Mythology is filled with legends about courageous heroes and powerful Gods striving to save humanity. But every good story needs a villain. We’re going to explore the 10 most evil mythological characters that will either scare or perhaps help you learn more about yourself.
Light always casts a shadow.
There’s no good without evil. Not in the world, not inside us. We’re in a constant struggle between the unsavory parts of ourselves and our lighter side. But with forced positivity and social media, we often forget this eternal battle. We start pretending that everything is rosy and sparkling white!
Fortunately, evil mythological characters are here to remind us that even though we can bury our heads in the sand, the shadow part of ourselves still exists, alive in these ancient mythological stories.
See, our ancestors understood perfectly well that it’s unhealthy to live with the illusion that there’s no evil in the world. They respected the dualistic nature of reality, which in turn informed how we structure mythology.
In order to maintain the balance, we had to invent antagonists, antiheroes that represent the obstacles the protagonists would have to overcome.
This blog post will list 8 of the most vile and malicious mythological villains. From Greek and Norse mythology to modern mythopoetic sagas, it has everything!
But you might be surprised to find out that it’s not always black and white…
He has many names. Some people call him Morningstar. Heoshporus. The Fallen Angel. Others call him the Devil, Satan.
He’s the personification of all mortal sins, the scapegoat we use for our wrongdoings. Wars, natural disasters, diseases, all of the evil in the world is done, supposedly, by him.
Lucifer is the quintessential evil mythological character, appearing in multiple cultures. A deity that wanted to reach the highest seat of the divine order and take the place of God. We encounter this archetypal motif in Summerian folklore, Roman mythology, Proto-germanic tribes, and the Vedas. He’s connected to the planet Venus and the Aurora.
In Christian theology, he’s an angel that was expelled from heaven alongside his minions. Eventually, he became the ruler of the Catholic version of Hell, responsible for the purgatory and the eternal damnation of the souls.
From a philosophical viewpoint, Satan represents the inversion of Christian values. It’s important to highlight that even though he’s now perceived as the supreme evil force, he’s only playing his part in the grand, cosmic game.
He doesn’t pick up the weapon or the knife, he only whispers to your ear!
After all, he was the brightest, most powerful of all Angels! He loved humanity, despite its flaws and shortcomings.
Satan can be the aforementioned shadow self, the part of us we need to confront and realize that it belongs to our psyche.
Cronus is a Titan that ruled during the Golden Age of Greek Mythology. Preceding the Olympians, he was a powerful entity that overthrew his father but was imprisoned by his own son, Zeus.
Legend says he heard a prophecy that he’d be killed by his offspring. For that reason, he started devouring them, one by one, except the youngest.
Zeus managed to escape and hide with the help of his mother. When he became strong enough, during Titanomachy, he sliced open the belly of Cronus and released his brothers and sisters.
Defeated, he was expelled to the underworld, Tartara, alongside the rest of the Titans.
Yet, he remained the God of Harvest. We still celebrate him every December, unknowingly. In fact, the birth of Jesus Christ was moved closer to the Roman celebration of Saturn (Cronus), called Saturnalia, so the transition from paganism to Christianity was smoother!
In Astrology, Saturn helps you learn tough lessons. If you don’t run away from challenges, the old Titan has a lot to teach you.
In Norse Mythology, Loki appears as a trickster figure that often has an independent agenda. He isn’t inherently evil, he just seeks to create chaos.
Half-Giant, half-God, he’s still a member of the tribe of Aesir which includes Thor, Odin, etc.
Comparative mythology claims that he’s the equivalent of Lucifer. He’s ostracized from the divine order because of a fatal mistake. Using his cunning, Loki kills Baldr, the son of Odin and brother of Thor.
Because of that, he was chained to a stone, resembling the fate of Prometheus.
In the Poetic Edda, it is said that with the female giant Angerboda they produce Jörmungand, the serpent and archenemy of Thor, and Fenrir the Giant Wolf.
During Ragnarok, these creatures will attack the Gods, causing their heroic death.
Thanatos is the God (and personification) of Death. A dark figure hated by mortals and Gods alike.
While death is inevitable, in Greek mythology, he was outwitted by great heroes and powerful men. Hercules essentially beat death physically and Sisyphus trapped him so he could gain immortality.
In Orphic mythology, he’s transformed into a feathered angel that gently guides souls to the other side.
One of the most interesting aspects of Thanatos is his family tree. He’s the son of Nyx, the powerful Goddess of Night. She’s responsible for spawning all creatures of the night!
His twin brother is Hypnos (Sleep), creating an allegorical connection between the two contexts. Sleep represents a stage of liminality, a sneak-peak if you will, to the other side, while death is the permanent, dreamless sleep.
Spartans were part of the cult of “Sleep and Death”.
(If you’re interested in learning more about the Greek Gods of Sleep and Dreams, check out this post)
We now travel across the world, to India and the terrifying demon Kali — not to be confused with the Goddess Kali. Similar to the apocalyptic Beast, the creature has a terrifying figure. The face of a dog, fangs, and sharp nails.
Kali is associated with the fourth and worst yuga cycles, representing discord, sin, and chaos. Historians and theologists believe that the current age is the Kali Yuga!
Some of the characteristics of this world cycle include:
- Lust will be viewed as socially acceptable
- Sin will reign over virtue
- Many fake ideologies will spread throughout the world
- People will consider themselves Gods and gurus
- Diseases will spread
- Weather and climate will degrade
- Addiction to alcohol and drugs will be the norm
- Wars will break out
As you can see, this is a bleak future, perpetuated by the Lord of the epoch, Kali.
Once this Dark Age passes, after the avatar of Vishnu defeats the demon, the Golden Age will ensue!
6. Baba Yaga
One of the most famous figures in Eastern European mythology and folklore traditions, Baba Yaga is a witch (or a trio of witches) that dwells in dark forests, ponds, and isolated villages.
She has the ability to shapeshift, often taking the form of an old lady, a cloud, animals, etc. In Slavic tales, she’s usually depicted standing on chicken legs and living in a hut that barely fits her.
While she appears in thousands of tales, every time she obeys a different moral compass. She will either help those who seek her or hinder anyone that happens to step into her domain.
Her cannibalistic tendencies make her a truly evil mythological character. Using sorcery, she can lure kids away from their families and consume them in her house!
Baba Yaga is a peculiar character because she exists outside the mythological canon. Historians can attest that the cultural perception of the long-legged witch is unique, having no equal.
But it’s worth noting that in the Slavic Tradition, Baba Yaga is similar to the Greek witch Hecate.
We’re now entering modern mythology. Mythopoeic stories that were created during our age but lack nothing compared to older tales.
Of course, one of the most evil mythological characters is none other than Morgoth.
In the events of Lord of the Rings, it’s Sauron that often appears as the primary enemy. Yet, he’s only a servant of Morgoth. In Tolkien’s Legendarium, he is the ultimate evil, the primordial inversion of all that’s good and pure.
Iluvatar, the most powerful being in the world, the one God, created Arda by singing a melody. The Valars, his first creations, joined him and added harmony.
But one of them decided to diverge from the main melody and create his own. Tolkien was keen on manifesting abstract concepts like good and evil into physical reality. Morgoth’s song corrupted the very land, the rivers, the air, the trees, and its inhabitants. He is Evil, he is Corruption!
Having said that, we can see that there are some similarities again with Lucifer; both figures defied the authority of the One God and sought to escape the divine order.
What is fear, true fear?
You could argue that it is a perfectly natural reflex to danger or the unknown. We were evolved to have a certain degree of fear when confronted with big animals, natural disasters or high-risk situations.
H.P Lovecraft exploited and redefined this natural instinct and created cosmic horror to describe the unspeakable, incomprehensible terror of his mythos.
It is a sensation more than an intellectual concept. The realization that we’re so insignificant, alone in the cosmos, prone to be influenced by powers we cannot even begin to understand.
Dealing with cosmic, extraterrestrial entities, Lovecraftian mythology underlines the absurdity of life in the context of a cold and vast universe.
Cthulhu, a central figure in his short stories, is a gigantic anthropoid octopus, hundreds of meters tall, with dragon wings and human-like arms. It is said that the creature remains asleep in an underwater city, yet it’s causing subconscious anxiety to all humans on Earth.
The worst part is that Cthulhu is part of the Pantheon of the Great Old Ones. Primordial beings that wander at the edges of our reality, between chaos and what lies beyond that.
Bonus: All Gods
Every time I look into a particular set of mythological stories, I can’t help but notice that our ancestors bestowed human nature to their Gods and deities.
Instead of creating an idealistic version of the perfect, superior being, they ascribed very human qualities and personality traits.
So, even benevolent Gods, like Zeus, had a darker side. And at the same time, what we might think of as an “evil” deity today, they considered virtuous and fair, like Hades the ruler of the underworld.
It’s surprising how sober we were in the past about our shortcomings. Because make no mistake, mythology is nothing more than a symbolic schemata of how we perceive reality. Our perception is filtered through our cognitive biases and personal narratives, creating these legendary stories that remain a portal to the human psyche.
We sketch Good and Evil so accurately within mythology because this is what we believe about ourselves after all!
Does Evil Exist?
A few years ago, I talked with a friend who believed that all the evil in the world is done by demons, dark energies, etc. Wars, murder, abuse were the consequences of evil forces plotting against humanity. Call it Satan, Cthulhu Kali or any other evil mythological character.
But I realized something very important:
Humans are capable of evil on their own.
We don’t really need the help of a malevolent spirit to push us. We’re perfectly capable of doing the most despicable things, as history has taught us over and over again.
Sometimes, our dark side is so frightening we have to come up with elaborate, metaphysical excuses. It’s imperative to accept our Shadow as a dangerous, yet integral, part of ourselves that if we don’t act now to integrate it, it WILL take over…
George K has been immersed into the world of myths and dreams for a very long time now, attempting to find the numerous symbolisms and meanings attached to them. He is a prolific writer along with being an independent researcher. Contributing his knowledge and learnings to several magazines and blogs, he has the unique ability to simplify and explain even the most intricate subjects.