The human race has long held a fascination with water. Considering that it is as necessary as it is dangerous, it’s easy to see why. We have used water to our benefit time and again, irrigating crops that would otherwise be left to shrivel and die under a blazing sun, harvesting from the oceans untold tons of fish and seafood in order to sustain our lives and livelihoods, and pushing far into the unknown reaches of terra incognita through inlets, channels, and rivers. Aside from their more practical applications, water holds a great spiritual significance too, such as the symbolism associated with the practice of immersion in Christian baptism.
For all our familiarity with that elemental source, there yet remains a great deal of mystery hidden in its murky depths. After all, it has been said often that we known more about the surface of the moon than our own oceans. Sometimes we are forced to question what we think about that as yet unreachable realm. Could its dark waters play host to creatures of myth and legend? Do sea monsters exist?
There has always been a certain haunting associated with bodies of water, be they lakes, rivers, or oceans, and in an effort to cope with what we don’t understand, those who dealt with the waters often told stories of things that resided there. Tales remain of faeries, mermaids, kelpies, nereids, selkies, sirens, and countless other creatures, but few have had as lasting an impact or intrigue as sea serpents and their land-locked kin.
Possibly the most famous of these creatures is the Scottish Nessie, of the fabled Loch Ness. The modern conception of the Loch Ness Monster began in 1933, when Alex Campbell and his wife were startled by a large, dark creature shambling across the road in front of them in a manner akin to that a seal or sealion. In his words, the creature was much like a “dragon or pre-historic animal” in nature. From there, excitement grew around that high lake in Scotland as others began to experience their own sightings.
One of the most controversial aspects of the beast come in the famous 1934 “Surgeon’s Photo,” a wonderful black and white still of tranquil waters interrupted by a craning neck and head. This is without a doubt, the definitive image of Nessie! Even so, as new evidence and rigorous experimentation suggested, the classic photo appears to be a fake; a toy submarine upon which was mounted the sculpted head of a monster. For many, the story of the Loch Ness Monster drew its last, desperate breaths with the revelation. For other though, intrigue continues.
You see, the interesting thing that can’t be overlooked about Nessie is that sightings go back far longer than Campbell’s sighting or the Surgeon’s photograph. In fact, some of the earliest sightings are as old as St. Columba, in the year AD 565. According to the reports, Columba, who was told about the beast by locals in the area, came to confront it, in the process making the sign of the cross and saying, “Go no further…Go back at once.” So the legend goes, the creature did in fact turn away as if bound by ropes and the event was hailed as miraculous by all in attendance. That said, there is a history of sightings made on the loch that far predate our modern speculations.
Going beyond that region, we find tales of similar lake monsters the world over. Just in North America, for instance, we have Champ, Ogopogo, the Beast of Busco, the White River Monster, and at least a dozen lesser known monsters.
Intriguingly, as Janet & Colin Bord write in their book, Alien Animals,¹ there may be much more going on with these creatures than there at first may appear (and no, it doesn’t involve extraterrestrials). For me, this perspective offers some amazing notions to consider…
Despite whatever may lurk inland within those bodies of water, the greatest of these kinds of mysteries are to be found in the seas, and we all can admit that, given the scale and impenetrability of the oceans, there is much left to discover in the depths. After all, the giant squid, an undeniable reality now, was a legend itself until fairly recently in our history. Who knows what else remains down there?
In closing, it’s worth mentioning that the Bible does in fact mention sea monsters and the like quite a few times. From the many instances of the Hebrew word tannin (Strong’s Concordance 8577 [תַּנִּין], variably meaning serpent, dragon, or sea monster) to the more famous Leviathan, scripture is suspiciously vocal about these things. The account of the Leviathan in particular (coming from Job 41) gives a believer much to consider, as it describes a huge aquatic beast with sharp and abundant teeth, impenetrable scales, and even (most irksome to those who suggest that it is just a large crocodile) the ability to exhale smoke and sparks from its mouth and nostrils!² What is this creature? What are all the tannin of the scriptures? What yet lurks in the waters of countless ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans?
Only God knows for certain…
- Janet & Colin Bord, “Alien Animals,” HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Revised edition (June 20, 1985)
- “Sea Monsters … More than a Legend?Tales of Unknown Creatures Make Sense in a Biblical Framework of History.,”Rebecca Driver on September 1, 1997
Thank you very much, and God bless!