Nov 15, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The Supernatural Side of the World's Most Famous Lake Monster: The Ghostly Nessie

The Loch Ness Monster: just about everyone has heard of it. A large number of people claim to have seen the long-necked, humped leviathan of the deep. Some have even photographed and filmed it. Nessie, as the beast is affectionately known, has been a staple part of the world of the unexplained since 1933, when the phenomenon of the monster exploded in spectacular, planet-wide fashion. Since then, millions of people have flocked to the shores of the 22.5 miles long and 744 feet deep loch, all in the hopes of seeing the elusive creature. Attempts have been made to seek out Nessie with sonar-equipment, aircraft, balloons, and even submarines. Theories abound as to what Nessie is – or, far more likely and correctly, what the Nessies are. Certainly, the most captivating theory, and the one that the Scottish Tourist Board, moviemakers, and the general public find most appealing, is that which suggests the monsters are surviving pockets of plesiosaurs. They were marine reptiles that the domain of zoology assures us became extinct tens of millions of years ago. The possibility that the monsters are actually giant-sized salamanders holds sway in more than a few quarters. As does the idea that perhaps massive eels are the culprits. Then there are scenarios involving sturgeon, oversized turtles, catfish, and even crocodiles, giant frogs, and hippopotami! Yes, really.

Numerous Nessie enthusiasts, investigators, and authors have spent years – decades, in some cases – pursuing their quarry. They have done so in a fashion that uncannily mirrors the obsessive actions of the fictional Captain Ahab, in Herman Melville’s acclaimed 1851 novel, Moby Dick; or the Whale. But, it’s all, and always, to no avail. No matter the number of days, hours, weeks and years spent, and no matter just how advanced the technology utilized to find the animals might be, it forever ends in failure. After more than eighty years of intensive investigation, the Nessies still evade capture, discovery or classification. Is this all down to sheer bad luck and inept investigations? Certainly not. Rather, it’s a case of people looking for the answers in the completely wrong direction.  

(Nick Redfern) An abnormal animal

Just about everyone has heard of the Loch Ness Monster. But, have you heard of the ghostly side of it all? Well, let's have a look at it. You may know about the story of St. Columba.  It is highly ironic – considering the many attempts that have been made by monster-hunters to suggest the Nessies are plesiosaurs, salamanders or giant eels - that even the very first, reported encounter with one of the creatures of Loch Ness was steeped in paranormal mystery. It’s certainly St. Adomnán who we have to thank for bringing this intriguing case to our attention. The story can be found in Book II, Chapter XXVII of St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbae. To say that it’s quite a tale is, at the very least, an understatement. Born in the town of Raphoe, Ireland in 624 AD, St. Adomnán spent much of his life on the Scottish island of Iona where he served as an abbot, spreading the word of the Christian God and moving in very influential and power-filled circles. He could count amongst his friends King Aldfrith of Northumbria and Fínsnechta Fledach mac Dúnchada, the High King of Ireland. And he, St. Adomnán, made a notable contribution to the world of a certain, famous lake-monster.

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. Adomnán continued that St. Columba ordered one of his colleagues – a man named Lugne Mocumin - to take to the River Ness, swim across it, pick up a boat attached to a cable on the opposite bank, and bring it back. Mocumin did as St. Columba requested: he took to the cold waters. Or, more correctly, to the lair of the deadly beasts. Evidently, the monster was far from satisfied with taking the life of just one poor soul. As Mocumin swam the river, a terrible thing ominously rose to the surface, with an ear-splitting roar and with its huge mouth open wide. St. Columba’s party was thrown into a state of collective fear as the monster quickly headed in the direction of Mocumin, who suddenly found himself swimming for his very life. Fortunately, the legendary saint was able to save the day – and save Mocumin, too. He quickly raised his arms into the air, made a cross out of them, called on the power of God to help, and thundered at the monster to leave Mocumin alone and be gone. Amazingly, the monster did exactly that.   

(Nick Redfern) Monsters of the supernatural type

Invoking God apparently had quite an adverse effect upon the Nessie, something which the pages of Vita Columbae makes very clear. St. Adomnán wrote that immediately after St. Columba made the sign of the cross and called on the supernatural power of God to save Mocumin, the creature fled for safety and vanished below the surface. This was very good news for Mocumin, who was barely ten feet away from the monster when it decided to cease its attack. The amazed group fell to their knees, praising God for having saved their friend. Even what St. Adomnán referred to as the local “barbarous heathens” were impressed by the astonishing spectacle of the monster being denied a second victim. Now, we get to the other paranormal side of the monster. We've heard about St. Columba. But, what about his ancient, ghostly boat?

It’s worth noting that the paranormal issues surrounding the Loch Ness monsters and St. Columba and his boat do not end there. None other than the ghostly form of St. Columba’s ancient currach [a boat] has been seen traveling on the expansive waters, and on more than a few occasions, too. Just two years into the 20th Century the supernatural currach was seen by one Finlay Frazer, a resident of Strathenick. Colin Campbell, the brother of Alex Campbell – a man who played a major role in the development of the Loch Ness Monster controversy, as we shall later see - had a close encounter with the spectral craft during the Second World War. And a man named Thomas O’Connell saw its spectral shape in 1962, near Invermoriston. Colin Campbell said of his extraordinary and eerie sighting that it was a dark night when, quite out of the blue, he saw at a distance of around ninety feet a stationary boat on Loch Ness. It was, however, no ordinary boat. It lacked any illumination itself, but was bathed in an eerie, mysterious, white-blue glow. Campbell was sure that what he saw was the spectral form of ancient, primitive craft constructed millennia earlier. From the very outset, then, the saga of Nessie – and those that were exposed to it almost one and a half thousand years ago – was absolutely steeped in matters of a paranormal nature. And it still is. 

Now, onto the matter of a supernatural event that went down just a mile away from Loch Ness in the 1800s. Back in September 1866 there occurred the sighting of a mournful-looking man in black attire on hills near Lochindorb, which is barely an hour away from Loch Ness. He was seen – by a terrified farmer – strapped to the back of a large, fiendish dog that was prowling the same hills. The farmer didn’t wait around to see what might happen next and he fled the hills for the safety of his home, fearful that the shape-shifting kelpie-hound might wish to make him its next victim. It was probably a very wise move. There is a decidedly sinister sequel to this aspect of Ted Holiday’s quest for the truth of the Loch Ness Monster and his Man in Black experience. One year later, in 1974, Holiday’s creature-seeking excursions were suddenly cut short by a serious heart-attack – right at the very spot where the MIB manifested and then vanished around twelve months earlier. A warning, perhaps, to Holiday that he should walk away from the matter of the Loch Ness Monster. And walk away now. While he still had the chance and before the reaper came calling for his very mind and soul. Now, we have to take a look at one of the most bizarre of all paranormal events that has gone down at Loch Ness.

One of the strangest stories of paranormal weirdness at Loch Ness comes from an acclaimed author on all manner of mysteries, Andrew Collins. As Christmas 1979 loomed, Collins – with colleagues Graham Phillips (a parapsychologist) and Martin Keatman (a UFO investigator) – spent a week in Scotland, investigating the Nessie enigma. It involved interviewing witnesses, spending time poring over old archives in Inverness’ library, and checking out the loch itself. It was while they were deep in the heart of their investigation that the trio uncovered a very weird story. Back in the early 18th century a young couple inexplicably vanished while riding a horse and trap near Loch End, on the south shores of Loch Ness. Rumors circulated that the pair was either murdered or abducted. And neither the horse nor the trap were ever seen again. It would have remained a complete mystery, were it not for one thing; a very uncanny thing.

(Nick Redfern) A creature to avoid

More than one hundred years later, and at the height of tumultuous thunderstorm, a young man and woman walked into a local almshouse, inquiring if the priest that oversaw it would give them shelter for the night, which he did. The priest couldn’t fail to see that the pair was dressed in the kind of clothing that was popular around a century or so earlier. Plus, they seemed very confused, dazed and bewildered, and completely unable to explain where they were from. They remained in that odd, altered state for a couple of days, after which they simply walked out of the almshouse and were never seen again. When the story got out, however, several of the locals recalled old tales of the events of a century earlier, and the missing pair of young lovers. Was this, perhaps, a case of a slip in time having occurred? Did the couple vanish from the 18th century, only to briefly and incredibly manifest in the 19th? Possibly, yes. That the fantastic event should have occurred at Loch Ness is yet another example of how infinitely peculiar the entire area is.

Then, there is the weird - and sinister - feelings people have when they see the Nessies very nearby. It has a malignant, paranormal aspect to the situation. One would imagine that most people would love to catch sight of a Nessie. They probably would – at least, until they actually see it close up. Then, it’s a very different kettle of fish. It’s a curious and intriguing fact that many witnesses react not with amazement, incredulity, or excitement. No, the response to encountering a Nessie – and particularly so up close and personal - is very often an acutely different one. People talk of the beast being “an abomination,” “something abnormal,” “a loathsome sight,” and “something which still haunts us.” Others have commented that after seeing the creature, “we were all sick.” That they felt “appalled.” That “my dog…lie crouching and shivering.” One said: “I never wish to see the like of it again.” There is, then, something decidedly wrong about the Loch Ness creatures; something which provokes reactions far beyond those one might expect – even when encountering something fantastic and unknown. Without doubt, strange and sinister things lurk in the deep and turbulent waters of Scotland’s most famous loch – and have done so for centuries upon centuries, maybe for even longer. But, here’s the important factor: the creatures are not what you may think they are. They just might be the most nightmarish and malignant things you could possibly ever imagine. 

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.

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