Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peeking at Ivan's SITU files: Loch Morar's Monster, Part Two.

We were discussing the Loch Morar survey of 1970. What did they think they had found?

Somewhat surprisingly for me, the team believed that they had found quite a lot that they were willing to stand behind. I attribute this to having a team leader, Elizabeth Montgomery Campbell, who had an intellectually honest and sympathetic view of the mystery. She should be praised as a heroine of cryptozoology in my opinion, as we don't get many professionals willing to take honest views on any of these subjects. You can read the summation of what the team thought about the physical or structural aspects of Mhorag, as best deducible from the 27 case incidents. As you can see, the synthesis describes a "typical" elongated serpentine water animal with an indeterminate number of "humps" and a darkish coloration. We will never of course know how much of such a synthesis can be ascribed to what witnesses believe a thing should look like before the fact of observing it. What I take from this is that several persons saw something too large to be explained in mundane terms, and therefore encountered an elongated anomalous entity which "shouldn't be there".

To interject a paragraph of information from the surveys of the following two years: In the two years of following on-site surveys, the team uncovered or directly witnessed ten more cases. Two are of particular interest to me.

The first is illustrated at the left. This was a sighting by a "distinguished scientist", Dr. George Cooper. He was vacationing at the Loch when he saw the large log-like hump drifting in a soft "S"-like course. His daughter was watching intently at the critical moment when it submerged with a swirling movement in the water. Cooper was sufficiently impressed that he included the thing in a painting that he was sketching at the time [as seen on the left].

The second is an incident reported by Elizabeth Campbell herself. She was looking at a long dark thin object with a lighter colored trail in the water at great distance [through binoculars]. This was on the afternoon of a previously witnessed incident [as yet not reported] wherein two fishermen, on one of those famous dead calm, smooth-as-glass surface days, suddenly had their boat rocked by an unexplainable wave. They also noted that they had no luck at all with the fish that day. What I like about this most is that the phenomenon gave Elizabeth Campbell a glimpse of "her". ["Mhorag" is often dismissed as just a Scottish girl's name, but the old Gaelic meaning has the stem for "Great" {Mhor} in it, and is indeed feminine. Mhorag seems to be be the equivalent of a "great She', or an awesome female force of some kind, maybe even a Fairyworld Queen. The connection to the earlier view if "it" as a shapeshifting Mer-person is more obvious in this labeling. Naming a girl after the concept, long softened up by modernity, would be like naming a girl Regina.]

Again, astonishingly, the team was willing to make some rather bold conclusions [as you can read in the summary statement above]. As a scientific statement, it must include proper objective distance, but the conclusions clearly can be seen as sympathetic to the reality of a large unexplained creature in the Loch --- translation:"to our best guess, Mhorag exists"]. This conclusion was not missed by anyone despite the conservative language. A whole flurry of press accompanied it, and even some scientific journals took notice. As years have gone, and no further such reaffirmation occurred, the possible "respectable" status of Mhorag has slipped back into obscure ignorance by everyone but cryptozoologists.

Well, if Mhorag is/was real, What was it? Some people wanted to take the easiest way out of course and go with a known or easily deduced animal, and opt for a big eel. Ivan Sanderson always wanted some solution such as this or one in the next category. Sanderson disliked the paranormal. He wanted to research "things", stuff, physical objects. Wild as he was in his imagination, he wanted something to hold in his hands. That's why Ivan wanted SITU to pursue RESOLOGY, the study of "things" [and not ghosts or psychic matters].

Ivan had a separate file on giant eels which started way back in 1947. That was a witness sighting of a "sea serpent" that the witness thought might be a giant eel. Sanderson apparently rated that likely too, as he filed it that way. Heuvelmans also thought some sea serpents to be giant eels, and wrote Sanderson as such in 1965. Around that same time, Ivan wrote an article about the possibility of giant eels which was rejected by five magazines.

Heuvelmans, of course, believed that some sea serpent stories were quite novel [well beyond giant-eel-novelty] animals, of which the illustration above pictures some. Sanderson thought the same. He actually tried to classify sightings by a grid system with neck-length on one axis and tail-length on the other. As he does not, in his file, make any notes about Mhorag, we can't tell if he prefers any one possible creature over another. Our intuition is, that Sanderson being an adventurous mind, would have liked Mhorag to be one such animal, but wouldn't have minded it being a giant eel either. But he wouldn't have liked a Mermaid or other paranormal folkloric "solution".

But that is exactly what the first recorded witness [James Macdonald] and the early Scottish story tellers apparently thought that it was. It is likely what the people in the mid-20th century thought it was [remember in the famous 1969 case, the witnesses didn't tell anyone except close family "because of the Mhorag curse" upon one local clan.] In fact, the local people generally seem not to have given credence to a natural biological form for their explanations of Mhorag sightings. They had grown up in a culture with beliefs dating back hundreds of years; beliefs in mermaids, fairies, fauns, naiads, and all manner of folkloric beings. They believed in many aspects of the paranormal, despite the "enlightened" world attempting to expunge their "primitive ignorant" beliefs. No wonder that they didn't want to discuss these things with the research team. But I will surmise that there was one other reason that they opted for the "olde ways" rather than Sanderson/Heuvelmans-style cryptozoology. They were fishermen and real world people. They knew that for the spectacular manifestations of Mhorag, the biological "explanations" didn't make any sense.

Although I have every sympathy with their view, I will admit that you can take the fantastic too far. The map at the left is of a website that is trying to locate the spot of Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Magick. The site places it at the extreme eastern edge of Loch Morar, and sees Mhorag as the Giant Squid in the Harry Potter novels. By the way, the arrows on the map are two powerful Leylines which somehow facilitate the Magick.

Well, it IS a nice map.

But I'll pass on that theory. I'll also pass on the giant eel and sea serpent-as-biological-entity theories. Our wonderful little Loch IS a wonderful place; but it is not over-run with a reproducing population of 60 or so Mhorags. The eco-survey showed far too little feed for an advanced animal, just as in Loch Ness. To drop down to the complexity of worms or below [to try to meet the feeding requirements] leaves one with creatures which show insufficient behavioral characteristics to duplicate the sightings. I believe that the locals disregard the flesh-and-blood Mhorags because they seem simply to make no sense. In that, real life people are generally like scientists: they go with all they feel they really know. On the other hand, they differ from scientists in that they don't throw away part of what they know just because some other guy tells them it's not possible. [Hmmm...WHO are the "scientists" in this sort of story?? --- seems like the "commonfolk" have the best claim].

So, looking at our nice loch, I'm pitching in with the people. The events seem to have happened; and the biologists seem to disprove their own best hopes. What's left?? "Something" from "somewhere else". Back in the day of the late 1880s, several Scottish amateur scholars were intensely "in the field" studying the foundational folklore and village tales of their culture. Fortunately for us, most of these field studies have been preserved. Some of these guys went into their work with obvious prejudice against the "ignorant uneducated" folks they were interviewing. But, and I was surprised, many did not.

Rather strangely, one such individual was named James Macdonald, just as our original Mhorag viewer. His emergence as a writer was so precisely similar to the other James Macdonald, that I thought they might be the same. But this fellow was a missionary just returned from Africa, who in 1888 [or so] was acting as an episcopalian minister in the parish of Reay. He was apparently ill-matched to the profession, as what he really wanted to do was study folk beliefs. One of his published talks, "Fauns and Fairies", was given before The Gaelic Society of Inverness in 1897. There he tells an astonishingly sympathetic view of Robert Kirk's description of the Fairyworld as well as associated beliefs among the people in Scotland and elsewhere. It is hard to read "tone" into the printed page, but then I found another paper wherein he lets it be known that he believes in such things generally and has experienced paranormal events himself. He says this about the folktales:
"they all point back to a time when woodland deities abounded, and when these passed into elves, fauns, and fairies. They are sportive or malevolent, according as the ideas of the Reformation or the pagan renaissance were pushed and almost forced upon the people".
"Scotland bade farewell, a sorrowful farewell, it may be, to its satyrs and its elves; its fauns and its fairies; its sunset wanderers and its midnight revellers, and left it to this [referring to the Gaelic Society] and kindred societies to rescue from oblivion the last Linants of a world to which we can hardly look back without a sigh, and wish we could feel 'As free as nature first made man. When wild in woods the noble savage ran.' "

Studies like both the James Macdonalds' and a myriad more from the times [see Evans-Wentz] indicate that the theory-of-choice among all but the Armchair-Enlightened would have been a Fairyworld entity for Mhorag. Sanderson would have disliked that. He had a file for Mermaids but never wrote a line in it [it was seventeen items without notation]. But, Good Soul Ivan, that is where I am going to go on this one. I don't know why our Fairyworld friends have disappeared [if they have], but they have at least one friend here. Exactly what sort of paranormal entity Mhorag may be, or have been, I have no more idea than perhaps anyone but Robert Kirk. But "something else" is part of our world, or a world quite "nearby".

The Christian conservatives are owed just as much of the "credit" for this expulsion as the "Armchair Enlightened". Taken together, both Religion and Science have thrown the "good people" off the Ark of Reality. But the more that I research into anomalies, I see these entities still lurking about. [not much in UFOs but in a lot else; and in some misplaced UFO cases too]. The Religion/Science mind-constrictors may have successfully thrown such entities out of their own Arks [the texts], but they don't REALLY seem to have gone away. You have to look and listen though ... how often have you been quiet lately ... with your eyes and mind open??

Who needs it?? Let's turn on the Lights.

By the way: to celebrate Ivan, Mhorag, and Hogwarts, tonight I ate Squid ... ah, Nemo's Revenge!


  1. Beautifully put, professor, and very much along the lines of what I tried to articulate yesterday.
    Constance Whyte understood this whole aspect of the mystery. Her 1957 book helped to create a resurgence of interst in the Loch Ness mystery. She knew the locals well. She knew Arthur Grant and his family, and talked with him again in the 1950s when he was still sincere about his experience of seeing the "monster" on land. She vouched for Hugh Gray and his photo, and also Lachlan Stewart and his three humped photo (though that may not be to her credit.) But she wrote as you did about the Highlander and the water-horse, and how there was nothing incongruous in the highlander's mind about a mystical creature splashing about in a loch, or that simply, there were aspects of nature that were unexplainable.
    There is some interesting point in time when shadowy myth began to emerge into a more "encounter story," type present. One of these in the parish of Garloch, where there is, wonderfully enough, a loch called Loch-na-Beiste, or "Lake of the Beast." The beiste made an appearance there in 1840, the description of which should be quite familiar to anyone who knows Loch Ness -- it resembled "an upturned boat." Then there was Dom Cyril Diekhoff, mentioned in the Loch Morar survey, who was a monk at the Abbey at Ft. Augustus on Loch Ness's western end. He recorded many sightings in his journal, including the stuff from Morar and Loch Shiel. The Loch Shiel creature, he was told, appeared on land on occasion. There are folktales of water-horses that came ashore and, like their counterparts on land, laked to graze in the fields. Some of these folktales seemed to be warning stories to keep kids away from the deep water. Don't go near the loch, or the water-horse will get you. Their horse like appearance inspired people to climb on the creature's back, after which the water-horse plunged to the depths.

  2. Hello, Prof.

    I love this stuff. Thanks for putting this out there to chew on. I am curious about the 'calm, flat water' aspect of these sightings in many lakes, especially Lake Okanagan, in my neck of the woods. The calmness of the water appears/seems to me to be an indicator of some sort. Barometric pressure and no wind? Perhaps sightings are more easily seen in flat, calm water as waves would obscure the animal. I believe it is an animal and I am partial to the eel theory. The paranormal viewpoint is enchanting, though. Does Sanderson address the Tatzelwurm anywhere that you have come across?



  3. To Richard: regarding the Tatzelwurm --- my situation when I'm in Wheeling is that I have available only what little I've been able to bring with me from the files. I chose to bring the water monster files [nine three-ring notebooks] because they presented a manageable categorical set of something that I could work with and give you guys something interesting now and then. Because the Tatzelwurm is considered by everybody that I can remember as an alpine land animal, I guess Ivan thought so too, since there are no items in these water monster files on it. MAYBE when I'm back to Michigan in a few days, I might remember to look in the larger files and see if anything jumps right out [not live Tatzelwurms, though, I'm sure]. I might easily forget though in the bustle.

    Regarding the famous flat-as-glass lakes: there might be something very physically understandable here which enhances sightings, but I get a creepy feeling that this may be a bit like the OZ effect in other anomalistic encounters, and in UFOlogy. Are the "two realities" merging in some way?? Is the Door opening?? Does the rain not fall in the space of the Knock Apparition?? Does the Mural show itself to Jung when it is somewhere else?? Does the silence of the forest portend something-this-way-comes?? WAY Out Proctor .... maybe.



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