If you've decided to dress as a scary, creepy character this Halloween,
you're likely to have plenty of company. Witches, zombies, ghouls, vampires,
and werewolves are perennial favorites of young and old alike.
You should also know, however, that most of these characters have medical
and psychological "baggage," say the handful of experts who study
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So don't just take along a vial of blood or some magic potion to make your
character more believable. Find out the possible medical and psychological
reasons that may have made them so frightening in the first place. But beware:
Even the experts disagree on the truth surrounding some of the creepiest
Halloween Character Case File No. 1: Witches
Witches got a mostly bad rap as sinister types who cast spells in the Middle
Ages, says Stanley Krippner, PhD, professor of psychology at the Saybrook
Graduate School in San Francisco. And it's typically undeserved, he insists.
They may be the most psychologically healthy of all the creepy Halloween
characters. "In the Middle Ages, some of the witches were probably
emotionally disturbed," he tells WebMD. "But in my opinion, most of
them were not. They were very good herbalists and midwives. Some of them were
"Remember, this was an era where women didn't have much power,"
Krippner says of the witches' heyday in the Middle Ages. "This was one way
they could get some respect."
Some witches, he suspects, were better doctors than the men doing the
healing back in those days. But as the witches got more powerful, buying up
land wanted by the men, he says the anti-witch crusades occurred, including the
witch hunts of the 14th century.
Not all the witches back in the Middle Ages were on that level, of course,
Krippner says. "As with any profession, there probably were a few
Likewise, Krippner says, modern-day witches, by and large, are "a very
positive, respectful, peaceful religious group."
Halloween Character Case File No. 2: Zombies
Zombies could be considered innocent bystanders, just the guy or gal next
door -- until someone in the villages of yore decided they had done something
wrong. "They then would go to a trial by ordeal," says James D. Adams,
PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the
University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, Los Angeles, and an
expert in zombie history.
Townspeople would rub a preparation of Datura stramonium on their
bellies, Adams says. "The Datura stramonium contains scopolamine,
the motion sickness drug," Adams says. The belief was that if people were
innocent they wouldn't have any symptoms from the preparation being rubbed into
But people absorb it at different rates, he says. "The people who react
quickly absorb scopolamine within a couple of hours," Adams says. "In
some, scopolamine can take 13 hours to be absorbed."