There are many versions of the legend, which varies slightly throughout regions and traditions. However, the basics of the Aswang, or Aswaung, stay generally similar.
Many believe the beast to be a witch or sorcerer that is a master shapeshifter. It can be either a male or female. Although generally described as a bat or mothman-like creature, it has been noted to be able to change into other beasts. Most common of these are a pig, dog, or cat. All versions of the creature are noted to have glowing red eyes. Barangay: Sixteenth-century Philippine Culture and Society
According to legend the creature lies in wait for travelers to drag them off to its lair and devour their blood. It is also said to be a fan of the victim’s liver in particular. One text describes a Tagalog legend of the Aswang known as the Tik-Tik where he is always a male when not in animal form. He is thought to hunt pregnant women, stealing their unborn children with his long tongue to eat them. Philippine Folk Literature: An Anthology
In some traditions, the victim’s body will be replaced with a copy made from a tree trunk or other organic material. After several days, the copy will become horribly ill and die mysteriously.
It is believed that the Aswang is unable to attack individuals who are carrying a coin, because it is unable to pick them up. They are also believed to be deathly averse to garlic, which is frequently used as a deterrent to the creatures. Although the name “Aswang” is translated from Sanskrit to mean demon, many compare the creature to the Western vampire. In some traditions it is referred to as the “eater of the dead” Aswang Syncrasy in Philippine Society
Unlike traditional vampires, the Aswang is most often seen as a “daywalker”. It is unaffected by sunlight. They are most often thought to be shy individuals who keep to themselves and are undetectable from the rest of society. However, when your reflection is seen in the eyes of the Aswang during the day it is said to be upside down.
Some traditions have created special amulets and protective items against the Aswang. One example of this is a red and black beaded bracelet commonly worn by infants in some regions as a protective measure. It is believed that to destroy the Aswang you must destroy their heart.
Philippine folklore is an interesting blend of Eastern and Western traditions to create a unique hybrid form. This is due largely in part to the Philippines being the longest Western colonized country in the east which exposed the people to three and a half centuries of two main Western cultures. These cultures include the Spanish and the English.
There are over 150 different languages in the Philippines with many people only speaking one of these. This creates a wide range of regional diversity in folk legends passed down through each regional culture.
The Philippines draw from a variety of cultures due to their wide linking to various regions of the world. These include the Chinese, Indians, Arabia, and even America to name a few. This goes as far back to even the 9th century. Many believe the Philippines to be one of the cradles of civilization as evidence of man has been found on the islands dating back to ancient man. ( Society & Culture, Jocano)
Following the brief tumultuous Japanese occupation in the 1940’s, the Philippines adopted some small parts of Japanese culture as well. However, following WWII much of the Philippines was demolished and thousands of those living on the island had been slaughtered when it came back under American rule in 1945.
The past experiences of the Filipino people and the country have greatly changed their world-view, causing them to be wary of foreigners. What was once an open, welcoming nation had seen so many die as a result of their warmth and value for friendship. Those who had survived the periods of colonization had found themselves in a limbo of the cultures of the East and the West. All of this brings about a deep sense of pride in cultural heritage. A Handbook of Philippine Folklore
The pre-hispanic folklore is a rich ancient pagan tradition written on bamboo sections or leaves of plants. Most of the knowledge of this comes from a catalogue of the people by Spanish missionaries, chroniclers, and historians upon their arrival in the 1500’s. Various folklorists of the 1970’s believe that the traditions of these early indigenous people were akin to those of their southeast asian neighbors and Oceania. (Juan Fransisco, E. Arsenio Manuel)
During the American anthropological study of the Philippines, many references are made to the use of mythology and storytelling as a form of sorcery and ritual. ( Laura Benedict 1916, Roy F. Barton 1955, Claude Moss 1924)
The Christian tradition of the lowland Filipino people, particularly the Tagalog, produced a wide variety of folklore and superstition that reflected Western culture heavily. (Fletcher Gardner 1906, Dean Fansler 1921)
During the 1950’s and 60’s, following the utter destruction from WWII, there was a frantic effort to collect and categorize the “native” folklore of the Philippine people by the Bureau of Public Schools. This brought about a resurgence of nationalism that replaced the colonial attitude that had been present in the nation for so long. In 1958, the Philippine Folklore Society was created for a second time. This time it succeeded.
There has been rampant tampering in traditional Filipino folk legend for the modernization and popularization of the rich folklore traditions. They have also been altered to serve as learning tools in classrooms and other social areas.
An article from PhilStar Global tells of an Aswang that was terrorizing the towns of Maguindanao and Cotabato near Manilla, Philippines in May of 2015. One couple reports of being attacked in their sleep by the creature. Similar stories occurred within a 300 mile radius of this attack. (PhilStar Global) Reports of an attack from a large black cat occurred at the same time of the dog attack on the couple in Poblacion. (InterAskyon)
Also in May of 2015 a man in Tantangan, South Cotabato shot his daughter as she was coming home from a village dance. He had reportedly mistaken her for an Aswang as there had been various earlier reports of sightings of the creature in the area. (Inquirer.net)
In July of 2015 a man in Compostela Valley stated that he was cooking breakfast when a large black winged cat attacked him. (iweb.ph)
In July of 2014 a 70-year-old woman was beheaded by her son in Bacolod City, Philippines because he believed that she was an Aswang. Percival Gabitanan, 34, claimed that he was a drug user but was not under the influence at the time of the attack. (Inquirer.net)
A retired archbishop had stated in a 2012 interview that he believed that many of the Aswang sightings could be attributed to animals and other natural phenomenon. However, because the Aswang is so ingrained in the Philippno tradition individuals attribute strange occurrences to the supernatural creature. (Inquirer.net)
In June of 2012, the Capiz Governor Victor Tanco issued a challenge to capture an “Aswang” on film to local tourists who have created an eerie image for the town believed to be stalked by the creatures for years. The area had such a reputation for Aswang sightings that local hotels would put garlic under pillows in the 1980’s as a precaution for the beasts. (Inquirer.net)
A 2015 article on InterAskyon speculates that the wave of Aswang attacks that occurred that year may be the result of endemic rabies in dogs in the Philippines. (InterAskyon)
Aswang Images via Scary Side of Earth
Historic Philippines image via Internet Archive Book Images