Oddities of the Bayou: Religions and the Occult

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

The Voodoo Religion of New Orleans

Zombie standing in a dark cornfield
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

The roots of voodoo run deep with the sordid history of slavery in America, originating from the traditional West African religion of vodoun (also vodun), it further evolved once it reached Haiti and Louisiana. Louisiana voodoo—properly known as vodoun—the queens and priestesses hold the highest position within this matriarchal religion. Something that may surprise those unfamiliar with vodoun, is that it’s actually a monotheistic religion which centers around the supreme creator, Bondye (French Creole for “good god”) who controls life and destiny. Bondye manifests his will through the many loa (also lwa) present within this belief system.

Loa: Spirits of Vodoun

The loa are spirits who connect the followers of vodoun to their deity—through the use of vèvè, symbols which serve as visual representation of the loa during ritual, practitioners are able to call upon the loa for their assistance in personal matters. Despite many people not having any formal knowledge of loa or their role in the religious practices of vodoun, they would easily recognize the visage of popular spirits such as Papa Ghede and Papa Legba, if not just as cultural references that they associate with New Orleans in general.

Assortment of voodoo dolls
Photography by Wian Juanico

Misconceptions of Voodoo Dolls

Misrepresented time and time again, voodoo dolls have come to represent something far beyond the reach of what they were originally used for. Hollywood would have us convinced that they’re instruments of evil, used to control the actions of people, or otherwise wreak havoc, and destroy their lives. Except voodoo dolls are not traditionally used to cause people harm in any sense of the word. These dolls are indeed used as a physical representation of the person who is the focus of the ritual, but instead of harm, they are often used for among other things, love, success, and healing.

The Mystery of Zombification

A far cry from the stereotypical walking dead that has made the horror genre of international cinema so powerful, the origin of zombies is quite a bit more disturbing than we’re used to these days. When it comes to the origin of zombie lore, the fear isn’t derived from the idea of being the main course of a zombie feast—instead it’s the idea of being turned into a zombie. The short and sweet version? Zombies as derived from the Haitian vodun practice are actually living people, who have been chemically induced to have no free-will.

New Orleans Voodoo Display
Photography by Jane Hawkner

Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork: African American Folk Magic

Many people believe that hoodoo and voodoo are interchangeable—it’s not a tough concept to explain that while they’re similar, they’re not the same, but it still seems to be an ongoing issue of mistaken identity. Voodoo, as has been explained now, is actually a religion that utilizes the folk magic practice, whereas hoodoo is actually just a folk magic practice with no hard and fast religious affiliation, although most practitioners identify as Protestant Christians. To be clear, hoodoo is but one of the most common types of African American Folk Magic, with other practices such as conjure and rootwork being nearly interchangeable with minimal differences, other than the region in which they are practiced.

Mural, Santeria the worship of Saints
Photography by Gerhard Lipold

Santería: The Worship of Saints

Another religion that is commonly mistaken for voodoo, is Santería—a religion that also has West African origins, but was further developed in Cuba among West African descendants. One of Louisiana’s best kept religious secrets, this Yoruba based religion merged with Roman Catholicism and embraced the Catholic saints, referred to often as orishas who act as emissaries to God—Olodumare.

The Honey Island Swamp Monster

Dark and spooky swampland
Photography by Anthony Roberts

A legend known in the Bayou is that of the Honey Island Swamp Monster—a bipedal cryptid that is likened to bigfoot, but described physically as being quite dissimilar other than its stature. This grey-haired, yellow (or red, depending on the source) eyed monster is said to be a creature that was born from chimpanzees that escaped from a circus train that wrecked on the tracks, and the local alligator population.

Ozark Howler – Cryptid Lore

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Date of Discovery

The Ozark Howler sightings date back to the early 1800s in some southern regions of the United states. The earliest legend comes from Daniel Boone’s encounter with this creature. Legends say Boone fired a few shots at the creature, some say he took it home as a trophy, but little evidence supports that. The most recent sightings came in 2015 when a local resident claims to have photographed the Howler at Devil’s Den State Park.

Devils Den State Park

An imposing icon in the Arkansas Ozarks, Devil’s Den State Park boasts beautiful natural scenery and structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park contains a system of caves and underground rivers, as well as trails to surrounding forests that offer hikes and horseback riding opportunities. Lake Devil, a CCC-built dam spanning Lee Creek, also attracts fishing and boating enthusiasts.

Ozark Howler

The Ozark Howler “Howler” has racked up a list of names such as Howler and the Ozark Black Howler. Some of these creatures’ lesser-known names are the Hoo-Hoo, the Nightshade Bear, and the Devil Cat. This creature is known to live in remote areas in the Ozarks. Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas are the four states that make up the Ozark area and have the most sightings of the Howler.

The notable howl is described as eerie, violent and loud. A mixture between several creatures but none specific enough to know its true origins.

Physical Description

Ozark Howler drawing resembling a large bear with horns and claws

These creatures are typically a bear sized being, with a thick and stocky build. It’s covered with black shaggy hair, and in some reports has prominent horns near their ears. This “Howler” has glowing red eyes and the cry of a wolf’s howl, elk’s bugle, and the laugh of a hyena. Often some sightings claim this creature is a large ‘’cat-like’’ monster, but the size of a bear. Still have shaggy hair, but the tan color of a mountain lion or puma. This version does not come with horns, however. Also the “cat” version of the Howler as orangey-red glowing eyes, but the growl of a big cat rather than a true howl.

Origin

This creature has origin tales from Arkansas to Missouri, Oklahoman and Northern Texas and back, all pointing to the 1800s as its true origin date. Many believe this was a hoax to fool the cyptid community from early American folklore, while others have determined the Howlers real. Some claim this is a lost branch of the mountain lion line mix with and unknown ‘big cat’ breed. This missing link from Howler to a big cat has scientists scrambling to match the species and close this unknown link.  

The Ozark Howler is not the only cryptid to be likened to other animals such as the Sasquatch, Dogman and many others.

Mythology and Lore

Some legends state the Howler to be a growling demon stalking its prey across the country or mountainsides. Others report the Howler appearing in the distance just for a look at the passer-byes before disappearing again. The 1800s versions of the Howler telltale of people being attacked and killed; while recent tales to match. Most sightings have become passive walk byes with some strange howling or growling.

Scientists have spent years research breeding populations of big cats in the Ozark area, as well as thermal imagery in hopes of catching a reading of this creature. Many large-scale efforts have been brought to sighting location’s in multiple states, only turning up minor evidence the Howler could have been there. Paw prints and dark hairs are the only traces past blurred out pictures and local tales.  This, however, does not stop locals, researchers, and cryptid hunters from searching out the Howler. Many still comb the area in hopes of seeing this creature.

The Ozark Howler Hoax

Adding even more confusion to this creature’s tale in the late 1990s hoax. Convinced this and other legends were a hoax, an Arkansas student made it his mission to prove the cryptid community wrong. This person flooded websites and blogs with outlandish sighting stories of the Howler, as well as other legends. This made researching and proving the truth of the Howler, to be massively difficult. Scientists have since launched full investigations to get to the bottom of the Howler legend. Chad Arment even states in his book Cryptozoology that the Ozark Howler is definitely a hoax, but there is no further evidence presented.

In 2015 News Leader ran a story from a tipster, John Meyers who sent in photos that were meant to be the Ozark Howler. However, the pictures were thought to be heavily photoshopped and barely resemble the Howler legend.

John was quoted in News Leader saying “Met some family in Devil’s Den State Park this weekend for some camping,” the tipster wrote. “We were up near Yellow Rock trail head this morning and saw this thing chase a squirrel up a tree and I have never seen anything like it. It had short black fur, a broad nose and horns like a young deer but it moved like a cat and had a long tail. Don’t know what else it could be but the Howler.  It was yelping and scratching at the tree and I got this pretty good photo when it stopped and turned to look at me. Wish I had video or more photos but it disappeared too fast….You can give me a call I’m an electrician so usually available to talk for a minute.” 

The Search Continues

Today many still search for the Ozark Howler across the States, others have written this creature off completely. Unfortunately, we will have to make our own choice as to what we believe over this creature’s truth. Hopefully, in a few years, the cryptid community will be able to say for sure what is truth and what is false information. Thus giving Howler hunters a set origin and behavior to match the creature they so long to capture. This is one creature that real or not, has dug deep into American folklore of the Ozark region. It is doubtful the Howler will ever be free from humans searching it out, but it is a fun, albeit potentially dangerous, way to spend your time traveling the Ozarks.

Modern Pop-Culture References

Books & Literature about the Ozark Howler

Movies about the Ozark Howler

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Is there anything we missed about Ozark Howler? Let us know in the comments section below!

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