Sorry, I’ve Got No Head!

In my latest book, More Asexual Myths & Tales, I retell a story from Latin America that I call “The Wife With the Flying Head”. 

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I first came across this story in Jen Campbell’s The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers (2021). As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to retell it. 

It’s about a wife who - whenever she is in bed with her husband - finds her head detaches from her body and goes flying about without her body. The symbolism really related to my experience of being a married ace. 

I traced a source tale in The Journal of American Folklore (1907). That version is taken from El Salvador, but there are versions of the “flying head” myth across Southeast Asia and Latin America, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Bali, Chile and Argentina. Readers from those cultures may recognise it as a vampiric creature, and probably know a lot more about it than I do. In my story, it’s not vampiric; it’s just a flying head. 

However, here are two “flying head” creatures I discovered in my research.

Penanggalan

A monster which is just a woman’s head and internal organs.

In Malaysian mythology, the Penanggalan is the flying head and internal organs of a woman with long, black hair. She feeds on pregnant women and infants. She smells of vinegar, because she has to soak herself in the stuff in order to shrink her organs. There are many variations of her tale around South-East Asia. Read more about her

Chonchón


A head with wings
Chonchón, from this website.

The Chonchón originates in Mapuche folklore and mythology. It is a head with large ears which serve as wings. It is said to be the disguise of a calcu (sorcerer) whose head detaches from their body at night. They also suck blood, and can be prevented from re-attaching by turning the body onto its stomach. It is known by different names around Latin America. Read more about it in this article, which includes a Chilean version of the tale I retell. 

I think it would be interesting to read Jen Campbell’s and my retelling together. Neither of us has gone for all-out horror (although Jen’s is meant to be a bit creepy). Jen’s is aimed at children and takes more of a feminist stance, with the wife wanting to escape from a husband who isn’t very nice. Mine is not scary at all (I hope!) and is more about the dilemma of a wife wanting to be both present and absent when it comes to marital relations. Mine also includes an ending I found in the source book, about the couple’s daughter. But you’ll have to read the book to find out more!

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