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I just finished watching the all-time classic, “Gremlins.”  The movie is about cute (sort of), furry creatures called Mogwai who transform into a vicious monsters and terrorize a local town.  This is a great movie, but one thing always mystified me…  What is a MOGWAI?


The term Mogwai has two transliterations. In Cantonese, mogwai is derived from the word 魔怪. The first character “魔(mo, ma)” means ‘devil.’  This term could possibly have itis origins in the Sanskrit word, “Mara,” which is the Buddhist personification of evil, and “magi” (plural of magus) an ancient word with many different meanings but one that has been most closely associated with users of magic.  The second character “怪(gwai, gui)” means “to blame” deriving its original meaning of deceased spirits or souls of the dead who take vengeance on living humans who caused them pain when they were alive.

The Mandarin transliteration of mogwai is mogui (魔鬼). The first character means the same as described previously.  The second character “鬼(gui)” means “ghost.”

Chinese-language biblical texts translate Satan in the Book of Job and the Greek term “diabolos” as mogui.

“According to Chinese tradition, mogwai are certain demons who often inflict harm on humans.  They are said to reproduce sexually during mating seasons triggered by the coming of rain.  Supposedly, they take care to breed at these times because rain signifies rich and full times ahead.”  However, these days the term mogwai is generally used to describe an evil ghost or creature of non-specific origin.  In today’s Daoist exorcism and Jiangshi rituals, peachwood swords are used to fight mogwai.

unrelated info:

In the novel Gremlins, it is stated that for some reason mogwai are now almost always born mischievous or just plain evil with a very rare (1 in a thousand) gentle one (such as Gizmo) viewed as an anomaly and hated by other mogwai.  The book also states that there are 3 other “minority” mogwai on this planet.

A British myth surfaced during the second world war where the Royal Air Force stationed in India reported planes sabotaged through Gremlin mischief.  Read the story here.

Read my comic strip “Please Do Not Feed” based on the movie “Gremlins.”

SOURCE: Wikipedia, Chinese-English Dictionary, BBMandarin, “Chinese Mythology in the Context of Hydraulic Society