What is a Lake Monster?
Nessie, the beast of Loch Ness in Inverness, Scotland is the most famous of lake monsters. Naturalist, Bengt Sjogren puts forth the theory that modern Lake monsters derive from earlier stories about water kelpies. Water kelpies have their roots in Scottish folklore and are described as shape-shifting water spirits inhabiting bodies of water. Kelpies take one of two traditional forms. The first is a horse like water spirit and the other is comparable to a mermaid. In both forms, the kelpie is known to drag victims to the watery depths. Sjorgren goes on to claim that through history, accounts of water beasts have changed. For example, older reports describe the beasts as having horse-like features, while modern accounts tend to report more reptilian features. Scholars believe this shift in reported appearances is the result of the popularization of dinosaurs and aquatic reptiles within science and pop culture. One example of this is the comparison of “Nessie” to a relic plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs lived during the Jurassic period and are characterized by a long serpent like neck, long tail, and four flippers. Conversely, Radford and Nickell point to such sightings as beaver misidentification. Regardless, stories of lake monster span the globe and date as far back at least to 1345 CE with other legends going back farther and combined into oral tradition.
The Tale of the Lagarfljot Wyrm
Lagarfljót Lake, a freshwater lake, located in Egilsstaðir, Iceland is home to the Lagarfljót Wyrm. The lake sits next to Iceland’s largest forest and is near to the third largest waterfall in the country. The first recorded sighting was in 1345 CE (Common Era), although the sighting was not written down until the 15th century in the Icelandic Annals. However, the lake is well known for strange phenomenon and monsters besides the Wyrm. In the Icelandic Annals, the wyrm is described as a “wonderful thing” which appeared as islands or humps rising from the water. The humps were estimated to be hundreds of fathoms apart from one another yet neither a head nor tail could be seen. Through history, there were other mentions of the wyrm, most predominately in the 16th to 17th century. Most notably is the 1585 map by Abraham Ortelius on which is inscribed a warning note that the lake holds a monster which poses a threat to the people around the lake. Interestingly, in 2012, a local farmer caught the beast on video. An Icelandic panel accepted the video as evidence of the monster’s existence. To view the video please follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OmyyHyya64
Origins of the Lake Tota Monster
Living in the Lake Tota region of Columbia, South America, the Muisca people have woven a tale of the lake monster into their origin story. The Muisca peoples have lived in the Lake Tota area since 600BCE. Their legend states that long ago a Tribal priest created the lake while attempting to exorcise an evil serpent spirit from a large deep crater so that his people may have rain and grow crops. During the exorcism, a large lake formed in the crater and became known as Lake Tota, but the monster remained. The local tribes people call it diablo ballena, or the Devil Whale. While oral tradition spans centuries, the earliest written reference of the monster dates to 1676 by conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. He described the monster as a fish with the head of an ox and larger than a whale. Prior to Quesada’s report, the myth of the monster was passed down orally through the generations. Within the context of the Muisca creation myth, the beast is also described as a dragon. According to scholar, Mariana Escribano, the dragon may be seen as a divine archetypal animal. Further, dragons are associated with rain in numerous cultures around the world. The monster has been viewed in the centuries since then and recorded in well documented journals by explorers, teachers, and doctors.
Inkanaymba of the Falls
Located in Howick Falls, South Africa lies the monster Inkanaymba. Quite similar in description to other lake monsters is Inkanaymba. In English, Inkanaymba translates to the deity of tornadoes. He lives beneath the waterfall and legend describes it as a serpent with a horse’s head and cow horns. The Zulu tribe claims the monster is most active during the summer months. According to oral tradition, the monster flies out of the water and brings strong rains to the area. As such, the waters of the lake below the falls are sacred and only the tribal healers have permission to approach the waters. Further, it is said that the beast has a fierce temper and is therefore extremely dangerous. Viewing the cave drawings of the monster, archaeologists have described them as rain animals or archetypes. While a seeming folk tale of the Zulu people, it cannot be ignored that park rangers and caretakers have observed the creature as well.
Bear Lake Monster of the USA
Native American tribes living in the Bear Lake region were the first to hand down stories to the beast. So afraid of the beast, the native peoples would not go near the water’s edge. Like the Muisca in South America, the Indigenous people called the Bear Lake Monster a water devil. Bear Lake, resting on the Utah-Idaho border, USA, is home to a monster. The Shoshone tribe relate that the monster kidnapped and carried away their people. The description of the creature brings to mind images of a dragon. Indigenous peoples and other witnesses describe it as snake-like with a thin head and wide mouth. It has small legs and moves quickly through the water. The earliest written account of the creature dates to 1868. An article in the Desert News reported that white settlers in the region had seen it with their own eyes. A group of witnesses claimed that the beast was approximately ninety feet long and moved faster than any known animal. They further claimed that the wake of the monster was the size of a horse. Such sightings continue to this day.
Nessie’s Cousin Morag
Located in Loch Morar, Scotland, lives the lake monster, Morag. Between 1887 and 1981 there have been thirty-four reported sightings with at least sixteen involving multiple witnesses. Morag is affectionately known as Nessie’s lesser-known cousin. Folklorist, Alexander Carmichael, gathered stories of Morag from locals living along the loch. Published at the turn of the twentieth century, the eyewitness accounts reflect a conflicting view. Some witnesses report Morag as a mermaid with long flowing hair while others deem it as a death omen. Yet simultaneously, she is beautiful but appears heralding the death of a local resident. Dr. Stewart, senior researcher of the Carmichael Watson project at Edinburgh library, upon finding the texts of the folklorist, reflects that there is clearly something going on at Loch Morar. He goes on to relate that such texts are invaluable and exciting as they show that beyond Nessie, there were other lake monsters being reported.
Could Lake Monsters Exist?
This is but a small sampling of Lake Monsters from around the world. The stories come from various corners of the globe, diverse cultures, and different scopes of context, yet share remarkable similarities. Sightings of the creatures both at these areas listed and others continue to this day. Yes, a lake monster can be a wonderful stream of revenue for a town, and it is possible that misidentification can explain away some sightings. However, through history, assuming that people who spoke different languages, and had no way of contacting one another could possibly all misidentify a creature in exactly the same manner seems a slim chance. The most obvious, yet frightening answer, is that lake monsters do exist.
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Sjögren, Bengt (1980). Berömda vidunder (in Swedish). Settern. ISBN 91-7586-023-6.
Radford, Ben; Nickell, Joe (May 2006). Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures. University Press of Kentucky.
Úlfar Bragason; Baldur A. Sigurvinsson; Guðrún Theodórsdóttir (2004). "Egilsstaðir". Carry On Icelandic. Reykjavík: Sigurður Nordal Institute.
Storm, Gustav, ed. (1888). "V. Skalholts-Annaler (D) 1344–1345". Islandske annaler indtil 1578. Grøndahl & søns bogtrykkeri. p. 211.
(in Spanish) Antonio Alcedo, 1789, Diccionario geográfico-histórico de las Indias Occidentales ó América Tomo V, S. 187, citation= pez grande
Regional Knowledge Sharing Exchange Visit (PDF) (Report). Pemba, Mozambique: Global Adaptation Network, Durban Adaptation Charter, United Nations. 25 November 2016.
Rich, Joseph C. (3 August 1868). "Correspondence: Monster of Bear Lake". Deseret Evening News.