Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The History of the Werewolf by Lewis Spence 1920
The History of the Werewolf by Lewis Spence 1920
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Werwolf: A man temporarily or permanently transformed into a wolf, from the Anglo-Saxon wer, a man, and wulf, a wolf. It is a phase of Lycanthropy, and in ancient and mediaeval times was of very frequent occurrence. It was, of course, in Europe where the wolf was one of the largest carnivorous animals, that the superstition gained currency, similar tales in other countries usually introducing bears, tigers, and so forth.
The belief is probably a relic of early cannibalism. Communities of semi-civilised people would begin to shun those who devoured human flesh, and they would be ostracised and classed as wild beasts, the idea that they had something in common with these would grow, and the conception that they were able to transform themselves into veritable animals would be likely to arise therefrom.
There were two kinds of werwolf, voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary would be, as has been said, those persons who, because of their taste for human flesh, had withdrawn from intercourse with their fellows. These appeared to possess a certain amount of magical power, or at least sufficient of it to transform themselves into the animal shape, at will. This they effected by merely disrobing, by the taking off a girdle made of human skin, or, putting on a similar belt of wolf-skin, obviously a substitute for an entire wolf-skin. But we also hear of their donning the entire skin. In other instances the body is rubbed with a magic ointment, or water is drunk out of a wolf's footprint. The brains of the animal are also eaten. Olaus Magnus says that the werwolves of Livonia drained a cup of beer on initiation, and repeated certain magic words. In order to throw off the wolf shape the animal girdle was removed, or else the magician merely muttered a certain formula. In some instances the transformation was supposed to be the work of Satan.
The superstition regarding werwolves seems to have been exceedingly prevalent in France during the 16th century as is evidenced by numerous trials, in some of which it is clearly shown that murder and cannibalism took place. Self-hallucination, too, was accountable for some of these cases, the supposed werwolves fully admitting that they had transformed themselves and had slain numerous persons. But at the beginning of the 17th century, commonsense came to the rescue, and persons making such confessions were not credited. In Teutonic and Slavonic countries it was complained by men of learning that werwolves did more damage than the real criminals, and a regular "college" or institution for the practice of the art of animal transformation was attributed to them.
Involuntary werwolves were often persons transformed into an animal shape because of the commission of sin, and condemned to pass so many years in that form. Thus certain saints metamorphosed sinners into wolves. In Armenia it is thought that sinful women are condemned to pass seven years in the form of a wolf. To such a woman a demon appears, bringing a wolf-skin. He commands her to don it, from which moment she becomes a wolf with all the nature of a wild beast, devouring her own children and those of strangers, wandering forth at night, undeterred by locks, bolts, or bars, returning only with morning to resume her human form.
Romance, especially French romance, is full of wer-wolves, and one of the most remarkable instances of this is the Lay by Marie de France entitled Bisclaveret, the Lay of a werwolf.
Many werwolves were innocent persons suffering through the witchcraft of others. To regain their true form it was necessary for them to kneel in one spot for a hundred years, to lose three drops of blood, to be hailed as a werwolf, to have the sign of the cross made on their bodies, to be addressed thrice by their baptismal names, or to be struck thrice on the forehead with a knife.
According to Donat de Hautemer, quoted by Goulart, "there are some lycanthropes who are so dominated by their melancholy humour that they really believe themselves to be transformed into wolves. This malady, according to the testimony of Aetius in his sixth book, chapter XL, and Paulus in his third book, chapter XVI., and other moderns, is a sort of melancholy, of a black and dismal
nature. Those who are attacked by it leave their homes in the months of February, imitate wolves in almost every particular, and wander all night long among the cemeteries and sepulchres, so that one may observe a marvellous change in the mind and disposition, and, above all in the depraved imagination of the lycanthrope. The memory, however, is still vigorous, as I have remarked in one of this lycanthropic melancholiacs whom we call werwolves. For one who was well acquainted with me was one day seized with his affliction, and on meeting him I withdrew a little, fearing that he might injure me. He, having glanced at me for a moment, passed on followed by a crowd of people. On his shoulder he carried the entire leg and thigh of a corpse. Having received careful medical treatment, he was cured of this malady. On meeting me on another occasion he asked me if I had not been afraid when he met me at such and such a place, which made me think that his memory was not hurt by the vehemence of his disease, though his imagination was so greatly damaged."
"Guillaume de Brabant, in the narrative of Wier, repeated by Goulart, has written in his History that a certain man of sense and settled understanding was still so tormented by the evil spirit that at a particular season of the year he would think himself a ravening wolf, and would run here and there in the woods, caves and deserts, chasing little children. It was said that this man was often found running about in the deserts like a man out of his senses, and that at last by the grace of God he came to himself and was healed. There was also, as is related by Job Fincel in the second book On Miracles a villager near Paule in the year 1541, who believed himself to be a wolf, and assaulted several men in the fields, even killing some. Taken at last, though not without great difficulty, he stoutly affirmed that he was a wolf, and that the only way in which he differed from other wolves was that they wore their hairy coats on the outside, while he wore his between his shin and his flesh. Certain persons, more inhuman and wolfish than he, wished to test the truth of this story, and gashed his arms and legs severely. Then, learning their mistake, and the innocence of the melancholiac, they passed him over to the consideration of the surgeons, in whose hands he died some days after. Those afflicted with this disease are pale, with dark and haggard eyes, seeing only with difficulty; the tongue is dry, and the sufferer very thirsty. Pliny and others write that the brain of a bear excites such bestial imaginations. It is even said that one was given to a Spanish gentleman to eat in our times, which so disturbed his mind, that imagining himself to be transformed into a bear, he fled to the mountains and deserts."
G. Peucer says in speaking of lycanthropy: "As for me I had formerly regarded as ridiculous and fabulous the stories I had often heard concerning the transformation of men into wolves; but I have learnt from reliable sources, and from the testimony of trustworthy witnesses, that such things are not at all doubtful or incredible, since they tell of such transformations taking place twelve
days after Christmas in Livonia and the adjacent countries; as they have been proved to be true by the confessions of those who have been imprisoned and tortured for such crimes. Here is the manner in which it is done. Immediately after Christmas day is past, a lame boy goes round tbe country calling these slaves of the devil, of which there are a great number, and enjoining them
to follow him. If they procrastinate or go too slowly, there immediately appears a tall man with a whip, whose thongs are made of iron chains, with which he urges them onwards, and sometimes lashes the poor wretches so cruelly, that the marks of the whip remain on their bodies till long afterwards, and cause them the greatest pain. As soon as they have set out on their road, they are all changed into wolves They travel in thousands, having for their conductor the bearer of the whip, after whom they march. When they reach the fields, they rush upon the cattle they find there, tearing and carrying away all they can, and doing much other damage; but they are not permitted to touch or wound persons. When they approach any rivers, their guide separates the waters with
his whip, so that they seem to open up and leave a dry space by which to cross. At the end of twelve days the whole band scatters, and everyone returns to his home, having regained his own proper form. This transformation, they say, comes about in this wise. The victims fall suddenly on the ground as though they were taken with sudden illness, and remain motionless and extended like corpses, deprived of all feeling, for they neither stir, nor move from one place to another, nor are in any wise transformed into wolves, thus resembling carrion, for although they are rolled or shaken, they give no sign of life."
Bodin relates several cases of lycanthropy and of men changed into beasts.
"Pierre Mamot, in a little treatise he has written on sorcerers, says that he has observed this changing of men into wolves, he being in Savoy at the time. Henry of Cologne in his treatise de Lamiis regards the transformation as beyond doubt. And Ulrich in a little book dedicated to the emperor Sigismund, writes of the dispute before, the emperor, and says that it was agreed, both on
the ground of reason, and of the experience of innumerable examples, that such transformation was a fact; and he adds that he himself had seen a lycanthrope at Constance, who was accused, convicted, condemned, and finally executed after his confession. And several books published in Germany say that one of the greatest kings of Christendom, who is not long dead, and who had the
reputation of being one of the greatest sorcerers in the world, often changed into a wolf.
"I remember that the attorney-general of the King, Bourdin, has narrated to me another which was sent to him from the Low Countries, with the whole trial signed by the judge and the clerks, of a wolf, which was struck by an arrow on the thigh, and afterwards found himself in bed, with the arrow (which he had torn out), on regaining his human shape, and the arrow was recognised by him
who had fired it — the time and place testified by the confession of the person."
"Garnier, tried and condemned by the parliament of Dole, being in the shape of a werwolf, caught a girl of ten or twelve years in a vineyard of Chastenoy, a quarter of a league from Dole, and having slain her with his teeth and claw-like hands, he ate part of her flesh and carried the rest to his wife. A month later, in the same form, he took another girl, and would have eaten her also, had he not, as he himself confessed, been prevented by three persons who happened to be passing by; and a fortnight after he strangled a boy of ten in the vineyard of Gredisans, and ate his flesh; and in the form of a man and not of a wolf, he killed another boy of twelve or thirteen years in a wood of the village of Porouse with the intention of eating him, but was again prevented. He was condemned to be burnt, and the sentence was executed."
"At the parliament of Bezancon, the accused were Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun, who confessed to having renounced God, and sworn to serve the devil. And Michel Verdun led Burgot to the hord du Chastel Charlon where everyone carried a candle of green wax which shone with a blue flame. There they danced and offered sacrifices to the devil. Then alter being anointed they were turned into wolves, running with incredible swiftness; then they were changed again into men, and suddenly transformed back to wolves, when they enjoyed the society of female wolves as much as they had done that of their wives. They confessed also that Burgot had killed a boy of seven years with his wolf-claws and teeth, intending to eat him, but the peasants gave chase, and prevented him. Burgot and Verdun had eaten four girls between them; and they had caused people to die by the touch of a certain powder."
"Job Fincel, in the eleventh book of his Marvels wrote that there was at Padua a lycanthrope who was caught and his wolf-claws cut, and at the same instant he found his arms and feet cut. That is given to strengthen the case against the sorcerers of Vernon (1556) who assembled themselves in an old and ruined chateau under the shape of an infinite number of cats. There happened to arrive
there one evening four or five men, who decided to spend the night in the place. They were awakened by a multitude of cats, who assaulted them, killed one of their number, and wounded others. The men, however, succeeded in wounding several of the cats, who found on recovering their human shape that they were badly hurt. And incredible as it may seem, the trial was not proceeded with."
"But the five inquisitors who had experimented in these causes have left it in writing that there were three sorcerers in Strasbourg who, in the guise of three large cats, assaulted a labourer, and in defending himself he wounded and dispersed the cats, who found themselves, at the same moment, laid on sick-beds, in the form of women severely wounded. At the trial they accused him who had struck them, and he told the judges the hour and the place where he had been assaulted by the cats, and how he had wounded them."