Uncanny Georgia: The Ishkitini

great_horned_owlThe origins of the legend of the ishkitini are hard to pin down. Apparently, it was first described in Choctaw legend, but it was also known among the Creeks and Seminoles. It is a given that the Creeks and related peoples of Georgia would have believed in such creatures. Ishtikini, stikini, stigini, etc. are all variations of the same word.

Ishkitinis are malevolent shape-shifters. Although they might take on the shape of any sort of wild predator—wolves, coyotes, bears, etc.—they strongly favor owls. In fact, their name means “horned owl.”

These creatures are classified as “witches.” In much Native American lore, a “witch” is not a human practitioner of magic but rather an inhuman monster that is able to pass as human. By day, ishkitinis look like ordinary humans. By night, however, they prey upon their neighbors. The Seminole version of the legend is the most disgusting. According to this version, ishkitinis change their shape by vomitting up their souls—along with their internal organs.

 

In some stories, mentioning these creatures by name puts one at risk of becoming one. Therefore, stories about ishkitinis are only told by certain medicine men and women. In other communities, however, they are more of a bogeyman figure casually discussed to frighten children.

An ishkitini appears in The Devil’s Due, though he is never identified as such. One character describes him as “a pooka with a bad attitude.”

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