This blog post is to be the first of (hopefully) many about the topic of werewolves in legend, or werewolf history. The werewolf is a subject I study for a variety of reasons, such as personal interest/fascination, for use in my fictional writings (Wulfgard, my paranormal universe, and perhaps others, in the future), to write my own informational book on it someday, and for my scholarly research. Yes, believe it or not, I’m allowed to professionally research werewolves and get away with it, instead of being told to study something else. In fact, I also study other legends, with vampires as my secondary focus.
Anyway, since I get to study werewolves, I have chosen a particular topic of interest as my study focus for my thesis and dissertation: benevolent werewolves. While my thesis itself is certainly still underway, and I’m still working hard on it, I thought I would drop a few thoughts here. This post has turned out to be quite a sight, so bear with me, if you will.
The idea of benevolent werewolves isn’t as unusual as one might think, and it’s really quite a fascinating thing to consider. A few werewolves in legend were considered benign, while others were outright benevolent. True, they were rare, but the existence of such beliefs cannot be denied, and it’s a shame these legends aren’t further investigated and more often brought to light. Some benevolent werewolves in legend include, but aren’t necessarily limited to, the Livonian werewolves and possibly the benandanti (although those are interpreted as some sort of spirit rather than anything directly associated with a werewolf, but many people discuss those in tandem with the Livonian werewolves due to their many similarities).
So, the Livonian werewolves were considered benevolent beings that went out of their way to help people. When I refer to the “Livonian werewolf,” I am referring to what is actually a very singular case: a court case, to be exact, which occurred in 1692. A Livonian man named Theiss claimed to be a werewolf, and he referred to himself and his supposed compatriots as both werewolves and the Hounds of God. According to Theiss, werewolves like him could travel to Hell, and they did so to do benevolent acts, such as battling Satan and his witches, and recovering grain that the demons stole from farmers.
Of course, most werewolves that weren’t outright evil were instead just rather benign. A prime example of this appeared in “A Wolf Who Conversed with a Priest,” an excerpt from an account by Geraldus Cambrensis, otherwise known as Gerald of Wales, a notable historian. In this account, Geraldus and his traveling companions come upon a pair of werewolves, a man and his wife, who asked them for help because the werewolf’s wife was sick. The werewolves could speak, they protected the travelers for the night, and they were completely in control of themselves.
There are a few other examples of this sort of thing in legend, but this is, of course, to say nothing of wolves themselves. Although wolves are – more often than not – depicted as malevolent or at least selfish, wolves have occasionally found reverence in some ancient cultures. I’m avoiding going into too much detail because, frankly, all of that is what my thesis itself is for, which I do plan to post up here as well once it’s done, since it’s going to end up online elsewhere anyway. That won’t be until next spring, though, so moving on…
The image of the wolf most everyone will be familiar with today is no doubt the greedy, gluttonous, evil wolf of the medieval world, the one mentioned in sayings such as “the wolf at your door,” a “wolfish” grin, a “wolf” as someone lecherous, or even being “hungry like a wolf” or “wolfing” something down. I’m sure you can think of countless other negative sayings about wolves off the top of your head – maybe even more than you can for most any other animal.
Wolves were often displayed particularly as creatures of glutton, no doubt because of how quickly they eat their food for survival. That’s why we’ve ended up with so many stories about wolves swallowing things whole, like Little Red Riding Hood (the wolf actually won in the end in the original versions, by the way – there was no woodsman, or whoever, and the story simply ended with the wolf eating Red Riding Hood and that was it). In fairytales and other things that are nowadays considered children’s stories – often despite how dark they used to be, until happy endings were tacked onto them artificially – wolves are always the badguys, the evil ones who often end up doing something stupid. I’ll admit I find it annoying, but that’s a pet peeve. Wolves have a long and complicated history, which is another subject entirely… maybe I’ll dedicate another blog post to something like that and actually go into a bit more history, instead of lightly touching upon a few things. It’s definitely something I can get into.
Anyway, in addition to gluttony, wolves are also often associate with sexuality, malevolence, and rage, among other – almost always negative – things.
Without spiraling into a big rant about wolf behavior and how the majority of these traits don’t very well apply to them, I’ll say that it surprises me how wolves are one creature that have barely gotten improved treatment over the years. Most of the time, today, they’re still depicted as evil or at least questionable in morality. Even the “sympathetic” werewolves turn into violent, uncontrollable monsters, more often than not, such as Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series, as perhaps the most current and culturally relevant example. Sure, you get the occasional Teen Wolf or the [playable] worgen in World of Warcraft (and yes, my character list on the main server I play on is over half worgen), but even those are still associated with uncontrollable rage… they just manage to keep it in check. You know, most of the time.
I once saw a very interesting comparison made between vampires and werewolves. Specifically, I read it in a book called The White Devil, by Matthew Beresford, in which he dives into in-depth discussion and examination of werewolves throughout history. Beresford said he chose the title The White Devil because werewolves have a light about them that many other monsters in legend don’t share. As he also studies vampires, Beresford drew the comparison that vampires are the black devil, associated with death and darkness, whereas werewolves are the white devil, one potentially benevolent, a creature associated with light and – in its early years – revered, with men attempting to emulate wolves: something that was seen as powerful and positive, not negative.
It’s both an interesting comparison and one that makes sense. After all, if we are to go back to the vampire comparison, vampires of popular culture today require human blood to survive (with the occasional exception, of course – let’s save all that for another time), and yet we have almost seen more outright benevolent vampires than we have outright benevolent werewolves. I’m not saying this is some weird call to arms for everyone to start portraying werewolves in a positive light (especially since that’s something I plan to do myself, and I rather like how uncommon of an idea it is, if you catch my drift!), but consider this just a talking point the next time you and your friends have a conversation about werewolves or wolves in entertainment media… Wait, you don’t have those? Well, shoot. Why are you reading this, then? You mean you’ve never wondered aloud why the writers of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic don’t include a friendly wolf in Fluttershy’s group of animal friends and how annoying it is that they’ve only had the evil timber-wolf pushovers? (I’m quickly learning how difficult it is to maintain a good tone in a blog post, as I’m used to either talking aloud or in a chat program and spamming everyone with smilies and insane phrases in all-caps, like a true fangirl.)
This isn’t the professional, detailed version about benevolent werewolves, wolves, and the importance these things could play in our popular culture today – this is just me rambling and introducing the idea to you. Hopefully, by next spring, I can show you all fifty pages of my consolidated thoughts, examinations, and extensive research on this topic – a topic important enough to me that I’m trying to address it in my own fiction: with Wulfgard, with my upcoming paranormal stories, and with other things I write and create, even – to some degree – including the Wrognoth in Nova Refuge.
Future werewolf history posts will most likely be more specific and less rambly, especially as I start carving into my small library of werewolf lore and literature again. I actually did this in part because I haven’t had the opportunity to let loose some random thoughts about my thesis, so I suppose this can be considered my “thesis reflection.” I know reflections sure are popular in academia, so here’s mine.
Just for future reference, by the way, I am still working hard on various stories to post online. I hope to begin posting Echoes of the Mage-Emperor very soon, and I may also have a Nova Refuge short story to post in the nearish future. Keep an eye out, and thanks for reading!