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Al Karisi: The Scarlet Woman

Updated on December 6, 2019
Yamuna Hrodvitnir profile image

Yamuna tries to use her study of history and her own experiences to create meaningful and informative articles.

Illustration of an Al demon
Illustration of an Al demon | Source

Demons of Childbirth

Al Karisi is a demon in Turkish folkore whose name means “the Scarlet Woman,” or “the Red Woman.” The word “Al” is a reference to a particular class of demon recognized in the regions of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and some parts of the Middle East. Als are demons associated with childbirth, fertility, and pregnancy. There are many different demons within this class, but they tend to share certain traits such as a taste for internal organs, and while they can be either male or female, they almost always appear in the form of an old woman. Al Karisi is one of these demons, and she has influenced a lasting tradition in Turkey.

Stories suggest that Al Karisi is a shapeshifter who may appear in one of countless different forms. It is said that she comes in the shape of a large bird, a cat, or even a large canine. Most often however, she is said to prefer the shape of large, elderly woman dressed in red. This image is often terrifying, as her features are distorted and ugly, and her size is overwhelming. She may also take the shape of someone that the victim knows.

Artistic Depiction of Al Karisi
Artistic Depiction of Al Karisi | Source


It is said that Al Karisi stalks women who have recently given birth to a child. Many Al demons will kidnap or otherwise harm infants, but Al Karisi is primarily interested in the new mothers. She watches and waits for the mother to fall asleep before entering the room and cutting out the woman’s liver. She has hypnotic powers which render her targets paralyzed when they meet her gaze. It is said that they can be fully conscious and aware of what’s happening but unable to move or to call out while the demon tears into them and takes their organs. When she strikes her victims, it doesn’t leave a bloody murder scene. There are no gashes, cuts, or even bruises upon her prey. It appears to the world that the woman suffered a sudden and mysterious death in her sleep.

While Al Karisi is a terrifying entity, and threat to all new mothers who brings with her fear and death, her intentions are not necessarily malicious. According to the lore, she requires the livers of new mothers in order to feed her own children. She doesn’t stalk and kill for fun or even for her own dietary needs, but to provide for her young. This presents the tragic philosophical concept of a life for a life. Is it much different from any other being who kills to feed its family?

Illustration of Sleep Paralysis
Illustration of Sleep Paralysis | Source

Tradition and Explanations

Legends surrounding Al Karisi have prompted a tradition in Turkey which survives to this day. Women who have recently given birth sleep with a blade underneath them for some time afterward. The blade can be almost anything whether it be a dagger, a kitchen knife, or a pair of scissors. It is believed that the Scarlet Woman can’t touch your or get to your liver if you have a blade on your person. Other amulets and warding mechanisms are also used, but the blade is the most common method of keeping her at bay.

Demons and entities associated with childbirth and pregnancy exist within many cultures, so Al Karisi and the other demons within her class aren’t necessarily unique. There are stories of fae that kidnap infants and small children, some who replace them with other fae, there are monsters that feed on infants exclusively, and even some who can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. It is likely that humans have always sought a tangible explanation for the vulnerabilities that come with these stages of life. Before medical sciences uncovered the causes of certain illnesses and deaths among newborns and new mothers, it likely seemed as though some supernatural force was taking these lives. Al Karisi’s power of paralysis and hypnosis coupled with her preference for sleeping victims suggests that she may have been an early explanation for the phenomena of sleep paralysis.

© 2019 Yamuna Hrodvitnir


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