WordPress suggests a blog should have a clear focus when it is first created. Although I originally intended to focus on topics regarding pseudoscience, this blog has slowly morphed into one about Western folklore. I have therefore decided to rectify this problem by creating a new sister blog, The Eternal Hunt, for this material. Those who enjoyed my piece on witch lore should follow me over there. This blog will continue to report on “woo” of all sorts. The migration will take place over the next couple of days.
Category Archives: Folklore
(Last update: 11-18-14)
Melba Ketchum, the Texas veterinarian who claims to have sequenced the Bigfoot genome, has posted a picture of a horse that supposedly had part of its mane braided by a Bigfoot. The photo caption on her genome project website states: “Sasquatch appear to take an interest in our animal companions and have been reported to braid horse manes.”
(Fair use under 17 USC § 107.)
A similar practice of tying knots into animal fur has been reported in the Mahale Chimpanzee community in Tanzania, Africa. The primatologist William C. McGrew comments in his book The Cultured Chimpanzee (2004) that he had discovered an adult female chimp named Akko wearing the fur of a red colobus monkey that had been knotted into a necklace.
A drawing of the necklace.
A drawing of the knot. 
Pretty amazing, right? This is obviously proof that higher primates have a penchant for hair manipulation. Well, not exactly. I’ll let McGrew explain:
Was this the first record of a manufactured ornament in a wild ape? … Perhaps, but not likely. It could have been: (1) accidental, from Akko’s repeated manipulation of the skin, so that a knot got tied inadvertently; (2) mistaken, as Akko might have been trying to bandage her cut finger with the skin but instead tied a knot; (3) observer error, as we might have mistaken Akko’s draping a piece of bark around her neck for her wearing of the skin, (4) misattribution, as the knot might have been tied by a baboon, and then only found by Akko; (5) hoax, as our field assistant might have knotted the skin, as a joke. Or the one useful explanation could be that this was (6) the invention of the necklace in Mahale’s [local chimpanzee community], to be followed perhaps by a whole fashion for body ornamentation. Sadly, it apparently was not the start of a fad; since recovering Akko’s knot in 1996, we know of no further instances. It may have been one of those many memetic mutations that never caught on.
But, you may say, the anecdote of Akko’s knot at least shows that chimpanzees have the capacity to use a knot to make a necklace. Wrong. An accident, mistake, error, etc., says nothing about an ape’s capacity to do anything. All that an anecdote can do is alert us to a possibility, so that we will look for it again… 
The researchers never saw Akko actually tie the knot, so attributing the skill to her is unwise. Likewise, no one has ever seen a Bigfoot braiding a horse’s hair, so attributing the phenomenon to a creature that has never been demonstrated to exist is ridiculous. There are any number of things that can explain the braids. It’s best to eliminate all possibilities like McGrew did above before coming to a conclusion. It could be: 1) Bigfoot actually braids the hair; 2) it’s a hoax, meaning a human is braiding the hair and attributing it to Bigfoot; 3) wind twirls the hair into braids; or 4) the hair is matted into braids through scratching and rubbing. Let’s face it, there is zero evidence for number one. Number two is very possible since hair braiding is common knowledge–a boy doesn’t grow up with sisters and not learn how to do it. The last two are actually the most plausible. According to the book Grooming Horses (2009): “In the worst-case scenario, the mane can become hopelessly tangled into long, matted ‘witch’s knots’…by the wind and the elements.”  That is why there are products specifically designed for detangling matted hair. Take this page, for example (pay close attention to the first picture). It is important to note that matting is a danger to horses because their legs can get caught in their hair:
Let’s not forget that Bigfoots are not the only mythological creatures to be associated with tangled hair. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1870) states the French Lutin goblins: “Sometimes…so tangle the mane of a horse or head of a child that the hair must be cut off.”  These myths are simply used to explain natural hair matting.
Elves were also associated with tangled hair. Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (18th-century) defines “Elf-Locks” as “[a] matted lock of hair in the neck.”  The phrase “To Elf” was understood as a verb meaning “[t]o entangle in knots.”  The most famous instance of elf-locks in association with horses comes from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1597):
—This is that very Mab,
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And brakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes. 
The play is often considered the first recorded mention of elf-locks.  However, the phenomenon was first recorded all the way back in the 13th-century. William of Auvergne (d. 1249), Bishop of Paris, wrote about female spirits led by a queen representing the goddess Diana. At night, “[t]hey sometimes enter stables with wax tapers, the drippings of which appear on the hairs and necks of the horses, whilst their manes are carefully plaited.”  I think it’s safe to assume this folk legend predates the bishop’s writings. This just goes to show that the Bigfoot is the most recent explanation for this phenomenon.
Witches are also associated with the phenomenon. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines a “Hag’s Knot” as: “Tangles in the manes of horses, etc., supposed to be used by witches for stirrups.”  This was once a common belief among African Americans of the southern United States in the 19th- and early 20th-century. According to Newbell Nil Puckett:
When you find your hair plaited into little stirrups in the morning or when it is all tangled up and your face scratched you may be sure that the witches have been bothering you at night … Horses as well as humans are ridden; you can tell when the witches have been bothering them by finding ‘witches stirrups’ (two strands of hair twisted together) in the horses’ mane. A person who plaits a horse’s mane and leaves it that way is simply inviting the witches to ride, though they will seldom bother the horses except on very dark nights, and even then have a decided preferences for dark colored horses. In England and Scotland, such ‘fairy stirrups’ are attributed to the pigsies (piskies) riding the animals.” 
I wonder if Bigfoot and the witches trade braiding secrets.
As I mentioned in my last update, a common piece of folklore is that witches braid horse manes into stirrups so they can ride them. Well, it turns out that some people actually believe juvenile Bigfoots are braiding horses so that they can do the same. In September 2011, the Western Bigfoot Society had a meeting during which:
Don Monroe from Montana had an interesting presentation on the braiding of the manes of horses. He thinks it is a sign of higher intelligence in the Wild People, and indicated a great dexterity. Three plaits are arranged one over and under another; interwoven and twisted together, often lengthened by including tail hairs to make a possible rein to hold on to for riding. Rhettman commented relayed [sic] an account from an equestrian lady in Montana that stated it is not the heavy adults, but the younger creatures whose tiny fingers do the braids and rode the horsed [sic] (Don commented on Asian horses being ridden in that fashion).
The “[t]hree plaits…arranged one over and under another” is demonstrated by this illustration:
The summary of Monroe’s presentation continues:
[The braids] from simple three strands to more complicated ones similar to a French braid and are tied off with a tight hair knot. Don has investigated horses from near Owyhee, Oregon, on the Neil Hink Ranch and at Blazer Horses at the Phil Jenson Ranch to determine that out of 135 horses examined, 40, a trifle over a third, were found to have braids. The puzzled farmers usually just cut them off. It was noted that there is no activity when snow is on the ground, but only when the ground is hard and dry and doesn’t leave tracks.
I find it extremely hard to believe that those farmers don’t know where the knots are coming from, especially when they are so common (“a trifle over a third, were found to have braids”). As I’ve explained above, these plaits can be caused by the elements. For instance, a member of a British horse forum started a thread asking whether their horse’s plaited mane was caused by natural or supernatural forces. Another member replied by saying:
My little welshie gets them all the time through winter…When you see pictures of neglected horses with thier [sic] manes all matted…well thats [sic] how they start…with a small ‘plait’. If you leave it long enough more will add to it and you will end up with a huge mass of knotted mane. I have had my pony 11yrs now and she gets them every winter.
Here are the pictures that they provide as proof:
These look like they’ve been done by hand, don’t they? Monroe seems to think that it’s possible to determine the handedness of the Bigfoot doing the braiding: “there is about a 79% chance that the braiding is done by a left handed creature, from the direction that hairs are divided.” Really? What hand was used to braid this three-plaited masterpiece?
(Permission to use this picture was graciously provided by
Emily Gibson of the Barnstorming blog. Check her out.)
Hmm…this looks sort of like Monroe’s drawing of the braided horse mane from above. Emily’s delightfully tongue-and-cheek article “Gernumbli gardensi Infestation” posits that it’s the handiwork of gnomes, but she is aware that’s its the product of nature. Now if only Bigfooters would catch up with the rest of us.
I’ve written a brief introductory article (a work-in-progress, really) that explains the origins of the horse hair braiding myth:
I learned from this blog (thanks for the shout out) that Don Monroe published a book on Bigfoot braiding. I looked around and found it was named The Braided Horses Are Coming (2013). It apparently had a very limited release because I can only find one place selling the book, and it is no longer available. Here is a description:
Exploring the mysteries of the strange braided loops repeatedly found in the manes of horses, both wild and domestic, Don Monroe takes us along on his personal adventure of discovery. These loops have long been taken merely as annoying tangles formed by the wind and brush; on closer inspection they seem to have been made by skilled hands, but whose? Monroe looks at possibilities from the ever elusive ‘Sasquatch’ or ‘Bigfoot’ to humans who have chosen to go ‘feral’ and live off the land totally separate from ‘civilization.’ What is the truth of it? Join him and perhaps we will find out…
I would love to get my hands on a copy to see what method he used to analyze the braids. I’m certainly not going to pay to read it, though. I’ll update this entry if I gain access to a copy.
Ketchum made the following announcement on her Facebook page on 7-31-13:
Had a good interview with Jen Brien at WBZ out of Boston CBS affiliate tonight. It was cleansing as I vented about how things have gone with the project and how unfair the research has been treated. I seldom do this but considering the recent unwarranted criticism, I decided not to be quiet for a change. Jen might be the first media person to visit our habituation sites. I truly hope that she does. Time will tell.
From what I’ve been able to find out, Jen Brien talks to people on air about UFOs and conspiracy theories just like Coast to Coast AM, which Ketchum previously appeared on. This means she specifically targeted a “fringe friendly” radio personality to help her prove the existence of Bigfoot in the public eye. She has pretty much given up on the scientific arena since her study has been torn to shreds. I’m interested to see if the mane braiding will be a subject touched upon if Brien does visit the supposed habituation site. I’ll keep an eye out.
The Bigfoot Evidence blog recently reported that Jen Brien may have passed up on the chance to visit the habituation site. I can’t find the post on either of Ketchum’s Facebook pages. She may have deleted it to avoid pissing off Brien. However, there is a screen capture:
That’s pretty sad when a radio talk show host who discusses UFOs won’t even come visit you because they smell BS. What’s “just a little odd” is that Ketchum is still trying to wage a popularity contest in place of inviting credentialed scientists to come view the habituation site. If such a place is so active, all she would have to do is invite some primatologists with video cameras. A few days worth of notes, pictures, and footage would settle 50 years of debate. But that would be too easy if Bigfoot was a real (and not imagined) creature.
I will continue to follow this story to see if Brien or anyone else will visit the site.
M.K. Davis recently posted a video of what he considers to be evidence of Patty, the supposed Bigfoot from the Patterson-Gimlim film, having a braid in her hair. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced. No matter of applying “filters” to increase the contrast in the film makes the dark blob look like a braid. First and foremost, the “braid” just so happens to appear in the exact same areas as dark spots in the foliage. This tells me that Davis is simply seeing what he wants to see. Second, the braid doesn’t swing with natural moment like it should if it is indeed that long. Davis claims the wind is whipping it around; however, again, it only appears in the aforementioned spots. Considering that the figure is walking forward, this would explain the sudden appearance of a dark blob next to the head. It is interesting to note that these dark spots are still visible in the treeline as Patty continues to walk forward.
Suzanne Burnham, DVM, a friend of the Texas Folklore Society, wrote me in April of this year because she had heard of my research on witches’ knots (I had forgotten about it until recently). She is quite familiar with the natural ways these knots form. This should serve as a further example of how the people claiming these are “braids” either are delusional or are fibbing:
I have groomed horses almost all of my life and so has my husband. My background is European, English saddle and jumping horses; his is western saddle, rodeo and West Texas. Both if us are familiar with the term witch’s knot and for us both it refers to the tangle of hair in the horse’s tail that forms usually at the end of the tail bone. At the center of the knot is the evil that started it. As we apply Vaseline or heavy conditioner to the knot, we gently pick out the hair until we find what is in the middle if it. Sometimes it will be a branch of dried briar, a cocklebur or the claw seed of a pasture weed. It always has spines, thorns or sharp points on a twig. After we remove the “evil” we shampoo the tail to remove the lubricant which otherwise would attract dust and dirt. The term came to us from horsemen who came before. No idea of the origins but at the barn, it is a well known term. My daughter is familiar with it and says its the normal barn vernacular!
MK Davis has once again uploaded a video about the “braid.” This time the braid has been “enhanced” so people can see it better. The film is just a blob of colors when zoomed in, so this begs the question of whether or not the braid is even original to the film. Other features on Patty’s head, such as an ear and an opening and closing mouth, have been enhanced so much they look like hand drawn caricatures. This leads me to suspect that Davis may have taken liberties by using a digital program to paint these objects in. This is not the first time he has been accused of manipulating the film to create evidence.
It should be pointed out that today’s horses are not native to North America. In fact, they have been present for less than 500 years. The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés brought the first horses with him to Mexico when he came to conquer the Aztec Empire in 1519. The first horses to make it to what would become the United States might have been those brought by the fellow conquistador Francisco Vásquez when he pushed into New Mexico looking for the fabled city of gold in 1540. A breeding population didn’t happen until sometime later when people began to settle North America.  When horses became widely used is unknown to me; however, their arrival predates the earliest verifiable Sasquatch stories–these mythical people were essentially giant Indians before they were recast as the furry creatures we know today–from the 1920s by almost 400 years.  If Bigfoot were truly braiding horse manes this entire time, there should have been such braiding stories long before they started popping up in the late 20th-century. But, instead, any stories dealing with horses and mythical creatures follow the European variants mentioned above.
As I described in an earlier entry (3-14-13), the legend of mane braiding goes back to at least 13th-century Europe. Female spirits led by the goddess Diana were said to plait the manes of horses at night so that they could ride them. Church documents from the early 10th-century considered Diana and her crew to be witches,  so witches riding horses at night became a common folktale that spread across Europe. This legend eventually spread to the Americas not long after the horse was first introduced. For instance, during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, one woman was accused of riding a horse with a magic bridle.
Ketchum recently stated on her facebook page that she was going to be making a video about Sasquatch horse mane braiding:
My next video is about the way the Sasquatch braid horses’ manes. They use primarily the same pattern worldwide. Here’s a little preview of a slide where I pulled a couple of British horses to compare. It was funny, it was a forum and they were all freaking out because they didn’t know what was doing it. Some thought it was thieves marking their horses but none of the horses were being stolen. I did resist the temptation to enlighten them. The bay on the right is one of mine. Robin Lynne Forestpeople owns the pony from MI. There are a lot of other pics out there on the net but I just grabbed these for an example. The video will go more in depth.
The entire video will probably consist of analyzing random internet photos and claiming the supposed twist patterns denote an intelligent hand. At no point will video of an actual braiding event be offered as evidence. Modern day folk stories about the beast braiding manes by night will be used in lieu of this. Natural explanations for knotting, such as the wind and itching, will surely be glossed over, as well as the long history of knots being attributed to supernatural figures like elves, fairies, goblins, and witches.
 W.C. McGrew and L.F. Marchant, “Chimpanzee Wears Knotted Skin ‘Necklace’,” Pan Africa News 5, no. 1 (June, 1998): 8-9, http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/143363/1/Pan5%281%29_08.pdf (accessed March 13, 2013).
 William Clement McGrew, The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology (Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 77-79.
 Jessie Shiers, Grooming Horses: A Complete Illustrated Guide. Guilford, Conn: Knack, 2009, 102.
 Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words That Have a Tale to Tell (London: Cassell and Co, 1905), 783-784.
 John Brand, Henry Ellis, and William Carew Hazlitt. Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: Faiths and Folklore; a Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, with Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated. London: Reeves and Turner, 1905, 208.
 See this etymology page, for example. It dates “Romeo and Juliet” to 1592.
 Paulist Fathers, Catholic World (Paramus, N.J., etc: Paulist Fathers, etc., 1865), 326.
 Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions, 1994), 516.
 Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (S.l: Kessinger Pub, 2003), 151-153.
 John L. Long, Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution, and Influence (Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Pub, 2003), 352.
 Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 34-35.
 Alan Charles Kors, Edward Peters, and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 62.
Brand, John, Henry Ellis, and William Carew Hazlitt. Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: Faiths and Folklore; a Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, with Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated. London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.
Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words That Have a Tale to Tell. London: Cassell and Co, 1905.
———-The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions, 1994.
Kors, Alan Charles, Edward Peters, and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
Long, John L. Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution, and Influence. Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Pub, 2003.
Loxton, Daniel, and Donald R. Prothero. Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
McGrew, William Clement. The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
McGrew, W.C., and L.F. Marchant. “Chimpanzee Wears Knotted Skin ‘Necklace’.” Pan Africa News 5, no. 1 (June, 1998): 8-9. http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/143363/1/Pan5%281%29_08.pdf (accessed March 13, 2013).
Paulist Fathers. Catholic World. Paramus, N.J., etc: Paulist Fathers, etc., 1865.
Puckett, Newbell Niles. Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro. S.l: Kessinger Pub, 2003.
Shiers, Jessie. Grooming Horses: A Complete Illustrated Guide. Guilford, Conn: Knack, 2009.