The psychology of aswangs
Ordinary by day, beastly at night
Many people brush off the aswang as a mere figment of the imagination. But when night time comes, people somehow lose their rationality.
The deepening darkness of the night seems to have a strange power over people to make their imagination run wild.
When people, for instance, wake up in the dead silence of the night to the high-pitched “tiktik” sounds heard outside their windows, the instant belief is that an aswang is trying to come into their room to prey on them.
Aswangs from as far back as 1200s
Historically, the belief about aswangs is known to have existed among tribal Filipinos as early as the 1200s.
The word “aswang” is presumed to be a shortened version of “aso-wang” since aswangs could shape-shift into various animals such as dogs.
When Spanish missionaries began colonizing the Philippines, their immediate task was to convert Filipinos to Catholicism. To extinguish the existing tribal religions, a strategy they used was to accuse babaylans (tribal healers and spiritual leaders) of being aswangs.
Vampires vs. aswangs
In modern times, Filipinos use the word “aswang” in general reference to anyone they don’t like, such as their husband’s mistress perhaps, or a terror boss, or any bitchy person for that matter.
To understand the psychology of the aswang, we first have to differentiate it from its western counterpart—the vampire.
The vampire is mythically depicted as an un-dead person who “sleeps” in a coffin by day, wakes up at the stroke of midnight, and whose nocturnal activities consist of sucking the blood of human prey so that they continue to survive as the living dead.
On the other hand, the aswang of Filipino folklore is portrayed as a simple and ordinary person by day who transforms into a nightmarish creature at night.
Two kinds of aswangs
Aswangs usually come in two forms:
As a demonoid, the aswang is typically a male creature with a long slithering tongue. The tongue can be used for siphoning foetuses, in the same way that a person would use a straw to suck up their bubble tea. Their tongue can also be used for snaring a foetus out of a pregnant woman’s vagina, after which the aswang would eat the foetus in the same manner people would eat balut.
The manananggal is typically female and divides itself at the level of the torso. Night time is "thriller” time as a horrifying transformation takes place. The manananggal's upper body starts to grow giant bat-like wings, leaving its lower torso on the ground and its upper torso flying off to eat the hearts and livers of their human prey.
Symbolic of deeply disturbed persons
Psychologically speaking, the aswang as a manananggal is symbolic of a severely disturbed person. It is an individual tormented by a multitude of inner conflicts:
The ordinary person it is by day represents innocence, while the aswang it becomes at night symbolizes evil.
The ordinary person represents integration or wholeness, while the manananggal cut in half symbolizes brokenness and disintegration.
The ordinary person it is by day can also represent contentment, while the hungry manananggal at night symbolizes greed and craving.
The lower torso represents groundedness or stability of being, while the upper torso represents a flightiness or wildness of character.
With its guts all exposed and spilled out, the lower torso represents vulnerability, while the upper torso symbolizes predatorship as it searches for human prey.
What the aswang represents
According to the myth, the manananggal separates its body at the middle of its body where its guts are located.
The aswang, therefore, is an individual who is violently ripped apart at the very core of its own being.
And as an emotionally-torn individual, the manananggal feeds on the emotional centers (the heart and liver) of their prey, thus draining the life energy out of them.
Who are the symbolic aswangs among us?
True, the aswang is a mythical creature of Filipino folklore.
But a psychological analysis of the aswang begs the question: who are the symbolic aswangs among us?
And lest we exempt ourselves, the more important question to ask is: how are we an aswang to others, preying on other people's vulnerabilities out of our own brokenness and greed?
Manananggal illustration by Eumir Fernandez. Check out his portfolio, blog and Twitter.
Dr. Randy Dellosa, popularly known as the "celebrity shrink," is a life coach, counselor, psychotherapist, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist,physician, osteopath, clinical massage therapist, acupuncturist, qigong teacher and energy healer. To contact Doc Randy, visit his blog.
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