Native Americans Share Their Tribe's Best Ghost Stories And Legends
People the world over develop their own specific folklore, heavily influenced by the natural world around them and their own culture.
The North American continent was no different.
Reddit user A_KULT_KILLAH wanted to know about the myths and legends of North America and asked, "Native Americans of Reddit, what are your or your tribes ghost stories, legends, or supernatural occurrences?"
Here are some of the interesting legends and superstitions of North America's First Nations.
ᏣᎳᎩ (Tsalagi or Cherokee) beaded Uktena
Uktena. It's a legend about a horned snake in Tsalagi (Cherokee) legend. Uktena is said to be very large and round like a tree trunk, with horns on his head. The only way to wound him is to shoot at a singular spot on his forehead that emits bright light. It's similar to a diamond. If you defeat Uktena, you become a miracle worker. A great warrior. Yet, once you see the light of his forehead, you run toward it instead of trying to escape. Even to see Uktena sleeping is death. Not to the hunter, but to his family.
Dené Nakani or Nehgunni
Dené from northern British Columbia here, my mom used to always tell me stories of the Nehgunni [Nakani], or bushmen/wild-men when I was young, they were people who lived in the forest and took away people who wandered too far out, specifically children.
I always figured these stories were created by my people to serve two purposes, first to teach young children to not wander far off, and second to give explanations to kidnappings or missing people.
Este Lopocke or Este Lubutke
Miccosukee Little People tricksters
Miccosukee tribal member here (South Florida) and for us it's the little people. Essentially really small people (like barbie doll sized and smaller) that live in the trees. They play jokes and stuff mainly unless you piss them off. Had family members get tricks played on them that couldn't be explained. And then we have our fair share of stories that circulate our reservation like a tribal member being taken by the little people. All on the reservation in the Everglades (like 40 mins west of Miami).
Dog Tails or Why They Sniff Each Other
when dogs danced
Lenni Lenape story about why dogs sniff each other's butts.
When the humans slept, dogs would get together and party, but not before taking their tails off. They'd dance the entire night, put their tails back on and return home. But one time a wolf found them and all the dogs had to scramble away to their homes for safety, but a lot of them grabbed the wrong tail. They never danced again at night because they were afraid of the wolf, so they were stuck with weird mismatched tails for the rest of their lives.
This is the reason that dogs sniff each other's butts; to see if the other dog has their tail.
Haida Raven Brings Light to the Earth
Raven Art by Jody Bergsma
In the beginning there was no light in the world, because an old magician kept it hidden in a box inside his house. Raven, who was always hungry, didn't like the darkness because it was difficult to find food. One day he was looking for food near the old magician's house. He heard a voice saying, "I have a box, and inside this box is another box, and inside this there is another box, and inside the smallest box is all the light in the world." Raven decided to steal the light.
Raven waited until the old man's daughter went down to the river to collect water. Just as she was dipping her basket into the river, he changed himself into a *hemlock needle. The needle floated into her basket. When the girl drank some water, she swallowed Raven too.
Inside the girl's belly Raven took the form of a human baby. He grew and grew, and in time she gave birth to a funny looking child with black eyes and a big nose. The old man loved his grandson so much that he gave in to the child's every wish. Raven became spoilt and greedy. He was bored with all his toys, and wanted to play with the box that held the light. Finally the grandfather opened the box and tossed the glowing ball of light to Raven.
As soon as Raven caught the light, he immediately changed into his bird form. Holding the light in his beak, he flew up the chimney hole into the dark world. The magician was angry. He wanted to get the light back into his box. He flew after Raven. The light was heavy in Raven's beak, and he was getting tired. The magician was coming closer. Raven broke off some pieces of the light and threw them into the sky. They became the stars. The magician was still coming closer, so Raven broke off another piece of the light and threw it into the sky. It became the moon. Finally Raven became so tired that he tossed the last and biggest piece of the light into the sky. It became the sun; and that is how daylight came to the world.
Cowlitz legend of the See-at-coh (art by AndyFil)
See-at-coh (don't know the translation in English). Lived at this lake and it was his spot. We DO NOT go there or he will kill you. Used to have nightmares about him based on what I was taught as a kid. Like how you could stand at the edge of the water and be looking in and he would come out of it and just grab you. No whistling at night and keep windows covered.
But then the mountain blew up [Mt. Saint Helen] and filled in the lake so don't know if he's still around or not.
Nahual of Mexico
First of all, I live in rural Mexico. There are many, many different People. The ones who settled here speak Nahuatl. This took place in the early 1900's. One of my favourites is the nahual. Some people were thought to be able to turn into an animal. Most of them could only turn into one, but the most powerful could turn into different animals . There was a man who owned an hacienda where my town is, and he had a sort of overseer that everyone was afraid of .
Said overseer could take a message all the way to the next state (think hundreds of miles) and bring back a sealed response in a single day. He also seemed to know everything everyone did, all the time. He was rumoured to be a nahual that could turn into a coyote.
His quarters were heavily warded in his absence, which only added fuel to the rumor, for you can only kill a nahual if you find the human skin he sheds to transform, and burn said skin.
Yamǫ́rıa & Yamǫǫ̀zha
Powerful Magic painting of Yamǫǫ̀zha by Archie Beaulieu
Yamǫ́rıa & Yamǫǫ̀zha the giant twins [of the Dené].
There are landmarks all around the territory I live in that is exhibited as "proof" they were alive.
In the middle of the Mackenzie river( biggest river in the NorthWest Territories) there is a large stone sticking out of the river which looks like the petrified guts of a beaver, there is a giant branchless, leafless tree sticking out of the top of this stone.
It is said that Yamǫǫ̀zha had hunted a giant beaver and gutted him there in the river. He used his spear to anchor down the cuts so fish may feed on them. They are still there to this day.
Yamǫ́rıa's body can be seen laying down, it is essentially a mountain range that looks like a giant human laying on his back, completely with face and feet. This can be seen from the peak of the hill as you enter a town called Ft. Liard, the southwestern most town in the NWT.
Walking Sam of the Pine Ridge Reservation
"Walking Sam" skulks in the shadows of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and convinces people to take their own lives, especially young people. He's 7 feet tall, very thin and has no mouth. When he stretches out his long arms, nooses hang down with Lakota children hanging from them. Walking Sam finds you when you're alone and puts thoughts in your head until you feel worthless and kill yourself. Sometimes Walking Sam is depicted looking like Abraham Lincoln, complete with the stovepipe hat. "Walking Sam", "Uncle Sam", I don't know if that's where the name came from.
But Walking Sam is an evil infected upon the people when the Oceti Sakowin were forced onto the reservations; he isn't a legend of the people before Pine Ridge Reservation existed. Lincoln was President when the Lakota were being forced onto reservations. Lincoln also ordered the execution of 38 Lakota men the day after Christmas in 1862. It's the largest mass execution in U.S. history. I always thought Walking Sam was Lincoln. They carved his face onto Ŝa´kpe Tuŋkaŋŝi in the Paha Sa´pa (Mount Rushmore was Six Grandfathers in the Black Hills) My Father attended Holy Rosary boarding school at Pine Ridge in the 1940s & 1950s, but our people didn't live on the reservation. My Grandmother said evil stalked the people there. My Father never wanted us to ever even visit any of our cousins or his Uncles there.
Clans of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy)
I know the [Haudenosaunee] rules.
- If you hear someone you know calling your name, but you also know they are not supposed to be there, DON'T respond. Especially if they are out of sight and insisting you come to them.
- Always play group games in counter-clockwise order, otherwise your playing with the dead.
- Also don't eat in the dark, this is considered inviting the dead to eat with you. If you can extend your hand all the way out and still see it clearly then your fine.
- Don't play card games past midnight. If you do, and someone knocks at the door, don't answer it.
- Try not to drop your cards, if you do then don't bend down to pick them up, or you will see hooves under the table. That's bad.
- Say thank you after meals, even if you're the one that made it. Even better if you say it in native tongue. If someone finishes their meal and says thank you, you say "you're welcome", even if you didn't give it to them. Even better in native tongue.
- Don't try to contact spirits, especially with board games. This is not a tribe custom, it's more of an unspoken common sense among the Rez people.
- After someone dies, you should gather family as quickly as possible to have feasts for 10 days. The first dinner is large, then every meal after that is smaller feasts meant for portions of the family to come at different times to help. The last feast on the 10 day is the closing dinner, which is the largest, with the entire family expected to show up and help. For every meal of these 10 days, put out a plate of the deceased's favorite foods first. Contrary to rule 4, you do not say thank you at any time during these 10 days. This is because it is believed that it takes the dead 10 days to relive their lives before they pass on, so this is your last chance to eat with them.
- If a bird flies into your house, someone's going to die.
- Pregnant woman should not hold any child that isn't theirs.
- It's accepted that if you actually try to curse someone, literally going through all of the steps with the intention of harm, not an accidentally wishing them bad luck, then your family will also be cursed horribly.
- If you play with fire you'll wet the bed.
To learn more general information about Native American mythology of the United States, visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian website or for Canada, visit the First Nations in Canada website. For information about specific tribes, visit their tribal government website for recommended resources.
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