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ABSTRACT. Hominology is the study of evidence for the existence of wild bipedal primates, presumed to be relict hominoids or hominids. Investigation of the subject began simultaneously in Russia and America last century, beginning with the Himalayan expeditions in search of the yeti. The first international scientific organization that united academic and non-academic investigators was formed and functioned in Italy in the 1960s. Its Russian member was Dr. Boris Porshnev, founder of Russian hominology, whose unorthodox views regarding the origin of man and the nature of hominids are pointed out. Hominology is based on six main categories of evidence, of which two, pertaining to the historical aspect of the subject, are discussed in detail in this essay. They are the evidence of natural history, from Lucretius to Linnaeus, and the evidence of myth and folklore, from Babylonian mythos to folk proverbs and sayings in use today. The reinforcement of early natural historians’ descriptions by cultural literary traditions attests to the acceptance of wildmen, a.k.a demons, devils, goblins, as hair-covered creatures in human form. In the author’s view, present data testify that hominology deals with evidence of living pre-sapiens relict hominoids.
KEYWORDS: hominology, homin, wildmen, folklore
Systematic hominology in Russia and North America has many similarities and certain differences. On both continents it began in the middle of last century, stimulated by the Himalayan expeditions in search of the yeti. The founders of the research were Bernard Heuvelmans, Ivan Sanderson and Boris Porshnev. They agreed on one thing – that wild hairy bipeds are real. However, they disagreed on almost everything else. Heuvelmans and Sanderson were zoologists; Porshnev was a historian and philosopher versed in many scientific disciplines. For Heuvelmans and Sanderson the problem was zoological; for Porshnev it was above all anthropological, pertaining to the origin and position of man (Fig. 1). His theory of man’s origin was different from that of mainstream anthropologists, and he held that the evidence for the existence of wild bipedal primates perfectly matched and supported his theory. The theory’s thesis being that speech and its morphological and neurological correlates are the species-specific characteristics of Homo sapiens. He maintained that all pre-sapiens bipedal primates, including Neanderthals, were devoid of the faculty of speech, and therefore belonged to the animal kingdom. In this connection he proposed to change the term for the family Hominidae to Troglodytidae, and he believed that the extant wild hairy bipeds, reported today, were relicts
of Neanderthals, who stopped making and using stone tools and fire (or lost these skills to a significant degree) due to a greatly changed environment, dominated by Homo sapiens. It should be noted that recent review of archeological evidence raises questions of whether Neanderthals were habitual fire-users during the Mousterian, and indicates that it may be possible that fire use was not a significant component of the Neanderthals’ adaptation to their local environments (Sandgathe, et al., 2011). The origin of Homo sapiens is thus viewed as tantamount to the origin of speech (Porshnev, 1974; Bayanov and Bourtsev, 1974, 1976).
Porshnev, Sanderson, and Heuvelmans were good friends and members of The International Committee for the Study of Hairy Humanoids (the name owes its origin to Heuvelmans), an organization created in Rome in 1962, by Dr. Corrado Gini, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Rome University. Opening the committee, Dr. Gini said, in full agreement with Boris Porshnev, "The Snowman and other hairy bipeds present a subject worthy of a profound scientific study. (...) This is a subject of the greatest importance for understanding the origin of man and the initial stages of human society." (Genus, 1962).
The committee included some 30 persons from different countries, among them Dr. George Agogino, Dr. Raymond A. Dart, (Australian) Dr. John Napier, Dr. W.C. Osman Hill, Dr. P.R. Rinchen, Prof. Philip. V. Tobias, as well as yeti investigator Ralph Izzard, yeti and Bigfoot investigators Tom Slick and Peter Byrne, sasquatch investigators John Green, Bob Titmus, Rene Dahinden.
The journal Genus (not peer-reviewed), published by Gini, printed many articles by the committee members, e.g. “Almas still exists in Mongolia,” by P.R. Rintchen; “Report on a sample of skin and hair from the Khumjung Yeti scalp,” by M. Burns, “Being some notes in brief on the general findings in connection with the California Bigfoot,” by Peter Byrne, “Hairy primitives or relic submen in South America,” and “Preliminary Description of the External Morphology of What Appeared to be the Fresh Corpse of a Hitherto Unknown Form of Living Hominid,” (so-called Minnesota Iceman – D.B.) by Ivan T. Sanderson, as well as a number of articles in French, Italian, and Spanish, contributed by among others Porshnev, Gini, and Heuvelmans. The organization ceased to function after the death in 1965 of its creator. Had it continued to exist, I am sure our situation today would be quite different, for the committee included prominent academics, who provided a vital link with mainstream science. After a break of forty-five years this favorable condition is being revived and re-established anew with the creation of The Relict Hominoid Inquiry.
Boris Porshnev envisaged our research as a new and distinct discipline, which I named “hominology.” Not surprisingly, terminology for the objects of hominology proved a protracted problem. Porshnev used the term relict hominoid, actually implying relict hominid in the classification generally accepted at the time. I have used both terms interchangeably, always implying “hominid.” For the sake of convenience, by way of “professional” jargon, I have also been using a contraction homin, as a substitute for hominoid, hominid, wild bipedal primate, wildman, yeti, almasty, sasquatch, and the rest of ethnic names for the creatures under study. This term also serves to avoid the current state of transition in the substitution of hominin for hominid in the technical literature, in accordance with the current cladistic approach to taxonomy.
Hominology’s database consists of the following main categories:
1. natural history
2. folklore and mythology
3. ancient and medieval art
4. eyewitness testimony
5. footprint evidence
6. photographic evidence.
In this essay I will limit my treatment to the first two areas of the historical aspects of hominology in the Old World, using as illustrations samples of ancient and medieval art from the third category. Today, a corresponding collection includes scores of hominid images (pictures, sculptures, petroglyphs) from across the world. It presents two kinds of portrayal: realistic and “ritualistic,” i.e., symbolic. The first is true to life and helps the hominologist to study the creatures’ appearance and anatomy. They show hairy bipeds with certain typical features setting them apart from humans. Symbolic portrayals may be a caricature that shows not so much the real object as the artist’s attitude to it. Images of grotesque monsters in ancient and medieval art have therefore led scientists and art specialists to believe that these monsters were merely figments of the imagination, with no basis in reality. Hominology offers a potential alternative to such views.
A celebrated source here is Lucretius Carus (1st century B.C.), who in his famous De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) describes a race of wildmen, who had very strong bodies, covered with hair, who lived in woods and caves, who had neither language, nor clothes, nor any industry, who hunted animals with sticks and stones, and ate meat and other foods raw. It is most remarkable that Lucretius says that these woodland wildmen were ancestral to modern man (Lucretius, 1947).
Greco-Roman naturalists used the word troglodyte (caveman) to denote bipeds that were different from humans. Among the emphasized characteristics of troglodytes were the creatures' great speed in running, lack of intelligible speech, and strange vocalization (Pliny, 1979: 5,
Popular names in the Greco-Roman world for these creatures were satyr, silenus, faun, pan (Fig. 2). Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (1st century A.D.) says in his Natural History that "the Satyrs have nothing of ordinary humanity about them except human shape.” (Pliny, 1979).
Geographer Pausanias (2nd century A.D.), in his Description of Greece, says “That the Silenuses are a mortal race may be inferred especially from their graves; for there is a tomb of one Silenus in the land of the Hebrew, and there is the tomb of another at Pergamus” (Pausanias, 1913: VI, XXIV). We also learn from him the following: “Elderly Satyrs are named Silenuses (Fig. 3). Wishing to know particularly who the Satyrs are, I have for that purpose talked with many persons.” This shows that already in ancient Greece the creatures in question were considered enigmatic. The author continues: “Euphemus, a Carian, said that when he was sailing to Italy he was driven by gales out of his course and into the outer ocean, into which mariners do not sail. And he said that there were many desert islands, but that on other islands there dwelt wildmen (my emphasis – D.B.). The sailors were loath to put in these latter islands …These islands, said he, are called by the seamen the Isles of the Satyrs” (Pausanias, 1913: I, XXIII). The identification of satyrs with wildmen is noteworthy.
The enigmatic nature of satyrs at the time is also confirmed by Plutarch, who tells of an actual capture of a satyr by the soldiers of the Roman general Sulla in the territory of modern Albania, in the year 86 B.C. The satyr was brought to Sulla and "interrogated in many languages as to who he was; but he uttered nothing intelligible; his accent being harsh and inarticulate, something between the
neighing of a horse and the bleating of a goat." The general "was shocked with his appearance and ordered him to be taken out of his presence.” (Plutarch, 1792: 349).
From the Middle Ages an important piece of information comes from the Persian scholar Nizami al-Arudi (12th century A.D.). In his book Chahar maqala he says that the lowest animal is the worm and highest is Nasnas, "a creature inhabiting the plains of Turkistan... This, after mankind, is the highest animal, in as much as in several respects it resembles man: first in its erect stature, secondly in the breadth of its nails, and thirdly in the hair on its head." (Bernheimer, 1952: 190).
Interesting information comes from medieval Arab travelers who visited the Caucasus in the 10th century A.D. and wrote that the forests there "are inhabited by a sort of monkey having an erect stature and round face; they are exceedingly like men, but they are all covered with hair... They are deprived of speech... They express themselves by signs." The Arab author, Abul Hassan Ali Masudi, also mentions the existence of "monkeys that approach in appearance the figure of man" in the land of the Slavs and other nations in the territory of modern Russia (Masudi, 1841: 440).
In the 15th century, a native of Bavaria, Johann Schiltberger, was taken prisoner by the Turks and sold to the Khan of Siberia. After 30 years spent in Asia, Schiltberger returned home to Bavaria and in his book of travels described "savages, who are not like other people... They are covered all over their body with hair, except the hands and face, and run about like other wild beasts in the mountains, and also eat leaves and grass and any thing they can find. The lord of the country sent to Edigei [another ruler of the land – D.B.] a man and a woman from among these savages, that had been taken in the mountains." (Schiltberger, 1879: 35).
In Europe, Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), a philosopher deeply interested in natural science, narrates in his De Animalibus (188.8.131.52-50) of the recent capture in Saxony of two (male and female) forest-dwelling hairy monsters much resembling human beings in shape. The female died of blood poisoning caused by dog bites, while the male lived on in captivity and even learned the use, albeit very imperfectly, of a few words.”
One of the most realistic portrayals of the hominoid side by side with Homo sapiens is the 13th century sculpture of a peasant and a wildman on the north portal of Notre Dame, Semur-en-Auxois, Burgundy (Fig. 4). The low cranial vault, prominent brow, large orbits and prominent cheek bones, receding chin, and set of the head on the shoulders all bespeak a typical Neanderthal.
The tradition of the wildman's presence in medieval Europe is well documented by U.S. scholar Richard Bernheimer (1952) in his book, Wild Men in the Middle Ages. Every aspect of the theme is covered and discussed on the basis of historical documents and works of art in the chapters: 1. The Natural History of the Wild Man, 2. His Mythological Personality, 3. His Theatrical Embodiment, 4. The Learned Aspect, 5. The Erotic Connotation, 6. His Heraldic Role.
Here are some important quotes from Chapter 1:
“About the wild man’s habitat and manner of life, medieval authorities are articulate and communicative. It was agreed that he shunned human contact, settling, if possible, in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the forest, and making his bed in crevices, caves, or the deep shadow of overhanging branches. In this remote and lonely sylvan home he eked out a living without benefit of metallurgy or even the simplest agricultural lore, reduced to the plain fare of berries and acorns or the raw flesh of animals.” (Bernheimer, 1952: 9).
“Medieval writers are fond of the story which tells how hunters, venturing father than usual into unknown parts of the forest, would chance upon the wild man’s den and stir him up; and how, astounded at the human semblance of the beast, they would exert themselves to capture it, and would drag it to the local castle as a curiosity… The wild man’s own reaction to the sudden encounter with his civilized counterpart varies according to type and temperament. (…) But whether they be elusive or combative, the result of the encounter is the same: the wild man is dragged out of his habitat and brought to the castle, there confined, and immediately exposed to the efforts of his captors to return him full-fledged human status. Only if all endeavor fails, and the hairy man remains morose and speechless in spite of blandishment or torture, can he hope to be released again.” (Bernheimer, 1952: 17).
“The wild man holds thus a curiously ambiguous and ill-defined position in God’s creation, being neither quite man enough to command universal agreement as to his human identity, nor animal enough to be unanimously classified as such” ( Bernheimer, 1952: 6).
“In many ways his life resembled that which we now attribute to the raw beginnings of human cultural existence in the Stone Age” (Bernheimer, 1952: 10).
After reading the above, one can think that the author is what I call a perfect ‘realist’, and not a ‘folklorist,’ regarding the existence of “wild men”. But that is not so, as is clear from the very first page of the book:
“Since the title of this book is startling, implying a concern with madness, passion, and violence, it may be well to assure the reader from the start that wild men are imaginary creatures (my emphasis – D.B.) and that their name is a technical term. It would be difficult, in fact, to find another less shocking name for them, since the one employed here has been in common usage ever since the Middle Ages and is one of the few which denote the subject unambiguously. This book does not deal with actual outlaws, lechers, and bad men then or at least not primarily. Instead it deals with a literary and artistic figure whose imaginary character is proved by its appearance: it is a hairy man curiously compounded of human and animal traits, without, however, sinking to the level of an ape” (my emphasis – D.B.).
This makes me wonder how the author may have reacted to the description of Bigfoot/sasquatch. Probably in the usual way of his peers, as follows from his words:
“It appears that the notion of the wild man must respond and be due to a persistent psychological urge. We may define this urge as the need to give external expression and symbolically valid form to the impulses of reckless physical self-assertion which are hidden in all of us, but are normally kept under control” (p. 3).
One of the most detailed and trustworthy accounts of a European wildman in captivity was published in Vienna in 1796, by Michael Wagner, in his scholarly Beitrage zur philosophischen Anthropologie. It dealt with a hairy wildman of perfect Neanderthal anatomy, captured in Rumania and held in
captivity in the city of Kronstadt (now Brasov) in the second half of the 18th century (Wagner, 1796; Singh and Zingg, 1942).
It is a curious fact of anthropology that its basic term – Homo sapiens – owes its origin to the existence of troglodytes. It is generally believed that the term was coined to distinguish modern man from extinct forms known from the fossil record. That is not so. The term Homo sapiens was introduced by Linnaeus in the middle of the 18th century, a hundred years before Darwinian theory and knowledge of, let alone systematic studies of hominid fossils. Linnaeus had information from Pliny the Elder and other ancient authors, as well as from contemporary Dutch explorers in Southeast Asia – Bontius, Rumphius, etc., – about the existence of man-like bipedal primates, hairy, speechless, non-sapient, and for the sake of contrast with them he designated our own species with the rather wishful term “sapiens” (the wise) (Linnaeus, 1758, 1760).
It was with awe that one day, in 1966, I opened and copied relevant pages in Latin from the original 10th edition of Caroli Linnaei Systema Naturae (1758), in the library of the Moscow Zoological Museum. This edition launched the Linnaean nomenclature. One of its salient features is that it presents two living species of man: Homo sapiens (man the wise) and Homo troglodytes (caveman). The first is described as “diurnus, varians cultura, loco,” the second as “nocturnus” and “sylvestris.” Homo sapiens is subdivided into races, and includes Homo ferus, which designated, in the opinion of Linnaeus, Homo sapiens gone wild (children captured and reared by animals), but actually embraced also some cases, as it is apparent now, of real “wild men” (i.e. relict hominids) reported at the time in Europe. Right after the term Homo sapiens, Linnaeus put in the words to address mankind, “Nosce te ipsum” (know thyself).
Homo ferus and Homo troglodytes evidently filled in for Linnaeus the gap between ape and man and prompted him to establish a single Order of Primates. On the one hand, there were human children reared by animals and turned into beasts; on the other hand, stood Homo troglodytes that seemed to be more manlike than apelike, especially on account of bipedalism and the dental system devoid of diastemata, the characteristic of apes and monkeys. (His information included this important detail). So there is no doubt that man owes his undeserved name of Homo sapiens to the presence of non-sapient Homo troglodytes in the Linnaean classification.
Still, his information on the subject was so patchy, fragmentary, and contradictory that the great classifier, with his passion for order and exactness, must have been tormented by the lack of precise knowledge in the matter. This is seen from the dissertation Anthropomorpha (Fig. 5), which he dictated (as was the custom at the time) to his St. Petersburg student, Christian Hoppius, saying in part the following:
“Is it not amazing that man, endowed by nature with curiosity, has left the Troglodytes in the dark and did not want to investigate the creatures that resemble him to such a high degree? A lot of mortals spend their days in feasts and banquets, and all they care for is how to prosper by honest and dishonest means. No better is the behavior of most navigators who sail to the Indies and who alone happen to see the troglodytes. Driven by greed, they despise the tasks of natural science, such as investigation of the way of life of troglodytes. Just imagine what wondrous objects of diversion for a monarch in his palace such animals could be, for one would never tire of marveling at them. Or is it really difficult for a monarch to get such animals, knowing that people vie with
each other to fulfill his orders? And it would be of no small benefit for a philosopher to spend several days in the company of such an animal in order to investigate how much superior human reason is and thus discover the difference between those endowed with speech and those devoid of it. And should I mention what light could be shed for natural science from a detailed description of these animals. As for me, I remain in doubt what specific characteristic distinguishes the Troglodyte from man within the scope of natural history.” (Linnaeus, 1760). [My translation from a Russian translation from the Latin, published in St. Petersburg in 1777. The original Latin text appears to be lost. – D.B.]
The fervent call of the great naturalist fell on deaf ears. Not only that, but his whole classification of primates, along with the latter novel term (introduced by him in zoology), was condemned and done away with by the scientific establishment of the century, whose faith revolted against Linnaeus’s innovations. The job was done by Johann Blumenbach, who in his Manual of Natural History (1775) established the order Bimanus for man and the order Quadrumanus for apes and monkeys. As for Homo troglodytes, Blumenbach discarded the species altogether as “an unintelligible mixture of pathological cases and the orangutan.” He moved the term “troglodytes” to Simia and established “Simia troglodytes or Chimpansi,” which implied that chimps were cave-dwellers.
According to Stephen J. Gould, “Historical changes in classification are the fossilized indicators of conceptual revolutions.” Blumenbach’s monumental change in the Linnaean classification was then a conceptual counter-revolution, which lasted nearly a hundred years, until resisted and reversed by Darwin’s “bulldog,” Thomas Huxley, who with Man’s Place in Nature (1863) restored the single order of Primates, as well as the term itself. But Homo troglodytes stayed in limbo for another hundred years, until resurrected and vindicated by Boris Porshnev in The Present State of the Question of Relict Hominoids, proclaiming yet another conceptual revolution (Porshnev, 1963).
Folklore and Mythology
During my first expedition to the Caucasus in 1964, I was struck by the fact that the locals often referred to the reported hairy wildman quite matter-of-factly by such names as “devil,” “satan,” “wood goblin,” etc. Back in Moscow, I plunged into reading literature on folklore, demonology, and the history of religion. I was fascinated by what opened to my eyes, my mind already opened by the Porshnev theory and what I learned during the expedition.
It became clear to me that folklore and demonology, or what John Napier called the Goblin Universe, is a rich source of hominology, quite realistic, but largely misunderstood and misinterpreted by academic specialists on folklore and mythology. Soon I came up with a work whose title could be translated into English as In Defense of Devilry. The work was never published in Soviet years and no folklorist ever agreed to collaborate with me.
When the country’s political situation began to change, I enlarged my original work, changed the title to Wood Goblin Dubbed Monkey: A Comparative Study in Demonology, and after addressing in vain many publishers, at last succeeded in finding one who published it in 1991. I sorted out in it volumes of published folklore of many peoples in the Soviet Union, focusing on the most realistic descriptions of the appearance, behavior, and habits of their “demons.”
Academic folklorists and demonologists refer to the heroes of their books, i.e. “devils,”
“goblins,” “brownies,” etc., by such names as “fabulous beings,” “creatures of fantasy,” “irreal characters,” “mental constructions,” etc. Accordingly, they focus attention on the fabulous and imaginary. In this respect the hominologist’s objective is the opposite of theirs. To get at goblin biology and ethology he has to amass and sort out as much folklore material as possible, from as many lands and regions as possible, taking into account first and foremost not what folklorists say, but what their folk informants related. That is why it has to be a comparative study. Folklore not only supports what we learn from contemporary eyewitnesses, but provides details and particulars gone unnoticed, because folklore contains knowledge amassed and compressed over hundreds of years.
In Theodore Roosevelt’s book, Wilderness Hunter (1893), Roosevelt’s native companion did not want to go into a certain area for fear of the “devils” there. Roosevelt called them “forest hobgoblins.” The parallels evidenced in the ethnic ‘demonology’ of Russia and America, provide further opportunities for hominology.
What follows is a brief synopsis of information presented in my book in Russian on folklore and demonology (Bayanov, 1991). Relict hominoids (alias homins) are different from all other cryptids (objects of cryptozoology) not only in anatomy and behavior but also in the place they hold in human culture. I dare say there is no other living creature, except man himself, which figures so prominently in religion, mythology, folklore, and the arts.
We can imagine that in the hoary past, when humans were a minority confronted by an awesome preponderance of non-human bipeds, they had no choice but to find a way of co-existence with the homins. The latter effectively dominated the environment. So humans offered a part of their hunting trophies to homins in order to placate them and be allowed to hunt and gather food in the territories occupied by the latter. As this process went on, homins became viewed as lords of nature and eventually worshiped as heathen gods. Food offerings to placate them turned into religious sacrifices.
Div (dev, dav) is a common name for the “wildman” in Persia (modern Iran) and the adjacent countries. Initially divs were worshiped like gods by heathen peoples, and this explains the fact that the words in other Indo-European languages, such as “Deus” and "Divus" in Latin; "Zeus" in Greek; "divine" and "divinity" in English, are etymologically related to the word “div”. It may be noteworthy that according to Greek mythology, Zeus was born in a cave.
With the advent of major religions, such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the heathen gods and their hominid prototypes were condemned and relegated to the status of demons. This dramatic process is marked by Persian rulers’ relentless struggle against divs, which is vividly described by Firdausi (940-1020) in the epic Shah Namah, which set standard for Persian poetry (Fig. 6). Characteristic in this respect are the following words in the epic: “Take divs for hostile creatures. They are of those who have not been blessed by God, who have deviated from man’s way (my emphasis – D.B.), take him for a div, don’t call him a man” (Korogly, 1983: 43). Thus centuries on, the notion is echoed in The Oxford English Dictionary (1989, Vol. IV): “The div of ancient Persia is supposed to be the same as the European devil of the middle ages.” Divs and their counterparts elsewhere were condemned not only on account of their beastly appearance, but also and mainly because of their beastly behavior. Sources of abundant relevant information in this area range from the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, to fairy-tales, to widely used sayings and proverbs.
Quite impressive is folklore on the origin of demons. Hebrew folklore has it that God created demons on the Sabbath eve, and
therefore did not have time to make them fully human (Fig. 7). But Russian peasants had a different opinion on the matter. When the peasant’s son inquired, “Daddy, what is meant by the devil, the leshy, the domovoy? What is the difference between them?” The adult peasant answered, “There is really no difference. They say when God created man, Satan was eager to create, too, but no matter how hard he tried he could only make devils, not men. When God saw that Satan had already produced several devils, He ordered Archangel Gabriel to dump Satan and his goods from heaven. Gabriel did so. The devil that fell on a wood became the leshy (wood goblin), another, that fell on a field, became the polevoy (field goblin), and a third, that fell on a house, became the domovoy (domestic demon, brownie). That’s how they came about and got different names. But actually all devils are alike.” (Fig.
In Bielorussia, folklorists recorded the following legend: “Adam and Eve had a dozen pairs of children. When God came to look at them, they showed Him six pairs, and hid the other six pairs under an oak. So, like we come from those six pairs shown to God, they (the demons) come from the other six pairs. Their number is the same as ours, only they are invisible because they are hidden from God.”
Less civilized people, living in the lap of nature, had a different and more realistic view on the subject. Thus the Mansi, living in the taiga of Siberia, say that in making people, gods used two materials: clay and larch timber. As soon as people made of larch were produced, they dashed into the forest. Those are menkvs (wood goblins). Slow moving beings, made of clay, became ordinary people. Their lifespan is short; arms made of clay, legs made of clay, what’s the use of them? If man falls into water, he drowns; if the weather is hot, water comes out of him. If men were made of larch, they would be harder and wouldn’t drown in the water.
There are many other folklore versions of the theme, including the belief that demons arise from dead people who were not buried or were buried the wrong way. What is interesting and important for the hominologist, as found in such tales and legends, is people’s wish to explain both great likeness and great difference between man and demon, and not the essence of the explanations, arising from fantasy and superstition.
Folklore on demons confirmed all I knew about the homin anatomy and behavior and added things I did not know. The demonic beings are hairy manlike bipeds, sometimes bigger and always stronger than man. There are male and female demons, as well as their offspring. A shock of hair is sometimes mentioned on the heads of males, but bald-headed demons are on record as well. Females boast of long-hanging or flying head hair, sometimes disheveled, and sometimes brushed.
The Komi people in the north of Russia say their wood goblins have hair-covered ears. One folklore item in Siberia mentions hair on female breasts. The hair color ranges from black to white, with lots of browns and reds, and is likened to the fur of animals native to the particular geographic area (reindeer, bear, camel, goat, and buffalo). The attribute of hairness is present in the local names of demons, from the Hebrew se’irim, to the medieval European pilosus, to the Russian volosatic and volosatka (literally hairy one for male and female). The color of the skin is swarthy, with a reddish, or yellowish, or grayish tinge. The pointed cone-shaped head is a usual feature, even reflected in the names of Russian devils and wood goblins: shishko, shishiga from shishka (cone). The eyes appear big at night when they shine “like stars.” Facial features are not attractive and folklore uses the word “muzzle” in reference to a demon's protruding lower face. Lack of a neck is mentioned in one item from Siberia. Folklore dwells a lot on the enormous size of a female demon’s breasts, calling them “huge”
and even “frightening.”
Demons in Russia are fond of tree-climbing, swinging on the branches, and diving from trees on the river bank into the water. They are excellent swimmers and divers, as well as jumpers and runners. They also love dancing and merrymaking, especially all kinds of pranks, so that Russian peasants called them “jokesters” and “pranksters.” A favorite prank of rusalkas (aquatic female demons) was to catch wild geese on the river and entangle the feathers of their wings so that the birds could not fly. Or they would let the fish out of the fishermen’s net and fill the latter with slime and water-plants, or divert themselves by putting out a fishermen’s or hunters’ campfire with the water dripping from their hair covering.
One folklore item from European part of Russia says that in olden days hunters “had to prepare gifts for the ‘lord of the forest’ for allowing them to hunt on his property.” In later times the relationship “progressed” and an item from Siberia says that hunters there engaged in barter trade with wood goblins – the latter supply squirrels and in exchange receive generous gifts of vodka.
Folklore strongly recommends hunters not build their cabins on the forest path of wood goblins. And custom forbids whistling in the forest and in the home so as not to alert and invite the goblin. Interestingly, I heard a similar belief regarding the “creek devil” from a local teacher, during my visit to the Yurok Indian Reservation in Northern California, in September 2003.
Folk demons also actively interact with fishermen. Not only do homins steal from fishermen’s catches, but they reportedly can also help people catch fish. According to Georgian folklore, all fish in the river are controlled by a water goblin. If a fisherman leaves food and a jug of wine on the bank and speaks nicely of the demon, he will send a lot of fish into the net.
A Mordva fisherman (in the Volga area) discovered a crying goblin child in the fishing net and let it go. Ever since then he always had good catches. Ethnic Russian fishermen would throw a bast-shoe into the water and yell: “Hey, devil, drive fish into our net!”
But the demons’ greatest contractors were herdsmen. It is reported that in Russia they made secret “contracts” with wood goblins, who helped pasture the herd, find lost cows, and protect them from wolves and bears. The service was paid for with food and animals from the herd. Such deals were popular with the peasants, but kept strictly secret because they were viewed as very sinful by the Orthodox Church. It is worth mentioning that in ancient Rome fauns were said to protect herds from wolves, and a celebration was held in their honor on the 15th of February, called Lupercalia.
Another kind of interaction and category of homin I call “visiting demons,” are those who approach human habitation for one reason or another. The most common is food, another, clothes, a third, the warmth of the hearth. An item from Tajikistan says that when the children asked their mother to give them more pancakes for supper, the mother answered, “If I give you more, what shall we leave for the adjina? She will come at night, and finding nothing may become angry.”
There are stories in Tajikistan that when the cry of an infant is suddenly heard from a barn, it means that a demon has given birth. People give food to her, “she eats, takes the baby, and goes away.”
In Georgia, the ancient clan of Naraani was said to have befriended a dev. They “fed him well,” leaving food warm in the ashes of the hearth. When the family went to sleep, he would come and have his fill. If food is not offered, the demons would steal it, all kinds of it, especially vegetables and fruits from gardens and orchards.
As a rule, demons are seen naked, but there are many exceptions, and clothing is the next item of interest motivating contact with
humans. It is advised, when encountering a goblin in the wood, to offer it bread or a piece of clothing, even a torn-off sleeve if nothing else is available. On record are Ukrainian and Bielorussian songs telling how rusalkas beg human girls to give them shirts, no matter how old or tattered. No wonder, demons usually sport threadbare garments, often worn the wrong side out. As a result, when Russians saw a man in a shirt worn inside out, they used to say: “Look, he is (dressed) like a leshy!”
The leshy were said to approach campfires built by lumberjacks or hunters in order to warm themselves in cold weather, and it is said that they “turned away their muzzles,” apparently because of the bright light. They also took care that flying sparks did not touch their hair.
Seeking warmth they also entered peasant bath huts or barns for crops stocked there. It is reported that a leshy, festooned with icicles, entered a barn and put out a fire with melting ice. In contrast, in the summer they would come up to a campfire not for warmth, but to put it out.
Folklore is insistent that demons love human children. Hiding from adults, they often come in view of children and even play with them when adults are not around. They are also said to calm down crying babies and, inevitably, as a result of such fondness occasionally take human children with them. In Bielorussia, a wood goblin was “charged” with stealing a cradle with a baby and hiding it in a birch tree. In the Novgorod province, a boy of 13 was kidnapped by a wood goblin. Four years later the boy returned naked and unable to speak.
The demon’s voice is usually described as “vociferous,” and their sound mimicking ability is often mentioned. In Russia, for example, the leshy is said to be able to imitate the voices of human males, females, and babies, he can neigh like a horse, squeal like a pig, bark like a dog, meow like a cat, and cry like a cock and hen.
Demons are mentioned in proverbs and sayings, which people still use commonly today. Every proverb has two meanings: one direct and literal, concerning real life, the other indirect and figurative, alluding to people's behavior. Thus, when we say "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" or "One shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," we use literal, real-life meanings in a figurative way. So what is the real life meaning of the numerous proverbs and sayings referring to the devil and other demons?
The Russians say "The devil is not so ugly (or fearsome) as he is painted.” The English say "'The devil is not so black as he is painted" or "to paint the devil blacker than he is." The Russians also say, "The devil is swarthy from birth, not from the sun," and they say, "Brown devil, gray devil, still a devil." This means that the creators of these proverbs were familiar with the look of the devil.
The Russian equivalent of the English, “Still waters run deep,” is “Devils dwell in a quiet slough (pool).” The famous 19th Century lexicographer, Vladimir Dahl, offers other proverbs and sayings reflecting the devil’s aquatic preferences. “To be led to the devil, like the devil to the marsh,” “Given a marsh, given the devils,” “When devils dive nothing but bubbles arise,” “A job (a work assignment) is not a devil, won’t disappear into the water,” “Worms in the earth, devils in the water, crooks in the court, where can a man go?”
Some more sayings from Vladimir Dahl’s Dictionary of the Russian Language: “You are as big as the devil (or leshy) but still small in the mind,” “You are clever and strong but can’t beat the leshy,” “Leshy is mute but vociferous,” “To roar like a leshy,” “Infected with the devil’s fleas and lice,” “The devil brushed himself and lost his brush.”
An Arab proverb goes “Azrata min ghoul” (stinking like a ghoul); also quite a familiar sign. A synonym for “demon” in Russian is “unclean spirit.” Demons collectively are
referred to as “nechistaya sila” (unclean power). When the Kabardians say “to catch the almasty by head hair,” they mean to pull a thing off. The advice and wish “Go to the devil!” and “The devil take you (him, her)” seem to be international. When a needed person appears at last after a long wait the Russians say, “Where has the devil been carrying you?” Enlightened by the Albert Ostman case1, the hominologist knows that the latter saying is a reflection of real life as well.
1 In 1957, Canadian Albert Ostman testified before a magistrate of being carried off by a sasquatch some thirty-three years previously. He claimed to have been held with a family of four sasquatch for six days before he managed to escape and return to civilization. His full account can be found in John Green, Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us, Seattle: Hancock House, 1978, pp. 97-112.
There are many examples of demon killings in folklore. According to one item from Siberia, a reduction in wood goblin numbers there was due to the appearance of hunting guns. Some tales relate that hunters, having killed a demon, cut off parts of its body, sometimes the head, as souvenirs and valuable trophies. Obviously, encounters with human beings wielding firearms boded no good for “mythical beings” and that is a reason for their legendary seclusion.
There are also plenty of beliefs that demon killers suffer inevitable retribution for the deed. Chuvash folklore intimates that in a village where “upate” (literally half-man) were killed, human population no longer increased. Tatars had similar beliefs, and when they saw a little poor village, they used to say, “Shurale kargagan” (condemned by shurale, the latter word meaning wood goblin). An example from Azerbaijan mentions a hunter who fired pointblank at a “biaban-ghouli” who fell to the ground, then stood up and ran away, leaving behind a bloody trail. After that, the hunter sold his gun and never hunted again. Asked why, he answered, “After that all my children died.” A
parallel First Nation tale was published in 1929 in Canada by J.W. Burns and reprinted by John Green in The Sasquatch File (1973: 11).
Cases of demons imprisoned by humans are also numerous in folklore. A creature, especially young, could get entangled as already mentioned, in a fishing net. To catch migratory birds, the Russians used to hang a huge net on the trees of a forest vista. It happened sometimes that instead of wild ducks and geese, the hunters found a devil in the net. The technical term for this kind of net is “pereves.” So there appeared a proverb, “popalsya kak bes v pereves,” (caught like a devil in a net).
From Tatar folklore we learn that the inhabitants of a village, tired from the tricks of a shurale (wood goblin) that troubled their herd of horses every night, spread tar on the back of the best horse and by this ploy caught a she-demon who had tried to ride that horse.
But the surest and most ancient method of catching demons was by intoxicating them with alcohol. In ancient Greece it was used by King Midas, who caught a silenus. In a temple of Silenus “drunkeness is represented in giving him wine in a cup,” (Pausanias VI, 24); in Italy by King Numa Pompilius, who caught a faun. Being so rare and impressive, these events were recorded by legend. The only modification in the method in Russia is that wine is replaced by vodka. A tale from Abkhazia had it that a wood goblin that meddled with hunters’ traps was caught only after imbibing a bucketful of vodka.
Of special importance among the sources of information is the Bible. The beings of our interest are mentioned, for example, by Isaiah in his prophecy against Babylon. The prophet says that Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, shall be destroyed, turned into a waste land, and "wild animals of the desert" shall come to live there. Along with such denizens of the desert as ostriches, jackals, and hyenas, the Bible in Russian mentions the leshy (wood
How come wood goblins to be in the desert? The discrepancy intrigued me and demanded an answer. In search of it I discovered that the earliest edition of the Bible in Russia specifies the “devil” instead of' “wood goblin” in those verses of Isaiah. I then looked up the Authorized Version of Isaiah in English and discovered "satyrs" in the corresponding verses. So I opened the Encyclopedia Britannica (1965, vol. 20: 11), and read in part the following: "Satyrs, in Greek mythology, spirits half-man, half-beast. (...) In Italy often identified with the fauni. In the Authorized Version of Isaiah 13:21; 34:14, the word "satyr" is used to render the Hebrew se’irim (hairy ones) – a kind of demon or supernatural being, known to Hebrew folklore as inhabiting waste places. They correspond to the "azabb al-'aka-ba" (shaggy demon of the mountain-pass) of old Arab superstition.”
So what were the "hairy ones,” alias the "shaggy demon of the mountain-pass,” alias wood goblins, alias satyrs, alias devils, doing on the ruins of Babylon? Various translations of the Bible into English answer as follows: they "will leap about," they "will dance," they "shall call to each other," they "shall cry out one to another." Well, I thought, Isaiah could well be considered a forerunner of hominology. After all it was not he who called the “hairy ones” by such names as “goblins,” “satyrs,” and “devils.” He used the term derived from the creatures' biological characteristic, i.e. their hairiness.
I then turned to the New International Version of the Holy Bible, and an alternate rendering. Here "wild goats" were mentioned instead of "satyrs" – "And there wild goats will leap about," "and wild goats will bleat to each other.” What a leap from the original intent of the reference!
The erotic aspect of hominology is reflected most prominently both in ancient literature and world folklore on the subject. According to legend, the Babylonian King Gilgamesh habituated and befriended the half-man half-beast Enkidu with the help of the priestess of the goddess of love Ishtar. Enkidu is said to have been shaggy with “hair that sprouted like grain,” he ate with the gazelles and drank with the wild beasts at their waterholes. He protected wild animals from hunters, so a hunter went to King Gilgamesh with a request for help. The king recommended that the hunter take a priestess of Ishtar with him to the waterhole and instruct her to disrobe, thus enticing Enkidu away from his animal friends. The ruse succeeded and the wildman enjoyed the woman’s favors for a week, being gradually persuaded to eat bread and drink wine with the shepherds. He became their friend and helped them by driving lions away from the flocks. Subsequently Enkidu found himself in the palace of Gilgamesh and became the king’s best friend and aid in hunting. He also helped Gilgamesh in fighting the monstrous demon Humbaba, actually another Wildman, in the forested mountains of Lebanon. (Reder, 1965) (Fig. 9).
Lustfulness is a distinguishing trait of satyrs in ancient Greece. Ancient historian Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-21 B.C.) wrote about satyrs: “this animal (emphasis added – D.B.) shamelessly seeks crossbreeding" with humans (Diodorus, 1774). Pausanias, in already quoted Description of Greece, citing Euphemus regarding the danger encountered by mariners on the Isles of the Satyrs, inhabited by “wildmen,” says that the satyrs “ran down to the ship, and without uttering a syllable attempted to get at the women in the ship. At last the sailors, in fear, cast out a barbarian woman on the island, and the Satyrs outraged her most grossly.” (Pausanias, 1913: 33). As a result, European languages have acquired such ancient medical terms as satyriasis and nymphomania.
Among the commandments that Moses gave to Israel, was this: "And they shall no more sacrifice their victims to devils, with whom they have committed fornication. It shall be an
ordinance forever to them and their posterity" (Leviticus 17:7, The Holy Bible, Douay Version, reproduced from the first edition of The Old Testament, printed at Douay in 1609).
Another translation in The Holy Bible, London, 1850: "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute forever unto them throughout their generations.” A third version, published in The New English Bible, Oxford, 1970: “They shall no longer sacrifice their slaughtered beasts to the demons whom they wantonly follow.”
Let us note that, according to the Hebrew text, Moses did not use the words "devils" or "demons" in this commandment by the Lord. Again the term se'irim (hairy ones) was used, which presented a sticking point for the translators. "Hairy ones," and moreover sacrifices to and fornication with them, called for an explanation; “wild goats” would not fit in this case. So “devils” and “demons” were found to be preferable terms, for who does not know that devils and demons are seducers and corruptors of humankind?
Christianity also condemned "pagan gods" for lustfulness. “St. Augustine in his City of God brackets fauns and sylvans together as incubi, and then proceeds to explain that both ‘desire women and act carnally with them” (Bernheimer, 1962: 97; Civitas Dei, 15, 23).
In 1484, “Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull against witches. It has been estimated that during the next three centuries 300,000 to 2,000,000 persons were executed as witches” (The Encyclopedia Americana, 1973, Vol.29, Witchcraft). A standard charge by the Inquisition for its victims was intercourse, including sexual, with a demon. In this connection of special interest is the work by Italian theologian, Luigi Maria Sinistrari (1632–1701), jurisconsult of the Inquisition's High Tribunal in Rome. Sinistrari argued that it was necessary for the Inquisition to distinguish between culprits, who associated with real demons, and people who fell victim to certain man-like animals, mistaken for demons. Accordingly, Sinistrari's work has a long and instructive title:
On demonism and the animals, incubi and succubi, where it is proved that there are reasonable creatures on earth, apart from man, which have like man a body and a soul, which like man are born and die, which are redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ and capable of salvation and damnation (Sinistrari, 1875; my translation from the French).
Sinistrari mentioned popular names of these animals, such as folletto in Italy, follet and lutin in France, and duende in Spain (all translated as “goblin”). His main argument for why these beings are animals, not evil spirits, is this – they are immune to exorcism. It happens, he wrote, that they "meet exorcism with a grin," or "even beat up exorcists and tear up sacred clothes." Hence, it is clear they "are not evil spirits or angels, nor are they human beings, even though they are endowed with reason."
Further biological traits of these animals, pointed out by Sinistrari, are the following:
they seek sexual intercourse with humans;
from such intercourse children are born who, when grown up, become very tall, strong and daring;
these animals' vocalization resembles whistling;
these animals are attracted by horses and like to plait their manes (this has been reported elsewhere in Eurasia and the Americas – D.B.);
these animals throw stones and pile them up;
it is very difficult to see these animals, being seen either by chance or of their
they are capable of feeling and suffering, but being very swift and nimble in avoiding danger, it is surprising that they get killed or injured at all. This can happen when they are asleep or in some other inadvertent way.