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Monster of the Week: Oniate

My rendering of an Oniate.
My rendering of an Oniate.
Octavio Ramos Jr.

Iroquois folklore tells of a disembodied, mummified hand that can inflict blindness or a horrible withering disease simply by touching an intended victim. This hand is known as the Oniate, and there are legends about it in other tribes, such as the Seneca and the Cayuga. It is sometimes called a ghost hand, although it is not clear if the hand appears as an apparition or as a full-fleshed hand.

The word “Oniate” translates to “Dry Hands” or “Dry Fingers.” In some stories, the Oniate is a full-bodied man, a bogeyman who terrorizes those who dare enter deserted areas or places that are taboo. Other stories tell of a floating hand (sometimes connected to a forearm) whose fingers are desiccated and diseased. These Dry Fingers can be summoned to punish people who behave badly. In other instances, the Dry Fingers are but a vengeful spirit that punishes those who speak evil of the dead, sow discord, or dare pry into other people’s personal affairs.

The Oniate appears out of thin air, flies toward its intend victim, and then touches him or her with its withered appendages. A simple touch can strike a victim blind. In other stories, the victim is infected with a disease that leads to death. Still other stories say that a touch from an Oniate causes instant death.