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If you don't believe in monsters, you're part of a tiny minority of humans. Pretty much all of the cultures on Earth have believed in monsters for most of their history and, even stranger, they all believed in the same monsters. We recently pointed out that every culture has some variation of the vampire legend and that's true of all the standard monsters--zombies, werewolves, etc.


Mexico's werewolves leave much to be desired.

But why? Well, it has to do with the wiring of the human brain, the evolution of cultures and, most importantly, the fact that people are dicks. All of which may spell bad news for the human race...

6
Zombies

Zombies were inadvertently invented by a nameless stray dog, thousands of years ago.

I'm not kidding.

Been Around Since...

"I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living... I shall make the dead outnumber the living."

Where do you think the above line comes from? George Romero? That one movie about the army of Nazi Zombies?

It's from an ancient Babylonian epic that was written five thousand years ago. It's one of the oldest written works we know about. So forget about Night of the Living Dead or even the old Haitian Voodoo zombie priests. Zombies go way back. There's even a zombie army in the freaking Old Testament.

Which brings us to that random stray dog.

Experts think that back before we even had such a thing as stories or even language, the whole idea of resurrected undead came when some dog sniffed some rotting meat a few inches under loose soil: a recently-buried body. The dog digs up a hand, chews on it a bit, then runs off when he hears people coming. The people show up, see a single hand jutting up from the dirt and run like hell. "He's coming back! SHIT!"

Thousands and thousands of years later, you'll see that exact same image on the covers of zombie novels and movie posters: the rotting hand, clawing up from the ground. It's stamped into our consciousness.

For the Love of God, Why?

People back then already suspected the dead were a bunch of douchebags because anyone who hung around rotting, oozing corpses tended to get sick. Not knowing what microbes were, they declared the dead (and areas where the dead hung out) to be "cursed" or "haunted." So already people knew corpses were something to be afraid of.

But people who study things like zombies say there is a psychological element; that seeing humans turned inhuman raises some really awful doubts about human nature. What if all of the things we think make us human--our thoughts, our feelings for our loved ones--is all pointless bullshit? After all, even insects live, eat, have sex and build things, and they do it all without "minds" or "souls" or even a simple high-five to celebrate a job well done. So all that stuff we think makes us special... what does it matter?

So, when confronted by a human who's been transformed into a mindless, shambling predator, the terror is in the sneaking suspicion that we're looking into a mirror.


Jesus. Let's pause for a boob break.

But then you have to take into account...

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

Of course, when we fear that humans are, at bottom, nothing more than mindless animals, what we really mean is other people are mindless animals.

So what happens is zombies now get used as symbols for every group we fear and hate. It's no secret that Romero used zombies to symbolize the communist hordes in his first movie, and mindless consumers in his second. Today, Resident Evil makes zombies the foot soldiers of an evil corporation and mad scientists. All of it plays to the "us vs. them" theme, "us" as the "real," thinking and feeling humans; zombies in the role of "them," ie whatever group of immoral rabble is destroying the world this week.

Also, as we've pointed out before, zombies are the last enemies that are considered politically correct to slaughter. In an era when we're even supposed to feel guilty about killing robots (I, Robot) and aliens (The Day the Earth Stood Still), we'll give up our right to splatter zombie brains when you pry it from our cold, dead fingers.

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5
Vampires

Not only does every culture have some variation of the vampire, they're so freaking popular right now that you could start a damned religion around them. Hell, somebody probably already has.

Been Around Since...

Let's put it this way: There are shards of ancient Persian pottery depicting blood-sucking creatures. That pre-dates all written records, folks.

But the more specific "dead guy rising from the grave to suck blood" vampire (and in fact, the word "vampire") comes from Eastern Europe folklore, where they combined fear of blood suckers with the always-present fear of the reanimated dead (yes, the vampire also probably owes its invention to that same fucking dog).


He is currently owed $40-billion in royalties.

For the Love of God, Why?

Vampires were considered a separate species from the zombie thanks to the fact that no two corpses rot in exactly the same way. Sometimes the skin flakes off in such a way as to leave the remaining skin looking smooth and undamaged and gases from decomposition can cause the body to inflate, giving the appearance of being fat or healthier than they were at death. Also, skin tightens around fingernails and hair, so it looks like it has grown. Dig one up and you'd get the impression it had just spent the night roaming the countryside.


Cracked.com Legal reminds you that this site does not officially
encourage readers to fact-check this article by unearthing a corpse.

But why would they dig it up in the first place?

Diseases like tuberculosis and bubonic plague were rampant. They would rip apart the lungs and make the corpse bleed at the mouth. So you have a village where suddenly everyone is dying of the same symptoms, seemingly "drained" of their life or energy, and here's this bastard in his coffin, obviously faking death, with goddamned blood around his mouth! Put a stake through his heart already!

But then, in an awesome twist that no one could have predicted, the idea of the vampire kind of gave people a boner. Sexy stories emerged of handsome, powerful vampires exchanging body fluids by sucking on the necks of hot women. There's another few centuries of popularity for you. Today you can watch an episode of True Blood right until the screen is obscured by your erection.


A True Blood vampire "attack."

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

Hey, remember how they tended to blame diseases on vampires? It turns out many of our superstitions stem from the first rule of human dickery: Everything bad has to be someone's fault. Thus you have the 18th Century vampire panics--the vampire version of the witch hunts when a whole lot of accused vampires were hunted and killed (though the body count was not as high as the witch hunts, thanks to the somewhat hilarious fact that many of the accused were corpses).

Of course they have the same "humans as predators" appeal as zombies, but with the added twist that it makes being a vampire seem kind of awesome. The message of the vampire is that in order to achieve absolute power, we must treat our fellow humans as prey. And as others have brilliantly pointed out, most of us only hate the idea if we think we're on the "prey" side of that equation.

Wait... what does it say about us that the vampire is now pretty much our main pop culture hero?


I think it says we're dicks.

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4
Witches

We're not talking about modern day Wiccans here. We're talking about this:

Warts, green skin, riding on a broom, owns a cauldron. Honestly, who the fuck came up with that combination? A broom? Why a broom?

The answer is far weirder than you think.

Been Around Since...

Talk of black magic spells that can cause sickness or death, and people who cast them, goes back to ancient Babylonia which again means it goes back as far as the written words. So we're talking thousands of years before the Witch Hunts that happened in Europe.

For the Love of God, Why?

None of it would likely have happened if anyone had a microscope.

Remember how we said vampires wound up the target of a "blame game" when disease outbreaks struck? No one got it worse than witches.

The way sickness had the ability to hop invisibly from household to household--even when the members avoided direct contact--was once considered absolute proof that dark magic existed. And as we have already established, someone had to be blamed, since blame is the only thing that makes us feel better in anxious times. But why did they take it out on (usually female) witches instead of, say, fat guys? Well...


Etching of a witch trial about to be interrupted by a motorcycle.

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

First, we wound up with the warty, green-skinned Halloween decoration-slash-Wizard of Oz villain we call a witch today because at some point we combined the "witch" with the "hag" or "crone"; ugly, old, cackling women who have turned up in scary stories going back millennia. In societies where women were considered worthless if they weren't bearing children, old women (and especially widows) were basically hated. So, they got cast as villains.

And why do they ride broomsticks? Well, one (awesome) theory is that women used to use broomsticks to take hallucinogenic drugs through their vaginas.

No, really. Some historians say the practitioners of witchcraft were using hallucinogenic plants like mandrake and belladonna to perform their "magic," and even believe they were flying. Such drugs work best when applied to the thin skin of mucus membranes... like the labia. So the story goes the "witches" would apply their "magic potion" to their broom sticks and "fly."


Kid! No!!

If you think all of this points to a really low opinion of women, you've basically figured out where witches come from. It really all comes down to good old-fashioned misogyny: men demanding utter dominance in the society, and hating--hating--the mysterious power that women (ie, boobs) have over them.

Thus a famous 15th Century witch-hunting manual warns that women are more susceptible to the dark arts because they're naturally weaker. They're also fond of tempting men into sin and naturally, witchcraft gives them the power to magically steal men's penises (it doesn't take Freud to puzzle that one out).

Another writer back in the day claimed that women performed witchcraft by strategically withholding sex. And by "back then" I of course mean a famous televangelist said that last month.

If that's not up-to-the-minute enough for you, on the day this article was written five accused witches were stripped, beaten and forced to eat human feces in India. Uh, yeah. Not so easy to make a Halloween decoration out of that.

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3
Ghosts

Please note that this article is not resolving the question of life after death, but specifically the idea that after death you come back and wander around your house or cemetery as a translucent version of yourself.

Been Around Since...

Now here's a phenomenon even more universal than the zombie or the vampire. Dig into folklore from ancient China, ancient Europe, ancient Egypt, ancient anywhere, and you find ghosts. Humans have believed in ghosts for as long as we've had the brain power to believe anything.

For the Love of God, Why?

The whole idea of the deceased appearing as a blurry, pale form is thought to go back to cave men seeing a person's frosty breath on a cold day and thinking that was the magical stuff that kept them alive (after all, when a man dies, that pale stuff stops coming out). When the caveman sees his friend get eaten by a dinosaur, he sees the steam rise from the wounds into the cold air and thinks, "that's Ogg's soul escaping!" Then he hops into his foot-powered car, strapping himself in with a seatbelt that is also a snake.

Granted, that theory also means ancient man thought that a bowl of soup had a soul, as well as dog turds. But remember it was the tradition at the time to not believe anything unless it was completely retarded.


Thankfully that tradition has passed.

Also, people back then weren't so good at telling the difference between dreams and reality, so a dream about the recently deceased was considered a visit.

But weirdest of all, solidifying the concept was the baffling phenomenon of out-of-body experiences, which scientists have now figured out is due to a malfunction of a part of the brain called the temporoparietal junction. It's responsible for gathering sensory data and using it to create a general sense of how your body is positioned, so you're not always banging your head on things.

But when it misfires, it can mistakenly think your body is, say, across the room from your mind. In experiments scientists have manipulated that part of the brain to make a guy think he was three feet away from his own body.

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

Of course these beliefs have been happily assisted by countless mediums and psychics and John Edward types who will "contact" your loved ones and tell you everything you want to hear. For a fee.

But even they are really just playing off the fact that grief makes us selfish; we assume that if our loved ones exist as ghosts, they're surely still hanging around the house waiting to hear from us, rather than, say, up in Heaven playing dodge ball with Teddy Roosevelt.

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2
Werewolves

Werewolves are the next vampires. They star in the Twilight sequel, and there's another huge werewolf movie coming soon thereafter (The Wolfman). So get ready to be fucking sick of werewolves.


Too late.

Been Around Since...

We have freaking cave drawings from 14,000 years ago depicting humans with animal features, or transforming into animals. So, yeah.

For the Love of God, Why?

We'd assume that this one came about when our caveman saw his friend Ogg walk behind a boulder and then saw a wolf come trotting out the other side. Said caveman runs back home and says, "Wilma! I totally saw Ogg transform into a wolf! Ogg is a wolf now! How awesome is that?"

Then Ogg comes ambling up saying, "Why did you leave me back there? I was taking a shit." The tribe thus comes to the natural conclusion that Ogg can transform into a wolf and then turn back.

That's just a guess, of course. What we do know is that the animal the supposed werewolf transforms into differs according to whatever is the most dangerous predator in the region--in Europe, wolf attacks used to be common so they have werewolves. But in Central America they have were-jaguars, in central Asia, were-bears. Which leads us right to...

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

Here we are again, taking a natural phenomenon (wolf attacks) and crazily deciding the hairiest guy in the village must somehow be their ringleader. And yes, accused "werewolves" were put on trial and killed in Europe the same as witches and vampires (by the way, the "transforming at the full moon" part was added in the middle ages or earlier, at a time when it was thought that a full moon in general brought out the crazy in people).


Ozzy never fooled anyone with that moon business.

It didn't help that there is a mental illness that causes people to think they're animals. Strangely, it seems to involve the same misfire in the brain that creates the out-of-body experience; the brain convinces the person that they have a body similar to an animal in shape, and the imagination does the rest. And when I say "the rest" I mean they have been caught eating people.

You'll also notice that the "what if we're all just animals after all?" principle is at play once again, but it takes the "wouldn't it be sort of awesome, though?" idea even further than the vampire. As a werewolf you have none of the disadvantages of the vampire, no allergy to sunlight or garlic or crosses. Just once a month, you become a total badass who can hunt down and tear the throat out of even the strongest man.

So while people back then feared getting killed by a werewolf, you have to wonder how much they actually feared turning into one.


Let's ask the furries.

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1
Aliens

Specifically, we're talking about the "abduct you in the middle of the night and give you an anal probe" aliens. These days they're almost always short, with gray skin and huge black eyes.

Been Around Since...

They've always been around, we just used to call them something else. And the anal probing part isn't new, either. If you're wondering how legends survive over thousands of years, look no further.

If you're a regular reader you already know about Popobawa, a mythical demon in Tanzania who, you guessed it, sneaks into the home of victims at night and rapes them in the ass.


And he won't even lube up first.

Demon abduction/rape stories go way back and as Carl Sagan pointed out in The Demon Haunted World, the details were identical to what we're calling alien abduction stories now--the demons even were often said to be able to fly, or live in the sky. In German folklore you had the alp, a creature who would enter your room at night, sit on your chest, try to coerce you into sex and, sometimes, drink milk from the nipples of men (wait, what?). But even that is just a variation of the incubus, a demon or spirit who supposedly drifted into your home at night and slipped you some demon boner in your sleep. That's a character that goes back at least 4,500 years.

For the Love of God, Why?

You can thank a combination of sleep paralysis and a long tradition of being really uptight about sex.

Primitive people used to think sleep paralysis (when you sort of wake up but sort of don't, and can't move your limbs) was the result of the evil spirit or demon holding them down (often depicted as a demon sitting on the chest) and you can certainly see why. Sleep paralysis can trigger all sorts of random sensory data in the brain, from sounds to hallucinations of someone else in the room to, yes, sexual arousal.

So why do abductees these days describe the aliens as "greys"--guys with huge heads and huge black eyes? That description goes back to the late 19th century at least and some believe it's hard-wired into the brain. Infants are apparently born with a crude idea of what eyes look like; show a newborn a piece of paper with two huge black eyes on it, and it will look right into it as if it was a person.*

When your brain is in that half-asleep state and is trying to paste a face onto the being it thinks is there, it pulls from that same crude, innate template. Just two big dark eyes, with the rest of the face an afterthought.


*babies are stupid.

The "People are Dicks" Factor:

You might not have noticed this, but traditionally our society gets kind of weird when it comes to sex, and especially what it views as deviant sex acts. It's bad now but it used to be much worse, so it's no surprise a society terrified of deviant sex would have nightmares about it. Then, those demons made for great cover stories for women who got pregnant or lost their virginity out of wedlock, and for men who perhaps were overheard having enthusiastic anal sex from the next room. Damn that gay rape demon!

But here's the scary part:

What makes aliens different than the rest of the cheesy horror movie monsters on this list is that lots of people in the modern world still believe in them. About a third of us believe in alien abductions, a number that is growing. There is a movie coming out that's building its entire ad campaign around the assumption that alien abductions are real.

And that, friends, is why the monsters will never die. When the old monsters are disproven, we just invent new ones. I mocked the third-world countries for chasing witches, but even college-educated Americans believe in the supernatural, often more than their non-educated friends. It turns out the stuff we get taught in school just makes us better at inventing reasons to believe. As skeptic Michael Shermer put it: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

That's why we're just counting down the years until the next "witch hunt." We believe in monsters--and subconsciously think of our fellow humans as monsters--because we want to. And that may be humanity's biggest dick-move of all.

David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com and a NYT bestselling author. You probably don't know that his long-awaited new novel is out right now at Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Indiebound, iTunes, Powell's, your local bookstore, or anywhere else books are sold!

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