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The Eerie History of 10 Spooky Halloween Creatures

 Did you choose this year’s Halloween costume already? Costumes impersonating spooky monsters - vampires, witches, ghosts, and mummies - are always among the most popular. These and other scary characters have become long-standing symbols of Halloween, but many of them have originated long before the holiday itself… Do you know where these Halloween creatures come from? Scroll on to read about the origins of 10 spooky Halloween monsters.

Jack-o’-lantern

Origins of Halloween Monsters Jack-o’-lantern

Did you know that the original jack-o’-lanterns were carved out of turnips and not pumpkins?

The Halloween mascot had originated from an Irish legend. According to the old tale, a man named Stingy Jack tried to trick the devil, but instead, he was doomed to roam the earth forever with only a carved turnip to light his path. When the first Irish settlers came to America, they immediately discovered that pumpkins - a squash type native to America - made a superior lantern. Thus, the modern-day jack-o’-lantern was born.

Werewolves

Werewolves are truly as old as time. Ancient history is full of shapeshifters, but the first mention of a proper werewolf - a human who turns into a wolf - was mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh, a text from ancient Mesopotamia that dates back to 2100-1200 BC! In the story, a goddess turns her ex-lover, a shepherd, into a wolf.

There are also mentions of similar creatures in Ancient Greek and Roman myths, but they’re “only” two thousand years old. Native American legends, Norse myths, and many other world traditions also describe werewolf-like creatures. Interestingly, some of these myths were likely driven by actual biology, as people affected by rabies were known to experience a sudden outburst of animalistic rage and go on violent rampages.

Vampire

Origins of Halloween Monsters Vampire

We have to thank Slavic folklore for the invention of the vampire. These early Eastern European vampires were pale and fed on human blood, but they were actually short and stocky and not tall and skinny like the vampires we see in movies. Slavic folks explained contagious diseases through the existence of these early vampires.

But it was an Irish author named Bram Stoker and his 1897 novel Dracula that solidified the image of the vampire on a global level. Inspired by Slavic folklore and stories about the Transilvanian count Vlad the Impaler, Stoker invented Dracula - everyone’s favorite nosferatu.

Related Article: 11 Best Towns to Visit This Halloween Holiday

Zombie

Zombies have been definitely gaining in popularity in recent years, as evident by countless recent film and TV adaptations about them. These creepy albeit quite slow brain-eating monsters are Haitian in origin. The zombie (originally called zonbi in Haitian Creole) is a corpse brought back to life by Voodoo practitioners called bokors.

Once revived, this early zombie found itself under the control of the bokor, who snatched his soul through black magic. This is very different from the zombies we see in modern film adaptions, which are created by mysterious diseases and not sorcery.

Bloody Mary

Origins of Halloween Monsters Bloody Mary

The legend says that if you sit down in a dark room, place a candle in front of the mirror, and chant Bloody Mary several times, a mysterious woman will appear in the mirror. Sometimes, she is described as a benevolent spirit, but most legends say that Bloody Mary is a bad ghost that may curse or hurt whoever is summoning her.

Some historical accounts suggest that Bloody Mary refers to the English Queen Mary I, who had the same nickname because she had executed hundreds of protestants during her reign as the first female English monarch. Interestingly, the Bloody Mary phenomenon has a fascinating scientific explanation; read all about it here.

The Headless Horseman 

The Headless Horseman is one of those rare monsters that can be traced to a single source - the 1820 novel titled The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Admittedly, Irving was probably inspired by the Irish legend about the dullahan - a headless rider with his head in one hand and a whip made of a human spine in the other. Similar legends have been around in German and Scandinavian folklore too.

Ghost

Origins of Halloween Monsters Ghost
Much like werewolves, ghosts go way back in history. From invisible poltergeists moving objects to mysterious transparent figures, ghosts show up in some of the oldest texts and folk tales and literally every culture in the world. The word ghost comes from the Old English word gast meaning spirit, and it could refer to both good and bad spirits.
Fun fact: modern surveys reveal that nearly half of the American population believes in ghosts, and one in five people believes they’ve seen a ghost.

Frankenstein

Origins of Halloween Monsters Frankenstein
Image Source: Flickr
Like the Headless Horseman, Frankenstein is the invention of a specific writer - Mary Shelley. In the 19th-century novel of the same name, the monster was created by the mad scientist Victor Frankenstein. So, it’s actually more correct to say that the green hulking creature is Frankenstein’s monster. Of course, it’s possible to argue that Dr. Frankenstein was indeed the biggest monster in the book…
As for the name itself - Frankenstein - Shelly was likely inspired by the Frankenstein Castle, an eerie abandoned castle in Germany.

Mummy

Origins of Halloween Monsters Mummy
It’s a well-known fact that Ancient Egyptians preserved the bodies of the diseased through mummification - an intricate process that involved embalming the body, wrapping it in pieces of cloth, and placing it in a sarcophagus in a hidden tomb somewhere in the desert.
As the Egyptology craze swept through Europe in the 19th century, the concept of a mummy’s curse had also spread. Anyone who opened a sacred tomb would be doomed to misfortune or even death - the people had thought. And the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s burial in 1922 further fueled the panic because Lord Carnarvon, the patron of the expedition, died from blood poisoning 5 months after the tomb had been opened.
Ever since then, mummies became a common horror trope, with our old friend Bram Stoker’s 1904 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars turning the mummy into a household name.

Witch

Origins of Halloween Monsters Witch
Witches have a long-standing history in many cultures around the world. The Slavic Baba Yaga, for example, lives in a hut standing on chicken legs and flies in a giant mortar, whereas the Italian La Befana is actually a good character who flies around on her broom delivering gifts to kids, just like Santa Claus. Then, there’s also the tragic history of witchhunts in the Middle Ages that made the character part of the mass consciousness across Europe.
The modern idea of the witch is likely an amalgamation of several mythologies, so it’s difficult to pin down one source. What know with fair certainty is that the actual English word witch comes from the Old English word wicca - a male practitioner of sorcery. So, believe it or not, the first witches were actually men.
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