. Once he replaced Prometheus, he was able to die and suffer no more. Moved by this, Zeus granted Chiron immortality in the night sky as the constellation.
German Notgeld – Various issues
Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas
These wonderful depictions of Santa walking along through the snow with a bunch of toys is a wonderful scene that evokes an old-world Christmas feeling. Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Sinter Klaus, Father Christmas, or whatever he is known as throughout the world is perhaps the most widely known gift bringer in the world. Of course it is all due to marketing by retailers, but beyond the modern hype of the gift giving ‘til it hurts advertising in the modern age, Santa is still a beloved image in all his guises. I loved him as a child, and I still love him today, especially when I get to ‘be’ Santa.
A classic depiction of Santa, with toys and tree, ready to leave them in some lucky little child’s home to find on Christmas morning. The back has a a decorative setting and shows the lights on in his shop, nestled in the woods.
Sonneberg 10 Pfennig issued 1921. A tiny note with a tiny Santa figure amidst a pile of toys. Sonneberg has been known as a toy manufacturing center, especially before WWII.
Ireland – Republic of Ireland
Lady Laverly on front and River gods on back
One of the most beautiful Irish banknote series issued were those that dedicated the reverse of all the banknotes to different river gods throughout the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Shown here are two such notes, the 1 Pound and the 10 Shilling notes.
Ireland One Pound – issued in 1957 showing the River Lee which flows through County Cork and through the City of Cork before emptying into the Celtic Sea.
Ireland 10 Shillings – issued in 1963 showing the River Blackwater – aka Munster Blackwater – which flows through three counties: Kerry, Cork and Waterford. It also empties into the Celtic Sea at in Youghal Harbor, east of Cork City.
Northern Ireland 20 Pounds issued 2019
Well, this one isn’t going to be easy to see with the naked eye. They’re not small, but they only like to come out at when the lights are dim – and the black light is on!This Northern Ireland note celebrates Irish traditional music and, with the help of some Ultra-Violet light, the Hallowe’en spirit(s).
Under a black light, this close up of the back of this note shows some bats flying about and a couple of skeletons doing a not-so-lively jig! While the bats are not mythological, we can all agree that dancing skeletons (outside of a living body) are!
Norway 50 Kroner issued 1987
The Poet Aasmund Olavsson Vinje on front and Sigurd/Siegfried slaying Fafnir, the dragon.
Obtaining cursed treasure, Fafnir’s father had a run of bad luck, eventually resulting in having his son Fafnir kill him for the treasure. Fafnir was once a man, but the curse caused him to be a dragon forever. His greed caused him to guard the treasure horde closely.
Sigurd, the son of a king who died in battle, was being raised to be a great hero. One day his mentor Regin (a brother of Fafnir) talked Sigurd into obtaining a great treasure, the treasure guarded by Fafnir. Sigurd agreed, but only if Regin could produce a strong sword. The first one broke on a stone when Sigurd tried it out. So too did the second sword. The third time around, Sigurd’s mother heard about what was happening and she gave her late husband’s broken sword, which had once been a magical sword, to Regin. Regin used the broken sword to make a new sword and presented it to Sigurd. Sigurd tried the new blade on a piece of iron, and it split the iron in two, leaving the sword unscratched.
Together Regin and Sigurd travelled to the ravine where Fafnir was to be found. Regin stayed back as Sigurd went in quietly and hid in a pit where he knew Fafnir would come by. Not long after, Fafnir’s footsteps could be heard as he came along, and as he walked over the pit, Sigurd thrusted his sword into the heart of Fafnir.
Crying out in pain, Fafnir explained that as he dies, his treasure would bring death to Sigurd. “I will die anyway” Sigurd replied and thrust the sword in deeper, bringing death to Fafnir.
Regin then asked to have Fafnirs heart roasted and as Sigurd cut the heart out, Regin built a fire. While the heart of Fafnir was cooking, Sigurd touched it with his finger, and as it was hot, he put it into his mouth. Suddely Sigurd could understand the language of the birds!
But the birds were talking amongst themselves, and were saying that Regin would kill Sigurd to keep the treasure all to himself. Understanding his mentor’s treachery, Sigurd drew his sword again, and cut off Regin’s head. The curse died with the last member of the cursed family, and Sigurd kept the treasure without inheriting the bad luck.
Germany 5 Marks issued 1904
European / Wagnerian style winged dragon guarding a treasure, his smoky breath letting you know that you won’t be able to get close at all. This theme is similar to the dragon Fafnir on the Norwegian banknote above. This has to be one of the best Dragon themed banknotes ever made.
Germany 75 Pf. Notgeld – issued 1921, City of Kahla
Issued in the city of Kahla in 1921, this emergency money is part of an entire set that expresses the frustration of the war reparations that Germany had to pay which France was largely responsible for holding Germany to.
In the depiction, a scary skeleton, here called a Spuk (spook) is writing on a column during Silvesternacht, which is also on New Year’s Eve. During Sylvesternacht the art of fortune telling is said to be heightened and many people take advantage of this to have their fortune’s read. This skeleton is writing a passage from the Book of Daniel in the Holy Bible, which, in effect is a warning to the French that their days are numbered. They are found to be wanting and they will lose their country.
German 75 Pf. Notgeld – issued 1921 – City of Nordhausen
Nordhausen was famous for it’s brandy, and in this pseudo-advertising piece of notgeld we can see it being touted as a tonic to keep the specter of Death away. But there’s more than one German notgeld with the Grim Reaper on it!
German Notgeld – 75 Pf. issued 1921 – City of Oberammergau
Here is a note that depicts the Grim Reaper doing his worst in this city in the year 1634. This note commemorates not the death of their inhabitants during a plague outbreak, but the religious devotion and answered prayers that saved the city.
As the city prayed for salvation from the black plague, they promised to hold a passion play every ten years every ten years if the plague was stopped. It is said that from that very day, there were no more deaths from the plague.
The play continues on. Postponed during wartime and most recently COVID-19, the play continued in 2022 occurring from May 14th to October 02, 2022. – A promise is a promise!
Indonesia 10000 Rupiah issued 1976
Batara Kala, the Indonesian god of the underworld
It is said that Batara Kala had a beautiful wife named Dewi Uma. Batara Kala has a very strong appetite and that helps to make him very rude. Batara Kala has several roles in his incarnation, including being a god of time and destruction. Despite being married, one day Batara Kala forced himself onto Dewi Uma while astride the holy cow Vahana Nandi, the guardian of the house of Shiva. Dewi Uma was shamed at this and cursed both herself and Batara Kala to appear frightful and ugly. He was sent to earth by his superiors to punish wrong-doers, but his appetite was so strong that he only wanted to eat people. This did not win him favor with the superior Deva, so they instead made him one of the gods of the underworld.
Iraq 10 Dinars issued 1973
This creature is a protective deity who kept the door open for the sun and was a symbol of Assyrian kings. Statues of Lamassu are called aladlammu and were placed near the gates of palaces in order to guard the entrances by warding off evil spirits. The bull body represents strength, the wings represent speed and the human head represents intelligence.
Myanmar (Burma) issued 1972
General Aung San on front, Pyinsarupa on back
This mythological creature is a hybrid, or chimera, animal and is part elephant, bull, either a horse or lion, fish and either a dragon or swan. It is often found displayed in traditional Myanmar orchestra performances and is the logo for Myanmar Airways.
Portugal 1000 Escudos issued 1994
Teofila Brage on front, Mermaid on back
Mermaids have been around for many thousands of years of human storytelling. These creatures with a womans head and bods, and a fish tail below the waist are thought to embody the seas with their changing ways, having the destructive power of the ocean storms, and the beguiling yet dangerous water that lures men away from home.
The mermaid on the back of this 1000 Escudos note is part of a carved stone design from the Church of São Pedro with the mermaid holding her tail with her left hand while in her right hand she holds a fish being pecked at by a bird.
Romania 10000 Lei issued 1994
Nicolae Iorga on front, Glykon on back
Here we have the king of fakery! Glykon, a human-headed snake-god circa 160AD was a sock-puppet! It answered questions for 1&1/3 drachma, and earned 70,000–80,000 drachma a year, when the traditional value of a drachma was one day’s pay for a skilled worker, it was a serious business. Though known to be a fake, multitudes sought out its advice, including kings!
Scotland 1 Pound – National Commercial Bank issued 1964
Forth Bridge on front, lion and griffin on back
The Griffin is still a popular mythical animal with the head and forelegs of an eagle or sometimes a falcon, and the body of a lion. They were seen as powerful creatures as both the king of the beasts and the king of the air, the lion and the eagle, were combined into one. They were seen as feircly loyal, illustrated by the traditional myth that they mated for life and when one mate died, the other would live on without seeking another mate.
The Griffin has long been used as a type of talisman on tablets, jewelry, coats of arms, crest’s, heraldry and other items, including coins and banknotes, as a protector of wealth and treasure. They also supposedly ward off evil influences and malignant forces.
Yugoslavia 50 Dinara issued 1931
King Alexander I on front & Marko Kraljević and Šarac on back
This banknote shows a portrait King Alexander on the front, and a statue of an older ruler, Marko Kraljević on the back. Marko succeeded his father as king of Serbian dominated lands in modern day Macedonia in 1371. Though he was a king, he was suzerain to the Ottoman Empire. Though he was a real person, he and his horse Šarac became a folkloric legend, with superhero strength and fighting the Ottomans, while in reality, he was held under their thumb.
Marko has been given a hero persona, portrayed in traditional verse as a champion of poor and helpless Serbs. In the verses he fought against an unjust Ottoman authority, rescuing many Serbs from dungeons, killing tyrants, saving princesses, and being kind to animals. Though the poems do portray him as being vassal to the Ottomans, it was always an uneasy alliance, with the sultan being shown as the weaker man.
Germany – Notgeld 1 Mark issued 1921
Pied Piper of Hamelin
The pied Piper of Hamelin is an almost universally known fairy tale. But there is some evidence that while the fairy tale isn’t true, that there may have been someone who did in fact take the children away.
In the very real town of Hamelin, Germany, that evidence can be found out in the open, even today. A stone memorial at what is known as the ‘Piper’s House’ dates back to 1602 and reads: “A.D. 1284 on the 26th of June, the day of St. John and St. Paul, 130 children born in Hamelin were led out of town by a piper wearing multicolored clothes. After passing the Calvary near the Koppenberg they disappeared forever.” The Koppenberg is a hill in Belgium, and also a mountain peak in South Eastern Germany. It could also simply be referring to ‘the hills’ all of which further complicates things. Then there is an entry into Hamelin’s records in 1384 which reads:
“It is 100 years since our children left.”
There are also several manuscripts still existing in Latin and Low-Middle German which relate the story of 130 children who all vanished on the 26th of June, 1284, and that they were all following a piper in multi colored clothes.
We will never know the end of this story, as the clues hereafter are mostly supposition. It may have been due to a number of things, some of which include:
- Children removed for a better life in the east
- Children recruited for military use
- Removed to keep safe from the plague or other spreading illness
- Dance mania
- Pagan celebration of midsummer.
- Then the most likely: relocated to new German lands in the east.
The Dance mania may sound odd to some of you, but it has been a very real occurrence from time to time. Dance Mania, also known as St. Vitus’ dance, is a type of mass hysteria that afflicted people to the point of utter exhaustion, and sometimes even death. But in reality, the dance craze affects adults as well as children, and afflicted people don’t just disappear, especially en-mass. Having them dance away to some unknown fate would likely have been so odd an occurrence that there would have been some reference to the dancing.
The most likely occurrence is that the children were relocated to the east to what would have hopefully been a better life, or at least better opportunities for them than they may have had in Hamelin with a colorfully dressed piper leading them along the way. Whatever really happened, it was such a unique occurrence that a story of their disappearance has lived on in to this day.