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American Fairies


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Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Are there any tales of fairy folk in the United States?  If not, why not, given that America was settled by Europeans and they could have brought their folklore with them.  Could it be down to the religious beliefs of the original settlers?

Mauro
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American Fairies...

The American W. Evans-Wentz was the last chronicler of the fairy-faith in Gaelic countries. He toured Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany etc extensively and tried as hard as he could to talk with the last surviving eyewitnesses in first person. As is often the case with American folklorists and historians he did a very time-consuming but absolutely wonderful job.
Talking about the North American continet proper I have no hints of proper fairy stories in the Gaelic and Celtic way but there are some interesting  traditions.
Most Indian Nations have very detailed histories about "Little People" and "Stick Indians".
The first are very similar to our fairies: they are a very advanced race of beings of small stature (two feet on the average) with a very developed culture, the ability to shapeshift (Evans-Wents writes how a fairy-man told an Irish witness "we can make the old young, the big small and the small big") and the power to work wonders. Like our fairies they are terrible and very revengeful if wronged but will show benevolence if well treated, for example by teaching a kind child the secrets of herbal lore. The Amaypathenya of the Mojave Nation are a good example of this.
The "Stick Indians" are another case. They are mischievous beings who will throw sticks (hence their name) and stones to unwary travellers and hunters or will poke sticks inside the log huts used by trappers to scare occupants. They are never or very rarely seen and most Nations consider them more human than spirit: they are said to be the degenerate descendants of broken tribes, social outcasts and outlaws who were exiled to the wilderness by tribe elders or heroes of yore.
Among "whites" there are some very curious traditions. I remember hearing from a New Jersey man that the woods in his area were home to a "tribe" of degenerate human beings who, through inbreeding and isolation, devolved into a group of savage, midget sized albinos. Of course they are very wary but will devour the occasional traveller...
I am pretty sure there are traces of this on the Internet, though I hear shades of Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear" here.

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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I had know idea there were

I had know idea there were native American fairy types.

Columbine
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Wendigo

I've heard various things about something called a Windigo. Sometimes it's cited as Canadian, other times from Algonquin mythology, but it's basically a nasty spirit version of a sasquatch that eats people or in some variations, cattle.  There's a wiki article on them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendigo but i can't say for sure how accurate it is. All the versions i've ever heard however basically boil down to something big, aggressive and greedy for flesh.

there's another site here: http://dinojoe.8m.com/crypto/windigo.html

Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Here's another source on the

Here's another source on the Wendigo.  I had come across this creature in RPG's but hadn't realised it was originally based on a piece of folklore.

Quote:

From Book of THoTH Website:
In the mythology of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of Native Americans, the Wendigo is a malevolent supernatural creature. It is usually described as a giant with a heart of ice; sometimes it is thought to be entirely made of ice. Its body is skeletal and deformed, with missing lips and toes.

The first accounts of the Wendigo myth by explorers and missionaries date back to the 17th century. They describe it rather generically as a werewolf, devil, or canniba.

The Wendigo was usually presumed to have once been human. Different origins of the Wendigo are described in variations of the myth. A hunter may become the Wendigo when encountering it in the forest at night, or when becoming possessed by its spirit in a dream. When the cannibalistic element of the myth is stressed, it is assumed that anyone who eats corpses in a famine becomes a Wendigo as a result. The only way to destroy a Wendigo is to melt its heart of ice. In recent times, it has been identified with Sasquatch or Bigfoot by cryptozoologists, but there is little evidence in the indigenous folklore for it being a similar creature.

Perhaps this myth was used as a deterrent and cautionary tale among northern tribes whose winters were long and bitter and whose hunting parties often were trapped in storms with no recourse but to consume members of their own party. It could be indicative of starvation that the Wendigo is said to consume moss and other unpalatable food when human flesh is unavailable. Its physical deformities are suggestive of starvation and frostbite, so the Wendigo may be a myth based on a personification of the hardships of winter and the taboo of cannibalism.

Actual Wendigo murder trials took place in Canada around the beginning of the 20th century. The anthropologist Morton Teicher has described the alleged clinical condition of believing oneself to be a Wendigo, which he calls Windigo Psychosis..

In some stories a Wendigo will follow a lone wanderer for a long time. When the prey becomes suspicious and turns around the Wendigo always manages to get out of sight by hiding behind a tree. After a while the followed person starts to become hysterical and runs until he makes an error. The Wendigo then strikes. If someone actually survives a Wendigo attack they get the Wendigo-fever: after a night of nightmares and pain in their legs, Wendigo-fevered people strip themselves naked and run into the forest screaming.

The most comprehensive resource on the Wendigo is John Robert Colombo's anthology. It contains stories and poems on the Wendigo, many inspired by Blackwood's.

Daniel Parkinson's picture
Daniel Parkinson
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Ian Topham wrote: I had
Ian Topham wrote:

I had know idea there were native American fairy types.

I think most cultures have (had) a belief in supernatural beings of one type or another - perhaps the Celtic/European ones have been more widley recorded, and we have a better written record. I have no idea how well recorded and documented the beliefs of the various American Indian tribes are.

Matt.H
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Not strictly fairies, but

Not strictly fairies, but it's interesting how black dog myths seem to crop up on both sides of the Atlantic. On the American side some of these date to before colonisation, making it difficult to argue that it's just cultural cross-pollination.

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Urisk
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Also...

I believe there is an evil being called the Manitou which can change itself (or a person, depending on the story) into a wolf.

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Mauro
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According to some folklorists...

... most Nations have figures similar to the legendary Sasquatch/Bigfoot, among which the Wendigo is surely one of the most popular.
According to John R. Columbo (Manlike Monsters on Trial) the Wendigo is not really a demon or a "mysterious beast" but a personification of the psychological compulsion to eat human flesh, particulary during a famine. Columbo personally believes this not to be 100% true, but to have been used in the past by tribe elders as an excuse to exile or execute outcasts or other indesiderable characters. In recent decades "turning Wendigo" has been used in Canada as a colloquialism to describe the panic brought on by fear of being lost or otherwise ill equipped to deal with the harsh Canadian enviroment.
The Iroquian Nations also have a tradition of fierce and malevolent "Stone Giants" which are somewhat similar to the Wendigo and are now aknowledged to be the personification of the hardships brought on by winter.

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Daniel Parkinson's picture
Daniel Parkinson
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Urisk wrote:I believe
Urisk wrote:

I believe there is an evil being called the Manitou which can change itself (or a person, depending on the story) into a wolf.

I am sure there was a film of this name from the 80's, which involved parts of the myth, there was definitely a native American theme but I can't recall much about it.

Columbine
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Manitou

 "Manitou" is more usually the Algonquin word used to describe the spirits, and is something akin to 'qi'. 

There was an episode of the X-files which featured something like a wendigo which they called a 'manitou', though. 



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