The Bizarre Saga of Gef, the Talking Mongoose
The world of the unexplained, cryptozoology, and Fortean phenomena is not surprisingly full of its share of odd tales and accounts. However, among the numerous strange sightings and experiences reported from all over the world there occasionally comes one that truly stands out as being of a particularly bizarre nature. These are the surreal cases that are really hard to classify, and seem to hover in a whole realm and category of their own. One such case certainly has to be that of a humble farming family on the Isle of Man, who one day were visited by a mysterious entity that would become a part of their family, change their lives, and which also just happened to take the form of a talking mongoose. Here is a case which has pushed out past the outer fringes of the weird, and continues to amuse and baffle to this day.
The whole incredibly bizarre tale started in 1931 at a remote hilltop farmstead known as Doarlish Cashen, located outside the village of Dalby on the Isle of Man. The farmstead was owned by the Irving family, which consisted of the father, a retired traveling salesman named Jim, his wife Margaret, and their young daughter, 12-year old Voirrey. The farmstead was a humble affair to be sure, with no electricity and no phone or radio, and it was located far from any of the surrounding farmsteads, but for the most part the family had a peaceful, normal life until one day in September, when a strange series of events began to unfold.
It began with persistent scratching, scurrying, and rustling sounds in the walls of the house, which soon graduated to odd growling, barking, blowing, gurgling, and spitting noises which emanated from beyond the simple wood panelling over the next several days. Thinking that the culprit was a rat, Jim Irving went about trying to get rid it, without much luck. Poison was left untouched and numerous rat traps failed to catch whatever was making all of the noise in their walls. One day, Jim heard the thing in the wall shuffling about yet again, and in frustration and anger he growled at it like a dog. Much to his astonishment, the thing growled back in a perfect mimicry of Jim.
From there, the strange, elusive creature started mimicking noises from various animals, including cats, cows, dogs, and even the sound of a baby crying. Before long, the family found that whatever it was would even take requests, making whatever animal sound the family members requested of it. It was obvious that this was no mere rat. Intrigued, Voirrey began trying to see what else the still unknown animal could mimic. She tried reciting nursery rhymes at the wall, and much to the surprise of everyone the creature was able to recite them back in a high pitched, squeaky voice. The creature would also mimic songs that the girl sang to it or parrot things that it heard in conversations, even ones across the house, which made the family not a little nervous. The father would claim that the thing had exceptional hearing, saying:
It’s hearing powers are phenomenal. It is no use whispering. It detects the whisper 15-20 feet away, tells you that you are whispering, and repeats exactly what one has said.
The amazed family wondered what in the world this strange creature living in their walls could possibly be, and they did not have to wait much longer before it would come forth to finally properly introduce itself. One day, the mysterious creature told them through the wall that his name was Gef, (Pronounced “Jeff”) and that he was not a rat, but rather a bushy-tailed mongoose, and by his own confession he told them that he was “an extra extra clever mongoose”. This might seem quite weird enough as it is, but there was more. Gef claimed that he had been born in New Delhi, India in 1852, where he had often been shot at by farmers and had been owned by a man in a green turban. He claimed that he had been captured and then brought to Egypt before winding up in England among a group of mongooses brought to another farmstead to battle vermin. He also claimed that he had actually been able to speak the whole time, with the prior days being just sort of a joke to see what they would do. Gef also boasted that he was extremely well-learned and all-knowing, telling them: “If you knew what I know, you’d know a hell of a lot!”
From then on, Gef began his relationship with the family, holding regular conversations with them and taking up residence in a boxed partition in the rafters of Voirrey’s bedroom, a place which would be referred to as “Gef’s Sanctum.” The creature was only ever fleetingly glimpsed, mostly by Voirrey, and described just as he had said, a mongoose with a bushy, black speckled tail and yellowish coloration, but mostly Gef shunned being seen, and did not even want pictures taken or even drawings made of him, getting extremely upset when people tried. Gef was also sure to lay down some ground rules for their whole living arrangement right from the start, allegedly telling the family: “If you are kind to me, I will bring you good luck. If you are not kind, I shall kill all your poultry. I can get them wherever you put them!”
Gef claimed that he often left the house to travel about the island in the backs of cars or buses and would tell them of all of the things going on with the neighbors and townsfolk, which was mostly gossip he’d picked up through his ultra sharp hearing and incessant eavesdropping. Gef was also prone to bringing home dead rabbits, which he would leave on the doorstep of the house for Margaret to cook, and which appeared to have been strangled to death by tiny hands. Although he captured rabbits for the family to eat, Gef himself is said to have enjoyed bacon, kippers, and sausages, as well as chocolate and bananas, which the family would leave out for him as a reward. He apparently hated eggs, and wouldn’t touch them. Gef would also steal food from both the pantry and from others, such as one bus driver who insisted the creature had pilfered two sandwiches from him.
Although he could be a nuisance at times, Gef was also said to help the family out. He would wake them up if they seemed in danger of oversleeping and he was quick to warn of approaching strangers or stray dogs. If someone forgot to turn off the stove or lights, Gef is said to have dutifully gone and turned them off. He would also allegedly go around and do simple chores around the house, such as putting things away or tidying up.
Gef was also supposedly quite fond of singing, with some his favorites being “Caroline Moon” and “Home on the Range,” as well as the Manx national anthem. Indeed Gef would often belt out a song or ramble on even when no one was interested in hearing it, becoming somewhat of a pest at times. Yet although Gef liked to sing or chat for hours on end, he reportedly would sometimes grow tired of chatter or song, after which he would simply say “Vanished!” and go quiet, sometimes for days on end.
As time went on, Gef, who was already a rather odd character to begin with, began to get even weirder. While he had at first claimed to be a special, clever mongoose, he started to make other bold, decidedly bizarre and often contradictory claims, such as that he was “The Holy Ghost,” and “The 8th Wonder of the World,” as well as claiming to be from “the 5th Dimension,” an earthbound spirit and being able to split the atom, yet when asked if he was a spirit he would confusingly reply: “If I were a spirit I could not kill rabbits.” He also once replied when asked why the family was not allowed to get a good look at him: “I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you’d faint, you’d be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt!” Some of his ever more grandiose and baffling claims as to his real identity were even more sinister, and he is once said to have claimed, “I am not evil. I could be if I wanted. You don’t know what damage or harm I could do if I were roused. I could kill you all, but I won’t.” However, despite this ominous statement he also confusingly said at one point, “You’ll put me in a bottle if you catch me.” When pressed as to whether he even knew what he was, Gef is reported to have replied:
Of course I know what I am, and you are not going to get to know, and you are only grigged because I won’t tell you. I might let you see me some time, but thou wilt never get to know what I am.
In addition to these increasingly strange, somewhat confrontational pronouncements, Gef began to demonstrate what could only have been telekinetic ability, such as causing objects to move when obviously no one was touching them, and bouncing rubber balls up and down the stairs; things he did on several occasions as family members looked on in amazement. He also started to claim that he knew what was going on miles away and that he could read minds. Interestingly, for all of these supposed powers and amazing claims, Gef was allegedly nursed back to health from illness on at least one occasion, during which time he purportedly told Jim, “Jim, I have a god-damn cough. I have a hell of a cold. You will have to get me something.” It certainly doesn’t sound like a problem an “earthbound spirit” or “the 8th Wonder of the World” should typically have.
In addition to all of this, Gef’s personality and behavior also started to gradually change over time. Whereas he had started off as rather jovial, if not a little mischievous, he began to often display an irritable, nasty side of himself. Gef’s language began to become more profane and his behavior more prankish, unruly, and boisterous. He would often belt out tunes off key at all hours of the night, and on one such occasion groaned and sang for nearly an hour in the middle of the night, after which he exclaimed, “I did it for devilment!” He also seemed to enjoy harassing the family with pebbles, rocks, and sand thrown at the windows. On another occasion, Margaret was walking home when stones started to be tossed at her by some unseen hand. When the woman called out asking if it was Gef, she heard a voice give the colorfully odd reply: “Yes, Maggie the witch woman, the Zulu Woman, the Honolulu woman!” Interestingly, Gef seemed to take a particular disliking to Margeret, and would often swear at her, insult her, berate her, and even bite her.
Gef also would increasingly pop out of nowhere to say mean or even menacing things at a moment’s notice. One time when Jim was reading the paper quietly, an annoyed Gef blurted out, “Read it out, you fat-headed gnome!” Another time when Jim was reading the Bible, Gef reportedly sneered, “Look at the pious old atheist reading the Bible; he will swear in a minute!”
Gef also rather rudely once told the family, “I have been to nicer homes than this. Carpets, piano, satin covers on polished tables. I am going back there. Hahaha!” Other times were more menacing. Although Voirrey was the one Gef seemed to get along with the most, she was at times afraid of him. At one such time, Voirrey was spooked by Gef babbling and talking to himself in their room and went to sleep with her parents. At this time, a powerful force is said to have bent the door in and caused it to bulge far beyond what one would expect a mongoose to be capable of, which was followed by the eerie voice of Gef stating,“I’ll follow her wherever you put her,” after which a jar of ointment on a stand in the corner went flying across the room to smash against a wall.
Other menacing phenomena that happened around this time were shrill screams and violent pounding on the walls, which would seemingly come from more than one place at once, as if the perpetrator was moving around with incredible speed. Things were knocked over and smashed on a regular basis as well, as the ever short-fused Gef ran amok. The stories started to make headlines in various papers until the whole bizarre tale became a minor media sensation, and Gef was often referred to at this time as “The Dalby Spook.” Due to this extensive coverage, people began to flock to the Irving farm in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the mysterious Gef, with some even claiming to have fleetingly seen him. One journalist who went to the farm even claims to have communicated with Gef, an encounter he wrote of in an article for the Daily Dispatch titled “Man-Weasel’ Mystery Grips Island: Queerest Beast talks to ‘Daily Dispatch’ reporter.”
The majority of the news articles of the time perhaps understandably took a rather tongue-in-cheek, skeptical approach to the whole bizarre tale, often poking fun at it, yet there were many locals who swore that Gef was really there, that some of them had even seen it, and that the Irvings were not making any of it up. In the meantime, Gef’s fame was further propelled when editor of The BBC’s Listener magazine, Richard S. Lambert, along with the famed paranormal investigator Harry Price, went to the Irving farm in July of 1935 with the serious desire to investigate what was going on.
After extensively interviewing the family and locals, as well as investigating the house and Gef’s alleged haunts, Price and Lambert were unable to find any evidence of the presence of a talking mongoose, and Gef never made himself known to them while they were there. Although they did not really disbelieve the Irvings, neither were they convinced, and Price mused that perhaps they could have been experiencing a collective delusion of some sort. Interestingly, Gef was not totally silent on the manner, and would allegedly complain to the Irvings of Price’s presence, telling them, “He’s the man who puts the kybosh on the spirits!”
In 1936 Price would write a book on the whole matter called The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap: A Modern “Miracle” Investigated. The book explains the tale of Gef in a mostly level-headed, objective manner which neither accuses the family of a hoax nor embraces or validates the story as being true. Interestingly the book also mentions that a hair allegedly from Gef had been sent to the naturalist F. Martin Duncan, who concluded that it was from a long-haired dog, perhaps the Irving’s sheepdog. There were also plaster casts of Gef’s alleged tracks presented, which were determined to be quite artificial looking, lacking the irregular contours of an animal’s skin. The book and Lambert and Price’s coverage of the Gef story drew some harsh criticism from a retired colonel Sir Cecil Levita, who said Lambert was “off his head” for reporting on such a crazy tale. This remark would evolve into a slander suit that became rather fittingly called “The Mongoose Case.” Lambert won.
Not long after Price’s book came out, the Irving family moved away, and their farmstead was bought by a new owner named Leslie Graham. It appears that Gef did not follow the Irvings to their new home on the mainland, and indeed his appearances had slowly become fewer and farther between even before they left. Gef also did not make himself known to the new owner of the home, but rather oddly in 1947 Mr. Graham claimed to have shot and killed a strange animal on the property that was described as looking like neither a stoat, ferret, nor mongoose, and about which the farmer said “It answers to all descriptions,” referring of course to Gef. When Graham himself moved away, the house was demolished.
Although this may seem like the end of the whole, weird story of Gef, this couldn’t be farther from the truth, and the tale has endured over the years to draw much attention and further research. One of the earliest researchers of Gef was the psychologist and parapsychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor, who spent years investigating the case. Fodor would come to the conclusion that Gef was perhaps a physical manifestation of a part of Jim Irving’s personality, which had split off and appeared in the physical world.
The enduring interest, research and debate on Gef can also be seen in the work of Christopher Josiffe, a cataloger at the Senate House Library who has spent nearly a decade investigating the story of Gef, poring through the library’s extensive archives and numerous detailed letters written on the matter by Jim Irving himself, and who is considered to be one of the foremost experts on the Gef phenomenon. In all of his years researching the phenomenon, Josiffe is still on the fence as to what it all means or if any of it was true, although he gets a bit skeptical when looking at the hair that turned out to be that of a dog, of which he has said, “This is where it gets a bit dodgy, I’m afraid.” Josiffe managed to enlist the help of Richard Espley, the director of the library’s English-language collection, who had never heard of Gef before being told about it by Josiffe, but who nevertheless became enthralled with the whole tale the more he read about it. Eplsey would say of his introduction to the bizarre world of Gef:
At some level I think I was humoring a colleague when I started reading into it, and now I’m sitting there with my piles of handwritten-notes and photocopied articles.
Epsley would go on to postulate that Gef was part of a rich history of mankind’s traditions and fascination concerning legends of talking animals, including in the Bible, numerous other texts both ancient and modern, and notably in an ancient collection of Indian fables involving animals, called the Panchatantra, which Eplsey sometimes refers to as the “the mongoose Ur-narrative.” Epsley has said of this:
The resistance to text and the preference for orality is fundamental to Gef’s nature. I’d like to encourage you to think of Irving as a bardic singer of tales and Gef as a partly described, partly-curiously-present aspect of a living, definitely oral tale of exactly the kind which is found in the Panchatantra, the mongoose Ur-narrative.
Despite the debate and doubt that swirls around whether Gef really existed or not, the Irvings themselves always insisted that they were not making the whole thing up. Neighbors and locals also insisted that they were a simple family that was unlikely to perpetrate such a long running, complex, and imaginative hoax. Locals who claimed to have seen Gef also were adamant that he was real. Voirrey Irving, who had long been asked and prodded with questions about Gef throughout her life, was typically reluctant to talk of the matter and mostly avoided the topic, but nevertheless insisted that Gef was real all the way up to her death in 2005. She even went so far as to say that it was Gef’s fault that she had never been able to find a husband. In a 1970 article in Fate Magazine, Voirrey said of Gef:
Yes, there was a little animal who talked and did all those other things… He said he was a mongoose and we should call him Gef… But I do wish he had left us alone.
So what in the world was Gef? Is there any element of this story that was real? If so, what exactly was Gef and where did he come from? There has been a wealth of theories proposed trying to answer these questions. One idea is that the whole thing was simply a hoax perpetrated by the Irvings, or perhaps a collective delusion or mass hallucination. Another is that this was just a mass fantasy that started as a simple joke and spiraled out of control into the media and beyond to take on a life of its own. Other more far out theories state that Gef was a manifestation of the mind from one of the Irving family members, making it essentially a thought-form projected onto reality, something literally imagined into existence, entities which are referred to as tulpas. One of the more popular theories is the idea that Gef was not a real talking mongoose at all, but rather a poltergeist taking the form of one. Indeed there are many cases of poltergeists taking animal forms, so perhaps Gef was some spirit, ghost, demon, or other supernatural entity.
So was Gef a hoax, a tulpa, a delusion, a cryptid of some sort, a poltergeist, supernatural apparition, or a genuine talking mongoose? It is unlikely we will ever know for sure, but it seems that there will likely be no end to discussion on the matter. One thing that is certain is that Gef has become one of the most enduring, talked about, puzzling, and downright bizarre cases in the history of Fortean phenomena, and will likely remain that way for some time to come.