In the last several years there has been a serious uptick in using w*ndigos in popular culture in America, especially in horror. As a white person, I get it. They’re scary and unfamiliar to us as a culture, as we (as a collective) tend to like to grab things and use them as our own, especially when it comes to folklore. But here’s the thing: w*ndigos just aren’t for us. They aren’t a scary monster for us to use in our stories and claim as our own.
For one thing, w*ndigos aren’t even prevalent to every Native tribe out there, mainly to the tribes of the Northeast. They’re sacred to Algonquin and Anishinaabe tribes, part of their belief system and are something to be respected. They’re not cryptids or folklore to the tribes either. That would be like saying that the Christian idea of angels are cryptids, or saying the Bible or Qur’an are folklore. There’s another important reason that you shouldn’t be making movies or writing stories about them (and in some cases kinning with them) if you’re not part of the culture, and the reason I’ve been censoring the name in the article: these creatures are the embodiment of pure evil, to the point where you cannot even say the name of it. And by making stories about them, we are flying in the face of that rule and ignoring the requests of the cultures that they belong to: could we please stop, they’re not for us, we’re being disrespectful.
White people have taken enough from Native people—let’s just leave this one alone. We need to listen to the tribes telling us to stop. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of folklore creatures that are fair game and I, at least, really want to see a horror movie about.
You’re out on the hills of Ireland, hills you have known all your life, and on the wind you hear the tinkling of bells, fiddling, and laughter coming from a hill in the distance. You follow the music to a hill, a hill you have seen before, but it’s different this time. For one thing, an adult hawthorn tree is growing out of the top of it. For another, there’s an opening, just big enough for you to walk through, and a staircase descending into darkness. At the end of the staircase, there’s a ballroom, full of splendor and beings that look like you but also spark something deep within your brain that says run. The beings are dancing and singing and laughing, and one of them grabs you and pulls you into the fray. Another one hands you a plate, full of the most delectable food you have ever seen, despite being just fruits and pasties. You pick up a grape, bring it to your mouth, and take a bite.
Aos sí, pronounced ays shee, are Irish and Scottish fae that are known to live Under the Hill, which is marked with a hawthorn tree, and are also known as the Fair Folk or the Good Neighbors. Aos sí are known for throwing revelries and inviting those with musical or storytelling talent among us to their parties and leaving something else in their place. Crops failing or milk spoiling are blamed on them, and if you are taken under the hill you need to be sure that you don’t eat any of their food, or you’re theirs forever.
Having a horror movie about these beings would be amazing, and perfect for anything Uncanny Valley. The Fair Folk are characterized by being like humans, but not quite, often having wrong teeth, eyes unnatural colors, too long fingers with one too many joints, or hollow backs. They’re also known for being cruel for fun, seeing humans as a plaything. This kind of horror movie would play on the feeling of wrongness the entire time and just build on it, until the protagonist manages to get their hands on some iron or rowan and break out of the hill, only to find that the time they return to is not the one they came from. Think Pan’s Labyrinth, but the entire movie is spent in the hall of the Pale Man, who has become a beautiful creature that is slightly wrong.
We’ve seen headless horsemen before, but this is different. Dúllahan (pronounces do-la-han) are the Irish version of the headless horseman legend, and are incredibly metal. As most headless horsemen, they are generally male knights who ride on black horses and carry their head under their arm or held high in their hand. The description of their head is gnarly though: the heads have a grin that spread across their face from ear to ear, and their flesh is said to have the color and consistency of moldy cheese. And here’s what sets them apart and makes them incredibly creepy: they wield a whip made of human vertebrae strung together, and pull behind them wagons made out of human bones with femurs making up the spokes of the wheels, the pall of the wagon made of rotting human skin, and lanterns made out of skulls to light their way as they ride through the night. Running into that in the middle of the night is enough to make you wet yourself and leave you with nightmares, but here’s where it gets worse.
The archaic Irish belief says that if a dúllahan stops its ride, someone will die, and the dúllahan will call out the name of the person to die. When their name is called, the person drops dead, their soul pulled from their body to go into the dúllahan’s wagon. If you see him pass by you, it is possible that he will dump a bucket of blood on you as you pass for daring to look at him.
Fortunately, if you wear gold jewelry, as in bona fide 24 carat gold, the dúllahan will probably leave you alone, as gold tends to put them off. Either way, these guys are just creepy and I would love to see a monster movie with these guys set up almost like A Quiet Place, where the monsters never really go away and people keep dying, but someone finds a way to stave them off, just for a little bit.
Twelfth century Norway. You’re traveling, trying to stay ahead of whatever is plaguing the area, and come across a village, thinking of staying the night. But this village is empty, every house with a red cross painted on the door, save for one impossibly old woman in a red skirt, slowly sweeping the streets. You ask what happened here and she looks at you, slowly smiles, showing a mouth containing only three teeth, and says that you’re too late, everyone here is dead, but if you let her ride with you she’ll tell you the story on the way. You agree and help her onto your wagon. As you start back on your journey, you wipe at your nose, and come back with blood.
This one seems incredibly apt with the current global news. Pesta is from Norwegian folklore dating back to the spread of the Black Plague, named after the Norwegian word for the pandemic itself. She is the one who spreads the disease itself, and you can know her by her red skirt and she will be carrying either a rake or a broom. If she has a rake you’re lucky—some of you may survive the coming sickness. If she is carrying her broom, beware—everyone in town will die. The Black Plague itself was terrifying, wiping out a third of Europe’s population just like that. But the way the disease made us act, turning on each other at the slightest implication of any sickness and blaming each other for the causing the sickness to begin with. I just want to see a movie where all this goes down in a small town after a little old lady comes to visit and watches it all fall apart with a smile, broom on her shoulder. She moves on the the next town after everyone dies, humming a simple tune, and the screen fades to black.
It’s a hot summer’s day as you’re working the fields getting ready for the harvest that will be here soon, the sun overhead beating down on you like a preacher beats the Bible. Out of the corner of your eye you see a girl in a white dress and simple flower crown, holding a scythe and staring at you. You turn to look at her fully only to discover she’s gone. You turn back to your work and she’s right there, staring into your eyes with her pure black ones. She pulls her black lips back into a smile as she raises the scythe in her hand and brings it down towards your head.
Also known as Lady Midday or Lady of the Rye, Południca is a Slavic demon who appears around the midday in the summer, especially during the hottest days. She would appear in the fields with a scythe in her hand and strike the people working with madness or cause heat stroke. If you are lucky, that is all she will do. If you are unlucky she may stop you as you walk down the road, asking you a riddle or simply striking up a conversation. If you answer wrong or she simply doesn’t like what you say, she will cut off your head. Using her to create a demon horror movie, where at first people just come across headless bodies in the road and people laughing at nothing in the fields, before discovering the demon targeting them and having to figure out how to get rid of her before summer ends.
There’s plenty of other folklore creatures not listed here that would make much better monsters for horror movies than figures from Native beliefs: snallygasters, the Wild Hunt, draugr, kelpies, etc. We just have to do the work and find them rather than taking the easy way out.