Werewolf Wednesday: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1870)

Werewolf Wednesday will be a little short this week, as I have deadlines pending, but nonetheless interesting — to me, at least. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has an entry for werewolves mentioning a number of unusual variations on werewolf lore that have either been forgotten (like the ability to transform into a goat) or else mutated (the reference to blessed bullets is likely an ancestor to the more familiar silver bullet of today). The author’s suggestion that the French for werewolf, loup-garou, is etymologically connected to the Old English “orc” is new to me.

Archive.org has a scanned copy of what is purportedly the original 1870 edition of the book — the volume itself is undated, but a thoughtful librarian has written “1870” in pencil near the start — and it appears that the entry was penned for this edition. The entry is as follows:


Werwolf or Were-Wolf (French, loup-garou). A bogie who roams about devouring infants, sometimes under the form of a wolf followed by dogs, sometimes as a white dog, sometimes as a black goat, and occasionally in an invisible form. Its skin is bullet-proof, unless the bullet has been blessed in a chapel dedicated to St. Hubert. This superstition was once common to almost all Europe, and still lingers in Brittany, Limousin, and Auvergne. In the fifteenth century a council of theologians, convoked by the emperor Sigismund, gravely decided that the loup-garou was a reality. It is somewhat curious that we say a “bug-bear,” and the French a “bug-wolf.” (“Wer-Wolf” is Anglo-Saxon wer, a man, and wolf–a man in the semblance of a wolf. “Garou” is either wer-ou or war-ou, as in “warlock;” ou is probably a corruption of orc, an ogre.)

Ovid tells the story of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, turned into a wolf, because he tested the divinity of Jupiter by serving up to him a “hash of human flesh.”

Herodotus describes the Neuri as sorcerers, who had the power of assuming once a year the shape of wolves.

Pliny relates that one of the family of Antaeus was chosen annually, by lot, to be transformed into a wolf, in which shape he continued for nine years.

St. Patrick, we are told, converted Vereticus king of Wales into a wolf.

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