June 27, 2016

Little people and swamp spirits in Vermont

So we had beautiful summer weather this past weekend. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

I suppose I should have gone out roaming through the woods looking for monsters or exploring historic old cemeteries (or maybe just going to the beach), but instead I decided to update the blog. Hopefully those of you out roaming through New England will find this week's information helpful, particularly if you are in Vermont.

Over the last year or so I've been researching the various fairies that make their homes in New Enlgand, and I realized I didn't have much information about Vermont. With it's rounded Green Mountains and dense woods I knew there had to be some fairies living up there!

There is a little bit of information floating around on the web, but I found a decent written source in William Haviland and Marjory Power's The Original Vermonters (1981), a book which summarizes anthropological and historical information about the Abenaki. The Abenaki were the Indian groups who lived in Vermont before the Europeans came, and who still live there today.

Haviland and Power describe quite a few mythical beings, but two of them seem particularly fairy-like. One of them is called simply "the swamp spirit" or "swamp creature." The swamp spirit was seldom seen, but could often be heard crying from the swampy areas where it lived. Lone travelers were the most likely to hear the creature's cries.

The authors claim this being was "more mischievous than malevolent," but then go on to say it liked to lure children into swamps where it either kept them forever or just outright killed them. This sounds malevolent to me, and it did to Abenaki parents as well, who warned their children to stay away from swamps. I've tried to avoid swamps most of my life - too many mosquitoes - and now I have one more good reason!

Me looking at a swamp. Stay away!

The other fairy-like creature Haviland and Power discuss are the Manogemassak, a name which they translate simply as "Little People." Happily these beings are much less malevolent than the swamp spirit.

The Manogemassak live in rivers and tend to avoid humans as much as possible. This is easy for them to do because of their unique anatomy. The Manogemassak are incredibly narrow, and their faces are described as being as thin as an axe blade. They are so thin that they can only be viewed in profile, not when faced head on. This makes it quite hard for humans to see them.

The Manogemassak also travel in stone canoes, and when humans approach they will submerge under water like a submarine. Stone canoes don't sound practical, but they work just fine if you are a magical being, and they feature in several American Indian myths from New England. For example, the gigantic culture-hero Glooskap was said to travel by stone canoe.

Although the Manogemassak are quite hard to see their handiwork is easy to find, particularly near Button Bay on Lake Champlain. The shores of Button Bay are littered with small round stones which the Manogemassak allegedly make (and which give the bay its name).

The website Native Languages includes a little more information about the Manogemassak. For example, it notes that they sometimes make small clay sculptures that look like animals or people. Finding one of these is considered lucky. The site also claims that geometric markings on rocks indicate a dwelling of the Little People, and that curious humans should stay away.

So, in summary, stay away from swamps and away from rocks with odd markings. Helpful advice for safely enjoying summer outings in the New England woods!


Unknown said...

Hard to read on that background

Jennifer Shelby said...

Great post, thanks for sharing! If you're on Twitter, you should share this tomorrow with #FolkloreThursday - I'm sure the twitter folklore lovers would love to read this too

Peter Muise said...

Hi Ann! Sorry you have trouble reading the blog. Are you reading it on a phone? It might look better on a desktop or laptop.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Jennifer! Thanks for the suggestion. I just Tweeted this out!