Superstitions of the Undead (Or How to Keep the Dead in Their Graves)

Arkane Curiosities

Every culture fears that the dead will return to haunt and terrorize them. Throughout the centuries, different superstitions regarding death and burial arose to help keep the dead in their graves, where they belong.

Haitian Lip Sewing

The religion of voodoo is a mixture of several different practices originating in Africa. The main fear is that a deceased person might rise as a zombie. This isn’t the flesh-eating ghoul introduced by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These are bodies animated by a sorcerer (bokor) and forced into an eternal slavery.

One common practice is to sew the corpse’s mouth shut. A bokor could only raise the dead by forcing the deceased to answer its name. Thus, sewing the lips shut prevents the dead from speaking. 

Another way to keep the dead from talking is to bury the corpse face down with its mouth against the earth. A dagger is also given to the deceased so they can stab any bokor who disturbs them. 

Finally, you can distract the dead with trivial tasks. Leaving an eyeless needle that can never be threaded or sprinkling a handful of sesame seeds to be counted will keep the deceased busy so they won’t hear the bokor call their name. 

How Death Got His Scythe

In Eastern Europe, many corpses were found buried with a sickle or scythe positioned across their necks. The idea here is that if a corpse rose from its grave, the sickle would slice the head off. 

People finding these bodies in the Middle Ages associated the sickle and scythe with the apparition of death. 

The reason we see burial stones in the shape of a cross is yet another way to keep the dead where they belong. The sign of the cross was thought to deter an evil spirit. Even a sword, with its cross-like hilt, stabbed into the he grave soil will do the job.

A Coin is Your Ticket to the Afterlife

One superstition, dating back to the ancient Greeks, is to place a coin in the mouth of the deceased. The name for this offering is “Charon’s obol”. An obol is a measure of currency. The Greeks believed that the dead spirit traveled to the underworld where it needed to cross the River Styx. Charon was the ferryman tasked with taking souls across the river. But he didn’t work for nothing. The coin was a bribe to make sure your loved one reached the afterlife. Otherwise, they might return as an evil spirit. 

Greeks are obsessed with the idea of keeping at least one coin on their person at all times. Your pocket or purse should always have at least one coin. Even your bank account needed a little something. This superstition was meant to ensure that you always had money. 

Never Dress Your Corpse in Red

Apparently it’s a difficult journey from the grave to the afterlife. The Chinese believe that a soul travels through the ten Magistrates of Hell, where they face faces trials and torments (one for each sin they committed in life). To ease this journey, monks chanted around the deceased to get them through the Courts of Hell as quickly as possible. There would also be a group of people gambling. The idea being that the corpse must be guarded day and night and the gambling kept the people awake and alert. 

The color red signifies happiness. After a death, all statues of deities in the house should be covered with red paper, to protect them from the corpse. Mirrors are also removed because to see the reflection of a coffin means that you will shortly die. 

The deceased is never dressed in red because this will cause the corpse to return as a ghost. 

Dead Flesh Chewing Gum

In Turkey, gum chewing is perfectly fine so long as it happens during daylight hours. If you chew gum at night, it transforms into the flesh of the dead. The color of Turkish gum is very similar to skin tone and can be mistaken as flesh. 

Additionally, you are not supposed to trim your nails at night otherwise a djinn will paralyze you.

Tim Kane

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Teeny Haunts: Nightcrawlers

I’m not one to fall in for video hoaxes (and there are loads on the Internet) yet… The first time I saw the footage of the Fresno Nightcrawler some years back it sent chills down my spine. Something about the gait and the eerie silence of the creature walking. The fact that it wasn’t meant to scare, made it all the more unnerving.

Theories abound as to what this creature might be. It is a recent phenomenon, dating back to 2007 when a Fresnan caught video of the creature on his security cameras (most of the YouTube videos add music or commentary. Visit this site to watch unadulterated videos). An anonymous home owner installed surveillance cameras because various dogs were trespassing in his yard. He had no idea what he could actually capture on video.

The image shows a pale creature with two long legs loping gracefully across the lawn. Several other videos exist, yet the creature has never been seen in the flesh (or in the sheet). Reactions ranges from a clever hoax to aliens. Even a few viewers have tried to link the creatures to local Native American legends (though these are tenuous).

Enjoy the nightcrawlers. They don’t seem the least bit harmful. Sometimes a mystery can simply be a mystery. And that is fine with me.

Stay creepy.

Cryptids of the World Quiz

Let’s start by saying: I adore cryptids. I made my first cryptid quiz after debating them with a friend over dinner. Recently I stumbled on an excellent cryptic resource: The Cryptozoologicon.

In this intriguing tome, a well-respected paleontologist and two science artists illustrate what these bizarre creatures might look like. This made me think of another quiz. For this, I’ll show you one of their illustrations. Then give you a clue or two. Your goal is to guess the cryptid. Scroll to the bottom to find the answer. Be warned, there were several that I hadn’t heard of.

Cryptid 1


This creature feeds of goats. In fact it’s known as the “goat sucker.” It’s probably the most well known of all the cryptids (minus our bigfooted friend). It lives in Latin America. Any guesses?

Cryptid 2


This tree hugger is a native to Australia. It’s described as a dark-haired “seal dog.” I love this illustration because it theorizes that this cryptid might be a giant otter.

Cryptid 3


I have to put some easy ones in here. If you’ve every watched any sort of Syfy made movie, you’ve probably seen or heard of this giant shark. It’s a creature that did exist long ago. The jury is out if it’s still swimming the waters today.

Cryptid 4


This bizarre turtle from New Guinea was a new one for me. I’d never heard of it. Now I’ll never forget it. Want an idea of scale? Look at the croc swimming in the water beside it. Crazy. It looks like a leftover from the Cretaceous period.

Cryptid 5


This giant primate is related to the American cryptid with a large shoe size. My guess is the authors have this creature change it’s fur color in the same way a snowshoe rabbit does.

Cryptid 6


This bug has been seen all over Mexico and the United States. They zip through the sky, even though they don’t have wings.

The Answers

Before we delve into the cryptid answers, here’s another plug for the Cryptozoologicon.


This excellent book even has diagrams that show cryptid development along with human evolution.



Now, here are the answers to the cryptid quiz:

  1. Chupacabra
  2. Bunyip
  3. Megalodon
  4. The Row
  5. Yeti
  6. Flying Rods

How did you do?

Tim Kane


Warning: Exposure to Cthulhu Causes OCD

Monster Monday: I’m going to attempt to post about monsters (my favorite topic) each Monday. Today we’re talking the mac daddy of all monsters, Cthulhu. Not familiar? It’s hard to sum up in a few lines. He’s a mythical god, older than the pantheons of Greece or the Vikings, that lives in another dimension. He’s part of the Old Ones that ruled Earth aeons ago. They sleep now, but continually seek a way into our world again. To rule and to feed.

The brainchild of author H. P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu and other creepy netherworld critters attempted to scare the life out of various folk in his stories. A recurring theme in his work is that of madness. Imagine actually seeing a god. Coming face to face with one. Not Zeus with his fluffy white beard and lightning bolt. I mean a literal force of nature. Awe inspiring doesn’t cut it. Lovecraft felt that the human mind couldn’t handle such an experience. The typical result was madness.

As a fan of Stephen King, I’ve read two of the stories he’s written that touch on Lovecraftian ideas. One is Crouch End from Nightmares & Dreamscapes. It’s a tremendously creepy tale about a couple of Yanks getting lost on the deserted streets of London. Only one makes it back, though she has lost her sanity.

A more recent story I’ve read is N from Just After Sunset. N refers to the name of an accountant who visits a shrink. The poor fellow developed a crippling case of obsessive compulsive disorder after witnessing a thin spot in the world. Stephen King has written about this sort of thing before. Other worlds border our own and sometimes the fabric that separates the two wears thing. The character N found such a place and was infected by OCD.

Insanity has always been associated with Lovecraft, but this was the first time I’ve read about the madness manifesting as a compulsive disorder. N must count things, and the numbers must always be even. Six is a fix. Eight makes it straight. He also arranges objects in diagonals and circles. He says it’s to save the world. And in this story, he isn’t being metaphorical. Can you imagine, compelled to count and arrange to keep monstrous slimy things out of our world? This story is well worth a read. It has a surprise ending that I won’t spoil, but it’s good enough that I sought it out again to read.

I had forgotten the name and had to listen to nearly all my King audio books until finding it. That’s an obsession. Uh oh. Perhaps I’ve caught N’s compulsion. I better start counting.

(There are 458 words in this post. That’s even. A good number.)

Tim Kane

5 Monstrous Picture Books You Need to Own

Okay, so my four-year-old daughter is a book hound. She has a four shelf bookcase crammed with books. Then there’s the walk-in closet with two more shelves of books. Plus the seasonal books. So I guess she’ll be a reader.

When I cracked out the Halloween books this year, I noticed her gravitate to certain ones more than others. And since I’m still doing most of the reading, I also push her toward various titles. Thank goodness we both like the same books. I’d hate to have to read some dreary couplets night after night until trick or treat time.

Finally I got to thinking about the best books in her collection. For pure Halloween, she has maybe fifteen books, and just general creepy or monster books, you could add perhaps ten or fifteen more (I haven’t done an official count).

The five books that follow are the ones I can read over and over and never tire of. Plus she digs these books and comes back to them.

Zombie in Love
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Pictures by Scott Campbell

We picked this up a week ago in Barnes and Noble. I knew my daughter liked it because we read probably the whole Halloween selection and she only wanted this one. (I did put all the books back in their places).

What’s not to love about a zombie love story. It stars poor Mortimer who just wants someone to dance with. He’s accompanied by a group of tiny worms and his decaying dog. Mortimer is, of course, a zombie. So his come ons to women are molding chocolates and a diamond ring with a rotting finger. (My wife says this is the unrealistic part, as any woman would still take the ring, finger or no.)

The tale is sweet and hilarious as Mortimer tries and fails to get a date for the Cupid’s Ball dance (making this an excellent book also for Valentine’s day). I don’t think I’m spoiling too much when I say he does find someone. The final pages show the couple eating a brain cake picnic in the park. Ah, zombie love.

Halloween Night
Written by Marjorie Dennis Murray
Pictures by Brandon Dorman

I also picked this up a week ago (though the book came out in 2008). I was initially attracted to the Dorman’s amazing illustrations. Mostly I was searching for books with lots of monsters in them. My daughter loves the Universal monsters and likes to see the whole array represented. (Ideally, I want a werewolf book, but those are sadly lacking.)

When I got the book home and started reading it, I noticed that it was a riff off “The Night Before Christmas.” Check out these lines:

’Twas Halloween night, and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, including the mouse;
The walls were aflutter with little brown bats,
While hordes of black spiders crept out of the cracks.

The art inside is captivating. There are bats, spiders, zombies, ghosts, mummies, goblins and a two headed creature called Ogre and Olaf. This is exactly what you imagine a Halloween book should be. A fun ride with lots of monsters.

The plot here is simple. Instead of Santa Claus visiting a house, a witch is setting up a party for the trick or treaters. But when they arrive, they’re scared off by the creepy ghoulies, and the party has to continue human-free. One nice touch at the end is the monsters using a jack-o-lantern as a piñata. (I don’t think it’d work, but I’m dying to try.)

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
By Adam Rex

True, this is not a Halloween book per se. It’s more a book honoring the Universal monsters (and anyone who loves them as much as I do must own this book). It has the whole crew: Frankenstein’s Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Phantom of the Opera, witches, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, Count Dracula, the Mummy, the Yeti and Bigfoot, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, zombies, and Godzilla. Did we leave anybody out?

The book is a series of short stories (some long, some one page) about the various monsters. It’s clear that Mr. Rex adores these creatures as much as I do, because he plays with them without maligning their image.

My two favorite stories are the Phantom and Godzilla. The Phantom is actually a running gag where he can’t write a song because all these others are stuck in his head. Because of this, my daughter only knows the words to “It’s a Small World” as “Angry cursing fills the hall. / Now he’s crawling up the wall. / It’s a small, small world.” Plus she can hum the them to “The Girl from Ipanema.”

Godzilla is a two page gag where Godzilla poops on a poor man’s Honda. Nuff said.

Monster Museum
Written by Marilyn Singer
Pictures by Gris Grimly

I’m a huge fan of Gris Grimly. In fact nearly all of his books would make excellent Halloween stories. Monster Museum features all the major monsters, and this is what drew me in.
The plot is simple, a group of nine kids tours the monster museum. You see one after another nabbed by a critter as the pages unfold. By the end, there are only two kids left. Yet the final page shows all the monsters coming back to school with the kids (the happy ending).

If you’ve never seen Gris Grimly’s artwork, you’re missing out. I visit his booth every year at the San Diego Comic Con. We even have one of his prints at home. He always has a slightly twisted bent on the world that comes through with his figures.

You should pick this up if only for the inclusion of the cockatrice, chimera, and gorgon. Plus these awesome lines about the unicorn:

A lizard with wigs is a horror,
A stallion with wings is a beaut.
A snake with a horn is a nightmare,
A mare with a horn is just cute.

ABC Spookshow
By Ryan Heshka

This book is mostly art, but the illustrations are out of this world. Heshka does the creepiest ABC book I’ve yet seen (and I do own a Cthulhu ABC book, so I should know). Some of the subjects he chooses to represent the letters is just brilliant. Check these out:

E is for Ectoplasm
K is for Karloff
L is for Lugosi
(Even in ABC, Lugosi gets second billing)
Q is for Quagmire Monster

This little book is worth it for the art alone. Any one of the illustrations could be a stand alone poster.

Hope these help darken your mood. They’re all filled to the bring with enough creep to make you giggle and also stand your hair on end.

Tim Kane