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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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Why 3 Man-Sized Cages Hang From a Medieval German Church Steeple
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Visitors to St. Lambert’s church in Münster, Germany may notice something odd about the building’s facade. Three gleaming iron cages, 7 feet tall and a yard wide and deep, hang empty from the church spire. Once home to the mutilated bodies of three revolutionaries who shaped one of the strangest chapters in the Protestant Reformation, the cages have hung there for nearly 500 years. They remain on the spire as a testament to their former occupants’ experiment in religious utopia—and the tremors they sent through German religious and political life for years after their occupants' deaths.

MÜNSTER’S RADICAL ROOTS

In 1530, Münster was a divided city. Although technically self-governing, the Catholic Church vied with the city council for control of the town. The aristocrats who had owned the land and nearly everything on it for generations existed in sharp conflict with the peasants, craftsmen, and trade guilds that were beginning to threaten their economic dominance. Meanwhile, Germany was still recovering from a 1525 peasant uprising that didn’t have much of an effect on Münster, but frayed the nerves of the ruling class across the Holy Roman Empire. To make matters worse, Europe was also still reeling from the startling intensity of the Protestant Reformation, 13 years after Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses.

Against this fraught backdrop, an evangelical Protestant preacher named Bernhard Rothmann began preaching against Catholic doctrine and drew a large following in Münster, particularly among the peasants and the trade guilds. Alarmed at his threat to their dominance, the Catholic Church banned him from the pulpit. But in February 1532, a mob of his supporters stormed St. Lambert’s church—the main parish church in Münster—and installed Rothmann as its preacher.

That May, Franz von Waldeck was elected prince-bishop of Münster, becoming the highest-ranking Church official in town. As the little brother of the Count of Waldeck-Eisenberg, a minor aristocrat, young Franz had access to family money and military power. Rothmann’s Protestant rabble-rousing threatened to turn Münster against the Catholic Church, which would render the new prince-bishop's position powerless. Von Waldeck hired mercenary cavalry to blockade Münster until its citizens expelled Rothmann and his allies—but the city council, under pressure from Rothmann’s supporters, refused.

And the people of Münster struck back: In a surprise attack early on the morning of December 26, 600 armed townspeople, backed by 300 newly minted city soldiers, assailed von Waldeck at his council in nearby Telgte. They raided his residence, and captured several high-born hostages. But after a neighboring noble stepped in to mediate the conflict, von Waldeck signed a treaty of religious toleration on February 14, 1533, allowing Protestant pastors to preach from Münster’s parish churches.

That caught the attention of a band of Dutch Anabaptists led by one Jan Matthijs, who for years had been persecuted for their faith and chased from town to town throughout the Low Countries. The Anabaptists believed in baptizing only adults, not children, marking them as radicals even among their fellow Protestants, who feared that unbaptized children who died before reaching adulthood would burn in hell—and who feared the upturning of social orders the Anabaptists represented. Four years before Münster’s religious toleration treaty, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had ordered that every Anabaptist in his territory “shall be brought from natural life to death with fire, sword, or the like.”

Matthijs, a charismatic baker-turned-Anabaptist prophet, sent two of his acolytes to Münster in January 1534. When they arrived, Rothmann—who by then had become more radical and supported the idea of adult baptism—embraced them. The Anabaptists reportedly rebaptized 1400 people (20 percent of the city’s adult population) within a week of their arrival. Along the way, they spread Matthijs’s apocalyptic prophesy: Jesus Christ would return to Earth that Easter, and all Christians needed to prepare themselves for the imminent end of the world.

THE NEW JERUSALEM

An 1840 painting of Jan of Leiden baptizing a girl
An 1840 painting of Jan of Leiden baptizing a girl
Johann Karl Bähr, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

On February 11, 1534, the Münster city council granted full religious toleration to Anabaptists, who began referring to Münster as the “New Jerusalem.” They sent out messengers far and wide to recruit new believers to the city. As the month went on, armed city employees reportedly moved through the city warning those who refused adult baptism to flee, reportedly crying "Get out of here, you godless. God will punish you!" When Matthijs arrived, he delivered a sermon calling for the execution of Catholics and Lutherans alike. He preached, "Everywhere we are surrounded by dogs and sorcerers and whores and killers and the godless and all who love lies and commit them!" When the execution idea failed to fly, his advisors convinced him to settle for expelling the Catholics and Lutherans from the city.

More than 2000 Catholics and moderate Protestants poured out of Münster—and just as many Anabaptists streamed in from the countryside to replace them. By February 23, a new city council election gave the Anabaptists, led by Matthijs, full control of Münster. Watching these developments from outside the walls, Bishop von Waldeck prepared to besiege the city with a mercenary army in hopes of reestablishing Catholic control.

Münster simultaneously prepared to battle von Waldeck and to meet Jesus Christ. The citizens beefed up the city walls. They rounded up all residents who hadn’t yet been rebaptized and forced them to accept baptism or leave. They confiscated food and weapons from departing Catholics, and then, in March, the city council abolished private property altogether. That month, Matthijs also had all archives, documents, contracts, accounts, and ledgers destroyed in a Fight Club-style attempt to abolish all debt. "Everything that Christian brothers and sisters have belongs to the one as well as to the other," Rothmann preached.

Meanwhile, von Waldeck’s troops surrounded the city and the siege began.

DOOMSDAY POSTPONED

On April 5, 1534, Easter came—but Christ did not. With his apocalyptic prophecy shattered, Matthijs claimed to have a divine vision. He mounted a horse and sallied forth with a small entourage to personally break von Waldeck’s siege and free the city. But his plan failed miserably: Von Waldeck’s troops ran Matthijs through with a spear, and then put his head on a spike in front of the city gates for all of Münster to see. The Anabaptists’ prophet was dead.

To quell the city’s rising panic, Matthijs’s main lieutenant, a 25-year-old tailor named Jan of Leiden, gave a speech reinterpreting the apocalyptic prophesy and postponing doomsday. On April 8, he dissolved the elected city council and appointed 12 elders to run the city.

Münster became increasingly militarized: Armed bands of citizens lived communally near their posts by the city gates, and two church steeples were repurposed as platforms for cannons. Residents adhered to a regimented daily schedule, and were required to wear simple clothing to erase social distinctions.

But as the city transformed, it still faced threats from the outside. Von Waldeck launched a massive engineering project to drain the moat surrounding Münster and allow his troops to attack the city gates. He conscripted over 2000 farmers from the surrounding land to leave their spring planting aside and dig a drainage ditch under cover of night. With the moat drained, von Waldeck's cannons pummeled Münster's walls for four straight days. But when the prince-bishop finally attacked on May 25, the Anabaptists staved off his disorganized and reportedly drunk mercenaries.

In June, an Anabaptist woman named Hille Feicken hatched a plan to assassinate von Waldeck and break the siege. She was inspired by the Biblical character Judith, who during the siege of Bethulia seduced the attacking general Holofernes and beheaded him in his sleep. Early in the morning on June 16, Feicken snuck out of Münster to seduce von Waldeck—but unlike Judith, she was quickly discovered, captured, and executed.

Soon after Feicken’s death, Jan of Leiden announced his plans to legalize polygamy and make marriage mandatory for all women—even those who had living Catholic or Protestant husbands in exile. Those who refused to marry were imprisoned in church cloisters, where preachers attempted to reeducate them. Historians speculate that Jan of Leiden’s motives were partially demographic: At that point, there were 2000 adult men and over 5500 adult women in Münster. The unmarried women were not under the protection—or control—of a husband, who might prevent them from sneaking off like Hille Feicken did.

Rothmann defended Jan of Leiden's decision. "God wills to create something new on earth," he wrote. "Just as the women commonly have been lords and have had their own way, now among us he has subjected the women to the men, so that all of them, young as well as old, have to let themselves be ruled by the men according to the word of God."

The polygamy announcement drew major backlash. On the night of July 30, 1534, 47 conspirators, led by a blacksmith named Heinrich Mollenhecke, attempted to overthrow the city government. They managed to take Jan of Leiden prisoner and hole up in the city hall, but the majority of Münster didn’t rally to the conspirators’ cause. Loyalists surrounded the mutineers, forcing them to surrender and free Jan of Leiden.

Over the next four days, all 47 conspirators were shot or beheaded. The polygamy plan went forward, and every woman in Münster was married. (Jan of Leiden himself reportedly took as many as 16 wives over the next year, including Jan Matthijs’s widow.)

A NEW KING

Meanwhile, von Waldeck's siege continued. He launched yet another assault in August 1534, which the Anabaptists narrowly repelled. Afterward, a new Anabaptist prophet, a goldsmith named August Johann Dusentschuer, proclaimed that Jan of Leiden should rule as king. Jan of Leiden accepted the prophecy, adding that God had revealed to him that he was to be the new King David and rule until Jesus’s return to Earth. He replaced the Council of Elders with a royal court and began wearing a crown and carrying a scepter.

Over the winter, von Waldeck choked off all remaining routes in or out of Münster with walls and moats. The city ran out of grain and residents began slaughtering young cows for food. "Anyone who still has something must share with his brother," Jan of Leiden declared. But by April, facing a mounting famine, the king dismissed exhausted and hungry women, children, and old men from the city. About 1600 armed men remained within the walls.

As life inside of Münster became increasingly grim, Jan of Leiden promised his subjects that God would deliver them from the prince-bishop's besieging army. "God will smite them in their hearts, so that they will run away," he predicted. But by Easter, he clarified that he meant his promise of deliverance in a metaphorical, spiritual sense—not literally.

In May 1535, an Anabaptist carpenter named Heinrich Gresbeck tried to flee Münster, but was captured by von Waldeck’s troops. In exchange for his life, he agreed to help the besiegers take the city. On the night of June 25, he led 300 of von Waldeck’s soldiers into town through a poorly guarded city gate. The prince-bishop’s forces fought their way through the streets of Münster for hours, killing over 600 Anabaptists before the city surrendered. They took Jan of Leiden, his viceroy Bernd Knipperdollinck, and another Anabaptist leader named Bernd Kretchtinck prisoner. Bernhard Rothmann, the upstart Protestant preacher who had stirred up the entire conflict from his pulpit at St. Lambert’s church, apparently died fighting, although his body was never found.

With von Waldeck's victory, events took an even more gruesome turn. On January 22, 1536, the prince-bishop gathered a crowd in front of city hall to see Jan of Leiden, Knipperdollinck, and Kretchtinck tortured and killed. Executioners ripped the flesh from their bodies with hot tongs for an hour before stabbing them each in the heart. Their bodies were bound into iron cages and then hoisted from the tower of St. Lambert’s church.

IN “MEMORY OF THEIR DEPARTED SOULS”

As he retook control of Münster, von Waldeck re-Catholicized the city, and from 1536 on he appointed the city council members himself. Citizens weren’t allowed to elect their own representatives again until 1554.

The Münster Rebellion also marked the end of the militant streak in Anabaptism. The Münster Anabaptists were universally condemned, and exaggerated accounts of their treachery have circulated until the present day. Although the religious movement continued for centuries—evolving into today’s Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites—no Anabaptist group would ever attempt to take and wield political power on that level again.

The bodies of the three Anabaptist leaders stayed in their cages for 50 years before St. Lambert’s removed them, prompting artists to draw pictures of ravens descending on the church tower to feast on stray bits of flesh. But the original cages remained, even after the tower from which they hung was demolished and replaced in the 1880s. The church repaired the cages, which had been damaged by rust, and strung them back up on the newly constructed tower.

When British bombs hit the church on November 18, 1944, the highest cage—Jan of Leiden’s—fell into the street, another fell into the organ loft, and the third remained dangling by a thread. When the church rebuilt the tower four years later, workers repaired and replaced the cages, commenting on their sturdy construction.

In 1987, as a small act of reconciliation, the church installed a small yellow bulb in each cage to burn from dusk until dawn each night “in memory of their departed souls.”

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11 Sweet Facts About Rosh Hashanah
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The first Rosh Hashanah supposedly occurred in the Garden of Eden. But what does this important Jewish holiday involve today?

1. IT LITERALLY TRANSLATES AS "HEAD OF THE YEAR."

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, can fall any time between the fifth of September and the fifth of October on the Gregorian Calendar. On the Jewish calendar, it is the first day of the month of Tishrei and marks the start of the High Holy Days. These days are also known as the days of awe, ushering in the final phase of atonement. The holiday celebrates the anniversary of the creation of the world.

2. FOR THE MONTH BEFORE, JEWS ASK FOR FORGIVENESS FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

In order to have a clean slate going into the New Year, Jews ask for forgiveness from those close to them. The idea here is that God cannot forgive transgressions against people until those wronged have forgiven.

3. TRADITIONALLY, ROSH HASHANAH HAPPENS OVER TWO DAYS.

These days are combined into the yoma arichta, or "long day." At sunset on the first evening, candles are lit by the lady of the house. Then blessings are recited: a traditional holiday blessing over the candles, followed by the shehecheyanu, a thanksgiving prayer for special occasions. Both evenings also feature a festive meal.

4. UNLIKE DECEMBER 31, THE JEWISH NEW YEAR IS A TIME OF SERIOUS REFLECTION AND REPENTANCE.

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Even Jews who go to synagogue at no other time of year will often go on the high holidays, which include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Religious poems called piyyutim are recited and a special high holy day prayer book called the machzor is used. The service is often longer than Sabbath services, and centers around the theme of God’s sovereignty, remembrance, and blasts of the shofar (see below).

5. DESPITE NOT BEING A HUGE PARTY, JEWS ARE EXPECTED TO ENJOY THE YOM TOV, OR HOLIDAY.

People often get fresh haircuts and new clothes in order to celebrate. The tradition is to wear white clothing as a sign of purity and renewal. Some avoid wearing red, since it's the color of blood.

6. ACCORDING TO THE TALMUD, ON ROSH HASHANAH, GOD INSCRIBES EVERYONE'S NAMES INTO ONE OF THREE BOOKS.

The metaphorical understanding is that good people go into the Book of Life, and evil ones into the Book of Death; those who are in the middle are put in an intermediate one and have judgment put off until Yom Kippur. Since virtually no one is all good or all evil, you're supposed to assume you fall somewhere in the middle, and in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year, it is important to do everything possible to atone before Yom Kippur.

7. THE SOUNDING OF THE SHOFAR IS THE MOST ICONIC IMAGE OF THIS HOLIDAY.

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The shofar is a ram’s horn that is curved and bent. It is hollowed out and blown during religious ceremonies to make three different sounds. Hearing it is meant to call you to repent.

8. WHILE SOME JEWISH HOLIDAYS INVOLVE FASTING, ROSH HASHANAH INVOLVES A FEAST.

It is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey to represent having a sweet year ahead. A round challah bread symbolizes the cycle of the year (another interpretation is that it represents a crown and thus God’s sovereignty). Sometimes a fish, or just its head, is included, possibly to represent that as fish cannot survive without water, Jews cannot survive without the Torah. Pomegranates contain many seeds, which have long been associated with the commandments that Jews follow, so by eating them they remind themselves to be good in the coming year. Other common foods include dates, leeks, gourds, and black-eyed peas, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud as foods to eat on New Year’s.

9. SOME BRANCHES OF JUDAISM PARTICIPATE IN THE RITUAL OF TASHLIKH, OR "CASTING OFF."

The ritual involves standing near water, like a river, and reciting prayers. Then participants symbolically cast away their sins by throwing bread crumbs or stones into the water. This is supposedly derived from the Biblical passage “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), although most Jewish sources trace it back to 15th century Germany. In New York City, large groups gather on the Brooklyn Bridge, while in Israel—where there is much less open water—people might use something as small as a fish pond.

10. THERE ARE VARIOUS TRADITIONAL GREETINGS FOR ROSH HASHANAH.

L'Shana Tova Tea-ka-tayvu is Hebrew for “May you be inscribed for a good year,” referring to that person’s name being put in the Book of Life. This is often shortened to Shana Tova, which just means “Good Year.” This isn’t to be confused with wishing each other a “Happy New Year.” Happy implies a level of superficiality, while the Jewish wish for a good year hopes the person will achieve their purpose.

11. THE HAVDALAH PRAYER IS PERFORMED AS NIGHT FALLS ON THE SECOND AND LAST DAY.

It involves saying blessings over a full cup of kosher wine or grape juice, although other drinks can be used in a pinch. After this, Rosh Hashanah is over.

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