Partridge India Writing Tips| Native American Folklore

May 4

Partridge India hopes to introduce writers to folklore from the world over. Folklore includes the myths, tall tales, stories passed down through the ages, shaping the imaginations of people today. Folklore can be a rich source of ideas for authors, as folktales have long been a vital part of the human experience.



Long before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans told their own stories of great heroes, wise animals, and terrible spirits. Different tribes had different folktales, from the Algonquian tribes of the far northern regions, to the Navajo tribes of the southwest. It would take much more than a single blog series to truly cover the wide range of myths, legends, and folktales contained within the various tribes’ cultures. So we will focus on a few standouts.




Folktales From Around the World: Native American Folklore
Winter is often associated with the Wendigo, due to starvation and lack of game animals.

Also known as the windigo, the wendigo is one of the most feared entities to come out of Native American folklore. The story of the wendigo is centred on one of the most globally adhered taboos, the taboo against cannibalism. Stories of the wendigo originate from the Algonquian peoples of the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes regions in the U.S.A. and Canada. According to the stories, wendigo are creatures or spirits that possess people and the people most vulnerable to the wendigo are those who have eaten cannibalism.


As the story usually goes, a party of hunters are stranded in the wild by the winter. Starving and without supplies, one of the hunters resorts eating, possibly killing, the other hunters, becoming the wendigo. The various Algonquian tribes view the wendigo as symbols of greed, gluttony, and excess.


Wendigo are described as strong, swift, and spiritually powerful monsters that appear as emaciated, rotting, walking corpses, filled with a constant hunger for human flesh. Wendigo are depicted as being horrifically cunning, and in some variations can imitate the voices of a friend or someone in distress to lure people away from the fire.




The one entity from Native American folklore possibly more feared than the wendigo is the skinwalker. The skinwalker comes from Native American cultures of the South-western regions of the United States, most especially the Navajo tribes. So feared and reviled is the skinwalker that some Navajo will actively avoid speaking about them.


Amongst the Navajo, skinwalkers are the embodiment of evil, usually a medicine man who has turned to black magic, becoming a witch. It is generally believed that to become a skinwalker one must horribly murder or consume a family member. Skinwalkers can cast terrible curses and hexes upon victims, but the most feared ability of the skinwalkers is the power to shapeshift into an animal by wearing its skin. And in some stories, the skinwalker can shapeshift into a person… by wearing that person’s skin.




Folktales From Around the World: Native American Folklore
Coyote is often depicted as a shapeshifter.

A more light-hearted figure from Native American folklore, and not the only one, is Coyote. Of the spirits and beings in Native American folklore, none are as popular as Coyote, also known as Old Man Coyote. Coyote is a great trickster spirit, sometimes a teacher and sometimes a fool.



In some stories Coyote plays a part in shaping creation, even going so far as creating humans. In some stories Coyote is a trickster, either for harmless fun or to teach a lesson. And in some stories he is a cunning hero and slayer of monsters. He is most often depicted as a master of disguise and a shapeshifter.


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By Ian Smith

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