Continuing the series of close looks into specific werewolf legends, let’s examine what’s generally considered one of the most important werewolf legends in history: the story of King Lykaon (Λυκᾱ́ων – or Lycaon, a more Anglicized spelling) of ancient Greece.
A quick summary before we go into more detail: Lykaon was a king of Arcadia in ancient Greece. As the legend goes, Lykaon decided to test the divine omniscience of Zeus by killing one of his own sons, Nyctimus, and cooking him into food to serve to Zeus. Naturally, Zeus realized what Lykaon had done, so he turned Lykaon into a wolf as punishment, killing his other children and bringing Nyctimus back to life.
However, Lykaon wasn’t remembered too negatively despite his actions or his fate. He did plenty of other good deeds, like founding cities and creating a cult dedicated to Zeus, as well as hosting a series of games called the Lykaean Games, among other things. He also had a lot of kids. And, please note, there were a lot of “Lykaon”s in Greek myth. This is merely one of them.
But what I’m going to focus on is the legend of how Zeus turned Lykaon into a wolf and the details thereof – and what impact it’s had on werewolf studies and werewolves in culture forever afterward.
Perhaps the earliest version of Lykaon’s myth was told by Hesiod. However, there are many different versions by an assortment of authors. Several of them recount the tale differently, with various aspects changed, and some even claim Lykaon was never turned into a wolf at all and was instead killed instantly by Zeus’s lightning, among other alterations.
Perhaps the most well-known version of the tale is the one I’ll be quoting from, however: not a Greek author but a Roman one, Ovid, in his Metamorphoses. Ovid, too, alters the story from Hesiod’s “original,” though he retains the most important aspect from the perspective of werewolf studies: Lykaon’s transformation into a wolf and “transformation scene” of sorts.
The edition of Metamorphoses from which I will be quoting is as follows:
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. A. D. Melville. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
(Please note for the sake of this post I’m not using perfect MLA citation for each quote. You can find those in my published academic works, but not these posts. But the citations here will be readable, just not totally up to nitpicky academic standards.)
It all began for Lykaon when Zeus – or, in the case of Ovid’s version, in Metamorphoses, Jupiter, generally the Roman equivalent of Zeus- arrives in Acradia. Unlike everyone else, Lykaon had his doubts about the god…
he [Lykaon] / Scoffed at their worship. “A clear test”, he said, / “Shall prove if this be god or mortal man / And certify the truth”, and he planned for me, / At dead of night, when I was sunk in sleep, / Death unforseen–so would he test the truth. (page 7)
Unlike Hesiod’s version, in Metamorphoses, Lykaon kills a “hostage sent / Far from Epirus, slitting his throat, and boiled / Part of the flesh, scarce dead, and roasted part” (7) instead of doing that to one of his own sons. Either way, with that done, he had Jupiter join him for a meal, telling him to eat the flesh of this person he’d just cooked.
Unfortunately for Lykaon, Jupiter was in fact Jupiter the omniscient, and the moment he was offered the flesh…
At once my avenging flame / Whelmed in just ruin that guilty house and him. (7-8)
And now the most important part – Lykaon’s transformation scene! Yes, werewolves have been having transformation scenes since time immemorial. And Lykaon’s is one of the best. It’s very… vivid, moreso than one may expect:
He [Lykaon] fled in fear and reached the silent fields / And howled his heart out, trying in vain to speak. / With rabid* mouth he turned his lust for slaughter / Against the flocks, delighting still in blood. / His clothes changed to coarse hair, his arms to legs– / He was a wolf, yet kept some human trace, / The same grey hair, the same fierce face, the same / Wild eyes, the same image of savagery. (8)
[*: Given that “rabid” literally means “infected with rabies,” which doesn’t really make any sense here, I feel the need to point out that the word “rabies” means “rage” or “madness” in Latin. That’s where we get the name of the disease. This doesn’t mean that Lykaon suddenly was infected with the disease known as rabies – he was filled with rage and madness.]
How fantastic! What a scene, what an image! I love the specificity of the description. That’s classic werewolf material right there. A wolf, a beast, but maintaining some semblance of his humanity. Truly this is one of the foundational legends of how we think of werewolves today.
So the purpose of the legend, obviously, is to punish Lykaon for his actions by turning him into a beast. Whether the Roman Ovid retelling or one of the original Greek versions, the end result is the same, if the wolf form is involved: it’s a form of punishment. Thing is, it actually wasn’t always seen as that bad a thing. As mentioned, there are many werewolf legends in ancient Greece and also Rome, some of which split directly from the legend of Lykaon. One such version included Arcadians who willingly undergo a transformation into a wolf that lasts years, in order to test their humanity (they must not eat human flesh while in their wolf form, or it become permanent), and it was almost a rite of passage of sorts, among many other legends.
Nor were they, by the way, always associated with cannibalism/eating people. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes what separated werewolves from “evil beasts” were that they had the willpower to resist eating people. Even Lykaon himself wasn’t actually a cannibal, he just committed horrible atrocities by testing Zeus using the flesh of one of his own kids! That’s not too bad!… Yeah, it’s beyond terrible.
Anyway, it shouldn’t be assumed from the legend of Lykaon alone that wolves and werewolves were always portrayed negatively in ancient Greece or in Rome. They certainly weren’t. Those are, of course, legends I will detail in other posts, but for the sake of clarity, I want to have the reminder that not all wolves or werewolves were “evil” just because of this legend… like many scholars wrongfully assume.
Werewolf legends were told by many societies throughout time, even before recorded history; indeed, scholars argue over what represents the “first werewolf,” in part because there is no real way of knowing the age of the werewolf legend – particularly since, like many legends, a great deal of werewolf stories were only retold orally. Ranging from the earliest humans and even pre-humans to the Greeks and Romans, the werewolf in ancient times takes many shapes across multiple cultures, spanning, essentially, the entire world, and certainly the entire historical range of wolves. Among perhaps the most important of all werewolf legends, and some of the earliest to be recorded, were the ones told by the ancient Greeks. The belief in werewolves was, naturally, then carried over into ancient Rome, but the werewolf also independently arose in other cultures around the world, including but not limited to Europe, North America, and Asia. However, the belief in werewolves may have existed as early as the Paleolithic Age, around 45,000 BP.
 Beresford 19; the year is given by Beresford as BP (Before Present), due to the carbon dating process of prehistoric artifacts.
Likewise, in the same book, I address the fact that some scholars like to claim the “first” werewolf legend was told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2750 BC, when Ishtar turns a shepherd into a wolf so that he is attacked by his own dogs. I refute this as the “first werewolf legend” as opposed to just a legend where a person is turned into a wolf on page 13 in footnote 16 of The Werewolf: Past and Future…
However, counting this instance from the Epic of Gilgamesh as “the first werewolf” is an odd statement. Yes, the shepherd is turned into a wolf, which is the same as many other werewolf legends (even Lycaon’s), but the choice of turning him into a wolf seems insignificant in terms of meaning. The fact that Lycaon’s transformation was intended as meaningful lends more power to the idea that King Lycaon may be the earliest recorded instance of a werewolf legend, since his actions led him to be specifically turned into a wolf, rather than into some other creature. The shepherd in Gilgamesh is only turned into a wolf so that his dogs will attack him, and other animals are substituted in later tales of this exact same type (such as Artemis turning a mortal into a deer so his dogs will rip him apart in a later Greek myth), making the choice of a wolf in the Epic of Gilgamesh feel arbitrary enough that it seems almost unfair to give it such importance in the history of werewolf mythology.
Naturally, given Lykaon is such an important figure in werewolf studies, there’s plenty of discourse about him and his legend across the various werewolf scholars. But, since this post is already insanely long, you can read more about the scholarly discourse and bigger picture of Lykaon’s tale in my first werewolf scholarly publication that I published in 2021, which discusses Lykaon and his scholarly discourse considerably already! And of course you’ll be hearing more about him and his place in werewolf mythology in my future publications, as well.
Back to Lykaon himself: I hope to someday translate my own editions of some of these primary sources, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses – or at least the passages relevant to werewolf studies, in particular – but we’ll see if I ever get around to doing that. Do keep an eye out for future werewolf studies works from me, however, as you will definitely be seeing a lot of those over the coming years.
In the meantime, I hope this post will serve you well enough to give a good idea and a little bit more depth than my previous post about the legend of King Lykaon and how important it is to werewolf mythology – and why you always hear so much about him.
Until next time!
(If you like my werewolf blog, be sure to follow me and check out my other stuff! Please consider supporting me on Patreon or donating on Ko-fi if you’d like to see me continue my works. Every little bit helps so much.
I love werewolves so much, you guys. I can’t even convey it to you. Really, I can’t. I’ve fallen into a feverish mood of just how much I love werewolves working on this post and how badly it rends my soul that they are portrayed so poorly across almost all media – and how the legends of them are all but forgotten and the ones everyone remembers are massively misinterpreted.
This really is my calling in life.
So let’s go. This is the longest werewolf fact to date, because this is a big deal to me and I want to get all these facts straight, so try not to get intimidated!
The Howling, the #1 movie that helped a generation think werewolves are similar to the legend of Peter Stubbe
I was preparing a poll for my patrons to decide the topic of the next werewolf fact, since my patrons have now decided that werewolf facts from here on (at least until the upcoming werewolf fact book, Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Pop Culture, is compiled and published!) will be deep-dives into specific werewolf legends.
However, while preparing this poll, I figured… why not google the most famous werewolf legends, to see what people would know the best and thus recognize and be interested in hearing more about?
As someone with two options in the poll already – those options being “Bisclavret” and “Peter Stubbe (and how his tale is not a werewolf legend)” – I was… very frustrated by the search results.
I ended up not running a poll this time, because it’s so important to me to knock out these lies about what is and isn’t a werewolf legend, like the nonexistent “wulver” and how the Beast of Gevaudan isn’t actually a werewolf legend, either.
Now, it’s important for me to note that I’ve already touched upon this once in a previous werewolf fact, because I personally find this to be a very big deal in terms of something werewolf studies has so horribly, tragically wrong, and people very seriously need to stop circulating this false concept and amateur misreading of a legend for which we have a very exact historical record. I have also referred to this in greater detail in my book, The Werewolf: Past and Future, because – again – it’s such a massive issue to me that this is considered such a “famous” werewolf legend.
However, I am going to detail it still further, because it’s so important to me that people realize just how much Peter Stubbe was never referred to as “The Werewolf of Bedburg” and was, in fact, never even referred to as a “werewolf” at all, not in the original accounts.
Now, in werewolf legends, not all “werewolves” are referred to as “werewolves.” This is something I’ve coveredseveral times before. This is largely because, when you look at folklore and mythology, you don’t get clear guidelines as to which creature is what.
That being said, Peter Stubbe’s account comes from a time period when people were, in fact, actually using the term “werewolf” and categorized things in a fashion more in the spirit of today, as opposed to so many of the older legends we now refer to as “werewolf legends” because they formed the basis of so many werewolf concepts that we still use.
Peter Stubbe’s account occurred at a time when the Catholic Church was indeed using the terms “werewolf” and “sorcerer” and they referred to very different, very specific things. This is something that separates something like the later-period werewolf trials from much earlier legends that never made use of the word “werewolf,” like various Greek werewolf legends, etc. For more info on that, see my post on What Is a Werewolf?.
For now, let’s get back to all the reasons why Peter Stubbe’s legend – like the also sadly famous Beast of Gevaudan – is not a werewolf legend at all.
First, let’s talk about the account itself. In fact, let’s go over it in some detail. I am getting all quotes from The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers, pages 253-259 in the 2012 Martino Publishing edition (one of the slightly better editions).
Montague Summers opens by claiming Stubbe’s account to be “one of the most famous of all German werewolf trials” (253), despite it not being a werewolf trial at all but in fact the trial of a sorcerer. As Summers himself says, Stubbe goes by many names: “Peter Stump (or Stumpf, Stube, Stubbe, Stub, as the name is indifferently spelled–and there are other variants)” (253). In my case, I’m going to use Stubbe.
Peter Stubbe was executed in Bedburg, near Cologne, on the 31 of March in 1590. At the time, this was a big deal – or, in Summers’ words, it “caused an immense sensation” (253) – and has been referenced since in popular works. A pamphlet detailing the events of Stubbe’s actions and his execution after his capture is published in Summers’ work, and he says he has “reproduce[d] it in full” (253). This seems to be true, as he didn’t feel the need to insert any references to werewolfery into the account.
The pamphlet begins thus, on page 253 of Summers’ work:
A true Discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked Sorcerer, who in the likenes of a Woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this diuelish [devilish] practise 25. yeeres [years], killing and de- uouring [devouring] Men, Woomen, and Children. Who for the same fact was ta- ken and executed on the 31. of October last past in the Towne of Bedbur neer the Cittie of Collin in Germany.
Notice he is referred to here as a “Sorcerer.” And again, on the following page, the discourse opens with “Stubbe, Peeter, being a most / wicked Sorcerer” (254).
Sorcerer and sorcery – where do they call him a “werewolf?” They never refer to Stubbe as a werewolf once, nor do they accuse him of “werewolfery,” a term seeing relatively frequent use in this time period.
The fact that Stubbe supposedly turned into a wolf has retroactively made scholars refer to him as a “werewolf,” but he was never even called that. Throughout the account, we only ever see him referred to as a sorcerer. For instance, “the great matters which the accursed practise of Sorcery” (254). He is, in one instance, referred to as a “hellhound” (254), but not as a werewolf. The writer describes Stubbe as having been a man possessed by a “Damnable desire of magick … and sorcery” (254) for his entire life, starting especially since he was twelve years old. He made a deal with the Devil later in life…
The Deuill [Devil/Satan] who hath a readye eare to listen to the lewde motions of cursed men, promised to give vnto him whatsoeuer his hart desired during his mortall life : wherupon this vilde wrtech neither desired riches nor promotion, nor was his fancy satisfied with any externall or outward pleasure, but hauing a tirannous hart, and a most cruell blody minde, he only requested that at his plesure he might woork his mallice on men, Women, and children, in the shape of some beast, wherby he might liue without dread or danger of life, and vnknowen to be the executor of any bloody enterprise, which he meant to commit (254)
So as you can see, Stubbe was a messed up guy. And he only asked for the shape of “some beast.” That doesn’t sound like “werewolf,” does it? Continuing…
[The Devil] gaue until him a girdle which being put about him, he was straight transfourmed into the likenes of a greedy deuouring Woolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkeled like vnto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes : And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appeere in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had neuer beene changed (255)
Well, Stubbe liked that a lot, because he was a sicko and wanted to go do sick things. It didn’t matter what animal it was – but the Devil chose to let him turn into a wolf.
Now, a few elements of his story are similar to a few other werewolf trials – like Jean Grenier – of around the same time period, and we also have some older stories of things like skins and salves being used to turn someone into a wolf. So why do I separate this?
Because in this time period, werewolves and sorcerers were both believed in, and Stubbe was not referred to as a werewolf. His legend does not have crucial elements in common with even other werewolf legends of the time period, like a lack of self-control/insanity. Stubbe was fully aware of his actions and willfully doing these things and taking this form. His animal form could have just as easily been some kind of cat, unknown beast, or bear, or whatever, because he’s not a werewolf – he’s a sorcerer.
So Stubbe went around committing his atrocities “in the shape of a Woolfe” (255). He even would walk up and down the streets and “if he could spye either Maide, Wife, or childe, that his eyes liked or his hart lusted after, he would … in the feeles rauishe [ravish] them, and after in his Wooluishe [wolfish] likenes cruelly murder them” (255). Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s The Howling. It’s sad that this has infiltrated many levels of popular culture now. Werewolves were, before Stubbe became retroactively deemed a werewolf, never associated with sexual crimes.
It’s pointed out at this section of the account while detailing how disgusting and lecherous and murderous Stubbe was, going around eating people and babies and lambs and other animals, that he would eat them raw and bloody “as if he had beene a naturall Woolfe indeed, so that all men mistrusted nothing lesse than this his diuelish Sorcerie” (255). Again – sorcery. Not “lycanthropy” or “werewolfery” or “werewolf” or anything like that. And I’m not gonna lie, this guy’s legend is very messed up. It disturbs me to have anything like this associated with werewolves. It was never meant to be, and I am upset that scholars have decided it should be.
The account goes on to detail how Stubbe violated several women, including his own sister, and even begot children as a result. I won’t go into too many details about that, but it’s just more points toward this not being a werewolf legend, as it stands out starkly as the only “werewolf legend” that ever involved anything of the sort. But we once again get the reference to “likenes of a Woolfe” (256) – several more, in fact. We also get a “transformed man” (257), which again is not “werewolf,” as well as referring to him as “this light footed Woolfe” (257) and “this greedy & cruel Woolfe” (257).
Eventually, people did catch Stubbe, but only because they caught him returning to human shape after removing his demonic girdle that gave him a wolf form as long as he wore it. He was then taken and confessed to all his crimes, saying that “by Sorcery he procured of the Deuill a Girdle, which beeing put on, he forthwith became a Woolfe” (258).
Then they sure did mess him up. His execution was that he would “first to haue his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten seueral places to haue the flesh puld off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a wooddenn Axe or Hatchet, afterward to haue his head strook from his body, then to haue his carkasse burnde to Ashes” (259).
The account concludes…
Thus Gentle Reader haue I set down the true discourse of this wicked man Stub Peeter, which I desire to be a warning to all Sorcerers and Witches, which vnlawfully followe their owne diuelish imagination to the vtter ruine and destruction of their soules eternally, from which wicked and damnable practice, I beseech God keepe all good men, and from the crueltye of their wicked hartes. Amen. (259)
Sorcerers and witches. Not werewolves.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of mentioning that this trial took place at a time period when other werewolf trials also occurred. Other werewolf trials around the same period referred to their accused as “werewolves.” However, Stubbe was – as mentioned – never once referred to as a werewolf. Careful care was taken to avoid this. He is “wolf-shaped” and “sorcerer.” Always “sorcerer,” never “werewolf.”
Around this same time period, there exist assorted examples of accusations of “werewolfery” and of “being a werewolf.” One such example is the parliament of Franche-Comte issuing a decree in December of 1573 (years before Stubbe’s trial), as detailed on page 146 of Matthew Beresford’s The White Devil,
those who are abiding or dwelling in said places … to assemble with pikes, halberds, arquebuses, and sticks, to chase and pursue the said were-wolf in every place where they may find or seize him
Again, however, Stubbe was never specified as practicing “werewolfery” or “being a werewolf,” but he was on multiple accounts accused of “taking a wolf shape,” “sorcery,” and being a “sorcerer.”
This is because there was a huge difference between the two. Maybe I’ll do a separate werewolf fact on it, but it’s already touched upon across multiple facts of mine, like this one and this one along with others I linked earlier in this post.
Now we reach the point of asking: so why does everyone call Peter Stubbe a “werewolf”? Is it just because he turned into a wolf, which is in itself very sad, because everyone is ignoring the details? That’s certainly part of it.
One of the – possibly the – earliest source to refer to Stubbe as a werewolf is Richard Verstegan in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in 1605, on pages 236-237.
Please note these are directly copied from a not super great transcription. The original can be found here. For the sake of clarity, I have not altered the language in any way from the digitized edition, but I will break it down some.
In his definition of “werewolf,” he says,
Were – wulf . This name remayneth Aill knowne in the Teutonic , and is as much to ſay , as mans wolfe ; the Greeke expreſſing the very like , in Lycanthropos .
Ortelius not knowing what Wwere ſignifiech , becaufe in the Netherlands , it is now cleame out of rfe , except thus compoſed with WWolfe , doch miſ – interpret it ac cording to his fancy .
So, in the beginning here, Verstegan says that werewolves are “man-wolves” and refers to the Greek term “lycanthropos.” That’s all well and good. Then he goes out of his way to say that most people “misinterpret” werewolves “according to [their] fancy.” That’s ironic, considering he misinterprets werewolves in his next paragraph…
[werewolves] are certayne Sorcerers , who ha uing annoynted their bodies , with an Oyntment which they make by the inſtinct of the Diuell : And putting on a cercayne Inchaunced Girdle , doe not onely voto the view of others , ſceine as Wolues , but to their owne thin king haue boch che Shape and Nature of Wolues , ſo long as they weare the fayd Girdle . And they doc diſpoſe them felues as very wolues , in wourrying and killing , and moft of Humane Cicatures .
Of ſuch , ſundry haue beene takon , and executed in ſun dry parts of Germany , and the Netherlands . One Peter Stump , for beeing a were , Wolfe , and hauing killed thirteene Children , two VVomen , and one Mao ; was as Beibur , not farre from Cullen , in the yeare 1589 put vnco a very cerrible Death . The Ach of diucrs partes of his bom dy was pulled out with hot iron tongs , his armes , thighes , and legges broken on a Wheele , and his body laſtly burnt . Hee dyed with very great remorſe , deſiring that his body might not be ſpared from any Torment , fo his Coule might be ſaued .
He runs werewolves and sorcerers together. This wholly muddies the hard and fast definition of werewolves that was set during this time period. Sorcerers and werewolves are two very different things. What he describes here, and what Stubbe is, is a sorcerer, not a werewolf. And he takes it upon himself to say that Stubbe is a werewolf and that werewolves are sorcerers. Thanks for screwing entire generations of scholarship, buddy; not that Montague Summers exactly tried to help fix it. All things being equal, though, I can say with confidence that this Verstegan fellow was a very broad scholar and didn’t seem too interested in diving deep into the differences between werewolves and sorcerers or anything about werewolves in particular. Why he even bothered making these assertions about Stubbe being a werewolf is a bit of a curiosity.
To give you an even better idea of just how muddied the entire perception of Stubbe the sorcerer is, we see people today call him the “Werewolf of Bedburg,” but another scholar – Adam Douglas on page 162 of his book The Beast Within: A History of the Werewolf – calls him “the werewolf of Cologne” (Bedburg being very near Cologne; but which is he, the werewolf of Bedburg or the werewolf of Cologne? It’s almost like no one ever called him either one), and yet he himself also acknowledges indirectly through the use of quotes that Stubbe himself was – again – never once referred to as a “werewolf” during his own time period. He was always called a “sorcerer” and took a “wolf shape.” Never was he a “werewolf.”
Matthew Beresford is also guilty of spreading the concept of Stubbe as a werewolf in his own book, The White Devil, where he – on pages 146 and 147 – says Stubbe was “convicted of being a werewolf.” He was never convicted of being a werewolf. He was convicted of being a sorcerer. And again, of course, Beresford’s quotations from all primary sources make no mention of “werewolf.”
Even Montague Summers himself, who published the direct account of Stubbe in his book The Werewolf in Lore and Legend or just The Werewolf, claims that “[o]ne of the most famous of all German werewolf trials was that of Peter [Stubbe]” (Summers 253). But even looking at this account, and even elsewhere in his very own book laying out plainly the differences between werewolves and sorcerers and stressing the importance therein, Summers refers to Stubbe as a “werewolf.”
Granted, Summers is not necessarily known for his consistency, or even always his accuracy; regardless, his work to preserve the original accounts of legends is beyond commendable, and without him we may not still have the direct account of Stubbe’s trial with which to fully understand that Stubbe was never once referred to in his own time period as anything to do with a “werewolf.” We also wouldn’t have a lot of other things. I’ve used Summers’ work throughout my life, but his writing is still to be approached with a critical mindset instead of viewed as flawless.
Long – very long – story short…
tl;dr: Peter Stubbe was never, not even once, referred to as a “werewolf” or any other words associated with them in his own time period. The full and detailed account of his actions published the year of his execution never makes mention of anything to do with werewolves or the oft-used “werewolfery” during the time period. He is always referred to as a “sorcerer” and reference is made to his “likeness of a wolf,” but he’s never called a “werewolf.”
A werewolf and a sorcerer are not the same thing. It’s by no means 1:1. Saying that they are the same thing damages the study of werewolf legends and even the portrayals of werewolves in popular culture to an almost irreparable degree. It’s a misconception and a misreading of legend, folklore, and even historic accounts of periods during which such things were truly believed to exist. These misconceptions were popularized by academia and academia’s obsession with “new arguments” and the like. It isn’t a “new argument” to say Stubbe was a werewolf. It’s simply incorrect.
It is so important to note that there was an important distinction during this very time period between “werewolf” and “sorcerer.” This isn’t some kind of academic nitpickery about “well technically no one was a ‘werewolf’ in ancient Greece because the word didn’t exist yet!” or “’dragon’ really just means ‘serpent’“ or whatever. This is a simple, straightforward situation in which in the time period in question there was, in fact, a difference, and that difference is important to note hereafter because otherwise we should just throw all study of specific legends and myths and details of the time period and language and everything right out the window.
Peter Stubbe’s legendary account is one of a sorcerer, not a werewolf. It is not a werewolf legend. It’s a legend about sorcery and demonic magic.
Are there other instances in which we can blur the lines between between werewolf and sorcerer, potentially? Yes, perhaps. And someday I’ll get into those, in a different post. There are potential similarities between Stubbe’s account and some other werewolf accounts, but it’s endlessly important to note whether or not the word “werewolf” or “werewolfery” was used in accounts of this time period, since the word was in fact in use by this point in history.
And in Stubbe’s, those words were never used.
I cannot stress enough the importance of not entangling the account of Stubbe’s sorcery with werewolf legends. To draw one of my previous werewolf facts with a few additions – Peter Stubbe, by and large, just got mixed up in the obsession with “werewolf trials” (court trials), like the trial of Jean Grenier, who was accused of various crimes like cannibalism and “werewolfery” and “sorcery” (notice they are two different things). Grenier, however, was taken pity upon and deemed not responsible for his actions, and was sent to live the rest of his years in a monastery, where he lived peacefully for a time (but remained insane, as werewolves were associated with insanity during the late medieval and early modern period following the rise of scientific rationalism).
Whatever the case, for better or for worse, Peter Stubbe the sorcerer mistakenly remains the most immediate source for our modern horror movie werewolves that rather simplistically go romping about in search of flesh (in every sense of the word) to sate their hunger (also in every sense of the word).
And that’s a shame, because his legend isn’t a werewolf legend by any stretch. He could’ve turned into any animal, but just because his sorcerer animal form was a wolf, scholars have retroactively decided he was a “werewolf” instead of what he was called during his own time: a sorcerer.
(If you like my werewolf blog, be sure to check out my other stuff and please consider supporting me on Patreon! Every little bit helps so much.
Here is a quick and dirty guide to how to tell if your werewolf might just be a zombie or might just be a dog.
Please note these are not complete lists. These are things that irk me on a deep and profound level, so I could go on about them for quite some time. But this is the short version.
Your Werewolf is a Zombie
Your werewolf is probably just a hairy zombie if…
They are only remotely powerful/intimidating in groups of 3-10+ and/or massive hordes of 10-80+, and they generally move in groups of these sizes
A single werewolf is not even a threat at all
The ONLY thing that makes them scary is they might infect you
They are extremely easily dispatched
They turn into a werewolf and never turn human again, and/or the transformation process “could kill them”
They are an “infestation” or a “plague”
There are literally entire villages and cities of nothing but werewolves (and all they want to do is kill people)
They are crazed, extremely stupid, and have not even the remotest vestige of human intelligence at all, they just want to essentially eat brains like a zombie
They were created by a virus/fungus/some other form of infection, and that is their centerpiece
They are ugly, mangy things that don’t even remotely resemble wolves. They have no actual wolfish features at all and are largely just mangy/hairy people with gross teeth, or else some kind of big mangy monster with large teeth and generic, gross semi-animal features
They are all mindless and pure evil/insane and/or becoming one makes you evil and insane
Being turned into a werewolf is a death sentence
Characters are relieved to know it’s “just a werewolf” instead of something actually bad
They look and behave more like zombies than werewolves in general
They are essentially the first random effortless lowbie encounter/group fight in a video game (or a video game trailer…), often literally
Your Werewolf is Just a Dog
Your werewolf is just a walking dog joke and should just be a “weredog” instead (it’d honestly be infinitely better) if…
They exhibit domesticated behavior (fetching things, easily distracted by things, etc.)
They are a walking dog joke (bark at mailmen, pee on hydrants, shedding jokes, humping jokes, and whatnot) and other people also make dog jokes about them
They lack intelligence and revert to simplistic animal behavior, especially silly/harmless animalistic behavior, at the drop of a hat and they might be embarrassed by it in comically endearing fashion (howling at sirens, chasing things, etc., also see above)
Being a werewolf is just some kind of embarrassment (”I shed and bark at things and scratch and lick my balls :(”) instead of something scary, powerful, and/or potentially a real problem or hardship
They are just a “good boi” and want “head pats” etc.
They’re basically just big friendly dog-people
They resemble a dog instead of a wolf (they have dog fur patterns [spots, merle, brindle…], dog ears [floppy or cut], jowls, etc.)
They are largely comedy and played as such
They aren’t even scary at all, nor are they remotely vicious, and if they tried to be everyone would see it as a joke and have to be forced to take it seriously under extreme duress (and then the viewers/readers still wouldn’t be able to because the werewolf is still just a dog joke)
They are, in fact, so ultimately harmless that other characters refer to them as the walking dog jokes that they are (Fido, Fluffy, etc., tell them to fetch things, the whole nine yards)
They are literally just someone’s dog on a chain and wear a collar and refer to themselves as someone’s dog
They may not even be a character at all but are literally just a humanoid dog who never turns human, and/or the human also behaves exactly like the dog-werewolf
If any of these things and especially multiple apply to the werewolf, please just let them be called a weredog instead. I could tolerate that. I’d vastly prefer it. More weredogs, if that’s the way your werewolf must be. Weredogs for everyone. Let’s do it. I’m not kidding! I just don’t want werewolves to be weredogs. Let’s keep them different, please. Wolves are not domestic dogs! They are very different, especially in that wolves are not and cannot be domesticated! There are tons of scientific articles and studies, and more releasing every day, that serve to highlight this!
And if your werewolf/werewolves meet these criteria, that is fine for you, but I’m really sorry, but they are not for me and I would much prefer to not even know they exist. No hard feelings. I don’t want to see your werewolf zombies or your werewolf dogs or your weredogs or whatever. I just don’t even care to consume that kind of “werewolf” media.
I like werewolves to be werewolves. To me:
Your Werewolf is a Werewolf
Your werewolf is probably a werewolf of some form if…
They are powerful and terrifying as individuals and only that much moreso in groups. Taking down one werewolf is literally the final bossfight and will take all of one’s willpower, intelligence, and abilities; taking down several at once is basically impossible
What I’m saying is I like them to be among the very scariest of monsters in a setting
They may be able to curse/infect others, but that is not the centerpiece of their entire being
Being part of a group/pack and identifying solely as “a werewolf” is also not their entire being (they’re still people, and people have histories and cultures and identities, too! They’re not some alien hive-mind or something!)
They are still human individuals; being a werewolf is not the entirety of their character or their most important aspect (related to that previous one but also in general)
They retain intelligence (but perhaps not necessarily the ability to speak) in werewolf form; they will not bash their brains against walls in a fit of rage or go after the mailman or howl at sirens
They have poise and pride instead of licking their balls or “scritching” or whatever
They can be vicious, they can be noble, but they are always predatory and scary
They are taken seriously
They do not bark or otherwise exhibit domesticated behavior of any kind
They do not have any obviously non-wolf features (spots, stripes, slit pupils [WHY are slit pupils such a thing now!?], merle, jowls, floppy ears, curly fur, etc.). Weird eye colors are fine and great. A few stranger fur patterns might be fun and interesting (like maybe just a few stripes or something), but anything that makes them too obviously look like just a dog or even a cat really throws me off. My favorite werewolves will always look like wolves above anything else, no matter how odd or stylized or supernatural of wolves they might be. Wolves have their own distinguishing, incredible features and werewolves should have those too; save the rest for other shapeshifters and creatures.
If they have animalistic behavior, it’s predatory and wolfish, not domesticated
Being a werewolf is not a convenient button one can push*
They don’t just walk around, talk, and interact like humans while they are werewolves; they are more animal than human, while retaining their intelligence (they are more likely to go hunt and kill in terrifyingly intelligent ways than play a game of poker, even if they might be capable of the latter)
They turn into a werewolf and turn human again; they are not always one or the other
They actually resemble a wolf in at least some fashion (they are not just a bland horror creature with big teeth and mangy hair)
*: Some werewolves in stories are less cursed than others. That’s fine. I do like my cursed werewolves; to me, that’s part of what makes a werewolf a werewolf instead of just a shapeshifter, but I know that not all werewolves in legend were that way (obviously). That’s a personal preference storytelling thing.
Again, as I am fully aware, this is just my opinion. But I was asked, so there it is. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but hopefully this clarifies what I’m talking about.
You can, of course, consult my werewolf facts and related ask responses for more on my opinions and why I hold these opinions. And then I have lots of posts on various tropes and how I feel about those (including dog things and zombie things in relation to werewolves) in this section here.
AND! One more thing! This doesn’t necessarily condemn the werewolf product for me. It just has a 99.99% chance of doing so. Execution is everything. I love Resident Evil: Village/Resident Evil 8 because the hairy zombies are referred to as “lycans” like twice and are just hairy zombies that never resemble wolves or behave as wolves and I can just completely ignore that they’re supposed to be werewolves and overlook that. I love that game. But if there’s this emphasis on big wolfish werewolves being zombies, it honestly makes it worse for me. For instance, I cannot even look at ESO anymore (and that makes me really sad).
And as for the dog jokes… I’ve only ever enjoyed the original Teen Wolf movie insofar as that goes, and some of the things in there still make me groan. But I did enjoy the movie and story enough that I still like it a lot. But will you ever see me watching that Goosebumps movie again? No. I’d sooner hang myself up on meathooks.
I just… would very much love to see werewolves be their own thing instead of zombies or dogs, and if they are just zombies or dogs in a thing, chances are incredibly high that, no, I won’t like it, and I may even have extreme dislike for it.
So let’s let werewolves be werewolves.
P.S.: Another pet peeve is referring to werewolves as just “wolves.” Why? They’re not wolves, they’re werewolves. That’s like calling them “weres.” Don’t dilute them to being one or the other – what makes them so great and so interesting is that they are both and neither at the same time!