Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell’s Last Chapter (1912)

The final chapter of Elliott O’Donnell’s book Werwolves covers lycanthropy in Russia and Siberia. “Nowhere is the werwolf so much in evidence today as in the land of the Czar,” the author tells us, as this is a land where “the very atmosphere is impregnated with lycanthropy.” He follows these remarks with some picturesque descriptions of werewolves stalking the Russian plains nad haunting the Caucasus mountains, before offering some brief (and uncited) accounts of folktales:

It was here, in these lone Russian mountains, so legend relates, that Peter and Paul turned an impious wife and husband, who refused them shelter, into wolves: but Peter and Paul, apparently, had not the monopoly of this power; for it was here, too, in a Ural village, that the Devil is alleged to have metamorphosed half a dozen men into wolves for not paying him sufficient homage.
There is no restriction as to the sex of werwolves in Russia and Siberia—male and female werwolves are about equal in number, though perhaps there is a slight preponderance in favour of the female. Vargamors are to be encountered in almost all the less frequented woody regions, but more especially in those in the immediate vicinity of the Urals and Caucasus.

Although quite how the Vargamors of Sweden ended up in Russia is left unexplained. Next comes another of O’Donnell’s allegedly authentic incantations, ready to be practiced by any would-be lycanthropes out there:

“Hail, hail, hail, great wolf spirit, hail!
A boon I ask thee, mighty shade. Within this circle I have made,
Make me a werwolf strong and bold,
The terror alike of young and old.
Grant me a figure tall and spare;
The speed of the elk, the claws of the bear;
The poison of snakes, the wit of the fox;
The stealth of the wolf, the strength of the ox;
The jaws of the tiger, the teeth of the shark;
The eyes of a cat that sees in the dark.
Make me climb like a monkey, scent like a dog,
Swim like a fish, and eat like a hog.
Haste, haste, haste, lonely spirit, haste!
Here, wan and drear, magic spell making,
Findest thou me—shaking, quaking.
Softly fan me as I lie,
And thy mystic touch apply—
Touch apply, and I swear that when I die,
When I die, I will serve thee evermore,
Evermore, in grey wolf land, cold and raw.”

The final verse, recited after kissing the ground three times, is as follows:

“Make me a werwolf! make me a man-eater!
Make me a werwolf! make me a woman-eater!
Make me a werwolf! make me a child-eater!
I pine for blood! human blood!
Give it me! give it me to-night!
Great Wolf Spirit! give it me, and
Heart, body, and soul, I am yours.”

All of this serves to conjure up an evil spirit to carry out the lycanthropic transformation;

The trees then begin to rustle, and the wind to moan, and out of the sudden darkness that envelops everything glows the tall, cylindrical, pillar-like phantom of the Unknown, seven or eight feet in height. It sometimes develops further, and assumes the form of a tall, thin monstrosity, half human and half animal, grey and nude, with very long legs and arms, and the feet and claws of a wolf. Its head is shaped like that of a wolf, but surrounded with the hair of a woman, that falls about its bare shoulders in yellow ringlets. It has wolf’s ears and a wolf’s mouth. Its aquiline nose and pale eyes are fashioned like those of a human being, but animated with an expression too diabolically malignant to proceed from anything but the superphysical.

O’Donnell then goes on to describe a purported Slavic exorcism in which the werewolf is “fumigated with incense and sprinkled with holy water.” He does, however, admit that he has never heard of such an exorcism actually working.

The next topic is gender differences between werewolves, the author asserting that women are more desirous of becoming lycanthropes than men, usually to obtain revenge against a rival woman or a faithless lover. Lady lycanthropes, we learn, are “far more cruel and daring, and much more to be dreaded, than male werewolves” because of a greater lust for flesh.

The story O’Donnell tells to illustrate this thesis is set in a village called Shiganska, which was supposedly located on the bank of the Petchora prior to being obliterated by a blizzard around fifty years before the time of writing:

Here were to be found lycanthropous blue and white flowers, which those desirous of becoming werwolves sought from far and wide, some even coming from Siberia, and some from away down South as far as Astrakan. And the woods abounded not only in werwolves, but in all sorts of supernatural horrors—phantoms [279]of the dead, i.e. (of murderers and suicides) Vice Elementals and Vagrarians, vampires and ghouls; no region in Russia boasted so many, and for this reason it was scrupulously avoided by all sensible people after sunset.

The protagonist is Ivan, a huntsman who finds his beloved dog killed by a wolf. He then encounters a mysterious woman in white fur, whose immense beauty allows O’Donnell to indulge his purplest tendencies (we read of “the necromancy of female grace”). Ivan begins courting the woman, whose name is Breda, and the two marry. But beautiful Breda turns out to have her quirks:

She preferred raw to cooked meat, and would not sleep in the same room as her husband. She grew very angry when Ivan expostulated, saying, “You promised you would never thwart me. If you do not keep your word, I shall despise you, scorn you, hate you.” And Ivan, who loved his wife beyond anything, yielded.

The neighbourhood is then hit by a spate of mysterious deaths. Horses and cattle are the first to fall victim, followed by Ivan’s two sisters, and finally his mother. In this last incident, Ivan catches the wolf in the act and injures it with his gun. The wolf then turns into Breda, who reveals all:

“You know part of my secret now,” she whispered, “but you don’t know everything. I am a werwolf, not by inheritance, but of my own free will. In order to become one I ate the blue flowers in the wood. I did so to be avenged on my husband.”
“Your husband!” Ivan cried; “good God! then you were a widow when I met you?”
“Yes,” Breda said slowly and with apparent effort. “I was forced into my first marriage by my all too worldly parents, and my husband ill-used and beat me!”
“The devil! the cold-hearted, cowardly devil!” Ivan ejaculated, “I would have killed him.”
“That is what I did,” Breda remarked; “I did kill him, and it was in order to make certain of killing him that I became a werwolf.”
“Did you eat him?” Ivan asked, horribly fascinated.

Ivan agrees to cover up the murders committed by his wife and later recruits an occultist to exorcise her. During the rite, however, he finds the prospect of Berda being flogged so upsetting that he intervenes and frees her, allowing her to escape into the wilderness in the form of a white wolf.

And so concludes Elliott O’Donnell’s Werwolves. A generous reader will take him at his word and accept the narrative of Ivan and Berda as a true story related to O’Donnell by a reliable witness, and not just elements from Frederick Marryat’s “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” mashed up with the exorcisms described by O’Donnell elsewhere in his book.

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