As it’s spooky season (although I’ll be uploading this on the day after Halloween, so if there ever was a boat, I’ve missed it), I wanted to write about something with a bit of a supernatural flavour. So this month I’ve decided to write a sort of introduction to some mythical creatures and legends from all over the world, which might end up becoming a series. I spend a lot of my time listening to podcasts about the supernatural, and although I wouldn’t class myself as a believer, I find the subject fascinating – my favourite part of any party is after midnight, possibly a couple of warming drinks deep, when the ghost stories come out. So that’s what we’re doing today. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Manananggal, the Philippines 🇵🇭 Hailing from the Philippines, the manananggal is most recognisable as a kind of vampire, but with a big difference. The word manananggal is formed from the root word tanggal, meaning ‘remover’ or ‘separator’ (though my knowledge of Tagalog, and indeed other languages of the Philippines, can be most charitably described as patchy). The creature separates its top half and bottom half, spouting wings to fly off and hunt its favourite prey – children and pregnant women, whose blood it sucks with a long, proboscis-like tongue. While it may sound terrifying, because it is, a manananggal is actually fairly easy to deal with. The creature, as with many evil creatures from this area of the world, referred to generally as aswang, has an aversion to salt, crushed garlic and ash; so all one has to do is find the creature’s bottom half and… well, season it. This will make it impossible for the top half to reattach, and it will perish when the sun rises the next day.
Czarna Wołga, Poland 🇵🇱 This is less of a creature and more of a, well… a vehicle. Czarna Wołga, Polish for ‘the black Volga’, is a legend that spread around much of Eastern Europe. It refers specifically, it is said, to the Volga M21, a kind of car produced by Горьковский Автомобильный Завод (ГАЗ), or Gorky Automobile Factory (GAZ for short), in the Soviet Union between the years of 1956 and 1970. Car ownership wasn’t widespread in far-flung outposts of the Soviet Union like Poland, so you can imagine that a car driven almost exclusively by high-ranking officials in The Party would be treated with some level of distrust. Legend has it that the car would pull up alongside pedestrians and ask them the time, after which the victim would be dragged inside and killed. The rumour was that the victim’s blood would then be sold to rich Westerners or Arabs as a cure for leukaemia, or their organs would be stolen and sold abroad. It may sound far-fetched now, but this was a period of history were people were actually disappearing in droves, so rumours like this can easily become widespread – and widespread they were, there are tales of the Black Volga stretching as far south as Greece and as far east as Mongolia, with some level of variation – in Czechoslovakia, the car was replaced with a black ambulance, and in Romania, it was a Dacia 1301. The legend resurfaced in the late 20th century, replaced by a black BMW or Mercedes-Benz, purportedly with horns instead of wing mirrors, the driver being Satan himself.
Y Tylwyth Teg, Wales 🏴 Y Tylwyth Teg (Middle Welsh for ‘the fair family’) is the name given to what is known over much of the British Isles as fairies. Now, we’ve all seen Peter Pan and I’d venture that most of us are familiar with Tinkerbell. Well, this is a completely different kind of fairy – the kind you definitely don’t want to be messing with. All over Britain and Ireland there are stories and legends of people who — if you’ll pardon the expression — fucked around and found out, and they tend not to end particularly well. There are stories of children who have been abducted by the fair folk, and replaced them with a duplicate of their own kind, known colloquially as a changeling (or in Welsh, a crimbil). There are also stories of people (pretty much exclusively men) who have taken fairy women as their brides, though these brides have to be very careful not to come in contact with iron, which is something of an anathema to their kind – touching it would return the fairy woman to her world in an instant. To this day in old houses you might see an old iron horseshoe hanging above a doorway, to ward off malevolent forces. As for y Tylwyth Teg in particular, American journalist and writer Wirt Sikes wrote extensively about Welsh mythology, folklore and customs during his time as US Consul in Cardiff. He purported that y Tylwyth Teg could be divided into five specific types: the Ellyllon (similar to elves), the Coblynau (fairies of the mines, though you’d be forgiven for noticing the word shares more than a passing resemblance to the word ‘goblin’), the Bwbachod (household fairies or brownies, perhaps similar to Scandinavian nisser), the Gwragedd Annwn (female fairies of lakes and streams), and the Gwyllion (mountain fairies, similar to hags). My advice, if you happen across some mushrooms which have grown in a circle? Best leave them be.
I think that’s enough horror for one month, don’t you? Besides, as those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram (@sprakskatan on both, lest ye forget) will know that today is the first day of #PolyglotNaNoWriMo, and it’s going to take every ounce of spare brain power I have to get that started! Still, I’d love to hear about any weird urban legends or creatures you have in your countries! Feel free to leave a comment or to reach out on any of the above platforms. I hope your Halloween wasn’t too spooky, and that you all have a brilliant November. See you next month after the writing madness!