Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

The Culture of the Luiseño Indians, by Philip Stedman Sparkman, [1908], at


There is still a strong belief in a malevolent water spirit, yuyungviwut. It is thought to belong to both sexes. The male is believed to spirit women away at night to his home in the water, not bodily, but the soul or spirit of the woman, and there to treat her as his wife. The women say they are well treated while there, but have to eat animals that frequent water, such as frogs and snakes. It is usually, though by no means always, young unmarried women who are subject to this delusion, more especially those who are subject to epileptic fits. Women who imagine themselves to be under the dominion of the water spirit often become seriously ill, and are treated by the medicine-men, who claim to be able to frighten the spirit away when it approaches. They pretend to detect its presence by a smell resembling that of stagnant water, the spirit of course being invisible. We have known a medicine-man to be sent for from a distance of a hundred miles to treat a woman who imagined herself to be under the dominion of this spirit. And a strange thing is that women brought up almost entirely among the whites, and others with very little Indian blood, often suffer from this disease, or rather delusion.

Men also sometimes suffer from this delusion, imagining themselves to be under the dominion of a female yuyungviwut. As in the case of the women, they are usually those who are subject to epileptic fits. Many are so afraid of this spirit that they will not call it by its true name, but instead speak of it as an "animal of the water."

There is another water spirit, pavawut, that is believed to inhabit certain springs and ponds of water, which it is thought

p. 220

to object to having people visit. For this reason many will not put their houses near springs, as they are afraid to incur the anger of this spirit by doing so. It is said sometimes to drag under the water people who bathe near its haunts and to drown them. It is also related that a man shot one at a spring at Santa Margarita, and that the spring immediately dried up. The man also died within a short time. 6

A being known as koyul is said to have its abode at the main falls of Pauma creek, not the falls that visitors to Palomar mountain sometimes go to see, but others much lower down the canon. It is thought to object to having people visit its abode, which is exceedingly difficult of access, and many are afraid to do so.

There is a tale to the effect that some twenty-five years ago a man who had been told of the existence of this animal, and warned not to go where it lived, declared that he was not afraid of it, that he would go where it was said to live, and shoot it if he should see it. So one day he entered the canon and managed to get within a short distance of the falls, when he saw the animal sitting on a large rock directly above the fall. It looked like a very large toad, and was about the size of a man. He shot at it with a rifle he had taken along with him, when it at once jumped from the rock into a deep water-hole at the foot of the falls. As it struck the water a dense mist rose from it and filled the canon so that it was impossible to see in any direction. At this the man was badly frightened, and would have left the canon at once, but as he could not see anything, thought it best to wait until the mist cleared off. But though he waited and waited it did not do so, and at last he was obliged to grope his way back out of the canon as best he could. Strange to say he did not die at once, as every one prophesied he would, but is still alive, or was a few years ago.

A meteor or shooting star is known by the name of Takwish, and is considered to be an animate being that carries people off and devours them. He is believed to have his abode at a locality in the San Jacinto mountains. There is a rocky peak on Palomar

p. 221

where it is said he pounds the flesh of his victims to make it tender before devouring it.


220:6 A tradition recorded by Mr. Sparkman regarding the pavawut has been published in the Journal of American Folk-Lore, XXI, 35, 1908.

Next: Boys’ Puberty Ceremonies