GiwakwaThe first of the creatures to crawl - or rather stomp out of Abenaki mythology is the Giwakwa (gee-wock-wah). This behemoth stood tall as the tallest white pine, and tore these huge trees from the ground to swat humans. There are several different accounts of what a Giwakwa looks like, probably a result of the story passing from storyteller to storyteller, like a great game of telephone. It was said they rolled in Balsam Fir sap, picking up the rest of the clutter on the forest floor – making them a hulking mass of forest. Up top, their glowing eyes were matched by the gleam of their sharp white teeth that they used to tear into humans wandering through the forest. Often they are depicted as having a heart of ice, or a human shaped ice block in their stomach. In fact, this ice can sometimes be thawed by clever folk heroes, returning the monster to human form, as many of these giants were individuals who are cursed, either through malevolence or by committing a heinous crime like cannibalism.
The second of the creatures we’ll discuss that inhabited the Great North Woods is the Mskagwdemos (muh-skog-day-moose) or Swamp Woman. The Swamp Woman is never seen; those who have seen it, did not live to tell the tale. She inhabits the swamp and howls mournful cries trying to attract hapless travelers or wanderers out after dark. Anyone who follows the cry will inevitably become lost and killed in the swamp. Her character has been variously portrayed as a tragic figure, calling out in sincere loneliness after being trapped in the swamp forever. The alternate, sinister telling, is that her cries are in fact a lure – because you are going to be her dinner. Her story acted primarily as a bogeyman figure to keep children and others from wandering out after dark, especially into a swamp where a wanderer absolutely could find themselves in real material danger.
Next, I would like to introduce you to the Skadegamutc, also known as the Ghost-Witch. Pronounced scah-day-gah-mooch, these are malignant sorcerers of black magic who after death remain as spirits to exert otherworldly torment on the living. It is said they are the result of the magician's will to stay alive, and so they transcend death. These are shape-shifters, prowlers of the nocturnal hunting ground, and will scour the forest looking for people to curse or consume. Their only weakness is fire, and of course, the brilliant light of day.
Keep in mind that these stories were told in these woods that currently surround me on every side. Perhaps there's a Giwakwa hammering around between the pines out across the shore right now. While some of these strings of narrative are incredibly interesting, and great for chilling some spines around a campfire, it is important to remember that the history of a space is integral to its existence as it is today. As for Umbagog Lake, we have barely scratched the surface of all it is connected too, both culturally and historically. For those interested in learn more, every Saturday at 2:00 we host the Experience Umbagog Boat Tour where guests ride out onto the entirety of the lake and learn about its ecological and historical significance. It is $15.00 per adult, and $10.00 a child. In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of the summer night campfires. Make sure they stay lit. Lest the ghost-witch pay you a visit.
I’ll be offering Nature Programs here at Umbagog Lake State Park all summer so check out my program schedule and come Discover the Power of Parks! Friday nights at 8:00 we huddle around the campfire fire, learn to make banana boats, and share spooky stories!