Spring isn’t only a time for blooming flowers and fluffy ducklings; plenty of horrors lurk in the retreating shadows. Ravenous monsters emerge from their winter slumbers. Unseen fairies play sinister tricks. Shapeshifting witches scream into dark Tennessee forests. And around the globe, ancient ceremonies mark the transition from winter’s frigid embrace to summer’s scorching heat.

So as the sun burns brighter, we at Atlas Obscura have held our own Rites of Spring, hunting down this season’s most sinister tales as tribute. We’ve traveled to remote corners of the globe, pen in hand, to uncover the ancient origins of Beltane that have inspired modern fire festivals in Edinburgh and elsewhere. We’ve delved into Sri Lanka’s demon-appeasing dance, the kohomba yak kankariya. We’ve stalked dangerous cryptids, like North Dakota’s red-haired, buffalo-like miniwashitu, and returned in time to witness a small Wisconsin town’s first burning of the Böögg, an exploding, weather-predicting snowman. (According to the Böögg’s April 2023 prediction, winter’s chill will haunt us still.)

Read on to join us in the liminal space between the shifting seasons. But be ready to run if a monster catches sight of you in these ever-lightening days.

Even today, no one knows who or what the Bell Witch was—a ghost, a witch, an act of ventriloquism?
Even today, no one knows who or what the Bell Witch was—a ghost, a witch, an act of ventriloquism? ANNA SOROKINA FOR ATLAS OBSCURA


The Elusive, Maddening Mystery of the Bell Witch

by Colin Dickey

This classic ghost story has something to say about the United States—200 years ago, 100 years ago, and even today.

Beltane Is About More Than Fire and Fertility

by Gemma Tarlach, Senior Editor/Writer

Modern events such as Edinburgh’s iconic Beltane Fire Festival and smaller bonfire gatherings are what many consider a symbolic cleansing and celebration of renewal. But the ancient roots of Beltane are far more mundane: It had a lot to do with cows.

The Mysterious, Naked Night Runners of Western Kenya

by Joel Balsam

Stories about bewitched night runners in western Kenya are widespread, though like the spooky sprinters themselves, facts are elusive and shrouded in mystery.

What Stories of Scary Plants and Other Botanical Horrors Say About Us

by Kate Golembiewski

From bloodthirsty orchids to body-snatching pods, fictional flora are often symbols of societal fears of their era, such as current concerns about habitat destruction and climate change—and these tales of botanical horror aren’t going anywhere.

Why 18th-Century Scots Performed Mock Human Sacrifices Over Cake

by Sam O’Brien, Senior Editor/Writer, Gastro Obscura

Learn how to make Beltane bannock, a simple oat cake snack with a long history of superstition and divination. Just be sure not to pick the charcoal-daubed morsel or you may end up being sacrificed to appease the gods.

To Banish Winter in This Tiny Wisconsin Town, Burn a Swiss Snowman

by Tea Krulos

The burning of the Bӧӧgg is like a fiery version of Groundhog’s Day, but with fireworks and sausages. The colorful celebration has its origins in an ancient Zurich festival called Sechselӓuten.

However long this snowman effigy, known as the Bӧӧgg, takes to burn will determine, it's said, the remaining length of winter.
However long this snowman effigy, known as the Bӧӧgg, takes to burn will determine, it’s said, the remaining length of winter. BRIANNA GRIEPENTROG FOR ATLAS OBSCURA

In Poland, Drowning the Pagan Goddess Marzanna Ushers in Spring

by Sarah Laskow

A straw effigy of the winter goddess Marzanna is burned and then submerged in chilly, springtime waters to bring warmer weather to rural Polish towns.

How to Keep a Medieval Ghost Town Ghostly

by Vittoria Traverso

Scores of villages across Italy have turned into ghost towns, haunted less by apparitions than by a changing cultural and social landscape that has left two fates: development or neglect. This has left many modern Italians grappling with how to protect these eerie, medieval towns.

How to Make Mystical ‘Fairy Butter’

by Jess Eng

Tantalizing butter desserts that resemble delicate golden threads were a favorite in Colonial America. Known as “fairy butter,” this pale yellow confection accompanied sweet breads such as scones, gingerbread, and towering cakes.

How This Demon Dance Banishes Illnesses in Sri Lanka’s Remote Jungles

by Zinara Rathnayake

Known as the kohomba yak kankariya, this ancient dance all started with the betrayal of a legendary demon queen named Kuweni.

The Harrowing Tale of Afghanistan’s ‘Haunted’ Outpost

by Tom Mutch

Centuries-old culture and modern military psychology intertwined at Observation Point Rock, leading to some bone-chilling conclusions. Both locals and foreign soldiers alike have reported experiencing apparitions, unexplained events, and mystical curses at the small, southern outpost.

Explore This Map of More Than 3,000 Scottish Witches

by Frank Jacobs, Big Think

An Edinburgh University project uses data to track the victims of Scottish “witch-prickers” in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Italian Town that Welcomes Spring with Live Snakes

by Dania Rodrigues

Every year on May 1st the small town of Cocullo in central Italy celebrates its patron saint San Domenico Abate. The celebration resembles many other Catholic festivities, but during this religious procession the saint’s statue is fully covered with living snakes.

The fossegrim is one of the more helpful beings in Norse mythology—as long as you bring him a snack.
The fossegrim is one of the more helpful beings in Norse mythology—as long as you bring him a snack. HARSHAD MARATHE FOR ATLAS OBSCURA

Cryptid Series

This Norwegian Water Spirit Just Wants to Teach You How to Fiddle

by Diana Hubbell, Associate Editor, Places

Bring a plump, delicious goat as an offering to the fossegrim and he might just teach you how to play the violin—till your fingers bleed. The gaunt, green goblinesque fiddle teacher can often be found perched beside a rushing Norwegian waterfall.

In North Dakota, the Hideous Miniwashitu Ushers in Spring

by April White, Senior Editor/Writer

A dreadful, one-eyed creature with a sawlike backbone, the Miniwashitu is a hardworking monster that, for the Madan people, is all that stands between salvation and destruction.

Argentina’s Loch Ness Monster Lurks Beneath a Patagonia Lake

by Juan Relmucao

Nahuelito’s plesiosaur visage can be found all over the small town of Bariloche and has become a beloved symbol for the remote Patagonian town.

The Child-Eating Bunyip Haunts Australia’s Wetlands

by Sarah Durn, Associate Editor

This fearsome swamp monster can lure people to the water’s edge with its magical powers before dragging them beneath the water to devour. But the monster’s complex Aboriginal Australian origins have today been commodified and suppressed.