Oct 302016
 

Halloween is just around the corner, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats.

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But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday

1) Halloween is Satanic

While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent.

Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book “Halloween and Satanism,” explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children’s spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena–and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it’s not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about–they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books.

Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism.

2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy

The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country,including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween.

This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, “original” case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime.

Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years-and in most cases the “victim” turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids’ loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety.

Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers.

3) Beware Halloween Terrorists

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America’s children, and the FBI looked into the case.Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of ‘large quantities’ of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man’s nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism.

4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween

Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling session.

The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating.

A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: “There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.”

5) Beware Scary Clowns

In the wake of the recent scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties have banned scary clown costumes and masks this Halloween. As one writer noted, “A Kemper County, Mississippi’s Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban –which will expire the day after Halloween –comes at the request of the county sheriff… It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches.”

Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as “USA Today” reported, “The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks.”

Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media.

Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids.  The real threats to children don’t involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can’t see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 222015
 

A new study finds that self-described vampires are, not surprisingly, reluctant to disclose their sanguine ways to mental health professionals. My closer look at people who claim to be (and sometimes believe themselves to be) real-life vampires can be found HERE. 

Jul 102015
 

An audio recording of me reading the first chapter from my book “Tracking the Chupacabra” is available for free on my web site HERE. Did they edit out my profanity and overheated Shatner-esque delivery? Find out!

Feb 012015
 

A Chilean farmer recently found a pair of partly mummified animals in a wine cellar. Of course the obvious explanation is “chupacabra,” though as I explain it’s almost certainly not… yes, the little vampire beastie just won’t die. You can read the story HERE.

Sep 182014
 

On Saturday Sept. 20 I’ll be giving a free talk at the Taylor Ranch Library in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 2-3 PM. I’ll be discussing my research into (and solving the mystery of) the Hispanic vampire beast El Chupacabra. I’ll also be talking about and signing copies of my new book Mysterious New Mexico: Mirackes, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment. So stop by and check it 0ut!

Oct 182013
 

The second-largest hospital in the Southern African country of Swaziland may be operating a black market in human body parts used in magic spells, according to claims made by a reverend and others.

Weird, creepy, and not really surprising if you understand the magical beliefs in the region. You can read my piece on LiveScience.com HERE.

Jun 182013
 
Vampire leader miniature for Undead Apocalypse game.

Vampire leader miniature for Undead Apocalypse game.

As you may know, I have created and designed a new board game called Undead Apocalypse. It’s a cool mashup up zombies, werewolves, vampires, and humans, all battling it out in a post-apocalyptic world.

 

What’s the game about? This:

The year is 2060. After World War III the people of Earth thought it couldn’t get any worse; they were wrong. The nuclear devastation was bad enough, reducing once-great cities to rubble and forcing hardy survivors to scavenge for resources. But soon—whether the result of radiation, toxins, or supernatural wrath—ancient evils long thought mere legend awoke and took hold in the real world.

First it was vampires—bands of merciless undead who roamed the land, sucking the blood from whatever could not defend itself. Then came the relentless zombies, the rotten flesh-eaters who staggered through ruined cities in search of brains and other organs. Then savage werewolves suddenly emerged, springing from now-overgrown forests to feed on humans, zombies, and vampires alike. Leaders of each group arose—including half-human mutations with intelligence and feral cunning—to scavenge food and weapons, including chainsaws and machine guns, left behind in the wasteland.

Though undead ravaged the Earth, hope for mankind was not lost: Clans of humans remained scattered around Europe in small enclaves, trying to rebuild civilization. While the fearsome monsters had brute strength and supernatural powers capable of transforming humans into their kind with a mere bite, human scientists developed a vaccine capable of transforming the undead back into living humans.

Rumors soon spread of unholy grimoires—ancient magic books—hidden among the ruins that could be found and assembled to achieve even greater power. Using science and magic, these four groups are now engaged in the final war in Earth’s history. This would become known as the Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned.

 

Please check out the Kickstarter campaign HERE, and consider donating to the campaign so we can make this game become a reality! And tell your friends–even if you’re not into board games or monsters, you probably have friends who are, and would appreciate the chance to be part of this!

Thanks!

Jun 102013
 

A new special edition of MonsterTalk is now out! Blake Smith and I discuss my new monster-themed board game Undead Apocalypse, which launched on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com earlier this week, and also talk to artist Jeff Zornow, who did the art for the game, about zombies.

Check it out HERE!

May 312013
 

A Kickstarter campaign for my new board game, Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned, will go live in a few days. I’ve been working very hard on it, and I hope you’ll support it, and/or tell your friends. Even if you’re not interested, you probably have friends who might, so please let them know. I’ll post a link to it once it’s up.

You can check out the nifty teaser video at the board game’s web site, HERE!

What’s the game about? Well here’s the scenario:

 

The year is 2060.

After World War III the people of Earth thought it couldn’t get any worse; they were wrong. The nuclear devastation was bad enough, reducing once-great cities to rubble and forcing hardy survivors to scavenge for resources. But soon—whether the result of radiation, toxins, or supernatural wrath—ancient evils long thought mere legend awoke and took hold in the real world.

First it was vampires—bands of merciless undead who roamed the land, sucking the blood from whatever could not defend itself. Then came the relentless zombies, the rotten flesh-eaters who staggered through ruined cities in search of brains and other organs. Then savage werewolves suddenly emerged, springing from now-overgrown forests to feed on humans, zombies, and vampires alike. Leaders of each group arose—including half-human mutations with intelligence and feral cunning—to scavenge food and weapons, including chainsaws and machine guns, left behind in the wasteland.

Though undead ravaged the Earth, hope for mankind was not lost: Clans of humans remained scattered around Europe in small enclaves, trying to rebuild civilization. While the fearsome monsters had brute strength and supernatural powers capable of transforming humans into their kind with a mere bite, human scientists developed a vaccine capable of transforming the undead back into living humans.

Rumors soon spread of unholy grimoires—ancient magic books—hidden among the ruins that could be found and assembled to achieve even greater power. Using science and magic, these four groups are now engaged in the final war in Earth’s history. This would become known as the Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned.

May 162013
 

It’s about time to give everyone a glimpse of a top-secret project I’ve been working on: a monstery new board game called Undead Apocalypse!

You can check out the spiffy site HERE, stay tuned for more details!

 

Oct 312012
 

I’ve been writing a lot recently, especially for the great web site LiveScience.com, discussing the truths, myths, history and lore of some of the world’s most famous monsters. Below are recent pieces about vampires, zombies, and werewolves… Enjoy!

 

Vampires: The Real History

http://www.livescience.com/24374-vampires-real-history.html

 

Werewolves: Lore, Legend, and Lycanthropy

http://www.livescience.com/24412-werewolves.html

 

Zombies: The Real Story of the Undead

http://www.livescience.com/23892-zombies-real-facts.html

Oct 232012
 

I was recently interviewed by the guys on the Project:Archivist podcast, discussing sex demons in world folklore.

You can hear the interview HERE. 

Aug 162012
 

FOR DECADES, legends of a giant sexually-assaulting bat-creature have trickled out of Zanzibar. In this episode of MonsterTalk Drs. Stollznow and Atlantis interview me about my investigation of the creature and the role that the monster called Popabawa has played in culture and politics in the United States.

 

You can read the show notes and listen to the episode HERE.  

Aug 112012
 

Ranchers in Colorado are on edge following the latest of a series of bizarre attacks on horses and livestock… Aliens, Satanists, or something else?

My skeptical investigation appeared on Discovery News; you can read it HERE.

Feb 012012
 

In the latest episode of MonsterTalk, Blake Smith and I interview witch Emily Carlin about her book Defense Against the Dark, on how to protect yourself from evil spirits. It’s an interesting and respectful skeptic-versus-believer discussion; you can listen to it HERE.

Oct 102011
 

The Journal of Folklore Research, a peer-reviewed publication of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University, was established in 1961. It is dedicated to promoting international scholarly dialogue about the world’s traditional creative and expressive forms. A review of my recent book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore appeared in the Journal. Below is an excerpt of the review, by Virginia S. Fugarino of Newfoundland’s Memorial University:

Benjamin Radford’s work, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, sets out to present an in-depth analysis of the elusive “goat sucker” in order to determine the plausibility of its existence. To date, few books have been dedicated to taking a serious look at this creature, and Radford puts forth a well-researched and approachable study that seeks to fill this gap. Radford’s research spans five years and includes a variety of approaches, such as an analysis of news media surrounding chupacabra reports, a survey of popular culture items either influenced by or potentially influencing chupacabra stories, discussions of interview material, and Radford’s own travels to Nicaragua to search for the creature.

The book is split into four parts that explore different aspects of his study. Part I provides a concise historical overview of chupacabra reports, ranging from Puerto Rico (the location of the original report) to Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and the United States. This section also includes some of the theories about the creature’s origins, ranging from the belief that the chupacabra is the result of governmental conspiracies to the belief that chupacabras are simply familiar predators. The second chapter of Part II deals with the variety of ways the chupacabra has made its way into popular culture. Radford begins with an analysis of tabloid and news media coverage of the creature, coverage that aided in the spread of chupacabra stories. He also discusses how the chupacabra has surfaced in other popular media, including film, literature, and exhibitions at fairs and museums. This chapter is particularly interesting in that it provides an array of examples of how the chupacabra, a relatively recent monster, has become internationally known.

Overall, Radford’s book is an engaging study. Although at times he takes a dismissive tone toward individuals who believe in the creature, his prose is clear and well presented. The use of pictures and diagrams throughout the book enriches the discussion and helps to clarify some of his points, especially when he is examining the attacks on the livestock. This book offers a serious study of the phenomenon of the chupacabra, and it will be interesting to see if other researchers follow in his path. Researchers interested in issues of belief may find avenues of study to follow from Radford’s research. Radford states near the close of his book: “There is nothing left to explain, no place left for any mystery to hide. The beast is gone—in fact never was—but the myth will continue” (177). One wonders whether believers may attempt to counter his claims.

It’s nice to see a skeptical, investigative book being seen outside of skeptic circles. The chupa really is one of the highest profile “mysteries” of the past 15 years, and I hope the public sees that if someone can work hard to solve this mystery, then maybe all the other “unexplained” mysteries are also solvable with science and critical thinking.

 

 

Oct 062011
 

I will be attending the American Folklore Society’s conference in Bloomington, Indiana, Oct. 12 to 14. I will be on a panel titled “Fairy Animals, Demonic Beasts, and Fantastic Creatures in International Tradition.” My topic will be “Folklore of the Chupacabra,” based on my New Mexico Book Awards-nominated title Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore. Anyone interested in folklore and/or monster traditions should attend!

Sep 022011
 

Everyone knows how to kill a fictional vampire — a stake through the heart — but does that apply to “real” vampires as well?

With so many different claims about vampires, what’s a wannabe Buffy to do? The most important issue is to know some of the “rules.”  Read about how to kill different types of vampires around the world HERE.