Through the media, we become aware of spirits, ghosts, and creatures beyond our understanding.
We understand that these malevolent beings have a reason behind their actions, that they aren’t evil or good by nature, but are set in their current direction.
Countries around the world have their own folklore about what haunts their culture and why these malevolent beings do so.
In Norwegian, gjen means “again” and ganger means “foot” or “walk”. Together, gjenganger means “walking again”. This is a ghost that Scandinavians fear becoming.
Gjengangers originally started as part of Viking legend and were semi-mortal ghosts who could be slain by men.
These ghosts are purposely brought back to life to haunt the living. They generally look corporeal (human) and not ghostlike at all. They have no spirit-like qualities, which doesn’t make them typical ghosts.
They enjoy spreading chaos among the living and sickness through plague and diseases.
Those who died before their time, be it murder, suicide, or another incident, will come back as vengeful ghosts. They’re extremely vicious, motivated by revenge, and aim to disturb the life of those who wronged them.
Often, it’s a spirit that left something undone or incomplete. In this case, they aren’t as malevolent and require help to pass on
Meaning “dead man’s pinch”, a ghost’s pinch can turn the victim’s skin blue, a sign of the beginning of the infection. Then, the flesh becomes gangrene and the infection slowly works its way to the heart and kills the victim.
The intelligent, cold, and ruthless ghosts stalk their prey at nightfall and strike when the victim is at its weakest, which is when the victim sleeps.
This also serves as a warning against sleeping in specific places, such as near graveyards, mountains, or water.
Ways of Warding off the Gjenganger
Even when the ghost stalks, encountering one can be averted. Holy symbols repel the creature and holy smoke above the door prevents it from entering the home. Crosses worn around the neck might even prevent the dødningeknip.
Additionally, simply locking windows and doors prevents the ghosts from entering. With no ghostlike abilities, they can’t phase through walls.
In addition to warding off the ghost, there are steps that prevent the deceased from becoming gjenganger.
First, the coffin is carried over and around the church three times. The shovels remain undisturbed at the gravesite. Then, a varp (a pile of sharp rocks and twigs) is placed at the site where the individual died. Adding a stone after passing the varp brings good luck.
Inside the coffin is an inscription:
“For Birginga rista broren runer
Kjære syster mi, shån mag!”
“For Birginga, the brother earned runes
My dear sister, spare me!”
A Southeast Asian folklore tale is of Krasue, a nocturnal female spirit. This tale is prominent in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
She appears as a young woman but her viscera (internal organs) hang down from her neck and trail below her head.
A Khmer princess and a Siamese nobleman were to marry after his people conquered her land. Despite the arranged marriage, the princess fell in love with one of the conquering soldiers. She was caught with the soldier and the nobleman sentenced her to death.
Before her execution, she had a sorceress cast a spell on her to be unharmed by the flames, but the spell came into effect too late. Most of her body burned, leaving only her head and viscera intact.
The cursed non-charred remains of the princess have an everlasting hunger. To satisfy its gluttony, the princess’s spirit hunts and attacks to seek blood to drink and flesh to eat.
Method of Attack
The spirit primarily attacks pregnant women or newborns. If it can’t find either of those, it will dine on animals and feces.
It hovers around the house of the pregnant woman and cringes sharply to instill fear. With its long tongue, it reaches for the fetus or placenta in the womb.
Many believe that the spirit is partly responsible for the spread of disease among pregnant women in rural areas.
If they catch a newborn, the spirit will devour it.
Protection Against the Krasue
Thorny branches around the house discourage the spirit from entering the home.
After the newborn’s birth, relatives must hide the placenta by burying it deep enough so the spirit can’t find it.
The Krasue’s Weaknesses
The spirit hides its body to join with it during the day. It allows the spirit to blend in among the living.
If the Krasue joins with the wrong body, it suffers torment until death.
There are three fatal methods to be rid of the spirit:
- The spirit fails to find its body.
- The viscera and head are separated.
- The headless body is crushed.
Meaning ‘slit-mouthed woman’, Kuchisake-Onna is the ghost of a mutilated woman who seeks revenge on the world. A deep, blood gash runs across her face from ear to ear.
This spirit of the dead kills in a violent manner.
There are many stories about how she met her unfortunate fate:
- Her husband slashed her face because of her adulterous affair.
- Something went wrong during a medical or dental procedure.
- A woman who was jealous of her beauty cut her face.
After her death, the woman returned as a vengeful spirit.
Method of Attack
When the spirit sees a long traveller, she covers her fave with a cloth mask, fan or handkerchief. When the traveller approaches her, she asks if they find her beautiful.
If the traveller replies yes, the spirit removes whatever conceals her face and asks again.
If they say no or scream in terror, she slashes the traveller’s face with a knife or scissors from ear to ear.
The spirit will walk away if the traveller says yes again. However, when the traveller continues his way home, the spirit follows. When the traveller is inside his home, the spirit will kill him.
Methods of Escape
These methods are rumours and it’s unclear if they’re successful.
One method is to confuse the ghost with ambiguous answers. For example, “you look average” or “so-so”. While the ghost is lost in thought, the traveller can escape.
The second method is, if the traveller tells the spirit he has a previous engagement, the ghost will pardon and excuse herself.
The third method is when fruit or candy is thrown at her. She’ll pick it up and become distracted, which gives the traveller time to escape.
Meaning “the wailing woman”, La Llorona is a banshee-like apparition dressed in white. She’s often by lakes or rivers and sometimes stands at crossroads.
Parents in Mexico call her the “bogeywoman”. They tell her story to make sure their children behave.
In one version of the story, she kidnaps or attacks misbehaving children.
In another, she targets unfaithful husbands or those who don’t treat their families well.
It’s unclear about her origin as a Mexican apparition, but certain aspects of the stories are similar.
The Legend of La Llorona
Maria, a Mexican woman, was blessed with natural beauty. She wooed her husband and they had two children.
Although speculated, her infamy lies with the drowning of her children.
There are three speculated reasons that led to the drowning, all to do with her husband:
- He became distant from Maria as he contemplated his wild and free life before marriage.
- He had an extramarital affair.
- Maria resented his apathy towards her compared to his affection or their children.
The drowning incident has three different versions.
In the first version, her rage towards her husband led to the neglect of her children. Her children played near a river, fell in and drowned. She saw this as her greatest mistake and drowned herself.
In the second version, out of rage or sympathy, she drowned her children. She instantly regretted her actions and drowned herself.
The third version says she ran down the river to find her children after they fell in. As she searched for them, she screamed and wailed. She roamed the riverbanks, not eating or sleeping, in her torn and mud-covered white dress. Her refusal to eat led to her skeleton-like appearance. She died on the riverbanks as a young woman.
She stood at the front gates of Heaven, but was denied entry because she didn’t have her children with her. Banished to purgatory, she walks the Earth in search of her children and forever weeps.
Maria, La Llorona, is a lost soul that suffers the fate of wandering the earth forever.
From Brazilian folklore, La Pisadeira is a creature that takes the shape of an elderly woman with a limp appearance. It has a skeleton-like form with long, dirty black hair and long, sharp, yellowish and claw-like fingernails.
It lets out shrill laughter and its mouth is always open and filled with rotten teeth. It chooses who can hear its laughter so that one person is aware of its presence.
Method of Attack
La Pisaderia prowls on rooftops and waits for the right moment to attack its victim. It chooses to attack after its victims have their dinner. After being filled with food, the victims feel drowsy and, therefore, are hard to wake up.
Once asleep, la Pisaderia climbs onto the person’s stomach and chest and presses down with its weight, slowly suffocating the person.
The victim is paralyzed. They know what’s happening to them, but can’t move a muscle to defend themselves. When they’re found the next day, no one can think of a reasonable explanation for their death.
The creature grows strong with its victim’s fear. It attacks many times, each one lasting a few minutes to hours. It depends on the pleasure the creature feels when feeding on its victim’s fear.
Victims are considered lucky if it kills them on the first night.
The tales of la Pisadeira and sleep paralysis share similar features.
However, as the creature is slowly forgotten, it becomes weaker.
Pontianak / Kuntilanak
This is a ghost from Indian, Malaysian and Singaporean legends.
It looks like a beautiful woman with pale skin, long fingernails, red eyes and dark hair, and is wearing a blood-smeared white dress.
The legend suggests that the Pontianak was a woman who either died during childbirth or at the hands of men. She returned from the dead to seek revenge on and retribution from men.
She hunts and attacks at night. During the day, she resides inside banana trees.
Method of Attack
To lure her prey, the ghost uses its beautiful feminine form to lead unsuspecting men into its trap. Then, when it reveals its true form, it sinks its long fingernails into the man’s stomach and rips out and devours his organs.
If a baby cries, it means the ghost is close. How loud the baby cries indicates how far the ghost is.
Additionally, rumors state that a dog’s howl and whining indicate its presence. If a dog howls, it’s further away. If it whines, it’s nearby.
Another indication of the ghost is that it will give off a flower smell before a rotting stench.
To Stop a Pontianak
The only way to stop the ghost is to drive a long nail into the hole at the nape of its neck. If the nail remains, it’ll stay a beautiful woman and a good wife.
In Romanian, Strigoi means “scream”. These are troubled spirits that rise from the grave and have the ability of invisibility, transforming into animals and gaining vitality from the blood of their victims.
The creature has red hair and blue eyes, and what sets it apart from other Romanian creatures is its two hearts.
Types of Strigoi
With two hearts comes two souls.
One soul joins with the other strigoi in drinking blood.
The other becomes one of three types:
- Strignoaicӑ: a witch.
- Strigoi Viu (living strigoi): a sorcerer who steals wealth from farmers, stops rain, drops hail, and brings death to men and cattle.
- Strigoi mort (dead strigoi): a human-demon hybrid and the most dangerous type. It returns to its family as if nothing changes and slowly weakens its relatives until they die.
Becoming a Strigoi
A living person can become a strigoi under certain conditions.
For example, they:
- are the seventh child of the seventh child of the same sex.
- lead a life of sin.
- die from execution, suicide, or without being married.
- are cursed by a witch.
Be rid of the Strigoi
According to the Lost Tapes, there’s a known Romanian method to prevent the deceased from coming back as a strigoi:
- Exhume the body.
- Remove its heart and cut it in two.
- Drive a nail into its forehead.
- Place a clove of garlic under its tongue.
- Smear the body with pig fat. The pig must be killed on St. Ignatius’ Day.
- Turn the body facing down. If they wake up, they’ll go to the afterlife.
To Defeat the Strigoi
There are two ways to kill the creature.
The first is to drive a blessed stake through its heart and decapitate it. The correct heart must be staked, the one that pumps blood through its veins.
The second method is to stake the heart through the body and into the ground. The creature is then immobilized and can be set on fire.
In Philippine legends, the tiyanak is a humanoid monster that resembles a small, black goblin. It has sharp teeth, pointed ears, and bloodshot eyes. Its right leg is shorter than its left, which is unusually long.
There are different tales about the origin of this creature.
One states that they’re miscarried babies left in the forest.
Another refers to a Catholic-influenced story that refers to unbaptized newborns.
s to a Catholic-influenced story that refers to unbaptized newborns.
If a newborn dies before being baptized, it goes to Limbo, where it transforms into an evil creature. However, this story was likely introduced by Spanish missionaries with the intent of converting the natives to Catholicism.
The third story is that the creature is the spirit of a child whose mother died before giving birth. The baby was “born in the ground” and results in its current state.
Method of Attack
The tiyanak disguises itself as a baby abandoned in a forest or field.
It wails loudly enough to attract a passing traveler. When the traveler picks it up, the creature reveals its true form to kill the traveler by biting and mauling him.
One way to escape the creature is for the traveler to put their clothes inside out. The tiyanak finds this laughable and spares the victim.
This is a spirit from Southeast Asian folklore, particularly in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
The toyol appears as a naked newborn with a big head, small hands, and green or grey skin. They either have red or clouded eyes, pointed ears, and rows of sharp teeth. It’s speculated that they have monkey-like hair.
According to Asian practices and beliefs, a family cares for an individual’s afterlife through a tablet. It’s made of wood with the name of the deceased on it.
The master of the toyol keeps its infant’s tablet and cares for it.
The spirit has a child’s temperament and, therefore, must be treated as such. The master must feed it every day with drops of his blood, either from the thumb or big toe. It requires coaxing, attention, and offerings of candy and toys.
A toyol steals from others or does mischievous acts when instructed.
The spirit commits crimes for selfish and petty reasons. Such crimes include theft, sabotage, and other minor crimes.
It’s either kept in a jar or an urn and hidden in a dark place until needed. However, it’s unclear what happens when it isn’t needed, but there are possible theories:
- After the relevant rituals, the toyol’s tablet and urn are buried in a graveyard, and the spirit is laid to rest.
- The master throws the tablet and urn into the sea.
- The creature remains with the master permanently. It gets passed down for generations and the descendants are condemned to own it.
A toyol is easily distracted by marbles, sand, and hanging garlic. It plays with the items until it forgets its initial task.
It fears its own reflection, so people keep their money underneath or behind mirrors. Additionally, it fears getting pricked, so people place needles on top of money.
Without a master, it’s no longer a threat. It remains in the jar or urn and observes the living.
Cultural Significance in Anthropology
By looking through various legends and folklore, you obtain a deeper insight into the beliefs of different countries.
There’s an understanding of customs and why performing certain rituals are essential to ward off evil.
Through all cultures, the similarity is that they all want peace and good wishes for themselves and their families.
“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”
-Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men.