Pretty much every culture has its folk heroes and legends, and almost all of their legendary warriors have an iconic mythical weapon. Some of them are so ingrained in popular culture that we’re extremely familiar with them. Others are more obscure, but no less awesome. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite weapons of legend.
You might think that Pashupatastra sounds like an exotic pasta dish, but don’t tell that to your Hindu friends. In Hindu mythology, the Pashupatastra is actually a weapon of such destructive properties that it’s advised it should never be used.
The great Pashupatastra is associated with the destructive Shiva and the goddess Kali, and its shape and power were as multifaceted as the gods themselves. It’s often depicted as a bow, but seeing as it can also be launched by the user’s eyes, words or even mind, its true nature appears to be a projectile of some sort. Whatever it is, it’s immensely powerful: As legend has it, the Pashupatastra can be used a set number of times, but only against immortal enemies of equal or greater power than the user’s own. The punishment for unleashing it on a mortal or a lesser opponent is nothing less than the destruction of the entire world.
For obvious reasons, the legends aren’t exactly brimming with great heroes who wielded the weapon. However, the Pashupatastra does have one noted owner: The epic hero Arjuna, who Shiva gifted with the weapon to help him in his legendary escapades. However, Arjuna was aware of the Pashupatastra’s immense destructiveness and the whole “the world ends if you use it wrong” situation, and wisely never used it.
8. The Sword of Damocles
The Sword of Damocles is one of the more famous legendary weapons despite the fact that it doesn’t destroy worlds, spit lightning or do any of the cool stuff most mythical arsenal seems to do. However, sometimes all you need is a very sharp, very ordinary and very, very carefully placed blade. The Sword of Damocles is based on an ancient story, but was made famous by Cicero, the Roman philosopher. It tells the tale of a tyrannical, yet paranoid Sicilian king called Dionysius II, who was extremely powerful and wealthy, but could not enjoy his life because of his many enemies. He saw assassins everywhere, and went to extreme lengths just to stay alive. Even his bedroom was surrounded by a protective moat.
One day, a man called Damocles made the mistake of telling the king just how opulent and luxurious his life was. Dionysius responded by asking: “Since this life delights you, do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?” Damocles was one of those guys who are oblivious to the fact that they’re being set up, so he said yes. So, the king gave him a golden couch to lounge on, a fest to gorge on, lavish gifts and a host of servants. There was only one catch: There was a nasty-looking sword hanging directly above him, suspended by nothing but a strand of horse hair.
The second Damocles noticed the looming danger, he was unable to enjoy his newfound lifestyle. Having learned his lesson, he meekly asked Dionysius to be excused from being as fortunate as the King.
7. The Taming Sari
The Taming Sari comes from Malaysian legends, and it used to belong to a mythical warrior known as Hang Tuah. This weapon is a keris, a type of Malaysian double-edged, highly decorated wavy dagger. The story tells us Hang Tuah received the weapon when he fought and won its previous owner, a mighty master of the martial art silat.
The keris is a revered cultural weapon of its own right, and legends say that these esteemed blades held ancestral spirits and great power. There are stories about keris that could warn their owners about danger, control fire, attack enemies on their own or even kill opponents just by pointing at them. The Taming Sari — which incidentally doesn’t tame anything, it’s actually named after a famous warrior — is considered to be the most powerful keris of them all. As legend has it, it makes whoever wields it completely invulnerable.
6. Tizona and Colada
Tizona and Colada were the twin swords of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the Castilian 11th century knight who attained fame as “El Cid Campeador.” While El Cid is a very real historical person, he’s also a folk hero, so the two swords have also entered the legendary territory. Reportedly, the two swords have incredibly sharp, Damascus steel blades that make them deadly in battle. They’re otherwise very similar, but have a different hilt design.
As legend has it, both Colada and Tizona had some magical qualities. When wielded by a great enough warrior, they started glowing brightly, instilling fear in the hearts of the enemy. El Cid eventually gave the swords to his two bravest knights, who discovered another handy feature of the swords: They didn’t even have to fight the enemy to defeat them, because just drawing Colada or Tizona from its sheath was enough to make the opponent surrender out of pure fear.
If you’re into video games, you may well be familiar with Caladbolg. Various weapons under that name have made appearances on Guild Wars, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, and the Legend of Zelda spinoff Cadence of Hyrule. It’s also a recurring super-sword in the Final Fantasy games.
However, the “real” version of Caladbolg is an even cooler deal. In Irish mythology, it is a lightning sword that is so awesome that several Irish mythical heroes used it. Its most notable owner is arguably Fergus mac Róich, who used it to “chop off the tops of three hills.” Yeah, it’s that kind of mythical sword. If slicing through hills like they were lightly boiled eggs wasn’t enough, there’s also the fact that many people see the stories of Caladbolg as a precursor to a certain other, slightly better-known mythical sword: King Arthur’s Excalibur.
Durandal is another Excalibur-style magical sword. It was the chosen weapon of the mysterious hero Roland, who may or may not have been a real guy but was definitely a famous figure in medieval legends. Roland was a paladin who operated under the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, and was thought to be the best of the emperor’s group of elite warriors, “Twelve Peers.”
While Roland’s Durandal was not what you’d call a mountain-leveling weapon of mass destruction, it was a powerful sword that pretty much everyone considered to be incredibly valuable. According to La Chanson de Roland (“The Song of Roland”), say that Charlemagne received the sword from an angel, with the instruction to pass it on to one of his noblemen. Orlando Furioso (“Orlando Enraged”) counters this by claiming the sword originally belonged to Hector the Trojan hero, and Roland received it from a magician. In fact, the latter epic puts Durandal front and center, as the villainous heathen king Gradasso invades France largely because he wants to take the sword from Roland.
Varunastra is the favored weapon of Varuna, the water god of the Vedic religion (the ancient version of Brahmaism and Hinduism). Apart from water, Varuna loved sheer overkill: According to legend, the four-armed deity was frequently riding a giant sea monster, and liked to dual wield a lasso and, of course, the Varunastra. This was a mighty water-based weapon that could take the form of absolutely any other weapon, and if that failed to take care of the opponent at hand, Varuna could also turn the weapon into a storm.
With an arsenal like that, it’s no surprise that Varuna became synonymous with not only water, but also courage and strength. Even when Vedaism started morphing into Hinduism and Varuna technically lost his status as a full-on god, many still went on to rank him as the “god of the Western Ocean.”
2. Muramasa Sengo’s legendary samurai swords
If the sword is the samurai’s soul, Muramasa Sengo’s blades must have done very few favors to their wielders’ spiritual well-being. Muramasa was a swordsmith who lived sometime between the 14th and 16th century CE. While he was considered to be one of the two finest sword makers Japan has ever seen (allegedly, his only superior was the legendary Masamune Goro), he was also mad as a hatter and an extremely violent person. It is believed that while his craftmanship was impeccable and his swords were of an extremely high quality, they bore the curse of his violent soul. As such, whoever picked up a Muramasa sword would turn into a bloodthirsty, insane, powerful warrior — basically, a samurai berserk.
While Masamune and Muramasa lived centuries apart, some legends couldn’t resist pitting them against each other, with Muramasa playing the role of an apprentice. One story tells of a sword-testing competition that saw the pair hold their swords in a moving stream. Muramasa’s weapon cut through absolutely everything, from water to fish to air itself. Masamune’s cut nothing, and he was declared the winner because only he could forge a sword that didn’t do needless damage.
Despite his dark reputation, Muramasa founded a swordsmith school bearing his name, and its blades were apparently quite popular within the upper echelons of Japanese society. Unfortunately, this means they also played a role in assorted high-profile killings, which added to their legendary reputation. By the time the first Edo shogun, Togugawa Ieyasu, rose to power, his father and grandfather had both fallen victim to Muramasa blades, and he had to wrestle with the legend that the blades wielded particular power over the Togugawa family. As such, he banned the things, melting down many of Muramasa’s swords and handing harsh punishments to anyone found to own one.
Really, could it be any other mythical weapon? If you’ve seen any Marvel Cinematic Universe movies at all, and the Thor themed ones in particular, you’re probably familiar with the Norse thunder god’s amazing hammer that can only be lifted by the worthy and that will return to the hand of whoever throws it. Yeah, that version of Mjolnir is basically a children’s toy compared to the real thing.
The Mjolnir of Norse mythology has some similarities with the Marvel one — it’s an amazing weapon forged by dwarves and whatnot. However, unlike the movie Thor’s weapon, which ultimately turned out to be something the thunder god could do just fine without, the Mjolnir of legend is not just the most powerful weapon of its own mythology. It’s the most powerful thing in all of existence, with the power to crush mountains. Even its name translates as “the crusher,” or if you’re feeling particularly nasty, “the grinder.” Mythology Thor’s not around to play.
Of course, neither is the mythical Loki, who played a significant part in the hammer’s creation. In fact, thanks to his meddling, Mjolnir’s handle is significantly shorter than your average hammer’s, meaning it can only be wielded with one hand. (Imagine what damage Thor could do with a two-handed version.) Oh, and Mjolnir also holds significant religious significance, and the Norse religion treats it as a force of both destruction and “binding,” meaning the Mjolnir symbol has been used to bless births, deaths and marriages alike. Let’s see the Excalibur do that.