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.

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The Honey Island Swamp Monster of Louisiana

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Dark and spooky swampland
Photography by Anthony Roberts

Louisiana is rife with local folklore, particularly stemming from the untouched acres of the Honey Island Swamp just a short drive from New Orleans. These legends are of the pirates of the Bayou who were said to have hidden buried treasures, Native American ghosts, and the mysterious green lights that lure unsuspecting night travelers into the depths of the swamp, never to be seen again. These are just a few examples of all of the stories that are hidden in the unfathomable depths of the Louisiana swamps, which is home to the Honey Island Swamp Monster.

In August of 1963, Harlan Ford—a retired air traffic controller—was the first to catch sight of the bigfoot of the Bayou, having recently taken up wildlife photography. He described this seven-foot-tall, bipedal creature as being covered in grey hair, with yellow or red inhuman eyes set deep into its primatial face. The air hangs thick around this swamp monster, with an odor of rotting, decaying flesh—a smell so distinctive and disgusting that it would warn anyone of its presence.

The Honey Island Swamp Monster
Honey Island Swamp Monster

In 1974, the Honey Island Swamp Monster gained fame nationally, after Ford and his associate Billy Mills claimed to have found footprints that weren’t like any other creature in the area—these footprints according to myth, and a chance casting of a footprint found by these two men were at between ten to twelve inches long with three webbed toes, along with an opposable digit that was set much farther back than the others. Along with the luck of finding this footprint and casting it, they found the body of a wild board whose throat had been gashed open just a short way away. For the next six years, until his death in 1980, Ford continued to hunt for the creature—after his passing, a reel of Super 8 film was found among the belongings he had left behind, this film supposedly showed proof of the creature’s existence.

In the early twentieth century, before the first reported sighting of the Honey Island Swamp Monster by Ford, there was a legend of a traveling circus—traveling by train, a catastrophic wreck resulted in the escape of a group of chimpanzees. These chimpanzees were said to have gone deep into the swamps and interbred with the local alligator population. The Native Americans who called the area home, referred to the creature as the Letiche—they knew it as carnivorous, living both on land and in water—they believed this creature had originated as an abandoned child, raised by alligators in the darkest, most untouched regions of the swamp.

The Honey Island Swamp Monster caught on Super 8 Video footage

Researchers who have studied the lore of the Honey Island Swamp Monster, believe that it is related to Bigfoot—one reason that it is often referred to as the Bigfoot of the Bayou. While their description is similar, the tracks do not resemble those collected of Bigfoot from the Pacific North West. Despite the reputable nature of Ford and Mills, there have been a number of shows that have focused on hunting down the Honey Island Swamp Monster in order to prove the existence of this cryptid—all of them have come down on the side of the whole thing being a hoax, which isn’t entirely surprising.

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Tornit

Date of Discovery

While the actual date of discovery is unknown, due to the historically oral tradition that it originated from. It is said that these creatures have existed in story-form since before the Bering Land Bridge, which dates back at least 20,000 years.

Name

The Tornit is likened to the Bigfoot or Sasquatch of the contiguous United States, as well as parts of Canada. It is the Alaskan counterpart, known well in the Inuit culture, that goes by the names of Tornit, Alaska Bushman, or simply Bushman.

Physical Description

More suited for an arctic climate, it resembles the Bigfoot quite a bit in its visage, like giants who are ape-like in demeanor with longer arms and a body covered in a thick dark brown hair, or fur. It stands an intimidating seven feet tall and possessed a strength that was infamous amongst the Inuit people.

Origin

The Tornit stems from the Inuit culture, an indigenous culture of the arctic circle, but since there is no written history of this culture before the late 1800s, only the cultural anthropological studies done on the Inuit tribes during that time can be relied upon for information on their origin. We see that most of the accounts of these stories coming from Newfoundland and Labrador, which reference the modern-day Baffin Bay in Greenland.

Mythology and Lore

They were feared as brutish thieves and killers, although there is some folklore where they were painted as being shy, making themselves scarce, and doing their utmost to avoid encounters with the Inuit people. In the most popular versions of the oral tales, storytellers would talk of these hairy giants that would stalk their villages until nighttime, to steal their food and kayaks—the most important things that these communities possessed. They also spoke of how these creatures would murder villagers who may have gotten in their way.

There are stories that depict the Tornit species as being these murderous villains that they were known widely to be, but there were also stories that spoke the opposite of their character. Alternate versions of the tale suggest that the Tornit would get away with their thievery, but would be tracked back to their own villages where all of the Tornit present, male, female, and any children would be slaughtered by the individual native who had the most stolen from him.

Never to be confused with being an overly intelligent species of humanoid, the overall idea of them can be considered oafish in nature, but not necessarily murderous so much as protective, defensive, or vengeful creatures—possessing only the baser instincts of survival. In certain regions where the Inuit tribes thrived, there were still less popular stories where Tornit and native women intermarried and lived peacefully with those who came and went within their territory.

Modern Pop-Culture References

While not necessarily modern in nature, these books convey the stories of the Inuit people that these creatures originated from.

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Yowie

Date of Discovery

First reported in Sydney by a man in 1790, before being identified as the Yowie, Modern Geography: A Description of the Empires, Kingdoms, States, and Colonies: With the Oceans, Seas, and Isles: In All Parts of the World was published by John Pinkerton in 1804. The Yowie was really only entered into the written record by name in 1875, as used among the Kámilarói people, by Reverend William Ridley in his book, “Kámilarói and Other Australian Languages.” It is clear, however, that like many other oral cultures and traditions, this cryptid was a part of the culture long before it was used withing Ridley’s texts.

Name

The name Yowie, or Yō-wī as the Kámilarói people, is said to translate into, “a spirit that roams over the earth at night,” but it’s unclear when and where this term began to be used to describe unidentified Australian hominids. This creature is also known as the hairy man and Yahoos.

Yowie walking through a mountainous landscape
Artwork by Lizard King

Physical Description

Within Pinkerton’s book, there is a side-comment about a population of Aborigines that shared Sydney Harbor with another “tribe,” but the people of this tribe were not Aborigines themselves–they were described as creatures with flat-noses and wide nostrils, they also had thick eyebrows and sunken eyes. It also said that their mouths were of “prodigious width,” with a prominent jawline and thick lips. The Aborigines of the area considered them as a separate people entirely–here they were called Yahoos or Yowies, which translated to “hairy people.”

Eye-witnesses to the Yowie have created sketches of what they believe they encountered and all of which depicted a strong, large, and hairy, eight-foot-tall man, who has a fairly flat face, large eyes and nostrils, as well as a reddish-brown coat of fur. These creatures possess an aggressive nature when they feel threatened, or when their territory is being encroached upon.

Photographic evidence of their footprints shows that they often have six toes and are near twice the size of an adult male human’s foot in length and width.

The Yowie is essentially the Australian version of the American Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch, or Tornit.

There is actually a second physical account of the Yowie in Australia, which leads many hunters to believe there are actually two separate species of Yowie. The first, which was described above refers to the Gigantopithecus which is between six and ten feet tall, often weighing up to one thousand pounds. The second, smaller species of Yowie is said to be between four and five feet tall, but many people believe that this could be an ancient species of hominid that has somehow avoided extinction.

Origin

The Yowie has roots in Aboriginal oral history and is the folkloric creature of the Outback; the Kuku Yalanji Tribe of the far north Queensland is said to have coexisted with the Yowie for centuries. This is reminiscent of the Inuit tribe and the Tornit of Baffin Bay, Canada, who also have a long oral history of attacks by the Yowie of legend.

Yowie Statue in Yowie Park, Kilcoy, Queensland
Photography by Somersetpedia.paul

Mythology and Lore

Dean Harrison, a famous Yowie hunter believes that over the years there have been thousands of sightings of the Yowie. In particular, the Blue Mountains in New South Wales seems to be a hot zone for Yowie sightings, along with the Sunshine and Gold coasts of Queensland, and most recently the Mandurah area in Western Australia. They tend to prefer thick bush and are excellent at camouflaging themselves, inhabiting the area of the eastern seaboard along the Great Dividing Range.

These creatures can be incredibly far roaming but are said to have a territory that they operate in family units. So why isn’t there any physical evidence of these creatures? It is believed that due to the tendencies of Yowie to live within family units, that they operate as a community, and take care of their dead; this would leave no physical evidence of them to be blatantly evident.

https://youtu.be/BwVo7zb9r2c

Modern Pop-Culture References

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

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