A Duppy is a malevolent ghost from Jamaica. The Duppy is nocturnal and takes the form of animals mostly bulls and horses but they also take the form of people. The Duppy comes from Bantu folklore where it is believed that a person has two souls a good soul and an earthly soul. The good soul goes to Heaven and gets judged by God while the earthly soul stays in the coffin with the body for three days where if precautions aren’t made properly it can escape and become a Duppy.

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SPOOKY PALEONTOLOGY: THE (OC)CULT OF NESSIE

One reason I haven’t been blogging as much here is that I’ve been busy with various academic projects including two book chapters, submissions for conference presentations, serving as a member of the steering committee for this year’s Religion and Monsters conference at the AAR, getting the long awaited second installment of Scholars Talking Toku up, and preparing to start applying for PhD programs at the end of the year.

One of the books I recently contributed to is tentatively titled “Paranormal and Popular-Culture” and should be coming out from Routledge early next year. The volume was conceived and edited by Darryl Caterine and John W. Morehead. My contribution was a chapter on the intersection of cryptozoology and science-fiction in which I endeavored to show that the central aims and obsessions of cryptozoology (i.e. the discovery of monstrous creatures alive in the world today) can be found to have originated in the realm of fantastic fiction.

My original draft for this chapter was over 11,000-words and had to be drastically reduced at the behest of the publisher (actually the entire book had to be shortened apparently). So I decided I could make use of some of that research here on my blog and just in time for Halloween. In this case I want to talk about lake monsters. Spooky lake monsters. Specifically the Loch Ness Monster.  

Though reports of a monster living in Loch Ness don’t begin until 1933 the idea of such a creature dwelling somewhere within the British Isles can be found in The Lair of the White Worm; a horror novel by Dracula author Bram Stoker originally published in 1911 by Rider and Son of London with interior color illustrations by Tarot Card artist Pamela Colman Smith. In 1925 an abridged version of the novel was issued, losing more than 100 pages and 12 chapters.

Set in Derbyshire, England The Lair of the White Worm concerns Australian transplant Adam Salton who has traveled to meet his great-uncle, Richard Salton, as Adam is destined to become the heir of the family estate. As Adam quickly learns, however, high strangeness of various kinds is at work in the surrounding countryside including the death of livestock, mysterious black snakes slithering about, a child with vampire-like bite marks on her neck, hostile pigeons, and the mysterious Arabella March who lives nearby in a house located in Diana’s Grove; an area known to have once been the center of pagan religious rites.

Eager to get to the bottom of these various mysteries, Richard introduces Adam to his friend Sir Nathaniel de Salis; who fulfills the Van Helsing role in this novel of occult scholar. In Chapter 5, “The White Worm,” Sir Nathaniel fills Adam in on the various legends concerning Diana’s Grove including that it is the lair of a monstrous albino serpent or dragon; what the Anglo-Saxon’s called a ‘wyrm,’ hence the novel’s title. When Adam displays some skepticism about such tales Sir Nathaniel informs him that…

“A glance at a geological map will show that whatever truth there may have been of the actuality of such monsters in the early geologic periods, at least there was plenty of possibility.  In England there were originally vast plains where the plentiful supply of water could gather.  The streams were deep and slow, and there were holes of abysmal depth, where any kind and size of antediluvian monster could find a habitat.  In places, which now we can see from our windows, were mud-holes a hundred or more feet deep.  Who can tell us when the age of the monsters which flourished in slime came to an end? There must have been places and conditions which made for greater longevity, greater size, greater strength than was usual.  Such over-lappings may have come down even to our earlier centuries.” (p. 187 in Penguin Classic’s Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Tales, 2007)

Here we see that Sir Nathaniel is something of a proto-cryptozoologist and like his 20th-Century contemporaries advances the idea that the menacing white worm, like Nessie, is a prehistoric holdover who has somehow managed to survive for millions of years in the supposedly “abysmal depths” of the United Kingdom’s many lakes and lochs. Of course, the novel ends with the revelation that the worm is real and dwells in a pit beneath Arabella March’s home in Diana’s Grove where March worships and feeds the beast who in turn appears to endow her with evil supernatural powers. Ultimately, Adam is able to dispatch the monster via the handy combination of dynamite and a well-placed lightning bolt.

In 1988, English filmmaker Ken Russell (1927-2011) filmed a theatrical adaptation of The Lair of the White Worm. Russell’s version actually puts more emphasis on the story’s latent paleontological elements. Rather than being set in the early 20th-Centrury the story is moved up to the present day (i.e. 1980s) and Adam Salton is recast as Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi; the Twelfth Doctor); a Scottish archaeologist excavating the site of a Roman era Christian convent in Derbyshire. Among the ruins Flint discovers what appears to be the skull of a dinosaur! The locals connect the skull to the legend of the d'Ampton wyrm, said to have been slain in Stonerich Cavern by John d'Ampton, the ancestor of current Lord of the Manor, James d'Ampton (Hugh Grant of Four Weddings and a Funeral [94] and Bridget Jones’s Diary [2001]). Flint attends a party at d’Ampton Manor where he meets James and the audience is treated to a rocking rendition of the legend of the d’Ampton wyrm (based on the real-life legend of the Lambton Worm).

Stonerich Cavern is connected to the home of the enigmatic Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) who steals the skull from Flint and also abducts his girlfriend Eve. While a symbiotic relationship between Marsh and the White Worm is only hinted at in Stoker’s novel, it is explicit in Russell’s film with Marsh assuming the form of a silver-skinned serpentine vampire who’s appearance I would have to guess was inspired by the look of a similar monster seen in Hammer’s The Reptile (1966, dir. John Gilling). It is soon revealed that Marsh is the immortal priestess of an ancient pre-Christian snake god named Dionin whose next sacrifice is going to be Eve. In order to rescue his girlfriend and expunge the evil from the countryside Flint enlists the aid of James and the two mount an assault on Marsh and Dionin.  

For most cryptozoology enthusiasts, Nessie is believed to be an extant plesiosaur which somehow survived the K–Pg extinction event some 66-million-years ago. As a result the idea of Nessie being related to anything like the subject of Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm – with its occult evil, secret cults, human sacrifice and vampires – may seem strange indeed. However at least one noted Nessie research drew just such a circle of connections around the Loch Ness Monster. That man was Fredrick William Holiday (1921–1979).

Like most Nessie researchers, Holiday started out proposing that Nessie was a prehistoric survivor. Not a plesiosaur but rather a Tully Monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium); a genus of soft-bodied bilaterian that lived during Late Carboniferous period some 323.2 million-years-ago to 298.9 million-years-ago and whose fossil remains were discovered in Illinois in the late 1960s. The exact nature of the Tully Monster is actually a source of great paleontological controversy which you can learn about here. Like all cryptozoologists expounding prehistoric survivor paradigm theories Holiday was at a loss to explain how the warm water Tully Monster had survived hundreds of millions of years in a cold lake on the other side of the world. He also had the not insignificant problem that the fossils of Tully Monster indicated that its maximum size was about 14-inches, pretty puny for the Loch Ness Monster. Nevertheless, Holiday put forth his Tully Monster theory in his 1968 book The Great Orm of Loch Ness; “orm” being another variation on “wyrm.”

However, as Holiday continued to research the Loch Ness Monster he began noticing strange things happening to him. This included his camera always malfunctioning whenever he tried to take a shot of Nessie, glimpses of mysterious orbs of light, apparent UFO sightings and experiences of missing time. As a result by the early 1970s Holiday ceased promoting the idea that Nessie was a Tully Monster and started claiming that it was a supernatural entity that was both the basis of ancient dragon legends and somehow connected to UFOs; hence the title of his second book: The Dragon and the Disc (1973). This trend in Holiday’s research continued and by the late 70s Holiday was apparently wrapped up in all kinds of occult phenomena and evidently claiming that Nessie was the object of reverence of a secret dragon cult practicing human sacrifice hidden in the surrounding Inverness environs. All this prompted Holiday’s final book The Goblin Universe (published in 1986, after his death) which was co-authored with sci-fi writer Colin Wilson; author of The Space Vampires (1976), which was later turned into the film Lifeforce (1986) directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) and scripted by Dan O’Bannon (Alien). You want a crazy Halloween double-feature? Watch Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm and Hooper’s Lifeforce back-to-back.   

Inktober Day 19: The Space Beast

Chuunaan-gaaz (Literal translation: “The beast out of nowhere”) is a semi-mythical creature said to exist somewhere in the interstellar space about Gamma Aquilae. Descriptions vary somewhat, but it is generally agreed to be a serpentine entity anywhere between ten and a hundred klicks in length with enormous, radially-arranged fins, themselves dozens of klicks long. The exobiology community at large considers it to be a legend, dismissing the handful of grainy photos and fuzzy radar images purported to depict the creature as frauds or cases of mistaken identity. Among mainstream scientists, the prevailing theory is that, if anything, Chuunaan-gaaz is merely a capsized solar sailer, possibly millenia old, misidentified by overly-imaginative spacers. Proponents of the creature’s existence argue that since interstellar space is so infrequently traversed by slower-than-light craft, it is more than possible that something so fabulous could exist without ever being properly discovered.