Category: Mysterious Creatures


 

During a harsh Canadian winter in the early 1850s an American Indian named White Bear left his Blackfoot tribe and journeyed to Devil’s Head Mountain, north-east of Banff in Alberta, in a desperate search for food. White Bear had killed a deer and was carrying its carcass tied to his back when suddenly a great shadow appeared overhead. He felt huge talons grip the deer, lifting it – and him – into the sky!

The winged kidnapper carried White Bear up to a cliff, dropped him into a nest with two young birds, then perched nearby. The terrified hunter realized it was an omaxsapitau – a gigantic, eagle-like thunderbird, greatly feared by the Blackfoot Indians. To his horror, among the bones in the nest were recognizably human remains. When the omaxsapitau flew off to hunt again, White Bear grasped the feet of the two young birds and threw himself from the nest. The chicks opened their wings as they plunged to the ground, safely slowing White Bear’s descent. Before letting them go, the hunter pulled two feathers from the birds’ tails to show to his people.

White Bear’s report is just one of numerous others from North America featuring huge, unidentifiable birds of prey. The Indians call them thunderbirds because, according to legend, their wings are associated with the sound of thunder. As recently as July 15, 1977, in Lawndale, Illinois, two enormous black vulture-like birds were sighted – they had hooked beaks, white-ringed necks, and wings estimated to be more than 3 meters across. One of the birds lifted 10-year-old Marlon Lowe off the ground outside his house and carried the screaming boy 10 to 12 meters before dropping him. Ornithologists insist that no bird in existence is large enough or strong enough to carry a 27-kilogram child, yet other witnesses reported seeing, sometime later, the same birds flying south.

About 8,000 years ago monstrous birds of prey did exist in North America. Known as teratorns, these prehistoric birds looked like vultures but were more active than their smaller, scavenging counterparts today. Fossils found all across the continent have shown that the most familiar species, suitably named the “incredible teratorn,” had an immense wingspan – as much as 5 meters. It may be more than coincidental that reports of enormous raptors have emerged from regions that once harbored similar real-life species supposedly extinct for centuries.

 

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In 1658 a French admiral, Etienne de Flacourt, documented reports from Madagascar, the large island off the east coast of Africa, of an extraordinary creature as big as a two-year-old calf, with a round head, human face and ears, ape-like feet, short tail and frizzy fur.

Madagascar is famous for its lemurs – a diverse family of primitive primates occupying the ecological niches filled elsewhere in the world of monkeys and apes. But de Flacourt’s description did not match with that of any lemur known at the time, and so the tratratratra, as the creature was named, was dismissed as an imaginary beast of native folklore.

 

But later paleontological studies uncovered the fossils of several species of extinct giant lemur, among which was a massive form called Megaladapis. The likely appearance in life of this lemur, reconstructed from its remains, closely matched that of the supposedly mythical tratratratra.

The Megaladapis lemur was originally believed to have died out several thousands of years ago. But mindful of the native reports about the tratratratra and the discovery of Megaladapis bones little more than a thousand years old, zoologists now believe that it lived at the same time as humans, who had reached Madagascar by the sixth century before being hunted into extinction.

 

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Not far from Wold Newton, in Humberside, England, there is a huge, round ancient grave mound called Willy Howe. Probably raised in the late Neolithic period, it was recognized as a burial place by both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian settlers, hence its name (“howe” meaning “burial ground”).

Strange beliefs were attached to the Howe. The twelfth-century chronicler William of Newburgh, a native of the area, tells of a villager who was coming home, tipsy, late one night, when he heard singing and sounds of merrymaking coming from the Howe. He found an open door in the side of the mound and, looking in, saw a spacious house, brilliantly lit, filled with men and women seated at a banquet. A servant, seeing him at the door, gave him a cup of wine. The man emptied out the wine, kept the cup and ran off. The banqueters gave chase, but he reached home with his prize. The villager had been afraid to drink the wine because to do so in the banqueters’ domain would have put him in the power of the underworld.

In northern Europe it was thought that the dead continued a kind of afterlife inside burial mounds like Willy Howe. Such ideas may have contributed to the belief that fairies lived in these most ancient grave mounds.

In due course the stolen cup was given as a gift to King Henry I, who in turn gave it to his brother-in-law, King David of Scotland. Years later, when Henry II asked to see it, William of Scotland returned it to England. But what happened to it afterwards is not known.

Several cups were stolen in similar circumstances from the “fairies” in the Middle Ages, according to reports from Scandinavia, England and north Germany.

One “fairy cup” that survived is known as the Luck of Edenhall, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. An enameled and gilded glass beaker of unusual design, made in Syria in the thirteenth century AD, it was an heirloom in the Musgrave family of Edenhall in Cumbria. Legend has it that the cup was dropped by fairies who were caught merrymaking around nearby St Cuthbert’s Well. Interrupted, the fairies fled, screaming, “If this cup should break or fall, Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.” The “Luck” was therefore carefully preserved, and when anyone wanted to drink from it, a napkin was held underneath in case of an accident.

 

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