The 7 Scariest Creatures From Native American Folklore

Published December 2, 2020
Updated March 23, 2022

The Flying Head Monster Of The Iriquois, The Kanontsistóntie’s

Flying Head Legend

Karen Harader/Deviant ArtAccording to Iroquois legend, the Kanontsistóntie’s resulted from a betrayal among a tribe that lived near Sacandaga lake.

Among the most ancient Native American myths are the tales that come from the Iroquois, a confederacy of tribes who inhabited the northeastern part of North America. The Iroquois union formed so long ago, in fact, that historians have no idea exactly when it happened.

The Iroquois confederacy — who in their native tongue called themselves Haudenosaunee — was made up of six tribes: the Cayuga, the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Seneca, and the Tuscarora peoples. As they shared resources as a united front, these tribes also shared many stories.

One of the most terrifying legends of Iroquois culture is the myth of Kanontsistóntie’s. The Kanontsistóntie’s, or flying heads, were exactly that — disembodied heads with fiery eyes and long tangled hair. These heads floated through the air and hunted for humans to eat.

Because the Iroquois culture came from so long ago, the exact origins of the Kanontsistóntie’s are also lost to time. There are several variations in stories of how these cannibalistic flying heads came to be.

In some iterations of the Native American folklore, the Kanontsistóntie’s resulted from a violent murder in which the victim’s dismembered head came back to life and grew to enormous size so it could seek vengeance for its tragic death.

Other traditions believe the Kanontsistóntie’s (also known as Kunenhrayenhnenh or Dagwanoenyent) were simply primordial monsters with the uncontrollable urge to feast on human flesh.

The Kanontsistóntie’s is a legend of the Iroquois, a confederacy of six northeastern tribes.

Perhaps the most poignant version of this Native American legend is the one which says the Kanontsistóntie’s came from the brutal betrayal within an unknown tribe that once occupied the territory of Sacandaga Lake in what is now present-day New York.

A terrible famine befell the tribe, prompting the young men of the group to propose that the tribe travel to look for a new home. This idea was shot down by the elders who believed that the famine and harsh winter were a curse put upon them by the Master of Life, and it was best to stay put.

The elders warned the curse would follow the tribe wherever they went. The disagreement broke into conflict, and the young men murdered their elders by decapitating them and throwing their dismembered heads into the lake.

Unbeknownst to the young warriors, the elder’s heads came back to life. The heads merged into a single giant floating head with wings and talons, and it was covered in black hair. The monstrous flying head killed the young men as well as the rest of the tribe.

The Native American legend of Kanontsistóntie’s is certainly bone-chilling — but these giant flying head monsters were not exactly invincible, either. Stories told by the Seneca peoples include the tale of a widow who defeated a flying head monster by feeding it burning coal.

Natasha Ishak
Natasha Ishak is a staff writer at All That's Interesting.