Kid Fears: A History of the Bogeyman

It’s an enigmatic entity known to everyone, one that has almost as many faces as it does names. From all around the world people, mainly children,  live in fear of it; parents use its influence to insure good behavior, or as a fable to ward off mischief. It has been portrayed in countless mediums (art, film, etc…), rarely great, sometimes good, but often bad, and understandably so, as we will explore. This being, as you may have guessed is known almost universally as the Bogeyman!

As far back as the 1500’s this creature has been warped and molded throughout history and made its way through many of cultures who have adorned it with mythical status. While its image and origins have come to vary from country and time, there are a few consistent elements that have carried over to modern day. No matter its form, the Bogeyman is known to primarily focus its torment on that of misbehaving children, or those indirectly involved in such activities. They stalk and prey on their unsuspecting victims, usually waiting for them in their closets, or most commonly depicted underneath their beds, watching—waiting. In many cases they are said to feed on these children who are never to be seen again. Now, in context, coming as it did from a 16th century narrative, it’s not difficult to see how such tales were a perfect means to govern your children. Hell, even kids today might be so influenced by such a creature, though it may take some more convincing and the effect wouldn’t be as lasting.
These fables mostly came from isolated pockets of populates, usually villages in or near the miles of unexplored woods where tales of beasts and witches came for them all. Many lived in fear, and the Bogeyman as it was can be used as a sort of surrogate explanation for any misfortune. Even mass populations (towns, cities, etc…) were not safe, and had their own beliefs.

The Sackman, mainly of eastern Europe is a wide spread depiction reaching all around the globe, of a man who would roam the streets at night looking for any would be children who had not obeyed their parents and remained in bed. He is said to have a large bag slung over his shoulder, by which he would carry the children off to torment and eat. You can see how such a story would be of great use to parents, as well as the depiction relatively vague and simple; a man with a bag. I imagine there were plenty of them walking around at all hours. Homeless, vagrants; should a child lay their eyes on someone like this through their window at night, the shock of fear would almost be a guarantee.

El Coco (Cucu as is the female pronunciation) is the representation from Latin America. As far back as 1799 may be one of the earliest portrayals of our modern understanding of the Bogeyman (or woman, in this case), is said to hide under beds, or in closets, even watching from rooftops for disobedient children. ElCoco (Cucu) seems to be one of the more nefarious types that actively seeks and looks to kidnap children. With no specific form to itself, but it is known to be a shapeshifter of sorts, it is referred to sometimes as a “ghost monster” or even more rarely “the Devil”, even an alligator as one Brazilian description would claim. One of the more intriguing aspects is that of the numerous poems that are told in its name, one of the oldest comes from the 17th century which reads:

“Sleep child, sleep now,
Else coco comes, and will eat you—
Another, more traditional Brazilian spin is as follows:
Sleep little baby,
That Cuca comes to get you—
Daddy went to the farm,
Mommy went to work—”

If you ask me, these read like a creature intent on inflicting terror in innocent eyes, and not so much a simple foreboding tale.

The Baba Yaga or Witch of the Woods of Slavic culture is one we might all be familiar with thanks to its depiction in the more recent Hellboy or Ant Man films. Baba Yaga, come at night—Little children sleeping tight— Yeah, we all know it. However, Baba Yaga has a few more layers to it, specifically she; “she” being almost always a female, or rather an old hag of sorts, is known to not only seek out and eat children that should happen upon her home in the woods, but also to help those in need if they so earn her respect.

Baba Yaga has some of the more colorful characteristics in Bogeyman lore, for she is said to live in a house stilted atop a pair of chicken legs and enclosed by a fence made of human bones and skulls. She wanders the woods with her mortar and pestle, always ready to cook up her remedies, or victims. Usually an old frail woman, sometimes represented by not one but three women of the like; you can see how stories of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Clash of the Titans or any number of Witching tales can be derived from such a concept. Once again, she is more noteworthy for her desire for small children, and yet it isn’t her appearance but her actions which places her in the category of Bogey(wo)man. Baba Yaga is rich with history I’m looking more into, but for those who wish to do the same, I’ll include two links below, one of which is an early mentioning in a story by Alexander Afanasyev (1826 – 1871) Vasilisa the Beautiful. I might liken it to a vague similarity to Cinderella, but tell me what you think.

The final one I’ll mention here, as there are endless representations of the Bogeyman, is Black Annis of 18th century English descent. An interesting and, something of a more credible telling as Black Annis is said to be a misrepresentation of a real person, Agnes Scott. Both are said to have haunted the countryside of Leicestershire in the Dane Hills. Both are claimed to have lived in a cave marked by a large oak tree. But where the living Scott was said to be a reclusive nun who spent her life isolated in prayer, Black Annis was said to prowl the streets at night in search of children and lambs (livestock) to eat, only to tan their skins after and wear them around her waist, and go so far as to reach in through windows for her victims. A slight difference in interpretation you’d say! Makes me wonder did this Agnes Scott do something to bring about such a legacy unto herself? Although it’s been conjecture that this is only two similar stories molded to one ominous spin.

Nevertheless… it is a menacing creature no matter its form of concept, one that we are all weary of at some point in our lives. It is hard to contemplate why such a versatile being can be so hard to sell in fiction, though these days it’s understandable. It’s been tried many times, even in its own questionable film titled Boogeyman (2005). Hell, ECW/WWE had a character portrayal of the same name! But for a creature as adaptable and ever-changing as the Bogeyman, to confine it to a single image may be what dooms its representation. For this reason I, as well as many I’m sure, feel that Michael Myers may be the best representation; simple, ordinary, “Purely, and simply evil.” Sam Loomis (Halloween) may have known it best, confirming Laurie’s claim that it was the Bogeyman. “As a matter of fact, it was.”