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In Harry Potter, there are magical creatures thestrals

A Thestral is a breed of winged horses with a skeletal body, face with reptilian features, and wide, leathery wings that resemble a bat's. . . . they are visible only to those who have witnessed death at least once (and fully accepted the concept) or due to their somewhat grim, gaunt and ghostly appearance.

J. K. Rowling has been known to reference Greek mythology in her work. For example, one of her characters is named Minerva, and her writing features mythological creatures such as a sphinx.

Is there a myth that explains the origins of these creatures? Which myth system would they come from?

  • Why are you assuming the inspiration for these creatures comes from mythology? – yannis Feb 10 '16 at 9:45
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    Well, that looks more like a question than an assumption. – C. M. Weimer Feb 10 '16 at 14:19
  • It certainly looks like a question @C.M.Weimer. The fact that it was posted here, however, and not - for example - SciFi.SE strongly implies that bleh assumes a mythological inspiration for the creatures. If that's not the case, what's stopping us from posting "is there a myth that explains ..." questions for, well, everything? – yannis Feb 10 '16 at 14:38
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    In my opinion, they've done the work they need to. The quote provides what they're looking for, no need to be familiar with Rowling's work, and giving examples of other instances of mythological creatures in her writing definitely sounds like irrelevant noise, to me. You could strip out references to Harry Potter and such and still have an answerable question here: "Is there a mythological creature called a thestral which resembles a skeletal/reptilian horse?" – femtoRgon Feb 10 '16 at 17:09
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    I personally don't like these types of questions (I don't think they're very interesting or likely to lead to a better understanding of "mythology"). At the same time, I think Yannis' proposed criteria (this question needs to list other references to mythology in Harry Potter to establish that JKR uses mythology in her writings) is incredibly useless, and does not improve the question one bit. – user62 Feb 10 '16 at 17:16
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I wasn't able to find any specific quotes from JK addressing this, but I did come across a post on MuggleNet from a contributor named Leah which speculated regarding a Celtic legend she happened upon in a bookstore. She explains the story in length, but summarizes it in this way:

Now, there are obvious similarities between [the main character's] mare and thestrals, such as their remarkable traveling abilities, their appearance, and their association with abstract things such as destiny, death, and magic. Rowling’s thestrals were carnivorous, which brings me back to the bird, kestrel.

Kestrels are mentioned in Quidditch Through the Ages as the name of a team, denoting that Rowling is familiar with them. Kestrels are dark birds of prey, with white patches below their eyes. Perhaps Rowling combined these birds with the mare of doom? One thing I also caught was N’oun Doare’s education by a Druid and his return at 17. Druids were ancient scholars and magicians who are believed to have practiced rituals in such places as Stonehenge. He reminds me very much of a certain young wizard…

I do not know if this is the story where J.K. Rowling discovered her intriguing creature, but one is allowed to speculate, no?

This seems a potential jumping off point for some further investigation, but of course not a solid answer.

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I have a late answer. Some in the My Litle Pony fandom have tentatively referred to bat ponies as thestral and that's lead me down this rabbit hole... I study Old English as well for a fandom project. thester is Middle English for "dark, gloomy" from Old English thīestre. The -al ending is means "Of or pertaining to" from Latin. THEREFORE thester+al = thestral = A/one creature "Of or pertaining to the dark" To my knowledge there's no mythological creature called this but many creatures are named this way in other/older languages. Etymology is a wonderful thing!

  • "Etymology is a wonderful thing!" Couldn't agree more. Thanks for the new word study! – tblue Sep 7 at 3:58

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