The Mythical ‘Toyol’ – Sneaky Spirit with a sweet tooth

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According to Javanese mythology, the creature is believed to be kept by a person practicing pesugihan tuyul black magic. Pesugihan is derived from Javanese word sugih means “rich”. It is a kind of magic to help people to become rich instantly, but in exchange he or she must perform some rituals or offering tumbal (sacrifice something) to keep the tuyul happy. According to Javanese myth, tuyul can be kept for financial gain, but in exchange a female member of the family must allow it to breastfeed from her, sucking blood instead of milk.


People normally associate the appearance of a toyol with that of a small baby, frequently that of a newborn baby walking naked with a big head, small hands, clouded eyes and usually greenish skin. More accurately, it resembles a goblin or grey alien. It can be seen without the use of magic, though they are unlikely to be spotted casually.

Those who did claim to encounter it described its actual appearance to be childlike (a toddler) with green/gray skin, bald, big red (alien-like) eyes, pointy ears and rows of sharp teeth, and sometimes reported with hairs, like a monkey. Its behaviour is more animal-like. It tends to climb on rooftops either to play or prior to entering houses.

According to the Malaysian Constitution, to be a Malay you must be Muslim; and according to tradition, to be a true Malaysian Muslim you must not believe in superstition (tahyul). In practice, though, the folk legends of Malaysia are still very popular; and in spite of the rigid disapproval of the local moral authorities, people still speak in whispers of the traditional ghosts and monsters like the pontianak (a woman who has died in childbirth and returned as a vampire) or the pocong (a spirit that doesn’t realize it’s dead, and wanders the earth wrapped in its burial shroud).

In 2006, a Malay fisherman found something in his net that scared him out of his wits. It was a glass jar, the sort that might once have contained instant coffee. Inside the jar was a small black figure — a doll perhaps; it was shaped like a baby and had red eyes. Also inside the jar were some bits of onion, some sand, and a yellow thread. This would probably be disturbing enough if there hadn’t been any local stories attached to such a thing. But in fact, this piece of flotsam strongly resembled a supernatural creature from Malay folklore. The fisherman, much to his horror, was convinced he had stumbled upon a toyol.

A toyol is a dead fetus or stillbirth that’s been re-animated by black magic. It’s usually kept in a jar, or a box, and given offerings of food — often a few drops of blood from the creature’s summoner. In return for the food and protection, the toyol will lurk around the village at night, running errands for its master… errands the summoner would rather not be seen doing himself. Typical “errands” would include petty thefts or vandalism, which the toyol could get away with because of its tiny size.

Since the toyol is really only a child, it would rarely be used for more serious mischief. Still, possessing a toyol is considered very dark magic indeed. Furthermore, though there are many legends about the ways to obtain a toyol, there are none about getting rid of one. So you can understand why the fisherman was upset by what he’d found.

The fisherman gave the bottle to his local bomoh, or shaman (although the existence of such mystics is also officially disapproved of); and the bomoh turned it over to a museum. The museum theorized it was some sort of fetish figure that had been used in a healing ritual, and had been cast into the water as part of that ritual. Not knowing what else to do with it, they put it on display for a while — and drew record crowds from visitors anxious for a glimpse of the Real Supernatural. Eventually, the thing in the jar was returned to the sea… but not before hundreds of people had come to see it.


It is sometimes called the “Kwee Kia” in Hokkien. In Thailand, they are called Koman-tong (Male) and Koman-lay (Female). In Philippines they have a similar child spirit called the “tiyanak”. In Cambodia they are called “Cohen Kroh”. In South Korea called “Do Yeol”. It is a small child spirit invoked by a dukun (Indonesian shaman) or pawang (Malay witch doctor) from a dead human fetus using black magic.

This creature can be evoked to work with a human under its own terms. There are different versions on the method to possess a Toyol:

  • Purchase a Toyol from a black magician.
  • Making use of an aborted baby and through special embalmment techniques.
  • Evoke a Toyol from its dwelling place.

A Toyol is like a child, so it needs to be treated as such. In order to foster a closer relationship with this creature, below offering should be presented:

  • A cup of milk every morning.
  • Some toys, clothing, sweets and biscuits.
  • A black candle and incense accompanied with mantras.
  • Some will smear a few drops the owner’s own blood to the Toyol statue.

A person who owns a toyol uses it mainly to steal things from other people, or to do mischief. According to a well-known superstition, if money or jewellery keeps disappearing mysteriously from your house, a toyol might be responsible. One way to ward off a toyol is to place some needles under your money, for toyols are afraid of being hurt by needles.


In old village tales, people keep toyols for selfish but petty gains. They use such spirits for theft, sabotage and other minor crimes. With special rituals the toyol can be made powerful and perform murder. A person who suddenly becomes wealthy without explanation might be suspected of keeping a toyol. The toyol is kept in a jar or an urn, and hidden away in a dark place until needed.

What happens at the end of the “contract” is not very clear. It could be that the tablet, along with the urn, is buried in a graveyard (with the relevant rituals), and the spirit is then laid to rest. An alternative method is to dispose them in the sea. Or else, a toyol gets passed down in a family through the generations. This seems to suggest that once you obtain a toyol, not only are you stuck with it for the rest of your life, but all your descendants will also be condemned to own it.

However, it can still get released by either the owner or “bomoh” (shaman) to roam free. Without a master, it would stray into the jungle or visit homes as an observer without disturbing residents. Based on an anecdote, a toyol confessed that it likes to peek into people’s lives apart from the occasional distraction of playing with any toys found within houses. Simply put, toyol is quite harmless without a master but like a gun, it can turn to crime or mischief under the command of an unscrupulous individual.

When it comes to stealing money or jewellery, people wonder how the toyol can find such valuables in hidden places where even humans fail to find them. There is speculation that it can somehow see through walls or barriers with its big red eyes (like infra-red) to spot hidden valuables but this is unconfirmed. After stealing, the only traces of its presence are its childlike footprints and fingerprints found at the crime scene if it happens to have dust on its hands and feet. Otherwise, people would not suspect that a toyol had raided their premises.

Toyol and The Newly Wed Bride

It has been said that if any family member of a bride or groom own a toyol, the toyol will visit the newly wed couple before dawn. And it will suck the blood from the bride’s toe until the bride wakes up. This is to enhance the toyol’s power. Meaning after sucking bride’s toe, the toyol shall become faster and stronger. It is crucial if the owner wants the toyol to be more capable in stealing money.


Although seemingly cunning, toyols are supposedly not very intelligent. It is said that they are easily deceived by marbles, beans and sand and strands of garlic hanging on the door post or placed on certain parts of the house. The toyol will start playing with these items until it forgets its task at the intended victim’s house. Money placed under mirrors has the potency to ward off toyols due to a fear of their reflection.


In Thailand, they are known as Koman-tong, for male sprits, and Koman-lay for females. Literally translated as “Golden Child”. They are used for protection, they can whisper in your ear of impending danger. Koman-tongs are usually wandering souls of dead children that the monks would adopt and give them a “replacement body”. The “replacement body” is usually a small statue carved out of tree bark, coral or baby bone. It is then placed in a container, soaked in perfume or chicken blood.

The story of the Golden Child comes supposedly from a 19th-century Thai tale called, “Khun Chang Khun Paen”. In brief, the story goes:

Khun Paen was a soldier, 400 years previous, a time when supernatural forces played an important part of traditional warfare. Khun Paen had wanted a protective spirit to watch over him in battle. To this end he cut the unborn foetus of his son from his dead wife’s womb and took it to a temple to perform an occult rite. He wrapped the child’s torso in sacred cloth and roasted it on a fire whilst chanting ritual mantras and dark incantations to create the supernatural being with whom he could communicate.

The more powerful Kuman-tong are made by sorcerers living in the mountains. They would soak the “replacement body” in (literally corpse oil). This ingredient seems to be crucial as it gives the toyol additional powers. Corpse oil is collected by removing the dead corpse’s chin (using a knife to cut through the bones) and cooking on a hot pan until the oil oozes out. These Thai ones are more subdued and even tempered, as the monks would chant to them daily.

Kwee Kia

Kwee Kia is the Chinese version of the toyol. These are made from either a fetus that miscarried or been aborted. A medium will take these small corpses and chop off their heads. Once the heads are collected, they will be dried out and cooked to obtain their corpse oil while the bones from the bodies are carved to become replacement bodies. These have to be specially ordered before you can get one.

If the fetus is five months old, they would crave the replacement body out of its own bone, in which case they are supposedly more powerful. Different Kwee Kia have different uses and different names. Usually the ones made in the deep mountains are stronger.

Characteristic of a Toyol/Kwee Kia

  • They will protect the owner, talk to him, accomplish tasks for him. Some toyols are tasked to find spirits of wandering children so that they can be made into toyols.
  • They do not like to be abandoned and will kill when provoked. They can kill by either slashing one’s throat with their long claws or squeezing one’s heart, amongst others.
  • They can pass through walls or even human bodies and see into the human body (hence some mediums use them to give medical advice).
  • They are known to take possession of their owner’s body if they are hungry at night. Due to their preference for raw meat, the owners sometimes end up eating raw meat from their fridges in the middle of the night, without even knowing it. The eating of raw meat also makes the toyol stronger.
  • They are intensely jealous, especially when they know that a new child is on the way.
  • Their powers will increase with each year.
  • The owner has to feed it blood the 14th of each month (they seem very particular about their eating patterns. They will not touch something as disgusting as a sanitary pad)
  • They are used for finding information for their owners:
    Giving their owners information at the gambling table but it is typically difficult because the casinos would usually have their own toyols guarding the place. The casino would also have employed other spiritual masters to bless the place with gods so that outside toyols cannot enter. The owner would have better luck if he was playing with his friends or an unprotected place.
    They are also used by fortune tellers who will get their toyols to give background information on their customers so that they will be convinced of the fortune teller’s prowess.
  • They can even help their owner (if male) to seduce women.
  • But they can turn against their owner, if there is a child on the way. It will become jealous, causing the owner to have bad luck, constantly losing things and even confusing the owner.
  • When you get the toyol initially from the Spiritual master, he will teach you how to control it. He will teach you a few chants so that you can tell the toyol instructions such as (1) to eat (2) look for information you need (3) do certain tasks. There is even a chant to the effect that it will “get beaten/caned” if it’s not obedient.
  • If it is not well taken care of, it will sometimes create trouble for the owner so that it will be taken back to the spiritual master that created it so that it can complain to him against the owner.
  • In order to get rid of a toyol, you have to take it back to the spiritual master that made it. But complications arise when that master dies. Then the spiritual master’s disciple will have to be sought to solve the problem. If no disciple is to be found, it then becomes a big problem! Other spiritual masters/ghost catchers can be called in to convince it to go.
  • The toyols ultimately wants to be reborn/reincarnated. But some choose not to take that path because when they are reincarnated, they may not be reborn as humans again. Because of what they are and what they have done, judgment will be passed onto them and they will have to go through a few cycles lasting a few hundred years (risking reborn as animals first), before they can be reborn ultimately as a human. Hence they may choose to stay a toyol. The owner can choose the toyol to take over the body of his unborn child.
  • In the event that the bottle/jar is broken, they will be stronger as they are now freed and there is nothing to restrain/control them. The owner will also be punished for breaking the bottle. The owner will then have to get the bottle replaced and get it refilled with corpse oil.
  • The bottle has to be put under the moon to absorb its energy so that it will be strong. Blood is dripped into the bottle every 14th of the month. Corpse oil has to be refilled if the levels drop in the bottle.
  • Like a child, when telling the toyol to accomplish a task, very specified instructions have to be given to it. E.g. You need it to steal a $10,000 for you. You have to go through the steps of (1) showing it the different denominations. (2) telling it what the rewards of bring back the different denomination, $10 will get it a certain amount of sweets and with $50, it will get it a bigger amount (3) showing it what a 10 thousand note look like and telling it the reward for bringing the note back.
  • It cannot help make predictions for four-digit numbers. But it rare cases where it is a powerful toyol, it can approach a spirit/ghost for numbers. But this seldom happens.
  • It understands different languages.
  • It likes to be treated like a baby. Enjoys hugs like a baby and listening to lullabies. Usually under the beds of the owners, there will be toys, marbles, toy cars and baby sucklers. Likes to be rewarded with sweets and toys. Some of them will even ride a child’s tricycle. They supposedly also like to play with water.
  • To find out if the house has a toyol, you can line up matchbox toy cars in a line. You will find them moving on their own.
  • During meal times, the owner and the toyol have to eat together. A plate of food, the same as what the owner is eating, has to be placed beside the owner during mealtime. If the owner forgets to feed the toyol, he will find bruise(s) on his body to serve as warning. If circumstance really does not allow them to eat together, then the toyol has to be fed first before the owner eats. Food that has been offered to the toyol and “eaten” by it, supposedly spoils very quickly.
  • It is not true that you can abandon a toyol overseas. Supposedly it can latch itself onto people’s luggage and make its way back.
  • ecause the toyol is consistently fed with the owner’s blood, it has established a link with the owner. With the passing of time, the link is so strong that there is no need for spoken words and the two can communicate via “the heart” . Eventually it can even read the owner’s thoughts. In some cases, they are aware that the owner is thinking of abandoning them before the deed is done. Sometimes they choose to communicate to the owner in their dreams.
  • They sometimes complain to the owner if it is not treated right. It has to be treated with tender loving care . Owners when getting one of these toyols have to know that they have a responsibility towards looking after them and not only be concern about the benefits they bring. They are not pets that can be abandoned.
  • Malays who keep toyol like to pass it down to their children because they know the toyol has helped them and it can continue to do the same for their children.
  • Initially when it is brought back, its presence may not be felt. But as it spends more and more time in the house, you will know if it’s around.
  • There are also female toyols. But male ones are more common as the girl toyols are more vicious and difficult to control. The bond with their owners is stronger and closer, hence they are more possessive and jealous. They also tend to be stubborn. If they want something, there will be no negotiation. Their preference for toys would be dolls and not cars. They will not perform all the tasks of the boy toyols. They are more homebound and hence will not perform tasks such as stealing. They are usually used to defend the house and beat up baddies. Due to their “lack of usefulness” and control issues, female toyols are not common.
  • Toyols are dressed. Owners would buy children clothes, placing them in the cupboard for them to wear.
  • If the toyol knows that the owner is planning to destroy it, it will make sure that the owner dies together with it.

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