Monstrous Demons of Asian Folklore
Every village, town and city in the world has its array of monsters and mythological creatures, many of whom that have sprung from thousands of years of folkloric traditions. And while dragons are regarded as the kings of the monsters, appearing in both western and eastern folk systems, Asia has several other horrific monsters and each one holds secrets about how mankind used to interact with nature and the struggles of man’s times between the bookends of life and death.
Hantu Penanggal’, or Penanggalan, is a vampire-monster of Malaysian mythology generally descried as a beautiful woman, who was transformed through the application of dark or demonic magic. During the day it appears as a regular woman but at night it terrifies people by separating at the neck and flying through the air dragging its entrails behind it, holding its head in its hands, while looking for newborn babies to eat, just like the Fairy Queens of European mythology travelled by night claiming unborn children.
According to Anthony Mercatante and James R. Dow in their 2004 book Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, variations of the mythological creature are the Krasue of Thailand and the Kasu or Phi-Kasu in Laos, while in Cambodia it is the Ap. Its victims are generally pregnant women and young children and like the Banshees of Ireland and Scotland it appears at a birth rather than a death, screeching above a house when the new child is born. With its long invisible tongue, the Penanggalan consumed the blood of new mothers and if it didn’t feed, it infected them with a wasting disease and anyone who brushed against the Penanggalan was inflicted with painful open sores.
The Kappa is a turtle shelled water dwelling creature of Japanese folklore described as having scales like a fish and sometimes fur. The Kappa can walk upright like a human and it holds water in a depression in its skull which is the source of its supernatural power, and just like the Pied Piper of European mythology the Kappa comes out of the water and enchants children into the river where it eats them.
Kappa caught in 1801 in a net Mito Domain's east beach (now Ibaraki Prefecture). From a 1836 copy by Reikai 霊槐 of Koga Tōan (Public Domain)
Loving cucumbers and sumo wrestling Kappas are a mythological archetype used to scare children from getting to close to water.
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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history. www.ashleycowie.com.
Top Image: Kappa at the Lumber Yard in Fukagawa / kappa repulsed by stench by Yoshitoshi (1839–1892). Famous Places and Humorous Images of Modern Life in Tokyo (Public Domain)
By Ashley Cowie