Blazoning of Creatures

by Master Eldred Ælfwald, Azure Dragon Herald
© 1998, 2010 Eldred Ælfwald / J. T. Thorpe

In period armory, beasts and monsters were drawn such that their main features were easily seen and identified, and this convention should continue to be used. To show their features to the best advantage a variety of "poses" or attitudes were adopted for beasts. Since the features of land-based beasts are different from those of water or air-based beasts, there are different attitudes for each category. One thing to note is that the default position for a beast or monster to be facing is to dexter (the viewer's left). Many of the terms of heraldry come from French, and the major postures reflect these origins.

The following pages list most of the known postures for beasts, though by no means is it comprehensive. Among the postures are several SCA invented postures and I have attempted to identify which ones were common in period.

Under the Sea (fish)

positioned vertically with heads rising upwards--a common posture.
positioned vertically with heads sinking downwards, belly to sinister--a rare posture.
swimming fesswise--a common posture.
applies to any fish that has its body arched as if it were leaping. Think of hauriant with the fish curved in an arc with the bend to the right. Sometimes it is emblazoned naiant embowed (period French) where the fish forms an "arch".
applies to any sea monster--the top half is rampant and the bottom half is coiled into a loop.

On the Land (Lions, tygers, and bears! Oh, my!)


beast is standing upright on one hind leg (segreant for winged monsters) with forelegs outstretched as if attacking. A very common posture for carnivorous beasts and monsters.
beast is leaping or jumping--forelegs off ground (forcene for horses, climant for goats, springing for deer). Appears to be rare in period armory.
beast is walking (or running) with far foreleg raised and far hind leg moved slightly forward (trippant for deer). A common posture for non-carnivorous beasts.
beast is standing still on all four legs--all legs should be visible. Less common than passant. Pascuant is a special, though non-period term for a grazing animal.
beast is seated with forelegs down and together. Tail is up by default if it has one.
sejant erect:
beast is seated, but has forelegs off ground as if attacking.
beast is lying on all fours with its head erect like the sphinx (lodged for deer). The tail curls under the body of the animal and emerges just ahead of the haunches then rises above the back. Appears to be rare in period armory, except for a few animals, such as the dog and the stag (and of course, the sphinx).
beast is sleeping--essentially couchant with head down. If the beast has a tail it is down and coiled around the animal. Very rare in period armory.
beast is facing viewer. The normal posture is sejant, although the SCA allows statant affronte. Rare in period.
the beast is running. The animal appears fesswise with forelegs and hind legs outstretched. Normally associated with canines, stags, and horses.
specific to canines--wolves in particular--the beast has its head raised as if howling or baying. This is an SCA-invented posture.
<cat> in its curiosity:
an SCA-invented and now unregisterable posture used to describe a cat standing on its hind legs with its forelegs on a cauldron as if trying to see or sniff over the edge.
Note: In SCA armory there is considered to be no difference between:

Insects and Tortoises and Amphibians

an overhead view of the beast as it crawls along.
volant-en-arriere (or volant):
winged insects in flight viewed from above.
the wings are outstretched--used for butterflies, moths, and other insects that are mostly wing.

Creatures such as crickets and grasshoppers that are better identified from the side might be blazoned as statant. Toads and frogs are often tergiant The exact emblazon is left to the good sense of the artist. Spiders are depicted tergiant by default, although within the SCA, some people have successfully registered spiders as being rampant.

Snakes (eels and reptiles)

slithering along usually either fesswise or to chief. Almost straight.
ondoyant (or undoyant):
undulating or very wriggly. Again, usually to chief or fesswise.
knotted. In a loose knot that looks like an untightened overhand knot or a pretzel.
ready to strike. The snake is shown in a reverse S-curve(default) so the entire length of the body is seen. This attitude is one that appears to be post period, but is still acceptable.
coiled erect:
bottom portion coiled, head up and ready to strike. An SCA invented posture.

Humans and Humanoids

The default posture for humans is statant affronty. Anything else is almost never met with in Period heraldry. Sometimes if a human being is better described in a different position the posture will be changed accordingly. "An archer statant maintaining and drawing a bow" would naturally be seen in profile, as would "a knight armed cap-a-pie brandishing a sword upon a horse courant caparisoned...".

Angels have their wings displayed and inverted by default. They are usually found statant affronty in both SCA and Period heraldry.

An armored human is armed. If the armor covers all of his body he is armed cap-a-pie (literally "head to toe"). Clothing is blazoned as vested. Hair is described as crined. These details are optional and give no difference in SCA heraldry but are neat to know.

Beasts of the Air (birds or monsters that are mostly wing)

wings are open, as if the bird is taking off. There are a variety of postures and wing positions associated with rising. In some cases the bird is seen from the side. In other cases it is seen from the front. The phoenix is always blazoned as rising and always seems to be displayed affronty. The head could be up or down.
both wings are behind the bird's head in a natural posture. See displayed for additional modifiers.
wings outstretched to either side of the avian. When the wings are displayed or addorsed, there are two ways that they may be shown: elevated--with the wing tips up (typical of Continental armory); inverted--with wing tips down (typical of English armory). Within the SCA, there is no difference given between elevated and inverted wings.
wings are closed. A peacock close is blazoned pavonated. Close is a common attitude for "lesser" birds. Note: any raptor close will probably be blazoned as a falcon. A bat close will be depicted affronty, and an owl close is usually depicted guardant.
striking, rousant, trussing:
raptor in flight with head down and talons out stretched to grasp. In period armory, this was blazoned as rousant or trussing. May be enhanced with another bird (usually lying close fesswise) as "preying upon an X".
as with land beasts, avians can be shown affronty. Some such as the owl and the bat are much more identifiable this way. However, their heads will typically be seen in profile.
this posture is normally reserved for long-legged avians such as the heron and the crane.
in her piety:
reserved for pelicans, the pelican is shown beak to breast with blood dropping to pelican chicks.
in its vigilance:
reserved for cranes, it is shown with head up and one leg raised grasping a rock.
in his pride:
reserved for peacocks, it is shown statant affronty with the tail feathers spread.
as if the bird were in flight. There are a variety of ways to position the wings. The normally accepted practice is to show the bird as if it were banking or circling. When depicted as shown below, this matches standard period heraldic practice. Brooke-Little notes that this was once a synonym for rising but in modern heraldry volant is distingushed from rising by the bird's feet not being visible.
this is used in the SCA to describe waterfowl that are "swimming"
a bird in flight palewise, viewed from the top (similar to tergiant). This appears to be an SCA invention--and it is virtually indistinguishable from displayed.

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Creatures that do not show a lot of movement or which don't really have a logical posture don't have their posture blazoned. For example, a snail or an octopus is just going to be blazoned as such but without a posture. There is no "logical" view of a snail except the side view. There is no logical view for an octopus or kraken (squid) except for head in the middle with the tentacles sort of fanning out from the center.

So what about heraldic monsters? Since many heraldic monsters are combinations of heraldic beasts, and combine two or more different types of beasts, how are they drawn? The answer is "Use your own judgement." A sea-monster is normally blazoned erect--the forepaws are as if the beast is rampant and the tail is looped. If the monster has legs, it can be blazoned using some if not all of the land attitudes. A dragon may be blazoned using any land or air beast attitudes, yet a wyvern cannot as it only has two legs.

Some of the more unusual animals in the heraldic zoo have multiple heads or bodies. The hydra is a "standard" multi-headed monster, but since it is defined as having multiple heads, there is not a special term for it. However, for those animals, that would not normally have more than one head (or body) special terms exist.

having two bodies and one head
tricorporate, etc.:
having three, or more bodies as indicated by prefix
bicapitated, etc
two-headed, likewise, tricapitated means three-headed
if the beast in question does not normally have wings, they can be added to create a new chimera-like monster.
sea-<fill in the animal of choice>:
For the most part, animals can become sea-monsters by replacing the hind portion of their bodies with a fish tail (like a mermaid's). See the sea-urchin at right for an example.

Animalsí Heads

How does one deal with just the head of an animal? There are four basic positions for an animalís head:

simply a frontal view of the animalís face. The neck is not shown in this depiction. Note: for foxes, this is referred to a fox's mask, and for lions and leopards, it is referred to as a lion's (or leopard's) face.
couped close:
a side view of the head only.
a side view of the head with the neck shown. The neck ends in a simple horizontal line. Coupé means "cut" in French, so this depiction of an animalís head with smooth "cut" at the neck makes logical sense.
Similar to couped, but the neck ends in a ragged edge. To put it grossly, the head was ripped off.
with a fleur-de-lys issuing from the mouth and head--as if the head were speared through.

Attitude Adjustments

 Major Adjustments

In addition to the normal postures, there are a few other postures that involve multiple beasts or a beast and another object. Creatures that don't really have a front or a back when viewed in a heraldic position aren't blazoned in this fashion. For example, you wouldn't have "two snakes glissant respectant" or "two fish hauriant addorsed"--such a blazon would not have much meaning.

any two carnivorous beasts facing one another across the center line of division
any two peaceful beasts facing one another across the centerline of division.
any two beasts back to back. Do not confuse with addorsed wings of avians.
sustaining a <object>:
a beast may hold a large object in two paws/talons. The object must be large enough that it could be used as a separate charge group.
two beasts that are passant in opposite directions.
two beasts that are salient in opposite directions. Vanishingly rare if at all in period armory.
refers to the barding on a horse when bridled, saddled, and armored.
refers to the tincture of the wings of an animal. When the wings are a major portion of the beast (such as when displayed) changing the tinctures of the wings can be a point of difference.
refers to the tincture of the legs of a beast.
One thing to note is that positions such as combattant and addorsed may fit our modern notions of symmetry by being mirror images. However, to the people of the Middle Ages, two beasts of the same type facing the same direction would have constituted symmetry. This doesn't preclude the use of such postures, but it provides something to think about when designing armory.

 Minor Adjustments

Minor changes to a beast include the position of the head or the tail, tinctures of minor details such as eyes, claws. Also, any aspect of a beast can have a tincture different from the remainder of its body.

Changes to Postures

applied to any beast--looking over its shoulder. Common.
applied to any beast--looking out towards viewer (at gaze for stags that are statant) Common.
with tail between legs (for tailed beasts and monsters).
maintaining a <object>:
a beast may hold a small object in a single paw/mouth/ beak/talon/etc. Very common.
brandishing an <object>:
applies primarily to humanoids. The beast is holding the object in a threatening way. Very similar to maintaining.
nowed(or knowed):
in a loop or knot--used to describe tails and serpents
any animal wounding itself (Pelicans are the classic example)

Changes or Additions to Attributes

Beware! By detailing every aspect of a beast, one begins to move away from period practice and good heraldic style. Remember, the fewer tinctures the eyes must distinguish between, the better the armorial style! By attempting too much detail, one ends up with "pictorial heraldry"! None of these changes will count as a difference between two beasts in SCA armory. Such details are usually too small to be noticed at a distance. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but covers a fair number of small changes that can be made to enhance an emblazon. Often, such details that are a standard part of the beast are regarded as artistic license. Additions to a beast, such as gorged and vorant are explicitly blazoned when the armory is being registered.

without legs or beak. Rare.
refers to the tincture of the claws, teeth and horns (and beak of a bird or monster)
refers to the tincture of the horns of a deer or other beast with antlers
although commonly used to reference arrowheads, barbed also refers to a tail that ends in a spearhead-like point. Typical of dragons and wyverns.
refers to the tincture of a bird with a crest
refers to the tincture of the hair of humanoids
refers to the tincture of the teeth
a creature without its offensive weapons
a creature that has two tails
refers to the tincture of a fish's or sea monster's fins
for traditionally fire-breathing beasts, flames issue from the mouth
gorged of <item>:
refers to a collar or other object encircling the neck of a beast. Quite often period armory will depict an animal engorged of a coronet.
refers to the clothing on humanoids
refers to the tincture of a hood on a hawk
refers to the tincture of the horns of an animal
spouting flames from the mouth and ears (typical of panthers from the 16th century onwards). Earlier examples of the panther lack this type of detail and the flames issue only from the mouth.
refers to the tincture of a bird's wattles
refers to the tincture of the tongue.
refers to the tincture of an animal's mane
refers to the tincture of the eyes
refers to the tincture of the tail
used to describe a tail that is split in two
refers to the tincture of the sexual organs of a beast. Rare
refers to the tincture of the tufts of hair on animal's limbs and tails. Rare.
refers to the tincture of the hooves. Rare.
any animal devouring another creature or object
wounded and disgorging blood


Books and Publications

Computer Resources

  • rec.heraldry -Usenet newsgroup. Members of the British College of Arms and the SCA converse here.
  • SCAHRLDS - SCA Heralds' mail list server.
  • SCA Heraldry Homepage: -- Here one can find the Rules for Submission, a listing of online SCA heraldic precedents, and links to other heraldry resources.