Thursday, June 25, 2015

Notes on Werewolves

Werewolves are some of the most captivating characters in lore, though most of the original tales about them were short encounter stories, (i.e. A wolf attacks someone and rips off a piece of their clothing. Later the person meets a friend who has bits of their clothing in their teeth.)

As with everything else, however, there are many aspects of werewolves which can be understood by piecing together these many tiny pieces of lore. For example, there seems to be some connection between werewolves and the Forest King and or water spirits. I've state previously that the idea of the devil appearing to someone and bargaining with them for their soul is based on previous ideas about forest fairies or water fairies. These fairies often needed human workers for various tasks and so would pay them in advance for this work, which was often hellish in nature.

These same forest spirits seem to have given people the magical belts they used to turn into wolves. In France werewolves would transform by going into fairy pools during the full moon which would also seem to indicate that the fairies were involved in this transformation somehow. Finally there were werewolves who were clearly shaman figures, again connecting them to the world of fairy. However, despite a few vague connections it's hard to say exactly what this relationship was at what time. All we truly have is 19th century understanding of the idea of werewolves, which pretty much ignores the existence of anything but devils.

Still there is something to be said for 19th century beliefs, and in the spirit of that I'm providing some of my notes on werewolves in this blog.


Categories of Werewolves

Werewolves are among the most complicated of mythological creatures because they have so many backgrounds and types. Indeed, just as every person is unique every werewolf is unique as well. Further each village could be said to have some of their own traditions regarding werewolves. For example, silver bullets were one common way to fight them but in some places a gold bullet was required, in others the silver had to be blessed, while in others a person could force a wolf to turn back to its human form by using its name. Just as there were different ways to kill a werewolf there were different reasons a person might become one which I’ve broken down into a number of different types.


The Serial Killer

There are some few bloodthirsty humans who choose the darkness willingly, people who enjoy doing evil. It was believed that such people would at times study necromancy in order to give themselves body and soul to the devil in return for the power to commit murder. It was said that one such man desired neither wealth nor promotion, instead he wanted to find a way to cause suffering and pain to all people. Seeing the evil in his heart the devil granted the young man his wish.

Yea, often it came to pass that as he walked abroad in the fields, if he chanced to spy a company of maidens playing together or else milking their kine, in his wolfish shape he would incontinent run among them, and while the rest escaped by flight, he would be sure to lay hold of one, and after his filthy lust fulfilled, he would murder her presently. Beside, if he had liked to known any of them, look who he had a mind unto, her he would pursue, whether she were before or behind, and take her from the rest, for such was his swiftness of foot while he continued a wolf that he would outrun the swiftest greyhound in that country; and so much he had practiced this wickedness that the who province was feared by the cruelty of this bloody and devouring wolf. 

Stories about such serial killing werewolves aren’t common, however. Indeed its difficult to find many. More common are stories of people who become a werewolf in order to kill specific targets.


Vengeful

There are some people who learn necromancy and gain the power to become a werewolf in order to get revenge on specific people. In one story a man was courting two sisters, cheating on one with the other, but he wasn’t really interested in either and eventually he left them both. Shen they found out what he’d done they got together and swore revenge. In order to get their vengeance they studied magic until they were able to turn into wolves at which point they sought the man out and devoured him.


Cursed

The most famous type of werewolf are those who are cursed to become one. Such people might be cursed to become werewolves for a number of reasons. Some would inherit the magical belt that allowed them to become a werewolf, once they put it on, however, they wouldn’t be able to take it off for seven years and and would have to remain a wolf for that entire time. Other times the act of putting on the belt seems to have been an addition, for while some people seemed to dislike putting on the belt they couldn’t help but do so every once in a while. Finally there were some few people who were cursed to become werewolves by a jilted lover, angry rivel, or the devil/forest spirit. One girl in Japan, for example, began to act fox like and dangerous after being cursed by forest spirits for damaging a sacred tree. Oddly enough the only place I know of where the full moon factors regularly into such stories is Southern France. In “Le Folklore de France” Paul Sebillot says that;

The fountains are related to lycanthropy. Around 1820, a writer of Perigord reported a superstition that was common in this country and in neighboring provinces that some men, including the sons of priests, were forced every full moon to transform into werewolves. 

In this case the people don’t just transform into wolves, however. Instead when the power of the moon takes them they go running into one of the fountains of water, jump in and come out in their animal form until day time. Exactly how or why they are cursed to become werewolves isn’t said nor is it explained exactly how the sacred fountains are involved. These fountains, however, were home to the most important fairies and goddesses in France so there may in this sense be some connection between the often jealous fairies who were very much like nymphs and werewolves.



Shaman

At one time werewolves in Northern Europe were believed to be the enemies of witches and the servants of the devil. One old man told how he and an army of others would send their souls from their bodies in the form of wolves in order to fight the devil and evil spirits who were trying to blight people’s crops. Another picture depicts an old man with wolves claws fighting Baba Yaga, (the guardian of the underworld) which may mean that previously to the devil these wolves protected people from other underworldly beings. In another case a young man had seziers during a feast, after which he said how an invisible witch had entered the room so he’d sent his soul out in the form of a wolf in order to kill her.

Berserker’s and certain Celtic warriors were also said to be able to send their souls out of their bodies in the form of wolves or other animals in order to do battle.


Desperate

Starvation was the greatest villain in fairy tales. There are many stories of parents even eating their own children because of starvation, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that some desperate people would turn to darker powers in order to get food. In the form of a wolf a peasant could eat the cattle and sheep of the wealthy or steal other food. These people didn’t always seem to have complete control over themselves, however, and so would, at times, attack other people, even those they loved.


Born

There are some people who are born and raised as werewolves. In Ireland there is a story about a man who helps a young wolf. Later when this man gets lost in the forest he comes across a hut of people who turn out to be werewolves. They promise not to harm him, however, for while they normally would eat people in the forest it turns out that one of them was the wolf the man helped. In some ways I view these werewolves as a bit like the family of cannibles in “Texas Chainsaw Massacure.” They grow up in isolation, their culture built on the idea of eating people, while they develop their own twisted form of honor.



Further Notes on Werewolves

Sagen, märchen und gebräuche aus Meklenburg, Volumes 1-2

 A young woman whose husband was often absent unknown reasons, became suspicious that he was Werewolf. One day when they were working in the fields he left her again. Suddenly a wolf came out of the bushes, running toward her. It grabbed her red skirt and began ripping at it. She managed to drive it away with her pitchfork, however. Some time later her husband came out of the bushes and notices that he has pieces of her dress stuck between his teeth. 

This story about someone finding out that someone is a werewolf from the bits of cloth between their teeth is one of the most common stories about encounters with werewolves. Unfortunatlly as you’ll see most stories with werewolves are very, very short, and lack in any detail about the werewolves themselves.



Certain people may be by means of a folded belt, which is cut from the skin of a hanged man and is held together by a buckle with seven tongues transform into a wolf. Such wolves are black and the size of a calf. If someone can break this buckle the werewolf will turn back into a naked man
In Erichsburg the balif kept many old things which had been confiscated includingrifles taken from pochers. There was also a belt that was said to be able to turn a person into a wolf. Once the baliffs servant was wondering with another man if the belt could actually turn someone into a wolf. At last he decided to find out, he strapped the belt on and immediately turned into a wolf. In the form of a wolf he began chasing his friend. The ballif who had seen this got on his horse and chopped the belt buckle so that his servant stood before him once more.

During the seven years war seven men were stayin in a farmhouse with a farmer, his wife, and their child. During the night the woman noticed that one of the soldiers got up, put on a belt and turned into a wolf. He went to the cradle to devour the child, but having been suspicious the woman had put the sleeping child somewhere else where it would be safe. Eventually the werewolf gave up, took his belt off and went back to bed. Later when he and the soldiers where leaving she reminded him of that night. 

Several men were reaping the fields. When they were done they lay down to rest. Not far from them a horse was grazing. One of the men got up and by means of belt he turned into a wolf and fell on the horse devouring it. He then turned back into a man and layed down as if nothing had happened. One woman had seen everything, however. Later when the man awoke he complained of stomach pain, at which poin the woman told him that if she’d eaten a horse her stomach would hurt as well. 




Sagenschatz des Luxemburger Landes, gesammelt von N. Gredt. By N Gredt

One day a boy noticed that an Austrian soldier passing through his town was in fact a werewolf, so the boy stole his magical book. The Austrian tried to find out where the book was, but no one could tell him anything so he had to leave without it. The boy zealously read the book in order to lure the art of turning into a wolf. A few years later he would turn into a wolf and creep into people’s houses in order to steal their ham, butter, eggs, etc. 
At home he told a maid that if a wolf came at her she should throw her skirt at him and it would leave her alone. One day a large grey and red wolf came running at her and she throw her apron at him. The wolf fell on the apron. Later she noticed that the boy had a bit of this same apron in his mouth. When the boys mother found out about this she grew enraged and threw his book into the fire. 
After this the boy disappeared intoe the forest and wasn’t seen again in his village. There was talk from a neighboring castle that a Baron had started to loose many sheep to a wolf which couldn’t be killed as each bullet would fall harmlessly to the ground without hitting the animal. Finally  the Baron got a silver bullet which had been blessed. At last eh baron was able to shoot the wolf, which turned into an injured man who begged for his life. 

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