Since we’re getting closer to Halloween, I thought this week we would explore some mythological monsters and creepy creatures from around the world. And what better place for me to start than in my own backyard?
Er… It’s a good thing Canada is a big place…
#5 Le Loup-Garou
Most of you have probably heard of le loup-garou. It’s just the French word for “werewolf.” But did you know that French Canadians have their own spin on the werewolf myth? The Quebecois have tied this particular monster up in pretty pink Easter ribbons, using it as a warning to those who fail to perform their religious duties. If a person eschews their Easter rites for seven years in a row, they are transformed into the blood-thirsty loup-garou.
Strangely, the loup-garou does not necessarily become a wolf. Tales of werepigs, -cats, -oxen, and other farm animals abound. One thing is sure, though. The loup-garou appears human by day and is transformed at night, driven by an insatiable desire for human flesh. You can save a person from the loup-garou curse only by drawing their blood. Sounds easy enough, until you remember that this creature will be trying to eat you…
Can you think of anything more terrifying than a werepig? I thought not.
#4 The Waheela
The Nahanni Valley in Canada’s Northwest Territories has a charming nickname: “The Valley of the Headless Men.” It got this catchy moniker by–you guessed it!–being a place where decapitated corpses have a history of turning up.
Theories abound as to what makes the Nahanni Valley so terrifying: everything from warlike native tribes, to grizzly bears, to alien encounters. But the one myth that seems to stick is that of the waheela.
Waheela are creatures somewhere between a bear and a wolf, similar to the prehistoric dire wolves. Unlike the fearless battle wolves of your favourite fantasy books and video games, dire wolves actually used to actually roam the NWT. Some people think they still do, leaving only headless corpses in their wake.
#3 The Great Serpent of the South Saskatchewan River
Canada loves its lake monsters. From Ogopogo of the Okanagan to Mussie in Ontario, every large body of water in this country seems to have its own local lore. But one creature from the depths is less well-known.
The city of Medicine Hat, Alberta is named for an ancient encounter with the Great Spirit who once appeared to a scout of the Blood Indians. The Great Spirit took the form of a giant serpent who offered to make the man a great warrior and medicine man. In exchange, the serpent demanded the man make a sacrifice of his wife’s flesh. At first, the man tried to bargain, offering the serpent his favourite dog instead. But the serpent refused. The woman, desperate to see her husband become the great man the serpent foretold of, willing allowed herself to be sacrificed.
After the Great Spirit had been given the woman’s flesh, he told the man where to find a bag of medicines and a hat trimmed with ermine. The serpent explained how to use the medicines, and the hat–which guaranteed victory in any battle to the wearer–to the man and he did indeed become a great medicine man and warrior. The city of Medicine Hat is named for the headdress he wore.
The serpent lurks beneath the surface of the South Saskatchewan River, awaiting the next worthy sacrifice.
The adlet is an Inuit myth of human people with dogs legs. The adlet are the children born of a union between an Inuit woman named Uinigumissuitung and a huge, sentient dog called Ijirqang. They run as fast as wolves and feast upon hapless wanderers and the people of unprotected villages.
Legend has it that five of the abominations raced across the ice and become the first Europeans. In light of the devastation wrought by the waves of European settlers, one can understand where the vicious dog-men might be seen as similarly monstrous.
The Windigo are skeletal creatures with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. The spirits possess humans in order to feed their desires, turning people into cannibals. Windigo may possess a person long after their human body dies and nothing remains but the emaciated corpse with rotting lips and bleeding gums.
Eating human flesh is enough to invite the spirits into your body and turn you into a monster. In traditional native cultures it is considered better to kill oneself than to resort to cannibalism if faced with starvation. Once a person has become possessed by a Windigo spirit, the only way to kill it is to burn the person and melt the spirit’s heart of ice.
Windigo, or Wendigo, myths are common enough in North America, each a little different from the next. The Windigo of northern Saskatchewan have a special place within my own personal history and variations on these creatures appear in some of my short stories and even an unfinished novel I’ve been working on. Where I grew up, Windigo stories were the equivalent of the ghost story. We all knew someone who had an encounter with one, and some of us have been lucky enough to escape such an encounter ourselves. But speaking of the Windigo is forbidden, and it is nearly impossible to get people to talk about their experiences.
Many Windigo have been burned here. Still others remain, waiting.
Do you have any local myths and legends where you are from? Tell me about them in the comments! Which area of the world should I feature next?