Hidden Animals

Michael Newton. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. MacFarland, 2005.

This massive survey of alleged cryptids and cryptozoologists is orientated very much towards a paws-and-pelts approach, but the great majority of the entries, which relate to lake monsters, hairy hominids and alien big cats more or less proves the absurdity of that approach. They demonstrate the sheer numbers involved, and the differences between the wide variety of genuinely newly discovered animals, none of which seem to have ever featured in any cryptozoologist’s wants list, and the things which obsesses the hunters. Read this and you will get the impression that there is scarcely a body of water above the level of a street puddle which does not have its own ‘monster’ (one is indeed reported from a flooded field). You might think that alien big cats are competing with the grey squirrels to take over the British countryside, and that nearly every state in the US, and a good many other places beside, have their own resident Bigfoot.

It becomes obvious that many of the entries relate to barely euhemised petty supernaturals who have the trickster quality of boggarts world wide. This is certainly the case of the hairy hominids, which may be given such obvious symbolic properties as having feet turned backwards (pointing to their wild anti-cultural status). These creatures clearly belong to the goblin world of the human imagination, which may be envisioned by different cultures either as supernatural forces or savage beasts, and which we can interpret as being symbolic of the Otherness of wild nature.

Cryptozoologists have tended to see such creatures as prehistoric survivals, without perhaps being consciously aware of the religious origins of such ideas. They date from the pre-Darwinian period when fossil animals were beginning to be recognised as such. The discovery of so many creatures which were clearly not around any more posed a dilemma for the religiously minded: how could so many of the Creators products have been allowed to go to waste? So the idea arose that they were not really gone, but were secreted away in some remote part of the earth. It is therefore not surprising that a number of cryptozoologists are inspired by creationist world views. Today, another motivation is a kind of guilt over the destruction of habitats and species, and the hope that nothing is irredeemably lost. At a deep level too there is something of the idea of survival of death by proxy, if dinosaurs are not truly dead, then maybe I will never be truly dead either

Of course the prehistoric survivals and Ape Men tend to resemble folk images of what such creatures should look like, rather than latest thinking, and perhaps comic books and old school textbooks are one of the primary sources of the images. Some cryptozoologists clearly live in a fantasy world full of naive Natives cut off from the rest of the world, who have never seen a school book in their life. There is quite a bit of an undercurrent of this rather racist thinking in the literature. Sometimes this can be quite unpleasant as when Russian cryptozoologists claimed an individual was the decedent of the almas (wild men thought of as Neanderthal survivors) because of his ‘Negroid’ features

We are always afraid of the wilderness, I can remember my childhood fears of the wolves in the woods behind Colwyn Bay where we went for summer holidays, or the patch of woodland near my Uncle’s home in St Albans. Of the fear of the terrible gorilla in Belle Vue, said to be the most savage creature of all. Today we understand that wolves have warm family lives and gorillas are peaceful vegetarians who spend most of the day just chilling out. The really savage animal, the one that kill its own kind by the tens of millions, and remove species after species from the earth is ourselves.

We participate in the wildness of all things and build walls of culture to protect us from it, but everywhere the wildness of wild nature of which we are part seeps through, symbolised by the beasts of the thick green forest and deep dark waters which haunt our darkest dreams. Every so often we will project those images onto some real animal such as the gorilla, or onto the terrible Others among ourselves, that’s when the real slaughter starts.  |PR|

No comments: