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Urban Legend: Pukwudgies

Bristol County lies in the southeastern corner of Massachusetts, and is known by locals as the single most haunted place in New England. A short stay at Bristol Country is likely to expose you to some of the strangest urban legends around; tales of malevolent energies that lay dormant around the area, awakening only to play the culprit to the county’s many weird occurrences.

Spectral armies traversing the night, haunted schools, strings of unexplained suicides, murders and disappearances rank among the oddities, along with a bestiary of mythical creatures commonly sighted in the dense forestry around the county. These sightings include huge, monstrous versions of animals such as bears and snakes, and other more legendary and widespread entities such as Bigfoot and the Thunderbird.

Like something from a HP Lovecraft story, the place is also a hotbed for cult activity. For over forty years, police in Bristol County have been puzzled by the bizarre and usually criminal activity involving congregations of Satanic cults from all over the US. All that being said, the most dreaded of the many horrors inhabiting Bristol County is not ghostly, or animalistic, or even masses of Satanic cultists, but in fact a two-foot demon called the Pukwudgie.

What is a Pukwidgie?

A Pukwudgie is essentially a New England Ewok. According to historic folklore dating back long before Europeans had even set foot in the US, Pukwudgies are the spirits of the forest, inhabiting swampy and densely wooded areas. They vaguely resemble humans, except they are around two-to-three feet tall and boast cartoonishly large ears and noses as well as eerily long fingers. They have been compared to goblins and trolls and are said to have smooth, grey skin.

Also known as bagwajinini, which translates to “person of the wilderness,” Native American tribes say that Pukwudgies once lived alongside humans in the wilderness around North America, though they turned against them when members of the Wampanoag tribe evicted the then-helpful Pukwudgies from the area in a rather brutal way. Natives from a wide array of tribes all feature Pukwudgies heavily in their folklore, from the Wampanoag tribes of Massachusetts and Southern New England to the Algonquian tribes of the Great Lakes region. According to many of these tribes, the creatures were best left alone. 

But that’s not to say that all Pukwudgies were deadly. In fact, they exhibited a wide range of characteristics; friendly and helpful in some areas, mischievous in others, and downright murderous in some. The detail which is possibly the most frightening is that Pukwudgies had power, and possibly even control, over the spirits of their victims. It is said that should one annoy a Pukwudgie, the beast would stalk them and either play one of their many insidious tricks or, if the offense was great enough, advance with murderous intent. 

Pukwudgies in Pop Culture

Hagrid from Harry Potter

Pukwudgies have been popularized in modern culture largely thanks to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, in which they are described as follows: “The Pukwudgie is also native to America: a short, grey-faced, large-eared creature distantly related to the European goblin. Fiercely independent, tricky and not over-fond of humankind (whether magical or mundane), it possesses its own powerful magic. Pukwudgies hunt with deadly, poisonous arrows and enjoy playing tricks on humans.”

This was not the first use of the Pukwudgie in the arts, however. In 1855, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” which mentions the critters as the “mischievous Puk-Wudjies” who killed the giant Kwasind by pelting him with pine cones.

“Far and wide among the nations

Spread the name and fame of Kwasind;

No man dared to strive with Kwasind,

No man could compete with Kwasind.

But the mischievous Puk-Wudjies,

They the envious Little People,

They the fairies and the pygmies,

Plotted and conspired against him.”