I am, suffice it to say, unwell.
I had intended to celebrate Halloween, as usual, by going on a week-long horror binge that would hopefully deliver me from the hanging sense of dread associated with my qualifying examinations, and I had, as usual, forgotten the fact that I am actually quite a squeamish fellow until I’d gotten through several accounts of people’s heads turning into snail shells (after growing snails in place of their tongues, of course) and bloated corpses stiltwalking on metal spikes (which incidentally blessed English with one of its most beloved examples of onomatopoeia, which I used as this week’s title — mostly because I couldn’t come up with anything else). Now I am filled with regret that I did not foresee this development, which really was inevitable once I decided to scour the Internet for the urban legends of our decade (which I found by the dozen: entire series of images, video clips and game hacks dedicated to terrifying the superstitious), though I am mostly filled with a sense of sleepiness that comes from spending two entire nights reading up on cheesy horror stories while shivering with the sort of fear you later feel embarrassed about.
So this would be a great opportunity to take a look at what the Internet considers spooky these days, but I am not going to do this — I am not going to do this because someone else has, and I couldn’t have done it better. I will instead redirect you to Bogleech, a website that has just about managed to become the Platonic idea of Halloween, and now features some fifty articles dedicated entirely to this Halloween season alone. It would not do to spoil for you the contents of the site, but it just might be my favorite thing on the Internet for a while, and you may want to know that several “secret words” are hidden throughout the articles in a sitewide scavenger hunt that slowly unravels a horror saga in six parts. There are also no fewer than two choose-your-own-adventure stories, a couple of alternate universes, various overviews of ghouls, ghosts and ghasts in everything from ancient myths and folklore to fantasy games and TV show mascots, and a competition to expand the online repertoire of creepy stories by coming up with your very own. This last activity is still continuing, by the way, and will do so for a while, so if you are interested, you know where to go.
But now that I’m done singing hosannas for a horror website (which deserves every bit of such praise), I recall that I had promised a friend of mine that I would cover Southeast Asian mythology today, and I intend to honor this pledge in what little space I have left. Those familiar with the region will readily remember that its mythology is most famous for its vampires, which employ unconventional methods (branching tongues and detaching heads with trailing intestines) to get at their unconventional prey (pregnant mothers and/or fetuses), but my focus this week will be more on its sorcerers, who in principle aren’t
all that different from ours (if you aren’t familiar with Turkish sorcerers, they are the sort who appear in debate programs on shady TV channels, argue against such flimsy and ill-supported [!] theories as evolution and gravity, and purportedly command armies of djinni), except that their spiritual servants are a much more curious folk — and while these magicians can command anything from the aforementioned assortment of vampires (such as the Toyol, an unbaptized child resurrected as a surprisingly fast and powerful fetus-monster) to a demon cricket that uses its tail to poke holes into human flesh (through which a second spirit, in shape of a diminutive woman, burrows into the victim and drives him insane), my favorite is served by a much more appealing sort of spiritual servant.
Called “mambabarang” if the practitioner is male, or “mamalarang” if female, the sorcerer in question houses a spirit-insect in a length of bamboo and, as is usual in the case of such creatures, keeps it appeased by regular offerings, in this instance of ginger root instead of blood. In return, the ghostly insect enters the body of the sorcerer’s victim using whichever cavity it can access, and replicates the symptoms of a conventional malady affecting the area it entered. This eventually kills the affected individual in a perfectly “natural” way, though the sorcerer still risks revealing himself when swarms of his servants emerge from the victim’s bloated body to fly back home. Another, less grisly familiar is an Indonesian creature called the Jenglot — little more than a hairy, vaguely simian doll, it is perfectly immobile yet still supposedly feeds by some mysterious process on
blood left near it, and brings fortune to its owner by means of “Jenglot exhibitions,” in which that owner shows the inanimate hair-doll to curious townsfolk in return for a considerable sum of money (I presume that any observer foolish enough to point out that the “Jenglot” is a stuffed monkey carcass is destined to meet a horrible end).
In any case, I have no more space left for other ghosts, so this will be the end of the column. Happy (belated) Halloween to you all!