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Monster Phobias

Why Do We Fear Mythical Creatures?


Updated April 29, 2012

While monstrous beings are a staple of horror movies, most of us agree that they do not actually exist. Yet monster phobias are surprisingly common, from a generalized fear that "something" is out there to a specific fear of vampires or zombies. Phobia sufferers realize that their fears are irrational, but that knowledge does not change the level of terror.

Fear of Monsters

Tetraphobia, or the generalized fear of monsters, is particularly common among children. In preschool-aged kids, this fear is usually short-lived and relatively mild. In older kids and adults, though, tetraphobia may be more serious. Tetraphobia is often triggered by horror movies, Halloween events, and even the evening news.

Coping with a child who is afraid of monsters can be frustrating, but taking steps to validate the child's feelings and address the fear is often successful. Inconsolable children and fearful adults, however, may benefit from professional intervention.

Fear of Vampires

Although modern popular culture casts vampires as suave, charming and conflicted over their inner nature, older legends describe a much more sinister creature. References to mindless blood suckers are found in ancient Persian artwork, while some early Christians believed that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was actually Lilith, a female demon who figures heavily in Jewish mythology. The Middle Ages brought the Black Death, which was sometimes blamed on vampires. The Renaissance was the era of Vlad Tepes, a fearsome dictator with a strong blood lust on whom the character of Dracula was modeled, and Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer of all time. A 17th century vampire panic in Eastern Europe gave way to the Gothic Revival in Western Europe. Bram Stoker's landmark novel Dracula became the definitive fictional work on vampires, a distinction it held until the explosive popularity of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles in the 20th century. In 2005, young adult author Stephenie Meyer turned the vampire legend on its ear, creating sparkly vampires with human morals.

The sheer volume of vampire literature, both fiction and non-fiction, makes this phobia easy to understand. And even today, murders are occasionally performed in the name of vampirism. Perhaps the best-known case in the United States is that of Rod Ferrell. In 1996, the teenage Ferrell, who claimed to be a 500-year-old vampire, brutally murdered the parents of friend Heather Wendorf. Although exceptionally rare, these stories garner a great deal of press and could easily trigger an existing fear of vampires.

Fear of Zombies

A derivation of the Creole word "zombi," itself derived from the voodoo serpent god Nzambi, the zombie features heavily in both ancient and modern lore. Performed by a bokor, or sorcerer, zombification is a black magic practice that exists outside traditional voodoo. It is believed that some remote tribes in Haiti and West Africa practice a derivation of voodoo centered around zombification.

In this form of the zombie mythos, the zombie is a normal human who, after death, is reanimated as a mindless corpse under the complete control of the bokor. However, some researchers believe that zombies have not died, but are under the influence of a powerful combination of neurotoxins and psychoactive drugs. This would explain the occasional reports of a zombie being "cured"-coming to his senses when surrounded by family and friends.

The modern Western concept of zombies dates to the Gothic Revival. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, published in 1818, introduced the concept of a monster created by a mad scientist rather than a sorcerer. By the 1930s, the legend had morphed again to cast zombies as the victim of a pandemic. In 1954, I Am Legend introduced the idea of a zombie apocalypse, a doomsday scenario in which zombies run rampant. Today, even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) runs a tongue-in-cheek website specifying how to survive a zombie attack.

Fear of Ghosts and Fear of Demons

The fears of ghosts and demons are relatively complicated, as they are often linked with other fears. The fear of death is common and pervasive, often leading to related fears including the fear of ghosts and the fear of death symbols such as tombstones. However, a fear of ghosts or demons is not always related to a fear of death. Many religions speak of the existence of ghosts, demons, angels and other supernatural creatures, some of which are dangerous to the living. Although not entirely recognized as legitimate by the mainstream scientific community, parapsychology is a field dedicated to studying the unexplained. A fear of ghosts or demons is sometimes based on inexplicable experiences that happen to the sufferer or a friend or relative.

In addition, legend tripping is hugely popular among teens and young adults. During a legend trip, a group of friends sets out to face down a local urban legend. Building anticipation by telling and retelling the story, heading out at night with underpowered flashlights, and sometimes fueled by alcohol or drugs, the group members set themselves up to be scared. In many cases, the legend trip experience convinces the group that the urban legend is true. This could easily worsen an existing fear of ghosts or demons.


Ask Dr. Sears: Mashing Monster Fears. Parenting.com. Retrieved April 29, 2012 from http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-mashing-monster-fears.

Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Emergency Preparedness and Response. May 16, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2012 from http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/.

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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