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Who's Your Boogeyman?

Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. I recently watched the 2023 The Bogeyman, on streaming after having missed it in cinema, and had a fun enough time as well as it getting my brain turning over on the topic. The movie itself is fine enough as a vague adaptation of a Stephen King short story. Irritatingly self preservation averse characters, but a fun scenario with a well visualised monster. Heckling the characters for their mistakes aside, what I really started overthinking was the core concept. This monster lurking in the dark, that as the movie mentioned "comes for your children when you aren't paying attention to them". It's such a primordial concept, something that could even predate language and Homo Sapiens as we know them! I referred to this conceptual monster as a "Hominid Botherer" with my partner as we watched the movie, something that has been snatching children from the shadows beyond the flames of civilisation for as long as simians stood up and walked away from the trees some millions of years ago.

Tracing a specific origin of the concept of a Bogeyman is pretty futile. It's this something Other and Fearsome that isn't exactly defined, but something a child seems to feel in some way. It can be a blanket cautionary tale that a parental figure uses, this being an extremely common interpretation of such stories. Don't wander off into the woods at night, or the Bogeyman will get you! On the basis something or other damn well will... the Bogeyman becomes a cautionary bucket holding everything from a savaging by wolves, to eating something poisonous, to tripping and falling badly in the dark, or even to Stranger Danger. We've got all kinds of depressing statistics for adults harming the helplessly small in the modern world, then chuck on top of that the frequent warfare which may include enemy scouts sneaking about at night who need no witnesses and have a propagandised disregard for enemy children... There's all sorts to avoid in the woods at night that the Bogeyman can encompass at a conceptual level for a child who would otherwise feel invincible via ignorance of the dark sides to the world around them. What's interesting is when the cautionary tale isn't directly needed, children tend to cram their fears into a more understandable shape with no outside influence. The monster under the bed getting its name later, the monster coming into existence first with no adult prompting it into existence. It's in the closet, it's tapping at the window, it's crying out in the darkness... Broader fears that are difficult to articulate - find me a three year old ready to fold fear of the dark into existential angst at a PhD level, and I'll show you a Bogeyman pretending to be the toddler it ate - then all of THIS becomes the monster. That inarticulate Other, all things that smother a young child with fears they don't have the words for yet. The Bogeyman, easier to understand once it's named, even if it remains scary. It is at least vaguely possible to trace the origin of the current consensus name. This is something that seems vaguely 600 old years in the English lexicon, originating from an assortment of regionalised Middle English words for monsters or else monstrous spirits. Bugge, bogle, bugbear, bugaboo, bogge, and bogie. At some point they coalesced into a phonetically similar Boogie Man or Bogeyman, with the suffix of "man" further solidifying the idea of some humanoid entity being at large. While the language standardised somewhere around the 15th century, and it travelled pretty well to the North America's, this is absolutely not the origin of the term. It was a national codification of a concept that was everywhere long before this on a much more localised scale.

If there were children, there were Bogeymen. It's how they understand much worse ideas just at the edges of their comprehension. The assorted monsters in waters ready to grab ankles are a Bogeyman. Try to get a small child to understand they aren't immortal, and you'll be met with confusion. Tell small children to stay out of the weeds because a monster is waiting for them saves a not-zero amount of children from becoming tangled in weeds and drowning. There are a variety of food and weather related myths that can fit under the Bogeyman umbrella, too. All with the same intent of cautionary guidance, in a way that actually gets through the mad static that passes for a child’s developing consciousness. As long as there are children, there's a Bogeyman waiting to challenge them, so I've gone and looked for some of our oldest bogies and bogles this episode. What has been there, in the dark, watching and waiting to spring since before we even had ways to share these stories properly, and yet they are always there. SECTION BREAK - The First Written Bogeymen People have always told stories. A simple fact, our imaginations are a part of what makes us something so distinct compared to other animals. We imagined ways to live, sometimes they were even good things. As opposed to imagining more and more efficient ways to kill the other tribes from surrounding territories, because they are Different and therefore can be imagined to be Wrong. But we have endless proof we imagined heroes and monsters. I would in fact argue that long form Heroic Epics are self evidently one of the Ur-Genres, the foundations of what would become civilisation’s body of literature, something lost on literary snobs reflexively hating modern day superhero fiction because it's popular, despite how well our comic book heroes align with the style of our mythic figures. So this leads us to the oldest story we have any record of, and The Epic of Gilgamesh. Some 4,000 years old in original Sumerian, mostly preserved via Akkadian translations as well as oral traditions that spread impressively far and wide. This collection of old poems, or else one cohesive work that got broken up (you'll need specialists to argue that one, I'm just the here's-some-cool-folklore guy), does have a monster in there. While it focuses more on war and disaster, as well as direct strife with the gods, with a much earlier example of a world cleansing flood than Abrahamic religions which feature such an event prominently; there is a primordial creature in there, although the story takes an interesting turn after first contact. Gilgamesh was always great, the problem being that his level of greatness without any challenge would have inevitably led to him becoming cruel at the expense of everyone he ruled over. The gods knew boredom would make a monster of the King of Uruk. So they made a monster that was his equal, and set it upon him. Enkidu was a wild man who went on something of a journey to humanhood. It was a wild ride for the wild man involving many nights feasting with shepherds, and two very interesting weeks spent with the sacred prostitute Shamhat. All of which led to him shedding his excess hair to walk and talk like a man, but retaining his wild might. He was Bigfoot with a shave and elocution lessons, ready to throw hands humbling a turbo powered blueblood. They end up having a literally epic straightener of a fight that led to them deciding they like each other, Gilgamesh and Enkidu then being best buddies for the rest of the Epic. I meant it when I said this style of story is found in comic books today! How many characters meet, fight, then team up in our modern post-pulp versions of the Long Form Heroic Epic? Although a lot of interpretations seem to agree they not only became battle buddies, they became full on intimate partners, so this also aligns with modern day fanfiction… I cannot emphasise enough that people have always been people. We just got better technology to be weird together over long distances. Enkidu was your debatably-a-monster enemy-to-lovers trope settling in some 4000 years before Archive of Our Own and Tumblr. There were however other monsters in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The new best buddies and Just Good Friends to Victorian academics killed The Bull of Heaven together, which doesn’t sound too scary when the only cow you ever meet comes in burger form, but many a farmer could appreciate that a house sized bull would truly be a terror. The occasional serpent and demon crashes its way through the epic poem, often not for long because Gilgamesh was overpowered from having no Internet to complain he needed nerfing. But in addition to all of that we also have what may truly be the first Bogeyman committed to writing. Something deadly that lurked in the woods, that was frightening enough it could threaten the great Gilgamesh as he hunted for Cedar wood. The dark and the wild held something else. It held the Humbaba. The Bogeyman of Ancient Sumeria was a monster that lurked in the uninhabitable mountains which would roam down from them into the deep woods it guarded. Something of an all in one ogre, demon, nature spirit, and giant. There’s an old Babylonian terracotta plaque in the Louvre depicting the figure of myth that looks suitably monstrous. In the way that the Epic of Gilgamesh is an Ur-story, an originator of ways tales continue to be told even now, the Humbaba is something of an Ur-monster. Iconography of the time is thought to have influenced Grecian depictions of Gorgons, and many giants in Middle Eastern mythologies may be traced to this ancestral monster. You should have quite the impression that Gilgamesh was not to be trifled with at this point, the gods needing to create him a wrestling partner both in and out of the bedroom just to stop him from getting bored enough all his might would corrupt him. When the power couple get too far into the wildlands of the primordial woods, the mere cry of the Humbaba froze Gilgamesh. In some variations the fearsome cry struck Gilgamesh down stunned, or else some monstrous aura was enough to knock the hero out. While he began the expedition into the deep woods confident, the reality of the monster proved too much for Gilgamesh to fight head on. Don’t worry though, as best buddies Gilgamesh and Enkidu did manage to slay the Humbaba! The King of Uruk was not above trickery to win a losing battle, promising all sorts of prizes from material possessions to treaty brides of royal sisters. Talking the monster into lowering its guard, possibly even surrendering its auras as a part of the deal, a sneak attack lay the monster low. The Humbaba begged for its life when it was defeated, swearing to be a servant to Gilgamesh, but Enkidu knew a lot about this monster from his times as a true wild man, and recommended killing it before it could turn on them later. The Humbaba cursed the king, but was then finished off. Something that managed to enrage at least one god, because the Humbaba was supposed to guard the cedar woods for a reason, and finding a sneaky way to kill it left the woods defenceless. There’s sadly not exactly a happy ending here, as this Epic progresses into tragedy territory. It goes on to Enkidu having visions of their mortality come to him in dreams, the gods plotting their inevitable deaths and direct visits from Ereshkigal – the Queen of the Underworld. Eventually Enkidu accepts this has to be true, and stops trying to defy the gods. He falls sick for twelve days, then begs Gilgamesh to never forget him as he expires. Gilgamesh gives a great funeral for his friend to set him up exalted in the afterlife, calling upon all of Uruk to mourn the partner he lost. There’s a controversial extra poem that is thought to be a later addition where Gilgamesh travels to the underworld to reclaim his friend, only Enkidu doesn’t follow the instructions to escape so is permanently lost. Important note for anyone trapped in some form of netherworld: You need to act dead, or the residents will realise the living are among them and correct the problem. The two were only later reunited in the afterlife by the gods when Gilgamesh finally succumbs to old age, after the King sacrifices his accumulated riches to attain rewards in the afterlife. I really must mention this is the incredibly abridged version of a snapshot of events from the Epic. It’s excessively convoluted! Fascinating to look into however, as you see so many story tropes from across aeons of storytelling with a starter seed back here, from easily a thousand years before the Old Testament of the Bible was first begun to be written down. SECTION BREAK – Twists in the Tale

We got lost in the weeds of history a little there, but it was fun to go back to Gilgamesh for a few things. Reaching back that far does leave stories a little unrefined, so let's get back a bit closer to the modern day and dip into fairytale. A bogeyman coming from a fairytale angle is generally a cautionary tale, a child taker that administers a punishment. Not necessarily death, but unrepentant naughty children are in danger from their misdeeds. Krampus is a big one with a modern revival, appropriately enough as this is the end of November episode when Krampusnacht is the 5th of December. Baba Yaga is a major bogeyman for a variety of tales where she hungers for children, a Slavic figure to threaten children into good behaviour with. The giant from Jack and the Beanstalk will grind the intruding Jack's bones to break his bread, and there are plenty of warnings about the dangers of strangers that Little Red Riding Hood really should have paid attention to.

Another great Bogeyman is the Witch of Hansel and Gretel, who turns the stranger danger all the way up to 11 with a deliciously baited trap in the woods. I'm saving her for a future episode with Mariam Draeger though, so I have a different fairytale offering to illustrate the point here with Le Petit Poucet, or Hop-o'-My-Thumb, by Charles Perrault from his ‘Histoires ou Contes du temps passe’ (which I may have even pronounced close to correctly). It starts pretty close to Hansel and Gretel, before spiralling off into the differently terrible. One interesting thing before we even start is that this is apparently a really well known story across Europe, but it never seemed to make a popular leap into the English language like other European fables did.

After a little set up, the story gets pretty familiar for a moment, then promptly goes wild. A poor woodcutter and his wife have seven sons, the youngest and smallest of them called Hop-o'-My-Thumb. The tale will usually emphasise he’s only the size of a thumb to get that name, but it may be more emphasis than literal size given everything he goes on to get up to. It may also simply be the story playing fast and loose with reality, it being a fairytale for children and all. Quibbles aside, this is where the story begins to get familiar! Times are hard, and starvation looms, the wife convinces the husband the children all need abandoning in the woods. Hop-o'-My-Thumb overhears this and sneaks out in the night to collect pebbles, so when in the day they are led away before being abandoned he leaves a trail to lead his brothers home with. Returning home wasn’t enough, Hop-o'-My-Thumb overhears his mother insist that a different and more difficult to return way is used the next day. So once again he sneaks out at night to gather even more pebbles to repeat the same trick, the father takes them further only for the boys to turn back up again by nightfall. The mother decides that the third time is the charm, and securely locks the house down ahead of the next attempt at child endangerment. Hop-o'-My-Thumb can’t get any pebbles, so he tries a different classic next: Breadcrumbs! The meagre rations of bread they were sent away with get torn into tiny pieces to mark a trail home. This sadly doesn’t work out as intended, because birds eat all the bread. Times ARE hard after all, even for the birds, and bread is bread. The seven brothers are successfully stranded. They attempt to find the way home anyway, but wander lost and afraid until sundown when they get what they believe is a stroke of luck. They follow a light in the distance among the trees to find a giant sized cabin in the woods, and believe themselves to be saved! A kindly seeming yet strangely tall woman is within, and in a bizarre coincidence there are seven beautiful daughters all matching the brothers in ages. It seemed like a dramatic twist with a happily ever after for all involved. Only while the daughters were welcoming, the mother seemed extremely reluctant to allow the boys to stay. They beg, they plead, the daughters join in, and the mother reveals the problem… Her husband is a giant man-eating ogre, and none of them will be safe. The hero of the story pleads their case one final time, and she relents, warning them one final time before letting them fill their bellies ahead of staying the night. When the giant does return, he seems extremely happy to see the boys, which I am sure will be nothing for them to worry about. All the children get sent to bed in the same room, the ogre leaving them in the dark with a wicked grin on his face. Most of the children go to sleep as the parents of the girls talk, although one does not. His wife pleads with the ogre, begging him not to eat the children until at least the next day, and he eventually relents to keep peace in the house. Hop-o'-My-Thumb, being a wily little eavesdropper with trust issues regarding adults, had heard all of this from some hiding place he had assumed to assure the safety of himself and his siblings. It did not look good, but he did have a plan. The seven boys wore period appropriate jaunty hats, and the seven girls wore pointy little crowns that foreshadow the riches the hungry ogre has hoarded in the oversized cabin. Hop-o'-My-Thumb does something smart but morally questionable: He swaps the headgear around, brothers get crowned and slumbering sisters get jaunty. The questionable hero then waits for a massacre to unfold. The giant sneaks into the pitch black dark bedroom bearing a wicked knife. He won’t eat the boys until morning, oh this he did promise! But he didn’t say he wouldn’t kill them. Leaving the light off, his enormous hand paws about the room until it finds the seven brothers, only as his fingers oh so carefully claw their way to their heads he finds the crowns. Thinking these are his daughters, he moves about the room in the dark until he finds the heads wearing hats instead. One by one, he slits the throats of his daughters before creeping back out of the room. The despicable deed unknowingly done to his own children. In the bedroom turned slaughterhouse Hop-o'-My-Thumb rouses his brothers so they can all flee into the night, as come daybreak they’re not only still on the breakfast menu - the ogre is going to fly into a rage at the deception. They flee for their lives through the dark woods, looking to get to safety before daybreak, which is a fair enough plan except for one thing. The ogre has a stash of treasure that happens to include some magic boots. Discovering the deception that led to involuntary infanticide, the furious giant becomes determined not to let the brothers get away. He pulls from his treasure trove a pair of Seven Mile Boots, enchanted footwear that has passed on into fantastical pop fiction through several stories and games across the years, and uses their ability to cross vast distances to scour the woods. There’s basically no chance of escape here, their pursuer could be anywhere in the blink of an eye, so once they realised what was happening Hop-o'-My-Thumb led his brothers to hide and wait out the monster chasing them. Even with the help of magic, the ogre eventually tires himself out and settles down to sleep right on top of the hiding place of the boys. Hop-o'-My-Thumb comes up with a plan, though. Those Seven Mile Boots will do just nicely for a few tasks. With the help of his brothers Hop-o'-My-Thumb steals the boots, which fortunately fit magically to the size of whoever puts them on since they’re going from the largest to smallest figure in the story. This lets him scour the woods for his old home, set his brothers in the right direction to return, and successfully abandon the tired flesh eating bogeyman of the tale in the deepest part of the woods to never be seen again. An assortment of happily ever afters can play out depending on version of the story. Generally Hop-o'-My-Thumb robs the ogre’s treasure hoard in some way, either sneaking into the cabin or possibly convincing the wife her husband has been kidnapped by bandits and the treasure is needed for ransom. The treasure may be taken home to support his family, may be given to the king in exchange for a secure future, or in some stories no treasure is stolen and Hop-o'-My-Thumb makes his fortune working for the king using the magic boots to be a speedy messenger. What can be said for definite, is that it sucked to be the girls in this story. Not sure how heroic Hop-o'-My-Thumb is really, bit of a little git for collateral damage, isn’t he? The wood cutter and his wife probably didn’t deserve much happily ever after either. SECTION BREAK – A Yokai Awaits Children in the Water It's been a little while since we've had a good Yokai, and they do at times play the role of a bogeyman. From previous episodes of LukeLore Kappa are a solid warning to stay away from dangerous waters, and the pretty terrifying Rain Woman Ube Onna will hunt for babies not being watched closely enough during storms. For this episode, I've got something of a mix of the two. Chīnouya, the Wet Nurse. A name that I'm very suspicious is a pun, this being of Japanese origin it may well be, with the apparent pun being Wet Nurse the role - someone not the mother able to feed a baby - and wet as in being from the water. It may be a pun that only works in English, but it's the kind of wordplay that would be appreciated in its homeland. Chīnouya is a feminine water spirit in the Okinawa region. Very obviously feminine, she isn't one for clothes and - oh, how to put this in a not too rude yet amusing way – her upper body motherly assets are astonishingly bountiful. This alone has probably led to many a cautionary tale of dumb men drowning because they weren't thinking with their brains, but that's regular Yokai-Onna monster woman activity. There's a definite bogeyman, or bogeywoman, aspect to this otherworldy creature that is offset by an interesting duality to her purpose. It's this dual nature of otherworldy creature like Yokai and Aos Sidhe – or fae - that fascinates me so much, and the Chīnouya has a stark binary behaviour that is fully positive in one way while being fully negative in outcome in another way that is still being true to their purpose. It's down to the humans around the Yokai to take care not to befall disaster. Usually living in streams and other waterways near graveyards, although they can be attached to an ancient tree if found on land away from water, the Chīnouya takes care of the lost spirits of children. She will nourish the ghosts with her milk and comfort them to help their transition from the mortal world to somewhere beyond. In doing this the Yokai is celebrated, areas they are known to be will get offerings of food left to thank them for their work as a sort of foster carer for young children lost to the world. Yet despite their kind motherly appearance, and the compassionate role they play when everything is going right, things can unfortunately go wrong. Chīnouya is a creature of two sides, there’s this bogeyman aspect to them. They are extremely dangerous to living children, the nurturing behaviour they offer to the spirits of dead children will quickly drain the life force away from that of a living child until they pass away, becoming one of her afterlife wards by her actions. They may even skip the life drain part and straight up lure children into the water to be drowned! In this way their dark side fulfils the role of the cautionary child-taker. Unwary children should beware the peaceful seeming water of the Chīnouya. There are even parts of the forests of Yanbara in Okinawa which have a tradition of keeping mirrors away from children in the age range at risk of unwanted attention from the Chīnouya, that being up to the age of six, as the reflective surface is reminiscent of still waters and they don’t want to risk the young child becoming fascinated with them. This may lead to them approaching the dangerous waters where the Yokai may grab them!

She is both a vital carer, and dire threat, depending on context. Spirit guide to comfort the mourning, or bogeyman to warn the young away from dangerous waters and ancient trees. She’s certainly an interesting Yokai-Onna! Maybe don’t look for depictions of her in work, though. It may be a difficult one to explain to passing coworkers. SECTION BREAK I had to go and do an episode with not only ancient epics but also fairytales, didn’t I? I can see my word count! This thing is bloating. Eh, worth it, I had a fascinating time digging into the topic. That there is always a Bogeyman wherever or whenever you go in the world kind of gets to me. Not in a return to fear of the dark cupboard slightly ajar, or to be afraid of something reaching up from under the bed to grab my ankle; I got big enough and ugly enough to be ready to throw down on that front. Especially the foot sticking out of the covers one, as I'm too tall to have much of an alternative there! But it IS fascinating that some sort of Bogeyman is always among us. If you don't give a child the concept through handed down stories, they'll go ahead and make one for themselves. This shadow distinct from within the other shadows, something malevolent just out of sight, has always been with us. It's something outside of time, something that our precursors in evolution probably dealt with just the same, a predator we curse ourselves with because of the power of our imaginations. So this thing, this conceptual bucket of multiple encompassed fears, has likely been a Hominid Botherer for as long as there has been Hominids smart enough for it to harass. Which I find kind of cool, but I’m pretty weird, so what do I know? LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.

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