What is a Flying Head Demon?
The Flying Head Demon, known as 飛頭蠻/飛頭䝤 in Chinese and Hitouban in Japanese, originates from Gan Bao(干宝)’s records in the Jin Dynasty’s ‘In Search of the Supernatural(《搜神记》).‘
This mythical creature, also called ‘辘轳首’ (rokurokubi), appears normal during the day but transforms at night. Its neck extends longer than a giraffe’s, and the head detaches, flying out the window while the body remains seemingly asleep. By dawn, the head returns, and the creature resumes normal activities, often with no memory of the night.
In human form, some flying head demons are unaware of their long-necked nature, acting unconsciously under its influence. During flight, the creature uses ears as wings and feeds on insects. Legends depict them as female, freely roaming at night to observe favored males sleeping.
There are two types: those who control their movement, forming terrifying groups that feed on human blood, and those who drift aimlessly in an unconscious state.
A superstition warns against marrying women with visible red lines on their necks, as they might be long-necked monsters. For the drifting type, if the head doesn’t return by morning, the long-necked monster dies and won’t wake up again.
The Famous Folklore about the Flying Head Demon
According to a legend recorded in ‘In Search of the Supernatural(《搜神记》)’, during the Three Kingdoms period, the great general Zhu Huan(朱桓) of the Wu Kingdom encountered the “Flying Head Demon Clan(落头氏)”.
Zhu Huan had a maidservant whose head would fly away each night and return just before dawn. One night, as the maidservant’s head flew out, Zhu Huan’s female companion, in a daze, noticed the quilt sliding off him. Wanting to help, she covered the gap on the maidservant’s neck with the quilt, unaware of the consequences.
In the morning, when the maidservant’s head tried to return, unable to find her covered body, it fell to the ground, barely clinging to life. Zhu Huan entered the room, witnessing this shocking scene. The maidservant, using her eyes to signal Zhu Huan, desperately tried to fly her head back. Understanding the situation, Zhu Huan rushed forward, pulled back the quilt, and the maidservant, with a last effort, flew her head back to its original position, restoring her to normal.
Although Zhu Huan saved the Flying Head maidservant’s life, an underlying unease remained, and he regarded the “Flying Head Demon Clan” as an ominous anomaly.
Check here if you want to read a complete English translation of all stories in book ‘In Search of the Supernatural’.
Love Story of the Flying Head Demon Clan
Once upon a time, a flying head demon (飛頭䝤) flew out of his body at night. Suddenly, he saw his daughter’s head flying next to the head of a boy from another family. They were eating a fish together by the stream. When it was time to say goodbye, they were reluctant to part. When the flying head demon returned home, he arranged for his daughter to marry the boy from the family.
More Records on the Flying Head Demon
In the Tang Dynasty, there are some records of stories about flying heads in the miscellaneous notes novel collection ‘Youyang Zazu(《酉陽雜俎》)‘ created by Duan Chengshi(段成式).
To the east of Ye Shan, southwest of Long Cheng, lies a vast expanse of land, spanning a thousand miles. This area is covered in saline-alkali soil, and travelers passing through must rest on felt before their oxen and horses. In the caves south of the Five Ridges, there are often people whose heads can fly, hence the name “Flying Head Demons.”
The day before their heads take flight, there are marks on their necks – a red line encircles it, signaling to their wives and children to be on guard. At night, these individuals appear unwell, and suddenly their heads detach and fly away. The heads land by the riverbank, where they consume crabs, earthworms, and the like. Only as dawn approaches do the heads return, akin to waking from a dream, yet with a satisfied feeling of a full stomach.
According to Buddhist monk Pu Sa Sheng, in the Shapo Kingdom, there are people whose heads can fly. These individuals lack pupils in their eye sockets, and when their heads fall, someone recorded the strange occurrence. In the southern regions, known as “Fallen People,” their heads can fly, and the deity they worship in their temples is called “Chong Luo,” hence the name “Fallen People.”
In the past, Zhu Huan had a maidservant whose head could fly at night.
In “The Records of Wang Zixian(《王子年拾遺》),” it is mentioned that during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han, there were people in Chi Kingdom’s southern region who could separate their bodies. Their heads could fly to the South Sea, their left hands to the East Sea, and their right hands to the West Sea. At night, their heads returned to their shoulders, but the strong winds carried their hands overseas.