Werewolf Wednesday: Trees, Burning, Spells and Other Methods of Combatting Lycanthropes (1912)

After spending a couple of chapters in what can only be described as self-parody, Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves heads back to pseudo-scholarship with its thirteenth chapter: “The Werwolf in Belgium and the Netherlands”.

O’Donnell opens by telling us that “Belgium abounds in stories of werwolves, all more or less of the same type” and asserts that, as with their French counterparts, Belgian lycanthropes are found as both male and female in equal proportions. While the book has offered multiple different methods of becoming a werewolf, we learn that “nearly all the cases of werwolfery in Belgium are hereditary.” The focus of the chapter, however, is less on becoming a werewolf and more on disposing of them:

In Belgium, as in other Roman Catholic countries, great faith is attached to exorcism, and for the expulsion of every sort of “evil spirit” various methods of exorcism are employed. For example, a werwolf is sprinkled with a compound either of 1/2 ounce of sulphur, 4 drachms of asafœtida, 1/4 ounce of castoreum; or of 3/4 ounce of hypericum in 3 ounces of vinegar; or with a solution of carbolic acid further diluted with a pint of clear spring water. The sprinkling must be done over the head and shoulders, and the werwolf must at the same time be addressed in his Christian name. But as to the success or non-success of these various methods of exorcism I cannot make any positive statement. I have neither sufficient evidence to affirm their efficacy nor to deny it.

O’Donnell also recommends rye, mistletoe and mountain ash as tools for driving away lycanthropes, although he warns that the last of these attracts evil spirits in some countries including Ireland, Spain and India.

The first tale included in the chapter is entitled “A Case of Werwolves in the Ardennes”. Set “not so long ago” this account deals with the splendidly-named Bernard Vernand, who runs into three suspicious men each with eyebrows that met above their noses. The three men follow him until

The sound of their footsteps then suddenly ceased, and Vernand, peeping stealthily round, perceived to his horror lurid eyes—that were not the eyes of human beings—glaring after him. His dog took to its heels and fled, and, ignominious though he felt it to be, Vernand followed suit. The next moment there was a chorus of piercing whines, and a loud pattering of heavy feet announced the fact that he was pursued.

Desperate to escape, Vernand suddenly remembers having heard a story about an old woman who climbed up a mountain ash to escape a wode (O’Donnell includes an explanatory footnote as to what a wode is: “A phantom horseman, that goes hunting on certain nights in the year, accompanied by phantom dogs. The author has witnessed the phenomenon himself”). As an ash tree happens to be nearby, Vernand climbs up and escapes the werewolves.

O’Donnell follows this account by claiming that a similar event happened to an unnamed man travelling from Quatre Bras to Waterloo: “He was attacked by three werewolves and saved himself by leaping into a rye-field.”

Next comes a story that is billed as being “of traditional authenticity only”, although O’Donnell has no qualms about supplying dialogue. The main characters are lovers Von Grumboldt and Nina Gosset, The former finds a girdle of plaited hair on the ground, and Nina expresses the feeling that the item has “an unpleasant history attached to it.”

Von Grumboldt dismisses her concerns and wraps the girdle around his collie dog, Nippo. This causes Nippo to transform into “a big black object, partly dog and partly some other animal, that grew and grew until, within a few seconds, it had grown to at least thrice Nippo’s size.” When the monster attacks, Nina manages to remove the belt:

“It is a werwolf belt!” Nina exclaimed, throwing it away from her. “You see, I was right; it is devilish, and no doubt belongs to some one near here who practises Black Magic—Mad Valerie, perhaps. This cross that I wear round my neck, which is made of yew, no doubt warned me of this danger and so saved me from an awful fate. You smile!—but I am certain of it. The yew-tree is just as efficacious in the case of evil spirits as the ash!”

The story ends with the girdle being burnt, and O’Donnell informs us that such a measure is “the only recognised method of destroying” an object associated with lycanthropy, and occult objects in general. This leads him to a long digression away from Belgian werewolves and towards such matters as a “barrow in the North of England that had long been haunted by a Barrowian order of Elemental”.

In a rare bout of scholarship, O’Donnell ends his coverage of Belgium by citing an actual authority — namely, the Brothers Grimm — and also shows himself to be a bit fuzzy as to the definition of lycanthropy:

Before concluding this chapter on the werwolf in Belgium, let me add that werwolfery was not the only form of lycanthropy in that country. According to Grimm, in his “Deutsche Sagen,” two warlocks who were executed in the year 1810 at Liége for having, under the form of werwolves, killed and eaten several children, had as their colleague a boy of twelve years of age. The boy, in the form of a raven, consumed those portions of the prey which the warlocks left.

Next come the Dutch werewolves, which O’Donnell tells us are less common than in France or Belgium and typically male. We get only one case study from this part of the world, although it’s apparently “[o]ne of the best known cases of a werewolf in the Netherlands”. The story concerns a young man named Van Renner who, while heading to a place in Rousse, encountered a large grey wolf which he wounded with an arrow, thereby rescuing an “exceedingly attractive maiden, with bright yellow hair and big blue eyes”. Van Renner later finds the local Burgomaster suffering from an arrow wound, making the story a variation on one of the oldest werewolf narratives.

O’Donnell also claims that Dutch people have a specific procedure for dealing with werewolves. It’s really quite remarkable, so I’ll close this post by quoting the passage in full…

Exorcism here is seldom practised, the working of a spell being the usual means employed for getting rid of the evil property. The procedure in working the spell is as follows:—

First of all, a night when the moon is in the full is selected. Then at twelve o’clock the werwolf is seized, securely bound, and taken to an isolated spot. Here, a circle of about seven feet in diameter is carefully inscribed on the ground, and in the exact centre of it the werwolf is placed, and so fastened that he cannot possibly get away. Then three girls—always girls—come forward armed with ash twigs with which they flog him most unmercifully, calling out as they do so:—

“Greywolf ugly, greywolf old,
Do at once as you are told.
Leave this man and fly away—
Right away, far away,
Where ’tis night and never day.”
They keep on repeating these words and whipping him; and it is not until the face, back, and limbs of the werwolf are covered with blood that they desist.

The oldest person present then comes forward and gives the werwolf a hearty kick, saying as he (or she) does so:—”Go, fly, away to the sky;
Devil of greywolf, thee we defy.
Out, out, with a howl and yell,
‘Twill carry thee faster and surer to hell.”
Every one present then dips a cup or mug in a concoction of sulphur, tar, vinegar, and castoreum, just removed from boiling-point, and, forming a circle round the werwolf, they souse him all over with this unpleasant and painfully hot mixture, calling out as they do so:—

“Away, away, shoo, shoo, shoo!
Do you think we care a jot for you?
We’ll whip thee again, with a crack, crack, crack!
Scourge thee and beat thee till thou art black;
Fool of a greywolf, we have thee at last,
Back to thy hell home, out of him fast—
Fast, fast, fast!
Our patience won’t last.
We’ll scratch thee, we’ll prick thee,
We’ll prod thee, we’ll scald thee.
Fast, fast, out of him, fast!”
They keep on shouting these words over and over again till the liquid has given out and the clock strikes one; when, with a final blow or kick at the prostrate werwolf, they run away.

The evil spirit is then said to leave the man, who quickly recovers his proper shape, and with a loud cry of joy rushes after his friends and relations.

When the Spaniards invaded Holland they resorted to a surer, if a somewhat more drastic, mode of getting rid of lycanthropy—they burned the subject possessed of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: