In the spirit of spooky season, the most wonderful time of the year, I thought I’d delve into the folklore and spooky tales of mythology and ancient cultures and see what I could find. Witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and other shapeshifters, skeletons, and all things magical and creepy are the inspiration behind this Halloween-themed post.
There are legends, folktales, and myths all over the world about magical or terrifying beings, creatures, and people. Really, this list could go on forever.
Instead, though, I’ll keep it to 20 mythical monsters, witches, and spooky spirits that will inspire all the Halloween vibes.
1. Hecate (Greek)
Hecate is the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft, witches, and roads and crossroads (crossroads as in “the place where decisions must be made” and where you can look between past and future (Sweetwater Press.)) She was also what’s known as a “triple goddess,” in that she appears as maiden, mother, and crone, three female representations that show up a lot in magic (as does the number 3.) In this form she sometimes even had power over life and death.
2. Morrigan (Celtic/Irish)
Morrigan is the Irish goddess of war and death, but she is known for transforming into a crow or a raven, birds often associated with magic and Halloween. Though not a goddess of magic, she is also known as the queen of witches and shapeshifters, demons, and spirits.
3. Heka (Egyptian)
Heka is the Egyptian god of magic, but as the ancient Egyptians believed in the power of magic, especially that of healing, “heka” is also the energy/personification/force of magic itself. There were many other Egyptian gods and goddesses associated with magic, such as Isis or Horus, but Heka basically is magic.
4. Strigoi (Romanian)
Strigoi are vampiric creatures of Romanian folklore, if not the Romanian version of vampires. They are undead humans, or sometimes spirits, that need blood to sustain them, and have certain abilities, such as shapeshifting and invisibility.
5. Baba Yaga (Slavic/Russian)
If you like the story of Hansel and Gretel, then Baba Yaga is totally up your alley. She’s an old crone witch who lives isolated in a forest, in a house that stands on four chicken legs that allow it to move, and surrounded by a fence made from the bones and flaming skulls of people who have come to her house and failed her tests. She’s actually quite complicated, but known to be wise and helpful, and also have the gift of prophecy, while also known to devour people for various reasons. A popular folk tale involving her is that of Baba Yaga and Vasilisa.
6. Morgan le Fay (Arthurian)
There are many versions of Morgan le Fay in Arthurian legend. Sometimes she is known as the sister of King Arthur, sometimes as the Lady of the Lake (or a sea goddess), sometimes good, and sometimes evil. Whatever the case she is usually known as a witch, and sometimes even a shapeshifter; in one story, she heals the knight Yvain with an ointment, in another she nearly kills Arthur.
7. Merlin (Arthurian)
I guess I can’t mention Morgan without mentioning Merlin—but, we all know who Merlin is right? Faithful wizard to King Arthur? (Though I should point out, he also gives Arthur some extremely terrible advice.) Merlin actually has some pretty interesting adventures in Arthurian legend, and while he is one of the “good guys” in good vs. evil, he also does some stuff that isn’t so great, and depending on the version of the story of Merlin and Vivien, he can actually be kind of creepy.
8. Banshee (Irish)
The banshee is a shrieking, wailing, female spirit whose cries herald impending death, usually that of a family member. She can appear as a young maiden or an old woman, or sometimes even a faerie woman. In some accounts, she sings a lament when someone is about to die.
9. Cerridwen (Celtic/Irish)
Cerridwen is the Irish goddess of magic and witches, whose name is derived from the Irish or Gaelic word for cauldron. She is also known for her powers with prophecy, the moon, and fertility, things often associated with magic.
10. Circe (Greek)
Circe was a witch in Greek mythology known for turning men into pigs. She lived on an island where the hero Odysseus and his men stayed with her for a year on their return from Troy.
11. Medea (Greek)
Medea was a powerful sorceress in Greek mythology, and a princess of Colchis. She helped Jason and the Argonauts retrieve the golden fleece (killing her brother in the process), married Jason, and helped them all get home; however, when Jason was going to marry another princess, she used her powers to her (and inadvertently the king), and her own two children that she had with Jason, all to punish him.
12. Freya (Norse)
Many probably know Freya as the Queen of Asgard, Odin’s wife and mother of Thor. But she was also the Norse goddess of magic and divination, as well as love, fertility, war, wealth, and beauty.
13. Gashadokuro (Japanese)
I had to include this because it sounded so freaking cool. Gashadokuro are giant, vengeful, ghost-skeletons of people who died but weren’t buried (usually people who died in battle). And by the way, when I say giant, I mean like 100 feet tall. They go around in the middle of the night creeping up on unsuspecting travelers, crushing them or biting off their heads, though the rattle of their teeth and bones can give them away. They do this until their thirst for revenge is abated, and then their bodies burn out.
14. Strix (Greek)
Strixes (or striges) were creepy blood-drinking birds in classical lore that were often an ill omen. In Greek legend, strixes came to be associated with magic, with their feathers or wings even being used to create potions, so the strix often invokes witches and witchcraft.
15. Ghoul (Arabic)
Today when we say ghoul, we often mean some form of ghost or monstrous creature, but the ghoul of folklore is more like a zombie than anything. It may be an undead humanoid, or a shapeshifting demon, but either way it’s known for hanging out in graveyards and burial grounds, and devouring the human flesh of the recently-deceased.
16. Moeris (Roman)
In Virgil’s Ecologues, he tells of a man named Moeris who could shapeshift into a wolf with the help of some herbs, as well as summon ghosts.
“These herbs of bane to me did Moeris give, […] where baneful herbs abound. With these full oft have I seen Moeris change to a wolf's form, and hide him in the woods, oft summon spirits from the tomb's recess […]” —The Ecologues, Virgil
The story of Moeris is one of many examples of lycanthrope stories around the world, including the Greek myth of Lycaon, where the word lycanthrope originates.
17. Wendigo (Native American/First Nations)
The wendigo is a demon/evil spirit that originates from Algonquian regions of the U.S. and Canada. This creature is known for its unquenchable hunger; it consumes human flesh, but when it feasts it grows bigger in proportion to what it ate, so it is always hungry. Wendigos are also said to have power over winter weather, and harsh winter weather can be blamed on angry wendigos.
18. Matagot (French)
In magic/shapeshifting, the most common animals to transform into are cats (especially black cats), wolves, dogs, rats, bats, foxes, birds (often a raven, crow, or owl), and snakes. This is the case with a cat-creature from French lore called the matagot (or mandagot). Sometimes it is an evil spirit that takes the form of a cat, dog, rat, or fox; in other stories it is a cat that can bring good luck to a home if it is taken in, and well cared for and well fed.
19. Wraith (Scottish)
You’ve probably heard of wraiths as a type of ghost. Specifically, wraiths are said to be soulless beings whose forms are a result of witches or wizards using black magic/sorcery to live longer or otherwise manipulate time; since their souls are taken when they becomes wraiths, they steal or feed on the souls/life force of the living, as well as dark emotions such as anguish or anger. (Think of it like a dementor.)
There are other versions of wraiths that are said to possess people, and even the rare good wraith who guards a soul from when it is born until death.
20. Vodyanoy (Slavic)
There are water creatures and sea serpents aplenty in mythological lore, but when I think of a swamp thing like Creature from the Black Lagoon, I think the vodyanoy fits the bill. The vodyanoy is described as having the scaly, muck-covered body of an old man with the head and face of a frog and a green beard; he also has the webbed hands and fingers of a frog, and a fish tail. As any lake monster would, he likes to kidnap or lure people, and either drown them, take them as slaves, or if they’re female, make them his bride.
Hopefully now you’re thoroughly in the mood for spooky season—I know I am, and I didn’t even scratch the surface of all the different creatures of legend out there.
All the more reason to keep an eye out for things that go bump in the night ;)
Mythology: Myths, Legends, and Fantasies, published by Sweetwater Press
Witches, Spells & Magic: From Ancient Gods to Modern Merlins—A Time Tour of Myth & Magic by Dominic Alexander