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Fortean Folk Devilry: Human Interpretation of Strange Phenomena

Recently, I was joined by my colleague Chris Heyes, a scholar on world religions and Fortean anomalies, during an appearance on The Church of Mabus radio program with hosts Jeffery Pritchett and Guy Weddle. The topic we were discussing was a concept that came to me a while ago, which I call “Fortean Folk Devilry.” This somewhat abstract approach to cryptid creatures and spectral beings deals primarily with cultural interpretations of strange phenomenon that result in very odd “high strangeness” elements becoming associated with already weird happenings.

A good example of this was featured at my blog The Gralien Report a few weeks ago, involving a Bigfoot-like creature referred to in a biographical work called “The Life of David W. Patten.” In this text, the author describes coming upon a “man” whose “head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle.” The entity wore no clothing, but was covered with hair and had skin that “was very dark.” Patten asked the monster “where he dwelt,” and received this startling reply: “he (said he) had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men.”

Though what this account details for us sounds much like a stereotypical description of a Bigfoot, the witness felt that he had literally met the cursed, living personage of the Biblical Cain, left to wander the Earth for all eternity. The encounter ends with Patten invoking the name of Jesus, and upon rebuking the fiend, it left his company.

Forteana is rife with such stories. Chehalis natives near Harrison Lake, British Columbia, have told stories of Bigfoot creatures that are literally capable of speaking to them in Chehalis dialects that are centuries older than ones used in modern times; Sioux Indians in the middle western parts of the U.S. describe “Walking Sam,” a 15-foot-tall entity that peers in windows at people that is associated with teenage suicides; and of course, when it comes to strange beings becoming associated with bad luck and disaster, perhaps none fits this “folk devil” category better than the infamous Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Another unique character from the annals of Forteana is Spring Heeled Jack, who was featured recently in a post at the Magonia blog in the post titled “Making Myths: Spring Heeled Jack, Rendlesham, and the Abductionists.” Author John Rimmer notes how early reports of Spring Heeled Jack dealt with a monster researcher Mike Dash has collectively called “The Barnes Creature.” Rimmer notes that creature was described as “being in the shape of a large white bull which had attacked a number of women. Later visitations in South and South West London came in the form of figures in metal armour, bears and, approaching the later form, ‘a devil with iron claws’.” Indeed, it is strange that the culmination of encounters with the fiend that became known as Spring Heeled Jack dealt more with an armored devil with extraordinary leaping prowess: especially since many of the accosting creatures in the early reports were described either as bruins or bull-like.

In Dash’s estimation, media portrayal of the phenomenon, along with a degree of witness exaggeration, may have slowly built up a myth surrounding this character, comprised of only partial truths. Though perhaps not outright lies, could it be that the ways people interpret their surroundings while under extreme stress or mental duress could cause such exaggerations to occur, sometimes resulting in a sort of corroboration between witnesses who hope to find commonality between their separate encounters? Whatever the circumstances may truly be, it seems obvious that the mysteries associated with humankind’s ongoing interaction with strange beings throughout history may have as much to do with the way humans themselves operate as they do the weird encounters we experience from time to time.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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