When it comes to spooky animals, a lot of critters get a bad rap. Human history is full of references to the supernatural associated with black cats, goats, pigs and owls. And now, just in time for Halloween, ducks can be added to that list.
That’s right, ducks.
When you think of ducks, satanic or witch-like behaviors may not be the first thing that pops to mind. But on at least one Maine farm, a flock of ducks was observed engaging in some pretty mysterious goings on by the light of the full moon.
These particular ducks belonged to Jj Starwalker of West Corinth who says her flock engaged in a regular monthly nighttime ritual when the moon was full.
“I would hear them quacking when the moon came up well over the trees,” Starwalker said. “They were in a complete circle marching [counterclockwise] and ‘chanting’ as if performing a banishing ritual.”
Ducks are not considered overly supernatural, but have been associated with being messengers of change and spiritual guides to tranquility.
Other livestock have reputations not so benign. Goats, for example, are often used to depict Satan in the bible. Baphomet was a goat-headed deity worshiped by the ancient Knights Templar. Over time Baphomet became part of various occult and mystical traditions.
Barn cats are a welcome addition to any farm as a natural pest control. But black cats have a lot of bad history to overcome. There are ancient religions associated black cats with witchcraft and evil. In medieval France and Spain, black cats were considered bringers of bad luck and curses.
Snakes are not livestock, but they are common sights around farms. They are also another creature associated with evil in many cultures around the world. The same goes for bats, frequent inhabitants of barn lofts.
Owls are another wild creature that likes to hang out in barns. They are classic signs of evil in many cultures and believed to be messengers of sorcerers and witches.
So how do these animals get such devious reputations?
“We tend to demonize certain animals that have characteristics we associate with negative, supernatural things,” said Julie Pelletier, cultural anthropologist and associate professor at the University of Winnipeg, who is originally from Maine. “We don’t like the eyes on goats [and] the devil and demons often have those goat-like pupils.”
Animals behaving in ways that humans feel are not natural in the animal world also create feelings around the supernatural and evil, Pelletier said.
“A lot of cultures are afraid of bats because they are mammals but they fly,” she said. “Owls fly like any bird, but they fly at night — other birds fly at night, but the owls capture our attention.”
Then there are the snakes. Limbless creatures that move easily on land.
Fearing these animals may even be in our genes, Pelletier said.
“There has been research that looks at other [non-human] primates and their extreme fear reaction to snakes is very common and very real,” she said. “Well, we are primates and we tend to jump when we see a snake moving so that fear reaction may be in our DNA.”
Back on Starwalker’s farm, it may never be known what her ducks were really up to, but she does have a theory.
“Banishing. What they were banishing, I never figured out,” she said. “But we saw no foxes while they were here so perhaps that was their witchy-duck work.”
In the end, people do love a good scare, and as long as ascribing human-like traits or behaviors — good or bad — to animals does not get too exaggerated that it interferes with a person’s daily life, Pelletier said there is no harm in doing so.
“Where it becomes problematic is if a whole culture fears a particular creature,” she said. “They may try to destroy it.”
Meanwhile, Pelletier said there is a great deal of scholastic research that supports how much humans love spooky things.
“People just love a good scare,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly associated the nature-based belief system of paganism with evil and witchcraft.