In every country, there’s always a fair share of spooky stories that get us looking behind our backs once or twice. No matter how bizarre or out-of-this-world these Halloween stories may seem, we always find ourselves fascinated and drawn to them like moths to a flame. Get ready because this time, there’s something more ominous than sleep deprivation or nappies waiting for you. Lock your doors, make sure you’re not alone and don’t let your feet hang from your bed as we tackle The 12 Best Halloween folk tales from around the world!
Halloween’s Hair-Raising History
Halloween, as we know it, is one of the most celebrated events around the world. Kids (and kids-at-heart) in costumes walk around at night trick-or-treating, filling the streets in groups or alone with their guardians. It remains one of the most profitable holidays of the year to this day. In fact, even during a pandemic, the planned total spending for Halloween 2020 is $8.05B! However, behind all the pumpkin carvings and the creepy bonfire stories, how did All Hallow’s Eve begin?
It all started with the Celtics. Each year, as the seasons start to change and summer turns to winter, the Celts celebrated a Gaelic festival called the festival of Samhain on November 1st. The Celts, who live in an area now called Ireland, used to associate winter with human death. They used to believe that by summer’s end, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead thins and ghosts from the other side return. But where did the term “Halloween” come from?
Halloween is derived from “All Hallow’s Eve,” a day set to pay homage to all the saints. Dated originally on May 13, Pope Boniface IV decided to move the date to November 1st to expand its celebration and include all the martyrs. What used to celebrate the return of the dead has now become a celebration less scary and a source of entertainment and activity for everyone! But that doesn’t stop phobophiles from making it another day to share horror stories and urban legends with one another.
Halloween Legends and Lore That Will Keep You Awake at Night
It’s not part of human nature to seek discomfort. But when it comes to haunted houses or horror stories, despite being extremely and frighteningly uncomfortable, most find themselves wanting more. Hence, we gathered some folk tales around the world and listed these 12 scary stories to tell in the dark, especially during a campfire. But be warned. They are not for the faint of heart. So if you still want to get yourself a good night’s sleep, we’d advise you against it. Otherwise, don’t blink and don’t look behind you.
1. Kuchisake-Onna (Japan)
As you pass a dark alley, a masked woman suddenly approaches you. “Do I look pretty?,” she asks. Being the polite person that you are, you say she is. However, she doesn’t go away. Instead, she pesters you even more. “Even like this?” You start to get annoyed. But the moment she takes her mask off, she reveals a mouth slit from ear to ear. Should you say ‘yes’? Or ‘no’?
The Kuchisake-Onna, which literally means the “Slit-Mouthed Woman,” is an evil ghost from Japan said to cover her mouth with a mask or anything it carries. According to Yokai Wiki, kids or toddlers who are still out at night usually see the slit-mouthed woman walking down the streets wearing a mask. They’re the vengeful souls of women who were abused or tortured when they were still alive. When you answer her question with a ‘yes,’ she will slit your mouth just like hers. If you say ‘no,’ she’ll kill you. Either way, it’s a no-win situation. Sounds tough, doesn’t it? So what should you do when you have a fateful encounter with such an annoying ghost?
Give it vague answers! Answers like “So-so,” or “Average” can confuse it, giving you time to escape. There’s an even easier way to escape when you do meet it. As crazy as it sounds, when you tell a Kuchisake-Onna that you have a previous engagement, it will pardon itself for its rude manners and walk away. Now, isn’t that way easier than escaping a difficult ex?
2. La Llorona (Mexico)
Hers is one of the spookiest tales that have continued to scare the wits out of everyone! Thousands—if not millions—found themselves gripping at the edge of their seats as the movie “The Curse of La Llorona” hit the big screen in 2019. La Llorona translates to “The Weeping Woman.” But who is La Llorona?
Vanity Fair shares the story behind La Llorona. There was once a woman named Maria who was married to a rich man. With him, she bore two sons. However, their marriage began to pale and the husband paid less attention to Maria. Soon, she discovered that he was cheating on her with another woman. Maria, unfortunately, didn’t take it lightly and ended up drowning her children. But soon she regretted it and was said to have killed herself afterwards. However, because of her sins, she was sent back to purgatory where she forever dwells to look for her dead children. She is said to be seen hovering above bodies of water.
Others say she attacks children. Some say she attacks unfaithful husbands. Unfortunately for La Llorona victims, escaping her is nothing like escaping the Kuchisake-Onna. Once you spot her or hear the bloodcurdling sound of a weeping woman from out of nowhere, there’s no other choice but to run!
3. Skhondokatas (India)
Let’s go to the culturally rich, Eastern part of the world where the world-famous curry came from and Mahatma Gandhi was born: India. India is known for Hinduism and spicy food. But aside from its spirituality, it also has its fair share of horror stories and scary folk tale creatures, one of which is the skondhokatas.
Skondhokatas are ghosts of people who died of beheading, whether it be by train or other methods. They wander around, asking people to look for its head. It sometimes uses hypnotism to let people do its bidding.
4. Baba Yaga (Russia)
In the movie John Wick, Keanu Reeves was dubbed as the “Baba Yaga” by the Russian gangsters. He was a force to be reckoned with and was feared, even among criminals. However, the real Baba Yaga is far more sinister and may even cause the tough, no-nonsense John Wick to wet his pants.
According to Russiapedia, Baba Yaga is a group of three witches in the Slavic folklore who live inside a hut that rests on giant chicken legs topped with human skulls. The name Baba Yaga means baba “old woman” and yaga which could either mean “Hedwig” or “to find a fault.” Others say she is an old spinster living in the forest. Some say she is a demon’s evil grandmother. Just like any old witch in fairy tales, the Baba Yaga (which could refer to one or all of the witches) has a huge, distorted nose and long teeth. But despite of the lack in appearance, she holds the secret to immortality; the fountain of youth. It’s said she preys on little kids, stewing them in big, boiling pots. But that doesn’t mean she will hesitate feasting on a poor full-grown human being who happens to go astray her path.
However, unlike the other creatures in this list, the verdict’s still out on whether or not she is an antagonist. Though children are a part of her diet, she may, sometimes, generously offer her guidance and wisdom (as long as you ask nicely).
5. The Girl on The Middle Creek Bridge (Australia)
This ghostly apparition will leave you claustrophobic, never wanting to drive cars alone again. Australia is known to be a secular country, not much of a fan of Halloween, or other non-secular holidays. Nonetheless, these celebrations are still welcome. However, urban legends still creep their way into Australia’s history. One of them is the well-known girl on the Middle Creek Bridge in Wakehurst Parkway.
According to the Daily Telegraph, upon passing the bridge, you can see a girl resembling a nun wearing a white gown and headdress sitting down. As you slowly approach it, it will make eye contact with its green, angry eyes. When you pass by, it soon disappears, only to reappear at the back seat of your car. Now, who does she think she is, hitching a ride like that without permission? How rude!
6. The Headless Horseman (United States)
As you head into the dark, you hear the sound of a horse’s hooves galloping towards you. Trying to peer into the darkness, you see a figure of what seems to be a man on horseback, holding a ball in its hand. You try to squint your eyes to figure out what it truly is. But before you can even process what’s happening, you see what’s left of your headless body in its path as a headless horseman firmly holds your head with its hand. And no, it wasn’t holding a ball, but its own head.
The story of the Headless Horseman is well-known among those who have seen the movie Sleepy Hollow. Some say it was one of America’s oldest ghost stories created by author Washington Irving. However, History.com says it’s actually a Frankenstein of stories stitched together, ranging from the Brothers Grimm to the Irish legend the “Dullahan.”
Although it is unclear what led to the creation of the Headless Horseman, the New York Historical Society suggests this may be inspired by a real hessian soldier during the Battle of White Plains who was decapitated by a flying cannonball around Halloween in 1776. Talk about gruesome!
7. Jiangshi (China)
When we think of vampires, what comes to mind are big, human-like, flying monsters of Slavic origin, including the notorious Count Dracula. However, the Chinese also have their own original version of vampire called Jiangshi which literally translates to “Stiff Body,” given that it’s already stiff due to rigor mortis.
Unlike western vampires, Jiangshi cannot be defeated by garlic, holy water, or silver bullets. However, their weakness may not be as elusive as these three. TV Tropes says according to myth, you can defeat a Jiangshi by sucking out its last dying breath (if you even have the courage to get near one), where it’ll just go back to being a real corpse. Their typical weaknesses include the blood of a black dog, a wooden sword made from a peach tree, a hen’s egg, and the urine of a virgin boy. But if you happen to have some glutinous rice in your bag, throwing it on the ground prompts a Jiangshi to start counting the grains of rice, giving you a chance to escape. So if you happen to hear stories of a hopping zombie in your area, immediately grab your child and put him/her in the car seat, drop by your nearest grocery store, and secure yourself a bag of rice.
8. O Corpo Seco (Brazil)
The story of O Corpo Seco (Dry Body) is one of the most underrated horror stories, yet one with a very gruesome and evil backstory.
It all started with Miguel Antonio, a farmer who struck gold in the town of El Dorado. There, he bought a farm, made a family, and became the richest farmer in town. But Miguel Antonio was not a man known for his kindness. He was known to plot against both enemies and friends. Driven by greed, he went to live alone with slaves and servants. Anyone who’s suspected of anything by Miguel is killed. If the slaves are too old to work, he will use them to carry the gold, make them dig a hole, and then bury them along with it. His evil knows no bounds, even going as far as saying that while God is made for creation, he was made for killing. As time went by, he had already killed more than 300 slaves. But one day, Miguel Antonio suddenly died of a mysterious disease that burned his body. And yet, on the day of his funeral, his body cannot be found anywhere. It was rumored that the slaves took his body and performed a ritual so he can go to neither heaven nor hell.
That’s when Miguel was resurrected, only this time, as an undead monster no longer resembling a human, but that of a zombie with its body burnt beyond recognition. He continues to slay, destroying trees and taking people’s life force in an attempt to restore his body. To this day, he still wanders the earth, wreaking havoc and spreading his evil deeds.
9. El Cuco (Spain)
The monster hiding under your bed? It’s probably real. Some call him the Boogeyman. The Spanish call him “El Cuco.” It’s a terrifying monster that preys on little children. What makes it even more terrifying is that you wouldn’t really know what it originally looks like as it continuously shapeshifts. It originally used to be a guardian angel. But according to Den of Geek, around the 16th century when Spanish conquistadors brought El Cuco to Mexico, that’s when it started to become a malevolent spirit.
10. Mul Gwishin (South Korea)
The thought that somewhere down below, something is just beneath you, just waiting for you to make that one kick, one swim, to grab you by your toes and drag you to the depths of the water is terrifying for any swimmer, avid or not, whether it’s by natural or supernatural forces. That’s what makes water ghosts so spooky!
The Mul Gwishin, which literally translates to Water Ghost, is an urban legend that hails from South Korea. They’re usually recognised by their pale skin and constantly wet clothes. The Mul Gwishin originates from Jeju Island, an island that can be found in South Korea where its primary source of livelihood is fishing. According to Phoebe Taylor from The Culture Trip, the Mul Gwishin appears wherever there is water—even in the bathtub where you could be peacefully taking a bath!
11. Manananggal (Philippines)
If the Jiangshi is a hopping vampire, the Manananggal is pretty much like the western vampire in which it flies—except it splits its body in half! The word Manananggal comes from the Tagalog word “tanggal” which means to remove or sever. The Mananaggal as a human-like creature that transforms during the night, sprouts bat-like wings, and splits its body in half in search of victims. Its favourite diet consists of fetuses or the occasional unwitting human, sucking out its blood as it sleeps soundly using its long, proboscis-like tongue to do the deed.
However, the Manananggal isn’t completely invincible. All you need to do is look for its torso while it’s out hunting at night and sprinkle its exposed insides with crushed garlic, ash, or salt, prompting it to avoid returning to its body lest it dies. And as soon as the first light touches its bodies, it immediately turns to ash, completely killing the mutilated vampire.
12. Bloody Mary
There’s not one person one earth who doesn’t know of the notorious Bloody Mary. Any brave soul who tried to best the Bloody Mary has at least tried to chant the words “Bloody Mary” 13 times in front of a darkened mirror. Adult or not, we’re pretty sure no one has gone past the 12th chant before. But what happens after you get to the 13th chant? We’ll leave you to your imagination.
We read horror stories for a number of reasons. Whether these stories give us an adrenaline rush and the feeling of being alive, or serve as a reminder that there really must be an after-life, if such evils really do exist, then perhaps the same could also be said of the opposite. So as you tuck your kids to bed, check every corner of their room just to be safe: inside their closet, under the bed, and under the blanket. Or better yet, check if that kid that your tucking is really yours. Happy Halloween!