A painted "elf door" leans against rocks near the Icelandic town of Selfoss. Belief in the unseen runs high in Iceland.
Ever wonder what scientific category of animal Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster fit into? The answer: Cryptids. Cryptids is the larger classification for animals unknown to science. Cryptozoology is the term for those who study -- or go in search of -- these creatures. Take a look at (or perhaps imagine) some of the most famous cryptids.
Whether you call it Bigfoot, Sasquatch or Yeti, this ape-like cryptid has eluded science since -- well, since science began trying to confirm its existence. As with most cryptids, the legend goes back centuries to native populations who told stories of large, ape-like creatures wandering the woods. For primatologists such as the very famous Dr. Jane Goodall, these accounts are proof enough. But scientific belief in Bigfoot has suffered from notable hoaxes, from fake casts of giant feet to doctored videos. Most recently, in 2008, the "body" of a supposed Sasquatch was found to be nothing more than faux fur and rubber feet. If Bigfoot does exist, sightings suggest that the creature would weigh several hundred pounds and be between 6 feet and 10 feet tall. And, regardless of whether or not this cryptid exists, there's no denying the loyal following, fan base and flat-out believers who have devoted their lives and research to Bigfoot.
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Also known as N’Haatik, or the Demon of the Lake, the legend of Ogopogo first appeared in Native American folklore. Ogopogo makes his (or her) home in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, Canada. As with most cryptids, its home territory makes it extremely difficult to find. The lake itself is large and deep, nearly 84 miles long and 860 feet at its deepest point. The Canada's British Columbia tourism website, whose motto just happens to be "Super, Natural" claims there are, on average, six Ogopogo sightings each year. If you're one of the lucky few to glimpse the famous monster, it's said to resemble a cross between a giant snake with the head of a goat or horse. Or, if you're a dinosaur buff, some say Ogopogo resembles a plesiosaur. Despite its "monstrous" reputation, Ogopogo has quite the following of beloved fans. The city of Kelowna has commemorated the creature in everything from art to parade floats. Above, Ogopogo is pictured selling apples in an ad from the 1920s.
NEWS: Loch Ness Monster-Like Animal Filmed in Alaska?
Loch Ness Monster
Is that a ripple in the water or the famous Nessie of Loch Ness, Scotland? It's a question cryptozoologists have been asking for decades since the first modern-day sighting of one of the best-known cryptids in the world. You've heard it all before. Loch Ness in Scotland is extremely large -- 22 miles long and more than 700 feet deep. So tracking down physcial evidence has proved difficult, even with modern technology. While it's said there are recorded sightings of Nessie as far back as the 6th century, it's generally accepted that the term "Loch Ness Monster" made its modern debut in 1933. Famous photos, such as "The Surgeon’s Photo" fueled the search -- and the hoaxes. Despite numerous sonar and other attempts to prove the existence of Nessie, there has never been any conclusive scientific evidence found. The only proven fact about the Loch Ness Monster is its ability to bring in tourist dollars. These days you can take a 3-D movie tour of the Loch or rent a boat to take out on your own adventure in search of Nessie.
PHOTOS: Sea Monsters Real & Imagined
Cadborosaurus willsi, or Caddy, is one of the famous North American sea serpents, named for Cadboro Bay in Canada. Sightings of a similarly described creature have been reported from Alaska to Southern California. Other names include Pal-Rai-Yuk, Klematosaurus, Sarah the Sea Hag, Saya-Ustih, Hiyitlik, Tzarta-saurus, Sisiutl, Penda, Amy, Kaegyhil-Depgu’esk and Say Noth-Kai. The Cadborosaurus is often described as having a long snake-like body with flippers and a camel-like head. Several creatures matching this description have reportedly been caught over the years. Many "sea serpent" finds have turned out to actually be Giant Oarfish, the largest bony fish known to man. Some photos, such as the one pictured above from 1907, were never definitely identified as anything more than a "sea serpent." One of the most famous accounts of "Caddy" is from 1937 when one was said to have been found in the stomach of a whale. Photos and flesh samples were taken of the "creature." Alas, the samples were lost to science and the photos have proven to be inconclusive -- with some scientists saying the specimen was actually a fetal baleen whale.
"Champ" the resident lake monster of Lake Champlain, N.Y., pictured above, bears a striking resemblence in history and a similarly devoted following with other North American sea/lake cryptids. Legend has it that the first sightings date back to the Native American tribes that lived in the region. Sightings were abundant in the 19th century and continue to this day, according to the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitor’s Bureau, which encourages Champ sightings with its "Board of Champ Sightings" and even an annual "Champ Day" the first Saturday each August in Port Henry. The mythical, or perhaps real, creature has generated enough adoration that between 1981 and 1983, Lake Champlain's bordering states of Vermont and New York enacted legal protections for Champ.
Loch Ness Monster-Like Animal in Alaska?
Is this Alaska's own version of the Loch Ness Monster? This still image, taken from a 2009 video shot by an Alaskan fisherman, is one of the most recent grainy snapshots up for sea serpent debate. The video footage is set to debut as part of "Hillstranded," a new Discovery Channel special that will air July 19 at 10 p.m. E/P. The overall length and shape of the "animal" lends itself to classification as the cryptid "Cadborosaurus," according to Paul LeBlond, co-author of the book Cadborosaurus: Survivor from the Deep, whom Discovery News reporter Jennifer Viegas interviewed earlier this week for this article.
NEWS: Loch Ness Monster-Like Animal Filmed in Alaska?
Over the past few months, dozens of environmentalists in Iceland have staged a high-profile protest against a road scheduled to cut through an area of volcanic rock on the Álftanes peninsula, not far from the capital of Reykjavik. It is only one of countless eco-protests in the world, but the campaign has made international news, because some of the protesters claim the proposed road would disturb the habitat of elves who live among the rocks.
Elves and fairies are closely related in folklore, and though elves specifically seem to have sprung from early Norse mythology, by the 1800s fairies and elves were widely considered to be simply different names for the same magical creatures. Polls find that over half of Iceland's population believes in elves, or at least doesn't rule out the possibility of their existence.
But why do so many Icelanders believe? The passed-down tales are just part of the picture. Iceland's concept of the natural world takes on a mystical tone; pair that with environmentalism, the want to preserve this mystical world, and magical creatures almost make sense. (5 Real-Life Examples of Fairy Tales Coming True)
In the book "Icelandic Folk and Fairy Tales" (Iceland Review Library, 1987), folklorists May and Hallberg Hallmundsson explain how the Icelandic conception of nature is intimately tied to its folklore of elves and fairies.
"Icelanders are generally very attached to their country, perhaps more so than most other peoples ... It is a love for the land itself in its physical presence, for its soil, mountains, streams, valleys, and even its fire-spewing volcanoes and frozen wastes of ice," the authors write. "To the Icelanders, the land was never just an accumulation of inanimate matter — a pile of stones here, a patch of earth there — but a living entity by itself. Each feature of the landscape had a character all its own, revered or feared as the case may be, and such an attitude was not a far cry from believing that it was actually alive."
That life spirit said to inhabit the hills and streams of this island nation has come to be personified as elves and other magical beings. While it's easy to mock such folk beliefs as backward or antiquated, most cultures profess a belief in supernatural or magical beings, including demons, angels, ghosts and genies (djinn). These elves, like the fairies of early British lore, have many human qualities and may exact revenge if mistreated or disturbed. Elves and fairies are believed to live in their own separate, hidden world and generally ignore humans, but must be treated with respect; to do otherwise invites anything from mischievous pranks to child abduction by elves.
This wouldn't be the first ecological protest to involve diminutive magical beings.
A painted "elf door" leans against rocks near the Icelandic town of Selfoss. Belief in the unseen runs high in Iceland.BOB STRONG/Reuters/Corbis
Folklorist Andy Lechter, in his "Folklore" journal article "The Scouring of the Shire: Fairies, Trolls, and Pixies in Eco-Protest Culture" (October 2001), describes ecological protests involving fairies that are very similar to the current controversy in Iceland. "Fairies have inspired a counter-cultural movement. The 1990s in Britain were marked by large and dramatic public protests against a government-sponsored programme of road building, and ... opencast quarrying," Lechter writes.
"A distinctive protest culture flourished in response to this, combining the politics of direct action and an anarcho-travelling lifestyle, with a definite neo-pagan sensibility. This culture adopted an important fairy mythology which placed protesters within an almost fairytalelike struggle between the benevolent forces of nature and a tyrannical and destructive humanity."
Lechter notes, "In this animistic view, the natural world ... is threatened by human encroachment. Protesters see themselves as aided by, or aiding, these nature spirits. Here, the forces of nature, which include fairies, are regarded as benign, as opposed to humanity, which is seen as malign, corrupt, and divorced from nature." (Science Fact or Fantasy? 20 Imaginary Worlds)
The evoking of fairies and elves in the struggle to preserve natural areas not only captures the public's romantic imaginations but also taps into deep pre-existing social and cultural concerns about environmentalism. The theme of threatening new changes and the idea that modern ways disrupt the natural order of things are universal, and appear explicitly in many classic literary works. Perhaps the most famous is J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" saga, in which the idyllic Hobbit homeland, the Shire, is threatened by dirty, polluting industrialization at the hand of evil wizard Saruman. The overcoming of peace and nature over-threatening change is a key theme in Tolkien's books, and conveys a powerful message of environmentalism.
It's easy to exaggerate the conflict and to caricaturize the protesters as crazy, lava-hugging environmentalists who are willing to be arrested to stop an imaginary elf village from being bulldozed. But disturbing the fairies is only one of several reasons offered by the protesters for why the road construction should stop; many challenge the legality of the road (the lava fields were officially protected in 2009, and may or may not remain so today), whileothers lament the impending destruction of a culturally significant local landmark (with or without resident elves).
Some Icelanders truly believe in elves, and many do not. Some of the eco-protesters in Great Britain, Iceland and Scandinavia are genuinely concerned about disrupting fairy villages, and some aren't. To most of them, it doesn't really matter; the important point is that the world's attention is drawn to what they see as an illegal and immoral destruction of pristine land.
Whether the road through the lava rocks will be completed remains to be seen, but if the protesters and elves can't resolve the situation, the legal system surely will.
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