There’s no doubt that over the last few days there has been a wealth of debate and controversy concerning the Loch Ness Monster(s). For example, check out this link and this one – both of which suggest the monsters are being seen again. And there have been debates over what the Nessies might be – with the giant eel theory being one that is particularly in the news. There is, however, an angle of the Loch Ness Monster mystery that doesn’t get the coverage that it really should. Namely, the paranormal aspect of the whole puzzle. It’s an area of the story that a lot of Nessie seekers (in fact, the majority of them) ignore. It’s the possibility that the beasts of Loch Ness have supernatural origins. Sounds strange? Certainly! But, let’s take a look at the available data. St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbae (in English, Life of Columba) is a fascinating Gaelic chronicle of the life of St. Columba. He was a 6th century abbot, also of Ireland, who spent much of his life trying to convert the Iron Age Picts to Christianity, and who, like Adomnán, was an abbot of Iona. In 563, Columba sailed to Scotland, and two years later happened to visit Loch Ness – while traveling with a number of comrades to meet with King Brude of the Picts. It turned out to be an amazing and notable experience, as Vita Columbae most assuredly demonstrates. Adomnán began his story thus:
“…when the blessed man was staying for some days in the province of the Picts, he found it necessary to cross the river Ness; and, when he came to the bank thereof, he sees some of the inhabitants burying a poor unfortunate little fellow, whom, as those who were burying him themselves reported, some water monster had a little before snatched at as he was swimming, and bitten with a most savage bite, and whose hapless corpse some men who came in a boat to give assistance, though too late, caught hold of by putting out hooks.” If the words of Adomnán are not exaggeration or distortion, then not only was this particular case the earliest on record, it’s also one of the very few reports we have in which one of the creatures violently attacked and killed a human being. Supposedly, the legendary saint invoked the Christian god to ensure no-one else would be killed by such a violent beast. In other words, the supernatural was brought into the equation.
For a very long time after the Columba affair, reports of strange creatures in Loch Ness were pretty much absent. That is, however, until the phenomenon of the Kelpie surfaced. Within the folklore of Loch Ness and much of Scotland, there are centuries-old legends and myths concerning supernatural, violent, shape-shifting creatures known as Kelpies. Or, in English, water-horses. It should be noted, though, that although the creatures are assumed to be one and the same, there is one noticeable difference between the tales that specifically refer to kelpies and those that talk about water-horses. Typically, water-horses are far more at home in deep, sprawling lakes, while Kelpies prefer pools, rivers, marshes, and lakes of a particularly compact kind. Then, there is a variant of the kelpie known as the Each-Uisge, which is a far more murderous monster than the Kelpie, but which is clearly of the same supernatural stock.
The term, Kelpie, has unclear origins; although the most likely explanation is that it is a distortion of the Gaelic calpa, which translates as heifer. Kelpies are terrifying, murderous creatures that lurk in the depths of Scottish lochs, canals and rivers – and more than a few of them in Loch Ness. Not only that, like werewolves, Kelpies are definitive shape-shifters; creatures that can take on multiple guises, including hideous serpentine monsters, horses, hair-covered humanoids, beautiful maidens of the mermaid variety, and horse-like creatures. The Kelpie is solely driven to by a crazed goal to drown the unwary by enticing and dragging them into the depths, killing them in the process. Belief in the Kelpies existed into relatively recent times – something that again demonstrates how the supernatural of the mystery held sway. Now, let’s turn our attention to the 1960s.
It was in 1962 that a man named Frederick “Ted” Holiday, a skilled angler, was able to make the trip of a lifetime. He did so in an old van, packed with all the essentials for a Nessie hunt, such as cameras, a sleeping-bag, and even fishing rods. Although one suspects that a fishing rod would hardly have been the suitable tool for reeling in a huge, marauding, leviathan of the deep, and quite possibly one of supernatural, deadly proportions. It was on his very first night at the loch, camped out under the stars, that Holiday experienced something that would go on to plague him on just about each and every consecutive visit to Loch Ness. It was a dark sense of foreboding. A ghostly chill in the air. A sense of things not being quite right. Of something foul and malignant lurking just out of sight. He could practically taste it – whatever it actually was. Holiday admitted to friends and colleagues that he found this puzzling. After all, he had studied wildlife in Iraq, India, and Africa – and sometimes fairly dangerous wildlife, too. But, there was something different about Loch Ness; something which unsettled Holiday and smacked of the paranormal. Holiday said of this curious situation: “After sunset, Loch Ness is not a water by which to linger. The feeling is hard to define and impossible to explain…After dark I felt that Loch Ness was better left alone.”
For Ted Holiday, the plesiosaur, giant eel, and salamander theories were flawed and lacking in substance. He came to the somewhat unusual, and certainly unique, scenario that the Nessies were gigantic versions of everyday slugs. The biggest problem with Holiday’s theory was that it was beset by issues that made it most unlikely to have merit. For example, the specific kind of invertebrate that Holiday had in mind – Tullimonstrum – only grew to lengths of around lengths of fourteen inches. On top of that, it lived solely in the muddy landscapes of Pennsylvania, USA. Oh, and one more thing that should be noted: it went extinct around 300 million years ago. None of these seemingly important points appeared to bother Holiday in the slightest, who continued to pursue his theory with a great deal of enthusiasm.
It should be noted, however, that it wouldn’t be long before Holiday changed his views on the nature of the Loch Ness Monsters – and changed his views radically. He noted that on more than a few occasions at the loch, people would report their cameras jamming, or photos coming out fogged. The timing was suspicious too – just as people were about to take the photo of a lifetime. By 1969, Holiday’s life was dominated by weird synchronicities – meaningful coincidences, in simple terms – something which led Holiday to question both his sanity and even the very nature of reality itself. What had begun as an exciting hunt for an unknown animal was now rapidly mutating into something very different. Something dangerous and supernatural. And something which led Holiday to the very heart of Aleister Crowley’s old abode, Boleskine House.
In June 1969, a trio of American students – who were investigating the grounds of the old cemetery that sits next to Aleister Crowley’s Boleskine House – stumbled upon an ancient piece of tapestry that was wrapped around a conch (sea-snail) shell. It was around four feet by five feet in size and was adorned with snake-like imagery and wording in Turkish that translated to serpent. One of those who had the opportunity to personally see and handle the tapestry after it was found was Ted Holiday, who had been invited to examine it. It was yet another example of the escalating and unsettling weirdness in Holiday’s life. He couldn’t fail to note that the tapestry was adorned with gold thread, specifically in the design of what he perceived to be thick, wormy creatures with long necks. It was during this period that Ted Holiday began to suspect that the discovery of the serpentine tapestry, along with the links to Boleskine House and Aleister Crowley, were indicative of a highly secret, very powerful, and maybe even deadly, “dragon cult” operating in the Loch Ness area. A cult that worshiped the supernatural Nessies by night, and which, perhaps, even made sacrifices to the beasts under a starry, chilled sky. Possibly, even human sacrifices – although, admittedly, there was nothing but hearsay to support this latter controversy-churning claim.
On the night of June 2, 1973, Loch Ness played host to something truly extraordinary. It was nothing less than a full-blown exorcism, one that was designed to forever banish the malignant monsters from the deep and dark waters. It was all the work of Donald Omand, both a doctor and a reverend. He was a man who had substantial knowledge on, and experience of, the domain of all things supernatural. And, Omand was sure the creatures of the loch were supernatural, too. These particular exorcisms had a profound effect on Ted Holiday: “I felt a distinct tension creep into the atmosphere…It was as if we had shifted some invisible levers, and were awaiting the result.” It’s surely no coincidence that on the next day Holiday was confronted by a clearly paranormal Man in Black – a sinister figure who quite literally dematerialized in front of a shocked Holiday. In April 1974 – and in a private reply to a letter that Holiday had sent to him, describing the most recent weirdness at the loch, including the exorcism and the creepy Man in Black affair – acclaimed monster-seeker Tim Dinsdale had some notable things to say. He admitted to Holiday that he had crossed paths with what appeared to be a paranormal component to the mystery of the monsters of Loch Ness, but he remained baffled regarding how something of a supernatural nature could provoke such things as wakes in the water, photos, and sonar-recordings.
There’s no doubt that the supernatural side of the Loch Ness phenomenon reached its height in the 1970s. Indeed, today, few researchers (apart from me, maybe!) have any time for the paranormal theory. I say: it’s about time for it to, ahem, resurface.