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Victorian Occult Beliefs, Part One

Victorians believed in legends of beings of mystical lore including that of the historic Wild Men. In them, European and Asian legends met Western pioneers and explorers for some interesting tales and compilations of sightings.

Although in modern times a number of academicians and politicians have propelled these legendary beasts into the arena of indigenous wildlife, during the Victorian era, sightings of unusual giant hairy men were part of lore, often evoking hysterics or awe.

Victorians loved a good scary tale and displays of the unusual. Polite parlour talk encompassed elements of the paranormal, in fact. Scintillating in its nature, such talk cross-pollinated cultural myths and ideas allowing many occult and mythical legends to combine. Nevertheless, such beings and beasts influenced the lives of Victorian folk.

Explorers across the globe encountered the legends of what Ancient European tribes dubbed the Wild Men, even giving them place in historic heraldry. Famed zoologist, Willy Ley wrote a vintage article that includes quotes from a book by Major L.A. Waddel about encountering signs of Yeti — the Himilayan Wild Man or Abominable Snowman– on an expedition. A member of the India Medical Corps, Waddel’s book, Among the Himilayas, recounts the Sherpa guides descriptions of the Abominable Snowman or Yeti. In 1889, the Sherpa led the group down a glacier by following the footprints of Yeti, later compared to those of bear and other wildlife during the trek. They apparently were known to dwell at the tops of snowy peaks and were taken into account around much of Asia and on down to Indonesia by explorers.

In the Americas, Native American legends round up a garden variety of Sasquatch or Bigfoot accounts that reflect the European Wild Men stories. The names vary by tribe, from the Algonkian Windigo dubbed a ‘big brother’, to the Plains Cree Wetiko, to the Ojibway Rugaru who extrapolated the French term for werewolf, loup-garou as credited to the influence of French trappers and French-speaking missionaries. As one travels from tribe to tribe, the legends of the big hairy Wild Men change tone, ranging from abductions of Native American maidens to harbingers of danger to come. As the White Man interacted with the Native Americans while pioneering West and settling once indigenous territories, the settlers would’ve heard of the Wild Man. Some totem poles have been noted to display the Wild Man alongside other deified members of the Animal Kingdom.

In the Colonialized Eastern Seaboard and amongst the Pennsylvania Dutch, Germanic legends were imported and combined with other ancient European pagan stories of the Wild Men revered and even feared as deity. During the Victorian era, the Wild Man evolved into a jolly ole elf form more familiarly called Santa Claus. The Wild Man combined with Saint Nicholas legends and evolved from Robin Goodfellow and the Italian Harlequin and the Nordic Wode as well as other myths. An interesting treatment of the evolution of the legends is found in “Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Man” ISBN# 0786402466 by Phyllis Siefker.

Victorians had to wonder if those large tracks or warning howls were man or beast or something in between. Sometimes, they turned to occult methods to make a determination, or relegated any events or encounters unexplainable to the occult. For a more modern take on the long-standing legends, visit YouTube for an opinion by Dr. Jane Goodall, a legend in her own right.

To be continued.

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1 Comment

  1. Susan Macatee says:

    How funny that something that started the Big Foot legend also turned into Santa Claus.

    Fascinating blog!

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