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The werewolf is so called from the Anglo-Saxon wer (Lat. vir) "man" and wolf. The word corresponds exactly to the Greek lycanthropos, Italian lupo mannaro, Portuguese lobis-homem, and means a wolf who is properly a man. Loup-garou, the name given by the French to the same fearful being, is a pleonastic compound, which they have made out of their Romance appellation for the wolf and their old Frankish word gerulf, i. e., werwlf, werewolf. The people of Bretagne have just such another mongrel term, bleiz-garou (from bleiz, wolf); but they have also the purely Celtic terms denvleiz and grekvleiz, meaning man-wolf and woman-wolf.
The werewolf tradition has not been discovered with certainty amongst the Hindus, but there is no European nation of Aryan descent in which it has not existed from time immemorial. Hence it is certain that the tradition itself, or the germs of it more or less developed, must have been brought by them all from Arya; and if Dr. Schwartz has not actually proved his case, he seems at least to have conjectured rightly in assigning, as one of those germs, the Aryan conception of the howling wind as a wolf. The Maruts and other beings who were busy in the storm assumed various shapes. The human form was proper to many or all of them, for they were identical with the Pitris or Fathers, and it would have been a very natural thought, when a storm broke out suddenly, that one or more of those people of the air had been turned into wolves for the occasion. It was also a primaeval notion that there were dogs and wolves among the dwellers in hell, and Weber, who has shown that this belief was entertained by the early Hindus, is of opinion that these infernal animals were real werewolves, that is to say, men upon whom such a transformation had been inflicted as a punishment.
The oldest werewolf story on record is that of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, in which however the legend of the werewolf proper is mixed up with another, and apparently a less ancient one, relating to the practice of sacrificing human victims, which seems to have prevailed more extensively and to a later period in Arcadia than in other parts of Greece. Lycaon is said to have been turned into a wolf by Zeus Lycaios, as a punishment for having offered a human victim to the god; and after Lycaon's time, according to a tradition recorded by Pausanias, Plato, and Pliny, similar transformations continued to be things of common occurrence on the same spot. One of the race of Anthos (probably a priestly family) was periodically chosen by lot and taken to an Arcadian lake, where he hung up his clothes on an oak. Then he swam across the lake, was changed into a wolf, and roamed the wilderness for nine years in company with other wolves. At the end of that time, if he had not tasted human flesh in the interval, he swam back again, found his clothes where he had left them,- and recovered his original form, only with this difference, that it was nine years older.
It is certain that in Greece as well as in Arya the wolf was in early times a symbol of the stormy winds. It was sacred above all other animals to Apollo, who was surnamed after it Lycaios, or the wolf-god. This fact has much perplexed many learned men, and given them a world of trouble in striving to explain why an animal that figures so often and so naturally as a type of winter, night, and death, should have become the favourite of the radiant god of day. But all this labour would have been spared had it been borne in mind that even in Homer's time Apollo had not yet become the sun-god. Originally he was the god of the summer storms, and in that capacity he himself appeared as a wolf on sundry occasions, as, for instance, in Rhodes, when he slew the Telchins, a dwarfish race of magicians, smiths, and weather-makers, like the German Zwergs and the Panis of India. In the spring time, the appropriate season for the birth of such a god, Apollo's mother, "the dark-robed Leto," or Latona (i. e., the dark storm-cloud), escorted at Jove's command by the Northwind, came as a she-wolf from Lycia to the place where she was delivered of her twins. The Zeus Lycaios of the Arcadians was evidently Zeus plus Apollo, the thunderer, considered with special reference to the winds that accompany the thunder. In mythical language, Apollo was the son of Zeus; that is to say, he was Zeus in another form. The two gods were in fact, like Indra and Rudra, only different personifications of the same cycle of natural phenomena.
In Greece the tradition of the werewolf appears to have run the usual course of myths. Beginning as a figurative explanation of meteoric facts, it next became a hieratic mystery, and then descended from the domain of religion to that of magic and popular story. In this last stage it is the subject of a ludicrous tale told by Aesop. A thief hung about a tavern for some days without being able to steal anything. At last he saw the host sitting before the door in a handsome new garment, and going up to him he began a conversation, in the course of which he fell to yawning and then howling like a wolf. "What's the matter with you?" said the host. "I'll tell you directly," said the thief, "but first let me beg you will take care of my clothes, for I will leave them here. I cannot tell how it is this yawning comes upon me; whether it be for my sins or for any other cause is to me unknown; but so sure as ever I yawn three times I change into a wolf that devours men." So saying he yawned a second time and howled as before. The host started up and would have made off, but the thief held him fast by his tunic, saying, "Stay where you are, I beseech you, and take care of my clothes, that I may not tear them all to bits." With that he yawned a third time, and the host, in mortal terror, ran and hid himself in the innermost nook of his tavern, leaving his tunic in the hands of the thief, who vanished with it instantly.
Herodotus was informed that the Neurians passed for wizards among the Scythians and the Greeks who were settled about the Black Sea, because each of them, once a year, became a wolf for a few days, and then returned to his natural shape.
The transformation of men into wolves is known in Roman literature only as a work of magic. Virgil is the first Latin author who mentions this superstition. He is followed by Propertius; and Petronius gives the following circumstantial story as related by Niceros at Trimalchio's banquet:—
"It happened that my master was gone to Capua to dispose of some second-hand goods. I took the opportunity, and persuaded our guest to walk with me to the fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and 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 already 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 (circumminxit vestimenta), 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. I entered the court-yard I almost breathed my last, the sweat ran down my neck, my eyes were dim, and I thought I should never recover myself. My Melissa wondered why I was out so late, and said to me,—-'Had you come sooner you might at least have helped us, for a wolf has entered the farm and worried all our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, for our slave ran a lance through his neck.' When I heard this I could not doubt how it was, and as it was clear daylight, I ran home as fast as a robbed innkeeper. When I came to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone, I could find nothing except 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; nor would I ever have broke bread with him again, no, not if you had killed me."
The werewolf is here called a turnskin (versipellis), there being no special name for the thing in Latin.
It was an old belief in the North that transformations of all kinds were commonly effected by means of an appropriate garment of fur or feather, which could be put on or laid aside at pleasure. The oldest Norse legends of the werewolf make the change of form depend upon the putting on of a wolfskin shirt. Thus it was, according to the Volsunga Saga, that the heroes Sigmundr and Sinfjotli became wolves for nine days out of ten. It was only on the tenth day that they could put off the wolf-skins; and when, after a long course of adventures, they desired to abandon the wolfish shape for ever, they effected their purpose without difficulty or inconvience by burning the skins. The Berseker of historic times were also men who had acquired superhuman strength by transformation. It is said of King Harald Harfagr, that he had among his retainers a corps of berseker who were called ulfhednar, that is to say, "wolf-frocked" "The Saga itself," says Maurer,* "seems to indicate that this epithet is to be understood as signifying that the warriors in question wore coats of wolf-skin over their armour; but this is manifestly a mistake of later times, for the original conception was that of men who possessed ulfahamir, wolf-shirts, and were in fact werewolves." This view of the matter is corroborated by the etymology lately assigned to the word berseker by Egilssohn in his Poetical Lexicon of the Icelandic tongue. According to that weighty authority the word means one who has a bear-skin shirt (berr, bear, serkr, sark, shirt), and possesses the strength of a bear through its transforming power. King Harald's warriors differed from those ursine heroes in having the skins and the fierceness and force of wolves.
"Even now in Norway it is matter of popular belief that Finns and Lapps, who from time immemorial have passed for the most skilful witches and wizards in the world, can at will assume the shape of bears; and it is a common thing to say of one of those beasts, when he gets unusually savage and daring, 'that can be no Christian bear.' On such a bear, in the parish of Ofdden, after he had worried to death more than sixty horses and six men, it is said that a girdle of bear-skin, the infallible mark of a man thus transformed, was found when he was at last tracked and slain."
The Russians also are held by their Swedish neighbours to be very potent wizards. In the last war between Sweden and Russia, when the province of Calmar was overrun with wolves, it was generally believed that the Russians had turned the Swedish prisoners of war into wolves, and sent them home to ravage the country. It is also related of a soldier in the Calmar regiment, that, having been transformed into a wolf, he made his way from Finland over the Aland islands to Smaland, impelled by his desire to see again his home and his wife and children. He was shot by a hunter, who brought the dead wolf into the village; and when it was flayed a shirt was found beneath the skin, which was recognized by the soldier's wife as one she had made for her husband before he went to the war.—A Swedish bridegroom and his friends were riding through a wood when they were all turned into wolves by evil spirits. After the lapse of some years the forlorn bride was walking one day in the same wood, and in anguish of heart, as she thought of her lost lover, she shrieked out his name. Instantly he appeared in human form and rushed into her arms. The sound of his christian name had dissolved the devilish enchantment that bound him.
The baptismal name has not quite lost in Protestant lands the virtue which belonged to it in Catholic times as the name of one's patron saint. I have been told by an Essex woman, that when she was a child she had orders from her mother, who was very subject to nightmare, not to call her "mother," when she groaned at night, but to address her by her christian name.
It is a belief peculiar to Denmark that if a woman uses a certain charm to secure ease and safety in childbirth, every boy she will henceforth bear will become a werewolf, every girl a nightmare.
Gervase of Tilbury testifies that werewolves were common in England in his time; and, though Celtic witches generally prefer to disguise themselves as hares, mention is made of a wolf-woman in the Mabinogion. Camden reports a story current in the county of Tipperary of men who were every year turned into wolves, but declares that he does not believe it; and Giraldus Cambrensis gives an older instance of the same superstition. A priest, he says, on his way from Ulster to Meath, was addressed one night by a wolf in the following terms: "We belong to a certain Ossyrian sept (Ulster), two of whom, male and female, are every seven years compelled, through a curse laid upon us by a certain saint, to wit, Abbot Natalis, to depart both from their natural form and from their native soil; for, wholly putting off the human fomi, they put on that of wolves. But after the space of seven years, if they be still alive, two others take their places under like conditions, and the first pair return to their pristine nature and country." Having said this, the wolf led the priest to his companion in misfortune, that he might give her the holy viaticum, for she lay at the point of death; and, to prove that she was a human being, he stripped off the wolf-skin with his paw from her head to her middle, and thereupon the perfect form of an old woman was plain to be seen. The priest gave her the sacrament, and then the wolf drew back the skin over her head. The coincidence between this Celtic story and the Arcadian legend of Lycaon and his successors, with respect to the continuance of the transformation for a stated number of years, is worthy of note.
Stories about werewolves are still current in Germany, especially in the north and east. The transformation is in most cases effected by a girdle which has taken the place of the old wolf-shirt. It is made of the skin of a wolf, or of a man who has been hanged, and is fastened with a buckle having seven tongues. When the buckle is unclasped, or the girdle is cut, the charm is dissolved. There was a werewolf in the village of Hindenburg in Altmark so terribly strong that he could carry off an ox in his mouth. He worried cattle and devoured human beings, but never hurt his wife, because she could ban him with magic words which he had taught her for the purpose. Then she used to unbuckle his belt, and he became a rational man again. The girdle transforms everybody who puts it on, whether he does so with that intention or not. A sale 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.—A man in the neighbourhood of Steina having forgotten to lock up his wolf-girdle, it was found by his little boy, who put it on and was transformed. He looked like a bundle of peastraw, and lumbered off with the clumsy gait of a bear. His father overtook him, and unfastened the girdle before any mischief was done. The boy afterwards stated that, the moment he put on the girdle, he was seized with so ravenous a hunger that he could fain have devoured everything that came in his way. Of all the German tales of werewolves, the most widely difused is that of the mower, herdsman of horses, or charcoal-burner, who, believing that his two comrades are asleep in the meadow, fastens a strip of wolf-skin about him, becomes a wolf, and eats up a whole foal. All this has been observed by one of his comrades, and on the way home, when he complains of pain in his body, "That is not to be wondered at," says the man, "when a fellow has got a whole foal in his belly." "Had you said that to me out yonder," replied the werewolf, "you would never have reached home again;" and with these words he vanished, never to return.
In Germany, as already mentioned, the skin of a man that has been hanged makes as good a werewolf girdle as the skin of a wolf, and this for a reason derived, apparently, from old judicial usages. The Northern nations used of old to class the proscribed murderer and robber with the wolf, and make that animal the symbol of his crime and outlawry. In the old Norse tongue the common appellation for such a man was vargr, wolf; the man who had broken the peace of the temple by an act of violence was called vargr i veum, "wolf in the sacred place." The phrase "lupinum enim gerit caput, quod Anglice wulfes heafod dicitur," is found in the laws of Edward the Confessor; and in the Tale of Gamelyn (ascribed to Chaucer, 1387) it is said, "When that Gamelyn their lorde wolves hede was cried and made." In old times a wolf was hung by the side of thieves and robbers; and varagtreo, i.e., wolf-tree, is the old Saxon name for the gallows.
Wounding a werewolf severely either forces him to resume his natural form on the spot, or leads to his speedy detection. A farmer and his wife were haymaking near Caasburg. After a while the wife declared that she felt an unconquerable restlessness; she could stay there no longer; and away she went, after making her husband promise that if any wild beast came near, he would throw his hat to it and run away. She had not long been gone when a wolf swam across the Swine, and rushed at the haymakers. The farmer threw his hat at the beast, which tore it to bits; but meanwhile a man stole round with a pitchfork and stabbed the wolf from behind. The form changed instantly, and all present were horrified at seeing that the man had slain the farmer's wife.— A farmer of Malchin, when driving through a wood, suddenly alighted, telling his wife to drive on, and if anything attacked her, she was to throw her apron to it. Presently up came a wolf, and tore the apron to pieces; but the wife knew who it was after her husband's return, when she saw some threads of the apron sticking between his teeth. In a similar case which occurred at Gross Schnee the wife was struck with death by the horrible discovery.
The last three instances exemplify that inborn or imposed necessity which some persons feel at particular seasons to become wolves, and rend or devour something human or pertaining to the persons of human beings. A still more horrible example of this necessity is seen in the following story from Ottensee, near Altona. A farmer there had made a contract with the evil one, which secured to him an unfailing supply of money, on condition that on the last day of every month he should become a wolf, and should each time kill a human being. This he did punctually for a long time, but at last an old woman whom he attacked jammed him so hard between a door and a doorpost that he had to crawl home severely injured. That night the devil came to fetch him because he had broken his contract, and to redeem himself he was forced to devour his own little daughter. About a year afterwards he fell upon his maid-servant in the field, but she called him three times by his christian name, and he stood in his proper shape before her. Thereupon she went away to Hamburg, without saying a word to anybody. That night the devil came again to fetch away the farmer, and again he purchased his life by eating his only remaining child. It was then suspected that he was a werewolf; his wife deserted him, and the neighbours shunned him; so he stole away to Hamburg, where he thought to continue his cannibal practices in an inn, but he was recognized by his former maid-servant, and given up to justice.
A farmer's wife in Hesse used to put flesh-meat on the table at every meal, but for a long time she would not tell how she procured it. At last she promised to let her husband see how it was done, on condition that, whilst she was about it, he should not call her by her christian name. They went together into a field where sheep were feeding. There the woman threw a ring over her; in a moment she was a wolf amongst the flock, and in another she was off with a sheep in her mouth. The husband was petrified; but when the shepherd and his dogs pursued the wolf, the danger in which he saw his wife made him forget his promise, and he cried out, "Oh, Margaret!" At the word the wolf had vanished, and his wife stood naked in the field
Mere recognition of the werewolf, without directly naming the person, often has the same disenchanting effect. An old she-wolf met a farmer in the field, and sprang again and again at his horse's neck. The farmer thought he should know the wolf's voice, its tone seemed so familiar to his ears, and he cried out, "Is that you, my old mother, or is it not?"-—when behold! there she stood before him in her proper shape, but unable to move a limb. He laid her on the cart and took her home, but she did not live long after.
Another way of unmasking the werewolf or other transformed persons is by casting iron or steel over them. The skin splits crosswise on the werewolf's forehead, and the naked man comes out through the opening. If a sword be stuck in the ground with the hilt downwards and the point turned towards the werewolf, he is "banned," and must stay there until the time comes when he must appear again as a man.
It frequently happens that the werewolf is "frozen," that is to say, invulnerable by ordinary weapons or missiles. In that case he must be shot with elder-pith, or with balls made of inherited silver.
The change of a werewolf back again to human form does not always take place so quickly as to prevent the pursuers from descrying in the man some vestige of the bestial shape. A villager of Elmenhorst had from his birth the gift of changing himself into a wolf. In that form he was once chased into his bedroom by two Hamburg butchers armed with great whips. They found him in bed with his wife, but not yet completely retransformed, for the wolf's tail still hung out from under the quilt.
Distinct from the ordinary werewolf which we have hitherto been considering is another kind which is near akin to the vampyre, for it is not a transformed living man, but a corpse that has risen from the grave in the form of a wolf. The belief in this kind of werewolf still prevails in Prussia, as it did formerly in Normandy. In that province, down to the close of the last century, a change of this nature not uncommonly befell the remains of one who had died in mortal sin. First, the corpse began to gnaw and tear the cloth that covered its face. Then fearful sounds of wailing were heard issuing out of the ground; the coffin was burst open; the earth that lay upon it was rent, and flames of hell broke forth. Whenever the watchful priest of the parish became aware of those well-known tokens, he had the corpse dug up, and then cutting off its head with the sexton's spade, and bidding defiance to the hell-hounds that strove against him, he carried the head to the nearest stream and cast it in. It sank at once; but this was not all; for, weighted with its doom, it pierced the bottom of the river, and pressed slowly downwards through the earth to the place of its everlasting torments.
King John of England is said to have gone about as a werewolf after his death. An old Norman chronicle avers that 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. "Thus the ill presage of his surname Lackland was completely realised, for he lost in his lifetime almost all the domains under his suzerainty, and even after death he could not keep peaceful possession of his tomb."
Trials of alleged werewolves (loups-garous) were very numerous in France in the sixteenth century, and many of the accused were condemned to the flames. Boquet, in his Discours des Sorciers, relates the following facts as having occurred in 1588, near Apchon, in the mountains of Auvergne:-—A gentleman looking out one evening from a window of his chateau, saw a hunter whom he knew, and asked the man to bring him something on his return from the chace. The hunter was attacked in the plain by a great wolf, and after a sharp conflict cut off one of its fore-paws with his hunting-knife. On his way back he called at the chateau, and putting his hand into his game-bag, to show the gentleman the wolf's paw, he drew out a human hand with a gold ring, which the gentleman at once recognized as his wife's. He looked for her, and found her in the kitchen with one arm concealed under her apron, and on uncovering it he saw that the hand was gone. The lady was brought to trial, confessed, and was burnt at Byon. Boquet says he had this story from a trustworthy person who had been on the spot a fortnight after the event.
In Eastern Europe the werewolf appears in his most appalling aspect, as a being whose nature is blended with that of the vampyre. The same word is used to designate both in the languages of most branches of the Slave stock; but this appears to be a comparatively modern trait, for there is no sign of it in the ancient tradition of the Neurians, of which we have already spoken. In Poland there are traces of the old belief that werewolves were bound to assume that form at certain periods in every year; in the Middle Ages it was twice a year, at Christmas and St. John's Day; but in later legends the wilkolak, or werewolf, is generally the victim of a spiteful sorceress's vengeance. Once upon a time, when some young people were dancing on the banks of the Vistula, a wolf broke in among them and carried off the prettiest girl of the village. The young men pursued, but they were unarmed, and the wolf escaped with his booty to the woods. Fifty years afterwards, whilst the villagers were again making merry on the same spot, there appeared among them a woebegone, ice-grey man, in whom an aged villager recognized his long-lost brother. The latter narrated how he had long ago been turned into a wolf by a wicked witch; how he had carried off the beautiful girl during the harvest feast, and how the poor thing had died of grief a year after in the forest. "From that time forth," he said, "I flung myself with ravenous hunger upon every human being that came in my way;" and he showed his hands, which were still all smeared with blood. "For the last four years," he continued, "I have been going about again in human shape, and I am come to look once more upon my native place, for I must soon become a wolf again." Hardly had he uttered the words ere he sprang to his feet in the form of a wolf, and ran off howling, never to be seen again.
It is related of another Pole that he was turned into a wolf by a witch whose love he had despised. In spite of his bestial form he loathed raw flesh, and lived on milk, bread, and other food, which he snatched from the labourers in the field. Living in this way he wandered about for many a long year without sleeping, until a great weariness at last overcame him, and he fell asleep. On awaking, he found himself again a man, and ran naked as he was to his village; but there he found everything changed.
A peasant had been seven years a werewolf, when the witchery suddenly ceased, and he hastened home; but finding that his wife was married to his man, he cried out in his wrath, "Oh, why am I no longer a werewolf, that I might punish this base woman!" No sooner had he uttered the impious words than, again become a wolf, he sprang at his wife, devoured the child she had borne to his man, and wounded herself mortally. The neighbours hastened to the spot and killed him; but when light came, they saw, instead of a dead wolf, the body of the man they had well known.
A witch came to a wedding, rolled her girdle together, laid it on the threshold, and poured on the floor a drink brewed from linden wood After this, when the new-married couple and their friends stepped over the threshold, they were turned into wolves on the spot, and in that form they prowled for three years about the witch's house with hideous howlings. On the day when the enchantment expired, the witch came out with a fur cloak, wrapped it, with the hairy side out, round one werewolf after another, and thereby restored them to their natural shape; but the bridegroom's tail, which she had left uncovered by the cloak, stuck to him for the rest of his days. This happened in the year 1821 or 1822.
Of another wedding party of Poles it is related that they became werewolves through a spell laid on them by a soldier upon whom the bridegroom had set his dogs. Some years afterwards three werewolves were killed in a great hunt, and under the skin of one of them was found a fiddle, under those of the other two were the wedding dresses of the bride and bridegroom.