Recently, in my creative writing class (Yes, I’m taking Creative Writing 1 this year. Yes, I’m fully aware of how much that makes me sound like a nerd.) we read about nonfiction pieces. We had to pick one of three pieces to read on our own, and the story I got mentioned an Indonesian folk tale about something called the aswang. I advise you, do not Google ‘aswang’ if you’re easily terrified. I googled ‘aswang’ right after a three-hour horror movie marathon and freaked myself the hell out once the image results loaded.
Apparently, the aswang takes the form of a beautiful young lady during daylight. But, after dark, she detaches her torso from the lower half of her body, proceeds to hide that lower half of her body somewhere it won’t be found easily, brushes this strange oil over her armpits, and then goes flying into the night, looking for her favorite food. And guess what that favorite food is? Fetus.
Aswangs are terrifying.
But anyway, reading about the Indonesian aswang and it’s admittedly weird habits got me thinking about folklore. Specifically, American folklore. If you grew up in the States, you’re probably familiar with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Johnny Appleseed, and the tale of how George Washington apparently chopped down a cherry tree in his youth. The thing is, all of these are generally tame subjects, when you think about it. I mean, Paul Bunyan’s a giant lumberjack who owns a huge blue cow. Not really the pinnacle of horror, is it? Johnny Appleseed was this hippie who went around the country sharing apples. It makes for a cute tale, I guess. And even one of the ‘shadier’ tales American kids grow up on, Persephone and Demeter, isn’t really that terrifying. A girl doesn’t listen to her mother, wanders off on her own, and then gets kidnapped by this creepy-ass ‘King of Hell’. Sounds more like a cautionary tale than anything else. (Though, I’m kind of confused as to why Greek mythology is so popular with the kids here. Maybe it’s an American thing.)
But compare Johnny Appleseed and George Washington to the aswang. Again, they’re supposed to wander around at night, completely detached from their lower halves, because they’re looking for fetuses to eat. And apparently, if you stumble over the ‘hidden’ lower half of an aswang and sprinkle this concoction involving lemon, pepper, and salt over it, the aswang won’t be able to reattach to its lower half and will die then and there. So an innocent person’s probably stumbled over a halved corpse smelling of citrus and spices and death. Isn’t that pleasant.
Oh, and don’t forget the claws. Because of course some terrifying torso needs claws in order to consume fetuses. (Fetuses? Fetii? What’s the plural of ‘fetus’, someone please tell me.)
In America, we associate ‘folklore’ with tame shit like cherry trees, Br’er Rabbit, and the Loch Ness Monster. Apparently in Indonesia, ‘folklore’ is synonymous with decapitated bodies that eat babies at night what the hell.
So that happened. Honestly though, aswangs are terrifying. Maybe they’ll make a cameo on Supernatural season 10 sometime soon.