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An artist's sketch depicting the aswang
|Region||Visayas, southern parts of Luzon and parts of Mindanao|
An Aswang (or Asuwang) is a shapeshifting evil spirit in Filipino folklore usually possessing some combination of the traits of a vampire, a ghoul, a warlock/witch, or different species of werebeast. It is the subject of a wide variety of myths and stories. Spanish colonists noted that the Aswang was the most feared among the mythical creatures of the Philippines, even in the 16th century. The myth of the aswang is well known throughout the Philippines. It is especially popular in the Visayas, southern parts of Luzon, and parts of Mindanao. Other regional names for the aswang include "tik-tik", "bayot", "wak-wak", "sok-sok" and "kling-kling".
Some anthropologists theorize that the Aswang belief came from the myth-making of the Spaniards to keep the population under control. Through the encomienda system, a town was arranged into easy-to-manage layers, and those who lived too far away were labelled tulisans (dissenters). To frighten the Filipinos and discourage mobility, stories of Aswangs living on the outskirts of the forests were spread in towns to keep everyone in groups and maintain control.
Modern investigation shows that the prevalence of the aswang myth in the Capiz province of the Philippines might be related to the genetic disease X-linked dystonia parkinsonism (XDP) or Dystonia of Panay (Lubag Syndrome).
Sometimes this creature is called the "bal-bal" or ghoul (maninilong in Catanauan, Quezon), which replaces the cadaver with banana tree trunks after consumption. Aswang stories and definitions vary greatly from region to region and person to person, and no particular set of characteristics can be ascribed to the term. However, the term is mostly used interchangeably with manananggal and are also usually depicted as female.
Appearance and activities
The wide variety of descriptions in the aswang stories makes it difficult to settle upon a fixed definition of aswang appearances or activities. However, several common themes that differentiate aswangs from other mythological creatures do emerge: Aswangs are typically described as shape-shifters. Stories recount aswangs living as regular townspeople that are quiet, shy and elusive. At night, they transform into creatures such as a bat, bird (usually a crow), wild boar, black cat, or most often, a big black dog.
They love to eat unborn fetuses and small children, favoring livers and hearts. Some have long proboscises, which they use to suck the children out of their mothers' wombs when they are sleeping in their homes. Some are so thin that they can hide themselves behind a bamboo post. They are fast and silent. Some also make noises, like the Tik-Tik, (the name was derived from the sound it produces) which are louder the farther away the aswang is, to confuse its potential victim; and the Bubuu, an aggressive kind of aswang that makes a sound of a laying hen at midnight. They may also replace their live victims or stolen cadavers with doppelgangers made from tree trunks or other plant materials. This facsimile will return to the victim's home, only to become extremely sick and then die. An aswang will also have bloodshot eyes, the result of staying up all night searching for houses where wakes are held to steal the bodies.
Aswangs are physically much more like humans at daytime; they only change their appearance at night when they feel they are hungry. It has been said that if an aswang married a human, upon their wedding, his or her mate would become an aswang as well but rarely can they reproduce. The couple may hunt together at night but will most often go in separate directions, either to avoid quick detection or because they do not like to share their food.
Unlike vampires and other similar creatures, they are not harmed by sunlight. They are daywalkers. Aswangs can also be befriended, they can talk to you like any normal human: they laugh and/or cry, get angry/sad, get hurt/humiliated and feel shy and envious. These creatures do not harm their friends and neighbors, and were said to be exempted from their target victims for food, hence the Filipino saying, "Mas mabuti ang aswang kaysa sa isang magnanakaw" (English: "An aswang is better than a thief").
They search for food in faraway places that it would not be too obvious for them. Aswangs are said to be vulnerable during daytime because during that time they do not have the excessive superhuman strength that they have in their nighttime prowl (aswangs only transform at night because they believe that God is sleeping). When people know of their identity, they are hunted down and killed immediately.
Countermeasures against aswangs
Like vampires, aswangs are repelled or killed by using garlic, salt and religious artifacts/weapons (e.g. Holy water, crucifix, rosary, prayers and religious verses). They are also killed using a whip made entirely of a stingray's tail (buntot pagi), which may also be used to repel the creature (aswangs are said to be scared of the sound made by the whip's cord slashing through the air). It is also said that they cannot step on holy consecrated ground (i.e. churches, mosques, temples, etc.). Decapitation is also a way to destroy an aswang.
Certain agimats (native Philippine amulets) and special prayers posted on doors and entrances may also repel aswangs. A good example of which is the red and black bead bracelets worn by newborn babies.
It is said that to spot an aswang at daytime, look straight at their eyes. The person in front of you is an aswang if your reflection is upside-down. Another way of knowing is looking in a tuwad manner; that is, bending over and looking at the person from between your legs, upside-down. The person is an aswang if the image of the person is different. It is said that a person without a philtrum is an aswang. Hintura is a kind of oil made by albularyos is used to detect if an aswang is near the premises. It is said that the oil will boil and bubble if an aswang is near.
References in popular culture
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- Surviving Evil (also known as Evil Island) is a 2009 horror film directed and written by Terence Daw, starring Billy Zane, Christina Cole, Natalie Mendoza and Louise Barnes, where documentary filmmakers travel to a Philippine island only to discover that a colony of shape shifting, carnivorous aswang inhabit the island.
- Aswang, specifically the "Tiktik", are one of the different breeds of Wesen (werebeast) and the main antagonist in the season 3, episode 14 ("Mother Dearest") of the NBC TV series Grimm. Detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin and police Sergeant Drew Wu fought off an aswang which tried to suck the fetus out of a pregnant woman.
- In a 2013 ABS-CBN TV series Juan dela Cruz, aswangs are the main antagonist which are being hunted by the protagonist Juan, who is half-aswang himself.
- A type of aswang called the "Abuak" is featured in a 2011 Filipino film of the same name. Abuak can transform from human to a raven-like creature that can fly and move underground as it stalks its victim.
- Aswang is a 1994 Filipino film in which a young woman agrees to marry a rich man. They live in a mansion together with his mother, who is the aswang.
- An aswang is depicted as vampire-like creature in the Antagontists supplement to the new World of Darkness tabletop RPG game.
- An aswang character appears in the fourth issue of comedy/horror webcomic Fantastic Crap Comics.[not in citation given]
- Lynda Barry's "One! Hundred! Demons!"  includes a story of a grandmother threatening her with "the aswang."
- An aswang is featured in the sixth episode of the Canadian TV show Lost Girl, and is portrayed as a relatively harmless scavenger Fae.
- Season 11, episode 3 of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ("Blood Moon") included a reference to the aswang, a hybrid cross between a vampire & werewolf.
- The aswang myth is featured in The Forbidden Room.
- An aswang is the primary antagonist in the Supernatural spin-off novel Supernatural: Fresh Meat.
- Aswangs are also featured in the 2002 film Spirit Warriors: The Shortcut where they are described as hostile creatures in the dark world.
- The Face Off episode "Bloodsuckers" featured Niko Gonzalez working on an aswang design.
- In the 2013 first-person shooter game Shadow Warrior, "Aswang Hunger" is an unlockable ability which allows the player to steal health points from enemies.
- In the 2016 survival horror game Nightfall: Escape, "Aswang" is one of the main antagonists. The Filipino horror game also featured similar creatures from Philippine mythology.
- Aswang is a high level notorious monster in the 2017 game Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood, and is portrayed as a pterosaur.
- In Code of Honor, a short story written by Melissa de la Cruz in the 2018 anthology, "A Thousand Beginnings and Endings", the main character is a young philippine girl thinks that she and her late mother are Aswangs, but after moving to New York and attend to the Duchane Institute, she discovers that she is in fact a Blue Blood, one of the fallen angels that joined Lucifer in his fight against God.
- The Aswang is the subject of the 2011 feature-length documentary The Aswang Phenomenon. The film explores the aswang folklore and its effects on Philippine society. The documentary was also the first to uncover the origin of why the Western Visayan province of Capiz is suspected as the aswang's home.
- Scott, W.H. (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth-century Philippine Culture and Society. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-971-550-135-4. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
- Tan, Michael (2008-10-26). "Aswang! Aswang!". Sunday Inquirer Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-12-01.
- Clark, Jordan (2011) The Aswang Phenomenon Documentary, High Banks Entertainment Ltd. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ePhqoyLpXQ
- Nadeau, Kathleen (December 2011). "Aswang and Other Kinds of Witches: A Comparative Analysis". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 39 (4): 250 – 266. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
- Montenegro, Bea (4 September 2015). "The Aswang Diaspora: Why Philippine lower myths continue to endure".
- Clark, Jordan. "The truth about the ASWANG in Capiz".
- Pineda, DLS (30 May 2015). "There's an 'aswang' terrorizing Mindanao – and yes, please take this seriously". Philippine Star.
- "Fantastic Crap Comics, Issue 4, cover!!! - Fantastic Crap Comics". www.fantasticcrapcomics.com. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- "One! Hundred! Demons!". Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- Matt Patches (2 February 2015). "Dreaming Bigger: Cracking 'The Forbidden Room,' Guy Maddin's 'Inception'-like Genre Explosion". Grantland. ESPN. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
But that little contradiction in the Aswang myth from the Philippines is: Sometimes you turn into another vampire that bites other people, and sometimes you just decay into a banana. A blackened, but redolently sweet banana.
- Cruz, Neal (2008-10-31). "As I See It: Philippine mythological monsters". Philippine Daily Inquirer.
- Eugenio, Damiana (2002). Philippine Folk Literature: The Legends. Matt Asombrado Paculba City: University of the Philippines Press. p. 490. ISBN 971-542-357-4.
- Ramos, Maximo D. (1971). Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press. ISBN 971-06-0691-3.
- Ocampo, Ambeth (2010-02-16). "Looking Back: 'Aswang' and counter-insurgency". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2010-02-20.
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