A shape shifter is a mythical creature that can change form at will. Many cryptids (creatures which are believed to exist but for which no conclusive scientific evidence has been found) are also linked to shape shifter legends and lore.
Shape shifting cryptids commonly reported in Michigan each and every year draw cryptozoologists, paranormal investigators, and traditional folklorists from all over the United States to study them.
In fact, you might have seen one yourself.
The Michigan Dogman is a local cryptid that was popularized in 1987 by DJ Jack O’Malley and his production manager Steve Cook of WTCM radio. The two men invented the Dogman (or thought they did) by cobbling together various legends (like the New Jersey Devil and the Boggy Creek Monster), and then wrote a song about him that they played as a prank on their show.
To both men’s shock and surprise, reports of actual sightings of the Michigan Dogman started to pour in almost immediately after broadcasting the prank. Looking into the sightings a bit more seriously, the two men discovered that such reports had been taking place in and around Michigan since the early 1800s, when French traders visiting the local Indians referred to the creature as the loup garou (which is French for werewolf).
Numerous people who report seeing the Dog Man describe a moment in which a creature who looks like a very unusual and very large dog suddenly stands upright and seems to transform itself into a cross between a dog and a man right before their eyes. Such transformations are typical of shape shifters.
Another kind of shape shifting creature that haunts certain parts of Michigan, especially Wayne and Otsego Counties, is a large black panther-like cat.
Reports of black panthers in places where black panthers do not belong have been occurring throughout North America and Europe for about 25 years. England continues to experience a rash of such sightings, as other parts of the United States experience them as well.
While brown cougars are native to North America, neither brown cougars nor black panthers are native to England, and black panthers are not native anywhere in the U.S. In fact, some controversy exists over whether even plain brown cougars exist in Michigan near cities, so reports of black panthers are doubly strange.
Some researchers who have studied the black panther reports attribute such sightings to escaped zoo panthers that have managed to naturalize locally, but animal biologists see this explanation as very unlikely.
Other paranormal researchers explain the appearance of the large black cats as being a manifestation of a creature that can inhabit both imagination and physical reality at the same time or shift back and forth between them, depending on conditions.
In other words, a shape shifter of this kind is part supernatural entity, but also has physical mass and physical characteristics when it wants to manifest them.
While all of this may seem incredible and strange, it’s worth noting that mainstream folklorists like Indiana University’s Thomas E. Bullard have been publishing papers on the possibility that certain kinds of folklore and certain urban legends spring from a real, physiological experience, and that such reports differ significantly from other mere stories and traditional myths.
Other researchers have tied the appearance of shape shifting creatures in modern times to the ancient Greek concept of the daemon (from which the contemporary word ‘demon’ derives). The word ‘daemon’ literally means “spirit of place” and refers to a living being that inhabits both physical and spiritual realms.
So if you’re out fishing or hunting the woods of West Michigan this summer and you spot something strange; something not quite animal and not quite human: you’re definitely not alone in what you see.
Close your mouth. Catch your breath. Grab your camera.