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11 Scary Evil Monsters From World Religions

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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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