The Penanggalan is October 30th’s monster. My namesake and inspiration for my main personal character, the penanggalan is one of the most awesome monsters ever to me, since discovering it several years ago while searching for monsters of Malaysian myth. Reading more about their backstory and hoping it would be just as awesome as their depictions, I was not disappointed.
Penanggalan literally means “detach” or “remove”, as the main feature of this creature is that, at night, it detaches its head, entrails attached, from its body via the neck… and flies about with entrails dangling and shimmering like fireflies through the night. It is a living being which appears as a normal human female during the day who may only be identified as a Penanggalan by her vinegar-y smell, avoiding eye contact, or licking their lips at the thought of feeding. Traditionally, she is a beautiful woman who practices black magic, or who has been cursed. Another version of the tale states that the Penanggal was once a priestess who took a ritual bath in a tub that once held vinegar. While in a state of extreme concentration, a man entered the room and startled her. The shock was so intense that she jerked her head to look, moving so quickly as to sever her head from her body with entrails and organs attached. Enraged at the man, she flew after him, dripping venom from her innards. Alternately, it’s a female midwife who has made a pact with the devil to gain powers. She keeps a vat of vinegar in her house to shrink her entrails, a necessity if she wants to be able to squeeze them back into her body. In any story, the use of vinegar is always prevalent.
Not only menacing in appearance, this creature has a lust for blood — specifically babies’ or pregnant women. Like a banshee that appears at a birth rather than a death, she perches on the roofs of houses where women are in labor, screeching when the child is born. She inserts a long invisible tongue into the house to lap up the blood of the new mother. Those whose blood the Penanggalan feeds upon contract a wasting disease that is almost inescapably fatal. Even if brushed by her entrails, you would suffer painful open sores that wouldn’t heal without the help of a bomoh (Malaysian shaman).
Some folktales claim that a Penanggalan is able to pass through walls and even ooze up the cracks in the floorboards of a house, rising up into the room where an infant or woman is sleeping. They are sometimes depicted as having prehensile hair and intestines like tentacles.
But fear not; for there is a remedy to protect yourself against an attack from a Penanggalan — scatter thorny leaves of the Malaysian plant “mengkuang” around your house or put them around your windows, and the Penanggalan’s intestines may get snared and tangled in them, or have vital organs damaged from gliding across them. Penanggalans are also afraid of scissors or betel nut cutters, so keep these under your pillow. She may be permanently destroyed by pouring broken glass into the neck cavity while she’s away at night, or for a non-lethal way to get rid of her, you could turn over her body so that when the head came back and re-attached, it would be facing the wrong way, thus revealing to everyone what she really is.
There have been several movies about the Penanggalan, including Mystics in Bali or Leák(1981), The Headless Terror or Penanggalan (1967) and Krasue (2002).
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