Folklore Friday: I love it when you call me Kushtaka
Hey Bookworms! Aren’t otters just the cutest, most precious little water weasels you’ve ever seen in your life? I love ‘em. They swim on their backs with their adorable little human hands clasped to their chest like even they can’t get over how stinking cute they are. I never thought I would ever look at an otter with anything other than total cartoon heart eyes. Then I heard about Kushtaka.
What are Kushtaka, you ask? Well, some folks call them “Were Otters” but they are way more complicated than that. Sookie Stackhouse would probably never date one, that’s for sure. Kushtaka loosely translates to “land otter men” and they are a very scary part of Tlingit folklore.
The Tlingit tribe live primarily in Alaska and parts of Canada where the weather is cold, the terrain is dangerous, and the water can be deadly. As the story goes, Kushtaka are shapeshifting trickster creatures that can appear as humans, otters, or a nightmarish combination of the two. Human sized beasts with long and matted hair covering their bodies, sharp teeth, and even sharper claws.
As tricksters the Kushtaka will often appear to victims as friends or family members and try to lure folks into the darkness where they will either murder you Freddy Kruger style with their razor sharp claws or kidnap you and take you back to their dens. They will ram into the hull of a boat. Thumping against the sides to frighten sailors and possibly even damage the boat so much it will sink and throw the people on the boat into the freezing water where they become easy prey. The Kushtaka are known for their eerie cries and a distinctive whistle that they use to communicate with one another. Kushtaka wait just outside of the safety of your village or your home and prey upon anyone foolish enough to fall for their tricks.
All of that is total jerkface behavior but the Kushtaka are more than just boogeymen. You see, the Tlingit people believe in reincarnation. After a person dies they are born again and again so that they can eventually achieve spiritual enlightenment. Enter the Kushtaka. They don’t just want to ruin your fishing trip by horribly murdering you. They want your soul.
The people Kushtaka kidnap and take to their dens are far worse off than the ones who are just murdered. The Kushtaka feeds off of their spiritual energy until their soul is totally gone. You can’t be reincarnated if you have no soul and so the poor people are turned into Kushtaka themselves. They’re doomed.Trapped in purgatory with the hopes and dreams of their human life forgotten. All they know now is bloodlust. Hunting unsuspecting humans and tricking them to their deaths or, even worse, into becoming Kushtaka themselves. If a person is lucky they can be rescued and have their soul restored by a brave shaman, but it doesn’t happen often.
Which brings me back to the otters we all know. Is the reason that they’re so intelligent because they’re Kushtakan themselves? With all of the knowledge of a alpha predator wrapped up in their furry little bodies as they swim in the cold water. When they reach out their little human like hands to you is it because they want a fishy treat or do they want to grab you and pull you into the water with them, their hands elongating into claws as they pull you down into the freezing depths? Who can say for sure? Not me, but I’m not going to take any chances. I will, however, continue to follow them on Instagram. Soul eater or not, the little suckers sure are heckin’ adorable.