In cultures throughout the world, people believe that there are demons, ghosts, and monsters that are responsible for unleashing deadly, infectious diseases on innocent people. Most of these plague-bearers are hideous to behold, but there are exceptions. Some appear in the most innocent forms in order to walk amongst humanity and to spread death amongst them. One such spirit exists in both Native American folklore and Hindu mythology, possibly due to European confusion regarding the term “Indian”. She is known as the Acheri, and she comes down from the mountains at night, spreading a virulent sickness wherever she goes. Death inevitably follows with her passing.
In both Native American (mainly Chippewa) and Hindu folklore, the Acheri is the ghost of a little girl who died a painful death from a contagious disease. In other legends, the Acheri is a small girl who passed away as the result of a “bad death”, meaning that the poor girl was murdered, abused and then murdered, or was brutally beaten and left to die from her injuries. She appears as a gaunt young girl, having pale gray skin and wearing worn deerskin or cloth clothing. Her frail, sickly appearance creates feelings of sympathy in both other children and adults alike, fooling them into believing that she is only a very sick little girl who needs their care and friendship. This is how she lures her victims in close enough to spread her disease. The Acheri’s true form, however, is both monstrous and frightening. She manifests in this form with a skeletal body, red eyes that glow with a demonic malevolence, long clawed fingers, and sharp, gnashing teeth. But her true form is rarely seen, as she only assumes this visage when she is cornered and has no other choice otherwise but to attack.
The Acheri has a simple agenda, and that is to spread her plague to living humans and to kill as many innocent people as she possibly can. This disease is known simply as Acheri’s Shadow, and it is both highly infectious and extremely contagious. She is attracted to human movements, and will follow anyone who catches her interest down from the peaks of her mountain home. The Acheri is nothing if not patient, and merely bides her time until a community gets together for a harvest celebration, a festival, or even a funeral (the Acheri is opportunistic as well as patient). During these times, the Acheri will enter the village while she merrily sings and dances, although sometimes she is seen playing the drum as well. Seeing her dancing and hearing her singing or drumming are ill omens of misfortune or death to come. Once she has entered the village, she seeks out children and befriends them. While they play together, the Acheri casts her shadow over the unwary children, although the disease can be spread by her touch as well. This act infects the poor children with a terrible disease that can take a variety of forms. Most commonly, the disease is a horrible wasting sickness that is incurable and ultimately results in death. In his excellent book Vampire Universe (Citadel Press Books, 2006), Jonathan Maberry writes that “the very touch of the Acheri’s shadow is like the breath of a highly communicable respiratory disease; infection occurs instantly and spreads rapidly throughout the community” (Maberry 5). This plague is capable of wiping out entire villages, and all the while the Acheri vampirically feeds on the despair, pain, misery, and death created by the outbreak (Maberry 5).
The Acheri desires nothing more than to see the living suffer as she did before she died, making her a sort of vengeful ghost. However, this spirit isn’t known for targeting individuals and very rarely seeks out her killers outright. And with each person that the plague kills, the Acheri grows even stronger. Only if an adult notices the Acheri will she retreat back to the mountains, and even then the Acheri may try to lure the children back into the mountains with her, where they will meet a grisly, painful death at the Acheri’s hands. She is said to fly over inhabited valleys late at night, throwing her shadow over children as they sleep (hence the disease’s name), and the children will grow sick and eventually die from her plague.
As deadly as the Acheri is, she does have a few weaknesses. However, they are limited to one or two things. The most common defense against this vengeful spirit is items which bear the color red. Placing amulets, necklaces, or bracelets of woven red thread on one’s person will thwart the Acheri’s attentions, as will red beads, ribbons, embroidery, and clothing. Even being a natural redhead might work, although this theory is speculative at best. It is also said that salt will keep this spirit at bay. Salt, due to its purity and pure white color, is thought to be a very potent defense against evil spirits and all sorts of supernatural beings. Salt can be used to line the boundaries of one’s property, and can be carried around in leather pouches by children. But the best possible defense against the Acheri would be a red cloth bag, filled with salt and hung around one’s neck with a cord of woven red thread.
Unfortunately, there are no known methods that can be used to destroy the Acheri. Some legends do suggest, however, that she can be put to rest. According to folklore, the Chippewa believe that wrapping a red cloth that has been blessed by a medicine woman around the spirit’s neck will cause the ghost to dissipate and find eternal rest. But good luck getting close enough to the spirit to do this without contracting the sickness she carries. Either that, or the Acheri will reveal her true form and tear the would-be hero to pieces in a flurry of ripping claws and teeth.
If the Acheri cannot be laid to rest, then she must be placated or otherwise appeased. This can be done in a couple of different ways. According to Hindu tradition, one way to do this is to build an altar. Then, the altar is filled with lit candles and delicious cakes. Then the altar must be carried to a remote, seldom-visited location. Hopefully, the Acheri will follow this offering to that location and cause her anger to wane. It may also encourage her to return to the mountains. Another method is designed to encourage her to remove the sickness that she has inflicted upon the people. This involves vigorously beating on a brass dish, which is intended to send one of the spirit’s victims into a trance (or it might just give them a headache), which will cause frenzied dancing on the victim’s part. In this trance, the victim will gain insight and know what sacrifice must be made in order to appease the Acheri’s anger. Hopefully, the sacrifice will cause the disease to recede and the Acheri to go away. But be warned: neither of these methods is guaranteed to work, and thus the best solution might be to just run.
Today, the horrifying legend of the Acheri has been all but forgotten. Advances in both science and modern medicine have rendered such beliefs obsolete in the modern world. And yet, the belief that diseases and sickness are caused by supernatural evil still runs rampant around the world today. What if there is something to those beliefs? Once people have accepted that possibility, then the existence of evil spirits like the Acheri doesn’t sound so far-fetched anymore…does it?
Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us, and Hunger for Us. New York: Citadel Press Books, 2006.
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Hume, Nic. “Acheri.” The Paranormal Guide. 14 December 2013. 6 August 2015. <http://www.theparanormalguide.com/blog/acheri>
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