The Penanggalan is a ghost or demon from Malaysian Folklore. It is a female vampire that appears as a detached head, flying around on its own with the internal organs trailing behind it. The Penanggalan is similar to the Manananggal in the Philippines, the Krasue in Thailand and the Leyak in Indonesia.
During the day, the Penanggalan looks just like any other beautiful young woman. However, at night, her head detaches from her body and flies through the air, with a full set of organs and intestines trailing behind it. They say its entrails glow with an unearthly light as it glides through the night sky.
The Penanggalan is a vampiric creature with long tangled hair and penetrating red eyes. It craves fresh blood and flies around at night, looking for victims. The Penanggalan preys on the village people while they sleep, attempting to suck their blood. She especially likes the blood of newborn babies or pregnant women. The Penanggalan will devour newborn infants whole if she is able to get into their bedrooms.
If she can’t get through the window, she will try to use her long, sharp, invisible tongue. It snakes out and oozes up through the floorboards, sticking into the victim and sucking their blood. Her internal organs can also snake out like tentacles to grab victims or remove obstacles from her path.
While her head is detached and flying around, the Penanggalan’s body is very vunerable. It begins to decompose very quickly, so she has to soak it in vinegar to keep it fresh. At dawn, she will return to her home and immerse her entrails in vinegar. This is to make them shrink, so they will fit back into her body and she can pretend to be a human again.
If a woman is a Penanggal in disguise, you can always tell because she will stink of vinegar. The Penanggalan will often try to find work as a midwife, because this job gives her access to newborn babies. Another way to identify a Penanggalan is that she avoids eye contact and licks her lips when she is delivering a baby.
You can protect yourself from the Penanggalan by lining your window sills with thorny leaves or branches. Her entrails will become snagged on the thorns when she tries to come in and you can hack her to death with a machete. To prevent her from coming up through the floorboards, some people scatter prickly pineapples under their houses. She is also deathly afraid of sharp items, so pregnant women often sleep with knives or scissors under their pillows.
If you come across the Penanggalan’s unprotected body, you can kill her by pouring broken glass into her neck hole. When the head comes back and gets into the body, it will be cut to ribbons. Another way to put an end to her reign of terror is to turn her headless body around. When her head comes back, it will reattach to the body the wrong way around, thus revealing her true identity to everyone.
According to Malaysian folklore, the Penanggal was once a woman who obtained her beauty through black magic rituals. She made a pact with a demon in order to gain supernatural powers. However, she fell foul of the demonic force when she broke the pact and was cursed to spend the rest of her life as a blood-sucking disembodied head.
In another story, the Penanggal was originally an ugly young woman. They say she had a face that only a mother could love. Men avoided her and refused to have anything to do with her. She grew bitter and angry, developing a jealous hatred of married women. They became the focus of her rage. She went on the rampage and viciously murdered many innocent pregnant women. The people of her village soon tracked her down and brought her to justice.
In those days, the village people had their own ways of dishing out punishment. They hung her by the neck from a tall tree and tied her legs to a raging bull. When they let the bull go, her neck was snapped away from her body, leaving her head and internal organs dangling from the tree. The villagers cheered happily at the gruesome sight. Little did they know that they had unleashed a deadly demon. That night, the head went missing and the village was tormented by the Penanggal for the next seven deadly nights.