In most cultures, legends and myths can serve as cautionary tales, keeping one foot in reality and the other from the realm of the supernatural… and it’s no surprise that the best cautionary tales will also be the scariest.
The ancient lore of the indigenous inhabitants of North America are as varied and far-reaching since the continent itself, and unless you are well-versed in native lore, you may not see how many of these tales are inhabited by horrifying spirits, ghosts, witches, demons and creatures… and since we are in the scare business, we’re going to share the most despicable ones with you.
A number of the frightening animals given below span multiple tribes and in some cases, centuries. So if you investigate their roots further, you will see they have many different titles and traits, based on where their tales are told. In other words, there are evil forces lurking anywhere… so you’d better do your homework!
Camazotz: The Death Bat
This ferocious creature appears with the ancient Mayans, who portrayed him as a effective god-monster in the hellish domain of Xibalba, where he presides over swarms of bloodthirsty vampire bats. Though strong enough to destroy entire civilizations, Camazotz made a treaty with human beings to bring them fire… but in exchange, he needed human sacrifices.
Chenoo: The Ice Giant
Though some tales explain the Chenoo as a Bigfoot-like monster, the first legend from the Wabanaki people tells that he was once a human, but at some point committed a horrible crime, where the gods cursed him and turned his heart to ice hockey. His suspended spirit was then trapped in the body of a lumbering, troll-like monster, that devours any person he could get his hands on.
Kanontsistonties: The Flying Heads
Iroquois myths include a few nightmarish tales, but the Flying Heads are the creepiest with a very long shot. There are many stories around these evil creatures, most of which depict them as a sort of vampire, and they vary in size from tiny to humongous. The most familiar story involves one of those beasts assaulting a woman who was roasting chestnuts; the monster inadvertently ingested a hot coal from the fire, which burned it to ashes.
Mishipeshu: The Water-Panther
The narrative of this Water-Panther crosses multiple tribes, including Cree, Algonquin, Ojibwe, and Shawnee. It’s usually described as a giant dragon-like feline, and the most frequent element is the creature’s aquatic habitat; it lurks in rivers and lakes, waiting for humans to come near the water, then pulls them drowns them. It is thought to have a snaky, prehensile tail that assists it in snaring its prey.
Yee Naaldlooshii: The Skinwalker
Known mainly to Navajo folklore, the Skinwalker is essentially the North American equivalent of the werewolf. In most tales, the monster is a magic or cursed human being usually a shaman who takes part in a heretical ceremony designed to summon evil forces, which means that he may take on the characteristics of an animal. That creature can take many forms, such as wolves, bears and birds. In case the shaman stays too long in animal form, he could lose his humanity entirely which makes him even more dangerous.
Skudakumooch: The Ghost-Witch
Among the scariest figures in Passamaquoddy and Micmac mythology, the Ghost-Witch is often said to be born out of the dead body of a shaman who practiced black magic; the demonic entity then communicates every night with murder on its head. They may be killed with passion, however remember when approaching one: only making eye contact or hearing the witch’s voice may deliver a diabolical curse down on the unwary.
Tah-tah-kle’-ah: The Owl-Women
In the Yakama tribe come stories of five supernatural women who resemble giant owls, living in caves by day and flying out at night to prey on all types of monsters such as humans. In reality, they are said to favor the taste of children. Legend has it they can hunt humans by mimicking their speech. The owl itself is a sign of death in many native cultures, therefore owl-women are essentially a walking embodiment of death itself.
Teihiihan: The Little Cannibals
One of the most dreaded figures in Cheyenne and Arapaho legends (and more), these savage humanoids may be child-sized, but they are incredibly strong, and often attack in large numbers. According to some myths, the Teihiihan were fearsome warriors in a prior lifetime, resurrected as dwarves after perishing in battle. The majority of those stories say they were finally wiped from an alliance of many tribes.
Uktena: The Horned Serpent
Cherokee legends feature this dragon-like behemoth, which is believed to have originated as an individual, taking the serpentine form to look for vengeance on those who wronged them. Much like the dragons of European fantasy, there are stories of guys proving their bravery by confronting one of those powerful beasts, who are also lightning-fast and can devour a person in one bite.
Wendigo: The Evil That Devours
Potentially the most effective and deadly animal in North American folklore, the Wendigo appears in many tribal legends, however, the best-known description comes in communities surrounding the fantastic Lakes region. Many of the legends are cautionary tales Implementing taboos against cannibalism, by asserting that any person who eats the flesh of another is going to be transformed into a creature of pure evil a form of Manitou cursed with insatiable desire. Not even loved ones are secure from their eternal hunger.