Halloween approaches, bringing all sorts of terrifying creatures to your door with it! While recent years have seen traditional scary costumes fall in favor of more light-hearted ones, at its core All Hallows Eve will always be about the monsters. Everyone has a favorite, be it the vicious werewolf or the scheming vampire, but where did these legendary monsters come from? These monster’s origin stories will get you caught up in Halloween history and spirit!
While vampires certainly have an old-timey vibe about them, they’re actually a relatively modern Halloween monster. The modern vampire originated from Slavic lore. Like Zombies, vampires lives begin when they rise from the dead. While popular vampire stories say those bitten by a vampire turn into one, that’s actually a relatively newer addition to their lore. In the 18th century, children born with abnormalities, like having teeth, believed to be destined to rise from the dead as vampires. Since the modern vampire myth was created during the 18th century, it has undergone countless evolutions. Some vampires can be killed by sunlight, others can’t. Some don’t cast a reflection, others do. One thing is consistent, however: Vampires love to suck human blood!
In 1931, the movie Dracula started the vampire craze in America. A 1922 German film called Nosferatu laid the blueprint for the Dracula character, and if your kids watch Spongebob Squarepants they may actually know Nosferatu from his cameo in the popular Hashslinging Slasher episode!
Pegging down the exact timing of the beginning of the werewolf myth is impossible, but Nordic and Greek traditions both contain stories of people turned wolves. Werewolves are feral beasts that transform from people under a full moon. In the Nordic Saga of the Volsungs, a father and son where pelts that give them the power to transform into wolves. Once transformed, they cannot contain their bloodlust and attack everything living in the forest. Once they run out of food, the father turned on his son, mortally wounding him.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Frenchmen Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun swore allegiance to the devil and claimed to have an ointment that turned them into wolves. They killed several children and were burned alive at the stake, because that was believed to be the only way to kill a werewolf.
Most interestingly, the idea that humans can only turn into werewolves under a full moon actually is rooted in some fact. An Australian hospital performed a study from 2008-2009 that showed 91% of violent crimes were committed under a full moon.
Zombie’s origins are much easier to track, and their story is tragic. In 17th century Haiti, the French brought slaves from Africa to work on sugar plantations. Slave treatment was horrible, and many died within the first few years. The slaves believed that death would return them to Africa where their spirits could truly be free. If they committed suicide, however, their souls would be trapped in Haiti where they would rise from the dead as the flesh eating monsters we know today.
After the Haitian revolution of 1804, the stories changes. Witch doctors were believed to create zombies as slaves for free labor. In 1932, the release of the movie White Zombie brought the undead character into American culture. The release of Dawn of the Dead four decades later made them into the mainstream characters we know today.
The Jersey Devil
The Legend of the Jersey Devil reaches back to 1735, when a resident of the Pine Barrens known as Mother Leeds found herself pregnant with a 13th child. Mother Leeds wasn’t well off. Her husband was lazy and had no interest in helping her care for their family. When she found out she was going to have a 13th child she yelled to the heavens “Let this child be a Devil!”.
When she went into labor and gave birth to the child many months later, completely forgetting about her plea, everything went smoothly. The child was a beautiful baby boy… at first. A few seconds after her handmaidens pulled the child out, it began to transform. It’s cries turned into deep growls, its face morphing. Horns grew from its head until there was no more baby and a monster in his place. The Jersey Devil murdered its mother, her handmaidens, and most of its 12 siblings. Those who lived to tell the tale saw it destroy their home and race off into the depths of the Pine Barrens.
In 1909, a slew of Jersey Devil related incidents revived the age old story. Mysterious footprints appeared during the winter, and even bloodhounds refused to follow its trail. People reported sightings of the beast in Camden, and it attacked a trolly in Haddon Heights. Sightings have slowed since then, but the beast still lives on in New Jersey lore.
Halloween history is filled with incredible stories. Each tradition and every monster came to be from different cultures and different stories… it really is one of the most exciting times of the year! Last year we wrote about the History of the Jack-o-Lantern, which you can read here.
Once Halloween passes it’s onto Christmas! We’ll have plenty going on then as usual, and you can follow all the fun on our social media pages. Until then, stay safe and have a happy Halloween!