Friday, April 29, 2016
Transformation and Lycanthropy in History by Frank Hamel 1915
Transformation and Lycanthropy in History by Frank Hamel 1915
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How did man come to change into an animal? Folklore and superstition describe a number of ways. The most common method appears to have been the wearing of the skin of the animal in question. One drew it over one's shoulders, mask and all, and awaited results. These were not always satisfactory, and if any delay occurred it was better to strip off the clothes, rub the limbs with a potent ointment and murmur a long incantation. Such things, if we may believe tradition, invariably did the trick. But there were many other ways of bringing about the desired state. According to Grimm, transformation could be effected by tying a strap of human skin round the body; others say the skin must be a girdle made from the animal's hide.... It also sufficed to shift the buckle of a certain strap to the ninth hole. To drink water out of the footprint made by the animal, to partake of its brains, to drink from certain enchanted streams, to haunt the lair of a wer-wolf, to eat his food or come into personal contact with him or his belongings were all means of voluntary or involuntary transformation which, according to its nature, might be permanent or merely transitory. Livonian wer-wolves were initiated by drinking a cup of beer of a special character accompanied by a particular incantation. Other countries had magical procedure which differed in detail, if not in the main features. As a rule the devil was supposed to have had a hand in the transformation process, and one man accused of the crime declared that a female devil had presented him with a belt and whenever he buckled it he was changed into a wolf spontaneously. This gentleman, when he was back in human shape, was always heard to remark in surprise that he had not the faintest idea where the bristles went which had adorned him when in wolfish form.
A return to human body was sometimes easy, sometimes extremely difficult. The girdle or skin being removed was often sufficient to remove the enchantment too. Plunging into water or rolling over and over in dew were said to be equally efficacious. A considerably slower method was to kneel in one spot for a hundred years, long enough, one would imagine to deter anyone from ill-judged ambitions to prowl around the world in animal shape. Other cures, however, were simpler, such as being saluted with the sign of the cross, or to be called three times loudly by the baptismal name, or to be struck three blows on the forehead by a knife, or to have three drops of blood drawn from some part of the body. In many cases one other person besides the transformed man was in possession of certain formulæ necessary for restoring him to a normal appearance, and if by any accident this person was killed or otherwise removed from the sphere of action, woe betide him in animal shape, for he probably had to retain it during the rest of his natural existence.
There is a legend in Lorraine that if stalks of grass are pulled up, blessed and thrown against a tree, wolves spring forth, being transformed from the men who threw the grass. To become a she-bear it is only necessary to put a slip of wood into one's mouth; when the wood is taken out human shape returns.
Another myth, mentioned by Grimm, is that at certain times of night wer-wolves turn into three-legged dogs and can only be freed by someone crying out "wer-wolf."
Seven and nine are important numbers in transformation. When seven girls are born of one marriage, one is thought to turn into a wer-wolf and the seventh child of the seventh child is predestined to the same fate. The spell is said to last nine days. Anyone who puts on a wolf-shirt is transformed into a wolf for this period and returns to human shape on the tenth day. Grimm says the seal is supposed to doff his fishy skin every ninth day and for one day become a man, and there is a common saying that a cat twenty years old turns into a witch, and a witch of a hundred turns back into a cat.
Having taken the body of a beast, man becomes known as a wer-animal, wer being probably derived from the Latin vir. He then assumes the characteristics of the natural animal, with additional strength, agility, and ferocity.
In mediæval times powers of transformation seem to have been sought after and were even regarded as a privilege. Although often acquired for evil purposes, among primitive peoples to change into an animal did not necessarily imply a descent in the scale of being. To them there is but a slight line of demarcation between the animal world and mankind. They are not influenced so much by the idea of human degradation as by a beautiful belief in the brotherhood and fellowship of all creation.
Lycanthropy is the technical name for the pathological condition of a man who believes he has become an animal. The word means literally wolf-man, the wolf being chosen as the most dangerous animal known in European countries, though the tiger, hyæna, or any other wild animal serves the purpose equally well.
The symptoms exhibited by the wer-animal are at first extreme restlessness and anxiety. He develops, sometimes instantaneously, sometimes by degrees, the instincts of the kind of creature into which he has been transformed, often acquiring enormous strength and the special characteristics of the animal. If it be carnivorous by nature he has a lust to kill, and he can do what the animal does as well as what he was naturally capable of doing. His body is in the shape of an animal, but his eyes, according to some accounts, remain unchanged, and the human being looks out of these windows of his soul. His intelligence will probably, however, be darkened by the shadow of malignity or passion usual to the lower creation.
As early as 1579, Wierius described lycanthropia as a disease, and declared the Arabs called it Chatrap, after an animal. Another name was Tipule. (Latin race.) The victims had sunken eyes and could not see well, the tongue was dry and they were thirsty, the saliva being dried up. To cure them they had to be well-fed, much bathed, and given drugs which were used in melancholic diseases. Before an attack the head was rubbed with soporific herbs, opium was applied to the nose and the patient was dosed with a narcotic.
When under the delusion that he is changed into a wolf the wer-animal gives vent to a long howl and starts off with a rush to the nearest forest, where he prowls about through the night seeking his victims. These he kills in the ordinary manner of a wild beast, tearing asunder their limbs and feasting on their flesh. In some countries his method is more elaborate and it is supposed that the wer-wolf, having chosen his victim, exerts certain occult powers to numb his faculties and, cutting up the body, extracts the liver, which he eats and then joins the parts of the body together again so that the friends of the dead man know not how he came to lose his life.
Having satisfied his thirst for blood, the man-wolf, at the wane of his madness, once more seeks human shape, and then it is probable that he suffers for his abnormal appetites. Reaction leaves him weak and debilitated, with dry throat and tongue, feeble vision, hollow and discoloured cheeks, and sore places where he was hurt by his victim struggling for life.
Some subjects of lycanthropia, or imitative madness, endure still greater horrors, and the case of a patient who trembled with terror at his own condition is quoted by M. Morel in his "Études Cliniques." "See this mouth," he cried, touching his lips with his fingers, "it is the mouth of a wolf, and see the long hairs which cover my body and my paws. Let me bound away into the woods so you may shoot me there!" When his family endeavoured to caress him, he cried out that they were embracing a wolf. He asked for raw meat, the only food he could touch, but on tearing it apart he found it not to his liking as it had not been freshly killed. Thus he went through the tortures of the damned until released by death.
Another victim of the disease is mentioned by Fincelius in his second Book of Wonders. He says that "at Padua in the year 1541 a certain husbandman did seem to himself wolf, and did leap upon many in the fields, and did kill them. And that at last he was taken not without much difficulty, and did confidently affirm that he was a true wolf, only that the difference was in the skin turned in with the hairs. And therefore that, having put off all humanity and being truly truculent and voracious, he did smite and cut off his legs and arms, thereby to try the truth of the matter, but the innocency of the man being known, they committed him to the chirurgeon's to be cured, but that he died not many days after. Which instance is sufficient to overthrow the vain opinion of those men that believe that a man or woman may be really transubstantiated into a wolf, dog, cat, squirrel or the like without the operation of an omnipotent power."
In spite of the unpleasant consequences with which lycanthropy seems to be connected there is little doubt that transformation used to be regarded as a useful and sometimes even profitable relaxation. Those who were already initiated into its mysteries were generally willing to help others to obtain proficiency, and a draught from the hand of an expert was considered enough to produce the desired condition in the novice.
Predestination to become a wer-animal is thought to be distinguished by some peculiarity in the appearance, such as the meeting of the eyebrows, and the tendency to transform is believed to wax and wane with the seasons and to be subject to the influence of the moon.
The head, claws, and hairy skin of a wer-wolf are like those of a real wolf, but the great test of identity lies in his lack of tail, and in his clothes, which are sure to be found not far from the scene of slaughter.
When doubt is felt whether a wer-wolf is a human being or a real wolf, steel or iron is thrown at the animal under suspicion. When this is done to a genuine wer-wolf the skin is said to split crosswise on the forehead and the naked man comes out through the opening. Sometimes the wer-wolf is frozen with the cold and then he is invulnerable to ordinary weapons. The only way to wound him is to shoot at him with balls of elder pith or bullets of inherited silver.
When the victim is attacked by a human animal the injured person's clothes are stripped from his body. The genuine animal tears them in shreds. If the wer-animal has been transformed by means of a strap of human skin, his tail is then certain to be truncated.
In the following Hessian folk-story, which concerns a poverty-stricken married couple, a large ring was used to bring about the metamorphosis.
The wife always contrived to have meat for every meal and the husband never knew how she managed it. After much questioning she agreed to tell him, and taking him to a field where sheep were grazing she threw a ring over herself and became a wer-wolf. She seized one sheep and was running off with it when the man, who had promised not to call her by name during the performance, cried out, "Oh, Margaret!" and as he did so the wolf disappeared and the woman stood there with no clothes on.
A very similar story is told of a nobleman who fell short of food while traversing a wide tract of country in Russia with a party of friends. He transformed himself into a wolf and caught several sheep, which provided an excellent meal for the travellers.
In India a story is current that there was once a man who was able to change himself into a tiger, but who found it very difficult to resume his normal shape. When he wished to become human again, it was necessary for a particular friend of his to cite a certain formula. The friend died and as this catastrophe limited the tiger-man's powers he determined to teach the proper formula to his wife.
A few days later, having enjoyed a glorious hunt and devoured several antelopes, he trotted up to his wife in the disguise of a tiger, hoping she would not forget how to work the spell. When she saw the dangerous monster approaching her she began to scream. The animal jumped round about her, trying to remind her by dumb show of what she had to do, but the greater efforts he made the more frightened she grew and the louder became her cries. So annoyed was the man-tiger by her aggravating stupidity that he thought, "This is the most irritating woman I ever saw," and, flying into a terrible passion, he attacked and slew her. Then to his regret he remembered that no other human being knew the incantation necessary for his release and that he would have to remain a tiger for the rest of his days. He grew to hate all human beings after that and killed men whenever the chance occurred.
In the Sanjor and Nerbudda territories there is a saying that if a tiger has killed a man he will never slay another, because the dead man's spirit rides on his head and forces him to seek more lawful prey.
Some African tribes believe that tailless tigers are transformed men, probably because the wer-animal is frequently said to have no tail.
In early Christian times the wer-wolf was often regarded as a victim of the evil machinations of a sorcerer. There is a story in the seventh century of a man-wolf who defended the head of St. Edward the Martyr from the onslaught of other wild beasts. The apostles Peter and Paul, according to a Russian folk-tale, turned an evil-minded husband and wife into bears as a judgment for their sins.
An object which may have been an inducement to transformation was the hope of acquiring second sight, a gift with which many animals are thought to be endowed.
In the last century in France a connection of the old loup-garou existed in the person of the meneur des loups, who was said to have the gift of charming or taming wolves, which followed him across waste lands on midnight rambles after the style in which the rats followed the piping of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
The loup-garou of the French is found in Italy under the name of the lupo manaro or versiero. The lupo manaro of the Middle Ages was a witch dressed as a wolf, but the same term was applied to a certain hobgoblin who was peculiar to the city of Blois and whose chief occupation seems to have been to inspire deadly fear in young children. The lupo marino, which might be thought to be another kind of wolf, is the name of a most ravenous fish, which does not appear to have had human attributes.
The great Gaston de Foix, known as Phœbus, who is famed for his book on the chase, expresses his opinion that the term garou in loup-garou is an ellipse of the phrase gardez-vous.
When wolves grew scarce in England it became the fashion for those who wished to be transformed to change into cats, weasels, or harmless hares; rather a mild amusement after the adventuresome exploits of the man-attacking beasts of prey, but one which led to some extraordinary proceedings akin to black magic.
In some old French Records the account is given of a man who buried a black cat in a box at a spot where four cross-roads met. In the box he placed bread soaked in holy water and holy oil, sufficient to keep the animal alive for three days. His intention was to dig up his innocent victim, slay him, and make a girdle of his skin, by which means he expected to be able to transform himself into an animal and gain the gift of clairvoyance. Unfortunately for his projects, however, the buried animal was exhumed by hounds. The whole affair came to public knowledge and ended in the courts, where the guilty man was condemned for sorcery.
Another man whose friend threw doubts on his power to change into animal shape, quickly turned into a wolf to prove that his comrade was wrong and, being set upon by a pack of dogs, was deprived by them of one eye before he could resume his normal appearance.
A thief acted more cleverly. Being condemned to the gibbet, he saved his skin by taking the form of a wolf directly his would-be executioners opened the door of the cell in which he was imprisoned. During the panic of dismay which greeted the sight of him, he escaped into the woods.
One of the most marvellous stories of wer-wolves is related by Giraldus Cambrensis in his "Topography of Ireland." A priest was journeying from Ulster to Meath accompanied only by a single youth when they were benighted in a wood.
They had kindled a fire when a huge wolf approached them and spoke, telling the travellers to fear nothing.
The priest adjured him by all that was sacred not to do them harm and begged him to say "what creature it was that in the shape of a beast uttered human words."
The story told by the wolf is as follows:—
"There are two of us, a man and a woman, natives of Ossory, who, through the curse of one Natalis, saint and abbot, are compelled every seven years to put off their human form and assume that of wolves. At the end of seven years, if they chance to survive, two others being substituted, they return to their former shape. Now, she who is my partner in this visitation lies dangerously sick not far from hence. I beseech you, inspired by divine charity, to give her the consolations of your priestly office."
The priest followed the mysterious speaker into the thicket and performed the rites of the Church over the dying she-wolf, as far as the last Communion. But the wolf was not satisfied, and begged him to complete his good offices. The priest said this was impossible as he was not provided with the wherewithal for giving the viaticum. Then the man-wolf pointed to the priest's neck, suspended round which he carried a missal and consecrated wafers, entreating him not to deny the aid provided by Divine Providence. To remove the priest's doubts he tore off the she-wolf's skin and exposed the body of an old woman. The last Communion having been given, the wolf replaced the skin and reverently thanked the priest for the benefit which he had conferred.
These representative incidents go far to show how deeply ingrained is the belief in transformation among primitive people, but it is necessary to go back still further into the origins of folk-lore to discover the bedrock of thought in which the human-animal theory takes its rise.
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