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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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
GIUSEPPE CACACE, AFP/Getty Images

Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

Woman running on the beach.
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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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9 Common Misperceptions About Religious Observances
A view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018.
A view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018.
AHMAD GHARABLI, AFP/Getty Images

Religion can be confusing. Not only do many religions have similar philosophies and holidays, for many of the world's most widely practiced religions, the details for observing certain holidays or rites can differ based on location, denomination, or modernization. And for those who are less familiar with a particular religion, the details can be easy to overlook. From Ramadan to Advent to Bathing the Buddha, we break down nine common misconceptions surrounding popular religious observances.

1. WHAT'S WRONG: RAMADAN IS A HOLIDAY.

A Muslim man reads from the Koran at a Mosque in Nairobi on May 17, 2018 during the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
SIMON MAINA, AFP/Getty Images

"In American thinking, we think of [Ramadan] as a holiday because that's the way we associate important religious dates as holidays," Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, told NPR. "It's not a holiday in the sense that life goes on. The last day of the holy month, which is Eid ul-Fitr, is a holiday and there are periods in between that are holidays. But as a whole, it's not a holiday."

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar (which is a lunar calendar, which explains why the date moves in relation to the Gregorian calendar). It's significant because the Qur'an was first revealed, and the gates of Heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, during this time.

Lailat al Qadr is the actual night of the revelation of the Qur'an, and praying on that night is said to be "better than a thousand months." But no one knows what night it actually was, only that it was probably in the last 10 days of the month. As such, the last 10 days of Ramadan are generally treated as special days.

The main holiday associated with Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr (or Eid ul-Fitr), which marks the end of the month and the end of fasting.

2. WHAT'S WRONG: THE RAMADAN FAST IS ALL ABOUT NOT EATING.

A Muslim family sits around an iftar meal during the month of Ramadan in a park outside a mosque in Turkey.
A Muslim family sits around an iftar meal during the month of Ramadan in a park outside a mosque in Diyabakir, Turkey
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In the West, much of the attention is focused on how, for the month of Ramadan, Muslims don't eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. But that's only part of the story—Muslims are also supposed to abstain from sex, fighting, smoking, bad thoughts, and sometimes even TV during the time of the fast. According to Nasr, "It's a period of spiritual reflection," of which not eating is a part.

But not all Muslims abstain from eating during Ramadan. Some Ismaili Muslims abstain from eating on only a handful of days throughout the year, and during Ramadan focus instead on those other forms of fasting.

3. WHAT'S WRONG: THE RAMADAN FAST IS ALWAYS FROM SUNRISE TO SUNSET.

The suun setting over mountains.
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The majority of the time, this is true. But for Muslim communities in the far north, fasting from sunrise to sunset can be a problem—in the summer, the sun might not set for days or weeks, and in the winter the sun may never rise. Some tough it out, while others follow the time of the nearest major city, nearest Muslim country, or Mecca.

4. WHAT'S WRONG: ADVENT STARTS ON DECEMBER 1.

A child pulls a drawer out of an advent calendar.
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Virtually all the Advent calendars available in the market start on December 1, but this is only rarely correct. Advent actually starts on the Sunday nearest the Feast of St. Andrew, which is November 30. It's believe that the misconception can be traced back to a German man named Gerhard Lang. Lang, inspired by the Advent calendars his mother made him as a boy, began mass producing the calendars in the early 20th century; he eventually decided to standardize the calendar as starting at December 1.

5. WHAT'S WRONG: LENT IS THE 40 DAYS BETWEEN ASH WEDNESDAY AND EASTER.

A palm cross in a dish of ashes on top of a green palm leaf.
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According to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, "Strictly speaking, Lent ends with the beginning of the Triduum on Holy Thursday. The Ordo [the official book that details such issues] notes: 'Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive on Holy Thursday.'" [PDF]

The change to Holy Thursday only dates to the 1960s and is only true for Roman Catholics (who point out that a distinction is made between liturgical Lent and the Lenten fast), but even among other Western churches the definition of Lent being the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter isn't quite right. There are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter (not including Easter, as traditionally Lent ended on Easter Saturday). The other six days are on Sundays, when fasting is forbidden.

6. WHAT'S WRONG: THE HAJJ IS THE WORLD'S LARGEST RELIGIOUS GATHERING.

The Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
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Every year in the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, 2 to 3 million Muslims gather for the Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. Despite that number, it is not the largest religious gathering in the world. Kumbh Mela brings Hindus together every three years at one of four alternating sites, with the main Kumbh Mela occurring in Allahabad; In 2013, it counted approximately 120 million people. According to the BBC, the story of Kumbh Mela is that gods and demons fought over a pitcher of nectar and a few drops fell on each of the four cities that now host the festival, and during the festival the water becomes the nectar.

7. WHAT'S WRONG: BATHING THE BUDDHA IS A UNIVERSAL CELEBRATION.

An Indonesian Buddhist bathes the Buddha statue during a Vesak ceremony in Mojokerto, Indonesia.
Robertus Pudyanto, Getty Images

One of the most well-known Buddhist celebrations in the West is Vesak (or Wesak), and one of the most well-known components of the day is Bathing the Buddha, where water gets poured over the Buddha to purify the mind.

But in reality the day is more complex than that. Vesak is a day that commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha in Theravada Buddhism. But Mahayana Buddhists view these three events as happening at three separate times, with only the Buddha's birthday occurring the same time as Vesak. In modern Western cities that have multiple Buddhist groups, the Mahayana tradition of Bathing the Buddha often gets combined with the Theravada celebration of Vesak, so much so that one Theravada Buddhist writing for the Huffington Post noted that he had never even heard of the Bathing the Buddha tradition as part of Vesak before college.

8. WHAT'S WRONG: RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES ARE ALWAYS SPECIFIC TO THE RELIGION.

A Muslim man reads from the Koran at a Mosque in Nairobi on May 17, 2018 during the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
SIMON MAINA, AFP/Getty Images

While most of the time a religious holiday is exclusive to its religion, there are certain festivities that span across religions. The Muslim day of Ashura originated when Mohammed arrived in Medina and saw the Jews fasting in honor of Moses. Mohammed then ordered a fast as well. Today, scholars debate whether the Jews of Medina were celebrating Passover or Yom Kippur, but Ashura was originally based on a Jewish holy day.

9. WHAT'S WRONG: ALL MEMBERS OF A RELIGION CELEBRATE THE SAME HOLIDAYS.

Four burning candles for Diwali.
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Just as some holidays can spread across multiple religions, some holidays are not universally followed within the religion. Quakers, which are a denomination of Protestant Christians, have traditionally not celebrated Christmas or Easter because they consider every day a holy day. Traditionally, the people of Kerala in the south of India don't view Diwali as a major celebration, for reasons that are debated. And on the flip side, groups within a religion often have their own holidays, such as the Old Believers (a group of Eastern Orthodox Christians who split from the main branch) who celebrate holidays such as the Transfer of the Relics of St. Nicholas, commemorating the movement of the relics from Turkey to Italy.

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