With Halloween right around the corner, we decided to dive into the spirit of the spooky season by breaking down the origin stories of some of the most popular creatures that might be haunting your doorstep this year.
We’re willing to bet you don’t know the full backstory behind your favorite monster. After studying up, let us know which creature you identify as in the comments below!
The werewolf – a shapeshifting creature that can take the form of a human or a wolf – is deeply rooted in popular culture. When you think “werewolves,” you probably think Middle Ages. But this mythical creature actually has roots that go all the way back to Ancient Greece!
In 425 BC, a Greek historian named Herodotus described a nomadic tribe from Scythia that could transform themselves into wolves. This story – among others – helped form the early identity of the werewolf.
It’s true that werewolves didn’t gain widespread notoriety until the Middle Ages, when a panic throughout Europe prompted serious efforts to identify and kill these dangerous monsters.
In fact, there were full-on Werewolf Trials where people suspected of hiding their identity as werewolves were convicted and put to death.
Some experts argue that the idea of werewolves became so popular because they made convenient scapegoats for true human evil. By blaming a mysterious “werewolf “for horrific murders, it was possible to avoid facing the fact that humans could do such terrible things to one another.
Vampires are creatures widely popularized by the novel Dracula, published in 1897. But the history of these blood-sucking beings goes much deeper, all the way back to medieval times.
As the plague ravaged communities across Europe, superstition abounded. The plague produced bleeding lesions on victims’ skin – lesions that bore startling resemblance to the marks of a vampire.
Who was to say that vampires weren’t responsible for some of these deaths?
But suspicions were running so high that anyone with a mysterious disease risked accusations of being a vampire during this time period. One such disease that experts have identified is the blood disorder called porphyria, a condition that can cause severe blistering of the skin when exposed to sunlight. The kicker? Ingesting small amounts of blood is known to help with symptoms.
When someone suspected of being a vampire passed away, members of the community would often drive a stake through their heart to make sure this “vampire” was completely dead.
Gradually, vampire accusations fell out of style.
But that’s not the end of the story! Although there are no Draculas living in castles (that we know of) there are people who call themselves vampires. These small, private communities are said to take part in traditional “feeding” rituals where they drink real (donated) human blood.
Some claim that drinking blood regularly brings noticeable health benefits.
Most often associated with ancient Egypt (and/or Brendan Fraser), mummies are not exclusive to any one part of the world. In fact, many different cultures have practiced mummification – the process of preserving the dead in physical form.
However, is it widely recognized that the Egyptians had the best methods for preserving human remains. When pharaohs died and were mummified, their remains were placed in extravagant tombs. Many of these tombs have since been discovered by explorers.
Legend has it that disturbing a mummy’s tomb can bring about a deadly curse – a legend that was reinforced when a 1922 expedition dug up the tomb of King Tut. Not long afterward, numerous members of the expedition died of mysterious causes.
Another strange belief was that grinding up mummies into a powder could bring about health benefits. Numerous mummies were dug up and turned into medicine between the 12th and 17th centuries.
When wrapping yourself in linens, beware potential side effects!
Ghosts are perhaps the most universal of all Halloween creatures, and easily the oldest. Societies throughout human history have had a fascination with the dead. Where do they go? What happens on the “other side”? These were often questions left up to religion to answer.
The most common version of a ghost is a person who has passed away but continues to haunt the human realm – either permanently or temporarily. Often, strategies are employed to placate these undead creatures.
There is evidence that doctors in ancient Mesopotamia would cast spells to keep ghosts at bay. Ancient Egyptians believed that dead souls travelled to the afterlife, known as the Field of Reeds. However, if proper burial rites weren’t followed, the soul could return to earth in the form of a ghost to exact revenge. Both the Greeks and the Romans believed strongly in ghosts, and improper burial was a common reason.
Fast forward to today, and although many people still believe in ghosts, they are no longer universally feared in the ways they once were. In fact, some people even claim to use ghosts for pleasure.
Witches in pop culture are easily identified by their black robes, pointy hats, and brooms. But where did this character come from?
The origin story of witches is actually closely entwined with the story of world religion. Did you know the earliest known record of a witch can be found in the Bible? The book of 1 Samuel (somewhere between 931 BC and 721 BC) tells of a witch who summoned the spirit of a prophet.
The Old Testament doesn’t look kindly upon witches, in general. One of the most-cited passages on this matter is Exodus 22:18, which says, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that as witches were “discovered” across Christian Europe during the 1400s, very few of them survived to tell the tale. People associated witchcraft with the Devil, and it was to be opposed – and stamped out – wherever it was found.
It all started when witch “confessions” began popping up. These confessions often came under torture, but no matter. A witch is a witch. And the punishment for witchcraft was death.
Things only got worse for witches in the following years. Between 1500 and 1660, European societies executed as many as 80,000 people suspected of being witches – most of them women. The most famous of these trials occurred in the city of Salem in 1692.
And yet, these efforts to extinguish witches from the earth were ultimately in vain. Modern-day witches are still proudly practicing magick, and their movement has experienced a meteoric resurgence in recent years.
Whether in video games, movies, or books – Zombies remain as popular as ever. But did you know the long and fascinating history of these undead creatures stretches back to Ancient Greece? Or so experts believe; archaeologists have discovered Greek skeletons with rocks and other debris deliberately piled on top, as if to prevent the dead from reanimating and climbing out of their graves.
Reanimation also has strong Biblical roots. The Bible describes perhaps the most famous resurrection story ever told: that of Jesus Christ. After being nailed to the cross, Jesus died and was placed in a tomb. But three days later, he rose once again and spoke to his disciples before ascending to heaven.
Unlike some of the other monsters on this list, the existence of zombies has actually been confirmed by scientists. Although rare, at least three cases of the dead coming back to life have been verified by medical journals. It’s unclear how exactly it happened, but scientists suspect a form of paralysis led people to appear dead, only to rise from the grave after burial.
Well, there you have it! Did anything on this list surprise you? If you had to pick one to dress up as, which creature would be your choice?
Witches because I am one and I practice the craft everyday I am a pagan High Priestess ordained minister and 100% witch
I’m thinking of dressing up as God. No one will see me, and I won’t turn up for anything, which means that because I will be invisible no one will know I’m not really participating in Halloween, but people will believe I’m really there, participating, but in reality I will be resting with a glass of red wine in my own holy grail at home, with my feet up. Would that make me a Holy Ghost 👻?
Have fun everyone. 🧛♂️
Thanks, Holy Ghost. I sat in a comfortable armchair, and meditated in the dark, while staring at the flame of a lot votive candle, and listening to a beautiful sounding, by far mostly instrumental CD from Llewellyn called Ghosts.
That sounds absolutely wonderful. I was with you in spirit 👻 Carl.
Omg, did I really say that? 🤭
Poor witches; imagine we live in a small European town in the XIV Century, surrounded by our strong wall and outside, by the Valley, this scientific-minded lady lives and studies the properties of plants and knows how to cure some diseases. People will arrive after dark, afraid of the priest and the local charlatan /doctor. One day a house burns or a baby dies of diphtheria and people, ignorant as they are, follow the priest on his quest to remove evil and there they go to kill the Witch.
XXIst Century and people still fear what they don’t understand. Priests abuse their children and it’s kind of ok and if politicians lie and steal boys will be boys but the moment a scientist brings something new the crowd starts yelling that we are playing to be God. We are ignorant, superstitious and stupid and frankly it is surprising that Humans have managed to survive for so long. People are the real monsters, full of violence and prejudices. Happy 🎃 everyone!
Of course a witch. I walk that path and am also a Pagan. I follow the ancient craft. As of yet I haven't worn a pointy hat.
Witches, for sure. They’re sexier than mummies or zombies. More dangerous, because they’re real, or think they are. I’ve known a few.
I think therefor I am.
Side note Matthew: my maternal grandmother's family name is Mastroianni, which I think is a variant of your family name. I've traced it back to a Maestro Giovanni di Agnone (in Abruzzi) in 1542. He was a goldsmith working for the Count whose seat is the town known as Castel di Sasso (in Campania).
Did you "think" to not put a silent e at the end of the word "therefore", Matthew?
Why isn't God on the list?
I wish I’d thought of that. Of course, His Infinite Monstrosity is well-known to all.
I don't think the ULC would compare God with that hideous Christian version, Douglas.
It all depends on what your definition of God is. Mine is a mythical being.
Its a holiday for kids for crying out loud....stop nitpicking every darn thing.
Halloween may be a holiday for kids, but Sammhain (pronounced sow'n in Wicca), is a Pagan and Wiccan Sabbat which just happens to be on the same day. Halloween and trick or treating was started by irreverent christians, trying to distort more stuff that came from Pagans.
makes no difference carl, its a holiday set aside for children. Just like they have a holiday set aside for Mothers, and one for fathers, and one for Veterans.
Halloween and Christmas are set aside for the family, same as thanksgiving. So stop nitpicking everything
I haven't been trick or treating since around 2004. I was only 41 then, but still a kid at heart. A group of friends and I got together, and went to the rich neighborhoods. We really got a lot of candy that night! Only one man asked my age, and I told him I was seventeen. Nobody could tell with that monster mask I was wearing, but I have a very deep voice. If I do it again I'll wear an old man costume, since my doctor told me to go back to walking with a cane. At 58 I'm still quite a kid in some ways, even when singing base baritone.
If you are going trick or treating on Halloween you should be ashamed of yourself. This is for the kiddies, not for adults.
Yeah, but I'm in tune with my inner child, and my inner child is a juvenile delinquent.
Us baldies to have our hat collections, but so far none of mine have been pointed iether, Barbara. Us Witches are very good people, and aren't deserving of being catagorized with monsters. I'm not going to waste my breath on this day, the Sabbat. I need to maintain good vibes. I only logged on to wish everyone a happy Samhain, especially my Pagan and Wiccan brothers and sisters. Blessed be!
And by the way, my favorite monster was Mick St.John, the good guy vampire private I need vestigator of the Moonlight series, until he transformed into Steve Mc Garrett of the newer Hawaii Five O series, which is now my favorite. I have all sixteen episodes of Moonlight on DVDs, and so far the first five seasons of the (2010) Hawaii Five O. I didn't even start watching that show until this year. I've got more than a thousand DVDs and internet, so why pay for cable?