When I was about 24 or so, after spending five years pursuing the hogwash degrees of the Ordo Templi Orientis up to the Royal Arch and its subdegree of Perfect Initiate, I elected to go back to college and pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. I began my studies in the summer in order to take several electives in the arts and humanities. That same summer, I was offered a job house-sitting at an amazing little farmhouse (built in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright) in a tiny town about ten miles outside of Anniston, Alabama.
The farmhouse was a glorious open space of hardwood, glass, and stone. It was a place where one could unwind in the forest and relax in absolute peace and solitude, a temple to some beautiful nature deity. Moreover, in the field beside the house, were hundreds of blueberry bushes in immaculate rows–and the blueberries were in season.
My days there were spent studying art history, listening to REM, Led Zeppelin, KMFDM, and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, all while meditating and smoking copious amounts of high quality marijuana. It was a good time in my life and the solitude I experienced there was rejuvenating.
It was here, in the glorious solitude of nature, sequestered from the noise of television and the demands of others, that I made a discovery about cryptids, their origin, and their purpose.
One bright, warm day that summer, after meditating quietly for a half hour and then listening to The Song Remains the Same, I grabbed my chillum and packed a bowl. Needless to say, set and setting had a profound impact and I was very high after only a few tokes. Soon after, I was equally hungry.
The beautiful thing about being high on a blueberry farm in summer is that the munchies are easily dissipated. I walked outside in my Umbros and a t-shirt and started to gorge on the sweet treats growing freely about me.
I worked my way through the rows, careful not to deplete any one bush, but eating as I went, shoveling handfuls in my mouth without much thought to what I was doing. The sun beat down and the gentle wind was welcome as I ate; a few yards away, a major tributary of the Coosa river whispered through the pine trees. Every sense was aflame with pleasure, every neuron in my head registered pure and utter contentment.
Fear, mortal and terrible, grabbed my chest and threw me bodily to the ground. The pleasure of a moment earlier evaporated as I realized that I was being stalked, hunted, watched–even toyed with, as if my panic delighted the unseen foe lurking between the rows.
In the back of my mind, a distant memory stirred and I knew my tormentor. I was being hunted by a saber-toothed cat. I could picture its dull golden-grey coat and long, glistening fangs, smell the stench of its breath, and hear the soft crunch of its paws as it padded silently about me.
The feeling vanished as quickly as it overtook me. I picked myself up, suddenly sober and very shaken, and headed for the comfort of the farmhouse’s interior with its air conditioning, electric lights, and surround-sound stereo system. The memory and my reaction to it haunted me as my racing heart fell from my throat back into my chest. In the span of ten minutes I’d gone from feeling quite happy to knowing the truest terror I’d ever experienced to thinking myself the silliest of fools.
At this point in my life I was passingly familiar with the work of Carl Jung and a concept that I’d heard before rushed into my mind as I sank into a leather easy chair. I had encountered a racial memory, a genetic remnant of my human heritage designed to keep me alive.
That night, I sat up and wrote about the experience in my journal. I reflected on what had happened and pondered if, perhaps, I actually had been stalked by some wild animal–a wolf, bear, or bobcat (no Webelos, though). Then another thought arose: a Sasquatch, skunk-ape, or Bigfoot.
The laughter caught in my throat as the two hemispheres spoke freely and the afternoon’s experience fell into place. Bigfoot, I reasoned, was a memory of some earlier hominid, of an unfriendly cousin in our primate family who, when our species was young, posed a very real threat to my ancestors.
The revelation was so deep and so profound that I didn’t question it then and I accept it as absolutely true to this day. My own experience in the bushes of the blueberry farm was true from a subjective and experiential perspective, but not objectively so; so why should people who claim to have seen a Sasquatch be doubted?
As in my own experience, people who claim to have encountered cryptids were often alone or few in number. These people were also out in the wilderness, in the woods, in the setting of the natural world and so nearer the unconscious mind than if they were in the city with its loud noises, chemical aromas, and bright lights. In the city, the actions of the conscious mind are directed to staying on the sidewalk, reading the street signs, and watching for potential predators such as muggers and pick-pockets, while in the forest, in the places removed from the distractions of civilization, the body speaks freely to the mind, and the mind to the body; instinct replaces acquired cognition and the doorway between thought and feeling is flung wide.
Cryptids, then, are beings from the deepest domains of inner space. They are real inasmuch as the creatures they are patterned after were real. We experience them when set and setting match those conditions that our ancestors feared most–away from the safety of the village, away from the warmth of the fire, deep in the dark wood where shadows trick the eye and the songs of birds echo over miles to form eldritch shrieks and near-human cries. Under these conditions, the archetypes express themselves and the ghosts of ancient enemies reemerge to remind us that we are out of our element and would do well to return to the safety of civilization.
Cryptids, then, are expressions of the Shadow and emerge from the nebulous realm of the collective unconscious to remind us from whence we came.