April 20, 2012

What Defines A Cryptid?

Over the past week or so, I have made a few, brief comments in a couple of posts here at Cryptomundo about what, in my view, amounts to a cryptid, what should be classified as a cryptid, and also what should not. These are issues that, at first glance anyway, seem relatively easy to answer. But, the more we dig into it, it’s clear the issue is a far more problematic one. So, with all that in mind, I figured why not address this very matter today?

The Wikipedia entry on the subject states, in part: “…a cryptid is a creature…whose existence has been suggested but is unrecognized by scientific consensus and often regarded as highly unlikely.”

And, for most people within Cryptozoology, those creatures that firmly fall into the domain of the cryptid and that mainstream science largely, and unfortunately, rejects, would surely include the Bigfoot of the United States, the Yowie of Australia, the Chinese Yeren, the Yeti – or Abominable Snowman – of the Himalayas, and an absolute menagerie of lake-monsters, sea-serpents and other weird and wonderful beasts.

There are, however, other monstrous entities that have been embraced by whole swathes of the cryptozoological field as having direct relevance to the subject, but which seem to have distinct paranormal overtones attached to them. And, of course, there are many people within Cryptozoology that have no time for such things – which I understand, particularly so when it takes matters out of a strictly zoological framework – but which, again, brings us back to the crux of the matter: what defines a cryptid?

Is Mothman a cryptid? Many might say “Yes!” But, given that – as John Keel’s classic title, The Mothman Prophecies, demonstrates – Mothman’s appearance at Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 1960s was accompanied by a wide range of additional mystifying phenomena, including UFO activity, alien encounters, run-ins with the sinister Men in Black and much more, one has to wonder how many people in Cryptozoology consider Mothman a cryptid or a beast more akin to something of a paranormal nature? And if the latter, should it even be discussed in a cryptozoological context?

And what about England’s closest equivalent to Mothman: the Owlman of Mawnan, Cornwall? Could that be considered a cryptid? Again, for some, the answer is in the affirmative. But, its appearance, its size, its near-exclusive manifestations before young girls, and its sheer overall oddness, suggests that it has less to do with mainstream Cryptozoology and far more to do with definitive Forteana. So, maybe it’s not a cryptid.

Moving on: how do we define the British-based ABCs, or Alien Big Cats? They are, without any shadow of doubt, of interest to most cryptozoologists. But, are they literal cryptids, as the term suggests? No, they are not. If the majority of the reports are valid – and, given the astonishing number of reports from credible eye-witnesses over the decades, I see no reason at all why they shouldn’t be considered valid – then, rather than being cryptids, the ABCs of Britain are simply regular, normal animals far away from their natural environments. The mystery of the ABCs, then, is not so much what they are or are not, but from where they came. And being a stranger in a strange land, does not always a cryptid make.

Coming full-circle: what of the many and mysterious large ape-like animals of our world? I’m talking about the aforementioned Bigfoot, Yeren, Yowie, Yeti and all the rest. Solid arguments have been made that perhaps at least some of these creatures represent surviving examples of the presumed-extinct, Goliath-like beast called Gigantopithecus.

If true, then should we even be using that term -cryptid – to describe a creature that may just be a regular animal that, against all the odds, has survived extinction and thrives in distinct stealth?

The same goes for Nessie and all its long-necked ilk. If flesh and blood animals – and, perhaps just like Bigfoot, survivors from eras long gone – should we be referring to them as cryptids, given the way in which this emotive word conjures up imagery of creatures both monstrous and mysterious?

I’m not suggesting we do away with the word. But, I do sometimes wonder if its very use has influenced – possibly even adversely – the way in which all these various phenomena have been perceived, and are still perceived.

So, I ask the readers of Cryptomundo: what defines a cryptid? What does not define a cryptid? And, if the most famous beasts of Cryptozoology are merely living examples of creatures that science tells us vanished thousands, or millions, of years ago, should we even be using the term, cryptid? In doing so, are we ironically – albeit wholly inadvertently and certainly not deliberately – only adding to the image of mystery, rather than trying to demystify it?

Nick Redfern About Nick Redfern
Punk music fan, Tennents Super and Carlsberg Special Brew beer fan, horror film fan, chocolate fan, like to wear black clothes, like to stay up late. Work as a writer.

Filed under Abominable Snowman, Alien Big Cats, Bigfoot, Cryptozoologists, Cryptozoology, Evidence, Extinct, Eyewitness Accounts, Forteana, Lake Monsters, Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, Mystery Cats, Out of Place, Phantom Panthers, Sasquatch, Sea Monsters, Sea Serpents, True Giant, Winged Weirdies, Yeren, Yeti, Yowie