Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tatzelwurms and SITU??

I've promised that when possible I'll try to respond to questions of interest, so this will be another of those times. In the comments a couple of weeks back, I was asked if Sanderson had anything to say about the European cryptobeast, the Tatzelwurm. Somewhat surprisingly, the answer so far has been "no". When you look at Ivan's files, it is overwhelmingly obvious that he was an ABSM man. He is "crazy" interested in the concept, and his files on it double any other subject. He's interested in water monsters, UFOs, and lots else, but no Tatzelwurm so far. Still, we may as yet uncover material on it, and the SITU magazine covered the Tatzelwurm twice in the Warth era. More on that later.

I am not going to give a professorish dissertation on the Tatzelwurm concept because it is a topic relatively new to me, and my naivete is profound. Plus there are several nice overviews on the alleged beast easily available on the internet ; one named Frontiers of Zoology has a fairly lengthy and intelligent coverage of our monster, lasting about 50 pages. I downloaded it myself --- well, if I'm going to make my own file on this thing, why not make a thick one??

As I said, I'm going to leave it to you folks to read the web in depth on this, but I'll give a vague descriptive context. This subject seems to merge back into the mediaeval past [at a minimum] in the central European Alps, especially in Switzerland and Austria [yeh, I know they weren't around yet politically]. Early descriptions seem to vary quite a bit depending on what commentator you're reading today; some folks want to glue more things together than others do. The conservative commentators tend to focus on relatively small lizardy or Gila Monster type creatures, which are dangerous due to poisonous behaviors.

A middleground of commentators seem to like a larger possibility for the monster, and go with an extended snaky affair with front legs and no hind ones. This sort of Tatzelwurm takes on an image reminiscent of some of the PNW coast sea/lake monsters, but having an Alpine habitat instead.

The "All-The-Way-Fool" school of Tatzelwurmologists [you should read back into the blog to find out what "All-The-Way-Fool" signifies in hypothesizing], combines much larger geography [possibility extending right around the planet] and much wider encounter tales. This sort of School-of-Thought is usually my favorite in cryptozoological matters, as most of these things end up impressing me as having observational reality, but not the "physical presence" in my mundane world that a biologist would like.

The ATWF school in this instance begins to speak of "dragons", the "Last European Dragons", and casts a folkloric aura about the beast. That, as blog readers know, is not at all put-offing to me, if the data seem to indicate actual encounters, but the rest of our commonsense fails to come up with a biology textbook sort of solution. Save the Data; Throw away your "commonsense" if that's what it takes to do so. "All-The-Way-Fool". Plus, I rather like Dragons. But, they're biologically out-of-the-question, so off we go to the paranormal little folks' land.

The blog-keeper of the blog that I just mentioned claims that the picture below is of a tombstone commemorating the death of a farmer killed by an attack of two poisonous Tatzelwurms. I can't see the carving clearly enough, but I trust that if we were right up next to it that we could.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I have found no commentary by Ivan on this subject. Even in his two books where one would seem encouraged to find such [ "Things" & "More Things"], there is nothing, despite comment on many other monsters.

But during Bob Warth's years of publishing PURSUIT, the Tatzelwurm was covered twice --- once in a 1986 article by Ulrich Magin [who is apparently as much an expert on this subject as anyone; and who has a recent Fortean Times article on Tatzelwurm, as well as a full book on it and other beasts {in German only, I think}], and once in an undated [but five years later] article by Luis Schonherr.

Schonherr was a great "fan" of the Tatzelwurm since his youth and had "secretly" collected a huge pile of reports alongside his more well-known UFO interests. He claimed 160 case histories. There are two unfortunate things in this part of the story: 1). Schonherr's article was part one of two, but the Journal stopped with this issue and part two never appeared. 2). Luis has now passed on and we have lost an expert as well as a fine UFOlogist.

Unless one of you is a channeler, we can do nothing about Luis passing up through the NDE light-tunnel to the next phase of his spiritual existence, but there is a small hope on the other thing. And, you guessed it, it concerns what's in those d@#$#& unsorted boxes that I described in the previous post. MAYBE Luis already had sent Bob Warth his "Part Two" of the Tatzelwurm articles and we'll uncover it in the long haul of turning over papers in hopes of the worthwhile. IF I stumble upon the mysterious unpublished part two, I will promise you a detailed report. Until then, you'll have to be content with internet sources, Ulrich Magin's doubtlessly good book, and your back copies of PURSUIT.

p.s.: both PURSUIT articles were pretty in depth: seven pages for Magin, and five for Schonherr.


  1. Hello, Prof.

    Thanks for posting this info. To me, the Tatzelwurm is one of the more 'obscure' cryptid animals, and it is intriguing. Especially so in this settled part of the world. The Alps?! A 'proto-dragon' is offered as a possible explanation for the alleged sightings. And, as you point out, there have been MANY sightings. Thanks for the links. Most interesting.



  2. Been a long time since I read Sanderson, but I believe he briefly mentioned the tatzelworm, and mentioned offhandedly that some monster might be a neotenous form of tatzelworm.

  3. Well, I wouldn't want to argue that since I have no info on it specifically. I, with great humility, would venture the soft suggestion that such theories of neotenous forms usually involve KNOWN animals whose known FETAL structural characteristics are magnified in an adult individual. The other way that I've seen this theorized is if a known species goes through a "middle" stage of life prior to maturity [a la tadpoles] and gets frozen in that stage and grows abnormally large. Taking an unknown animal and imaging what its unknown pre-adult characteristics would be is, I think, something that Sanderson would not do. But, as I say, I don't know the facts of what you reference. On the other hand, if you turn the idea around to say that Sanderson hypothesized that some known amphibian [say a Gila Monster-like thing] got caught in a middle developmental stage and THAT BECAME the Tatzelwurm, then Sanderson would be arguing in the right direction.

  4. That could well be;it's been a long time.But trying to track it down, I got reminded of caecilians, which Sanderson collected. He might have remarked that the tatzelwurm might be a neotenous caecilian.

  5. Hmmm...that rings a distant bell with me, too.

  6. Hi There. My name is Dale Drinnon and you have referred to a couple of my Frontiers of Zoology blog entries in your material, including the photo of the "Tatzelwurm Dragons" on the stela from the High Altai mountains (Identified by you as a "Tombstone"-Had you examined my blog on the "Last Dragons of Europe"-a phrase which did not originate with me, BTW, you would have seen a reproduction of the Swiss tombstone in question-which was indeed mentioned in the PURSUIT articles on the Tatzelwurm)

    I believe you have been misled by Ivan Sanderson's individualistic system of classification when you say Sanderson did NOT say anything about Tatzelwurms. In fact he said a great deal, BUT he classified them in with "The Great Orms" (which term comes from Ted Holiday but which Sanderson uses to mean a gigantic amphibian native to Northern Europe.

    Investigating the Unexplained by Sanderson (1972) covers The Great Orm in Chapter 2, which combines material from Sanderson's forward to Holiday's book with an article originally puiblished in ARGOSY (I saw the original when it first came out) to articulate thegiant-caecilian theory. It just so happens that in more than one sources, Sanderson mentions the Tatzelwurm by name and in Investigating the Unexplained the tatzelwurm is mentioned on pages 34-37. On page 37, Sanderson says "We have very little but vague stories of tatzelwurm to go on, but everything about them I have ever heard of them fits the caecilians and only the caecilians"-which is going a might far, actually, since the lizardlike amphisbaenas are very similar to the amphibian caecilians (ie, both are wormlike in appearance: some of the amphisbaenas are two-legged and a photo of one such is on one of the FOZ blogs which you pointed out)

    Not only did Sanderson mention tatzelwurms (mentioning Willy Ley as a source), he ALSO identified them as Lindorms in more than one place, and while going through Sanderson's files myself in 1974, I saw a letter from a Swedish corrspondant discussing Lindorms, to which Sanderson had pencilled in the word "Tatzelwurm" as a "Translation" over to the side. Moreover, Sanderson identified the Lindorm from A Fantastic Bestiary as "His" Orm/Tatzelwurm as opposed to the winged and fourfooted dragon which that book calls a "Tatzelwurm"

    Sanderson's size estimates given for "great orms" go up by stages that are basically pure fancy since he ends up with the possibility of an 80-foot long neotenous larval form as supposedly the ultimate size for Lindorms/Tatzelwurms. Since Tatzelwurms are ordinarily reported as less than six feet long and Lindorms usually twenty feet long or less, there really is no need to presume anything like an 80-foot one. Very few freshwater monster reports of any type are as much as eighty feet long.

    By the way, allow me to reiterate that I got a pretty thorough look through Sanderson's files before they were broken up, starting in a session in the summer of 1973 and then continuing in another session in 1974, when I was staying over in the library building itself.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.
    Formerly SITU member 1132
    And after that an Honorary member

  7. Glad to hear all of that, and doubtless future readers will learn from it too. Because I am in this odd situation of having to be away from my own and the SITU library, and only having a few drug-along notebooks to help provide some info to readers, we all appreciate folks who can fill in the blanks. Someday [though I'm not looking forward to it] my Mother will pass on to her reward and then I can go back to Michigan and be able to answer questions a little better. Till then, I have to rely on the knowledge [and understanding] of others. Thank you for the Tatzelwurm insights.

  8. In fact, the second part of Luis Schoenherr's article is available on Internet, thanks to Schoenherr's son :