Every culture has urban legends, a genre of folklore encompassing stories circulated as true, the stories often having scary and cautionary elements. I remember going into the bathroom at night, with the lights turned off, looking into the mirror and attempting to say “Bloody Mary” five times to see if she would appear. After saying her name three times, I would get hot and scared, letting my imagination run wild, I would turn the lights on, afraid of what might happen were I to say her name twice more.
These are the stories we hear, the cautionary tales and legends that warn us of danger or strange occurrences, yet they intrigue and excite us. We need to experience for ourselves if the legend is true, right? Stories like this are present all around the world—some originating from actual events, some not—it’s quite true that in some cases, there is no fine line between fact and fiction. Yet, these are tales that sit in the back of our minds, sometimes influencing what we do or how we live.
As such, I’d like to share with you some urban legends from around the world.
Village of Kuldhara
Resting in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, India lies an abandoned village known as Kuldhara. Some of the structures of the town date back to the 13th century, but no one has inhabited the village since 1825 when all the villagers mysteriously disappeared.
According to the local lore, over 1,000 villagers ended up leaving their homes overnight, yet no one actually saw them leave. So, what exactly happened that made the entire village supposedly disappear? No one really knows. Of course, there are speculations—higher taxes, poison in the wells—but the exact reason was never determined. Since the sudden abandonment, no one has moved into the village as legend has it that the village chief cursed the land and anyone who tries to live there will die.
The Bell Witch
The story of the Bell Witch is well known in the American South. It’s said that the Bell family was terrorized by what has become known as the Bell Witch from 1817 to 1821 in Tennessee. In 1817, the family began to experience unusual things—seeing strange-looking animals, hearing noises of unknown sources—and as time progressed, the witch became more aggressive, attacking the Bell’s children, especially their daughter, Betsy. It’s suggested that the Bell Witch was a neighbor named Kate, who wanted John Bell, the father of the family, dead for taking advantage of her own family during troubled times. John Bell however did die after the hauntings began and its even said that the witch broke off the engagement of Betsy and her suitor a few years after John’s death. It’s also believed that the witch retreated to a cave on the property, today known as the Bell Witch Cave, and visitors are advised not to take anything from the cave, such as rocks or debris, or misfortune may ensue.
The Black-Eyed Children
There have been sightings of black-eyed children in the United States and the United Kingdom starting in the 1980s, with the first sighting supposedly happening in Texas. The black-eyed children are creatures that take on the form of children between the ages of 6 and 16; they have very pale skin, and their eyes are completely black.
They are often found hitchhiking, begging, or at the doorsteps of residential homes. Where the children are found and what happens after that differs, but the legend revolves around the same concept. The children appear to need help and are insistent upon entering homes or vehicles. After the children enter, strange and in some cases harmful events occur, even after the children leave. No one exactly knows what these creatures are; some say they are demons asking permission to enter homes to commit their wrongdoing, while others say they are aliens disguising themselves as children.
Men in Black
The Men in Black are said to be men dressed in black suits who claim to be government officials who harass or threaten those who have witnessed UFOs or have experienced otherworldly encounters. Their main goals are to keep people quiet about what they have seen and not alert the public. The Men in Black have been discussed in the United States since the 1960s, when talks of UFO sightings and alien abductions were prevalent, especially in the West.
The Night Marchers
The Night Marchers of Hawaii, or huaka'i pō, are spirits of former ancient Hawaiian warriors. These warriors in life protected Hawaii’s most sacred people—these people were so sacred that the common folk were not allowed to look at them and if they did, the warriors would carry out their duties and slay the onlooker. It is said that the Night Marchers still roam the land as spirits and if you look directly at a Night Marcher, you’ll be marked for death.
If you do happen to find yourself in the middle of a procession, you are to lie down in the middle of the road to show your respect in order to avoid any unfortunate events that may ensue.
Santa Claus comes to visit children once a year, rewarding those who are nice with gifts, while those who are naughty receive coal. However, according to Central and Eastern Alpine folklore in Europe, naughty children are greeted by Krampus. Krampus is described as part goat, part demon, and part beast who travels with St. Nicholas, there to scare and reprimand children who were naughty throughout the year. Krampus is said to travel with birch rods and can take back children in his sack to where he came from—hell.
With urban legends, similar tales are present around the word, with slightly different names or story elements. Pinky Pinky is the South African version of Bloody Mary. Pinky Pinky is said to be a demon with pink hair who would target women trying to use the bathroom. The demon discourages girls and women from going to the bathroom alone.
Pinky Pinky does not like those who wear pink undergarments and has been known to attack those who do. No wonder women go to the bathroom in packs.
La Llorona originates from Mexican and Latin American folklore. While the story may differ slightly depending on who you ask, La Llorona translates to “the weeping woman” and legend has it that a woman named Maria drowned her children and immediately regretted her decision. Consumed with guilt, she ended up drowning herself. Now, her ghost roams the night, weeping for her lost children. Some stories say her children died not of her accord and she’s looking for other children to replace her own; others say she drowned her children because she found her husband was cheating on her, and other versions exist as well. However, it is widely known that La Llorona is closely associated with children, and it’s advised to keep your children close.
According to Japanese folklore, Kuchisake-onna, or “slit-mouthed woman” was a woman whose mouth was slit from ear to ear when she was alive. Versions of the story differ; however, some say the woman was married to a samurai who found out she was cheating on him, so he cut the corners of her mouth. Other versions say her mouth was slit during a medical procedure or that another woman was jealous of her beauty and mutilated her. After the woman died, she returned as a vengeful spirit—hiding her slits with cloth masks or hand fans—sneaking up on victims in the night, asking them if they think she is pretty. If the victim answers yes, she removes her covering and asks again, and depending on the iteration, if you scream and say no, she’ll do the same to you.
Some urban legends don’t have a particular name, but the stories are generally known and understood. Do you ever look under your car as you’re approaching it to make sure that no one is underneath? Or look in your backseat for the same purpose? I’m not sure about you but those people driving with their headlights off at night are rather suspicious, but I don’t have the nerve to flash them with my own.
These tales from history inspire more stories, movies, and influence pop culture today, all around the world. They are essential to culture, tales to warn children to behave, advise parents to keep their children close, or simply be kind to your neighbor.
One of the most exciting conversations you can have when traveling is one that starts with “Legend has it…” I advise you all to talk to the locals, understand the stories and lore that exist wherever you go. Let’s face it, sometimes the things we believe in most are those of which we can’t see.
That’s all for now,
Bonner, M. (2021, November 1). The 17 Scariest Urban Legends of All Time. Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/a23594486/true-urban-legends/
Meet Krampus, the Christmas Devil Who Punishes Naughty Children. (2018, December 5). HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/krampus-christmas-legend-origin
Mohsin, M. (2020, April 30). Legend of Kuchisake-onna. The Business Standard. https://www.tbsnews.net/splash/legend-kuchisake-onna-7549
Shaw, G. (2020, October 30). The 15 creepiest urban legends from around the world. Insider. https://www.insider.com/urban-legends-from-around-the-world
The Bell Witch Cave | Ghosts of Bell Witch. (2020, October 19). Ghost City Tours. https://ghostcitytours.com/nashville/ghost-stories/bell-witch/
Wikipedia contributors. (2023). List of urban legends. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_urban_legends
Winick, S. (2021, October 13). La Llorona: An Introduction to the Weeping Woman | Folklife Today. The Library of Congress. https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2021/10/la-llorona-an-introduction-to-the-weeping-woman/