Creepy Legends and Rituals That Will Scare the Life Out of You

In conjunction with Halloween, let’s dive into Southeast Asia’s mystical world of unseen creatures and black magic practised since time immemorial.


Gong Tau

CC BY-NC 2.0 Marek52

Executed for revenge, relationship and financial issues, Gong Tau is a witchcraft term used in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese or Jiang Tou in Mandarin that originated in Yunnan, China. Widely practised in other parts of Southeast Asia including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, the supernatural attack comes in two forms. First is the non-spiritual practices, where magic potions are mixed into the victim’s food or drinks, giving the sorcerer full control of the target remotely. The second form is spiritual practices that requires a Taoist sorcerer, who can summon ghosts, spirits and demons to hex victims. However, this form is trickier as the caster needs to gather a few things from the victims like date of birth, personal belongings or hair and fingernails. A victim of such an attack is referred to as Tio Gong Tau.

Some of the popular Gong Tau include:

1. Straw effigy

Frequently used by Taoist sorcerers as it’s cheap and easily available. Once the victim’s soul is attached to the effigy, needles are struck to inflict pain and possibly a slow death.

2. Corpse oil

The oil is collected by firing up a candle and burning the chin of a dead woman. The finished product works as a love potion.

3. Poison

Venomous creatures like centipedes, snakes, scorpions and poisonous frogs are placed in a box and are left to devour one another. The last survivor, believed to contain all the toxins from the group, is then used to spread deadly diseases.

4. Menstrual blood

The blood is mixed into the victim’s food to bind a lover or to create sexual attraction. It is said that housekeepers use this trick so their employers would treat them better or even fall head over heels for them.


CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Known as the ‘Divine Child Spirit’, Kumantong is obtained by desecrating the grave of a pregnant mother and taking the fetus from the womb. The child’s spirit, often worshipped as a deity, is awakened with a mantra by the owner to bring good luck, wealth and fortune (mostly for gambling). It is believed that some monks take in Kumantong from fetuses that have died from abortion, whose spirits roams the earth without a purpose. The monks will then give the spirit to people who are willing to be caretakers, who will in turn get good karma. Other than for gambling, another dark purpose for Kumantong is to harm people, where the caretakers can send the child spirit to turn someone insane or simply murder the target. However, like any child, taking care of a Kumantong is tricky and the caretaker must provide necessary prayers and offerings consistently either daily or once a week. Miss any of those, the Kumantong will turn against the caretaker instead.


This curse, practised by an indigenous community Bisaya in East Malaysia’s Sabah, only targets men. Those who harm women, be it by cheating or through physical attacks, may get a taste of Bitas where their penis will be moved to the forehead. That said, the curse doesn’t move the penis literally. The organ remains where it’s supposed to be, but only the victim thinks that it has been shifted. The bomoh, or shaman, even has the powers to shift the crown jewel inside the victim’s stomach, causing death. The curse can only be lifted if the victim seeks help from the caster within a week. Any more than that, game over. Great way to promote chivalry, right?!


Popular in Malaysia and Indonesia to satisfy revenge, Santau uses ingredients like snake and frog venoms, bamboo fibres that can cause severe itching, sharp objects including glass shards and nails, and to complete the recipe, summoning jins and devil. The curse can be transmitted by food or even remotely. Commonly known as Santau Angin, the jin would fly towards the victim. Once attached, the victim may constantly cough up blood, pus, nails and fine glass shards; intense backaches; shortness of breath; constant nightmares; dementia; loss of appetite and sleep deprivation. There is no guarantee for cure, but most victims seek help from spiritual healers.



Image: 123RF

This free-flying spirit has red eyes, pale, broken skin, long hair and wears a long ripped white dress stained with blood. Usually found on banana trees, or any other massive trees, the spirit, believed to be of pregnant women who died during labour, would attack its victims by ripping the person apart to feast on their internal organs using its sharp nails. A city in Indonesia was named after this entity because it haunted the first sultan who resided there. Myths suggest that if you hear a loud cry, it means the entity is far, but if it’s the opposite, it could just be behind you. Out seeking revenge against men, a Pontianak can turn into a beautiful being if you plunge a nail into the hole on the nape of her neck. Good luck!


Image: 123RF

Widely known in Java, Indonesia, Genderuwais a spirit that can manifest into human-like apes covered in dark-red hair. Like the Pontianak, Genderuwaalso lives on large shaded trees or deserted buildings. It likes to tease people – making itself be seen, throwing rocks at houses – but a more serious haunting by this creature is sexual attacks. Legend has it that Genderuwo can easily attract women in bed that they would feel satisfied and even extend extraordinary favours to the creature, including letting it stay in the womb or even get pregnant with its offspring. If things turn into a relationship, the creature would stay until the woman dies and only then it will move on to the next victim.


CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Kurt Komoda

Imagine a detached head of a woman flying while its stomach and the entrails hangs freely below it … that’s a Penanggal. There are a couple of versions to the origin of this scary haunting. First, it is believed to be the spirit of a woman who suffered miscarriage, so it is on a constant search for blood to feed its dead baby. The second version is of midwives who made a deal with the devil. To remain beautiful, they need to deliver babies to the devil and avoid eating meat for 40 days. If that rule is broken, the midwives can lead a normal life during the day, but come nightfall, they will turn into a Penanggal.

Jiang Shi

Wikimedia Commons

The Chinese version of vampire, Jiang Shi sports the classic Qing Dynasty official attire and would hop around at night with its arms stretched out to suck on human’s life force called qi. This creature can be stopped in its tracks if you stick a Taoist symbol called ba gua or eight trigrams on its forehead. As long as the paper stays on, it is practically paralysed – perfect time to make the dash of your lifetime.

Sure, there are more creatures that should be mentioned on this list, but let’s just end this story with FOUR, the unlucky number that translates to ‘DEATH’ in Chinese.


What do you think?

Written by Asyraf Naqiuddin

Asyraf believes there’s a story anywhere you turn that could inspire readers around the world. With a penchant for high-powered motorcycles, he hopes to one day get back in the saddle and cover the globe on two wheels.


Savouring the Sights and Sensations of Shenzhen in The Journey: China