So you’ve probably heard of the wulver, if you’re into werewolves on the internet. It’s supposedly a Scottish legend about a wolf-headed guy who left fish on the windowsills of the needy. How kind.
Well, frankly, I’m not at all convinced the wulver was ever really a thing in folklore. Hear me out. This is a tidbit about checking your sources.
I’m a folklorist. That means I professionally study this stuff and have degrees in it. I’ve given lectures and taught classes on subjects in folklore and mythology, especially werewolves. I’ve defended my research and my work from boards wanting to find some kind of hole in my work to prove I was wrong about something.
When it’s your job, it’s very important to check sources for accuracy – and to double-check them for authenticity. If you can, find the primary source. This means find the original documentation or the oldest possible occurrence or recording of the myth. If you can’t find one? It may not actually have been something people believed in.
This is where things get complicated. Lots of folklore and myth came from oral traditions, and as such, we’ve doubtlessly already lost tons of great things. That means people often didn’t write this stuff down, in part because these beliefs were occurring in time periods wherein literacy was hard to come by. When it comes to this, the best you can do is to find secondary proof in artwork or artifacts from the time period, or else a medieval monk’s chronicle of what the locals believe in, just to give a few examples.
All this said, let’s get back to the wulver…
As mentioned, the wulver myth of the kind, fish-giving werewolf supposedly comes from Shetland. It’s caught on on the internet to the point that when I mention werewolves, it often gets brought up by someone at some point. There were even some wacked-out ridiculous spiky silly monsters in the latest God of War game called wulvers (but they are, predictably, brainlessly malevolent and aggressive, so whoever randomly pulled the name “wulver” off the internet for the game’s development couldn’t even be kind enough to respect that supposed legend, either).
But finding “wulvers” mentioned in professional werewolf studies by academics in the field publishing well-researched work is virtually impossible. Wikipedia will claim to you that there are a few articles that mention them, but some of them actually don’t. Do we ever hear the big names in werewolf studies mention wulvers? No, nor do they ever mention anything like them.
Do we have a primary source for wulvers? No.
We have no monk’s account and no ancient piece of writing from the region that indicates any belief in wulvers, nor do we have any kind of illuminations, bestiaries, engravings, woodcuts, paintings – we have nothing. No proof at all.
True, this doesn’t entirely mean that people didn’t believe in them. Maybe they did. But without a source, we can’t responsibly claim in a professional work that wulvers were ever a thing in folklore.
But wait, Mav! There is a source!
Every single article I have ever seen on the internet (because I’ve never come across the wulver in professional werewolf studies) only ever cites just one source for the wulver: Jessie Saxby’s Shetland Traditional Lore, published in 1932.
It’s bordering on impossible to reasonably get a copy of this book. It’s not available digitally. It’s been out of print for years. The only print copies available range around $100 in price and are essentially falling to pieces from mishandling, at least the ones I’ve encountered.
Virtually every other werewolf legend you can name has multiple sources and often at least one primary source – sometimes multiple, especially in the case of Greek and Roman werewolf legends. The wulver doesn’t have even one.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to try to discredit Saxby’s work. If someone out there can offer me some good proof that people in Scotland ever actually believed in the Wulver, then… awesome.
But at this point and after years of trying to find one, I still can’t find any reliable historical source to actually say with confidence that the wulver is a legitimate folkloric belief.
Even if someone were to suddenly present to me a Scottish writing from whatever era that has overt mention of wulvers and prove me wrong, though, the principle of this idea still stands.
You really shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (haven’t you ever heard the Abe Lincoln quote about that!? Oh wait…), especially about folklore. The internet is a vast and rich source for false information – and that seems to apply even more where folklore (sometimes especially werewolves) is involved. Always check your sources!