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11 Scary Evil Monsters From World Religions

Religion teaches its followers lessons through parables about kindness and love and doing the right thing. But if all that fails, there’s always the threat of a scary monster to drive the point home.

1.  Dybbuk

Found in Jewish folklore, the Dybbuk is the spirit of a dead sinner who, instead of continuing on to the afterlife, decides to hide out by inhabiting the body of a living person, where they can either live quietly or, more frequently, pester and torture the victim.

Luckily, they can’t just hang out in anybody. The victim has to have committed some sort of sin in order for the Dybbuk to get inside. So, as long as you never, ever do anything bad, you’ll be just fine! Even if you do manage to come down with a case of Dybbuk, it can be exorcised by a properly trained rabbi.

Dybbuks are actually starting to get some mainstream attention, with two major horror movies in the last few years: 2009’s The Unborn and the currently-unreleased The Possession, which both feature the demons as antagonists.

2.  Nephilim

Goliath wasn’t the only giant in the Bible. In fact, he was possibly a descendant of an entire race of giants collectively known as the Nephilim. Although theologians are divided on their origins (some think they were the children of angels who mated with human women, and others think they were the offspring of those descended from Cain), they all seem to agree that the Nephilim were huge, fierce creatures.

3. Preta

Pretas are beings unique to Eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism. While Western culture does have a tradition of spirits of the dead being punished for their sins in ironic ways, they don’t have anything on Pretas. Those who are greedy or jealous in life can become cursed by karma and returned to the world of the living, which doesn’t sound so bad, except they become filled with a constant, aching hunger and unquenchable thirst.

No matter how much they eat or drink, Pretas are never satisfied. Either they have trouble finding food or drink, or they are unable to consume it when they do, as Pretas are often depicted as emaciated corpses with tiny mouths or impossibly thin necks. And, if all that weren’t bad enough, the thing for which they hunger is typically something embarrassing, such as human waste.

4. Rakshasa

In Western religion and pop culture, demons tend to have very specific powers that they can use to torture humans. Maybe they can disguise themselves as others or manipulate people to their will, for example, but usually not both.

This is not the case for the Rakshasa of Hinduism and Buddhism. They’re formerly evil humans said to hold a wide range of powers, including shape-changing, creating illusions, and working powerful magic. They tend to have toxic fingernails or claws and they eat people, to boot. They can appear in all kinds of forms; beautiful or ugly, massive or stunted, or even animal-like bodies. Their king, Ravana, was worst of all. He was said to possess ten faces, dozens of arms, and exceptional cunning.

Image at left by Flickr user manohara upadhya via Wikimedia Commons

5. Djinni

Djinni are very different from their contemporary cultural representation, the genie. Instead of granting wishes, Djinni are a separate race from humans that live in a parallel reality to us, according to Islamic texts. They’re made up of flame and smoke (as humans were made up of clay), and as they are the only beings besides humans that were given free will by Allah, they’re also capable of being benevolent, neutral, or evil, just like the rest of us. In fact, Satan was originally a Djinn named Iblis, but when he refused to bow to Adam, Allah cast him out of paradise.

Naturally, the most well-known Djinni are the evil ones, particularly those called Ifrits, malevolent beings who can change shape and form, have command over fire, and are immune to human weapons. As it so happens, Ifrits are currently experiencing a bit of popularity at the moment, scoring an appearance in a subplot of the current season of True Blood.

6. Abaddon

Although traditionally used in Judaistic texts as a word simply meaning “destruction," Abaddon is later personified in Christian texts (and Christianity’s various offshoots) as an actual being. Given titles like “Lord of the Pit,” “King of the Locusts” and “The Destroyer," Abaddon has been said to have a number of attributes and also to have committed various acts.

According to some texts, Abaddon was originally the angel Muriel, who gathered the dust that formed Adam. Others say that he was actually the angel tasked with sealing Satan into Hell. Apparently, he didn’t stay an angel forever, though, as later writings describe him as living on a throne of maggots and commanding an army of locusts that are shaped like horses with human faces and scorpions’ tails.

7. Pishacha

Another type of ghost from Eastern religions, the Pishacha is the spirit of a person who committed fraud, adultery, rape, or similar criminal acts. Like other entities, they can change shape or become invisible, and they can even possess humans and sicken them physically or mentally.

But where Pishacha get really creepy is in the way that they’re described: according to many texts, they’re humanoids with a deep, obsidian skin tone, red eyes, and bulging veins covering their bodies. Yikes.

8. Azi Dahaka

Zoroastrianism, a once-thriving major world religion, is now limited primarily to areas of Iran, Pakistan, and India, but it still has its evil beings. Foremost among those is Azi Dahaka, who has moved into general Iranian folklore as well.

Azi Dahaka has been described as a being with six eyes, three mouths, and three heads, although there’s no indication that those are evenly spread out. He knows all the sins in the world, and, when wounded, he bleeds snakes, rats, and insects. Azi Dahaka also figures heavily into the Zoroastrian apocalypse. According to prophecy, he will eat all the world’s livestock and one third of humanity itself.

9. Vetala

Yet another ghost found in Far East religions, Vetala do have one feature that distinguishes them from their brethren: instead of bothering with the living, they spend their time possessing the dead. After they successfully inhabit a corpse, it stops decaying and they’re free to walk the earth once more.

Some of you might already be thinking of zombies and, in fact, Vetala were believed to have a form of omniscience due to their undead nature and thus made desirable slaves, giving them similarities to the slave zombies of Central American legends. Unlike zombies, however, Vetala had no interest in brains or human flesh. Their goal was simply to annoy and torment the living out of jealousy.

10. Hundun

Chinese folk religions are much smaller than they once were, with the majority of their former adherents converting to Taoism or other religions in the last few centuries, but some of their myths and legends continue on into modern Chinese folklore.

One such legend is that of Hundun, a faceless deity who was the personification of chaos. Described as being either a humanoid with no orifices or even as a formless living sack — he was sometimes also said to have useless vestigial limbs — Hundun was believed to primarily favor the wicked and eschew goodness. He was killed when two other gods, Hu and Shu, who always thought Hundun kind, decided that they should drill holes in his body and give him eyes, a nose, a mouth, etc. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, Hundun died from this impromptu surgery a week later.

11. Xing Tian

Another god from Chinese folk religion and mythology, Xing Tian was a giant warrior who served under the Emperor Yan. When Yan was defeated by the Yellow Emperor, Xing Tian’s pride was so wounded that he challenged the Yellow Emperor to a duel. During the duel, the Yellow Emperor decapitated Xing Tian and hid his head inside Changyang Mountain. This is where things get bizarre. Instead of dying, like a normal person, Xing Tian lived on and searched in vain for his head. After an unspecified amount of time, however, Xing Tian simply gave up and grew a new face... on his torso. Using his nipples for eyes and his belly button for a mouth, Xing Tian became the headless giant, forever raging against the other gods.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between a Church, a Cathedral, and a Basilica?
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What is the difference between a church, a cathedral, and a basilica?

Mills Baker:

A church is a "house of worship," a building in which Christians gather to perform the rituals of their religion and interact with one another and hold religious functions and so on. They can be very plain, very simple.

A cathedral is a church which is also the "seat," in the bureaucratic sense more than the literal sense, of a bishop (or, in some denominations, another comparably high-ranking ecclesiastical figure). You therefore ordinarily see just one cathedral per denomination per city. Because bishops are responsible for an area—in Catholicism a diocese—a cathedral can also be thought of as the church associated with the administration of an area.

In common usage, people call really big churches cathedrals pretty often, but this is imprecise and technically mistaken.

A basilica was originally a Roman building featuring certain architectural elements that supported its use as a public, open facility for business, trading, etc. These typically—but not always—included colonnades, naves, and aisles, not unlike a modern pedestrian mall.

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
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When some churches were built with similar features in the time of early Christianity, they were called basilicas. Later, in Catholicism, the term acquired a new meaning: the pope designates some churches basilicas for a variety of reasons, and they become important sites:

The papal or major basilicas outrank in precedence all other churches. Other rankings put the cathedral (or co-cathedral) of a bishop ahead of all other churches in the same diocese, even if they have the title of minor basilica. If the cathedral is that of a suffragan diocese, it yields precedence to the cathedral of the metropolitan. The cathedral of a primate is considered to rank higher than that of other metropolitan(s) in his circonscription (usually a present or historical state). Other classifications of churches include collegiate churches, which may or may not also be minor basilicas.

So basilicas as Christian buildings are mainly a Catholic phenomenon. And indeed, the world's most famous basilica is of course St. Peter's in Rome, designed in part by Michelangelo, its plaza and baldacchino by Bernini, its balcony where crowds see their pope, etc.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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holidays
10 Things You May Not Know About the Easter Bunny
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Whether you attend a church service, decorate eggs, or devour Peeps, no Easter celebration is complete without a visit from the Easter Bunny. Check out these 10 things you may not know about the Easter Bunny, from its contested origins to its surprising iterations around the world.

1. IT MAY HAVE COME FROM A PAGAN GODDESS OF FERTILITY—WITH SOME HELP FROM A BROTHER GRIMM ...

"Ostara" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts.
Eduard Ade, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While we don’t know its exact origins, some believe the Easter Bunny has its roots in Anglo-Saxon paganism. According to Bede, a prolific 8th-century English monk, the Anglo-Saxon month Eosturmonath (broadly the Easter season) "was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance." Whether Eostre was real or an invention by Bede has long been controversial, but scholarship on the goddess didn't really pick up for over a thousand years.

In his 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) speculated that Eostre was connected to a German goddess named Ostara (whose existence, again, is controversial). Almost 40 years later, Adolf Holtzmann wrote that "The Easter Hare is unintelligible to me, but probably the hare was the sacred animal of Ostara," and a contemporary named K. A. Oberle hypothesized that "the hare which lay the parti-coloured Easter eggs was sacred to [Ostara]."

Over the years, other writers repeated these speculations as fact, and the idea that a hare was one of Eostre's sacred animals spread. Although hares and rabbits are different species, they're often conflated because the animals look alike and are both associated with fertility.

2. … OR IT MAY COME FROM A MYTH ABOUT THAT GODDESS'S BIRD.

baby chick and bunny cuddling in a field
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Other scholars, however, think the Easter Bunny originated from an Anglo-Saxon myth about Eostre. According to the myth, the goddess was entertaining a group of kids one day. To make them laugh, she transformed her pet bird into a rabbit, giving it the ability to lay colored eggs. Eostre then gave the eggs to the children. A similar myth portrays a more malevolent Eostre, who turned her pet bird into a rabbit or hare because she was enraged. But other historians, noting the lack of any information outside of Bede regarding Eostre or Ostara, have speculated that these stories are possibly corruptions of Ukrainian folktales that explained that country's practice of making pysanky—essentially highly decorated eggs. An alternate hypothesis is that Oberle (or perhaps Holtzmann) made the decision that because the rabbit lays eggs it must have at some point transformed from a bird, making this story an entirely late-19th century invention.

3. THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH INTRODUCED THE OSCHTER HAWS TO THE U.S.

nest of colorful Easter eggs
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In the late 17th century, groups of Christian German immigrants began settling in Pennsylvania. They taught their children about the Oschter Haws (or Osterhase), a hare from German folklore that gave colorful eggs to well-behaved children on Easter. To prepare for the Oschter Haws's arrival, German and German-American kids built a small nest or basket for the hare's eggs. Over time, the Oschter Haws character gained popularity and was Americanized, morphing into the Easter Bunny.

4. IT'S NOT IN THE BIBLE, BUT IT MIGHT BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE VIRGIN MARY.

"The Madonna of the Rabbit," by Titian, circa 1530.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a secular symbol of a Christian holiday. Although the Easter Bunny doesn't appear in the Bible, some religious scholars argue that it was originally associated with the Virgin Mary, rather than the pagan goddess Eostre. Because rabbits and hares were so fertile, Ancient Greeks and early medieval Christians thought that the animals could reproduce without having sex. Consequently, artwork and manuscripts often depict the Virgin Mary with rabbit iconography, alluding to the view that both the Virgin Mary and rabbits were able to have virgin births.

5. IN AUSTRALIA, IT'S THE EASTER BILBY …

a chocolate Easter bilby
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Rather than celebrate Easter with bunnies, Australians are increasingly ushering in fall (which is when Easter falls in the southern hemisphere) with the Easter Bilby. Also called rabbit-bandicoots, bilbies are Australian marsupials with long, rabbit-like ears. Things began looking grim for bilbies two centuries ago, when new predators and diseases were introduced into their habitat. Then, European rabbits—an invasive species whose population really took off when a few were released more than 150 years ago so they could be hunted—drove them out of their natural habitat until only a few thousand of the animals remained. But in the 1980s and '90s, Australians began doing more to protect the bilby. A book called Billy The Aussie Easter Bilby popularized the concept of the Easter Bilby, and the establishment of the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia educated Australians about the ecological harm that rabbits wreak. Today, you can find chocolate bilbies in Australia around Easter time, and some chocolate companies even donate a portion of their proceeds to organizations that save the animals.

6. … AND IN OTHER COUNTRIES, YOU'LL FIND THE EASTER BELL, WIZARD, AND CUCKOO.

Two women feed candy to fish while dressed as Easter witches at the Aquaria Vattenmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016.
Two women feed candy to fish while dressed as Easter witches at the Aquaria Vattenmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden in 2016.
JESSICA GOW, TT/AFP/Getty Images

While the Easter Bilby might sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with it, other countries have their own, even weirder versions of the Easter Bunny. In most of France, children believe that flying church bells travel to the Vatican and bring back chocolate treats in time for Easter Sunday. In Sweden, kids dress up as wizards and witches rather than bunnies. And in Switzerland, the Easter Cuckoo (bird) is a symbol of the spring holiday.

7. A SENSORY-FRIENDLY EASTER BUNNY CATERS TO KIDS WITH AUTISM.

Easter Bunny greets a small child
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sensory-friendly Caring Bunny greeted and posed for photos with children with autism and special needs on World Autism Awareness Day in 2017. Sponsored by Autism Speaks, the event took place in malls across the U.S., which dimmed the lights, lowered the music, and shut down noisy escalators and fountains to accommodate kids who were unable to deal with the visual and auditory stimulation of a normal mall.

8. FAMOUS PEOPLE LOVE DONNING BUNNY COSTUMES.

The Easter Bunny drops eggs on the field in between innings of a Cincinnati Reds game.
The Easter Bunny drops eggs on the field in between innings of a Cincinnati Reds game.
Joe Robbins, Getty Images

While most people enjoy dressing up for Halloween, celebrities can't seem to get enough of donning a big rabbit suit on Easter. Singers, actors, and sports stars such as Mariah Carey, Madonna, David Beckham, Miley Cyrus, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West have all shared photos of themselves wearing Easter Bunny costumes, which range from a simple set of bunny ears to a full-body white, fluffy suit.

9. FORMER U.S. PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER WAS ONCE THE WHITE HOUSE EASTER BUNNY.

Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads a book to children during the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll in 2017.
Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads a book to children during the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll in 2017.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

The White House's annual Easter Egg Roll, which began in 1878, draws children and families to the President's home for egg hunting and musical performances. Traditionally, a member of the president's administration dresses up as the Easter Bunny to entertain kids and their families. When George W. Bush was president, then-assistant U.S. trade representative for media and public affairs Sean Spicer wore the bunny costume. In March 2016, Spicer poked fun at his old role, retweeting a photo of himself with the comment: "The good ole days—what I would give to hide in a bunny costume again."

10. CHOCOLATE BUNNIES ARE INSANELY POPULAR.

chocolate bunny
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Halloween and Easter are the two big holidays for candy sales, with Easter sometimes coming out on top (at least in dollar sales). This year, Americans are expected to spend $18.2 billion on the holiday, and 89 percent of celebrants planned to buy Easter candy like chocolate bunnies, marshmallow bunnies and eggs, and jelly beans. About 90 million chocolate bunnies are produced every Easter, which makes for a ton of mouthwatering chocolate rabbits in kids' (and adults') Easter baskets.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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