Machinitou The Evil Spirit
Source: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian
Chemanitou, being the Master of Life, at one time became the origin of
a spirit that has ever since caused him and all others of his creation
a great deal of disquiet. His birth was owing to an accident. It was
in this wise:--
Metowac, or as the white people now call it, Long Island, was
originally a vast plain, so level and free from any kind of growth
that it looked like a portion of the great sea that had suddenly been
made to move back and let the sand below appear, which was, in fact,
Here it was that Chemanitou used to come and sit when he wished to
bring any new creation to life. The place being spacious and solitary,
the water upon every side, he had not only room enough, but was free
It is well known that some of these early creations were of very great
size, so that very few could live in the same place, and their
strength made it difficult for even Chemanitou to control them, for
when he has given them certain powers they have the use of the laws
that govern those powers, till it is his will to take them back to
himself. Accordingly it was the custom of Chemanitou, when he wished
to try the effect of these creatures, to set them in motion upon the
island of Metowac, and if they did not please him, he took the life
away from them again. He would set up a mammoth, or other large
animal, in the centre of the island, and build it up with great care,
somewhat in the manner that a cabin or a canoe is made.
Even to this day may be found traces of what had been done here in
former years, and the manner in which the earth sometimes sinks down
shows that this island is nothing more than a great cake of earth, a
sort of platter laid upon the sea for the convenience of Chemanitou,
who used it as a table upon which he might work, never having designed
it for anything else, the margin of the Chatiemac (the stately swan),
or Hudson river, being better adapted to the purposes of habitation.
When the Master of Life wished to build up an elephant or mammoth, he
placed four cakes of clay upon the ground, at proper distances, which
were moulded into shape, and became the feet of the animal.
Now sometimes these were left unfinished, and to this day the green
tussocks to be seen like little islands about the marshes show where
these cakes of clay were placed.
As Chemanitou went on with his work, the Neebanawbaigs (or
water-spirits), the Puck-wud-jinnies (little men who vanish), and,
indeed, all the lesser manitoes, used to come and look on, and wonder
what it would be, and how it would act.
When the animal was completed, and had dried a long time in the sun,
Chemanitou opened a place in the side, and, entering in, remained
there many days.
When he came forth the creature began to shiver and sway from side to
side, in such a manner as shook the whole island for leagues. If its
appearance pleased the Master of Life it was suffered to depart, and
it was generally found that these animals plunged into the open sea
upon the north side of the island, and disappeared in the great
Now at one time Chemanitou was a very long time building an animal of
such great bulk that it looked like a mountain upon the centre of the
island, and all the manitoes from all parts came to see what it was.
The Puck-wud-jinnies especially made themselves very merry, capering
behind its great ears, sitting within its mouth, each perched upon a
tooth, and running in and out of the sockets of the eyes, thinking
Chemanitou, who was finishing off other parts of the animal, would not
But he can see right through everything he has made. He was glad to
see the Puck-wud-jinnies so lively, and he bethought him of many new
creations while he watched their motions.
When the Master of Life had completed this large animal, he was
fearful to give it life, and so it was left upon the island, or
work-table of Chemanitou, till its great weight caused it to break
through, and, sinking partly down, it stuck fast, the head and tail
holding it in such a manner as to prevent it slipping further down.
Chemanitou then lifted up a piece of the back, and found it made a
very good cavity, into which the old creations which failed to please
him might be thrown.
He sometimes amused himself by making creatures very small and active,
with which he disported awhile, and finding them of very little use in
the world, and not so attractive as the little vanishers, he would
take out the life, taking it to himself, and then cast them into the
cave made in the body of the unfinished animal.
In this way great quantities of very odd shapes were heaped together
in this Roncomcomon, or Place of Fragments.
He was always careful before casting a thing he had created aside to
take out the life.
One day the Master of Life took two pieces of clay and moulded them
into two large feet, like those of a panther. He did not make
four--there were two only.
He put his own feet into them, and found the tread very light and
springy, so that he might go with great speed and yet make no noise.
Next he built up a pair of very tall legs, in the shape of his own,
and made them walk about a while. He was pleased with the motion. Then
followed a round body covered with large scales, like those of the
He now found the figure doubling forward, and he fastened a long
black snake, that was gliding by, to the back part of the body, and
wound the other end round a sapling which grew near, and this held the
body upright, and made a very good tail.
The shoulders were broad and strong, like those of the buffalo, and
covered with hair. The neck thick and short, and full at the back.
Thus far Chemanitou had worked with little thought, but when he came
to the head he thought a long while.
He took a round ball of clay into his lap, and worked it over with
great care. While he thought, he patted the ball of clay upon the top,
which made it very broad and low, for Chemanitou was thinking of the
panther feet and the buffalo neck. He remembered the Puck-wud-jinnies
playing in the eye sockets of the great unfinished animal, and he
bethought him to set the eyes out, like those of a lobster, so that
the animal might see on every side.
He made the forehead broad and full, but low, for here was to be the
wisdom of the forked tongue, like that of the serpent, which should be
in its mouth. It should see all things and know all things. Here
Chemanitou stopped, for he saw that he had never thought of such a
creation before, one with two feet--a creature that should stand
upright, and see upon every side.
The jaws were very strong, with ivory teeth and gills upon either
side, which rose and fell whenever breath passed through them. The
nose was like the beak of the vulture. A tuft of porcupine-quills made
the scalp lock.
Chemanitou held the head out the length of his arm, and turned it
first upon one side and then upon the other. He passed it rapidly
through the air, and saw the gills rise and fall, the lobster eyes
whirl round, and the vulture nose look keen.
Chemanitou became very sad, yet he put the head upon the shoulders. It
was the first time he had made an upright figure. It seemed to be the
first idea of a man.
It was now nearly right. The bats were flying through the air, and the
roar of wild beasts began to be heard. A gusty wind swept in from the
ocean and passed over the island of Metowac, casting the light sand to
and fro. A wavy scud was skimming along the horizon, while higher up
in the sky was a dark thick cloud, upon the verge of which the moon
hung for a moment and was then shut in.
A panther came by and stayed a moment, with one foot raised and bent
inward, while it looked up at the image and smelt the feet that were
like its own.
A vulture swooped down with a great noise of its wings, and made a
dash at the beak, but Chemanitou held it back.
Then came the porcupine, the lizard, and the snake, each drawn by its
kind in the image.
Chemanitou veiled his face for many hours, and the gusty wind swept
by, but he did not stir.
He saw that every beast of the earth seeks its kind, and that which
is like draws its likeness to itself.
The Master of Life thought and thought. The idea grew into his mind
that at some time he would create a creature who should be made, not
after the things of the earth, but after himself.
The being should link this world to the spirit world, being made in
the likeness of the Great Spirit, he should be drawn unto his
Many days and nights--whole seasons--passed while Chemanitou thought
upon these things. He saw all things.
Then the Master of Life lifted up his head. The stars were looking
down upon the image, and a bat had alighted upon the forehead,
spreading its great wings upon each side. Chemanitou took the bat and
held out its whole leathery wings (and ever since the bat, when he
rests, lets his body hang down), so that he could try them over the
head of the image. He then took the life of the bat away, and twisted
off the body, by which means the whole thin part fell down over the
head of the image and upon each side, making the ears, and a covering
for the forehead like that of the hooded serpent.
Chemanitou did not cut off the face of the image below, but went on
and made a chin and lips that were firm and round, that they might
shut in the forked tongue and ivory teeth, and he knew that with the
lips the image would smile when life should be given to it.
The image was now complete save for the arms, and Chemanitou saw that
it was necessary it should have hands. He grew more grave.
He had never given hands to any creature. He made the arms and the
hands very beautiful, after the manner of his own.
Chemanitou now took no pleasure in the work he had done. It was not
good in his sight.
He wished he had not given it hands. Might it not, when trusted with
life, create? Might it not thwart the plans of the Master of Life
He looked long at the image. He saw what it would do when life should
be given it. He knew all things.
He now put fire in the image, but fire is not life.
He put fire within and a red glow passed through and through it. The
fire dried the clay of which the image was made, and gave the image an
exceedingly fierce aspect. It shone through the scales upon the
breast, through the gills, and the bat-winged ears. The lobster eyes
were like a living coal.
Chemanitou opened the side of the image, but he did not enter. He had
given it hands and a chin.
It could smile like the manitoes themselves.
He made it walk all about the island of Metowac, that he might see how
it would act. This he did by means of his will.
He now put a little life into it, but he did not take out the fire.
Chemanitou saw the aspect of the creature would be very terrible, and
yet that it could smile in such a manner that it ceased to be ugly.
He thought much upon these things. He felt that it would not be best
to let such a creature live--a creature made up mostly from the beasts
of the field, but with hands of power, a chin lifting the head upward,
and lips holding all things within themselves.
While he thought upon these things he took the image in his hands and
cast it into the cave. But Chemanitou forgot to take out the life.
The creature lay a long time in the cave and did not stir, for its
fall was very great. It lay amongst the old creations that had been
thrown in there without life.
Now when a long time had passed Chemanitou heard a great noise in the
cave. He looked in and saw the image sitting there, and it was trying
to put together the old broken things that had been cast in as of no
Chemanitou gathered together a vast heap of stones and sand, for large
rocks are not to be had upon the island, and stopped the mouth of the
cave. Many days passed and the noise within the cave grew louder. The
earth shook, and hot smoke came from the ground. The manitoes crowded
to Metowac to see what was the matter.
Chemanitou came also, for he remembered the image he had cast in there
of which he had forgotten to take away the life.
Suddenly there was a great rising of the stones and sand, the sky grew
black with wind and dust. Fire played about on the ground, and water
gushed high into the air.
All the manitoes fled with fear, and the image came forth with a great
noise and most terrible to behold. Its life had grown strong within
it, for the fire had made it very fierce.
Everything fled before it and cried--
"Machinitou! machinitou," which means a god, but an evil god.
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