Human creativity knows no limits. Over the centuries, we have come up with different stories to try and explain the unexplainable. For centuries, pretty much every concept outside of human control was explained by religious means. Over time, scientific curiosity debunked many of those mythologies, to the point that almost every ‘supernatural’ idea has been explained scientifically.
But there are a few things that still remain the same. No matter how much we keep reminding ourselves that more or less everything can be explained by science, there are still some things that terrify us. Those are the monsters and beasts from mythology that have survived the test of time and are still spoken of in hushed tones around the world.
Below we will look at some of those terrifying monsters that have withstood the test of time. These monsters are found in fables and in religious texts from around the world and throughout history. Whether you believe in these creatures or not is irrelevant. What is important is that each one of these monsters has had a profound impact on the cultures that first imagined them.
15. Eastern European Mythology- Leshy
Though not a particularly malevolent being, the Leshy is nonetheless a mischievous creature that has been very popular in Eastern Europe for generations. The Leshy is believed to be a forest guardian of sorts.
He is believed to watch over wooded areas, shapeshifting into any animal he so desires. He is even believed to be able to command animals to bend to his will, such as commanding birds to migrate in large numbers.
Though they aren’t vicious murderers or predators targeting humans directly, Leshy can still cause harm to humans, according to legends. It’s believed that they can imitate people’s voices and confuse wanderers in the forest.
To make escaping them more difficult, Leshy are also believed to steal woodcutter’s axes and remove signs from where they’re planted. Once those people are good and lost, the Leshy will approach them and tickle them to death.
14. Mexican Folklore- The Chupacabra
The legend of the Chupacabra (which translates literally as ‘goat-sucker’) has long been popular in the Americas. In many ways, the creature is the Latino cultural equivalent of the Bigfoot legend that’s been around for decades in the USA.
But according to various descriptions, the Chupacabra is a far more menacing creature. Records vary, but many witness accounts describe similar attributes to the Chupacabra. It’s said to be a reptilian creature that’s 3-4′ tall with spines down its back. What makes it most disturbing is its vampiric nature; animals said to have been killed by the Chupacabra were reported to have had all of their blood drained through small incisions.
But perhaps the creepiest part of this monster’s tale is that it’s no longer limited to the Americas. Reports of Chupacabra (or similar monster) sightings have also occurred in Poland, Russia, and the Philippines. Perhaps this fiendish goat-sucker isn’t just some old story conjured up by farmers in the American south after all.
13. Slavic Mythology Baba Yaga
For those of you out there that fear all of those ‘evil old lady’ myths, best turn away now.
The legend of Baba Yaga is one of the most prevalent myths among eastern Europeans. According to said legend, Baba Yaga lives in a chicken-legged hut in the forest, and flies on a mortar while wielding a pestle.
It’s said that when she leaves her hut, or when people wander too close to it, she seeks out children to take back to cook and eat. In other stories, people are sent to her house to do chores. If they complete them, they are rewarded with sweets and gifts. If they fail, she cooks and eats them.
In this way, she’s very similar to the witch from Hansel and Gretel. In fact, Baba Yaga’s tale actually precedes the story of Hansel & Gretel by over fifty years, making it one of the first stories about evil witches in the forest.
12. Islamic Mythology- Ifrit
If you’re wondering where the modern image of a demon (a giant hulking beast with red skin and leathery wings that can manipulate fire) came from, you can thank stories told in the Middle East during the early days of Islam.
The Ifrit are a class of Djinn (the Arabic word for ‘demon’) that are capable of shapeshifting and controlling fire. Like the modern take on the genie, they can also become ‘smoke-like’ in form, which makes human weapons useless against them. They are even believed to have the power to transform into anything they desire, from animals, to fruits; even into large sandstorms.
Unfortunately, the only way for someone to stop an Ifrit is with magic, as trying to kill them via traditional means will not work. In other interpretations, they’re said to form from the blood of murder victims, and driving an unused nail into that pool of blood might stop them forming. Given how powerful they are, your best bet would be to try and prevent them from achieving their full form.
11. Ancient Greece- Blemmyes
The Greeks were excellent at creating weird, fantastical creatures, many of which are still referenced in modern culture. The chimera, the hydra, harpies, cyclops, all of them are brought up from time to time. But there’s one horrible creature that (rightfully) remains discussed in hushed tones: Blemmyes, the headless humanoids with mouths on their torsos.
These strange creatures were first mentioned by Herodotus in the 5th century BC, and have been brought up many times since. They were first believed to live in what is modern day Libya, but were also said to have lived in Asia, the horn of Africa, and in South America. Some writers described them as simply an odd tribe of humans with raised shoulders, while other artists interpreted them as monstrous creatures with enormous, fanged mouths on their torsos.
10. Greek Mythology- Cerberus
While most people consider dogs to be ‘man’s best friend,’ there’s one notable exception to this rule in mythology: Cerberus.
In ancient Greek mythology, Cerberus is the three-headed monster dog that guards the realm of Hades to prevent the dead from escaping. Cerberus was said to be a vicious guard that had snakes protruding from various parts of his body. Worse, when he was brought up from the underworld, he began to spit poisonous bile from his body, and this bile eventually became the aconite plant, better known today as the poisonous flower Wolfsbane.
For some people, the sight of a growling, barking, snarling dog is enough to send them running away in fear, especially when it’s a larger dog breed capable of out-running a man. Now imagine that same dog, but much larger than the average human, and bearing three equally-sized and equally-angry heads. Shudders.
9. Sumerian Mythology- Lamashtu
Lamashtu is a beast of Mesopotamian origin and serves as the original demon as far as Western ideas are concerned. She was the archetype for what we consider ‘female demons:’ pale skin, sharp teeth, horns jutting out of her head, leathery bat-like wings, and a hunger for human flesh. She served as the inspiration for many copycats, including the infamous Pazuzu from the Exorcist films.
Lamashtu was often depicted as a hybrid creature with the body parts of different animals. She often had a lioness’s head, donkey’s teeth and ears, bird’s feet with sharp talons, and very long fingers and fingernails.
Being a demon, she was said to be the harbinger of many misfortunes. She was believed to be especially malevolent towards women, harassing them during pregnancy and even stealing nursing newborns in order to eat them later and gnaw on their bones.
8. Jewish Mythology- Dybbuk
Ghosts and other malevolent spirits are bad enough. Parasitic ghosts and malevolent spirits that attach themselves to a living person are far worse.
And that’s exactly what a Dybbuk is: an evil spirit that attaches itself to someone else once it’s summoned. But unlike other monsters on this list that tend to roam free, most Dybbuks are said to be trapped inside a Dybbuk box, such as in the 2012 film The Possession.
Once the box is opened, the Dybbuk is free to use its malevolent powers to bring harm to its host. It’s been said that the Dybbuk can lead to strange smells in its host’s home, recurring nightmares, and serious health problems…all from one supernatural monster. Thankfully, these supernatural monsters can be removed through exorcism, so it’s not like the creature can torment you for the rest of your life.
7. Romania- The Strigoi
Most people have heard the tales of Dracula and other vampires. What they may not know is that the legend of Dracula is based on a long-standing Romanian mythological beast called the Strigoi. These are the original vampires- human-like creatures that drink the blood of humans. In some cases, a female vampire can also marry human men and drain their life energy through their insatiable sexual appetites.
There’s an additional level of fear with these creatures as well. Apart from ‘living’ Strigoi, there are also undead Strigoi, which are essentially reanimated corpses that can return to suck the blood of the living.
The legends surrounding the Strigoi have given birth to some of the most classic tropes about modern vampires. Stabbing them in the heart with a wooden stake, their fear of garlic, drinking blood directly from the heart; all of these legends and more came from the Strigoi.
While modern vampires aren’t necessarily terrifying like they used to be, the fact that so many different countries have adopted elements of the Strigoi into their own tales suggests that something about these monsters resonates with people in a way that transcends cultural barriers. Whether it’s fear or fascination remains to be seen.
6. The Philippines- Aswang
Filipino culture is filled with stories of terrifying monsters, but none are more widespread than those of the Aswang. The Aswang is a shapeshifter, capable of turning into an ordinary person during the day or into an animal at night.
During the day they’re shy and elusive people, but at night they take the form of predatory animals, usually dogs. These creatures then proceed to hunt for food, which tends to be either newborn children or unborn fetuses, the latter of which some can suck out through a proboscis like a straw.
Unlike most vampires, Aswang are can walk about during the day and are hard to differentiate from ordinary people. In fact, the only way to tell if someone’s an Aswang is to look them right in the eyes and look at your own reflection. If your reflection is upside down, they’re an Aswang.
5. Native American Mythology- The Wendigo
In many Native American tribal tales, they speak of a terrifying supernatural creature called a Wendigo. This malicious beast can take the form of an emaciated, rotting skeleton, either human or animal.
They are said to give off a pungent odor of death and decay, while being simultaneously emaciated from starvation and insatiably gluttonous. For these reasons, these beasts are said to seek out and devour human flesh.
The power of this horrific beast is further amplified with what is known as Wendigo Psychosis. These are historical records where members of various Native tribes experienced severe psychosis and engaged in savage acts of murder and cannibalism.
In one famous case in 1878, a man with Wendigo Psychosis (in other words, a man possessed by a Wendigo) killed and ate his wife and five children, even though he was within walking distance of a local supply store. The fact that he chose to devour his own family instead of seeking help justified the belief in Wendigo Psychosis.
4. Japanese Mythology- Jorōgumo
We’ve previously touched on how terrifying spiders are, with their powerful silken webs, voracious appetites, and general creepiness. Now imagine if those dangerous traits were combined with the image of a beautiful woman. Congratulations, you’ve just imagined the beast of Japanese folklore known as Jorōgumo, whose name translates literally as ‘whore spider.’
Jorōgumo’s legend suggests that she would take the form of a beautiful woman and entice men towards her. Then, once their guards are down, she’d bind them in silk and trap them, in order to consume them later.
The scariest part is that she doesn’t end the fear and pain right away. She saves them for a future meal, leaving them in a state of perpetual fear, completely unaware of when they’ll die (or how long it’ll take for them to die) and completely powerless to save themselves.
A somewhat modern take on this tale was the miniboss Cydaea in Diablo 3, who had the upper body of a beautiful woman and the body of a spider below her torso. Just think if such a creature was real. It would be the most terrifying bad date imaginable.
3. Indonesian Mythology- Pontianak
This is one of the most feared creatures in Indonesia. The Pontianak is believed to be either the spirit of a deceased pregnant woman or that of the stillborn child. In most cases, the monster appears as a pale-skinned woman with red eyes dressed in clothes smeared in blood.
They have a particularly foreboding way of announcing their presence. It’s believed in Indonesian folklore that a Pontianak will announce her presence by crying like a baby. If the cry is loud, she is far away. But if it’s soft, it means she’s close…maybe even right behind you.
Once she’s close enough, she’ll attack, digging into her victim’s stomach with her long fingernails and will proceed to either rip out their sex organs with her hands or she’ll eat them. Many in Indonesia believe a Pontianak targets these victims by sniffing at dirty laundry. It’s for that reason that some people simply won’t hang their laundry outside. This makes for another good reason dryers were invented…
2. Japanese Folklore (Again)- Jikininki
Few mythological monsters are as terrifying as this beast from Japanese culture. The name ‘Jikininki’ has a tough translation into English as ‘human-eating ghosts.’ These creatures resemble contemporary zombies in many ways: a vaguely human figure, sharp claws, glowing eyes, and a ravenous appetite for human cadavers. But that’s where the similarities end. Though Jikininki are said to be active mainly at night, they’re also said to move about by day. To do this, they can transform into ordinary humans in order to live normal ‘lives.’ It’s also said that any living person who sees one of these monsters in their true form would be paralyzed with fear. The interesting thing about these monsters is that they are born from curses. If a person lives a bad life, that is, if they’re greedy or impious, they can be cursed to live out their afterlife as a Jikininki. Makes you really want to be selfless in life, doesn’t it?
1. Christian Demonology- The Succubus & The Incubus
There is no primal instinct more powerful than the one to procreate. As such, many cultures have proposed the existence of beasts that manipulate us into giving into those desires, only for them to destroy us in the process. In the Abrahamic religions they discuss the existence of monsters that do just that: the Succubus and the Incubus.
Basically, these are two demons that manipulate humans into sex with them in order to grow in power. The Succubus usually takes the form of a beautiful woman, and entices men into sleeping with her. Once that happens, she basically drains their life force away, sometimes killing the man in the process.
The incubus is far worse. It seeks out women to sleep with, and if it doesn’t tempt them into intercourse, it may try to rape them. That’s right, there’s a demon out there that seeks to rape women in order to produce demonic offspring, in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby.
Given that both of these creatures are said to take advantage of humans when they’re at their most vulnerable (i.e. asleep), that makes them the most terrifying of all mythological monsters.