Jul 20, 2022 I Nick Redfern

We're Living in a World of Dangerous Shapeshifters: Creatures That Can Change Their Forms

The article that you are about to read deals with a subject that many people might assume falls solely into the domains of folklore, mythology and legend. They would, however, be wrong. In fact, they would be acutely wrong. Shapeshifting, for most people, provokes imagery of nothing more than centuries-old tales of savage, murderous werewolves and of big-bucks movies, such as An American Werewolf in London, Underworld, Dog Soldiers, and The Wolfman. That is not the case, however. As incredible as it may seem, shapeshifters are not merely the stuff of Hollywood and urban tales of a friend-of-a-friend variety. Rather, they are all too menacingly real. And, they are not all of the man-turns-into-wolf variety, either. Quite the opposite, actually: shapeshifters come in all kinds and sizes and have done so for countless millennia. While the traditional image of the werewolf is, without a doubt, the first thing that springs to mind when a discussion of shapeshifters takes place, the truth of the matter is that there is a veritable menagerie of such infernal things in our midst. Were-cats, were-tigers, were-hyenas, and were-coyotes are also near the top of the monstrous list. Then, there are the ancient beliefs that those who died violent deaths – or those who were, themselves, murderers – were often destined to return to our plain of existence in the forms of hideous beasts, including wild and savage ape-like animals, fearsome black dogs with glowing and blazing red eyes, and mermaid-like things. There are also beings from other worlds: aliens, extraterrestrials, and Men in Black. 

(Nick Redfern)

Even the legendary monsters of Loch Ness, Scotland, are believed – in certain monster-hunting quarters – to be paranormal beasts that have the ability to alter their appearances at will. As are legendary vampires, who, the old legends suggest, can transform into the likes of bats and wolves. Collectively, all of these “things” amount to an absolute army of otherworldly creatures, and half-human monsters that have plagued and tormented us since the dawning of civilization. And, they show zero signs of slowing down anytime soon. The things you thought were only fit for campfire tales, late-night stories intended to thrill little children, and entertaining monster-movies, are, in actuality, creatures of the real world. Of our world. Shapeshifters are everywhere: they lurk in the shadows, in the deep woods and expansive forests, in dark and dank caves, and in the murky waters of our lakes and rivers. Maybe even, after sunset, in the recesses of your very own backyard, patiently waiting to pounce. And many of them like nothing better than to terrorize and torment us, the human race. With that all said, it’s now time to take a wild and weird road-trip into the mystery-filled domain of creatures that so many will assure you simply do not exist. I’m here, however, to tell you otherwise. Shapeshifters are disturbingly real. And you’re about to meet them, in all their savage and sinister glory. Now, onto the case files.

In April 2016, a very strange story surfaced out of the north of England. And to the extent that not just the local media, but the national media, too, were busy chasing down the strange and sinister story of what has become known as the “Werewolf of Hull,” reportedly an eight-foot-tall, hair-covered monster. The case was, however, notable for the fact that several of the witnesses claimed the beast shape-shifted from a terrible, foul monster into the form of a black-cloaked old witch. Most of the reports surfaced in and around the vicinity of what is called the Beverley and Barmston Drain, a land drainage operation, the origins of which date back to the latter part of the 1800s. A tunnel that carries the drain can be found below an old bridge on Beverley Beck, a canal in East Riding, Yorkshire, England – a location where a number of the encounters with the hair-covered thing have taken place. Moving on...

Accounts of glowing-eyed, huge black hounds of an ominous and sometimes deadly kind – and which can take on multiple forms – are significant parts of the story this book tells. They are among the most feared of all shapeshifters, primarily because they are linked to the realm of the dead and the afterlife. If you think it’s tough to serve a life-long jail sentence today, you may want to take a look at life in England’s Newgate Prison, circa the latter part of the 1500s. To say that existence was grim for those destined to die within the infamous prison would be an understatement of epic proportions. And particularly so when you’re also faced with fighting off a marauding entity that is part-human and part-monstrous hound. But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. A bit of background on Newgate Prison is first required. The origins of this particularly notorious jail date back to 1188, which was the year in which its huge, creaking doors were first opened. Such was the level of violence that existed in lawless England at the time, the facility was constantly being added to, specifically to cope with the ever-growing band of murderers, rapists, and thieves that came its way. In other words, business was not just good: it was positively blooming. Things remained that way until its doors were finally shut, in 1902.  

It was, however, in the 1500s that Newgate Prison earned its reputation as a definitive hellhole. During this period food for the people of London was at its lowest. Malnutrition, starvation, and death were very much the order of the day. Behind the walls of Newgate, however, things were even worse. If such a thing was possible. Yes, unfortunately, it was. Old texts and manuscripts tell of nightmarish scenarios in which the starving, desperate prisoners turned upon one another, literally eating each other alive in cramped, filthy cells and amid a sickening and ever-growing stench of rotting, human flesh. One of those manuscripts, written by Samuel Rowlands, has proven to be a very curious one. Its title, in quaint, old-English style, was The Discovery of a London Monster, called The Blacke Dogg of Newgate: Profitable for all Readers to Take Heed by. Rowlands said that at the very height of the terrible, cannibalistic activity – which even the guards were fearful of trying to stop, lest they, too, became food for the prisoners – a huge black dog suddenly manifested in one of the larger cells, a cell that held more than a dozen criminals. 

Rowlands continued that panic-filled mayhem erupted as the red-eyed, canine fiend rampaged around the room, tearing into the bodies of the emaciated prisoners, and ripping away skin, and crunching down on weakened bones. With the cell turned into what looked like some ghoulish slaughterhouse, and the prisoners all quickly and violently dead, the monstrous hound suddenly vanished – as if into thin air itself. Word quickly got around that the supernatural, killer dog was the shape-shifted form of one of the prisoners [italics mine]. He was a man who had been devoured by his fellow prisoners several days earlier, and who had returned in the form of a diabolical hound to take out his very own, unique form of lethal justice. Now, onto a phenomenon that goes back centuries ago: within the practice of witchcraft there exists a creature that few outside of the craft will have any awareness of. It is a strange and often dangerous creature known as a familiar. When witchcraft was said to be rife across England in the 1500s and 1600s, it was widely believed that witches used small animals for a wide variety of reasons – such as spying on those who might do them harm. But, they weren’t animals in the normal sense of the word. They were said to be demonic entities that possessed the ability to alter their forms into multiple kinds of animals [italics mine]. For the witches of the Middle Ages, the preferable forms were black cats, black dogs, hedgehogs, hares, owls, and mice. Fascinating, indeed! Creepy, too.

(Nick Redfern) A hare or a shape-shifted supernatural creature?

The Kushtaka – or the Kooshdakhaa, as it is also known – is a monstrous, manipulative and sometimes deadly creature that is a staple part of the folklore of two specific groups of Native Americans living predominantly in the state of Alaska, but also in other portions of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Their names are the Tsimshian and the Tlingit. The former are known as the “People of the Tides,” while the latter are referred to as being “Inside the Skeena River,” on account of the fact that they once inhabited significant portions of the Skeena River, British Columbia. It is within the teachings of these two tribes of people that we learn of the hideous shapeshifting things that provoke mayhem, terror and death throughout the region.  

Dennis Waller is one of the leading experts in the field of the Kushtaka. He notes in his 2014 book, In Search of the Kushtaksa, that the word, “Kushtaka,” equates to “Land Otter Man,” which is highly appropriate, taking into consideration that this is precisely how the Kushtaka is described. It is important, however, to note that the creature is not, literally, half-human and half-otter. Rather, it can take on both forms [italics mine]. But things don’t end there: the Kushtaka can also manifest in the shapes of giant wolves – and very often bipedal, upright wolves – and also large, hairy humanoids not at all unlike Bigfoot. In the Bigfoot-seeking community, Waller observes, this has given rise to the thought-provoking theory that the Kushtaka may well be an Alaskan Bigfoot; one which, over time, has been incorporated into Native lore and legend. On the other hand, however, and as Waller also notes, for the Tsimshian and the Tlingit, the creatures are monsters with the power to morph. In that sense, the jury is very much out when it comes to their true identities. Let's now look at another strange beast.

The Wendigo is a very much misunderstood monster, one which is a staple part of the folklore and legend of the Native American tribe known as the Algonquin. The monster is typically described as a tall, crazed and violent thing that roams the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the northernmost states of the U.S., and Canada. It is a large, humanoid beast that dines on human flesh. There is, however, another aspect to the lore surrounding the Wendigo. Namely, that if a person eats human flesh, he or she can shapeshift into a Wendigo. Adding to the legend, the Wendigo has the ability to take control of our minds – always for terrible and horrific reasons. In that sense, as well as a shapeshifting angle, there is what we might term a mind-shifting process, too.

(Nick Redfern) The late Rosemary Ellen Guiley was an expert in the field of shapeshifting

Of all the many and varied shapeshifters that populate our world, there is no doubt that the most feared and dreaded of all are the Djinn. They are extremely dangerous and manipulative entities that can take on various forms, and just as they see fit. It is ironic that the Djinn, in reality, is such a feared and powerful creature. The irony stems from the fact that popular culture and the world of entertainment have collectively dumbed down the nature, power, and dark characters of the Djinn. This is very much as a result of the production of the likes of the 1960s television show, I Dream of Jeannie, and the 1992 Disney movie, Aladdin. There is, however, nothing amusing or lighthearted about the real Djinn. They are the ultimate shapeshifting nightmares. And they will do all they can to get their claws into us – and particularly so if we are reckless enough to invite or invoke them.

The Djinn are entities that collectively amount to a significant part of ancient Islamic lore and teachings. Certainly, they features prominently in the pages of the Qur’an. Muslim legend maintains that Djinns are formed out of a form of smokeless fire. Djinn expert, Rosemary Ellen Guiley suggested that this may have been an ancient, early way of describing what, today, we would term plasma.  LiveScience says of plasma that it, “is a state of matter that is often thought of as a subset of gases, but the two states behave very differently. Like gases, plasmas have no fixed shape or volume, and are less dense than solids or liquids. But unlike ordinary gases, plasmas are made up of atoms in which some or all of the electrons have been stripped away and positively charged nuclei, called ions, roam freely.” 

As for the shapeshifting qualities of the Djinn, they are as many as they are varied. The glowing-eyed Phantom Black Dog is one of the most favored forms a Djinn will appear as, and particularly so when it wishes to operate in our world. As is a snake. Indeed, according to Islamic lore, if a snake enters one’s home, it may not be a normal, regular snake. In all likelihood, the old lore states, it is a shapeshifted Djinn. Rosemary Ellen Guiley believed, and stated in her book, The Vengeful Djinn, that the Djinn manifest in numerous other forms, too. The long list includes aliens, the spirits of once-living people, fairies, creatures that fall into the cryptozoological domain and even angels. So clever, manipulative and cunning is the Djinn, it is incredibly difficult to determine which of the above is real and which is nothing more than a Djinn in disguise. And that goes for all shapeshifters, too.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

Join MU Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions & much more! Subscribe Today!