Mystic Meter: Ghosts, Deaths and Little People by John Roth


Mystic Meter: Ghosts, Deaths and Little People by John Roth

Native little people in the Americas are less humanized and domesticated than their counterparts in Europe and Africa. Consequently, they are not as often associated with ghosts, especially human ones. But many bonds still exist. Links between ghosts and small humanoids in the Americas result from common origins, abodes, energies, and fears.



Since most little people and ghosts come from the earth, it is not surprising that Euro-Americans and their dualistic sky religions would regard them as evil. Tommyknockers are two dwarf-like pranksters who live in mines. Some Utah and Montana miners felt they were sinister forces or ghosts of dead miners. Nain Rouge ("red dwarf"), a demon of Detroit, was the ghost of a red-faced being. His cold eyes glittered and his teeth protruded. He did nothing but evil.

Some native traditions probably were influenced by Euro-Americans. Sombrero is a dwarf and ghost who tempts Tzetzal Maya onto lonely spots in Guatemala. Truk ghosts could appear as small Micronesian who sicken people by biting them. Many Paiute in the great Basin view all or most of their small humanoids as evil spirits. The word for ghost and "evil spirit" is the same. Waiting were cannibalistic ghosts of the Tatuyo in northwestern Brazil. Curupira ("Forest Ghost") of the Jivaro in Ecuador had an ugly and frightening face. He is passivity that causes men to whisper in daylight and drives them mad. Tupinamba's Aya, an evil spirit, is also a name for Tenetehara ghosts in Brazil.

Photo by Artem Kovalev

Fear of ghosts often derives from a fear of an invasion of the living world or bodies by the dead or their agents, disease."Pains", also called Ya (pau) paytu or Yapaitu (kokes, dokos), cause disease by lodging in a Wintun's body. Trinity Co. Wintun in California call similar beings "ghosts", "spirits", or "dead ones", but the term was also used for Euro-Americans, as in yapitu wintun, glossed as "poison people".

Fear of the intrusion of the dead into the realm of the living can be combined with the guilt of losing a young child. The malevolent and cannibal goosile are bush spirits from dead fetuses of Melanesians who break tabus during pregnancy. As ghosts, they also are called too. Tzotzil, "big hats" are of two kinds of non-Indians. One is the ghost of unbaptized babies. "Water spirits" live in the water near a Fijian island in the Rewa River delta. They come from miscarriages of Polynesians of rank. They were once known as Fearful Spirits.



Anchimallen is a child or witch ghost (form) who appears to Mapuche and Hispanics in Chile as an 18 to 24 inch-tall, ugly white-dressed pygmy. The male aspect of Anchimallen is a baby stolen by witches or a ghost made from human bones, a fate avoided by burying a baby near one's house.

Afro-Americans also tend to view their little people/ghosts as evil. Baku in Haiti is evil sorcerers, humanoid spirits with red eyes and legs. Known in Guyana and the Dominican Republic, Baka at times can come from evil human ghosts or unbaptized children who die in childbirth. Baku from Suriname are made from dead body parts and are animated by ghosts. Baka also are now ghosts who eat Haitians. Drolls among blacks in the U.S. are the spirits of children who died painfully. Matinta Pereira is an evil Hispanic and Afro-American spirit with a phosphorescent face like that of many human ghosts. In Ita's she or, less often, he is a ghost.



Although only about 30 types of American little people out of about 600 come from ghosts, small humanoids often are associated with ghosts in ways other than just originating from them. One common association is that both ghosts and little people usually live underground, where most dead are buried. P'uz turned to stone when the sun first rose in Guatemala. The survivors of similar beings now live underground with human Yucatec ghosts. Amarhiri, known as Yanomamo in Brazil comes from human ghosts. They unintentionally drown people by dragging them to their underground homes.


Euro-American tales of ghosts and little people may reflect a fear of death not so dominant among many Native Americans. Native ghosts/dwarfs tend to be both helpful and harmful. For example, both ghosts and little people sponsor shamans and their curing abilities in many cultures. The Pilaga payak in Argentina refers to little people and to powerful ghosts, such as from dead shamans. Only ghosts give stronger power to Shoshone curers in Wyoming than do Na-na dwarfs. The Seed Eater Shoshone band believed that the strongest curing power was obtained from ghosts and mountain dwarfs. Guya of the Pomo in California was monkey-like spirits 2-3' tall. These spirits ("devils'' or "ghosts") were part of the "Outside People". A Pomo summer feast, impersonation dance, and songs atoned for offending Outside People and kept them in good humor. Then they helped to punish Porno offenders and cure sickness.


Both ghosts and little people serve as psychopomps, those who guide the newly dead to the land of the dead. Nunnehi usually are spirits who look and speak like Cherokee, but they at times appear tall Cherokee ghosts who guide the dead and/or are part of the little People. Dying may attract little people and ghosts as well as making them more visible through windows of altered consciousness.

Civilizations of Mesoamerica Explanation (from National Geographic source)

Perhaps because humans lose heat when they die, ghosts are associated with coldness. So are little people. Inga and Hispanicdwarfs in South America felt cold. Wild Man in British Columbiafelt icy to Kwakiutl. Illness from Mayan, Nahuatl, and Zoquedwarfs in Mesoamerica was "cold" and therefore was treated with"hot" remedies both high in temperature and in spices. As with some ghosts, psychics and seance levitations (Holroyd, 1975:55,107), a sudden chill heralds approaching Anglo fairies.

Though human dead and little people often share being old, ethereal, dark, mediators, cold, cave-dwellers, phosphorescent, psychopomps, shaman helpers and invisible, most little people and ghosts aren't the same. Unlike most little people, ghosts most often occur around or in human dwellings. Unlike ghosts, most dwarfs can die. When a Flathead died in Montana so did his dwarf, becoming a "spirit ghost".



Unlike ghosts, most American little people don't symbolize or personify death alone for many reconcile death and life as well as the non-human. Some, like Ona dwarfs of Chile, are of a nature between people and dead souls. Ojibwa Little People come from souls between the human world and the land of the dead.



Many dwarfs mediated between ghosts and humans. Crow dwarfs in Montana are enemies to Morningstar and belong to the sky, ghost, and water beings, a clan called "Without Fires' '. The other clan are the earth beings. But Awakure' at times seem to be in both clans. Some Crow said they lacked fire; others said they used it for cooking.



Little people often counter ghosts rather than being them themselves. Tokway is a feared yet cherished trickster who embodies "Mataconess" in Argentina. He made death permanent by scaring away returning ghosts. Ute water babies gave power to stop bullets or cure any illness, especially those caused by ghosts. When Snuqualmie shamans in Washington began a spirit canoe to recover souls from ghosts. Little Earths came running, demanding to be taken along. Little Earths held the ghosts until the shamans killed them and rescued the souls.


A Quileute seer near the north Washington coast had a guardian spirit dwarf who heard a carved rattle wrapped in cedar bark and with dentalium tied to it. She could foretell when visitors came. Her spirit helped recover a soul stolen by a ghost. Dwarfs taught a Tachi shaman in California how to cure ghost fright.

People who fear or deny death also may fear what humans link death to: time loss, darkness, decay, madness, sleep, helplessness, and the unknown -- ways or times imps and ghosts can most likely hurt humans. Such people may not be ready for the lessons that dwarfs teach and so are scared off during vision quests, as among Northern Paiute, NaDene, Pueblo, Sioni, and whites who embody their fear of death as ghosts, witches or doomsday may rarely see little people. Separation from nature may heighten one's fear of death, as among some witches.

Little people as ghosts are likely only in priestly religions where links with non-human nature have been partly cut. Thus, Yanomamo priests have human ghosts as tiny hekura while the hekura of shamans are the "vital principles" of plants and animals. Fear of death also fuels totalitarianism, the neotenic willingness to follow. tyrants so as to get a portion of their "immortality". In contrast, a Tolupan dwarf in Nicaragua dissuaded a god bestowing immortality on humans as this would have meant destroying Earth.

Some American little people teach humans not to fear death. but to use it to propel them to a more expansive plane of existence. A little man among Afro-Americans in Alabama both announces the death and brings good fortune. Only if Arapaho dwarfs in Colorado are killed can they go to a pleasant world. Little people and their shamanic links suggest that the way to an open, long and rich life is through at least symbolic rebirth. Death in at least the Great Basin is a metaphor for trance or other altered states used in meeting little people (Whitley, 1992). With death and decay comes new life and value, as in the Ona dwarf colored like rotten wood in Chile or the sacred rotten wood of a Dakota elk.

Acceptance of individual death doesn't condone the death of species, ecosystems or Earth. Extinction is the end of birth, a horror to hunchbacks/dwarfs who personify creativity or fertility in a dozen tribes. Dwarfs protect animals and plants even though extinction may increase dwarf populations.

This odd effect may come from some native little people being psychic fields echoing through aeons rather than individual ghosts, such as an Afro-Brazilian dwarf from a slave beaten to death. Just as people and their artifacts may leave mental imprints of their emotional deaths, to be picked up by sensitives and interpreted as ghosts, so may the murder of a culture or species leave its mark in the form of elf images seen by a sensitive few. In Great Britain, individual "ghosts" seem to last several hundred years before fading away; those of human races or other animals may take aeons. The fields they create both help create visions and in turn are strengthened over time by human belief in their validity.

Fantasy Character Ghost Dwarf

Long-lasting memory helps atone for genocide, an at-ones with and for past deeds. Brazilians wiped out the Mbaya culture but now see a Mybaya as a duende. "Trolls' ' may record the slow extermination of Negrito tribes by Malay settlers invading Pacific Islands. Ancient Aymara may have given their name to a lone dwarf in Bolivia. Sightings of little people increased after the CivilWar destroyed the slave-based culture of the South. Dwarfs become spirits when Spoken first came to Washington and perhaps displaced an earlier culture. If touched, artifacts by ancient groups may activate memories left by their owners. An Ojibwa inside a dwarf's home heard 30-year-old prayers of his grandmother. Sbast, Mapuche, and Numic shape-shifters could be found near ancient artifacts.



Ancient human ghosts, if we may call them that, may merge with non-human spirits, especially species killed by man. Sightings of supposedly extinct animals include Tasmanian tigers in Australia, giant ground sloths in Patagonia, condors in Illinois, and moas in New Zealand. There are links of names and appearances between nonhuman dwarfs and extinct and nearly extinct Caribbean owls in Dominica. Iroquois, Huron, and Montagnais dwarfs in the Northeast are associated with what may be extinct mastodons while Snuqualmielittle people are connected to giant elks. Before meeting elves, ancient forests appear in Newfoundland.

If some visions of little people may be triggered by racial memories, then our increasing global extinction of species and cultures may increase experiences of ghosts and non-human dwarfs. Encounters may increase but most little people who originate from or are altered by extinctions probably now appear as shape-shifters, more like Euro-American fairies and aliens. As NativeAmerican cultures lose their belief in their own distinctive non-human dwarfs, the overall diversity of dwarf tribes declines.

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