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.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

It's a Bird, It's a Plane...

This weekend (September 14, 2012) is the 10th anniversary of the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  I am pleased to be part of the speaker lineup again this year, and if you are able I highly recommend attending this free fest.  Mothman’s fame may be in West Virginia, but Canada certainly is part of this creature’s world itinerary.  Sightings occur worldwide, and have for a very long time.

If you are not familiar with this cryptid, here are some basics.  First and foremost, know that not everyone considers Mothman a cryptid.  Some believe he is thoroughly paranormal, some believe he is alien, and skeptics have both pooh-poohed the sightings and attributed them to barn owls or sand hill cranes.  Most witness descriptions place him at 4 to 6 feet and human shaped, having a shiny dark grey or black skin, batlike wings, and large glowing red eyes.  He is able to fly without flapping his wings, take off and land vertically, and has sharp fingernails.

In 2002, the motion picture “The Mothman Prophecies” starring Richard Gere was released by Lakeshore Entertainment and Director Mark Pellington.  Most people have, unfortunately, gotten their information from this film.  Based on the book by John Keel, the movie describes some of the event of the mid 1960’s in Point Pleasant and the Mothman involvement.  While an entertaining film, it is so factually incorrect and veers so far from the original book, that witnesses and locals in the Point Pleasant area tend to avoid any association with it.

Any serious researcher should purchase and study the books by Jeff Wamsley on the subject.  While not a witness himself, he has collected newspaper accounts and police reports and real evidence from the period. Additionally, Wamsley runs the local “Mothman Museum” and is instrumental in the planning and execution of the yearly festival.  His books are called Mothman: Behind the Red Eyes, and Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend (written with Donnie Sergent, Jr.) and are available at Amazon.

Mothman reports have come in from many countries.  Viet Nam, Mexico, and The Ukraine have notable sighting reports.  Native American cave art depicts drawings of creatures quite similar to Mothman as well.  He  has also been sighted just before other major world disasters including  explosion, the Tsunamis in India and Japan, Afghanistan and Iraq, and in New York on September the 11th.

In Canada, there are but a few sightings thought to be attributable to Mothman.  One witness reports that in August of 2007 in Ontario, Canada, heard a loud rustling sound in some tall grass. When the creature emerged it is described as having large, bright red eyes. The creature was about seven feet tall, black shiny skin that looked like a bat's, long arms that reached almost to the ground, and a wingspan of about eight feet wide. It let out a loud blood-curdling screech and the witnesses ran.  A police report was filed but never taken seriously. Later the same night the witness heard a scratching sound on the window and went to see what it was and it was the tall, dark creature peering in the living room window. Two weeks after the occurrence, the house had burned down.

Similar stories trickle in from across Canada.  Sightings have occurred from Dawson City, Yukon, to CFB Gagetown near Frederickton, New Brunswick.  As a West Virginia native and Mothman witness myself, I ask that if you (yourself, not via heresay) have seen this creature, please contact me.  I have research ongoing.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Here We Go Loup Garou

There once was a man in Quebec named Jean Dubroise.  A roaring sound came from his property late at night when good people should be sleeping. His neighbors avoided him and his home.  One night a neighbor named Alphonse decided that he would dare the strange noises and take a short-cut across Dubroise's land to get home. He heard a loud roaring noise from overhead and threw himself flat on the ground when he saw a huge canoe flying over him. The canoe landed next to Dubroise house and the Devil jumped out with a whip in his hand.

Alphonse hid and watched as the Devil shouted, "Come out of the canoe!" and snapped the whip at the occupants. Twenty creatures with the shaggy coats of wolves but the upright walk of men leapt from the canoe.

The werewolves went to work doing Dubroise’s farm chores while Dubroise came out to talk and drink with the Devil. Alphonse knew then that Dubroise had sold his lazy soul to the Devil in exchange for the werewolves' work on his farm.  At last, the Devil and the loup garou jumped back into the flying canoe and flew away.

As soon as it was safe, Alphonse hurried to the local priest to report what he had seen.  The priest advised the men to sprinkle the holy water over Dubroise's house, his outbuildings, and all of his land. Then the men hid themselves in the bushes to keep watch. That night when the Devil leapt out of the canoe, as soon as his foot touched the holy water sprinkled onto the ground, the Devil started leaping about and shrieking in pain and rage. The werewolves were frightened and fled from the canoe and the men of the parish collected the werewolves and brought them to the priest. The priest pricked each one with a knife to turn a loup garou back into a man. Jean Dubroise was never seen again.

This old Quebec folk tale is often used  in relation to UFO stories, sometimes religion, and for today’s purpose, the Quebec werewolves, known as “Loup Garou”.  The French name for a werewolf,  loup-garou (pronounced /lugaˈru/), is from the Latin noun lupus meaning wolf and Old French garoul meaning "werewolf". A werewolf, also known as a lycanthrope, is folkloric human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf-like creature, either purposely or after being placed under a curse or lycanthropic affliction via a bite or scratch from a werewolf. This transformation is often associated with the appearance of the full moon. In addition to the natural characteristics inherent to both wolves and humans, werewolves are often attributed strength and speed far beyond those of wolves or men. The werewolf is generally held as a European character, although its lore spread through the world in later times. Shape-shifters, similar to werewolves, are common in tales from all over the world, most notably amongst the Native Americans, though most of them involve animal forms other than wolves.

There is also a mental illness called lycanthropy in which a patient believes he or she is, or has transformed into, an animal and behaves accordingly. This is sometimes referred to as clinical lycanthropy to distinguish it from its use in legends. Despite its origin as a term for man-wolf transformations only, lycanthropy is used in this sense for animals of any type. This broader meaning is often used in modern fictional references, such as in roleplaying game culture.

Werewolves were said in European folklore to bear discerning physical traits even in their human form. These included the meeting of both eyebrows at the bridge of the nose, curved fingernails, low-set ears and a swinging stride. It was once thought that to identify a werewolf in its human form, cut the flesh of the accused and fur would be seen within the wound. A Russian superstition recalls a werewolf can be recognised by bristles under the tongue. The appearance of a werewolf in its animal form varies from culture to culture, though it is most commonly portrayed as being indistinguishable from ordinary wolves save for the fact that it has no tail, is often larger, walks upright, and retains human eyes and voice. According to some Swedish accounts, the werewolf could be distinguished from a regular wolf by the fact that it would run on three legs, stretching the fourth one backwards to look like a tail.  After returning to their human forms, werewolves are usually documented as becoming weak and psychologically depressed.

In medieval Europe it was generally believed the werewolf would devour recently buried corpses, a trait that is documented in the Annales Medico-psychologiques in the 19th century. In Scandinavia,  werewolves were usually old women who possessed poison-coated claws and had the ability to paralyse cattle and children with their gaze.  Serbian vulkodlaks traditionally congregated annually in the winter and strip off their wolf skins and hang them from trees. 

Some French werewolf lore is associated with documented events. The Beast of Gévaudan terrorized south-central France. From the years 1764 to 1767, an unknown entity killed upwards of 80 men, women, and children. The creature was described as a giant wolf by the sole survivor of the attacks, which ceased after several wolves were killed in the area.  In Mexico, there is a belief in a creature called the nahual, which traditionally limits itself to stealing cheese and raping women rather than murder. In Haiti, werewolf spirits known locally as Jé-rouge (red eyes) can possess the bodies of unwitting persons and nightly transform them into cannibalistic lupine creatures or try to trick mothers into giving away their children voluntarily by waking them at night and asking their permission to take their child, to which the disoriented mother would often agree.

When the European colonization of the Americas occurred, the pioneers brought their own werewolf folklore with them and these eventually mixed with the lore of their neighbouring colonies and those of the Natives. Belief in the loup-garou present in Canada, the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan and upstate New York, originates from French folklore influenced by Native American stories on the Wendigo. Some believe that the Norse colonization of the Americas manifested their werewolf lore into the folklore of some Native American tribes.

The Naskapis believed that the caribou afterlife is guarded by giant wolves which kill careless hunters venturing too near. The Navajo people feared witches in wolf's clothing called "Mai-cob".   Many Native cultures feature skin-walkers or a similar concept, wherein a shaman or warrior may, according to cultural tradition, take on an animal form. Animal forms vary accordingly with cultures and local species (including bears and wolves), for example, a coyote is more likely to be found as a skinwalker's alternate form in the Great Plains region.

In modern folklore and fiction the Wendigo found in the stories of many Algonquian peoples is sometimes considered to be similar to lycanthropes, in that humans could transform into them. The original legends varied significantly.  As with legends passed by oral tradition, stories often contradict one another.  In one example,   if a person saw a Loup Garou, that person would be transformed into one. Thereafter, the unfortunate victim would be doomed to wander in the form of this monster. In this way, the Loup Garou story bears resemblance to a Native American version of the wendigo legend.

Stories of humans descending from animals are common explanations for tribal and clan origins. North American indigenous traditions particularly mingle the idea of bear ancestors and ursine shapeshifters, with bears being able to shed their skins to assume human form and marrying human women. The offspring may be monsters with combined anatomy, they might be very beautiful children with uncanny strength, or they could be shapeshifters themselves.

The stories of werewolves may be inspired by encounters with actual animals. This is supported by subfossil remains discovered in Madagascar of giant lemurs of suborder Strepsirrhini which became extinct some time after the Malayo-Polynesian settlement of the island. These sailors and earlier explorers of the area such as those sponsored by Necho II were in direct or indirect contact with trading centers in Egypt and elsewhere which would certainly facilitate the spread of the stories of these real werewolf-like creatures.

A French-Canadian woman, born in the late 1880s, told that when she was a young girl, she heard that "years ago" there was a village in Québec which experienced a rash of sheep killings. The sheep were being killed at night, throats torn and partially eaten. The townsfolk suspected a rather suspicious fellow among their neighbours. During a search of his property they discovered a wolfskin belt.   The fellow explained that when he put the belt on he became a wolf and that it was he who had been killing the sheep. The townsfolk burned the belt and that supposedly brought an end to the killings.

Often the story-telling was used simply to inspire fear. Stories were told by elders to persuade children to behave. Another example relates that the wolf-like beast will hunt down and kill Catholics who do not follow the rules of Lent. This coincides with the French Catholic loup garou stories, where the method for turning into a werewolf was to break Lent seven years in a row.  Other stories mention people who sold their soul to the devil or leading a "bad life", that is to say, with off-the precepts of the Church.

From The Quebec Gazette, July 14, 1766 and December 10, 1767.
One learns of Saint-Roch, near Cape Mouraska (Kamouraska) there is a werewolf running coasts as a beggar, who, with the talent to persuade it ignores and promising what he can not keep, was the one to get what he wants. It is said that this animal, with the help of his two hind feet, arrived at Quebec on the 17th and last he returned the next 18, intending to follow his mission till Montreal. This beast is said to be in its kind as dangerous as the one that appeared last year in the Gévauclan *, which is why we urge the public to be wary as a ravening wolf.
Kamouraska, December 2, we learn that a werewolf , traveling the province for several years, and did a lot of damage in the district of Quebec, received considerable number of attacks last October by various animals that had been armed and unleashed against the monster, and in particular the three following November, he received a furious blow with a small lean animal, which is believed to be fully delivered from this fatal animal, as he remained some time retired to his den, to the great satisfaction of the public.

Some modern researchers have tried to explain the reports of werewolf behaviour with recognised medical conditions.  Downs Syndrome, hypertrichosis (a hereditary condition manifesting itself in excessive hair growth), and congenital porphyria have been suggested as possible explanations, at least for early reports before these conditions became well known.  . In a 1963 paper by Dr Lee Illis of Guy's Hospital in London entitled On Porphyria and the Aetiology of Werewolves,  argues that porphyria victims’ sensitivity to sunlight, and the possibility that receding gums can give the appearance of fangs are reasons to suspect this.  He also suggested that garlic makes the condition worse, and at one time victims may have attempted self-treatment by drinking blood.  Scientifically though, this explanation doesn’t hold much water.

Most modern day Canadian Loup Garou sightings seem to be reported as the “Michigan Dogman”.  First reported in the late 1800’s, the reports began in northwestern Michigan and have since re-emerged in southern Ontario.  It is also possible that this is the same creature as Wisconsin’s Beast of Bray Road.  In fact, even some Sasquatch sightings could be Loup Garou, especially those from significant distance.

Medicine Hat, Alberta has a self proclaimed Loup Garou in convicted killer Jeremy Steinke, now legally known as Jackson May,