#FolkloreThursday: The Cryptozoologist Chronicles – Pontianak

We’re chronicling some more cryptozoology this week, and I am very excited about it. This is another creature that I found while writing a drabble. I like to use folklore in my writing, so it’s no surprise that I find a lot of cool things. Unlike my last creature, this one actually did end up as the focal point of some of my writing and I’ve fallen a little bit in love – as much as you can fall in love with something as dark as this, that is.


Pontianak

The pontianak is a vengeful spirit from Indonesian and Malaysian folklore, also known as kuntilanak or matianak. Taking the form of an often pregnant woman, with long hair, a bloody white dress, and long nails, the pontianak hunts men. It is said that the pontianak can present itself as a beautiful woman to seduce its victims. If caught in this form and pierced in the nape of the neck by a coffin nail, the pontianak will stay a beautiful woman and a good wife. However, once the nail is removed, it will take its original form and kill the man who inflicted goodness upon it. Unlike most spirits, the pontianak has a physical/corporeal form.

The kuntilanak, in particular, is said to be able to transform into a bird and drink the blood of virgins and young women. It is summoned and sent to make women fall gravely ill.

Both variations are the ghosts of women who perhaps either died in childbirth or died violent deaths (presumably at the hands of men). They are ever-searching for their unborn child, including within the bodies of their victims.

Those unlucky enough to be seduced by a pontianak are not in for a pleasant death, the creature will remove and eat the organs, often while the victim is still living. It’s unsurprising that it is the subject of so many Indonesian and Malaysian horror films.

If a pontianak is near, you might smell something sweet and floral which sours into a smell of decay, or you might hear the wailing of a baby. This is perhaps my favourite detail, a nice smell (representing the presenting human form) which then turns horrid, like the monster behind the beautiful face.

There are variations of the pontianak throughout the world, particularly in India and Pakistan. The closest Western relative is probably the vampire.


Happy Thursday!

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#FolkloreThursday: The Cryptozoologist Chronicles – Shadhavar

Hello, people of the internet. You friendly neighbourhood Elou here with the second of our Cryptozoologist Folklore Thursday posts. I discovered this creature while looking up Persian mythological beasties I could hide behind a door in a drabble I wrote recently. I didn’t end up hiding anything behind the door but I did stumble across the shadhavar. So without further ado…


Shadhavar

Everyone has heard of unicorns, beautiful white horses with iridescent horns atop their heads and maidens swooning here, there and everywhere just to touch them. Shadhavar are also unicorns but not the ones I obsessed over as a little girl. Some accounts list shadhavar as peaceful creatures, loping around forests, making animals listen to them. This version paints the shadhavar as a deer or gazelle-like creature, with one hollow horn protruding from its head.

This horn is what interested me most. Unlike the twirled, straight horn of a unicorn, the shadhavar has a horn with 42 branches, which creates beautiful music as the wind travels through it. When the wind comes from one side, the tune is happy and jubilant but when it is blown through the other, the song becomes so mournful that it could make a listener cry. These horns were often made a present for kings and could be played as an instrument. (What king wouldn’t want a musical instrument which could so easily alter the emotions of their subjects?)

The other version makes the shahavar more like a siren – though still taking the form of a deer-like creature. Its horn has 72 branches instead of 42, and the music used as a lure. The shahavar calls to its victims through music, like the siren, and then eats them, bloodthirsty as it is.

In The Temptation of Saint Anthony Flaubert draws on this second interpretation for le Sadhuzag, a black stag with the head of a bull and 42 antlers. When the wind hits them from the south, they create a sweet tune which charms all animals nearby but when hit by the north wind they begin to shriek.

Whether carnivorous or calm, the shadhavar are intriguing creatures and I am very glad I found them.

Do you have any creatures you think I’d like? Have you heard of the shadhavar? Do you want one of those horns? We ask the important questions.

Happy Thursday!

#FolkloreThursday: The Cryptozoologist Chronicles – the Moon Rabbit

Ah, #FolkloreThursday, how I love you.

What would my Folklore Thursday posts be if they didn’t contain any cryptozoology? Or at least, slight cryptozoology. If you’re new to the term, it is the study of and search for creatures that are not proven to exist – the Loch Ness monster, for example. For the purposes of this blog, I will be writing about/exploring/sharing cool creatures from folklore under the title ‘The Cryptozoologist Chronicles’. I am incredibly excited.


The Moon Rabbit

A lot of mythic creatures and stories originated when man looked up into the sky – so many stories have come from the celestial bodies that we can see from the earth and the Moon Rabbit is no exception. The Moon Rabbit, in its most basic form, is an outline on the moon in the shape of a rabbit. We make shapes from the clouds and the stars all the time, so why not the shadows caused by the craters and textures on the moon?

It is found in a number of different mythologies including both those originating in Asia and Native American folktales. It’s widely believed that the shadow next to the rabbit is a mortar and pestle but what each nationality can’t agree on is what the rabbit is grinding down.

In the Buddhist narrative, the shadow on the moon is not the rabbit itself but its portrait painted by Śakra/Sakka King of the Devas, after the rabbit offered its own meat to Sakka when he posed as a beggar. The rabbit showed its virtue in its selfless offering, so Sakka squeezed the essence from a mountain to immortalise his image in the sky. The Aztecs also believed that the Moon Rabbit was a virtuous and selfless being, offering itself this time as food to Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl, humbled by the rabbit’s intended sacrifice, took it to visit the moon, imprinting its image there so all could remember its generosity.

A Cree story depicts the rabbit riding a crane to the moon, its weight stretching the crane’s legs to the long form we know of today.

The Japanese and Korean versions of the tale lean heavily on the Buddhist story, with the exception that the rabbit is taken back to the moon to live, and while there he pounds out rice cake on his mortar and pestle.

However, in Chinese mythology the Moon Rabbit is known as the Jade Rabbit, and is a rabbit who lives on the moon with the goddess Chang’e. The rabbit grinds out elixirs of immortality for her. It is said that Chang’e sent the Jade Rabbit down to China when it was facing a plague to cure each family that suffered, asking nothing in return but the occasional item of clothing.

Not content with simply being a figure from a story, the Moon Rabbit also came up as a conversation point during the American moon landing. I adore this little detail.

Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.

I love rabbits, I love the moon, so of course I love the Moon Rabbit. The fact it spans so many cultures is just a bonus. Have you heard any more tales about the Moon Rabbit? Did you know about it before this post? Let me know in the comments. :)

Happy Thursday!