Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Flying Heads

Within the annals of folklore, legend, and mythology, some truly bizarre monsters can be found. But being bizarre doesn't make them any less dangerous. In fact, it may make them even more deadly. One of the most bizarre of these creatures can be found in the oral traditions and folklore of the Iroquois. These creatures appear as decapitated human heads with wings that will devour anything that moves. They are known as Kanontsistóntie, the Flying Heads.

The Flying Heads are undead disembodied heads or demons that have the wings of a bird or a bat growing from their temples. They have fiery eyes that glow eerily in the darkness, while their heads are covered in a matted mess of long, tangled hair. Their heads vary in size, from being human-sized to being "four times as tall as the tallest man." The faces of the monsters are described as being "very dark and angry, filled with great wrinkles and horrid furrows." These creatures have large mouths that are filled with needle-sharp fangs, which they use for catching and devouring their prey. Their skin is thick and matted with dirty, greasy hair, so much so that no weapon can penetrate these disgusting defenses. Some legends say that they have long talons of great strength on their undersides for tearing flesh and seizing prey, but this trait is either absent or is simply not mentioned in other accounts. These monsters can be found in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

The Flying Heads were once thought to kill primarily for revenge because of some wrongdoing on the part of the Iroquois. However, these creatures have since become so feral and debased that the only thing that they think about is what they're going to eat next. They are constantly hungry and, being only disembodied heads, they can never know the satisfaction that a full stomach brings. Hunger is now their only motivation, and it drives them at all times. These demons travel in groups and are entirely carnivorous, and they especially seem to savor the taste of human flesh. They are relentless predators, pursuing and devouring any living creature that makes the slightest movement. They appear to be nocturnal by nature, roosting in caves or desecrated ruins by day (much like bats). Some of them might make their nests in an abandoned village, where all of the original inhabitants were mercilessly slaughtered by the winged demons. By night, the Flying Heads soar through the darkened sky at speed, shrieking and laughing like madmen as they go.

While the Flying Heads are exactly what their name suggests (severed heads with the ability to fly, obviously), they are supernatural entities with powers beyond those of a mere mortal. They are most obviously able to fly, although there is no evidence of any limit to the distance or the speed of their flight capabilities. They are possessed of great strength, particularly in their jaws and the talons on their undersides. It is said in some legends that the stumps of their necks drip blood, and that this blood is both toxic and corrosive to human flesh. Some people say that they are able to spread disease by appearing in the dreams of their victims, which is always taken to be an omen of a coming illness or death. And wherever these monsters choose to dwell, the place eventually becomes corrupted by their evil. This unnatural taint gradually spreads to the surrounding countryside, rendering the area desolate and devoid of life for many miles. This corruption may attract other monsters, making such a territory both inhospitable and extremely dangerous to human beings.

There is one question that begs to be answered about the Flying Heads: where did they come from? Many people say that the Kanontsistóntie are the result of a horrible violent death, while others say that a human may become one of these creatures through an act of cannibalism (a trait shared with the more notorious Wendigo). Some folklore suggests that the Flying Heads are the decapitated remains of great sorcerers, sorceresses, or giants. Some stories, however, do not speak of the origins of the Flying Heads at all. This would seem to imply that these monsters are primordial in nature, having existed since prehistory with little to no purpose other than to terrorize and feed upon humans. In order to understand the origins of these monsters more clearly, one must look to Iroquois mythology for answers.

Long ago, there was a very severe winter on one particular year. The intense cold killed most of the plants, and it drove the deer, the moose, and the other game animals off to other regions in search of food. The local native tribes decided against following the animals, and decided to rely on their fishing skills to sustain them. But the fishing didn't last, for it seemed that the fish had abandoned the area. Eventually, a devastating famine swept through the area, becoming so severe that it killed entire families. What were the natives to do?

It wasn't long before the younger members of the tribe began to talk about migrating from the area that they had long called home. The young braves proposed a secret journey to a great lake to the west of them. The journey would be dangerous, as there were a number of hostile tribes in the area that always seemed to thirst for the blood of their enemies. But once they were beyond the borders of the lake, it would be a fairly simple matter to find a new home. However, not everyone agreed with this plan.

The elders of the tribe absolutely refused to make the journey, saying that it was madness to attempt such a feat. They argued that the famine had been orchestrated by the Master of Life to punish the people for their sins. They believed that if they could endure the famine, it would eventually pass. But if they tried to escape it, the consequences would follow them for the rest of their lives and beyond. They would rather die in their own homelands than to live in a strange place where they didn't belong. The young men were furious with the elders' decision, and they proceeded to slaughter the elderly men in their anger.

When the young men realized what they had done, they were faced with a dilemma: how would they dispose of the bodies? Seeking to justify their grisly deed, it was eventually decided that the bodies would be decapitated and burned as an offering to the Master of Life. The heads would be bound together and thrown into the lake (presumably with heavy stones), so that they would sink to the bottom and never be seen again by the eyes of man. Then they would be free to migrate to new hunting grounds, where food would be plentiful. Of course, things never go exactly as planned when murder is involved, do they?

When one of the chiefs involved in the murders tried to hurl the heads into the lake, he himself became entangled in the ropes and fell into the lake. Unable to break free of the ropes, the chief drowned. According to legend, the water started to bubble, and a sickening slime appeared on the water's surface. Then, something monstrous emerged from the lake: a gigantic head covered in matted hair, with the wings of a bat and a cavernous maw filled with needle-pointed fangs. The Iroquois would never be able to escape this horrible monster, which arose from the depths of the lake to avenge the deaths of the tribal elders.

It wasn't long, however, before the Flying Head began to attack other tribes in the area, seemingly for no apparent reason. The Flying Head would devour any living thing that moved, oftentimes while the victim was still alive. Over time, the Flying Head's attacks grew more vicious and its unceasing hunger claimed more and more lives. Eventually, people fled and hid themselves from the monster. All that remained was a woman and her baby inside of a longhouse, and she had a decision to make. "Someone must make a stand against this monster," she thought to herself, "It might as well be me." She began to build a large fire, and tossed in several large stones. And then, she sat down to wait for the monster.

The young mother watched and waited for the monster to make its presence known. Suddenly, the Flying Head appeared in the longhouse doorway! Looking inside, the monster grinned horribly when it saw the woman sitting within the dwelling. The woman pretended that she didn't notice the hideous creature and acted as though she was cooking a meal for herself (some versions of the legend say that she was roasting chestnuts or acorns over the fire). Picking up the now-glowing stones with a forked stick, she then pretended to eat the red-hot rocks. In reality, the woman passed the stones behind her beautiful face and simply dropped them on the ground. All the while, the woman smacked her lips and exclaimed, "Ah, how good this is! What wonderful food! Never has anyone feasted on meat like this before!"

The woman's ruse worked. Unable to control itself, the Flying Head rushed into the longhouse and seized the entire pile of glowing, red-hot stones in its mouth. But as soon as the creature had swallowed them, it let out a horrifying scream that echoed over the trees, the mountains, and the streams as it frantically flew off in agony. Its screams reached such volumes that the largest and oldest of the trees trembled, the earth shook, and even the very leaves fell from the branches of the trees. Every person throughout the land covered their ears and grimaced in pain from the monster's screams! Gradually, the screams faded into the distance, becoming fainter and fainter until they could no longer be heard. What became of the monster after that is unknown. Some people say that the Flying Head burst into flames and burned into ashes. Others say that the creature fled into the wilderness and never bothered humanity again. Could this demon still be out there somewhere?

There are very few known ways to deal with the Flying Heads in regards to warding off or even destroying them. They are said to be vulnerable to medicine charms (traditionally used by the Native American peoples to ward off sickness and evil) and seem to particularly hate ritualistic dancing and sacred songs. They do have one huge weakness, however: their lack of intelligence. Despite the fact that these creatures are little more than heads with wings, they aren't much smarter than the average wild beast. They are driven only by their voracious appetites for flesh. Because of their stupidity, they are easily deceived and will fall for the simplest of tricks. And while the Flying Heads are highly aggressive and dangerous predators, they are cowards and will retreat if the dominant member of their flock is destroyed or if their chosen prey proves to be more powerful than the creatures had anticipated.

It would seem that the only way to destroy the Flying Heads is fire. Decapitation is obviously out of the question here, although splitting the monsters in two with a bladed weapon or piercing the brain may also work. Gunshots to the head may also stop these flying demons, although the veracity of this theory will most likely never be proven. Cutting the wings of these creatures will most likely disable them, causing them to fall helplessly to the ground. There, they can easily be finished off by piercing the brain with a narrow spike or blade (like a bayonet). The remains should then be salted and burned, and the ashes cast to the four winds to prevent the Heads from possibly returning.

The Flying Heads have not been seen in the modern age, and one might be able to assume that they have died off. Either that, or encounters with such creatures are few and far between and may be so sporadic that people don't bother reporting them for fear of ridicule! But is it possible that the Flying Heads are still out there, flying out in search of prey when the sun goes down? It is certainly a possibility. Perhaps somewhere, deep in a forgotten cave in a dark forest, the Flying Heads sleep and await nightfall, when they may prowl the darkened skies once again in search of living prey...

Works Cited

Zenko, Darren. Field Guide to Monsters. Canada: Dragon Hill Publishing Ltd. Copyright ©2008 by Dragon Hill Publishing Ltd.

Flying Head (Wikipedia)

Legendary Native American Figures: Flying Head (Big Heads)

Flying Head (The Demoniacal)

The Flying Head


Flying Head

Big Giant Heads: The Importance of Being Monstrously Gluttonous

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