Episode 151: Flying Heads

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In many Sci-Fi and fantasy films, there are creatures that their heads can be separated from the body and move around. Today we will talk about some stories about flying heads in Chinese mythology.


In the book Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang 酉阳杂 俎, a book of Chinese and foreign legends and hearsay on natural phenomena, anecdotes and tales from the Tang dynasty 唐朝, around the 9th century, it says in the region of Lingnan 岭南, south of China, where the minorities lived, many people’s heads can fly away from their bodies. The day before the head would fly away, you can see a ring on the neck looking like the person is wearing a red rope. If this happens, the family need to stay up the whole night for the person. Guess the reason? They need to stand by because when the head flies back to the body, they could help to make sure the head lands on the right spot.


On the night, the person would feel dizzy like being sick, then wings would grow from the head. The head would fly away. The head usually fly to the bank to hunt for some crabs or earthworms and fly back before the sunrise. The family can help to put the head back. Not too long after the person would wake up. The person wouldn’t feel much different than waking up from a sleep but just feel really full in the stomach.

There are other books mentioned those people with flying heads. In the book In Search of the Scared 搜神记, a compilation of legends, short stories about Chinese gods, ghosts and other supernatural phenomena from the Jin dynasty 晋代, around the year 350, it says during the period of Three Kingdom, which is between the year 220 to 280, a general called Zhu Huan 朱桓 from the Kingdom Wu 吴国 has a maid. The maid was weird because her head disappeared at night every once a while. Zhu Huan was curious and observed the maid at night for a while. One night, he saw the maid went to bed and her head slowly left the body. The ears were like wings. The head flying out of the room from the windows sometimes through the dog holes and fly back before the sunrise.


One day, Zhu Huan just wanted to have some fun so when he waited until the head flew away, he covered the neck with the bed sheet. Before the sunrise, the head flew back and tried to land on the neck, it tried several times and fell on the ground. The face turned to pale and the body became cold. It seemed like the person was dying. Zhuan Huan removed the cover immediately and the head struggled to fly back to the head. Zhuan Huan always killed the maid by playing the prank on her. Not too long, he felt sorry and let the maid go home.

In the book ShiYiLu 拾遗录from the Jin dynasty 晋代 around the 4th century, there was a funny story about those flying heads. During the reign of Emperor Wu of Han 汉武帝, between the 157 BC ~ 87 BC, some people from the Kingdom YinChi 因墀 could separate their heads from the body. A man wanted to show off his skill, he told his head to fly to the south sea, the left hand fly to the east sea and the right hand fly to the west sea. After a day, the head flew back and landed on the neck. People asked, “wow! Very impressive! But where the hands are? ” The man signed, “oops! They were blown away by the wind. Since there aren’t eyes on the hands, they got lost.”




酉阳杂 俎 Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang

搜神记 In Search of the Scared

拾遗录 ShiYiLu


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