Saturday, December 14, 2013

Far Liath (The Grey Man)

Faery lore has flourished in Ireland for many centuries, if not longer. However, contrary to what most people think, faeries are not the loveable, winged pixies that popular culture has led people to picture when they hear the word “fairy”. At one time, these creatures were so feared that to even utter the word “fairy” was to invite their wrath down upon people, so terms like “the Little People” or “the Good Folk” were used instead. There is a good reason for this, too: faeries are willful and vindictive spirits, easily angered and quick to take offense. Although not all faeries are dangerous (in fact, many are merry and good-hearted creatures who mean no harm), some are downright deadly. Among the most sinister of the Irish faeries is the mysterious Far Liath, the Grey Man, who controls the mists and the fog that covers the coastal areas of Ireland.

The true origins of the Grey Man remain unknown, but he goes by a number of different names: sometimes, he is known as Fear Liath. In North Antrim, the Far Liath is called brolaghan (meaning “a formless or shapeless thing”), which is actually another species of unrelated faery altogether. In the western parts of Ireland, specifically in Kerry, Galway, and Sligo, he is known as Old Boneless (the reason for this is unknown). In other places, he goes by the name of an fir lea. It is speculated by some that the Grey Man is the modern-day form of an ancient Celtic storm or weather deity that was worshipped by coastal villages at around 1500 B.C., who also went by the name of An Fir Lea. But regardless of what he is called, it does not change the fact that the Far Liath is a dangerous entity that hates humans and takes great delight in causing death and misery among them.

Nobody is entirely sure what the Grey Man looks like, as there are several conflicting descriptions. Generally speaking, this faery appears to humans as a thick, clinging fog that envelops everything on land and everything on the sea, leaving a damp chill in its wake. In Wexford and Waterford, the Far Liath appears as little more than a ragged, hazy shadow that moves against the sun and leaves a trail of mist wherever he goes. In Clare and Kerry, he is described as being of manlike proportions and as wearing a gray cloak of fog that continually swirls about his person. In Down and Antrim, the Grey Man appears as a giant wearing a misty robe like a monk, with a hood over his head, and is seen above faraway mountains or far offshore at sea. In other parts of Ireland, he takes the form of a gigantic humanoid walking towards the shore from the ocean. These varied descriptions seem to be indicative of one thing: that the Grey Man is composed entirely of the mists that seem to follow him wherever he might go. There seems to be little or no physical substance to him.

Although he primarily inhabits coastal areas, the Grey Man can be seen on hilltops, mountains, and in boggy hollows. Being composed of mists and fog, the Far Liath feeds on the smoke from household chimneys in order to sustain himself. It is for this reason that he can be found close to large cities and towns, and the Grey Man is one of the few faeries who will do so. He causes just as much trouble and misery here as he does elsewhere. His passing is unmistakable, for his cloak smells of mold, wood smoke, and peat. And when the Far Liath walks by, he leaves a cold, clammy chill in his wake.

As mentioned previously, the Grey Man hates humans, and it pleases him greatly to cause death and disaster among mortal men whenever the opportunity presents itself. The Far Liath may use his power over fog and the mists of the sea (known as "the Grey Man's Breath") to conceal rocks and boulders along the coastlines, causing ships to collide with them and sink. These same mists may be used to confuse and disorient travelers further inland, by obscuring a lonely road and causing him to become lost. He may even lead people astray and cause them to walk off a cliff! In this era, he might even cause car wrecks by clouding the road with a thick fog. In the North Antrim town of Ballycastle, being led off of the cliffs by the Far Liath is particularly feared. Among these cliffs is a gap, lying across which is a large, flat stone. This landmark is known as the Grey Man’s Path, and locals will go out of their way to avoid it, especially if the weather has taken a turn for the worse lately. If the Grey Man himself has been seen in the area, then people avoid the spot entirely. Only the very foolhardy or the suicidal make any attempt to cross the Grey Man’s Path, for the Far Liath will jump down and spread his misty gray cloak over the helpless victim. The thick fog obscures everything, and if the traveler takes one wrong step, he will lose his footing and fall to his death on the rocks below.

Merely going indoors is no guarantee of safety from the Far Liath’s misty fingers. In certain parts of Ireland, especially in Cork and Limerick, it is believed that the Grey Man is able to cause sickness and disease, among which are sore throats, influenza, and the common cold. According to local legend, it is said that he carries these ailments within the folds of his cloak. The very touch of the Far Liath can cause milk that hasn’t been covered to turn sour, while potatoes will blacken and rot. Clothes left on a line to dry overnight will be permanently damaged by his passing, becoming cold, dank, and continually damp forever afterwards. Peat (used as fuel for fires) will become inexplicably wet in the turf stacks, rendering it unable to be lit with an open flame. Furthermore, it is said that seeing the Grey Man during his travels from place to place will bring misfortune to the one who saw him.

Fortunately, the Grey Man is a solitary faery that only appears during certain times of the year, namely between the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. And despite his command over the fogs and the mists, the Grey Man is not without his respective weaknesses. This faery is incapable of speaking, and thus will ignore verbal pleas from lost travelers and sailors. But using the phrase “God bless you!” is said to have the power to drive away the Far Liath, but only for a short time. Praying to God for deliverance from the Grey Man’s misty hands will also work. Sooner or later, however, the Grey Man will return with a vengeance.

There are certain precautionary measures that may be taken to keep the Far Liath at bay. A silver coin that has sat through an entire church service could be built into the prow of a boat, thus keeping him away from both the boat itself and the sailors onboard. A handful of soil which has been blessed by a priest will accomplish the same end. A crucifix or a holy medal might keep the Grey Man at bay, especially if they have been consecrated by a bishop. Like the silver coin, setting a medal into a boat’s prow will keep the Far Liath away, while setting a crucifix in one’s turf pile will have a similar effect. Sprinkling holy water over one’s potato stores and other foods and drink will spare them from the Grey Man’s touch. And like many supernatural entities, he hates salt. Up until recently, these precautions were still in use in some rural areas. They might still be being used to this very day! However, the Far Liath may still return one day, and rest assured that he will be very angry.

Given that the Grey Man is composed of little more than a thick fog, it may not actually be possible to destroy him. However, it may be possible to inflict limited harm upon the Far Liath by means of an iron blade. Most faeries (with a few exceptions) abhor iron, especially if it is pure and has been hammered out without using the heat of a forged. This metal is terrifying to faeries, and even showing them a piece of iron will cause them to vanish immediately. The Grey Man may or may not share this same vulnerability, but it seems likely. Still, it is always wisest to be cautious.

In this day and age, there are very few people who still believe in faeries. Sightings of the Little People are few and far between. People who claim to see faeries and other such creatures are most often dismissed as being crazy, on drugs, under the influence of alcohol, or as being hoaxers. Popular culture has changed the way that people view these creatures, and sometimes with dangerous consequences. But regardless, faeries are still around, and as for the Far Liath, people will swear that they have seen his misty form pass by on a particularly rainy or cold day in their lifetime. So, keep in mind that the next time there is a fog warning, it just might be the Grey Man!

Sources

Curran, Bob. A Field Guide to Irish Fairies. San Francisco, California: Appletree Press. Copyright ©1997 by Appletree Press.

Curran, Dr. Bob. Dark Fairies. Pompton Plain, New Jersey: The Career Press, Inc. Copyright ©2010 by Dr. Bob Curran.

Franklin, Anna. The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies. London, UK: Anova Books Company Ltd. Copyright © Collins & Brown and Anna Franklin 2002.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Wampus Cat

The people of the Appalachian Mountains have long spoken of terrifying beasts that go bump in the night. These legends often go back centuries to Native American oral traditions, long before the white settlers came from across the seas to stake a claim in a land that they had no right to claim to begin with. Among the Cherokee people, one such legend was that of the Ewah, a catlike demon that could drive men mad with a single, menacing glare. Today, another catlike beast is spoken of in hushed whispers around the fire at night. It is known as the Wampus Cat, a half-woman, half-mountain lion monster that is cursed to wander the dark forests of America forever because of her sacrilegious deeds long ago.

The Wampus Cat has the distinction of being one of the most feared monsters in the folklore of the South. For over two hundred years, this creature has inspired terror and panic in the hearts of the people of Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even as far away as Florida and the Carolinas (suggesting that there may be more than one Wampus Cat, or that there are supernatural forces of an unknown nature at work in these parts of the United States). Even the lumberjacks encountered this ferocious cat-creature, attributing it to a family of strange monsters that they knew as "Fearsome Critters". And while the appearance of the creature seems to vary somewhat according to eyewitnesses, there are some similarities between each sighting. The Wampus Cat is most commonly described as being bipedal (that is, walking upright on two legs) and as having a body that seems to be half woman and half mountain lion in that it is covered in short fur (with a tawny brown fur on its back and a softer white fur on the belly and the chest), has pointed cat-ears, pawlike hands and feet with claws at the end of each finger and toe, a long tail, glowing eyes (sometimes described as being hypnotic), whiskers on its snout, a catlike mouth filled with sharp, ripping teeth, and is sometimes described as having the face of a beautiful, dark-skinned woman. It is said to stand between four and five feet in height, and emits an extremely foul odor that has been known to cause nausea in those who encounter the beast (it has been described as smelling like a cross between a wet dog and a skunk). The creature has an unnerving hiss, and the beast is known to have an unearthly howl and gives off ungodly screams. It is said to prey on both wild and domesticated animals. Not only that, but the creature occasionally hunts for human flesh, stalking children and grown adults alike who are foolish enough to go out hiking, hunting, or fishing at night. Such people are seldom seen ever again.

The name "Wampus Cat" is derived from the old terms "cattywampus" or "catawampus", which are used to refer to things that aren't quite right. According to Cherokee legend, the Wampus Cat was once a gorgeous woman from a local Cherokee tribe. However, she didn't completely trust her husband, whom she feared was being unfaithful to her when he went out on long hunting trips with the other warriors of the tribe. Although she was more than aware that women were absolutely forbidden from having anything to do with hunting, she just had to know the truth. In order to disguise herself, she covered her beautiful body with the skin of a mountain lion (otherwise known as a cougar). She hurried off into the forest, keeping her distance while she followed the men. Once the men had settled down, she began to listen to their conversations. The men told tales of great hunts and spoke of sacred rites and powerful magic. It wasn't long, however, before the woman was discovered and she was brought before the village shaman. As punishment, the shaman cast a spell over her that bound the hide she was wearing to her body forever. The skin began to spread over her own flesh, bonding with and transforming her body. Her teeth lengthened into sharp fangs, the nails on her fingers and toes grew into sharpened talons, a tail sprouted from her rear end, and her face became more catlike in form. Her nose and lips elongated into a snout, and whiskers grew out of her face. Most notably, her body became covered with tawny fur that was brown on her back, but was white and softer on her belly and her breasts. The poor woman had become a hideous, catlike monster, which is known today as the Wampus Cat.

In another version of this story, the woman spies on the hunters not because she has insecurities about her husband being true to their love, but because she wants to learn the ways of magic that are taught to the men, which of course is forbidden to women. But in the end, the results are the same: the woman is transformed into the hideous Wampus Cat for her sacrilege. But according to yet another version of the story, the Wampus Cat is seen as a protector, not a predator. This tale speaks of the Ewah (or Ew'ah in some instances), the Spirit of Madness, a catlike demon that terrorized the Cherokee long ago. A young warrior by the name of Standing Bear took it upon himself to seek out and kill the creature. However, despite all of his strength and skill as a warrior, he was helpless when he came face to face with the Ewah. Once he had made eye contact with the creature, the demon's gaze drove him into the dark depths of insanity. When the brave's wife (a gorgeous woman named Running Deer) laid eyes upon her insane husband weeks later, she became consumed with anger, and she vowed revenge.

Running Deer went to the tribe's shamans, and told them of her desire for vengeance. They understood her pain, and gave her two things: a mask representing the spirit of the mountain lion, and a special black paste. The medicine men told her that the spirit of this particular mountain cat would be able to stand against the power of the Ewah, but only if she surprised the demon from behind. The black paste, provided by the tribe's warchiefs, would disguise her scent and hide her body. Now she was prepared for an encounter with the Spirit of Madness, and with that, she headed into the woods to seek her revenge.

Running Deer knew the forests as well as she knew her own village, but couldn't find any signs of the Ewah. She ate sweet wild berries over the course of many days to keep up her strength, and she kept hunting. Late one night, however, the woman heard a large animal down by the creek. Exercising extreme caution, Running Deer silently crept towards the creek. Suddenly, she heard a twig snap, and she instinctively spun around. She suddenly realized that her reaction could've easily gotten her killed, or worse. If it had been the Ewah, she would have been consumed by insanity right at that very moment! Instead, it was only a fox running across the trail. Breathing a quiet sigh of relief, Running Deer continued on her way towards the creek.

When Running Deer reached the edge of the creek, she discovered large tracks that didn't belong to any animal species that she knew of. A little further on, she discovered the remnants of the armor that her husband had been wearing. She followed the footprints further and further upstream until she finally came upon the cat-demon itself, drinking from the creek. Fortunately, the beast hadn't seen her yet. Silently, she stalked closer and closer, constantly keeping her eyes on the monster. When Running Deer couldn't get any closer, she pounced! The Ewah wheeled around in surprise. Upon seeing the woman's mask, the Ewah began to tear at its flesh as the mountain lion's spirit unleashed its magic on the demon. It lurched backwards into the pool from which it had been drinking, and then ran off into the darkness of the forest, never to be seen again. Running Deer beat a hasty retreat back to her village, never once bothering to look back.

When Running Deer finally returned home, she sang a quiet song that spoke of her grief for the loss of her husband, but also told of her joy over vanquishing the Spirit of Madness. Her people were overjoyed to hear the good news, while the shamans and the warchiefs bestowed upon her the titles of "Home-Protector" and "Spirit-Talker". To this day, people say that Running Deer's ghost still wanders the forests as the Wampus Cat, viewing it as her sacred duty to protect her tribe's lands and the people who inhabit them from all manner of evil spirits, demons, and the monsters which roam the darkness of the night.

When the settlers from Europe came overseas, they were exposed to the legend of the Wampus Cat, and even the settlers themselves had their own encounters with the beast. Over time, the Europeans developed their own version of the legend, albeit with Christian overtones that allowed the settlers to make more sense of the Native American monster. Long ago, there was an old woman who lived by herself in the hills of West Virginia. The people in the nearby town swore that she was a witch. Locals would complain of someone hexing and stealing their livestock. Everyone’s suspicions fell on the elderly woman, whom they believed had the ability to shapeshift into a large cat with golden eyes. They blamed her because she chose to live like a hermit. Despite this, the witch was supposedly so skilled at making these thefts that she was never actually caught. At least, that was their explanation.

The townspeople believed that the old woman would take the form of a domestic housecat and would dart into a house when she had the opportunity, where she would wait for nightfall and for her victims to fall asleep. At this point, she would cast a sleeping spell on the unsuspecting family, ensuring that they wouldn’t awaken while she went about her business. She would then slip out a window and steal an animal. The locals were growing tired of finding their animals missing or dead. And so they developed a plan to put an end to the witch’s depredations. The old woman’s next night of thievery would indeed be her last…

One night, the old witch snuck into a house and, once the family was asleep, she cast her spell of deep sleep on the family. Taking the form of a mountain lion, she leaped from a window and headed straight for the barn where the animals rested. Once she was there, she started reciting the incantations necessary to resume her human form. Suddenly, several of the townspeople jumped out of hiding, taking the witch completely by surprise! The old woman was unable to complete the spell, leaving her half woman and half mountain lion. She was thus cursed to remain a hideous monster, and would never again be able to call herself human. The cat-creature screamed in fright and proceeded to break down the barn doors, and she fled into the night. She was never seen by the townspeople again.

This story was often related to people by a hunter and mountain man, who called himself Jinx Johnston (sometimes given as Johnson), who lived on the Virginia-West Virginia border during the early 1900s. Johnston was a big man who stood over six feet in height and weighed at least two hundred pounds. In other words, he was big, very strong, and wasn’t easily frightened. Despite his tough-guy exterior, the man claimed to have had an encounter with the dreaded Wampus Cat himself. Johnston, like most people at the time, was a good Christian who feared God, and therefore was unlikely to lie or to fabricate a story. Johnston said that he loved to go hunting for raccoons (or ‘coons, as he called them) at night with his dogs, especially on a full moon. On one such night, Jinx learned just how unwise (and dangerous) it is to wander the Appalachian forests at night…

On that particular night, when the sky was lit by the rays of a full moon, Johnston was out hunting when his dogs suddenly ran ahead of him. He called for them, but they failed to return to his side. Johnston suddenly tripped over something, and his rifle flew out of his hands and into the bushes. And then an awful smell hit him, which he described as “smelling like a skunk and a wet dog.” But as he looked up from the ground, he saw it: a horrifying monster with sharp fangs that dripped saliva, and eerie eyes that glowed yellow in the darkness. Picking himself up very slowly, Johnston quickly glanced around for his rifle, but couldn’t find it in the dark. The creature let out a terrifying, ear-splitting howl, and Johnston nearly jumped out of his skin! He slowly backed away from the creature…

Deciding that it was either now or never, Johnston quickly turned around and ran for his life! He recalled that, even though he was running as fast as his legs could carry him, he could feel the thing’s stinking breath on the back of his neck, so close was the beast to catching him. But against all odds, Johnston finally made it home! He flew through the front door and slammed it shut behind him. He then bolted the door shut. Jinx quickly grabbed his Bible and began to read through the Scriptures aloud. Upon hearing the holy words, the monster began howling and screaming terribly. This continued throughout the night. When dawn finally broke over the hills, the creature let loose one more horrible scream and fled into the woods. By this time, Johnston was convinced that the thing he had encountered was truly the Wampus Cat. When he had finally worked up enough courage, Jinx went outside and found his dogs huddled up in the barn, terrified but otherwise unharmed. Needless to say, Johnston never again went ‘coon-hunting at night after his horrifying encounter with the Wampus Cat.

Although Jinx Johnston’s encounter with the Wampus Cat is definitely among the better-known cases, there are others as well. Although such sightings are less frequent, they have continued right up to the present day. One such report was posted anonymously on the Internet a few years ago by a camper who had been camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia with a few friends. While out gathering up firewood, he nearly jumped out of his skin when one of the men screamed. The eyewitness reported that he saw “a thing, definitely not a primate, no Bigfoot or anything, and not a bear.” He claimed that the creature was holding his friend with a single hand, and he described the beast as being “a walking cat, about five feet tall and thick.” When he shined his flashlight on the thing, the cat-creature hissed and ran away on two legs. The monster’s former victim had a small set of five puncture marks (presumably bite wounds) on one of his arms, and there were deep scratches on the victim’s head. The eyewitness says that the wounded man “maintained that the thing was trying to bite his throat.” In the end, the eyewitness himself said “I swear we were almost killed by a walking cat!

Although the above case is somewhat suspect because it was an anonymous report and there is no date or year given, it also stands out because of the brutality of the attack. Given that the Wampus Cat is known for its aggressive nature, a hoax seems somewhat unlikely. Witnesses to such things often choose to remain anonymous and omit their names, for fear of the ridicule that their stories may bring. But some witnesses are more willing to share their experiences, putting their reputations and their personal credibility on the line to tell their sometimes terrifying stories. This next encounter is one such story.

One night in northern Florida, during late winter or early spring in 2007, hunter Dean Morris was out with his dogs, apparently with intentions of doing some poaching. Suddenly, the dogs began to whine and ran off into the woods in a hurry, leaving their master all alone on the game trail. Morris then said that he had “smelled a nasty smell, like a wet dog that had come on a polecat.” Then, he heard a loud hiss behind him. Turning around, Morris found himself face to face with the Wampus Cat. The beast’s eyes glowed an eerie orange color in the darkness, while its fangs were exposed and dripped with saliva. Morris recalled that the monster looked “kinda like a really big Florida panther, but it walked on two legs like a man.” Needless to say, the would-be hunter had never seen anything like this before…

Morris was now frightened out of his mind, while his heart pounded in his chest. The monster sneered at him, causing him to feel nauseous and making his hair stand up. Without thinking, he dropped his gun. And then Morris bolted from the creature in a blind panic! It didn’t take the poacher long to realize that the cat-creature, whatever it may have been, was in hot pursuit of him. The hunter eventually came upon an abandoned pump house that didn’t have any windows. Morris burst through the door and barred it behind him.  As the man struggled to catch his breath, he realized that he could still hear the creature as it panted and paced outside of the door. At this point, Morris knew two things: that the beast outside was very hungry, and that he could very well die that night at the claws of a monster...

Throughout the night, the Wampus Cat would begin to “claw at the door and made it shake nearly off its hinges.” But the old door stood strong against the monster, and thus Morris spent a sleepless night, horrified that the old door would give way to the sheer strength of the monster. But eventually, after waiting for what seemed like forever, the first rays of dawn crept over the trees and through the cracks in the roof. With the advent of a new day, the Wampus Cat let out a final horrific scream of frustration and ran back into the woods. Morris could hear the creature as it retreated from the light of the day. His ordeal was finally over.

On a happier not, Morris was finally able to make it home, where he found his dogs on the front porch under a table. The animals were shaking, but were otherwise unhurt. But a couple of questions remain: why did the Wampus Cat attack this man? Was it because Morris was poaching? Or was it merely because the beast was hungry? One might believe that it was because Morris was poaching, as in some native traditions the Wampus Cat is seen as being a guardian. Was it only protecting the wilderness and the animals that live within it? Perhaps. But regardless, nobody knows the truth behind this creature’s motives.

A more recent encounter in Bristol, Virginia suggests that not every Wampus Cat encounter is violent, although these accounts are always frightening. A man by the name of Tim Smith and his wife were strolling down the street in downtown Abingdon one night when he spotted something strange. He distinctly saw two eyes glaring at him through some iron steps, but he could clearly see that they weren’t human. Instead, they were more like the piercing eyes of a big cat. Tim shouted at the beast, but he received the threatening “hiss of a cat” in reply. Then, whatever had been hiding under those steps got up and ran away, quickly fading into the darkness. Both Tim and his wife agreed that what they saw looked more or less like a big cat running on its back legs.

Was this a Wampus Cat? Quite possibly, as there is a shortage of big cats that are able to run or even walk bipedally for a sustained amount of time. The hiss of the creature also hints at the aggressive intentions of the beast. This was obviously intended as a warning. If the eyewitnesses had come any closer, there is no doubt that this encounter would have been much more violent.

During the 1950s, there was a sighting of what may or may not have been a Wampus Cat in Johnson City, Tennessee. It was originally recorded by author Charles Edwin Price in his book Demon in the Woods: Tall Tales and True from East Tennessee, as told by a man who calls himself H.W., the son of the man who originally saw the creature. H.W.’s father, who was a carpenter by trade, was walking down Spring Street late one night when he came across a huge cat, the biggest he had ever seen. The cat was walking down the other side of the street, as if it “had all the time in the world.” As he was walking behind the beast, it didn’t see him. According to the witness, “the cat was about the size of a large spaniel.” The man thought that it actually was a dog…at first. Then he noticed that the creature had stripes, “just like a big tabby.” Then, things started to get strange…

Every once in awhile, the cat stopped to sniff the side of the building it was walking next to. When it reached the Jones-Vance Pharmacy, the creature rose up on its hind legs, put its paws on the windowsill, and looked in through the window. This behavior stopped the man in his tracks. The man said that the cat “must have been at least four feet tall when it stood on its hind legs.” He tried to convince himself that he must be seeing a tiger, but there was one problem: there was no circus in town at the time. “Then came the really scary part,” H.W. said. “After the cat had seen all that it had wanted to see inside Jones-Vance, it turned and, still standing on its hind legs, continued walking down the street and disappeared around the corner.” The eyewitness said that “his blood ran cold.” Nobody can say for sure what the big cat had wanted that night, and H.W.’s father never found out. When he went to look around the corner of Spring and Main, the beast had disappeared.

One prevailing question about this encounter remains: was this truly a Wampus Cat? It is uncertain at this point. As has already been established, big cats are not bipedal by nature, and cannot walk on their back legs for extended periods of time. In addition, the creature displayed almost humanlike intelligence and curiosity when it peeked through the window (although cats by their very nature are both intelligent and curious animals). This begs the question: did H.W.’s father see the legendary Wampus Cat, or did he see an out-of-place big cat? The answer remains unknown.

Judging from these eyewitness accounts, it is clear that the Wampus Cat is a truly ferocious creature. Not only is the beast hostile towards both humans and livestock, but the Wampus Cat itself has the strength, speed, endurance, and the agility of a big cat, as well as having enhanced senses of sight, smell, and hearing. And in addition to having a great cat’s ability to hunt and kill, the monster has human or near-human intelligence. Additionally, the Wampus Cat is highly territorial and is easily provoked as well. At times, the beast is content to completely destroy an intruder’s campsite as a warning to leave immediately or face deadly consequences. However, the Wampus Cat will not hesitate to attack and kill those whom it deems to be a threat or sees as its potential dinner. It cannot be emphasized enough that the Wampus Cat is extremely vicious, and the creature will absolutely tear apart anything that the beast can get its claws on. The monster is more than capable of outrunning a person, so trying to outrun the creature for a long period is a deadly proposition. Finding a place to hide until dawn is one’s best bet for surviving such an encounter.

As vicious and powerful as the creature is, the Wampus Cat does have a couple of weaknesses. One seems to be an aversion to light, whether it is natural or artificial in origin. This explains why the Wampus Cat tends to flee from its potential prey with the coming of dawn. It is unknown if the light actually harms the creature, but being primarily a nocturnal predator, it is likely that the light is painful to the creature’s eyes (which are most likely adapted for seeing clearly in low-light conditions or even complete darkness). Thus, it is forced to run away when confronted with bright lights.

In some versions of the legend, the Wampus Cat is said to fear the Holy Bible and the recitation of the Holy Scriptures. This is especially evident in the case of Jinx Johnston’s encounter with the beast. Being a creature born of evil and dark magic, it makes sense that hearing the Holy Scriptures would cause the beast pain. Keep in mind, however, that this may not work, given that the settlers added this element in order to give the legend more of a Christian overtone. Still, it is most certainly worth a try.

As for actually killing the Wampus Cat, there are no legends or stories that explicitly tell how to get rid of this cat-creature. Therefore, it can be assumed within reason that the beast is as vulnerable to ordinary weapons (i.e. blades and firearms) as any ordinary animals are. Just for the sake of caution, one may always fall back on two tried-and-true methods: decapitation and burning. Decapitation is guaranteed to put an end to any supernatural creature’s depredations, while burning the beast’s remains is the ultimate insurance policy against any monster, as it will prevent any creature from somehow resurrecting itself and beginning its reign of terror anew. Of course, getting close enough to do the deed and avoid the Wampus Cat’s claws and teeth is far easier said than done. In the end, it may be wise to incapacitate the creature from a distance and then rush in and finish the job. It is always wise to use caution, no matter what.

So, what exactly is the Wampus Cat? Because the creature was once human and transformed into a catlike monster against its will, the Wampus Cat could be considered to be a type of werebeast, albeit one that is incapable of reassuming its human form. And since the Cherokee woman was wearing the hide of a mountain lion when the shaman cursed her, one might even consider the beast to be a type of Skinwalker. Ironically, the hide of the mountain lion is considered to be unclean by the Navajo (which are many miles away from the Appalachian Mountains, obviously), and the native Skinwalkers are known for using the hide of this particular animal to spread terror and death among the people. Is this a coincidence? When it comes to monsters, one can never be too sure and must avoid making assumptions when at all possible. On the other hand, if the creature is the Ewah returned from its defeat so long ago, then it could very well be some sort of demon of the forests. The werebeast scenario seems to be the more likely of these two possibilities. But whatever the case may be, it doesn’t make the Wampus Cat any less dangerous.

The legend of the Wampus Cat has persisted to this very day. During the 1920s, the men of southwestern Virginia and some parts of northwest Tennessee would use the old tales of the Wampus Cat to their own advantage in a particularly funny way. Whenever an especially good batch of moonshine had been distilled, a shotgun was fired as a signal for the guys to gather up and have a drink of the illegal booze. To avoid suspicion from the womenfolk, the men told their wives that the Wampus Cat had been seen in the area and that they needed to hunt it down and destroy the beast before it could kill or otherwise hurt anything. In any event, the lie seems to have worked. But one has to wonder how those men managed to keep a straight face when they told their wives this.

To many people who live in the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains, the Wampus Cat is a myth, nothing more than a scary story to keep children from wandering off alone into the woods at night. But to those who have had encounters with a frightening cat-creature in the dark forests, the beast is a horrifying reality. Nowadays, sightings of the Wampus Cat are few and far between. That doesn’t mean that the monster isn’t still out there, though. The Wampus Cat still haunts the forests, always hunting for its next victim in the darkness of the night…

Acknowledgements

I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank Rosemary Ellen Guiley, L.B. Taylor Jr. (who regretably passed away in February), and Scott Marlowe for all of their help and for granting me permission to use their books in my research. Without them, this would have been a very short entry indeed. Thank You, guys!! You are great friends, and I don’t know what I would do without you! Thank you all so much for helping me and answering my questions. I greatly appreciate it!

Sources

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Monsters of West Virginia: Mysterious Creatures in the Mountain State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. Copyright ©2012 by Visionary Living Inc.

Marlowe, Scott. The Cryptid Creatures of Florida. Great Britain: CFZ Press. Copyright ©2011 by CFZ Press.

Taylor Jr, L.B. Monsters of Virginia: Mysterious Creatures in the Old Dominion. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. Copyright ©2012 by Stackpole Books.

The Legend of the Wampus Cat

The Wampus Cat: Kills Animals, Steals Children, Smells Awful

Big Cat Tales: From the Appalachians to the Swamps

Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee: The Legend of the Wampus Cat

Catie Rhodes: The Wampus Cat

Monster of the Week: The Wampus Cat

Carnivora: The Wampus Cat

Wampus: Mystery Cat, Swamp Monster, or Booger Bigfoot?

Appalachian History: The Story of the Wampus Cat

What are Chupacabra and Wampus Cats?

Manic Expression's Monster Extravaganza - Wampus Cat

Monday, October 21, 2013

ATTENTION, AUTHORS!!!

ATTENTION TO ALL PARANORMAL AUTHORS!!!

If you are able to do so, please send me a copy of your new book! I don't really have much in the way of money, so buying books for myself is difficult at the moment. If you receive free copies of your newest books from your publisher to send out to friends, would you please be willing to send me one? I will review it here on my blog, share it on Facebook, and I will post a review on the book's Amazon page as well (if the book has an Amazon page). However, I only accept nonfiction books on the following subjects:
  • Monsters (Vampires, werewolves, malicious fairies, revenants, bogeymen, and other supernatural creatures)
  • Cryptozoology (Bigfoot, lake monsters, hairy hominids, and mysterious beasts)
  • Ghosts (hauntings, poltergeists, supernatural entities, and apparitions)
  • Demons (demonology, exorcism, demonic possession)
  • Strange Entities (the Slenderman and related entities, tulpas, astral entities, and strange beings)
If you do so, I shall be forever grateful and indebted to you. So, if you are able to do so and your publishers allow it, please send me a copy! If you need a sending address, please contact me at KPG1986@msn.com. Alternatively, you may reach me on Facebook at Kyle Germann. Thank You!!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rabisu

The people of ancient Babylonia believed that hordes of evil spirits are to be found everywhere, both within and outside of man's domain. Among these invisible entities are the Rabisu, "the ones that lie in wait". The demon's mere presence makes the hair of any man or woman stand on end. In other words, this spirit is so terrifying that it is literally indescribable. The only real representations that are known of the Rabisu are the images and the words of incantations and those inscribed on talismans and amulets used to ward them off.

According to Akkadian mythology, the Rabisu (meaning "the vagabond" or "the seizer") is a demon or an evil spirit with vampiric tendencies. It lurks about the entrances and thresholds of houses and hides in dark corners, where it awaits a chance to attack any passersby. Doors and bolts will not stop them, nor will closed windows, as the Rabisu will slither through such openings like a snake. In some instances, these demons are known to lurk upon rooftops, where they await an opportunity to pounce on and devour newborn babies. In the biblical Book of Genesis, God says to the murderer Cain, "Sin crouches at the door." This passage from the Holy Bible may indeed refer to the Rabisu as being a very real threat. The Lord God is essentially saying that evil is always present and lurking about, ready to attack and devour the unwary.

The Rabisu dwell in the Babylonian equivalent of Hell, living in the Desert of Anguish, where they ambush the souls of the recently dead as they travel down the Road of Bone towards the City of the Dead. It is ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal and her consort, the death god Nergal. In the ancient texts, one finds that the Hebrew word Sheol is also used to describe the Babylonian underworld many times, and thus it may be surmised that these two versions of Hell are very similar to one another. This place is known as Irkalla, which was once another name for the goddess Ereshkigal, until Nergal made his way down to the underworld and seduced her. To get there, the souls of the dead had to pass through seven different gateways, and each gateway had its own guardian. Each of these guardians was more fearsome and more formidable than the previous one.

In order to get through the gates to Irkalla, the deceased had to bribe the guardians with the articles of clothing and jewelry on their person. Once the souls had made their way through the gates, they were greeted by a world similar to the living one, only much more dreary in comparison. Irkalla is the ultimate destination of every living soul after they die, and not necessarily punishment for one's sins or wrongdoings during his or her lifetime. However, there was no reward for one's kindness or good deeds to be had in this place, either. On a more depressing note, the dead had nothing to eat or drink but dust. Furthermore, these spirits wouldn't live forever in this hell, but their bodies would continue to decay, just as they would while buried in the ground. But Irkalla wasn't necessarily an evil place. Ereshkigal and Nergal served as the guardians of the dead, protecting and watching over them.

It is said that an unbroken line of pure sea salt will ban the Rabisu from harming others, as salt represents incorruptible life and purity. Salt comes from the sea, and it is said that life itself emerged from the sea. In ancient times, inverted bowls with magical charms engraved into the surface were placed in the four corners of building foundations. This was done with the hopes that the bowls would trap any Rabisu nearby and prevent them from hurting or even killing passersby. Sometimes, such demons may be stopped by merely closing the door on them. However, the solution to stopping any evil force is rarely that simple. In ancient times, it is said that kings placed statues of powerful demons at their palace entrances not only to pay homage to these spirits, but to ask for protection against lesser spirits. Such statues functioned not only as decoration, but also as apotropaics (repelling evil), essentially scaring the lesser demons (like the Rabisu) away from such places. Crossing oneself before crossing a threshold is considered to be helpful, as will maintaining a certain degree of awareness at the entrance of any house. Some sources also claim that staying in company with good friends (i.e. the type that produces hearty laughter and pleasant noise) will drive the Rabisu away.

At one time, the Rabisu preyed upon humans for their vital energies, or lifeforce. They could then manipulate this energy, enabling them to move objects (essentially creating a poltergeist effect). This activity in turn created a greater amount of negative energy in their human victims: fear itself. Once the Rabisu had tasted the fear of their victims, they were addicted. Not only was the energy itself powerful, but it also made these demons so powerful that they were able to directly influence the minds of their victims as well. Then sorcerers started summoning these demonic spirits, enabling the Rabisu to take on a physical form. Unfortunately, there were (and still are) always practitioners of ancient black magic who were a little overzealous or became just a little bit too overconfident. The Rabisu had taught these men and women how to summon them, so that the demons could do their bidding. Those who grew too arrogant or too confident were slaughtered by the Rabisu, who now had a corporeal form with which to do such damage. The demons tore into their bodies with relish, but something happened: the Rabisu had tasted human blood. This changed the demons, and there was no going back to how things had been before.

Eventually, the sorcerers found a way to actually control the Rabisu. However, some of these demons managed to escape and found a way to maintain a corporeal state: through the possession of the corpses of the recently dead. According to ancient legend, this ungodly combination of rotting human flesh and evil demonic spirit became the first true Vampire. Furthermore, by killing humans and feeding on the blood, the Rabisu are able to create other vampires as well, thus perpetuating the existence of their own species. Keep in mind, however, that this is purely speculation, and that it cannot be proved or disproved to any degree.

But is this legend true? Is there any historical or physical evidence to lend credence to such a claim? The truth is that, while there may be some truth to the legend itself, there is little or no evidence to support such a theory. Nobody knows how the Vampire first truly came into being, and it is likely that no one ever will. People can only speculate. But regardless, it wasn't long before humans discovered that they could bargain with the Rabisu, offering up their blood and souls to these demons in exchange for worldly power, wealth, material possessions, and even supernatural powers. In other words, people made pacts with the Rabisu. People still make pacts with the Devil and lesser demons to this day, although it is far less common than it once was. But people who yearn for an easy way to power and glory soon find that, contrary to their own beliefs, they could not truly control the demons. The Rabisu do not feel compelled to answer for their actions to their so-called "master", and they answer to none but themselves.

Eventually, commoners began to search for the sorcerers who summoned such evil spirits. They would go to these dark magicians, seeking revenge against their enemies and those that had wronged them. For a price, the sorcerers would call upon the Rabisu and send them to exact the client's vengeance upon neighbors, ex-lovers, and those who are hated by the person in question. The wrath of these demons is both swift and utterly terrifying, as the Rabisu savor the taste of a victim's fear (which the demons also feed on), and rest assured that the victim’s death would be both slow and extremely painful. However, there is nothing to guarantee that the Rabisu won’t come after the one who asked the sorcerer to call them up in the first place. Toying with such forces is indeed the proverbial double-edged sword.

Nobody knows how numerous the Rabisu actually are, but if one takes into account that the most powerful demons are fallen angels who rebelled against God and the rest of the angelic host, one may assume that the numbers are very large indeed. The Scriptures say that a third of the angels in Heaven were cast down into the fiery pits of Hell, which would numerically translate into hundreds of thousands of these ferocious demons. Not all of these fallen angels became Rabisu though, nor were all of the demons of this species. In other words, not all demons are Rabisu. Each one is different in its own way. However, it does suggest that man has much to fear when the world comes to an end.

There can be no doubt that the Rabisu are extremely dangerous. They are vicious, animalistic demons, but they are both intelligent and cunning as well. These evil spirits feed on human blood, which gives them power, and may have led to the emergence of one of the most feared monsters in history and legend: the Vampire. It is unknown if these demons did indeed create the first bloodsucking undead, and one may only speculate as to the true causes of vampirism. Perhaps they truly are human corpses under demonic possession. But despite their overwhelming power, the Rabisu are limited in that they need a human to summon them into this world. The vampires that they create, on the other hand, are not so limited in their powers.

But regardless of such speculation, it is very possible that the Rabisu are still running rampant throughout the world, along with multitudes of other demons. Therefore, it pays to be continuously on guard against demonic attack, and it is through faith that mankind may be victorious against these evil spirits in the end.

Acknowledgements

I would like to take this opportunity to thank C. Silverthorn for graciously allowing me to use her own research to expand upon my own. If not for her generosity, this would have been a very short post indeed. Her website may be found at Silverthorn Press.

Sources

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. New York: Checkmark Books. Copyright ©2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.

Mack, Carol K. and Dinah. A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. New York: Arcade Publishing. Copyright ©1998, 2008, 2010, 2011 by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack.

The Rabisu ~ Vampiric Spirits

Rabisu (Wikipedia)

Teresa Wilde's Demon of the Week Blog: Rabisu

Irkalla (Wikipedia)

Rabisu (Monstropedia)

Accad and the Early Semites

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Imps

Imps are small demons that serve those who have sworn loyalty to Satan. Basically, they're the Devil's interns. Paracelsus, the Swiss medieval doctor and alchemist, is said to have kept one sealed within the crystal pommel of his sword, which was inscribed with the word zoth (whether this was the Imp's name or a word of power is based purely on speculation). However, the fact of the matter remains that imps are evil spirits, conjured from the bowels of Hell to wreak havoc on Satan's enemies. Imps are kept inside of a bottle or a ring, emerging at the master's command. In this regard, the Imp is very much like a witch's familiar, and can be either good or evil. These demons are usually invoked for spellcasting, healing, charms, and divination, but they are also called forth by mages during rituals involving ceremonial magic. Imps are controlled using incantations, words, and names of power.

Imps, from medieval times to the present day, are favored by witches, serving as familiars. Imps are able to take on the forms of various animals, birds, and insects in order to carry out the commands of a wizard, a witch, or an alchemist. Witch Hunters, during the time of the Inquisition, believed that witches rewarded the imps by suckling the creatures with their own blood, and often accused suspected witches of such behavior. The blood was usually sucked from the breasts (namely the nipples), fingers, warts, or any other odd protuberances on the skin.

It should be noted that, like most demons, an Imp may be kept at bay with an unbroken line of salt, or can possibly be destroyed with a cold-forged iron blade or silver. Oftentimes, shooting a witch's familiar with a silver bullet will also kill or at least wound the witch herself as well. And although imps are minor demons, they can still be dangerous. It is perhaps best not to trifle with these creatures to begin with. The conjurer may live to regret it.

Sources

Illes, Judika. Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright ©2009 by Judika Illes.

Masello, Robert. Fallen Angels…And Spirits of the Dark. Perigree Publishing. Copyright ©1994 by Robert Masello.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Kewanee Deerman

Illinois seems to be a haven for the weird and the monstrous. Thunderbirds, the Enfield Horror, and even the Sasquatch all call Illinois home. But since the 1960s, the people in the town of Kewanee in Henry County, Illinois have told stories of a bizarre hybrid monster that is known for haunting the woods around that area. He preys on the local population, terrifying the local teenagers who dare to seek out the local "Lover's Lane" for some privacy. This local urban legend is known as the Deerman.

The Deerman has been seen by local teenagers since at least the late 1950s in the densely-wooded area surrounding Johnson Sauk Trail State Park. According to legend, the Deerman is half human and half deer, having the antlered head and the partial torso of a buck deer, the arms of a man, and the legs and the lower body of a fully-grown man. The creature is bipedal and comes out at night, where it is said to hunt human prey. It takes a perverse delight in scaring the wits out of teenagers who have come to the park for some private time with their lovers. Legends say that a person who sees the Deerman three times will die, most likely at the monster’s hands (or perhaps hooves, in this case).

It was during the late ‘50s or the early 1960s that the Deerman was first reported in Kewanee by the now-former editor of the Star Courier, Jerry Moriarity. Once the word was out, the legend began to grow considerably. Graffiti began to appear around the town, saying “Fear Deerman”, “The Deerman Lives”, “Deerman Was Here” or something of a similar nature. The legend has been kept alive by the youth of the town and the efforts of Dave Clarke, who has written a number of articles about the creature over the last few years. The most recent article appeared in March 2011 when Clarke, along with help from Kevin Jones (a Kewanee native and a 1967 graduate of Kewanee High School), reported on a possible link between the Deerman and the ancient Celtic deity known as Cernunnos in the form of a ten-and-a-half inch bronze statue of the deity. Kevin says that he found the statue in, of all places, a catalog of Celtic merchandise and novelty items. The statue was listed as costing $62.00 (if that is of any significance at all).

Cernunnos, also known as the “Horned One”, is the Celtic deity of life, animals, fertility, monetary wealth, and the underworld. He was worshipped all over Gaul, and his cult eventually crossed over into Britain as well. He is depicted as having a stag’s antlers, and is sometimes seen carrying a bag of coins. According to the ancient mythology, Cernunnos is said to have been born on the Winter Solstice (December 21st, the longest day of the year), marries the goddess of the moon on Beltane (the Gaelic May Day festival, held somewhere between the spring equinox and the Summer Solstice, between April 30th and May 1st), and he finally dies on the Summer Solstice (June 21st, the shortest day of the year). In this way, along with the goddess of the moon (no name is given), he rules over life and death. His existence is a constant cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Could a manifestation of this ancient mythological figure be stalking the woods of Illinois? It is said that deer are the emissaries of Cernunnos, and that they will do whatever he asks them to do. Perhaps this is merely a servant of the deity, who has gone mad in this modern era?  In any case, it is clear that something once did or perhaps still is stalking through the woods of Illinois. Nobody knows for sure, but it is likely that the truth will never be known. Perhaps the creature still walks among the trees, hunting for its next meal. Whatever this strange hybrid monster might be, it is perhaps wisest to leave the creature alone.

Comments

I would like to point out that, as a Lutheran Christian, I believe that there is only one true God, and that I do not in any way mean to suggest that there may be other deities of any kind. I mean no offense to anyone by saying this, but I just wanted to make it clear that I pray and answer to only one God.

Sources

http://m.voices.yahoo.com/the-deerman-kewanee-8984819.html

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/comments/4561/

http://www.starcourier.com/article/20110302/NEWS/303029897?template=printart

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/c/cernunnos.html

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor

Since the early 1900s, something sinister has haunted the back roads of Dartmoor in Devonshire, England. Around 1910, an unknown force began to torment the locals on what is now B3212 Road, which can be found between the villages of Postbridge and Two Bridges. By coincidence (or perhaps not), Dartmoor is also the setting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1902 crime thriller, The Hound of the Baskervilles, starring the world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes. The local people know this spectral entity as the Hairy Hands.
 
According to local legends, this entity manifests itself as a pair of large, hairy disembodied hands. Sometimes, the Hands are described as having claws. According to the stories, the Hairy Hands appear out of thin air and clamp themselves down onto the steering wheel of the car or the handlebars of the motorcycle (whatever the victim happens to be driving at the time), badly frightening the victim. The Hands are described as having great strength, and many witnesses can attest to having struggled with the phantom appendages for control of the vehicle. Eventually, the struggling victims are violently forced off of the side of the road, resulting in serious injuries to many witnesses and causing at least one death. Curiously enough, in at least one case a victim described “an overwhelming smell of sulfur” remaining after the Hairy Hands disappeared. Could this be an indication of a demonic manifestation? Perhaps. But one thing is clear: the Hairy Hands hate people, and this entity particularly loathes those who are using vehicles of any kind as transportation. The only purpose of the Hairy Hands seems to be to wreak death and destruction on as many living people as it possibly can.
 
While the origins of the Hairy Hands remain murky and shrouded in legend, the history of the entity’s attacks has been documented surprisingly well. For a little over a decade, the attacks were actually, while malicious, very mild. But in 1921, tragedy struck on the moors.  In June, Dr. E.H. Helby, a medical officer at Dartmoor Prison, met an untimely death on the B3212 road when he lost control of his motorcycle and the adjoining sidecar, which held his two children. He shouted at them to jump to safety, and they obeyed. The good Doctor Helby himself was thrown out of his seat and died instantly, apparently of a broken neck. There seems to have been no mention of the Hairy Hands in this particular account, but that does not rule out the possibility that this was an attack by the Hairy Hands.
 
On August 26th of that same year, a young captain of the British Army also lost control of his motorcycle and was thrown into the verge (or shoulder) of the road, despite being described by the media as “a very experienced rider”. The young man survived, but just barely. Later, in response to media questioning, the captain made the following statement: “It was not my fault. Believe it or not, something drove me off the road. A pair of hairy hands closed over mine. I felt them as plainly as ever I felt anything in my life – large, muscular, hairy hands. I fought them for all I was worth, but they were too strong for me. They forced the machine into the turf at the edge of the road, and I knew no more till I came to myself, lying a few feet away on my face on the turf.”
 
In the summer of 1924, another attack took place. This time, the mother of the respected and well-known Devonshire folklorist Theo Brown found herself under a supernatural assault while vacationing in a caravan that was only half a mile from the dark road where pretty much all of the previous activity had taken place. Later on, long after the encounter had taken place, Brown went on to write up a very detailed account of her mother's nighttime encounter with the Hairy Hands. While out on that particular night, Brown said that her mother had sensed that there was “some power very seriously menacing” nearby, and knew that she had to act quickly. Looking through a small window, she saw something move. As she stared out the window, she realized that it was “the fingers and palm of a very large hand with many hairs on the joints and back of it”, pulling itself up towards the slightly-open window. Mrs. Brown knew immediately that the entity wanted to hurt and possibly even kill herself and her husband, who was asleep. She knew that this hand didn’t belong to anything human, and that “no blow or shot would have any power over it”. Almost immediately, Mrs. Brown made the Sign of the Cross and “prayed very much that we might be kept safe”. The hand almost instantly began to sink out of sight, and she knew that the danger had finally passed. Mrs. Brown said a prayer of thanks and fell into a deep sleep afterwards. Mrs. Brown and her husband stayed in that area for several weeks, and they never encountered the evil of the Hairy Hands again after that. Mrs. Brown admits, however, that she “did not feel happy in some places” near that particular spot, nor would she “have walked alone on the moor at night or on the Tor above our caravan.”
 
One tale of the Hairy Hands was related to writer Michael Williams, author of the book Supernatural Dartmoor, by a journalist by the name of Rufus Endle. Endle himself had encountered the Hairy Hands whilst driving near the village of Postbridge on an unknown date, where he says that “a pair of hands gripped the driving wheel and I had to fight for control”. In the end, Endle narrowly managed to avoid a crash. The Hairy Hands themselves mysteriously vanished. Understandably, Endle specifically asked that his story was not to be published until after his death.
 
Another incident was related to Theo Brown by Mrs. E. Battiscombe in 1961: “A young man undertook to run in to Princetown on his motorcycle to get something for his landlady. In about an hour he returned to Penlee, very white and shaken, and saying he had had a curious experience. He said he felt his hands gripped by two rough and hairy hands and every [effort] made to throw him off his machine.” No further details are recorded.
 
There is one notable tale of an attack by the Hairy Hands that is slightly confusing, in that there is no date or even a year given. So, it could be an older case, or it could be a more recent one. However, the story mentions that the Hairy Hands had been haunting the B3212 road for sixty years at this point, and the first reports of this entity started occurring in 1910. So, it may be reasonably assumed that this encounter took place in the early 1960s or 1970s. This account involves a twenty-eight-year-old woman by the name of Florence Warwick, a holiday-maker (someone who has taken a vacation or a holiday). At this point, Florence had never heard of Dartmoor’s Hairy Hands in Devonshire. That very night, however, Florence would discover everything that she never wanted to know on the dark B3212 road…
 
One night, Florence was driving down the B3212 road when her car began to sputter. She proceeded to pull over to the side of the road, where she pulled out a handbook to read. She had just gotten done with a sightseeing tour, and now she was having car trouble! Florence recalled that, “As I was reading in the failing light, a cold feeling suddenly came over me.” She had the distinctive feeling that she was being watched. Florence looked up and saw “a pair of huge, hairy hands pressed against the windscreen." “I tried to scream,” she said, “but couldn’t. I was frozen with fear.” Florence watched as the disembodied hands (which, as noted earlier, were said to have haunted the B3212 road for sixty years at this point) began to slowly crawl across the windshield. She recalled the experience clearly, saying “It was horrible, they were just inches away,” she had said. “After what seemed like a lifetime, I heard myself cry out and the hands seemed to vanish.” Florence was so frightened at this point that she hardly noticed that her car started immediately when she turned her key in the ignition. She proceeded to hit the accelerator and drove the full twenty miles back to Torbay, where she was staying with some friends. By the time she had arrived, Florence had started to believe that she had imagined the entire thing. But then, once she had arrived home, her friends told her the story of the Hairy Hands. Florence was shocked, and more than just a little shaken. She now knew that she had just encountered the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor.
 
Several decades later, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, it would seem that the Hairy Hands are still pursuing their evil agenda. In an encounter told to author Nick Redfern, as related in his book Wildman! The Monstrous and Mysterious Saga of the 'British Bigfoot' (CFZ Press, 2012), Michael Anthony was traveling back home after a long day of working. Michael works for the largest supplier of photocopy machines in Britain and therefore has to travel frequently in order to sell his wares. Late at night, on January 16th, 2008, Michael was driving along on the B3212 road at around 11pm, on his way home to the city of Bristol. That day, he had been visiting with a customer in the village of Postbridge, who wanted to rent several photocopiers for his new business endeavor. Deals were made, contracts were signed, and Michael was finally headed home for some well-deserved rest. Little did the salesman know that he would have an encounter with supernatural forces on his way home that he would never forget…
 
Michael had just driven out of Postbridge when his skin began to feel cold and clammy, apparently for no reason. Furthermore, he began to feel a kind of dread and began to grow inexplicably fearful. He was at loss for a logical explanation, which only made matters worse. After being away from his wife and his two daughters for several days, the leisurely drive home usually cheered him up. Tonight, fate had terrifyingly different plans for him, though. A couple of minutes later, the atmosphere within the confines of his car began to feel oppressive, and even evil. His hands went numb, and Michael added “I actually thought I was having a stroke.” The reality of the situation turned out to be far worse, however.
 
As had occurred so many times mere decades earlier, a huge pair of hairy hands, “or paws” (as he described them), clamped themselves over his own as Michael stared in horror. Suddenly, the disembodied hands attempted to force his car off of the road and onto the dark moors. The monstrous hands tried this three times, but Michael managed to fight off the attempts each time. Perhaps tiring of its victim’s struggles, the hands suddenly disappeared in a flash of light (which illuminated the inside of the car), leaving behind an overpowering odor of sulfur. Understandably, Michael sped up and didn’t stop until he reached a service station on the M5 motorway. Michael had just been attacked by the Hairy Hands. Fortunately, the entity was prevented from claiming yet another victim on that dark night.
 
With that ends the accounts of encounters with the Hairy Hands. However, while the eyewitness stories may have come to an end, the legend itself does not. Strangely enough, most versions of the legends do not give the origins of the Hairy Hands, which is usually not the case with most ghost stories. A few local versions of the story blame the manifestations on an unnamed man who died on the road due to an accident. Again, no specific details of when this happened, who the man actually was, or how exactly he died are given. So, what are the Hairy Hands? And where did they come from? One story, which may or may not have some validity to it, gives one possible (if rather unsatisfying) answer to this part of the mystery.
 
In the early 1800s, there were a number of powder mills around Dartmoor. These mills were used to manufacture gunpowder for use in the local quarries. It was a very busy business, having around one hundred workers (and their families) at a given time. Still, it was extremely dangerous work, as even the slightest spark could set off a huge explosion that could cause serious injuries and even death. Thus, the workers wore rope-soled shoes while working, as the steel-studded worker’s boots, which were common at the time, would emit sparks whenever the man wearing them came into contact with any rocks. This would prove to be the downfall of one man, and would go on to cause a terrifying haunting.
 
Among the workers at this particular powder mill was the local blacksmith, a big, burly man with strong, hairy arms and hands. He was a friendly and hard-working man who used his considerable skills in metalwork to fix and maintain the machinery around the mill. He was both respected and well-liked by everyone. One summer’s evening, after having had a few tankards of ale with some friends, he decided to stop down at the mill. The problem was that the blacksmith was still wearing his steel-studded boots! He took one misstep, and the resulting explosion was heard for miles around. When the dust had settled, all that was found of the blacksmith was his large, hairy hands, with the rest of the body presumably consumed by the explosion. To this day, it is said, those hands still roam the moors at night, most likely searching for its lost body.
 
While this story could be true, as most ghost stories have a historical background that lends credence to the haunting, what is the real story behind the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor? Theories abound as to what the entity’s true nature might be. Some people believe that it could be a modern-day manifestation of goblins or something related to the Will O’the Wisp, an eerie, spectral flame or luminescence that delights in leading travelers astray and into dangerous situations. Others have suggested that it may be a present-day Gremlin, a goblinlike creature that is known for sabotaging airplanes and electronic equipment. Gremlins were often blamed for mechanical failures in aircraft during World War II. Wreaking havoc with motorists and drivers in cars and on motorcycles wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Still, the aggressive nature of this entity suggests that there is a much more malevolent force at work here than ghouls and goblins out for a good time on an isolated stretch of road…
 
Other, more intriguing theories have been suggested as to what the true identity of the Hairy Hands really is. Authors and cryptozoologists Jonathan Downes and Nick Redfern have suggested that this ghostly entity may in fact be a modern-day manifestation of a shapeshifting evil that has been spoken of for centuries, a deadly monster known as the Kelpie. Legends from the Highlands of Scotland say that the Kelpie (sometimes known as the water horse or each-uisge) is a supernatural beast that dwells within the lochs and rivers of Scotland, and is said to have the ability to shapeshift at will. Most commonly, the Kelpie takes the form of a horse, tempting weary travelers to climb onto its back. Those who do so find themselves stuck to the creature’s back, unable to escape. The Kelpie then dashes headlong into the water, where it proceeds to drown and devour its prey. According to some legends, only the liver is left untouched. Additionally, the Kelpie is able to take the form of a gorgeous young woman or a large, hair-covered man that hides in the vegetation along the waterways. It then attacks and slaughters the unwary who happen to pass by. Perhaps the Kelpie has adapted somewhat to the modern world, and now actively seeks to cause car accidents in order to prey on the drivers by assuming the form of a pair of large, hairy hands that suddenly appear and strives to force cars and motorcycles off of the road, thus causing grievous injuries and even death. People in such a state would be easy prey for the Kelpie at this point. Still, there are other theories to consider.
 
Based on the eyewitness accounts and their descriptions of feeling a cold sensation and, in one case, the overwhelming stink of sulfur, another theory that could be presented is that the Hairy Hands are a demonic manifestation. This also explains, as in Theo Brown’s 1924 encounter, why making the Sign of the Cross and praying for deliverance from evil was able to scare the entity away. And finally, as most people believe, the Hairy Hands could be a malevolent ghost. The feeling of dread and feeling unnaturally cold before the Hairy Hands appear would point the investigation in the direction of a haunting. Sudden or tragic death are both known to create ghosts, and stories of a man dying in an accident on the road or of a friendly blacksmith who died in a tragic explosion and leaving only his hands remaining both fit the bill for a vengeful, restless spirit.
 
Regardless of which theory (or theories) a person chooses to believe, it is apparent that the Hairy Hands are a supernatural manifestation of relentless evil. Once the stories appeared in the national newspaper, it prompted several investigations into the B3212 road. Eventually, it was determined that the sheer number of accidents was most likely due to the camber (or arches) of the road’s surface, which was dangerously high in some places. This was immediately fixed. There were even some skeptics who questioned the stories and the validity of the eyewitnesses. These skeptics stated that most of the accidents were cause by people who were unfamiliar with the area driving too fast down the narrow roads, causing them to misjudge the road and lose control of their vehicles. But what about the Hairy Hands themselves? Can the skeptics be so quick as to dismiss the legends and the many encounters that have taken place on the road over the years? One would be inclined to say that too much has happened for the tales to be so easily dismissed. Most recently, a speed limit of forty miles per hour was imposed upon the B3212 road to protect wandering livestock. But will this stop the Hairy Hands? It might just be too early to say.
 
Without a doubt, the legend of the Hairy Hands is ingrained into the folklore and culture of Dartmoor. As the 2008 encounter of Michael Anthony has proven, the legend of Dartmoor’s Hairy Hands persists to this day, and the inhabitants of Dartmoor still greatly fear the sudden appearance of the sinister Hairy Hands.
 
Acknowledgements
 
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my good friend Nick Redfern for graciously allowing me to use some of his books for my research. Otherwise, this would have been a very short entry, indeed. He has greatly helped me through messaging and answering my questions (not to mention having had patience with me as well!), and I owe him a debt. Thank You, Nick!!!

Nick's blog may be found at Nick Redfern's World of Whatever...

Sources
 
Brown, Theo. Devon Ghosts. Jarrod Bay Publishing. Copyright ©1982 by Theo Brown.

Redfern, Nick. Wildman! The Monstrous and Mysterious Saga of the 'British Bigfoot'. North Devon, England: CFZ Press, 2012.
 
Steiger, Brad. Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places (Second Edition). Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press®, 2013.

Legendary Dartmoor: The Hairy Hands

The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor

Ghosts UK: Hairy Hands

Mysterious Britain & Ireland: The Hairy Hands

Moretonhampstead: The Hairy Hands

Dartmoor Activities: Hairy Hands

The Legend of the Hairy Hands

Two Blondes Walking: The Legend of the Hairy Hands

Paranormal Investigations: Devon's Most Haunted Stretch of Road

Mysterious Universe: The Hairy Hands Horror

Saturday, June 29, 2013

MAPINGUARI: LEGENDARY MAN-EATING CRYPTID OF THE AMAZON RAINFOREST: A Guest Entry by Randy Merrill

INTRODUCTION


It was not so long ago that tales of an awful creature that stalked the Argentine pampas were commonly told. It was difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone who had actually seen it, but many knew of its fearsome power. It was called the Yemisch, and it was a predator that preferred to disembowel its prey. One moment a person or some cattle would be crossing the stream and the next the water would be a blood-red boil. All that was usually left of the victims were greasy entrails floating their way downstream.

That such a creature existed was confirmed by a discovery made in January 1895 near Last Hope Inlet in Argentina. Near the entrance of a cave a group of men found a large piece of skin, about five feet long and three feet wide, covered with coarse hair and pockmarked with tough ossicles. This must have been the skin of the Yemisch. The jerky-like bits were divvied up among the discoverers and fame of their find spread.

Sooner or later word of the find reached the eminent South American paleontologist Florention Ameghino, and he quickly recognized the type of animal the skin belonged to. In 1898 the Argentine naturalist identified the skin as belonging to a giant ground sloth. That this was true was backed up by a story he knew of a man named Ramon Lista who said he had seen a giant pangolin trundling about the pampas.

It could not have been a pangolin, Ameghino knew, but was instead the Yemisch of the native people and the giant ground sloth of scientists. In his report Ameghino wrote:

"Lately, several little ossicles have been brought to me from Southern Patagonia, and I have been asked to what animal they could belong. What was my surprise on seeing in my hand these ossicles in a fresh state, and, notwithstanding that, absolutely similar to the fossil dermal ossicles of the genus Mylodon, except only that they are of smaller size, varying from nine to thirteen or fourteen millimeters across. I have carefully studied these little bones from every point of view without being able to discern any essential difference from those found in a fossil state. These ossicles were taken from a skin, which was unfortunately incomplete, and without any trace of the extremities. The skin, which was found on the surface of the ground, and showed signs of being exposed for several months to the action of the air, is in part discolored. It has a thickness of about two centimeters, and is so tough that it is necessary to employ an axe or a saw in order to cut it. The thickest part of the skin is filled by the little ossicles referred to, pressed one against the other, presenting on the inner surface of the skin an arrangement similar to the pavement of a street. The exterior surface shows a continuous epidermis, not scaly, covered with coarse hair, hard and stiff, having a length of four to five centimeters and a reddish tint turning toward gray."

The skin indeed belongs to the pangolin which Lista saw living. This unfortunate traveler lost his life, like CreVaux, in his attempt to explore the Pilcomayo, and until the present time he is the only civilized person who has seen the mysterious edentate of Southern Patagonia alive; and to attach his name appropriately to the discovery, I call this surviving representative of the family Mylodontidae Neomylodon listai.

Now that there are certain proofs of its existence, we hope that the hunt for it will not be delayed, and that before long we may be able to present to the scientific world a detailed description of this last representative of a group which has of old played a preponderating part in the terrestrial faunas which have succeeded each other on South American soil.

Ameghino's hypothesis was confirmed when his brother Carlos, the field man of the duo, collected some more descriptions of the Yemisch from native people. It was indeed a large, amphibious mammal that sounded just like a giant ground sloth. They even had some bits of skin like those collected from Last Hope Inlet which they attributed to the animal. Clearly giant sloths were still roaming South America, and they were very dangerous creatures indeed.

Newspapers in Argentina went crazy over the story. Not only had the continent's most eminent paleontologist confirmed the existence of living giant sloths but new sightings funneled their way into the press. The megatherium fever even stretched to England where some naturalists, like E. Ray Lankester, agreed that giant ground sloths may still survive in South America. It is not surprising then that some enterprising souls set out to catch the beast, but all ultimately returned empty handed. It seemed that those who went out looking for the Neomylodon were the least likely to find it.
Not everyone was convinced that giant ground sloths survived into the modern day, however, and some of Florentino's South American colleagues thought that his enthusiasm had superseded good judgment. To check the validity of Ameghino's claim the naturalist Rodolfo Hauthal went back to the Lost Hope Inlet cave to reexamine the evidence. His conslusions were just as startling as Ameghino's.

When Hauthal investigated the cave he found stone tools, hay, charcoal, plant fibers, sloth bones, and a pile of sloth dung several feet high. What could this all mean? Clearly humans and sloths had both used the cave, but Hauthal went a step further to suggest that they had been in the cave at the same time. Humans had held sloths in captivity and may have even domesticated them, Hauthal argued, and the Lost Hope Inlet cave had once been a giant sloth stable. For this reason the kind of extinct sloth represented by the scraps of skin and bones was renamed Grypotherium domesticum, the domestic ground sloth.

(It is also noteworthy that Hauthal and colleagues re-named the animal said to terrify the native people. Based upon the evidence from folklore they renamed it Lemisch listai, a move that irritated some other scientists. In a review of the papers, for instance, the paleontologist J.B. Hatcher objected to 1) using a "barbarous" native word as a genus name, and 2) erecting a new genus and species on folklore.)

It seems that other authorities did not quite know what to make of Hauthal's hypothesis. It was often repeated in reviews and announcements but rarely did it receive further comment (at least in English-language publications). The author of To the River Plate and Back, William Jacob Holland, agreed but it seems that many others did not know how to handle the idea of domesticated giant sloths. Even the paleontologist A.S. Woodward, while skeptical, wanted to know more about this potential relationship between humans and ancient sloths.

In the end, though, the tale of the Yemisch seemed to unravel. J.B. Hatcher stated that he had never heard of such a creature during his time in South America and others suggested that the mythological creature was better understood as an amalgam of a giant river otter and a jaguar. It was entirely possible that the Ameghino brothers inflated what little they had heard from the native people and the newspapers ran with it once it hit the academic presses.

We should not be too hasty in saying that the Ameghinos created a story where there was none, however. Recall that Thomas Jefferson, on first sight of seeing the huge claws of the giant sloth Megalonyx, thought they belonged to an enormous tiger-like cat. If the native people of Argentina did hold beliefs about the Yemisch it is entirely possible that their beliefs were reinforced by finding the plentiful remains of giant sloths. This one sounds like a case for a geomythologist.

(Cryptozoologist's Note: To read portions of the original account of Ramone Lista's discovery of the Mylodon Cave and its contents, follow this link: http/blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=214751458&blogId=510186744)

THE MAPINGUARI

The Mapinguari (also called mapi, inashi or sloth) is actually believed to be a species of Mylodon, a medium-sized ground sloth, weighing about 500 pounds, and standing up to 9 feet when on its hind legs. They had very large claws that curled under their feet and faced backwards when they walked on all fours. They reportedly ate leaves and may have even been raised by local inhabitants at one time as a source of food, similar to today’s cattle. They were similar in many ways to the modern, though much smaller, three toed sloth and two toed sloth. The Mapinguari is generally thought to have died out around ten thousand years ago (some believe closer to 4,000 years ago) but survived as late as the 1500’s and may even still be thriving in the remote jungles of South America. According to fossil records, these sandy red-haired vegetarians once roamed North and South America, the Caribbean and Antarctica.

The existence of the Mapinguari went mainstream in 1994 when biologist David Oren told The New York Times that the Amazonians were reporting sightings of this ground sloth; however he had no physical evidence to support his theory and as a result the scientific community still considers the Mapinguari, Mylodon, to be extinct.

THE LEGEND: MAPINGUARI VS. MAPINGUARY

Some are of the impression that mapinguary is simply another spelling of mapinguari, and that both are names for the same creature; however, this does not seem to be the case. Although there appears to be some overlapping in the lore associated with both creatures, and both are firmly embedded in the local folklore of the Amazon Rainforest of South America, legends of mapinguary describe a hairy biped with characteristics that would tend to classify this beast as, at the very least, a South American version of Bigfoot, and at the other extreme, a supernatural being, which scares away researchers who work in the field of cryptozoology.

According to local native legends, the Mapinguari (or Mapinguary) is a prehistoric cryptid that reportedly lived (and is still reported to live) in the Amazon rain forests of South America, particularly in Brazil and Patagonia. It was consistently described as resembling either an ape or giant ground-dwelling sloth, having red hair, long arms, powerful claws that could tear apart palm trees and rip out the tongues of cattle, a sloping back, a crocodile-like hide that arrows and bullets could not penetrate, a second mouth on its belly and backwards feet (said to make a bottle-shaped footprint). It was said to stand up to 6 feet tall when it assumed a bear-like stance on its hind legs, which it did when it smelled a nearby human. It also gave off a putrid, disorienting stench, emitted a frightening shriek, and could move slowly and stealthily through the forest, often surprising unsuspecting locals. Although it was believed to be carnivorous, by all accounts it did not eat humans. Finally, it was said to sometimes speak and to enjoy punishing hunters who violated religious holidays. Certain lore even seemed to link it with the South American werewolf. The more werewolf-like version of the creature is called the "wolf's cape" and is thought to have originally been human.

Although most mainstream scientists dismiss the Mapinguari as myth, some cryptozoologists believe that the Mapinguari is a close relative of Bigfoot, while others, among them ornithologist David Oren, theorize that it may be a surviving giant ground sloth similar to the Mylodon, generally thought to have gone extinct about ten thousand years ago. It would not be entirely unprecedented to discover a living specimen of a species thought to be extinct for such a long period. In 1972, Dr. Ralph Wetzel discovered living specimens of the Chacoan Peccary, a close relative of pigs and boars, while on an expedition to the Gran Chaco. Prior to his discovery, the only example of this type of peccary had come from fossil remains, and they were generally considered to have died out about ten thousand years ago.

In addition to the legend of the Mapinguari (or also overlapping it) is an even more interesting legend which has developed over the years. It is one that proposes the existence of a lion-sized sloth that still has some arboreal traits. But this beast, called Xolchixe (pronounced shoal-CHICKS-ay) or the Tiger Sloth seems to move much faster than its sloth contemporaries. What makes it even more bizarre is the claim by local natives that it is carnivorous—that is, it eats meat. But if the sloth does exist, how could it become a carnivore?

It has recently come to light that many paleontologists believe prehistoric sloths were not strictly vegetarians, but also scavenged meat, even stealing meaty kills from feral predators. A scene like this was even played out in the Discovery Channels Walking with Prehistoric Beasts program. Could such a creature still exist?

I suggest the possibility that these legends actually encompass three (3) separate entities and that they may be sorted out based on their reported characterisitics, which I shall attempt to do here, recognizing that certain characteristics may be shared by all three. In my opinion, there are enough characteristics that are unique to each of these entities, to validate separating them into at least two separate species of cryptids, or possibly three if Xolchixe constitutes a species separate from Mapinguari. These would be as follows:

Mapinguari
A giant ground sloth, possibly a surviving Mylodon.

Mapinguary
A South American species of Bigfoot.

Xolchixe (or the Tiger Sloth)
A partially arboreal, carnivorous, lion-size sloth.

All other characteristics, which cannot logically be attributed to any species in the natural world, and are related to other preposterous beings of Brazilian mythology, I have relegated to the supernatural and local native superstitions. These include:

A second mouth on its belly—The only possibility I can think of, which would explain this characteristic as one which might occur in the natural world, would be if the creature has a pouch for carrying its young, and that this pouch has been mistaken for a second mouth by frightened natives. However, as far as we know, such pouches only occur in marsupials (kangaroos, opposums, koala's, etc.), and all living species of sloths are placental mammals, not marsupials. Was the giant ground sloth an exception? There is currently no evidence to support such a supposition.

Backward feet—No known species of animal has "backward feet". First, let's consider the obvious: If one did, they would not be backward, now would they?" Regardless, backward feet would be the ultimate hinderance to balance and locomotion, and would defeat the entire physiological function of the structure of the foot and toes. The only possible explanation that comes to mind is if this observation is based on tracks of the giant sloth, which is known to have had long claws on it's feet that were folded under the feet when it walked.

Capable of speaking—This characteristic obviously stretches the limits of credulity for any creature in the natural world, with the exception of man, certain birds that learn to mimic the sounds around them, and the occasional, dubious report of a talking Bigfoot.

Punishes hunters who violate religious holidays—I think this one speaks for itself. The Mapinguari is also believed to protect the rainforests, and punishes those who overharvest and take more than they need.

Was once human—As previously mentioned, certain lore even seems to link Mapinguary with the South American werewolf. The more werewolf-like version of the Mapinguary is called the "wolf's cape" and is thought to have originally been human.

Having differentiated between what I regard as three separate and distinctive species of cryptids, I will devote the balance of this article to the Mapinguari and the Xolchixe, which I will hereafter refer to as the Tiger Sloth.

Legend has it that arrows and bullets could not penetrate the Mapinguari’s caiman-like hide. A paleontologist’s examination of preserved ancient ground sloth skin samples in the late 19th century revealed hard dermal ossicles, small pieces of bone also found in the skin of dinosaurs and caimans, that protected them from predators. It is possible that such skin would have been impervious to arrows and bullets.

MEGATHERLINAE AND CRYPTOZOOLOGY

Charlie Jacoby went as principal expert to South America for Giants of Patagonia, filmed in 2005, which aired first on the History Channel in the USA in April 2006. Part of the History Channel series Digging for the Truth, presented by Josh Bernstein and directed by Priya Ramasubban, the programme Giants of Patagonia showed viewers that the giant sloth may still exist. Portions of the following are from a script by Mr. Jacoby for a TV documentary proposal about the giant sloth.

I grew up with an image like this in my head. It is one of the giant ground sloths, the mylodon, a 9ft hamster-like creature which once roamed across Patagonia in South America. Although almost certainly extinct 10,000 years ago, rumours persist that the mylodon still lives in pockets of forest. These rumours were what drove my great grandfather Hesketh Prichard to lead an expedition to find it in 1900 and 1901. Thanks to the Daily Express, I spent a month in Patagonia looking for the giant sloth and following his footsteps.

By the early years of the last century, Prichard had established himself as a first-class explorer, naturalist, cricketer, journalist and, of course, big-game shot. He counted men such as Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic, the author Arthur Conan-Doyle and the African explorer Frederick Courtenay Selous among his friends. Conan-Doyle based part of his book The Lost World on Prichard's adventures in Patagonia.

We are going to use the words of another of Conan-Doyle's creations to track down the giant sloth's habitat—its ecological niche—the "lost world" where it still may live. Sherlock Holmes said: "When you have eliminated all that is possible, whatever remains no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

The first rumours that a giant ground sloth species may still exist reached Europe in the 16th century. Sailors brought home stories of "water tigers" backed up by fossil bones.

This creature is a "su" or "succurath". Reported as early as 1558, it lived on the banks of Patagonian rivers. It had the head of a lion with—according to reports—"something human about it", a short beard from ear to ear, and a tail armed with sharp bristles which provided shelter for its young. The Su was a hunter but not for meat alone. It killed animals for their skins and warmed itself in the cold climate.

In 1789, Dr. Bartolome de Muñoz found Megatherium bones near what is now Buenos Aires. He gave them to the King of Spain, prompting the King to order a complete specimen of the animal alive or dead. Charles Darwin, during his famous voyage of the Beagle, found the bones of a mylodon among his "nine great quadrupeds" on the beach at Punta Alta in northern Patagonia.

The rumours gained more credence in the late 19th century. The future governor of Santa Cruz province in southern Patagonia, Ramón Lista, was riding in Santa Cruz in the late 1880s when a shaggy red-haired beast resembling what he called a "giant pangolin" trotted across his path. He had time to loose off several rounds from his rifle before it disappeared into the scrub, and was amazed to note that they bounced off the animal's hide. Lista only gave a verbal account of this story, to an animal collector called Carlos Ameghino, who told his brother Florentino Ameghino, who was one of Argentina's most notable naturalists and later the vice-director and secretary of the best natural history museum in South America, La Plata, which opened in 1888 outside Buenos Aires.

There is now a giant fiberglass mylodon at Last Hope Sound in Chilean Patagonia, where a German sheep farmer, Herman Eberhard found a near-perfect mylodon skin in 1895. The skin was covered in bony nodules, which may explain what deflected Lista's bullets. Eberhard believed it was the skin of an unknown sea mammal. He hung it on a tree where it remained until 1897. Expeditions to Eberhardt's cave and other caves soon recovered additional pieces of hide.

Another great Argentinean naturalist and explorer Perito Moreno found it, boxed it up and sent it back to La Plata museum, of which he was both founder and director.

Something fishy was afoot, however. The skin's arrival coincided with a story by Professor Florentino Ameghino, a paleontologist in Argentina, that a native Indian had knocked down a mylodon with bolas—rounded stones that are covered in leather and tied to leather thongs, which they used with deadly accuracy—and that he, Ameghino, had the skin.

Professor Ameghino had heard Lista's story and began to wonder if the strange beast was a giant sloth that had somehow survived till the present day. He had already collected legends from natives in the Patagonia region about hunting such a large creature in ancient times. The animal in the stories was nocturnal, and slept during the day in burrows it dug with its large claws. The natives also found it difficult to get their arrows to penetrate the animal's skin. Ameghino claimed that he was so sure this was the creature Lista had seen, that he had decided to name it after him: Neomylodon listai, or "Lista's new Mylodon."

Despite being colleagues, Ameghino and Moreno were enemies. They had strong personalities and different points of view about natural history—and Ameghino was notoriously arrogant. Their enmity started when they worked together at the La Plata Museum, where Moreno was director. Perhaps, the museum was too small for two celebrities like them. It is likely that Ameghino intended to pinch Moreno's mylodon skin and say that it was the Indian's. In the end, he didn't steal it and went quiet on his claims.

Moreno brought the skin to the British Museum in London for safekeeping. It is now held by London's Natural History Museum. In a lecture to the Royal Society on 17th January 1899, he said the animal was long extinct. Dr. Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of palaeontology, said, however, that the skin was so fresh that, were it not for Dr. Moreno, he would have "no hesitation in pronouncing the animal recently killed." The skin story caused a sensation. Giant sloth fever gripped the British public.

Arthur Pearson, who had launched the Daily Express newspaper in 1897, at once despatched his star journalist, Hesketh Prichard, to Patagonia to find it. The words of the director of the Natural History Museum, Professor Ray Lankester, went ringing in his ears: "It is quite possible—I don't want to say more than that—that … [the Mylodon] still exists in some of the mountainous regions of Patagonia."

Head for the Moreno Glacier and you are 150 miles north of the Mylodon Cave and back in Argentina. There's another 800 miles to go before you reach the northern end of Patagonia. It's a big place.

The Moreno Glacier is one of the biggest in the world, which moves slowly in the vast Lake Argentino, the fourth biggest lake in South America. This was the setting for the climax of Prichard's year-long journey through the region.

With the backing of Perito Moreno, Prichard pushed further than any western explorer into the Andes. He found and followed a river he named Katarina after his mother, Kate. He found a new lake, Lake Pearson. He also discovered a new subspecies of puma, named Pearson's puma. All these stories, plus accounts of his adventures and of the dying Tehuelche Indian tribe he published in a book, Through the Heart of Patagonia.

Despite local Indian legends of a mountain ghoul called lemisch or yemische, which fitted descriptions of the mylodon, he found no trace of any giant sloth. He wrote: "Although the legends of the Indians were manifestly to a large extent the result of imaginative exaggeration, yet I hoped to find a substratum of fact below these fancies. After thorough examination, however, I am obliged to say that I found none. The Indians not only never enter the Cordillera but avoid the very neighbourhood of the mountains. The rumours of the Iemisch and the stories concerning it, which, in print, had assumed a fairly definite form, I found nebulous in the extreme when investigated on the spot. Finally, after much investigation, I came to the conclusion that the Indian legends in all probability refer to some large species of otter."

All of which brings us to the present day. With the development of the Carbon-14 dating method in the twentieth century, the age of the Mylodon remains in Eberhardt's cave was apparently settled: the skin was estimated to be roughly 11,000 to 5,000 years old, give or take 400 years. Conditions in the caves may have preserved the skin, making it look fresh to the eye and fooling Moreno. Despite the fact that Hesketh Prichard was vindicated by the carbon-dating, there have been a number of sightings of creatures which fit the mylodon's description, and in locations ranging from the rainforest of the Amazon basin to the southern Andean beech forests of Patagonia.

(Cryptozoologist's Note: Carbon-14 dating is not as accurate as it is often made out to be. First, plants discriminate against carbon dioxide containing Carbon-14. That is, they take up less than would be expected and so they test older than they really are. Furthermore, different types of plants discriminate differently. This also has to be corrected for. Second, the ratio of Carbon-14/Carbon-12 in the atmosphere has not been constant—for example, it was higher before the industrial era when the massive burning of fossil fuels released a lot of carbon dioxide that was depleted in Carbon-14. This would make things which died at that time appear older in terms of carbon dating. Then there was a rise in 14CO2 with the advent of atmospheric testing of atomic bombs in the 1950s. This would make things carbon-dated from that time appear younger than their true age.

Measurement of Carbon-14 in historically dated objects (e.g., seeds in the graves of historically dated tombs) enables the level of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere at that time to be estimated, and so partial calibration of the "clock" is possible. Accordingly, carbon dating carefully applied to items from historical times can be useful. However, even with such historical calibration, archaeologists do not regard Carbon-14 dates as absolute because of frequent anomalies. They rely more on dating methods that link into historical records. Outside the range of recorded history, calibration of the Carbon-14 "clock" is not possible. Finally, it is unfortunate but true that on occasion, mainstream evolutionary scientists have manipulated Cabon-14 dating results to fit evolutionary theory rather than allow the evidence to potentially discredit their theory.)

The common features of mylodon's habitat are forest and grassland; a forest big enough to support a breeding population of these creatures; an area of land that is sufficiently cut off from the world of humans that people rarely see mylodons; and, most importantly, an area walled in on all sides, be it by mountains, lakes, glaciers, sheer cliffs like the plateau in Conan-Doyle's book The Lost World or the walls of a volcanic crater. We're looking for a (prehistoric) refuge, which stops the animals escaping and in which the animal survived the great extinction. Hesketh Prichard would approve of this combination of science and adventure.

The forest theory is well supported. Since 1994, ornithologist and Amazon biodiversity expert David Oren has left his teaching post at the Emilio Goeldi Museum in Belem six times to look for the Mylodon in the rainforests of Brazil. He canoes up and down the Tápajos and Jamauchím rivers uttering soul-wrenching cries in order to provoke a response from mylodons. Stories of Mylodon sightings by local people are what drive him.

In 1975, mine worker Mário Pereira de Souza claims he came face to face with a giant sloth on the Jamauchím. He heard a scream; he looked and saw the creature coming towards him on its hind legs. The animal seemed unsteady and emitted a terrible stench.

On another occasion, Manuel Vitorino Pinheiro Dos Santos was out hunting near the Tápajos when he heard it, he says. Again, there was the scream. It came from a tangle of vines 50 metres away. He dropped the game he had shot and sprinted for the river. He heard two more screams, which he says shook the forest, as the animal moved away.

David Oren has had some success. He has videotaped clawed trees, taped minute-long screams he believes are the sloth's call, and made casts of some big tracks which had backwards-facing claws.

Now we are going to work on the Mylodon habitat photo-fit. Let's pretend that we have a map of areas in South America fulfilling all the criteria we have gathered so far. These are the forest "islands", cut off from the rest of the continent and far away from people. We can remove a lot of these areas by looking at what Mylodon ate—or eats.

We need to become "forensic scatologists". Feces discovered in the Mylodon Cave in Chile reveal that it ate X and X, so we can cut out areas which don't have those plants.

On our new map, we can cut out more areas by working out the minimum size that a healthy breeding population of Mylodon would need. For this, we must look at fossil evidence, at similar browsing forest-dwellers and talk to relevant experts to find out whether these beasts moved around the forest in herds.

Now we're getting somewhere. We need to know whether the climate in the area where we know Mylodon to have been fits the climate in the areas on our map. We also need to check that there are sufficient levels of sloth-essential minerals in the soil, such as cobalt and copper.

This process of layering intelligence on to maps is used by modern armies to predict their enemies' advances. It is called "Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield" or IPB.

We will be left with a handful of locations across the continent. We can knock out a few more by interviewing any zoologists who have worked in any of them and who can make a case for there being no Mylodons. Finally, we need to take cameras to the best of the remaining areas.

I want to be able to stand in a South American forest and say: "This is perfect sloth country: it's X square miles, hemmed in on all sides; it has these trees, these minerals in the soil, this climate, and it's relatively untouched by man."

Our methods of searching these areas can range from the Oren technique of calling the Mylodon through to infra-red imaging. This will be the most thorough attempt to find Mylodon yet made.

This Project: Not for the Superstitious

Many of those connected with the hunt for the giant sloth have died before their time. Bruce Chatwin, whose seminal book about exile In Patagonia was based on the giant sloth story, died aged 48 in 1989. Ramon Lista was assassinated in the Chacos forest in 1897 by two guides who were leading him to the Pilcomayo River. Nobody knows why.

Three leading members of the Smithsonian Institute in the 19th century, who formed a science and drinking society called the Megatherium Club, died in their thirties and forties. The club's leader, William Stimpson, died of tuberculosis aged 40. Robert Kennicott, died aged 30 of heart failure—possibly suicide—on a collecting trip to Alaska. Fielding B. Meek died young of TB. And Hesketh Prichard perished of blood poisoning in 1922 aged 45.

These tragedies are not discouraging the work of the Max Planck Institute in Munich. Scientists there have identified DNA from Megatherium feces found in a cave in Nevada, USA. The next generation of giant sloths could be roaming the forests of southern Germany. But to a boy who was brought up on stories of his great grandfather's exploits in Patagonia, where's the fun in that?

DESCRIPTION OF THE MAPINGUARI

The Mapinguari is described as capable of rising up on two legs. When standing like this it is said to reach up to six feet in height. Therefore, cryptozoologists who are investigating this creature usually think that if it exists, it is really a giant sloth. It's possible that this form of the Mapinguari is the source of the Bolivian jucucu reports. Even its footprints resemble those of the giant sloth.

The Stats – (Where Applicable)
• Classification: Presumed Extinct / Other
• Size: 6 to 9 feet tall
• Weight: 500-2000 pounds
• Diet: Vegetation (Omnivore?)
• Location: South America
• Movement: 4-legged walking (Occasionally 2-legged for short distances)
• Environment: Tropical Forest

BEHAVIOR

The Mapinguari is normally reported in South America. It is said to be largely nocturnal and to have a strange, frightful cry and a foul smell. It has extremely powerful claws that can shred palm trees. Its hair is usually said to be red in colour.

When surprised or threatened, it is believed to rise up on its hind legs, emit its fierce cry and display its claws. It will also become aggressive if its territory is invaded. The Mapinguari has enormous strength and would be, without a doubt, capable of tearing a fully-grown man into pieces.

Most accounts state the Mapinguari is a carnivore, although not necessarily a human-eater. When it senses humans, it stands up on its rear legs and is as tall as seven feet. The nocturnal animal has a lumbering gait like Grizzly bears.
  • It’s said to have a flat snout and, normally, it moves clumsily on four legs.
  • These are large animals of a particular region or time.
  • Generally, they are defined as animals that weigh over 1102 pounds to over a ton.
According to legend, it is slow but ferocious and very dangerous due to its ability to move without noise in between the thick vegetation, its only weakness being that of avoiding water bodies (which limits its movements in a region where so many rivers, brooklets and lagoons exist, especially during the rainy season). However, other accounts describe it as being as much at home in the water as on land.

MAPINGUARI: MYTH OR CRYPTID?

Ornithologist David C. Oren, head of the Zoology Division of Emile Goeldi Museum in Belém, Brazil, spent eight years gathering accounts of the creature. His findings suggest that the Mapinguari may be a descendent of Megatherium, a species believed to be extinct, and he speculated it might be a surviving Mylodon.

Oren is the researcher who is most strongly associated with the theory that Mapinguary legends represent sightings of living giant sloths who survived the Ice Age extinctions, but there are many other scientists and adventurers who have looked into the problem. Charles Fort was perhaps the first to suggest the survival of giant ground sloths in South America, in reference to legends about the "blonde beast" of Patagonia.

Megatheriinae were a group of elephant-sized ground sloths that evollutionists believe lived from 2 million to 8,000 years ago (some scientists think as recently as 4,000 to 1,000 years ago). Its smaller ground sloth-type relatives were the Mylodon. Giant ground sloths such as the mylodon used to exist but are believed by mainstream scientists to be long extinct. If one still exists then it could be an example of the "Lazarus effect" or more properly the "Lazarus taxon".

The Lazarus Taxon

In paleontology, a Lazarus taxon (plural taxa) is a taxon that disappears from one or more periods of the fossil record, only to appear again later. The term refers to an account in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus taxa are observational artifacts that appear to occur either because of (local) extinction, later resupplied, or as a sampling artifact. If the extinction is conclusively found to be total (global or worldwide) and the supplanting species is not a lookalike (an "Elvis" species), the observational artifact is overcome. The fossil record is inherently imperfect (only a very small fraction of organisms become fossilized) and contains gaps not necessarily caused by extinction, particularly when the number of individuals in a taxon becomes very low. If these gaps are filled by new fossil discoveries, a taxon will no longer be classified as a Lazarus taxon.

(Cryptozoologist's Note: In evolutionary paleontology, an "Elvis taxon" (plural Elvis taxa) is a taxon which has been misidentified as having re-emerged in the fossil record after a period of presumed extinction, but is not actually a descendant of the original taxon, instead having developed a similar morphology through convergent evolution. This implies the extinction of the original taxon is real, and the two taxa are polyphyletic. By contrast, a Lazarus taxon is one which actually is a descendant of the original taxon, and highlights missing fossil records, which may be filled later. A "Zombie taxon" is a type of Lazarus taxon sample that was mobile in the time between its original death and its subsequent discovery in a site of younger classification. The term was coined by D. H. Erwin and M. L. Droser in a 1993 paper to distinguish descendant from non-descendant taxa: "Rather than continue the biblical tradition favored by Jablonski (for Lazarus taxa), we prefer a more topical approach and suggest that such taxa should be known as Elvis taxa, in recognition of the many Elvis impersonators who have appeared since the death of The King." (Erwin, D.H. and Droser, M.L., 1993. Elvis taxa. Palaios, v.8, p.623-624.)

The terms "Lazarus effect" or "Lazarus species" have also found some acceptance in neontology — the study of extant organisms, as contrasted with paleontology — as an organism that is rediscovered alive after having been widely considered extinct for years (a recurring IUCN Red List species for example). Examples include the Wollemi pine, the Jerdon's courser, the ivory-billed woodpecker (disputed), the Mahogany Glider and the Takahe, a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. It should be noted, however, that being "extinct" strongly relates to the sampling intensity and the whims of the IUCN, and that such a period of apparent extinction is too short for species to be designated as "Lazarus taxa" (in its paleontological meaning).

Lazarus taxa that reappear in nature after being known only as old enough fossils can be seen as an informal subcategory of the journalist's "living fossils", because a taxon cannot become globally extinct and reappear. If the original taxon went globally extinct, the new taxon must be an "Elvis" taxon. On the other hand, all species "correctly considered living fossils" (with all conditions fulfilled, living and found through a considerable part of the geologic timescale) cannot be Lazarus taxa.

Another suggestion is that the Mapinguari, if it exists, might not be a sloth but some unusual form of anteater.

THE EVIDENCE

Despite repeated efforts, until recently, searches for verifiable physical evidence remained futile. The only evidence for the existence of the Mapinguari was anecdotal. Theories of the identity of the Mapinguari suggested that it was a giant primate, a giant ground sloth, or possibly even an unusual giant anteater, perhaps Myrmecophaga tridactyla.

Ornithologist David C. Oren collected evidence to prove the Mapinguari existed, but most of what he collected turned out to be anteater scat, agouti fur, inconclusive tracks and tree claw marks.Other evidence had been found suggesting the Giant Sloth's survival into modern times. There is reason to believe Indians hunted them. Fresh skin, dung and footprints had been discovered in a cave in the Patagonian region of Argentina in 1895. Tales of the native Indians revealed that when they tried hunting these creatures with arrows, the arrows bounced off their skin. It was discovered that Megatherium had a layer of strong, bony armor in its skin, something also seen in the skins found in the cave. There had also been sightings of giant ground sloths in the area. One of the witnesses was Ramon Lista, the governor of Argentina.

Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence, even eyewitness accounts, do not constitute incontrovertible evidence of the existence of the Mapinguari. So far, there had been no solid physical evidence and no documented sightings of a living Mapinguari...until now!

Aknowledgements

I would like to personally thank my good friend Randy Merrill for allowing me to borrow his own research on the fascinating Mapinguary and repost it on my blog. His website may be found at The Cryptozoologist. Thank You, Randy!!

Sources

MAPINGUARI: LEGENDARY MAN-EATING CRYPTID OF THE AMAZON RAINFOREST - PART 1

MAPINGUARI: LEGENDARY MAN-EATING CRYPTID OF THE AMAZON RAINFOREST - PART 2