Hush Little Baby
Hello Grimericans! I hope all is well when these words reach your optics. I have one that I hope might send a chill or two down your spine. For those of you who are parents, you might be a little more prone to the chills, especially if your young are in the range of infant and toddler. Today, we will be discussing the spooks and specters and the downright nasties that mimic our young, or more specifically, our young’s cries. And by “we will be discussing” I of course mean that I am going to write down what I found researching this topic and give some of my own opinions on it and you will inevitably become irritated with what I propose and start screaming at your screen about how I am completely wrong, presumably from your work desk, causing your coworkers to start rumors that eventually lead to a termination in your employment. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine. You never really liked your job anyway. Haven’t you ever seen ‘Office Space’? Alright. Ready? Let’s get this going.
“Um, yeah. If I could get a volunteer to leave a comment about what they think about this post when they’re done reading it, that’d be great.”
Imagine, if you will, that you are strolling along an unfamiliar wooded path. The sky is approaching twilight and you start to re-think your decision of having started this adventure so late in the day. You’re not even sure how much farther you have to travel before you reach your destination. Just as you’re coming to grips with your current situation and are making a conscious effort to not be intimidated with the task at hand, your face goes pale, your heart drops and your backside clinches tight as your brain processes the sound of a snapping twig coming from beyond the dark trees. As you turn toward where the sound emanated from, you suddenly become fully aware of your surroundings; the waning light of the sun on the unusually sparse branches of the trees mingling with the familiar bushy pines, the cool breeze that once gave you relief from the day’s heat turning into an almost taunting, bitter draft. You stand there for a few solid minutes in complete silence, straining your ears to listen for anything that might hint at what originated the snapping of the twig. You realize that you’ve been holding your breath and fill your lungs with air. You decide that you’ve wasted enough of the remaining light and start again down the trail in the direction you were heading. You keep telling yourself that as long as you stay on the path, you should be fine. You hear another snap and without skipping a beat, your pace quickens. Nothing is going to stop you from makin… What was that? You stop dead in your tracks and turn toward the sound of a faint cry. You strain your ears again and as you do, the crying becomes more pronounced and more defined. It also becomes louder. You are certain that there is a child out there and a small one at that. Couldn’t be more than a few days old, a month tops. You shout in the direction of the wailing infant to no avail. No one answers your hails. Only more intense crying. What do you do? Can you really leave a baby out here to suffer a cruel fate such as being lost and alone in the woods at night? A situation that you are quite familiar I might add. You look down at the trail and back toward the sounds of tears. You ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Oh, yeah… right…
“What’s the worst that could happen?” I’m glad you semi-not really-asked as I am the one who is writing you into this scenario. A convenient segue I must say though, regardless of how it came about. What would happen to you all depends on your geographic location. Let’s explore the possibilities as you encounter the different monsters of mimicry from around the world. We’ll head to the Philippines and start off with apparently the most popular of the lot. The Tiyanak.
Sometimes called the ‘vampire child’ or the ‘child demon’, the Tiyanak is still very prevalent in Phillippino culture. There have been several movies made about it even recently. The origin of the Tiyanak varies from region. In Mindanao, the lore of the Mandaya people says that the Tiyanak comes into being when a pregnant woman dies before giving birth. This causes the spirit of the child to become “born underground”. As with most cases of European colonization, when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the story morphed in it being the souls of babies who died before being baptized. Modern day tellings have included the spirits of aborted fetuses that have come back to claim revenge on those who took its chance at life. Creepy… Other origin stories say that it is simply an imp or demon or the offspring of a human and demon. Another form in the Mindoro region describes the Tiyanak as a flying infant-like monster and another that says it transforms into a black bird before taking flight. In Pampanga, they are described as small nut-brown skinned people with large noses, wide mouths, red eyes and a sharp voice who can float. The most interesting that I found, in my opinion, is that the “true” form of the Tiyanak is a dwarf-like being complete with beard and moustache. It is said to have wrinkles of an old man and a large flat nose and big wide eyes. This version also says that they have one leg longer than the other limiting its mobility. They rather leap than walk causing its ability to stalk its victims to be hindered. But despite the appearance of the Tiyanak or Impakto, as it is sometimes also called, they all share one thing in common. The ability to mimic the cry and appearance of an infant. They are said to do this to lure travelers off the path and into its grasp. It will usually take the form of an infant and once the victim has the monster in its hands, the Tiyanak will grow claws and fangs and feast on the would-be baby saver. They usually drain they blood of the victim hence it being associated with the vampire. It is also a shape-shifter which has led to some saying it is related to or just another name for another famous shape-shifting, vampiric Philippine monster, the Aswang. The Tiyanak isn’t always lethal, however. Tales say that it takes delight in making a traveler lose his or her way, leading them deep into the jungle and very much off their course. Fortunately, there are a few ways to ward off this child trickster. They Tiyanak is said to hate loud noises so carrying firecrackers is said to help keep the monster at bay. I’m sure my woman-like screams would also do the trick. Another remedy to get the beast to leave you alone is to wear your clothes inside out. This will amuse the monster and will cause it to laugh and leave perplexed in your fashion sense. And with the introduction of Christianity from the Spanish again, garlic and a rosary are also said to give the traveler a fighting chance.
Pawapicts (Water Babies)
We now travel to the America. Prevalent in the Native American cultures of California and much of the west, Pawapicts or Water Babies as they are better known, inhabit lakes, small ponds and streams. They are said to resemble beautiful human babies although some tribes describe them more like mermaids with fish tails. There are some stories that say they are reptilian in appearance and only mimic the cries of the young. Some versions say that they are as old as a toddler but most are of infant age or even only as big as a man’s hand. There is a tale or two of them appearing as full grown adult women. Most agree that they have long dark hair and cry like infants. There are a few origin stories about how Water Babies came into being. One tale tells of wrestling match between a very strong, stout indian named Pahahapooch and Wildcat. Pahahapooch had made many challenges to others and had overcome all. When Pahahapooch and Wildcat’s bout began, they were grappling by a large lake. Wildcat gained the upper hand and threw Pahahapooch into the middle of the lake and proclaimed that this is where he is to reside from now on and will now be known as a Water Indian. Overtime, Pahahapooch became lonely and began luring other Indians into the water turning them into Water Indians as well. In turn, their tasks was to create new Water Indians and so on and so on. These Water Indians slowly turned into child-like beings complete with child-like lungs perfect for luring others to the banks of the water. Another couple of origin stories of the Water Babies come from Pyramid Lake in Nevada. In fact, one of the most enduring myths in the Reno area is that of the Water Babies of Pyramid Lake. A story bolstered by the fact that nearly every spring, fisherman drown in the lake with their bodies hardly ever recovered. Some say it’s drunk fisherman losing their footing while other insist it’s the Water Babies. The story goes that they are the spirits of disabled or premature babies thrown into the lake by early tribes. Every spring the spirts rise to take a toll on the lake dwellers. The Paiute Natives have a story of their own that involves a trip to the Californian cost. While at the ocean, the young Paiute fell in love with a mermaid and became bound and determined to marry her. He brought her back to the tribe near Pyramid Lake. When the tribe saw the creature, they forbid the young man from wedding the aquatic being and banished her back to the ocean. Angered by the tribe’s decision, the mermaid placed a curse on the lake before leaving. Soon after, two sisters were washing clothes in the lake. One was the mother of an infant and had placed the child in the shade whilst they cleaned the clothes. A serpent came out of the lake and swallowed the child without the two young maids noticing and then took the form of the child. When the mother went to feed the child, it attacked her and began to devour her as well. After the tribesman and the young woman’s sister could not coax the baby to release the mother, a shaman was summoned and after much deliberation, a fearful deal was struck. The serpent baby would be allowed to roam free in the lake if the mother was allowed to be freed and restored to health. Since then, many Water Babies have been seen in the lake. On the more malicious side, water babies target victims purely to pull them to their watery deaths. I could not find anything that would keep you safe from these water spirits. It is said that one should always be weary when they hear a child’s cry and to always approach these pint-sized beings with respect. Point of Interest: Pyramid Lake is the default screensaver for the iPad.
The Kushtaka (Land Otter People)
Keeping in North America, we travel north to Alaska and the B.C. Coast. The First Nations people and Inuit tell stories creatures that lure their victims out into the wilds by use of the cries of the young. The Tlingit and the Tsimshian people tell of the Kushtaka which roughly translates to “land otter people”. They are a race of shapeshifting trickster beings who plague the people of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska. While researching this creature, I found fascinating aspects and history of lore that cannot be covered here. Yep, Land Otter People or the Otterman is a close 2nd for my new favorite cryptid. Like the Water Babies or Water Indians, Land Otter people would trick unsuspecting people into the water or woods in order to change them into other Kushtaka. Some Kushtaka will use the cries of child in order to get people lost only to “rescue” them. And there are of course the reports of these tricksters luring people out simply to tear them apart. By the same token, there are tales of Kushtaka rescuing people from drowning or freezing to death. Thereis a tale of a kayak full of fishermen who had capsized. All perished but one. A canoe came to aide of the fisherman and he found that instead of being full of other humans, it was full of Land Otter People. They took the man a far distance back to a place they called Rainy-Village. All the while, they kept the man trapped under a large piece of kelp to keep him from escaping. Upon arriving at the village, the man saw his aunt who his family thought had died from drowning a few years before. She was now the wife of two Otter Men. The Aunt told him that here husbands would save him but that she could not go because she had grown fond of these people. The aunt told here husbands to let him go someplace where he could not be captured again. After another long journey, the man found himself near the village of Sitka but his transformation into a Land Otter Person had already begun. He roamed the streets causing suffering to the people (although I’m not clear how. Maybe wailing) and would not let them sleep. They were determined to capture him. After a few failed attempts, they were able to restrain him. After getting him to talk, they learned what had happened to him. He could now only eat his meat raw. He was around the fishermen who would always ask him to eat his halibut cooked. He was a great halibut fisherman and the others speculated that he had learned this skill from the Land Otter People although they never asked and he never told. Finally he accepted a piece of cooked fish and upon eating it, he died. Sometimes the Kushtaka can be portrayed as a boogeyman which doesn’t really represent how the native peoples feel about these entities. Being turned into one in Tlingit belief basically means taking away any chance of reincarnations or a chance at everlasting life. Again, there is a history of the Kushtaka that is rich with stories and I suggest doing a little research yourself if you find yourself interested. I think it important to note that giant beaver (giggity) once roamed the planet. I think it also important to mention that with such a playful animal as the otter, it is easy to understand how a culture could easily anthropomorphize creatures into something more trickster like. One more thing before we move on. The Kushtaka hate dogs. They are their mortal enemies. The half Otterman that was captured in the story above was done so by using just a dog’s bones. Finally, there is a place where volunteering to walk your neighbor’s dog can be beneficial.
You’re doing it right.
The Myling and the Utburd
Keeping in the northern hemisphere, we travel to Scandinavia where the ancient practice of infanticide has led to some creepy tales of small, vengeful spirits. The Myling, which is Swedish for “little murdered one” or the Utburd, which is Norwegian for “carried outside”, are the spirits of infant children that were murdered before being baptized. Infanticide was a practice common at one time and in fact, is still used in parts of the world today. It wasn’t unusual for parents who could not afford the extra mouths to feed to take their children into the woods and left for dead. There is even a rather well known Grimm’s fairytale about such an occurrence called Hansel and Gretel. Ever hear of it? Sometimes it was due to shame of a mother having a child out of wedlock, or maybe extreme postpartum depression. The main thing in common is that these are the spirits of unbaptized, unnamed babies. And just like with the rest of the entities we’ve talked about today, these lure you off the trail and get you in a nice and secluded spot with their cries. If you do fall victim to their wails, once you get close enough, according to some variations, they jump on your back with an extreme grip and won’t let go until you do what they ask. Usually they will ask (presumably in a demonic voice from the netherworld, strong enough to make your bowels evacuate) to take you to the graveyard. If you decide to do their bidding, and let’s face it, of course you are, they begin to get heavier with every step toward the cemetery. They are said to grow in size as well. Assuming you make it to the graveyard, they are said to leave your back and settle into the sacred ground, becoming at peace. Some stories say that the Myling grow so heavy that they start to force the victim underground with every step taken, and by the time graveyard is reached, both are underground. If you are too burdened with the weight of the supernatural creature and fall before reaching the cemetery, the spirit is said to rip the victim to shreds and start looking for another. One version of the story is that once they jump on the victim’s back, they task they give is to simply give them a name. Once given a name, they can meet their eternal rest. Although there are a few variations of what to say to give the name, the only one I could find in English is from the notably reliable source of Yahoo Answers in which the person gave an example of: “If you’re a girl, your name is Jill. If you’re a boy, your name is Bill.” I can only assume that this means the Scandinavian counterpart also rhymes.
“Say Bill and Jill one more time!”
So there you have it. Which encounter would you choose? More importantly, do you think that there is a connection between these similar entities? In the case of the Myling, I came across some accounts that the phenomenon spread across the Christian world. I actually think that if there is a connection, it’s a deep subconscious one. Maybe even one of a Jungian, collective unconscious level. But without getting too philosophical, I’d be remise if I didn’t point out that along with other creatures of the completely earthly realm, humans are hard wired to respond to the cries of our young. In the case of pregnant women, or those women who recently gave birth, the sound of a baby’s cry is enough to force biological changes such as lactation, completely out of the control of the mother. Those of you who are parents know that protecting our children isn’t something we really ‘think’ about, we just do. It’s called parental instinct for a reason. These stories play on these emotions and urges. In the case of the Water Babies, it may have started as a way to explain what happened to their people when they drowned and then, as the way of myth-building goes, slowly morphed into a way to keep children away from the dangers of water which is another way to protect our children. Like I mentioned above, there are other earthly creatures that are hardwired to protect their young. In fact, most are. Mimicking other creature is also prevalent in nature. From the worm-like tongue of an alligator snapping turtle, to the deceptive light of an angler fish, the natural world is full of mimicry. If you were a pied tamarin, a squirrel sized monkey native to the Amazon, you might have a monkey myth about an elusive creature that mimics the cries of your young monkey babies. A covert killer that draws you out in search of an injured little one and then snatches you up and devours you. Unlike the supernatural creatures mentioned above, this one has been proven to exist. Meet the Margay.
“Ooo ooo, ah ah! Could I be any more of a monkey?!”
Scientist have recently observed this rare spotted feline imitating the calls of baby pied tamarins to lure adults out where they can easily prey on them. Sound familiar? But unlike some of the paranormal beings mentioned in this post, the Margay doesn’t turn the victim into more Margays. Nope. It’s just about dinner to them. The locals had been telling the scientist for years that these rare spotted felines did this, but like most things, it doesn’t exist until proven by science. The locals also tell of other wild cats, including pumas and jaguars, mimicking primates to try and coax them out of hiding. There is even one from Washington State about a mountain lion mimicking the cries of a young Sasquatch to try and get the wood ape out of its protective cave. Okay. I made that last one up. Just making sure you’re still awake. Didn’t want you to miss the end of my ramblings. And on that note, I have to get out of here. I think I heard my baby girl crying. Wait a minute… she’s with her mother. Well, life is full of risks! That’s it for me Grimericans! Stay classy.