Legends and folklore are a part of all cultures around the world. And few are more terrifying than the legends present in the history and culture of Native American tribes. Much of this ancient lore, which is populated by evil spirits, witches, demonic creatures, and monsters, goes back generations and has haunted the American landscape long before European settlers arrived and experienced these frightful tales for themselves. Told and shared orally, these legends vary from each geographic location but they all share a common theme of being utterly terrifying.
The following seven legends of monstrous creatures and ancient spirits serve as ghoulish warnings to be pay heed to the land and nature that surrounds us, lest we too conjure any of these nightmarish legends for ourselves.
1. Wendigo: The Evil That Devours
The wendigo is the most well-known and feared creature in Native American mythology. Originating from the northern forests of the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of the United States and Canada, the wendigo was told as a cautionary tale against of the evils of cannibalism. The legend tells of an evil spirit conjured by anyone who eats human flesh. They would be transformed into a skeletal creature of pure evil and cursed with an insatiable hunger to devour mankind.
2. Yee Naaldlooshii: The Skinwalker
The Yee Naaldlooshii mythology comes from Navajo legends in the American Southwest. Commonly known as a skinwalker, the creature is a witch with the ability to shapeshift into an animal (not unlike the Eastern European vampire mythology). They are typically men who have taken to studying the darker parts of the Navajo spiritualism and renounced Navajo ways. Known to attack people and animals a rumored rite of passage for those who undertake the dark arts is a blood sacrifice of a loved one or relative. A skinwalker is not all that dissimilar to the belief of a wendigo but is less animalistic and more human in its evil deeds than cannibalism and a bottomless need to feed.
3. Kanontsistonties: The Flying Heads
To the East Coast is an Iroquois legend with a little less spook factor but still has cast an eerie shadow over the land for several centuries. According to the tribe legend of present day upstate New York, a Flying Head drove the native peoples from their village long before European settlers came. The Flying Head laid claim to their hunting grounds and ancestral home, terrorizing anyone who came close for many years and forcing them to relocate in the wilds of the Adirondacks. According to some, the location of this tribal displacement was Lake Sacandaga (“land of waving glass” in English) and the name of the tribe in question has been lost to history. To this day many consider the original location of the unnamed tribe cursed. Even worse, several hotels have been erected on the ancient site and many of suffered financial or even physical ruin, which is believed to be the result of the Flying Head still laying claim to the land.
4. Camazotz: The Death Bat
The mythology of the Maya people in present day Central America is vast and, at times, unnerving for the novice researcher. But one belief, not all that dissimilar from our own perception of this creature of the night, is in the Camaztoz, a bat god of night, death, and sacrifice. The Camaztoz show up in various legends, most often associated with the underwood known as Xibalba. They sometimes served as warriors, messengers, and trials for those looking to explore life after death. Bats are creepy creatures by nature, and the stories of the bat deities who guarded the realms of the underworld were a source of terror and respect in the Mayan culture.
5. Mishipeshu: The Water Panther
The Mishipeshu or the “underwater panther” is a prominent figure in the mythology of tribes located around the Great Lakes. The image of the creature is terrifying – a large cat with scales and spikes running along its body. Or, to some, a fierce scaled serpent. Many tribes believed this creature resided on an island in the middle of present day Lake Superior. One origin of the legend is that the creature guarded wealthy deposits of copper in the lake from an ancient and anonymous group of people looking to harvest it (archeological evidence does show attempts at mining copper from the area from ancient times). During a copper rush in the 1840s, many ships fell victim to sinking’s in the lake believed to be the work of this strange guardian, keeping its treasures safe. A Jesuit priest once even claimed the creature attacked him when he attempted to take copper from the lake. Is this the ancient guardian of goods from the earth? Or perhaps, like many dragon-like creatures, he’s protecting his treasure from would-be thieves.
6. Hestovatohkeo’o: Two-Face
Two-Face is a creature that comes from the stories of the plains tribes who believed in a ghastly creature with a human face in the front, a much more malevolent face on the back of their heads. Though some described it as an ogre-like creature, many traditions see it as a very human entity. Like Medusa, it was believed that eye contact with the second face would render the victim dead on sight. Some tribes believed only men could become two-faced while others believed it only women who could possess this monstrous disfiguration. Two-Faces were often blamed for murders, mutilations, and kidnappings and often chose children as their victims.
7. Tah-tah-kle’-ah: The Owl Women
If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks, then this eerie legend from the Yakama tribe in present-day Washington state is right up your alley. In short, this was believed to be a race of owl-women hybrids who hid in caves during the day and hunted humans at night, cannibalizing them. And while they did feed on other forest-dwelling creatures, like rats and snakes, it was believed they preferred the flesh of children. According to legend, it was from the owl women that the owl of the forest was born from after she drowned and plucked out her eye. Owls have since become a symbol of death and bad fortune in many native tribes across the land.
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