Monthly Archives: February 2014

Skinwalkers: The Real Scoop

I was prompted to write this post after seeing a link to this article on Facebook. While this photo was almost immediately debunked as an image from a movie, the fact remains that there is a lot of fear around this particular “monster”. If you are not aware of the phenomenon, then you can always rely on Lon Strickler’s Phantoms and Monsters as a place to find witness reports.

The skinwalker is a subject that fills the traditional Dineh ( what the white folks call Navajo) with dread. I believe that this being may be found amongst the stories of other tribes in the region, such as the Ute, but the skinwalker is primarily a Navajo myth. To this day, people on the reservation, even those who are not very traditional, hesitate to speak or write about the skinwalker thus it is very difficult to gain information about these beings unless you are a tribal member. What we know about the skinwalker comes to us mostly from anthropologists who have lived with the Dineh long enough to gain their trust and get them to talk, a little, about the subject.

In the culture of the Dineh, the concept of hozho, balance and beauty, is paramount. All of their spiritual practices are aimed toward restoring the tribal member to health by bringing that person back into balance with the forces around him or her. If a person is ill or has suffered from a trauma (such as going to war), that person, if they are traditional, will seek out certain members of the tribe who can diagnose their imbalance and prescribe a “sing”. These events are carried out by highly trained medicine people and can go on for days. Sings vary and appeal to a wide array of beings in the Navajo cosmology but all have in common the purpose of bringing the person who has requested the sing back into balance so that they can live with greater harmony, peace and health.

Part of the reason that the skinwalker provokes so much dread amongst the Dineh is that this person has chosen to live outside the recognized order; the skinwalker has chosen to walk a path of imbalance and power and has resorted to diabolical means to acquire that power. Given the Dineh legends and accounts given to people like William Morgan in his 1936 work Human Wolves Among The Navajo, the skinwalker is a magic worker who, rather than using his or her (rarely – most walkers are men) talents for the good of the people, has chosen instead to develop the power of shape shifting. Indicators are that part of this misappropriation of power may be a method of survival; the Dineh are a sheep raising culture and one of the wrongs the skinwalker is known for is stealing and eating other people’s sheep.

While the thieving of sheep is quite the crime in Dineh culture, since it literally takes food out of another tribal member’s mouth, it is the method by which one becomes a skinwalker and the other supposed powers of this renegade magic worker that make the skinwalker such a source of fear. While we can not, for certain, sort tall tales and ghost stories from “fact” when it comes to the skinwalker, most anthropological sources agree that these shape shifters come into their power through an initiation process that involves the killing and eating of a relative (a crime of such horror to the Dineh that it is almost literally unspeakable). Once this horrible act is accomplished, the potential skinwalker is accepted into the fellowship of other ‘walkers and receives their powers.

According to the stories, most skinwalkers accomplish their shift by the donning of an animal skin. Reading the stories, one can never decide whether the Dineh actually believe in the physical transformation of the skinwalker into an animal or whether they simply see the person as possessed by the spirit of an animal. While the wolf is the most feared form the ‘walker can take (remember this is a sheep raising culture), other animal spirits can apparently possess the skinwalker including coyote, bear and even the eagle.

It is universally agreed that the outstanding characteristic of the skinwalker is its speed. There are witness reports of skinwalker type beings running alongside a car moving at full speed on the freeway. It is also pretty universally believed that to see a skinwalker is to court death or at least foul luck. A traditional Dineh, upon seeing such a creature, would go immediately to one of the diagnosticians I mentioned above and then have a sing to restore him or herself to balance and to reflect any negative energy back to its source.

I have spoken, in some discussion on werewolves, about the possibility of a magic worker actually assuming a “cloak” of etheric substance and appearing as an animal or part animal. While I have not encountered a skinwalker, I believe that this might be some of what is going on here. Certainly the medicine practices of Native people in that land have the power to do such things and there are stories of shapeshifting throughout the First Nations of the US and Canada.

I would note, too, that while the skinwalker is generally seen as a human magic worker, there are forces at work in the area that the Dineh call home that could and I think would latch onto the fear that the Dineh have of the skinwalker and use it for their own (feeding) purposes. I’ve spent time in the Superstition Mountains, somewhat south of the Dineh lands but certainly in the same geographic region and I can tell you that there are areas of those mountains that are inhabited by spirits that are not hospitable to people.

But that would be the subject of another of my real life adventure stories . . . see you next time.

Serious Aspect of Sasquatch Shenanigans

Recently, I came across this column on Lon Strickler’s Phantoms and Monsters site. Please note the item marked Bigfoot Showing at Alamo Drafthouse Angers Cryptozoologists.

Those of you who have been reading for a while will know that I do not involve myself in all the silliness that goes on in the Sasquatch hunting world. I have my opinion about the creature, I have made that opinion known in other pages here and I have an aversion to the BF name that everyone is so fond of using these days. Honestly, I think that anyone stupid enough to think that Rick Dyer, an admitted hoaxer and convicted fraud, has a Sasquatch body to display ought to be separated from their money as easily as this man lies. Caveat Emptor.

What disturbs me about this article though is the story behind it. Dyer claims to have lured the giant out and then shot him. I have some serious ethical compunctions about the whole incident.

Those who read here regularly know that I favor the belief that Sasquatch is an inter dimensional being and therefore would most likely not be harmed by people shooting at him (unless, perhaps, they were using cast iron bullets). But let us suppose, for a moment, that the “this is an unknown animal” folks are correct. One of the things that stands out in witness reports and field investigations is how genuinely elusive this animal can be. This seems to be indicative of a high order of intelligence capable of planning and executing strategies for avoiding humans and capable of understanding the danger than humans pose. While Sasquatch have allegedly been known to shadow people in the woods, these beings generally are sighted by accident.

So we are talking about shooting and killing an animal with high order intelligence. I am amongst those people who would be very hesitant to kill an orca, dolphin, gorilla, chimpanzee or even an African Grey Parrot or raven precisely because my feeling around these animals is that I am relating to another intelligence. We can argue for days about whether these beings have souls (however you define that) but the fact will remain that these critters are not “dumb animals” and I think that fact requires careful consideration when we go to collect a specimen for biological research. Call me a bleeding heart but I would not want to look such a creature in the eye and pull the trigger because ‘something’ would be looking back at me.

The same thoughts go for the Sasquatch if it does exist as a physical creature. There is a vocal group within the Sasquatch investigation community that states stridently that they need a body in order to prove to the scientific elite that the creature exists. That might be true but, if it is possible to capture gorillas in the wild then it ought to be possible to capture a Sasquatch. Not an easy task, I know, but why kill the creature when it can be sedated and perhaps even tagged with a tracking device so that one can begin to discover the movement patterns of this most elusive being. Perhaps, once those movement patterns are better understood, the investigator will even be able to find and monitor pockets of Sasquatch living in the wild, ala Jane Goodall.

“But”, the erstwhile Sasquatch investigator replies, “we do not have the resources to do that sort of catch and release work.” My reply is simple: tough. No one said that proving an undiscovered species was going to be easy. The truth is that most of these so-called investigators are more interested in tramping around ineffectually in the woods on weekends and engaging in flame wars with each other during the week than they are in actually finding the subject of their search.

What’s called for, in this circumstance, is not a bunch of hunters with rifles but a dedicated group of individuals with uncommonly thick skin who are willing to go out and work for the resources to make a true field expedition a reality. These have to be folks who are willing to go to sources of funding both public and private and “make the ask” as they say in the non-profit community. Yes, there will be a lot of rejection but all it would take would be one or two organizations willing to take a chance and the face of Sasquatch research would change forever. Of course, there would be considerations of finding people with good credentials to send out on such an expedition and other logistical concerns but once the money is available a lot of things will fall into place that seemed impossible before.

I am still not convinced, given witness statements, that Sasquatch is a flesh and blood animal. The creature seems to be much too likely to show up in “window” areas and around other Fortean phenomenon to make me comfortable with the assumption that it is some sort of relic hominid or unknown primate. Nevertheless, if the unlikely did happen to be true I would not want it proved to me by some fellow toting a Sasquatch carcass out of the woods in the back of his truck. I would want to see it on National Geographic channel as one of the nature specials I so admired as a child complete with the erstwhile biologist living amongst the creatures and color commentary from the intrepid explorers who first found the animal.

Book Review: Lizard Man by Lyle Blackburn

I hate to sound like an elitist snob but I find the majority of books written about paranormal or cryptozoological phenomenon to be rather sub-standard. While I am sure that the authors are well meaning and are trying to inform me about their particular area of interest, too often, the book is either an endless series of sightings/incidents which all begin to sound the same after a while or the author is shamelessly promoting his or her specific view about whatever he or she is ‘investigating’.

I use the term investigating with some trepidation since it is also very obvious that some of these so called sightings were pulled from internet sources that are questionable at best. Frankly, I don’t give a darn what the National Enquirer or other papers of that ilk have to say about anything unless the author is speaking about pop culture or making a point about the silliness that can ensue around our favorite ‘critters’.

Please note, I am not pointing fingers here. As I said, I am sure that the authors of whom I am speaking are doing their best to try to present information on their topic but shoddy research is shoddy research. Anyone with any academic background will look at sources before they even read a book, if they have the chance. Unfortunately, it is difficult to do that in this age of the Kindle so I have found myself ‘treated’ to some really awful books in my quest for information about my favorite topic.

Frankly, when Lyle Blackburn published his first book on the Beast of Boggy Creek back in 2012, I thought that the book might fall into the category above. I had only heard of the author peripherally and had no idea what his investigative credentials were. I was pleasantly surprised by that book and Mr. Blackburn is continuing this streak with Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster. The book is available in paper and on Kindle.

While I suspect that Anomalist Books needs a copy editor, the book is, overall, very well written. Mr. Blackburn has a talent for getting into an area, getting to know the locals, exploring newspaper archives and other sources (yes, including the internet) and producing a work that inserts the reader straight into the heart of the mystery. In this case, the author spent time in the Bishopville, SC area exploring the monster sightings that came to be known as the Lizard Man. Before he is done, Mr. Blackburn has given the reader a thorough grounding in the sightings that accompanied the case, introduced the reader to the important players and witnesses in the story, given us a feel for Scape Ore Swamp and provided the reader with some history of the region going back into stories from the local First Nation people.

Once Mr. Blackburn has acquainted us intimately with the story and its setting, he goes on to speculate about what this monster might be. As with the Boggy Creek book, this author does not lock onto a pet theory and espouse that idea to the exclusion of others. He is frankly willing to let a mystery be a mystery and covers theories about the Lizard Man ranging from animal misidentification to a moss overgrown Sasquatch to alien reptoids. Mr. Blackburn also acquaints the reader with other, similar cases although, given his space limitations he has to give admittedly short shrift to these sightings.

One of the factors that stands out in both of Mr. Blackburn’s books is his willingness to not only do the research but to visit the scene of the sightings and give the reader a glimpse into the atmosphere that underlies the sightings he is writing about. It is this atmospheric quality that really makes Mr. Blackburn’s books stand out. The reader knows that he has ‘been there’ and the sterile, “this sighting could have occurred anyplace on earth” feeling that one gets in some texts is totally lacking here.

Honestly, I was a little put off by the subject of the book since I had little to no acquaintance with this set of circumstances. I bought the book based solely on the author and my previous very positive experience of this work. I can say frankly that I am glad that I did. Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster is a fascinating read that will leave the reader with not only a thorough knowledge of the topic but also a real taste of the mystery surrounding the case. For anyone who has not read Lyle Blackburn’s work, I highly recommend both books as examples of good writing about the monsters and mysteries that make themselves apparent in our world.

Spend The Night In This House . . .

I saw a little blurb on Facebook the other day. It contained the picture of the classic house that one sees in old horror movies – a huge ramshackle old building with windows like black eyes peering out at the viewer, daring him or her to enter. I am not a huge fan of the horror genre but I saw enough movies in my youth to have a good idea of the sort of creatures that might come crawling out of such a structure. Add to this a dark camera filter and the picture was decidedly eerie. The kicker though, was the caption, which stated simply : Spend the night in this house for a million dollars . . . would you?

My reply, if this were for real and not a Facebook meme, would be: for a million dollars, you can sign me up for as many nights as you like. In fact, I would be happy to take up residence for a few months if that would make the challenger happy.

I would be the last person on the planet to say that there is nothing out there to be afraid of but I will also be the first person to tell you that fear is often the result of perception. All you have to do is look at the hokey ghost hunting shows and you can see that, while these folks may be investigating some genuine disturbing phenomena (on occasion), most of what scares them is themselves. Because of the way the show is set up (i.e. to entertain with spookiness), the mindset of the crew is that there must be something to be afraid of. Consequently, any small noise, puff of air or house settling sound is liable to provoke a gasp reaction and set them running to ‘investigate’.

In the same way, much of what effects people, even in genuine hauntings, is their mind set. Many investigators have noted the correlation between the client’s state of mind and the level and intensity of a haunting. Those people who view the phenomena around them as frightening and possibly the work of the devil or some other source of evil, are not only more frightened by the haunting but also seem to attract exactly what it is they fear. Those who view the phenomena as simply the presence of other, non-corporeal people, who are willing to set limits with those “people” and who do not “freak out” at the slightest manifestation of paranormal phenomena, are the ones who end up either living comfortably with their ghost or seeing it go away entirely.

Now, I will state unequivocally that there are some hauntings that come about as the result of malevolent forces and need to be dealt with by a professional. I will also state that such hauntings are thankfully few and far between. The vast majority of people experiencing paranormal events in their home are not experiencing any sort of “demonic” issue – no matter how much the thrill seekers would like to believe so. Some hauntings appear to be of the “imprint” variety, almost as though the energy of an event is imprinted on the subtle fibre of an area. These can be erased by magical methods or simply left to degrade over time. The hauntings that need somewhat closer attention are those that appear to be the result of some part of the human soul complex being left behind after death.

In these case, which can be quite frightening to the uninitiated, an investigative team needs to take a two pronged approach. First, once it is established that there is something truly going on in a home or structure, the team needs to provide the client with calm validation. Most subjects of a haunting, at one point or the other, ask themselves if they are crazy. The team needs to reassure the clients that they are not “nuts” and that there seems to be something going on in their area.

While the validation is very important, perhaps the most important thing that any team can do in a case like this is let the client/s know that dead people can be interacted with as surely as live people can. If an unknown individual walked into someone’s home and made themselves comfortable, that person would likely be arrested for breaking and entering. The ghost, despite its disembodied state, has no more claim over a home or other structure that the living person and should be dealt with accordingly.

A fine line needs to be walked in such cases. While the investigators need to show compassion for the client, they also need to show compassion for the disembodied occupants of a house or other location. A person or persons does not usually remain behind for the fun of it. The ghost has remained because of a powerful attachment to a place. The attachment can take many forms, from happy memories of a place to unfinished business to a trauma at or near death. Those who can communicate with spirits will tell you that a ghost is often either very adamant about remaining or very confused about why they are there in the first place.

Sometimes, all that is needed to clear a haunting is to tell someone that he or she is dead and needs to move on. Certain mages and trained mediums can assist with this process. At other times, particularly when a ghost is unwilling to move on, a skilled spirit negotiator (a good example would be a Native American medicine person) can work out a “deal” between the clients and the ghost that both can be comfortable with. Compassion dictates that the team at least try this approach before having the ghost removed by more forceable, magical means.

So, as I said above, I would be happy to spend the night in the proverbial haunted/monster ridden place. My perception would be of the “let’s see what this is all about” variety. What looks scary may simply be a call to compassion. Think on that the next time you see some TV ghost hunter flinging around holy water.