Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Building a Philippine Bestiary: The Pugot

The Pugot as depicted by sculptor Ian Balba, and shown on
the website
of that excellent Filipino Urban fantasy/horror
comics series Trese, whose website is here.
Pugot means beheaded or headless, and when you have creature named pugot, you can imagine what we're looking at here.

Now while there are certainly parallels to the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame, there several things to consider when looking at it from the Philippine point of view:

There's a local tradition of monsters that can separate body aparts and reattach them. The manananggal -- the female monster who separates her upper half from her lower half and then flies around on bat wings -- is the most prominent. But it does suggest that some variants of the pugot (at least in a gaming setting, since I'm no expert on the subject) can sever and reattach the head at will.

There's a local tradition of monsters that look normal by day and become monstrous by night. Related to the prior statement, but subtly different, it applies not only to the manananggal but also to the shapeshifting aswang. There are stories of townspeople who know which fellow residents are these creatures but choose not to act unless they or their own have been threatened. Therefore, in a game setting, these creatures can be normal looking by day with a few warning signs that may distinguish them or hint at their monstrous nature: a slightly paler head than the body, a stiffness of the neck, partially frozen facial features that would be attributed to strokes or illness if they didn't recover fully the next day...

There are some lovely descriptions and behaviors of the monster that deviate from the Headless Horseman's portrayal. Some descriptions have a tongue of fire where the head should be. Despite its rumored ability to shapeshift (or give the illusion of a different appearance) it tends to appear as a large, black, headless humanoid. The black description may also be attributed to its fondness for dark and deserted places like groves or houses. It can move swiftly, capable of capturing snakes and insects found in trees and feeds on them by stuffing them down its headless stump.


  1. Very cool. It's great to keep to see unusual (and gameable!) things from other cultures.

  2. The pugot was one of the monsters that creeped me out the most when I first read stories about it. Running into a headless being, or a floating severed head, always makes a really disturbing visual for me. :)

    Another interesting aspect of the 'detacher' type monsters in Filipino myth is the purifying effect of salt on them. In the stories, sprinkling salt on the inactive part of the body either destroys the creature or prevents reattachment, and thus makes it impossible to resume human guise.

    Game-wise, the challenge here could be to find the body, elude or hold off the creature as it tries to defend its body, and apply the salt -- the last could be a challenge in itself if it's not just a matter of sprinking it, but rather a purification rite.

  3. @Trey: thanks; for me it's lovely to re-discover your own culture's lower mythology (if a bit frustrating given the inconsistencies)

    @Dariel: is it salt only? I thought fresh garlic worked as well for 'detachers'. And I've never read stories with the pugots, just heard them mentioned.

  4. IIRC, in the Ifugao province there's another headless monster called Numputul (a good spirit who eats bugs throwing them inside his neckhole).

  5. @Hamel: interesting. I know putul can mean "to cut" or "severed". It may be part of the same family of monsters.

  6. Other interesting details - according to my source - are that a Pugot can dwell both inside deserted houses or on treetop (tamarind and ficus indica seem to be pretty common also for other spirits) and that he's light-sensitive (you make him flee just with the light of a match).

  7. I do remember some of those details -- thought the fear of light is somewhat troubling in a gaming environment.

    Though a creative GM can make an interesting encounter with a Pugot and other supplementary creatures I'm sure.

  8. Salt and ash. I didn't include garlic because it smells (ha ha) like a later inclusion from Spanish or even Hollywood sources.

    I think salt and ash are considered spiritually powerful because of their cleansing/preservative uses. Salt halts decay, while ash can be made into lye soap, or used to sop up unwanted material -- it's how traditional cooks get the slime off catfish and eels, for example.

  9. Where can I find his thesis? His sculptures were said to be inspired by his thesis. I want to read it.

  10. Bea, I'm sorry -- I don't know where to find his thesis? Perhaps his school?


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.