“THE WEREWOLF: LORE, LEGEND, AND LYCANTHROPY” #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: The idea of the werewolf has been with us for a long time – the first mention of a werewolf that we know of is over two thousand years ago. We’ll look at the origins of the werewolf, look at whether they are actually real, and if so, how one goes about becoming one, and some of the cures believed to release the man from the beast. Of course, it’s not always the Wolf-Man… sometimes it’s the Wolf-Woman. We’ll look at the most fearsome lady werewolves throughout history! I’ll tell you about the trials and punishments of those convicted of being werewolves – many probably wish they’d have confessed to being witches instead! Plus, what if I was to tell you that werewolves truly ARE real – and that a small village has been terrorized by them for decades – right up to modern day? There is convincing evidence to back up my claim! All of this and more werewolfism can be found in this episode!
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EPISODE: “The Werewolf Panic of the 1970’s”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/4878
EPISODE: “Werewolves of Central England”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/2612
EPISODE: “Werewolf In The Bronx”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/4519
EPISODE: “A Summer of Werewolves”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/5391
EPISODE: “Planet Werewolf”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/6064
EPISODE: “The Beast Of The Land Between The Lakes”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/7266
EPISODE: “The Beast of Barmston Drain”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/7025
EPISODE: “The Ohio Dogman”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/5636
EPISODE: “Bill Ramsey, The Southend Werewolf”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/2861
EPISODE: “The Skinwalker Ranch, Home To Real Werewolves”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/4869
EPISODE: “Hairy Humanoids of Texas”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/7197
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EPISODE: “Skinwalkers and Shapeshifters”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/7118
VIDEO: “A Brief History of Horror – Werewolves”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/1901
VIDEO: “Legends of the Werewolves”: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/1992
STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Origins and Lore of Werewolves” from History Daily: https://tinyurl.com/y4l7ytmk, Tanika Koosmen for The Conversation: https://tinyurl.com/y5jy9uog, Benjamin Radford for Live Science: https://tinyurl.com/yclcqmqp, and Ella Talkin for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/yy55wq9q
“The Werewolf Trials” by Inigo Gonzalez for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/y2qmp4n2
“The Lycans of Cannock Chase” by Hugh Landman for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/s6h83am
“Whose Afraid of Virginia Werewolf?” by April A Taylor for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/y3qz82on
“How Werewolves Work” by Tracy V.V. Wilson for How Stuff Works: https://tinyurl.com/y3oe9bte
“Little-Known Lycan Lore” by Jonathan Gordon for History Answers: https://tinyurl.com/y3jb5scq
(I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing that for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I’ll rectify it in the show notes as quickly as possible.)
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Even if you’ve never seen the 1941 film “The Wolf Man,” you probably know what it takes to kill a werewolf — a silver bullet. That’s because “The Wolf Man” did for werewolves what Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” did for vampires. It set the rules for how werewolves are supposed to behave.
According to “The Wolf Man,” if a werewolf bites you, you have no choice but to become a werewolf yourself. At night, you’ll transform into a part-human, part-wolf creature and prey on human beings. In the original film, this transformation took place in the fall, when some species of Aconitum, also known as monkshood or wolfsbane, bloom. Sequels to “The Wolf Man” tied the transformation to the full moon, a trait that many people associate with werewolves today. “The Wolf Man” also made it clear that once you become a werewolf, the only cure is death. Attempts to wish or pray your way out of it will do you no good, and all the chains in the world can’t keep you from attacking other people.
Like “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man” is built on legends and stories that have existed for thousands of years. But silver bullets, the full moon, wolfsbane and the incurable curse of lycanthropy have more to do with Hollywood than with history. In stories and folklore, there are all kinds of ways to become a werewolf, and the process isn’t always involuntary or even permanent. In spite of these differences, most werewolves in movies and old stories have something in common. They are dangerous, cunning and even evil, and they inspire fear and dread.
So what is it about the idea of turning into a wild animal that’s so intriguing and alarming? Why do these stories exist in so many cultures around the world? Do werewolf stories have any foundation in medical or scientific fact, or are they simply the product of imagination?
In this episode, we’ll explore how people become werewolves and what happens during the transformation. We’ll also look into what werewolves represent in different cultures, and we’ll examine the medical conditions and historical events that have led some communities to believe that werewolves really exist.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
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Coming up in this episode…
The idea of the werewolf has been with us for a long time – the first mention of a werewolf that we know of is over two thousand years ago. We’ll look at the origins of the werewolf, look at whether they are actually real, and if so, how one goes about becoming one, and some of the cures believed to release the man from the beast.
Of course, it’s not always the Wolf-Man… sometimes it’s the Wolf-Woman. We’ll look at the most fearsome lady werewolves throughout history!
I’ll tell you about the trials and punishments of those convicted of being werewolves – many probably wish they’d have confessed to being witches instead!
What if I was to tell you that werewolves truly ARE real – and that a small village has been terrorized by them for decades – right up to modern day? There is convincing evidence to back up my claim!
All of this and more werewolfism coming up!
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
THE ANCIENT ORIGINS OF WEREWOLVES
As much as the werewolf legend is now relegated to pop culture and teen romance, it used to be a widespread belief. Medieval peasants would hang wreaths of rye over their doors to prevent werewolves from visiting them, and people would avoid stepping in paw prints found in the snow and dirt out of fear of a curse. The history of the werewolf has been somewhat forgotten, relegating them to the background of the supernatural world to play second fiddle to sexy vampires and lumbering Frankensteinian monsters. Werewolves have a rich history in the cultures of the past, however, making them one of the oldest supernatural legends to remain.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian epic poem written in Sanskrit that dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, is considered one of the earliest works of literature. Believe it or not, it contains stories of werewolves. In one scene, the hero Gilgamesh did the ancient version of swiping left on a potential love interest after he found out she turned her ex into a wolf. In the Norse myth The Saga of the Volsungs, a father-son duo happens upon magical wolf pelts that, when worn, temporarily turns the wearer into a wolf. The pair go on a deadly rampage until—spoiler alert—the father turns on the son. We even see a nod to werewolves in Greek mythology when Zeus punishes Lycaon by turning him and his sons into wolves.
In Eastern Europe, vampiric and lycan lore are closely tied together. In a region with harsh winters, little daylight in its woodlands, and treacherous wildlife, it is no wonder tales of the two supernatural foes developed so closely. In this region, the language for vampires and werewolves evolved from a common term: the Slavic “Vukodlak.” In that area, these “wolf’s fur” creatures were thought to be autonomous real creatures, not supernatural agents of the devil.
These early “werewolves” were similar to vampires. They were motivated to grow their population via biting, were sensitive to sunlight, could move at superhuman speeds, and were said to have shapeshifting abilities. Like vampires, these creatures transformed into animals and their preferred form were the wolf (not a bat as pop culture would later depict). Even in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Count Dracula’s character notes that werewolves descended from his Szekely racial bloodline, which was why he could transform into a wolf.
These early vampire-werewolf hybrid creatures were considered “undead.” In some lore, the werewolves would be human corpses by day and wolves by night – like vampires in their daytime coffins. Modern werewolves aren’t often depicted as having the charm of vampires, but in Slavic lore they would sometimes appear in the form of beautiful women and seduce men before killing them in wolf form.
Today, we see werewolves (literally translated as “man-wolves”) as shape-shifting creatures with unusual speed, strength, reflexes, and senses. They can be found in countless books, films, and television shows, from the horror classic, “The Wolf Man,” to the “Twilight” and “Underworld” series. Though werewolves often play second fiddle to vampires and zombies in terms of pop culture man-monsters, they have a long and rich history.
Traditionally, there were several ways that a person could become a werewolf. Before a full moon came to be known as the sign a werewolf would be shapeshifting soon; there were earlier superstitions surrounding werewolves. Puddle water was a common fear. If a person drank the water from a puddle made by a wolf’s paw print, it was said they would become a wolf themselves. In Hungarian folklore, a person would be cursed with lycanthropy if they walked beneath the arch of a birch tree three times. The perhaps silliest belief around transformation was a furry belt or girdle strapped around the waist that induced a werewolf state. These girdles were used to prove a person’s guilt in werewolf trials and are also mentioned in a story by The Brothers Grimm.
In her book “Giants, Monsters, and Dragons,” (which I’ll link to in the show notes) folklorist Carol Rose notes that “In ancient Greece it was believed that a person could be transformed by eating the meat of a wolf that had been mixed with that of a human and that the condition was irreversible.” Centuries later other methods were said to create werewolves, including “being cursed, or by being conceived under a new moon, or by having eaten certain herbs, or by sleeping under the full moon on Friday, or by drinking water that has been touched by a wolf.” It was also widely believed that werewolves could dress in a special, protective wolf skin, though they had to remove it at daybreak and hide it. If their magical pelt was found and taken from the werewolf-in-human-form, he or she could be killed.
A similar theme appears in the Scottish and Irish folklore of the selkies — creatures who spend their lives in the cold ocean as seals, but can change into human form by shedding their pelts. If they do so, they must hide their pelts for if they are found they can’t change back into seals and must live on land with the fishermen who possess their skins.
In many early werewolf myths, the number seven is a recurring element. In South America, it was believed that the seventh son born to a family would be a wolf during the full moon. This belief was so pervasive that in the mid 20th century, Argentinian president Juan Domingo Perón declared all seventh sons needed to be baptized, regardless of religious affiliation.
In Ireland, there were several versions of a story where a husband and wife were cursed with lycanthropy for seven years and then passed the condition on to another couple for the same length of time. In Armenian lore, women who were sentenced to death could have their spirits saved for seven years in wolf form after their execution. In Hungarian folklore, seven was the age that children predisposed to lycanthropy could elect to fulfill their wolf destiny.
In the 1935 film Werewolf of London, the titular werewolf is a botanist whose condition is brought on by the consumption of a Tibetan plant. The transference of lycanthropy via a bite did not enter the mythology until the 19th century when werewolves were more of a literary element than a (supposedly) real danger. Lycanthropy was not considered contagious for most of its mythic history. It was werewolves’ link with vampires in the novel “Dracula” that helped perpetuate the notion of biting.
Though the full moon is now a solid piece of lycanthropic lore, it wasn’t always that way. In early werewolf legends, the moon had no place in regulating transformation. The moon is closely tied to werewolf lore in the modern age, but even as recently as 1941 – in the film The Wolf Man – the moon was left out of the myth. The first film to feature the moon’s transformative effect was the less famous Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman in 1943. The origin of the lunar effect can be traced back to the 17th-century Italian superstition of turning into a wolf if one slept outside on a Wednesday or Friday, especially if the moon was full.
The concept of human misbehavior, or “lunacy,” during full moons was a separate belief that was later applied to the wolf myth. Modern police and emergency room staff swear that they see more emergencies on nights with a full moon, though studies have disproven this. Early lore around the timing and frequency of a werewolf’s transformations is different from story to story, but the lunar cycle didn’t play into any of them. The connection between females (witches) and werewolves likely influenced the moon cycle lore, as it relates so similarly to menstruation cycles.
Today, many people still associate the moon with werewolves and madness. Some who work in police and emergency medical services have anecdotally claimed that full moon nights are busier, crazier, and more dangerous than other nights. This perception may be rooted more in psychology and imagination than reality: carefully controlled studies have not found good evidence supporting this idea. Furthermore, there is no known mechanism by which the moon would somehow influence a person’s mind to make him or her more dangerous — except of course for their own imaginations and expectations.
Today, werewolves are known to be mythical creatures found in fiction instead of lurking in the dark woods, but that was not always the case. Not so long ago, belief in werewolves was common. Overall, there was little difference between the killings and activities of wolves and werewolves: both would hunt at night, attacking sheep or livestock, and sometimes humans. The main difference was, of course, that the werewolf changed into human form at some point.
The historical lore on how to spot a werewolf in human form varied. In what is now Poland, they believed that a child born with a birthmark on their head possessed shapeshifting abilities. In Western Europe, it was believed that a unibrow, long fingernails, or low ears were sure signs of lycanthropy. One way to test if a person was secretly a werewolf was to slice open their skin and reveal the fur beneath. One Irish folktale perpetuated this theory. In the story, a curse of lyncathropy befalls a husband and wife. A traveler they come across cuts open the wife’s hide and finds an old woman inside.
A werewolf was supposedly weak and debilitated after returning to their human form, and so Slavic peasants would be on the lookout for tired townspeople the night after a suspected werewolf attack. When in werewolf form, Swedes believed a werewolf would lack a tail. It was said, a werewolf might even run on three legs and hold up their fourth leg to look like a tail to fool people.
In the majority of werewolf legends, the werewolves are said to maintain their human eyes, which was one of the most haunting things about them. The modern appearance of werewolves is due in part to American makeup artist Rick Baker. He created the costumes and makeup for the werewolves in the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video.
There are several real medical conditions that can mimic the appearance of a werewolf and may have contributed to early belief in the literal existence of the creatures. One is hypertrichosis, which creates unusually long hair on the face and body.
A second condition, porphyria, is characterized by extreme sensitivity to light (thus encouraging its victims to only go out at night), seizures, anxiety, and other symptoms… a condition also thought to be associated with those accused of being vampires. Of course, neither of these rare conditions turns anyone into a werewolf or any other monster for that matter, but centuries ago when belief in witches, vampires, and magic was common it didn’t take much to spawn werewolf stories.
Rabies is a more legitimate origin for the werewolf myth as humans get the disease from an animal bite and it causes an infected individual to be violent and animal-like. But the myth of the werewolf’s bite wasn’t a prevalent part of the story until the 20th century, so while this may have similarities to the condition, it likely is not the actual origin.
Closely associated with witches and magic and all things evil is, of course, the devil himself. The devil is associated with many incarnations of the werewolf myth. The werewolf trials, which we will look at in a few minutes, were caught up in an association with witches and thus with the devil. When the werewolf myth gained popularity in the early medieval period, paganism was the main association with the transformation of men into wolves. This pro-Christian mythos would have a large effect on werewolf lore.
Catholicism played a large part in the association of the werewolf as an enemy of God and an agent of the devil. In Catholic regions, it was believed that werewolves were men excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and transformed by the Dark Prince himself. A notable exception is the account of Thiess in 17th century Livonia. He testified under oath that werewolves were actually the warriors of God. He referred to them as the Hounds of God and stressed that they were the ones who were battling witches and vampires. The testimony stirred the public’s imagination, and the first werewolf sympathizers emerged. I had never heard that take on the mythos, and it’s kinda cool if you ask me. Now I kinda want to be a werewolf like I did when I was a kid… and not just for Halloween!
Clinical lycanthropy is a recognized medical condition in which a person believes himself or herself to be an animal, and indeed there are rare cases where people have claimed to be werewolves. For example in 1589, a German man named Peter Stubbe claimed to own a belt of wolfskin that allowed him to change into a wolf: His body would bend into a lupine form; his teeth would multiply in his mouth; and he craved human blood.
Stubbe claimed to have killed at least a dozen people over 25 years — though his confession was made under difficult circumstances: After prolonged torture (including chunks of his flesh being ripped out with heated pinchers, and his limbs being crushed with stones) he was decapitated on Halloween 1589, and his headless body burned at the stake. There was no real evidence of his crimes other than his confession, and it seems likely that Stubbe was mentally ill and delusional.
Stubbe was far from alone. In the Middle Ages werewolves were thought to mostly be created by witches, and the two became closely associated. Just as tens of thousands of accused witches were put to death (usually in gruesome and sadistic ways), tens of thousands of accused werewolves were similarly dispatched, something we’ll look at more closely in a moment.
Because lycanthropy was seen as a curse by some, werewolves were often thought of as victims as much as villains. There is a historical tension between lycanthropy as a curse or a choice in werewolf folklore. Although there are outliers, in a macro sense the evolution of the werewolf in the popular consciousness has gone from a purposeful villain to that of a cursed victim. Early myths of furry girdles or drinking water from a wolf’s paw print suggest that being a werewolf was a choice. In Mexico, the werewolves (known as Nahual) were powerful men who elected to transform when it suited them. In Native American lore, the werewolf-like creature Wendigo was a cannibal by choice. The figure of the cursed werewolf was more popular in the 17th century, but it is mostly the films of the 20th century that have enhanced this version of the myth.
The transformation from man to wolf was said to be tortuous (recall such scenes in the film “An American Werewolf in London”), and many sought cures for real and imagined symptoms.
Modern depictions of werewolves – like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – show werewolf characters afflicted for life with no chance of a cure for lycanthropy. In earlier versions of the werewolf myth, there were often cures available. Denmark lore said that a wolf could be scolded out of a man. In Germany, addressing a werewolf three times by their Christian name could do the trick. Ingestion of the plant wolfsbane was a common tactic to kill a werewolf, but it usually ended up killing the person as well. A suspected werewolf would have nails driven through their hands in Serbia, and it was common in the Middle East to strike the accused in the forehead with a knife. Not surprisingly, many of these “cures” resulted in death.
In his book, “The Werewolf Delusion”, Ian Woodward writes, “Traditionally, there are three principal ways in which a werewolf can be scourged of his demons. He may be cured medicinally and surgically; he may be exorcised; and, the most drastic, he may be shot with a special bullet” — typically a silver bullet.
Like vampires and their deadly wooden stakes, werewolves cannot be killed by ordinary human weapons. Silver bullets are known to be werewolves kryptonite. However, this legend didn’t come about until the literature of the 20th century. An 18th-century French local legend about the Beast of Gévaudan is likely where the silver bullet idea derived. The local legend is that a beast plagued the French countryside for hundreds of years, devouring livestock and children. Even King Louis XIV sent wolf hunters to the rural region to slay the suspected werewolves. A 1935 version of the tale states that the king’s soldiers could not kill the beasts with their weapons and were forced to use silver bullets. In Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker, the werewolf enemy is said to be killed by a “Sacred Bullet,” whatever that means.
When the medicinal and surgical cures were attempted, they involved lots of bloodletting, vomiting, and vinegar drinking. In fact, Woodward notes, “So severe, so brutal, were the cures advocated by early medical practitioners that, not surprisingly, a great many werewolfic patients died by the hands of those who promised them salvation.”
While werewolves are the best-known shape-shifters they are not the only were-animals said to exist around the world. Others include were-foxes, were-dogs, were-tigers, were-snakes, were-hares, were-bears and even were-crocodiles. Of course, wolves are more threatening than dogs and foxes; there’s a reason why most werewolf films are scary and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” was a comedy. Like vampires, werewolves have been around for millennia, and nothing short of a silver bullet is likely to stop it from being around millennia more.
Of course, it’s not always the Wolf-Man… sometimes it’s the Wolf-Woman. We’ll look at the most fearsome lady werewolves throughout history!
Could the image of transforming into a werewolf be a metaphor for something else?
Plus… we’ve all heard of the witch trials and how they were severely tortured and killed – but that was nothing compared to what happened to those accused of werewolfism. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
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WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WEREWOLF?
When one thinks of werewolves, one typically thinks of a man afflicted with a transformational curse. It’s true that most historical werewolf tales feature male shape-shifters, but there’s also a rich female werewolf mythology ripe for exploring. In fact, there are numerous female werewolf stories throughout history that are just as terrifying as the most disturbing tales of men becoming wolf-like. These lady lycanthropes rival “real-life” werewolves such as the vicious serial killer Peter Stubbe and the Wolf of Ansbach that attacked humans and livestock in 1685.
Interestingly, she-wolves and witches were often thought to be the same thing. If the legends hold any truth, lady werewolves are potentially far more powerful than their male counterparts. After all, combining the powers of a witch and a werewolf into one package makes for a formidable opponent. Therefore, it’s no wonder that historical accounts of werewolf women are typically filled with bloodshed and lots of fear. Let’s examine these intriguing stories to discover the most badass female werewolves in history!
In 1591, a report was printed out of Augsburg, in what is modern day Germany, that the Duchy of Jülich was attacked by female werewolves. Dubbed the She-Wolves of Jülich, 300 women shape-shifted into wolves and terrorized the local area. It was reported that at least 94 people died, along with numerous horses and livestock.
Ultimately, the town captured 85 of these she-wolves and they confessed to a combined 94 murders. If the legend is true, all 85 She-Wolves were executed for their crimes. Of course, this was a time when sensationalist headlines were catching on and ultimately in the story the report only actually alludes to one village woman confessing to the crimes and implicating 24 others.
In Argentina, as previously mentioned, people have long believed that the seventh son of every family is doomed to become a lobisón (werewolf). Well… the seventh daughter is said to become a witch. When a lobisón attacks a victim, male or female, most die but a few are transformed into lobisóns themselves. This has supposedly led to female lobisón who roam Argentina, spreading the lobisón curse.
The indigenous people of Tlaxcala, Mexico, tell tales of female werewolves in the form of tlahuelpuchi, which is a sort of shape-shifting witch or vampire known to morph into a dog, coyote, or some other animal after sunset. Parents were especially terrified of tlahuelpuchi because children were their primary target. Unless a child was properly protected, they were at risk of having their arms, legs, and necks brutally bitten. The female shape-shifters would reportedly drink a child’s blood until they died.
Like their male counterparts, female werewolves wake up in human form to face the moral implications of their nightly crimes. An Irish tale from the 12th century showcases the softer side of these savage beasts. A she-wolf and her werewolf husband were cursed to be lycan for seven years. His wife near death, the husband werewolf sought a priest to give his dying wife her final wish, to receive absolution for her crimes. Her dedicated husband found and convinced a priest to help and proved his wife’s humanity by pulling back her hide. Beneath was an elderly woman and the priest agreed to perform the viaticum.
The Gandillon family of St. Claude, France, was said to include at least four werewolves. Two of these shape-shifters, Antoinette and Perrenette, were women. Perrenette may have suffered from clinical lycanthropy, a condition which causes a person to believe they are a wolf. She attacked two small children in 1598. One of the kids died but not before identifying his assailant. Townspeople marched to the Gandillon home and tore Perrenette to pieces with their bare hands.
This wasn’t the end of the Gandillon family’s werewolf troubles, though. Before 1598 was over, three more of them were executed for werewolfism. Antoinette confessed to transforming into a werewolf. She also claimed she had sex with the devil while he was in the form of a goat. Unsurprisingly, these confessions led to death by fire.
The story of the Auvergne Werewolf has evolved into numerous urban legends and fairytales. However, the origins of the story are based in truth. In 1558, a humongous wolf attacked a hunter in the woods of central France. During the attack, the man managed to chop off one of the wolf’s paws. When he brought the paw back to town he took it from his bag to find it had transformed into a human hand and was wearing another villager’s wife’s wedding band. That villager confronted his wife, found her hand to be missing, and turned her in to authorities for being a werewolf.
The woman was tried and convicted of witchcraft and was put to death in front of a crowd of thousands.
The indigenous cultures of Mexico have many werewolf legends, including ones that some still believe. A prime example are the Chinantecos residing in Oaxaca. Fear of other indigenous groups may have influenced their legends as they have chosen the name “nahuales” for their werewolves. This is strikingly close to the Nahuas of Tlaxala.
Regardless of the origins, female nahuales are shape-shifting witches who stalk their prey at night. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to encounter one of these fearsome creatures will almost certainly pay with their life. Locals are able to identify nahuales during the daytime by looking for wounds they suffered while in wolf form.
In Armenia, women who commit grievous sins have much more to fear than merely spending eternity in Hell. According to mythology, sinful women were visited by a dark spirit who forced them to wear a wolf skin effectively condemning them to seven years of lycanthropy, including the need to consume human flesh.
These condemned women would also shape-shift into a wolf every night. Their cannibalistic desires could become so strong they would be unable to stop themselves from eating their own children. They would also prey on the children of relatives and the children of neighbors.
The most telling giveaway of a female werewolf is the appearance of a wound on their human body received during their nighttime adventures. According to physician and author Jean de Nynauld, this was what revealed a female werewolf in France in the early 1600s. A woodsman was attacked by a female werewolf but was luckily high skilled in the tools of his trade. He managed to chop off the wolf’s leg. The mutilated body transformed into a human woman. The she-wolf was burned alive for her nocturnal affliction.
An ancient tale from Liberia describes a woman who had the ability to shape-shift into a terrifying beast. The story paints a picture of a very lazy husband who no longer wanted to provide food for his family. Instead, he asked his shape-shifter wife to become a wild animal and hunt for their dinner. She complied and turned herself into a predator. However, instead of going hunting for food she used her ability to scare her husband into returning to his household duty of providing food for his family.
In Asaba, which is now Nigeria, locals believed that almost all women were capable of witchcraft. Additionally, legends indicate that witches pulled double-duty as she-wolves. This was a secret the women concealed, although they did sometimes use their shape-shifting abilities to influence family members. For example, one mother shifted into a werewolf in an attempt to scare her son into staying home. Instead, he called upon the beast to show its human form. This caused the she-wolf to transform back into her human self and reveal her abilities.
Another sad example of women accused of and killed for shape-shifting and witchcraft occurred in Liege back in 1610. Although history no longer remembers their names, two women faced trial proceedings when accused of lycanthropy and potential witchcraft. Local residents believed these shape-shifting witches ate children while in wolf form.
The sentence for their werewolf convictions was death by fire. Being burned alive is most commonly associated with witchcraft, but there are many recorded instances of werewolves and witch/werewolf hybrids dying from this execution method.
Lebanon reportedly suffered from an abundance of werewomen during the 6th century. At that time, numerous villages were attacked in the night and the perpetrators were thought to be female shape-shifters. A religious man stepped in to help thwart the werewolves by advising everyone to take preventative measures. This included a baptismal ceremony and engaging in unknown ritualistic practices. The security measures must have worked to some degree, as stories of Lebanese she-wolves dwindled by the 7th century.
THE WEREWOLF TRIALS
We are all familiar with the witch trials in Europe, but what about the werewolf trials? During the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, Europe went mad executing sorcerers and witches accused of practicing lycanthropy. Fueled by church politics and a deep-rooted misunderstanding and fear of mental illness, the werewolf trials accused men, women, and children of transforming into wolves and lapping up the blood of innocents.
Historic accounts of werewolves and their inhumane trials started in Switzerland and then spread like wildfire to Germany, France, and the Balkans. Kings and church officials alike appointed ‘judges’ to reign in these werewolves, torture them within an inch of their lives, and produce confessions that merited brutal executions. Peter Stumpp was one of the first people to be convicted of lycanthropy in the late 1500s, but he wouldn’t be the last. Thousands of people were killed for their alleged wolf-related crimes, whether it be turning into a werewolf or being a “wolf charmer.” The times people were put on trial for being werewolves was a dark period for Europe and all of the hunt’s victims.
In 1589, the most horrific interrogations and executions of an accused werewolf were those of Peter Stumpp. Stumpp, otherwise known as the Werewolf of Bedburg, confessed to a quarter century of killing and cannibalizing people. He specifically confessed to killing and eating 13 children and two pregnant women, fetuses and all. Even worse, he confessed to intrafamilial relations with his daughter and his sister, all while having a mistress and a live-in partner.
His punishment was cruel and severe. He was strapped onto a Catherine wheel, and executioners peeled his flesh using red-hot pincers in ten places. The public flaying was just the beginning of his execution, though. His arms and legs were broken while on the wheel, and then he was beheaded and set on fire. Officials took his severed head and attached it to a wolf’s body, displaying it as a warning to the rest of the townsfolk regarding the evils of werewolfery. His daughter and mistress were also burned at the stake at the same time his headless body was reduced to ashes.
The very first werewolf trial occurred in 1521, where two serial killers were tortured into confessing their true nature as werewolves by the Church. The two in question were Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun; together, they confessed to the murder and cannibalism of multiple young children. Burgot confessed that he and Verdun attended a Pagan ritual where they both stripped down and rubbed a magical ointment on each other. That ointment was what caused them to transform into werewolves, at which point they began their campaign of murder.
Burgot himself shared his experience as a werewolf with the courts, and said “I was at first horrified at my four wolf’s feet, and the fur with which I was covered all at once, but I found that I could now travel with the speed of the wind.”
In 1582, King Henry IV was sick of the chaos in the Labourd region of France, so he commissioned two men to end the “witchcraft, werewolfery, and heresy” plaguing the area. Those two men were Pierre de Lancre, a judge, and Jean d’Espagnet, a polymath.
Of the two, Lancre was the decidedly pious, righteous, and violently effective man. No one was safe from Judge Lancre; men, women, children, and even priests were tortured and murdered for their “crimes.” His work in Labourd resulted in the executions of 600 people over the course of just three years. He held very racist views, believing the indigenous Basque community and the Jewish community were responsible for most of the witchcraft and black magic plaguing Europe.
His methods were brutal and mad. Lancre was obsessed with the details surrounding the alleged black magic of werewolves and during his torture sessions, he would ask his victims about their “carnal encounters” with demons. The more he tortured them, the more clear and vivid the detainees’ recollections became.
His methods were so brutal that he was removed from his position as a judge, and the remaining trials were dismissed in 1614. According to Lancre, any moral slight was worthy of torturous scrutiny:
“To dance indecently; eat excessively; make love diabolically; commit atrocious acts of sodomy; blaspheme scandalously; avenge themselves insidiously; run after all horrible, dirty, and crudely unnatural desires; keep toads, vipers, lizards, and all sorts of poison as precious things; love passionately a stinking goat; caress him lovingly; associate with and mate with him in a disgusting and scabrous fashion – are these not the uncontrolled characteristics of an unparalleled lightness of being and of an execrable inconstancy that can be expiated only through the divine fire that justice placed in Hell?”
In the bustling French capital of Paris lived a tailor whose name was completely lost to history. And it wasn’t because of poor records – it was because his name was actually erased from every record possible, including the newspapers, due to the horror of his crimes.
Legends say he lured children into his shop where he tortured and violated them. After he had broken their spirits, he would slit their throats, dismember their corpses, and eat them to the bone.
In 1598, he confessed after being tortured to also prowling the woods at night as a wolf to hunt and kill even more children. It’s said that his shop in Paris was searched, and barrels filled with the bleached bones of his victims were found. He was very quickly found guilty, and summarily burned at the stake.
One of the most well-known werewolf trials was that of Gilles Garnier, AKA the Werewolf of Dole. He was famously accused of murdering and tearing apart children who lived in the town of Dole, France.
It was around the early 1570s when kids started to disappear from the town, and people automatically believed a werewolf was to blame. The town launched search parties armed with polearms to find the wolf. During one patrol, the townsfolk came across a little girl being mauled by what looked like a wolf. They chased it away, and they believed it was Garner.
Garner was immediately taken into town to be interrogated and most likely tortured. During his confession, he admitted to killing and eating four children. He also confessed to bringing home parts of the body to share with his family. Garnier was quickly found guilty and was burned at the stake in January 1573.
In 1692, an 80-year-old man by the name of Thiess openly confessed to being a werewolf without the prerequisite torture session. During his trial, he claimed werewolves were the Hounds of God who routinely went into Hell to combat demons and witches. They also brought back the earthly goods demons had stolen from the people. Thiess went as far as to admonish a priest, claiming his work as a werewolf was far more godly than anything the priest had done.
The Church was aghast – for centuries their narrative was dependent on the fact werewolves were the Devil’s playthings. By that point, they had run tens of thousands of trials all over Europe condemning confessed werewolves, most of whom were put to death brutally. But Thiess wasn’t burnt to death at the stake; instead, his punishment was ten lashes. He was banished from the church, as the judge did not buy his “good werewolf” bit.
In 1598, just outside of Angers, France, hunters discovered the body of a badly mutilated teenager and chased off the wolf eating it. The hunters followed the trail of blood and instead of a wolf, they found Jacques Roulet, the Werewolf of Caud. He was naked, covered in blood, and held pieces of human flesh in his hands.
They immediately took him into town where he was promptly arrested and tried for his horrendous crime. After the customary period of torture, Roulet confessed to having the ability to transform into a werewolf. According to Roulet’s confession, he had been able to transform into a wolf since he was a child, thanks to a salve his parents gave him.
Roulet was found guilty of murder and cannibalism and sentenced to death. However, his case was quickly appealed. The courts found that he was actually just insane (and not a werewolf) and locked him away in a sanitarium for his malicious deeds.
Clinical lycanthropy is a condition where a person believes they are able to transform into a feral beast, such as a wolf or other predator. Dr. Jan Dirk Blom studied clinical lycanthropy in 1850 and found at least 13 cases where people identified as transforming into a wolf over a 150-year period. Although rare, it was certainly enough to link them all together as a common mental illness.
And it wasn’t the first time lycanthropy was noted as a form of insanity. The condition was noted as far back as the 7th century by physician Paul of Aegina. Aegina noted some people suffered from an animalistic dissociation from humanity.
During the handful of centuries the werewolf trials took place, Europe was in a pretty bad way. The Protestant Reformation was sweeping through the land and threatening the power of the papacy in Rome. Religious conflicts dotted Europe and fractured the Holy Roman Empire, which eventually culminated into the Thirty Years’ War in the early 17th century. Because the Church was losing so much influence, they turned to an age-old practice to bolster their ranks – the subsumption of local religions.
The Church turned local gods into saints, and they also turned the more animalistic beings from the smaller religions into creatures influenced by the Devil.
So when people and livestock turned up dead, and when crops failed en masse, it became commonplace for these churches to interrogate, judge, and execute werewolves and witches who “confessed” to their crimes. All levels of these trials were often brutal; extreme torture was used during interrogations, and it was standard practice to burn the guilty at the stake.
Although 1521 marked the first werewolf trial, accusations of shapeshifting on a mass scale started even earlier. The Valais Witch Trials began in 1428 and over the course of decades, found dozens – if not hundreds – of people guilty of sorcery, witchcraft, and ‘werewolfery’. They were all tortured, and most were beheaded and burned at the stake. The executions were ruthless – the accused were tied to ladders with a sachet of gunpowder tied around their necks after which they were tipped into a blazing fire.
Although burning witches and werewolves at the stake wasn’t a new thing, these trials were extraordinary because of the sheer amount of people accused and because of what was happening to the nobility at the time. Unfortunately, the reasons for the trials wasn’t due to a sudden uptick in sorcery, witchcraft, or werewolf activity – it was because of political upheaval.
The entire Valais region was relatively new, and control of those lands were highly contested. In order to solidify the holdings of the lords, the trials were held. Those who were accused and found guilty automatically forfeited their land to the lord vassal. Because this tactic worked incredibly well for the Valais noblemen, the Holy Roman Empire attempted a similar strategy nearly a century later with the werewolf witch trials. Those trials plagued Europe for nearly three centuries before the barbaric practice came to an end.
THE LYNCANTHROPE METAPHOR
Whenever you hear the word “werewolf” you’re likely drawn to the image of a human changing into a wolf-like creature. You actually envision the metamorphosis. But have you ever considered that the transformation is also a metaphor?
Many earlier works of literature don’t spend a lot of time describing what happens when a person becomes a wolf. One minute, a man is human. The next minute, he isn’t. Even in movies like 1941’s “The Wolf Man,” the transformation process happens largely off-screen — the man himself, rather than his process of transformation, is the primary focus of the film. At the same time, the short werewolf transformation we do see in “The Wolf Man” is convincing, particularly considering when it was made. First, hair begins to grow from Larry Talbot’s skin, and eventually he becomes a creature that resembles a very hairy man with claws and fangs.
In more recent films, though, the process of becoming a wolf is often the highlight of the show. It appears in great detail, and it’s often depicted as being painful. Bones forcibly elongate and change their shape, sometimes moving so drastically that they rupture a person’s skin. From beginning to end, the transformation can take several minutes, and the end result is a creature who is part human and part wolf, in varying proportions. Depending on the special effects available at the time the film was made — and the techniques used to create them — these transformations can range from absurd to grotesque to truly convincing.
So what does this have to do with metaphors?
As with vampires, there’s a sexual element to werewolves. While vampires tend to be smooth and sexually charged, the typical werewolf is hyper-masculine. He’s exceptionally muscular, exceptionally hairy and exceptionally violent.
These traits come not just from a werewolf’s appearance, but from the folkloric history behind werewolves. In many stories, a man becomes a werewolf because of some sort of excess. His behavior may be too rough, or he may, by the standards of the community, be sexually deviant, usually in terms of wanton relationships with women. These traits may have even caused the word “werewolf” to apply to human behavior. In the 16th century in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France, teenagers who roamed around at night, broke curfews and socialized outside the bounds of polite society were known as werewolves. In some cases, young people disguised themselves as animals to travel from one community to another. A common belief at the time was that outlaws would eventually become werewolves.
This connection to rough or coarse behavior also ties in to modern psychology. In psychological terms, you might think of a person’s struggle with lycanthropy as a struggle to come to terms with — or get rid of — his more primitive nature. When a man becomes a werewolf, his primal instincts, which aren’t necessarily considered to be appropriate, take over.
There are natural parallels between lycanthropy and puberty. During puberty, the human body changes dramatically. These changes can seem foreign, and they’re definitely beyond a young person’s control. Similarly, in some depictions, lycanthropy is a metaphor for menstruation. A woman’s body changes according to a regular monthly cycle. In a lot of ways, these changes define who she is — menstruation is a hallmark of being a woman, and physical transformation is the hallmark of being a werewolf. Because of its typical transmission through biting and frequently fatal outcome, lycanthropy can also be a metaphor for any contagious disease, particularly those that are transmitted sexually.
This is one of the reasons why people can identify with werewolves, in spite of their status as monsters. Teenagers and young adults can identify with the idea of sudden, seemingly inexplicable changes in their skin, hair and body. And just about everyone has experienced the struggle to keep control of emotions like anger and frustration. And let’s face it – we’ve all had a bad hair day.
When Weird Darkness returns…
What if I was to tell you that werewolves truly ARE real – and that a small village has been terrorized by them for decades – right up to modern day? There is convincing evidence to back up my claim! I’ll tell you about it up next.
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THE LYCANS OF CANNOCK CHASE
Of all the places where there have been werewolf sightings, central England seems like a strange place for there to be a hotbed of paranormal activity, and yet it just may be. Specifically, the werewolves of Cannock Chase have been frightening the crap out of locals for over 30 years. There have been dozens of werewolf sightings there, both day and night. In fact, paranormal experts believe that there is proof of werewolves in the woods of the Midlands region.
It isn’t just werewolves that are stalking the trees and cemeteries of Cannock Chase. The area seems to be a some kind of portal to the bizarre and a magnet for the unexplained. In addition to the Cannock Chase werewolf rumors, there are reports of UFOs and ghostly children. There was even a bizarre sighting of a what looked like a medical experiment gone wrong, a being that looked like a pig-man. Perhaps all of these creatures, including the English werewolves, are living together in the forest, but whatever is going on, central England appears to be a spooky place.
The West Midlands, specifically Staffordshire County, is famous for its distinctive red Tamworth pigs that are bred in the area. However, another creature is far more notorious in the area, the Werewolf. There have been dozens of sightings of the supernatural creature over the years.
In fact, Staffordshire County has the most sightings of the mythical beast than any other place in all of Europe.
The Devil is given responsibility for a lot of evil stuff, from curses to the music of Charlie Daniels, but he may also be to blame for the werewolves of Cannock Chase, England. According to local legend everything started getting weird in 1975. That’s when a 17-year-old boy in central England took out his Ouiji board to test its powers.
He said he would trade the Devil his soul for the power to turn into a werewolf. Shortly after, a friend said that he received a phone call from the teen but could only hear odd guttural noises from him. That same young man was found dead soon after, he had killed himself using a silver knife. Silver is, of course, the only way to kill a werewolf.
Cemeteries are naturally spooky places. They’re filled with dead bodies, eerily quiet, and people often dress in all black when they visit them. It should come as little surprise then that the Cannock County werewolf has been sighted several times in a cemetery.
What is surprising is that the cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of German and Austrian soldiers who fought in World War I and World War II.
A werewolf in town is creepy enough, but the most compelling evidence for the creature is also upsetting. In addition to showing itself to many people in a cemetery devoted to thousands of dead soldiers, evidence has been found near the cemetery that gives compelling evidence of the werewolf’s existence. There have been several pets that have gone missing from homes in the area and stranger still, several mutilated animal carcasses have been found near the cemetery.
Could this be leftovers from the werewolves’ nightly hunting practices?
Werewolves and the night go together like Dracula and blood. After all, legend has it a werewolf transitions from man to wolf when the moon is full. However, the Cannock County monster seems to be an exception to this rule. In 2007, a mailman reported to a local ghost hunting club that he had seen the creature. Stranger still, it happened while the postman was delivering the day’s mail.
The letter carrier said that at first he thought nothing of the creature believing it to be a dog. He was surprised when the animal stood up on its hind legs and ran into the woods like a person. Perhaps werewolves have evolved to exist in daylight as well now?
According to urban myth, after World War II, the governments of England and the United States conducted human experiments similar to the ones the Nazis had undertaken. One such experiment was crossbreeding a human with a pig and, according to the story, it worked. Except he pig-human hybrid escaped and hid in the Cannock Chase woods.
A witness saw the beast and reported that it was seven feet tall and had the head of a pig including a giant snout. If a pig-man was created, couldn’t it stand to reason a wolf-man was also created in these bizarre experiments?
Cannock Chase isn’t just home to werewolf sightings. The area has all kinds of supernatural activity. In the late 1980’s and early ’90s the sky was inexplicably dotted with lights that many thought were UFOs. A police officer even reported seeing an object doing seemingly impossible things in the sky before disappearing.
With both UFO and werewolf sightings in abundance, one has to wonder if there’s a correlation. Perhaps an alien being taking on the form of local lore? It might explain the daytime sightings.
Ouija boards, UFOs, werewolves? It’s seems far-fetched so many supernatural things could be happening in one area. At least one scientific-minded local agrees and has a theory to at least explain the possible werewolves. This “paranormal expert” claims the werewolf isn’t a werewolf at all. Instead the creature could be a “subterranean stone-age throwback.”
Essentially this person thinks ancient cavemen could have survived for years in the mines of the area and have remained primitive, failing to evolve with the rest of humanity. What’s more, the expert claims that there are more than one of the creatures and that there is actually an entire pack of them stalking underground only coming out to eat deer, livestock, and pets.
While werewolves, UFOs, Pig-Men, and theoretical cavemen are frightening enough, the area where the creature has been spotted is also home to other supernatural beings. Witnesses have seen a black-eyed child in the same woods the werewolves supposedly live in. Black-eyed children are a paranormal entity that has been experienced by people the world over. It makes sense if there were to be any in England, Cannock Chase’s woods would be where they’d hide.
Ghost hunters flock to the woods to see for themselves. A few have taken audio recordings capture a girl’s voice. The Cannock Chase woods are not a place go for a pleasant stroll through the trees.
All told, there have been 35 believed sightings of a werewolf and 21 where people came forward to tell their stories firsthand. The reports are terrifying. According to witnesses, the werewolf stands seven feet tall, is covered in hair, looks like a human/wolf hybrid, and has a snout. The fact that so many people report seeing the creature, and at different times of the day, points to the notion that there may really be something out there in the woods.
Paranormal investigators constantly monitor the news in the Midlands for more proof that the creature is real.
The advent of inexpensive video cameras used for action sports has turned nearly everyone into a potential daredevil waiting for an awesome moment to go viral. Two mountain bikers in Cannock Chase got more than they bargained for. In 2009, the cyclists were recording their ride. The video shows a fun day of single track shredding, but it also has an unexpected highlight.
A creature can be seen stalking in the woods for a few seconds of the film. It looks too tall to be a man and walks upright, like a large dog on its hind legs.
LITTLE-KNOWN LYCAN LORE
As we’ve seen throughout this episode, every culture adds their own new piece to the werewolf legend, but there are a few elements that didn’t quite catch on like some others. Elements of ancient werewolf lore that, perhaps, deserve to be forgotten. But some are simply interesting facts that you probably never knew.
In the first century, there was a werewolf festival. Marcellus Sidetes, a physician born around the end of the 1st century A.D. in Asia Minor, wrote a medical poem that spanned 42 books. Nearly the entire corpus was lost, with only two fragments surviving. One fragment, preserved by Aetius of Amida, is called De Lycanthropia and describes a werewolf festival in which men lose their minds to the ‘wolf-madness’.
If you dream of white wolves, you might want to seek counseling. In 1910, Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, treated a young patient known as Wolf Man. A member of a wealthy Russian family, Wolf Man had delusions that he could transform into a wolf and would run through the woods during the night. Freud traced his patient’s obsession with wolves to a dream he had as a young boy about seven white wolves in the tree that stood outside his bedroom.
Ever heard of Nazi werewolves? During World War II a small group of ‘underground’ Nazi ground troops were known as werewolves. The extensive German folklore behind the creature, and common folk belief in ‘Germanic legends of man-eating wolves’, helped to spread fear among the Allies of the werewolf soldiers.
How about birthing wolfmen? Or… wolfboys? In The Book Of Werewolves, written in 1865 (which I actually did find online and have linked to in the show notes), Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould recounts an uncommon method of creating werewolves that originated in Denmark: “If a female at midnight stretches between four sticks the membrane which envelopes the foal when it is brought forth, and creeps through it, naked, she will bear children without pain; but all the boys will be werewolves.”
And let’s end with a word of caution. Characters in the original 1941 film “The Wolf Man” break off wolfsbane stems and attach the flowers to their clothing. This isn’t a very good idea. Wolfsbane is extremely poisonous — the word “wolfsbane” probably comes from people using it to poison wolves. Horticulturalists recommend wearing gloves while working with the plant and thoroughly washing your hands afterward. It can be deadly.
SHOW CLOSE, CREDITS, A LITTLE LIGHT, AND A FINAL THOUGHT==========
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Be sure to join me for a new episode every Sunday at my other podcast, “The Church of the Undead”, also found at WeirdDarkness.com. Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” on the website and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links and links to the authors in the show notes.
Information for “The Origins and Lore of Werewolves” came from History Daily, Tanika Koosmen, Benjamin Radford, and Ella Talkin
“The Werewolf Trials” by Inigo Gonzalez
“The Lycans of Cannock Chase” by Hugh Landman
“Whose Afraid of Virginia Werewolf?” by April A Taylor
“How Werewolves Work” by Tracy V.V. Wilson
“Little-Known Lycan Lore” by Jonathan Gordon
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death.” – Proverbs 14:27
And a final thought… “Do all the good you can, to as many people as you can, as often as you can.” – Unknown
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.