A manananggal is described as being an older, beautiful woman, capable of severing its upper torso using black magic in order to fly into the night with huge bat-like wings to prey on unsuspecting pregnant women in their homes; using an elongated proboscis-like tongue, it sucks the hearts of fetuses or blood of an unsuspecting, sleeping victim.

Another cause where one becomes a Penanggal in Malaysian folklore is due the result of a powerful curse or the actions of a demonic force although this method is less common than the active use of black magic above mentioned. All Penanggal are females and there is no variation in Malaysian folklore to suggest a Penanggal to be male.

A notable difference between a Penanggal and Manananggal is that a Penanggal detaches only her head with her lungs, stomach and intestines attached to it while leaving the body in a pre-prepared container filled with vinegar to preserve the body against rapid decomposition. Additionally, unlike the Manananggal which uses a proboscis-like tongue, a Penanggal is also commonly depicted as having fangs. The number of fangs varies from one variation of the folklore to another ranging from two which is common to vampirekind in folklore to a mouthful of fangs.



The Penanggalan's victims are traditionally pregnant women and young children. Like a banshee who appears at a birth rather than a death, the Penanggalan perches on the roofs of houses where women are in labour, screeching when the child is born. The Penanggalan will insert a long invisible tongue into the house to lap up the blood of the new mother. Furthermore, some even believe that those whose blood the Penanggalan feeds upon contract a wasting disease that is almost inescapably fatal.

A Penanggal is said to feed on human blood or human flesh although local folklore (including its variations) commonly agrees that a Penanggal prefers the blood of a newborn infant, the blood of woman who recently gave birth or the placenta (which is devoured by the Penanggal after it is buried). All folktales also agree that a Penanggal flies as it searches and lands to feed.

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All folklores agree that a Penanggal flies as it searches or lands to feed. One variation of the folklore however claims that a Penanggal is able to phase or pass through walls.

A manananggal is also said to create other manananggals by tricking ordinary persons to drink the manananggal's blood, similar to the vampires' making an ordinary person to drink vampire blood.

One variation of the folklore claims that a Penanggal is able to pass through walls. Other, perhaps more chilling, descriptions say that the Penanggal can ooze up through the cracks in the floorboards of a house, rising up into the room where an infant or woman is sleeping. Sometimes they are depicted as able to move their intestines like tentacles.

Superstitious folk in the Vizayan provinces still hang cloves of garlic or onion around windows, doors, etc. with the purpose of repelling this creature as well as the aswang. Similar folklore can be found in the neighbouring Malaysia although with notable differences noted below. In households, where a newborn is expected, branches from the thistle, jeruju, are hung about the doors and windows. The theory is, the Penanggalan's entrails will become ensnared in the thorns, and she will be held there until morning, when she is vulnerable to dispatch.

The Penanggalan seems to have full control over her organs, using them as an octopus manipulates its tentacles, yet this fact is often overlooked in descriptions. The Penanggalan would use her entrails (primarily her small intestine, because of their length) to perform a variety of common mechanics, as well as using them to constrict her prey.

The most common remedy prescribed in Malaysian folklore to protect against a Penanggal attack is to scatter the thorny leaves of a local plant known as Mengkuang which would either trap or injure the exposed lungs, stomach or intestines of the Penanggal as it flies in search of its prey.

A prescribed method of permanently killing a Penanggal requires for it to be carefully followed and tracked back to its lair (which is always well hidden), the person or creature to be positively identified and the act of destroying it is carried out the next time the Penanggal detaches itself from its body. Once the Penanggal leaves its body and is safely away, it may be permanently destroyed by either pouring pieces of broken glass into the empty neck cavity which will sever the internal organs of the Penanggal when it reattaches to the body or by sanctifying the body and then destroying the body by cremating it or by denying the Penanggal from reattaching to its body upon sunrise. Sprinkling salt, smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso would also be fatal.

According to another tradition, Penanggalan's entrail discharge, in addition to being caustic or disease carrying, spoils the earth where it drops in quantity, causing the growth of a hideous thorny plant, that spreads like a weed. The plant is sometimes described as possessing colorful bioluminescence in its leaves, which glow brighter when the wind blows. Tracking down of the Penanggalan's lair is simplified by the tell-tale presence of the Penanggalan briar.

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