The Penanggala

The legend of the vampire is an ancient one stretching back thousands of years. During the middle ages in Europe, the Church or State employed would be hunters believing the creature was all to real. Even today, certain parts of the world perform rituals upon the dead out of fear they would return as a vampire. In my continuing series on vampire lore, I would like to introduce the Penanggalan

This unique legend originates from Southeast Asia and is unlike any other vampire you’ll come across. The Penanggalan is described as a beautiful woman who became curse, used black magic or made a pact with a demon. In the day, she appears as an ordinary woman in town working as a mid wife, seamstress or merchant. At night, the Penanggalan reveals her true form in a gruesome scene. The head detaches from the body and begins to levitate with the spinal cord and internal organs trailing from the neck. She then takes flight in search of blood. Once a victim is found, the Penanggalan could manipulate her organs and hair like tentacles to grasp and entangle her prey. When dawn approaches, the creature would return to her home, dunk the internal organs into a container filled with vinegar she kept and reattach back to the body

In the legend, the Penanggalan could prey on any of townspeople while they slept, but it had more of a taste for newborn infants. As a trusted mid wife, she would know where the children were residing. When transformed at night, she would fly to the house and await on the rooftop until all were asleep. The Penanggalan would use her organs to open a door or window, enter the home, seek out the child and with a mouthful of fangs, devour the baby or drink the blood. If everything was locked, she would elongate her tongue through an opening to the newborn. In other versions of the legend, the Penanggalan could simply ooze into any home she wishes.

As in most vampire stories, there are ways to protect against and even destroy the creature. In local folklore, the thorny plant, Mengkuange, was planted around the house or hung around doors and windows. The belief is the plant would either trap or damage the trailing organs of the vampire as she flies around searching for blood. If trapped, the Penanggalan could be down away with a bladed weapon. Other methods said to kill the vampire are to stop the head from reattaching before sunlight, burn the body or cut the spinal cord from the neck.

Other versions of the Penanggalan exist within other Asian countries. The Nukekubi of Japan, the Balan-balan in Sabah or the Mananauggai in Philippines are among other lore about  a flying head monster. One could only image of how or what gave the origins to this vampire myth.

Other Sources of Information

“Penanggalan”. Scary for Kids. October 5, 2014.

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