Spine Tingling Water Legends...

That Locals Actually Believe

Legends and folklore passed through the generations by word of mouth are sometimes used as scare tactics for children. For some, long-held belief in myths and folktales gives solace for something hoped for yet unrealized. Children grow up believing these lasting legends, and then pass down the stories they heard as a child to their children.

All good legends seem to include the seas and other bodies of water. Even the blockbuster film series Pirates of the Caribbean incorporated what islanders call sea sprites or ghosts of the sea that are said to be the disembodied sprits of departed souls. Other traditions feature water spirits in their folklore and mythology. To the Greeks, a water spirit known as Naiad presides over springs or streams. The Romans had a similar water entity, Camenae. In Cameroon, jengu (water spirits) are protective deities. For residents of the British Isles, water spirits dwell in streams and wells—which is the backstory for tossing coins and other items into fountains, a sacred offering to the supposed gods or goddesses of that time.

While not all locals believe these legends, some think that these spine-tingling tales can tell us something about ourselves, our collective history, and our earth.

Papa Bwa | St. Lucia; Trinidad and Tobago

A legend originating in Africa and spreading to St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, Papa Bwa (or Papa Bois) is known as the father of the forest. In many stories he lures hunters deep into the bush and then leaves them lost, trapped forever, in the muddy depths of rivers. Hunters who have survived an encounter have described him as a deer, sometimes a tree, or an old man in ragged clothes with leaves growing out of his beard. How do you survive an encounter one might ask? If you should meet Papa Bwa in your travels, be very polite and recite this greeting: “Bon jour, Vieux Papa.” If he gives chat, keep your cool, and whatever you do not look at his feet.

Bunyip | Australia

Bunyip, a cross between the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot, lives in the Australia billabongs and creeks of the outback. If anyone gets too close to these bodies of water, they risk being eaten by the creature. Some locals have reported sighting Bunyip, describing the creature as a giant seal with fangs, tusks, and the face of a dog. Others say it looks like a horse with flippers.

Mama Wata | Africa; Haiti

Mami Wata, counterpart to Papa Bwa, is a mermaid-like creature with a long fish tail and a human torso. Often depicted with a snake ornament around her neck, she protects the rivers, sitting on a rock and combing her hair with a golden comb. In some parts of West Africa and Haiti, she is a revered deity. Mami Wata abducts travelers and drags them down into the water but not for cunning reasons. She returns them to dry ground, wealthier and more attractive than they were before.

Lusca | Bahamas

The mythical creature, the Lusca, is half shark and half octopus. Said to lurk in the blue holes of the Bahamas, it grabs swimmers with its tentacles and drags them down into the abyss. In some versions of the Lusca legends, the creature is half octopus and half woman. It captures its victims with its long hair. Linked to many sightings throughout time, it is believed the blubbery remains of this giant creature washed up on a Florida shore in the late 19th century.

The Ghost of Aira Force | United Kingdom

Emma, the young daughter of a Cumbria lord, loved to sketch the nearby Aira Force waterfall. One day, she got stuck while scaling the rocks around it and called out for help. Suddenly, a woman in white appeared. She beckoned to Emma, illuminating a path for Emma to follow. Upon reaching the figure, Emma realized it was her sister! She followed her sister until she was safely away from the falls. The figure disappeared right before her very eyes once they reached the castle. Emma went straight to her sister’s quarters to find her asleep in bed.

Another version of this story is that the ghost of Aira Force is Emma, who had a very bad sleepwalking habit. One night, she left the castle in a sleepwalking trance. That very night, her betrothed, Sir Eglamore, came to the castle to find her gone. Following her trail, he found her by the Force. He shook her awake, startling Emma who then slipped on the wet rocks into the waterfall. Eglamore dived in after her and managed to pull her to safety, but she died after he dragged her onto shore. In search of Eglamore, she has haunted the English Lake District ever since.

Nera | Italy

According to legend, Velino was a shepherd boy who fell in love with, Nera, a beautiful nymph. The goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter, considered it beneath Nera to be with a mortal human, so Juno turned the nymph into the River Nera. Velino was devastated as he searched for his lost love to no end. He consulted a mystic to find out what happened. The sybil told him what Juno had done. Velino then jumped off the cliff into the River Nera to be with her again. It is believed that Velino, the humble shepherd boy, was turned into a river as well. Today, the Velino River in central Italy, is one of Nera’s largest tributaries.

What legends or spooky folklores did you grow up learning about?

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