Rawhead & Bloody Bones: Evolution of a 16th Century Bogeyman

rawhead-and-bloody-bones-2 (Image: Geoffrey Fantomo via Monster Wikia)

For as long as children have been misbehaving, adults have been telling them terrifying stories in a bid to make them tow the line – lest they be stolen away in the night, never to be seen again. To that end, children in 16th century Ireland and Great Britain were told tales of horrifying bogeymen like Rawhead and Bloody Bones.

The first written evidence of the gruesome duo dates to around 1564, but other documents from the same period seem to suggest that they were already familiar figures – making it difficult to tell for sure when the pair first began haunting children’s nightmares.

The Mask of Reason blog examined the original stories which featured a creature known as Tommy Rawhead, most often referred simply as Rawhead or even Rawhead and Bloody Bones, despite apparently describing a single bogeyman. The name was a literal label, since he was sporting a raw and bloody skull. Some interpretations of the tale have Rawhead living in ponds. Ponds were potentially dangerous places, and his presence was implied as a cautionary tale to keep curious children from wandering off and drowning.

In other folk stories, Rawhead lived in disused cupboards, while one claimed that says that if children stood on the stairs and gazed down between their ankles, through the gaps in the steps, they might catch a glimpse of Rawhead, crouched on a pile of bones in his home beneath the stairs. Should the children be caught, he’d gobble them up and add their bones to the pile.

No doubt such parental stories had the desired effect, and Rawhead’s nursery rhyme was a popular one:

Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Steals naughty children from their homes,
Takes them to his dirty den,
And they are never seen again.

Folk stories of Rawhead eventually migrated to North America, where they took on an even darker meaning. There, particularly in Missouri (and further south), Rawhead became the familiar of a witch named Old Betty, manifesting in the form of a half-wild boar.

One day, according to folklore, a hunter stumbled across Rawhead, killed him and ate him. The witch was predictably upset at the death of her long-time companion, and summoned the creature back from the grave. After the horrifying, reanimated monster had exacted his revenge on the hunter who killed him, most versions of the story tell of him heading off into the woods, where he continued to prowl for naughty children to feed on.

Meanwhile, British post-punk/new wave band Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded a song about the notorious trans-Atlantic bogeyman for their 1988 album Peepshow, under the apt title “Rawhead and Bloodybones”.

Related: The Ghostly Children’s Handprints of San Antonio, Texas


About the author: Debra Kelly




Latest Articles




Send this to friend

Urban Ghosts uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience and to serve you with advertisements that might interest you. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies. Privacy Policy

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.