Could it be witches, ghosts or goblins? Monsters, Vampires or Space Aliens? No, No, No!
It’s Rats, Bats and Spiders that top the list of the most unwanted and fright inspiring creatures ever created. But with all the disturbing stories and fear provoking encounters, are they really the vile creatures of nightmares or are they being given a bad rap?
Rats are one of those animals that can trigger fears that center around sheer numbers. A group of rats is called a pack, swarm, horde or mischief. Imagine a mischief of rats streaming towards you in a darkened alley; this is the stuff of nightmares. For others, it is the long, snakelike tail that freaks them out, or the seemingly long sharp teeth that line their mouths. Considering their factual and fictional involvement in the painful deaths and disappearances of so many people, it’s understandable that society has a fear of these pests that can carry disease and pestilence. Either way, rodents are seen as harbingers of doom and a carrier of death.
Rats in hstory: During the period from 1664-1666, London was ravaged by the Great Plague. Wiping out an estimated 100,000 people, which equated to about 20% of the capital’s population at the time, the plague also known as the “Black Death”, was all down to the bites of fleas carried in the hair of black rats. Disastrously, the residents of the city mistakenly thought that the disease was being spread by stray dogs and cats and so set about killing them. Obviously, cats are right above rats in the food chain, so taking out the predators of the vermin only worsened the situation. Interestingly, it was only in the 1890s that it was discovered that rats were the reason why the plague spread so quickly.
Rats in literature: Rats were also central to the plot of a well-known story that warned against going back on your word. The Pied Piper of Hamelin was a character brought in by the Mayor of the town of Hamelin to help clear an infestation of rats, promising him a healthy reward for the completion of said task. The Pied Piper then played his pipe and the rats followed, happily lured to their deaths in the nearby river. Having completed the job, the Piper returned for his payment, but the Mayor reneged. So, in revenge, the Piper returned and played his pipe again, this time hypnotizing the children of the town. They followed him and, dependent on the version you read, they either disappeared into a cave, never to be seen again or were returned once the Piper had received his fee. Modern motion pictures, like Willard and Ben have raised the rat to new hights of villainy, whereas,
Disney’s American Tale and Ratatouille have made them into loveable folk heroes.Considering rats can be purchased in just about any pet store these days, maybe rats have caught a rap they just don’t deserve.
Check out these links to see what’s really going on with Rats: http://discovermagazine.com/2006/dec/20-things-rats
Bats have become the stuff of nightmares because of their nocturnal habits and ability to navigate in the dark, and because of their weird appearance as they resemble both animal and bird at the same time. Bats, through history, have been associated with deities, supernatural forces and the occult. In the mythologies of differing cultures, they symbolize both good and evil, life and death.
The most well-known and fear-inspiring is the “Vampire Bat”, belonging to the subfamily, Desmodontinae.
It is a parasitic species that drinks the blood of other animals including domesticated animals such as cows, horses, and pigs. No, it does not drink human blood! But like the vampire of legend, it sits on its’ prey, bites, licks blood from the wound and the prey never feels a thing.
The common vampire bat is found in the tropics of Mexico, Central and South America and are the only mammals that feed entirely on blood.
Over the centuries their fear inspiring, blood sucking reputation has spilled over onto other bat species that might look as scary but have more benign insect based diets.
Bats in History: But which came first, the Vampire or the Bat? It’s the Vampire, whose first appearance was made in the 11th century and gave rise to the medieval, bloodsucking monster. Whereas, bats originally come from the Americas and were discovered some 400 years after the appearance of the “Vampire”. One theory suggests that the Slavic word for vampire comes from the Turikic word for an evil, supernatural being, Ubyr or witch. The word Upir as a term for vampire is found, for the first time in written form, in 1047 in a letter to a Novtorodian prince referring to him as “Upir Lichyi” or Wicked Vampire.
Bats in Literature: The list of folklore concerning bats is endless, and even Shakespeare got in on the act. In his famous play Macbeth, he had his three witches adding “wool of bat” to their steaming cauldron, and in The Tempest (Act I, Scene 2) he had Caliban place a curse on his master Prospero, which included the line:
“All the charms of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!”
Perhaps the most influential source for popularizing contemporary fear of bats was the fictional bestselling book, “Dracula” (written by the Irish author Bram (Abraham) Stoker (1847-1912) and first published in 1897). In it, he personalized the characteristics of the Vampire bat into what are now the traditional scary, and oddly romantic, blood sucking Vampire legends. Greatly inspiring the imaginations of other writers; his book led to a whole genre of stories and films.
Thursting for more? Check this out.
Spiders were one of early man’s top, fear provoking creatures, way before humans crawled out of caves to hunt wooly mammoths. In fact, the fear of spiders, Arachnophobia, could be a product of human evolution, according to new research out of Columbia University. Spiders presented such a great danger to humans during our early evolutionary stages that a fear of the species became part of our DNA.
However, there are other theories that have been put forth to explain human fear of spiders. Plymouth University Psychology professor, Jon May, suggests that it is their angular legs, dark colors and unpredictable movements that make arachnids so abhorrent to humans. It’s also possible that this fear is learned, as children are much more likely to become arachnophobic if they see parents or siblings reacting to the creatures fearfully. But regardless of which reason offers the correct explanation, we can all probably agree: spiders can be pretty creepy.
Spiders in History: As an ancient and powerful symbol found around the world, spiders have always provoked a wide variety of emotions in people: fear, disgust, panic, and sometimes curiosity and appreciation. This broad range of reactions has influenced origin myths, legends, art, literature, music, architecture, and technology throughout history.
In an ancient Greek legend, the world’s first spider was born from the pride of a woman, named , Arachne, which is where the name Arachnid comes from. North American indigenous cultures have often portrayed spiders as creators, helpers, and wisdom keepers. Egyptian mythology tells of the goddess Neith – a spinner and weaver of destiny – and associates her with the spider. Ancient Chinese folk culture celebrates spiders. They are thought to bring happiness in the morning, and wealth in the evening. They see spiders as lucky creatures, and “happy insects”. In Japan the Spider Princess, a mythological spider figure called Jorogumo, is able to transform into a seductive woman who entraps traveling samurai.
Spiders in Literature: Many folktales warn of the dangerous traits associated with spiders, such as ensnaring webs, lies and deceits, lethal venoms, silent attacks, and creeping terror. The spider gained an evil reputation in the 1842 Biedermeier novella by Jeremias Gotthelf, The Black Spider. In this tale, the spider symbolizes evil works and shows the moral consequences of making a pact with the devil.
The 1952 children’s novel Charlotte’s Web written by E. B. White, is notable for its portrayal of the spider in a positive light, as a heroine rather than an object of fear. More recently, giant spiders have been featured in books such as the 1998 fantasy novel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, where the giant spider Aragog is a supporting character and pet of grounds keeper, Hagrid.
In graphic novels, spiders are often adopted by superheroes or villains as their symbols or alter egos due to the arachnid’s strengths and weaknesses. One of the most notable characters in comic book history is the Marvel comic book hero, Spider-Man.
Spiders have been present for many decades both in film and on television. The spider web is used as a prop to adorn dark passageways, into the the unknown. Horror films, featuring the spider, include, the 1955 movie, Tarantula, which exploits America’s fear of not only spiders but atomic radiation during the nuclear arms race. Then came the 1975 low-budget cult films, The Giant Spider Invasion, and Kingdom of the Spiders, a 1977 film starring William Shatner, depicting the consequence of hungry spiders deprived of their natural food supply due to pesticides. The fear of spiders escalates in Arachnophobia, a 1990 movie in which spiders multiply in large numbers and reign terror over man.
Have a craving for more info on why spiders creep us out? Paruse these at your leasuire.