Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Rougarou

Swamps have always inspired fear and awe in the hearts of men. These lush, waterlogged forests and wetlands are as beautiful as they are dangerous, and with good reason. The murky water is notorious for concealing deadly animals like alligators, venomous snakes, dangerous fish, and disease-bearing insects. But people fear the swamps for other reasons, too. They are said to be home to monsters, ghosts, evil spirits, and the undead. The swamps and the bayous of Louisiana are no exception, and this waterlogged land seems to be haunted by some particularly vicious creatures. One of the most feared of these swamp monsters is the Rougarou, a shapeshifting man-beast that feeds on the flesh and the blood of sinners.

According to local folklore, the Rougarou (also spelled rugarou, rugaru, roux-ga-roux, or rugaroo) is a sort of Cajun werewolf that is said to stalk the swamps surrounding Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, but there is little to no doubt that the beast prowls the forests, fields, and bayous of these regions as well. To the local Cajuns, the name Rougarou is interchangeable with the French name for the monster, Loup-Garou. Over the years, the word eventually became rougarou. According to Cajun folklorist Jonathan Foret (who appeared on Monsters & Mysteries in America on Destination America), this may have been what the English-speaking people thought that they had heard, and in the end, that word became more popular and stuck. But regardless of what the monster is called or where it chooses to dwell, the Rougarou is feared by both Native Americans and white men alike. The word rougarou itself is actually a corruption of the French loup-garou, with the word loup being French for “wolf,” while garou originates from the Frankish word garulf, meaning a man who transforms into an animal. However, behind all of this is a horrible monster that is terrifying to behold. Legend says that the beast is bipedal and has a human-looking body that is covered with shaggy brown or black fur and has taloned fingers and toes (some say that the creature only has three toes on each foot). Standing seven to eight feet in height, the monster most commonly has the head of a wolf or a dog, with an elongated snout filled with razor-sharp teeth and eyes that glow an eerie red or yellow in the darkness. In other words, the Rougarou isn’t something that a man would want to run into in the middle of the night.

According to Native American folklore, the Rougarou is thought to be a sacred being that is in harmony with the energies and the power of the Earth itself. In these traditions, the beast is seen as being akin to the timid Sasquatch and the cannibalistic Wendigo. However, it can be argued that there are enough differences between the Rougarou and the Wendigo to warrant classifying the Cajun Werewolf as a different type of monster altogether, even though they were both once human and share a taste for human flesh. In any case, it has been said that if a person gazes upon the Rougarou or looks into the beast’s eyes, he take the curse upon himself. Such a man is doomed to live out a short portion of his life as a werewolf. This curse can last up to one hundred and one days (about three months and eleven days), provided that the afflicted person refrains from consuming human flesh and avoids telling anyone that he is a rougarou for the duration of the curse. Other legends say that the curse lasts for the rest of the person’s life, or at least until the beast is either cured or killed. Either way, living as a monster and avoiding human contact is a very lonely and deeply depressing experience, one that a man is forced to endure as he walks the earth in the form of a vicious, predatory beast.

In Cajun folklore, the Rougarou is thought to be a type of bogeyman. Parents who know the story will often tell their misbehaving children, “If you don’t behave, the Rougarou is going to get you!” According to the Catholic version of the legend, a rougarou is created when a man doesn’t observe Lent for seven years in a row. As punishment, God supposedly curses the perpetrator to become a werewolf every Lenten season for the remainder of their lives. However, it is unclear as to whether the afflicted one only becomes a monster every night for the forty days of the Lenten season or if it is a year-round curse. The beast may also come into being in much the same way as the Native American version of the creature, but there is a much more sinister side to the story. Because of its own sins, the Rougarou feels compelled to hunt down and kill any Catholics who don’t abide by their own Lenten vows (like giving up alcohol, sweets, or red meat for the forty days of the Lenten season). Those who haven’t adhered to their vows are inevitably ripped limb from limb by the Rougarou, and what remains of the bodies are found half-eaten and torn into pieces for the victim’s transgressions.


According to the legend, someone who is cursed to become a rougarou is said to develop an insatiable thirst for human blood, although not every version of the legend shares this notion. As mentioned previously, folklore says that the victim of this curse becomes a ravenously hungry man-beast every night for one hundred and one days. At the break of dawn, the Rougarou reverts to its human form. He then spends the day bedridden, feeling sick and frail as though he is slowly dying from an incurable wasting disease. For fairly obvious reasons, the afflicted person must refrain from telling others of his predicament, for he fears being killed (or at the very least, a trip to the local psychiatric ward). After the original one hundred and one days are over with, the original victim may transfer his curse to another person by drawing blood from another individual. This can happen by accident, but it is most often done intentionally. The original victim is freed of his curse, but the suffering of the newly-afflicted has just begun. In this way, it seems that one can never truly be rid of the Rougarou’s curse. Other stories say that witchcraft or practicing the dark arts is the cause, either by the witch transforming herself into a wolf or by cursing other people with lycanthropy.

Avoiding the Lenten season for seven years straight isn’t the only way to become a monstrous wolf. In some versions of the legend, the curse is said to be hereditary, in which case it is passed on from one generation to the next. The curse itself is usually inherited by the third child. In other cases, a rougarou is created when a man is rejected by society, especially for his religious beliefs. But one of the most common ways to become a rougarou is through sorcery, and this is most often done by accidentally angering a powerful sorcerer. According to legend, Native American shamans will curse people who abuse the swamplands, squander its resources, or attempt to use the swamp for their own personal gain. One such story, as related by folklorist Alyne Pustanio, tells of a white trapper that would don the skins of wolves and other animals that he had caught and would wander the swamps and the forests at night, taking great delight in terrifying friends and neighbors alike by pretending to be the dreaded Loup-Garou. This was eventually brought to the attention of a native Louisiana medicine man, who knew of the perfect punishment. The medicine man decided that if the disrespectful fur trader loved playing the part of a monster so much, then he should stop pretending. Stricken by the shaman’s curse, the trapper sang a sadder song from that point on as a ferocious werewolf, forever condemned to hunt under the swampland moon’s eerie yellow glow for both his abuse of nature’s resources and his wicked sense of humor.

But hope isn’t completely lost for someone so afflicted. Most traditions in Southern Louisiana hold that the curse of the Rougarou can be lifted or broken by a gypsy witch, a Hoodoo conjurer, a Voodoo priest, or another shaman whose powers are equal to or greater than those of the sorcerer that cursed the afflicted individual to begin with. Any of these conjurers could, if willing (or for the right price), remove the curse and quite possibly turn it back on the medicine man who cast the spell to begin with. This could have debilitating or even fatal results for the angry shaman who cursed the person. Of course, there is never any guarantee that the curse can in fact be broken. Curses are fickle by nature, and are seldom so easily dispelled. This is especially true in the case of curses that create monsters, and some can never be broken.

According to legend, there is another way to cure a rougarou, although it is by no means pleasant. In some of the stories, a person who is attacked by the beast draws a knife to defend himself and manages to cut the monster. At the first drop of blood, it is said that the Rougarou will revert to its human form. The drawing of blood has somehow freed the individual from the werewolf’s curse, which has its origins in European werewolf traditions. The now-human monster will then tell his savior who he is and that if the other person tells anyone else of the encounter before a year and one day have passed, then the would-be victim of the cured creature is doomed to become a werewolf as well. But more often than not, the man runs home and proceeds to tell his family all about his encounter with the dreaded beast. In one such case, a young boy was attacked by a strange white dog and managed to save himself by cutting the dog on its right foot with a pocket knife. The white dog turned back into a man, who was a doctor by trade. The man then warned the boy not to tell anyone what he had seen for a year and one day. But the boy foolishly ran home and told his family what had happened. His family was familiar with the legends of the Rougarou, and they were heartbroken. The next day, a respected doctor appeared in town with his right arm in a sling. Shortly thereafter, he shot himself. And then, a year later, the boy also killed himself. Secrecy seems to be essential to the Rougarou’s existence, as exposing the afflicted person’s cursed nature to other people may turn the other person into a werewolf…or worse.

While most legends speak of the Rougarou as being a werewolf, there are others who say that the beast’s shape isn’t limited to that of a wolf. Because wolves are somewhat uncommon (although by no means unheard of) in the Louisiana swamps, local tales of the monster usually incorporate other animals into the legend. Such animals include dogs, pigs, alligators, cows, and even chickens. Furthermore, it is said that these animals are usually white in color (like the white dog mentioned earlier). Other legends say that the Rougarou is capable of shapeshifting into any of these animals completely, and other than some unusual coloring and strange behavior on that animal’s part, most people would never know that it was a monster in disguise. But make no mistake, because the Rougarou is a ferocious monster regardless of the form it takes. And no matter what shape it assumes, the beast still hungers for the flesh of sinners.

According to legend, the Rougarou’s bestial form and its ravenous hunger for human flesh (or blood, according to some versions of the legend) gives the beast a supernatural degree of strength, allowing the Rougarou to rip apart livestock like cows, goats, and even horses with ease. The Cajun Werewolf can break down household doors with little effort. The monster’s unnatural strength is one of a number of reasons why most animals (including the alligator) give the beast a wide berth. Because most animals are sensitive to any supernatural presence (whether corporeal or otherwise), most animals (including trained pets) will instinctively flee immediately. However, they may not be able to escape for long. Once the werewolf has chosen its prey, the beast’s sheer speed, agility, and endurance (exceeding that of any animal) allow the Rougarou to outrun and outlast any potential prey in a chase, whether the victim is human or an animal. Even if its potential meal tries to hide, the creature’s heightened senses of sight, smell, and hearing ensure that the victim doesn’t remain hidden for long. The Rougarou can see clearly in the dark, can hear the heartbeats of its victim, and is able to smell the sweat dripping from their faces. Even in the deepest, darkest swamps, one is not safe from this horrifying man-beast. And once the werewolf has caught its prey, it will rend and tear the flesh from its screaming victim’s body. At that point, the Rougarou will feast on the victim’s flesh and blood until the monster’s hunger has been satisfied. But no matter how much the beast feeds, the hunger will eventually return, and the Rougarou will be forced to hunt once again.

With all of the folklore and legends that surround the beast, one feels compelled to ask: where did the Rougarou come from? Some people say that the beast is nothing more than a werewolf that traveled to America from France, gradually adapting to living and hunting in the dark swamps and eventually becoming a different breed of werewolf altogether. In the process, the monster took on some different qualities that aren’t typical of the European Werewolf. But there are some, like author and folklorist Alyne Pustanio, who argue that the Rougarou (which she spells Rugarou) has darker, more obscure origins. The Native American traditions found in Southwest Louisiana are particularly rich in tales of werewolves and other shapeshifting creatures. In the traditions of the Chitimacha, the Opelousas, and especially the Attakapas, there is an ancient and perhaps even primordial ancestral memory of savage, powerful shapeshifters that the Opelousas and the Chitimacha knew as the “Wolf-Walkers”. These legends are predominantly associated with the Attakapas, and the name of the tribe itself is derived from the Choctaw word for “man-eater”. At one time, the people of this tribe were fierce warriors who made a habit of consuming the flesh of their fallen enemies. Today, there are very few members of this once-proud tribe remaining in the Louisiana swamps. But what happened? What events took place that dealt such devastating consequences to the Attakapas?

In the early 1700s, the Opelousas and the Chitimacha waged an all-out war against the Attakapas. There was one battle in particular, however, that devastated the tribe. This battle (which has no name to speak of) took place in a stretch of low country just six miles outside of what is now the small city of St. Martinville in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. In what was undoubtedly a bloody hand-to-hand conflict, the Chitimacha and the Opelousas virtually wiped out the Attakapas. It has been reported that only six individuals (perhaps more) escaped with their lives and fled into the surrounding swamps. Where they went is debatable: some took refuge with a tribe up in Calcasieu, while others ran away to the area around Indian Bend. Some legends, however, say that they fled into the deep, dark swamps to eke out a living, relying on their knowledge of the swamps and their primitive living skills to survive. Some appeared in the settlements, driven to begging for food by their desperation. They were eventually discovered, and those that weren’t killed were driven back into the swamps.


In the winter that followed the fateful battle, things reached a turning point. According to one account from Spanish settlers, impending starvation drove the surviving Attakapas to kill and devour their own people. But cannibalism was linked with these people long before the Europeans made contact with the tribe. Sick and tired of being hated and feared by others, the Attakapas appealed to their shamans for guidance in their time of need. In their desperation, the medicine men turned away from their places as servants to the Great Spirit and sought help from the evil that dwelled within the swamps. When they cried out, something dark in the forests answered. Legends say that evil spirits came up from the depths of the swamp and entered the bodies of the Attakapas, possessing them. Possession by these dark spirits gave what was left of the Attakapas something unique: the power of shapeshifting. Now able to become vicious beasts at will, these men gave themselves over to their feral natures entirely. In other words, they had overcome their starving bodies by supernatural means, giving up their humanity in exchange for something else: animal instinct. These people had become vicious werewolves, seeing other people as their food. Over time, the Attakapas came to be known as the Rugarou, the Wolf-Walkers. And to make matters worse, their numbers were slowly starting to grow once again.

During the spring and summer months, the Attakapas seemed to be happy to live like any other people by hunting, fishing, and farming for food. Only the most savage and feral among them chose to live as monsters all year-round. But when winter came and an icy chill could be felt on the wind, it was then that the Wolf Walkers were feared the most. When in the form of a beast, the Rugarou appeared as manlike wolf-creatures, much like the Werewolf is portrayed in Hollywood cinema today. Possessed of unnatural strength, endurance, and speed while bearing ripping claws and teeth, these creatures were not something that a man all alone in the swamp could encounter and hope to survive.

During the winter, it is said that the Attakapas lived in the form of an animal at all times, whether they were men, women, or children. And during those long, freezing winter nights, some say that the heart-wrenching memories of starvation would cause insanity in the beasts. This drove them out of the swamp and into the lowlands, where they prowled about in search of human prey. But the Opelousas and the Chitimacha have more to fear than other people, for madness and hunger aren’t the only forces that drive the Rugarou. The Attakapas haven’t forgotten how the other tribes brutally slaughtered their own families and friends, and their desire for revenge still burns fiercely in their hearts. And one day, they firmly believe that vengeance shall at long last be theirs.

Today, the Chitimacha continue to live in the Louisiana swamps, while the Opelousas endure in smaller numbers. But when winter comes, fears of the Rugarou and its depredations come back with it. As for the Attakapas, they’re still around. On October 28th, 2006, hope for the future was restored as the Attakapa-Ishak Nation met for the first time in over one hundred years as “one nation.” There was a total of four hundred and fifty people gathered together that day, all representing Louisiana and Texas. Rachel Mouton, the mistress of ceremony and the newly-appointed Director of Publications and Communications introduced Billy LaChapelle, who opened the afternoon with a traditional prayer in English and Attakapa.

As recently as 2010 (and possibly much more recently), there have been reports of mutilated livestock and strange figures seen close to the roads around the Chitimacha reservation near Charenton, Louisiana. People have begun to whisper that the Rugarou is once again on the hunt for human prey. The Chitimacha elders believe that it is because the Hurricanes Rita, Katrina, and Gustav have devastated the ecosystem of the Louisiana swamps, effectively destroying the many foods and resources that the Attakapas have depended upon for so long. Some say that this is the Rugarou’s revenge, a vendetta that stretches back from at least three hundred years ago, if not longer. It is only a matter of time until the Rugarou strikes again, and there can be little to no doubt that blood will be spilled on that day.


The legend of the Rougarou is well-known among the Cajuns and the Native American tribes of Louisiana, but they aren’t the only people in the region plagued by the beast’s depredations. The Cajun Werewolf is also an old enemy of the Romani Gypsies, who inhabit Louisiana’s Atchafalaya region. The Gypsies know this horrible monster as “stragoi jostumal,” also known as “the unclean”, “the enemy”, “the evil one”, and “the accursed”. According to Roma legend, the Stragoi (which may be related to the Romanian Strigoi, a species of vampire) is a sort of revenant that feeds on human blood and is capable of assuming the forms of a variety of animals at will. The enmity between the Gypsies and the werewolf is deep-rooted, and goes back hundreds of years.

The Gypsies, as a people, have long been persecuted wherever they go. And although the attitudes towards the Roma have changed considerably in the twenty-first century, things were very different in the late 1600s. In Germany, it was actually legal to hunt and kill Gypsies like animals. They were persecuted and burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition, and English laws announced that trading or otherwise making purchases from the Gypsies was illegal. But it was in France that things were the worst. Initially, the French enjoyed a very friendly relationship with the Gypsy caravans, and they were welcomed in many of the great cities throughout France. But eventually, laws were passed against the Roma, and the French authorities reinforced those laws brutally. Even the innocent act of stopping to reprovision themselves with food and supplies was punishable by death. It is thought that these restrictions may be one of the reasons why Gypsies lead a nomadic existence. What were they to do?

Eventually, some of the Gypsies were placed on ships by the French and deported to the Americas. By this time, the Gypsies had taken a French name, calling themselves the Manouche. They ended up settling in exotic locales like the Canary Islands and Brazil, but some of them wound up in the French colony of Louisiana. Over time, the Manouche abandoned their nomadic ways and began to settle down in the area. They began to intermarry with the local Native American tribes, and also with the Acadiens, those people exiled from the French colony of Nova Scotia in Canada. The intermingling of blood between such diverse cultures created the unique Cajun flavor of what is known today as the great state of Louisiana.

Before the Gypsies had arrived, however, legends of deadly shapeshifting beasts had already been known to the native peoples of the region for many generations. The French settlers had inadvertently brought their legends with them of a beast that they called the Loup-Garou, a particularly vicious werewolf that had terrorized France for centuries. The Gypsies themselves were (and still are) very superstitious, and their culture abounds with legends of the walking dead, curses, witchcraft, and werewolves. The Stragoi, as mentioned earlier, is one such creature that is able to shapeshift. When the Manouche encountered these horrible man-beasts from the Native American and French cultures, they knew exactly what they were dealing with. The caravan’s resident sorceress (or drabarni in Romani) and the elders knew that they had to do something, or people would begin to die...

The people of the Atchafalaya region hold some peculiar beliefs about the Manouche Gypsies. For example, they have long believed that the old witches among the Gypsies could transform themselves, at will, into crows. Seeing one of these birds or being followed by a flock of crows isn’t necessarily a bad thing in Gypsy traditions at all. In fact, it is actually considered to be a good omen. The very presence of these birds is believed to be sure protection against the Stragoi, and despite the fact that it is illegal to this day to do so, crows are kept by many Romani as pets. According to legend, one harsh croak is all that is necessary to frighten the Stragoi away. The same could be said for the Rougarou.

In the event that the Rougarou (Stragoi) is found to be one of their own people, no time is lost in attempting to drive the beast out of hiding and to rid the afflicted of the curse. The caravan’s wise men and women (puridanos) use their powers of divination to single out the individual who carries the werewolf’s curse, after which the tribe’s men will then capture that person (the Rougarou can be male or female, although males are the most common). Once this has been done, the puridanos will attempt to use every kind of magical cure that they can possibly think of to save their kinfolk from the curse. Most Romani accounts say that this painstaking process very rarely fails, but it has happened. And when the process does fail, they all know that the beast must be destroyed. If this isn’t done, then the lives of the entire tribe are at risk.

When a monster must be destroyed, that task falls to the leader of the tribe, the most powerful and prominent man among them. He is known as the Rom Baro, the “Big Man.” Only he has the authority and the power to kill the Stragoi. According to eyewitness testimony, there is a very strict ritual that must be followed to the letter. This is an ancient tradition that is used to put the afflicted person out of their misery. Thus, it is an act of mercy, not malice. As such, the only person in a gypsy tribe who may have a sword in his possession is the Rom Baro himself. This sword is usually made by the caravan’s blacksmith to exacting standards. It can be assumed that the Big Man uses this weapon to dispatch the werewolf, usually by beheading the individual and then burning the body until only ashes remain. And while the Gypsies of the Atchafalaya region have been plagued by the Rougarou or Stragoi for hundreds of years, the Romani themselves say that only three times in the American chapter of their history have they resorted to killing a person suffering from the werewolf’s curse. The Gypsies remain dead silent about those particular incidents.

Today, the curse of the Rougarou is so widespread and feared that the native Cajuns still seek out Gypsy help when they feel that they have been “jinxed” by the werewolf’s curse. There are still many remote gypsy encampments scattered throughout the swamps of Southern Louisiana. Here, the gypsy wise women (or puridai) are sought out. There are quite a few people who are willing to brave the dangers of the swamps just to receive her advice and wisdom. Their magic is believed by some to be the only sure defense and the only promise of salvation from the Rougarou’s curse. And they are usually willing to give their help to those in need…for a price.

As terrifying and dangerous as the Rougarou is, it does have several weaknesses. A bright, roaring fire will cause the beast to retreat, as fire is said to be one of the few things that the Cajun Werewolf fears. According to Alyne Pustanio, there are several herbs that have protective properties which can be used against the beast. These herbs include wolfsbane, angelica root, rue, sage, bay leaves, and laurel. However, these herbs must be gathered when the moon is in its waxing phase, or else they won’t work. Alyne also says that salt, holy water, consecrated Eucharist wafers, and the ashes of blessed palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration will also protect a person from the depredations of a werewolf. Brick dust, a contribution from New Orleans hoodoo conjurers, is said to work as well.

One unusual method of keeping the Rougarou at bay, according to Claudia Reynolds, is to place thirteen small objects along the doorways and the windowsills of one’s home. According to some versions of the legend, the Rougarou can only count up to the number twelve. And thus each time the beast counts out twelve of those objects, it will be forced to start all over again. It is said that the monster will become so occupied with this task that he will fail to take notice of the rising sun until it’s too late. It will be forced to run back into the swamp. In the same vein, some say that hanging a colander on one’s front door will achieve the same effect. The Rougarou will just stand there counting all of the holes and, once he gets to twelve, he has to start all over again. When the sun comes up, the Rougarou will be forced to retreat. This may have more to do with legends of the Vampire in Eastern and Central Europe than anything else, and little to do with the Rougarou. Still, it might be worth trying.

There are a number of other ways to deter the Rougarou from attacking as well. If one takes the Gypsy legends of the Stragoi into account, the harsh cries of a crow may frighten the monster away. Some say that by rolling up a certain leaf (which might be wolfsbane or one of the herbs mentioned above) and placing it inside one’s wallet will keep the creature away. There are others who say that there are elderly women who paint protective hexagons in the middle of their floors and say certain prayers to keep the beast at a safe distance. Mojo bags and other charms from the Voodoo and the Hoodoo religions may also work.

Despite the beast’s sheer strength and ferocious appetite for human flesh, the Rougarou can be killed. However, the sheer danger and the risk to life and limb are beyond measure and thus should only be done when there is no other choice. Like the Werewolf of film and literature, silver is said to be an effective means of destroying the Rougarou. Brad Steiger recounts in The Werewolf Book (Second Edition, 2012) that silver, in alchemical traditions, symbolizes “the moon, the Divine Virgin, purity, and chastity” (Steiger 252). In her book, The Encyclopedia of Vampires & Werewolves (Second Edition, 2011), Rosemary Ellen Guiley writes that silver is a “precious metal with protective powers against negative influences and everything evil” (Guiley 313). It is interesting to note that the use of silver as a means of killing the Werewolf comes from France in the mid-to-late 1760s. During the years of 1764 to 1767, a monstrous wolflike creature terrorized the Gévaudan region of France, where it killed and devoured anywhere from sixty to over one hundred people, if not more. But in the end, on June 19th, 1767, a reclusive hunter by the name of Jean Chastel shot and killed the Beast with two bullets forged from a blessed silver Communion chalice that he had melted down and cast into three bullets. The monster has since become known as the Beast of Gévaudan, and the case still remains unsolved, even after over two hundred years of searching for answers. It is from this case that Hollywood gained the idea that a werewolf can be slain with a silver bullet.


There are two distinctive ways of killing the Rougarou. The first is the classic Hollywood approach, and that is to pierce the monster’s heart with a silver bullet or a blade. The silver must be fairly pure, but alloys like sterling silver or coin silver (both of which contain copper as an alloying element, making the resulting alloy harder and more resistant to wear). A steel blade can be plated with pure silver as an alternative to an expensive blade forged entirely from silver or a silver alloy (although pure silver is considered to be more effective). However, be cautious not to remove the blade until after the beast has been permanently dealt with (which shall be discussed shortly), or else one risks the werewolf regenerating and returning to life.

The second and most effective means of killing the Rougarou is decapitation. This involves taking a long, very sharp blade of iron or steel and separating the head from the rest of the body. This can be done with a sword, an axe, or a long knife (having at least twelve to fifteen inches of cutting edge), but such a weapon demands getting very close to the monster in order to deliver a beheading blow. That also puts the hunter within striking distance of the Rougarou’s claws and fangs, so it is recommended that the Rougarou be taken down from a distance before decapitating the beast. The Gypsies, according to Alyne Pustanio, preferred forged iron for this purpose, usually in the form of a sword. It can be reasonably assumed (but it could be wrong) that this means wrought iron, but it should be known that wrought iron is a fairly soft metal that doesn’t take or otherwise keep a very sharp edge. However, it should be noted that that the Gypsies performed their mercy-killings while the werewolf was in human form. In all likelihood, the modern-day monster hunter will not have this option, as he is far more likely to encounter the Rougarou after the cursed person has transformed into a monster.

There is one final step in permanently destroying the Rougarou, and that is to salt and burn the beast’s body and scatter the ashes. This step in the process is crucial, as it will prevent the monster from regenerating and thus returning to life to seek revenge on its would-be killer. But keep in mind that burning a human body requires extremely high temperatures of at least sixteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit or higher and several hours of burning time to reduce a corpse to ashes, not to mention the fuel needed for such an undertaking. A modern-day crematorium would be far more efficient, but good luck finding one that doesn’t ask questions. A good old-fashioned bonfire that is constantly watched and tended to is probably a safer alternative than a crematorium. But if done correctly, the threat of the Rougarou will be gone…for the time being. There is always the possibility that the Rougarou’s curse will manifest itself once again.

The idea of having to resort to killing a human being cursed to prowl the swamps at night as a monster brings up some issues regarding the morality of such a situation. Is it immoral to kill something evil? Generally speaking, no. But is it immoral to do the same to an innocent human being? Yes, it is. It is crucial to remember that the Rougarou is still human underneath the fur and the fangs, and may just be the innocent victim of a sorcerer or a shaman’s curse (although some of these people may have done something to deserve it). Either that, or they may have been infected with the affliction by another werewolf. It could even be hereditary. Thus, the victim’s condition may not necessarily be their fault. But killing the beast should only be done as a last resort, and every possible effort should be made to cure the afflicted person before it’s too late. Louisiana is filled with Gypsies, Hoodoo conjurers, Voodoo practitioners, and Native American medicine men, so a cure could very well be found for this particular type of lycanthropy. It should be noted that this blog neither encourages nor condones murder of any kind, because it is wrong on both legal and moral grounds and will likely result in imprisonment for the rest of one’s life…or worse.

It would seem that there are two types of Rougarou prowling the swamps of Louisiana. One is the Loup-Garou, the werewolf that immigrated to Louisiana from France with the settlers. The other is the Attakapa Wolf-Walker, a member of a near-extinct tribe of vicious shapeshifters. While both may look similar when fully transformed, there may be something different about each one that distinguishes one from the other. On one hand, the French Loup-Garou is believed to physically transform into a monster. On the other hand, the Attakapa Wolf-Walker could be transforming on an etheric level by utilizing a magical animal body of transformation (see this blog’s entry on Phantom Werewolves for more information). But regardless of those differences, both of these varieties of the Rougarou are extremely dangerous, and encounters with either one should be avoided at all costs.

The legend of the Rougarou may very well be changing. As people’s perceptions of the world around them change, so do their beliefs. There are a few people in Louisiana who believe that the Rougarou might be something metaphysical, an entity that isn’t entirely a physical, flesh-and-blood monster. Some paranormal investigators are intrigued by this notion and theorize that this creature may be interdimensional or perhaps even spiritual in nature. However, there are a great deal of people who believe that the Rougarou is a flesh-and-blood monster that, at the same time, is supernatural in origin. “These tales twist and turn throughout history,” says Cajun folklorist Jonathan Foret, “and this may be one of those twists.” Who’s to say that Jonathan isn’t right?


Today, the Rougarou is most often thought of as a kind of bogeyman, a scary story to frighten children into behaving themselves. The legend is becoming increasingly popular and more widely-known to people outside of Louisiana due to the beast’s portrayal in popular culture and especially television. The monster has appeared in the enormously popular TV series Supernatural in a very different form in the fourth season’s fourth episode, “Metamorphosis” (originally aired on October 9th, 2008). The monster has also appeared in the short-lived series Cryptid: The Swamp Beast (2013), the four-episode reality TV series Swamp Monsters (2014), and gained widespread notoriety in the ongoing series Monsters & Mysteries in America (2013). But there are many credible eyewitnesses who have come forward with their stories, and they are adamant that they have seen something truly horrifying in the swamps of Louisiana, something that they cannot explain. And the sightings just keep coming in. Does a werewolf truly prowl the forests and bayous when the moon is full? The people of Louisiana seem to believe so. And maybe, just maybe, they have a good reason for their beliefs. But regardless of what some people may say, the legend of the Rougarou continues to endure, and the beast still hungers for the taste of warm, raw human flesh...

Acknowledgements

The legend of the Rougarou has fascinated me for a few years now, and this is the culmination of that fascination. But I wouldn’t have been able to do this without some serious help. I am deeply indebted to my good friends Jonathan Foret, Alyne Pustanio, and Brad Steiger. I would like to sincerely thank Jonathan and Alyne for allowing me to use their expertise and for putting up with and answering my seemingly endless barrage of questions. As for the history behind the legends as told by the Opelousas, the Chitimacha, and the Gypsies, that is Alyne’s original work and research, which I have retold here with her gracious permission. I would also like to thank Brad for allowing me to use his excellent books in my research. In fact, it was from Brad’s work that I first learned of the Rougarou. Jonathan, Alyne, and Brad, I am so very thankful for your kindness, your understanding, your willingness to help, and your friendship especially. I owe each one of you a debt of gratitude, and I hope to repay each one of you someday. Thank You for all of your help!!

Works Cited

Brown, Nathan Robert. The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Werewolves. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009.

Brown, Nathan Robert. The Mythology of Supernatural: The Signs and Symbols Behind the Popular TV Show. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2011.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires & Werewolves. Second Edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2011, 2005.

Pustanio, Alyne. “The Rugarou, Werebeast of the Swamp Indians.” Steiger, Brad. Real Zombies, the Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse. Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2010. Pages 181-184.

Steiger, Brad. The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. Second Edition. Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2012.

Burns, Phyllis Doyle. “Louisiana Werewolf – Rougarou of the Bayou.” HubPages. 15 August 2014. 10 October 2014. <
http://phyllisdoyle.hubpages.com/hub/Louisiana-Werewolf-Rougarou-of-the-Bayou#>

Duby, D.S. “The Rougarou – Southern Louisiana.” HubPages. 5 November 2012. 10 October 2014. <
http://ritamonette.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-rougarou.html>

Folse, Brandon. “Rougarou remains strong figure in Cajun folklore.” The Nicholls Worth. 26 October 2006. 10 October 2014. <
http://www.thenichollsworth.com/lagniappe/rougarou-remains-strong-figure-in-cajun-folklore-1.2079477#.U4TdFVTD-1s>

Lamb, Robert. “Monster of the Week: Rougarou the Lenten Werewolf.” Tor.com. 20 February 2013. 10 October 2014. <
http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/02/monster-of-the-week-rougarou-the-lenten-werewolf>

Lugibihl, Jamie. “He creeps, he crawls, he conquers: The Rougarou – A Louisiana folklore legend.” The Nicholls Worth. 26 April 2001. 10 October 2014. <
http://www.thenichollsworth.com/lagniappe/he-creeps-he-crawls-he-conquers-1.2076148#.U4Th2lTD-1s>

McKnight, Laura. “Tales of the Rougarou still haunt local memories.” Dailycomet.com. 22 October 2006. 16 December 2014. <
http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20061022/FEATURES/610220321>

Pustanio, Alyne. “The Loup Garou (Cajun Werewolf).” Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations. 14 May 2007. 10 October 2014. <
http://duplechien.proboards.com/thread/120>

Reynolds, Claudia. “The Rougarou: Louisiana’s Cajun Werewolf.” Lifepaths 360. 3 April 2012. 12 October 2014. <
http://www.lifepaths360.com/index.php/the-rougarou-louisianas-cajun-werewolf-1783/>

“What is a Rougarou, Exactly?” CryptoVille. 1 April 2014. 10 October 2014. <http://visitcryptoville.com/2014/04/01/what-is-a-rougarou-exactly/>

“The Rougarou is Watching You!” Cajun French Blog. February 2009. 15 September 2014. <
http://www.cajunfrenchblog.com/2009/02/the-rougarou-is-watching-you/> (now defunct)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Kanaima

The natives of the Carib islands have always been superstitious, but they have good reasons for being so. Danger lurks all around them in their rainforest home in one form or another, and some of these threats aren't of the natural world at all. The Carib people believe in a number of different ghosts, spirits, demons, and strange creatures. One of the deadliest of these spirits is able to shapeshift into animals and take bodily possession of mortal men, inciting them into committing murder. This spirit is known as the Kanaima, a shapeshifter that seeks to kill and wholly consume humans in body and soul.

The Kanaima is primarily associated with the Akawaio, Pemon, Carib, Patamona, and the Macushi tribes, all of whom inhabit the jungles of South America. There seems to be some confusion in the tribal folklore in regards to what the Kanaima (also known as Canaima or Kenaima, as some spell it) actually is, as it may vary from one tribe to another. Some say that it is a shaman who uses dark magic to take on the form of an animal in order to hunt, kill, and feed on people. On the other hand, other people say that the Kanaima is an evil spirit that passes silently through huts at night while the residents are asleep, seeking those whom it may possess. According to legend, however, the Kanaima can also take possession of animals. This causes the animals to become very aggressive and violent towards other animals and people in particular.

In some tribal traditions, there are some people who are so consumed by their need for revenge (usually for a murdered relative) that they willingly invite these evil spirits into their bodies through the use of powerful drugs or magic rituals. Those people literally become Kanaima, seeking out their enemies so that they may kill and devour those who did them wrong. There are others who believe that the Kanaima is a predatory animal possessed by a human's spiritual self, possibly through the magical practice of astral projection. In this case, the animal that is most often sought is the jaguar, a magnificent animal that was worshipped in the olden days by the Olmecs and the Maya for its strength, speed, and its prowess in the hunt. This big, vicious cat usually takes small to large animals as its prey, although humans are sometimes on the list as potential prey as well.

Whatever the case might be, the Kanaima is still a supernatural force to be reckoned with. This evil spirit gives possessed humans the power of shapeshifting, the ability to physically transform into any animal that they desire. The jaguar seems to be the most common choice, although there are also tales of the Kanaima assuming the form of a deadly anaconda as well. In addition, the possessing spirit gives its host unnatural strength, speed, endurance, and a murderous ferocity that only the most depraved serial killers may come close to matching. When the person takes on an animal's form, they also gain the animal's claws, teeth, its strength, and the animal's senses as well. It is also said that the Kanaima's gaze can cause a person to become irrevocably insane. Like other spirits, the Kanaima seems to be able to spread disease and cause bodily problems for its victims (like stomach ailments) as well. In addition to its powers, the Kanaima carries a bottle made from a gourd called a calabash. The gourd may contain poison, although this is uncertain. The creature also carries a magic bow that fires poisoned arrows. Presumably, this weapon assists the monster in bringing down its chosen prey.

The following story tells of an encounter with a Kanaima. Once there was an old man who lurked in the forests as a Kanaima, taking the shape of a tiger (although this may have simply been another term for a jaguar) in order to stalk and kill unwary humans. One day, the old man's son was out hunting with his bow and a quiver of arrows. His arrows were primitive, the points being carved bone bound to a wooden shaft with resin and sinew. It wasn't long before the young hunter encountered the big cat. Raising his bow, he fired an arrow that hit the animal squarely in its lower jaw. The tiger roared in pain and, raising its paw, snapped the wooden shaft and the bone point off. The animal then fled into the forest. The young man picked up what remained of his arrow and went home.

The next day, the old man came out of the forest. He groaned with pain, claiming that his mouth was on fire. Being a good son, the boy offered to take a look. The old man opened his mouth as wide as he could. Seeing something, his son carefully withdrew a piece of broken bone from the inside of his father's cheek. Now suspicious, the younger man retrieved his broken arrow from the day before. The piece of bone fit snugly into the arrow's shaft. At that moment, he knew the truth: his father was a Kanaima, a werebeast. The hunter's heart was heavy with sorrow, and he told his father that he had to take his wife and leave. The young man knew that as long as he stayed in his father's presence, neither he nor his beautiful wife would be safe from the monster within his father. With those words, the young man and his wife took their belongings and sought a home elsewhere to start a family.

The legend told above tells of the connection between the Kanaima and a phenomenon related to shapeshifters and werebeasts, which is known as sympathetic wounding. This belief states that if a shapeshifter is injured or wounded while in the shape of an animal, then that very same wound will appear on the shapeshifter's human body. This identifies the monster to others and enables those people to take action against it. Most often, this leads to death for the werebeast. In this case, the old man got off lucky and was only shunned. However, there are only a few people who can imagine the unbearable pain of being rejected by their loved ones because of their own mistakes.

There are no known methods of warding off or destroying the Kanaima while it isn't possessing a living body. Salt might be able to keep the spirit at bay for a time, although exactly how long that might be can't be said. As for dealing with the Kanaima while it is in possession of a body, one may be able to kill the body with everyday weapons. This could hypothetically release the inhabiting spirit, although it would be free to find another body at that point. However, because life is so precious, an exorcism might be somewhat more appropriate. A Christian exorcism wouldn't be out of the question in this part of the world, although finding a priest who is trained and can conduct the ceremony might be a challenge. Therefore, it might be more convenient to find a native shaman who can use his magic and his knowledge of the natural world to drive the invading spirit out of its host, while at the same time keeping the victim alive.

Although not much is know about the Kanaima and its habits, South American natives still believe in the existence of the creature and are still very much afraid of it. To them, it is death incarnate. Once a victim has been chosen, there is no escape. Even if the victim runs, the Kanaima will hunt them down without mercy. The beast is utterly relentless in its pursuit, and one cannot run or even hide for long. It just goes to show that, no matter how hard a person tries, they cannot outrun death itself.

Works Cited

Hamel, Frank. Werewolves, Bird-Women, Tiger-Men, and Other Human Animals. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1915, 2007.





Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Flying Heads

Within the annals of folklore, legend, and mythology, some truly bizarre monsters can be found. But being bizarre doesn't make them any less dangerous. In fact, it may make them even more deadly. One of the most bizarre of these creatures can be found in the oral traditions and folklore of the Iroquois. These creatures appear as decapitated human heads with wings that will devour anything that moves. They are known as Kanontsistóntie, the Flying Heads.

The Flying Heads are undead disembodied heads or demons that have the wings of a bird or a bat growing from their temples. They have fiery eyes that glow eerily in the darkness, while their heads are covered in a matted mess of long, tangled hair. Their heads vary in size, from being human-sized to being "four times as tall as the tallest man." The faces of the monsters are described as being "very dark and angry, filled with great wrinkles and horrid furrows." These creatures have large mouths that are filled with needle-sharp fangs, which they use for catching and devouring their prey. Their skin is thick and matted with dirty, greasy hair, so much so that no weapon can penetrate these disgusting defenses. Some legends say that they have long talons of great strength on their undersides for tearing flesh and seizing prey, but this trait is either absent or is simply not mentioned in other accounts. These monsters can be found in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

The Flying Heads were once thought to kill primarily for revenge because of some wrongdoing on the part of the Iroquois. However, these creatures have since become so feral and debased that the only thing that they think about is what they're going to eat next. They are constantly hungry and, being only disembodied heads, they can never know the satisfaction that a full stomach brings. Hunger is now their only motivation, and it drives them at all times. These demons travel in groups and are entirely carnivorous, and they especially seem to savor the taste of human flesh. They are relentless predators, pursuing and devouring any living creature that makes the slightest movement. They appear to be nocturnal by nature, roosting in caves or desecrated ruins by day (much like bats). Some of them might make their nests in an abandoned village, where all of the original inhabitants were mercilessly slaughtered by the winged demons. By night, the Flying Heads soar through the darkened sky at speed, shrieking and laughing like madmen as they go.

While the Flying Heads are exactly what their name suggests (severed heads with the ability to fly, obviously), they are supernatural entities with powers beyond those of a mere mortal. They are most obviously able to fly, although there is no evidence of any limit to the distance or the speed of their flight capabilities. They are possessed of great strength, particularly in their jaws and the talons on their undersides. It is said in some legends that the stumps of their necks drip blood, and that this blood is both toxic and corrosive to human flesh. Some people say that they are able to spread disease by appearing in the dreams of their victims, which is always taken to be an omen of a coming illness or death. And wherever these monsters choose to dwell, the place eventually becomes corrupted by their evil. This unnatural taint gradually spreads to the surrounding countryside, rendering the area desolate and devoid of life for many miles. This corruption may attract other monsters, making such a territory both inhospitable and extremely dangerous to human beings.

There is one question that begs to be answered about the Flying Heads: where did they come from? Many people say that the Kanontsistóntie are the result of a horrible violent death, while others say that a human may become one of these creatures through an act of cannibalism (a trait shared with the more notorious Wendigo). Some folklore suggests that the Flying Heads are the decapitated remains of great sorcerers, sorceresses, or giants. Some stories, however, do not speak of the origins of the Flying Heads at all. This would seem to imply that these monsters are primordial in nature, having existed since prehistory with little to no purpose other than to terrorize and feed upon humans. In order to understand the origins of these monsters more clearly, one must look to Iroquois mythology for answers.

Long ago, there was a very severe winter on one particular year. The intense cold killed most of the plants, and it drove the deer, the moose, and the other game animals off to other regions in search of food. The local native tribes decided against following the animals, and decided to rely on their fishing skills to sustain them. But the fishing didn't last, for it seemed that the fish had abandoned the area. Eventually, a devastating famine swept through the area, becoming so severe that it killed entire families. What were the natives to do?

It wasn't long before the younger members of the tribe began to talk about migrating from the area that they had long called home. The young braves proposed a secret journey to a great lake to the west of them. The journey would be dangerous, as there were a number of hostile tribes in the area that always seemed to thirst for the blood of their enemies. But once they were beyond the borders of the lake, it would be a fairly simple matter to find a new home. However, not everyone agreed with this plan.

The elders of the tribe absolutely refused to make the journey, saying that it was madness to attempt such a feat. They argued that the famine had been orchestrated by the Master of Life to punish the people for their sins. They believed that if they could endure the famine, it would eventually pass. But if they tried to escape it, the consequences would follow them for the rest of their lives and beyond. They would rather die in their own homelands than to live in a strange place where they didn't belong. The young men were furious with the elders' decision, and they proceeded to slaughter the elderly men in their anger.

When the young men realized what they had done, they were faced with a dilemma: how would they dispose of the bodies? Seeking to justify their grisly deed, it was eventually decided that the bodies would be decapitated and burned as an offering to the Master of Life. The heads would be bound together and thrown into the lake (presumably with heavy stones), so that they would sink to the bottom and never be seen again by the eyes of man. Then they would be free to migrate to new hunting grounds, where food would be plentiful. Of course, things never go exactly as planned when murder is involved, do they?

When one of the chiefs involved in the murders tried to hurl the heads into the lake, he himself became entangled in the ropes and fell into the lake. Unable to break free of the ropes, the chief drowned. According to legend, the water started to bubble, and a sickening slime appeared on the water's surface. Then, something monstrous emerged from the lake: a gigantic head covered in matted hair, with the wings of a bat and a cavernous maw filled with needle-pointed fangs. The Iroquois would never be able to escape this horrible monster, which arose from the depths of the lake to avenge the deaths of the tribal elders.

It wasn't long, however, before the Flying Head began to attack other tribes in the area, seemingly for no apparent reason. The Flying Head would devour any living thing that moved, oftentimes while the victim was still alive. Over time, the Flying Head's attacks grew more vicious and its unceasing hunger claimed more and more lives. Eventually, people fled and hid themselves from the monster. All that remained was a woman and her baby inside of a longhouse, and she had a decision to make. "Someone must make a stand against this monster," she thought to herself, "It might as well be me." She began to build a large fire, and tossed in several large stones. And then, she sat down to wait for the monster.

The young mother watched and waited for the monster to make its presence known. Suddenly, the Flying Head appeared in the longhouse doorway! Looking inside, the monster grinned horribly when it saw the woman sitting within the dwelling. The woman pretended that she didn't notice the hideous creature and acted as though she was cooking a meal for herself (some versions of the legend say that she was roasting chestnuts or acorns over the fire). Picking up the now-glowing stones with a forked stick, she then pretended to eat the red-hot rocks. In reality, the woman passed the stones behind her beautiful face and simply dropped them on the ground. All the while, the woman smacked her lips and exclaimed, "Ah, how good this is! What wonderful food! Never has anyone feasted on meat like this before!"

The woman's ruse worked. Unable to control itself, the Flying Head rushed into the longhouse and seized the entire pile of glowing, red-hot stones in its mouth. But as soon as the creature had swallowed them, it let out a horrifying scream that echoed over the trees, the mountains, and the streams as it frantically flew off in agony. Its screams reached such volumes that the largest and oldest of the trees trembled, the earth shook, and even the very leaves fell from the branches of the trees. Every person throughout the land covered their ears and grimaced in pain from the monster's screams! Gradually, the screams faded into the distance, becoming fainter and fainter until they could no longer be heard. What became of the monster after that is unknown. Some people say that the Flying Head burst into flames and burned into ashes. Others say that the creature fled into the wilderness and never bothered humanity again. Could this demon still be out there somewhere?

There are very few known ways to deal with the Flying Heads in regards to warding off or even destroying them. They are said to be vulnerable to medicine charms (traditionally used by the Native American peoples to ward off sickness and evil) and seem to particularly hate ritualistic dancing and sacred songs. They do have one huge weakness, however: their lack of intelligence. Despite the fact that these creatures are little more than heads with wings, they aren't much smarter than the average wild beast. They are driven only by their voracious appetites for flesh. Because of their stupidity, they are easily deceived and will fall for the simplest of tricks. And while the Flying Heads are highly aggressive and dangerous predators, they are cowards and will retreat if the dominant member of their flock is destroyed or if their chosen prey proves to be more powerful than the creatures had anticipated.

It would seem that the only way to destroy the Flying Heads is fire. Decapitation is obviously out of the question here, although splitting the monsters in two with a bladed weapon or piercing the brain may also work. Gunshots to the head may also stop these flying demons, although the veracity of this theory will most likely never be proven. Cutting the wings of these creatures will most likely disable them, causing them to fall helplessly to the ground. There, they can easily be finished off by piercing the brain with a narrow spike or blade (like a bayonet). The remains should then be salted and burned, and the ashes cast to the four winds to prevent the Heads from possibly returning.

The Flying Heads have not been seen in the modern age, and one might be able to assume that they have died off. Either that, or encounters with such creatures are few and far between and may be so sporadic that people don't bother reporting them for fear of ridicule! But is it possible that the Flying Heads are still out there, flying out in search of prey when the sun goes down? It is certainly a possibility. Perhaps somewhere, deep in a forgotten cave in a dark forest, the Flying Heads sleep and await nightfall, when they may prowl the darkened skies once again in search of living prey...

Works Cited

Zenko, Darren. Field Guide to Monsters. Canada: Dragon Hill Publishing Ltd. Copyright ©2008 by Dragon Hill Publishing Ltd.

Flying Head (Wikipedia)

Legendary Native American Figures: Flying Head (Big Heads)

Flying Head (The Demoniacal)

The Flying Head

FLYING-HEAD

Flying Head

Big Giant Heads: The Importance of Being Monstrously Gluttonous

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tiyanak (The Demon Child)

When the average person sees a baby, they cannot help but be overwhelmed by feelings of love and caring. And why not? They're adorable and innocent, as yet uncorrupted by the selfish ways of the world. They rely on their parents and other appointed adults for nourishment and protection, because they are weak and vulnerable to harm at this point in their lives. In the Philippines, however, those feelings are tempered by a sense of caution and fear of the supernatural. These people know that the cries of an infant in distress don't always belong to a human child. Those cries may belong to a demonic monster known as the Tiyanak, which deceives people into taking them in and then feeds on their would-be saviors when they least expect it.

In Filipino mythology, the Tiyanak (or Impakto) is a vampiric monster that takes on the form of a human baby or a small child (it can appear as a boy or a girl) that dwells within the deepest, darkest parts of the forests and abandoned parts of small towns or villages. The Tiyanak is believed to be the ghost or the reanimated corpse of a child who died before it could be given the rites of holy baptism. These innocent souls are bound for Hell, where they will spend the rest of eternity in Limbo. Over time, these unbaptized innocents are warped and corrupted by the hellish environment and the evil of the Pit, and are thus transformed into evil spirits. Some of these spirits escape from their fiery confinement and return to the mortal plane as goblins, where they devour living humans. In modern times, this definition has been extended to include miscarried or aborted fetuses. Tiyanak who are "born" in this manner inevitably seek to exact their revenge on the people who deprived them of their right to live: their parents. But that vengeance may also extend to the doctor who performed the abortion.

There are also people who believe that the Tiyanak is the offspring of a human woman and a demon, possibly one that is related to the Incubus. Other legends say that this creature is created when a pregnant woman dies before giving birth. When the unfortunate woman is buried, the baby undergoes a transformation into an undead creature in the womb and then emerges from the grave to feed on humans. Thus, the Tiyanak is "born in the ground," neither living nor dead, but undead. It is interesting to note that a similar creature may be found in Malay folklore: the Pontianak, a vampiric ghost that preys upon men. This undead monster was once a woman who died before she was able to give birth. Although they are from different cultures, the Pontianak could be said to be the mother of the Tiyanak. Be aware that this is only speculation, and should not be taken at face value.

There seems to be some differences in opinion as to what the Tiyanak's true form looks like. Some say that the creature's natural form resembles a baby with claws, fangs, and red eyes. It may also be able to take on the appearance of a specific child. There are others who believe that the Tiyanak has more in common with the dwarves of Filipino folklore, sharing their elemental connection to the earth (although whether or not this connection to the earth grants the demon child any specific powers remains to be seen). In this instance, the Tiyanak appears as a short elderly man with wrinkled skin, a mustache and a long beard, a flat nose, and eyes that are said to be the same size as peseta coins. Oddly enough, the creature's right leg is said to be much shorter than its left one. This handicap forces the Tiyanak to move by leaping, and makes it very difficult for the creature to hunt or to otherwise pursue potential prey. However, the monster is able to compensate for its relative lack of mobility with its eerie ability to mimic the cries of a frightened baby.

There are other versions of the Tiyanak legend as well. In one instance, the demon child is thought to fly through the air under its own power, all the while still appearing to be a baby! On the island of Mindoro, the Tiyanak is thought to be able to assume the form of a black bird and soar through the skies in that form. In Pampanga, the legend changes yet again. Here, they are believed to be small people (like faeries, also known as the Little People) with nut-brown skin, large noses, wide mouths (presumably filled with sharp teeth), fierce-looking eyes, and "sharp voices." On a rather incredulous note, these Tiyanak don't walk on the ground like ordinary people do. Instead, they float in mid-air! This may yet be another connection to faery lore. But regardless of how the creature appears to humans, it is still a monster that seeks to kill people whenever it has a chance.

In order to lure its prey within striking distance, the Tiyanak cries like a baby. There are very few people who can ignore this disheartening sound, as only the truly heartless could ignore the sound of an infant in distress. The creature varies the sound of its voice, at times getting closer while seeming further away at other times. By doing so, it seeks to thoroughly confuse and disorient its prey so that they become hopelessly lost in the forests. Once the intended prey picks the creature up, the Tiyanak assumes its true form. The creature's claws and fangs extend, and the Tiyanak proceeds to feed on the still-living victim's flesh and blood. Additionally, the demon child takes great delight in leading travelers off of the beaten path before it entices them with its cries. The Tiyanak is also said to be fond of abducting children, much like the Changeling of European faery lore.

As frightening and dangerous as the Tiyanak is, there are ways to counter and drive the creature away. According to legend, the most effective way to break free of the monster's crying enchantment is simply to strip down, turn one's clothes inside out, and then put them back on. Apparently, the Tiyanak finds this to be hilarious, and will generally let the victim go before it heads back into its forest home. It is also thought that loud noises, like those from a New Year's celebration, will frighten the Tiyanak and cause it to flee back into the forest. According to legend, objects that are used to ward off the Aswang are also said to be effective against the Tiyanak as well. Such objects and substances include garlic, silver, a rosary, holy water, salt, and a crucifix. However, there are no given methods for destroying the Tiyanak. However, one may always fall back on decapitating the monster and then salting and burning the corpse afterwards. It never hurts to be careful.

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish sailed across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and began to colonize the islands, starting with Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Over time, Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion through the Philippine Islands, and the legend of the Tiyanak was incorporated into that particular branch of Christianity, becoming the unbaptized, undead souls of children who had died. But many of the Filipino people still recall the old ways of life, which includes beliefs in monsters and spirits that pre-date the Spanish colonization. And encounters with these creatures of the night, such as the Tiyanak, continue to be reported to this day. It would seem that, as long as the Filipino people themselves continue to endure, then monsters like the Tiyanak are here to stay.

Sources

Tiyanak (Wikipedia)

Legendary Humanoids - Tiyanak, the Demon Child

Tiyanak - Demon Child

Monster of the Week: The Tiyanak of the Philippines

Tiyanak

Tiyanak (Monstropedia)

Legend and Story of the Philippine Tiyanak Child Vampire

Friday, October 31, 2014

Kushtaka (The Otterman)

Alaska is truly one of the last remaining untamed wilderness areas in the world. It is cold, very remote, and the sun doesn't always shine. It's no wonder that they call it "Land of the Midnight Sun." The Tlingit and the Tsimshian have called this cold, beautiful country their home for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. Here, they have lived by hunting, fishing, and foraging for food in the snowy forests and the freezing rivers. However, each time they go out to hunt or to forage for food, they have to be wary, armed, and on their guard, for Alaska is said to be home to a variety of terrifying monsters. Sasquatch, the Adlet, Thunderbirds, the Waheela, and even the notorious Sheepsquatch call this country home. But among the most sinister and the most dangerous of these monsters is a shapeshifting beast that is half man and half otter. The Tlingit know this creature as the Kushtaka, the Otterman.

According to Tlingit legend, the Kushtaka is a mythological shapeshifting beast that is said to be half man, half otter, and wholly monstrous. Loosely translated, the word kushtaka (or Kooshdakhaa) means "land otter man." This creature is believed to inhabit the hundreds of lakes, rivers, and ponds that lie scattered throughout the Alaskan landscape. The Kushtaka is said to be especially prevalent in the temperate forests of Southeastern Alaska. In its native habitat, it can be assumed that this creature feeds on fish and mollusks like its animal kin, although it may be more than willing to devour the flesh of its victims if it feels so inclined.

Because the Kushtaka is a shapeshifter, pinning down exactly what the creature looks like is difficult. Most descriptions say that the Otterman is exactly that: half man and half otter. It is said to be bipedal and stands at around the height of a man (about six to eight feet). The creature is covered in sleek, dark brown or black fur, having the hands of a man with taloned fingers, humanlike feet, a long tail, large glowing eyes, and a mouthful of needlelike teeth. Others say that the Kushtaka looks more or less like a Sasquatch, although there seems to be enough differences between these monsters for them to be two entirely different creatures. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as "Alaska's Other Bigfoot." When the Kushtaka has assumed another form, however, it becomes much more difficult to identify. It is said that the only thing that can differentiate the Kushtaka in another form (like a person) from the real person is that its teeth never change, remaining long and sharp.

The native peoples of Alaska are wary of the Kushtaka and the waters that it calls home to the point of paranoia, for the monster's cruelty and sinister nature seem to have no bounds. In other words, it is considered to be both malicious and very evil. The beast is said to be as intelligent as any human, perhaps more so. The Kushtaka is known for being able to eerily mimic the crying of a baby and the screams of a woman, and it uses these sounds to entice people to the water's edge. Once the monster's prey is close enough, it proceeds to kill the victim by tearing them into pieces with its claws and teeth. Either that, or it will turn the victim into another Kushtaka. It will also lure sailors further away from the shoreline to their demise (much like the Siren in Greek mythology). The creature preys mostly on small children, as a child's innate curiosity makes it easy to lure them in close enough to where the Kushtaka can reach them. On a more frightening note, the Kushtaka is said to abduct human babies as well (which ties in with European tales of faeries and changelings). If the creature keeps the baby for long enough, the infant will eventually become a Kushtaka itself. Additionally, the Otterman is also known to emit a high-pitched three-part whistle, which consists of a low whistle, a high whistle, and another low whistle. Presumably this also serves to entice potential victims, but it could also serve as a means of communication with others of its kind. And according to some legends, one should never speak the Kushtaka's name, especially three times in a row. This is said to summon forth the monster, and is very likely to make the Otterman very angry.

Paradoxically, there are instances of the Kushtaka behaving kindly or in an otherwise benevolent manner towards people. In some stories, the Otterman is portrayed as saving people from drowning or freezing to death by turning the person into another Kushtaka. It does this by creating illusions of the person's family and friends to distract them while the Kushtaka transforms them into one of its own. Strangely enough, these illusions are somewhat otterlike in appearance (which would alert any human with knowledge of such things). Exactly how the Otterman is able to transform people into more of its kind is unknown, but it may involve magic. This sudden change allows the person to survive the cold, but this is viewed as being a mixed blessing. On one hand, they are gifted with supernatural powers. On the other hand, however, that person (now a shapeshifting beast) will never again be able to resume their lives as humans among their families and friends. Perhaps the Kushtaka, like people, varies in regards to personality from one individual to another (it is said that there is an entire race of these creatures, after all). But it would seem that the stories of the evil Kushtaka far outweigh any others.

The Kushtaka has a variety of supernatural abilities at its disposal. One of them, as already mentioned, is shapeshifting. The creature is said to be able to assume any form or guise that it pleases, and its most common form, of course, is that of an otter. Some say that it may become any species of otter (like a sea otter or a river otter), while others believe that it is limited to only one. The Kushtaka is also said to be able to take on human form and walk amongst humans if it so desires. Although most sources aren't very specific, it can be reasonably assumed that the monster is capable of assuming any form that it desires. Some say that it is even able to take on the appearance of someone who has recently died!

In addition to its shapeshifting powers, the Kushtaka is possessed of supernatural strength, speed and agility in the water, and endurance. The creature is able to create illusions that enable it to deceive its victims and entice them into coming close enough for the Kushtaka to strike. It is able to appear and disappear at will, communicate telepathically, and it can (allegedly) manipulate time and space. The creature is able to survive in freezing conditions that would kill a person outright, and it can hold its breath underwater for long periods (although exactly how long is unknown). And finally, it is able to turn humans into others of its kind, a concept that is absolutely terrifying to the Tlingit. This is because the Tlingit believe that, in order to achieve reincarnation and eternal life after they die, they have to be human. Not only this, but their souls have to be intact as well. Being transformed into a Kushtaka deprives the victim of both of these things, and the transformation would last forever unless a shaman was found who could rescue the victim. And not only that, but the shaman had to be powerful enough in the ways of magic and the spirits to reverse the transformation and change the victim back into a human. It might be reasonable to assume that medicine men with such powers are few and far between in the twenty-first century.

As dangerous and powerful as the Kushtaka is, it does have a few weaknesses. The creature both fears and despises dogs, and it is said that the animal's barking can force the Kushtaka to reveal its true form. That being said, it is also possible that dog bones can be used as weapons against the Otterman. A dagger carved from dog bone might be able to kill the creature, although this is purely speculation. But it must be emphasized that the bone should be taken from an animal that has already passed away from natural causes (as anything else is both immoral and unethical). In one way or another, dogs are not only faithful friends, but they also provide excellent protection from the Kushtaka. According to legend, the Kushtaka may be kept at bay with copper, human urine, and in some stories, fire. No reasons are given as to why these things hold sway over the Otterman. Theoretically, a copper blade may be able to wound or even kill the Kushtaka. Shamanic magic could be used defensively against the creature and ward it off, although finding a shaman in this day and age who has the necessary power to do so would be a task in and of itself.

There are a great many stories and folktales that tell of the Kushtaka, and some of these stories may actually be true. One of the better-known of these stories is that of gold prospector Harry Colp and his three companions (their names are not given). In 1900, Colp and his associates set about exploring the Patterson Glacier north of Thomas Bay, in what was called "The Devil's Country" by locals. This place was known locally as "The Bay of Death" to the Tlingit, who recalled a horrible tragedy that took place there over one hundred and fifty years earlier. In 1750, an enormous landslide killed five hundred innocent villagers, and this incident was attributed to the evil of the Kushtaka. It is said that the village shaman broke his covenant with the monster, effectively sealing the fates of his people. Mr. Colp later returned with a disturbing story that he later wrote down. The manuscript itself wasn't discovered until after Colp's death by his daughter. She called it "The Strangest Story Ever Told."

Early in the morning one day, Harry Colp left his home. He brought his rifle along for the adventure. He came to a ridge, where he noticed some grouse frolicking about. Raising his rifle, Colp shot three of the birds. While on his way to pick up the third, he found a large piece of quartz. He hadn't been looking around much at the surrounding terrain, but he knew that it was densely wooded and full of brush. He noted that "the formation didn't show up," but he couldn't uncover the ledge without any tools. Fortunately, a snag had broken off and fallen to the ground, scraping off the moss and loose soil and leaving an area some eight feet wide and eighteen to twenty feet long. The entire ledge was made of quartz!

Colp noted that the ledge had been worked smooth by a passing glacier at some point in the distant past. Knowing that where there was quartz there might be gold, he searched for a rock or something to break a piece off of the ledge with. He couldn't find anything, so he used the stock of his rifle to get a piece of the quartz, and he actually broke the stock in the process. He wasn't too worried at the time, as there weren't any animals that he'd seen in the area larger than the grouse that he'd shot earlier that day. He admired the richness of the quartz, and he immediately thought of heading back to town and gathering up his associates so that they could begin their work. He'd made a rich find, and he concealed the ledge "with moss, limbs, and rotten chunk."

Colp began to think, pondering if he should climb the ridge that was standing directly over the quartz ledge to find some landmarks in order to guide himself back to that particular spot, or at least tell his companions where the ledge was in case something happened to him. He then decided that this was the best course of action, "climbing straight up over the ledge on the ridge" until he reached the top, some six hundred feet above the quartz ledge. Looking down below, he scouted out a tree that was taller than the rest and which had a thick, leafy canopy. It was fifty feet to the right of the ledge, and he gazed over the top of the tree. From where he was standing, Colp "could see out on Frederick Sound, Cape of the Straight Light, the point of Vanderput Spit; and turning to the left a little, I could see Sukhoi Island from the mouth of Wrangell Narrows." Colp turned halfway around to get a view of the mountain peaks, and below him on the other side of the ridge "was the half-moon lake the Indian had told me about." What Mr. Colp didn't know was that he was about to encounter something that would scare the wits out of him...

"Right there, fellows, I got the scare of my life. I hope to God that I never see or go through the likes of it again." Colp found himself confronted by a mob of "the most hideous creatures." Colp described them, saying that "I couldn't call them anything but devils, as they were neither men nor monkeys, yet looked like both." These creatures appeared to be genderless, "their bodies covered with long course hair, except where the scabs and running sores had replaced it." The creatures had their arms extended, trying to get ahold of him. He reported that "the air was full of their cries and the stench from their sores and bodies made me faint."

Forgetting about the broken stock on his rifle, he tried firing on the first creatures that came towards him. When that didn't work, he threw his rifle at them, turned around, and ran for his life! "God, how I did run!" Colp could feel the creatures breathing on the back of his neck, and the creatures slashed at his back with their long, clawlike fingernails. The stench of the creatures made him nauseous, and their yelling and screaming was driving the man out of his mind. According to Colp's account, at this point his powers of reasoning left him. What happened next is unclear, as Colp himself had no recollection.

When Mr. Colp came around, he recorded that "I was lying in the bottom of my canoe, drifting between Thomas Bay and Sukhoi Island, cold, hungry, and crazy for a drink of water." What was even stranger was that he was still holding on to that chunk of quartz! At this point, he made for the town of Wrangell. There, he recounted his terrifying encounter with the horde of hairy, stinking beasts, saying "You no doubt think I am either crazy or lying. All I can say is, there is the quartz. Never let me hear the name of Thomas Bay again, and for God's sake help me get away tomorrow on that boat!"

What did Harry Colp encounter on that fateful day? Was it truly a horde of Kushtaka that had attacked him? It is most certainly possible. One has to remember that the Kushtaka is a shapeshifting trickster, and it may be capable of assuming any form that it desires. Secondly, the Kushtaka isn't just the name of one monster: it's an entire race of creatures. But why would a group of Kushtaka take on the forms of a band of marauding Sasquatches, especially ones with stinking, oozing sores on their bodies? Perhaps it was just a group of Sasquatch with mange or some type of skin disease, but the possibility that these creatures may have been Kushtakas should not be ruled out.

Tlingit folklore and oral traditions do not have much to say when it comes to how to kill this monster. The Kushtaka is said to be impervious to bullets, thus leaving firearms out of the equation. The best way to find out how to dispatch one of these creatures is to speak to the native peoples of Alaska and see what they have to say. As mentioned previously, the Kushtaka fears and hates dogs. A dog, if large enough and having enough strength, might be able to kill the Otterman. It would be a bloody, violent struggle in which the Kushtaka might emerge victorious, due to its superior strength and perhaps its ability to shapeshift. Either that, or both the dog and the monster may sustain mortal wounds in their battle.

There may yet be other ways to kill the Kushtaka. It was mentioned earlier that the monster may be kept at bay with copper, human urine, and fire. Exactly why the Otterman fears human urine is currently unknown at this time (possibly because of the smell), but it might be a good idea (albeit a disgusting one) to bottle some of one's own pee, just in case of an emergency. Why the Kushtaka is afraid of copper is another mystery. Copper was one of the very first metals (after gold and silver) to be utilized by modern humans for tools and weapons. It is soft and easily shaped by hammering, readily taking on useful forms that can be refined by rubbing on an abrasive stone saturated with water. It can be rather easily cast and hammered into cutting tools or weapons. Copper also work-hardens as it is hammered, making it stronger and better able to hold an edge. Perhaps it is this primitive connection with mankind's past that gives the metal power over the Kushtaka. It may be reasonable to suggest that the monster can be severely wounded or even killed by a copper blade, especially if the blade pierces the heart. The only disadvantage of a copper blade is that it isn't very rigid and will bend very easily if used for hard cutting or thrusting strokes. A copper weapon will also not hold a sharp edge for very long, and thus its use is limited by the metal's lack of resilience.

Another thing that may be utilized against the Kushtaka are the bones of a dog. Given the creature's hatred of the canine species, it is hardly surprising that, even in death, the dog may still be able to save those that it loved in life from the evil of the Kushtaka. If carved into a dagger, or mounted onto a wooden pole as a spear, it may prove to be extremely effective. But to kill the Kushtaka, it would have to pierce the heart (or possibly the brain). This is purely theoretical, however, and may not even work. It's the same with a copper blade, and while copper is harder than bone, the metal's softness limits its usefulness to two or three strikes before it bends and deforms to the point of being useless.

There are two other methods that may work against the Kushtaka: decapitation and fire. A steel blade should be used for this (copper makes for poor cutting weapons), and while not everyone can afford or knows how to use a sword, a machete is a great alternative. That is, assuming one is able to get close enough to the Otterman to do the deed without being torn to pieces in the process. After the creature is dead, its bodily remains should be burned to cinders immediately to prevent the creature from possibly regenerating and taking revenge upon its would-be killers. And rest assured that the Kushtaka's revenge will be both bloody and excruciatingly painful.

Despite the fact that the Tlingit and the Tsimshian are now living in the twenty-first century, they cling to the old ways and still very much believe in the existence of the Kushtaka. They are somewhat reluctant to speak of the creature with outsiders, fearful of the monster's wrath and the white man's skepticism. Little is actually known about this creature, and some of the information above is pure speculation from a learned man's point of view. But native Alaskans are slowly beginning to open up to outsiders about their beliefs and traditions, especially the younger generations. Some of the native people claim to have actually encountered a creature that they believe is the Kushtaka, and they want answers.

In the end, the Kushtaka remains one of the most fascinating creatures in Native American folklore. The Kushtaka is an extremely dangerous foe, however, and one can never be entirely sure if the person standing next to him is human, or if it is a shapeshifting otter-monster in disguise. Precautionary measures should always be taken whenever possible in case the worst should happen. When it comes to monsters, one cannot afford to make any mistakes. One moment of bad judgment could cost an innocent bystander his or her life, and protecting others from the things that lurk in the darkness should always be a monster hunter's top priority.

Acknowledgements

The credit for the artwork seen above goes to my good friend Andy Paciorek, a renowned artist who draws and paints monsters and creatures from folklore and legend. Because there are no accurate pictures of the Kushtaka to be found online, Andy drew this at my request. It's a frighteningly gorgeous piece, and I would encourage all of my readers and followers to check out Andy's work at Strange Lands. Andy has also authored a fantastic book of the same name. I received it for Christmas a few years ago, and I love it!! I asked for it not just for the text and the information inside (which is fairly in-depth), but for the truly frightening artwork provided for each creature. Andy's book, Strange Lands: A Field-Guide to the Celtic Otherworld, can be purchased on blurb.com.

Sources

Kushtaka (Wikipedia)

Kushtaka (Monstropedia)

The Fearsome Alaskan Tlingit Kushtaka: If it's not One Thing, it's an Otter

Beware the Kushtaka!

Have You Ever Heard of the Kushtaka, Alaska's Other Bigfoot?

Seeking Alaska's Bigfoot

Strange Tails: Kushtaka and the Bay of Death

Kushtaka Mystery

Magical Mondays #12: Kushtaka, the Otter Men

Countdown to Hallowe'en 1: Nature's Gods

Cryptozoology Creatures: Animals of Legend

Alaska's Otterman, or Kushtaka

"In Search of the Kushtaka", The New Book by Dennis Waller

Kushtaka - A Creature of Cryptozoology

Many Names: Alaska's Bigfoot