Δευτέρα, 10 Φεβρουαρίου 2014

My experience with the Loch Ness Monster

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

A model of Nessie in plesiosauria fashion, at Clansman hotel, Loch Ness

Becoming associated with the legend

2013 may have been a poor year in number of reported 'monster' sightings at Loch Ness, but it was an important year for Nessie fans, as it marked the 80th anniversary of encounters with the Loch Ness monster in the modern era. There have been earlier tales of strange creatures seen in the waters of the Loch, as there have always been traditions of 'water monsters' haunting the lochs and rivers of the British Isles, such as, the Each Uisge, or the Kelpie, the earliest documented encounter dating back to the 6th-7th century, an account of the confrontation of Saint Columba with a monster at River Ness. But it was after the first incidents in 1933 had been made publicly known by the press that the local 'monster' began to draw so much attention; and from there, it was only a matter of time until the first photographs have also started to turn up.

Indeed, November 2013 also marked the 80th anniversary of the first picture where Nessie was officially claimed to have been captured, known as the Hugh Gray photograph. And as if to celebrate this anniversary, in the same month, my own name came to be associated with the famous legendary creature, when what could be considered as the latest known Nessie picture -taken during my trip to the Highlands two years earlier-, and my relevant article ('Meeting the Genius Lochi') were published in Fortean Times FT 308, a special issue also celebrating the magazine's 40 years of circulation...

The conditions by which my photo has been shot are described in every detail in that article, however a brief synopsis can also be obtained from this short video...

Among other pictures from my trip to Loch Ness, there is the original photograph that has been shot with an infrared converted Panasonic Lumix camera. You will easily notice the 'object' in concern which I'm comparing to a 'water horse' sketch that I had photographed the following morning at the Loch Ness Exhibition center -yet unaware of my peculiar photographic capture on the previous day. There’s also a sequence in which I am experimenting by adjusting the basic filters (such as contrast and brightness), in the full image, in an effort to see some of the characteristics more clearly. This does not really alter the 'object', or add any false features (similar results would have been achieved simply by shooting the same picture with the camera set in a different mode), and is helpful in better demonstrating the way that I have been interpreting the image, ever since I decided to zoom in the specific 'detail' for the first time.
As mentioned in both the article and the video, the first time that I had noticed the 'object' (or maybe I should say 'head', at least as I interpret the image) was actually several months after my return from that trip and the initial review of my photos, during a second, more careful examination of the material from the Loch, after I had read with surprise that local skipper George Edwards claimed to have taken a picture of Nessie on November 2nd, 2011, the same day and just a couple of hours earlier than the time that I had been cruising the Loch...  

The publication of the story at Fortean Times had initially been scheduled a few months earlier, but had to be put off until this special 'Nessie at 80' issue came out, and as it did, it immediately caught the attention of Roland Watson, who has one of the best websites dedicated to the mystery of the Loch Ness monster, offering access to a valuable data-base with reports of Nessie sightings, related documents and any other relevant material, as well as suggested analysis of some of the most known cases. He had asked for my permission to re-print the photo at his blog along with his analysis, and I have gladly accepted and provided him all the requested information and details that would enable him in this.
 Roland's blog has many followers, so immediately the photo was reproduced by various sites from all over the world, such as The Anomalist, Paranormal Phenomena@About.com, Mulder'sWorld and other web pages and blogs. At the same time, the article and photo in the FT special issue had also began to stir up discussions in other forums and web-pages as well, and it was nice for me to see that the photo was received with excitement by at least some Nessie fans...
Roland ('Glasgow Boy')'s analysis was finally published a few weeks later. After examining the various scenarios that had been suggested in blog comments under the initial publication of the photo, Roland had concluded that what is seen in the photo is a -material- Loch Ness monster, even though the photo itself, as with the other pictures in the past, could probably still not be considered as "unambiguous" evidence that could be used as an unquestionable proof of Nessie's existence. 
His analysis, as would be expected, triggered another series of comments and again was reproduced by several major websites, blogs and pages dealing with the mysterious or 'paranormal', some of which I had already been following, including Coast to Coast, the Fate magazine’s facebook page  and The Anomalist, where the posted sum up read:

"Finally, Glasgow Boy is able to give us a much more in-depth analysis of the Jonathan Bright Loch Ness photograph that is causing such a stir lately. Originally published in Fortean Times, Bright was kind enough to send Glasgow Boy the original unedited image for a closer look. He has conclusively ruled out an object such as a log and the possibility of a wave doing its best Nessie impression. Glasgow Boy also notes that to rule out fakery with such a photo, it takes a lot of trusting your own instinct and he seems to trust his with regards to Bright's photograph. He thinks this is indeed a genuine photo of a Loch Ness monster, possibly a juvenile due to the estimated dimensions of the creature. We agree with Glasgow Boy and think this one's a history maker! "(Τhe Anomalist - December 4)

And of course, along came more comments. Part of them hailing it as a very interesting picture of Nessie, and others, seeking for 'rational' explanations, finding it difficult to accept as anything other than a photo-shop manipulation/hoax, or at best, a misidentified ordinary wave.

Some notes to 'disbelievers' - Why it's not a photo manipulation


Generally, I don't really mind people being suspicious with the photo of yet another hoax. The image of a real 'monster' coming out of the water is not something we see every day, and I have myself seen enough fake pictures and videos with all sorts of "alien creatures" and UFO traveling at the speed of light from one blog to the next to know that I, too, would be skeptical with this, had I not been the photographer myself. But there is a difference between being skeptical and being a skeptic, so I wouldn't conclude that the photo is a fake just because 'monsters' are not supposed to exist. And to share such an opinion in public (thus making accusations of 'fraud') would take more than a personal impression and speculation. I would have to investigate further, look for possible clues of the conditions in which the photo was taken, where it has been published, who the photographer was, and for any information that could help in forming a better idea.

In this case, the photo is not a random picture posted by some anonymous source which is being reproduced by unreliable blogs. In all the versions published both here and in Roland's blog, my name, or email is watermarked on the picture as a signature, with the intention to show that the photographer is a known, contactable person, who is responsibly stating that the photo is genuine. Furthermore, before appearing on the internet, the photo had been published in a magazine with a long history of circulation, after I had made clear while submitting the article that I certainly wouldn't mind for the photo to be thoroughly checked and analyzed by professionals, should there be any suspicions of it having been manipulated. And later, in a similar manner, I have provided Glasgow Boy with all the EXIF data, trying to assist him as much as possible in his own analysis.
Some of the supporters of the hoaxing scenario simply found the whole story just too impossible to believe. Why hadn't I seen the 'monster' at the time I was shooting the picture, or how amazing a coincidence seemed for my photo to have been shot on the same date that Edwards had allegedly shot his (already proven) hoax picture with the fiberglass hump. 


As far as the relation with the 'hump' photo was concerned, although I did find the coincidence quite remarkable, I really couldn't see any sensible meaning on how this could be used as an argument against the credibility of my photo... Why would I want to deliberately involve in my story a photo that already (a few weeks after having been released to the media) was shown to be a hoax ?
My story could not benefit from this in any way and as strange a game of fate as it may seems, Mr. Edwards (-who in last October had finally admitted the hoax himself), had chosen the morning of November the 2nd, 2011 of all days to claim that he had shot his Loch Ness monster picture. A day that was not even calm and shiny, as it was easily proven, the only time that I have myself spent cruising and investigating the Loch, thus tempting me to return to my archive and run a second, more scrutinized check of my own pictures…  
Another question was why I hadn't noticed anything at the time of taking the photo. Again, if for some reason I wanted to trick the world, then I'm sure that my picture would have gained much more attention, if I simply had stated that I have actually seen the head popping out of the water. It would have made far more impression to have claimed that being such a great...'monster-hunter'(!), I had managed to snap the photo in that brief moment that I've seen 'Nessie' on the surface, before she had dived again and disappeared into the deep waters, rather than to write a whole article explaining that since I hadn't really noticed the ‘object’ at the time, I couldn't be certain whether it was solid/physical, or something of a different nature, thus, in a way, leveling the value of my personal opinion with that of every other viewer...
So, why didn't I see it at the time? Maybe because having the stereotypical image of Nessie in mind, I wasn't looking for some head among the waves at such a close distance; and indeed, I just stood there at the back of the boat for a few of minutes, snapping random photos turning ever so slightly, so that I could capture different angles of the loch, while gazing infinitely towards the horizon just in case a long neck coming out of the water appeared at a distance, lifted several meters high above the surface. -And not really expecting to see any, of course.
Or, it could be simply because it might have not been visible at all with the naked eye, after all the picture had been taken with an infrared camera that reads a range in the light spectrum that human eyes are unable to perceive -in fact, although infrared photography has been tried at the Loch in the past, as, I'm certain it will be in the future, just as Glasgow Boy has also remarked, this probably is the first Nessie infrared picture ever taken...


A trick of the water? 

Some insisted that the 'monster' is only a wave, because in the original un-cropped photo it looks not very much different than the other waves/wakes. Well, of course it doesn't, if the details were so evident, I obviously wouldn't have missed it during my initial quick view of the photos. But that doesn't really mean anything; even if one of the passengers of the boat had slipped overboard and had been photographed with the same camera at a similar distance, his head would probably have looked not different than the waves around him, too. This is why as a standard practice, in order to see better the details of some object at distance, we zoom in...
The 'wave/wake' scenario has been discussed at large in my Fortean Times article, where in fact, I do agree that an explanation of a wave simulacrum could be possible. But, as I mention, the problem with this is that, if we agree to accept that not all the Nessie reports are hoaxes or misidentifications and there really is something strange that every now and then people see in the Loch, then according to the Occam's Razor principle, wouldn't it be more likely that what has been captured in the picture is that very same ‘creature’ and the origin of the 'Loch Ness monster' tales, rather than a tricky momentary water sculpture that happens to look like a monster coming out of the water, caught as my finger happened to click the snap button in the single moment that it would have lasted, before the next instant collapsing and be forever gone?... I mean, what if the 'object' looked like some other, more plain creature, a seal, for example, wouldn't it be easier to think that what appeared in the picture was indeed a seal, rather than an amazing liquid idol perfectly mimicking a marine mammal known to inhabit these waters?  
Some will protest that with a seal it would be different, since we know beyond doubt that such mammals exist. This is why we have made that initial assumption that a loch ness 'monster' (whatever its nature may be) that is responsible for all those tales and legends at the Loch, really exists… But that simply means that, in the end, it simply gets to whether one believes that 'Nessie' exists, or not. For someone who accepts that she does, then the skeptical way of thinking would suggest that it is the 'monster' captured on this photo, whereas for those who are not convinced of her existence, then the photo could be either accepted as a clue, or perhaps interpreted as an exceptionally strange simulacrum.
 But even those who doubt the presence of some kind of 'monster' at Loch Ness could not explain how such a simulacrum showing, not a mermaid, or a unicorn, or even something more realistic, such as a seal or a dolphin, but a strange monster-like head coming out of the water, happened to be randomly formed and snapped at that very Loch which is worldwide famous for its monster... Sure, at times waves can take unusual and even awesome shapes, like for example the gigantic human head that has recently received worldwide coverage by the media as something extra-ordinary, but, ...a monstrous head coming out of the waters of Loch Ness? Isn’t it just a bit too much for a coincidence?

In his analysis, Roland Watson asks the simple question, if such waves are indeed frequently formed in Loch Ness whether they are single waves, or clashing waves or wakes, as it has been suggested, then where are the other similar photos?

This actually validates the earlier point I have made and my reservations in the wave/wake hypothesis, by showing that my suggestion is not a simple theoretical argument, but rather a statistically proven fact. For we have seen a number of photos that claim to have captured a monster in the waters of the Loch. Perhaps they don't all exactly match, and obviously some of them are probably fake, or misidentifications. But how many photos are there showing a 'beastly-horned'-head-look-like wave coming out of these waters? For all I (and Roland Watson) know,...none. With millions of people swarming the Loch and shooting pictures just about every day of the year, there should have been ample photos showing waves and wakes that look like 'monstrous heads' raising out of the water, some of which even looking so convincing that would have probably tricked their photographers and have been shown to the media as possible 'nessies', too. And yet, there is a total absence of any such photos...
The wave/wake scenario has been used in the past to explain rumples on the surface of the water that may create an impression of a number of humps of some serpentine body, but this is something completely different than a head with 'horns' and detailed facial features coming out of the water...
The author capturing the reflection of the Loch (and himself) while preparing for the cruise.
 During our correspondence with Roland, as I was looking for the photographs that had been shot before and after this one, I tried to arrange in one sequence all the pictures I had taken in the first couple of minutes after we have sailed from the Clansman pier. This wasn't as simple as it sounds, since even though there were only about 15 pictures in all, I had used...3 different cameras, so it did prove a sort of a puzzle trying to put them in the correct order.
It was then that I noticed a photo taken with my normal camera in the same direction of the Loch and just a few moments earlier than the 'Nessie' picture… Although as I have calculated, the two photos must have been shot with a time difference of perhaps up to 30 or 40 seconds, (in between, it seems I had taken a few more shots turning to the left, thus sadly missing from the frame what proved to be the area of interest), they do provide an idea of the waterscape and the formation in which the waves/wakes move on the surface of the water.
After comparing the two photos and making out a number of reference/identical points (that -apart from the 'landmark' number "8"-, indicate the peaks, perhaps not of the exact same waves and wakes, but of them that by analogy appear to maintain this formation in the wave motion, in the two photos), the only major difference seems to be the 'object' of our concern, the 'head', that looks totally out of place on the infrared photo, as if it had just popped up. And strangely enough, even though it's further away from the shooting point (i.e. the boat), it seems larger in height than the rest peaks...

Even so, I shall accept that, however remote, the possibility that the captured object may be a wave/wake must still exist, so theoretically it could be the simulacrum of a 'monster head', but -unless some other, unaccounted force is involved-, that would actually render the photo even more rare than a picture of the real Loch Ness monster…

With all the above in mind, I think I’m left with two remaining possibilities... Either we are dealing with a strange physical creature that somehow manages to remain elusive defying several logical points and perhaps some known natural laws, or, with something incorporeal, a rare phenomenon, rather of a 'paranormal' (or 'spiritual', if you will) nature that may lay behind some of the sightings and be the cause of such amazing simulacra.

Could such a creature exist?

Let's consider the first possibility. To begin with, is the existence of such a corporeal creature possible? 
Agree, the idea of massive creatures like dinosaurs and large prehistoric reptiles having survived extinction for millions of years may sound extreme. The explanation of the miraculously surviving egg that has suddenly happened to hatch to life a cute little dragon sounds too old and perhaps good enough for movies only. And although it would have been interesting to prove right, such arguments as those recently made by a team of creationists claiming that the study of tissue samples found in non-fossilized dinosaur bones and radio-carbon dating indicate an age of less than 40 thousand years old sound not only ‘heretical’ (that would be no problem for me), but rather too far-fetched indeed. Yet, there is no question that species that are being described as 'living fossils' do exist, and some of them have actually made it to this day, even if they had been considered gone from this earth since millions of years ago... And the fact that new species are being discovered every year, may still leave room for speculation that large unknown marine creatures, which have never really stopped being reported in the last few centuries, could exist hidden from our sight...

Maybe the word 'monster' is kind of misleading, insinuating some sort of a mythical / fairytale, or a horrible movie creature.  If we strip off all the fantastic elements and consider as 'monstrous' some unusual and rather bizarre characteristics in a creature's look, then one needs go no further than to check an encyclopedia of the Marine world, to see that 'water monsters' did not only exist in prehistoric, or ancient times, but are still here today; In fact there is a wide variety of them, as they come in all sizes… From cartoonish look little creatures to very large ones that probably lay behind a number of legends and myths; and sometimes their look can be just as terrifying and hideous as that of the monsters in sci-fi and horror films... 

Comparing the 'head' with a traditional Kelpie sketch

If what appears in the photo is indeed a 'Nessie' head coming out of the water (at a height of about 60 cm, as indicated by Roland's geometrical calculations), we can agree that it does possess such 'monstrous' characteristics, such as the large overall estimated size of the creature (approximately 23 feet in length for a creature with the plesiosaurus proportions -again according to Roland's calculations) and of course, the two small ('devil/pan' style) horns that give the head a kind of 'dragon-like' look, and even bring to mind the earliest known 'Pictish beast' artistic depictions...

There are large horned land animals of course, which are not called 'monsters', but for a water creature such horns seem rather un-natural and they automatically rule out any possible known fresh or sea water creature explanation -including otters, seals, sturgeons, sharks (except for a Diablodontus michaeledmundi), and even most of the land animals... (In fact, the horns make one wonder whether what has been explained as "scapulocoracoids" in the case of the infamous "shark" carcass washed out the Spanish coast of Villaricos last August, were really shark fin bones after all...)  
Giovanni Andrea Maglioli, engravings 1580-1610: A naked child entwined with a horned sea serpent
Roland agrees that my interpretation of the photo, that is, a head turned 2/3 towards the boat is certainly possible, however he also suggests some other alternative views of the position in which the 'monster' and different parts of her body could have been snapped. The reason for his reservations mainly being that the apparent specific shape does not seem to exactly match all, or perhaps most of the reports that are describing Nessie's head rather as a continuation of the neck with almost the same thickness and less strictly defined features. But one has to keep in mind that most of these reports involve sightings at a far longer distance, the viewer most usually looking from the bank of the loch, and when they are not accompanied by photographic evidence, they can easily be altered and subconsciously adjusted in the memory of the witness so as to better fit the stereotype ‘Nessie’ image, as subjected to the different interpretations it has been given in different times (which itself shows how flexible and tangible her image is),  or generally, in the way that it has been imprinted in the viewer's own mind. An example of this can be seen by the comparison of various accounts and sketches provided at a given time. 
To some extent, this is certainly a result of the mis-identification of different things mistaken for a monster, since anything strange and unusual seen in the Loch over the last 80 years almost certainly has automatically either been labeled 'Nessie', or linked to her; but still many of the witnesses have a number of characteristics in common and some other quite different, which means that either the image is being filtered/altered in the mind of the witness, or the creature truly is a 'shape-shifter' (-which would probably take us to the second possible scenario...)
 Photographic evidence is certainly more objective, provided of course that it is genuine… Sadly, the Loch Ness monster's 80 year history has had its share in hoax photos even from the early days, the best example perhaps being the Surgeon photo that has provided an archetypal image for Nessie for several decades before it was revealed a hoax (-and in the meantime, in an earlier attempt of debunking, the toy model used had been identified as the fin of a "killer whale"...). So, the most famous Nessie photo was a fake, or at least this is the idea generally accepted (there are other opinions on that), yet the image remains imprinted in most minds, since it continues to be reproduced by the media in just about every Loch Ness monster article.

The problem with the rest photos (other than the ones known to be fakes) is that we have no way to tell for sure whether they are genuine, or not. We can only analyze them and see whether they look genuine, or fake.  (I think Roland, and other researchers, too, have been doing a great job with some of the photos, as one can easily see by visiting various webpages dedicated to the study of the Loch Ness Monster). The truth is that we have no solid, unambiguous photographic proof to use as a safe measure for comparison, and as such, it makes sense that for me, there's only one picture of the authenticity of which I can be absolutely certain, that can be no other but the one I have taken myself...

Returning to the way that I look at the photo, I think one can easily recognize distinguishable bi-lateral characteristics: horns, eyes, nostrils, and also the mouth at the appropriate symmetrical position, which could be an argument in favor of the physical creature explanation. And it may not match all the descriptions from earlier witnesses, but I don't think there can be any doubt that had a 23 feet long, horned creature been fished out of these waters, anyone would have the slightest hesitation to name it as the 'Loch Ness monster'... 
Old postcard from Loch Ness

And then again, it does match some of the reports, both from Loch Ness where, in a number of accounts and sketches, Nessie does appear with small horns on her head, and elsewhere -for example, the water horse seen in 1883, at Las Perlas archipelago, the Viking Sea dragons, the appearance of which their ships were made to resemble (and incidentally still do), even the hippocampus depicted on Phoenician coins dating back to 340 BCE...  
Couldn't it just be that we are dealing with male and female creatures of the same species? After all it is not unusual in the animal kingdom for the two different genders to have major differences both in size and appearance, isn't it?
As a matter of fact, as far as the older reports are concerned, it may even be that they are describing the same creature 60, 70, or 80 years ago, since it would be only natural for the characteristics to have changed with age...  
Old postcard from Loch Ness
Furthermore, even though some have commented that it looks a bit strange for Nessie to turn up behind the boat (the two routes don't really cross, the course of the boat seen from the trace left behind further to the left side) and practically almost "posing" for the camera, it would make sense for any living creature to be monitoring the source of that loud alarming noise (the boat), making sure that the distance between them remains safe.  
A closer examination of the 'head' shows even more details that seem very natural, like the water split at the base of the neck and the wave that appears to be breaking on something solid; also water seems to be dripping from the mouth, indicating that the head is caught in the process of surfacing out of the water. In fact, in one of the comments at Roland's blog, I (dubbed, "the artist") have been accused of... putting too much detail in the image (such as the "water streaks"), which as Roland has also noticed, is certainly absurd, like saying that it looks too realistic therefore surely it must be fake!...

Such details indicate that what we see is a very real head and certainly not an effect of pareidolia, as some others have claimed. Our minds are not adding up imaginary lines and details in an effort to make sense, these are already there.  
If there is a shape in the picture that might be considered as a cause for pareidolia, that would be the cloud on the sky above Nessie...


Funny face in the clouds

Coming to think about it, it's a wonder how I have not been accused of...photo-shopping the clouds, too, deliberately making them look like some sort of a smiling...Irish leprechaun, as some sort of a hint that the photo was fake.

(...NO, I certainly didn't!)   
But, there is a difference between the cloudy face (which of course appears in several other pictures, too) and the head coming out of the water, which has been caught only in this one frame. (Unfortunately, in the next shot, I had turned to the left side of the stern, so even if it were still visible, I have missed it)

Yes, it would have been very convenient to be able to see its features just a little sharper, but from that distance, at least with the specific camera, that's as much clear as any object could get, be that a seal, an otter, or a Loch Ness monster! (-in fact an otter or seal being of a substantially smaller size, would show less clear)

Is Nessie some sort of  'paranormal' manifestation? 

And yet, this distance is relatively close in comparison with other known photos that have been claimed to show 'Nessie', and it's kind of disappointing that, as Roland mentions, even a photo taken from as close as 100 feet can still not provide "unambiguous" data.

But on the other hand that could be a hint of a rather 'paranormal' nature of the 'monster', since such manifestations, or phenomena are known to generally provide only clues that are considered inconclusive. 
In one of the comments at Roland's blog, someone was wondering why after all this technological progress of our age, we can still not get a picture that would be a solid proof of the 'Loch Ness monster', or of 'UFO'/aliens/ghosts and other enigmatic phenomena. Well, it may just be because the nature of these phenomena is such that they simply do not leave behind solid evidence
I mentioned earlier a few possible reasons why I had not been able to see the 'head' in real time. Well, another could have been that, if it really was something of a 'paranormal' nature, as I was rather inclined to believe, mainly due to the number of synchronicities involved (and also because I too have not really been used in seeing 'dragon like' heads coming out of the water), then I guess I simply wasn't supposed to be given the opportunity to directly focus and be able to capture some more, better, closer zoomed pictures that potentially could provide more clear ("unambiguous") answers... This may sounds a bit strange, but as I recently came to find out, it is not the first time that 'paranormal' has been attributed to be the reason why 'Nessie' is so elusive.
In an article I recently read, the author is similarly wondering why the monsters that were being frequently reported a few decades ago, in our age appear to have vanished. I think there are several possible answers to that, one of which could be that the more technologically advanced we get, the further cryptic (from the Greek: κρυπτω/crypto = hide) such 'beings' must become in order the balance, the doubt, the mystery to be retained... What does this secrecy code serve? I don't -and probably couldn't- know. But as the evidence remains elusive, the need for seeking alternative explanations to understand cryptozoology seems to be growing...

The 'Nessie' picture, however important as it may be, it's not necessarily the more extraordinary picture that I have taken during even that same trip (-only two days earlier, my full spectrum camera had captured 'ghostly faces' down at Edinburgh Vaults, and on the following night after I had left Loch Ness, I took some other interesting pictures at the reputedly 'haunted' Tulloch castle). But having investigated 'mysterious' phenomena for more than 25 years now, despite the large amount of clues I may have gathered, I have come to observe that conclusive data are extremely rare and generally insufficient to provide thorough explanations for these phenomena.
In fact, even if the number of the actual sightings has been reduced, I think that the clues may have increased by number, although they are still a very minor percentage, lost among the fake and hoaxed data that are so easily produced with computer programs. But through the advance of technology, we are gaining the means to go deeper in a range of frequencies that lay beyond the perceptual abilities of our own senses, and in that aspect, the fact that we do have even this picture coming from a camera that reads a light spectrum that the eye cannot see, could itself be considered an advance... I believe that we do steal some glimpses. But maybe we simply don't know exactly how to interpret them yet.

On the other hand, if there is any chance to ever be able to explain such phenomena, we cannot just hide behind general labels like 'supernatural' or 'paranormal'. So we have to dig deeper and try to understand them as much as possible…

The 'paranormal' hypothesis is not something new. There have been such suggestions in the past even by well known Nessie researchers  and for one thing, as we have mentioned before, this could explain the variety of descriptions in the accounts that would require for the monster to have shape-shifting abilities.

It certainly is a very tempting idea to seek for a possible relation between the 'monster' and another known (this one self-proclaimed) 'Great Beast' that has haunted the same area from the end of 19th century. Infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley, of whom century old tales are still been remembered among the locals, has been the owner of the legendary Boleskine estate on the South Eastern shore of Loch Ness, from 1899 to 1913. 

"Please Close the Gate". Right. The question is, to stay...in, or out?


The reason of purchasing this secluded house in the country was to perform the magic ritual described in the book of Abramelin the Mage (I would advise against experimentation with the text, unless you happen to live by a lake), aiming to the invocation of one's guardian Angel; ...and in the process, of a whole 'legion of demons', including some fallen princes, that are said over the years to have developed the appearance of a sea-dragon and a certain likeness for deep waters, like for example legendary, Leviathan himself... Crowley supposedly has never completed the ritual and in order to fund his publication of the Equinox, he had to sell the house, just about a century ago and 20 years before the monster stories burst out by that first article in the Inverness Courier. Apart from the impact he had made and the -most certainly- haunted house that would later host yet another eccentric celebrity, rock legend, Jimmy Page, it has been claimed that Crowley may have left something else behind, lurking in the muddy waters of the Loch...
 Now, I wonder what he's trying to conjure by making that weird shadow with his fingers on the wall. A...rabbit? A goat? Or, a... 
Loch Ness Monster? Good Lord, at least it was his... right hand(!)
But the truth is that a possible 'paranormal' nature in such sightings doesn't necessarily have to directly involve a 'primeval spirit' unleashed through ceremonial summoning; after all, stories of Kelpies and water monsters haunting the Loch, and even a few occasional printed reports of a 'monster' that could be related to the modern sightings, predate Crowley. 

In the Fortean Times article, I have mentioned that I would have no problem to accept the 'Nessie head' in the picture as a momentary 'simulacrum', if only the topic of 'simulacra' was not so much underestimated and the strange qualities of these phenomena still so very poorly understood... While discussing my views with a friend, after I had completed the first edit of the article, I had been reminded of the relevant work of the brilliant researcher and writer, John Michell on the study of these phenomena; and going through some of his writings, I remarked how small -if any- progress has been made since the time he detected some type of genetic mechanism through which we have been programmed to respond to certain forms and symbols that nature is also programmed to repeatedly manifest...
Yet, it is much more than just seeing 'Jesus Christ' and the 'Holy Virgin' in a cup of coffee, or the branch of a tree. Although I suspect that even in some of the examples of religious acheropita that could be explained as result of pareidolia, there might be some involvement of the Collective Unconscious, the genuine simulacra seem to possess a certain dynamic, a feeling that they have been created through some 'arcane' power. At times they can even be perceived as expressions of primitive art and sublime symbolism. But then, who can be certain of the mechanisms in which Nature manifests and of its ways of imprinting pictures and ideas into material form?... 
John Michell, during the first Megalithomania conference in Glastonbury (2006)
Michell (whom I was lucky enough to have met in person, in one of his final lectures) said..."This belief in a mystical connection between the generation of life-forms and places where these forms are indicated by folds in the earth is as ancient as nomadic times, when fertility rites for the increase of various creatures were held at spots where those creatures were seen represented in the rocks and landscape." (John Michell on Spontaneous Images and Acheropites, Fortean Times 30).
But it doesn't necessarily have to be folds in the earth; it can similarly be waves on the water that the place generates and, just like with the images curved on rock, they too may gain a certain meaning the moment they are witnessed by an observer, even if this happens more rarely, since on water (which is itself a medium with properties that are not fully known and are still being explored by science) they only last momentarily -and yet, if this could explain other sightings, too, they keep re-appearing time after time... 

If the 'head' on the picture is such a 'simulacrum', or (to avoid confusing terminology for identifying a phenomenon that is still considered enigmatic), the result of a dramatic action of the formation of a 'monster' idol in such a perfect morph that -even momentarily- looks solid, material and alive, could this be simply justified as an extremely rare random event? Wouldn't it make more sense, if such a creation was the product of an action directed by some force, a power similarly invisible and equally mysterious, even if somehow less familiar, than 'chance', that would make the result seem not random, but intentional and much more meaningful?... If such an amazing piece of art has been sculptured by natural elements (water manipulated by air), couldn't it most appropriately be called 'elemental'? And could not this arcane power that I speak of, the invisible force commanding the elements to form such magnificent shapes be the spirit of the Loch, the genius loci (or, in this case,...'lochi'), manifesting in such a shape on the waters of Loch Ness perhaps since times immemorial?


I think again of the oldest recorded tale of a 'water monster' in the area, the confrontation of St. Columba with the 'water beast' at River Ness on August 22nd 565 AD. But was it a physical monster, or rather a metaphor that "intended not to present historical events as we would understand them today but to show the power of God over forces which appear frightening, or threatening"(?)...

Could that 'force' from the influence of which St. Columba volunteered to relieve the area have been the genius loci (frequently symbolically depicted in a reptilian, or even dragon-like shape since the Roman era), the Tutelary spirit of Loch and River Ness, that had to be driven away, in his quest to purify the waters and cleanse the area of all pagan remnants in order to establish Christianity? After all, it wouldn't be the last time that someone had actually performed a religious rite trying to banish "evil Nessie" from there...

So, thankfully it seems the 'monster' didn't go away for long, at least not permanently, neither by the deeds of St.Columba, nor of Rev. Omand. And neither did the beliefs in spirits of the place, like the water-horses that have continued to be seen at Loch Ness that have later evolved to the modern sightings of the 'monster'...

Maybe it's just another one of these synchronicities, yet it's somehow intriguing to think again of Crowley who, seeking for an ideal location to invoke his 'guardian angel' had chosen a place that may be haunted by its own 'guardian spirit'; a power of nature that, as a water 'elemental', may occasionally reveal its presence by manifesting in forms that could have provided the cause behind some, if not most, of the sightings, and be the true  origin of the 'monster' legend...

This could certainly explain other accounts of strange incidents and 'ghostly' apparitions at the Loch in the modern era and it's not at all far from the idea of the shape-shifting abilities that the water horses were said to possess. And this could even explain why such elusive 'monsters' are seen in so many lakes and rivers all around the world (-and Jeremy Wade is yet to catch one at the end of his fishing line...)
A view of Urquhart castle

Communicating with the genius loc(h)i

(-Now this beautiful, surrealistic scene from The Abyss is coming to mind...).
 Although as I have shown, I find either one of the physical creature, and the manifestation of the genius loci explanations possible, as I've written in the FT article, personally, I think I would prefer the later scenario. For to participate in such an experience, to be able to witness such a manifestation, would certainly make someone feel, not just 'lucky', as it would be in the case of the rare appearance of some physical animal, but, even for a brief moment, somehow connected with the place...
It would require a witness for such manifestations to gain meaning, but the observer may actually have to be further involved in this process, otherwise we would probably have mass sightings and not just mostly independent reports and photos of brief, almost ghostly appearances. But to what extend? And exactly how does this happen? 

At the time that he wrote his study on Simulacra (Natural Likeness: Faces and Figures in Nature, 1979), Michell spoke of several contemporary examples of photographs showing faces or figures that were not present when the photograph was taken, in which the photographer recognized some personal meaning, showing that these were probably 'involuntary products' of the photographer's -or someone else's- mind. This is the basic concept of the theory of thoughtography (otherwise known as 'nensha', or, projected thermography).  Even though over the last century the most famous subjects used for demonstrating this mind ability to project images on film have at some stage been accused as fraudulent, the theory itself could explain many perplexing cases of 'paranormal' photography. It would require a certain modification of course, at least for recent examples of the digital era, due to the absence of the medium (i.e. the film), on which the images were supposed to be imprinted by this mysterious magnetic mind-force. One way to overcome this problem would be to think of an image projected not on the camera sensors, but to the point of focus, some spot at the distance within the frame that the lens actually target. Michell himself had remarked, ''The strong evidence that the appearance of photographs may be influenced by human thoughts or desires reopens the old question of the extent to which these same thoughts and desires may influence appearances in the world at large.'' 

In Quantum Mechanics we are told that the observer can alter/form the reality of what is being observed. But is this something that happens consciously and does this require the observer's focus? Or, is it possible for the observer to alter what is being observed subconsciously? 
Could I have somehow been involved in the process of shaping a 'monster head' on the waves, even if I wasn't particularly focusing on a specific spot at that time, simply by targeting it with my camera while, like all other visitors, my mind was pre-occupied with 'Nessie'?  
Well, if for one thing, I had been asked to make drawing of the ‘monster’ before my visit to Loch Ness, I would probably have left out the horns. But then again it could be that the family movie The Water Horse that I had watched a few years before had silently left in my unconscious the image of a water horse with a pair of antennas, or horns on the top of the head...  
With the present distance, it's really hard to tell. I would certainly love to have had the opportunity to experiment longer at the Loch (and in that, I envy researchers like Dick Raynor, with whom we have exchanged a few interesting thoughts, Steve Fetham, and other people who have spent many years investigating the Loch and experimenting with different ideas to try and better understand better such possible mechanisms. Until then, they will have to remain theories. 
And there have been other relevant approaches too. For example, it has been claimed that images and thoughts not only may be possible to be projected to a specific location, but they can also be recorded in an invisible energy field and then under certain conditions be reproduced by others ('observers') that visit the same place and -willingly, or unwillingly- somehow manage to efficiently tune in... 
But I really don’t believe that 'Nessie' came into being with a hoax, and I prefer a less anthropocentric view, in which man is not the originator, but the witness and interpreter. Of a dynamic universe where man and his natural environment can communicate. This idea is by no means new, in fact it is the same belief upon which all pagan religions had apparently been formed, with the various deities seen as representations, or manifestations of natural elements, energies and forces with which man could interact (-until St. Columba happened to pass from the neighbourhood). Ok, to be fair, maybe the way was not always very clear, since it usually extended to giving offerings in return of the promise of safety or favour, but that was mainly due to human misconception and error - and perhaps human nature, too...  
Under this view, both the observer and the particular place (locus), i.e. the Loch which in this case is being observed, interact with result the formation of this image, the observer's mind perhaps being not the projector, but rather the key that unlocks the code of what is being projected by the place itself. 

Then again, I wonder, shouldn't there have been more people witnessing this? I mean what is so unique about me as an observer that could have made a difference? I do believe that I have some deep connection with the place, with the Highlands, and with Scotland in general, I felt that when I was on that boat, as I've been feeling that for almost all my life, since so many years before that trip. But other than that, I don't necessarily feel 'charismatic', or 'blessed' in any way... So, how come I have returned from that trip with -a secret gift from the Highlands- a ‘Nessie’ picture in my bags? (-it seems I have beaten at least ...one man in that! :) )  
A badling of ducks obviously doing a shore training on the Loch Ness monster formation
Except, people may actually be seeing the 'monster'!... If it is indeed a manifestation of the spirit of the place, then perhaps all those sightings, even when they are obviously caused by nothing other than wakes of passing boats, strange shaped tree logs carried by the currents, ducks in a strange formation, and playful otters and seals (-and perhaps even sturgeon fish-), maybe even then, it could be this force that manipulates things and sets them in the right order for the certain impression to emerge.

...Then, again, as earlier said, it could be a real, physical, and probably exceptionally clever, creature. Each may choose whichever explanation he feels more possible, in accordance to his own beliefs.
For me, it's just great enough to have been there to capture that photo.

-Now, what was that story about a ten feet tall hairy humanoid sighted in the North American woods?...



Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου