; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The History of the Owlman

A few weeks ago I was informed of a large flying being seen in a village in southeast Wales. The huge size was not determined but the description paralleled the classic reports of the Owlman of Mawnan.

Mawnan is a village in southern Cornwall, UK. During the 1976 Easter weekend, two young women, saw a 'huge great thing with feathers, like a big man with flapping wings', hovering over the church tower at Mawnan. The woman were so frightened that their family holiday was cut short by three days.

In another sighting, two people saw it standing in a large tree, near the Mawnan church. At first the witnesses thought someone was playing a trick on them by being dressed in a costume. But as they observed the creature, it flew up into the air, and away from the area. After it flew away, there was a crackling or static noise heard in the trees for some time.

In a 1996 sighting a woman reported seeing a strange glob of glowing light floating over the church. She watched as the light faded away, only to be replaced by another one a short distance away. The color of the lights was orange-red.

In 2003 two teenage girls were out after midnight driving in a vehicle, when they wanted to listen to some music. They wanted to have the music playing loudly, so not wanting to disturb local neighbors, they drove to the Mawnan church which is isolated and empty at night. After they were at the church for a few minutes the girls observed a glowing or pulsating blog of colored light hovering over the church, after awhile it vanished and the girls returned home.

in September of 2009 a 12 year old girl named Jessica Wilkins or Jessica Wilkinson encountered the Owlman of Mawnan. This is the first sighting that I have heard of in several years and only the second this century.

The creature has been described as a monstrous thing resembling a mix of 3 beings; an owl, a bear, and a man. The creatures height is estimated as 7 feet tall. It has large flapping wings that are covered with grayish-brown feathers. The legs and body are also covered with feathers.

The eyes are large, slanted and glow bright red. On top of it's head are pointy ears, it's feet have large, black crab-like claws.


The History of the Owlman

A letter written by Tony 'Doc' Shiels - April 1976: "A very weird thing happened over the Easter weekend. A holiday-maker from Preston, Lancs., told me about something his two young daughters had seen ... a big, feathered bird-man hovering over the church tower at Mawnan (a village near the mouth of the Helford River). The girls (June 12, and Vicky, daughters of Mr Don Melling), were so scared that the family cut their holiday short and went back three days early. This really is a fantastic thing, and I am sure the man wasn't just making it up because he'd been told I was on a monster hunt. I couldn't get the kids to talk about it (in fact, their father wouldn't even let me try), but he gave me a sketch of the thing drawn by June.

"There have been no reports, so far as I know, of anybody else seeing the Bird-Man ... even if it turned out to be just a fancy dress hang-glider, you'd think someone else would have spotted him ... but Mawnan is not a place for hang-gliding! I really don't know what to think ... it's as if a whole load of weirdness has been let loose in the Falmouth area since last autumn!"

For a period between the late autumn of 1975 and the early spring of 1977 it seems that Southern Cornwall was seized by a period of collective madness. Much of this is chronicled in some depth in the book The Owlman and Others.

There were dramatic extremes in the weather - droughts and floods - heatwaves and frozen wastes. The local animal life went (figuratively and literally) crazy; one unfortunate woman was imprisoned in her house by hordes of attacking birds which literally beat themselves to death against the walls of her house, which was dripping red with their blood. Another woman was similarly imprisoned by a mob of feral cats, dog attacks trebled, swimmers were attacked by dolphins (who also saved other swimmers from drowning), and there were reports that cattle belonging to local farmers had developed the power of teleportation. Most interesting to the fortean were the burgeoning numbers of UFO sightings and the reports of three entirely different sets of mystery animal in the region; Morgawr (the Cornish Sea Serpent), the Cornish mystery big cats and the Owlman of Mawnan.

The first reports of these 'creatures' in print were in an obscure booklet entitled Morgawr-the monster of Falmouth Bay by Anthony Mawnan-Peller. He gave a brief description of the events of Easter Saturday: "During the Easter weekend, the two young daughters of a holidaymaker ... Mr. Don Melling, from Preston, Lancashire ... saw a 'huge great thing with feathers, like a big man with flapping wings', hovering over the church tower at Mawnan (on 'Morgawr's Mile'). The girls ... Vicky, 9, and June, 12 ... were so frightened that the family holiday was cut short by three days".

Although not widely read outside Cornwall, this booklet was available extensively throughout the county and was read by many people including two young girls of fourteen, Sally Chapman and Barbara Perry, who in early July 1976 were camping in the woods by Mawnan Old Church when they, too, saw the Owlman.

They met Tony on Grebe Beach, below Mawnan Old Church the day after their sighting. Sally, who was from Plymouth, had been staying with her friend Barbara, (who would only admit that she lived 'quite near the river'). Sally approached Tony and said: "Are you Doc Shiels? We've seen the bird monster."

Sally described what they had seen: "It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. At first, I thought that it was someone dressed up, playing a joke, trying to scare us. I laughed at it, we both did, then it went up in the air and we both screamed. When it went up you could see its feet were like pincers"

Her friend added some details of her own: "It's true. It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered in grey feathers. The claws on its feet were black. It just flew up and disappeared in the trees".

Although as Tony admitted at the time, it is possible that the two young ladies were trying to hoax him, he is convinced that they were genuine.

He separated the two girls and had each of them draw a picture of what she had seen. The two pictures are dissimilar enough to rebuff suggestions of collusion but have enough points in common, both with each other, and with the other accounts of the 'creature' to be considered as a significant piece of evidence.

Both girls made brief additional notes underneath their pictures. Sally's read: "I saw this monster bird last night. It stood like a man and then it flew up through the trees. It is as big as a man. Its eyes are red and shine brightly".

And Barbara wrote: "Birdman monster. seen on third of July, quite late at night but not quite dark. Red Eyes. Black Mouth. It was very big with great big wings and black claws. Feathers grey."

The two girls agreed on most points with their pictures although Sally thought Barbara had 'done the wings wrong'. At the same time as Sally and Barbara were talking to 'Doc' on Grebe Beach, two other girls also saw what Tony refers to as 'his Owliness':

"It has red slanting eyes and a very large mouth. The feathers are silvery grey and so are his body and legs, the feet are like a big, black, crab's claws. We were frightened at the time. It was so strange, like something out of a horror film. After the thing went up, there were crackling sounds in the tree-tops for ages. Our mother thinks we made it all up just because we read about these things, but that is not true. we really saw the bird-man, though it could have been someone playing a trick in a very good costume and make up. But how could it rise up like that? If we imagined it, then we both imagined it at the same time".

Two years later, a young lady called 'Miss Opie' saw 'A monster, like a devil, flying up through the trees near old Mawnan Church'. A few days later Tony Shiels wrote to Janet and Colin Bord of the Fortean Picture Library: "The owlman is certainly back in business, it seems. I poked around his area, around Old Mawnan Church, a couple of days ago, and the atmosphere was positively crackling with 'odd presences', if you know what I mean.

As soon as anything really exciting happens, I'll let you know. It would be terrific if I really could get a picture of our feathered friend, but, he only seems to pop up for young girls ... and I ain't one!"

The Owlman, as it was now generally known, (it appears that Tony coined the name in late 1976), was seen again on the 2nd August by three young, unnamed French girls. The landlady of the boarding house in which they had been staying told Tony that the three girls had been frightened by something "very big, like a big, furry bird with a gaping mouth and round eyes" This was all that the landlady could tell him, so Tony left a message for the girls to contact him, but as always seems to be the case he never heard anything further. Many commentators on the case have questioned Tony's role in the affair. One investigator, Mark Chorvinsky of Strange magazine even claimed that because so many of the sightings were connected with him, that Tony had made the whole thing up. Such people do not understand the reticence of the Cornish people. They do not like to talk to outsiders, and I am convinced that if it had not been for Tony's presence in the area as a trusted 'local' the affair would never have been made public. The case of the French girls for example. Tony wrote to me in 1995 explainiing how he had become involved: "The French girls were students (at Camborne Tech - now known as Cornwall College), lodging in Redruth. I think they were on some sort of 'summer school' course. Their landlady 'phoned me about this sighting. Remember, at the time, I was getting quite a lot of media coverage. People reported weird shit to me"... Two years later the creature re-appeared when, "an enormous, bird-like creature" was seen flying "over the Helford River and into the trees near Grebe Beach".

At Hallowe'en 1986 Tony was at the centre of a media storm when the Bishop of Truro, and the local newspapers accused him of having committed unspeakable acts of blasphemy inside Mawnan Old Church whilst attempting to invoke the Owlman. The affair was somewhat of a 'five minute wonder' in the press and the actual sequence of events remains obscure. Ten years or so later Tony told me: "I did a few bits and pieces inside the Church ... There was a lot of misreporting that I was throwing out challenges to God, and saying I'd smack him in the gob. I don't think God has a gob, and I wouldn't do that anyway to the deity. He'd give me a harder smack back wouldn't he?" Eventually - more by luck than by judgement - I pieced together the true story.

He had indeed visited the church with a local radio team, but the "huge crowd of people" turned out to be ONE rather shy bloke called 'Dave'. He told me that there was no blasphemy, no swearing, no naked witches and no cigars, and that the wizard had entered the church, muttered a few things under his breath in a foreign language and then left again. It turns out that the radio team had approached my friend and asked him what he had planned to do to celebrate Hallowe'en. He said: "Buy me a drink and I'll show you."

This the radio people did, only to find that like many wizards, my friend has a legendary capacity for the stuff. Finding at the end of the evening that they had nothing to show for their severely depleted expense accounts, I have a sneaking suspicion that someone decided that it would be a good idea to concoct a bizarre tale of blasphemy and psychic mayhem.

In 1989 a young man called 'Gavin' and his girlfriend 'Sally' (not their real names), encountered the Mawnan Owlman. This was perhaps the most important sighting to date from a cryptoinvestigative point of view, because it is the only sighting that cannot in any way be linked to Tony 'Doc' Shiels. I have interviewed 'Gavin' on a number of occasions and am convinced of his veracity. This is his story in his own words:

"We had a torch and I was shining its beam across trunks about fifteen feet off the ground. I am fairly sure that the animal was standing in a large conifer tree and the illustration we made after the sighting (but not til we got home actually) does depict the animal in a conifer tree, but I'm not that sure now. Here is the actual sighting as written down in my diary:

'Every couple of hours we would walk along the fringe of the wood. This was the third time that evening and it was beginning to get dark. From a distance trees looked black but closer up the branches and trunks could be seen. We saw the animal at about 9.30 pm. It was standing on a thick branch with its wings sort of held up at the arms. I'd say that it was about five feet tall (but please read on). The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge 'toes' on the visible side. The creature was grey with brown and the eyes definitely glowed. On seeing us its head jerked down and forwards, its wings lifted and it just jumped backwards. As it did its legs folded up. We ran away.

"We had a pretty good idea what it looked like. We didn't know what to do about it, and essentially vowed never to tell anyone. I last saw Sally about two years ago and talked about it then. She was as unkeen to share the information then as she was earlier, and I promised I wouldn't tell anyone about her involvement, but I could 'do what I liked' with my interpretation. I respect this and have never disclosed any information about her'.

To date the most recent sighting of the Mawnan Owlman, took place, allegedly, at the end of the summer of 1995 and is chronicled in a letter sent to Simon Parker, the night editor of the Western Morning News in Truro. It reads:

"Dear Sir, I am a student of marine biology at the Field Museum, Chicago, on the last day of a summer vacation in England. Last Sunday evening I had a most unique and frightening experience in the wooded area near the old church at Mawnan, Cornwall. I experienced what I can only describe as 'a vision from hell'. The time was fifteen minutes after nine, more or less, and I was walking along a narrow track through the trees. I was halted in my tracks when, about thirty metres ahead, I saw a monstrous man-bird 'thing'. It was the size of a man, with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears. It had huge clawed wings, and was covered in feathers of silver/grey color. (sic). The thing had long bird legs which terminated in large black claws. It saw me and arose, 'floating' towards me. I just screamed then turned and ran for my life.

"The whole experience was totally irrational and dreamlike (nightmare!). Friends tell me that there is a tradition of a phantom 'owlman' in that district. Now I know why. I have seen the phantom myself. "Please don't publish my real name and address. This could adversely affect my career. Now I have to rethink my 'world view' entirely. Yours, very sincerely scared... 'Eye Witness'."

We have her name and address, but we have respected her wishes and kept her anonymity. We have tried a little piece of covert investigation into this particular eyewitness but have drawn a blank whenever we tried to investigate further. I think that it would be unwise to wholeheartedly accept this account as genuine, but it is included for the sake of completion.

We are left now with what devotees of TV gameshows would no doubt call the $64,000 question. Does the Owlman exist? and if it does what is it?

I quite understand the unwillingness of researchers like Mark Chorvinsky to accept such a bizarre tale purely on the evidence presented by such a notorious figure as 'Doc' Shiels. After all, by his own admission he is a 'charlatan' and a 'thimble rigger', and he has even told me not to "invest belief in anything" especially him! (and this is a man I count as a close and dear friend). The discovery of 'Gavin' and his succinct and believable eyewitness testimony provided an invaluable corroboration to the vast body of 'Shiels-channeled' evidence, and has persuaded even some noted sceptics that there is something to the story after all.

Graham McEwan has suggested that such 'creatures' are quasi-animate thought form manifestations created by the unconscious mind of a lonely traveller. The veteran explorer and mystic Alexandra David-Neel writing in With Magicians and Mystics in Tibet (1931) tells how certain Buddhist monks can create living thought forms called tulpas. She claimed that she managed to create one of her own, the image of a fat and jolly monk who was seen on at least one occasion by an independent witness. She warns, however: "Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to play the part of a real being it tends to free itself from its makers control". In the case of her tulpa this happened and she described how the monk became thinner and less jolly and how slowly 'his face assumed a vaguely mocking, sly, malignant look. He became more troublesome and bold. In short he escaped my control.'

In my more frivolous moments I wonder whether Mark Chorvinksy was sort of right after all. Maybe 'Doc' had made the whole thing up, perhaps after he had been reading John Keel's classic The Mothman Prophecies (about a similar apparition in West Virginia during 1967), and had decided in a spirit of genuinely surreal mischief that it was perhaps time that Cornwall had something similar to counterpoint its very own sea monster. Perhaps this very act of creation helped form a tulpa which then got out of hand. If so then I suspect that Tony was as surprised as anyone else when other people started to report sightings of the creature.

Another theory that I have adopted at various times is linked with the sex of the witnesses. With the one exception - the young man who has asked to be identified only as 'Gavin' the only people to have seen the creature have been young women. Even 'Gavin' was accompanied by a young woman at the time. Could the owlman be a sort of three dimensional, feathered poltergeist? An apparition 'invoked' by the peculiar hormonal and emotional changes which affect young women at this time?

Maybe the combination of these conditions - which as anyone who has ever shared a house with a teenage girl will know can be quite devastating, with something inate in the psychical infrastructure of the area surrounding Mawnan Old Church has a synergistic effect, producing the apparition that has become known as The Owlman of Mawnan.

As Oscar Wilde said, 'the truth is never pure and seldom simple'. Perhaps the real identity of the Owlman of Mawnan, and indeed other similar 'creatures' seen across the globe is some, all, or none of the explanations given above, or perhaps, more probably, we shall never know! - Jonathan Downes - www.cfz.org.uk


Mawnan, Cornwall indicated with "A" marker

One theory which has been presented to explain the Owlman sightings was published in 1985 by researchers Janet and Colin Bord in their book Alien Animals. They suggest that the church, which seems to be at the center of most sightings, may have been built on a ley line, a straight line which passes through and links several ancient sites, and speculated that the appearance of the Owlman may be a manifestation of earth energy. However in a later book Modern Mysteries of the World, published in 1989, the two retracted this theory and stated that they believed that the sightings were probably of an escaped aviary bird rather than a paranormal phenomenon.

Others have suggested this more straightforward explanation that Owlman sightings were actually that of an escaped aviary bird, such as an Eagle Owl, a species that can grow more than two feet long, with a wingspan of nearly 6 feet. This is supported by a report by Karl Shuker in regards to a late 1980’s sighting of the Owlman in which the witness described it as four foot high, with two large toes on the front of each foot, it reportedly ducked down and forwards before it took off. Shuker stated in his report that this description and behavior calls to mind a very large owl.

A hand full of researchers have made the connection between the Owlman and the Mothman, a dark, winged humanoid that haunted Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966. Although some physical descriptions of the two seem to match up, the Mothman is thought to be a harbinger of doom whose appearance is preceded by a great disaster, however nothing that would be considered a disaster has occurred in the almost 30 years of Owlman sightings.

Downes, Jonathan - "The Owlman and Others" - CFZ Communications - 2001
Redfern, Nick - "Three Men Seeking Monsters: Six Weeks in Pursuit of Werewolves, Lake Monsters, Giant Cats, Ghostly Devil Dogs, and Ape-Men" - 2004
Janet and Colin Bord - "Alien Animals" - 1985