July 07, 2011

Pamola, the Wandering Spirit of Mt. Katahdin



I've never climbed Mt. Katahdin, which is in Maine's Baxter State Park. It's the tallest mountain in the state, and the endpoint of the Appalachian Trail. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of folklore attached to this big mountain.

One of the most interesting stories is about a creature named Pamola. I don't know if any recent hikers or climbers have encountered him, but I'm sure they'd remember if they did.

According to the Penobscot Indians, Pamola was a wandering spirit, and Mt. Katahdin was one of his favorite hangouts.

Katahdin photo from here.

According to Frank Speck's 1935 article Penobscot Tales and Religious Beliefs, Pamola has no body, but is just a large head with arms and legs. (He sounds strangely like one of those animated M&Ms who show up in the commercials.) He has no settled home, but roams around from place to place wearing a backpack, which is very appropriate given Katahdin's location on the Appalachian Trail.

Other informants told Speck they had seen Pamola flying overhead, and that he was just a giant head with wings. See what I mean about him being memorable?

Despite his unusual appearance, Pamola was considered a beneficial spirit and would sometimes give aid to humans. However, if you needed his help you'd have to time it just right.

Once a year Pamola traveled across the entire sky. Beginning at the eastern horizon he'd let out a big shout, give another one at the sky's zenith directly overhead, and then one final one when he reached the western horizon. To gain his aid, the Penobscots would burn grease when they heard his first cry. If Pamola saw the smoke as he traveled overhead he would descend and listen to the Penobscot's request for help.

Unfortunately, Speck's article doesn't say what time of year Pamola made his journey. And please note, although I am writing about Pamola in the past tense he could still be hanging around Mt. Katahdin or flying across the sky. I don't want to offend a spirit by implying it's no longer active.

Pamola is still known in parts of Maine, and is the mascot of the Pamola Lodge of the Boy Scouts of America. Or maybe he adopted the Lodge as his mascots, I'm not quite sure. These scouts portray Pamola as a man with a the head of a moose and the wings and feet of an eagle. I guess the giant flying head was probably too terrifying!

2 comments:

Asche Kingsley said...

I'm sorry but this is all wrong! Pamola is not just a floating head, as in many other sources, he has the body of a man, the head of a moose, and the wings and talons of a bird. Also, he does not wander, but is super happy to inhabit Mt. Katahdin as his home. It is even said that he has a wife and children living inside the mountain. And he is far from beneficial, he will devour and destroy anyone who dares climb his mountain and will cause harsh winters and cold winds. He has a history of being beneficial in some of the Indian folklore, but it was mutually beneficial relationship in which Pamola and the Native Americans both benefitted from the interaction

Peter Muise said...

Hi Asche!

Thanks for your comment, and I am sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Work has been very busy!

The information in my post was collected by anthropologist Frank Speck from Penobscot informants in the early 20th century. They had a particular view of Pamola, but other people have different ones. I feel like Pamola is very hard to pin down conceptually. I have even read that some cryptozoologists think Pamola is a sasquatch-like creature, which is very different from a flying head!

I have read the stories about the spirit of Katahdin living inside the mountain and taking a wife, etc. but was never really sure if the mountain's spirit was the same as Pamola, or if they were different. The stories I read just referred to "Katahdin" or the "spirit of the mountain", not to Pamola.

Can you share some of your sources? I might need to do another post about Pamola!