Guest Blog by Brian McKinley
To be clear, I’m not talking about Wiccans or other modern pagans who identify as witches nowadays. In the ancient world, all through medieval times, and up until very recently, the witch was a figure of black magic and malevolence. They often symbolized everything that a culture considered evil or taboo including things like blood-drinking and cannibalism. Most “living vampires” of folklore fall into this category.
In Ancient Rome, the Strix, sometimes also called Striga, were vampiric witches who primarily preyed upon children. They have their roots in Ancient Greek myth, where it was said that the original Strix was a couple condemned for cannibalism and transformed into large owls. Unlike witches of many other cultures , these were considered to be owl creatures who could take human form. After gathering together in a large coven and celebrating, they would fly into the night to spot unprotected children they could attack. In human form, they were often described as an old, haggard woman.
Later, in Romania, this idea may have morphed into the Strigoii: a living male witch with red hair, blue eyes, and two hearts who would send his soul out at night to drain animals and people of their life-energy. Strigoii were the seventh son of a seventh son and, when one died, it would return from the dead as a Strigoii Morti. In this form, it was a blood-drinker who was repulsed by the scent or presence of garlic—which may be where Bram Stoker got this piece of vampire lore.
In the Ghana and Tongo regions of Africa, there is the Adze: a strange creature whose natural form is that of a firefly or a ball of light, but who often takes possession of the body of a tribal sorcerer. Witches of this type are believed to have the power to astral project, speak to the dead, and use spirits to harm crops, livestock, and other people. These creatures are attracted to the blood of the tribe’s most beautiful children, but can be staved off with offerings of coconut milk and palm oil. There is generally no reliable way to detect an Adze, but it can be captured outside of its human form and destroyed.
Legends on the Gold Coast tell of the Obayifo, a born witch vampire whose draining of its victims is a long and painful process that can take days or even weeks. The Obayifo leaves its body to accomplish this during the night, but can also transform itself into a variety of animals with the help of a magical elixir.
Then there’s the Axeman (Ax-amen) is another African witch vampire with some unusual traits. For one, it takes the form of a bat to scout villages—one of very few folkloric vampires to actually have a bat connection—and find its victims. In this case, that victim is someone sleeping with a foot exposed so that it can cut a very small hole in the big toe and drink the blood. That’s right, even vampires can have a foot fetish.
In a similar vein, the native people of Central and South America had the Tlaciques (Tal-a-kays). Always female, these living witch-vampires came about as a spontaneous condition that occurred shortly after the onset of puberty with almost no warning. The Tlaciques drank the blood of infants, family members, or enemies four times a month while their family often protected their secret out of shame. They could detach the top half of their bodies and transform into various animals, like turkeys or vultures, or balls of light to travel and hunt. It was even said that they had the ability to hypnotize their prey into committing suicide. In contrast to the standard witches’ coven, the Tlaciques were thought to be territorial and organized exclusive hunting areas with others of their kind in order to minimize the chance of their detection.
Like many of the witches described earlier, the Bruja (Bru-ha) of Spain also lead a double life, appearing as an ordinary woman during the day while meeting with her coven every Tuesday and Friday night. This girls’ night out consists of devil worshiping and the practice of black magic techniques like the evil eye and the transformation into animals like ants, doves, geese, and rats. Like most vampiric witches, Bruja preferred to attack children and lone travelers to drain them of blood. One interesting element was that protections against attack by a Bruja included the use of garlic, which is not as common in vampire folklore as Hollywood would have us believe. Male versions were not unheard-of and were called Brujo. Unlike most folkloric vampires, there’s no known method of destroying a Bruja, only wards and ways to discourage attack.
Finally, the strangest of the bunch, the Malaysian Penangglan, also known as the Tanggal. A seemingly-normal woman by day, by night it detaches its head from its body and flies off into the night, dangling its entrails! In some versions, it achieves flight by flapping its ears and lungs like wings. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Well, obviously someone did, but it wasn’t me.
Anyway, its victims are, predictably, usually young children, from which the Penanggalan drains blood to keep itself young. Often in stories, the Penangglan takes the role of a midwife in her human guise in order to scope out potential victims. There’s no traditional way to destroy a Penangglan, but it can be deterred by garlic and by placing thorny branches on the roof of the home which will catch the creature’s dangling intestines. Since the creature requires a large vat of vinegar after it feeds—because it has to shrink its’ bloated, swollen entrails, of course—another remedy is to find the Penangglan’s house while it’s out and spill its vinegar. Because of course then it can’t squeeze back into its’ body, right? Brilliant.
At which point I guess it just, what? Lies there and glares at you? Slinks away and becomes someone else’s problem? What kind of solution is that? This is one of many reasons why I have a hard time taking the Penangglan seriously as a threat, though it didn’t stop this idea from spreading into several other Asian cultures including the Philippines, Japan, and India where you can find variations on the flying-head-with-entrails theme. In some of those versions, at least, there are ways to kill the head once you’ve disposed of the body and vinegar.
That’s it for this round. In my next post, I’ll explore vampires with otherworldly origins.
Brian McKinley doesn’t really exist. He’s a constructed mortal identity used by a relatively young Vampyr in order to publish the truth about The Order. Due to the world-wide influence of The Order and its minions, these accounts must all be published as fiction. Sometimes the names and sequence of events have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and to keep from getting sued.
Brian is no longer a typical Vampyr and, for this reason, lives in hiding and writes from a secret location. The real “Brian” lives a life of danger and excitement; he loves Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and gangster movies as much as he loves chicken fried steak. And he really loves chicken fried steak! He’s a reader, a role-player, and a dreamer. He’s lived many lifetimes and is eager to share as many of them as possible with his readers.
He’s the author of Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony and Drawing Dead: A Faolan O’Connor Novel which won the Author’s Talk About It 2016 Horror Novel Contest.