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Nightmarish myths and legends from around the world

'When we lose our myths we lose our place in the universe.'

― Madeleine L'Engle

What better way to start any piece of writing than with a clever quote, eh? Just look how fancy and smart it’s made us look already. 

Old Maddie up there was right too. The American writer nailed it when she explained the importance of myths and legends in that snappy little soundbite. Us humans need to be able to explain things to ourselves and each other. It’s our nature. And when we can’t? Well, we just make things up. It settles the mind. That’s where myths and legends come in.

Something else we’re compelled to do as a species is to tell stories. Generally, the more imaginative and petrifying the better. So it’s no great surprise that so many of the world’s great mysteries are explained away with supernatural-tinged, blood-curdling tales of pure horror.

Here are just some of our favourite nightmarish myths and legends from around the world:

The Púca (Ireland)

Celtic folklore is a very rich tapestry indeed. Easily the most famous mythical creatures from The Emerald Isle come in the shape of tiny besuited men in tall green hats. But there are much more frightening legends than that of the gold-obsessed leprechaun. 

The ‘púca’ are foul-smelling, goblin-looking canine creatures that have the ability to change form and bring, as you might expect, bad luck. They terrorise Irish communities by, it’s said, taking any ravenous animal form they like. They can speak (Gaelic and English) and are known to spin webs of lies to turn people, families and entire communities against one another. They’re basically gossips. Really evil and stinky gossips.

The Melonheads (USA)

Aliens? The results of government testing gone wrong? The ghosts of murdered children and babies? Residents of the states of Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut and North Carolina are at odds as to what exactly ‘the melonheads’ are. Each area has its own version of the legend of a wild pack of strange humanoids with large heads living wild in local woods.

Some myths report them as benign, unfortunate victims of a vile experimental doctor who conducted tests that saw him inject orphaned children’s brains with fluid. Other myths around the melonheads report them as something of an evil and cannibalistic tribe. All of the stories are bone-chillingly creepy.

Aka Manto (Japan)

Weirdly, terrifying toilet-based legends are common all across the world. Most American teens know all about the fear associated with chanting ‘Bloody Mary’ in the mirror of a school bathroom 13 times. And South African girls fear ‘Pinky Pinky’, a pink-haired demon that loves the colour for its own hair, but not for girls’ underwear as any young woman in pink knickers are potential victims.

In Japan, they have Aka Manto, or ‘The Red Cloak’. A caped man in a mask appears to women using end cubicles in public restrooms. He has a question:

‘Would you like red or blue toilet paper?’ 

Kind of like a scary version of those toilet attendants you used to get in nightclubs.

Answer red and you'll suffer an incredibly violent death. Answer blue and you'll be suffocated (until you turn blue and die). Ask for white and Aka Manto will grab you from the toilet and pull you deep into the bowels of Hell.

The only way to swerve death and/or eternity in the devil's fire pit? Politely refuse all offers of paper, regardless of colour. Good manners cost nothing, after all.

Popobawa (Tanzania)

A sulphur-smelling shapeshifter that supposedly terrorises those living in the Zanzibar area of Tanzania, Popobawa (Swahili for ‘bat wing’) is named for its ability to cast a dark shadow. It’s an evil spirit which is known to wreak havoc in people’s homes, smashing things up like a particularly riled-up poltergeist.

More disturbingly, the Popobawa is known for nocturnal attacks that. While the legend of Popobawa may sound wild to many, there is a seriously dark side to the rumours of the cryptid’s existence. 

Many attacks on women in Tanzania have been blamed on the Popobawa down the years. Which has resulted in attacks not being fully investigated and offenders escaping justice...

Sweet dreams, everyone.