Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 5 (1865)

The Werewolves of Ossory.

The fifth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves is entitled “The Were-Wolf in the Middle-Ages”. Unlike the previous chapter, the author does not offer personal theories as to where lycanthropic beliefs came from, nor does he delve into etymology. Instead, he assembles a compendium of snippets dealing with werewolves — plus some weredogs and werecats thrown in for good measure.

The survey begins with Olaus Magnus on werewolves in Prussia, Livonia, and Lithuania; he tells us that on “the feast of the Nativity of Christ, at night,” a multitude of wolves — transformed from men — will gather and rampage. These shapeshifters are readily distinguished from natural wolves by their habit of barging into beer-cellars, indulging in alcohol and piling up empty casks before moving on. We are also given a description of some sort of lycanthropic sporting event:

Between Lithuania, Livonia, and Courland are the walls of a certain old ruined castle. At this spot congregate thousands, on a fixed occasion, and try their agility in jumping. Those who are unable to bound over the wall, as; is often the case with the fattest, are fallen upon with scourges by the captains and slain.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 4 (1865)

Having devoted a chapter to werewolves and other animal transformations in the literature of Northern Europe, Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves tries to get to the bottom of where such stories came from in chapter 4: The Origin of the Scandinavian Were-Wolf.

The author discusses textual references to berserkir (in the strictest sense, warriors in bear skin) and Ulfheðin (warriors in wolf-skin), pointing to instances of the latter in the Holmverja and Vatnsdæla Sagas. He then theorises that superstition transformed these men in the public imagination from fearsome warriors to supernatural shapeshifters. To illustrate his thesis, he returns to stories outlined in the previous chapter:

The incident mentioned in the Völsung Saga, of the sleeping men being found with their wolf-skins hanging to the wall above their heads, is divested of its improbability, if we regard these skins as worn over their armour, and the marvellous in the whole story is reduced to a minimum, when we suppose that Sigmund and Sinfjötli stole these for the purpose of disguising themselves, whilst they lived a life of violence and robbery.

In a similar manner the story of the northern “Beauty and Beast,” in Hrolf’s Saga Kraka, is rendered less improbable, on the supposition that Björn was living as an outlaw among the mountain fastnesses in a bearskin dress, which would effectually disguise him—all but his eyes—which would gleam out of the sockets in his hideous visor, unmistakably human.

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Bounding Into Comics Joins the Satanic Panic

There’s a site on the net called Bounding Into Comics, and I should be able to give you a general idea of its editorial slant by quoting a few choice headlines:

Star Wars Hits Grand Slam Of Woke Identity Politics, Casts Black, Lesbian, And Non-Binary Intersectional Feminist Amandla Stenberg As The Acolyte Series Lead”.

“Series Reimagining Robin Hood As A Black Female ‘Gen Zer’ Reminds Us It’s Time For Anti-Woke Re-Imagining”.

“Woke Marvel Digs Even Deeper With Supertrans, A ‘Support Group for Trans Kids with Powers'”

So, yes, this is a site that has very much thrown its lot in with those various redoubtable movements with “gate” and “puppies” as suffixes. Most of the content at Bounding is the sort of material that you would expect, but during a recent (and probably ill-advised) trip to the site, I stumbled into something that raised my eyebrows.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 3 (1865)

Illustration by Willy Pogany from Children od Odin: The Book of Northern Myths (1917)
Illustration by Willy Pogany from Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths (1917)

Having covered the lycanthropes of ancient Greece, Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves heads to the lands of the Vikings. The third chapter is entitled “The Were-Wolf in the North” and opens with the following description of folkloric transformations:

In Norway and Iceland certain men were said to be eigi einhamir, not of one skin, an idea which had its roots in paganism. The full form of this strange superstition was, that men could take upon them other bodies, and the natures of those beings whose bodies they assumed. The second adopted shape was called by the same name as the original shape, hamr, and the expression made use of to designate the transition from one body to another, was at skipta hömum, or at hamaz; whilst the expedition made in the second form, was the hamför. By this transfiguration extraordinary powers were acquired; the natural strength of the individual was doubled, or quadrupled; he acquired the strength of the beast in whose body he travelled, in addition to his own, and a man thus invigorated was called hamrammr.

This phenomenon, the author tells us, applies to many species of animal, not just wolves. He cites the Norse myth of Freyja and Frigg transforming into birds with the aid of falcon dresses, a power gained by Loki when he stole these garments. Similarly, the Vælundar kviða speaks of Svanhwit and the other swan-maidens.

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