Top 10 scariest Filipino mythological creatures

·Contributor
·6 min read

Even before colonizers set their sights on the Philippine archipelago, Filipinos already had an established belief system so rich and ingrained in their way of life that some traces remain to this day.

Philippine mythology is a collection of legends and superstitions about supernatural entities whom our ancestors believed walked the Earth. Over the years, these legends have been passed on from one generation to the next as folk stories.

Nowadays, Filipino children are often frightened into obedience by grown-ups with these nightmare-inducing creatures. “Don’t be naughty, or a kapre will come and get you.” “Don’t play outside at night, or an aswang will prey on you.” “Don’t play in the dirt, you might piss off a nuno sa punso.” Are you familiar with them?

Here’s a rundown of the scariest Filipino mythological creatures.

Aswang

The aswang is the most well-known monster in the country, inspiring a plethora of works of art, television shows and films. Even Spanish colonists reported that the aswang was the most dreaded of the Philippines' mythological beasts.

The term refers to a wide variety of shape-shifting evil monsters such as vampires, ghouls, witches, and werebeasts. They can also take the form of animals such as wild boars and large carnivorous dogs.

The aswang is very popular in Luzon's southern regions, as well as in Mindanao and Visayas, particularly in Capiz, a Visayan province.

Kapre

Kapres are large (7 to 9 feet), dark-skinned, hairy, and muscular beings that are sometimes referred to as tree giants. They are known for their pungent body odor and for smoking when perched in tree limbs.

If a kapre is interested in a woman, it may approach them and offer friendship. If a kapre falls in love with a human, the kapre will remain loyal to that "love interest" for the rest of its life. The kapre also allows its human friends to see it.

The word kapre is derived from the Arabic kafir, referring to non-Arabic believers. The Spanish, who were then trading with the Moors, used the name to characterize indigenous Negrito ethnic groups with a dark complexion. Racial and ethnicist profiling against Negrito tribes by lowland Christianized ethnic groups during the Spanish era influenced mythological kapre characterizations.

Manananggal

The manananggal, a viscera sucker, is a type of aswang known to feed on internal organs, infants or the phlegmatic discharge of the sick. By day, it appears to be a lovely, fair-skinned woman with long, flowing hair. When night falls, its upper body grows bat-like wings and splits at the waist, leaving its lower half behind. It goes to considerable lengths to conceal its bottom half before taking to the skies in pursuit of prey. If they don't reside in the trees, viscera suckers burrow deep in the jungle.

Sometimes, they also embed themselves in local communities to more easily find prey.

The manananggal can be defeated by sprinkling salt and/or crushed garlic on its lower half to prevent its upper half from combining with it.

Multo (Ghost)

FILE PHOTO: Floating Ghost Evil Spirit in a Derelict Asylum Hospital 3d Illustration (Source: Getty Creative)
FILE PHOTO: Floating Ghost Evil Spirit in a Derelict Asylum Hospital 3d Illustration (Source: Getty Creative)

A multo (ghost) is a spirit or the soul of a deceased person or animal that can manifest itself or haunt the living. Folklore has it that they can range from being barely perceptible wispy shapes to vivid, lifelike figures. Seances, sometimes known as necromancy or spiritism, are attempts made with the intention of making contact with the deceased's spirit. Aspect, phantom, poltergeist, specter, spirit, spook, wraith and demon are all terms used to describe it.

Nuno/Dwende

In Philippine folklore, the nuno sa punso ("old man of the mound") is a dwarf-like monster who lives in an anthill or termite mound.

The elderlies’ spirits are referred to as nuno, which comes from the word "ninuno" (ancestors). The nuno must grant its permission before any tree is cut, any virgin ground is disturbed in order to prevent angering it and suffering the consequences.

The nuno, however, is not the same as a duwende (dwarf) in Philippine mythology. Unlike the nuno, the duwende is a vengeful hobgoblin who will cause harm to anybody who damages or disturbs his mound.

It is said that people who vanish into nuno or dwende’s world inside the mounds for only a few moments, return to the human world years later because time is different in their ancient world.

Santelmo

FILE PHOTO: Ring of fire floating in the dark (Source: Getty Creative)
FILE PHOTO: Ring of fire floating in the dark (Source: Getty Creative)

Santelmo is a term used by Filipinos to describe balls of fire in fields and swamps. Santelmo is short for "Apoy ni San Elmo," which translates to St. Elmo’s Fire. For ages, European sailors have reportedly been witness to this phenomenon.

The fireball is said to transform into a fire-breathing beast. At night, it enchants travelers and fishermen to follow it. They walk aimlessly till they become exhausted and get lost. To find their way home, they must turn their clothes inside out. This will rid them of the enchantment and help them find their way back.

Sigbin

The sigbin, also known as the sigben is a monster that emerges from the shadows at night and feeds on the blood of its victims. They say it walks backward with its head tucked in between its rear legs, and they say it can disappear from view, particularly from humans. Though it has no horns, it has enormous ears that it can clap together like a pair of hands and a long, flexible tail that it can wield as a whip.

Families who own sigbin are called sigbinan. They are thought to have the power to control these monsters which they supposedly keep in clay jars. Sigbins are also known to be kept as pets by the aswang.

Tikbalang

Philippine highlands and forests are thought to be home to the tikbalang, an anthropomorphic creature, which resembles a centaur in appearance. It's a large, horse-like humanoid with excessively long limbs; when it squats, its knees are higher than its head. They are trickster creatures notorious for leading travelers astray.

Legend has it that when it rains while the sun is still shining, a tikbalang is being married.

Tiktik

The tiktik, which inspired a film in 2012, is a vampire-esque type of aswang that disguises itself in the shape of a beautiful woman. It assumes the form of a gorgeous woman. Similar to Western iterations of the vampire, it's all about the blood for the tiktik. The only way it's different is that it sucks blood using a tongue that looks like a proboscis instead of fangs. Unlike Western vampires, tiktiks do not live in graves.

Tiktiks prefer to live in isolation deep in the forest and far from their prey. They sometimes join human society through marriage, but only to use the community as a safe haven while they raid neighboring villages at night.

Tiyanak

The tiyanak takes the form of a toddler or infant screaming in the wild to entice unsuspecting passersby. Once it is picked up, it transforms into its natural form and feeds on the unlucky soul that took pity on it. It is also known to abduct children and lead people astray.

According to modern-day legends, tiyanaks are still-born babies from abortion. But the tiyanak dates back to the Spanish era when husbands of pregnant women would swing their bolos tirelessly at the doorways of their homes until their wives have safely delivered to ward off “patianacs” and “osuangs.”

Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.

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