By Emily Clayton
October 14, 2021
Throughout the ages humans have told tales of beings with otherworldly characteristics, ranging in temperament from kind and benevolent, to capricious and cruel. October is a month of spooks and spirits, so to prepare for Halloween, here’s a review of some of the less friendly figures in folklore.
In Orcadian mythology, the nuckelavee (aka mukkelevi or knoggelvi) is a terrifying resident of the Orkney Islands, a sea dwelling demon taking the form of a horse with a humanoid torso fused to its back where one might sit. The creature is entirely skinless, with black blood and yellow veins, an oversized head, fins around its hooves, and arms long enough to brush the ground. The nuckelavee is a very malicious being, often causing droughts and plagues, or just using its foul breath to wilt crops and kill livestock. The smell of burning seaweed sends it into a destructive rage. The only thing that can stop it is freshwater, and being a creature of the sea, it is unable to cross streams or come ashore in rainy weather. Thankfully this creature is confined to the ocean depths during the summer, only unleashing its destructive malice the other three seasons of the year.
Nightmarchers (aka Huaka’i p?, Spirit Ranks, or Oi’o, O’lo) are a band of ancient Hawaiian warrior spirits that appear according to the phases of the moon. They are most likely to appear during the last four Hawaiian moon phases as the moon wanes to nothing, a blood moon, or nights honoring the Hawaiian gods.
When the conditions are right, these spirits emerge single file from their burial mounds and march to a destination. Sometimes they go to protect sacred sites, other times they may escort dead kings, or reenact ancient battles. The procession beats war drums, chants, and blows a conch shell horn as it passes, carrying torches that can be seen from far away in the dark. The marchers can pass through buildings in their path, and are deterred only by the ti plant, which many natives plant around their home for protection.
The nightmarchers do not take kindly to being interrupted, and anyone caught in their path will be killed unless the individual is lucky enough to have a distant ancestor in the spirit ranks. The marchers are very respectful of bloodlines, and when a warrior recognizes a descendent they shout “Mine!” and the procession of warriors will pass them by without harm.
The nightmarchers follow established trails when they go marching, and every islander knows to beware the trails and stay far away from them at night.
Gashadokuro (aka Odokuro) are enormous skeletons from Japanese folklore that wander around the forest in the dead hours of the night. They are fifteen times larger than the average human, making them about ninety feet tall, and they can often be heard rattling their bones and chattering their teeth. Their name is partly derived from the sound of this behavior.
Those who die of war and famine never receive a proper burial and their souls are trapped on earth. Over time resentment and rage at their predicament festers and grows. When enough bones and resentment gather in one place they rise from the earth and coalesce into one giant skeleton, the gashadokuro.
Despite their size and habit of clattering around, gashadokuro can be quite dangerous. They stalk through the woods in search of humans to take revenge on, and some even say they can become invisible. When they find a victim, they crush them with their hands or bite off their heads and drink their blood. The only warning of their attack is a strange ringing in one’s ears.
Because of their size and strength, gashadokuro are unkillable and will continue to roam the forests until their rage and malice are spent. Despite this, the sheer mass of dead required to form one makes these creatures a rare encounter.