Travel the globe, and you’re bound to encounter tales of creepy folklore creatures that go bump in the night. Sometimes these mysterious beasts merely haunt your dreams; other times they drain your body of its soul.
From bouncing zombies in China to winged monsters soaring over colonial America, here are seven folklore creatures sure to leave you sleeping with one eye open.
Snallygaster of colonial America
Dating back before the Declaration of Independence, snallygasters were rumored to have terrorized the surrounding hills of Washington, D.C. and Frederick County, Maryland. German settlers in the 1730s first described the Schneller Geist (“quick spirit”) as a metal-beaked, half-bird, half-reptile that soared through the air and swooped down without a sound to capture its prey. When it did utter a noise, the snallygaster let out a blood-curdling screech. Seven-pointed stars were painted on barns to ward off the creature, though sightings continued into the 1900s. The Smithsonian Institution once offered a reward for the Snallygaster and President Roosevelt is rumored to have delayed an African safari to hunt the beast on American soil.
Jiang Shi of China
At night, Chinese fear a form of dead that comes back to life as a reanimated corpse, hopping with outstretched arms. One touch from the dreaded Jiang Shi can kill the living, the undead creatures are said to suck out a person’s qi. Their faces are pale and lifeless if they have recently died, or can look like rotting, decomposing flesh if it has been decades since their death. Similar to vampires, Jiang Shi often hide in coffins or dark areas void of sunlight. According to feng shui, a six-inch high piece of wood should be placed at the bottom of the door to prevent the undead from entering one’s home.
Nian Shou of China
With Chinese New Year just around the corner, you may be seeing a lot more of these lion-headed beasts. They come out once a year (from high up in the mountains or deep underwater) to devour entire populations, including little children. The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration—replete with revelry, cheering, fireworks, and the color red—originated as a way for the townsfolk to frighten away the Nian Shou.
Mare of northern Europe
The next time you wake up in a cold sweat, a Nordic she-goblin known as a mare may be to blame. The evil spirit is said to ride a person’s chest while they sleep, conjuring nightmares. She sometimes leaves the victim with tangled hair. She’s also said to borrow kept horses for wild midnight rides, leaving owners to find their animals exhausted and covered in sweat the following morning. When a horse is unavailable, mares apparently hop onto trees for a ride. In Sweden, the tangled, undersized pine trees that grow among coastal rocks are called martallar, or “mare-pines.” In Germany, these twisted trees are called Alptraum-Kiefer, or “nightmare pines.”
La Luz Mala of Argentina
Sometimes it’s better to stay in the dark. Residents of Argentina’s swampy regions tell of foreboding flashes of light that lead the living to danger. They appear as glowing orbs floating above the swamp and are said to be lost souls forever stuck in purgatory. If seen, the unfortunate witness must utter a prayer and bite onto a knife to prevent any ill fortune. Locals believe that paths associated with these illuminations should be avoided at all costs; some claim that the lights will chase them at high speed.
La Ciguapa of the Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, wild female creatures known as La Ciguapa are said to inhabit the mountain regions. The mountain women have been in the country’s folklore since the oral history of the Taino natives. They are tan skinned with extremely long hair that covers their slender bodies. You can easily differentiate these creatures by their feet, which are backwards. Male travelers are told to avert their eyes to prevent enchantment. If not, they may be dragged into the woods, never to be seen again.