Werewolf Wednesday: Berserkers, Hags and Landladies (1912)

Elliott O’Donnell’s Werwolves, a compendium of supposedly true cases of lycanthropy, continues its European tour as chapter 16 covers Iceland, Lapland and Finland. O’Donnell starts the chapter on fairly stable historical ground, discussing Icelandic berserkers, but then launches into one of his dubious anecdotes (“told to me on fairly good authority”, he assures us).

The main character here is a berserker named Rerir, who is spurned by a beautiful maiden named Signi. The author gets to indulge his blood-and-thunder tendencies by describing Rerir turning into a bear, breaking into Signi’s family home at night, hugging to death a servent and crushing the skull of Signi’s mother. However, this awakens Signi’s father, who is also a berserker; and the two were-bears proceed to duke it out. Signi herself tries to intervene, but accidentally stabs and kills her father instead of Rerir. The day is saved by the household cook, who happens to have at hand a concoction of sulphur, asafœtida, and castoreum (ingredients mentioned elsewhere in the book as potential wards against lycanthropy). Once the brew is flung in the face of Rerir, he changes back into his true form as a hunchbacked human and is duly executed.

O’Donnell then moves from Iceland to Lapland with the tale of a peasant couple Mary and Max, who found their child returning home with badly-injured fingers:

On being interrogated as to what had happened, it told a most astounding tale: A very beautiful lady had picked it up and carried it away to her house, where she had put it in a room with her three children, who were all very pretty and daintily dressed. At sunset, however, both the lady and her children metamorphosed into wolves, and would undoubtedly have eaten it, had they not satiated their appetites on a portion of a girl which had been kept over from the preceding day. The newcomer was intended for their meal on the morrow, and obeying the injunctions of their mother, the young werwolves had forborne to devour the child, though they had all tasted it.

The couple deduce that the woman in this lurid account is Madame Tonno, the wife of their landlord, but given her power they are unable to accuse her. Later, Madame Tonno slays not only the child but also Mary; and when Max confronts the landlord about his wife’s lycanthropy, he is taken captive. He succeeds in escaping, and finally rouses the locals into a proto-Universal mob:

Fortunately for Max, he was not the only sufferer; several other people in the neighbourhood had lately lost their children, and the story he told found ready credence. In less than an hour a large body of men and women, armed with every variety of weapon, from a sword to a pitchfork, had gathered together, and setting off direct to the château, they surrounded it on all sides, and forcing an entrance, seized M. Tonno and his werwolf wife and werwolf children, and binding them hand and foot, led them to the shores of Lake Enara and drowned them. They then went back to the house and, setting fire to it, burned it to the ground, thus making certain of destroying any werwolf influence it might still contain. With this wholesale extermination a case that may be taken as a characteristic type of Lapland lycanthropy in all its grim and sordid details concludes.

The chapter finally reaches Finland. Here, O’Donnell tells us, “werwolves are credited with demoniacal power, and old women who possess the property of metamorphosing into wolves are said to be able to paralyse cattle and children with their eyes, and to have poison in their nails, one wound from which causes certain death.”

The story he chooses to illustrate Finnish lycanthropy takes place near the village of Diolen, where a man named Savanich rescues his sheepdog from a large, grey wolf. Upon being injured, the wolf turns into a hag and scratches Savanich’s son Peter:

A couple of thrusts from his knife stretched the wolf on the ground, when, to his utmost horror, it suddenly metamorphosed into a hideous old hag.
“A werwolf!” Savanich gasped, crossing himself. “Get out of her way, Peter, quick!”
But it was too late. Thrusting out a skinny hand, the hag scratched Peter on the ankle with the long curved, poisonous nail of her forefinger. Then, with an evil smile on her lips, she turned over on her back, and expired. And before Peter could be got home he, too, was dead.

And so concludes the chapter.

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