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.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sack_Man

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.
https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/freaky-fairy-tale-ancient-folklore-vasilisa-beautiful-and-baba-yaga-009545

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJ0w6TyTeVk&t=908s

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.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhvJiPpTO4s

Kid Fears : Naughtiest Girl in the World Fears

Do bad girls and boys really get coal in their stockings? We had a fireplace in my home growing up, but not a mantle so hanging stockings wasn’t one of our Christmas traditions. 

However, I always wondered if we did, would I have always found coal in my stocking? Was it because we were a stockingless household that Santa never brought what I asked for? Was disregarding my requests his way of letting me know I’d been a bad girl all year? (Again.)

I was no peach, I’ll admit. I could be a difficult child. Knowing what we know these days about special needs children, autism and the like, I wonder if I would’ve been diagnosed with something?

I liked routines. Surprises scared me and would often prompt tantrums or withdrawals. If I knew something was coming or my routine would be disrupted, I fared better. But spring an unexpected stop on me? Or my dad having to take me to school instead of my mom with no advanced notice? Expect major drama. 

But I don’t think my parents ever did expect it. Did they brace themselves for the fallout, or did they continue to be surprised by my meltdowns and not connect the dots? 

I’m thinking the latter because they never tried anything different, ie. a softer approach. They expected me to fall in line, and if I didn’t –which I didn’t– I could expect a major butt spanking. This was the 70s and my parents were old school. Discipline involved corporal punishment. Needless to say, I was well acquainted with the practice. 

I never kept count of how many spankings I got each year. Did Santa? I always just hoped each year when Christmas rolled around I’d have been better and Santa knew it. Or at least he’d know I’d tried really, really hard.

But every year it was the same thing: Naughty List. 

In the early years, I’d tell Santa my wishes in person at the mall. When I learned to write, I’d add in a letter. Because maybe that was the problem. He’d seen so many kids –from all over the world– he’d forgotten what I’d asked for. But if it was in writing, maybe I’d get what I really wanted.

Nope. That didn’t help either.

Don’t get me wrong. I got great gifts from my mom and dad. It’s not like I wasn’t spoiled. 

But the big gift that was supposed to come from Santa was never the big gift my heart longed for. 

So until I learned the truth about Santa, my biggest childhood fear was I’d never get off the naughty list. No matter how hard I tried. 

And I did try. My resolution every year aimed for a No Spankings one. I always failed. It made me wonder about the good kids. How did they make it through a whole year without getting in trouble? They must be extraordinary!

And back to the coal…did the bad kids who hung stockings really get it?

Embarrassment prevented me from asking my friends. Plus, Santa always seemed to bring them exactly what they wanted. Who wants to admit they’re the naughty one? I sure didn’t.

But for years I feared: am I the naughtiest girl in the world? 

Kid Fears : Demon Pigs and Other Childhood Frears by Pricilla Bettis

Demon Pigs and Other Childhood Fears

Slobbering pigs frequently defied gravity and appeared outside the window of my second-story, childhood bedroom in Alaska. These weren’t the cute, when-pigs-fly variety with angel-like wings to lift them to the height of my window. These pigs silently hovered, and they were one of my childhood fears. I’m decades removed from those days, but I still remember my three supernatural childhood fears, starting with the demon pigs.

The pigs would arrive one or two at a time. Their overgrown incisors gleamed white in the midnight sun, and they drooled when they spotted me through the window because they had a taste for human flesh. During the Alaskan winters when the night sky was black and endless, the pigs’ eyes glowed red.

Another fear I had was the vampire under my bed. The cavern below the bed frame was the darkest part of my room and a natural place for an undead creature to lurk. Sometimes the vampire’s hand would skitter out, find the glow cast from the ceiling light, and snap back. I wasn’t allowed to go to sleep with the light on, so I’d stand by the wall switch and, leaving one hand on the switch, crouch like a runner about to dash from the starting line. I’d flip the switch as I leapt forward, and I would sprint then hurl myself onto the bed. The idea was to be airborne before my naked feet got close to the underbowels of my bed where the vampire could snag my ankle with his bony, pale fingers. He had thick, grey fingernails that ended in points like claws. Fortunately, once on top of the bed, I was safe from the vampire.

But I wasn’t safe from the witch in the closet. A few times Daddy would humor me after I called for him, and he’d check my closet. (Of course, I couldn’t check the closet myself because that would mean stepping on the floor near the bed where the vampire could get me.) The witch wasn’t a modern Wiccan woman in tune with nature, no, not that kind of witch. She wasn’t even an old hag from a storybook. This witch was wicked and immortal and freakishly muscular. She stood hunched over with her stringy, dark hair hanging to the sides of her white face. Her eyes were yellow either from centuries of age or from the evil coursing through her body. Her fingernails were yellow, too. (What was it with my younger self and the fingernail detail?) She snarled a lot, and her teeth were too sharp.

It didn’t take a psychologist to figure out why I saw (imagined) these creatures. The brain is a powerful thing and can mess with our bodies and our senses. For instance, when I was four I woke up late at night on Christmas Eve and spied my mother placing presents under the tree. No, it can’t be Mommy! It has to be Santa. My young brain was traumatized by the thought that Santa might not be real. I blinked, and my mother became a jolly old man in a red suit. I can still picture him near the tree to the right of the fireplace.

Later, in elementary school, a teacher had a violent meltdown in the classroom. The metal trash can went soaring and landed with the noise of a construction zone. He shoved desks and threw a chair. He yelled words that until then I had only heard whispered in the far corner of the playground. That evening the vampire appeared under my bed for the first time, and while I knew the beast was simply a reaction to my teacher’s outburst, the vampire refused to leave.

As for the demonic pigs, when the neighborhood newspaper delivery girl had a misunderstanding with my parent’s overpayment, she carved a dirty word in our front door and toilet-papered our house. I got in trouble for it. The pigs appeared a few hours later.

I’m not sure when the witch first appeared, but any of the three fearsome beasts could and would pop up when I’d had a tough day.

Nowadays, I manage life’s stressful encounters from the perspective of adulthood, and I no longer see pigs hovering outside my window or worry about approaching my bed in the dark. But I do still choose to believe in Santa.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Priscilla Bettis read her first grownup horror story, The Exorcist, when she was a little kid. (Because, if you think about it, the children’s book The Three Little Pigs is also a horror story.) She snuck the grownup book from her parents’ den. The Exorcist scared Priscilla silly, and she was hooked on the power of the horror genre from that moment on. She blogs about her writing journey at https://priscillabettisauthor.wordpress.com.