Guest Blog: Colin Schneider
The Pooka’s Peers: Shapeshifting and Cryptozoology
By Colin Schneider
Shapeshifting is not a new idea by any means. The oldest known example of the concept is a cave painting from Cave of the Trois-Frères in France known as “The Sorcerer” which depicts a man with antlers, dog-like limbs, and a tail and has been dated back to 13,000 B.C.
As one of the primary themes in faerie lore, faeries as a whole are said to be shapeshifters, often applying their talents for mischievous reasons. Several faeries are especially recognized for their shapeshifting abilities including the kelpie and the selkie (both water-dwelling faeries) are good examples, but the pooka is easily the top contender. The pooka is a shapeshifter that has been known to play vicious pranks on travelers, and it is able to change into a large variety of shapes including goat, goblin, horse, wolf, cat, and raven. Now, faerie folklore is often considered to be largely rooted in the past, but, interestingly enough, the subject seems to have significant influence on modern day forteana.
Cryptozoology is a subject that is generally a melding of the disciplines of folklorism and zoology – literally the study of unknown or hidden animals. One of the fascinating aspects of the field is, despite the assumptions that the sought after creatures are flesh and blood, there is a surprising amount of variety in the descriptions of what is thought to be the same creature.
Consider the Loch Ness Monster, essentially the granddaddy of modern monsters. When most imagine Nessie, as the locals have lovingly dubbed the creature, an image of a plesiosaur is often conjured up – a prehistoric reptile with the body similar of a seal and a long snake-like neck. Most reports do not reflect this image, though. Close to two-thirds of witnesses of a possible Nessie describe something closer to an eel or serpent. That isn’t to say that plesiosaurs haven’t been supposedly seen in the loch, they most certainly have. Serpents and plesiosaurs aren’t the only shapes Nessie takes either; everything from giant frogs to huge salamanders, and water-horses to camel-like creatures have been seen in or around the loch and thrown under the moniker of “Loch Ness Monster”.
Bigfoot is another of the cryptids with shifting personalities. The large, hairy ape-like humanoid has been seen all around North America since before the Europeans colonized. While often contained within the Pacific Northwest, area like Ohio, the Deep South, and Maine are also hotspots for sightings. While the general description remains the same, often small details change. Aspects such as height, facial features, and even hair color could simply be genetic varieties within the single species, but the one aspect with the most interesting difference is the creature’s namesake, its feet. The fact that Bigfoot foot descriptions vary has been an understood idea in the field for a long time, but it often doesn’t get the general public’s attention. Casts have been made of prints that have as few as two toes to as many as six, but the most common variation is three-toed prints. No one quite knows why, but many have speculated that it might be a genetic deficiency or even an indication of several different species. Honestly, the answers just aren’t there yet.
There are numerous other cryptids that seem to shift their shape – the Chupacabra has a large variety of descriptions from large bats to spike-backed gargoyles and even hairless canines, Thunderbirds have been described as gigantic birds and winged reptiles similar to a pterodactyl, and Dogmen – the name for the recent spur of humanoid canine reports – have been described as having several different types of heads from a wolf-head to a jackal-head, even a bulldog’s from time to time.
Why is there such variation? Well, there are a handful of possibilities that have some support throughout the cryptozoological community. The most common is simply that there are several related, but distinct species that have significant variations between them. Another is the simple possibility that the witnesses might be mistaken – either a misidentification of a known animal or some details were muddied over time as it is with memories. The final idea that has significant support is more on the fringe side; some have suggested that whatever is being encountered could be the same entity or type of entities. This idea is often called the interdimensional theory and has been applied to not just cryptids, but ghosts and even UFOs. The general theory surrounds the idea that there are other dimensions which are host to entities that could travel between ours and theirs and are able to control their appearance. Interestingly enough, this idea bears many similarities to the idea of the faerie realm – another otherworldly area where faeries dwell. Maybe the pooka isn’t simply ancient folklore after all.
About the author:
Colin Schneider is one of the youngest active researchers in the United States, at only 16-years-
old. He has been involved in cryptozoology and ufology since he was 13 after he visited the
International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. A frequent attendee of conferences
about the unexplained, Colin lectures at numerous events around Ohio and Pennsylvania. Colin
also is a regional representative for the Centre for Fortean Zoology. He is the host of the Crypto-Kid radio show on the WCJV Digital Broadcasting Network. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found online at paranorm101.blogspot.com.