THE idea of a being, half wolf, half man, and possessing also many demoniacal attributes, is a very curious piece of old-world superstition still to be found in very many European countries, and strengthened, no doubt, by the discovery, at times, of children who have been carried off and cared for by wolves who preferred the role of foster-mother to that of devourer—an occurrence of which there are frequent proofs on record. The wild and howling night winds, the Maruts that gave the name to our too familiar nightmare, may have given the first notion of demon wolves to the trembling listener as they passed shrieking by his solitary tent or hut. As these winds also represented the Pitris, the good patres or fathers, and the followers of Indra, the transition of thought by which the spirit-wolf and the human form became amalgamated is easily imagined.
There appears to be plenty of evidence that, at different times, a form of madness has broken out by which individuals have fancied themselves to be turned into wolves. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, describes this disease, which he styles Lycanthropia, as "when men run howling about graves and fields in the night, and will not be persuaded but that they are wolves or some such beasts." He quotes authority for many instances; one, among the rest, of "a poor husbandman that still hunted about graves, and kept in churchyards, of a pale, black, ugly, and fearful look. Such belike," continues the garrulous old writer, "such, belike, or little better, were King Proteus' daughters, that thought themselves kine; and Nebuchadnezzar, in Daniel, as some interpreters hold, was only troubled with this kind of madness."
King James the First also speaks in a somewhat similar manner in the First chapter of the Third Book of Daemonologie. Pliny states that men were changed into wolves, and again into men; Pausanias narrates a history of a man who remained a wolf for ten years; and Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, describes the transition of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who was turned into a wolf as a punishment for offering human flesh to the gods.
A legend also speaks of one of the family of Anthos, who, selected by lot, proceeded to the shores of a lake in Arcadia, where, after suspending his garments to the branches of an oak, he plunged in and swam across. Changing into a wolf, he was condemned to wander for nine years ; but should he have abstained from feeding on human flesh, he was permitted to resume his former shape by swimming back again, and regaining his clothes which were still in the tree.
Herodotus states that the Neurians became wolves for a few days once a year, and then returned to the form of men. Virgil and Propertius give the same trans..formation, and Petronius tells a story related by Niceros at Primalchio's banquet in which he (Niceros) set off to walk in the early morning accompanied by a "valiant soldier, a sort of grim water-drinking Pluto. About cockcrow,when the moon was shining as bright as midday, we came among the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or to count them, and when I turned to look at him—lo ! he had stripped himself, and laid down his clothes near him. My heart was in my nostrils, and I stood like a dead man ; but he made a mark round his clothes and on a sudden became a wolf. Do not think I jest ; I would not lie for any man's estate. But to return to what I was saying. When he became a wolf, he began howling, and fled into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, and afterwards, when I went to take up his clothes, they were turned into stone. Who then died with fear but I? Yet I drew my sword, and went cutting the air right and left, till I reached the villa of my sweetheart." Here he is told that a wolf had been at the farm and worried the cattle, but that a slave had run a lance into his neck, so he sets off home as fast as possible. " When I came to the spot where the clothes had turned into stone, I could find nothing but blood. But when I got home I found my friend the soldier in bed, bleeding at the neck like an ox, and a doctor dressing his wound. I then knew he was a turnskin (versipellis), nor would I ever have broken bread with him again—no, not if you had killed me."
The title " turnskin " is also in accordance with the Norwegian idea of the werewolf, as the change has always been supposed to have been effected by means of a skin robe, or sometimes a girdle, which could be put on or taken off. In the Middle Ages the bandit or outlaw was said to wear a caput lupinum, or as it was called in England, wulfesheofod. (wolf's head). King Harald Harfagr had a body of men called Ulfhednar (wolf-coated) to distinguish them from the Berseker (bearskin shirted), and these men, according to Hertz, were originally supposed to put on the strength and fierceness of the animal with his skin. The myth of the giant wolf Fenris, the offspring of evil Loki and the giantess Angurboda, who created such a disturbance among the gods in Asgard, gave a semi-religious authority to the man-wolf idea in Scandinavia.
Professor de Gubernatis, in his excellent volume on Zoological Mythology, mentions a she-wolf in an Esthonian story who comes up on hearing the cry of a child, and gives it milk to nourish it. "The story tells us that the shape of a wolf was assumed by the mother of the child herself, and that, when she was alone, she placed her wolf disguise upon a rock, and appeared as a woman to feed the child. The husband, informed of this, orders that the rock be heated, so that when the wolf's skin is again placed upon it, it may be burnt, and he may thus be able to recognise and take back to himself his wife. The she-wolf that gives her milk to the
twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, in Latin epic tradition, was no less a woman than the nurse-wolf of the Esthonian story."
In Germany the transformation is believed to take place by means of a belt made of wolf-skin, and should this be unfastened or cut, the man-wolf immediately loses his wolf nature. Mr. Kelly, in his Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk Lore, speaks of these girdles being once for sale. "A sale," says he, "was made by order of the authorities, of a heap of old things that lay in a room in the Erichsburg. Among them were old implements of the chase which had been taken from poachers, and also some werewolf girdles. The Amtmann's man, having a mind to try the effect of the latter, buckled one of them on, was immediately turned into a wolf, and started off for Hunnesruck. The Amtmann rode after him, and cutting at his back with a sword, severed the girdle, whereupon the man resumed his proper shape." Another story is told of a little boy who put on his father's girdle, and was transformed. His father overtook him and unfastened it. The boy afterwards said that, the moment he put on the girdle, he became ravenously hungry. A common German story, also quoted by Mr. Kelly, is that of a charcoal-burner, who, believing his two companions to be asleep, fastened his wolf-belt round him, became a wolf, and devoured a foal. His comrades, who had only been feigning sleep, had observed him, and when, on their way home, he complained of an internal pain, they told him it was hardly to be wondered at when a man had a whole foal inside him. "Had you said that to me out yonder," replied the werewolf, "you would never have reached home again;" and saying this he disappeared, and was not again seen.
Another German tale tells of a farmer who was driving his wife through a wood, and who suddenly alighted, telling his wife to drive on, and to throw her apron to any beast that might attack her. She was attacked by a wolf, who tore her apron into shreds, and then retreated. Upon her husband's return she saw some threads of her apron sticking between his teeth, and knew he was a werewolf. Iron or steel thrown or held over a werewolf is, in Germany, supposed to split the wolf-skin, so that the man comes out through the forehead. Loups garoux are still supposed to linger in some parts of France, but daring the sixteenth century many people were burnt to death, having been found guilty of assuming the form and habits of the werewolf. In Portugal, the legend of the Lobis-homem still survives, but it appears to be often confused with another superstition, that of the demon horse, the phooka of Irish tradition.
The following Polish stories are given in Naake's translation of Slavonic fairy-tales. Some young people were dancing and enjoying themselves on a hill near the Vistula, when an enormous wolf seized one of the handsomest girls, and was dragging her away. Some of the youths followed and overtook them, when the wolf dropped the girl and stood at bay. As they had no fire-arms the young men stood irresolute, or hurried back for weapons, so the wolf again seized the girl, and bore her into the forest. Fifty years passed, and another feast was taking place on the same hill, when an old man approached. The people invited him to join them, but he sat silently and gloomily down. An old peasant entered into conversation, and was astonished when the stranger hailed him by name as his elder brother, who had been lost fifty years before. The aged stranger then told the wondering peasants that he had been changed into a wolf by a witch, and had carried away his betrothed from that hill during a festival, that they had only lived together in the forest for a year, and then she had died. He showed them his hands covered with blood, and said : "From that moment, savage and furious, I attacked every one and destroyed every thing I fell in with. It is now four years since I again changed to human shape. I have wandered from place to place. I wished to see you all once more, to see the but and village where I was born and grew up a man. After that—ah, woe is me Fly, fly from me. I shall become a wolf again!" He was instantly transformed, howled piteously, and disappeared in the forest for ever.
The second story is of a peasant with whom a witch fell in love. As he slighted her, she told him that when next he chopped wood in the forest he would become a wolf. He laughed at her threats, but they were fulfilled. He wandered about for some years, but would never eat raw flesh, preferring to frighten away the
shepherds, and eat their provisions. At last he woke one day from sleep, and found himself once more a man. He immediately ran to his old home, only to find his parents dead, his friends dead or removed, and his betrothed married and with four children. In this and the preceding tale there is a trace of the Rip van Winkle
incident and its older original. A third story is also given, but space will not allow its transcription.
In the story of the Léshy, or wood demon, given in Ralston's Russian Folk Tales, there is a strong resemblance to a portion of the former tale, which might suggest that the Léshy and the werewolf
were not unconnected. The wood demon carries a girl off into the forest, where she lives with him until he is shot by a hunter. The story of The Treasure in the same volume speaks of a goat-skin uniting with the body of a pope or priest, so that he could not take it off, thus becoming half animal as in the tradition of the wolf-man.
Dasent, in the introduction to his Popular Tales from the Norse, shows that the belief in werewolves was common in Sweden in the sixteenth century. Going back into mythical times, he states that "the Volsunga Saga expressly states of Sigmund and Sinfistli that they became werewolves, which, we may remark, were Odin's sacred beasts . . . The wolf's skin ... was assumed and laid aside at pleasure." In Morte d'Arthur (Book xix,, chap. 11) mention is made of "Sir Marrok, the good knyghte, that was betrayed with his wyf, for she made hym seuen yere a werewolf." In a Latin poem of the twelfth or thirteenth century (printed in the Reliquim Antiquae, ii., 103) there are some lines describing men in Ireland who could change themselves into wolves and worry sheep, and who, if they were wounded in their wolf form, retained the wound on regaining human shape.
Sir Frederick Madden, in his Note on the Word Werwolf (William of Palerne, Edit. 1832), states: "In The Master of Game, a treatise on hunting composed for Henry the Fifth, is the following passage, 'And somme ther ben ... that eten children and men, and eten non other fleische from that tyme that thei ben acharmed with mannes fleisch ... And thei ben cleped werewolves, for that men shulden be war of them.'" The ancient romance, to which this was a modern note, was translated from the French at the command of Sir Humphrey de Bohun, about A.D. 1350, and gives a curious history of a werewolf. Alphouns, eldest son of the King of Spain and heir to the crown, was bewitched by his stepmother Braunde (who wished her own son, Braundinis to be the heir), and turned into a werewolf. This wolf carried away from Palermo William, the child of Embrons, King of Apulia, swam the Straits of Messina with the boy, and took him to a forest near Rome, not doing him any injury. The wolf went to obtain food for the child, and, in his absence, a cowherd found the boy, took him home, and adopted him. William grows up, and is given by the Emperor of Rome to his daughter as a page. The romance deals with many adventures; but, at last, William ,and the Emperor's daughter, Melior, become lovers and elope together dressed in the skins of two white bears. They wander until they find a den, where they are hidden. When they are suffering from hunger, the werewolf finds them, and brings them cooked beef and two flasks of wine, of which he had robbed two men. The Emperor of Rome, who had betrothed Melior to Partenedon, son of the Emperor of Greece, still pursues the wandering lovers, who are guided and helped by the werewolf. After many adventures, they reach Palermo, which they find besieged by the Spaniards. William, who has a werewolf painted on his shield, takes the King and Queen of Spain prisoners, and compels Queen Braunde to reverse her enchantment, and to restore the werewolf to his original human form.
Wolves have been so long extinct in England that it is hardly to be expected that there should now linger any tradition of them, but the old werewolf idea seems to have been closely allied with the horrible vampyre. Indeed, so prominent a personage as one of our kings —King John himself—is said, in an old Norman chronicle, to have wandered in this shape after death. The monks of Worcester were compelled, by the frightful noises proceeding from his grave, to dig up his body and cast it out of consecrated ground.
Some old story of a man possessed by the wolf-demon may perhaps have suggested to Shakespeare the outburst of Gratiano to Shylock, who was so vindictively pursuing his victim to obtain his flesh:
Thy currish spirit
Govern'd a wolf ; who, hang'd for human slaughter,
Even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet,
And . . . . . . .
Infused itself in thee.
In Normandy, a hundred years ago, the vanipyre-like Loup Garou was supposed to be the re-animated corpse of one who had died in mortal sin, and had risen from the grave to prey upon mankind. First, the corpse began to gnaw the face-cloth, then it wailed and shrieked horribly, burst open the coffin, and flames arose from the ground. This pleasant spectre then commenced its midnight murders in the wolf form, and these could only be stopped by the priest taking up the body, decapitating it, and flinging the head into a stream.
It is worth mentioning, in addition to the remark in the beginning of our paper, that the discovery of wild children reared by savage animals in the woods may have strengthened the belief in half-human animals, that Dr. Hubsch, physician to the hospitals of Constantinople, stated that in 1852 he saw a specimen of one of a Central African tribe which possessed tails and fed constantly on human flesh. Mr. Baring-Gould, in his article on Tailed Men (Curious Myths of the Middle Ages), gives the history of John Struys, a Dutch traveller, who, he states, visited the Isle of Formosa in 1677, and who thus describes a wild man whom his companions
caught, and who had murdered one of their number : " He had a tail more than a foot long, covered with red hair, and very like that of a cow."
Before taking leave of this interesting but ghastly superstition, I would mention the derivation of the prefix "were " in the word werewolf, as given by Sir Frederick Madden: "Wer," or "wera," a man, being the same as the Gothic "wair," Teutonic "wer," Francic "uuara," Celtic "gur," "gwr," or " ur," Irish "fair," Latin " vir," etc.
Gervaise, of Tilbury, writing in the reign of Henry the Second, states : " Vidimus enim frequenter in Anglia per lunationes homines in lupos mutari, quod hominum genus Gerulfos Galli nominant, Angli vero werewlf dicunt ; were enim Anglice virum sonat, wlf, lupum."
All the Year Round, 1883
Friday, 11 June 2010
Ok, having found a nice piece on vampyres, I had to find a companion magazine piece on werewolves ... and I wasn't disappointed ...