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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Sunday, May 15, 2011

NEIL ARNOLD: O’Donnell’s Demons

One of my favourite authors on the paranormal is Elliot O’Donnell. His fantastic books include Dangerous Ghosts, Haunted Britain, and Ghosts With A Purpose. O’Donnell wrote with creepy atmosphere, speaking of old, unique cases, some concerning himself. From haunted pools and ghostly heads to malevolent spooks, O’Donnell has always had a way of captivating the reader, and some of his strangest tales have concerned stories of alleged encounters with what appear to be monsters. Such monsters, of a clearly spectral nature, have been dubbed by researcher Jonathan Downes as ‘zooform phenomena.' Such beasts are clearly not cryptids – i.e. undiscovered creatures that could exist – but are of a more complex nature, either as demonic critters or manifestations connected to the human psyche in some obscure, as yet to be investigated way.

For example, in his excellent Dangerous Ghosts volume, O’Donnell, under the segment ‘Homicidal Ghosts’ mentions a story concerning a Mr John Luck. O’Donnell takes the story from two old works, being A Strange And True Relation Of One Mr John Luck and Legends & Traditions Of Huntingdonshire, both I assume by W.H.B. Saunders in 1662. O’Donnell goes on to mention the following: ‘(Mr John Luck), a farmer from Raveley, set out on horseback one morning to the annual fair at Whittlesea. On the way he met a friend, with whom he had a drink at a wayside inn. After drinking somewhat heavily Mr Luck became very merry, and perceiving that his friend was getting restless and desirous of continuing on his way to the fair, he said, “Let the devil take him who goeth out of this house today.”

The more he drank, the merrier he grew. Forgetful of his rash saying, he called for his horse and set out for the fair. The fresh air seemed to have a sobering effect, for he had not travelled very far before he remembered what he had said. He was naturally superstitious and became so perturbed that he lost his bearings. He was endeavouring to find the way home – it was getting dusk and far too late to go to the fair – when he espied “two grim creatures before him in the likeness of griffins”.

They handled him roughly, took him up in the air, stripped him, and then dropped him, a sad spectacle, all gory, in a farm yard just outside the town of Doddington. There he was found lying upon some harrows. He was picked up and carried to a house, which belonged to a neighbouring gentleman. When he had recovered sufficiently to talk, he related what had happened to him. Before long he “grew into a frenzy”, so desperate that the inmates of the house were afraid to stay in the room with him. Convinced that Luck was under evil influences, they sent for the clergyman of the town. No sooner had the clergyman entered the house than Luck, howling like a demon, rushed at him and would have torn him to pieces, had not the servants of the house come to his rescue. They succeeded with great difficulty in overcoming Luck and tying him to the bed. No one was allowed to enter his room, the door of which was locked.’

O’ Donnell goes on to describe how Mr Luck, the next morning, was found dead in his bed. His body a crooked, broken mess, black with bruises, neck snapped, and tongue hanging from his chasm of a mouth. His face an expression of utmost dread. Many believed that the griffin monsters were sent by Satan and had succeeded in their quest.

In the same segment of the book O’Donnell mentions a case in the 1800s concerning an American chap who, whilst asleep in a boarding house, awoke to find strange puncture marks on his body, believed to have been made by a vampyric wraith, and also spoke of a tall, green, luminous being with long limbs and no face but two glittering eyes. This was seen by his friend Trench who lived in a remote cabin in forest in the Far West of the country. Another bizarre entity Elliot mentions also comes from the United States in the area of what is known as Crater Lake. This area was often, according to O’Donnell, frequented by the Indians but hardly anyone else. One night, Elliot mentions, he was on horseback in the area when he came to a solitary tree. Upon seeing the tree the horse began to rear up. ‘There was something very sinister in the appearance of the tree. It was quite naked and looked as if it had been blasted.’

Upon speaking to his friend Trench, O’Donnell heard of a curious story concerning the tree. “I know the tree”, Trench said. “No animal will go near it. It is called the Tree of Death because so many people have been found dead under it. The Indians say it is haunted by a spirit with the trunk of a woman and the head of a coyote, that lures people to the tree and either induces them to commit suicide or murders them.”

Another bizarre zooform creature O’Donnell writes of is mentioned in the section ‘Very Unusual Haunting’ and mentions an old book called Popular Superstitions by H. Mayo concerning the case of a man who one night was confronted by the spirit of a young boy in his room. Realising the boy was a spectre the man struck at the figure but to no effect. The phantom then attacked the man, twisting his arm violently. For the next four months the ghost would visit the man but on the last night of its eerie visitation appeared not as a young boy but as a tall, brown figure with the head of an owl. A ghastly set of ghosts indeed!
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