The Krasue in Cambodia and as Kasu in Laos, is a nocturnal female spirit of Southeast Asian folklore. It manifests itself as a woman, usually young and beautiful, with her viscera hanging down from the neck, trailing below the head.
According to Thai ethnographer Phraya Anuman Rajadhon, the Krasue consists of a floating head accompanied by a will-o’-the-wisp kind of glow. The explanations attempted about the origin of the glow include the presence of methane in marshy areas. The Krasue is often said to live in the same areas as Krahang, a male spirit of the Thai folklore.
This spirit moves about by hovering in the air above the ground, for it has no lower body. The throat may be represented in different ways, either as only the trachea or with the whole neck. The organs below the head usually include the heart and the stomach with a length of intestine, the intestinal tract emphasizing the ghost’s voracious nature. In recent movie Krasue Valentine, this ghost is represented with more internal organs, such as lungs and liver, but much reduced in size and anatomically out of proportion with the head. The viscera are sometimes represented freshly daubed with blood, as well as glowing. In contemporary representations her teeth often include pointed fangs in yaksha or vampire fashion. In the movie Ghosts of Guts Eater she has a halo around her head.
Krasue has been the subject of a number of movies in the region, including Kon Aeuy Madai Ahp . Also known as Krasue Mom, this Cambodian horror film has the distinction of being the first movie made in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea after the absence of locally-made movies and the repression of local folklore in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era.
The Krasue is also found in the popular mythology of Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is called Penanggalan, Hantu Penanggal or Leyak, among other names. This spirit is also part of Vietnamese folklore, as ma lai, via the tribal societies of Vietnam’s Western Highlands. In the Philippines there is a similar ghost, Manananggal, a local spirit that haunts pregnant women.
In Thailand, there is a legend of a certain Khmer princess becoming the Krasue in centuries past after having been executed by burning. The marriage to a powerful Siamese nobleman had been arranged for this Khmer lady following the defeat of her people in war. She was very distressed, however, for she was in love with one of the conquering soldiers, a younger man of a lower status. Eventually she was caught with her lover and the offended Siamese aristocrat sentenced her to death by burning. Shortly before the execution the princess got a Khmer sorceress to cast a magic spell over her to allow her body to be unharmed by the flames. The spell was powerful, but its effect arrived too late, when most of the body of the princess had been burnt except for her head and some of her viscera. Thenceforward the non-charred remains were cursed to continue living as the Krasue ghost. A version of this Krasue folk tradition was enacted in the 2002 Thai horror film Demonic Beauty.
There are traditions that say that this spirit was formerly a rich lady that had a length of black gauze or ribbon tied around the head and neck as protection from the sunshine. This woman was then possessed by an evil spirit and was cursed to become a Krasue. Other popular legends claim that origin of the spirit may have been a woman trying to learn black magic that made a mistake or used the wrong spell so that her head and body became separated. Past sins are also related to the transmission of the Krasue curse; women who aborted or killed someone in a previous life will become a Krasue as punishment. Other folk stories talk about a person being cursed to become a Krasue after having consumed food and drink contaminated with a krasue’s saliva or flesh. Popular imagination also claims that the transformation into a Krasue is largely restricted to the relatives of women practicing witchcraft “Mae Mot” , especially their daughters or granddaughters. Often women acting strange in a community are suspected of becoming nightly a Krasue by other members of the village.
Description in Thai folklore
The Krasue is under a curse that makes it ever hungry and always active in the night when it goes out hunting to satisfy its gluttony, seeking blood to drink or raw flesh to devour. It may attack cattle or chicken in the darkness, drinking their blood and eating their internal organs. It may also prey on pieces of cattle, such as water buffalo that have died of other causes during the night. If blood is not available the Krasue may eat feces or carrion. Clothes left outside would be found soiled with blood and excrement in the morning, allegedly after she had wiped her mouth. Therefore villagers would not leave clothes hanging to dry outside during the night hours.
The Krasue also preys on pregnant women in their homes just before or after the childbirth. It hovers around the house of the pregnant woman uttering sharp cries to instil fear. It uses an elongated proboscis-like tongue to reach the fetus or its placenta within the womb. This habit, among other unmentionable things that this spirit does, is believed to be the cause of many diseases affecting women mainly in rural areas during their pregnancy. In some cases it may catch the unborn child and use its sharp teeth to devour it. In order to protect pregnant women from becoming victims before delivery, their relatives place thorny branches around the house. This improvised thorny fence discourages the Krasue from coming to suck the blood and causing other suffering to the pregnant lady within the house. After delivery, the woman’s relatives must take the cut placenta far away for burial to hide it from the Krasue. There is the belief that if the placenta is buried deep enough the spirit can not find it.
The Krasue hides the headless body from which it originates in a quiet place because it needs to join it before daybreak, living like a normal person during the day. To crush the still headless body of the krasue is fatal to the spirit. The flying head will return after hunting but rejoin with the wrong body which will lead it to suffer torment until death. If the top part of the body fails to find the lower half before daybreak it will die in terrible pain. The Krasue will also die if its intestines get cut off or if its body disappears or gets hidden by someone. Some folk beliefs hold that the creature can be destroyed by burning it. The main foes of the Krasue are mobs of angry villagers carrying torches and machetes. They may catch the Krasue and kill it or watch where she goes before dawn and destroy her body.