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.
by Colin Dickey
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.
by Joel Balsam
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.
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.
by Tea Krulos
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.
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.
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.
by Zinara Rathnayake
Known as the kohomba yak kankariya, this ancient dance all started with the betrayal of a legendary demon queen named Kuweni.
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.
by Frank Jacobs, Big Think
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.