Folklore is a fascinating subject, twisting itself to fit the cultural mold of the time it’s in. From comics to holidays, folklore has served as the origin of our greatest stories. As each culture adds to the original legend, the myths become more robust with each passing century. Vampires, for example, have evolved many times in the past two centuries. So here we stand as writers, staring at blank pages and looking to spice up our creative worlds. I always default back to traditional legends for both inspiration and world-spice as an Urban Fantasy writer, and since truth is often stranger than fiction, here’s a handful of inspiration to keep you writing 100 days in a row.
Trick Or Treating
Halloween itself has undergone many changes—from Samhain, to All Saints Day, to All Hallows Eve. But throughout them, the act of Trick-or-Treating has remained a constant. Originally called “Mumming” or “Guising”; from the 16th century it’s been recorded in Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales. People would impersonate the Aois Si, or the souls of the dead and nature, and then received offerings on their behalf. The guisers would personify the old spirits and demand reward in exchange for good fortune.
A.M. Ruth Edna Kelley’s 1919 The Book of Hallowe’en remains as a time-honored classic about the origins and practices of various methods of mumming and all things related to the holiday. You can find out the actual verses of the dead they recited in exchange for food and wine. Or even about Scotland men with masked, veiled, and blackened faces threatening mischief if their demands weren’t met. I’d like to reestablish the tradition of food and wine for the adults who pay homage of mumming once again. Halloween has been a continual backdrop for written and on-screen stories since its origins and no matter what tale you are writing, adding this seasonal backdrop just works.
The Staking of Vampires
Vampires have undergone significant evolution since their initial debuts in legend. From old tales depicting vampires as reanimated corpses, wraiths dressed in tattered burial shrouds, or even Japanese folklore of floating heads that hijack bodies. But today, the stake through the heart is a metaphorical silver bullet to the vampire. From catatonic immobilization to instant destruction—the current legend is flashier than its origin. Vampires are used in countless, countless urban fantasy books and while us writers can play god in our own worlds, it’s probably a good thing to know the original legends if you are going to use them.
The belief was that corpses, were crawling out of their coffins, and feasting on their relatives. So folks advised nailing the corpse to the bottom of the coffin as a routine burial practice. Stakes didn’t need to be made of obscure wooden materials or placed through the heart. A steel stake or a rock, driven through the rib cage would suffice—almost like pitching a tent. Which, ultimately, seems a lot smarter than trying to stake a vampire who is active and wields powers of the undead. Pre-emptive action and safety measures regarding the undead hurt no one.
The Witchfinder General
We know witches have had a terrible rap throughout history. Being accused of witchcraft in the 1600’s meant horrible things for you, and it’s something that needs to remain as a footnote in the past. In any fiction or horror, you need a grounded reaction from the “audience”. A straight man. A group of muggles who will point and scream when faced with the supernatural, and more often than not, turn violent. Thankfully, ‘floating the witch’ is now removed as an American pastime, but without the Witchfinder General at the helm it could’ve lasted even longer.
Mathew Hopkins was an English Witch-Hunter and claimed to hold the office of the Witchfinder General in 1644. In this office’s existence, a grand total of 3 years, they hanged more people for witchcraft than in the previous 100 years. Towns in northeast America would hire his office to handle the interrogations and investigations of witches. This quickly turned into a booming business, getting paid per witch found. It was Hopkins’ greed and financial gain that caused the practice to stop. It was money that caused local magistrates to investigate these trials and why so much coin went to the ‘Office of the Witchfinder General’.
Remember this tale of the Witchfinder General when your protagonist decides to demonstrate her special powers in high school class. Relatively speaking, it wasn’t that long ago that we tied rocks to her feet and threw her in a lake.
There are still countless legends regarding our iconic Halloween symbols, from black cats bringing good luck to the true origin of Zombies that could be further explored. I’d love to hear any neat historic myths that us geeks can wrangle up and if you want stalk me on the interwebs and reach out!