Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when it was believed the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead become blurred. It has since evolved into a holiday when spooky legends, myths and folklore take center stage.
Through costumes, stories and celebrations during the Halloween season, mythical beings, from witches to zombies to werewolves all come to life. And each of the season's creepy beings carries its own dark history.
Images of witches have appeared in various forms throughout history, from evil, wart-nosed women huddling over a cauldron of boiling liquid to hag-faced, cackling beings riding through the sky on brooms wearing pointy hats. But the real history of witches is dark and dates back to as far as about 900 B.C.
Vampires are evil, mythological beings that roam the night in search of victims to suck their blood. Often associated with Count Dracula, the legendary subject of Bram Stoker’s epic 1897 novel, Dracula, the history of vampires began long before Stoker was born. Vampires harken back to Ancient Greek mythology and embody a superstition that thrived during the Middle Ages.
Werewolves are, according to some legends, people who morph into vicious, powerful wolves. Others are a mutant combination of human and wolf. All are bloodthirsty beasts. Descriptions of werewolves date back as early as Greek mythology and early Nordic folklore.
The zombie, often portrayed as an undead, flesh-eating, decaying corpse, has seen a popularity surge in recent years thanks to music videos and TV shows. Unlike many other monsters—which are mostly a product of superstition and fear—zombies have a basis in fact. Several credible reports in medical journals describe people using certain compounds to first induce paralysis in people, and then revive them. In Haitian voodoo culture, folklore featuring undead beings has been around for centuries.
A mummy is a person or animal, whose body has been dried or otherwise preserved after death. When people think of a mummy, they often think of Ancient Egyptians, who have been making mummies as early as 3700 B.C. Mummies may not literally rise from their ancient tombs and attack with their arms outstretched—like the Hollywood-era versions. But they’re quite real and have a fascinating history.
As in many cultures, tales of spooky visitors from the grave abound throughout American history. Some anecdotes relate the sightings of dead shipmen, another famous tale involves the portrait of a forgotten beauty. And many of the enduring ghost stories describe famous men and women who have passed through the White House.
The Devil, also referred to as Satan, is known as the nemesis of good people everywhere. Although the Devil is present in some form in many religions, and can be compared to some mythological gods, he’s arguably best known for his role in Christianity. His image and story have evolved over the years, but this malevolent being and his legion of demons continue to strike fear in people as the antithesis of all things good.
Clowns are tricksters and represent one of the oldest and most pervasive archetypes in the world. They can be both funny and scary, cheerful or creepy, and they often make it difficult for others to tell whether they're lying. In the 1970s and early ‘80s, the American image of the clown shifted toward something more sinister with the media coverage of John Wayne Gacy, a serial murderer who had occasionally dressed as “Pogo the Clown.”
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