Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell on How to Exorcise a Lycanthrope (1912)

The last time I dipped into Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves I covered the author’s description of how to become a lycanthrope. In the next chapter, he examines the matter of how to do away with a troublesome werewolf. The title of the chapter is “Werwolves and Exorcism”, but O’Donnell admits to being skeptical about the legitimacy of exorcism in any context:

I have been present when exorcism has been tried—tried on people supposed to be obsessed with demoniacal spirits, and tried on spontaneous psychic phenomena in haunted houses—and in both cases it has failed […] I am not only dubious as to the powers of exorcism generally, I am also dubious as to its effect on werwolves. I have come across a good many alleged cases of its having been successfully practised on werwolves, but in regard to these cases, the authority is not very reliable, nor the corroborative evidence strong.

O’Donnell also rejects the idea that werewolves are created as a result of “the lycanthropist being possessed of a separate individual spirit”. However, he does believe that “the property of werwolfery is a gift which is, more or less, directly acquired from the malevolent spirits” and therefore concludes that, if exorcism can achieve anything at all, curing werewolves will be one of its uses. Furthermore, as skeptical as he might be, O’Donnell finds it worth his time to outline a purported recipe for werewolf-exorcism (note the reference to the werewolf wearing a girdle, an established element of lycanthrope folklore):

Nearly all the methods prescribed embrace the use of some potion; such, for example, as sulphur, asafœtida, and castoreum, mixed with clear spring water; or hypericum, compounded with vinegar—which two potions seem to have been (and to be still) the most favoured recipes for removing the devilish power.

The ceremony of exorcism proceeded as follows: The werwolf was sprinkled three times with one of the above solutions, and saluted with the sign of the cross, or addressed thrice by his baptismal name, each address being accompanied by a blow on the forehead with a knife; or he was sprinkled, whilst at the same time his girdle was removed; or in lieu of being sprinkled, he had three drops of blood drawn from his chest, or was compelled to kneel in one spot for a great number of years.

All of this turns out to be the introduction to one of O’Donnell’s unsourced and highly dubious accounts of real-life lycanthropy, this one “a comparatively recent happening in Asiatic Russia”. The main character in this story is the wealthy young Moscow widow Tina Peroviskel, who married one Ivan Baranoff and had three children by him. Ivan turns out to be a doting father, yet his children fear him – as do his in-laws:

But despite all this, despite the way in which he fondled and caressed them, the children involuntarily shrank away from Ivan; and on Tina angrily demanding the reason, they told her they could not help it—there was something in his bright eyes and touch that frightened them. When Tina’s brothers and sisters heard of this, they upheld the children.
“We are not in the least surprised,” they said; “his eyes are cruel—so are his lips; and as for his eyebrows—those dark, straight eyebrows that meet in a point over the nose—why, every one knows what a bad sign that is!”

Tina remains loyal to her husband and moves into his home near Orsk. She dislikes her new house, finding it frightening, cheerless, and possessing something “that reminded her of the smell of the animal houses n the Zoological Gardens in Moscow”. Her children and dogs are also terrified of the place, and even Tina starts to have doubts about Ivan – particularly after noticing his strange habit of wandering away every night and returning with bloody fingernails:

“It is a habit. I always like to roam abroad in the night-time—it would be very bad for my health if I did not.”
And this was all Tina could get out of him. She noticed, too, what her blind infatuation had prevented her observing before, that there was a fierce expression in his eyes when he set out on these nocturnal rambles, and that on his return the corners of his mouth and his long finger-nails were always smeared with blood. Furthermore, she noticed that although he was concerned about the appetites of herself and the children, he ate very little cooked food himself—never vegetables or bread—and would often furtively put a raw piece of meat into his mouth when he thought no one was looking.

In bed, Tina regularly catches sight of her husband sneaking out through the window and returning stained with blood; and one by one her dogs are killed as though by a wild animal. The household servants also exhibit strange behaviour, sneaking around and whispering. Eventually, she is awoken to discover hideous beast-men prowling the corridors:

A few streaks of moonlight, streaming through an iron grating high up in the wall, enabled her to see a tall figure stealing softly along the corridor, with its back towards her. The thing was so extraordinary that for a moment or so she fancied she must still be dreaming; but the cold night air blowing freely in her face speedily assured her that what she saw was grim reality. The thing was a monstrosity, a hideous hybrid of man and beast, and as she gazed at it, too horror-stricken to move, a second and third form exactly similar to it crept out from among the shadows against the wall and joined it. And Tina, yielding to a sudden fascination, followed in their wake. In this fashion they crossed the hall and ascended the staircase, Tina keeping well behind them. She knew where they were aiming for, and any little doubt that she might have had was set at rest, when they turned into the passage leading to her bedroom. A moaning cry of fear from one of the children told her that they, too, knew by intuition of their coming danger. Tina was now in an agony of mind as to what to do for the best. That the intention of these hideous creatures—be they what they might—phantasms or things of flesh and blood—was sinister, she had not the slightest doubt; but how could she prevent them getting at her children?

Alas, she is unable to save her children, and can only listen on as they are eaten:

There it was again, “Mother! Mother! Help! Help!” Then a series of savage snarls and growls and more shrieks—the combined shrieks of all three children. Shrieks and growls were then mingled together in one dreadful, hideous pandemonium, which all of a sudden ceased, and was succeeded by the loud crunching and cracking of bones. At last that, too, ceased, and Tina heard footsteps rapidly approaching her door.

Tina manages to escape, and a friend of hers — one Colonel Majendie — enlists the aid of a priest named Rappaport, who reveals that “Ivan Baranoff and his servants had long been suspected of being werwolves.” The Colonel sends his men into Ivan’s chateau, and the lycanthropes are duly captured:

But they had not waited long before a series of savage growls from the adjacent thicket put them on their guard, and almost immediately afterwards three werwolves stalked across the path and prepared to enter the house. At a word from the Colonel the soldiers leaped forward, and after a most desperate scuffle, in which they were all more or less badly mauled, succeeded in securing their quarry. In more civilized parts of the country the police would have been called in, but here, where that good old law, “Might is right,” still held good, a man in the Colonel’s position could do whatever he deemed most expedient, and Colonel Majendie had made up his mind that justice should no longer be delayed. The château had borne an ill reputation for generations. From time immemorial Ivan Baranoff’s ancestors had been suspected of lycanthropy, and this last deed of the family was their crowning atrocity.

And so the Colonel, initially skeptical of exorcism, allows Rappaport to try and drive the evil away. “You may exorcise the devils first,” he says. “We will hang and quarter the brutes afterwards.” O’Donnell goes into a long description of the priest’s rite; involving as it does opium, mandrake root and live toads being put into a pot of boiling water, it seems closer to the cauldron scene in Macbeth than to anything ordained by the Russian Orthodox Church. The exorcism goes badly, however, and there are more deaths that night:

Slowly getting up and crossing himself, he went to the fire, and dipping a cup in the pot, solemnly approached the werwolves, and slashing them severely across the head with his wand, dashed in their faces the seething liquid, calling out as he did so: “In the name of Our Blessed Lady I command thee to depart. Black, evil devils from hell, begone! Begone! Again I say, Begone!” He repeated this three times to the vociferous yells of the smarting werwolves, who struggled so frantically that they succeeded in bursting their bonds, and, leaping to their feet, endeavoured to escape into the bushes. The soldiers at once rose in pursuit and the priest was left alone. He had got rid of the flesh and blood, and he presumed he had got rid of the devils. But that remained to be proved.

In the chase that ensued one of the werwolves was shot, and, simultaneously with death, metamorphosis into the complete form of a huge grey wolf took place. The other two eluded their pursuers for some time, but were eventually tracked owing to the discovery of the half-eaten remains of an old woman and two children in a cave. True to their lupine natures, they showed no fight when cornered, and a couple of well-directed bullets put an end to their existence—the same metamorphosis occurring in their case as in the case of their companion. With the death of the three werwolves the château, one would naturally have thought, might have emerged from its ban. But no such thing. It speedily acquired a reputation for being haunted. And that it was haunted—haunted not only by werwolves but by all sorts of ghastly phantasms—I have no doubt.

Although O’Donnell presents this as a true story, I suspect that you will search in vain for any documented evidence of Tina Peroviskel, Colonel Majendie, Father Rappaport or the Baranoff clan having ever lived. The account seems more like a connection of werewolf folklore, elements from fairy tales (particularly Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard) and, perhaps, some hostility towards organised religion on the part of the author.

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