On an unspecified date in the early 90’s, on the lonely, icy waters of the Antarctic, a 60-foot long, pearly white something broke the waves next to a Japanese research vessel. Fearing that it might be a foreign submarine, crewmen ran to the railing to get a better look at it. Then they noticed that it had skin. And arms. And a face.
Before they could scream, the thing resubmerged, and the legend of the Ningen began.
It’s worth pausing to note the significance of the word “ningen”: In Japanese, it means (roughly) “human.” Naming a giant horror of a creature “human” suggests that behind the Ningen’s humanoid shape, the crewman perceived some uncanny intelligence or spirit. Given that the Ningen can get up to 90 feet long, that is something to be reckoned with.
Typical descriptions of the Ningen make it sound like an f-ed up mermaid: giant, bald, and white, it has (as I have mentioned) two arms and even five-fingered hands. Its nose-less face features only black eyes and a slit mouth. Its feet are often combined into an enormous fin, so that it can shoot through the antarctic waters at killer whale speed.
Those are the typical descriptions. Other descriptions characterize the Ningen as a roughly human-sized blob on two feet. How that and the god-like whale thing are categorized as the same creature, I’ll never know. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick with the behemoth mermaid version, because clearly it is the superior one.
You can find the Ningen mostly in the cold waters of the Antarctic, possibly relying on hydrothermal vents to warm their freakishly human hands. What little information there is on them originated from an online forum called 2channel, and later a 2007 article in Mu magazine. The rest is internet speculation frenzy.
There have been plenty of photos and videos released of supposed Ningen (or artistic interpretations thereof), but most of these are pretty clearly faked (or hilarious, as in the example to the right). Ningen believers claim this is because the Japanese government freaked out when researchers brought back photos of their definitely-not-a-submarine; they say officials buried those pictures deep and then entered into ongoing campaign to have further evidence destroyed. Much like with the U.S. government and aliens, non-specific government agencies have supposedly flooded the internet with a bunch of crap to make the public think that the whole thing was bunk and move on, all while they work on Top Secret Research about the creatures in the background.
It’s not impossible that there is something weird out there in the deep, cold ocean, and that there were real researchers that really saw it. But what was it that they saw? Cryptid and mystery-hunting sites have offered a number of explanations.
Unsexy but fair. A lot of the pictures (especially this one and this one) look like ice chunks.
2. Funky-looking sharks, whales, or squid.
This is to say that the Ningen could either have been one of these creatures that was misidentified as a strange and god-like being, or could be a new species of one of these.
3. A giant new species of manta ray.
I find manta rays horrifying enough that this, for me, would be worse than a 90-foot humanoid whale thing.
Unclear what exactly we’d be convergently evolving to handle, but hey.
6. A U.S.O.
Remember Lake Baikal? The counterpoint to U.F.O.s are U.S.O.s–unidentified submersible objects. This author offers that the Ningen might be some kind of alien ship. Go big or go home, right? And since we’re on the subject…
I mean…a lot of sea creatures do look like aliens. Proponents of this theory point out that it’s really weird that nobody noticed the ginormous Ningen swimming around until the 90’s. Rather than presume that’s because someone made them up, what if it was actually because the Ningen weren’t around until then? This would go a ways toward explaining why the government might be so eager to cover them up.
The Santa Lucia mountain range sprawls for 105 miles down the coast of central California, a great, towering expanse of tree and rock that proved impassable for early Spanish explorers. Ocean spray mists the west side of the range, making it fertile ground for conifers and redwoods. The mountains’ height blocks the moisture from travelling further, making its eastern side dry and brown. The Santa Lucia’s beauty and grandeur draw hikers and sightseers, though the terrain permits few roads. It is one of the wildest places left in the U.S.
Naturally, that also makes it home to dark and mysterious figures who like to watch people from cliffs.
The Dark Watcher encounter template
The typical Dark Watcher story goes something like this: A hiker or runner finds themselves alone in the mountains, either by choice or because they have become separated from their group. They feel suddenly uneasy. A tall figure looms on the horizon–a humanoid shape composed of complete darkness. The shape either gazes off toward the ocean or, more uncomfortably, stares at the witness. Sometimes it has a broad-brimmed hat and a staff, sometimes a hunch. Sometimes its friends will darken the spaces between the trees.
If the witness tries to double-check that the figure is actually there, or attempts to draw closer, it will vanish. But that doesn’t mean its presence can’t be corroborated. There are accounts of multiple people in a group seeing the figure at once, or the figure showing up in the same place at the same time the following year. The Dark Watchers never speak or attack. They just watch. But it is enough to leave an impression.
The internet has it that the Dark Watchers were part of the lore of the original tenants of coastal California–the Chumash (though this has been disputed). The Spanish conquistadors allegedly also ran into them, naming them Los Vigilantes Oscuros. But the Dark Watchers aren’t just half-forgotten monsters of legend: There have been sightings as recently as 2018. A witness from Ojai recounts:
“I was hiking up a remote trail up the 33 in Ojai, I was about an hour up the mountain, no people, no cars in sight. as I was hiking, I had this eerie feeling I was being watched. I looked up at the top of the mountain. It was a black figure. I waved, jokingly, not really thinking the object was a person. It waved back. Thinking I was maybe tripping, or that it was a tree waving in the wind, I took a puff of my cigarette, only to see the figure blow out a plume of smoke as well. I started seeing it flowing, and I say flowing, almost floating vertically. I ran like hell back to my car, spraining my knee in the process. “
No account of the Dark Watchers would be complete without mentioning that they’ve appeared in the work of none other than John Steinbeck. From his short story “Flight”:
“Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone. Pepé looked suspiciously back every minute or so, and his eyes sought the tops of the ridges ahead. Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment; but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and minded his own business.”
Steinbeck’s son (more on him in a moment) would later claim that the Dark Watchers were a fairly common part of his family’s life, even going so far as to say that his grandmother traded things with them. Certainly they seem to have been popular around the 1930’s (when “Flight” was written), because around that same time they were mentioned in a poem called “Such Counsels You Gave Me” by Robinson Jeffers, another Big Sur resident:
“But when he approached The fall of the hill toward Howren’s he saw apparently A person on the verge, outlined against the darkening Commissure of the farther hills, intently gazing Into the valley. The young man’s tired and dulled mind, Bred in these hills, taught in the city, reverted easily Toward his dead childhood; he thought it might be one of the watchers, Who are often seen in this length of coast-range, forms that look human To human eyes, but certainly are not human. They come from behind ridges and watch. But when he approached it He recognized the shabby clothes and pale hair And even the averted forehead and the concave line From the eye to the jaw, so that he was not surprised When the figure turning toward him in the quiet twilight Showed his own face. Then it melted and merged Into the shadows beyond it…“
These accounts seemed to give the Dark Watchers a boost in popularity, leading people to not only not avoid being out in the mountains alone (as would probably be advisable), but to actively seek the Watchers out.
Modern hunt for the figures in black
I mentioned Steinbeck’s son–Thomas. The Dark Watchers fascinated him so that he and painter Benjamin Brode wrote a book on the subject: In Search of the Dark Watchers. Brode would go into the woods to try to capture the Watchers visually, and Steinbeck would write of his adventures. Both men seem to think of the Watchers not as 7 to 15 feet tall (as in other accounts), but as small, fairy-like creatures. There is a video of Steinbeck and Brode talking about the process of making the book; Brode discusses how he had to switch from bringing his paint-set to carrying only a sketchpad for fear that the abundance of equipment was scaring the Dark Watchers off. Steinbeck mentions that you can’t look at them directly or they will disappear–you can only view them out of the corner of your eye.
Apparently their pains paid off. Brode reported that not only did he see the Dark Watchers, but that there were so many coming out of the shadows that he was nearly tripping on them. Steinbeck called Brode’s paintings “possibly the only evidence out there of the existence of the Dark Watchers.” (You can preview some of the paintings on their website; they are very beautiful but I don’t see any definitive Dark Watchers in them. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough.)
Others have found the Watchers more difficult to find. This might be due to the fact that they apparently have an aversion to modern trappings, especially (and oddly specifically) weatherproofed gear. The fog that often covers the west side of the mountains might be tempting monster-seekers into clothing choices that hamper their search. ‘Ware the water-resistant windbreaker. Plastic ponchos are right out.
Cousins of the man in Ben MacDui?
So what’s the deal with the Dark Watchers, really? Skeptics propose a number of potential explanations.
The people who truly see these figures (and aren’t just making up stories for others’ entertainment) could be tired, duped by the tricks of the light in the varied landscape (i.e. the “Dark Watchers” are just a bunch of rocks).
The mountains could be emitting infrasound. If something is creating a signal out of the range of human hearing, a would-be Dark Watcher witness might unconsciously pick it up and get freaked out by it, causing them to imagine that there’s something watching them (this is an explanation offered for ghost sightings in general, by the way).
The Dark Watchers could be Brocken spectres–the same explanation offered for the Am Fear Liath Mor of Ben MacDui. If that were the case, the witnesses could be seeing their own shadows playing on the fog and mistaking them for otherworldly figures. (No word on the sightings that take place during clear days.)
But I’d like to hope that in one of the last wild(ish) places in the U.S., there might be something left that we haven’t thoroughly explained away. What might the Dark Watchers be? Nature spirits? Ghosts? Something worse? It’s enough to make you want to go out there and find out.
Just leave your raincoat in the car.
Have you ever been confronted by a shadowy figure that turns out to have your own face? Share your story in the comments below.
Monster Meet research can be a mixed bag. Sometimes I get caught on something specific and have to really dig deep to find enough content for a single post. Other times, like this month, I start out with an innocent Google query (“nun ghost”), and end up down a rabbit hole.
I am ashamed to have never heard of the Borley Rectory until now. According to Harry Price (famed paranormal investigator), it was the “most haunted house in England.” Built in 1862 with heavy stone, wood, and brick, it was a 23-room, Gothic-style home that lurked in the shadows of the surrounding trees. Bars blocked several of its windows. The house had no gas or electricity, and the only water available came through the well in the center courtyard.
20th-century visitors described Borley’s thick, breathless silence, punctuated by the rare mouse scuttling within the walls. The rectory was plagued by ghosts from the minute it was erected.
Nuns in the deep
The haunting allegedly started with a Benedictine monk and nun. Back in the 14th century, the two broke their vows to have an affair. When the church discovered them, it hanged the monk and buried the nun alive inside the convent walls. That convent later burned down, and the rectory was built in its place.
Sound too extreme to be true? It probably was. But the story does go a long way to explain what happened after.
One of the most persistent shapes to haunt Borley was that of a nun. The first residents–the family of Henry Bull–reported seeing her, a thin figure clad in gray, walk the same slow route through the garden, month after month. Usually this was around twilight, but on one occasion it happened in broad daylight, as Bull’s daughters were coming back from a garden party. They tried to call out to the nun, but she didn’t respond. She simply walked into the trees and faded away.
Visitors saw her too. Some even asked Bull what she was doing out there, not able to comprehend what they were seeing. Apparently Henry had a good sense of humor about it; he would go out after dinners with a cigar to see if he could catch a glimpse of her before turning in for the night. For him, the haunting was splendid entertainment.
Less entertaining parts of the haunt
The ambulatory nun, while iconic, was far from the sole phenomena the Bulls had to contend with. Unexplained footsteps echoed through the building. The children heard them nightly as they slowly approached their bedroom before stopping at their door. There would be 3 precise raps–no more, no less. The kids would fling the door open, only to gape at the cold, empty hall. Other times they would hear steps following them as they took the narrow path between the church and the house. One son hid behind a tree to see who might be following him, but there was no one there. It got to be so bad that the townspeople refused to walk the path alone after dark.
Sometimes the ghosts were more direct. One of the Bull girls was slapped awake in late one night, though there was no one else in the room. Henry had to go through the trial of getting the dining room window bricked over; his family’s meals kept getting interrupted by a face staring at them through the glass. Still, the Bulls stuck around. Things weren’t that bad.
Then the Reverend Bull died, passing away in a bedroom that would come to be known as the Blue Room.
Then his wife died there, too.
Then his son.
By the time the next tenants moved in, Borley Rectory had taken a turn for the strange. Mr. and Mrs. Smith had it decidedly worse (IMHO) than the Bulls. In addition to the footsteps came the irregular ringing of servant bells, as well as crashes loud enough to wake them out of a dead sleep. Keys disappeared out of their locks to be found several feet away…or not at all. Doors unlocked and locked at inconvenient times, sometimes with the living still in the room.
Shortly after moving in, Mrs. Smith found a football-shaped, carefully wrapped paper package in the china cabinet. Curious, she peeled off the layers of paper. It was a human skull. Despite her unhappy efforts to investigate, no one could explain where it had come from. Even after living in the house for most of their lives, the surviving Bulls had never seen it before.
Mr. Smith had some excitement, too. One summer afternoon, he stepped outside their bedroom (the infamous Blue Room) and heard a woman’s voice whispering directly over his head. Its words ran together into nonsense–sibilant, urgent. Mr. Smith hurried across the space toward the platform leading to the chapel, and the voice cut off.
The Smiths only stayed in Borley for 2 years before they threw in the towel. They would later refer to the period as the darkest of their lives.
The last Borley family
In October of 1930, Lionel and Marianne Foyster moved in with their adopted baby daughter. Shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose. Not only was there the footsteps and the banging, but one day Marianne turned around and came face-to-face with the apparition of Henry Bull. Their 2-year-old was locked in a room without a key. Objects appeared and disappeared around the house: A bag of lavender came out of nowhere, moved to several different spots over the course a few months (including Mr. Foyster’s coat pocket), and vanished; theological books did the same thing. Marianne’s gold bracelet disappeared at in the time it took her to wash her hands. A wedding ring appeared on the hallway floor.
One night, Mr. Foyster started at the sound of a scream, and rushed out to find his wife outside the Blue Room, pale, with blood pouring down the left side of her face. Some unseen hand had hit her. Another evening he left the sewing room to get some papers from the library, and was startled to see that almost every picture in the hall had been taken off the wall and laid face-down on the floor.
Then there was the writing on the walls. Scrawling, mostly indecipherable messages said things like “Marianne, please help get–”, “get lights and prayers here,” and “his body.” When the family attempted to conduct an exorcism, Mr. Foyster was struck in the shoulder by a fist-sized stone.
Mr. Foyster’s health deteriorated. When he and his wife left Borley in 1935, the church closed the rectory permanently. No longer could they chalk the stories up to imagination or exaggeration: The place was unsuitable to live in.
Liar liar, house on fire
The Borley Rectory might not have been a pleasant place for lay people, but for psychic researchers, it was heaven. The house made Harry Price–who had spent most of his career until that point debunking fraudulent mediums–quite famous. After the Foysters left, he and his crew spent a year at Borley under “controlled” conditions, measuring the phenomena and taking lots of notes and pictures. The material he collected would be enough fodder for multiple books.
During one seance, a spirit told Price’s team that the house would burn down that night, and that when it did, the bones of a murdered person would be revealed. Well, the house didn’t burn down that night. But it did burn down 11 months later. A brief dig into the cellars revealed the bones of what was thought to be a young woman.
The whole thing makes for a fascinating story–a good one. I’m not surprised that Borley is so famous. But not everyone bought into it.
Take the bones, for example. The Borley parish refused to let them be buried in their churchyard. Why? Because local opinion was that they were pig bones. And why might they think that? Because Harry Price was something of a conjurer, and there was a suspicious spike in the ghostly manifestations whenever he was around. After his death, the Society for Psychical Research would release a book debunking all of his work at Borley, accusing him of essentially faking the entire thing, “salting the mine.”
He wasn’t the only one to fake it. It came out later that Marianne Foyster had been staging phenomena, too, in order to cover up an affair with their lodger (a curiously named Frank Pearless). As foundational parts of Borley’s story crumble, one starts to ask more questions: how many of the Bull children’s stories were likely invented? How many “witnesses” could have been suggestible because of those stories?
Maybe Borley wasn’t so special after all.
And yet…not every psychic researcher was against Price. In a lengthy rebuttal of the charges against him, one researcher pointed out that not could the people dismissing Price have had blindspots and ulterior motives of their own, but also that when phenomena are so convincing and convincingly recorded that no critic can poke holes in them, the frightened (or stubborn) person may have no other choice than to allege that “the investigator is in on the trick.”
And even if some of the phenomenon were faked, that doesn’t mean they all were. Researchers in the 70’s certainly thought the place was still worth a visit (if you have the time and a pair of headphones, you can listen to recordings of Borley’s famous footsteps and crashes yourself). The information I’ve covered here barely scratches the surface of what the internet has to offer on this stuff, even after almost 100 years.
Even if the ghosts aren’t haunting the grounds, they’re still banging around in people’s heads.
What is the most unusual object that you’ve found in a house cabinet? Share your story in the comments below.
When doing research for this blog, if I want to feature any kind of female monster I have to sift through a lot of moaning-ghost-who-lost-her-lover type of B.S. It’s almost as bad as your stereotypical “whoops we built [insert building] on an Indian burial ground.” Any legend that colors outside of those boxes is welcome.
La Lechuza colors outside of the box. She is probably one of the more recognizable monsters on this blog, at least to living along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Spanish speakers will recognize that her name translates to “the owl;” a simple name that hints at her elegant horror.
Sobs in the dark
A long time ago, after some townsfolk discovered that their neighbor was doing black magic, they killed her. As one would expect, she returned to take revenge on every generation thereafter. But there was a twist: she came back partially owl.
Or maybe it was that La Lechuza was once just a normal woman, who in exchange for magical powers made a terrible deal with the devil.
Or maybe she is many women, vengeful ghosts whose husbands were faithless or remarried after their deaths (*sigh*…those tired tropes again).
Though they might not be certain where she comes from, those that know la Lechuza know that if they hear strange sounds outside their door, they had better lock it tight and plug their ears. The classic Lechuza move is to wait outside someone’s house in the dark and then, with increasing urgency, to make sounds that replicate the cries of a human baby. If the heartless (or smart) human does not take the bait, she might try human whistles or trills. She will keep it up until the victim’s curiosity (or annoyance) get the better of them and they come outside.
What they find could drive them mad. As I mentioned before, la Lechuza is a hideous cross between woman and owl. She is big enough to carry a grown man off with her talons, and has a human enough face so you can read her expression as she watches you with her big, flat eyes. Some tales give her a beak; in others she has a mouth so that she can speak to you in her deep voice and ask you, for example, to hand over your newborn. Presumably she is also able to spin her head around (I found no accounts of that, but sincerely hope that it is the case).
So once you leave the safety of your house, you’re basically dead. Most Lechuza victims are carried off as food, fated to end up in a giant owl pellet ready to be dissected in hell’s elementary school.
Death and dented cars
Even if you don’t end up eaten (or have your offspring eaten) by la Lechuza, her presence means nothing good. She has long been considered an omen of death, and often leaves thunderstorms and other misfortunes in her wake.
When not attacking people in their homes, she targets cars, especially along dark, deserted stretches of highway. Among her powers are the ability to neuter technology, so victims will suddenly find their battery dead as a giant owl runs them off the road.
An example: There was once a couple that thought la Lechuza was bunk. As they drove down a dry, empty road late one night, their windshield wipers abruptly squealed across the glass. The couple joked that it must be La Lechuza. Half a second later, something black loomed up ahead; they cursed and slammed on the brakes. It was a giant owl, perched on top of a phone pole, watching them. Hearts in their throats, the couple sped away, new Lechuza believers and lucky to be alive.
As if all of these offenses weren’t enough, La Lechuza is also known to carry out petty attacks. This includes pecking at people’s faces and tearing up their flesh (and clothes, I guess, but the flesh seems more important).
Basically, screw that meanie owl. Which brings me to my next point…
A second exciting way of defending yourself is to blast la Lechuza with a shotgun. This, too, has varying results…presumably you have to get the shot right the first time, because you won’t get a second chance. Stories of success include an old woman disappearing for several weeks after a Lechuza was shot; when she finally emerged, it was with a limp. A more gruesome tale recalls a man shooting the Lechuza out of the sky and then finding a woman’s corpse bent over a high tree branch the following morning. (It is easier, I suppose, to think that the woman might be the dead Lechuza, rather than the victim of some heinous, more mortal crime.)
Prayer, trying seven knots in a rope, or asking for help from a curandera are also defense options, as is good old-fashioned salt. Personally, I think that a mixture of two or more probably wouldn’t hurt.
Of course, some say that La Lechuza isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you of something. But what fun is that?
Would calling la Lechuza a “flipping poopoo-head” be sufficient to save one’s life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
“Serial murder may, in fact, be a much older phenomenon than we realize. The stories and legends that have filtered down about witches and werewolves and vampires may have been a way of explaining outrages so hideous that no one in the small and close-knit towns of Europe and early America could comprehend the perversities we now take for granted. Monsters had to be supernatural creatures. They couldn’t be just like us.”
-John E. Douglas
In another post brought to you by Humans are Terrible!™, let’s dig into a crime spree so monstrous that it was blamed on Satan himself, and the equally monstrous response to it.
Zoom in on Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands. Look at any pictures of modern Limburg and you can almost hear the classical music play: It is full of gently rolling hills dotted with the occasional patch of forest, exactly the type of imagery you’d expect to find under generic inspirational messages about wholesomeness or peace.
But back in the 18th century, especially on nights with a full moon, you would not have wanted to be caught in that quiet countryside alone. Voices echoed over the hills, cackles and hoots booming down from the black sky. If you looked up, you might see a group of men leering back at you, fingers clutched in the fur of unnaturally large, flying goats.
Satan gifted these goats (or bucks, because I guess goats without horns would not be demonic enough) to whatever outlaw would pledge himself to him. Night after night, his bokkenrijder (or buckrider) gangs soared through the sky, seeding terror wherever they went.
You can imagine the kind of shenanigans that the brigands got up to when they had volitant goats as their getaway car. The bokkenrijders conducted raids throughout the peaceful countryside, robbing and beating all in their path, especially wealthy farm or church owners. As they flew, they could be heard crying “Across houses, across gardens, across stakes, even across Cologne into the wine cellar!” (One assumes that this refrain was born deep in the bowels of said wine cellar.) They trampled people under the hooves of their monstrous goats (*cue Grandma Got Runover By a Bokkenrijder soundtrack*) and drank potions in a bizarre gang initiation ritual that secured their pact with the devil.
Even people that may not have been legit bokkenrijders got on the bandwagon, capitalizing on their reputation to extort money from the terrified countryfolk. There are accounts of “fire letters” being delivered to wealthy farm owners by self-professed bokkenrijders–notes saying essentially “give me money, or I’ll use my Satanic skills to burn your house to the ground.”
One has to wonder if it was bold moves like this that eventually got the rijders into more earthly trouble.
Some suspect leads
Limburg officials began to investigate where these bokkenrijders were coming from, and reported back with some whackadoodle stuff.
Reddit’s /NoSleep includes one take on the story. Late one night, ordinary robbers made the mistake of trying to escape law enforcement by running into a strange patch of woods. There, they happened upon a crossroads. The full moon illuminated a sign scribbled over with old Dutch, “Devil” prominent among the words. The outlaws read the sign aloud (as one always should upon coming across something that is clearly a summoning spell), and a horned figure emerged from between the trees to offer them a sweet, goaty deal.
A few of the brigands said “hell no” (get it?) and escaped back to civilization, choosing to face the noose rather than the guy who left hoofprints in his wake. These were the ones who allegedly brought this bokkenrijder origin story to town, where it spread like arson fire.
Keep in mind that all of this was happening at a time where a lot of people were struggling to make ends meet, and only the wealthy were getting by. It’s not surprising that some turned to crime. Sure, the burning things and the hurting people and the bringing ole’ Satan into it was not cool. But I think it’s safe to say that the retribution went a wee bit overboard. Some even say that officials might have invented the bokkenrijder myth themselves in order to justify their obscenely violent crackdown on thieves.
Between 1730 and 1780, hundreds were killed in a wave witch trials for bokkenrijders. In typical witch trial fashion, most of the victims were innocent and confessed only under pain of torture. They didn’t have a bright future once they did. Bokkenrijder executionswere brutal, even for the time: People were strangled at the stake and then burned, had their hands cut off and then burned, or were simply burned alive. It was bad enough that one dude stabbed himself until he died, presumably to avoid the heinous execution in store.
In spite of this outsized retribution (or maybe because of it), the power of the bokkenrijder myth persisted. Today, it continues to persist, albeit as a historical relic in the form of statues and business names. I think that the takeaways from this story are simple:
1) Trust not your fellow man.
2) Trust goats even less.
Have you ever been trampled by a goat? Share your story in the comments below.
This will by Monster Meet’s first post on a solidly Japanese monster, and I have to say: I have no idea how I haven’t written about one until now. I love old Japanese monster mythology for the same reason that I love old Fae mythology: it is both magical and deeply creepy, and makes (to me) an unnerving intuitive sense.
Take the name of this monster for example: mikoshi-nyūdō. Nyūdō (at least according to Wikipedia–if I have any readers fluent in Japanese, please help me out) translates to priest–specifically, a tonsured (read: the fancy haircut with the bald spot on top) Buddhist priest. Mikoshi means anticipation, expectation, and “looking over the top (of a fence).”
Is your skin prickling yet?
When met on a dark road (or a bridge or intersection), the mikoshi-nyūdō will at first appear to be a harmless priest or monk. If you’re lucky, you might get a couple of warning signs–the “wara wara” sound of whistling bamboo, the presence of a third eye, or sudden sprouting of hair.
After that, there a set number of ways that the situation can play out. Almost none of them are good for you.
Congratulations! You have just become a stereotypical mikoshi-nyūdō victim.
Scenario 2: The staring contest
Say that you’re a more aggressive type (or are like me and would stupidly ooh and aah at the presence of a supernatural creature), and just stare at the mikoshi-nyūdō head-on. Unfortunately for you, the mikoshi-nyūdō is much like a Lovecraftian Old One: You can’t look at him for any extended period without being struck dead with a fear. So whether you try to follow his towering eyes or just gape at his skeletal chest, you’re still lunch.
Scenario 3: Fly, you fools
Okay, so you can’t really look at the mikoshi-nyūdō without dying. Wouldn’t it make sense to say, walk around him? Pretend like he’s not there? Wrong again. The mikoshi-nyūdō will not like being ignored, and will run you through with a bamboo spear (or two, or several), and then maybe crush you into a pulp for good measure.
Whether you determine that that is better or worse than getting your throat ripped out is a personal choice.
Scenario 4: The attempt to GTFO
See the results of scenario 3.
Scenario 5: Grovelling
There’s a story about a merchant who was travelling late one night and suddenly felt unwell. He got off his horse to take a break, and then looked up and saw a figure standing a little way down the road. It was almost 13 feet tall, and its eyes shone like mirrors. The merchant hit the ground, trembling in fear, and the thing ran at him, jumped over him, and disappeared.
Badly shaken, the merchant made it to a nearby house and asked if there were strange things or ghosts around those parts.The family replied, “what, like a mikoshi-nyūdō?”
The merchant made it to his destination, but lost all appetite and fell ill with a fever. He died 13 days after the encounter.
So no, grovelling doesn’t work, either.
Scenario 6: Calling the bluff (or, the only thing that might actually work)
The only real way to survive a mikoshi-nyūdō encounter is by calling the monster out. If you encounter a priest late at night and his neck starts to grow, look down, not up, and tell him “You lost! I anticipated your trick!” This is supposed to make the mikoshi-nyūdō so furious that he vanishes.
Other methods of pissing him off so much that he goes away include smoking tobacco (to show how not intimidated you are) and calculating its height by a margin (say, your thumb) before he can try to bamboozle you.
What have we learned today? Meeting a mikoshi-nyūdō in the wild is not recommended. All in all, the best policy seems to be to cover and just yell “you lost!” at any priestly passerby.
Also maybe turtlenecks. The jury’s still out.
Happy new year! My resolution is to do more neck stretches. Share yours in the comments below.
Happy holidays, everyone! To celebrate the season, let’s talk about a flesh-eating scarecrow that sometimes maybe hangs around with Santa Claus.
Hans von Trotha (who now is better known as Hans Trapp) was a real 15th-century figure who lived on the woodland border between Germany and France. He was six and a half feet tall–which is tall even now, but at the time was near monstrous–and had a reputation for being kind of salty.
A high-ranking official gifted Hans two castles. The first was a piece of uninhabitable junk, but the second was Berwartstein, an impressive fortress on a hill. Berwartstein technically belonged to a nearby monastery, but Hans didn’t care. He loved the castle and hated the monastery’s abbot from a previous dispute over a church fine. So Hans accepted the gift and moved in, essentially giving the abbot a giant middle finger.
I’ll tell you the mythology first. The story goes that Hans became greedy and power-hungry to the point of being insatiable–he even made deals with the devil to consolidate his wealth. When the church found out the extent of his godlessness, they excommunicated and put sanctions on him.
Hans retreated into the woods, where the solitude (and his growing dependence on Satanism) drove him slowly insane. Along with insanity came the desire to feast on human flesh, specifically (because this is a Christmas story!) the flesh of children.
Hans concocted a brilliant plan to trap his first child: He would disguise himself as a scarecrow and lay in wait in a nearby field. Passing children would never realize who he was until it was too late.
Sure enough, before long a 10-year old boy came wandering past, oblivious to the presence of a madman under the stuffed shirt and straw. Hans stabbed him with a stick and then merrily carried him back into the woods, where he salted and roasted him. Hans was just lifting the first bite to his lips when a lightning bolt shot out of the sky and into his skull, killing him on the spot. God had had enough of his crap.
Coincidentally, Santa Claus happened to spring up in the same area around the same time. Santa took on silly, reanimated Hans Trapp as a helper–one who would not-so-subtly reinforce the dangers of being naughty. Now Hans travels with Santa each year, always reaching for–but never quite getting–that first bite of flesh he so badly desires.
Hans von Trotha: The Legend
If you’re like me, you got caught on Hans’s property tiff with the church, and then called B.S. when suddenly there were stories about him being a flesh-hungry Satanist. Of course it would be in the abbot’s interest to spread stories like that–he was pissed off that Hans had taken over his castle. It’s a throwing around of political power so that you hear about so often in history that it borders on becoming stereotypical.
So what actually happened?
It turns out that while (perhaps) not being a flesh-eating monster, Hans was still a dick of legendary status–enough to make everyone even outside of the church hate him. Not only did he refuse to give ground to the monastery that had once owned his castle–he built extra fortifications on it, and then, when the conflict reached its head, dammed the river leading to the town the monastery was in, completely depriving it (and all of the innocent townspeople) of water.
The abbot complained, and complained again, and then finally Hans said “careful what you wish for” and unleashed the water without warning, completely flooding the town and devastating it economically.
So there was no love lost between the townspeople and Hans. It was even said that he was a “robber baron”–a landowner that would tax roads inappropriately and kidnap people for ransom. By the time the abbot escalated the fight to the pope and Hans was excommunicated and sanctioned, the townspeople might have been a step away from storming the castle themselves with torches and pitchforks.
Hans survived the sanctioning, however, and died of natural causes in the walls of his beloved Berwartstein less than a decade later. The excommunication was posthumously lifted, but the townspeople didn’t fear him any less. In addition to the scarecrow Hans Trapp legend, they cast him as a “Black Knight” (not the Batman kind) whose spirit restlessly wandered the forest hills. They also passed around a story about him trying to rape an innocent virgin.
What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that even if things get a little tense between you and your neighbors this holiday season, do your best to de-escalate. You don’t want a little argument over who gets the best seat on the sofa to end in an accusation of eating babies.
Who would win in an epic rap battle: Krampus or Hans Trapp? Share your opinions in the comments below.
IMAGE CREDIT GOES TO: AdinaVoicu on Pixabay for the scarecrow sunset; Ji-Elle (of Wikimedia Commons) for Hans in the corner, and Ulli1105 (also of Wikimedia Commons) for the castle shot. The last fantastic illustration (or print?) is courtesy of the public domain.