Halloween folklore is frightful fun

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2005

When I was a little boy, my father hauled my sister and me into the bedroom and told us the story about Rawhead and Bloody Bones.

Interesting character, this Mr. Bloody Bones. He lived under a stairwell and attacked small children, (in this particular story, the girl's name was Mary), at night, clawing away their sheets and blankets one by one. &#8220Mary, I'm pulling off the first sheetŠMary, I'm pulling off the secondŠ” By the time my father came to the last protective barrier between Mary and certain death at the hands of some hellish creature, we were as jumpy as grasshoppers.

My mother, of course, picked this time to enter the bedroom, wearing a ghostly white night gown, and scared us half to death.

The tale of Rawhead and Bloody Bones is just one of the millions of stories that have circumvented the globe; a dark tale of the boogeyman who lurks just beyond the reaches of sanity and civilization, silently waiting until some unsuspecting soul wanders too far into the night.

Rawhead and Bloody Bones hails from Ireland. Along with the leprechauns, St. Patrick and the pot of gold, the Irish also saw fit to give us their nightmares as well. Originally, old Rawhead was a water demon that lived in the marsh pits and dragged unsuspecting travelers to a watery death. In a later telling, the creature moved indoors, scurrying around beneath the cupboards and - and most notoriously - the stairs.

Katherine Briggs, in her &#8220Encyclopedia of Fairies”, offers this description:

&#8220If you were heroic enough to peep through a crack you would get a glimpse of the dreadful crouching creature, with blood running down his face, seated on a pile of raw bones that had belonged to children who told lies or said bad words. If you peeped through the keyhole at him he got you anyway.”

Stories and folklore like Rawhead and Bloody Bones was a prelude to everything scary to come after. Humans have an inherent need to be scared, it seems. Hence the popularity of fright novels or scary movies about hatchet wielding madmen or little girls who become possessed by the devil.

The first scary movie I ever saw was &#8220Phantasm.”. Early 80s, I believe and they replayed it as CBS's late night movie on Friday night. It was all about something sinister going on at a local mortuary, ran by a dark, imposing figure referred to simply as the &#8220Tall Man.”

To me, it was Rawhead and Bloody Bones come to life on the television screen.

Happy Halloween.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: editor@greenville.advocate.com.