Asia as a whole is often viewed as a mystical, exotic place in the West. Those of us who don’t happen to live there, ignoring the fact that the majority of the world does, see it as a continent defined by lovely vacation spots, beautiful nature, fascinating history, and many odd myths and legends.
Asia, in reality, is a massive area that literally billions of people call their home, living their lives like people do in any other place. That being said, there is some truth to the mysticism.
From tales of horrifying demons to elusive creatures some locals still claim are real, there are many scary beings Asian people have been discussing for centuries. Even more, they’ve also been warning their children and perhaps even the odd tourist vacationing in the area about.
Regardless of whether one thinks that all the warnings are realistic or not, listening to earnest, helpful locals while traveling is never a bad idea, and fascinating mythology is never bad to learn about, either.
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India is a massive country with a rich, immensely far-reaching history, unique culture, and some of the most fascinating spiritual beliefs in the world. As such, it’s likely no surprise that they’d have their fair share of threatening beings as well.
A rakshasa, or rakshasi if we’re talking about a female individual, is said to be an enormous, human-like creature, powerful, quite ugly, and filled with bloodlust. They are sometimes called “man-eaters,” referencing their nasty habit of eating people in the stories and legends they’re featured in.
Rakshasas aren’t simple monsters, though. Their ability to shapeshift means that many people believe they can disguise themselves as humans, hiding their typical, bestial appearance, ability to fly and do magic, as well as their horrific true nature. It’s easy to imagine how, historically, a person could wonder. Was that terrible, cold-blooded murder truly done by a human?
Even so, despite their less-than-friendly description, some legends describe some rakshasas as being capable of good rather than evil. A pleasant idea, but one that only makes them a little less spooky.
9 Phi Am
A type of spirit that’s actually real, in a sense, Phi Am are more than just writings and passed down ghost stories, at least at their core.
Originating from Thai folklore, Phi Am is said to be a type of ghost that sits on a person’s chest while they’re sleeping, terrifying them and preventing them from moving. In some extreme cases, they’re even reported to cause suffocation and death.
To some readers, this may sound familiar, as Phi Am is, in fact, an ancient, spiritual explanation for the very real phenomenon of sleep paralysis. A scary thing that actually does happen, but one that isn’t dangerous and also isn’t caused by a ghost, as far as we know.
Interestingly, Thai folklore says that Phi Am haunts men more often than women, causing some men to put on women’s clothing and makeup before going to bed, apparently in an attempt to avoid the spirit.
Kawahime, Japanese for “river princess,” is said to be a beautiful woman you might find near bridges, watermills, and bodies of water, specifically riverbanks.
Not too scary on the surface, but the deception and element of surprise are exactly the terrifying elements of many of humanity’s scariest myths. A seemingly normal encounter that could end in one’s death.
Kawahime is said to entice men, causing them to fall in love with her beautiful body and follow her into the water, only to be drained of their life force and consumed. Interestingly, a few sources describe Kawahime with some characteristics of Kappa as well, a creepy, fishy, reptile-like uncanny valley sort of effect clashing with their beauty just slightly.
In certain areas, especially in the past, young men have been told to stare at the ground and walk away quickly when encountering strange, lonely women in such places. Many scholars today believe that the myth originates due to a fear of outsiders in small villages.
A central part of Islamic culture and areas, a category that happens to include many parts of Asia, is jinn. Jinn are believed to be just like humans in many key ways, and some are even thought to be helpful. Still, interactions between humans and jinn are nonetheless discouraged by most who believe in them.
Often acting as a creature or force similar to devils and demons in other cultures, they’re said to inhabit a sort of shadow world, a mirror of our own, inhabiting both versions at the same time. Jinn are believed to be able to shapeshift, turn invisible, and appear humanoid but yet distinctly frightening. A large part of the scare factor, once again, comes from their believed ability to blend in with humans.
They’re so prevalent that even today, among some people, they are believed to cause many diseases, mental illnesses, and self-harmful behaviors. Even some Western medical texts advise taking them seriously as an important cultural belief.
Jinn, according to cultural beliefs, inhabit dark, lonely places such as caves and graveyards and are able to possess people, even causing seizures and speech in a language no one else can understand. Another example, perhaps, of attaching a fearful demon to the very real things that scare and haunt some of us, such as epilepsy.
A reportedly silly appearance doesn’t deter this Japanese cryptid from being a subject of some fearsome urban legends. A snake-like creature with a very thick body and thin tail and a fondness for alcohol and small creatures—at first glance, the tsuchinoko doesn’t seem like such a big deal at all.
Considered a type of ‘yōkai’ or Japanese spirit by some or a real, undiscovered animal by others, this creature experienced a boom in popularity after many people claimed to spot something similar throughout Japan. The idea of a thick, large, undiscovered creature that resembles a snake might be scary enough for some, but it doesn’t quite end there.
The tsuchinoko is believed to have viper-like fangs and an incredibly potent, deadly venom, and it’s believed to have a loud call people have claimed to hear. Whether it’s a real creature, an existing snake species that’s been exaggerated, or a being purely conjured from myth, the certain thing is that some people swear by its existence and lethality.
5 Mongolian Death Worm
The name alone already places the Mongolian death worm as something you’d read about in a fantasy novel. Many locals and tourists, however, have claimed it’s real and a really terrifying creature, as well as a massive threat to humans who encounter it.
A massive worm a little over 3 feet or a meter in length, dark red in color, and equipped with a venom that corrodes and kills anything it touches as if it were potent acid. According to some, it even has the ability to electrocute its victims from far away. Overall, it definitely doesn’t sound like an encounter anyone would wish for.
Except for those who attempted to find it on one of the many expeditions started for exactly that purpose, apparently. Most zoologists believe this creature is nothing but an exaggerated account of real snake and worm sightings. Even still, rumors of sightings and warnings of the death worm’s danger just keep circulating across Mongolia.
A floating head sounds like it’d be pretty frightening to see. But the krasue, a type of ghost or demon originating from Southeast Asian cultures, doesn’t quite stop there.
The head of a woman with intestines dangling below it as it floats, krasue are said to fly around at night looking for humans to consume. Believed by some to be the result of a sinful, evil woman dying, or by others a failed, magical experiment by some witch, it’s a prevalent legend across much of Southeast Asia.
Often shared as a ghost story in the area, many locals still believe in it, too. They continue to warn people against wandering around at night in rural areas, hiding any cuts on their bodies so it doesn’t smell the blood. It gets worse, still.
Those who believe in the krasue also believe that the only way to kill it is by destroying its body, which you can only attempt after finding it. As it’s said to hide at night time, it may just be best to take that advice about not walking around alone at night; at least, some people certainly think so.
The Kumakotok is an entity, or rather, a group of entities, that many in the Philippines say they believe in. A trio of robed, humanoid beings, one resembling a young woman, accompanied by two old men, they knock on your door at night, wandering towns and villages.
Knocks come in threes, and it’s not something you’re said to be able to avoid, but it is something you should ignore. They’re believed to signal the upcoming death of a friend or family member. If you hear the knocks, someone will soon die. An omen… or a warning?
The sound of three knocks has, understandably, become a scary one to hear at night in the area, as if it wasn’t unnerving enough anywhere. Whether they bring the death of someone close to you or not, when you hear the sound, don’t go and answer the door.
Spiders are already enough to terrify many, even without a demon attached to them or without the status of some unknown, mysterious cryptid, more lethal than nearly any animal we actually know of. The jorōgumo, one of Japan’s most famous spirits, does unfortunately surpass a common spider, however.
The jorōgumo is believed to be a golden orb-weaver spider, an actual species you may find in Japan. It’s believed that individuals of the species that live to an incredibly old age eventually get empowered by magic and grow frighteningly large and intelligent, swapping their insect prey for humans.
Appearing, once again, as a young, beautiful woman, hiding eight terrifying, spindly legs, this spirit is said to capture, envenomate, and consume young men by luring them in. It’s said to be so effective at it, actually, that legends say they pile up hundreds of skeletons in their caves, ones that once belonged to handsome, young men.
Another being from the Philippines, the manananggal is most akin to a vampire, a creature many of us in the West have legends and stories about, except taken much further to the extremes.
Once again, it is disguised as a beautiful woman, fitting the overall trend of people being frightened by the thought of being deceived and harmed by something that entices them so much. The manananggal transforms into a horrific monster at night. Its favorite prey, apparently, is pregnant women, consuming their organs, blood, and even the fetus they’re carrying.
The manananggal is feared as a danger to children, as a creature that feeds on unsuspecting victims sleeping peacefully, and as a vampiric demon that people have developed many spiritual practices to drive away. Even recently, though, people claim to see these creatures across the Philippines. When someone dies suddenly at night, perhaps even violently, some just can’t help but point to the terrifying manananggal.