Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell on Werewolves, Vampires and Ghouls (1912)

The eighth chapter of Elliot O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves bears the intriguing title “Werewolves and Vampires and Ghouls”. O’Donnell begins by continuing the topic of the previous chapter – that is, Gallic lycanthropes — and outlines some notable werewolf trials in early-modern France:

THROUGHOUT the Middle Ages, and even in the seventeenth century, trials for lycanthropy were of common occurrence in France. Among the most famous were those of the Grandillon family in the Jura, in 1598; that of the tailor of Châlons; of Roulet, in Angers; of Gilles Garnier, in Dôle, in 1573; and of Jean Garnier, at Bordeaux, in 1603. The last case was, perhaps, the most remarkable of all.

Note that “Jean Garnier” was actually called Jean Grenier: O’Donnell has apparently confused his name with that of Gilles Garnier. He then asserts that “[t]he name Grénier, like that of Garnier, was closely associated with lycanthropy, and in Blois, where there were more instances of lycanthropy than in any other part of France, every one called Grénier or Garnier was set down as a werwolf” but provides no sources to back up this claim.

A section of the chapter is given over to the case of François Bertrand, the so-called “Vampire of Montparnasse”, who committed multiple acts of corpse-desecration in the 1840s and made history as the man for whom the term “necrophile” was coined. O’Donnell’s fanciful description of the affair removes all reference to sexual deviance and instead describes the necrophile in animalistic terms. We are told that cemetery staff saw Bertrand as “a strange form, partly human and partly animal” that barked and howled when pursued, and that Bertrand stated in his confession that he “preferred the company of all kinds of animals to that of his fellow creatures” and “was conscious of undergoing a peculiar metamorphosis” after his grave-robbing antics. I am not an expert on the Bertrand affair, but I suspect that the author may be embellishing the details to fit his thesis.

“It has been asserted”, says O’Donnell, “that Bertrand was a vampire; but there are absolutely no grounds for associating him with vampirism. A vampire is an Elemental that under certain conditions inhabits a dead body, whether human or otherwise; and, thus incarcerated, comes out of a grave at night to suck the blood of a living person. It never touches the dead.” Instead, the author theorises that Bertrand was a lycanthrope:

There can, I think, be little doubt, from what he himself said, that he was in reality a werwolf. His preference for the society of animals and love of isolated regions; his sudden fallings asleep and sensations of undergoing metamorphosis, though that metamorphosis was spiritual and metaphysical only, which is very often the case, all help to substantiate that belief.

O’Donnell goes on to outline distinctions between lycanthropy and vampirism, one being that lycanthropy – unlike vampirism – cannot be passed on to the victim (the Hollywood films of later decades would disagree, of course). As an example of how vampires operate, he then details the case of Arnold Paole at length. Next is a two-pargraph description of another supernatural species, the ghoul:

Sergeant Bertrand has also been declared a ghoul. Ghoulism bears a somewhat closer resemblance than vampirism to lycanthropy. A ghoul is an Elemental that visits any place where human or animal remains have been interred. It digs them up and bites them, showing a keen liking for brains, which it sucks in the same manner as a vampire sucks blood.

Ghouls either remain in spirit form or steal the bodies of living beings—living beings only—either human or animal. They can only do this when the spirit of the living person, during sleep (either natural or induced hypnotically), is separated from the material body; or, in other words, when the spirit is projected. The ghoul then pounces on the physical body, and, often refusing to restore it to its rightful owner, the latter is compelled to roam about as a phantasm for just so long a time as the ghoul chooses to inhabit the body it has stolen.

Having spent the bulk of the chapter talking about recorded incidents (albeit with some questionable metaphysics on top) O’Donnell concludes by reverting to form and delivering another unsourced and highly dubious narrative from his personal question. He entitles this one “The Case of Constance Armande, Ghoul” and presents it as “related to me as having occurred recently in Brittany.”

The titular Constance Armande, we are told, became a spiritualist as a young girl and, in O’Donnell’s estimation, witnessed both trickery and authentic “earthbound phantasms of the lowest and most undesirable order–murderers, lunatics, Vice Elementals, and ghouls.” Such spirits followed her home, rapped on her walls, and caused her to suffer nocturnal visions of “frightful-looking creatures, too awful for her to describe.” In one incident, Constance’s mother saw the girl walking around “with the glitter of a ferocious beast in her eyes, and a grim, savage expression in the corners of her mouth” after which she left the house and went missing.

Later, Constance’s fiance Alphonse Mabane – whose mother had recently died – arrived at the Armande residence with a terrible tale:

“…Jacques, my valet, with a face as white as a sheet, begged me to go with him upstairs. He led me to the door of my mother’s room, where she lay in her coffin, not yet screwed down. ‘Hark!’ he whispered, touching me on the sleeve, ‘do you hear that?’
“I listened, and from the interior of the room came a curious noise like munching—a steady gnaw, gnaw, gnaw. ‘I heard it just now,’ he whispered, ‘when I was going to shut the landing window—and other sounds, too. Hush!’
“I held my breath, and heard distinctly the swishing and rustling of a dress…”

And so Alphonse roused the rest of the servants before barging into the room:

“The lid of the coffin was off, the corpse was lying huddled up on the floor, and crouching over it was Constance. For God’s sake don’t ask me to describe more—the sounds we heard explained everything. When she saw us she emitted a series of savage snarls, sprang at one of the maids, scratched her in the face, and before we could stop her, flew downstairs and out into the street…”

The narrative (which is somewhat similar to E. T. A. Hoffman’s tale of Aurelia) concludes with the police being summoned, Constance being “eventually found in a cemetery digging frantically at a newly made grave”; we are told that after a chase, “fortunately for her and for all concerned, she plunged into a river, was swept away by the current, and drowned.” O’Donnell gives his own diagnosis:

This case of Constance Armande seems to me to be clearly a case of ghoulism. What the spiritualist had told her was correct—she had projected herself unconsciously, and the hideous things she imagined were phantoms in a dream were Elementals—ghouls—her projected spirit encountered on the superphysical plane. After sundry efforts to steal her body when she was thus separated from it, one of them had at length succeeded, and, incarcerated in her beautiful frame, had hastened to satisfy its craving for human carrion.

The general impression given by this chapter is that Elliott O’Donnell had become distracted from his main topic of werewolves.

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