Welcome to Northwest Notes_some legends and myths

NW noes by Author John PappasThat ol’ devil full moon is blamed for turning people into werewolves, but real werewolves can change shape at any time though they have always favored night. In many myths, they are witches who take an animal form to travel unnoticed using either a potion made from magic ingredients – the fat of dead children, herbs, human blood – or an animal-skin. Most European cultures have stories of werewolves, including Greece (lycanthropos), Spain (hombre lobo), England (werwolf), Ireland (faoladh or conriocht), and so on. In Norse mythology, the legends of berserkers describe vicious fighters dressed in wolf or bear hides who were immune to pain. In Latvian mythology, the Vilkacis was a person changed into a wolf-like monster though the Vilkacis could be beneficial.

In Greek mythology the legend of brutal King Lycaon is one of the earliest werewolf legends: One day a group of travelers visited King Lycaon and claimed to be gods. The king did not believe these men were gods and invited them to a feast. To test their awareness he served human flesh among the dishes. But one of the visitors was Zeus himself who instantly recognized the deception and flew into a rage. He transformed the doubting king into a wolf and said if he did not partake human flesh for nine years he could again be human.

France seems to have been infested with werewolves during the hard times of the 16th century, and many suspected werewolves were put on trial and after a swift verdict was often killed in some grizzly manner.

But werewolves of the Christian dispensation were not all considered to be heretics or viciously disposed towards mankind. According to Baronius, in the year 617, a number of wolves appeared at a monastery and tore in pieces several friars who entertained heretical opinions. The wolves sent by God tore the sacrilegious thieves of the army of Francesco Maria, duke of Urbino, who had come to sack the treasure of the holy house of Loreto. A wolf guarded and defended from the wild beasts the head of St. Edmund the Martyr, king of England.

The most widely known werewolf story is perhaps “Little Red Riding Hood,” which features a wolf who talks to Little Red Riding Hood and then dresses in grandmas clothing to fool the innocent little girl. Not something any ‘ol wolf could do, and unlikely a werewolf. This story could be the result of parents wishing to discourage their children from venturing into the woods alone, in the same way, a modern parent might read aloud a grim story in a newspaper so their child would not stay out late.

Native Americans have profound beliefs involving wolves. To many tribes, including those of the Northwest U.S., the wolf is known as a protective spirit or totem. They view the wolf as a wise fellow hunter to be respected and admired. Many Native American tribes also hold ritualistic beliefs of a human transforming into a beast. The Mohawks called those that could shift limmikin (sometimes yenaloosi) but it is the Novajo tribe that is best known for its shifter beliefs. These shifters are called skinwalkers – the Navajo word yeenadlooshi, which means “he goes on all fours.” According to Navajo tradition skinwalkers will even look physically different from normal people – such as their eyes, which are large and glowing, even in daylight, and should never be looked at directly for fear they will be absorbed and lose their skin. Another telltale sign of a skinwalker is black inside their mouth, a mark of evilness. They were also believed to have no genitals and rock hard skin, making it impervious to axes and arrows.

Also, a skinwalker didn’t take just one form, they took many: owls, crows, coyotes, but  the most common form was the wolf. While in animal form they lost all trace of humanity, the beast and animal instincts took over, making them vicious and unpredictable. But another version is that while in animal form they were actually much more intelligent. They were also able to read minds and could lure people out of their homes and into the woods by imitating the voices and cries of loved ones.

Lilith was not only the first woman (created for Adam) but to many she was also the first vampire and feminist. When Adam would not relent in his domination of her, she grew very angry, uttered the Holy name of God – and vanished! Lilith went out to the Red Sea, where she made a bargain with the Angels and was allowed to stay out on her own, as a witch and Mother of all Demons. When Cain was banished, with a mark, from the land of his parents because he killed his brother Abel in a jealous rage, he was cursed by God and forced to stalk the fringes of civilization, fearful of the sun and ravenous for blood.

According to vampire legend, Cain wandered until he found Lilith by the Red sea. She took him in and showed him the power of blood. Even today The Tree of Life represents blood in many religions and drinking blood (like a vampire) is part of religious ceremony. From Cain and Lilith came a host of demons and vampires in vague myths. Lilith taught Cain many things, including how to use his blood to evoke mystic powers and how to create others of his kind. At first, Cain refused to beget, believing it was wrong to curse the world with others like him. But he grew lonely and brought three others into the Vampiric fold. These three begat thirteen more.

Cain became outraged and forbade the creation of any more progeny. Gathering his children and grandchildren to him Cain built the world’s first city where vampires and mortals coexisted in peace. Finally, the city was overthrown – some legends say a natural disaster was the cause, others that a spurned child’s vengeful sorcery precipitated the cataclysm. Cain vanished into the wastes, never to be heard from again.

Count Dracula is perhaps the most famous vampire, created by Bram Stoker who based his immortal monster on a Hungarian ruler know as Vlad Tepes, also know as Vlad Dracul-a, which translated means “son of the dragon,” for the count was a bloodthirsty and ruthless ruler. He was also called Vlad the Impaler for his glee in impaling people on sharp stakes and letting them suffer until they died a horribly painful death.

From very early times there have been reports and tales of vampires, or vampyr, which translated means, “blood drinker.” In nature, there are all kinds of vampires: mosquitoes, ticks, and, of course, the vampire bat. But what about the vampires of legend? Do they exist? There are some well-documented accounts that indicate they do, but not among Northwest Natives, such as the Quileute and Makah. The closest creature to a vampire in their legends is perhaps Cannibal Basket Woman, who captured, cooked and ate children. But one day a group of children killed her by forcing her down on hot cooking rocks until she was “cooked.”

The story of Orca as told by the Haida of British Columbia, Canada

Once a man found two wolf pups on the beach. He took them home and raised them. When the pups had grown, they would swim out into the ocean, kill a whale, and bring it to shore for the people to eat. Each day they did this until there was too much meat to eat and it began to spoil. When the Great Above Person saw this waste he made a fog and the wolves could not find whales to kill nor find their way back to shore. They had to remain at sea. Those wolves became seawolves (Orca).

Posted in Pacific NW Notes

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