Updated: Feb 9, 2022
Artwork by Isaiahpaul (Deviantart)
“When it comes to worshipping the gods, Maria, there is nothing too far,” father says. He shoves the wooden bowl toward you again, sloshing the red, viscous contents over the edge to slide down the edge and drip to the ground in a grisly streak.
Again you shake your head. You put out your hands in protest, but this only gives your father the chance to let go of the bowl. You catch it before gravity can steal it; as you know your father will react with violence, should you drop the bowl again. Its contents are valuable and rare, you cannot afford to waste them.
He watches you expectantly as you gaze grimly into the dark fluid. You know that he wants the best for you. He wants you to live forever, as he will, as all your people will, so long as you are willing to pay the price.
Why? you ask yourself, should I resign myself to the fleeting life of a human when I could live the lifespan of a thousand humans? All I have to do is . . .
Your father watches you expectantly. His only daughter, on the precipice of realizing eternal life, but a life filled with hunger and devoid of human companionship, on which you have come to rely. ‘It is only blood. All humans have it. All animals do. It is no different than eating the meat of an animal.’ his words ring in your head as you raise the bowl to your lips. Can you really drink it? Can you do so forever?
Perhaps it is not such a hard choice for the Danag to drink human blood. They are widely regarded as equal to human intelligence, if not far surpassing it. Thus, it stands to reason that each Danag would be an individual. Regardless of what these Philippine vampire-like folk creatures have in common, they are a species separate from humanity, once revered as gods.
The Danag myth might, in fact, be the oldest version of the vampire myth. Unlike many of the other examples of vampiric lore found around the world, and there is a vampire-type creature in nearly every culture, these creatures have maintained their cultural integrity, even in the face of European influence which has saturated creature accounts of so many other cultures. Philippine folklore is extremely fascinating and diverse in this way.
According to the classic belief of Danag, from the Isneg people of the Apayoa province (Clark, "Vampirism in the Philippines"), the Danag were once revered as god-like figures known for first cultivating the taro root. They used to live in harmony with humanity, until one day, a Danag drank the blood of a human girl.
Once the creature had tasted human blood, it was unable to stop drinking until it had drained its victim. Therein, the transformation had begun. The Danag became invincible, but the costs were a disconnect with and hunger for humanity. Since this loss of amiability between the races, the Danag have largely become feared creatures, rather than worshipped ones. Of course, that puts them more in line other vampire beliefs around the globe.
The commonality of vampirism and vampire-like creatures across many cultures makes sense. It alludes to the power of taking the ‘life force’ from another. Of draining people for one’s own power or eternal existence. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for example, vampirism is largely a metaphor for the taking of a woman’s virtue and the resultant power a man has over her.
Eternal life, similarly, is usually obtained by foul means, as the very idea of overcoming death is taboo in most cultures. Death is a natural part of life. Finding a way not to die, with the exception of artifacts like the holy grail, generally involves dark magic or deed, such as drinking human blood, eating human flesh, dealing with an evil entity, or outright necromancy.
Something that makes the Danag myth stand out is that it is not merely a perversion of humanity, as many western variations, nor is it simply a species of monster, it is a combination of the two. A Danag is a creature separate from humanity, known as a ‘living vampire’ as it is in no way an undead creature and it is similar to an angel or demon, as it is a fallen version of a being that was once seen as a god.
I absolutely love finding variations of common mythologies, and I had a great time researching the Danag. If this blog sparked your interest, I highly recommend checking out the Aswang Project, founded and curated by Jordan Clarke. He has a great article on the Danag and many other obscure folk creatures from the Philippines. I will certainly be revisiting his archives for later episodes of this show.
If you love Filipino folklore, I also recommend the show Stories with Sapphire by Sapphire Sandalo. She is a Filipino actress and producer, specializing in spooky stories from her homeland. She has won multiple ‘Best Podcast’ awards, and I couldn’t recommend her show higher.
So, would you drink human blood knowing you’d be doomed to do so forever if it meant eternal life? Does this dad need to be reported to CPS? Let me know what you think!