9. Skin-walkers are evil witches with the power to turn into animals and even possess the bodies of other people
A skin-walker (also known as yee naaldlooshii) is a witch who according to Navajo folklore has, among other powers, the ability to turn into and disguise themselves as an animal. The animals most commonly associated with skin-walkers are those culturally identified as tricksters, notably the coyote but can also include those reflective of death and darkness such as wolves or owls.
According to Navajo legend, to become a skin-walker requires the wilful murder of a close relative, and as such they are both feared and reviled within native mythology. Representing the antithesis of the supposed cultural ideals of the Navajo and their medicine men, that of healing and helpfulness, skin-walkers choose to instead manipulate spiritual magic to do evil deeds in a perversion against nature. In addition to their powers of physical transformation, skin-walkers can also possess the bodies of animals and people by locking eyes with them.
Due to their presumed power, skin-walkers are prevalent beings in Navajo folktales. These stories typically take the form of climatic struggles between great persons of the tribe and the witch, although atypically for Native folklore not always with an exclusively positive outcome, and often including a didactic message for children to learn from. Many victory stories involving skin-walkers conclude with multiple inhabitants of a “hogan” – the traditional Navajo dwelling – joining together in a communal strength of wills to scare away the monster and the darkness it brings with it.
10. Bakwas attempts to offer cursed food, whilst Kushtaka seeks to lure sailors to their gruesome deaths
As an innately spiritualistic culture, throughout Native American society there are numerous yet comparable accounts of a wide variety of evil supernatural spirits who prey upon tribes. Bakwas (also known as the wild man of the woods) is one such spirit belonging to the Kwakwaka’wakw people of modern-day British Columbia, similar to the Haida’s “gagit”, the Nuu-chah-nult’s “pukubts”, and the Tsimshian “ba’wis”. Bakwas offers ghost food out of cockle shells to humans stranded in a wood where drowned souls congregate; if they accept and eat the offered food, then they too become a ghostly being like Bakwas.
Equally Kushtaka (or land otter men) are shape-shifting monsters belonging to the folklore of the Tlingit and Tsimshian people of the Pacific Northwest, similar to the Nat’ina of the Dena’ina and the Urayuli of the Yup’ik. Capable of assuming human form, as well as that of otters among other shapes, Kushtaka enjoy tricking sailors to their watery demises. Typically described in legend as imitating the screams of women and children, the Kushtaka ensnares the victim, ideally children, and either brutally kills them or converts them into another Kushtaka; a minority of native narratives place the Kushtaka in a more pleasant light, depicting them as saving those dying at sea by turning them into a fellow Kushtaka. It is believed among tribes people that Kushtaka can be warded away through copper, dogs, fire, or in some instances urine. Due to this setting and the creatures preferred prey, it is widely theorized the origin of the Kushtaka legend was to encourage young children from wandering too close to the ocean.
11. Átahsaia was a giant cannibalistic demon who consumed humans and demons alike and routinely sought to abduct young women
According to the Zuni people of Southwestern United States, Átahsaiais is a cannibalistic giant demon. Depicted as several times larger than a human, with his torso described as being as big as a large elk, Átahsaiais possesses long grey hair as prickly as porcupine quills, skin so thick the knuckles appear horned, muscular arms covered in black and white scales, and a swollen red face in which his bulging eyes never blink. A minority of stories also claim Átahsaiais has long yellow tusks and long talons. An unsavory figure in native mythology, Átahsaiais is regarded as an incorrigible liar in addition to being a cannibal of both humans and his fellow demons. Habitually armed, Átahsaiais is routinely depicted with a giant flint axe or a flint knife “as broad as a man’s thigh and twice as long”.
Appearing throughout numerous Zuni legends of similar composition, in “Átahsaiais, the Cannibal Demon” the monster deceives two young maidens and lures them back to his lair. After failing to persuade them to eat a soup made from human children or to comb his hair, the women are rescued by the Zuni war gods who slay the demon. In another story – “The Rabbit Huntress and Her Adventures” – a young woman lost in a blizzard seeks refuge in a cave. Discovered by Átahsaiais, he attempts to break into the cave but again the war gods rescue the maiden and defeat the monster.
12. Uktena, the Horned Water Serpent, was a near-invincible crystalline snake with a gemstone in its head
The Horned Serpent (known as Uktena to the Cherokee people) is a mythological monster that recurs throughout several Native American oral histories, especially in the Great Lakes and Southeastern Woodlands regions. Described as being as large as a tree trunk and covered in magical scales, with horns and a gemstone on its forehead, the Horned Serpent could not be harmed except in a single spot on its head. Whilst its breath was poisonous, to slay the monster would win the warrior a crystal of immense power granting a life of successful hunting, rainmaking, and romance. According to Cherokee legend a great warrior name Aganunitsi achieved this feat, wherein he discovered the crystal required a sacrifice of blood each week. Without this tribute the crystal searches for blood itself, becoming a ball of fire and murdering those its encounters.
Other variants of the Horned Serpent includes the “Tie-Snake (estakwvnayv) in Muscogee Creek traditions. Slightly smaller than the Horned Serpent and likewise covered with crystalline scales with a large gem in its forehead, the snake was considered capable of prophecy and its horns were believed to carry medicinal powers. Unlike the Uktena, the Tie Snake was not considered to be a evil or willfully harmful to humans. Equally the Alabama people told stories of a “Crawfish Snake”, or tcinto såktco, of a similar design and purpose. In contrast traditional Sioux belief claimed these serpents were dangerous water monsters of the ancient world, but had been destroyed by the Thunderbirds – supernatural beings of great power – and only their lesser ancestors, such as lizards and snakes, had survived; it is theorized this mythological belief stemmed from the discovery of dinosaur fossils by the Sioux, and the Thunderbirds of pterosaur skeletons.
13. In addition to the Teihiihan, numerous races of evil dwarves are believed to roam North America
The Nimerigar (or “people eaters”) are a race of dwarves belonging to Crow and Shosone legend, said to reside in the Wind River and Pedro mountain ranges of modern-day Wyoming. Described as aggressive by nature, they shoot poisoned arrows and kill their own kind should they fall ill with a blow to the head. During his famed expedition Meriwether Lewis claimed to have seen evidence of the “deavals”, describing them as roughly 18 inches tall and highly ferocious. Although originally believed to have been entirely mythical the 1932 discovery of the “San Pedro Mountains Mummy” – a 14 inch tall mummy – has brought this into question, with tests demonstrating the individual was approximately 65 years old at time of death and violently killed by an inflicted head wound. Since 1932 several other similar bodies have been recovered across North America, lending credence to a 1778 account suggesting the existence of a pygmy burial ground and of the possible historical existence of people akin to the Nimerigar.
Not isolated solely to the Nimerigar, Crow folklore also includes the Nirumbee: a race of goblin-like creatures. Estimated to be between one and two feet in height, with sharp teeth and little neck, the Nirumbee are considered enemies by the native peoples. Depicted as often engaging in harmless mischief, the Nirumbee are also considered responsible for evil acts such as child abduction and the killing of livestock. Similarly, the Pukwudgies – or person of the wilderness – of Algonquian folklore are a knee-high race of little people. Considered by some tribes, including the Ojibwe, to be harmless spirits of the forest, other tribes such as the Abenaki believed the Pukwudgies to be dangerous foes with a predisposition towards the theft of children and possessing powers similar to those of the magical skin-walkers.
The wendigo (or windigo) is a supernatural cannibalistic monster believed by several Algonquin tribes – including the Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Cree, Naskapi, and Innu – to reside in the forests of the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes regions of North America. Appearing with some human characteristics, or according to a minority of interpretations an evil spirit possessing a human into monstrosity, a wendigo is typically created through human cannibalism or by an individual overcome with avarice and greed. Described as extremely gaunt and emaciated, with grayish skin, sunken eyes, tattered lips, and possessing a deathly odor, the wendigo greedily feeds on human flesh. However for each person it consumes the monster grows ever larger, so that it is always hungry and hunting; as such the legend is generally associated with stories of insatiable gluttony and gratuitous murder.
It is increasingly considered by anthropologists that the wendigo existed as much as a metaphor as a literal monster within native mythology, with the concept described as an early depiction of “social cannibalism” and applicable to any individual or idea which expresses a relentless drive towards unnecessary consumption and greed; in so doing, the story didactically encourages cooperation and moderation and discourages the taboo activity of cannibalism during harsh winters. Threatening the stability of a tribe’s existence and exhibiting a destructive nature, the allegory, coinciding with the ongoing eradication of native populations and the emergence of an early consumer capitalistic society in North America, is evident and telling, with the violent and unnatural wendigo symbolically representing the exclusion and forced assimilation experienced by disregarded natives via encroaching and expanding American colonialism in pursuit of Manifest Destiny.
15. Two-Face is a monstrous being who murders his victims with his razor-sharp elbows
Existing among the Sioux, Plains, and Omaha tribes, Two-Face (also known as Sharp Elbows) is a two-faced monster who enjoys preying upon natives populations, torturing and gruesomely disfiguring his victims before murdering them. As typically depicted in folklore all who gaze upon either of the twin visages of Two-Face become paralyzed by fear, or in some cases die instantly, and he utilizes his extremely sharp elbows to stab his frozen victims to death. As with several Native American monsters Two-Face is widely considered to retain a preference for children and female victims, especially pregnant women.
According to Lakota mythology Two-Face was once a woman who was turned into the creature as punishment for attempting to seduce the Sun god, with one beautiful face and one hideous; an alternative origin story includes a similar background, albeit with Two-Face being born from such an adulterous woman. This duality, as with several native stories seeking to impart a didactic lesson, is widely regarded as representing a disconnection from and disharmony with nature as an allegorical advocation of traditional conformity within the tribe.
16. The Perverted Merman hides in rivers and watches women as they bathe
N-dam-keno-wet (also known as The Perverted Merman) is a creature which recurrently appears in Algonquin mythology, specifically that of the Abenaki people. Described as half man and half fish, with a child-like human face, N-dam-keno-wet lives in streams and lakes where women regularly wash themselves. Unlike other native “monsters”, N-dam-keno-wet does not seek to harm these women or to scare them, merely to voyeuristically watch them; some traditional stories do include attempted molestation, but for the most part the “perverted merman” is just that: a pervert.
Mermaid-like creatures are a staple within Native American mythology, with several Algonquin tales including characters who disobey their parents being turned into similar creatures. Consistent throughout these depictions in native legend, the theft of a merman’s or mermaid’s clothing strips the being of their magical powers and renders them unable to swim.
17. Similar to the Wendigo, the Wechuge is a giant cannibalistic monster from Northwestern Canada
A wechuge, similar but not identical to a wendigo, is a cannibalistic monster stemming from the stories of the Athabaskan people of Northwestern Canada. According to legend the wechuge is a person who has become possessed or overpowered by the spirit of a great animal, in so doing devolving into a giant bestial form. Some versions of the wechuge depict the creature as being physically made from ancient ice come to life to hunt humans, invulnerable to harm and only defeated when melted over a campfire; this rendition of the wechuge is notably similar to that of the Wabanaki’s “Chenoo”: an ice giant who was cursed by the gods for his crimes, his heart turned to ice and his spirit trapped inside a troll-like monster that feasts upon humans. Described as giant animals, both intelligent and physically powerful, the wechuge hunts humans and attempts to ensnare and devour its prey through cunning deception.
As with the wendigo, certain tribes adhere to a less spiritual origin of the creature but instead a product of human indulgence in taboos resulting in the physical corruption of the depraved individual. The Dane-zaa of the Peace River region in Western Canada for instance contend a wechuge is the product of breaking a strong cultural taboo, such as having a photograph taken with flash, listening to guitar music, or eating meat with fly eggs in it.
18. The Underwater Panthers lived in the Great Lakes and could control the waters of their domains
The Mishibizhiw (also known as the Underwater Panther or Great Lynx) is a legendary creature belonging to the mythologies of native inhabitants of the Great Lakes region of North America. A monster from the underworld the panther resides in creeks and rivers, hiding in wait to drown unsuspecting prey. Described by the Sioux as possessing a body shaped like a buffalo, albeit with paws allowing for rapid swimming, the Mishibizhiw has just one eye, horns – either a single horn in the center of its forehead, or a pair – dorsal fins, a spiked tail, and is covered in scales; because of the latter characteristics, it has been speculated that the Mishibizhiw is in fact derived from a prehistoric stegosaurus.
Feared by the Ojibwa as the cause of waves, whirlpools, and rapids, it was considered within tribal folklore that each lake might be inhabited by its own Mishibizhiw who controlled its conditions. Despite being mortal enemies of the Thunderbirds some native communities revered the creatures as symbols of great power and hunting prowess, whilst at least one tribe fearlessly employed Mishibizhiw as part of a children’s game similar to “tag”. According to an ancient Chippewa tale, the Mishibizhiw lived on an island of mud situated between two lakeside villages. Avoided by locals for fear of an evil spirit, two girls crossing one day encountered the monster. Cutting off the beast’s tail with an oar, the severed limb transformed into a solid piece of copper and became a talisman for good luck in fishing and hunting for their tribe.
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