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Human Animals Part 8

THE WER-WOLF IN MYTH AND LEGEND

An extraordinary story about a wer-wolf comes from Ansbach in 1685:

The supposed incarnation of a dead burgomaster of that town was said to be ravishing the neighbouring country in the form of a wolf, devouring cattle as well as women and children. At last the ferocious beast was caught and slaughtered, and its carcass was encased in a suit of flesh-coloured cere-cloth, while its head and face were adorned with a chestnut-coloured wig and long white beard, after the animal's snout had been cut off and a mask resembling the dead burgomaster's features had been substituted. This effigy was hanged, its skin stuffed and put in a museum, where it was pointed out as a proof of the actual existence of wer-wolves. This incident appears to prove that the belief in wer-wolves had been shaken at that date, but it has never been finally eradicated, and it is only natural that a theme which has had such world-wide credence should occur again and again in mythology and literature. It is dealt with in the story of the festival of the god Zeus, which was held every nine years on the Wolf mountain in Arcadia. During the banquet a man, having tasted of a flowing bowl in which human and animal flesh were mixed, was turned into a wolf and remained a wolf nine years. If he had abstained from eating human flesh in the interval he became once more a man. The tradition appears to have originated in the existence of a society of cannibal wolf-worshippers, a member of which perhaps represented the sacred animal for nine years in succession.

This compares in some degree with the practices of the Human Leopard Society, which is of comparatively recent origin.

Lycaon, the King of Arcadia and father of Callisto, was turned into a wolf because he offered human sacrifices to Jupiter, or, in the version given by Ovid, because he tried to murder Jupiter, who was his guest.

Others believe that Lycaon is the Constellation of the Wolf, and that in him were the united qualities of wolf, king, and constellation.

Pliny points out that the origin of transformation into wolves was due to Evanthes, a Greek author of good repute, who tells the story of Antheus, the Arcadian, a member of whose family is chosen by lot and then taken to a certain lake in the district, across which he swims and is changed into a wolf for a space of nine years. So, too, Demaentus, during a sacrifice of human victims, tasted the entrails of a boy who had been slaughtered, upon which he turned into a wolf, but ten years later he was victorious in the pugilistic contests at the Olympic games.

The following quaint story is taken from Petronius, being told by one Niceros, at a banquet given by Trimalchio.

"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 our fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and a sort of a grim water-drinking Pluto. About cock-crow, when the moon was shining as bright as midday, we came amongst the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or count them; and when I turned to look at him, lo! he had already stripped himself and laid 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 am 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 was more like to die from fear than I? Yet I drew my sword, and cutting the air right and left came thus to my sweetheart's house. When I entered the courtyard I was like to breathe my last, perspiration poured from my neck, and my eyes were dim. My Melissa met me to ask where I had been so late, and said, 'Had you only come sooner you might have helped us, for a wolf came to the farm and worried our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, as our servant ran a lance through his neck.' When I heard this I could not doubt what had happened, and as the day dawned 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 broken bread with him again, no not if you had killed me."

The expression turnskin or turncoat is a translation of the Latin _versipelles_, a term used to describe a wer-wolf.

Another story in which the human being suffers from the wound inflicted on the wer-wolf concerns a fine lady of Saintonge, who used to wander at night in the forests in the shape of a wolf. One day she caught her paw in a trap set by the hunters. This put an end to her nocturnal wanderings, and afterwards she had to keep a glove on the hand that had been trapped, to conceal the mutilation of two of her fingers.

Eliphas Levi, the occultist, has endeavoured to explain this sympathetic condition between the man and his animal presentment.

"We must speak here of lycanthropy, or the nocturnal transformation of men into wolves, histories so well substantiated that sceptical science has had recourse to furious maniacs, and to masquerading as animals for explanations. But such hypotheses are puerile and explain nothing. Let us seek elsewhere the solution of the mystery, and establish--First, that no person has been killed by a wer-wolf except by suffocation, without effusion of blood and without wounds. Second, that wer-wolves, though tracked, hunted, and even maimed, have never been killed on the spot. Third, that persons suspected of these transformations have always been found at home, after the pursuit of the wer-wolf, more or less wounded, sometimes dying, but invariably in their natural form....

"We have spoken of the sidereal body, which is the mediator between the soul and the material organism. This body remains awake very often while the other is asleep, and by thought transports itself through all space which universal magnetism opens to it. It thus lengthens, without breaking, the sympathetic chain attaching it to the heart and brain, and that is why there is danger in waking up dreaming persons with a start, for the shock may sever the chain at a blow and cause instantaneous death. The form of our sidereal body is conformable to the habitual condition of our thoughts, and in the long run it is bound to modify the features of the material organism. Let us now be bold enough to assert that the wer-wolf is nothing more than the sidereal body of a man whose savage and sanguinary instincts are represented by the wolf, who, whilst his phantom is wandering abroad, sleeps painfully in his bed, and dreams that he is a veritable wolf.

What renders the wer-wolf visible is the almost somnambulistic over-excitement caused by the fear of those who see it, or their disposition, more particularly among simple country-folk, to place themselves in direct communication with the astral light which is the common medium of dreams and visions. The blows inflicted on the wer-wolf really wound the sleeper by the odic and sympathetic conjestion of the astral light and by the correspondence of the immaterial with the material body...."[39]

This peculiarity of the wound dealt to the wer-wolf being reproduced in the human being is emphasised by an incident which occurred about 1588 in a tiny village situated in the mountains of Auvergne. A gentleman was gazing one evening from the windows of his castle when he saw a hunter he knew passing on his way to the chase. Calling to him, he begged that on his return he would report what luck he had had. The hunter after pursuing his way was attacked by a large wolf. He fired off his gun without hitting the animal. Then he struck at it with his hunting knife, severing one of the paws, which he picked up and put in his knapsack.

The wounded wolf ran quickly into the forest. When the hunter reached the castle he told his friend of his strange fight with a wolf, and to emphasise his story opened his knapsack, in which to his horror and surprise he saw, not a wolf's paw as he had expected, but the hand of a woman which had a gold ring on one of the fingers.

The owner recognised the ring as belonging to his wife, and hastening into the kitchen to question her he found her with one arm hidden beneath the folds of a shawl. He drew it aside and saw she had lost her hand. Then she confessed that it was she who, in the form of a wolf, had attacked the hunter. She was arrested and burnt to death soon afterwards at Ryon.

In another variation of the wer-wolf story, the human being retains a material object acquired by his animal replica and is freed thereby from his obsession.

A man, who from his childhood had been a wer-wolf, when returning one night with his wife from a merrymaking, observed that the hour was at hand when the transformation usually took place. Giving the reins to his wife, he got out of the cart and said, "If anyone comes to thee, strike at it with thy apron." Then he went away and a few minutes later the poor woman was attacked by a wolf. Remembering what her husband had told her, she struck at it with her apron, and the animal tore out a piece and ran off. Presently the man himself returned holding in his mouth the torn fragment of the apron. Then his wife cried out in terror, "Good Lord, man! Why, thou art a wer-wolf!"

"Thank thee, mother!" replied he, "but now I am free!" and after this incident he kept human form until the day of his death.[40]

In "William of Palermo," the old romance known as "William and the Wer-Wolf," translated from the French at the command of Sir Humphrey de Bohun about A.D. 1350,[41] the wer-wolf appears as a sort of a guardian angel. The brother of the King Apulia, envious of the heir-apparent, bribes two women to murder the king's son. While the boy William is at play a wer-wolf runs off with him, swims across the Straits of Messina, and carries him into a forest near Rome, where it takes care of him and provides him with food. The wer-wolf in reality is Alphonso, heir to the Spanish throne, who has been transformed by his stepmother Queen Braunde, who desires her own son Braundinis to wear the crown of Spain.

The wer-wolf embraces the king's son With his fore-feet, And so familiar with him Is the king's son, that all pleases him, Whatever the beast does for him.

While the wer-wolf seeks provender, a cowherd finds William and takes him to his hut, where the Emperor meets him when out hunting. Placing him behind him on his horse he takes him to Rome and gives him in charge of his daughter Melior, to be her page.

William and Melior fall in love with one another, and to avoid the Emperor's wrath devise an escape, disguised in the skins of white bears, helped by Melior's friend Alexandrine. When Melior asks whether she makes a bold bear, Alexandrine answers, "Yes, Madame, you are a grisly ghost enough, and look ferocious." Together the lovers wander out of the garden on all fours and making their way to the forest hide in a den. Meanwhile the wer-wolf has followed William's fortunes, and finding the wanderers in need, he sets on a harmless passer-by who carries provisions, and seizing bread and boiled beef out of his bag, lays it before the lovers, then runs off and, attacking another traveller, secures two flagons of wine.

Being pursued, the lovers escape to Palermo, led always by the wer-wolf, Alphonso, half-brother to Braundinis, who was destined by Melior's father to become his son-in-law. William does battle with the proposed suitor and, still helped by the wer-wolf, whose symbol is painted on his shield, overcomes his rival, takes the King and Queen of Spain prisoner and refuses to let them go until Queen Braunde promises to transform the rightful heir from a wolf back into a human being. "Unless she disenchants you, she shall be burnt," he says forcibly. Braunde takes her stepson, the wolf, into a private chamber, draws forth a magic ring with a stone in it that is proof against all witchcraft and binds it with a red silk thread round the wolf's neck.

Then she takes a book out of a casket and reads in it a long time till he turns into a man. The wer-wolf is delighted, but apologises to his stepmother for having no clothes on, and she commands him to choose who shall fetch his clothes. He answers that he will take his attire and the order of knighthood from the worthiest man alive, William of Palermo. William, being called, enters the chamber, where he sees a man who is an utter stranger and is only satisfied when he hears Alphonso's explanation, "I am the wer-wolf who saved you from many perils." William and Melior are married, all ends happily and William becomes Emperor of Rome.

The Bretons give the name of Bisclavaret to the wer-wolf, or wer-fox, which throws itself upon the hunter's horse and terrorises it. The same thing is called Garwal by the Normans. Bisclavaret is supposed to be a wizard, and if in olden times an unknown lady offered food to the hunters at the moment the animal appeared she was thought to be a witch.

Marie de France in her "Lay of the Bisclavaret" used the idea of a wer-wolf, and again in this case the animal has no savage instincts except against his enemies, a faithless wife and her perfidious lover.

A gallant knight of Brittany, a favourite with the king, weds a fair lady whom he loves tenderly. Only one cloud darkens the wife's horizon. Her husband leaves her invariably three days a week and she does not know where he goes. One day she has the temerity to ask him, and he warns her that the information may be dangerous, but when she pleads with him he says:

"Learn then that I become a wer-wolf during my absence. I go into the forest, hide in the thickets and seek my prey."

"But, my dear, tell me whether you take off your clothes," says the wife, "or whether you keep them on?"

"I am naked when the transformation occurs, Madame."

"And where do you leave your clothes?"

"I must not tell you, because if I were seen when I take them off I should remain a wer-wolf for the rest of my life. I can only recover human form at the moment I put them on again. After that you will not be surprised if I say no more." But she urges him to tell her, and finally he says that he hides his clothes under a bush near an old stone cross in the corner of a chapel, and there he puts them on when he wishes to resume his original shape.

Frightened by his awful story the wife decides to live with him no more and immediately sends for a young man who is in love with her, tells him the story and enjoins him to go and take away her husband's clothes.

Thus she betrays her husband, the wer-wolf, who does not return and is given up for dead, and some time after she marries her false lover.

About a year later the king goes on a hunting expedition in the forest. There he comes across the wer-wolf, and the hounds immediately take up the scent and give chase the whole day long. Wounded by the hunters and wearied nigh unto death, the wolf seizes the bridle of the king's horse and licks his majesty's foot. The king, in great fear, calls his companions to look at the extraordinary wild beast that is capable of this humble action. He refuses to allow the wolf to be slaughtered and takes it back, in his train, to the castle. There the wolf lives in great comfort like a domestic pet and harms no one.

Presently a great function is held at the court and the wer-wolf's former wife comes there with her new husband. The moment the wolf sets eyes on him he springs at his throat, and would surely have killed him had not the king beaten him off with a whip. For the rest of the gentleman's visit the wolf is kept under strict discipline.

Some time afterwards, the king, accompanied by his faithful wolf, pays a visit to the lady, and the animal springs at her ferociously and bites off her nose. Then the courtiers say that the matter must be inquired into, for the wolf only turns savage when in the presence of this lady and her new husband. The king decides to have the couple arrested and the lady has to confess what happened, saying she thinks the wer-wolf must be her transformed husband. After hearing her story the king orders the wer-wolf's clothes to be placed where he can get them privately, and after waiting outside the room in which the metamorphosis is to take place, for some time, he enters and finds the former knight, his old friend whom he thought dead, lying quietly asleep. He restores all his honours and has his faithless wife chased out of the kingdom in company with her false lover. All their daughters are born without noses as a punishment for the wicked fraud practised on the wer-wolf.[42]

Olaus Magnus[43] declares that although the inhabitants of Prussia, Livonia, and Lithuania suffer considerably from the depredations of wolves as far as their cattle are concerned, their losses are not so serious in this quarter as those they suffer at the hands of wer-wolves.

On Christmas Eve multitudes of wer-wolves gather at a certain spot and band together to attack human beings and animals. They besiege isolated houses, break in the doors and devour every living thing.

They burst into the beer-cellars and there empty the casks, thus proving their human tastes. A ruined castle near Courland appears to have been their favourite meeting-place, where thousands congregate in order to test their agility. If any of them fail to bound over the castle wall they are slain by the others, as they are considered in that case to be incompetent for the work in hand.

It is believed that a messenger in the person of a lame youth is sent round the neighbourhood to call these followers of the devil to a general conclave. Those who are reluctant to attend the meeting are beaten with iron scourges. When the gathering is assembled the human forms vanish and the whole multitude become wolves. The troops follow the leader, "firmly convinced in their imagination that they are transformed into wolves." The sorcery lasts for twelve days, and at the expiration of this period the human forms are resumed.

Referring further to these Courland wer-wolves, it is said of them that Satan holds them in his net in three ways. Firstly they execute certain depredations, such as mangling cattle, in their human shapes, but in such a state of hallucination that they believe themselves to be wolves and are regarded as such by others in a like predicament.

Though not true wer-wolves they hunt in packs. Secondly they leave their bodies lying asleep and send forth their imagination in a dream that they believe they have injured the cattle, but that it is the devil who does what is suggested to them by their thoughts, and thirdly that the evil one induces real wolves to do the horrid deeds, but impresses the scene so vividly on the mind of the sleeper that he considers himself to be guilty of the act.

The following stories exemplify these conditions. The first is told of a man who when starting on a journey saw a wolf attacking one of his sheep. He fired and it fled wounded into the thicket. On his return he was told that he had fired at one of his tenants, called Mickel.

Mickel's wife, when questioned, said that her husband had been sowing rye and had asked her how he could get some meat for a feast. She said on no account was he to steal from the master's flock as it was well guarded by dogs. Mickel ignored her advice and had attacked the sheep.

He came home limping badly and in a passion had fallen upon his own horse and had torn its throat. It seemed as though he were bewitched or in a trance.

In 1684 a curious incident occurred to a man who had gone hunting in a forest. At dusk a pack of wolves had rushed towards him, and as he levelled his gun with the intention of aiming at the leader a voice arose from their midst, saying, "Don't fire, Sir, for no good will come of it." Then the phantom pack rushed onwards and he saw it no more.

The third story is about a man-wolf who was accused of sorcery of the most flagrant kind. Finding a difficulty in getting evidence against the criminal, the judge sent a peasant to his cell who was charged with the unpleasant task of forcing a confession. The prisoner was told that he might avenge himself upon another peasant to whom he owed a grudge, by destroying his cow secretly, and if possible when in the shape of a wolf himself. After much persuasion the supposed wer-wolf undertook to carry out the suggested plan. The next morning the cow in question was found to be fearfully mangled, but the strange part of the story is this, that although witnesses were set to watch the man in his cell, they swore unanimously that he had never left it and had passed the whole of the night in deep sleep, only at one time making slight movements of his head, his hands and his feet.[44]

Just as the man who thinks he changes into a wolf suffers from lycanthropy, so the one who believes he changes into a dog is suffering from kynanthropy, and those who change into kine from boanthropy. Every part of the world chooses a special animal as being the most suitable for disguise, and naturally enough the animal is one which is common to the district. Thus we find the tiger chosen for India and Asia, the bear for Northern Europe, the lion, leopard, and hyaena for Africa, the jaguar for South America, and so forth.

Many superstitions surround the tiger. Besides being the abode of the soul of a dead man it may be the temporary or even the permanent form of a living human being. In India it is said that a certain root brings about the metamorphosis and that another root is used for the antidote. In Central Java powers of transformation are believed to be hereditary, no shame is attached to it, and the wer-tiger is looked upon as a friendly animal, and if his friends call upon him by name he behaves like a domestic pet and is believed to guard the fields. In the Malay Peninsula faith in the genuine wer-tiger persists, and it is thought there also that the soul of a dead wizard enters the animal's body. During the process of transformation the corpse is laid in the forest, and beside it a supply of rice and water is placed, sufficient for seven days, in which time transmigration, resulting from a compact made by the _pawang's_ ancestors, is complete. A ceremony is also gone through by the son of a _pawang_ who wishes to succeed his father in tiger's form.

A wer-tiger belief exists in India, and the Garrows think the mania is produced by a special drug which is laid on the forehead. First the wer-tiger pulls the earrings out of his ears and then wanders forth alone, shunning the company of his fellow-man. The disease lasts about fourteen days, and patients are said to have glaring red eyes, their hair dishevelled and bristled, and a peculiar convulsive manner of moving the head. When taken by fits of this kind they are believed to go forth in the night to ride on the backs of tigers.

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