Monday, August 24, 2015

Cataloging cryptosleuths

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, monsters, investigations

We love our monsters (most of us). Whatever the nearby mystery, it has a large following, and a few more charismatic legends have a worldwide following, such as Nessie and UFO's. Writer Tea Krulos set out to learn about the whole range of monsters/demons/ghosts/UFO's and the people who hunt them. Doing so, he followed along with a group known as PIM (Paranormal Investogators of Milwaukee) on a number of such hunts, and as he relates in the last chapter, got a little more than he'd bargained for in one instance. He also tagged along with or interviewed members of other groups and researched the field among both scientist, skeptics and believers. The result is his book Monster Hunters: On the Trail with Ghost Hunters, Bigfooters, Ufologists, and Other Paranormal Investigators.

Other than "the boogieman", the only popular monsters I recall from childhood are the Loch Ness Monster ("Nessie") and the Abominable Snowman (Yeti). I find that each represents a category. I don't know if the book's span is all-inclusive, but it seems so:

  • Cryptozoology, or the study of "cryptids", elusive creatures that include
    • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, the Skunk Ape and other man-apes.
    • Two kinds of Chupacabra (sometimes written Chupacabras, following a Spanish idiom), whose name means "goat sucker". One variety is thought to be responsible for animals found drained of blood. The other looks like an extremely mange-afflicted dog.
    • Lake monsters such as Nessie, "Champ" in Lake Champlain, and other large snake- or dinosaur-like swimming animals.
    • Werewolves, but seldom of the shape-changing kind (no Vampires are mentioned, though, and Vampire Bats are all too real, if rather small).
  • Demonology, including ghost hunting and activities of professional exorcists.
  • Chimeras, such as MothMan. Nobody seems to hunt Griffins or the Basilisk these days.
  • UFO's, and not all ufologists are convinced they are ET's.

The middle point above is a tricky one. The Roman Catholic Church employs an official Exorcist in each of the 50 U.S. states, and others stationed in provinces around the world. They take demon possession very seriously. Krulos interviewed one of them for his chapter on demon possession, and was given a reasoned account; also a scathing commentary on the flashy exorcist he describes in detail, a certain "reverend", whose activities I disdain at least as much as the Catholic exorcist does. A certain Bible verse about "making merchandise of the word of God" comes to mind.

A point to ponder: If the demons of the Bible actually exist, they are quite capable of impersonating the "ghosts" of the dear departed, which is the view the Bible takes. Their abilities and activities would explain all manner of occult manifestations, although the great majority of "spiritualist" activities are easily shown to be the work of charlatans. Some well respected theologians consider that demons are also behind the UFO activities that are not hoaxes or misunderstandings of natural phenomena.

Cryptozoology in particular dwells on the line between fact and fantasy. From time to time a new, largish species is discovered that nobody knew was there. A famous one is the Coelacanth, a rare fish that was thought to be extinct until some were caught near Indonesia in 1938. I remember as a boy the reports of the first Okapi, a kind of smallish zebra/giraffe. Finding a new mammals is rare. Though new species of many kinds are found every year, they are nearly all small or even tiny, and reclusive. Pretty much everything that isn't reclusive has already been discovered and described in journals. But some cryptozoologists do try to take a very scientific approach, and may study science so as to do it better. Maybe someday a living Yeti will show up in some indisputable way.

Tea Krulos became a kind of meta-hunter, hunting the hunters and bringing us glimpses of their lives. Not many are mild-mannered sorts, though a very few seem to be. It generally takes an outsize personality to go from being "interested" in various monsters or ghosts, or even fascinated with them, to being an active hunter, in an organization like PIM or on one's own. But considering the reputed powers of their prey, it seems safest to hunt in groups.

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