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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Monday, October 19, 2009

MUIRHEAD'S MYSTERIES: The Flying Snake of Namibia

Dear folks,

The CFZ Yearbook 1996 published my article on Namibia`s flying snake and with Jon`s permision I hope to speak about it at the 2010 Weird Weekend. The 1996 Yearbook covered the flying snake, or whatever it is, from mainly a purely cryptozoological point of view. I was aware of mythological aspects (I am aware of the fact that mythology and cryptozoology overlap) but at the time I was ignorant of the extensive research of Sigrid Schmidt of Hildesheim, from whose letters to me I quote in this blog.

When I sent Schmidt a copy of my 1996 Namibian flying snake article she/he was unfamiliar with the cryptozoological approach to the subject.

Schmidt`s letter of September 16th 1995:

'Like the ghosts or UFOs in Europe, these snakes are seen by people who believe in them. And people who do not believe in them do not see them. A teacher once sarcastically told me: If at night people see the light of a motor-bike or a car where only one light is working people say: Oh, there is the snake again! And there are many people who delight to tell tales how they saw the snake or about other people who met the snake. Usually quite a number of different traits are attributed to these snakes, each narrator stresses different ones: its stench which alone kills people and attracts swarms of flies, its call which sounds like sheep or goats calling, the light, lamp, mirror, stone or white spot on its forehead, its face like a man`s face, sometimes even with a beard, its horns or ears, its fondness for women. In dry Namibia the snake (which is usually called the Big Snake) lives in the mountains, but in the permanent rivers, particularly the Oranje River, its aquarian lives in the water, has a palace under the water and keeps there his human wives which he steals at the shore. These snakes belong to a very ancient stratum of belief in Africa and in other continents as well. In southern Africa there are rock paintings of prehistoric times of huge snakes which probably were connected with rain or rain ceremonies

As to the flying snake in particular: Usually this snake has no wings but uses the end of its tail to push itself through the air to the next point. And as to the reporter of the 1942 accounts: the policeman Honeyborne was known as a very good narrator and experienced quite a number of extraordinary things.'(1)

Schmidt`s letter to me of October 15th 1995 makes a brief reference to crop circles near Hildesheim 'a few years ago.' and also: 'And as the main source for the 1942 report* was the policeman who was known as the great story-teller I just see no reason at all to accept it as reality in our sense.'(2)

*The 1942 report of a flying snake in Namibia was the subject of my 1996 CFZ Yearbook essay.

Finally, Schmidt`s letter of May 22nd 1997:

'I believe that our good friend Michael Esterhuise experienced what he had learned from Nama sources,for his adventure corresponds exactly to Nama tradition. Legend students probably would call this "to act out a legend."'

Another remark: All the present-day studies of the subject focus on sergeant Honneyborne`s report which, though written in the style of a police report, was written for a magazine and not for his office. As far as I know there is no official office report...A remark to the kind of flying of the snake...This is the peculiar way of flying by pushing itself off the ground. It corresponds exactly to the so called "shooting snakes" in German folk belief and particularly about the snake kings which often have a crown and are white. I have too little material to claim a dependence of this Nama belief from Central European sources. But it perfectly fits into the general scene: just in the area of the Northern Cape and Southern Namibia the influence of European folk belief on Nama belief ist enormously (sic).This influence originates from Afrikaans lore and is strongest among the mixed population. (3)

The thing that interests me here is why should Nama reality be any stranger than ours? Just because its Africa? Who should say that a folk belief that Jon has a gig with Crass in a chamber in the depths of a Devon river, or Lizzy meets Take That for a gig at the bottom of a lake in Lancashire be any more unbelievable than a group of witch doctors meeting a giant snake in "backward" Namibia?

1. Letter from S. Schmidt to R. Muirhead September 16th 1995.
2. Letter from S. Schmidt to R. Muirhead October 15th 1995
3. Letter from S. Schmidt to R. Muirhead May 22nd 1997

1 comment:

Chris Clark said...

I can't find the 2006 Yearbook, but I remember this from Roy Mackal's book. He says that the boy heard a roaring noise and smelt something like burnt brass when he saw the snake, and passed out from shock and fright. The combination of roaring sound, strange smell and sensations of terror, followed by unconsciousness, suggest to me an epileptic attack. It would be interesting to know if the boy had a history of epilepsy (though people who have attack by no means always have another).