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Arts & Culture

Mothman Legacy Has Ties to Ancient Folklore

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Mothman Legacy
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A screenshot from the new documentary Mothma Legacy.

The world first heard of the Mothman in 1966 and 1967, leading up to the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The disaster claimed the lives of 46 people on Dec. 15, 1967.

Many thought the Mothman sightings in the small town were a warning that something terrible was about to happen. The winged cryptid has gone on to appear in books, films and on television.

In a new documentary, filmmaker Seth Breedlove explores the ancient historical roots of the Mothman and looks at the legend today. He spoke with Eric Douglas by Zoom to discuss the documentary “The Mothman Legacy.”

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Douglas: What prompted you to, to do this film?

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Courtesy Mothman Legacy
The DVD cover of the documentary Mothman Legacy.

Breedlove: I was having a conversation with someone about the Mothman story and they pointed out some similarities between Mothman and other winged creatures throughout mythology. They made an interesting connection between the Mothman and banshees from Irish and Scottish folklore that involves this creature that heralds some sort of oncoming death or disaster and typically has glowing red eyes.

The interesting thing about that is, obviously, Appalachia, and West Virginia, especially, was settled largely by Scotch-Irish immigrants. Did those immigrants bring that folklore with them and then it just gained a foothold and took on a life of its own over time? What really interested me was being able to look at not just a spooky creature story, but a bigger look at mythology and legends and folklore in general.

Douglas: What did you learn when you started digging into that?

Breedlove: I think what we learned is that there's a history of these similar creatures, not just Irish and Scottish, but kind of all around the world. I mean, in Hindu mythology, there's the Garuda, which is a winged creature that would proceed or portend disaster. And interestingly enough, John Keel, who wrote “The Mothman Prophecies,” was originally going to title the book “The Year of the Garuda.”

Douglas: What do stories like the Mothman tell us about ourselves? Why do we enjoy these kinds of stories?

Breedlove: I've always said there's a correlation between when subjects like this become popular, and the current state of the world. I've always felt that there's an escapism, as weird as that sounds. They definitely can directly tell us things about human beings and ourselves and how we pass along stories. I think, if there's anything the Mothman legacy is actually about, is it's about the legacy of storytelling.

Douglas: Do you believe in the Mothman?

Breedlove: Not to cop out with this answer, but I think it kind of depends on what your version of the Mothman is. There's eight different interviews in the film with people that claim to be witnesses, and none of them describe the exact same thing. So, I think there was something going on. And I think there still is something going on that maybe we don't understand. As to whether or not that something is a giant humanoid, creature with wings and glowing red eyes, I'm not positive. I do think there's a lot to the Mothman story, though, that you can't simply write off every every sighting,

Douglas: What does moving a horror story or mythology story into pop culture mean for the Mothman moving forward?

Breedlove: We see these stories springing up all around the country, and probably all around the world, but especially America seems to really respond to its monsters. So you've got creatures like Bigfoot, or the Dover Demon, or the Jersey Devil.

You don't see the transition, in those cases, in quite the same way you do with the Mothman, where you go from what is really a regional media frenzy during the 1960s that dies off and then comes back to life in the early 2000s, and then morphs into what it is today. And if you can, if you can track it all the way back to something like the Garuda or banshees, it's even more fascinating because then you're dealing with centuries of stories changing and not just a few decades.

“The Mothman Legacy” is now available to stream online through most major streaming platforms.


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