Top 5 Medieval Myths You Wish Were True

Top 5 Medieval Myths You Wish Were True

A deep dive into the history of Medieval Europe unearths a trove of fascinating stories. Filled with tales of chivalrous knights, magical beasts, grand feasts, and spellbinding enchantresses, these stories have been passed down through generations. However, many of these tales are steeped in myths about Medieval Europe that, while captivating, aren’t quite accurate. This article explores five of the most well-known medieval myths of all time—myths from medieval times that are so pervasive and enthralling we almost wish they were true. 

What Is Medieval Mythology Called?

Medieval mythology is a rich blend of various mythologies, legends, and folklore traditions that evolved in Europe during the Middle Ages, spanning from the 5th to the 15th centuries. But there isn’t a universal term to encapsulate this era’s mythology.

Unlike specific mythologies such as Greek, Roman, or Norse, which are named after their respective cultures, medieval mythology is a mix of diverse cultures, histories, and religions, including Christian, Pagan, and Celtic traditions. It’s shaped by elements of Arthurian legends, Norse sagas, and various local folktales.

The Arthurian legends, including tales of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table, are some of the most well-known narratives from this period. They combine Christian and pre-Christian elements and have been the subject of countless interpretations and adaptations. This body of legend is sometimes referred to as Arthurian Mythology.

Another significant body of medieval mythology is Norse or Viking mythology, which encompasses a vast range of gods, goddesses, and magical creatures like Thor, Loki, and the Valkyries. These tales often focus on themes of heroism, fate, and the intricate relationships between gods and mortals.

Moreover, there is Christian mythology, which is not to be confused with Christian religious beliefs. It includes stories that developed around saints, angels, and demonic beings that were part of the cultural fabric during the Middle Ages.

Therefore, medieval mythology doesn’t have a specific collective name because it represents a blend of various cultural, religious, and historical influences. Each strand of this rich tapestry has unique characteristics and names, contributing to the multifaceted nature of medieval folklore and myth.

What Were the Beliefs of the Dark Ages?

The term “Dark Ages” typically refers to the Early Middle Ages (approximately the 5th to 10th centuries), a period following the fall of the Roman Empire. This was a complex era marked by significant social, cultural, and religious transformations. Beliefs during this period were equally multifaceted, shaped by remnants of the Roman past, evolving Christian doctrine, and various local and folk traditions.

  • Christianity: The most significant belief system of the Dark Ages was Christianity. The Church was a central institution, shaping religious beliefs and political, social, and cultural norms. Medieval Christianity encompassed a wide array of beliefs, including the faith in one God, the teachings of Jesus Christ, the significance of sacraments, and the existence of Heaven and Hell.
  • Saints and Relics: The veneration of saints and relics was a prominent aspect of medieval Christian belief. Saints were considered holy individuals who could intercede with God on behalf of the living. Relics, usually physical remains or belongings of saints, were thought to possess miraculous powers and were objects of pilgrimage and veneration.
  • Superstitions and Folklore: Many folk beliefs and superstitions persisted alongside traditional Christian beliefs. These included believing in supernatural creatures and phenomena, such as witches, elves, and other magical beings. Natural events were often ascribed to supernatural causes.
  • Feudal Hierarchy: The feudal system was central to social and political beliefs. This hierarchical system posited that everyone had a specific place and role, from the king at the top to serfs at the bottom. This system was often justified by appealing to the divine will.
  • Paganism: Although Christianity was dominant, in some regions, remnants of older pagan beliefs continued, often blending with Christian practices.

The beliefs of the Dark Ages were not monolithic but varied across time and space. A dynamic interplay between Christianity, local traditions, and lingering elements of the classical past marked them.

Myth 1: The Myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

The tale of King Arthur and his loyal Knights of the Round Table is one of the most enduring medieval myths legends. This myth brings us tales of gallant knights undertaking heroic quests, of the magical wizard Merlin, of the noble Queen Guinevere, and of course, the legendary Excalibur. But is there any truth to this legend?

Historically, there is scant concrete evidence supporting the existence of King Arthur in the way he is depicted in the myths. Most historians agree that Arthur if he existed at all, would likely have been a minor warlord or a Roman-affiliated military leader. The chivalric tales surrounding him are largely a creation of Medieval romance literature, particularly those written by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory.

Myth 2: A World Full of Dragons

Dragons are another staple of myths from medieval times. They’ve been portrayed as both fearsome beasts laying waste to kingdoms and noble, magical creatures capable of speaking human languages. Nevertheless, the widespread belief in dragons throughout medieval Europe is not backed by factual evidence.

These majestic creatures’ tales are believed to stem from the discovery of dinosaur fossils or the misinterpretation of sightings of large, exotic animals. Even so, wouldn’t it have been amazing if our world was indeed once populated by these awe-inspiring creatures?

Myth 3: The Lady of the Lake and Excalibur

The tale of the Lady of the Lake, another significant part of the Arthurian legends, is one of the most well-known medieval myths of all time. According to the legends, she was a mystical enchantress who presented King Arthur with the magical sword Excalibur, which helped him secure his kingdom.

Unfortunately, the reality is much more mundane. Swords in medieval times were commonly made by blacksmiths and certainly did not possess magical properties. Moreover, there’s no historical evidence of mystical ladies living in lakes. But who wouldn’t want to believe in a magic sword that could decide the fate of a kingdom?

Myth 4: The Chivalrous Knight

Many myths about medieval Europe concern the image of the chivalrous knight, a noble warrior who followed a strict code of conduct, defended the weak, and always fought for what was right. Sadly, the reality was quite different. The code of chivalry was more an ideal than a widely followed practice. Many knights were simply feudal lords who engaged in violence and warfare for their gains, and their actions often contradicted the romanticized ideals of chivalry.

Myth 5: The Pristine, Untouched Forests

Medieval Europe is often portrayed as a land covered by vast, untouched forests, teeming with an abundance of wildlife. But this idyllic picture is largely a myth. In reality, Medieval Europe was a land heavily influenced by human activity. Much of the land was cleared for agriculture, and forests were managed to produce timber and other resources. Yet, these mythical forests stretching as far as the eye could see would certainly have been a sight to behold.

Medieval Urban Legends

Urban legends, enduring tales often based on fears and societal issues, have existed since civilization began. The Middle Ages were no exception, and many captivating urban legends emerged during this era.

  1. The Pied Piper of Hamelin: The legend of the Pied Piper, a musician who supposedly lured all the children away from the German town of Hamelin, is one of the most famous urban legends from medieval times. While the details differ between versions, the story serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of breaking promises.
  2. Pope Joan: This tale tells of a woman, Joan, who allegedly disguised herself as a man and was elected Pope during the 9th century. While most historians consider it a legend rather than fact, the story has been widely circulated since the Middle Ages, reflecting anxieties about gender roles and Church authority.
  3. The Wandering Jew: This legend tells of a Jewish man who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was cursed to walk the earth until Christ’s second coming. The tale has been interpreted as a cautionary narrative about disrespect and divine retribution.
  4. Changelings: Folklore across Europe spoke of changelings—faerie children left in place of human infants who had been stolen away. This tale reflected fears about unexplained childhood diseases and disorders.
  5. The Wild Man of Orford: According to this legend, a wild man, covered in hair and unable to speak, was caught in the nets of fishermen near Orford, England, in the 12th century. The story has been interpreted as reflecting societal fears about outsiders and the unknown.

Like all urban legends, these tales reveal much about the societies from which they emerged. They illuminate the medieval era’s common fears, beliefs, and cultural norms, continuing to captivate our imaginations today.

Popular Myths About Medieval Christianity

The medieval period, often known as the Middle Ages, was a critical era in the development of Christianity. Yet, numerous myths and misconceptions have emerged about Christianity during this time, creating a narrative that sometimes diverges from historical reality.

  • The Church Opposed Science: One popular myth is that the medieval Church was entirely opposed to science. While there were indeed instances of tension, the Church did not categorically deny scientific advancement. Many medieval monks and priests significantly contributed to scientific knowledge, including astronomy and mathematics.
  • The Inquisition Was Everywhere: The Inquisition, the Church’s mechanism to combat heresy, is often depicted as omnipresent and omnipotent during the Middle Ages. In reality, its influence and operations were not uniform across Europe. Some regions saw more Inquisitorial activity than others, and the methods and impacts varied significantly.
  • People Believed the Earth was Flat: Despite popular belief, educated people in the Middle Ages did not think the world was flat. The concept of a spherical Earth was known and accepted in many scholarly and theological circles, showing that the Church’s views on science and cosmology were more nuanced than often depicted.
  • Everyone was Fanatically Religious: The idea that every person in the Middle Ages was a fervent, unquestioning follower of Christianity is another oversimplification. Just like today, faith varies among individuals. Some were deeply devout, others less so, and skepticism and doubt existed alongside belief.
  • Crusaders were Solely Motivated by Religion: The Crusades are often presented as purely religious wars. While religious fervor was a key motivator, Crusaders were also driven by politics, power, and economic gains.

Examining these myths helps to create a more accurate, nuanced understanding of medieval Christianity. Recognizing the complexity of this historical period enables us to better appreciate its role in shaping modern Christianity and Western culture.

Medieval Mythical Creatures at the Glance 

Medieval Europe’s mythology is a treasure trove of mythical creatures that embody the era’s fears, beliefs, and hopes. These fascinating entities, often more than mere beasts, can be seen as cultural and historical significance symbols.

  1. Dragons: Dragons are perhaps the most well-known medieval mythical creatures. Often depicted as enormous, fire-breathing serpents or reptiles, they were seen as symbols of power and chaos. Tales of knights slaying dragons were common, illustrating the eternal struggle between good and evil.
  2. Unicorns: These elegant creatures, often portrayed as white horses with a single spiraling horn, symbolized purity and grace. According to legend, only a pure maiden could tame a unicorn, underpinning the era’s societal norms and expectations.
  3. Griffins: These majestic creatures, with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head and wings, were emblems of divine power and guardianship. They were believed to guard treasure and priceless possessions, linking them to themes of wealth and protection.
  4. Basilisks: Known as the “King of Serpents,” basilisks were thought to be able to kill with a glance or breath. This deadly creature was often seen as a symbol of the devil and the ultimate evil.
  5. Mermaids: These half-fish, half-human creatures were famed for their enchanting beauty and voices. Often associated with peril and doom, they were believed to lure sailors to their deaths, reflecting the dangers of the uncharted seas.

These mythical creatures, whether representing good or evil, strength or fragility, imbued medieval folklore with a rich tapestry of narratives and life lessons. Their stories have transcended time, continuing to captivate us today.


While myths from medieval times and legends often paint a vivid and magical picture of the past, they are often more fantasy than fact. From King Arthur and his Round Table to mythical beasts like dragons, these tales continue to capture our imaginations. Despite knowing the truth, the allure of these most well-known medieval myths remains. Perhaps it is in the realm of myth and legend where history truly comes alive, allowing us to escape into a world we wish were real.