Chapter 6. Heraldic Beasts

True heraldry

True heraldry, they say, is hereditary, a mark of achievement, like royalty; however, oddities exist that may signify deceit and ignomy.


This half-eagle, half-lion became “a Christian symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.” In heraldry, it represents strength, courage, and leadership. A fearsome beast, the griffin has a lion’s hind end with four legs and an eagle’s wings and head with ears like a donkey. Yes, I just made that up. But some, they say, have the tail of a camel.


In China, a dragon is a magical creature associated with rain and thunder, but in Europe mankind’s innate fear of snakes associates them with evil and appeared to result in a need to slay them. In Poland, Bałtów, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, however, depicts a dragon as their coat of arms based on a local legend that probably arose because dinosaur footprints were found in the area.


The city of Emden calls her their “Angel on the wall,” but she’s not an angel and she stands behind the wall so we can’t see her clawed hind legs. They hide her breasts in feathers but she’s a harpie by heredity, a vulture with the head and breasts of a maiden, a spirit of the wind, vicious, cruel, and violent.


Arendsee doesn’t display the imperial eagle, per se. Their red eagle over a sea is a canting, like a rebus. In German, the arms feature an adler and a see, which, combined, sound like Arendsee.

Boar’s head

A boar’s head sans tongue, representing dishonesty discovered, is displayed above the crest of Pontefract Castle. The head reflects the legend of the woody boar of Cliffe Wood and is unrelated to the significance of boards in heraldry, generally, which represent fierceness and boldness in combat, or, with an arrow through them fierceness conquered.


Golden seahorses with green circlets with maple leaves about their necks support the coat of arms of the municipality of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and signify the city’s maritime heritage. On pendants hung from the circles are an open book on the left, standing for education, and two crossed paddles on the right, for the native people and early settlers of the area.


The rooster’s an emblem of Saint Peter, a reminder of his betrayal of Jesus thrice before the cock crowed twice, but here we have it on the escutcheon of Auzainvilliers in the Lorraine region southeast of Paris, a commune so small it doesn’t have a church. The nearest Église Saint-Pierre is in Châtenois.


Muckental’s arms show a black fly with green wings. It probably should show a mosquito, because “mücken tal” means “valley of mosquitoes.”


The old British nickname for the French might apply to the Frisian village of Hijum. Because people call the villagers “the jumpers,” their escutcheon features two leaping frogs.