Animal Wisdom: Connecting People and Animals

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YETI (ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN): Reflections on the Sacred

Mention “Abominable Snowman,” and people will conjure up a picture of a huge apeman with a cone-shaped head and snow white hair. This particular man-like creature has captured the public imagination with stories, toys, and TV shows. Now, people entertain notions of unknown humans and their hidden lives in the inaccessible places of the Himalayas.

Stories of Yeti (“Abominable Snowman”) reach far back in history. Pliny the Elder, of Rome, wrote about Yeti in the First Century C.E. In his writings on the natural world, Pliny described a man-like creature, who walked on two legs, living in the mountains of India. Meanwhile ancient writings of Tibetans told of a man-beast who roamed the high passes. Also the peoples of the Himalayas regarded Yeti to be the God of Hunting.

Modern reports of Yeti began in 1921, with a newspaper article in a Calcutta newspaper, Lieutenant Colonel C.K. Howard-Bury had sighted a mountain “man” with long hair on his head and shoulders. Then in his epic climb up Mt. Everest in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary reported seeing giant footprints, thereby setting off the Yeti craze. By 1959, Disneyland in California featured audio-animatronic Yeti in its rides.

The Sherpas of Nepal have many ways to denote the different kinds of Yeti. “Yet-teh,” which became “Yeti” in English, means “that there thing.” The Sherpas with Howard-Bury said they saw “met-teh kang-mi,” which translates into “foul-smelling snow creature.” “Teh-lma” means “that there little thing,” which refers to a small Yeti. “Dzu-teh,” meaning “big thing,” is a huge hulking animal, that stands on two legs.

Cryptozoologists, who study unknown primates, have determined that there are three species of Ape-like Yeti. (Dzu-teh is probably an unknown species of bear.) Big Yeti (“Gin-sung” in Chinese) is eight feet tall (nearly two meters), and walks on two legs. Possessing a square-like head, Big Yeti also has rusty brown hair. Little Yeti (Teh-lma), under five feet tall (a meter and a half), has a pointed head and thick-reddish grey hair. Teh-lma lives in the more tropical valleys of Nepal, and has been seen hunting frogs. Little and Big Yeti are considered relatives of humans. Meanwhile, Classic Yeti of the cone-head and greyish-white hair is believed to be a rock climbing ape.

One of the leading authorities on Yeti was the Russian scientist, Maya Bykova. She theorized that Yeti are genetic companions to modern humans. Bykova explained that the paralyzing fear that people have when they encounter a Yeti is from ancestral memories of similar prehistoric meetings. She based her conclusions on the large amount of data that she had gathered before her death in 1996.

Many Buddhist monasteries have established “sacred lands” for Yeti, whom they consider to be holy. Knowing Yeti to be fiercely territorial, few Nepalese will enter these lands. Furthermore, various monasteries possess scalps and hands of Yeti as sacred relics. Meanwhile, Bhutan has become the only country with a national park for Yeti: Thrumshingla National Park, where He can roam freely and unnoticed.

How we approach Yeti reflects how we relate to the Sacred. For many, the Sacred is cloaked in mystery and beyond comprehension. Philosopher Umberto Eco said, “The unknown is often seen in terms of the known.” Yeti is often compared to modern humans as to what “it” could be. Perhaps Yeti stands for things we were not meant to know. Or maybe Yeti is simply an unknown ape that lives in remote mountains. How do we approach the Yeti? Do we let “it” continue to be unknown or do we insist on pulling back the mystery? The choice is ours to make. Our feelings about Yeti reflects our attitudes towards the Sacred. If we allow Yeti be an enigma, then we allow Him to be numinous, one of the Sacred.

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Virginia Carper, a Roman Polytheist, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family. She navigates life with a traumatic brain injury which gives her a different view on life. An avid naturalist since childhood, she has a blog called “Nature’s Observations.” Having experienced the animals directly, she teaches on-line classes about the spiritual and natural aspect of animals. She has published articles on her brain injury, Roman polytheism, and working with extinct animals. In addition her writings on animals (including dragons and other mythic creatures) can be purchased her book site, Animal Teachers.  


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