Saturday, April 29, 2017

Monsters In Your Head

Black Magic ventures into a shapeshifter's world

The Famous Big Foot Pic

Everybody’s had a monster. In childhood, it might hide under the bed, or out in the woods behind the house, or lurk beneath the surface of an otherwise calm and placid lake. When I first started looking into some of the Canadian roster of scary creatures, I saw some that already were familiar.   

The first and most famous is Big Foot or Sasquatch (or, variously, the Floridian Skunk Ape or the Jersey Devil, etc.), who legendarily has quite a large territory here in the Americas.  A similar creature is also is said to exist in Asia, as the Nepalese Yeti or Abominable Snowman. Farther west, there are the Mongolian Almas. In all iterations, however, these guys are tall, hairy, large – and by many accounts smelly.  

This is explained as a surviving close cousin, a beast still living, now hiding in forests and on mountain tops.  Sometimes its identified as surviving Gigantopithecus or the later Neanderthal. These mysterious creatures are said to have a world-wide – but extremely thin -- distribution.  As genetically isolated and small as these populations would have to be, and beset as they must be on every side by us--the most lethal predator this planet has ever produced--I think we human-beans are imagining things. We are--however powerfully--simply retelling ourselves some very old, very scary stories.

Disney Company's Jungle Book

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much of a creature fancier as anyone. I was pleased to learn that there are plenty of monsters in Canada, aided by the indisputable fact that there still are huge wide open spaces without a lot of us. I recently learned that the Dene and Tlicho tribes of Great Slave Lake both have a legendary man-animal called "Nakan." This creature is closer to man in appearance than ape, at least on my amateur's scale.

I've just learned about another Nahnni Valley cryptid, the Dene's Nuk-luk, who sounds like the same sort of ape-man. He shares with the Tlicho's Nakan bad, skunk-like smells and, he sometimes wears raggedy clothes. On the person-hood upside, he has a house which he’s dug underground. In fact, that’s the way you find where Nakan hides in winter. Like hibernating bears, on cold days –and there are plenty of those in NWT -- you can see their breath rising from ground level breathing. You may be hungry enough to assault with intent to kill some sleepy bear, but a Nakan—well, it’s best to leave these awful beings alone. 

They are tremendously strong, have beards and lots of hair, and want to bring you into their sex life--no matter which sex you are! They most often steal women, but sometimes children too, “because they have none of their own.” I’m not sure why Nakan—or Big Foot for that matter--never seem to have any females. It’s not very mammalian for an animal to reproduce by budding or cell division.

My personal explanation for these man-amals is that they are black bears, standing up on their back legs in order to get a better look-see. Frankly, bears would be sufficiently terrifying for someone like me, who, at 6, suffered from screaming nightmares which involved bears searching for me--snuffle, snuffle, snuffle--while I shuddered under my bed.

Canadian monster lore is a well-stocked larder, thanks to so many 1st Nation traditional stories. Some characters, however, like the familiar werewolf, or his more versatile shape-shifter cousin, Loupe Garou, are European imports.

Wendigo or Wittigo is a nasty character from Ojibway, Cree, and Assiniboine legends. Universally, among 1st People, the three worst sins are greed, gluttony and selfishness. If you behaved like that, not sharing food with your kin, you might turn into a Wendigo. The Wendigo are very tall, with yellowish rotting skin—and a taste for dining upon the flesh of their best old ex-friends.

Of course, starvation, not unheard of in Hunter-Gatherer societies, could lead to episodes of cannibalism. Making that choice, however expedient, would nevertheless cause a person to transform into the loathsome, man-eating Wendigo, worst of all terrors.

Opopogo—a famous water creatures--lives in Lake Okanagon in BC. He’s Canada’s Loch Ness/Lake Champlain type snaky monster,  reputed to be 40-50 feet long. Some witnesses say this guy has horns, too. Some say he's a member of the plesiosauria family, now surviving in remote fresh water lakes. 

Now, the 1st Nation’s people had a legendary hostile spirit who was said to live in this lake, one who did not enjoy having them disturb his peace while they paddled across. It was traditional 1st Nation practice, if they had to cross the lake, to sacrifice something as they set out, a chicken or another small animal, in order to appease this angry power. Today's informants, however, say that this "monster" was a spirit, not a creature from the “primitive survivor” category of the cryptozoologist's version of the animal family.

This guy's got attitude

Whether Opopogo exists or not – the jury is still out – images of him, horns and all, may be seen on hockey jerseys for the team out of nearby Kelowna. 

Opopogo Opopogo Opopogo Opopogo Opopogo… ! How it trips off the tongue! Any monster with such a phonetically enchanting name deserves to be better known, don’t you think?

Last and not least is Waheela, a gigantic wolf with a huge head, sharp teeth, a wide splayed foot, and a reputed height at the shoulder of four feet.  Covered in long white hair, Waheela enjoys ripping the heads off people who trespass in his territory--the Nahanni River basin in the Mackenzie Mountains National Region--which is aptly named "The Valley of Headless Men." This dire-wolf like beast seems to be a relative of the Inuit's Amarok, who is gray and hunts at night. Amarok catches and eats foolish or desperate hunters who might still be outside their villages. 

Perhaps these are all simply cases of the monster hiding inside our own heads, what psychiatrists describe as "projection."  That’s probably what, the X-Files, Scully would say to Mulder, although he probably wouldn’t be listening. Imagine the way he’d just go on muttering aloud about historic sightings! His iteration would certainly go on for a long time, because any catalog of monsters just has to begin 'way far back in our collective history.  And, really, folks, we're the scariest animal that ever walked onto this planet?  Like Pogo said a very long time ago "We have met the enemy, and he is us."


~~Juliet Waldron

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