Texas Connect


UT digital content coordinator’s podcast shares frightening folktales as way of preserving culture

Two color orange horizontal divider
Stylized black-and-white photo of Ayden Castellanos at his microphone
Photo by Leila Saidane

Spirits, ghouls, demons — are they real and lurking among us, or were they invented to scare little children into following rules? This is the focus of Ayden Castellanos’ growing podcast “Susto.”

“Susto,” which means “fright” in Spanish, delves into tales and myths that disturb children and adults alike. Every other week, Castellanos describes stories from Hispanic folklore in which people encounter monsters and other evil entities, riding the line between reality and utter mystery.

“I’m doing my part because I have an interest in it and want to preserve the stories,” says Castellanos, who works by day in University Marketing and Communications. “In a way, it’s a preservation of culture.”

Castellanos comes from the Rio Grande Valley, and oral stories and folktales were an essential aspect of his life. It was common for family barbecues and neighborhood parties to end with everyone sitting around a fire, sharing their own experiences.

“As soon as the sun went down, somebody’s aunt or uncle was telling you about how they saw the devil in Mexico over the weekend,” he says.

Many people Castellanos grew up with merely took the tales as entertainment, but he says he fell in love with the frights and decided to create his own platform to spread his favorite spooky, otherworldly fables.

“I’ve had this interest from a very early age. Sharing the stories was just a pastime we all did growing up,” Castellanos says.

In 2019, he began addressing his “ghoul friends,” the name he gave to his listeners. Many of the tales come from a book of his childhood, “Stories That Must Not Die” by Juan Sauvageau. Castellanos says that in his hometown, elementary school teachers would read from the book to give fun, slightly terrifying lessons to the children.

Although Castellanos describes himself as “a bit of a scaredy-cat” when it comes to some of the stories, he believes in the powerful effect that these tales can have on people. Castellanos talks a lot on the podcast about how trauma can affect people’s reactions to the supernatural and how their otherworldly experiences can sometimes intensify their pain. This dilemma is one of the main reasons Castellanos wanted to create a podcast that could give these cautionary tales the respect they deserve. He says that he wants to bring attention to cases where people were unfairly treated as crazy or delusional because of their traumatic experiences. Castellanos also says he couldn’t find a podcast to provide the eerie, nerve-wracking fix he wanted.

“Since I already had a clear idea of what I wanted to hear, I figured I’d just make one myself,” he says.

Since beginning as the lone soul behind the production, Castellanos has released around a hundred episodes and was nominated in the podcast category of the 2023 Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin competition. He says he is more passionate than ever about consistently releasing quality, terrifying stories while also working as a full-time UT staff member. Castellanos is also venturing out of his home studio to host meetups and storytelling events.

“It’s funny. I feel like I’m taking this oral storytelling journey from person-to-person to digital and back to in-person again,” Castellanos says. “It’s come full circle.”

Castellanos keeps the one-person show going through Patreon supporters who sign up for bonus content and exclusive merchandise. During the day, he works as a digital content coordinator for the University. Castellanos says that digital content and design are his strengths, so even when he isn’t in his home studio recording episodes, he’s refining skills that help to make “Susto” an even stronger production.

“It can be a lot, but I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t in love with it,” Castellanos says.

The podcast’s topics are often playful and light, but Castellanos explains that many of the stories have important messages that listeners should consider. In one of his favorite stories, “The Girl Who Danced With the Devil,” a woman disappears because she disobeys her parents and goes out into town, only to end up dancing with the devil. While Castellanos disagrees with the misogynistic undertones of this story, there are lessons about the real world that people should heed.

“The reality of the world is that it’s not safe for everyone,” Castellanos said. “I do want my friends to know that, unfortunately, this is how the world functions.”

This tale, and many more, can be found on sustopodcast.com or most podcast streaming platforms. Castellanos says that he aims to continue leaving the studio to meet fans of fright and one day to create a team of ghoul friends to carry on the tradition alongside him.

“Maybe one day you’ll see ‘Susto’ on HBO Max,” he says. “That would be the dream.”