Myth Monday: The Scariest Monsters from Native American Mythology, Part 1

By Kara Newcastle

Before we delve into this list of some of the most evil, most vile, most freaky beasts ever to roam the mythological world, I would just like to apologize for disappearing the entire month of September and most of October; I recently got my job back (yay!) but that was causing a lot of extra tension at home (eeeeerrrrrraaaaaggghhhh!) Without meaning to, I let the blogs slip. I’m going to try to get as many blogs as I can pre-written so I post a little more consistently, but I still want to thank my readers for being patient while I try to get my crap together. SO … thank you!

Okay, now on to the list … which is labeled Part 1, because there are just too many monsters to include in a single list!

Raven_2 by ken thomas via wikimedia commons

RAVEN MOCKER (Cherokee): Said to be the evilest creature in Native American mythology, the Raven Mocker was a spirit of death. Generally, it was invisible, but it could manifest itself physically whenever it needed to, and that was generally when it wanted to bring death to humans. The Raven Mocker, so called because of its ability to mimic the cry of a raven (a bird long associated with death in many world cultures), would frequently take on the guise of a person that its chosen victim would know and trust, such as a grandmother. The victim would allow the disguised Raven Mocker into their home, where the creature would anguish their victim, kill them by cutting a slit in the person’s head and then eating their heart. Medicine men could see a raven mocker even when it was invisible, and their ability to perceive the monster would cause it to die within a week. Fans of Mountain Monsters (and before anybody can start whining, YES, I KNOW the show’s fake, the entire world knows that it’s fake, nobody cares that it’s fake, get over it already!) will remember the Raven Mocker as a frequent adversary for the AIMS guys.

THE BASKET WOMAN (Northwest tribes): The Basket Woman is a particularly nasty type of Bigfoot; very tall and hairy, she roams the forest with a basket strapped to her back. If she comes across a lone child wandering about the woods, she will scoop them up, place them in her basket, carry them back to her cave, and then eat them. Her favorite prey was human children, so tribal mothers frequently warned their children not to stray into the forest alone, lest the Basket Woman find them. Luckily, the Basket Woman is pretty dumb, so there are many stories of children outwitting her and escaping.

THE FLYING HEAD (Iroquois): The Flying Head was just that: a giant, flying head. Sometimes described as having bat wings sprouting from its temples, other times as a kind of fireball, this indescribably hideous demon would fly into Iroquois villages and gobble up any humans it found. The myth of the Flying Head appears to be quite old, and there are several different stories about how it was created. It was finally defeated by a young mother who tricked it into eating hot coals (read it here.)

PUKWUDGIES (Wampanoag): The name might be goofy, but these little bastards are anything but. The Pukwudgies (also spelled Pudwudgies) are a type of small humanoid from the mythology of the Massachusetts tribes. Typically less than three feet tall, usually hairy and big-nosed, the Pukwudgies lived in communities very similar to Native American tribes. They were once friendly with the Native Americans; it was said that when a tribal chieftain died, the Pukwudgies could be heard sobbing in the forest, and they were more than happy to assist hunters find prey. Strangely, their attitudes towards humans changed rapidly when a dark being appeared to them and apparently made itself their leader. For several hundred years now, the Pukwudgies actively work to bring harm to any human beings they come across. They are known to shove people off cliffs, kidnap children, possess people, shoot people with poisoned arrows, and disguise themselves as glimmers of light at night, leading unwary travelers into swamps to drown. There have been many recorded sighting of ugly gnome-like creatures, particularly in the Hockomock Swamp around Bridgewater, Massachusetts (an area which has become known as the Bridgewater Triangle, a huge swath of land renowned for bizarre going-ons.) Recently, one man reported that twenty years ago he returned home from his night job and took his dog out for a walk at around three in the morning. As they walked down the street, they saw a figure emerge from the swamp into the glow of a streetlight. Initially, the man though he was looking at a child, but his dog (a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix, so not exactly small and dainty) reacted in terror. The man took a closer look and saw that it was a small, hairy human standing there, beckoning to him. The creature called out, “Ee ant oh. Ere! Ere!” In a panic, the man and his dog raced home. Later, the man realized what the thing was probably saying to him: “We want you. Here! Here!”

CHINDI (Navajo): The Chindi is a particularly nasty spirit I’ve talked about before (here.) The Chindi is the unrelenting spirit of vengeance, and while its true form is invisible, it will frequently take possession of various animals in order to achieve its goal (a good way to tell if an animal is possessed by a Chindi is to see if it walks on two legs like a human.) Summoned by a shaman, the Chindi will go out and kill all that have offended the shaman or whoever hired him to summon the spirit, and it will not stop until it has been recalled by the shaman, or until everyone is dead. Death comes silently, most often in the form of an unidentifiable, uncurable disease. In the early 1900s, two sons of the the wealthy Long Salt family tried to scam a local medicine man, who quickly learned of the deception and dispatched a Chindi to punish them. The Long Salts begged the shaman to call back the Chindi, but the old man died before the ceremony could take place. For several decades afterwards, the Chindi killed every member of the Long Salts, including a man who tried to protect the last surviving member, a young girl.

SKINWALKERS (Southwest tribes): Mostly associated with the Navajo, but known by many tribes in the Southwest, a Skinwalker is an evil witch, most often male, who dons the skin of an animal in order to transform into that animal.In order to gain the infernal magic needed to do things such as shape shifting, the initiate had to commit a serious crime, such as the murder and cannibalization of a family member. Skinwalkers are so evil that to this day most Native Americans in the Southwest refuse to talk about them for fear that speaking of them too much will bring their attention (a little like saying Beetlejuice’s name three times summons him, only there are no whimsical Tim Burton-esque delights with these things.) To this day there are reports of skinwalkers harassing and attacking people. Whether or not they have real magical powers, these people are extraordinarily sadistic—don’t go looking for them.

SPEARFINGER (Cherokee): If you read my blog on the Chickadee, you already know about the horrific Spearfinger. For those of you who haven’t read it (and what are you waiting for?!), you should know that Spearfinger was a giant witch from Cherokee mythology. She had one long finger that was sharply pointed and used it to run through anyone she came across. Her favorite food was human liver, and she didn’t care who she obtained it from: child, a chieftain, the young, the old, it was all the same to her. Like the Raven Mocker, Spearfinger frequently transformed herself into the guise of a person her victim would recognize and trust, and thus be permitted to walk into their home or roam about their village. A famous story tells how a large group of warriors trapped Spearfinger in a pit but couldn’t find a way to kill her until the chickadee revealed where she had hidden her heart.

TUPILAQ (Inuit): If you ever want to read about some messed up monsters, take a look at Inuit mythology—I’ve read a lot of mythology from all over the world, but Inuit monsters really take the cake. This particular one, the Tupilaq, is an avenging monster rather like the Chindi; some tribes believe it was a ghost that could only been seen by a shaman, but the Inuit if Greenland believed that it is pieced together Frankenstein-like by a shaman using pieces of dead animals and children. Either way, the beast was savage and would pursue its target unrelentingly. However, it was possible for the would-be victim to turn the tables and cast a spell that made the tupilaq turn around and go after its creator with even greater ferocity. The only way to escape the rebound attack was for the creator to publicly confess that he had made the monster, after which it would disappear … and then he had to deal with a very pissed off community, which was probably preferable to whatever the tupilaq would do. In later years, European explorers wanted to see the cobbled-together tupilaq, but the constructions had long rotted away. In order to show the Europeans what the monsters could look looks, the Inuit carved representations out of things like sperm whale teeth and today are considered collectibles. (And just so you know, Tuunbaq from The Terror was never an actual mythological creature but was probably inspired by the tupilaq.)

WATER BABIES (Ute): Not to be confused with the sunblock, water babies are nasty little monsters that live in secluded ponds, lakes and rivers. Superficially, they do resemble  human babies, but it wouldn’t take you long to realize that they’re not; scaly, fanged, and often reported with a short tail, water babies make a crying sound like a distraught human infant. When an unwary soul comes to the water to find what they think is a lost child, they’re grabbed by the water babies, dragged into the water, drowned and then devoured. Some stories say that just the sound of a crying water baby is an omen of death for the hearer. Pyramid Lake in Nevada is said to be a home of the water babies, and locals will tell you that an unusually high number of swimmers and fishermen die in that lake every year.

A_Florida_panther_using_a_tree_as_a_scratching_post_(7656791736) by USFWS via wikimedia commons

WAMPUS CAT (Cherokee): I already posted a blog dedicated to the Wampus Cat (here!), but it’s such a unique monster that I’ll make note of it again: the Wampus Cat was a Native American woman who was suspicious of what her husband did at night. Donning a cloak made of a mountain lion’s skin, the woman secretly followed her husband, finding him attending an all-male meeting of warriors and elders, all of whom were trading magical secrets meant only for men. Somehow, the woman was discovered, and in retaliation the medicine men cursed her so that the mountain lion pelt she wore would become part of her. From that day on the poor woman roamed the woodland of Cherokee country as a half mountain lion, half-human monster. Driven mad, the werecat harassed the Cherokee at every opportunity and wasted no time in going after white settlers when they arrived in the area. The whites were the ones who dubbed her the Wampus Cat, and sightings of the creature are still reported today.

Deep_snow_covers_deer_antlers by Brian Anderson USFWS via wikimedia commons

WENDIGO (Algonquin): No list of Native American monsters would be complete without a mention of the Wendigo. Given its growing popularity in the media, for whatever damned reason, the Wendigo is fairly well known among people, though most don’t fully know what it is. The Wendigo was the spirit of ravenous hunger, said to be up to twenty feet tall. It was skeletal, its white skin stretched so tightly over its bones that they threatened to rip through. Its head was adorned with deer antlers. It was so insatiably hungry, it was said to have chewed off the flesh from its fingers and even its own lips. It was known to chase down hunters who became lost in the snowy wilderness and devour them. The Wendigo also had the ability to possess ordinary humans, particularly those who were facing starvation during the cruelly long Canadian winter. It would drive its human host to kill and cannibalize their families and friends. There’s even a rather controversial medical term for people in the northern United States and Canada who believe to be afflicted by the monster: Wendigo psychosis.

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