Hunting for the (Male) Batibat

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It started as a quote in Maximo Ramos’ The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore. Ramos was explaining how rural Filipinos often prefer to sleep on the edge of the room, rather than the middle, for protection against the viscera sucking version of the aswang — the kind who climbs on the house and drops its tongue down between the chinks of the roof to suck out its victims innards.

Sleep towards the edge of the room, Ramos warned, but not too near a post:

for the posts may harbor a tree-dwelling mythical demon like the bangugot or batibat. This is a nightmare-inducing, insanity-causing creature resembling the genii of the Near East. It is said to have refused to leave its tree when it was felled and stubbornly to have gone on living in a crevice of cavity in the wood, emerging to sit on a tenant’s chest and suffocate him by plugging his mouth with its phallus and his nostrils with its testicles.

Huh. That deserves more investigation, I thought.

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A Little Link Updating on the Blog

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As my readers know, I sometimes share public domain ghost stories and other interesting reading here on Multo, in particular my yearly series on winter tales. Mostly these files are hosted from WordPress, but for larger files and epubs I have been hosting them from Dropbox. Dropbox has just dropped support for their Public folders, and so a few of the links on my pages have gone dead.

I have regenerated appropriate links and updated all the appropriate posts, but it’s always possible that I’ve missed one. So if you come across a dead Dropbox link, please do let me know.

As always, I hope you enjoy the stories I share, and I plan to keep sharing more!


Men at work sign — Source: Wikimedia

Man-Wolf, Snake-Woman: on Clinical Lycanthropy

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There hath indeed been an old opinion of such like things; For by the Greeks they were called λυκανθρωποι which signifieth men-wolves. But to tell you simply my opinion in this, if any such thing hath been, I take it to have proceeded but of a natural superabundance of Melancholy, which as we read, that it hath made some think themselves Pitchers, and some horses, and some one kind of beast or other: So suppose I that it hath so viciat [damaged, tampered with] the imagination and memory of some, as per lucida interualla, it hath so highly occupied them, that they have thought themselves very Wolves indeed at these times: and so have counterfeited their actions in going on their hands and feet, preassing [attacking] to devour women and barnes [children], fighting and snatching with all the town dogs, and in using such like other brutish actions, and so to become beasts by a strong apprehension, as Nebuchadnezzar was seven years: but as to their having and hiding of their hard and schellie sloughes [scaly skins, like snakeskin], I take that to be but eiked [fabricated?], by uncertain report, the author of all lies.

Daemonologie of King James, 1597 (I modernized the spelling)

Medical descriptions of clinical lycanthropy — the delusion that one has turned into a wolf or other animal, along with corresponding animal-like behavior — date back to classical antiquity. As far back as the second century AD, the Greek physician Marcellus of Side described lycanthropy sufferers as melancholics who “roam out at night and mimic the ways of the wolves or dogs and mostly loiter by the grave monuments until daybreak.” Marcellus considered them harmless, both to themselves and others.

Arab physicians expanded on the Greek concept of lykanthropoi, splitting it into two. The harmless kind they called qutrub, after a type of jinn or ghoul who haunted graveyards and ate corpses. They also described another condition, mania lupina, a more violent malady whose sufferers behaved wildly and wolfishly, and often could only be restrained with shackles.

Volkodlak znamka 0Stories of humans transformed into various animals, including wolves, appear in Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, but the werewolf as we understand it today probably had its origins in Nordic mythology. From Scandinavia the motif spread, showing up widely in the rest of Europe by about the 14th century, not just as folktale or legend, but as superstition. In Western Europe werewolves were associated with witchcraft; in Eastern Europe, with vampires (according to Baring-Gould the Serbian term vlkoslak denotes a creature both werewolf and vampire).

Given the association with sorcery, werewolf trials did occur during Europe’s witch hunt period (roughly the 15th through 18th centuries), but the view of lycanthropy as a mental illness also overlapped the superstition, as shown in the quote from Daemonologie that began this post — and James was pretty credulous about the existence of demons and witches. Even during the witch trials, the courts sometimes recognized self-confessed werewolves as mentally ill, rather than demonic beings [1].

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Creepy TV and other Thanksgiving Fun

Back from Thanksgiving weekend with my parents: four days of non-stop eating and family and wine (I blame my sister for that last part). It was the first time in a long time that we, my parents, my sister’s family and my closest first cousin’s family were all in the same place at the same time, to celebrate the birth of my youngest nephew (or whatever the proper term is for my first cousin’s child).

We happen to be a family with strong introvert tendencies, even the men who married into the family, and we are also very loud, in that stereotypical ethnic family sort of way. So periodically, certain people would disappear from the gathering, to be found hiding in another room with a device of some kind…

Which is a long-winded way of saying that my ten year old niece has started me down a wormhole of recreational reading and tv-watching time sinks, just in time for the holidays. Follow me down the path: Continue reading

The Berbalangs: A Legend of Filipino Ghouls

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Buried in the pages of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1896 is a dry-sounding article called “Cagayan Sulu, its Customs, Legends, and Superstitions,” by one Ethelbert Forbes Skertchly. It starts out as a typical amateur (for I assume Mr. Skertchly was an amateur) anthropologist’s paper of the time would, with a physical description of Cagayan Sulu — now known as Mapun — an island in the southern Philippines, about eighty miles from Borneo, closer to Malaysia than to most of the rest of the Philippines. The paper meanders on, through descriptions of the flora and of the fauna, of the people, their dress, their customs, their industry. Mr. Skertchly gives us a couple of short folktales, including a charming one about a crocodile spirit covered in diamonds. I imagine a typical Asiatic Society member of the time perusing the paper after dinner, the journal in one hand, a brandy or perhaps a pipe in the other, perfectly relaxed. Nothing new here.

But then Mr. Skertchly veers off into a first-person narrative that would be right at home in a collection of classic English ghost stories: the tale of the Berbalangs of Cagayan Sulu.

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The Tlahuelpuchi Epidemic

In this installment of my Mexican Monstresses series, folklore meets real life when the bloodsucking tlahuelpuchi strikes a small rural community.

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December 8, 1960: an unseasonably cold night in San Pedro Xolotla, a rural, primarily Nahuatl-speaking community beneath La Malintzi volcano in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Filemón and Francisca, a couple in their early thirties, were working late carding wool and making yarn; like most households in the community, they supported themselves with their weaving. They lived in one room of Filemón’s parents’ extended household with their four children: two boys and a girl between 5 and 14 years old, and a seven month old daughter, Cristina. Around midnight, Filemón’s older brother returned from Mexico City, where he had gone to deliver an order of sarapes. The three of them had coffee and chatted, then all retired for the night.

Filemón, exhausted, fell asleep immediately, but Francisca gave baby Cristina one last breastfeeding. Then she put Christina back on her petate (sleeping mat) before going to bed herself.

Two or three hours later, Francisca awoke and saw an intense light moving around outside the window. She tried to get up to investigate, but her body felt heavy and unresponsive, and she soon fell back asleep. A little later she half-awoke again. A strange mist filled the room, and out of it materialized a chicken-like creature, blue and red. Again she tried to get up, but the mist overcame her. That’s all she remembered.

At six AM Filemón awoke and noticed that the door to the room was partially open. Then he saw baby Cristina lying not in her petate, but on the floor some yards away. He got up to investigate. Francisca was still fast asleep.

It took several minutes for Filemón to wake Francisca from her deep slumber with the terrible news: Cristina was dead. The skin around her chest and neck was mottled and purplish, her chest covered in scratches. She had been sucked to death by that shapeshifting vampire known as the tlahuelpuchi.

And on that morning of December 9, six other mothers were shaken out of trance-like sleeps to a similar discovery: a still, tiny body, sometimes an open door. Seven dead babies. It was a tlahuelpuchi epidemic.

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An Afternoon at a Coal Miners’ Cemetery

Did you know there was coal mining in California? I didn’t learn that until recently. This, despite the fact that the Mount Diablo Coalfield, the largest in California, was in Contra Costa, the very county where I was born. From 1850 to 1906, mines in the Mount Diablo Coalfield, many under the operation of the Black Diamond Coal Mining Company, produced 4 million tons of (low grade) coal, the primary source of coal and energy in California over that period. The region was home to five mining towns, the largest and oldest called Nortonville.

In 1885, the Black Diamond company shut down its mines in the region and moved its miners to Black Diamond, Washington, where the mines produced better coal. They dismantled the railways and the towns completely, leaving nothing but some brick foundations in Nortonville, some great piles of dirt where the openings of the mines had been, and the cemetery, now known as Rose Hill Cemetery, which overlooked the town of Somersville.

Here’s Somersville in 1878. You can see the cemetery up on the hill to the right, and the great mounds that mark the openings of the mines.

 

Here’s that region today.

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A view of Rose Hill Cemetery from afar. (Click to enlarge)

 

You can’t see it in this photo, but the mounds over the mine openings remain. Nothing grows on them. The region is now part of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, just outside the city of Antioch.

We visited the park on a cool, overcast March Sunday. Early spring is the best time to visit that area; there are hills that block the ocean breezes from that part of the county, and in the summer it can be twenty degrees warmer — or more — than it is in San Francisco, only an hour away. It can also be very dry and brown. I was a bit worried, since we haven’t had any rain, but the hills were green and blooming with wildflowers.

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(Click to enlarge)

 

By the time we visited the cemetery, in the early afternoon, the clouds were burning off and the sky was turning blue. Continue reading

A Twenty-first Century Ghost Town

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I’m walking through the housing development where my parents live, in the Sierra foothills, a half-hour out of Reno. I can’t get over how silent it is. No cars drive by; no music or conversation leaks out of the houses that I pass. No birds. No insects. The sounds of the highway and the town don’t reach out here. There’s nothing but the sound of my footsteps. Even the lone dog that finally barks as I pass only serves to accentuate the stillness.

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I May Need an Intervention…

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We had some errands to run on Clement Street this noon, so my husband casually suggested that we stop in at Green Apple Books. For a quick browse, I thought — why not? But no, it was actually because he wanted to see if our book was still on the shelf there…

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It was. This was the first time I’d seen it on a bookstore shelf — one usually buys technical books online these days — so it was a treat. I admired it briefly, took a quick photo, and then turned for the stairs. Bookstores are a wee bit dangerous, for me. But just a quick browse; what could it hurt? I hoped to escape Green Apple unscathed, but nooooooo….

Jules Feiffer’s latest, the noir-tinged graphic novel Kill My Mother, has just come out. Green Apple had it. Into the shopping bag. I picked up several more enticing volumes, then put them down again, because the Feiffer was a bit extravagant. Just one, just one, I’ll be fine!

Then I saw The Book of Monelle by French symbolist Marcel Schwob, whom I’d recently been reading about at Weird Fiction Review — they’ve put translations of two of his stories online (here, and here). My fingers twitched. Into the shopping bag. Quick, close my eyes, to the register, pay — go!

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Google Translate vs. Bing Translate

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Just stumbled over a post announcing that Yelp will be using Microsoft Bing (rather than Google) to translate reviews on its iPhone app. I suppose this is noteworthy because one never thinks of Microsoft beating Google at anything (though I must say I like Bing maps better than Google maps, usually).

Normally, I use Google Translate, but just for fun, I typed the passage from the Garcia Lorca poem pictured above into both Google and Bing to compare. The poem, by the way, is called Casida del herido por el agua (Casida of the one wounded by water). According to Wikipedia, a casida (or qasida) is “a form of Perso-Arabic lyric poetry.”

From the translation by Paul Archer:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb onto Granada's walls
to gaze at the heart impaled 
on water's hidden spike.

It’s a lovely piece, though a mysterious one.

Here are the two machine translations:

Google:

Want to go down the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
Heart to look at the past
By the dark waters of the punch.

Bing:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
To watch the last heart
By dark waters punch.

Granted, poetry is especially hard to translate, and neither is very close on the last two lines — why do they both associate oscuro (dark) with las aguas (the water) instead of with punzon (punch, awl, or pick, according to my dictionary)? Still, comparing the two, I’d say Bing did the better job.

Unfortunately, Bing doesn’t translate Filipino (Tagalog), or any other Filipino languages, so I can’t give up on Google translate yet. And clearly, it will be a while before machine translation will do as well as a human translator. Mostly, it’s handy for gaps in your vocabulary.


Image: A plaque on one of the exterior walls of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. It’s a tribute to Garcia Lorca on the centennial of his birth. Photo: Nina Zumel