(Image by Direfly)
In the study of cryptozoology, most reports of bipedal half-beasts consist of those falling into the “Bigfoot” category. Occasionally, there are from time to time reports of creatures which differ in various ways from the typical “ape man” and which, by all other accounts, could only be likened more to werewolves, the mysterious monsters of European folklore.
There are, however, various issues that come paired with the presentation of such claims, especially the fact that a werewolf, by definition, is something more likened to a by-product of magic, rather than an alleged flesh-and-blood animal. Historically, the werewolf is merely a man who, if attacked and bitten by another lycanthrope (a word derived from the greek words for wolf and man). Other sources describe the transformation as being the result of a satanic ritual, much like Richard Verstegan’s fifteenth century description which likened them to being evil sorcerers:
“(Werewolves) are certayne sorcerers, who having annoynted their bodies with an ointment which they make by the instinct of the devil, and putting on a certayne inchaunted girdle, does not only unto the view of others seem as wolves, but to their own thinking have both the shape and nature of wolves, so long as they wear the said girdle. And they do dispose themselves as very wolves, in worrying and killing, and most of humane creatures.”
This description, from the fifteenth century, of spells to transform oneself into a werewolf reminded me of a modern version of such a satanic ritual from The Devil’s Notebook by Anton Szandor LaVey, in the chapter entitled How to Become a Werewolf.
Attire yourself in a manner conductive to the change that is to be effected. Legends of Berserkers donning the skins of wolves and bears hold substantial meaning, in view of the importance of costume in ritual. Dress in the most stereotyped, “Corny” manner, as the second skin that you wear is a potent element in complete transmogrification. This is hermetic or sympathetic magic exemplified (as above, so below). If you wear the mask of a wolf or the skin of a beast, it is preferable if it is not genuine, as you can better infuse a facsmile of the chosen animal with your own personality, while drawing from the known attributes of the species represented. The skin or mask will serve as a catalyst, a blue print, for what you will become as you merge with it.
Enter the blighted area with eager anticipation. When you approach the spots where you would have previously been the most frightened, allow yourself to revel in the thought of how terrifying it would be to another if they were to feel the same fear that you had felt, plus the added terror with an actual manifestation of an unfarmiliar and grotesque creature. In short, it is now your role to contribute to the fearsomeness of the place.
. . .
As you progressively become more imbued with the sensation of being an animal, you will actually feel certain areas of your body responding in a manner alien to the human anatomy. Your legs will become haunches. Your amrs will become forelimbs for claws or paws that crave to grasp at the nearest thing. Your countenance will change. Your facial muscles will began to twitch in bestial grimaces. All of your senses will besome more acute.
. . .
At the moment of orgasm, a complete and irrevocable encompassing of the animal within must occur, with whatever abandon to this level may ensue. It is at this tune that the change will take place, and if one should be unfortunate(or fortunate?) enough to witness your metamorhposis, you may be assured they will never forget it.
Frequently referred to as the P. T. Barnum of religion (a title he himself was always pleased with), I think it is unlikely that LaVey ever used this technique to achieve a full lycanthropic transformation (though he did know his stuff, so you never know). The similarities between his werewolf magic and the kinds listed above and below, however, are still certainly worth noting.
Wikipedia’s entry on werewolves provides a wide variety of origins for lycanthropes of all types, with many European beliefs heavily associating them with the devil. This particular account, however, stands out in fantastic contrast:
A notable exception to the association of Lycanthropy and the Devil, comes from a rare and lesser known account of an 80-year-old man named Thiess. In 1692, in Jurgenburg, Livonia, Thiess testified under oath that he and other werewolves were the Hounds of God. He claimed they were warriors who went down into hell to do battle with witches and demons. Their efforts ensured that the Devil and his minions did not carry off the gran from local failed crops down to hell. Thiess was steadfast in his assertions, claiming that werewolves in Germany and Russia also did battle with the devil’s minions in their own versions of hell, and insisted that when werewolves died, their souls were welcomed into heaven as reward for their service. Thiess was ultimately sentenced to ten lashes for Idolatry and superstitious belief.
As with every other account in this article, the testimony of Thiess could be nothing more than the rantings of a deranged madman. On the other other hand though, the thought an international army of holy werewolves fighting the devil for their farms is just too cool to not be solid fact.
There are a variety of werewolf origins provided on the wikipedia page:
Herodotus in his Histories wrote that the Neuri, a tribe he places to the north-east of Scythia, were transformed into wolves once every nine years. These rituals were apparently meant to symbolise earthly regeneration and rebirth. Virgil was also familiar with human beings transforming into wolves.
In Greek mythology, the story of Lycaon provides one of the earliest examples of a werewolf legend. According to one version, Lycaon was transformed into a wolf as a result of eating human flesh; one of those who were present at periodical sacrifice on Mount Lycæon was said to suffer a similar fate.
In Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid vividly described stories of men who roamed the woods of Arcadia in the form of wolves.
In Medieval Europe, the corpses of some people executed as werewolves were cremated rather than buried in order to prevent them from being resurrected as vampires. Before the end of the 19th century, the Greeks believed that the corpses of werewolves, if not destroyed, would return to life as vampires in the form of wolves or hyenas which prowled battlefields, drinking the blood of dying soldiers. In the same vein, in some rural areas of Germany, Poland and Northern France, it was once believed that people who died in mortal sin came back to life as blood-drinking wolves. This differs from conventional werewolfery, where the creature is a living being rather than an undead apparition. These vampiric werewolves would return to their human corpse form at daylight. They were dealt with by decapitation with a spade and exorcism by the parish priest. The head would then be thrown into a stream, where the weight of its sins were thought to weigh it down. Sometimes, the same methods used to dispose of ordinary vampires would be used. The vampire was also linked to the werewolf in East European countries, particularly Bulgaria, Serbia and Slovakia. In Serbia, the werewolf and vampire are known collectively as one creature; Vulkodlak. In Hungarian and Balkan mythology, many werewolves were said to be vampiric witches who became wolves in order to suck the blood of men born under the full moon in order to preserve their health. In their human form, these werewolves were said to have pale, sunken faces, hollow eyes, swollen lips and flabby arms. The Haitian jé-rouges differ from traditional European werewolves by their habit of actively trying to spread their lycanthropic condition to others, much like vampires.
With all the talk of these magicians dressing up as wolves to transform, it’s hard not to think of the skinwalkers.
Modern fiction usually focuses on the viral form of lycanthropy, spread by werewolf bites, where those who manage to survive the attacks eventually become werewolves themselves. Their occult origins are less frequently addressed.
And so I have to wonder; is there a missing link between the two? At what point did these rituals begin creating the type of entity that could replicate itself simply by breaking the skin of another human?
Did some insane magician cast a spell to make them that way intentionally?
Or perhaps the phenomenon is more Dionysean in origin, with people just getting swept away by the party. . .
Lon Chaney’s character in The Wolfman from 1941 was marked by a pentagram on his hand after a werewolf bit him. A sign of his transformation. I’ll have to watch the movie again to see what it has to say about the subject.
(We all know the ones from the movies are the real ones.)
The strange sagas of the werewolves continues into the modern age. The Wolves of Hexham, for example, was an interesting discoverey.
In February, 1972 the Robson boys were weeding their parent’s garden not 10 minutes walk from where the ‘Wolf of Allendale’ stalked the woods. The pair soon unearthed two carved stone heads both about the size of tennis balls. A few nights after the discovery, neighbour Ellen Dodd was sitting up late with her daughter when both of them saw what they described as a ‘half-man/half-beast’ enter the bedroom. Although both mother and daughter screamed in terror, the creature seemed disinterested in them and walked off down the stairs. It was heard to be ‘padding down the stairs as if on its hind legs’, and the front door was later found open. It was assumed it had left the house in search of something else, but what no-one knew, or indeed was inclined to find out!
More werewolf sightings. . .
And for those of you with Coast to Coast accounts. . .
There are two active werewolf “hunts” going on today that I am aware of. The first involves the high strangeness going on in Cannock Chase (though the werewolf sightings are only a small part of the weirdness going on in that case) – Do Werewolves Roam the Woods of England?
But quite possibly nothing compares with the incredible wave of wolfish-weirdness that has recently descended upon Britain’s Cannock Chase – a large area of forest land in central England, and a location that has become a veritable hotbed for encounters with big cats, ghostly black dogs, Bigfoot-like entities, and now werewolves.
. . .
On April 26, 2007, the Stafford Post newspaper (which covers the area in question) stated the following: “A rash of sightings of a ‘werewolf’ type creature prowling around the outskirts of Stafford have prompted a respected Midlands paranormal group to investigate. West Midlands Ghost Club says they have been contacted by a number of shocked residents who saw what they claimed to be a `hairy wolf-type creature’ walking on its hind legs around the German War Cemetery, just off Camp Road, in between Stafford and Cannock. Several of them claim the creature sprang up on its hind legs and ran into the nearby bushes when it was spotted.”
The second is a case that has been going on since the 1980′s – The Beast of Bray Road:
the story first came to light around the beginning of the last decade; that something big, hairy and wolfish roams the country roads and woods of Walworth, Jefferson and Racine Counties. The first witnesses to come forward publicly saw the creature on or near Bray Road, a few miles outside of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and so it became tagged, “The Beast of Bray Road.” I happened to be the reporter who broke the story while working as staff writer and artist for a Delavan-based newspaper, The Week, and the beast has followed me ever since. Not bodily (I hope) but in terms of media and in people’s undying interest in the stories.
I’ve been able to document at least seventy similar sightings, spanning the years 1936 to just a few months ago. . .
(Image by Seramis)