Region of origin: Scandinavian counties
An evil spirit that plants itself on a sleeping person’s chest, feeding off their life-force while “riding” them, causing bad dreams and anxiety along with the sensation of being pinned down. Signs of a mara attack in the night include waking still feeling weary and drained, and tangled hair known as martovor or mare-locks. Mara may also attack livestock and other animals, especially horses, and even trees with particularly tangled branches are said to be victims of the mara. There was some belief that mara were distinct creatures or demons, but other origins labeled them as humans with familial ties to curses or witchcraft, whose spirits would leave their bodies at night. While traveling in this way, mara could take the form of fog, sand or will-o’-wisps that allowed them enter through impossibly small cracks and sneak into their victims’ homes. Mara are primarily female; it was thought a pregnant woman who practiced svartkonst, a form of witchcraft used to ease labor pains, would result in the children being born as mara if female or a werewolf, or varulv, if male. Rarely some male children would be born as mara or possess features of both, known as a marulv.
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Region of origin: Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe
A fish-headed, snake-bodied river god of the Tonga people believed to live in the Kariba Gorge in the Zambezi valley, protected by whirlpools and functioning as a protector and a god of the underworld. In more modern times, Nyami Nyami’s presence was made known when outside contractors began construction of the Kariba dam in the late 1940s and 50s which required the relocation of the local Tonga. They acquiesced, believing Nyami Nyami would come to their aid and sure enough misfortune beset the project, construction stymied by years of previously-unseen levels of storms and flooding assailing the region. The dam was eventually completed in 1960, but greatly delayed and costing as many as eighty laborers their lives before it was done. It was believed the dam separated Nyami Nyami from his wife, and to this day, the relocated Tonga believe tremors in earth felt in the region are the great serpent trying to finally break the wall and reunite himself with his loved one.
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The Ratman of Southend
Region of origin: Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England
The sound of nails scraping along the walls of an underpass in Southend may be a sign the Ratman is near. The urban legend tells of a homeless man who retreated to the underpass for the night, only to be accosted by a group of drunken teens who beat him and left him to a slow and painful death, still calling for help as a hungry pack of rats descended upon him and ate his face. His spirit remained to haunt the underpasses, access-ways and sewers, assuming a grotesque, rat-like form and attacking any who enter his domain. An alternate version of the tale tells of a previous mayor of Southend having an affair resulting in a child, and as a cosmic punishment for his infidelity the son was born with the appearance of a half-man, half-rat monster, who was then abandoned to the sewers and grew up into a dangerous feral man-beast.
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Werewolves of Ossory
Region of origin: Ossory, Ireland
Thought to be descendants of Clan Allta who were cursed by St. Natalis for blasphemy, the people of medieval Ossory were believed to be faoladh, creatures capable of turning from humans into wolves or, in some variations, sending their spirit out of their human form and taking possession of a wolf. Some said they could change at will, other stories told there were two Ossorians at any given point who were uncontrollably compelled to change and stayed as wolves for seven years before returning to their human forms and two more took their place. Ossorian wolf-men would kill cattle and otherwise behave as wolves when left to their own devices, but were capable of human speech and reasoning and were utilized by the king as fierce warriors in his army, giving them reputations as protectors and guardians more akin to Scotland’s benevolent wulvers than continental Europe’s more dangerous werewolf variations.
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Region of origin: China
The pixiu is a hybrid creature renowned for its ferocity and capability of flying between the earth and the heavens. It was used to ward off evil spirits and disease and is primarily associated with hoarding and protecting wealth. It has various origins, but the elements they all seem to share is that after some transgression the beast (sometimes formerly a person) is cursed to eat only gold, silver and jewels and then has its anus sealed up to prevent it from expelling anything it consumes, allowing the wealth to accumulate. Depictions of the pixiu are often used in architecture and feng shui to help bring wealth and safety to a household, and are usually kept in pairs known as Tiān lù (the male, shown with one antler) and Bìxié (a female with two antlers).
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Region of origin: Japan
Unlike many yokai who are wholly spirits or manifestations, the rokurokubi is a cursed human, most often a woman, who received their affliction as an illness or a punishment (for either their own deeds or in some stories those of a male relative’s). By day the rokurokubi would appear as a normal woman, but at night as the human body slept, the head would roam away on its own, the neck stretching out behind it. The head in this state would consume oil from hanging lamps, attack rodents and other small animals like a cat or, like many yokai, simply delight in scaring any humans who happened to be around. In some versions it’s said the soul is also seen leaving the body, and the “neck” is effectively an ectoplasmic tether. It is assumed the origins for the rokurokubi are tied to interpretations of the manananggal and other similar South Asian vampiric creatures whose head or upper body detach from their otherwise human bodies and take flight at night.
Originally posted on Tumblr on December 1, 2016
Region of origin: Malta
A figure formed of grey slime, the Kaw Kaw or Gawgaw will roam the streets of Malta at night, tracking people who misbehaved by the smell of their guilt then using his viscous form will squeeze into their homes through cracks or open spaces. Once inside, he will meet his victims with a wide, toothless grin and proceed to frighten or torment them through the night or kidnap them away to an unknown land. Kaw Kaw is supposedly most active during the winter months, and in some versions he is actually a human unlucky enough to be born on the night of December 24, cursed by God for sharing a birthday with such a holy time to take on this form between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, meting out punishments throughout the night then awakening human once more but covered in bruises. Alternatively, there are older tales of another creature called Kaw Kaw who was a giant who was large enough cross the island of Malta in two steps.
Originally posted on Tumblr on October 17, 2016