In Welsh culture, professional sin-eaters attended funerals to ritualistically eat a meal over the corpse to absorb the deceased’s sins. Every sin stayed with them until their own death, and they were often social outcasts because of the spiritual uncleanliness they accumulated. One has to wonder if sin-eaters would eat the sins of other sin-eaters, passing the spiritual debt down for generations. Image: Two Old Ones Eating Soup, Francisco Goya, 1819
The Ovinnik is an evil spirit of the barn from Slavic folklore. He may set fire to your grain and burn down your barn unless you placate him with roosters and pancakes (bliny). A warm touch from an Ovinnik on New Years Eve is auspicious for the year ahead, but a cold touch portends misery. Photo: Natalie.sk. Sculpture: Anton Shipitsa
A superstition of the American South: the first person who walks into your house on New Year’s Day will be like your chickens that year. If fat, the chickens will be fat, and vice versa. From North Carolina Folklore Journal, July 1966 Issue. Image: Brent Moore via Flickr CC-BY-NC
Uwan is a yokai who loudly says its own name (like a pokemon) with a disembodied voice, causing people to lose sleep. Teeth blackening was popular among noblemen and the warrior class in medieval Japan, so his black teeth may signify that he was originally one of them. From: Bakemono No E, 18th century
The Björketorp runestone in Sweden is famous for being among the tallest in the world—and the ancient curse inscribed on it. The monument’s purpose is unknown, but the curse is clear: destroy the stone and be doomed, like the farmer who was burned alive trying to remove it. Image: Sveriges Montelius, 1877
Cynocephaly or “having the head of a dog” is a characteristic found in many mythological and folklore traditions across the world, such as ancient Egypt, India, Greece, and China. These humanoid, dog-headed beings were often described by travelers coming back from far off lands. Images: Saint Christopher by Anonymous, 17th Century | The Egyptian Book of the Dead, 1550 BCE | Kievan Psalter by Unknown, 1397 | Man with dog head by Hartmann Schedel, 1493.
The mandrake is a mythologized plant with a root that looks like a human figure. The root is poisonous and hallucinogenic, it was once a common anesthetic and potion ingredient. Legends say mandrakes scream and cry when uprooted—killing anyone who hears. So use safe harvesting methods! Image: Ernte eines Alrauns (Medicina antiqua), 1250
A nuppeppo is a wrinkly, featureless yokai with powder-white skin that smells of rotting flesh. It’s a harmless, solitary creature that can be found in deserted towns, graveyards, and temples. Some say eating a nuppeppo will grant eternal youth. Image: Hyakkai Zukkan
The kallikantzaroi are evil goblins, found in Greek folklore, who live underground and saw the World Tree to try to collapse the earth. When Christmas season begins, they abandon their task to terrorize humans. On Epiphany, they return but the tree has healed itself.
The nuckelavee is a fearsome sea monster found on Scotland’s Northern Isles that, when on land, has been described as humanoid rider fused with a horse, skinless with black blood coursing through yellow veins. Its breath wilts crops and is responsible for epidemics and drought. Image: michael221 on Deviant Art CC-BY-SA
Baba Yaga is a witch from Slavic folklore known for her hut that stands on chicken legs, ugly features, and penchant for eating children. She’s appeared in hundreds of folktales, in many roles, and sometimes as three Baba Yaga sisters. Images: Ivan Bilibin
The Baku is an entity from Japanese mythology that eats nightmares. If you have a bad dream, call out to the Baku when you wake up. But don’t do it lightly, because if your nightmare leaves it hungry, it may eat your hopes and desires as well. Image: LACMA