Chapter 11: Introduction

views updated


Some psychologists have suggested that there is something within the human psyche that craves monsters and mysterious creatures. For some individuals, the very idea that vampires, werewolves, and chupacabras are out there, lurking in the shadows, makes the adrenaline surge in an otherwise humdrum and dull workaday world. Others may find that the notion of long-necked monsters swimming in the world's lakes, apelike giants prowling the forests and prehistoric behemoths trampling down remote jungles ignites their creative fires. Creatures that defy science, reason, and logic can thrive well in the human imagination.

Other researchers see some people's fear of monsters as a kind of psychic residue of primitive fears when early humankind dreaded nightfall and the predators that stalked the darkness for victims. Dr. Christopher Chippindale of Cambridge University's museum of archaeology and anthropology has observed that such half-human, half-animal monsters as the werewolf and other were-creatures were painted by Stone Age artists more than 10,000 years ago. Some of the world's oldest art found at ancient sites in Europe, Africa, and Australia depict animal-human hybrids. "In other words," Chippindale told the Guardian newspaper, "werewolves and vampires are as old as art." Composite beings from a world between animals and humans, he said, are a common theme to be found in the earliest of cave and rock art. Such "therianthropes," or hybrid beings, are, in fact, the only common denominator in primitive art around the planet. These werewolves, were-lions, and were-bats belonged to an imagined world that early humans saw as powerful, dangerous, and frightening.

Chippindale commented that these ancient depictions of were-animals remain among the most potent images that humankind has ever created. When modern anthropologists or archaeologists enter the caves with electric lights, he said, the paintings "are still frightening."

Once humankind's psyche had absorbed such hybrid monsters from the Stone Age, it continued to fashion human-animal deities of great power, such as the gods of ancient Egypt, which included the cat goddess Bast, the canine-headed Anubis, the hawkman Horus, and so on. From such were-beings, it was a natural progression to fashion other mystical creatures, such as the minotaur (half-human, half-horse), the satyr (half-human, half-goat), the harpy (half-woman, half-bird), and a host of other hybrid entitiesthe vast majority unfavorably disposed toward humankind. And somewhere along the way, certain people developed a genetic disorder known as porphyria, which often brought about psychosis and an extreme hypersensitivity to sunlight, thereby suggesting that they were truly vampires. Others succumbed to the mental illness called lycanthropy (from the Greek, lykan, wolf, and thrope, man; literally, "wolf man") in which people believed themselves to become actual werewolves.

While many psychologists and anthropologists perceive the origin of humankind's fear of vampires, werewolves, and other blood-sucking monsters to lie in the ancient nightmares of Stone Age peoples, other researchers called cryptozoologists (from kryptos, Greek for hidden) seek to prove that such creatures as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and sea serpents really exist. Such determined individuals point out that the mountain gorilla was considered a superstition of the native people of Africa until 1902 when Oscar van Beringe, a German explorer, shot two of them while climbing a volcano in the eastern Congo. Cryptozoologists argue that such physical evidence as hair samples, feces, and casts of footprints indicate that unknown species of apes or apemen unrecognized by science may exist in the Himalayan mountains, the remote forests of northern California and Canada, and other parts of the world.

Some cryptozoologists claim that the Loch Ness Monster and sea serpents could be survivors from the age of the dinosaurs. The coelacanth, a bizarre fish older than the great reptiles by millions of years, was thought to have been extinct for 65 million years until one was caught off the coast of South Africa in 1938. Since that time, more than 200 have turned up in fishnets from Indonesia to Kenya. If the coelacanth survived for over 380 million years, cryptozoologists maintain, why couldn't certain of the giants from the relatively recent Jurassic Era, roughly 150 million years ago, be hiding in our deepest forests, seas, and lakes?

Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society and author of Why People Believe Weird Things (1997), says that people believe in monsters and other things that go bump in the night because they satisfy a human search for significance and a desire to have meaning in their lives. Robert Pyle, an ecologist and author of Where Bigfoot Walks, expresses his opinion that creatures such as Bigfoot fill a human need for something to believe in and keep alive the concept of wilderness in the modern world.

In this chapter a wide range of mysterious creatures will be encountered, from those monsters dwelling only in the nightmares inherited from Stone Age ancestors to those that just might be waiting to be discovered by the next expedition into a hitherto unexplored region of jungle, forest, or ocean depth.

Delving Deeper

bord, janet, and colin bord. unexplained mysteries of the 20th century. chicago: contemporary books, 1989.

heuvelmans, bernard. on the track of unknown ani mals. new york: hill and wang, 1958.

mckie, robin. "stone age man's terrors still stalk modern nightmares." the observer, november 25, 2001. [online],6903,605611,00.html.

pyle, robert. where bigfoot walks. boston: houghton mifflin, 1997.

sanderson, ivan t. abominable snowmen: legend come to life. philadelphia: chilton company, 1961.

shermer, michael. why people believe weird things. new york: mjf, 1997.

Chapter 11: Mysterious Creatures

views updated

Chapter 11
Mysterious Creatures

Stone Age humans feared "monsters" that emerged from the darkness. Saber-toothed tigers stalked them; cave bears mauled them, and rival hominid species struggled against them for survival. Ancient night-terrors surface in the dreams and imaginations of present-day humans, and sometimes the monsters turn out to be real.

About this article

Bankruptcy reorganization

All Sources -
Updated About content Print Topic