Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

ShukerNature - http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Monday, 13 June 2011

THE TRANSFORMATION OF SAINT EUSTACIUS

'White Hart' - Mike Hearld


Certain religious stories, such as St George and the Dragon, have generated very considerable interest down through the centuries and have become extremely well known, but there are others that have attracted much less notice, yet are no less memorable. The following story is one of these hitherto-neglected Christian legends, which has always stayed in my mind ever since I first read it many years ago, so I finally decided to retell it in verse.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF SAINT EUSTACIUS

Through the emerald forests
Of golden-hued Dawn,
Rode Eustacius, a soldier
Of Rome, one fine morn,
As his hounds bayed all round him
With dark, fearful eyes,
Like a torrent of shadows
‘Neath newly-born skies.

So the soldier rode onward
Through golden-leaved trees,
While the hounds’ dismal howling
Still hung on the breeze
Like a dream half-forgotten
‘Twixt Future and Past –
Yet still doomed by its maker
Forever to last.

Then ahead of Eustacius
A white stag appeared,
And the soldier’s steed trembled,
Then, shivering, reared.
Just as if the stag’s presence
Imbued it with awe,
As the hunter peered onwards
And then, the deer, saw.

All at once, the stag stiffened,
Then fled through the trees,
But Eustacius pursued it,
Through clearings and lees.
On he chased this white wonder,
Past mountains and vales,
And the morn became noontide
In forests and dales.

Later, Evening drew gently
The curtains of Night
Far across the blue heavens,
Now dappled with light
From the glistening stars set
In countless array,
Each a tiny eye peering
Through blankets of grey.

And as they witnessed softly
The hunt far below,
E’en the moon wept in sadness,
And shrouded its glow
To give cover of darkness
‘Midst shadowy glades
To the hunted stag, weary
As still the hounds bayed.

But the stag was now tiring,
Its head dangled low,
As its heart heaved and pounded,
Its eyes full of woe,
Till it sank down exhausted
On carpets of dew,
As the hounds’ ghastly howling
More terrible grew.

Then Eustacius perceived it,
Stretched outwards to die,
As its fragile heart throbbed ‘neath
The sorrowful sky.
And the stag watched the soldier
With eyes dark and mild,
For it made no swift movement,
Yet cried like a child.

Then a pale shaft of moonlight
Fell softly from Space,
And its shimmering beauty
Lit up the deer’s face.
And as all the world waited,
The stag raised its head.
Its mouth opened, and then, with
A human voice, said:

“Why dost thou still pursueth
Me long through the trees?
I am Christ,” as Eustacius
Dropped low to his knees.
For the stag was surrounded
By radiant light,
Like a star incandescent
That passed from all sight

To the heavens resplendent
In Glory Divine.
Then Eustacius looked up, and
Drew slowly the Sign
Of the Cross there before him –
A new saint was born,
In the reincarnation
Of God’s golden Dawn.

This poem is just one of more than a hundred that are contained within Star Steeds and Other Dreams - my first volume of poetry, published by the CFZ Press in 2009.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

LIONS WITH CRESTS AND LIONS WITH HORNS



Despite having used the internet on a daily basis for many years in relation to my writings and researches, I still forget just how effective it can be in uncovering information on obscure subjects that have long perplexed me.

The crested lion is a case in point. Roughly 15-20 years ago, while browsing at a book fair, I came upon a travelogue book from the 1950s whose title intrigued me, because it referred to a legendary far-eastern creature that I hadn’t previously heard of, but when I looked through the book I found only the briefest of mentions to it. Feeling somewhat cheated, I decided against buying the book, and put it back on the shelf.

Unfortunately, however, by the time that I arrived back home I’d forgotten the book’s title, and had not even noticed the name of the author, so there seemed little hope of tracking down any information on the mythical creature. All that I could recall was that it was some form of lion, with a horn, or a crest, or a tuft, or some such accoutrement that distinguished it from the real world’s more prosaic maned variety.

Many years passed by, during which time the faint memory of this creature and the book whose title referred to it periodically rose to the surface and sent a few ripples through my conscious mind before sinking back into the depths of obscurity once more. But then, just a few evenings ago, while I was completing a chapter on monstrous and mythological cats for my all-new, second mystery cat book - I Thought I Saw The Strangest Cat... (due to be published later this year) - it entered my consciousness yet again – and this time I took notice.

Accessing Google, I entered the words “horned lion” into its search engine, and although various interesting entries appeared, none was remotely relevant to the elusive book that I had seen. “Tufted lion” was equally unsuccessful. But when I entered “crested lion”, the mystery that had baffled me for so long was a mystery no longer.

There before my eyes appeared a lengthy list of entries all headed by the same book title – Land of the Crested Lion, written by Ethel Mannin, a travelogue first published in 1955 that described the author’s journey across what was then Burma (now Myanmar) in 1954. And there on the cover was the striking image that until now I had only dimly remembered, depicting a huge statue of the crested lion, or chinthé, to give it its correct name. Cheered by my belated success, I penned the following paragraph for inclusion in my new cat book’s chapter on mythical felids:

"In Myanmar (formerly Burma), one of the most popular mythical beasts depicted in statues is the chinthé or crested lion, which is frequently encountered in pairs at the entrances to temples and pagodas. It is featured prominently on this country’s currency, the kyat, too, and appeared on the dustjacket of Ethel Mannin’s famous book, Land of the Crested Lion (1955), which charted her journey across Burma in 1954 as a guest of the Buddha Sasana Council, from the Siamese border in the south to the Chinese border in the north. It also gave its name to the Chindits, the name assumed by the forces commanded by British Brigadier Orde Wingate that were charged with long-range penetration operations behind Japanese lines in Burma during World War II. "
But this was not the end of my good fortune regarding Burma’s crested lion. Looking at online images of it, I made another discovery, and one that was very much closer to home than Burma, little more than a couple of feet away, in fact.

Behind where I was sitting in my lounge is a large glass cabinet containing a number of mythological animal figurines and ornaments that I’ve collected over the years, but one of them was now attracting particular attention from me. It was a small elegantly-carved wooden ornament that I’d purchased from a small antique shop a long while ago, but it had always intrigued me because I’d been unable to identify which creature it represented. Now, looking at it once again, I realised that it bore a very close resemblance to various internet images of the chinthé! In short, it appears that my mysterious little ornament is a crested lion, and therefore presumably originated from Burma.

My very own chinthé? (Dr Karl Shuker)


But even this is not the end of the story. Next to this ornament was a second one that had long perplexed me. Another purchase made during my travels, it is carved from jade and is somewhat leonine in overall form, but bears a single horn on its head. It does not resemble any mythical beast that I’d ever seen depicted or documented either in a book or online (including India’s majestic horned lion or sardula; and the kangla-sha or antlered dragon-lion represented by giant white statues at the sacred site of Kangla in the Indian state of Manipur - of which the kangla-sa is the official emblem) – which, once again, is what originally attracted me to it, and why I duly purchased it.

Interestingly, this enigmatic little figurine came with a small label on which a few details regarding it were written. The creature was apparently called a ‘good luck liou pijo’, which possesses a dragon’s head, a horse’s body, and a unicorn’s feet. Needless to say, after purchasing it I’d soon googled its name, and various spelling variations upon it, but all to no avail. Not even the tiniest snippet of information came to light. So, just as I’d been with the Burmese crested lion, I became resigned never to discover what creature my ornament represented – until now, that is.

Buoyed by my success in tracking down the crested lion book, I suddenly thought of a new approach for uncovering information regarding my ‘good luck liou pijo’. Instead of googling its name, I entered in the search engine’s box the description of it that was written on its accompanying label: “head of dragon body of horse feet of unicorn”. And lo! There it was!

Entry after entry appeared on Google, all of them referring to the same mythical Chinese beast, but one that I had never previously heard of – the pixiu (sometimes spelt 'pi xiu' or 'pi yao'). Yet there could be no doubt that this was the correct creature, because the entries’ illustrations of it corresponded perfectly with my ornament. Why its label referred to the creature as a ‘liou pijo’ remains mystifying, but I think it likely that ‘pijo’ is merely a transliteration of ‘pixiu’.

My little jade pixiu (Dr Karl Shuker)

In any event, the riddle of my ornament’s zoomythological identity was now resolved. So, in a very short space of time, I penned another paragraph for inclusion in my book’s mythical cats chapter, this one dealing with the long-sought-after pixiu:

"Although said to combine the head of a dragon with the body of a horse and the feet of a unicorn, the Chinese legendary beast known as the pixiu resembles a single-horned lion in overall appearance (or a single-horned winged lion in those examples that also sport wings). One of the five auspicious animals in ancient Chinese mythology (the other four being the Chinese dragon, Chinese phoenix, Chinese unicorn or ki-lin, and tortoise), the pixiu is believed to attract wealth and good fortune, and, because it has no anus, retain it too, so figurines of this remarkable creature can frequently be found in Chinese homes. "
How strange, and yet how marvellous also, that two totally separate, longstanding mysteries came to be solved within just a few minutes of each other. Then again, perhaps it was only to be expected – after all, one of them did feature the lucky pixiu!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

GIANT SEA SERPENTS AND CHUPACABRA SNAILS - WELCOME TO THE MONSTROUS MENAGERIE OF TAKESHI YAMADA



For any self-respecting cryptozoologist, rogue taxidermy is very much like cream cakes – naughty, but nice! I know that I’ve never been able to resist viewing and reading about all manner of fabricated fauna, from Feejee mermaids and Jenny Hanivers to jackalopes, pygmy bison, vegetable lambs, the bizarre exhibits of Charles Waterton, and much much more.

Consequently, it was only ever likely to be just a matter of time before I became acquainted with the spectacular zoological creations of multi-award-winning Japanese-born artist, author, and educator Takeshi Yamada (click here here for a detailed biography), now living in Brooklyn, New York City. Below is a summary of his highly successful career, as reported fully here by the Brooklyn Public Library:

"Artist, educator and author Takeshi Yamada has won numerous prestigious awards and honors such as the "International Man of the Year," "Outstanding Artists and Designers of the 20th Century," "2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century," "Who's Who in America" and "Who's Who in the World". In addition, the mayors of New Orleans, Louisiana and Gary, Indiana have awarded him the "Key to the City". Yamada, as a visual anthropologist, has had over 350 fine art exhibitions including 36 solo shows internationally in Spain, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States. Yamada has also published 21 books. His artwork has been chosen for inclusion in the collections of numerous museums and corporations internationally."

Over the years, Yamada has very skilfully produced all manner of fantastic creatures that never were but should have been - from the magnificent sea serpent pictured at the beginning of this blog, many-finned mer-folk, human-headed ants, and vampire monkeys, to the chupacabra snail, the whip-tailed tree octopus, flesh-eating fungi, and even a Mongolian death worm (or two).


Takeshi Yamada alongside some of his creations

Moreover, these are only a few of his astounding collection of self-manufactured marvels that can be viewed in Yamada’s Museum of World Wonders on Brooklyn’s Coney Island, and also in his various ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ exhibitions that have been touring the USA since 1983. One of these is currently being staged at the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (see note at the end of this ShukerNature post).


Advertising poster for one of Dr Yamada’s touring exhibitions

You want more? Here’s a quote from an article by Silke Tudor published in the 7 November 2006 issue of New York City’s Village Life weekly magazine concerning Yamada and his multifarious menagerie:

“Born out of the mythos of Coney Island, Yamada's present-day cosmos includes several six-foot-long Mongolian death worms; a pair of Fiji mermaids; a two-headed baby; a hairy trout; a seven-fingered hand; fossilized fairies; jackalope stew; a five-foot-long bloodsucking chupacabra; a 16th-century homunculus; a legion of samurai warriors trapped in the bodies of horseshoe crabs; a tiny marsh dragon; a coven of freakishly large, nuclear-radiated stag beetles from Bikini Atoll; and a furry mer-bunny, all of which are brought to life using old bones, shells, resin, origami, and bits and pieces of refuse, both inorganic and fleshy.”

Irrespective of their mundane constituents, however, these gaffs (the correct term for rogue taxiderm specimens) are astonishingly life-like.

So here, albeit as much for my delight as yours, is an all-too-brief selection of specimens from the truly extraordinary world of Takeshi Yamada (together with his own supremely-entertaining and meticulously-compiled – albeit entirely fictitious! - publicity details for each specimen, where available).

NB - Utilising the Fair Dealing/Fair Use convention, all of the following photographs are presented here in the context of review and on an entirely non-commercial basis; the copyright of all of them (unless otherwise stated) is owned by Takeshi Yamada.


The chupacabra snail – a deepsea species discovered as recently as 2007, and named by Yamada after its alleged resemblance to the clawed foot of the mysterious chupacabra


...And here is the chupacabra, or at least the preserved 5-ft-tall corpse of one!


Bikini Atoll stag beetle, enlarged and mutated by nuclear radiation into what Yamada describes as: “One of the largest and most vicious carnivorous land arthropod species in the world”. The female grows up to 17 in long, and both sexes are not only very poisonous but also extremely radioactive. In reality, this specimen has been cleverly constructed in part from portions of the horseshoe crab Limulus.


A scale from the great sea serpent itself! And according to Yamada, this particular sea serpent really is a giant marine snake. Here’s an excerpt from his detailed description of the scale: “This well-preserved large scale is from the Great Sea Serpent collected by Dr. Robert L. Travis (marine biologist). Dr. Travis visited the area for his extensive research with a group of marine biologists in Gloucester, Massachusetts during the summer of 1790 for investigating and cataloguing the increasing sightings of a mysterious large marine life form there. Dr. Travis, who specializes [in] the biology of sea snakes, after extensive microscopic observation and analysis of the tissue sample attached to the scale confirmed that this specimen closely resembled that of a large tropical sea snake, Pelamis platurus [a genuine species, the yellow-bellied sea snake], which ranges from Madagascar to Mexico and is sometimes found swarming by the thousands in the open ocean. Nevertheless, the scale of this specimen is 60 times larger than Pelamis platurus.”


A Chinese vampire monkey Desmosndulus rotundidus, one of three closely-related but very rare species of sanguinivorous simian, all of which are nocturnal and seek their prey using specialised infrared sensors on their nose that detect body heat, thereby enabling them to seek out warm-blooded victims even in total darkness. It is possible that Yamada’s inspiration for this creation was the jenglot – a very small, vampiric humanoid entity in Indonesian mythology, which, if one is captured, is sustained by being fed the blood of its keeper or that of goats.


A juvenile Mongolian death worm. Measuring three ft long, this well-preserved, dried specimen was collected in c.1810 within the Gobi Desert.


Two recently-captured Japanese specimens of prehistoric horseshoe crabs Limulus spp. hitherto believed extinct for 400 million years.


Cindora, the eight-legged spider dog, now in the collection of the Lucky Devil Thrillshow - a bona fide circus sideshow that travels throughout the USA.


The whip-tailed tree octopus. According to Yamada: “It is the largest species of tree octopus indigenous to Snake Island. This specimen is a 49-inch adult female. [The] tree octopus is an extremely rare terrestrial octopus with modified gills (similar to the lungfish and frog) and thick, dry skin for terrestrial life [in] wetland and rainforest. Unlike the common eight-legged sea dwelling octopus, all the tree octopus[es] have ten legs (just like the common squid and cuttlefish).


A horned marsh dragon...


And Takeshi Yamada with the skull of a horned dragon...


And now standing alongside a mummified 6-ft-long multi-finned mermaid from the Japanese island of Shikoku.


Three species of New York City giant subway bug, for which Yamada has compiled such an extensive zoological account that if you wish to read it all, please click here.


A giant carnivorous snail, claimed by Yamada to be the world’s largest carnivorous snail species, and imbued with a similar highly-toxic poison to that of the notorious South American poison-arrow frogs.


And finally, another photo of the 32-ft-long giant sea serpent pictured at the beginning of this ShukerNature post.

For a comprehensive YouTube video presenting Takeshi Yamada, his museum, and his numerous gaffs, click here .

And if you want to see some of Yamada’s monstrously delightful creations in the flesh (or papier-mâché, depending upon the specimen in question), an eye-popping selection has been on display in the lobby of New York City’s Coney Island Library since 1 October 2006. Moreover, this long-running exhibition’s contents change each month. But you’ll need to hurry – it is due to end on 31 December of this year.


A winghead rhinoceros fish (left) and a dragon gate shark (right)