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Saturday 14 September 2013

A Visit from the Wer-Cassowary

     Fans of the late Morris West may remember his novel, Kundu which involved, among other things, a New Guinea witchdoctor who could turn himself into a large flightless bird known as a cassowary. Rather than being a mere literary invention, this was inspired by actual New Guinea beliefs. Throughout the world, sorcerers claim to be able to control certain dangerous beasts, and it is only a short step to claiming to be able to transform themselves into it. Europe has its werwolves. In Africa the favourite animal is the hyaena, while North and South American Indians prefer the puma or jaguar. New Guinea possesses no such ravening predator, so they have to make do with the ostrich-like cassowary, or else a hornbill or pig.
     Of course, completely transforming the shape and size of the human body, all without the use of advanced technology, represents the nth level of magnitude beyond the usual psychic's tricks of levitation or spoon-bending, so we should not be prepared to accept such claims without rigorous evidence. Nevertheless, we ought to be prepared to record any plausible account of the phenomenon, because one day the whole world will be civilised, and no-one will know that such things once took place.