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The griffin is a mythical creature with the face, beak, talons and wings of an eagle
and the body of a lion. At times, it is portrayed with a long snake-like tail. In some traditions, only the female has wings.
Its nests are made of gold and its eggs resemble agates. Pliny believed griffins came from Northern Russia;
Aeschylus thought they originated in Ethiopia; and Bullfinch wrote that their native country was India.
In its body, the griffin is blessed with the speed, flight, and penetrating vision of the eagle
and the strength, courage, and majesty of the lion.
In symbolism, the griffin combines the symbolic qualities of both the lion and the eagle. It is the king of birds and lord of the air united with the king of beasts and lord of the earth.
The griffin's dual nature led it to be associated with Jesus Christ, God and man, king of heaven and earth. The eagle half of the griffin signified Christ's divinity and the lion half represented His humanity. Because no one could block the path of a griffin, this creature was especially associated with that passage in the Gospel which records Christ's marvelous passage through the crowd at Nazareth who were determined to throw Him off a cliff. [Luke 4:28-30] During the Middle Ages, griffins were symbols of Christ's resurrection. The strength of the lion and the wisdom of the eagle combined in the griffin symbolized the strength and wisdom of God.
The logical difficulties of duality, led some people to see in the griffin the perversion of the strengths of both animals. Gevaert theorized that the combination of lion and eagle parts would more or less cripple the griffin, depriving him of the ability to fly unencumbered like the eagle or walk nobly like the lion. It was associated with those who used their powers to persecute the Christians, evil personified, the Antichrist,and the Devil. There was even an imaginary creature called the griffin-dragon who had the tail of a dragon or a snake. This one always represented evil.
One legend involving griffins is the Ascension of Alexander the great. According to this story, Alexander captured a pair of griffins and, having starved them for three days, hitched them to his throne and, teasing them with chunks of roast beef held above their heads on lances, flew heavenward for seven days. Alexander would've stolen a peek at God Himself if an angel had not asked him why he wanted to see the things of heaven when he did not yet understand the things of earth. Chastised for his presumptuousness, Alexander flew back to earth. Representations of Alexander's ascension were placed in French and Italian cathedrals during the 12th century.
The griffin's ability to soar like an eagle made him an emblem of poetic and spiritual inspiration. The eagle parts of the griffin represented the saints with their thoughts, aspirations, and souls lifted towards God. Its lion half stood for their courage in the arena and in the continuing struggle against sin, evil, and the Devil. As emblems of the saints, griffins are sometimes pictured eating fruit picked from the Tree of Life. [see Rev 2:7]
During captivity, Israelites would have become familiar with the griffin image. Both Persians and Assyrians decorated with images of this magical beast. Images of two griffins drinking from a flaming cup were common in the Persian religion, Zorastrianism. Later, the Crusaders, coming across this image, would be reminded of the Eucharist and the cup of fire became associated with the Holy Grail.
During the Middle Ages, Christian nobles searched for griffin's eggs or "grypeseye" which they mounted and used for cups, believing they brought health to any beverage.
Because of the griffin's strength and powers of sight, it was believed to guard hidden treasures and hide them in their nests with their young. Because of its association with the Holy Grail, one of the treasures most commonly guarded by griffins was emeralds. (The Holy Grail was carved from a single emerald. It was used to hold the wine at the Last Supper and believed to have magical powers.) Other popular treasures guarded by griffins were the Tree of Life, knowledge, and the roads to salvation. Greeks and Romans used griffin images to guard tombs.
Griffins are a symbol of the sun, wisdom, vengeance, strength, and salvation.
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