Urban legends are often an important part of folklore in any given culture. Almost everyone in the world can recall an urban legend they have heard, whether it be from their own culture or another. Urban legends typically have some sort of supernatural, eerie, or otherworldly element to them, and they tend to stick with us for a long time because of the strong emotions they provoke. Here, we will explore the origins of a number of urban legends from all across the globe.
Bigfoot is a creature named for the large footprints it often leaves behind. Commonly associated with the forests and mountains of North America, Bigfoot is usually described as being taller than the average human, covered in dark hair. People who have seen this creature observe that it looks somewhat similar to a human or an ape.
The legend of Bigfoot formally began when a group of loggers in Northern California wrote a letter to a newspaper in 1958. This letter detailed a number of large footprints around the site the loggers were working at. While the newspaper first published this letter as a joke, it piqued the readers’ curiosity. Consequently, people kept talking about Bigfoot and loggers would often blame logging accidents on the creature. Because of the growing hype surrounding Bigfoot, a TV show offered $1000 to any person that could provide proof that the creature actually existed. While the TV program failed to procure any solid evidence, the popularity of Bigfoot continued to grow. This creature inspired a number of novels and comics, documentaries starting in the 1970’s, and continuing today.
Long before the letter written by the loggers in 1958, the Bigfoot was informally part of Native American folklore. Some Native American Petroglyphs supposedly depict a large, hairy man, which many speculate is a representation of Bigfoot. When these petroglyphs are combined with stories shared by Native American tribes in North America, we can assume the legend of Bigfoot started several decades or even centuries before the 1958 letter.
Umm Al Duwais
Umm Al Duwais of the United Arab Emirates is described as a very beautiful woman. She is said to have long black hair, wears golden clothing and jewelry, and has a strong scent of perfume. This woman is a seductive djinn who attempts to lure men towards it with its beauty and voice. However, once a man is lured in, Umm Al Duwais reveals its true nature. The Umm Al Duwais, in reality, is a monster with donkey legs, cat-like eyes, and hands shaped like sickles. Once men are close enough to see the reality of Umm Al Duwais, it is too late and they are eaten.
Legend says that Umm Al Duwais was born by a mother desperate for a baby girl. In her desperation, she drank a potion that a witch gave her and nine months later gave birth to a baby girl. Though the family was overjoyed at the birth of a girl, they were wary as the child was born with a full set of teeth. Shortly after the baby was born, the family noticed that their food kept disappearing during the night, no matter how much they restocked. As their baby girl grew, they discovered it was her who ate everything in the house each night. Soon enough, the child’s appetite grew too big, and she wound up devouring her entire family. This child grew into a woman, and ever since then, roams the streets at night to devour men.
Krampus is essentially the antithesis of Santa Claus. Originating in Germany and Austria, legend says that Krampus is a large figure covered in dark hair. He has horns atop his head, hooves for feet, fangs, and a long, pointed tongue. Krampus, being a frightful figure, punishes children for misbehaving and occasionally even carries them off to Hell in a sack.
The legend of Krampus has origins in pagan tradition, particularly the winter solstice celebration. Later, he was adopted into the Christian tradition and was said to help St. Nicholas by scaring children who misbehaved. Legend says that St. Nicholas and Krampus visit children on December fifth, where children who behave will receive fruit and gifts from St. Nick. On the other hand, Krampus would beat misbehaving children with a stick. More recently, Krampus has gained popularity in popular culture movies and stories. In Germany, Krampus is still very much celebrated with the Krampuslauf, an event where people dress up as the creature and walk or run the streets.
The Night Marchers of Hawaii are the deadly spirits of ancient warriors. These ghosts, typically on the way to or from battle, typically move to the beat of war drums. The blowing of a conch shell can be heard along with the drums, as well as deep chants from the warriors. The warriors themselves are usually dressed in helmets and cloaks, have raised torches, and carry weapons like spears and clubs. A strong, death-like odor lingers wherever they have marched.
Legend says that the Night Marchers come from either burial sights or the ocean, and march over battle sights and sacred places. The Night Marchers float off of the ground, and are not deterred by any kind of barrier, including walls and doors. According to legend, however, planting Hawaiian Ti leaves around your house can ward them off and protect you and your family from the Marchers.
When these Hawaiian warriors were alive, they had the duty of protecting high ranking chiefs. According to Hawaiian tradition, high ranking chiefs were thought to be divine, and any mortal caught looking at them had to be killed immediately. Thus, many of the chiefs marched with their warriors at night to avoid this bloodshed.
In modern times, The Night Marchers continue to march at night, perhaps in order to reclaim their rightful territory, avenge their death, replay battles, or in search of an entrance into the next life. The Night Marchers typically come out on nights that honor the Hawaiian Gods. Some of these nights, the Hawaiian Gods supposedly march with them, which causes their torches to burn brighter than usual.
Legend says that whistling at night can summon the Night Marchers. When the Night Marchers are out, any person who looks at them will die a violent death. Descendents of the marchers, however, will not be harmed. For others who encounter the Night Marchers, the only possibility of being spared is by stripping off their clothing, lying motionless on the ground, playing dead.
According to legend, the Bunyip resides in swamps, creeks, riverbeds, and other wet areas. The Bunyip is a water spirit that has been described as a creature with a long neck, small head, and a dark and shaggy coat of fur. The creature usually ranges anywhere from five to fifteen feet long, and swims with either flippers or fins. The Bunyip is said to be commonly mistaken for dogs or seals. This creature, however, has a loud roar and only comes out at night. Bunyips remain stealthy by laying their eggs in platypus nests. Eating primarily crayfish, the Bunyip will also eat humans when they cross paths.
The Bunyip, which translates to mean “devil” or “evil spirit”, originates in Australian Aboriginal lore. Soon after Europeans started settling in Australia in the 19th century, they started reporting sightings of the Bunyip. The word first appeared in the Sydney Gazette in 1812, in an article describing the features of the terrifying creature. Large fossils were also found in lakes and caves in the early 1800’s, which were identified as a Bunyip by an aboriginal. Allegedly, there was also a Bunyip skull on display at the Australian Museum for several days as well. In 1851, The Australian newspaper reported on an aboriginal outline image of the Bunyip, where the people had supposedly killed a Bunyip and traced its outline over and over.
In Native American lore, a Skinwalker is a shapeshifter that inhabits North America. While they can be either male or female, the majority of skinwalkers are male. Skinwalkers can appear in both human and animal form, making them hard to identify. They often appear as animals of prey, such as coyotes, wolves, foxes, cougars, bears, and dogs, though they can potentially shift into any animal they please. These shapeshifters often wear the skins of the animal they turn into, hence the name ‘skinwalker’. The key to identifying a skinwalker lies in the appearance of the eyes. If an animal has human-like eyes, or a human has animal-like eyes, they are likely a Skinwalker. Along with the ability to shapeshift, Skinwalkers can also make the sound of any human or animal. Skinwalkers also have the superhuman ability to jump high cliffs and run faster than even a car.
Some Native American tribes have healers known as medicine men or medicine women. These healers are good and honorable figures in society who gain sacred knowledge in order to help their fellow tribesmen. This knowledge is tempting, however, and can be abused. When a medicine man is tempted by evil magic and performs something taboo, he turns into a Skinwalker. Once a medicine man becomes a Skinwalker, they are able to shift from human form to animal form. Legend says that Skinwalkers can even possess other humans by locking eyes with them. Where medicine men seek to help and heal, skinwalkers seek to cause harm or misfortune.
Talking about Skinwalkers is said to call out to them and cause them to hunt you down. When faced with a Skinwalker, it is possible to kill it with a bullet, spear, or knife that has been dipped in white ash. If the attempt is unsuccessful, however, the Skinwalker will come back with a vengeance. Reports by those who have encountered Skinwalkers state that the shapeshifters will make noises around the outside of the house like knocking on windows, scraping the roof, and banging on walls in an attempt to lure the occupants out. Some accounts even involve skinwalkers appearing in front of cars in order to cause an accident.
Pinky Pinky is an entity in South African lore that terrorizes girls’ bathrooms in school. Pinky Pinky’s name can be attributed to her pale pink skin and pink hair. One of her hands is a paw, while the other is a claw. She is an evil spirit who hurts and kidnaps young girls who wear pink.
The legend of Pinky Pinky started decades ago when girls went missing from the bathrooms at school. Soon after the disappearances, sightings of Pinky Pinky began circulating, and she was soon dubbed as the perpetrator. According to legend, Pinky Pinky introduces herself by singing a song and demanding everything the girls had that was pink. If the girls did not comply, they were either harmed or taken. Though only girls could see the monster, boys could still be scratched or pinched by Pinky Pinky if they were nearby. In modern times, school children still claim that footsteps can be heard in the hallway near the girls’ bathrooms.
Lechuza is a shape-shifting witch who lives in Mexico. While this witch looks like a normal woman during the day, at night she shifts into a large bird. This bird, which is big enough to carry a grown adult, has a woman’s face and hair. Legend says that the Lechuza hunts people at night, and can disguise her voice in order to help capture prey.
Legend says that the woman who became the Lechuza was a witch in her village. The village members killed her out of fear, and she came back in order to terrorize them and seek revenge. Every night, the Lechuza flies around or perches up high, looking for her next meal. The Lechuza, being a witch, can control the weather and cause storms when advantageous for her. Reportedly, the Lechuza will also whistle, screech, or cry in a baby’s voice outside of your house in an attempt to lure you out so she can carry you away. Likewise, she can run you off the road to hunt you.
Whistling three times at midnight is an invitation for the Lechuza. She is also drawn to powerful negative emotions. When faced with the Lechuza, you can drive her away with salt, or by screaming and cursing at her. Tying seven knots in a rope and hanging it on your door can also ward off the Lechuza, because it is seen as a sign of acknowledgment and respect for her. If a person confronts the Lechuza and she doesn’t try to hunt you, it is a warning for something bad to come. Likewise, dreaming of the Lechuza means that something bad will happen, specifically to a family member.
Mongolian Death Worm
The Mongolian Death Worm is a large, fat worm that lives in the most deserted and desolate parts of the Gobi Desert. Being a worm, this creature has no arms or legs, only spikes protruding from either end of it. A previous Mongolian Prime Minister claimed that these spikes were poisonous enough to cause death instantly. Along with poisonous spikes, this worm can also spray venom and emit an electrical discharge in order to kill its prey. The Mongolian Death Worm primarily lives underground, surfacing only in the wet months of June and July.
The Mongolian Death Worm is as ancient as the Gobi Desert, according to locals. Though the Worm creates large waves of sand as it travels underground, it is said to be rather elusive due to the massive size of the Gobi Desert. In the 1990’s, several expeditions set out in an attempt to find the worm, even using small explosions to try to lure it to the surface. These expeditions came back empty-handed, however. Another expedition to hunt for the Death Worm, which happened in 2005, also came back empty-handed. Nevertheless, locals are adamant about the creature’s existence.
Vetala are entities that inhabit forests, cemeteries, and charnel grounds in India. These creatures occupy decaying corpses, which stop decaying during the time they are inhabited. Vetala are also able to possess humans. When a human is possessed by a Vetala, their skin turns green, their hands and their feet turn backwards, and they grow long, poisonous claws.
The first mention of a Vetala was in an 11th century book. This book, titled Vetala Panchvimshati, was a collection of stories that talked about Vetala. Vetala are spirits that are trapped between life and the afterlife, which causes them to be hostile. At the same time, because these spirits are trapped between life and the afterlife, they possess a deep knowledge of human nature, the past, the present, and the future. They often hang upside down in trees, waiting to play pranks on humans, tell riddles, or possess bodies to wreak havoc. The Vetala are known to drive people mad and cause miscarriages. To repel a Vetala, one must chant mantras. The Vetala can only be set free by performing the funerary rites for the body which it possessed.
In Filipino legend, the Tikbalang is a tall, humanoid creature with long limbs. The Tikbalang also has the head of a horse, the hooves of a horse, and a long mane of sharp spikes. It’s body is shaped in a way that when it squats down, its knees go above its head. Commonly residing in the forests and mountains of the Philippines, the Tikbalang can supposedly turn invisible or take on a human form in order to trick lost travelers.
The first reported sightings of Tikbalang were in the 1500’s. Legend says these creatures are ancient spirits of the forest, and have been around as long as people have lived in the Philippines. In the earliest days, no one could accurately describe what this creature looked like. It was only after horses were brought to the Philippines that the residents had something to compare them to. According to legend, Tikbalangs aim to hurt people and drive them mad. They are especially known for scaring travelers, playing tricks on them, and leading them astray. To counter this, one can wear their shirt inside out, ask permission out loud to pass through the forest, and avoid making too much noise.
The Yeti is a creature that inhabits the Himalayas. Local sherpas describe the creature as large, hairy, and apelike, leaving large footprints in the snow. In many regards, the Yeti is considered to be quite similar to Bigfoot. One notable difference, however, lies in the detail that the Yeti carries around a big stone as a weapon.
The first Yeti footprints appeared in 1899. An avid explorer and researcher found the prints, and included the record of this finding in a book he wrote about his travels called Among the Himalayas. A description of a large, apelike creature that left the prints was included in this book as well. A few decades later, a photographer wrote about a dark creature he saw that appeared to have the outline of a man, but left footprints far larger than any man could. Aside from these anecdotal experiences, pictures were taken of large footprints while scaling Mt. Everest in 1951, which believers view as concrete proof of the Yeti.
Many of the alleged Yeti footprints have been debunked, attributing them to the wind moving snow particles. Likewise, many of the sightings are attributed to either monkeys or bears. However, a village in the Himalayas claimed to have a Yeti’s scalp, which was kept at a monastery. When this so-called scalp was examined by an expert in human and comparative anatomy, it was concluded that the hairs did not belong to a bear or a monkey. Researchers were never able to pinpoint which animal the hair actually came from, though they speculate that it belonged to a hooved animal.
Abu Regl Masloukha
In Egypt, Abu Regl Masloukha is a monster who generally eats misbehaving children. This monster is characterized by his left leg, which is skinned and gory. This unstoppable monster is so angry that he lost his leg, that he occasionally goes after any child, even if they behave, in an attempt to replace his leg.
According to legend, Abu Regl Masloukha was once a man who committed a crime in his village. He was thrown in prison, and had to skin his own leg and eat it to stay alive. His anger towards the village turned him into a monster, and, ever since then, he prowls the cities and towns of Egypt, looking for misbehaving children to eat. Abu Regl Masloukha literally means “the one with the skinned leg”. Mothers often threaten their children with this monster in order to get them to behave.
Each culture has its own unique urban legends, and they play an integral role in society. Whether urban legends are true or not, perhaps they are a culturally driven way to make sense of the world around us. Urban legends also serve to teach moral lessons and deliver warnings. These urban legends we have explored from around the world ultimately help bond each culture together through a unique story and validate each culture’s worldview.