Episode 3 – Never Go Back to Corpserape Island

Episode 3 Show Notes

Source: Native American Legend

This week on MYTH, I’ll be telling the legend of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.  You’ll find out that you should never piss off an island, that the British colonists were kind of assholes, and that betraying your Native American friends can have centuries worth of consequences.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, you’ll find out why Twilight’s Jacob was definitely an evil witch.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 3, “Never Go Back to Corpserape Island.”  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

  • This week’s story, like most legends, begins with historical fact, and quickly descends into the fucking insane.     
  • Back in the early days of the American colonies, a man named John White (I know it sounds like the frontman of an acoustic indy band, but that was his name) went to Sir Walter Raleigh (the same man that Raleigh, North Carolina is named after) and his half brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert to get money for an expedition to set up a new colony.  This seemed like a good investment at the time, so he agreed.  In 1587, White made his second attempt at setting up a colony.  His first location didn’t pan out, so they settled on Roanoke Island, a small barrier island off the coast of what is now North Carolina. 
  • You have to understand what life was like for the first settlers.  In a word, it was fucking miserable.  America was still an untamed wilderness, and the early colonist really had no goddamn idea what they were doing.  They were farmers, but they were used to having cities to fall back on in a pinch, and they didn’t understand that this new country was different from the one they had left, and it kicked their asses. 
  • At the time that Roanoke was settled, England had spent nearly a decade failing to make a permanent foothold in the new world.  Spain was already setting up shop in the south, and since Spain and England were heavyweight rivals (think Superman and Lex Luthor), the Virgin Queen was desperate to get something going.  In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I sent Sir Gilbert  to find something that Spain hadn’t already put their grubby fucking hands on and put HIS grubby fucking hands on it.  So long as the land wasn’t already claimed by a Christian king it was fair game (so fuck the natives).  During Gilbert’s second expedition, his ship was lost in a storm.  With Gilbert sleeping with the fishes, Raleigh, his half brother, took over and ran the expedition for Roanoke.  One settlement at Roanoke had already failed and been lost to the wilderness before John White even set one fucking foot on colonial soil.
  • White had been part of Raleigh’s first attempt at settling Roanoke, which ended in disaster.  In 1585, a man named Sir Richard Grenville brought a small, shitty army to Roanoke.  When he left, the colonists were on good terms with the local tribes, the Secotan and Croatan.  First Grenville, and the White went back to England for supplies, and brought two tribesmen, Wanchese and Manteo, with him as emissaries to the Queen. 
  • When John White came back with his new group of settlers, everyone at Roanoke was dead, missing, or gone.  Signs of violence were everywhere.  The commanding officer, Ralph Lane, started a costly war with the tribes, leading two attacks over the course of a few months.  The surviving reports give no indication that the natives had turned hostile, or been anything but welcoming to the leading force of what would be a massive invasion.  Instead, it all started over a trinket.  The colonists lost one of their silver cups, and Lane decided that the natives had stolen it (likely because they were heathens and therefore did not know right and wrong) with little to no evidence.  In a completely evenhanded retaliation, they attack a Secotan village, burn it to the ground, then burn the chief alive.  What a dick.
  • The colonists quickly realized that they had essentially started a ground war in Russia in winter.  They didn’t know they land, they were undersupplied, and they had no reinforcements.  They holed up inside the fort and tried to ride out the hostilities, but unprovoked wars don’t just stop.  Funny how that works.  Hostilities became violent, with natives leading raids against the fort itself, and the men grew desperate.  A team of three were sent on an expedition into the woods to find food and supplies.  One night, while they were away, Lane saw a ship in the distance.  He and his men said “Fuck this shit” and abandoned the settlement, including the three poor bastards still wandering around in the woods looking for berries, and rowed out to the ship.  The ship’s captain, the famous Sir Francis Drake, took them with him back to England.
  • When Grenville returned, he found the settlement damaged and abandoned, and the three men who had been left behind missing and presumed killed to death.  Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, and that it was way better to leave other people to die on the ass end of nowhere than to stay and die with the group YOU convinced to go in the first place, Grenville left 15 men to defend the broken and empty town from the still-angry natives and went back to England for more supplies.  He was a coward, but a SMART coward.  No Englishman ever saw the fifteen fighting men ever again.  Again, missing and presumed sacrificed.
  • John White left after Grenville with more supplied and more people, only to find the place once again completely abandoned.  The settlement, consisting of 117 souls, 97 men, 17 women, and nine boys, made landfall in July.  The fifteen men they were supposed to be meeting were in the wind.
  • White, being not a total moron, wanted to sail farther north and try to establish a settlement near Chesapeake Bay in modern day Virginia.  As this would one day become the first successful English colony, his instincts were good.  Unfortunately, the Captain, one Simon Fernandez, was done with this cursed place and people and told them to get the fuck of his ship right here and now.  Given that the ship was full of scary sailors, and that none of the colonist knew how to pilot a ship, they reluctantly agreed.
  • They had nowhere to go, so they moved in to the haunted ass town.  Given that they had some supplies now, they decided that the first order of business was trying to repair relations with the local populace.  Given that they had made friends with two of the tribesmen, White thought they had a good chance.  This place didn’t seem so bad.
  • He had forgotten that this was the wild motherfucking west, that they were walking a goddamned knife edge, and if they made one slip, it could leave them lying in a pool of their own blood.  Nine days after landing, they were reminded of this inconvenient fact when one of the colonists, George Howe, was killed by one of the tribes while crabbing along the shore.
  • In spite of the blood feud, White persevered in his attempts to make nice nice with the Roanoke and Croatan Indians.  His Croatan friend Manteo, the first Native American to be baptized as a protestant, had returned with Grenville and went as emissary to his people on Hatteras Island and was able to secure a peace. 
  • Wanchese didn’t take to his new “friends” the same way.  He had also returned with Grenville, but he quickly soured on the English, decided they were invaders, and returned to his people.  Legend says that Wanchese hated the English men he’d been living with enough to have been part of the force that killed the 15 men left behind by Grenville.  Maybe he just got a glimpse of the future and saw how destructive the white man would be for the people already living in the country that the Queen thought was hers by right of planting a damned flag.
  • Even without Wanchese’s help, the peace seemed to be holding.  White had tried something different than the previous expeditions, which initially proved fruitful.  Instead of bringing soldiers and mercenaries, he brought families and gave them a stake in the venture.  They weren’t just pulling a paycheck, they were starting a new life.  This seemed embodied in the birth of his granddaughter, the first protestant baby born in the new world.  Virginia Dare was born on August 18, 1587 to Eleanor and Ananias Dare.  Things were looking up.  But since this is a Halloween story, you know it won’t last.
  • The colonists had arrived late in the season, and had missed a chance to plant crops.  They had brought supplies with them, but not enough to get them through the coming winter.  Partly, this was due to unpredictability of long sea voyages, and partly this was due to shitty planning.  Which is why, less than a week after his daughter gave birth to Virginia, John White left for England again.  The governor figured he could be back by the New Year, in time to resupply the colony for the worst of the winter. 
  • He was wrong.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  He didn’t just decide “Fuck those guys.  Roanoke is cold and the city has whores.”  He actually wanted to go back pretty fucking bad.  The Queen forbid it.  England was in the throes of a war with Spain (this is when the Spanish Armada made a complete fuckup of the world’s greatest navy and was sent back to Spain with its tail between its legs) and, incidentally, turned the sea lanes around England into total shit.  While the war was going on, and it dragged on for years, he couldn’t leave.  There were no ships and no money to fund a trip.  Given the fact that multiple expeditions had failed spectacularly, he was extremely worried about his colony and his family.
  • He didn’t set foot on American soil for another three years.  In a twist so bizarre that it can only be real life, White would land at Roanoke on August 18, 1590; his granddaughter’s third birthday.  He arrived to find a ghost town.  The fort was overgrown with grass, weeds, and roots.  Unlike the last time, however, there were no signs of violence.  No burned wood, no broken weapons, no bodies.
  • What he found instead disturbed him more: the town’s belongings were scattered on the ground and left to rust and rot.  The housing was gone.  Not burned down, not broken, gone.  Someone had taken the time to carefully and thoroughly disassemble everything but the town fence.  Cherished (and at the time, very expensive and rare) books were lying in the dirt being eaten by mold.  Rusted but otherwise intact cannons lay strewn about as if people had simply abandoned them where they stood and walked off.  Chests that had been locked and buried to protect valuables were broken open on the cold ground, and everything inside taken.  Family portraits and children toys were scattered about, watching John White wander the town with reproach for not having been here when the damned well needed him.
  • Before he left, White, realizing that the Secotans were still murderously pissed at the colonists, gave the town a signal to use in case they were in danger and had to abandon the town for somewhere safer.  Before they left, they were supposed to carve a Maltese Cross into a few of the trees to let him know they got away safely.  He was creeped the hell out by what he had found so far, but since there definitely hadn’t been any violence, he figured they must have left for some reason, so he went looking for the signal.
  • What he found were two graves that looked to have been dug in no haste, so the two men had probably died of natural-ish causes.  On a post of the fort wall, there was a carving.  This was it.  This was the signal that everyone was safe.  He walked closer and saw that it was not, in fact the cross.  Instead, the word “Croatoan” had been carved into the wood.  Looking around, figuring there had to be more, he saw another carving nearby.  He approached it, and again it was not the cross.  Etched into a tree were the three letters C R and O. He kept looking for the signal or any other sign, but found nothing. 
  • White took this to mean that the settlers had gone to live with Manteo and the somewhat friendlier Croatan tribe (the word carved was very similar to the tribe name, after all), but he didn’t have provisions to survive in the new world on his own, and a storm was approaching, so his ship wasn’t going to wait for him.  He had to either leave now and protect his ships, or stay while the ships sailed away and probably die here all alone.  He went back home to England, and died three years later, unable to mount a rescue mission. 
  • That’s where history ends and legend begins.  No one ever saw the colonists again, and there is no definitive explanation as to why they disappeared, but there are plenty of stories.  I’ll start with the plausible stories, and ramp up to the pants-shittingly horrifying legends. 
  • John White’s theory was that the people had encountered some hardship, possibly at the hands of the Secotans who were, for some reason, still nursing a grudge about the white men razing a town and torturing their leader to death.  John Lawson, an English explorer, wrote in 1709 that he had met Croatans living on Hatteras Island who claimed to be descended from white settlers, indicating that they had interfucked.  Since they had grey eyes, he believed them.  Recent DNA research into surviving descendants and some recent archeological evidence seems to support this theory.  Since this podcast is about legends rather than history, I’ll leave this theory there and let you read up on it if you want.
  • In the slightly disturbing story, the colony ran into trouble and realized that they weren’t going to be able to hold out through the winter at Roanoke.  They knew that White had wanted to set up the colony at Chesapeake and tried to make their way there on foot.  They didn’t know exactly where they were going, and they didn’t know exactly where they were, so it was a long shot, but it was better than the certain death they were facing.  They left behind anything they couldn’t carry and started walking.  The cannons, the books, the pictures; all were left behind to try and make the trek easier.  They set out west past the wetlands, looking for a way to a better place to settle.  It worked out well until 1591, a year after White had come back looking for them, when the group was ambushed.  They had unknowingly wandered into hostile territory.  The attack killed most of the settlers, including Ananias Dare and four year old Virginia.  Only seven people survived, and they knew they wouldn’t last long.  Eleanor Dare, White’s daughter, carved their story into a stone near the Chowan river, 65 miles west of Roanoke, and signed her initials under the grim prediction that the last English settlers would soon be dead.  They left the bodies of their friends and family where they lay, unable to dig enough graves for all of the dead, and walked off to their own certain deaths.  The stone was found in 1937 and dubbed the Dare Stone or the Chowan Stone.  Emory University in Georgia certified the stone authentic, as it was written in genuine Elizabethan english. More than forty forgeries were created and sold, casting doubt on the original, but modern historians have started to speculate that the original was legitimate.  Of course, this directly conflicts with the story about living with the Croatans, and they can’t both be fucking true.
  • Another version of the story, which conflicts with both of the previous versions, says that the group beat the odds and made it to Chesapeake Bay.  They set up a new town, but it didn’t last long.  By the time Jamestown was founded, everyone was long dead.  John Smith (yes, that John Smith) claimed in 1608 that Pocohontas’ father Powhatan claimed to have killed a group of white colonists before Smith had arrived. He had personally led the attack party and killed the last few men himself. 
  • In the slightly more disturbing story, the entire colony was rounded up by the Secotans, taken back to their village, and burned alive in further escalation of the retaliation feud for killing their chief.  They would have had to have snuck past the wall in the night and taken the guards before they could raise the alarm.  In this story, the natives came back to the village after everyone was dead to take what they wanted.  Having no use for books, guns, or pictures, they left them in the street, but drove the livestock back to their own village for food.
  • One of the major problems with trying to discover what really happened is that in spite of being a cartogropher and an artist, the location of the colony was lost along with the colonist.  No definitive evidence of the missing colonists has ever been discovered.  And of course, none of these stories explains why the word Croatoan was carved in the post.  If the villagers had left safely on their own, why not carve the “all safe” signal?  If the colonists were killed in a surprise attack, then who carved the word using English letters?  Why did they disassemble the houses?  And none of this explains some of the weird incidents that have cropped up around the word Croatoan, leaving some to tell much darker tales about what happened.
  • Edgar Allen Poe disappeared a few days before his death.  On October 3, 1849, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and was taken to Washington Medical College, where died on October 7.  He was never coherent enough to explain where he had been, what had happened to him, or why he was wearing clothes that were not his.  Legend says that he repeatedly called out the name ‘Reynolds’  and whispering the word ‘Croatoan’.  Legend also says that the word was scribbled in other sites associated with weird disappearances: the journal of Amelia Earhart, after her disappearance in 1937; carved into the post of the last bed horror writer Ambrose Bierce slept in before vanishing in Mexico in 1913; scratched into the wall of the cell that the notorious stagecoach robber Black Bart inhabited just before being released and disappearing without a trace in 1888; and, perhaps most disturbingly, written on the last page of the logbook of the ship Carroll A Deering when it ran aground in Cape Hatteras in 1921 (not far from Roanoke) – when rescuers went out to help the sailors, they discovered that the ship was completely abandoned with no explanation and apparently in the middle of dinner, since food been left out in the middle of preparing it as if everyone had just got up and walked out at the same time, with no signs of violence.  Taken together, it’s a pretty fucking creepy series of events.
  • Which leads to the best legend of what happened to the colonists and what Croatoan means.  The natives living on Roanoke Island said that the island had a spirit.  Not an intangible ‘colors of the wind’ bullshit spirit, but a genuine, corporeal spirit that could manifest to protect the tribes and the island when angered.  It could be roused by certain rituals and ceremonies.  And the fifteen men who were burned alive in retribution for the chief?  Either by accident or design, the Secotans had roused the vengeful spirit of Roanoke during their mass sacrifice and, steeped in the blood the the English colonists, it thirsted for more. 
  • The colonists didn’t carve the Maltese cross because they didn’t leave. They didn’t believe what was happening.  The Croatan warrior Manteo came to the settlement and told them the story, but the colonists refused to believe.  The explanation didn’t settle with their strict religious beliefs, so they were dismissed out of hand.
  • The Croatans believed that the spirit endured after death and could walk the earth if it chose.  They also believed in “greater spirits” that manifested in the elements.  And most importantly, they believed in an evil spirit, a powerful source of evil, not too different from the christian idea of Satan.  The spirit roamed the earth in the form of a spectral serpent, and could latch on to a victims soul, poisoning the poor creature and causing it to become territorial, violent, and venomous.  The host would exude a miasma that could infect other people, either in close quarters or by skin to skin contact, depending on the version.  In other words, the snake demon turned people into a walking fucking demon plague.
  • The Croatans reported to later colonists that, simultaneous with the disappearance of the colonists, the animals of the forest was massacred.  Overnight, nearly all species of wildlife died abruptly of seemingly natural causes.  Animals dropped dead where they stood, and all of the birds over the island fell out of the sky.  This was a sign of the evil spirit’s presence.
  • Manteo warned the colonists to stay out of the forest until the demon had passed.  Dismissing it as pagan superstition, they sealed their doom.  Some time after Manteo left, Eleanor and Virginia went out into the woods to pick berries and mushrooms.  The settlement had been tense ever since they heard the crazy story that they definitely didn’t believe even a little, and she wanted to let her daughter have some time to play and relax without absorbing the stress of the grown ups.
  • Virginia ran around the woods with the boundless energy of the young, laughing and investigating all of the plants and animals.  They had walked out of sight of the fort’s walls when Eleanor saw her daughter’s gaze get caught by something up ahead.  She reached out and tried to grab Virginia’s shoulder, but the child was too quick.  Laughing at this fun new game and excited to see whatever it was she had found she ran off.  When Eleanor had caught up, she thought she saw a large snake coiled up in the tall grass in front of her daughter, and saw a small arm reached out to touch.  With a cry, she pulled her daughter back, fearing it was too late to stop her from being bitten, but when she did, nothing was there.  There was no snake.  It hadn’t slithered off.  She must have imagined it. 
  • Virginia was unusually solemn on the trek back.  Her large eyes watched everything though, and she smiled when they approached the open gate.  Safe back inside, Eleanor quickly forgot the whole thing.   She was far more concerned with the growing tension inside the compound.  The Secotan hadn’t staged a raid in a while, but no one thought they had given up.  The colonists had the shit end of the stick, and everyone knew it.  It was only a matter of time before they tried again to murder every last one of them, and the wait was driving everyone mad. 
  • As the days went by, nothing kept happening.  Food was running low, but no one wanted to go hunting.  Fear started to turn into anger, and small resentments festered and grew.  The villagers could almost feel the hatred slithering around the cabins.  No one saw the serpent demon latched on to the little girl’s soul, but they could all feel its effects.  The poison spread and the anger bubbled until it finally boiled over.  The hungry people, driven by the snake demon, realized that there was an abundant food supply right there in the town.  All they had to do was take it.  People started to disappear in the night.  The violence was blamed on the long-expected Secotan raid for the first few days, but some of the townspeople started to look less hungry, better fed. 
  • Before long, someone grew suspicious and decided to investigate.  Behind Eleanor’s cabin, he found signs of fresh digging.  Whomever it was hadn’t been trying very hard, because there was only a thin layer of dirt over what was buried beneath.  They were bones, human bones, picked clean.  Someone was eating the villagers.  The snake demon’s vemon drove him to react.  He didn’t go get help.  Screaming in fear and anger, he drew his belt knife and charged in.  Inside, he found a group of men, women, and a child sitting around their gristly feast.  Still screaming wordlessly, he attacked.  Outnumbered, he died quickly.  But his screams had roused the town, or what was left of it.
  • Violence spread like a tidal wave through the town until nearly everyone was fighting, bleeding, and dying.  The suddenness and closeness of the violence made the muskets impractical.  It was war to the knife.  Quickly, the violence peaked and ebbed.  Virginia smiled.  Here was a feast indeed.  One man had carved Croatoan on the gate post as a warning and as a map to where help could be found.  The Crotans had warned them this was coming.  He knew that John White was coming back, and he didn’t want anyone falling prey to this horror.  He was in the middle of carving the word on a tree in the direction of the tribe, as a guidepost, when a dagger slid between his ribs.  He died having only carved the first three letters.  His last image was of the little girl standing over him, grinning hungrily at the spreading pool of blood.
  • The demon snake’s cannibals weren’t able to stay in the village and enjoy their feast, however.  The survivors, driven by the evil sprit’s venom, dragged the bodies through the forest to the Secotan village.  They were expected.  The bodies were stacked like cordwood, and the remaining English were bound and placed atop the gruesome mound.  It wasn’t until the flames were licking at their ankles that the demon’s compulsion faded.  They had enough time to feel the horror of what they had done and fear at what was about to happen before they were engulfed.  The Secotans chanted as the sacrifice was offered up to the serpent spirit.  Their vengeance had been achieved.
  • Knowing that the village was empty, they raided it for supplies.  They took down the cabins for the lumber and drove the livestock back to their own village.  They ransacked the supplies and dug up the buried chests (which hadn’t been buried long enough to erase the signs of digging) and left behind anything they didn’t need. 
  • The Croatans felt the demon’s departure, and saw the empty town.  They knew what had happened.  Many years later, when another group of colonists made their way here after setting up successful colonies elsewhere, their descendants told the story they way it had been told to them.  Again, the strictly religious colonists disregarded the story as superstition.  But the demon is not gone.  He slithers the earth still, looking for more souls to latch onto and infect. 
  • As a note, I’ve taken some liberties with the story.  The versions of the story I could find only said that the demon infected the colonists through John White’s daughter and granddaughter, that they turned to cannibalism (some versions say vampirism) and killed each other off.  I’ve tried to string the story elements together to make a more cohesive and compelling while staying true to the legend’s core.
  • This is a story that pops up a lot in popular culture, including appearances in a Batman/Spawn crossover comic, an episode of Supernatural, an episode of Angel, the Steven King novel Storm of the Century, and most recently in Season 6 of American Horror Story.  It’s a compelling story without a conclusive explanation, so it’s easy to see why.
  • And now it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story. Given the prevalence of native mythology in the story, and that it’s a Halloween episode, this week’s monster comes from the Dine or Navajo myth, though the same creature appears in the mythology of other nearby tribes.  Dine means “The People”, and it’s the Navajo name for themselves.  It’s known as the yee nahgloshi or the skin-walker, and it is a Navajo witch who can turn himself into or disguise himself as an animal.  The name literally translates to “he who walks on all fours”, and the story is one that the Navajo are reluctant to discuss with outsiders.  A skin walker is a shaman gone bad, as bad as a man can go. 
  • In Navajo folklore, there is a clear distinction drawn between a medicine man or shaman, and a witch.  The medicine man practices the white arts: healing, blessing, curse removal, that sort of thing.  He dedicates his life to helping others.  A witch is, without exception, evil.  He practices the black arts and is dedicated only to himself.  He uses his magics to help himself and to hurt other people.  The skin walker is always a witch. 
  • Given their location in the American Southwest, the preferred forms were wolf, coyote, bear, and bird, but there are stories of skin walkers turning into all sort of other creatures for various malevolent purposes.  Inside his stolen skin, the yee nahgloshi becomes a fucking nightmare, inheriting the beast’s strength, speed, or mythological cunning, all driven by a malevolent human intelligence.
  • Skin walkers, in addition to shapeshifting, can perform other terrible magics.  They can use mind control to make victims hurt themselves or others or even to commit suicide; they can also perform powerful curses.  In the mid 1970s, a lawyer named Michael Stuhff filed papers against a witch.  His client, a Navajo woman who lived on the reservation with her son, was in a legal battle with her ex over custody of the boy.  At one point, when it began to look like she would win full custody, the man got permission to spend an evening with his son.  They didn’t return until the next morning.
  • According to the boy, they spent the night with a witch.  They built a fire on top of a cliff and, for many hours, the man performed ceremonies, songs, and incantations around the fire.  As dawn broke, the three traveled into the woods to find a small cemetery.  They dug a hole, and buried two dolls carved from wood.  One was a woman carved from dark wood; the other was a man carved from light wood.  The boy thought they were meant to represent the mother and her lawyer.  Stuhff wasn’t sure how seriously to take the story, so they consulted a Navajo professor.
  • He told them that the ceremony was a dark and terrible sympathetic magic.  If you don’t know, sympathetic magic is basically voodoo.  You take a small thing meant to represent a large thing and connect the two with magic.  Afterwards, what happens to the small happens to the large.  The dolls had been connected and buried in the fucking cemetery; it was intended to put the woman and the lawyer six feet under.  According to legend, a witch can only perform this curse four times in his life because, after that, he risks having the curse turn back on himself.  That’s some serious shit.
  • Not all witches are skinwalkers, but all skin walkers are witches.  Skin walking is seriously hard and seriously evil, so they are the hot shit in the native witch community, which makes them some of the most evil fuckers around.  They make people sick, they commit murders, they rob graves, they fuck the dead (holy shit that escalated quickly). 
  • To even become a skinwalker, you have to kill a close relative (usually a parent or sibling) as part of the initiation.  And you have to be fucking serious to walk the lefthand path because, by Navajo law, a witch has forfeited his status as a human and can be killed with impunity.
  • It is very difficult to get the Dine to talk about skin walkers to outsiders, even in casual terms.  Practitioners of adishgash, or witchcraft, are dangerous, and skin walkers are the worst of the worst.  Few Navajo want to risk crossing paths with a yee naagloshii, and talking about the witch is to risk drawing its attention.  After all, since the skin walkers are shapeshifters, the person you are speaking to could easily be a skin walker himself, looking for his next victim.  If you don’t know the person well enough to spot a fraud, you’d never know.
  • It is said that, at night, their eyes can glow like hot coals and, if you see their face, they have to kill you.  If you see a naagloshi and know who it really is, it will die.  So, if you see one, it has to kill you to make sure you don’t find out who it really is and thus kill it. 
  • And they won’t just fucking strike you dead in an instant or anything pleasant like that.  No, they make you suffer.  Their preferred method of murder is to blow corpse powder (which is, like it sounds, made from robbing a grave and grinding up a fucking corpse) in you face.  In the hours after, your tongue turns black, you go into painful convulsions, and after suffering immensely, die.  If they don’t have easy access (and as a shapeshifter who can turn into any animal, they usually can), they can conjure up evil spirits (like the demon that supposedly destroyed Roanoke, but smaller) and send them to do their bidding. 
  • On the Navajo reservation in Arizona, they tell a story about a woman who delivered newspapers in the early morning.  She was making her rounds in the predawn darkness with her baby in the seat beside her, since it’s fucking impossible to find a babysitter at three in the morning, when she heard scratching sounds on the passenger door.  She couldn’t see anything through the window, but then the door was flung open to reveal a half man, half beast with glowing red eyes and a clawed, hairy arm twisted unnaturally and swelling with muscle reaching for her child in his carseat. 
  • With one hand, she tried to keep the grasping claw from finding her baby and with the other, wrenched the steering wheel away from the creature as she slammed on the gas.  She breathed a sigh of relief as the car leapt ahead of the creature, leaving the twisted arm behind.  Her relief was short lived.  In the rearview mirror, she could see the glowing red eyes in the road, and they were getting larger.  The thing was running faster than her recklessly speeding car.  It stayed with her, slowly catching up, until she screeched into an all-night convenience store with a squeal of burning rubber.  She jumped out of the car, child in her arms, and ran inside screaming at the clerk that something was following her, but when he ran outside, the night was empty.  The nanagloshii was gone.
  • Another story comes from a New Mexico Highway patrol officer.  Late at night, he would patrol a deserted stretch of highway south of Gallop, New Mexico.  On two separate nights, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. A ghastly form appeared out of the night and attached itself to his car window.  When he turned his head, he saw what he could only describe as an unearthly being wearing a ghostly mask sailing along beside his window at highway speeds.  After a moment, he realized that the creature was not attached to his window, it was running along beside his cruiser as he sped across the empty desert.  After a few minutes of grinning murderously at the officer while running at an impossible rate of speed, it vanished into the night.  Over coffee, another office admitted to having had a similar encounter with the white masked ghoul.
  • There are many, many stories of the naagloshii, in legend and in fiction, but one of my favorite depictions of the dreaded skin walker is in Jim Butcher’s novel Turn Coat.  The story does a fantastic job of describing the abilities, the power, and the sheer evil of the evil Navajo witch.  If you’re interested in learning more about the skinwalker, I highly recommend it.

That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes, since it helps increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.

Next time, I’ll be telling a story that’s near and dear to my heart; it’s the Norse account of the invention of beer.  It’s got everything you could hope for from a myth about alcohol: breaking glass, drunken brawls, and probably the worst secret ingredient ever.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.