Published on December 24, 2012 by Casey
This version of the legend comes from Eugene Vetromile’s 1866 collection The Abnakis and Their History. As with many older texts, be aware that there is some bias in Vetromile’s attitude towards indigenous religions.
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The Penobscot Indians believed that an evil spirit, called Pamola (he curses on the mountain)—resided, during the summer season, on the top of Mount Katahdin— (the greatest of mountains.) They offered sacrifices to him to appease him, so that he should not curse them, or otherwise injure them. Although they hunted and fished in the woods and lakes around Mount Katahdin, yet they never attempted to go on the top of that mountain, in the assurance that they would never be able to return from that place, but be either killed or devoured by the evil spirit Pamola. They pretended to have seen this spirit on the top of the mountain on several occasions while hunting or fishing around it. It was but till late, that they have attempted to ascend that mountain. It is not long since that a party of white people desired to go on the top of Mount Katahdin, and took some Indians to accompany them as guides. The Indians escorted them to the foot of the mountain, but they refused to go further, fearing to be either killed or devoured by Pamola. No persuasion from the party could induce them to proceed further; on the contrary, the Indians tried to dissuade the party from ascending the mountain, speaking to them of this evil spirit, and how many Indians had been killed or devoured by him, and that no man ever returned, who dared to go on Mount Katahdin. The Indians, however, were prevailed upon to wait for the descent of the party, who, in spite of the remonstrance of the Indians, ascended the mountain by themselves, without guides. They were quite surprised to see the party back, as they entertained no hope of their return, believing with certainty that they had been killed or devoured by Parnola.
It would not be improper to give here a brief episode of the Indian tradition concerning this evil spirit Paṃla, residing upon Mount Katahdin—a mountain famous amongst the Indians of Maine—a tradition, which is believed by the Indians unto this very day. They relate that several hundred years ago, while a Penobscot Indian was encamped eastward of Mount Katahdin on the autumn hunting season, a severe and unexpected fall of snow covered the whole land to the depth of several feet. Being unprovided with snow shoes, he found himself unable to return home. After remaining several days in the camp, blocked up with drifts of snow, and seeing no means of escape, he thought that he was doomed to perish; hence, as it were through despair, he called with loud voice on Pamola for several times. Finally, Pamola made his appearance on the top of the mountain. The Indian took courage, and offered to him a sacrifice of oil and fat, which he poured and consumed upon burning coals out of the camp. As the smoke was ascending, Pamola was descending. The sacrifice was consumed when this spirit got only half way down the mountain. Here the Indian took more oil and fat, and repeated the sacrifice, till Pamola arrived at the camp, and the Indian welcomed him, saying : ” Yon are welcome, partner,” Pamola replied : ” You have done well to call me partner; because yon have called me by that name, you are saved, otherwise you would have been killed by me. No Indian has ever called on me and lived, having always being devoured by me. Now I will take you on the mountain, and you shall be happy with me.” Pamola put the Indian on his shoulders, bid him close the eyes, and in few moments, with a noise like the whistling of a powerful wind, they were inside of the mountain. The Indian describes the interior of Mount Katahdin as containing a good, comfortable wigwam, furnished with abundance of venison, and with all the luxuries of life, and that Pamola had wife and children living in the mountain. Pamola gave him his daughter to wife, and told him that after one year he could return to his friends on the Penobscot, and that he might go back to the mountain to see his wife any time he pleased, and remain as long as he wished. He was warned that he could not marry again, but if he should marry again, he would be at once transported to Mount Katahdin, with no hope of ever more going out of it. After one year the Indian returned to Oldtown and related all that had happened to him in Mount Katahdin, and the circumstances through which he got into it. The Indians persuaded him to marry again, which he at first refused, but they at last prevailed on him to marry, bat the morning after his marriage, he disappeared, and nothing more was heard of him; they felt sure that he had been taken by Pamola into Mount Katahdin, as he had told them.
This fact filled the Indians with consternation, and they conceived a great fear for this evil spirit, yet a young Indian woman constantly persisted in refusing to believe even in the existence of Pamola, unless she saw him with her own eyes. It happened one day, that while she was on the shores of the lake Amboctictus,* Pamola appeared to her and reproached her with her incredulity. He took her by force, put her on his shoulders, and after a few moments’ flight, with a great whistling of wind, they were in the interior of the mountain. There she remained for one year, and was well treated, but was got with child by Pamola. A few months before her confinement, Pamola told her to go back to her relations, saying that the child that was to be born of her would be great, and would perform such wonders as to amaze the nation. He would have the power to kill any person or animal by simply pointing out at the object with the fore finger of his right hand. Hence, that the child was to be watched very closely till the age of manhood, because many evils might follow from that power. But when the child grew up he would save his own nation from the hands of its enemies, and would confer many benefits to the people. If she should be in need of any assistance, she had nothing to do but to call on Pamola in any place she might be, and he would appear to her. He warned her not to marry again; because if she should marry again, both she and the child would at once be transported into Mount Katahdin for ever. He then put her on his shoulders in the same manner as he had done in taking her up to the mountain, and left her on the shore of the lake Amboctictus. She returned to Old-town, where she related all that had happened to her, and also that she had seen, in the mountain, that Indian, of whom I hare made mention above.
The child was born, and she took great care of him. She called several times on Pamola, who always made his appearance to her. When she wanted any venison, either into the woods or in the river, she had but to take the child, and holding his right hand, she stretched out his fore finger, and made it point out to a deer, or moose, and it at once fell dead. So, also, in a flock of ducks, she made the child’s first finger single one out of the flock, which likewise “fell dead. The child grew, and he was the admiration and pride of all.
It happened one day, that while he was standing at the door of the wigwam, he saw a friend of his mother coming. He announced it to her, and at the same time, with the first finger of his right hand, he pointed at him, and the man immediately dropped dead*. This fact caused great consternation, not only in the mother of the child, but also in the entire tribe, who looked on him as a very dangerous subject among them. Everybody fled from his company, and even from his sight. The mother called on Pamola, and related to him what had happened, and also the fear and consternation in which she and the entire tribe were. Pamola told her that he had already warned her to watch the child, because the power conferred on the child might produce serious evils. He now advised her to keep the child altogether apart from society till the age of manhood, as he might be fatal with many others. The Indians wanted her to marry, but she refused on the ground of it being forbidden by Pamola, who was her husband, and in case of marriage, she and child both would be taken up Mount Katahdin. However, the Indians prevailed upon her, and she married, but in the evening of the marriage-day, while all the Indians were gathered together in dancing and feasting for the celebration of the marriage, both she and the child disappeared for ever.