Werewolf Fact #67 – The Lai of the Werewolf, “Bisclavret”

The time has come to discuss in depth my very favorite werewolf story! Yes, my favorite werewolf story doesn’t come from modern pop culture. Instead, it comes from medieval literature.

So let’s dive right into “Bisclavret,” one of the best werewolf stories ever told.

Please note that this post will contain the entirety of “Bisclavret,” in direct quotes, with my discussions interspersed throughout. So if you’ve never read the story, you can find the whole thing here!

For this in-depth look at “Bisclavret,” I will be using A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture by Charlotte F. Otten, one of my very favorite werewolf sourcebooks. It’s a wonderful collection of primary historical sources – and some stories that aren’t folklore but were always considered fictional – and some very good introductions to and discussions of said works by Otten herself.

In fact, in her introduction to the section that includes “Bisclavret,” Otten imparts some very wise words on werewolf legends as a whole…

On the moral level, the werewolf myth is a realistic assessment of the range of choices available to human beings. Humans who become werewolves in the myths and legends, or who cause others to become werewolves, are involved in moral metamorphosis: a process that recognizes the exhilaration that comes with engaging in degrading lycanthropic acts but also reveals the degradation that comes to those who deliberately choose to exhibit bestiality [bestial nature]. The werewolf myth, then, is a profound insight into human life. … Regarded as a moral myth, the presence in the human spirit of werewolves can direct the culture, the society, the individual human being to sources of healing. If it does so, it is a myth not of despair but of hope. (Otten 223)

I would personally add, also in relation to “Bisclavret,” thatit isn’t only those who become werewolves and behave as beasts or those who turn others into werewolves – it’s also extremely important in many werewolf myths how the werewolves themselves are treated by the human characters. How one treats a werewolf, with that person still being human but in the guise of a beast, is an important moral plot point in multiple werewolf legends, such as the werewolves of Ossory and – of course – Bisclavret. One is amoral if they assume a werewolf is evil solely because of their appearance, without judging their character first and appearance second. It’s not necessarily always a test of the werewolf character, it’s also a test of everyone around them. If the werewolf is virtuous and behaving like a human, isn’t it just as important to treat the werewolf like you would anyone else – even if it is a werewolf?

Now let’s get to Bisclavret

Written in the 12th century, “Bisclavret” is a bit of an enigma. Scholars kind of agree that it was likely written by Marie de France, or else a story she adapted from a much older tale, given there are different versions of this story – all very similar – floating around from similar time periods and cultures.

Marie de France herself says she translated this lai out of the Breton language, after having heard it elsewhere. I’m glad she did, as she preserved a fantastic werewolf story.

“Bisclavret” opens with some words from Marie de France…

Amongst the tales I will tell you once again, I would not forget the Lay of the Were-Wolf. Such beasts as he are known in every land. Bisclavaret he is named in Brittany, whilst the Norman calls him Garwal. (256)

I find her discussion of werewolf terminology interesting. She goes on to introduce the concept of werewolves themselves, which is, as she discusses it, a very commonly-known concept and found “in every land,” which she is absolutely right about (even if, of course, these legends weren’t always the same in nature, but werewolves certainly were everywhere).

It is a certain thing, and within the knowledge of all, that many a christened man has suffered this change, and ran wild in woods, as a Were-Wolf. The Were-Wolf is a fearsome beast. He lurks within the thick forest, mad and horrible to see. All the evil that he may, he does. He goeth to and fro, about the solitary place, seeking man, in order to devour him. Hearken, now, to the adventure of the Were-Wolf, that I have to tell. (256)

This doesn’t sound at all like Bisclavret, as you will discover. Marie de France seems to be describing a certain interpretation of the werewolf myth that didn’t even all that often apply but was steadily becoming a more accepted concept, especially in certain regions of Europe: that werewolves are “evil.” Or, at least – and most importantly – she states that werewolves are perceived as evil.

But are they really? Let’s read Bisclavret and find out. Because this opening displays the way the werewolf myth exists in the minds of many, but not necessarily the way werewolves really are, and I think that’s an important element of the story: Marie de France doesn’t open with “werewolves are all nice and cuddly,” because you need to read the story and determine the truth for yourself. But now you see the general perception, at least as this story presents it.

I love werewolves so much, you guys. I love this story, too. That’s something I have trouble conveying sometimes to my good readers: I love the concept of werewolves and I could talk about them until the sun dies. I love even the simplest presentations of “a werewolf is a man who suffers a change and runs wild in the darkest wood, horrible to behold, and devours men.” I just love it beyond words or reason. This is what I want. This is all I ask for. This but with more behind it than the simplicity of “evil,” just like Bisclavret presents.

Anyway!

So now we are introduced to our protagonist…

In Brittany there dwelt a baron who was marvellously esteemed of all his fellows. He was a stout knight, and a comely, and a man of office and repute. Right private was he to the mind of his lord, and dear to the counsel of his neighbours. This baron was wedded to a very worthy dame, right fair to see, and sweet of semblance. All his love was set on her, and all her love was given again to him. One only grief had this lady. For three whole days in every week her lord was absent from her side. She knew not where he went, nor on what errand. Neither did any of his house know the business which called him forth.

On a day when this lord was come again to his house, altogether joyous and content, the lady took him to task, right sweetly, in this fashion,

“Husband,” said she, “and fair, sweet friend, I have a certain thing to pray of you. Right willingly would I receive this gift, but I fear to anger you in the asking. It is better for me to have an empty hand, than to gain hard words.”

When the lord heard this matter, he took the lady in his arms, very tenderly, and kissed her.

“Wife,” he answered, “ask what you will. What would you have, for it is yours already?”

“By my faith,” said the lady, “soon shall I be whole. Husband, right long and wearisome are the days that you spend away from your home. I rise from my bed in the morning, sick at heart, I know not why. So fearful am I, lest you do aught to your loss, that I may not find any comfort. Very quickly shall I die for reason of my dread. Tell me now, where you go, and on what business! How may the knowledge of one who loves so closely, bring you to harm?”

This old tale is… very good at conveying someone manipulative and self-serving and even goes so far as to show her turn to other victims to use: this isn’t just a werewolf story, it’s a tale about manipulation*. Poor Bisclavret gets burned just for trusting the person who claims to love him so. It’s sad and relatable to see. A tale as old as time, and now the nice one that is “Beauty and the Beast.”

But being a werewolf is still a very bad thing, as established by the story’s opening! Naturally, he doesn’t want to tell.

“Wife,” made answer the lord, “nothing but evil can come if I tell you this secret. For the mercy of God do not require it of me. If you but knew, you would withdraw yourself from my love, and I should be lost indeed.”

When the lady heard this, she was persuaded that her baron sought to put her by with jesting words. Therefore she prayed and required him the more urgently, with tender looks and speech, till he was overborne, and told her all the story, hiding naught.

Now we’re back to that manipulation… anyway.

“Wife, I become Bisclaravet. I enter the forest, and live on prey and roots, within the thickest of the wood.”

This marks a difference with the opening already. The baron here claims he doesn’t eat human flesh! The opening clearly stated werewolves do evil and seek to devour men. Hmm, interesting.

After she had learned his secret, she prayed and entreated the more as to whether he ran in his raiment, or went spoiled of vesture.

“Wife,” said he, “I go naked as a beast.”

“Tell me, for hope of grace, what do you do with your clothing?”

“Fair wife, that I will never. If I should lose my raiment, or even be marked as I quit my vesture, then a Were-Wolf I must go for all the days of my life. Never again should I become man, save in that hour my clothing were given back to me. For this reason never will I show my lair.”

“Husband,” replied the lady to him, “I love you better than all the world. The less cause have you for doubting my faith, or hiding any tittle from me. What savour is here of friendship? How have I made forfeit of your love, for what sin do you mistrust my honor? Open now your heart, and tell what is good to be known.”

So at the end, outwearied and overborne by her importunity, he could no longer refrain, but told her all.

“Wife,” said he, “within this wood, a little from the path, there is a hidden way, and at the end thereof an ancient chapel, where often-times I have bewailed my lot. Near by is a great hollow stone, concealed by a bush, and there is the secret place where I hide my raiment, till I would return to my own home.”

The baron says he “often-times … bewail[s] his lot,” so he clearly doesn’t like being a werewolf. Just a small detail to point out. Truly the original classic werewolf hero.

On hearing this marvel the lady became sanguine of visage, because of her exceeding fear. She dared no longer to lie at his side, and turned over in her mind, this way and that, how best she could get her from him. Now there was a certain knight of those parts, who, for a great while, had sought and required this lady of her love. This knight had spend long years in her service, but little enough had he got thereby, not even fair words, or a promise. To him the dame wrote a letter, and meeting, made her purpose plain.

So not only did learning that the baron, her own husband, is a werewolf make this manipulative selfish woman turn on him instantly, but she also turned to a knight who is utterly failing his chivalric code and wanting love from this woman instead of courtly, chaste love from afar. And he’s probably too love-struck to realize she’s just going to use him until he is no longer beneficial to her in her own eyes, like she just did with the baron. We have a very bad combination.

“Fair friend,” said she, “be happy. That which you have coveted so long a time, I will grant without delay. Never again will I deny your suit. My heart, and all I have to give, are yours, so take me now as love and dame.”

Right sweetly the knight thanked her for her grace, and pledged her faith and fealty. When she had confirmed him by an oath, then she told him of his business of her lord–why he went, and what he became, and of his ravening within the wood. So she showed him of the chapel, and of the hollow stone, and of how to spoil the Were-Wolf of his vesture. Thus, by the kiss of his wife, was Bisclavaret betrayed. Often enough had he ravished his prey in desolate places, but from this journey he never returned. His kinsfolk and acquaintance came together to ask of his tidings, when this absence was noised abroad. Many a man, on many a day, searched the woodland, but none might find him, nor learn where Bisclavaret was gone.

The lady was wedded to the knight who had cherished her for so long a space. More than a year had passed since Bisclavaret disappeared. Then it chanced that the King would hunt in the self-same wood where the Were-Wolf lurked. When the hounds were unleashed they ran this way and that, and swiftly came upon his scent. At the view the huntsman winded on his horn, and the whole pack were at his heels. They followed him from morn to eve, till he was torn and bleeding, and was all adread lest they should pull him down. Now the King was very close to the quarry, and when Bisclavaret looked upon his master, he ran to him for pity and for grace. He took the stirrup within his paws, and fawned upon the prince’s foot. The King was very fearful at this sight, but presently he called his courtiers to his aid.

This scene very clearly points out, yet again, that the baron Bisclavret takes the shape of a wolf when he assumes his werewolf form. This is not uncommon in werewolf legends.

“Lords,” cried he, “hasten hither, and see this marvellous thing. Here is a beast who has the sense of a man. He abases himself before his foe, and cries for mercy, although he cannot speak. Beat off the hounds, and let no man do him harm. We will hunt no more to-day, but return to our own place, with the wonderful quarry we have taken.”

The King turned him about, and rode to his hall, Bisclavaret following at his side. Very near to his master the Were-Wolf went, like any dog, and had no care to seek again the wood. When the King had brought him safely to his own castle, he rejoiced greatly, for the beast was fair and strong, no mightier had any man seen.

Another pause here to point out that, once again, a werewolf that turns into a wolf is never conveyed as being an ordinary wolf – they are always bigger, stronger, “mightier.” Indeed, they are always the most impressive thing people have witnessed.

Much pride had the King in his marvellous beast. He held him so dear, that he bade all those who wished for his live, to cross the Wolf in naught, neither to strike him with a rod, but ever to see that he was richly fed and kennelled warm. This commandment the Court observed willingly. So all day the wolf sported with the lords, and at night he lay within the chamber of the King. There was not a man who did not make much of the beast, so frank was he and debonair. None had reason to do him wrong, for ever was he about his master, and for his part did evil to none. Every day were these two companions together, and all perceived that the King loved him as his friend.

What a great section. Already friends before, now the baron and his King are friends again, even if he has taken the form of a beast and cannot speak. Even in werewolf form, he acts as a loyal knight and bodyguard, with the king giving him full trust of his life despite him being a beast. I love the emphasis on Bisclavret’s courtly mannerisms and his culture, and even the emphasis that he does not do “evil,” also in direct contradiction to the assumptions the story’s opening would lead you to believe. But things are about to change…

Hearken now to that which chanced.

The King held a high Court, and bade his great vassals and barons, and all the lords of his venery to the feast. Never was there a goodlier feast, nor one set for with sweeter show and pomp. Amongst those who were bidden, came that same knight who had the wife of Bisclavaret for dame. He came to the castle, richly gowned, with a fair company, but little he deemed whom he would find so near. Bisclavaret marked his foe the moment he stood within the hall. He ran towards him, and seized him with his fangs, in the King’s very presence, and to the view of all. Doubtless he would have done him much mischief, had not the King called and chidden him, and threatened him with a rod. Once, and twice, again, the Wolf set upon the knight in the very light of day. All men marvelled at his malice, for sweet and serviceable was the beast, and to that hour had shown hatred of none. With one consent the household deemed that this deed was done with full reason, and that the Wolf had suffered at the knight’s hand some bitter wrong. Right wary of his foe was the knight until the feast had ended, and all the barons had taken farewell of their lord, and departed, each to his own house. Wit hthese, amongst the very first, wen that lord whom Bisclavaret so fiercely had assailed. Small was the wonder he was glad to go.

Bisclavret at last shows a werewolf’s rage – but only in a righteous way. He only attacks the one who wronged him. So what does the King make of his new beast of a friend behaving in such a way? Does he have him killed? Does he decide he’s a monster?

Not long while after this adventure it came to pass that the courteous King would hunt in that forest where Bisclavaret was found. With the prince came his wolf, and a fair company. Now at nightfall the King abode within a certain lodge of that country, and this was known of that dame who before was the wife of Bisclavaret. In the morning the lady clothed her in her most dainty apparel, and hastened to the lodge, since she desired to speak with the King, and to offer him a rich present.

Also typical manipulative behavior. You may think of medieval tales as simple, but they had a lot to say and to teach.

When the lady entered in the chamber, neither man no leash might restrain the fury of the Wolf. He became as a mad dog in his hatred and malice. Breaking from his bonds he sprang at the lady’s face, and bit the nose from her visage.

Please note that this is a medieval trope, as it were: the removal of the nose. It’s quite a lot to break down. But let’s maintain focus on the werewolf…

From every side men ran to the succour of the dame. They beat off the wolf from his prey, and for a little would have cut him to pieces with their swords. But a certain wise consellor said to the King,

“Sire, hearken now to me. This beast is always with you, and there is not one of us all who has not known him for long. He goes in and out amongst us, nor has molested any man, neither done wrong or felony to any, save only to this dame, one only time as we have seen. He has done evil to this lady, and to that knight, who is now the husband of the dame. Sire, she was once the wife of that lord who was so close and private to your heart, but who went, and none might find where he had gone. Now, therefore, put the dame in a sure place, and question her straitly, so that she may tell–if perchance she knows thereof– for what reason this Beast holds her in such mortal hate. For many a strange deed has chanced, as well we know, in this marvellous land of Brittany.”

Smart man! This paragraph also serves to highlight that the King and the knight/baron Bisclavret were already friends before and – I’m sure – trusted companions, as kings and their knights generally tend to be, especially in stories. After all, there are tales very similar to Bisclavret as told in King Arthur stories about one of his knights of the Round Table, his most trusted brothers-in-arms. It is no different here, as Bisclavret was once a brother to this king, if also subservient to his lord in rank – which, in this time period and in such tales, generally served to make the bond of brotherhood and honorable oaths still stronger.

The counsellor also points out about “many a strange deed” and is apparently talking about werewolves. This is the first time someone suggests that the Wolf may actually be a man.

The King listened to these words, and deemed the counsel good. He laid hands upon the knight, and put the dame in surety in another place. He caused them to be questioned right straitly, so that their torment was very grevious. At the end, partly because of her distress, and partly by reason of her exceeding fear, the lady’s lips were loosed, and she told her tale. She showed them of the betrayal of her lord, and how his raiment was stolen from the hollow stone. Since then she knew not where he went, nor what had befallen him, for he had never come again to his own land. Only, in her heart, well she deemed and was persuaded, that Bisclavaret was he.

Straightaway the King demanded the vesture of his baron, whether this were to the wish of the lady, or whether it were against her wish. When the raiment was brought to him, he caused it to be spread before Bisclavaret, but the Wolf made as though he had not seen. Then that cunning and crafty counsellor took the King apart, that he might give him a fresh rede.

Well, obviously, Bisclavret isn’t too keen on turning back into a human right in front of everyone. I appreciate this aspect. Returning to the shape of a man is no small and simple feat, and it’s a shameful and degrading process both to do it and to have the truth of his nature known – not to mention it might be difficult, especially after being in the form of a beast for so long. This is then highlighted by the counsellor…

“Sire,” said he [the counsellor], “you do not wisely, nor well, to set this raiment before Bisclavaret, in the sight of all. In shame and much tribulation must he lay aside the beast, and again become man. Carry our wolf within your most secret chamber, and put his vestment therein. Then close the door upon him, and leave him alone for a space. So we shall see presently whether the ravening beast may indeed return to human shape.”

The King carried the Wolf to his chamber, and shut the doors upon him fast. He delayed for a brief while, and taking two lords of his fellowship with him, came again to the room.

I guess the king was a little worried about what he might find! Can’t really blame him.

Entering therein, all three, softly together, they found the knight sleeping in the King’s bed, like a little child. The King ran swiftly to the bed and taking his friend in his arms, embraced and kissed him fondly, above a hundred times.

The king is clearly a big fan of la bise, and since he hasn’t seen the knight for so long, he has to make up for all those lost greetings. It’d be a great scene for a cartoon, honestly. Kissing meant a wider variety of things in this time period than it often does today: a kiss could be greeting, respect, forgiveness, or even a sign of peace, rather than some simple blanket gesture of romantic love, as it is thought of today. The king does a lot of talking when he greets the knight in such a way, telling him that he is welcomed back and that he’s happy to see him and all is forgiven. So… no punishment for being a werewolf!

When man’s speech returned once more [to the knight/Bisclavret], he told him [the King] of his adventure. Then the King restored his friend the fief that was stolen from him, and gave such rich gifts, moreover, as I cannot tell. As for the wife who had betrayed Bisclavaret, he bade her avoid his country, and chased her from the realm. So she went forth, she and her second lord together, to seek a more abiding city, and were no more seen.

The adventure that you have heard is no vain fable. Verily and indeed it chanced as I have said. The Lay of the Were-Wolf, truly, was written that it should ever be borne in mind.

No “the evil werewolf must die,” no mention of his curse or passing it on to others – the werewolf is a hero and is accepted as one in spite of his bestial transformation. Truly an interesting specimen among werewolf tales.

*: Yes, this aspect of the story is indeed often interpreted as negative against women, but that isn’t something I will get into with this post. I will instead be viewing it as a werewolf legend and not criticizing other aspects. It’s true that women were often viewed and treated unfairly in this time period and generally made out to be evil manipulative creatures in many medieval tales (though not all, and not all the female characters always were), as that was often the mindset of this time period, but that’s an issue for another time and another blog, as this blog is about werewolves. I did, however, want to acknowledge that issue, because I’m quite aware of it (especially as a woman in medieval studies), instead of ignoring it altogether. I personally do not think it lessens the story or makes the moral any less powerful, especially if we recognize the biases of the time period – and that a woman chose, herself, to retell this story in the first place, as I too am a woman choosing to retell it now.

I do so deeply enjoy “Bisclavret” and the truly classical tale of deepest fealty and trust to one’s King, the humanity displayed by the “wolf” (werewolf), and even how the King is thankful to have the faithful baron returned to human form – with no question or horror to learn that he was a werewolf to begin with.

The relationship between lord and knight is something not often conveyed in modern culture, as it’s not really something we have anymore, so it’s always fun to read about in such a fantastical sense. And many medieval stories are about courtly love, but not so with this one. Don’t get me wrong, I love courtly love, but it’s fun to see a platonic story as well.

So there we have it, the tale of “Bisclavret”! It’s one of my favorite werewolf stories. It’s classic, it’s simple, and it’s about a good and chivalrous, courtly knight werewolf. As we all know… I do love the idea of a werewolf knight.

Until next time!

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Vampire Fact #10 – Vampire Hunters

This month we look at something that’s quite the popular topic in pop culture (or at least it used to be) – vampire hunting!

Does the concept of “vampire hunting” have any folkloric precedent, unlike “werewolf hunting”? Stick around and find out!

(gif originally made and posted by tumblr user duchessofhastings)

So, really, vampire hunting wasn’t really much of a thing… except in Greece.

In fact, at one point, hunting vampires was considered a career so important and high in society in Greece that it was about equal to healers and scribes. Supposedly, people born on a Saturday could see things like spirits and have “influence” over vampires and thus often hunted them. In his book From Demons to Dracula, Matthew Beresford cites a bunch of ways the Greeks especially on the island of Mykonos would ward off vampires.

And there are still more examples scattered around. According to Montague Summers, in his book The Vampire in Lore and Legend, on page 217…

In no country has the Vampire tradition more strongly prevailed and more persistently maintained its hold upon the people than in modern Greece. To the confirmation and perpetuation of this and cognate beliefs, a large number of factors have lent their varying influences, and not the least remarkable of these has been the quote furnished by the popular superstition of antiquity, legends and practices which were even in Pagan days more or less covertly accepted and employed …

Bear in mind that Summers’ “modern” Greece is in the 1950s, as this book was originally published in 1961. Also bear in mind that Summers is not the nicest or least biased man in the world. At all. Still, he collected great scholarship and went on many travels to different regions to study, even if he wasn’t the best at organizing and sifting through everything.

At any rate, this leads us to the Greek term for “vampire,” which has always been a subject of very hot debate. But that’s not the topic of this post, so instead of going into detail about all that, I will say this instead…

Something to bear in mind: a lot of this is retrospective scholarship. In other words, were they really what we think of as “vampires” today? Probably not, even if they may have had a few similarities (though never things like fangs). I know I always mention this in my posts, but it’s always important to note for all readers that folklore is very hard to pin down – it isn’t possible, really – by modern standards and that when scholars refer to something as a “vampire” or a “werewolf” or even a “dragon” or almost any other creature, chances are it’s a myth that’s been translated to fit into one of those categories. There were certainly situations in which creatures may have been referred to as their name we think of them as today (though they basically never fit all of our new pop culture standards), but that’s especially complicated with the term “vampire” in particular.

Because the creatures in Greece were not referred to as “vampires,” which isn’t surprising at all, and their origins, history, and etymology are very complicated. Again, though, this post is about vampire hunters, so that isn’t something I’ll be going into right now. I did, however, go into it a fair amount in this post, if you’re interested! It’s all very regional and seems to mean a werewolf or a vampire in different regions, or sometimes a werewolf who has become a vampire, or sometimes just a vampire, or… Yeah, it’s all very complicated.

Either way, scholars of today now group some of these Greek concepts with vampire legends thanks to various influences and similarities, so now we have the Greek concept of a vampire hunter. In particular, we have some writings from the seventeenth century that detail some vampires and how to slay them.

Summers then mentions a Professor N. P. Polites of Athens University, who wrote about how Santorini was where people “sent” vampires, and “that the inhabitants of this island enjoy so vast a reputation as experts in effectively dealing with vampires and putting an end to them” (Summers 228).

Summers then goes on to give such a lengthy and detailed set of examples of vampire hunts and slayings (almost all of them cremations, at least at some point after other actions are taken) that to replicate them here would lead to me writing a chapter of my own. And since I try to keep folklore facts at least relatively concise unless I’m doing a particularly large one, maybe I’ll retell those stories in a vampire folklore book of my own someday instead.

It wasn’t, however, always within the law to be a vampire hunter or to cremate people for being a vampire, unlike another case…

Here’s another fun one: until only as recently as 1823 when the law was finally repealed, it was totally legal in England to drive a wooden steak through the heart of someone you suspected of being undead. Yes, any undead, not necessarily “vampires,” which is actually an important note. The law came into being during the Anglo-Saxon period, and people must have been doing that a fair amount for there to be an entire law about it – and one that went overlooked for so long. So, during the Victorian era, we still could’ve had people staking someone under the claim that they were undead, and they could legally get away with it if they could back up their claims somehow.

Did that make anyone an actual “vampire hunter” instead of just people staking their neighbors under claims of them being undead? Not really. So, so far all we really have still is Greece and its vampire hunting profession.

There may have been more “vampire hunters” in the modern sense than we really think about, with events in Eastern Europe related to vampire slaying (not necessarily “hunting” or in a professional sense) even as recently as 2007.

So there you have it! Vampire hunting was, at a few points anyway, actually considered a real profession. This is a very unusual case in folklore and makes vampires quite the unique creature for being so prolific in certain regions – namely Greece – as to have their own dedicated hunters.

Monsters aren’t really what we think of them as being in something like D&D, where there are these categorized creatures arguably overpopulating the entire countryside and you can make an entire profession doing nothing but hunting “monsters,” how ever one may define that. Still, there is surprisingly a little bit of precedent for that with vampires, which one can’t really say with most creatures in folklore, like werewolves. Vampires are one of the only creatures in folklore, even if it was pretty much only in Greece, to have their own dedicated, professional hunters.

Until next time!

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Werewolf Fact #66 – The Legend of King Lycaon of Arcadia

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.

Although I did a smaller post on Lycaon quite a while ago, this one will be more in-depth. Despite there being a lot of other legends and werewolf legends surrounding Lycaon and different regions of Greece – some of which are discussed in this post of mine – I’m not going to go into those again this time. This post is exclusively about the legend of Lycaon himself (I will be referring to him as Lykaon from here on out).

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.

Today, the myth of King Lykaon is often branded the “first werewolf legend.” That’s a big assumption and kind of a misnomer. If we want to get technical, then maybe it’s the earliest complete legend we have of a werewolf – as in, the full, surviving tale in writing. As I discuss on pages 8-9 in my own book, The Werewolf: Past and Future – Lycanthropy’s Lost History and Modern Devolution

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.

[1] 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!

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Vampire Fact #9 – Can vampirism be cured?

Welcome back to vampire facts, this time with a very burning question…

In folklore, can vampirism be cured?

Firstly, I will give the very simple answer to the cure question…

No, in folklore, vampirism cannot really be cured.

If you want to “cure” a vampire, you kill them. How do you kill them? I covered a few possibilities in my post on Weaknesses, so check that for more info.

So why can’t it be cured, per se? Because, in folklore, being a vampire isn’t really an “infection.” Much like werewolves didn’t start out as a “disease” and lycanthropy only became thought of as such much later (I have so many posts on that; see the Werewolf Fact Masterlist), vampirism also has a different tale. Unlike werewolves, however, many vampires are no longer even considered human, to the point that they aren’t always really considered “cursed.” Not in the fashion of “we must lift the curse, so the person will be okay.” Lifting the curse of the vampire in folklore is, simply, destroying the vampire, so that the people the vampire was terrorizing will be okay.

This boils down to something I have mentioned before: in folklore, many vampires are not considered in any way “human” or the person they were before (if they were ever a person).

There are, generally speaking, two “types” of vampires: “living” and “unliving” vampires. This is what folklore scholars will tell you. But to get into all that in a lot of detail, we would have to get into a whole lot more, some of which I discussed in this post.

Basically, there are “undead human”/revenant vampires (or “dead vampires” in folklore studies) and the demon vampires (or “living vampires” in folklore studies).

The first category, the “dead vampires,” are those vampires that were once human and rose from their graves to haunt the living. These vampires were people once, then they fell victim to the vampire curse.

The second category, the “living vampires,” were never human. They are called “living vampires” because they aren’t undead – they are living because they are demons that are alive, instead of people who died and came back as vampires. They were never people. They are, indeed, demons – through and through. These are pure demons that come to haunt mortals, hunt them, and cause them pain and suffering, feeding off blood or vitality or something else humans have (generally something that’s integral to life). Believe it or not, the majority of legends that scholars now group as “vampire legends” actually fall into this category of demons.

There are a few vampires in folklore that stray outside of these two categories scholars have created, but it is true that many of them do fall into one camp or the other, generally speaking. This is especially true of Eastern European vampire folklore, which, of course, is one of our primary inspirations for our modern pop culture vampires, thanks to Bram Stoker writing Dracula.

The vampire types are something I really need to do a separate post about…

I feel the need to point out yet again, as an aside, that folklore is never a clean bill of what is and isn’t a legend about a “vampire” or “werewolf” or “dragon” or whatever else. Most all folklore study looks back on sets of folklore and legends that have no simplistic D&D-style monster systems. This is why many scholars (such as myself) will argue some things shouldn’t be considered a werewolf legend, for instance. In a lot of legends, the exact term we think of is never actually used. And this is also how sometimes the line between werewolf and vampire legends can become blurred, like with the vrykolakas. Nothing in folklore is clean-cut like modern fantasy books with their magic systems or something.

Anyway!

So, when we see “dead type” vampires, we are dealing with someone who died, was probably buried (maybe even for days), and then hauntings occurred to their family and loved ones. The vampire rose from their grave physically or spiritually – and, more often than not, this type of vampire will also return to their grave or else they never physically left it.

But these vampires cannot be “cured,” because they are dead. You can’t “cure” what is dead. The only way to “cure” a human vampire in folklore is to kill them, to destroy them, and thus end the curse’s existence altogether. Given the person in question has already died, that’s the only means of lifting the curse.

With the “living type” vampires, the demons, they are different creatures altogether – and you can’t “cure” a demon of being a demon. That’s what they are. So also with those kinds of vampires, you cannot cure them, and if you want to put an end to their evil, they must simply be destroyed. These were never human.

Folklore didn’t really draw many shades of grey with vampires very often, especially in the most popular of legends. I will, of course, provide lots of more specific examples and situations of various legends in different posts, but as far as a general overview is concerned… yeah, in folklore, you can’t cure the vampire. The vampire is simply something that needs to be destroyed.

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Werewolf Fact – “The Werewolf of Bedburg,” Peter Stubbe

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 covered several 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.

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UPCOMING BOOK – Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Pop Culture

You’ve seen the blog series, now it’s time for the book!

That’s right, Werewolf Facts is getting published!

It’s been years since I started my Werewolf Facts series, which has essentially become my branding, and it’s become so popular beyond my wildest dreams that it’s high time I announced my plans to publish a cohesive guidebook to all the facts you need on werewolves.

This book will be essentially what werewolf facts are now: a cohesive section-by-section look at elements of werewolves, comparing historical folklore and mythology from all around the world to those elements in popular culture, how werewolves have changed, and what is and isn’t folkloric about the werewolves we see in things today. I touched upon this some in my thesis book that I published last year, because it’s a very big life mission for me and always has been, but I created Werewolf Facts as a more accessible means of talking about similar topics and issues with a more casual and less academic air and more easily-accessible and categorized information, as opposed to a lot of argument.

The working title of the book is Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Popular Culture.

It will be a long time (one or more years) before this book is compiled and completed, but I wanted to announce this because I’m very excited to see it become a reality. I hope you’ll join me for the journey as I compile, expand, and provide the professional citations for all of my existing werewolf facts – plus a whole lot more info – and turn them into a real book you can crack open in your friends’ faces when they doubt the power of your werewolf knowledge.

As of yet, I do not have an approximate release date, but I know very well it will be over a year before this is finalized and published. 2022 is a year of fiction for me (I will be publishing several fiction books, so keep an eye out for those as well), but after that, I’m going to go back to non-fiction and really get to work on putting my werewolf facts out there.

Give me a follow and stay tuned for more updates!

Ask Response – Werewolves in Medieval Germany

This was an ask response on my Tumblr where I do most of my folklore blogging, but it was popular enough there that I figured I should post it here, too!

okeketochi1 asked:

Usually  when referring to werewolves people tackle them in a pretty broad  scope. Referring to Le Lobizon, the loup-garou, King lycaon, etc…but  what is the mythology surrounding the werwulf or werewolf specifically?  Like the German middle age definition of a werewolf?

That’s a very complicated question – but it’s also not. If that makes any sense at all. Let me elaborate…

What  we call “werewolves” has almost become retroactive. We can’t really say  that “werewolf” is a uniquely German term, despite being Germanic in  nature, because our first recorded use of a variant of “werewolf” wasn’t  even recorded in Germany. “Werewolf” never appeared very much in  medieval writings, despite originating during the medieval period (more  on that in a minute). Yes, you can find people using the term  “werewolf” (and its assorted variations), but sadly, it often becomes a  matter of asking: is this a real source, or is this something someone is  falsifying?

This  is a woodcut from 1722 in Germany of a werewolf. It’s one of the few  instances we do have that is directly referred to as a “werewolf,” so we  can be sure their werewolf legends in the 1700s, at least, weren’t too  far off the mark from the kind of thing we have today.

You can  find lots of “werewolf legends” in Germany from the 1800s and around  that general time period that supposedly throw around the term  “werewolf” (again, and its variations), but having read many of  these myself and researched their sources and origins, I can tell you  that the overwhelming majority of these things are just… nonsense.  They weren’t legends. They were basically short stories, fake local  tales, and generally untrue “folklore,” for whatever reason people had  to be producing it. (What’s one way you can spot these? Several of them mention silver) There is a glut of utterly fake “German werewolf folklore” out there from the 1800s especially.

At any rate, as for the Middle Ages in Germany and what they considered to be werewolves,  we have to look at Germanic folklore and mythology for that. In the  pre-Middle Ages, early Middle Ages, and even into the mid Middle Ages,  much of the Germanic regions of Europe were dominated by the old  Germanic concepts – namely berserkers (which, again, were not bear warriors) and related legends.

It  wasn’t really until after the Middle Ages that the word “werewolf”  became used often across multiple regions. Much of what we call  “werewolves” today is a retroactive label or translation.

What may have been the first use of the word “werewolf” appeared in the early 1000s. To quote my book,  The Werewolf: Past and Future

Much  like what happened with the Vikings, as the medieval world  converted  to Christianity, werewolves were cast in a steadily more  negative  light. The king of England from 1016-1035, King Cnut, issued  the Ecclesiastical Ordinances XXVI,  in which he specifically  mentions the werewolf in relation to the  Devil, saying, “[be watchful,  that] the madly audacious were-wolf do  not too widely devastate, nor  bite too many of the spiritual flock.”[1]  This passage marks one of the  earliest instances in which the term  “werewolf” is virtually equated to  the Devil or demons in general in  Christianity, which becomes common in  later medieval writings – and it  also marks the first recorded use of  the word “werewolf.” Instead of  the wolf being a brother and wolf  transformations being desirable, or  at least not worthy of condemnation,  Christianity altered the view of  werewolves, turning them into demonic  creatures associated with evil  and witchcraft, who romp across the  countryside leaving death and  destruction in their wake. As stated by  Beresford, “[T]he use of the  werewolf as a religious scapegoat by the  Church throughout the Middle  Ages is intrinsic to the development of the  myth of the modern beast.  What was once … a highly revered and  worshipped beast, emerges in the  medieval period as a savage creature,  poisonous, destructive and wholly  evil; a beast to be feared and not  imitated.”[2]

[1]Beresford 80, quoting Ecclesiastical Ordinances XXVI by King Cnut of England [2]Beresford   88. However, in this passage, he does not seem to wholly take into   account just how many medieval werewolf legends existed, and how some of   them were not necessarily demonic – these were, however, more often   than not, unrelated to the Church (except for a few cases, which   Beresford himself also cites in his book), so his point largely still   stands.

Another direct use of the word “werewolf” appears in assorted medieval lays about werewolf knights, such as Marie de France’s Bisclavret,   Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, written in 1470, etc. So, in  many ways, you could even say the proper medieval concept of a werewolf  was a noble knight, as they were actually directly called “werewolves!”

It’s  all but impossible, in folklore and myth, to nail down certain legends  about certain creatures. This is because folklore and myth are very  indirect, as compared to the kind of things people create today in pop  culture. A true “werewolf legend” spans tons of legends – and  simultaneously almost none at all. Scholars have often dictated what is  and isn’t a werewolf legend, and their decisions about it frequently  don’t even make any sense (especially if you ask me). This applies to so  many creatures, including both werewolves and vampires, and that’s why  when someone asks me “what were dragons like in folklore?” I can’t give a  direct answer. I have to almost write a book on it, because all  monsters and creatures in folklore have very complicated backgrounds,  many different names, often didn’t go by the names we put on them today  at all, etc.

I hope this helped! Sorry I couldn’t give a more direct answer. Some other useful werewolf facts for this topic:

LAST FOUR DAYS – Patreon deal to get signed copy of The Werewolf: Past and Future!

It’s the last four days of my months-long deal on Patreon!

If you back me at the Nightlord tier or higher on my Patreon, you will receive a signed copy of The Werewolf: Past and Future – Lycanthropy’s Lost History and Modern Devolution!

For more info on the book, please click here.

This deal ends November 2, so grab it while it’s still available!

(note: you do not have to remain a patron at that tier for longer than 1 month to receive the autographed book. You only have to subscribe to the tier once and your book will be shipped immediately, as the Patreon will have you pay the first month upon subscribing)

Click here and check the Patreon Tiers for more info!

The Werewolf: Past and Future (nonfiction) – NOW AVAILABLE!

Prepare to rediscover the forgotten legacy of the legendary werewolf!

Purchase here on Amazon.com!

Since before recorded history, werewolves have captivated human imagination. Simultaneously, they represent our deepest fears as well as our desire to connect with our primal ancestry. Today, werewolves are portrayed negatively, associated with violence, cruelty, cannibalism, and general malevolence.

However, in ages past, legends depicted them not as monsters, but as a range of neutral to benevolent individuals, such as traveling companions, guardians, and knights. The robust legacy of the werewolf spans from prehistory, through ancient Greece and Rome, to the Middle Ages, into the Early Modern period, and finally into present-day popular culture. Over the ages, the view of the werewolf has become distorted. Media treatment of werewolves is associated with inferior writing, lacking in thought, depth, and meaning. Werewolves as characters or creatures are now generally seen as single-minded and one-dimensional, and they want nothing more than to kill, devour, and possibly violate humans.

Hollywood depictions have resulted in the destruction of the true meanings behind werewolf legends that fascinated and terrified humans for so many ages. If these negative trends were reversed, perhaps entertainment might not only discover again some of the true meanings behind the werewolf myth, but also take the first steps toward reversing negative portrayals of wolves themselves, which humans have, for eons, wrongfully stigmatized and portrayed as evil, resulting in wolves receiving crueler treatment than virtually any other animal.

To revive the many questions posed by lycanthropy, entertainment must show respect to the rich history of so many cultures all around the world – and rediscover the legend of the werewolf.

This book represents a lifetime of work, research, and argument. It’s the centerpiece of, essentially, who I am and what I want to fight for in my life. This underwent very close scrutiny by a board of distinguished professors, and I had to defend my research and my arguments before them in order to earn my degree.

If you enjoy my werewolf facts, you’ll enjoy reading this, I can guarantee it, especially if you want to hear my side of things. It won’t be a guide to werewolves, though it’ll certainly have plenty of useful information on various legends in coherent chronological order (all with proper professional attribution, footnotes, discussion, citation, etc.). This is a great place to start to get my perspective on things while also learning about almost all the werewolf legends and info I’ve covered in various facts – and many more that I haven’t!

It means so much to me that I have finally gotten to publish this. I really hope you’ll enjoy it and find it useful, educational, and thought-provoking.

Purchase The Werewolf: Past and Future on Amazon.com!

And, from now until November 2, if you back my Patreon at $50 or higher, you will receive a signed copy of The Werewolf: Past and Future along with other goodies! (You do not have to remain a patron at this tier to receive the book; just one month, and you’ll still receive your copy. All current $50+ patrons will also receive a signed copy.) 

The Werewolf: Past and Future (non-fiction) – book proof!

The first proof of my upcoming first non-fiction book, The Werewolf: Past and Future (was going to be called Death of the Werewolf until I realized it’s already been cited in several werewolf studies publications!), arrived a few weeks ago!

I have made several modifications and ordered a second proof, which should arrive next week. With any luck, that will be the last one before I finalize the project and make both the paperback and the ebook available for sale online!

If you don’t know what this book is…

Since before recorded history, werewolves have captivated human imagination. Simultaneously, they represent our deepest fears as well as our desire to connect with our primal ancestry. Today, werewolves are portrayed negatively, associated with violence, cruelty, cannibalism, and general malevolence.

However, in ages past, legends depicted them not as monsters, but as a range of neutral to benevolent individuals, such as traveling companions, guardians, and knights. The robust legacy of the werewolf spans from prehistory, through ancient Greece and Rome, to the Middle Ages, into the Early Modern period, and finally into present-day popular culture. Over the ages, the view of the werewolf has become distorted. Media treatment of werewolves is associated with inferior writing, lacking in thought, depth, and meaning. Werewolves as characters or creatures are now generally seen as single-minded and one-dimensional, and they want nothing more than to kill, devour, and possibly violate humans.

Hollywood depictions have resulted in the destruction of the true meanings behind werewolf legends that fascinated and terrified humans for so many ages. If these negative trends were reversed, perhaps entertainment might not only discover again some of the true meanings behind the werewolf myth, but also take the first steps toward reversing negative portrayals of wolves themselves, which humans have, for eons, wrongfully stigmatized and portrayed as evil, resulting in wolves receiving crueler treatment than virtually any other animal.

To revive the many questions posed by lycanthropy, entertainment must show respect to the rich history of so many cultures all around the world – and rediscover the legend of the werewolf.

This book represents a lifetime of work, research, and argument. It’s the centerpiece of, essentially, who I am and what I want to fight for in my life. This underwent very close scrutiny by a board of distinguished professors and I had to defend my research and my arguments before them.

If you enjoy my werewolf facts, you’ll enjoy reading this, I can guarantee it, especially if you want to hear my side of things. It won’t be a guide to werewolves, though it’ll certainly have plenty of useful information on various legends (all with proper professional attribution, footnotes, discussion, citation, etc.).

Later down the road, I plan to publish a book that is much more like my werewolf facts – more of a guidebook. But, for now, I think this is a great place to start to get my perspective on things while also learning about almost all the werewolf legends and info I’ve covered in various facts.

I’m really looking forward to getting this book out there – stay tuned! The Werewolf: Past and Future is coming this month!

(Click here to read this post on Tumblr – maybe give me a reblog and help spread the word?)