Published on November 6, 2012 by Casey
Ever since the release of the “Twilight” series of books and movies, we have gotten a lot of email asking about real Native American vampire traditions. Here’s the true story:
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No. There are no beings like this in Native American mythology. Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight books, has stated that the unique features of her Cold One vampires (unnaturally beautiful, cold to the touch, sparkling in sunlight) came from her own imagination. She did base other parts of her books on actual Quileute Indian mythology– for example, it is true that Quileute tribal tradition says they were descended from wolves that were changed into men.
No. Apotamkin is a real Native American monster (from the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy tribes of Maine and New Brunswick,) which is probably why its name appeared on the screen when Bella was searching for Native American vampires on the Internet. However, Apotamkin was not a vampire in real Maliseet and Passamaquoddy legends. It was a sea serpent.
It depends on how you define “vampire.” There are many humanoid monsters in Native American folklore that were believed to hunt and prey on humans, including some that rise from the dead. Any of these creatures could certainly be considered a ‘vampire’ in the broader sense of the word. However, there are no Native American monsters that display the distinctive characteristics of European vampires (associated with bats, unable to withstand sunlight, killed by a stake through the heart, casting no shadow or reflection, weaknesses to garlic and running water, etc.) And more significantly, it seems to me that the most important feature of a true vampire is the ability to turn a victim into another vampire by biting him or her. There is nothing equivalent to that in traditional Native American folklore.
Here are seven of them that would be excellent candidates for characters in a horror movie!
Windigo: Windigos are cannibal ice giants of the Chippewa and other northern Algonquian Indian tribes. (They are also known as Chenoo in the Micmac language, Giwakwa in the Abenaki language, and a few other names in other tribes.) In most versions of the legend, Windigos were once humans who had committed cannibalism or some other terrible sin, causing their hearts to turn to ice. In other legends, people are turned into Windigos by evil wizards. Either way, the monsters are then doomed to wander the wilderness devouring every human they meet until they are killed. A few legends do have happier endings where the Windigo is able to be transformed back into a human.
Similarity to vampires: Used to be human, preys on humans, immortal until killed, associated with sin
Skin-Walker: Skin-walkers are fearsome shapeshifting monsters of Navajo legend. They are created when humans use forbidden evil magic and/or commit terrible crimes such as killing their own parents. Perhaps they resemble European legends of werewolves somewhat more than vampires, since skinwalkers are best known for assuming the form of animals at night to prey upon humans, then returning to human form during the daylight hours. But they also have some behaviors reminiscent of vampires, chiefly an avoidance of sunlight, immunity to normal weapons, mind-reading ability, and the ability to hypnotize and exert control over people who look them in the eyes. The best way to kill a skinwalker is to determine his secret identity, which then leaves him vulnerable to defeat during the daytime. In some stories, medicine men can also prepare sacred weapons that can be used to kill a skinwalker.
Similarity to vampires: Preys on humans, nocturnal, has mental/hypnotic powers, impossible for ordinary people to kill, associated with sin
Mosquito Man: Many tribes have legends about man-eating monsters that were turned into mosquitoes, thus continuing to feed on people but in a merely annoying way rather than deadly. The Northwest Coast tribes have some particularly gruesome variants where the original monster, Mosquito Man, thrusts his proboscis into a person’s head and sucks their brains out, often so surreptitiously that the people around him don’t even notice their companion is dead. Here is a typical Haida version of such a legend, in which a baby is being passed around at a party and Mosquito Man stealthily sucks its brains out before passing it to the next person, who is horrified to find the child brainless and dead.
Similarity to vampires: Preys on humans, drains bodily fluids
Two-Face: These monsters come to us from the Sioux and other Plains tribes. They resemble humans but have a second face on the back of their heads. Making eye contact with them either strikes you dead or paralyzes you, enabling them to come back and stab you to death with their sharp elbows. The only escape is to avoid ever meeting their eyes.
Similarity to vampires: Preys on humans, has mental/hypnotic powers
Rolling Head or Flying Head: According to the Iroquois and other Woodland tribes, this monster is created when an unfaithful wife is killed by her husband. She returns as an undead, disembodied head, which either flies or rolls to move about. The heads usually revenge themselves on the men who killed them, but are defeated once they start terrorizing the couple’s children and/or neighbors.
Similarity to vampires: Undead creature, used to be human, preys on humans, flies, associated with sin
Bukwus: Sometimes mistakenly identified with Sasquatch (Bigfoot), Bukwus is actually a kind of ghost of a drowned human in the folklore of the Kwakiutl and other Northwest Coast tribes. It resembles a stylized skeleton with long tangled hair and bloated facial features, and it tries to tempt humans into eating food that it offers. Any unwary traveler who partakes of its ghost food will be transformed into another undead Bukwus.
Similarity to vampires: Undead creature, used to be human, can turn humans to its own kind
Skadegamutc: Ghost-witches of the Wabanaki tribes of New England. They are usually said to be created when an evil sorcerer dies, at which point he begins rising from the dead at night to kill and eat humans. During the day, a ghost-witch appears to be an ordinary corpse. It can only be permanently destroyed by fire.
Similarity to vampires: Undead creature, used to be human, preys on humans, nocturnal, associated with sin
When the Chenoo Howls: Native American Tales of Terror:
Stories about the Chenoo, Flying Head and other Native American vampire-like monsters, told by an Abenaki Indian storyteller.
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters:
A compilation of vampire myths and legends from all over the world, including American Indian tales.