I don’t know what it is with humans that they want to be scared by ghosts and ghouls on Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Thus was born a whole new genre of ghosts and horror stories in literature, movies and television. Even children are immersed early in ghosts and ghouls with the trick-or-treat parties during Halloween as they go from house to house in ghastly costumes and masks.
These masks and costumes are not even Filipino but borrowed from Western countries: Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolfman, witches with pointed hats riding on broomsticks, etc. etc. Philippine mythological monsters have been forgotten; you won’t find a single mask or costume of any one of them being sold in toy stores.
Just so today’s children (and also adults) won’t become too Westernized, I have compiled here a list of Philippine mythological monsters that used to scare children during storytelling sessions on moonlit nights in the old days, with the additional information that none of these monsters really exist.
Manananggal: The most scary of all the monsters. On dark nights, the manananggal’s upper torso separates from its lower part, specifically from the waist down, and flies away on bat wings looking for victims. It returns before sunrise and reattaches itself to the rest of the body.
The way to combat it is to look for the lower torso, which has been left somewhere, and put salt and vinegar on it. When the upper torso returns before sunrise, it won’t be able to reattach itself, and when it is caught like this at sunrise, it will die.
Aswang: Probably adopted from the Western Werewolf. It is a human that assumes the form of a big dog or pig and then goes under any house where there is a pregnant woman to steal the baby from her womb.
The aswang is deathly afraid of the buntot-pagi (the dried tail of a sting ray) or the barbed snout of a swordfish. When it is hit by any of these, it turns back into its human form.
Tikbalang: Half-man, half-horse, probably adopted from the Centaur. It is very fast, it does some mischief but does not do much harm except scare the wits out of children.
Kapre: An ogre that sits atop a big tree smoking a big cigar to scare people. You can see the glow of the cigar from a distance. Some trees are said to be its favorites. Know their kind and avoid them during dark nights.
Tiyanak: A small but malevolent monster that takes the form of a baby or a young child. It lures its victim into a forest by crying like a baby. The victim follows the baby’s cries and is led deeper and deeper into the forest until he is lost.
The way to break the spell is to take off your clothes and put them back on inside-out. The spell will be broken and you can find your way out of the forest.
Dwende: A dwarf, that little fellow living under toadstools and is said to keep hoards of gold. (Think of the Seven Dwarfs.) There are good dwendes and bad dwendes. The good ones are fair-skinned; the bad ones, dark. (There is racial prejudice even in the underworld.) They are all invisible unless they want to show themselves to you.
The good dwendes can give you good luck and wealth, but the bad dwendes can make you sick, perhaps make a part of your body swell. So keep away from those toadstools when walking through a forest.
Nuno sa Punso: The old man of the mound. It is a malevolent, invisible little monster that lives in those termite mounds. Don’t brush against any one of them when walking through a forest. The Nuno sa Punso will be angry and make you sick. Instead, ask for permission to walk through as you cannot see him.
Mangkukulam: A witch or warlock. The Filipino version does not wear pointy hats and neither does it ride on broomsticks. Instead it concocts potions and casts spells on its victims. It looks like an ordinary mortal. The only thing that distinguishes our mangkukulam from ordinary humans is that it has red eyes (which means it would be difficult to spot their kind during an epidemic of sore eyes).
The island of Siquijor in the Visayas is well known for its witches and warlocks who gather in the mountains during Good Friday to concoct their potions out of herbs, insects, the innards of various animals and other odds and ends.
A person can go to one of them and ask him/her to cast a spell on an enemy. On the other side of the coin, they can also cast a spell on anybody to fall in love with the client, or give him a potion that will do the same thing. Of course, none of this is true.
Diwata: A fairy said to live in one of the mountains that dot the Philippine archipelago. Usually a good fairy that brings good luck to its believers, so it cannot really be called a monster. But it is a myth nevertheless. It takes the form of a beautiful woman and has been celebrated in the arts by many famous Filipino painters, including National Artist Carlos V. Francisco.
Surprisingly, in these modern times, there are many Filipinos who believe in the diwata and, at certain times of the year, groups of them trek up the mountains to worship diwatas.
Multo: The ordinary ghost, supposed to be the soul of a dead person, comes back to earth on some unfinished business. A sound in the night, a door or window banging, a butterfly flying in through an open window, an image in a mirror, a fragrant smell, a dog howling, or anything else that is unusual is interpreted by Filipinos as indicating the presence of a multo. An exorcism is supposed to put the soul at rest and send it back to the afterworld. Of course, none of this is true, despite television newscasts showing young people under the spell of spirits.