When it comes to creatures that can morph their appearances, it's pretty much sure that most people will think of werewolves. But, that's not the case. Such creatures are everywhere and have multiple appearances. As you'll find right now. 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. 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.
With that said, let's have a look at some fascinating cases of monstrous morphing. The latter part of the 1800s saw a mysterious tale of shapeshifting surface out of Germany – a country that has a long and checkered history of encounters with werewolves. It’s specifically to the year of 1879 and the town of Ludwigslust to which we have to turn our attentions; a town with origins that date back to 1724, when one Prince Ludwig – also known as Christian Ludwig II – had his workers construct a hunting lodge in the area. Such was the prince’s love of the area, he renamed it Ludwigslust. Today, the town is dominated by the huge Ludwigslust Palace. In 1879, however, the area was dominated by werewolves; a family of them. Even more than a century after the prince’s passing in 1756, the area was still a favorite one for hunting wild animals. One particular creature that became almost legendary was a large, wild wolf that seemingly was completely unaffected by bullets. The brazen beast would even creep up on hunters and steal their bounty: their dinner, in other words. It’s no surprise that word soon got around that maybe the wolf was more than just a nimble animal that had been lucky enough to avoid getting shot. Some thought it was supernatural in nature. Others, in quiet tones, suggested Ludwigslust had its very own werewolf. They were right.
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. The bridge connection is an important one that should not be overlooked.
In her 2006 book, Mystery Big Cats, author Merrily Harpur provides the following words on what she terms “liminal Zones:” “These are the transitional zones between one area and another – the kind of no-man’s-land traditionally regarded as magical.” Harpur’s research has shown that such zones include streams, gates, churchyards and bridges. With that in mind, there’s a good chance something of a definitively supernatural nature is afoot at the Beverley and Barmston Drain. In December 2015, a woman said to me: “It was stood upright one moment. The next it was down on all fours running like a dog. I was terrified.” Of course, this is very similar to the reports coming out of the Cannock Chase in 2007, of a dog / wolf-like creature that had the ability to run on both two legs and four. Now, to another shapeshifter:
For centuries, Scottish folklore and legend have both been filled with tales of a wild and deadly beast known as the Kelpie. The terrible beast, which has the ability to transform itself into numerous forms – even that of people – was greatly feared throughout the 1600s and 1700s, when reports of the Kelpie were at their height. As for its curious name, “Kelpie” is an ancient Scottish term meaning “water-horse.” There is a very good reason as to why that particular name was applied to the beast, as will soon become very clear. As its name strongly suggests, the water-horse spent much of its time lurking in the waters of Scottish lochs – specifically in the shallower, marshy areas of such locales. It would coldly and callously wait for an unwary passer-by to appear on the scene and then strike, mercilessly and without any hint of a warning. The beast’s mode of attack was, admittedly, ingenious, even if the end result for the victim was not a good one. In fact, it was almost always downright fatal.
We may never know, for sure, the real form of the Kelpie; only the guise that led to the creation of its name. But, what we can say for certain is that the small number of witnesses who encountered the beast, and who lived to tell the tale, described it as a large black or white horse. In most cases, the victim was a late-night traveler, walking along an old, well-known pathway near the water’s edge of the relevant loch. Suddenly, the huge horse would rise out of the water, dripping wet, and make its way to the shore, with its coat shining under the light of the Moon. Under such strange circumstances, many might be inclined to make a run for it immediately. There is, however, a very strange aspect to many of the Kelpie stories. Namely, that the people who crossed its path felt as if their free will had been taken from them and that they were deliberately prevented from fleeing the scene. Today, we might justifiably suggest that the beast had the power to control the minds of those in its deadly sights. Perhaps, even by a form of supernatural hypnosis. Those fortunate enough to escape the icy clutches of the Kelpie described how they felt driven to climb on the back of the horse and grab its reins. Despite having a sense of dread and a fear of doing so, that’s exactly what so many did – and, in the process, failed to survive and tell their tale. It was at that point that the Kelpie made its move – an incredibly fast move.
With the entranced person now atop the monster, it would suddenly launch itself into the deep and cold waters of the loch, with the poor soul unable to let go of the reins. Death by drowning was all but inevitable, aside from that very lucky, aforementioned body of people who were fortunate enough to have survived and who related their stories – hence why we know of the creature and its terrible modus operandi. As for the reason behind these deadly attacks, it was said that the creatures sought one thing more than any other: the human soul. When word of the murderous monster got out among the people of the small hamlets and villages of ancient Scotland, the Kelpie cunningly chose to take on another form, given that its cover – as a large horse – had now been blown, of course. That form was a beautiful woman, with long hair, and dressed in a flowing robe. Her (or, rather, its) targets were always men, and again walking home late at night, perhaps after a few pints of beer at a local inn, or after toiling in the fields until dark. The she-devil would, just like its horse-based form, beckon the entranced man to the water’s edge. She would then take his hand, and slowly lead him into the loch; careful step by careful step. Then, when the man was around waist-deep she would violently drag him below the water, drowning him in seconds and mercilessly stealing his soul. Intriguingly, most of the Kelpie reports revolve around Loch Ness.
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. 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. The otter angle is a very intriguing one and is born out of the fact that otters are highly intelligent animals, that they have structured communities and even leaderships, that they are occasional tool-users, and that they even hold each other’s hands.
These parallels - between the societies and actions of both otters and humans – amount to one of the key issues that led the Tsimshian and Tlingit people to associate them in very much the same fashion. There is, however, yet another aspect to the otter issue. Otters are perceived as being good-natured and friendly animals – which, for the most part, they certainly are. But not for the two tribes that fear the Kushtaka. For the tribespeople, the engaging and outward character of the otter is merely a ruse, one which is designed to deceive and manipulate people, and to lure them into situations that range from the stressful to the outright deadly. Notably, tribal history maintains that each and every otter is secretly part-human; something which allows it to jump from form to form as it sees fit. It is very eye-opening to learn that the Kushtaka has a notable way of luring its human prey into darkened forests, where it can work its evil ways: it mimics the cry of a baby, or that of a young child, in distress.
Within the history of fairy lore, there exists a longstanding tradition of these magical – and sometimes manipulative, dangerous, and even deadly – entities having the ability to shapeshift into a near-dizzying number of forms. We’ll begin with one of the lesser known creatures that falls into the fairy category. Its name is the Selkie, a beast that is most associated with the people and the old folklore of northern Scotland, the Shetland and Orkney Islands, Ireland, and Iceland. It’s fair to say that the Selkie is not too dissimilar to the legendary mermaid, although, as will become apparent, there are significant differences, too.
Like the mermaid – and its male equivalent, the merman – the Selkie is an animal that dwells deep in ocean waters and which has a longstanding connection to the human race. Also like mermaids, the Selkie is said to be a seducer-supreme. Whereas, in times past, mermaids and mermen were perceived as being half-human and half-fish in appearance, they were not shapeshifters, per se. Rather, they were a combination of creatures. The Selkie, however, has the unique ability to take on two specific forms: that of a seal and that of a human – both male and female. Whereas mermaids are limited to living in the oceans, the Selkie exists as a seal in the water and as a human on land. It achieves the latter by discarding its seal skin and taking on human form – that of a beautiful, alluring woman or a handsome, muscular man.
Finally, on the matter of fairies and shapeshifting, we have the Donas de Fuera of Sicily, which is an island in the Mediterranean Sea and a region of Italy. Very much like the elementals of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, the Donas de Fuera were small, humanoid entities that had somewhat of a fraught relationship with the local, human population. Although there were both male and female beings, certainly it was the latter who were most visible when it came to interacting with the people of Sicily. While they were described as both beautiful and enchanting, the Donas de Fuera were not to be messed with. They certainly had their friendly and even helpful sides to their characters, but, if and when offended, their wrath ranged from cruel and dangerous to deadly. Moving on: the Donas de Fuera looked human – for the most part – aside from their strange feet, which were described as being circular or paw-like. The latter description is most apt, since the Donas de Fuera had the ability to turn themselves into cats – of the regular kind and also of a black variety of mountain lion size. Reports of shapeshifting, large black cats can be found within the United Kingdom, too, interestingly.
Now, with our story at its end, it is time for us to try and make some sense of this strange and sinister band of supernatural entities: who, or what, are they? What are their motivations? Are they entirely separate of each other – shapeshifting being the only thing that connects them – or are they somehow all part of one, specific phenomenon? They are questions that get right to the heart of the puzzle. When we address all of these strange, sinister, and so often highly dangerous things, we see an undeniable pattern that links each and every one of them. It is a pattern that revolves around the manipulation of the human mind, bridges, cemeteries, woods, bodies of water, and the plunging of countless people into bizarre situations that provoke stress, paranoia, and insanity – sometimes even death. Beware!