Myth Monday: Vampires from Around the World
Myth Monday: Vampires from Around the World
Everybody knows about the traditional European vampire: thin, pale, red lips, piercing eyes, sleeps in a coffin, survives on blood drawn from a victim’s throat which has been punctured by a pair of fangs, blah blah blah. Fortunately, that’s not the only kind of vampire out there—there are hoards of them all over the world, each more unique (or weirder) than the last. Take a look, and keep the garlic handy!
Oh, and fair warning … some of these can be a little gross.
Bakeneko (Japan): Before the arrival of Europeans, Japanese people believed in vampires, but their versions weren’t reanimated human corpses out looking for blood; typically, a Japanese vampire was an everyday, run-of-the-mill animal that had developed nefarious powers. One famous story tells of how a bakeneko (ghost cat) sought revenge for the unfair death of her owner’s son by Nabeshima Mitsushige, a local daimyo (feudal lord.) The bakeneko killed Mitsushige’s favorite concubine and then took on her appearance so that she could drain the life from him at night. After noticing how Mitsushige seemed well during the day but increasingly weak and frail after spending the night with his concubine, the daimyo’s retainer Komori Hanzaemon hid in their bedchambers one night and caught the bakeneko attacking the prince. He drew his sword and slew the blood-drinking cat vampire.
Chiang-shih/jiangshi (China): The Chinese vampire is one of the more unique reanimated human bloodsuckers in mythology. Why? Because it gets around by hopping! Long ago if a person died far from their home, their grieving relatives would hire a Taoist priest to bring the body home. The priest would go to the corpse, bind its arms and legs together, then attach a magic spell to its forehead to make it stand up and hop its way home—naturally, it only moved along at night when the roads were deserted, since the sight of a corpse bouncing along a road would surely give living witnesses heart attacks. In time the myth evolved, and a chiang-shih was thought to be the reanimated or demon-possessed body of a dead person who had not been buried properly. They grew fangs and claws and attacked people for blood—all while still hopping around. If a chiang-shih was not disposed of quickly, it would move through seven stages of evolution (sort of like the worst Pokemon imaginable), growing increasingly more mobile, more powerful, and eventually gaining the ability to fly and transform into wolves. They were almost impossible to kill at that point. Salt, garlic and iron were effective tools against a chiang-shih.
Chupacabra (North and South America, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean): The most modern of all vampires, the Chupacabra (“goat sucker”) is a creature that apparently comes in two different species: the half-ape-half-reptile-kangaroo-like-usually-fairly-large-and-may-or-may-not-be-winged variety most often reported in Mexico, South and Central American and certain places in the Caribbean, or the hairless, blue-eyed dog-like creature seen (and killed and taxidermized!) in the Southwest United States. The reptilian version gained notoriety in the early 1990s, particularly in Puerto Rico, when an unexplained rash of pet and livestock killings occurred. The animals—particularly goats, hence the name—were found dead and largely intact, save that they appeared to have been completely drained of blood. Sightings of the fanged kangaroo-lizard-monkey thing quickly followed, giving rise to a new legend. More recently, similar livestock deaths in the United States, particularly Texas, have been blamed on a highly unusual-looking canine-like animal seen lurking around. The dog thing is gray, hairless, has front legs shorter than the back, weird knobs on its hind end, only two mammary glands (unlike a dog’s typical six), piercing blue eyes and long white fangs. The animal has been sighted by hundreds of witnesses, including a sheriff’s deputy who caught it on her dashboard camera. Several have been shot and killed, and the body of one that was hit and killed by a car was rescued by Dr. Phylis Canion, who had it stuffed and mounted. DNA tests suggest that it’s probably a mix of coyote and wolf, but it sure is weird looking. See it here!
Langsuyar and Pontianak (Indonesia): The langsuyar is a woman died either while pregnant or during childbirth, and a Pontianak is a baby that was stillborn (though some other regions believe that pontianak is an even more vicious version of the langsuyar.) The langsuyar appears as a beautiful woman with ankle length black hair (though sometimes she can be a detached head), long claw-like nails, hands that drag down by her feet, and wearing green robes. She hunts infants and especially likes the blood of newborn boys. The langsuyar can be recognized by a hole in the base of her neck, and she can be cured of her vampirism if you cut off all of her hair and fingernails and stuff them into the hole—good luck with that. To prevent the creation of either a langsuyar or a Pontianak, the mouths of the corpses must be filled with beads to keep them from screeching, eggs must be placed under their arms and needles in their hands to keep them from flying. As recently as 2013, villagers in Kelantan, Malaysia, reported a langsuyar flying over their houses, cackling.
Leanan Sidhe (Ireland): Interestingly, while most of Europe west of Romania had never heard of the blood-drinking vampire, Ireland had a wealth of tales about fairies that would feast on the blood or life energies of human beings. One such fairy vampire was the beautiful leanan sidhe, who was highly attracted to poets and artists. If a leanan sidhe found and fell in love with a poet or artist, she would act a as their muse, granting them inspiration to created fabulous works of literature or art. However, there was a cost; the poet may gain inspiration, but he would slowly wither and die as the leanan sidhe fed off of his energy. Once the victim had passed away, the leanan sidhe would move on to find new prey.
Manananggal and Aswang (Philippines): Perhaps the grossest of all the vampires, the manananggal is a woman who can either detach her head from her body or her upper torso from her lower torso (depends on the story). The detached part of her body then flies through the air, trailing its intestines behind it. The manananggal loves to prey on pregnant women and, upon finding one, will perch on the roof of the woman’s house and lower its needle-like tongue down inside. The tongue pierces the woman’s stomach through her bellybutton and sucks out the heart of the baby, resulting in a stillborn child. The manananggal can be defeated if the lower part of its body is found and filled with salt or garlic, preventing the upper half from rejoining the rest of its body, and then dying in the rising sunlight. Another way to defeat the manananggal is to cut its tongue; one popular story (I might be getting it confused with another similar vampire) tells of an expectant mother who was sitting in a chair sewing, and noticed a long dark thread on her lap. Annoyed that she couldn’t find the end of it, she snipped the thread with her scissors, then jumped in fright as she heard something yelp, fall off her roof and crash into her yard. The next morning a dead manananggal was found in her yard, and was recognized as a local woman. A similar creature, called the aswang, is male, doesn’t detach any part of his body but can shapeshift into an animal, and is impervious to sunlight. It feeds on babies and small children, but would never harm anyone in its village and can actually be a good friend. They are driven off by salt, garlic and holy items and can be killed by decapitation. In the 1950s, the CIA helped to curb an uprising in the Philippines by killing a rebel soldier and staging his body to look like he had been killed by an aswang (it worked—the rebels fled the area.) An episode of Destination Truth featured a hunt for an aswang near a mosque in the Philippines.
Obayifo (West Africa): Here’s a interesting vampire for you: the Dahomey and Ashanti people of West Africa believed in a creature called an obayifo, a black-magic user who was so constantly hungry that they were known to steal children to eat (hence the Ashanti word obayifo, “child-snatcher”) and not only sucked blood out of living people but also the juice out of fruits and vegetables. They appeared as ordinary human men or women, and sometimes could leave their bodies and travel as balls of light. In their human forms, they were pretty easily identified as vampires: they glowed from their armpits and anuses.
Penanggalan (Malaysia): Much like the manananggal, the penanggalan is a woman who detaches her head from her body and flies around at night with her organs trailing behind her like the world’s most disgusting kite tail. How the woman becomes a penanggalan varies from story to story, though frequently she’s cited as being a woman who died in childbirth or a midwife who has made a pact with the devil. When she needs to return to her body, she soaks her entrails in vinegar to shrink them down for easier insertion (hey, I don’t make this crap up, I just report it.) The penanggalan uses her long tongue to feed on the blood of pregnant women and infants, all of whom die from a wasting disease. She can be deterred by wrapping thorny branches around windows or planting prickly pineapples beneath the stilt legs of the woman’s house, where the penanggalan will be snagged and can be hacked to death with a machete. If the body is found it can be burned or filled with crushed glass, preventing the head from rejoining. The head will then be killed by sunlight.
Rakshasas (India): Most often described as being infernally beautiful women, rakshasas are blood-thirsty demons that haunt Indian cemeteries and crematoriums, and are known to follow in the wake of Kali, the goddess of destruction. Travelling by night, these fanged beasts liked to prey on pregnant women and infants, and a hero who could kill a rakshasa was a powerful warrior indeed. Like many vampires, rakshasas could be killed with fire.
Red caps (Scotland): Red caps are hard to miss; they’re Scottish dwarves that tramp through the roads and fields at night, brandishing axes and halberds as they go. The second they spy a human being, the chase the hapless person, hack him to death, and then soak their caps in his blood. No, they don’t drink the blood—they just like the color of it. That’s all.
Sasasabonsam (West Africa): A freaky vampire, this thing had iron teeth and hooks for toes. It would sit in tree branches that extended over a trail and dangle their legs down, waiting for someone to pass by. When a human made to mistake of crossing under their tree, the sasasabonsam would grab them with their hook toes, haul them up into the tree and drain them dry.
Soucouyant/loogaroo (Caribbean, United States): A soucouyant (often known as a loogaroo in the United States) is an old, black magic-wielding hag who peels off her skin at night, hides it, transforms into a fireball and then flies through the air seeking victims. She worms her way through a gap in a person’s house and then proceed to drink their blood from their limbs. If she drinks too much, her victim will die and possibly become a soucouyant as well. Like many vampires, the soucouyant is very OCD, and if you scatter rice around your bedroom, around the outside of your home or at a crossroads, she has to stop and count every single grain; if she doesn’t complete the task before dawn, the sunlight will burn her and she’ll rush screaming back to her skin. If you should find the soucouyant’s skin, you should coat the insides with salt and put it back in its hiding place. When the soucouyant tries to put the skin back on, the salt will burn and kill her.
Tlahuelpuchi (Mexico): An interesting and unusual vampire from ancient Mesoamerican myth, the tlahuelpuchi is a person, most often a woman, who is cursed to become a vampire when they reach puberty. They feed largely on the blood of infants, and if they don’t consume blood once a month they will die of starvation. Tlahuelpuchi maintain their own hunting territories apart from one another, though the are in communication with other supernatural entities and magic workers. The tlahuelpuchi hunt by leaving their legs behind in their home, transform into a turkey or a vulture, then fly in a cross pattern above the house of their intended victim as part of a ritual (north to south, then east to west.) When a tlahuelpuchi is discovered, they have to be destroyed immediately, though if a family member kills them the curse can pass on to them. Garlic, certain metals and onions can protect people against the tlahuelpuchi.
Vrykolakas (Greece, Bulgaria, Slavic folklore): Ever had a hard time deciding if you want to be a vampire or a werewolf? Well, you’re in luck, because if you’re a vrykolakas, you can be both! A vrykolakas is a person who lived a sinful life, was excommunicated, ate the meat of an animal killed by a wolf or was a werewolf in life. When this person dies, they can return to life as a vampire. The vrykolakas then roams through their hometown, killing villagers, spreading disease and terrorizing their surviving family members. Burning or dismembering the body, piling rocks atop the body, decapitation and staking were effective ways at killing the vrykolakas. Like a surprising number of vampires throughout the world, vrykolakas are obsessive-compulsive, so if you spread seeds of grains of sand over the grave, the vampire is compelled to count each grain—at a rate of one grain a year, so you’ll be pretty safe.
Yara-ma-yha-who (Australian Aboriginal legend): Among the weirdest of vampires, this one takes the cake: the yara-ma-yha-who is a frog-like humanoid with red hair that sits in fig trees, waiting for humans to stop by. When a human does pause at the tree, the yara-ma-yha-who drops out of the tree and attaches its fingers—each tip of which has a sucker on it—to the victim, draining them of blood. Once the human is dead, the yara-ma-yha-who swallows them whole, drinks some water, sleeps for a little while, then spits the person back out. The victim is alive, but a little shorter than before, and their skin now has a red tint. The yara-ma-yha-who does this over and over again until their victim is turned into a yara-ma-yha-who. Interesting, the yara-ma-yha-who hunts exclusively during the daytime and will only go after living prey, so if you see one coming at you, drop to the ground and play dead until sunset; once it gets dark the yara-ma-yha-who will return to its tree and you can make a run for it.