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Sometimes the world seems like a pretty dull place. While science has given us a greater understanding of the world we live in, sometimes it seems like it has sucked all the magic and wonder out of it too. Wouldn’t it be great if there really were monsters lurking in the woods outside your house? Well, perhaps there once was. Although most of the things that scared you as a child, those things that go bump in the night, were actually just creaking attic beams and groaning attic pipes, perhaps the children of previous generations really did have something to be afraid of. After all, don’t most legends have a basis in fact?
Here are five mythical creatures that could exist, or rather that could have existed long ago.
Everybody knows the story. Everybody’s seen the video of a man in a gorilla costume taking a leisurely stroll through the woods. But is there any truth behind the tales of this big-footed missing link?
Well, the most famous film recording of Mr Bigfoot, shot in 1967 by Roger Patterson, is widely believed to be a fake for obvious reasons. However scientists have been unable to provide any evidence to either prove or disprove its authenticity. Instead, scientists and sceptics have focused on the sheer impossibility of Bigfoot’s existence. Most ecologists agree that the climate of North West America is simply unable to support a species of great ape such as this, and certainly not in the numbers required to maintain a breeding population. For that matter, any population large enough to ensure the continuation of the species would be pretty hard to hide, making Bigfoot sightings much more common than they actually are.
The slim possibility does remain that the Bigfoot species is in decline and near extinction. But if this were so, such a rapid population decline since the arrival of European settlers would have seen the species become completely extinct long ago.
Of course there are tales of hairy woodsmen predating the widespread colonization of North America. Native American folklore is crammed with references to Bigfoot, although the descriptions they give of the creature’s appearance, behaviour and temperament vary wildly. Most depict Bigfoot as a kind of bogeyman who feeds off of the flesh of naughty children. Of course, when Bigfoot is viewed in this context it could be said that there are Bigfoot stories in the folklore of every culture the world over.
Why is this? Well we humans seem to have a need to fantasise about big hairy monsters, perhaps because we once lived alongside them. It’s possible that aural tradition has preserved, if somewhat distorted, the story of how we once shared our earth with a real-life missing link – the Neanderthal – around thirty thousand years ago.
Another myth that would seem to be as old as time itself is that of the vampire. The vampire is one of the most enduring legends of all time and, like the big bad bogeyman, there would seem to be a version of this myth in almost every culture on the face of the planet.
Of course the descriptions of these blood sucking creatures varies wildly from country to country. In South East Asia, for example, there are seemingly endless variations on the same theme. Here, vampires usually take the form of a beautiful young woman. Some can detach their head or torso so as to fly about the night sky. Some have no fangs but drain the blood from their victims using their hair. Others use an elongated tongue to lap the blood, or even to suck foetuses from the wombs of sleeping women. Even Bigfoot is said to be a bloodsucker in at least one Native American version of the myth.
Even our own vampire folklore cannot be taken at face value. The modern vampire has evolved from an impressive variety of European vampire myths. For example, the association with bats was the invention of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Before the nineteenth century vampires more commonly turned themselves into cats or dogs. A stake through the heart might not kill a vampire. Originally, spears were used to simply steak them to the ground as killing them was thought by some to be impossible. Garlic might not do you much good either, as it was only placed in the mouths of corpses to stop them biting people. An onion would do just as well but the most effective precaution one could take was to completely remove the head before burial.
Vampires even looked different back then. Far from being pale they were often described as being dark in complexion and ‘of a foreign disposition’. They didn’t even have fangs.
However the vampire might have altered over time, it is clearly part of a long tradition of things that go bump in the night, the true origins of which might never be determined.
If there is any evidence for the vampire walking amongst us today, it comes in the form of the chupacapre. The chupacabre, or ‘goat sucker’, has been annoying farmers in South and Central America for several decades now by sucking their cattle, and other animals, completely dry of blood.
A number of recent sightings, and even video footage, of strange creatures in the region have some claiming that the chupacabre is some form of mutant cayote or previously undiscovered dog-like creature. To others, however, it has a much more alien or demonesque appearance. Perhaps, like the vampire, it is capable of appearing as both humanoid and animal form.
The Loch Ness Monster
Loch Ness is not the only lake in Scotland or even in Europe to claim the existence of a strange waterborne creature within its depths. However, it is the most famous.
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster has been handed down from generation to generation for many hundreds of years, attracting speculation, investigation, and many different interpretations of the myth. In that time there have been many recorded sightings and an equal number of hoaxes, making it very difficult to tell fact from fantasy.
The first written account of a ‘monster’ sighting in Loch Ness dates back to the seventh century and is part of a retrospective biography of Saint Columba. It tells the story of how the saint saved a group of local fishermen from a vicious river serpent using his aqua-man like powers of persuasion. Of course this is far from historical fact; the story was written many years after Columba’s death and, let’s face it, those medieval Christians could be pretty creative with the truth, especially if it helped them to convert a few heathens.
1933 saw a spectacular revival of the myth when George Spicer and his wife reported seeing ‘an extraordinary animal’ crossing the road towards the loch. The story was published in a local newspaper where Spicer described the creature as having a long neck, flippers and carrying a dead animal in its mouth – today’s typical Nessie profile. The media went into a frenzy and swamped the shores of the lock in search of further witnesses, quickly finding that almost every person in the area had their own monster story. This was to be the start of decades of intense public interest and a virtual siege of the loch. Ever since the first photograph of the monster was taken, a year after Spicer’s encounter, hardly a day has gone by without at least one camera keeping watch over the waters of the loch. The number of videos and photographs taken by ‘Nessie watchers’ in that time is staggering but as of yet none have been conclusively proven to be genuine. Scientists have since joined the hunt too, using sonar sweeps to scour the loch, all to no avail.
So is there really such a thing as the Loch Ness Monster? Well, probably not. There is certainly no prehistoric sea creature living on Loch Ness today. Even the most camera shy plesiosaur would have had to come up for air by now. But this does not mean that there never was a Loch Ness Monster. Perhaps in the middle ages there really was some great unknown creature living in the depths of Ness and Loch Morar, where Nessies cousin, Morag, is reputed to live. In fact, similar legends are told right across Europe causing some to speculate that these were the last remaining members of a once prevalent, now extinct species.
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