Sometimes cryptozoology overlaps with paranormal investigation. Never is this more apparent than when discussing mothman, one of my favourite cryptids. It’s true that bigfoot is often wrapped up in these topics, but not to the same extent. You see, mothman was regarded as supernatural from nearly the beginning. That’s no small part of what makes him interesting to me. But there is another possibility.
Much like ghost hunting, no one can agree on whether we’re dealing with a bona fide paranormal agent or a trick of the senses. In case you haven’t heard, there’s this running theory that mothman is an owl. That gave me an idea. What if we compared different incidents involving otherworldly creatures alleged to be owls? We could make something of a game out of it.
I’ll compare arguments for and against the paradigm-shifting nature of these events, and then I’ll give you my personal opinion on the matter. If an event was most likely something weird or unrecognized by society at large, I’ll give a point to mothman. If the creature was most likely just a bird, I’ll give a point to owlkind. Sound simple enough? Let’s get started.
Mothman Of Point Pleasant
What is a mothman, anyways? Well, in case you’ve been living under a cryptozoological rock, I’ll fill you in on some of the details. In the area of Point Pleasant, Virginia, local residents began reporting a mysterious winged humanoid. It was said to be very fast, easily keeping pace with motorized vehicles, and mostly silent, although some have reported chilling vocalizations. Its reported wingspan is usually around 10 feet, maybe a little more, and it’s often described as lacking a conventional head, with glowing red eyes located around where the base of the neck should be. Colouration ranges from white to grey to black, with the earlier stories trending towards white. It is sometimes depicted as a lone individual, othertimes as a novel species.
The most influential pro-mothman source would be John Keel, leading proponent of the interdimensional hypothesis. He published a well-received book on the subject called The Mothman Prophecies, which would later be adapted to a movie of the same name. I haven’t gotten around to reading the book yet, but it’s definitely on my to-do list. I’ve seen the movie, although it seems to have taken… creative liberties, so to speak. It’s a wonderful film, and I would highly recommend it. It is not, however, concerned with arguing for Keel’s conclusions; it’s entertainment, rather than education.
An interesting facet of mothman lore, found prominently in Keel’s work, is the subject of prophecy or future prediction. Namely, that mothman was involved with the Silver Bridge collapse. Some have suggested that he was a benevolent entity attempting to warn of the impending disaster, while others posit that his presence may have caused it somehow. Other than the two events vaguely coinciding, and the fact that mothman sightings died out following the tragedy, there isn’t much evidence to link the two.
If you would like to hear a skeptical perspective on the subject, I recommend Trey the Explainer. You can see his original video here, and the addendum here. Essentially, the skeptical argument often boils down to noting the similarity of mothman to a known bird species, and then reiterating the unreliability of human perception. If something is moving quickly in the dark, it’s often very difficult to make an accurate judgment as to what it really is. Only a fairly restricted portion of your vision can be rendered faithfully at once, and the brain uses prior information to fill in the gaps. Most of what you think you see is actually generated internally. This typically isn’t a problem, when the subject is in clear view and you already know what it is. But add in darkness, uncertainty, and stress? Now that’s a recipe for misidentification.
It doesn’t help matters that a 10-foot wingspan is not large enough to support a man-sized creature in flight. This could be alleviated if the being is truly supernatural, of course, but this rules out a flesh-and-blood organism. Avian flight is a tightly coordinated process, with several interrelated variables working in tandem. Humans routinely underestimate the wingspan required to hold any particular body aloft. Bird wings are proportionally larger than mothman would suggest, and larger birds require a proportionally larger wingspan, due to allometry. If you want an example of this, look at fantasy art of dragons. While these creatures may look cool, the wingspans are actually not usually large enough to generate sufficient lift for such massive creatures. We could always explain it away via magic, of course, but that’s another subject entirely.
I’m going to have to give this one to the owls. While I can’t rule out the supernatural entirely, there is little solid evidence of anything beyond a shadowy figure seen in the dead of night. Add in the fact that most people were driving, and the fact that later stories were primed by the earlier? Under these circumstances, I wouldn’t blame anyone for mistaking an owl for a humanoid figure, especially if this person weren’t a trained observer.
I tend to lean owl over crane for a few reasons. The first is the eyes; cranes can have red spots, but owls actually glow. That seems more in-line with the reports. The second is the head situation; owls have stubby heads on short necks, which could easily give the appearance that there were no head at all. The third is the general silhouette. Owls have round legs that are surprisingly long when extended out, giving them a somewhat humanoid figure. The fourth is that owls are masters of stealth, moving with grace and silence, often without needing to flap their wings. However, when they wish to be heard, they are capable of some truly unsettling vocalizations. Cranes seem like a poor fit for this context. Owls can also possess a 10-foot wingspan, around the size mothman is reported to have. Mothman 0, Owl 1.
The Flatwoods Monster
This is an interesting story, to say the least. The Flatwoods Monster was the subject of a single report with multiple witnesses, the reverse of typical cryptid encounters. The narrative has somewhat morphed over the years to incorporate more details friendly to the extraterrestrial hypothesis. A schoolteacher, a national guardsman, some children, and a dog went to investigate a crash site. No, this isn’t the setup to a witty joke; this is the actual story.
It may be interesting, but it is far from consistent. A fiery object flew across the sky late one afternoon, seen mostly by some children. The children then told some trusted adults. As for the object, the children thought it was a UFO, a flaming flying saucer. The adults thought it was a crashing plane. The official story is that it was a meteor that didn’t really crash at all. See what I mean by inconsistent?
Anyway, this ragtag group of unlikely heroes decided to investigate, with the adults fearing there may be a downed pilot who needed help. The children, thinking it was aliens, refused to stay at home, so they tagged along. This brought the group into the local woods, from which the creature gets its name. At some point, the dog ran away ominously, a signal to anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie that something was about to go wrong. The rest of the group may have been exposed to some kind of sulphurous chemical in the air, possibly mustard gas, or this may have been hysteria. There may have been a fire, like the kind meteoric debris can create, maybe not. More inconsistency, but we’re not done.
Night fell, and it became very dark. They saw a pair of glowing orbs, which were probably eyes. They were red or orangish-red, and between 10 to 20 feet off the ground. The creature may have had a bottom half, maybe not. The creature was described as having clawed hands, except when it wasn’t. Is this inconsistent enough yet? It had a red face, which may have been feathery. Its body was grey, unless it was actually green. It was first described as dull, but decades later as metallic. Do you see what I mean by inconsistent?
Then the creature darted, maybe at the people, maybe toward another orb, which may have been another eye, or maybe not. This took about a second or two, and then they lost sight of it as they started running. Did I mention that they only had one flashlight? They ran back to civilization, and informed the authorities. Oh, yeah, this was the ‘50s, so no cellphones. An investigation happened, but they found nothing…or something. There was maybe black oil at the scene and on the teacher’s dress, or maybe there wasn’t. There were allegedly marks from an alien craft, but that was probably just another investigator’s vehicle. No spaceship was ever seen, unless you believe the people who say there was. Are you understanding how inconsistent the whole story is?
Well, the argument that something out of the ordinary occurred, championed in this case by Bob Gymlan, seems to revolve mostly around the idea of a cover up. The government seems to have engaged in suspicious activity in similar situations, so it’s not implausible for something like that to have occurred here. I definitely wouldn’t put it past shadowy quasi-governmental organizations to cover something like this up, but nothing can be corroborated. It is also quite true that the discrepancies between eyewitnesses are expected in the case of genuine testimony. It seems unlikely that they were being deceptive, and it seems unusual for a national guardsman to panic in this way.
The skeptical opinion, represented once again by Trey the Explainer, with addendum here, postulates that in the brief instant the creature was seen, with the obscuring darkness so typical of the night hours being about them, the human mind once again interpreted an ordinary animal as some kind of monster; yes, we’re talking about an owl. Specifically, it may have been a female barred owl protecting a nest, and maybe the supposed body of the creature was actually just foliage. Maybe the spindly hands were really branches. It’s hard to be sure of the exact details, but something along these lines would explain things.
The frightening image they experienced would then be filtered through the lens of pop culture, in which aliens were all the rage, and the witnesses likely unknowingly harmonized their accounts by discussing them. (This is what really happens when eyewitnesses discuss what they’ve seen; their stories often begin to align automatically. This is why police investigators prioritize separating witnesses, to avoid their testimony becoming corrupted.)
Hate to say it, but this is another point for the owls. They have glowing eyes, round faces, and they can be 10 to 20 feet high… I mean, they do fly, after all. Add in the fact that the various tellings are wildly inconsistent, with details seemingly coming up and being dropped at random between different newspapers, it’s hard to ascribe much credibility to any of the specific details that might corroborate a genuine encounter. What makes matters worse is that the story changes significantly decades later, when the creature is reimagined as being some kind of metallic suit for an alien. The original account does not support this interpretation, and it seems to have been spun to syncretize the Flatwoods Monsters with specific theories on alien visitation. I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying it.
Having said that, there remains a possibility something unusual did occur. Obviously, I can’t falsify them seeing a monster conclusively, but I think that panic combined with an owl explains it far more parsimoniously. What does stand out is the possible gas, or some other mind-altering hazard in the environment. Given that all the original witnesses were panicked, it’s possible that some chemical agent may have had a part in this.
Perhaps there was some kind of hallucinogen, or maybe panic is just a subconscious reaction to breathing in toxic chemicals. If not gas, infrasound could be involved, either as a natural occurrence or some kind of technological intervention. Hypothetically, some kind of experimental weaponry utilizing this gas or infrasound could have been deployed, either intentionally, as some kind of test, or by accident. That would seem more plausible than a 12-foot tall monster, but even this is only speculation. We’ve got nothing concrete suggesting this to be anything more than mere hysteria, so that’s what I’m guessing it is.
If you thought those stories were weird, the Kelly-Hopkinsville Incident will shock you. Basically, a family saw an object that looked something like a UFO or meteor, and then they were harassed by goblins. Not even joking. The children described creatures as goblins. I’ll cover the basic details of the story, but I recommend you hear Bob Gymlan’s telling of events. It’s fascinating.
Okay, so let’s recap. A family saw a meteor or UFO, but only, like, one person thought it was a big deal. Then they saw beings floating in from the treeline. These creatures were about three or four feet tall, and appeared humanoid, but with some weird features. They were silvery in colour and glowing, and they had a bizarre sort of levitating gait, almost like swimming through the air. Eventually, the family started shooting, but this only drove the creatures back temporarily. They soon return, seemingly impervious to bullets. For hours, these creatures are peering in windows, and even grabbing at hair. Eventually, they start looking into windows of the children’s bedroom, at which point the infamous goblin moniker is born. This all has the family seriously freaked, because obviously, and they eventually decide to go tell the authorities.
The authorities showed up, and saw the place was damaged, but didn’t see the creatures. They may have seen some glowing residue, and some other strange signs, but this is apparently disputed. The military may or may not have arrived at some point to investigate, but this too is disputed. Either way, they agree that something had these people spooked, and there appeared to be no evidence of intoxication. The officers leave, and the family returns home, only to report seeing the creatures again later that night. They flee once more, apparently for good this time, and eventually sell the house.
Well, what really happened? Some people attribute the glowing to fairy fire, which is a genuinely weird phenomenon, but it doesn’t explain how the creatures themselves were glowing. Apparently someone suggested they may have been escaped circus monkeys, painted silver, but there’s approximately zero evidence to support this assertion. Others note that the described creatures look similar to owls, and are of a similar size. I guess this is true, to an extent, but no. This was not just owls. Not this time.
Contrary to police findings, there are those who make the conjecture that alcohol really was involved. What? I’m sorry, but this makes no sense. Not only is this pure speculation, but when was the last time alcohol made an entire family vividly hallucinate alien beings for several hours straight, stop hallucinating the moment they left the area, only to hallucinate the exact same thing again later? Get real.
If they were seeing owls, these people must have been in a severely altered mental state. I’m talking hallucinogens or something. Everything I said before, about experimental weaponry using drugs or infrasound being deployed on civilians, it goes double here. This might be the government, or some other organization, experimenting on people. Scary thought.
It could also have been some kind of paranormal illusion, perhaps caused by demons or the like, or maybe supernatural beings could actually manifest themselves. I’m not crazy about the extraterrestrial or interdimensional hypotheses, but, if you are, you can probably see how they might apply.
I think we can rule out a fabrication, because who would fabricate this only to then move away? I’m not saying they couldn’t have fabricated this story, but there’s no evidence to point us in that direction. If we accept their story, we must also accept that this event cannot be explained within the popular understanding of the world.
The only way that nothing inexplicable happened is if the witnesses are all boldly lying for no discernable reason. The only reason to assume they are lying, then, would be that one finds the story unbelievable. The only reason to find the story unbelievable is to assume that events outside the established paradigm don’t exist. Thus, the only way to discount this event is to assert consensus dogmatically, and then proceed to argue in a circle. In short, something truly weird must have happened here, and I’m not sure we’re ready to know the answer. This point goes to mothman.
The results are in, and the final score is Mothman 1, Owl 2. Wow, what a game! It seems that most of the time, these encounters are little more than human imagination getting the better of us, especially at night, but there are still things out there we can’t yet explain.
Did you enjoy this? Summarizing a single story, and pontificating on what implications it has for our worldview didn’t seem like it justified an entire article, so I combined a few. I’m thinking of doing this again, maybe with the Death Raptor and the Chupacabra. We’ll see. Be sure to let us know what you think on our social media. We always appreciate the feedback. Take care, now.