Every country has eerie tales of monsters from hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. There are many such stories from Asia; here are a few of those monsters you might want to tell the kids about the next time you have a campfire on a dark and spooky night.
The Penanggalan is a Malaysian vampire-type monster, who separates at the neck and flies with her entrails dragging behind her. During the day she appears as a regular woman, but her head flies off at night so she can flit around terrifying people, and supposedly eating newborn babies. Rituals for protection against the monster (or just luck) are used for pregnant women or when a new baby is born. The Penanggalan smells of vinegar, because she must clean her dangling entrails with it and stuff them back into her body through the neck by morning. How did she get that way? Legends vary, but she supposedly was a normal woman until someone startled her so badly that her head popped off. The monster is called by other names, such as Hantu Penanggal, Leyak, or Krasue, in other Southeast Asian countries. Image by Xavier Romero-Frias.
2. Mongolian Death Worm
The Mongolilan Death Worm (Allghoi khorkhoi) is two to five feet long and spits acid at anyone who crosses its path. At least that's what the locals in Mongolia's Gobi Desert tell outsiders who visit. The worm resembles a cow's intestines but is red. If you touch it, or if it spits at you, instant death follows, which probably explains why there are no photographs. Although most consider it legendary, a couple of journalists went to Mongolia to find evidence of whatever it was that engendered the story of the Mongolian Death Worm. Image by Pieter Dirkx.
The Namahage are Japanese ogres who, legend says, once terrorized the countryside if they weren't placated with bribes of food and, once a year, a young woman. The legend survives in a ritual that takes place in Japan on New Year's Eve, when people dressed in masks as Namahage go door-to-door, threatening the lazy, and scaring children into hard work and good behavior. Photograph by Flickr user ChrisSteph LewisBoegeman.
The Kappa lives in the rivers and waterways of Japan. It is bigger than a turtle, but has a turtle shell, or maybe scaly skin like a fish, or sometimes fur. The Kappa is said to be able to walk upright like a human, and it always has a depression in its skull where it keeps water, which is the source of its power. The Kappa comes out of the water to enchant children and lure them into the river where it can eat them. This story is often told to children to scare them from getting too close to the water. According to this old print, a good fart will repel them.
The Almasty roams the Caucasus mountains of central Asia. Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann collected over 500 accounts of Almasty sightings in many different languages throughout the Caucasus region, with virtually the same description:
“The Almastys are like people; they have arms and legs like people, except that they are covered with hair. The hair is like that of a bear, and dark. I always saw them without clothing . . . they do not know how to speak; they only mumble or bellow. They are not afraid of people, only of dogs. They run very fast.”
The Nue is a Japanese chimera described with the body parts of different animals all in one being, though exact combinations vary. A legend from the year 1153 says:
Emperor Konoe begins having terrible nightmares every night, to the point that he falls ill, and it seems that the source is a dark cloud that appears on the palace roof every night at two in the morning. The problem is eventually solved by Yorimasu Minamoto, who stakes out the roof one night and fires an arrow into the cloud, out of which falls a dead Nue. Yorimasu then takes the body and sinks it into the Sea of Japan.
Some of the world’s oldest tales of vampires come from India, where ancient Hindu stories were taken to other nations by traders and nomads. Among these beings are the Vetala, who are dead but not at rest because the proper funeral rites were not performed for them. They are also described as evil spirits that occupy corpses. A Vetal (singular) has uncanny knowledge of the past, present, and future which it uses to confound humans, although they sometimes become guards or helpers to sorcerers who enslave them. Vetala live in cemeteries, but wander afield to kill children and livestock. You may recognize a Vetal because the corpse’s hands and feet are turned backwards.
8. Phaya Naga
The Phaya Naga is a Laotian dragon that lives in the Mekong River. It is also known in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam. The Naga is a benign deity that protects the city of Vientiane. Naga Fireballs are said to be produced by the dragon, but are actually thought to be the product of fermentation below the surface of the water.
The Tikbalang is the demon horse of the Philippines. This monster has the head and feet of a horse with very long limbs, and the body of a human so it walks upright. They roam the forests and occasionally rape women and leave them pregnant with Tikbalang babies. Image by DeviantArt member frigga.
The Manticore is a man-eating chimera with the body of a lion and a human head. The legend of the Manticore arises from the Middle East. The Persians just called it "man-eater," and the name Manticore is a Romanized version.
The Manananggal of the Philippines has some features of the Penanggalan. This vampire is an old but attractive woman who preys on pregnant women and uses her tongue to suck the blood of their unborn babies. A child born with a deformed face is said to have been a victim. The Manananggal travels by separating at the waist. Her top half flies with bat wings while her bottom half remains behind. If you find the bottom half, you can destroy the manananggal by covering it with salt, garlic, or ashes. Image by DeviantART member mrrogers4566.
Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.