The Bogeyman


The bogeyman, even though he is thought to have originated in Scotland, is indeed a mythical characters embodying man’s fears are found in many cultures. Stories of him possess variations with regard to place, and from time to time. In English folklore the bogeyman is a ‘goblin-like’ entity and spirit of terrible and frightening aspect. Usually assumed to be male the Bogeyman is regarded as being imbued and characterised by features associated with evil, and a shadowy creature of fear. Over time he has been credited with a reputation for wickedness in many forms. His mischief includes the ability, in the long time tradition of folkloric themes, to shape-shift at will. Regarded as a mysterious and black coloured supernatural visitor. The blackness does not refer to complexion but to the Bogeyman’s preference for hiding under the beds of children or other dark places. In Italy there is L’uomo nero or ‘black ghost’ employed by parents to scare their children to sleep.

Even though they “…differ in name, form and concept from one cultural group to another…they share a remarkable number of characteristics.” (Widdowson, 1971). The bogeyman, or boogyman, boogieman, even the bogey monster, was essentially a ghost-like folkloric creature with no specific appearance. Moreover, these supernatural entities also tned to be indistinct from each other. This implies they are identified manly and on most occasions by their names or epithets. In the literature Bogeys or Bogeymen, which is a compound word,  “…appear frequently in English in the threats used to control the behaviour of children.” (Widdowson, 1971).

However, the Bogeyman can be represented by an evil witch-like character. In the Balkan states of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, a female type is known as Babaroga which means old lady as well as rogovi or with horns. In other words a supernatural entity described as an old lady with horns. A female troll called Gryla in Iceland kidnapped naughty offspring and devoured them on Christmas Eve. In South America the Brazilian female Cuca is portrayed as a human with alligator features. Her purpose is to go and get children who will not sleep.

The etymology of, or derivation of, the word bogey (which is also spelt bogie or bogy) is not very clear. Its most like origin is from the Middle English bogge or bugge (the origin also of bug) which means terror as in bugbear. In the 19th century the word was used analogously with bogle, boggart, pooka and puck, as well as Old Bogey a common euphemism for the Devil, whose domain is called Bogydom.  Bogey is cognate with the Old Welsh bwg (bug) meaning hobgoblin or ghost. In Wales the bo-lol is also an apparition in the tradition of the bogey or bugbear. The word bogey is linked to many European folkloric and dialectical variations whose recognition is referred to as bogyism.

It is a cognate of the German bogge or boggle-mann who is also referred to as the Buhmann (Bumann) or Butzemann – otherwise Der schwarze Mann (the black man). European variations provide pixie or Cornish piskie, also puck in England, the Old Welsh pwca, bwga and bwgan, the Old Norse puki, with pookha in Irish Gaelic, the Slavonic bogu, as well as the buse, bocan, puca. In Yorkshire there is the bogle, boggle or boggart, with bogie a southern 19th century English variant. In Irish there is also the bucan. In Bohemia there is the buba, whereas in Finland there is the equivalent morko. In addition there is the boeman of the Dutch, the bohmand in Denmark, buseman in Norway, the mumus in Hungary, Russian buka, Romanian baubau, the Lithuanian baubas, the bida in Poland, Bulgarian torbalan, and the sarranco or papao of Portugal. In addition in the Spanish speaking countries there is Cuco or El Coco (cucay), who is sometimes referred to as El Bolo.

Throughout Flanders in Belgium Oude Rode Ogen or Old Red Eyes is a bogeyman without a face whose is a shape-shifting cannibal and believed to devour children who stayed up past their bedtime. The Boeman in the Netherlands is seen as a man dressed overall in black with fangs and claws. This bogeyman also hides under beds and takes away children who will not sleep to his lock-up for a while. The image or threat of The Bogeyman was regularly invoked as an admonishment or warning to make children wary of the numinous or unfamiliar. In other words such expressions as “The Bogeyman will get you.” were aimed at frightening wilful or disobedient children into good behaviour. The belief was sometimes encouraged that the Bogeyman would hide under the bed and appear at night. It was the Bogeyman’s vengeful efforts to determine specific types of behaviour or mischief that stories of him were included in the parental inventory.


In ancient Iraqi folklore a creature that is half-ghoul and half witch called the saalua is used by mothers or fathers to instil fear into naughty children. Many Bogeyman-like variants are claimed to be a nocturnal menace at bedtime. In Portugal, and also in Brazil the Bicho Papao (a bedtime bogeyman), and also the ‘deep voiced man’ called Sarronco who is a diurnal threat. In Japan the bogey called ju-ju comes at night whereas the ju-on can come day or night. In Guyana Jumbi is the name for a bogeyman who lives in the dark under the bed. People in Trinidad and Tobago also refer to the jumbi as a type of bogeyman, sometimes called The Babooman.

The talasam in Bulgaria is a type of bogeyman who comes out at night to frighten children in their beds and his equivalent in Romania is known as bau-bau. Stories about bau-bau are told to children who misbehave. In Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine babay – ‘old man’ – or babayka also makes children stay in bed or he will take them away in his bag. The khokhan in Azerbaijan is used to frighten children into good behaviour. Hungarians use the threat of Mumus to frighten misbehaving children with the threat that the creature will take them away. For the Greeks there is the Baboulas who hides most of the time under the bed of children as a potential night visitor.

In Scandinavia there is the nokken in Norway who is assumed to be a monster in a lake who takes naughty children, and the Danish bogeyman or bussemanden (in Denmark Bussemannen) who prefers to hide also under beds and grabs children who will not sleep. In Sweden the Monstret under sangen is a bogeyman whose name also suggests he is a monster under the bed. However such entities have no existence in reality but are used as a form of social control which can on occasions inculcate a temporary childhood fear of bogies or bogyphobia. The Bogeyman is a complete fabrication who is invoked by parents, as a threatening night-time visitor, to make children go to sleep.

Sources Consulted

Edwards, G.  (1974).  Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck.  Goeffrey Bles, London.

Evans, I. H.  (1978). Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.  Cassell, London.

Gomme, L.  (2005).  Handbook of Folklore.  Kessinger Publishing.

Grimm. J. & W.  (1835).  Teutonic Mythology.

Leach, M. ed. (1972).  Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.  Funk & Wagnall, New York.

McNab, C.  (2007).  Ancient Legends and Folklore.  Scholastic Inc, New York.

Widdowson, J.  (1971).  The Bogeyman: Some Preliminary Observations on Frightening Figures.  Folklore. 82 (2). Summer.

Wright, E. M.  (1913).  Rustic Speech and Folklore.  H. Milford, London.


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