In this article:
- Most people think that otters are playful, cute, and cuddly.
- But, according to a legend from the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, some are actually shape-shifting beasts that lure humans to their death.
- On top of that, if you’re captured by these kushtaka (as they’re known in Tlingit folklore), your cycle of reincarnation will be broken and you won’t be reborn ever again.
- The legend has been used for centuries to explain any mysterious disappearance of hunters or fishers.
It’s hard to imagine otters as anything but cute. Their adorable little black noses. Their iconic whiskers that make them look like old men no matter what age they are. The fact that they spend most of their days playing with each other. And the way that they can crack oyster shells on their bellies with rocks. What’s not to love?
Well, if you ask the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, the mischievous nature of otters is just a foreshadowing of the very sinister things that they’re capable of.
In Tlingit folklore, many otters are actually believed to be shape-shifting monsters that are capable of luring in humans with their endearing manners and murdering them. On top of that, if you’re murdered by one of these amorphous beasts, your reincarnation cycle will be interrupted and you’ll be barred from entering the next life.
So, these kushtaka, as they’re known, don’t just kill you once, they end all of your future lives as well. That’s a pretty dastardly deed for such an adorable animal.
Luckily, if you’re worried about being attacked by a kushtaka, there are several ways to deter one of these monsters from attacking you. One of these methods is to keep another furry friend by your side: a dog. So, if you ever needed another reason to adopt a dog, now you have one.
In this legend, we’re going to take a look at the strange legend of the kushtaka, where this legend may have come from, and how you can protect yourself from the wrath of the kushtaka. Get ready to rethink everything you thought you knew about otters.
The Tlingit People of the Pacific Northwest
The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America live primarily in the southwestern portion of the modern-day state of Alaska and in the northwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Because these parts of North America used to be Russian territory, these people have been extensively written about in Russian historical literature.
While many of the separate Tlingit tribes consider eating seafood or “beach food” (as they call it) a sign of poverty, fishing and marine hunting have historically provided a major part of the food source for the Tlingit.
Considering that there are thousands and thousands of otters in the local region that the Tlingit inhabit, it’s unsurprising that a legend should arise about these abundant animals.
And, as you may know, the ocean can be a dangerous place. In the process of hunting or gathering food from the rocky coastline, many Tlingit hunters and gatherers have gone missing throughout the 10,000-year history of the nation. Many of these disappearances have been attributed to foul play by a mysterious race of shape-shifting otters: the kushtaka.
What Is a Kushtaka?
The kushtaka are a race of shape-shifting otters that lure humans into the dark waters with an evil intention : to either kill them or to turn them into a kushtaka to trap their souls to prevent them from being reincarnated.
As some versions of the legend go, they will appear to you looking just like men, perhaps even men that you know personally. In other visions of the story, they will take the form of a lost traveler in need of help. Other times still, they will imitate the sound of a distressed woman or baby out in the cold woods.
Regardless of their approach, the kushtaka (which will sometimes appear alone and sometimes in groups) will lure their target deep into the woods or even convince them to wade into a stream or into the ocean.
Once their target is lost and defenseless, they will tear them to bits, ending their life and preventing them from being reincarnated in the next life. In other versions of the story, the kushtaka will transform people into kushtaka themselves, thus bolstering their ranks.
Sometimes, they are actually said to help people out of dangerous situations. For instance, if someone is lost in the woods and in danger of freezing to death, the kushtaka will call out to them as if they were someone offering help.
However, once they arrive, they will turn the person into a kushtaka. While this will allow them to survive the cold, they will also have to live out the rest of their life as a kushtaka and will not be reincarnated into the next life.
How to Protect Yourself From the Kushtaka
According to some sources, there are several ways to ward off the kushtaka. The most prevalent way to do so is by keeping a dog by your side. Apparently, these shape-shifting otters are absolutely terrified of dogs and will not come anywhere near them because dogs can sense a kushtaka and will attack if they do so. They don’t call dogs “humankind’s best friend” for no reason.
Another potential way to keep the kushtaka away is with urine. Yes, you read that correctly. So, if you’re planning on wandering through the woods on the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, maybe you should drink a lot of water beforehand and “mark your territory” on some trees. Or perhaps you might even want to keep a bottle of pee on hand just in case.
A less disgusting way to scare off kushtaka is with fire. Apparently, a lit torch will send the kushtaka scattering. Also, copper is said to repel these creepy American beasts as well. So, get yourself a copper lantern and take your canine out into the woods with you, and you should be just fine.
The Kushtaka in Modern Literature
If you’re interested in consuming some kushtaka-based literature, check out some of the works of Tlingit author Pamela Rae Huteson. Two of her books, Legends in Wood: Stories of the Totems and Transformation Masks, dive deep into the folklore surrounding the kushtaka.
If you’re looking for a page-turning, spine-chilling horror novel about this strange Pacific Northwestern legend, check out the novel Kushtaka by David Pierdomenico.
Stay Away From Otters
First of all, otters are wild animals. And, with all wild animals, you should always maintain your distance and never get too close to them regardless of how cute and cuddly they may appear. Unfortunately, some people choose to keep otters as pets, which is completely wrong and cruel.
So, in case you needed another reason to keep your distance from wild otters, consider that they may be shape-shifting kushtaka that may be trying to murder you and put a stop to your reincarnation cycle. You’re welcome.