The classic Halloween monsters: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies and witches. Go to any party on October 31st and we guarantee you that someone will be dressed like them (or at least a slutty version). But where did the myth and legends surrounding these ghoulish monsters come from?
There have been many explanations for vampires. Reasons from ignorance to premature burials can lead to mass hysteria and rumors of vampires. But the most comprehensive one traces back to pre-Christian Europe’s vampir.
In pre-industrial Slavic societies, demons played a large role in their religion. These vampirs exhibit many of the characteristic of vampires: sucking blood from humans, the ability to turn into animals, hatred towards humanity. These beliefs would eventually make their way all over the world.
Werewolves were originally used to explain serial killings; the comparison between a serial killer and a werewolf is fairly obvious: mass murder, violent, cannibalism, mutilation and cyclic attacks. Until recent modern times, wolves attacking humans were extremely common, especially in Europe. Not surprisingly, wolves, being naturally feared, were given supernatural attributes by the superstitious and ignorant.
Interestingly enough, historians have speculated that the origin of werewolves may be based on real life: that historical accounts of werewolves were simply human beings suffering from porphyria. The symptons of poryphyria include psychosis, an aversion to light and red teeth.
Ghosts are extremely common in all cultures. The mystery and fascination of death and the afterlife means there are hundreds of explanations. But the oldest form of ghosts were called “shades”, the spirit of a dead person living in the underworld. These shades trace all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey, circa 8th century BC.
Funnily, ghosts also spawned the ever popular Halloween monster of the mummy. Ancient Egypt was extremely superstitious, and there was a consensus on ghosts and the afterlife.
Zombie movies have been increasingly popular over the past few decades, but did you know they trace all the way back to 2000 BC’s Epic of Gilgamesh? But the introduction of zombies to the western public actually came from real life examples! “The Magic Island” by W. B. Seabrook chronicled the true tales of Haitian voodoo cults. West African Voudun believes that a dead person can be revived by bokors (sorcerers), completely mindless and obedient to their master.
Scientists investigating this phenomenon posit that the bokors heavily drug their targets, sapping them of their willpower. The “zombie” is then buried and reawakened, creating a psychological trauma where the victim truly believes he is a zombie.
Witchcraft has its roots in religion, culture and legend. Witch hunts are still prevalent today, in areas like the Sub-Saharan Africa. Women who use spells and magic for their own gains have always been prevalent in myths. But the first witch hunts were from ancient Egypt and Babylonia, where there were cruel punishments for sorcery.
Witch hunts would reach their peak during the early modern Europe, where an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 were needlessly killed.
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