International Superstitions

By Jitze de Vries

There are some celebrations that you can never have enough of. Don’t we all wish Christmas lasted all the way into January, or that we had birth-weeks instead of birthdays. In the same way, I haven’t been able to shake the Halloween mood yet, so why relapse on the drug of sending shivers down your spine. To accurately cater to the needs of a community as diverse as we are, I’ve decided to lay down some folk tales and ghost phenomena from places across the globe (yes, ghosts are very diverse too). This way, there is no place on earth where you will be safe from the terrors that loom in the dark…

Slavic folklore is full of interesting creatures which are as eerie as they are weird. One of these is Baba Yaga, a deformed witch who flies around in a mortar and lives in a hut standing on chicken legs. Famous for the repulsiveness of her nose, Baba Yaga is known to be able to smell the “Russian scent” of her visitors. She can also be rather bipolar, as it is unclear whether she helps people or hurts them.
Another creature which lives in the same forests as the Baba Yaga is the Leshy. Leshy is a human-like figure with horns on his head, who lives in pine trees and is surrounded by wolves and bears. Some say he also has a wife, Leshachikha, and a child, Leshonky. Anyway, he is most famous for misleading travellers and abducting children so it is probably best to stay away from him. Others claim, however, that he is more like a fairy. Place your bets.

Finally we have the good old Domovoi, which literally means “he from the house”. Domovoi is a creature who lives in every household and who is essentially the guardian of the home. When the family in the house behaves well, the Domovoi will help out around the house, but when they are slacking the Domovoi acts as a poltergeist. Furthermore, the Domovoi can predict the future which is good or bad depending on the warmth or coldness of his touch. A Kazakhstani friend, who grew up in Moscow, told me that the Domovoi used to scare him and motivate him to clean up his room. Besides this, he was also scared of the Leshy, which kept him from wandering off as a child.

South Africa
Having lived in South Africa myself, I can confirm that there is one creature which made a lasting impression on me, a disturbing creature called the Tokoloshe. South African fellow First Year Britt confirmed that this creature does indeed haunt many South Africans throughout the country and has led to some strange practices. In short the Tokoloshe, Tikoloshe, or Hili, is a gremlin which was supposedly invented by shamans and which is known to visit people at night, at which time he will bite off sleeping people’s toes or decide to rape them.

There are a few ways to get rid of a Tokoloshe once it has decided to target you. There are medicines which you can take to send it to someone else, and it is common practice to put your bed on piles of bricks so that the little Tokoloshe cannot reach you. There is even a website with a phone number which you can call to have it removed. This will cost you 150 euros though. If you think this is all bollocks, there are actually numerous news articles about Tokoloshe sightings and encounters, including some very disturbing pictures. So don’t say I didn’t warn you if you ever visit South Africa and feel something by your toes at night.

Last but not least, my friend from Singapore, Alvin, let me in on one of the scariest folklore’s I’ve heard so far. It is about a creature which resides in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and which is called Pontianak. The word stems from the Malaysian “perempuan mati beranak” meaning “woman who died in childbirth”. Yes, the Pontianaks are said to be ghosts of women who died while giving birth and if that doesn’t creep you the hell out then I don’t know what will. They are pale skinned women with long black hair, red eyes and a white dress on which is often covered in traces of blood. Known to come out at night during a fool moon, a Pontianak finds its victim by sniffing out the smell of laundry which is hanging outside. Once it has laid eyes on a victim, the Pontianak will tear open the victim’s stomach with its long nails and proceed to rip out and eat all the organs. On top of this, if the victim’s eyes are open, the Pontianak might choose to literally suck their eyes out of their sockets.

But fear not, there are ways to avoid being assaulted by one of these bad girls. Step one would be to not leave any laundry hanging outside at night, because this is sure to attract the Pontianak. Secondly, invest in getting a dog since dogs are known to recognize when a Pontianak is nearby and will whine if it senses one. If all else fails, you could also follow the example of the famous Sultan of Potianak, who in 1771 drove the Potianaks away with cannon shots. To this day, the Indonesian city of Potianak is named after him and cannonballs are shot on public holidays to celebrate his achievements.

To conclude, ghosts are common in almost every culture. Some are definitely scarier than others, although fear is quite subjective. One thing is certain, if, like me, you cannot get enough of the thrill that fear gives you, there is plenty of good stuff out there that will give you the trip your heart desires. But be careful, fear is addictive, and once you are in over your head there is no way out. Trust me.

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