What is Cryptozoology?
By: David McConaghay | Sept. 18th, 2018
Myths of legendary creatures — beasts of enormous proportion with strange combinations of horns and hoofs with magical capacities to disappear or shape-shift on a whim, can be found in almost every culture. The Book of Imaginary Beings, by Jorge Luis Borges, is an artistic catalog of these mythical creatures. The author draws on traditions from around the world to create a bestiary of beings we have imagined into creation. He describes 116 unique characters, including “dragons… centaurs… Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat and the Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.”
According to a paper published by Palomar College, “About 1.8 million (species) have been given scientific names. Thousands more are added to the list every year. Over the last half century, scientific estimates of the total number of living species have ranged from three to 100 million. The most recent methodical survey indicates that it is likely to be close to nine million, with 6.5 million of them living on the land and 2.2 million in the oceans.”
Compare these numbers (1.8 million actual; nine million potential species) to the paltry 116 imaginary beings offered by Borges, and we can understand why he asserts that “the zoology attributable to dreams is in fact considerably more modest than that attributable to God.”
Given the expanses of yet unexplored jungle and deep ocean territory on our very own planet, even 9 million total species may be a conservative guess. It is extraordinarily exciting to imagine all the fantastic creatures that may in fact be real and simply awaiting (or perhaps actively avoiding) our discovery.
WHAT IS CRYPTOZOOLOGY?
According to Loren Coleman, the director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, “cryptozoology… literally means the study of hidden or unknown animals.”
If only 1.8 million of the presumed nine million species on the planet have been identified, that means there are something like 7.2 million unique animals yet to be discovered. Thus, cryptozoology, often derided as pseudo-science, is in fact a necessary and cutting-edge pursuit.
Coleman offers a more thorough and specific definition, asserting that, “cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals (whether large or small) to date not formally recognized by what is often termed Western science or formal zoology but supported in some way by testimony (in its broadest definition) from a human being and evidence of their presence.”
Most famously, cryptozoology is associated with creatures like Bigfoot (Sasquatch), the Yeti (Abominable Snowman) and the Loch Ness monster (Nessie). While direct evidence of these beings is fleeting at best, the fact of their existence is deeply rooted in our collective consciousness. Local legends, solitary eyewitness accounts, mysterious footprints and fur samples all spur the ongoing search for verification.
WHAT ARE CRYPTIDS?
The elusive animals which are the subjects of cryptozoological research are collectively known as cryptids. Cryptids are a bit difficult to discuss because they are by definition largely unknown. If we become too familiar with the identifying characteristics of any given animal, it ceases to be a cryptid.
Given the profound rarity of cryptid sightings, Coleman tells us that the primary sources for information about cryptids comes from “the input of local, native, explorer, and traveler traditions, sightings, tales, legends and folklore of the as-yet unverified animals.”
For this reason, according to Bernard Heuvelmans, cryptozoological research is “conducted more extensively in libraries, newspaper morgues, regional archives, museums, art galleries, laboratories, and zoological parks rather than in the field.”
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CRYPTOZOOLOGY CREATURES PROVEN REAL
Paradoxically, this is an actual science based on rumor and hearsay, a legitimate discipline dedicated to proving the stuff of local legends and cultural myths to be true. This might be easy to dismiss if it weren’t for the large and growing catalog of cryptozoology creatures proven real.
One of the most famous examples was known as the Pongo. In African folklore, according to The Cryptid Zoo, “the Pongo was a wild man of the jungle. Looking like a cross between a human and a monkey, he was a violent creature with magical powers” and a penchant for shape-shifting and an appetite for human flesh.
In 1847, the world was shocked by the announcement that the Pongo truly exists. Of course we now know that gorillas are vegetarians, gentle giants who neither capture, consume nor reproduce with humans. Nonetheless, their long-standing cultural association with such terrifying qualities survives in their very name, as “gorilla” is derived from the Arabic word for “ghoul.”
Another success story concerns the Coelacanth (SEEL-uh-kanth) — a prehistoric fish thought to be extinct for 65 million years. That is, until 1938, when this strange “living fossil fish” showed up in a South African fish market.
(http://www.newanimal.org/coelacanth.htm) The Cryptid Zoo tells us that “After being identified as a coelacanth and stuffed as a taxidermic specimen to preserve it, doubts were expressed about whether it was genuine. Scientists brought out all the arguments that they typically use to explain away cryptids, including that it was a misidentified normal animal… it was accused of being a common grouper, even though the remains did not resemble that fish. A second coelacanth was not captured until 1952.”
Since then, many live coelacanths have been captured and two subspecies have been identified, with the potential for more to come. Thus, despite deeply-seeded initial skepticism, the persistent existence of this prehistoric fish is now indisputable scientific fact.
According to the International Society of Cryptozoology, the coelacanth is considered a cryptid even though the fossil record proved its previous existence because “what makes an animal of interest to cryptology is that it is unexpected.”
The coelacanth is also significant in that it’s unique anatomical structures may demonstrate one link in the evolutionary chain that led animals out of the sea and onto land.
These are but two of the many stories out there of animals whose contemporary existence was purely speculative but later, through diligence and luck, was proven to be as real as the common squirrel.
For more such examples, The Cryptid Zoo has an extensive archive of information about various cryptids from around the world.
Want to be a Cryptozoologist?
A skilled cryptozoologist has mastered a wide range of disciplines, including but by no means limited to physical anthropology, mythology, linguistics, archaeology and history. Given the range and depth of research required to be a successful cryptozoologist, it’s no surprise that there are several Ph.D programs focused on the science.
One example is the Institute of Metaphysical Humanistic Science (IMHS), an online program where “students will learn about… taxonomy and classification, research techniques, conducting field investigations, equipment, and working with other researchers. Evidence analysis is also covered, equipping students to analyze photos, videos, and other items that might assist in scientifically describing a reported animal. As an alternative, students may choose to specialize in “Hominology,” a branch of Cryptozoology focused on the study of primates or hominids such as Bigfoot, as opposed to all types of cryptids.”
However, an online degree is only worth the energy you personally apply to your studies. If you’ve got a true passion for cryptozoology, you must be first and foremost self-taught and self-motivated.
A great place to start your research is by studying myths, legends and folklore from your geographical area of interest.
Are you planning a trip to a place with excellent cryptozoological potentials? Or are you curious about what might be found lurking in the woods just beyond your backyard?
START YOUR OWN RESEARCH
Either way, Theresa Bane’s “Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore” is a valuable resource. As the author writes in the preface, she believes this volume “to be unique in its completeness and in the breadth of its sources. I was determined to include every possible creature, leaving no culture, religion or time period untouched.”
For further inspiration, turn to George Noory’s Beyond Belief episode titled “The CryptoHunter with John Rhodes,” wherein they explore Rhodes obsession with seeking out the 85% of unknown creatures that currently share our planet.
For even more esoteric theories and applications, I recommend Max Igan’s ebook “Earth’s Forbidden History” wherein he discusses “Out-of-Place Parts” (OOPARTS), like a swiss watch discovered inside a piece of coal) as well as significant evidence that dinosaurs and humans may have at one time coexisted.
There are countless more extraordinary examples where concrete evidence points towards the living existence of creatures otherwise unthinkable. The hope is that the small sampling presented here will serve as inspiration for further inquiry.
In closing, we return to Borges waxing poetic about dragons. He writes, “We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe, but there is something about the dragon that is congenial to man’s imagination, thus the dragon arises in many latitudes and ages. It is, one might say, a necessary monster…”
How many monsters are still out there waiting to be found? Why are certain myths and mythological animals so pervasive throughout time and space? Are these creatures simply necessary aspects of our imagination? Or are they really real?
WHAT TO BRING WHEN SEARCHING FOR CRYPTOZOOLOGY CREATURES
The only way to find out is for yourself. Therefore, if you are going out in search of cryptids, be it in your backyard, a national park or in a foreign land, here are some items that will be of benefit to your hunt:
- CASTING MATERIALS TO CAST FOOTPRINTS/ TRACKS
The Georgia Bigfoot Society offers a complete set of instructions and necessary materials for this important method of collecting evidence.
Ideally, this could be a GoPro or similar camera that can be attached to your body and set to record the entire search. That way there is no delay between spotting your cryptid and capturing it on film. Too often, the time it takes to get the camera out of your pocket, turn it on and start filming/photographing is simply too long and noisy a process to be effective.
- COMPASS/GPS LOCATOR
You must be oriented to true north in order to to identify vortices and magnetic field disruptions. Depending where you are, it may also be wise to bring a vortex map, so you’ll know when you’re near an area where a creature is more likely to pop through a portal in space-time. You can set up Google Earth to show ley lines.
- NIGHT-VISION GOGGLES
For the serious explorer who is not afraid of the dark. Many cryptids are suspected to be nocturnal, meaning your chance of spotting one in the daytime is slim to none. Sometimes, the cryptozoologist must do what the cryptozoologist must do.
- PEN AND PAPER
Crucial for recording field notes including area searched, time of day/year, weather conditions etc. A voice recorder can also serve this purpose, but you run the risk of spooking your cryptid. Remember, cryptids are very sensitive creatures, well-accustomed to avoiding human contact. You must be very stealthy if you are to catch one unawares.
Colors will vary based on the terrain, but as mentioned above, stealth is of the utmost importance.
Because even the most dedicated cryptozoologist needs to refuel. And if a best/worst case scenario unfolds, and you find yourself being chased by an aggravated Yeti, you can toss him your trail mix as a distraction.
David McConaghay is a student, teacher and practitioner based in Boulder, Colorado. An English major deeply trained in the Sivananda yoga tradition, David is now more than two years through a four year course to become a NAMA-certified Ayurvedic Doctor at Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula. He also serves on the board of COLORAMA and plays soccer for Harpo’s FC.
David demonstrates sincere enthusiasm for exploring the overlaps between ancient Vedic sciences and futuristic physics. His aim is to make the esoteric accessible by sharing the many ways whereby accurately understanding the structure of space-time can benefit our daily actions and experience. He teaches locally at Colorado School of Yoga and is available for private consultations. A sampling of his work and play is available at SatsangEtc.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
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