Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Japanese mythology and folklore have brought us lots of fascinating supernatural beings such as Akashita, Amanojaku, the Azure Dragon, Ehon Hyaku Monogatari, The Ghost of Oyuki, Kamaitachi, Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki, Namazu, Preta, Tennin, the Vermillion Bird, and Yuki-onna among others.

Japanese culture is always rich and it just shows with all the interesting creatures that’s part of its history. They conjured beings to explain everything that’s happening around them. One such creature is Abura-Akago.

Abura-Akago or oil baby is said to be an infant spirit that steals oil out of an andon lamp. Japanese folklore describes the Abura-Akago appearing as a fireball that would float and enters a house. Then it would turn into an infant that would lap the oil content of an andon lamp. Once the oil is finished off, the Abura-Akago wold turn into a fireball and flies out again.

Andon lamps are made of paper that’s stretched over a frame that can be made out of metal, wood or bamboo. Light is made by lighting a cotton wick than’s doused with oil in a ceramic or stone holder. There would be lots of oil robbers that time and that’s how the legend of Abura-Akago is born.

One of the more famous illustrations of an Abura-Akago was one that’s made by Toriyama Sekein in his Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki or The Illustrated One Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past. It is the second book of Sekein’s Gazu Hyakki Yako series that was published around 1791. Much of the creatures featured in this series of books are taken from Japanese folklores, literature and other artworks.
Along with his illustration of the Abura-Akago, Sekein tells the story of a flying fireball that exists in the eighth town of Otsu in the Omi Province. Natives of the town say that a couple of years ago in the village of Shiga lived a person who would steal oil every night. When that person died, his soul became flame and that’s how the legend of Abura-Akago began.

There’s a related Japanese supernatural being that’s quite related to the Abura-Akago. This creature is the Abura-Sumashi or oil presser. This creature originated from the Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture. You might know by now that Abura means oil. Sumashi on the other hand means wring, squeeze or press.

The Abura-Sumashi is a spirit that would surprise people along the Kusazumigoe mountain pass. People from the region think that the Abura-Sumashi is the ghost of someone who stole oil. Before the advent of electricity, oil is a very valuable commodity. It is required to light and warm a house, especially during the winter season. Therefore the theft of oil, particularly from shrines and temples, can lead to punishment of reincarnation as a yokai. Modern day Abura-Sumashi are illustrated as a short creature with a straw coat over his body. His head would be potato like.

As you can see Japanese folklore is rich with creatures that are truly unique in their own ways. The Abura-Akago and the Abura-Sumashi are just two of the numerous demons, ghosts and monsters that are part of the rich culture and heritage of Japan.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Norse Mythology - Fafnir

According to Norse mythology, Fafnir was the son of the dwarf king Hreidmar. His brothers are Otr and Regin. He played a major role in the Volsunga Saga, which is the legendary epic that tells about the origin and decline of the Volsung clan. In the saga, Fafnir was a dwarf that possesses strong arms and fears no one. He is said to guard is father’s house that’s made of glittering gold and other precious gems. He is the most aggressive and strongest among the three sons of Hreidmar. This trait would play a vital part in the story regarding treasure and greed.

It is said that Fafnir, Otr and Regin are shape shifters. One day Otr changed into an otter. Loki was at that time was looking for some otter and unfortunately killed Otr without knowing who he was. Loki then went to Hreidmar’s home with Odin and Honir. Hreidmar and his sons immediately recognized the otter skin wrapped around Loki. They wanted revenge for the death of Otr.

Loki, who is known to be the most cunning among Norse gods, said that he would be willing to pay a large ransom for his sin. He said that he didn’t know it was Otr and would his best to replace Otr’s life with treasure that’s at par with the lost. All parties agreed to this and Hreidmar and his sons then held Odin and Honir hostage while Loki went and gather his payment.

Loki then went to the wizard Andvari and forced him to hand over his treasure. Andvari would hand Loki his treasure but he did manage to curse the ring Andvaranaut. Andvari personally forged this ring and thus was his personal favorite. With the curse on it, whoever owns the ring would have misfortune and doom. Also included in the treasure are the swords Ridil and Hrotti, which are quite valuable in their own right. Fearing for his own life and his fellow gods, Loki didn’t think twice about giving the treasure to Hreidmar and went straight to the home of Hreidmar. Upon receiving the treasure, Honir and Odin were released immediately.
Fafnir wanted to keep the treasure for himself, killed his father and then exiled his brother Regin. He then turned into a dragon and kept the treasure in a mountain lair. In European mythology, the dragon is the symbol for greed.

Regin wants the treasure as well so he tricked his foster son Sigurd in killing Fafnir. He achieved this by using the sword Balmung to pierce Fafnir’s heart while the dragon was walking on the way to the stream where he usually goes to drink. Although he managed to kill Fafnir, he made the mistake of taking the cursed ring. He planned on giving it to his bride to be, Brynhild.

Regin corrupted by the curse of the treasure, wanted to kill Sigurd as well. But Sigurd ate Fafnir’s heart and was warned by the birds about his foster father’s plans. Instead, Sigurd ended up killing Regin.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Filipino BloodSucker - Manananggal

The Manananggal is a supernatural creature that originates from Filipino folklore. It is also known as wakwak in some parts of the Philippines. Its Western counterpart would be the vampire because of its habit of devouring humans. Its Malay cousin is the penanggalan.

The legend of the Mananaggal is popular in the Visayas region of the country, particularly in provinces of Antique, Iloilo and Capiz. The Manananggal’s appearance would differ, depending on where and who tells the tale.

Just like the vampires, Manananggals are said to have a dislike of salt and garlic. Another Visayan supernatural creature, the aswang, also shares these characteristics. Other things that the Manananggals are said to avoid include light, vinegar, daggers, spices and sting ray tails that could be used as whips against them. Similar creatures can be found from surrounding countries’ folklores.

A Manananggal is said to be an old beautiful woman that can cut her body into two. She would then fly with her upper torso with large bat-like wings so that she could devour on pregnant women using her proboscis-like tongue. She would suck the blood of the fetus inside the womb of the unsuspecting mother.

Her weakness is her lower torso, which is just left unprotected while the Manananggal’s out hunting. When the lower half is sprinkled with salt or placed with crushed garlic, the upper torso could not rejoin with it and thus the Manananggal will die at sunrise.
The name Manananggal comes from the Filipino root word tanggal, which means to separate or to remove. The word Manananggal in Filipino means someone who can separate her upper body from her lower extremities.

The old practice of hanging cloves of garlic or onion near the window panes to ward off Manananggals are still done by some superstitious folks from the Visayas. Tabloids would usually feature them in the front page to sell their paper. No one can truly say if Manananggals exist. Some say that they’re just some kind of mass hysteria or a way to keep children off the street when nighttime comes.

As to how Manananggals reproduce or multiply is another story. There’s a story that states that a black chick in a Manananggal’s throat is the source of her power. A manananggal will not die unless the black chick is removed. They say there are two ways to do this. One is to spin the manananggal around until she vomits the black chick out. Another method is to hang the manananggal upside down and smoke the chick out her throat.

Another version of the legend states that being a Manananggal is hereditary. Then there are others that say that it is like a virus. If your food is contaminated by a Manananggal’s saliva, you have a chance to be one.

The capital of the Manananggal myth in the Philippines is the province of Capiz. Not only do Manananggals are said to live in that area but so do other supernatural beings such as goblins, ghosts, aswangs, and ghouls. There are also lots of modern day witch doctors still practicing their craft in the said province.