The Tikbalang in Philippine Folklore: A Shapeshifting Trickster

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Tikbalang of the Philippines – By Rodsan18 – CC BY 2.5

In Philippine folklore, a tikbalang is a bizarre, shape-shifting, trickster spirit that haunts certain places in the wildlands of the country.   It is said to be a tall humanoid creature that dwells in the forests and mountains of the Philippines and often described as a reverse form of a centaur.  Where the centaur has the body of a horse and the torso and head of a man, the tikbalang has the head of a horse and the body of a human.  Although descriptions vary they are generally described as being tall and bony creatures with limbs that tend to be disproportionate to their body.  For example, because its legs are so long and skinny, when the creature squats down its knees are higher than its head.  It is usually said to have animal-like feet usually similar to horse hooves.   In some traditions, it is said to have evolved from an aborted human fetus that was held in limbo and sent back to Earth.  In some traditions, tikbalangs can change their shape into that of humans and can also become invisible.

Shapeshifting Tricks

One of the tricks of the tikbalang is to change its physical form into that of a relative, friend or someone closely associated to any traveler that it may come across in the wilds. It then appears to the victim in this familiar form pretending to know the way deceiving them into being led through the dark woods or along remote mountain paths to a place far from the help of others.  When the time comes the for the tikbalang to reveal itself the victim may experience the smell of tobacco before the face and the body of their guide blurs as it changes from the that of the victim’s, relative or friend, into its own true monstrous form.

Those few victims unlucky enough to experience such an encounter have been known to stumble into to villages or towns muttering or raving incoherently.   It is said that people who have tried to help them say that the unfortunate person will tell how they were pushed and struck and knocked to the ground repeatedly.  All through this ordeal all they could do was giggle nervously like they were children.  The more they resisted the more they were abused but once they stopped resisting they found themselves alone in the forest in the night completely disoriented.

Some people claim tikbalangs are purely mischievous rather than malignant spirits arguing they only eat evil people or those who do not practice the form of Catholic devotion known as the angelus.  That may be so but they can certainly be alarming and according to tradition one of the tricks of the tikbalang is to lead solitary travelers astray and get them lost.  No matter which way they turn will keep on returning to a certain place in the forest.  Sometimes this can last for days until the tikbalang tires of the game.  Sometimes the victim becomes completely lost and is never seen by his family and friends again.

Protection Against Tikbalangs

Tikbalangs have many undesirable characteristics that give the good reason for most humans to avoid them.  They are known to be tricksters who try and trick travelers making them lose their way or go round in circles.  However, the savvy traveler could ward against tikbalangs by wearing their shirt inside out.  Another way is to ask loudly for permission to pass by a known tikbalang lair, or by moving silently through the forest so as not to disturb or upset them in any way.

Superstitions and Traditions

In the Rizal Province of the Philippines, the Tagalog people have a superstitious tradition that says tikbalangs were benevolent guardians of the forests.  They were the spirits that were responsible for the forces of nature that made the trees and plants grow and the land to flourish in an area which became their territory. They were said to station themselves at the foot of large trees and stand on guard against anyone who should appear to offer a threat against their territory.

In the Philippines the people say, “ May kinakasal na tikbalang “, when ran falls from a clear sky which means a tikbalang is getting married.    Many cultures from different parts of the world have similar sayings when supernatural or trickster characters get married.  For example, there is a Spanish proverb that says when rain falls on a sunny day a witch is getting married.

Some traditions say that tikbalangs were once very beautiful women who had lived to be very, very, old.  Another says that they will only bathe during a night of the full moon. It is also believed that sometimes a tikbalang will fall in love with a mortal and become infatuated with them.

The Lair of the Tikbalang

Tikbalangs are believed to prefer to live in places where there are many trees and lots of dark, dense foliage and few humans.  They are said to like bamboo and banana groves and the tops of the Balite (Ficus indica) and Kalumpang (Sterculia foetida) trees. Sometimes they are seen sitting in the topmost branches of trees smoking tobacco.  Underneath bridges is also a favorite place for a tikbalang to live.

Taming a Tikbalang

It is possible for those who have the will to tame a tikbalang providing they go about it in the correct way.  Once tamed they can be very useful servants but it is important to remember the following points when taming a tikbalang.

Tikbalangs have a thick mane that consists of sharp spines. The three thickest spines are the important ones to identify for those who want to tame a tikbalang.  According to Philippines tradition, it is possible to tame and train a tikbalang by obtaining any one of these three spines which will give the holder of the spine power over the beast and the tikbalang will then be their servant.

However, as may be expected, it is not an easy task to get one of these spines in the first place and the creature must first be subdued.  To do this it is necessary to leap upon its back and try and tie a specially prepared rope around it.   The tikbalang will respond by flying wildly through the air trying to buck off the rider who must hang on until the beast becomes exhausted and subdued.  The rider must then seek out the three spines which may be gold in color and thicker than the rest and pluck them out.  Once the rider has plucked out these spines the tikbalang will become their servant and serve them for the rest of their lives.

© 25/04/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 25th, 2017 zteve t evans

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Welsh Folklore: The Shepherd and the Bride from the Otherworld

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Painting by Adrian Ludwig Richter (1803 – 1884) –  Public Domain

Pentrefoelas Myths, Legends and Folklore

Myths, folktales and legends abound in the village of Pentrefoelas, Conwy, in North Wales and one such tale known as the Pentrefoelas Legend tells how a shepherd came across a girl in distress upon a hillside while he was tending his flocks.  The girl was like no other he had ever seen in his life and in his earnest attempt to comfort her he fell in love with her and she with him.  Although the girl was not from earth they married and had children and lived a happy life.  Sadly their happiness was shattered by a freak accident that broke a  promise the shepherd had made to his wife’s father.  This meant she had to return to the Otherworld where she came from and they were parted forever.  The story describes one of the few examples of the interbreeding of mortals with the inhabitants of the Otherworld and the descendants of the couple are still said to live among humans today.  The following is a rewrite of that tale.

The Pentrefoelas Legend

One misty morning, shepherd from Hafod-y-garreg was out in the pastures looking after the flock of sheep owned by his father .  It was not a particularly demanding task and his mind wandered as he looked around for something to engage his interest for a while.  His eye fell upon a peat-stack and as he looked he saw a girl sat besides it who appeared to be crying her eyes out.  Disturbed by the apparent distress of the girl he approached quietly and gently trying not to alarm her to see if there was something he could do to help.

Words of Love

As he drew nearer he was smitten by the beauty of the girl.  Never in his life had he seen a damsel so beautiful as she and to see her sobbing tugged at the strings of his heart.  Gently and quietly he began speaking words of love to her and she seemed to respond favorably stopping her tears.  Suddenly, an old man who was her father  appeared out of nowhere beckoning authoritatively to her to follow him. The girl unquestionably obliged and went off with him leaving the shepherd alone on the hillside with the sheep. The shepherd could not get the girl out of his mind and remained on the hillside until evening hoping she would return but she did not and eventually he went home as darkness fell.

The Girl from the Otherworld

The shepherd returned to the hillside every evening in the hope of seeing the girl again but she did not appear and he grew despondent, fearing he would never see her again.  He did not realize that in the Otherworld the girl was thinking about him.  She had been quite taken by his kindness and the words of love he had spoken had found a place in her heart and she now planned to return to earth to see the young man.  When the time was right she slipped away from her home her father and returned to the hillside on earth hoping to meet with the young man.  When she arrived on Earth she found the shepherd waiting on the hillside and made herself known to him.  He was overjoyed and poured out his feelings to her and she to him and the two began a loving relationship.

Meanwhile in the Otherworld her father had missed his daughter and was seeking her out but could not find her anywhere.  Remembering the incident when he had found her with the shepherd on the hillside he made his way to earth and appeared on the hillside next to the two lovers.  Although he was pleased to find his wayward daughter he was not happy that the two had fell in love and began demanding she return home to the Otherworld with him

The Marriage Contract

The shepherd told the girl’s father that he loved his daughter and wanted to marry her. He begged and pleaded so much that eventually the old man turned to his daughter and asked, “Is it really your wish to marry this mortal man from earth?”

His daughter told him that she did with all her heart.  The old man then replied, “Very well, I give my consent.  You shall be married but should he ever strike with iron then the marriage shall immediately cease and you must return to live in the Otherworld forever!”

Now, the shepherd was not a violent or argumentative man and could not believe he would ever find reason to strike the girl he loved.  The girl was so taken by the young man and his words of love she also could not believe such a thing could happen and readily agreed.  The two were married and her father gave them a large bag of gold as a wedding gift.

A Happy Marriage

They had a very happy marriage for several years and were blessed with children one after the other.   One day the couple decide they wanted to catch several ponies which at the time were living wild on the nearby hills.   Although both ran after them and tried several ways to trap them all attempts failed and the man grew frustrated.  In his frustration he threw the bridle way but as it flew passed his wife the iron bit struck her striking her shoulder.

The Broken Contract

They both froze and stood dumbstruck looking at each other with tears in their eyes.  They knew instantly that their marriage contract had been broken and her father appeared with a troop of the Fair Folk and led his daughter away.  As they faded from sight the devastated shepherd sadly turned away and went home to his children.  He never saw his beloved wife again, but much of the gold her father had given him still remained and he had his children whom he adored.  They  all bore a striking resemblance to their mother and became his only comfort through the long lonely years without her.  To this day the descendants of this couple can sometimes be seen here and there, recognizable by the faraway look in their eyes.

© 11/04/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 11th, 2017 zteve t evans

Legends of Saint Brannock: Cows, Sows and Seven Suckling Piglets

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White Sow with Piglets – From Wikimedia Commons – Image by Niko Pirosmani – diary-or-notes.cocolog-nifty.com – Public Domain

Saint Brannock lived in the 6th century and is believed to have traveled from South Wales to North Devon where he settled and built a church.   According to one legend, he was supposed to have arrived riding on a donkey.  A more imaginative tale tells how he supposedly floated across the Bristol Channel from Wales in a lech which was a stone coffin that Celtic saints were said to take along with them on pilgrimages.  At the time of his arrival the village of Braunton as known today did not exist.  There was a small pagan settlement set amid forest and scrub land.  This small community of small homesteads was centered around what is now Chapel Hill.

Saint Brannock’s Influence

St Brannock gave the community the name Brannock and taught the local people more efficient farming techniques and methods.   The people worshiped the pagan gods and spirits of  the woods and the rivers and were known to practice child sacrifice and St Brannock set about converting them to Christianity.  Despite difficulties he was successful and built the first church in North Devon there.

The White Sow and Seven Suckling Piglets

The site chosen for the new church was Chapel Hill but was beset by problems from the start.  No matter how hard they worked during the day when they retired at night they would wake in the morning to find that all their construction of the previous day was inexplicably thrown down.  This cycle continued until St Brannock received a visit from an angel that advised him that he should search for a new site.  This would be found where a slow flowing stream flowed through a meadow where a white sow would be found suckling seven piglets.   Pigs were thought to be a symbol of protection of the church and a mother with seven piglets was deemed very lucky.  St Brannock searched and found the place where a white pig was suckling seven piglets and the church was built there,  which also the place where today’s parish church of St Brannock stands.  The story of the white pig and piglets is depicted in a stained-glass window of the church and on one of its roof bosses. There is also a tradition that he yoked deer and used them to drag wood to be used in the building of the church.

Saint Brannock’s Cow

Another legend tells how St Brannock had a favorite cow that had been stolen and slaughtered by enemies he had made.  According to the legend, the cow was butchered and diced up and put in a large pot and hung over a fire to cook.  Strangely, neither the pot or the water it contained would become hot enough to cook the meat.  When St Brannock became aware of what had happened to his favorite cow he shouted out its name causing it to return to life whole and uninjured by its ordeal.  There is a carved pew end in Braunton Church that depicts this story showing the saint with a cow at rest behind him.

Saint Brannock

According to legend, when Brannock died he was buried in St Brannock’s church at Braunton  beneath the high altar. There are not many churches that can claim to hold the entire remains of their patron saint so this would be remarkable indeed. To add spice to the legend, during World War ll workmen carrying out work on the high altar found a stone coffin containing bones.  The coffin lid was replaced and the coffin returned and the hole made good.   Whose bones they were is not known but one naturally thinks of St Brannock and the legend.

© 05/04/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 5th, 2017 zteve t evans