Several weeks ago, I, and my intrepid friend Jolaine, realized it was high time for this demonic researcher to get out from behind the computer and do some actual, true-to-life demon hunting.
We considered many possibilities. Should we plunge into the dark unknown of the Amazonian rainforest in search of the wild and bizarre? Should we risk our very lives by facing the dark predators of Scotland (not to mention the bagpipes)? Should we delve into historical documents to uncover the truth behind a four hundred year old mystery?
As this was the first expedition (and we wanted to be home in time to pick up some sushi and watch The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), it was decided that we should ease into the initiative by going local. The expedition committee settled on a location only one province away: the Mythic Beasts exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/cmc/mythicbeasts/mythicbeasts01e.shtml
We intrepid explorers donned our camo gear and pith helmets and headed out into an unknown world of strange, almost unbelievable creatures. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will uncloak these mysterious and exotic monsters for you, complete with outlandish claims and grainy photographs.
Grainy photograph #1: Mishipashoo/Mishepishu
The explorer Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec City, describes a Native ceremony in his journal of an 1613 journey up the Ottawa River:
“After carrying their canoes to the foot of the fall, they assemble in one spot, where one of them takes up a collection in a wooden plate, into which each one puts a bit of tobacco. The collection having been made, the plate is placed in the midst of the troupe, and all dance about it, singing in their style. Then one of the captains makes a harangue, setting forth that for a long time they had been accustomed to make this offering, by which means they are insured protection against their enemies, that otherwise misfortune would befall them, as they are convinced by the evil spirit…”
What is this evil spirit, our intrepid explorers had to ask themselves.
Keeping our eyes open, the answer was soon revealed.
Natives who lived in the Ottawa River area believed a monstrous creature lived in the nearby lakes. Without an offering of tobacco to ease its wrath, it would lash its huge serpent-like tail at any stray canoe, tipping its owner and its contents into the water.
This might sound not such a big deal to you or me, or many people who do casual canoeing these days, but the Natives carried their lives in canoes on their voyages. The loss of weapons, hunting instruments, supplies, or warm clothing, might actually mean death.
The creature’s name was Mishipashoo/ Mishepishu, or “great water lynx.” It had the unlikely head of a large cat, a serpent’s tail, razor spikes on its back, and horns on its head.
Gentle readers, at great risk to OUR VERY LIVES, your intrepid explorers bring you an unfocused, grainy photograph of the Mishipashoo. Are you sitting down?
Samuel de Champlain, Charles Pomeroy Otis, Edmund Farwell Slafter, Voyages of Samuel de Champlain