WELCOME TO THE CFZ BLOG NETWORK: COME AND JOIN THE FUN

Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

THE LATEST FROM THE ARCHIVING PROJECT

Oll has been jolly busy and the latest set of scanned news clippings and other stuff from the Archiving Project is ready for you to download HERE should you want to..

This is the last of the current batch of lake and sea monsters, although there are some more boxes to go through anon. The next trenche (which will be posted later this week) will be the first lot of archives concerning birds...

PHASE ONE OF OUR NEW BREEDING PROJECT COMPLETED



Yesterday we finally completed the first phase of our new aquarium expansion. The seven Japanese bitterlings that we bought some weeks ago due to the good offices of Max Blake have been trans-ferred from their holding tank in the conservatory, into the palatious new one inside.

They have been joined by a swan mussell, and the oriental weather loach which have been in a tank in the conservatory since 2006, which frees up two small outside tanks. The guppies from the big South American tank in the conservatory have been taken up to the tank we have set up in The Farmer's Arms and tonmorrow the Endler's Livebearers which have been cluttering up Corinna's kitchen since December will take their place...

Complicated isn't it?


RICHARD FREEMAN: VAMPIRE CONTAGION IN THE MODERN AGE

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. Often billed as the "World's only Gothic Cryptozoologist", it is not surprising that when vampires are concerned, he knows his stuff...

If you think you know vampires think again. The modern idea of a vampire bears no resemblance to the creature first written of in Eastern Europe.

The image of the romantic, beautiful, ageless, sexy vampire was first concocted in the Penny dreadful series Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer. It ran from 1845 to 1847 and followed an aristocrat, Sir Francis Varney, cursed by vampirism who final commits suicide (can an undead commit suicide?) by throwing himself into Mount Vesuvius.

In the cinema, this tragic theme was continued in Tod Browning’s Universal film Dracula (1931). Bela Lugosi looked more like Rudolph Valentino than Bram Stoker’s description. It was not until the far better Hammer version in 1958, with Christopher Lee, that we get a Dracula that has true menace.

The original records of vampires are a million miles away from our modern conception. Foul, disease bearing horrors, they did not always drink blood. The average vampire story consisted of a person thought of as dead, rising up from the grave, often bloated and covered in grave mould. They would visit family members, often sitting on their chest and draining the life force out of them.

One of the best-known stories concerns Arnold Paole. In the spring of 1727, Arnold Paole returned from service in the military to Meduegna, near Belgrade. He bought some land, built a home and established himself in the community. After a short time, he was married to a local girl whose father's land bordered his.

While stationed in Turkish Serbia he had been visited by an undead being. Afterwards, he hunted down the creature’s grave and burnt the cadaver. However, the incident affected him so greatly that against the advice of his superior officers, he resigned from the military and came back to Meduegna.

Shortly after his marriage, Paole fell from a cart and broke his neck. A month after he died, he was seen wandering around the village. Several weeks after the initial reports, most of the people who had claimed Paole had visited their home died. It was decided to exhume the body of Arnold Paole.

The group consisted of two military officers, two army surgeons, and a priest from the local church. When the group exhumed the body, they found a fresh corpse. There was no decomposition of the body whatsoever, and, in fact, the old skin and nails had fallen off, and new ones had grown to take their place. Fresh blood was upon his lips. When one member of the group drove a stake into the body, he cried out and fresh blood spilled from the wound. The group then scattered garlic around the remains, and did the same to each of the graves of his victims.

All was quiet in Meduegna for several years until 1732, when there was another spate of inexplicable deaths. This time, the town took no chances and immediately sent out a group to the graveyard to investigate. The report has ended up in many history books over time. It was signed by three renowned army surgeons and co-signed by a lieutenant-colonel and a sub-lieutenant. Of all the bodies they disinterred during the investigation, they once again found no less than 11 corpses that displayed the same marked traits as the Paole corpse. No decomposition, fresh skin grown, and fresh blood in the arteries.

It was said that Paole had feasted on local cattle as well as people. Then, the theory states, as time passed and the cows were killed for their meat, the vampire qualities were passed on to anyone who ate the meat.

The report is reproduced here….

Visum et Repertum
Seen and Discovered
1732

After it had been reported that in the village of Medvegia the so-called vampires had killed some people by sucking their blood, I was, by high degree of a local Honorable Supreme Command, sent there to investigate the matter thoroughly along with officers detailed for that purpose and two subordinate medical officers, and therefore carried out and heard the present inquiry in the company of the captain of the Stallath Company of haiduks (a type of soldier), Gorschiz Hadnack, the standard-bearer and the oldest haiduk of the village, as follows: who unanimously recount that about five years ago a local haiduk by the name of Arnold Paole broke his neck in a fall from a haywagon. This man had during his lifetime often revealed that, near Gossowa in Turkish Serbia, he had been troubled by a vampire, wherefore he had eaten from the earth of the vampire's grave and had smeared himself with the vampire's blood, in order to be free from the veIation he had suffered.

In 20 or 30 days after his death some people complained that they were being bothered by this same Arnold Paole; and in fact four people were killed by him. In order to end this evil, they dug up this Arnold Paole 40 days after his death - this on the advice of a soldier, who had been present at such events before; and they found that he was quite complete and undecayed, and that fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears; that the shirt, the covering, and the coffin were completely bloody; that the old nails on his hands and feet, along with the skin, had fallen off, and that new ones had grown; and since they saw from this that he was a true vampire, they drove a stake through his heart, according to their custom, whereby he gave an audible groan and bled copiously, Thereupon they burned the body the same day to ashes and threw these into the grave. These people say further that all those who were tormented and killed by the vampire must themselves become vampires.

Therefore they disinterred the above-mentioned four people in the same way. Then they also add that this Arnold Paole attacked not only the people but also the cattle, and sucked out their blood. And since the people used the flesh of such cattle, it appears that some vampires are again present here, inasmuch as, in a period of three months, 17 young and old people died, among them some who, with no previous illness, died in two or at the most three days. In addition, the haiduk Jowiza reports that his step-daughter, by name of Stanacka, lay down to sleep 15 days ago, fresh and healthy, but at midnight she started up out of her sleep with a terrible cry, fearful and trembling, and complained that she had been throttled by the son of a haiduk by the name of Milloe, who had died nine weeks earlier, whereupon she had experienced a great pain in the chest and became worse hour by hour, until finally she died on the third day. At this we went the same afternoon to the graveyard, along with the often-mentioned oldest haiduks of the village, in order to cause the suspicious graves to be opened and to examine the bodies in them, whereby, after all of them had been dissected, there was found:

1. A woman by the name of Stana, 20 years old, who had died in childbirth two months ago, after a three-day illness, and who had herself said, before her death, that she had painted herself with the blood of a vampire, wherefore both she and her child - which had died right after birth and because of a careless burial had been half eaten by the dogs- must also become vampires. She was quite complete and undecayed. After the opening of the body there was found in the cavitate pectoris a quantity of fresh extravascular blood. The vessels of the arteries and veins, like the ventriculis ortis, were not, as is usual, filled with coagulated blood, and the whole viscera, that is, the lung, liver, stomach, spleen, and intestines were quite fresh as they would be in a healthy person.

The uterus was however quite enlarged and very inflamed externally, for the placenta and lochia had remained in place, wherefore the same was in complete putredine. The skin on her hands and feet, along with the old nails, fell away on their own, but on the other hand completely new nails were evident, along with a fresh and vivid skin.

2. There was a woman by the name of Miliza (60 years old), who had died after a three-month sickness and had been buried 90-some days earlier. In the chest much liquid blood was found; and the other viscera were, like those mentioned before, in a good condition. During her dissection, all the haiduks who were standing around marveled greatly at her plumpness and perfect body, uniformly stating that they had known the woman well, from her youth, and that she had; throughout her life, looked and been very lean and dried up, and they emphasized that she had come to this surprising plumpness in the grave. They also said that it was she who started the vampires this time, because she had eaten of the flesh of those sheep that had been killed by the previous vampires.

3. There was an eight-day-old child, which had lain in the grave for 90 days and was similarly in a condition of vampirism.
4. The son of a haiduk, 16 years old, was dug up, having lain in the earth for nine weeks, after he had died from a three-day illness, and was found like the other vampires.

5. Joachim, also the son of a haiduk, 17 years old; had died after a three-day illness. He had been buried eight weeks and four days and, on being dissected; was found in similar condition.

6. A woman by the name of Ruscha who had died after a ten-day illness and had been buried six weeks previous, in whom there was much fresh blood not only in the chest but also in fundo ventriculi. The same showed itself in her child, which was 18 days old and had died five weeks previously.

7. No less did a girl ten years of age, who had died two months previously, find herself in the above-mentioned condition, quite complete and undecayed; and had much fresh blood in her chest.

8. They caused the wife of the Hadnack to be dug up, along with her child. She had died seven weeks previously, her child - who was eight weeks old- 21 days previously, and it was found that both mother and child were completely decomposed, although earth and grave were like those of the vampires lying nearby.

9. A servant of the local corporal of the haiduks, by the name of Rhade, 21 years old, died after a three-month-long illness, and after a five week burial was found completely decomposed.

10. The wife of the local bariactar, along with her child, having died five weeks previously, were also completely decomposed.

11. With Stanche, a local haiduk, 60 years old; who had died six weeks previously, I noticed a profuse liquid blood, like the others, in the chest and stomach. The entire body was in the oft-named condition of vampirism.

12. Milloe, a haiduk, 25 years old; who had lain for six weeks in the earth, also was found in the condition of vampirism mentioned.

13. Stanoika, the wife of a haiduk, 20 years old, died after a three-day illness and had been buried 18 days previously. In the dissection I found that she was in her countenance quite red and of a vivid color, and, as was mentioned above, she had been throttled, at midnight, by Milloe, the son of the haiduk, and there was also to be seen, on the right side under the ear, a bloodshot blue mark, the length of a finger. As she was being taken out of the grave, a quantity of fresh blood flowed from her nose. With the dissection I found; as mentioned often already, a regular fragrant fresh bleeding, not only in the chest cavity, but also in ventriculo cordis.

All the viscera found themselves in a completely good and healthy condition. The hypodermis of the entire body, along with the fresh nails of hands and feet, was as though completely fresh. After the examination had taken place, the heads of the vampires were cut off by the local gypsies and burned along with the bodies, and then the ashes were thrown into the river Morava. The decomposed bodies, however, were laid back into their own graves.

Visum et Repertum
Seen and Discovered
1732
Regimental Field Surgeon Johannes Fluckinger
To the Emperor

A similar cased was that of the Serbian peasant Peter Plogojowitz who lived in a village named Kisilova (today - possibly Kisiljevo). Plogojowitz died in 1725, and his death was followed by a spate of other sudden deaths. Within eight days, nine persons perished. On their death-beds, the victims allegedly claimed to have been strangled (not exanguinated) by Plogojowitz at night. Furthermore, Plogojowitz's wife stated that he had visited her and asked her for his shoes. Plogojowitz is also supposed to have come back to his house demanding food from his son, and when the son refused Plogojowitz brutally murdered him. The villagers decided to disinter the body and examine it for signs of vampirism, such as growing hair, beard, and nails and absence of decomposition.

His corpse was finally dug up. The body was undecomposed, the hair and beard were grown, there were "new skin and nails" (while the old ones have peeled away), and blood could be seen in the mouth. After that, the people, who "grew more outraged than distressed", proceeded to stake the body through the heart, which caused a great amount of "completely fresh" blood to flow through the ears and mouth of the corpse. Finally, the body was burned.

The report on this event was among the first documented testimonies about vampire beliefs in Eastern Europe. It was published by Wienerisches Diarium, a Viennese newspaper, today known as Die Wiener Zeitung.

Britain had its own vampire outbreaks. At Alnwick in the 13th Century, a filthy, insane hermit who ate cats and dogs (and who was suspected of killing a local girl), lived in a malodourus shanty in the shadow of Alnwick Castle. After his death and burial, his coffin was found rent asunder and his un-decayed corpse found under a tree, fully one mile away. He was reburied with a mass of rocks on his casket. He rose again to prey on local animals and was said to have killed a farmer. The villigers, in a Hammer-esque mob, dug up the vampire’s carcass and hacked it to ribbons.

Berwick is the setting for two vampire outbreaks. In the 12th Century William of Newburgh (1136-1198) records such a pestilence in his book "Historia Rerum Anglicarum"

A rich man died and soon after his body vanished. He was seen wandering around "pursued by a pack of dogs with loud barkings". Nobody dared to leave his house at night. But something had to be done, because it was feared that the foul stench of the corpse would cause death and disease. A child vanished and was thought to have been taken by the vampire.

His grave was dug up and he was reburied in an unmarked grave on unconsecrated ground. However, the killings continued with both adults and children found with their throats ripped out. Finally, after two weeks of this horror, ten local men dug the body up and chopped it to bits. The pieces were burnt on a bonfire.

In the same town, a vampire turned up in the early 1900s! A young woman called Betty Hough, who had been out courting, was found dead with bite marks on her neck. Soon after farm animals began to be killed and drained of blood.

About one week later a 16-year-old girl was attacked by a foul smelling ‘man’ in filthy clothes, who had long teeth. Luckily two farm workers managed to haul the thing off her, but not before it bit one man in the neck and escaped into the night.

A mob led by Betty’s fiancĂ©, Colin McFaddon, and a pack of sniffer dogs followed a trail into some woods. Many dead animals were found drained of blood. The trail ended beside a tree. Reaching in McFaddon felt the horror’s foot. The mob dug the thing up and McFaddon hacked off its head before the mob cut it up with their spades.

Some other nocturnal entity was haunting Highgate Cemetery in the fag end of the swinging sixties. The media soon dubbed it the Highgate Vampire. In 1969 a man named Thornton had been looking around the cemetery. As night began to fall he tried to find his way out but became hopelessly lost. Soon he felt a presence behind him and turned to look. Not six feet away was a dark 7 foot tall ‘spectre’. It seemed to be hovering above the ground and transfixed him with glowing eyes. He was unable to move and felt drained of energy. The thing held him in its thrall from several minuets before he collapsed and the vampire vanished.

Soon after an old lady said she had been walking her dog by the cemetery gates when it had started to howl. Looking up she saw a tall dark man with glowing eyes floating above the ground. It approached her then vanished.

Investigators from the British Occult Society, led by David Farrant, searched the graveyard. They found a number of vaults had been broken into and coffins smashed. They also discovered dead animals in the cemetery. Then on December 21st David decided to spend a night in the graveyard alone. He was situated by the gate were the old lady had her encounter.

At around 11 pm he noticed a strange feel come over the place and an eerie wind seemed to be disturbing the vegetation. Some shape was coalescing out of the darkness. It was a black figure 7 feet tall with red glowing eyes. David felt that it was evil and was trying to hypnotise him. He managed to tear his eyes away from its gaze and it vanished.

The society felt that a satanic group had raised the entity and were controlling it. Indeed the desecration of the cemetery got worse. A woman’s corpse had been ripped from it’s grave. The society decided to do a banishing ritual and met one night in 1970 with the purpose of dispelling the ‘vampire’. They drew up a circle inscribed with protective symbols and set about the ritual of banishment.

Almost as soon as they had begun, they were disturbed by torchlights. The police had surrounded the graveyard and thought that the society was Satanists! In the confusion, David was arrested and blamed for the desecration. He escaped conviction but received threatening letters claiming to be from the Satanists.

In the meantime the vampire had been spotted again. A young girl walking in Swains Lane beside the graveyard had been attacked by a tall black figure with a deathly white face. It had thrown her to the floor with tremendous force. The vampire only retreated when caught in the headlights of a passing car. The thing seemed to get more powerful and aggressive.

With this in mind, another banishing ritual was attempted in 1971. This time David and his colleagues had more success. The group, all wearing protective talismans evoked the entity and it manifested as an icy black shape with red eyes inside the circle. Once again it used hypnotic powers and almost succeeded in getting all those present under it’s thrall. One girl even passed out. David described it as if the entity were trying to absorb you. The group managed to manifest the thing and drive it away from them again, but not exorcise it.

David was later caught in the cemetery again and jailed by an overzealous judge who did not understand what he has trying to do.

Shortly after a man was found dead in the graveyard with appalling wounds to his neck. The official police verdict was suicide. One cannot help wonder if it was something else.

It’s a long way from a crumbling London cemetery to a modern American city, but vampires have allegedly struck there as well. After the Vietnam War over 100,000 ethnic Hmong - a tribal people from the hills of Laos - moved to the USA. The Hmong had been recruited by the CIA during the war. In 1977, Hmong men in the USA began to die for no apparent reason. They were all healthy young men, living in modern cities. None of them showed any signs of trauma or illness. The deaths began to spread and they baffled doctors. These deaths were named SUNDS, sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome. The deaths climbed alarmingly from 1977 to 1981.

Some Hmong immigrants told of feeling an evil presence in their bedroom at night as well as a feeling of paralysis. Up to 75% of Hmoug in the US said they had felt these things. Delving into Hmong folklore, stories of a vampire called the Dab tsog (pronounced da cho) were unearthed. The Dab tsog was said to live underground and rise up at night to feed on the living by sucking the life from them whilst sitting on their chest. Back in Laos the monsters were held at bay by ancestral spirits. The ancestral spirits were fed and given offerings by a shaman, and in return they kept the evil spirits away. Most of the men who immigrated to the US were young. The shamanistic practices were conducted by older men, usually the head of the family.

When older men, well versed in the rituals were brought over to join their families, the cases of SUNDS dropped off and are now virtually unknown.

MEMO FROM SUZI

Our friend and supporter Suzi Marsh is in India travelling through the Western Ghats. Richard asked her to see if she could find any information on the Pogeyam - the rumoured mysterycat from the region, and we have been awaiting her results with enthusiasm...

Just a quick update on my findings...

Unfortunately I didn't have much luck with the pogeyam. I stayed at Vattakanal, which is about 2 days trek from Anamudi where the original sightings took place. I asked around many people, using both the pronunciation you gave me and the alternative 'poggy-on' which I found online, and also giving a description of the animal, but none of the locals were familiar with it. It may well be that the legends are very localised, as it seems they have not spread far across the western ghats. Interestingly, a fellow traveller I met reported having seen a 'mountain lion' on the way from Munnar (which is near Anamudi) to Vattakanal; however, further research suggests they are not common to this area. I have tried to get in touch with her to get a more detailed report of what she saw - I will let you know of any developments.

I did hear another story while travelling which I thought might be of interest... in the town of Varkala in Kerala, a number of locals related the following story: that recently (a date was never specified, but it was implied that this event had taken place in the past weeks/months) a 'living god' had been found in a local stream. When asked to describe this further, the locals described something 'shaped like a human, but not a human'. Curiously, they noted that its hand was broken. This 'living god' was removed and placed in a local temple, but when word got round that it could bring great fortune to whomever possessed it, a local businessman bribed the watchmen and removed the relic to his own home. The story went that great ill fortune soon befell the man, and that his wife hung himself in the room that had contained the body. No one seemed able to say what had happened to the relic after that...

Anyway, I thought that these incidents were worth reporting! Let me know what you think about the whole 'mountain lion' thing...

CONJOINED CALVES



I am so proud of you guys... Yes, you are completely right about the location of the weirdest boozer that I have ever visited, and so to thank you here is a picture of a pair of Siamese (conjoined) calves from the collection...

GUEST BLOGGER PAUL SCREETON: Earth Hounds

This piece was published by me as editor of Folklore Frontiers in issue 34 in 1998. It was monitored by Dr A S L Rae, who said that despite the reference (below) it had been recently published. I have generally followed how it was originally set out.

The Earth Hound - a Living Banffshire Belief

By Alexander Fenton and David Heppell


In 1950, the People's Journal of 24 June contained a paragraph about 'yird pigs' ot 'earth huns'. They were said to be 'really rats and ... only found in graveyards' (PJ, 24 June 1950). Further investigation turned up a reference by the Reverend Walter Gregor in 1881, the oldest one so far identified. He spoke of 'a mysterious dreaded sort of animal, called the "yird swine" ... believed to live in graveyards, burrowing among the dead bodies and devouring them' (Gregor 1881, 30).

More information came from the archives of the Department of Natural History of the Natural Museums of Scotland. A letter written by A. Smith, Rayne School, Wartle, Aberdeenshire, dated 11 December 1917, to James Ritchie in Edinburgh, relates how the fater of one Archibald, Gardener at Warthill, 'remembered quite well his father turning up one (an "earth hund") in its nest when ploughing in the haughs of Deveron about 50 years ago. He (the father) tried to kill it with his foot, but it bit and cut his boot, and he killed it with a "swingle-tree" and brought it home. It was brown in colour somewhat like a rat, but had a long head like a dog's - (hound's), and a tale bushier than a rat's, but he could not say how bushy. Their nests were from time to time turned up by the plough, but the animals themselves were very rarely seen, reputed to frequent churchyards. This was in the immediate neighbourhood of a churchyard which was eventually disused owing to the firm belief that it was infested with earth-hunds. They invariably lived in the immediate neighbourhood of water, and their nests were in haughs.

'Archibald saw this one himself, has quite a distinct recollection of it, and says all the neighbours were interested to see it, and all agreed it was an earth-hund from its apperance, though it did not transpire whether any of them were acquainted with the animal before ... He describes it as being something between a rat and a weasel, and about the size of a ferret, head like that of a dog, and I think he said the tail was very long. At a casual glance it would be mistaken for a rat, but was quite unlike on close examination.'

There is also a note by the same writer, with the same date, but posted on the following day. It reads as follows:

'Had occasion unexpectedly to visit Mastrick on W.S. business about 10 p.m. tonight. Did not see the old man, who was presumably in bed. Asked about the supposed earth hund, with undernoted result.
  • It was not this season but 2 years or so ago it was killed.
  • It was turned up by the plough (by Jas McIntosh, I think).
  • It ran along the furrows some distance before it was killed.
  • His recollection was that it was about the size of a rat. Asked about colour, he thought it was like a dark rat. It had feet like a mole, and a tail about half the size of a rat's.
  • Head was long and nostrils very prominent, suggesting a pig's. Head somewhat like that of a guinea-pig.
  • It had noticeable white "tusks", whatever that might mean - (probably incisors).
  • Other members of the family added the latter details.
  • Some reference, vague, was made to some large heap or heaps occurring on the farm credited by their father to earth-hunds.

Mastrick is about 10 minutes' walk from here, and curiously enough is close to the churchyard ...'
Even today, there seems to be a belief in these creatures. In April 1990, when A.F. visited a friend in Keith, that sprawling three-part Banffshire town, conversation turned to the earth hound. 'Theyre atween a rat and a rabbit,' he said. 'They live in graveyards. They howk doon an cleek intae the coffins. ... Aye, I'll tak ye tae far they are.' We drove through Fife Keith, along the Dufftown road and then by side roads, rising through forestry plantations and bare hillside through the Haugh of Glass and then a couple of miles on to the Hill Dumeath, stopping on its shoulder just before Beldorney Castle.

Below us was Walla Kirkyard. Instead of a road to it, there was only a wide fenced-off strip of field, giving access down a steepish slope in dry conditions, but surely not in ice or snow. The kirkyard stood on the edge of the River Deveron, alone, remote from any church.

We walked among the stones. The oldest dated to 1741. There were new graves in an extension against the old wall. My friend looked intently around the stones where someone had cleared weeds and bared the earth, searching for scrapes and scratch marks, but Walla Kirkyard revealed none of its mysteries. No earth hound appeared, no reeking burrows were seen.

It is part of the North-east sense of humour that a grim topic can be pursued in all apparent serious ness, and this A.F.'s friend did. If he did not in his heart believe in earth hounds, at least he never dropped his mask.

Reference: Gregor, Rev. Walter, 1881, Notes on the Folk-lore of North East Scotland, London
Scottish Studies 1992-1993, No. 31.

Paranormal is just a cop out

I just want to set the record straight about something. Over the past few weeks I been receiving letters from friends, and strangers alike. They all asked me the same thing. How come, when you have made your life's work the investigation of strange things, are you so resolutely against "the paranormal". Well the answer is, that I'm not. After all my most famous book, The Owlman and Others is unquestionably set within the twilight realms. It is not the investigation of things unknown that irritates me, but the misuse, and indeed abuse of the term "the paranormal".

When I was much younger I had a distant cousin who was a nun. My cousin Barbara joined a holy order, and became Sister Ignatious. I met her at various family gatherings over the years, but I was always somewhat in awe of her, and never got to know her very well. However, she always seemed to be a kind, devout lady, and to be all that one would expect one's cousin who happened to be a nun to be. However, I will always remember a family occasion of some sort which occurred in about 1971 when I was 11 or 12. Some smaller children belonging to one of the more obscure scions of my mother's family were milling about, and talking generally smutty nonsense in the way that small children are wont to do. I cannot remember the details, but one little girl went up to my cousin Barbara, sorry, Sister Ignatious, and asked her a question which was obviously intended to embarrass the poor lady.

Again, I cannot remember the details of the question, but I can remember the answer. My cousin looked down her lorgnettes and said, with all the moral authority that came from being not only a bride of Christ, but the daughter of a long line of minor Sussex gentry:

"I wouldn't know about that dear. It is all part of the majesty of our Lord God".

That would have been a remarkably apposite answer if it had been in answer to some obscure question of theology, but it wasn't. It was in answer to a smutty and wholly inappropriate question of lavatorial tediousness aimed purely at making a sweet old lady embarrassed. However, from her point of view, as she believed implicitly in the majesty of Creation, even the reproductive and excretive organs were the work of The Lord, and therefore not to be questioned or examined too closely - literally, or euphemistically.

Even at the age of 11, I realised that this was a cop out. At the age of 50 (next August) I see exactly the same cop out being used regularly by so-called paranormalists. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not, for one moment, trying to say that all the mysteries of the universe will eventually be solved. Some things - whether there is life after death, for example - are essentially unknowable. However, I for one am getting tired of the catch-all phrase "well its all paranormal innit" being used to describe mysteries from the whole gamut of the fortean canon. The concept of the paranormal has become almost a religious one in some people's eyes, and for some people, and worse for some investigators, the concept that something is "paranormal" is enough, and replaces any concept of rational investigation. When forteana, or worse forteanism, becomes a religion, then it is time for me to bail out!

So, of course I am interested in "the paranormal". A large chunk of my career has been built on it. I just believe, however, that the vast majority of unsolved fortean mysteries are either solvable using currently accepted models, or are defined by laws of physics that we just don't understand yet. And although I accept that some of the great mysteries of the universe will never be solved, there is certainly the possibility, in my eyes at least, that the things which I look into will eventually be solved, hopefully by me.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's news today


Ok its that time again, CFZ daily news blog update time (I’ll have to think of a snappier way of putting that). Before I do though Jon has asked if I can do more recommendations in the week so if you’re into that sort of thing rejoice, if not and you just came here to read news and are irritated by my inane prattle and groan in a po-faced manner at the puns at the end then skip to the blue links.
Right, now that the pseuds have gone I’ll recommend a DVD to go with your tea and biscuits, as this is the first one of these I won’t recommend something obscure known only to a select group of basement dwelling anime otaku but recommend something most people rate among their favourite movies; The Big Lebowski. If I’m caught on camera when skulking around the house I’m invariably wearing a t-shirt and dressing gown, now you know why. Anyway enough rambling, on with the news:

World's rarest rhino caught on film
Chimp's stone throwing at zoo visitors was 'premeditated'
And
Vampire discovered in Mass Grave

I guess ‘fangs’ are in order to the person who submitted that last news story to us. We can always ‘Count’ on our readers to email us interesting stories so I hope you won’t ‘Mona’ about the fact that there were just three today, some days there just aren’t that many crypto related stories published as others, I know that can ‘suck’ and it can be a ‘pain in the neck’ but if the amount of phone calls Jon had about the Devil’s footprints yesterday is anything to go by then I’d ‘stake’ good money on there being a lot more tomorrow so be sure to check the blogs for updates at lunch time and again around ‘Twilight’.

GUEST BLOGGER COLIN HIGGINS: Rants - Right on Brother!

One of my favourite guest blogs over the last few weeks has been Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in January's `On the Track`.


One of the things I most value about the CFZ is the open-mindedness with which it approaches its subjects. It’s an increasingly rare quality in a discipline, indeed a world, where an open mind is often seen as a flawed one.

Two of Jon’s recent posts found me nodding like those dogs in the back window of a Ford Anglia - his response to the diabolic footprints and his Darwinist blues refrain. My agreement shouldn’t be remarkable, he was stating an entirely mainstream view that science and evolution shouldn’t be seen as antipathetic to systems of belief and yet his position is becoming increasingly exotic.

Religious beliefs and testable hypothesise are orthogonal, which is to say they have almost nothing to say about t’other but even hinting that one may subscribe to a view about either puts you bang in the firing line of those who would see them as polar opposites.

I have no difficulty in seeing Jon’s use of the Devil’s Footprints as a euphemism, a metaphor, a narrative trigger, a historical reference and a cultural trope, even if pushed a synecdoche, so why has a linguistic inquisition developed - or a verbal Puritanism to be even-handed - that states words only ever mean they say and nothing else. Ergo, the Auld Lad has been on a jolly to North Devon: go prove it Mr. Downes!

Popular Darwinism also exercise me to the point of dancing from foot to foot like Yosemite Sam, firing off my six-shooter (all allusions for the figuratively challenged; I neither dress in a large hat, own a revolving pistol or resemble a two-dimensional Looney Tunes simulacrum).
A bit of wordy legerdemain assumes science suggests evolution, equals atheism, means humanism. Aaagh, as the teenagers say.

Most thoughtful grown-ups have no trouble in accepting Darwin’s ideas, Islam and Rome have long maintained evolution as the tool by which stuff gets done (whatever reservations one may have about some of their other tenets) and yet even a willingness to entertain a ‘more things in heaven and earth’ discursive liberalism to Fortean phenomena marks one down as a swivel-eyed Creationist book burning new-earther who handles strychnine, drinks snakes and prepares for the rapture from his heavy armed local authority maisonette. It cheeses me right off! Grow up people.

If one is serious about cryptic animals it seems entirely reasonable that one should if not embrace native transformational beliefs, Franciscan inter-species dialogue, classical animal worship and contemporary shape shifting bugaboos, then at least accept them as a narrative vein by which encounters with the animal kingdom are explained by percipients rather than condemn them as speculative and uneducated hogwash.

Having got that off my chest I shall retire to the cartoon corner into which a few will have already painted me, where animals have skills in vernacular American, Wile E Coyote transgresses the known hunting practice of Canis latrans and Roadrunner drives a coach and horses through Newtonian physics.

WE'RE GOING DOWN THE PUB



Some of you didn't believe me when in two recent postings I showed you some exhibits at a museum in San Antonio. It is not that you didn't believe that there could be a museum full of strange exhibits, mixing Natural History and teratology, but that the whole thing was in a boozer. The problem is that I cannot remember the name of the boozer....


Help me out people please...