Within the annals of folklore, legend, and mythology, some truly bizarre monsters can be found. But being bizarre doesn't make them any less dangerous. In fact, it may make them even more deadly. One of the most bizarre of these creatures can be found in the oral traditions and folklore of the Iroquois. These creatures appear as decapitated human heads with wings that will devour anything that moves. They are known as Kanontsistóntie, the Flying Heads.
The Flying Heads are undead disembodied heads or demons that have the wings of
a bird or a bat growing from their temples. They have fiery eyes that glow
eerily in the darkness, while their heads are covered in a matted mess of long,
tangled hair. Their heads vary in size, from being human-sized to being
"four times as tall as the tallest man." The faces of the monsters
are described as being "very dark and angry, filled with great wrinkles
and horrid furrows." These creatures have large mouths that are filled
with needle-sharp fangs, which they use for catching and devouring their prey.
Their skin is thick and matted with dirty, greasy hair, so much so that no
weapon can penetrate these disgusting defenses. Some legends say that they have
long talons of great strength on their undersides for tearing flesh and seizing
prey, but this trait is either absent or is simply not mentioned in other
accounts. These monsters can be found in the dark forests of the Adirondack
Mountains in New York.
The Flying Heads were once thought to kill primarily for revenge because of
some wrongdoing on the part of the Iroquois. However, these creatures have
since become so feral and debased that the only thing that they think about is
what they're going to eat next. They are constantly hungry and, being only
disembodied heads, they can never know the satisfaction that a full stomach
brings. Hunger is now their only motivation, and it drives them at all times.
These demons travel in groups and are entirely carnivorous, and they especially
seem to savor the taste of human flesh. They are relentless predators, pursuing
and devouring any living creature that makes the slightest movement. They
appear to be nocturnal by nature, roosting in caves or desecrated ruins by day
(much like bats). Some of them might make their nests in an abandoned village,
where all of the original inhabitants were mercilessly slaughtered by the
winged demons. By night, the Flying Heads soar through the darkened sky at
speed, shrieking and laughing like madmen as they go.
While the Flying Heads are exactly what their name suggests (severed heads with
the ability to fly, obviously), they are supernatural entities with powers
beyond those of a mere mortal. They are most obviously able to fly, although
there is no evidence of any limit to the distance or the speed of their flight
capabilities. They are possessed of great strength, particularly in their jaws
and the talons on their undersides. It is said in some legends that the stumps
of their necks drip blood, and that this blood is both toxic and corrosive to
human flesh. Some people say that they are able to spread disease by appearing
in the dreams of their victims, which is always taken to be an omen of a coming
illness or death. And wherever these monsters choose to dwell, the place
eventually becomes corrupted by their evil. This unnatural taint gradually
spreads to the surrounding countryside, rendering the area desolate and devoid
of life for many miles. This corruption may attract other monsters, making such
a territory both inhospitable and extremely dangerous to human beings.
There is one question that begs to be answered about the Flying Heads: where
did they come from? Many people say that the Kanontsistóntie are the result of
a horrible violent death, while others say that a human may become one of these
creatures through an act of cannibalism (a trait shared with the more notorious
Wendigo). Some folklore suggests that the Flying Heads are the decapitated
remains of great sorcerers, sorceresses, or giants. Some stories, however, do
not speak of the origins of the Flying Heads at all. This would seem to imply
that these monsters are primordial in nature, having existed since prehistory
with little to no purpose other than to terrorize and feed upon humans. In
order to understand the origins of these monsters more clearly, one must look
to Iroquois mythology for answers.
Long ago, there was a very severe winter on one particular year. The intense
cold killed most of the plants, and it drove the deer, the moose, and the other
game animals off to other regions in search of food. The local native tribes
decided against following the animals, and decided to rely on their fishing
skills to sustain them. But the fishing didn't last, for it seemed that the
fish had abandoned the area. Eventually, a devastating famine swept through the
area, becoming so severe that it killed entire families. What were the natives
It wasn't long before the younger members of the tribe began to talk about
migrating from the area that they had long called home. The young braves
proposed a secret journey to a great lake to the west of them. The journey
would be dangerous, as there were a number of hostile tribes in the area that
always seemed to thirst for the blood of their enemies. But once they were
beyond the borders of the lake, it would be a fairly simple matter to find a
new home. However, not everyone agreed with this plan.
The elders of the tribe absolutely refused to make the journey, saying that it
was madness to attempt such a feat. They argued that the famine had been
orchestrated by the Master of Life to punish the people for their sins. They
believed that if they could endure the famine, it would eventually pass. But if
they tried to escape it, the consequences would follow them for the rest of
their lives and beyond. They would rather die in their own homelands than to
live in a strange place where they didn't belong. The young men were furious
with the elders' decision, and they proceeded to slaughter the elderly men in
When the young men realized what they had done, they were faced with a dilemma:
how would they dispose of the bodies? Seeking to justify their grisly deed, it
was eventually decided that the bodies would be decapitated and burned as an
offering to the Master of Life. The heads would be bound together and thrown
into the lake (presumably with heavy stones), so that they would sink to the
bottom and never be seen again by the eyes of man. Then they would be free to
migrate to new hunting grounds, where food would be plentiful. Of course,
things never go exactly as planned when murder is involved, do they?
When one of the chiefs involved in the murders tried to hurl the heads into the
lake, he himself became entangled in the ropes and fell into the lake. Unable
to break free of the ropes, the chief drowned. According to legend, the water
started to bubble, and a sickening slime appeared on the water's surface. Then,
something monstrous emerged from the lake: a gigantic head covered in matted
hair, with the wings of a bat and a cavernous maw filled with needle-pointed
fangs. The Iroquois would never be able to escape this horrible monster, which
arose from the depths of the lake to avenge the deaths of the tribal elders.
It wasn't long, however, before the Flying Head began to attack other tribes in
the area, seemingly for no apparent reason. The Flying Head would devour any
living thing that moved, oftentimes while the victim was still alive. Over
time, the Flying Head's attacks grew more vicious and its unceasing hunger claimed
more and more lives. Eventually, people fled and hid themselves from the
monster. All that remained was a woman and her baby inside of a longhouse, and
she had a decision to make. "Someone must make a stand against this
monster," she thought to herself, "It might as well be me." She
began to build a large fire, and tossed in several large stones. And then, she
sat down to wait for the monster.
The young mother watched and waited for the monster to make its presence known.
Suddenly, the Flying Head appeared in the longhouse doorway! Looking inside,
the monster grinned horribly when it saw the woman sitting within the dwelling.
The woman pretended that she didn't notice the hideous creature and acted as
though she was cooking a meal for herself (some versions of the legend say that
she was roasting chestnuts or acorns over the fire). Picking up the now-glowing
stones with a forked stick, she then pretended to eat the red-hot rocks. In
reality, the woman passed the stones behind her beautiful face and simply dropped
them on the ground. All the while, the woman smacked her lips and exclaimed,
"Ah, how good this is! What wonderful food! Never has anyone feasted on
meat like this before!"
The woman's ruse worked. Unable to control itself, the Flying Head rushed into
the longhouse and seized the entire pile of glowing, red-hot stones in its
mouth. But as soon as the creature had swallowed them, it let out a horrifying
scream that echoed over the trees, the mountains, and the streams as it
frantically flew off in agony. Its screams reached such volumes that the
largest and oldest of the trees trembled, the earth shook, and even the very
leaves fell from the branches of the trees. Every person throughout the land
covered their ears and grimaced in pain from the monster's screams! Gradually,
the screams faded into the distance, becoming fainter and fainter until they
could no longer be heard. What became of the monster after that is unknown.
Some people say that the Flying Head burst into flames and burned into ashes.
Others say that the creature fled into the wilderness and never bothered
humanity again. Could this demon still be out there somewhere?
There are very few known ways to deal with the Flying Heads in regards to
warding off or even destroying them. They are said to be vulnerable to medicine
charms (traditionally used by the Native American peoples to ward off sickness
and evil) and seem to particularly hate ritualistic dancing and sacred songs.
They do have one huge weakness, however: their lack of intelligence. Despite
the fact that these creatures are little more than heads with wings, they
aren't much smarter than the average wild beast. They are driven only by their
voracious appetites for flesh. Because of their stupidity, they are easily
deceived and will fall for the simplest of tricks. And while the Flying Heads
are highly aggressive and dangerous predators, they are cowards and will
retreat if the dominant member of their flock is destroyed or if their chosen
prey proves to be more powerful than the creatures had anticipated.
It would seem that the only way to destroy the Flying Heads is fire.
Decapitation is obviously out of the question here, although splitting the
monsters in two with a bladed weapon or piercing the brain may also work.
Gunshots to the head may also stop these flying demons, although the veracity
of this theory will most likely never be proven. Cutting the wings of these
creatures will most likely disable them, causing them to fall helplessly to the
ground. There, they can easily be finished off by piercing the brain with a
narrow spike or blade (like a bayonet). The remains should then be salted and
burned, and the ashes cast to the four winds to prevent the Heads from possibly
The Flying Heads have not been seen in the modern age, and one might be able to
assume that they have died off. Either that, or encounters with such creatures
are few and far between and may be so sporadic that people don't bother
reporting them for fear of ridicule! But is it possible that the Flying Heads
are still out there, flying out in search of prey when the sun goes down? It is
certainly a possibility. Perhaps somewhere, deep in a forgotten cave in a dark
forest, the Flying Heads sleep and await nightfall, when they may prowl the
darkened skies once again in search of living prey...
Zenko, Darren. Field Guide to Monsters.
Canada: Dragon Hill Publishing Ltd. Copyright ©2008 by Dragon Hill Publishing
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