Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Kalona Ayélisgi (The Raven Mocker)

In cultures all over the world, the raven (Corvus corax) has long been regarded as both wise and a little sinister. This could be due to the bird’s pitch-black feathers and its tendency to scavenge and feed on dead flesh. The smartest of all birds, the raven is often thought of as a shapeshifting trickster in various mythologies, most notably in Native American traditions. This majestic bird is also regarded as being a messenger to the gods – like Odin’s two ravens Hugin and Munin in Norse mythology – and even as a creator, as in Inuit mythology. In other cultures, however, the raven has acquired an evil reputation as being a dark harbinger of death and tragedy yet to come, which is again due to its penchant for haunting battlefields, its throaty, ominous cry, and devouring corpse-flesh like some sort of flying ghoul. This latter concept is exemplified in Cherokee mythology, where it is thought to be a birdlike demon or a shapeshifting witch that preys upon the dying, tormenting them to hasten death and then feasting on the victim’s innards in order to prolong its own godforsaken existence. The Cherokee know this vile creature as Kalona Ayélisgi, the Raven Mocker.

According to Cherokee legend, the Raven Mocker (also known as Ka’lanu Ahyeli’ski) is a shapeshifting witch or an evil death spirit (sources seem to be conflicted in this regard) that preys on the elderly, the very sick, and the dying, with the intention of ripping out and devouring the unfortunate victim’s heart, and sometimes consuming their blood and internal organs as well (Kilpatrick 9). The Kalona is able to strengthen its own lifeforce in this way, extending its own life indefinitely. For every year that the creature’s victim might have lived (if indeed they had recovered at all), the Raven Mocker adds another year to its own life. Some Cherokee believe that the Kalona Ayélisgi belongs to a larger group of evil spirits that prey upon the very ill, which the tribe calls Sunnayi Edahi, “the Night Goers”, or the svnoyi anédohi, the “night walkers” (Kilpatrick 9). The Raven Mocker can be either male or female, appearing as a very old, withered-looking man or a woman when taking a human form. This is said to be because the monster has stolen the lives of so many innocent people in the past (Mooney 401). Otherwise, the Raven Mocker appears as a demonic raven of monstrous proportions (Kilpatrick 9).

The Kalona Ayélisgi is driven by hunger and its own selfish urges to steal the lifeforce from other people. These people tend to be either very sick or on the verge of dying (if not both), making them easy meals for the Raven Mocker. As mentioned earlier, the monster steals the life from those it kills, increasing its own life expectancy. The more people it kills, the longer it will live. When hunting, according to James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee (Dover Publications, Inc., 1995), the Kalona “flies through the air in fiery shape, with arms outstretched like wings, and sparks trailing behind, and a rushing sound like the noise of a strong wind.” While it flies through the air, every now and then the creature cries out while diving through the skies. This horrible cry isn’t like that of a raven, but is instead a mockery of it, hence the creature’s name. The sound terrifies everyone who hears it, warning them that someone will soon die (Mooney 401-402). Others say that the Raven Mocker assumes the likeness of a true raven, and that its shrieking warns evil spirits and other witches that the Raven Mocker is coming. These lesser evil spirits know better than to test the Raven Mocker’s patience, and will flee immediately. This horrible shrieking continues right up until the monster enters the victim’s room (Wellington 2015). Under normal circumstances, the Raven Mocker is invisible to human eyes, and is thus able to enter a sick person’s home undetected. After having entered the house and located its prey, the Kalona quietly moves in for the kill (Mooney 402; Kilpatrick 9).

The Raven Mocker is known for being sadistic and cruel, taking a great deal of pleasure in tormenting and ultimately killing its victims. The Raven Mocker is particularly fond of lifting its victims out of their beds with its beak and throwing them against the walls and onto the floor to hasten death (Mooney 402; Kilpatrick 9). These attacks shatter bones and rupture internal organs, and thus will kill the victim rather quickly. The Raven Mocker tries to kill its prey as quickly (and as painfully) as possible, so that the victim doesn’t linger in this world and waste their ebbing lifeforce. If the victim lives too long, the Kalona won’t be able to steal what’s left of their life and add that life to its own. Therefore, giving its prey a quick (albeit agonizing) death isn’t a gesture of mercy from the creature, but is instead a necessary part of the Kalona’s survival.

Once the monster’s prey is dead, the Raven Mocker wastes no time in taking what it wants. The monster tears open the corpse with its beak and the talons on its feet and proceeds with its feast, consuming the heart, the vital organs, and even the blood of its prey (Kilpatrick 9). Some people say that this act of mutilation doesn’t leave a single mark on the body, but no trace of the heart remains within the corpse (Mooney 402). The monster somehow extracts the victim’s life essence from its gory feast, adding whatever years that the person might’ve had left to its own lifespan. That is how the Raven Mocker survives.

It should be noted that the Kalona Ayélisgi is considered to be one of the most powerful and the most feared of all the evil beings in Cherokee mythology, and is greatly feared by evil spirits and even other witches as well. Other such spirits that might be trying to kill a dying person and thus claim the person for themselves will flee that area in a panic if they hear the Raven Mocker’s cry (Wellington 2015). Other witches in particular are said to be jealous of the Raven Mocker’s power, and are actually afraid to be in the same place as the creature. It is believed that when one Raven Mocker finally dies (there is said to be more than one of these creatures, after all), these witches will dig up the creature’s corpse and violate it through mutilation, beatings, performing bodily functions on the body, and so on (Mooney 402). Exactly why the witches and the Raven Mockers hate each other so much is unknown, but it may have something to do with competition. Both factions target humans as their prey, and since the Kalona scares away both witches and other evil spirits alike, this act of desecration may very simply be revenge for the witches.

The Raven Mocker’s powers, in comparison to other supernatural beings, seem to be rather limited. The monster has great strength, especially in its legs and the beak. It can use its beak to punch through wooden doors, and is able to fling grown men and women through the air with considerable force. The Raven Mocker is thought to be a shapeshifter, able to change its form at will. However, the Kalona seems to be limited to the form of a person, a raven, or a birdlike monstrosity. In addition, the creature can sense those who are very sick and on the verge of dying. Any other powers that the Raven Mocker may have remain unknown.

The Raven Mocker seems to have only a few vulnerabilities, and there are even fewer ways to kill it. Only a Cherokee medicine man can protect the sick and the dying with his wards and rituals. The family can hire a shaman for this reason (as only he can see the Kalona in its invisible form), and he will watch over the Kalona’s prey until that person makes their recovery, keeping the monster at bay all the while. If the worst should happen and the person dies, then the medicine man will watch over the corpse until burial. Once the body is buried, the Raven Mocker cannot steal the heart (Mooney 402). This could be because Cherokee burial rites prevent it from desecrating the grave. Either that, or the monster doesn't know how to dig.

There seems to be one specific ritual that is able to actually kill the Raven Mocker. However, the ritual is very elaborate and should only be performed by a Cherokee medicine man. When the shaman first arrives at the house, he drives a sharpened wooden stake into the earth at each corner of the house. And then, at around noon, he prepares a special tobacco known as Tsal-agayu’nli (literally “Old Tobacco”) and fills his pipe with it, reciting a certain chant all the while. After that, he wraps the pipe in a piece of black cloth. It should be known that the tobacco is smoked only for this purpose. He then walks into the woods (if there are any around the house), returning just a little bit before sundown (as the Raven Mocker is believed to be nocturnal). He then lights his pipe and slowly walks around the house, blowing the smoke in every possible direction from which the creature might approach. He then walks into the house and patiently waits for the Kalona to arrive. When the Raven Mocker finally makes its presence known and approaches the house, one of the wooden stakes on that particular side of the house quite literally shoots out of the ground like an arrow, coming down on the creature and piercing its skull. This will kill the Kalona in seven days’ time. Afterwards, the sick person’s family and friends will make inquiries as to whether anyone died specifically within that timeframe, and it will then be obvious that the deceased person was the Raven Mocker. Some say that if the Kalona Ayélisgi is seen by a medicine man, it will have the same effect. The corpse, like that of any other supernatural creature, should be dismembered and burned afterwards. The ashes should then be scattered to prevent the monster from resurrecting itself.

The Raven Mocker has received quite a bit of attention in popular culture. It has appeared in a number of novels, including The Old Gods Waken (Manly Wade Wellman, 1979), The Curse of the Raven Mocker (Marly Youmans, 2003), They Hunger (Scott Nicholson, 2007), and P.C. Cast’s House of Night series (2007-present). The creature has also appeared in the hugely popular roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. Most notably, the Raven Mocker was seen in the immensely popular television series Walker, Texas Ranger. In the fifty-seventh episode (Season 3, aired on November 4th, 1995), “Evil in the Night”, the Raven Mocker appears as a shapeshifting medicine man named Running Wolf, who resurrects himself from his desecrated gravesite with the power to induce hallucinations in the minds of his victims. But even today, the Raven Mocker is still feared as a bringer of death. Although sightings are few and far between, many people still believe that the Kalona is out there, patiently waiting for someone to grow sick and to start wasting away. At that point, the Raven Mocker will strike, and that person will die. And only those who remember the old ways and the ancient stories will know that the Kalona Ayélisgi has killed once again…


Kilpatrick, Alan. The Night Has a Naked Soul: Witchcraft and Sorcery Among the Western Cherokee. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. Pages 9-10.

Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. 1900. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995. Pages 401-403.

“Raven Mocker.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. June 8th, 2015. Accessed on November 12th, 2015.  <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raven_Mocker>

“Kalona - Raven Mocker (Imitator).” Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center. Accessed on November 12th, 2015. <http://cherokeeregistry.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=215&Itemid=292>

Wellington, Oscar. “Cherokee Legends Raven Mocker.” Pitlane Magazine. August 17th, 2015. Accessed on November 12th, 2015. <http://www.pitlanemagazine.com/cultures/cherokee-legends-raven-mocker.html>

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