The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Do those that believe in Cryptids really suffer from psychological disorders?

Stephen Turnbull

People are often ridiculed for reporting that they have seen some mysterious creature, especially if it is referred to as a lake monster or sea serpent. Often this fear of ridicule prevents it from being reporting in the first place. Some scientists, as well as many others, are quick to try to explain it as a misidentification of a known animal species or perhaps some inanimate object. Granted, many sightings turn out to be just that, but some remain a mystery.

In some cases however, the reports end up being authentic! Many animals have been so shrouded in myths and legends that it was hard to believe that they existed. A classic example is that of the mythical Pongo, a shape-shifting creature that preyed upon villagers in Africa. Eventually this creature was identified as a gorilla! Scientist also dismissed the possibility that an animal striped like a zebra and looked like a giraffe could exist, despite the evidence of skins. Eventually a living okapi was photographed!

What is it that draws people to the belief in cryptids and the desire to push through all the ridicule and pursue them, to separate fact from fiction? And what is it about the witnesses that convince them what they have seen is real, and the fact that they often provide a very detailed description?

Researchers from California State University tried to answer questions such as these. Sharps et al. (2006) stated that certain individuals still have ancient hunting/gathering cognitive aspects in them which make them more susceptible to belief in such things as cryptids. Their findings indicated that those that believed in cryptids (and other paranormal activity for that matter) have a tendency toward ADHD, depression, and dissociation. Sharps et al. also state that people with these tendencies may interpret sensory information in cryptozoological terms and report seeing Bigfoot rather than a bear in certain situations. .

It is possible that some purposely go into areas where there are a high numbers of sightings of a creature (i.e. Bigfoot, Nessie) and hope to see it. In this case shadows, other animals, and inanimate objects such as a huge wave may take the shape of this creature. This may be a case of, “If you believe in it, you will see it?” As Sharps et al. reported that the information an individual has prior to an event has an impact on the memory and interpretation of that event. This relates not only to interpreting Bigfoot instead of a bear, but it is also a problem with crime scene witnesses.

Sharps et al. (2006) did add a disclaimer, likely to ward off nasty comments from cryptozoologists, that they would not expect all those that have cryptozoological beliefs to have these tendencies. Some may simply arrive at these beliefs through other aspects such as personal experiences or environmental influences.

I have only touched on the study but there are few things that should be addressed. First, their sample size had many more women than men. Other studies indicate women are not as skeptical as men therefore this may have skewed their results. Other studies indicate race and religion also played an important part in the belief of cryptids (those that have strong religious beliefs tend not to believe in cryptids; see the Baylor University study (2005) at the link below.

The authors also included a caveat that it is possible for unknown animals to still exist and give the examples of the okapi and coelacanth. However, the study by Sharps et al. and the Baylor University study, had questions that only referenced creatures such as Bigfoot and Nessie, not animals such as the okapi. Had they included animals such as the okapi and coelacanth, perhaps their results might have been different.

The bottom line, it is definitely not as clear-cut as Sharps et al. (2006) indicate. Certainly, some people that believe in Bigfoot and Nessie (and other creatures) may have these tendencies. What about those researchers that push through the myths and legends and discover new species? Do they suffer from these disorders? Possibly, but my question is, “Do the skeptics also suffer from similar disorders?”

Suggested Readings:

Sharps, M., J. Matthews and J. Sten. 2006. The Journal of Psychology. 140(6) 579-590
Cognition and Belief in Paranormal Phenomena: Gestalt/Feature Intensive Processing Theory and Tendencies Toward ADHD, Depression, and Dissociation.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Prairie Sea Monsters

Once upon a time, the large amount of land that includes Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and parts of Ontario, North Dakota and Minnesota was home to a massive sea. In the sea lived monsters with heads like horses and bodies as long as twelve meters. These monsters moved slowly but could manoeuvre through small spaces and surprise the fish that would become dinner. Sound like a fairy tale? It’s all true.

During the Pleistocene Epoch (1,600,000 to 10,000 years ago) during the last two phases of the Wisconsin Glacial Age, when the Laurentide Ice Sheet blocked the drainage of the northern Great Plains into what is today Hudson Bay, most of the area outlined above was under water; under the great sea called Lake Aggazi. In this huge lake were Plesiosaurs and other large prehistoric marine animals. Eventually, this massive sea drained east through Lake Superior, north through Hudson’s Bay and south through the Red and Minnesota Rivers. What was left, besides fertile farmland, is still being discovered.

Several important lakes are remnants of Lake Aggazi. Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, Lake of the Woods, and dozens of smaller lakes remain and the plains and river systems are all borne of this huge lake. Toward the end of the glacial era, the lake drained very rapidly, perhaps even in a period as short as a year. There is evidence of human cultures in the area as well, and many of their oral histories are still passed down through local aboriginals.

Most of these ancient lakes have something in common besides origin. All of the remaining lakes of any significant size and depth have associated reports of lake monsters dating back to these early native histories and still coming in every modern year. Many of the names of the lakes are based on the creatures seen in the lake. Turtle Lake (Saskatchewan) is so named for the “Giant Turtle” believed to live there. If such a creature exists, it would likely be a plesiosaur, as fossils of the large beast are found in the area. The food supply in these lakes remains much the same—34 of Manitoba’s 86 known fish species were evident in Lake Aggazi. If these reported sightings are actually plesiosaurs, the logic supports that theory. The lakes are big enough, deep enough, and stocked well enough to support the animals that were there ten thousand years ago.

Manipogo, Winnipogo, Woodsie, and the “monsters” of Turtle Lake, Big Trout Lake, Reindeer Lake, Dore Lake and dozens of others in the Canadian prairies are still regularly reported. Even at the relatively small Turtle Lake northwest of Saskatoon, there is at least one sighting every year and hundreds of years of native lore about the creature that will eat people in the lake. Could these hundreds of witnesses be imagining these things? It’s not likely, at least not all of them. Could it be a large sturgeon? Perhaps, but sturgeon, although they can grow to 5 meters in some cases and appear thin and scale-less, lack the ability to move in the way the reported mystery monsters move. Allopleurons and other Giant Sea Turtles were also in Agazzi, but none are thought to remain in the area.

Could the Canadian Prairie Lake Monsters be plesiosaurs or their modern cousins? It seems to be a logical answer, or at least as logical as the theory of giant sturgeon.

Further reading:,2933,341389,00.html

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Exploring the Wendigo as a Cryptid

Many of the legends of Canada come from aboriginal culture. All things considered, Canada is a fairly young country with vast regions still unexplored, let alone inhabited. Canada’s whole population (about 34.2 million people) is roughly the same as the single city of Mumbai, India. First Nations , Metis, and Inuit history is a vital part of Canada as a whole, and crucial to the exploration of cryptozoology in the “Great White North”.

Aboriginals are deeply spiritual people. They believe that everything is intertwined; that you cannot have body without spirit, you cannot have water without air, etc. There is a fundamental connectedness. All things in life are connected to Mother Earth. This is a special consideration when dealing with Canadian cryptids—finding not only the physical connection to mother earth but also understanding the spiritual connected and meaning in each cryptid. It is therefore necessary to investigate the Wendigo as both a biological being and a spirit. This defies the logic of groups who see cryptids as purely zoological entities. The counter argument is that humans are not purely zoological entities and it is grandiose to assume that there are no other thinking/emoting entities besides humans. To study cryptids without thought to their psychology or special abilities would be a mistake.

Enter the Wendigo. Wendigos are ancient beings based in Algonquian native lore, primarily in Cree and Ojibwa cultures. Physical description does vary somewhat. Generally these creatures are feared; they are said to be greedy, cannibalistic, and never satisfied. Like the Vampire and Werewolf legends, “regular” people could be changed into a Wendigo by contact in some way. Generally the person would begin to eat flesh. A psychosis has been identified that is considered “culture bound”—persons who grow up with this legend believe they are turning into Wendigos after a period of starvation. These days starvation rarely occurs, but if the person believes he is starving and starts to consider eating human flesh, it may be accompanied by the thought that they are turning into a Wendigo. This psychosis is not just neurological—the victims actually crave flesh as one would crave a glass of milk or a meal in general.

Likewise, Wendigo cannot be investigated as just an unusual animal. The entomology of the word itself probably relates to the Proto-Algonquian word for “owl”. This is hard to associate, as the Wendigo is seen as a skeletal figure of a man. Over time and with the introduction of Western cultures, the physical description of a Wendigo has changed somewhat. While always depicted as tall and boney, more recent descriptions have added a foul odour and glowing red eyes. This makes the Wendigo sound more like a zombie than the original flesh-eating humanlike monster.
From a Cryptid point of view, the Wendigo is hominid at the very least, as he walks upright and is humanoid as it appears to have human shape and function. US Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman refers to a Wendigo as a an “Eastern Bigfoot” but there are distinct differences—first, Wendigo is not known to be covered in hair or fir, and second, there is certainly no evidence that Bigfoot eats people. Generally, a Wendigo is thought to be a human body that has been “stepped into” or possessed by a Windego spirit after considering cannibalism as a means to end extreme hunger. Note that like Vampires, the Wendigo only has to bite the victim, not actually devour any flresh. Technically, this would make the entity a human. As such, the only way to rid the person of Wendigo tendencies would be to kill them and burn the body. Once bitten and “changed” the body begins to morph into skeletal, grey skinned and elongated shape setting the subject apart from “normal” humans.

A Wendigo allegedly made a number of appearances near a town called Rosesu in Northern Minnesota from the late 1800's through the 1920's. Each time that it was reported, an unexpected death followed. In Southern Ontario in 1997 a suspected Wendigo was sighted by an American trucker near St Catherines.

Wendigo reports generally happen in winter, usually at night. These creatures are considered malevolent and predatory. Aside from the ability to turn others into Wendigos, they do not appear to have any supernatural power or shape shifting capability. These qualities seem to direct us to research them as cryptids-and to do so well protected!

Photo Credit: Skeleton Man (Movie,2004)

Further Reading:
Brightman, Robert A. (1988). "The Windigo in the Material World". Ethnohistory 35 (4): 337–379.