Written by Jonathan Wojcik

December 23: Rangda and the Leyak!

   Many times now on Bogleech, we've talked about mythological vampires, ghosts and witches who fly with only their head and entrails; it's pretty much a basic template for wicked creatures of Southeast Asian lore, but I've yet to properly introduce you to some of the most fiendish and culturally important of all: the Balinese Leyak, minions of the demon queen Rangda. Human in appearance by day, these black magicians take on a hideous visage after dark, their heads and entrails breaking away - just like the Penanggalan and Krasue - to hunt for sustenance, whether the putrid bodies of the dead or the fresh blood of the living. Naturally, the unborn are a favorite treat.

Bali Online

   Masks like this one, with their hooked tusks, bulging eyeballs and enormously long tongues, are an incredibly common sight throughout Bali and the surrounding region. Even here in the states, chances are good that you've seen at least one; maybe at an antique store, a museum or a souvenir shop, though its significance is lost on most of us Westerners. In its homeland, this distinct face is recognized as that of Rangda (meaning "Widow"), the queen of all Leyak, an embodiment of evil, destruction and darkness whose disembodied head is nonetheless hung up in homes and temples as a sacred, even protective icon.

   Whether Rangda herself ever detaches from her torso doesn't seem to be specified, though she's plenty frightening in full body, covered in dark hair or feathers and with gnarled, bird-like talons for fingers. Performers dressed as Rangda are essential to the traditional Barong dance, acting out her legendary battles with the lion-like Barong, king of benevolent spirits.

   Rangda seldom appears in popular culture outside her native country, though the Megami Tensei video game series leaves few mythological stones unturned.

   Cartoon Network's lovable Aku brings to mind Rangda in a number of ways; while also drawing heavily from Chinese dragons and Japanese oni, Aku shares Rangda's "embodiment of evil" aspects and shape shifting powers. I ship it.