The Thing That Goes Bump in the Night: The Origins of the Bogeyman

Where did the bogeyman tale originate? Why has he been around for so long? Well, let’s go on a journey together to find out.

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boogieman image over a darkened bridge

Every culture has a “bogeyman” legend. The mystical and terrifying entity that would snatch misbehaving children from their parents or a horrible creature that would steal children in the night. Some believe he lives under one’s bed, ready to ensnare your leg and drag you under should he be hungry enough. The legends are endless, his deeds incalculable, and the true origins a mystery. Let’s take a look at the various cultural legends and origin stories of the fabled Bogeyman, aka The Boogeyman.

Bogeyman Across the World

There are many ways in which this fearsome creature’s name has been spelled. However, it originated in Middle English around the 15th century as the bogeyman. The name was derived from the terms “bugge” or “bogge” which translates to “a frightening spectre.” And frightening he was, and is, for his sole purpose was to terrify the village youth into obedience. Rather than rationality and common sense being used to teach children lessons, the threat of fearsome and mythical entities was utilized to force compliance.

Below are variations on the spelling of bogeyman throughout history.

  • Boogeyman – namely, North American spelling
  • Boogieman – namely, Germany
  • Bogy
  • Bogey
Que viene el Coco (“Here Comes the Bogeyman”), etching and burnished aquatint on laid paper by Francisco Goya, 1799; in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Depending on the location, Latin American cultures have several such menacing entities that also play a role in raising well-behaved children. Peru’s bogieman is the Pishtaco, a Quechua word that translates roughly to “behead, cut the throat, or cut into slices.” He is reminiscent of the blood-sucking vampire of lore. However, these monsters suck fat rather than blood. Fat was a preoccupation of the culture at the time of its origins, and the monster was an allusion to colonization.

Many Spanish-speaking countries refer to their boogieman as El Coco — El Cucuy, El Cuco, El Viejo del Saco, or El Sacomán — The Sack Man. Why a sack man, you ask? He carried around a sack with which to steal misbehaving children and carry them off. Depending on where this story is being told, those children either end up sold off to someone or they become the Sack Man’s meal.

The Sack Man or El Cucuy of Latin origin, bogeyman.

Mayan culture features a small demon meant to protect the jungle and animals, called the Tata Duende, which translates into demon grandfather or old goblin. He has a predilection for luring children in and eating their thumbs.

Baba Yaga, the Russian fable of a sorceress who lives in the forest of Slavic countries, can be translated into many names evil woman, serpent, or wood nymph. She’s a cautionary tale but has also been known to help those in need.

Where to Find the Bogeyman and How to Evade Him

The English bogeyman was a ghostly figure who liked to hide in dark places, awaiting a victim to capture. To keep him away, always carry light and stay at home when the sun sets. The German Butzemann were also ghosts created to force children to make bedtime promptly. So the best way to thwart this spectre was to fall asleep.

Russian boogeyman (or woman, in this instance), the Baba Yaga, is a witch deeply connected to the forest she called her home. How she responds to you varies depending on her mood and how you treat her home. Mistreat her forest or animals, and she’ll come after you, chicken-legged walking hut and all.

Baba Yaga in her flying mortar holding her pestle in her forest as her chicken-legged hut perches in the background.

Our Latin American bogeymen tended to lean more towards the demon and goblin variety of supernatural creatures. While their stature varied, they were generally less attractive and more hair-raising in nature.

Tokoloshe, a South African boogieman, is a mischievous water sprite who can become invisible when he drinks water. To keep him at bay, place bricks under the legs of your bed, and to send him away permanently, you need to enlist the help of a witch doctor.

The Bogeyman’s Evolution

No matter the origin or culture, the boogeyman has been an inherent staple of wary human history. Its evolution, whether English, Slavic, Spanish or any other original oral tale, has become one of curiosity steeped in spine-tingling terror. For many a modern person, the boogeyman is a mythic fictional character of fear-inducing terror meant to frighten the young and delight the horror-loving crowd.

Collage of horror characters from pop culture over the last 100 years.

American pop culture is seething with horror movies and television shows where the boogeyman is a term now synonymous with the likes of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Pennywise. The boogeyman is no longer just the thing that goes bump in the night and lurks under unsuspecting children’s beds; it’s the reanimated teenage murderer, the nightmare killer, and any other terrifying horror villain.

Thrilling Bogeyman Book Recs

Here is a variety of different dark tales about the bogeyman to feast your eyes on:

Forest of the Damned by Lee Mountford

A haunted forest, four researchers, and paranormal creatures all lurk within the pages of Lee Mountford’s horror novel Forest of the Damned.

Forest of the Damned by Lee Mountford book cover .

The Watchers by A.M. Shine

Humans are captured in a mysterious unmapped Irish forest by the Watchers; supernatural creatures who come out to observe their prisoners at night.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine book cover depicting a black and white background and a silhouette of a woman made of a black and white forest.

It by Stephen King

This cult classic embodies the thing that goes bump in the night and the chilling consequences of talking to strangers and accepting gifts from men in cars…or sewers, as it seems.

PS: King also has a short story entitled The Boogeyman.

It by Stephen King, book cover of a sinister clown face

The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn

Ania brings the boogyman, El Cucuy, from her Mexican heritage to light in this descriptive, spine-tingling horror novel set in the remote mountains of Colorado.

The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn book cover of a ground to sky shot of a forest with blood splatter along the edges and corners.

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