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Native Ghosts and the Supernatural

Dennis Zitogh of The Smithsonian writes about a new book, “Living Ghosts and Mysterious Monsters,” where a Native storyteller shares ancient and contemporary scary stories.

Here is an excerpt of the article.

"Stories of the unknown come in many shapes and forms that tell of unexplainable—sometimes horrible—things. Some are about demons or evil spirits," says writer and storyteller Dan SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca). 

"Others are about inanimate objects, like glowing orbs, apparitions, or even dolls that take on the breath of life. In this book, I have divided the world of American Indian ghosts into five categories: “Ghosts,” “Spirits,” “Witches,” “Monsters,” and “The Supernatural,” to give a clearer, more defined picture of what you may encounter—from an unseen noise to a hideous face to maybe something no one else has ever experienced." 

The supernatural aspects of American Indians are not normally shared with the outside world. Superstition and tribal protocols keep many stories from becoming public domain. Recently, I read a book that picked up where my grandparent’s scary stories left off: of Native tricksters; shape shifters, skin-walkers and entities that thrive in the shadows of darkness. In Living Ghosts and Mysterious Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories (Scholastic Press, 166 pp., $26.99 and $12.99) Dan SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca Nation) writer and storyteller, and Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva) illustrator, weave ancient and contemporary scary stories from tribal groups from Canada, the United States and Mexico. Thirty-two short stories are told in chilling vivid detail and collected from the thriving tradition of telling Native ghost stories. Tribal definitions and their meanings are explained to help give the reader valuable information to preface each story.

Stories of the unknown come in many shapes and forms that tell of unexplainable—sometimes horrible—things.

In a time when the internet, social media and cell phones were not the principal means of communication, Native people looked forward to sharing good stories. Winter was especially chosen as the primary storytelling season as tribal communal groups were not traveling and had to remain inside for long periods during inclement weather.

In the Western Hemisphere trading stories is an integral part of Native culture, a norm that is still carried on by modern Native peoples. At the end of this book, the writer gives credit in detail of how each of his stories was obtained. As a Native writer this consideration made me feel good that these stories were obtained and are being passed on “in a good way.” With this being said … wait until nightfall, pick up the book and prepare to enter the world of Native ghosts and the supernatural.

The Washington Post Digital Access

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