When my friend Count Orlok posted a write up on vampire lore
and included a chapter on the Filipino myth of vampire lore, I knew I’ll have to expand a little bit on the myths of the ASWANG. I was also inspired since last month when the show in SYFY hosted by Josh Gates called “Destination Truth” (October, 2008 episode) went to the Philippines to hunt down/disprove the dreaded vampiric creature in Aklan, one of the islands of the Philippines. The hosts of the show were severely creeped out, most especially the woman but concluded that the “Aswang” was nothing more than superstition. Sorry, Mr. Gates, one thing I’ve learned about hunting is to find the prey of your quarry; no pregnant woman, no bait…no “Aswang“. The casts of “Destination Truth” should have camped out near the house of a pregnant woman (the 5th
months are the most attractive to the ‘aswang”), but I think they really didn’t want to find the creature. I however, wanted to yell at my TV set that the hosts of the show may have stumbled on the Aswang’s familiar without even knowing it. (I will discuss this later)
Minor Superstition, Myth Or Real?
The people in Capiz lace their homes with garlic bulbs, holy water, and many other objects to repel the Mananggal creature. Pregnancy brings a feeling of dread for the people of Capiz since the long-tongued Aswang feeds on the unborn infant. Some say that Pregnant women grow their hair long to fool the creature into believing that the pregnant woman is the Blessed Mother of Jesus and that they have to wear red as to remain undetected. There are many other myths surrounding the Aswang such as they are believed to be virgins, so when a woman acts a little eccentric, they may be an aswang. It was also told that if your reflection on a person’s eyes is the slightest bit crooked, this person may dabble in the black arts.
The aswang is also believed to have a familiar; a deceased aswang who shape-shifts into a bird most of the time but is able to become a dog, a cat, or any animal that go by with little notice. This familiar is called a “tiktik” and is another type of aswang that helps the “aswang” along in finding its prey. The sigbin is yet another type of creature that resembles the furry look of the chupacabra. They both serve as the aswang’s familiar.
The “Aswangs” are said to be ‘cursed’ creatures and carries on the curse of Lilith. Some say their condition is a sickness and is a mutation of dystonia parkinsonism. There are characteristics that make this condition very similar to the signs of an “aswang”. These days, the people of Capiz try to make fun of their town; to try and attract tourists made a festival called “Aswang Festival” that debuted in October 2004; as a sort of a "halloween-like" celebration. This festival has gotten mixed reactions from people in the region, most notably the arch-diocese, as it seems to be a celebration of evil.
DETECTING AND REPELLING THE ASWANG
Oil that is blessed with prayers and extracted from coconut is said to boil when an aswang is near.
They say that you can determine if another human being is an aswang if you see your own reflection in their eyes as upside down or by seeing them in their true form when you bend over viewing them in a head-between-legs position. I think this is a variation of the myths in Thailand about detecting ghosts.
Silver objects are also said to cause an allergic reaction to aswangs much like the vampires and werewolves in Western lore. The “buntot pagi” or the severed venomous tail of a stingray can also be used to fight off any aswang creature. The tongued “Aswang” are also repelled by photos of real elderly women, for fear that they may look like so if they ever age. Walking around in an aswang-riddled area, a pouch full of ginger can repel them while the coins will prevent them from lifting you from the ground. Sleeping with a naked blade or an open razor may also help repel an aswang attack.
Most manananggals are witches and believed to be very beautiful women who go into a secluded area to split their body into two while leaving the bottom part of their torso behind. As with the traditions of witchcraft, the answang’s skin can burn in contact with salt because of the salt’s purifying powers. When one encounters the left bottom part, one needs to sprinkle the bottom part of the manananggal’s body to keep it from rejoining the bottom part. (sand is also said to be effective if salt wasn’t available) Preventing her from making her body whole before sunrise will cause the aswang to burn and die. There is also a very funny myth that aswangs are repelled by semen, that its scent and other phallic objects can make them terrified. Some say that if you have sex with the aswang, that she will wither and die. I am not sure as to what the origins of this myth are, but aswangs are believed to be virgins and being virgins grant them their powers of witchcraft.
In popular culture, the aswang has been portrayed in films such as “ASWANG
” and “Surviving Evil” (with Billy Zane) and in the RPG video game “World of Darkness”.
I hail originally from the Philippines and my family were one of the three families who first built a moderately sized Spanish-era house in our area in Quezon City. My great grandmother was said to have seen one when she was a teenager and the event was chronicled in my mother’s family journal. Back in the late 1980’s in Antipolo City, dogs and cats started disappearing and strange sights and sounds were detected during the Holy week. The citizens of Antipolo mobilized with long spears to find the culprit. The newspaper covered the event and even came up with a shadowy Polaroid photo of the manananggal. My brother from New York, traveled to Palawan Island on business and he said that he met a real “aswang-hunter”. This hunter is said to cover his body in oil so that the creature cannot get hold of his slippery skin. I do know someone who said that she saw the tongue of the aswang hanging by their window. Personally, I haven’t seen one so I cannot say for sure if the creature is real. I do know one thing, my great grandmother and my friend doesn’t lie about things like this. They may have really seen something; whether or not it is the aswang, we will never know.
Now during this time in the Philippines, the myth of the aswang have loss its effect in the urban areas but maintains its superstitious hold in the isolated areas. People still practice the rites that repel the aswang in those areas. So how do aswang who feed on infant embryos remain undetected? Well, there is a lot of illegal abortions in the Philippines, could they have just adapted with the times and takes advantage of human greed? One myth can precede another; the ASWANG is embedded into its culture. It is what keeps one culture different from the other. The “Aswang” myth is poised to keep its place in superstious beliefs for many generations to come.