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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

Frightening Fiend

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

The Al, or Al Ana, in all her forms

The word Al or Hal, implies in Turkic dialects, red-coloured, fire or evil. Ana also means mother, giving her the name Al Ana in Tuvan, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijanese and Turkish.

In Pakistani lore, the Al appears in Baloch and Brahui lore. She is believed to be the Shaitan's (Satan) daughter and is known to attack women whilst they give birth.

Legend has it that a hunter came across a woman in the wilderness, holding a liver in her hand. It was Al. He fought her and forced her to return the liver to the victim and kept Al prisoner and in his service for 7 years, during which women were safe during childbirth.

In Afghan folktales, the Al threatens newborn babies and young men, especially bridegrooms. She appears in two forms: Madar-i-Al and Al-i-Dilkash.

Madar-i-Al (Al the Mother) is an ugly old woman with long teeth, nails, and glaring eyes. She moves about at night and kills babies in their cribs. She is often mentioned to scare children into obedience. Smoke from burning wild rue seeds is believed to protect babies from her attacks.

The Al-i-Dilkash (Al, the beautiful) is a sinister demon who takes the form of a beautiful young woman. Only that she has limbs of elastic and can stretch out her arms to rip apart the chest of a sleeping bridegroom and kill him.

In Iraq, Yezidi women, in order to ward off the Al, have a special deity, Pira-Fat. This Fat, undoubtedly, is Fatima (the Prophet Muhammad's daughter and the wife of 'Ali ibn Abi-Talib), a figure of significant stature amongst Muslims, and even more so in Iraq due to several sacred sites in the region.

Customs to protect women against the Al include placing sharp iron objects, like a pair of scissors, a knife, or a sword, near the new mother and etching a line around the bed.

The following prayers are recited:

For whom am I defending the fortress? For Maryam and her child. May they be blessed.

Thereafter, that sword is hung above the woman and her newborn's bed for 10 days until the latter is given its birth bath, as per Yedizi rituals. After the bathing, the Al is powerless to harm the mother and child.

Similar customs overlap with Iran, in regions bordering Iraq up to central Iran.

According to the beliefs of numerous Near Eastern peoples, God created for Adam first the Al as his consort, but being "earth-born", Adam could not adapt to the fiery al. In despair, God then created for Adam a new companion, Eve, "from the earth". This is the cause of enmity between the Al and her daughters with Eve and her female offspring.

The apotropaic means employed against the Al generally coincide with other methods used in exorcising demons (e.g., charms, amulets, spells, prayers, incense burning or iron objects, such as swords), scissors, etc., as well as garlic and onion.

Besides, after stealing a woman's internal organs during childbirth, the Al attempts as far as possible to make a rapid escape and get past the first source of water (brook, river, etc.), after which the new mother cannot be saved. Or, upon reaching water, the Al washes the liver and devours it. Consequently, when a woman's condition after childbirth worsens, it is necessary to stir the waters of a nearby brook or river with sticks or swords lest the Al should pass by.

She is known as Al Ana in Azerbaijan and Turkey. Famous for her wrath and anger, she dwells in thickets near rivers, lakes, and streams. She seizes human infants soon after they were conceived and supplants them with her kids, known as foundlings or changelings.

A changeling could be perceived by its extraordinary appearance – an unbalanced body with some sort of inability. A changeling is bound to throw angry fits towards individuals around it, dread its mom, restless and extraordinarily greedy. As a grown-up, it was impaired, gibbered rather than talked, and excessively questioned adults (something looked down upon and considered disrespectful in local culture).

To prevent a kid from being abducted by Al Ana, a mother needed to tie a red lace around its hand, put a red cap on its head, and shield its face from the light of the moon. Besides all this, no washing nappies after dusk! A mother should also not leave her sleeping child unattended.

Most in danger of turning into one of these fiends after death are midwives, old house cleaners, unmarried mothers, pregnant women who pass on before labour, and girls born out of wedlock.

After taking the organs of a woman, the Al Ana endeavours to get away and cross the main wellspring of water, after which the victim can’t be spared. Apotropaic words, firearms and a lot of noise are said to keep her away from water.

An excerpt from Armenian lore where the Al confesses to her sins:

I descend upon a woman in childbirth, I singe her ear, I tear off her liver, And I torment (strangle/suffocate) mother and child. Our food is the flesh of the mother's child and liver of the mother; And a seven-month-old child we steal away from its mother, Deaf and dumb we bring (the child) to our king in the Abyss.


This blog has been written by Miss Komal Salman.

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