Hi everybody, it's hard to believe that it's already that time of year. Just like last year, I thought that I would share a scary excerpt with you from my book The Age of Myths and Legends: Book One: Monsters.
Typically, it was considered taboo to speak of ghost, monsters, or witches during the summer months. It was thought that doing so would "call" these bad things to you. However, during the winter months, it was okay to tell scary stories because it was believed that the "bad things" went away. Some went deep, down into the Earth to sleep until the coming Spring. Others returned to the mountains from which they came. Shapeshifting witches ceased in their nefarious deeds because it would be far too easy to follow their tracks in the snow and discover who they really were.
Chapter 5: Servants of Evil-Witches
“Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art
Wherein all nature’s treasury is contain’d.
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
-Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlow
Whispered tales from the past speak of the Wise; men and women who were said to have understood and even controlled the unseen powers that were once abroad in that almost forgotten age. Those of the Wise who used their unique gifts for the betterment of mankind were known by many names. Some were called Wind Doctors and Listening Women. Others were known as Hataalii, Didanawisgi, or Midewinini. These wise healers, advisors, doctors, and seers were the receptacles of tribal history and forgotten lore. They were also the steadfast guardians of their people against the malevolent forces of the night.
Yet there were always those who misused their vast knowledge and power to attain selfish ends or even worse: there were those who dedicated their entire lives to the pursuit of evil. These wicked beings were known as witches.
In many ways, the practitioners of the dark arts were very similar to their benevolent counterparts, for they, too, had a deeper understanding of the natural order of the world. They also were able to manipulate the mighty elements and to commune with the ethereal spirits of the Earth. However, witches lacked the compassion and natural understanding of the Wise. For all their formidable might and knowledge, witches possessed no constructive purpose.
Instead, witches spent their days spreading sickness, misery, and death in their turbulent wake. Jealous, materialistic, and possessive beings, these witches often begrudged anyone who enjoyed success, whether it was of a personal or financial nature. So, it was not unheard of for wealthy individuals or families to become suddenly afflicted by disease, mental illness, droughts, floods, sterility, or even fires. Truly, witches were formidable enemies, but perhaps the single, most disturbing feature concerning them was the fact that they often kept their true natures hidden. Anyone, even a well-respected member of the community, could, in truth, be a witch of the worst kind. Not even the wise and benevolent medicine men and medicine women were above suspicion, because often it was hard to distinguish the good practitioners of medicine from the bad.
Perhaps the most revolting of all of the witches of the old world were those who had once plagued the Creek nation. These creatures were considered most unholy and unclean, not only because of their evil deeds, but also for their disgusting habits and hygiene. These witches, known as Stegeny, were adept shapeshifters and were able to assume the form and likeness of almost any animal. Most often, they took on the dreaded shape and semblance of a great owl, an omen of ill portents for many tribes. To transform into the likeness of an animal, the Stegeny had to remove its viscera. The enchanter accomplished this by vomiting up its organs. These witches were extremely careful with their organs, and they took great pains to hide them well.
If a Creek hunter chanced upon the Stegeny’s foul cache of organs, the hunter would often destroy them with fire. The witch would then be trapped in the shape and likeness of an owl for the rest of its unnatural days. Creek witches, however, were willing to risk such damnation for the sake of spreading evil and misery.
Stegeny often targeted the very young or the elderly, since they were considered easier prey. With the aid of special maledictions and an enchanted reed blow gun, the Stegeny could shoot blood clots into the legs of children. These blood clots had a crippling effect on young ones and often caused deformities. These witches were also believed to be the cause of any bad luck or illness that might happen to plague a Creek family.
Like many other witches of Native American lore, Stegeny kept their real identities hidden. Most lived quiet, normal lives and took part in the daily responsibilities and activities of the community. Some held positions of high honor and prestige. Even their outward appearance could be deceptive. It was believed that most Stegeny were elderly and decrepit men and women, seemingly incapable of harming anyone, but this was just a clever ruse. When the curtain of night fell upon the land, the seemingly enfeebled Stegeny would steal out into the darkness to spread pain and misery amongst the Creek community.
There were ways to recognize or even stymie the evil activities of these malicious witches. While Stegeny were masters in the art of shape-shifting, their illusions and transformations were not altogether flawless; they could be distinguished from real animals by their paw prints, which were irregular. Their movements, at times, could seem awkward or labored. There were even some members of the Wise who could see through their evil illusions and recognize these creatures for what they truly were. Even the observant listener would be able to distinguish between the forlorn cries of an actual owl and the crude imitations of Stegeny in owl form. It was said that the witch’s cries would sound hollow and other worldly.
Despite the Stegeny’s formidable and unholy powers, Creek lore says that these witches were easily frightened. Loud noises, such as the banging of pots and pans, or even yelling obscenities at them, could drive them away. Legend also says that tying the corner of a bed sheet into a knot while citing a prayer could “choke off” the Stegeny’s voice, forcing the creature to flee into the night.
A truly brave soul could even destroy the witch altogether or, if the individual desired, steal the witch’s power for their own ends. To accomplish this daunting task, a person had to put on their clothing backwards and wear their shoes on the opposite feet. In the black of the night, an individual would then have to walk outdoors backwards, directly to the place where the Stegeny lurked in owl form.
With a flint lighter or torch, the individual would then have to flash the fire into the face of the witch. The stunned witch would then be compelled to transform back into a human. Identity revealed, bereft of magical power, and completely helpless, the wily Stegeny would seek to bribe its captor with promises of riches or with dark knowledge. In other words, the witch offered to teach his or her captor the wicked ways of the Stegeny.
If the captor were just, he or she would either kill the witch outright or broadcast the witch’s true identity to the public. Once the witch’s identity was known, the General Council would then take measures to ensure that the witch never harmed another soul again. However, if the witch’s captor lusted for unnatural power, then that individual would become an apprentice to the Stegeny. Very soon, there would be another foul witch gliding silently in the growing darkness.
Cherokee myths and legend are rife with harrowing tales of ghoulish witches and other horrifying workers of evil. While these creatures were rightly feared by mortals, there was one amongst this unholy gathering that inspired more fear and dread than any other. Even other practitioners of the dark arts feared this powerful being that had once preyed upon the weak and weary. This creature, known as the Ka'lanu Ahkyeli'ski, or Raven Mocker, was considered the worst kind of witch imaginable.
Like other witches, Raven Mockers hid within the tribal communities. For the most part, they appeared to be incredibly ancient men and women. This was only a clever facade. In truth, these witches were invisible but wore a costume of skin and flesh to avoid detection. With outstretched arms, these foul creatures would take to the night skies, flying high above in search of homes that housed the sick or dying. When these beings flew, sparks trailed behind them.
Once a home was identified, the witch would then descend with great speed toward the unfortunate dwelling. The witch’s triumphant cry, which sounded like a raven’s call, would then be heard echoing into the night. Such a cry was always an ill omen for the Cherokee, for it meant that someone would soon pass away. The Raven Mocker would then enter the home, unclad and invisible to the human eye, so that it may torment and terrorize the sick or dying.
After the Ka'lanu Ahkyeli'ski had tortured the ailing victim, the evil witch would seek to steal the life years of the terminally ill to increase its own long and foul life span. These beings accomplished this dastardly deed by magically taking and consuming a mortal victim’s still-beating heart. However, certain Indian doctors and medicine-men could see and recognize these beings for what they were. If this came about, and the Raven Mocker’s true form was perceived, then the creature would be stricken and die within a span of seven days. For this reason, medicine-men were often asked to sit with the dying, not only to provide comfort in their final hours, but also to protect them from the wicked doings of the Raven Mocker.
T. D. Hill (Wichita, Kiowa, Pawnee) is a Native American artist, writer, and motivational speaker
What Reviewers are saying...
"The Age of Myths and Legends will take you on an exciting journey through Native American folklore. T.D. Hill artfully draws together characters from many indigenous traditions including his own, exposing both the uniqueness of each story and the commonalities across them. Hill’s beautiful paintings also give these fearsome creatures full visual effect. A valuable and thorough collection of the earliest folktales and teachings of Native American elders."
"Hill takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the tales of monsters and evil beings in Native American folklore. The similarities among the tales across peoples fascinated me and gave me goose bumps, especially when great distances separated the peoples! Hill's art masterfully adds a visual chill to the image his words paint, eliciting an extra shiver of delighted terror."
"Perfect for those who love mythology, and especially mythology of the First Americans. I’m definitely looking forward to the next in the series."