Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Reports are coming in from Steytlerville, a small town in the Karoo District of South Africa, of a shapeshifting monster terrorizing residents.

Local warrant officer Zandisile Nelani said, "The community says that the monster changes shape while you are looking at it."  He went on to say that the monster had started out as a man in a suit, but had changed to a pig and then to a bat.  He hastened to add that although the creature had scared a number of residents, no people or livestock had been harmed by it.

Besides being reminded, against my will, of the "ManBearPig" episode of South Park, of course I started looking through my top-secret Cryptozoology Files to see if there's anything that could explain it other than (1) someone playing an elaborate prank, (2) the eyewitnesses having consumed large quantities of booze, or (3) both.  And, lo and behold, there is.

There is a long-standing South African tradition of a creature called the Thokolozi (or Tokoloshe) which matches the description of our mysterious ManBatPig.  On the surface, the resemblance seems slim, as the Thokolozi most often appears as a brown-skinned man, hairy all over, with only one buttock.  This last feature seems a little odd, and makes me wonder if he only has a right butt cheek, only a left one, or just one huge symmetrically-placed butt cheek, the last-mentioned option bringing up other anatomical considerations that I would prefer not to think about.  Another characteristic of the Thokolozi is that he is said to be very well-endowed in the reproductive equipment department.  Without going into graphic detail, let's just say that he is well-endowed to the point that tighty-whities would be pretty much out of the question.  Between that and having only one buttock, getting fitted at the tailor's must be a fairly humiliating experience, and possibly accounts for his legendary ill temper.

So we have here one very odd-looking dude.  But the key feature that identifies our mystery creature at Steytlerville as the Thokolozi is his shapeshifting ability.  The Thokolozi carries around with him a magic pebble that allows him to become invisible, but he is said to be able to take the shape of many different animals, and also to fly.  So I think we have a definite match.

What should the inhabitants of Steytlerville do?  One possibility is to make a Thokolozi Repellant, but the problem is that the recipe I found requires Thokolozi fat.  Obtaining that would seem to be a bit of a stumbling block, although one site I looked at said that it might be purchased from a muti, or purveyor of traditional medicine.  You can also appease the Thokolozi by putting out food for him, but you must remember not to put salt in it; he apparently shares with many European spirit creatures the characteristic of not liking salt.  Sometimes witches subdue a Thokolozi, and keep him around for their own purposes, about which I will leave you to speculate.  They do this by a combination of magic and luring him with food, and keep him docile by "trimming the hair over his eyes."

So the good news for the people of Steytlerville is that Thokolozis mostly seem fairly harmless, and just like to scare people but don't actually harm anyone.  The bad news is that there doesn't seem to be much they can do about his presence.  They only have two choices, as far as I can see:  either to put out food to appease a magical spirit with large genitals and one buttock, or to lay off the booze and then do a house-to-house search for some prankster who has a suit, a pig costume, and large fake bat wings.

I know which one I think would be more effective.

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