Folkloric Monsters: The Global Entity

Sunderland graduate Sophie Raine explores some examples of the folkloric monster across the world. Sophie studied MA English. Her interest in the Gothic is feminism and penny dreadfuls.

'The Nightmare' by John Henry Fuseli

‘The Nightmare’ by John Henry Fuseli

The myth of our first creature is thought to have originated from Scandinavian folklore in the 13th century yet there are some who argue that there is evidence to associate ‘The Mare’ with having Germanic roots. The word may trace back to the Proto-Indo-European root ‘mer’ meaning ‘to harm’ yet there are some who argue that it is more likely to be traced back to the Greek ‘moros’ meaning ‘death’. Interesting, the mare is not typically known for killing its victims. The mare, according to the popular belief, is a goblin who enters homes at night to sit on the chests of its sleeping victims causing them to have bad dreams. This is where the term ‘nightmare’ originates from as it only came into usage from 1829; previously bad dreams had been referred to as the agent causing said dreams, in this case the mare. This goblin is often associated with the more commonly known incubus and the succubus due to their similar M.O. Quite interestingly, the legend has it that the goblin would braid the hair of the sleeping men at night resulting in what is known as ‘mare-locks’. This aspect of the legend has been seen as a way to explain the ‘Polish plait’ which was seen as a bizarre phenomenon at the time of the time.

Hyakki_YakoHyakki Yako or ‘The Night Parade of 100 Monsters’ refers to the legend in Japan that one night every summer a parade of a hundred monsters parade through the streets. It is thought to have stemmed from the popular parlour game ‘the gathering of one hundred supernatural tales’ which was played by Samurai as a test of courage. Each storyteller would extinguish a candle after they had told their story.Legend has it that after all the tales are told and the last candle is blown out, the monsters will come. If anyone is to be caught on the streets on this night, they will perish and the way to avoid this is by ritualistic chanting or the simpler option, staying at home. The myth has a long history so it is difficult to trace which story created these folklore monsters however most of the stories involve a man who is overrun with one hundred demons, usually plaguing his house, and is saved after praying to Buddha. Since this is a common theme that runs throughout these tales, the legend has been connected to the Heian period as a way of blaming the ruler unpopular ruler Kiyomori who insulted the Buddhists by moving the capital from the Buddhist-held Kyoto to his own clans stronghold in Fukuhara.

The last folkloric creature I am going to be looking at is the infamous Manananggal from Filipino folklore. The word Manananggal comes from the Tagalog word ‘tanggal’ which means ‘to separate’. The Manananggal is a usually-female creature, depicted as a vampire-like monster who is able to severe its upper torso and grow wings so she can circle ahead of towns and villages finding her prey, which happens to often be sleeping, pregnant women. Similarly to vampires, the Manananggals find garlic and salt repelling as well as daggers, light, vinegar, spices and the tail of a stingray, which is often in the form of a whip. It is thought that Manananggals have black chicks in their throats which are the source of their power, and that the creature cannot die until the chick is removed which is done by burning the Manananggal upside down in a tree or spinning her around to make her nauseous, therefore causing her to regurgitate the chick. A less arduous way of killing the Manananggal is to locate the legs and sprinkle ashes or garlic onto them.

Like many other monsters, sociologists have argued that the Manananggal was created to Manananggalcause fear in the community. The story can be traced to Spain, where the story was spread to reinforce religion and to the Americas where it was used to incite people to report strangers on their land. During the election month in 1992, Manila was reported to have been terrorised by one of these creatures who had been seen roaming at night and allegedly attacked a woman in Tondo; this became headline news to the extent where it replaced all election updates. A local woman was accused of being the Manananggal and her home was attacked by angry members of the community. She claimed to the camera crew that she was not in fact the monster and that she had also been attacked, showing her missing toe as evidence of this. She was then interrogated by a ‘vampire expert’ who confirmed she was the Manananggal and her missing toe was evidence of her failure to shape shift properly. It was eventually proven that she was not a monster by a reporter who showed her a sting ray tail and when this had no effect on her, her name was cleared. Due to the election campaign running alongside this bizarre news story, many English-language commentators and other academics compared the Manananggal with the politicians of the time as both feeding on the fear of the people in the community.

Monsters exist as a global entity and it is interesting to note that, however different these monsters from Scandinavia to the Philippines may appear, they all arise from the same social problems and collective fears of a community. Often, as seen with the Hyakki Yako in Japan they can be used as political or religious warnings to those who have oppressed them or, in other cases, warnings to those who try to break free from the shackles of oppression or injustice. The case of the Manananggal sighting in Manila in 1992 is a clear example of how a community can create a monster; the local woman had lost her toes to illness and was a known social recluse which made her an obvious scapegoat for the Manananggal sighting. It is a shocking reminder of what monsters fear can create.

About spectralvisions

Spectral Visions is an annual Gothic conference hosted by the University of Sunderland. It explores the dark, the decadent and the terrifying aspects of Gothic literature and language. This blog is a student-run initiative, where Visionaries showcase their creative talents and learning in short stories, poems and essays on the Gothic. You can follow us on Twitter at @spectralvisi0ns or like us on Facebook at
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