Ghosts and Demons of Asian Folklore

You don’t need to go far to find scary spooks this Halloween – the region already has a lot. Here’s how to identify them.

Pontianak of Malaysia
With long black hair covering her face, a white dress and long fangs and nails, the pontianak is perhaps Malaysia’s best-known spook. According to folklore, a pontianak is the vengeful vampire spirit of a woman who was spurned and murdered by a lover, or the spirit of a woman who died during childbirth. Pontianaks have been sighted on highways and villages throughout Malaysia. There’s even a fishing village on Pemanggil Island in the state of Johor called Kampong Pontianak, and legend has it that the village got its name because the villagers once destroyed a pontianak here by setting her aflame.

Kitsune of Japan
Kitsune are Japanese fox spirits who are the messengers of the great Shinto spirit, Inari. According to Japanese folklore, kitsunes can assume human form, are often benevolent but can sometimes be evil too. They also often appear in the form of beautiful young maidens who are highly intelligent, a little mischievous and possess magical abilities. The Inari shrines of Toyokawa in Aichi and Fushimi in Kyoto are places where people have reported seeing kitsunes.

Aswang of the Philippines
A deadly mythical female vampire with wings and a devilish face, the aswang eats dead animals and cadavers, shows up frequently at morgues and farms, and can be warded off with garlic and holy water. Capiz, a province in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, is the favourite haunting ground for the aswang. There have been reports of dead chickens, cows and dogs with strange bite marks, and villagers who go missing in the middle of the night – and they attribute it all to this creature.

Krasue of Thailand
One of the most feared ghosts in Thailand, the krasue is an evil spirit that has the head of pretty woman – but with only entrails from the neck down. According to legend, she is spirit of an ancient Khmer princess who was forced to marry a Siamese nobleman. She cheated on him and was burned alive. Today, Thais claim that the krasue eats babies and is found in marshy areas throughout the Thai countryside.

Nyai loro kidul of Indonesia
Nyai loro kidul is an Indonesian sea goddess in Javanese folklore who lives in the Indian Ocean. She often takes the form of a sea serpent or a mermaid, and she loves the colour green. She is said to be particularly fond of Inna Samudra Beach in Sakabumi, West Java, where it is rumoured that she drags beach dwellers and swimmers wearing green under the water and claims their souls. Hotel Pelabuhan on Inna Samudra Beach purportedly has a room decorated in green that is always kept empty in honour of the goddess.

Daityas of India
Daityas are a race of supernatural giants in Hindu mythology. They are the children of the Hindu earth goddess Diti; they possess supernatural strength and are often very attractive too. In Maharashtra, India is Lonar Lake. Numerous ancient temples surround the lake; one is the temple of Daitya Sudan, which was built in honour of the Lord Vishnu’s victory over a daitya named Lonasur.

Jiang Shi of China
Made famous by Hong Kong cinema, the jiang shi is a hopping zombie-like vampire from China that jumps about in a catatonic fashion with its arms stretched out in front of its face. Jiang shis live in coffins and dark places in the day, and come out at night to kill unsuspecting victims and drain them of their life force. The jiang shi legend began in Xiangxi in Hunan, from the practice of “travelling a corpse over a thousand li”. Poor families from Xiangxi with family members who died far away hire a Taoist priest, who would put a spell on the corpse so they could “walk” back to their hometown.


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