Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Birth Spirit (Penanggalan)

 "Sir, Listen to the story of the Birth-Spirit. Originally, it was a woman who practiced the art of the Devil in whom she believed and to whom she devoted herself day and night; until in fulfillment of her promise to her teacher that she would achieve the power of flight her neck became detached, hovering with her entrails trailing behind her, while her body remained where it was. 

Wherever there were people whom she wished to torment, her head and entrails flew through the air on her way to suck the blood of those people. Those whose blood was sucked died. Drops of blood and water fell from her entrails, and if they touched a man, he would be afflicted with a severe illness in which his body wasted away.

The Birth-Spirit likes to suck the blood of a woman with child. This is the reason for hanging 'jeruju' leaves on the doors and windows of houses where a woman is confined, or placing thorns around the place where a woman is in labour, to prevent the Birth-Spirit coming in to drink her blood.

In the house of a person who turns into a Birth-Spirit there is kept a basin or jar of vinegar which it uses to bottle its entrails. When the entrails leave the body, they swell up and cannot go back again. After they have been bottled in vinegar, they shrink and then can return to the body.

There are many people who have seen a Birth-Spirit flying, with its entrails streaming behind it. At night, the entrails glow like fireflies.

This is the story of the Birth Spirit as I have heard it from old men. But I do not believe a word of it. May Allah discountenance such evil"

From 'The Hikayat Abdullah' (1849). Illustration by Munshi Abdullah from 'The Indo-Chinese Gleaner, Volume 2' (1819)