We’ve all heard of the Loch Ness Monster, but what about all of the other lake-dwelling creatures? We do a deep dive (Get it? Because lake monsters?) into what lurks in the deep around the world. Hear about the motivation of monsters, what our ideal Thai supernatural soap opera would look like, and our hypothesis on ocean vs. lake creatures.
Amanda’s recommendation this week is the podcast, Just Break Up.
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Spirits was created by Julia Schifini, Amanda McLoughlin and Eric Schneider. We are founding members of Multitude, a production collective of indie audio professionals. Our music is "Danger Storm" by Kevin MacLeod (http://incompetech.com), licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.
Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is episode 119, Lake Monsters.
Julia: Lake monsters. Get ready for this. I can't even tell you what we are going to talk about in this episode, because we haven't talked about it yet. We're doing this in order for once.
Amanda: Normally, we record episodes a few weeks in advance, and then do the intro a couple days before the episode goes out, but in this case, because I got a concussion recently, and have needed to work much less, we are a little bit more on the-
Julia: Loosey goosey.
Amanda: Yeah, a little more synchronous. I'm excited about this, because I have a couple of personal stories, and I'm looking forward to sharing them.
Julia: I'm very excited. I built that into the intro not knowing that you had personal stories, but I'm excited for it.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: Also, give everyone an update. Let them know you're doing okay with your concussion.
Amanda: Oh yes. I'm doing okay. I'm not drinking this episode. I'm having a cup of strong PG Tips, English breakfast tea. Yeah. I am doing fine. Thank you for your well wishes. I just have to be a lot more efficient and work a lot less, which is challenging, but no, I'm on the road to recovery.
Julia: Okay, good. I, personally, have made myself a cucumber gin fizz, because I feel like it's the perfect drink to have at a lakeside-
Amanda: Oh, I love that.
Julia: ... while you look for monsters.
Amanda: Listen, any drink with the word fizz in the title, I'm pretty behind.
Julia: That's fair.
Amanda: Now, I would definitely want to recline by the lakeside with our newest patrons, Kira, Garrick, Sebastian, and Casey, and our supporting producer level patrons, who always bring their own gin fizz, and you're like, "You don't have to do that," but they just do, because they're that good. Phillip, Julie, Eeyore, Christopher, Alicia, Cathy, Vinny, Danica, Marissa, Sammy, Josie, Neal, Jessica, Phil Fresh, and Debra.
Julia: You all have my heart, and my heart is full of gin.
Amanda: Our legend-level patrons may have hearts full of gin, but they also have heads full of great ideas. Sarah P., James, Jess, Sarah T., Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie, and Liam.
Julia: Amanda, I think it's your recommendation this week, too.
Amanda: Yes. I have been making my way through the back catalog. With concussions, you cannot watch TV, or read, or look at your devices, or do most of the things that most of us do all day long. I have been doing jigsaw puzzles and listening to podcasts, which is an extremely calming activity. I've been making my way through the back catalog of this advice podcast called Just Break Up, which I really love. It's two very good friends talking kind of real talk with each other, and giving people relationship advice.
I'm in a loving relationship, and have no need of advice, but I really enjoy hearing what they have to say about people's problems. They just are very kind of affirming, and tell people to have good boundaries, and are very empathetic. I don't know, it's just it's relaxing. I love hearing their friendship, and it is very wonderful. I think I actually heard about it from Ellie, from our La Llorona episode.
Julia: Oh, nice.
Amanda: Ellie is the bomb, and this podcast, Just Break Up.
Julia: Ellie just gives the best recommendations. I love it.
Amanda: I know.
Julia: I love it so much.
Amanda: I know. We would also love to thank our two sponsors for this episode. LOLA, our providers of organic cotton tampons, pads, liners, and more. The code Spirits will get you 40% off any of their subscriptions at MyLOLA.com. Also, Chegg is something I needed in college, a leader in online study assistance. For five dollars off of your first month, go to Chegg, C-H-E-G-G.com/Spirits and use the promo code Spirits.
Amanda: We are so glad to have Chegg on as a new sponsor, and LOLA back as an old friend.
Julia: I think, do we have anything else to tell the people, Amanda?
Amanda: You may be hearing a familiar voice coming up soon on join the party, where we have been having several very exciting guest stars, some old, some new. If you like Multitude, you're going to like people who are coming up next, so please go ahead in your podcast player, just type Multitude and subscribe to join the party. There are episodes to catch up on. You don't have to binge the whole thing if you don't want, but it is very fun. We are doing some incredible, new, exciting, creative stuff. I think it's just getting better and better, which is pretty exciting for a show that's been going on for almost two years.
Julia: Yeah. It's true. There's some very cool stuff coming up. I can't give anything away because spoilers, but it's going to be a lot of fun.
Amanda: Without further ado, please enjoy, and we're about to enjoy, episode 199, Lake Monsters.
Julia: So Amanda, I want to know. What do you know about lake monsters?
Amanda: Well Julia, obviously there's a Loch Ness Monster, right? That's the King Kamehameha of lake monsters, but also, my grandparents live up near Lake Champlain in upstate New York, so I have heard the tale of Champy.
Julia: Tell me the tale of Champy, please.
Amanda: Just that there has been sightings of potential large shapes and forms, and nice graceful necks in Lake Champlain, which is a very long lake that you cross by ferry to get between Upstate New York and Vermont. It's a beautiful area, and there have been sightings of the monster that people have nicknamed Champy.
Julia: I just love the description of long graceful necks.
Amanda: Right? I mean, when I think of the Loch Ness Monster, I think of that, like there's that one photo that's definitely a kid's bath toy of that soup spoon-style neck, and then there's the sibilant snake back.
Julia: Yeah. I think at one point we gave our legend-level patrons tea holders that were shaped like lake monsters, like Nessie.
Amanda: Yeah. So cute. I love that so much.
Julia: Yeah. Like you said, Amanda, there are a lot of lake monsters. You have Champy. You got Nessie. You got a lot of different ones, but I think a lot of the focus tends to be on ones from either the UK, or North America, and I could probably do an entire episode on Nessie. I could do a two-parter, probably, on Nessie, but everyone's done that. Everyone's done Nessie.
Amanda: Also, I'm pretty sure that right now on the History Channel, there is some kind of documentary about Nessie.
Julia: There always is. Give it every two or three years, there's always a new documentary on Nessie, which is great. There's a lot of content there, but I want to go outside of the UK and North America, and talk about lake monsters from around the world.
Amanda: I want to hear about them.
Julia: I will say we're going to do one quickly in Canada just because I really like it, and it's very cute, and they have a very good name. Then we're going to get to the rest of the world, okay?
Amanda: All right. I'm excited. I think the names are going to be my favorite part, so I'm very excited. They're very, very good.
Julia: The Canadian lake monster I want to talk about first is Ogopogo. Have you heard of Ogopogo before?
Julia: I'm going to share a photo with you real quick in the chat.
Amanda: Hold on. The link is redirecting. Wow. It's so cute. Blep.
Julia: He's got a little blep. He's got a little bit like antlers or pointy ears or something. It's very cute. Anyway.
Amanda: He looks like the little brother of a giant dragon.
Julia: Yes, he does. So, the debate over whether Ogopogo is a literal lake monster or a water spirit is kind of been a really pressing issue, but he is said to live in Okanagan Lake, which is on, I believe, the west coast of Canada. The name Ogopogo is traced back to a song that was written in 1924. Here are the lyrics. His mother was an earwig. His father was a whale. A little bit of head and hardly any tail, and Ogopogo was his name.
Amanda: Oh, so cute. Oh my god.
Julia: The original First Nations name for the creature was Naitaka, or the spirit of the lake. There are First Nation records of Ogopogo sightings since at least the 19th century, while sightings by white people were not recorded until 1946, where about 30 cars of people claimed to see the same 40 to 50-foot long sea serpent in the lake.
Amanda: That is a very long monster. That's not just I saw a shadow in the middle of the lake. That is something very big and distinctive.
Julia: Yes. It's a long monster, and it's also, that's 30 cars' worth of people that saw the same thing.
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, you can dismiss histories or legends all you want, but when several people are like, "Oh, no. This specifically is what I saw," I think that becomes harder to brush off.
Julia: Yeah, and you can't really blame that on, oh, it was a shadow of this at that time because people were probably seeing it from multiple angles and stuff like that. You have to admit something was in the lake at that time.
Julia: The creature that they reported seeing was said to be dark, multi-humped, and either green, black, brown, or gray, which could be anything. It's a lake colors.
Amanda: I know. I've been doing a lot of jigsaw puzzles, as I said, and as the light shifts in my apartment, I'm like, "Oh no. Wait. I thought all these pieces were blue. They are green instead." So, specifically in that color family, I know that's a very strange reference, but I have been dealing with that over the last couple of days, and I don't know. I always was jealous of kids in middle school who are like, "You know, my eyes are blue but sometimes green in the light."
Julia: Oh, god.
Amanda: I'm like, "Okay. Go fuck yourself."
Julia: Mine are brown, and then also brown. Thank you.
Amanda: Yep. Just like my hair, my eyes are brown.
Julia: Ogopogo's head is supposed to resemble that of either a snake, a sheep, a horse, a seal, and even in later years, an alligator.
Amanda: I was going to be like, "Okay, all heads are roughly the same shape," but this alligator and seal? That's a pretty wide range.
Julia: I feel like mammalian versus reptilian is quite a spread to cover.
Amanda: Yeah, definitely.
Julia: He is also sometimes said to have either perky ears or horns. I like the idea of a sea monster with deer antlers. I don't know why.
Amanda: I mean, I feel like the more elaborate the antlers get, the creepier it is, but you see in anime little cute dragon horns sometimes. I can get behind that.
Julia: I feel. I'm with you there. Ogopogo has had many sightings throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, actually. The most recent being in September of 2018 when three different sightings occurred, again confirming that giant serpentine snakelike appearance of around 50 feet.
Amanda: That is long and recent.
Julia: Yes. That's very recent, and should concern people.
Amanda: Not how I prefer my cryptids. Cryptids should be small and in the past.
Julia: Small and at least the most recent sighting should be in the '50s, ideally.
Amanda: Yeah. Though I guess, then we're getting into a horror movie reboot scenario where the grandchild of Champy is back with a vengeance to protest pollution.
Julia: I'd watch that movie.
Amanda: I know you would.
Julia: For sure.
Amanda: I would too.
Julia: Moving away from our well-known lake monsters in Western society, we're going to move onto Asia for some really cool ones.
Amanda: Let's do it.
Julia: The first one on my list is one of my favorites. It is Phaya Naga, who is said to live in the waters of Bueng Khong Long Lake in Thailand. Phaya's name Literally translates to lord of the naga, which I think we talked about a little bit in the past, but these are mythical serpents. Phaya is said to be semi-divine in Thai folklore, and occupies the border between the human world and the spirit world.
Julia: Stories go that the unnatural waves in Bueng Khong Long's water are actually caused by Phaya swimming through the water. However, universities in the area have studied the phenomenon, and have attributed the movement of the water to standing waves. Do you know what standing waves are?
Julia: I did some intense physics research for this part because I'm like, "I don't know what the fuck that is." Apparently, standing waves are waves that oscillate in time, but the peak amplitude does not move in space. So, I'm bad at science in general and physics specifically, but a good example of it is when you see people either surfing or riding waves in rapids. The waves themselves aren't moving in position, but they're constantly in motion.
Amanda: I thought it was the opposite where the wave will pass, but the peak always happens in the same place.
Julia: Yeah. No. It's like if the peak of a wave was constantly at its peak, but the water is cycling through it.
Amanda: I really like that as an indicator of a potential monster, spirit, cryptid because you don't always have to see the creature to be like, there's ... It's like deduction. It's like reading a crime scene for clues. There's something very unusual happening, and your mind jumps to some kind of explanation.
Julia: Yeah. Our monkey brain is like, "Water not supposed to move like that. Water bad."
Amanda: It looks challenging. Yeah.
Julia: Interestingly, for a lake monster, Phaya are protector spirits. They're associated with Laos, and in particular being protectors of the capital city, and then the Laos state as a whole. This is very weird. It is even said that the police department around Bueng Khong Long actually are in contact with Phaya, but the police are kind of tight-lipped as to either how or why they're able to contact them.
Amanda: Give me that TV show. I want it.
Julia: Wouldn't that be so good?
Amanda: I want it.
Julia: Amanda, just wait. Just wait. You want that TV show? Just wait.
Amanda: Oh, boy.
Julia: I'll get to it in a second. There are news segments from 2011 about the police relationship with Phaya, but they're in Thai with no translations, so I can't really suss out the details. There are also apparently, as you rightly guessed, a lot of Thai soap operas about Phaya.
Julia: Now I just want to take a moment. Amanda, let's take a moment and plot out what our Phaya soap opera would look like.
Amanda: I mean, obvious, obvious idea is a romance, right? Cross-species, cross humans and mythology.
Julia: Getting into the full monster-fucker territory. I got you.
Amanda: Or just like a pure love, a pure love. I'm not going to judge. That would be wonderful, or I think moreover is together combating the forces of evil, the state, the existing protections of the land that go way back. I am just very here for cross-departmental collaboration in the political and mythological spheres.
Julia: I'm picturing it as Castle, but with Phaya.
Amanda: Yeah. That's very good. Very good.
Julia: And Nathan Fillion is not in it.
Amanda: Can someone explain to me why the show Whiskey Tango or whatever bullshit is just alternate younger Castle?
Julia: I haven't watched that show.
Amanda: Whiskey Cavalier. That's what it's called.
Julia: I have no idea what that is.
Amanda: There have been incessant commercials for it on the YouTube TV account that I share with Eric Schneider where I get to see a lot of Cleveland local news, and it's extremely charming, but no. I just saw it recently, and I'm like, "Come on. We did this already."
Julia: Just because Nathan Fillion got a little older doesn't mean you had to cancel his show.
Amanda: Yeah. Anyway, I'm super curious to hear from any Thai listeners with experience of this myth, and what the perception is.
Julia: Yeah, please. Another East Asian lake monster that I would like to talk about, Amanda, is the Lake Tianchi Monster, which is located in Heaven Lake in the mountain ranges between North Korea and China.
Amanda: Okay. What's the myth?
Julia: Heaven Lake is located at the peak of Baekdu Mountain, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I will send you pictures later. It is a crater lake that is on top of this mountain, and I just, I really want-
Amanda: The coolest kind of lake. The coolest kind of lake.
Julia: I really want to visit it real bad. It looks beautiful.
Amanda: Yes. My sister lives in Hawaii. They have those there. I want it.
Julia: Anyway, the Lake Tianchi Monster is a bit different from most other lake monsters that we'll hear about in this roundup because it seems like there are many versions of it, and most of them are not the traditional fish serpent-esque lake monster that we usually see.
Julia: The first reported sighting of the Lake Tianchi Monster was in 1903, and it actually looked to be kind of similar to a huge buffalo monster, like a water buffalo, that charged out of the lake, attacked three people, and then was shot by a witness in the area, and retreated back to the lake, under the water, and was not seen again.
Amanda: I didn't expect that.
Julia: No. Me either. I feel like, for the area, water buffalo makes sense, you know?
Amanda: Yeah, definitely. If you picture, I don't know. I'm used to seeing buffalo depicted in that diorama at the Natural History Museum or in photos-
Julia: Or bison-style.
Amanda: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly, or a big, flat landscape, some of which might be standing water. I don't know. To me, a crater lake, I picture just long, and flat, and very wide. So, to see something coming charging up over the distance, something about it is plausible.
Julia: Yeah. That would stress me out. I feel like out of all of the water monster, lake monster attacks that we'll talk about in this episode, this one probably would stress me the most out.
Amanda: Really? I feel like I can take an animal on land, but something that can swim, that's not my area.
Julia: I mean, it almost reminds me of the kelpie story in a way because it's just a horse that comes charging out, and then it touches you, and it drags you back in the water, and then drowns you and eats you.
Amanda: Yeah, but you're not a six-year-old who is like, "I can do manual labor, or I can fuck around by the lake," and so then you get dragged to hell.
Julia: I don't know, man. I'd probably pick fuck around by the lake over manual labor even as a not-six-year-old. In 1962, several people reported seeing two monsters chasing each other in the water. The appearance was not determined other than the shape of the creatures being just basically unlike any other animal.
Amanda: Plot twist. Two?
Julia: Yeah, two of them.
Amanda: That's true. All these monsters are so solitary. Give them a family, y'all.
Julia: I know. Yeah. I want more friends of lake monsters.
Amanda: Listen, there's nothing wrong with living your life as a solo monster out there on the town making your life, but sometimes companionship is good. Give them a friend.
Julia: Yeah. One person in particular had a great view of the monsters because they had a telescope, but the reports were really not further explored. Sightings have continued into the 2000s, though the appearance of the creature has changed in recent years. Now the creature is reported to be gray-skinned and smooth, no longer resembling that buffalo of the original sighting, which I guess if it's occupying water for a very long time-
Julia: ... it probably wouldn't have fur anymore, or it wouldn't be as prominent fur, assuming it's the same creature.
Amanda: Maybe it's aging and now it's bald.
Julia: Aw, that's kind of a cute. It is also said that the monster now has a human-like head with a long, extended neck. Again, your graceful swan neck.
Amanda: No. Don't like it.
Julia: And it is said that it has a white ring around the bottom of its neck, so where the neck meets the rest of the body.
Amanda: Interesting. The more specific the details are, the more my brain is like, "That's pretty plausible."
Julia: Oh, I have a video for you as I continue on with this next segment. Give me one moment.
Amanda: What a multimedia extravaganza this episode is.
Julia: This is a good one. Well, if you're going to talk about lake monsters, you've got to have your proof, and photos, and whatnot.
Amanda: I like how this file is titled Dino 46.
Julia: GIF, correct. As you watch this, so a Chinese TV reporter in 2007 claimed to have taken a video of the creatures saying that, quote, "They could swim as fast as yachts, and at times they would all disappear in the water. Their fins, or maybe wings, were longer than their bodies. It was impressive to see them all acting at exactly the same pace, as if someone was giving orders." The reporter claimed that they were seal-like creatures, and there were six in total.
Amanda: I mean, it looks like a flying V of geese. That's really interesting.
Julia: So, you want to know what the problem is with the Lake Tianchi Monster?
Julia: The water of Heaven Lake is said to be too cold for life, and that the nearby volcanic activity makes the area hazardous to animal life.
Amanda: Yeah, unless it's fucking bottom of the ocean, deep-sea angler fish, like volcanic bacteria motherfuckers who are just really good at surviving.
Julia: That's true. I think the argument would be at that level of acidity in the water, and the coldness of the water, something as large as the monster probably wouldn't be able to survive.
Amanda: In terms of life as we know it.
Julia: That's true. Science always surprises us. Skeptics claim that people are seeing probably more likely floating volcanic rock in the water than actual living creatures, but again, if that video is accurate, volcanic rock wouldn't just be moving around like that.
Amanda: It did look like some creatures propelling themselves. That was really interesting.
Julia: Yeah. I think the video is slightly compelling. I think the organization of the movement could be called into question, but at the same time-
Julia: We're going to move on to Japan now, and this is kind of a sweet story, but this is about Issie. So, she is the lake monster of Lake Ikeda in Kyushu Island. She was once a white mare, a beautiful horse, that had a little foal that would never leave her side.
Amanda: Oh, no.
Julia: They lived together on the shores of Lake Ikeda. One day, a samurai came to the lake and saw the foal. Needing a new horse and seeing a perfect specimen of a horse, he steals away the foal.
Julia: Issie is unable to find her child when she returns from drinking from the lake, and she is completely distraught. In her despair, she jumps into the lake and is transformed into a giant serpent beast. She frequently comes to the surface of the lake, it is said, so that she can try and find her lost child, and take revenge on the samurai that took her.
Amanda: Badass. Also, please don't just take horses from their moms.
Julia: That's bad. Don't do that.
Amanda: So sad. I love that her name rhymes with the Nessie, Champy construction that we're used to.
Julia: Great, and that's actually a really common thing. If we were in more predominantly English-speaking areas for this roundup, we would see a lot more of that, like for instance Champy. There's the Lake Tahoe one, I think, is called Tessie or something like that. Despite the mythology behind the story, there haven't been too, too many reported sightings. At least, not until the 1900s. The first reported photograph was in 1978 with about 20 other people claiming to have seen the creature at the same time that the photograph was taken.
Julia: They described Issie as being black and having two humps that were about 16 feet long each. In 1991, someone got footage of the creature, but this time she was about 30 feet in length, but the footage was dismissed for probably being large eels that live in the lake and are local to the area.
Amanda: I mean, also completely terrifying and I don't want to be in a lake with those.
Julia: Yeah. Probably not, but Issie is probably the sweetest origin story of any of the lake monsters, I feel like.
Amanda: Yeah, especially that idea of going from a regular horse, you jump in the water, and then suddenly your grief is made manifest, and your determination to get your child back. There's something really moving about that.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah, there is. We're going to head out of Asia now, but first, I want to go get a refill.
Amanda: Let's do it.
Julia: Hey, Amanda.
Julia: We just recently got back from our Portland trip, and as it happens, usually when we go on trips, that's the instant that my period comes.
Amanda: You know, it's something about like, "Hey, you're going to be on an airplane for seven hours? I know what you need right now."
Julia: You need lots of blood, but I was super lucky because I had just gotten an order in from LOLA. LOLA is our sponsor this week. Hey, LOLA, and LOLA is great. The FDA doesn't require brands to disclose a comprehensive list of their ingredients on sanitary products, and therefor most companies don't, but LOLA offers complete transparency about the ingredients in their tampons, pads, liners, and wipes, and as someone who wants to think about the things that I'm putting inside my body, that's very, very helpful for me.
Amanda: Yeah. You can definitely tell that they're made by people with periods for people with periods because you don't just order a couple of boxes. They have a subscription, and you can be flexible. You can add stuff. You can remove products that you might not need. You can skip a month because sometimes your body is like, "Fuck you," and I just really appreciate that. Clearly they've put some thought into what people with periods need.
Julia: Yeah. The fact that all of the orders are super customizable is really, really useful because sometimes I need some heavier ones, and then a couple of lighter ones just for those last couple of days and whatnot. Honestly, they do good stuff, so every time you make a purchase with LOLA, they donate sanitary products to homeless shelters across the US. Homeless shelters, they get a lot of food. They get a lot of clothing, but a lot of times, people who use sanitary products have to buy them out of pocket because it's something that people forget that we need once a month. It's really, really cool that LOLA does that because it's definitely an overlooked product that people need.
Amanda: I am definitely a fan of doing good with your business. So Jules, where can people check out LOLA and get a subscription for themselves?
Julia: Well, our listeners can get 40% off all subscriptions by visiting myLOLA.com and entering the promo code Spirits when you subscribe. Again, that is myLOLA, M-Y-L-O-L-A.com, and entering the promo code Spirits when you subscribe.
Amanda: Thanks, LOLA. Our second sponsor this week also would have come in clutch for me in the past. Jules, as you may know, in college I was an English major, but I also thought about doing a premed track. I did, and my experience in high school, I didn't study a ton. My learning style was more learn it as it went, and then reviewed a little bit, and then went into the exam. So, when I got to college and started taking classes like human physiology where it's just built upon memorizing, studying, you need to have a strategy going into these things, I immediately realized, oh wait. I need to learn some new skills, and one of those needs to be studying.
So, I was really happy when we heard about Chegg, which is a leader in online study assistance. They provide things like textbook solutions, so you can read about why certain problems are the right answers and how to get through them, or Q&A with experts. Whether you are in high school, in college, Chegg Study is a tool that you might want to check out.
Julia: Yeah. As someone who was always a little bit hesitant and a little nervous about going to the study halls in college, I really appreciate the fact that Chegg has this option that you could study at home either from your desktop or with their mobile app so that you don't have to worry about going to someone being like, "I do math bad. Please," and looking them in the face as they judge you.
Amanda: Yeah, and I was always so nervous. I was talking about this with my grandma, actually, recently where I was so nervous to ask questions in high school and college, both because I didn't want to look dumb and also because I didn't want to just take up time from other people in class. So, being able to go through at my own pace, walking through the solutions to problems step by step is just so awesome. Even if your textbook is not included in their library, you can actually use their app to take a picture of the problem, and then submit it to experts who will get back to you in as little as two hours.
Julia: Yeah, and that's a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service, so all of a sudden it's Sunday night, and you have that homework due in the morning on Monday. That is the perfect time to send Chegg a message.
Amanda: Yeah. College students, yes. Students of all kinds are working around the clock, and I'm glad that they recognize that. So, if you would like to try Chegg, you can get $5 off of your first month's subscription at Chegg.com/Spirits. That's C-H-E-G-G.com/Spirits, and use the promo code Spirits.
Julia: Yeah. Get that $5 off. Start studying. If you're a lifetime learner or you're a brand new student, just do it.
Amanda: That's Chegg.com/Spirits with the code Spirits for $5 off, and now let's get back to the show.
Julia: Amanda, why don't we head over to Africa next for some lake monsters.
Amanda: Please tell me all about it.
Julia: One of my favorites is Mokele-mbembe, or the one who stops the flow of rivers, who is from the Congo River Basin.
Amanda: I need to know everything.
Julia: I personally find him adorable because he's basically supposed to resemble a brontosaurus, and I love a dinosaur. I love a good dinosaur. Different sources will reference him as either a living creature, others will say that he is a spirit creature, but he's first mentioned in a written text in 1909 in the autobiography of a big game hunter named Carl Hagenbeck, which is not great. Again, we talk a lot about white men telling stories out of areas that they are not native to, but sometimes those are the first written traditions that we have of those creatures, and usually even if they are very biased, they are interpreting local traditions, and sharing them.
Amanda: If this is our invitation to learning more from original sources about something awesome, then I think it's worth mentioning.
Julia: Yes, but Hagenbeck ... Hagenbeck agreed? Hagenbeck agreed with our interpretation of that.
Amanda: Hagenbeck's like, "You know what? I have done some questionable shit in my life, and I better start making reparations."
Julia: Good job, Hagenbeck. We're proud of you, even though we put those words in your mouth.
Amanda: Doing the mere minimum.
Julia: Hagenbeck claimed that he heard from native sources that the creature was described as half-elephant, half-dragon, and it was Hagenbeck who made the connection to the brontosaurus. So Hagenbeck was like, "That sounds like a brontosaurus. It's probably that thing that you're describing."
Amanda: Oh, man. Just naturalists. Everyone was a naturalist. Anyone could make scientific assertions. What a time.
Julia: Oh, man. If you were white and could travel to another country, you instantly became a naturalist.
Amanda: Wow. It's almost like being an Instagram influencer today. Okay.
Julia: Whoa. Great reference, my dude.
Amanda: There's just a whole thing about aspirational, the performance of wealth online. Anyway.
Julia: Another version of the story was told in Exotic Zoology in 1959 by a man named Willy Ley, and here is the quote from Mr. Ley. The animal is said to be a brownish gray color with smooth skin. Its size is approximately that of an elephant, at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck, and only one tooth, but a very long one. Some say it is a horn.
Amanda: One long tooth.
Julia: A few spoke about a long muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed. The animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews, but without eating the bodies. The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores, even at daytime, in search for food. Its diet, it is said, to be entirely vegetable.
Amanda: Interesting, so it just kills out of spite?
Julia: It's territorial, I think-
Amanda: Oh, I see.
Julia: ... is the assumption in this situation.
Amanda: From what I understand of how alligators and crocodiles make, kind of, I don't know. I was going to say cubbies. That's not right. Nests, and-
Julia: That's very cute.
Amanda: Yeah. Thank you, but that's really interesting. Normally you just hear like, "Oh, yeah. Nope. They came above the water, and then they're gone forever." But hearing more about patterns and the animal's interaction with the bigger ecosystem makes it sound really interesting.
Julia: Kind of unfortunately, Mokele-mbembe is used as an example for young earth creationists.
Amanda: Oh, no.
Julia: The idea that if there are still dinosaurs or dinosaur-esque creatures, it's basically disproving evolution.
Amanda: Oh, no. That's just wrong.
Julia: Yeah, which obviously is silly. I do like the idea of dinosaurs surviving millions of years, but I'm a little biased.
Amanda: I mean, we just talked about that. Just look at chicken feet. There are traits from-
Julia: Just tiny raptors.
Amanda: ... older animals that make it to now. Oh, boy.
Julia: Tiny raptor boys. That's all. That's all it is.
Amanda: Yeah. I feel like we need to listen to Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy talking about anti-vaxxers in order to just get our righteous fury ready, but frankly, my headache's too bad for that.
Julia: Yep. Nope. I understand. We don't have to go there.
Amanda: Go listen to Sawbones.
Julia: We can also talk about Nyami Nyami, which isn't exactly a lake monster. He is the river god of the Tonga people. He is typically described as having the body of a snake and the head of a fish, or is simply referred to as a river dragon, or even a whirlpool in the river.
Amanda: That's fascinating, and I would say it's a little bit problematic that people dismiss as monsters, deities that they just don't understand, but I am glad that what I thought of just one genre of like, "Eh, people think stuff lives in lakes," is an opportunity for us to learn more about different people's traditions.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. I think I'm going to tell you full quite long story about Nyami Nyami in a bit, but I think that it's important to realize that the story is probably ... He's probably considered a lake monster because the traditions were somewhat stomped out by the spread of Christianity throughout Africa. Obviously he is not, to the Tonga people who still celebrate their own belief systems, not a monster. He is still a deity, but it's kind of important to note how colonialism plays in the story that's going to be coming up shortly.
Amanda: Yeah. If you can't explain a thing using your tradition as a colonizer, you other it, and I think, again, it's at least for me, really useful to interrogate why we dismiss or categorize things we don't understand in certain terms.
Julia: Yeah. So, I am going to read this story directly as I found it from a Zimbabwean Zambian website in the Victoria Falls area. I imagine there are different interpretations and telling of this story. Again, I did find several. This is the one that I thought rang the most true to me, but I would encourage you if you have heard this story before and think that there are other more interesting aspects that I missed out on, please let me know. I'm going to say there's a little bit of disturbing imagery in this story. Just be careful with yourself, and just depictions of death in general. Here comes the story.
City dwellers had mocked the stories of Nyami Nyami the river god, but by 1958 the laughter had turned to chilled apprehension, especially for those working on the project of building the Kariba Dam wall. Survey work on the proposed dam wall began in the late 1940s. On the night of February 15th, 1950, a cyclone from the Indian Ocean swept up the valley. Such a thing had never been heard of before in this landlocked stable area. 15 inches of rain driven by a hurricane fell in a few hours.
Amanda: That's a lot of rain. Oh my god.
Julia: The river rose seven meters that night. A number of villages were swept away. When rescue teams finally managed to reach the area three days later, the petrifying bodies of antelope and other animals were seen hanging from the tops of trees. The survey team had also perished in the landslide, the survey team of the people trying to build the dam.
Amanda: Oh, wow.
Julia: Work on the dam began in earnest in 1955, but on Christmas Eve of that year, an unprecedented flood stormed down the gorge and washed away the foundations of the cofferdam and the recently-constructed pontoon bridge. The flood peaked, receded, and then peaked again. This had never happened before, and people started to talk about the river god. Nyami Nyami struck a third time in November 1956. The heavy rains fell a month before they were due. Sudden flash floods impeded work on the dam. The river, swollen with water from local catchment areas, would rise over a meter in a night. They were unaware that 13,000 kilometers away, the river was mobilizing its forces.
It is fed by a catchment area of over a million square kilometers of which nearly half is above the lake. So basically, a storm's a'coming. It's that GIF where it's like, "Oh, honey. You got a storm a'coming." Heavy rains were falling throughout this vast area. The water was being hoarded in the floodplains of Zambia and the forests of Angola, and in January the Sanyati River, which entered the Zambezi near the new wall, suddenly came down like a calvary charge.
The river rose almost six meters in the next 24 hours and surged over the cofferdam. The largest digger truck, which had not been moved, disappeared instantly. Only in March after much damage had been done and the project had been set back some months did the river begin to subside. Such a flood should occur, on average, once every thousand years. Believe it or not, in January 1958, a flood such as could be expected to occur only once every 10,000 years swept down the riverbed, wreaking havoc on all in its path. 16 million liters per second exploded over the suspension bridge, which buckled and heaved.
Julia: I'm just watching you shake your head.
Amanda: I mean, I can't even conceive of these volumes that you're sharing, but especially in the middle of a project that is intended, I assume, to give some control over the flow of the river. That is just such tragic and ironic timing.
Julia: The north tower collapsed and the bridge rose clear of the water, bent like a gigantic bow. Its spine shattered in three places, and the river carried its battered remains with what appeared to be a roar of triumph.
Julia: Finally in December 1958, the Kariba Dam was completed, but not before it cost the lives of 80 people.
Julia: The victorious people felt slightly ashamed to have been brought about the humiliation of this mysterious and primeval river. Today, minor earth tremors are occasionally felt around the dam. Tonga mythology believes that this is Nyami Nyami trying to see his wife, who he is now cut off from because of the dam wall.
Amanda: Oh, wow.
Julia: When he can't get through, he turns around with such a fury that the whole earth shakes.
Amanda: I mean, that is a really plausible outcome.
Amanda: I always think it's so fascinating when human impact on the world is reciprocated, and is examined and explained in mythology. We're not just living in the wake of the gods, or having their will exerted upon us, but in certain mythologies, we're living in the same world. I just think it's really fascinating when the gods aren't in some removed locale, but interacting with us here and now.
Julia: Yeah. It also reminds me of what we talked about with the Rainbow Serpent episode that we did a while back, talking about the ideas of conservation, and climate change, and basically affecting the environment around you, and how it affects how we see deities, and spirits, and whatnot.
Amanda: For sure.
Julia: I want to move on next to South America, Amanda, with two of my favorite lake monsters before we wrap up our story. The first is Nahuelito, who is from the Nahuel Huapi Lake in Argentina. You can probably see where he gets his name from. I actually like the Spanish version of this where if Nessie was a South American lake monster, it would probably be Nessilito.
Amanda: That's so cute.
Julia: It's very, very cute. Much like Nessie, though, he is described as being a large serpent or something resembling a plesiosaur, which is my favorite dinosaur, probably of all time.
Amanda: I don't know what it is, but it sounds like plushie-saur, and I want a stuffed animal of them immediately.
Julia: A plesiosaur is that traditional Nessie appearance. The long neck, the circle-ish head, and the little hump, and then he's got flippers.
Amanda: I did not know, but I love them already.
Julia: They're very cute.
Amanda: Also, if your town has a excellent dinosaur museum, could someone please let me know because I want to plan future travel around, one, breweries. Two, independent bookstores, and three, dinosaur museums.
Julia: Yes. Correct. I am on board with that.
Amanda: What if we could schedule a bunch of live performances in natural history museums?
Julia: I would cry.
Amanda: Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Julia: I would cry.
Amanda: I want it. I want it. Listen, I know we have archivists, museum professionals in the audience of Spirits. If you work in a museum-
Julia: Mostly gay librarians, but-
Amanda: Mostly queer librarians, but also I know there are museum professionals out there. If you do programming or know the person who does programming at your institution, and you want us to come and talk about basically anything, get in touch. SpiritsPodcast@gmail.
Julia: So, reports of Nahuelito date back to the late 19th century, but the first press coverage that the lake monster got didn't happen until 1922. The result of the press coverage was that the Buenos Aires Museum attempted to start collecting evidence on the creature, and the search was specifically sponsored by a man named Clemente Onelli, who was a Italian naturalist who moved to Argentina when he was 24 and became the director of the Buenos Aires Zoo.
Nahuelito hasn't had much coverage in the 1900s besides that, but in 2006, a local newspaper reported that an anonymous photographer had dropped off pictures of Nahuelito. There was no explanation of the photos besides a note that was attached that said, here's a quote, "It is not a twisted tree trunk. It is not a wave. Nahuelito has shown its face. Lake Nahuel Huapi, Saturday April 15th, 9 o'clock. I am not giving out my personal information in order to avoid future headaches."
Amanda: I mean, that is a strong stance and I respect it.
Julia: Yep. I'm into it. I'm really, really into it.
Amanda: Talk about building audience expectation, oh my god.
Julia: The next monster and I think the last monster that I want to talk about is the Monster of Lake Tota, which is also known as diablo ballena, or the devil whale. I'm going to give Will Williams a content warning here.
Amanda: I was just going to say, content warning, Will Williams, who hates whales. This might not be the one for you.
Julia: If you hate whales, you might want to skip to the end of this episode. Just a suggestion. He is said to inhabit Lake Tota in Colombia, and has recorded sightings back to 1952, but there's definitely references in local mythology before that, and I'll tell you about those local mythology. It is said than an indigenous priest was sent to exorcize an evil spirit from the crater that now forms Lake Tota after the spirit was said to be causing a summer of suffering and water shortages in the area.
Julia: The original story goes like this. And there, in that immense natural cavity of our history, dusty and sun-cracked earth lived a big black snake with eyes that shined. It advanced cautiously to the entrance of the great cave every night to await the giant fireball that now comes every night. Before entering the depths of the earth, the cruel and evil spirit Busiraco let out a loud laugh of triumph that echoed ironically in the remotest limits of Earth, and filled the hearts of the Chibcha natives with terror.
The story continues that with the help of a goddess and a dancer, he is able to kill the black snake, and found a huge emerald inside the monster's chest. He takes the emerald and tosses it into the crater where the snake's body lies. The emerald transforms into water and fills Lake Tota. Here's the quote, "The stone lost its natural hardness. The miracle manifested and the purest green waves started appearing and appearing. The vast gulf was filled with transparent waves fringed with white foam. The people were amazed and could not comprehend what they saw."
Amanda: Wow. That's a very cinematic and beautiful story.
Julia: I know. It's really just honestly the way it's written. Absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorites.
Amanda: I pictured it in a sort of illustrated break within a movie telling the origin story where now it happens again for some reason, and wow.
Julia: Yeah. I love it. So it could be argued, and it has been, that the serpent still exists, has survived, or some sort of relative of him still exists and has survived. I'm going to read a couple of recordings of sightings from people. The first is from a Colombian priest and historian who said, quote, "It refers ..." No, hold on. "Refers to it, Lake Tota, but calls it a Laguna in the text as a place in which a fish with a black head like an ox, and larger than a whale was discovered." He continues saying, "Quesada says that in his time trusted persons and the Indians ..." Again.
Julia: Terminology. Not great from the period. I apologize. "Affirmed that it was the devil, and in the year 1652 when I was at the place, Dona Andrea Vargas, the lady of the country, spoke about having seen it." So, we're still getting sightings in 1652. Very exciting stuff.
Julia: Here is a French explorer who came to the area later and described seeing the devil whale in 1823. Here's his account. It's a little bit on the longer side, just a heads up.
Amanda: Man, I'm just picturing the whale being like, "All whales are devil whales."
Julia: That is true. All whales, devil whales. Superstition has continued to inhabit these places concerning horrific wonders. Indeed, the rugged look of the region, suspended waters, so to speak, and such a height to always be agitated by the wind blowing up Toxillo, the most elevated wetlands of Lake Tota. A slimy substance, oval, and filled with unpleasant water like sands of its beaches, everything tends to arouse surprise. According to the people in this region, the lake is not navigable.
The evil character inhabits its waters in dwellings, they say. One can only see the gateways if they stay away from the shores and head towards the middle of the lake. Occasionally out of the abyss a monstrous fish can be seen only briefly. Lake Tota forms an arc which ends in the Northwest and the Southeast. The temperature is very wet and cold. The water has a bluish color and is thick, unpleasant, and not very clean. Like the sea, the water of the lake is constantly agitated because the storms that form on the Toxillo.
In the middle of the lake are some islands. There have only been one man who dared to go to them. The belief is that the lake is enchanted prevents others from visiting them. The bottom of the lake is composed of sand. The mountains that surround it are composed of thick sandstone, so strongly cemented that even the lowest areas aren't affected by water filtration. However, one would assume that the thermal springs at Paipa and Iza are rooted in its vast reservoir that is located a few measures higher than the thermal springs.
So, just giving a layout of what it looks like here. A Colombian botanist named Jose Triana also made comments on the devil whale in his book Myths, legends, traditions and folklore of Lake Tota. I love a good mythology book. "What I want to say," comments Triana, "with respect to the lakes and lagoons is that they were the main shrines of the Indians." Against, apologies for the terminology. "The lagoons were the residents of a sublime divinity, and the soulful Indians saw them in areas full of charm and mystery."
He continues, "There is the idea of the modern farmer who has monsters asleep in lagoons and can be awakened from its cries, and who can respond to the deep emptiness of the rocks that surround them, as if it were the voice of an oracle. It isn't anything more than involuntary evocation of the divinity of the waters."
Amanda: That's a great phrase. Wow.
Julia: Yeah. I really like that. So, that's our devil whale. Amanda, I am curious as to how these lake monsters stacked up against your imagery and interpretation of what lake monsters were before we started talking about it.
Amanda: I know there's such an extended discourse around what we categorize as a cryptid or a monster, and what we categorize as mythology and tradition, and I think this is a great opportunity for me to do some more reading, and thinking, and learning on that topic. Specifically what came to mind as I was listening is we grew up on the ocean, and I never once thought to be scared of stuff that was in the ocean.
It was always the things that my mom, who is a professional lifeguard, warned me against was riptides, or swimming too far and getting tired, getting cramps and how to recognize that. It was always the just sheer force of the ocean is the thing to be worried about and not necessarily any creature within it. Jellyfish suck, okay. Seaweed can be gross. I am careful. I don't surf as much as any of my siblings or my mom does, but you don't want to go out there when there have been sharks sighted.
Things like that, but at the end of the day, the thing that is the most dangerous is playing in a force that is much, much bigger than you. So, I just think that's really interesting, not growing up in any of these closed systems where you don't expect to go in a lake, and the lake's force can take you over. It's some actor within the lake that is the thing to be worried about. So, just thinking about the topography, geography of the land and how that influences the stories that we tell each other.
Julia: Yeah. I also think it's interesting, too, to look at the perspective of how these stories change over time, and as different players come into different regions. So, I think it's really, really cool to take a look and be like, "Well, what makes a monster a monster, and at what point does that become a deity from the area or a spirit?" We talk about water spirits all the time. What interpretation changes a water spirit or a deity into something monstrous and horrific?
I think a lot of it has to do with when outsiders come into a closed system, as you called a lake, for instance, but in this instance a closed system being one that has lived with their traditions and the surrounding traditions of the area, but not traditions that tend to overpower, like white Christian Western traditions.
Amanda: And I think part of the context is motivation. You don't think about a motivation for why a quote/unquote "monster" acts the way it does. Part of the monstrousness is not being able to predict or rationalize why someone is doing something, so talking about Issie. Issie is not a monster. It is a entity. It's something that we understand the motivation.
Julia: It's a mother looking for her child.
Amanda: Exactly, and there's that, to excuse the word, humanizing element to thinking about why someone acts the way they do, what their origin story is. At the end of the day, a great way to have empathy for someone or something that is easily dismissed is to think about why it is that they act the way they do. To me, that's the invitation to think more complexly, and to have some more empathy for people that we don't understand.
Julia: A great instance of that, too, is the Nyami Nyami story where he is cut off from his wife. His source of power, his domain is being ruined by human influence, so of course he's going to act out violently to try and stop that from occurring. The motivation of monsters is something that I really like to think about because a lot of times I feel like if that was me in that situation, I would probably act the same way.
Amanda: Yeah, and people who we see as evil usually don't think that they are evil.
Julia: That's true.
Amanda: Yeah, especially at ... It's just something that I've been thinking a lot about in my own life is people that you want to dismiss or to write off. If you really challenge yourself to think about why it is that they act the way they do, you can probably come to a pretty nuanced understanding, and that's a lot harder, and I don't want to some of the time, but it's something that I'm trying to challenge myself to do more and more.
Julia: So, let's leave our listeners this week with the idea of think about other's motivations, and to remember to stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool.