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Worldbuilding Around Philippine Mythology

As worldbuilding and mythology are two of my great interests, I snagged a guest blog from K.S. Villoso that deals with both. This time, we venture outside our typical Indo-European haunt and all the way to the Philippines!

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I’ve always been fascinated with Philippine mythology. I didn’t call it then growing up, of course; to me, they were just stories, passed down by friends, family, and other caretakers. The stories were frightening, almost real. The last part seemed all the more so because I didn’t really see these stories outside of Philippine media. Stories from the western world were just that—stories, wonderful tales of fairies and shining royalty and castles and happy endings. Our stories—often sinister, terrible, and sorrowful—felt like fact.

You have the mananggal, a ghoul who passes for human at day, and flies around with half her body at night, entrails dangling and all. The aswang, a shapeshifter, usually choosing the appearance of a boar or a dog, and just as terrible. Their prey of choice are pregnant women. The unborn victims become ghouls of their own: the tiyanak, children who are not children, who draw your attention to them with innocent wails, only to turn on you at the last moment. There is also the tikbalang, giants with the appearance of horses, and the kapre, even larger, hairy beasts who are often depicted smoking a cigar.

She puts the 'gal' in mananggal.

Source: Gian Bernal - Own work, CC0,

We also have creatures that are more familiar to those used to European mythologies: the engkanto, a type of wood elf or sprite, and the dwende and the nuno sa punso, dwarves or gnome-like creatures. The sinister tinge is particularly prevalent in these two. The engkanto can bless the deserving with good fortune, but they are just as likely liable to take and curse if somehow displeased or insulted. My family regularly made offerings to these creatures in the form of a feast that will be left out on a table, untouched for several hours. Us children would be shooed away from the darkened dining room to let them “eat” in peace. I’ve been told this ritual was done partly because of my mom’s miscarriage to my supposed elder brother, who they believed was actually “taken” by an engkanto but had been visiting us regularly when I was little. They said I would occasionally talk to something not quite there, or that one time, while I was sick, I told them about a little boy who visited and gave me a leaf; when asked what the boy looked like, I pointed at the statue of baby Jesus in the room, which set everyone into a panic.

The dwende provided their own share of frights when I was young. The neighbourhood kids were convinced to have seen them hanging around some of the construction sites, and one had my cousin completely under his control, ordering him to do various, random tasks. Their presence mingled with the myths that the slums we lived in had been a dumping ground for comfort women during Japanese occupation, so that for most of my childhood, we were terrified by these ghosts and spirits one way or another.

Our stories are a reflection of our reality, and it’s probably no coincidence that the Philippines’ post-colonial stories revolve mostly around death. The most fascinating aspects of the aswang for me, for instance, involves the attitude towards suspected shapeshifters. An unfriendly neighbour can get blamed for an unexplained death; a person can become ostracized through whispers of what they secretly are. Fate forbid you move into a village and your pregnant neighbour miscarries the next day. Stories can be wonderful things, but they can also be twisted.

Depicted: the aswang. Have some nightmare fuel!

By H.M.Bec - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I use many of these themes in my work. In my epic fantasies, I have alternate explanations for such monsters, using them as nothing more than props to ease out human nature. Paranoia, fear, courage, resentment…the monsters provide a fantastic backdrop for emotions. It’s not them that matter so much as how people react to them, and to each other.

The Ikessar Falcon was released on June 14, 2018. You can check out the rest of my novels at

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