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.

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

ENCANTADO - SINISTER WERE-DOLPHINS OF THE AMAZON

Encantado in mid-transformation (Tim Morris)


It may be the 21st Century – an ultra-technological age of cyberspace, DNA analyses, and subatomic particle physics - but the old traditions have far from vanished. In countless cultures worldwide, there still exists a tenacious, deep-rooted belief in therianthropy – the supposed ability of certain humans to transform themselves into animals. Werewolves are perhaps the most famous example, but many others are on record, including were-leopards, were-crocodiles, were-pigs, were-tigers, and were-hyaenas, to name but a few. One of the most extraordinary, however, are the encantado – the ‘enchanted ones’ – whose reality is still fervently asserted in many parts of South America, including Peru, Venezuela, and, especially, Brazil.

Indeed, so potent is the fear of these supernatural shape-shifters in certain Brazilian regions that riverside inhabitants refuse to walk anywhere near the Amazon or its tributaries at certain times of the evening for fear of encountering them. But even this does not guarantee safety, because the encantado are very attracted to human festivals, carnivals, outdoor parties, and other sources of music and dance. They are also very attracted to pretty young human women, and it is said that encantado in human guise will often attempt to infiltrate such gatherings to dance and then steal away into the night with the prettiest women, often never to be seen again – or at least never seen again in a sane state, or even alive...

But what, precisely, are the encantado? Drawing together the many diverse strands of traditional Brazilian encantado legend and lore, here is my recreation of a typical encounter with these sinister beings, in which you will discover their astonishing secret.



The evening was warm and heady with the scent of night-blooming jungle flowers, the sounds of laughter and music drifted far upon the sultry breeze, and in every direction was a dazzling riot of colour, from the vivid costumes of the dancers to the rainbow-hued extravaganza of the gaudy decorations festooning the tree-lined streets and town square. It was Carnival in this little Brazilian town that looked out upon the banks of the mighty Amazon River, but in spite of the all-encompassing gaiety and fervour, Angel saw only Maria, the beautiful young woman to whom he was betrothed, and who would soon become his bride.

Whereas the others were garbed in shades of every conceivable hue, like a veritable flock of parakeets as they whirled and dipped and twirled to the lively rhythms of the dance, Maria, dressed entirely in white, resembled a divine bloom of Heaven. Or at least she did in Angel’s eyes – but then again, he was very much in love with her, and had been ever since they had first met a few months earlier, when she had arrived in his town.

Maria had been part of a fact-finding mission, sent here from the American university where she had recently graduated, but what she had found was Angel – and in no time at all had realised that she had no wish to return to America. All that she wanted now was here, because all that she wanted now was Angel. Within just a couple of weeks they had become engaged, and, tonight, only two more weeks separated them from their wedding.

All of this and more was filling Angel’s mind, so much so that he was momentarily distracted, and when he looked back at Maria he was startled to see that she was no longer with the other young women but was dancing to one side with a stranger – a man who looked of similar age to Angel and, like Maria, was dressed entirely in white. However, he was also wearing an extremely large wide-brimmed hat, which not only covered the whole of his head but even curved over his brow, right down to the level of his eyes. Where had this stranger come from?

Burning waves of jealousy rolled through Angel’s soul as he stood up, but so too did a disconcerting chill of fear that he couldn’t explain, yet which clutched his heart in a grip of icy dread. He moved towards the dancing couple, and as he neared them, the stranger abruptly turned, as if he had sensed Angel’s approach even without seeing him. With fury in his eyes, Angel met those of the stranger, and was shocked to see that they glowed with a vivid emerald hue, as green as the jungle-reflecting waters of the Amazon that flowed beside the town’s outskirts.

Suddenly, Angel’s mind started to swim, drifting and spinning like a shed leaf caught in the current of a fast-flowing stream. Colours and sounds danced before him, dazzling his eyes and reverberating in his ears until he had to lean against one of the carnival stalls to steady himself. After a while, his senses cleared again, and he looked around for Maria, but she was nowhere to be seen – and nor was the stranger...though this did not worry Angel, because he no longer had any recollection of him.

The Amazon River (Wikipedia)

The path leading down to the river, fringed with trees and bushes, was cool and still, very different indeed from the heat and the noise of Carnival that they had left behind. Maria walked beside the stranger, and although no words passed between them it felt to her as if she were in intimate communication with him, and she felt no alarm nor even any surprise that she had willingly left behind the festival, and her fiancé, to remain in the company of a man she had only met a short time before.

Soon they reached the Amazon’s edge, and although it was fairly early in the evening, the sun was beginning to set, casting fiery rays down upon the water until it gleamed like a river of burnished, liquid gold instead. Standing together at the waterside, the stranger told Maria that he came from a city further along the river, and would very much like to show it to her. Would she come with him and visit it? His glowing green eyes stared earnestly into hers as he asked her, and, without a moment’s hesitation, Maria nodded her agreement. But how were they to reach his city?

The stranger turned away, and, to Maria’s surprise, uttered a very rapid, high-pitched series of clicking sounds. Seeing Maria’s puzzled expression, the stranger smiled, and told her that he was calling for his brother, who would transport her with him to his city. Moments later, a very large pink shadow appeared beneath the river’s water surface and moved swiftly towards them. When it reached the bank where they were standing, the shadow ascended until a long slender head with smiling tooth-brimming jaws broke through the surface. It was a boto, one of the famous pink river dolphins that inhabit the Amazon river, but this particular individual seemed much larger than any that she had previously seen, and its pink colouration was much more intense, glowing with an eerie luminescence.

Perplexed, Maria turned to the stranger to ask him how a boto could possibly be his brother, but before she was able to do so, the stranger asked her if she had ever ridden a dolphin. Then, as if no longer in control of her own body, Maria found herself stepping down onto the boto’s back and sitting astride it, leaning forward with her arms wrapped around its neck. But how was the stranger going to accompany her, she wondered – there was certainly no room for two people astride the boto, and there didn’t seem to be any others close by.

A boto (José Hilton)

Maria looked back, about to ask him, and was shocked to see that although he was still standing at the river’s edge, the stranger was now almost completely naked. His white suit and shoes lay on the ground; all that he was still wearing was his large hat. And as she watched, he raised his hand and slowly lifted it off his head – causing Maria to cry out. The top of his head was completely bare, with a large hole visible at its centre, and instead of being flat, his brow curved forward. Unable to comprehend what she was seeing, Maria turned away, and her gaze fell upon the head of the boto, whereupon she realised with astonishment that the respiratory blow-hole on top of its head and its forward-curving brow perfectly mirrored what she had just seen with the stranger!

She looked back again at once, and this time she was too terrified even to breathe, let alone cry out. There, before her, the stranger was transforming, his shape shifting and distorting as his face lengthened and his mouth became a pair of slender jaws filled with small sharp teeth, his arms shortened and widened until they became flippers, and his legs united into a single form and grew a pair of large horizontal flukes where his feet had once been. In just a few moments, the handsome stranger who had danced with her at the carnival had metamorphosed into a boto!



As soon as the transformation was complete, the boto who had once been a man, and again seemed much bigger and brighter than normal botos, dived into the water and swam off down the river, pursued closely by the boto carrying Maria. Both dolphins stayed below the river’s surface, but, astonishingly, Maria found that she could breathe underwater as easily as she could above it, and realised that the boto’s strange glow was now enveloping her too. Still very frightened and yet oddly exhilarated as well, she closed her eyes, and held on tightly to the neck of her boto steed.

In what seemed just a few moments, the journey was over. Realising that the boto was no longer swimming, Maria cautiously opened her eyes, and discovered that she was being carried on the back of a tall, muscular man who closely resembled the stranger. And there too was the stranger himself, standing beside them in human form once more and smiling broadly.

The man carrying Maria kneeled for her to step down, and as she did so the stranger introduced him as his brother and told her that this was their homeland – the Encante. Looking around, Maria discovered that she was in a land – indeed, a world – totally unknown to her, and completely unlike anything she had ever even imagined before, let alone seen.



It was astoundingly beautiful – paradisiacal, in fact. They appeared to be standing on the edge of a beach, but every grain of sand was a fleck of pure gold and was liberally sprinkled with minuscule pearls that gleamed in opalescent splendour like a cascade of milky teardrops wept by the stars. Except that there were no stars. Even though it had been evening when they had left Angel’s town, and the journey from there to here had taken but moments (or so it had seemed to Maria), it was now mid-day, and the glorious sun filled the sky.

Directly before them, the turquoise waters of some great sea gently lapped and rippled. And all around, the very air itself, which was denser than normal air but wholly breathable, sparkled and shifted in polychromatic glory, like an ever-changing kaleidoscope, as if this entire world were encased within a stained glass window. Even the breeze had its own specific hue – a delicate cerulean that wafted around Maria like a soft blue mist, embracing and caressing her with what seemed like almost passionate, manifest love.

Painting by Suresh

They walked across the beach, Maria flanked by the two brothers, until they reached a beautiful garden. Flowers of every conceivable form and colour, yet entirely without fragrance, blossomed and flourished all around, some individually, others on profuse florescent bushes – or at least they seemed to be flowers, until Maria looked closer. Only then did she discover to her surprise that those on the bushes were actually tiny polypi, and that the bushes were massive outgrowths of coral, whereas the single many-petalled flowers were multi-tentacled sea anemones.

Much taller, extensively-branched colonies of arborescent coral also existed here, recalling the forest trees in Maria’s own world but far more flamboyant than any there. And flitting among their branches were flocks of small, brightly-plumaged birds, or so Maria assumed, until one hovered just inches away from her face – whereupon she realised that it was not a bird but a fish, with large diaphanous wing-like fins, and exquisite jewel-encrusted scales in place of plumes and feathers.

Looking beyond this subaqueous Eden, Maria spied a spectacular city of magnificent buildings – sumptuous palaces with lustrous cupolae of translucent amber and minarets of glittering chalcedony, ornate temples with endless colonnades of violet porphyry and silent altars of cool obsidian, vast amphitheatres that spread outward without limit into the far distance, and slender towers whose tall spiralled turrets of sparkling sea-crystal effortlessly ensnared the warm golden sunlight as they stretched skyward like radiant fingers of fire.



Walking along a pellucid pavement composed entirely of iridescent nacre, Maria and the brothers entered a huge hall, lined on either side by human statues carved from scarlet coral, ivory whale tusks, or rose-tinged quartz; but as they walked by, each statue turned and bowed before them. And the air was suffused with ethereal music played by invisible musicians upon unseen instruments.

Here they encountered other inhabitants of this wondrous city, most of whom were men, whose eyes all exhibited the same emerald glow as the stranger’s and his brother’s. They all smiled and some of them conversed with the brothers, in a language alien to Maria’s ears, but none attempted to speak to Maria. Occasionally, they saw women too, but these were always at a distance, and whereas the men strode proudly and assertively, speaking in confident tones, the women all seemed cowed and huddled, silently watching Maria as she and the brothers passed by but never approaching them.

Suddenly, for the first time since she had arrived in this entrancing land, Maria felt frightened. Inside her head, her analytical Western mind began to reject all that she was seeing and hearing. This cannot be real, none of this can be real. Was she hallucinating, or was everything just a mirage? And why were the women here so passive, so fearful?

As if he had sensed her misgivings, the stranger turned to face her, and before she was even aware of his intent, he grasped her shoulders and leaned forward to kiss her. Startled by his presumptuous action, and also by the uncharacteristically rough way in which he had taken hold of her, Maria pulled away from him, her eyes registering alarm. No longer smiling, the stranger was clearly angered by her rebuttal, and curtly informed her that she would not refuse him when next they met. Before she had chance to reply, however, the stranger’s eyes gazed unblinkingly into hers, their intense green glow rendering her speechless and unable to turn away, or even think cogently.

Maria’s mind began to loosen and spin until she felt faint, and just before everything grew dark she fell to the ground, her mind sinking into a welcoming oblivion. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone, and was shocked to find herself lying on the bank of the Amazon at the very same place where she had been before climbing onto the back of the stranger’s boto-guised brother. The Encante, with all of its incredible wonders, was gone, and it was still evening.

Painting by John Mason

Maria ran back into the town, and was even more shocked to discover that only a few minutes had passed since she had left Carnival in the stranger’s company! There was Angel, who looked relieved to see her, and she ran over to him at once, anxious to feel his strong arms embracing her. Then, almost simultaneously, her eyes and those of Angel glanced down onto her left wrist, and widened in surprise. There, coiled tightly around it, was a glistening black bracelet, intricately fashioned in a series of spiral tapering loops. At the bracelet’s widest end, however, was a silver circle, broad and flat, which pressed directly against her wrist, and was affixed so tightly to it that it was almost as if this circle had become one with her skin.

Despite his surprise at seeing it there, Angel felt oddly reluctant to enquire where it had come from, and for her part Maria felt reluctant even to refer to it, let alone explain it. Instead, they made their way to the large house that was home to Angel and his family, and where Maria was also living as their guest until her marriage to Angel in a fortnight’s time. At her bedroom door, Angel kissed Maria goodnight before departing to his own room, but strange dreams disturbed his sleep that night, until he was glad when morning came to chase them away.

As for Maria, she slept not at all. Instead, whenever she closed her eyes they were instantly filled with shimmering visions of the Encante, and, most of all, with spellbinding images of the stranger, which pervaded her very soul with dread but also delight until she felt chilled and feverish in equal measure. Nor did the daytime bring any respite. She found herself unable to concentrate upon anything other than thoughts of the stranger and of returning to him. Every day, her passion for him grew stronger, inflaming her heart and mind, and yet, inexplicably, she grew ever paler and weaker outwardly, as if her very life-force were being steadily drained from her.

Angel was only too aware of this disturbing, progressive change in his beloved Maria, but seemed powerless to do anything about it. Yet soon it would be their wedding day, and as it drew nearer, so did his concern for his fiancée’s state grow ever stronger.

Encantado (André Luis)

One night, as if in a dream, Maria rose from her bed, left the house, and walked down the tree-lined path leading out of the town towards the river. When she reached the bank, there, waiting, was a boto, larger than others, and glowing like a luminescent cerise shadow upon the water surface. Without a word, she sat astride its broad back, and moments later they were gone, travelling swiftly through the night to the enchanted underwater city of the stranger. And once there, amid the myriad of blossoming polypi, animate statues, invisible musicians, and rainbow-drenched temples, with the stranger beside her, Maria felt renewed and reborn. Surely, this is where she belonged, here with him, not with Angel in that dreary little town far away?

And yet, somehow, even the Encante’s magic now seemed wanting. Was it just her imagination, or did this extraordinary land’s multicoloured flowers now sting her fingers when she stroked them, and did its statues now mock her movements as she passed by them, and did its sourceless music now sound discordant and disquieting? Even the stranger now appeared distant, scarcely looking at her as they walked together. And yet she needed his smile so much – his smile, and more too. So this time, when he sought to kiss her, she did not resist, but then, when he sought more than a kiss, she found herself, in spite of her desire, pulling away once more. For again, deep inside her head was the warning voice of her Western, scientific mind. This cannot be, it is Angel whom you love, not this dolphin man!

This time, the stranger was angrier than before at her rejection of his advance. She would not deny him a third time, he told her - when they next met, he would be waiting with her wedding dress, because she would become his bride!

Hearing those words, spoken by the stranger with cold authority and absolute certainty in his voice, Maria fainted away, but when she awoke, she was back on the river’s edge, and it was still night-time. Quickly, she made her way back home, and crept stealthily inside, but Angel heard her enter her room and softly close the door behind her, because he had not been asleep. Instead, he had silently followed her down to the river, had seen her step astride the glowing boto, and had watched them depart. Waiting, concealed amid the riverside foliage and praying that they would return, when they did so he had then witnessed with astonished, horrified eyes how the boto had transformed into a man who placed an unconscious Maria onto the riverbank before changing back into a boto and swimming away. Almost at once, Maria had stood up and, again as if still asleep, had walked back into the town, with Angel entering their home just ahead of her.

Boto (Kevin Schafer)

Now, at last, he knew what was wrong with Maria. His mind had cleared, he remembered everything – how Maria on Carnival night had danced with a stranger and had disappeared with him. And the man who had transformed from and back into a boto tonight was that same stranger. He was an encantado – a were-dolphin!

According to the ancient lore of Angel’s people, these dark entities lived in a magical city beneath the river surface and used their considerable powers of hypnosis to lure human women there to become their brides. Once they had done so, however, the women were subjected to every humiliation - subverted into slaves and whores for the cruel use and perverted delight of the evil merciless encantado. And all the alluring riches that they had bestowed upon their hapless brides were soon revealed to be nothing more than trash and river filth. Occasionally, if a woman were brave enough, she would try to escape the encantado’s clutches, but few ever succeeded – in most cases, these pitiful wretches were found dead in the river, or, if still alive, had been sent irrevocably insane.

It was now the day before her marriage to Angel, but Maria had no thought or interest for anything, and had become so emaciated that Angel was beside himself with worry. How could he counter the encantado’s malevolent enchantment that had totally bewitched her? In desperation, Angel sought the advice of an old wild-eyed woman who lived in a shack at the jungle’s perimeter. She was feared by many as a witch, but as a child Angel had sometimes visited her, and she had always been kind to him. He knew that she was extremely knowledgeable in the arcane arts, so perhaps she would be able to help him.

After grimly listening to his story, the old woman swiftly concocted a special powder prepared from manioc flour and dried, crushed chilli peppers. She then instructed Angel that when Maria was next drawn to the river by the encantado’s mesmeric power, he must secretly follow her as before, but when the encantado appeared, he must throw the powder over it. This would break the spell that it had cast upon Maria, freeing her from its control, and it would then be driven away for good.

That night, Angel lay awake, waiting for Maria to rise and leave the house, and when she did he followed silently behind her, careful not to alert her to his presence. When they reached the river’s edge, the boto was already there, but this time, instead of remaining at the surface for her to step astride its back, it rose up, and transformed into the human stranger that Angel had seen with Maria on that fateful Carnival night. And in his hands, he held a marvellously beautiful gown, woven from the finest silk, decorated extravagantly with varicoloured feathers, and liberally spangled with countless glittering jewels. The stranger - the encantado - called out to Maria, then held the gown before her, and, to Angel’s horror, proclaimed triumphantly that this was to be her wedding dress!

Maria moved forward, totally mesmerised by the encantado and the glorious gown, but so too did Angel – leaping out from his hiding place amid the foliage. And as he did so, he hurled two handfuls of fine powder directly at the encantado – one into its face, the other over its body. Taken completely by surprise, the encantado let forth a hideous shriek and staggered backwards, dropping the gown onto the ground as it clawed frantically at its eyes, which were burning like fire from the powder within them. So too was its skin, as if a thousand flames were flickering upon it. Abruptly it began to transform, back from a man into a boto, then dived into the water, where it swiftly submerged and swam away, leaving behind only a faint trail of phosphorescence upon the river surface.

Encantado Boto (AmbrMerlinus)

Angel raced over to Maria, and was about to scoop her off the ground when his eyes spotted the mysterious black bracelet around her wrist – except that it was no longer a bracelet. With the encantado’s magic dispelled, its true form was visible – that of a thick, slimy, black leech! And the broad, flat circle of silver pressed tightly against Maria’s wrist was its sucker. Day after day, it had been draining her of blood and of life, which is why she had become ever paler and weaker, thereby facilitating the encantado’s enchantment. Looking around, Angel saw a sharp twig on a nearby tree, snapped it off, and speared the vile creature with it, causing the leech to release its sucker from Maria’s wrist.

As he hurled the twig-impaled leech into the river, Angel looked down where Maria was still lying, and there beside her was a mass of stinking leaves, rotting feathers, and a pile of tiny pebbles covered in black slime. For a second or two, Angel was puzzled as to the origin of this revolting aggregation, then suddenly he realised – the encantado’s illusions were no more, so this was the wedding dress that it had brought for Maria, which was now shown to be as odious and deceptive as the encantado itself!

Stepping around it, Angel gently picked up Maria, who opened her eyes and smiled warmly at him before they kissed. Then he carried her away from the river, and back to the little town where, later that same morning, she would become his bride.

The standard work on the boto and encantado mythology

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