The Origins of 10 Ghosts, Monsters, and Creepy Things

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Fall is the creepiest time of year, and that’s a good thing! The leaves are changing colors, spooky Halloween decorations are everywhere, and you know you’re already getting your scariest costume ready for October 31.

In the spirit of the season, here are the interesting origins behind 10 monsters, ghosts, and spooky things.

1. Jack-o’-lanterns

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What’s Halloween without jack-o’-lanterns? The answer: no fun at all. The ubiquitous decoration is named after an Irish myth wherein a character called Stingy Jack is doomed to walk the Earth, unable to get into Heaven or Hell, because he tricked the Devil.

Jack used a lantern made out of a carved-up turnip to light his endless wandering way. Irish immigrants changed the candle holder to a pumpkin after they made their way to their new country, America.

2. Crystal balls

Crystal balls may have been described as early as the 1st century by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. The Roman author describes magic performed with all kinds of tools, including water and balls. Pliny also discussed “scrying”, a procedure that Druids used to gain insight by staring into water, crystals, and mirrors.

3. Friday the 13th

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There’s actually a word that describes a fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. Some believe that the superstition around Friday the 13th stems from the Last Supper because 12 disciples joined Jesus and he was crucified on a Friday. Others argue that the fear of the date comes from the early 20th-century when author Thomas Lawson wrote a book called Friday the Thirteenth.

4. Vampires

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Vampires saturate our pop culture landscape, from books to movies to TV to comic books. These creatures became part of the popular lexicon through books such as The Vampyre John Polidori by in 1819 and Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897.

5. The Kraken

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The Kraken is a mythical sea creature in Nordic folklore that was rumored to be able to swallow entire ships. Some believe that the creature has its origins with sailors’ encounters with giant squid.

6. Boo!

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Bet you’ve never thought about the origins of this word, have you? The word is found in a book from 1738 called Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Display’d by author Gilbert Crokatt and described as “a word that’s used in the north of Scotland to frighten crying children.” Boo!

7. Poltergeist

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This German word means “noisy spirit.” The first claim of a poltergeist may date all the way back to 94 A.D. to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus when he reported on an exorcism. The “unclean spirit” turned over a bowl of water after being exorcised from the unfortunate individual.

8. Banshee

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Another Irish creation (always mythologizing, aren’t they?), also known as a “fairy woman”, banshees foretell the death of a family by wailing and screaming…like a banshee. Get it?

9. Bloody Mary

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How many times did you turn off the lights and chant “Bloody Mary” into a mirror with your friends on a dark, scary night? This ritual may be named after Queen Mary I, who put many Protestants to death and thus earned the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Try it again this Halloween and see if she shows up!

10. Trick or treating

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Trick or treating began in the Middle Ages in Europe when children and poor adults would dress up in costumes (then called “guising”) and beg for food in exchange for songs and prayers.

Guising morphed into trick or treating in North America, and the first recorded instance of the term is from Alberta, Canada in 1927.