Mothman and Other Avian Hybrids in History
Mothman of Point Pleasant, WV
The Mothman has become an icon in West Virginia folklore. In the small town of Point Pleasant, WV a string of sighting of a winged creature during the years of 1966-1967 ended with a tragedy that claimed over forty lives. It all began in November 1966 when two young couples witnessed what they described as a man-sized human/bird hybrid. According to their description, the creature was grey in color, had red glowing eyes, and ten-foot wings. Further, witnesses described the beast as a man. Soon after, other townsfolk began reporting the same phenomena. Interestingly, Robert Smith, a wildlife biologist from WVU commented that the reports fit the sandhill crane. While not native to the region, Smith postulated that the bird had deterred from its natural migration route and was therefore misidentified by locals.
Despite this, sightings continued sporadically through 1967 until locals sighted the creature atop the Silver Bridge. On December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge collapsed claiming the lives of forty-six people. This lead to the urban legend that Mothman was the cause of the collapse. Many view him to be a harbinger of coming disaster or a type of grim reaper. Due to the popularity of the Batman television program, locals dubbed the creature “Batman.” Scholars further believe that Killer Moth from the Batman comic books is the basis for the now popular Mothman icon. Regardless of the creature’s name, a human/avian hybrid is quite common throughout the world and many historical figures and legends present similar physical features.
Human Winged Creatures of the Philippines
Folklore and oral tradition of the Indigenous peoples of the Philippines use stories of gods, heroes, and mythological creatures as a means of relating the nature of the world to its people. Such folklore is typically referred to as anitism. Moreover, this belief system, long before Christianity, held that there were three worlds. The sky world, the world of man, and the nether world. As such, birds represented the sky world while snakes represented the underworld. Philippine folklore relates the legend of the Ekek, a bird-human hybrid creature. According to oral tradition, the Ekek is a human with large wings searching in the night for victims. They feast on human flesh and blood. Legend relates that the creature is able to transform at will to seek out victims. Similar to the vampiric Manananggal, the Ekek favors sleeping pregnant women.
Conversely, the Kinnara are benevolent beings. The Kinnara in pre-colonial Philippine myth are symbols of beauty and devotion. These creatures are described as gentle beings who exhibit loyalty. Portrayed as a beautiful woman or boy with wings. Gold pieces dating from the pre-colonial period is stamped with reliefs of these beings. Legend of the Kinnaras is also prevalent in Buddhist and Hindu myth. In this respect, they represent enlightened action as half human and half bird. Buddhist texts refer to the Kinnari as the celestial musician in the Himavanta, or mythical, realm.
Tales of the Anzu are found in Mesopotamia dating to at least 2500 BCE. According to Akkadian and Sumerian mythology, Anzu is a storm bird. As recorded in the Epic of Anzu, lore states that it is a demon that is half man and half bird who stole the Tablet of Destinies from the god Enlil. This epic dates to approximately 865 BCE. Other legends in which Anzu appears is Inanna and the Huluppu Tree and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Folklore alternately describes Anzu as half lion and half bird. According to historian, Gwendolyn Leick, the Anzu was a personification of the powers of storms. As demons in ancient Mesopotamia did not mean the same as today’s Christianized demon, the meaning behind the description is one of danger rather than evil.
Ancient Egyptian Gods
Within the ancient Egyptian pantheon numerous winged gods and goddesses may be found. Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis. He is represented as possessing the head of a falcon or hawk, and the body of a man. As one of the most significant of Egyptian deities, people worshipped him from pre-historic Egypt until Roman Egypt, or 3100 BCE-641 AD. While he was not shown with wings, Horace is viewed as a sky god, as represented by his bird head. Unsurprisingly, Horus’s mother, Isis is also a sky god. Her sacred animal is a kestrel, and she was often described as having wings. Similarly, her sister, Nephthys is also depicted in this manner. In art, the goddesses are either painted as birds or birds with the heads of women. Avian-human hybrids were common within the Egyptian pantheon. This could be related to the Egyptian perception of the soul and afterlife. They believed that birds could fly between the lands of the living and the dead, as such, birds became an important theme in the early religions of Egypt.
Just as in previously mentioned cultures, the Harpies of Greek myth, were creatures of the sky. Mythology states that the Harpies were the personification of sudden sharp wind gusts and were known as the hounds of Zeus. According to legend, Harpies were dispatched by Zeus to snatch people or things from the earth. Disappearances were often blamed on the Harpies. They are described as being women with wings and the lower body of birds. Harpies feature prominently in the poetry of the time. While Hesiod describes them as beautiful, Aeschylus called them hideous creatures. Later, Dante’s Inferno included Harpies in his novel. He portrays them trapped within the forest of the seventh ring of Hell further cementing their role as malevolent creatures.
In both religious iconography and pop culture angels are heavenly creatures that appear human and possess wings. In some cases, angels are depicted as cute chubby babies with sweet little wings. However, the bible tells a different story. Biblically, angels can be broken down into four categories. First are the cherubim, who most think of as cute baby-like angels. The book of Ezekiel, however, depicts them as having four faces-only one of which is human. The other three faces are that of a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Additionally, they have four wings and gleaming bull hooves for “feet.” This description appears to be an amalgamation of various winged deities from other cultures. Interestingly, the next sect of angels, the Malakim, or messengers, are described as appearing human with no mention of wings. Scholars think artists added wings in paintings and sculpture during the fourth century to denote the magnificent nature of angels.
The Seraphim surround the throne of God and sing “holy, holy, holy.” The prophet Isaiah describes them as having six wings. Two wings with which to fly, while the others cover their heads and feet. Lastly, is the Orphanim or wheels. Again, referring back to the prophet Ezekiel, who describes these angels as interlocking gold wheels with each wheel covered in eyes. They propel themselves by floating and guard God’s throne. Such a description has been attributed to UFO sightings as opposed to angelic in origin.
Is the Mothman of Point Pleasant simply a cryptid monster or is it an ancient creature that has existed in many cultures throughout history? What is the purpose of such beings? In many cultures, they are sky beings and have been deified. As many believe that the Mothman is a harbinger of death, there is some historical backing for such belief as in the case of the Ekek or Harpies. The beings list here are only a few of the legendary beasts throughout the world. With so many cultures passing down stories of winged bird-human beings, could there be a seed of truth in these legends?
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Tyrone Luca, The Mind of Philippine Folklore, Chapter 19