The Wampus Cat

The following article is presented for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research and is not a final authority on the subject. 

Welcome to Freaky Friday.  I know we just had a paranormal topic last week, but we’re having another one this week in honor of the Tales From the Mist launch.  This week’s topic is the Wampus Cat.

And here’s why:

The first story in the Tales From the Mist anthology is “Wampus Cat” by Scott Nicholson.  This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology.  I found the main character relatable, and I loved the creepy twist at the end.

What is the Wampus Cat?

Most legends agree that it is a cat of some kind.  The most pervasive legends describe the Wampus Cat as a hideous hybrid beast that is half woman and half cat.

The Wampus Cat folklore is Appalachian in origin.  There are mentions of it in Tennessee, North Caronlina, Kentucky, and in both Virginia and West Virginia.  I also found a mention of it in Alabama.

This legend originates in places were civilization has only carved a foothold in the wilderness.  The beasts in the woods are a very real threat.  When darkness falls, they have the upper hand and the forest belongs to them.

The oldest fairy tales were didactic in nature, warning people of the harm that could befall them.  I suspect folklore such as the Wampus Cat serves both as an attempt to explain the unexplainable and as a warning to those who might venture into places best left unexplored.

The legend has many variations.  I will present what I’ve been able to learn, but I do not claim this information to be definitive.  There are lots of variations out there, and it would be impossible to do them all justice.

 Native American Mythology and The Wampus Cat

The Wampus Cat is associated with Native American mythology.  Here are two different tales from my research.

Legend One:

A young Native American woman resented not knowing what her husband did when he went on hunting trips.  Her curiosity got the best of her, so she donned the skin of a mountain lion to keep her warm and wandered off in search of the hunting party.

She found her husband and the other male members of their tribe around a campfire listening to tales from the tribe’s medicine man.  The woman hid in the bushes and got caught up her eavesdropping.  She was discovered by the men and cursed to wander as a half woman-half cat for eternity.

Legend Two:

Another Native American version of the Wampus Cat legend uses bits and pieces of the mythology of Ewah.

Also called “the ugly demon,” the very countenance of Ewah had the ability to drive men crazy.  The mountain lion was only way thing that would scare Ewah away.

This version of the Wampus Cat steals the idea of Ewah’s ability to snatch away sanity of those it encountered.  It changes the identity of Ewah to the Wampus Cat.

It goes like this: A young Native American warrior was driven crazy by an encounter with the Wampus Cat. His angry wife donned a mask and set out to find the Wampus Cat.  The Wampus Cat ran away when it saw the young woman, but the woman’s ghost wanders the woods still wearing the mask.

 Other Variations of the Legend

 In Appalachia:

A village was plagued by stolen livestock.  The villagers knew of a witch who lived among them and believed her to be responsible.  They spied on her and followed her to a farm one night.

As they watched, the witch transformed into a house cat and snuck into the farmhouse.  Inside the house, she spelled the house’s sleeping occupants to stay asleep no matter what.  Then, she went back out to the barn and began the process of transforming herself back into a woman.

The villagers suspected she would steal livestock in her human form and interrupted her transformation.  Once interrupted, the witch was stuck between forms.  She still wanders the hills, a ghastly half woman-half cat.

In Alabama:

The Alabama Wampus Cat is a superbeast created during WWII to be used as a messenger.  The creature was a cross between a gray wolf and a mountain lion.  In this story, several of the creatures escaped the lab in which they lived and were never found.  The animals have continued to breed and multiply and are still seen on occasion.

 Scott Nicholson’s Wampus Cat

In his short story, “The Wampus Cat,” Mr. Nicholson seems to draw most from the legend which stars the shapeshifting witch.

Of course, he puts his own spin on the legend and how it works…and you’ll have to read his short story to find out what that is.

Black Panthers

Where I grew up in East Texas, we had folklore about black panthers.  Originally, I intended to cover both the Wampus Cat and the East Texas Black Panther in this post.

After learning exactly what the Wampus Cat was, I decided against doing this.  For one thing, this post is very long.  For another thing, the legends are different enough that I can do a later post on the black panther folktales.

 Sources:

“Legend of the Wampus Cat” from Weird Kentucky

The Wampus Cat

Ewah: The Nolichucky Witch

Mike Conley’s Tales of the Weird: The Wampus Cat