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7 Terrors of the Far North

The frontier of the far north is typically regarded with mystery and a sense of trepidation. Even if you have lived through it all, there is always something about the place that can feel rather unsettling. The standardized phobia of the dark is exacerbated by the long, cold winters of Alaska—a place where nearly half the year is shrouded in the dark bitter cold. Those of us who live in a place that is constantly trying to kill us can attest to the harshness of the environment, at least during the winter, where temperatures often plummet to thirty degrees below freezing. To say that the cold and dark are our sole worries would be a farce, but that’s only because we have all heard the stories about what lurks in the darkness of the Last Frontier.

Don’t be mistaken—you don’t have to be a Sourdough to be wary of the beasts abound in the frozen tundra. Stay for a couple of days in a rural cabin during the darkest part of the year and you’ll soon be wondering if those are really are the eyes of the Adlet glimmering at you from the shadows, or if it’s just light shining off of the crystalized snow. Was that shadow under the the water the Tizheruk or something else? Turn your back and you’ll likely feel as if you’re being watched by a deadly monster waiting to attack.

The Monsters of Alaska Native Culture

Every culture has its own unique beasts that torment the locals—the farther you get out of the urban atmosphere, the closer you get to what keeps people from roaming unnecessarily into the shadows.

The Stalker - Adlet, the Werewolf of the North

1. The Adlet: The Werewolf of the Far North

The murderous Adlet is considered the arctic counterpart to the well-known werewolf. Believed to be the unholy descendants of an Inuit woman and a dog, they have an upper body of their human brethren, but their lower half is fully canine. They are considered to be a full-fledged race of humanoids, who after their initial creation were sent to a remote island away from humans, so as not to satiate themselves on local tribes—except that didn’t last.

Keelut Evil Earth Spirit

2. The Keelut: The Evil Earth Spirit

A mixture between a cryptid and the paranormal spirit—the Keelut (key-loot) is considered an earth spirit who primarily takes the shape of an immense black, hairless dog. It’s often compared to the Church Grim of Great Britain and stalks travelers at night, often attacking and killing them.

Qalupalik, the Inuit Siren or Mermaid

3. The Qalupalik: The Inuit Siren

If you live by the arctic ocean you will have undoubtedly heard about the Qalupalik (kah-loo-pah-lick), a creature that stems from Inuit culture and haunts the nights of children as they’re sleeping. She’s described as being humanoid, with green skin, long hair, and even longer fingernails. Like a siren, her home is the sea and she hums to lure children to come closer to the water, but what does she do with them?

Thunderbird Alaskan Lore

4. The Thunderbird: An Avian Nightmare

From Southern Alaska all the way to the Pacific Northwest, there are legends that speak of the mythical Thunderbird. As large as a small plane, stories have been told by Natives as well as bush pilots who can confirm the existence of such a monster. Considering the reputation that even the bald eagle has for snatching up small dogs, it’s not too much of a stretch to fear for your children with such a gigantic vicious bird of prey in the skies above.

Tizheruk Sear Monster of the Arctic

5. The Tizheruk: The Sea-Monster of the Arctic

Not unlike the lore that brings us Loch Ness, the Tizheruk (te-zer-ook) is described as being a sea serpent that is approximately fifteen feet long. Where Loch Ness is considered to be less of a threat and more of a mystery, the Tizheruk is known to snatch their unwitting victims from docks and piers.

Alaskan Bushman The Tornit

6. The Tornit: The Alaskan Bushman

Even Alaska has its own legends about Bigfoot—we reference it as the Tornit (tore-nit), or the Alaskan Bushman. Another monster from Inuit folklore, the Tornit is nearly indistinguishable from a bear except for the ghastly skunk-like smell they exude. They mostly keep to themselves out in the bush, after their troubled history dealing with humans, who can blame them?

Read our original story about this beast and his fateful encounter with an Inuit boy.

Scary Kushtaka hand

7. Kushtaka: The Otter People

The Otter People are most often seen in the Pacific Northwestern region of Alaska known as the Kushtaka. These tall, ape-like creatures are known to be aggressive and deadly and chase and kill their victims. Described as being horribly ugly, covered in long coarse hair, scabs, scars, and have enormously long claws. Their scream is high-pitched and terrifying, they have a strange whistling call that also alerts people to their presence.

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Inuit Spirit of Death: The Keelut

What is the Keelut?

Aggressive Keelut, Inuit Spirit of Death
Photography by Nick Bolton

This creature is an Inuit legend, one who hunts people during the winter, but it’s not actually a predator in the strictest sense–it’s a spirit of the Netherworld. The Keelut (key-loot), also known as the Qiqirn (key-kern) is sometimes referenced as a spirit of death or an evil earth spirit. While it is actually a spirit, it takes the form of what some believe to be a true cryptid. To be honest, it’s hard to say which is a more frightening aspect of this creature, that it’s an immense, malevolent, black, hairless dog with the sole purpose of preying upon humans, or that it’s also a spirit so it doesn’t necessarily abide by the laws of physics. The Keelut’s mythological cousin is the Church Grim or Barguest of Great Britain, who stalks those traveling in the night which results in an untimely death.

The major difference between the Church Grim and the Keelut is the fact that the Keelut doesn’t have any hair, except for on its feet. They say that this makes their tracks in the snow disappear easily, which gives the advantage of stalking prey without being noticed. Aside from their predatory nature, these creatures have other similarities that transcend the separation of culture—both are known to act as a harbinger of death, and otherwise feast upon the dead. In Inuit folklore, the Keelut is known to attack lone travelers, the sight of one would cause disorientation, then eventually hypothermia and death.

Hold the Dark (2018): Bringing Alaskan Horror Legends to Life in a New Way

Hold the Dark Horror book featuring Keelut

This Alaskan creature of terror was made to take the sidelines in William Giraldi’s book Hold the Dark: A Novel (2014) and now a Netflix original film Hold the Dark (2018) when the residents of Keelut, a remote (fictional) Alaskan village, have been the unfortunate targets for a dangerous pack of wolves. These wolves have successfully taken three children before the main story takes place.  It’s certainly a spin to the original tale of the Keelut, but it pays special homage to the Inuit folklore wherein it was born.

While it certainly didn’t get rave reviews from this critic, I have a personal bias when it comes to films that include Alaska and the surrounding culture, even if it’s not terribly accurate.

Keelut

Date of Discovery

It’s likely that the first written documentation of the Keelut was in the 1800s when anthropologists and ethnologists first traveled to the arctic regions to record folklore from the oral traditions of the Native Americans that had inhabited the northern region since well before the Bering Strait crossing melted.

Name

The Keelut is also known as the Qiqirn, Qiqion, and Ke’lets, which translates roughly to “Spirit of Death,” or “Evil Earth Spirit.”

Physical Description

Physically, the Keelut is described as being a black dog who looks malnourished—it is hairless in nature, except for its paws, which have a fluffy patch of fur to prevent tracks from being left behind.

Other than its hairless nature, the Keelut is said to be related to the Church Grim, or Barguest of Great Britain.

Origin

The Keelut is a mythological creature from the Inuit culture and arose as a way to keep people from unwittingly traveling into the darkness of an Alaskan or Canadian winter. To travel alone during the winter in the dark would almost certainly mean death in a cold and unforgiving climate.

Mythology and Lore

Within the Inuit culture, the Keelut is a spirit of the underworld known to be an evil creature that stalks its victims while they are alone in the dark of winter. As a predator, it only ever appears during the winter, because of the lack of darkness during the warmer months of the year. Due to the hair that is only present on its paws, the Keelut leaves no tracks which allow it to stealthily stalk its prey without giving any warning. Stories say that this evil spirit is not just a harbinger of death, but that it feasts upon the dead. In folktales, if a traveler were to see a keelut, it would disorient the traveler, eventually causing the person to succumb to hypothermia, which would result in their death.

Modern Pop-Culture References

Books & Literature

  • Hold the Dark (2014)

Movies

  • Hold the Dark (2018)



Is there anything we missed about the Keelut? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Kushtaka

Date of Discovery

Though there is not a set date these creatures came in Alaskan native folklore, most of the legends simply state “in the old times.”

Name

The Kushtaka is also known as Kooshadkhaa which means “land otter man” and is where the American name Otterman comes from. In other language’s they are called Baykok (or bakaak), Keelut, and Wayob.

Physical Description

The Kushtaka is a mythical shape-shifting creature capable of assuming human or otter-like form. They share the same nature and appearance as the Skinwalkers from the Central Plains as well, depending on the tribe’s legend. Some have been reported as demon-like, others are closer to an otter-like yeti.

Origin

These mythical creatures are found in the folklore of the Tlingit and Tsimshain people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Two main theories among Eleherean scholars are that Kushtaka were “converted” mortal kith or that they are stolen fey-souls that failed to meld properly. There is little supporting these hypotheses as each tribe’s reports range in similarity, so the origin of the Kushtaka’s is still unknown to this day.  

Mythology and Lore

The tales of the Kushtaka’s behavior conflict a bit with one another painting ever different pictures of these creatures. In some tales they are cruel creatures who play tricks on the Tlingit sailors to cause their deaths; however, in others, they are friendly and helpful to the sailors as well as villagers, and even saving them from the freezing waters. When they are saving people, the accounts tell that the Kushtaka will transform the dying person into an otter as well, giving them the ability to withstand the cold and make it to safety. Many legends tell of the Kushtaka emitting a high pitched, three-part whistle in a pattern of low=high-low. Some legends say the Kushtaka lure women to the rivers with screams of babies, then it makes its choice to transform them into fellow otters or kill the person and tear them to shreds. Locals believe only a few things can ward off these trickster creatures; cooper, urine, dogs, and fire. They also kept their children safely away from the waters and always travel there in pairs.

Many tribes still tell the tales of the Kushtaka from the old times, however, they never seem to nail down the real nature or mission this creature is on. Sometimes violent or deadly and with a demon=like appearance; others, it’s mild and calm with a friendly appearance of otter-like creatures. It seems the Kusktaka will continue to be sought out and studied in hopes of truly understanding them.

Modern Pop-Culture References

Books & Literature

Movies

Television Series



Is there anything we missed about the Kushtaka? Let us know in the comments section below!