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.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009


Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. As you are probably beginning to guess, the boy Freeman has crocodiles on the brain. He is travelling up to the north of England this week to give a talk at a newly opened spooky bar in South Shields. However he has left us with a treat - a three part article about crocodile cults around the world.

Sebek was the crocodile headed god of the Egyptian pantheon. He controlled the flow of the river Nile and was associated with the fertility of the Nile delta. When the river flooded in September the delta would have been filled with crocodiles. He was also known as “the great devourer” perhaps in reference to the crocodile’s phenomenally powerful digestive system. This was seen as the natural circle, the life death and rebirth of all things. He is generally portrayed as a humanoid with a crocodile’s head.

Despite his predatory nature Sebek was a benevolent god. The son of Neith the first Egyptian god, Sebek was said to be one of only two gods who would endure forever as other god’s powers would fluctuate. He was a patron of the 13th Dynasty kings (1800 BC) many of whom were called Sebekhotep (Sebek is satisfied). His cult flourished in the delta areas such as Fayoum, Thebes and Lake Moeris. In 1900 excavations at Tebtunis uncovered a temple dedicated to Sebek 30 meters (100 feet) long and decorated with scenes of adoration, offerings, rituals, and great processions in his honor.

Another centre of his worship was Crocodilopolis (crocodile city). Here sacred crocodiles believed to be avatars of Sebek were kept in special sacred pools. They were adorned with gold, and hand fed milk and honey cakes by priests. Perhaps it is here that the idea that dragons guarded gold had its genesis. The chief of these pamper giants was known as Petersuchos. The city was said to have been founded by King Menes, first of the pharaohs. The legend tells of how he was set upon by wild dogs and fled into the waters of Lake Moeris. Here a crocodile offered to carry the king upon his back to the site that later became the city.

During the age of the New Kingdom (1400 BC) Sebek was seen as a manifestation of Ra the sun god, and Crocodilopolis became the pharaoh’s favorite city.

Crocodiles, like all sacred Egyptian animals, were mummified. Specimens from 30 cm (1 foot) hatchlings, to 5-meter (16 foot) adults have been found mummified. At Kom-Ombo small specimens were found stacked in their thousands and at the Maabdha Caves in central Egypt crocodile mummies were found stacked to a height of 9 meters (30 feet).

The idea of the crocodile / dragon as a force of evil may have also taken root in Egypt. Set was the god of darkness, associated with the sterility of the desert. He envied his brother Osiris. Their father Gib had divided Egypt between them but Set wanted the whole country. He hacked his brother Osiris to pieces then hid in the form of a crocodile.

Crocodiles were still being worshipped up until AD 335 when Monotheism, Christian, then Muslim put an end to Sebeks` reign. Some superstitions still hung on until relatively recently. In certain areas of Egypt it was believed that crocodiles would never attack Christians, only Muslims. Christians would bathe in parts of the Nile frequented by crocodiles whilst Muslims would not dare.

Amazingly, though no longer actually worshiped in Egypt, crocodiles were still given human sacrifices. Whenever a canal was being dug, virgins were sacrificed to appease the crocodiles. This was also thought to ensure a continuing supply of water for the surrounding crops. The practice was continued until AD 642.

In sub-Saharan Africa the crocodile still exerts a supernatural grip on the minds of humans. Many tribes believe that charms made from body parts of crocodiles, especially man-eaters, can give them immunity from crocodile attack. The belief is particularly strong in the Thongas of northern Zululand. They credit the crocodile with bringing rain (much like the eastern dragon). Crocodile fat is used as a charm against lightning strikes. Gastroliths (stones swallowed by crocodiles) are used in divination and to foretell the deaths of chiefs.

The association with crocodiles and blindness was again found by noted Dark Continent explorer David Livingstone. The people of the Ba-Kuena or crocodile clan of South Africa believed that contact with crocodiles caused swelling of the eyes and blindness. Despite believing crocodiles to be ancestor spirits they feared them greatly. Anyone who actually survived a crocodile attack was ostracised from the tribe, as it was believed the victim was tainted with sin.

In Benin crocodiles were believed to contain evil spirits. Many were kept in ponds at the Royal Palace where priests placated them with offerings. Also in Benin along the Mono River a crocodile priest sired a child with a different woman once per year. The baby was fed to the sacred crocodile as an appeasement.

In the Gambia there are several pools existing today that still contain sacred crocodiles. The most notable are at Kartong and Katchikalli. Women who have trouble in conceiving bathe in the pools, protected from the crocodiles by wooden screens. If she conceives she will bring her child back to the pool and show it to the crocodiles whist thanking them for their help. Wrestlers also bathe in the pools to bring them luck in bouts, as do businessmen before important transactions.

Human sacrifice to sacred crocodiles has been practiced in several parts of Africa. British missionary Rev J.Rosco described a crocodile cult he stumbled across in Lake Victoria, Uganda. The high priest would mimic the movements of the sacred beasts and call them out onto the lakeshore. Here prisoners, with their arms and legs broken, would be staked out. The crocodiles emerged and devoured the hapless victims. It was believed that the fishermen of the tribe could then cross the lake safely.

Crocodiles were often said to be the familiars of witchdoctors. Another missionary Rev W. Holman Bently recorded such beliefs around 1900 in the Congo. Natives considered crocodiles in themselves to be harmless creatures. They would attend fish traps and swim in waters known to be inhabited by crocodiles without hesitation. When a crocodile ate someone they said it had been bewitched. They would subsequently hunt down and kill the sorcerer.

Henry Stanley uncovered an even odder bit of folklore on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria. The chief of the neighboring Ukara Island was said to be able to control crocodiles. One lived in his hut as tame as a dog. The chief grew enamored of a member of the harem of the chief of Ukerewe and sent out a crocodile to kidnap her. The reptile seized the girl and carried her unharmed across eight miles of water to Ukara.

When Stanley expressed doubt, he was told that the father of the current chief of Ukerewe had also owned a trained crocodile that had stolen an Arab’s wife and brought her home. There was a belief on the Island that a dead person’s soul could be transformed into a crocodile and that only bewitched crocodiles attacked humans.

The Konde, who inhabited the northern end of Lake Nyassa had similar folklore. If someone was thought to be causing man eating among crocodiles by magic they were placed in a fish trap alive and left for the crocodiles to eat.

Most people will have heard of the Leopard Men, but far fewer of the Crocodile Men. This was a secret society that flourished in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Initiates dressed in crocodile masks and skins. They moved around the rivers in crocodile shaped canoes and worshipped crocodile idols. They killed victims to get their hair, lungs, and brain, which were eaten in magical rites.

In some parts of Africa crocodiles were looked upon as judges. On the White Nile at Malaka, the Shilluk tribe allowed men accused of adultery to swim the river. If they were attacked they were deemed guilty and the crocodile was the executioner.

On the island of Madagascar similar beliefs called Tangem- voay were held. Here crocodiles were known as “voay” and credited with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. It was said that they never attacked anyone with a clear conscience. Many times an accused, in the heat of a legal debate would rise up and shout “May the voay eat me if, if I have done what I am accused of” and make for the nearest river. In one case a girl was said to be having an affair with a slave and was condemned to trial by voay. On a full moon night she entered a river close to an island inhabited by voay then submerged herself three times. She was not attacked, and her accuser was ordered to pay heavy indemnity.

The Nile crocodile is the only large predator on Madagascar so much folklore has been woven around it. It is said that a prosperous village once stood on the shores of Lake Anivorano in the north of the island. One day a weary traveller came to the village and asked for a drink of water. He had gruff refusals all around except for one old woman who gave him a drink. The stranger warned the woman and her family to move away from the lake. He was a sorcerer who caused the waters to rise and engulf the village. The ill-mannered inhabitants were all turned into crocodiles.

In another story set in the lands of the Antandroy tribe, a woman was said to have been caught in a fish trap with a crocodile. She married the voay and they had two sons who founded the Zafandravoay tribe - the sons of the crocodile. These people are said never to harm a crocodile and in turn are never attacked by one. When a Zafandravoay dies a nail is hammered into his head to stop his body from walking. Once he is placed in a tomb the nail is removed and the body is free to go to the river and become a crocodile.

In former times the entrails of dead kings of the Sakalave people were fed to the crocodiles of Lake Komakoma. The crocodiles were looked on as ancestors and never hunted unless one of them killed a human first. If a crocodile had to be killed in such a way it would be buried with great ceremony and much lamenting. Women would let down their hair in morning and the men beg the voays` spirit for forgiveness.

The French naturalist Chapelier, who visited the island over 180 years ago, knew of a chief in the Bay of Antongil who regarded a gigantic crocodile that lived in nearby pool as his ancestor. Each year he sacrificed one young man and one young woman to the beast. Bedecked in jewellery they were hung over the pond until the huge reptile came to devour them.

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