The Beating of Black Wings: Psychology, Sexuality, and Mysterious Beings
Forteana, that is, the study of unusual bits of history and science in the tradition of Charles Hoy Fort, has had a long love affair with supposed “winged entities”.
Such reports have been chronicled over the decades by such champions to the cause as the late John Keel, who presented several such cases in his famous book The Mothman Prophecies. For those who haven’t read it, Motorman presents an imaginative romp through West Virginia in the author’s pursuit of saucers, which culminated in reports of an alleged winged beast that, in the author’s mind, could have foreshadowed the famous collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. The book inspired a 2002 film of the same name, starring actors Richard Gere and Laura Linney.
Among the reports Keel offered, we find this account from July 11, 1908, involving Russian traveler V. K. Arsenyev. He had been en route along the Gobilli River at the time, when his dog, Alpha, became agitated by something nearby in the brush. Arsenyev initially thought the interloper had fled the scene, only to find that a steady thumping remained nearby, possibly the sound of footsteps in thick foliage nearby. Suddenly, the footsteps stopped, and each party remained motionless, listening for the other:
We had been standing like that for some minutes … then I stooped, picked up a stone and threw it towards the unknown animal. Then something happened that was quite unexpected: I heard the beating of wings. Something large and dark emerged from the fog and flew over the river. A moment later it disappeared into the dense mist My dog, badly frightened, pressed itself to my feet.
After supper I told the Udehe-men about this incident. They broke into a vivid story about a man who could fly in the air. Hunters often saw his tracks, tracks that appeared suddenly and vanished suddenly, in such a way that they could only be possible if the “man” alighted on the ground, then took off again into the air.
A similar story comes to us from Keel’s collection, as reported by marine corps private earl Morrison, first class, who had been stationed in Vietnam during the summer of 1969. Morrison was accompanied by two others at an outpost near Da Nang that summer, and on the evening in question, the three of them all described feeling drawn to look in a particular direction in the sky:
We all three looked out there in the sky and we saw this figure coming toward us. It had a kind of glow and we couldn’t make out what it was at first. It started coming toward us, real slowly. All of a sudden we saw what looked like wings, like a bat’s, only it was gigantic compared to what a regular bat would be. After it got close enough so we could see what it was, it looked like a woman. A naked woman. She was black. Her skin was black, her body was black, the wings were black, everything was black. But it glowed. It glowed in the night—kind of a greenish cast to it.
There was a glow on her and around her. Everything glowed. Looked like she glowed and threw off a radiance. We saw her arms toward the wings and they looked like regular molded arms, each with a hand, and, fingers and everything, but they had skin from the wings going over them. And when she flapped her wings, there was no noise at first. It looked like her arms didn’t have any bones in them, because they were limber just like a bat.
She started going over us, and we still didn’t hear anything. She was right above us, and when she got over the top of our heads she was maybe six or seven feet up.
We couldn’t do anything. We didn’t know what to do. We just froze. We just watched what was going over because we couldn’t believe our eyes. … So we watched her go straight over the top of us, and still she didn’t make any noise flapping her wings. She blotted out the moon once—that’s how close she was to us … As we watched her—she got about ten feet or so away from us—we started hearing her wings flap. And it sounded, you know, like regular wings flapping. And she just started flying off and we watched her for quite a while. The total time when we first saw her and could almost define her until we lost sight of her and were unable to define her was between three or four minutes.
Stories like these certainly strain credulity, presenting the alleged appearance of “beings” that, if they existed, would defy rational explanation. However, a few interesting components begins to emerge within the analysis of certain reports of winged entities; in particular, instances which bear a variety of similarities to folkloric traditions from various cultures around the world. The report outlined above, and its dealing with the observation of a winged–and fully nude–woman observed by three solitary wartime servicemen, does bear more qualities of a sexual fantasy than of a true encounter with the unknown. Equally strange, in the broader sense of studies involving alleged “winged creatures” and their interactions with their habitat and surroundings, one begins to note a prevalence of physical attacks and intrusions, some of which also relate sexual aspects of their apparent interactions with humans.
A number of years ago, I came upon an article addressing detailed encounters with an alleged “gargoyle” seen near the vicinity of the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. This was presented by Scott Corrales of the online journal Inexplicata, in which he shared some unique accounts that included a physical attack sustained by an area local. According to Corrales, “some people have identified (the monster) with the Chupacabras, yet others believe it is a differnt, elusive and sinister entity whose lair is in Barrio Ensenada, amid the ruins and tunnels of the Guanica Sugar Mill, where the skeletons of its victims can be found.”
Arguably, the manner in which this story is presented here has a folkloric overtone, with it’s tales of an old abandoned building in which the creature now resides (one might also assume that if the creature’s victims were really piled up beneath an old sugar mill, a criminal investigation would have ensued to uncover the remains and find the culprit). Corrales further noted that this incident also involved a man who claimed to have been attacked by the creature in question.
Much like the “Gargoyle” of El Yunque is said to inhabit an abandoned sugar mill, Point Pleasant’s Mothman creature similarly inhabited an abandoned TNT factory in the area. There could be a number of reasons for this similarity; one being that, as a matter of tradition, monsters always tend to reside in a dark and dangerous lair. Think of legends involving dragons and other mythic beasts, whose caves must be entered by a brave soul in order to liberate an afflicted populace from the dangers the monster in question presents to them. It would be fitting, supposing there was indeed some physicality to the existence of creatures like Mothmen or gargoyles, that people would uphold this tradition by similarly assigning them a “dragon’s lair” of sorts, whether or not the creature actually resided there at all. Or perhaps, much like the notion of a haunted house and its ghosts, bogey men, or other terrors that hide within, the psychological extensions of one’s own fear of the location itself might manifest, to some degree, in the presence of a devilish creature similar to a Mothman, dragon, or in this case, perhaps a gargoyle.
Though interesting in terms of the psychology of the experiences reported, ruminating on the folkloric archetypes present in this circumstance does little to fend against the problems we’re presented by the very real physical attacks some witnesses have described. Corrales goes on to describe a man, whose only given name is “Valdo,” who was apparently attacked by the winged beast near Guánica Lagoon in the mid-1990s:
“He was injured in his stomach, his [abdominal] fat could be seen,” noted a witness, describing the injuries suffered by a man on his belly and back, caused as if by “an animal’s claws.” The witness soberly expalined that the wounded man lifted the t-shirt he put on after the attack, saying that a “large winged” animal took him by surprise in his back yard and attacked him.
The description of physical attacks made by monstrous winged animals isn’t specific only to Puerto Rico’s gargoyle. Over the years, a horrific creature called Popobawa has been described by residents of Zanzibar and nearby locales, and much like it’s western cousins, the creature is said to have wings, and bears a penchant for physically attacking its victims. Popobawa’s attacks differ, however, in that incidents involving the creature have a predominantly sexual nature; strangely, men have claimed the creature will enter their homes at night and sexually molest them, promising to return if they don’t share the terrifying experience with others.
Though the gargoyle of El Yunque isn’t described as a sexual deviant like Zanzibar’s Popobawa, there are other creatures present in the culture and traditions of the region that are more similar in this regard, which makes for a fitting point from which we’ll diverge away from the exclusive conversation of winged monsters, instead drawing parallels between those whose presence is accompanied by strange sexual circumstances.
Both the Pombero, as well as its lesser-known cousin, Kurupi, are entities credited with sexual molestations and general mischief in Guarani culture and other parts of Latin America. Much like Zanzibar’s Popobawa, the Kurupi is characterized by its abnormally large male genitalia, though the traditions surrounding the Kurupi show that it, unlike Popobawa, favors the opposite sex, having been blamed for the occasional impregnation of women. A similar myth, stemming from further south in Chilean lore, involves the goblin-like Trauco, a creature which carries a stone hammer representative of its sexual potency. It too is accredited with luring human women away for purposes of breeding with them.
In truth, if one were to canvass the traditions and superstitions of various countries and their people, it would no doubt show that similar sexualized encounters exist virtually throughout. Malaysia’s Orang Minyak, a ghost-like serial rapist in Maylay traditions that attacks young virgins, caused localized panic in 2005 during a surge of encounters young women had with a strange man entering their bedrooms at night.
Further compounding the sexual nature of such supernatural encounters is the similar manner in which UFO abductees claim their captors often show a preoccupation with the genitals. The most widely accepted rationale for this among UFOlogists has to do with the premise that human “specimens” are being used as breeding stock, of sorts, for an elaborate intergalactic hybridization program. In short, our alien visitors are dependent on using human genes in order to bolster their own waning reproductive facilities. Again, however, if we were to attempt to look at this from a purely folkloric perspective, the noted parallels existing between faerie traditions in the British Isles compared alongside modern abduction reports; or the similar consistencies between UFO lore and archetypal mystic encounters that shamans divulge, might have us believe that the persistence of sexual encounters throughout illustrates something deeper and, fundamentally, an aspect of our humanity which remains nested curiously within the psyche.
It is difficult, in the end, to make complete sense of these folkloric parallels; particularly those which have to do with human sexuality. Viewed purely in the context of socio-cultural and psychological phenomenon, it is difficult to see beyond the symbolism that sexual intercourse suggests: these might range from a union with the unknown, to the unsettling feeling of “intrusion” into the lives of experiencers, whose interactions are compared directly with sexual assault, the penultimate form of attack or intrusion that combines both physical, and psychological trauma.
Do such observations dispel entirely the notion that undiscovered winged creatures might exist, the likes of which have been reported in locations like Puerto Rico and other locales worldwide?This may not be the case, but the physical nature of the occurrences, whether they be violent intrusions in terms of attacks, or the more psychologically intrusive molestations, also points to an inherent psycho-sexual relationship that exists between experiencers of strange phenomenon and their otherworldly assailants. Perhaps the intrusive aspects that so often manifest in supernatural experiences may represent, if anything, an ongoing internal struggle for dominance solely within the human character, obliquely defying humankind’s conquests as a species hitherto on this planet.