While some mythological creatures and spirits are portrayed as curious and interesting entities, there are some that are much, much darker.
These five spirits may be lesser known, depending on where in the world you live, but they are no less terrifying. With tragic stories, these spirits are hungry for vengeance.
Pontianak and Kuntilanak
If you ever go out alone at night, listen carefully for creaking tree branches above you. Maybe it’s just a bird. Or maybe it’s a Pontianak waiting for the opportunity to attack and drink your blood.
The lore of the Pontianak, sometimes known as the Kuntilanak, is common in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines. Typically, it is the ghost of a woman who suffered violence or abuse by a man during pregnancy and died during pregnancy or childbirth. She now seeks vengeance for anyone involved in her death.
The Pontianak is typically portrayed as having long black hair and white robes. She may be horribly scarred and have fangs or sharp fingernails. Living in the trees, the Pontianak can fly and often stalks her prey before attacking.
The last thing her victims would hear is the loud shrieking of the Pontianak as she throws herself from the trees and attacks. Using her fangs or nails, she cuts open her prey to drink their blood and eat their organs.
Legend says that stabbed by a stake in the back of the neck, a Pontianak will turn into a subservient woman, enslaved to the one who stabbed her. Removing the stake will return her to her ghostly form, but unfortunately for the Pontianak, she cannot remove the stake herself.
If you hear the patter of steps behind you while walking alone, hope that it is another human just passing by and not a Teke Teke who has their eyes on you.
The Teke Teke is a terrifying and tragic ghost of Japanese lore that few can escape. It appears as a woman who is missing the bottom half of her body, but can run on her hands. “Teke Teke” is supposedly the sound that her hands make as she runs after her victims.
Escaping a Teke Teke is nearly impossible. Despite only being able to run on her hands, she is stunningly fast. It’s been said that a Teke Teke can run at speeds up to 150 kph (about 93 mph), and can chase down a fleeing car with ease.
Once she catches her victim, it’s game over. The Teke Teke is said to carry a sickle, which she will use to cut off the victim’s legs for herself. Some say that certain charms can ward off a Teke Teke, while others say that nothing can deter her. Once the victim loses their legs, they could become a Teke Teke themselves.
The lore varies on just how the Teke Teke is formed. Some myths are that she was a woman who committed committed suicide or was involved in a horrible accident where she lost her legs.
One particularly dark legend tells of a woman who was attacked and raped after World War II by some American soldiers. In her distress, she jumped from a bridge onto railroad tracks where a train cut her in half.
She did not bleed out immediately and was able to crawl to the train station. The attendant at the station did nothing but cover her with a tarp and left her alone to die. Furious about her mistreatment, the woman now seeks revenge.
Interestingly, some stories tell of the Teke Teke asking people where her legs are, or inquiring if they still need their legs. Answer carefully, because a wrong answer could spell your demise.
Diao Si Gui
In Chinese lore, a Diao Si Gui is the ghost of someone who died by hanging, whether through suicide or execution. They say that the slower and more agonizing the hanging, the more likely the dead is to become a Diao Si Gui.
These ghosts appear as bodies floating just above the ground, as if they are still hanging from a noose. Their long red tongue hangs out of their mouth as if they were still being strangled.
The terrifying thing about the Diao Si Gui is not that they will kill you, but they will persuade you to kill yourself. Whispering into your ear, the ghost will try to convince you why you should join it in death. They say that if you look into its eyes, you will hang yourself.
Legends say that once a Diao Si Gui convinces someone to kill themselves, the victim’s spirit will take its place and the original Diao Si Gui will be freed.
New mothers beware. If you smell the strong stench of vinegar, it could signal the approach of a Penanggalan ready to drink the blood of you or your child.
The legend of the Penanggalan originates from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, warning mothers of a terrifying vampiric threat.
During the day, a Penanggalan is just an ordinary woman.
At night, however, her head detaches from her body, and all of her internal organs go with it. She appears as a floating head with hanging entrails. Her body remains empty until she returns for it in the morning.
Seeking mothers and their newborns to drink their blood, she spends the night floating around looking for victims. It’s no surprise that the ever-hungry Penanggalan is said to look for work as a midwife to keep an eye on her prey.
The Penanggalan has a long invisible tongue that can fit through cracks in a home to drink from her prey. If a victim survives the feeding of a Penanggalan, their ordeal is far from over. They will waste away unless cured by a shaman in time.
After a night of feeding, the Penanggalan returns to her body. She soaks her organs in vinegar to clean and shrink them to fit back through the opening of her neck and back into place.
It is said that Penanggalans are created when a woman makes a pact to receive powers or a gift but breaks her end of the deal. One common legend is that a woman promises to stay vegetarian for 40 days to become beautiful. If she breaks the pact by eating meat, she becomes a Penanggalan.
To protect yourself, hang thorns in the doorways and windows of your home. If a Penanggalan tries to enter, her organs will catch on the thorns, which will deter her. If you come across the empty body of one, you can fill the body with broken glass to cut up her organs when she returns.
In the Japanese countryside, giant skeletons roam about seeking unsuspecting human victims. Gashadokuro means ‘starving skeleton’, and it certainly lives up to its name.
At about 15 times the size of an average human, the Gashadokuro will silently creep behind its intended target waiting to attack. Once ready, it will quickly scoop up the victim to crush them in their giant skeletal hands or bite their head off.
Gashadokuro are formed from the bones of hundreds of victims who are gathered in one location. Common places to find these spirits are near battlefields or mass graves that hold the remains of hundreds who died from war, famine, or disease.
Those that died in such places often do not receive a proper burial or funeral rites, and it is believed that their souls cannot move on. Their anger and pain take on its own form as the bodies form into a Gashadokuro seeking vengeance on the living humans that forgot them.
The first record of Gashadokuro comes from over 1,000 years ago, when a samurai was killed while leading a rebellion. His grief-stricken daughter, Takiyasha-hime, used magic to join the bodies of her father’s dead soldiers into a giant skeleton to attack Kyoto in revenge.
It’s been said that some charms can keep them away, but unfortunately, there is no way to kill a Gashadokuro. It will continue to live until the energy created from its rage and suffering burns itself out.
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- Pontianak: The Vampiric Ghost of Southeast Asia. (n.d.). Monstrum. episode. Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://www.pbs.org/video/pontianak-the-vampiric-ghost-of-southeast-asia-uq3i4y/.
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- Teke Teke. Yokai.com. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2023, from https://yokai.com/teketeke/