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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Thursday, January 29, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD FREEMAN: Crocodile Cults. Part 3: Australiasia and the New World

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.

Papuans along the Sepik River in New Guinea credit the crocodile as the great creator of all things. He cased the first dry land to appear from the primal waters. He formed a crack in the earth and mated with it. From that crack, all animals and men came forth. When he opened his jaws, the upper jaw became the sky and the first dawn occurred.

The Itamul people also tell of how crocodiles roamed around the new earth founding villages. They carve crocodile heads on their canoes and statues of crocodile headed men.

Skulls of crocodiles are often kept in men’s cult houses and given offerings of betel nuts. During the initiation of Itamul youths into manhood, they are said to be swallowed by the primal crocodile who spits them out as men. Their shoulders and torsos are subjected to ritual scarification. These, to the uninitiated, are the marks of the crocodile’s teeth.

Crocodiles are powerful totems and the consequences of breaking the totemic relationship can be fatal. A well-known folk hero is Yali of Sor, leader of the Madang cargo cult. Whilst in the jungle a comrade of Yali killed a crocodile. Without the protection of the totem Yalis` friend became lost in the bush and died.

In Northern Australia there is an Aboriginal legend of how the crocodile first came into being. The story goes that a group of people were being transported across a river in a boat. An old man was waiting to be taken across the river. The boat came and went, picking up more people, but ignoring the old man. Eventually he became so angry he leapt into the water and turned himself into a crocodile. From then on crocodiles have always attacked boats.

The Gunwinggu people of Arnhen land believe that the Liverpool River was chewed out of the land by a giant crocodile who rose up inland behind the mountains and proceeded to munch his way out to sea.

Another Dreamtime story has the crocodile or Gumangan and the plover Birik-birik creating fire. The pair travelled together carrying with them the world’s only fire sticks that they rubbed together to create fire. One day they camped by a river and the crocodile decided to go hunting. The lazy plover declined to join his friend so the crocodile instructed him to make a fire whilst he was gone so that they could cook their meal.

When crocodile returned he found the plover asleep and no fire lit. He was so angry that he seized the fire sticks and threw them into the river. The plover quickly grabbed the sticks and flew away into the hills. From then on crocodiles lived near the water and plovers in the hills.

Oddly the bone-idle plover is thought of as the hero of this story for saving the fire sticks!


The Olmec culture of Eastern Mexico had a crocodile deity. It was associated with good harvests. They seem to have passed on crocodile worship to other peoples. The Mayan god of death Ah, Puch was portrayed as a crocodile. Despite being a death god his image is also associated with crops. The Myans saw him as carrying the world upon his back.

Later the Aztecs still held the link between crocodiles and crop fertility. Their crocodile god Cipactli was an agriculture deity. Another crocodile god Tlaloc was thought to be responsible for bringing rain. This last facet is of particular interest when we remember how dragons are associated with the creation of rain and the control of water in the Orient.

William Homes, a 19th century anthropologist, lived with the Chiriqui tribe in Panama. He was able to trace the development of their ancestral crocodile god into a dragon like beast akin to the creatures of western myth. The monster decorated much of their contemporary pottery.

Further south the Montana people of Peru believe that carrying a crocodile tooth protects them from poison. Several tribes from the Pomeroon River basin in Guyana believe that they are descended from caiman. The story goes that the Sun was a keen fisherman and was upset that the fish in his ponds kept disappearing. He appointed the caiman to guard the ponds, unaware that the caiman was actually the one stealing the fish. When he discovered the caiman’s chicanery the sun slashed his back creating his scales. To make amends the caiman offered to give his daughter to the Sun as a wife. The caiman carved out a woman from a tree trunk. His friend the woodpecker hollowed out a vagina for the woman. When the Sun, a snake, emerged from the woodpecker’s hole he realised the woman was fertile. The carved woman bore the Sun twins who ultimately gave rise to humanity.


Only two species of crocodilian occur naturally in North America. The American crocodile, at the very north of it’s range reaches southern Florida. The American Alligator is more widespread but is still confined to the warm southeastern states. There is one well known legend among the Choctaw Indians.

There once was a man who had very bad luck when he hunted. Although the other hunters in his village were always able to bring home deer, this man never succeeded.

He was the strongest of the men in the village and he knew the forest well, but his luck was never good. Each time he came close to the deer, something bad would happen. A jay would call from the trees and the deer would take flight. He would step on dry leaves and the deer would run before he could shoot. His arrow would glance off a twig and miss the deer. It seemed there was no end to his troubles. Finally the man decided he would go deep into the swamps where there were many deer. He would continue hunting until he either succeeded or lost his own life. The man hunted for three days without success. At noon on the fourth day, he came to a place in the swamp where there had once been a deep pool. The late summer had been a very dry one; however, and now there was only hot sand where once there had been water. There, resting on the sand was a huge alligator. It had been without water for many days. It was so dry and weak that it was almost dead. Although the hunter's own luck had been bad, he saw that this alligator's luck was even worse."My brother," said the man, "I pity you." Then the alligator spoke. Its voice was so weak that the man could barely hear it. "Is there water nearby?" said the alligator."Yes," said the man. "There is a deep pool of clear cool water not far from here. It is just beyond that small stand of trees to the west. There the springs never dry up and the water always runs. If you go to that place, you will survive."

"I cannot travel there by myself," said the alligator. "I am too weak. Come close so I can talk to you. I will not harm you. Help me and I will also help you."

The hunter was afraid of the great alligator, but he came a bit closer. As soon as he was close, the alligator spoke again. "I know that you are a hunter but the deer always escape from you. If you help me, I will make you a great hunter. I will give you the power to kill many deer." This sounded good to the hunter, but he still feared the alligator's great jaws. "My brother," the man said, "I believe that you will help me, but you are still an alligator. I will carry you to that place, but you must allow me to bind your legs and bind your jaws so that you can do me no harm."

Immediately the alligator rolled over to its back and held up its legs. "Do as you wish," the alligator said. The man bound the alligator's jaws firmly with his sash. He made a bark strap and bound the alligator's legs together. Then, with his great strength, he lifted the big alligator to his shoulders and carried it to the deep cool water where the springs never dried. He placed the alligator on its back close to the water and he untied its feet. He untied the alligator's jaws, but still held those jaws together with one hand. Then he jumped back quickly. The alligator rolled into the pool and dove underwater. It stayed under a long time and then came up. Three more times the alligator dove, staying down longer each time. At last it came to the surface and floated there, looking up at the hunter who was seated high on the bank."You have done as you said you would," said the alligator. "You have saved me. Now I shall help you, also. Listen closely to me now and you will become a great hunter. Go now into the woods with your bow and arrows. Soon you will meet a small doe. That doe has not yet grown large enough to have young ones. Do not kill that deer. Only greet it and then continue on and your power as a hunter will increase."

The alligator continued, "Soon after that you will meet a large doe. That doe has fawns and will continue to have young ones each year. Do not kill that deer. Greet it and continue on and you will be an even greater hunter." Then he said, "Next you will meet a small buck. That buck will father many young ones. Do not kill it. Greet it and continue on and your power as a hunter will become greater still. " The alligator then said, "At last you will meet an old buck, larger than any of the others. Its time on Earth has been useful. Now it is ready to give itself to you. Go close to that deer and shoot it. Then greet it and thank it for giving itself to you. Do this and you will be the greatest of hunters."

The hunter did as the alligator said. He went into the forest and met the deer, killing only the old buck. He became the greatest of the hunters in his village. He told this story to his people. Many of them understood the alligator's wisdom and hunted in that way. That is why the Choctaws became great hunters of the deer. As long as they remembered to follow the alligator's teachings, they were never hungry.

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