The soucouyant lives by day as an old woman at the end of a village. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin, which she puts in a mortar, following which she flies in the shape of a fireball through the darkness, looking for a victim. Still a fireball, the soucouyant enters the home of her victim through cracks and crevices, like keyholes.
Soucouyants suck people's blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices witchcraft, voodoo, and black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims' blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree.
To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Haiti, and Trinidad.
The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic.
Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbees. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans.
In the French West Indies, specifically the island of Guadeloupe, the Soukougnan or Soukounian is a person able to shed his or her skin to turn into a vampiric fireball. In general these figures can be anyone, not only old women, although some affirm that only women could become Soukounian, because only female breasts could disguise the creature's wings.
In popular culture
- In Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark a soucouyant is one of Anna Morgan's daydreaming fears before she undergoes an abortion that leaves her bleeding to death. It is worth noting that before the ending was edited, Anna Morgan dies of the abortion.
- Also used in Rhys's short story "The Day They Burned the Books", in a servant's description of Mrs. Sawyer, a main character in the story: "...Mildred told the other servants in the town that her eyes had gone wicked, like a soucriant's eyes, and that afterwards she had picked up some of the hair he pulled out and put it in an envelope, and that Mr. Sawyer ought to look out (hair is obeah as well as hands)".
- Also used in a third Jean Rhys book, Wide Sargasso Sea, when the former slave, Christophine, describes Antoinette's eyes as "red like soucriant".
- In "Greedy Choke Puppy", a short story by Nalo Hopkinson, a soucouyant narrates part of the story. Hopkinson's book Brown Girl in the Ring also features a soucouyant, who is delayed from her purpose of consuming blood by another character who drops rice grains on the floor, forcing the soucouyant to pick them up before proceeding.
- Appears in the novel White is for Witching: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi.
- Soucouyant is the title and one of the primary plot devices of a novel by David Chariandy.
- A soucouyant is the title creature in the book "Nightwitch" by author Ken Douglas, which was also published under a previous pseudonym, Jack Priest.
- In Timothy Williams's Guadeloupe novel, "Un autre soleil", "Another Sun" the spelling soucougnan is adopted in both French and English.
- A Soucouyant appears in The Night Piece, a collection of short-stories written by André Alexis.
- In Byzantium, a Neil Jordan's film, one of the protagonists, Eleanor Webb, refers to vampires in her story as "soucriants". On the other hand, there isn't any reference to Caribbean mythology in the movie itself and the vampires' origin is hinted as pre-Christian European.
- Welland, Michael (January 2009). Sand: The Never-Ending Story. University of California Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-520-25437-6.
- Courtesy The Heritage Library via the Trinidad Guardian
- Maberry, Jonathan (September 1, 2006). Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt .... Citadel. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-8065-2813-7.
- The Night Piece